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Stuck With You

Chapter Text

Malcolm Tucker looked up at the BBC offices with trepidation. This was not what he’d planned on doing today. Or ever, really. Fucking BBC.

Then again, he hadn’t planned to fucking resign three weeks ago either. Although, he was still waiting for that particular mountain of shit to hit the fan.

But for now, if he spent one more fucking day watching shitty daytime telly, he was going to lose his mind completely. And given the other suggestions he’d gotten, this was—unfortunately—his best bet at the moment. With that in mind, he took a last drag from a half-smoked cigarette before dropping it and grinding it out, rolling his shoulders as he walked into what he fondly called Satan’s Journalistic Love Nest.

“Sarah Jennings,” a tall, pretty blonde introduced herself as he stepped into one of the office suites, shaking his hand. “Welcome to the BBC. Did you have any trouble getting here?”

“No,” he said, stepping back as she released him to put his hands back in his pockets. He was fucking nervous. At the fucking BBC. What the fuck sort of parallel world was this? “I had trouble getting in,” he quipped, trying to regain his footing. “They thought I was a terrorist.”

She managed a pandering laugh that made him feel incredibly old, and directed him into one of the offices where an aid was already waiting.

“If you’d like to take a seat down there,” Sarah said, directing him to a sofa. “So, we’re really very excited.”

“Yeah, this could be the highlight of my career,” he said, giving a small smile. “And I’ve taken a dump in the White House.”
“See, that’s great banter,” Sarah said. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

“Is it?” he asked, genuinely baffled as he glanced between her and the aid, his bad feeling worsening. He was not a media personality. He was the thing hiding under the bed of media personalities.

“So, this pitch,” she continued, nodding, “it’s for the sort of person who tried coke once, but didn’t like it. It’s a BBC Three show, yeah? It’s a bullshit description, but, you know, it paints a picture.”

“Who didn’t like coke?” he joked, glancing between them again.

Sarah gave another polite chuckle. “Yeah, so the idea is you’re going to be talking to other people who, like you, have been through the shit. For this, I was thinking Brian Keenan. Uh, Kerry Katona…”

Just as he felt his brain begin to suffocate from even the prospect of this gig, his earpods crackled to life and he winced. He’s never liked them, but Annie bought them for him, saying no one used phones anymore.

“Call from. Peter. Tyler. Vitex Corporation.”

He frowned, trying to figure out why the billionaire would personally be calling him. But regardless of the reason, it was a fucking godsend as he quickly excused himself to take the call, already knowing there was no way in fucking hell he’d be back.

“Malcolm Tucker,” he answered, touching one of the earpods as he entered the hall again.

“Mister Tucker! Pete Tyler.”

“Yeah, I know.” He rolled his eyes as he started down the stairs. “Earpods.”

“Right, right,” Tyler said. “Still getting used to them. Wife forced them on me, you know how that is.”

Malcolm snorted. It’d been a long time since he knew that particular torture, but he could still commiserate. “What can I do for you, Mister Tyler?”

“Pete, please,” Mister Pete ‘please-look-at-all-my-fucking-money-stacks’ insisted. “Thing is…I saw that you were recently…unemployed.”

“All of fucking Britain saw that,” Malcolm reminded him as he exited the building. “Media loves the fall of a king.”

“Right, well…I was wondering if I might be able to persuade you to come work for me.”

“What for?” Malcolm asked, debating another smoke. Better not—habits were a nasty thing.

“We haven’t gotten the best press lately,” Tyler explained. “Thought it might be a good idea if I got a spin doctor of my own. And you, Mister Tucker, are the best.”

“Fucking right I am.” He got in his car and turned over the engine, mulling the idea over. It might be nice to do something without having to kiss the President’s arrogant arse all the time.

“Think it over,” Tyler said. “Give me a call when you decide. Oh, and Tucker?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m a man who’s willing to pay for the best,” Tyler informed him. “Far better than any government job will get you.”

Malcolm’s eyes narrowed as Tyler clicked off. He pressed another button on his earpod.

“Call Annalise Pearson.”

“Calling.”

“Have you called for help hiding the bodies?” his sister asked as she answered.

“Surprisingly, no,” he told her as he pulled out onto the street. “The BBC remains unscathed and unbloodied.”

“You must have gotten interrupted.”

“Actually, yeah,” he said. “You’ll never guess by who.”

“Lady Di?”

“She’s been dead for ten years.”

“All the more of a surprise, I’d think.”

“You’re fucking hilarious,” he told her. “But no, someone alive. Peter Tyler.”

“The Vitex guy?” she asked, the surprise evident in her voice. He hummed an assent. “What’d he want?”

“To offer me a fucking job, apparently,” he explained slowly. “Seems news of my ‘resignation’ has spread.”

“Oh, do you think?” Annie snorted. “I think there might have been a few people who were blind and deaf who missed the news. So, are you gonna take it?”

“Don’t know,” he said.

“You can’t keep stirring the pot from the sidelines,” Annie said.

“That was a fucking disaster of a metaphor, you know that?”

“Fuck you,” she said, but she was laughing. “You know what I mean. You know they’re gonna fall apart without you there, they don’t need help with that. And you’re gonna lose it if you don’t do something soon. And—you know—”

“What?”

“A job at Vitex might not be so bad,” she mused. “Definitely less stress than the political fuckery. You might actually make it to retirement.”

“I’m healthy as a fucking horse.”

“You’re also fifty,” she reminded him, and he pulled a face. “Speaking of which, it’s been a month, and we’re still waiting on a birthday dinner with you. Although, I had to free Nate’s birthday gift.”

“I don’t want to fucking know,” he muttered, then sighed. “Yeah, alright, this weekend, yeah?”

“That’s another thing—weekends. You might actually, you know, have them again,” she pointed out. “It’d be nice to have you around more. The kids would love it.”

“Your kids are two and four,” he reminded her. “They don’t give a shit whether I’m around.”

“You know that’s not true,” she said. “And even if it were…I give a shit.”

“No no no no,” he said quickly. “Don’t do that, Annie. Don’t you dare fucking—”

“I miss you, Mal,” she went on, and he dropped his head to the steering wheel at a traffic stop. “It’d be nice to see you in a regular job, with real hours, so we could actually see each other a bit more often than me getting penciled in every few months.”

“You know you’re the only one who fucking gets away with that,” he muttered as he straightened. “That fucking guilt trip shit.”

“Yes,” she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice as he pulled up to his flat. He groaned, running a hand over his face.

“I’ll think about it,” he promised.

“Alright,” she said. “Shit, gotta run, Julie just woke up. Call me later. And Mal?”

“Yeah?”

“Love you, you wanker,” she said. “Eat. Sleep. Don’t die.”

“You too,” he said, smiling faintly at her usual warnings. “You know, I’ll just keep in mind that…the sun’ll come out—”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Tomorrow,” he finished with a grin. “In fact, I’d bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow—”

“I hate you,” she said, and he laughed at the unmistakable click of a dead line.

He knew she had a point—he wasn’t getting any fucking younger, and had already been told that he’d become a ticking time bomb if he didn’t lower his stress—but he’d been working for the party so long. And it wasn’t even like he’d gotten the fucking respect he deserved…he’d lost…to Steve fucking Fleming! How was he supposed to just let that fucking lie?

But he definitely wasn’t going to the fucking BBC.

He was still debating his options a few hours later, bumming on the sofa with a bowl of crisps. He chucked a few at the telly when some commenter came on to give his opinion on the resignation of the legendary spin doctor.

He winced when his earpods announced a call from Julius, though he couldn’t say if it was because of them or the caller.

"Hello, Philip Schofield," he said as he pressed the button in his earpod. “I fuck lobsters for money.”

"Ah, Malcolm," Julius’ voice came through. "I was wondering if I could interest you in a little tête-a-tête here at Number Ten."

"And why the fuck would I want to do that?" he asked.

"I wanted to discuss a topic that may be of some interest to you,” Julius said.

“No, Julius, I can’t tell you how to grow hair like mine,” he replied. “As much as it would cut my sunglasses budget to stop the glare from your head, some people just have the fucking genes, you know?”

“That’s…aha, that’s very funny, Malc,” Julius said, and Malcolm arched an eyebrow. He must be desperate. “But no, there was another…conversation I wanted to have. Tell you what, we can have lunch. I’ll buy.”

Malcolm scrubbed a hand down his face wearily. “Yeah, alright, fine. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Julius was waiting for him when Malcolm got to Number Ten, and Malcolm was equally annoyed and curious at the trouble Julius was going to for security clearance for him. He shouldn’t have to sign for a fucking guest badge.

Julius led him to an office (The Cheese Office, Malcolm and Jamie called it, especially when Julius was around to hear it), where he already had lunch waiting. Julius fussed with the food for a few moments before Malcolm waved him off to serve himself, eager to get whatever the fuck this was over with.

“I want you to be very clear, Malc,” Julius said, “about why it is that I brought you in. Do you know what hat it is that I’m wearing?”

“Is it your baldy swimming cap wig?” Malcolm suggested, because ‘arrogant fuckwit’ was too easy.

“No,” Julius said, not rising to the bait. “It is my government troubleshooter stetson, which is a long way from my homburg of sober enquiry.”

“Do you know that I’m thinking about doing a television programme?” he asked, apropos to nothing.

“Well, I had heard something on the grapevine,” Julius said, struggling to keep up with the non-sequitur.

“Yeah, it’s good,” he went on, inwardly delighting as Julius began to squirm. “You know that programme, Civilisation, with Kenneth Clarke? It’s going to be like that except with fucking more quim, you know? It’s me, Simon Schama and Alan Yentob in a cage, fucking lump hammer each, whacking the shit out of each other. The last man standing wins a fucking Ford Focus.”

“The thing is, Malcolm,” Julius cut in, attempting to take control of the conversation once more. “Your departure has basically precipitated a call-to-arms, in effect. We have it on reasonably good authority that there are between three to four cabinet members who are disgruntled and are planning a mass resignation. And that means, very simply, a Dan Miller coronation. And as my nephew would say, ‘This shit just got real.’”

"Your nephew?” Malcolm asked, Nathan’s face swimming to his mind. Annie had been kind enough not to mention the fact that although they’d been waiting a month for his birthday dinner, it had been probably closer to six since he’d been able to find time to see them apart from a lunch or two that he’d had to leave early.

“Anyway, the fact is it has to be stopped,” Julius was saying, and Malcolm forced himself to focus back on the conversation. “Um, there have been a number of ideas being tossed around. And one of them is ‘would you be prepared to come back?’” He avoided Malcolm’s eyes, quickly eating a few bites of his rice. He obviously didn’t have faith in his own proposal, otherwise he’d be making eye contact; his entire body language radiated an attempt at domination even if his eyes betrayed him.

Malcolm let out a bark of laughter. “Are you out of your tiny, shiny fucking mind?”

“Look, we can do this simply,” Julius told him, reaching for his bag and pulling out a few pens and pencils. His words were direct, firm, and not allowing for interruptions. “Step one: are you interested? Of course you are.” He went on before Malcolm said anything, laying a pen on the table. “Step two: Will you come back? Yes? Superb.” Malcolm raised his eyebrows as a red pencil dropped to the table. “Step three, and this is the important step, will you use your considerable influence to destroy the cabal? Can I drop it down?” He didn’t give time for a response, and released the pen, not bothering to read into Malcolm’s expression. Arrogance; it had always been Julius’ fatal flaw. “Fan-dabi-dozi! Step four: It’s party time. Let’s tool up with basmati rice and Wahey!” He returned to eating, seemingly content with his little… production.

Malcolm stared at him in disbelief. “You’re asking me to come back here and mop up the fucking splatter from my own assassination?”

“You know where the bodies are buried,” Julius said, sitting back with a shrug. “And we’ll just say you’re coming back to advise. It’s election strategy. It’s not a day-to-day government business role.”

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight, you schizo hat fuck,” Malcolm said slowly, laying down his fork and picking up the pens. “First, you give me—me—the fucking sack, in favor of Steve ‘please-kick-my-fucking-teeth-in’ Fleming,” he mused, dropping a pen. “Second, you realize that sacking me undermines your fucking authority to the nth fucking degree, and makes a mess you can’t clean up.” The red pencil dropped. “Third, you call me in here for fucking takeway—not even good takeaway, this is shitty—to beg me to clean it up, because you know I’m the only one who can.” Another pen dropped. If Julius knew what was good for him, he’d be out the door. “Four, you tell me that you’re not even giving me my job back, but some fucking impotent advisory title so that you don’t look like the fucking cock up you are. That about right?” Malcolm twiddled the pen between his fingers for a moment as Julius stared, then snorted and tossed it on the table. “You’re a fucking joke, Julius. You and your ‘report.’ I’m done. Thanks for the shitty lunch, and good luck with all the fucking blood.” He stood, ignoring Julius’ sputters as he walked out the door.

There was a sliver of terror as he left Number Ten at facing the unknown after decades of working himself to the bone for the party, but most of him was breathing easier than he had in years. He grinned at the thought of Julius completely losing his shit, and Steve fucking Fleming scrambling ineffectually to get not even half as much done as Malcolm himself could, and tapped the button on his earpod as he got in his car.

“Call Peter Tyler,” he commanded, starting his car as he waited for the CEO to answer.

“Mister Tucker,” Tyler answered. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“About that job,” Malcolm said, pulling away from Number Ten without a glance back.

Chapter Text

As soon as Rose steps away from the wall, it feels like her entire world crumbles around her; behind her is the last connection she has to the Doctor, the last memory, the last hug. She collapses in her mum’s arms, not even bothering to hide the tears.

“Shh, sweetheart,” Jackie murmurs, and sinks to the floor with Rose. “It’ll be alright. He’ll find a way to get you. It’s okay.”

Mickey’s hand grips her shoulder, and for all that these two are her family, there’s an aching hole in her heart that is growing within her, clawing up her chest and roaring through her. It’s all Rose can do to grip her mother and not give into the panic and despair, hiccuping through her tears and trying to remember to breathe.

Pete says something, but the sound doesn’t reach Rose’s ears; the entire world is muted, dead, and she feels devoid of sensation. Hands grip her and pull her up as she’s led away from the room, and god, if she never sees white again she’ll be… well, not happy, but the dull colors sparking around her periphery and the black creeping around the edges are far more welcoming.

“We need to take the back way,” Pete says, and his voice was suddenly too loud, too harsh, and she flinches into her mother. Jackie replies quietly, wrapping her arms more firmly around Rose. There is an intense debate before Jackie finally relaxes and Pete walks away.

“Rose?” Jackie asks, her concerned face swimming into view. “Rose, sweetie, Pete’s going to clear the way so that we can get you to his private elevator. We’ll be… we’ll be at his house in about an hour or so. That alright?”

She nods because her mind is numb and she’ll agree to anything so long as she can sleep. She wants to forget the pain, if only for a little while.

“It’ll be alright,” Jackie says again.

No, it won’t, Rose wants to scream. It will never be alright again. The Doctor was gone, she was trapped in a Universe she never wanted to be in. She had promised him forever, had sworn that she would always be there to hold his hand-

Who was going to hold his hand now?

Pete arrives after an unknown length of time, and Jackie and Mickey bundle her into the lift and ultimately, the car. She falls asleep shortly after, and when Mickey finally shakes her awake a large house is looming in front of them, different from the one she had snuck into before but still similar enough to make the memories hurt.

“Yes, yes, I’ll bring her by,” Pete is saying into his phone as they walk up the stairs. He pauses and frowns. “It’s not like I had a choice in the matter, Tucker! Yes, I know you wanted nothing to do with the fucking alien nonsense, but it’s your job! So I suggest you think of something by the time we get there! No, I don’t know when, just be ready when we do!” He ends the call with a frustrated sigh.

Mickey lets out a forced chuckle. “Tucker at it again?”

“When isn’t he?” Pete grinds out and then turns to them. He takes a breath and shakes his head, giving a self-deprecating laugh. “I, er, haven’t been here in a while, so I… don’t really have anything prepared.” There’s a faint blush as he looks at Jackie. “The staff have probably gotten the spare rooms ready, and there’s probably enough food for two or three days, and I don’t really have a change of clothes…”

“Thank you,” Jackie says, and Rose can tell she’s just as nervous. “I’ll stay with Rose tonight. I don’t…” she hesitates before squeezing Rose’s arm. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s get some sleep. The morning always makes everything better.”

Rose allows herself to be led away, her feet heavy and her heart nonexistent. She has a migraine forming from crying herself to sleep, her makeup probably makes her look like a dead raccoon, she feels filthy, and a bed and a house is the last thing she wants, but she doesn’t have it in her to fight against Jackie and Mickey’s guidance.

“I’ll be right next door,” Mickey says when Pete gestures awkwardly at a door. “Rose, are you…?”

She doesn’t have it in her to reply and he forces a swallow. “Right. Good night, boss. Look after her, Jackie.”

Her mum nods and gently pulls Rose into the room. “Do you want to shower, sweetheart?”

“No,” Rose croaks out, and the sound causes pain to lance through her head. “No, I just… I don’t know, Mum. I… he’s gone.”

Tears well up in Jackie’s eyes. “Oh, sweetheart, I know. I know, baby. Come here.”

She falls into her mother’s arms, and they curl up together on the bed. “He’ll come back, Rose,” Jackie murmurs quietly. “You know that, right? That man loves you, he’ll fight for you. I’ve seen it, Rose.”

“He told me the walls will close, Mum,” Rose sobs. “He said that there wasn’t a chance of reversing it.”

Jackie smooths her hair back and kisses her forehead. “Do you really believe that?”

The question takes a while to process as Rose tries to hold back the tears. “I just know he’s not here,” she finally says. “And no matter where I was, no matter what happened… I knew I could take it because he was there. But he’s not now, Mum. He became my entire life. And right now I don’t know how I’m going to fill that hole.”

“You never do,” Jackie says, and despite herself Rose quiets, desperate to hear what she has to say. For all that she talked about Pete, her Pete, Jackie never told her daughter about how she dealt with his death, how she pulled through and how she felt. Just stories about their past, about how he passed out when Rose was born and his expression whenever he looked at them. “It’s impossible to fill that void, Rose. You learn to ignore it, to fit things around it, to pretend that it’s something else… but it never goes away. Some days it’s easier to ignore than others. Sometimes it grows so large that you wonder how you ever survived with it in you. But you survive. You survive and it becomes a part of you and you try to honor their memory as much as you can.” She gives Rose a small smile. “It’ll never be truly okay again. But you’re my daughter, Rose, and more importantly, you are your father’s daughter. If anyone can bounce back, you will.”

Rose closes her eyes and hugs her mum tightly. “I can’t do this alone.”

“You have me, sweetheart. You have me and Mickey and… and this Pete. We’ll help you through this.”

They fall asleep curled up together in a way that hasn’t happened since she was still a kid, but Rose doesn’t mind. Her mother was right. She’d find a way to survive, to build herself up and survive until he got back.

Because he always came back.

//////

Rose wakes up feeling like she has been hit by a truck, but drags herself into the shower as her mother continues sleeping. After making extra certain Mickey’s door was firmly locked she turns the water on hot, but there’s still a chill that she can’t shake as she mechanically bathes and washes her hair. She tries to be as quiet as possible in the ensuite but Jackie is awake when Rose enters the bedroom, blinking blearily.

“Good morning,” Rose says quietly, and they share a shaky smile. “Is, er… are the others up?”

“Micks came by when you were in the shower,” Jackie replies. “He said that breakfast is ready when we are.”

Rose nods, and Jackie stumbles into the ensuite to shower as well. Rose stands awkwardly in the room dressed in yesterday’s clothes, feeling out of place and directionless.

When Jackie’s through they walk down together, finding the kitchen through process of elimination. Pete is on the phone when they enter, but he quickly makes his excuses when they enter and looks at them uncertainly. “How’re you feeling?” he asks as they sit down at the table.

They share a look and Rose smiles shakily. “We’ll be alright,” Jackie answers for her, squeezing her hand. She looks back at Pete, an uncertain note entering her voice. “So, what… what are we going to do?”

Mickey enters from the kitchen proper, carrying a glass of milk. Pete nods at him before sighing, running a hand down his face. “Right now, not much. I was on the phone with Tucker, and he said to keep as low a profile as possible.”

“Tucker?” Rose asks quietly, staring at the bowls of eggs, pastries, and a plate of bacon. The thought of eating makes her feel nauseous, so she grabs the kettle, needing to do something with her hands and attempt to warm up.

Pete gives a small smile. “Vitex- and by extension, Torchwood’s- resident spin doctor. He’s in charge of selling a story to the media as to why you two are here. He’s not happy about it, but he’s the best, and I trust him.”
Mickey snorts. “I don’t know why you do, boss. He’s a right terror, and would be better off somewhere else. He threatened to drown me in the Thames last month.”

Jackie looks between them nervously. “Pete, I don’t think…”

Pete gives Mickey a level glare. “His methods may be… unorthodox, but you know that they work, Mickey. He’s changed the place for the better and so far as the general population thinks, Torchwood no longer exists since he started working for me. He’ll do right by Jackie and Rose.”

Though Mickey clearly wants to protest he refrains, taking a large scoop of scrambled eggs before passing them to Jackie. Rose declines, nibbling on a scone as Pete and Jackie give each other nervous looks, no one knowing what to say around each other.

Rose finally breaks the silence after she downs three cups of tea and finishes the scone. “What… what are you going to do with Torchwood, now that the cybermen are gone?” she asks, nervously.

Pete and Mickey exchange a look before Mickey finally looks at her. “Pete and I talked last night, Rose,” he says. “And he’s willing to give you a job at Torchwood. He reckons you know a thing or two about aliens, and well… it’ll keep you busy.”

“At least until the Doctor comes back,” Jackie adds, and Rose misses the glance Mickey and Pete give each other. “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Pete nods. “Mickey here can put you on his team after you go through a brief training, and if any cybermen managed to make it back to escape the battle in… in your universe, you can be the first in line to destroy them. What do you think?”

Rose considers this. Though the thought of doing anything besides hiding and giving into her pain and loneliness was terrifying, she knows that she needs the distraction. She would fall apart if she was left with her thoughts, and defending the earth would be a distraction, allow her to focus on something other than her loss. She told herself it wasn’t moving on; it was survival. And the offer was appealing. Very, very appealing. It would hurt not having the Doctor beside her, but her mum was right: he would come back. And she would make him proud in the meantime.

For the first time since her hands slipped from the lever, Rose finds herself smiling. It’s thin, and fragile, but the relief on everyone’s face upon seeing it is worth hiding her pain. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I’d like that.”

Jackie beams. Rose reaches for the eggs. “So, when are we meeting this Tucker character?”

“Whenever you think you’re ready,” Pete replies. “He already has everything in hand, but as he keeps reminding me, the sooner the better.”

Jackie nods. “I’d rather get it over with.”

“Wise idea,” Mickey mutters, but falls silent as Pete shoots him yet another glare.

Pete had obviously been busy, since shortly after they were done with breakfast a well-dressed brunette walks in carrying a few items of clothing on hangers. She introduces herself as Sam and apologizes for only guessing at Rose’s size before excusing herself, saying she was needed back at the office. Rose barely pays attention, staring uncertainly at the fine silk blouse and trousers, complete with a pair of shiny flats and a necklace that looked more expensive than her usual jewelry.

The trousers are the right size but the silk shirt is too big, showing more cleavage than Rose is used to. She removes the charm to string the TARDIS key onto it, nearly crying once more as she looks in the mirror. Sam had included a bag of makeup in the bag that had contained their shoes and jewelry, and Jackie had done Rose’s hair; the young woman in the mirror looks the complete opposite of someone used to life on a council estate. She tears herself away from the mirror before the image overwhelms her.

“Oh, Rose,” Jackie breathes, wearing a dark grey suit that looks completely natural on her mother. “You look beautiful.” Mickey is nowhere to be seen, and Rose wonders idly where he is.

Rose shifts, feeling out of place. “Thanks, Mum.”

“The car’s here,” Pete says. “Mickey’s already at work, but he’ll try to meet us afterwards if he can get away. He and Jake are in charge of the team you’ll be with, so we’ll try to get you through the training as soon as possible, Rose.”

She nods, steeling herself to face the world again even as she sticks to her Mum’s side.

The ride is long but uneventful, and she is soothed by the familiar sights of London as the driver brings them to a nondescript building in a part of the city that she recognizes vaguely but not quite. The driver pulls into a car park, and Pete quickly ushers them out of the vehicle.

“This isn’t the building we were in yesterday,” Jackie says, confused.

Pete shakes his head. “This is Vitex. Tucker doesn’t work at Torchwood, although he’s there often enough keeping people in line. It’s neutral territory and likely to attract less attention.”

Jackie nods, accepting his answer, and Rose occupies herself by making patterns in the marble of the floor.

They exit on a rather well-decorated floor, open and elegant but not ostentatious. There’s a few people talking quietly around a table that don’t even look up when they walk past, huddled over papers.

After rounding a corner, Rose blinks in surprise to see Sam sitting behind a desk, typing something on her laptop. She smiles when she sees them. “Good to see you, Mister Tyler.”

“Is Tucker available?”

“He’s on the phone with Milton right now, but you’re welcome to enter,” Sam replies.

Pete nods and leads Jackie to the door. Rose follows behind, curious to see the man that Pete seemed to trust so much despite Mickey’s reservations.

As soon as the door opens a river of vitriol comes pouring out. “No, you listen to me, stop fucking interrupting me with your fucking shit excuses. Unless the excuse is that you have a fucking twin that I didn’t know about, and that was who I explicitly told not to fucking talk to that cunt, because that’s the only fucking reason I see for you cocking up this situation so completely.  Cause now your life is hell, and I have to fix it. Again. Which makes my life hell, you complete fucking moron.  No, shut up.  You’re lucky that I’m paid to do this or else I would have left you to wallow in your own piss as the vultures peck out your innards.”

“As eloquent as ever, Tucker,” Pete says dryly as the man catches his breath. “Is this a bad time?”

Rose only has a glimpse of grey-blue eyes and a sharp, angular face before he turns away again. “I have to go. Stay out of my fucking sight until this is fixed or else I might skin you myself.”

The cell phone is ripped from his ear as he punches at the end button aggressively before it is shoved into his suit jacket pocket. “This them, then?” Tucker asks, and gestures towards Jackie and Rose. Pete nods and Tucker grumbles before heading toward a collection of chairs to their right. “Well then, sit down. We have work to do.”

Rose does so, and when Tucker rests his steely gaze on her, she tries not to flinch. But there’s a look in his eye that reminds her of her first Doctor, and a wave of relief and despair flashes through her.

She takes a deep breath and braces herself. She can get through this. She will.

She sits and waits to hear what he has to say.

Chapter Text

Malcolm warily studies the blondes that Pete has brought into his office as he takes a seat. It was supposed to be simple, working for Pete. It had been…for a while. Then Lumic and his Cybermen had happened, and his hopes of a normal job had taken a suicidal plunge out a fucking window.

The only plus he’d managed to eek out of the fucking night had been that he’d never have to see Jackie Tyler again, and apparently, even that’s become an impossibility.

“Alright,” he says after a moment, glancing down at the notepad in his lap. “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You’re from a parallel world—christ, I can’t even get through this without feeling like I’m in a terrible fucking sci-fi movie.”

“Try,” Pete suggests calmly.

“Right, okay,” he continues, running a hand over his face. “Parallel world, where this parallel Jackie was married to your counterpart, and they had her.”

“Rose,” the younger blonde says.

“Sorry?”

“My name’s Rose,” she repeats, and he stares at her for a minute. He’s got the strangest feeling he’s seen her before, but every reason to know that’s impossible. He shakes his head, pushing the thought away and returning to his notes.

“Yeah, fine—hang on, wasn’t that your dog?” he asks suddenly.

“What dog?” Pete asks, his eyes wide. “I don’t remember a dog.”

“A statement I’ll defend to the fucking death,” Malcolm replies, shuddering at the memory of the tiny yapper. “Anyway, fine. Cybermen went to their world—good fucking riddance—brought some friends, tried to take over, and your parallel daughter’s space boyfriend sent them all to hell.”

“He wasn’t my boyfriend,” Rose interjects again, and he sighs heavily as he turns to her. “I mean, he’s more than that. And he’s called the Doctor.”

“The Doctor.” He looks back at Pete for a subtle nod, and lets out a chuckle. “Christ, and people say I’m arrogant.”
“He’s not—”

“Do I look like I fucking care?” he snaps when Rose starts speaking again.

“You asked if you got it right,” she argues. “You didn’t.”

“I got it as right as I fucking need to for our purposes,” he says, getting to his feet. “‘Cause who you were, what your pet alien’s name was, doesn’t fucking matter.”

“Then why even bring it up?” she asks before turning to Pete. “What’s he for anyway? Why do you need him?”

"I’ll tell you why you need me, Rose Tyler,” he sneers. “Because the media doesn’t have a thing on you for the last, what, twenty years? And now you’re suddenly priority person of interest as the mysterious Vitex heiress. For all they know, you’re a nutter who’s been locked away from the public till now!"

"I’m not a nutter!" she argues hotly, surging to her feet to stand toe to toe with him.

"No, you’ve just come from a parallel universe to play house with your parallel dad and not-so-parallel mum—who’s supposed to be fucking dead, I might add—because you were helping your space boyfriend and lost your grip when he opened a portal to hell. Yes, that’ll sell quite nicely!”

“Alright, you two,” Pete says, pushing his way between them. “Rose, if you and Jax are going to stay, we need Tucker here to run interference. Because yesterday I was a childless widower of considerable prominence…and only part of that has changed.”

“Why do you have to tell the media anything?” she asks.

“Because if he doesn’t, I give it three days before you’re either his love child or his mistress,” Malcolm tells her. “Nevermind the fucking zombie wife.”

“Excuse you!” Jackie bursts out suddenly.

“Enough!” Pete yells, and they all look at him. “Right. Rose, sit down. Tucker…look, it’s been a long couple days. Think you can dial back your…you-ness a bit?”

“So I’ll just become a cuddly fucking teddy bear for the press to piss on then, shall I?” Tucker asks, quickly losing his patience with the whole situation.

“Tucker,” Pete says in a warning tone, and Malcolm glances at him before letting out a breath in a whoosh.

“Alright,” he says, backing down. He grabs the notepad he’d dropped on his chair, and starts pacing as he spins the story for them. “Here’s how we’re going to play it. Jackie wasn’t dead, just presumed dead. Loads of people disappeared that night, she just slipped through the cracks. One of the people who managed to get out before they got ‘upgraded,’ just like—” He pauses, rolling his neck and pushing the thought away. “Anyway, since they attacked your house, she couldn’t go back there, didn’t even know if you were alive or dead, didn’t know if there were more Cybermen on the way, so she took off.”

“Where?” Pete asks.

“Dunno, back country, in the sticks somewhere,” Malcolm answers with a shrug. “Not important. She stumbles on a young blonde calling herself…uh…Renee.”

“Please tell me I’m not Renee,” Rose groans.

“Hush. The adults are talking.”

“Tucker,” Pete warns again, and he rolls his eyes.

“Anyway,” he says pointedly. “Renee—”

“Not Renee.”

“—offers Jackie a place to stay.”

“Why would she do that?” Pete asks.

“Because it’s chaos and homes are destroyed and some people look out for each other,” Rose muses.

“She—right,” Malcolm says, faltering slightly as he turns to her. He’s hit once more with the nagging sense that he knows her from somewhere, but he pushes it aside again as he glances down at his notes. “So Jackie stays with Renee, they bond, suddenly Renee is like the daughter she never fucking had. She tells her so, and Renee spills that she doesn’t even know her parents. She was raised by a single mum who died not long before the cyber attack, and confessed on her death bed about stealing little Renee from the hospital as a baby.”

“Seriously? Not Renee,” Rose says again.

“See, you and Jackie, you had a daughter,” Malcolm says, ignoring her. “But something happened, the baby disappeared. Police report was filed, but nothing really came of it. It was before you made your fortune, so poor little Rose didn’t get any media attention, and then it was too painful to mention when you did rise to fame. The only allowance is a little yipper dog named Rose.”

“You’re actually enjoying this,” Rose says.

“Shh, let him finish,” Jackie says, slapping at her daughter’s arm and watching Malcolm with wide eyes. “This is better than Eastenders, this is. So how do they—we find out that Renee—”

“Not. Renee!”

“—is actually Rose?”

“Because you, Mrs Tyler, are smart,” he says, taking a step toward her. “Especially when it comes to your daughter. The dates match up, the places, and she even chews her nails like her dad.”

Both Rose and Pete immediately drop their hands from their mouth guiltily.

“Yeah, alright, but three years,” Pete says.

“Are you playing devil’s advocate, or just being a prick?” Malcolm snaps, stepping back from Jackie again. He wipes a hand down his face. “She had thinking to do, before she came back. She came to the realization that she might not have been the nicest person, or the best wife—which, I might add, is putting it fucking mildly.” He looks at Jackie again, eyeing her critically. “Not to speak ill of the dead, but your counterpart was a fucking nightmare. Hope you’re easier to deal with.”

“Oi!” Rose shouts. “That’s my mother you’re talking about.”

“The dead one isn’t,” he says with a shrug. “So Jackie has some sort of mid-life awakening, with the help of Renee, but when she starts thinking this girl might be her daughter, she works up the nerve to come back. Pete Tyler gets a much improved wife and his long lost daughter back in one go, and you, Rose Tyler—I’m going to turn you into a media darling.”

“No,” she says.

He stares at her, completely dumbfounded. “Excuse me?”

“No,” she repeats, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m not doing that.”

“And why the fuck not?”

“Because it’s ridiculous, first of all,” Rose says. “It’s a bloody soap opera. Stolen at birth,” she scoffs.

“Tell me another fucking plausible explanation for the fact that you’re their daughter!”

“There’s not even any documentation.”

“There will be.”

“And I’m not staying.”

“You’re—wait, what?” He stares at her, then at Pete, who shifts guiltily. “You said they were stuck here! I’m not sticking my neck out for a little brat that’s just vacationing in our fucking dimension!”

"Oi!" Rose shouts.

"Rose," Pete says, and Malcolm rolls his eyes at the pleading tone. "Look, even if the Doctor can come here—when, he comes!—we have no way of knowing when that will be. What if it’s twenty years from now?"

"It’s just like you getting into Torchwood, sweetheart," Jackie says, brushing a stray hair from her daughter’s face.

“It’s not like getting into Torchwood,” Rose mutters. “This is just…lies.”

“Of course it’s lies,” Malcolm says. “What did you expect? But I’m not doing this if I don’t have some assurance that I’m not just wasting my fucking time.”

“It’s your job,” Pete says.

“This was never mentioned in the fucking interview,” he says, gesturing at Rose and Jackie.

“Well I’m sorry to mess up your day!” Rose shouts, jumping to her feet again. “Nevermind that we got pulled away from everything we knew, from the universe we knew, nevermind that I’ll never see my home or the TARDIS or the Doctor again, nevermind that the only reason I’m here was because I was too stupid to push a bloody lever up right. No, forget all that, because Tucker’s day has been ruined!”

She’s inches away from his face, eyes blazing, and he takes an involuntary step back. It’s not often that people get into his face, and he tamps down the instinct to lash out—it’s not her fault. She has a point, as loathe as he is to admit it, so he forces himself to relax and takes a breath.

Besides, despite her fierce stance, there’s a waver in her voice, slight though it is, that he catches. She’s terrified. Not of him, but of her situation—she’s been thrust into a life she never wanted nor expected. She’s not nearly as sure or feeling as strong as she’d like everyone to believe.

“You said you weren’t staying,” he says quietly, watching her carefully.

“I’m—I mean, I’m not,” she says, looking down and fidgeting with her cuffs for a moment before raising her gaze to him again. “But that’s not the point. You’re not the only one that’s inconvenienced here, yeah?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, still studying her. After a moment, he shakes himself, drawing a deep breath. “But listen, Rose, this is the best plan to keep your dad out of the hotseat, to keep the press from asking questions that we can’t answer.”

She gives him a searching look—what she’s searching for, he’s got no idea—then she sighs. “Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you have to. Just, please, not Renee.”

He bites back a smile, his gaze drifting to the wall above her head for a moment. “The name is negotiable.” She nods as she backs off, taking the seat once more next to Jackie. He shakes his head, falling back into his own chair. “Alright, I’ll get the story out, play the next couple weeks as the family needing some time alone, all that sentimental shit they eat up like a fat fuck with a cheeseburger. In the meantime, you, Miss Tyler, need work. The attitude and vocabulary can be explained by your dubious upbringing, but I can’t have a sweetheart heiress with her tits hanging out,” he explains, nodding at her chest, where a…healthy amount of cleavage was showing.

“That’s my daughter!” Jackie bursts out, putting a protective arm around Rose. “You’re older than her father, you are! You can’t just go about leering at her!”

“I’m not,” he protests. “But the media—the photographers, the cameramen, the journalists—they will be. They’ll be judging everything about her before she even opens her fucking mouth, and you’re going to have to get used to that.”

“They’ll go shopping,” Pete assures him. “They’ll have to—it’s not like they’ve brought any clothes with them. Anything else?”

Malcolm sighs, scratching at his head. “No, that’s all. Just stay the fuck away from cameras and notepads until I say, is that clear?”

“Yes,” Pete says as he stands. “And thanks.”

“That’s what you pay me for,” Malcolm reminds him, standing and shaking his hand. “Nice meeting you Rose…and Jackie, I suppose.”

“Yeah,” Rose says, giving him an odd look before Jackie ushers her out, Pete following close behind.

He turns back to his desk, glancing at his notepad as he drops into his desk chair. Dead wife, daughter that never existed. Rose is a pistol, too; she’d made that very fucking clear. He allows himself a small smile at the thought of letting her loose on British high society, even while hoping he won’t just end up shooting himself in the foot with this scheme.

He rubs his eyes wearily before picking up the phone. He’s got a lot of work to do.

Chapter Text

There’s a certain kind of euphoria that Rose gets when she’s full of adrenaline; it’s what made her not mind the running, despite jumping head-first into her life of adventure and excitement when she hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in a few years. As she pushes herself faster, the treadmill automatically adjusting for her speed, she searches for that feeling desperately so that the numbness still lingering in her body will disappear.

It’s been three weeks since she and Jackie arrived in this new Universe, and Rose would be lying if she said she was settled. Though a lot of things still remind her of home, it’s the little things that let her know she’s out of place; the zeppelins, the soldiers guarding the entrances and exits of the various parts of the city, the way this world is overly suspicious of anything foreign. The second night on this world she had researched its history, learning how World War Two had lasted for ten years, how the Cold War had been between China and nearly all of Europe, how America separated as a consequence of its civil war. It made her feel lonely; the Doctor would have loved learning about how this Earth had diverged from her own, about the technological differences and how one could buy a robotic maid but couldn’t fly in anything faster than a zeppelin. She wouldn’t have minded the adventure with him by her side, but now it’s like she’s stuck in a cage that serves to keep reminding her of all she’s lost.

When not studying and thinking of the Doctor, she’s surviving on coffee and adrenaline, taking cat naps here and there so that her trainers won’t be suspicious about her sleeping habits. Pete had been as good as his word on getting her put in the advanced class, and while she’s miles ahead of most of her class in running, critical thinking, and average on hand-to-hand combat, her marks in weaponry are lousy. She had come here to the gym to work out her frustrations since her weapons instructor had threatened to fail her if she didn’t get it through her mind that the guns are required.

Plus, there’s the issue of the interview. She pushes the thought away, not wanting to think about that until the last possible second.

Unfortunately, Tucker proves once again to be too smart for his own good, and finds her three minutes later. “Well, if it isn’t my least favorite Wonder Woman. I thought I told you to be dressed an hour ago,” he growls, and yanks the cord on the machine when she ignores him. Rose yelps and grabs the handlebars to regain her balance. “You have an interview with the country’s most popular talk show host in two hours, and I fucking told you to be ready before that so we could go over your fucking training!”

Rose glares at him and steps off the machine. “I’m not your puppet, Tucker, and unlike you, my life does not revolve around the media.”

“It does for now,” he snaps back, and locks his fingers gently around her arm to drag her from the room. “You’re lucky I know you by now. Your dress is in the locker room, so you’d better be changed complete with hair and makeup when I next see you.”

She squirms out of his grip and frowns. “I don’t own dresses.”

“I know. Good thing Sam is good at remembering your clothing size. Now get dressed.”

She knows that he won’t have any qualms about following her inside to make sure she follows his orders, so Rose gives in and showers quickly. Sam had included a hair dryer and Rose’s makeup kit in the bag, so she dries her hair and tries not to think too hard about what Tucker has been training her on when she isn’t busy with Torchwood training.

Despite the fact that Rose is leaving when the Doctor comes back, Tucker is determined to turn her into Britain’s new media princess. How to talk, how to hold herself, how to even smile—everything she had been was to be forgotten in order to become this new person. She hates it. The Rose that he’s turning her into is a stranger, someone settled into this world and planting roots. She doesn’t want to settle. She wants to run hard and fast and away, back to her Doctor and back to her old life.

Tucker is excellent at his job. She knows that. But their time together has been touch and go, to say the least. The first day Rose had walked out the door twenty minutes into their hour slot when he made a disparaging remark about her home, and he had shouted threats after her as she left. It had taken Jackie pleading with her to get her to go back, even though it was the last thing Rose had wanted.

Tucker had been watching something on the news when she arrived promptly on time the next day—not wanting him to know she was a little bit scared of him. He had glared at her balefully and asked, harshly, “Are you going to act your fucking age today?”

Rose had forced herself to count to five before she replied. “Are you going to act like a decent human being?”

“I’m here so that you don’t make you and your parent’s life resemble a sweaty ballsack in high summer, not to be your friend,” he had retorted. “Now sit down. You have a lot to learn and not nearly enough time to do it.”

She had sat, but crossed her arms. “On one condition.”

“I hardly fucking think you’re in the position to bargain.”

“Stop acting like my life on the estate is something to be ashamed of,” Rose had said determinedly, planting her hands on her knees and leaning forward. “We were poor, yes, but my mum and I did the best we could and I’ve been paying rent since I was seventeen. We both worked hard to keep ourselves afloat, and I won’t have you looking down on the sacrifices we made. It was hard, and there were days where Mum couldn’t pay to feed us, but it isn’t something that you find on the bottom of your shoe, either. It’s made me who I am and I’m proud of that. Don’t you dare talk bad about something you never experienced.”

For a long moment he was quiet, and Rose worried that he would throw her out; but he finally nodded, something she couldn’t quite name settling on his features. “Agreed. Now sit up straight. Your posture is fucking awful, and don’t think I won’t resort to making you balance a book on your head.”

He even went so far as to switch the lines of the original story, moving her upbringing from the sticks to the estate, since she “wouldn’t fucking shut up about it.” But despite Rose’s victory, they still fought. Constantly. Rose resisted the elocution lessons since she wasn’t staying long, and Tucker insisted that it was probably the most important issue to take care of. Mickey had begun sitting in on their lessons to intervene when things started to get too heated despite Tucker’s obvious annoyance at his presence. At least he started insulting Mickey more than Rose after that; Rose was understandably defensive over the treatment of her longest friend, but she was relieved that he wasn’t unleashing all his annoyance on her during those moments.

It had taken ages for them to not spend over half the time arguing and spend most of the time actually working on her media presence. Her speech is still a sore spot, but she’s learning how to hold herself, how to answer uncomfortable questions, how to deflect and redirect and distract. It took her much longer than she cared to admit to realize that his abrasive personality was just a part of the lesson; she would be pressured by press, questioned at times from all sides, and she had to learn how to keep a level head and not lose her temper. The less she started to rise to the bait, the more he eased off, but that didn’t make him any more kind.

She feels sorry for his poor wife, whoever she is; Rose had noticed the wedding ring he always wore, but no one seemed to know who she was whenever she’d asked. Since he never seems to leave the office unless it’s business-related, Rose wonders if they even see each other at all. She’s probably better off without him, really. She imagines his work life often translates into his personal, and she knows she wouldn’t want someone swearing up one wall and down the other when she’s trying to sleep.

Finally her hair is dried and pulled into an easy, but respectable side-bun, and Rose grabs the dress, frowning at the bright, sunny yellow with black geometric shapes. She slips it on and lets it settle, examining the cut of the dress. It’s flattering, with a high neckline and cap sleeves, but not something she would pick out on a rack. The black heels, too, are completely unlike her, and though Tucker has made sure she knows how to walk on them, she is still terrified of falling.

She puts on her makeup quickly and grabs the now-empty bag, hurrying from the locker room and nearly running into Tucker.

He places his hand on her shoulder and turns her slightly as he examines her critically. “Better than I thought. Come on. There’s a car waiting to take us to the studio.”

She shrugs off his hand and follows after him. People scatter as they make way for Tucker, sending her sympathetic and curious glances. She’s still a mystery to them, this strange new woman who is the daughter of their boss, but she ignores them. Rose isn’t here to make friends, she’s here to keep busy and ignore the hole that exists within her.

Tucker holds the car door open for her, and slides into the seat across from her. “Alright, here’s the drill,” he says, opening the notebook that never seems to leave his side these days when he’s with her. “They’re going to ask you all sorts of personal questions, Rose, about your relationship with your parents, how you grew up, your best friends, how you did in school, everything. You have to be comfortable with the back story we came up with, and don’t hesitate, not for a fucking second. If you do they’ll latch onto it and bleed you fucking dry. They’re there to make news, Rose, not to be kind, despite the smiles and glitter. They won’t hesitate to fuck you over if you so much as stammer. Got that?”

“Heard it loud and clear the first time you told me, thanks,” Rose retorts, but she’s chewing nervously at her thumbnail. He shoots her a glare and she drops her hand to fiddle with the hemline of her dress instead.

He flicks to another page in the notebook. “Who was your first kiss?”

“Excuse me?!”

“We’re practicing,” Tucker snaps. “Now answer the damn question.”

She makes an irritated noise. “I don’t remember. I was in primary and playing on the swings, and he ran up and handed me a pink, plastic beaded necklace. Next thing I know, he’s planted one on my lips and I fall off the swing.”

“Your tone could use some work,” he remarks. “Next question.”

He continues to quiz her, and Rose tries to remember every bit of media training as he tries to trip her up. She diverts him somewhat easily with funny quips and hand-waves that he taught her, but Tucker is persistent and doesn’t fall for it easily. When they finally pull into the studio, she’s not exactly relaxed but she isn’t terrified. He helps her out of the car and they are soon intercepted by an intern with a clipboard before he leaves them in a lobby, telling them that someone would be with them shortly.

“Miss Tyler,” a young man says, walking up shortly after. “My name’s Mike Conners. I’ll be taking care of you today. It’s such an honour to have you on. If you and your friend here will follow me…”

“He’s my father’s head of communications,” Rose corrects him. “He’s a grouch, so don’t let his sparkling personality blind you from it.”

Mike laughs easily. “If you say so.” He leads them to a small glassed-walled room, with a row of cabinets and two chairs and a couch circling a table. “Here we are. There’s water in the fridge, and snacks in the cabinets in case you’re hungry. You’re on in thirty minutes, so I’ll be by to collect you before then.” With another smile he leaves them alone.

“At least they know how to treat their guests,” Rose says nervously, the green walls and off-white carpeting doing nothing to soothe her.

Tucker grunts. “You’re the star, of course they’re going to make you feel comfortable. You should see the other room, you’d be sweating like a pig on the spit before long.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Been there before, have you?”

“Long time ago,” he responds, examining the statuette on the table in front of him. “Back before my career really took off. It was a fucking disaster, too; I was happy to leave for greener pastures.”

She settles back into the armchair. “How did you get into this job, anyway? Pete—” she sighs at his look. “Dad told me you used to work for the… the President.”

“Long story,” he says tersely. “Let’s just say I was fucked over, and then they had the balls to ask me in to clean up the mess left over from said fucking. Fucking furious doesn’t even describe it, just know that I have yet to reach that level in the employ of your father.”

She gives a small smile. “Glad to know you haven’t washed your hands of me yet.”

They sit in silence, Tucker working on something through his phone and Rose trying to think happy thoughts. She wishes she could go back to the time before her big reveal—when Jackie had taken her shopping, hair tucked into a large hat and makeup carefully applied so that she didn’t outright resemble herself—it was almost like old times. Rose’s face hadn’t made it to the media yet, so she was able to walk around outside without hiding, even if the press of civilization made her claustrophobic. Pete had told them that they could spend however much they wanted, and while Rose and Jackie both weren’t comfortable with spending that much money, they needed clothes and well, it was nice. Rose had bought three pairs of designer jeans and two weeks worth of comfortable blouses and jumpers, while Jackie stuck with her track suits with only one pair of jeans. Rose had refused to buy flats or heels, only buying two pairs of trainers. Jackie had fallen a bit in love with the shoe store and bought far more than she needed at the moment, but Rose had been happy to see her mother smile.

Tucker hadn’t been happy when he saw her purchases, but he didn’t pitch as big a fuss as she expected. The dress is proof of why; he always gets the last word, even if he has to employ others to do it for him. At least Sam has good taste.

“Miss Tyler?” Mike was back. “They’re ready for you.”

For a moment, panic seizes her, and she stares at Mike, wide-eyed. It isn’t until she feels a reassuring weight on her shoulder that she shakes herself out of it and glances at Tucker. His face is shuttered, but he nods and squeezes her shoulder. “You’ll be fine.”

It’s the nicest thing he’s said to her since they met, and that does more to calm her than anything else.

She gulps and shakily stands, Tucker following behind her. He splits from their path before they reach the stage door, and she uses her shaking hands to smooth her dress. “You ready?” Mike asks.

Rose nods. It’s show time.

She puts on a brave smile and steps on stage.

Chapter Text

Malcolm stations himself behind the camera focused on the guest seat after leaving Rose in the corridor. He crosses one arm over himself and rests the other on top of it, knuckles against his mouth as his eyes move around the studio tensely.

“Do you know, I heard that she’s an imposter,” a voice behind him says, and he turns his head slightly to see two middle-aged women in his peripheral vision.

“Where’d you hear that, then?” the second woman asks.

“Oh, you know, those gossip columns,” the first woman goes on. “And not saying it’s true, mind, but it is all a bit convenient, the wealthy CEO’s wife just stumbling on their lost daughter like that.”

“Cor, that’s a bit shameful,” the second woman says, and Malcolm curses silently, taking a deep breath to keep from ripping into them on the spot. “Imagine, playing on sympathies like that, just for a spot of cash.”

“Quite a big spot,” the first woman snorts, and Malcolm rolls his neck before turning back to the camera.

This is why he got her this interview. Because if they avoided it too long, if all she was was a picture on a page in a fucking gossip column, they’d be doomed. It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to drag an image through the coals—not that more rounded celebrities were hugely safer—but it would help if the public had a personality attached to her face.

“Welcome back,” the male co-host says when the commercial break ends. “We have a very special guest in the studio today, and we’re honored to host her first public debut. Everyone, applause please for Miss Rose Tyler!”
Malcolm watches as she steps onto the stage, his eyes flitting between her and the camera shot. Her smile is stiff, her movements mechanical, but hopefully not enough to set off someone who doesn’t know her. Hopefully. He jiggles his leg a little as the potential for all this to blow up in their fucking faces looms a bit closer.

Come on, Tyler, he thinks, moving a little to the side to get a better view of her as she sits down in the guest seat. Don’t fuck this up.

“So, Rose—how’re we feeling today?” the male host asks with a wide grin.

And he sees it. The already plastic grin faltering, the panic rising in her eyes as she looks over the cameras and the audience, the stiffening of her muscles as her fight or flight reflex takes over.

No no no. She turns her head a little, looking straight at him with a deer in the headlights expression, and he makes a little ‘come on gesture’ with his raised hand. Say something. Fucking ANYTHING.

“Terrified,” she squeaks out, still looking straight at him, and he slaps his hand over his eyes in frustration before running it down his face. He shakes his head, then inhales deeply, with an accompanying gesture at her, followed by a long exhale. She mirrors his breathing on stage, then laughs as she turns back to the hosts. “I mean, it’s all a bit mad isn’t it? A month ago, I was on the council estate selling chips! This is all…just a bit intense after that.”

“Well, we’ll make sure to take it easy on you,” the female co-host says with a laugh, and Rose laughs again with a sheepish smile.

“You’d be on the Tyler Christmas list for life,” she says with feeling.

“Oh, that’s not a bad offer,” the man says. “Bet you lot give amazing gifts.”

“Best fruit cakes you could imagine,” Rose says, deadpan, and the audience laughs.

Tucker turns in surprise, his jaw dropping as he looks over the audience smiling at Rose, even the two old bitties from earlier. He turns back to the stage, shaking his head and smiling.

The rest of the interview goes off without a hitch, Rose sparkling as she tells his story, but with her own spin and personality. By the end, she’s got everyone in the studio eating out of her hand, and he lets out a bark of laughter when she presses her hand to her lips before waving goodbye.

Malcolm leaves the studio quickly when she makes her exit, winding his way through the corridors back to the green room and calling for the car. He freezes in shock when she throws her arms around him as soon as he opens the door.

“Yes, alright,” he says, patting her awkwardly in a bid for freedom. “That’s enough now, come on, get off.”

“God, you’re a grouch,” she says as she releases him, but she’s smiling, that peculiar tongue-in-teeth smile she gets sometimes when she’s winding up Mickey or Pete.

“I don’t…do hugs,” he says, stepping around her into the room.

“I don’t care,” she says, still smiling as she turns. “Come on, then. It was good, wasn’t it? I did good.”

“You froze,” he reminds her, and the smile drops as she rolls her eyes with a sigh.

“Oh, come on,” she groans. “It was only for a minute, and you know, you helped me get back on track, and—”

“You still fucking froze,” he argues. “After all the time I spent coaching you, practicing with you—I can’t always be there to hold your fucking hand, Rose!”

“I know!” she shouts back. “But it was my first interview, and it was only a second, really, and after that it went great—at least I thought it went great. Come on,” she says, and sidles up to him. “Admit it. I did good.”

He opens his mouth to argue, but only manages an irritated sigh when he looks down at her, smiling that tongue-touched grin at him, eyes dancing with more life than he’s seen in her yet. He rolls his eyes, taking a step back.

“You passed. Barely,” he adds quickly when she claps her hands gleefully, smile growing to a full-blown grin. He shakes his head, taking her elbow and guiding her out of the room. “Come on, there’s a car waiting for us. What’s got you so fucking chipper now, anyway?” He asks, frowning as she bounces along beside him.

"Adrenaline," she says with a shrug.

"Adrenaline," he repeats, shaking his head as they leave the building. "No wonder your last boyfriend was a mad man in a box."

"Oi!" she says. "Say what you like about the Doctor, but do not mess with the box.”

His lips twitch as he opens the car door for her, her good mood being more than a little infectious. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

"So what now?" she asks as he takes the seat across from her and the car pulls out.

"Now I take you back to Vitex so you can run down your interview with your dad," he says.

"And what’re you going to do?"

"Not that," he says, making a few quick notes in his notepad about other possible appearances. "I’ve got plans."

"What sort of plans?" she asks curiously, her head tilting as she tries to read his scrawl upside down.

"Just plans."

oOoOo

He picks up his own car at Vitex to drive to Annie’s, still preferring to keep her separate from the rest of his life. The front door blows open as he pulls up, and his arms are full of tiny female six-year old as soon as he gets out of the car.

“Mummy said she didn’t know if you were coming,” Julie says as he settles her on his hip. “She said you might have to work if Miss Rose didn’t do well on her interview. But then we watched, and I said you’d be here. Miss Rose is pretty, Uncle Mal.”

“Well done,” he says, giving her a crooked grin. “I’ll be sure to tell Miss Rose you said so.”

“Could we meet Miss Rose?”

“Oh, you know how your uncle is,” Annie says, standing in the door as he approached. “Always hiding us away.”

“I’m not—I’m not hiding you,” he protests weakly.

“You’re hiding us,” she repeats. “But I know it’s because you love us.”

She leans up a little to give him a kiss on the cheek before turning and leading him into the house. He barely has a chance to set Julie on her feet when Nathan turns up, pulling him over to the sofa and talking a mile a minute about school and cars and anything else that pops into his frenzied eight-year-old mind. It’s twenty minutes before he manages to detach himself from the children and look for Annie; he finds her in the kitchen, smirking and holding out a glass of wine.

“Your girl did well today,” she comments as he takes a grateful sip.

“She froze,” he says.

“It was for a few seconds,” Annie says, turning to the pasta cooking on the stove. “And don’t think I don’t know who she was looking at behind that camera. She did great after that.”

“She wasn’t terrible,” he allows.

“You’re such a grump,” Annie laughs, holding up a wooden spoon for him to taste the sauce. “They all loved her, and you know it. And…Julie’s right, she’s kind of gorgeous, especially when she smiles.”

“She’d make someone a perfect trophy, if she were staying,” he agrees snarkily, and she cuts a sideways look at him.

“You really don’t like her, do you?”

“She’s a pain in my ass,” he says evenly. “She’s always got some fucking opinion on everything, and she argues about everything, and she’s bloody stubborn—”

“Yes, I can see how that would be a trial for you,” Annie remarks dryly, and he narrows his eyes at her. “But she must have listened to you at some point. She had everyone in that studio wrapped around her finger in minutes.”

He lets out an indecisive hum. “It wasn’t bad for her first interview. And the adrenaline worked for her, apparently. You think she was pretty on camera, you should have fucking seen her after the interview.”

“Is that so?” Annie asks, pausing as she pulls garlic bread from the oven. “Pretty, was she?”

“Sparkling,” he says, eyes unfocusing a little as he remembers her wide grin, then he shakes himself. “There’s hope that we might actually both survive until her departure back to Narnia.”

“Who’s going to Narnia?” Nathan asks as he wanders into the kitchen. “Mum, can we have dinner now? I’m…so hungry,” he adds dramatically, slumping against the wall of the kitchen.

“Me too, Mummy,” Julie says, proceeding to fall to the floor. “I think…I think I may be wasting away to nothing.”

“We’ll remember you fondly,” Malcolm says, arching an eyebrow. “While eating your portion of ice cream.”

“Oh, not to mention cake,” Annie adds, handing him plates for the table. “So many birthday cakes…do you think we can still celebrate their birthdays if they’re dead and gone?”

“Don’t see why not,” he says, stepping over Julie as he carries the plates to the dining room. “Remembrance and all that.”

“No, wait, I think I can make it…a little longer,” Julie says, scrambling to her feet and taking the basket of garlic bread Annie hands her.

“Glad to hear it,” Annie says, exchanging a smirk with Malcolm over her head.

oOoOo

It’s late when he finally returns home from Annie’s, and he briefly considers just heading to bed before pushing the idea away. Sleep isn’t something he generally has time for, and, when he spots the tape in his briefcase, he remembers why. Always something to do—in this case, it’s going back over Rose’s interview tape to make notes on how she could improve.

He winces when he sees her moment of panic again, but is somewhat relieved to realize that even though it had felt like an eternity, it really was only a few seconds before she’d regained her composure.

“Tell me, are you angry at all at the woman you thought was your mother?” one of the hosts asks, about halfway through the interview. “I mean, being raised on a council estate when you could have had everything must have been difficult to deal with.”

Rose pauses, tilting her head thoughtfully. “I’m not upset with how I was raised, no. I know that she did her best—despite whatever she might have done wrong in taking me,” she adds quickly with a glance just to the left of the camera where Malcolm had been standing. “She was a good mum, and she always made sure I felt as loved and secure as I could. I think sometimes you just want something so bad that you sort of forget that it’s impossible, because the lie is so much more than you could’ve hoped for.” Her eyes unfocus for a moment, then she rallies with a shaky smile. “I guess I’m just thankful that I’m getting the opportunity now to be with my dad—and mum—and I’d rather not waste the time I’ve got being angry about the time I missed.”

They’d eaten it up—the hosts, the audience, everyone. He’d even heard the two gossips sniffeling over “the poor dear.” She’d managed to endear herself with her stumbling and her forgiving nature, neither of which Malcolm had really accounted for. She was more than just the persona he’d created for her…she’d given that person life, just by being Rose.

He shakes his head as he stops the tape, still amazed that she’d pulled it off. He picks up his notepad, running down the list of possible appearances to book her for soon. She’ll need all the practice she can get in the next couple of months if she’s going to survive the lion’s den she’ll be thrown into at the Vitex party.

Chapter Text

With the interview a success, Rose is left on her own for the next two weeks to complete her Torchwood training. Tucker warns her that they still have work to do, but he allows her this respite from her training. She’s happy for it, and counts it as a victory in their sparring. Maybe, she thinks, if she plays the part for just a while longer, he’ll be done with her for good before too long.
Finally, the time comes for her exit exam. Though she is ranked first in most of her classes she still needs the formal report to fully graduate. Despite Mickey’s--and Jake’s--reassurances, Rose is nervous. At some point during her training this job became something tangible, not just a concept or an idea, and she’s determined to make it to the end.

The first test is the five-day trek through the wilderness; they have a senior agent assigned to shadow them and take notes, but they are on their own for survival and to deal with the traps set along the way. She and her twelve other classmates are led blindfolded to the starting point and handed a map and a bag with a few bottles of water with the bare minimum of food and told to reach a certain set of coordinates.

All but one person passed, and though Rose had a mishap with a river and lost half her supplies, after that it is a breeze going through her individual skill tests. Even though she barely passes weaponry--her instructor still hates her, Rose knows, but she at least demonstrates that she can use the various guns--she graduates as an Agent at the end of the week, and Mickey takes her out to celebrate at a local pub that is his favorite haunt.

Rose had invited a few of her classmates along as well, but they begged off due to exhaustion. And while she is disappointed, she isn’t terribly upset; it’s nice to spend some time with Mickey, since she had missed the company of her best friend.

“Here’s to graduating,” Mickey says after they sit, raising his beer in a toast. They are sitting side-by-side in a corner booth since it’s the only available spot, and Rose bumps his shoulder.

“I don’t know why you were so worried, it was easy,” she says. “My shadow said that he had never seen anyone do so well on the survival, and that he would have given me the all-clear then and there if he could.”

Mickey rolls his eyes and drapes his arm over her shoulder. “Well, we can’t all be Wonder Woman,” he says, not noticing her slightly flinch. “You ready to start work on Monday? If you’re lucky we might get called out.”

“Of course I am,” Rose replies. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.” She pauses, before asking, “How’s the Cybermen hunt going?”

He shrugs. “Nothing so far. I think they all really did disappear during the battle. Plenty of things to destroy in their facilities though; R&D have been having a field day raiding the Cybermen warehouses."

She’s slightly upset at not being able to channel her rage into destroying them, but is glad that they are in the void where they belong and unable to hurt anyone else. “Oh well. There’s always more adventure to be found. I know the Doctor’ll be thrilled to hear my stories; and it’s about time I make some of my own,” she adds, with a proud grin.

His arm falls from her shoulder as she continues to muse about how the Doctor and Tucker would get along, but Rose barely notices. “What do you think, Micks?” she asks. “Tucker versus the Doctor, who would win?”

He shakes his head. “You still think he’s coming back, then?”

Rose blinks, flabbergasted. “Of course I do, Mickey. He wouldn’t just… leave me here. No matter what happens, he always finds a way back.” She takes a sip at her beer and makes a slight face before continuing. “This thing with Torchwood is just a way to keep me busy. I told you that.”

Mickey makes a frustrated noise and slams his drink down, making Rose jump. “I thought that you… Rose, I thought that you finally realized that he’s not coming back.”
She gives him a steely look. “He will, Mickey. Even if it’s another year, he’ll be back.”

“For God’s sake, Rose, you need to forget him!” Mickey exclaims. “You know it’s impossible, and you’re just… you’re living in limbo! The sooner you accept that you’re stuck here, the better it will be for everyone!”

A few people start glancing their way, and Rose swallows. “Mickey, calm down. You’re drawing attention to us.”

“I don’t bloody care!” he shouts, and Rose stares at him in astonishment. “You have people here, right now, that care about you! Forget about the Doctor, he hasn’t been here to help you pick up the pieces. I have. Me and your mum both! Every bloody time you fall apart we’re here. He isn’t. When are you going to face that?”

“Shut up, Mickey!” Rose hisses. “Or take this outside. You’re causing a scene.”

His expression darkens. “Since when did you care about your appearance?”

“Since how I look to people affects my mum and Pete!” she retorts. “I’m going outside. Join me when you’re in a reasonable mood.”

She leaves the table, angry at Mickey for ruining what was supposed to be a good night away from her responsibilities to work and family, and breathes harshly in the developing twilight. Mickey joins her a few seconds later, and they walk angrily to his car before getting in.

“Who the bloody hell has Tucker changed you into?” Mickey grinds out angrily as he pulls into traffic. “The girl I knew didn’t care one whit what someone thought of her. She wasn’t some… some shiny piece of glass that pandered to others!”

Rose crosses her arms and glares out the window. “I’m not anyone’s trophy,” she replies. “Mickey, you gotta understand that here, I’m not Rose. Not really. Rose is the woman who saves planets, people, and travels in space and time. Here… here I’m just Agent Tyler, or Miss Tyler, media darling. I can’t be me, Mickey. Being me would mean that I consider this place home, and I don’t.”

He snorts. “Oh please. Home is what you make. If you want it to be home it will.”

“It’s not that easy!” Rose shouts. “I lost practically everything, Mickey. You decided to stay here. I didn’t! I haven’t made one decision other than to survive! Mum told me to join Torchwood, Tucker told me to become an heiress, and now you’re telling me to what, become Old Rose again? That girl is gone, Mickey! Even if by some miracle I just… forget the Doctor and everything he is to me, I can’t go back!”

“You don’t have to be “Old Rose,” you just…” He makes a frustrated noise. “I don’t want you wasting your life because you’re waiting, Rose. You don’t deserve that.”

She sighs and runs her fingers through her hair. “I’m not waiting around, Mickey. I have Torchwood, remember? And I’m gonna make a difference as long as I can.”

“There’s a difference between waiting and not moving on, Rose,” Mickey replies. “And to me it seems like you’re stuck in the past.”

“And what else am I supposed to do?” Rose demands. “Mickey, if I make a life here, it’s going to hurt that much more once I leave!”

He snorts. “Didn’t stop you from running away with the Doctor the first time.”

“Because I could come back!”

“Is that really all you think exists?” Mickey demands. “Us, or him?”

“Mickey, it’s not that easy--”

“Of course it is! Rose, you have a life, a future, here. I know you love him, but is it so awful on Earth that you can’t wait to leave?” he shakes his head. “Years from now, it won’t matter if you settled here or not. All that will matter is if you regret any of it. And right now, where you are? You’re going to have regrets.”

Rose doesn't answer, too angry and upset to really reply. The rest of the car ride passes in a tense silence, and Rose doesn’t bother being gentle when she slams the car door closed and runs up to her room.

It takes her a while to fall asleep, Mickey’s accusations ricocheting around in her head, and she sleeps restlessly, dreams about falling into a black abyss repeating until she wakes up with a hoarse shout. She shivers and turns on the light, wondering when the nightmares will stop.

She sleeps somewhat better after that, but it’s still ridiculously early when her phone starts ringing. Rose ignores it, but as soon as the phone goes to voicemail the rings start again, and Rose groans. “I’m trying to sleep,” she snaps. “Don’t call me back unless the world is ending.”

“It just fucking might if you don’t tell me what the hell happened,” Tucker growls, and Rose blinks. How’d he get her number?

“What are you talking about?”

“You and your fucking imbecile of a friend, Mikey or whatever the fuck his name is,” Tucker responds. “Someone took photos of you two fighting in a pub last night.”
She sits up abruptly. “What?! Are you… why?”

“Because you’re the fucking Queen of Sheba,” he snarks. “Why do you think?”

She feels like crying. “It wasn’t… we weren’t even fighting! Not really. We were just out celebrating me passing the exams and becoming a Torchwood agent, and Mickey got upset because I’m still leaving when the Doctor comes back. I told him he was causing a scene so I left, but he was my ride so he kept… lecturing me on the way back to Pete’s house.” She realizes she’s a bit hysterical, but with a lack of sleep and Mickey’s words still fresh in her memory, she doesn’t know how to stop. “He said I was wasting my life, and acted like it didn’t matter that I’ve lost everything! I didn’t just lose the Doctor, I’ve lost my entire life! Mum lost her entire life! A flat full of pictures, memories, everything that made us who we were, gone! And he just… he wanted me to act like it didn’t matter!” She presses her hand to her mouth for a second, trying to hold back the sob. “I’ve been trying so hard to make everyone happy when it feels like I’m being pulled into a thousand pieces at once. I’m so far out of my depth, it’s scary. Torchwood is the only thing that makes sense but I can’t be there every second. I had you for the interview. How in the hell am I supposed to keep up appearance during an entire dinner? I don’t know what they’ll ask, I don’t know how I’m supposed to act, I don’t even know if I’m supposed to only talk to certain people!” Her vision blurs and Rose squeezes her eyes shut. “I’m not a princess, I’m not some media darling. I’m terrified of messing up with every word I say when I’m not home, and last night just made me realize how I don’t belong here.”

“Thanks for the reminder, haven’t heard that a million fucking times now,” Tucker snaps, and Rose wants to scream in frustration.

“Because it’s true!”

“I know,” he sighs, and she can see him drawing his hand down his face. “But no matter how temporary all this might be for you, it’s not for everyone else. They’re still going to want a piece of you, Rose. And, for what it’s worth--and if you repeat this to anyone, I’ll deny it to my fucking dying day--I think you’re doing better than you give yourself credit for. A hell of a lot better than I expected.”

She pauses a beat, the statement so out of character for him that she’s stunned into silence. “Really?” she asks after a moment.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t still have a fuckton of work to do,” he growls. “But as for the story, don’t worry about it; it just got attention because you’re in the spotlight. It’ll be out of everyone’s minds by the weekend.”

“O...okay.” she says. “You aren’t...mad?”

“Fucking annoyed, but not at you,” he snorts. “Tell your idiot that he better duck the next time I see him for almost destroying my press work.”

His nickname for Mickey brings a painful smile to her lips. “Yeah. Okay. Although between you and me, I might just forget.”

He lets out a sound that’s almost a laugh. “Don’t stay out in public any longer than you have to for the next few days, but I still expect you in my office at our usual time.” The line clicks off, and she stares down at the phone in a swirl of relief and weariness.

Well, at least he wasn’t mad. She puts the phone back on the nightstand and pulls the covers back over her, deciding to get at least another hour of sleep.

This time, she doesn’t dream.

Chapter Text

Malcolm grinds out a half-smoked cigarette and makes his way back inside the Tyler Mansion, fingering his bow tie as he snags a champagne flute from a passing tray. It’s not unusual for him to be in attendance at these functions, so he could get a jump on anything that might come up as press worthy, but tonight is more tense than usual. Rose is scheduled to make her first public debut without a camera and standard question sheet as a shield between her and the lions ready to tear her apart. Every investor has money riding on her, via her father, and every socialite has a position to lose with her appearance. They’ll be looking for any weak spot, and then they’ll be out for blood.

It doesn’t help that Sam is on vacation, so he didn’t really have anyone to pick out her wardrobe, because god knows Rose can’t be trusted to wear anything by choice not made of denim. He’d finally turned to Annie in desperation, giving her a rundown of the event type and his credit card, and she’d obliged--after a snarky comment about not wanting to know quite that much about his personal life. She’d returned several hours later with a garment bag, and he hadn’t even glanced at it before rushing it over to Rose via messenger. He knows Annie wouldn’t get anything awful, but her style is a bit...different. He cracks his knuckles nervously, hoping she managed to tone herself down a bit for both their sakes.

“So, do you think she’s ready?” a voice asks, and Malcolm turns to find Pete looking around with nearly as much apprehension as himself.

“As fucking ready as she’s going to be,” Malcolm replies, shrugging. “I don’t know. Maybe?”

Pete glances at him and nods. “Listen, Tucker, if something goes wrong--just get her out of here. I don’t want a bloodbath with her as some weird high society sacrifice.”

“Agreed,” Malcolm says, scanning the crowd again. “If something happens, I’ll deal with it later. I just---what the fuck is he doing here?”

“Who--oh.” Pete sighs, following Malcolm's gaze. “He’s here as a representative of the President.”

“He’s a twat.”

“He’s the President’s press man,” Pete says. “And your chosen successor to the political bollocking throne.”

“He’s still a fucking twat,” Malcolm grumbles as his former colleague saunters toward them. “Jamie.”

“Nice to see you still up and about Malcolm,” Jamie says with a grin. “Would’ve thought by now all that hot air would have fucking suffocated that tiny little brain of yours.”

“Always a pleasure to see you Mister MacDonald,” Pete says cooly.

“And you, Mister Tyler,” Jamie says. “How’s that daughter of yours faring? Saw she had a bit of a fuck up last week.”

“Wasn’t her fault,” Malcolm puts in quickly, and both Jamie and Pete give him a surprised look. “What? It wasn’t. And no one cares anymore but you, Jamie.”

“Not sure about that,” Jamie says, then looks past him with narrowed eyes. “Although...she may put it out of a few more minds tonight. Gotta say, Malcolm...your little pet project seems to clean up fucking well enough.”

Malcolm turns curiously, and freezes when he spots Rose, unable to keep his jaw from dropping a little. She's standing at the landing a little nervously, scanning the crowd, but she smiles as she finds him and Pete. Malcolm isn't sure whether to kiss Annie or kick her as Rose starts her descent, a slit up the side of her dress revealing a generous--though not indecent--amount of toned thigh. And while everyone else had gone with the standard blacks and dark blues and purples, Rose's gown is a shimmering gold, hugging her curves and dotted with jeweled embellishments.

Pete makes for the stairs, and Malcolm follows quickly in his wake. Jackie manages to beat them however, and is already hugging her daughter as they approach.

"You look beautiful, sweetheart," Jackie is saying.

"Oh, you too, Mum," Rose says sincerely, holding Jackie's hands as she steps back to get a better look at her mother. "That dress is amazing."

"Oh, you're one to talk," Jackie says with a wry smile.

"You outdid yourself this time, Tucker," Rose admits, turning to him and looking down as she smoothes a hand over the silky material, making the mass of loose curls her hair’s been done into fall forward over her face.

"Wasn't me," he says, forcing his eyes away from her hand and back to her face, trying to maintain some semblance of his usual clinical detachment as he glances over her impeccable makeup and resists the urge to brush her hair back. "My sister picked it up."

He curses himself when he sees curiosity ignite in her eyes as she tosses her head. "You have a sister?"

"So he says," Pete snorts. "Four years of working with him, and I have yet to meet her. I'm starting to wonder if it isn't a more Victor Victoria-type situation.”

"Nah," she says, stepping closer to straighten Malcolm's bow tie, and he wonders idly if her mouth has always been that distracting, or if it's just the bright red lipstick framing her tongue-touched grin. "He likes his suits too much to cross dress."

“Yeah, maybe,” Pete says with a shrug, then glances back at the crowd. “You ready for this?”

She hesitates, biting her lip--always distracting, he realizes, just exaggerated now--and looking up at him uncertainly. He swallows and nods, not totally trusting himself to form words again just yet.

“Guess I must be, if the boss man is giving the okay,” she says with a little chuckle as she releases his bow tie and smoothes her hands down his arms, making him tense reflexively and immediately start calling himself a fucking idiot. “Thanks, Tucker.”

“Thank me when it’s fucking over,” he mutters finally, taking a step back. "And we've all survived the fucking night with our story intact."

Rose takes a deep breath and nods, eyes wide. Pete leads her away with a hand on her back, and Malcolm leans against the banister to watch as she’s introduced to a rather aged and nicer group of investors he and Pete had decided earlier would be a good warm-up. Her back is to him, but he can still tell the minute she smiles by the slightly concussed expressions and confused answering grins. He shakes his head with a small chuckle; he wouldn't admit it on the pain of death, but he’s reasonably sure Rose's smile could power the whole of fucking London for a month.

He turns away when his phone buzzes in his jacket pocket, heading down the hall to check the text message.

-So what did you think of the dress?

Malcolm snorts as he types a quick reply to his sister.

-I think you may have stumbled on the fucking cure for erectile dysfunction. Cocks that haven't seen active duty for twenty years are standing to attention.

-What about you?

He rolls his eyes violently at that.

-Absolutely fucking not, for more reasons than I can say in a text message.

-But you admit that she’s gorgeous.

-I never denied it. Not sure that she actually needed to look like a fucking academy award to prove it.

-Gold suits her. And it’ll make her stand out.

-That much has been accomplished. No one could fucking miss her, what with the fucking glare. He toys with the phone for a moment before typing another message. Thanks for doing that, Annie. I owe you one.

-You owe me lots. But you can start by watching the kids next Saturday.

He sends a last message agreeing to watch his niece and nephew, then makes his way back toward the party. He spends the next few hours being talked at by more people than he cares to and nursing a couple glasses of champagne, always keeping an eye out for Rose and her crisis level. She’s easy enough to spot, moving through the sea of dark colors like a small, mobile sun, and he’s relieved to find that she seems to be holding her own, apart from a few chillier smiles with some of the vapid socialites.

It’s nearly ten when he loses sight of her, and from the way Pete is glancing around, he can’t see her either. Malcolm catches his eye and tilts his head toward the hall, and Pete nods as he quickly excuses himself from the group he was pretending to chat with. He makes his way to the hall, casting a quick look around, and starts to head in one direction when he hears voices coming from another. He moves in the direction of the sound, narrowing his eyes when he pauses outside Pete’s study.

“I have to say, Malcolm seems to have lucked out on you,” Jamie’s voice floats out into the hall, and Malcolm immediately finds himself cracking his knuckles at his sides. “You should have seen some of the representatives and cabinet members he had to polish up. What was it he called Nikola? Whatever, it wasn’t fucking good. But you...must be a treat to work with you.”

“Tucker’s been very...enlightening,” Rose says carefully.

“Well, if it were me, I’d be providing more incentive,” Jamie says and Malcolm steps silently into the room. Jamie has his back to him, standing close to Rose as she leans against the wall with an uncomfortable expression. “I’m sure you and I could work out some sort of...reward system,” he adds, running a hand down her arm, and Malcolm is hard pressed to resist the urge to snap his fucking fingers at Rose’s shudder.

“How’s your wife, Jamie?” he asks quietly instead, pleased to see the other man stiffen and drop his hand immediately. “Couldn’t make it tonight?”

“She’s at home with the baby,” Jamie grinds out.

“Pity,” Malcolm says drily, then holds out a hand for Rose. “Rose, I need you for a minute. And Jamie?” He leans in close to the other man, who still hasn’t turned to him, even after Rose steps around him. “Touch her again, and I’ll break your fucking hand.”

He leads Rose out of the room and through the hall, snagging a tray of tiny sandwiches and adding two champagne flutes on his way out the kitchen door into the back garden. He sets it down on the garden wall between them and hands her a glass.

“What’s this for?” she asks.

“For making it through your first Vitex party without any major fucking catastrophes,” he says. “More or less.”

She lets out a small laugh before clinking her glass with his. “Thanks for saving me back there,” she says after a sip.

“I just didn’t want to deal with the gossip of you having an affair with the President’s spin doctor,” he tells her with a shrug, although he’s not so sure that his violent reaction totally fits that motive. Before he can examine the thought, she grins at him as she raises her glass, and he remembers with a shock where he’s seen her before. “Far fucking cry from serving the drinks,” he murmurs, and her glass freezes at her lip. “I knew I’d seen you before.”

“You were there?” she asks in astonishment.

“Yeah, it was about six months after I started working for your dad,” he says with a nod.

“How’d you make it?” she asks curiously.

“Didn’t have my earpods in,” he explains. “I’d left early to handle something, and had taken them out, because I always hated them. Make any old dog jokes and I’m fucking done with you,” he warns, and she smiles gently.

It’s the smile that made him remember, mixed with a bit of context setting. Because he’d been so annoyed that night about some media cock up, plus dealing with Pete’s meeting with Lumic, and Jackie I’s birthday, which was a special sort of hell, and he hadn’t been in the mood for anything, much less a party. He’d been rude--he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but it hadn’t been kind--but the blonde server had smiled at him, and it had been so bright that he’d done a double take. He’d thanked her without thinking about it, and she’d moved away to offer up champagne to someone else, but she’d stayed on his mind for over an hour after that.

Until the attack started, and he’d flown to Annie’s house, and had found two small and frightened children alone in a dark house, and had to hide the three of them from the heavy, robotic footsteps outside--

Her hand on his arm brings him back to the present, and he coughs awkwardly before taking a long drink of champagne.

“Anyway,” he says, stepping away from her touch. “It’s been bothering me for ages, since the day we met. Glad I could figure out the connection. You were here with your Doctor, then?”

“Yeah,” she says, taking one of the sandwiches on the tray. “It was him who figured out how to stop them, shut them all down. Him and Mickey. God, that was a mess,” she laughs, rolling her eyes at the memory. “Him and Pete talking in secret code through a security camera in the cyber factory to Mickey up in Lumic’s zeppelin, using my old phone to get the code out...” Her words peter out, and she turns away from him to lean on the garden wall, toying with the key hanging from a chain around her neck, the one she’d told him went with the blue box she’d called home for years.

“You really miss him, don’t you?” Malcolm asks softly.

“Yeah.” She reaches up a hand to twist a curl around her finger. “It’s that whole life, you know? Me, and the Doctor, and the TARDIS...seeing all those beautiful things, doing all these incredible things, never standing still…”

“You really still think he’s coming for you?” he asks after a moment. She glances up at him, and he shrugs. “It’s been three months.”

“He’ll come,” she says firmly. “It’s just taking a bit more than five and a half hours.”

His phone vibrates against his chest before he has a chance to ask what the fuck that means, and he fishes it out to glance at the caller ID, wincing when he sees Pete’s name.

“Where are you?” Pete demands as soon as he answers. “Is Rose alright?”

“Back garden,” he answers, winking at Rose. “Your daughter is fine. We’re just taking a breather.”

“Since when do you take ‘breathers?’” Pete asks. “Nevermind...people are starting to leave, and want to say their goodbyes to Rose.”

“Yes sir,” Malcolm snorts as Pete hangs up. “I hate when he does that.”

“You mean just like you do?” Rose asks, the teasing, tongue-touched grin making another appearance as they make their way back inside.

“We’re not fucking talking about me,” he argues, setting the tray of sandwiches down on the counter in the kitchen as they pass.

“‘Course not,” she laughs. “So what was it you called...what was her name? Nicole?”

“Nicola,” he says with an eyeroll. “Omnishambles. Everything was wrong with her. How she got as far as she did, I’ll never fucking know.”

“I’m not omnishambles?” she asks just before they reach the party.

He glances down at her, dressed and made up to be the perfect Vitex princess, and oddly misses the short-tempered, denim-clad Rose that usually graces his office. She’s a pain in the arse, without a doubt, far from perfect beneath the pretty clothes, but...

“No, Rose,” he says gently. “Not even close.”

Chapter Text

“Rose, you coming tonight?” Sarah asks as she checks the temperature of the shower. They had just returned from a field mission in Birmingham—it wasn’t anything major, but time traces had been discovered and she, Sarah, Mickey and Jake had been sent out to look. It ended up being a false reading since the particular grass species played havoc with the sensors, and Rose tried to ignore the crushing disappointment.

“Sorry, Sarah, have dinner with the family,” Rose replies. “Mum has been asking me to join them for awhile now, and I really can’t put it off any longer.”

Sarah shrugs. “Oh well. I’m going to miss you on my quiz team. Maybe next week.”

Rose smiles apologetically before stripping and stepping into her own stall, letting the water wash away grime that had accumulated from hiking through muddy fields for hours on end while Jake tried to figure out what was causing the sensors to run wild. It wasn’t until Rose scanned herself that Jake had figured out the reason, and when he finally calibrated it they were all annoyed at the situation. Mickey had left as soon as they got back to talk to Research and Development about the scanners, and Rose couldn’t deny her relief.

Ever since their fight, relations between them have been strained. While they are civil—there is too much history between them, too many shared experiences for them to ever truly hate one another—Rose still hasn’t quite forgiven him and Mickey refuses to apologize. Sarah is the only person Rose ever really talks to, but she has a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ view on life that Rose doesn’t really agree with.

Sarah is still in her shower when Rose finishes, so she quickly changes and hurries to the garage. Tucker had finally gotten Rose’s driver’s license taken care of, but she has a long way to go before he ever allows her behind the wheel by herself. Until then he had hired her a driver to get her to and from work. Rose is just happy she doesn’t have to rely on public transport.

She is dropped off at the Tyler mansion an hour later, and instantly pulled into a hug by Jackie. “Oh, you got back in time!” Jackie says, and grins at her. “How was your first mission?”

“Muddy,” Rose says ruefully as they walk to the sunroom. “Sarah ended up face-first in a puddle when she tripped over a hidden rake, and Jake almost fell down a well. We had a good laugh about it though.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Jackie says. “Have you met anyone outside the team yet?”

Rose shifts uneasily. “Not really Mum. When I’m not at Torchwood I’m either here or doing something with or for Tucker, and the other squads sorta… well, I’m sure Pete has told you, they think I’m only in my position because I’m his daughter. Or they’re jealous because I got perfect marks during the survival test.”

Jackie frowns. “You earned your title fair and square! Don’t listen to them, Rose. They haven’t faced half the things you have, you more than deserve it.”

“Thanks, Mum.”

They talk about little things as they wait for Pete to get back— Jackie’s trials at trying to avoid her counterpart’s old friends and making new ones, Rose talking about how she found herself in Archives and was an instant hit when she identified a piece of alien tech and got it to work. She has a standing invitation from the agents there to visit whenever she likes, and the department head is already trying to recruit her.

“That’s great, Rose,” Jackie says. “I know you don’t want to stop being a field agent, but, well, you know I worry about you. And you can make friends there.”

“If you say so,” Rose says. Changing the subject, she looks at the door. “Where is Pete, anyway?”

Jackie glances at her watch. “He should be home soon. He phoned earlier and said he’d be running late—had to take a phone call from an investor.”

Rose leans her head on her mum’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you.”

“Me too, sweetheart.” Jackie squeezes her hand. “But I’m glad you’re happy. That’s all that matters.”

Pete arrives shortly after, beaming. “You told her then?” he asks at seeing their smiles.

“Told me what?” Rose asks, mystified, as Jackie stares at Pete with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

He immediately flushes. “I, er…”

Jackie sighs and turns to Rose. “We have something to tell you.” She gives a tender smile to Pete, who grins back. “Pete and I are having a baby.”

Rose stares, a roaring sound in her ears. “What? When?”

“About six and a half months from now,” Jackie replies. She’s beaming and looks so happy that Rose feels guilty for not sharing in her joy. Pete crosses the room to sit beside her, and Jackie leans into his embrace. “We found out last week.” At Rose’s startled look Jackie’s smile falters slightly. “We wanted to tell you immediately, but you were busy at work, and we didn’t want to distract you.”

“I…” she pauses. Though the fact they had waited to tell her stings, she’s still reeling from their confession. When had this happened? She knows that Pete and her mum have been spending time together, getting to know the other and creating a new life together, but she’s been so wrapped up in her own heartache and ambitions to notice that they had also fallen in love. And now they are going to welcome a baby into the world, together, and Rose can’t help but feel like she’s being replaced.

She knows it’s an awful thought to have. After all she’s going to be leaving with the Doctor, and Jackie deserves to have happiness. The same happiness Rose will have when the Doctor comes for her. Rose will never see her mum again, but her mum will still have a child to care for.

She forces the thoughts away and grins. “You do realize that I’m going to ask you to make an honest woman out of her, Pete.”

Pete flushes and Jackie lets out a happy laugh. “I was actually going to talk to Tucker about that tomorrow. Jackie and I want to get married, but it’ll probably be a vow renewal ceremony. I just don’t want it to be blown out of proportion.”

Rose shakes her head. “You know what? Let me handle it. As a… gift. You two will be busy preparing for the baby anyway.”
“Oh, Rose, I still have a long time before I’m out of commission,” Jackie says. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to, Mum,” Rose tells her gently, pulling her into a hug. “You deserve happiness. You and Pete both. This is the least I can do.”

They get up to eat dinner, and if Rose is quieter than normal they don’t comment. Rose takes the time to watch them, the guilt at not noticing their relationship earlier once again taking hold. When had she become so selfish?

Rose retires early, and it only takes her thirty minutes to accept that she isn’t going to sleep. She emails Mickey and tells him she won’t be going in—it isn’t like they are on the rotation for field missions anyway, having just got back from one—and texts Tucker to let him know she’s going to be at his office around nine. He sends her a confirmation and she ignores the pointed question as to why, picking up a book over the French Revolution and sliding into the window seat with a fluffy purple blanket.

She stops reading when the sun is streaming through the window, raising bleary eyes to look at her clock. The bookmark slides into place and she stretches as she stands, wincing as pins and needles erupt.

Rose beats both Jackie and Pete downstairs, putting the kettle on and ignoring the apples in favor of a banana. Though Pete has a cook, she doesn’t arrive until noon in order to prepare lunch and dinner. The family is on their own for breakfast, something Rose is grateful for.

Pete is just staggering downstairs when Rose goes back up to get dressed, giving her a tired smile. Rose gives him a brief one in return, hoping he doesn’t notice how tense she is.

Probably not—he’s just like her, barely functioning until he has his first cuppa.

She leaves before both Pete and Jackie have finished eating, calling for the car and heading directly to Vitex and, ultimately, Tucker’s office. Hopefully he won’t mind her being early; but Rose doesn’t know what else to do, and has no one else to turn to.

Sam hasn’t arrived yet, so Rose walks directly in, ignoring the hubbub of Tucker’s minions as they field questions and converse quietly. The man himself is at his desk, marking up a document that she’s pretty sure is a speech that Pete is supposed to give at a conference next week.

“You can stop fucking staring, I know you’re there,” he says as Rose hovers uncertainly in the doorway.

She lurches forward slightly before walking over to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Mum and P-Dad told me last night that they’re expecting,” she says, and his eyebrows shoot up as he meets her gaze. “I told them that I’d help you handle it, since they’ll have their hands full later.”

He leans back in his chair and regards her carefully. “You could have told me this last night or over the phone this morning. Why come here?”

She hesitates, chewing her thumbnail as she struggles for words. “I… I needed someone to talk to.”

He sighs heavily. “I’m not a fucking shrink.”

“I know you’re not. God, I wouldn’t want you to ever be one, you’d drive your clients to suicide within thirty minutes.” She shudders. “But you’re probably the only one here who’ll listen, as ironic as that is.”

Tucker stands and moves to close his door after conferring with someone outside—Sam must have arrived then, if the feminine tone means anything. His expression is slightly less annoyed when he gets back, and to her surprise he takes the seat next to hers. “Okay. What is it? I don’t have to give someone a bollocking, do I?”

“Not yet,” Rose admits. “Unless you still want to give Mickey that punch.”

“He’s slippery, like a goddamn eel,” Tucker grumbles. “It’s like he fucking smells me coming.”

“Probably hears you,” Rose says dryly. He acknowledges the fact with a nod. “Anyway, Mum and Pete are having a baby.”
“Yes, you told me that. Now what’s the fucking point?”
She wraps her arms around herself. “I just… Mum is happy. And I didn’t evennotice. My entire life it’s been the two of us, looking out for each other and facing the world together. And now she’s got Pete and the baby and I didn’t even realize how happy she is, and how happy he makes her. I’m a terrible daughter and Mum didn’t even tell me because she didn’t want me distracted. I don’t even know what I was supposed to be distracted from!”

“Did you just pull me away from your pseudo-father’s press speech to investors about the new products to fucking cry about how you’re no longer going to be a single fucking child?” he asks.

“Oh, like you want to do that anyway,” Rose snarls. “You normally fob it off on one of your office flunkies, I heard them complaining about it last week. And I’m not upset about no longer being a single child; I’m upset because once again I’m being left behind!”

The confession hangs in the air between them, and Rose slumps into her chair, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes to desperately hold back her tears. After a moment she confesses shakily, “I’ve always been second best. Not good enough for Jimmy Stone, not content enough for Mickey, not normal enough for Mum. The only person who made me feel like I was wanted was the Doctor, but he isn’t here right now. And I’m being left behind once again, by the only person who has been the one constant in my life. Forgive me for being emotional.”

There’s a shifting of fabric as Tucker adjusts his stance, looking uncomfortable. “I don’t know what you’re asking me for here, Rose.  You’re the one so fucking insistent about the fact of leaving.”

“I just… need someone to listen,” she says, miserably. “Everyone seems to think I’m finally happy or content, and I’m not. I don’t… I don’t want to ruin my mother’s happiness by being the depressed burden anymore, and Mickey doesn’t want anything to do with me it seems.” She pauses, then shakes her head in disgust as she stands. “Right, this was stupid, you don’t care anyway. I’m just gonna leave and let you get back to…” she waves at the paper and heads toward the door.

There’s a ding and Tucker scrambles for his phone. “What’s this about a vow renewal?”

Rose reluctantly turns back. “Mum and Pete want to get married, but since in your story they already are, they’re thinking of calling it that instead so as to not alarm anyone. I… well, I offered to help get everything in order. With, er, with your help.”

“First I’m a fucking shrink, now I’m a fucking wedding planner,” he grumbles. “And… I never signed up for this shit.”

Rose huffs. “I can organize the actual event, you know. I… we… they just need you to handle the press so that they don’t catch wind, or make a huge deal out of it.” She shrugs, tucking her hands under her arms. “I think it’s going to be a small thing, but they haven’t really told me what they want yet. Just thought you should have a heads up.”

“Right. Only problem is, are you sure you’re going to still be here when it happens?”

Rose pauses. “Oh. Uhm. Well. Maybe? I don’t know when they’re having it.” Seeing his eye twitch, she adds, hastily, “I’ll do as much as I can while I’m still here. Mum can do the rest, or I dunno, Sam…” she trails off at his expression. “Right. Not her. Never mind. I’ll try to get as much done as possible?”

“If you think for one fucking second you’re turning me into a fucking bridesmaid, think again.” He walks to his desk and picks up the phone. “Sam, get Stevens in here. He needs to edit this draft. I have other work to do.” He puts the phone down and seconds later a short, middle-aged man walks tentatively through the door. He is handed the draft without a second glance as Tucker grabs Rose’s arm and pulls her out the door. “Tell any visitors that I’m out for the day,” he tells Sam as they pass her.

They go up to Pete’s office, and after Tucker gets the story from Pete and a tentative date, he turns to Rose with a frown. “That’s in a month. Think you can do it?”

“It’s for Mum,” Rose says, determinedly. “Of course I will.”

“On your own head be it, then.”

They sit with Pete as they draw up a plan, with only a few phone calls to Jackie to get her input. Two hours later they have a stronger plan and Rose starts making a list of what she needs to do in Tucker’s office, not wanting to face Torchwood or her parents just yet. Surprisingly Tucker lets her, so long as she promises to not make ‘a fucking nuisance of herself,’ so she listens to his phone calls in the backdrop as she researches venues, decorations, and compiles a guest list.

Even though Pete told her not to worry about the cost, Rose is still careful of what she orders—Jackie may have taken to the life as a society wife like a duck to water, but Rose knows that she is sometimes uncomfortable with the glitz and glamour. In the end she decides to have it at the mansion itself, finding a reasonably priced caterer with a wide variety of options that allows Rose to pick and choose things that will fit into a society event as well as taste good. She’s pleased with her progress when Tucker coughs and tells her to leave because he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s kidnapped her, and Rose leaves the building in better spirits than when she entered it.

“Thanks for today,” Rose says as they wait for her driver. “I know it’s not what you wanted, but thank you.”

He frowns. “It’s my job. Just don’t fucking mention it, right? Don’t want people to think I’ve grown fucking soft.”

Rose laughs and bumps his shoulder before stepping closer to the curb as the driver pulls up. “See you tomorrow, Tucker.”

He gives her a salute and turns away before she closes the door, already around the corner before the car pulls away into the street.

Jackie frets at Rose’s appearance when she gets back to the mansion, and it’s only then that she realizes how tired she is, from not getting any sleep the previous night to her emotional confession in Tucker’s office and hours of research, and doesn’t protest when Jackie bundles her to bed right after dinner. She only pauses to make sure the nightlight is on before sliding between the covers, a smile on her face as she drifts off.

Four hours later she is jolted awake by an impossible voice in her mind.

Rose…

Chapter Text

Malcolm glances at the door again and nearly smacks himself.  He’s got enough to do, he doesn’t need Rose hanging about anyway.  But, since she did say she’d be here today, he pulls out his phone, typing a quick message to her.

-Mind telling me if/when you’ll be here?  Don’t want you walking in to my ritual wank at midday.

He tosses his phone back on the desk and turns back to the brief he’d been proofing.  A moment later, he glances at the phone with a frown.  He’d figured that sort of text would get an immediate reaction from her, probably to tell him he was disgusting and that she was on her way.  He picks up the phone, scrolling through his messages to make sure it sent.  He jumps when it rings in his hand, nearly dropping it.

“Tucker,” he answers roughly.

“So listen, since Pete couldn’t bother making the board meeting, we should go over—”

“Hold on, what?” Malcolm cuts in, interrupting whatever drivel Jennings is about to spew forth.  “Why did he miss the meeting?”

“No idea,” Jennings says.  “But listen—”

Malcolm ends the call before he finds out what he’s supposed to be listening to, because he honestly couldn’t give a fuck.  He tucks his phone into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, making for the lift in the hall and riding it up to Pete’s office.

“Sandra, I need to talk to Mister Tyler,” he says as he passes Pete’s secretary, ignoring her when she tries to protest.  He bursts in to find it empty, paper and mail still on the CEO’s desk.

“He’s not here,” Sandra says redundantly.

“Yes, I can fucking see that, thank you,” he snaps, rounding on her.  “Where the fuck is he?”

“I-I don’t know,” she stammers, and he feels an inexplicable pounding in his ears.  “He just called and told me to cancel all his appointments, and forward his calls.”

“For how long?” he demands hoarsely.

“Until further notice,” she tells him with a shrug.

“Alright,” he says with far more calm than he feels.  “Fine.  Call me if he rings again.”

“Yes sir,” she says uncertainly.  “Only, what am I actually supposed to be doing?”

“I don’t fucking know,” he snaps, already scrolling through his contacts.  “Forwarding his calls?  Attempting to look less frumpy? You pick.  Apparently it’s sort of a choose your own fucking adventure kind of day.”

He dials a number as he steps into the lift, his sinking feeling worsening with every successive ring.

“Hi, this is Rose.  Can’t answer your call, but please leave a message, and I’ll be sure to call back.  Bye!”

“Rose, it’s Tucker,” he says into the phone.  “We’ve still got things to go over. I’m not fucking waiting for you all fucking day.  Call me.”

He pushes the end button, staring at the phone for a moment before dialing another number.

“Tucker, I was going to call you later,” Pete says as he answers.

“Oh, were you?” Malcolm asks, stepping back into his own office and shutting the door.  “Good to know I made your to-do list, unlike your fucking board meeting.  Where the fuck are you?”

“A bit outside Dusseldorf,” Pete replies.

Malcolm’s eyes slide closed.  “Did you wanna tell me why?”

“It’s…it’s the Doctor,” Pete says slowly, and Malcolm freezes by virtue of not knowing what to break first.  “He’s been calling Rose.  Some sort of…psychic—sorry, telepathic link.  Sort of…guiding her, like a homing device.”

He can hear her in the background, and he takes a deep breath through his nose.  “Guiding her where?”

“Not sure yet,” Pete says.  “She can tell which direction, but not really…where.  Or how far.  So I’m not sure how long it’ll take.  I didn’t take the zeppelin, ‘thought that’d give you more of a headache—”

“Are you fucking shitting me?” Malcolm explodes.  “You’re telling me you’re driving to god knows fucking where because Planetary Janet is hearing fucking voices now?”

“Tucker—”

“No, fuck this!” he shouts into the phone.  “Six months of fucking work I put in, six fucking months, to make you the fucking picture perfect family, the fucking Waldens with a fucking bank account, and that’s all I fucking get?  So long Tucker, thanks for all the fish, skipping out to another fucking dimension now?”

“Tucker, listen—”

“No, you fucking listen,” he snaps.  “I’ll fucking take care of it, fine, but after this, you can all go fuck yourselves.  I’m fucking done with Torchwood and all this sci-fi wank.”

“We’ll talk about it when I get home,” Pete says, a hint of the authority he rarely exerts on Malcolm, but they both know he has.  There’s a click as the line goes dead, and this time he does break something, picking up a vase and chucking it at the wall.

He stares at the shards for a moment, his mind conjuring up the image of her smiling and bumping her shoulder against his arm, saying she’d see him the next day….and of walking away from her.  It was the last time he’ll ever see her, and he’d just walked away.

“Fuck this,” he mutters, grabbing his coat and walking out, intent on finding the nearest pub and sucking it dry.

oOoOo

Annie wakes with a start to the sound of her brother shouting outside.  She turns to peer blearily at the clock, frowning at the sight of 2 a.m. announcing itself in hellish red light.  She climbs out of bed, pulling on her robe and tying her hair up as she moves down the hall, checking on Nate and Julie on the way.  She thanks god, not for the first time, that her kids could sleep through a hurricane, and makes her way down the stairs to the door.

“Yeah, fucking same to you, mate,” Malcolm is shouting at a cab driver when she steps outside.  “And fucking double for your hag of a mother.”

The man flips Malcolm the bird and drives off, tires squealing, as Malcolm returns the favor.  He turns toward her, still muttering, but brightens when he spots her.

“Annie!” he cries, and she spies the bottle of whiskey in his hand as he stumbles toward her.  “Little Orphan Annie—d’you know, I have…fucking fantastic news.”

“Is that so?” she asks, reaching for the bottle, but he raises it to his lips again.  She frowns when he misses the first time, then winces when he doesn’t.

“I’m free,” he says hoarsely after a long pull from the bottle.  “Fucking free!  Isn’t that great?  No more babysitting the little Vitex princess, no more stupid fucking arguments because she doesn’t know when to shut her fucking cave, no more spinning this stupid fucking story—d’you know, maybe I should work for Eastenders,” he says suddenly, stopping and looking thoughtful, and Annie lets out a laugh in spite of herself.  “I should!  I could!  I’d be great at it.  If I can make everyone love Rose fucking Tyler, I can sell any fucking horseshit out there.  Grade fucking A televised manure, regularly scheduled for your convenience and fucking delight.”

“Why don’t you come inside?” she suggests, stepping closer to take his arm.  He allows her to lead him into the house, stumbling a little as he raises the bottle again.  “Can I have that?” she asks when she’s got him settled in a chair in the dining room.

"Nope," he says, pulling the bottle from her reach.  "I fucking deserve this. It’s a fucking celebration, yes?"

Annie eyes him critically for a moment.  He doesn’t look like he’s celebrating.  He looks like a mess.  She hasn’t seen him this bad in years.

"So I take it Rose is gone?" she asks carefully, watching the subtle shift in his expression.

"Back to fucking Narnia," he slurs.  "And good fucking riddance too. She was fucking hopeless. Always mooning about her fucking Doctor, the alien hero, all the amazingfucking adventures with him, then calling me when she needs ‘someone to talk to,’ acting like we’re fucking friends and I might actually give a shit when she looks all sad and helpless and miserable and needs a hug.”  Annie’s eyebrows shoot up at this while he pauses for breath, glaring sullenly into a corner.  “And honestly, I don’t know what I’m supposed to coach her on when she’s got a smile like a fucking atom bomb, capable of destroying the will of anyone.  How are you supposed to teach someone anything when they’ve got that sort of crutch to lean on?”

"Oh… Malcolm," she says softly, touching his hand gently, but he pulls away.

"Don’t you ‘oh fucking Malcolm’ me, Annalise," he snaps.  "I’m fine.  Abso-fucking-lutely fan-fucking-tastic.  I’m—"

He stops suddenly with an odd look, then slams the bottle down on the table and darts for the loo.  Annie winces at the unmistakable sound of retching that quickly follows.  She stands and makes her way back upstairs to the linen closet, removing a couple of blankets and pillows and an extra toothbrush.  Clearly, Malcolm is in no shape to return home tonight.

She’s been teasing him about having a crush on the new Vitex heiress for weeks, due to his increasing habit of working her into nearly every conversation, even if it’s usually to complain about her.  Ever since that first interview a few months back, when he’d said she was “sparkling,” he’s seemed distracted by her.  Annie had assumed it was because he wanted to keep the momentum going, and to keep her from freezing up again, but now…now she’s not so sure. 

Smile like an atom bomb indeed.

Back downstairs she drops the pillows and blankets on the sofa before pouring a glass of water and knocking lightly on the bathroom door.  The muffled groan isn’t really an invitation or refusal, but the door’s unlocked, so she takes her chances.  She tuts at the sight of Malcolm hunched over the toilet, a sheen of sweat covering his face, and opens the medicine cabinet to grab a bottle of paracetamol.  She sets the bottle, glass, and toothbrush on the sink before leaning over him, tugging his coat and suit jacket back and off his shoulders.

“Those are for you,” she tells him, and he glances up at the items on the sink.  “Use them.  Don’t pass out in here.  I’ll check on you in a few minutes.”

He nods a little, reaching up to loosen his tie further, and she heads back into the living room, draping his coat and jacket over the back of a chair before making up the sofa for him, pausing for a moment when she hears the sink in the loo start.  She’s just finished fluffing the pillows when she hears him stagger out into the hall.  She looks up when he rounds the corner into the living room, pale and shaky and slightly less hammered.

“Sorry,” he mutters.

She lets out a dismissive snort, waving his comment away.  “You took care of me enough when I was younger.  Always knew I’d end up caring for you in your old age.  Sort of figured it’d be after retirement, but oh well.”

“Fuck you,” he says, but she smiles when he lets out a small chuckle.  He picks his way across the living room and she perches herself on the arm of the sofa when he drops onto it.  He stares into the middle distance for a moment.  “She didn’t even say goodbye, you know that?”

“I’m sorry, Mal,” she says, putting a hand on his shoulder.

He shrugs, kicking off his shoes.  “Doesn’t fucking matter.  She was always going to leave.”

“That didn’t stop you from caring about her though,” Annie says softly.  “Why didn’t you—”

“What?” he asks, raising his eyes to her.

“I don’t know…try to stop her?”

“How?” he asks.  “‘Turns out I might not actually detest you as much as I thought, so maybe you should give a pass on the fucking universal adventuring in your home dimension to loiter in my office with me’?  I don’t fucking think so.  If her parents and new brother or sister couldn’t keep her here, I certainly wouldn’t.”  He sighs, running a hand over his face.  “Doesn’t fucking matter,” he says again, like it’s a mantra or prayer chant.  “She wasn’t mine to stop.”

He shakes off her hand and shifts around, laying back on the pillows as Annie watches him sadly.

“Get some sleep,” she says, standing and leaning over him to drop a kiss on his forehead.  His hand reaches up to touch her hair in a brief show of affection before dropping back to his stomach again.  “Love you.”

“You too,” he murmurs, eyes already closed.  “Thanks, Annie.”

He’s already out, snoring gently, when she’s done pulling the blanket over him.

oOoOo

Malcolm wakes with a groan the next morning, his head aching and the night a blur.  He’s briefly disoriented before he recognizes Annie’s couch, then jumps when he turns his head to find the owner sitting crosslegged on the coffee table and staring at him, like some sort of ginger demon.

“Jesus christ!” he shouts, then winces at the way his voice reverberates in his own head.

“How’re you feeling?” she asks, and he knows she’s not being loud, but it sounds like a fucking train roaring by.

“I’m not sure,” he says weakly.  “Is the Brownian motion of atoms supposed to be this loud?”

She picks up a plate sitting next to her and hands it to him, and he sits up carefully to peer at the toast and painkillers laid out for him.

“There’s water behind you,” she says.

“Thanks,” he croaks out, giving the toast a pass for the moment in favor of dulling the pain in his head.  “Where’re the kids?  I didn’t wake them, did I?”

“They’re at school,” she says, watching as he downs the pills with the entire glass of water.  She produces another glass of the stuff from somewhere behind her, and he immediately amends his first observation of her from demon to blessed fucking angel.  “And no.  They slept through everything.”

“Good.”  He downs the second glass before looking around with a frown.  “What time is it?”

“Nearly ten,” she informs him.

“Fuck!” he shouts, jumping to his feet and immediately feeling dizzy.  She’s quick to steady him and pull him back to the sofa.

“I already called Sam and told her you weren’t coming in,” she says.  “FYI, you’ve got the flu, so you might not be in tomorrow either.”

He snorts, running a hand down his face and feeling like a fucking fool.  He’s too old for drinking binges like this, far too old to be showing up at his baby sister’s house in the middle of the night.  It doesn’t even make sense, his reaction to her leaving.  He’d never wanted her here in the first place, and it will make his job infinitely easier to just make her quietly disappear again.

But she hadn’t even said goodbye.  And for some reason, the idea of never seeing her again is tearing at him.

“I’m such a fucking mess,” he says after moment.  “I may have quit my job.  Also, it’s a bit hazy, but I might have blackmailed a photographer and broken his camera at some point last night.”

“You and Pete both know you didn’t really quit,” Annie says, shifting and tucking her legs under her.  “And the photographer probably deserved it.  Nosy bastards.”  He nods, rubbing the back of his neck to ease the knots that formed from the sofa.  “You really like her, don’t you?”

“No,” he says, giving her a sideways glance.  “Not the way you mean.  Christ, Annie, she’s thirty fucking years younger than me, and my boss’ daughter, nevermind the fact that she’s in love with someone from another universe.  It’s just…I dunno.  There’s all these people that are so fucking sure of their own importance, that think it can be dictated by the weight of their bank account, but she…she saved the world.  She savedyou,” he adds, nodding when Annie sits up straighter.  “Her and her Doctor, they were the ones to free everyone from Lumic, to keep you from getting Cybered.  But what’s she worried about?  That she wasn’t paying enough attention to her parents.  That Mickey the fucking idiot might be upset with her.  That she’ll say the wrong thing to her dad’s investors, who really don’t give a shit what the fuck she’s saying once she smiles at them.”

“Smile like an atom bomb,” Annie says with a grin, and he stares at her.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she laughs.  “Go on.”

“She’s just a good person,” he says with a shrug.  “And it was nice to have her around.”

“And you’re going to miss her.”

“Yeah,” he says, Rose’s face once again rising to the surface of his mind.

“But you don’t like her,” Annie goes on, and he arches an eyebrow at her.

“No.”

“You know, brother dear,” Annie says, standing up.  “Denial is a terrible thing.”

“I’m not—it’s not…denial,” he sputters.  “There’s every reason not to—”

“Oh please, like that’s ever stopped you,” she says as she picks up one of the empty glasses and leaves the room.

“I’m not in fucking denial,” he mutters, even while pushing away the memory of how much more pleasant an afternoon in his office was when he could look up and see her on the sofa, tongue gripped between her teeth thoughtfully as she planned out the ceremony for her parents.

“Oh, and if Pete does end up taking your resignation to heart,” Annie says when she enters the room again, and he looks up to see her holding a fresh glass of water out to him,  “there’s always your dream of writing for Eastenders to fulfill.”

What?”

Chapter Text

The hotel in Denmark is old but comfortable, even if the windows leak the cool night air and the window unit roars just loud enough to hear in dreams. Rose sits on the bed, knees tucked under her chin and arms wrapped around her legs, staring blankly at the wall.

Everyone had been right. It’s impossible to get back; she had just been too bloody stubborn to admit it.

It had taken over a day to arrive at the beach, hindered by traffic and Rose only knowing the vague sense of direction; the roads didn’t always follow the path she knew to take, so they’d sometimes had to drive an hour or two out of the way before they’d even get back on track. Mickey and Pete had switched off driving so that they didn’t have to stop, with Rose dozing on and off during the drive, alerting them whenever they were off track.

As soon as they arrived, Rose couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding. This was right, this was where they had to be… but where was the TARDIS? Where was the Doctor? It only got worse when he appeared out of thin air, flickering and insubstantial, and she knew, she just knew that this was going to be goodbye.

But she couldn’t quench that last flicker of hope that maybe she could go back, that maybe the man in front of her was just a sort of… hologram to lead her somewhere else. Like this was just another form of emergency program one.

But it hadn’t been. And once more, he’d vanished in a flash, leaving her alone.

Rose Tyler, I…

His words swirl in her mind. It was all she could think about as Jackie gathered Rose to her and they collapsed into the sand, the horrible, awful truth resounding within her. She was never meant to go back. She was stuck here, in this alternate world, with a family who loved her but without the man she loved most.

Unlike the first time, where all she felt was pain and an aching loneliness, now she only feels hollow.

She squeezes her eyes shut and presses her face into her knees, shuddering. There’s Torchwood and her family, but they had been distractions. Distractions until she found a way back, and now that’s no longer an option. She had refused to put down roots, refused to make any connections, and now she has very little to go back to.

Some Defender of the Earth when she can’t even manage her own life.

She knows that Jackie is worried about her, but Rose has, no matter how awful or traumatizing it is, finally got closure. She’s no longer wondering when he will show up or if he wants to come get her. From here on out Rose will have to make her own way in a foreign Universe.

However, knowing and accepting are two different things.

She’s still not sure how she got to where she is; logically she knows that sometime after the Doctor left, Jackie and Mickey had gotten her into the car and started the long drive back, pulling over when it became dark so that everyone could get some rest after the stress of the past twenty four hours. Sleep is the last thing she wants though, even if it offers a slim chance of oblivion--she knows that she’ll dream of the Doctor, dream of his goodbye, dream of the last moments they saw each other as she fell. And she doesn’t know if she can survive that.

Mickey, who is fast asleep on the couch, rolls over with a snore and knocks over the glass he had placed on the floor earlier with his hand. Rose slowly unwinds herself and picks it up, shuffling across the floor and into the main room, pausing when she notices that there’s a light on in the room where her parents are. She hesitates briefly before putting the glass down on a small table and moving to the door, seeing Pete sitting at the small desk typing on the computer as Jackie sleeps in the bed.

He looks up when Rose awkwardly clears her throat. “How are you feeling?” he asks, softly, moving from the desk to turn the lamp off.

“I didn’t disturb you, did I?” Rose asks as he guides her out of the room and to the small table. They both grab a chair, sitting side-by-side.

“No, I was just sending Sandra a memo,” Pete replies. “Rose, it’s okay to cry. I know you loved him dearly.”

“I dunno what to feel right now,” she confesses. “Pain, anger, confusion, terror… the entire time I was here I was convinced that I was going to go back. Now what?”

Pete sighs, tracing the pattern in the carved wood tabletop idly. “You remember that me and my first wife were separated, yes?” When Rose nods he continues. “For all of our problems, I really did love her. Her mother may not have approved, since I was hardly the man she envisioned for her daughter, but I was determined to make it work. We had our fair share of problems between us, though; I was very… flighty, back in those days, and she seemed to know everything I did. It caused a lot of problems.” Rose nods, remembering the wedding and how her mother had implied that her actual father had cheated… more than once. “But when, by some miracle, Vitex became popular, I realized the error of my ways and changed. I wanted to be the doting husband, the man my Jackie had deserved until then. Unfortunately, it was too late.” He shakes his head. “My success… it changed her. Suddenly, after having nothing, the entire world was at her fingertips, and she… well. You know what she was like.” He shifts uncomfortably. “But despite all that I still loved her, and couldn’t tell her no. She was the one who wanted the separation, and I gave it to her because… well, because I thought it would make her happy. After she was killed I didn’t have anything else other than the business, and it was what ruined my life and killed her. I went off the deep end. Mickey and Jake saved my life more times than I can count when we hunted the Cybermen, and if it weren’t for Tucker and my COO, I would be as penniless as the day I was born. They kept Vitex afloat when I was gone, although neither were very happy when I infiltrated Torchwood. Tucker nearly had a stroke when I told him that I was taking it over.” He smiles briefly at the memory before shaking his head. “At any rate, I realized what I was doing, and I decided that I didn’t have to live that life anymore.”

Rose looks at him. “What made you change your mind?”

He cracks a small smile. “I realized that just because she was gone didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my own happiness. I would become a better man in her memory.” He hesitantly reaches over and gives her hand a squeeze. “I love your mother, Rose, more than I ever wanted or thought possible. Life has given me a second chance and I refuse to let it go. Just… just know that I hope that one day, you’ll get your second chance too.”

“You think?” Rose says, giving a weak smile.

“I do.” He yawns, then looks embarrassed. “Sorry. I tried sleeping earlier but the mattress was too lumpy. Maybe now I’m tired enough, I won’t notice.”

She hesitates and then hugs him tightly. “Thanks. For everything. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to handle lately, but… thank you.”

He hugs her back. “It was nothing, Rose. You’re family, after all. It’s the least I can do.”

They part, Pete heading back to his room while Rose lingers in the kitchen area a little longer. Despite his words she’s not completely convinced of the message. She knows there’s a truth to them--after all, the Doctor had looked so proud of her when she told him that she was working for Torchwood--but everything she had been using to convince herself to keep moving forward, to keep on keeping on, has been tossed into the wind and scattered. What excuse is she supposed to use now?

No matter what Pete said, the Doctor had been her second chance--her chance to be something, to do things, to see everything that was out there. She’s not sure she’s got any chances left.

Finding no answers from her whirling thoughts and exhausted mind, Rose goes back to the bed and pulls the quilt down, crawling under it. It only takes her a moment to fall asleep, and she dreams of the stars dancing above her as she watches them from the Vitex rooftop.

oOoOo

When Rose wakes up, the morning reminds her once again that she’s still in the wrong place; she tries to be happy for her Mum’s sake, but the further they get from the hotel, the quieter she becomes, no longer having the Doctor’s voice to guide her or the hope of him being at the other end.

It doesn’t help that Jackie talks about her and Pete’s vow renewals, or that Mickey and Pete discuss Torchwood; the responsibilities that Rose had been happy to take on not two days ago are suddenly like anchors and she wants to scream. She’s trapped, on a too-small world in a too-small car, with the same size floors and walls at the Mansion, and never again will she wake up to the smell and feel of a new planet beneath her feet…

She doesn’t realize they have pulled over until Mickey pulls her out, and she empties her stomach on the side of the road. “Panic attack,” Mickey is telling her parents when the roaring in her ears has stopped. “Pete, do we have any water?”

“Let me trade places with you,” Jackie insists as Pete gets the water bottles. “You can take the passenger seat, I’ll sit in the back with Rose.”

Mickey doesn’t argue, since Jackie’s tone brooks no argument. After Rose gulps down a few swallows of water she is helped back into the car, her head in her Mum’s lap as she takes measured breaths. Breathe in seven seconds, hold seven seconds, out seven seconds, repeat. She focuses on the pattern, trying to ignore the rumble of the car as it pulls them closer to London, the feel of her mum’s fingers in her hair, the way the sweat is now chilling her body. If she allows herself to think of anything else…

“D’you think she’ll be alright?” Mickey asks quietly from the front seat; Rose stays still, pretending to not hear him. She’s curious about the answer, because she doesn’t know it herself.

“She will be,” Jackie says softly, her hand stilling for a second before resuming. “Strong stuff, my Rose is. She just…” her voice falters for a moment. “She needs to remember who she is, first.”

Pete slows the car, and from the increase in noises she assumes they are getting close to London. “If she’s anything like me, that may take a while,” Pete says softly, and Rose remembers his confession the night before.

“She’s my daughter too,” Jackie says defensively. “And she may have inherited your sense of determination and your wanderlust, but if there’s anything I taught her, it’s that if you give up during hard times then nothing good will come of it. She’ll be fine.”

From the silence in the front of the car it’s clear that Pete and Mickey don’t quite believe her, but know better than to challenge it. Rose doesn’t really have the energy to believe any of them; she supposes she is now hitting the depression phase of grief, the scariest of them all, but she can’t muster the will to really care.

“Traffic is awful today,” Mickey mutters.

“It’s five o’clock, of course it is,” Pete grumbles. “I was hoping we’d beat traffic, but looks like we’re stuck here for a while.”

They talk about menial things until they finally reach the outskirts of the city, carefully avoiding anything to do with Torchwood or Rose, all too aware of the young woman in the back seat who is barely holding herself together. The twilight had roused Rose somewhat, because the promise of stars had soothed her more than she wanted to admit, and she’s leaning against the car door now staring blankly out the window. Jackie has one of her hands in hers, giving it a gentle squeeze every now and then as she talks about nursery designs with Pete. They had already decided to convert one of the guest rooms, the only one without windows; Pete had wanted to use the one with the large bay windows, pointing out that their child could grow up in it, but Jackie, having actually had a child before, shot it down because the amount of light would make it harder to put the baby to sleep.

When they finally arrive at the mansion it is fully night, and the panic that Rose had kept at bay once again looms. She needs to get out, she needs to leave, she needs…

Once again she is out of the car, shuddering on hands and knees as the gravel drive bites into her palms and legs. Jackie places her hand on her back. “It’s alright, Rose,” she says quietly. “Come on, love. Let’s get you into bed. Everything will be better in the morning.”

No! Rose wants to wail. No, it won’t! How can I be fine when I’m stuck in the last place I want to be?

But she doesn’t say a word, merely allows Jackie to help her up and walk towards the mansion.

Chapter Text

It's late when Malcolm finally hears the sound of Pete's jeep pull into the drive, but he's not bothered. Sandra had called him earlier to inform him of the Tylers' ETA, and now he's just eager to get the groveling for his job over with--not to mention putting the subject of Rose behind him as soon as possible.

Good fucking riddance, he tells himself for what is probably the millionth time in the last two days, ignoring the hollowness of the statement.

"Still here then, Tucker?" Pete asks as he rounds the corner from the garage.

"A bit like herpes," he replies.

"Uncomfortable and sexually repulsive?" Pete jokes, but Malcolm can hear the fatigue in his voice.

"Something like that," he says, choosing not to comment. "Just a quick word about your suddenly missing...daughter..."

His thoughts freeze when Rose comes into view. There’s a brief spark of inexplicable happiness on seeing her that’s quickly doused when he gets a decent look at her pale face, the dark circles around lifeless eyes the only color he can find. He opens his mouth, but it takes a moment before anything comes out as questions jockey for position in his rebooted mind.

"What are you doing here?" he asks finally.

She shrugs, nodding toward the house. "Sort of live here, don't I?'

"Yeah, but... you were supposed to be leaving," he reminds her, growing even more confused when she flinches. "What the fuck happened?"

"So sorry to disappoint you," she snaps, then pushes past him into the house. Jackie throws him a dirty look before following after her daughter.

"Just sod off, Tucker," Mickey says as he passes. "No one needs a bollocking from you here."

Malcolm turns back to Pete, who's looking sadly at the door.

"Pete," Malcolm starts, but Pete holds up a hand wearily.

"No offense, Tucker," he says as he starts toward the house, "but this isn't really a press matter."

"Forget the fucking press," he says harshly, grabbing Pete's arm to keep him from passing. "Pete, she looks like she got hit by a fucking bus. What the hell happened?"

Pete gives him an appraising look, then sighs, glancing at the house again. "It wasn't a rescue," he explains. "It was a goodbye. She really is stuck here."

Malcolm leans against the porch railing, knuckles raised to his lips as he listens with mounting horror to what took place--from finding the beach in Norway to the hologram, from Rose seemingly coping the night before to her panic attacks on the way home.

“Fucking cunt,” Malcolm mutters when Pete finishes.

“He tried, Tucker,” Pete argues weakly.

“Not fucking hard enough!” he spits, pacing across the porch before spinning around to Pete again. “He’s supposed to be this fucking alien action hero, yes? Well, it’s his fucking fault she’s here, he should fucking fix it!”

Pete’s expression hardens. “Look, Tucker, I know you don’t like the amount of work it’s created--”

“Oh, fuck that!” he snaps. “I don’t fucking care how much work it creates!” He freezes when the words register, then backpedals furiously. “I mean, it’s my job, right? That’s what I do, I’ll do it. But I’m not sure how much I can do with a girl who looks like the fucking undead because her last hope of going home is gone!” Pete is staring at him with an odd expression, and he turns away, running a hand down his face. “Why the fuck did he even show up at all, if it was only to break her?”

Pete’s quiet for a moment, then shrugs. “At least she has...closure now.”

“Fat lot of fucking good it seems to be doing her,” he snaps, looking out at the grounds with unseeing eyes. “What’s she going to do now?”

“Not sure,” Pete says. “I think she’s just going to try to get back to normal, work and all that. Might wanna take it easy on the media appearances for a bit.”

“She hasn’t got anything scheduled for a while yet,” Malcolm says with a shrug, turning back to his boss. “I didn’t want to cancel anything until we got our stories straight.”

“Good call.” Pete glances at the house again uncertainly. “I guess we’ll just play it by ear for now. I tried talking to her last night, and I thought it might’ve helped a little, but then today--”

“Yeah,” Malcolm says with a nod. “Just...keep me posted.”

He drives home that night haunted by her face, and hating the man who broke her heart.

oOoOo

Two days later he’s at Torchwood for a routine bollocking--a field group getting a little too cocky and nearly exposing themselves and their quarry. He spots Mickey the idiot twat in the halls afterwards, and stops to ask how Rose is doing.

“Dunno, not so bad?” Mickey hedges. “She ditched training today, ‘said she’d rather hang out in the Archives. Probably still there, if you wanna talk to her.”

It only takes a moment of internal debate before he heads down to the basement, home to the cavernous Archives--the storehouse of information regarding alien species and technology. He winds his way through the stacks without catching sight of her, and is nearly ready to give up when he spots her in a corner, knees drawn up to her chest and gasping for breath.

“Rose!” He darts over to her, crouching next to her and trying to find some source of injury before realizing that the pain she’s in is purely emotional. “Rose, what happened?”
She shakes her head, her eyes skittering to a book laying on the floor nearby. He drops to his knees, reaching past her for it and giving the current page a cursory glance.
“Time Lords?” he asks, confused. “What are they?”

“They don’t--they don’t exist--in this universe,” she says through gasps, tears streaming down her face. “There’s only--only one left. And he’s--he’s--”

The Doctor.

Malcolm’s eyes slide closed as he makes the connection in his head, dropping the book to pull her shaking form into his arms, stroking her hair gently as she clutches the lapel of his jacket.

“Shh, just breathe, darling, you’ll be alright,” he intones softly, then exaggerates his own breathing, in and out, until she starts falling in sync, calming by degrees. He lifts a hand to her cheek when her tears give way to hiccups, raising her face to study it for a moment before nodding once and pulling her to her feet. “Come on.”

“Wh-where’re we going?” she asks.

“Somewhere not fucking here,” he says, giving an evil glare to the book as he sidesteps it.

He uses his fairly extensive knowledge of the building to pick and choose little-used corridors, and thankfully gets her out of the building without meeting anyone else. If she’s upset now, it’ll only get worse if someone sees that she’s been crying. She doesn’t speak again until he’s bundled them both in his car and gotten some distance from Torchwood.

“You said you don’t do hugs,” she says, wiping at her eyes with tissues she found in his glove box.

“Extenuating circumstances,” he says tersely, shifting uncomfortably.

The truth is, he hadn’t even thought about it. Sitting by while Rose broke apart in front of him simply wasn’t an option.

He catches her questioning glance when he pulls up to the mansion, but she doesn’t argue as he leads her inside with a hand on her back. Jackie comes through the dining room, curious about who had entered, and pulls Rose into her arms after one look at her daughter. He nods when she thanks him and turns to go, glancing back at the door to watch Jackie guiding a mechanically-moving Rose upstairs.

He texts Pete that they need to talk before driving back to Vitex, and is glad to see the CEO waiting in his office when he steps inside.

“She needs time off,” Malcolm says, shrugging out of his coat. “She can’t do this. Not right now.”

“What happened?” Pete demands, every inch a concerned father, so much so that it throws Malcolm for a moment.

“She was in love with an alien,” he says with a shrug, rallying. “An alien that broke her heart.”

“That...wasn’t his fault,” Pete says slowly.

“I don’t fucking care,” Malcolm says. “I don’t know the cunt, and have no fucking desire to get all touchy-feely with him now. What I do care about is R--the Vitex heiress falling apart at work because aliens are her fucking job. She can’t escape it.”

Pete nods. “I’ll arrange a leave of absence, bring her back in when she’s had some time to deal with it all.”

It’s another two days before he finds out that Rose went to bed after he left, and hasn’t gotten up since. He breaks down and does what he swore he wouldn’t allow, giving planning duties for Pete and Jackie’s ceremony over to Sam to work on in her spare time.

Another day or two, and the press starts to notice her conspicuous absence after being so much in the public eye over the last few months. He releases a statement that she’s been ill, but is on the mend, and they all hope she’ll be up and about soon.

Two weeks later, there’s still no sign of this happening, the ceremony is fast approaching, and Malcolm loses his patience completely.

oOoOo

“What the hell are you doing?” Rose screams when Malcolm blows into her bedroom and upends a bucket of water over her head.

“You’ll thank me for this,” he promises as he rips her bed covers off of her, making a face at the sweats that he’s already swearing to burn at the next possible opportunity. “Eventually. Get the fuck up.”

Excuse me?” Rose demands in disbelief.

“You fucking heard me,” he says, turning to her closet. “Get. The fuck. Up. I’m done with this.”

“I don’t think that’s up to you to decide,” she says, although she does get off the soaking bed.

“Well, you clearly aren’t fucking capable of it,” he says, tossing clothes at her. “Call it an executive action. I assume you can do the knickers and bra on your own, yes? Shower, clothes, downstairs, twenty minutes.”4

“Who the hell do you think you are?” she asks, dropping the clothes and glaring at him.

“The only one that’s already enough of an asshole to light a fire under your ass,” he says, stepping closer. “Life doesn’t just stop because you’ve got the fucking blues!”

“You’re the one that suggested a leave of absence!”

“Not from life!” He takes a step back, scratching a frustrated hand over his head. “In case you’ve fucking forgotten, darling, there’s other people in this universe besides you. That includes your fucking parents, who are a week from getting married, or renewing their vows, or what the fuck ever, and I’m not going to let you fucking sleep through it! I’m picking up enough slack for your sorry ass, and I’m done. Twenty minutes.” He strides out of her room, but pauses before moving down the hall, counting to thirty. He turns back when he doesn’t hear any movement, popping his head in the door. “Sorry, did I fucking stutter?”

“Jesus, fine!” she snaps, gathering up her clothes and moving to her dresser to pull out underthings. She slams the drawers and sweeps past him, the echo of the bathroom door echoing down the corridor.

His lips twitch a little at her annoyance, but his face is carefully blank again as he heads down the stairs. Pete and Jackie are at the bottom watching him warily.

“She’s fine,” he says curtly, pulling out his phone and dropping into a nearby chair to wait.

The elder Tylers move off after a moment, clearly willing to give him a wide berth in his efforts to pull Rose kicking and screaming back into the land of the living. Twenty-two minutes later, he hears her clomping down the stairs and coming to a stop in front of him.

“You’re late,” he says, finishing an email before looking up, and he nearly bursts out laughing.

She’s dressed and showered, yes, but clearly with the absolute bare minimum of maintenance. Her hair is pulled back haphazardly so that a good portion is still falling over her face, and she bypassed any makeup to soften the glare she’s currently aiming at him. She sort of reminds him of Annie when she’s in one of her stubborn moods, but mostly just of Rose, before all the pain sent her careening into dark depression.

But there’s still the dark circles under her eyes, and pale skin of her sunken cheeks, and the slightly haunted look about her. It’s enough to stop any thought of laughter; he’s under no delusion that this is going to be easy for her, and he’s not about to make it more difficult. He stands, taking her arm and pulling her outside and toward a waiting car, completely ignoring her protests. She crosses her arms and scowls at him once they're in the car.

"Where are we going?"

"You are going to finalize plans for the ceremony that you said you'd plan," he says, handing her the list he'd had Sam draft earlier.

"Sam's been doing fine," she mumbles stubbornly.

"It's not Sam's fucking job," he snaps. "She's got enough to do, unlike you."

"Fine," she huffs, glancing over the list. "Dunno why it's such a big deal to you, though."

Because you're better than this.

"Because I need my fucking assistant to assist me," he says. "Not waste time on your errands."

"Whatever."

The first stop they make is to the florist. Malcolm ignores her annoyed look as he follows her inside, keeping his eyes on his phone.

"Any particular reason you're joining me?" she asks as they make their way through flowers and greenery.

"To make sure you do it," he says, watching surreptitiously as she picks items seemingly at random.

"I don't need a babysitter," she mutters.

"Evidence would suggest otherwise," he tells her, raising his gaze fully from his phone and plucking her latest selection from her hand. He eyes the draping bunch of pink petals with distaste, then rolls his eyes when he glances at the name. “Alright, Rose. Apart from the fact that you’ve picked what is probably the worst fucking color pallette on the planet with yellow and orange and pink--it’s basically fucking vomit, but nevermind--you’ve also somehow managed to find the worst possible name for a flower to include in a wedding.”

“What’s wrong with it?” she asks sullenly.

Love-lies-bleeding?” he asks, tucking a hand under her chin to move her face toward the name plate. “You see nothing fucking wrong with that?”

She stares at the name plate for a long moment, then drops the flowers in her hands and shakes him off, darting for the door. Malcolm throws his head back in frustration for a moment before chasing after her, catching her arm a few feet down the pavement.

“Leave me alone!” she shouts at him, spinning around and wrenching her arm from his grasp. “I just...I can’t do it, okay? It’s just flowers, and I should be able to, but I just can’t, and no one’s gonna care who picks them out anyway, so just--”

“What?” he demands. “Take you home? Let you go back to bed indefinitely? Then what?”

“What’s it matter to you?” she asks. “Less trouble for you, isn’t it, me being out of the public view?”

“Well you’re certainly making a fucking spectacle of yourself now!” he snaps back at her.

“You’re the one who strong-armed me out of my house!”

“You’ll have to excuse me if I’ve got a small problem with you letting yourself fucking waste away in your own fucking filth because some idiot alien broke his promise to you!”

“I broke my promise to him!” she shouts back, and he freezes, stunned. She rakes a hand through her hair and looks down hurriedly, but not before he sees the tears gathering in her eyes. “I promised him that I’d stay with him forever,” she says. “I’m the one who fell.”

“Look at me,” he commands softly, raising her face with a finger under her chin when she shakes her head. “You are more than that one moment. And you’re more than your time in that fucking box.”

“Your least favorite Wonder Woman,” she jokes shakily after a moment, and he smiles a little as he drops his hand. “I just...everything feels ten times harder now. Out there, with him, I was weightless. And now...now it’s like gravity is making up for lost time or something.”

“Well, it’s a good fucking thing you’ve got me then,” he says. “Even fucking gravity’s terrified of me.”

“You know, from anyone else, that’d sound like an exaggeration,” she muses, but there’s a ghost of a smile on her face.

“Everyone else isn’t me,” he reminds her. “I promise you, I’ll make it a personal quest to rid you of that pesky excess gravity by pulling your ass out of bed kicking and screaming any time I need to.”

“You would too, wouldn’t you?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely,” he assures her. “Now are we going to go do these fucking flowers the right way? ‘Cause I’m seriously considering punching a Man U fan just to reassert my fucking masculinity at this point.”

She lets out a small chuckle, licking her lips and nodding. “Yeah, alright. For the sake of the poor fan you might stumble upon, mind.”

“A fine act of altruism,” he says, stepping back and gesturing for her to precede him.

The day gets better after that. In another twenty minutes, she’s picked out a decent selection of pinks and reds for the flowers and placed the order for decorations and an arch for the ceremony. With each stop Rose seems to come a bit more to life, ooh-ing and aah-ing over Jackie’s finished dress, confirming the minister and the caterer, and making a final decision on the list of DJs Sam had suggested. Malcolm’s thrilled to see a bit of her old sparkle back in her eyes when they make their last stop at the cake shop.

“Ohhh, this one’s gorgeous,” she moans, and he shoots a look at her. “Tucker, you’ve got to try this.”

“I’m alright, thanks,” he says, turning back to his phone and trying not to think about the sounds she’s making over a fucking piece of cake.

“Mmm, come on, don’t be such a grouch,” she says, and he looks back up in amazement, given her own mood a few hours ago. She takes advantage of his slightly open mouth, shoving the better part of a piece of cake in his mouth. The rest of it rains down on his suit in the form of crumbs as he backs up hurriedly. “Good, right?” she asks, grinning up at him.

“Yes, alright,” he says around the admittedly tasty mouthful. “You’ve made your choice then? Can we fucking go now?”

“Yeah, fine,” she says with an eyeroll, turning away to finalize the order. He watches her warily as she licks her fingers free of excess frosting--she’s adorable, and a little sexy, and he’s more than a little worried about the fact that he’s noticed.

Definitely time to be done.

He holds the door open for her when they get back to the car, but she pauses before ducking inside.

“Thanks for this, Malcolm,” she says quietly. “Fighting gravity and all that.”

She reaches forward to brush a few remaining crumbs from his jacket, then straightens his tie. She hesitates a moment, then leans up to kiss his cheek before ducking inside the car hurriedly. He’s rooted to the spot for a moment, trying to figure out how the day had turned so completely on its head, and still feeling her lips against his skin.

Shit.

Chapter Text

It was supposed to be a simple recon mission, a nice way to break her in on her first day back from her leave of absence.

Unfortunately the aliens didn’t get the memo.

Rose hurtles around the corner as the big alien baddie gives chase, and she can hear Mickey and Sarah shouting over the comm. Jake is in the van desperately calling for backup and yelling at Rose to get out of there.

“Sarah’s injured!” she shouts back, and the alien baddie roars. She glares and shoots him with the tranquilizer, five other darts already embedded into his flesh.

“Rose, I’m ordering you to get out now!” Jake yells. “We don’t need three dead agents in there!”

She grits her teeth. “I can handle it, Jake.”

“You admitted an hour ago that you don’t recognize the species!”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t help Sarah!”

It takes another three shots before the alien finally succumbs to the tranquilizer, and Rose is able to free Sarah from the collapsed rubble. Mickey finds her shortly after, dust and blood on his face, and helps to support Sarah as they walk back to the van.

Backup finally arrives, and they secure the area and take the alien back to a holding pen by the time the four of them are cleared by medics. Jake looks thunderous when he finds her, and even Sarah looks nervous when she sees his expression. “I could have you kicked out for what you pulled,” he growls.

“Pardon?” Rose asks.

“I’m team leader!” Jake exclaims. “You follow my commands because I know what’s bloody best for the group! You could have died today and then what? Sarah was never in any danger in the first place, but you still barreled in without a care to your safety or your team mates!”

She glares at him and her stances goes rigid. “Well I’m bloody sorry that I wanted to save someone’s life!” Rose shouts. “I didn’t know the alien species and for all I knew it was going to hurt her!”

Sarah shrinks back but says, timidly, “Its spikes didn’t come out until you appeared, Rose.”

Rose glares. “Thanks for the support.”

“I’m going to have to tell Pete about this,” Jake tells her. “And you’re getting a two week probation.”

“What?” she exclaims. “You can’t-”

“I bloody well can!” he says, cutting her off. “You don’t get special treatment just because your dad’s the boss, and he’ll agree with me. Now get in the car.”

Rose fumes the entire way back, not noticing the glances from Mickey and Sarah. When they arrive at HQ Rose ignores the senior agents arriving for debriefing and goes directly to the gym, hopping onto a treadmill and setting a grueling pace for herself. It only takes thirty minutes before Pete is calling her to his office, and she doesn’t bother cleaning up, instead going directly to his office and ignoring the startled glances thrown her way.

Pete is pacing when she arrives, and his look is… unsettling. This isn’t Peter Tyler: father. This is Pete Tyler: Torchwood Commander in Chief and Vitex COO.

“Imagine my surprise,” Pete says coolly, “when Jake sent me a report stating that you not only violated a direct order from your team leader, but that you recklessly engaged a non-hostile that is unidentified, shot without permission, and caused it to nearly destroy an entire building. Forensics confirmed that the building was bordering on collapse by the time you were through, and both Sarah and Mickey stated in their debriefing--which, I might add, you haven’t done, which is another rule broken--that you deliberately put yourself into harms way more than once. So, Rose, what do you have to say for yourself?”

She crosses her arms. “I saw an unidentified species towering over Sarah as she was lying on the floor. Since she had called out for help seconds earlier I assumed--”

“Ah. ‘Assumed.’” Pete sighs heavily. “Rose, you should know better than anyone that in this job we can never ‘assume’ anything. Sarah stated that the alien was, to all intents and purposes, curious about her--she called out for help because she had tripped over it, and it didn’t attack until you threatened it. Your assumption nearly cost the life of Sarah, Mickey, the alien, and you.”

The air is thick between them. Finally Pete shakes his head. “I take no pleasure in this, Rose, but I’m putting you on probation for a month. You are hereby banned from active field service until the period is over.”

Rose stares at him, gaping, before she recovers her senses. “But… but you can’t! Torchwood is the only thing keeping me sane, you can’t make me--”

“I can and I will,” Pete retorts. “Rose, I told you yesterday that I wasn’t sure if you were ready. You just proved that you are not. So until I--and more importantly, Jake--think that we can trust you, you’re restricted to desk duty. Dismissed, Agent Tyler.”

Lost in a haze of betrayal, Rose stumbles from the room and down to her floor. She finds the correct locker room and stands under the shower for a full five minutes before she drags herself out, sodden fatigues and all. She tosses them off of her in disgust before almost violently pulling her clothes on, tugging angrily at the laces of her cream chucks before barging out the door and to the stairs.

No one bothers to stop her, and she’s soon down the block waiting for the light to change so she can cross the street. She’s halfway across the zipper crossing when she sees the first camera, and doesn’t bother hiding her groan.

“Miss Tyler! Miss Tyler!” the reporter is waving enthusiastically as he approaches her. “A word, please?”

“Now’s not really the time,” she says, looking desperately for an escape. Unfortunately she seems to have attracted a crowd and people have their phones out, snapping pictures or taking videos; she’s not sure which, but the knowledge makes her feel insecure and angry at the same time--she’s already been humiliated by Pete, she doesn’t need to be stared at like a bug under a microscope by strangers.

Desperately, she tries to flag a cab, but the reporter is stubborn. “Miss Tyler, what do you have to say about your parent’s vow renewal?”

“I’m very happy for them,” she tells the reporter, wondering where the cabs are. Why did they choose now to disappear?

“You have taken a personal interest in it, yes?”

She grits her teeth and finally spots a cab, but it doesn’t seem in a hurry to get to her. “Yes, I have. I offered to do the planning.”

“You seem to be close to your father. Has he--”

“He’s not my dad!” Rose bursts out, turning so she faces him fully. “And I’ve had a shitty work day and don’t need you prying into my private life like some… like some Cintlan!”

The reporter falls back, startled, and she spares a brief thought that he wouldn’t know what a Cintlan is, or that she basically cursed him in the worst possible way in an alien language, but she doesn’t take time to think of it as she finally gets in the cab and tells it to take her to the Mansion. The cabbie is happy to comply, chattering happily about how he can’t wait to tell his wife that he met the Vitex heiress, seemingly oblivious to Rose’s foul mood. She mutely hands him over her credit card when they arrive, leaving a hefty tip because it’s Pete’s money and she doesn’t need it.

She doesn’t need him, either.

Jackie is gone, and Rose remembers something about a spa treatment halfway through searching the house. She ends up in the kitchen instead, listlessly peeling an orange, and a minute later her phone starts to ring.

She glances at the caller ID and groans when she sees Tucker’s name. She answers anyway though, because she knows he’ll keep calling if she doesn’t. “Does no one know how to mind their own business?” she snaps.

“You are my fucking business,” he shouts back, and Rose rolls her eyes. “Get here. Now. Preferably five fucking minutes ago.”

He hangs up and Rose sighs before she sets down her half-peeled orange and heads towards the door.

She’s deposited at Vitex in record time, Tucker apparently having threatened the driver if his lack of abiding by road laws are any indication. She only starts to get nervous as she walks onto his floor, seeing the way the underlings avoid her gaze. Whatever Tucker wants to see her about, it’s apparently bad.

He’s shouting into the phone when she arrives, and he narrows his eyes when he sees her. Seconds later he hangs up and drags her around to his side of the desk, where there’s a Tweet pulled up on the screen. “Care to fucking explain?” he asks, and presses play on the attached video.

On screen, Rose shouts at the reporter that Pete isn’t her father and gets into the cab shortly after. He minimizes the window and pulls up another, from a different angle and shorter, but with the same words and actions. Page by page he shows her various videos and photos, until finally he pulls up the Mail’s website:

Heiress Error: Rose Tyler May Not Be the Vitex Princess After All

The headline screams at her from the page, and she slowly meets Tucker’s gaze. His eyes are flinty, and she can see the white-knuckled fist on the desk. “This is bad, isn't it?” she asks, and her voice wavers. A muscle twitches in his jaw as his eyes continue to drill into her. "Okay, yeah, it's bad. Um, how bad?"

"You know, I'm not sure," he says, his voice low and dangerous, "because I haven't got the fucking tools to measure the size of this fucking colossal mountain of shit! Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I didn't think--"

"No, that much is pretty fucking obvious," he snaps, "because someone who's thinking wouldn't completely fuck up six fucking months worth of PR work in one fucking sentence!"

"It was just--I had a bad day, alright?"

"Oh," he says, easing off a little. "Oh, well, if you had a bad day, ‘guess we can just write this off."

"Really?" she asks, surprised.

"Fuck no!" he shouts at her, and she winces. The glare is pinning her in place and despite the clear exit, she still feels trapped. "There's still rumors all over the fucking internet that you're a fucking imposter, and you just gave every one of them fucking conclusive evidence! For fuck's sake, Rose! You were right, you were less fucking trouble before, buried in your fucking bed."

She flinches again. "I'm sorry--"

"You're fucking right you are," he snaps. "There's other fucking people in the world, Rose, people who've cared about you and put their fucking asses on the line for you, and you've just very publicly slapped us all in the fucking face."

His words are like a slap, and Rose presses one hand to her mouth as the other grips the desk edge. She’s tired, angry, upset, struggling with depression and fear…

But Pete, Tucker, even her mum don’t deserve her lashing out at them for her own mistakes.

"Can... Can you fix it?" she asks thickly after her hand drops to her side.

"You'd better fucking hope so. And you'd better be prepared to toe every fucking line I set for you until this blows over, is that clear?" he demands, and Rose nods.

"Yes, Tucker."

He turns away as he begins to clear off the various open pages and tabs. "You can start by apologizing to your dad. Because I don't care how angry you are at him, that man has given you a home, and a job, a whole fucking life, and put up with all of your shit in the process.” He stabs angrily at a photo of them together at the Vitex ball, Pete grinning at Rose, Jackie smiling at him. Rose herself is staring directly at the camera with a small smile; she had only given it the barest of glances when it was first published. She sniffs, stepping back to give him room. When had she started taking them for granted?

“He might not have been the one to come in your mum, but he's your fucking dad. In case you haven't noticed, sweetheart, you haven't got a fucking monopoly on pain; you've fucking spread it around plenty in the last few hours," Tucker growls.

"I'm sorry, alright?" she whispers, wiping away tears.

 

He shakes his head, turning away from her. "Go away. I have a fucking shitstorm to mop up."

She leaves the office in a daze, not knowing where to go. Pete is probably still at his Torchwood office, and that is the last place she wants to be right now.

Instead, she heads up to Pete’s Vitex office, smiling weakly at Sandra before sitting down in front of the desk. She’ll wait there all day if she has to.

Luckily, it’s only forty minutes later when Pete walks in, and they regard each other for a charged moment before she breaks down. “I’m sorry,” she sobs, and Pete immediately wraps her up in a hug. “I’m just… I’m so overwhelmed, and I never had a dad so I don’t want to believe that I do now, and I miss the Doctor so much and I don’t deserve this, I don’t deserve you…”

“It’s okay, Rose,” Pete says quietly. “I know what you mean. I’ve hated myself a few times too. But even though I wasn’t lucky enough to see you grow into the beautiful woman you are today, I am glad you’re here now. It’s okay.”

His forgiveness makes her cry harder, but eventually she manages to get her sobs under control. Pete had guided her to the couch at one point, and when she catches her breath he gives her a small smile. “We haven’t really had a lot of time to get to know each other, have we?”

Rose shakes her head. “You’ve been busy with Mum, and I… well, I didn’t want to get to know you because it would have been that much harder to leave.”

He nods. “Why don’t we make a pact, then? An hour or two a week, we just… talk. Or do something together. As a family or just ourselves. That way we can both get used to the fact that even if we feel like we don’t deserve the other at least we know they’re there. Alright?”

Rose nods. “I can do that. Well… I can try,” she admits.

“That’s all I’m asking.”

Pete drives her home and Rose tells him stories about some of her teachers and how she and Shareen once snuck out to the mall to stare at boys. Shareen had even managed to get the number of one and dared Rose to do the same, but she had chickened out last second and fled. Jackie had, of course, found out, and Rose had been angry at not being able to leave the flat the entire weekend. Shareen and the boy whose number she’d obtained ended up dating a month later, but she broke up with him when she found out he was cheating.
It isn’t until she arrives at the mansion that Rose realizes how much she had hurt her mum.

Rose and Pete are sitting down at the table after heating up leftovers when Jackie walks in, hair wet and dressed in a bathrobe. She greets Pete with a kiss, then turns to Rose with arms crossed. “Well?”

“I’m sorry,” Rose says quietly, eyes on the table. “I overreacted. I was tired and angry and…” she shrugs, uncomfortable. “I didn’t think.”

“We talked about it, and we’ve come to an understanding,” Pete says.

Jackie sighs. “Oh, sweetheart. It’s alright. I know you’re still getting used to this, and with everything that happened with the Doctor…” She smiles slightly at Rose. “So long as you two have made up.”

Rose nods and Pete adds, “We’re thinking about starting Family Night after you and I get back from our honeymoon. We haven’t really spent time together, so maybe this way we can get used to actually being a family in private, not just on paper.”

“What’s Tucker doing about it?” Jackie asks as she sits down between them.

Pete shrugs. “He’s released a statement on Rose’s behalf, stating that she’s still wrapping her head around actually having a father, being raised by a single mum and all. I don’t think he’s quite got it under control yet, and there’s no way he can remove every single video, but he told us to stay low for a few days, at least until after the ceremony. Hopefully that will clear up any lingering doubts.”

“He still mad at me, then?” Rose asks, gloomily.

Jackie frowns as Pete considers her question. “I don’t know, really. He’s his usual self when it comes to media clean up jobs. Granted, this is a bit more… grand than the usual slip ups, but he’ll come ‘round.”

Rose looks at her dinner. “I should probably apologize. I hurt you and Mum, but I cause him a lot of trouble too.”

“He’s used to it, Rose,” Jackie reminds her. “Don’t worry about it too much.”

The thought doesn’t leave her mind, however, and after she’s full--Jackie fussing about how half the plate still has food on it--Rose digs out her mobile and dials a number she never thought she’d have to use. “Hey, Sam? It’s Rose. I have a favor to ask.”

/////////////////

Rose juggles the bags as she waits impatiently in the lift, the doors finally dinging open. The lackeys stare as she walks by, but she ignores them in favor of Tucker’s thankfully open door. Sam gives her a secretive smile but doesn’t comment, and Rose smiles hesitantly back before entering the office.

Tucker is standing by the large window behind his desk, staring out over the view of rooftops. She knows that if you look hard enough you can see a park to the left, but her neck started hurting the last time she tried. She wonders briefly what has caught his attention before setting the bags on the desk. “I’ve brought lunch,” she says, hesitantly, and he finally turns to stare at her. “I don’t particularly care for Thai, but I know that it’s your favorite, or at least what you eat the most when it comes to takeaway, so I got your favorite and got Chinese instead.”

“What, you trying to give me a fucking peace offering?” he asks as he suspiciously looks into the bag.

She shakes her head. “An apology.” His eyebrows raise and Rose takes a deep breath before continuing. “I know that I caused a giant mess yesterday because I was too absorbed in my own feelings that I didn’t stop and think how my actions would hurt others. And… I want to make it right. Even if it takes another six months.”

He points at the takeaway. “You asked Sam what I usually order, didn’t you?”

“Well, it’s not like I was going to call you,” she retorts.

Tucker shakes his head and eyes the food suspiciously. “You didn’t fucking poison it, did you? Decide to get some revenge after I fucking yelled at you?”

“No, I deserved that,” she admits. “Besides, I’m an Agent at a building which houses hundreds of alien weaponry and other artifacts. I would be a bit more creative in my punishment if I ever did decide to hurt someone.”

He narrows his eyes before he sees her cheeky smile and groans. “Alright. At least it’s free. And you better make good on that six months promise.”

Rose smiles and reaches for an egg roll.

Chapter Text

It takes a few days, but by the time Pete and Jackie’s ceremony rolls around Malcolm’s gotten most of the media mess under control. It wasn’t such a huge fix—”we all have bad days, we all lash out at our folks”—but it had taken some time to get some of the more suspicious bloggers and journalists to loosen their hooks on the story. Time and threats. Lots of threats.

Needless to say, when he arrives at the mansion early he’s happy that the press have been completely barred from this particular event. He already drafted a release for the society columns with a promise of a handful of pictures later, but for now he’s blessedly free of the whole lot of fucking piranhas.

The front hall is bustling as he steps inside, narrowly avoiding a collision with what appears to be a walking urn of flowers before the remarkably tiny woman behind it is revealed. He shakes his head, dodging a couple of caterers as he moves toward the back.

“Christ, it’s like fucking Frogger in here,” he says to no one in particular, but turns when he hears a laugh.

“It is a bit hectic,” Rose admits with a smile.

He eyes her for a moment before taking a step toward her. “You seem fairly at ease.”

“Ah, that’s cause I’ve got a clipboard,” she says, and he smirks when she holds it up.

“It’s amazing the sense of power obtained from a decent fucking clipboard.” He glances over her, fidgeting with his bow tie. Her hair’s pulled back loosely with a few curls falling around her face, and she’s got on a flow-y, knee-length, belted purple thing that leaves one shoulder bare. It’s not the knockout dress from the party months back…but he’s surprised to find he likes this look better. There’s something quintessentially Rose about it. “You look beautiful,” he tells her honestly.

“You’re just trying to butter me up for more free Thai,” she teases, handing him the clipboard and reaching up to straighten his bow tie.

“I’ve stooped lower,” he assures her.

“I haven’t a doubt,” she says, stepping back and taking the clipboard again when she’s satisfied. “I also really don’t want to know.”

“Let me help you with this,” he offers. “It’s got to be fucking stressful.”

“It’s fine,” she says. “It sort of…helps, having something to do. And since work isn’t an option—”

“Wedding chaos it is,” he says, giving her a crooked grin.

“Exactly,” she agrees with a nod. “You’re a guest, Tucker! For once, act like it.”

“Get roaring drunk and hit on a fucking lamp then?” he asks.

“Absolutely,” she says with a giggle, flashing her teasing grin. “Just be warned that I will take pictures, and I will blackmail you later.”

“You’re in the wrong fucking business,” he tells her.

“God, it’s a zoo in here,” Pete says he exits his study, glancing around for a moment before spotting Malcolm. “Tucker! You made it, and without us even being forced to work out a publicity disaster to lure you here.”

"That was plan B," Rose informs him with another grin. "Since I seem to be so good at that—"

"Don’t even joke about that," Malcolm growls.

"Dad, go entertain him before he tries to take my clipboard," Rose says. "He’s just underfoot at the moment."

"Yes, ma’am," Pete says, nodding toward the door, but Malcolm doesn’t miss the warm look at Rose.

“Dad?” he asks as they step outside, wandering vaguely in the direction of the ceremony set up.

“Silver lining to her melt down,” Pete says with a shrug. “I took the last few days off, since I’m going to be leaving for the honeymoon soon anyway. We’ve all spent some time together.”

“Spare me the fucking kumbaya verses,” Malcolm says with a dismissive wave, but he’s glad to hear it. Rose has clearly been in need of a better support system than him. “How’s she doing, though?”

“Better the last few days,” Pete says with a shrug. “Still hard to tell, but being around us and not in bed or at work seems to be helping. Not… sure what’ll happen while we’re away… “

He gives Malcolm a pointed look, and Malcolm quickly backs away, shaking his head.

"Oh no no no," he says, waving his arms. "I’m your press man, not a fucking babysitter."

"I’m not asking you to be," Pete says. "But you’re the one who got her out of bed in the first place."

"And we can see how fucking well that worked out," Malcolm snorts.

“Look, you obviously care about her, at least a little bit,” Pete says. “Just keep being her friend. She needs it.”

“We’re not friends,” Malcolm scoffs. “If anything, it’s a sort of fucking Stockholm Syndrome, yes? Been forced around her so much that I’d rather see her happy than being miserable and making a fucking mess of things.”

“Whatever you say,” Pete says, looking over his shoulder, and Malcolm turns to find Rose heading in their direction.

“Guests are starting to arrive,” she informs them. “There’s not many, it won’t be long. You ready for this, Dad?”

“Done it before,” Pete says with a shrug, but still bites a nail nervously, then switches to toying with his cuffs at her look.

“Just don’t get her name wrong this time, yeah?” she teases, leaning up to kiss his cheek.

oOoOo

The ceremony goes off without a hitch; Pete even gets Jackie’s name right. Rose catches Malcolm’s eye and winks, and Malcolm can’t help smirking back. The smirk spreads into a full-blown grin when he sees Mickey the Twat shooting him annoyed looks, but fades quickly when he realizes how completely distracted he is by the woman to the left of center. Because he notices when she falters, and he sees her rally, and he sees her blush, and he can’t even begin to recall what it was that Pete had said to make it happen.
Clearly, this is becoming a problem.

That’s the whole reason he doesn’t want to be responsible for checking on Rose. The clear line he keeps drawn between work and his personal life is wavering alarmingly; obviously not in the way Annie had suggested, because that would be ludicrous, but he can’t deny a certain…fondness for Rose. Which is a slippery slope to hell.
It’s for this reason, once the dancing starts, that Malcolm protests strongly when Rose tries to drag him out onto the floor.

“Absolutely fucking not,” he says, trying to tug his hand back from hers. “I don’t dance.”

“One dance,” she implores, still trying to pull him up from his chair. “One dance won’t kill you, surely!”

“It fucking might,” he argues, finally managing to free his hand and settling back in his seat.

She lets out an exasperated sigh, putting her hands on her hips as she shakes her head at him, curls swinging slightly. One hand itches to brush them out of her face, and he balls the rogue appendage into a fist in his lap.

“Fine, have it your way,” she says. “But do you think you could give up the grumpy old man routine for one night?”

“Rose, you’re forgetting,” he says, picking up the scotch and soda he’s nursing. “I am a grumpy old man.”

“Not that old,” she says, eyeing him, and his collar suddenly feels far too tight. “It’s a party, Tucker. Unwind a little.”

“I’ll unwind when I’m dead,” he mutters, taking another sip as he watches her walk away.

An hour later, he’s kicking himself when he sees Rose on the dance floor with Mickey the Twat. Finding out the two of them have a history together even before this universe has not raised Mickey’s esteem in Malcolm’s eyes—if anything, the boy annoys him more, because who in their right mind would have ever let Rose walk away to fly across the stars with another man? Who would just…give up like that?

And why would she still be dancing with him?

He shakes his head, turning his back on the dance floor and making his way through the house, into the kitchen, and out the back door terrace. He pats at his pockets for a moment before finding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, lighting up a cigarette and inhaling deeply as he looks up at the stars. He hasn’t quite managed to smoke it halfway when he hears a sound behind him, turning to find Rose looking at him in surprise.

“You smoke?” she asks. He shrugs, turning away. “That’ll kill you, you know.”

He snorts, glancing at her as she steps closer and leans against the wall. “Life will fucking kill me. Greatest single cause of death,” he says on an inhale. “Being born.”

“Cheery,” she says. “Do you really have to help it along?”

“I don’t smoke often,” he says with a shrug. “Sort of a…stress…thing.”

“Oh my god, relaxing stresses you out!” she laughs. “Only you, Tucker, I swear, could get stressed out from not being on the move.” She reaches up and plucks the cigarette out of his hand as he raises it to his lips, dropping it and grinding it out with her toe.

“That was mine,” he remarks mildly.

“There are better ways to relieve stress,” she replies. He gives a doubtful hum, and she shakes her head at him before looking up at the stars. Something about her profile in the moonlight, curls falling around her face, suddenly makes her look more gorgeous than he could ever achieve with an army of stylists trained to create a princess. “It really is gorgeous out here,” she goes on after a moment.

“Yeah,” he says, shaking himself and glancing around. “Sort of my go-to escape spot when I feel like I won’t quite be able to keep myself from murder if I don’t remove myself from the population.”

“Kind of you,” she says, and she’s smirking at him when he looks back at her.

“Fucking saintly,” he agrees.

A door opens further along the house, and he swivels toward it as the sounds of laughter and music spill out into the night air. It’s distant enough to be unobtrusive, and further cements his theory that people at large are much better appreciated from a great fucking distance.

He turns back to Rose, and she’s smiling softly. Ignoring the feel of metaphorical loose stones sliding beneath his feet, he reaches for her hand, sliding his arm around her waist as he tugs her closer. She trips a little in surprise, but he steadies her as he begins to lead her in a slow box step—one of only two dances he knows.

“I thought you said you don’t dance,” she says, raising her free hand to his shoulder.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t,” he says. “With a decent partner.”

He lets go of her waist to spin her around before pulling her close again, the sound of her laughter overpowering the music for a moment.

“Not bad, old man,” she teases, her tongue-in-teeth grin drawing his eyes to her mouth like a magnet, and for a brief, mad moment, he imagines what might happen if he leaned down just a bit and press his lips to hers—

He hasn’t even realized they stopped moving until the music suddenly changes, something faster and cacophonous, or at least it feels like it with the way the moment shatters around him. He releases her quickly, clearing his throat and cursing himself for his own ridiculousness.

“Thanks for the dance,” she says, apparently finding nothing amiss. He nods a little, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Oh, listen, I wanted to ask you a favor…that’s sort of why I came looking for you.”

“What is it?” he asks.

“It’s…well, it’s sort of Mum and Dad’s wedding gift,” she says with a self-conscious shrug.

“Which is…?”

“A house to themselves,” she tells him, and he panics a moment, wondering if somehow the Doctor had made it through after all. “I think it’s time for me to get my own flat.”

“A flat!” he says, letting out a laugh of relief. “A fucking flat. Yes, alright. And you need my help because…why do you need my help? Couldn’t you ask your good friend, Mickey?”

It’s a low blow, and he knows it, but refuses to question his motivations. The rocks are sliding far too much for comfort as it is. She doesn’t rise to it, however—though she does arch an eyebrow.

“I thought maybe there’d be more…dunno, Tucker-approved districts for his media darling,” she says, pitching her voice lower for the last two words and completely failing to replicate his Scottish accent, breaking the tension abruptly.

“Only if you never fucking do that again,” he says, pointing at her accusingly.

“Deal,” she says, her tongue making another brief appearance before she scampers back inside. “We’ll start Monday,” she calls over her shoulder.

Monday.

Looking for a flat.

With the daughter of his boss.

The daughter who is, coincidentally, young enough to be his daughter.

Right. Nothing could possibly go fucking wrong with that.

Chapter Text

Rose knew that it would take time to buy a flat. There were inspections, pre-approvals, credit checks, and a whole laundry list of other tasks that seemed rather scary when she was looking things up. What she hadn’t realized was how long it would take just to find one.

The agent that Rose is using is loosely affiliated with Vitex; it’s not uncommon for the business to recruit people from other countries and set them up with housing, but Rose can’t exactly move into the company-owned flats or even the unofficial Torchwood housing. Not only is the latter meant to be kept private, but the former isn’t grandiose nor suitable to the image of an heiress. Rose wishes that for once she can have a say in where she wants to live, but she agrees with Tucker when he points out that the company flats are too small.

Cameron is a wonderful agent; chatty and compelling, and she genuinely listens to Rose’s concerns, but for all her talent at selling, Rose can’t find one that feels like home. The flats along the Thames are too exposed; the ones in downtown London are too claustrophobic; even the high-end flats in the quieter sections of London are too glitzy for her taste.

When they had arrived at the office, Rose tried to ignore the stares and whispers. Cameron thankfully ushered them inside her small room quickly. “So,” Cameron had asked after the hand-shaking and greetings. “What are you looking for?”

Rose shrugged, trying not to fidget with her hands. “Something with an open floor plan, but doesn’t require a lot of maintenance; I’m rubbish with handyman work. Used to have—uhm.” She barely refrained from blurting out Mickey’s name. So far as the media knew, she didn’t know anyone in her current lifestyle that came from her created backstory. “Somewhere private, too. I have the reporters after me everywhere else, I want my home life to remain private.”

Cameron nodded as she listened. “Some place relatively new, I assume?” At Rose’s nod she turned to her computer and typed a few things in. “I have a few ideas, but do you know how far from London you want to be?”

“Not too far,” Rose admitted. “My job is in London so I don’t want too long of a commute, and I still want to drop by Mum and Dad’s house whenever I feel like it. Plus, Mum wouldn’t want me to move too far away.”

Cameron looked at Tucker, and he shrugged. “It’s her flat, not mine. Stop looking at me.”

“He’s just here to get my new place media-approved,” Rose said, smiling.

The woman looked offended. “I assure you that I would never show you any listing that had the potential to ruin your privacy. That’s just indecent. Now, do you know about how much square footage you want?”

Rose considered. “I don’t know? I want a spare bedroom, at the very least. Never know when you’ll want guests over.”

There was a moment as Cameron typed in a few things, and then spun the computer so they could see the listings she pulled up. “None of these are more than five miles from London, and there are a few houses in case you discover that flats aren’t to your liking, all in respectable neighborhoods,” she added, seeing Tucker’s initial expression. “We’ll start with a few of the closer listings, just so you can get a feel for what you like, and we can go from there. Sound okay?”

They had nodded and Cameron left to print the listings.

That had been four hours ago, and now Rose is standing in an older, but spacious one-story house just outside London. Tucker is on his phone, which hasn’t left his hand the entire time; he hadn’t paid a single ounce of attention all day, simply standing near the door as Rose investigated and getting in the car when they were done. She doesn’t want to bother him, though, since he’s more than likely doing work that is far more important than helping her shop for a home.

“So, what do you think?” Cameron asks.

Rose hesitates. “The garden is a bit… overwhelming.”

“The neighborhood contracts a landscaper, and they come ‘round once a week to take care of it.”

She shuffles her feet. “Yeah, but I’m never gonna use it, am I? There’s a local pool that I can use just down the street, and I’m at work from sun up till sun down. Not much I can get out of a garden like this.”

Cameron makes a note on her pad. As she turns, Rose winces slightly when she sees that the page is nearly covered—and she had flipped to it about two hours ago.

“Not a problem. What do you think of the house itself, though?”

“I feel too exposed,” Rose mumbles, sheepishly.

Cameron doesn’t say anything but Rose knows she’s annoyed. It makes her feel bad, but nothing she’s seen so far reminds her of home—while she realistically knows that nothing can ever compare to the TARDIS nor the flat she grew up in, she still wants to walk into a room and be able to relax.

“I only have three more options that fit your requirements,” Cameron says, after shuffling her papers around. “Two of them are in a building that was recently renovated, near Piccadilly Circus; the last is another along the Thames, but in a different area than we looked last time.”

Rose nods and heads towards the door, noticing that Tucker is gone. A quick glance out the window tells her that he’s on the phone with someone, and she suppresses a sigh. “He may be a while. Do you have any pictures?”

Rose is examining two of them when Tucker walks up. “Do you know how to get here?” he asks Cameron, showing her something on the phone.

“I think so. Why?”

“Just an idea.”

He refuses to say more about it and Rose gives up as Cameron drives them to the address Tucker requested. She’s skeptical as they pull into a quiet, wooded lane; seemingly the only street in and out. An old stone sign stating, ‘Hidden Estates’ is half-covered by a bush, and she quirks an eyebrow at it. “It’s certainly private,” she mutters as Cameron takes a turn, the street immediately lost to view.

Tucker grunts, staring out the window, a thoughtful look on his face.

Cameron stops in front of a light-yellow flat complex, and Rose stares in confusion. “Is this the right place?”
“Should be,” Cameron replies with a frown. “It’s what I put in the GPS.”

The door opens, and a young woman steps out. “Mister Tucker?” she asks, nervously. Her accent is unidentifiable to Rose, and she guesses somewhere in the Mediterranean.

“Yes, hello,” Tucker replies, shaking her hand. “Sorry it took so long. This is Cameron, the agent, and Rose Tyler, the interested party.”

The woman nods and smiles. “Of course. If you would just come in…”

They follow her inside, and Rose’s breath immediately catches at the large, circular foyer that is presented. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you much of the history,” the woman explains. “The previous owner, Mr. Kenneth, bought this building back when it was a series of flats and converted it into a house. He added on and changed a lot of things, and I still get lost after a year of living here. When he died, he left it to me to sell it, with the proceeds going to pay the debt off and if there was any left, the rest of the money going to charity.”

Rose walks off in a daze, opening the nearest door to reveal a sitting room, the furniture covered with white sheets; when she examines them, she is delighted to discover a mix of contemporary and Victorian that have no sense being together, but fit together nonetheless. She rushes out and goes to the next room, not noticing the startled look Cameron gets when she sees Rose’s smile.

Tucker merely leans against the column in the middle, smirking.

There is a doorway in the pantry that leads to the library, and Rose wants to examine the books, but her curiosity about the rest of the house pulls her away. In the back, seemingly slapped on haphazardly, is a sunroom that is inexplicably dug into the ground. Upstairs reveals an entire hidden room behind another closet, and more nooks and crannies that don’t have any business in a respectable house but delight Rose to no end.

“I was worried you got lost,” Malcolm remarks when she finally joins them again.

Rose shakes her head. “Course not. This is… this is amazing! Did you know there’s a room upstairs that is filled with nothing but pillows?”

The seller shifts awkwardly. “I apologize. Mr. Kenneth was in debt and I’ve been selling off the furniture to keep the bank at bay. What you see is the things I couldn’t sell.”

“No, it’s wonderful!” Rose exclaims, pulling the startled young woman into a hug. “How much is it? No, doesn’t matter. I’ll have it!”

The young woman looks like she’s going to cry. “Really?”

“Of course! It’s… perfect. And you!” She whirls to Tucker and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug. “You’ve been holding out on me.”

He pats her back. “Took me all fucking day to find this place, you had better like it.”

Cameron rallies herself. “I can have the paperwork ready in two hours. What’s your offering price, Rose?”

She pauses. “Whatever the current price is… add another ten percent.”

“I beg your pardon?” Cameron exclaims.

“It’s for a good cause,” Rose shrugs. “And I’ve been in a position where I was struggling to find that extra quid needed for dinner. I don’t want others doing the same now that I’m in a position where I can actually help.” She pauses. “What’s your name again?”

“Na… Nadia,” the woman stammers. “Are… are you certain?”

“I wouldn’t have said yes otherwise,” Rose replies kindly.

This time Nadia hugs her, crying from gratitude. Cameron shifts before saying that she’ll be back with the paperwork, and Rose grabs Tucker’s hand, ignoring his startled expression. She drags him upstairs to help her explore.

She does most of the exploring, yelling out her discoveries as he stands at the end of the hallway, every so often venturing over when she goes quiet or begs him to join her because he absolutely has to see something.

“How on Earth did you find this place?” she asks as they stand in a large, open room that has a world map on the ceiling and a pair of slatted doors that fold open to reveal a wall—Rose nearly had a laughing fit when she found out, and proclaimed that if she were to ever host a halloween party she’d have the greatest haunted house ever.

“Craigslist,” he admits reluctantly. Her lips twitch and he glares. “Don’t fucking say it.”

“Nope, not saying anything,” she giggles. “Really, Malcolm, you never cease to surprise me.”

His voice has an odd tone to it when he replies. “Good to know.”

Cameron arrives a little while after, and they sit down in the room of pillows that Rose found earlier. Luckily, the agent had changed into jeans at some point, so she has no qualms about perching on the floor, a particularly fluffy orange monstrosity underneath her. “Rose you have already been pre-approved, so all that’s left to take care of is the money transfer and getting an inspector to look things over. The contract states that you’re buying the house as is, and that everything in the house beyond Nadia’s personal items stays. Are there any changes you’d like to make?”

Rose takes the papers and flicks through them. “No, everything looks good. I’ll pay for anything that needs fixing, and I’d like to move in as soon as the inspection is over if that’s alright with you.” This last comment is directed at Nadia, who hesitates before nodding.

“It may take me a few days to arrange for transport, and to find a place to stay. Mr. Kenneth hired me because I had no home, and he was kind enough to give me shelter.”

Rose’s heart goes out to the girl. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-two.”

Tucker narrows his eyes at Rose’s expression. “I know that look,” he growls, and Rose gives him an innocent expression. “Oh, don’t even fucking think about it.”

“Why not?” Rose asks evenly. “She has nowhere to go, and it’s not like I’m Susie Homemaker.”

He purses his lips. “I’m not taking in another fucking stray.”

“I’m taking her in, thank you very much,” she retorts. “You have nothing to do with it.”

Nadie is regarding them with wide eyes as Rose turns back to her. “What if I offer you a job?”

“A job?” She looks overwhelmed.

Rose nods. “I’m not going to be around much and I need someone to look after things here while I’m gone. I’ll give you a small allowance on top of payment for you to keep the cupboards and fridge stocked, as well as clean up any rare mess I’m bound to make. I’m sure my father won’t mind paying for your housing so long as you’re under my employ. What do you say?”

“It’s too much,” Nadia protests. “I can’t accept all this kindness. You’re giving me more than enough just by buying this house.”

Rose smiles slightly. “Then you can take the extra money and donate it to a deserving family, or charity. Maybe even pay to have any of your surviving relatives come here.”

After another round of profuse thanks, it’s settled and Rose signs on the dotted line. Cameron gets a hefty commission and a new—and hopefully less stressful—customer in Nadia, and Rose obtains a house.

“Successful day?” Tucker asks dryly as they walk to the waiting car outside the agency. The driver nods as Rose waves at him, and she and Tucker slide into the back.

“More than,” Rose says, happily. “Thank you. I’ll never be able to pay you back for this.”

“You still owe me another four months of good behavior. We’ll discuss the terms of this payment after,” he quips, and Rose laughs.

They are silent as the setting sun sets the sky on fire, and Rose watches the zeppelins drift lazily in the sky. She smiles, thinking of her new house, and the memories she has yet to make in it. “You know, this place might just feel like home yet.”

Chapter Text

Malcolm seethes as he stalks through the halls of Torchwood, winding his way toward R&D. Not like his job is fucking difficult enough keeping the media tide from turning on the Tyler family or Vitex, but he’s got the bloody crack jobs here to deal with as well. He spots one of the head scientists in the corridor, his glare only deepening when the other man clearly sees him and tries to hurry away.

“You!” he shouts, pointing at the man and stopping him in his tracks. “You wanna tell me what the fucking light show was about?”

The man pivots, clutching a clipboard in front of him like a shield and pushing his glasses up nervously. “We were simply testing the capabilities of the device—”

“Oh, is that all?” Malcolm demands, cutting off the scientist in front of him. “Well, that’s good to hear and will definitely go far in keeping my fucking fury in check when I’m explaining to the fucking press why this building is suddenly blowing off fucking fireworks that are melting the pavement around Canary Wharf.”

“We—ah—we were not previously aware of some of the…secondary capabilities,” the scientist says nervously.

“You’re fucking research and development,” Malcolm reminds him. “Emphasis, for the moment, on research. Not ‘blow up alien tech to see what it fucking does.’”
“Ah, I’d actually say that experiment is an intrinsic part of research,” the scientist says.

“Would you?” Malcolm asks. “‘Cause I’m fairly fucking certain that an experiment is something done for scientific inquiry in a controlled fucking environment with understood fucking variables. Variables that don’t include suddenly alerting the British population that we could melt their faces off.”

“My…my apologies, Malcolm.”

“Shut it down,” he says. “Now. This place is fucking huge and your boss is rich. Don’t fucking tell me you can’t find some giant fucking room or quarry or fucking field of dreams where you can test your Galaxy Quest memorabilia without giving me a fucking aneurism.” His phone chimes and he pulls it out to glance at the screen as he turns away. “West London taxidermy, you snuff ‘em, we stuff ‘em.”

“Very professional, Tucker,” Pete says drily. “How’s everything going?”

“A team of scientists tried to blow up Canary Wharf and while creating molten pavement of the walk up,” Malcolm says.

“Is that all?” the CEO asks mildly, and Malcolm snorts, moving to the side of the corridor as a team rushes past him. He narrows his eyes after them, spotting Mickey and Jake, but puts them out of his thoughts when Pete starts speaking again. “So, what’s this I hear about my daughter finding a house?”

“It’s her wedding gift,” he says with a shrug. “She wanted to give you two time alone before the baby comes.”

“She wanted to get away from the mansion,” Pete tells him, and Malcolm slows to a stop at the hint of sadness and guilt in Pete’s voice.

“Probably both,” he admits after a moment. “But not because of you. Anyway, the house isn’t far from either of us. She gets privacy and a place of her own, but she’s not so far that she’ll have an easy time of isolating herself, should she try that again.”

“So you’re not even going to attempt to pretend you had nothing to do with this, then?” Pete asks.

“She asked for my help,” Malcolm says, looking down as he paces a short ways in the hall. “Without you here, she needed someone. With my fucking luck, she’d probably end up purchasing a flat that used to belong to a serial-killing porn star that sold heroin in his spare time. Or Jeremy Clarkson.”

“Perish the thought,” Pete says with a chuckle. “I will say this: she sent us pictures yesterday. Seems to be just right for her. Amazing how you just…stumbled upon that.”

“Yeah, I got lucky,” he says, moving down the corridor again, nearly running straight into Rose as he turns a corner. “Uh…listen, hate to cut this short—no, fuck that, I don’t care. Have to go.”

“She’s there, isn’t she?” Pete asks, picking up on the slight drop in already fairly low standards of professionalism.

“Yeah, something just came up,” he says, eyeing her. “Nothing urgent, but it might need my attention.”

“Yeah, alright,” Pete says. “Let me know if anything else comes up. Or, you know, if they do manage to blow up Torchwood.”

“Will do,” he assures him. “Laters.”

“That was my dad, wasn’t it?” Rose asks with a small smile as he hangs up, and he gives her a cagey glance. “You’re not really very good at hiding things, Tucker.”

“I’m fucking amazing at hiding things,” he argues. After all, he’s managed to keep the fact that she’s barely been off his mind since that temporary lapse in sanity at the wedding from her so far.

“Here to yell at people?” she asks, turning and keeping pace with him as he continues down the corridor.

“Usually, yeah.” He gives her a sideways glance. “What are you even doing here? Aren’t you still on suspension?”

“Thanks for that reminder,” she replies sourly. “The suspension only covers active duty anyway. I’ve been working on the mess in the Archives.”

“Hmm.” He still remembers the way he’d found her down there in the grips of a breakdown. “Are you sure that’s the best idea?”

“I’ve got to do something,” she says with a shrug. “I’m doing okay though. Just…avoiding certain…topics.”

“Right,” he says doubtfully. “Don’t suppose you could just…dunno, play rich heiress for a bit? Take a fucking cruise, go shopping—right, thought not,” he adds as she wrinkles her nose at him. “Fine, be a fucking masochist.”

“Will do, thanks,” she says, and he frowns in answer to her tongue-touched grin.

“Don’t you have work to get back to then, since you insist on being a productive fucking member of society?”

“I’m bored,” she complains. “The Archives are fascinating, but so…dunno, monotonous. And the team got called out for a sighting, and I’m stuck here, giving descriptions of species and artifacts that aren’t nearly as interesting as people think they are.”

“You know, Rose, most people try to avoid contact with aliens.”

“I’m not most people,” she says, flashing another teasing grin, and he nearly groans.

Don’t I fucking know it, he thinks irritably. It’d be a hell of a lot easier if she was.

It’s ridiculous, this strange distraction she causes. The night of the wedding, when he’d danced with her and nearly lost his fucking head completely, he’d been able to convince himself it was a fluke. That lasted all of two days, until he saw her again and spent the day helping her find the house. If it was a fluke, it’s a fucking persistent one.

It’ll pass, he assures himself for the millionth time. Because she’s absolutely persona non grata—the daughter of his boss, who’s less than half his age, who’s still in love with a fucking alien cunt in another universe who broke her heart—

He takes a breath, pushing his lingering anger at the Doctor aside. “How’s everything with the house? The inspection went through yesterday, yes?”

“Yeah,” she says, but there’s an odd tone to her voice that makes him pause and frown at her.

“Nothing was wrong, was it?” he asks.

“No,” she says quickly. “No, the house is fine. You did a great job in finding it.”

But she still sounds less than thrilled. He takes hold of her arm, pulling her to a stop with him. “Spill it, Tyler.”

She eyes him uncertainly for a moment, then seems to crumble. “It’s just so big, and the sitting room is the only place with anything in it, other than the pillow room; there aren’t even curtains on half the windows. I didn’t want to take anything from Dad’s place; my room wasn’t really…me anyway, so I haven’t even got a bed, but there’s just so much to do I don’t even know where to start and I slept on pillows last night because even going out to find a bed is just…I just…”

She trails off helplessly, looking miserable, and he’s suddenly reminded that she’s still fighting the depression that had driven her to her bed not so long ago. The idea of decorating a whole house is probably terrifying.

Resisting the inexplicably strong urge to take her in his arms, he thinks for a moment before saying, “I might be able to help.”

“No, it’s fine,” she tells him wearily, putting a reassuring hand on his arm. “I just need to…make the effort.”

“Why?” he asks, trying not to think of how fucked up it is that she’s trying to reassure him, or about how much it bothers him when she’s not happy. “You’re rich. Why should you have to make all the fucking effort?”

She lets out a surprised laugh. “Are you saying you’re going to help me decorate my house?”

“Fuck no,” he scoffs. “You think I know the first fucking thing about decorating? But I…might know someone who does.”

“Really?” she asks, brightening a little. She laughs, rolling her eyes. “Nevermind, of course you do. If I suddenly had the desire to learn Navajo, you’d probably have a contact that could teach me.”

Or I’d fucking find one immediately, he thinks, barely able to keep from saying the thought out loud.

This is getting out of hand.

“Yes, well, anyway,” he says brusquely. “What’s tomorrow? Is it a weekend?”

She gives him a strange look, then rolls her eyes again. “You really need a day off, Tucker. Yes, tomorrow is Saturday, a day we common mortals sometimes refer to as the weekend.”

“Cheeky,” he says, arching an eyebrow. “Right, I’ll meet you at your place at nine tomorrow morning. And you’d better be fucking up and ready when I get there. I already pulled you out of bed once, I’m not going on a pillow excavation for you too.”

“You’re really going to help me?” she asks, her expression hesitantly hopeful, and he rolls his eyes.

Yes, Rose,” he tells her. He can’t manage to stop himself from adding, “Fighting off excess gravity, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says with a small smile, and he freezes when she suddenly throws her arms around his neck.

Why?” he demands. “Why always with the hugging?”

“You love it,” she claims, still clinging to him.

That’s the fucking problem.

“Yes, alright, point made,” he says, patting her awkwardly. “C’mon, get the fuck off me.”

She’s wearing her tongue-touched grin when she finally pulls away, and he eyes her warily, ready to duck away if she tries again.

“Right, I should probably get back to work,” she says, twirling away. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Nine a.m., sharp,” he calls after her retreating back. “Or I’ll fucking leave you to your own devices.”

“Noted,” she says over her shoulder, then turns, walking backwards, “and Tucker?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks,” she says, flashing a brilliant grin.

She spins around again while he’s still trying to remember what words are, and is out of sight around a corner seconds later. He stares after her for a moment before turning to the nearest wall and letting his head fall against it with a groan.

“Are you alright, Mister Tucker?”

He lifts his head as he pivots to find some junior scientist or something watching him, and he straightens his coat with a nod.

“Fucking fine,” he says, turning on his heel and heading resolutely for the door.

Once outside, he hesitates for a moment as he pulls out his phone to do something he swore years ago he’d never do. He’ll probably regret this the moment this strange infatuation leaves his system, if not sooner…but for now, Rose’s smile floats across his mind again, and he curses himself as he dials a number.

“Annie,” he says when his sister answers, “I might have a client for you.”

“Oh yeah?” she asks. “And who needs my interior decorating genius now?”

“Rose Tyler,” he says with a wince as he ducks into the waiting car. “Don’t fucking say it.”

He scowls at the smile in her voice as she says, “Didn’t say a word.”

Chapter Text

Despite the odd lumps and bumps that is her makeshift pillow bed, Rose sleeps well after venting to Tucker. The fact that she no longer has to worry about how to fill her house lifted a weight off her mind, and she wakes around eight. Nadia had bought groceries a few days ago so she doesn’t have to do much searching for breakfast, even if it is just a bagel and a few slices of cantaloupe.

Rose spends her downtime creating a map of the house so that whoever Malcolm had hired to do the decorating won’t get lost, and will have an idea of how the house is arranged. Years of living on the TARDIS had helped Rose create a mental map of locations, and she could probably navigate her house blind if she had to; but no one else has that luxury.
She also compiles a tentative list of themes she wants for specific rooms, though she’s willing to scrap them in case the decorator thinks they won’t fit together.

By the time nine comes around, Rose is stationed in the sitting room with the remaining bits of furniture, the sheets gone, and the room cleaned. That had been an interesting experience, finding someone to repair the obviously old and eclectic victorian-style furniture, but after some polishing and repairing of fabric, one room is at least furnished.
Although the faded orange carpet had to go.

There is a slamming of a car door, and Rose races to the window, peering out through the sheets she had hung up for temporary cover. Malcolm is leaning against his car typing something on his phone, and Rose is about to leave and go greet him when she sees another car pull up. Curious, she stays, watching as the dark mini-van pulls to a halt and an elegant redhead gets out.

The interior decorator, she thinks, but the thought instantly flees when the newcomer opens the door to let two kids spill out, who immediately race over to Tucker. To her shock, he smiles at them as they pull him down into a hug, the little girl ending up in his arms when he stands once more. Her mouth inexplicably dry and her heart hammering, Rose watches as he bends slightly to kiss the woman on the cheek and the four walk up to the door.

Rose steps away from the window, suddenly remembering the wedding ring Tucker always wears—and from his reaction to the children, the red head must be his wife, she realizes. It makes sense that he would hire a family member, since he is so careful on who gets brought into their circle, even temporarily.

It’s funny, she thinks; she never really pictured Tucker as a family man. He’s always seemed married to his job, and gathers the most pleasure in lying to the media and manipulating information. Rose rarely sees him smile, and it’s usually when someone is making a fool of themselves so he can use it to his advantage later. The smile he’d given the kids and his wife isn’t one she’s seen before, and she realizes with an abrupt clarity that for all the time they have spent together she barely even knows him.

Reluctantly, she goes into the foyer, where Tucker and his family are just entering. She forces a smile, but can tell that Tucker notices, his eyes narrowing as soon as he sees her. “Right on time,” she says cheerily instead. “Although you’ve seemed to have gained a few pounds there, Tucker.”

He blinks and then abruptly looks at the girl still in his arms. “Right. Rose, this is Julie, Nathan, and Annie.” He lowers the girl to the ground, much to her protest, although she immediately hides behind his legs, somewhat shyly. Nathan is looking around in wonder, though by the way he’s twitching Rose can tell he wants to explore.

She directs her attention to the redhead—Annie, Rose reminds herself—who is staring at Rose with something between amusement and curiosity. She’s stunning—about ten years older than Rose herself, dressed in a short black dress that make her legs look several miles long with a plaid woolen shirt over it. On her feet are sturdy black boots, and a small but expensive black purse is thrown casually over her shoulder. Her hair is hanging straight and long over her shoulders, and black sunglasses are acting as a headband. Rose suddenly wishes that she had worn something other than jeans and a plain grey jacket she had bought from a second-hand store. She had been anticipating a long day of shopping and wanted to wear something comfortable. Now she just feels faded and uncomfortable next to Annie.

She keeps the fake smile on her face as she extends her hand out. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Tucker.”

To her utter surprise, Annie starts to laugh, having to lean against Tucker for support. “Oh, that’s a good one!” she hoots. “Mal, didn’t you tell her who I was?”

“It slipped my mind,” he says evenly as Julie giggles. “Get a hold of yourself, it isn’t that funny.”

“Sorry,” Annie gasps. “That’s just the first time anyone’s ever accused me of being married to him. Though I gotta say, it’s almost on par with that one time that journalist insisted I was his love child. I’ve never seen him so angry.” She shakes her head and beams at Rose. “I’m Annie Pearson, Malcolm’s little sister.”

Rose looks between Annie and Tucker in surprise. “I didn’t think he really had a sister!” she blurts out, then blushes. “I’m sorry, it’s just that he never talks about his family, so I…”

Tucker rolls his eyes and attempts to pry Julie off his legs. “A wise decision if you think I’m married to Annie. Really, Rose, you know I’m divorced. Where did you think my wife was?”

“I… thought she travelled a lot,” Rose replies lamely with a shrug, then rallies. “And no, I didn’t know that! You never tell me anything!”

Annie shakes her head. “I’m not surprised. Malcolm rarely tells anyone anything.” She bends down to face her daughter. “Julie, Mummy has work to do with Miss Rose, so stay here with your uncle and Nate, alright? You have toys in the car if you get bored.”

After Tucker ushers the kids to the sitting room, Annie gives Rose a smile. “Where do you want to start?”

Rose falters for a moment before gesturing lamely towards the kitchen. “I have a sorta-blueprint in there if you need it, but I figured you’d want to walk around the house first. It’ll give you a better idea of what you’re dealing with.”

Annie nods and they start up the stairs. “Do you have any ideas on what you want in a house?”

Rose gives a nervous laugh. “Not really. I’ve never owned my own place before, so it’s all a bit… overwhelming,” she admits. “I have to pick out carpet and paint and curtains and furniture, not to mention decide on how I want to arrange everything and how the different rooms relate to each other.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for,” Annie says brightly. “Which room is the master?”

Rose shows her, and after a quick tour—Annie is absolutely delighted with the layout, exclaiming that she is going to have a lot of fun designing each room—Rose is left in the kitchen to brainstorm ideas while Annie runs back to her car for a camera. She arrives not long after, complete with a notepad identical to Tucker’s and a large book of color swatches.

“We don’t have to go furniture shopping today,” Annie reassures her, after seeing Rose’s panicked expression at the book. “I just want to get a general feel for your preferences, and what you want in a house. This book is basically to help you decide on color schemes and the like. We’ll only focus on the most important rooms today, like the master, the guest room, and any other rooms you think will have the most traffic, before we move on to the others. Alright?”

Rose nods. “I have a few ideas here. I wanted to collaborate with you first, though, before I did anything myself.”

Annie examines the list. “You don’t have anything for your bedroom.”

“I don’t really know,” Rose admits. “I was thinking something soothing, like green, or maybe even blue. But that really isn’t a theme.”

“There doesn’t have to be one,” Annie assures her. She opens the book and Rose sees some pages from catalogues. “Just look through these, and see what type of furniture you like. Don’t hold back from giving me your opinions; the more I know, the better I can choose something that fits you.”

It takes a while, but Rose eventually falls into an easy camaraderie with Annie. It’s hard not to; Annie is effervescent and charismatic, and Rose can’t help but like her. They talk about all sorts of things as Rose flicks through the pages; childhood memories, past boyfriends, recent experiences. Annie had told her that she knew Rose’s history thanks to Tucker, so Rose doesn’t have to worry about watching her words; it’s a relief in a way, to just be Rose around someone who won’t run the risk of tattling to the tabloids.

“I take it you’ve had your share of media drama?” Rose asks as she smiles at a large canopied bed. Annie immediately makes a note of it.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, earlier you mentioned a reporter calling you Tucker’s child,” Rose shrugs and turns the page. “Oooh, I love that color. It’s awful on that couch, though.”

Annies sighs. “It was back when Malcolm’s career was finally starting to go somewhere. His first job after University was a little-known backbencher, but it wasn't long until his talent was recognized. He got a fairly good promotion after that, and treated me to dinner. Since he was… recently married, it didn’t take much for the reporter to make accusations. Malcolm is never quiet in anything he does, and had been nearly arrested the week before when he provoked someone enough to make them punch him. He was livid, not because the reporter accused him of cheating, but because I was in the spotlight.” She stares at her notebook for a moment. “Despite being his half-sister, Malcolm has always been overprotective of me. I always say that his talent for spinning stories came from him always bailing me out of trouble from my parents, but I think he’s always been like that. He cares far too much, my brother does, even if he buries that underneath all those layers of prickling animosity and hostile anger.”

Rose is quiet for a moment as she stares blankly at a page depicting an ocean-themed bathroom. “What happened? Between him and his wife?”

Annie smiles sadly. “That’s not my story to tell. Just know that he’s far better off without her.”

Rose nods. Annie seems to be just as fiercely loyal to her family as Tucker is. “I think I can do some shopping now that I have a good idea what I’m looking for. When do you want to go?”

“I wanted to take a few pictures first, just so I know what I’m dealing with,” Annie responds, picking up the camera. “I shouldn’t be long, and we can grab lunch on the way to the store. I doubt we’ll get everything taken care of today, but I’ll be sending you pictures of things I find over the next few days, so keep your phone on you.”

Rose nods. “Speaking of lunch, you can all eat here if you want. Nadia made plenty extra, and I don’t know how I’m going to be able to eat all of it.”

Annie hesitates. “If you’re sure…”

“‘Course I am. It’s my fault you’re all the way out here anyway, the least I can do is provide lunch.”

“Well then, I can’t say no,” she says, but gives Rose a mischievous smirk. “You’re going to have to break the news to my brother, though.”

They both laugh, and Annie swipes the map Rose drew before heading upstairs. Rose walks into the sitting room hesitantly, not knowing what to expect; when she sees Tucker on the floor engaged in what appears to be a fierce Go Fish competition, if the squabbling between Julie and Nate is anything to go by, she can’t help the ridiculous grin that spreads across her face.

“Miss Rose!” Julie exclaims, and she sees Tucker’s spine stiffen. “Are you and Mummy done?”

“Not completely,” she smiles. “Your mum is taking pictures right now, but I actually came in here to invite you three to lunch.”

“What are we having?” Nate asks.

“Chicken alfredo,” Rose tells him. “Although, there’s also pepperoni pizza if you want that instead.”

The children instantly brighten. “Can we, Uncle Mal?” they beg, the game instantly forgotten as cards are thrown on the floor.

Tucker looks at Rose, eyes narrowed. “What did Annie say?”

“She doesn’t have a problem with it,” Rose replies airily, and laughs when the kids attempt to crawl in his lap, Julie giving him large, adorable puppy eyes, and Nate clinging to his arm.

He lets out a large sigh. “Fine. Your mum said it was okay, so we’ll stay for lunch. I’m taking the two of you home after Mum and Miss Rose leave to go shopping, however.”

“Yay!” they cheer, and instantly rush out the door.

“You must be fucking mental,” he tells Rose as soon as the kids are out of earshot.

Rose smiles at him serenely. “Oh, lighten up. Anybody who can give you a hug without complaint, no matter how small and cute they are, is totally worth getting to know. Besides, you wouldn’t have allowed Annie to bring them here if you didn’t want me to get to know them.”

She leaves him with a wink and guides the kids to the kitchen. Tucker walks in as she’s swinging Julie onto her shoulders so the girl can get some cups out of the cabinet, and Rose misses the startled expression on his face. By the time the kids are settled at the table and Rose has finished heating up the slices of pizza, he’s sitting with his back to her as the children make noises about wanting to explore the house.

Annie arrives shortly after, and Rose dishes out the pasta. She lets the kids run around as the three of them eat, but not until she warns them to not play hide and go seek.

“We’ll never be able to find Julie if they do,” she explains as the kids tear out the door.

Tucker pokes at the pasta a bit before he finally takes a bite. “Have you two decided on anything?” he asks.

Annie nods. “I have a few ideas. I’ll look over my pictures and notes tonight to get a better idea on how I want everything to fit together.”

“I don’t really have a specific idea, so I’m sure she’ll come up with something brilliant,” Rose shrugs. “By the way, what am I going to pay you?”

“We’ll talk about it after everything’s picked out,” Annie tells her. “And Malcolm, I must admit, I was expecting something far more…. antiquated than what you led me to believe when you told me about Rose’s house.”

Rose frowns and looks at Tucker. “What did you tell her?”

“Nothing bad!” he protests. “But it is an older building!”

Rose huffs. “It’s not falling down around me, so I don’t care. Besides, you seemed to like the library when I gave you the tour.”

“He failed to mention that,” Annie smirks.

“He fails to mention a lot of things,” Rose quips, and they grin at Tucker’s obvious discomfort. Deciding to lay off, Rose changes the subject. “What do you think of having the guest bedroom styled after a safari?”

He gives her an odd look. “Why are you asking me?”

“Because you’re here?” she points out. “Mum and Dad are on their honeymoon, I don’t want to disturb them, and everyone else is at work.”

He stuffs a few forkfuls in his mouth before answering. “It’s your house, decorate it however the fuck you want. It’s not like I know a fucking thing about it.”

“True, I had to decorate your place after all,” Annie says with a nod.

Rose perks up. “Oh?”

Tucker glares at her. “No, you’re not going to see it.”

“Wasn’t gonna ask,” Rose replies cheerily. “Though now that you’ve mentioned it, I do wonder what your bachelor pad looks like. Probably covered in news clippings with a bunch of strings connecting them, so that you know who to blackmail in order to manipulate something.”

Annie chokes on her drink and starts laughing, and Tucker glares at the two of them. Rose merely grins and resumes eating the pasta.

There is silence for a moment, and then Rose brightens as an idea crosses her mind. “What if it’s decorated like a brothel?”

“ROSE!”

Chapter Text

Malcolm slams the boot of his car shut, letting out another curse as he climbs into his car, shutting out the chilly weather. How he’d been talked into this, he still has no idea. Clearly, introducing Rose to his sister had been a mistake of epic fucking proportions. Bad enough when he thought she was inviting Annie to the big Vitex Christmas thing last week; Christmas Eve was an entirely different story.

The two had become fast friends over the last month while Annie was working on Rose’s house, making excuses for lunches that were clearly not productive at all, given the amount of giggling he’d heard the times he’d made the mistake of interrupting them with a phone call. But the house had gotten done, with Annie declaring the finishing touches complete last week. It had been during that walkthrough that they’d brought up the invitation.

“Fine by me,” he said when they told him. “Not sure how much fun Nate and Jules would have, though. It’s not exactly a kid friendly affair--although there’s still plenty of fucking diapers to be changed.”

“Tucker,” Rose sighed, without a lot of ire.

“What? You’ve met Harrison,” he replied. “How he’s able to maintain a fucking mistress I’ll never fucking know.”

“You’re joking,” she said, and he shrugged. She let out a snort of laughter and shook her head.

“Hang on, Mal,” Annie cut in. “Are you saying my kids couldn’t handle themselves at one of your upscale to-dos?”

“Well, taking into account that Nathan has attempted to give me wildlife for my birthday four years in a row now, I’d say it’s questionable,” he retorted.

Her mouth dropped open a little in offense. “How very dare you. I’ll have you know he spent weeks looking for that garden snake and caring for it.”

“Yes, that makes me feel much better.”

“Oh my god,” Rose interjected. “Do you think you two could just...stop with the Scottish sibling act for a second?” They both gave her blank looks, and she shook her head. “Nevermind. Thing is, I wasn’t inviting Annie and the kids to that anyway. Which you knew, Annalise.”

“What’s your point?” Annie asked, completely deadpan, and Malcolm snorted as Rose sighed.

“The point is, I invited you, the kids, and Tucker to our place for Christmas Eve,” she explained, and Malcolm frowned. “I figured it’d be nice, since Annie said your folks were going to be in Egypt for Christmas.”

“What a couple in their late seventies plan to do in Egypt I’ll never fucking know,” Malcolm grumbled. “But honestly, it’s fine. That happens every other year. We’re big boys and girls, we can have our own Christmas.”

“But it’ll be so much fun!” Rose insisted, tugging on his arm, and he was instantly on alert. He glanced at Annie to see her smiling mischievously, and nearly let out a groan. He was going to kill his sister. “Honestly, Mum’s so excited about having a big family Christmas, Mickey and his gran are going to be there--”

“You expect me to spend Christmas with Mickey the Twat?” he demanded. “And not throttle him? Rose, are you feeling alright?”

“You can do this,” she said. “I have faith in you. Please, Malcolm?”

And just like that, he was spending Christmas at the Tyler mansion...and slowly coming to terms with how fucking doomed he was.

As he pulls up to the mansion, he has to admit that family life seems to suit Pete. The mansion has been dark around the holidays for years, while the man in question worked himself to death trying to forget there was a holiday at all. And, while Jackie I had been on point with the tastefully minimal decorations, Jackie II seems to go more for cheerfully chaotic. There’s lights and figurines everywhere--he has to dodge a prancing electronic Rudolph as he picks his way up the walk with his bag of gifts.

Rose answers the door when he rings the bell, and he glances out at the grounds and shakes his head.

“I know,” she giggles. “You should have seen what she planned before Dad and I scaled her back.”

“I don’t want to fucking know,” he says as he hands her the bag of gifts and shrugs out of his coat. “You can probably see this place from space.”

“Probably,” she agrees with another laugh as she leads him into the sitting room.

“Uncle Mal!” Julie shrieks when she sees him, and he’s distracted by the little girl greeting him in the usual fashion, catching her as she launches herself at him with complete disregard to the party dress she’s wearing. “They have a train going ‘round the tree!”

Annie hands him a cup of eggnog with a wink as he sets Julie on her feet, then leans up to kiss his cheek. “Happy Christmas, Mal.”

“And you,” he says, glancing around. His eye catches again on Rose, leaning down to talk to a woman he assumes is Mickey’s grandmother. She’s got on a high-waisted, festive red dress that ends a couple inches above her knees, and strappy red pumps that make her already fairly fantastic legs even more distracting. Her cheeks are a little flushed from the excitement, giving her a glow that’s frankly gorgeous.

“You’ll give yourself away if you keep staring,” Annie murmurs, and he jumps a little, having completely forgotten she was there. She gives him a surprised look, then laughs a little. “Oh, you’ve got it bad.”

“No, I haven’t,” he says, taking a large drink of his eggnog, and frowning when he realizes it’s not alcoholic.

“That won’t help,” Annie laughs. “Children and a pregnant host means the alcohol is limited. You’re on your own.”

“I haven’t got it bad,” he insists. “I haven’t got anything. At all. She’s just...she...looks nice.”

“Uh huh,” Annie says, clearly not believing a word he’s saying.

“Oh, fuck you,” he snaps, ignoring another peal of laughter as he goes to find safer conversation, possibly with the tree.

The worst part about it is that she’s not...totally wrong. Rose has taken to hanging out in his office when she’s bored and not with Annie, which has only made her more of a distraction. And he should be irritated. He’s got work to do, busy man, but while he finds it nearly impossible to focus when she’s around, she never really does anything to warrant him kicking her out...and he doesn’t really want to, either.

What he wants to do is bang his head against a wall.

Because there’s a laundry list of reasons he can’t pursue her, and a whole other list of reasons she wouldn’t appreciate it even if he could. Which just fucking figures.
He spends the next two hours desperately engaging everyone but Rose or Annie in conversation, while resolutely ignoring the way Rose interacts with his family. At the end of his rope completely, he even starts a conversation with Mickey the Twat, which reveals itself to be the mistake it is in short order.

“So your sister’s real, then?” the boy asks.

“Of course she’s fucking real,” Malcolm snaps, sipping at the brandy that Pete had revealed for the not-pregnant adults in attendance. “Why the fuck would I make that up?”
“Dunno,” Mickey says with a shrug. “Guess I just sort of figured being the spawn of hell was a one man gig.”

“Sort of like being the village fucking idiot?” Malcolm sneers, and Mickey snorts.

“I will say this,” Mickey says after a moment. “I can definitely see who got the looks in your family. ‘Cause your sister is...surprisingly hot.”

“Don’t even fucking think about it,” Malcolm warns.

“Why’s that then?” he challenges. “Think she’s out of my league?”

“I fucking know she is,” Malcolm answers. “Not that it’s hard. See, women like Annie and Rose, they’re first class. You? You’re still playing with the under seven’s.”
“Who said anything about Rose?” Mickey asks, eyes narrowing.

Before he can even attempt to formulate an answer, the woman in question turns up at his elbow. He takes a hurried step back as he sucks down more brandy, the burn in his throat helping distract from the feel of Mickey’s eyes boring into him.

“You two haven’t pulled out the measuring tape yet, have you?” she asks with a grin. “Nevermind, c’mon, Jules and Nathan are going to be sick with excitement if we don’t open presents soon. They’ve already gone through about twelve crackers.”

She turns away, and the two men exchange another dirty look before following her back into the sitting room. After a fair bit of shuffling, Malcolm ends up sandwiched between Julie and Rose, a situation that Annie looks infinitely and irritatingly smug about.

The exchange goes smoothly for a time. Malcolm rolls his eyes at Annie when he and Rose get inadvertently complimentary gifts for Julie, with his trunk of dress up clothes and her makeup kit (although he smiles when he spots the lipsticks have been switched out with flavored lip balm in an amazing feat of foresight). Jackie, of course, receives a multitude of baby-themed gifts to go with her growing belly, and is delighted by all of them. Mickey gets puffed-up beyond belief at Rose’s excitement over the necklace, and Malcolm retaliates by sliding his arm over the back of the sofa behind her. Not that it’s a competition, of course.

He casts a wary look at Rose when she hands him her gifts, beaming with excitement.

“Open that one first,” she says, pointing at the large rectangular one, which turns out to be a high end desk set, complete with personalized stationary and a fountain pen. “I figured, since you don’t even know what weekends are, you’d actually get some use out of that.”

“Thanks,” he says, honestly delighted and surprised as he plays with the fountain pen.

“Open the other one,” she urges, and he narrows his eyes at the smaller, square parcel.

Inside is a box also...personalized. The top reads: “Courtesy of Malcolm Tucker: feel free to eat shit.” Inside are chocolates with a very specific shape, and he actually throws his head back and laughs.

“I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever gotten,” he says, popping one in his mouth as she grins.

Things get slightly complicated when Rose gets to his gift, however. She kneels on the floor to rip open the large box, then looks up at him with a slightly confused smile.
“It’s a...lamp?” The observation turns up into a question at the end, leading Mickey to look even more smug.

“Oh, ho, that’s nice, Tucker,” he sneers. “Just had her whole place decorated by someone you suggested, and what do you get her for Christmas? A bleeding lamp. Cheers, mate.”

Malcolm shoots him a dark look before turning back to Rose, reaching forward for one of the shades and holding it up against the light to reveal the holes punched in it.

“It’s got all the constellations,” he explains as she scoots closer to examine it. “Should shine on your ceiling and walls when the lamp’s lit. There’s one for each season.” He shrugs uncomfortably, handing it back to her as she stares at him. “Figured, your obsession with the stars, you should get to know the ones in this universe too, with or without a blue box.”

She continues to hold the shade, running her fingers over the pattern, as the rest of the family moves on, opening the rest of the gifts and chatting happily. After about twenty minutes, the gifts are all unwrapped, and people start milling around again. Malcolm makes an irritated noise as he stands, draining the last of his brandy as he moves to the door.
It figures that when he actually tries to be thoughtful, it backfires so completely, sending her spinning back into sadness when she'd been so happy. It‘s just she talked about the stars so fucking much, and then after that night... Whatever. Fuck it. It doesn’t matter anyway.

A hand reaches for his arm at the archway, and he turns to see Rose looking up at him, bottom lip caught between her teeth.

"I realized I didn't say thank you," she says, letting go of his arm to lean against the arch. “I meant to, it’s just--”

“I know, it was fucking stupid,” he interrupts, glancing around for the brandy decanter and patting his pockets absently with his free hand. “I just...you know, you’re always fucking talking about how you went out to see the stars and I...I dunno, I thought maybe I’d...bring them to you. Or something. Anyway, doesn’t matter, I can just--”

“I love it,” she says, cutting him off and putting her hand gently on his arm again.

He looks down at her hand, and her gaze slowly moves up her arm to his face. “You do?”

“Yeah,” she replies, a ghost of her teasing smile on her lips. “And hearing your reasons just makes it better.”

“Why’s that?” he asks, frowning at her, knowing he’d probably already revealed far too much to way too many fucking people because he wasn’t thinking straight. Fuck the brandy, Rose screws his head up fucking plenty.

“Come on,” she says, her smile widening. “Fighting gravity and pulling the stars down for me? Tell me, Mister Tucker...is there anything you can’t do?”

“I can’t lick my fucking elbow, if that helps,” he quips with a shrug. And I certainly can’t have you.

“Hey, Mal,” Annie’s voice carries from across the room, and he turns his head with reluctance toward her. When he does catch her eye, she nods and raises her gaze above his head. Confused, he looks up--and freezes when he spots the mistletoe hanging from the top of the arch.

“Oh, no no no,” he says quickly, taking a step back from Rose, who looks mildly affronted even while fighting laughter. “Not a fucking chance.”

“Oi, little ears!” Annie protests, nodding at Nathan and Julie. “Come on, it’s tradition!”

“Nah, I’m with Tucker here,” Mickey puts in quickly when he realizes what she’s getting at. He would be on Malcolm’s side in this fucking instance only. “Come on, now, you can’t expect her to kiss a bloke older than her own dad!”

“Speak for yourself, young man,” Mickey’s grandmother interjects, whacking him with her cane. “I’m thirty years older than your Mister Tucker, and I’d still expect that handsome man to kiss me.”

“Rita-Anne, how do you know if he’s handsome?” Jackie asks. “You’re blind as a bat.”

“Wasn’t always blind,” she retorts. “I figure it’s like one of those extra senses you get when you lose another one. I can tell when a man is handsome, just by his voice. And sugar, that man has a nice voice.”

“Oh, god help me,” Malcolm mutters, running a hand down his face.

“Well, she’s not wrong,” Rose comments, and he’s glad his hand is still over his mouth, or he’d have bruised his jaw when it hit the floor. He glances at Pete for help, but he just lifts his hands, surrendering to the situation.

“Fuck,” he spits out.

“You know they’re not going to let you go now,” Rose says. “And honestly, I’m feeling a little offended. Didn’t know I so repulsed you. And insulting the Vitex heiress, oh...that’s gonna make things really hard--”

He cuts her off from that line of discussion, reaching up to cup the back of her head and keep her in place as he swoops down and presses his lips to hers briefly, then releasing her with a loud smack before he can begin to contemplate how nice it feels.

“There, you fucking satisfied?” he asks the room at large, all of whom are staring in shocked silence--with one exception.

“Does this mean Uncle Malcolm is going to marry Miss Rose now, Mummy?” Julie asks, and Malcolm completely gives up.

“For fuck’s sake,” he mutters. “I’m not drunk enough for this.”

He stomps away, Rose’s giggles carrying in his wake, and the feel of her soft lips lingering on his.

Chapter Text

It’s a bitterly cold day in late January when Rose walks into Tucker’s office. She has the day off from work, and nothing new has found it’s way to the Archives, so Rose makes it a lazy day. After sleeping in and splurging on too-expensive coffee she calls Annie to discover that the kids are with Tucker because Annie is with a client, and no, Annie doesn’t mind Rose treating them to ice cream. A smile on her face, she heads immediately to the Vitex offices.

“Rose!” Julie exclaims when she sees her. She and Nathan are working on a puzzle in front of the fireplace, a box of crayons, pencils, and markers scattered around them. A few new drawings have joined the others on the wall, and Rose can immediately distinguish between Nate’s careless scribbles with Julie’s shaky, but careful hand. Tucker is bent over a mountain of paperwork, grumbling to himself, but he looks up when he hears Julie’s exclamation. “Good morning, Rose,” he says, sounding tired.

“It’s past noon,” she says, grinning at him, but it fades somewhat when she takes in his expression. “When did you sleep last?”

He looks at his watch. “Over a day ago.”

Rose sighs and shakes her head. “I would have brought you that horrible coffee you like if you had warned me. But you need to sleep more. Annie’ll have my head if she finds out I let you keep working yourself like this.”

“Annie’ll deal with it,” he replies evenly. “She’s used to it. What brings you here to my over-glorified prison cell?”

“Wanted to take the kids out,” Rose says, shrugging as she walks over to him. “And that was before I knew you were busy with… whatever it is that has kept you up.” She peers over his shoulder at the papers. “Is that seriously all the marketing campaigns for the past five years?”

“The bloody idiot who’s in charge of marketing wants to ‘re-design’ the brand’s image. I’m in charge of making sure it’s not outlandish or insulting. At least that’s what your father’s VP told me. I think he gave me this because I yelled at him last week.” At her look he smiles faintly. “I hand-delivered your very thoughtful christmas gift as a thank-you.”

Rose chuckles. “Glad to know you’ve been making use of them. But I really do want to take the kids out for a treat. At least you’d have some peace and quiet.” Her remark is punctuated by Nathan and Julie getting into a brief, but loud argument over whether or not two pieces fit together.

“They haven’t been a bother,” he replies, but from the look he gives his papers she can tell that he needs to focus.

She raises her eyebrows and turns to the kids. “Well, then. What do you two think about ice cream?”

They immediately abandon the puzzle and scramble over to Tucker. “Can we go? Can we go? Puh-llleeeeaasse?”
He rolls his eyes. “Oh, just get on with it then. Don’t let them go into a fu…dging sugar coma, yes?”

“Whatever you say, Tucker,” Rose grins and the kids excitedly swarm her. “C’mon you two. There’s a place not far from here, and it even has the type of gummy bears you like, Jules.”

They both take a hand each, and they chatter excitedly as she drives to the ice cream parlor. The store is delightfully empty, although the employees do a double take when they recognize Rose. It takes the kids close to half an hour to finally decide on what flavors they want, and while they get into a skirmish over who got to the chocolate chips first, it’s uneventful. As soon as Rose pays for the ice cream, the girl at the register immediately runs into the back, presumably to gossip.

“Mummy has been suuuuuper busy lately,” Julie says as she twists her bowl around, trying to decide on which scoop to eat first. Nathan has already dug in, and Rose suspects that he is going to make a mess. “Which is good, because we never see Uncle Mal.”

Nate nods and speaks around his mouthful of vanilla bean. “Mum says we see more of him on the telly than we do in person.”

Rose shakes her head. “I don’t doubt it. Your uncle never stops working. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s taking calls or has papers out during dinner.”

“Well, not when you’re around,” Julie remarks. At Rose’s startled expression she shrugs. “He’s never on the phone when he’s with you.”

Rose recovers quickly. “I’m still a part of his job, Julie. That doesn’t mean anything.”

The little girl frowns at her. “I doubt that,” she proclaims primly, before finally taking a large bite of double chocolate fudge.

“That’s disgusting,” Nathan says. “Who likes chocolate?”

“Everyone but you,” Julie shoots back. “Who likes raspberries?”

“People who aren’t babies,” Nathan replies.

“Okay you two, that’s enough,” Rose says sternly, not wanting them to start fighting. “Plenty of people don’t like either of those things.”

They eat in a disgruntled silence before Julie pipes up again. “Rose, is Uncle Mal your boyfriend?”

Rose chokes on her bite of red velvet, having a minor coughing fit before she gets herself under control. “What?”

Unconcerned, Julie continues, “You kissed at Christmas and he called you during New Years. And Mummy says you’re in his office a lot, and that’s like dating.”

“It’s… it’s not like dating,” Rose splutters. “We’re just… we’re friends. And even I doubt that. We’re not dating, Julie. That’s just… no. Whoever gave you that idea?”
But the little girl refuses to answer, eating her ice cream with an expression of deep thought.

“You got ice cream on your dress,” Nate tells Julie a moment later.

“You got ice cream on your face.”

“It’s better than my clothes.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have a mustache.”

“It’s not a mustache!”

“Guys,” Rose warns, and is about to change the subject when the bell above the door rings, and all three turn to see a cameraman enter.

“Shit,” Rose says, and turns to the two wide-eyed children. She thrusts her mobile and car keys at Nathan. “You two, take the side door and get in the car. Go, hurry!”
They scamper and Rose stands, moving to put herself between the newcomer and the children. “Can I help you?”

The cameraman has been joined by four others, and Rose pales when she sees at least three newspapers and a television news team in attendance. “Miss Tyler! Are those your children?” a woman asks, eagerly.

Rose lets out an incredulous laugh while backing away from the side door. They thankfully follow her. “No, a friend of mine just needs some time to himself, so I offered to take those two off his hands.”

“Is this friend your boyfriend?”

“Or is he a husband?” another asked.

Rose swallows. “No, he’s neither of those things. And I was just about to bring them home, so if you’ll excuse me—” she attempts to leave but is cut off.

“You’re bringing them to your home?”

“Are you certain they’re not your children?”

Rose realizes too late that by leading them away from the door she has allowed them to corner her. Though none have invaded her space quite yet, it won’t take them much encouragement to do so. They continue shouting questions at her, and as Rose desperately looks for an escape she notices the employees gathered in the doorway leading to the back of the store, watching wide-eyed.

“I think I would remember giving birth to two children,” Rose replies, trying to keep calm. She has faced down dictators, warlords, aliens intent on destroying her world—She can handle overzealous reporters. “And no, I was going to bring them to their house, since their actual mother should be home by the time I get there.”

“Is she your lover?” someone in the back pipes up.

“What? What on earth are you on about?” She attempts to side-step the reporter but ends up walking into another one. The gap she just left is instantly filled by another person, and she’s sandwiched between a large man carrying a camera and a woman wielding a pen and paper. “Miss Tyler, if they are in fact not your children, then why bring them to a public place and treat them to ice cream?”

“Because I’m nice!” she replies, and desperately tries to move. But she’s effectively trapped, and begins to panic. Every previous media encounter has been minimal or highly controlled, and never this insane free-for-all. She has never been claustrophobic, but the flashes from the cameras are making her dizzy, and the shouted questions are adding to her disorientation. Despite being through war zones, engaging in firefights, and facing death numerous times, she has never been more scared. There isn’t anyone to help her now—no Doctor, no Mickey or Jake, no Dad, no Tucker. She presses her hands to her ears and squeezes her eyes shut, hoping that she is in some sort of nightmare, even if it means waking up to discover she has done a face-plant into her bowl of ice cream.

Above the din of questions and clicking cameras, Rose hears the door slam open and a gust of cold air swirling into the store announcing a newcomer. Fearfully, she turns toward the sound, and nearly collapses from terror when she sees Tucker.

His expression is stony, lightning crackling in his eyes and mouth twisted in a snarl. Even when Rose nearly destroyed the story he had created, he didn’t look this angry. She doesn’t know why he’s here or how he found out, but Rose thinks of the children and has the brief, paralyzing thought that she’ll never be able to see them again after this.
He barrels into the crowd, knocking people aside and elbowing cameras before he reaches Rose’s side. “Unless you want me to give you a fucking colonoscopy with that camera, boy, you’ll get it the fuck out of my face!” he shouts as an unlucky man cuts him off, and Rose squeaks as Tucker grabs her arm and stars clearing a path with swings and well-placed elbow jabs. Undaunted, the reporters follow after them, and Rose barely has time to snatch her purse from the table before Tucker has led her outside and to a waiting car.

“Get in,” he says, opening the door and gently pushing her inside. Julie and Nathan are already inside, huddled together in the corner of the seat, but as soon as they see Rose they scoot over to her and cuddle against her side. Tucker has closed the door and Rose can hear him shouting at the assembled crowd, and is hit with the realization that because of her his niece and nephew were placed in the clutches of the media, and had she been a second slower, they could have been trapped just like she was. “Are you two okay?” she asks, and they nod miserably.

Tucker joins them after a long, tense moment. He rattles off an address to the driver before raising the divider. Though he’s still tense and anger is rolling off him in waves, his voice is gentle. “Rose, are you okay?”

She nods once before bursting into tears, and Tucker immediately makes a motion at Nathan, who moves out of the way so that Tucker can pull Rose into his arms. Though she’s confused as to why he’s giving her comfort when she put Julie and Nathan in danger, she cries into his shoulder as he rubs a hand up and down her back.

“It’s okay now Rose, don’t worry,” he soothes. “And Nathan…well done. Remind me to tell your mum that you deserve football lessons after this.”

“Rose was in trouble,” Nathan says, voice small, but he smiles a little.

“I’m sorry,” Rose gasps. “I… I haven’t been photographed in a while, I thought that with the holidays people had other things to do, I didn’t mean to scare Nate and Jules like that…”

Tucker pushes her back so he can meet her eyes, and Rose is startled at the intensity of his look. “It’s not your fault, don’t you ever think that. They’re nothing more than vultures, and whoever alerted them to your location will have the fires of hell rained down upon them.” He pulls her close again. “You did nothing wrong, Rose. I’ll take care of it. It’ll be okay.”

By the time the car stops she’s done crying, and has Julie on her lap as the little girl clings to her. All three of them shakily exit the car, and Rose stares up at the brick structure without really seeing it. Tucker picks up Julie and ushers them quickly inside, locking the door behind them.

“Your mum will be along soon,” he tells the kids, and Rose looks around the living room in confusion. “Do you want to watch telly?”

They both shake their heads vigorously, and Julie squirms until Tucker lets her down. “I want to make a pillow fort,” she says, quietly.

Tucker glances at Nate, who only nods. He sighs and scrubs a hand down his face before turning to Rose. “Are you okay? You can sit out if—”

“No,” she says, and wraps her arms around herself. “No, I… I need the distraction.”

Tucker looks at her carefully before nodding. “Alright. There are blankets upstairs, first door on the right. I’ll move the sofa out of the way. Julie, you go with Rose to get the pillows, and Nate, you get the other supplies.”

They disperse, and Rose carries down several armfuls of blankets before Julie and Tucker are satisfied. At some point, Tucker had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, his tie vanishing along with the jacket. He looks… relaxed, more like Malcolm Tucker, caring uncle, than the fierce spin doctor Rose has come to know. It’s nice, seeing him like this, and the residual panic that lingers in her system leeches out of her body. Using a myriad of chairs and a wall, a pillow fort is quickly constructed, and the kids tug the adults inside, immediately cuddling up to them.

“Uncle Mal, do you know who called the reporters?” Nate asks, solemnly, from his position near Rose’s knees.

“Not yet, Nate,” Tucker sighs. “I’ll find out, though.”

Julie looks up at him. “I didn’t get to finish my ice cream.”

Both adults stare at her, and Rose drags her eyes back to Tucker. He meets her with an equally astonished expression, and seconds later Rose is lost to peals of laughter while Tucker lets loose an amused chuckle. “I’m sure Rose will make it up to you,” he replies. “And next time you won’t be rudely interrupted by party crashers.”

Julie snuggles against him. “She can bring ice cream to my birthday party then,” she says.

“She’s gonna come to mine first,” Nathan mutters.

“I asked first!”

“Nathan’s birthday is before yours, Julie,” Tucker reminds her. “And don’t you think you should ask Rose if she even wants to go?”

The kids stare at him, then look at Rose with wide eyes. She smiles and shakes her head. “I’m thrilled that you invited me,” she says, but adds carefully, “but after the events of today, I think it might be better if my visit is more… private.”

They deflate but nod. “That was scary,” Julie admits. “Didn’t they know better than to interrupt when someone is talking? Even I know that.”

Malcolm shakes his head. “They can learn a thing or two from you, Julie. Maybe one day you should become President and make that a law.”

Julie wrinkles her nose. “Eww. No. I’m going to be a teddy bear doctor!”

“There’s no such thing,” Nathan insists.

“I think Julie can be whatever she wants to be,” Rose replies, and the little girl beams at her.

Chapter Text

Malcolm’s anger cools slowly as the conversation washes over him, assuring him that Rose and the kids really are alright. He’d been confused when Nathan first called from Rose’s mobile, but as soon as he’d calmed the boy down enough to sort out what was happening, his fury had been immediate. It’s one thing when Rose spouted off her mouth at reporters; it’s another thing entirely when they cornered her like that. He’d been about ready to set fire to the fucking ice cream parlor when he’d seen her huddled in the back, eyes wide and face pale.

Fucking vultures.

“When’s Mummy going to be here?” Julie asks, pulling him back to the present.

“Shouldn’t be long now,” he replies. “I texted her on the way here; she was not happy.”

Rose bites her lip, looking worried again, and he opens his mouth to reassure her once more. However, if the scrape of the key in the lock isn’t enough to cut him off, the door slamming open certainly is.

“Nathan?” Annie’s worried voice comes from the doorway. “Julie?”

“Mummy!” Julie cries happily, and both her and Nathan scramble out of the fort. The two adults are a little slower to follow, and by the time Malcolm is on his feet, Annie has both her children attached to her and is looking down at them with a concerned frown. She looks up after a moment, her gaze flitting between Malcolm and Rose, who’s hovering uncertainly at his side.

“What the hell happened?” she demands, every inch the protective mother he knows her to be.

“It’s all my fault,” Rose blurts out before he can say anything, and his eyes snap to her to find tears forming again in her eyes. “I took them out because Malcolm was working, and…I dunno, someone tipped them off, I don’t even know why, it was bloody ice cream, but then all these photographers showed up—”

Annie cuts off her babble by dislodging her children and flying across the room to pull Rose into a hug. “Shh, it wasn’t your fault! And my brother should have told you that,” she adds, shooting a dirty look at Malcolm.

“I did,” he protests, but Annie ignores him as she pulls back, putting a hand on Rose’s cheek to look closer at the younger woman.

“They’re just scavengers, the lot of them,” she says, her eyes raking over Rose’s face. “Are you alright?”

“I’m…I’m fine,” Rose stammers in a surprised voice. She’s not, Malcolm thinks, but she’s certainly not going to admit that, especially not with the kids still around to be concerned about.

“Rose gave me her phone, and I called Uncle Mal,” Nathan explains as he comes closer, and Annie releases Rose to focus on her children again.

“And then Uncle Mal came and saved her,” Julie said with a dramatic sigh. “He was angry,, ‘cause he’s Superman and she’s his Mary Jane.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Nathan scoffs as Malcolm freezes, his gaze fixed on a bit of plaster on the wall. “It’s Spiderman that loves Mary Jane; Superman loves Lois Lane.”

“Lois Lane, then,” Julie says with an unconcerned shrug. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Does too,” Nathan argues.

“Does not,” Julie tells him. “‘Cause it doesn’t matter who they are, just that he loves her and he saved her.”

“Still Lois Lane,” he mutters.

“Oh my god,” Malcolm mutters, running a hand down his face as he avoids the gaze of both Annie and Rose.

“It’s his job,” Rose explains. “All the media stuff is what he does; he had to come.”

“Nuh uh,” Julie says. “He’s got assistants that do stuff for him all the time.”

He can feel Rose’s eyes on him, and he’s desperately wishing that the floor would simply open up and swallow him when Annie cuts in.

“Alright,” she says, “point is, Uncle Mal’s a hero, Rose isn’t to blame, and you’re all alright. Time to go.”

“Awww, but we have a pillow fort all set up!” Julie complains.

“And Uncle Mal even made it the good way,” Nathan points out, “so we can lift the back like a curtain and watch a film.”

“I’m sure he’d be willing to rebuild it another day,” Annie assures him. “But I’m also sure that he’d like to get back to work, and Rose probably has other things to do as well. C’mon, we can get pizza for dinner.”

There’s a few more half-hearted protests, as well as a reminder from Julie that she’s still owed a new dress, but Annie eventually bundles them out the door. She pauses in the doorway to kiss Malcolm’s cheek with an order to call her later, and then he’s blessedly free of children who are overly observant and completely lacking in filters. He locks the door behind them and turns slowly back to Rose, looking around curiously. It’s bizarre, having her here, especially now that the kids have gone. It hasn’t been as bad the couple of times he’s been at her place, because Annie was there; besides that, hate it though he’s sure she does, she doesn’t get to keep a lot of secrets from him. He’s always thrived on them, though, especially after the instances where his private life threatened to destroy his public one.

But the really strange part of it all is that it doesn’t actually bother him, having her here, even though it really fucking should.

“So this is your place, then?” she asks when she spots him watching her.

“No,” he deadpans, “I broke in here at fucking random. Lucky thing they had all the supplies for a pillow fort on hand, yes?”

“Shut up,” she says with a smile. “I dunno, I just didn’t really…picture you actually having a place.”

“So I’m married and homeless?” he asks, tilting his head a little.

“Oh my god,” she groans, lifting her hands to her face, and he grins. “Alright, but it’s not like I’ve ever seen this place.”

“Wasn’t any reason to,” he says with a shrug as he heads back for the living room. “I tend to keep my private life just that—private. I like a clear delineation between my work life and my personal life.”

“So how come I’m here now?” she asks, and he pauses, pivoting toward her. “I mean, I’m work, right?”

He stares at her for a moment, trying to figure out a way to categorize her and failing completely. The lines got blurred around her a long time ago.

"People don’t work like press and paperwork," he says finally, adding in a mutter, "apparently."

She gives him an odd look, then glances around, shoving her hands in her jacket pocket. “Well, suppose you do have some actual work to get back to, so…”

“You have other plans?” he asks mildly, studying her surreptitiously. She still looks a little shaky and unhappy, and it bothers him more than he’d like to admit.

“Me? No,” she says with a shrug. “I just figured you’d want to get back to that mountain of paperwork you’ve got back at your office.”

"Nothing that won’t keep," he says with a dismissive wave, and she gives him another strange look. Truth is, he’d dropped everything when Nate had called, not even pausing to fill his briefcase before rushing out the door. He could go back, or even have Sam fax some of it over, but…he glances back at the pillow fort, then turns back to Rose and takes her hand, pulling her toward it. "The world won’t fucking end if I take an afternoon off."

"Sure about that?" she teases.

"Reasonably so," he tells her, letting go of her hand to fold up part of the fort with practiced ease. "Besides, I hate when good forts go to waste."

"Especially when there’s a curtain for films," she says, a smile playing on her lips when he glances back at her.

"Exactly," he replies, leaning into the fort to rearrange the pillows.

“You’re really good with them, you know,” she says thoughtfully, leaning against the wall. “Nate and Julie. How come you never had any kids of your own?”

“Wasn’t really married long enough for it to become an issue,” he says without looking at her.

“Really?” she asks, sounding surprised. “Wait, how long ago was your divorce?”

“Long time ago,” he tells her shortly, not wanting to get into that whole mess at the moment. He arranges the pillows to his satisfaction, then stands and turns to her. “Pick your poison: snacks or film choice.”

"Ohhhh, snacks," she answers immediately, and he chuckles as she spins toward the kitchen.

He’s narrowed the choices down to a documentary she’d probably hate, a romcom that he’d hate and has no idea why he owns, and a comedy they might be able to agree on when she comes back, arms loaded with popcorn, crisp bags, and fizzy drinks. He immediately jumps up to help her, and she makes the final film selection (comedy, thank god). They settle down as the beginning credits roll; his strategic pillow placement allows them to lean back comfortably while still being inclined enough to see the telly. Without the kids, Malcolm’s got enough room to stretch out his legs, and he lays back with his fingers laced behind his head.

After a few minutes, Rose surprises him by shifting around to nestle into his side, her head pillowed against his chest. He stiffens for a moment, trying to decide how to react to this new development—what he should do and what he wants to do fighting for dominance. It’s not until she picks up on it and starts to move away that he makes a snap decision, lowering one hand to her shoulder to keep her close, and she relaxes against him again slowly.

“Thank you,” she says after another minute or two. “For today. And, you know…this.” He looks down when she lifts her head. “My hero.”

The corner of his mouth lifts in a crooked smile as she grins at him, but then he swallows hard. “Not quite the hero you’re used to,” he comments quietly, only half-joking as he considers the adventures she was once accustomed to.

“Nah, just different,” she says, bringing a hand up to his chest as she levers herself up onto her elbow. She looks down at his chest distractedly for a moment, then raises her gaze back to his. “Every situation needs its own type of hero. Doesn’t make any of them any less heroic.”

“Yeah?” he asks, not entirely convinced.

“Yeah,” she assures him. She studies him a moment, then leans up to press her lips to his.

It’s a friendly kiss. It’s a kiss that says, “Thanks for being there, I don’t hate your company, we’re pals.” That’s it. He knows it, and he repeats it to himself several times at lightning speed, even as he wonders whether it’s really still considered friendly if it seems to linger far longer than strictly necessary, or when her lips part just enough for him to capture her top lip in his briefly before she pulls away gently. It’s definitely still just friendly when she opens her eyes to stare at his mouth a moment before flushing gorgeously and burying her face in his chest again. And he’s definitely only thinking friendly thoughts when he swallows hard, trying to slow his rapid heart rate to something appearing normal.

When he does manage to relax again after her…friendly gesture, the long hours without sleep start to make themselves known; he suddenly feels very much his age, and all the more guilty. But when he notices the way her breathing has evened out as she snuggles deeper into his side, he hasn’t the heart—or the care—to move her. Instead, he turns his head, pressing his lips to her hair before shifting a little to a more comfortable position, letting the sound of the film neither of them paid the slightest attention to lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Oh, sweetheart, you look beautiful,” Jackie gushes as Rose steps out of her room. Heavily pregnant, Jackie was leaning against a worried Pete for support. “Where did you get the dress?”

Rose plucks nervously at her skirt. “Annie helped me pick it out. There’s this little boutique near Cambridge that she showed me.”

The dress in question is a navy v-neck dress, with silver stars lining the collar. Two streaks of stars curve towards her left hip, where silver streaks wrapped from there to her right thigh. More stars follow them, falling down to scatter about her skirt. Her sleeves are fluttery, matching the skirt, and random silver sparkles are scattered about the dress.

“The guests have started to arrive,” Pete says as Rose joins him in helping her mother down the corridor. “Jax, are you sure-”

“I’m pregnant, not an invalid,” Jackie says, stubbornly. “And I’m not missing my daughter’s birthday.”

He sighs, and Rose grins at him. “Should have thought about this before you got her pregnant.”

Pete blushes and Jackie laughs. “The fault is all mine,” her mother replies, and Rose shakes her head at the adoring looks they give each other.

As soon as the party is in sight, Rose feels the nerves creeping up on her. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever get used to this- being in the spotlight, her every move being watched and judged and analyzed. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t know very many people- her team is here, Mickey waiting near the door and Jake a little ways away, an unknown brunette with him. Sarah is no where to be seen. Rose had also invited a few of the agents from Archives, but she doesn’t know if they had attended or not.

Her eyes seek the crowd restlessly until they settle on Tucker, hovering near the bar set up along one wall. He has a drink in his hand, but as soon as they make eye contact the glass is set down and he makes a beeline towards them.

“You trying to blind everyone at every party you go to?” Mickey asks her when they reach him, gesturing at her dress.

Rose glances down, self-consciously. “It was the only one that stood out to me.”

“Well it’ll certainly help you stand out,” Mickey says in a way she’s sure he means comfortingly, but only makes her feel terrified.

Tucker appears at that instant, looming over Mickey’s shoulder. “You really don’t know how to talk to women, do you?” he snarks. “You don’t compliment them by scaring them half to death.”

“Speak for yourself,” Mickey snaps, stiffening. “Where did you come from, anyway?”

“That’s enough, you two,” Pete says wearily. “Can we keep the fights to a minimum until everyone else is too drunk to notice?”

Mickey huffs, but stands down at a stern look from Pete. Tucker looks at Rose, a faint smile on his face. “Happy birthday again, Miss Tyler.”

“Thank you,” she replies, calming down now that he’s with her. “I’m surprised you came. Where’s Annie?”

He looks uncomfortable. “Couldn’t make it, and sends her apologies. Julie got sick last night, so she’s at home taking care of her.” Catching her expression he hastens to add, “She’s fine, just a bug.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” she sighs, then lightly smacks his arm. “You had me worried! I thought we would have to stop our weekly lunches.”

“Such a fucking tragedy,” he says, but he’s smiling slightly.

She returns the expression, slightly giddy. Ever since the media encounter and the following kiss in the pillow fort, things changed between them. More and more, Tucker is feeling like a friend rather than the fearsome spin doctor that had annoyed and terrified her. Their text conversations were constant, now, a steady conversation that didn’t falter even when other people were around.

She had even called him last night, unable to sleep. Her smile widens slightly as she remembers it.

“Miss Tyler,” he said when he answered on the second ring. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Have you seen what’s on BBC Four?” she started, staring at the television. “The entire thing is just… absurd.”

“Should I be worried?” he asked, and there was a noise as he presumably moved to turn the channel.

“Maybe slightly disgusted,” she replied. “Squids did not evolve like that.”

He snorted after a second. “This is for sensationalism only, not fucking scientific accuracy. Not that I fucking know a thing about squids. Not really in my field of study.”

“What, the great and powerful Malcolm Tucker doesn’t know something?” Rose had teased.

“Calamari is fucking disgusting, I want nothing to do with the living counterpart. Anyway, since when have you been interested in fucking squid?”

She had shrugged even though he couldn’t see. “I can’t fall asleep, and you’re the only insomniac I know. And it was a history on Scottish castles before this came on.”

“That would have been worth a laugh. Too bad I only just now found out about it.”

Rose grinned. “You would have loved it. They had a Scottish narrator, and focused on the glitz and glamor of the royal court. It was terribly romanticized.”

“I think I’ll fucking pass, then. Although you probably ate it up.”

“I’ve been to a castle back when it was nearly brand new, and that was the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had,” she told him. “Drafty doesn’t cover it.”

He had hummed in agreement. “Not to mention the rampant disease and poor hygiene.”

“It was awful, and ladies’ undergarments weren’t even a blip on the horizon. I don’t know how many times I saw people hitch their skirts up over the castle wall.”

“That’s an image I could live without,” he had said dryly, and Rose had laughed.

“Have you actually visited any castles, though?” she had asked after a moment.

He paused. “A few times, when I was still in Primary. We played hide and go seek in the rubble, and me and a classmate snuck away from the others to go exploring. We nearly got the entire fucking school banned from returning when we went to a restricted area.”

“Not really surprised,” she had said, quietly, a little surprised but mostly touched that he was willing to talk about his past so willingly. “You seem to exist to make as many people mad as possible with the least amount of effort.”

“Makes life more fucking interesting.” She could hear the smile in his voice.

“Clearly. You must have been a handful to raise.”

“I was a fucking delight as a child. For some strange fucking reason, everyone loved me, even though I hated everyone.”

“Good to know that’s a part of your nature, then,” Rose retorted. “At least that way, I won’t take it personally.”

He'd been strangely quiet a moment, then: "I don't hate you, Rose."

"What?"

"I hate people, yeah, but certain...persons are excluded from my general rule of crusty misanthropy."

She smiled a little, surprised at the rare admission. "And I'm one of these...exclusions?"

"Currently," he replied, coughing awkwardly. "You're a probationary exclusion. Don't fucking forget, you still owe me a few weeks good behavior."

“I’ll do my best,” she replied. “Oh, turn to channel six. It’s a World War One documentary.”

“Wonder what fucking spin they’ll put on it this time,” he commented, causing Rose to laugh.

“You’re one to talk,” she had teased even as she watched the development of the war.

“My spin is fucking amazing. Everyone else are amateurs.” They were quiet for a moment, then he said, “It’s after midnight.”

“Yeah... for about fifteen minutes now,” she replied, confused.

His voice had been gentle and warmer than she’d ever heard before, and the tone had sent butterflies rioting in her stomach. “Happy birthday, Rose.”

She is startled out of her thoughts when Jackie grunts, and everyone turns to look at her. “Sorry, the baby is kicking,” Jackie says. “I need to walk around a bit, hopefully it’ll help him settle.”

Before Rose can join them one of Pete’s primary investors shows up, and Rose is drawn into uncomfortable small talk about Vitex and the future of the business. By the time she’s escaped his clutches no one she knows is around, and Rose has no choice but to awkwardly join in on a conversation about some bachelor she doesn’t know the name of that some socialites are gossiping about.

Standing next to the flawlessly put together woman dressed in blacks and dark reds, Rose’s feelings of inadequacy rise once more. It’s no secret that Rose wants nothing to do with the glitz and glamor of high society life, but now she’s wishing she was a little more interested so she wouldn’t be so lost.

One of Jackie’s friends mercifully rescues her, asking her about what she had received in birthday gifts thus far. Rose shrugs, saying that she doesn’t really need anything, and the woman simpers when Rose says that her new family is all the gift she needed. Cassidy Marlowe is nice, if a bit flighty, but Rose doesn’t mind if she talks about herself- it spares Rose from coming up with answers to questions she doesn’t really know or understand, and she suspects this is why Jackie invited the woman. It’s a nice respite from the mundane gossip and steely glares hid behind smiles and charm.

Rose nearly cries when she checks the time and discovers only an hour has past- it had felt ten times longer, and the party officially ends at eleven. She has three more hours of small talk and accepting empty compliments, and if one more person comes up and compliments her on how photogenic she is she might scream.

She is spared when the dancing starts, although moving from the foyer and sitting room into the side-room isn’t much of change. Rose tries to keep the buffet table in her sights while not staying too close, even though the finger foods are bland and are better used as decoration. Jackie had wanted to throw the biggest society event of the year to celebrate, but Rose would have been happier dressed in sweats and a pajama top cuddled up on the couch watching a film and a bowl of popcorn in her lap, surrounded only by family and her closest friends.

An investor Rose knows is married but removes his wedding ring whenever his wife isn’t with him claims Rose for a dance, and she is handed off for the next few songs as she hears the same questions and compliments. When she finally escapes she is starving, exhausted, and utterly miserable.

Like a godsend, Tucker walks up as she’s trying to figure out a polite way to turn down another dance offer. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’m going to need to steal Miss Tyler away,” he says, his eyes flinty even though his tone is almost polite. “She has a very quick appointment to keep with someone, she’ll be back shortly.”

Rose would have gladly followed him even if meant skydiving into a volcano, and she lets him lead her out of the room with his hand on her back. Tucker glances around quickly before guiding her through the kitchens and into the backyard, where a basket of chips is waiting on the low wall.

“Oh, I could kiss you for this,” Rose exclaims as she rushes over to it. “Tucker, you’re an angel.”

“Note the lack of a fucking halo,” he says dryly as she crams a few of the potatoes in her mouth. She groans in relief, and never before has a chip tasted so delicious. “Worth it, then?”

Rose nods, too busy inhaling the chips to reply. When she sneaks a glance at him, Tucker seems torn between fascination and concern. “Don’t suffocate yourself!” he exclaims.
She swallows. “Shut up. I’m enjoying myself, and if I die from this, I’ll die happy,” she informs him before resuming her meal.

He shakes his head when she’s finished, and hands her a napkin. Rose ignores it in favor of licking her fingers clean, but when he throws it at her she giggles. “Forget the new car, this is the best gift I’ve gotten,” Rose tells him after she wipes her fingers clean, putting the napkin in the empty basket . “Why are you so good at gift giving?”

“I get lucky?” he shrugs. “But you never stop talking about how much you fucking love chips, it’s not exactly a hard thing to figure out.”

Rose smiles and hops up to sit on the wall. She’s his height now, and he leans against the wall next to her. “Don’t know why Jackie insisted on throwing you a party,” he comments as they look up at the stars just starting to emerge. “This isn’t exactly your scene.”

Rose shrugs. “It makes her happy, and I wasn’t about to tell her no. Besides, she’ll be distracted with the baby soon enough.”

He tilts his head as he looks at her. “You’re moving back into the mansion before it’s born, yes?”

She nods. “I might stay afterwards as well for a bit, just until Mum and Dad get used to the changes. Besides, they’ll probably need a third pair of hands. I may not know a lot about babies, but I know how to change a diaper, at least.”

“Your brother is lucky, having you as a sister,” Tucker says absently, as he looks around. He bends suddenly, picking up a small white box that was tucked up against the wall. “Here. Part two of your gift.”

She smirks at him. “What, you mean you’re being even more nice? It’s a miracle.”

He rolls his eyes, but she’s delighted that she’s made him smile. “Just fucking open it.”

Rose does so, and a fairy cake with small silver balls on top. “Edible ball bearings,” she says softly, picking up the fairy cake. “How did you…?”

Malcolm looks surprised. “I…that actually was a guess.”

Rose sets the fairy cake to the side and turns towards him. “Thank you,” she says sincerely. “For…everything. You have no idea what it means to me.”

Before he can reply and before she can really think about what’s she’s doing, Rose leans forward and presses her lips to his, just as she had in the pillow fort. He’s surprised, she can tell, by the way his hands scrabble a bit against the wall. She smiles and pulls back, about to turn back to her cake, when she catches his expression.

His steely eyes are intense but unreadable as they drop to her mouth, and her breath catches a little in her throat as tension rolls off him. He hesitates, seeming to be fighting himself for a long moment, then he’s stepping forward, one hand cupping her face and the other resting on her waist as he kisses her back, firmly and confidently.

Rose inhales in surprise before a small, insane part of her mind asserts control, making her relax into the kiss. Her arms slide around his shoulders as she leans into him, accepting his tentative invitation as her lips slide against his.

It’s gentle, quiet, until by accident or a rush of foolish bravery, Rose licks his bottom lip, tasting the faintest bit of brandy. The small action has him sliding his arms around her and deepening the kiss, and though he’s a little clumsy it takes him only a moment to regain control, and soon his tongue is expertly coaxing an embarrassing whimper from her. She pulls back to breathe but he’s moving right back in, and Rose doesn’t know when the night turned into delicious if terrifying territory, but she’s lost in his kiss and the feeling of his hands against her, the strange rightness of the sensation. With every second it lasts, she feels herself creeping toward something unknown, some dizzying abyss that could swallow them whole, but she pushes the feeling away, intent on relishing this perfect--if bizarre--moment between them.

When they finally pull apart, their foreheads press together as they catch their breaths. Rose’s eyes are still closed, reveling in the sensation, not needing a mirror to know that she’s blushing heavily. Malcolm lets out a rueful chuckle before easing away from her. “I must be fucking mental,” he mutters, quietly, shaking his head and running shaky hand through his hair.

“Was that part of your gift too?” she asks, dazed, as she slowly slides off the wall.

He looks at her out of the corner of his eyes. “Why, did it not hold up to fairy cake or chips?”

“What?”

He blinks at her, and Rose registers what he said. “Oh. Uhm. Actually, I think there’s truth in the saying ‘save the best for last’.”

Tucker cracks a smile at that, then glances back at the mansion. “We should head back. People are bound to be wondering where you are.”

“Do I have to?” she whines.

He steps closer and she’s hit with the inexplicably pleasing thought that he might kiss her again. Unfortunately, he merely offers her his arm. “You only have two hours to go. I know you can make it.”

“What’s in it for me?” she wonders, reaching back to grab the still uneaten cake as they start back to the mansion.

“Oh, I’m sure someone’ll think of something,” he replies, and she shivers delightedly.

He pushes the door open, and Rose is once again ensconced in the realm of small talk and vapid socialites on the arms of wealthy but narrow-minded investors. But with the memory of his kiss ghosting along her skin and mind, the time spent among strangers is trivial.

Chapter Text

A week after Rose’s birthday, Malcolm’s still berating himself for the kiss. He should have just left well enough alone; the other two…incidents had been easy enough to write off, and if he hadn’t been such a fucking idiot, this could have been as well. But there’s still a tiny voice inside of him reminding him that there had been two other kisses…and that she hadn’t exactly complained about that moment in the back garden either.

He’s seriously beginning to think that spot is fucking cursed…it’s the best explanation he can find for why he always seems to lose his fucking mind when they find themselves there.

It would be easier if he hadn’t broken the rules and formed this strange sort of friendship with her in the first place. After the accidental nap in the pillow fort a couple of months ago—and the incredibly awkward goodbye afterwards—he’d apparently lost all sense of boundaries, and they’d started texting each other more often for no other reason than because they could. There’d even been a few times she’d called him late at night, because she couldn’t sleep and he never did, and they’d sit on the phone for an hour watching the same television programme and making fun of it before she started getting sleepy again.

Valentine’s Day had been one of the nights she called him, and he hated every implication that came with her being out of sorts that day; the idea that she was upset because she was still hung up on a man who’d deserted her made him want to scream in frustration. But she hadn’t even mentioned the Doctor, just what a ridiculous holiday it was, the way it was designed to perpetuate this idea that being single was a fate worse than death. He’d proceeded to list off the atrocities throughout history that had been committed on Valentine’s Day, as well as discussed Saint Valentine himself—some idiot who’d gotten himself martyred back in the 14th century—and how that was literally the only thing known about him. She’d been giggling by the time they hung up, and the sound is always like music for him.

As soon as he’d heard about the plans for her birthday he’d laughed out loud, knowing that it was going to be basically everything she hated, so it had been an easy enough decision to create a temporary escape for her. He just hadn’t quite factored in her possible reaction…and definitely not his own. Everything about that kiss had been a mistake, start to finish. But while he’s definitely feeling guilty as hell, the complete lack of regret makes him feel worse. If he could go back and do it over, he’d do it again, because having Rose in his arms had felt like heaven.

He’s so fucking doomed.

He’s trying once again to put the whole incident out of his mind when Annie shows up with the kids, once again begging for his help while she meets another client. With Rose passing out her cards like candy, her decorating business has been booming.

“Don’t suppose Josh could possibly spare a day for his kids,” Malcolm remarks as Julie and Nate race each other to the toy room upstairs.

“His name’s Jeremy,” Annie reminds him.

“I don’t fucking care,” he says with a shrug. “What is Daddy Warbucks up to these days, anyway?”

“Oh, you know, working, spending time with his new family,” Annie says dismissively, and Malcolm grunts in annoyance.

“I really hate that little fucker,” he tells her.

“I know,” she says, leaning up to kiss his cheek. “But for the millionth time, the split was mutual, and he still provides for our kids, even if he isn’t around all the time. That’s what they have you for.”

“Fucking fabulous,” he replies. “Go, be successful, I’ll attempt not to completely pollute your kids with sugar while you’re gone. No real promises on that last one though.”

“Thanks again, Mal,” she says over her shoulder as she leaves.

He lasts with them for an hour, managing to go over a few briefs while they play, before Julie finds him and asks about Rose.

“What do you need Rose here for?” he asks with a frown as the little girl climbs into his lap.

“‘Cause she’s nice, and I like her,” Julie replies easily. “And we almost always get to see her when we see you.”

He narrows his eyes, opening his mouth to argue this, but snaps it shut again when he realizes he has no case. Most of the time he sees the kids anymore, either Rose is already with them or makes an appearance shortly after. He’s not entirely sure how the fuck that happened.

“Well, we needn’t bother her every time,” he says finally. “Rose has got a life of her own as well, you know.”

“You could ask,” Julie suggests. “Maybe she’s just waiting for you to call her. That’s what girls do for their boyfriends."

“Okay, first of all, don’t ever do that,” he says. “Don’t ever put your plans on hold to wait for some bloke to call you. You deserve better than that. Second of all, I’m not Rose’s boyfriend.”

“If you say so,” Julie says with a shrug, and he frowns at her, getting the feeling that she’s not having any of it. “You could still call. Pleeeeeease, Uncle Mal?”

He groans a little when she looks up at him with big eyes, looking so much like Annie that it’s worrying. “Fine, I’ll call. But no promises, yes? If she’s busy, that’s it.”

“Okay,” she says happily, scrambling off his lap and picking his phone up off his desk to hand it to him. He shakes his head as he takes it, staring at the little girl smiling innocently for a moment before dialing Rose’s number.

“Hi there,” she says cheerfully when she answers.

“Hey,” he replies, rolling his eyes at the way Julie’s smile grows. “Listen, you can absolutely say no, it’s short notice and I dunno if you’re busy, but Julie demanded that I call and at least ask if you want to hang out with us this afternoon.”

“Is that so?” she asks. “Demanded?”

“Don’t let her fool you,” he says, looking up at the knock on the door. “She may look all sweet and innocent, but she’s ruthless with emotional blackmail.”

“Sounds like her mum,” Rose says with a chuckle as he stands and walks to the door.

“You’re telling me,” he says. “So what do you say?”

“I dunno,” she says slowly, and he narrows his eyes at the weird echoing quality of her words. He yanks open the front door to find her on the doorstep, phone pressed to her ear and a grin on her face. “Sort of already planned to drop in on a friend.”

“Annie?” he asks, pushing the end button on his phone.

“She texted me a half hour ago,” Rose says, and he rolls his eyes.

“You know, I am actually capable of watching my niece and nephew without you,” he says, stepping aside and holding the door open.

“I know that,” she tells him. “You’re just not capable of looking after yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means it’s your day off,” she says. “And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you’ve spent most of it doing work you brought home from the office.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he hedges without conviction.

“Rose!” Julie shouts when she steps out of his office and sees her. She proceeds with her usual greeting, launching herself at Rose as Nate barrels down the stairs. They both start chattering to her excitedly, as if it’s been two years since they’ve seen her, as opposed to two weeks.

“Alright,” Malcolm cuts in after a moment. “She’s here now, chances are you’ll have plenty of time to talk her ear off before your mum picks you up. Ease up.”

“It’s fine,” says easily as she gets to her feet, shrugging out of her jacket and laughing at his doubtful hum. “Honestly. But you know what, I’m starved. Have you got any real food here?”

“I have, thanks,” he answers evenly. “And you make sure to tell your Nadia that, or you’ll end up with another stern note about missing meals.”

“Wouldn’t be the first, won’t be the last,” she says airily.

“You should help with lunch,” Nate says with a glance at Malcolm, who raises an eyebrow. “He says we’re too English, and he’s going to make us eat—” Gulp. “—haggis.”

“Perish the thought,” Rose says in mock horror. “Sounds like I got here just in time then.”

Both children nod solemnly, and Malcolm rolls his eyes. “Right, come on then, sooner lunch is done, sooner you’ll all have your mouths too stuffed to talk.”

Rose follows him into the kitchen, rummaging around until she finds plates while he pulls out lunch meats for sandwiches. They fall into an assembly line, with him getting bread and smearing on sandwich spread and her arranging the meat and cheese before putting the sandwiches on a plate.

“I dunno that ham and cheese counts as real food,” she comments after a moment, nudging his arm with her shoulder.

“It’s matter, and it’s edible,” he counters, elbowing her in return. “It fucking counts. Especially when the diners are nine and nearly seven.”

“Point taken,” she says with a grin.

“And, on the side, I have actual pasta salad to serve,” he goes on. “No crisps for this fine fucking dining experience.”

She laughs then, and his own lips twitch as he gives her a sideways look. When the sandwiches are prepared, he turns to pouring drinks while she retrieves the pasta salad, moving around each other with a sort of ease that’s uncomfortable because it’s not. He tries not to dwell on it as he carries the sandwiches and pasta salad into the dining room.
She’s rinsing off the knife when he comes back for the drinks, and he freezes in surprise when she takes her hand from the running faucet to flick water into his face.

“How fucking old are you?” he demands, reaching for the towel hanging at her side while she giggles.

“Old enough not to miss an opportunity for fun,” she says with a grin as she turns, tugging on the towel to dry her hands after he runs it over his face. He tugs back, and she laughs again before pulling harder, enough for him to stagger a step closer.

An incredibly dangerous step, he realizes belatedly as she looks up at him through her lashes, all humor vanishing. The slight hitch in her breath tells him that she’s remembering the same moment he is, that split second just before he’d kissed her last week. Some small voice of reason is screaming at him that he’s playing with fire, that he needs to take a step back before he does something stupid, but it’s not enough to keep him from leaning in, hypnotized by the way she lifts her face in anticipation—

“Are you almost done?” Nate asks as he rounds the corner, and Malcolm steps back hurriedly, releasing the towel.

“Yeah,” he says, his voice rough. “Yeah, just need to get drinks on the table. Here, you can take yours,” he says, handing the boy a glass. “Carefully!” he adds when Nate takes off. “Saved by the children,” Rose jokes, biting her lip when he looks back at her.

“Yeah,” he says again, wondering where exactly his gift for words has fled to. “Um. Lunch?”

“Yeah,” she agrees, turning to hang the towel back up before reaching past him for her’s and Julie’s drinks.

“After you,” he says, gesturing at the door when she looks up at him, and she bites her lip again uncertainly. She lowers her gaze when he swallows hard, shaking her head a little as she turns for the door. He lets out a long breath, steadying himself before grabbing his own glass and following her.

Completely fucking doomed.

Chapter Text

After a week spent in Scotland chasing down rumors of werewolves that had them running in circles, Rose is ready to be home. The rumors had ultimately proved to be false; nothing more than an escaped dog wreaking havoc on the local sheep population. Mickey had been the one to spot it and bring it to the local animal shelter, but not after suffering several bites and scratches. He had been ushered to medical as soon as they had gotten back, and is required to stay there for a day under observation.

When she finally pulls up to the Tyler mansion, parking the dark blue convertible that Pete had given her for her birthday, Rose lets out a long sigh of relief before dragging herself out of the seat and grabbing her pack. She sorely needs to wash her soiled uniforms, but another day won’t hurt them. All she wants is to eat dinner and hopefully fall asleep and stay that way for longer than four hours.

Jackie is in the sitting room, attempting to knit a scarf. Though the doctor confined her to bed, Jackie is a day past her due date and from what Pete has told Rose over the phone, thoroughly unimpressed with the baby’s lack of punctuality.

“Hello, Mum,” Rose greets her, and Jackie instantly drops the needles as Rose bends down to kiss her on the cheek.

“Rose! Oh, I was worried that you wouldn’t get back in time,” she says. “How was Scotland?”

“Cold,” Rose says as she sits down beside her. “And boring. We were about a mile from Glasgow once, but I never managed to make it to the city.”

“Shame, that. You need a vacation,” Jackie tells her. She reaches for the needles but her stomach is in the way, so she gives an irritated sigh and leans back into the sofa. “Oh, when is he going to be born? I’m so tired of being pregnant.”

Rose smiles sympathetically. “He’s on his own schedule. Besides, he’ll be screaming soon enough and you’ll wish he had taken his own sweet time.”

Jackie grumbles but when she makes another move to stand, Rose helps her up. “Thanks, sweetheart. I’m starving, and I was afraid that Dad wouldn’t get here in time. Where is he, anyway?”

“Don’t know. Said he’d meet me here.” Rose helps her mum into a chair. “What’s for dinner?”

“Soup, probably. Seems like it’s been soup for the past three days. Supposedly low on sodium or something, but I would kill for a steak right now,” her mum replies.

Rose grins. “I’ll see what I can get from the kitchen staff. You stay there, yeah?”

“Not like I can leave if I wanted to!” Jackie shouts after her, and Rose laughs.

Rose manages to procure stir fry, and Pete arrives just when Rose is bringing it out. He presses a kiss to the top of her head before fussing over Jackie, who shoves him towards the kitchen after a while to find his own dinner. Rose tells Jackie some more about Scotland, and Pete complains about his VP taking yet another vacation.

“Why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?” Rose asks. “It seems when he’s not out of the country he’s pawning his job off to others.”

“Because he’s bloody good at getting investors,” Pete sighs. “And if he leaves, he’ll take them all with him.”

Rose hums in annoyance. “You should talk to Tucker about it.”

“I have. But, and he has a point, he left politics for a reason and has no intention of going back to it. He’ll support me in whatever choice I make and strong arm the media to paint a favorable light if I do fire him, but he’s not my gun man.”

Jackie changes the topic to some party-or-other they had been invited to but had to turn down because of Jackie’s continued pregnancy, and Rose is once again trying to put names to faces. Pete is showing her pictures on his phone--“Helps me remember. There’s a reason I pretend to be on the phone a lot when meeting people”--when Jackie says, quietly, “Pete.”

Pete glances at her before doing a double-take, and Rose looks to see her mother looking pale. “My water just broke.”

“Oh god,” Pete says, and seconds later Rose is rushing upstairs to grab Pete’s wallet and car keys as he helps Jackie to the car.

Rose calls the hospital to let them know of their arrival, since Jackie’s doctor had been anticipating the arrival for the past week. Next she calls Jake to let him know that she won’t be in to work the next day, and finally, she hits the string of numbers that would call Tucker.

It rolls over to voicemail, much to her surprise, and then she remembers that he has a meeting with several department heads. “Of all the bloody times you are unavailable,” she says before calling Sam.

After getting an agreement from Tucker’s PA that she would tell him what was happening as soon as he returned--poor woman is required at the meetings, for reasons that escape Rose and Sam alike--Rose ignores the phone in favor of keeping her mum calm.

Rose’s phone rings when they reach the hospital, and she answers just as Jackie is placed in a wheel chair and rushed away, Pete jogging along behind them. They had agreed beforehand that only Pete would be in the room with Jackie, since Rose would be more bother than help, so she is escorted to a small waiting room.

“Hello Tucker,” Rose says evenly when she picks up. “I take it Sam relayed the news?”

“She did. How’s Pete holding up?”

“About as well can be expected. He looked terrified, but if Mum picks up on it she’ll have his head. Her contractions started in the car, so with any luck my baby brother will be born before the night is up.”

There is a noise as Tucker shouts at someone to get out of his way, and Rose waits until he resumes talking with her. “Which room are you in?”

“Dunno, I’m waiting for updates. Why?”

He sighs. “Because I’m about to be in charge of another media darling and I want to make sure the kid--”

“You better not finish that sentence,” Rose warns. “That’s my baby brother you’re talking about!”

“I’ll be sure to bring a fucking teddy bear in apology,” he snarks.

Rose shakes her head. “If you do decide to join us, just give your name at the receptionist. I’ll be sure to let her know you’re coming.”

After a brief acknowledgment from Tucker, Rose hangs up and wanders over to the nurse station. After relaying her message, she goes back into the room, searching the cabinets until she finds a box of earl grey of dubious expiration but figures that a hospital wouldn’t purposely try to poison their patrons.

Another search reveals a kettle and Rose fills it up and places it on the rickety stove in the corner. Making tea had helped her calm her nerves about the baby’s arrival, but now that she was waiting for the water to boil they were starting to set in again. What if something went wrong? She had finally gotten the family she had always wanted, she didn’t want to suddenly lose it because of something easily prevented...

Tucker strolls in, interrupting her thoughts, and looks at the box of tea suspiciously. “Is that stuff still good?”

“Hope so,” she replies, shoving her hands in her pockets when she notices that they’re shaking. “It’s almost done, though, if you want some.”

He shrugs and searches for the cups, taking out two as Rose carries the kettle over.

“You’re remarkably calm,” he comments as they sit down with their tea.

Rose sighs. “I’m not. I’ve just learned to hide it over the past few years. When you’re being hunted by aliens that smell fear, you learn to control your emotions.” She smiles grimly. “Doesn’t make it easier, but at least you know what’s at stake. Besides, Dad’s freaking out enough as it is. I can do so later once he’s feeling more himself.”

“Better to do so in private?” he asks, quietly.

Rose nods. “Mum doesn’t need to look after me and a newborn baby. She’ll just worry if I’m worried, and she doesn’t need that right now.”

“There’s no shame in letting people know how you feel, Rose,” he replies evenly. “Remember the last time you did that? You had a panic attack at work.”

She makes a face at him. “You’re one to talk, Mr. My-Secrets-Have-Secrets.”

“Did you just quote Avengers at me?”

“Ha!” She crows. “I knew you’ve seen that movie. With Nate’s love of superheroes it was impossible that you hadn’t.”

He grunts and drinks his tea, but Rose knows she won the round. “I’m a bit surprised you came, though,” she says, changing the subject. “Wouldn’t expect something like this to be your sort of scene. Hormones are going to be running high in a bit.”

“I was there when Annie gave birth to both her kids, this is nothing special,” he shrugs. “Besides, the waiting is the easy part. It’s after the kid is born that things get messy. And I’m Director of Communications, remember? Technically, I’m on the job.”

“It’s not like others who share your title would just drop everything to attend the birth of their boss’ child, though,” she points out.

He frowns at her. “Just stop fucking questioning it, yeah? I think I know better than anyone besides your father what my job fucking entails.”

She raises her hand in a conciliatory gesture. “All right, all right, I’ll stop. Better here than the office anyway.”

“I should have never introduced you to Annie,” he mutters, but she knows him enough to know that he doesn’t really mean it. She grins at him and he smiles reluctantly back.

“How long is it going to take, anyway?” Rose asks an hour later. She is sprawled across the chairs, the top of her head pressing against his thigh, and his arm is resting on top of the chair backs.

“Depends,” Tucker replies as he makes a move on the phone and hands it to her. Rose frowns when she sees that she lost another bishop. “Nate took about eight hours, and Julie was about twice that.”

“Mum’s gonna be in labor for sixteen hours?” Rose asks, worried. “I went to an appointment with her, the doctor was worried…”

He interrupts her, “I’m sure it’ll be fine, Rose. They know what they’re doing, and Pete told me that they’ve been doing all they can to convince her to have a cesarean. I’m sure after a few hours of the fucking pain of childbirth she’ll agree to it.”

Though she’s not completely convinced, she settles back down and makes her move. “I can’t see you staying in one place for sixteen hours.”

“I didn’t.” He accepts the phone and considers. “I was always the last person to arrive, and there were more people to talk to. Surprising how time flies when you have an entire room of people to insult.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” She takes the phone when he hands it to her and grins. “Ha! You fell for it,” she says as she takes his knight.

“Did I?” he asks mildly, and Rose suddenly realizes that in another two moves, her queen will be exposed.

“The game isn’t over yet,” she replies and tilts the screen, contemplatively. “I’ve got more pieces.”

“They aren’t the ones that matter,” he replies, smugly. “All but the King are pawns.”

“And yet the Queen is way more powerful,” Rose retorts. She finally makes her move and tries to hide the victorious grin, and he frowns deeply when he realizes what she’s done. No matter what move he makes his King is going to be exposed, and it’s only a matter of delaying the inevitable.

He looks down at her. “How long have you been setting this up?”

“Since the beginning,” she retorts. “That’s the only way to play chess.”

He glares at the screen for a long time before finally deciding on a move. It takes another five turns but Rose finally wins, smirking up at him. “You owe me dinner,” she sing-songs as she closes out of the app.

“I fed you three weeks ago, doesn’t that count?” he complains as she sits up. Rose laughs.

“No, it doesn’t. You agreed fair and square,” she tells him. “Unless you want me to change it to my first suggestion…”

He shakes his head vigorously and Rose laughs harder. “Darn. I was hoping to send pictures to Annie.” Taking a brief second to mourn the loss of the sight of Tucker in jeans and a t-shirt, she absently leans into his side as she scrolls through her phone, trying to find another game to pass the time. The telly had nothing but West Wing and Eastenders re-runs, the former of which was strangely a ballet drama about a ballerina who was caught up in a love hexagon. It was enough to make her brain bleed after three minutes, at which point Tucker had suggested chess.

The door opens before she can decide, and they both look to see a nurse smiling at them. “Your mum, dad, and baby brother are ready to see you now, Miss Tyler,” they say, and excitement leaps through her.

She takes only a second to thrust her phone in her pocket before grabbing Tucker’s arm and towing him along behind as she follows the nurse. “Easy there!” he protests, but Rose barely hears him.

When she gets to the room, she drops his arm and rushes to Jackie’s bedside. She looks exhausted but is glowing as she looks down at the small baby bundled up in a blue blanket. “Rose, meet Anthony Peter Tyler,” Jackie says, and Pete beams at her.

“Oh, mum,” Rose says, quietly. The baby is awake but drowsy, and still a bit red and wrinkly, but Rose has never seen something more perfect. “He’s beautiful.”

Jackie passes him to her, and she sits down on the side of the bed. “Hello, Tony,” Rose tells him. “I’m your big sister, Rose. And I have a feeling we’ll be the best of friends.”

Both Jackie and Pete have tears in their eyes when Rose finally looks up at them. She blinks away her own and beams at them, then looks over at Malcolm standing uncomfortably in the doorway. “Oh, don’t be a stranger,” she says. “Come here and meet your new project.”

“Not for a while yet,” he mutters, but walks over to sit in a nearby chair.

The baby passes between the family as they talk, Jackie admitting that she finally agreed to the cesarean after the doctor got worried about Tony’s position. Pete mostly stays silent, distracted by his son, and Tucker watching them interact with a barest hint of a smile. After an hour, Jackie starts yawning more frequently, and Tony is asleep in Rose’s arms.

“I don’t want to leave,” she jokes when Pete tells Rose gently that she could go home if she wanted.

Jackie smiles sleepily at her, and squeezes her hand after Rose reluctantly hands Tony over to Pete. “Oh, sweetheart, I know you don’t,” Jackie says. “But regardless, you need to go home and sleep. Dad’ll keep us company.”

Rose knows, logically, that there was a reason that she agreed to go home afterwards, and only a part of it was making sure that the nursery was ready when Jackie and Pete arrived back at the mansion in two days. But she’s reluctant to go, and as if sensing this, Malcolm clears his throat and says he might as well do some work while he’s here.
He gets a quick statement from all three of them, getting down all the necessary information on his phone before congratulating them just as the doctor comes back in.
She lets Tucker guide her out, taking one last look at her parents before she leaves. With a tiny smile she exits, and wordlessly follows Tucker.

Though she’s overjoyed that her parents have Tony, and that she now has a little brother, Rose doesn’t quite know what to think about what will happen now. She knows that her parents won’t… ignore her, per se, but it will be a confusing time for all of them as they settle into a new routine. She doesn’t blame Tony for it, more herself; the idea of being a big sister is exciting, but also terrifying. She doesn’t know babies. She had babysat toddlers and bratty pre-teen cousins, but never babies.

She’s also worried about her work. She knows Torchwood is dangerous, has been nearly injured several times, and with every day that passes it seems she has more to lose if something happened. It isn’t enough to make her quit, or work on getting promoted, but the idea of not seeing her little brother grow up is a worrying one.

“You’re remarkably quiet,” he comments as they pull onto the street the mansion is on. It’s a little past eleven at night, but Rose is still wide awake and not looking forward to being at the mansion alone.

“I’m not really sure what to feel,” Rose admits. “Everything's going to change now. Mum’s got Tony to think about, Pete’s going to be gone for a while to help her take care of him, and I’ve suddenly got a sibling I never thought I’d have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled, but… I guess I wish…” she sighs. She’s conflicted and guilty because for the first time, as she held her newborn baby brother, she wasn't thinking of the Doctor. In fact, she had found herself thinking that she was glad that he hadn’t been able to get her, because then she would have missed out on that tiny, perfect moment.

Tucker rolls to a stop in front of the mansion, and Rose slowly gets out. “You need to go out with friends,” he tells her. “It’s a fucking miracle, don’t waste it.”

“Right.” She gives him a tiny smile and ignores the pain his words inadvertently cause. She didn’t have friends, not really; none that she would instantly want share this with, at least. The only people she would want to talk to about her current turmoil--both the anxiety and the excitement--are Tucker and Annie, and he didn’t seem to want to. She didn’t even think Mickey would understand, and he tended to treat her feelings as something that weren’t very important anyway. “I’ll do that. Thank you, Tucker. See ya.”

He drives away and she enters the mansion, the quiet that permeates the house during the time of night no longer very comforting. She sighs and locks the door, moving towards the stairs to shower and change.

She’s in the kitchen getting a glass of water when the bell rings. Curious, she answers, only to see Malcolm standing there with an irritated expression. Before she can find out what he’s doing there, he asks, “You haven’t got any friends, have you?”

“Well,” she hedges, “there’s Annie…”

He lets out a gust of breath and pushes past her. “Right. Where’s your father’s secret stash of alcohol? And don’t give me that fucking innocent routine, you’ve admitted to it in the past.”

Despite herself, she laughs and leads him to the library. “Going to show me how to celebrate in style, Malcolm?”

“Don’t you fucking know it,” he replies evenly as he pulls out a large bottle of something-or-other and what looks like a very expensive brand of wine. “Assuming, of course, you can stay awake long enough.”

“Challenge accepted,” she shoots back and grabs another bottle blindly, racing out of the library. “Think you can keep up with me, old man?”

He shouts an affront after her, but her laughter drowns it out as she heads to the media room upstairs.

Chapter Text

Malcolm wakes up slowly, completely disoriented and with a pounding headache. He’s on his side with a warm mass pressed to his front, and a deep breath carries the scent of strawberries and nameless alcohol. He and Rose must have really tied one on last night if--

Rose.

His whole body goes rigid as several facts become immediately apparent: One, the scent of strawberries is undeniably her shampoo. Two, she’s the body pressed against him. Three, they’re both naked as the day they were fucking born. Four...he is so fucked.

One of his arms is draped over her, with her fingers loosely laced through his. He tries to ease himself away, but freezes again when she lets out a small--and adorable--sleepy sound and tightens her hand.

Fuck.

He adjusts the arm curled under his head, levering himself up on his elbow and glancing around as he tries to piece together how the fuck this happened. He remembers driving away from the mansion, and he remembers letting out a curse and hitting the steering wheel before pulling an abrupt U-turn that angered a lot of people and probably nearly got him killed. He can remember grabbing random bottles from Pete’s stash and following Rose to the home theater. He can just about remember ordering chinese and declaring his debt paid. After that, it all gets a little...hazy.

He’d tried to leave at some point, he knows that. When the alcohol started doing its dirty work and his looks got lingering, he tried to call it a night, but she’d argued with him, telling him he was in no condition to drive home, teasingly balking at the idea of the director of communications for Peter Tyler calling a cab.

Missing footage.

He tells her that if he’s staying, he might as well have another drink.

Missing footage.

She’s sitting on the kitchen counter in tears, and he’s too drunk to try to understand exactly why she’s crying, but that he needs to stop it.

Missing footage.

She’s still on the kitchen counter, only now her leg is hooked around his hip, and his hand is fisted in her hair, and they’re kissing without finesse but with an astonishing amount of heat, teeth clashing and biting and tongues chasing each other from one mouth to the other.

Missing footage.

There’s a pattering sound as the buttons of his shirt scatter from her impatience, and she looks up at him uncertainly, but fuck it, it’s a shirt, he’s got more, and kissing her immediately is more urgent.

Missing footage.

She’s laying on the bed, and he’s got her wrists pinned above her head with one hand while the other explores her slippery folds, and she arches into him with a moan when he lowers his mouth to her breast.

Missing footage.

He rasps out a curse and her name as her nails scrape down his back, the feel of her around him more intoxicating than any alcohol they consumed.
Well. Almost.

And that’s it. That’s all he’s got.

It’s more than fucking enough.

He lets out a groan, moving his hand over his eyes. She lets out another sound, stirring a little, and his fingers part over one eye as he watches her wake up, stretching her back and her free arm before settling back down. He can see when it hits her, where she is, who she’s with, by the way she first freezes, then sits bolt upright, releasing his hand and pulling up the sheet to cover her.

He rolls over onto his back, wincing at the inexplicable soreness before the memory of her nails hits him again like a wrecking ball. He groans again, putting both hands over his face as his head starts pounding more.

“What did...how...shit,” Rose says, and he lets out a chuckle in spite of himself.

“I’m a bad influence on you, Tyler,” he comments as he pushes himself up to a sitting position. “I dunno...my memory isn’t working so well this morning.”

“How much did we drink?”

“A lot?” he hazards. Pants. Pants and trousers. Those would be favorites right now. He spots them trailing from the door to the bed, and glances at her. She’s got her face buried in her hands, and he winces at the sight, but he’ll be able to do more for her if he’s got something on. He moves off the bed quickly to snatch up the clothes, spying her robe hanging from the closet door as he tugs them on. He grabs it and tosses it to her, and she shoots him a grateful look as he heads for the loo in the hall.

He splashes cold water on his face after using the toilet, then stares at his reflection accusingly.

“You fucking moron,” he mutters. “What the fuckwere you thinking?”

Since he’s not likely to get an answer from the mirror, he pulls at it instead, reaching into the medicine cabinet behind it for a bottle of paracetamol, popping four in his mouth before dipping his head to drink water from the faucet.

Rose is just coming out of another room when he exits the loo, and they give each other furtive looks before their gazes skitter away again.

“Um...I got you this,” she says, holding out a shirt. “It’s Dad’s. Yours is sort of...um…”

"Yeah,” he says, moving closer to take the shirt from her and slip it over his head. “Listen, Rose...about last night...we were really drunk--”

“--I was lonely,” she says at the same time, and they both pause, staring at each other. He’s honestly not sure which excuse is worse...but he knows which one he hates more.

“Right,” he tells her, pushing the barb aside. It probably shouldn’t have been as unexpected as it felt, given her crying jag. “Anyway. Um. It’d probably be best...not to mention it. Ever.”

She lets out a breath in a whoosh, crossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah. Definitely. It was...um. Just a...one time thing, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Except he can still feel it when the fabric of the shirt moves over the scratches she left, and the few memories he has are haunting him, and what he wants, what he really wants, is to push her against the wall and get a sober re-enactment. But he can’t, because he shouldn’t have even let last night happen. “I should probably go.”

She follows him downstairs and helps him locate his socks and shoes, then finds his coat hanging over an open cabinet door in the kitchen. Her face flushes when she glances at the counter, and he wants so badly to cup her cheek, to kiss her and reassure her--

Then again, apparently she’s not feeling as lonely this morning.

His irritation with the whole situation is winning out over his longing by the time he’s got all his things, and he doesn’t even pause as he walks out the door, not until he’s almost at his car and he hears her call his name. He takes a deep breath and turns back to her.

“This isn’t gonna...dunno, mess things up between us, is it?”

Oh, sweetheart...things have been ‘messed up’ between us for a long time.

“Course not,” he says with a tight smile.

“Kay,” she says quietly, but her face registers doubt before he turns away, ducking into his car. He forces himself not to look back at her as he pulls away.

oOoOo

Thirty minutes later, he’s knocking on Annie’s door. She takes one look at him before saying, “Oh god, what now?”

“I...may have made a mistake,” he tells her. “Several, actually. Leading to one fucking gigantic pile of fuck.”

“Come on, then,” she sighs, standing back to let him inside. “Coffee?”

“God yes,” he groans as he shrugs off his coat and sinks into one of the dining room chairs. “Very--”

“--very black,” she finishes as she turns toward the kitchen. “Yeah, I know.”

He runs his hands over his face as he waits, trying desperately to collect his thoughts. He flinches when the metal of his wedding ring makes contact with his face, and he pauses to stare at it. He doesn’t even notice it most of the time anymore; it just serves as a reminder of what he doesn’t want, and a shield against people who’d try to force him into that. Clearly, it hasn’t been working well in either function as of late.

“You really are a mess,” Annie says a moment later, and he looks up to find her holding two cups and watching him closely.

“Yeah,” he agrees, taking one of the cups and drinking in some of the bitter liquid as she takes a seat near him.

“So,” she prompts. “What’s this colossal mistake, then?”

He realizes suddenly that she’s probably one of the last people he should be telling this too, given how close she is to Rose now. “You know what, it doesn’t even matter. I’ll just--”

“Oh no you don’t,” she says, laying a hand on his arm, then wrinkling her nose as she takes in his shirt. “Christ, where did you get that?”

“It’s Pete’s,” he explains with a shrug, looking down at the giant happy face printed on the front of the shirt, the irony not at all lost on him.

“Why have you got Pete’s shirt?” she asks, then draws in a quick breath as realization dawns. “No…” He groans, sinking further into his chair. “You slept with Rose!”

“Yeah.”

“Wait, what the hell are you doing here, then?” she demands. “You two have been dancing around each other for ages--”

“We were drunk,” he tells her. “Completely fucking hammered. And she was lonely, apparently.”

“That’s what she said?” Annie asks, frowning, and he nods. “Oh...Mal. You know she was probably just trying to let you off the hook.”

“You sure about that?” he asks. “Cause the whole reason I was even fucking there is because you and I are her only fucking friends.” She blinks at him, and he lets out a bitter laugh. “This is just such a fucking disaster. I’m too old for this shit. Sneaking around with the boss’ daughter, drunken shags...christ. The kisses were bad enough--”

“Hold on, ‘kisses?’” she asks. “As in, plural? More than just the mistletoe at Christmas type of plural?”

He squirms uncomfortably. “Bit more than that, yeah.”

“How much more?”

“Does it really fucking matter?” he asks sharply. “Point is, none of it should have happened at all.”

He looks away from her sad expression. “You really like her, don’t you?”

“I dunno,” he sighs, running his hand down his face again. “Yes. Yeah, I like her. A lot. But fuck, she’s twenty-fucking-three, Annie! I was getting married at twenty-three. Do you realize how fucking long ago that was for me? Christ, I’ve been divorced longer than she’s been alive!”

“I suppose, but--”

“And she’s still in love with some bloke a universe away,” he goes on, ignoring her. “He fucking deserts her, but all I am is a cheap fucking stand-in after an emotional day. As if I needed another fucking reason to keep my fucking hands off of her.” He jumps up, his irritation giving him a spike of nervous energy. “This is why I don’t do this, ever. I’ve got enough going on, I don’t need to get burned there too. Not again. And especially not by someone I had no fucking business fucking in the first place.”

“Malcolm--”

“No, fuck it,” he says, grabbing his coat. “Let her find another fucking shoulder to cry on. She’s young, rich, gorgeous...she’ll have men lining up around the block to play slap and tickle with her, maybe then she’ll feel less fucking lonely. My job is just to keep it out of the fucking press and off the fucking internet, that’s fucking it.”

She tries to stop him again, but he ignores her as he slams his way out of the house, shouting something about having work to do. It’s true enough; he’s still got to get the announcement out about the baby. But he vows after this to regain some professional distance between him and the Tyler family, and especially from Rose.

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that Tucker said things weren’t going to change, they have.

And she hates it.

He no longer texts her and her calls go unanswered. She knows he’s avoiding her too--she overheard another field team talking about Tucker shouting at some researcher, but by the time she got down to R&D she had missed him by mere minutes. She had even called Sam to see if he was at Vitex, but Rose had been told that he was locked in meetings, and Sam would pass the message along. Defeated, Rose tucks herself into a forgotten corner of the Archives, staring blankly at a bit of metal that she had picked up at random.

She wonders why she’s so torn up about this. This isn’t the pain she felt when the Doctor left her on that beach; that had been searing, stabbing, as if her entire world was imploding. This pain is slower, gnawing at her deliberately and patiently.

In a way, it’s worse. At least with the Doctor, the numbness came quickly. This is slowly driving her towards the edge.

And despite her best attempts, she can’t hide it completely. Though Sarah and Jake had been oblivious, Mickey had spotted it instantly and immediately pulled her aside. He, of course, just thought that she was having a Bad Day and was thinking too much of the Doctor, and Rose didn’t bother correcting him. It was easier and safer. Whatever this is between her and Malcolm isn’t formed yet, and until she figures it out she has a feeling they will remain in this limbo of uncertainty.

And the fact that he isn’t letting her try to solve it, try and fix this…. this hole between them, hurt more than she wants to admit. At some point she had built Malcolm up as a support pillar, strong and unyielding and more importantly, there. And now he’s gone because of a stupid string of circumstances and she hates it.

Though she is still fuzzy about some parts of the night, there is no use denying what happened. They had slept together (although from what she had struggled to put together, there had actually been very little sleeping--they had stayed up ridiculously early, since she distinctly remembers a clock showing three o’clock before the actual shagging had taken place) and what’s more, she had liked it. She had even dreamed about it last night, though what had been memory and what was fantasy is hard to tell.

She just wishes she could remember it more clearly. She can remember being upset...about a lot of things. The alcohol had just amplified it all. She’d been upset about the fact that Tucker had been right, again; she doesn’t have any friends here, not really. Even her and Mickey are at some sort of weird stalemate. And there’s the fact that she’s overwhelmed at all the ways she could screw up with her new brother, and the fact that she desperately wants to be around for him anyway. It felt like a betrayal--against the Doctor, against her whole bloody universe--to actually want something here, to be happy about something.

Then there’s Tucker, supporting her with his very presence without having any real reason to...and then he’d been kissing her and it had felt so good. Worryingly good. Because there’s this nagging voice in her head, reminding her that she still loves the Doctor, that she has no desire to think that way about anyone, much less in this universe, much less Tucker, despite having been stuck in this universe for a year with no hope of leaving. But that hadn’t stopped her from kissing him back, that night or any other, or guiding him up to her bedroom. She still hadn’t regretted it, not really...until he’d practically fled the next morning.

Seeing him practically run from the room… it hurt more than she expected. Perhaps if she had tried to make him stay, make him talk about it, not just… let him have an out so he could leave with so many things between them…

She knew that he regretted it--it was obvious from the speed he’d run away and the expression he’d been wearing when he’d left the bathroom. And despite her confusion, she hadn’t wanted him to regret anything so she had given him an out. It had hurt unexpectedly when he took it, but Rose is fine with that. She thinks.

After all, it isn’t like there is anything between them other than those regularly found between colleagues, despite the kisses. Even colleagues kissed when caught up in the moment or fueled by alcohol.

Right?

But the look on his face before he got into his car… it wasn’t the face of a man who believed things would get better. She fiddles with the object in her hand, chewing her lip nervously. She’s not quite certain how to fix this. If only he would talk to her… they could have a chance of saving this, have a chance of being friends again. Because regardless of her feelings for the Doctor, Malcolm has been there for her, and she’s grateful for it. And now it feels like she’s ruined everything in one night neither of them even have the fortune of bloody remembering properly.

The urge to throw something overwhelms her, but she refrains. Not only would she very likely be banned from her only safe haven at Torchwood, but it wouldn’t do much to make her feel better. If it weren’t for her job she’d have been at Vitex knocking at his door and refusing to leave until he talked to her, but she’s got another four hours before she can leave without anyone getting angry. And since she’s already taken the past few days off due to helping her mum with Tony, she can’t afford to take off early.

Rose gingerly puts the piece of whatever-it-is back into the canister she fished it out of, and replaces it into the proper slot on the shelf. She drags herself to the entrance, clutching her phone and berating herself for trying to once again call him.

Instead she goes to the gym, claiming a treadmill. Running is the only way to clear her mind nowadays, and she fights back another wave of sorrow when she remembers Annie’s invitation last week to join her on her morning run someday.

Even Annie hasn’t contacted her, and Rose doesn’t believe for one second that she’s ignorant as to what happened. Either she figured it out herself or got Malcolm to tell her, because except for a text congratulating her on the birth of her brother, there hasn’t been any other form of communication.

Rose doesn’t blame her; for all that she and Annie had become friends, Malcolm is her brother, and loyalty is one thing Annie takes very seriously. She wouldn’t abandon her brother.

At least he has someone, she thinks. At least Annie is there to help him with… whatever it is he’s going through.

Rose just tries not to remember that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to about this.

Eventually her mind goes blank as she falls into the familiar motion, and not even the clatter of other field teams as they do their training exercises disrupts her. She’s not entirely sure how long it’s been when Sarah finds her and pushes her to the locker room, telling her that they have a meeting in forty-five minutes and she’d better clean herself up.

The meeting is nothing special, just a weekly update on sightings and the new rotation schedule--Rose notices dispassionately that her team is on call this week--and it’s over within moments. A look at the clock gives her an hour until she can leave, and she checks her phone again in case she missed a call or a text during the meeting--nothing.

“Hey, Tyler,” an agent calls out, a boy she knows from her training group. “Me and a few others are heading to the shooting range. Wanna join? I noticed you were short on hours, and you know how Rigel gets when you skip out.”

It’s the last thing she wants to do. “Okay. I have somewhere to be as soon as we get off though, so I won’t stay after.”

“That’s fine. Won’t be staying long anyway.”

He and the others talk easily amongst themselves as they head to the range, and Rose realizes that they’re talking about some new television program that would have once upon a time been interesting to her but now seems rather pointless. She’s lived through alien invasions and worked to end them, and she doesn’t need to see it happening on her screen.

“Pick your poison,” someone says cheerfully as they hold the weapon case out to Rose, and she abruptly feels like crying. Swallowing, she grabs the smallest pistol and goes to a station, grateful that no one will be able to see her.

Since Rigel knows better than to expect Rose to improve with firearms any time soon, she selects the easiest setting and the closest distance she can get away with. The computer instantly logs her session and choices, and she forces herself to concentrate on the target. It’s a black and white series of circles, impersonal and cold--the bullets are soon clustered together near the bullseye, not exactly on it, but good enough for her.

As soon as the clock rolls over to six she dashes, changing out of her uniform and nearly tripping as she tries to remember where she parked her car that morning. She finds it on the third floor, and pulls out into the typical London traffic, fingers tapping impatiently against the steering wheel.

She needs answers. Even if she has to show up at Tucker’s doorstep she’ll get them, no matter what they are. He can’t avoid her forever and the sooner they talk about it, the better it will be for everyone; she has no doubt that he wouldn’t have any qualms about having it out in public.

Well, actually he would, since the contents of their talk would destroy both of their reputations. But he would certainly make her upset without actually naming the source of the feud.

Vitex is virtually empty when she gets there, and thankfully Sam has left for the day. She barges into the office to see Malcolm sitting on the floor with newspaper clippings spread around him, and his head shoots up when the door slams open. She stares at him for a long moment. “You didn’t answer my calls,” she tells him.

“I was busy,” he replies, his voice lacking his usual warmth. The tone twists the knife deeper. “My world doesn’t fucking revolve around you, you know.”

“I know it doesn’t!” she exclaims, stepping fully inside and closing the door. Empty the building may seem, but she doesn’t doubt that there’s still people inside. “But you said things wouldn’t be strange, and this seems like the very definition of strange!”

He sneers a bit as he slowly starts collecting the bits of paper. “You’re a big girl Rose, I’m sure you can survive a few days without me.”

She blinks rapidly. “What are you on about?”

He ignores her, and when the paper is finally collected he stands and puts them away before turning to her. “You said yourself that it was a one time fucking thing, and it’s best we just forget about that night completely. Not the first time you’ve used me because you were fucking lonely, but I’m done with your fucking game.” His words are cold, deliberate, and Rose flinches; she had known that saying she had been lonely was a mistake as soon she said it, but it was far too late to take it back. “In case you’ve forgotten, Rose, you’re the daughter of my boss, and for all intents and purposes I’m your employee as well. That’s all this can be.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” she retorts, walking over to him. He immediately darts behind his desk, but she follows him; eventually they stand on either side of his chair. “We were friends, Tucker. Friends. And whatever the hell you think happened doesn’t change that. You could have easily told me to stop with the phone calls the first time I called you, and in case you forgot, you’re the one always texting me during meetings when you’re bored out of your mind. You can’t blame this entire thing on me!”

“Oh, fucking spare me,” he snarls. “Things aren’t always black and fucking white, Rose, and they don’t always end up in your favor. Just because you care about someone doesn’t mean they feel the same, and just because you expect something doesn’t mean it will happen. That night was a fluke, a result of bad fucking decisions fueled by alcohol and you being fucking lonely, and it will never happen again.” He storms over to a door that she knows is a closet. “You and I, Miss Tyler,” he continues after pulling out some more papers, “cannot be something more. In fact, we can’t be fucking anything at all.”

“You were the one who showed up at the door!” she exclaims. “You decided to stay, you decided that there should be alcohol!”

“And you told me to stay and played your fragile little princess act!” Tucker roars back at her. “When will you fucking get over yourself and stop acting like a lovestruck girl over a man who didn’t give enough of a shit about you to come and get you?”

For a second, she is so overcome with fury and pain that she can’t speak. When she manages to control herself, she faces him dead-on and glares. “You know nothing about that,” she says, voice low as she shakes from the force of the emotions storming through her. “Don’t even talk like you know anything about that. He would have destroyed both universes if he even attempted it; we would all be dead. You can’t just…. just flip your emotions off like a switch.” Before she can stop herself, she adds, viciously, “Though I suppose it’s not too hard to believe if you can. I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t been on your entire life.”

He stiffens, and she instantly regrets her words. But she’s too hurt, too confused to think straight. “Well then,” he says, and his words are cold, “I don’t feel anything at all, and you feel too much. We’re obviously complete fucking opposites who have no business with one another. That explains a lot.”

Rose takes an involuntary step back. “So that’s that, then? The past year never happened? Never meant anything?”

“You tell me, Rose,” he tells her as he turns away. “After all, you seem to be the one with all the fucking answers. I just work here.”

“Well then,” she finally says after she recovers from the unexpected sting, her voice far more even than she thought possible--a tiny part of her thinks that in any other circumstance Tucker would have been proud of that--“I suppose that’s that, then.”

She walks to the door, refusing to look back, refusing to give in to the impulse to have that last memory of him. She can’t resist pausing as she’s about to leave, however. “Should have known to never believe anything you say. You deal in lies and secrets so much, I’m not sure you can even tell the truth from your fictions anymore.”

She closes the door behind her, and tries not to think about it as she drives home.

Chapter Text

“Seriously, Annie, I’ve got a fuckton of work to do,” Malcolm says over the phone. “And honestly, after fifty, celebrating birthdays just seems morbid.”

“Tough,” Annie tells him stubbornly. “I already promised the kids. You can’t shut yourself away in your office forever just because you and Rose had a fight.”

“This has nothing to do with...that,” he says, despite the fact that even saying her fucking name feels like a twisting knife. “I just really don’t feel like celebrating this year.”

“Fine, then you can tell them,” Annie says, and he groans when she pulls the phone away from her ear and yells for Julie. That’s just not fucking fair.

“Hi, Uncle Mal!” Julie says cheerfully. “What time are you coming tonight? Nate and I helped Mummy bake a cake, and Nate promises his present won’t get away before you get here this year.”

“Listen, Jules,” he starts, then hesitates.

“You are coming, right?” Julie asks, sounding worried. “Only Mummy said it’s important cause R--” She stops suddenly, and Malcolm narrows his eyes at the hushed conversation away from the receiver. “‘Cause we love you and don’t like it when you work too much.”

“Right,” he says slowly. “Listen, I’ve got a lot to do--”

“You always have a lot to do,” she says practically. “And it’s always still there the next day. Uncle Mal, how come you don’t want to hang out with us anymore?”

“I--it’s not...that,” he protests, quickly realizing he’s losing an argument to a six year old. Him. It’s all fucking R--he takes a deep breath. “I just...had a lot of work pile up suddenly. But...I suppose one night off wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“Yay!” she yelps happily, and there’s a muffled sound as she hands the phone back to Annie, dirty work done.

“That was really fucking low,” he tells Annie.

“I learned from the best,” Annie replies serenely. “See you at six. Love you!”

“You too,” he grumbles before stabbing at the end button.

It’s been weeks since the fight, and he’s yet to see hide nor hair of the Vitex heiress. Which, of course, is by design; he’s passed off any necessary media coverage to an assistant press officer, freeing up his time enormously to dig into the backlog that he seems to have attained while being distracted by her. She’s someone else’s problem now, and good fucking luck to them.

Pete had asked about it, commented that he didn’t seem to be around as much, but he’d brushed it off, saying he’d been busy. Pete had nodded, mentioning that his daughter had suddenly become inexplicably busy as well; the only time they really saw her was when she came for dinner once a week, and all they seemed to talk about was work and the baby.

Well what the fuck did you expect her to say?, he’d pondered silently. By the way, Dad, me and your Director of Communications stole your booze and shagged each other rotten, then avoided each other for a week before spending ten minutes tearing each other to fucking shreds. Pass the tea, please.

But if Pete thought anything else was amiss, he’d kept it to himself, and Malcolm was glad of it. He’s still not sure if he would have been able to keep a civil tongue about Pete’s darling daughter had he been pressed.

Or worse, he might have spilled how fucking miserable he’s been since their argument.

You deal in lies and secrets so much, I’m not sure you can even tell the truth from your fictions anymore.

He has a sinking feeling that the fiction he’s trying to push as truth is that he isn’t, in fact, falling for one of the last women on earth he has any business with.

He pushes the thought away, focusing on stacks of interviews, marketing, and briefs for the rest of the day. It’s not ‘til Sam pops her head in to tell him that it’s quarter to six that he brings his focus back to the present, and that’s to spit out a curse and shove things into his briefcase before sprinting out the door.

"You're late," Annie says as she opens the door.

"Five minutes!" he protests. "It's my fucking birthday. Isn't the guest of honor allowed to be fashionably late?"

"Not to my house," she says, peering around him for a moment. He glances back at the street, stumbling when she grabs his arm and pulls him inside.

"Happy birthday, Uncle Malcolm!" the kids chorus as soon as he steps foot in the dining room. They're holding up a large banner they made for him, and he makes a face at the big numbers proclaiming him to be fifty-five.

"Says who?" he grumbles as he unbuttons his suit jacket and shrugs out of it. He catches Annie's look as he's rolling up his shirt sleeves and sighs. "Yes, alright, thank you."

Reluctantly, he helps Annie hang the banner on the wall then accepts hugs from the kids, swearing they both grew a foot in the weeks of absence. They're still busy catching him up on all the news in their little lives when the doorbell chimes, and he looks up in confusion.

"I'll get it!" Annie shouts, running for the door and yanking it open, completely ignoring his suspicious frown. "You made it!" she tells the newcomer happily, and Malcolm freezes when she pulls Rose Tyler inside for a hug.

"What did you do?" he asks in a low voice, and both women turn to him. Annie gives him a slightly guilty look, but Rose looks just as surprised as him. “Annie?”

“It’s a birthday party,” she says with a bright grin. “Surprise…” Her voice peters off into an awkward cough as his eyes drill into her, and she shifts awkwardly. “I’m just gonna go...check on dinner.”

She scurries away to the kitchen, and Malcolm and Rose eye each other warily. He can see the kids in his peripheral vision, watching the two remaining adults with large eyes. He sighs, running a hand down his face.

“I should go,” he says finally, reaching for his suit jacket.

“No, it’s your birthday, you should stay,” she says quickly, touching his arm to stop him, then quickly pulling back as if she’d been burned. “I’ll go.”

“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Annie says suddenly, stepping out of the kitchen and brandishing a large knife. Malcolm raises his eyebrows, and she looks down, seeming to only then realize she’s still holding it. She lowers it quickly, clearing her throat awkwardly. “We’re going to have a nice dinner to celebrate Mal’s birthday. And you’re going to get along, dammit.”

She departs again, and he stares at the spot she vacated for a moment.

“Has she always been that scary?” Rose asks.

“Yes,” he answers, nodding vigorously, almost before she’d even finished speaking. He sighs again, rolling his shoulders before turning to her, utterly defeated. “Drink?”

“God yes,” she answers, and his lips twitch despite himself.

Nate and Julie seem to come to a mutual decision that the danger has passed for the time being as he turns away, immediately swarming Rose. He glances back to see her on her knees, her head swivelling back and forth as they both try to talk to her at once. His heart constricts painfully at the sight, and he hurries away.

“You shouldn’t have invited her,” he growls at Annie when he turns into the kitchen. “At least, not without telling me.”

“If I’d told either of you, neither of you would have showed up,” she says practically, not looking up from the pot she’s stirring on the stove.

“Wonder why,” he says sarcastically, rummaging through her liquor collection.

“Because you’re both idiots,” Annie replies, and he shoots her a dark look. “Look, I tried giving you two space to work it out, and apparently you tore each other’s heads off instead, so clearly that wasn’t working. This was plan B.”

“It’s none of your fucking business,” he says gruffly, examining a bottle of scotch.

“You’re my brother, and she’s my friend,” she tells him. “And what’s more, you two are friends. Deny it all you want, but Rose Tyler is probably the best friend you’ve got, apart from maybe me.”

“I’ve got friends,” he says, reaching into the freezer to drop a few ice cubes into a trio of tumblers before setting them on the counter and pouring a generous amount of scotch into each one.

“Name two,” she challenges, setting down the spoon to turn to him.

“There’s Mannion,” he offers, taking a sip of scotch from one of the tumblers.

“Oh please,” she retorts, rolling her eyes. “Exchanging snotty emails and meeting up for drinks once every couple of weeks to complain about everyone you know is not the same thing. Besides, that’s only one.”

He glares at her a moment, swirling the contents of his glass. “I don’t need any more friends.”

“Yes, you do,” she argues. “A year ago, I might have agreed with you. But having her around has been good for you, even if you’re too bloody stubborn to admit it. So I don’t care what you have to do, you’re going to make up before you leave.”

“Why’s it all my responsibility to make nice?” he asks sharply. “It’s not like she’s some innocent injured party.”

“I didn’t say she was,” Annie says with a shrug, “but I know she’s hurting, just as much as you. One of you has to give.”

“Annalise, you’ve known me your whole life,” he says, handing her one of the tumblers. “When do I ever give?”

“When you’re in love,” she says, sipping at the scotch as she turns back to the stove.

He frowns, narrowing his eyes at her back. He opens his mouth to retort but snaps it shut again with a shake of his head, deciding not to take the bait. Instead, he turns and grabs the remaining drinks and heads back to the dining room, keeping his face carefully neutral as he hands Rose a tumbler.

Dinner is awkward, but if the children notice, they don’t comment, managing to carry the conversation almost completely while the three adults avoid each other’s glances. Annie decrees that they’ll take a break before cake, and Malcolm escapes to the porch as soon as the plates are cleared to light up a cigarette. He inhales deeply, shoving his free hand in his pocket as he looks out toward the street.

The thing that really annoys him is how badly he wants everything to be fucking normal with Rose. It’s fine to hold onto anger like a security blanket when she isn’t around, but seeing her makes it all so much more...complicated. Because he is still angry, but every fucking time she smiles, he momentarily forgets why. Which, come to think of it, is not a new fucking problem for him.

Only when he’s in love indeed.

“You should really give those a rest,” Rose says as she steps out onto the porch, and he glances at her briefly. “If you wanna make it to your next birthday, anyway.”

“If you think I can’t survive on sheer stubbornness, you’re underestimating me,” he says with a shrug.

“True enough,” she says with a laugh, coming closer to lean on the railing near him. He takes another drag from the cigarette, standing rigidly and trying to figure a way out of this whole mess. “I miss you,” she says after a moment, and he cuts his eyes to her. She’s still got her back to him, but her head is turned a little towards him.

“Haven’t found anyone to fill the void?” he asks bitterly.

“Oh for god’s...look, it wasn’t just loneliness, alright?” She turns to him fully, but remains near the railing, knuckles white as she clutches it. “I mean, not all of it. That’s not why we were friends; that’s not why I kept calling you.”

“Why then?” he challenges, needing an answer, because he’s been honestly trying to figure it out for weeks, in between moments of anger, and has consistently come up short. “Why me?”

“Because you’re you!” she says, shrugging a little. “I don’t know. Because I like all the stupid texts about the idiots you work with and texting you about the idiots I work with. Because who else is going to take a day off work to make a pillow fort with me? And who else is going to bring chips and fairy cakes to a black tie party? Really, name one other person that would be able to list off a bunch of frankly horrific events tied to what is supposed to be the most romantic day of the year.”

“Well, there’s you, now,” he points out, the corners of his mouth turning up a little.

“True,” she admits with a laugh. She pauses then, sighing. “I don’t know why you, Tucker. But I do know that I still pick up my phone at least ten times a day to text you and another ten times to check if I’ve missed anything from you, and I hate it. I hate all of it. Can’t we just...pretend that stupid night never happened, call a mulligan on everything that happened afterwards?”

He feels torn as he watches her, because there’s a part of him that genuinely wants to just forget about the whole thing if that’s what it takes, and a part of him that can’t let go. Although whether it’s the anger and hurt or the fragmented memories of that night that he doesn’t want to part with, he’s not entirely sure. He sighs after a moment, shrugging.
“I don’t know, Rose.”

She looks down, biting her lip. She raises her eyes again after a moment, asking, “If we can’t be friends again...could we at least not be enemies?”

He takes another drag from his cigarette before dropping it and grinding it out, exhaling slowly. The truth is, he’s missed the hell out of her too, and the idea of continuing to actively avoid her is exhausting to even contemplate. “I think...I could probably manage that much.”

“Yeah?” she asks, giving him a tentative smile.

“Yeah.”

They stare at each other for a long moment before she opens her mouth to say something else; however, Nate chooses that moment to pop outside and call them in for cake. She snaps it shut again as they exchange a rueful smile, heading back inside.

An hour later, he’s released the field mouse from Nate back into the wild, the children are yawning, and it’s time for the “party” to come to a natural end. Annie gives Malcolm and Rose each some leftover cake and sends them out the door, ordering both of them to call her the next day. They glance at each other when she closes the door on them, both shaking their heads before heading for their cars.

“I am sorry,” she says as they pause at her car. “You know, for what I said. For everything.”

He lets out a breath in a whoosh. “Me too,” he tells her.

Before he can say anything else, she suddenly launches herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. He tenses for a second, then gives up completely, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. His head bows over hers as she loosens her grip enough to bury her face in his shoulder, and whatever anger he’d managed to hang on to through the night is edged out slowly by how fucking good it feels to hold her again.

“Sorry,” she says after a moment, laughing self-consciously as she eases off a little. “I just...I really did miss you.” He manages a nod, most of his brain still focused on his hands at her waist, and she gives him a small smile. She leans up, and he’s got a split second of terror and anticipation before she veers off, kissing his cheek lightly. “Happy birthday, Malcolm.”

“Yeah, thanks,” he says, releasing her and watching as she gets in her car. She gives him a little wave through the window before driving off, and he narrows his eyes as he looks back at the house. Sure enough, he can see Annie watching from the window. He points a finger at her, and she jumps back, letting the curtain fall back into place.

With a sigh he drops his arm, shaking his head as he digs for his keys, dropping his jacket and tupperware of cake onto the passenger seat as he climbs into his own car. He starts the engine and pulls out, trying to gauge his personal level of fucked. On the one hand, he could admit that a sizeable portion of his angry words to Rose had been more about him than her. On the other hand...he couldn’t afford to get as close to her as he’d been before; that was just playing with fire.

All in all...personal level of fucked: still pretty fucking doomed.

Chapter Text

Rose holds Tony as Jackie gets up to go to the restroom; the baby is starting to fuss because he’s tired and hasn’t quite figured out that he’s supposed to sleep. Pete is next to her reading over a contract to buy out a company. Something about a flavor that he wants his hands on--Rose isn’t quite sure what the buyout entails, but it’s pretty serious with the way Pete hasn’t set the contract down for the past three days. Across from her, Tucker sits in an armchair reading over some notes.

As soon as Jackie returns--Rose refuses to let go of Tony, rocking him gently as he finally settles down--Tucker clears his throat. “Right. Since you insisted on this, Pete, I’ll let you handle most of it. I got a hold of one of the least corrupted reporters from the Mail, so she shouldn’t fuck this up too badly. As for you two…” he pauses, sighing, “whatever. Just follow Pete’s lead and don’t fuck it up.”

Jackie rolls her eyes. “We’re just answering questions about Tony and our family, Tucker. It’s not like one of us is going to accidentally announce our bid for Presidency.”
He glares at her, but before he can reply the door opens. “Angela Heaney is here to see you,” the maid announces before scurrying off.

Pete and Jackie get up to welcome her, and Rose grins apologetically. “Sorry, Tony just dropped off and I don’t want to disturb him,” she says.

Angela shakes her head. “No, I understand. Used to babysit back in Uni.” She glances at Tucker and her smile drops a little. “Tucker.”

“Angela.” He inclines his head but doesn’t bother looking at her, getting up and moving to stand on the other side of the room, leaning against the wall.

Rose shakes her head at him and he narrows his eyes slightly. Seemingly undisturbed, Angela takes the armchair that he had vacated. “I apologize in advance, the society column isn’t my usual area.”

Jackie’s eyebrows raise at that and Rose sighs. She should have figured--Tucker would put someone outside their comfort zone for the sake of his career and story. If she wasn’t holding Tony, she’d probably toss one of the candies sitting in the nearby bowl at him.

After she coos over the baby for a bit, Angela gets down to business.

The questions are rather generic at first--how everyone’s been, if the baby has brought along any significant changes, how much sleep everyone’s been getting--but Angela soon directs the conversation to Rose, who has been mostly silent. “What’s it like, having a little brother after being an only child for so long, and just recently being reunited with your family?”

Rose smiles down at Tony, who’s beginning to stir. “It’s been like a dream, really. I never thought I’d have all this. A family, I mean. I’ve always wanted a sibling so being here now is a bit overwhelming.”

Jackie gives her a watery smile and drapes an arm over her shoulders. “You certainly seem to be the perfect family,” Angela comments.

Rose laughs. “We have our moments, but who doesn’t? It took a while for us to get used to the idea, even if I took longer.”

“Yes, I remember that event,” Angela replies, and they all wince. “I take it you moved past it, though?”

Pete smiles at her, and Rose chances a glance at Tucker--he’s expressionless, so it mustn’t haven’t been an unexpected question. “Everyone has bad days,” Pete shrugs. “Everyone always talks about how Jax and I suddenly gained a daughter, but everyone always tends to forget that Rose suddenly gained a father--and a mother. You really couldn’t fault her for not getting used to us in a few months after over twenty years of having a single parent.”

Tony takes that moment to wake up and immediately starts fussing. Rose immediately hands him off to Jackie, who excuses herself and leaves the room to take care of him; Pete leaves with her, since he doesn’t know how long it’ll take for Tony to settle down. Suddenly left alone, Rose is at a loss as to what to say; she sends a panicked look at Tucker who gives her a look that she knows means ‘calm down,’ and she takes a deep breath. “Sorry about that. Tony still hasn’t figured out a sleeping schedule yet.”

“Perfectly fine.” She sets down her notebook and switches off the recorder. Rose and Tucker both eye her with different degrees of concern when she leans forward. “Off the record, how are you fitting in here, Rose? A sudden jump from an Estate to wealth is probably hard to handle.”

Rose blinks but shrugs. “It’s… different.” she finally admits.

“Any friends?”

She blanches, and struggles to come up with a reply. “Er… not really. Off the record, they’re too… stuck up. They just see the heiress, or the Estate girl infringing on their world. Not Rose,” she admits.

Angela gives her a small smile before picking up her notepad once more. “I actually had a few more questions for you, if that’s alright.”

“Yeah. That’s fine.”

Angela asks her about her work--she replies that she’s working for a satellite company of Vitex in Public Relations--and where her favorite parts of London are, before finally finishing up with what the public should expect from the annual Vitex party coming up. They make small talk until Pete comes back in, apologizing over the fact that Tony is being stubborn and doesn’t want to settle down.

“It’s perfectly fine,” Angela replies. “I think I have enough anyway. Thank you for the opportunity.”

She shakes Pete’s hand and Rose’s, pausing for a moment to glance at Tucker speculatively, before finally walking out the door.

As soon as she’s gone, Rose collapses on the sofa, sighing in relief. “Way to abandon me, Dad,” she jokes. “If it weren’t for Tucker playing the gargoyle over there, I’d have been done for.”

Pete laughs. “I’m sure you were fine. Right, Tucker?”

He shrugs. “She’s finally taking my fucking lessons into consideration.”

“Good enough.” He kisses Rose on the cheek before heading out. “I have a lunch meeting with a potential investor, so I’ll be back around five.”

Rose watches as Tucker walks slowly over, sitting once more into the armchair. She tries to hide the uncertainty the action creates--before, he would have sat next to her, propriety be damned.

Ever since Annie’s trick during his birthday, they haven’t spoken. Every so often she’ll text him and he’ll reply--shortly and tersely--a few hours later, and outside of exchanging a glance or a nod whenever they happen to run into each other, they don’t have any form of contact. She hates it. Though she can’t bring herself to regret That Night no matter how hard she tries, she wishes she had let him get a cab home, if only so that there wouldn’t be this brand new chasm between them.

“Angela was a lot nicer than I expected,” Rose finally admits, awkwardly.

He grunts. “She’s a rare one.” He cuts his gaze over to her. “She had a point, though. You need friends.”

“I have friends.”

“You and I both know that’s a fucking lie,” he replies, leaning back into the chair. “You need friends your own age, with similar interests and expectations. You can’t keep relying on me and Annie.”

The words hurt more than she expected. He really must regret meeting her, and especially getting drunk with her--it’s the only excuse she can think of for his behavior, for how he’s treated her and reacted around her since then. Not only did he leave in a hurry and refuse to talk to her afterwards until she showed up at his office like the stubborn idiot she is, he had all but told her on his birthday that he didn’t want to be remotely friendly towards her anymore.

She isn’t sure how she’s going to handle being another pawn in the life of Malcolm Tucker, spin doctor, but she’ll figure it out.

She hopes.

Rose takes a breath, forcing herself to calm down. “You’re the one always going on about how bloody stupid they all are. You really think that they’re my type?”

“Like I fucking know what your type is,” he retorts. “You don’t have to marry any of them, just talk to them every once in a while. Like it or not you’re stuck with them now that you’re an heiress.”

“I never wanted to be,” she reminds him, suddenly weary. “I just wanted…. I dunno.”

He stands, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Well I’m not going to figure it out for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other work that needs to be done.” He hesitates at the door, and then says without turning, “For what it’s worth, you’ve done well lately. You really don’t need my help anymore.”

Before, Rose would have been overjoyed at hearing those words. They would have been the best praise she could have gotten from Tucker, and it would have meant that she wouldn’t have to listen to him shouting at her over some minor slip up.

Now, though, she feels like he’s finally writing her out of his life completely.

“Do you really mean that?” she asks, trying not to let the hurt show.

He finally looks at her, and his expression is unreadable. She’s hit with the last time he looked like that, just before he kissed her back on her birthday, before everything went wrong. “You can’t be stuck with me forever, Rose. I have enough confidence in your abilities that you don’t need me supervising your every media encounter.” He lifts one hand to look at his watch and finally heads out of the room.

She buries her head in her hands, forcing herself to keep her breath steady before composing herself enough to walk upstairs. Jackie is still rocking a wailing Tony, and Rose joins her in calming the baby down. When they finally get him to settle, Jackie’s too relieved to notice how distracted Rose is and doesn’t comment when Rose tells her she’ll be outside.

When she makes it to their spot, she rests her hand on the wall, thinking of all the times he’s brought her out here. Ever since that first night, when he rescued her from Jaime’s clutches, he’d been looking out for her. Or so she thought.

“You’re insane, Tyler,” she mutters, turning away and walking further into the garden. “So we shagged. Get over it. It’s not like that was some sort of magic spell. He’s older than Pete and still wears the wedding ring even though he’s divorced!” She viciously kicks at a rock on the gravel walkway and it flies into a large canna lily patch. “People don’t wear their wedding rings unless they’re hung up over someone. For all you know she left him and he’s still pining over her.” She takes a left, towards a small koi pond that once had fish in it but now is only an incubator for algae. “You should have learned from the Doctor that wanting someone that much older than you with enough issues to fill the Pacific only leads to heartbreak.” She pauses, doubt crawling in. Since when did she start equating her feelings for Tucker with the Doctor? They were two completely different people. Not to mention the fact that for the longest time she couldn’t even stand Tucker, let alone dream about kissing him. But she has. Regularly. It should disturb her more than it does, but the fact remains that she sleeps better on those nights.

And it hurts when he barely acknowledges her presence. She hadn’t realized how much she enjoyed spending time with him, even if it was just loitering in his office while he worked and she talked about her day or played Pete on Words With Friends. She thought he had enjoyed it too, but clearly he had been too polite to kick her out. Or maybe he thought that because she was his boss’ daughter, he couldn’t.

But she couldn’t forget the various memories of his smiles, how he introduced her to his family, how he comforted her after the media cornered her.

Surely that wasn’t nothing?

Frustrated, she sits down at the edge of the pond. Why do men have to be so complicated?

oOoOoOo

Angela’s article comes out three days later, and Rose picks it up on the way to Torchwood, planning to work out before the day starts. She had meant to do so yesterday, but Tony had been up all night screaming and she had slept in.

Skipping the level for the gym, Rose heads up another level, where an indoor track rings around the room. While the treadmills are good for allowing her to get lost in the monotony, she tries to use the track once a week to practice her pacing and to remember just why she likes to run.

There’s someone on the track already but Rose doesn’t pay them attention, taking a quick moment to stretch and decide on her workout. She’s aiming for two miles, which will give her just enough time to shower and change before starting her day. If she pushes herself she can get another mile and a half, but her team has a physical assessment later and she doesn’t want to wear herself out completely.

Stretching done, she begins to run, the early morning sunlight streaming in through the windows. She catches up to the other jogger slowly, the nondescript black hoodie making her unable to recognize them. She wonders if they would be in the mood for a friendly race, and picks up her pace to draw even with them--only to stumble in shock when she sees that it’s Tucker.

“Since when do you jog?” she exclaims, and he falters at her words and spins around.

His eyes are wide. “Since when do you use the track?” he asks, hands flailing a bit.

“Every Wednesday,” she replies. “But Tony kept me up Tuesday night and I wasn’t able to make it in. Seriously, I thought you were skinny because you never ate, not because you actually work out!”

“What, you’ve never heard of stress relief?” he quips.

Rose rolls her eyes. “I’m pretty sure a part of that is also, you know, retiring. Did you even have breakfast?”

He frowns. “Working out on a full stomach isn’t the best way to avoid cramps.”

“I’ll take that as a no,” she says, smiling.

As soon as he sees it he immediately takes a step back, looking awkwardly away. “I… was actually just about to leave. I don’t have a lot of time as it is, and I still have Angela’s article to read--”

The fact that he is once again trying to retreat from her makes panic rise up, and Rose says the first thing that comes to mind. “Have lunch with me?” she blurts, and at his expression she hurriedly adds, “I’ll pay, and it can just be takeout at your office again if you can’t leave the office. It, er, doesn’t have to be today, we can meet up tomorrow…” she trails off, realizing that his silence means that he’s going to say no.

“Okay,” he says instead, and Rose stares at him a moment, startled.

“I… right.” She blinks, and then beams at him. Perhaps there is a chance of fixing this after all. “That’s… great! Today, then?”

He nods, and looks like a deer caught in the headlights. “You better pay for the fucking takeaway.”

“Don’t worry, I never break my promises,” she assures him. “One o’clock sound good?” At his nod she hesitates, then leans forward to quickly grip his arm before dropping her hand. “It’s a date, then. See you later, Tucker.”

He slowly turns and walks away, and Rose resumes her run seconds later, the smile never leaving her face.

Today was looking to be a rather good day, after all.

Chapter Text

Rose is perched on his desk, toying with his tie.  He’s not entirely sure what she’s doing here, but as she tugs him closer, he’s not entirely sure he cares.  His lips meet hers tentatively at first, but as soon as he feels her respond, her hand sliding up to cup his neck, he lets go, parting the seam of her lips with his tongue to taste her.  She lets out a moan as one of his hands snakes around her waist, his other hand gripping her knee to hike her leg up over his hip.  She whimpers his name as he leaves her lips to trail kisses down to her neck, and he grinds his hips into hers--

Malcolm wakes suddenly with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in bed.  For a split second he’s working on dual realities, still feeling her soft skin against his mouth, before the real world reasserts itself, pushing the fantasy into oblivion.  He lets out a groan, both hands going to his face as he falls back on the pillows.

He’d tried, he really had.  He’d done exactly what he said: they hadn’t been friends, but they hadn’t been enemies anymore, either.  He responded to her texts when it was called for, but hadn’t allowed any real ground to be made up.  He’d pushed her to meet people her own age in the hope that she would actually start acting twenty-three and somehow less attractive, and he’d put an end to their training.  He’d done everything right.

And then she’d asked him to lunch, with that stupid fucking smile of hers, and it had all gone to hell.  All the distance he’d so painstakingly created was abolished completely in a fucking hour--probably less, honestly.  Because lunch hadn’t even been half over when he realized he was relaxing again, joking again, flirting again, because she just made it so damn easy.

The dreams had started that night, and if he’d needed another reason to avoid sleep, he had it.  They aren’t every night, because there are days he is able to exhaust himself sufficiently that he doesn’t dream, but they are often enough, and after two weeks, he’s losing it.  Because the dreams aren’t even the problem so much as the almost painful desire to make them a reality.

Then again, since his birthday, and especially since that first lunch, Rose seemed to have no issues moving past The Event.  After all, it had been a couple of months ago now.  So why is he still so fucking fixated on it?

We were friends, Tucker. Friends. And whatever the hell you think happened doesn’t change that.

Right.  Just friends.  Just a one time thing.

He’s too fucking old for this shit.

He’s still trying to rid himself of the dream when he gets to the office, scowling at anyone who looks at him.  Sam hasn’t come in yet, but he grabs the messages on her desk as he passes, nearly jumping out of his skin when he opens the door to his office and finds Rose perched on his desk.

“Geez, maybe you don’t need this,” she says, eyeing him as she holds out a cup of coffee.  “Dad’ll have my head if I kill his Director of Communications.”

“What do you want?” he demands gruffly, but accepts the coffee as he drops his briefcase on his desk.

“To bring you coffee,” she says, raising her eyebrows at his tone.  “You sounded stressed last night.”

“I’m always stressed.”  He eyes her warily, trying not to think about having her wrapped in his arms as she sat in that very spot from his dream.  He sighs, shaking his head.  He must be losing it, putting in all this fucking effort to keep himself distant, when all she fucking wants is a friendship.  Why would a twenty-three year old woman want anything from him anyway?  For fuck’s sake, she probably thinks of him as an uncle.

No.  Not uncle.  Definitely not.

“O...kay,” Rose says after a moment when he fails to come up with anything else.  “Well...I wanted to see if you wanted to have lunch.  There’s a new Greek place that opened up down the street.  Sooner or later, I swear, we’re gonna find something we agree on.  Other than maybe chips.”

“So you do recognize that there are other types of food available?” he asks, the corner of his mouth twitching up.

“I do,” she says primly.  “Chips are merely a staple.”

He rolls his eyes, letting out a laugh.  “A staple?  Rose, they’re bits of greasy fried potato, all nutrition fucking drowned out of them.  You might as well just fucking inject cholesterol.”

“Wouldn’t taste nearly as good,” she replies with a teasing grin, and he shakes his head.  “So, Greek?”

He sighs, marvelling again at how she manages to relieve his tension while simultaneously being the single greatest cause of it, just by being her.  “Yeah, alright.  One o’clock.”

She lets out a happy squeak, clapping a little despite his shaking head.  “Your turn to buy.”

“How do you figure?” he asks, arching an eyebrow.  “I payed last time.  And you invited me.  And you’re little Miss fucking Moneybags, yes?”

“Oh, like you're in the poor house,” she says with an eyeroll, and he has to force himself to keep breathing when she reaches out to finger his silk tie.  “And I bought ice cream over the weekend for you and Nate and Julie.”

“No one said you had to do that,” he argues, bracing himself when she narrows her eyes and tugs him closer.

“I wanted to,” she says, straightening the knot at his throat,  “just so that you’d buy me lunch today.”

“Should’ve guessed there’d be an ulterior motive,” he says, his voice a little rough as the dream rears up again in his mind’s eye.

“You’re losing your touch, Tucker,” she teases, giving him a tongue-touched smile.

It would be so easy.  So fucking easy to just lean in--

“I’d better get some work done before senility takes me completely, then,” he quips, tugging the tie from her grasp as he steps back.

“Suppose my superiors would prefer it if I do something constructive too,” she sighs.  “Much as I’d like to stay here and annoy you.”

“It’s good to excel in your hobbies,” he comments as he opens his briefcase, looking over a few files.

“That it is,” she says.  “See you at one, Tucker.”

He glances up as she leaves, then drops into his desk chair, already feeling exhausted.  If he could just...find a way to keep moments like that from happening, he’d be fucking fine.  But barring a fucking lobotomy, he can’t see any clear solution other than just fucking resigning and moving to the fucking arctic.

Given that that isn’t a viable option he turns to his work, intent on burying himself in media mayhem and forgetting about her completely, at least for a few hours.  He nearly manages it too; she pops into his head at random intervals when he finds something in particular she’d roll her eyes at, but his morning remains more or less Rose free.  When Sam buzzes him, he glances at the clock, prepared to tell Rose off for being early, but stops when Sam’s voice comes over the intercom.

“Mister Tucker, there’s...there’s someone here to see you,” she informs him, and he frowns at the uncertain tone.

“Who is it?”

“She...she says she’s your wife.”

“My what?”

Before Sam can say anything else, his office door opens, and he jumps up from his chair as a vision in red and evil breezes through the door.  He scrambles to the other side of the desk as she pulls off her sunglasses and glances around before her gaze lands on him.

“Hello, Mal,” she says with a bright smile.

He swallows hard, clutching at his desk.  “What are you doing here, Rebecca?”

“What, I can’t come by and wish my husband a happy birthday?” she asks, and his grip tightens as she takes a step closer.

“My birthday was two weeks ago,” he grinds out.  “And according to the law, I’m no longer your husband.  So I’m gonna ask you again, what the fuck are you doing here?”

“Polite as ever, Malcolm,” she says, and he moves around his desk again as she steps closer, intent on keeping as much distance between them as possible.  “I...I missed you.”

“No no no no,” he says, shaking his head.  “We’re not doing this again.  Fuck no.  I told you to stay away.  For god’s sake, I let you take me for everything on the fucking stipulation that I never had to see you again.  What the fuck do you want from me?”

“Lunch,” she says with a smile, and he stares at her completely baffled.  “Come on, Mal.  For old time’s sake.  I’m in town doing a miniseries, and I couldn’t not visit you.”

“Did you get another divorce?” he asks, and she falters for a moment, her smile giving way to annoyance, but it’s gone as quickly as it came.  Ever the actress.

“That’s completely beside the point,” she says dismissively.  “One lunch, that’s all I’m asking.”

“And then you’ll go away?” he asks, still leery.

“If that’s what you want,” she says, and he narrows his eyes, searching for a catch.

“Fine,” he grates out.  “Lunch. And then you. Go. Away.”  He strides out of the office, almost hoping she’ll renege, but knowing she won’t, just as much as he knows if he hadn’t accepted, she’d never leave him alone.  Rebecca tends to get what she wants, no matter the cost...including their marriage.

They end up at an Italian place and she chatters happily about people she’d seen from University who he hadn’t cared about even when they were at University.  He picks at his food and lets it wash over him, intent on getting this whole thing over with as soon as possible.

“None of this interests you at all, does it?” she asks suddenly, and he looks up from his plate.  She sighs, putting down her silverware and sitting back.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just...when I’m with you, I tend to get swept away in nostalgia for a better time.  When we were happy.”

He eyes her with distaste.  “This would be before you cheated on me with half of fucking Britain, yes?”

“Before I made the mistake of letting you go,” she says with a rueful smile, and he rolls his eyes.

“Oh, don’t fucking start with that, Rebecca,” he retorts.  “You’ve already used that a few times now.  You’ve really got to find some new fucking material.”

“But it’s true,” she insists, then looks away unhappily.  “I know I’ve made mistakes, Malcolm, but to be fair, it’s not as if you were around.”

“Yes, that’s right, play the neglect card again,” he snaps, taking a drink of water.  “Let’s see, nostalgia, remorse, blame, all standard in the Rebecca St. Claire arsenal.  What’s next...declarations of undying love?”

“Please don’t be like that, Malcolm,” she says.

He lets out a mirthless laugh.  “It was, wasn’t it?”

“Is it so hard to believe I still love you?” she asks mildly.

“After twenty-five years, ten of which you continued to fucking torture me, yes, it’s fucking hard to believe,” he growls.  “So if that’s all this is, finding someone to toy with ‘til your next sham marriage, count me the fuck out.  I’ve been done with your games for a long time.”

“I really hurt you, didn’t I?” she asks after a moment, and he stares at her, nonplussed.  “I was...such a fool.  We could have had so much.  Our children could have played with your niece and nephew--”

“Don’t,” he warns her.  “Don’t bring them into this.”

“But they could have,” she insists.  “But I ruined it all.  I just wish...I know it’s...far too late, but I just wish that there was some way I could...have another chance.”

“You used up all your chances, Rebecca,” he tells her.

“Are you sure?” she asks, reaching forward and taking his hand, her thumb toying with his wedding ring.  “This used to mean something, Malcolm.  I’m too old for games.  I just want my husband back.”  She looks up at him, and he’s stunned to see tears shining in her eyes.  “Aren’t you tired, Malcolm?”  He doesn’t say anything, and she bites her lip.  “You need some time off.  I wish I could just take you away from all this--a second honeymoon.  You remember Paris.”

“I remember the hotel room in Paris,” he says slowly, his mind treacherously conjuring the image with astonishing detail.  Soft firelight making her auburn hair glow as it rippled down her bare back, her head turned to give him a smile over her shoulder; one that could stop his heart and then start it hammering again.  She’d been so beautiful, and all his, and he’d loved her with every fiber of his being.

He knows what she’s doing.  Christ, he’s done it himself often enough.  It’s the manipulator’s playbook.  Isolate the target, find the weak spot, apply pressure until the skin breaks.  But she’s been his weak spot for thirty-five years...and she knows it.  And it would be so easy to just fall into the Rebecca web again, because he knows how it all works; it’s systematically torn him apart enough times for him to memorize where the wounds would fall.

He looks down, shaking his head slowly.  “I can’t.  Becca, it’s…”

His words peter off, and she rests her other hand on top of his.  “I know.  I have...so much proving to do.  But I’m here.  And I’m not going anywhere.  Just...let me be here, and maybe...maybe you’ll feel differently.  Maybe we can find each other again, Mal.”

He’s not...completely sure what happened next.  He knows that he didn’t agree...but he’s not entirely sure he disagreed, either.  Becca always tended to have that effect.  But the next thing he’s certain of is standing outside his office building, inexplicably being given a lingering kiss before she ducks into a cab.

He’s still in a Becca-fog when he makes it up to his office, but the sight of Rose sitting cross-legged on his desk is like a bucket of cold water over his head.

He’d completely forgotten about lunch with her.

“Hey,” she greets him, frowning in concern.  “Is everything alright?  Sam said you had to leave in a hurry.”

“Yeah, sorry, something came up,” he says, avoiding her gaze.  “Ended up at a...business lunch.  It took me by surprise, I completely forgot to text you.”

“It’s alright,” she assures him, hopping down from his desk.  “I know you’re busy, and you don’t always get to plan when catastrophe strikes.”  No fucking shit.  She grips his arm reassuringly, and he feels like scum.  “Another time, yeah?”

“Yeah,” he chokes out, his eyes sliding closed when she leans up to kiss his cheek before leaving.

He drops into his desk chair, his mind whirring.  He’s astonished that he was able to forget about Rose, but then Rebecca always had a talent for making all his thoughts freeze in utter terror.  She had a way of getting inside a person’s head, making them think what she wanted them to think, so he’d developed a sort of mental way of playing possum in self-preservation.

His phone chimes, and he takes a deep breath before pulling it out, glancing at the caller ID before answering his sister.

“Would you care to tell me why there’s a picture of you and Rebecca kissing in front of Vitex?”

What?” He reaches for his keyboard, jabbing at the keys to enter his name in the search bar, and groans as the picture comes up on the Mail website.  “Why does that fucking rag even still exist?”

“Because people love drama,” Annie answers.  “Why were you kissing Rebecca?”

“She was kissing me,” he argues, skimming through the short blurb, letting out another groan at the words “estranged wife” and “reunited.”  “It was just...lunch.”

“Did she order the tongue, then?” Annie asks, and he winces, running a hand over his face before looking at the screen again.

“This was posted two minutes ago,” he comments.  “How did you even find it?  Have you got a Google alert on me or something?”

“Don’t be stupid,” she snaps.  “Of course I have.  Fine, why were you ‘having lunch’ with that bitch?”

“She’s in town filming something.”

“Lovely for her.  Still doesn’t explain why you were within ten fucking feet of her.”

“She...wanted to wish me a happy birthday,” he says slowly.  “Look, just because I had one lunch with Becca doesn’t mean--”

Becca?” she screeches.  “Malcolm, I love you, I do, but I also know that that woman makes you nuts.  What about Rose?”

“What about Rose?” he snaps suddenly.  “What’s Rose got to do with anything?”

“You lo--”

“Don’t,” he snarls.  “Don’t fucking say it.  Because I don’t.  I can’t.  And even if I could, she doesn’t.  Rose and I aren’t anything, and she’s got no bearing on anything that happens with Becca.”

“Stop calling her that!” Annie shouts.

“She’s my wife, I’ll call her whatever I like!”

“Your ex-wife, Malcolm!” she reminds him.  “For a good fucking reason!”

“This isn’t any of your business,” he tells her, his voice hard.  “Let it be.”

“No no no,” she says quickly.  “No, this is my business, because I’ve been there every time she ripped your heart out.  Why...why would you even...consider putting yourself through that again?”

“I haven’t decided anything,” he sighs.

“Malcolm, please.  I know you’re...confused about Rose, but--”

“I have to go, Annie,” he interrupts.  “I’ll talk to you later.”

He realizes after hanging up on her protests that the fact that he did so should say something, but he doesn’t really care.  Because the fact is, it’s true.  As twisted up as Rose might have him, she’s clearly none the worse for wear.  It would all be so much simpler if he just made himself completely unavailable, attach himself to someone he’d loved to distraction for decades, someone who, baffling and dodgy though the fact may be, actually wants him.  As bad as it could end up being, she was right: he is tired.  And there’s a slim chance she’s actually on the level this time; she’d certainly seemed genuine enough, and stranger things had happened...like women turning up from parallel universes to fuck with him, apparently.  Before he can come to any sort of real conclusion, his phone chimes again, and his eyes narrow at the text message.

I really enjoyed catching up, Mal.  Read through will be done early.  Dinner?

He stares at his phone for a moment, caught between two hells.  But, as they say, better the devil you know…

What time?

Chapter Text

Rose had returned to work in relatively good spirits despite the fact that Tucker had missed their lunch date, even if he seemed… odd afterwards. She had wanted to question him about it, since whatever had happened had really shaken him, but she didn’t want to press her luck. Things were still shaky between them, and she figured she’d give him a while to sort things about before she tried again.

Luckily, her team is called out later that day, and Rose is soon on a zeppelin ride to Ireland over some bauble or other that has been causing teenage kids to teleport. Rose doesn’t quite give a lot of credibility to the claim, but Jake thinks that it’s worth looking in to, so she goes along without complaint. Sarah is on backup this time around, so she is left in the van while Rose, Mickey, and Jake start asking questions.

The first day nothing comes to light--it’s a small town and the people there are suspicious of outsiders, not to mention Londoners. Even with her experience in diplomacy with the Doctor, Rose can’t get them to talk, and it isn’t until the next morning that Sarah, who has been monitoring phone calls, gets a lead. Apparently a group of boys are planning something that night, and even if it isn’t their alien artefact, at least they can prevent a bit of mayhem.

An older boy gets there first, and he carefully unpacks a small round disk with green etchings and a small, clear stone in the center. Others trickle in until there are ten total, and they start making plans to break into the school and edit their tests. Rose rolls her eyes and shares an exasperated look with Mickey.

It isn’t until the device is supposedly activated that they figure it out--the orb is useless; just a bauble that lights up. It’s the first boy--the one who carries it--that is the source of the power. In the split second before the device lights up the kid’s eyes glow a bright yellow, and Jake immediately tells Sarah to alert HQ about contacting Giramon, since one of their locals are here.

Jake signals them, and Mickey immediately activates a small device and tosses it into the center of the group. The energy released causes the first boy to stumble, and the others, realizing that they had been found out, if not how, scatter.

“It’s alright,” Rose says as the boy looks around, terrified. “We know you don’t belong here, and we can get you home. I’m sure your parents are worried--”

“I don’t want to go back there!” he shouts and turns to run directly into Mickey. They struggle, but the boy is no match for him and is soon handcuffed. “Please, don’t make me go,” he begs. “The kids here are my friends.”

Rose hesitates, but although he hasn’t actually hurt anyone she has to bring him back to London. “I’m sorry,” she finally says. “Maybe we can work out a deal with your planet. But you have to come with us.”

Without much of a choice, he goes with them, refusing to talk. It’s a long, strained trip back to London, with an even longer debriefing and incident report as well as cataloging the item the boy had on him. It’s clearly hand-made and is only a conduit for his abilities, but since it is technically an alien possession it is sent down to Archives and stored.

What made him run?” Rose asks, quietly, after Mickey leaves interrogation.

He sighs. “A physical reveals abuse. We don’t know if it’s from family or the people he goes to school with, but the poor kid’s terrified. Jake sent a message requesting a social servant, but we don’t know if it’s going to be granted. We can only make sure the kid doesn’t harm himself while he’s in our care; not much else we can do.”

Troubled and feeling utterly useless, she stares at her phone a moment before shoving it in her pocket and heading out. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” she says, and after changing into regular clothes, heads directly to Vitex.

Sam is on the computer, but as soon as she sees Rose a panicked expression crosses her face. “Miss Tyler! Um, Tucker is out right now, and won’t be back in.”

Rose pauses. “What?”

“I don’t know, something about… a business meeting,” Sam replies, and Rose narrows her eyes. Despite being Tucker’s PA, Sam is terrible at lying and the normally conserved woman is flustered. Something has happened, and Rose would bet anything that Tucker told Sam to turn Rose away should she show up. “You know as well as I do that he practically lives out of his office, Sam.”

“He’s sick!” she insists, but Rose ignores her and barges into the office--

Only to see an older, elegant, auburn-haired woman invading Tucker’s personal space. And from the looks of things, they had just finished kissing.

Rose stares, blood roaring in her ears, as the woman blinks rapidly before turning back to Tucker. “You were expecting someone?”

Tucker steps away from her as if he’s been burned. “No, I--she just does that.” He shifts his weight and looks at a point somewhere over Rose’s left shoulder. “You really need to learn to knock, Ro--Miss Tyler.”

His words send her rushing back to reality. “I… what? Since when have you complained about that? Never mind. Who’re you?” she asks, staring at the unknown woman.

She smiles, and Rose is instantly on guard. For all the warmth it carries, Rose can spot a fake smile a mile off and that one is definitely fake. “I’m sorry! Forgive me. I’m Rebecca Tucker, Malcolm’s wife.”

If the sight of her was enough to freeze the world around her, the fact that she used that term causes the world to completely tilt on its axis. Rose gapes at her, then at Tucker. “No… you can’t be,” she stammers, wondering if she’s in some terrible nightmare. “He’s divorced.”

The woman--Rebecca--waves her hand dismissively. “Water under the bridge. We’re giving it another go.” She holds out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Tyler. Quite a sensation, you turning up out of the blue like that, and you rose quite quickly in public interest! And I know a thing or two about that, since I’ve been on telly quite a few times.”

Rose swallows down the bile in her throat. “Oh?” She quickly shakes Rebecca’s hand and then drops it, shooting another glance at Tucker. He’s staring at his feet, shoulders hunched, and the sight momentarily distracts her. Since when is Tucker submissive?

“Oh, several soap operas, a mini series here and there,” Rebecca replies happily. “Maybe you’ve heard of them? Under the New Moon, Total Affairs, even guest starred for an episode of Eastenders. Though you’d probably better recognize me as Rebecca St. Claire.”

Rose frowns. “Er, no… sorry. Can’t quite recall that episode. And I’ve never heard of the former two.”

Rebecca falters slightly. “Oh. Well, I thought that you would have, given your upbringing.” She turns away, and Rose tenses. Despite the kind tone, it was clearly an insult, and fury rises within her. Who the hell is this woman, and who is she to judge Rose’s life?

“I’ve got to go, darling, but I’ll call you tonight,” Rebecca says, and reaches up to plant a kiss on Tucker’s mouth. “See you later.”

The silence is oppressive as she leaves, and as soon as she is gone Rose glares at Tucker. “So. Your wife.”

He turns and walks to his desk. “What about her?”

“What about her?” Rose asks, shocked. “You said you were divorced! And now you’re suddenly married again?”

“We’re not.. we’re not married,” he splutters, and then his expression grows hard. “Besides, even if I was, it’s none of your business. What I do in my private life doesn’t concern you.”

“Doesn’t concern…” she trails off. She’s practically shaking from anger and confusion and other emotions she doesn’t want to name. She forces herself to relax, to think rationally. “So how long have you been ‘trying it out?’”

“I just said that it doesn’t fucking concern you,” he grumbles. “Now unless there’s a fucking media disaster for me to clean up, you don’t need to be here. I’ve got work to do, and you asking questions about my life aren’t a part of that.”

For a moment Rose strongly considers yelling at him, forcing him to admit what he was doing-- and then she suddenly realizes with a painful clarity that he’s moved on. Maybe he has been acting nicer since they happened to run into each other on the jogging track. But she was, after all, his job, and bad relations between them would mean bad relations between him and Pete, and if there is one thing she knows about Tucker, she knows that his work comes first.

No matter how she feels, no matter how much she wants their previous relationship… he does not. Rebecca is more than enough proof of that.

Forcing back tears, she says, quietly, “No, I suppose I don’t. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

She leaves in a daze, winding up sitting in her car in hurt and confusion. Not once had Tucker ever mentioned his ex… his wife. Rose had assumed that Annie had been right, that he was better off, that she had hurt him in a way that he couldn’t forgive. Because he’s Malcolm Tucker, nothing ever gets under his skin, and he sure as hell can hold a grudge.

Before she really understands what she’s doing, she’s googling Rebecca St. Claire, and various pictures of candid celebrity shots and pictures of her various roles show up. She scrolls down a bit more, raising her eyebrows at a rather… risque picture from a film she did when she was younger, and then sees something that looks like the Vitex building in the next row. Frowning, she scrolls further and then stares when she sees a picture of Rebecca kissing Malcolm in front of Vitex.

What’s more, is that he’s wearing the same clothes the day he missed their lunch.

Suddenly, all the pieces click together. His odd behaviour afterwards, the way Rebecca appeared out of nowhere, complete silence from his end when she had told him she was going off on a mission.

Time seems to stand still for an instant, and then restarts with the force of a speeding locomotive. She can’t breathe, she can’t think, she doesn’t know if she even wants to.
Regardless of all her other confusion about him, Tucker's the best friend she's got, besides maybe Annie, and he'd just tossed her aside for someone more...his type, apparently. More poised and elegant, just like...

Just like the Doctor.

Only this Madame de Pompadour isn’t a historical figure doomed to die. Rebecca is here now, alive and breathing and has Tucker wrapped around her finger for reasons unknown to Rose.

Is it really that much of a surprise? Rose wonders. Tucker has said often enough how much Rose causes him more trouble than she’s worth, that she talks too much and argues and never follows his directions. She stubbornly wears denim and talks like she’s still from the estate, dresses up under sheer protest and escapes as soon as she is able. She’s… well, in his eyes she’s probably a child, isn’t she? A silly, stubborn, idiotic girl who doesn’t know to take ‘no’ as an answer. And here is Rebecca, an established actress, elegant and refined and appearing younger than her age, and yet wears her years and experience like a crown. Is it really that difficult in the end to go back to her, especially with history between them?

And yet, a voice whispers, you were willing to drop everything and abandon everyone to go back to the Doctor.

It makes her pause, start to think. The Doctor had closed the walls, and yet he was able to send a projection through a gap. He had closed the walls. On his side. Not on hers.

Slowly, Rose begins to become aware of her surroundings as she realizes that just because the walls were closed on his side, doesn’t necessarily mean they are closed on hers. If she could create a device to attack the weakened spots in her universe, something that would open the hole and then seal it behind her, she could go back.

The car is in gear and she’s pulling out of the lot quickly, heading back to Torchwood. For the first time since the Doctor told her goodbye, she actually has hope that she can get back.

She resolutely ignores the guilt threatening to break into her carefully constructed bubble.

The man she is looking for is still at work, and after a quick hop to Archives, Rose strides into his office, carrying the hoppers that Pete and his team had used during the Cybermen invasion. The engineer blinks at her. “How do these work?” Rose asks.

“Miss Tyler,” he says in surprise. “They, er, don’t. Not anymore.”

She rolls her eyes. “I know that. But when they did work, how did you do it?”

He picks up the device and turns it over in his hands slowly. “Well… most of it was stolen from the Cybermen themselves, as you probably know. They were using giant machines to phase into an alternate universe, only we figured out a way to make it smaller, more localized, so that it didn’t use as much power and allowed someone’s entire self to jump between worlds. We aren’t entirely sure how… only that it did.”

Rose leans forward, voice serious. “Do you think you can re-create it, only with some.. additions?”

“The walls are closed, I hardly think…”

“What if it was strong enough to punch through?” Rose asks. “Shouldn’t be too hard, after all, the Cybermen did it. But with the new device, we can seal the hole behind ourselves and prevent the catastrophe that occurred last time. It will allow us easy passage between the two universes and not damage anything.”

The man considers. “It would be… well, it would be quite an experiment. It’s a fine theory, and I’m sure that we could figure it out, but why? What use do we have for it?”

For a second Rose falters; she can’t really tell him that it’s for her own selfish reasons, and she flounders. “For… for alliances,” she blurts out, and she surprises herself, but the idea has merit. “Think about it. You know the Doctor, right?” Seeing his nod, Rose continues. “What if one day, we find something--or something finds us--that Torchwood can’t control, can’t beat? We’ll need help, and it takes time for our off-world contacts to get here, if they even bother to come. Had the Doctor been able to come here when the Cybermen first appeared, you wouldn’t have suffered as much.” Seeing the man wavering, she continues, “And think about the advances that can be made. If we can essentially propel ourselves between universes, why can’t we teleport across cities? Across continents? Think about it. It’s in our benefit.”

The man stares at her as he thinks it over. He was the one behind the creation of the hoppers, she knows, but there’s another reason she chose him--he is one of the more senior engineers in R&D, and Pete trusts him. Due to this fact, he can single-handedly approve and decommission ongoing projects without her father’s stamp of approval, and with him in charge of the project it would take time before Pete found out. Rose knows he would try to stop her if he found out before the project got started, and she isn’t sure she could go through with it if he decided to stop her.

“You… present a good argument,” he finally says, and Rose knows she has him. “I assume you’ll want to work on it directly?”

“I want to be involved in any way you see fit,” Rose replies. “Even if it means learning on the fly. You’ll be in sole control of the construction.”

He nods and shakes her hand. “We have a deal. I’ll have a meeting with my department heads and we’ll figure something out. I’ll let you know when we have things finalized.”

She beams at him. “Thank you. Just you wait, this will change everything.”

She leaves after another fifteen minutes of talk, mostly about her family and what they expect to come of the project. When she finally leaves Torchwood, she’s lighter than she’s been in a long time.

The guilt, of course, is still present and so is the knowledge that she’s running away. But she brushes it aside. She is going back, back to where things make sense and to the man she loves.

And away from the life she never really wanted.

So why, she wonders, does it hurt so much more than she anticipated?

Chapter Text

“Yes, I know, this won’t take long,” Malcolm says into his phone as he enters Torchwood. “Just a safety check of the satellite company.”

“Doesn’t Pete have other people for that?” Rebecca whines.

“Not like me, he hasn’t,” he says darkly.

“I’ll just meet you at the flat, then,” she says with a resigned sigh. “Since you trust me enough to have a key again,” she adds, and he can hear the smile in her voice.

“Just don’t...mess with anything,” he cautions. “And don’t go into my study.”

“I promise, sweetheart,” she says. “Kisses.”

He wrinkles his nose a little at the phone as she disconnects. That had always been his least favorite Becca trait, one that she seems determined not to grow out of. He shakes his head with a sigh, tucking his phone into his jacket as he heads for R&D.

Things are...different this time. Weirdly different. It’s always been expected that once she established herself in his life, it would be his job to keep her happy enough to stay. In University he’d spent so much time chasing her, and after they’d gotten married he worked himself to the bone to keep her. But that had been what drove her away, in the end. Into another man’s arms. Several, in fact.

But even the times she’d come back after the divorce, it had always been like that. Her waiving the bait, and him chasing after it. Not this time. This time she seems intent on monopolizing his time; she’s constantly showing up at his office, asking him to lunch and dinner, inviting him places.

(They’re always so visible, and the media is having a ball with the uncharacteristic romantic side of Malcolm Tucker, and he hasn’t had the energy to stop them.)

It hasn’t even been two weeks, and he is almost certain that he’s seen more of her in that time than the last four years of their marriage combined.

(She hadn’t spent the night yet, though not for lack of trying on her part. He just...can’t. Not yet.)

It’s a new tactic, and while Annie is still crying foul, to the point he’d stopped answering her calls, he is willing to give Rebecca at least some benefit of doubt. After all, she’d asked him herself if she’d really be spending so much time with him if she didn’t want to make it work, and he hadn’t had any answer for her.

(There’s still a part of him that feels wrong, feels off, but he can’t quite pinpoint the reason.)

She is already talking about them going away when she’s done filming, though how she has any time to film while constantly texting him or calling him, he has no idea. But he’d visited the set, he knows it’s real--some period drama, which worked for her, because the clothes make her look amazing.

(He still can’t help wondering what she did with all the jeans she used to wear when they were younger, when she’d been softer, kinder, more like--)

“Tucker?” He’s yanked out of his thoughts by Rose’s voice and stares at her in confusion for a moment. “What...what are you doing here?”

“Weekly bollocking,” he answers. He hasn’t seen her since that day at his office, for good reason, but now he feels like a man starved, his eyes raking over her, from the trainers and jeans to blonde ponytail to the uncertain smile. He drags his gaze away after a moment, glancing up at the R&D banner over the door. “What are you doing here? Not exactly your usual haunt.”

“Assisting a new project,” she says, averting his gaze as she turns toward the door and pushes her way inside.

“Something I should be concerned with?” he asks as he follows her.

“I doubt you’d care at all,” she says, sounding a little bitter, and the tone hits him like a punch in the gut. It shouldn’t bother him so much and he knows it. Rebecca’s always quick to remind him how young Rose is when he mentions her, how much she’s got to learn about life and relationships. Unfortunately, it doesn’t totally negate the feeling that he’s been a complete shit.

“Listen,” he says, grabbing her arm to spin her around to him. “I wanted to tell you...I...I’m sorry about all this.”

“What are you sorry about?” she asks, her expression closed off and distant.

“For springing Rebecca on you like that,” he says with a shrug. “I didn’t know she was in town.”

“Of course you didn’t,” she says. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have made plans with me. Still, glad it didn’t stop you from ‘reuniting with your estranged wife.’”

He winces, remembering the day and the photo. “You...saw that, then.”

“Kind of hard to miss. Nice touch though, trying to get your PA to cover for you if I showed up at an inconvenient time. Since I just...do that.”

He sighs, running a hand down his face. “We just thought it would be better if you and I had some distance.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “We who?”

“Well, Rebecca and I, I suppose,” he says.

“Since when do you need her help making decisions?” Rose asks, and he frowns a little, trying to remember how that had become a joint decision. Obviously he’d needed to distance himself from her because she was driving him mental...right...Rebecca had been concerned with the way Rose relied on him, that it could become unhealthy.

“She’s just trying to be part of my life,” he says slowly.

“By removing everyone else from it?” Her neutral facade cracks for a moment, and she looks up at him in genuine concern. “That’s not how healthy relationships work, Malcolm.”
“And I suppose you’d know?” he snaps, taking a step back.

“Clearly not,” she replies, shutters coming down on her face again, and he wants to scream in frustration. “Listen, there’s no projects going on right now that would alert the media, so you might as well save your bollocking for someone who deserves it.”

He’s suddenly hit with the mad desire to pull her away to some dark corner, to apologize for everything, to kiss her until they’re both too breathless to make excuses or denials--
He jumps when his phone chimes and sucks in a ragged breath as he reaches into his pocket for it.

-I’m here, and I may have brought a bottle of our favorite wine. Will you be home soon, sweetheart?

His eyes slide closed, and he lets out a long breath.

“Go back to your wife, Tucker,” Rose says, and his eyes shoot to hers. “There’s nothing for you here.”

oOoOo

When he gets to his place, he already feels exhausted. All he wants to do is zone out to whatever Rebecca makes him rehearse with her and then go to bed, but the shouts he can hear coming from inside alert him to the fact that this will probably not be a possibility. He glances back at the street and finds Annie’s car parked near Rebecca’s rental and groans.

“You listen to me you little--” Annie is saying, but stops when she hears him enter, spinning around to him. He looks between the two women, both flushed and angry, seriously debating going back to Torchwood and offering himself up as a lab rat for fucking anything if it’ll get him away from these two.

“Oh, thank god your home,” Rebecca exclaims, rushing over to him.

“What’s going on?” he asks as she clutches at his arm.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” she says. “I was just having a glass of wine when she turned up--”

“Oh please!” Annie shouts. “‘Having a glass of wine,’ honestly--is that what they call lockpicking these days? Or just bad lockpicking?”

“I have a key,” Rebecca snaps. “Malcolm gave it to me.”

“Not for his study,” Annie argues viciously, and Malcolm’s eyes flash down to Rebecca.

“Oh, Malcolm, be reasonable,” she says defensively, “I didn’t know that was your study. I just thought the door was...jammed. I backed off as soon as I realized.”

“Because I was here watching you,” Annie counters, crossing her arms. “God, it never fucking stops with you, does it?”

“Annie, it’s possible that she just...made a mistake,” Malcolm says slowly, and she stares at him.

“The girl’s always had it out for me, Malcolm,” Rebecca murmurs, looking crestfallen. “I’ve tried so hard to get her to like me, but it’s just like when she was a child--”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Annie cries, looking between them. “Yeah, it really is amazing how much walking into my brother’s house to see someone else balls deep in his wife can leave an impact on a kid.”

“That’s enough, Annalise,” Malcolm cuts in, and she freezes.

“Malcolm, she’s poison, you know she is!” she protests. “Look at what she does to you every time she shows up; god only knows what she’d do with some of the information in there--”

“She started all this the minute she walked in the door,” Becca explains, tears welling up in her eyes. “She’s just looking for a reason to get rid of me, to keep you to herself. Honestly, what other reason could she have for being here than to destroy me?”

“Oh, as if you need my help!” Annie shouts.

“Enough!” Malcolm roars, making them both jump. “Annalise, why are you here?”

“I was...checking on you,” she says. “You haven’t answered my calls in a week! What was she doing here?”

“I told Becca I’d meet her here when I was done at work,” he tells her calmly. “I gave her a key a few days ago. She had every right to be here.”

“And I didn’t?” Annie asks, looking betrayed.

“I’m a big boy, Annalise,” he reminds her. “I don’t need my baby sister checking up on me. Especially when it results in a shouting match with my w--with Rebecca.”

“You were going to say your wife,” Annie says, shaking her head at him. Her eyes cut to Rebecca for a minute, and she looks ready to spit.

“I think it’s time for you to go, Annalise,” he says after a moment, and it’s Annie’s turn to look at him with tear-filled eyes.

“I hate you,” she hisses at Rebecca as she walks out. “I hate what you turn him into.”

Rebecca turns to him as soon as the door shuts, sobbing into his shirt and apologizing for not being able to get through to Annie. He puts his arms around her, one hand stroking her hair soothingly. He tells her it’s fine, she’s right, Annie should know better by now, and he finds himself promising that he won’t let Annie force herself between them again. It’s only then that he’s able to coax a watery smile from her and move on to other things, namely rehearsing her scenes for the next day.

He spends the evening letting the wine numb him and trying not to think about the fact that Annie never had an issue with Rose; in fact, she’d gone out of her way to keep Rose in his life when they’d fallen apart. Because it doesn’t matter. There was nothing between him and Rose. Rebecca is the one he’s with, that he’s been in love with for most of his life.

But even that rationale doesn’t stop a tiny voice in his head from screaming at him for making his baby sister cry. And it doesn’t quite stop him from realizing that the only time his non-existent relationship with Rose ever felt like work...was when he was trying to avoid it.

Chapter Text

Rose enters her father’s office hesitantly. “Hey, Dad. I know you wanted to see me, but I got a meeting with that new PR guy in ten minutes. Is it going to be quick?”

Pete looks at her with an expression torn between confusion and concern, and Rose swallows. She knows what’s coming. “I heard from the grapevine that you’re involved in this so-called ‘dimension cannon.’”

“Well,” she hedges, forcing herself to not play with her shirt hem, “I’m mostly just a consultant on the alien aspects…”

“You started the project, Rose,” he says, sighing when Rose can’t find anything to say. His voice is weary when he speaks. “I know that you may never really see me as your real dad, Rose, but I was hoping--”

She startles. “What? No! This has… this has nothing to do with you!” she exclaims. “Dad, you’ve been… better than anything I could have ever hoped for. But I was just… thinking one night, and well… I started to wonder what would happen if we ever had another Cybermen incident, except with aliens. I’ve told you about what happened with the Sycorax, and I know we can defend London… but there’s an entire world out there, Dad, that we may not be able to help if we find out too late. I just thought that we could have… other options.”

He looks at her carefully. “Rose, I know you miss the Doctor. You don’t have to lie about it.”

She forces a smile. “I know. And I do miss him, but I’m not lying. This way…. this way I can have the best of both worlds. I can still see you, and Mum, and little Tony, but still travel with the Doctor. And I won’t use it unless I absolutely know for certain that the former is possible.”

Pete shakes his head slowly. “You know that if anything goes wrong--the slightest error, the smallest injury--I’m shutting the whole thing down?”

“You won’t have to,” she says confidently. “None of us are going to proceed unless every single thing is perfect and doesn’t pose a risk.”

Pete finally smiles. “Well then, I hope for your sake it works. You haven’t been yourself for a while now, and I’m glad to see you’re finally getting your spark back.”

Rose suppresses the guilt and grief that flash through her at his words. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll talk to you later.”

She heads downstairs, weariness growing with each step. Ever since… Rebecca… Tucker has handed any and all tasks to do with her to a subordinate, a man by the name of Neville Cartwright. He’s in his mid-thirties and seems competent enough, but Rose had only met with him for barely a minute yesterday when he introduced himself as Rose was dropping Pete’s lunch off since Jackie had realized he left it. Since she refused to meet with him at Vitex, he had reserved one of Torchwood’s meeting rooms for today, and Rose ignores the odd looks as she walks amongst the suited members of Torchwood’s semi-public sector in her fatigues.

Neville has several notes spread out in front of him, and he instantly smiles and shakes her hand when she enters. “Miss Tyler! Pleasure to see you, as always. I hope I didn’t pull you away from anything important.”

“Just paperwork,” she smiles. “I could always use an excuse to get away from that.”

He laughs. “I understand that feeling. Anyway, I have here the next six months of appearances, if you’d like to look over them.”

She accepts the plan as he goes over each event, tuning him out easily. She is surprised at the amount of things on the list, but most are for articles or a photoshoot, which worries her slightly until Neville assures her that it is for a charity and is completely professional.

Rose can’t help but feel uncomfortable. Tucker had just seemed to know what she is comfortable with and what she doesn’t want, and rarely consulted her or her father for her media appearances--which were very few and far between. Granted, part of that had been because she could barely handle herself, let alone other people, but the memory of him rescuing her from the mob in the ice cream parlour flashes through her mind, and the way he…

Get a grip, Tyler, she tells herself. Of course he rescued you. He was probably worried that given enough pressure you’d say something stupid again. And everything that happened afterwards was a fluke. After all, she had kissed him, and he hadn’t reciprocated. And he had woken her up after she had, embarrassingly, fallen asleep on him. And even when he had kissed her back on her birthday… well, he had been drinking, she wouldn’t have been surprised if he was drunk then too.

She jolts back to reality when Neville says something about her house. “Wait, what are you talking about?”

“Well, they’ve been asking for a tour for months,” he says, startled. “I know Tucker turned them down, but this is a good opportunity for--”

“No,” Rose says, coldly, furious at the fact that these strangers would want to invade her private life, and confused as to why Tucker would do something so… considerate, considering his current actions. “My private life is my own. I bought that house so that I could escape. Tell me, Mr. Cartwright, would you like the media cavorting through your house, taking pictures of everything you own?”

He blinks. “Well, I, no, suppose I wouldn’t…”

“Tell them that I am terribly sorry, but I have a prior engagement and can’t accommodate them, or whatever lie you PR people tell the media,” she says, shortly.

He swallows and nods. After a second, he continues, “I… suppose I’ll have to decline the invitation to Miss Richmond’s party as well?”

“Who?” Rose asks, confused.

“She’s… the daughter of the main who owns several Indian restaurants. A new one just opened up down the street from Vitex,” Neville explains.

Rose swallows, and is about to decline when she remembers Tucker’s words to make friends her age--right before he said there was nothing more he could teach her. Perhaps he was right. She needs people outside her life other than her family, Tucker, and Annie.

“No,” she says, and smiles ruefully at Neville’s surprise. “I’ll go. I haven’t been to a birthday party outside of mine and…” she falters. “Outside mine.”

Neville, she can tell, is relieved. “That’s good to hear. I’ll send the RSVP immediately.”

The meeting is done shortly after, and Rose returns to work with every intention to forget the meeting even happened.

oOoOoOo

A week later Rose is dropped off in front of a large country home, the music audible from the drive. A few people are talking on the porch, and Rose gives a sigh of relief when she sees she had dressed in similar attire--dressy but still casual. Her dark grey dress with the layered skirt and grey-brown belt blends in, although she can tell that the people who spotted her haven’t recognized her in the twilight.

She had looked up pictures of the birthday girl, and is reasonably certain that she could recognize her if pressed. Luckily the person in question spills out the door just before Rose could decide between knocking or going straight in.

“Sorry, sorry!” the girl giggles, then squints at Rose before her eyes widen. “Oh my god!”

“Er, hello,” Rose says, nervously, and startles when the girl grabs her arm and drags her inside.

“Guys!” she shouts. “Rose Tyler showed up.”

There is a cheer, although Rose isn’t sure if it is because of her or because the surrounding bodies are in various stages of intoxication.

“It’s so great to meet you. I’m Christine, but you can call me Christy,” she gushes.

“I’m Rose, but you already know that,” Rose replies. She looks down and suddenly remembers the gift. “Oh! This is for you. I know you said no gifts, but I was always told as a girl to bring something, and it’s a habit I can’t quite shake.”

Christy smiles. “Oh, that’s darling! Your… fake mother, the one who stole you, yes?”

“I… yes,” Rose replies, but Christy was already ripping open the present and didn’t seem to notice her hesitation.

“Theater tickets?” Christina asks, confused.

Rose brightens. “I looked up the season pass holders and noticed that your family didn’t have them, so I decided to give you box seats to the premier of My Fair Lady. They haven’t gone on sale yet so keep it a secret, alright?”

Christy looks amused. “Your secret’s safe with me.” She grins. “Anyway, what are you doing standing here talking to me? It’s a party! Go enjoy yourself!” And with that, she whirls away, leaving Rose standing uncertainly by the door.

She eventually pushes into the crowd, finding the kitchen, where a variety of finger foods are available. She nearly collapses in relief when she sees doritos and cheetos, and piles her plate with junk food and swipes a coke before making it out to the back porch, sitting down on one of the steps.

There are more people out here than in front, and she watches as a group of girls are tossed, giggling, into the pool, clothes and all. The boys that threw them jump in as well, and they are soon shrieking and splashing each other. Some of the others on the pool deck cheer and laugh along with them.

If Rose concentrates, she can almost believe that she’s back at the Estate, taking a breather from the press of bodies and loud racket. Some things don’t change, and she’s comforted by the noise and music. It’s enough to convince her to go back inside once she’s done eating, thinking that even if no one seems to know her, there are two things that are familiar--alcohol, and dancing.

She doesn’t dare drink more than one cup of something she thought was whiskey but doesn’t taste familiar--she all too well remembers the last time she had alcohol, and that was the source of all her current problems. It’s enough to make her relax, though, and she’s soon swallowed by the dancing crowd in the large sun room, laughing just because others are doing it and surprisingly having a decent time. She doesn’t know anyone, but that’s okay; she’s pretty sure the couple in the corner are strangers since the girl had randomly grabbed him and kissed him. She had even announced that he was a good kisser for a stranger.

Rose eventually squirms out to find the bathroom, and after taking a few wrong turns thankfully finds one upstairs.

She’s washing her hands when voices in the hall alert her to an approaching group, and she pushes the door open to see their backs to her. She shrugs, turning to go, when she actually listens to her conversation.

“She should have just showed up empty-handed,” a girl in the middle complains, and Rose recognizes Christy. “I mean, tickets to theatre? Those aren’t anything special. And to a common play, too! Though I’m not surprised she chose My Fair Lady, she must be feeling homesick.”

Christy’s posse snickers, and Rose wants to do nothing more than get swallowed up by the floor. Several of Christy’s paparazzi photos had been taken of her going to and from some show, and she thought that giving her the tickets would be a useful gift. She should have known better--she really wasn’t cut out for this life.

Rose turns, only to collide into a boy who was standing behind her. He grins and winks as she blinks at him, then says, loudly, “Rose Tyler! I was just looking for you.”

The group of girls abruptly go quiet, and Rose realizes he’s looking at her expectantly. “I’m sorry, I got lost, I’m afraid.”

“That’s fine,” he says. “Anyway, I just wanted to say that I was there when you gave Christina her gift, and I’m insanely jealous. I’ve been coveting a pair since the play was announced, and you get them easy as pie! You have to tell me your contact.”

“Well,” she says, uncertainly, “I’m afraid I can’t tell you. Otherwise, the play would be sold out before the tickets were even available.”

He laughs, happily, and Rose can’t help but smile. “I’m Oliver, by the way. Oliver Kinsey.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she says, and shakes his hand. He offers her his arm and guides her downstairs and outside, and they sit down on a bench on the back porch. “I’m sorry for Christy,” he says. “Poor girl tries to pretend her family is richer than it is. Her group of friends there are more on par with our fortunes.”

Rose nods, not knowing what to say. Undaunted, Oliver continues. “It’s a relief to find someone my age who is a fan of the arts. Not many people appreciate the joy of seeing people perform, it’s all about flashy special effects and cheesy romances.” He rolls his eyes. “The classics and performance art are slowly dying away, it seems.”

Rose frowns, about to argue, and remembers the way Christy and the other girls laughed. She may be from the Estate, but she’s just as good as any of them. “I’ve always enjoyed My Fair Lady. Although I’m more of a Shakespeare fan, really. I once saw a production of Hamlet and fell in love.”

Oliver brightens. “A fan of the bard! I knew I liked you for a reason.”

They talk about a few more of his plays, and though his somewhat callous remarks about her favorite characters grate on her nerves, Rose doesn’t comment. She’d be bored otherwise, or so she tells herself--and that’s also the excuse she uses when she invites him to the Vitex party next week.

“It’d be nice to have a friend there,” she tells him. “And you can rescue me when the investors start being too pompous. Plus, you like to dance, and having a partner who can dance makes it ten times better.”

He grins at her. “I’d be honored. Do you want me to pick me up beforehand?”

She smiles, amused. “No, I’m going to be getting ready at the mansion. Mum always insists on doing my hair, since she wasn’t able to do it when I was young.” She’s alarmed at how easy the lie flows, but moves on before he can notice. “But I promise that I’ll meet you at the door.”

Oliver looks satisfied. “Quite an entrance, with you on my arm,” he tells her, and Rose has to fight back a frown at his smug tone.

She gets his number so she can text him further details, and then begs off because she has work, and she’s already up alarmingly late. Jake is going to murder her tomorrow, she thinks, as the car pulls up. She doesn’t care that she’s the first to leave. She achieved what she wanted and more, and that is enough for her.

She just hopes that Oliver is enough of a distraction so she can survive the party without Tucker.

Chapter Text

Malcolm fidgets with his bow tie as he waits in the limo for Rebecca to make an appearance. He generally prefers to drive himself to Vitex events, so that he can leave whenever he needs to, but Becca had insisted, claiming some duty to his position or some such nonsense. She’d started getting annoyed when he protested, though, so he acquiesced rather than deal with his willingness to work on them being called into question yet again. What his desire to drive himself has to do with them is beyond him, but it is easier than fighting with her.

He looks up when the doorman opens the door for her and she ducks into the car. She looks gorgeous; her hair is down, rippling down her back in copper waves, and the dark green gown and sheer wrap give her an effortlessly elegant silhouette that she’s always excelled at.

“You look beautiful,” he says.

“Oh, darling,” she simpers, leaning in to kiss him. She doesn’t thank him, she never does; she knows she’s gorgeous, so it’s not really a compliment, but a statement of fact. She eyes him critically when she pulls back, tutting as she reaches to straighten his bow tie. “You really must learn to stop toying with that, Malcolm.”

He swallows hard, trying to push away the memory of Rose straightening his bow tie with a smile, the way her hands smoothed over his shoulders afterwards. Rebecca chatters away as they drive to the mansion, but he gets less responsive the closer they get. The last time Rebecca and Rose had been in the same room it had been a disaster, but that had been completely his fault. He can only hope that having some advance knowledge of each other will make things easier.

At the mansion he winces again when he remembers the other reason he drives himself: much easier to get in the back ways. The press are out in full force as he exits the limo and holds a hand down to Rebecca, who hisses at him to smile through her own blinding grin. He arches an eyebrow at her, and her smile drops as she glares at him. A quick glance up at the cameras still pinned on them has him giving up, pasting on a smile that he doesn’t feel and can’t figure out why.

“Tucker,” Pete says when they finally get into the hall. “Was wondering when you were going to show.”

“You usually beat the caterers,” Jackie says with a smile.

“I got a bit held up,” he says, wincing when Rebecca steps on his foot. “I just thought since I was bringing a date, I could actually show up with the other guests. Pete, you’ve met Rebecca,” he goes on, putting his hand on the small of Rebecca’s back. She’d accused him of hiding her a few days ago, claiming he’s ashamed of her because he hadn’t introduced her to Pete, and had burst into tears in his office. He hadn’t been able to calm her down until he called and checked that Pete was in and told her they could go up and meet him then and there.

“Of course, good to see you,” Pete says as he shakes her hand. “This is my wife, Jackie. Jax, this is Rebecca St. Claire.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Jackie says. “How do you know Tucker?”

Rebecca shoots him a dark look before smiling again. “I’m his wife.”

“Really,” Jackie says, and Malcolm tilts his head at her cold smile. “He’s never mentioned you.”

“We...had a bit of a rough patch,” Rebecca explains.

“Hmm...well, hope things work out for the best,” Jackie says. “Excuse us.”

She drags Pete off to greet another group, and Malcolm watches her speculatively. Jackie might be a little rough at the edges and speak out of turn, but she tends to choose her words fairly deliberately.

“What a hag,” Rebecca spits. “Honestly, he could do so much better. He should really consider trading up.”

“Like you did, you mean?” he asks before he can stop himself, and she looks at him like she’s been slapped.

“Malcolm, honestly, how could you?” she demands. “How are we ever supposed to get anywhere if I’m constantly reminded of my mistakes? How would you feel if I was constantly reminding you of how alone I was?”

“It just...popped out,” he says. “I’m sorry, you’re right.”

She looks at him for a long moment, then takes his arm, patting it lightly with her other hand. “It’s alright. I know you’re trying.”

He swallows hard, looking up as a young man enters the hall, chest puffed out, with some blonde on his arm.

“Oliver Kinsey?” he asks with a frown as Pete passes by again. “Why the fuck would you invite that pompous little pinhead?”

“I didn’t,” Pete says, glancing at the door. Malcolm follows his gaze and does a double-take at the blonde on Kinsey’s arm.

Rose.

She’s got on a black evening gown, and it’s clearly high end, and has her hair back in a sleek french twist. She’s the picture of a perfect society woman, smiling at guests, with the perfect society date, just like everyone else in attendance. She’s everything that he’d set out to make her into when he’d met her over a year ago.

“Well, well,” Rebecca murmurs. “Looks like she can manage to clean up once in a while after all. Well done, Malcolm.”

“I didn’t do that,” he mutters, feeling sick. “How long’s she been hanging around him?”

“Not long,” Pete says with a shrug. “They just met at that girl’s birthday party last week...Kristin, Christine, something like that. She’s been a little...listless the last few weeks. I’m hoping he’ll put a spring in her step again. Between you and me...I kind of miss her causing trouble.”

“Yeah,” Malcolm says, watching as she approaches. “Me too.”

“Ah, the infamous Malcolm Tucker,” Kinsey says, holding out a hand.

“Oh, do you know each other?” Rose asks, glancing between them.

“Only by reputation,” Malcolm tells her, gripping Kinsey’s hand slightly harder than absolutely necessary, making the boy grimace. “Tell me, how many women have you...taken to the theater now this year?”

“Tucker,” Rose warns, and he glances at her before releasing Kinsey’s hand.

“Just a friendly inquiry,” he says, standing up straighter so that he’s a hair over Kinsey and shoving his hands into his pockets. “Don’t want to see all my hard work go to fucking waste in a scandal. Especially not with someone who uses his trust fund and pedantics to make up for his fucking pencil dick, am I right?” he taunts with a bright grin.

“I assure you, I would allow nothing of the sort to befall Miss Tyler,” Kinsey says with a cold smile, and Malcolm’s eyes narrow as he moves his hand to her back.

“I’m certain of it,” he says. “Mostly because I’m certain I could fucking destroy you without any sort of difficulty or regret should any harm come to her or her reputation. Is that clear, son?”

“My, my, aren’t we feeling protective?” Rebecca says with a tinkling laugh, looping her arm through his again. “Darling, Miss Tyler isn’t a child. We’ve talked about this; she can’t rely on you forever. Sooner or later, she’s going to have to grow up.”

His eyes shoot to Rose at her words, in time to see her mouth drop open and a look of complete betrayal enter her eyes.

“Good to know you and your wife are in such agreement,” she says, her mouth twisting into a bitter smile that doesn’t belong on her. “Come on, Oliver.”

He rounds on Rebecca as soon as Rose is out of earshot. “Don’t you ever fucking say anything like that in front of her again, is that understood?”

“But...but it’s true,” she stammers, staring at him in shock. “That’s exactly what we--”

“No,” he growls. “That’s what you said. While Rose and I might need some...distance, I’m always going to be around if she needs me.” He eases off a little at the angry flash in Rebecca’s eyes. “It’s my job. You don’t dictate that.”

“Or course,” she agrees, but her expression is stony. He’s fully aware that he’ll probably pay for that later, but for now he’s too angry to care. He shakes his head, stalking away toward the bar.

oOoOo

Hours later, he's back at the bar and nursing a brandy. His eyes track Rose as she moves through the crowd; it takes considerably more effort than it had last year, when she'd stood like a lighthouse in the dark. She's mingling and laughing and doing everything right, but she still seems like she's missing something, some spark of life that made her so unique. He blames the societal peacock on her arm; he grits his teeth every time he sees the boy interrupt her or talk over her.

She turns her head suddenly, looking directly at him, and he lowers his gaze swiftly, swilling the brandy around in his glass.

"God, this is boring," Rebecca says, suddenly appearing at his side.

"I did warn you," he replies as she orders a martini.

"Yes, well, you say that about everything," she reminds him with a small smile. "You're obviously not to be trusted in judging a good time."

"Obviously," he says, smirking down at her.

She glances around, sipping at her drink when it arrives. "We could dance," she offers after a moment.

"You know I don't dance," he says wearily.

"I know no such thing," she says, mildly affronted, and he cocks an eyebrow at her. "We danced at our wedding."

"That was over thirty years ago," he reminds her. "And, as I recall... You were lit," he adds, lips twitching.

"I was lit?" she laughs. "If memory serves, you were the one who jumped onto a table to recite that Hamlet soliloquy in Latin. Odd choice for a wedding. Do you still remember it?"

He scoffs, swallowing another sip of brandy. "Fuck no. I'm not entirely sure why I knew it in the fucking first place."

"Probably to annoy the maximum amount of people with the least amount of effort," she replies with a grin. "You sent conniptions rippling through at least three different departments with that stunt."

"Rousing fucking success then, I'd say," he observes, and she lets out another laugh.

"You know what else I remember from that night?" she asks, stepping closer and running a hand over his arm as he shakes his head. "I remember thinking that I was the luckiest woman on the planet, that you'd chosen me."

"Yeah?" His breath catches in his throat when she looks up at him.

"Yeah."

She leans up to kiss him, and his hand rises to her hair as he gives in, deepening the kiss. It's moments like this that he remembers why he had fallen so desperately in love with her all those years ago.

"Let's get out of here," she suggests as they break apart. "It's bound to be winding down soon anyway."

He looks up, glancing around for Pete, standing near the door with Jackie and Rose. "Yeah, alright," he says, nodding at the CEO before turning and setting his glass down on the bar. "Just have to say my goodbyes."

A look of annoyance that he doesn't totally understand passes over her face briefly, but it smoothes out into a smile again before he can ask. "Of course, darling," she says, relinquishing her own drink and looping her arm through his.

They make their way toward the door, and Malcolm narrows his eyes at Kinsey hovering at Rose’s elbow, looking everywhere but at her, which makes no fucking sense. If Malcolm had been her date, then--

No.

“We had a wonderful evening,” Rebecca gushes to Pete and Jackie, and the desire to roll his eyes is almost painful. Another Rebecca trait he’s always been less than charmed by. One glance at Rose’s arched eyebrow tells him she’s not having any of it, and a corner of his mouth twitches up despite himself.

He tells himself later that’s what made him do it, her complete inability to deal with other people’s shit. That, and probably a fair amount of need to show Kinsey how a woman like Rose should be treated. In either case, before he can stop himself, he puts a hand lightly on her waist and leans down to kiss her cheek. She turns her head in surprise as he pulls away, and for the briefest instant he pauses, their faces inches apart, before swallowing hard and straightening.

“Good night, Rose,” he says, ignoring for the moment the way Rebecca’s nails are digging into his arm. He pauses as he turns, adding, “For the record...gold suited you better.”
He doesn’t get a chance to see her reaction before Rebecca is pulling him through the door and snapping orders at the valet.

“What was that about?” she demands. “‘Gold suited you better?’”

He shrugs. “She wore a gold dress last year.”

“Gold,” she scoffs. “As if that’s at all proper. But I guess there’s only so much that can be expected of her, having just come from the gutter.”

“Annie picked it out,” he tells her quietly, while some inner voice rages. She stops, sighing and patting his arm.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “But you must admit, it’s not very practical. Annalise is really better off with the home designing than fashion. At least Rose managed to wear something more adult this year.”

“Suppose,” he says, bringing his hand up to bite the inside of his thumb.

The limo driver chooses that moment to pull up, saving him from any other response. He’s subdued on the way back to the hotel, although she does try to bring back the moment from earlier as they pull up. She leans over to kiss him as he’s tugging his bow tie loose, and he surrenders immediately, wanting to feel that closeness again, wanting to feel fucking anything, deepening the kiss without question when he feels her tongue on his bottom lip.

When she finally breaks away, though, she purrs something about going upstairs for a drink, and he knows what she means, and he just...can’t. He apologizes, says he’s tired and has an early day. She pouts, but he can see the irritation simmering behind it and feels awful. She reminds him how patient she’s been, how understanding, and he can’t help but agree, and he tells her he loves her before she gets out of the limo, attempting to soothe the sting of his rejection.

The words taste like ash in his mouth and he still doesn’t know why.

Chapter Text

Rose’s phone rings again for the fifth time that morning and she doesn’t even bother looking at it as she turns it off. Sarah smirks. “Oliver at it again?”

“Clingy doesn’t cover it,” Rose grumbles. “He spent all night trying to schmooze my father’s investors and business partners and ignored me or interrupted.”

Sarah winces. “I’m sorry. That’s a bit of a douche move, though. You invited him, after all. He didn’t do anything inappropriate, did he?”

Rose shakes her head. “No, he was the perfect gentleman in that regard. And I’m not entirely certain he realized that he was doing it. It’s how he was raised; he can’t help it. I intend to give him a wake up call, though,” she says grinning, and Sarah chuckles.

“How was the party, though?” she asks, and Rose’s smile falters.

It had been hell. She had thought when she invited Oliver that he would provide a pleasant distraction and they would be caught up in their own little bubble like they were at Christy’s birthday party. Instead he had dragged her around the party, no more than a pretty decoration, and while he wasn’t… inattentive, he hadn’t exactly noticed the times she slipped away to grab something to eat or drink. The only times he’d paid attention was the few times he had danced, once again talking about theater. She had begun to wonder if that was the limit of his conversational range; she had gotten a little variety when she asked who his favorite actors were, but they mostly circled back to various productions he had seen.

The worst part was she was supposed to be using Oliver so she wouldn’t have to think of Tucker, but she found herself seeking him out in the crowd more so than ever before. And the times when she did see him, his wife was there fawning over him, making Rose hate herself just that little bit more. Because to all appearances they seemed to be the perfect couple, and that had caused her to be indescribably jealous and upset.

And yet she swore that, more than once, she had felt his eyes burning into her. But she hadn’t dared to leave the party, even though she longed for their little spot in the garden, thinking that maybe, if she just went there, just for a second, he would… join her, or something, and they could just forget that they were with other people and be Malcolm and Rose again, and stop this… whatever this was. She had spent the next hour daydreaming about what they would do, when she happened to look over in his direction again and found he and his wife kissing. It was like a bucket of ice cold water and she had spent the next minute just remembering how to breathe.

Their little rendezvous were impossible now. He was clearly determined to make things work with his wife, and she was, after all, a silly little girl who needed to grow up.

And yet… and yet, he had kissed her cheek when he had left early. His wife had looked livid, but he did it anyway. It had confused her to the point of distraction, but when Oliver had commented on it she forced herself to ignore it. He was probably being polite. After all, several other people had given her those ridiculous air kisses as they left. It wasn’t anything to worry over.

And yet she did.

“The same as ever,” she finally tells Sarah. “Lots of people who think they are more important than they are, trying to make new connections and puff up their ego. I was happy when it was over.”

Sarah nods and goes back to work. Rose chews on her pen as she stares blankly at the paperwork on her desk, unaware of the fact that Mickey is watching her intently. So when he stands and tells her that they need to talk, she is completely startled.

“Jesus, Rose, what’s gotten into you?” Sarah asks as Rose tries to calm her racing heart rate. “I’ve never heard you scream.”

“It was more of a yelp,” Jake puts in, and she glares at them both as Mickey pulls her into the small planning room.

Mickey plops her down into a chair and sits down beside her. “Rose, what’s going on with you lately?” he asks. “You’ve been strange ever since Tony was born, and I know you enough to know that it’s not because of him. And then you show up with some society airhead that is the exact opposite of your type. What happened?”

She shakes her head. “It’s none of your business, Mickey. And I’m fine. I have you guys, this job, and I’m finally starting to meet people my age and maybe find other friends. Thanks for the concern, but--”

“Don’t give me that, Rose,” Mickey says. “I’m worried about you. And even if they won’t say it, so are your parents.”

Annoyance flashes through her. “I don’t need anyone telling me how to run my life,” she snaps, getting up to pace angrily. “So what, people can’t have off days anymore? I don’t need Mum fussing over me or Dad putting me on any more suspensions or Tucker telling me--”

“I didn’t say anything about Tucker.”

She freezes, and Mickey continues. “You’re a right pair, you are.” He snorts. “Dancing around each other like that, giving each other these… these looks when you think the other isn’t looking. Noticed it during Christmas, and it only got worse. And then Tony was born and it all stops. You’re once again a muted shell and he’s getting angry over every little thing. And just when things were getting back to normal, his wife turns up and it’s worse than before. Jesus, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you two slept with each other or something.”

Rose tries to reply, tries to distract him, anything, but she can’t manage. It’s all she can do to stay upright and as her gaze slowly meets his, Mickey pales. “Shit. Rose, you didn’t--”

“We were drunk,” she says, voice small, as she slowly lowers herself into her chair. “Or at least, that’s the excuse he gave. Couldn’t get out fast enough, and then he avoided me like the plague--”

“I should have realized,” he mutters. “He didn’t kiss you at Christmas like a friend. Hell, he could have kissed you on the cheek, everyone knew it. No, he kisses you on the mouth, and before that, he mentioned you when I was talking about his sister.” He lets out an explosive sigh. “Rose, what the hell were you thinking?”

“I don’t know!” she wails. “Mickey, none of this makes sense! I’ve spent most of my time here trying to get back to the Doctor, but he’s just… I don’t even know what he is to me, and I’m terrified, Mickey, terrified of figuring it out, because he’s just going to break my heart again and I can’t… I can’t go through that again, Mickey.”

He stares at her and slowly shakes his head. “You love him. Don’t deny it, Rose,” he says as she tries to reply. “It’s the Doctor all over again. He’s exactly your type. Older, with more issues than the entire planet, bitter and unapproachable and you don’t even notice.”

“Don’t,” she pleads. She’s not sure when this conversation got so out of control, but the more he talks, the more confused and upset she gets, her soul feeling like it’s breaking apart. “Don’t say that. It doesn’t matter, Mickey. He’s… he’s getting back together with his wife, and I’m just… to him, I’m just a little girl who needs to grow up.”

Mickey’s expression is thunderous. “He said that?”

“His wife said they’ve discussed it,” she says bitterly. “Good enough, really.”

Mickey mutters something extremely disparaging before looking at her again. “Rose, you’re better than this.”

“Am I?” she wonders. “Am I, Mickey? I spent three weeks falling apart in my room when the Doctor said goodbye because just the thought of facing the world made me feel like dying. And Tucker was the only one able to get me to come out of that, and he’s the one sending me right back there.” She shakes her head. “I can’t… I can’t talk about him, Mickey. Because if I do…”

He looks at her a moment. “You’re running again.”

“What?” she asks, confused.

He sighs. “You know, of all the things the Doctor has taught you, that’s the only thing I hate. When things get difficult, you run. You don’t want to face the aftermath, you don’t want to own up to the past. So you run. You ran away from life when the Doctor said goodbye. You ran away from the conversation when I tried to get you to choose between me and the Doctor. And now you’re running away again because Tucker has you tied up in knots.” He grips her shoulder. “Rose, you can’t run away every time things get hard. That’s no way to live your life.”

“It’s my life, Mickey,” she says, his words digging deep. She knows he’s telling the truth--the fact that she wants nothing more than to dash through the door is proof of that. She won’t give him the satisfaction of being proven right, though. “Besides, he’s made it perfectly clear what he thinks. Yes, we slept together, and what does he do when I try to show him I don’t regret it? He goes and meets up with his wife. And I’m fine. I’ve dealt with this once, I’ll deal with it again.”

Mickey inhales sharply, but before he can say anything Jake sticks his head in the room. “Hey, Rose, someone from R&D is here to see you. Says he’ll only discuss it with you, whatever ‘it’ is.”

Rose sighs in gratitude. “Okay, I’ll be right out.” Jake nods and disappears, and Rose turns to Mickey, determination sweeping through her. “Just give me time, Micks. I’ll be better.” She hesitates, then hugs him. “Thank you, for being here. I don’t think… I don’t think I’ve ever said that.”

He hugs her back, somewhat stiffly, and she quickly leaves with the researcher, happy to leave the entire conversation behind her.

She’s deep in conversation with another engineer named Phil when she’s tapped on the shoulder. An intern with an annoyed expression hands her a phone. “It’s your mum. Apparently you have your phone off and she thinks that something happened.”

Rose sighs. “Alright, alright, I’ll deal with her. Thank you.” She steps away and takes a breath before speaking into the phone. “Hello, Mum.”

“Oh, so you do know how to answer the phone!” Jackie exclaims.

Rose sighs. “Mum, it wasn’t to avoid you, it’s just that Oliver kept calling me even though I told him I was at work, and--”

Jackie immediately grows concerned. “He isn’t harassing you, is he? ‘Cause I can have Pete get a restraining order--”

“No, Mum,” Rose interrupts, alarmed. “I can handle it. He just doesn’t like the word “no.” But trust me, I’ve dealt with guys like him before.”

“Well, if you say so,” Jackie says, dubiously. “Anyway, I was calling to see if you wouldn’t mind watching Tony next Wednesday night. Pete’s taking me out to dinner.”

Despite the fact that Rose feels like her life is slowly falling apart, she can’t help but smile. “That’s great, Mum. You need to start getting out again.”

“Yeah, so you and Pete say,” Jackie says dismissively. “You don’t mind, then?”

“‘Course not,” Rose replies happily. “You know I love looking after Tony. You can drop him off at my place; we can pick out a room for him to claim when he gets older.”

Jackie chuckles. “All right. Thanks, sweetheart. I’ll talk to you later?”

“Yes, Mum. Love you.”

She hangs up and returns the phone to the intern, then goes back to work. Time passes quickly, and when the team starts packing up to go home, Rose picks up the to-do list and looks at the materials that are needed. She’s sure that some of them might be in Archives, so she heads down and prepares herself for a long night of searching.

First, though, she turns her phone back on, and startles when she sees that she has seventeen new messages. With a sigh, she sits down to listen.

At least, she thinks, it’ll give her an opportunity to laugh at the ridiculous excuses Oliver will give so she would call back.

She goes through the messages as she walks down the aisles, listening as Oliver keeps changing his offers on taking her out on dates, her mother asking her if anything is wrong. She’s surprised when Nadia’s voice comes on, informing her that she’s going to be gone for a week since she’s going on a volunteer trip, and Rose smiles. Her caretaker has really blossomed since they first met and is thinking of starting up a charity for war refugees; Rose has already promised to back her, and she’s starting to talk Jackie around to helping out, too.

Nadia’s message ends, and Rose sets down the object she was inspecting so she can delete it. She’s surprised when her phone informs her that she has an existing message; she can’t really think of one she forgot.

Rose, it’s Tucker. We’ve still got things to go over, I’m not fucking waiting for you all fucking day. Call me.

Rose stills, his voice washing over her. She recognizes the message instantly, of course--she had listlessly checked her phone a few days after the Doctor said goodbye, and she thought she had deleted the message then; apparently not. The words are like a punch to the gut now. Despite the fury and annoyance in his words, she can detect the worry and the pain behind his tone. No one had bothered telling him, she realizes. They had left without a second thought, without warning or former notice. How had he handled it?

Rose, it’s Tucker. We’ve still got things to go over.

She sinks to the floor, his words repeating themselves over and over in her head. She had never really stopped to consider what would happen to him if she left; back then it was because he had been the bane of her existence, the only one hell bent on making her stay. And she had resisted and pushed back and fought, so hard had she fought. And then he had been the one to drag her back into the land of the living, had been looking our for her every day since. She had been grateful for it, needing the support and attention, not noticing when they had both begun to rely on each other’s presence. She thinks about how he never protested when she barged into his office, when she showed up unannounced at his flat; how he had spent all day away from the office just so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed at house hunting, spending that entire time searching for and finding the perfect place for her to live, introducing her to his family, going out of his way to provide her with chips on her birthday. Not to mention all the other times he’s rescued her during Vitex parties just so she felt comfortable.

I’m not fucking waiting for you all fucking day. Call me.

How had he felt when she left, she wondered? When she was so lost in her own world, in her own pain and grief and loss, how had he felt watching her self destruct? How had she not noticed the glances getting longer, the transition between gruff words to gentle actions? And more importantly, when had she stopped resisting that? Rose chews her thumbnail as she paces, thinking back on the past year, analyzing their every interaction. She can’t really think of the exact moment she stopped viewing him as the enemy and started thinking of him as something… more; just that one day he was suddenly someone important in her life. With him she had started to laugh again, smile, look forward to the future. And when he had avoided her, it felt like she was missing something integral to her world.

I’m not waiting for you

Oh, god, she thinks. Mickey was right. I’m in love with him.

The realization is harsh and painful. She had been falling for him for a long time, perhaps even before the Doctor told her goodbye. She just didn’t want to admit it, scared of letting the Doctor go, using him as a shield so that she wouldn’t get hurt. And yet she had. And it felt so much worse, knowing that she missed so many opportunities, letting so many things go unsaid and actions left undone. There is no shame in finding love again; after all, Jackie had done so, and Rose has never seen her mum so happy. And while the Doctor may not be dead, he is out of reach. Instead it had been Tucker who had been there for her when she needed someone. Tucker who had picked up the pieces of her heart and patiently put it back together, Tucker who had known when she needed to escape, when she needed to breathe. The ghost of the man she’d loved couldn't be here for her now. But Tucker could be. Tucker had been.

Malcolm had been there every difficult step of the way.

And she had let him get away.

Or had she? She wonders. He and his wife are still divorced. Surely, she thinks, there’s still a chance?

And even if it there isn’t, she won’t be afraid to admit to him that she wants him. The thought of confessing her feelings is terrifying--after all, the last time she had said those three words the man in front of her disappeared--but she won’t hold back from moving forward again. But this time, she’s going to go after what she wants, consequences be damned.

Clutching the phone like a lifeline, she leaves the list of needed materials behind and rushes towards her car.

She only hopes she isn’t too late.

Chapter Text

“Filming was shut down for the day,” Rebecca complains as soon as Malcolm picks up the phone.

“Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she says dismissively. “Some idiot did something with the cameras or lights or something. Not really my end of things. But it does mean I’m free for the day.”

“Oh,” he says, staring blankly at the mound of paperwork on his desk. “Well, I’m not.”

“Surely you can take a day off,” she whines. “It wouldn’t kill you.”

“Not really how it works,” he mutters, pushing away the thought of the times he’d dropped everything for...someone else. “I’m sorry, honestly, but I’ve got a lot to do here. We were meeting for dinner anyway.”

“I could come by your office, go over lines while you work,” she suggests.

“No,” he practically shouts, and the silence on the other end is palpable. “I just mean, you’d be bored, sitting here.” More silence. He sighs, running a hand over his face. “How about I try and see if I can finish up early? I think some of this could be pawned off on someone else.”

“I suppose,” she says. “I guess I just thought you’d be more willing to spend time with me than that.”

“It’s my job, Becca,” he reminds her.

“And I’m your wife,” she counters. “Or at least I was, before your job destroyed that. I really hope you’re not going to let that happen again.”

“Of course not,” he says wearily. “I promise, I’ll try to get out soon. I’ll call you when I’m done.”

“Alright, darling,” she sighs. “I suppose I’ll just have to live with that. Kisses.”

He drops his head back on the headrest of his chair when she disconnects, suddenly feeling twice his not-inconsiderable age and exhausted. She loves him, she wants to spend time with him. It isn’t a huge request. But it still feels like he is suffocating.

Becca-fog. It could make a person crazy, and it just might kill them.

He lifts his head when the intercom buzzes, wondering where that thought had come from.

“Yeah, Sam,” he says.

“Mickey Smith here to see you,” she informs him, and he freezes, panic shooting through at the possible reasons Mickey could be coming to see him out of the blue, all of them having to do with Rose in various states of injury or death.

“Send him in,” he chokes out, surging to his feet as the man enters. “What happened? Is Rose alright?”

Mickey gives him an odd look. “Not really. But she’s not….you know, hurt or anything.”

Malcolm sucks in a breath, only just realizing he’d stopped breathing entirely, and lets it out slowly. “Good. Alright. Well, why the fuck are you here then?”

“That’s nice,” Mickey sneers, shoving his hands in his pockets as he wanders around the room, peering at various photos and tapes and knickknacks strewn about the office. “Thing is, you know, back when she travelled with the Doctor, I hung out with them for a while.”

“That’s how you ended up here,” Malcolm says, rolling his eyes. “Is this going somewhere?”

“Yeah, it is, and for once, you’re gonna listen,” Mickey snaps, turning back to him, and Malcolm’s eyebrows shoot up. He leans against the front of his desk, making a go on gesture with one hand before crossing his arms. “Right. So, my first trip with them, we ended up on this spaceship, totally empty. Except it had these weird portals, time windows, he called ‘em. Well, he called ‘em something else, but I didn’t really listen cause he was being a git.” Malcolm snorts, suddenly feeling more affinity for Mickey than he had in the last four years. “Anyway, these time windows, they were all connected to the life of Madame de Pompadour. I checked, she existed here too. Some people you can’t fucking wish away.”

“I’m failing to see what a pre-Revolutionary aristocrat has to do with Rose,” Malcolm says dryly.

“Yeah, well, that was kind of the problem,” Mickey replies with a shrug. “He didn’t either. Not when he was fighting clockwork men to save her. Not when she kissed him. Not when she traipsed through his mind. Not when he jumped a bleeding horse into a one-way door, leaving me and Rose stranded on a spaceship a couple thousand years and a billion miles from home.” Malcolm stills; if he hadn’t had enough reasons to hate the Doctor before, he certainly did now.

“He just...abandoned you?” he asks, stunned.

“Yeah,” Mickey says, sinking onto the sofa and kicking his feet up on the coffee table, ignoring Malcolm’s frown. “But that’s not really the point, is it? ‘Cause before all that, Rose met her. And that whore was so puffed up on her own importance, she talked down to Rose, told her she was a child, made herself seem so important to the Doctor, her ‘lonely angel.’ And you know, Rose, she’s never been so sure of herself. Oh, she acts tough, and she is, tough as nails, but she’s never really sure she’s good enough. So when this bird starts making all this noise, and then the Doctor hops off after her with no way back...Rose, she just shut down. Said she didn’t know what to do, that she was useless.”

“How’d you get back?” Malcolm asks.

“He got back, eventually,” Mickey tells him. “Gives Rose a big old hug, la di da, all’s well, then turns around and goes back, says he wants to bring the Madame along. Only turns out, with the way the windows don’t meet up quite right, he’s too late. She’s already gone. He comes back all heartbroken, and Rose, Rose, who’s been in love with him since he had a completely different face, you know what she does?”

Malcolm opens his mouth to say she let him have it, but then snaps it closed. ‘Cause that’s not Rose. “She asked if he was alright,” he says instead, quietly.

“Yeah,” Mickey says. “Yeah, she did. And you could see it killing her, how hurt he was about losing this other woman, but she was still worried about him.” He pauses. “Thing is, I think he did love her. Rose, I mean. But I think it scared the pants off him. And I guess it was easier to let his head get turned by some historic elegance than actually deal with how he felt.”

Malcolm runs a hand down his face. “What’s all this got to do with me?”

“You really don’t know, do you?” Mickey asks, staring at him, then laughs. “God, I dunno how she does it. She always falls for the cleverest man in the room, and they turn out to be complete bleeding pinheads.” He eyes Malcolm for a moment, then asks, “How’s Rebecca doing today?”

Malcolm stiffens as the pieces lock into place. Things had gotten so complicated, and then when they’d finally managed to get back to anywhere near good, Rebecca had shown up. And it had been so easy to just give up all the internal conflict and let her take over again. Of course it would make Rose think of that, compare him to the Doctor. Except--

“Rose doesn’t want me.” He shrugs. “I see what you’re trying to say, and I know that Rebecca being back might have...hurt, and possibly damaged whatever friendship we had, but that’s the extent of it. She’s too young to understand--”

“Shut it,” Mickey growls. “Just shut it. ‘Cause I don’t think that’s you talking. I think that’s your ex. I dunno what made you break up before, but from what I’ve seen, it was a good call. You wouldn’t say that about Rose. I’ve seen the way you look at her; even last night, you couldn’t keep your eyes off her.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he mutters, turning back toward his desk.

“Like hell it doesn’t matter,” Mickey shouts, getting to his feet. “‘Cause I’m not gonna have her be hurt again because the man she loves is too much of an idiot to realize it.”

“Mickey--”

“Do you love her?” the other man interrupts.

“She doesn’t--”

“Not what I asked.” Mickey studies him for a minute, then shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter, you don’t have to tell me. ‘Cause like I said, I’ve seen you. And what’s more, I saw you before Rose came, and before Rebecca turned back up. With Rose, you were still a prick, but at least you were a happy prick. With Rebecca, you’re just a tool. She took over everything and there’s nothing of you left. That really where you wanna be?”

“Leave it, Mickey,” Malcolm advises. “It’s none of your business.”

“Maybe not,” he says. “But Rose has been my friend a long time. I know what she’s like when she’s in love. You might not believe it, but I sure as hell do. And you know what else? You need her, just as much as she needs you.”

He turns on his heel, striding out of Malcolm’s office. Malcolm drops back into his desk chair, running both hands over his face. That wasn’t the first time someone had talked about him changing when he was with Rebecca. Annie had said so often enough, as well as a few of the people he’d worked with back when her dalliances in his life were more frequent. There was a reason he kept trying to get away from her, after all. Besides that, gaining distance from someone else probably wasn’t the best reason to start a relationship in the first place, especially since it hasn’t actually stopped his attraction to Rose at all, just made it more painful. And now he’s just...so tired.
He pulls out his phone, staring at it for a moment before dialing Rebecca.

oOoOo

She’s got the gas fireplace on when he gets to her hotel room and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket. She’s wearing a negligee and a sheer robe, and looks stunning; a more mature but still gorgeous version of the girl he took to Paris all those years ago...and he doesn’t feel anything.

“We need to talk,” he sighs, dropping into an armchair in the sitting area.

“Have some champagne first,” she says, holding out a champagne flute to him. “A toast to new beginnings.”

She clinks his glass and takes a sip, and he watches her for a moment before setting the glass down on an end table. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“What happened?” she asks, her face hardening a little as she takes a seat across from him.

“Nothing happened,” he says. “I’m just...not sure this is the best plan for us.”

There’s a flash of anger or irritation in her eyes, and her hand tightens on her glass for an instant before she sets it aside and leans forward. She clasps her hands in front of her, her expression beseeching.

“After all we’ve done, after all we’ve been through, that’s it?” she asks. “You’re just...calling it quits, without even trying?”

“I’ve been trying, Rebecca,” he says wearily, tugging his hand away and running it down his face. “But it’s just...not working.”

“Not working?” she asks shrilly. “We’ve spent so much time together, I’ve been so patient--”

“I know,” he says. “I know, I’m sorry. Honestly, I am. You haven’t done anything. I’m just--”

“What?” she demands. “You’re just what, exactly?”

“Tired,” he admits with a shrug. “I’m just fucking exhausted from all the trying and never getting anywhere.”

“Sweetheart, we can get somewhere,” she says. “But I can’t do anything if you’re putting up walls around me. Why don’t you tell me what this is really about?”

“I already told you,” he says with a shrug.

“You’re tired,” she says flatly, then sighs heavily. “You know, I’d have thought that you’d be grateful. At least I want you, not like that little wannabe socialite. I knew as soon as I saw that photo that she’d have been giving you the run around--”

“What?” He stares at her, desperately hoping that the picture forming is completely wrong. “What are you talking about?”

She huffs in irritation. “Nothing, it’s nothing. But don’t you think that you’d be better off with someone your age, someone you already have history with?”

“What photo?” he asks, his voice low and dangerous.

“It was just a photo of Rose,” she says with a shrug. “Some candid shot in the society column. Her and daddy’s media superhero. Oh, I’m sure no one else thought anything of it, but I know you, Mal. I know that look. You had to know that could only lead to pain.”

He stares at her a beat, going through his mental catalogue of Tyler family photos, until he lands on the one she’s talking about. It hadn’t been anything, really. Honestly, if anyone knew that they’d been making fun of the photographer’s horrible toupee, they’d probably just be annoyed. But he and Rose had been smiling, and it had felt good, because things were finally getting back to normal between them.

Because it had been days before Rebecca had turned up.

“You knew,” he says softly, horrified and furious. “You knew about Rose. That’s why you came back.”

“Malcolm, sweetheart,” she says, leaning forward and taking his hand. “I was trying to do you a favor. Someone had to save you from yourself.”

“In the future, Rebecca,” he says, still quietly, because his control is tenuous at best, “don’t do me any more fucking favors.”

He shakes her hand off and gets to his feet, turning for the door.

“Oh, please, Malcolm,” she spits as she stands. “Do you really think she wants you?”

He turns, shaking. “That doesn’t matter, Rebecca. What matters is that you didn’t come back for me, did you? You came back because of a fucking photo.” He stalks toward her, and she steps back. “You came back because you thought, after all this time, I might actually want someone else. That maybe you didn’t break me e-fucking-nough to keep me alone forever. That you might actually lose your little plaything, and you just couldn’t fucking deal with that, could you?”

“Malcolm, think about this rationally--”

“Oh, I am,” he assures her. “In fact, I’m pretty fucking positive that I’m thinking rationally for the first fucking time since you set foot in my office. ‘Cause it’s never about me. Not in thirty-five fucking years. It’s all about what new game you can torment me with, what hoops you can get me to jump through, all for your fucking entertainment, at least until you find someone else. God for-fucking-bid I decide to stop playing into your fucking mind games.”

“Malcolm, this is ridiculous,” she scoffs. “I love you.”

“Oh, fucking spare me,” he shouts. “You don’t love anyone but yourself. I hurt people that I care about because of you, so many times. God only knows why Annie still fucking puts up with me. And now, because you decided that me wanting someone else was too much for you to wrap your fucking maladjusted little mind around, I’ve probably destroyed my relationship with Rose.”

“You never had one,” she snaps. “And even if you did, even if was possible, you’d have sabotaged it without my help. You know why, Malcolm? Because you always knew I was going to come back. You always hoped I would.”

“How the fuck do you figure that?” he asks.

“You still wear your ring, Malcolm,” she reminds him, a small triumphant smile on her face. “You don’t really want anyone else. You’ll always come when I call.”

“This ring?” he asks, slipping it off his finger. “No, that’s where you’re fucking wrong. This ring, this is a reminder of what fucking hell being with you is. I wear it to keep everyone else away, because you had me so twisted up that I really thought for decades that this fucking torture is what love looks like. Like that’s all I’d get, and all I’d deserve. But you know what? Fucking take your piece of tin,” he says, flicking it away with his thumb. “I don’t need it. And I definitely don’t fucking need you. For once in your miserable fucking existence, listen to me when I say I never want to see your fucking face again. Don’t call me, don’t text me, don’t come to my office or my home, or I swear to god I’ll get a restraining order and have you fucking arrested.”

He turns to go, but her efforts at getting the last word make him stop. “Walk out that door, I’ll tell the press that you’re sleeping with her. I can’t think your boss would think too kindly of that, and poor Rose’s reputation would take a definite hit.”

“You could do that,” he admits, pivoting back toward her. “But then I’ll have to tell them about all the producers and directors you’ve fucked to have any sort of career, about all the actresses who’ve been blacklisted because you’ve poisoned their careers because they were younger or prettier or, hell, just because you could. And if you come anywhere near Rose, I’ll destroy you.”

“She doesn’t--”

“Shut the fuck up,” he roars. “‘Cause it doesn’t fucking matter if she wants me. I already let you hurt her enough, and I’m not going to let you do anymore harm. Because regardless of her feelings, I love her, and I’ll do everything in my power to protect her from anyone, especially the fucking likes of you. Go away, Rebecca, and this time, fucking stay there.”

He turns on his heel and stalks out the door, his fury giving him momentum enough to get to his car before he actually stops and realizes what he said. With a sigh, he pulls out of the car park, realizing he’s back at square fucking one--less than that, considering how far he’s pushed Rose away. Not to mention Annie. Even though a part of him is cheering at the thought of finally being rid of Rebecca, the rest of him is wondering how he’s ever going to sort through the mess he’d created by allowing her back into his life to begin with.

Chapter Text

Rose tries to not think of all the things that can go wrong as she drives to Malcolm’s house. She had called Sam earlier to find out that he was already gone and hopes that she was right. If he has gone to Annie’s… well, she isn’t afraid to make her confession in front of them, but she figures he’d appreciate the privacy.

His car isn’t in the drive, and Rose slows her car to a stop in the street, wondering what to do now. She considers her phone for a second but doubts he’ll answer her call; she could leave a voicemail, but Rebecca would probably delete it for him since she seems to have taken over every aspect of his life. For a moment she wonders if this is a lost cause, if she’s too late to do something, then shakes herself. Regardless of whether or not he listens to her, she has to try.

She pulls her duffel bag into the front seat, rifling around in it until she finds a notepad and a pen. She only pauses a moment to gather her thoughts.

Malcolm-
Can we talk? I know I’m probably the last person you want to see right now, but please, it’s important.
Rose

She gets out of her car and folds the note carefully, going to his door and sliding the note through the mail slot.

As she straightens, she hears a car pulling into the drive and turns to see Malcolm’s car. She swallows, unsure of what to do; maybe she can make up an excuse, but then the note would immediately call her bluff. Well, she wanted to tell him in person--now’s her chance.

What she doesn’t expect is his expression.

Sheltered slightly by the walls on either side of her and unseen due to him staring down at his feet, Rose’s breath catches as she observes him. He looks--broken. Every single piece of his armor has fallen away and he seems to be barely holding himself together. She doesn’t know what happened, and the only thing preventing her from running to him is that she knows he would hate accepting comfort when he’s so vulnerable. Fury rises up within her nonetheless--she knows it’s because of Rebecca, knows that she did something to make him like this. He hasn’t been himself, hasn’t been the slightest bit happy, since she showed up. Even in the pictures taken of them he hadn’t been smiling, not a real one, anyway. They had been strained, fake. And she doesn’t know what Rebecca did to him that caused him to fall apart, but she feels like finding the woman and testing out a few unknown alien artefacts on her to see what they did.

Instead she keeps the thoughts to herself, waiting with inner rage and heartbreak, until he notices her, pausing two feet away and staring at her like he’s seen a ghost.
“What are you doing here?” he finally asks, his voice defeated.

Rose blinks back tears and shakes her head. “I... “ she hesitates, and looks at his expression again, all of her practiced words dying on her lips.

“You shouldn’t be with Rebecca,” she blurts out, surprising both of them. “She’s… awful, Malcolm. She doesn’t care about you, doesn’t care about what she does to you so long as it benefits her in some way. Whatever you have with her… it isn’t healthy. You deserve… everything, deserve to be happy, and even if that’s not with me, it’s definitely not going to be found with her.”

For a long moment, he just stares at her, something unidentifiable in his expression. Rose doesn’t know if she should stay or leave; he hasn’t outright told her to go away, so she takes it as a good sign.

He speaks suddenly, causing her to tense slightly in surprise. “Right,” he says, and pulls his keys out of his pocket, heading towards his door.

Her heart sinks. It didn’t make a difference. His lack of reaction might as well be a giant ‘get out’ sign plastered in front of her face.

At least she said something. Maybe not everything she'd planned to...but bringing up her feelings for him now probably wouldn't help anyway.

His rejection still stings, though, and she knows she needs to leave before she falls apart in front of him. She turns to go back to her car as he pushes his key into the lock, but before she can move he grabs her arm and pushes the door open. Confused, she lets him pull her into the house.

“Malcolm?” she asks, hesitantly. “I… should probably go--”

She’s cut off when he hauls her to him, slamming the door closed before pressing her against the wall and kissing her desperately. Rose gasps, overwhelmed with the sudden change, and then she suddenly realizes that yes, his hands are on her hips and that is his mouth pressed against hers, and her heart feels like it’s about to burst and oh, she should probably kiss back.

One of her hands goes to his hair--he really needs a trim, she’s never seen it this fluffy--as the other grips his shoulder, pulling him closer even as she pushes against him, and he makes a small noise in the back of his throat before he pulls away, breathing harshly. “It was always you,” he says, and the unexpected tenderness takes her breath away.
Unable to reply, she kisses him again, and he welcomes the kiss enthusiastically. It’s dizzying, the surge of emotions flowing through her, love and want and complete and utter joy at seeing him again, and she wonders why she was so stubborn as to ignore this for as long as she has.

Malcolm begins trailing kisses down her neck, and she wraps a leg around his thigh, feeling him half-hard against her. “Malcolm,” she whispers, intending to tell him to go back to kissing her, but he suddenly finds her collarbone and all coherent thought flies out the window.

His hands travel from her hips to underneath her jumper, and they don’t stop until she’s struggling out of the fabric and he tosses it somewhere else. The TARDIS key she always has on her gets caught up in the jumble, but she barely notices as she tugs the chain free of her hair and drops it. His hands dance over her skin for a moment before going to her bra clasp, but she’s found a fantastic grip in his hair and doesn’t want to relinquish hold.

“Rose,” he smiles against her skin. “Rose, you’re going to have to let go at some point.”

“Nope,” she replies, and smiles down at him. “You’re going to have to try harder.”

He hums, before nuzzling aside her cup and pressing a kiss to one breast. She sighs and leans her head against the wall as he sets about leaving a mark and when he’s done, she frowns. “Keep going.”

He drops to his knees instead, and she looks down as he stares intently at her jeans, works the button free and lowers the zip. She steps out of them when he tugs them down, after he divests her of her trainers and socks. Her breath catches at the pure delight and hunger on his face as he lifts a hand to press against her, and Rose can’t help the whimper that escapes her when he pulls her knickers aside.

“You have no fucking idea how happy I am that I am going to remember this,” he says, quietly, even as he buries a finger inside her. Rose gasps, her hips jolting towards him. A frown flickers briefly over him when he realizes she’s not completely ready, but Rose just wants him to continue what he’s doing, nearly crying out when he stands and removes his hand.

“Malcolm--” she starts, but he’s kissing her again, more roughly, and pins her arms against the wall. She drops her hands and her bra falls, but she barely notices as he once again presses against her, one of his hands pulling her leg up to wrap around him, grinding against her.

This time, she takes the opportunity to explore, nipping a bit at his jawline and grinning when she finds a spot by his ear that causes his hips to surge against hers. “You need to do something about those clothes,” she manages to say before he captures her lips again.

At first she thinks he doesn’t hear her, but after a moment he pulls back, taking deep, ragged breaths as his gaze sweeps over her. “You’re beautiful,” he says, and then glances around before tugging her away from the hallway. “Come on. As… delightful as this is, I think it’ll be better if we actually have something to lie on.”

“Trying to get me in your bed, Tucker?” she teases, and he shoots her a heated glance as he begins to climb the stairs.

“Oh, I’m not fucking trying, I’m doing,” he growls, and Rose shivers slightly.

He hurries to the left and enters the only door on that side, not giving Rose a lot of time to look around before he’s pressing her against the door and kissing her once more. She struggles with his buttons, fumbling, before she finally catches the hang of it and is soon pushing the oxford desperately off of him. He steps back to remove the vest and his belt, Rose running her hands over the newly revealed skin, revelling in the sight and the feel before he pulls her to him even as they stumble in the direction she assumes is his bed.

“You’re still overdressed,” she manages to say when he falls onto the mattress. She’s still wrapped up in his arms, but squirms free and cups him, grinning at his groan and the way his arm covers his eyes. “Should I fix it?”

“Stop talking, just fucking do it,” he mutters, and Rose squeezes again before hurriedly divesting him of his slacks. She’s got her fingers hooked in his pants when he suddenly grabs her arms to pull her onto the bed, and she gets the hint and scrambles to the mass of pillows, shoving a few out of the way before he’s on her, grabbing her hips and rolling her before planting himself between her thighs and diving straight for her breasts. Rose keens as he takes one nipple in his mouth, teasing her gently as she wraps her legs around him. Her hands slide along his back before they return to his head, and she presses up against him.

“Malcolm,” she gasps when he switches his attention, shifting his weight to one arm as the now-free hand comes up to take the neglected breast in hand. She squirms, throwing her head back when he finds a particularly amazing spot that makes her brain spark.

She’s practically rutting against him, so tightly wound and aroused that she’s not sure how much longer she can take his attentions. This, she decides, is way better than any drunk sex between them; she can feel every sensation, every inch of him against her, the way he makes her feel not only in body but in her heart. She whines when he finally slips his fingers underneath her knickers and searches for her clit, finding it after a second and discovering a pattern that has her instantly shoving his pants off of him. He only pauses to grab her hands, pressing them into the mattress by her head and staring at her, awed and delighted and still serious. “Rose. Are you--”

“I could have said no at any point now,” she reminds him, and lifts her hips so he can feel just how much she wants him. “I’ve wanted this, wanted you, for a while now, even before I wanted to admit it. Please, Malcolm.”

She can see the surrender in his eyes. He pushes her hands to the headboard and she wraps her fingers around the curling iron bars. “Hold on,” he tells her, and quickly pulls off her knickers and his pants. She exhales, and before she can draw a full breath he’s taken himself in hand and pushes up into her.

Rose throws her head back, panting, as she tightens her legs around him. He feels ridiculously good. Not because it’s been years since she’s been with someone like this, but because, as impossible and silly as the idea is, it’s Malcolm. And he knows her, knows her like no one’s cared to know her in a long time, and she loves him and they’re finally, finally together.

“Okay?” he asks, and she nods, unable to speak.

She can feel his tension and sees it in his face as he starts off slow, giving her time to adjust and for them to find a rhythm between them, figuring out a push-pull that fits them. It’s not hard, and just like everything they’ve done together, they adjust and seem to understand the other without even saying anything. Soon Rose hitches her hips and squeezes, and he leans down to kiss her again as the force of his hips increase, pulling her hips up and causing him to rub against her clit with every movement. Rose whimpers into the kiss and he grins, giving her a smug look before kissing her once more, driving her to distraction with his every movement.

She releases one hand to grip his shoulder, not even noticing that her nails are digging into his skin. It elicits a response nonetheless and he gains a desperation that he lacked, moving his hand down between them to rub at her clit ruthlessly. “Rose,” he says hoarsely, pressing his forehead to her shoulder, “Rose, darling, come for me.”

“I…” she gasps when both his hands move under her hips, and he’s going impossibly deeper. “Malcolm, I can’t…”

He kisses her, desperately, and she takes over, one of her hands moving to push herself over, brushing against him as well and he growls into the kiss. It takes a moment, but Rose is finally falling over the edge, shattering and pulling him with her, gripping him tightly and gasping as her entire body explodes.

He manages to fall to the side so as to not have his entire body weight on top of her, and Rose makes a small noise of complaint. She wants to feel him, wants to remind herself that this is real, that she hasn’t fallen asleep at her desk or in Archives. He seems to figure this out and rolls over, pulling her with him, and she snuggles against him with a content sigh.

“Well that was… fucking unexpected,” he remarks, smiling a little when she looks up at him. “Rose…”

She presses a finger to his lips. “Shut up,” she tells him. “I just had the best orgasm of my life, I don’t want to talk.”

He chuckles and presses a kiss to her forehead. “Alright. I’ll wait.”

She smiles and works a leg between his, her hand resting over his heart. She feels it as it beats against his chest, the rhythm soothing. The hand that isn’t resting on her hip comes up to cover it, and Rose twists her hand up and presses her palm against his before twining her fingers through his. He gives it a squeeze, nuzzling the top of her head.
When Rose feels like she’s suitably recovered, she rolls a bit more on top of him, her chin resting on his chest. “So,” she says, and smiles.

“So,” he parrots, and brushes her hair away from her face with his free hand. “We just had sex.”

“Mind-blowing sex,” she corrects, and he grins.

“Definitely,” he agrees, and sobers. “Where does this leave us, Rose?”

She shrugs and looks away. “Well. Do you...would you want to...maybe try to make a go of this? Whatever...this is?”

He studies her for a moment. “Do you?”

“I don’t…” She pauses, trying to come up with something she knows for certain, something to make him believe she wants this, wants him. “I can’t get you out of my head, no matter how hard I tried, and I…” she swallows, not wanting to divulge that particular secret yet. “I don’t want any more regrets.”

He sighs and pulls her up for a kiss, this one gentle and imbued with everything he never quite seems to say. When she pulls away, his eyes are closed, and she lays back down again, her head comfortable against his shoulder.

“I’m glad I won’t forget this,” he finally says, after a moment. “After… after that night, I tried so fucking hard to remember. Even after… after everything that happened, I didn’t want to lose a single memory. I dreamed about it, too. Dreamed about the way you looked as you undressed, your weight above me and how you looked as you came.” He pauses, shaking his head with a sigh. “You’re my boss’s daughter, for christ’s sake, and that’s only one of the reasons I shouldn’t fucking want you like this.” He runs a hand down his face before dropping it back to his stomach and looking down at her. “But I was doomed from the moment I met you, and nothing can make me regret this.”

“Good,” she says, picking up his hand and drawing a random design on his palm. “Because I’m not gonna let this go anytime soon.”

He simply hums in return, and she traces the lines in the skin of his palm, wondering what stories his hands had to tell. It isn’t until she lines up her hand with his, measuring the respective lengths of their fingers, that she realizes just what hand it is, and what is missing.

She pauses, slowly lowering her hand until she can see the patch of skin where his ring once resided. Though a small part of her is overjoyed, she’s mostly confused--what had happened in order for him to get rid of it? The ring had seemed to be a part of who he is, and she had seen him play with it more than once when he was deep in thought, twisting it around his finger absently. He didn’t even seem to realize he was doing it, either, and she had never quite gathered the courage to ask. It eventually just became a piece of the puzzle that was Malcolm Tucker, and she soon began to ignore it.

She realizes, though, that it doesn’t matter what happened to his ring; he’s here with her now, still delightfully naked after amazing sex, his thumb rubbing the skin of her waist distractedly. She smiles and drops his hand completely before rolling on top of him, pushing herself up and swinging her leg over his hips to straddle him.

He smiles, his hands moving to rest on her waist. “Rose.”

“Malcolm,” she says back.

“And what’s that smile for, hm?” he asks.

“Well,” she muses, slowly trailing her fingers down his chest, “it just occured to me that you got a very good view of me naked, and I didn’t get to enjoy my view of you for as long.”

“Oh?” he asks as she presses a kiss to his sternum. “That was rude of me. I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not,” she grins, and he smirks. “So, I figured I’d do something about that.”

He runs his fingers through her hair, his expression turning slightly embarrassed. “You’re going to have to wait a little longer, I’m not quite--”

She rolls her eyes. “Men. I said I’m looking, and that’s what I’m going to do. Look. And explore.” She runs her hands over his chest more firmly, and his breath hitches. “Definitely explore.”

She kisses him again and feels his grip tighten on her. If the way he’s holding her is any indication, she doubts that they’ll get much sleep tonight.

Rose is perfectly fine with that. In fact, she’d be upset if they do.

Chapter Text

Malcolm’s phone alarm goes off at five and he slaps at it in irritation, nearly chucking it across the room. He’d been dead to the world, cocooned in a dream of Rose sleeping beside him—

“Ugh, Tucker, why’s your alarm set for so bloody early?”

He stills, almost afraid to breathe, as the previous day comes back to him. The fight with Rebecca, his confessions and resignation about Rose, driving home and trying to figure out how he was going to fix anything…then Rose on his doorstep…

He shifts around to his back, turning his head to the side to see Rose rubbing at her eyes sleepily. His heart constricts almost painfully and in an instant he’s pulling her into his arms, trying not to question his fortune that he’s allowed to. She snuggles into him immediately with an adorable little mewling sound, and he brushes her chaotic hair back to kiss her forehead.

“Mmm…I don’t want to go anywhere,” she murmurs, sliding a leg between his.

It takes him less than a second of deliberation before he’s reaching for his phone again and saying, “So don’t.”

“Are you serious?” she asks, looking up at him as he sends a quick text to Sam about working from home, not that he really plans to get any fucking work done at all.

“As a heart attack,” he assures her, handing over the phone. She takes it, but continues to stare at him in disbelief. He shrugs, adding, “A day off wouldn’t kill either of us.”

She grins, leaning up to give him a quick kiss before calling Torchwood and leaving a message for Jake, explaining that she’s taking the last of the personal days they’ve been nagging her about. She hands him back the phone, cuddling back into him as he replaces it on the nightstand.

They’ve still got things to talk about, and there’s still probably a billion fucking reasons why she shouldn’t be here in his bed, but all that can wait a little longer. What matters is that she is here, and he couldn’t regret that if he tried.

oOoOo

They fall asleep again, but only for another couple of hours, both being used to early schedules. Rose makes the observation that they could both use showers and heads for his ensuite, dragging him not-so-reluctantly with her, where they use up all the hot water…exploring.

Malcolm gives her an extra toothbrush to use, narrowing his eyes at the way it sits next to his in the holder when she’s finished. She pulls him into a kiss free of morning breath before he can formulate a tangible thought about it, however, and it leaves him dazed enough not to care.

While he locates clothes for himself, he sneaks glances at her towel clad form as she peers around the room.

“I haven’t got any clothes up here at all, have I?” she asks after a moment.

“Not as such, no,” he admits, tugging a pair of trousers up over his pants. “I think your knickers are over there somewhere,” he offers, nodding at the side of the bed.

“That’s very helpful, thanks,” she replies sarcastically, and he flashes a crooked grin before tugging a knit top over his head.

She’s giving him an odd look when he looks back at her, and he glances down at himself. “What?”

She simply shakes her head, smiling a little. “S’a good look on you, is all. Casual Tucker. Still gonna get you in a pair of jeans, though.”

“Yeah, good fucking luck,” he replies. Any other reply he could make dies on his lips when she shrugs and drops the towel, and he can only stare as she steps into her knickers and picks up his discarded button down, slipping it over her shoulders and buttoning as few buttons as necessary for some semblance of decency. She rolls up the sleeves to free her hands then looks back at him, her brows furrowing at his open mouth. He snaps it shut and swallows hard. “You makes that shirt look so much better than I ever fucking could.”

She glances down at herself, then up at him with a sly smile, and her hips sway hypnotically as she steps closer. “Oh, I dunno,” she says in a low voice, reaching out and walking her fingers up his chest. “Doesn’t look so bad on you either.”

He lets out a growl, his hand tangling in her damp hair as he reaches for her, pulling her close to kiss her hard. But when her hands slide around his waist, the nature of the kiss changes subtly; the same heat is there, but it’s more the slow burn of hot coals than a flash fire—patient and lasting and altogether more terrifying.

He’s a little breathless when he finally breaks the kiss gently. He stares at her a moment before swallowing hard and stepping back. “Food. We need food.”

"Planning on burning a lot of calories today, Tucker?" she asks as he takes her hand and leads her from the room, glancing back to see her teasing grin.

"You have no fucking idea," he replies.

The awkward “morning after” feeling starts to seep in when they finally leave the safe confines of his bedroom, where everything else seemed to have been kept at bay. She makes coffee and toast while he scrambles a few eggs, acutely aware of her nearly naked presence, and he realizes that he still has no idea why she showed up at his house the day before. Well…the why has been made pretty fucking obvious, but he’s not at all sure what caused the sudden change of heart. The fact that it was only a couple of days ago that he’d been kissing someone else (though with considerably less ferocity) and telling someone else he loved them (no matter how hollow the words had felt) weighs heavily on him, and he’s doubtful that Rose has so quickly forgotten Rebecca either. All the other factors—their relative age, his job, her reputation—add to the press until he’s barely holding a lid on his panic as they bring their plates to the table.

"You alright?" she asks after a moment.

"Hmm?” He stops pushing food around on his plate to look up at her. “Oh, yeah, fine."

"Yeah, you look it," she replies sarcastically, and he drops his fork, leaning back and rubbing his fingers over his eyes. "Is this, like, a delayed reaction to last night? ‘Cause if it is, just tell me, I’ll just go—"

"What?" he asks sharply, wiping his hands down his face. "No! God, no, it’s not that. Fuck no."

She brings a hand up, chewing on her nail. “Is it…um, is it Rebecca? ‘Cause after all the talks you had about me—”

“No,” he tells her, his voice hard. “No, Rebecca is a non fucking issue. She never should have been one. Rose…Christ, I’m so fucking sorry about what she said. You’ve got to know…no matter what happens between us, I’m always going to be here for you.”

“But then why…I’m sorry,” she says, taking his hand when he makes an irritated noise. “It’s just that I’m having a hard time understanding how you got from kissing her at Dad’s to…well…”

“You’re one to talk,” he says, arching an eyebrow. “What happened to Oliver?”

She rolls her eyes, and he smirks. “That was dead in the water. And we definitely didn’t kiss.”

“But how’d you end up here?” he asks her. “I’m not complaining, honestly, but…why?”

She shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. “Would you believe an old voice mail that I forgot to delete?”

“I suppose that can’t be a worse reason than a fucking photograph from a month ago,” he sighs. She gives him a questioning look, and he shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. I guess the point is that they’re both out of the fucking picture, yes?”

“Yes,” she agrees, smiling a little.

He’s at a loss then, not at all sure how to proceed with her after spending so long trying to keep himself away. The sheer domesticity of the scene makes him feel up a creek without a paddle; luckily, Rose once again comes to his rescue, picking up her plate and moving to sit in his lap. His arms automatically move to encircle her, one arm moving behind her back to rest his wrist on the table while his other hand lands on her thigh, thumb moving gently over her skin.

“I’m not sure I’m very good at this,” he admits.

“I dunno,” she says, taking a bite of eggs. “You’re not doing so bad.”

She offers him a bite, and he opens his mouth for her fork, smirking as he chews. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she assures him, leaning over to kiss him quickly before turning back to her breakfast.

Just being in contact with her makes it easier, like she’s tethering him to sanity. He almost laughs when the thought occurs to him, and she gives him another odd look, but he just shakes his head.

He’s fighting gravity for her, and she’s keeping him down on the ground. Maybe they’re not such a bad match after all.

oOoOo

They make a mutual decision that clean up can wait ‘til later, settling on the couch to surf through daytime TV and make fun of most of it. They do manage to land on a film that’s half interesting after a while, and Malcolm leans against the arm of the sofa, bending one knee against the back and pulling Rose up against his chest between his legs.

He lasts maybe ten minutes before he remembers that he can actually touch her now. Just having her in his arms is wonderful without a doubt…but he can’t pass up the opportunity to incite some of the delicious sounds he’d managed to coax from her the night before. The hand resting on her stomach starts stroking lightly, innocently, but it isn’t long before he starts hearing her sharp intake of breath whenever his hand accidentally travels a bit too far high or a bit low to be completely chaste in intention. He leans his head down to kiss her neck softly, and she lets out a little whimper, her free hand grasping his thigh.

He lets his hand travel lower, dancing over her knickers, and her hips buck a little Her head moves to the side to give him better access as he kisses her neck again and he applies more pressure on her knickers, eliciting a moan. He raises his head to see her eyes closed as she bites her lip; he keeps his eyes on her face as his hand dips into her knickers to move through her folds, letting out a growl when he feels how wet he’s made her.

“Malcolm,” she pants, and just the sound of his name on her lips like that is enough to make him roll his own hips against her, reflexively seeking some sort of friction.

His mouth moves to the point where her neck and shoulder meet as his fingers brush over her clit, making her cry out as her hips jump again, her free hand flying up to grip the back of his neck. The position gives him more freedom of movement, and he slips his fingers through her folds to her entrance, pushing two fingers inside of her. She lets out a long, low moan as he fucks her slowly with his fingers, her hips rolling to meet every thrust, and her breath quickening when his thumb moves over her clit. It takes him a moment to find the pattern from last night, but he knows when he does by her panting “oh god” and the way her hand leaves his neck to grab his arm, nails digging in enough for him to make a mental note not to roll up his sleeves at the office for a few days.

He lifts his head again, lips against her ear as he murmurs, “Come for me, darling.”

Her fingers tighten in his as she breaks apart with a shout of his name, back arching as her muscles clench down on the digits he’s got buried inside her. He slows his movements, drawing out her orgasm and easing her down until she whimpers, hips recoiling a little from his ministrations, and he lets out a grunt at the extra pressure on his rock hard cock. He pulls his hand out of her knickers and sucks his fingers into his mouth, vowing to taste her more directly as soon as fucking possible.

She lies bonelessly against him for a few minutes, her hand stroking his thigh lazily. He brings his hand back to her stomach, though he keeps his movements limited to slow circles with his thumb.

“What was that for, then?” she asks when she’s back to earth.

“Because I can,” he tells her simply, shrugging a little.

“Is that so?” She shifts around until she’s on top of him, straddling his waist and looking down at him with a smile. “Can I expect more random orgasms in the future, then?”

“If my luck fucking holds, god yes,” he replies, circling his hands around her waist as he leans up to kiss her.

Five minutes later, the shirt he’d been wearing is on the floor, and she’s kissing his neck with his hand tangled in her hair and her fingers working on his fly when a knock sounds at the door.

“Fuck,” he bursts out, already panting.

“Ignore it,” Rose advises, and the vibration against his neck makes him suck in a sharp breath as his free hand moves to her breast.

“Malcolm, you fucking wanker, I know you’re in there!” Annie’s angry voice shouts through the door. “Or at least you fucking better be. Your car is in the drive, answer your door or I’m coming in!”

“Shit,” he mutters, then sighs when she stills, tensing reflexively. “I’m sorry, I am, I’ve got to answer that.”

“Of course you do,” she says, sitting up with a frown. “She’s your sister.”

He stares at her for a second, then leans up and kisses her hard before gently pushing her off of him. He stoops to grab his shirt, pulling it over his head as he makes for the door.

“I’ve got my key out!” he hears Annie yell. “I’m coming in—oh!”

He raises his eyebrows at her shocked expression when he pulls the door open. “Something I can help you with?”

She stares at him for a moment, then swallows hard. “Look, Malcolm, I know you don’t wanna hear from me or see me or whatever, but I just had to make sure you weren’t doing something stupid like eloping with that stupid—”

He shakes his head and catches sight of Rose’s clothes still scattered around the foyer. He glances at Annie, then pushes her further outside, following her and closing the door behind him.

“I don’t care if she hears—”

“I know you don’t,” he tells her. “And honestly, I wouldn’t either. But Rebecca’s not in there. And I’m definitely not eloping. How’d you even know I was home?”

She looks away shiftily. “I…may have asked Sam.”

“You’ve been keeping tabs on me through my fucking PA?” he asks, a small smile of disbelief forming on his lips.

“Only ‘cause you wouldn’t talk to me!” she retorts, crossing her arms defensively. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Exactly that,” he says, pulling her into a hug. “You’re a pretty amazing baby sister, you know that?”

“Yeah, well, you’re a pretty great big brother,” she says, returning his embrace tentatively. “When you’re not acting like a twat.”

“Good to know,” he replies, pulling back a little. “Annie, listen, I’m sorry, I’m—”

“Hang on,” she interrupts, studying him with a frown. “What’s up with you?”

“What—” He clears his throat awkwardly, releasing her and cracking his knuckles at his side. “What do you mean?”

“Is she gone?” Annie asks, still eyeing him, and he shifts uncomfortably.

“Yes,” he says. “Rebecca’s gone. Well, she might still be in the country, but for all fucking intents and purposes, she could be on fucking Pluto. Hopefully suffocating.”

Annie’s mouth drops open a little, then she shakes her head. “So how come you’re so…okay with it? She always leaves you in shreds.”

“Circumstances have changed,” he hedges.

“Circumstances have…what the bloody hell does that mean?”

“It means she’s gone, and I’m not drunk on your doorstep, and that’s a good thing,” he sighs, running a hand down his face. “So let’s just fucking leave it at that.”

“Then why won’t you let me in your house?” she asks, and he glances at the door. She narrows her eyes when he looks back at her, whirling around to the street, her long hair whipping him in the face. “But that’s…that’s Rose’s car.”

“Ten out of fucking ten for observation, Annie,” he sputters, pushing her hair out of his face.

“You took a day off,” she says, turning back to him slowly. “And Rose is here.”

“Annie,” he says slowly, holding up his hands to block her from the door. “Annie, it’s not—”

She ignores him, ducking under his arm and bursting through the door, and he hangs his head, hoping Rose at least had a chance to scurry to the loo or something.

So much for keeping it quiet.

Chapter Text

As soon as Malcolm closes the door behind him, Rose scrambles to collect her clothes and the TARDIS key from the floor, taking a look around before hurrying into the kitchen. It’s not much, but there’s a least a wall between her and the door, and it’s a lot closer than the loo.

Though she’s disappointed that they were interrupted, she’s not necessarily upset. Annie was hurt too, if her anger is anything to go by, and she deserves closure. Rose just wishes that she had waited a bit longer… preferably another day. When Rose didn’t have Malcolm undressed and underneath her.

She sighs and runs her fingers through her hair, wincing when her fingers catch on a tangle. She probably looks a mess, but she smiles. Because there’s a reason for that mess and she can’t be upset about it.

Rose moves back into the living room, sitting down on the sofa, turning the key around in her hands. The movie she and Malcolm had turned on is near the end, and she shoves the key into her pocket before picking up a pillow to fiddle with it, trying not to think of what had just happened. Which is impossible, but she puts up a valiant effort.

The door opens just as Rose is considering going upstairs to find a proper hairbrush, and she turns, expecting Malcolm. Instead she sees a wide-eyed Annie, who’s gaping at her like she’s seen Beethoven arise from the grave.

“I’m not that awful a sight, am I?” she jokes.

Annie blinks before breaking out into a wide grin, moving over to Rose to haul her into a large hug. “Oh thank god, I’m so happy for you two,” she gushes, and Rose hesitantly hugs back.

“You don’t even know why she’s here, Annie,” Malcolm calls out from near the door as he finally enters.

“Don’t even try that,” Annie retorts. “There’s only one reason Rose is here looking like that, and it isn’t for coffee.”

Rose’s hands fly to her hair and she meets Malcolm’s glance with a startled look. Unconcerned, Annie continues. “It’s about time, you two. I’ve only been saying it for months.”

“Yes, I know,” Malcolm grumbles. “There’s no need to gloat about it.”

“Oh, this isn’t gloating,” Annie replies, patting him on the cheek. “You’ll know it if I’m gloating.” She turns back to Rose. “So, is all the sexual tension finally released?” she asks, and Malcolm groans and mutters under his breath as Rose blushes.

“I… really don’t think I should talk about that with you,” she says, looking around for a mirror or some other reflective surface.

Annie loops her arm through Rose’s and starts guiding her through the door. “Don’t care. You and I are having lunch, and you’re going to tell me how this--” she gestures between Malcolm and Rose-- “happened.”

“You were just saying that it was about time, and now you’re going to kidnap her?” Malcolm asks, incredulous.

“I just ate,” Rose protests as Annie digs her keys out of her pocket.

“Brunch, then,” Annie says dismissively. “And you can spare her for an hour or so. Don’t worry, I’ll bring her back in one piece,” she tells him, and Rose tugs her arm free.

“Okay, okay, fine, I’ll come with,” Rose says. “Just… hold on a sec.”

She looks back at Malcolm, who’s looking bemused and rather annoyed, and hesitates slightly before reaching up and kissing his cheek. “I’ll be back later, yeah?”

He raises his eyebrows before he wraps his arms around her waist and leans in to deliver a proper kiss, and Rose thinks fleetingly of Annie for a second before giving up and kissing back. It’s relatively chaste but Rose can still feel the emotions simmering beneath him with the kiss.

He finally pulls back, albeit reluctantly. “See you.”

Rose smiles. “See you.”

She turns, ignoring Annie’s smug smile as she heads to the door. She hops into Annie’s car as soon as the car unlocks, still ignoring the red head’s smile. “So, where exactly are we going?”

“There’s this diner not too far from here,” Annie replies. “Best crepes you can find in this part of town. There’s also a brush and a spare hair tie in the glove compartment.”

Gratefully, Rose grabs the items and tames her hair, using the hair tie to pull her hair into a messy ponytail, but it’s better than the riot from before. Rose can tell that Annie is bursting with questions, but she doesn’t want to be the one to start the conversation. A part of her doesn’t know where to start--the past few days have been mad, the past twelve hours unbelievable, and a part of her is still processing everything. And for all that Annie has questions, so does Rose. Because there are some things that Malcolm will never talk about, and Annie is her best bet at getting answers.

Despite all that, though, Rose has simply missed her. Annie is her best friend, and they haven’t spoken in the weeks of Rebecca’s return. Even though she’s disappointed that she and Malcolm were interrupted, Rose is happy that she gets to talk to Annie again.

“How have you been?” Rose asks once her hair is done. “I haven’t talked to you in weeks.”

Annie shrugs. “Same as ever. I finished a dining room for an old widower last week, who wanted to modernize her home since her daughter was inheriting it after she died and didn’t want it to be sold. The client hated it, but the daughter was very impressed, so I think her plan worked.” She smirked, slightly. “She asked for a very expensive dining room set but wanted me to find it for a quarter of the price. I ended up finding an antique that was nearly identical and got a repairman to make the necessary changes.”

“I can only imagine,” Rose sighs. “I remember you telling me about that woman who wanted a designer furniture set for only a hundred dollars.”

“Don’t remind me,” Annie groans. “Thankfully I haven’t had a nightmare like that in a while. Even if I’m still getting requests to ‘copy the Vitex heiresses house’. I keep telling them that I don’t work like that, but someone keeps handing my business cards out.”

Rose smiles at her. “Not sorry. You deserve that.”

“Tell me that when I have ten clients all pulling me in twenty different directions.” Annie complains, but she is smiling. “It’s a good thing this all happened when I was in a bit of a slow period, since I couldn’t exactly look after the kids when shopping with a client..”

“I’m sorry,” Rose says, quietly. “I didn’t mean to ignore you, I just… everything with Malcolm was so confusing, and I didn’t want to make you choose between us. I missed  you though, a lot.”

Annie shakes her head as she pulls into a parking spot. “It’s not your fault, Rose. We were all a little… stressed with Rebecca around. At least everything is better, now.” She gives Rose a sly glance. “More than better, at least between you and Mal.”

Rose laughs and orders a cup of coffee and a donut, not very hungry but not wanting to get nothing. Annie gets the same, then props her elbow on the table and cradles her chin in her hand. “So.”

“So,” Rose replies. “Your brother and I are… seeing each other, I guess?”  She laughs a little self-consciously, and Annie smiles at her.

“I gathered that,” Annie replies. “How?”

Rose shrugs. “I don’t know. I showed up last night to try and convince him that staying with Rebecca was a bad idea, and he kissed me, and things just … went from there.”

Annie hums contemplatively. “He didn’t say what happened, either.”

Rose hesitates, before asking, “What… what did he see in Rebecca, anyway? She just… she took everything that made Tucker human, and just… destroyed it.”

“It’s… a long story.” Annie replies, looking down at her coffee for a second. “Keep in mind, I was really young at the start of it all, so most of what I know is second hand from my parents.  They met at Uni. By the time Malcolm was in his final year, he had already developed a reputation for being ruthless at getting what he wanted and very ambitious. Rebecca was a first-year communications major who heard rumors, and immediately recognized him as someone who was going to go far. She went out of her way to get him to notice her, and when I say she played hard to get, that’s an understatement. Malcolm could never resist a challenge, and never took no for an answer. From what I’ve been led to believe, she turned him down constantly, giving him just enough hope for a next time.” She pauses, taking a sip from her drink. “Even then, I didn’t like her. When he introduced me to her, there was just… something wrong. My parents told me that I told Malcolm that the reason I didn’t like her was because her smile never reached her eyes. He brushed it off as a young kid’s jealousy, but it never went away; I always hated her. I refused to be a part of their wedding.” She smiles, faintly. “Malcolm finally said that if I was flower girl, I could keep all the flowers I didn’t throw. I think I only threw three.”

Rose can’t help but smile at that, picturing it easily. Annie hasn’t changed much.

“Anyway, once they married, I didn’t see much of them. They moved to London, and I really only saw them when we went down for holidays. Malcolm had just started making a name for himself and already working up the ranks at Number Ten by the time I was old enough to convince my parents to let me take a train down to London and visit him on my own. Didn’t always tell them or my brother ahead of time, though; that caused many uproars, with my mum or dad thinking I was over at my friend Sophie’s, and Malcolm walking in to find me on his sofa. He was angry every time, but I never regretted it. Except once.”

For a second, Annie stops, staring out the window, troubled. Rose chews on her bottom lip, not wanting to interrupt, but desperately curious.

“I was thirteen and out on summer holiday when I took a trip down. He didn’t know, of course.  I didn’t think anything of it; I had done it before, and as far as my parents were concerned, I was camping with a friend. So I walked into the house only to find another man in bed with my brother’s wife.”

Rose inhales sharply, gripping her coffee mug tightly. “How did he take it?” she asks, quietly.

Annie snorts. “How do you think? He came rushing home when I called and told me to get out of the house. I heard screaming and yelling, and was about to call the cops when it all went silent. A minute later, Malcolm comes out, shaking and paler than I’ve ever seen him--but he had that look, you know?  That one that’s just past his bollocking face, when someone’s gone too far to even be worth that.”  She shivers a little at the memory, then takes another sip of coffee before continuing.  “He told me that we were getting a hotel room and refused to say anything else about it. Turns out he’d been suspecting Rebecca of cheating for a long time, just couldn’t prove it.” She shakes her head. “A year later he was divorced, and he lost everything...the house and everything in it, the cars, half the bleeding bank account in a lump sum for alimony...he said he didn’t want it, he just wanted her to go away. And she did...for a while.  But she kept coming back, whenever she was between relationships, or broke, or just bored.  And she sucked him in every time.”

Rose frowns.  “But...I mean, how?  He’s...Tucker.”

“Weird, right?” Annie chuckles.  “I dunno.  It was like a drug.  There’s a reason she’s the only person I think he’s actually afraid of; she always knows exactly what button to push to get him on his knees.  Part of it was because he really did love her and wanted so badly to think she could change.  Part of it was just because she takes control freak to a whole new level, and having that sort of power over a man like Malcolm ...well.  She just got in his head, made him a totally different person, and made him think that he was okay with it.  Becca-fog, he called it.  Anyway, it got better when I moved to London; it wasn’t as easy for her to take over with me there, and by the last time, I think she was just bored.  She took off something like fifteen years ago and left him shredded.”

Rose swallows, forcing back her tears. “How could she do that?” she demands. “How could she just… throw him away like that?”

Annie shrugs, helplessly. “I don’t know, Rose. What I do know is that he’s better off without her, always has been.  And he’s been happier with you around than any other time I’ve seen him.”

Rose closes her eyes, briefly. “It certainly explains a lot,” she finally says, then grins. “That’d be why you threatened us with a knife the last time we were fighting, then?”

“And don’t think I won’t do it again,” Annie replies evenly. “Just… be careful, Rose. Malcolm guards his heart more carefully than anyone I’ve met, and doesn’t make it easy for anyone to get in.  He doesn’t do vulnerable well.  But I know he cares about you, more than I’ve seen him care about anyone.”

“I don’t want to hurt him,” Rose replies, even though the guilt over the cannon-- and oh god, the cannon, how is she going to explain that, how can she even face that-- overwhelms her for a second.

Annie smiles. “I know. Now. Tell me, really, how on Earth did you end up at Mal’s house?”

Rose laughs. “A forgotten voicemail. And that’s all I’m willing to say about the matter.” She pokes at her donut before smiling ruefully. “Think this is going to have to wait for a later time.”

They chat about Julie and Nathan as they finish their coffee, and about Annie’s business. She admits she’s thinking about hiring an assistant due to the sudden rise in clients, and Rose tells stories of Tony and makes fun of some of Oliver’s texts.

Annie returns her to Malcolm’s house an hour after she left it, and she stands on the doorstep for a second, thinking about everything Annie has told her. She already knows that she’ll never bring it up unless Malcolm does first, but there is still so much that she can only guess at. She shakes her head and opens the door. That’s in the past; what matters is the man who is in front of her, who had been snarking at some political speech before immediately turning his head and getting to his feet when she enters.

“You and Annie have a good time?” he asks, watching as she walks towards him.

She pauses before nodding. “Yes. We did.” She wraps her arms around his shoulders and pulls him into a deep kiss, relaxing as he kisses back and pulls her down with him as he sits down on the couch.

“This feels familiar,” she murmurs as his hands slide up the skin of her back.
“Well, we were rudely interrupted,” he reminds her.

“Mmm, that we were,” she replies. “Care to resume where we left off?”

He doesn’t respond, merely kisses her harder as she divests him of his shirt.

Chapter Text

Rose stays the night again, but leaves early in the morning to shower and change at her place. Malcolm’s happy they took the day off together and had that bubble to exist in for a little while (despite his sister’s brief interference), but he warns her they’re going to have to keep things quiet at work. There’s still other factors that could lead to complete disaster if anyone else finds out about them, especially while they’re still trying to define what’s exactly happening between them. She agrees, saying she’d rather have him to herself anyway without a lot of uncomfortable questions, and he breathes a sigh of relief, even while he falls a little more in love with her.

As it turns out, though, the warning was more or less superfluous; they’d only been at their respective offices for a few hours when an alien escapes, effectively keeping them apart while they both fight to control the damage from either end.

According to Jake, it was the Giramon they had brought in a few weeks ago from Rose’s trip to Scotland. The species have the slight ability to manipulate physics on a quantum level that escape him but basically allow them to move from one place to another quite quickly. The barriers that are in the cell were supposed to prevent that from happening, but apparently the kid had figured out the pattern of disruption and was able to squeeze through in the split seconds between sequences. And with his Glimmer deactivated, there was a five-foot-five, neon-green alien that looked something like a cross between a beetle and a lion running loose in downtown London, teleporting everywhere and scaring people witless as he tried to escape.

Rose’s team wasn’t the one to finally bring him in, but they did figure out the pattern of his movements, and so when he teleported into a circle of Agents, the alien panicked. No one was injured in the scuffle outside of a bruise or two, but arriving aliens who were to take him back to his planet had been outraged. Rose was called in to play ambassador, and Malcolm was in charge of covering everything up.

Between the time it takes to track the kid down and then to clean up the mess he made, sunlight is streaming through his office window before Malcolm realizes that he’s worked through the night without a break.

“No, listen, it was just an expensive hoax,” he tells the last editor on his list wearily. “Fucking smoke and mirrors, yes?”

“Never seen smoke and mirrors do what people are reporting,” the editor says gruffly. Malcolm slaps a hand over his eyes, nearly groaning in frustration. “And a hell of a ‘makeup job’ I might add. You sure this isn’t some shadow thing from Torchwood?”

“I told you, Torchwood doesn’t exist anymore,” Malcolm replies coldly. “It was dismantled when the Preachers figured out what was happening there.”

“Yeah, but after the Cybermen, not so strange to think something else might appear,” the editor tells him, proving once again to be far more observant than Malcolm is comfortable with.

“The Cybermen were just fucking Lumic’s mad experiment gone wrong,” Malcolm reminds him. “Nothing other worldly at all. This was just some rich kids with too much education and not enough to do. That’s all.”

“That’s the official statement, is it?” the editor asks.

“Yeah, official statement.”

“Official statement by who?” Malcolm freezes, realizing that his exhaustion led him to a mistake. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.

“It’s just the fucking statement,” he snarls. “Responsible parties took action, and it’s been taken care of. Take it or leave it. But know that if you try to run a story that doesn’t match exactly what I fucking told you, you’ll be out of a job in a fucking week. There’s plenty of people ready to replace you that know how to walk the fucking line.”

“Always glad to hear you backing journalistic integrity,” the editor drawls, and Malcolm rolls his eyes. “Fine, it’s a hoax that was definitely not taken care of by a shadow organization that’s being directed and funded by your boss.”

“Glad to hear it,” Malcolm says. “Fuckity bye.”

“Making friends, Tucker?” a voice says from the door as he jabs at the end button, and he whirls around to find Rose grinning at him.

“Of course,” he says, dropping his phone on his desk. “I’m a fucking people person.”

“Right,” she laughs, closing the door behind her as she enters. “You get any sleep yet?”

He shakes his head. “You?”

“Nope. Talks with the Giramons just finished up about a half hour ago. Don’t worry,” she adds quickly when he stiffens. “They’re taking off from a secure location and taking the kid with them...although not to his parents. I guess cruelty isn’t just a human thing.”

“How bad?” he asks quietly, softening at the sad look on her face.

“Pretty bad,” she replies, then shakes her head. “But he’s getting a second chance now. That’s all we can offer...his choice what he does with it.”

“Yeah,” he says softly. She studies him for a moment, then steps closer, sliding her arms around his waist. He stiffens, torn between how good it feels to have her arms around him, her head on his chest, and the knowledge that they’re still in his office where anyone can see them. “Rose…”

“Shut up,” she tells him. “The door’s closed, and I missed you.”

“You just saw me yesterday,” he reminds her, but he wraps his arms around her shoulders and kisses her hair. “After a day and a half together.”

“Don’t care,” she says, then yawns hugely.

“You should go home. Get some sleep.”

“You too,” she admonishes, then pulls away a little. “But I’ve got a better idea.”

She presses the intercom button and tells Sam that they have some specifics to work out, post-crisis, and asks her to hold his calls until further notice. He gives her a curious look, but she just smiles a little as she takes his hand, pulling him over to the sofa with her.

“What’re you doing?” he asks, his lips twitching as she pulls him down beside her.

“Taking a nap,” she replies easily, tossing a throw pillow at the arm of the sofa before pushing him down.

“Rose, this isn’t exactly the low fucking profile I was going for,” he protests half-heartedly as she snuggles in between him and the sofa back, the sliver of space forcing her nearly on top of him.

“Sam’ll keep anyone out,” she says. “And now I’m too comfortable to move, so you’re just gonna have to cope.”

“When you put it that way,” he chuckles, kissing the top of her head before wiggling around to a more comfortable position, one arm snaking around her as he throws the other one over his eyes, too exhausted and comfortable to protest.

Before he falls asleep, the thought occurs to him that he probably wouldn’t have done this with Rebecca. It’s not likely that she would have wanted to, because she hated risking being caught off-guard ever, but even if she’d asked, he probably wouldn’t have, partly for the same reason. But Rose just makes everything so effortless...she lets the small things go that would have sent Rebecca into a fury, and it makes it that much easier to allow her to do things like hold his calls and coax him into napping with her on the sofa. With Rebecca, it always felt like he was fighting tooth and nail to keep something of himself, but Rose…

He banishes the whole train of thought there. Comparing Rose to Rebecca is like comparing sunlight to nuclear waste, he realizes, and he’s better off just putting the latter out of his mind completely, especially when the former has fallen asleep in his arms.

He tugs her a little closer, kissing her hair again before settling back down, and falls asleep in less than a minute.

oOoOo

He wakes up slowly to something moving over his face, wrinkling his nose and trying to move away from it. A giggle makes him open his eyes, looking cross-eyed at the string hovering above him before shifting his gaze down to Rose’s smiling face as she dangles the tie from her hood over him.

“Seriously, how old are you?” he demands, his voice rough from sleep.

She only giggles again, scootching up to give him a quick kiss, shocking him by how ordinary it is for her to do so before she clambers over him and off the sofa, holding her hand out to him. “Time to get up.”

“What time is it?” he asks, waving off her hand as he sits up, running a hand over his hair.

“Almost noon,” she informs him. “Just about time for lunch before an afternoon of excitement.”

He makes an annoyed sound. “Fucking marvellous.”

He gets to his feet as she laughs again, moving to his desk to look at his calendar and figure out what of the things that he shoved aside the last few days can be accomplished in an afternoon. She follows him, hopping up on his desk and peering down at the calendar as he rolls down his sleeves and shrugs back into his suit jacket.

“God, you really did need a day off,” she comments, and he gives her an affirmative hum, one hand on his hip while the other moves over the calendar. He looks up at her when she takes his hand, tugging him closer.

“Rose, I’ve really got work to do,” he says.

“I know,” she replies, her other hand coming up to finger his tie once he’s in front of her. Her legs are dangling from the desk on either side of him, and he frowns a little as he’s struck with a dizzying sense of deja vu. It’s not ‘til she tugs him down into a kiss that he recalls the dream.

“Rose,” he murmurs, lifting his head a little as his hands go to her waist. “Do you remember the morning before Rebecca showed up? You brought me coffee...and straightened my tie…”

“Yeah,” she says, giving him an odd look.

“Do you have any fucking idea how badly I wanted you?” he asks, dipping his head to trail kisses down her neck. She inhales sharply, the hand grasping his tie tugging him closer still. “I’d dreamt about you the night before. Just like this.”

“What...um...what were we...doing?” she stammers, letting out a little whimper when he nips at her ear.

“Something like this,” he says, lips against her ear, and smiles when he feels a shiver run through her. He moves his head, capturing her lips once more, teasing at first, then with more purpose, parting her lips with his tongue to explore her more fully. She lifts her arms to loop them around his neck, tilting her head a little for a better angle as she kisses him back. One of his hands snakes around her waist, pulling her front flush with his, while the other goes to her knee, pulling it up and hooking it around his hip. He bends his knees a little before grinding against her, and she groans against his lips as his hardening cock makes contact with her center, despite the layers of clothes between.

That’s where the dream had stopped, and still miles beyond what should be happening in his office, but when her hips roll against him again, he doesn’t particularly care. She gasps his name as he breaks away, kissing her jaw and neck as the hand on her leg rises to fondle her breast. She arches against his hand, and he latches onto her neck with a groan when she rolls her hips again. Another shudder runs through her body, and then she’s lowering one hand, first to pop open his jacket, then reaching for his belt.

He should stop. He knows he should. Whatever this is between them, it’s great, but it should definitely be kept out of the office, lest rumors start and spread. But then one small, soft hand is dipping below his waistband, and he’s rock hard at the first stroke.

“Rose,” he gasps, dropping his head to her shoulder as his hips buck against her hand. “Fuck, you’re good at that. We should--um--”

His feeble protests give way to a groan as she couples a particularly delicious movement with an open mouthed kiss on his neck, and he’s panting when he reaches for her fly, all caution flying out the window in the face of his urgent need to be inside of her as soon as fucking possible.

She’s got his trousers and pants pushed down his thighs by the time he manages to unzip her jeans, and she hops off the desk to push them down with her knickers, but he captures her mouth again before she can tug them over her shoes, his hand already between her legs. He dips a couple of fingers into her, gathering moisture, before running them back through her folds to tease her clit.

Fuck, Malcolm,” she rasps as she breaks the kiss, and he flashes a grin at her.

“I’m such a bad influence on you,” he pants.

“Shut up,” she orders, grabbing his head to pull him back down for a kiss. He pushes her back onto the desk, breaking away again to fight with her jeans. He manages to free one leg, and decides that’s fucking good enough, stepping between her thighs again and kissing her as he pushes into her with one hard thrust that makes them both grunt with pleasure. Her legs come up around his hips, ankles locking behind his arse as he begins to move, one hand on her hip while he places the other on his desk for leverage. She feels so fucking amazing around him, tight and hot and wet and Rose that he finds himself far too close, far too soon. Bending his knees a little, he adjusts his angle, groaning when he manages to bury himself even deeper as he grinds his pelvis against her clit. Her low answering moan as she buries her face in his neck spurs him on, and her hips meet his thrusts as he moves faster, slipping the hand on her hip between them to tease her clit.

Her head falls back as she throws a hand behind her, bracing herself as she moves with him, and a glance down gives him an amazing view of his own cock slamming into her.

“Fuck, Rose,” he growls as he feels her muscles start to quiver around him, and he leans forward to crash his mouth to hers just before she clamps down on him, swallowing her shout as she comes. His thumb moves in light circles over her clit for another few seconds before he grabs her hip again, his movements becoming quick and erratic as he chases his own orgasm, burying his face in her neck to muffle his own groan as he explodes inside of her.

His breathing is just starting to even out when he becomes aware of her fingers moving through his hair, and a random thought about her being right about his need for a trim makes him chuckle as he raises his head. Rose puts new meaning to the idea of being shagged senseless.

“What’s the laugh for?” she asks, smiling quizzically and furrowing her brows at him.

“Nothing, sweetheart,” he says, dipping his head to kiss her softly.

He reaches for the tissues on his desk as they break apart, both groaning a little he slips out of her. He uses the tissues to clean them both up a little before helping her off the desk. His trousers and pants take only a moment to put back into place, and he’s leaning back in his desk chair when she finally finishes tugging the knickers and jeans back over her shoe and up her legs.

“I think we used up our lunch break,” she comments as she does up her fly.

“Best possible fucking use of our time,” he replies lazily, and she grins at him. She steps between his legs, and he lets out a hum as her fingers run through his hair.

“Did that live up to your dream?” she asks, and he stares at her, trying to remember what she’s talking about for a moment. When he does, he snorts, shaking his head a little.

“So much better,” he tells her, pulling her down for a kiss. He ends the kiss gently after a moment, cupping her cheek and looking up at her, her eyes bright and cheeks still a little flushed, then shakes his head, pushing her away. “Get the fuck out and let me get some work done. You’re entirely too fucking distracting by half, you know that?”

“I’d apologize,” she says, backing toward the door. “But you know...I’m not really sorry?”

He grabs a piece of paper, wadding it up and chucking it at the door as she squeaks and makes a quick exit.

Chapter Text

While Rose was happy to help support her father at the conference, she was a little annoyed at not being able to go out and explore Vienna. The morning had been predominantly shuffling from meeting to meeting, greeting other business owners and investors, and Rose had been thrilled to shed the professional suit to dress in something a bit more classy. The cocktail dinner was to precede the actual announcements, which according to Pete could last late into the night. Though the conference actually lasted a few days, Vitex was with a group scheduled for the first day and therefore other than staying to see what the competition was to bring to the table, she didn’t need to stay the entire event.

She hadn’t seen Malcolm since that morning, when they had met up at breakfast for him to go over the schedule of events and to give a few pointers on which topics to avoid where. He is off doing something else, which Rose presumes means dealing with the media or gossiping to find anything worth his interest. She’s a little disappointed that she isn’t privy to that--he’s amazing when he’s in his element--but Pete had wanted her to join him so that she could understand the inner workings of business politics and understand how the rivals work. Rose has always been a people-person and is happy to help her father out and charm rivals into giving away more than they intended.
Perhaps Malcolm has corrupted her more than she thought.

For the past month, they had spent very little time outside of work alone. Despite that, they’ve managed to keep their relationship a secret outside of Annie--with two small exceptions. Julie had figured it out two weeks into their relationship when she caught them making out on the sofa after she was supposed to be in bed and had run to tell her brother. Their argument over Rose being Mary Jane or Lois Lane after all alerted the adults that their game was up, and they had spent a very awkward thirty minutes trying to deflect the two excited children’s questions.

Julie hadn’t been willing to part without the final word, saying that it was about time. She had reminded Rose so much of Annie that the smile didn’t leave her face even after Malcolm complained that their mouths had no filters and half of London would know by the end of the week. The fondness in his voice gave away his real feelings, and Rose really had no qualms about returning to what they were doing before Julie and Nathan had disturbed them.

She heads downstairs an hour and half before the dinner is to begin, handing her invitation to the attendant and given a lanyard in return. She fiddles with it briefly before walking into the large ballroom, immediately being handed a glass of champagne. She sips at it and makes a face, finding it to be far too dry, and places it down at an empty table before looking around for a familiar face.

Rose nearly groans when she see Oliver Kinsey standing with his parents, some brunette hanging off his arm, and she steps away before they can make eye contact. She winds through the tables, quickly finding the one reserved for her and her family, frowning slightly when she sees they’ve been paired with the Kinsey’s. Glancing around--everyone seems to be gossiping or at the bar--she shifts the nametags around so that Oliver is seated beside her father and his mother is next to Rose.

“Getting into trouble already?”

She smiles when she hears Tucker’s voice and turns around to face him. “No idea what you mean,” she replies, assuming an innocent expression.

He raises his eyebrows. “Right. Really, what were you doing?”

“See for yourself,” she gestures, and he makes a face when he sees the nametags, fishing into his pocket before he produces another piece of paper--one with his own name on it. Rose shoves him playfully. “Who’s causing trouble, again?”

“Nothing serious,” he replies evenly as he removes a name Rose doesn’t know and places his next to hers. He guides her a few tables away and places the name down in the empty spot. “There. Much better. And, thankfully, I don’t have to fucking deal with the fallout.”

She laughs. “Leave the drama for someone else?”

“Exactly.” He offers her his arm and they re-join the growing crowd. “Your dress is much more subdued this time around.”

Rose shrugs. “Couldn’t exactly wear hot pink, could I? Although I see you wore my tie.”

He fingers the dark red silk for a second before his hand drops. “Well, I’m not one to let a good gift go to waste. And you were very eager to deliver it.”

She smirks as she recalls that encounter. “Is that what you want to call it?” He eyes her and Rose laughs. “Okay, fine. I’m happy that you like it, though.”

“You did say I needed to brighten up my wardrobe,” he sighs, then looks around. “Where’s your dad?”

“Should be down soon. He was skyping Mum and Tony when I left to get ready.”

A man Rose knows vaguely from a few society papers walks up, and Malcolm nods. “Nice to see you again, Harrison. You know Rose Tyler, I presume?”

They make their introductions and the man instantly starts talking business. Someone catches Malcolm’s eye and he excuses himself, leaving Rose to unfortunately fend for herself. Pete had helped her in learning vague questions and responses to keep conversation flowing, but utter mundanity is boring her to tears.

Pete finds her fifteen minutes later, but unfortunately so does Oliver. “Rose, Mr. Tyler,” he says when he joins them. “This is my sister, Olivia,” he says.

Rose raises her eyebrow but greets them, wondering just what his parents had been thinking when naming their children. Olivia leaves to join a group of passing women, and Pete is pulled away by a colleague, leaving Rose facing Oliver uncomfortably.

“You’re looking beautiful tonight,” Oliver says, graciously.

“Thank you,” she says, forcing a small smile. “How have you been?”

He shrugs. “Not bad, all things considered. Haven’t been on another date, though.”

Her smile thins. “Sorry to hear that.”

“I do apologize for calling you so much after the Vitex party,” he says after an uncomfortable pause. “My sister informed me that I was being clingy. I’m not used to being dumped, you see.”

“I really am sorry, Oliver,” Rose immediately says. “But I never intended to lead you to believe we were like that. I invited you because you were nice and I needed a friend, but I don’t think there’s a chance for anything like… that… between us.”

He frowns. “Oh. Well. I’m sorry to hear that. If you ever change your mind, though…”

She pats his arm before turning to leave. “I know, I know, I have your number.”

She makes a run to the outskirts of the party, leaning against the wall with a sigh. She doesn’t know how she’ll get through an entire dinner party sitting across from him, but then she thinks of Malcolm and smiles. Too bad they’re in public, because she had found that his lap really is rather comfortable.

“I always hate this part of the night,” someone comments, and Rose jumps slightly, turning her head to see a man around his thirties standing nearby. He’s handsome, with an easy grin and a well-tailored suit that was clearly expensive, but not overly so. “The same repeated conversations, small talk, and empty compliments. Over half the people here will eat me alive if I show any form of weakness.” He holds out his hand. “Mitchell Berg.”

“Rose Tyler.” She shakes his hand. “You look familiar, but I can’t quite place you.”

He flashes a smile. “Not surprising. I’m not much of a public figure. Prefer to keep my private life private.”

She smiles, Malcolm’s face flashing in her mind. “Reminds me of someone I know.” She focuses back on him. “So what are you here for then, if they are so boring?”

“Have to,” he shrugs. “Part and parcel of the job, though at least the food is halfway decent. You?”

“Supporting my dad since Mum is home with my baby brother,” Rose replies. “Gotta admit, though, he deceived me when he described it to me. Thought there would be dancing, at least that would make this evening worth it.”

Mitchell chuckles. “Wouldn’t it just?” His eyes trail over her figure and Rose blushes. “Wish there was.”

Rose glances over the crowd. “Might loosen some of these uptight businessmen up. They could afford to relax a bit.”

“Maybe when pigs fly,” Mitchell retorts. “Most of them are wholly consumed with two things: reputation and money. And dancing doesn’t lend well to the first.”

She shrugs. “Their loss.”

“Indeed. Especially since their concern with the first also made them dismiss the gorgeous woman standing here all on her lonesome.”

Rose opens her mouth to reply, but Tucker’s voice cuts in suddenly. “Well if it isn’t Mitchell Berg!” he exclaims, and his smile is dangerous. Rose blinks, wondering if she missed something. “Surprised to see you here.”

“Tucker,” Mitchell replies cooly. “Same goes for you. Pete didn’t mess up, I hope?”

“Oh, you would like that, wouldn’t you?” Tucker responds. “But in case you didn’t notice, this is a media event, and the media is my fucking toy box. Now if you excuse me, I have a use of Miss Tyler here.”

“I really don’t think that’s necessary,” Mitchell replies. “We were just minding our own business.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday, son. Don’t pull that trick with me.” He turns to look at Rose. “While I’m sure you have… many interesting things to talk about, the enemy can look after himself. Your father is looking for you.”

Her eyes widen at his words, and she nods. “Of course. I’m sorry, but duty calls.”

Mitchell gives a small smile, eyes narrowed at Tucker. “Of course. Until next time.”

Tucker pulls her away, and Rose swallows. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize--”

“I know you didn’t,” he replies, eyes darting around before he pulls her through a small side door. From what she can tell it’s a service corridor, used for staff to carry things to and from the kitchen and not get in the way of general foot traffic. It’s quiet now, though, and no one stops them as he pushes open a closet door and pushes her in.

“Tucker,” she starts, stumbling over a stool someone left and frowning at the various mops and brooms, “what on Earth--”

She squeaks when his mouth slams into hers and he pushes her into the closest wall. She gasps when her back makes contact with the concrete, and he takes full advantage, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, coaxing out a groan as she reaches up to grasp at the lapels of his jacket. “Malcolm,” she gasps when he starts kissing down her neck. “Malcolm, what--”

“You may not have picked up on it,” he says, and she gasps when his hands trail up her thighs, “but Berg was fucking flirting. And I don’t appreciate others making a fucking move on what is mine.”

“You were--oh,” she gasps when one finger presses against her center through her knickers. “You keep saying we need to keep this quiet.”

“And you agreed,” he replies. “But yes, quiet is a good fucking idea, because you, Rose Tyler--” he suddenly drops to his knees, taking her knickers with him, “are going to have to be very, very quiet.”

She drops her head against the wall. “Oh, god.”

He gives her a long, slow lick, and Rose immediately puts her hands on his shoulders. He had unfortunately cut his hair a few days prior, leaving her with a lack of a handhold, but with his head between her thighs and a finger pressing up into her, she can’t really find it in herself to complain.

“Fuck,” he mutters when he realizes how wet she already is. “This had better not be because of--”

“If you finish that sentence I swear to God I’m walking out of here,” she gasps. “I’m here with you for a reason.”

He nips at her thigh instead, moving up more to bite and suck at the skin, marking her. She closes her eyes, pushing at him, because really, if he’s going to be a tease now she might as well take care of herself.

He takes the hint and moves back down, but she can feel his smirk as his fingers slowly tease her, dipping into her before moving upward to play with her clit before moving down again. It’s enough for her to make a sound of protest before he withdraws completely. “I told you to be quiet,” he growls, and Rose bites down on her lip before nodding. He looks up at her for another moment before leaning back in, one hand pushing her skirt up and out of the way as his tongue returns to her clit.

She forces herself to not make a noise as he slowly drives her wild with fingers and mouth, carefully working her up to three fingers. She’s nearly consumed by lust, and at some point he had worked one of her legs over his shoulder for better access. The hand not pressed against her mouth to muffle her sounds is gripping his arm tightly, and he releases his hold on her skirt to trace a pattern over her knee in counterpoint to the one he’s tracing with his tongue. She nearly cries out completely when he withdraws his hand--she’s so close, so close to orgasm, and if he doesn’t fix it right this instant--

He presses his thumb to her clit, hard, and it’s just what she needs to finally fall over. Rose is sure she’s not doing a very good job at muffling her cry, but Tucker doesn’t seem to care as he eases her down. She’s standing on shaky legs as he looks around for a clean flannel, before shrugging and pulling out a handkerchief from his pocket.

He stands after cleaning her up and kisses her sweetly. “Remind me to talk to more of the competition,” she murmurs when he pulls away to rest his forehead against hers.

He chuckles slightly. “So long as it isn’t the CEO.”

“You sure about that?” she asks, running a hand down his tie. He grabs her hand before she can go further south, and she pouts. “That’s not fair, not allowing me to return the favor.”

He kisses her again, quickly. “We don’t have the time. You’re bound to be missed by now.”

“Well,” she says as she bends to shimmy back into her knickers, “you were the one to drag me into a cave after sensing competition. Which I am not complaining about,” she adds hastily at his look. “I probably would have tackled you at some point this evening if you hadn’t.”

“Good to know,” he adds dryly as he pushes the door open. “Good thing I got to you first then, that’s one less media disaster averted.”

She smiles and pulls him into a hug, snuggling into him before they have to once more pretend that they are nothing more than colleagues. “I wasn’t really flirting, you know,” she says quietly as he returns the embrace. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“I know,” he replies, pressing a lingering kiss to her temple. “It’s those other fucking sharks I have to look out for, who want to take you and keep you for themselves.”

There’s an odd tone in his voice that makes her look up at him questioningly, but he’s already looking towards the direction of the ballroom. “Come on. Before we really are inexcusably late.”

She sighs and lets go reluctantly. “Do we have to?”

He rolls his eyes and smiles. “Yes. If it makes you feel better, though, Oliver will be sitting with us.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna make me feel better,” she reminds him as he looks out the door and ushers her out quickly. They weave their way through the crowd before stopping a good distance in.

“You forget who you’re sitting next to, Rose,” he reminds her. “I guarantee you, I have more stories about everyone present than Oliver has about his precious theatre trips. And I’ve never been one for behaving properly in polite company.”

“I think you just proved that,” she says, smirking. “But if it means making fun of Oliver and him being too dense to pick up on it, count me in. I never could turn down a challenge.”

He smiles as the call for dinner is sounded and they make their way to the table. “Stick with me, Kid, and you’ll go far.”

“No where better to be,” she replies, and he smiles softly at her as he holds out her chair.

Chapter Text

Malcolm paces his hotel room marking up various speeches planned for the next few days as the telly drones in the background. It’s late and he should probably try to get some sleep, but though he hates admitting it, the last month has gotten him into the habit of sleeping next to Rose. Most nights have found them at his place or hers eating take away and watching the movies that hadn’t existed in her original universe (or had been markedly different--he’s still stunned that Apocalypse Now wasn’t a comedy) before shagging each other into an exhausted sleep.

But while there had been a couple of nights that she’d either been on duty at Torchwood or they were both too tired from the day to do much of anything, having her twenty feet down the hall and still out of reach was distracting beyond measure. It’s a work function, so they really are trying to behave--the incident in the cupboard earlier had been...unwise, but completely worth it--which means staying in their respective rooms. They just couldn’t risk someone seeing them and telling the press, or worse, her father.

The soundness of the logic doesn’t make him happier about it, however. So when they’d parted--without even so much as a kiss due to the group loitering in the hall--he’d discarded his jacket and tie, rolling up his shirt sleeves and setting to work in order to distract himself. He could call her, but he banishes the idea quickly as too clingy, too weird, and, above all, just a fucking tease.

A knock on the door pulls him from his musings and a glance at the clock tells him it’s just past three in the morning. He frowns, turning to the door again. Probably someone drank too much and puked on a reporter. He drops the papers on the little work desk on his way to the door, peering through the peephole and yanks the door open when he sees Rose on the other side in her sleep shirt and shorts.

“I thought I said--” He stops short when he gets a better look at her; she’s pale and shaking, and about three seconds from bursting into tears. He ducks out into the hall, glancing around, then pulls her inside, gripping her upper arms and slouching down to look at her face. “Rose, darling, what happened?”

“I’m--I’m sorry,” she stammers, clammy hands gripping his forearms. “I know--I know you don’t want me here--I just--”

“No, sweetheart, don’t ever say that,” he cuts in quickly, reaching one hand up to brush the hair from her face and cup her cheek. “What happened?”

“It’s stupid,” she says, leaning into his hand but not meeting his gaze. “It was just...just a stupid dream.”

“What dream?” he prods gently, his other hand moving soothingly over her arm.

“You disappeared,” she chokes out, the sob she’d been fighting in the hall finally breaking free. “I was back on that stupid bloody beach and you disappeared and--”

Her words cut off as she starts crying in earnest, and he straightens, pulling her into his arms. He glances back at the bed, judging the distance, then stoops to hook one of his arms behind her knees, carrying her to the bed as she sobs into his neck. She curls up against his chest as he settles against the headboard, kissing her forehead and rubbing her back gently.

“I’m not going anywhere, darling,” he promises. Except possibly to fucking Norway to burn that stupid fucking beach to glass. He tries not to ponder the reasons why she would have seen him there in the dream because he’s honestly not sure which possibility is more terrifying.

Instead he focuses on Rose, pressing his cheek to the top of her head as he rubs her back in circles, his other hand gripping her arm, thumb caressing her absently. It’s several minutes, but she slowly calms down, sniffling a little as her hand moves over his chest.

“I soaked your shirt,” she observes in a small voice.

“It’ll dry,” he says dismissively, brushing her hair back. “You alright?”

She gives a little nod without looking up at him. “I’m sorry...I know I wasn’t supposed to come here.”

He snorts, adjusting her slightly off the leg that’s fallen asleep. “Everyone’s playing musical fucking room assignments tonight. It always happens at conferences like this. It’s fine. Besides, no one who saw you would actually believe you were coming here for the same reason everyone else is swapping around.”

“What d’you mean?” she asks, finally looking up at him.

“Gorgeous twenty-three year old heiresses do not seek out the aging director of communications for sex,” he explains slowly.

“I do,” she says, frowning a little.

“Yes, well,” he says with a shrug. “Jury’s still out on whether you’re a lunatic.”

“Oh, thanks for that,” she laughs, reaching for a pillow and smacking him lightly with it. “I thought you were supposed to be comforting me.”

“You’re laughing,” he reminds her, winking with a smug smile.

She narrows her eyes, studying him for a moment before opening her mouth to say something. He arches an eyebrow when she shuts it again, shaking her head before snuggling down against him once more. “You really don’t mind, though?”

“No,” he assures her, running his hand over her arm. “I’d rather you come here where I can fucking do something than panic in your room by yourself. Besides...I…” He clears his throat awkwardly. “I kind of...missed you.”

She lifts her head again, giving him a tongue-touched smile. “Have you grown accustomed to my face, Mister Higgins?”

“Suppose I have,” he says, lips twitching as he pulls her up to kiss her. She still tastes salty from her tears, and he pulls her closer, deepening the kiss, desperate to banish every frightening thought from her head. She lets out a small whimper, swinging a leg over him to straddle him as her fingers run through his hair.

He knows from experience now that she hasn’t got anything on underneath her sleep clothes, and his hands move restlessly, torn between wanting to feel every inch of her soft skin and not wanting to push her if she’s still panicky. She makes the decision for him after a moment, breaking the kiss and straightening to cross her arms over herself and pull her shirt over her head. He sits up immediately, mouth going to one breast as her hands return to his head. She moans his name as one arm slides behind her to steady her while his other hand moves to massage the neglected breast. He swirls his tongue around her nipple, then frowns as she tugs his head away. He looks up at her, hair falling into her face, eyes dark, and is stunned again at how beautiful she is.

“For the record,” she says, her voice husky. “The other twenty-three year old heiresses that aren’t seeking you out? They don’t know what they’re missing.” She leans down to kiss him as she starts unbuttoning his oxford. “But if they ever do decide to find out...they’ll have to get through me.”

He grins at her, slapping her hands away to pull his oxford and vest over his head. Once gone, he pulls her closer, drawing a sharp breath at the feel of skin on skin as he peppers kisses over her shoulder and neck. After a moment, she pushes him away, crawling down his body, pausing only to undo his belt and fly before tugging his trousers and pants down his legs. She has to get off the bed to pull them off completely, and he reaches for his socks as she shimmies out of her sleep shorts. Scooting up so that they’re not up against the headboard, he reaches for her, but she bites her lip and shakes her head.

“I’ve got a favor to return,” she says in a low, sultry voice, and his lust meter immediately cranks to eleven as she crawls back onto the bed, taking him in hand and giving his cock a couple of decent strokes before taking him in her mouth. He falls back on his elbows with a groan as her tongue strokes the underside of his cock, and his hips buck involuntarily. She leaves one hand on his cock, stroking the bits her mouth can’t reach, and places her other over his hip bone, holding him stationary as she bobs up and down on him, her tongue swirling around the head with every up stroke.

“Fucking...fuck,” he rasps, one hand gently tangling in her hair as his head lolls back. He only gives her another couple of strokes before he’s reaching for her arm. As much as he enjoyed coming like that in his study last week, he wants to be inside her tonight. She gets the hint when he grips her upper arm and pulls, bobbing once more before releasing him to crawl the rest of the way up his body. He lays back as she settles at his hips, rolling her pelvis and making him groan as her slippery heat glides over his cock trapped between them. She leans down to kiss him, wet and sloppy and hot as his hands skim over her back, unwilling to settle. She smirks when she breaks the kiss, raising herself up to take him in hand once more, guiding him to her entrance, before lowering herself slowly onto him. His back arches as she takes him to the hilt, hands digging into her thighs as she starts a figure eight motion with her hips that drives him mad.

“Minx,” he pants, and she flashes the fucking sexiest of smiles as one of her hands goes to her breast, touching and teasing her nipple. Her eyes flutter closed, and she bites her lip with a keening sound. He slides one hand up to her hip, thrusting up into her as she stills, then starts moving with him, meeting his upward thrusts with little grunts of pleasure. His other hand goes to her clit, and she moans his name, apparently making up for all the noise she couldn’t make earlier. He couldn’t fucking care less as her movements become less controlled, bringing them both closer to the edge.

She whimpers when she gets close, her hips stopping completely, and his thumb speeds up on her clit as he fucks her harder from below, his own movements losing finesse as his control fractures. He comes just before her, but it’s enough to drive her over the edge, breaking apart above him with a shout. Her hands grip his sides as she shudders, rocking her hips against him and prolonging their pleasure for what could have been a few seconds or a few fucking centuries for all time seemed to matter. Eventually, she collapses bonelessly on top of him, and his arms go around her as they come back to earth.

After a few minutes, he raises a hand to her hair, brushing it aside to plant a kiss on her forehead. She lets out a happy hum, then fidgets, easing off of him with a groan to nestle in his side.

“That wasn’t actually my plan,” she says after a moment. “I didn’t come here to seduce you.”

“Yes, well, you know how I get off on other people crying,” he quips, and she snorts. “It’s fine, though. Honestly. I just wish--”

He sighs, and she looks up at him. “What?”

He considers her a moment, then shrugs helplessly. “I wish I could make your bad dreams stop.”

She cuddles into him again with a yawn. “You do. Even the ones I have when we’re together aren’t as bad when we’re apart. Gravity and nightmares are afraid of you.”

“Multifunctional superhero,” he says softly.

“Mmmm, yeah,” she agrees sleepily. “Best out there.”

“Only the best for my favorite Wonder Woman,” he murmurs against her hair.

She falls asleep shortly after, and although Malcolm’s whirring brain keeps him awake a little longer, he’s not far behind her. They’re only out for a few hours before he’s waking her gently, urging her back to her room before everyone else starts to stir. He walks her to the door, checking the hall before she scurries away.

At least this time he gets a kiss.

Chapter Text

Rose grimaces as she pulls her fatigues off; the sticky, yellow, unidentifiable substance already starting to harden, making it difficult for the normally pliant material to be removed. The slug-like alien had left it all over the incident site and Rose is just grateful she had her hair under the black cap for once; she probably would have had to cut it all off if she had it hanging loose like she normally did.

Finally succeeding in getting the clothes off, she steps into the shower gratefully, the chill from the rain and damp warehouse persisting even after an hour of being back at headquarters. The medical staff had immediately brought her and the rest of the team into quarantine, but had ultimately declared the substance harmless, if annoying. They seemed quite excited about it nonetheless, one young man saying something about antihistamines as he tried scraping as much of the goop off of her clothing as he could. Rose zoned out about five minutes in, not understanding a word of what he was saying.

Her phone is ringing when she gets out of the shower, wrapping a towel around herself and ignoring the other female agents as she picks the phone up. She smiles when she sees it's Malcolm and answers the phone as she picks up her duffel with the spare set of clothes inside of it and moves away to a quieter corner of the room. “Aren’t you supposed to be in some last minute meeting right now?”

“Fuck if I care about it, I’m not really fucking needed,” he replies. “Nothing but fucking boring numbers and figures, anyway. I’m about to beg Sam to find me a fucking crisis so I can leave.”

“Sorry, no help from my end,” she replies as she rummages through her bag, her phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. “I just had a giant slug that has the Torchwood medical staff whipped into a fine frenzy because of its sludge.”

He snorts. “Do I have to start explaining why Pete is now dabbling in medical advances?”

“Dunno, I think the medical wing is somewhat independent.” She finds her knickers and slides them on, frowning at the wrinkled shirt. “Most of their studies are published separately.”

“I’ll keep that in mind then. Fuck, they found me. Have to go.”

She laughs. “Stick it out, Superman. I promise I’ll have a reward for you when you get home.”

“You fucking better.” He hangs up, and Rose gives the phone a small smile as she pulls it away and gets dressed quickly.

“I’m out,” she tells Jake as she breezes by the office. “I’ll start paperwork tomorrow.”

Jake waves absently, absorbed in his tetris game, and Rose only pauses to dump her destroyed fatigues into a biohazard bag and send it to Medical before heading to the car park. She texts Malcolm in the car--Pizza tonight at my place, and if you’re lucky dessert <3 -- and starts answering emails after putting the pizza in the oven when she’s home.

Malcolm arrives nearly an hour after it’s finished cooking, a deep frown on his face. “Rough day?” Rose asks, and he sighs heavily as he sticks a few pieces in the microwave.

“The so-called emergency meeting wasn’t so much an emergency as a fucking pathetic excuse to cover someone’s ass,” he grumbles. “While we were all fucking cooped up in the meeting room, his fucking assistants were scrambling to fix a data error.”

Rose stands, moving to pull him into a hug. He sighs before hugging her back, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m assuming you found out anyway?”

“I’m his boss, of course I fucking found out.” He moves away to retrieve the pizza from the microwave, and Rose follows him to the table. “Even with the added time, I still had to fix his fucking mistake.”

Rose considers for a second, then presses a quick kiss to his temple. “I’ll be right back; need to go change into something more comfortable.”

He grunts, looking at something on his phone; Rose smiles fondly before hurrying to the stairs, heading directly to her closet and opening the bottom drawer. Inside is her lingerie, bought last month when Jackie took her shopping. Her mother had been elsewhere at the time, so Rose didn’t bother sneaking into the store. Malcolm had certainly appreciated the endeavour, though, and she smiles as she pulls out a black lace set and silk robe.

It’s as she’s changing that she notices the rash. Random splodges are on her body, mostly confined to the right lower half but some on her right arm as well. The nurse had told her that there might be some irritation from where the yellow slime had soaked through her fatigues and made contact with her skin, but she had been hoping that was a worst case scenario. Apparently not. But since it isn’t irritating her, just looks so, she shrugs and slides the robe on before heading back downstairs.

Malcolm is still in the kitchen, although he's finished his pizza. He looks up when she enters, smirking when he sees what she’s wearing.

“Is this dessert, then?” he asks, and Rose leans against the table, crossing her arms.

“Only if you were good, remember?” she points out, and he shoves himself away from the table and steps towards her, his hands moving to either side of her hips. She uncrosses her arms and pulls his tie out of his suit jacket, playing with it as she looks up at him. “So tell me, Mister Tucker, have you been good?”

“If I have been, I’m about to become very, very bad,” he replies, before his hands grab her hips and he pulls her into a kiss.

Rose slides her hands up his chest and around his neck, hopping onto the table when he moves his hands to her thighs. He moves between her legs and pulls her closer, and she sighs when she feels him hardening against her.

He breaks the kiss to start peppering them along her jaw and down her neck, one hand moving to wrap her leg around his hips and the other pulling at the knot holding her robe shut. She almost laughs when he immediately cups one breast--it’s like he can't help himself.

“I have been looking forward to this all day,” he mutters, and then pauses. “Rose… what’s this?”

She looks down and sees him staring at the rash with a frown. She shrugs. “Side effect of coming into contact with the slug slime. It’s harmless.”

“It doesn’t look fucking harmless,” he retorts. “Does it hurt?”

“No,” she replies, and reaches for him, but he ignores her as he looks at the various other splodges on her skin. She rolls her eyes. “Look, at least the thing didn’t explode,” she points out. “It was Stage Four when we found it, and if we had arrived any later the sludge that would have erupted would have been highly acidic. So no harm done.”

She means to be reassuring, but it was the wrong thing to say. Malcolm straightens and pulls away from her completely, gesturing at the rashes. “Explode?” he demands. “Rose, you could have died!”

“But I didn’t!” she replies. “I’m fine. We were able to contain it before it went nuclear.”

He fists his hand in irritation. “But what if you don’t next time?” he demands. “Fucking Torchwood doesn’t know everything, and you don’t either. What if you come across some fucking alien you don’t know?”

“That’s what recon’s for,” Rose retorts. “We don’t approach unless we know for certain what it is or how to subdue it.”

“People make mistakes!” he argues. “This isn’t some fucking desk job, this is dangerous. Just because you think you have all the fucking facts and all the fucking variables, things always fucking go wrong!”

“We had the situation well in hand!” she says, sliding off the table and wrapping the robe around herself again. “Just because it was Stage Four--”

“What would have happened if you were late?” he demands. “What if recon had made a fucking mistake?”

She glares at him. “They didn’t! Why are you so upset about this, you know what Torchwood does, what I do--”

“Just because I fucking know it doesn’t mean I have to fucking like it!” he shouts. “Those other fucking cunts you work with, they don’t--”

“Don’t you dare insult my team,” she snarls. “We protect each other. What do you know of field work anyway? You’re the person behind the desk. I know what I’m doing, Tucker, you don’t have to treat me like I’m brand new to this.”

He snorts. “What, because of your universal fucking adventuring? You’ve admitted before you don’t know all the fucking species that live out there, you can’t always play at being the fucking hero.”

“I’m not! I’m just trying--”

“Trying isn’t the same as doing! Trying won’t keep you safe, it’ll get you fucking killed!”

Rose shakes her head. “You don’t understand, what I do is important, and I’m good at it--”

“And yet you still got fucking injured,” he retorts. “If you were good at it, you wouldn’t have gotten fucking hurt.”

Stunned, she stares at him for a second, then turns for the door. “Well, glad to know you think so little of me and my abilities. But I’m not going to stop just because you think so lowly of me. In fact, I’ll just take care of myself alone; wouldn’t want to insult you with the sight of my battle wounds, since I was too stupid to avoid my so-called injuries.”

“Just don’t fucking expect me to come running the next time you get hurt,” he says, voice cold.

She’s at the top of the stairs when she hears the door slam, and she doesn’t pause until she’s in her bedroom. Only then does she stop and press the heel of her hands to her eyes, trying not to cry.

Her phone rings, and she glares at it before picking it up--it’s Annie. “Not now,” she snaps when she answers. “Your brother and I got into a fight, let me stew in anger for a bit before I cry about it.”

“What happened?” Annie asks, concerned.

Rose snorts. “I got a rash from some alien slime today, and even though it’s harmless and will disappear in a day or two he got angry and accused me of being stupid and bad at my job. No one was injured, I don’t see what the big deal is!”

Annie is quiet for a moment, and when she speaks she sounds worried. “Rose… did Mal ever tell you about his father?”

Rose pauses, confused. “I… no. He never talks about him. Didn’t he die when Malcolm was little?”

“Not quite.” Annie sighs. “Look, you know that my brother never really talks about things that are important. And his dad… he was a police officer. Not a very high ranked one, but Mum says he loved his job, and the rank didn’t matter so long as he was able to help people and stop crime around the city. Well, one night, he was on call, and they got an anonymous tip about a drug trade going down somewhere in downtown Glasgow. Mal’s dad immediately joined the group. But… it went wrong. Mum doesn’t really know how, and I don’t think the police department did either. But four officers were killed, Mal’s dad among them.”

Stunned, Rose doesn’t reply, and Annie continues after a moment. “He was only twelve when his dad died, Rose. He was old enough to remember him, and old enough to understand why. So when he saw those injuries, Rose… he was probably thinking of how his dad never came home.”

“Then why didn’t he just tell me that?” Rose demands, then sighs. “No, I know why. But he knows what my job entails, Annie. He’s never had a problem with it before.”

“This is the first time he’s had to deal with you being injured as more than a PR problem,” Annie points out. “Even if it is nothing, it’s made him face the fact that your injuries might be worse one day, that you might not come home either.”

Rose closes her eyes, sitting down on her bed. No wonder he’d been so upset. Still… “He didn’t trust me, Annie,” she says quietly. “He didn’t trust me when I said that I knew what I was doing.”

“He does, Rose,” Annie says soothingly. “He was upset. And you know how hot-headed he gets.”

“Yeah.” She’s silent for a moment. “I’ll… call you back tomorrow, alright? I just…” she trails off.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry, he’ll come around.”

Rose hangs up and slides back to lean against the pillows on her side of the bed. She doesn’t know what to do, really--she and Malcolm have argued since they started sleeping together, but it's always over small matters, like who’s turn it was to cook dinner or the other cancelling plans. They always blew over within minutes. This fight, though, isn’t so easily dismissed.

But Annie’s explanation put things in a clearer light. She had never asked about his father since she knew he hated talking about the things that mattered to him--partially because he started his career surrounded by enemies, partially because he doesn’t like remembering the pain. He holds everything that's dear to him close to his chest, and while Rose is fine with letting him do so, it frustrates her sometimes that he doesn’t trust her enough.

After all, if he had just told her about his father, she wouldn’t have gotten so angry with his overreaction, and this entire fight could have been avoided.

Still brimming with energy, she rolls off the bed after a short while, pacing for a moment before she makes a frustrated noise and goes into her closet, taking off her lingerie and changing into a more comfortable pajama set. She heads downstairs, intent on finding her emergency stash of chocolate and watching every romantic comedy she can get her hands on before falling asleep.

She’s exiting the kitchen with several chocolate bars and some biscuits when she hears the doorbell ring. Suspiciously, she sets her collection down on one of the tables circling the central column of the foyer before opening the door.

To her surprise Malcolm is standing there, and she stares at him as he looks at a point just to the left of her.

“I’m sorry,” he finally says. She blinks, but he continues, the words sounding a little strangled. “I didn’t mean to imply that you were bad at your job. Or that I didn’t like you because of that. Because in case the past six weeks haven’t made it fucking clear, I do like you. A lot.”

She stares at him. While the words are heartfelt, in his own way, she barely pays attention to him. “You apologized.”

He scowls. “Don’t expect me to make it a fucking habit.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she teases as she steps aside, and he hesitantly enters the house.

“Rose… I can’t say that I won’t get upset if I see you hurt,” he admits after another long silence stretches between them. “But…”

“It’s okay,” she says, cutting him off. “It is partially my fault after all, but… just know that I don’t proceed unless I know that it’s the best option.” She looks up at him uncertainly for a moment, picking at her nails. “Look… I know you’ve got… reasons to be scared. Annie,” she explains with a shrug when he tilts his head suspiciously, and he takes a deep breath before nodding. “But… I really do know how to do my job. And I’m going to do my best to come home. Always.”

“I know.” He steps forward, then hesitates. Rose smiles slightly at his obvious uncertainty and makes the decision for him by stepping forward and hugging him tightly. He doesn’t hesitate in hugging her back, his hug a tad bit tighter than normal, but Rose welcomes it.

“What’s with the snacks?” he asks after a pause, and if his eyes are a little brighter and his voice a little gruffer when he pulls away, she’s not going to comment.

“I was going to watch those girly movies you hate, but now I have a better idea,” she says, and starts pulling him towards the stairs.

“Any idea is a fucking better idea,” he mutters.

“Ah, but this is the best idea,” she tells him. “Because we just fought. Had a pretty major row, really.”

He gives her a sour look, and she gives him a tongue-touched smile. “After all, the best part of a row is the make-up sex.”

Chapter Text

Malcolm sits at the bar resting his elbows on the surface while he nurses a pint and stares at the match on the telly in the corner. He thanks his stars once again that he’d found this place and that it hadn’t changed too much for the worse in the last couple of decades. There’s a few more people than he’d like, but it’s still the relatively quiet hole in the wall that he’d haunted often enough while working at Number Ten.

“Pardon me,” a voice says behind him. “Didn’t you used to be Malcolm Tucker?”

Malcolm grins, turning as he stands and holds out his hand to Peter Mannion. “Depends. Didn’t you used to have a waist?”

“Benefits of being married for thirty years,” Mannion replies, shaking Malcolm’s hand briefly before signaling for a drink. “A waist is no longer required. How are you, Tucker?”

“Fucking peachy,” he says. “You?”

“Entirely too sober to continue coping with reality for the day,” Mannion says when his drink arrives, and they move away from the bar to a table. “So how’s the cushy private sector life treating you? Still not ready to sell your soul back to politics and replace Stewart?”

“Not in a million fucking years,” Malcolm snorts. “And especially not to work for your piss poor excuse for a party.”

“Excuse you,” Mannion says. “My piss poor excuse for a party is currently in charge of your government.”

“That’s what we get for leaving these things up to the British public,” Malcolm laments, taking another sip of his pint.

“Yes, more’s the pity,” Mannion agrees. “Your cousin sends his best wishes, by the way.”

“He’s not my cousin.”

“Step-cousin.”

“Fucking inbred pile of dog turds who nurses took pity on and attached my step-father’s surname to in a fit of misguided generosity when he was an infant,” Malcolm says. “How is Stew doing?”

“Tittish as ever,” Mannion admits. “If I hear words like inclusivity or am given orders to do things like go truffling through the forest of knowledge again, I may actually hang him.”

“Better than hanging yourself,” Malcolm tells him. “And it would spare Annie and I from the constant requests for family reunions that no one wants. Even if we did, we probably wouldn’t invite him.”

“Oh, be fair,” Mannion complains. “I’m sure he’d make a lovely piñata.”

“I’d certainly enjoy beating him with a stick.”

“See? Even he can be useful.” Mannion takes a drink, then studies Malcolm for a moment. “Did you know, Tucker, that it’s been proven that when people fall in love, they lose exactly two friends?”

“Where the fuck did you get that wank?” Malcolm demands, nearly choking on his drink.

“Something Emma picked up in a fact finding mission,” Mannion replies with a shrug. “She’s all out of sorts about some new initiative, something like speed dating for community couples so they can find more friends.”

“Jesus fucking christ,” Malcolm groans, leaning back in his chair with his hand over his eyes. He lifts it after a moment to look back at Mannion. “Please tell me that’s dead and fucking rotting in the water where it fucking belongs?”

“Oh, christ, yes,” Mannion assures him quickly. “Good lord, I don’t even like the couple friends I have, why in god’s name would I inflict that on the unsuspecting public?”

“To show them the error in their ways by voting your party into office?” Malcolm suggests.

“Possibly,” Mannion agrees. “But I’m fairly certain we can do that just by existing without actually punishing them.”

Malcolm nods, then sits up straighter and takes another drink. “So was there a reason you were bringing up this ludicrously awful idea, other than once again assuring me that I’m better off without the nonsense spewing from the heads of these intellectual giants?”

“Yes, actually,” Mannion replies. “Because, near as I can figure, I’m your only friend, and you’ve been ducking my calls for...oh...six weeks now?”

“What’s that got to do with the price of fucking eggs?” Malcolm demands, watching his friend warily.

“Well, according to the study by the prestigious Oxford University, that should actually put you in negatives now.”

“Oh, come on,” Malcolm snaps, rolling his eyes. “Does no one ever just get busy? Could you, Peter Mannion, actually see me, Malcolm Tucker, getting so stuck on some bird, so in love, that I’d fall into that sort of statistic?”

“Yes, actually,” Mannion says evenly. “If you recall, I was in attendance the last time that awful ex-wife of yours showed up, ate up your heart, and spewed it all over the foreign office, where I believe you were a senior advisor at the time. That was quite a treat for my side to witness, let me tell you.”

Malcolm snorts, then drains the rest of his pint and signals for another. “I’m sure.”

“Sources tell me that she’s vamoosed again, however.”

“Oh, what fucking sources?” Malcolm asks, rolling his eyes. “Mannion, you’re about as informed as my left bollock on society matters.”

“True,” Mannion admits easily. “However, my wife is not, and kindly showed me all the delightful pictures of you as one half of a happy couple whilst she was in town, and those stopped quite abruptly. Which leaves me a bit perplexed.”

“A near-constant state of affairs, I’d imagine,” Malcolm grumbles as the bartender brings him a fresh pint.

“What does puzzle me is that in the middle of what appears to be a startlingly quick recovery from a tangle with Rebecca, there does seem to be a fairly consistent female still,” Mannion says slowly. “Stewart’s quite upset about it, in fact. I do believe he wishes that I was some nubile young coed he had the pleasure of rebranding like his cousins.”

“Don’t,” Malcolm warns, transitioning from wary to heavily guarded in the blink of an eye. “Don’t bring her into this.”

“Awfully protective stance from the man who once made a career out of throwing members of the President’s cabinet under various press buses.”

“Yes, well, that was their own fucking fault,” Malcolm retorts, then groans, scrubbing a hand down his face. “Is it really that fucking obvious?”

“To anyone who doesn’t know you, no,” Mannion says with a shrug. “To anyone that does know you, fuck no, because no one who actually knows you would believe there’s actually still a soul left. I think there’s actually a theory that you’re like that wizard, what was it, the one my grandkids are always going on about. Anyway, there’s a rumor that your soul can actually be found in objects scattered around Number Ten.”

“Voldemort,” Malcolm says, rolling his eyes. “Lord fucking Voldemort. How do you not--christ, you are uninformed. Regardless of your inexplicable lack of knowledge of Harry fucking Potter, how the fuck did you know, if it’s so fucking unlikely?”

“Just to be sure, you are admitting, then, that you are with this Tyler woman?” Mannion asks. “That the Oxford numbers hold up, and that’s why you’ve been such a bleeding ghost the last month and a half?”

“Fuck me,” Malcolm groans, sitting back and rolling his eyes. “Yes, alright? Yes. Rose and I are...together.”

Mannion studies him a moment, then sighs and reaches in his pocket, pulling out an envelope and tossing it on the table between them. Malcolm frowns at him, then picks it up, shaking out a single photograph.

As soon as he sees it, he knows exactly when it was taken. There’d been a late summer company picnic about three weeks ago, and they’d managed to find themselves free for a few minutes and sidled off into the trees, sure they’d be alone. He’d checked anyway out of force of habit and he hadn’t seen anyone. It wasn’t particularly damning--they’d only had a few minutes after all--but it is fairly irrefutable. Rose is backed against a tree, the forefinger of one hand twisted through his front belt loop while her other hand fingers the buttons of his shirt, and he’s got one hand at her waist while the other cups her cheek. Their foreheads are resting against each other...a moment earlier, the picture would have been of him kissing her. Even without that, there’s little room to misjudge the relationship between the two people in the photograph.

He’d thought he’d heard a click. He’d sworn it. But Rose had told him he was being over-cautious, and then she was kissing him again, and since he hadn’t actually heard anyone coming or going, he’d pushed the whole incident from his mind. Until now.

“Where did you get this?” he demands, his voice hoarse.

“Someone gave it to Stewart,” Mannion explains. “Apparently, they were still undecided whether selling it to the papers or attempting to blackmail you was the better choice.”

“I can tell you exactly how well either of those scenarios would have worked out for the little shitstain,” Malcolm snaps.

“Which is basically what I told him, when I tracked him down,” Mannion replies easily. “I told him that the only thing that would come of any of it is one more photographer drowned in the Thames.”

“Copies?”

“Gone.”

“Negatives?”

“Destroyed.”

Malcolm narrows his eyes at Mannion. “Why?”

“Because we’re not in politics anymore,” Mannion says with a shrug. “I’ve got nothing to gain by destroying you, and you’ve gotten me out of a spot or two when Stewart completely lost his shit. Fair’s fair and all that.”

“Thank you,” he mutters, slipping the photo back into the envelope and shaking Mannion’s hand. “I owe you.”

“We’re even,” Mannion says, shaking his head. “Just...do me a favor, Tucker.”

“Anything,” Malcolm replies with complete honesty.

“It’s a good photo of...just disgustingly happy people,” Mannion says with a shudder, and Malcolm snorts. “Try not to fuck it up.”

“I’ll do my best,” he promises with a small smile. He lets out a derisive chuckle, rolling his eyes. “Honestly, I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing. She’s twenty-fucking-three.”

“Enjoying the fact that she’s twenty-fucking-three, I’d hope,” Mannion snorts. “Isn’t that basically the dream for men our age?”

“Lecherous men, maybe,” Malcolm retorts.

“Well, that’s a given,” Mannion says with a shrug. “I’m the one with the love child, remember?”

“Oh, yes,” Malcolm says with a nod. “It’s just...I mean, yes, there’s that. But you know, half the time, she drives me up the fucking wall, the way she’s so fucking stubborn and hot-headed and opinionated--”

“If she was just a simpering heiress you wouldn’t be in this mess,” Mannion remarks. “You like the fight. That’s why you stayed in politics as long as you did, and I’m betting that the win is a lot more pleasurable in this case.”

“Fuck, even losing isn’t shit,” Malcolm replies, remembering the heated row a few days before.

“You are a lost cause then,” Mannion says, raising his glass, and Malcolm clinks it with a small laugh. “I do hope that I’m invited to the wedding after this.”

“Fuck you,” Malcolm laughs, running a hand over his face with a sigh.

“Oh, I don’t even really care if you get married,” Mannion says. “I just want to dangle it in front of Stewart.”

Malcolm lets out a genuine laugh then, and Mannion finally lets the subject drop, moving on to who’s fucking over who in the streets of Westminster anymore now that Malcolm is technically--if not altogether practically--out of the loop. It’s late when they finally leave, with Malcolm more or less pouring Mannion into his government car before heading toward his own and driving home.

He calls Rose when he gets there, despite the late hour, planning to leave a message--the woman sleeps like a rock, and will only wake for the alarm tone--but he’s surprised when she answers sleepily.

“Hey...did I wake you?”

“Mmm, sort of,” she admits. “Probably for the best though, I was on the sofa. My neck will be thanking you in the morning.”

“Happy to be of service,” he says with a smile, turning on the light in his kitchen and shaking the photograph out again onto the counter.

“Did you have a good time?”

He lets out an indecisive hum, not really registering the question as he holds the photograph up. “Oh, yeah,” he says after a moment, when it does finally translate in his brain. “Yeah, I did. Nice to know what sort of fuckery my old colleagues are up to. Though not the Queen, thanks so much.”

“Oh, please, like you’d have been able to rate for the Queen anyway,” she teases, and he snorts. “It’s not my fault your universe is all wrong.”

He winces a little at the ‘your universe,’ but doesn’t say anything. It’s not something she does intentionally, but every time she says it, it prickles, because there’s still that part of her that doesn’t see this as her home, her universe.

It stays with him though, even after she wishes him a good night and promises to meet him for lunch the next day. He stares a little too long at the photograph as he affixes it to the refrigerator with a magnet.

Your universe is all wrong.

“Only for lack of you, darling,” he says quietly, brushing a thumb over her image before shaking his head, turning away and flipping off the light.

Mannion’s right. He is a lost fucking cause.

Chapter Text

“I’m fine, honestly!” Rose complains as Mickey and Jake stare down at her. She would be the one to go head-first into an old building and fall through where the floor had rotted. “Just damaged my pride.”

“Is there anything down there, at least?” Sarah asks.

“No,” Rose replies. “Not really. Spiderwebs and now rotten wood and something that looks likes a dead animal in the corner.” She fishes the small flashlight out her pocket and turns it on. “There’s a doorway, though. I’ll see if I can find some stairs.

Jake shakes his head. “You didn’t notice the wood looked different?”

“It’s an old building, Jake, there’s all sorts of weird color patches,” she argues. “But since my rather spectacular fall might have alerted the alien that we are inside, can we get a move on?”

“You sure you’re alright?” he asks, and Rose bounces a bit to make sure she didn’t sprain anything. At her nod he stands up. “Okay. Mickey and I are continuing on this level, see if we can’t find stairs to get you back up. Rose, be careful.”

She salutes and heads toward the door, groaning when she opens to door to see that the hallway is partially flooded. She takes the few steps down and starts wading, muttering uncomplimentary things about riverside factories and thinking of the warm bed--and more importantly, the very naked and cuddly man--she had left that morning. She had spent the night at Malcolm’s doing paperwork for Torchwood as he took care of a few of his own assignments, before she finally distracted him with pizza and brownies that Nadia had made earlier that day. Once she had pulled him away from his work, things had progressed in a much more pleasant manner, and she smiles thinking of the way he had said goodbye that morning.

She finally reaches the other end, peering through the dirty glass in an attempt to see what’s on the other side, but unable to distinguish any concrete shapes. Shifting the stunner and flashlight to one hand, Rose eases the door open slightly, wincing when it squeals loudly on rusty hinges and then promptly refuses to move. She has enough room to squeeze through, but barely. The room beyond is dark and she hesitates. Something feels… wrong.

“Agent Tyler to team leader,” she says, quietly.

“Team leader,” Jake replies, instantly on edge.

“Have you found those stairs yet?”

“Sarah pulled up a blueprint. If you’re past the hallway, it should be in the next room on the other end. It’s locked from our end, though.”

She moves the flashlight, seeing rotten tables pushed to the side of the room, and thankfully, the stairs. She heads towards them carefully, but freezes when something growls above her. Slowly, she lifts the flashlight, and a large, red alien hanging from the ceiling is illuminated. “I think I found what we’re looking for,” she comments, before the alien whips one tentacle towards her and she’s flying towards the wall.

Everything goes black after that.

oOoOo

She wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later, aware of lots of shouting and pain. Woozily, she blinks her eyes open to see Mickey crouched above her. “Rose! Guys, she’s awake!”

“What happened?” she asks, attempting to sit up. He pushes her back down again, and Rose realizes that she’s in the back of one of the Torchwood emergency vehicles as people run around outside. “Mickey?”

“You’re pretty badly hurt, Rose,” he replies. “The alien knocked you into the wall, and if it weren’t for some old tables you would have been dead on impact.”

A paramedic jumps into the back and Mickey frowns. “Look, I have to go help Jake and the others get that thing out of the basement. I’ll be back to check on you when we’re done.” He leaves before she can protest and the paramedic closes the doors behind him. “Agent Tyler,” he says with a smile, and Rose can tell the vehicle is pulling rather quickly out of the lot. “How are you feeling?”

“I just got knocked into a wall,” she tells him, sourly. “And I’m soaking wet and freezing.”

“You were injured during your alien encounter,” the paramedic replies, and Rose rolls her eyes at him. “We don’t know how bad the injuries are, but we’re bringing you back to headquarters to make sure it’s nothing dangerous.”

Rose lifts the blanket that’s over her and looks down at herself and swallows when she sees the wood fragment sticking out of her side. “And that’s not bad?”

He gently replaces the blanket. “Let’s not think about that right now. Can you answer a few questions for me?”

He keeps her talking during the short trip, asking her to count from a hundred backwards, her full name, and the alphabet forwards and back. She’s asked about Tony and her mum and dad, what she does at her work, and her home address.

Logically, she knows it’s to keep her awake and to determine the extent of her injuries, but her mind is a bit sluggish and she has to think a lot longer than she should, especially when she starts naming the alphabet backwards. The paramedic smiles when she accidentally starts with the phonetic alphabet first, and she’s singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ haltingly when they finally pull up to Torchwood.

She’s rushed to an emergency room and subjected to the small, portable x-ray device that reminds her of a polaroid before the wood fragment is finally pulled out. Rose winces as they apply a numbing agent and proceed to stitch her up after stripping her of her clothes and cleaning the wound. The doctor, a young female by the name of Martha Jones, puts her left hand in a cast and after poking at Rose’s chest for a second, announces that she also has a few bruised ribs. “It’s only sprained, so you can take it off in a few days,” she says reassuringly. “Though the ribs will take longer to heal. All that’s left is for us to finish testing your blood.”

“Finish testing?” Rose asks, confused. She vaguely remembers the paramedic drawing some blood between the abc’s and ‘itsy bitsy spider,’ and lifts her arms as high as she can without pain as Martha and the nurse loosely wrap a bandage around her chest to keep an ice pack in place to reduce swelling.

“We just… found something that’s… unusual,” Martha says, carefully, securing the bandage. She helps her into a soft button down shirt and sweatpants. “Nothing serious, but it may warrant us keeping you for observation.”

Rose blinks, alarmed, but Martha looks up and relaxes. “Your dad’s here now. We’ve been keeping him updated, so he’ll be able to ask all but the more technical questions.” She hurries off and Pete takes her place.

“Rose!” he says, and Rose is surprised at how concerned he looks. “How are you feeling?”

She blinks a little. “I’m not sure. They’ve drugged me up pretty well.” She looks down at the stitches and tugs her shirt down. “What happened?”

“The unidentified alien knocked you into a wall,” he replies. “The paramedic confirmed that you had a sprained wrist and a concussion. I called Tucker earlier--”

“You what?” she exclaims, immediately worried. “Dad, what on earth--”

“Mickey suggested it,” Pete replies. “You’re going to be out of commission, he thought it best if Tucker was told ahead of time so he could prepare a statement--”

She groans and covers her face with his hands. Even though they had gotten over their fight from a couple of weeks ago, she knows that this will hit him hard. She would have preferred telling him herself, to prove that she’s fine, and that he won’t have a repeat of the incident with his father. And there’s still a small voice in her head saying that he meant what he said about not coming for her if she was injured. She forces herself to stop thinking about it and changes the subject. “Dad, what did Martha mean about keeping me for observation?”

He hesitates, and she peeks out of her fingers to see him clearly struggling with something. “I’m… sure it’s nothing,” he finally admits. “She’s new, so she’s probably being… overly cautious. Besides, Rose, you have a concussion, someone needs to keep an eye on you--”

There’s a racket in the hallway, and Rose settles back into the bed warily as Tucker’s voice becomes evident. She winces as the nearby nurse rushes outside, only to be practically knocked over as Tucker barges into the room, followed by nearly six other workers with various degrees of terror on their faces.

“What the fuck is going on?” he demands, and Rose smiles and waves hesitantly, wondering what he’s thinking. He makes a beeline towards her. “Rose, are you okay?”

“Fine, I’m fine,” she protests, moving to sit up and putting pressure on her damaged wrist. She inhales sharply and his face grows harder, instantly moving around to the other side of her bed.

“Sir, you can’t--” one of the nurses starts.

“Get the fuck out before I pick out some of those fucking chemicals on the shelves and inject them in you to find out what they fucking do,” he shouts, and they scatter.

“Tucker, I’m fine,” she repeats as he helps her into a sitting position. “It’s just a small mishap, nothing to worry about.”

“Nothing to worry about?” he demands. “I got a call that said you were unconscious and bleeding after an alien attack. For all I knew you were almost dead.”

She snorts. “Yeah, well, I’m not, as you can see.” She shrugs. “Just a sprained wrist, a concussion, bruised ribs--”

“That doesn’t sound like fucking nothing,” he complains.

“--and a scratch in my side that’ll heal before you know it.” She squeaks a little when he immediately pulls her shirt up, looking at the stitches with concerned eyes before gently covering it with his hand.

Rose relaxes slightly; he’s not upset with her, he’s just worried. She covers his hand with hers and he looks back up at her. “I’m fine,” she says, gently. “See?”

Pete clears his throat and they both look at him, startled. Malcolm flinches and steps away from her like he’s been burned, and Rose fumbles for an explanation. “Dad--” she starts, hesitantly, and Pete shakes his head.

“How long?” he asks, and Rose looks at Malcolm uneasily. He looks shifty, panicky, but the look on Pete’s face leaves no room for argument.

“Almost two months,” he finally admits.

Pete sighs, running a hand through his hair before shaking his head. “There’s no use telling you to stop,” he finally says. “Just don’t let Jackie find out.”

Rose stares at him, then slowly meets Malcolm’s eyes. He’s visibly shocked, but recovers swiftly. “I value my life more than that,” he rasps.

The moment is thankfully interrupted by Martha, who enters the room frowning down at a print out. “Miss Tyler,” she says, seemingly ignoring Malcolm, “we’re going to have to keep you here overnight. Something came back in your blood tests--”

“Fuck that,” Malcolm says, and Martha looks startled. “Is it dangerous?”

“Well… no, not that we can tell,” she replies, slowly. She gives Pete a confused look before continuing. “It’s something we haven’t seen before though, and it’s best if we--”

Malcolm makes an irritated noise. “Then there’s no other care she needs here. Everything else can be taken care of at home.” He moves to Rose’s bedside and Martha makes a noise of protest.

“She has a concussion!” Martha says, waving a few pieces of paper. “She has to be woken every few hours, not to mention learn breathing exercises for her ribs and the ice pack--”

Malcolm snatches the papers from her, giving them a once-over before rolling them up and shoving them in his pocket.

“Like I said, that can be fucking taken care of at home,” he repeats, and Rose flails a bit as he picks her up out of her bed. “I’m bringing her there myself.”

“You can’t--” Martha protests, but Pete stops her as Malcolm carries her from the room.

Though Rose is secretly pleased at this turn of events, she still smacks his chest with her good hand. “You can put me down, now. You made your point. I can still walk.”

He eyes her, but reluctantly does so when he gets to the elevator. He never stops touching her, however, his hand wrapped loosely around her forearm as he calls for a driver. When they finally step into the elevator, he uses his free hand to brush her hair out of her face and looks at his hand with a frown when it comes back smudged with dirt. “You need a shower,” he says, and Rose rolls her eyes before stepping closer and pulling him into a loose hug. He immediately returns the gesture, careful of her ribs, but pulls away when the door opens and guides her to the waiting car.

He slides in after her and gives the driver her address, before retrieving the papers he had taken from Martha and reading over them. One of his hands is resting on her knee, though, and she covers it with her own.

Malcolm reads through each paper three times before turning back to her. There’s still a tense expression on his face, and Rose lifts her hand to cup his cheek. He sighs, closing his eyes briefly. “You really scared me,” he admits, quietly.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “Our reports led us to believe that the alien was upstairs, and I only found it by accident when I fell through the floor.” He twitches, and she runs her thumb soothingly against his skin. “I wasn’t hurt by it. But I’m sure you’ll be able to burn the tables that I crashed in to if you want to take revenge.”

He smiles a little at that, but shakes his head. “All Pete told me over the phone was that you were knocked unconscious and presumably critically injured. I couldn’t…” He pauses, taking a deep breath. “Rose…”

She glances at the driver, and after seeing the divider up, she immediately unbuckles so she can slide over to him and pull him into a kiss. His arms wrap around her and he kisses her back desperately, gripping at her shirt and hauling her into his lap. Her injured wrist she keeps cradled against her chest, but her free hand slides to the back of his neck reassuringly.

“What do the papers say?” she finally asks, after they finally pull apart.

He glances at them. “I have to wake you up every few hours because of your concussion, and I need to change the ice pack for your ribs,” he says. “And your cast for your wrist and the stitches are waterproof, so no worries there.” His hand moves to cover the spot where the gash is, and she grabs it to place it over her heart instead.

“I can call Nadia in, or Mum,” Rose says. “I know you have work to do, and you probably left something important--”

“No,” he says, immediately. “I don’t fucking think so. Besides, given Pete’s reaction… I think he’ll understand if I’m a day late,” he says, shrugging.

Rose smiles and kisses his nose. “Okay. If you insist.”

He helps her out of the car when it finally gets to her house, and he pulls out his keys to unlock her door. He immediately pulls her upstairs and gets her in the bath, and by the time she manages to bathe and dry herself off--wincing every so often when she moves the wrong way and her bruised ribs makes their presence known--he’s there to help her into a clean change of clothes and tuck her into bed, giving her a tray of food before lying beside her and putting on a movie.

“Stop fussing,” she chastises when she starts yawning. “I’ve got the alarms set, they’ll wake me up when I need to.” She pulls him into bed beside her once he’s done changing into a spare set of sleep clothes, but immediately flinches when she accidentally rolls onto her wound. “I’m not gonna get used to that,” she grumbles.

“Hold on,” he says, and moves so he’s on her other side, lying on his back. Since her injuries are luckily all on the left side of her body, she’s able to roll to the right and situate herself comfortably against him. His arm immediately curls around her, keeping her in place, and she rests her head on his shoulder.

He takes a moment to trace the small scratches along her face and neck that her bath had revealed, then sighs before tucking her more firmly against him. “Go to sleep, Rose,” he says quietly. “I’ll make sure you wake up.”

She snuggles against him and is soon out, and though she complains every time he gently shakes her awake, it’s a comfort to know that he’s still there beside her. Even through her sleepy haze between naps, however, she can tell that he hasn’t slept a single second. It only takes the second time he wakes her for her to realize that he has turned her alarms off and is working while she sleeps, the telly playing on mute on the dresser, and a few folders scattered on top of the bed. Every time she mentions it, though, he tells her that he’ll fall asleep in a little while.

“You aren’t mad at me, are you?” she asks, too tired and slightly annoyed at being awake again to know how many times he’s woken her up at this point. At some point he had shifted to recline against the headboard, and her head is on his lap, one hand curled on his knee.

He frowns slightly at her. “What do you mean?”

“You said you wouldn’t come running if I was hurt,” she mumbles, closing her eyes to avoid his look.

He sighs, moving so that she’s once more curled into his side. “Rose,” he says, quietly, “I’ll always come if you call.”

She smiles and falls asleep with his arms around her.

By the time the danger zone has passed, it’s nearly morning, the sun just beginning to shine through the windows. Rose wakes up by herself this time and looks over to see Malcolm fast asleep, his hand still entwined with hers across his stomach, his glasses lying crookedly across his eyes. She smiles and carefully eases out of his grasp before picking up his cell phone and calling Sam.

“Hey,” she says quietly when the PA answers. “Tucker isn’t going to make it in today--yeah, I’m fine, the most serious thing was a concussion but I’m free and clear,” she replies at Sam’s worried question. “He was up all night making sure I woke up.” She smiles at Sam’s confirmation. “Thanks. And yes, I’ll let him know.”

She hangs up, taking a moment to remove his glasses and move the folders off the bed before returning to his side. He shifts, making a small noise in the back of his throat, before he settles again on his side, facing her. She wraps her hand around the one reaching towards her and closes her eyes again, hoping for an hour or two more of sleep.

Chapter Text

Malcolm managed to convince Rose to take a week off after she got hurt, mostly because the bruised ribs had hindered her movements and speed, but she’d gotten restless after that. Pete had stepped in, ordering another two weeks off active duty, and she’d shot them both glares before agreeing, claiming she had other things she could work on. An odd look had passed between father and daughter, but neither had given him any explanation before Rose said she’d be spending most of her time in the Archives, claiming they’d fall apart without her.

Which is why Malcolm finds himself winding his way through the stacks in search of her once again. She’d left quickly that morning, saying she had something to check on but promising to be back before dinner at the mansion, but when he’d pulled himself from his own work to find that it was already nearly five, he’d taken matters into his own hands.

She’s got her back to him when he does finally spot her, leaning over a desk as she tags various objects he couldn’t begin to understand and has no desire to try. He pauses, leaning his shoulder against a stack as he watches her sure movements as she handles another item, pushing a stray hair from her face as she reaches for one of the three pens inserted into her messy bun. She’s not favoring her side as much now as she twists to find a tag, pulling the cap off the pen with her teeth. Even now, in the most mundane setting, she’s effortlessly gorgeous, and his heart does a little flip as he watches her.

He gives her a moment to jot down a quick note before stepping behind her and bending to kiss her shoulder lightly as his arms slip around her waist. She makes a happy hum, leaning back against his chest as she raises her face for a proper kiss, something he’s more than happy to give.

“You’re late,” he says when he lifts his head again. “If you’re gonna drag me to these things, you could at least have the fucking courtesy to not make me come looking for you.”

“My mistake,” she says, and his eyes narrow at her barely suppressed grin. “Sorry about that, I got caught up. What time is it?”

“Five thirty,” he tells her, glancing at his watch. “If we don’t leave right fucking now, then your mum is gonna have your fucking hide.”

“Nah,” Rose says easily, reaching for her jacket. “She’ll just blame you.”

“And you’d let her, too,” he replies as she shrugs it on and reaches for his hand. “Thanks very fucking much. All I am’s your sacrificial lamb when you’re running behind schedule.”

“That’s not all,” she says, lacing their fingers and hugging his arm a little as they head for the door. “You pull decent double duty as eye candy.”

“Don’t fucking forget it,” he mutters, squeezing her hand and winking at her before she laughs and leans up to kiss his cheek.

Two Archive workers round a blind corner just before they hit the door and Malcolm drops Rose’s hand quickly with an awkward cough. He glances at her and the brief look of hurt that passes over her face nearly does him in. Honestly, what the fuck did it even matter anymore? There’s the media to consider, of course, but none of the people that have found out about them seem to care, even her own father. He’s starting to wonder if it’s more his own hang up than anyone else’s. He sighs as they make their way out of the building, swearing that if one more person finds out--and he’s still alive--he’s just going to say to hell with the whole scheme.

This vow lasts until they reach the mansion and he greets Jackie, reminding him that there’s at least one more person that he’d really rather not know about him sleeping with Rose nearly every night. Jackie II is far more gracious than Jackie I, without a doubt, but he has no doubt she’d still slap him into next year if she knew all the things he’d done to her daughter.

Not that her daughter seems to mind, of course. Rose certainly hadn’t minded when he made up to her for hating her favorite movie by spending a third of it between her thighs the night before.

He shakes himself a little as he shrugs out of his coat; now is not the time to be fantasizing about Rose. Unfortunately, Rose doesn’t seem to agree. They’re mostly fine when they’re sitting around chatting before dinner; Mickey and that new doctor, Martha, had shown up as well, since Mickey was never one to pass up a free dinner or show off his new girlfriend. There’s a few instances of annoyance when Mickey very pointedly shows affection toward the girl, putting his arm around her or holding her hand on his knee, before shooting Malcolm a smug smile as he struggles to keep from touching Rose. The fact that Pete knows it’s happening doesn’t help; he keeps commenting on how great it is that Martha and Mickey have found each other and how much he hopes Rose will be as happy one day. But Rose breezes through it, focusing on her baby brother on her lap and sneaking a few soothing pats on Malcolm’s arm now and then.

Then dinner starts.

It begins innocently enough. Her chair scooting a little closer to his, a thigh brushing against his own. It’s distracting, but he can cope. He shoots her a look when her hand lands on his knee, however, but she’s looking the other way, apparently in an intense discussion with Martha on Torchwood’s medical practices and advanced technology. He tries to turn his attention back to the conversation with Pete, something about a new product rolling out in the overseas market, but keeps losing focus as her hand creeps slowly higher up his thigh.

“You alright, Tucker?” Jackie asks in concern when he draws a sharp breath, an involuntary reaction to Rose’s hand brushing against his growing erection through his trousers.

“Fine,” he manages, lowering his own hand under the table to grasp Rose’s, tugging it away from the area. “Just remembered something I have to do later.”

“Well, you know, Tucker,” Mickey chimes in, reaching for Martha’s hand. “If we’re keeping you from things you have to...do--”

“I’m sure those things aren’t things we need to be concerned with,” Pete interrupts at Mickey’s pointed look at Rose.

“It’s fine,” Malcolm tells them. “It can wait.”

He shoots a dark look at Rose, moving her hand to her own lap quickly before raising his arm to the table again. It’s not even two minutes before her hand is stroking his thigh again and he nearly groans, leaning on his elbows and clasping his hands in front of his face, cracking his knuckles nervously. He tenses when she goes so far as to cup him through his trousers, moving her hand to create the barest tease of friction against his cock. He drops his face to his hands for a brief second before moving quickly, one arm going to her chair back while his other hand clamps down on her wrist.

He leans in close to her ear, trying desperately to ignore the shiver that runs through her. “Unless you’re planning to get bent over the fucking table in front of god and fucking everyone, darling, you are going to have to stop. That.

She’s grinning when he pulls back, but she does remove her hand. The rest of the meal passes without incident, apart from a few more pointed remarks at both of them about being single, although Jackie does add that she’s glad that Rebecca’s gone. Once the plates are cleared, Jackie takes Tony up for bed while everyone else wanders back toward the sitting room, and Malcolm takes the opportunity to corner Rose.

“Would you like to tell me what the fuck that was about?” he growls, trapping her against the table with a hand pressed to the surface on either side of her.

“Dunno what you’re talking about,” she says, looking away and chewing on her nail.

His eyes narrow at her. “You’ve gotten me to come to these family dinners with you for the last three weeks, and this is the first time you’ve felt the urge to torture me under the table.”

She looks up at him uncertainly, then rolls her eyes and makes an irritated sound, pushing his arm back to pace away from him. “It’s all stupid Mickey’s fault. All proud of his new girlfriend, how he’s actually able to show it whenever the hell he wants, and so does she, and I’ve got to just sit there and pretend like I’m not--” She stops, taking a deep breath. “I mean, alright, I get it. The media and whatever. I just--”

“What?” he asks, frowning and stepping closer.

“He’s happy,” she says with a helpless shrug. “I guess I just wish you were too.”

He stares at her for a moment, completely stunned. “You think I’m not happy?” She bites her lip, shrugging again, and he shakes his head, lifting his hands to cradle her face. “Rose, sweetheart, being with you makes me happier than I’ve been in...Christ, I can’t tell you how fucking long. Maybe ever.” She looks down again, raising her hands to his wrists and leaning into his touch on one side, and he dips his head, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You falling into this universe is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She sniffs a little before she looks up at him. “Even though you hate my movie taste?”

“Even though I loathe your fucking movie taste with a white hot fucking intensity,” he tells her with a smirk, and she giggles, giving him a hint of a tongue-touched smile. His thumbs brush over her cheeks before he leans in--

“Are you two ever planning to join us?” Jackie’s voice cuts in, and he drops his hands as he takes a hurried step back. “Oh, lord, I dunno why you bother, Tucker. You’re not fooling anyone.”

He whirls around to her. “I--what?”

“Mum, what’re you talking about?” Rose asks. “We were just--”

“Oh, give it up,” Jackie says, rolling her eyes. “That man’s been gone on you for a year or more. I thought things would get better when you finally decided to stop being a pair of idiots a couple months back, but you’re still sneaking around like a couple of teenagers. Honestly, I dunno how you even managed that.”

“You knew?” Rose asks, exchanging a startled glance with Malcolm. “This whole time, Mum? You knew?”

“Of course I knew,” she says, taking Rose’s arm. “Dunno what he was thinking with that Rebecca woman, though.”

“Me neither,” Malcolm says, shaking his head.

“But you’re not...you know...upset?” Rose asks, glancing back at Malcolm as Jackie tugs her away, and he follows slowly.

“Why bother?” her mother asks. “Fast talking older bloke with more ego than sense, s’right up your street, isn’t it? I’m just glad to see you happy, sweetheart.”

“I...thanks,” Rose says weakly as they enter the sitting room.

She still looks a little dazed as she moves to the sofa and drops onto it, and Malcolm glances at Jackie. She arches an eyebrow and nods at Rose, and he shrugs, giving up. Dropping down next to Rose, he slides an arm around her shoulder, pressing a kiss to the top of her head as he draws her close. She looks up at him curiously, and he merely arches an eyebrow, shooting a smug look at Mickey’s shocked expression as she looks away again, dropping her hand to his knee.

He spends the last hour being as obnoxiously couple-y as possible in revenge for the taunting earlier, even going so far as to make up a holiday to France for wine tasting, a vacation they’d mutually agreed a month ago would never, ever happen. By the end, Rose is giggling and shaking her head when he asks loudly if they’re heading to his place or hers as they put on their coats.

“Yes, alright, you can stop now,” she laughs.

“What?” he asks. “Just showing how happy I am to be with you.”

“You’re such an idiot,” she tells him, and he flashes a crooked smile. “Mum, Dad, we’re going now!”

“Alright, sweetheart,” Jackie says, preceding her husband into the foyer. “Drive safely; Rose, it might help if you wait for whatever you were doing under the table until you get home.”

“Right,” Rose says, flushing gorgeously as Malcolm grins. “Will do. Thanks for dinner, Mum.”

Malcolm shakes Pete’s hand and accepts a kiss from Jackie before guiding Rose out of the house with a hand on the small of her back. He opens his mouth to tease her, but closes it again, both of them glancing back at the door when they hear Jackie’s voice carrying from inside.

“I don’t know what you two think you were playing at! Torturing that poor man, just ‘cause you already knew about him ‘n Rose. I know your gran raised you better than that, Mickey Smith!”

“You know, Rose,” Malcolm comments, sliding an arm around her shoulders as they walk to his car. “Your mum is really growing on me.”

It’s not ‘til later that he remembers his errant thought about one more person finding out and wonders if it wouldn’t be so terrible for their relationship to be out in the open after all. Really, the only downside, apart from some condescending remarks from people he doesn’t give a fuck about, is that a public relationship...means he has that much more to lose if it falls apart.

Chapter Text

The alarm blaring from her phone cuts into Rose’s sleep and she groans as she rolls over to turn it off, hearing Malcolm’s muttered curse as he blinks blearily at her. She drops back into the bed and crawls on top of him, snuggling into him.

“We have work, Rose,” he reminds her, voice still thick with sleep. His hand still comes to rest on her back, however, stroking lazily.

She sighs, holding him for a moment, before her second alarm kicks in two minutes after the first. She groans again and finally rolls off the bed. “Okay, okay, fine,” she complains at her alarm. “I’m getting up!”

Malcolm slowly follows her, sitting on the edge of the mattress as she makes her way to the closet. He isn’t due at Vitex until an hour after she starts work, but he gets up with her anyway, since, as he puts it, there’s no point in staying in bed if he can’t enjoy it with her.

“Yellow or green?” she asks as she holds up two shirts.

“Green,” he replies, and finally gets up. She smirks when he holds up a tie that nearly matches her shirt, and kisses him briefly before heading to the bathroom.

“Sarah’s been nagging me about joining her quiz team,” Rose says as she attempts to get her hair under control. “Dunno what I’d be good for, though; she already has a history buff, a literature nerd, and Sarah knows pop culture better than anyone.”

He shrugs. “Maybe she wants to spend time with you outside of work?”

“Not so long as Aaron’s there,” Rose complains. “He’s an IT guy, knows everything the others don’t, and a severe creep. I think he has a crush on me because he just… stares, you know? Everytime I’m in the same room with him I can feel his eyes on me. And not in a good way.”

He walks up to press against her back, wrapping his arms around her and pressing a kiss to her temple. “Might have to find an excuse to visit IT, then,” he muses, and Rose laughs before wiggling out of his grasp to brush her teeth.

He heats up leftover waffles as she makes tea, and Rose carries their plates to the table as he gets the drinks. Not for the first time, Rose mourns the fact that she turned down Annie’s suggestion of a picnic bench for the kitchen table, but she hooks her leg around his as they sit down anyway. “Anything special for the morning report today?” she asks as Malcolm picks up one of the folders he had been looking over last night.

“Not particularly,” he says. “Unless Nielson doesn’t show up again. He’s skipped one a month for three months now, and always when he’s up for review.”

She smirks. “Suddenly has a pressing matter to attend to?”

He snorts. “So he says. This time I’m not going to tell him.” He steals a bite of her waffle, and Rose retaliates swapping her empty cup for his nearly full one.

And then it’s a mad dash to locate shoes and coats, Rose once again trying (and failing) to get a scarf on him before they’re heading to their respective cars and he pulls her into a long, slow kiss before driving off.

She receives the first text halfway to Torchwood, stating that his work day hasn’t even started yet and there’s already a media crises to unravel--a spokesperson for Vitex had gotten drunk and apparently told some less than flattering things to a person at the bar who was a reporter, and he had to put out fires.

Good luck, she texts back quickly. It wasn’t anything terribly bad, was it?

His reply comes later when she’s getting out of her car. Apparently daddy dearest is a task master who demands 150% work effort but is never in the office.

Rose winces; Pete really does try to be at Vitex as much as he can, but Torchwood is already hard enough to run since there seems to be some minor emergency cropping up every few minutes. I keep telling him to appoint a second in command, you know. Or just sell Vitex completely. But you know how he is.

He’ll work himself to death before he’s seventy, Malcolm responds. I have a date with an editor; don’t wait up.

Rose sighs, not feeling the least bit sorry for the man who decided to run the story, and walks into the elevator to bring her down to the field teams floor. Sarah has yet to show up, but Mickey and Jake are in a darts competition, watched by several others who were placing bets.

“I’m going to be in R&D if you need me,” she says, though they don’t appear to hear her.

Her feeling worsens as she approaches the laboratory where the cannon is being assembled, the guilt and worry eating away at her. She knows that she needs to talk to Malcolm about it--Mickey has told her often enough, in the days after he found out and joined in on the efforts--but there’s a part of her that’s scared to, as well. She doesn’t know if it’s because she fears Malcolm’s reaction or letting go and quitting something she’s started, but she’s afraid to find out.

As usual she forces herself to pretend that it’s another piece of alien engineering that has yet to be identified; as she’s drawn into a discussion of Vortex energy and universal walls, the mantra is repeated continually in her mind.

Mickey joins them an hour later bragging about beating Jake at darts even as he dives head first into the wiring of the cannon, a complicated blueprint spread out on the table next to him. Rose is helping a junior technician run a simulation and trying to figure out why the cannon isn’t connecting to the other Universe when the technician sighs in frustration. “Theoretically, the punching and sealing works,” she complains. “But there’s no guarantee that we’ll actually hit the right universe. There’s… millions, if not billions, of options. It’s like shooting a gun in France and hoping you hit Japan.”

Rose frowns. “So you’re saying we need a sort of… homing beacon?”

The technician nods. “Of a sorts. Something from the original universe. DNA from the target is preferable, but anything that could draw us into the right place is optional. I don’t know how we’re going to hit the right time--according to the reports, we’re three years ahead of them--and the physics we’re relying on for this project… we could hit anywhere in the past or future.” The technician frowns for a moment. “I really ought to tell my boss, he might have an idea…”

“Wait,” Rose says. Her hand had been fiddling unconsciously with the TARDIS key, hanging from her neck on a chain that she rarely takes off. She looks down at it, hesitating, then slips the chain over her head. “Here. Use this.”

The technician looks at it in confusion. “A key?”

“It’s… it’s the key to the Doctor’s ship,” Rose says. “It’ll be the best thing we have to hone in on his location.”

The technician’s eyes light up. “This… this might work! Doctor Taylor!” the girl shouts, and scampers off to the short, balding man nearby.

“What’s this, Erica?” he asks, as the girl nearly shoves the key in his face.

“It’s the key to the Doctor’s spaceship,” she says. “It’ll be able to lock onto his location so that we can solve the problem of finding the right dimension!”

The man’s eyes widen behind his glasses as he grabs the key. “Let’s run tests,” he says, excitedly, and they race off. “If we use this as the standard calibration…”

She watches them, feeling a little lost, when Mickey places a hand on her shoulder. “You look like your favorite pet just died,” he comments.

She closes her eyes before leading him to a quiet corner. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Mickey,” she confesses. “I started this… this nightmare, and it’s too late to stop it. But I’m scared that if I don’t oversee it they’ll use it for something… something wrong, something awful, but the longer I stay here the harder it is to hide this from Tucker and I just…” She wraps her arms around herself. “He’s going to be so mad when he finds out, Micks. What if he leaves me?”

“He won’t,” Mickey tells her. “That man loves you, as much as I hate to admit it. But you have to tell him sooner than later, Rose. Explain what the cannon is, why you started it, but that you’re not gonna use it. You acted when you were hurt and confused and he’ll understand that. People make mistakes when they’re upset.”

“You know Tucker, Mickey,” Rose argues. “Do you really think he’s gonna listen?”

“Yes, because it’s you,” he replies. “Rose, are you scared to tell him because you think he’ll leave, or are you scared because you’ll have to admit that you don’t want to leave?”

She stares at him, and is about to reply when something pops and explodes. The fire is quickly put out, but it’s enough to distract Mickey. “Idiot! We’re still dealing with the overheating, we don’t need you blowing it up as well!” he shouts, running off to berate the engineer and leaving Rose free to not answer any uncomfortable questions.

“Miss Tyler!” Doctor Taylor exclaims later. “The key works!”

She stares at him, then at the small silver box he has in his hand. “What’s that?”

He grins, nearly vibrating with excitement. “I’ve hooked the key up to this mainframe. It took a bit of creativity but the computer program should be able to scan the key and use the data to locate the timeship--”

“--the TARDIS,” Rose corrects.

“Yes, yes, the TARDIS, and give the cannon the required coordinates.” He races off again. “Tamara! Tamara, have you got your coding program up? I need you to create a new simulation!”

She stands awkwardly in the middle of the lab, looking around at the bustle around her. Her job is pretty much over; she was Team Leader, but without a working knowledge of how universal traveling worked and unable to understand the blueprints, she was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly and oversee the testing. Primary tests had run well, although the cannon had a tendency to overheat and had a long cool down period, and nothing had broken through the walls yet. Most of the cannon has been built; a massive, ugly thing taking up a majority of the annexed laboratory, but until it was calibrated the specifics of the universal travel were simulations only with the known variables entered in.

“Heading out for the day, Micks,” she tells Mickey before she leaves. “You gonna stay long?”

“Nope, have a date with Martha,” he says, grinning. It dims a little as he narrows his eyes at her. “You gonna tell him, Rose?”

She nods, saying quickly, “Yeah, ‘course. See you tomorrow.”

Rose calls Sam as she heads to her car, and the woman tells her that Tucker’s still in meetings trying to firefight the story. She sighs but thanks Sam for the help, turning towards Malcolm’s house, since she knows him enough that he’ll be wanting to use his study to continue the work. She might as well have dinner waiting for him at whatever time he decides to come home.

He walks through the door three hours later looking exhausted. He still smiles when he sees her peering over the back of the couch, shedding his coat and shoes and dropping his briefcase into his study before joining her.

“Rough day?” she asks as he pulls her into his arms with a sigh.

“That’s an understatement,” he grumbles. “Turns out it was a bit more than just your dad’s work schedule. The fucker leaked information about Torchwood. How he got his hands on it I don’t know, but I had to cash in on favors I really didn’t want to get rid of.”

Rose smiles and grabs his hands, pulling him off the sofa. “We both know you’ll find a way to get them back. Now come on, I’ve made dinner, and it’ll only take a moment to heat up.”

He looks at her suspiciously. “It’s not another baked fish incident, is it? The smell didn’t leave for a week.”

She laughs. “No, no fish. Just a casserole.”

She sticks the bowls in the microwave and allows him to draw her into a kiss, her hands gently rubbing his shoulder blades as he relaxes against her. When the microwave finally dings he’s managed to remove her jumper, revealing the plain white shirt underneath it.

“Dinner’s up,” she says, and fetches the bowls.

The meal is relatively quiet, Malcolm eating quickly before kissing her in apology and hurrying off to his study. Rose turns the volume up on the telly as she finishes her meal, sticking the dirty dishes into the washer before heading upstairs to dig out a spare pajama set. She doesn’t bother showering before changing, since she has a late day tomorrow and can shower then. Maybe, if she’s lucky, she can convince Malcolm to join her, she thinks with a smile.

He’s hanging up the phone when she peeks into the room, a scowl settled on his face. “Will you be done anytime soon?” she asks, and he grunts.

“Depends,” he replies. “I’ve got most of my team working on dispelling the internet rumors, but there’s a few tenacious reporters that aren’t quite giving up.”

She frowns. “The story’s up, yeah?”

“Unfortunately,” he grinds out.

Rose shrugs and walks over to him. “That’s easy, then. If they want to access Torchwood so badly, give them Torchwood.” At his look she grins. “There’s a lovely little building not too far away that’ll act nicely as a dummy corporation.”

“Not that easy, I’m afraid,” he replies, and pulls her into his lap. “And you’ve been watching too many movies.”

“You don’t watch enough,” she tells him, toying with his tie. “Sure you can’t take a small break?”

He leans his head against the back of the chair, considering. “I really do need to get this done, Rose.”

She frowns, disappointed, but nods. “Alright. Just know I’ll be upstairs when you’re done.” She begins to slide off his lap, but he catches her.

“I didn’t say anything about not taking a break,” he scoffs, and Rose smiles slowly as she moves to straddle him.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’ll be quick,” she assures him, and he pulls her down into a kiss.

Her hands are on his back, his suit jacket long since shed and the tie draped across the computer, when he finally unclasps her bra and pulls her shirt off. Rose quickly becomes confused, however, when he doesn’t go straight for her breasts like he normally does; instead he’s staring at her with an unreadable expression on his face, one hand slowly moving to rest against her sternum--right where her TARDIS key would be, if she were still wearing it.

Rose swallows. She should really tell him, she should--

He presses a gentle kiss to the spot, and her will flees. Next time, she tells herself, as he finally kisses her again. I’ll tell him next time.

When ‘next time’ will be, however, she has yet to work out.

Chapter Text

Malcolm sits back in his chair, swivelling gently and toying with a pen as a mound of paperwork lies forgotten on his desk. The conversation he’d had with Annie the night before runs through his mind again; Rose had been on call at Torchwood, so he’d taken what had become a rare opportunity to talk to his sister alone. He doesn’t mind that Rose and Annie are friends--loves it, in fact--but he still needs his sister to himself now and again.

Especially when discussing the idea of moving in with Rose.

He’d been toying with the idea for a couple of weeks now, ever since Jackie had proven to be entirely too observant for his taste. He’d brought it up to Annie, asking if he was moving too fast, given that they’ve only been together for three months...and still aren’t entirely...public about it. She’d scoffed at him, saying he’d be killing two birds with one stone, and pointed out that they spend nearly all their time together anyway. Which is true, living together would definitely cut out the confusion of trying to remember which clothes were where. He’s almost certain that he’s got duplicates of at least three ties now.

But then there’s the matter of whether she’d even want to move in together. Given his discovery a couple of days ago, he’s become considerably more hopeful in that regard. He’d begun to hate that key around her neck nearly as much as the man it represented because it just felt like a tether to that other universe, keeping her just out of reach. He imagines that’s what his ring must have felt like, but at least he’d discarded that before they’d gotten together. Seeing it gone had done things to him; he didn’t particularly care why or how she’d come to the decision to take it off, merely that she had. Finally, finally, it felt like she might stay, and actually allow herself to be happy about it.

Which, really, only left the question of which house would they go with. Annie had immediately voted for Rose’s place, which makes sense...his flat, while spacious, doesn’t have nearly the space that Rose’s house does. And Nate and Julie love “Rose’s Palace”; half their toys have already taken up residence over there. Although asking “Can I move into your place?” lacked a bit of style for his taste, he’s almost certain he can overcome that given his ability with words. Then he could sell his flat and chuck the money into his retirement fund, which would come in handy in about ten years--

He stops moving as the thought echoes around his head. Ten years to retirement. She’s twenty-three years old, and he’s got ten years to fucking retirement.

What the fuck is he even thinking?

With an irritated sigh, he pushes the whole subject from his mind, turning to his desk to sift through the drifts of files and reports that have collected there. He ends up spending nearly an hour just organizing it all into workable piles (“fucking important,” “don’t fucking know,” and “don’t fucking care”), setting aside a Torchwood project progress report that had been destined for Pete, but somehow landed on his desk instead. He’s just about allocated all the “don’t fucking care” pile to the underlings when something makes him pause. Slowly, he reaches again for the progress report, his blood running cold when he reads the project name he’d skimmed over before.

Dimension cannon.

He grabs his coat, leaving what has suddenly become a giant pile of “don’t give a fuck” on his desk as he heads for Torchwood.

oOoOo

“Oh, ah, Mister Tucker, hello,” a scientist calls, scurrying up to Malcolm as he strides into R&D. “Here for the weekly, uh, bollocking?”

“Not today,” he replies, glancing around. “Not yet, anyway. Wondered if you could give me some more information on this.”

The scientist pushes his glasses up, peering at the report Malcolm is holding up. “Oh, oh yes of course. I promise you, nothing for you to fear from that. Er, probably. Almost definitely.”

“Yes, that’s very fucking encouraging,” Malcolm says, staring at the little man. “What was your name?”

“Er, Malcolm, actually,” the scientist says, grinning at him. “Doctor Malcolm Taylor, at your service. Should be easy enough for you to remember, eh?”

“I’ll try my hardest not to,” Malcolm says. “So, tell me exactly why I shouldn’t be worried? ‘Cause a project with the word ‘cannon’ in it doesn’t exactly sound like I’m gonna fucking like it.”

“Oh, well, you see,” Doctor Taylor says, pushing up his glasses nervously, “it’s an idea that’s built on the old hoppers that the Preachers used to teleport with, but expanded to the, er, nth degree, as it were.”

“Show me.”

Taylor leads him to the lifts and up to a large, all white room, chattering the whole way.

“We’ve already had amazing success. We’ve transported both organic and inorganic matter as far as our office in The Confederate States, effectively shattering previous teleport limitations. Of course, the machine is far from perfect--we’ve found it overloads far too easily, especially with large quantities of organic matter.”

“That’d be people, yes?” Malcolm asks, wandering around the room, toeing a few twisted and disturbingly melted looking objects in a corner.

“Er, yes, that’s...one form of...yes,” Taylor stammers. “Those are, er, components of very early prototypes,” he adds, steering Malcolm away. “But of course we have several safety procedures in place to ensure the safety of the subject.”

Malcolm snorts, knowing that most of the time he’s their safety measure against their mistakes. “So explain where the dimension bit of this comes into play.”

“Oh, well, that’s a really fascinating adaptation really,” Taylor says, motioning him into one of the glass offices at the back of the room. “If the theory holds, it should be possible to calibrate the machine to transverse dimensional barriers, pushing an object--or person--through to the other side.”

“You’re gonna punch a hole in the fucking universe,” he says quietly. “And shoot someone across to another one.”

“Er, yes, put simply,” Taylor replies, pushing at his glasses.

Malcolm glances around, swallowing hard and trying to remember how to breathe. “How...how could you even...you can’t fucking expect to control something like that!”

“Yes, that had been our question too,” Taylor says, moving toward one of the control units in the room. “But we were fortunate enough to have this from another universe, to act as a beacon and guide our systems.” Breathing is no longer a possibility when the scientist holds up a very familiar necklace, key dangling from the end. “It’s the key to a time ship that is practically fueled by the energy in its universe, you see, the ship--”

“I know what it is,” he manages, his voice hoarse as he takes a step back, leaning on the wall for support as spots dance in his vision. “Did Pete okay this? After what fucking happened last time, when the Cybermen transported themselves--”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Taylor says. “This is a safe alternative. He’s been working closely with our team leader to ensure it’s all above board.”

“Team leader,” Malcolm rasps, grabbing at any fucking straw he can find as he sinks into a dark pit. “Who’s that?”

“Miss Rose Tyler.”

Of course it is.

“Thank you,” he tells Taylor, then glances around. “This has been...illuminating.”

He leaves the building quickly, but sits in his car for an untold amount of time, leaning his head against the steering wheel as he holds it with a white knuckled grasp. He’s got no desire to head back to his office--if anything sets him off now, he might just end up in prison, and there’s always something that sets him off.

He could call Annie, but she’s probably with a client, and would probably tell him to talk to Rose anyway, which is the last thing he wants to do.

He could head up to Pete’s office, demand an explanation, but he doubts that would get him very far--Pete hadn’t become the success he is without being able to stonewall the best of them when needed.

His phone rings, and he swallows hard as he reaches for it, shutting his eyes when he sees Rose’s name on the caller ID. He ignores the call, then turns off his phone for good measure as he tosses it on the passenger seat. He stares into the middle distance for another moment before finally starting his car and pulling away from Torchwood, heading home and trying not to think of all the things there that are hers.

At least now it makes some sort of sick sense. Why not use him to get her jollies while she’s building the thing that will bring her back to the Doctor. It’s just like every other time she’d used him for support or company. He tries not to think of every smile, tries not to dissect every moment they’d shared, because he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t want to have to, but she’d never had any reason to want him, not really. No matter how comfortable or easy it was, it wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been. He was just another fucking marionette for a beautiful woman that he’d fallen too far in love with to notice the fucking strings.

Chapter Text

“This is Tucker, leave me a message after the beep. Or don’t, I don’t fucking care.”

Rose frowns as the call immediately rolls to voicemail. She had assumed earlier that he had been in a meeting when he hadn’t answered, but it’s past the time for his usual office hours. She had wanted to tell him that she was going to be back late as a result of a last-minute trip to Cambridge for a supposedly haunted computer that turned out to be nothing more than a prank. She sighs and puts her phone away. Oh, well. He’d figured it out by now.

Since he rarely went to her house if she wasn’t there, Rose makes the way to his building, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep. She had to deal with bratty Uni students who were more concerned with flirting than actually owning up to their pranks, and since nothing illegal had actually occurred it was a colossal waste of time and energy. She’s tired, somewhat cranky, and ready to be done with work for the day. Even Mickey had been agitated, worried about missing his date with Martha. Jake and Sarah had teased him all the way back, Jake purposefully driving slower than normal just to get Mickey riled up. Sarah had been laughing and Rose had managed an exhausted smile, mostly daydreaming about what she would do to Malcolm when she got back. Though she’ll probably have to make coffee first.

She sighs in relief when she pulls into the drive and sees Malcolm’s car already parked and grabs her duffel bag before locking the car and walking to the front door. She pauses when she finds the door locked, but fishes out her keys before pushing her way into the dark house.

“Tucker?” she asks, before turning the hall light on. He’s home, at least, and she shrugs before putting the duffel down and heading upstairs, shedding her shoes and socks along the way.

To her surprise he’s not in the bedroom and a quick look shows that he’s not in the ensuite either. She knows he would have heard her from the study, unless he’s absorbed with work. Which is a possibility, but the downstairs lights would have been on.

So where is he?

She heads back downstairs, deciding to check the study anyway, when she happens to look out the back window to see Tucker standing outside, rigid. She pauses and looks at him, then at the almost nearly smoked cigarette in his hand. That alone causes her alarm—she hasn’t seen him smoke one in months, had thought he had quit, in fact. And he always stopped halfway, never a full one.

She slides open the door and steps out, wincing a little as her bare feet touch the cold concrete. “Tucker? What’re you doing out here? Thought you’d still be working.”
He doesn’t answer, and her smile fades as she steps forward in concern. “Malcolm?”

“When were you going to tell me?” he asks, and Rose blinks.

“Tell you what?”

“About the cannon.”

Rose freezes, her mind stuttering to a halt. He knew. How? Why? Wait, no. What?

“Imagine my fucking surprise,” he continues, slowly, as she attempts to formulate a coherent thought, “when I come across a progress report meant for Pete, only to find out that the woman I’ve been sleeping with, who I practically live with, has been building a fucking device to get back to her fucking boyfriend.”

“Malcolm—” she starts, but he turns to look at her, and Rose pales.

Because it’s that face, the one Annie once told her about. The one just past his bollocking face, where he has given up on the other person, completely at the end of his line and so furious he can’t think straight. The fact that it’s directed at her, after how much they’d already fought through, after how good things had been lately, is like a hot poker—but the knowledge that she caused him to feel like this in the first place is what’s really killing her. Because Mickey was right. She should have told him.

But would it really have helped? she wonders. He was always going to be angry. Would telling him have really prevented this?

“I…” she falters before taking a deep breath. “I was going to tell you. I just… I started it when you were with Rebecca, because I thought… it doesn’t matter. And then it was approved and we had started working on it so I couldn’t stop it, and then I showed up at your door because I realized I was an idiot and I, we, were so happy that I was terrified that it would all end. I kept it from you because—”

“Stop right fucking there,” he snarls, flicking away the cigarette. She notices it lands near three others, and her eyes widen. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. You don’t have any fucking right to them. You lost all right when you started working on it. You know, for once, I really fucking wish I wasn’t right,” he says, angrily. “You wanted only one thing from me, and I knew as soon as you had a chance to go back to that bastard, you’d take it, regardless of who’s been cleaning up his fucking mess.”

“Don’t say that!” she exclaims, reaching towards him, but he flinches out of her way. Rose wraps her arms around herself instead. “Malcolm, these past few months have meant everything!”

“Did they?” he demands, and she tries to get a word in edgewise but he plows right over her. “You’ve got an interesting fucking way of showing it! When you weren’t using me for sex it was to assuage your fucking boredom, or to fight the fucking nightmares that you were too coward to face on your fucking own. I thought it couldn’t get any fucking worse than being a shoulder to cry on, but oh, no, you just had to fucking prove me wrong, didn’t you?” She tries to speak again, but he continues on. “I’m old enough to be your fucking grandfather, and yet you have me dancing on puppet strings!”

“You’re the only one obsessed with our age!” she shouts, annoyed and hurt and upset. “Malcolm I don’t care about that, you know that—”

“Of course you don’t care, I was only a fuck buddy to pass the time,” he retorts. “You were only here to ‘make a go of it’ until the opportunity to leave presented itself. Well it’s there waiting for you, Rose, so just fucking go. That’s all you fucking want anyway. Leave the rest of us the fuck alone.”

She flinches, desperately wishing she could go back and undo everything. “Malcolm, please, just listen—”

“No, you fucking listen,” he says, and his voice is suddenly very, very quiet. Despite herself, Rose is scared. “I have given you over a year and a half of my life, Miss Tyler. The last three months of those, you almost had me fucking believe that you cared for me. But you know what, Rose? You’re no fucking better than Rebecca. You’re both fucking toxic to everything you fucking touch.”

The words are like a slap to her face, and she actually takes a step back. Up until then, she had held out hope that she could get him to calm down, to listen to her. But the fact that she’s being compared to Rebecca…

She can feel the walls that she had built around her after she was pulled into this universe reassembling and she steadies herself before replying. “Come off it, Tucker,” she says, her voice cold. “It’s not like you ever really believed I’d stay. You always were quick to bring up the Doctor at every turn, and repeatedly telling me that we couldn’t be together in public, as if you were ashamed of me. And the only time you actually showed affection was when you were in some stupid competition with Mickey.” She shakes her head, turning away. “Fine, then. If I’m so toxic, I’ll leave you alone. Don’t want my poison damaging your precious reputation, after all.”

Rose only pauses to grab her trainers from where they are at the bottom of the stairs, letting her fury and shattered heart propel her forwards. She’s back at Torchwood before she knows it, the dimension cannon in front of her, large and silver and gleaming. She gently places the TARDIS key into the appropriate slot, then pulls out her cell phone and dials Mickey.

“Rose?” he asks, sounding annoyed. “I told you I was out on a date, what’s so important—”

“He knows,” she says, flatly, and Mickey goes silent. “And you know what he said? To get lost. So I’m getting lost.”

Chapter Text

Malcolm's eyes slide closed as the front door slams behind Rose. He turns, bracing himself against the back door as he takes a deep breath, trying to regain his crumbling control. After a moment, he steps inside the house that somehow feels emptier than before, emptier than it's felt in a while, maybe even more so than it had before she'd shown up.

He'd been fine before she'd tumbled into his universe. Maybe not particularly happy, but not exactly unhappy either. He'd been coping just fine. Then she'd appeared and everything had gone to hell. From the first fucking moment she fought against him, from that first interview when she'd surprised him, he should have run and never fucking looked back.

He wanders toward the liquor cabinet, pausing when he catches sight of her duffel in the hall. He shakes his head, wondering how it’s possible that it had only been a few hours before that he’d been considering moving in with her. Talk about fucking naive. He should have known better; getting involved with someone less than half his fucking age could only lead to trouble.

You’re the only one obsessed with our age!

Of course she wouldn’t care about that; why would she? It made sense why he’d want her: bright, young, beautiful, poised when she wanted to be, shockingly and endearingly bad-tempered otherwise. He could think of half a dozen men his age that would fall at her feet easily--like Mannion said, that’s basically the fantasy. That doesn’t mean they would, because some people apparently have some sense of self fucking preservation that he clearly lacks. Because why the fuck would she be with him? He’s old, grouchy, hates everyone, had taken her to task more than fucking once--money wasn’t even a factor because she had acquired a decent savings of her own over the past year and a half, never mind the billions she’s worth through her father. It makes no sense, not unless it was just something to pass the fucking time.

Jackie’d mentioned that Rose had a type. Maybe that was it. He was some feeble, human facsimile of her precious Doctor, a passable stand-in until she could get back to him.

Then why would she care if you got back with Rebecca? a quiet voice in his head asks as he pulls a tumbler and decanter of brandy from the liquor cabinet.

Probably for the same reason Rebecca had shown up at all. Rose had lost her grasp on him while Rebecca had been present and she couldn’t tolerate that.

Had she, though? the voice asks, and the look of pain she’d worn whenever Rebecca was present swims into focus, along with the memory of the Vitex party when he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her, no matter how much he needed to.

It starts a cascade of agonizing recollections, excruciating in the small details: how scared and uncertain she’d looked standing on his doorstep, the way he’d nearly burst when he realized what she was saying, that she wanted him, and the feel of her kissing him back with the same feverish urgency he’d had. There was the way she snuggled up to him during films. The way she texted him during the day to keep him from murdering the idiots around him. The way she always tried to have dinner ready for him despite being busy herself and failing five nights out of seven, sometimes to the point of fire extinguishers. The way she always took an extra few minutes in the morning to get out of bed, cuddling into him for as long as she could. The way that he could swear she’d nearly told him she loved him countless times, but he never cared when she bit back the words, because he knew it.

Or, at least, he’d thought he did. But maybe there had been more to it after all.

You never said them either, the traitorous voice in his head reminds him. But it’s not the Doctor she dreams about on the beach anymore.

His control snaps then and he chucks his half-filled tumbler at the wall, shattering it. He shuts his eyes, hands balling into fists at his sides as he draws in a shaky breath. After a moment, he walks over to the mess, picking up the bigger pieces and hissing in pain when a particularly sharp shard slices into his palm, the brandy remnants adding an extra burn. He drops the shards into the bin in the kitchen, numbly registering the blood dripping from his fingers after them as he catches sight of the picture Mannion had given him. He’d chucked it when he came home and saw it on the fridge, the sight of it making him nauseous. Now, he reaches for it with shaking fingers, placing it on the counter and studying it as he pulls out his handkerchief and ties it around his hand. There’s a few drops of blood staining it now, which fits.

He swallows hard, trying and failing to keep her words from cutting into him again.

You were ashamed of me.

No, Rose, he thinks. I was ashamed of me.

Because she’d been right...about him, about his ingrained suspiciousness. Of course she had been. He never believed she’d stay, why would she? He could never measure up to her past, because how do you fight a ghost? He was never going to be the hero she wanted; he could give her everything he was, but he was never going to believe it was enough, because why fight with precedent?

But for a time, for a brief, shining moment, he’d managed it. He’d really believed that for once, love didn’t have to hurt.

Maybe it’s not Rose who’s toxic after all.

He takes a deep breath, then glances down at his hand, surprised to see the wound already bleeding through the cloth. He flexes his hand, wincing as pain distantly makes itself known, watching as the red stain grows until he groans, grabbing his coat and admitting that he probably needs A&E, folding the picture and shoving it into his inside pocket at the last minute, refusing to think about why.

It’s not until he’s driven himself there and is waiting to see a doctor that he remembers that his phone is still off; he cringes at the amount of messages he’s probably missed by now. He fishes it out of the suit jacket and turns it on, wincing as the voicemail alerts roll in. He dials into his inbox, dropping into a chair as the first message hits him like a punch in the gut.

“Hey, Superman. Your favorite Wonder Woman got called in to a job--dunno how long it’ll take, might be late. Call me; otherwise I’ll meet you at yours later. See you.”

He swallows hard, skipping to the next message, not able to bring himself to delete Rose’s. There’s a few from Sam and various underlings, increasingly desperate and panicky as they ask where he is and what he wants them to do about assorted issues. There’s one from Annie asking if he and Rose are going to be by for dinner the following night that drags a bitter laugh from him. Then he narrows his eyes when he hears Mickey the twat’s voice.

“Tucker, it’s Mickey. Call me.”

“Tucker, seriously, I dunno what happened, but I need to talk to you, ASAP.”

“Turn your bleeding phone on! Rose is at Torchwood. She says you know; she’s running. It’s not what you think. She wasn’t gonna use it. Call me back.”

“Boss, I can’t stall her much longer; Erica’s here, Rose’s got her convinced they don’t need Doctor Taylor. I don’t think you want her gone any more than I do, mate, but she’s not gonna listen to me.”

“Dammit, Tucker, this thing isn’t even safe! If you ever cared about her, you’ve got to get down here before she does something really stupid. Trust me, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

He’s striding out the hospital doors before the last message finishes playing, no longer caring to wait for a doctor. He calls Pete on the way to Torchwood and, without giving a lot of details, outlines the situation and tells him to get in touch with Taylor. Thankfully, Pete doesn’t ask a lot of questions; those will come later, after he’s made sure his daughter is safe.

Despite having a longer drive, Pete ends up at the building nearly the same time as Malcolm, both of them bypassing the parking garage to skid into illegal spots by the front door. He decides he doesn’t want to know how fast Pete was driving--to be honest, he doesn’t really care.

“What happened?” Pete demands, slamming his car door as he exits the vehicle.

So much for no fucking questions. Before he can answer, a cab pulls up, and Taylor tumbles out, wearing striped flannel pajamas under his coat and scarf. He pushes his glasses into place as he hurries toward them.

“Gentlemen, I don’t think I need to tell you how dangerous this is,” he says as they hurry into the building. “I just told you that the dimensional capabilities were yet untested, Mister Tucker!”

“No fucking shit,” Malcolm snaps. “Maybe that’s why we fucking called you.”

“Tucker,” Pete warns as they enter the lift. “Doctor Taylor, what sort of consequences could happen if we don’t get there in time?”

“Best case scenario, the cannon develops a fault and shuts down,” Taylor says with a shrug. “Zero effect.”

“Worst case?” Malcolm asks, cracking his knuckles at his side and looking up at the lights showing passing floors, willing them to speed up.

“The cannon explodes,” Taylor explains simply, and Malcolm and Pete share a horrified look over the scientist’s head. “The room is self-contained,” he goes on, misinterpreting their distress completely. “It would only affect the room it’s housed in. Likely even the shield rooms will survive the worst of the blast.”

“What about the person in front of it?” Malcolm asks hoarsely. “Any chance they could survive that?”

“Oh, I hardly think so,” Taylor says, pushing up his glasses. “It really was most unwise for Miss Tyler to initiate a test without me present. Even if it doesn’t explode, we’ve yet to fully predict exactly how successfully various forms of matter will transverse the dimensional walls. Anything she tries to send could very well end up floating in the Void.”

Fuck,” Malcolm spits out, sprinting from the lift as soon as the doors open.

Dead or trapped in some hellish nowhere, that’s what she’s risking. Because of him. Him and the fucking Doctor.

“Where the hell have you been?” Mickey demands when he bursts into the control office, Pete and Taylor close behind. Malcolm ignores him, looking past him out the window at the front of the room to where Rose is standing in front of the cannon, eyes shut tight with her arms wrapped around her middle.

“Rose!” Pete shouts, stepping forward as Taylor pushes the intern out of the way.

“She can’t hear you,” the scientist mutters. “Sound proof. Hold on, I’ll try to open the comms.”

“Forget the fucking comms!” Malcolm roars. “Shut the fucking thing down!”

“Right, yes, of course,” Taylor stammers, pushing his glasses up again before his hands fly over the controls. “Erica...Erica, what’ve you done? These readings--”

“Miss Tyler told me not to stop,” the intern says, looking fearfully between them. “She said not to stop, no matter what. She’s team leader, I thought--”

“Yes, yes, nevermind,” Taylor snaps.

“I dunno a lot of science,” Malcolm says, looking down at the various dials, all pointing to red. “But this doesn’t fucking bode well.”

“No,” Taylor says shortly, jumping between the computer terminal and various other switches. Macolm’s stomach drops when the scientist stops, taking a step back and turning to them slowly. “I can’t stop it. The system’s jammed.”

“So, does that mean it’s going to stop, or--” Pete stops, swallowing hard.

Malcolm doesn’t wait for an answer, leaping past them and yanking open the door to the cannon room. He realizes quickly why the shield room is soundproof; the scream of the cannon as it gets up to speed is enormous.

“Rose!” he shouts over it, and her eyes snap open to stare at him in shock. “Rose, get the fuck out of here!”

“Go away, Tucker!” she yells back. “You and I both know this is better. I never belonged here anyway.”

As furious as he’d been, the idea of her actually being gone is excruciating--the possibility of her dying as she tries to leave is unthinkable. He sprints across the room, grabbing her by the arms.

“The thing isn’t safe,” he tells her. “You know it’s not. If you wanna leave, fine, but at least wait ‘til it doesn’t kill you in the process!”

She shrugs his arms off of her. “You don’t make the calls here, Tucker! This is my job, my project! I’m not just your little media darling, and I’m not some fucking kid you can bully around!”

He glances at the cannon, his panic spiking when he sees it glowing and shaking in its housing. The key on the side is nearly white hot; as he watches, the chain dangling from it drops off, melting in the heat.

“Fuck this,” he mutters, grabbing her again. “You might be willing to die for him, but I’m not willing to let you.”

He shoves her hard, and she loses her footing, falling to the floor and sliding a few feet behind the cannon. He takes a step toward her, ready to drag her into the shield room if necessary, when he’s blinded by a sudden flash of light. A huge, unmeasurable sound deafens him as he feels himself being blasted off his feet before everything goes black.

Chapter Text

In the instant before the cannon explodes, Rose is aware of the color gold.

It still seems to hang in the air, miniscule particles seemingly frozen in time before rushing inwards and imploding where the mass of twisted, burning metal and wires that used to be the cannon now lay. The world is deathly quiet, and sometime in the moment between blinks her hand is front of her face, fingers covered in blood.

Oh. The blast probably ruptured her ear drums.

She wonders idly if she’s deaf as she struggles upwards, shoving aside a sheet of metal that landed on top of her. A steel rod is blocking the door that held the control station, and her eyes sweep over the wall that’s now blasted out, revealing downtown London. So much for the room being self-contained. She winces, wondering how on Earth Malcolm will explain this one--

Oh, god. Malcolm.

There’s a severe pain in her left leg but she ignores it, dragging herself across the room to where he’s lying near the door. He’s covered in wires and metal shards, and her panic increases when she sees how pale he is. Shaking, she shoves the debris away from him, staring in horror when her hands come back with even more blood.

“Malcolm,” she shouts, but she can’t hear herself. Her ears are ringing, and they hurt, but oh god she’s killed him. “No, Malcolm, please, don’t be dead.”

She blanches at the dark pool of blood under his right shoulder, fumbling for his neck. For a second terror courses through her, and then she starts to cry in relief when she finally finds a pulse--it’s thready and weak, but it’s there. She takes his face in her hands, eyes skittering over his features, begging him to wake up, to come back to her, anything, just to show that he’s okay.

Hands grab her from behind and she thinks she screams, but their mouths are moving and she can’t hear. She struggles against them, fighting to remain at Malcolm’s limp, battered side--she nearly throws up at the sight of a few of the Torchwood paramedics loading him into a gurney. He’s so...still, almost small, the complete opposite of the man she loves.

And she’d done this to him.

The paramedics force her onto her own gurney, strapping her down, and she tries to get them to understand. It’s her fault this happened, her fault that Malcolm is injured, she can’t leave him. He’s always been there for her--but they ignore her, rushing her to the OR. There’s a prick in her arm and though she fights, darkness swims into her vision and she’s gone.

What feels like seconds later she’s waking up again, aware of a beeping machine and a numbness over her body. She blinks her eyes open, wincing at the bright light, before her eyes adjust.

“What…?” she rasps, then frowns, moving her tongue around her dry mouth.

“Welcome back,” a nurse says, and helps her drink a small amount of water. “You’ll regain the use of your limbs in a moment; we had to sedate you pretty heavily to repair that leg wound. If we had gotten there a minute later you probably would have bled to death.”

“Where’s Malcolm?” she asks, wincing at the pins and needles as she moves her hand.

“Mister Tucker is still in surgery. His wounds were a bit more… severe.” At her look the nurse smiles reassuringly. “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. It’s a bloody miracle both of you lived, so close to the blast radius, but I’m not going to question it.”

She gestures at the nearby water jug, and he refills the cup before handing it to her. “We still have a few more tests to run to make certain that we didn’t miss anything, but family will be allowed to visit after that. Would you like me to turn on the telly?”

Rose shakes her head, already feeling exhaustion creep up on her. “No. I just… please tell me he’ll be alright.”

“Mister Tucker will be back here before you know it,” the nurse soothes. “It’ll be alright, Miss Tyler.”

When she opens her eyes again, Martha and Pete are talking in the corner, and to her relief Malcolm is lying on the bed next to hers. She struggles upwards, the machines screaming in protest, and Martha immediately rushes to her side.

“Careful, careful!” Martha exclaims. “Rose, you were just exposed to a highly localized explosion containing all sorts of radiation, not to mention flying shards of metal! You shouldn’t be up yet.”

“I have to see him,” she insists. “I nearly killed him, I have to know he’s alright!”

Pete grabs her shoulders and pushes her back down. “He’s asleep, Rose. Let him rest. He’ll be up and about it no time.”

Rose shakes her head. “No, Dad, I have to check… it’s because of me he’s even here at all!” she shouts, feeling hysterical. “I don’t even know how he found out or what he’s doing there but he was exposed because of me, I can’t just--”

“Rose, calm down, or else I’m going to have to sedate you again,” Martha says, sternly, and Rose catches her breath. “Tucker is fine. More than fine, actually. Both of you are.” She exchanges an odd glance with Pete, then looks back at Rose. “The only reason he went to surgery is because shrapnel pierced his shoulder, almost like a bullet. We had to repair the damage done. A large piece of sheet metal protected him from most of the other debris from the explosion. He’s going to be right as rain.”

Rose forces herself to regulate her breathing, and it takes a while for her to talk again. “How come I can hear you now?”

Martha smiles slightly. “Experimental device. By all rights you and Tucker should be deaf, but we were able to get to you fast enough to reverse the damage. First time it was tested on humans, but glad to know it works well.” Martha relaxes her grip, and Rose sinks back into the bed. “We’ll run tests on that later. I have to go look over both of your charts again, but I’ll be back once Tucker wakes up.”

She leaves, and Pete sits down by Rose. “How are you feeling?” he asks, and Rose looks away. “I don’t mean in body, because I have a feeling it’s a bit above shit,” he adds, and she smiles despite herself.

“I don’t know,” she finally admits. “I just… everything leading up to this just feels so… petty and stupid.”

“What happened?”

The words start pouring out, everything Rose has been too guilty or scared to say. She tells her dad about the real reasons behind the cannon project, about needing an escape from the pain of watching Malcolm return to Rebecca, and about how their relationship finally changed definitively, barring a few of the more...intimate details. How uncertain it all had been, how scared she’d been that it would fall apart, and how hard that made it to explain the project she no longer needed but didn’t know how to stop, because halting it meant giving up her last link to the Doctor and her last mode of escape if everything came crashing down around her. Then she told him about showing up at his place to find a dark house, finding out that he knew, the fight in all it’s terrible, terrible glory, and how all she wanted to do was run away from the pain and try to forget in any way she knew.

“And I’m so scared he’s going to hate me,” she confesses, shaking, into Pete’s shoulder. “He’s right, I’m toxic, I’ve caused him nothing but trouble and I nearly killed him. I don’t even know what he’s even doing here but because of my selfishness he nearly died and I can’t live with myself, Dad. I can’t look at him and know that he hates me because of everything I’ve put him through.”

Pete runs his hand along her back in an attempt to be soothing, but all Rose can think about is all the times Malcolm has been there for her as she cried, and the guilt settles in deeper. “No, Rose, he can’t hate you,” Pete says. “Yes, you hurt him by keeping the cannon a secret--but when he called me to tell me about your plan, all I could hear was how terrified he was for you. He doesn’t want you hurt, Rose. He came running at the drop of a hat because you were in danger, and as soon as he saw the cannon was overloading he ran out to save you. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t love you.”

She shakes her head. “What if he doesn’t, though? He said it was fine if I left. He doesn’t really want me here--”

Pete pulls away and turns her head to look at him. “I don’t believe a word of that,” he replies, firmly. “Because despite the fact that he was angry and hurt, his first and only thought was of you.”

He reaches into his suit jacket and hands Rose a photograph. It’s burnt and tattered and stained with something she fears is blood, but she recognizes it instantly--the picture from the picnic, the one Malcolm once had hanging on his fridge. Her fingers trace his image for a moment before looking up at her father, not even trying to hold back the tears.

Pete cups her face with one of his hands. “You should know better than anyone that people do whatever it takes to save their loved ones. When Tucker ran out in front of the cannon, his first and only priority was to get you safe. Everything else didn’t matter. He took the blast for you, put himself in harms way, just so you could stay alive.” He shakes his head. “And for all my reservations about your relationship, I cannot deny that he loves you, and that because of him, you’re still alive. God knows I owed him before this, but today… I owe him everything, because you’re alive.”

She starts crying harder, wondering what she had done to deserve Pete as her father, wondering how she could have lived without him had the cannon been successful. How she could have lived without anyone--Mum, Tony, Mickey, Annie and the kids, Malcolm. Mickey had said before that the worst thing the Doctor had taught her was how to run. She had never really understood that until now.

Malcolm is still asleep when she stops crying, and Pete stays by her side, offering a silent support. She asks about the others in the control room--no one was injured by the blast, but Mickey sliced his hand open trying to get them out. Malcolm’s barely-trusted second in command had released a statement that some intern had gotten clever while trying to fix a kitchen stove, resulting in a gas leak that had caused the explosion after said intern lit up the stove to fix tea. Of course, the second in command didn’t even know Torchwood existed, and had only listened to what Pete had come up with.

“What about us?” Rose asks. “How are we gonna get away with this?”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Pete tells her.

She swallows. “Where’s Mum?”

“Mickey’s keeping her busy. There’s some… developments… that we need to share with both of you before your mum can come in.” She looks at him, curiously, but he shakes his head. “It really is better if you’re both awake to hear it. Trust me on this,” he adds, jokingly, giving her a thumb’s up.

“Okay.” She hesitates before glancing at Malcolm. “I… I think I’ll be okay now,” she admits. “You don’t have to be here. Go reassure Mum and Micks that I’m awake and fine.”
He looks at her carefully. “I really doubt the second.”

She gives him fragile smile. “I’m… okay enough.”

He sighs but nods. “Okay. Tucker should be awake soon. Martha told me he’d be out for another hour and it’s nearly that.” He pauses, then pulls her into a careful hug and kisses the top of her head. “I’ll be right down the hall. Holler if you need me.”

She watches him leave, then settles back, looking at Malcolm. He looks better than he did the last she saw him--he has color on his face again, although she smiles a little when she sees that the hair around his ear had been shaved so that a wound could be stitched up. It falters again as she looks at the line of black thread, the bandage wound around one hand, and the sling covering his other arm. What had she been thinking?

Rose is lost in her worry when Malcolm finally shifts, letting out a raspy groan. “Fuck,” he says, then coughs. “What the hell happened?”

She holds her breath as his eyes blink open, taking in his immediate surroundings before they finally land on her. She opens her mouth to speak, but falters; unsure of what to say, so she simply stares at him, drinking him in.

“You’re alive,” he finally says, then looks down at himself. “I’m alive. How the fuck did that happen?”

Rose flinches. “For a moment there, I thought you were dead,” she admits, quietly, staring down at the photo still in her hands. She hears him exhale sharply, and grips it a little tighter as her nerves begin to riot.

“How bad is it?”

“Depends on what you’re talking about,” she replies, tonelessly. Her heart is nearly beating out of her chest from nerves, but she can’t bring herself to look at him for reassurance. “The cannon is useless, and almost one entire wall was destroyed. We’re both pretty beaten up but survived somehow. I guess the most important bit is that we’re alive.”

There’s so much more to say, so much more she wants to tell him, but she doesn’t even know where to start. He’s got every reason to hate her, and every right to, and she doesn’t know where to begin fixing the whole mess she caused by running.

“The cannon...can you rebuild it?” His tone is carefully even, and she looks up at him sharply, only to find him staring down at the sheet clutched in his hands. She looks down again, shrugging, and putting the picture face down in her lap. It’s too hard to look at right now.

“I dunno,” she says despondently, not really caring anymore.
“Sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she says, tracing patterns on one of her palms with the index finger of her other hand, trying not to think of the times she’s done the same thing to his hand. “It was...I dunno. I shouldn’t say that, ‘cause it does, ‘cause it almost killed you, and it’s my fault, and--” She stops, taking a deep breath to hold back the sobs, trying to keep from getting hysterical again. “But it doesn’t mean what it used to. It started as a way to get home, but…but that place isn’t home anymore,” she finishes lamely, shrugging again. “I traded a box for a family and friends and--and that’s...that’s good. Not a bad deal, anyway. I think,” she adds a little ruefully, realizing that a lot of what has made this universe feel like home has come from Malcolm.

“You think?” he asks, and she looks up again at the odd tone of his voice. He’s watching her with the same unreadable expression he gets whenever he’s torn between two things, the one he had when he’d kissed her on his birthday, and when he’d said goodbye at the Vitex party. The idea that there might still be a chance, that glimmer of hope, has an odd effect--instead of bolstering her, she falls apart.

“Oh god, Malcolm,” she chokes out, tears springing to her eyes. “I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry. You’ve done...everything for me, and I nearly got you killed. I kept things, and I ran, and there’s no excuse, and I’m so sorry I hurt you, because I never wanted to do that. I love you so much, and I nearly lost you, I probably have lost you, I understand if you hate me, but I--”

“Rose.” She stops short at his quiet, commanding tone, looking back up at him as she draws a shuddering breath. The blue-grey eyes that had seemed so hard once now looked at her with a tenderness she couldn’t fathom. “Darling, I couldn’t hate you if I tried, and god knows I’ve fucking tried. I’ve been in love with you too long for that.”

“You...you have?” she asks hesitantly.

“Vitex party, last year,” he says, laying back on his pillows with his face turned to her. “I was done for.” She blinks, and he gives her a tired, crooked grin. How had she been so blind?

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers again.

“Stop.” He lifts his bandaged hand to run it down his face, but winces instead and glances at it. “I haven’t...made things especially easy on you either.“ He frowns as his eyes move down to her lap, and she follows his gaze to the photo still laying face down in her lap. “What’ve you got there?”

“Um.” She picks it up, glancing at it once more before passing it across the distance between their beds to him, biting her lip as he takes it with his bandaged hand. “They uh...I guess they got it off you in surgery.”

“Right,” he says, staring at it. “It’s seen better days.”

“So’ve we,” she says, her voice cracking a little, and he looks up at her.

“Suppose,” he says slowly. “But you know, I’ve never gone in for a lot of symbolic bullshit wank anyway.”

A bubble of laughter bursts out of her, and he flashes a grin at her. Martha enters, before either of them can say more, carrying a few folders. “Oh, good, you’re both awake,” she says. “I hope you aren’t feeling faint, because I have… interesting news.”

Rose chews her bottom lip. “Is this something to do with the radiation you mentioned earlier?”

“It plays a big part, yes,” Martha says, and looks at her. “Rose, did you know that, ever since you landed in this Universe and maybe even before, you haven’t aged?”

She stares at Martha. “What?”

The doctor smiles slightly. “It wasn’t caught, at first. We didn’t know to even test you for it. But when you were attacked in that warehouse, we were running tests for alien contaminants, and we discovered something… different.” She holds up a diagram that meant nothing to Rose. “This is what we can expect from a regular human’s blood. This--” she holds up a different diagram, “this is your blood.”

“But…” Rose shakes her head. “How is this possible? I’m human, I can’t… what happened?”

Martha shakes her head. “You’ll know that better than I will. Up until now, we couldn’t figure out what it was we found.” She looks at Malcolm. “At least, we couldn’t until we examined you, Mister Tucker. And found the exact same thing.”

They stare at her, shocked. “So what the fuck does it mean, then?” Malcolm demands.

“Well,” Martha says, slowly, “from what we can tell, the cannon exploding released a very high, very concentrated dose of the Vortex. It’s probably what shielded the both of you from severe injury. Rose, since you were already saturated, for the lack of a better term, with the Vortex energy, it merely followed the laws of science and seeped into a receptacle with the least concentration before it was pulled back from… wherever it was it came from. So congratulations, I guess, Tucker. You’re going to live for a few more centuries, by our estimates.” She shuffles the files for a bit before standing. “Now, if you excuse me, I have to explain to a very worried Jackie Tyler that her daughter is perfectly fine, but slightly… different.”

Martha leaves, and Rose stares at the spot she once vacated before turning to look at Tucker. He looks like he’s been hit by a bus and slowly shakes his head. “Please tell me she’s making a fucking practical joke,” he says, voice strangled.

Rose swallows. “I… don’t think she is.” She hesitates. “Is it… is it really that awful?”

He looks at her, running a hand down his face and wincing when he irritates the IV. “It’s a lot to wrap my head around,” he finally admits. Then he smiles a little at her, that tender warmth lighting his eyes again and stealing her breath. “But stuck with you...it’s not so bad.”

She stares at him, before slowly smiling at his words. “Yeah?”

“Yes.” He returns her smile, before glancing down at the various wires and needles. “Look, like I said, I know I haven’t made things particularly easy on you. But no matter how much you try to drive me completely fucking mental, I’m not going anywhere, and if it takes calling every journalist and photographer and hack I’ve ever fucking had the displeasure to meet and telling them so, I will. I’m shit at this, but for some godforsaken reason, I want it anyway, and that’s probably because it’s you. I can’t say I’ll ever be the fucking perfect Ken to your Barbie, but I’m not gonna hide anymore. Or, at least, I’ll try not to. Think you can handle that?”

Rose stares at him for a beat, realizing how much it took him to even say that much. “Yeah,” she says finally. “Yeah, I can handle that much. And...I suppose...if you can try not to hide...I can try not to run away when things get tough. Or, you know, get you blown up in the process.”

“That’d be fucking nice, yeah,” he growls, and she smiles despite herself, even as tears form in her eyes again...only this time, it’s because she’s so happy she might burst.

“I love you, Tucker,” she chokes out.

“I love you too...you daft thing,” he replies with a smirk, then sighs, dropping his head back on the pillow. “I really wish I could kiss you right now.”

Rose laughs, her heart feeling like it’s going to burst. “Yeah, well, we have a few hundred years left, apparently. I think we can wait a few hours.”

“So says you,” he complains, but lays back down with an irritated sigh. “Soon as Doctor Jones there comes back, I’m checking myself out. I have better things to do than sit around in a fucking hospital bed twiddling my thumbs.”

“Oh, yeah?” she asks. “Like what?”

He smirks at her, and Rose swallows. “Why don’t you wait and find out?”

They still have things to talk about, insecurities and fears to overcome, pasts to move on from. But for now, all Rose can think about is the future lying ahead of them. And she knows, without a doubt, that it’s going to be more than she could ever have imagined.

Chapter Text

Nine months later.

Malcolm fiddles with his bow tie, absently patting his pockets for his pack of cigarettes before he remembers that they’re not there. Rose had done away with that particular habit as soon as he’d moved into her place, claiming they could find better ways to relieve his stress. Given that he’d hardly smoked at all in that first few months before the accident, and only once in the month between that and the move, he’d agreed. At the moment, given what is in his pocket, he’s sort of wishing he hadn’t.

“I do love these annual Vitex shindigs,” a voice says near his shoulder, and he rolls his eyes as he turns to Jamie. “Nice to mingle with people of a certain class.”

Malcolm narrows his eyes. “Pretty fucking sure you wouldn’t be able to recognize class if it kicked in your teeth.”

“Bank account, then,” Jamie replies easily with a grin. “Always looking for backing for the party. Hear you’ve gotten yourself in pretty well with the Tylers since last year. You and the heiress work out a reward system after all?”

“You know, we have,” he admits. “We reward ourselves with a day off every time we manage to make it through a night of dealing with slimy fucking pricks such as yourself without getting arrested. It’s worked out pretty fucking well, I think. Although Pete is starting to get annoyed at all the personal days.”

“Bit rich, coming from you, Malcolm,” Jamie retorts. “Don’t forget, once upon a time, you were fucking king of prick mountain before I ascended to the throne.”

“That was a long time ago,” Malcolm reminds him. “And at least I had fucking standards. You’re just a fucking psycho. Have fun with it.”

“Rather have fun with that,” Jamie says, nodding behind him, and Malcolm is overcome with deja vu as he turns to find Rose coming down the stairs. She still insisted on getting ready at the mansion, but at the sight of her, he no longer has any desire to complain. The red dress hugs her curves in ways that border on illegal, and the embellishments in front accentuate cleavage he knows for a fact she hasn’t got without assistance, but he’s willing to buy stock in whatever company made her bra then and there.

“Get your own,” he says to Jamie as he walks away, adding over his shoulder, “Better yet, find your fucking wife.”

He winds through the crowds, getting to the bottom of the steps the same time she does. He holds out a hand to her, and she smiles as she takes it.

“Hello,” she says, tongue poking out just a bit from her teeth.

“Hello,” he answers, then spins her around, sucking in a breath when he sees the dress is backless, deciding that the cleavage is simply magic that he’s not meant to understand. “You look stunning,” he tells her when she’s facing him again.

“If I didn’t know better, Tucker,” she says, tugging her hand away to fix his bow tie, “I’d think you were trying to get in my knickers.”

“Now, darling...we both know it’d take less than that,” he replies, flashing a crooked grin.

“True,” she admits. “But it doesn’t hurt.”

Her hands leave his bow tie to slide up around his neck as he dips his head to kiss her, one arm snaking around her waist to pull her as close as propriety will allow.

After the accident, he’d given up all pretense, at least as far as their relationship was concerned. The gossip columns had run amok for a few weeks, but he didn’t care, and they lost interest in the story when they’d realized that no one associated with Malcolm and Rose saw their relationship as a scandal. Annie had asked him why the change of heart, but he’d simply shrugged, saying that thirty years didn’t seem like such a gap when they had a few centuries to live out.

His sister had taken the fact of his new longevity surprisingly well; she’d been more concerned for him and the emotional toll it would take as he outlived the people he cared about by generations. He’s sure that eventually he’ll have to deal with that, but for the moment, he simply reminded her that it also meant that her kids and her grandkids would always have him and Rose looking out for them...not to mention the fact that he’d now outlive all the cumstains that had tried to best him over the years. They’re keeping the fact of their longevity from the public for now, because they still have some time before it becomes obvious enough to address it, but the thought still gives some inward glee.

“Alright, you two,” Pete says behind him, and Malcolm breaks the kiss with a wink at Rose, who raises a hand to wipe lipstick from the corner of his mouth. “Jax is right, a couple of teenagers.”

“Well, if you look at it relatively--” Rose starts, and Pete rolls his eyes as Malcolm turns to him, leaving a hand on Rose’s back.

"Yeah, alright, have your fun,” Pete says. “But can you save that particular brand for later? There’s investors to schmooze.”

“Yes, father,” Rose says, pitching her voice low for dramatics, and Malcolm smirks, only making Pete roll his eyes again.

They manage to stay together for an hour before they get separated by different groups, although he does keep track of her as the night wears on. At least this year there’s no guilt in it, or need to write it off as professional necessity. He’s ready, though when he sees her smile start to get a little plastic, her laugh a little slower, her movements more mechanical. He quickly excuses himself from the conversation about fuck all, hurrying to her side.

“So sorry, going to have to steal Miss Tyler for a moment,” he tells the couple she’s chatting with.

“Oh, ho, business or pleasure?” the man about Malcolm’s own age says with a grin.

“Hardly a fucking difference for me,” he says easily, tugging Rose away. She twines her fingers with his and hugs his arm a little, and he drops a kiss to her hair as they head out of the hall.

“Look at that,” Jamie calls, slurring substantially. “King of fucking prick mountain. Off with his fucking prize. Per’aps we should all move to the private sector...seems to have better fucking benefits.”

“Always a pleasure to see you,” Rose says, smiling coldly as Jamie stumbles toward her.

“And you,” he says. “But I’d watch out for this one. I don’t think I need to tell you about how he resigned in fucking shame before he came to work for your dear old dad.”

“And yet, it didn’t stop you,” Rose observes, and Malcolm smirks.

“Not worth it,” he tells her quietly, tugging her away.

“Anytime you wanna trade up, doll,” Jamie calls after them, “you just let me know.”

“Now why on earth would I do that?” she asks, pausing to turn to him again. “Given that Malcolm here is worth ten of you. Ten and a half if you count the height.”

“I am well within the average height!” he shouts, pointing an unsteady finger at her, and Malcolm snorts, fishing out his phone and dialing for a cab.

“Go home, Mister MacDonald,” he says when he’s done. “I hope you had a lovely evening.”

He takes Rose’s elbow, guiding her through the halls to the kitchen, and snagging a couple of champagne flutes before heading out to their spot in the back garden. He doesn’t even have a chance to set them down on the low wall before she’s grabbing the lapels of his tuxedo jacket and pulling him down for a dizzying kiss.

“What was that for?” he asks breathlessly when she releases him.

“Because I can,” she says simply, taking one of the glasses from him.

Memories of other times they’ve been out here together--and other times they’ve noticeably not made it out here--flash through his mind, giving extra weight to the object in his pocket. He swallows hard, his nerves jangling, and he takes a long sip of champagne to try to calm them.

No more running, he tells himself, repeating the conversation they’d had after the accident when they’d finally had a real chance to talk. No more hiding.

He’s distracted when a door down the way opens as someone steps out on a more public patio for a smoke. He glances at Rose, then takes her glass, setting both down on the low wall before taking her in his arms, swaying slowly to the soft music spilling out into the night.

“And you said you don’t dance,” Rose says, and he can hear the smile in her voice as she rests her head on his shoulder.

“I said I needed a decent partner,” he says in a low voice, the hand not holding hers to his chest stroking idly over her bare back. “I suppose you’ll do.”

“Oh, thanks,” she laughs, raising her head again.

He dips his head to press his lips to hers, drawing her closer. It’s soft, unhurried, lips meeting and parting only to find each other again. They’ve stopped their swaying motion by the time he finally lifts his head again, looking down to see her eyes still closed, a soft smile on her lips.

“Rose,” he murmurs, and her eyes flutter open. He swallows hard, still trying to find the words he needs. Thirty years in communications and she’s got the power to render him completely speechless. “You know...a few centuries is...a long fucking time. Think you’ll still love me in a hundred years?”

She considers him a moment, then smiles. “I’ll still love you in a thousand.”

He nods a little, letting go of her hand to fish in his pocket, producing a ring box. “You wanna put that to the test?”

He pops it open, revealing a silver colored ring, the metal twisted and looped around a solitary diamond. Her eyes go wide as she stares at it, and he’s not entirely sure she’s still breathing. He holds his own breath, hoping to god he’s not wrong.

“You’re...you’re asking me to marry you?” she asks after a moment, and his heart sinks a little.

“That was the plan, yes,” he says. “If you don’t...if that’s not what you want--”

“Shut up,” she says, raising her face and pulling him down for a deeper kiss, and he pulls her flush against him, pouring all the frustration and uncertainties they’ve fought against since she’d landed in this universe into the kiss, along with all the joy she brings into his life every fucking day she’s in it. When he finally breaks the kiss gently, she’s got tears gleaming in her eyes.

“Is that a ‘yes,’ then?” he asks, flashing a crooked grin.

“Yes!” she practically shouts, letting go of him to hold her left hand out. He takes the ring out of the box and slips it on her finger, swearing that his heart only just started beating again after stopping during his moment at sea. She holds her hand out, twisting it so that the diamond catches the light from the kitchen. “Malcolm...that’s gorgeous.”

“The stone is from my mother’s engagement ring,” he tells her. “She gave it to me after my dad died.”

“You didn’t--” She pauses, biting her lip, and he shakes his head.

“Rebecca didn’t want it,” he tells her, snorting dismissively. “Said it was tacky. Doesn’t matter, she didn’t fucking deserve it anyway. The design is the same as Mum’s too.”

“What’s it made of?” she asks, bringing her hand closer to study it. “That’s not silver, is it?”

“Um...no,” he says, debating for the millionth time whether he’d done the right thing. “It’s...um...it’s your key. I went back, after the accident...it was completely melted in the explosion. But...it was important.” She stares at him, her expression unreadable. “That life, in the TARDIS, with the Doctor, that’s part of who you are, just as much as anything else. I love you, Rose...all of you. Who you were, who you are, who you’re still going to be. It’s only fair that a symbol of a new beginning share space with a reminder of where you started.”

Her bottom lip trembles for a moment before she throws her arms around his neck. “I love you, Malcolm.”

“Forever, darling,” he says, wrapping his arms around her. “For whatever forever we’ve got, I’ll love you.”

If someone had told him when Pete Tyler had offered him a job that it would lead to him being engaged to a woman who’d walked in stardust in another universe, he’d have had them sectioned. But now, holding Rose close, feeling her heart beat in time with his own, and the future stretch before them, he knows that he’d do it all again, just for this moment.

Stuck with her really isn’t so bad at all.