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The World in Ten Seconds

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He puts the phone down.

Feels like he’s been running, the way his hearts are beating, and there’s a lump in his throat that doesn’t quite go away when he swallows.

Your choice.

Idiot. Why’d he go and say that? Some companion he is, drops her off a year late with nary a word to her mum, and now he makes her choose all over again, as if the whole thing wasn’t his fault to begin with. As if he hadn’t given her a phone, led her into thinking he was giving her the universe and her home besides.

Jackie had invited him home for dinner. He stole her only daughter, stole a whole year’s worth of a relationship out of their pathetically short lifespans, and gave the order that would’ve killed Rose, and Jackie'd invited him over for dinner.

Didn’t surprise him, really. Humans. Met the worst of them and thought you’d seen them all, and then they went and did something surprisingly, predictably noble. He’d known what Jackie was going to pull before Rose even passed on the invite, and he went and acted like Rose’d saddled him with an old ticket stub fished from her pocket. Trifling. Something you tossed in the first bin you saw.  

You think pretending it was only ever her choice will wash away the guilt when you finally kill her?

Plasma storm brewing right now in the Horsehead Nebula. As if. Because just like he told her when he bribed her away the first time, his ship Travels. In. Time.

The wicked flee though no one pursues.

Downing Street’s torn to bits and all the reporters can do is fawn over Harriet Jones. Like she wasn’t some unknown backbencher from who-knows-where this morning. Jackie’s not normally one for miracles—she’s wasted too many years of her life waiting when she should have realized the only way out’s through her own claws—but today feels like one. Rose is sitting on her couch. She’s glancing at her telly with the same sort of glazed-over look she had after her job exploded. Right before she went missing.

God, she’s been a horrible mother. Ran Rose right off, then spent weeks screaming her lungs out at Mickey because surely, surely Rose wouldn’t have left her like that.  

S’not like she has much to offer, anyways.

If you’d told her in one day, she’d have made up with Mickey, reunited with Rose, and watched bloody aliens stop World War Three, she’d have said you were barking. Miracles? More like a dream. Or a drug trip.  

She looks at her daughter (her daughter, who was right there saving the whole world). It’s not fair, any of it. Rose deserves so much more than a tiny flat and clothes that fall to bits in the wash and the dead-end jobs waiting after every posh interviewer her turns down for her accent.

“Harriet Jones. Who does she think she is? Look at her, taking all the credit,” Jackie says over the broadcast. It scares her, seeing Rose on the couch like she’s already given up. “Should be you on there. My daughter saved the world!”

“I think the Doctor helped a bit,” Rose says.

“All right, then. Him too.” Can’t really deny it.  “You should be given knighthoods.” No one’s going to write a piece praising Rose in the tabloids, but at least someone’s there to remind her what she’s worth.

Rose rolls her eyes. “That's not the way he does things. No fuss.” That stings a little. “He just moves on. He's not that bad if you gave him a chance.”

“He's good in a crisis, I'll give him that.”

Rose’s not wrong. If Jackie’s learned anything, it’s that there are far barmier things running around than she realized, and he’s the chief loon. More than that, it’s clear Rose’s head over heels, no matter what she says. Only one reason to look at a bloke like that.

Only one way to get what you want: take it home and keep it ‘til it stops running. If there was one thing she was good at, it was cooking up a damn good meal on a shoestring budget.

“What does he eat?”

Rose shouldn’t be alone with him. That much is clear. No matter how smothering it is to be left to his own thoughts, it’s irresponsible to be alone with someone naïve enough to trust him. Do it, she’d said. Even before he told her what he could do to her.

He wants to be alone with her. Everyone else, they drive him mad with their nattering questions and flimsy demands, but not her. She’s just gentle enough that he doesn’t flinch back or bolt, and she doesn’t run off when he barks. He finds himself laying his soul bare before her.

It’s intoxicating.

Is that what he’s become? Someone with a thin enough skin that one little human can make him forget a life sentence? He’d actually found himself thinking he’d have a choice in the matter when he let slip he’d let a world burn to save a single human being that made him feel...better.

He might not be able to forget this ever happened, but he’s going to do all in his power to try, thank you very much. Fortunately, paint’s a temporary thing, and before he knows it, the TARDIS is back to normal and he’s shooing off the lad who painted over it.

Still, Rose shouldn’t be alone with him. He putters around the TARDIS, putting things right. Kill the advertisement, that’s just asking for trouble. Tie up the loose ends, because missile control security really shouldn’t be cracked bare on the internet. Pay his condolences to the families. He can’t bring himself to call but damned if he’ll let them hear the news from a bureaucrat. He records the first message six times before he can say it without choking. The last one slides out as if he’s practiced.

That’s what does it. They were there because his name had sounded the alarm, and if they hadn’t slipped a target on their necks with the other experts, they’d still be alive. Can’t let that happen again. Best thing do to is wipe it all clean. What’s one more smudge of his past rubbed out by time?

He could bring Mickey.

Twenty minutes later, he steps out of the TARDIS and laughs with Mickey about the predictability of humans. He wants to say it’s the exception that proves the rule, but today was saved by four ordinary humans, and that’s as embarrassingly predictable as the tabloid screaming “hoax.” Before he can get too wrapped up in domestic affairs, he hands Mickey a virus. He’ll know what to do with it.

“It'll destroy every mention of me. I'll cease to exist.”

“What do you want to do that for?”

“Because you're right. I am dangerous. I don't want anybody following me.” Which is a lie, because walking up is the one person he never wants to leave behind.

Mickey’s sharp. For all the Doctor’s shots on his intelligence, he knows what’s not being said.

“How can you say that and then take her with you?”

Before he can lose his courage, the Doctor asks him. “You could look after her. Come with us.” In the half second it takes Mickey to answer, he relives every moment of the past few hours and his hearts stop before Mickey says:

“I can't. This life of yours, it's just too much. I couldn't do it.” He’ll be alone with her. His hearts restart. He’s completely, utterly relieved. He won’t have another person to dance around, grimacing. And yet, dread is creeping down his spine and curling in the pit of his stomach.  She’ll be alone with him.

“Don't tell her I said that,” Mickey says. He wouldn’t dream of it.

“I'll get a proper job. I'll work weekends. I'll pass my test, and if Jim comes ‘round again, I'll say no. I really will.”

She’d almost thought Rose had meant it when she’d said they’d stay for dinner. Then what does her daughter do? The minute Jackie enters the kitchen, Rose bolts for her room and shoves her clothes (pristinely folded and re-folded in a year of absence) pell-mell into her bag, ready to scarper.

The oven was on and Jackie’d even started planning for drinks.

“I'm not leaving because of you.”

Cheap, leftover drinks some bloke’d regifted her on New Year’s.

“I'm travelling, that's all, and then I'll come back.” Rose is smoothing Jackie’s hoodie and brushing the hair out of her eyes like she’s the one jumping the nest.

Isn’t this everything Jackie could never give her?

I’m travelling. That’s what she said last time. God, she’s never coming back, is she?

“But it's not safe.”

“Mum, if you saw it out there, you'd never stay home.”

She’s brought two bags stuffed with everything she didn’t bring the first time. Ready to go, no thought for the fussy details humans anchor their lives with.  She’s never going to leave. He doesn't want her to. It terrifies him.

“Got enough stuff?” he asks nonchalantly.

“Last time I stepped in there, it was spur of the moment. Now I'm signing up.” She flashes him a cheeky smile and pushes her bags into his arms. “You're stuck with me.” Before he can blink, she turns to Mickey and asks the question the Doctor's been waiting to hear.

“Come with us,” she says to Mickey. “There's plenty of room.” Room in her heart for everyone. He can see the slight panic in Mickey’s eyes and breaks in. This side of the bargain he can keep, even if he knows, he really knows, it’s the top of a slippery slope.

“No chance. He's a liability, I'm not having him on board.” He folds his arms across his chest.  The lie feels unconvincing and hypocritical even as it leaves his lips. Rose gives him a flat stare.

“We'd be dead without him.”

“My decision is final.” His shoulders are tight and he can barely stand to look at her, but she doesn’t notice him look away as she turns towards her boyfriend.

“Sorry.” She kisses him.

“Good luck, yeah,” Mickey says by way of goodbye. She doesn’t seem to notice how not-upset her boyfriend is. Can’t imagine he’d be too scared?

Overlooking cowardice, that’s one thing she’s good at for sure.

He should have expected it. He should have known the blow was coming, but Jackie’s words cut into him far more than her earlier slap.

You still can't promise me. What if she gets lost? What if something happens to you, Doctor, and she's left all alone standing on some moon a million light years away. How long do I wait then?

He can’t promise her. Even if he could avoid decisions like today's, Rose could still die in some cramped, dusty hole-in-the-wall two centuries in the past and no one would know; it would be his fault.

He'd never let Rose meet an untimely demise without going first. He won't let her die while he'll still have to write Jackie a condolence. But if by some miracle, she does live and you’re gone

“Mum, you're forgetting. It's a time machine. I could go traveling around suns and planets and all the way out to the edge of the universe, and by the time I get back, yeah, ten seconds would have passed. Just ten seconds. So stop worrying. See you in ten seconds' time, yeah?”

It’s a lie. Jackie knows it’s a lie. He knows she knows it’s a lie even though he doesn’t make eye contact with her. He can’t guarantee nothing will happen. How do you prove a negative? And if he’s being honest, it’s been ages since he landed where he meant to land, and he suspects the TARDIS helped him the time he got it right and went back for Rose.

Ten seconds and all the time in the world. Equally impossible.

But he looks away and pretends he doesn’t see the hurt in Jackie’s eyes, just like he pretended Mickey was a liability and just like he pretended he gave Rose a choice.

Rose isn’t even looking back to say her goodbyes and it hurts. Jackie’s known for years that without a father, she would have to play both roles. Scare the fiancé into caring for her daughter, and smother the pour soul with affection. Fat lot of good she’d been during Rose’s sixth form. After seeing Rose pack her bags, Jackie's realized her daughter’s never going to come home with a ring and try on white dresses—how could she, when she’s flouncing off with some alien who clearly loves her but has more on his plate than keeping one human girl alive. Jackie will not make the same mistake as last time. She stops trying to convince Rose and turns her sights on the alien leaning against the box.

“You still can't promise me. What if she gets lost? What if something happens to you, Doctor, and she's left all alone standing on some moon a million light years away.” She’s babbling.  She hates sounding so desperate. “How long do I wait then?

He doesn’t answer her. He blanches and looks away. It’s only after Rose reaches out to soothe her that Jackie tears her eyes off the Doctor.

“Mum, you're forgetting. It's a time machine. I could go traveling around suns and planets and all the way out to the edge of the universe, and by the time I get back, yeah, ten seconds would have passed. Just ten seconds. So stop worrying.” Stop worrying? “See you in ten seconds' time, yeah?”

Jackie gathers her daughter up in her arms and wants to cling to her for dear life, but before she knows it the moment’s over and Rose is tossing back a wave as she disappears into an impossible box.

It starts to wheeze and fade away with her inside. One, two, three. Mickey doesn’t look broken-up about his girlfriend leaving with another bloke. The simple life has always been more his style. He might have kept Rose near. Four, five, six. The outline of the box has almost vanished. Seven, eight, nine. For half a moment, Jackie’s heart flutters. It’s a day for miracles, isn’t it?

Ten.

Silence. She give the empty spot one last look, and turns away.

“Ten seconds.”

“I’m just gonna toss this stuff in my room, yeah?” Rose flashes him a blinding grin and his chest begins to loosen in spite of himself. He drops the bag she handed him and fiddles with the console.

“Well, don’t waste your time folding jumpers and socks and whatever it is you apes like to do when you’re not sleeping,” he says with his own grin that’s grown just a little too wide to be goofy.

“Oi, you’re one to talk, Mr. I’ve-got-more-clothes-in-my-wardrobe-than-the-bloody-theatre! Come on, help me carry this one.” She grabs the bag he's dropped and deposits it into his arms.

He pretends offense. “Not my stuff!”

She just drives him mad with that smile again. “Faster with two!”

He can’t argue with that.

...

Rose survives ‘til the end of the day. It’s a relief. His smile’s been getting wider and wider and he thinks she notices, because she decides to clear out early and says she wants to sleep in. As soon as she’s left, he feels himself slump and finally drops the smile. She keeps to herself, but he can tell she’s up for hours after she said she would sleep. Giving him space. He tinkers around the console, abandons an attempt at tea, shrugs off his jacket, tinkers some more, and shrugs it back on again.

Later, when she is finally sleeping, he relaxes for a few moments and composes his thoughts.

Oh, who is he kidding?

It’s not as if he hasn’t been rehearsing what to say for hours.

He stands up, walks back to the section of the console he’s been mending, and flips a few switches. Deep breath. Can’t give her ten seconds, but he can give her this.

This is Emergency Programme One. Rose, now listen, this is important.