'If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?'
Charles Dickens' bemused expression had not even faded from the monitor before Rose's adrenaline wore off.
Where seconds ago she had exuded energy and invincibility, buoyed up by the success of yet another thrilling escape, now she was experiencing an onset of the shakes.
Probably my brain catching up with the fact I almost died, she decided. Again.
The Doctor was already a whirlwind of movement, fiddling with the innumerable controls of the console. He was smiling once more: piercing eyes sparking with amusement and heavy features pulled into the manic grin that graced his face too often to be true.
He was also murmuring to his ship as though he expected it to answer back, intent on the task at hand.
It hit her that what happened at the undertaker's parlour in nineteenth century Cardiff, was just another day to him. Never mind that lives had changed and even ended not half an hour ago. To him, it was just time for the next stop.
The realisation made her gut clench with unease, so when he turned to her, an expectant eyebrow raised and mouth forming a question, she quickly interrupted.
'I should go get out of this kit, yeah?' She hoped her voice sounded light-hearted instead of awkward.
Without waiting for an answer, she headed back through the twisting hallways and corridors of the TARDIS. She hoped she wouldn't become lost on the way there; it would defeat the purpose of her abrupt departure if she needed to go back and ask for directions.
With any luck, her excuse would give her the time to gather her composure. All she needed after the latest debacle in Cardiff was another fit of temper. She had already exploded at him twice since he brought her on board his amazing ship.
Not that I don't deserve to be a little shaken up, because seriously, zombies!
And fine, they had been dead bodies possessed by gas aliens and not real zombies, but that didn't mean the whole experience hadn't been like something from a horror film.
She strode into the wardrobe room, her shakiness momentarily forgotten as she gazed about the place in wonder. The sheer size of it still amazed her. Bigger on the inside, she might be able to accept – barely – but this?
The huge spiral staircase in the centre appeared to grow out of the floor like a tree, with twists of clothing racks bordering on all sides. It wasn't even possible to see all the way to the top; she suspected that it just continued on endlessly in either direction.
After she returned to the section where she found her fancy gown earlier, Rose was surprised to find her own clothing folded up neatly beside the rack. She remembered almost tearing them off in her excitement to shimmy into the dress. It occurred to her that the only one able to pick up after her would be the TARDIS.
'Er, thanks,' she spoke hesitantly to the towering walls. She half expected to hear a disembodied voice answer back – not much would surprise her after the past two days.
When she heard nothing beyond the constant background hum, she set about undoing the fastenings of the gown.
She was careful not to rip the material or damage it in any way. The dress exemplified the type of extravagance that she would never have been able to afford back home, even when she still worked at Henrick's. As she examined it, she wondered if she should have gotten a picture of herself all kitted out just to show her mates when she got home.
Not that I'd be able to tell them where I wore it to… or who I met while wearing it, she thought with a heavy sigh. Not that any of them would even care.
She imagined none of her friends knew who Charles Dickens was, to be honest, but that didn't surprise her considering where she grew up. More important to worry where your next meal was coming from than about a long-dead writer. Only the day-to-day held any importance, no matter how mundane.
That was how she had always lived.
For the first nineteen years of it, nothing happened in Rose's life. Never.
She didn't count her father dying when she was a baby, or the stormy, toxic relationship with Jimmy Stone. Those sorts of milestones remained disturbingly commonplace on and around the Estate. If she had been stupid enough to end up pregnant as well, she might have just been another Council statistic. Beyond a particularly worrying scare at sixteen, she had managed all right.
Growing up, her mother was more of a chatty drunk than a mean one. And that the men Jackie Tyler brought back to the flat every so often were a decent enough sort that Rose never felt unsafe.
Still, there had been nothing special or remarkable about Rose's childhood and she spent most of it dreaming of better things. Of being able to go on holiday somewhere exotic, or eat in posh restaurants or even to just buy clothes that weren't discount. But as she knew (and was so often reminded by friends and family alike) people like her didn't get to do any of that. No matter how hard they worked.
Except for the mysterious appearance of a red bicycle when she was twelve, she had never been given anything for free in her life. What little she owned, she worked hard for. Rose had been minding children around the Estate since she the age of ten, and after Jimmy she had worked the till in the Christmas Shop on Clifton's Parade. It was only recently she had even found the job at Henrick's. While it differed only incrementally from the Christmas Shop in terms of income, it meant she no longer needed to wear a Santa hat in October.
If she listened to her mother and her mates, she was already considered one of the luckier ones. She worked in a high end department store and had a nice bloke she would probably end up marrying in a few years. If she was really fortunate – she might settle down in one of the more upscale flats on the Estate.
To them, wanting anything else beyond that was unreasonable and selfish.
Rose had learned a long time ago to keep her dreams of a better life to herself, lest she be accused of putting on airs.
But everything changed when she met the Doctor.
He opened her eyes to a world she never even dared imagine existed. It was so far removed from what her everyday experience that she didn't know what to think.
Since they met, she may have nearly died four times (that she counted), but it was the first time in her very short life that she felt alive.
She had almost screwed that up, though, telling him "no" when he first asked her to come along with him. Even though she wanted nothing more even before he offered the invitation, her refusal had been automatic. It was one born of a lifetime of being told not to reach farther than what she already possessed.
The doubts and reservations she from that minute remained clear in her mind now.
Maybe her life in London wasn't an exciting one, but it was hers. She had family and friends and a boyfriend who had begged her not to leave, and why would this amazing, brilliant alien want an ordinary human like her around?
She had sensed the Doctor's disappointment with her answer, but he thankfully had not tried to shame her or guilt her into changing her mind. No, she had done that very well herself.
From the instant the wailing sound of the TARDIS disappearing from the alley faded away, Rose had recognised her mistake. As she stared down at Mickey, she had had the sudden sense of being weighed down by an anchor. She realised that he, like most of their friends, wanted everything to stay as it was. He would probably spend the rest of their lives pretending nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and they had not just thwarted an alien invasion. And he would be fine with it.
But she wouldn't.
Something had changed in Rose, and she couldn't go back to the normal way of things.
When the Doctor returned eighteen seconds later and asked her again with the flimsy excuse of time travel, she had not hesitated again. Even though she still had not known why he wanted her to come with him, she grabbed the chance and ran toward it.
Her earlier doubts chose now to resurface.
The incident with the Gelth had shown her that there was more to her travelling companion than she suspected, even with his rare and ambiguous confessions. More than that, for all those lives he saved, there always seemed to be the few he couldn't.
Charles Dickens, who would be dead within a year. Gwyneth, who sacrificed herself to save them all. That tree woman that helped him on Platform One, and Raffalo – Rose still wasn't sure what happened to the woman from Crespallion; she had not been able to find her after the repair of the sun filter. The look in the Doctor's eyes had told Rose that anyone missing from Platform One wouldn't have lived through the disaster.
Is this what it's going to be? Meet people and then lose them? Is that what things are like for the Doctor?
If so, it explained a lot about why he kept his distance. And why he didn't seem to care about stupid little humans who wanted to sacrifice themselves for matters they didn't understand.
If ever she doubted that what you didn't know might kill you, she never would again.
Rose scowled, acknowledging that she was being a bit unfair.
Then she decided she didn't care.
The situation with the Gelth still rankled.
The Doctor had practically led Gwyneth by the hand to form that link with the deceptive creatures. Even after Rose tried to tell them it wasn't a good idea.
Why? Because he's a higher life form and what would I know, being a stupid human?
'Get used to it or go home,' he had said.
He was right, to an extent. The past and future were different worlds, and no doubt she would come face to face with many foreign ideas and customs if she kept travelling with him.
But I was right too!
Her gut insisted there was something off about the Gelth, and he had brushed it off like she was some stupid kid. A silly child instead of a woman that grew up on one of the rougher Estates in the East End. That ignorance had gotten Sneed and Gwyneth killed, and her and the Doctor nearly done in as well.
What if it happened again, in an even worse situation?
He had said things could be erased, and thinking on it now, a stab of fear replaced Rose's anger. Had the events in Cardiff not turned out the way they did, would it have meant all of history changed? Would she and the Doctor never have met? How did that even work?
Would he even care?
He had been callous since they started travelling together, always walking away from her rather than engaging, and using sarcasm to forestall any prying questions. Everything about him screamed "back off". He obviously didn't like it when people disagreed with him. That was downright obvious when she tried to convince him to leave Gwyneth alone. He had gotten huffy, Gwyneth had gotten understandably, if unintentionally, insulted, and Sneed had gotten his neck snapped.
But then in that dank basement he had seemed so genuine when he told her he was happy to have met her. The way he looked at her made her think that underneath all the prickle there was a decent bloke.
Well, of course he's a decent bloke, she rolled her eyes at that thought. If he weren't, I never would have said "yes" when he came back for me.
Still, her own character judgements aside, in two days he had lost his temper more than once.
She had been in this situation before, with Jimmy Stone. An entire travesty of a relationship filled with her head telling her to get out while her heart ignored it. She was lucky the whole affair had not ended worse. What if that happened again? And with the Doctor, Rose suspected she would end up with far worse than a bruised eye and ₤800 in debt.
Rose shook her head, half in denial and half to clear it.
She could always go back out there right now and tell him she made a mistake. He had told her point blank that if they didn't suit he would just drop her back at home and no one would notice.
But do I want to? Rose wondered, pushing her arm through the sleeve of her grey top.
Surprisingly, her answer was "no".
She didn't want to leave the Doctor, despite everything. She recognised that travelling with him was a once in a life time opportunity, one she should embrace.
But she also worried about what he might do on his own.
Whatever happened to his planet obviously continued to affect him negatively. He showed little concern for his own life and seemed unbothered by trifling little matters like corpses walking around in the nineteenth century.
He needs help, whatever he might think, she decided. That seemed only half true though. A voice nagged at the back of her mind, telling her that her reluctance to leave wasn't completely about not trusting him on his own.
If she was being entirely honest with herself, right now the idea of telling him she wanted to go home was more terrifying than anything she could think of. Even as she tried to picture her life after he dropped her off, she it impossible. She couldn't see anything in the future without his daft face popping up.
In her heart, she didn't believe she should sit at home, safe and docile, when she might be out having adventures and finding trouble. Preferably with the Doctor, seeing as how he generally seemed to know how to find his way back out again.
From what she had seen, he caused of a lot of that same adventure and trouble, but still…
It hasn't even been two days – what's wrong with me? Rose scolded herself and then blinked as her mind went over those words again.
Maybe that was it. Exhaustion. So long without sleep, no wonder she wasn't thinking straight. Once she got some rest, all of this would make more sense to her.
And, if they did continue travelling together, there needed to be a shift in the power dynamic. He might be the designated driver, and she might just be an ape, but Rose Tyler intended to be listened to. The Doctor might have known Time and Space like the back of his hand, but she understood about people and their intentions.
If the Doctor had ever had the same insight into human (alien?) nature, the Time War had obviously done a number on it.
Mind made up, Rose zipped up her hoodie and headed back to the control room. It wouldn't hurt to ask the Doctor whether there was somewhere on the ship for a quick kip.
She would sort out everything else after that.