“Oh, yeah, this is Shareen, by the way...”
“Shareen’s been in touch,” said Rose, coming back to the TARDIS
with a pile of post, some clothes and a few books and DVDs. They were
back in London for Rose to pick up some things from her flat, and
she’d checked her messages out of habit. “You ought to magic my mobile
again, you know. It was dead useful.”
“Shareen?” said the Doctor with interest. “Wasn’t she that mate you had, oh, years and years ago?”
“It hasn’t been that long for me, Doctor,” Rose reminded her. “She wants to have a girls’ night out.” Rose grinned for a moment. “And she wants to go out on the pull, I know her.”
“Are you going to go?” asked the Doctor, idly fiddling with a control on the console. Something beeped and fizzled out, and she sighed. “The TARDIS needs an overhaul fairly soon. I should ask Jack if he knows anywhere we can get a few metric tonnes of blown glass fibre optics. Ah, speak of the devil.”
“Doctor!” Jack had just appeared at the console room door, wearing only a towel and dripping profusely. “Why is there no hot water?”
“What am I, a plumber?” the Doctor demanded. “And you’re dripping all over my nice clean floor! Oh, dear, I did not just say that.”
Jack ignored her. “Doctor, that’s it. I woke up this morning with my nose three inches from the ceiling, the kitchen is suddenly full of Venus flytraps and now I can’t even take a shower! I know how much you love the old thing” – he tapped the wall behind him – “but she needs fixing.”
“And you need clothes.” The Doctor put her hands on her hips. “I’m aware there are few existent humanoids or super-intelligent shades of the colour blue who have not yet seen you naked, but I do have some standards on my ship.”
“You have standards?” Jack leered. There was no other word for it, Rose decided. “Do I... measure up?”
“Yes, baby. Now please go and put on some clothes.”
Jack disappeared, and Rose started to laugh. “That was fun.”
“For you, maybe.” The Doctor grinned. “But much as I hate to admit it, he is right. I tell you what – he and I will have a go at fixing the TARDIS between us, and you go off and have your girls’ night out. How does that sound?”
Rose hesitated, and the Doctor caught it. “If you don’t want to go, don’t,” she said. “I’m sure we can come up with a reasonable excuse. The Nestenes haven’t tried to invade in a while. Or the Daleks. Or the Cybermen.” She frowned. “Why not? Are they losing their touch? Should I be worried about that? Sorry, you were saying...”
“I’d like to go,” Rose admitted. “It’s been ages since I had a really good night out, you know? When you just let your hair down for a bit and don’t worry about the serious stuff.”
“So what’s stopping you?”
Rose hesitated again. “I just thought... wouldn’t you like to come with me? You and Jack?”
“Ah, I don’t know.” The Doctor looked worried, her hands clasped. “I’m not generally good at these things. I used to spent UNIT Christmas parties taking the cheese and pineapple off the sticks.”
“Come on, Doctor.” Rose was struck by a thought. “Haven’t you been out at all since you, you know?”
“Since I changed sex,” – the Doctor didn’t like euphemisms – “and the answer would be no.”
“Jack would love it,” Rose said, changing tack. “And you wouldn’t want to disappoint him, would you?”
“Nothing would give me more pleasure.” The Doctor laughed. “Oh, all right, all right. I’ll come. If you’re sure, and you wouldn’t rather leave me and Jack behind as one generally does with embarrassing relatives.”
“I love you both,” said Rose sincerely, “and I want you to come.”
Jack marched back into the console room, still naked, and demanded, “Where the hell’s the wardrobe gone?”
“As long as you’re sure,” said the Doctor.
As Rose was sure she would be, Shareen was perfectly amenable to
the idea of two strangers accompanying them. “It’ll be a laugh.”
“I’ll meet you outside my flat at eight,” Rose said, and nodded mutely at the Doctor, who was offering her a drink. “Yeah. Thanks. Bye.” She put the phone down and grinned. “This is fun, a proper girls’ night out and everything. I mean, if you think about it, Jack counts.”
“I’m not sure whether to be offended by that,” Jack commented without turning round. He was holding a mirror at arm’s length and looking confused. “What’s wrong with this thing?”
“How can a mirror go wrong?” asked the Doctor, walking up so she could see over his shoulder. She set her own drink down and waved, but her reflection didn’t move.
“I saw you do that two seconds ago!” exclaimed Jack. “Everything’s happening in the mirror before it actually happens!”
Rose tried it. Her reflection waved before her hand moved. Blinking, she drew back, and say Jack’s reflection suddenly launch itself upwards with an expression of horror. “What the,” Jack began, and then the Doctor dropped an ice cube down his neck. “Aargh! Doctor!”
“Sorry,” said the Doctor, not sounding sorry at all. “More temporal malfunctions, I’m afraid. They’re getting worse.”
“Have you two quite finished?” demanded Rose. “We’re getting late. Ready to go?”
The Doctor set down her glass. “I think so. Unless Jack wants to put more gel in his hair or something?”
Jack grimaced but did not protest, and after a minute or so they had made their way outside. The TARDIS was parked in a shadowy corner away from where people might stumble across it, so they had a short walk ahead of them.
“So tell me,” Jack said, as they set out, “exactly why do I count as an honorary girl?”
Rose considered. “You’re one of us, aren’t you?” she said. “And you fancy blokes.”
“Not exclusively,” Jack said. “Anyway, by that logic the Doctor doesn’t count as a girl.”
“That’s not quite fair,” complained the Doctor. “I have a problem with dating men. I leave them and then for some reason they turn into evil megalomaniacs. Ah, that must be Shareen.”
Rose peered into the darkness. The Doctor’s eyesight was probably better than hers, but after a second she could make out the figure standing in the pool of light below one of the streetlights. “Was starting to wonder where you’d got to!” she called as Rose drew closer. “It’s so good to see you again, love!”
Rose submitted to the enthusiastic hug, the warmth and scent of perfume bringing back memories of a simpler life. “This is Shareen, you two,” she said. “Shareen, this is Jack, and that’s the... um.” She stopped, meeting the Doctor’s eyes and trying to broadcast telepathically; she wanted tonight to be normal, no aliens, and the explanation was too much for her.
“I’m Susan,” said the Doctor smoothly, stepping forward. “Pleased to meet you.”
Shareen looked askance for a moment, but she smiled at them both. “Any friend of Rose’s,” she said warmly. “Let’s get going.”
The club wasn’t the hippest place in the world. It was threadbare
round the edges and sometimes the speakers made scratchy feedback
noises and the music was a bit naff anyway. With the Doctor and Jack,
Rose had seen a galaxy of glittering excess, been to parties on a
hundred worlds, drunk golden drinks out of diamond glasses and danced
below the light of the Milky Way. But this was home, the same place
she’d been scores of times with Shareen and Mickey, and for the first
time in months she didn’t feel like an alien as she stepped inside.
Shareen, naturally, headed in the direction of the bar, taking orders from them all – rum and coke for Rose, vodka Martini for Jack, lemonade for the Doctor – leaving Rose to make sure her companions behaved themselves for the duration. But a backwards glance at them reassured her; Jack fitted in everywhere, and even the Doctor was passing for human tonight. Rose was painfully aware that it was very difficult to get the Doctor to wear anything other than exactly what she wanted, but happily, what she wanted and what Rose advised had coincided in, among other things, a sort of gypsy-skirt thing that had been in during the late nineties of every century, and a pair of pointy suede boots that the Doctor liked for their impact validity on human and alien testicles. There was something ominous about her tapping heels, and Rose grinned.
The club had a central area where people were supposed to dance, if they weren’t awkward teenagers, disguised Time Lords or just unduly sober, and a few surrounding alcoves. Rose led the way across to the one she had always sat in with Mickey and Shareen and whatever bloke Shareen was with at the time. It was like stepping back in time.
The Doctor perched herself on the edge of the table – even in the dimness, Rose took the moment to appreciate her grace – and Jack started eyeing up a girl on the next table. Rose smiled – so far, so good – and quickly, before Shareen could come back, called out, “Doctor!”
“Yes?” The Doctor turned, her eyes made unearthly by the shifting lights. “You know, I’m quite enjoying myself. Although I’m sure one of the bouncers was a Quarog in disguise.”
“Good,” said Rose, and deliberately didn’t ask what a Quarog was. “Listen, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you properly, it’s just I can’t face explaining it to Shareen. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, no, I quite like being Susan. It’s refreshing.”
“Rose, Doctor... sorry, Susan, you’re missing the point.” Jack was looming above them, hands on his hips. “You don’t come to a club to talk.”
He turned his back on them and headed towards the girl he’d been staring at a moment ago. The music was too loud for Rose or the Doctor to hear what he said to her, but the girl’s delighted giggles were unmistakable. The Doctor sighed. “Intergalactic slut, our Jack.”
“Drink up, girls!” Shareen was back. “Rum and Coke for you, Rose, lemonade for Susan and vodka Martini for... where’s Jack?”
“Over there,” said the Doctor, pointing vaguely, then turned round for a better look. “How does he do that so quickly? Oh, hell, what’s he doing with his other hand?”
No-one felt able to answer. Shareen actually looked disappointed, Rose noticed. She’d tell Jack when he came back, if he ever came back. In the meantime, she knocked back her drink, clasped the Doctor’s hand under the table, and settled down to enjoy the night.
Four rum and Cokes later, Rose was feeling a lot more mellow. She’d
danced with lots of people, such as Jack and Shareen and the odd total
stranger, including the girl Jack was getting friendly with. Once sat
down again, she’d even been persuaded by Shareen to tell the story of
what happened that time she and Mickey tried to have sex in the back
of his dad’s Land Rover, and although Rose knew the Doctor, stone-cold
sober as always, was storing it up for future blackmail material, she
didn’t really mind.
Not that the Doctor should be sober, really. She’d stolen half of Rose’s drinks when she wasn’t looking, and gone for Jack’s Martini when it became painfully clear he wouldn’t be back for a while, and the way she was leaning back in her chair, eyes dreamily fixed at a point in the distance, made her look as though she were under the influence of something. Knowing her, it might all be an act. Rose wasn’t sure.
Shareen, on the other hand, was looking twitchy. Jerking her head, she pointed in the direction of the loos, and Rose took the hint. “Back in a moment,” she told the Doctor, who nodded serenely, and followed Shareen across the floor. They went past Jack, who was enjoying himself thoroughly up against a wall, and stepped through the door of the Ladies into the relative quiet beyond.
Rose peered blearily at the mirror while Shareen disappeared into one of the cubicles. After a moment, her voice drifted hollowly up. “Rose? You there?”
“No,” said Rose, “this is a recorded message. Bleep.”
“Smart-arse. Listen, Rose, you know that mate of yours, Susan? You called her Doctor. I heard you.”
“Did I?” asked Rose. “Slip of the tongue, I guess.”
“Yeah, as if. Where is he, anyway?”
“Not far from here,” said Rose truthfully. “He doesn’t usually like this kind of thing.”
“And you’re still infatuated,” said Shareen matter-of-factly, her voice echoing off the tiles.
“What?” Rose laughed. “I am not!”
“You are.” The latch clicked and Shareen emerged. “I know you. You were head over heels. Even your mum thought so.” She waved at Rose in the mirror.
“Mum’s obsessed,” Rose said, sticking out her tongue. “She doesn’t get why I love travelling with the Doctor so much, so that’s how she, you know, rationalises.”
“Blah blah blah not listening,” said Shareen happily. “You know I’m right.”
“You’re wrong,” said Rose, and marched off to the door with Shareen following.
The Doctor was looking more animated as they reached the table. “Rose!” she said cheerfully. “I’m glad you’re back. I just had the most bizarre experience.”
“What?” asked Rose guardedly, and was glad when Shareen suddenly lurched to her feet again and off in the direction of the bar. “Another rum and Coke, thanks.”
The Doctor waved her hands about. “A man came over and tried to buy me a drink.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Rose, and meant it. The Doctor attracted attention. “Haven’t you ever been chatted up before?”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, “but generally people address me at eye-level, rather than about half a metre below. And they’re not usually so, um, interested in my outward appearance, shall we say. It was... well, in the past I’ve been loved for my mind.”
“You’re learning,” said Rose, stifling a grin. “What did you say to him?”
“I kicked him in the balls.”
“Oh, all right.” The Doctor was pouting. “I told him very politely that I wasn’t interested, and he went off over there and got laughed at by all his mates. Now I think I need a drink.”
Happily, Shareen had brought her one along with Rose’s. “Where’s Jack got to?” she asked, but Rose didn’t know.
“In flagrante delicto, no doubt,” the Doctor muttered into her glass, and Rose was suddenly aware of the tension in her. Just as her eyes were skimming the back wall, searching for some bloke being laughed at by all his mates, the Doctor spoke.
“Does that happen to all women?” she asked sincerely. “Have they all been spoken to like that?”
“Yes, Doctor,” said Rose gently, and there wasn’t anything more to be said for a while.
One side-effect of alcohol, Rose always found, was the way it
tended to make you believe that honesty really was the best policy.
The Doctor looked distinctly doubtful, but she gave Rose an
encouraging smile as she went for the big reveal.
“Shareen, she is the Doctor.”
Shareen blinked. “Huh.”
“No, really.” Rose set her drink down and waved one hand to make the point. “The Doctor’s an alien, right? Well, his kind of alien, they don’t die. I mean they do, but they come back. They come back different. And sometimes they come back really different.”
“Huh,” said Shareen again, and there was a long pause.
“God, I must be pissed,” she added after a minute. “For a moment there I actually thought you were serious.”
The Doctor laughed. “Always the joker, our Rose.”
Rose gave up. The world was getting a bit fuzzy from the rum, and the Doctor was the fuzziest thing in it, her curls making an effervescent cloud around her dark, lustrous eyes. Everything was beginning to spin.
“I think ‘m drunk,” she muttered, and the Doctor laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“That’s okay,” she said. “It’ll cushion the blow when your head hits the floor.”
Rose leaned back. She was sure she remembered something about the Doctor’s body temperature being lower than hers, but the arm behind her head was warm and she sank luxuriously into it. She was just beginning to drift off a little, the music fading to thudding background noise, when she heard the sharp clunk of glass on wood.
Out of nowhere, a shotglass had appeared in front of the Doctor.
Jack looked shyer than Rose had ever seen him as he bowed low and asked, “Doctor, may I have this dance?”
The Doctor stood up, gently moving Rose back into her chair, and took Jack’s hand. She treated him to a small, wicked smile, and he whirled her around the floor. Shareen and Rose exchanged glances as they cleared the space around them like a small tornado. “Wow,” said Shareen reverently. “They’re something, ain’t they?”
Rose laughed as Jack dipped the Doctor, her curls trailing in a soft cloud around her head. And just as Rose might have expected, the Doctor righted herself, twirled and dipped Jack for good measure as the people around them began to laugh, too.
It didn’t look as if either of them had progressed beyond swing dancing, which meant they were both sort of dancing to the rhythm in their heads, Rose thought, which wasn’t, now she came to think of it, all that different from what they did the rest of the time. They always went their own way and no-one else’s.
“I can’t take you two anywhere,” said Rose severely as they returned, breathless and laughing. In another life, she might have been embarrassed, and to be honest she was, a bit. But she couldn’t hold it against them, not while their laughter filtered and diffused through the alcoholic haze surrounding her head.
“You’re just jealous,” said the Doctor, giggling, and repaired to the loos, muttering something under her breath about dancing and diuretics. Shareen went after her, yelling something to the Doctor which made her burst into laughter. Rose didn’t try to listen. She watched them go, then turned round to see Jack spinning on his stool.
“This could do with more vodka,” he said, peering at his drink.
“If that had been anyone else,” Rose said to him, still severely, “you would have had her off to the Ladies yourself and be having your wicked way by now.”
“That wasn’t anyone else, that was the Doctor.” He was still staring into the depths of his glass as if he expected to find the answer to life at the base.
“Didn’t stop you before. And besides, this time you’ve bought her a drink.”
“Yeah, I have,” Jack said, looking up, and again, Rose saw that sudden shyness in him. “That doesn’t make a difference. No amount of drinks is going to make a difference.” He gave her a strange, twisted smile. “Rose, I died for her.”
“That wasn’t her.” Rose wondered exactly how drunk Jack was, and why she was suddenly edging back towards sober. “And you saved the world from the Daleks!”
And all of a sudden they were talking about Daleks. Rose had a distinct feeling the conversation was heading off into unsafe waters. “Jack? Speak to me.”
“That was a side-effect,” Jack told his vodka Martini. “I died for the Doctor, and by all the most recent accounts that means I died for her.”
“Beats chocolates and flowers.” Rose’s hand was on his arm, and his misery was hurting her head. “Jack, you’re the only person in the whole bloody place she’s danced with. And she’s had no shortage of offers.”
“Yeah.” He gave her a lacklustre grin. “Don’t remind me of this in the morning, will you? I might have to put my fist in my mouth and make ‘gnuuuh’ noises at the memory.” He suited the action to the word. “Gnuuuh. You see? Promise me we will never speak of this again.”
Rose laughed softly. “Yeah, I promise.” But before she could drop the subject, she had to ask. “How long, Jack?”
“Since the moment I met her. Met him. Wasn’t it the same for you?”
Rose thought about it. “Yeah. Yeah, it was.” She stood up and looked out across the club. The Doctor, steady on her heels, was helping Shareen totter back towards them, and beside her, Jack was still a miserable heap on his stool. She felt tired suddenly. “I think it’s time to go.”
On their way out, the Doctor stopped in front of one of the bouncers. “Your secret’s safe with me,” she said.
“What’s that?” he asked, with the muted anger generally reserved for fifteen-year-olds trying to pass for legal.
“That you’re a Quarog in disguise,” the Doctor continued blithely.
“How much has she had?” asked Shareen of no-one in particular, slurring quite a bit. Rose wondered when the floor had started swaying like that, and why no-one did something about it.
The bouncer looked the Doctor up and down, baffled. She seemed unaffected, an idle hand tangling through her curls, and gave him a grin. His expression immediately shifted to one of abject terror. “Time Lord?”
“Off duty,” said the Doctor calmly, and her heels tapped off into the night.
Rose woke up and instantly regretted it. “Urgh.”
”I second that.” Jack rolled over and came to rest with his face two inches from Rose’s. “Where the hell... urgh... are we?”
Rose rubbed at her eyes and tried to see through the headache. It was difficult, as small flashing lights insisted on exploding across her vision. “We’re in my flat.”
“Oh. Good.” Jack sat up. “There are worse places. Do you have any coffee?”
“Under the sink,” Rose said, and groaned, pulling her pillow over her head. In the safe comforting darkness below it, she closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep. She would have, too, if one thought in particular had not crashed into her head.
“Ouch! Keep it down!” Jack came back in, clutching at his head. “What?”
“Jack,” whispered Rose urgently, “you, you were in my bed.” She stared down at the imprint his body had left in the mattress. “Oh, god, we didn’t, we didn’t...”
Jack’s face echoed her horror for a moment. “I found this by the kettle.”
He held up a piece of A4 paper. In the Doctor’s handwriting, Rose read:
No, of course you didn’t, you pair of drunken reprobates.
“I love her,” murmured Rose, and went back to sleep.
Ten minutes later, she was awake again and sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of Jack’s coffee. It tasted less of coffee and more of onions. “Jack, what’s in this?” she said, softly as not to jar her head.
“The Captain Jack Harkness patented hangover cure. Don’t ask what’s in it, just drink up.”
Rose took the advice. “Where’s the Doctor?” she whispered, once her tongue had stopped burning.
“Tinkering with the TARDIS, I think. Speaking of which, I’m going to use your shower. It probably has a semblance of hot water.”
“First door on your left,” said Rose resignedly. “Don’t use up my shampoo.”
With a flourish, Jack departed. Rose resumed staring into her mug, cursing the headache and trying to ignore the taste of onions. After a moment, she got up and went to the sink for a glass of water. The tap seemed unwilling to disgorge more than a trickle, and with groaning and clanking of the pipes, she heard the shower switch itself on. And then with a different sound of groaning and clanking, something landed in the kitchen with an additional thump.
“Morning,” said the Doctor, her curly head emerging from the TARDIS doors.
Rose stood up. “Doctor,” she said dangerously, “where is my kitchen table?”
The Doctor frowned and turned to look behind her. “It’s in the console room,” she reported. “With three chairs. Good landing, the coffee didn’t even spill. How was your night?”
“I have no idea,” sighed Rose, and sat back down in her one remaining chair. “What happened after we got back here last night?”
“Shareen got a taxi and I put you and Jack to bed,” replied the Doctor. “I got you all tucked up nicely, and then I went to sleep on the couch.”
Rose nodded. “Thanks. Did you have fun last night, then?”
“It was certainly an education.” The Doctor smiled back, timidly. “Oh, before I forget, I borrowed a couple of your books this morning. You looked like you were going to be out of it for hours, so I went to have a look at the TARDIS.”
“Which ones?” Rose was startled. It was always easy to tell what the Doctor was reading from the breadcrumb-like trail between the TARDIS library and console room; in reverse order, the last three books had been The Social Contract, Shirley Valentine and Lolita. Rose wasn’t sure what there was in her flat to match the Doctor’s tastes.
The Doctor disappeared for a moment and returned with Bridget Jones’s Diary and the A-Z of London. “The TARDIS has suddenly got a lot better at short hops,” she said ruefully.
Rose grinned. “And Bridget?”
“Again, an education.” The Doctor looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I know, it’s ridiculous to learn this sort of thing from books. There is yet to exist a volume entitled Adjusting To Femininity For Thousand-Year-Old Time Lords, for example.”
“Maybe you should write it,” Rose offered. “You’re doing fine. Shareen and me, we saw girls getting absolutely livid when you came anywhere near their boyfriends.”
“Really?” said the Doctor delightedly. “Oh, how wonderful. And how strange that I should think so. Why’s that, I wonder?”
Before Rose could think of something in reply, the pipes stopped creaking and she heard footsteps. “Jack!” she yelled. “You’d better be wearing clothes!”
He was, pulling on a shirt and rubbing one of Rose’s towels through his hair as he entered. “Morning, Doctor,” he said, apparently unsurprised to see her and the TARDIS in the middle of the kitchen. “What’s up?”
“Jack, I need your help,” said the Doctor without ceremony. “We’ve got to re-align half a dozen circuits before we can be off again, and someone should do something about those bloody Venus flytraps. Hurry up.”
“Sure thing, Doctor,” Jack murmured as she disappeared. “Just let me dig out that diploma in temporal engineering and I’ll be right with you.”
“She’s getting bored of staying in one place,” Rose said. She knew the Doctor’s wanderlust. “Jack, about last night...”
Jack stared at her, wild-eyed. “Gnuuuh.”
“No, no, don’t do that! It’s just I remember, and I understand, and we’re all sort of in love with her, and maybe you should just ask her, and I’m going to stop talking now.”
“Please,” croaked Jack, but he didn’t look as miserable as he had the night before. Rose put an arm round his shoulders, and they followed the Doctor together.
“Hey,” he said after a while, “was there always a kitchen table in here?”
“I’m sure you can put it to good use,” said the Doctor dryly, and Rose saw him smile.
And pretty soon, they were somewhere else.
“Rose, last night was such a laugh, I really enjoyed it. Thanks
for coming. Your friends are good fun. I don’t know when you’re
getting this, but is Jack still single? Find out for me, yeah?
“I know you’ll be gone now. I hope you’re happy, Rose. I mean that, you know. You, and the Doctor, and Susan and Jack and, yeah, all of you, I don’t know what kind of kinky foursome you’ve got going on and I don’t believe I just said that but yeah, Rose, I hope you’re happy.
“Love you, girl. Call me back, some day.”
...beep. The silence echoed.