Disclaimer: not mine!
Author's Note: WELL KIDS, I DID IT. It took me three years, but at long last I have finally completed the Feeling Electric Christmas Special. In all likelihood, this will be the last published installment of this universe, but I felt I owed to everyone who has been so unflaggingly supportive of it. Merry Christmas, to all who celebrate.
As with the previous chapter, this is an interlude that takes place within the confines of "Pins and Needles."
"… the snow shows no sign of letting up, leaving travelers stranded at Sea-Tac Airport for the fifth day in a row…"
Rose sighs and turns off the television, tired of hearing more bad news. The Doctor should have been home from college last Monday, but a winter storm hit right before his plane was set to take off, leaving him stranded.
She hasn't heard from him in days. He'd packed his phone charger in his checked luggage, which he's been separated from for ages now, probably. And now it's Christmas Eve and here she is, boyfriendless.
"Rose? What are you doing in here? People are asking about you." Rose jumps, and turns to see her mother standing in the doorway to the den. Behind her, Rose can see their party guests circulating throughout the house.
"I was just… checking the weather channel."
Jackie raises an eyebrow. "The TV's off, love."
They stare each other down for a moment, only Jackie's already gotten into the eggnog and can only last a few seconds before breaking into giggles.
"Come out of your cave, okay? Everybody's asking after you."
Rose takes a deep breath, puts on her festive smile, and follows her mom out into the hall.
"So, how's John?"
Rose takes a moment to swallow her eggnog and wipes at her mouth before asking, "Sorry, who?"
Her cousin Mo looks at her as if she's exceptionally dim. "John. Your boyfriend?"
"Ohhh. John. That John. He's… good?"
Mo's laughing. "You're really painting a picture for me. Is that all?"
"He's snowed in at the airport across the country right now, so to be honest, I don't know how he is." Mo smirks at her. "What's that look for? What?"
"Well, why don't you ask him yourself?"
Rose processes this so slowly Mo has to spin her by her shoulders to get her to turn around, but sure enough, there he is. Framed handsomely by the front door and despite all reason, the Doctor is in her house—dressed in a long overcoat that makes him look more broad-shouldered than he really is, and, god, his suit. She's gotten used to talking to him on Skype; she can hardly remember the last time she saw him in pinstripes. He's covered in a light dusting of snow.
"Not too late, am I?" he asks, and it's a miracle she manages to put her glass down on the mantel rather than dropping it on the floor in her haste to get to him.
"Doctor!" she laughs, not caring if her whole extended family hears her calling him that, because he's here, like some sort of Christmas miracle, and just as she's opening her arms—
He takes a step back, holding up a clear plastic bag filled with water and… something. "Careful, you'll crush your present," he says with a grin, and in response she ducks underneath his outstretched arm and bobs up onto her tiptoes to kiss him.
It's not until Mo starts catcalling that she remembers herself long enough to pull away. The Doctor, to her satisfaction, has a dazed look on his face. She glances at the bag clutched in his fist.
"Okay, so it's…?"
"Hmmm? Oh. A betta fish!" the Doctor finishes happily, looking immensely pleased with himself.
"A betta fish."
"Also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish, which—I don't know, he seems like a pacifist to me. I picked him out especially. And I much prefer the scientific name: betta splendens. Because he's splendid. Isn't he? Look at him."
"I've heard of them, Doctor, thank you, he's lovely," she says, struggling to keep a straight face, "But… what am I going to do with a fish?"
He blinks at her. "Love him, Rose. Obviously." He considers that a moment. "You could even call him Doctor, if that makes it easier."
"Doesn't remind me much of you, though," she says, taking a closer look.
The Doctor pouts. "He needs you; that's very me."
Rolling her eyes, she takes his free hand and pulls him into the kitchen, where they'll have less of an audience. "First of all, that's emotional blackmail. Second of all, that would be a much more convincing argument if you'd gotten me an adorable puppy or something."
"But if I'd done that, you wouldn't need convincing. Tricking you into loving him is part of the fun."
"I just think it's going to lead to awkward conversations. 'Hey Rose, what're you doing?' 'Oh, nothing, just trying to feed the Doctor fish flakes. He's been finicky ever since I accidentally dropped him into the sink. And oh, last time I tried to get him a friend to play with, he ate him.'"
"…That sounds exactly like me, I don't know what you're talking about."
"I dunno. I think he looks a bit like him," Jackie says as she comes in from the hallway, and Rose tilts her head. Indeed, the flowing, spiky fins on the little blue fish almost remind her of his hair.
The Doctor rubs the back of his neck. "I, uh—thanks I think, Mrs. Tyler?"
"Don't you Mrs. Tyler me. C'mere, you," she scoffs, grabbing him by both lapels and giving him an exaggerated smooch on the corner of his mouth. "Four days late and a fish in his hand, but he shows up on Christmas Eve."
To the Doctor's credit—Rose thinks, anyway—he waits until Jackie has let him go and scurried over to the stove to wipe his lips off on his sleeve.
Apparently, there was already a tank for the fish in the Doctor's trunk, so Rose gets to escape the party for a few minutes longer to set the thing up in her room. Her mom tried to convince the Doctor to stay downstairs to entertain the guests, but like… as if that were going to happen.
"How did you even get here?" Rose asks as he tinkers with the filtration system he'd had Sarah Jane buy when she picked all of these supplies up for him earlier in the week. (It will either work twice as well as it was meant to or will fall apart in his hands; there is no in-between.)
"No, I mean—from school."
He looks up from his work long enough to waggle his eyebrows at her. "Told you. I drove."
"It's three thousand miles!"
"Which is why I didn't walk," he says cheekily. She sits down next to him on her bed.
"You think you're so clever. I don't believe you. You're not even old enough to rent a car."
"That's not what the fine employees at the Sea-Tac Enterprise think."
"Doctor, oh my god! You have a fake I.D.?"
"No Rose, I have a piece of psychic paper that tells people exactly what I want it to say. Of course I have a fake I.D. I'm in college." He has the grace to look the slightest bit abashed. "It's not like anyone'd believe my name's John Smith, anyway. It's a very convincing fake I.D."
"Oh yeah? What're you called?"
"Dr. James McCrimmon. But of course, my friends call me Jamie. Or they would, if fake me had fake friends."
"It's very… Scottish."
"Who wouldn't rent a Scotsman a car?"
"Or mix him a banana daiquiri?" Rose teases, and the Doctor huffs.
"See if I buy you any more fish," he says, before getting up to install the filter.
"Why did you buy me a fish, exactly?"
"It is. Just… most people don't buy fish."
The Doctor rips open the package of colorful gravel he brought with him. "I don't know. I suppose I wanted you to be able to look at him and think of me, that's all."
She gets up off the bed at that, because his back is to her, and they haven't been with each other in months, and this is important.
"Doctor," she chuckles, trying to put the right amount of tenderness in her voice but unable to keep from laughing at him, just a little, because he should know this by now. "I look at everything and think of you."
"So, what are we going to name him?" The Doctor asks, leaning over to watch the fish adapt to his new, larger environment, and Rose's heart swells a little at the we.
"How about Alonso? You always said you wanted to name a pet that."
His nose scrunches. "Not a fish, though. What's the fun in saying Allons-y, Alonso to a pet that can't follow you around? He'd try and come after me and he'd bonk his little fishy nose on the glass."
"Can't have that. Why don't we—"
There's a sudden crashing noise from downstairs, and a plaintive "Rose?" that makes her wince.
"—check on my mom?" she finishes instead.
He grabs hold of her hand as they move towards the stairs, so there's that, at least.
Going downstairs is a mistake.
Jackie'd dropped a plate of hors d'oeuvres, that's what all the fuss was, but the second she caught sight of Rose she dragged her into the kitchen, and Rose hasn't seen the Doctor since. She can only assume he's been making awkward small talk with her family while she's been helping whip up a new batch of little hot dogs, and she can't think of a single scenario where that ends well.
Finally she's set free, and she makes a beeline for the living room. She finds him deep in conversation with her Uncle Geoff about nativity plays, of all things.
"You have to capture the majesty of it," Geoff is saying, and Rose holds her breath, because the Doctor's a snarky atheist on the best day, and he's not always great at holding his tongue.
"Oh, yes, I totally agree. Like the moment where the one wise man holds up baby Jesus for everyone to see and all the animals bow down and you suddenly know that—wait. No, hold on, that's The Lion King."
"Oookay," Rose slips in, grabbing the Doctor and yanking him away by the elbow, "Terribly sorry Uncle Geoff, but I've got to borrow him for a minute, you understand."
She marches them both straight to the back door and, without a second thought, slides it open and shoves the Doctor outside. It's only been a half hour or so, but she's sick of sharing him.
She probably should have brought a coat, though.
"Fuck, it's cold," she hisses, hugging herself, and without a second thought the Doctor pulls off his suit jacket and hands it to her. "Oh, no, I couldn't—"
"It's my job," he says with a shrug, and after a second of hesitation, she throws it on over her shoulders.
She pulls it up to her chin to inhale his scent, then smiles at him over the lapels. "Thanks."
"Don't worry about it. It suits you," he says, and the comfort of the old joke has them both grinning.
The world is quiet, where they're standing in her backyard, and they take a moment to enjoy the silence and each other's company. The tones from the all-carols radio station on in the living room float through the window and out into the night: Cuz I followed my star… and that's what you are…
She leans into his arm. "I missed you."
To her surprise, instead of answering he twists to the side, leveraging her weight against himself in order to pull her into a lazy spin. Setting one hand at the small of her back, he dances with her clumsily, singing along.
When he puts on his coat to leave later that night, he finds a key slipped into its front right pocket.
Jackie winks at him on the way out.
He can't help but smile as he drives through town in the early morning dark, all the storefronts done up in strings of lights.
It's only been a few hours since he left Rose's house, but he's barely slept a wink. He'd been like that as a kid too, on Christmas Eve, but back then it was because he was determined to catch Santa in the act. He'd mysteriously grown out of that habit his first year living with Sarah Jane, but now he has a new reason to be excited—even if it is slightly less wholesome. He didn't even bother changing out of his PJs to drive over.
He pulls into their driveway as quietly as he can, cutting the engine before he can draw attention to himself. Turning around to peer into the storage space at the other end of his hatchback, he considers dragging in Rose's present now, but thinks better of it. Considering its size, he should probably do a reconnaissance mission to the living room first, to see how much room there is around the tree.
He walks straight back to the living room once he's let himself in. After he'd left last night, Jackie put out all of the gifts, and he smiles at the bounty. No good hiding places of the right size, unfortunately, so he makes a mental note to remember to go back out to the TARDIS later for Rose's present.
They don't have a fireplace, but there's a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the coffee table for Santa. He greedily snatches them up and stuffs them into his mouth as he walks back into the front hall.
Slowly, so as not to make the stairs creak, he creeps up the steps and makes his way into Rose's room. Her shade's been drawn to keep the cold out, and he blinks for several minutes in her doorway, letting his eyes adjust. Her room is as he'd left it several months ago—pinker than he'd expect, messier than she'd like. Last night he'd been so intent on setting up the fish tank that he hadn't even taken a moment to enjoy his surroundings, but he doesn't see any harm in taking that moment now. He's missed this space. The Face of Boe has been thoughtfully placed on the shelf so that he faces the wall, and for a moment, the Doctor wonders if it's been like that all semester or if she turned it around last night, expecting him. He hadn't thought to check.
He rolls his eyes at himself.
Leaning against the doorframe, he toes off both of his shoes, then tiptoes in his socks to the side of her bed, kneeling down to get a good look at her. His Rose.
He cups his hands and breathes into them, not wanting the shock of cold to be the thing to wake her, then tenderly brushes her hair back from her face. She nuzzles into his palm, humming happily. He can see her eyes moving behind their lids, but she doesn't open them. "Mmmm… Doctor?"
"I've always wanted to do this," he admits in a low voice, caressing her cheek with his thumb. "Just like when Marty finds Jennifer on the porch swing in the third Back to the Future. Nothing more romantic than gently waking a girl up, I always say."
A corner of her mouth quirks up. "Do you?"
"It's… definitely a thing I could say. If the mood were to strike me." He leans into the crook of her neck and smiles into her skin. "Good morning."
The tip of his nose is freezing; he smells of cold metal and brisk winter wind. The air conditioner in the TARDIS has never been particularly effective, so it wouldn't surprise her at all to find out that the heater is the same way—she can just imagine him steaming the air with his breath as he drove, chilled leather seat sapping all the warmth out of him. But he's here.
"I've had this dream before," she admits, smirking into her pillow. Her hand drifts up to pull him down to her by his tie, but he doesn't seem to have one on. "Only… what are you wearing?"
"Something without buttons."
She finally opens her eyes, and there he is—wearing his glasses, a thick Prydon University sweatshirt, and a grin. Grabbing the front of his hoodie, she yanks him closer and kisses him soundly, swallowing his chuckle of amusement.
"Why do you taste like chocolate?" she asks into his lips, hands sliding down to the hem of his hoodie, withdrawing just long enough to pull it and his t-shirt over his head in one fell swoop, knocking his glasses adorably askew.
"Reasons," he mumbles distractedly, chasing her mouth with his own so he can slide in next to her and wrap himself up in her comforter.
The winter chill still clings to the cotton of his pajama bottoms, but she'll soon fix that.
She wakes up shivering.
In their enthusiasm, it would seem that they lost the blankets, and now Rose is sweat-damp and chilled, with nothing to protect her. She's halfway off the bed before she realizes she's not alone in it—and then she's arrested by the sight of him.
It's rare, to see him sleeping. She takes time to take him in, frowns at the blue circles under his eyes. It'd been a stressful semester, she knows, and adding all the travel on top of that… she looks at her clock. It's only quarter to eight now; the sun hadn't even been up when he'd slipped into her bed. And he hadn't left her house the first time until past midnight. Her poor, exhausted Doctor. She hates herself for wanting to wake him up, to bask in the pleasure of his company. He should sleep for a million years.
(It's just that she's missed his eyes. It's a little thing, eye contact, but impossible to achieve on Skype.)
She slips out of bed and pulls his sweatshirt over her head, leaving him to sleep a little longer as she makes her way towards the bathroom.
Rose has just put the first batch of muffins in the oven when, somewhere behind her, her mother starts laughing uncontrollably. Rose stares at her, baffled, until Jackie manages to point into the hallway.
On the landing, the Doctor stands with his hands shoved in his pajama pockets, her pink hoodie from last night stretched awkwardly across his lanky frame.
He smiles sheepishly. "I'm happy to let you keep my sweatshirt—it looks better on you anyway—but could we maybe wait until later to make the trade?"
After breakfast, they move into the living room to exchange presents. For a while it's all about Rose and Jackie, and the Doctor hangs back and watches them fawn over what they got each other. He knows it's been just the two of them for a long time, and he doesn't begrudge them that. (He left Sarah Jane a note, when he left this morning, and he remembers it with a pang of regret. He'll have to make it up to her later.)
"And this one's for you, Doctor," Jackie says, passing him a parcel, and he raises his eyebrows.
"What, from you?"
"Well, you're a member of the family, aren't you?"
He swallows, Adam's apple bobbing unsteadily. "Suppose I am," he laughs, and he rips open the paper to find a striped, multicolored knit something-or-other. "Is this a scarf or a blanket?" he asks as he unfurls it, because it doesn't seem to end.
"It's a long scarf. I maybe went a bit overboard, but it's cold, where you are."
He can't wipe the smile off his face. "Thank you. I'm sorry, I didn't get you anything."
She waves it off. "You're a teenage boy, you'll grow out of it."
"Okay, okay, my turn now," Rose says, sliding towards him on the couch. The box in her hand is small, and he furrows his brow as he looks at it, trying to guess at what's inside. "You could just open it, you know," she jokes when he realizes what he's doing.
He takes it from her and flicks off the paper with a few deft twists of his fingers. Removing the lid slowly, to preserve the surprise, he gasps a little when he sees what's inside.
It's a fob watch. Old, clearly, with an intricate circular design on its face.
"Like I was saying," she mumbles, sounding a bit embarrassed. "I see everything and think of you. But when I passed by this in a shop window, I just thought…" She shrugs.
"Does it work?" he asks, picking it up and holding it to the light by its fine gold chain.
"It doesn't, but I thought you'd like the challenge of fixing it. And it's not like you're ever on time anyway."
"Hey!" he protests, but she just grins at him, tongue poking out from between her teeth. "Fine, see if I give you your present, then."
She blinks. "But you already did, though. Unnamed fishy."
"Please. Like that's all I'd get you for Christmas."
"Gimme a sec. I had to leave it in the TARDIS because it's not wrapped." At that, he hops up from the couch and makes his way towards the front door.
As he walks towards the car, he swallows in an attempt to calm the nervous tension that's suddenly settled in his stomach. He'd ordered this gift online weeks ago, and while he had considered getting it delivered straight to her, he'd decided he wanted to see her face when she opened it. There was more than enough room in the back of his car, so long as he folded the backseat down—it's his favorite thing about the station wagon. It's practically bigger on the inside.
He pops open the back of the TARDIS and spends a moment collecting himself. This present is a bit of a—a tactical risk, he supposes—and though he's pretty sure she'll love it, there's a chance she'll never forgive him for it. Rose doesn't drive. Never has. He knows it's because of the way she lost her father, and he knows she doesn't mind riding the bus everywhere, but he's not around anymore to take her places, and… he worries. He wants her to be happy.
It doesn't take as long as he'd hoped it would to get back up the porch steps. He opens the door and sticks his head inside the house. "Close your eyes, okay?" he calls towards the living room.
"Okay!" Rose hollers back.
"Are they closed?"
"Do you promise?"
She laughs. "Yes, Doctor, I promise."
When Rose opens her eyes, the Doctor's standing in the archway to her living room holding a red bicycle steady in his hands. It takes her a second to find her breath.
"I had one just like this when I was a kid," she murmurs, unable to take her eyes off it.
He smiles like he already knew. She doesn't remember telling him the story, but she must've. "Yeah. D'you… like it?"
She kisses him instead of answering.
It's too icy out to take the bike around the block for a spin (according to Jackie, that is—Rose hadn't cared much) so instead they go back to the kitchen for another Tyler Family Tradition: turning on the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story and decorating gingerbread men.
Rose sets the Doctor up with frosting, sprinkles, and candies of various sizes and colors before running up to check on the betta fish. In her absence, he starts slathering on the first layer of icing—he'll need plenty to get his little ginger Elvis' costume just right.
He's in the middle of using a fork to emulate fringe when Rose walks back in and stuffs a naked gingerbread man into her mouth.
"How's Unnamed Fishy?" he asks, not looking up as she sits next to him.
"'E's 'ood," Rose says before swallowing.
"Is that what you decided to name him? Ood?" Rose chokes on the cookie and starts coughing. Concerned, the Doctor finally puts down his Elvis and pats her back. "So, not Ood, then?"
"I don't dislike it," Rose finally says after taking a long sip of milk. "He is a bit of an ood little guy, isn't he?"
The Doctor grins his agreement, then reaches over her to grab another gingerbread man, whom he happily decapitates with his teeth.
"Rude," Rose says with a shake of her head, before selecting a fresh gingerbread man to decorate.
"It's not rude, it's Darwinism. It was either him or me, Rose."
"Right, but you're made of muscle and he's made of ginger. Not much of a fair fight."
"Is that all you think of me? Rude, and not ginger?"
Her lips twist. "Is there much more to you?"
He pauses and thinks about a second, then reaches over for one of the candy decorations. "Well, I like these a lot. These sort of edible ball bearing things. Does that count?"
"Rude, not ginger, loves edible ball bearings," she counts off on her fingers. Then she grins. "That's my Doctor."
Rose is just putting the finishing touches on her gingerbread werewolf when Jackie pokes her head into the kitchen.
"It's snowing!" she informs them, and it's all Rose can do to keep up with the cartoonish puff of smoke the Doctor leaves in his wake as he bolts outside.
"Doctor! Doctor, wait!" she laughs as she chases him out onto the porch.
He turns to look at her with pure, unbridled enthusiasm. "Can we do that thing where we have a snowball fight and then one of us tackles the other, and then we stare at each other intensely until we kiss?"
"Well, now we can't. You've ruined it."
"Alright then, I'll skip to the good part."
She raises an eyebrow, lips quirking up. "The kissing?"
"Nah, this," he says, grabbing her by the middle and flinging them both hard off the porch to the ground.
In a few hours, Sarah Jane will come over, and they'll all settle in for a Christmas dinner together—a found family.
In three weeks, he will have to leave again. She will go with him to the airport this time, because she won't be able to stand the idea of watching him drive away again, like she did in August. He will allow her this.
They will part ways at the security gate, with Sarah Jane waiting outside in the car. He will murmur "I don't want to go" against her lips, more sadly than she'd have thought he was capable of. And she will kiss him once, twice, and push him towards the line.
In four weeks, Ood the fish will die, because they failed to set up his tank properly. She will buy another one that looks like him, and pray the Doctor won't notice.
In five and a half weeks, the Doctor will get a good look at the fish tank over her shoulder on Skype. Somehow, beyond all reason, he will notice.
"Romantic, isn't it?" he says, in the here and now.
She huffs, because he knocked the wind out of her. "What, you attacking me?"
"No, this. You, me, under the stars."
He leans his forehead against hers, and she presses back up into him with a chuckle. "Doctor, it's the middle of the afternoon. And snowing."
"So? Doesn't mean we're not under the stars. That's the beauty of light diffusion—stars are always there, even when we can't see them. It's science."
It's not worth the effort to figure out whether he's being whimsically metaphorical or absurdly literal, so she kisses him instead.