Rose was in the back room of the shop, organizing the stock shelves in silence when she heard the soft, tinkling of the bell on the door, alerting her to the presence of a customer. The sound jarred her. Business had been slow since the start of the war. The women and children who remained behind had less money to spend with so many of the men away, so it was typical to pass the hours of the day with only the occasional stray customer. She put down the boxes she carried onto a pristinely clean shelf, and made her way to the front of the shop.
Brushing her hands against the apron tied around her waist had become second nature to her, even though there was no dust to clean from them. With so much spare time around the shop and no one to talk to, there was nothing better to do than keep the place spotless. Rose was sure her boss would approve, if he could see the place. Of course, it was the nature of the world in this era. He too was off fighting in the war, leaving the shop in his wife’s hands. With four children to raise alone now, the shopkeeper’s wife rarely even stopped by. It felt as if the shop belonged solely to Rose.
She weaved her way through the doorway and around the counter with her eyes lowered, not looking up until she reached the main floor. Her eyes sought out the silhouette framed in the light of the doorway.
She froze, stunned. Any lingering thoughts of the war, the shop, and the world in which she had been trapped for the better part of three years went rushing straight out of her mind. All she could see was the man who stood there, silently staring at her. All she could feel was the sweet relief of seeing him alive. She choked back a sob, her fists clutched tightly into the cloth of the apron.
He stepped away from the blinding light of the window and she was finally able to make out his face, so familiar to her after all of these years. He looked exactly the same as he had more than a year before, when they had said goodbye. He was so handsome in his soldier’s uniform, his hat on his head, and his eyes completely focused on her own. It was like he was drinking in the sight of her, and he looked as relieved to see her face as she was to see his.
“Rose…” he said her name softly, his voice caressing the sound of it so lovingly that she didn’t hesitate another moment. She rushed across the room in one swift motion and flung herself into his open, waiting arms. They tightened around her in an electric hug, squeezing her almost a little too tightly, like he was clinging to her for dear life. Her cheeks were wet, eyes stinging, and this time she didn’t hold back the sob, as she buried her face into her husband’s shoulder.
“I thought I was never going to see you again,” she cried, and she honestly meant it. Growing up she had always seen the old movies and heard stories of what it was like to wait at home for your soldier husband to return from war. Never once did she imagine that she would ever experience a life like that.
But then one day she got stuck in 1913 and the man she was stranded with asked her to marry him. Then he decided that it was his duty to go to war, and he left her behind, to survive on her own.
“Oh Rose…” he answered softly, burying his face in her hair. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.”
His words sent a trickle of ice down her spine. They were familiar in tone, in meaning. She had heard them spoken from this mouth in so many different ways to so many different people. She froze in his arms, as the realization finally struck home that the man she was hugging was no longer her husband.
3 years earlier
The bright yellow flames licked at the sky, blinding, devouring, and destroying everything in its path. Rose could only stand there and watch from a distance, hoping and praying that all was not lost.
She had been certain, dead certain, that the Family had found them when she saw the orange glow brightening against the night sky. Her heart pounded with fear as she rushed across the fields towards the blazing school. Upon her arrival she was quickly informed that there was an accident in the kitchen. The school was burning, but from purely natural means. A normal, human accident, and it could destroy everything.
Rose hadn’t seen him yet, and she was frantic for reassurance of his safety, even though the local bystanders insisted that everyone had made it out alive. She searched the crowds of students, all of them shivering in the cold night air in their pajamas, but she could not see his lithe figure. She needed to know that he was uninjured. He had no idea how important he was, after all. He had no idea what was hidden beneath the bumbling identity of the normal human schoolteacher.
Would he have even thought to grab the watch as he ran for his life?
She finally spotted him from a distance, clad in his pajamas and a dressing gown, looking so very similar to the day when he saved the world with a well-placed satsuma. His face was glowing in the flickering light from the roaring blaze, and he looked horrified, terrified. Rose ran directly to him.
“Are you all right?”
Confused eyes turned to her, and she waited impatiently until recognition flowed into them. “Miss…Rose, is it? From the village pub?” Rose nodded, but his eyes had already returned to the burning building. “The school is lost,” he told her emotionlessly. “All our possessions…everything. I imagine the boys will be sent home immediately.”
“Were you able to save anything?” Rose pressed, praying that he’d pull the watch out of his pocket.
“No. I was sleeping. The smoke woke me up. I barely made it out. No time to grab anything at all.”
The confirmation of her deepest fear left Rose feeling simply numb. She couldn’t even feel panic bubbling up inside her, or tears, or grief. It was as she suspected. The watch…the Doctor. It was gone. He was gone. Lost forever in a simple human fire.
Her voice was void of all emotion when she distantly asked him, “What will you do?”
He blinked uncertainly. “I don’t know. Find work, I suppose. Maybe go to London? Certainly someone will be in need of a tutor there, for the time being…until I can find a post in another school.”
“London,” Rose murmured. “Right. Of course.”
His attention was soon called away to help organize the school boys, who would be moved to a safe place for the night. Rose could think of nothing more to do, so she turned and slowly made her way back to the village.
It was three days before the site of the fire had quieted down enough for Rose to search the ruins. She awoke well before dawn, biking to the abandoned shed where the TARDIS was hidden to find a torch, before making her way to the burnt-out shell of Farringham School.
Even days after the blaze, the smell of smoke was choking, and Rose had to keep a hand to her face, trying desperately to hold back the disgust rising up in her chest. There was very little recognizable within the destruction. Just charred remains. Rose could only guess whether she was remotely close to his living quarters or not. She had never even been inside of the school.
The sun was rising in the eastern sky when Rose heard the approaching footsteps of the demolition crew, and she had to quickly sneak away before she was spotted.
Regardless, her question had been answered. She had failed.
The Doctor was lost to her. Forever.
2 months later
The market was packed with bodies, the noise overwhelming, as Rose weaved her way through the crowds towards the shop where she was now employed. Christmas was soon approaching, and Rose found herself distracted by the people around her, all shopping for toys and clothes among the booths. It was all so different from the wild commercialism of the malls and shopping centers of her natural time. Yet, it was still so similar: the desire to give gifts to the ones you loved, to cherish those closest to you.
The holidays made Rose miss her home. She was so close, and yet, so very far away from home. London, but a different London, a London long before her own time. Here she had no family, no friends…not even the Doctor was here to keep her company. She was stranded, lonely in a strange place that both was and wasn’t her own. Here, it seemed that no one even knew her name.
Rose gasped at the sound of his voice, and turned to see a very familiar face beaming an unfamiliar smile. The Doctor’s face, but John Smith’s smile was so very, very different from the one that she was used to. It didn’t have the manic shine that she was so accustomed to seeing in the Doctor.
“Mr. Smith!” she greeted him formally, hoping that she didn’t sound too overjoyed to see him. Following him to London and settling in a neighborhood near him had been difficult enough without seeming like a stalker. She had to stay close to him, but she didn’t want to scare him off in the process.
“It’s so good to see a familiar face,” he continued. “How are you settling in here in London?”
“Yeah, it’s been good,” Rose told him with what she hoped was an enthusiastic smile. “I got a job in a shop down the way, and a room in a local boarding home. It’s not much, but it’s a start at least.”
“How very independent of you,” Smith commented, offering her his arm, which she willingly took, allowing him to lead her on through the market.
“Yeah, well it’s just me on my own, you know.”
“No…” Rose admitted sadly, thinking of her mother, lost through the void in a parallel universe a year before. “They’re gone.”
“Me as well,” he told her lightly. “But I’ve been alone a long time, I think,” he admitted distantly, his voice drifting off as he seemed to lose himself in his thoughts. She waited patiently until he seemed to shake his head clear. “Sorry. It’s a hard time of year to be alone.”
“It’s my first Christmas alone,” Rose told him sadly. “My second without my mum, but last Christmas at least I had my friend…” Her voice trailed off wistfully as she thought of the Doctor, Donna, and the Racnoss. She forced the memories away, focusing back onto the Doctor’s face, disconnected as it might be from his true self. “Anyway, he’s gone now too.”
“Well, that’s just not right!” Smith insisted in an unnaturally cheerful voice. “No one should be alone on Christmas!” He stopped suddenly in his tracks, turning to face Rose head on. “Miss Rose, seeing as you’re going to be alone on Christmas, and I’m going to be alone on Christmas, maybe we could…not…be alone. Together. Would you care to join me for Christmas dinner? At my flat?”
Rose was baffled. “You’re going to cook Christmas dinner?” she asked him, trying to envision the Doctor in a kitchen cooking like a normal human being. “Can you even cook?”
Now it was his turn to freeze. “You know…I don’t know. Huh.”
“You don’t know if you can cook or not?” Rose asked with a laugh. It made perfect sense to her why he wouldn’t know, but to anyone else his response would seem strange.
“No idea,” Smith admitted. “That’s strange, isn’t it? I realize of course that this would be a risk on your part. Disaster could strike with a single man cooking, but I’m willing to face the danger head on. How about it, Miss Rose? Would you like to have an adventure with me?”
Rose felt a chill deep inside her at his words, and she couldn’t help shivering a bit. The Doctor was lost to her, but she was determined to stay as close to John Smith as possible, just on the off chance that something could change. She needed something to hold onto in this strange world where she was all alone.
“Call me Rose,” she told him firmly. “None of that Miss Rose nonsense, anymore. And it’s a date.”
“A date. Right. Of course,” John fumbled nervously. “Dating. How do I do this again? I suppose, I come and call for you. At the boarding house. On Christmas. Is that right?”
“That sounds nice,” Rose agreed, giving him her address as the two of them came to a stop in front of the shop. “I’ll look forward to it.”
“Right. Good. Me as well. I’ll be seeing you on Christmas…Rose.”
“Christmas,” Rose agreed with a smile, before disappearing into the shop for her shift.
The Doctor was back. He was back, and Rose had no idea what to do.
Somewhere deep inside, she realized that she was probably in shock. That was why she couldn’t seem to show any emotions anymore. But inside she was so overwhelmed that she barely knew what to do with herself.
They hadn’t said much to each other yet. Not since his apology and the accompanying revelation. They had so much to discuss. Rose didn’t know how he regained his identity, or how long he had been himself for. Rose hadn’t told him where the TARDIS was yet, or what she had gone through alone during the war, or how strange it was for her to have this whole new life that once again she would soon have to abandon to head out to the stars.
Rose didn’t even hesitate to close the shop down for the day. It wasn’t like she was going to have any business anyway. He stood in the corner and watched her quietly as she mechanically locked the money in the safe and covered the windows. When she was done, she took his hand and they walked together through the streets of London to the flat that they had shared while he was human.
Distantly, Rose realized that he walked like he knew where they were going, which suggested that he must have retained some of John Smith’s memories. She wasn’t sure if that was a relief to her, or terrified her more than anything else. Because, if he remembered it all, then he would remember everything she experienced with his human counterpart. Guilt and fear bubbled up in her chest as the thoughts slowly crept into her mind that she had deeply taken advantage of him in her loneliness.
How could they possibly go back to normal after all of this?
They arrived at the flat much more quickly than seemed normal to Rose, and soon she pulled her keys out to open the door. The keys were shaking in her hands as she fumbled to insert them into the tiny, old lock. When they slid into place, and the door opened, they entered the flat, and Rose had no idea what to do next.
Rose crossed the room and dropped the keys on the kitchen counter, leaning against it to try to steady herself. She looked down at her shaking hands. The wedding band on her left hand stood out bright and brilliant. Suddenly, all she could think about was the ring on her finger. Nervously, she slid her hands together and started turning the ring back and forth, expelling some of her nervous energy into a repetitious fidgety action.
She could sense the weight of his gaze. Was he was concerned about her? Or was his gaze was angry and accusing instead? She didn’t know for certain, but she was afraid to look up and meet his eyes. How could she possibly face the disapproval that must be lingering there? The things that she had done to the Doctor while he was gone were so wrong. Assuming that her suspicion was correct and he remembered everything, he had to be thinking such horrible things about her.
“Rose…” he said her name softly, pleadingly, and it was almost enough to make her look up, but her heart constricted in her chest. Instead she turned her back on him and walked over to the window to look out onto the streets of 1916 London.
“The TARDIS is still in Farringham,” she explained to him quickly. “I didn’t think it was safe to move it here, and after all that had happened, I needed to leave quickly so that I didn’t lose track of you…him…whatever. I’ve been taking the train out there every few months to check on her. She’ll be quite happy to have you back.”
Rose paused, but he didn’t say anything, so she just kept talking, because she didn’t know what else to do. “I’m sure you want to get going, but I need a little time to sort out my life here before we go. Get rid of this flat, quit my job, that kind of thing. It’ll take me a few days, if you don’t mind. Normally I’d be ready to jump and leave, but I have a life here now. It’s been so long, and I wasn’t sure if you were ever coming back or not. I had to be prepared, you know, to be here for the rest of my life.”
“Rose…” he said her name again, and she shivered slightly at the sound of his voice, still afraid to face him.
“Tea!” she interrupted him loudly, turning away from the window and hurrying into the kitchen to find the kettle. “You want some tea, don’t you? Or supper? Are you hungry? You’ve probably come a long way from the Front, haven’t you? I can, well, sort of cook now. You pick up a few things, living in this time. Out of necessity.”
“Rose, will you please look at me?”
“What?” Her eyes darted up and back down again so quickly that it could barely even be considered a look at all. Then she turned her back to him again to light the stove and slid the kettle over the burner.
“That doesn’t count,” his voice sharpened a bit. He sighed, and then his voice softened as he continued. “Please, Rose. You haven’t looked at me once since the shop.”
She finally froze, her head bowed over the warmth of the stove. Once again her fingers went to the wedding band and she twisted it nervously one last time, her hands shaking, as she finally turned around and raised her eyes to meet his.
She noticed that he had removed his hat at some point since entering the flat, and his hair was crinkled at the sides giving him amusing, boyish hat hair that made her lips tweak up with a slight laugh. His eyes were tender and concerned. There wasn’t the slightest bit of accusation in them, which made the guilt bubble up even further in her belly.
“Hello there,” he greeted her with a smile.
“Hi,” she replied shyly. He chuckled at the simplicity of her response. Rose was surprised at first by his laugh, but then the absurdity of it all struck her as well. She had been nervously rambling all that time to fill the air just to avoid a simple hello. She burst into giggles, as it hit her how ridiculously she had been acting. He grinned broadly at her, looking incredibly pleased with himself for finally making her smile.
“That’s more like it!” he stated proudly. He opened his arms widely, inviting her in for a hug. She didn’t hesitate to throw herself into his familiar embrace, lost for so very, very long. As she buried her face into his shoulder, she smiled with utter joy and relief.
The Doctor was back. Rose felt a surge of elation at the thought that finally this strange, strange life that she had been leading for three nearly years would be coming to an end.
John Smith’s flat wasn’t much to look at on the surface, but to Rose it said absolutely everything about him. Bare, unadorned walls suggested a blank slate, his decorating taste still undiscovered. The kitchen was small and clean, probably rarely used, and other than the table, the only furniture in the front room was a large desk in the corner stacked neatly with papers, pen, and a handful of old books. A door separated them from what was surely his bed chamber.
“It isn’t much to look at, I’m afraid,” he insisted apologetically as she surveyed the room.
“Well, no,” Rose agreed, turning back to him with a smile. “But it has potential.”
“Potential,” he repeated. “Indeed.”
She watched him move towards the kitchen, where the table was set, and much of the food was already laid out and waiting for them to eat. The smell of cooking turkey was pouring from the oven, making her mouth water in anticipation of the meal. John moved around the kitchen like he had at least a vague idea of how to prepare Christmas dinner for her. Rose suddenly found herself bothered by the utter strangeness of the scene.
The Doctor, but not the Doctor, was doing something so very domestic: cooking dinner for her. In all of the time that they had been traveling together, he had never once hinted that such a thing might ever be a possibility. The sight of him bent over the open oven door was so disturbing that Rose turned her back, and wandered away from the kitchen.
“Working on anything interesting?” she casually asked, as she approached his desk. Old books and papers were stacked haphazardly across the surface, all tools for exercising the mind. That was more in line with how she liked to think of the Doctor in his quieter moments. She heard a loud clank as he dropped what he was pulling out of the oven onto the countertop, but her eyes stayed glued to an unexpected sight among the papers on his desk.
“Well, now, I’ve been tutoring a teenage boy in the history of the Ancient Greeks, but nothing too fascinating, really. Oh!”
His surprised exclamation finally pulled her gaze away from what was clearly the drawing of a Dalek, sitting on top of a hastily-arranged stack of papers. John was staring at her in utter horror. He rushed across the room to her side.
“This doesn’t look much like anything ancient…or Greek for that matter,” Rose joked, praying that she didn’t sound too hopeful now that she was faced with the prospect that the Doctor might be breaking through the fake human exterior.
“I wasn’t planning to show you that,” he explained, his voice shaking nervously. “I should have put those away. I just didn’t think...”
“What is it?” Rose asked carefully, hoping and praying for him to name it properly. Waiting for an excited admission that he was himself again, or a dry reply of, ‘come on now, Rose, you know perfectly well what a Dalek looks like’.
“I have no idea, actually,” he finally replied, looking down at the page with a mildly amused chuckle. “I saw it in a dream the other night, and decided to try to draw it, so that I wouldn’t forget. Sometimes I dream the most extraordinary things. I’d just hate to forget them all.”
Rose couldn’t fight the laugh that burst from her chest at his words. She couldn’t imagine the Doctor ever calling a Dalek ‘extraordinary’.
“You think that’s funny?” John asked her sadly.
“No, no, no,” Rose quickly replied, trying to comfort him. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just know what it’s like to have vivid dreams. You have quite the imagination.”
“Yeah, it’s strange isn’t it? Would you like to see the rest?”
Rose nodded, and he slowly began to finger through the papers on his desk, pulling out the odd drawing here and there. She glanced up at his face, and he was studying all of them like they were amazing, mysterious things, while all of them, every one of the drawings, were familiar to Rose.
On the corner of one page was scribbled a drawing of the TARDIS. On another was a Slitheen. There were Clockwork Men, the Face of Boe, and in one tiny corner a shape that clearly resembled K-9. Rose giggled at the sight of the tin dog, and John Smith blushed, before continuing to explain.
“I’ve been trying to keep track of them, but with my resources so limited since the fire, I’ve only been able to get my hands on some scrap paper here and there, and I’ve scribbled some of them out. I’d love to be able to write them all down in a book, maybe as fiction, or something like that. Maybe someday.”
“Do you just see these things in your dreams?” Rose wondered aloud. “Or is there more to it? Stories and things, I mean?”
John Smith blushed again. “There’s more to it,” he admitted carefully. “It’s ridiculous though, you’re going to think I’m completely insane.”
“No, I won’t,” Rose insisted. “Really, I want to know. Tell me about your dreams.”
“Well, it’s just…sometimes I dream I’m this adventurer. The Doctor, he’s called. Traveling around, fighting these monsters, and saving the world. It’s quite a miraculous world going on inside my head.”
“Traveling around and fighting monsters,” Rose asked. “How exciting! But it’s got to be lonely, hasn’t it? Traveling alone?”
“Welllllll,” John drawled out his response in a manner so like the Doctor, that if he hadn’t been blushing, Rose might have thought that he had changed back right in front of her. “I’m not always alone,” he admitted.
“So you’ve got a sidekick or something?” Rose asked, before kicking herself, realizing that he might not be familiar with the term.
“In some of the dreams there’s someone traveling with me. A girl. My traveling companion. Well, my best friend, really.”
Rose’s heart started pounding in her chest. “Who?” she breathed out, desperately hoping and praying that his answer would be what she thought it was going to be. The shy smile that followed caused hope to rise up in her once again. It took every ounce of willpower not to scream with joy when his response came.
“Actually, and I can’t believe I’m telling you this. It’s you, Rose. You are, quite literally, the girl of my dreams.”
The rest of Christmas passed in somewhat of a daze for Rose. They ate together, a simple, but delicious chicken dinner, that John Smith sheepishly admitted that he did not entirely cook himself, but rather, picked up mostly prepared with aide and directions from a local pub.
Over dinner, he asked Rose questions about her missing family, and she regaled him with stories of some of Jackie’s more amusing interludes, while desperately trying to avoid the subject of what happened to her mum. It was easier to talk about her father’s death, a loss that she actually lived through. Jackie’s disappearance was more recent, the final result of the battle at Canary Wharf. However, Daleks and Cybermen weren’t exactly dinnertime conversation in 1913, and Rose was a terrible liar when she didn’t have the Doctor’s lead to follow.
It was the strangest Christmas of her life. There wasn’t a tree, and they didn’t exchange gifts, but they ate well, and talked late into the evening with one another. John told her stories of his students at Farringham, and the boy that he currently tutored, while Rose spoke of adjusting to working in a shop again after leaving the pub in Farringham behind. Occasionally, when she asked, he would tell her a story from one of his dreams, and Rose had to fight to not reminisce or correct him on the mistakes he would make, but all the same, through his tales it felt like the Doctor was maybe a little bit closer than he had been the day before.
And at the end of their evening, John held her hand as he walked her home through the cold streets of London. That night, while she was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, she admitted that for the first time, she felt a little less alone in 1913, and swore to spend as much time as possible with John Smith. It wasn’t the same as being with the Doctor, but it was better than being alone. And maybe, just maybe, if she waited long enough, more bits of the Doctor would break through the human shell the way that his memories were slipping through into John Smith’s dreams.
The tea was steaming in the cups, still too hot to drink, when a serious tone in the Doctor’s voice set Rose on edge once again.
“Rose, there’s something we need to discuss, I’m afraid.”
Rose’s eyes dropped to the ring on her finger, and she felt her hands start to shake again while she waited for the Doctor to bring up the one thing she was terrified to discuss with him: her marriage to his counterpart, and what that meant for their future together. She slid her hands from the teacup to her lap, and immediately started twisting the ring on her finger again. She couldn’t quite bring herself to take it off yet, it had become such a part of her over the past few years.
“I know you need time to wrap things up here, and I’m not trying to whisk you away before you take care of all of your business, but I’m afraid there is a certain amount of…sensitivity to how long we can stay here at this point.”
“What do you mean?” Rose asked carefully.
“He…John Smith…is dead.”
Rose sucked in a breath and held it. His words pierced her, and brought a sharp pain that surprised her to her chest. Since the Doctor had returned, she hadn’t allowed herself to think about the man that he had been while he was gone, the human man that had wooed and wedded her in his absence. A man who had been a part of her life, and who was now gone. A sharp sense of guilt filled her at the thought of John Smith. It was horribly unfair to him that she was so very, very glad to have the Doctor back...even at the expense of her husband of three years.
“I know,” she agreed softly.
“No, I mean…he was in the army, Rose. At war. When I became me again, I found myself faced with a series of options. Stay and fight a human war, and you know that wasn’t the slightest bit of an option for me. Desert the army and scorn my alter-ego’s name, which didn’t quite appeal to me either. Or find another way to get out. So I found another way. I faked John Smith’s death.”
“Oh.” Rose exclaimed, realization sweeping over her. “So that means…”
“I have to lie low until we can get out of here. I can’t be seen. It won’t be long before the army sends someone to tell you of my death, possibly even today. I was terrified that they would beat me here, actually. And if anyone sees me…well, then there could be some problems. We need to wrap things up, get back to the TARDIS, and get out of this time before anyone figures out that my death was purely artificial. If that happens, then we will find ourselves in a load of trouble.”
“Right.” Rose sighed. “Okay. Well, at least that gives me a role to play as I bow out of this life. Grief-stricken widow is a pretty good excuse to pick up and disappear into a new life. I can play that card.”
She tried to keep her voice light, but she could practically feel the Doctor’s gaze narrowing to her, and saw his eyes fall to her hand and linger a moment too long on the ring on her finger, before looking back up to study her face. She waited silently for a moment, anticipating the inevitable questions, but the Doctor’s gaze left hers, his attention suddenly focused on the tea in front of him, swirling it around in the cup for a moment before taking a long drink of it. He drummed his hands against the table restlessly for a moment, before pushing to his feet and wandering to the window, but Rose stayed frozen in her seat. Because his nervous pounding had drawn her attention to a detail that she hadn’t noticed until this very moment.
His fingers were void and naked of any adornments.
He wasn’t wearing the wedding ring.
And in that instant, Rose’s heart broke, just a little bit.
Taking the train to Farringham on Sundays to visit the TARDIS proved to Rose how spoiled the people of her modern era were. They had all sorts of available distractions while in transit. While she sat in her compartment on the train across from a snoring old woman, Rose desperately wished for her mobile or an iPod or something to make the time go faster. Instead she just stared out the window at the familiar passing landscape and let her mind wander off.
She didn’t go up to visit the TARDIS every Sunday. Otherwise she’d probably go broke and mad, and not necessarily in that order. Still, it was a necessity to protect their safety. The TARDIS was locked safely away in a shed outside of town, and only Rose had a key to get into the shed. Her life had already been thrown askew by one accidental fire. She couldn’t help worrying that another accident would occur. Even if she couldn’t pilot the TARDIS, at least she could keep an eye on her.
It had been two months since the last time she had made the journey out to Farringham. Having what her landlady referred to as “a male caller” had taken up quite a bit of her spare time. She wasn’t complaining though. After months and months of feeling completely alone in this time, it was refreshing to have someone who paid attention to her, who liked spending time with her, who wanted her. Suddenly she understood perfectly why the Doctor had invited her along after one brief adventure. Loneliness was hard on the soul. It got inside you until it became an actual physical ache that seemed like it would never go away. Nearly six months without the Doctor, and Rose was more determined than ever to stay with him for the rest of her life, even if he wasn’t himself.
It was a mile walk from the train station to the shed outside of town where the TARDIS lay hidden. The air was cold and damp, a heavy fog shrouding the landscape with dewy moisture. Rose had to pull her wool coat tighter around herself to starve off the cold as she slowly walked to her destination.
She smiled when the shed finally came into sight. Her hand was shaking as she pulled the key out of her pocket, and it was difficult to slip it into the lock. She was relieved, however, to turn the key and hurry through the door as it creaked open. Just seeing the TARDIS made her feel a little bit closer to home. Rose carefully closed the door behind her, and quickly entered the TARDIS.
It was warmer inside of the ship. Rose slipped off her coat and turned to throw it over the closest arm of coral, but she froze mid-toss when she turned to see the Doctor's coat resting over the same surface. Her own coat fell to the floor, forgotten, as she took two slow, careful steps towards it, and laid a light hand on the familiar brown material. She trembled at the feel of it beneath her fingers, and quickly pulled away, turning her back to it, and hurrying up to the console.
Even though the TARDIS was powered down, she was still alive. A brush of her hand over the edge of the console brought a welcoming hum to Rose's ear. "Hello," Rose replied, turning to sit. "Sorry to be away for so long. I'm sure you've been lonely. Things have gotten away from me a bit lately. I have no idea what I'm doing anymore."
Her eyes drifted back to the Doctor's coat by the door, and her heart sunk a little bit. "There's still no sign of the watch. And it's been far more than three months now. The Family won't be a problem for us anymore. But the Doctor is still lost, and I have no idea how to find him."
She paused, and thought back to her experiences over the past few months. "John Smith is giving me hope though. He's clearly not the Doctor, but occasionally, it's like little bits of the Doctor are slipping through the cracks. I'm keeping a close eye on him..." Her words drifted off and sat silently thinking about the meaning of them for a moment. The TARDIS was quiet, but Rose couldn't help feeling like the TARDIS was waiting for her to explain herself further.
"He...John Smith...is dreaming about the Doctor's life. He remembers me from the Doctor's memories. It's so strange. I've been spending more and more time with him and most of the time he's this bumbling, scatterbrained, overly polite human bloke. But then, sometimes, he'll look at me a certain way, or something will pop out, and for a moment...just a single minuscule instant...I'll think I have the Doctor back."
She looked up and saw the Chameleon Arch dangling from the ceiling. Her gaze narrowed in on the empty space where once a fob watch had been pressed tightly into the device. The memory of it all came rushing back, as she remembered how the helmet rested around the Doctor's head and his screams, the stuff of nightmares, echoed through the TARDIS. Little had she known at the time that they were banishing the Doctor's consciousness away into the eternal prison of a tiny, now-lost watch.
"But that's the thing," she realized sadly. "I adore John Smith. He's a wonderful man. And if I have to be with any human while I'm trapped in this time, I'm glad I'm with him. But he's always going to let me down because he's not the Doctor." Her voice grew distant as she thought back to all of the time she had been spending with John Smith since their first Christmas date. "I think he's falling in love with me. And I have no idea if that's a good thing, or a bad thing."
Rose pushed herself to her feet and paced in a slow circle around the TARDIS console, brushing her hand reverently over the different buttons and levers, until she reached the monitor. She paused and stared at the screen for a long moment. The Doctor had recorded a message for her before he had become John Smith. It was her last link to him, and she had watched it on every previous visit to the TARDIS, but she was afraid to look this time. She was worried that the Doctor would somehow scold her from the past for caring about the well being of his human counterpart.
As she stared at the dark monitor, she thought back to an incident that had happened a month earlier. In mid-January, there had been a light snowfall over Central London one night, and in the morning John Smith had come calling at her boardinghouse. He took her out to Hyde Park, and together they had spent the day walking through the snowy fields, holding hands, watching children have snowball fights and build snowmen. When they left the park that afternoon, a nearby tree dumped snow over them, and Rose laughed while John Smith carefully brushed the wet flakes out of her hair. His hand had drifted cautiously lower, until he was carefully brushing an errant flake off of her eyelash, and then, somehow, he was kissing her. Rose was startled by the advance, but his light and loving touch was so comforting that she quickly relaxed into his embrace and found herself returning his kiss.
When Rose thought back to that first moment with him, and the many that had followed in the ensuing month, she felt the guilt stronger than ever. Because even though John Smith wasn't the Doctor, he was as close as she would get to the Doctor, likely for the rest of her life. And she liked his affections.
Rose quickly pulled her hand away from the monitor as if she had been burned. She couldn't do it. She couldn't listen to the Doctor's voice and see the Doctor's face now. She turned and hurried from the console room, desperate for a shower and a nap in her proper bed.
Rose didn't actually sleep that night. She just pretended. She made excuses to go to bed, because the Doctor expected it, but really needed some time alone, to think. She lay in the dark, with her eyes closed, attempting to appear to be sleeping, while her mind tried to come to terms with the incredible changes her life was facing...again.
The only feelings she was aware of were confusion and guilt. Confusion, because she was so happy the Doctor was back, but she was so sad to be losing John Smith. Guilt because she felt such absolute relief over finally being able to leave this time and go back to traveling on the TARDIS. And of course, she felt further guilt because she knew that she took advantage of the Doctor when he was not himself.
She was acutely aware of the Doctor's presence in the flat. When she said goodnight, he sat at John's desk in the living room and watched her go. Once or twice she thought she heard him shuffling through John's papers. And in a distant haze, late in the middle of the night, she was sure she heard footsteps approaching her in the bed, but when she opened her eyes, the Doctor was not in the room.
Once morning had come, Rose stumbled, blurry-eyed out of bed, not remotely close to rested. She found the Doctor sprawled in a chair, slowly flipping through one of John's history books. A creak in the floor alerted him to her presence, and he quickly snapped the book closed and leapt to his feet to greet her.
"Sleep well?" he asked her awkwardly.
"I suppose," Rose answered vaguely. "Hope it wasn't too dull of a night for you. I know how much you hate being cooped up inside."
"I managed," he replied. "We do what we must, and I have to avoid being seen as long as possible."
Rose nodded her understanding. "Well, if our plan is going to work, I should probably get dressed and head to the shop."
"Right!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Yes, well, you should do that! I'll just...sit here. And read this book." He held up the book for Rose to see as if to prove that its existence was real. Rose wondered why he was so jumpy, but shrugged it off and went to get dressed. While in the bedroom, Rose could have sworn she heard the Doctor pacing and muttering to himself. She wondered what it was that had him so agitated.
With a passing thought, Rose suddenly remembered that if the Doctor had retained John Smith's memories, then he had seen her change in front of him dozens of times. She blushed at the thought. She found herself wondering again if her suspicion was true. If so, it had to be a strange experience for the Doctor to wake up with three years of memories that were not his own. Even though he had not experienced it, from his perspective, he might feel like an eavesdropper on the more private parts of someone else's life. Her life, she suddenly realized.
Her life in which she had used him as a puppet.
She had trouble meeting his eyes when she walked back out to the main room. Instead she glanced quickly at him, taking a quick note of how tense he looked, and headed for the door. "Well, I'm off!" she announced to him in a voice that even sounded fake to her own ears.
"You remember the plan, right?" the Doctor pressed, as he followed her towards the door.
"Heart-broken widow, I've got it," Rose insisted. "I'm sure I can manage. I'll be home as soon as it's done." He gave her a curt nod and turned his back on her as she fled the thick tension that filled the small flat.
It turned out that the Doctor's theory was correct. It was only mid-morning when the telegram arrived from the army, informing her of her husband's death. With all of the turbulent emotions boiling up inside her, it took very little effort for Rose to burst into grief-stricken tears, giving a show of shock and horror for the sake of the British Army.
After the messenger left, Rose quickly locked up the shop and climbed the stairs to the shopkeeper's home, delivering the keys to his wife. She insisted to the woman that with John dead she couldn't stay here in London anymore, and would be soon on a train to her last remaining family in Farringham. The shopkeeper's wife never questioned it, since she already knew that Rose visited her "family" on a regular basis. Rose said her farewells, and fled the woman's home.
When she arrived back at the flat, she carefully opened the door and her eyes first caught the sight of a packed bag sitting by the door. She took note of the fact that the Doctor wasn't waiting in the living room, and cautiously made her way back to the bedroom. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight that was waiting there for her.
The Doctor had changed out of John's uniform while she was gone. He had pillaged through the wardrobe and dressed himself in a simple pair of slacks and a white button-down shirt. Sometime since changing, however, he had stretched out on the bed, and appeared to be lightly dozing, completely stretched out and relaxed. If the past day hadn't happened, Rose would have been certain that it was her husband lying there. It was such a familiar sight to her.
Her eyes were stinging a little when the Doctor's eyes blinked open. He sat up and met her eyes. Rose couldn't imagine what she looked like after all of the crying she had been doing over the past few hours. She imagined it was pretty bad though, because the Doctor looked worried.
"Sorry," he apologized, as he pushed himself to his feet. "I'm still recovering from the change, I think. My body is still trying to remember what it's like to be Time Lord and not human. And with how long it was reconfigured, well, it's taking a little longer than it should. But I'll be back to my old self in no time! I packed for you while you were gone! You might want to check to see if I missed anything, but I think I got everything that you might want to keep..."
He trailed off and Rose mentally finished his sentence. To remember him by. Rose was surprised. It was a thoughtful gesture. Usually the Doctor was oblivious to these sorts of things. Perhaps it was a remnant from being a human for so long.
"Thank you," she told him softly.
Their departure from the flat was fairly unceremonious. The Doctor climbed out the bedroom window and waited for her in the alley, while Rose turned in the keys to the landlord and apologized for her sudden departure.
There was barely enough time for Rose to look back once, and say a silent goodbye to her home of three years, before the Doctor retrieved her bag from her hands, and they were swiftly walking to the train station.
By Spring Rose was beginning to lose hope. It had been eight months now since they had landed in this time, more than double the length that they had originally planned to hide here. There was still no sign of the watch, and Rose doubted that would ever change. The Doctor was lost forever, and she was left with nothing but a shell of him. John had his face and his figure, only with the mind of a lovely man who almost succeeded in making Rose happy -- if she could just forget about the Doctor. But even though sometimes she wished that she could accept this new life, she knew that she would never wish away the Doctor. She loved him far too much to regret their time together, even if it was gone now.
However much she missed the Doctor though, it was hard not to reciprocate when John Smith looked at her with such love and kissed her with so much passion. He made her feel cherished, and Rose knew that she was perilously close to giving her heart to him for safe keeping. She had lost so many people in her life: her father first, and then Mickey and her mother, before the Doctor himself. She couldn't help worrying that if she allowed herself to love John Smith the way he wanted, that she would soon lose him as well. And then she would suffer double the heartbreak, because with John Smith would go the last remnant of the Doctor. Then she would be truly alone.
It had been a busy day of working in the shop, when John showed up at the door at closing. She looked at him inquisitively, and he gestured for her to come outside. She turned to her boss, the shopkeeper, who studied the man waiting in the doorway. "Oh all right then, get on with it. I can finish up on my own." Rose thanked him gratefully and headed to the door.
"Come with me?" John asked her softly, holding out a hand for her to grasp. She entwined her fingers with his, and swiftly he led her away from the shop.
The sun was just starting to set, orange tinges slowly manifesting themselves in the clear sky, as John led her through the streets of London towards the river. He stopped when they reached the Thames embankment, and turned to silently look at her for a long moment. Rose studied his face while he stared at her, and she couldn't read his expression. It was carefully masked, completely hidden, and left her feeling a bit unsettled. The Doctor was sometimes hard to read, but usually John Smith was an open book.
"What is it?" she finally asked him. He smiled, and Rose felt a moment of relief, knowing that whatever it was, it couldn't be bad.
"I had this wonderful dream last night. The two of us were standing under the most incredible orange sunset watching these creatures flying across the sky. And then you told me that you'd be with me forever. It was so vivid, and you looked so beautiful. I wanted to see you under an orange sky. And the sunset tonight is perfect for it."
Rose turned to look behind her, and realized that he was right. The sun had set deeper as they had hurried through the city, and now there was a beautiful burnt orange sky, framing the London sky behind her.
"I've been thinking about that dream all day, Rose. I can't get it out of my head. I have been so much happier since you came into my life. It seems as if, all of a sudden, the loneliness is gone, and I truly believe that I don't have to feel that way anymore. I hope it's the same for you, Rose."
Rose stepped closer to him, taking his hand, and bringing it up to her lips for a light kiss. "You do help, John. Spending time with you has made me so much happier than I thought I could possibly be here. It's not perfect. I still miss the people I lost. But I love being with you."
"You've lost so much," he breathed softly to her. "If I could just give you back a fraction of what you've lost..." He paused, and Rose studied his face while he collected his thoughts. "Rose," he continued. "I never want to be apart from you. I love you so much, and if you would let me do what I can to make you happy again, I would do everything possible, every day of my life, to keep you from feeling alone. Will you let me try, Rose? Will you marry me?"
The question startled Rose. She studied the Doctor's face, and looked into the Doctor's eyes, but her mind was trapped trying to interpret a question that would have never come from the Doctor's lips. "You...you want to marry me?" she asked.
John's eyes widened at the question. "You can't be surprised about this, Rose. I thought I had been very clear with you about how much I love you. We're both alone...there's no one else. Why wouldn't we marry each other?"
"You have been clear," Rose insisted. "I never once doubted your feelings...but marriage? That never even occurred to me."
"Why wouldn't it occur to you? It's a fairly obvious next step in this relationship."
"I don't know!" Rose insisted, because she had to. But she knew exactly why it never occurred to her. It was an obvious next step for 1914 culture, but in her natural time, in 2007, it wouldn't be an obvious next step at all. As far as John Smith knew, he and Rose Tyler had only been dating for four months. In Rose's world, a marriage this rushed would be questioned and criticized. Everyone would assume that she was pregnant. Here, in 1914, John Smith would never even think to ask her to spend the night. Not until they were married.
"Can you give me time?" Rose finally asked. "I do care for you very deeply, John. But I need to figure out what that means, and if I even want to get married." His expression fell at her words, and Rose quickly reached up to his face, and lifted his cheek to force him to look into her eyes. "No, don't do that," she insisted. "This is not me saying no. This is just me saying, not yet. Don't give up on me yet, do you hear me?"
He smiled sadly at her. "I understand perfectly. But I wish you had said yes."
"Just give me time," she insisted once more. "I need time." She tiptoed up to press a soft kiss to his lips, a promise that this conversation wasn't over. And then she slid her hand into his once more, while together they walked along the Thames, watching as the orange sky slowly dimmed into darkness and night overtook them both.
Rose and the Doctor parted ways briefly at King's Cross. The Doctor swore it would be safer for him to sneak onto the train than to be questioned by the ticketing officers. So Rose went to the counter alone to buy herself a private compartment, climbed on board, and waited for the Doctor to find her.
He slipped through the door not long after the train departed. Rose smiled in relief at the sight of him. He took a seat across from her, and kicked his feet up onto the seat beside her, stretching out.
"How long of a train ride is it?" he asked curiously.
"A few hours," Rose replied.
"Hours," the Doctor muttered in amazement.
"They didn't exactly have TARDISes in the early 20th Century," Rose pointed out.
"No. Indeed not," the Doctor agreed. "And a good thing they didn't. Could you imagine the disaster if most of these people could time travel? You humans would never have made it as far as you do in the future."
"Hey, watch it!" Rose warned. "You were one of those humans a few days ago, remember?"
The Doctor's expression suddenly froze. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "Yes, I do remember."
His last words were loaded with meaning. They both fell silent for a long moment. Rose’s pulse raced as she wondered if he meant what she thought he meant. She suspected that if they didn't talk about this now, they never would. So she gathered her courage, and asked him just one word.
His eyes saddened a bit, and Rose wondered why, until the Doctor spoke. "I remember every minute of that human life, Rose. I remember the school in Farringham, and the fire. I remember moving to London, and meeting you. I remember the war. I remember every detail and every moment of falling in love with you, and being married to you. Yes, Rose. I remember it all."
Rose opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out, so she closed it again. She wasn't sure what she should say. She wanted to apologize for taking advantage of him, for using him to make herself feel better, for falling in love with John Smith and being disloyal to the Doctor, but it felt wrong. How could she apologize for something she didn't entirely regret? She had thought that the Doctor was gone, seemingly forever, and she had done what she had to do to survive in a cold, lonely world.
A question had been lurking in the back of her mind ever since the Doctor returned. Rose finally decided to bring it up, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"Will you tell me what happened? How you became you again?"
"Ah, well...the watch was returned to me."
"How is that possible?" Rose asked curiously. "I thought it was lost forever! I searched the rubble of the school. I never found it."
"You never found it because it wasn't there," the Doctor explained. "There was a boy, one of John Smith's students at the Farringham school. He was slightly psychic. When the fire happened, he was running for the exit, and heard me calling to him from inside the watch. He saved me from that fire, and kept me safe for all of these years."
"Oh wow," Rose mumbled as she tried to process the fact that someone had the watch all along. "The boys all were sent home very quickly after the fire. And John was off to London almost immediately after."
"Exactly," the Doctor confirmed. "There was no time for him to find Smith to return the watch. And Tim didn't know to look for you. So he held onto the watch, keeping it safe until the day when he could find Smith and return me to my proper home."
"And that happened at the war?"
"Tim eventually enlisted. He ended up on the Western Front as well. We ran into each other at base camp, and he gave me, or Smith that is, the watch and asked him to open it. Smith did. He didn't know what he was doing, or that his life was about to come to an end. He just opened the watch and freed me from within."
Rose felt tears stinging her eyes at the thought of Smith's life just coming to a sudden, unexpected end. These kinds of deaths were typical at war. A bomb or a stray bullet could have done it just as easily. He didn't see it coming. He had no time to prepare, or say goodbye. He simply opened a watch and ceased to exist. The thought of it broke Rose's heart for the life that was lost. But she looked up at the Doctor, who was watching her very cautiously, and she was still so glad to have him home.
"When did this happen?" she wondered aloud. "How long have you been you again?"
"About a week," the Doctor admitted. "It took me some time to get out of France and back to England. I had to do it the old fashioned way. No psychic paper or sonic screwdriver to help me this time."
"I'm glad you made it back safely."
"And I'm looking forward to getting back to normal," the Doctor announced. "We've been gone for so long that the TARDIS might have gotten rusty in her old age!"
"Back to normal," Rose agreed softly, but her mind hitched on the thought and she felt her eyes drawn back down to the naked ring finger on the Doctor's left hand. She wondered how "normal" the Doctor would find it if in the middle of their adventures she suddenly felt the need to kiss him. Kissing his lips had become a fairly normal occurrence for her over the past few years -- among other things. Of course she'd attempt normal to avoid making him uncomfortable...but what if she slipped up by mistake?
As she stared at his hand, Rose resolved to do everything she could to make everything seem the same as it was before they had landed the TARDIS in Farringham. The Doctor couldn't even bring himself to wear John Smith's ring. There was no way he'd be able to tolerate remnants of his counterpart's marriage.
Rose needed to think of herself as a widow. Or a divorcee. Something that made her subconscious mind acutely aware that no matter how much she loved and desired him, this man would never be her husband again.
The TARDIS corridors were dark as Rose rushed through them, desperately seeking out the library. She slid her hand along the wall as she turned a corner, and the TARDIS hummed to her gently. Rose could tell that the TARDIS was trying to comfort her, but her pounding heart wouldn’t slow.
"It's starting!" Rose told the TARDIS, as she hurried through the doorway into the library. "The war! I saw it in the paper a few days ago. That Austrian Duke was assassinated! It's only a matter of time now. The whole world is going to war, and I have to sit here and watch it happen. And the Doctor? He doesn't even know it's happening, because he's human and he can't remember!"
Rose felt her eyes tearing up and she wiped them clean with frustration. "I need to know everything there is to know about the war. I have to be prepared." She rushed through the library, seeking out every earth history book she could find, and hurried back to the Doctor's desk with a large stack of them. Throwing herself in his chair, she proceeded to spend hours reading everything she could find on the Great War, but there was nothing in any of the books that could help her. It was all history. Politicians, battles, trench warfare, and counts of the dead; but there was nothing that could help to protect them. She couldn’t do anything to keep it from happening.
"Why did he have to go and leave me here?" Rose whispered sadly. She slumped her shoulders in defeat and closed the last book.
Slowly, she walked back to the console room, brushing an errant hand over the monitor. It switched on, seemingly of its own accord, but the TARDIS hummed, and Rose knew that the ship was trying to tell her something. The Doctor's face popped up in the monitor, and Rose hitched a breath. It was his final message to her, paused, waiting for her to press the play button. She toyed with pressing it and hearing his voice again, but something made her hesitate. It wasn't guilt this time, not like last time. Now it was looking at his silent face that brought a comfort to her. Yes, it was the face of the Doctor, but it was something else now too. It was the face of the only man who had made her smile in nearly a year. It was the face of the man who loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. His face was her last remaining hope that she might not have to live her life completely alone in a turbulent world.
Suddenly, Rose realized she wanted nothing more than to see John Smith face-to-face. She quickly powered off the monitor and rushed from the TARDIS, back to the Farringham train station.
Rose spent the entire train ride trying to figure out what she would say to him when she saw him. She had spent months being confused about the only relationship in her life now, and suddenly everything seemed perfectly clear to her: she needed John Smith. She needed to not be alone anymore. She understood with perfect clarity in that moment that if the Doctor could see her, he wouldn't blame her for feeling that need. If anyone understood loneliness, it was the Doctor.
Rose was relieved when the train finally pulled into King's Cross Station, late that afternoon. She hurried to catch the Underground into Central London. The clock in the station told her that there was just enough time to catch John on his way home from his tutoring session with a Kensington boy. She exited the train at Gloucester Road and quickly ran up the stairway to the street level. Focusing hard on her plan, Rose quickly navigated the local streets, seeking out his typical route home from his lesson. Finally she spotted him a block ahead, walking slowly with a newspaper tucked under his arm. She jogged ahead to catch up with him.
"John!" she called, taking him by the hand as she reached him.
"Rose!" he greeted her happily. "This is a surprise!" He leaned over and kissed her chastely on the cheek, and waited as she caught her breath. "Why in the world are you in such a rush?"
"I needed to find you," she gasped out. "I realized today, and I just…I needed to tell you!" Rose stopped, and took a deep breath, settling herself before she continued.
"Yes," she told him with certainty, searching his eyes with her own, hoping he understood.
"Yes?" he asked curiously. "You ran all this way to find me, just to tell me....yes?" Rose nodded, and looked at him seriously, waiting for him to understand. She saw it the instant that realization swept into his eyes. He took her face tenderly in his hands and asked. "Yes, you'll marry me?"
"Yes," Rose repeated. "I'll marry you."
John’s only response was to lean down and kiss her tenderly. Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned closer into his embrace, returning the kiss with every ounce of feeling she had inside of her, hoping desperately that he could feel through the kiss that this wasn't a dream, this was for real, and she was ready to be with him completely now.
When he eventually pulled away, Rose looked up at him wistfully. "I'm so sorry to make you wait this long. It was wrong of me. But you're right, John. You were right about everything. I do love you, and I don't want to be alone anymore."
He offered her his arm, and she took it gratefully, leaning against him as together they walked towards home. "Don't worry, Rose," he told her softly. "You won't ever be alone again."
Rose stood in the open doorway of the TARDIS and watched with a smile on her face as the Doctor bounced up the platform to the console. The TARDIS hummed happily while he flipped her power supply back on and the lights burst brightly into life.
"Hello old girl!" he called out joyfully, stroking the edge of the console as he danced around her, trying to prepare her for flight. "Oh, I've missed you! Home sweet home!" He looked up from his task to where Rose was standing at the entrance and his voice sharpened a bit. "Are you going to stand there all day? Onwards and upwards. Time for us to move on."
Rose didn't answer him. She turned and pulled the doors shut behind her, before making her way up the ramp to meet him.
"Had enough of history?" the Doctor asked her curiously. "I've been thinking about Agatha Christie lately. I'll bet Agatha Christie would be brilliant. Or we could go to the future. I could show you the New Westminster Abbey, built in the year 3268 after the old one was hit by a meteor! Fascinating place, that one. Speaking of meteors there's a lovely meteor shower in the sky over the planet Twondok. Of course, a few of them hit the planet. Big disaster. Lots of fire. On second thought, maybe not-"
"Doctor." Rose interrupted with a sigh. "I'd love to have an adventure, but first I'd just like a shower and a nap. And to get out of this damn dress. I haven't worn a pair of jeans in three years. Could we maybe just...rest first. Travel tomorrow or something?"
The Doctor suddenly seemed very still. "Yeah," he replied. "Right. Rest is important."
"Okay," Rose mumbled. "Then I'm just gonna-" She gestured towards the walkway, and turned to leave. The Doctor didn't say another word, so at the doorway she turned to look back towards him. He was now sitting on the jumpseat, staring blankly into the time rotor. She wondered suddenly if he was okay, or if there was something bothering him too. Running into an adventure was his choice way of coping, but she needed some alone time first, to think. She wasn't sure how long she'd be able to avoid his efforts to move on though.
When Rose awoke hours later, she sensed that the TARDIS had landed somewhere, and found herself curious to learn where the Doctor had taken them. She climbed out of bed and slowly dressed, before making her way out to the console room to find him. He was sitting there silently, with his legs kicked up on the console, and his arms folded behind his head. His eyes were closed as if he were sleeping, but when Rose approached they quickly opened and he turned to look at her.
"Where are we?" Rose asked him curiously.
"Step outside and see," he replied mysteriously. She turned and headed down the ramp. "Rose?" the Doctor called as he pushed himself to his feet. "No more than a step or two outside the door."
His last comment made her even more curious, so she opened the TARDIS door and very cautiously took a step outside. She gasped at the sight before her eyes.
The TARDIS had materialized at the edge of a massive chasm. It was easily hundreds of yards across to the other edge and miles deep. It reminded her of what the Grand Canyon must be like, only deeper. Much, much deeper. It was so impossibly deep, that she couldn't even make out the bottom. Like the Grand Canyon, the cliffs were layered, only in a variety of shades of rock: red, green, blue, and brown layers were apparent, only broken up by the occasional streaks of black, as if the rock had been scorched by a great fire.
"What is this place?" Rose asked quietly. The Doctor had stepped out of the TARDIS beside her, and she glanced over to see his face blank and serious.
"The story I told you earlier about the meteor shower over Twondok reminded me of this place. It's called Farosma Canyon. It's the greatest chasm in the universe. It was created when a massive meteor struck this planet thousands of years ago, rendering it completely uninhabitable on impact. In its deepest spots the chasm reaches down to the very heart of the planet."
"It's a dead planet?" Rose asked sadly.
"No," the Doctor disagreed. "This planet is broken, but it's not dead yet. There is a crack in this planet, so deep, that even its heart is shattered and broken. But guess what, Rose? Because its heart broke open, the hot core of this planet is exposed. Do you know what that means, Rose?"
Rose thought about his words for a minute. "Is it kind of like a volcano?"
"Similar, yes," he agreed. "Volcanoes explode though, because the fissure to the planet's core is capped off by a mountain. The planet is under constant pressure until it can't take it anymore and releases that energy in the only way it can. This planet isn't under that pressure though, because it's cracked open. So the core of this planet is boiling, and slowly, but constantly, replenishing the rock at the very bottom of the chasm."
"It's healing itself." Rose realized, staring in awe at the chasm before her.
"It's healing itself," the Doctor agreed. "And in time, millions of years from now, this planet will be whole again."
He took a step closer to her, and silently held out a hand to her. She looked at it cautiously for a moment, but knowing that this was right, slid her own hand into his. Hand-in-hand, they stood together on the edge of the greatest chasm in the universe, and watched for a while, knowing that somewhere, deep down inside of the planet below them, there was the potential for this planet to come to life again.
Rose silently made a wish that maybe, just maybe, the same would become true for the two of them.
It took nearly two months for John to get them an appointment at the local church. With the war starting on the continent, people were eloping left and right, marrying their girlfriends before being shipped off to war. Still, on a cool, rainy day in early September, almost a full month after Great Britain had declared war, Rose Tyler stood alongside John Smith in an empty church, while a priest declared them man and wife.
Due to the limitations of both of their simple lifestyles, they didn't rush away on a fancy honeymoon. Instead, together, they walked from the church to the boardinghouse where Rose had lived for the past 10 months to pick up her packed bags and move them to John's flat, just a few blocks away.
This time, as John opened the door for her, Rose stepped into his flat with a different set of eyes. Rather than glimpsing the simple life where the Doctor's human counterpart lived, Rose examined the place that she would now call home. It was more comfortable than her simple room at the boarding house. Rather than a single room with nothing but a bed, desk, and chair in it, John had an entire flat with a bedroom, sitting room, and kitchen. There was more space for her to breathe in. Plus, here she had the presence of a man that she loved. Rose did not doubt that she could be happy here.
John was practically bouncing with excitement as he took her bags into the bedroom, and he showed her the space that he had cleared for her things in the wardrobe. Together they unpacked her clothes and stored her bags away. Then, as simple as that, Rose realized that she had moved in with John Smith, her husband. The sheer thought of it almost brought her to her knees.
She sank down on the bed instead, and looked up at him. He was standing over her watching her with a worried look on his face.
"I know it's small, but I hope it will do. Work has been scarce since the school burned down, and I'm afraid I'm living a simpler life these days than I would like to be able to give you. Perhaps someday, in a few years or so, I'll be able to buy us a house."
Rose stood, and reached up to caress his cheek. "I don't need a house," she told him. "I just need you."
"You've got me," he promised, before leaning in to kiss her. The kiss started out soft, gentle, and innocent, but it quickly escalated into something more, filled with longing, need, and a desperate desire to be as close to each other as possible. John pulled back suddenly, and Rose looked up at him inquisitively.
"Rose...I know you're not the most traditional of girls. But if you are willing, I would very much like it if we could maintain one marital tradition..." he trailed off, his words lost, as Rose reached up and started to undo the buttons on his shirt.
"Don't worry," Rose whispered. "This is one tradition I am fully willing to fulfill. Let's go to bed."
He didn't hesitate for another moment. Rose could tell he was eager as he started to undress her, but was holding back a bit, perhaps worrying that he would push her too quickly? Rose, on the other hand, was equally hesitant. She was a modern girl of her time, and certainly not a virgin, but admitting that would be scandalous to John. So she let him take the lead as far as he was willing. And slowly, reverently, he made love to her. There was something in his touch that set her blood on fire, and made her feel perfectly cherished by this man all at once. The beauty of it made her heart want to burst, and in that moment, for the first time in the year that she had been stuck in the past, Rose managed to forget about the Doctor, and the future, and instead just lost herself in the embrace of her new husband.
Later, they lay together in bed, and Rose felt John's gaze weighing on her naked body. She blushed, and looked up at him quizzically.
"What?" she asked him with a laugh.
"You just look so beautiful lying there. I want to remember this moment forever. In fact...wait here!" John rolled from the bed and rushed from the room. Rose heard him rustling around in the living room for a moment, and then suddenly he came back with a blank sheet of paper, a pencil, and a book to write on.
"Stay there!" he ordered. "Don't move a muscle."
"Are you drawing me?" Rose asked as she watched him take the pencil to the paper.
"I insist. A lasting memory of our wedding night. Seeing as we don't have any photographs, I need something to remember this by!"
"Well..." Rose laughed. "If you insist!"
She watched him and waited as he studied her with a lowered gaze while translating whatever his eyes saw to the paper hidden from her sight. Something about the way his eyes studied her made a warmth rise within her. Rose desperately wished that he was sitting closer so that she could reach out and touch him. She shifted once, hoping to get closer, but his eyes narrowed at her, and she relaxed back into her comfortable pose. Eventually, his pencil stopped moving, and he lowered the book in his hand.
"Done?" she asked him softly.
"Done," he affirmed.
"Then please, come back to bed," Rose whispered.
John placed the book down on his chair, and in his rush to return to the bed, Rose distantly noted that the loose page had fallen to the floor. But John’s lips were soon exploring her body again, and the moment was forgotten for the night as they made love for the second time as a married couple.
The next morning when Rose awoke, she carefully rolled out of bed and made her way to where the errant drawing had fallen the night before. She retrieved it from its resting place, and gasped, as she flipped it over and looked at her husband's work of art. Her eyes flickered from the drawing, back to the man asleep in the bed, and tears filled her eyes as she marveled at how he could possibly see her as beautiful as the drawing showed. Rose knew the art needed to be preserved, so she carefully made her way out to the living room to place the drawing safely on her husband's desk.
Like on her previous visits to his flat, the desk was a mess of papers and books, and once again she was distracted by his errant scribbles visible when she approached. A shape that clearly resembled a Judoon caught her eye, and another that looked suspiciously like an Auton, a faceless man. Rose's breath hitched in her throat at the memory of her lost Doctor, but she forced it away. The Doctor was gone, and no matter how many memories appeared in her husband's dreams, they didn't change the fact that he was never coming back. This was her life now. A shop girl, happily married to a teacher, living together in their simple flat in London...during World War One.
Rose wandered alone through a silent alien city. The dark, empty streets were unsettling to her, as she looked up at the towering skyscrapers, wondering where all the people were. It seemed unnatural.
They had landed the TARDIS in a dirty alley about an hour before after following some stray tech that the Doctor had picked up on the scanner. After a cursory explanation of what they were looking for, he had insisted that they split up, so that the search would go quickly. He ran off before she could even argue, much to her annoyance. So far, she had seen nothing that appeared to be outside of the ordinary for this planet. She wasn’t quite sure, though, having never been to this galaxy or time before. And so, lost in thought, under the inky black sky of an unfamiliar night, she aimlessly roamed the city blocks.
Rose looked up at the towering walls above her, and found herself thinking back to the Farosma Canyon. The memory of that trip always left her feeling confused and off balance. The Doctor had been his typical self on that trip, talking around the issues without ever actually properly addressing them. He was never straight forward with her about emotional stuff. But the impression that she had gotten from that trip was that he was worried about her. He thought she was broken, in need of repair from a broken heart. Initially she had believed that he was tiptoeing around her because he was angry with her, but now she realized it was something else entirely.
Rose wasn't really sure how to bring it up with the Doctor, especially since he was continually avoiding her. Feelings were something they never discussed. In fact, it was something they went out of their way to never discuss. So how could she tell him that she was happy to have him back in her life? Would he think she was a terrible person if she admitted that this was the life she wanted, and that, while she missed her former husband, she'd rather be with the Doctor?
More than once, she had wished that her mum was still in this universe, so that she could it all talk out with her. Her mother had a lot of faults, but she had an incredible talent for seeing through all the chaos and finding clarity for Rose at a time of trouble.
Instead, Rose continued to push her uncertainties to the side, while she bounced after the Doctor from one planet to another, adventure after adventure, trying desperately to prove that nothing was wrong. But Rose could tell that it was clear to them both that things were not normal. She couldn't think of any other reason why the Doctor had suggested that they split up on this search. Usually they did all their sleuthing together.
"Shiver and Shake," Rose whispered to herself, remembering a time when things were so much simpler between them.
"What do you think you're doing?"
A stern voice interrupted Rose from her thoughts. She turned to see two burly men in matching uniforms approaching, guns in hand. She cursed under her breath, and turned to run, only to see a third officer blocking her exit. She was trapped.
Rose turned back to the man who had spoken, and grinned. "Oh, you know...just out for a stroll."
"A stroll?" The officer repeated. "Alone? Do you have a death wish, sweetheart?"
"Since when is it not okay for a girl to take a walk?" Rose retorted.
"Where's your husband?"
"My husband?" Rose shot back.
"Come on, sweetheart. Everyone knows it's the death penalty for a woman to be seen out of doors without her husband."
Rose's brain finally caught up with the officer's questioning, and she mentally cursed the Doctor for getting her into this predicament. He had called this place a "primitive" planet, but she had no idea that it would be this ridiculous. The Doctor should have known better than to leave her alone here.
"My husband and I just got separated," Rose lied smoothly. "He should be around here somewhere...DOCTOR!!!!"
"The girl lies," the officer determined, gesturing to his partners. "Seize her!"
"DOCTOR!!!" Rose shouted again, louder this time. Much to her relief he came sprinting around a corner shouting her name. "Here he is!" Rose insisted desperately. "My husband. Now will you let me go?"
"Your what?" The Doctor blurted out, and Rose widened her eyes at him pointedly, trying to get him to play along.
"This woman claims she's your property, sir," the officer explained to the Doctor. "She was caught out in public without an escort. Will you claim her as yours?"
"Of course I'm his!" Rose cried. "Look, I'm wearing his ring and everything!" Rose stuck her hand out under the officer's nose as evidence, and she glanced up to see the Doctor staring at her ring in horror, like an alien presence had invaded her finger and was slowly overtaking her brain.
"Sir?" The Officer prodded him verbally once again, but the Doctor continued to gape silently at the whole situation.
"Oh for goodness sakes!" Rose burst out with, wrenching her arm out of the enforcers’ grasp and marching over to the Doctor before tugging his face down to meet hers in a forceful kiss. The Doctor froze at first, but it didn't take long before he started responding, and it quickly deepened into something much more intense.
The kiss quickly escaped her control. She was trying to prove a point, to get the law enforcement men to back off, but instead she found herself growing lost in the moment, remembering something that she thought she would never feel again. And the way the Doctor had begun to kiss her back made her suddenly question her belief that a relationship between them would never happen. The Doctor was kissing her with a desperation that startled her. His lips were forceful, his tongue demanding, and Rose felt like her heart was bursting from the extent of the passion that seemed to be bursting from him.
Distantly, she realized that the officer and his deputies had backed away and left them to their passion. But that wasn't enough to make her want to stop kissing the Doctor. It was the need for air that eventually forced her to pull back and stare up at the Doctor in awe.
"Right...I think we made our point," the Doctor stammered out. "They're not going to argue after that. Back to the TARDIS?"
"Did you find the alien tech?"
"Yeah, it was nothing. Just a stray bit of rubble. I disabled it. Not a problem anymore. Off we go?" The Doctor turned and started walking off towards the TARDIS. Rose stared after him for a long moment, before she remembered that being caught without him again would probably be a very bad idea. She took off at a jog to catch up to him.
Her head was spinning as she followed him back to the TARDIS. There had been this unspoken awkwardness between them ever since the Doctor had returned, but now Rose was certain that her actions had made everything worse. What she had done might have saved her life. But if he was so upset about the kiss, why did he respond to it? Had he just been trying to play up the role for the police, or had he, like her, been caught up in the moment?
Was there a chance that maybe, just maybe, he felt something too?
Rose shook the thought away almost immediately. It was completely impossible that the Doctor might have feelings for her. He had spent months now insisting on them getting back to life as normal on the TARDIS. Why would he insist on doing that if he had feelings for her? He had to know that she had feelings for him.
As the war progressed, Rose found the world changing around her. Her boss, the shopkeeper, left to go fight in the war. His wife begged Rose to run the place in his absence, so she found herself maintaining the shop in solitude most days. The war had been going on for months, and already Britain was feeling the effects. Word came almost daily of someone in the neighborhood leaving for war, or dying on the Western Front. Money was scarcer than ever, both for John and Rose, and for the shop’s customers.
Rose was surprised, when she locked up the shop after a particularly quiet day, to turn and find John standing across the street from the shop, watching and waiting for her. Rose smiled at the sight of him and crossed the street to greet him.
"This is a surprise, John," she exclaimed as she greeted him with a swift kiss on the lips. "What are you doing here?"
He didn't answer right away. Rose's heart grew cold with fear as she took note of the dark look on his face. It was similar, but not as fathomless, as the look on the Doctor's face when something was properly wrong.
"What is it?" she pressed him, her voice quivering nervously. "Tell me."
"I was out," he explained in an emotionless voice. "So I decided to stop by. I figured it would be best. To see you right away, and tell you..."
"Tell me what?" Rose pushed again. Her voice seemed to shake him out of whatever trance he was in, and his gaze refocused on her.
"You had to know this day was coming, Rose. It's time. I can't put it off any longer."
"Put what off? What is it?"
"It's time for me to go, Rose. Into the army. I have to do my duty for King and country."
Rose froze, and stared at him in horror. "Your...duty!" she exclaimed, spitting out the last word in disgust. "It's not your duty."
Rose instantly knew it was the wrong thing to say, even if it was complete and utter truth. John's eyes darkened with anger now, and he stiffened as he took a step away from her.
"How can you say that?" he burst out in anger. "Do you have no love for our country, Rose? Our freedom? We have to protect what's ours, and the Germans are coming closer every day. Work is getting scarcer. I'm doing nothing useful with myself. I'm strong and able-bodied. Of course it's my duty to go, to fight, to protect you. What good am I if I don't go?"
"You do a lot of good here. You're good for the children you tutor. And you're good for me, John. Without you, I've got nothing. I can't lose you."
"I don't want to leave you alone," he swore. "But I don't have a choice, Rose. And it's too late anyway. I've just come from the enlistment office. I leave tomorrow."
His final words broke the last bit of strength Rose had left inside of her, and she immediately choked in a breath of air as she started to sob. John collected her into his arms and rocked her lovingly, whispering soothing words into her ear, but Rose heard none of it. All she could do was whisper into his chest the desperate thoughts racing through her head.
"Please don't die...you can't die...you don't even know how important you are. I need you to stay alive..." she repeated over and over again as she cried into her husband's chest.
Eventually, she collected herself together enough that she was able to tuck herself under his shoulder, while they slowly walked home. She stayed close to him, unwilling to stray from his side for even a minute. She was terrified that if she turned her back, he would disappear. She needed every remaining second that she could possibly have with him.
That night, John packed a suitcase, and gave her his futile promise that he would return from the war. Eventually, they crawled into bed and made slow, desperate love to each other, trying to make it last as long as possible for fear that it would be the last time. Afterwards, Rose tucked herself against his body, and looked up at him through blurry, drowsy eyes.
"Please don't go,” she whispered, pleading with him one final time. His only response was to press a soft kiss to her forehead, and she knew that his mind was made up.
When they awoke in the morning, John slowly dressed himself in his new military uniform for the first time. They said their goodbyes, and before midday, he was gone.
Rose had no idea when she watched him walk away that she would never see her husband again.
The Doctor didn't look at Rose even once as he stalked up to the TARDIS console and slammed a lever. The TARDIS shook and shuddered as it slipped into the Vortex, and the Doctor spun another dial to slow its motion and hold it into its place of flux. As soon as the TARDIS was stable, spinning slowly in place in the Vortex, the Doctor turned and walked from the console room without saying a word to Rose. She stared after him as he disappeared down the hallway wondering what in the world she should do now?
Rose had never seen the Doctor like this before. Silent, stiff, uncomfortable, and unwilling to even look her in the eye. It scared her to pieces. She had no idea how to handle the Doctor when he was this angry with her. So she sat on the jumpseat and wondered how long it would be before he dumped her back in London. It had been years since she had worried that the Doctor would willingly abandon her. Especially after Canary Wharf, with her mum and Mickey gone forever, he had expressed an understanding that they were all each other had in the world. But now she sat and waited for his final ultimatum.
Hours passed and there was still no sign of the Doctor. Rose couldn't handle sitting still anymore. The waiting was killing her. She went to her room and slowly started to pack her things. She had no idea what she would do with her life now. She had no money, but she would need to find a place to live. She could go back to the shop, of course, but after years of shopkeeping during the war, Rose dreaded the idea of doing it again in her proper time.
Her bag was nearly full when she remembered that the Doctor had packed her things from her flat with John. She hadn't seen that suitcase since they had returned to the TARDIS and she wondered where the Doctor had put it. It wasn't in her room, so Rose hitched her backpack over her shoulder and took off through the TARDIS corridors. She wondered where the suitcase might be, and desperately hoped that she wouldn't stumble across the Doctor during her search.
Of course, she couldn't possibly be that lucky. She found them together, in the wardrobe room of all places. The Doctor was sitting on the floor, his back up against a pillar, the suitcase open beside him, its contents strewn around him. He was holding a piece of paper in his hands, staring at it with a sad look on his face, and Rose wondered what it is that was upsetting him so much.
She slipped the backpack from her shoulders, and set it down by the door. The rustling noise caught the Doctor's attention, and he looked up at her. His eyes widened in horror and embarrassment at first, but then they flickered to her backpack and his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Are you going somewhere?" he asked, while his eyes flickered back and forth from the bag, to the paper in his hands, to her face. He was unsettled, and once again Rose wondered what was going on with him.
"I was just preparing myself," she explained. "I assumed that with what happened back there, you'd want me to leave."
"Why would I want you to leave?" the Doctor asked, clearly baffled at the mere thought of it.
"I just...you seemed so angry with me. I figured after that you wouldn't want me around anymore."
The Doctor chuckled. "It's hardly the first time that a companion has kissed me to save her own life, Rose. Or to save mine, for that matter. Forget it ever happened."
Rose's heart froze at the Doctor's words, and suddenly she found herself growing increasingly angry at his dismissiveness, and his avoidance, and his refusal to ever talk about anything important. It had been weeks and they still hadn't had a proper conversation about their time apart. The Doctor was just doing what he did best. He was just running from the situation, and refusing to face it. And from his current position, sitting alone in a room surrounded by pieces of Rose's life without him, it was clear that she couldn't let him get away with it for another moment.
"No," she told him firmly. "It did happen, Doctor. I kissed you to save my life. And I couldn't help noticing that you kissed me back. Do you do that with all of your companions too? And now you're in here, brooding over my things...what's going on with you, Doctor? And what are you looking at?"
She stormed over to him and snatched the paper out of his hands. When she saw what it is, she gasped out loud. It was a single sheet of paper, with a beautiful pencil drawing etched into its surface. A drawing of Rose. Somehow, even in black and white, her face was glowing, as she lay wrapped in the sheets of her wedding bed.
"John drew this for me," she whispered aloud. "On our wedding night."
"I know," the Doctor replied. "I remember."
"But why this?" Rose wondered.
"You just looked so beautiful," the Doctor replied. "And that's the thing, Rose. You kissed me. Do you have any idea what that was like for me? You kissed me this time. Not John Smith. It wasn’t in a memory. It was just...me. I can remember you kissing him hundreds of times. I can remember him making love to you, seeing you on your wedding night. But it's all his. None of it is mine. And then today you kissed me. And it was a wonderful thing, Rose. And a horrible thing. Because now I want more. And I can't have what I want, because you're not mine anymore. You're his."
Rose gaped at him, as for the first time she began to realize what the Doctor was actually feeling. He wasn't angry at her like she had suspected at all, he was jealous.
"He's gone," Rose stammered, as she tried to comprehend what exquisite torture it must have been for the Doctor since he came back, remembering all of these things that he desperately wanted, but believing that they were out of this reach.
She had to convince him otherwise. She had to make him see that what happened with his counterpart was over.
The Doctor let out a bitter laugh at her short words. "That's right, he's gone," the Doctor agreed acidly. "He's gone because I'm here. You had a chance at a happy life with a man that you loved, and then I killed him and took his place. And now you're stuck looking at his face every single day and remembering what you had with him. It’s no wonder you want to leave me. I'll take you home right now, if that's what you want."
The Doctor pushed himself to his feet, and tried to walk past her to the exit, but Rose grabbed his arm and stopped him in his path. "I don't want to leave you," Rose insisted to him. "I want to stay. I just thought that you wouldn't want me here anymore. You've been so distant, I thought you hated me for what I did to you while you were gone."
"What you did to me?" the Doctor repeated in confusion. "What did you do to me?"
"I took advantage of you when you weren't yourself. I used you, Doctor. What I did to you...that could be considered rape in a lot of cultures. And I wouldn't have done it if I had ever thought that you would actually come back, but I was certain that you were gone forever, and I was so lonely, Doctor. I just didn't want to be alone anymore."
"Oh Rose...don't you know? If anyone understands loneliness, it's me. I don't blame you for wanting to be with him. I'm just sorry that I took him away from you."
"But I have you back. Don't you know how much that means to me? I missed you so much when you were gone."
"And now you miss him." The Doctor's eyes dropped and Rose followed their gaze down to the ring still adorning her left hand. She froze at the suggestion that he was raising, and then grew irrationally angry.
"But don't you understand?" Rose argued back. "The only reason he was in my life at all was because he was you! John Smith would have never come to mean anything to me, if he hadn't been a part of you. Yes, I loved him. And yes, I miss him, but he was only there in my life because he was a part of you. If I could only have one of you, I would pick you over John Smith any day, Doctor."
The Doctor simply stared at her with confusion in his eyes for a long moment. Understanding broke into his expression, as if the truth was finally beginning to dawn on him, and his gaze softened. He studied her face carefully. "Do you mean that, Rose?"
"Yes." Rose replied firmly.
The Doctor's eyes heated, as he took a step closer to her and gently took her face in his hands. "Then would you mind terribly if I kissed you? Your lips are driving me mad."
His kiss was soft and hesitant, as if he couldn't quite believe that he was doing this. Or perhaps, Rose wondered, maybe he thought that he shouldn't be doing this. She kissed him back, eagerly, trying to instill a sense of comfort in him through her own feelings and responses. It seemed to work. The Doctor relaxed and deepened the kiss, and Rose opened herself to him and welcomed his advances. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she pressed her body closer to him, happily losing herself in the moment.
Later, they carefully repacked the suitcase that held the remnants of Rose's past marriage. They left the suitcase there, in the wardrobe room, a record of the past to join the archives of clothes from the Doctor’s adventures. The Doctor hoisted Rose’s duffel bag over one shoulder, and then, hand in hand, they walked to her bedroom. Together they unpacked her belongings. And for the first time since the Doctor had returned weeks earlier, Rose finally felt comfortable settling back into her life with him in the TARDIS.
Being deployed to France in the morning. Will write when I can.
Those were the last words that Rose had heard from John, and they had come nearly a month earlier. Communication from him had been scarce since he enlisted in the army, and Rose found that as much as she hated it, she was getting used to the silence. While he was in training, she had received the occasional telegram. They were brief, informational, with very little feeling in them - the result of a man who was used to keeping his deepest emotions private from the outside world. He was usually only an open book to her, his wife, the one person who knew him the best - even better than he knew himself, really.
So after a month of silence, Rose was shocked, and relieved, to receive her first proper letter from him. His handwriting addressed the envelope, and it was sealed, locked away from the world for her eyes only. Rose was desperate for a proper report from him, without the filter of the outside world shielding him from her.
Rose wasn't exactly sure how she managed to keep the letter sealed until she reached the TARDIS. When the postman had brought the letter by the shop, she’d taken one look at John's handwriting, and immediately locked the store for the day to go to the train station.
Rose didn't know why she felt it was so important to wait and read the letter in the TARDIS. Perhaps it was because somehow she just knew that the TARDIS was worried about him too. Or maybe because she knew that if she couldn't handle whatever news was contained within, she at least wanted to fall apart in a comforting place. She questioned her reasoning for the entire duration of the train ride while toying with the corner of the envelope.
After the train dropped her at the Farringham Station, Rose swiftly walked the mile to the TARDIS, and impatiently pushed herself into the shed, and through the TARDIS doors.
"The first letter from him has arrived," she called to the TARDIS as she hurried up the ramp to the main platform. "I waited until I was here to read it for you. You probably know what's going to happen, but I thought you might like to hear what he has to say."
She ripped open the letter, and began to read out loud to the TARDIS.
My Dearest Rose,
I've been on the Western Front for nearly three weeks now, and already I desperately miss England. The life of a soldier is a harsh one, with few comforts and amenities. I long for the comforts of our life together, and have been far too long without your embrace.
I don't know what it is about living in the camp. Perhaps it is the horribly biting cold air at night, or perhaps it is the uncomfortable cot, but I have barely been able to sleep since my arrival here. The few hours that I've rested here and there, my dreams have been much darker than usual. They're filled with a war, the likes of which I have never seen before. The enemies are cold, metallic, and heartless. They utterly destroy, and in my dreams I am chasing them, trying to save time itself. In my dreams, whole planets burn and I can hear people screaming, but when I wake, the screaming is still there.
I don't mean to frighten you. I long for your comfort and your ear to discuss these dark events. No one guides me back to the light quite like you, my sweet Rose. I desperately long to return to you, but I suspect I will be here for some time still. The Germans continue to advance, and Englishmen are dying all around me. Yet somehow, I survive. I like to believe that it is your love, protecting me even from across the sea.
I await the day when I might see you again, my love.
Until then, I will always be yours,
Rose's heart hurt as she read and reread the letter again and again. He sounded sad, scared, and lonely, all feelings she wished desperately to be able to protect him from. And he was dreaming of the Time War, one event the Doctor always hesitated to speak of. Even she didn’t know the depths of the horrors that he had experienced while fighting the Daleks. Her heart suddenly started boiling with anger, and she silently cursed this world that they had been trapped in. Any other place, any other time, and they could be safe together. But the TARDIS chose here. A world trapped in a dangerous war that forced a separation on them both that left each of them disconnected from the other.
She felt helpless. He was reaching out, begging her for comfort, and she could give him very little. Abandoning her own typical comforts in the TARDIS, Rose quickly left, heading back for London. There was one thing she could do for John. She could hurry home, write him a return letter, and hope that her words would bring him some peace of mind. She could go back to her standard routine, and even though she felt like a ghost, haunting the streets of London, she would continue to do so.
Rose would wait as long as she had to. Until the day when her husband would return to her.
Chapter 9: Epilogue
Settling into a new relationship was a strange experience. Rose found it to be an interesting mix of contradictions. On one hand, everything had changed and their relationship was completely new, but on the other hand, Rose felt more comfortable around the Doctor than she had ever felt before. She had always assumed in the past that if her feelings for the Doctor came out in the open, their closeness would suddenly become awkward. She thought that they would question their limits, worry about what was okay and what was a step too far. In the end, that wasn’t the case at all. There had been so much discomfort during the weeks following the Doctor's return, but the moment their feelings were out in the open, they completely relaxed around each other.
Suddenly, holding hands meant more than it did before. After escaping a close call on their adventures they still hugged, but both lingered a little longer than before, cherishing the moment of feeling each other in their arms. They were separated on a particularly dangerous and stressful rescue operation, and this time, when they reunited, the Doctor didn't just rush over to hug her. He kissed her, deeply, and passionately, a gesture that was filled with the complete and utter joy that he felt at seeing her again.
Everything about their relationship felt right now. And she was happier than she had ever been before in her life.
Rose was exhausted after returning to the TARDIS after a day of chasing a particularly nasty lizard all over the streets of her modern day London. Her body ached and her feet were sore, so she left the Doctor alone in the console room, and headed back to her bedroom to run a bath and soak the day away.
She groaned happily as she sank under the hot bubbles and almost immediately felt her muscles begin to relax. The hot water soon rejuvenated her, and she slipped from the tub and toweled off, wrapping herself into her bathrobe, before heading back into her bedroom.
She froze as she reentered the room, surprised to see the Doctor lying on her bed, waiting for her. Pinched between his thumb and forefinger, he held John Smith's wedding band up over his face, studying it closely.
Rose's heart fluttered at the sight of the ring. For weeks she had wondered what had become of it. The Doctor hadn’t been wearing it when he returned from the war, and Rose had no idea if it had been lost in Europe, or if the Doctor had kept it safely tucked away.
"What are you doing with that?" she asked him curiously, making her way over to the bed.
"Come here," the Doctor requested, nodding to the empty space beside him. She climbed up onto her bed, and curled up beside him staring up at the ring that he still held in his fingers.
"You hesitated," the Doctor mused.
"I did?" Rose asked, confused and wondering what she had done wrong.
"When John Smith asked you to marry him," he explained further. "You didn't say yes right away. You hesitated. You needed to think."
"Yeah," Rose confirmed. "I did."
"I remember what that felt like for him. He was so confused. He was scared that he had misinterpreted things with you. You had been dating him for months at that point. You were kissing him, and touching him, and it felt like you wanted him. And then you hesitated when he asked." The Doctor lowered the ring, and turned his head to look her closely in the eye. "Why did you hesitate?"
"I cared for him," Rose tried to explain. "But I wasn't sure whether I loved him, or whether I loved him because he was you. I didn't want to use him to get closer to you." Rose hesitated and tried to pick the right words to say. "I didn't want to marry him for the wrong reasons, I guess."
"And then, while you avoided the issue, somehow you realized that you did love him?"
"I guess, I realized that I loved having him in my life. And I realized how empty and lonely I would feel without him. And then I just decided...yeah, I did want to be with him. You were gone. There was no one else I would rather be with than him. And with the war starting, I guess I just realized that you've got to hold on to the good things you have while you still have them."
"Yeah," the Doctor agreed, his eyes darkening with need, as he looked into Rose's eyes. "I can understand that feeling." He reached over and with a free hand, twisted a lock of her wet hair behind her ear, and then leaned down and kissed her. Though his lips were cold as always, his kiss felt hot and demanding, and Rose found herself quickly growing breathless. The Doctor's hands slid down to her hips, as he rolled himself over her more fully, blanketing over her body. He suddenly pulled his head back and looked down at her with deeply hooded eyes.
"Rose...this is okay, isn't it? I mean, I could..."
"Don't stop," Rose interrupted. "Please keep going."
The Doctor argued no further. He made love to her for the first time with a reverent grace, as if he was trying to show her with every touch and every thrust how deeply he adored and worshiped her. Rose tried to express the same with her own responses and actions and hoped desperately that she was showing him even a fraction of the love that he was expressing to her.
Afterwards, when they were done giving themselves to each other completely, when they had awoken after sleeping in each other's arms, Rose felt something under her thigh. She reached down to find the ring, forgotten in the jumble of their lovemaking. Rose held it between them and the Doctor’s gaze focused on the tiny piece of metal in her hand.
"What do you want me to do with it?" the Doctor wondered. "It's your choice, of course."
Rose studied it, and remembered back to the first morning the Doctor returned, when she noticed his naked finger and her heart had broken. It had felt like rejection at the time, but now Rose knew otherwise. The Doctor had removed the ring, not because he didn't love her, but because he did, and he wanted to remove the constant reminder that she was not his. It was all ancient history, now.
"Will you wear it?" Rose asked him.
"It's not mine," he reminded her, his brow furrowing in confusion.
"Yes it is," Rose insisted. "I put that ring on his finger, yes. But he's a part of you. And I think you were a part of him too. Now that I know how you feel about me, I think that maybe the reason he fell in love with me so easily was because you loved me. Like your feelings for me bled through and embodied themselves in him."
"That's a thought," the Doctor mused. "He did dream about you, after all. And that was before he even really knew you. Perhaps I did play a part in it somehow. I know that I didn't want you to be alone while I was gone, even before I put the chameleon circuit on my head. I was worried about you as I enabled it. Maybe somehow, instinctively, that desire for you to be taken care of was pushed into his own subconscious."
"Maybe it was the TARDIS's way of taking care of me too," Rose considered. "You told me that the TARDIS would create an identity for you, but I would be on my own. But the TARDIS and I have been connected for a long time, ever since I looked into her heart. Maybe she couldn't create a life for me like she did for you, but she was connected to the Chameleon Arch, so she was able to imprint that desire for me into John Smith's personality. So that when we did finally meet, I left an impression on him, and he quickly grew to want me in his life."
"You know, I think that's a very plausible theory," the Doctor agreed. He reached over Rose's head and stroked her bedroom wall. "Well done, old girl!"
"So will you?" Rose asked again. "Will you wear the ring?"
The Doctor smiled gently at her. "I will." He offered her his left hand and she carefully slid the ring back onto his finger.
"For better or for worse," Rose murmured.
"In sickness and in health," the Doctor responded.
"For as long as we both shall live," Rose said sadly, looking up at the Doctor and realizing that she might be opening old wounds.
He met her gaze head on and with a firm, but mournful voice concluded, "Until my dying day.
They spent a day in bed together, a vacation from all of the running and world saving. It was almost like their own version of a honeymoon. A day of resting in bed, cuddling, and talking. One full day that they spent completely lost in one another.
But the day ended, and in the morning Rose awoke to a rustling sound. She sat up to see the Doctor collecting his clothes from the various corners of her room where they had been haphazardly discarded a day earlier.
"What're you doing?" she mumbled, running an errant hand through the mess of her rumpled hair.
"Time to move along," the Doctor murmured. "Take as long as you need to get up and get dressed. I'll be in the console room when you're ready.
It was about an hour before Rose wandered into the console room, showered, dressed, and eager for an adventure. The Doctor was already busy pressing buttons and pulling levers, the TARDIS shaking and wheezing its way through the Vortex. The Doctor paused briefly in his motion to give her a quick kiss, and then danced around to the far side of the console, to twist a dial and pull a last lever into place.
"Where are we going?" Rose asked him, as she settled down on the jump seat to watch him.
"Ah, nowhere exciting yet, I'm afraid. Gotta make a pit stop first. Good ol' Cardiff Bay. We'll just open up the engines, soak up some rift energy, and be on our way, quick as that!"
"Cardiff," Rose laughed, as she felt the TARDIS settle into its landing. "Even after all of these years, I still think it's hilarious that Cardiff is the petrol station for time and space travel."
"Still, could be worse! Of all the places in the galaxy to have to go back to, Cardiff is not the worst we could do!" The Doctor claimed. He turned the console monitor towards him with one hand, as he tinkered with some buttons on the other, setting the refueling sequence into motion. Suddenly, his expression froze, his eyes glued to the monitor.
"Doctor?" Rose asked. "What is it."
"Gotta go!" the Doctor insisted. "Now." His fingers flew across the buttons as he closed down the engines, and quickly threw a flip to navigate the TARDIS into the Vortex. The TARDIS started wildly shuttering out of control.
"What's going on?"
"We're accelerating into the future!" The Doctor exclaimed. "The year one billion...five billion..five trillion...fifty trillion! What? The year 100 trillion! That's impossible! We're going to the end of the universe."