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the bright gift of holy time

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Her limbs are heavy, her head slack as he sets her on the bed.

The man downstairs had given him a funny look when he'd come through the door, cradling the sleeping Rose to his chest. We've had a long journey. That was his excuse, hastily-formed and somehow pitifully true. My wife is tired. The first lie he could think of; not the last he’ll have to tell.

She'd barely stirred as the barkeep handed him a key, directing them to the first room at the top of the stairs. And she's equally unresponsive now, as he settles her atop the covers. Her hair—normally loose when she's ready for sleep—is pinned back in a period-appropriate style, or some rough approximation.

He'd done his best, but it can't be comfortable.

He contemplates taking the pins out, and then decides against it. He shouldn’t disturb her. Too much risk, if she wakes up before her consciousness settles. And an even greater risk to his hearts if she wakes up and it's all done and she doesn't recognise him.

He'll have to get used to it, of course.

But that's the work of tomorrow. For tonight, he can watch over her, protect her in sleep.

The fob watch doesn’t leave his hands.

All night, he passes it back and forth from palm to palm, like a worry stone—feeling the swirls and indents of the untranslatable language. His language. A language the woman before him doesn’t even speak, but which is now the author of her fate.

The metal is warm in his hands as he watches Rose Tyler sleep.

 


 

Rose's position is at a school.

A school for girls. Attended to almost entirely by women. She's going to be a librarian, it seems.

The only position he's remotely eligible for is that of a gardener. Which is fine, really.

Convenient, even.

It won't allow him much contact with Rose—Miss Tyler, he reminds himself; he'll have to get used to formal modes of address—but it does allow him a lot of freedom.

Or, as much freedom as he can really manage, stuck here on Earth. He pushes the thought away before it can turn into a bitter lump in his mouth.

Still, he can roam the grounds and learn every nook and cranny: there's no shortage of wandering he can do. The field where the girls "take the air," or get their exercise for the day, makes up the bulk of the school campus, but there is a dense little patch of woods on the east side that he makes a thorough exploration of, in the interest of safety. He isn't so foolish as to think they've escaped the Eaters entirely, only put them off the scent.

He doesn't mind the work itself, and in fact, he rather enjoys gardening; it gives an impression of purpose, something he so desperately needs. His movements are invisible, of no interest to anybody. And, armed with shears, he always has a ready excuse for being some suspicious place or other.

The sonic screwdriver, he keeps buried deep in his pocket. Like a talisman. A reminder that this double life is only temporary, only for a little while, and he needs to be vigilant.

In the other pocket, the fob watch weighs heavy against his leg.

Tend the grounds, watch the horizon. Protect Rose. That's what really matters.

It's rather like he's a sentry, he thinks, finding himself cheered by the idea. He smiles, and begins whistling as he crosses the field toward the shed, where a lawnmower is waiting for him.

So sunny is the day, so pleasant the turn of his thoughts, that he barely notices the eyes upon him, nor the face they’re set in. Miss Tyler watches in silence as the gardener whistles a tune that should not be—but, in fact, is—strangely familiar.

 


 

The library is a tranquil place, with its familiar smells and constant, pervasive quiet. It is the quiet of hundreds of books nestled comfortably together, their words safely contained within their leather-bound spines; they have nothing to say to anybody who does not go searching for their voices.

That is how Rose Tyler spends most of her days.

Searching.

Listening to the hushed voices of words already written, stories echoing forward from the past to touch her, admittedly rather menial, present.

Moving through the dappled autumn light that filters in through the leaded windows, she imagines herself living very different lives—some more impossible than others. She is an adventurer, visiting unfamiliar lands and meeting exciting people. She is a heroine, endlessly saving and being saved.

She is never alone on her adventures.

The most pleasant part of the day is when the girls straggle in—sometimes in ones or twos, and sometimes all at once, their hushed whispers lending some life to the sober silence of the library. When they seek her help, she is glad to give it.

But the best part of each week is when she’s tasked to oversee the girls’ physical activity period, a rotating duty shared by all of the other teachers as well as herself. She is the only one who consistently looks forward to her turn, much to the amusement of the other matrons.

It is rather unseemly, she’s heard them say—the way young Miss Tyler kicks up her skirts and runs with the girls, playing games that send their happy squeals high into the sky.

The truth is, Rose finds it delightfully refreshing. The brisk air, the cheerful chatter: all of it makes her feel less out of place. Less lonely than she usually feels, isolated among the books.

But even in these precious moments under the changing leaves, she is not entirely at ease.

She feels, sometimes, as if she does not quite belong.

 


 

It is a particularly beautiful day when she approaches him.

“Excuse me.” He hears the voice over the hedge, cultured tones so entirely different from her usual mode of speech that he almost doesn’t realise it’s her. But then, they're both playing a part.

When he draws himself upright, wiping a bead of sweat away from his brow, he is taken aback at the timid smile on Rose’s familiar face. She hasn’t looked at him like that since—

“I was hoping I might trouble you for a moment…”

He realises he’s gaping at about the same moment a pretty pink flush starts to crawl up Rose’s cheeks, vivid in the unseasonable sun. Drawing her shawl more tightly about her shoulders, she waits nervously for some sort of reply.

“Of course,” he stumbles out, his adopted brogue taking a moment to settle. “No trouble at all. What can I do for you, R—Miss Tyler?”

Her expression changes into one of mild confusion, a little divot forming between her brows. “Oh, I had not realised—I’m sorry, I appear to have forgotten. Have we met before?”

Something a little hysterical bubbles up in his chest. If only you knew.

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve just,” and he scrambles for a lie, shifting his weight back and forth as he leans heavily on the rake, “heard some of the students calling out your name, that’s all. And, of course, I’ve seen you before—Friday afternoon, during, er, recess—but we haven’t precisely… met. I’m the D—the gardener. Yes, the gardener, but my friends call me John.”

To his relief, his rambling doesn’t seem to have put her off. Nor does his little slip—recess? In fact, a little smile had begun creeping onto her lips from the moment he’d begun his botched introduction. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, John,” she says, and even with the oddness of the wrong name, it’s something of a relief to hear it from her lips.

“Really, the pleasure’s mine,” he insists, sounding far more earnest than is strictly polite. “What did, er—what was it you wanted to talk about?”

“I was wondering if you had any recommendations for plants that would grow well inside the library,” she replies, eyes glowing with eagerness. “It’s just so dim and stuffy, and I thought—perhaps a bit of green here and there would do the girls some good when they’re attending their studies.”

The wideness of his smile threatens to split his face as she goes on about the benefits of brightening the library. But then, her face suddenly falls.

“Of course, I wouldn’t wish to risk the books—we have a few rather old and valuable volumes, and I would hate to bring in some sort of pest, or perhaps moisture, that would damage the binding, or endanger the girls…” Her voice trails off uncertainly, and he has to forcibly stop himself from reaching across the hedge to reassure her. He’s unused to uncertainty from Rose.

But this isn’t Rose, he reminds himself. Not exactly.

“I know you’d never do anything to risk the safety of the books or the students. And I know of several plants that might suit your purposes.”

Her face lights up with hope. “Really?”

“Yes, and if you’ll give me a day or two, I’ll bring them to the library for you. How does that sound?”

“That would be wonderful,” she enthuses, looking a little more like the woman he knows. But he can’t help his longing to see her tongue touching the corner of her smile, or the light of mischief in her eyes. This Rose—Miss Tyler—however sweet and good-natured, is still so sober. So restrained. “I’m sure this will benefit the girls immensely. Thank you, John.”

“You’re welcome—Miss Tyler.”

The unfamiliar title comes more easily this time. And he’s still grinning fit to burst as she walks back across the green, in the direction of the library where she spends her days. Thrilled at this chance—to have access to the library, for a start, and then there’s the matter of more time with Rose—he begins an aimless whistle, going back to his work.

“What’s that called?” she asks, and he rapidly rights himself to see her facing him once more, an odd expression on her face. “What’s the name of that tune? It’s right on the tip of my tongue…”

He certainly hopes it’s not. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows, and then hesitates further. “I don’t remember the name,” he lies. “Only the melody.”

Rose looks a little disappointed by his answer, but turns away once more—and he refrains from resuming his song until she’s out of sight.