The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
- LP Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953
The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can't just read the guidebook, you've got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?
- The Ninth Doctor, The Long Game.
At first, they’re sure he’ll be back.
Give it an hour or so. He probably just remembered something he had to do, or got a mauve alert and couldn’t wait for them.
He wouldn’t just leave them here. Course he wouldn’t.
But soon it’s dark and they’re on their own in rural England in 1911, with nowhere to stay and no money, and no way of getting home. She doesn’t even have her phone; it’s in the TARDIS. At least they’re dressed for the time; Jack’s lectures on blending in paid off.
She slides her hand into Jack’s. “He’ll be back, yeah?”
“Course he will.” But she hears the doubt in Jack’s voice, and something inside her cracks just a little.
They find beds for the night. With a story of unexpected job loss and belongings lost in a fire, Jack sweet-talks a widow into taking pity on Rose, and he bunks up with a stablehand at the inn, in return for helping with mucking out. It’s fine for one night. No problem. He’ll come for them in the morning, all apologies and indignant denial of his ineptitude. It’ll be all right.
It’s not until they’re making their hundredth circuit of the village that Jack voices the fear she’s trying to squash: “What if he doesn’t?”
“Don’t say that!” she protests.
“We have to be prepared.” His tone is sober, concerned. “I can’t get us out of here, Rose. This thing’s fried.” He gestures to his wrist computer. “And somehow I don’t think they’re gonna have the parts around here.”
He’s right — but the Doctor wouldn’t just abandon them. He’ll be back.
But a nagging memory of twelve hours turning into twelve months sends a chill through her.
He’ll be back — but when?
On the third day, they have decisions to make.
They can’t survive on the kindness of strangers for long, and though Rose pawned her jacket the money won’t last more than a day or so. Jack can get a job, he says; the stablehand will vouch for him. But paying for separate lodgings will be expensive. Too late now, after three days, to pretend they’re brother and sister. Living together otherwise would be scandalous; they’d be driven out of town.
She’ll get a job too, she says; she could clean or serve at the inn, or in someone’s home. Or maybe the village shop needs someone. It won’t help much, Jack points out. Women in this era earned a pittance compared to men’s pay. Women didn’t need to work. Yeah, right.
It’s a dilemma. And even after talking about it for hours they’re no closer to a solution.
Jack mutters about primitive morals and people sticking their noses in other people’s private business. She hugs him and tells him they’ll find a way.
He walks her to the inn and hands over most of their remaining coins for a room, against her protests. He won’t tell her where he’ll sleep.
In the morning, his clothes are full of straw.
She won’t have it. They can’t pay the inn’s rates every day, and Jack can’t go on sleeping in the stables. They need to find a cheap room somewhere.
That’s all very well, Jack agrees, and he’s got a job now so he can pay for it — but it won’t work. Unless they can rent a room in a decent house, she can’t live there alone, and he can’t live anywhere with her.
Unless, she says a few days later, and looks at him, eyes wide, heart thumping. It’s a crazy idea, but it would only be pretend. And it would work.
What the Doctor would think is irrelevant. He’s not here.
Jack’s less surprised than she expects. He tugs her into his arms, first checking to make sure that no-one can see them — which says a lot about how seriously he takes this situation — then kisses her forehead. “Good job I have my psychic paper. Think it’ll do to get us a marriage licence?”
It’s not as easy as they imagine. Getting married without banns and a four-week wait means a visit to the bishop for a special licence and more money than they have.
Jack pawns the pocket watch the Doctor bought him two weeks ago, against her protest, and rides with the carter to the next town, where he’ll find a way to get to the cathedral city. If he’s lucky, he’ll be back tonight, and then if the vicar agrees they can marry tomorrow.
While he’s gone, she works in the village shop for no pay to prove to the shopkeeper that she can increase his sales. She does. By the time Jack gets back, well after dark, she has a job — and a room they can rent over the shop. But only once they’re married.
He’s too exhausted to do more than smile wearily at her.
That’s when it sinks in. This isn’t a normal adventure, one where they can leave any time they’ve had enough or the Doctor’s ready. They’re stuck. One hundred years in her past, three thousand one hundred in Jack’s, and they’re trapped. She’s back working in a shop, only this time in an era where her opinion doesn’t matter — and where, after tomorrow, she’ll cease to be a person and become just an appendage to Jack. And her dashing, clever Time Agent’s mucking out stables; his skills are mostly from too far in the future for this time. Though tonight, as he walks her back to the inn, he talks about finding a job as an office clerk. The next town is bigger, with more opportunities. They could move there, he says. He’d earn more money and could take better care of her.
She doesn’t want to be taken care of, she snaps back at him. She just wants to go home. She doesn’t want to be stuck here, having to marry someone just so people won’t treat her like a slut and spit at her feet. She wants...
“I’m sorry I’m not the Doctor,” Jack says quietly, cutting across her, then turns and walks away.
She’s still swallowing bile later as she climbs into bed.
It’s barely dawn the next morning when she goes to look for Jack. He’s up and working already, but rests his broom when he sees her and just waits silently.
She rushes into speech, still aching from hurting him. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean it. It’s just as bad for you an’ I shouldn’t forget that.”
He shrugs. “I’ve been trapped out of my time before. I know it’s harder for you.”
“You’ve been brilliant.” She starts to reach for him, then hesitates. He opens his arms and holds her close, apologising that he smells of horse. It’s a smell she associates with him now; it’s strangely comforting.
“Should go,” she says after a bit. “Supposed to be bad luck to see you before the wedding.”
He smiles crookedly but says nothing as he releases her, and she thinks she sees him flinch just a bit.
Jack’s not the marrying kind. He’s not even the monogamous kind. Yet he’s here, making vows he doesn’t believe in to commit to a relationship he never wanted. And he’s doing it for her.
She’s got no illusions about that. She’s the one who’ll suffer if they don’t do this. Jack could go off on his own at any time and make a living for himself — he could even join the army if he wanted, and they both know a war’s approaching. Yet he’s staying here, for her. He’s doing this, for her.
All through the ceremony, part of her is listening, expecting, hoping to hear a Northern voice asking what the bloody hell the two of them think they’re doing and why they didn’t trust him to come back for them. But it never comes. And fifteen minutes later, with the stablehand and the shopkeeper’s wife as witnesses, they’re husband and wife. No, man and wife. As far as this village in 1911 is concerned, she’s now Mrs Jack Harkness. Rose Tyler has ceased to exist — even Rose is gone.
Later, as they climb the outside stairs to their new home, their world reduced to a bedroom and a small kitchen, he holds her hand and tells her nothing’s changed. But the thin gold ring on her left hand, purchased from the pawn shop when he sold his watch, tells her otherwise.
It’s not that it really matters. When she gets home — if — no-one’s going to find out anyway. Who’ll look for Rose Tyler in 95-year-old marriage records?
But still, if the Doctor never does come back for them, how long will Jack stay with her?
It’s nothing like she ever imagined her wedding-night would be. Jack’s the perfect gentleman, going to wash and undress in the kitchen while she does the same in the bedroom, and then making a bed for himself on the floor with one blanket and a pillow. It’s better than the stable, he insists when she protests. And it’s not as if the bed’s really big enough for two anyway.
It still doesn’t stop her lying awake half the night feeling guilty... or from asking herself why she really wishes he wasn’t sleeping on the floor.
The next day, before he leaves for work, she blocks his path and kisses him good morning. Isn’t that what a dutiful wife’s supposed to do?
He looks shocked, then intrigued, and kisses her back.
This is the day she finally grows up. Working behind the counter in a dusty shop, hauling down huge containers of flour or sugar or beans for the village housewives or maids who each spend at least half an hour on their shopping, and answering their inquisitive questions one after the other, and admitting, finally, to herself that this is her life now. She’s even more the curiosity of the day today, of course, the new arrival in the village and now a new bride, and she’s treated to coy comments and sly innuendo about her handsome husband.
Growing up means accepting a number of facts, including this: the Doctor would never abandon her and Jack here. He hasn’t come for them. That means something must have happened to him, something bad — possibly something fatal. And Jack, she’s sure, has already worked this out. That’s why he married her.
She’ll never see her mum again, and what’s worse is that her mum will never know what happened to her. There’s nothing she can do about that, unless she can think of a way to write a message to be delivered ninety-five years in the future. Maybe it’s possible. She’ll think of something.
In her lunch-break, she goes up to their tiny flat, has a little cry, and then decides to make the best of things. Because what good will refusing to accept reality do?
By the time the shop’s closed for the day and she heads home, bearing two pork chops and a handful of vegetables — wedding presents from her employer and the butcher down the road — it feels like she’s turned into her great-grandmother. She’ll have dinner on the table by the time Jack comes home, and is that how it’s going to be from here on?
There are worse things that could have happened to them, she supposes. At least they’re alive, safe and together, and they’ve got a roof over their heads.
Jack’s tired when he comes in, and there’s another realisation: he may be physically fit, but he’s doing back-breaking work. It’s exhausting him, and sleeping on a hard wooden floor won’t help.
He won’t take the bed and let her sleep on the floor, she knows. So she tries another strategy.
She climbs into his lap in the room’s single armchair, winds her arms around his neck, and snogs the life out of him.
It takes more persuasion than she expected to get him into bed; maybe being in 1911 is getting to him, but he seems to feel that he has to be a gentleman. But by the time she unbuttons his fly and takes his nicely-stiffened erection in her hand, he’s breathing heavily and warning her that she’s making it hard for him to stop.
“Don’t wanna stop,” she tells him, and she really doesn’t.
Ten seconds later, she’s naked and in his arms, and he’s about to dump her on the bed. She squeals a little, warning him that it’s not that solid, and he curses, but comes down gently beside her after stripping off his own clothes. She won’t let him extinguish the gas-lamp.
He’s beautiful, even more so than she knew, and he wants her, wants her badly enough that his pupils are dilated and his hand almost shakes as he caresses her. She’ll tell him some other time that she’s wanted this for weeks, almost since he joined her and the Doctor on the TARDIS.
She wanted the Doctor too, but she won’t think about him now.
Kisses and touches that set her body aflame, and then he moves over her, dark hair flopping over his forehead and his blue eyes dark with passion. “Condom?” she whispers, barely remembering in time; yes, it looks like they’ll be living out the rest of their lives here in 1911, but she’s not ready to be a mother yet.
“No need,” he whispers back. “Sterility implant. No diseases either.”
And then he’s on her and inside her and she’s gasping his name as heat floods her.
Two months on, and she’s used to being called Mrs Harkness everywhere she goes, used to coming home every day and spending the evening with Jack, going for a walk at dusk before going to bed together and loving each other. It’s not the life either of them would have chosen, but it’s not a bad life.
Some day soon, Jack says, they will move to one of the nearby towns, because he knows he can get a better job and they can find somewhere nicer to live. She’s not resisting that idea any more. They don’t need to be anywhere the Doctor can find them, because he’s not coming.
She wants to ask Jack how long he’ll stay with her, but she’s afraid of what the answer will be. He may be a conman, but he’s never lied to her, not since their first day in this time when he swore the Doctor would be back for them.
And then, when they’ve been here three months, he comes home one day, wide grin on his face, and tells her that he’s got a job as clerk to the village lawyer. It means a pay-rise, maybe enough to rent a small cottage.
He’s got a present for her, too. It’s a ring, small sapphires set in a gold band, and he’s had it engraved inside: their initials and Always. He’s been planning this for a while, and her heart thumps. He slides it on her finger, then kisses her and, almost awkwardly, tells her he loves her.
She loves him too, she says, and only afterwards realises that she barely had a second’s regret for the life they’ve lost.
They’re strolling in the countryside one Sunday afternoon, and almost walk straight into the blue box before either of them notices it.
“Oi! Gone blind, you two?”
Shock slams into her. He’s standing there, hands in his pockets, eyebrows raised in irritation. There’s not even the hint of an apology in his stance.
“You bastard!” Before she can stop herself, she’s dropped Jack’s hand and smacked the Doctor hard in the face.
He stares, hand against his burning cheek. His eyes narrow, then; he looks at Jack, then her, and says, “How long?”
Jack shrugs. “Five months, more or less.”
Colour leeches from his face. His mouth opens, then closes again.
“What’d you think?” she asks. “It was five hours?”
He exhales. “Answered a mauve alert. There wasn’t time to find you two. Thought I’d set the coordinates to come back to exactly when I left you. I dunno what happened.”
Jack takes her hand again. “How long for you?”
The Doctor’s shoulders slump. “Eight hours, almost.” He swallows. “I’m sorry.”
Jack squeezes her hand. “Really need to get that chronometer looked at, Doctor.”
The Doctor nods. “You both all right?” He sounds brusque, and he can barely look at them.
“We managed,” Jack says. “Found jobs, somewhere to live. Figured you’d come if you could, but we had to be prepared in case you didn’t.”
“Course I-” the Doctor protests, then stops abruptly. He didn’t come, did he? “I’m sorry,” he repeats. Awkwardly, he holds out his arms; Rose accepts a hug, though stiffly, and the Doctor clings. When he hugs Jack, it’s just as heartfelt.
“You two comin’?”
She insists on collecting their things and saying goodbye before they leave. She doesn’t miss the Doctor’s appalled look, and wonders if he realises how much they’ve changed.
It’s several hours later that the Doctor stops her and touches her hand. “This real or just for show?”
The gruffness in his voice shows how little he wanted to ask the question. Still furious with him, she’s ready with a sarcastic reply. Jack’s hand lands on her shoulder. “It’s real.” A simple reply, no explanation or justification, and the way he’s looking at her answers one question. The reason may have gone, but his commitment to their marriage hasn’t.
The Doctor swallows again, drops her hand and, looking at the two of them with something that looks suspiciously like longing, mutters another apology. He closes his eyes for a moment. “TARDIS has a new room for you. Best let me know tomorrow what you both want to do.”
Stay or go, he means, and it brings her up short. She’s angry, but does she really want to leave? Does Jack?
“He’s hurt.” Jack’s statement makes her stare.
“He loves you.” Jack paces in their new room, four times as large as their tiny flat. “And you’re with me.”
His eyes tell her another message: if she wants, he’ll let her go. She goes to him and holds him. “Love you.”
“Love you too.” His gaze holds hers. “And him.”
Her heart skips a beat. “He left us.”
“And he’s sorry. It was a mistake.”
Her mum forgave the Doctor. She can too, right? And it’s not as if it was that awful. Her finger strokes her rings.
But... “He loves me?”
Jack nods. After a moment, she does too. She did know, really. But what about— Her eyes widen as she remembers a tiny detail. Before leaving, the Doctor insisted on redeeming the watch he bought Jack. Returning it, his hand stayed on Jack’s shoulder, regret in his eyes. “He loves you too.”
There’s a longer pause before Jack nods again. Silently, she asks a question, and he smiles before telling her exactly what he proposes.
Mrs Harkness of 1911 would be shocked, but to Rose Tyler it sounds just perfect.
They don’t wait. They go and find him right there and then.
Interestingly, their new room is the perfect size for three.
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