Chapter 1, Part 1
Donna huffed in annoyance. The padlock securing the outhouse gave her trouble more often than not. It was an ancient device, even by 1913 standards, and the key frequently got stuck. By now, Donna thought, one would think she'd gotten the knack of opening it. But no such luck. It was too bad she couldn't simply sonic the thing open.
Finally the padlock unsnapped and Donna stepped into the dimly lit room. She struck a match to light the lamp she'd left on a stool just inside the door. The few small windows could do with a wash; they were nearly opaque with grime and cobwebs, but they were the perfect guardians for the treasure hidden away in the small building. The rafters came down low, so there was just enough room to fit the blue box.
The TARDIS sat in the deep shadows of the far corner.
Donna stopped dead in her tracks.
The light on top of it was flashing.
Her heart began to thump wildly in her chest, and she cursed the tightness of the skirt around her midriff. Fumbling with the buttons of her coat, she managed to get out the key to the TARDIS, which she wore, hidden in a locket, on a chain around her neck. She had felt the locket grow warm that morning, and when she'd opened it in a quiet moment, she'd found that the key was glowing. The Doctor had told her to go and check on the TARDIS as soon as possible if that happened.
Her fingertips were a bit numb from the cold October afternoon and the typing she'd done. Typing fast was fine on a computer keyboard, but it was an entirely different story on the keyboard of a one-hundred-year-old mechanical typewriter. She didn't manage her usual hundred words per minute, due to technical limitations of the device, but she was pretty fast. Which had made quite an impression on the Headmaster. Like the Doctor had predicted, she hadn't had any trouble getting the job as a typist at Farringham School so she could keep an eye on him once he became human.
There was a rustling sound. It came from the corner in which the TARDIS sat, but Donna couldn't see any movement. It was probably just mice playing in the crates and old blankets stacked there. She strode towards the TARDIS.
She stopped dead in her tracks. Although the voice was a woman's she drew herself up to her full height and demanded to know, “Who's there?”
Again there was the rustling. It sounded as if the woman who had addressed her climbed to her feet. The rustling and shuffling was followed by the low thud of a heavy blanket falling to the ground. The woman stepped out of the darkness and into the pool of light of Donna's lamp.
Donna recognised her immediately from the photograph the Doctor had shown her. She was also the woman from John Smith's dreams; he'd sketched her from memory, very accurately, and had shown Donna her portrait.
It was Rose Tyler.
Rose had to drink her tea without milk because no one had lived in the TARDIS for a month, but she was beyond caring. It was warm and soothing, just like the TARDIS' kitchen. Both hands wrapped around the mug and bundled up in her bathrobe, she and Donna sat in silence, neither of them knowing where to begin, until they started speaking at the same time.
“Where's the Doctor?”
“How did you get back?”
They laughed, and finally both of them were able to settle back in their chairs and relax.
Then they shared their stories.
“I think I might have ruined your hiding place,” Rose said after Donna had finished, drawing up her knees and covering them with her bathrobe. She had been pleasantly surprised to find all her things in her room on the TARDIS untouched. It had made her feel welcome, as if she'd been expected back after running an errand.
Donna took her empty mug to refill it. “Why's that?”
“The Dimension Cannon is not the discreetest means of travel,” Rose said, wrapping her arms around her knees. “It's attracted attention before. I'm afraid I might have blown your cover and attracted the attention of the Family.”
“You mean you've travelled like this before?”
“I've been looking for the Doctor for a while, yeah,” Rose said. Four years. She'd been trying to find a way back to the Doctor for four years, first researching, then anxious to have the cannon declared fit for use, and then the endless months of extrapolating her DNA and trying to find a matching universe. Each universe, Torchwood had found, left its unique signature on a person's DNA. The past months had been spent finding a perfect match of universe strings and Rose's DNA.
“Universe strings?” Donna asked, handing her another mug of hot tea.
“Sounds fantastic, doesn't it?” she replied, balancing the mug on top of her knees, the thick terry-cloth of her robe protecting her skin from the heat.
Donna laughed. “It does, but we wouldn't go with him if it weren't a little fantastic, would we?” The two women smiled, but then Donna sobered. “There's something I haven't told you, Rose.”
Rose went very still. “The Doctor hasn't regenerated, has he?”
Donna's eyebrows knit together. Clearly, the Doctor hadn't explained about regeneration to her yet which was a relief. And she didn't want to be the one to tell her. It was something she wanted to leave up to the Doctor. “He... he might have,” Donna said.
Rose froze. Donna had explained to her about the Chameleon Arch, that he'd rewritten his biology. If she knew the Doctor, this was probably a very painful procedure — he'd ripped out one of his hearts, in a manner of speaking. “Tall, dark, freckled and hair like an overexcited hedgehog? Rude and not... ginger?”
Donna laughed. “That's him.”
Rose exhaled in relief.
“He's taken on a new identity, Rose. He's John Smith, and he teaches History at the boys' school nearby. I work there as a secretary, to keep an eye on him. He doesn't know who he is, Rose. His Time Lord-essence is hidden inside a broken fob-watch.”
Slowly, Rose understood. “He doesn't remember me.”
Donna reached out to rest her hand on Rose's wrist. “He doesn't know me either. He knows Miss Noble, a woman who saved him from getting lost on his journey here. We're... friends, in a manner of speaking. He's a... nice man, a bit absent-minded, and he likes to keep to himself. He dreams about being the Doctor. He mentioned it to me once, but I've heard him tell Matron about it.”
“Matron?” Rose slid the heels of her feet off the edge of the seat, sitting up in the process.
“He... is rather fond of her,” Donna said, sipping her tea. “He dreams of you, Rose. I don't think it would be a good idea if you approached him now.”
Rose's thoughts were reeling. It had taken the Doctor ages to acknowledge his true feelings for her, and he'd been unable to tell her about them, even the last time he'd had a chance. He'd burned up a sun for her, and still he'd been unable to voice his feelings. “Right. I've waited four years to see him again. What's another...?”
“Two months,” Donna said softly.
Rose sighed, slipping her hand to the back of her neck to ease the tension building there. “Two months, right. At least I'll have a place to stay. Or will I?”
“Of course you will. Look, Rose,” Donna continued. “It'd be just too much of a shock if he saw you. He dreams of you.”
Rose smiled wanly. “Yeah. It's very sweet, innit?”
“He'll...” Donna didn't continue her thought.
In the silence that ensued Rose wondered what would happen if he fell in love with Matron. She was just a dream now, and even as far as his Time-Lord self was concerned, she was far away across the Void. Just a dream. Unreachable. Would he forget his feelings for Matron when he changed back?
Covering her mouth with her hand, Rose looked away, studying the collection of fridge magnets. She'd started it, and she could spot the odd new addition among the magnets she'd chosen on the more leisurely trips.
John Smith closed the door behind him, and took off his hat. He put it and his gown on the coat stand by the door and unbuttoned his jacket. He was glad the lessons were over for the day. For some reason he'd found it hard to concentrate, and he had set the boys a wealth of assignments to keep them occupied to give him some time to breathe and gather his wits. He had been unsuccessful, however, and even Mr Roscastle had commented on is absent-mindedness. Nurse Redfern had caught his eyes in the hall, smiling at him, but he'd noticed her too late and had not even nodded at her.
He'd had a restless night. He'd been dreaming again, but unlike the previous nights the images had blurred into each other, faces appearing but swimming out of focus before they took on distinct features. He had a strong feeling that Rose had been among them at some point. More importantly, however, the dreams had been filled with an intense feeling of loneliness and loss.
That was new. So far his dreams of the Doctor had been filled with adventure, feelings of anticipation, excitement and exhilaration, sometimes with a healthy touch of fear. But never loneliness and loss.
Rose kept walking away from him.
Last night, however, when she had appeared in his dream, she had stayed and reached out for him.
He jumped at the knock on his door. Realising that it must be Jenny with his tea he swiftly stepped away from the door so she didn't accidentally hit him with the door when she entered.
“Your tea, sir,” she said cheerfully, crossing the room to put the tray down on the table behind the sofa.
Distracted by the fob watch sitting on the mantel, he thanked her but didn't notice her leave. He weighed the timepiece in his palm, brushing his thumb over the intricate pattern etched on the cover. By now, it had become familiar, but he still wondered who had come up with the design. It was most unusual. Maybe it was Modern Art, the artist a visionary who was far ahead of his time. Oddly enough, he didn't remember getting the watch. He was sure it was not a family heirloom; he hadn't had it long enough for that. And his father would never have left him a broken watch. The mechanism that opened the cover didn't work, and for some reason he kept forgetting to take it to the watchmaker's in town. He returned it to the mantel and, on the way to his desk, stole a biscuit from the tea tray.
He always had tea with Nurse Redfern. She was a bit late, and he hoped she hadn't taken offence at his rude behaviour earlier. It really was unforgivable. But he was being self-centred again. She was the Matron, and most likely she had a patient to attend to. It was her job.
Sighing, John Smith settled at his desk. He might as well mark a couple of essays while he was waiting. Maybe he'd finally be able to concentrate on something, and chase away last night's dreams. It was all getting a bit out of hand. What had started out as a dream, a fantasy, was fast becoming an obsession. He couldn't have this, not as the scholar he was.
Rose met John Smith by accident.
They weren't supposed to meet. Rose and Donna had taken every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening, but to no avail. Rose left the TARDIS only when John Smith was teaching, and even then she kept to the village or the fields surrounding it, walking down paths he never used. It wasn't easy for Rose. She wasn't used to being cooped up in the surprisingly small interior of the TARDIS, and she was aching to see the Doctor again, even as the human John Smith. One time Donna had let slip that he and Nurse Redfern were getting close.
“How close?” Rose had asked.
“They're falling in love with each other,” Donna had replied very softly, realising that she had to tell Rose now.
Rose had guffawed at the irony of it all. Then she realised. “Is there any point in me staying, then?” she'd asked. She had come all the way across the Void to be reunited with the Doctor. “Will he still love her when he's a Time Lord again?”
This, of course, was a question neither of the women could answer, and so Rose decided to stay and find out. She had nothing left to lose. The half-life she'd led in Pete's World was certainly not worth returning to, although she was going to miss her Mum and Pete.
The village boasted a small bookshop. It consisted of two rooms that were filled to bursting with books. Every available surface was covered with shelves, and there was hardly any space left in which to move around, even in the back room that didn't have a counter. Although the TARDIS library offered more books than she could ever hope to read, Rose preferred going to the Village Bookshop for the experience of browsing and chatting to the gentleman who owned it. Buying a book was so very different from borrowing one; maybe it was about the privacy of the experience, or about making the book and the characters her own, about not having to return the book and give away the pleasant memories along with it.
It was there that they met. Rose was in the back room, freezing as she stood on the ladder when she heard the Doctor's voice cheerfully greet Mr Davies. For a brief moment she closed her eyes and willed the Doctor to go away. He picked up this latest order and, in doing so, chatted with the bookseller.
“I wasn't expecting you, Professor. It's usually Tim who picks up your books, isn't it?” Mr Davies said, wrapping the books in paper.
“Tim. Latimer... yes, yes. It's such a lovely day, probably one of the last we'll get this year, and I felt like taking a walk,” the Doctor said.
Only he didn't sound like the Doctor. The slightly frantic quality was missing; John Smith just sounded calm and a bit absent-minded. Rose hoped he'd leave as soon as he'd paid for the books and not decide to browse or even step into the back room. She held her breath.
Then the floorboards creaked as he did just that. Rose quickly turned her attention to the books on the top shelves, hoping that the Doctor wouldn't notice her. But of course he didn't oblige her in that regard either.
Muttering a greeting, he took off his hat and briefly looked at her. Of course, she had been unable to control herself and had turned to acknowledge him. She quickly turned back to the spines of the books, her heart thumping in her chest. Please! she begged. Go away. Forget me.
For a while, it was only the sounds of books being pulled off the shelves and pages being turned that filled the room, and Rose wondered — a tad too long — if she could just descend and leave while he was engrossed in discovering the treasures on the walls.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he eventually said. “I... I usually do not this, but I'm afraid I won't be able to put my mind to rest until I've spoken to you... I... I think we have met before? It seems a bit unlikely, and there are probably... I mean I... I... please, I beg of you, Miss. Have we met before?”
Rose's heart broke at his babbling. It was so very much the Doctor, but it was also a very embarrassed Professor, which was charming in its own strange way. She decided to be gentle with him, but to make it unequivocally clear that she was not who he thought she was. At least not now. John Smith mustn't meet Rose Tyler. It would only complicate things unnecessarily; besides, there were only six weeks left to go until the threat of the Family was gone. “I don't believe we have, Sir. I only arrived a couple of days ago. I've lived abroad for a while,” she replied, looking down at him from her perch on the ladder, her hand anchored on the slim volume she'd been looking at.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, then, I beg your forgiveness, Miss. I could have sworn... you are the spitting image of... well, how can I put it without making even more of a fool out of myself...”
“Don't, Professor,” she said, biting her lip as she realised.
His eyes lit up. “You know who I am?”
“Well, I couldn't help overhearing Mr Davies greeting you,” she replied.
“Right,” he said, smiling gently. It was completely different from any of the Doctor's enthusiastic or sad smiles, even different from the smile she thought he had only for her. “Again, I beg your forgiveness, Miss...?”
“Prentice. Marianne Prentice,” she said, having recovered enough to remember the identity she and Donna had come up with for her. Just in case.
“You must forgive me, Miss Prentice,” he begged, holding out his hand for her to help her down the ladder. Rose shivered slightly when their hands touched, the memory of them holding hands shooting through her, of his cool yet warm fingers wrapping around hers. A single word flashed through her memory. Forever.
Her eyes snapped to his, and she saw the same memory in his eyes. Please, she prayed, please, please.
She tried to gather her wits as she took her time climbing down the ladder awkwardly, her hand clasped in his. He didn't let go of it immediately once she had firm ground beneath her feet, and she gently withdrew. Feeling his warm, human hand in hers had been unusual, but very pleasant. It was hard to let go of him. “I do forgive you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to...”
“Oh yes, yes, of course. Sorry,” he said, clearly flustered. Obviously, some deeply hidden part, some Time-Lord part, had recognised the feel of their hands clasped.
Rose dazzled him with a smile and quickly left. She'd come back for the slim volume later.
Chapter 1, Part 2
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