“So here you are. My lonely angel. Stuck on the slow path with me.”
“Yep. The slow path. Here’s to the slow path.”
She giggles lightly and raises her glass in a toast. Then she sets down her glass. “Take my hand.”
He takes her hand, and follows her down the corridors of Versailles. He doesn’t tell her that he’s been here before, or after. In the past, when it was a hunting lodge. In the future, the night the royal family is placed under arrest. That he knows where she’s taking him.
Then she opens the door to the bedroom, and leads him inside. And she stands him in front of the ridiculously tall bed, as if waiting for him to do something.
And he hesitates. He’s almost certain that he knows where this is going, and he thinks he wants it. But in the back of his head something is whispering about history, something about interference, something very old and faded talks about family curses, and somewhere in his mind is a picture of Rose and the TARDIS on the bridge of the burnt-out spaceship, waiting.
Reinette cocks her head and looks thoughtful, as if reading his mind (he guesses, hopes that she can’t actually do that unless he’s trying to read hers). “You’re worrying about something. Your friends?”
“Is there anything you can do for them?”
“Then,” she says, “The best thing to do is put it out of your mind. Perhaps I can arrange a distraction.” She’s got a wicked smile, and he’s trying to think of a smart answer, but he’s finding it strangely difficult to focus.
She gives him a playful shove backwards. On to the bed. And while he’s still trying to think of something to say, she climbs on top of him, and helps him find a better use for his mouth.
There’s not much more to tell after that. Except he’s slightly more experienced at removing corset lacings than she is at handling zippers and ties.
Rose is still staring at the broken screen when Mickey dashes back into the room.
“I just finished checking,” he says. “They’re all broken.”
“All of them?” Rose asks, “Even the curtain?” A curtain can’t break, can it?
“The curtain, the mirror, the fireplace, all of them. Gone. He’s stuck out there, and we’re stuck in here.”
Rose shakes her head. “He’ll come back.”
“How’s he gonna do that, then?” Mickey asks. “The TARDIS is here, all the time windows are broken, and I may not have gotten top marks in history, but one thing I do know; eighteenth-century France, not a lot of time machines.”
She should tell him, she knows, that they can go. That there’s an emergency switch in the TARDIS. She made the Doctor show her where it was. She’s not being sent away again; if she’s going anywhere without the Doctor, it’ll be because she’s stranded somewhere.
But if she tells Mickey, he’ll want to go home. They’ll pile into the TARDIS, she’ll throw the switch, and if the Doctor turns up, he’ll really be stranded.
And you, Rose Tyler, fat lot of good you were. You gave up on me.
And she owes him a little time.
“Rose!” He nearly jumps out of bed in excitement. “Oh brilliant, brilliant Rose. She’s bound to sort it out. She’s clever. She’s clever as anything.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe it took me eleven days to think of that.”
Reinette turns from her dressing table and is staring at him. He hasn’t seen her properly upset yet, but he expects he’s about to. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to start shouting about how wonderful another woman is, while still lying in your lover’s bed. He needs to make a note of that.
She’s giving him a sharp bright-eyed stare, and on her lips is the beginning of a frown. “What about Rose?” she asks, in a voice almost worrisomely calm. “What will she figure out?”
“The TARDIS! She’ll use the emergency switch on the TARDIS! She made me show her where it was. It’ll take her back home. Back to England, in her time. That’s galaxies, and millennia closer than where she is now. All I have to do is wait around for the right year, cross the channel, and there we are!”
There’s a definite frown on Reinette’s face now. “You’re going to go meet her.” Her voice is chill. “You’re going to leave.”
He takes a long look at her face, and swallows. “Well, not for a long time.”
“Two and a half centuries?” He does a quick count on his fingers. “Well, nearly.”
The anger drains from her so quickly he half expects to see it land in a puddle on the floor. She smiles that slightly-too-perfect aristocratic smile and turns back to the mirror. “So I take it there’s no need to arrange passage just yet? I’d rather like to keep you to myself for a few more years.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” he says. “I’m free for the next couple centuries. As long as you’re willing to put up with me, I’m yours.”
“What are you doing?”
Mickey’s rummaging around. “Looking for another ice gun.”
“You mean the fire extinguisher?” She says it idly, but he looks hurt, like she’s insulted him somehow.
He tosses a bit of metal aside. “Look,” he says, “If I’m going to be stuck on a bleedin’ spaceship in the middle of nowhere, two and a half galaxies from home, chased by bleedin’ killer robots, I get to call it an ice gun.”
“It probably is, you know.”
“Is what?” He turns around.
“A bleedin’ spaceship.”
He pauses and stares at her. She waves her arms. “You know, what with the heart and all.”
It’s an awful joke, not funny in the least, but it’s been a long day, and for a moment they’re both trying to fight back a smile.
He’s standing by the wall at yet another royal function, sipping on yet another glass of champagne. It’s quite good. He’s forgotten just how enjoyable good French wine can be. He should really restock the TARDIS wine cellar once he gets back.
And since he’s not getting back for over two centuries, he should definitely write that down.
Reinette takes him by the hand, her cheeks flush with a rare natural blush, and leads him to a quiet corner. “What are you playing at with poor Jacques?”
“Poor Jacques? Spoiled-bloody-rotten Jacques is more like it. I was only having a bit of a joke. He comes swanning in, acting like he’s God’s gift to women, trying to make out like he’s seen everything there is to see. I only asked a few questions.”
“You were showing him up.” She gives him her best stern glare, but he’s stared down things that could eat a planet for breakfast, and her look doesn’t intimidate him one bit.
“Was not,” he answers. Okay, maybe a tiny bit.
She’s still glaring, but the corner of her mouth starts to quirk up a trace. “Really? All those questions about Turkey?”
“Kurdish peasants simply don’t dress like that!”
“Spoiling the story of his famous escape?”
“A completely inefficient way of going about it, too. Trust me, I was escaping from prisons when his whole bloody peninsula was just some boy suckling on a wolf’s teat, and there are better ways.”
“Picking on the poor man’s French?”
“He was playing games with you! Slipping in all those double entendres, and trying to excuse himself with that ‘oh, I’m still learning your language’ business. Thinks he’s so clever.” He snorts derisively.
Reinette is smiling now. “I think you’re jealous.”
Reinette pokes him playfully. “Yes. You. Jealous.”
He sighs. “Well, maybe a bit. He does have a bit of a reputation, after all. And he did keep putting an arm around you.”
Reinette giggles lightly, and takes his hands in hers. “Jacques is a friend of mine. Nothing more. Now you,” she pauses and kisses him, “are going back to the party, and are going to be perfectly sweet and charming to everyone, even Jacques. And you don’t need to show off how much more talented, intelligent, or well-traveled you are. I don’t imagine anyone in the room could compare to you.”
“Well that’s unfair,” he replies, taking her hand. “You get to show off how beautiful, charming, and sophisticated you are, and no one in the palace has a hope of competing with you.”
As they head back she asks, “Why on Earth did you insist on introducing yourself as Jack Newhouse?”
“It was a joke. Jacques - Jack, Newhouse…Oh never mind," the Doctor shrugs. “I thought it was funny.”
“Oh, would you relax?” Rose snaps irritably.
“Relax? I’m trying to keep you safe.” Mickey waves the fire extinguisher. “Those robots could come back any minute.”
“They’re not coming back. The Doctor got rid of them.”
“Yeah, and he never makes mistakes.” Mickey aims the fire extinguisher at different points around the room.
“Go hide in the TARDIS, if you’re so frightened.” Rose sighs, and runs her hands through her hair.
“I’m not frightened!” Mickey sets the fire extinguisher down and sits down on a packing crate. After a moment he turns to Rose. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”
She shrugs. “I guess.”
“I’ll go fix us something.” He’s up like a jackrabbit, making for the TARDIS. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know,” says Rose. “Anything.” She turns to him. “Wait. No meat. Not…not while we’re on the ship.”
Mickey stops on the TARDIS threshold. “Yeah. I figured. Me neither.”
“And a little garden path, right along the side,” she says. “Here. What do you think?”
They’re in the garden of Versailles, just a little ways past the Grand Trianon, staring at a stretch of rolling lawn. Reinette is describing her latest project, a tiny chateau designed specially for the royal mistress.
Which, while she hasn’t been to bed with the king since 1750 (she says), is still officially her.
As a stranded time-traveller, and alien lover to the king’s mistress, he isn’t officially anything. Half the court thinks he really is Jack Newhouse from London (he has got to get his sense of humor under control), and the other half doesn’t talk about what they think.
The Doctor smiles at her, and circles the ground thoughtfully. He could do it, tell her what’s going to happen. That she’ll never see the palace built, that she’ll be dead in a couple years. That little Louis-Auguste, who was sailing one of his toy boats around the fountain yesterday, is going to see the monarchy destroyed. That his future wife is a vapid but charming Austrian countess who once gave the Doctor a first-rate set of lock picks in the very castle that Reinette hopes to have built. And that they are going to be executed in a public square, which he knows, because he stood and watched.
He could be quite the prophet of doom, if he felt like it. If he ever got the verb tenses worked out.
Reinette is staring at him curiously, and he realizes he’s been standing still for minutes on end. He makes himself smile, and takes a few steps.
“You’re worrying about something.” She walks over to him and takes him by the hand.
“More thinking, really.” He squeezes her hand.
She pulls his head down and kisses him. “Do I need to take you back to my room and arrange a distraction?” She’s developed a habit to cope with him brooding on this or that. It’s rarely anything she can understand (he won’t let her have another peek inside his head) and never anything either of them can change. So she distracts him. In the bedroom, occasionally the stable, and once in the Hall of Mirrors after midnight.
“No, finish telling me about your plan. I want to hear it. If I get too glum, you can always throw me to the ground and ravish me on the spot.”
“Tempting, Doctor.” She grins a lively, lascivious grin (a real one, one he’s never seen her use at court) and goes back to her plans.
He smiles and nods and tries not to think too much.
Petit Trianon. It hasn’t even been built yet, and he’s been there before.
It will be completed four years after Reinette’s death.
Rose finishes clearing up the dirty dishes, and walks back out of the TARDIS. “And what do you think you’re up to?”
Mickey jerks his head up from the computer console. “Just having a look. Seeing what I can do.” He slides the tangle of wires off his neck.
“What you can do?” Rose yells, “You’ll electrocute yourself! Stop playing with that!” She’s embarrassed to realize that she does sound like her mother when she yells.
“I’m not playing!” Mickey snaps. “I’m trying to find the navigation system.”
“Oh, so you think you can navigate a spaceship now? Have you gone completely daft?”
He throws down the wires. “Well, what else am I supposed to do? We’re trapped here, and he’s not coming back, Rose. He isn’t. If I can get this thing going, then maybe we can get…somewhere. Somewhere with people, at least.”
“We’re not trapped,” Rose sighs. She knows she should have spoken earlier, but it’s too much like giving up for her.
“Rose, he’s not coming back. He can’t. No time window, no TARDIS.”
Rose shakes her head. “There’s an emergency switch on the console. He showed it to me. All I have to do is pull, and we’re back. London, Powell Estates, 2006. Although I wouldn’t lay bets on which month.”
He’s staring at her, mouth open. “You didn’t tell me. We’ve been stuck here for flippin’ hours…”
“Cause I knew what you’d say. You’d want to up and leave, and I can’t. Not just like that. He could come back. You know he could. He always comes back at the last minute when it looks hopeless. I can’t just abandon him. I…” She turns away. “I’m all he’s got.”
She can practically feel Mickey’s eyes boring into the back of her head, but she doesn’t turn back to look at him.
“So,” Mickey says, after a very long silence, “How long are we gonna wait then?”
“I don’t know. As long as it takes.” Rose shakes her head.
“We can’t stay here forever. He’s a time traveler. If he’s got some trick up his sleeve, it’s not gonna take long. If he doesn’t come soon, he’s not coming.”
“I don’t know,” Rose repeats. “We’re waiting.”
She doesn’t start to cough for ages, and at first it’s just a cough. She doses herself with a tincture of opium, and carries on with work. Normally, he wouldn’t have let her take something like that. He’d have steered her away towards something far less dangerous and addictive. Even without the TARDIS, he can concoct a few simple cough remedies that are far safer and healthier.
They’re not quite as effective, though. They don’t treat pain. The cough would slow her down, she’d suffer more, and he knows how this is going to end. So he says nothing, and lets her take what she wants.
The royal physician is sent for, eventually. The day Reinette can’t muster the strength to finish dressing. She glares at him accusingly as he helps her back into bed.
“I’ll call a doctor,” he says.
She sniffs sarcastically.
When the physician comes, he doesn’t stay to hear the diagnosis. It’s selfish, he knows, but he can’t. Can’t face her as she hears the news. Can’t look her in the eye when she hears that she’s dying and knows that he knows.
He enters the room as the physician leaves. It’s every bit as bad as he thought. She’s staring at him with a very careful look.
“You knew,” she says. It isn’t a question.
He answers anyways, “Yes.”
“Can you do anything?” She’s trying very hard to keep the hope off her face. She almost succeeds.
“No.” He shakes his head. Because it’s almost certainly true.
“Could you have? If you’d begun sooner?”
He shakes his head, and she dissolves into tears. “You sacrificed your freedom to save me from the monsters, Doctor. It would be greedy of me to expect more miracles than I’ve had.”
He goes to the bed and puts his arms around her, trying to ignore the guilt in the back of his mind. Because it’s almost true that he can’t save her, and couldn’t have. He doesn’t have the equipment to produce streptomycin, even if he had the time. And keeping her alive in a time and place where history said she died would almost certainly damage time. There would be no point saving her life if they both got eaten by Reapers as a consequence. That wouldn’t be saving her at all.
But there’s a slim chance, a razor-thin chance that he could draft every goldsmith, and glassblower in Versailles, have the country scoured for the right kind of soil, and produce the medicine needed to save her. The king would provide. And this might bring the Reapers down, but it might not. He doesn’t know. It could work.
And he could watch history unravel as the cure for tuberculosis arrives centuries too early. The king would have the miracle that could heal the dying. The monarchy would be strengthened, delaying, perhaps even preventing the revolution. Millions would live who were expected to die. With the rise of resistant strains, millions would die who were expected to live. Whole new areas of science would be thrust upon humanity.
And his hope of standing outside the Powell Estates, watching a certain blonde step out of a certain blue box would vanish into the land of history that wasn’t. As would his freedom.
So he holds her until she stops crying, and tries to ignore the guilt.
Rose sits and stares at the broken mirror, and thinks, Now.
It doesn’t work.
She tries again, but it still doesn’t work.
She sits and thinks now, and now, and now, and Mickey’s shaking her awake. “You really want to sleep out here?” He smiles. “All these crates at things? Cause, call me crazy, but I figure a nice soft bed in the TARDIS would be more comfortable."
Rose yawns, “Yeah, I guess.” She stands up. “Didn’t realize I was dozing off until I did.” She turns to him, apologetically. “Sorry I was so snippy, today.”
Mickey shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Killer robots, being stuck out in space, all of that. Bound to get a bit shirty.”
“And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the emergency switch.” She puts a hand on his arm.
“Yeah, well,” he shakes her hand off, and for a moment there’s a flash of anger in his eyes. “We’ll sort that out in the morning.”
Reinette is dead.
A tidy little man in a dusty black outfit is holding out papers and talking.
Reinette is dead.
The little man seems to think the papers are very important, that the Doctor needs to pay attention to them. He doesn’t seem to understand that Reinette is dead.
The Doctor explains, in as calm and as reasonable of a voice as he can manage, that none of this can possibly matter, since Reinette is dead. The little man nods and walks away.
Several days later, the food runs out, and various relatives turn up at the estate, arguing over who gets which property, and the servants ask for their wages, and the Doctor starts wondering if he has anywhere to live, and like magic, the little man is back.
The Doctor’s always been a bit vague about money, one of the results of traveling through time. One century a lump of gold is good money, the next it has to be stamped, a few centuries later it’s extremely valuable and requires documentation, and even if he were to pop back to Carthage and get a receipt, it wouldn’t be believed. Not to mention the centuries where no one cares much about gold and they look at you like you were trying to spend a lump of tungsten, and the Cyber-Wars, where it’s extremely valuable, and will get you arrested for hoarding essential munitions.
The situation with little bits of paper is worse.
He gets given things, instead. He collects items that belong to no one. He occasionally trades something he has to spare for something he wants. One time, completely by accident, after a long drunken card game, he managed to make quite a lot of money off of compound interest. Normal financial planning simply doesn’t apply to that sort of thing. So he’s never bothered.
Reinette, it turns out, was quite clever with money.
The little man explains a lot about inheritance and investments, and assets and accounts, and makes the Doctor sign any number of papers, with any number of names. There’s a Jack Newhouse there (he really has to stop making these jokes), a Jacques De L’Ange (although apparently he’s not the only one), John Smith, Antoine Poisson (he detects a touch of possessiveness in that one), Jean-Marc Cheminee (frankly, he thinks that’s a bit silly) and other forms where he’s simply the Doctor. The accountant says this is a code name for future recipients. This name, and a few select passwords, and they’ll be able to tap the investment funds.
She was clever, his Reinette. He’s set up for a century. She’s given him escape funds.
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