It was late afternoon and raining in the small park where the TARDIS materialised. Jo put up her umbrella as she stepped out. She expected bare trees and maybe snow, but the trees were just turning red and gold, and the ground was muddy. There did not, as far as Jo could see, appear to be any celebrations in progress for the New Year.
"Well, it certainly looks like English rain," she said with optimism she did not feel. "That's got to be a good sign, Doctor."
The Doctor looked sourly at the rain spots on the sleeve of his jacket. "Not really cold enough for December, though, is it? Look," he pointed at a park bench, where someone had abandoned a newspaper. "That will tell us the date."
Jo held the paper out with care as water streamed from the sodden mass. The date on the front page read 2005. September.
The Doctor sighed and stared moodily into the rain.
Jo patted his arm. "Never mind! 2005 is pretty close, all things considered. I think it's the closest you've come yet, actually."
"I am sorry, Jo. I promise that I'll get you to a millennial celebration somewhere. Or when." The Doctor folded the paper and tucked it under his arm and looked out over the river with a glum expression.
"Pff," said Jo. "It was lovely to meet Gilgamesh. The timing doesn't really matter. There were plenty of good parties going on all the time in Uruk."
"Yes, well. I suppose, in the end, calendars are just relative constructions. Arbitrary dates for arbitrary time periods. Take the French Revolution, for example." The Doctor held up his finger for silence, even though it had been him doing the speaking.
Jo waited patiently for a few moments, but when no proclamations eventuated, and nothing in close proximity exploded, she said "What's the matter?"
"I think I'm going to sneeze." He pressed his fingers to his nose.
Jo patted her pockets for a handkerchief. "I didn't know you had allergies, Doctor."
The Doctor shook his head. "No, Jo, it's not pollen. This is… This is something I can't quite… Oh, no! Oh, no, not again!" He furrowed his brow, angry and alarmed at the same time.
"What is it, Doctor?" Jo braced herself for disaster.
"Reverse déjà vu," he said, with a grimace. "The irritating feeling of certainty that you're going to be right here, sometime in the future. In my personal future, that is, which could, of course, be any time."
Jo sorted the concept out in her head: time travel was really the most complicated, snarled kind of lifestyle sometimes. "So, you're going to be here, in the future? But that could be now? Oh, Doctor, do you think you'll get to meet yourself? I wonder what that would be like." The things she could tell her younger self, she thought. Poor girl, she'd probably never believe me.
"It's almost always a disaster." The Doctor scowled at a memory, or perhaps a memory he was yet to have. "My past and future selves are irredeemably stubborn."
Jo rather thought she deserved an award of some sort for refraining from laughing at the Doctor's expression of distaste. He looked almost as if he were discussing unpleasant relatives. She braced her umbrella against her shoulder. "Let's take a look around, then. Perhaps there's something that will jog your memory?"
"Hm," said the Doctor. "I'll go. You stay here. Bumping into yourself is a complicated matter, and it causes no end of havoc in the timeline. Not to mention the temporal energy discharge. It could destroy the world."
Jo nodded brightly, but was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the Doctor really wanted to keep her away from his disreputable selves. "I'll take a walk along the river, then."
"Stay out of trouble," the Doctor cautioned, then swiftly disappeared into the rain.
"And you," Jo added, quietly. She hoped he had heard.
It was interesting to compare this London to the London Jo knew from the Seventies. There was more vegetarian food, for one thing. The man in the burger van laughed at the coins she pulled out of her little purse, but he seemed happy to give her a tray of samosas in exchange for them.
"Got a son, collects coins," he said, and passed her a foil tray that was hot to the touch. "This'll make his day, it will."
The rain eased back to a steady mist, and Jo wandered down the path by the river. The skyline was dominated by an enormous rotating wheel. "Of all the things I could have imagined for the future, a giant Ferris wheel was not one of them," she told the ducks that gathered hopefully at the river bank for crumbs.
"I know, right?" came a voice from behind her. "Sometimes, I say to myself, 'Mickey, where are the hover cars?' I always thought we'd have hover cars by now, you know."
Jo grinned up at the man; he held a bundle of posters in one hand and a roll of tape in the other. "I guess we're not doing too badly." She pointed at a woman pushing a pram along the riverbank. "People are still having babies in the future. We're all still out and about in the rain. People are still posting bills." She looked down at the man's hands; the posters had the word 'Missing' emblazoned across the top, and a girl's photograph. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry."
Mickey sighed and shrugged. "Thanks. She's fine, you know? I'm sure she's fine, just off on a lark. She does this. It's just that it's been a while since she stopped by to say hello." He held the bundle of posters up and looked at the photo of the smiling blonde girl, then rolled his eyes dramatically. "And of course, I'm in trouble with her mum."
Jo patted his arm. "I can help you put them up, if you'd like? I've got nothing better to do right now."
They walked the length of the park by the river, and Jo held the posters up while Mickey wound Sellotape around the poles.
"It's weird, you know, I miss her a lot," Mickey said. Theywere headed for a car park full of tiny bright coloured cars that looked, to Jo, entirely capable of hovering. Definitely futuristic. "I've always known that she was the independent one, though, you'd think I'd be ready for this. But I'm not. I worry. Worst part is, I can't make myself say 'I should have gone with her.' I'm not like that, and she knew it. But I still feel bad about it."
"Of course you do," said Jo. "Just because you're not the adventurous type doesn't mean you don't worry about the ones who are." She made a resolution to visit her own mother when she next dropped back to the Seventies. That was presuming the TARDIS could find the Seventies: she hadn't exactly been behaving predictably of late. If she ever did. A tiny curl of worry opened up inside her as she imagined her mother fretting, going to the police station, perhaps putting up posters like they were now.
She held a poster against a big silver ticket machine, and read the incredibly complicated instructions for buying a ticket. Pound coins! For parking! It was incredible, and somehow more bizarre than a giant Ferris wheel.
Mickey pulled a long strip of tape from the roll and bit it with his teeth. "The thing is, I keep flipping back and forth - maybe the reason she went in the first place is because I'm not the kind of guy who just picks up and vanishes." He smoothed the tape over the paper. "I know it's not cool, but I'm more of a homebody. Maybe I'm not the right guy for her."
Jo's heart melted, watching him count posters and calculating how much further he could spread them around. "You know, you might be the reason she feels safe about venturing forth. Knowing that there's someone waiting for you, it's a bit like an anchor, isn't it?"
Mickey seemed a little brighter. "I suppose that's one way to look at it. Not going to get her mum off my back, but that's my problem, not Rose's." He taped down a poster on the last telephone pole, and stuffed the roll of tape inside his anorak. "Thanks for the help - can I get you a cuppa or something?"
Jo sipped carefully. A take-away cuppa was still the same: thin cardboard that quickly burned her fingertips, and scalding milky tea the colour of mud.
"I'll tell you this, because I know I'm never going to see you again." Mickey leaned a little closer under the umbrella to speak low, though there were only ducks to overhear his words. "I have to tell someone. See, the police, I know they're keeping an eye on me. And I can't tell them the truth, can I? 'Cos the reason I know Rose is probably okay, right, is because she went off with an alien. And he promised he'd keep her safe." He nodded towards the river. "They're out there, aliens. Tons of them, probably. I know, it makes me sound like a nutter."
Jo kept her expression very level, but she gave Mickey's arm a squeeze. "I believe you. I know there are aliens out there, too."
Mickey nodded, unsurprised. "I knew it would be okay to tell you. I reckon I'm starting to see it in peoples' faces, the ones who know."
"I have some friends," Jo said, carefully. "I could talk to them. Or you could come with me, meet them?"
Mickey shook his head. "Best if I stay put. She might pop up any minute, Rose. That's what you do when you've lost the person you're with: you stand still." He grinned. "Used to get lost in the supermarket, I did, and that's what my Gran always said to do."
"Good advice," said Jo. She saw the Doctor at the top of the hill, gesturing frantically for her to join him. "Oh, I have to go. That's my ride, I'm afraid."
Mickey looked askance at the figure of the Doctor, in his flamboyant cloak and smoking jacket. "All right."
Jo gently tugged one of the remaining posters from Mickey's hand. "Do you mind if I keep one of these? I travel a lot, you see, and there's always the chance I might run into her."
Mickey gave her a smile and a nod. "Yeah, that would be brilliant. Tell her… tell her to come home soon, okay? Don't tell her that thing about the supermarket, though. I don't reckon she knows that. I really hope she doesn't. That's a bit uncool."
"You're not uncool, Mickey," said Jo, and gave him a quick hug. "I hope Rose comes home soon."
At the top of the hill, the Doctor paced in agitation. "We have to get out of here, Jo. My chronal fingerprint is all over this place. Back to the TARDIS immediately, before we trigger some catastrophe."
"Yes, Doctor," said Jo. She turned to give Mickey a wave, then followed the Doctor towards the TARDIS, hidden behind a brick pavilion.
She shook her umbrella as she stepped through the TARDIS door. "Do you think we could stop home for a bit, Doctor? There are some people I need to drop in and visit. Do you ever think that Mike and Benton and the Brigadier worry about us, while we're gone?"
"Oh, I shouldn't think so. The TARDIS can have us home only minutes after we left." The Doctor's voice was blithe as he flipped switches and levers. "But we can stop for a visit, if that makes you happy, Jo."
Jo propped her umbrella in the stand that had helpfully appeared in the console room, then carefully folded the poster of Rose and tucked it into the pocket of her mini-dress. "It would make me happy, thank you, Doctor."
Outside in the park, as the rain started to pelt down again, Mickey heard a mechanical drone that rose and fell in a terrible, familiar way. By the time he'd bolted to the top of the hill, he saw only the fading shape of the TARDIS as it vanished into the rain.