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Second Time Around

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October, 1916

London

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Rose didn't actually sleep that night.  She just pretended.  She made excuses to go to bed, because the Doctor expected it, but really needed some time alone, to think.  She lay in the dark, with her eyes closed, attempting to appear to be sleeping, while her mind tried to come to terms with the incredible changes her life was facing...again.

The only feelings she was aware of were confusion and guilt.  Confusion, because she was so happy the Doctor was back, but she was so sad to be losing John Smith.  Guilt because she felt such absolute relief over finally being able to leave this time and go back to traveling on the TARDIS.  And of course, she felt further guilt because she knew that she took advantage of the Doctor when he was not himself.

She was acutely aware of the Doctor's presence in the flat.  When she said goodnight, he sat at John's desk in the living room and watched her go.  Once or twice she thought she heard him shuffling through John's papers.  And in a distant haze, late in the middle of the night, she was sure she heard footsteps approaching her in the bed, but when she opened her eyes, the Doctor was not in the room.

Once morning had come, Rose stumbled, blurry-eyed out of bed, not remotely close to rested.  She found the Doctor sprawled in a chair, slowly flipping through one of John's history books.  A creak in the floor alerted him to her presence, and he quickly snapped the book closed and leapt to his feet to greet her.

"Sleep well?" he asked her awkwardly.

"I suppose," Rose answered vaguely. "Hope it wasn't too dull of a night for you.  I know how much you hate being cooped up inside."

"I managed," he replied.  "We do what we must, and I have to avoid being seen as long as possible."

Rose nodded her understanding.  "Well, if our plan is going to work, I should probably get dressed and head to the shop."

"Right!" the Doctor exclaimed.  "Yes, well, you should do that! I'll just...sit here.  And read this book."  He held up the book for Rose to see as if to prove that its existence was real.  Rose wondered why he was so jumpy, but shrugged it off and went to get dressed.  While in the bedroom, Rose could have sworn she heard the Doctor pacing and muttering to himself.  She wondered what it was that had him so agitated.

With a passing thought, Rose suddenly remembered that if the Doctor had retained John Smith's memories, then he had seen her change in front of him dozens of times.  She blushed at the thought.  She found herself wondering again if her suspicion was true. If so, it had to be a strange experience for the Doctor to wake up with three years of memories that were not his own.  Even though he had not experienced it, from his perspective, he might feel like an eavesdropper on the more private parts of someone else's life.  Her life, she suddenly realized.  

Her life in which she had used him as a puppet.  

She had trouble meeting his eyes when she walked back out to the main room.  Instead she glanced quickly at him, taking a quick note of how tense he looked, and headed for the door.  "Well, I'm off!" she announced to him in a voice that even sounded fake to her own ears. 

"You remember the plan, right?" the Doctor pressed, as he followed her towards the door.

"Heart-broken widow, I've got it," Rose insisted.  "I'm sure I can manage.  I'll be home as soon as it's done."  He gave her a curt nod and turned his back on her as she fled the thick tension that filled the small flat.  

It turned out that the Doctor's theory was correct.  It was only mid-morning when the telegram arrived from the army, informing her of her husband's death. With all of the turbulent emotions boiling up inside her, it took very little effort for Rose to burst into grief-stricken tears, giving a show of shock and horror for the sake of the British Army.

After the messenger left, Rose quickly locked up the shop and climbed the stairs to the shopkeeper's home, delivering the keys to his wife.   She insisted to the woman that with John dead she couldn't stay here in London anymore, and would be soon on a train to her last remaining family in Farringham.  The shopkeeper's wife never questioned it, since she already knew that Rose visited her "family" on a regular basis.  Rose said her farewells, and fled the woman's home.

When she arrived back at the flat, she carefully opened the door and her eyes first caught the sight of a packed bag sitting by the door.  She took note of the fact that the Doctor wasn't waiting in the living room, and cautiously made her way back to the bedroom.  Her breath caught in her throat at the sight that was waiting there for her.

The Doctor had changed out of John's uniform while she was gone.  He had pillaged through the wardrobe and dressed himself in a simple pair of slacks and a white button-down shirt.  Sometime since changing, however, he had stretched out on the bed, and appeared to be lightly dozing, completely stretched out and relaxed.  If the past day hadn't happened, Rose would have been certain that it was her husband lying there.  It was such a familiar sight to her. 

Her eyes were stinging a little when the Doctor's eyes blinked open.  He sat up and met her eyes.  Rose couldn't imagine what she looked like after all of the crying she had been doing over the past few hours.  She imagined it was pretty bad though, because the Doctor looked worried.

"Sorry," he apologized, as he pushed himself to his feet.  "I'm still recovering from the change, I think.  My body is still trying to remember what it's like to be Time Lord and not human.  And with how long it was reconfigured, well, it's taking a little longer than it should.  But I'll be back to my old self in no time!  I packed for you while you were gone! You might want to check to see if I missed anything, but I think I got everything that you might want to keep..."

He trailed off and Rose mentally finished his sentence.  To remember him by.  Rose was surprised.  It was a thoughtful gesture.  Usually the Doctor was oblivious to these sorts of things.  Perhaps it was a remnant from being a human for so long.

"Thank you," she told him softly. 

"You’re welcome."

Their departure from the flat was fairly unceremonious.  The Doctor climbed out the bedroom window and waited for her in the alley, while Rose turned in the keys to the landlord and apologized for her sudden departure. 

There was barely enough time for Rose to look back once, and say a silent goodbye to her home of three years, before the Doctor retrieved her bag from her hands, and they were swiftly walking to the train station.

 

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April, 1914

London

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By Spring Rose was beginning to lose hope.  It had been eight months now since they had landed in this time, more than double the length that they had originally planned to hide here.  There was still no sign of the watch, and Rose doubted that would ever change.  The Doctor was lost forever, and she was left with nothing but a shell of him.  John had his face and his figure, only with the mind of a lovely man who almost succeeded in making Rose happy -- if she could just forget about the Doctor.  But even though sometimes she wished that she could accept this new life, she knew that she would never wish away the Doctor.  She loved him far too much to regret their time together, even if it was gone now.

However much she missed the Doctor though, it was hard not to reciprocate when John Smith looked at her with such love and kissed her with so much passion.  He made her feel cherished, and Rose knew that she was perilously close to giving her heart to him for safe keeping.  She had lost so many people in her life: her father first, and then Mickey and her mother, before the Doctor himself.  She couldn't help worrying that if she allowed herself to love John Smith the way he wanted, that she would soon lose him as well.  And then she would suffer double the heartbreak, because with John Smith would go the last remnant of the Doctor.  Then she would be truly alone.

It had been a busy day of working in the shop, when John showed up at the door at closing.  She looked at him inquisitively, and he gestured for her to come outside.  She turned to her boss, the shopkeeper, who studied the man waiting in the doorway.  "Oh all right then, get on with it.  I can finish up on my own."  Rose thanked him gratefully and headed to the door.

"Come with me?" John asked her softly, holding out a hand for her to grasp.  She entwined her fingers with his, and swiftly he led her away from the shop.  

The sun was just starting to set, orange tinges slowly manifesting themselves in the clear sky, as John led her through the streets of London towards the river.  He stopped when they reached the Thames embankment, and turned to silently look at her for a long moment.  Rose studied his face while he stared at her, and she couldn't read his expression.  It was carefully masked, completely hidden, and left her feeling a bit unsettled.  The Doctor was sometimes hard to read, but usually John Smith was an open book.

"What is it?" she finally asked him.  He smiled, and Rose felt a moment of relief, knowing that whatever it was, it couldn't be bad.

"I had this wonderful dream last night.  The two of us were standing under the most incredible orange sunset watching these creatures flying across the sky.  And then you told me that you'd be with me forever.  It was so vivid, and you looked so beautiful.  I wanted to see you under an orange sky.  And the sunset tonight is perfect for it."

Rose turned to look behind her, and realized that he was right.  The sun had set deeper as they had hurried through the city, and now there was a beautiful burnt orange sky, framing the London sky behind her.  

"I've been thinking about that dream all day, Rose.  I can't get it out of my head.  I have been so much happier since you came into my life.  It seems as if, all of a sudden, the loneliness is gone, and I truly believe that I don't have to feel that way anymore.  I hope it's the same for you, Rose."

Rose stepped closer to him, taking his hand, and bringing it up to her lips for a light kiss.  "You do help, John.  Spending time with you has made me so much happier than I thought I could possibly be here.  It's not perfect.  I still miss the people I lost.  But I love being with you."

"You've lost so much," he breathed softly to her. "If I could just give you back a fraction of what you've lost..."  He paused, and Rose studied his face while he collected his thoughts.  "Rose," he continued.  "I never want to be apart from you.  I love you so much, and if you would let me do what I can to make you happy again, I would do everything possible, every day of my life, to keep you from feeling alone.  Will you let me try, Rose?  Will you marry me?"

The question startled Rose. She studied the Doctor's face, and looked into the Doctor's eyes, but her mind was trapped trying to interpret a question that would have never come from the Doctor's lips. "You...you want to marry me?" she asked.

John's eyes widened at the question.  "You can't be surprised about this, Rose.  I thought I had been very clear with you about how much I love you.  We're both alone...there's no one else.  Why wouldn't we marry each other?"

"You have been clear," Rose insisted.  "I never once doubted your feelings...but marriage?  That never even occurred to me."

"Why wouldn't it occur to you?  It's a fairly obvious next step in this relationship."

"I don't know!" Rose insisted, because she had to.  But she knew exactly why it never occurred to her.  It was an obvious next step for 1914 culture, but in her natural time, in 2007, it wouldn't be an obvious next step at all.  As far as John Smith knew, he and Rose Tyler had only been dating for four months.  In Rose's world, a marriage this rushed would be questioned and criticized.  Everyone would assume that she was pregnant.  Here, in 1914, John Smith would never even think to ask her to spend the night.  Not until they were married.

"Can you give me time?" Rose finally asked.  "I do care for you very deeply, John.  But I need to figure out what that means, and if I even want to get married."  His expression fell at her words, and Rose quickly reached up to his face, and lifted his cheek to force him to look into her eyes.  "No, don't do that," she insisted.  "This is not me saying no.  This is just me saying, not yet.  Don't give up on me yet, do you hear me?"

He smiled sadly at her.  "I understand perfectly.  But I wish you had said yes."

"Just give me time," she insisted once more.  "I need time."  She tiptoed up to press a soft kiss to his lips, a promise that this conversation wasn't over.  And then she slid her hand into his once more, while together they walked along the Thames, watching as the orange sky slowly dimmed into darkness and night overtook them both.