Author's Note- Written for Miss Jen B at the oh-she-knows Secret Santa exchange on livejournal. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday in the UK. It's known as Pancake Day. The tradition is to use up fats, creams, etc before Lent- so everyone eats pancakes. Enjoy. Happy Holidays!
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
"Rose!" The Doctor exclaimed, darting into her office and smacking a piece of paper dramatically on her desk. "I have the most brilliant idea."
Fully aware that the Doctor thought all of his ideas were brilliant, even the strange ones, Rose cautiously picked up the flyer. "The Ghosts of Christmas Past?"
"It's an exhibition. Says they have real ghosts from Victorian Christmases of yore." Rose surveyed the flyer. A woman in a full gown held a book of carols in front of a candlelit cottage and the text read, exactly what the Doctor had just parroted to her.
"So you want me to leave behind this very important paperwork I'm doing on our last mission to go see some people dressed up in costumes and standing in mist or somethin', yeah?"
The Doctor crinkled his nose. "Very important paperwork? Rose, there is no such thing."
Rose stifled a laugh. "Well s'not exactly exciting, but I've got to do it." She paused and pulled her fingers away from the keyboard. "Wait a mo, you're saying that there's no such thing as very important paperwork, and you're asking me to leave it behind and go out in the cold to go see ghosts?"
He pushed aside a stack of papers and sat on top of Rose's desk. "You act as if there is something irrational about this." She smiled and shook her head. "There is no way, in the whole of the universe, to make paperwork anything less than tedious. But you know as well as I know, that there are certainly ways in which the illusion of the supernatural can be created."
Rose clicked the 'x' in the right corner of her window and stood up, grabbing her coat that hung on the back of her chair. "Alright, but what're the odds that this… thing isn't just people in costumes with mist and cheesy Christmas music being played over a speaker? Maybe a little… fake snow too?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Higher than the odds are that being cramped up in here doing paperwork will become fun."
It looked a lot nicer on the flyer than it did in person. The entrance to The Ghosts of Christmas Past was made up of a plywood wall that spread across the entrance to a warehouse's back lot. Christmas lights were strung across the wood, and a hand-written sign was placed beside a gap in the wall- Ghosts of Christmas Past- PLEASE RING THE BELL FOR ENTRANCE.
"Bit dodgy, don't ya think?" Rose rubbed her hands together in attempt to keep them warm. It was bitter-cold out, and strong winds made it feel even more so.
"Not exactly what it said on the tin, but we'll see what's inside." The Doctor rang the bell. A few moments later, a willowy man of mid-height and middle age scrambled toward them. He wore a Santa hat perched sideways on his head and held a cashbox labeled "admission fees."
"Welcome to Ghosts of Christmas Past," he began, enthused. "I'm Bernard and I'll be your guide. Entrance is one quid a piece."
"Just one quid, really?" The Doctor scratched his head.
"Originally I had it at three quid, but no one was coming." He glanced down to his feet and his Santa hat drooped with him.
"Can't imagine why," Rose mumbled under her breath. He didn't hear. The Doctor had reached into his pocket to pay their entrance fear, but Rose, knowing that he probably wasn't carrying any cash, did it for him. "S'okay, I've got it Doctor." She gave Bernard two quid.
Bernard motioned the couple to follow him and they did, through a short passage made up of yet more plywood. As they got close to the end of the tunnel, the sounds of music wafted into their ears.
Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too; and God bless you and send you a Happy New Year. And God send you a Happy New Year.
We're not daily beggars that beg from door to door; but we are neighbors' children, whom you have seen before…
The carol continued and grew louder as they stepped into the expanse behind the warehouse. There was no fake snow, and there were few decorations. More strings of lights hung about, but everything else was provided by the 'exhibit.'
Men and women bustled about, bundled up in their old-fashioned winter best and talking amongst each other. A few children scampered here and there, avoiding their mother's feet. Snowballs flew back and forth among them but never impacted the ground. A group of carolers sang Here We Come A-Wassailing with great spirit and aplomb. None of them seemed to notice that they were standing on hard concrete, not cobblestone streets. In fact, they paid no mind to anything but each other. Minus said concrete, and the old warehouse behind them, it was the perfect picture of a Victorian Christmas. You could have made a greeting card from it.
Rose's eyes darted about, looking for the mist, or the projector. There was nothing of the sort. "Doctor…"
"Well would you look at this," he exclaimed. "Amazing. A very partial breach in time and space of just one small part of a London Street. Victorian. Now aren't you glad we came, Rose? Wonder what the year is? Has to be before 1879 because that's when the Victorian era ended in this universe. The queen was… mysteriously killed at a mansion in Scotland. Hmm, wish someone could have been there to save her."
"Time shift, yeah? So a bit of the past just… slipped into the present somehow?" Rose queried, glancing from him to the archaic scene before her.
"Very partial. They can't see us. Don't even know anything is wrong. Just carrying on their merry way." He paused and grinned. "Merry, heeeh."
Rose jabbed him in the arm and stifled a laugh. "That's terrible."
"Sorry, what are you two getting on about?" The momentarily forgotten Bernard cut in.
"Bernard, Bernard!" The Doctor swung around to face him. "Doctor James McCrimmon, Torchwood. We have some questions for you." He reached into his pocket and whipped out his trusty psychic paper, flashing it at Bernard. Although the Doctor had been forced to create a new sonic screwdriver upon joining Rose in her universe, his psychic paper had come with him. "I carry psychic paper in each suit," he'd explicated.
Rose cleared her throat and flashed her official ID. "Doctor, you do have an official Torchwood ID now. No reason to… y'know," she murmured under her breath at him.
"Oh. Oh right. Old habits die hard." He pocketed the psychic paper and pulled out his Torchwood staff ID instead. "Doctor James McCrimmon, as I mentioned."
"What do you need to ask? I done something wrong?" He stepped back, glancing surreptitiously at his exhibit.
"Not that we know of," Rose spoke up, "but we got to find out what's going on here if y'know what I mean. It's very abnormal."
"Yes, yes quite the incongruity," the Doctor seconded.
"When did these ghosts start appearing?"
"Oh I reckon… about a week ago. The warehouse is actually a personal storage business I run, and I came out back after work…. there they were. It's always the same thing, every day though. They repeat the same events. Now I've never been one to believe in ghosts, but there's no denying what I've got here. If they repeat the same thing over and over, it must mean they're not being able to cross over to the next world or what have you. But I guess no one believes it, so I only get a few visitors here or there come to my exhibition."
"A time loop!" The doctor proclaimed with a dramatic flourish. "Playing the same day over and over, and it's Christmastime. Brilliant! No wonder you were able to open a Christmas exhibit. Good thing it didn't loop on Shrove Tuesday or something. Not a big fan of pancakes."
"What the Doctor is trying to say is that, these aren't ghosts," Rose translated. "Sometimes a… fragment of the past can be… projected into the future. There's a breach, a hole in time and space here. They're not ghosts. They're the actual living people from back in the olden days. Am I making any sense?"
"Like time travel?"
"Yeah, sort of."
Bernard shook his head vehemently. "That doesn't make any sense. I can walk right through them. They've gotta be ghosts."
"I've been… lots and lots of places and seen things you can't even imagine," The Doctor began.
"Torchwood deals with some… really strange stuff," Rose interrupted him.
"Right. All at Torchwood, of course. I mean, no other places with strange things or… well anyway! I am telling you that there is no such thing as ghosts. There are lots of things that can appear to be ghosts, but everything has a scientific explanation. And this one is rather simple."
Rose got an idea. "Follow me Bernard, okay?" She requested sympathetically. Bernard nodded and trailed after Rose, who stepped straight into the throng of Victorian children, ladies, and men. They did indeed, step right through her. "What do you think of when you think of ghosts?"
Bernard shrugged. "I dunno Ma'am. Never thought about it much."
"Well they'd be cold right? Since they're dead, it might be a bit of a chill if they walked right through you."
"Makes sense well enough."
"So when they walk right through you, what'd you feel?"
"Nothing Ma'am. Nothing at all."
"Right and…" Rose bit her lip. "Why, if they were dead, would they be breathing? 'Cuz they pretty obviously are, if you look at them."
"Dunno. Maybe they don't realize they're dead, so they still go through the motion? You seen the movie. The ghost doesn't even realize he's dead so acts like he's alive."
She rolled her eyes but maintained her friendly demeanor. "C'mere then. Look at him." She stepped up next to an older 'ghost,' who was carrying a large bag as if he'd just finished shopping. Bernard joined her. "He's breathing isn't he? It's cold out whenever they are, so you can see his breath. Can't do that if you're dead, yeah?"
The Doctor beamed from his watching point several meters away. His Rose was indeed, exceptionally brilliant if he did say so (which he did indeed, quite often).
"Look I know it's weird, but it's gotta be less weird for it to be somethin' that can be explained than for it to be ghosts?" She smiled at him, encouraging. "I mean your exhibit is still good. S'not like a time shift isn't just as first-rate as ghosts."
Bernard nodded, seemingly conceding to her points. "But you're Torchwood. I know who you are. You're gonna make me get rid of it right?"
"Well I mean we're not some kind of law enforcement and…"
"Yes," the Doctor stepped up and piped in. "Unfortunately we'll have to seal the rift. The problem is, that while it's harmless now, if it continues it could become stronger. When that happens, not only will these people's images be projected into our time, but they could be transported themselves. That is… exceedingly dangerous."
"They'd be here? They'd travel through time."
"Something must have formed the rift. Some kind of impact, something alien, or maybe there's just a small rift in part of this London. Who knows. Every universe is different."
"But they'd travel through time, yeah," Rose answered his query. "And if they did they might be stuck here, and even if they weren't, it would be… very bad. Imagine, if the entire population of a London street over a century ago just vanished."
The Doctor bounced off from her, pausing to give her a grin. "It could cause a grand paradox."
"Paradox… what…?" Bernard fumbled.
"It could destroy the world," he lowered his voice dramatically. "You know, step on a butterfly and the like? Of course a segment of London Street is far bigger than just a butterfly. Butterfly could still cause more damage though. You never know…"
"Torchwood will compensate you for your lost business," Rose offered.
"All right, all right." He held up his arms in resignation. "I understand." Looking regretfully at his 'ghosts,' Bernard exhaled and shook his head. "Not made much money off them anyway, so the compensation will probably leave me better off. Even my family thinks I'm a nutter. Pictures I've snapped don't prove anything to them! Probably for the best that I close it…"
"Well… you can just console yourself with the fact that you were right." The Doctor popped the sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and began to fiddle with the settings. "I mean not right, but that you weren't crazy."
"Very comforting I'm sure, Doctor," Rose snorted.
"Do you pair need me to go so you can fix this time machine… travel rift or what?"
Rose shrugged. "Dunno, might be best. Da-Mr. Tyler is pretty insistent that we not be flashy in front of non-staff."
"Ooh yes," The Doctor agreed, "and I certainly cannot promise a lack of flashy." He flipped his sonic screwdriver, catching it in his hand with flair.
A few minutes later, The Doctor and Rose were left alone. They'd allowed Bernard some time to say goodbye to his ghosts (apparently he'd named them all), and he'd left them (along with his address and phone number, so he could acquire the promised compensation), taking down the sign at the entrance before driving home.
The first thing Rose did was let out a laugh, as if she'd been holding it in for several minutes. "Flashy? Did you add something to your sonic screwdriver to make it flashy or somethin'?"
The Doctor pouted. "Oi! It's subtly flashy."
"So what we gonna do? You have a setting on there for fixing time shifts or whatever?"
"Ah no, but the Time Lords had to deal with time being out of sync all the time."
"You learn that in school?"
His lips quirked up in a smirk and he pulled a pair of familiar glasses out of his pocket. "Just about."
She pressed herself against his side and watched him fiddle with the screwdriver. "So no setting then? What do you recommend? We've yet to deal with this yet here."
"No setting, but it'll help get the job done!" Triumphantly, he retracted the screwdriver. "That should do it!"
Rose's eyes averted to the oblivious apparitions who went about their business a few meters away. "Doctor…"
"I kinda wanna… watch them for a bit, if that's okay?"
"Ah?" He raised his eyebrows. "Why so?"
Rose bit her lip, pinking in slight embarrassment. "It's silly but, I know our TARDIS is growing and all that… but I just miss seein' stuff like this. I mean the first time we went to the past, we saw exactly this, right? I mean… more zombies and Charles Dickens and less cheery Christmas carols, but… sort of close."
She'd wandered over to the 'street' and was standing amongst the ghosts. They walked through her as they went about their lives. The Doctor leapt up beside her.
"You'll never believe this. I was with Donna this one time, and we hopped out of the TARDIS and met Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie! Oh she was brilliant. And all these murders started happening around her. Like being in an actual Agatha Christie book! Well it's a long story and I'll tell you later, but Donna didn't believe something like this could be happening. Thought it was impossible! She said it was like 'meeting Charles Dickens, and he's surrounded by ghosts. At Christmas.'"
Rose covered her mouth with her hands and laughed. "Seriously?"
"Seriously." He winked at her. "But I know what you mean, Rose. Oh I know exactly what you mean. It was marvelous, what you and I did together. And we'll do it again."
"And again and again!"
"And again!" He bounced over to a middle-aged man, who was caught up in reading a newspaper. His wife was next to him chatting lively about a Christmas pastry recipe with another woman. "What's the year? 1872. Good year! Not a very eventful Christmas, but it's a delightfully white one." He ran his hand through one of the snowballs held by a little boy's mitten clad hands.
Rose walked past the carolers, who were singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and her eyes widened at a pair that had just entered the scene. "Doctor, look at those two."
A small puppy ran by, its neck decorated with a sprig of holly. An imp of a boy chased after it with a spirited laugh. The Doctor watched them, then swerved away to look at Rose. She was observing a young couple. They walked arm in arm and both were beaming, the red of their cheeks only partially because of the cold weather. The wind in their time blew back her woolen bonnet, and he chortled and pulled it back on her head, giving her a clandestine kiss on the cheek as he did so.
"Kinda sweet, isn't it? I mean… not even talking, just… enjoying each other," Rose put her hands behind her back and rocked on her feet.
The Doctor placed his arm around her shoulder and she stopped swaying. "If we could talk to them, we could congratulate them on their engagement."
"Engagement? Eh, how d'yknow?" She pressed into his shoulder, returning his gesture of affection.
"Left hand, beneath her glove. You can see a slight bump on her ring finger. Can't imagine what else it would be." He pointed his finger and turned his wrist in a circle as he did so.
"Well," Rose argued, "they could be married already."
"Nah." The Doctor shook his head in the negative. "That right there is young love."
"Hey!" Rose grumbled. "That's not necessarily. Y'know we'd still act the same if we were…" In attempt to distract him from noticing what she'd almost just said, Rose leaned up and brought his face down for a kiss. The Doctor pulled away.
"That does remind me." He reached into his pocket. "I got something for you. Seems like as good a time as ever to give it to you."
Rose's heart began to beat rapidly, and she felt it ridiculous for it to be doing so. He was most likely about to give her a bizarre little trinket- a new pencil with a funny topper, or a coupon for a free caramel covered clementine (they had those in this universe during the holidays, as apples had somehow evolved to be a spring and early summer fruit here, as opposed to an autumn one). And silly as it would be, she'd love whatever it was anyway.
"Rose Tyler," he turned her towards him, one arm at the small of her back. The other hand held a small velvet box out to her. "I'd quite like, for you to marry me."
She gulped, a lump rising in her throat. Her eyes began to well up, but then almost as quickly, her face broke into an enormous grin and she began to laugh. "Did you just propose to me… in a lot behind a warehouse, in the middle of a rift in time and space?"
The Doctor quirked his head. "Well… I thought about a fancy dinner and the lot, but it didn't quite seem our style."
"And warehouse backlot is?" She was laughing and crying at the same time now.
"Spontaneous, untraditional? That's us." He popped open the ring box. "This on the other hand, isn't." The ring was citrine, surrounded by a small wreath of diamonds. "Lots of yellow. Quite appropriate for you. But you should consider this a placeholder."
"It's beautiful Doctor… you don't need to get 'nother one or anything…"
The Doctor gasped, mock dramatically. "We'll soon have the whole of time and space at our fingertips, and you think this is the nicest thing we can find?"
Rose took it out of the velvet box and slipped it onto her finger. "You gonna get me an alien ring?"
"Only appropriate that an alien gets you an alien ring," He grinned, marveling at Rose as she surveyed the ring on her finger, turning it in the light.
"Well an engagement ring is awfully domestic and quite human, so I thought maybe…"
"Oi!" The Doctor interrupted her teasing. "You think Earth is the only planet with engagement rings? The women of Coleoidea give eight engagement rings, one for each of their betrothed's arms. On Rairitiniasq, the men give each other sapphire and amethyst encrusted headbands, or sometimes belts. All kinds of things, but always a circle, because a circle is neverending." He pocketed the box and placed his other hand around her center, encircling her in his arms.
She returned the favor, pressing her cheek against his chest and wrapping her arms around him. "Well all right. But only if you promise that we can go to lots and lots of planets, so I can choose from a varied selection."
"Oh there are so, so many places I'd like to take you ring shopping, so I promise." He'd placed his chin on top of her head and she felt him grin.
"And after that we'll go to all kinds of places for our anniversaries, but we'll make sure to celebrate our anniversary almost constantly, instead of once a year?"
"Yes, of course. After all, every day is an anniversary of something."
"Sounds perfect." She lifted her head and looked up at him. Their eyes met, and he pulled her chin up, catching her lips in a kiss. Deepening it, Rose moved her arms up and he did as well, catching them in her wind-blown hair. Snowballs flew past them, carolers sang of The Holly and the Ivy, and the young couple walked around them, as if momentarily recognizing the presence of someone else.