I have spent the past six months dealing with computer issues. I can't believe it's been so long! You all have my deepest apologies. The problem wasn't very obvious so I had to try all sorts of trouble shooting measures before working it out with the help of tech support. The hard drive had to be wiped clean, and that was beyond stress-inducing. Luckily I was able to save just about everything, although I will always mourn a cute wip that I'm trying to recreate but just know will never be the same.
The start of the new year was dreary and dull. The streets were covered in gray, slushy snow, and the sun had disappeared weeks ago. The post-holiday spirit was one of sheer, utter despair.
"I mean, it's like a switch was turned off!" Iris complained at the end of January. "All those lovely shoppers during December, and then come the end of the sales, everyone disappears!"
It was a cold, grey Tuesday afternoon. Even the lights blazing in the shop barely made a dent in the darkness outside. Rose sat on one of the blue and yellow sofas in front of the dressing rooms, toying with her necklace and nodding and murmuring on occasion when it seemed like Iris required it. They'd had one customer all day, and after trying on all the evening gowns on the racks and leaving a tremendous mess in the dressing room, she hadn't bought anything.
"I know that's how the business works, and goodness knows Mr. Troy warned me..." Iris sighed. "I'm not having fun being a businesswoman, Rose."
"I'm shocked," Rose replied dryly. "Being hit on by deliverymen, condescended to by the bankers, called unnatural by the very women who buy the dresses you've picked out."
Iris scowled and flicked at a scarf hanging from a display. "It's enough to make me take up for women's liberation."
"It will get here soon enough, don't worry."
Iris glanced over. "You always say that, but I don't believe you."
"Fine. Wait and see." Rose thought about Iris's reaction to burning the bra, and smiled to herself.
The future of women's liberation wasn't enough to take Iris's mind off the shop. "I'm just tired of it all. I've got that entire side of the building to fill, and I hate filling it! Men are hardly pounding on the door to come in and browse our selection of ties." She glared at the menswear side of the shop, stacked with sweaters and hanging racks of ties. "It was Mr. Troy's vision, not mine."
"Does he have any suggestions?" Rose knew that their former employer kept in contact with Iris and was always suggesting ways to deal with chauvinistic men. He was also rather good at predicting the latest fashion trends. Rose felt bad that he'd been forced to abandon the shop, but he was in the midst of starting a new company somewhere warm and sunny, so he didn't mind.
"He wants me to do what I want."
"Which is?" Rose prompted.
Iris bit her lip. "I don't want to deal with menswear. I hate everything about it. I'd rather not deal with men needing alterations and adjustments."
Rose nodded in agreement. The majority of their male customers were respectful, but there had been one man who'd asked Rose to help adjust his trousers. He'd leered at her and gestured in a very unmistakable way. Unfortunately for him, Jim had been there to visit Iris, and the customer had found himself thrown out onto the street, his shoes tossed after him into the snow.
Rose had carefully not mentioned that incident to the Doctor.
"Well, just sell the lot, then. We can always fill it with more dresses. Oh!" Rose hopped up from her seat. "And think of all the shoes we could display!"
Iris stared over at the menswear side. "I've been wanting to place an order for more boots."
"I'll get the sale signs," Rose decided. "We'll clearance out everything and start over."
"And I just saw the cutest white knee high boots in one of the new catalogues," Rose continued, and she had to laugh at the look of horror on Iris's face.
They'd spent a busy afternoon plotting out how to redo the shop's floor plan, and Iris headed for home in a much better mood. She and Rose both carried home stacks of catalogues in order to consider new merchandise. Rose's bag was heavy but she was excited to have a part in the shop's changes.
The evening was dark but the snow made it seem much lighter and brighter out. Despite her heavy bag she stopped to pick up some takeaway from the Doctor's favorite curry place. He'd let her know that morning that he wouldn't be home at the usual time, and had begged her to be careful on the way home.
Next to the curry place was a wall of notices, missing dog signs and various advertisements. A series of fliers were stapled at eye level, looking newer than the other papers. Rose paused for a closer look on her way inside. Missing men from around the neighborhood, seven of them. Three of them lived quite close to her flat. One of them was Joe the postman. She briefly touched Joe's flier with her hand. As she moved away she caught sight of words scrawled on the board behind it.
She swallowed, hard, but the words did not inspire any fear in her. She did not remember, not at all, but suddenly she could hear her own voice.
I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words. I scatter them in space and time. A message to lead myself here.
She didn't remember, but she knew she had spoken those words. She had said them and she had done it.
"I create myself," she whispered. "Nothing to fear from those two words." She smiled at the message to herself, from herself, from so long ago, from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years in the future.
Rose paused at the building's entrance to juggle all of her bags. Mrs. MacMurray was sweeping down the front hallway as Rose stopped to check the postbox.
"Evening, Rose. Did you have a pleasant day?"
Rose pulled a face. "The usual. How are you?"
"Just trying to keep the floors clean. All this snow makes for a slippery floor."
Rose stashed the post into her coat pocket and looked closely at the older woman. She wore a pink housecoat and rubber boots and had a small red beret perched on her head.
"Are you feeling all right?"
The landlady smiled and then sneezed. "Fighting a bit of a cold," she said ruefully, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping her nose. "I'm not too fond of the cold weather."
She did look ill, her face pale and drawn. "Don't overwork yourself," Rose said in concern.
"Oh, it's nothing a nice hot drink won't fix." Mrs. MacMurray continued sweeping down towards the door. "Now you go right home and get dinner started. Your poor husband will be starving by the time he gets home."
Rose stared after her for a moment. Was she not coming home from a long day at work as well? Just when she forgot what time period she was living in, someone would remind her with a single sentence.
"Actually, he's a better cook then I am," Rose couldn't help saying over her shoulder as she headed upstairs. So what if he could barely boil an egg?
Mrs. MacMurray laughed. "Then he's miles above other men, my dear! If he's good in bed make sure you hang on to him!"
"Good grief," Rose muttered. Served her right for lying about his cooking skills.
The Doctor came home three hours later. Rose's dishes were cleared away, and she was curled up on the sofa looking at a fashion catalogue.
"Hello," he greeted her, leaning down for a kiss. His cheeks were flushed and cold.
"Hello," she returned with a smile. "What on earth were you doing there so late?"
He made a sound of disgust as he dumped his bag and various papers onto the floor, ignoring her protests.
"Staff meeting, student interviews, the usual nonsense. I swear, Rose, I have half a mind to simply not return tomorrow." He stripped off his overcoat and stomped off to the bedroom.
When he returned, changed into his warmest pajama bottoms and a hideous blue and orange sweater he'd found one day while shopping on his own, Rose had hung up his coat, tidied his papers, and had a hot bowl of curry waiting for him.
"Good lord." The Doctor pulled himself up and gazed at the scene before him. "This is appalling domestic."
Rose stared him down. "You can have domestic, or you can eat cereal for dinner."
"Domestic it is." He accepted the curry and sat on the sofa beside her. "Thanks."
Rose put away her catalogue and switched the television on. He mumbled something that she didn't bother trying to decode and sat back down beside him, wrapping a white afghan around her shoulders to stay warm. The flat's windows were rather drafty, despite the heaviest drapes she could find hanging there to cut the chill.
When he had finished the curry and the rest of the rice and drained the tall glass of water she'd poured him, he sat back with a sigh.
"That was absolutely delicious. I haven't eaten since breakfast."
Rose took his bowl away before it tipped over onto the floor. The shag carpet was hideous, but it wouldn't be helped by any bright orange stains.
"No time for lunch?"
"It was the most ghastly day, Rose. Ghastly." He leaned his head against the back of the coach. "Classes, and student interviews, and staff meetings. Three! Three staff meetings this afternoon. And I thought the Time Lords were terrible about meetings and minutes." He shuddered. "I've been assigned to some committee for party planning. I'm still not convinced that it's someone's idea of a prank. And then I have to deal with seeing -" He closed his mouth abruptly and sat up straight. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I don't mean to complain."
She leaned on her elbow against the sofa, facing him and smiling as he ranted. Now she brushed her hand through his hair. "Why do you keep doing this, Doctor? You could always just not return."
"And then where will we be?" he asked wearily. "I can't just swan off in the TARDIS at the end of an adventure, can I? We're rooted to this time and place, to this flat. If I leave and I have no place to go, how will we continue? We need money, and credentials, and all the sort of stuff that I never thought about because I hated to think about it!" He stood up and started to pace, angrily switching the television off when he was within arm's reach of it.
Rose watched him worriedly. He was a man of many moods, but this was something unfamiliar.
As quickly as his anger had started, it left him. He rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair before sinking to the floor and sitting with his head in his hands.
"I don't want to be doing this. But if we don't do this, we may not get back to our proper time. Our lives depend on someone who hasn't been born yet." His voice was muffled by his hands but she could still make it out.
Rose slid off the couch, her throw falling off her shoulders. She moved to him and sat beside him so she could wrap her arms around his shoulders.
"If we don't have a choice then we just have to make the best of it."
He lifted his head to look at her. His eyes were wide and fierce and a little bit afraid. "What if I don't want to make the best of it?"
"What choice do we have?" She spoke lightly, meaning it as a joke, but he turned to her and grabbed her hands tightly.
"I won't be a plaything for the universe," he got out between gritted teeth. "I won't let it have control over me."
She wanted to ask what he meant, but he held her face between his hands and kissed her. The force behind the kiss took her by surprise. She tried to speak but he continued to kiss her, pushing her to the floor and tugging at her clothes.
"What?" she managed to get out, but he continued to kiss her, wrapping his fist around the heart and key that she wore always, using it pull her closer.
She let him, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him back, letting him do what he wanted.