Heavily influenced by - but somewhat completely different from - Luna Lovegood5's "Once Upon a Time".

Beta'd by Anjirika and maven13.

Chapter 6 - Proposition

Somehow, they made it through the following week. Rose had thought the kiss - kisses - might make things awkward, but that wasn't the case. Maybe it was the maid's uniform, but John was perfectly professional whenever he passed Rose in the corridors, or when she came by his room on her duties. He wasn't cold, but he remained at a respectful distance, even while smiling at her and telling her how wonderful it was to see her.

She almost wished he wouldn't be so professional, but then remembered she wasn't supposed to be encouraging him. Not too much, anyway.

Jenny, for her part, wanted every single juicy little detail of Rose's afternoon with Mr. Smith. And when she learned that Rose would be going to the dance with him that weekend, Jenny took to calling her "Cinderella" - only in private, and all in good fun.

"You're proof there's hope for us domestics, yet," she said.

And while Rose doubted her new friend would have taken "no" for an answer, Rose did promise that Jenny could help her get ready for the dance on Saturday.

There was one rather awkward evening when Rose and Jenny were heading into the village together in the middle of the week. John and two other teachers were leaving the school at the same time, and John offered to escort the ladies. The other teachers politely agreed, but the group soon arranged themselves into a strange sort of formation: John and Rose preceded by the other men, and followed by Jenny.

The men carried on their conversation, oblivious to the girls, and John followed suit, looking horribly embarrassed every time he spoke to them. Neither of the girls spoke up uninvited, but Jenny kept grinning at Rose whenever she caught her eye.

When they reached the village, and John realized the girls were not invited into the pub, his embarrassment increased. But with a warm, "Good evenin' Mr. Smith," Rose tried to tell him it was alright.

"Good evening, ladies," John told them, looking desperately apologetic. He didn't actually leave until one of the teachers called out to him from the door to the pub. Then he shook himself and hurried inside.

Jenny "tsked" beside Rose, shaking her head as they watched John disappear into the pub. "Completely besotted, that one," she said, with a smirk.

Rose rolled her eyes, but couldn't exactly deny it. It was so sweetly obvious.

Jenny turned towards Rose. "An' yer not much better, Cindy," she added, laughing.

Rose was about to retort to the Cinderella reference, when a bright, green light streaked overhead in the night sky. With a sudden dread in the pit of her stomach, she asked, "You see that?"

Jenny was staring off at the horizon where the light had disappeared. "What was it, d'ya think?" she asked.

Rose knew just what she thought it was, but she was praying she was wrong. Still, best to make sure, she thought. "Where is that, over there?" she asked Jenny.

"Cooper's field," Jenny told her, and Rose headed off into the woods. "You can't just run off!" Jenny called after her, but Rose had to see for herself. She had to make sure it wasn't the Family. Not with only two weeks to go.

Fortunately, when they arrived, Cooper's field was decidedly vacant.

"Must'a been just a shootin' star," Jenny guessed, panting to catch her breath.

"Yeah," Rose agreed, but her eyes kept searching the sky as they walked back to the school.

By Saturday evening, Rose had mostly forgotten about the meteor. She had mentioned it when she had visited the TARDIS, but the ship made no reply she could discern. Whether that was because the TARDIS didn't find anything wrong, or simply because the ship was in low power mode, Rose wasn't sure.

And tonight, Jenny wouldn't let her worry about anything other than getting ready for the dance.

"Where did you get this?" Jenny asked in awe, fingering the layers of delicate fabric as Rose held her dress up to herself.

Rose had wondered why the TARDIS had bothered with the fancy dress in her suitcase, when everything else was plain, simple, and befitting a servant. Strangely enough, she now had a use for it. "It was a goin' away present, from John's family," Rose invented.

"That must be some family," Jenny said, ending her inspection of the dress to retrieve a hairbrush. She gestured Rose into a chair. "Think they were plannin' on you joinin' them, back when you first left?"

"Joinin'?" Rose asked, not entirely following.

"Well," Jenny said, as if it were obvious, "you don't think it'll be too much longer 'fore he asks, do ya?"

"It better be," Rose said before she could stop herself. She didn't know what she'd do if John went and did something like that. And it would be her own fault, too, going along with this whole dating and dancing thing. She shook herself and tried to explain. "We're just good friends," she said. "We're gonna be leavin' soon, like I said, and this whole teacher-servant thing'll be history."

"He doesn't act like he's plannin' on leavin'," Jenny told her.

"He doesn't exactly know, yet," Rose said. She chewed her lip, trying to think of how to put it. "It's like, he's got an early inheritance comin' to him, but it's a surprise," she said, twisting around in her chair. "The schoolteacher's just an act. What he really wants to do is travel... anywhere, and help everyone. And I'm goin' with him, and I really wish you would, too."

"I don't want anyone supportin' me," Jenny said, shaking her head as she pressed Rose back down into the chair so that she could brush out her hair. "At least here I'm earnin' my keep."

Rose obediently sat still. "But it's not like that," she insisted. "It's more like sharin'. And there's plenty of chances to 'earn your keep', just by tryin' to keep him alive."

Jenny laughed, setting the brush on her bed and twisting Rose's hair up. "You do say the craziest things sometimes," she told her. "Keepin' him alive? What's he plannin' to do out there in the world, then?"

Rose wanted to tell her everything, but knew she had to wait. When the Doctor was back to normal and the TARDIS was back to normal, then she could just show her. "Well, y'know," Rose said, "even just here in the school, it's more than I can do to keep him from fallin' down the stairs."

John flipped back through the new journal, past drawing after drawing of Rose. Some were of her alone, some included him, or even their children. He came to the first page, the drawing he had done of her last weekend. His dreams were still filled with her as the Doctor's golden companion, but the Rose on the page before him was the woman he wanted to dream about. He turned the page over, to the very beginning of the book and wrote in a title: "Journal of Possibilities".

He put the book away, then stood nervously before the mirror, adjusting his tie, brushing his hair, fixing his collar. He had happily told the other faculty that he was going to the village dance, yes, with Rose. Some had said nothing, others had told him quite seriously that it was a bad idea. But he couldn't explain why he was so certain it was right. He knew in his head that their respective stations should make them incompatible.

But he just didn't care.

He was now certain that he would love Rose no matter what her station. She could be Dame Rose of the Powell Estate, or a shop girl - that is, a, a, servant girl. And whatever is Powell Estate? But, regardless, he had loved her when she was a child, and he loved her now. Where he knew he should see a servant, he only saw the strong, beautiful woman she had become.

He moved to his wardrobe and reached into the breast pocket of his traveling suit, retrieving the small object that lay within. And, he thought, if all went according to plan, he would very soon be removing her from her current station altogether.

Rose twirled while Jenny applauded. "Definitely Cinderella," Jenny told her.

"Thanks, Fairy Godmother," Rose replied with a curtsy, when a knock sounded at the door. "Just a minute!" Rose yelled, as she and Jenny hurriedly straightened up the room. "You sure you don't wanna come?" Rose asked Jenny.

"Naw," Jenny said, grabbing her coat. "I'm sure you'll get away with it, but they'd never let me in, 'specially without an escort. Old Mrs. Wilbur's on the other side of the woods. She could use a visit."

When all was ready, Jenny opened the door. As expected, John was standing there. "Good evening Miss, a, Miss Jenny, isn't it?" he greeted, hesitantly.

"Good evenin', Mr. Smith," Jenny replied with a nod, then stood aside to let him in the room. She slipped out behind him, and sent a wink towards Rose before she closed the door.

"Good evening, Rose," John said, stepping towards Rose once they were alone.

"John," she replied, delighting in his taking in her appearance.

"You look absolutely beautiful," he said, reaching for her hands.

"Not bad yourself," she told him, appreciatively.

She somehow managed to keep the 'for a human' comment to herself. He really wouldn't get it, no matter how completely appropriate it might be. She wondered, briefly, what the Doctor would think of the situation. Thinking of the Doctor made Rose really look at John, and she couldn't help but notice he seemed a little odd.

He was squeezing her hands in little twitchy motions, as if he wanted to do or say something but wasn't sure how to go about it. "You okay?" Rose asked.

He started, and Rose fought not to laugh. "I'm fine, thank you. Yes. Um," he looked around the room, as if searching for inspiration. Then, he seemed to abandon whatever it was going to say, and picked up her coat, instead. "Perhaps we should go, then?" he asked, holding the garment up for her. She slid into it, and he moved quickly to get the door, gentlemanly ushering her out ahead of him.

As they walked, Rose could almost imagine she was with the Doctor on their way to some fancy alien ball. She was playing dress-up in a period dress, and he was in his suit - albeit distinctly lacking in pinstripes. But while she held John's arm, he walked almost stiffly beside her. No hands in his trouser pockets, no leaning into her with the flow of his historical discourse like she was used to with the Doctor. And the look on his face... it was like... delighted infatuation. Not... whatever it was she saw when the Doctor looked at her.

John made small talk as they went, telling Rose little things that had happened that week with the students, or commenting on the beautifully clear evening. All the while, Rose was under the impression that he really wanted to say something completely different.

Her suspicion was confirmed, when John drew them to a halt. They had just reached a clearing on the outskirts of the village. The stars were shining clearly, but they were still sheltered from the wind by the surrounding forest. John carefully removed Rose's arm from his own, and turned towards her, taking her hands.

"Rose, before we go to the hall," John took a deep breath and shook his head. "Before I let another heartbeat pass," he corrected himself, looking her in the eyes. "I want... could you...," he dropped his gaze, gripping her hands hard.

Something was definitely wrong here, Rose thought. But what? "John, what's the matter?" she asked.

Still not looking at her, he lowered himself to one knee. Rose's mind flashed back to his apology. She was hoping this was just more dramatics, but she couldn't help the fear that something was really wrong. Was he about to pass out?

He finally looked up at her, and Rose was relieved to see how clear his eyes seemed. But then he reached inside his coat. She thought back to Jenny asking about John "asking", and she was suddenly anything but relieved.

Even as John touched the ring in his pocket, Rose pulled her hand away, stepped back, and turned to continue walking towards the hall. "C'mon, we're gonna be late," she said, not even looking at him.

"Rose," he laughed, springing to his feet just in time to catch her hand, "it can wait. I rather wanted to ask you something." When he turned her towards him, John was startled to see she looked sad, almost angry. "Rose?" he asked.

She chewed on her lip, giving him no response.

Well, at least she was standing still, he thought. John held her hands, and dropped back down on his knee. This seemed to worry Rose even more, but he didn't know what else to do. "I wanted to ask," he began, letting only one of her hands go so that he could retrieve the ring. "I wanted to know if you, Rose Tyler," he held up the ring to her, "would consider," he cleared his throat, "if you would possibly do me the honor of..."

She had closed her eyes when he had said her name, but she opened them now, looking down at the ring with a sickly kind of apprehension.

John couldn't imagine what had affected her so, but he forced the words out, hoping that everything would be alright again once she heard them. "Rose, marry me. Please."

After what seemed like an interminable pause, she whispered, "Two weeks," then shook her head. "You couldn't wait two..." she trailed off, looking around at the village.

John did not understand. "No," he said, "I couldn't wait, not any longer." He didn't know what two weeks had to do with anything, but he wasn't about to wait even two more hours to tell her how he really felt. "I love you, Rose," he said, and she closed her eyes again. "I have ever since I've known you. But it's only now, since we've been here, that I've had some hope of you possibly returning my affections. And... and... Rose? What's wrong? Please."

He could see tears in her eyes, as she looked up at the starry sky. What he would give to know what was in her mind, let alone have her answer. "I can't," she said, then looked down at him. "I'm sorry, John, I know it's my fault, but I just can't." She gently pushed the ring away with her free hand.

John closed his fist around the ring, still kneeling in place before her. She can't. Her words resounded in his head. "Why?" he asked. "What's happened? Since last week... Rose, you know how I feel. And I thought you..." a terrible thought occurred to him, then. "Is there someone else?" he asked.

Rose laughed humorlessly, squeezing his hand as she shook her head. "No," she said. Then, more quietly, "That's the problem."

John realized the fading adrenaline was giving way to anger. He climbed to his feet. "I'm not enough?" he asked, harshly. "You were just, what? Passing the time with me? Waiting for someone else who could elevate you to a higher station?"

"What? No -" she denied, taking a step back, her eyes wide in surprise at his accusation. Then she looked away, John thought almost guiltily. "I just didn't expect..."

John fought to regain his calm. He didn't want to frighten her, but he couldn't understand her refusal. "Rose, you can't have misunderstood my intentions. Last week -"

"John, please," she interrupted, her voice thick.

He closed his mouth tightly, praying she would enlighten him. She wasn't unaffected, but he couldn't guess at her motives.

"I just..." she closed her eyes as the tears slipped down her cheeks. Instinctively, John reached up to brush them away. She held his hand - still gripping the ring - to her face, then looked at him. "Ask me again in two weeks?"

"What could two weeks...?" he began.

"Please," she whispered. "Two weeks. That's all I'm askin'. You can do that, can'tcha?"

"Rose, I'll love you for the rest of my life," he told her, releasing her hand to frame her face. "Two weeks won't change anything," he told her, making sure she could see his sincerity. "If you're not refusing me, then why... is this too sudden?" he asked, brushing her tears with his thumb. "You... you need time? Time to think?"

"Time," Rose repeated, then nodded, holding his forearms. "Please," she said. "John, please. Trust me." Then, to ensure he was the most bewildered man on the face of the earth, she suggested, "Let's just go to the dance, alright?"

He blinked at her, utterly unable to follow her shift in conversation. He shook his head, then dropped his hands. He uncurled his fingers to look at the ring. "In two weeks," he asked, "will your answer be 'yes'?"

He raised his eyes to hers, and could not comprehend the mix of emotions they seemed to hold. "If you ask," she whispered, "yeah."

His heart clenched. "How can you doubt me?" he asked, just as quietly.

He wondered what he could have done, what he could do.

He closed the distance between them, and kissed her.

Rose felt horrible, even as she responded reflexively to John's kiss.

He'd accused her, and she'd denied it, even though she was technically guilty. She was just passing the time with him, waiting for someone else.

But that someone else was him.

She didn't know what she could say, aside from asking for time. Just a little more time.

A week and a half, even, and she'd have the Doctor back. He could come out of hiding, and they could put this all behind them.

Because her Doctor would never, never, never be down on his knee, asking for something as human as a wedding. Not to someone as human as her. Whether he loved her or not...

Approaching footsteps caused them to break apart, suddenly. John still looked heartbroken.

"Two weeks," Rose repeated, quietly, then glanced behind him to see who was there. "Jenny?"

The girl looked awful. Rose wondered what had happened, why she was even in the village at all, instead of with Mrs. Wilbur.

John turned around when Rose nodded over his shoulder. It was Jenny.

"I need to talk to her," Rose said. "Could you go on ahead? Maybe get us some drinks?"

He looked back at Rose. There was nothing he could say, right now. She was telling him the conversation was over, at least for the moment. He found it hard to get his head around the fact that she still wanted to go dancing. But she hadn't said "no", she'd only said "two weeks", whatever that meant. "I will see you soon, then," he croaked out past the lump in his throat.

Timothy Latimer slipped quietly into the village hall through the back door. He could hardly fathom why he was listening to a talking watch, but he had followed Mr. Smith as he left the school with Miss Rose, just as instructed. He skirted the edge of the hall, until he found an empty, out of the way table. He looked cautiously around as he sat, hoping he would go unnoticed. It seemed most people were preoccupied with the dance - except for Lucy Cartwright. She was sitting two tables away with a red balloon and no sign of her parents. Tim didn't understand why he was so glad she didn't notice him, but the watch kept repeating, "Hide me. Hide me."

It wasn't long before Tim saw Mr. Smith, himself, enter the hall. His mind was filled with more confusing images from the watch, just at the sight of him, and he shrank back in his chair.

Mr. Smith had divested himself of his coat, and was standing by the refreshments table with two mugs. Tim hadn't seen Miss Rose, and it seemed Mr. Smith was looking for her.

Suddenly, she entered. Rose slammed the hall doors closed behind her, and ran to Mr. Smith as soon as she found him. She dragged him by the elbow, right to the back of the hall, and seated him at the table between Tim and Lucy.

"I'm sorry, John," she said, quickly, "this is gonna sound really crazy, but we've got to get back to the school and find your watch."

Tim sat up straighter, wondering if he should give them the watch and be rid of it. But the watch kept saying, "Hide me."

Mr. Smith made no reply for a full three seconds, and then asked, "What?"

Rose sighed, hanging her head. "The Family, they're here," she told him. Images from the watch swirled in Tim's mind, horrible screaming, lizard-like faces, green fire. "You wrote about 'em, in your journal, remember?" Rose went on.

"My - what?" Mr. Smith asked. "My journal?"

Rose sat down next to him, gripping his hands. "John, that journal's true. Everything in it's real. You. Are. The Doctor."

Tim tried to disappear in his seat. At the mention of "the Doctor" even more frightening images of Mr. Smith surfaced.

Mr. Smith shook his head, and freeing his hands from hers, held Rose's face. "Rose, that's just an invention. Dreams, that's all." She brushed his hands away. "What on earth's come over you?" he asked. "Outside, and now this?"

"You're the invention, John," Rose told him, forcefully. "The Doctor had to hide - from the Family that's here, right now - so he put himself in that fob watch of yours and became human." Tim gripped the watch tightly beneath the table where he sat. "You wrote about it," Rose continued. "You've got to remember, even a little bit. We need to go back to the school and find it and bring the Doctor back, 'cause they've found us." She was shaking by the time she added, "They've got Jenny. They took her over, just like on Villengard."

No sooner had she said this, than the front doors to the hall burst open. Tim recognized the maid, Jenny, and his classmate, Jeremy Baines, and Mr. Clark from Oakham Farm.

Rose quickly gripped Mr. Smith's arm and said, "Just forget what I told you, yeah? Shut up and forget it."

Rose sat close to John, partially blocking his view of the new arrivals in the hall. His mind reeled at what she had told him. How could she seriously believe what she had said? He knew she had an active imagination, and was open to new possibilities, but to actually believe that he was the Doctor -

An explosive blast rang through the room, and he jumped in his seat.

"We asked for silence!" Jeremy Baines announced. John could see him along with Jenny and Mr. Clarke, all holding strange, green firearms. "Now then," Baines continued, "we have a few questions for Mr. Smith."

John's mouth dropped open, but before he could consider a reply, a little girl at the next table over said, "No, better than that." She slid from her chair and walked calmly up to the trio. "The Time Lord is playing a trick; he's hidden in a watch," she said. "I heard them talking. The teacher, he is the Doctor."

John climbed unsteadily to his feet, motioning for Rose to stay out of the way as he faced his accusers. The insanity was apparently contagious.

Baines smiled sweetly, condescendingly at him. "You took human form," he concluded.

"Of course I'm human, I was born human!" John replied, hotly. "As were you, Baines, and Jenny, and you, Mr. Clarke! What is going on? This is madness!" What was happening to the universe around him? First Rose, and now this?

"And a human brain, too!" Baines laughed. "Simple, thick, and dull."

"He's no good like this," Jenny complained.

"We need a Time Lord," Mr. Clarke put in. John was astounded. How did they know that phrase? Was this all some elaborate play acting? But that would mean that Rose... she wouldn't betray him like that. She couldn't.

"Easily done," Baines told them, then stepped towards John and raised his gun. John stepped back instinctively, knocking his chair over in the process. No, he didn't think this was an act. "Change back," Baines ordered.

John was utterly at a loss. "I don't know what you're talking about," he told him.

"Change back!" Baines shouted, petulantly.

"I literally," John shouted right back, "Do. Not. Know -"

Rose screamed, "Get off me!" as Jenny stepped forward suddenly and hauled her to her feet.

John moved toward them, but Jenny quickly put her gun to Rose's head.

"She's your sweetheart, isn't she?" Jenny taunted him. "Doesn't this scare you enough to change back?"

"I don't know what you mean!" John told her desperately. He would change into whatever they wanted, if he could, if it would save Rose. But he didn't know -

"This body has traces of memory," Jenny continued "The maid, Jenny, expected he was about to propose to this one." She shook Rose roughly by the arm as she spoke.

Baines laughed, even as he continued pointing his gun at John. "Have you enjoyed it, Doctor?" he asked. "Being human? Has it taught you wonderful things, are you better, richer, wiser? Then I have a little proposition for you. Change back, or the girl dies." John looked into Rose's eyes, hoping to find some kind of answer. "Your choice."

To be continued. . . in "03 09AU The Family of Blood".