Once upon a time, the world spun steadily beneath Dr. John Smith's feet. He could feel it sometimes when he was with her, that girl who'd turned his life upside down so many times. He needed the world to spin when he was with her. He needed the earth to maintain its proper rotation, lest the force of gravity give up and let them drift away into the clouds.
But the earth stopped spinning six months ago when he looked into his lover's eyes and saw no light in them. He is the one moving now, instead of the earth—he and the little flame-haired child whose bouts of temper are frequent and unparalleled. Not a week has gone by that Jenny hasn't erupted into screams or dissolved into tears.
He teaches at a university three days a week; Jenny attends school while he teaches. Their off days and holidays are spent learning in a different way: she will choose a place on the great map in the study and they'll go by zeppelin. She learns cultures and languages. They meet people, eat food, see monuments, get terribly lost. He tells her stories of events that happened there, stories of the world from which he came. She soaks up the information like an imploded star; the gravity of everything they are running from requires a constant stream of information to keep her distracted.
Still, she asks. She asks what happened to her Rose, why her Rose and her daddy didn't get married like they'd said they would. He lies and tells her it was the sickness that took Rose's memory, but he knows she will not believe him for much longer. Whenever she asks, he hopes that she will believe the lie for a little longer, because the truth is difficult. Jenny saved Rose's life, but without proper training, she took more of Rose's memory than was necessary, leaving Rose with no recollection of the Bad Wolf, no recollection of most of her life, and certainly no recollection of them. He cannot bring himself to lay such a heavy burden on such small shoulders.
Today is Jenny's birthday. He isn't sure of her age—her unbelievable history would confuse even the most brilliant Time Lord minds—but he is sure that the twenty-fourth of July is her birthday. He has plans to take her to the book shop and let her roam as long as she pleases.
She has yet to come downstairs for breakfast, though it's nearly six in the morning. He hears the slap of the newspaper on the porch and goes to retrieve it. It has landed face-down and he doesn't see the article until he's in the kitchen again.
VITEX HEIRESS TO MARRY YOUNG EXEC
He drops the entire newspaper into the rubbish bin as Jenny finally comes into the kitchen and sits at the island counter, her expression melancholy. He serves breakfast and they eat in silence. She doesn't mention the missing newspaper, and he doesn't comment on her unusual reticence. When she is finished, she does not ask to be excused; she puts her dishes in the sink and goes upstairs. He washes the dishes and puts them back in the cupboard, then retreats to his study.
In the top drawer of his desk, beneath all the pens and pencils and stacks of post-its, there is journal bound in soft brown leather. Its pages are full of drawings and writing in the elegant script he alone can read: ideas and schematics for his new time machine. He is not interested in any of it. Taped to the inside of the back cover is a photograph of himself, Rose, and Jenny. He and Rose are walking hand in hand down the street, beaming like the lovers they were. Jenny sits on his shoulders, giggling, her arms around his forehead to keep her balanced. It is proof that the Rose he knew is not just a dream.
He hears the shuffling of small feet and reflexively snaps the book shut. Jenny looks tired and sad. He puts the book away in his desk and gestures for her to come to him. She climbs up in his lap, all skinny legs and knobbly knees, and snuggles up against his chest. He kisses her hair and wraps his arms loosely around her. She gives no pretence, no explanation for the silent sobs or the tears, but he knows: she misses Rose. Rose's absence has taken its toll on the little girl: some days bring explosive tantrums and others false smiles, but days like today bring only tears.
It is some time before she asks him if they can skip the book shop and go somewhere on their great map.
He does not deny her.
A/N: Three and a half weeks later, my "chapter-a-day" story is finally finished... obviously, I failed in that regard, but it's okay. At least I finished writing it, right?
My beta deserves cookies and much tea for making sure these chapters have been satisfactory and not completely stupid.
The Doctor, Jenny, and Rose will return in the next instalment of my Pete's World series, "Red and White"... stay tuned!