Fandom: Doctor Who (Tenth Doctor)
Summary: At the age of three-and-twenty, Jane Austen was not a young woman anyone would have supposed destined for a remarkable life. And then she met the peculiar Dr. Smith.
Spoilers: None, really
At the age of one-and-forty, Jane Austen is not a woman one would necessarily expect to have led a remarkable life. On this count, however, one would be entirely mistaken.
She has, by the time this particular February morning rolls around, already published four well-received novels and can count the Prince Regent among her many admirers (though the prince cannot claim the same of her). She has laughed often and much, won the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, earned the appreciation of honest critics and endured the betrayal of false friends. And she has, with her own eyes, witnessed wonders far beyond the imagining of even the most learned men of her age.
She has also, in the last year, begun to suffer from a slow, irregular deterioration in her health. Though she makes light of her condition to those around her, she secretly feels the weight of her own mortality pressing upon her. The days may be growing longer with the approach of spring, but to Jane they have never seemed shorter. By April she will be confined to her bed; by July her earthly remains will be laid to rest in the nave of Winchester Cathedral.
But this is only February and in February she can still walk under her own power (most of the time), can still think and laugh and — most importantly — write. In fact, she has just begun a new novel the month before, and though she will never finish it, on this bright, cold February day she still believes that she can.
She sits in the parlor of her mother’s house at Chawton where she now resides with her sister Cassandra and her friend Martha Lloyd. (The league of old spinsters, she sometimes calls the three of them, but she would not trade this comfortable situation for all the husbands in England.) It’s a Sunday and the others have gone to services but Jane has stayed behind, pleading infirmity, though in truth it is her disposition that isn't up to the challenge today rather than her constitution.
She ought to be working on her latest novel, which may or may not be called The Brothers, but her concentration is vexingly poor this morning. It is the most welcome sort distraction, therefore, when she hears a strangely familiar sound outside — a sound she has not heard for 18 years, yet has remained firmly etched in her memory. She rises, her hand involuntarily clutching the cross she wears at her throat, and moves to the window. Out in the garden, between the primroses and the epimediums, a tall blue box begins to take shape before her eyes.
When she finally makes her slow, painful way outside he is there waiting for her — her impossible man and his impossible machine. He leans jauntily against the side of the box, arms crossed; the door, she cannot help noticing, hangs tantalizingly open. His face lights up when he sees her (and blessedly betrays no dismay at her prematurely aged appearance).
“Miss Austen!” he calls merrily, pushing himself upright and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Dr. Smith,” she replies.
“Told you that’s not my name.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “Everyone should have a proper name in civilized society.”
He grins, and now that she’s drawn closer she can see that he has not aged a day from her memories of him. In fact, she’s almost certain he is still wearing the same clothes.
“You came back,” she says.
He cocks his head to the side — as if even he is surprised by this fact — and plunges his hands into his pockets. “I did, didn’t I?”
A magpie calls from the bare branches of nearby birch and it occurs to Jane that she has left the house without her coat. She ought be cold, out here in the chill February air, but she’s not. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“I was thinking,” he says. “About that trip we talked about. Still fancy a go?”
A dull ache blooms in her chest, a pain that has plagued her repeatedly through the years, and has nothing at all to do with her recent illness. The hand that isn’t clutching her cane moves once more to the cross at her throat.
“Just a quick one, mind. Have you back home safe and sound before the others notice you’re gone. Still, should give us plenty of time to catch that falling star.”
“Oh, yes,” she says. “Yes, please.”
He offers his arm and she takes it gratefully, allowing him to escort her back into his little blue box that isn’t so little as it appears. And for this one bright shining moment, all the wide wonders of the universe are spread out within her frail grasp.