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Behold, the first story in a new series! This was inspired by [livejournal.com profile] then_theres_uss Challenge #91: AU., and this photo promptPhoto prompt ) This will not be the last. This story has eaten my brain, and I have many, many ideas for it, so I hope you read it and enjoy.
Title: As The World Falls Down
Genre: Romance, Adventure, Mystery
Pairing: 9/Rose, other special guests
Rating: Teen
Summary: Rose Tyler rarely speaks. She is invisible. One day, she decides to take a walk down a tree-lined road to meet the madman that lives at the other end.
Author's notes: Yes, this messes with canon a bit. It is an AU. If you don't want canon tinkering, don't read AU. This story would never have come to be without the help of the greatest betas in the world: [livejournal.com profile] kelkat9[livejournal.com profile] onabearskinrug and [livejournal.com profile] who_in_whoville
The Tithe was typically a day of family feasting and small, private parties that took place after everyone had delivered their annual tribute to the Master to the designated processing center. As the Master himself had chosen to personally receive the London Tithe this year, the ruin of what had been called Royal Festival Hall in the old world was designated as the spot for both the receiving of the tithes as well as a village-wide feast that included four massive wild cattle, three boars roasting in pits and an array of vegetables and desserts donated by the villagers on top of their regular Tithe.
 
The grounds surrounding the ruin were decorated with bunting and huge sprays of wildflowers, and the best musicians in London had been scraped together to play festive music throughout the day. Jackie Tyler had spent the past three days in a fugue of work, mending and pressing the fanciest clothes for every person in London, it seemed. Everyone except for her daughter and future son-in-law. She was dressed in a handsome dress she’d nicked from an unsuspecting customer, altered and dyed beyond recognition. She was bringing the biggest tribute of her life to the Tithe; her combined incomes from taking in laundry and taking in johns had never been higher thanks to Mr. Gatesmith’s innovations. She stood near the boar roasting tents and scanned the crowd for her unimpressive daughter and her impressive beau.
 
The only reason she recognized Rose when she finally spied her was because she was on the arm of John Gatesmith. He was wearing his dark blue shirt and black cravat, smartly tied in a bow at his throat, with an embroidered waistcoat and a lush velvet frock coat with shining silver buttons over it all. His boots gleamed in the sun, as did the patent leather of her daughter’s brand new high-heeled dress boots. She was wearing spats of pale pink lace that exactly matched the frothy, off-the-shoulder confection she wore, complete with miniature pink top hat perched jauntily atop the pile of blonde curls at the back of her head. Rose had never looked more beautiful. Jackie caught her daughter’s eye and waved in greeting. Rose’s smile hardened to stone and she turned and whispered to John, trying to turn away from her mother. John waved gaily back to Jackie before turning and leading Rose in the opposite direction. She saw their heads lean towards each other for a moment before Rose threw her head back in peals of airy laughter.
 
“What was that for?” John asked as they kept walking through the crowd. “Fake laughing.”
 
“Let her think we’re having a wonderful time,” Rose said.
 
John looked down at her with surprise. “We are havin’ a wonderful time. I am – aren’t you? Maybe I’m just more excited than you. I’m gettin’ married tonight.”
 
“Are you now?” Rose teased, grinning up at him. “I think I might be, too.”
 
“K-9 and I have been researching all the customs,” John said, squeezing her hand as he led her up the steps to the main entrance. “He’s got the ceremony all written out, and when it’s done we stomp on a glass, jump over a broom, throw rice at each other and smash cake in each other’s faces. I’ve made two cakes – one just for smashing, and the other for eating.”
 
“And the flowers?” Rose asked.
 
John shook his head. “No, no. We don’t smash the flowers. Here we are,” he said, taking a deep breath as he opened the door for her. “Are you excited?”
 
“Seeing the Master in person? How could I not be?” Rose said, doing a happy little dance as they headed to the registration table.
 
“John Gatesmith,” John said to the woman at the table. She flipped through a box of cards until she came to the one she was looking for. When she saw it, she drew her head back with surprise. She pulled his card out of the box and it was edged in gold foil.
 
“Congratulations, Mr. Gatesmith,” the woman said, awe coloring her voice. “You are one of the lucky ones who gets to give his tribute personally to the Master.”
 
Rose’s eyes went wide. John’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding, right?” he said, reaching for his card. He looked to Rose, who was grinning so widely it felt as if her face might rip in half.
 
“You’ll get to ask him straight out for a blessing!” Rose cried, clamping down on his arm with both hands. “I don’t believe it!”
 
John kept staring at her. “You’re coming with me.”
 
“Oh, John,” Rose gasped.
 
He grinned, bouncing excitedly. “I can’t face him alone, after all. I need you with me!”
 
Rose squealed, threw her arms in the air and jumped into his embrace. He spun her around and set her down and she did one more twirl before they were led to the special holding area to wait for their turn to give tribute. The “special holding area” turned out to be a room just off the stage with one wall partially blown out and a few battered folding chairs to sit in, but the cleaning crew had swept most of the rubble into a corner, so at least there was nothing to trip on as the two of them paced anxiously around the room.
 
“Mum is going to eat her heart out,” Rose said.
 
John clasped her hands in his. “The Master, the Master, savior of Earth, is somewhere in this building, and in less than half an hour, you and I are going to get to shake his hand!”
 
“I knew you’d be excited once you got here,” Rose said. “All those silly dreams were just nothing. It all feels right now, doesn’t it?”
 
“It does,” John said. “D’you think we’ve brought enough of a tribute?”
 
Rose dismissed the question with a shake of her head. “You know the Master doesn’t care about the tributes. Every year he says he only accepts them –“
 
“Because it makes us so happy to give them to him,” John finished. They both kissed their fingertips and touched them to their foreheads. “He is wonderful. Those dreams were nothing but dreams, after all. Praise to the Master. I’m so excited I can’t stand still!”
 
After a few minutes of the two of them being the only ones in the room, the door to the holding area opened and an elderly woman was shown in and brought to a seat by a young, dark-skinned woman wearing a smart black suit and high heeled shoes. She had straight, sleek black hair and a pretty face. She smiled in greeting to Rose, but when she looked at John she dropped her clipboard and took a stumbling step backward. John moved quickly and caught her much as he’d once caught Rose from falling, putting his arm around her back to steady her.
 
“Easy, girl,” he said with a chuckle. “Don’t take a tumble, now.”
 
The color drained out of the woman’s face and her mouth dropped open. “It can’t be,” she breathed. She winced and ducked her head forward, clutching her forehead with both hands.
 
“Rose, get a chair,” John said, holding the girl up to keep her from fainting. Rose slid a chair across the floor to him and he helped the woman into it and put his hand gently on her back while she bent forward in the chair.
 
“My head,” she gasped. Her hands were shaking and her face looked ashen. She finally raised her head and looked into John’s eyes. He smiled.
 
“You all right, now? D’you want me to get some help?” he asked.
 
“I know you,” she said softly, touching his face with her fingertips. An instant later her hand flew to her mouth and she jumped out of her seat. “Oh, my God!” She looked around at the room as if she’d just realized where she was. She leapt out of the chair and ran out of the room, leaving her clipboard behind.
 
“Miss!” John cried, picking up the clipboard to run after her. Rose followed him and they ran through the hallways behind the ruined stage, chasing the poor girl who had discovered by the third turn that she couldn’t run very fast in the type of heels she was wearing. She was pulling them off when John reached her, and Rose came up to them a few seconds later. The woman was looking at John in wide-eyed terror.
 
“You left your clipboard,” he said, holding it out for her take.
 
“Listen to me,” the woman said, reaching into her blouse to pull out an oddly shaped metal pendant on a long ball chain. She took it off and pressed it into John’s hand, looking up and down the hallway as she did. “You’re not who you think you are. I can’t believe you’re alive!” She lunged forward and embraced him, kissing his cheek. “You are you, aren’t you? Tell me something in there still recognizes me. It’s Martha, Doctor. Martha Jones.”
 
John pulled away from her as if she’d electrocuted him, stopping when his back hit the wall. “What did you say?”
 
“You’re not,” the woman who called herself Martha hesitated, waving her hand at his clothes. “You’re not this. This is all wrong. This is not you. You’re the Doctor. You’ve got to find the watch, Doctor. Find the watch and open it. I had it, but I lost it when the Master found me. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. Please tell me you forgive me!”
 
John stammered, looking from Rose to the frantic woman. She was crying, asking him over and over to forgive her.
 
“Tell her,” Rose said, squeezing his hand.
 
“I forgive you,” he said, absently patting his shoulder. He looked at Rose and shrugged.
 
“I can’t go with you,” Martha said, looking over her shoulder. “He has my family. He’ll kill them. You’ve got to find Jack and find the watch and open it, soon as you can. Find the TARDIS – that’s the key. You’ve got to save us, Doctor. You’re the only one who can.” She kissed him on the cheek again, gave Rose a passing glance, her gaze lingering on their clasped hands, and then ran down the hall in her stocking feet, holding her shoes and her clipboard in one hand, her head in the other.
 
John and Rose watched her leave. Once she was out of sight, he turned his attention to the pendant he was holding. It was a flat piece of silver, shaped like a thumb with a raised square design on one side, and a series of connected raised dots on the other.
 
“Martha,” Rose said at last. “The name from your dream.”
 
“And Jack,” John added. “Look at this thing, Rose. What is it?”
 
Rose took the pendant and examined it. “I’ve never seen a necklace like this before. She said to find the tardis; that it was the key. Is this the tardis?”
 
“I don’t know,” John said. “I’ve never seen the Tardis in my dreams. It’s lost.”
 
“What happened to Martha in your dream?” Rose asked.
 
“This is all madness,” John said, shaking his head and going back the way they had come. “Remember? We said it – it was all just dreams.”
 
Rose shook her head. “John, people from just dreams don’t usually walk up to you and hand you things when you’re awake.”
 
“It can’t be!” he snapped, stuffing the pendant into his pocket. “Did you hear what she called me? Over and over she called me that name. If she’s real, if this thing I’m holding is real, then maybe that name is me. D’you want that? Do you want to be married to the man that murdered the world?”
 
Rose leveled a gaze at him. “If you’re really him, then I don’t believe he murdered the world.”
 
“That’s blasphemy!” he whispered. “You’d say that here, today, with the Master in this building? He saved us all. The Doctor is the monster, not him. And I’m not the Doctor. I don’t care what some babbling madwoman says or gives me, whatever her name might be. I’m going to pay my tribute to the Master and then you and I are going to go home to be married and I’m going to throw this whatever-it-is in the creek and we’re never going to speak of it again!” He grabbed her hand and led her back to the holding area.
 
“Where have you been?” another woman with a clipboard snapped. “You’ve missed his welcome speech. You’re up next for your tribute.”
 
“I’m sorry,” John said, squeezing Rose’s hand. “I’m so nervous at meeting him I got a little sick.”
 
The woman’s smile softened a little. “It happens. Now, as soon as this woman finishes with her tribute, you two walk straight out there and just tell him what you’re giving in Tithe. He’ll tell you when to approach him and receive his thanks.”
 
John took a deep breath and blew it out again, looking down at Rose. She turned her gaze pointedly away from him, her lips pursed together.
 
“Oh, not now,” he whispered as they stepped into the wings. “Please, don’t choose now for our first fight. What happened to ‘Once you see the Master in person, everything’s going to be all right?’”
 
Rose narrowed her eyes at him. “You heard everything Martha said, the same as I did.”
 
“She’s mad,” he laughed, looking out at the stage. He stiffened and grabbed Rose’s wrist. “There he is. The Master.”
 
The Master was sitting on a plush black armchair, resplendent in a wine-colored silk suit and bright white shirt. He was clean shaven with short brown hair and brown eyes set in an impish face that was currently wearing a beatific smile as the woman kneeling before him wept and babbled incessantly.
 
“I love you, Master. I praise you. My family praises you. To be this close to your holy presence is the single greatest moment of my life. I hope you find my tribute fitting and worthy of your tremendous majesty,” the woman said, bowing so low her forehead touched the ground.
 
The Master sighed and the beatific smile broadened. Rose noticed that the smile never quite found his eyes. “Please, please, that’s entirely enough, my good woman. I thank you for your kind and luxurious Tithe. I ask for nothing from you, but I accept all that you give with grace and love. My blessings to you and to all of your precious family.” He held out his hand and the woman rose on trembling legs to approach and kiss the ring he wore.
 
“Seal of Rassilon,” John muttered.
 
“What?” Rose whispered.
 
John shook his head. “I don’t know. Nothing.”
 
The woman swooned when she finished slavering over the Master’s ring and had to be walked off stage. The Master was handed a gilt-edged card and when he read the words on it, his smile went from beatific to something Rose thought looked almost sinister.
 
“Come forward in tribute, John Absalom Gatesmith,” he said.
 
John clenched Rose’s hand and brought her onto the stage with him. The Master tilted his head to the side and quirked an eyebrow at the pair.
 
“I’ve received many wonderful gifts today, but you’re the first one who’s brought me a woman,” the Master said with a chuckle.
 
John went on one knee, pulling Rose down beside him. He lowered his head. “Praise to you, Master.”
 
“Blessings to you, John-and-woman,” the Master answered. “Are you going to tell me who this beautiful creature is, or am I going to have to go on calling her ‘woman’ all day?”
 
“This is Rose Tyler,” John answered, his voice trembling. “We’re to be married.”
 
The Master clapped his hands together and hooted with laughter. “Oh, are you now? Isn’t that delightful! When’s the happy day?”
 
“Today,” John answered, keeping his eyes on the floor of the stage. Rose kept her eyes on the Master. His grin was venomous. She was starting to feel sick to her stomach.
 
“Oh, let me give you my most heartfelt blessings to the happy couple.” The Master stood from his seat and approached them and Rose saw John’s stomach suck inward. She glanced at his face; he was grimacing, sweat beading on his brow. She gave his hand a squeeze, but he did not return it.
 
The Master put one cool hand on the top of Rose’s head and the other on John’s. John made a sick little noise in his throat, almost like he was choking. When she glanced at him again, his face was pale as death.
 
“Blessings unto you, John Gatesmith and Rose Tyler on this, the occasion of your wedding. May your love for each other equal in some measure the love you have for me. May your devotion to each other equal your devotion to me, and may you be very happy in your simple, simple lives for all the days of your mortal existence.”
 
“Thank you,” John choked out at last. The Master retreated to his seat and the beatific smile returned. “Now, what tribute have you brought me?”
 
John cleared his throat twice before he was able to speak. “I bring a third of my annual income, plus several bushels of vegetables for the feast, and a steam-powered water pump for the use of the village in your most holy name.” John’s voice trailed off in a watery mumble at the last few words.
 
“Admirable,” the Master replied. “As you know, I ask for nothing from you, but I accept all that you give with grace and love. My blessings to you, John, and to your bride.” He held out his hand and beckoned them forward. “Come and kiss my ring.”
 
John stood, keeping his eyes downcast, and approached the Master.
 
“Kneel,” the Master said. There was something cold and hateful in his tone. “Show your obedience.”
 
John sank back to his knees and Rose followed suit. She kept her head lowered but her gaze never left the Master’s face.
 
“Kiss the ring,” the Master urged, waving his hand in John’s direction. John swallowed hard and finally brought his lips to the curling seal of the Master’s ring. The Master put his hand on the back of John’s head and held him there for several seconds before letting him go. He did not offer the ring to Rose. “You may depart, my most faithful servant.”
 
John stood and, clutching Rose’s hand as if it were the only thing holding him to the earth, walked off the stage. Rose turned to look back at the Master when she heard him softly chuckling.
 
They made it out of the building and away from the crowd before John sank to the ground and vomited.
 
*****
 
They rode back to the house in silence, the only sound coming from the chugging of the Conveyance.  John refused to look at her or to respond to any of her attempts at conversation. When they turned onto the tree-lined road and were swallowed by the fog, he finally turned and looked at her. His eyes were red from the vomiting and the color had yet to return to his face.
 
“Rose,” he began, but didn’t continue. He hadn’t let go of her hand since they’d left the presence of the Master.
 
When the Conveyance was safely back in its shed and the door was closed and locked, John took the chain out of his pocket. When he saw the state of the pendant, he handed it to Rose and sat down in the grass, holding his head in his hands.
 
The pendant was glowing with a soft, golden light.
 
“What in the world?” she asked.
 
“I felt it getting warmer the nearer we got to the house,” John said without raising his head. “Like it knew it was getting closer to its home.”
 
“What is it though?” she asked.
 
“It’s a key,” a voice said from behind the car shed. Rose yelped and jumped, turning to see a handsome man with dark hair dressed in jeans, a blue shirt and braces standing nearby, his arms folded across his chest. John looked up with mild interest.
 
“You’re Jack, then?”
 
The man nodded. “You saw Martha.”
 
Rose was starting to feel dizzy. The man John had called Jack approached her, a sad smile on his face.
 
“Hi there. I’m Captain Jack Harkness. I’m a good friend of the Doctor’s, but he doesn’t remember me just now. Who are you?”
 
“Rose,” she said. For some reason she could feel tears in her eyes. “Rose Tyler.”
 
He took her hand and kissed it. “Pleased to meet you, Rose. I’ve been watching you two together. You’re very happy. I hope you’ll stick around to help us out.”
 
“I’m not going anywhere,” Rose said. “I don’t know what’s happenin’, but I’m not leavin’ John.”
 
“John,” Jack said, smiling at John. “You want to see what this key opens? Are you ready to see the TARDIS?”
 
John nodded, reaching out for Rose’s hand again. She clasped his and he squeezed hard as Jack led them to the blue wooden box sitting not far from the main house. When he got close, Jack put his hand reverently on the doors, like he was touching an old friend.
 
“It’s locked,” John said reflexively. He chuckled. “I guess you know there’s no key, ‘cept that one, I’m guessing.”
 
Jack only smiled, stuck the key into the box’s oddly shaped lock, and turned. The wooden doors creaked open and Jack stepped aside so John and Rose could see in.
 
“I don’t believe it,” Rose breathed as she beheld the massive interior of the control room. She peered around the outside to see if the box had changed shape, but it was the same size.
 
John walked inside, Rose following quickly after. When he set foot on the metal platform the lights in the room flickered and tried to come on. There was a massive array of panels and controls in the middle of the room, with a great clear shaft at its centre. The panel was blackened and mangled, as if it had been hit by a bomb. There were pieces of shattered coral littering the grating of the metal floor. As the lights came partway up, the shaft began flickering with a pale green light. John looked pained at the sight and looked back to Jack. Jack’s expression was strained with pity.
 
“She’s trying, for you. She’s been waiting to see you for so long, but she hasn’t got much left. I’m surprised she survived at all. She got herself to you, though. Bet you found this box on the property one day, didn’t you?”
 
John nodded, putting his hand on the twisted control panel. There was a weak, wheezing sound coming from somewhere deep inside the room.
 
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Jack said, coming to put his hands on John’s and Rose’s shoulders. “Fix the TARDIS, find the watch, stop the Master. Save the world. Average day for the Doctor, but it might be a bit harder without him, at least until we find that watch. Are you up for it?”
 
John and Rose looked at one another before they both turned to Jack.
 
“I’m ready, now,” John said.
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