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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
“Your vision is impaired by the fog. I can assist,” the cheery little metallic voice rang out a second time, though this time its proclamation was accompanied by a loud whirring sound. The fog dissipated around Rose and she found a small, copper thing standing near her feet. It had a square body full of wires, tubes and dials, with a sort of head mounted at one end of the body that had the vague shape of a dog’s head, with a pair of copper discs on top for ears. The bar of lights that passed for eyes shone brightly blue and its little metal tail wagged back and forth as it waited for her to finish her assessment. From time to time little jets of steam shot out of a valve near its little tail. She could feel air shooting out from the bottom of the metal dog’s body, dispersing the fog.
“Has your field of vision improved?” the metal dog asked, turning its head to one side.
“Yeah,” Rose said, looking around to see if they were alone. She had been expecting all manner of things; murderous madmen, lost princes, absolutely nothing. She had not anticipated meeting a small metal dog that could talk and express concern over how well she could see.
“Felicitations,” the dog said, wagging its tail. “We do not get many visitors. Who are you?”
“Erm, I’m Rose. Rose Tyler,” she said, fumbling with the zip on her jacket as she looked around one more time. Someone had to be controlling the dog; like in the pictures she had seen in the ruins of what had once been a toy shop. In the old world, children had played with miniature, four-wheeled carts that could be controlled by a separate, handheld device. This had to be some sort of toy, though she wasn’t certain how it was able to function. Nothing from the old world had worked since the Cataclysm. The Iyempi had taken care of that.
“Rose Tyler,” the dog repeated. “I am K-9, Mark 2. I will take you to the master, should you be so kind as to follow.” It turned and rattled along the dirt road, jets of air dispersing the fog as it went. Rose followed.
As they walked further along the fog began to thin again and Rose became aware of the sound of running water getting closer. The fog went from surrounding them outside the bubble K-9’s air jets had created to swirling thickly around Rose’s waist, down to her ankles and finally dissipating entirely as they came to a wide bridge spanning a gurgling, rushing creek. The bridge was cobbled together from variously-sized boards, some painted different colors, some bare wood. The handrail was made of rippling, twisted tree branches, supported by thick twigs that still had nubs and knots in them. A morning glory vine had made itself at home along the railing, and Rose swept her hand over fat blue flowers as she crossed the bridge, following K-9 as he rattled over the boards.
The house on the other side of the bridge was as oddly cobbled together as the bridge itself; it was several stories tall, the exterior composed mostly of different sizes and shapes of windows, held together with wood, panels of corrugated steel, wattle-and-daub and apparently some prayers. Rose could see inside through one of the largest windows and she saw a room with wooden walls put together much like the bridge had been, with a high ceiling and colorful, careworn furniture. K-9 kept moving forward towards the front door but Rose stayed where she stood, staring up at the impossible house. There were several outbuildings beside the main house; one was a rectangular metal box on wheels with a front porch and steps attached to it; another was smaller and round, made of wattle-and-daub with a fading thatched roof; the third was nothing more than a tallish blue wooden box with the words “Police Public Call Box” written over the doors. There was a sprawling garden to the right of the main house that was a conglomeration of vegetables, fruit trees and gorgeous flowers that towered almost as high as the second story of the house in some cases. The right side of the main house was covered in morning glory vines like the ones that had wrapped around the handrail of the bridge. A massive cow with shaggy brown hair draping down into her eyes chewed her cud in the middle of a patch of squash.
She was still taking in the sight before her when the door to the round house burst open and a man came out of it, running towards her. He sized her up with a quick glance as he neared her, reached out his hand and clasped hers, pausing long enough to take a breath, grin, and say one word before taking off again.
He dragged her back towards the bridge and, tackling her about the waist, shoved her to the ground just as the round house exploded in a glorious green fireball. The man rolled off of her as soon as the threat of flaming debris had passed, and sat in the mud, beaming at her. He had dark hair, cut close to his head in a way that inadvertently enhanced the protuberance of his ears, a considerable nose and the most charming, heart-fluttering, blue-eyed grin she had ever seen. He was wearing a black collarless shirt with billowing sleeves, a black and blue brocade waistcoat, dark blue jeans and heavy black boots. A pair of gigantic goggles with all manner of extra arms and lenses sticking out of the sides sat on top of his head. She found herself involuntarily returning his smile, realizing in that moment that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d smiled at anything.
“Hello,” he said, his head tilting slightly to one side. “Who are you?”
“This is Rose Tyler,” K-9 answered, approaching them from the front door. “Master, you have exploded the laboratory again.” The metal dog shook its head from side to side. The man ducked his head sheepishly as his cheeks flushed and his grin widened, if that were possible.
“I did,” he said, leaning towards K-9 with conspiratorial glee. He had an odd accent when he spoke; it reminded her of the woman that had come to her mother’s cottage once for an emergency mending job. She had said she was from the North, wherever that was. The man’s joy at exploding the laboratory lightened Rose’s heart so much she almost giggled in spite of herself. “We’re going to have to rebuild the lab right away. I was so close! First thing in the morning, we-”
“Etiquette sensors indicate rudeness level two, master. You are neglecting our guest,” K-9 admonished, looking in Rose’s direction. The man looked at her and his eyes widened, as if he’d just remembered she was there.
“Forgive me!” he cried, jumping to his feet. He offered her his hands and helped her up and began dusting her off. “I’m terribly sorry to have tackled you that way, but as you can see you might’ve been killed in the blast if I’d let you stand there. Rose Tyler, was it? My name is John. John A. Gatesmith. Pleasure.” He stuck his hand out and Rose took it. Despite his exuberance, he was very gentle whenever he touched her. Except for when he’d tackled her to the ground. “What brings you out this way, Miss Tyler? I never get visitors. You’re from the village, yeah?”
“Yeah,” she said, her cheeks and ears starting to burn. She fixed her gaze on the dirty tops of her boots, thought of the hunk of cheese in her satchel and felt even more ridiculous. “I know this is going to sound mad, but honestly I don’t know why I’m here. I’ve always wanted to know what was at the end of the road, and today I just decided to find out. It sounds completely daft.”
He shook his head, his blue eyes glittering. “Not at all. It sounds fantastic! Because it’s there; what better reason is there to walk down a road?” He turned to look back at the green flames belching from the ruins of the laboratory and shrugged, turning back to her. “Well, now you’re here, you’ve almost been blown up, you’ve met K-9…would you like to stay for tea?”
“Are these books?” Rose asked, marveling at the towering shelves crowded with everything from moldy smut paperbacks to fat and ancient dictionaries. She was standing in a room that was easily twice the size of her mother’s cottage, and every inch of wall space was covered in what had to be books. She had never seen a book intact before, but she knew how to read and her mother told stories of the world before the Cataclysm; how books were abundant and easily available to everyone, but most took them for granted. Rose would never have done, had she lived in the old world. What other reason was there to learn to read if not to read books?
“You can read?” John asked, breezing past her to turn up the gas on the lamps. The sun had gone down while he, Rose and K-9 put out the fire in the laboratory, and the stars and the aurorae had yet to come out, so the house was steeped in darkness. Rose was a little unnerved at how dark the world was without the sentinel fires to light the night. Her mother was going to be very worried about her.
“My mum taught me,” Rose answered, glancing out the window. “I should get home.”
“Oh, please stay for tea,” John urged, taking her by the hand and leading her to a battered blue sofa. “I’ll take you home right afterward, safe and sound. I haven’t had a visitor in a very long time. It’d be a great pleasure for me, if you’d say yes.”
K-9 made his way over to bump into John’s boot. “It is impolite to entreat the young lady so,” the metal dog admonished, his ears twirling. “You have imposed fifty Pascals of social pressure.”
“No, it’s all right,” Rose said. “I would love to stay for tea.” Whether it was his exuberance or the earnest way he looked at her, it was impossible for Rose to say no to this odd man. At least for now. Besides, she had come for adventure. It would be mad to leave just when things were getting started.
Another broad grin exploded on John’s face and he snapped his fingers, winked, and dashed into another room. Rose sat on the sofa, chuckling to herself as she heard various pots and pans clattering around, cabinets being opened and closed in rapid succession, and the unmistakable crash of a ceramic mug coming into unexpected contact with a wooden floor.
“Bollox!” John muttered. K-9 excused himself and followed in the direction John had gone. She heard them softly arguing about the usage of impolite words, even on the occasion of broken dishes, when new company was about.
“Go and make yourself available to our guest,” K-9 said. “I will compose a respectable high tea.”
“You can’t make tea,” John said as he backed out of the kitchen. “You don’t make it sweet enough.”
“Our guest requires social interaction,” K-9 replied. The kitchen door closed in John’s face. He turned around, blushing and smiling, and jerked his thumb at the door.
“I think sometimes he forgets who invented whom around here,” he said, striding back over to the sofa. He looked at the sofa, then at Rose, and decided to plop down on the floor, cross legged, a safe distance away from her. Very polite. She could tell he wanted to sit beside her. She wanted him to as well, but her spinsters’ manners forbade her asking.
“How did you do it?” she asked instead.
John blushed again, lowering his eyes. “Actually, ‘invented’ is too strong a word, I suppose. I found him when I was building this place. He was just a head then. He couldn’t remember where the rest of him had gotten to, and the head casing he was in was pretty badly damaged. I think whatever happened to him must have affected his memory circuitry. Anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer, so I made him a new body and built a new head casing to match. Powered by steam now, he is. And a good friend, too. Gets lonely out here sometimes.”
“You built all this?” Rose asked, turning her head to take in the massive room once more.
John chuckled. “I had to have a roof over me head, didn’t I? ‘S no different than any of the other houses in the village, really. Just taller. More windows.”
“And the occasional exploding outbuilding,” Rose added, grinning.
“Well, yeah, that,” John laughed and looked at the ceiling. He rocked back to lean on his elbows and sighed. “It’s fantastic having someone to talk to that’s not made of tin. Thank you for staying. Will you come to visit me again?”
Rose giggled. “I haven’t even left yet.”
“Of course,” John said, shaking his head. “I’m acting a fool. I’m so sorry. I can take you home immediately, if you’d like.” He started to get up.
“John,” Rose said, holding out her hands. “Take a breath.”
He stopped and sat back down, laughing at himself. “Yes.”
“Tell me about yourself,” Rose said. She’d heard her mother saying that in soft tones to the men that came to her bedroom some nights. John’s eyes lit up wickedly at the question, and for a moment Rose feared she had crossed some sort of unintended line.
“You first,” he said with a nod.
“Not much to tell,” Rose said with a shrug. “Live with my mum, mend clothes and do washing. Everybody in the village thinks I’m thick because I never talk.”
“You’re doing just fine with me,” John said. He was giving her a look, the likes of which she’d never seen aimed in her direction. Was he admiring her? Couldn’t be. But why, then, was her face flushing? “I’ll bet you don’t talk because most of the time you’re too busy thinking to be bothered with talking to people that you already know aren’t going to understand what you’re talking about anyway.”
She smiled, feeling her chin dip in what had to be a ludicrous display of coquettishness in someone of her age and maturity. Still, John brought something out in her that she’d begun to forget had ever been there in the first place. He looked at her as if he truly saw her, and as if he might actually like what he was looking at. She most certainly did. She could tell he was older than she, but she couldn’t gauge how much older, and at her age she couldn’t exactly be choosy. And even though she’d only known him for a few hours, she knew that she liked John Gatesmith. She knew she would be coming back to visit him the next day, if he would let her.
The kitchen door swung open and K-9 came into the room. “Master, high tea is available in the kitchen at your leisure.”
John jumped to his feet and offered Rose his elbow. Rose took it and let herself be led into the kitchen. She had thus far held his hand twice, gotten tackled quite forcefully and now had willingly taken hold of his elbow. She hadn’t purposefully touched anyone that many times in months. Her mother was a wonderful human being, though a little hard, but she wasn’t one for outward expressions of affection. Rose felt downright lascivious letting this man take her hand so easily.
When they set foot in the kitchen, she clapped her other hand onto his arm and let her head fall back so she could appreciate the sight before her. The outer walls and most of the ceiling of the kitchen were composed of a collection of wide-paned windows. The view of the sky was unobstructed by trees on that side, and Rose was treated to the sight of the stars coming into view just as the aurorae began trailing their colorful patterns across the sky. Dim as they were, even the nightly sentinel fires robbed Londoners of a real view of the night sky, and Rose was dazzled by the sight of so many stars and the vibrancy of the aurorae weaving their rainbows amongst them. She let go of John’s arm and walked slowly towards the windows.
“Dim the lamps,” John muttered over his shoulder to K-9.
“Affirmative, master,” K-9 answered. With a squealing burst of steam and a few careful spins of his ears, the gas lamps dimmed to almost nothing, improving the view so that Rose felt as if she were standing on a platform in the sky, looking out at the vastness of space. John walked up beside her and took her hand. Again, she felt a flicker of shame at her wantonness, but she didn’t let go.
“It’s beautiful,” Rose breathed.
“I don’t think any of it’s supposed to be here,” John said. “Every time I see it, makes me nervous. I’ll stay up all night sometimes, watching the colors move across the sky. I get the feeling I should know why it’s wrong, like I’m missing something. But I can’t figure it out. Ever get that feeling, like you’re not seeing something that’s right in front of your face? Or, like you’re supposed to be somewhere else, but you can’t remember where?”
“That I’ve had,” Rose said. “Sort of. With me it’s more a feeling like there’s gotta be more to life than mendin’ shirts and foldin’ clean laundry. Drives me bonkers most days, but I’ve never had nobody to talk to about it.”
“Oh, you can talk to me,” John said, leaning his head towards hers. “I mean, if you’d like to. I’d love to listen.” He winced and turned back to look at K-9. “Forwardness quotient?”
“Sixty three point nine on a scale of one hundred, master,” K-9 answered.
“You’re all right,” Rose said, closing the last measurable distance between them to lean her shoulder against his arm. “Don’t know what it is about you, but I just feel sort of comfortable around you.”
John beamed. “So do I, Rose Tyler.” He slipped his arm around her shoulders and they stood at the windows, watching the aurorae and the stars until long after the tea had gone cold.
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