Unbeta'd. My beta won't turn the frick around and pay attention to me :wink:

Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own the stuff I don't own. But if I did own… oh, if wishes were fishes. Anyways… Last story (Doors) was supposed to be a one-shot, but some of the FB got me thinking... oh, you guys're naughty. Naughty, naughty naughty for being on the same page with me, and for getting me to write more in the last two days than probably in the last four or five months total. GRAD SCHOOL is the devourer of souls. No. Really. /self-indulgent rant

Devourer of Souls

XYZ

Tossing the book on the floor beside her, Violet sighed, then flopped onto her back, staring up at the ceiling moodily. "I'm being bored to death."

Rose didn't even look over her desk as the small child. "Melodrama won't get you anywhere." Flipping through another completely uninteresting case file, she tossed it into her outbox. Once a month she ran through the entire list, mostly just checking for anything that caught her eye. Apparently the section leaders trusted her instincts. Which was swell in the field, not so great for the load of paperwork.

Which is why, at seven p.m. she was—depressingly—still there, and Violet was sitting on the floor in her office.

Her mother factored into the equation, if she was to be fair. It had been with a certain resignation that Rose, Pete and Mickey had all read Violet's report card, in fact, they'd had a rather long dinner conversation in the cafeteria about it yesterday. Jackie, however, had lost it. Not just a little—quite a lot.

Today, when dropping Violet off at afternoon nursery, she'd told the teacher exactly what she thought.

Rose hadn't been there, but she'd heard all about it from the school staff, when they'd explained that Jackie would not be allowed on school grounds for the rest of the year. The older woman hadn't been violent, but apparently asking "What kind of a jackass would write these things about this sweet, innocent little girl?" wasn't endearing.

It irked the rest of the "family," but the teacher had been right in a sort, if awfully cold about it. Violet was "extremely intelligent but exceptionally emotionally undeveloped." Of course, no one really agreed that recommending that Violet attend a school for "troubled" children instead of recommending promotion to grade one was probably not course of action anyone had been looking for.

Mickey'd volunteered to blow up the lady's minivan. It had gotten a chuckle out of the group, but just kind of made everyone a little more depressed about the problem. They'd all been in the thick of it with the Doctor when their lives had changed, and as a result, they always kept their heads together, even after all this time. As a result, all four of them felt an increased amount of responsibility towards Violet, hence the school problem being everybody's problem.

Pete was in a meeting, explaining to some higher-ups exactly what the Melfornian gravity thrusters were, and why they were worth the trade of sixty tons of whole-grain rice to a six-ring-circus ship, so Rose had ducked out to grab Violet. It was the end of the month, so instead of just calling it a day, here they were, back in her office, doing paper work.

Rose heard Violet's head thunk on the carpet. "Don't do that, you'll give yourself brain damage." While she was concerned that Violet was always off in her own little gloom and doom world, it was also incredibly amusing, if one let one's self take a step back from it—which Jackie didn't seem to do. She took everything involving Violet so… personally.

Really. Violet was only five. Rose's mother didn't need to pitch such a fit over everything. Kids did things… "I-wanna-go-down-to-R-and-D." Each word was punctuated by the thud of the girl's head hitting the carpet.

With a roll of her eyes, Rose leaned forward to make sure the girl wasn't doing herself permanent harm. Violet was splayed across the floor like a snow angel, one side of her over-alls unbuckled. Her dirty blonde hair was in a moppy tangled mess, and her head was lulling back and forth in boredom and disgust. "Why don't you draw me a picture," Rose suggested, hoping to buy a few more minutes to finish the reports.

One arm flopped over the tiny face. "Why don't I poke my own eyeballs out with a letter opener?" the girl replied dramatically, rolling onto her stomach. She really should be on the soaps. "It's not fair. I hate your office, it's the stupidest place on all of earf."

The snort was out of Rose's mouth (nose?) before she could stop it and she let out a cowing laugh. "Alright! We'll go look at toys down stairs, if you can behave for a few minutes while I finish this up." But Rose had to agree—her office WAS the stupidest (or at least most boring) place on the planet.

The girl let out a whoop and scrambled to her feet. However, when Rose went back to her paperwork, disappointment, then boredom took over. When Rose tossed the next portfolio onto the stack, she snatched it up and dropped back on the floor, flipping through it like a comic book. "That's boring and dumb, that's boring and dumb…" This went on, until she got to the last page. She turned the photograph around and around, chewing on a bit of hair as she did so.

Rose would have said something about the hair chewing thing, it being both gross and an obsessive-compulsive habit, but Violet's yapper was shut for a few minutes—until her five year old attention span moved on to the next thing. Opening the next folder, Rose tried to skim as quickly as possible.

"What's a 'Lem-Lemuxarius Filivander?'"

Licking her lips, Rose tossed the latest report onto the pile and grabbed the next-to-last one.

"Lemuxarius Filivander…eater of souls?" The girl made a face and pushed it away from her. "I didn't like that one."

Rose turned the pages more quickly. Violet was going to get the ants in her pants again, she could just feel it.

But at the foot of her desk, Violet scrambled away, towards the glass wall that looked out over a goodly bit of the darkening city. "I don't like it."

Tossing the second to last report on the stack, Rose pushed the final one away from her, in no mood to even open the portfolio cover. Walking around the desk, she wearily bent over to retrieve the folder, which was opened to the final page, a photo of a metal urn of unknown composition, covered entirely in squiggles of one kind or another. "Again with the melodrama, Violet. That's not even a known language, so nice try, kiddo." Kids liked to "read" stories to grownups. Usually they'd take their favorite story book, look at the pictures, and make it up as they went along. Violet had been reading for an entire year, so she wasn't sure where the sudden burst of 'creativity' had come from.

Frowning, Violet pulled her knees to her chest, looking at Rose in betrayal—or as much betrayal as a five year old could muster. "Devourer of those without limits."

Gathering up the stack of read folders, Rose reached a hand down. "Come on. If you want to see Mickey and his friends in R&D, you're going to have to get up off the floor."

Violet believed, whole-heartedly, that Fairies made the Coo-coo clock in the upstairs hall chime and twitter every half-hour, so sometimes it was tough to remember that she was a smart little girl. 'Devourer' was such a large word for such a little girl to use in proper context. Much less being poetic with the 'without limits' bit. "Without limits, aye?"

Violet didn't say anything as Rose walked the stack over to her section head's office, then dumped them on his desk. "Nothin' here. I think Vi's gunna jump out of her skin if we don't get out of here."

William winked at the little girl. "Sure, we still have tomorrow. Plenty of time to crank out a few reports. Of course…"

Rose bobbed her head. "Being ahead of schedule is like asking the universe to throw some crisis at us that leaves us here till 8 am, Monday morning. I guess we're better off not tempting fate."

"But…the Lemuxarius Filivander." Ever so gently, Rose pulled the girl behind her skirt. "eats the ones without limits."

Rose's boss gave her a slightly sympathetic look. "You have fun with that."

Dragging the girl behind her, Rose headed to the elevator. "Ya need to work on being a little less creepy, honey."

This was the reason Rose didn't like having her at the office. Mickey liked it, Pete liked it… they got parade her around like a cuter, slightly more interactive show dog. Jackie liked it because it meant that, for a few hours during the day, she wasn't 'on Violet duty,' as she called it.

Come to think of it—that was probably Jackie's real issue with the teacher thing (scathing insult to the family aside)… Jackie had been really REALLY looking forward to full-day school. It wasn't like Pete didn't have enough money to hire help, but Jackie insisted on keeping her 'little pal and helper' up close and personal. And they really did have fun together all day. It was just… well, a little bit of Violet went a long way, sometimes, and Jackie needed a break. Fortunately, there were more than enough hands willing to take over in a pinch. Basically—Violet had everyone, including Rose's boss, wrapped around her finger.

Rose… tended to take Violet with a grain of salt. She didn't know why—she just always felt like she was "on" to the little girl. And for the most part, Violet saved her antics for everyone else. They had a comfortable relationship in that sense. Rose didn't stand for the antics, and Violet didn't feel compelled to push it. The melodrama thing was just who Violet was, deep down.

"We can't stick around long. Mickey's kinda busy." Actually Rose had completely dumped something on him to reverse engineer. The whole car mechanic thing had certainly helped him when they'd started up with Torchwood, in addition all the lovely tidbits he'd picked up trying to get rid of the Cybermen on this earth.

Rose sighed. Yet another reminder that this was here, and that was home…

Violet shrugged. Apparently she wanted to go down to R & D badly enough to bang her head off the carpet, and make up things about devourers and such, but not badly enough to care that they'd be leaving soon. There really were days when she missed certain…things about her old life. She wouldn't trade her dad or Violet for the entire world. It's just… some days she wanted her cake and to eat it too. Those were the days when she felt old.

The elevator slid downward, and she crushed Violet to her leg. "Incase I haven't told you lately, you're the best."

Violet squeezed her back. "No, you're the best."

Rose tweaked her nose. "No, you're the best."

The door opened and they came out onto the warehouse floor. The holding Rose's hand thing lasted all of about two seconds, till she saw Mickey bent over a smoking device. Then she took off running and smashed right into the back of his legs. Feigning surprise, Mickey turned around, wiping his hands on his pants, then scooping the girl up. "And just what do we have here? Somebody breaking into our top secret headquarters?"

Yet another thing that bothered some of Rose's coworkers: Violet had free run of the place, and they couldn't tell anyone where they worked. Add that to Rose's father being a higher-up, and one that they perceived to only be working here as a hobby, since it wasn't like he needed the money. Rose's office, the special deference she often got in regards to some of the truly sensitive matters, and suddenly the hostility is palatable.

She didn't care—she was doing something that needed to be done; something that mattered, and the people who actually MATTERED in this organization (namely her superiors) might look at her funny, but understood a bit of her unique expertise, and actually valued it. To hell with the bitter spooks and the snotty office jockeys. 'Cuz when the world was coming to an end, who did they come running to?

"Earth to Rose!"

Rose's eyes snapped back to Mickey. She'd been off in her happy place again. Well, it wasn't happy, necessarily. Just the part of her that liked to dwell on things. "Don't mind me. I need a nap and some food. Possibly in that order."

Mickey put Violet down, but left a hand on the girl's head so that she couldn't wander off. "What ever happened to Dr. Seuss? I mean… what's with the 'soul eater' stuff she's going on about?"

Rose shrugged. "She thinks she can read Mehndolson's report."

A cough hiding a laugh escaped Mickey's throat. "Good luck with that. Jibberish mixed with …gobbldy gook."

"Oh no. The report was both 'boring and stupid.' But the photos of the urn. She's been going on and on. She needs more dolls or someth--" Rose stopped, looking down at Violet. "What're ya doin', Vi?"

The little girl was humming to herself, fiddling with the pistons of the tiny, fragile engine no one could quite figure out. "It's like a balloon, and another balloon, and they're filling up with air, and getting closer and closer, and there's all that static in between. They'll touch and they'll stick together. It's like…everything getting bigger, comfier. There used ta be lots of rivers and lots of bridges. The bridges tumbled down and got washed away, away, away out to sea. The rivers moved further apart. But the balloons are coming closer together. There're no bridges. But you can step across the stones; your feet'll get wet, but the current won't pull you under." Violet was silent for a moment, then the tiny engine that had sputtered and smoked just a moment before hummed to live and turned evenly, not an ounce of atmosphere burning off of it.

Mickey crouched down beside her. "What's like rivers and balloons?"

Violet's hand hovered above the clean-burning engine. She seemed distant, far away. "You can cross the stepping stones, but only at low-tide. You can cross the stepping stones, but you gotta run and hurry and hide. They come in ships, looking for the ones with two intentions and many faces. They come in ships to devour their souls. They come in ships, once in a score-and-twenty. They come to devour the ones without limits; they devour their power. They devour it and then sleep. They sleep for a score-and-twenty, the power lets them wander in the night. The power lets them destroy, backwards and forwards. They come in a handful of turns. They come to devour…"

Teeth clenched, Rose grabbed Violet's shoulders and shook them, unable to listen to any more. Spinning the girl around, Rose looked into the child's eyes, seeing a vast nothingness. Eyes dilated frighteningly large, the child's face was a blank. Rose shook her, saying her name over and ovcr, but the child continued on. "The balloons stick together at low tide and the stepping stones are the only way out. It's expanding; they've felt it. They were sad when the bridges crumbled, but the stepping-stones have appeared. They come in a handful of turns. The universe is expanding."

The unseen power that had funneled itself through the child flowed dry and she collapsed into Rose's arms. Clutching Violet protectively to her chest, she looked up at Mickey, trying to catch her breath. "Find that thing. Find the urn and find Mehndelson." Rose licked her lips as something else caught her eye. She couldn't remember being more scared in recent memory.

The tiny engine hummed louder and louder, until energy wisped out of it like smoke. The pistons slid back and forth further and further, escaping up into the rafters, moving on to who-knew-where.

Rocking Violet, Rose didn't see the group of developers that had come to surround the child. They were coming? Who was coming?

The most peculiar thing of all was the child's final statement. The universe was expanding.

XYZ

Somewhere else, a ship spiraled through time and space, the sound of her passing soothing, almost hypnotic. Her sole occupant leaned over a console, watching numbers flash across a screen—looking but not really seeing. He wasn't lost in though, so much as the absence of though.

Sometimes it was the best place to be.

He didn't come back to himself until the ship lurched, giving out a startled moan of metal as it jogged him out of a thoughtless limbo. Instantly he steadied himself, grabbing hold of the nearest solid objects.

A second later he was knocked off of his feet, not by the apologetic tossing of the ship, but by the force of the feeling erupting in his chest and the pressure pushing outwards from the center of his mind.

On hands and knees, he struggled to draw in full, deep breaths, trying to steady himself against the implosion in his heart and the outward thrusting of his thoughts.

Tears actually welled in his brown eyes at the intensity of it, and it seemed to take forever to pass. Out of exhaustion, he finally collapsed onto his side, his suit jacket twisting under him and smudging with floor grime.

Resting his head against the grate beneath his head, he willed the feeling to pass and was almost swallowed by it again. In defeat, his eyes closed and let the push and pull tear him apart until the sudden stretch in the fabric of all he knew and could see was stretched beyond repair.

The universe was expanding, and it had nearly torn the Doctor to pieces.

TBC.