A/N: Response to the Anywhere But Cardiff Challenge from LJ Community Time and Chips.
Rain pelted the sidewalk, producing a splattering mist that fell against the exterior windows, creating a mosaic of watery tendrils streaming down the lower panes of glass, before joining the trickling threads that flowed back towards the street.
The grey,overcast day seemed to match the somber mood of the blond girl who sat staring out the cafe's front window. Her forehead pressed to the cool glass, watching, yet not seeing the scurrying figures under umbrellas that dashed hurriedly to their destinations. One could equate it with a picture of dull colored balloons bobbing haphazardly through a rivers current.
"Can I get you something love?" The friendly, albeit apologetic voice cut sharply into her thoughts.
Her initial response caught in her throat when she realized the lunch room was now a busy hub of activity, with all but a few scattered chairs occupied. Rose looked up into the motherly face, knowing she would soon be asked to leave, and quickly decided she wasn't ready to step outside into the downpour and relinquish her tiny bit of refuge.
"Order of chips." She blurted out hastily, adding a please, as she watched the older woman nod and smile knowingly.
"Shall I top your drink?"
"Yeah, thanks." Rose pushed the moisture-drenched, coke glass towards the table edge, leaving a liquid trail in its wake. Without missing a beat, the waitress picked up the half-empty container and passed a towel over the table, erasing the tell-tale tracks, then stepped away, turning to the next group of customers.
A low, steady hum, enveloped the diner as conversation flowed and ebbed around her, punctuated occasionally by the sound of a bell above the door, announcing the arrival or exit of the interior's patrons. Absently, she twisted the beaded ring around on her thumb, becoming a casual observer once more, lost in her own thoughts.
Maybe it was the unusual attire that caught her eye. A wide-brimmed hat sat precariously over a mass of brown curls, in turn, looping over an impossibly long, multi-coloured, scarf that trailed just inside his dark overcoat, down his lengthy frame and teasingly skimmed over the ground as he moved.
Or maybe it was the way he strode purposefully forward, hands stuffed deeply into his trouser pockets, and a bright, deeply intense, wide-eyed stare, lips pursed in a smug, yet almost smirky grin.
She continued watching the peculiar stranger move confidently towards the small shop, not minding the weather, nor the people that moved aside with ease, permitting him unimpeded passage.
The door opened once again, allowing the damp smell of heavy rain to permeate the variety of cooked offerings already infusing the air. His eyes swept over the room and seemed to settle on the empty seat across from Rose, who was staring outwards, refusing to acknowledge his gaze.
She heard, and felt him stop beside the table, inwardly entreating him to move on.
"Lots of activity in here today. It's been awhile, don't recall it ever being as busy as all this."
She continued staring out the window, waiting for him to realize she wasn't interested in his company. A few minutes that seemed to stretch for years passed.
He shuffled his feet, and Rose turned, unable to ignore him any longer. She casually observed him, water dripping from his curls, his hat held lightly between his hands, and eyes roving as he sought another available seat.
Rose felt a twinge of regret, "You're welcome to a seat, if you'd like." and watched his eyes turn towards her with gratitude.
"Don't mind if I do." He settled into the proffered chair, setting his hat to the side after flicking the remaining water off of it.
A basket of hot chips was set between them, followed by a tall coke, fizz playing along the edge of the glass, as miniature bubbles curled upwards along the slick surface. The waitress hovered expectantly, and Rose had to stifle a giggle as she watched the stranger's eyes grow even wider at the sight of food. She nodded in answer to the silent question, and the other hurried away to retrieve another drink.
"I'm not hungry."
She pushed the basket towards him, already a half-eaten chip was being devoured.
He licked his now empty fingers, and reached for another. "Nothing like an English chip. Flavourful, crispy, tender, quite the tasty morsel. And I've tried more than my share."
Rose's face must have mirrored her heart, as the memory of another flashed across her mind like a shooting star. The chip held halfway to his open lips, his brows furrowing as he steadily regarded her. Then, chewing thoughtfully, he leaned back and cleared his throat.
"Am I interrupting something?"
"No, no." She attempted a half-hearted smile and turned to look out the window once more, hiding the tears that threatened to spill, her hands busily twisting a napkin into unknown shapes.
"My apologies for whatever I've done to cause you grief." He sounded so sincere, and confused.
Dabbing at the corners of her eyes, she shook her head. Looking down she took a deep breath then faced him. "It's not you. I, I had a friend." her throat tightened. "He liked--," she bit her lower lip, "...we used to shared chips."
"Sounds like an alright fellow."
She chuckled, nodding vigorously.
"Yeah, he is, was. My bestest mate ever. I just miss him."
"I've been known to be quite a good listener, at one time or another. And I've got nowhere to be for, oh, " He consulted a fob watch, tucked it back away and continued his assault on the chips. "about as long as it takes, for me to want to be there."
If asked to explain why, Rose would have just answered simply, I trusted him. Later, she would ask herself why, and smile knowingly.
The afternoon wore on as Rose told him the story of her travels with a being known as the Doctor, and of the many adventures they'd shared, exploring worlds one only dared dream, of and the creatures they'd met. He seldom interrupted, aside from the one time to share a jellybaby, and listened intently to the tale she wove, laughing at some parts, and almost seeming to get a cloudy eye at others.
When she finished, she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off her soul. This was different than sharing with her mum, Pete or Mickey. This complete stranger, sitting across from her, made her feel as if he understood, as if he almost shared in her story, rather than just being a passive listener.
"I have just one question." He finally spoke, holding her gaze and leaning slowly forward, the depths of his eyes unfathomable.
She held her breath, in the furthest recesses of her mind she feared he'd tell her it had been a entertaining story, without a shred of truth.
"If there was the remotest possibility of one more trip, with this said Doctor, where would you ask to go?"
The possibilities seemed endless. The furthest reaches of space, and time, never to return. Or, he had promised her Barcelona, the place where there were dogs with no noses. It couldn't, wouldn't ever happen, but for an instant, looking into those blue eyes, she caught a glimpse of a leather jacket and a pinstripe suit.
"Anywhere but Cardiff." she blurted out, then suddenly felt very foolish.
"Come with me."
Rose was taken aback by the unexpected request, and found herself hurrying to follow him as he hastily exited the cafe and strode off. Forced into a slow jog to keep up, she had just worked up the courage to ask where they were going, when he abruptly turned into an alley.
A familiar, blue police box occupied the far corner, its door slightly ajar as if openly inviting her. Surely this was a hallucination. She turned quickly, scouring the area, reassuring herself that it all seemed real enough, then tentatively stepped toward the object she had so long dreamed of returning for her.
Hardly daring to blink in case it turned out to be only a figment of her imagination, she reached out, feeling the wood under her trembling fingertips. Patting then stroking the panel as she'd seen the Doctor do so many times, it made her believe she was home once more.
A hand grasped her wrist and pulled her quickly into the TARDIS, the door clicking shut behind her. She took in the console room, noting a few differences instantly, such as the absence of the turquoise light, replaced by a more clinical sparse look, and a feeling of youthfulness.
But this man, the one standing at the controls decisively flipping switches and rotating knobs couldn't be--
A wide, manic toothy smile answered back, as his face lit up.
"What happened?" she whispered, seeing flashes of a previous regeneration.
Again, as if reading her mind, he sought to reassure her. "I'm afraid we haven't met yet, young lady."
"A much younger version of myself."
"What about creating a paradox?"
"Ah, right. Well, since we've already met in this universe, I just wipe a bit of my memory, and bam! Everything back to normal." He shrugged noncommittally, avoiding her face.
"I can't take you back across the rift." This time his eyes reflected grief and loneliness, an intimate look that had so often touched her heart.
"A proper goodbye then?"
He nodded imperceptibly, swallowing a lump lodged in his throat, as he studied the girl, now moving closer.
The TARDIS landed with just the slightest of motions. And the look of anticipation on her face, was worth everything to him at that moment.
"So where are we?" She asked excitedly, barely able to contain her enthusiasm.
Checking the monitors, he inwardly groaned thinking it could have been a bit more exotic. "Alaska, fifty-first century."
A body launched at him. Startled, he stepped back quickly as she wrapped him in a giant hug, and soon he was patting her timidly on the back. A whispered thankyou, a brief peck on the cheek and she was sprinting for the door.
The Doctor grinned widely and broke into a laugh, shaking his head in wonder.
"I'm going to enjoy meeting you again, Rose."