Rose Tyler thought, as she did every morning, that the back stairs of the Farrington School for Boys was a frankly rotten place to be carrying breakfast trays, and once again wished her destination was on the ground floor. And closer to the kitchen: her trip felt like it spanned the entire school. China and cutlery rattled and various liquids threatened to slop onto the pristine linen despite the fact they resided in containers specifically designed to avoid it. She'd tried various carrying techniques since her employment at the school and had found no solutions - if she walked as slowly as she apparently needed to keep it all steady the trip would take her an hour. She didn't know why she wasn't getting any better at this task and wondered for the millionth time what instinct proper maids had that she didn't. It just didn't seem like it should be so bloody hard.
Nevertheless, she was glad to have this particular delivery responsibility and not only would never have traded it, but would have fought to keep it if the need ever arose. The tray's intended recipient needed looking after, in her sole opinion, and she was determined to do so.
She grinned—not that anyone was likely to try and filch her post any time soon. The job of being Master John Smith's primary servant had fallen to her mostly because all the other maids were afraid of him. Rose was apparently the only one who never left his room feeling disregarded, disapproved of or having received an acid tongue-lashing that left her in tears. Rose always returned from doing chores for him in the same mood as when she left—occasionally her mood was even a little better. There were even stories of her having botched things while working for him and him not reprimanding her. One maid claimed to have seen Rose pick up some laundry from him while she was so busy talking she didn't notice she was leaving a trail of garments as she went. Mr. Smith allegedly mentioned it in mild exasperation – as though he were obliged to – but his smile as she left could only be described as fond.
On the surface, the phenomenon didn't make any sense to anyone else, seeing as Rose was generally the least skilled maid on staff and Mr. Smith was by far the pickiest customer, but there it was. Rose knew some of the older servants found her rapport with him unseemly. She'd heard whispers, caught looks. But the younger girls mostly regarded her with confusion and impressed amazement. A few of them nicknamed her The Lion Tamer.
Rose stubbed her toe on a rise in the hallway carpet and the tray lurched again, sending the lid of the sugar bowl bouncing along the floor. A lock of hair had fallen out of her little maid's cap and she blew it off her forehead: if only she were the Tray Tamer.
Rose could see how someone could be afraid of Mr. Smith, but…"seeing" was exactly the point - somehow she saw what the others didn't. To everyone else he was only the schoolmaster: the tall figure with the angular face and icy eyes, long legs carrying him through the halls briskly enough to make his black gown billow. They saw his quiet impatience with nonsense and tangents and took it for a lack of humour. They could sense a kind of coiled power about him, the air of a maelstrom that could be unleashed with the wrong word or gesture, and took it as sublimated anger at them. They knew his sharp eyes missed nothing, and felt his tight-lipped expressions were judgmental. The boys never failed to greet him in polite intimidation, and though he was cordial with the rest of the teachers and staff he was never overly familiar. To them this was just unfriendliness, smug superiority.
They all just watched his outer façade and never recognized it for what it was…a façade.
Rose could tell he wasn't relaxed enough to be himself. She watched him stride the halls and saw flashes of endearingly gangly legs and knobby hands amongst the folds of his gown. She saw the speed of his walk as an urgency to be in his classroom early and do his job in a way that would be respected. She saw his quiet impatience not with nonsense and tangents, but with his colleagues' petty, pompous attempts at impressing and jockeying for position. She knew the coiled power meant he had far more potential than he was using. She saw the fierce intelligence in his face as he observed every interaction and saw far past its surface, and a quiet loneliness that he somehow never assuaged by joining in. She saw the brief, kind smile that warmed his lips and eyes when an overly-nervous younger pupil seemed afraid of him; she also saw the quick moment between them as smile put the boy more at ease.
And speaking of smiles…
She thought of how his face changed whenever she entered his room during the day—of how the arctic blue in his eyes would undergo a thaw, gain the faintest twinkle and become something softer while the hint of a pleased smile dawned to match.
She thrilled at that phenomenon every time.
She arrived at his room, placing the tray on the little tray-holding table in the corridor and knocking firmly at his door. She waited the usual amount of time for him to call her in…but he didn't. She rapped again and heard a faint reply, or she heard words, anyway, spoken in what didn't sound like his usual voice. She put her ear to the door and heard it again—it made her uneasy. She opened his door a crack and peeked in.
She continued easing open the door until she found him, and then flushed through with a kind of guilty excitement: he was still in bed. Still asleep, actually, and having a restless time of it. She'd never seen the Master in such a personal, unguarded moment. She didn't think she should be watching, but couldn't look away.
His brow twitched and furrowed as grimaces crossed his face, and his one visible hand wrung the blankets. His limbs joined in the agitation, jerking his body once, then again. "Iss dangerous…" he muttered.
Rose watched, wide-eyed. She ventured a whisper: "Mr. Smith?"
His face grimaced more painfully. He kicked the covers partially off one leg. "Dangerous!"
Rose half-dropped the tray to the floor with a rude clank and hurried to his bedside, giving him a shake with both hands on his shoulders. "Mr. Smith!"
"AND MAUVE!" he cried, sitting up so fast Rose jumped back in alarm. He blinked in complete disorientation, his prominent features strangely slack, bleary blue eyes finally settling on her with no recognition in them.
Rose had abandoned all thoughts of propriety in her alarm, but now it all came back in a mortifying rush. Her employer was within arm's reach, in his bed, in pyjamas, looking like a lost little boy in the morning light. He seemed utterly vulnerable and without social armour – it felt like walking in on him being born.
His eyes started to focus on her. She didn't know what happened next, but didn't think it would be good, so she prepared to make the visit short. "Begging your pardon, sir," she said quickly. "You, you just—seemed to be having a nightmare and you worried me and, and so I woke you. I'll leave the tray where it is." She headed for the door.
"No..." came his voice, quiet and foggy. "You can stay and finish, it's all right." She turned and watched as he shuffled into his slippers and found his dressing gown. She hesitated, then quickly decided to take him at his word, stooping to grab the tray and hustle it to its usual table.
She set out the meal for him, brain working for a way to ask what he'd been dreaming about without overstepping her bounds. In the way of disenfranchised women dealing with men throughout history, she went about it left-handedly. "Have you been working especially hard, sir?" "You shouldn't let it disturb your rest if you have. You won't be any good to those boys if you get run down."
She snuck a look at him as he stood tying the belt of his robe. He was awake enough now to smile and roll his eyes a bit. "Thank you, Rose, I will take that under advisement."
She grinned to herself. Not in for a scolding after all, it seemed – she felt fluttery with relief, and a bit of pleasure. She arranged his cup and saucer, the sugar basin, the little milk jug. She unfolded the morning paper and set it out on the table, knowing he liked to look at it first. She glanced at the date: Monday 10th November, 1913.
He walked toward her, looking a little faraway. "As a matter of fact…" His eyes flashed to hers uncertainly. "I was having a dream."
Her face creased in sympathy, the better to hide concern. "Was it a very bad one?"
"No, actually…" He took the paper and glanced at it. "Not unpleasant at all. It was…" He smiled as though just realizing something for himself. "…rather entertaining."
Rose crooked an eyebrow that said she expected him to elaborate. John seemed to warm to his topic.
"Seems I was on some kind of…vessel that travelled through space, on my way to a crash landing somewhere." His smile went crooked, in a way Rose very much liked. "I was chasing something I apparently needed to intercept. Something troublesome."
"Oh, you were chasing Baines?" Rose's eyebrow arched higher as she arranged his knife and fork on either side of his plate.
Mr. Smith chuckled. "No, something more troublesome than him, if you can imagine."
"I can't," she said archly.
He graced her with an amused look that said "behave." She returned with a tilt of her head that said she wouldn't. The moment stretched a bit…till John looked pointedly at the tea pot on the table. Rose shook herself. "Oh, yes sir, of course." She began pouring. "Do you always have such fantastical dreams, sir?"
"Actually…I do," he confessed, with just the slightest sheepishness. "More often than not, anyway. I've had several dreams so far in which I'm this spaceman fellow, and I'm from the future, of all things. I travel about the galaxy in this ship, meddling in other people's business." He accepted his tea from Rose and took a sip, still lost in his thoughts. "And I'm not even human, can you believe that? Where does this sort of thing come from?"
"I suppose you must have a vivid imagination, sir."
He snorted softly, moving to his seat at the little table; Rose stepped aside. "I suppose I may have had, at some point, but that's long been left behind." He placed his napkin in his lap, settling himself. "Thank you, Rose," he said.
Rose privately deflated a little—she wasn't quite ready for her time with him to be over—but nodded and started for the door. She hesitated and looked back with her hand on the knob. "Um, sir?"
He raised his eyebrows at her expectantly, polite but not infinitely so. "Yes?"
"So…you are all right then, yes?"
There it was. The softening in his face. Rose felt a warm bloom of happiness – she wouldn't have to go without it this morning after all.
"Yes, Rose, I'm fine. Thank you for asking."
She nodded with a shy smile and exited.
Outside in the hall, the smile dropped a bit as the tension she'd felt caught up to her.
She strode down the corridor toward the stairs, thinking how hard it was wondering and watching every day, looking for any sign of a problem. The Doctor had said the Chameleon Arch would have no harmful side effects on him, but if his biology rewriting was anything like his navigating, she had reason to believe there might be surprises.