This story is written as a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to AriaJack, regular reviewer and loyal fan, who entertains me with mini-stories, cheers me with her supportive nature, and really wants me to tell more of Relics. I will, I have, I promise. In the meantime, an outtake from the ALH 'verse, from Relics, written for you, Aria, in honor of your birthday!
Day in the Park
It's one step, just one, and reality is gone. It reforms differently, as always, and Rose Tyler finds herself walking into a new somewhen through the blossom-heavy thorny branches of a vast rose bush. She doesn't solidify completely until she's clear of the bush and on a patch of soft black sand, and that's a small thing to be grateful for, at least. She once reappeared in the middle of a fire fight. It was awkward picking bullets out of her own shoulder.
This time, her surroundings are much more peaceful. She can tell immediately that it's a formal garden, but one that's been allowed to go riot, at least within the limits of the somehow perfect curves of the black sand paths like the one she's standing on. It feels so familiar, somehow.
For a moment, Rose allows herself to just stand there, taking in the scents of cool air thick with pure water and green things that explode to joyous life from beneath a covering of rich, sun-bathed earth. She allows the air to brush by her face, teasing and tickling and fond, like a friend. She smiles at this thought, can't stop smiling, and turns under the warm caress of the sunlight above her to consider the bush she came through.
At first it looks rather wilted, but a closer inspection lets Rose see what she's truly found. It's a hybrid (the sign says it from Earth in her future), the leaves and limbs such a dark purple that they look almost the color of chocolate. There's still a bit of green to them, a bit of gold, really, as they support an absolute riot of flowers. Each flower is delicate and so simple looking, an uncomplicated, unfussy little rose with softly pink petals. Every single petal, however, looks as if it has been dipped in yellow. Somehow, this bizarre arrangement of colors masks a scent that's subtle and heady and still all at once. Rose has never seen a prettier flower in her life.
The little sign that describes it says it's called Rosa lupa, and Rose can't help but to murmur, "How appropriate."
It's the gasp, a tiny, hummingbird sound, that finally tells her she's not alone in this cool, tranquil Eden. Rose is unlikely to admit to being surprised - for reasons that are far too depressing to actually contemplate - but she does allow her guard to creep back up at least a little.
Her eyes scan the garden, searching for the owner of that tiny voice, and fall instead on the tree. It is enormous, farther around than Rose can reach, more immense than any oak Rose has ever seen, any sequoia she has ever heard of. It speaks it age silently but clearly, its sheer vastness telling anyone who might look at it that it knows what passing eons feel like. It is shining in the sunlight, broad limbs stretching silver leaves into a sky...
Slowly, Rose dares to look up.
There are two suns overhead, one brighter than the sun she used to know, the other small and golden like an early risen moon. They shine through an amber sky, glimmer upon the tremendous dome above her head, and for the first time, Rose realizes she is actually indoors.
She has dreamed of this place, both in hope and in fear. In her mind or perhaps her memories, she's seen it burn, seen it shattered to space dust. Rose forces her face away from the sky. Her hands are trembling, and this cannot be true.
She looks, instead, for the tiny voice she heard, and finds it, at the base of the tree, on a bench the same color as the crimson grass beneath it. There's a child sitting there, a very little child, and she's watching Rose with the intensity of someone who saw someone else materialize out of thin air.
There's reason to worry, Rose thinks. If she really is where she refuses to believe she is, there are a lot of things she can mess up without even trying. However, there's something tugging at her somewhere, some unknowable impulse to handle the situation. It's the same sort of idea that took her into the TARDIS all those ages ago, it's a niggling idea that there's something she'd understand if she could only... understand.
Sometimes English is a crap language for the thoughts in Rose Tyler's head.
Finally surrendering to that niggle, Rose steps closer to the tree, kneeling down several feet from the bench, and slightly to the side, so the child can run if she chooses. Possibly this little girl's mother has had better luck teaching her kid not to talk to strangers than Jackie Tyler did.
"Hello, sweetheart," Rose says quietly, almost hoping the little girl will run. Rose is terrible with kids, always has been, ever since she found out...
The little girl doesn't run. Instead, she pulls herself together with this pugnacious, tiny dignity, her small chin jutting out, her tiny head tilting back as she meets Rose's eyes. "Who are you?" she demands, as if she expects to be told anything she wants to know.
Rose is almost wrecked by the desire to laugh. The child is such a cute little thing, all huge dark eyes and long black hair, and she's reminding Rose of someone more and more with every single gesture she makes. Rose uses straightening her blue leather jacket as an excuse to regain her composure, and looks up, smiling, to find the little girl straightening her lovely, red, robe-like dress.
"Rude," Rose chides, unable to help herself a little. She's starting to realize who the kid reminds her of, and supposes that must be the way they're raised here, at least if here is really... here.
The little girl almost flinches, like she's never been called on her behavior before, and doesn't really know what to make of it now. She offers a tentative little smile, which Rose hesitatingly returns. "We haven't been introduced," the dark-haired child reminds Rose.
Rose nods thoughtfully, then looks around. She knew the Doctor had described being lonely as a child, but he'd never mentioned being stuck unmonitored in a garden of who knew what as a standard child-rearing technique. "Why are you alone out here, sweetheart? Someone's watching for you, aren't they?" Rose bites her lip at how that might sound. "You're what, seven? Are you lost?"
"I'm eight!" the child exclaims, all outrage and temper. She reminds Rose, abruptly, of her mother, Jackie. Get mad first, make sense of it later. "I'm already a novice, thank you very much!"
Rose grins. "'Course you are," she agrees. "How could I have missed it?"
"How, indeed," says the kid, and Rose slaps her hand over her mouth, because she can almost hear the grumble of 'stupid ape' that didn't follow the little girl's words (but might as well have done).
"Look, I'll just wait with you 'til someone comes to collect you, all right?" Rose says. She really needs to get out of here, especially if here is where it really looks like it probably was... is.
All the same, she can't just abandon the kid. It just... isn't happening. The kid blinks at her, confused, then finally nods. "But you have to tell me a story," the little girl decides.
Rose stares. "I..." she starts. She doesn't tell stories, she doesn't mend boo-boos, she doesn't like children at all. She sits down on the crimson grass. She might have a way with words, but that's only with adults. She's just getting comfortable because it's best, that's all.
Still, she knows some stories, and a few that she loves very much. One of them is a beautiful little fairy tale the Doctor told her, very late one night when she was recovering from something that had happened on one of their many misadventures. Rose remembers wondering if he even knew she was awake while he murmured the soothing, wonderful tale.
"Once upon a time, there was a girl. She seemed quite the most ordinary girl when she was growing up in the old and tired city, and even when she became a young woman, there was nothing really obvious that was special about her..." This was the Doctor's story about the Rise of the Phoenix, and Rose finds herself delighted to be telling it to a child where it belongs, the world where the story had first been told, where it had been passed down.
As Rose continues the tale, she finds herself really getting into the story, making voices for the characters, putting in sound effects where they're needed. The little girl had crept from her bench. By the time Rose gets to the bit about how the Phoenix Lord was captured, the little girl is watching her with huge dark eyes from the grass directly in front of her. Rose wonders if the little one wants to get into her lap, if maybe she would go to sleep if rocked, just like a human child.
There is so much that's completely fantastic about this afternoon. In the midst of the desert nightmare that Rose's life has become, this moment is an oasis, and somehow having this child to share it with her makes it all the more delightful. She has no idea how they compare, really. This baby time princess could have been older than the TARDIS long before the War ever came. Rose has no way of knowing.
When she finishes the story, she looks to the little girl, holding out a hand. The child looks ready to take that hand, gives Rose an expression of such intense longing that Rose almost makes the contact for her. She waits, however, patiently, just to see what will happen.
There are voices and the dark-haired girl starts to her feet, flinging herself back onto her bench and trying to look thoroughly proper again. "It's my father and my teacher," she says quietly. "You'd better go."
Rose frowns, then nods. In the distance, she can see them, a tall, elegant, older man in a very funny hat, and a small, younger man with a very similar hat dangling from his fingers. The younger man, as Rose get a clearer view of him through the vines that grow around the tree, is beautiful, really, and his hair is the same dark color as his daughter's, shorter, but not as short as Rose would have expected.
There's a pang, somewhere in the vicinity of her chest.
"I know what you're thinking," the little girl says, "and you're wrong."
Rose blinks. All she'd really been thinking, besides that the young man was as strangely familiar as his kid, is that she doesn't actually know how to leave, not really. "Oh?" she whispers.
"The young man is my teacher; the older one's my father."
Rose nods. "Can never judge by appearances," she agrees idly. "Still, you sort of resemble him a bit, you know."
The little girl gives her a grin that Rose really ought to recognize, though she can't seem to place it. It's bright and wide and full of cheek, all mischief and merriment. "Everyone says that about me and the Doctor."
Rose starts again, idly considering that this has certainly been a day for shocks. "What'd you say?"
"The Doctor," the little girl repeats, pausing briefly to nip at her thumb. "S'what my teacher's called."
The rush of joy that hits Rose is rather like being run down by a locomotive. She'd found him, at long last, so young, but surely, surely he could, would help her find the right Doctor. Only the Doctor can fix this mess, whatever it is. This Doctor would know what to do, he would understand. Surely, surely...
"Thank you for today," Rose tells the child, then turns to run toward the Doctor.
It's one step, just the one, and reality is gone.