A Cup of Kindness
By Laura Schiller
Crossover: Doctor Who/Chocolat
Copyright: Joanne Harris and the BBC
Vianne Rocher had been feeling the North Wind all morning. Wild and cold, blowing through her hair as she swept the front steps of La Chocolaterie Maya, rattling the window shutters and sighing wistfully along the cobblestoned streets. Whispering to her of places yet unseen, friends to be made, battles to be fought. So when the sound of the wind was joined by the unmistakable wheezing rattle of a Type 40 TARDIS landing in the street, Vianne was not as surprised as she might otherwise have been. She smiled, dusted off her chocolate-powdered hands on her apron, and put the kettle on.
"Anouk?" she called up the stairs. "We've got a visitor."
The little girl came bounding down the stairs with an excited grin, and as soon as the visitor walked in the door, she launched herself at him like a little cannonball.
"Doctor! Maman, it's the Doctor! I heard your box making that funny noise and I knew you were coming and – what happened to your face? Where's Rose?"
The tall, weather-beaten blond with prominent ears had regenerated into a rail-thin man with tousled dark hair, wide brown eyes and the air of an overgrown child. Even the omnipresent leather jacket was gone, replaced by a khaki trenchcoat, a blue pinstriped suit underneath, and bright red running shoes. As for Rose Tyler, his beautiful but rather annoying British companion, she was nowhere to be seen, and a shadow passed over his face when Anouk mentioned her name.
"Let him breathe, Anoushka," said Vianne, gently dislodging her daughter from the Doctor's arms. "Hello, Doctor. It's wonderful to see you."
"My TARDIS does not make funny noises," he huffed as he pulled Vianne close for a hug. "And as for Rose, we've, ah – parted ways. Moved on, so to speak. Mmm, Vianne," burying his face in her shoulder, "You smell delectable, as usual. Have you got any of that … you know, that spicy stuff around?"
"If you mean my Mayan hot chocolate with chili peppers, of course I do," she answered, a little taken aback.
The old Doctor hadn't been much for hugs, except after surviving some life-threatening danger. Either the regeneration had changed him, or he had suffered something terrible in her absence.
"Ah yes," he said, grinning just a little too much and beginning to pace around the room surveying her décor. "The Mayans. Now that was a trip, remember? Gorgeous artwork, fascinating temples, giant feathery snake alien masquerading as a god, you and I almost getting sacrificed … lucky it didn't like the smell of chocolate and chili. Oh, and by the way, this new shop of yours is absolutely brilliant!" He reached the middle of the tiled floor, flung out his arms and spun around, his coat billowing, taking in the sky-blue walls painted with mythical monsters, the clay bowls and hand-carved statues, and the chocolates laid out enticingly on every available surface.
"Thank you." Vianne got behind the counter and began to pour out three cups of the aforementioned hot chocolate. "You should have seen it when we arrived, right, chérie?"
"There was dust e-ve-ry-where." Anouk giggled. "I could write my name in it. Just like the shelves in the TARDIS library!"
"Now, Doctor," Vianne added more seriously, handing him his cup. "Is there any particular reason why you're here? Any … danger … we should know about?"
Her heartbeat sped up just a little as she tried to remember anything out of the ordinary happening in Lansquenet. She came up blank; the most unusual thing by far in this sleepy village was her chocolaterie itself.
"What? Nah!" The Doctor waved away her apprehension with one hand. "Nothing like that. Why – have you seen anything?"
"No," Anouk and Vianne chorused in unison.
"Good. See, I simply thought I'd drop by to catch up with my old friends, like last time. Granted, my last visit with you in Leipzig turned into saving the town from a collective coma … note to self: never let invading aliens get hold of Bach. Sorry. I've been told I'm easily distracted, this lifetime around. What was I saying?"
"Catching up with old friends."
"Oh yes, yes!" He hopped up onto one of the barstools, leaned both elbows on the counter and propped his chin up on his hands. "So how are you handling yourselves, girls? Not bored to tears yet in a backwater like this?"
Not very well … She thought with shame of the day she had shouted at the Comte and kicked the statue of his ancestor. The Doctor wouldn't have done it … well, the old Doctor anyway, she amended. This one might.
"The Comte de Reynaud … this town's mayor … is being difficult," she confessed. "He's a very strict Catholic, you know, and I'm an unmarried mother who's just opened a chocolaterie during Lent. He says," she sighed, realizing as she spoke how very real her worries were, "He says I'm Satan's helper and I'll be out of business by Easter."
"He's mean," Anouk added.
The Doctor touched her arm and smiled, a gesture of sympathy she found very welcome.
"I can't believe it," he scoffed. "My Vianne, daunted by a village mayor? Why, you've faced down armies of Daleks without batting an eye. This Comte should pose much less of a challenge. I know a charming old lady on Ixchel Prime who'll turn him into an amoeba for you, at a very small charge."
She had to laugh, and felt a little bit better.
"It's sweet of you to offer, Doctor, but no. I'll see this through. By the way, your chocolate's getting cold."
He looked distractedly down at his cup, took a sip, spluttered, coughed and spat it back out. "Ugh! Rassilon's eye! Vianne Rocher, are you trying to poison me?"
New taste buds. Of course. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and shook her head.
"It's the same recipe, Doctor. How long have you had this body now?"
"Half a year, so what?"
"And it didn't occur to you that chili peppers might disagree with it."
"I forgot, that's all." He shrugged. "Unlike humans, I have more important things to think about than food."
Knowing it was useless to scold, she decided to fall back on her old and tried method of determining a customer's needs. Granted, the Doctor was not just any customer; every time she'd done this in the past, he'd come up with a different mind-blowing answer. What would it be this time?
"Do you remember this, Doctor?" she asked gently, placing her divination plate on the counter in front of him.
He ran his hand along the surface, feeling the bumps and grooves of the many-colored design. "Oh, don't I?" he muttered. "This old thing … we brought it all the way from New New Mexico in the year 6284, didn't we? And you kept it. Of course you would."
"What do you see?" she asked him, spinning the plate.
He stared into it for a long while without speaking, his eyes darker than ever, his mouth pressed into a thin line.
"I see … stars," he said. "Stars on fire … stars exploding … I see a swarm of creatures being sucked into a gigantic void. I see her eyes … "
His voice caught in his throat and he swallowed, pushing the plate at her with an almost rude abruptness.
"Never liked this game," he rasped. "Bit silly, really."
Anouk, sensing the importance of the moment and dreading to be sent away, crept away into the shadowy stairwell to listen, unnoticed by both the adults. Very softly, very kindly, Vianne leaned across the counter, looked into his eyes and asked the question that needed to be asked.
"Doctor, what really happened to Rose?"
He raked his hands across his face and through his hair. When he spoke, his answer was muffled by the sleeves of his coat and suit.
"She fell," he said. "Into the Void between universes. We were holding open a portal to get rid of a Dalek swarm, and she lost her grip … and fell."
Vianne's breath caught. That golden-haired girl, always laughing, holding the Doctor's hand as if she'd never let go …
"Oh, she didn't die," he amended quickly, catching the expression on her face. "No, no, she's just in another universe. Happy, I hope. The only thing is, since we sealed the gateway, I can never see her again unless both universes collapse … and I never even told her I loved her. I tried … burned up a sun just to talk to her … but my time ran out before I could say the words."
Vianne regretted every unkind thought she'd ever had about the girl. Certainly she had been a bit impulsive and self-centered, as nineteen-year-olds tended to be; no match for, say, the remarkable Sarah Jane Smith. But she had been a healing influence on the Doctor after the Time War, and she did have her virtues – courage, quick thinking, an endearing sense of humor, and a boundless loyalty to the Doctor among them – and being separated from her love by a whole universe was a truly hard fate, especially if he'd never told her. Compared to that, Vianne's own separation from Roux was positively lucky – only a river, and he might come back at any moment.
"She knows," said Vianne, knowing it was the truth. "Trust me, Doctor. She knows."
The Doctor glanced from her to her divination plate and back again, frowning thoughtfully, remembering the last time he and Rose had watched it spin together. They had had the same vision, finishing each other's sentences, and received free samples of the same chocolate in return.
"You're an uncanny creature, Vianne," he said, in his whimsical manner. "Sometimes I wonder if you're entirely human."
"Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment," she teased. "And I have just the thing for you."
Much to her relief, he answered with a tiny smile. "Now I'm curious."
She took an empty golden cardboard box, opened it on the counter, hid her eyes with one hand and began to reach among her displays, picking up six different chocolates at random. She uncovered her eyes, packed them neatly into the box, closed it and tied it with a ribbon.
"It's not for you," she explained hastily, as he tugged on the bow. "It's for your next companion."
"My next - " he began, looking visibly affronted.
"I know," she said, holding up one hand. "She'll never replace Rose, and you mustn't expect her to. But she will come along eventually, and when she does, you'll want to make her feel welcome. Or him," with a pitying afterthought for any female companion trying to live up to the Doctor's ideal of Rose.
"Come to think of it, Doctor, when was the last time you traveled with a man? A male companion wouldn't inconvenience you with love."
"One of them did," said the Doctor. "Captain Jack Harkness. 51st-century American."
"Oh … " Vianne blushed, recalling all over again what 51st-century sexual standards were like. "I'd almost forgotten. It isn't talked about in Lansquenet, you see. I meant the average sort of man, one who's attracted to women. Not that the other sort are wrong."
"I thought not," he said, with one of his disarmingly open smiles. "You do have a point, Vianne, but you see … females are fascinating. Epecially human ones. They're one of the few things in this universe which remain a mystery to me."
Trust him to have an answer like that.
"Thank you, by the way," he added, pocketing the chocolates.
"You're welcome, Doctor. And this," speaking over her shoulder as she mixed another drink, "This is for you. No chili peppers this time."
She made him an extra-large mug of plain hot chocolate, with whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and a bendy straw. He watched her narrowly as she worked, made an experimental slurp through the straw, and beamed like a little boy.
"Now that's my favorite," he declared. "How did you know?"
She gave him her best mysterious smile, the one she'd learned directly from him.
He finished it with what the Comte would have termed indecent haste, stood up, and smoothed his long coat like a bird ruffling its feathers before the flight.
"I don't suppose," he said offhandedly, picking up one of her miniature gods, "Considering your remarks about my next companion, you'd be willing to fill the role yourself?"
The offer was tempting. For a moment, she considered it – no more gossip behind her back, no more church bells or tracts in her mailbox, no more worry over paying bills, no more of that insufferable Comte or the disgusting Serge … but thinking about Serge led her directly to Josephine, his abused former wife, Vianne's companion. Josephine, so much brighter and more confident than before. Who was out in the market shopping for supplies, and would return to find her vanished God-knows-where. And what about Anouk? Her pregnancy had led her to leave the Doctor and Rose in the first place; the jeopardy-friendly TARDIS was no place for a child. Their occasional visits had shown as much.
Her silence must have spoken for her. "Oh, c'mon," the Doctor coaxed, holding out his hand and looking more dangerously charming than ever. "Just one trip, for old time's sake. I could have you back the moment you left."
"You can't guarantee that," she pointed out. "Not if the TARDIS is how I remember her. Give her my regards, won't you?"
The Doctor nodded, picked her up and swung her around in another of his fierce, breathtaking hugs.
"You're magnificent, Vianne Rocher," he declared. "So's your daughter. Never forget."
He blew through the door with his coat streaming behind him, wild and free as the North Wind itself. Tears stung Vianne's eyes as she listened to the TARDIS creak her way into the Time Vortex. Would she never be done saying goodbye?
The renewed jingle of the doorbell made her look up. It was Josephine, a walking ray of sunshine in her yellow cardigan and cream-colored skirt, followed by Luc. Both were talking animatedly, loaded down with shopping bags, and both smiled as Vianne came to help them.
"Look whom I found to be my valet," Josephine joked. "We can pay him in candy. Will this be enough for Easter, you think?"
Vianne smiled as she took the heaviest bag and placed it on the counter. "Oh yes," she said. "More than enough."