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Rose Tyler wasn't quite sure how all this had started. However it had, though, she was thankful.
She'd moved to this school about a month before, in November, because it was supposed to be a much better school then the one she'd been going to, and she was trying to get away from . . . well, that didn't matter, she was here now. She didn't really know that many people yet, not like she had at the estate school with all the kids she'd known all their lives, but a girl named Martha had shown her around on the first day and had been sort of friendly. The two of them talked in the hallways, sometimes, but not too terribly often.
Most of the time, she watched. She liked looking at people, trying to guess what they were like, what their thoughts were and what they loved and what they hated. Sometimes she'd find herself thinking that this was a lot easier than regular friendships – less room for bad things to seep in and fester like they had with Shireen and . . . well.
Anyway, it didn't mean she didn't want friends.
Things were quiet, despite her efforts. She went through the day, did her work, and came home. She wasn't really lonely, per se, but sometimes she did wish she had some people to talk to. She traded jokes with a few kids in her classes, gave smiles to others, but they seemed to have their own friends and she didn't intrude.
It was after school on a Monday that she had first met John Smith. After that her life had gone – well, not badly. Just very, very differently.
The light on her phone had read One New Voice Message and so she'd answered it, thinking it was probably Mum. It wasn't.
"Aww, come on, babe." The words send a cold shiver down her back.
"Don't be like that. You and me, we'll always be together." The voice over the phone was falsetto now, mimicking her. "That's what you said, right, babe? That ain't gonna change. I'll find you, wherever you went, and you're gonna be my girl again, aren't you, Rosie?"
No. she thought frantically, muffled, biting down on her hand. I went here to get away. I can't – he can't –
She slumped against the wall, and slid until she was sitting, her arms shaking out of sudden, horrible fear. This had always been what he'd done to her, at first she'd thought it was attraction, that he made her, literally, weak in the knees, but it was so much worse . . .
She placed her head in her hands and just breathed, in and out, in and out, convincing herself, that yes, she could, she was here and alive, trying to steady herself and failing, and she could feel her body shaking, but not just with cold.
She'd never been more scared, of anything, anyone, ever. She couldn't let him find her again, couldn't do this again, if she tried she felt like she'd implode, the pieces of her going in all different directions, and her breathing picked up at the thought . . .
She felt a hand on her shoulder, shaking gently, and flinched away from it, hard. Oh god, he'd found her, he'd –
The touch had been gentle, she thought, and that was odd, for him, and she looked up into a pair of brown eyes.
He had pale eyes. Blue. She'd once thought that they were beautiful.
This wasn't him.
The eyes kept blinking at her, patient, with concern. They were a warm sort of brown, and the rest of the face was a boy's, roughly her age, with sideburns and wild brown hair that went off in a million different directions. He had a nice face, which seemed on the verge of a frown as he looked at her, and he wore a blue T-shirt under a long, brown jacket, jeans that were a darker blue than his shirt, and muddy white Converse trainers.
She let her eyes rest on his shoes; that seemed safest.
"Are you okay?" he asked after a bit, tilting his head to the side in a way that was vaguely doglike. His jacket puddled on the ground as he squatted next to her. "Sick? You fell as you were talking on the phone . . ."
He pressed his hand to her forehead, and she jerked away, feeling the ghost of him as he did so. She felt terrible once she saw the hurt on his face, he'd only been trying to help, after all, and she tried to explain. "Sorry, I'm not sick, I just . . . "
She trailed off. What could she say? I thought you were my ex-boyfriend, he left me a message and I thought you were him coming to get me. No, that wouldn't work out, not at all.
"Sorry." she said finally. "Sorry, really. I'm a bit jumpy is all." There, that was alright, wasn't it?
He nodded as thought this made perfect sense, then stood up again and held out his hand. "I'm John Smith."
She took his hand, planning on shaking it, and he pulled her to her feet, surprising her a little.
"Rose Tyler." she said.
"Hello!" he said brightly, trying to cheer her up, she thought. She felt a tiny smile grow on her face and his own smile widened in response.
He had a brilliant smile. Cheerful and bright, and it changed his face from sort of mildly handsome into wonderful. His smile made you trust him – it was so uncomplicated, it didn't have any layers to it, just a sort of endlessly happy look, like a little boy on Christmas.
They stood and looked at each other for a few moments, his eyes scanning her face and hair, and she waited until he was looking at her again, expectant.
"Why are you here so late?" she asked, to break the silence. She had a reason to be here, of course, she took the city buses and they didn't come until now, about thirty minutes after school actually ended. Most of the kids were out the door barely after the last bell rang. At least, that's how it was here. At her old school people hung around and smoked, usually.
"I was helping out a friend of mine, with a case." When she looked at him, confused, he added, "He's a detective, and sometimes he wants a second opinion from someone else brilliant." She couldn't tell if he was joking or not. "How about you?" he asked. "Why are you here?"
"Waitin' for the bus. I take the city bus, see, it comes a bit later than the one for the school." she explained.
"Why?" he asked, doing that doglike thing with his head again. Usually she'd mind if someone asked her these questions, but somehow today, she didn't mind, it seemed fine. Maybe it was his honest curiosity, the way he didn't seem to want to pry, he just wanted to know everything and anything about the world around him.
"I live on the other side of the city." she said, shrugging. "In another school district."
"Really?" He seemed intrigued. "Why did you come here, then?"
She bit her lip and looked away. He seemed to realize he was overstepping, and changed the subject.
"Do you want to come to my house for a bit?"
"What?" she said, a little shocked. "Why?"
"I dunno. You seemed upset before. You know, might cheer you up. My house seems to have that effect. And I want to help. We could watch a movie, or something." He tugged a hand through his hair almost nervously and looked at her.
"I can't, sorry." she said. Kind or not, nice or not, he was a strange boy, and she wasn't just going to leave and go with him.
He looked disappointed, and turned to walk away. She watched him walk over to the parking lot, and then she lost sight of him.
She snuggled into her coat, and settled in to wait. She couldn't help but be a little miffed that he'd left (without even saying goodbye) and a little sad, too. He'd seemed nice, after all, and she could've used the company. And maybe going to his house to hang out for a bit wouldn't have been so bad. This was how you made friends, right? You went to hang out with them?
And he'd been so nice to talk to, and she'd liked his brown eyes. They were kind and bright, the eyes of a little boy who still saw the wonder in the world but also an adult who wasn't so naive.
There was suddenly the rumble of a car's engine and he drove up, in a darkish-blue convertible, a hopeful sort of smile on his face. "By the way." he said casually. "Did I mention I've also got popcorn?"
And the way he looked, somehow she could tell, he wanted her to come with him. Genuinely. Just to cheer her up, to make her day brighter, and maybe to get to know her and be her friend so she could help if she needed it. And she discovered, all of a sudden, that she wanted to go.
This could be me meeting my best friend in the world. she thinks. So I'm gonna take the chance.
She laughed, and shook her head at him, and walked over. "Okay, you've convinced me." she told him as she hopped into the passenger seat.
His house was huge. She gaped at it, walking up next to him. There were three floors, and it was one of those old Victorian-like manor houses on the edge of the city, with a wraparound porch and a tower. She'd lived in a four-or-so room apartment her entire life, and this place seemed anourmous.
"Wow." she said as they walked up the steps. "You have a really lovely house." It was true, his house looked cheerful and well cared for, and she liked the tower especially.
"Thanks!" he said. "It's an old estate, actually. It's in the family and all. Mum didn't like it, all the brick, you know, and she redid it with Dad when she married him. And they knew they wanted a big family, so they built a lot of bedrooms." He grinned at her crookedly. "Tower's not mine, though, sadly, wish it was."
"Is it a room, up there? A bedroom?"
"Nope, just a tower." John said, shrugging. "You see, Mum gave it to my sister so she has her own space. Might be able to persuade Mum to let me have it when she goes away to uni, I'd use it as a place to stargaze . . ." He pushed the front door open and walked in. "It's even bigger on the inside, come see."
The hall was brightly lit and did seem pretty huge, come to think of it. She followed him, walking through the mess of shoes and coats lying about and into a kitchen.
"Here we are, then!" John said, throwing his coat over a chair. There was another boy sitting at the table, eating a banana with a faraway look on his face. There were also about three more bunches of bananas sitting on the table. Rose blinked.
"Are you going to explain all these bananas . . ?"
"That's my brother." John explained, pointing to the boy. "And I like bananas. We all do. Good source of potassium and all that."
"You've got brothers?" she asked, a little envious. It had always been just her and mum, (Mickey, after a while,) and she'd always wanted a brother or sister.
"Two, actually." John said cheerfully. "And a sister. All of us boys named John. Or some variation, anyway. Jonathan, Jon, John-"
"You're joking." Rose scoffed, not believing him for a second.
John shrugged. "Our dad thinks he's funny. What's got you so quiet, then?" he added to his brother.
The boy, who had green eyes and brownish hair that was a little bit long, was staring off into space, and replied in a voice that was a little bit dreamy, "River Song kissed me today."
"Oh, so that's all? You just had a snog?" another boy said disbelievingly, leaning in. He had very short hair, big ears, and a leather jacket.
"Congratulations!" John beamed, slapping the banana-eating boy on the back, and Rose smiled at him. He smiled back.
"I'm Jon. J-O-N." he said, holding out a hand, and she shook it.
"Whereas I have J-O-H-N, myself. And this poor laddie's stuck with Jonathan." John said cheerfully, rubbing the boy with the big ears on the top of his head.
Rose raised her eyebrows, trying not to smile at the annoyed expression on Jonathan's face. "How do you know who's who? When your mum's calling you or something, do you have nicknames?"
"Yup." John said, popping the 'p'. "It's a bit of a long story-"
"It'll be longer than it's supposed to be if you tell it, you take so bloody long to tell stories." Jonathan muttered, still irritated. Rose hid her smile behind her hand, and John glared at his brother.
"Anyhow, our great-grandad thought he was funny and named both his sons John Smith. And then they each had two sons, and named them John, because they thought it was a good joke. And one of them was Dad. Two of our uncles never married. One of them did, before my dad, and had a son and two daughters, but in any case, the son was John, or something like it, Jon, Jonathan, Johnny-anyway, then Dad had us and we were all Johns too. Dad was…the fourth John in our family. Jonathan's the ninth, I'm the tenth, and then Jon over there is the eleventh."
"That's what you should call us. We all call our Dad Dad, but our uncles call him Four, and they're Uncle Three and Uncle Five and Uncle Six, and we're Nine, Ten and Eleven." Jon (or Eleven) said, taking the last bite of his banana and carefully selecting another one. "Our cousins are Seven and Eight, they're Uncle Six's kids. And Grandad and our great-uncle are One and Two."
"It's all a bit confusing." Ten said. "All you have to remember is us, though. Nine, Ten, and Eleven. And their dad."
Rose giggled. "God, you make my family sound boring."
"Why, what's yours like?" Eleven asked.
"Just me and Mum." she said, shrugging. "Dad died when I was a baby. Car accident."
"I'm sorry." Eleven said, looking at her sadly. "That must be terrible. Not missing him or anything, since you didn't know him, but not having a dad when everyone else did. That must be terrible."
She blinked at him. He was so earnest, and so right about it. That was, literally, exactly how she felt. "It's all right. But yeah, it does, I mean, I feel bad, sometimes." She changed the subject then. She didn't want to go into all that, not in detail. "You said you had a sister, too. What's her name?"
"She's right here, and her name is Amy Smith, soon to be Pond." a girl's voice sang out, and Ten smiled.
"Here she is now. Amy, this is Rose Tyler."
Amy Smith, soon to be Pond, was gorgeous, one of the people you saw walking by and caused you to subconsciously wish you had their face. Her red hair didn't help, either; it made her all the more exquisite. But she had a lovely, friendly smile, and you couldn't hold her looks against her. Rose grinned at her.
"Hello, nice to meet you, Rose." Amy said brightly, holding out a hand. "Are you a new girlfriend, or just here?"
"Here for the bananas." Rose said, grinning a little. "Nice to meet you too."
"Oh, well, we never run out of bananas in this house. God forbid we do, there'd probably be nuclear war." Amy said, rolling her eyes. Rose laughed. She liked Amy.
"About the 'soon to be Pond', Amy." Eleven said. "Are you just going to announce your engagement to everyone you meet?"
She grinned at him. "I'm happy about it!"
"You're engaged?" Rose said. "Congratulations. Bit young, though, isn't it?"
"Oh, Ten and Eleven and I wouldn't have allowed it if it wasn't disgustingly meant to be, not to mention Mum would never let any of us marry unless she was absolutely certain that it was perfect." Nine said, waving a hand. "They've been together ages now; we all knew they were going to get married sometime. Sooner better than later, I suppose."
"Anyway, I'm in my last year of school before uni." Amy said. "Nine, lucky boy, he's already there."
"Which means I get to sleep a bit more than you all do." Nine said, grinning. "Just an hour, but it's very worth it."
"What're you studying?" Rose asked.
"I'm getting at least two years of astronomy, and a bit of philosophy. Then I'm going to become a soldier." Nine shrugged.
"Isn't that a bit, um, dangerous?" Rose asked, frowning.
"Yes, but I don't mind." Nine said, yawning. "It's what I want to do. Serve my people."
The nobility of his statement, Rose decided, was made a lot less effective since he was yawning over and over. "Tired, are you?"
"Didn't get much sleep last night." he said, rubbing his palms into his eyes.
"I told you not to stay up." Amy sighed, shaking her head.
"I wasn't about to miss it." Nine protested, and Rose raised her eyebrows at Amy in question.
Amy sighed. "The lug stayed up far past midnight to watch a marathon of some sort, I didn't want to get into it, just told him it was a bad idea. One extra hour of sleep doesn't help much when you're up until three in the morning . . ."
The door was pushed open then, they could hear it from where they were standing, and a warm voice called out, "Where are you four?"
"In the kitchen, Mum." Ten called. "And I brought a friend home, is that alright?"
"Yes, fine." their mother said, coming into the kitchen. She was a pretty woman with smile lines around her mouth and eyes, and red-brown hair that dusted her shoulders. "Hello, I'm Sarah Jane, what's your name?" she said, smiling at Rose.
"Rose Tyler." Rose said automatically. "Pleased to meet you."
"And you!" Sarah Jane Smith said, nodding to her warmly. "Boys, help me with the groceries. Amy, I have the cold things here, put them away for me, please?"
"Sure thing, Mum." Amy said. "Rory's coming over, can he stay for dinner?"
"Rory comes over every night, we're used to it by now." Ten said, crossing his eyes at her. Amy tweaked his nose.
"That's enough out of you." Sarah Jane scolded. "Go on, get the groceries."
With much shoving and chatter, the three boys walked out the front door. Rose looked after them, smiling as she did so. Amy sighed.
"Just so you know, they're always this odd. Dad's just the same – well, worse, really. You'll like Rory though, he's wonderful. Are you staying for dinner?" Amy asked, busily putting things away.
"I'll have to ask my mum . . . oh, god." Rose said, a slow dread growing inside her. "I forgot to call her . . . oh, she's going to be worried." She tugged her mobile out of her pocket and dialed quickly, putting the phone to her ear and pacing, biting her lip.
Her mum picked up. "Rose, oh god, where are you?" she asked, her voice rising into a shriek on the last word. Rose winced. "You didn't come home, and I sent Mickey out to look for you, I thought – oh, I don't know what I – well, I do know, I thought he came back-"
"Mum, I'm so sorry," she interrupted. " I met this bloke John at school and he invited me over to hang out with him and his family, and they're really nice, all of them, Mum, so don't get mad, we were just having so much fun and I forgot to call, I'm so sorry . . . "
"What are you trying to do, give me a bloody heart attack?" her mum shouted, angrier now, less anxious. "I was so worried, Rose! After all that . . . I thought this was going to be a fresh start. Don't scare me like that."
"I'm sorry, Mum, honest." Rose bit her lip, and then asked timidly, "Can I stay for dinner? We're having a good time, and they want me to stay."
"I don't know." her mother fretted. "Do you know anything about them?"
"They're not like that." Rose said, dropping her voice. "I'll be safe. And their mum's here, and their dad's gonna be home soon."
"Well . . . " her mum paused, and Rose could hear her worry, somehow, through the phone. "I s'pose. If you'd really like to. Be home by . . . seven? Seven thirty?"
"Thanks, Mum. And don't worry. Things are fine." she told her, knowing it wouldn't reassure her fully but it would help. "I love you. Bye."
"Love you." her mother said, and Rose snapped the phone shut.
Amy grinned at her. "So you're staying?"
"Who's staying?" Eleven asked, coming in the door carrying three bags of groceries.
"Rose is. For dinner. "Amy said, and Eleven grinned at her.
"Good! Good, yes, that's brilliant." he said, sounding pleased. "I wish River could come, I should have invited her . . . "
"Has she kissed you yet?" Amy asked with great interest, and Rose sat down at the counter, watching them put more groceries away.
"Yes." Eleven reported happily. "In the History wing."
"She would." groaned Nine, walking in as well, carrying about five bags. Ten looked to be struggling under the same number.
Amy looked at him and shook her head. "Stop trying to carry so many. You'll never catch up with Nine." she scolded lightly.
"Not trying to-"
"Yes, you are." Amy laughed.
Rose laughed too, and Ten made a face at her.
"You're supposed to be on my side." he complained.
As she opened her mouth to retaliate, the door burst open again. A man with curly brown hair, a wide smile, a rather big nose, and a brown coat, brown hat, and long, multi-colored scarf had walked in, and she couldn't help but goggle at him.
"Hello, Dad." the Smiths chorused, and she resisted the urge to laugh. Of course, hadn't they said their dad was a bit mad?
"Hello, all of you." he said cheerfully. "Who's she?"
"I'm Rose Tyler. I'm staying for dinner."
"Nice to meet you, Rose Tyler." he said, shaking her hand energetically. "Welcome to the family."
She gave into her urge and grinned.
This was something that she could get used to. They were all so nice and kind and genuine and funny – well, if she had friends in this school, she'd want it to be them.
And for the first time in a while, Rose felt truly safe.
A/N: This was originally a half-idea, then a present from my friend Andrea (Merry Christmas!), but I like it so much I made it a real fic. Hope you enjoy it!
I don't own. And if you don't mind, review! It's a great feeling to know someone likes what you do.
Much love, Ninjee