orange_crushed (orange_crushed) wrote in then_theres_us,

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Fic: Pandorica. (Ten/Rose, PG, for Challenge 73)

Pandorica. Ten/Rose, the Master.... sort of. PG-ish. This is a strange and rambling story about inescapable things.

She wonders who came up with that, not sleeping. If they used to sleep before, and someone decided that it was too much time to waste.

"Though the corners are lit,
the dark can return
with a flick of the switch."
-Frightened Rabbit, Not Miserable

They are always moving. Always soaring or stumbling or flat-out sprinting with cold air bubbling in their lungs, champagne in the blood. Sometimes he says they're running, with that goofy smile that reaches all the way to his eyes. He laces up his trainers and skips over the grass and dares her to race him to the rim. He's a burst of speed and a laugh that doesn't hold still. He's her man, her mercury thermometer jumping up and down. Those are the best days. She doesn't mind running, snapping the tape at the finish line, as long as it's together.

There are other ways of running, she knows. Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes when he says they're running, he means away.

"I left a lot of things behind," he says. To the ceiling. She's laying with her ear against his left heart. Sometimes she thinks that one beats harder. Sometimes softer. She can't tell if that's true. "I left a lot of things unfinished." She holds her breath and waits for him to say something else. Even this is a lot. He doesn't really talk about it. His world: the one he ended. She knows there were silver trees and a dome the color of the clear sky, of nothing, but all of that was probably on the pamphlets from the tourist board. She wants more. Needs more. She doesn't know what his people wore or what they ate. What dirty things they said when they stubbed their holy time toes or got a hangnail. If they got hangnails. He does, sometimes. Rose thinks about his nails, at the end of his fingers, which are pressing into the flesh of her hip.

She waits so long for him to speak again that he falls asleep in her arms. Just for a little while, fifteen minutes or so, the shallow sleep that he says is like a twelve-hour nap for him. For his kind. She wonders who came up with that, not sleeping. If they used to sleep before, and someone decided that it was too much time to waste. Too much time lying down curled around each other, like animals. Like plants.

Rose burrows her face into his shoulder and waits. Like an animal, like a plant. She imagines herself as a thick vine, curling around his wrists. Budding leaves down his fingers, flowers exploding in his palms like tongues of flame.

It's probably strange.

She decides not to wait anymore. Not for something so important. She corners him in the bathtub. He's sitting inside of it, perfectly dry, trying to re-wire the temperature circuit and read out of a book of Kyleen poetry at the same time.

"It's not poetry," he insists. "It's technical specifications. All about gears and chips and measurements and- things." She doesn't have the heart to tell him that the TARDIS not only translated the page for her, but helpfully turned the text upside-down so that she could read it more clearly.

O my darling, it says.
Your tentacles are the longest in the realm.
They have wrapped themselves
all 'bout my snorlaxx.

She hopes it sounds better in its original language.

"Where did you go to school?" she asks, bluntly. He looks up at her, with a little piece of copper wire still pinched between his front teeth. "Did you like your teachers? Favorite subect?" There is an uncomfortable stillness in the room. He shifts in the tub. "Did you have any brothers or sisters? Any close friends?" He spits the wire out of his mouth and makes an uncomfortable sound, like he's about to climb out and escape. He starts to stand up and the little mechanical parts fly everywhere. Rose tugs him by the arm; he loses his balance and sits down hard on the edge, sideways, mirroring her. They stare at each other. "What did you want to be, when you grew up?"

There is an incredibly long silence. Rose rubs a small circle around the nub of his elbow, through the worn fabric of his suit. It's getting thin in exactly that spot.

"I wanted to be happy," he says, at last. His hand is sitting on top of his thigh, palm-up and empty and still, like he wants her to take it. She does. She wraps their fingers together. He looks down at their hands, and then back up at her face. "We- I was going to change the world. I was going to do everything better than they had." He sighs. "I was very arrogant."

"Well," says Rose. He laughs.

"I'm still arrogant." His eyes are crinkling at the edges, and she thinks, he's so beautiful. She swallows it, feeling like a thirteen-year-old. "Rose," he says. He scoots closer on the edge of the tub. "I never passed my exams."

"Oh," she says. That's a surprise. "I thought you were an apple-polisher."

"Nah," he drawls. "I was too busy putting the moves on an antique Type 40 that I didn't have an authorization to pilot." The TARDIS flashes her warning lights. "And by antique-"

"A born troublemaker." Rose grins. "You can be in my really exclusive club."

"I can, can I?"

"Delinquents only," says Rose.

They are sitting under the starlight on a roof on Targis Three, somewhere past Orion's belt, where the sea water is so clear you can see the bottom of the ocean from space. She knows that for a fact: he parked the TARDIS in orbit before they landed, and they watched the currents move for a while. There was dinner and dancing and a fistfight between two off-planet dignitaries. Luckily, they were there to deflate things, and afterwards, to expose the Ambassador of Sham as a- well. A you-know-what. That sparked a second fistfight, which cancelled dessert. The Doctor's face is still smarting.

"Don't touch it," he says, while tilting his chin up so that she can. Rose prods the bruise gently with one finger. "What's your diagnosis?"

"Glass jaw," she giggles, and he pushes her backwards, onto the coat that's lying between them. Rose rolls onto her back and rests her head on her folded arms. After a minute, he lies down beside her. "It's so beautiful," she says. "The sky is so soft." They stare up at the heavens together. The sky is black and glossy, like the back of a seal. There are specks of light, shimmering and faint as reflections on the surface of water. It's the ocean that reflects the sky, but maybe things are different here.

He talks for a while, quietly. He tucks his head up beside hers and speaks into her temple, punctuating it by pressing his lips to her hair. He tells her about living on a hill over the city; the tower observatory with his father's books and the recall spheres he had to practice with. His mother had dark hair that curled around her ears, at the back of her neck, wherever it came loose. He was restless, always looking up. He talks and then he hums to himself, softly, and Rose drowses with her eyes open. She's so happy. She can see everything that's in his head, glowing behind her eyelids when they finally slip shut. She's on the hill he remembers from childhood, watching the grasses brush at her knees; there are sleek, silver birds wheeling overhead, calling to each other in alien song. She feels like she could leap into the sky and come untethered, floating like a soap bubble, disappearing.

"Rose," he asks. It's been a little while. "Are you awake?"

"No," she says.

On the beach in Norway, from a trillion miles away, he asks if she's alright. She looks at him and tries to speak, but her throat feels like it's closing up. There's salt in her eyes. He is flickering in and out but she can still feel his mind touching hers, like his warm flesh against her back in the dark, the press of his weight on her consciousness. He's afraid. Even still- maybe because of that- he smiles at her. She puts her hand up to his halfway invisible face.

This is not my last happy moment, she thinks, fiercely. This is not it.

At Torchwood there is always more to do. It's the best thing about this world, really. The mansion is good, and the new clothes, and Pete and Jackie and Mickey and the way they've circled around her like wagons, a well-meaning corral meant to protect her. But the best thing- the absolute best thing- is the running. She runs hard and crashes into bed at night and doesn't dream. Every morning there are first contacts to make and samples to gather and often explosions to dodge.

"I think," says Jake, "you're enjoying this." He grins and ducks a piece of debris. The Felth, aggressively lactose-intolerant, are blowing up ice-cream trucks again.

"No," Rose dissembles. "I'm-" There's a second explosion. A splash of melted vanilla slaps Jake across the shoulder. "Okay," she says. "I'm enjoying that."

They worry about her. She can feel them doing that, looking her up and down when they think she's not watching, checking for lines around her eyes and empty take-out containers piling up on her desk and a slump in her shoulders. She's not going to lie to them. Not them. It's just easier to keep moving than to let their eyes rest on her too long. She finds places to slip away, corners of the research labs, spots on the observatory deck, between the cabinets in the archives. The archivist is slowly getting used to her, the unconscious snapping of her gum and the way she talks fast and walks fast in the silence of the stacks.

"Miss Tyler," he says. He's standing over the desk, looking pointedly at the trainers she's propped up on a pile of bound field logs from 1973. He's always remarking on her shoes, the pink stripes and the funny molded rubber bottoms and the squeaking sound they make. He says he's too old to endure them. Rose doesn't know how old he is, exactly. She knows he's over sixty, he keeps saying that whenever she misbehaves in his territory. "When you requested these, I assumed- perhaps incorrectly- that you meant to read them." She glances down at her feet and back up at him. She puts her feet back on the floor.

"I did," she says. "Mostly. Did you know there was a Gelth sighting in seventy-two? Outside Ipswich. I met a Gelth once," she adds. "They almost blew up Charles Dickens."

"Was this before or after you stole the Koh-i-Noor?"

"Before. Well, technically- and I didn't steal it," she huffs. He raises an eyebrow and and swipes the top copy off the stack. She watches him pace over to the right point on the shelf: he runs his hands along the spines, touching the edges with incredible care and gentleness. He parts two volumes and slips the third between them. He's smiling to himself. Really, there's something about him. Something kind and quiet but lively inside, burning away merrily, jumping like candlelight. She likes him. "Professor," she says, "where'd you grow up?"

"Oh," he says. He stops and stares off down the aisles, between the shelves that stretch above his head. "Far away from here."

It's late and they're the only two left; Rose and the professor. It makes her laugh, to think about it that way. They've been pouring over translations for hours, trying to interpret the markings on a box some kids dug up in West Sussex. It's got pictographs on it, but everybody in the pictures has incredibly lush-looking tentacles.

"Not the Romans, then," was Mickey's only contribution. Rose sent him home early and hauled the box downstairs, where she and the old man could spend the rest of the night arguing over it. They argued while their takeout curry got cold and the janitorial staff worked around them, bemused and at a wary distance. But now he's fallen asleep, face-down in a pile of dusty papers. It's time to call it- well, she doesn't know what time to call it, exactly. Her phone is in her jacket pocket in the office. But when she gets up and goes in, his watch is already sitting on top of the cabinet. On impulse, she picks it up. It's old and scuffed and overly fussy-looking. Analog, she thinks. Of course. It's oddly warm to the touch. It feels solid and heavy the way old things do, when every part was made of metal and intent.

She stands and looks at it without opening it for a long time, feeling the weight of it in her hand. For some reason, even though her thumb is hovering over the release, she doesn't push it. She slips the watch into his coat pocket and digs her phone out instead, pressing the keys until 11:15 blips onto the screen.

"Come on, get up," she groans, tugging on his arms and patting his shoulder until he blinks back to life. "Time to go home. Past time." He grumbles and wobbles to the door and insists on walking her to her car, even though it's in the secure staff parking garage and the guards at Torchwood all have phase weapons. Rose kisses his cheek and tells him good evening. He looks strangely pleased, though he clears his throat and scowls at her.

"Yes, well," he says. "Goodnight."

Rose wakes up just barely before dawn, when the curtains are starting to glow at the edges. The world is soft and unfocused and silent. For a long moment, she doesn't know where she is. She's been sweating in the sheets. She dreamed about fire: conflagration. Destruction. The veil split and the world collapsed and someone was laughing. And even now, she can still hear the birds singing under the dome, as they dive towards the sea.

There is a way home.

She steals the watch. It's easy enough to do; he barely seems to notice it at all. She sits in Pete and Jackie's house alone, while they eat dinner somewhere in town with Pete's old friends and Jackie's new ones. She's on the couch with her knees drawn up to her chest, holding the watch against her skin. She can feel it beating inside, a second heart that pulses in time with her own.

This is the answer. He was not alone. There was someone else, one more, after everything. She can feel it in the watch, the boiling spirit trapped like a breath and never exhaled. Waiting. Alive and mad and waiting. If she opens this watch, he will lead her back. The thing in this watch is like a bowstring pulled taut, and she knows with certainty what the target would be. She's never been more sure of anything in her life. They want the same thing, her and the watch. To be released. Just for different reasons. Rose holds the watch to her eyes, presses it tight. She can see the gold and red, the glint of the world beyond. The world will burn if she opens this watch, and Rose will go home.

She sleeps with it under her pillow.

In the morning she buys a Tissot and has it engraved. Ab aeterno, it says. She has it boxed with a blue silk ribbon, and she leaves it on the professor's desk with a card. The real watch travels with her in a fireproof case. She drives to a construction site- one of Pete's properties, out in the middle of nowhere. She drops it down into the hole where they're pouring the foundations. She stays and watches the cement mixer turn. The trench fills up to the top and settles. It has to have meant something, she tells herself. It has to have been worth something, all that running. The long breathless chase, trying to outrun time and grief and God himself. What good was it, if now she can't even learn to stand still?

This is not my last chance, she thinks.

This is not it.

Tags: :orange_crushed, challenge 73
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