AU. Rose's family vacations near a lake where she meets the man who lives on an island in the middle of it. (Warning: Rose and the Doctor are the ages they actually look.)
Maybe she wasn’t even real, but a little forest sprite, here in the heart of the mountains., 2915 (this part)
an: You must all know that I never thought I would write a story like this. "This" meaning AU and also with Rose being underage. I was inspired by the below photo, started writing and the story's gotten away from me. I even meant to keep this to a one-shot. But now it's a two-shot. Sheesh, what's a writer gotta do to get some control around here?
There is a house that holds calmly to the middle of the large lake, surrounded on all sides by mountains, certain in its own position, undaunted. The lake itself is something of a revelation, water clear to the endless dark beneath, always serene and still, like glass. One can be fooled into thinking it solid and attempting to traverse its shiny surface, only to find oneself floundering underwater.
She’d tried it once, in the summer that she was ten. Her family has been vacationing in the Alps for as long as she could remember. Her mum and father were more interested in visiting friends they saw anyway in London, while she liked to spend time in the quiet forest, playing make believe or just listening to the wildlife. But she’d always looked forward to seeing and what she’d been fascinated by was the house on the lake.
Her mum was always more on the cautious side of things, protective of her only child, and so Rose had never had an opportunity to explore the lakeside like she’d wanted. But Rose had snuck out of the cabin while her parents were still sleeping to finally see if she could find the secret walkway she was convinced existed to the middle of the lake. Feeling newly independent with her double-digit age, she’d ventured to the lake on her own, edging out onto the wooden dock, getting closer to the water than she’d ever been.
Unfortunately for her, she was unable to find the walkway. Instead, when she’d precariously stretched down to place her foot on the unbroken surface of the lake, her grip had slipped on the wooden post, small fingers unable to get a stable hold on it, and she fell into the water before she could do more than gasp in surprise. The dock was over a deep part of water and Rose, who’d never learned how to swim, was unable to find her way back to the surface. She’d wanted to scream, but instinctively knew that this was a bad idea. As her lungs tightened and her frantic movements slowed, she thought that she’d die a tragic death at the summer lake. She’d hoped that Mickey knew he could have all her CDs.
Just then however, she felt something hit her in the middle of the stomach, drag her through the water and break her through the surface, gulps of air gratefully flooding into her lungs. Large but gentle hands gripped her arms and tugged her over the side of something.
“There now, it’s okay. Just breathe normally. That’s a good girl. In. And out. In. Out.”
Not really having grasped her bearings, she’d followed the directions of the low, baritone timbre. When she’d calmed down, she’d opened her eyes to find a bear of a man bent over her, shoulders blocking out the sun above, his face covered with a light brown beard, at odds with his short haircut; eyes as blue as the lake and just as clear.
Her first reaction was of fear, her mum’s injunctions of never talking to strangers, especially men, ringing in her mind. Then he’d smiled a wide, teeth-showing grin, his eyes crinkling into the happy lines that already surrounded them, and she’d known that she could trust him, her own smile coming out to greet him.
“You trying to walk on water, little one?” he’d asked as he pulled a blanket out from underneath the seat of his boat. She’d felt a blush creep on at having someone witness her silly fantasy. He’d noticed and clucked at her, bringing the blanket around and rubbing her hair and arms in a brusque manner, getting the drying process going as the last bits of morning fog dissipated in the light. “You’re just looking in the wrong place, is all.”
He’d given her that wide smile again when she’d looked up at him, unknowingly widening her brown eyes in wonder and a silent plea for more information. She was going to be a looker when she grew up, her dirty blonde hair and large eyes set in an elfin face. He’d pointed at a spot on the water, next to a large boulder at the edge of the lake. “There’s where you’ll find the walkway across the water. But only in the high summer months, when the sun’s drunk up a lot of the lake and the rains haven’t come. It’s really only there for a week or so, the water still up to your ankles—well, for you, probably your knees.” He’d given her a friendly squeeze and smiled again when she’d giggled, glad to see the little girl getting over her scare.
She’d wiped her hands over her face and looked up at him again as he settled back onto his seat, picking up the oars that he’d used to fish her out of the water. Shyly she voiced, “Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome,” he’d replied, bending a little in a mock-bow. She’d given him that smile again, the one with the little bit of pink peeking out and he’d been charmed. “Let’s get you back on dry land again, shall we?”
She’d nodded and settled against the side of the boat until he’d gotten the rowboat on the shore. Hopping out, he’d helped her find her feet and she’d returned the blanket, her pink summer dress still a little wet, hair frizzing in the weather. She’d squinted up at him, thanking him once more and telling him that she could find her way home from here. For some reason, the sight of her acting so polite while in such disarray, lifted his heart like nothing had for a long while. Not since Ramona’s death.
He’d taken the girl’s hand and bowed over it, playing around like he hadn’t in however many months, just to get her laughing again. “Until we meet again, Princess?” he’d left it open ended, not wanting to be seen as some creepy old man, but a little unwilling to not have such a light creature forever gone from him. Maybe she wasn’t even real, but a little forest sprite, here in the heart of the mountains.
After only a slight hesitation, she’d nodded and introduced herself. “I’m Rose.”
He’d let go of her hand then and waved her off as he’d stepped back into his boat.
“What’s your name?” she’d called after him. He’d wryly smiled, silly of him to forget.
“I’m John. And I live in the house on the lake.” He’d not missed the slight drop of her mouth and the delight in her eyes. He’d known then that they would meet again, the weary old man and the wide-eyed pink girl. And he’d been glad of it.
Rose doesn’t see him again until two years later. For the rest of that past summer and the one following, she’d tried to catch a glimpse of him across the water or around the shore, showing up at different times early in the morning, but her mum had gotten wise to her just-before-dawn escapades and had roundly scolded her for it. Rose hadn’t told her about John or the incident at the lake, feeling that he was a friend just for herself.
Two years later though, she begins to think that maybe she’d made the whole thing up. She’d always had an active imagination: playing dragons and warrior-princess; astronaut-extraordinaire; pirate-princess of the high seas and the like. (She could never be just a princess, you see.) She’d had imaginary friends before, but they’d come and gone as often as she’d changed the setting of the stories. Her parents kept trying to get her involved with other kids her age at the private school she was going with or their own friends, but they were too boring and never willing to let their imagination go with hers. Mickey was the only one who’d come close but she didn’t get to see him much, now that her father was the head of his own company and had moved his family to a nicer part of the city.
She’s with her parents in the local village because her mother burned dinner when her eye catches on a man crossing the street to the general store. He’s over 6 feet and walks with a gait that she thinks she recognizes but can’t place. His face is clean-shaven and his brown hair’s short and it isn’t until he turns and smiles at a young boy who holds the general store’s door open for him does her mind click into place.
Mumbling about looking at something in the store window across the street, she leaves her bickering parents to decide on where they’re going to eat as she makes her way to the general store, stopping just inside the doorway as the bell tinkles behind her. A quick scan shows that he’s to her left, looking over some fishing gear. Undecided, she moves to her right where the staples and canned food are located. She wanders the aisles, trying to figure out how to get closer just to make sure that it is him, before she re-introduces herself, still feeling unsure of the whole lake thing in general.
She gets distracted by a raspberry-orange jar of marmalade because really, who’s ever wanted berry and citrus together, when a shadow falls over her and she looks up into smiling blue eyes and a wide grin. “Princess Rose! Fantastic!” he exclaims, excitement bubbling from him and into her and she smiles in kind, curtsying because it seemed called for. He bows just as formally.
“Since you’re here, why don’t you help me figure out which bait I should be using for the fearsome fish of the lake?” He grabs her hand and leads her over to the other side of the store where they argue if the fish would be more attracted to the blue crystal or the fuzzy caterpillar. He’s kneeling next to her so that they’re the same height and they’re laughing at one bait in particular that looks like his head, when she hears her mom call her from the doorway.
Startled, she turns and meets her mum’s worried gaze, which flits between her young daughter and a man who looks only a few years younger than herself. Rose doesn’t recognize the concern but John does and he helps himself to his feet, making sure that he doesn’t touch the girl in anyway and keeping his demeanor as unthreatening as possible. He sticks his hand out to introduce himself, “Doctor John Smith, pleased to meet you.”
Cautiously, the mother sticks her own hand out to shake his. “Jackie Tyler, Rose’s mum,” she indicates with a nod.
Seeing the question in her eyes, he takes it upon himself to set her at ease. “I met Rose a couple summers ago when she’d gotten a little lost on the forest. Quite a bright girl you have,” he smiled at Rose, unable to keep the warmth out of his voice. It wasn’t something that she or anyone would be aware of, but Rose, with her whimsy and wonder, had chipped at the solid wall of grief and darkness he’d wrapped himself in following his wife’s death. For that, he would always consider her special.
Whatever she sees or senses sets Jackie at ease and she smiles at him before holding out a hand for Rose to grab onto. “Yes, she is. Come on, Rose. Dad’s got dinner worked out.”
Rose follows her mom out the door, turning a little to wave bye to her friend, mouthing, “Thank you” and he nods, knowing that she hadn’t actually told her mother about falling into the lake, remembering how it was to be a kid and protecting one’s own.
As the summers pass, the two friends manage to meet up again over her two-week vacation, sometimes at the village, but mostly at the lake. The Doctor (as she’s taken to calling him, at first simply because she was unused to calling adults by their first name, but now because it’s what she calls him) and her at first met unexpectedly but by tacit agreement, started meeting most early mornings near the dock, usually before the sun had capped the mountains surrounding the lake.
He’s taken to teaching her survival skills, having observed her inability to swim and her “citified ways” as he likes to call them. She’s always been curious and she figures that these will be useful when she grows up and starts traveling. And besides, she likes to spend time with him, really her only friend.
They don’t speak much about deeply personal things, except for a few comments here and there. She knows that his wife died some months ago and that he has a son a little older than her. She knows that he doesn’t live at the lake house all around the year. He knows that she doesn’t really like the private school she goes to, except for the drama class which she excels at. She knows that he knows how to tell great stories and that he’s traveled a lot in his life. He knows that she’s a willing learner and clever to boot.
Their relationship isn’t based on moroseness or the seriousness of life; they find joy in each other.
For some reason, she’s never thought of him as someone that much older than her, though he looks it. They’re more kindred spirits (a new word she’d recently read somewhere) and age doesn’t seem to matter. He’s fun and he’s helpful and she feels comfortable around him. Something that she doesn’t often get in her schools where her daydreamer ways and her lower-class accent that she can never get rid of gets mocked.
As she hits sixteen, she notices that she takes time to put make-up on and checks the mirror at least three times before she runs down to the lake. Her heart always seems to speed up now when she finds him at their usual spot, sitting at the edge of the dock. He’s wearing his usual plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up and the sight of his forearms sets off a ticking within her that she doesn’t recognize. His head is bent over something in his hands, probably something that he’s whittling but he looks up as she steps onto the dock and gives her a wide smile.
“Rose! Come over here and help me figure out what I’m trying to make.”
She shakes her head at him and takes a seat next to him, closer than she normally sits, legs dangling towards the water. He passes over the piece of wood, their fingers brushing over each other and she can’t help the small intake of breath. There’s an imperceptible pause in his movements that she covers up by pulling away and holding the wood up to the new light.
“Hmmm,” she murmurs, buying time, making a show of squinting her eyes as she turns it this way and that.
“Oh, come on, Rose, it’s not that bad!” he protests, laughingly.
She lets him off and laughs with him, handing the wood back to him. “I think it’s a boat, yeah?”
“What?” his tone is mock-hurt as he holds the piece of wood up to take a closer look. “It’s an eagle! You could’ve at least said a plane or something nicer.”
“Okay, fine,” she makes a grab for the carving to look at it again, but he holds it in his opposite hand, away from her so she has to reach across him to get it. It’s only when she’s just about got it in her hand does she realize her position and the sudden tenseness in his frame. She’s balanced on her knees on one side of him, one hand on his shoulder while the other stretches for his fist, bringing his face level with her breasts.
Rose has learned a thing or two since she last saw him. One in particular is that her breasts are fascinating to the boys at her school. She’s gotten more attention than she ever has, but mainly in the form of lewd leers and sexual advances. She’s never been interested in any of them and was actually disgusted by their behavior.
But disgust is the farthest thing from her mind as she realizes how sensitive she is in that particular area of her body. His face has moved away a bit as she’s just stayed on her knees, but she’s aware of how many inches away he actually is and she wonders what it would be like if he were to kiss her there. Or kiss her anywhere.
She can feel her breath quickening.
Abruptly, he pulls away, standing up and, not even comfortable with that, takes a step away from her. He bends down to hand the wooden carving to her. Automatically she takes it from him with one hand, the other used to find her balance when he’d suddenly moved away. He isn’t looking at her as he clambers down the dock, mumbling something about not remembering if he turned his stove or not. She still doesn’t say anything as he settles into his row boat and pushes off.
It isn’t until he looks up and finally meets her eyes does she move from her stunned position, and then it is only to sit straight. She doesn’t break his gaze as he rows away towards his home in the center of the lake.
He’s sitting in an armchair in his darkened living room, having ignored the lights in favor of his own dark thoughts. A half-full bottle of beer is neglected on the coffee table in front of him. He’d gone through the motions of the rest of his day, trying to forget what had happened that morning on the dock. Except now he finds himself here with his head in his hands, unable to put the feel and image of Rose Tyler on her knees next to him.
She is so young and so full of life. He knows that he’s been playing a fool’s game these past few years, befriending a pretty little girl so vivacious and precocious as his Rose is. He mentally scoffs at himself. His Rose indeed.
Puberty. Why hadn’t he thought of that? That first glimpse of Rose in her shorts, those young firm breasts curving her shirt, her blonde hair gathered up in a ponytail; his gut reaction should’ve warned him of the folly that would come. But he’d ignored it, hoping that he’d get to spend time with Rose as he’d become accustomed to over the summers; drink in that bright hope and live on it for the rest of his barren months. It just hadn’t gone the way he’d planned.
He’d been able to forget about the physical changes turning Rose from the little girl sprite into a woman. Until she’d reached across him and unknowingly brought those gentle curves within reach of him. He’d been so tempted. Even now, while he sits here ashamed of his thoughts, he’s hard and wanting.
It was the sudden change in the air, her own latent realization of what she was doing to him that had brought him out of his stupor, enough to clumsily extricate himself from a situation that would quickly spiral out of his control.
Rose wasn’t afraid of exploring, of asking questions and getting answers. She’d proven that time and again in their days together. This is one of the things he holds dear about her. It’s just that this isn’t something they’re going to get answers about together. She is completely forbidden to him.
Numerous reasons could be listed off not the least of which that she was far far too young for him. She was innocent and he wouldn’t be the one responsible for ruining that. He’d lived and experienced far too much for a sweet girl like her to even fully understand and it wasn’t even something he wants her to be able to understand. He wants her to keep going on the path she’s on. He wants her to never stop learning and always looking and finding her way in that sparkling way she has been. He doesn’t want to take that away, and some sordid sexual tryst with an old man would do that. It would ruin life for her.
His heart slyly presents another reason why he can’t get involved with her. It wouldn’t just be sex with Rose. It would be something more. Something that he hasn’t felt since Ramona and something that he feels he just can’t experience again and not want to let go of it. But he won’t tether her to him. He won’t do that.
He’ll maintain distance between them. He’s the adult, the more experienced man. He’s been in the game and knows the plays that happen between men and women. He can use that to help protect her, this innocent. He can deflect her and he will.