AN: I only had a basic transcript for the Doctor Who dialogue. All other details come from memory only.
AN2: This came from several ideas meshing together to form a coherent whole. It's going to be a little more disjointed in this first chapter until it all comes together. Bear with me.
AN3: This is an AU fanfic. I'm going to mess all to heck with canon. If you don't like such stories, please go read something else; this isn't the fic for you.
AN***: This is the re-rewritten version.
DISCLAIMER: Do I look like a millionaire to you? Of course it's not mine.
Prologue: Tilting Fate
"Nature abhors a vacuum." ~ Aristotle
Rose walked out of the Tardis behind her boyfriend, who had practically darted out of the ship at a dead run and went over to Mickey. Whom had apparently decided that hiding behind a stack of wooden pallets would help in some way against intelligent plastic creatures and various aliens. The Doctor stayed in the doorway of the Tardis, watching the panicked reaction of the male and the calm, sure one of the female.
She was accosted as soon as she was within reach, the barely–out–of–teens boyfriend holding onto her legs for dear life. As if it would help prevent something horrible happening. She supposed that Mickey did have a valid reason to be afraid; he was kidnapped after all. But still… Wasn't this a bit of an excessive response? She mentally shook her head at her boyfriend and turned to face the Doctor with a sarcastic expression and crossed arms. "Fat lot of good you were."
The Doctor grinned cheekily at her. "Nestene Consciousness?" He snapped his fingers. "Easy."
Rose snorted derisively at the man's neglect of the obvious. "You were useless in there," she reminded. "You'd be dead if it wasn't for me."
The Doctor's expression turned much more serious as he acknowledged that truth. "Yes, I would." He nodded at her, his eyes lit with gratitude. "Thank you." Then he took a deep breath as if to steady himself. Or make the abrupt change of topic more noticeable. "Right then! I'll be off. Unless…" he hesitated, as if unsure of her answer. Or skeptical that he should even offer. "Er… I don't know," he shrugged self–consciously, "you could come with me." Once he got the offer out, his tone became defensive. "This box isn't just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe! Free of charge."
Mickey, still clinging to her legs with desperation, practically yelled, "Don't! He's an alien! He's a –," he paused momentarily, as if hunting the correct word, "– a thing!"
The Doctor frowned sternly at the male. Honestly. The human was still alive, you'd think he'd be grateful! "He's not invited." Then the Doctor's deep blue eyes refocused on Rose. "What do you think? You could stay here," he described persuasively, "fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go…anywhere." He smiled at her, happiness bright in his eyes. He liked this blonde and he always preferred having companions travel with him. It made things more interesting. Seeing the universe through their eyes.
The young woman bit the inside of her cheek as she thought of the possibilities he was offering her. It was so tempting! The adventure. The adrenaline. But… "Is it always this dangerous?" she asked after a second.
He nodded sharply. "Yeah." He wanted no doubts or confusion about that, what with the trouble he'd had with past companions.
Rose felt Mickey's grip on her legs increase again, almost to the point where she was worried about circulation. As much as she wanted to, that extra squeeze reminded her that she did have responsibilities. "Yeah, I can't. I've… Er," she lamented. Her mental groan much heavier than in reality. "I've got to go and find my mum and someone's got to look after this stupid lump," she gestured to her boyfriend still kneeling on the tarmac. "So…" she shrugged helplessly in a 'what are you going to do' gesture.
"Okay." The Doctor mentally sighed. He had liked the blonde. She was intelligent, active, and cared about those around her. Maybe he would visit her again someday in a few years. See if she would travel with him then. "See you around." He stepped backward into his magnificent ship and closed the door. The Tardis dematerialised shortly thereafter.
The blonde took hold of her boyfriend's shoulder and urged him to his feet. "Come on, let's go." The pair turned to make their way to the mouth of the alley, and ran into another man. Literally. He was ruggedly handsome, wearing an offwhite shirt, brown pants, and a brown trenchcoat. All of which she noticed as she hastily was helping him to his feet. "Oh, sorry!" Rose apologized profusely as she took his hand and pulled to get him upright. "So sorry! Wasn't looking where I was going. Are you alright?"
He smiled at her as he dusted himself off, "No harm done. I'm fine." He gestured to where he'd scratched her to obtain the needed sample. "Are you okay? You've got a scrape."
Rose looked down and grimaced, but then smiled back up at him. "It's fine. Just a scratch." Compared to all her other cuts and bruises (most of which were hidden under her clothes), one more scrape wasn't anything to cut a fuss over.
"Good. Hate to hurt a beautiful lady," he grinned roguishly. "You take care." He turned and walked away, though if she had watched, she would have noticed he didn't go far. Instead, turning back to watch them leave.
She only blushed at the compliment, and went back to get her boyfriend. "Come on. Come on." She shooed Mickey in front of her with a hand wave, even as she gave the dead end a last look over her shoulder. Almost as if she expected the ship to show back up.
Mickey suddenly yelled at her from the main street. "Come on! We got to go find your mum!"
Rose sighed. She had given up her chance to travel the stars. She had responsibilities. Family and loved ones that she had to look after. They needed her. She gave a decisive nod, to herself and the alley, and ran a bit to catch up.
The universe tilted.
Arianna Carpenter had been dreaming, as she sometimes did, about the Doctor and his magnificent ship from her favorite show Doctor Who, when her breathing became more and more harsh. In her dream, she began to cough without pause. It was enough that it woke her up…but the hacking didn't end.
She felt a brief sense of dread. Was she sick again? She didn't have time to be sick! It took a minute for understanding to dawn; that her vision was so grey because of smoke. Her coughing because of the smoke. The thin haze everywhere she looked was because the house was on fire. The dread coalesced into horror.
Ari felt panic try to take over, but a single thought focused her mind into a razor–sharp tunnel. She mentally shoved every emotion she had to the side, stuffing them into a box as quickly as possible. She needed to concentrate on the single idea, neglecting everything else. Have to get Robbie. Have to get out. "Robbie!" she screamed into the void of silence that permeated their apartment.
Their parents had died long ago. Instead of expatriated into the foster care system, their grandfather had generously taken them in, despite his seventy–eight years. His kind smiles and calm words had helped forge the girls. Though Arianna had to become Robin's maternal influence almost from the beginning, since James Carpenter didn't know what to do with a crying female. It had been his only failing. Skinned knees and cooking became Ari's area. Baseball and fishing trips were Poppi's. They had collaborated for encouragement and ballet recitals.
He had died the year before, leaving Ari—almost twenty–three—to finish raising Robin—now barely ten. It wasn't that different from raising the pre–teen with him around… But it felt different. A large hole in both their souls that used to be filled with his gentle grins and even baritone advice.
Ari herself hadn't the luxury her sister did. A man of his times, his wife had taken up the role of housewife while he had been the provider. James was a wonderful grandfather, but when Ari had needed a mother, his quiet hugs had been all the comfort he knew how to give. To compensate, Arianna had become more introspective, keeping control of her feelings as best as she was able. It was also part of raising little Robbie, hiding that 'big sis' could be hurt. When her parents died, Ari took a few years, but eventually she acknowledged she didn't have the ability to indulge in strong emotion.
Long held maternal instincts kicked in to help in the current crisis. Instincts that were driving her to her sister's room at a dead run, mostly going by touch since her vision was so poor. It could have been thought as a dense fog if it weren't for the smell and the ensuing sporadic coughing. "Robin!" she yelled again. She hardly ever used her sister's real name. It was sure to get a response, if nothing else.
"Ari!" a sweet voice answered her calls urged the woman on. She finally reached her destination, charging into the pale–green flower and vines patterned room the little girl had painstakingly designed. The room's colors and patterns represented a whole summer of collaboration: memories, laughter, and paint wars. "Ari, where are you?"
"I've got you, sweetie." Ari replied just as her arms went around the petite brunette, who was shaking like a leaf while sitting up in bed, covers clutched in her lap. "We need to get out of here, Robbie. Remember the fire drills we did a few years ago?" Ari made sure to keep her voice soothing and even.
"No," her sister whimpered. The girl had always had a problem with stressful situations, tending to freeze instead of act. Though, to be fair, they hadn't encountered too many crises. Even fewer inside the ten–year–old's memory. "What do we do?"
Ari took control as she always did, shoving her emotions aside in favor of concentrating on her sister's needs. She smiled at Robin and helped the girl out of bed. As Ari reminded, she put little bunny slippers onto small feet. "We are going to check every door we come to for heat, because the fire could be behind it. We are going to go to the stairwell at the end of the hall as fast as we can, go down the steps, and then out to the parking lot. Okay? You ready?" She knew that Robin wasn't, but it didn't matter. They were on a timer.
Just because she could only see smoke and no flames, didn't mean that there was no fire. She knew what about flashovers; the fires that looked out but were only waiting on a surge of oxygen to explode outward. They had even made a movie about such things. "Backdraft" had given her nightmares. Now, she was going to use the information gained to the best of her ability.
She was not going to let the last of her family die!
"You're not wearing shoes," that small, scared voice said, looking at Ari's feet in deference to Robin's own covered.
Ari dismissed the comment with practiced ease. "That doesn't matter, Robbie. We need to leave."
"But your feet…"
"I'll be fine, okay?" Ari tried to reassure the girl she had practically raised. She took the girl's hand and they began to make their way to the bedroom door. "Don't worry about me,"
she smiled down at that little face. Her own desiderata were superfluous in comparison. With that last comment, the twenty–four year old lasered in on getting out of the burning building. Have to get out.
Her hand stayed on the hall wall, guiding their steps. She thanked whatever deity watched out for them that Ari made it a habit of never turning on lights at night so as not to waken her sister. Ari had much practice in navigating their apartment in only the soft glow of the streetlamps; getting midnight snacks and bathroom trips. It helped her stay calm and focused even with the heavy grey permeating the air, becoming thicker with each passing minute.
It didn't take long to get to the main apartment door. Ari pulled herself and Robin to a stop so that she could check the door. Her heart plummeted even as her hand jerked away instinctively.
The fire was right outside.
"Okay, sweetie. We can't go this way. Remember the window in the living room next to the fire escape? Let's go that way." It was a struggle to keep her tone calm. Have to get out. Her sister needed her to stand steadfast in certainty. So that's what she'd do.
"I'm scared, Ari," came the quiet admission from her side.
The woman immediately knelt down to her sister's height to look into those blue eyes so similar to her own blue–purple. "I know, sweetie. But we'll get out. You just have to trust me. Okay? Have I ever lied to you?"
"No," Robin shook her head as she tried to push past her fear. Eager to make her sister proud. But this wasn't anything like doing her best in ballet or math! "But I'm scared," she confessed, looking at her bunny slippers. Shamed she had disappointed her big, brave sister.
"I know." Arianna gave the girl a small smile. "Tell you a secret…" little eyes widened, jerking up to meet her own at the words, "…I'm scared too. But I'm not going to leave you. I swear." Robin knew that Ari never swore or promised anything she wasn't absolutely certain she could do. She never broke her word and had instilled the same morals into her sister.
"…okay," was the eventual, tiny reply.
Ari grinned proudly. "Good girl. You are so brave." She kissed her sister's forehead and once again they made their way through the smoke, each coughing every few seconds; back down the hallway by feel alone. Hands clasped tightly together and not letting go for an instant. Into the main living area and turning at the first archway. The smoke was so thick they couldn't see the ceiling anymore. Just a mass of roiling grey.
Robin clung to her big sister's hand harder in fear as they saw that pieces of debris were blocking the fire escape. Falling chunks of the roof, still burning, clogging up the metal right up against the window. Making it impossible to open the pane, let alone get on the scaffolding. "Ari…"
Arianna swallowed at the sight, but was not going to be deterred. Have to get out. I am NOT losing any more of my family! She knew time was running out if the roof had collapsed. So she pushed aside her rising panic, threatening to escape it's mental box; scooped up Robin, swung her around, and tucked the girl's legs around her waist in a hurried piggy–back ride. Something the pair hadn't done in a few years, but each's body remembered the motions needed. "Hold on tight, Robbie."
That little head tucked itself into the nape of her neck under her hair, one hand going around her shoulder and the other around her chest. "Ready."
Ari didn't waste another moment. Her arms held Robin's legs tight to her body as she made her way through the smoke, getting thicker and heavier every second, by memory. There was only one more possible exit; the building next to theirs was only five stories, where their apartment complex had ten. They lived in 6C. It wasn't ideal, given how far apart the buildings were, but Ari's only option left was to try and jump over. Have to get Robbie out!Even if it meant tossing her sister across the intervening distance, Ari was going to save Robin. The way she hadn't been able to save their parents.
She shook her head slightly to release the age–old guilt. Into their grandfather's room they went, where neither had gone in over a year. Her heart ached at the sight of all Poppi's things. Clothes still laid out, ready to be worn. Pictures of her smiling parents by the bed. Another of the family of four, all laughing at a picnic in the park, framed on the wall. She froze in place as she felt the floor give under one foot and a loud groan from beneath. After a second of nothing, she tried to keep going. So close! Have to get Robbie out! The window was clear; the far roof within jumping distance. Safety was so close!
Suddenly, the board gave under her weight and fell. It was all Arianna could do to stumble backward instead of down the now very large hole. The hole that was directly in front of the window. The hole that was blocking their last avenue of escape.
Safety within sight…but couldn't be further away.
Ari wanted to cry. To scream. Her eyes shut as her analytical mind ruled that survival was now impossible. Her heart clenched in her chest as she turned and went back to Robin's room with a heavy heart and silent steps. She wasn't going to give away her emotions. It would just make Robin panic, which wouldn't do any good. Only one thing left that Ari could do… Make her sister's last hour on Earth as happy and pleasant as she was able.
She laid her sister under the covers, helping her snuggle down as she did every night. "Skootch over rugrat." Arianna said fondly, tears in her eyes and clogging her voice, before getting in beside the ten–year–old that would never graduate high school, never marry, and never have kids of her own. She wasn't going to tell that little body anything, there was no point. So, instead, she began to sing a lullaby, just like she did every night, as she clutched Robin to her.
Burning pictures of the fallen years/ Distant memories that are filled with tears/ It doesn't matter if the dream appears/ The one that loses is filled with fears/ It doesn't matter if its sun or rain/ We'll be surfing through the silver plane/ After all that is said and done/ The two of us will always be one/ **
"I love you, Robbie."
"Love you too, Ari." The sweet, sleepy voice answered, the nightly ritual soothing Robin despite the situation, the smoke, and the sounds. Ari gave thanks for small mercies. "Will you sing the firefly song?"
"Sure sweetie." She kissed that head of hair before she went again. Somehow, she was able to get through the songs, one after another, without coughing. Fireflies by Owl City was Robin's favorite after the 'picture song'. She went through the list of favorites, Loki's Song, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Song of the Shieldwall, and so on; her sister asleep anew in her arms, as tears streamed down her face at the inevitability of the situation. She curled up around her sister, her chest to Robin's. "I'm sorry," she whispered her failure to brown strands and to the heavens. "I'm so sorry." At least soon they would be able to see their parents once more.
Her eyes closed in dejected acceptance as a loud crash came to her ears, followed by a brief flash of pain, and then darkness eclipsed her. The ceiling finally failing completely, falling on the two girls. Just before the beam could hit, a bright golden light flared for a brief moment. In the split microsecond between the debris separation from its mooring and when it impacted, both figures on the bed vanished into the flash.
The Tardis rematerialized into the alleyway, exactly where it had previously disappeared. The Doctor stuck his head out of the doorway, leaning sideways with a bright smile. "By the way, did I ment––" He cut himself off, his eyes widening in alarm. He darted out of his ship at a run, gathered the unconscious blonde into his arms, and hurried back into the ship, shutting the door behind him with a barely–thought twitch of his foot, his mind firmly centered on the injured woman.
"I was gone for less than a minute! Thirty–four seconds! What could have happened to you in thirty–four seconds?!" He griped in concern and worry as he raced to the infirmary. Unfortunately, as a Time Lord, he knew full well exactly how important even one nanosecond could be. He placed the girl on a bed and swung the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Scanner to hover over her body. Immediately a three–dimensional image of the prone form overlaid her, then raised itself automatically. Waves of light extricated skin, muscle, tissue, and bone until all that was left were bright spots of red on the image, showing him where she was injured. Scrolling in midair above each area was the Gallifreyan circle–script, giving specifics on each ailment.
He frowned as he read. "Smoke inhalation? First and second degree burns?" How could Rose have possibly suffered such abuse in so little time? There were some minor cuts and abrasions as well, mostly on her hands and feet. Why was she going around barefoot? All of the damage was easily healed, but that wasn't the issue. His hands performed the necessary movements perfunctorily. Apply the salve to the burns. Oxygenated nasal hypospray for the lungs. Dermal regenerator for the scratches.
However, it wasn't her condition that was the problem. Or, not completely. If he didn't know any better, he'd have said the girl had been in a fire. But how was such possible? He had been gone only thirty–four seconds by Rose's viewpoint. He had triple–checked just in case because he hadn't known where she lived – though he could have found out. He had known exactly where and when she would be.
It had been several years for him. He had liked her quite a bit. He was lonely. It had occurred to him late one night, when he had once again been talking to thin air, that perhaps the only reason Rose hadn't traveled with him was because she had responsibilities. Loved ones that would miss her if she left for too long. Another few nights of constantly thinking about the blonde, going over all the conversations they had shared, cemented in his mind that he'd never fully explained about his magnificent ship. That the Tardis could travel in time as well as disappearing here and reappearing there.
Another few days of pondering. That the blonde had certainly been the adventurous sort. She'd acted well. Shown loyalty, bravery, and single–mindedness he admired. She had demonstrated a good heart and intelligence. Good deduction skills. And, most importantly… She was human. Young.
A young companion helped him so much. He hadn't realized until he didn't have one anymore. Energetic enough to keep up with him. But still saw the universe with new eyes. They could still see the wonder and majesty. He had lived so long…and with the War… He yanked his mind away from dwelling too much on such things.
So, he had calculated his destination precisely. Checking twice just to be sure. He knew that he had arrived exactly when he had intended. But the injuries she had sustained took minutes to achieve, not seconds.
Which left only one likely explanation: time travel.
To confirm his suspicions, he set the ADIS to calculate her measurements. This Rose was five foot three–point–seven–five inches tall. One hundred fifty–one–point–seven–three pounds. Twenty–four–point–one–three years old.
There it was. Rose had been barely out of her teens when last he saw her. Which meant he had taken Rose as a companion, something had happened, and he sent her back to when they had first started traveling, hoping to change things. Oh, he was toeing the Laws of Time with this stunt! What universe–altering disaster was he trying to avert? What could have possibly happened that this – placing such an immeasurable burden upon a child – was the only option?! She was obviously very important to him; for him to have given her so much responsibility. He trusted her implicitly. Or, he would trust her implicitly.
He brushed away strands of flyaway hair that had been lighter, more blonde, the last time he had seen her. Now, he could see her auburn roots. She had scars he hadn't noticed. And were those freckles? He hadn't noticed the light dusting of them on her nose earlier either.
How close were they in her past? All the adventures and memories she would have that he wouldn't. The experiences that had helped shape her into the woman she now was versus the Rose he had left in the alley. How much heartache she would go through. Wanting things to be as they had been for her; where they had not yet become for him. This would be difficult… For both of them.
Taking a breath to steady himself, he reached out and flicked the switch that would waken the blonde. The next conversation would prove to be an interesting one. Hazy blue–purple eyes popped open, struggling to focus at all, let alone concentrate on him. "Easy. Easy." He gentled, helping her into a sitting position when he saw her try. "Go slow to start." He saw her eyes finally zero in on him and the eyebrows furrowed immediately. "It'll be a bit disorienting at first, Rose." He explained evenly. He knew the chances of this going well were remote. It depended on how much his future self had elucidated.
He watched as her eyes narrowed and a bright flame of intense anger flared deep within. Her voice, when it came, was barely more than a growl, "Don't you dare call me that."
(Scene inspired by first verse of 'Burning House' by Cam)
**––main theme song from Hallmark movie "Snow Queen" (2002)