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Picnic on Aix

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title: Picnic on Aix, part one
author: fannishliss
pairing: Nine/Rose
rating: ultimately NC17 
length: 11,100 words in all, broken into parts.  Part One is 2300 words and rated G. 

summary: develish asked for a fic where the Tardis gets tired of all the UST and strands them until they deal with it.  This fic takes place after "Father's Day" -- they go to a picnic planet, but the Tardis locks them out in the rain until they come to terms with each other.

 

The very lovely Desertport has made a podfic of this story!!  Find it here.  http://desertport.livejournal.com/155791.html

 

 


He is a Time Lord.  At least that is what he calls himself.  He has a time machine that is meant to carry him through Time and Space to any destination in the universe.

Yet, for some reason, he and his lovely companion are standing under a lowering sky, and any minute now they will be soaked to the bone by chilly rain.

Despite his trusty time machine and mastery of Time and Space, he is now standing frustrated on the edge of a field of grain not close to ripening, while his companion shivers in a damp spring breeze, as he fruitlessly jiggles a key in a lock, the closed door of the tall blue box no closer to opening than if he were a nineteen-fifties British police officer needing to call the station. 

The Tardis is buzzing angrily and the key is heating up in his hands.  He pulls it from the lock, weighs it thoughtfully in his hand, shoves it into a pocket.

"Rose, give me your key," he says sharply, and regrets it before the words are even out of his mouth.  His harsh words drop into the cool spring air like stones into a pond, too close to the fight they've just had when Rose tried to save her Dad.  He darts a glance at the girl, wanting to tone it down a little.  She is biting her lip, looking out across the field, pulling the key on its chain over her head.

The key is human-warm from nestling against her breast.

"Thanks," he murmurs, and she darts a surprised glance at him.

How has it come to this? He could have taken her anywhere, any when -- and all she'd wanted to do was comfort her dying dad -- but he'd let her make a paradox, and then blamed her for it, and he'd been swallowed up, and her dear dead dad had sacrificed himself to save the world, and she had held him as he died… and she had seen how rude, suspicious, accusing and unsympathetic a Time Lord could be.

This was meant to be a picnic, just a simple outing on a lovely, uncomplicated planet, a place where the two of them could relax and be themselves. Instead, it's a lockout in the rain. As her key nears the lock, a bright blue spark jumps out and stings him sharply.

He cries out in alarm and drops the key.  She starts back, eyes wide with worry.

"What's wrong?" she asks. "Are we locked out?"

His Tardis is blue, the field is green, the sky is gray and low.  The field is wheat, about six inches high.  The wet blades will swish unpleasantly around their ankles all the way back to the village.

He feels a slow burn of annoyance flare up inside him, along with a hot flush of shame he tries to ignore.

"Yes," he scowls.    "She does this sometimes.  Must need a rest. Best hurry back before the rain sets in."

The Tardis won't let them back in until he's made amends. 

He reaches down and fishes her key out of the wheat grass where it has fallen.  Wiping it clean, he gives it back to her.  For a second she meets his eye, and he hopes his gaze is gentle, grateful.  He knows he is rough now, rude and sharp.  She doesn't deserve it. She hasn't looked at him properly since the chronovore devoured him. She's taken his anger and insults to heart, and she hasn't forgiven herself for what, in truth, hadn't been her fault.

Her gaze falls away.  He offers her his hand.  That, at least, she takes. 

The Doctor shakes his head and they start off back across the field, the way they've just come.   

Aix is an agrarian planet, specializing in tourism and the export of small-scale agricultural products. Lovely place for a picnic, if you enjoy such things as freshly baked bread, perfectly aged cheeses, delicious preserved fruits, fine wine... climate too cool for spices, chocolate, or bananas, but Aix is like nothing so much as a whole planet devoted to Old Earth French country cooking.

The rain is misting lightly, getting heavier moment by moment.  Too bad he doesn't carry a brolly anymore. He stops, shrugs off his leather jacket.

"Here," he says, proffering his jacket with two hands, by the shoulders. 

"I'm okay," she answers, but she's already pale and shivering.

"Get soaked through in that thin cotton, you'll go hypothermic and then I'll be carrying you," he says, more harshly than he means, and the light in her eyes dims yet again, even as she slips into his coat and ducks her chin down inside the collar, pulls it together in front of her and steps away from him.

He reaches out for her hand again, and once more, like a miracle, she lets him take it. He tells himself he likes to hold her hand in case he has to suddenly pull her out of the way of trouble, jeopardy-friendly as she is.  Maybe that's part of it, but it's really her warmth, her strength, the feel of her, right there under his fingertips, a promise that right now at least he's not alone.

"Do you think they know how to make proper tea on Aix?" he asks, conversationally, as they trudge along.

"Don't you know?" Rose asks, shooting him a look. 

"Hmmph," he admits, "not doing so well today with the all-knowing bit." For as much he claims to know everything, what he doesn't know makes up at least 97% of the universe.

"Ha.  Not so much, no," Rose says, but at least she's grinning that tiny little grin, her lip curled up at the corner, her brown eye beginning to recover its jaunty sparkle.

"So make a wish," he says.

"Why?" she asks.  The rain is getting progressively heavier, but the road to the village is just beyond those trees, and the edge of town is not far down the road.

"Why not?"  There used to be a theory, among some of the more eccentric ancient scholars, that magic held true before the Time Lords drove it out.  Maybe -- now -- magic will return, now that his people aren't asserting their mastery over the workings of the cosmos.

"I wish for a nice hot cuppa," Rose says, eyes squinched closed. 

The Doctor feels a shiver.  "Yeah -- I think that did it."

"Really?" Rose says, peering at him.

He nods, smirking, hoping for inscrutable. "Come on!" he says, quickening his pace.

Even with the jacket, Rose is chattery by the time they get back to the village.  The rain is seeping down the back of her neck, and her trousers are soaked below the knees. First order of business is to get her warm and dry. 

Maybe the power of the wish carries them back to the village they'd given up on earlier when the sky clouded over and the wind went chill.  It does seem to be working, because the little cafe is one of the first shops they come to along the main road, and the rain comes down in buckets just as they dart under the awning and into the warm confines of the cafe.

There are patrons at two other tables, a couple of women chatting happily, a young man scrawling his thoughts in an old battered journal. 

The smell of coffee and baked goods fills his nostrils and seems to go straight to his brain.  He feels a heavy weight lift slightly from his shoulders as he gets Rose sitting comfortably, warm cafe, soft chair, steaming cup of tea taking the chill from her hands and several delicious looking jam and shortbread biscuits arrayed on a plate before her.

He watches her over the rim of his dainty cup.  The tea seems to revive her. As soon as she finishes her first cup, he pours her another from the pot.

"Thank you, mother," she says with a smile, and for a second he sees the flash of her playful brown eyes.

"You're quite welcome, Rose," he says, in a high, prim voice, not imitating Jackie.  That earns him a flash of teeth as well.

He relaxes a bit.  Maybe the Tardis is right.  Rough patch— they'll get through it.  Take a little break, a little slow time, just a tad less constant peril.  If he really wants to show her the universe,  the universe does have its quieter, rainier moments. 

"Back in a tick," he says, sauntering over to the counter. A dark-haired young woman lounges at the register, absently leafing through a glamorous off-world magazine displayed in shimmering images over her holographic tablet.  The young are never satisfied, no matter how idyllic the setting they've grown up in.

"Could you refer me to a hotel?" the Doctor asks brightly.

She lifts bored eyes to the Doctor's and taps her tablet.  The magazine shrinks down into an icon, and a lodgings list pops up.   There's a highly rated hotel in town-- completely full. 

"Wedding," says the girl, and the Doctor discerns a light French accent through the Tardis's translation filter. "They've been planning it for months.  The only room I know of in town that's not taken is the room at the bookstore." 

The Doctor's spirits lift at the word "bookstore."  

"Can't see the appeal, myself," the girl sniffs, "dusty, musty, old-fashioned —"

She breaks off at the Doctor's glower.  "Would you care to inquire directly?" the girl smiles, toothy and fake.  She taps another sequence into her tablet, which rings up the bookstore. 

The woman who answers looks to be an older version of the cafe girl.   "Justine's Book and Antiquary, may I help you?" the woman says.

"I'm calling about the room," the Doctor says.

"Oh!" Justine answers, clearly surprised.  "Yes?"

"I'd like to reserve the room.  For tonight," the Doctor says, patiently, he thinks.  There's no telling how long the Tardis will keep him locked out.

"Very well, sir, I'll have it made up for you right away," the woman answers.

The cafe girl rolls her eyes, clearly anxious to take back her tablet and resume her desultory perusal of the magazine.  

"Thanks very much," the Doctor says, and rings off, handing the girl back her tablet.

"She's my sister, if you must know," the girl says.

"I see," the Doctor agrees, and goes back to sit with Rose.

"I found us a place to stay," he says.

"Good," Rose says, noncommittally. 

The Doctor stares at her.  "Don't you want to know where?"

"Where?" Rose dutifully inquires. 

"In a bookstore!" the Doctor exclaims.  He finds himself having to be enthusiastic for the both of them.

"You got us a room in a bookstore," Rose says, and the enthusiasm level around the table takes a dive into the negative.

The Doctor huffs and sits up straighter.  "You lot, trying to kill off the book with electronic copies.  The codex is an optimal technology for long-term information storage and retrieval.  Besides, it's not easy leaving notes in the margins of a data stream.  Libraries should be filled with real books."

"I like books," Rose says, nodding vaguely. She's chasing crumbs around the table top with the tip of her finger. 

"I know you do," the Doctor replies.  "You spend a good deal of time in the library, back on the Tardis."

She blinks up at him. "It's like it goes on forever.  It makes me feel so small. But at the same time, cozy," she muses.

The Doctor just drinks her in.  Like many of his companions, she's just on the cusp of her potential.  Traveling with him opens the doors of the mind, or so he likes to tell himself to justify the danger.  His companions are so much bigger on the inside by the time they leave him -- if they survive. 

"What are you thinking, Doctor?" Rose asks, softly, touching his hand.

He can't put his thoughts into words -- too delicate, too precious to get wrong, to muck up.  He looks away, frowning slightly. 

She sighs and pours herself a little more tea.  The pot is almost empty.  She gestures at his cup.

"Yes, please," he says, and she adds the milk with care, ladles in the sugar with a knowing spoon.  Perfection.  The tea is nice too.

The cafe has heightened their mood considerably, and the bookstore is only a few doors down.  It's a short quick run through the rain, which is heavier now, the clouds turning day to dusk.

They're laughing as they spill inside the bookstore, stamping, trying to shed the rain without giving the inventory of the crowded shop an unwarranted sprinkling.

The woman waves them in from the register.  "You called from the cafe."

"Yes," the Doctor nods, shaking himself off.  Rose pats at her hair.

"Why don't I show you the room," the woman says, a hint of a smile playing on her lips. 

Rose looks at the Doctor, who shrugs.  "Any port in a storm," he whispers. 

Justine leads them through the rooms crowded with shelves, up two flights to a garret. 

"My lodgings are also on this floor… the bathroom is down the hall, and this is the room."

Rose looks shocked.  It couldn't possibly be any tinier and still merit the word "room."

"I don't think that's a double," she whispers to the Doctor, eyes wide.

"I don't think it's a single," he replies sotto voce, "but that's okay, I'll just… stand.  Or something."

Justine lifts one dark brow at the Doctor. 

"We'll take it," he says sheepishly.

Rose's jaw shifts to one side.

"It's fine!" he insists, and smiles at Justine.

"Do you have any nineteenth-century English?" he says brightly.

"Of course!" she says, and they clatter down the stairs, away from the claustrophobic little room. He needs a proactive breather from any potential domestics.