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Fic: Heritage, Chapter Four

Title: Heritage, Chapter Four
Author: NP-Complete
Rating: General
Characters: OCs; historical Rose/Ten
Spoilers: Doomsday
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not even close.

Summary: Half Time Lord, all human

Author's Note:
Thanks to everybody who commented on my previous chapters. Special thanks to kalleah for beta and persistent encouragement.

Previous Chapters

Smiles. Discreet exchanges of glances. Wandering casually over to where the other one was making a cup of coffee, and murmuring, sotto voce, “Lunch?”

Sometimes he asked, sometimes she asked. Sometimes days and days went by without any significant communication. Even when she got him alone, sometimes John was uncommunicative, answering questions but starting no topics of his own, seemingly preoccupied. At times like those she wondered how much his heart was in the effort, whether she was impelling their friendship into being through sheer force of will. There were times she felt entirely discouraged. But always he would drift in her direction again, murmuring a quiet comment, meeting her eyes, giving her a rich and slow-building smile. It was those times that she felt sure she was on to something.

Her birthday passed: she got a card signed by everybody in the department who happened to be around, and she saw John hovering in the background as she read it. She never saw him come near her desk, but at the end of the day, as she was packing up to go home, she found a slim volume leaning against the plant pot. It was titled “African Violets: The Complete Guide.”

She held it tightly to her chest on the ride home, leaning back in her seat. In his own discreet, oblique way, he’d given her flowers.

The next day, they were standing together at the coffee maker, some small distance apart, trading pleased glances, taking each other in. A colleague who had been filling his cup had relaxed into an idler’s stance, and, on no provocation whatsoever, begun filling them in on a recent skiing trip to Poland. Behind him, a notice board flickered slightly and one section melted away, replaced by a representation of a poster.

“What?” said their colleague, Leo, noticing her looking beyond him. He turned. “’2045 Season - Arts and Culture’,” he read out loud. “’Traditional Songs of Flelb As Performed on Cello and Mixed Air Cellular Materials.’”

“Didn’t realize that had started up again,” said John.

“What is it?” she said.

“Lectures and alien culture experiences. Soft side of the Institute. Public-focused.”

“Aha!” said Leo suddenly, and they looked at him. He was tapping the notice board’s surface, causing rainbow circles to flicker around the compression points. “’Presented by the Tyler Institute Cultural Exchange Program’. Is that Geraint’s new thing?”

“Probably,” said John, a bit reluctantly. She’d noticed before that he didn’t like to talk about people behind their backs.

“Well, bless you, Geraint, for letting us know how to butter you up,” said Leo. “Only problem is, now we have to listen to Flelb music.”

That was the last any of them had to say on it, and within a few minutes he had sighed and gone back to his own office. The two of them were thrown back on their own resources.

John tilted his head towards the poster, which announced the performance as being at 7pm that Friday night. “Think you might go?”

“I might,” she said, not having had any such intention but definitely willing. “You?”

“Might do,” he said, reaching for the back of his neck and then pulling his hand down. “Could be good. I’ve heard Flelban music before,” he said. “Mum sent some recordings. The Mixed Air Cellular Materials are rather fun.”

“What’s that?” she said.

“Bubble wrap,” he said.

She stared.

“Well, they don’t call it that,” he conceded.

The auditorium, as she entered it, was partly full. Many people were probably from the Institute, but there were quite a few that visibly weren’t, such as elderly ladies. John was sitting on the left hand side, about three chairs in. There was an unfamiliar coat in the chair on the far side of him.

“Leo’s here,” he said, as she sat down.

Well. No tete-a-tete, then. But at least she had bubble wrap to look forward to.

The music was introduced by a man with a beard whose face looked vaguely familiar. He thanked everyone for coming, spoke of the Institute’s mission on Flelb and Rose Tyler’s magnificent work on bringing the people of Earth and Flelb together. Rose Tyler (as she had heard before) was currently lecturing at various Flelban university-equivalents, doing a tour that would last 3 more of approximately 8 months. Tonight’s concert was bringing some of Flelb’s culture back to Earth, “for all of us to enjoy.”

Both the cellist and the bubble wrap performer were human, she saw, which was a bit disappointing. She wondered how long it took to become a professional-caliber air cellular materials performer, and then how she would know whether she was listening to a professional-caliber performer or not.

John leaned over. “Flelbans have sharper hearing than humans do. We’re going to miss a lot of the nuances of the bubble wrap performance. They can tell just by listening how many bubbles you’ve popped at one time.”

“I was wondering what to listen for.”

“There are some variations in pitch, and precision, how fast the pops come in succession. Different materials produce different qualities of pop. A really good performer can minimize the other noises the plastic makes, only produce the pops. Some modern performers incorporate the other noises into the performance, though.”

Clearly there was all kind of potential in bubble wrap that she had missed. She made a noise suggesting appreciation of these new ideas. John settled back into his chair.

“Hard to do a sostenuto, though,” he added.

She stared at him. He appeared completely serious. Up on the stage, the cellist was tuning.

“How you could say all that without laughing is beyond me,” she murmured.

His eyes danced. “I wanted to see if I could get you to crack.”

The concert was relatively brief, as if the organizers knew there was only so much alien music a human audience could stand at one time. Perhaps it was limited by how much bubble wrap they were prepared to gather together at one time. The bubble wrap performer used at least five different kinds, some of them metallic-looking, and managed, although she wasn’t sure quite how, to produce considerable variation in pitch. The cellist, on the other hand, was merely passable.

“God, I need a drink,” said Leo, after they’d said their hellos to Geraint afterwards and were leaving the building. “I need more than that. Fancy getting a meal before we go home? I’ve got nothing but shepherd’s pie to look forward to.”

She and John looked at each other. “Sure,” she said, sounding a little less than sure, and John promptly said, “Yes, certainly.”

“Good,” said Leo. “We can try the Piazza in Larpent Street. They’ve got a good bar.”

There was a waiting list at the Piazza when they got there, but they settled comfortably in the bar, John paying for the first round of drinks. Soon enough, they were shown to a table, and soon after that were eating a seafood pizza. Leo talked at length, sometimes gesturing with a fork.

“So, John, how’d your Mum get started?” he asked. “Did she just wake up one day and think, ‘Hello, I think I’ll represent the planet?’”

“It’s a long story,” said John, and she knew him well enough to tell that he was not quite comfortable with the subject.

“Oh, we’ve got time,” said Leo, after swallowing down a mouthful. “Maeg’s not expecting me back until half ten. I don’t know about you, Penny—anyone waiting up?”

“Another time, perhaps,” said John, and even Leo had to accept that the topic was defeated.

After Leo left, they continued talking. She glanced at her watch, but it was still well before eleven o’clock, plenty of time to catch the last train.

She told him about the moment she realized she would never be more than a passable pianist. He told her of memorizing the wrong time for his defense of his doctoral thesis and being threatened with failing his degree. She told him of the desperate crush she had harbored at age fifteen on her brother’s best friend, how she had felt compelled to seek his attention yet been terrified of him working out why. He told her about the times (for there had been more than one) when Rose Tyler had been missing, feared dead, and his grandparents had been unable to prevent him from finding out about it with the rest of the world.

Around them, people came and went. Their coffee cups were refilled. She caught herself on the verge of a yawn, and a wave of fatigue hit her, yet a check of her watch showed she had half an hour before she would have to take the tube to the train station. It was only when she noticed that the waiters were starting to gather up the tablecloths that she realized that the restaurant must be closing.

They paid and went outside. She was sorry the evening was ending, and tried to think of a way to say so that wouldn’t sound reminiscient of that long-ago crush. She checked her watch, and saw that it was still forty past the hour.

Wait, that didn’t make sense. It had been forty past the last time she’d looked.

She looked again. Her watch still showed the time as 9:40, which couldn’t possibly be right. The second hand was unmoving.

“John, what time is it?” she said.

“Five of twelve,” he said, checking his own watch.

She bit her lip on a curse word. “My watch has stopped,” she explained. “I’ve missed my train.” Her mind started running through the various possibilities: a very expensive cab ride to the suburbs, a hotel room…?

“You ought to still be able to make it,” he said. “If you got a cab….” They both looked up and down the street. There were no visible taxi cabs. She reached for her phone, said “Taxi,” into it, and received a message saying that one would be there within twenty minutes. Which was fine, except that it was midnight and they were standing on a street of closed storefronts.

“Hotel room, perhaps,” she said, wondering how far away the nearest one was. “Find hotel room,” she told her phone, knowing it would check her travel profile for her preferences. The response was there within a few seconds: the nearest vacant one at anywhere near her price range was quite a few tube stops away, in a not particularly nice part of town.

“I’ll go with you,” said John, when she told him. “You don’t want to be wandering around too long at this time of night.”

“Okay,” she told him, a little helplessly, then yawned. “Excuse me,” she said.

“Or…” he said, pondering for a moment and then continuing. “If you wanted--if you were comfortable with it, I mean--you could stay at mine. I’ve got a sofa. You could have my bed. We could probably get there faster. And it wouldn’t cost anything.”

This wasn’t the way she’d imagined going back to John’s flat, but it had more than a little appeal. She’d wanted to see John in his natural habitat. And who could expect her to prefer an unknown hotel in a strange part of London, or what would be a two hour cab ride when all was said and done? “Okay,” she said, and put her hand to her mouth to cover another yawn.

John’s flat was on the second floor of a discreetly modern building in an old square. It was decorated in an unremarkable but pleasant style, with a lot of blond wood and a few patches of bright colors. The front window was crowded with plants.

“There should be a spare toothbrush in the cabinet,” John said, pointing her towards the loo. “Bedroom’s over here. Do you want a t-shirt or something to sleep in?”

“That would be nice,” she said.

“I’ll get you one. Give me a minute.” He disappeared down the hall.

In the loo, the toothbrush was where John had said it would be. He used a very plainly labeled, scientific-looking toothpaste. She took a look in the mirror before brushing. This was not the most charming she had ever appeared.

“Oh, what the hell,” she said out loud.

When she emerged, John had reappeared, hair a bit more disheveled, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, handing her a folded t-shirt to wear. He looked softer and more approachable in casual clothes, much more familiar and touchable. He backed down the hall to show her to the door of his bedroom.

“If you need anything during the night, just ask,” he said. “I’ll probably be up for a while, anyway.”

“Thank you,” she said. It really was an understatement: now that she was here she was immensely glad to be in a friendly home and not checking in to some unknown hotel. She had an idea. He looked touchable: might she touch him?

“Hold still,” she suggested. He stilled, taking in a breath. His eyes seemed very wide.

She reached up on her toes, put her hands on his shoulders, and kissed his cheek, daring to linger just the tiniest bit. Up close, he smelled like fresh laundry and warm male, and his skin was warm through the soft cloth under her hands. So real, so human, so very good to touch. She heard him take in a breath.

“That didn’t hurt, now, did it?” she said, once she had settled back on the floor.

“No, it didn’t,” said John, his dark eyes large. His voice was low. “You can do it again, if you like.”

“Maybe I will,” she heard herself say, staring up at him. It was tempting to continue. But fatigue was pulling at her, and she knew she didn’t have the energy to finish what it seemed she might be able to start.

“Any time,” said John, in that same low voice, still staring. Then he straightened up, and edged past her and down the hall. “Go to bed,” he said, over his shoulder. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night,” she said, and turned to enter his room.

Next Chapter


Jun. 2nd, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)
Very cute. My favorite line, I think: "In his own discreet, oblique way, he’d given her flowers."
Jun. 3rd, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
I like that line, too. :) Thank you!