Title : Once Upon a Time
Pairing : AU Nine/AU Rose
Genre : Romance
Rating : All Ages
Status : Complete
Prompt and fic under the cut
"Shouldn't you be in the castle?"
With a jolt of surprise the Princess looked up, immediately setting the tall man who stood before her with her sharpest and most indignant scowl.
He was older than she, his features sculptured, attractive and weather-worn. His dark hair was cut short and he was dressed in a leather jacket that was not of a style favoured by the young men of the palace. Yet there was something about him that was vaguely familiar. As she contemplated him she remembered that she had seen him before, once or twice, in the gardens and in the courtyard. His accent was strange to her ear, which she knew could only mean that he wasn't from the Realm. He was an outsider – he came from beyond the walls.
That conclusion alone brought to the surface a burst of what her mother the Queen disapprovingly called 'willful curiosity', and all at once at least a dozen questions rushed to the tip of the Princess's tongue.
However, no more than a second later, and sorely pained by the thorn of disapproval her mother had long since placed in her side, the Princess pushed away her frivolous inquisitiveness and swallowed down each unasked question like bitter pills.
Lifting her regal chin she set the man with a disparaging glare that had been bred into her lineage since before the walls were even built.
"What business is it of yours where I should be?"
The man shrugged his shoulders. "None I suppose. But I heard that there's a ball tonight – for your birthday. You should hurry back before the Queen notices you're missing. You don't want to be late and upset your mother, do you? Not after all the trouble she's gone to."
The Princess's austere appearance began to crack and despite herself her brown eyes flitted beyond the hedge and through the trees to the castle, where its elegant towers reached skyward.
She sighed heavily and gave up all pretence of churlishness. Her blood was indeed blue but she was not as cold as royalty was intended to be.
She looked at the man again and he held her gaze as if he had a perfect right to do so. She bit her lip as feelings of another kind stirred unbidden; turning her skin to gooseflesh just from the way he looked at her.
He knew who she was, as he had called the Queen her mother, yet he did not fawn and flatter her as she was so accustomed to. He was no sycophantic courtier, nor, she suspected, was he of noble birth; which only made his manner all the more intriguing. In fact, she was convinced he would address her no differently if she were a kitchen maid.
Taking a brave step forward she gave in to her inquisitive nature. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor," he told her, simply.
The Princess raised an eyebrow of surprise. "You're a physician?"
The Doctor shook his head. "No. The Doctor is who I am, not what I am."
The Princess did not understand riddles on the best of days and today was certainly not the best of days, so she chose not to pursue such foolishness. She did however, have more pertinent questions for this man the Doctor – if that was what she must call him.
"Are you in my mother's service, sir? Has she paid you in gold to keep me within these walls? Are you to be my shadow as I walk through the gardens?"
The Doctor snorted indignantly. "I have no interest in the Queen or her wishes – especially as her wishes appear to be to imprison her only child behind walls so high no man can climb them – and I have no use for gold." He stopped suddenly, both his manner and features softening as he looked at the Princess. "But, I would gladly be your shadow, if it pleases you."
The Princess felt her cheeks warm to a deep rose blush from the boldness of the Doctor's words. Hurriedly, she hid her gaze from him with heavy eyelashes while she stole a moment to compose herself.
Her upbringing, sheltered and cosseted within the grandiose Realm had done little to prepare her for the effect of such words… or indeed, such a man.
As Princess of the Realm she was accustomed to the hollow platitudes and flattery of those around her, but she had never been foolish or shallow enough to believe them genuine.
Yet this man, this 'Doctor', the Princess knew instinctively that his words were honest and true. And however ridiculous the notion was, considering that she had just met him, she knew in her heart that she could trust him entirely.
Feeling courageous enough to meet his gaze once more, the Princess offered a smile and saw it returned. Her heart skipped in her chest and for a moment she half forgot who she was – which was absurd in itself. She was Princess of the Realm and by her mother's command she must always conduct herself in a manner befitting her title… however much she wished otherwise.
Wondering if she dared to speak further, she bit her lip a moment before giving voice to the words that bubbled inside her.
"I have no need of another shadow, Doctor, but if it pleases you, I would certainly be glad of a friend."
With a fragile, hope-filled heart, the Princess offered her hand to him. The Doctor took her hand in his, lifted it to his lips and, his eyes never leaving hers, he pressed a cool kiss to her fingertips.
Slowly, the Doctor lowered the Princess's hand but he did not release it, instead he held it gently within his own.
"I would be glad of a friend myself."
The Princess looked at her hand, small and held so tenderly in the Doctor's, and although she knew that for her to allow such familiarity verged on scandal, she found such sweet comfort in his touch that she could not bring herself to think of propriety. Indeed, before she even knew her intention, she found herself drawing closer to the Doctor.
She stood meekly before him, her very heart trembling. The world itself was spinning, she could feel it. Her heart raced and her head swam and to save herself she leant forward, placing her other hand over his leathered heart.
She tilted her head back to look at him, opened her mouth to speak, but as she did the herald trumpets of the castle began to sound; announcing the beginning of the festivities.
In fright the Princess reeled away from the Doctor. All at once a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility and other unpleasant things she could not escape from filled her head.
"My mother… she will be looking for me."
The Doctor nodded his head. "I expect she will be, yes."
The Princess took a step or two back, her hands taking hold of the full skirt of her gown. "I have to go," she told him. Another step back. Another. "Will I see you again?"
"You will." The Doctor grinned broadly. "Now go back to the castle. Go on… run."
And so she did.
"How was your birthday?"
The Princess jolted from her daydreams, dropping her embroidery and pricking her finger with a needle in the process.
The Doctor stooped down, picked up the fallen needlework from where it lay in the soft grass and placed it in the small sewing basket at the Princess's feet.
The Princess stood up, her manner aloof. "My birthday was six weeks ago."
The Doctor looked surprised. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure."
The Princess bit her lip and tried hard not to ask, but the words buzzed around inside her head like angry bees and in the end she had to speak them or die from curiosity. "Where have you been?"
"Around," the Doctor said vaguely. "Time get's away from me sometimes." He gave a sudden smile. "Did you miss me?"
"Certainly not," the Princess replied – far too quickly. "I… I've hardly given you a second thought."
The Doctor pulled out a white, cotton handkerchief from his jacket pocket and moved closer to the Princess. Taking her hand in his he inspected her bloodied fingertip before gently wrapping the handkerchief around her hand.
"You should be more careful with needles," he said. "And while I'm on the subject, if I were you I'd stay away from red apples and gingerbread houses too. Oh, and it's probably best to check under bridges for Trolls and never trust Goblins. I've heard some very scary stories. Better safe than sorry, don't you think?"
The Princess tried to suppress her smile. "Should I be writing this down?"
The Doctor looked at the castle and then back to the Princess. "I'm just offering some friendly advice, that's all. I thought you might appreciate it since you princesses tend to be a bit… jeopardy friendly."
"I am not jeopardy friendly," the Princess retorted sharply.
The Doctor shrugged. "If you say so."
The Princess hesitated a moment, not sure if she should speak further, but her inquiring mind needed to know, so she stepped closer to the Doctor, her voice falling to a hushed whisper. "These strange things you speak of… Trolls and gingerbread houses and such… they exist beyond the walls?"
The Doctor's eyes lit up. "They do, but that's just for starters. There is so much more out there."
The Princess edged closer. "Such as?"
"Dragons and wild beasts are everywhere. Witches fly on broomsticks. Geese lay golden eggs. There are beanstalks that grow right up through the clouds. There are crocks of gold at the end of rainbows. There are magic mirrors and genies that live in lamps. There are rabbit holes that you can fall down into. There are Fairy Godmothers and unicorns and… I hear tell there's a big bad wolf."
The Princess's eyes grew wide as saucers. "I understand now why the walls were built."
The Doctor held her gaze. "Are you afraid?"
"I am only afraid that I will never see such wonders as those you speak of," the Princess admitted sorrowfully.
"What makes you so sure?"
"My mother would never allow it," the Princess explained. "To go beyond the walls is forbidden by royal decree. No one has the freedom to come and go."
"Except me," the Doctor said.
The Princess nodded in quiet wonder. "It would seem so."
Deep in thought, the Doctor stared at the Princess for a moment. "I could take you with me, if you like," he said.
The Princess swallowed hard. "I am Princess of the Realm. If I were to… to run off with a man I hardly knew just because he offered me promises of wild and dangerous adventure… well, that would be…"
"Yes, of course, you're right," the Doctor said, nodding his head in agreement. "Forget I even…"
"I never said that I wouldn't," the Princess interrupted quickly.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "I thought you were building up to it."
"Well, I wasn't."
Smiling, the Doctor reached out with one hand and gently cupped the Princess's face. "There's something I haven't told you about."
The Princess stared back at the Doctor, lost in his gaze. "What?"
He let his thumb stroke the apple of her cheek. "Kisses," he said, simply.
"What about kisses?" she asked, her heart suddenly racing.
"They're the most dangerous thing of all." And so saying the Doctor drew the Princess into his arms and pressed his lips to hers.
Several hundred years later, give or take a day or two…
The Doctor and the Princess stepped out of a magical blue box that was bigger on the inside, and onto a high cliff, overlooking a long ruined castle that was half swallowed up by an enormous forest. Above them, in a blue and cloudless sky, an emerald coloured dragon soared almost as high as the sun.
The Princess was dressed in dark, simple trousers, a leather jacket that was similar in style to the one the Doctor wore, strong, leather boots and hanging from her belt was a silver sword, its blade engraved with roses.
"Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I knew a girl who lived in a castle," the Princess said.
"Oh?" the Doctor said as he drew her into his arms and held her close against his body. "What happened to her?"
The Princess's tongue flicked to the corner of her mouth as she smiled at the Doctor.
"She ran away with her Prince and they lived happily ever after."