“Would you like to buy a heart?”
The young woman stood in the midst of the market square, her cloud-like black hair escaping the hood of her long, deep blue cloak in smoky wisps. Her dark eyes were bright with youthful enthusiasm, sparkling as if she held the stars within them. At her side, tucked in the crook of her elbow, hung a large wicker basket, full of shining red hearts, glimmering like jewels. She held one in the palm of her other hand, carefully, but still enticingly, as though she’d done it for ages and displaying it just right was second nature. The gem-like heart hovered just above her skin, casting its red hue over half of her, making her blue garments look purple.
“Fully refurbished! Like new!” she called to the patrons of the market.
A lady stopped before her, her status evident from the gold trim on her cloak, but her other features were hidden as she clutched the heavy gray mantle close around herself.
“I don’t suppose you mend broken hearts as well?” she asked in a soft voice.
“Goodness, no!” exclaimed the heart-seller. “I’m just a TARDIS.”
The lady nodded, either recognizing the acronym for ‘Trainee Apprentice - Regular Duties In Smithing,’ or wasn’t bothered. It was common for TA’s to be sent into the market to sell their master’s wares. The heart-seller pointed down the street.
“At the end of the market on the corner, however,” she went on, “you’ll find my master, the Heartsmith.” She indicated her basket. “He’s the one who refurbishes all the hearts I sell. Look for the blue door that says ‘pull,’ but you actually have to push.”
The lady breathed a sigh. “Thank you-- what’s your name?”
“Thank you, Idris,” she said. “I’m Rose.” She turned and started off down the street.
Rose had seen the woman with the hearts before, but only from the interior of a carriage. She rarely ventured from her parents’ estate these days and never by herself, so this solo venture had taken quite a bit of courage. She could have taken the carriage, but she hadn’t wanted her family to find out her reasons for going to market, they wouldn’t have understood, not many people would. She was just so tired of being afraid all the time, she’d eventually resolved to find out if the heart-seller could help her.
She found the blue door, just where Idris said it would be. Experimentally, she pulled as the door instructed, but it didn’t budge. She pushed and the door opened quite easily. She smiled a little at the eccentricity of it.
Inside, a copper colored domed structure was supported by graceful sloped beams, little round lights set in hexagons along the walls lit the area with warm tones. Her eyes were drawn to the center of the room, where a massive glass column glowed green, a round, mushroom shaped table spread out around the bottom of it, covered in various bits and bobs, like a sort of console.
A man stood on the other side of the column, Rose had to step closer in order to see him, unobscured. He was wearing a set of dark glass goggles, protecting his eyes from the sparks that were shooting from an open panel of the console. His mouth was set in a tight line, a slashing dimple in his cheek showed that his jaw was set, betraying his focus, as he carefully aimed a slim wand, blazing with purple fire, into the interior of the machine. The emerald and gold light and the flashing sparks threw him into stark relief. It made him look like some kind of mad scientist, coupled with his wild hair that stood up at all angles and the thick rubber gloves on his hands that matched the heavy black apron he wore.
She cleared her throat. Even though the sound was soft, the sparks stopped at once as he looked up, his mouth slightly parted in surprise. The expression quickly turned to one of delight as he cried, “Ah! A customer!”
The instrument he’d been handling clattered on the metal grating as he set it down and bounded around the console to greet her. He lifted the goggles, settling them on the top of his head, revealing merry eyes the color of rich chocolate. Somehow, the goggles looked like they belonged in the nest of chestnut hair. He pulled the gloves off, saying, “What can I do for--”
Rose lowered the hood of her cloak and the man’s breath seemed to leave him all at once.
He hadn’t seen her for a long time, but he’d remember those hazel eyes flecked with gold, the same gold as her hair, anywhere. She’d been a figure of heated gossip for months, about a year ago, and had since disappeared from society. He’d never spoken to her before now, but he’d wanted to, back when the incident had happened. He hadn’t understood the urge that came over him, to run over and hug her and shield her from the prying eyes of the public, like vultures, like wolves sensing weakness. She was so beautiful, so young, too young for what had happened.
His smile had faltered for that one second in which he’d realized it was her, but he brought it back in full force, not wanting her to know that he knew. Maybe it was a little too bright, too wide, but hopefully she wouldn’t notice.
“I’m John,” he said, holding both gloves in his left hand so that he could offer her his right. “But people call me the Doctor.” His longer fingers wrapped almost all the way around her small hand.
“I’m Rose.” She tilted her head at him, curiously. “Just ‘the Doctor?’”
“Yep,” he said, popping the ‘p.’ “Because I fix things.”
She nodded. “That’s why I’m here. I was told you can fix broken hearts.” Carefully, so carefully, she pulled on a delicate gold chain around her neck, pulling the heart free from where it was tucked beneath the bodice of her light pink gown.
He whistled low as he looked at the softly glowing heart in her cupped hands. It was chipped and cracked, much more than any other heart he’d worked on before, the fissures spidering out to the very edges. It was only held together by the smallest part of its base, it seemed as though any strain could break it completely.
“This one’s really damaged,” he said, but his tone was thoughtful rather than apologetic. He looked up at her, his brown eyes soft. “But why go to the trouble of fixing it? Why not trade it in for something new?”
“My mother got a new heart, a long time ago, after my father died. My step-father is a good man, but--” She closed her eyes briefly, but he’d seen the ache of pain that flashed there. “This is why I came here alone, I knew no one would understand--”
He caught her arm as she turned to leave. “Wait, please,” he said. He released her at once, not wanting to scare her. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. I was just concerned. After all, not many people will fix something when they can get a new one.”
She looked at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath. “What if he hadn’t been a good man? What if he’d broken my mother’s new heart? Should she then get another new one? To be broken all over again?” She shook her head, looking down at her poor mangled heart. “I don’t want to forget why it was broken in the first place. That’s why I want to fix this one. I don’t want to be afraid anymore, to go outside, to be around other people, afraid to feel… anything. I want to live again, and I can’t do that when the slightest thing might break my heart altogether.” Her eyes were sad when she looked up at him again, but they sparked with a determination that made him admire her. “Now, do you understand?”
He nodded. “Yes. I… think I can help you.” He rubbed his chin as he looked at the heart. “It just might take a while. You’ll… have to leave it here,” he said, gently, knowing it wouldn’t be easy. “Is that all right?”
She bit her lip, but inclined her chin in assent. With exaggerated care, she removed it from the chain and held it out to him. With the sure hands of a Heartsmith, he took it from her, delicately placing it into a glass heart container that sat on an old beat-up chair nearby. He turned back to her to find her playing with the end of the chain, nervously.
“Feels so strange, to be without it,” she said.
He smiled, sympathetically. It was normal to feel insecure without one’s heart. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you a loaner.”
She blinked at him. “What, you mean, one of the hearts you refurbish?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” he said, waving a hand. “Can’t have you mucking up a fresh one with feelings, it’ll be twice the work to get it ready to sell again.” He shook his head. “No, I’ll give you one that’s broken in, if you’ll excuse the pun.”
Her eyes went wide as he reached beneath his stained blue shirt, which was open at the collar, and began pulling on a slim silver chain. “You’d give me yours?” she breathed in wonder. “But… what if something happens to it? And won’t you miss it?”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ve got two.”
Her mouth dropped open as he tugged the heart, no, hearts, free from under his shirt. Just as he said, there were two strung on the chain, and they were gold, rather than red. A faint shimmery miasma swirled just beneath the surface, almost like fiery clouds.
“You’re not from here, are you?” she asked with a little smile, her first since walking through his push-pull door. It was a tantalizing hint of how dazzling a real smile from her would be.
“No,” he said. “That all right?”
“Yes,” she said immediately. Her eyes flicked between him and his hearts for a moment. “You’ll really give me one of yours?” she asked, marveling at the trust he was displaying.
“While I’m fixing yours, yes,” he said, removing one from the chain. He took her hand, holding it palm up, and gave the heart into her keeping. “It’s older than yours, so it might be a bit heavier than what you’re used to,” he said, apologetically.
Her fingers curled upward a bit, automatically cupping the heart. It hovered over her fingers, whole and glimmering. She lifted it up, the gold light turning her eyes amber, as she watched the cloudy surface change and shift in amazement. “It’s beautiful,” she said, wonderingly. She transferred it to her chain, the weight of it reassuring her as she held it in both hands. “Thank you,” she said, sincerely. “I’ll take good care of it.”
He gave a slight shrug as he tucked his remaining heart back under his clothes. “You’re used to caring for a delicate heart, I trust you.” He angled his chin at the chair where her heart sat inside the secure container. “I can’t make any promises about yours… but I will do my absolute best.” He rubbed the back of his neck as he furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure when it will be ready. Just come by whenever it’s convenient for you.”
“I will. Oh… What about the cost?”
“We can discuss that later.”
She nodded. “All right.” She turned to go, placing the gold heart beneath her bodice. It was so warm. “Thank you, Doctor,” she said, looking back from the door.
He smiled and lifted a hand in farewell. The door clicked shut behind her. He blew out a breath. Lifting the heart container up to eye level, he frowned. He was not looking forward to delving into Rose’s past hurt, but he would do it to save her heart. It was why he was such a good Heartsmith… He might look human, but as he’d revealed to Rose, he was not. His race of people were empaths. Each fracture was like a thread, weaving a story that only he could see, and always full of such sadness.
Rose didn’t deserve to have such a broken heart. She was so young, so full of potential. She saw the value in mending a heart, it would lend her a certain empathy when he was finished with it. He was certain he could get it back into working order, at least enough so she wouldn’t be so fearful anymore.
He sighed again as he looked around the room. It just had to be a market day, leaving him without his TA… Where had Idris left his tools?