The hunting knife slammed into the counter, its lethal blade slicing three-inches deep into the counter top. The handle, a stump of layered animal hide, remained quivering from the impact.
Mr. Ian Davis, the shopkeeper, his hands still held high, stared in fascination at the weapon, his fear forgotten.
“Don’t make me angry, dearie.” Jackie Tyler stared up at the man in the black balaclava holding the pistol. She brushed past him, plunked her plastic basket down on the counter and began to unload some oranges and tea biscuit tins, completely ignoring the knife, the armed robber and the state of Mr. Davis’ trousers. “I’ll have three lottery tickets, as well Ian; and none of those power lotto ones, neither, sick of them, I am. Lost ten pounds last month on those.”
Jackie heard the sound of trainers retreating hesitantly across the linoleum floors followed by the sound of the door slamming. It didn’t make her smile though, just sigh quietly. She handed the stunned Mr. Davis a few pound notes, gathered up her shopping and walked out the door.
Of the knife in the counter, there was no sign save for a slim, three-inch deep hole.
The sky outside the shop was gray and faded, the buildings gray and gritty. As usual. She shook her head. Another shop she couldn’t go back to.
Jackie headed home, ignoring the pains in her knees and the way the cold shivered into her bones. She was seventy-two now, or would be in six weeks time. Never thought she’d make sixty, if she were honest. Not that all of her was seventy-two; so much of her was gone now. Her flesh and, happily, her fat had vanished over the years, evaporating from her frame and leaving saggy, drooping skin that was much lighter and heavier at the same time. She’d shrunk somehow, nearly two inches… and her back… She couldn’t face the stairs any more, not since October last with that bother with her ankle, now it was the lift every time to get back to her floor. She’d put in for one of the ground level ones, but she reckoned the new landlord didn’t think much of her to even bother.
Jackie came to the bus stop and put down the groceries at her feet for a moment, taking the respite to tighten her cardigan about her, securing it against the flapping wind. Some May this was. Spring indeed! The traffic rolled and coughed passed the bus stop, its progress achingly slow. There was no sign of the bus though.
Jackie let out another sigh and glanced at her watch in irritation. She didn’t want downtime, not now, not lately. If she stopped for a moment, she kept thinking of the dreams again.
Dreams of Rose. Which was silly.
Rose had been dead for ages.
Decades ago, now. Jackie remembered the funeral quite vividly. The Doctor had brought her body back, carrying it out of his ship, silent, not answering any questions. Even Mickey came, brought his two daughters, gave a little speech.
Jackie had been gutted for years over that. Weren’t supposed to lose a child, no one was. Not like that. Not because of _them_...
But the Doctor had gone in the blue box that seemed ageless despite his many faces. Mickey went too, back up north leaving some very nice bottles of brandy behind, bless him.
Leaving Jackie alone…
She frowned at her watch again.
The wedding… something kept coming back to her in her dreams about the wedding. Something about shadows in the pews, lunging at her. And the Doctor at the pulpit. But that wasn’t right was it? Couldn’t be right. May be he was a time traveler, but she’d remember that, certainly.
But everything was so hazy… like something was pulling her back… or leaving with her?
The screech of the worn brake pads tore her out of her fugue. She picked up her groceries and hugged them tight against her chest as she waited for the bus door to open.
She found a seat near the back, away from the leather clad teens all decked out in straps and twisty gelled hair. Staring through the window, through the pane of grime on one side and human grease on the other, looking out at London as the streets stuttered past, Jackie tried to remember what happened that day her husband died, but it was all a blur, confusing, distorted, contradictory… People rushing past, screaming, horrible shadows on the stained glass, the Doctor dying.
Jackie frowned. Now that couldn’t be right.
There had been a hand, a claw, cold and biting on her shoulder, something warm and sticky inside her back, tickling her soul through her feet, reaching into her spirit, pulling through her skin and relaxing…
Jackie shook her head. Going crazy, she was. Her mother had warned her about losing it as she got older, what happens if you spend too much time watching television and not doing the crosswords. She needed to stay sharp; her mind was all she had left.
The screen on the bus seat in front of her flickered as the vehicle jarred and groaned at each stop and it caught her eye. There was a battle going on the news channel, more of those rebels tearing it up in Chile, firebombing the buildings and terrifying those poor children…
Jackie hated watching the news. Depressed her no end it did, particularly these stupid rebels, thinking they could help people through death, through killing. But she didn’t look away, back out the window. She stared at the screen, watching determinedly. Now there was a camera view shot from atop a hillside, a scene of villagers fleeing down a hill, their pursuers firing indiscriminately, hopping over the fallen corpses of children and old men.
Jackie fumed, her insides boiling as she watched the slaughter. But for once her rage wasn’t helpless, wasn’t about to wither and fade as it always did, drowned by the thought of ‘what can you do?’ She was angry, and Heaven help her, she was going to do something, actually going to do something before her skin and bones gave way and she left this Earth, she was-
On the screen, the rebels had tripped, almost as if the corpses beneath them and stuck out their arms and legs, and pulled their attackers down onto the ground, rolling with them, scattering their guns that thudding into the wet ground. The camera man ran closer, the shot shaking with his pounding steps as the villagers turned on their pursuers, laughing and kicking away the guns, jeering over the fallen rebels.
Well, that’s nice then, isn’t it? Jackie felt warmth and excitement flood through her, as finally, for once, things were going to go right.
Things were about to change.
The Doctor was waiting for her on her doorstep.
It wasn't one she’d seen before, but you got used to the outfits. Besides, young blond men didn’t really have a habit of hanging around her flat, not in thirties movie-style pinstripe gangster outfits. The hat didn’t suit him though, not really. The short hair was nice though. He helped her with her bag and she beamed at him as she unlocked the door. “Fancy a cuppa, sweetie? Just got a tin of orange-ginger, looked really nice.”
“Would love one.” He walked through to the kitchen with her and sat on the nearest stool. “No milk. Two honey, if it’s no bother.”
Jackie rooted through the back cupboard and pulled out a small glass bottle, the sides crusty with crystallized sugar and the bottom thick with an inch of golden honey. “Some left.” She plopped it down in front of him and went about getting the kettle on. “Just as well, the last one was all about instant coffee. I’m all out of that stuff. Odd one he was, won’t miss him, nor those sideburns. Creepy those were, I don’t mind saying.”
The Doctor rubbed his cheeks ruefully, his fingers stroking non-existent hairs. “He- I, didn’t get round to getting used to them, I’m afraid. Bit of a short-timer.”
“Well, can’t pick and choose, can we?” Jackie smiled. “I’d put in for an upgrade myself if I could, but you do the best with what ya got, that’s what my mum always says.”
“Jackie Tyler, you look smashing, always have, always will.” The Doctor grinned a manic grin, and for a moment Jackie had the strangest sense of deja-vu.
“Now, knock that off.” Jackie shook her head, exasperated. “Honestly, flirting with a woman my age and you not even human. Tease, you were, I always said so, tried to tell Rose that too, but she wouldn’t listen, not to me.” Jackie placed two teabags in a couple of mugs and sat them on the counter between them.
They waited in silence for the kettle to start wailing.
Jackie sighed. She knew why he was here, so she wasn’t going to ask. And he knew she knew, so he wasn’t going to ask… and the kettle was taking forever… Silence, however, had never been her strong point. Finally, she spoke. “No.”
“No?” The Doctor raised one lone eyebrow. He was pretty good at it, and if this was a new body, Jackie guessed he’d been practicing it in front of a mirror.
“No. I’m not giving him up.” She unscrewed the jar of honey and licked the sugary flecks off her fingers. She watched the Doctor fold his arms across his chest and saw the expression that settled on his face, but she was determined. “I’m no idiot Doctor. I’m no Rose, I’m no specialist, I’m no alien, but I’m not an idiot.”
“Jackie, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t serious, wasn’t dangerous-“
“No, you wouldn’t would you?” Jackie stared at him, hard. “I could have died in that shop if it weren’t for him, died a hundred times over these past twenty years if he hadn’t been around to protect me. And where were you? Where were you Doctor?” He didn’t answer her, but his expression remained unchanged. “I’ve been alone for a long time, I have,” Jackie spoke slower, trying to control her voice, she wasn’t going to lose it, not now, not when she’d just learned how strong she could become. “But he’s been with me, helping. And not just me, others too.”
“It isn’t a ‘he’, Jackie.” The Doctor snapped. The kettle broke into its scream at that point. He took the moment to recover, to lower his voice once more. “I’m sorry, Jacs, but it isn’t a he, it’s an _it_.”
Jackie reached for the kettle, a small smile on her face. “I’m too old to care about gender issues; to me it’s a he and to me he’s been an angel.”
“He- it- has been protecting itself up till now, what ever it has done before, what it did today in that shop-“
She shot him a look and for a moment his cheeks reddened, as if embarrassed to admit he’d been spying on her.
“- it’s been protecting itself and you, because it’s inside you.”
“I know.” She took a cautious sip of her tea, testing the warmth. “Back in the church, at the wedding. You were there.” The water singed the tip of her tongue, leaving the skin tingly and lifeless. “I can’t remember much, not now, but I remember it starting there.”
“That was an alternate timeline.” The Doctor’s cup of tea sat before him, untouched. He hadn’t even put any honey in yet. “Somehow the hitchhiker made contact then and reached back into your past so that when the time line re-asserted itself, it was still there, before the split, waiting, gaining strength.”
Jackie blinked. Conversations with the Doctor were always confusing, she remembered now. Perhaps some brandy would help. She made to move back to the cupboard, but the Doctor held her arm, his hand unnaturally cold against her skin.
“It’s a hunter, Jackie, from another dimension, another age, it got lost in the vortex and found a way through in the chaos at the wedding. It’s a killer, and it’s gaining strength, you know that. What you did today on the bus, in Chile, that was you. It made that happen through you.” He squinted at her, as if trying to see past her eyes, into her. “Doesn’t that frighten you?”
Jackie paused before answering, searching inside herself for the answer. “It should… I know it should… but it didn’t.” It was the truth, and she felt it as she said it. “I’m too old, Doctor. It doesn’t frighten me. In fact, for the first time, I feel in control. Like I’m doing something at last.”
The Doctor shook his head. “It’s making you feel that way. It’s using you. It’s almost strong enough to break out. Jackie, trust me, please, I’m trying to help. You have to trust me.”
Jackie slammed the cup down, the hot water scalding her fingers, but she didn’t care. “You promised me, Doctor. You promised me nothing would happen to Rose and she’s dead.” She broke then, crying in floods, choking on the words. She hadn’t said anything at the funeral, it had been too surreal, she’d been too closed in, but she let loose now. “My baby is dead; she trusted you, I _trusted_ you, we all did and look what happened!”
The Doctor pulled his cup close and stared into its depths, but he was silent. When he looked up again at last, there was a pain in his eyes that Jackie had only ever seen once before in her life: in Rose’s eyes when the Doctor lay deathly and dying in bed that one Christmas so long ago. It was the same pain with a different face.
The same pain Jackie felt every night before falling asleep.
And something deep inside her snapped, and fell away, free at last, halving the pain inside her.
Jackie let out a sigh and started to dab at the puddles of spilt tea with a towel. Once done, she folded it up neatly and placed it on the table between them, its white square swollen withbrown tea stains.
“I’ll do what you say Doctor,” Jackie began, even as she felt something inside her twitch. “But only because Rose would have wanted it that way.”
The Doctor slowly, almost reluctantly, put a small bottle onto the tea towel. “Just take this before you go to sleep tonight.” He didn’t look her in the eyes. “This will prevent it from breaking free, stopping it from gaining full power.”
Jackie took the vial into the palm of her hand. The glass was dark amber and cloudy, obscuring the contents within. Her skin appeared almost translucent against its smooth, dark surface. It seemed so small, so tiny. So impossible.
‘I’m not an idiot Doctor,’ was what she wanted to say again. But she didn’t. Instead, she choked down emotions she’d never tasted before and nodded quietly. She took the two cups to the sink and led the Doctor to the front door. “Thank you for-” she didn’t know what to say after that: for being you? For saving the world? For doing this to me?
The Doctor saved her from having to finish the sentence. His hands cupped her chin and lifted her face to the evening sky. Silently, he kissed her forehead.
She closed her eyes. When she opened them he was gone. The first of the stars shone down from between the grazing, puffy clouds.
Jackie shut the door and sank into the recliner, the bottle still clasped in one hand. She rocked slowly, thinking of all the things she was going to miss. Not feeling afraid. The looks from people whenever a random spear would appear in a football match, tripping up the opposing team, the way he helped her get through crowds. The cars that would come to a crashing halt when ever they got to near her in the crosswalk.
All sorts of fun things, really.
The strange comfort of knowing that she was never really alone.
And everything else.
She was really going to miss everything else.
She twisted off the cap and brought the bottle to her lips. Her nose caught the scent of lily and nectar.
Her lips stung with the taste of salt, but that was from the tears on her cheeks.
She really, really didn’t want to be alone again. Didn’t want to be left behind again.
But if she was right about the Doctor, it would matter.
Not for long, anyway.
She tilted the little vial upwards before she could stop herself- something deep within her tried to snatch her hand back at the last moment, but the fluid was already running down her throat, warm and soothing, and flashing through her belly.
Jackie felt tired suddenly and leant back in the cushions, barely hearing the vial fall to the carpet.
It was nicer than she expected. Almost calming.
Something was struggling, writhing in her heart, clinging and tearing, but she couldn’t feel anything; she was floating now, watching as the dark shadow twisted and dissipated in her living room, the echoing scream a gentle sigh against her ears.
It had appeared for a moment, looking like something tribal, but just for a moment. Primitive. Old, full of sharp angles, bones and teeth. It had been inside her for half a century. Her only companion.
Sorry sweetie. Will miss you. But have to do the right thing. Have to do right by Rose. Or else I haven’t learnt a thing…
It was getting dark now. Even though the morning sun was coming through the drapes, creeping across the carpet, things seemed darker, hazier. Fainter.
She was completely alone now. Everyone was gone. She wasn’t going to cry though.
She was too tired.
She closed her eyes again.
It was time now, time. Something in her heart told her that and she sighed, letting go, feeling the muscles in her chest move one last time.
It was then that she felt a hand touch hers, warm and moist. She blinked her eyes open one last time.
Rose was there, holding her hand. She was crying; Jackie could see that she was trying not to, trying to be brave, but Jackie was a mother. Mothers could tell.
The Doctor was by her side, holding Jackie’s other hand; not cold this time, but different. Strong. Helping. Jackie saw his true face then, saw past all the noses and eyebrows and sideburns, saw him for what he really was once, what he would be again.
But Jackie turned her eyes back to her Rose tried to smile.
Her daughter had help save the world again. Through her.
And for one last time, she’d been a part of it. Made a difference.