He doesn't think he'll recognize her. A century and then some, a lifetime and more, and there are days when all he can remember are flashes of laughter and terror, like discarded scenes from somebody else's dreams.
A woman jostles him as she walks by, her arms full of shopping bags, and he's about to offer to help when she mutters something about strange men lurking about in long coats, and Jack only shakes his head and smiles. There are cars on the streets and televisions blaring through open windows, summer heat wrapped around the afternoon like an old memory and tired trees that hate the city slumbering in the haze.
This is London, and this is now.
And there are children playing. Shouting and running, small feet on hot pavement, big voices shrieking in that piercing, childish way, a small herd tumbles around the corner and rushes by without a glance. He sees skinny arms and blonde hair in pigtails, ribbons undone and scabbed-over knees, and even without a face and a voice and a name, even caught in a momentary whirlwind of childhood and sunshine, he knows her.
Then she's shouting - No, Mickey, you have to be the lion this time, I want to be the dragon - and Jack is smiling. He didn't expect Mickey as well, hasn't even remembered Mickey until this time and this place, but there he is, untied shoes and ill-fitting clothes, standing in a cluster with the other children while Rose-
I was attacked by shop dummies, she said, laughing and indignant, when he asked how she and the Doctor met, more than a century ago and a decade in the future, shop dummies come to life where I worked.
-Rose is dragging a milk crate toward one of the sorry trees that droop heavy with summer leaves, ignoring the jibes of the other children and the obvious frailty of the branches, the scrape of the crate along the pavement loud and grating-
It wasn't personal, the Doctor said, laughing and indignant in his own way, they would have attacked anyone.
-until she reaches the base of the tree, places the crate carefully, and stands back with her hands on her hips, frowning. You'll never reach, the other children say, the branch will never hold, you'll fall and break your neck, we'll tell your mum and then you'll get it, their voices slow and heavy like echoes through water, and Jack realizes that he's watching her like he's waiting for a shell to fall, waiting for the whistle of approach and inevitable landing, the moment of silence before the earth erupts.
He closes his eyes quickly, no more than a moment, catches his breath and when he looks back she's standing on the crate on her toes, pigtails hanging down in frizzy curls as she cranes her head back and reaches for the lowest branch. It's well above the tips of her fingers. She crouches low in her little girl trainers and pink t-shirt, and prepares to jump.
This is London, and this is today.
Jack turns away. Hands in pockets, a strange man in a long coat whistling an old song nobody knows, he walks away without waiting to see if she falls, or how high she climbs.