The early morning air plucked at her purple shirt, wriggling chill fingers between the buttons and making her hunch her shoulders. The warm body by her side moved slightly, taking the brunt of the stiff breeze and offering her a little shelter. Still, the fact he had told her to leave her coat in the TARDIS made her feeling towards him less than chirpy. “What is it with you and Cardiff? It’s not the only place that has a take-away, you know.”
“Whine, whinge, moan – you should be more careful, you’re turning into your mum.”
“Oi! You’re heading for a slap, you are.”
“Like mother like daughter.”
She bit her lip against a grin, and dug her elbow into his side. He twitched away with a low grunt. “Seriously, though – why here again?”
The Doctor hesitated, coming to a halt. “There’s something. A feeling. Sort of, an itch.”
Rose felt her eyebrows lift and she repeated, “An itch.”
He huffed in exasperation and his posture turned stiff. “Yeah. Look, it’s probably nothing. We can go grab something from a bazaar on Greater Dy-potren if being here bothers you, or –”
“Nah, it’s fine. I’ve just not known you to be… itchy before, is all.” The idea of it made a smile dance on her lips, but looking at him made it slip. He was still tense. She slipped her arms around one of his and tugged until he looked at her. “I don’t think there are any take-outs open yet, but lets have a wander. How long’s it been since we were on Earth, anyway?”
Slowly he relaxed under her chatter, and they walked on again, leaving the TARDIS by the Roald Dahl Plass to poke about the waking city.
After an hour, their feet took them to an odd little shop, an out-of-the-way nook. It was dark and smelt of mice, sweet tea and scorched metal. Rose wrinkled her nose against it, and even the Doctor grimaced slightly but there was something that whispered and tickled in her mind. She didn’t understand the strange tight ache of her chest, the sadness and hope that welled up and burned the back of her eyes.
The Doctor glanced at her when she pressed her hand to her mouth and sniffed, struggling against the urge to cry. “You feel it?” he murmured, reaching out to touch her arm.
She nodded. “It’s like, I don’t know.” She did know. It was like looking at photos of her dad. She didn’t want to say it, though. It would just set her off.
He watched her for another moment, blue eyes catching her from sliding further into the miserable longing, warm hand on her arm gripping a little tighter before slipping away. He shrugged off his leather jacket and offered it to her. She didn’t need it inside the warm little shop, but she took it anyway and put it on, huddling into the leather. He lifted one hand, palm up, and she pulled out his screwdriver from the inside pocket. He slipped it inside his sleeve when she handed it to him.
“We’ll go in a minute. I just have to find whatever it is. It shouldn’t be here.”
Rose nodded and took a shivering breath, the scent of the Doctor easing her.
She stood where she was, between a display cabinet of ivory and bone figurines and a stuffed lynx, forever yowling and missing its glass eyes, and watched the alien man turn on the spot and stalk off. He looked oddly vulnerable without his leather jacket. He passed a few more display cases of trinkets until he came to one towards the back of the shop. He peered in and glanced towards the till. The shopkeeper looked exhausted, but kept an eye on both the Doctor and Rose, glancing up every now and then from some paperwork he was doing.
The Doctor turned back slowly and mouthed, ‘Distract him,’ at Rose.
Rose lifted a hand to her hair, ruffling it and cleared her throat. “Uh, ‘scuse me, mate. I want to have a look at some of these. Saw a few on Antiques Roadshow the other night.”
The look in the shopkeeper’s face was both amused and predatory for a split second before it vanished under a mask of helpfulness. “Ah, yes. There are a few pieces that would do well on that programme.” He stepped around from the counter and approached, fishing out a key.
She did her best to keep the man talking, smiling and twisting a thick lock of hair around her finger as she did. She heard the sonic screwdriver’s trill under a particularly nasty sneeze from the Doctor, and tried not to start laughing.
After another minute, she felt a familiar heat at her back. “You’re not thinking of buying any of them, are you?” he asked, his Northern drawl sounded almost petulant.
She saw the shopkeeper’s expression fall, and she twisted her body to look back and up at him. “What, don’t think it’s worth it?”
He picked up one of the pieces and ran a critical eye over it. “Is this ugly little thing worth the life of the animal killed to make it? No.”
He shoved it back at the shopkeeper, a blaze of anger radiating from him, disgusted. Rose felt a pang of shame run through her, then pressed her lips together and frowned at the shopkeeper too. “Yeah. You’re right. No thanks, mate.”
They left the shop, Rose half jogging to keep in pace with the swiftly moving Time Lord. “Oi, slow down a bit,” she complained when it became apparent he wasn’t slowing down.
At once, he stopped and looked around as if he hadn’t been paying attention to their surroundings in his hurry. “Right. Over here.”
It wasn’t really an alley, but it was close. Grimey and reeking of month-old rubbish and piss, it was out of the way and sheltered from the blustery, salt-scented breeze.
He fished out something that looked similar to the sonic screwdriver, long and slim, but made out of a blue-tinted metal. There was a little window of glass, showing some clear fluid at its very heart.
“This looks like it was made by the Slyphtic Tiar. A toy, I think. It’s broken – cracked. There’s bubbles in the oils, which means some must have oozed out. It mustn’t mix well with the carbon dioxide atmosphere.”
Rose tilted her head, realising the depressed crush around her chest was still there. “What’s it meant to do?”
“Dunno. Nothing malicious. Their weaponry would cause a lot more trouble. This is something made by an apprentice.” He turned it over in his hand, then lifted it to his face. “Oh. Hold on.” He pulled out his screwdriver again and flicked through the settings before angling it at the slender device.
The screwdriver warbled. The air in front of the Doctor wobbled, like a mirage. The Doctor altered the settings again, and then – there was a person. Rose could see right through him. An illusion, she thought. A good one – she could see his dark hair lifting in the slight breeze, and the expression on his round face was a fierce mingle of frustration and yearning.
He was looking directly at the Doctor. A look of surprise bloomed across his face, his eyebrows lifting and his gaze dropping to the alien toy the Doctor held.
“You can see me?” The apparition had a very posh voice, soft and careful, nearly fearful. Like he didn’t dare hope.
“Yes. Yes, we can see you.” The Doctor’s voice was rough and low. It surprised Rose enough for her to look at him. His jaw kept jutting back and forth, and there was a glimmer of tears in his eyes. “Not for long, though.”
“I was right.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you were. Really brilliant. Really stupid, too.”
The boy’s face crumpled a little. “Always so harsh, Doctor.”
The Time Lord’s jaw twitched. “Sorry. I couldn’t… there are rules-”
The youth stepped closer, his eyebrows high. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”
It was like they were having a totally different conversation to what Rose was hearing. “You know him?” Rose asked, but neither seemed inclined to answer.
“I’m going to lose you again,” the Doctor said after a few heartbeats of silently staring at the ghostly boy.
He shook his head, his dark mop of hair catching in the wind. “I’ll still be around. I’m just going to be… out of reach.”
“Isn’t that worse?” The whisper sounded so desperate, so sad it made Rose’ breath catch in her chest. Who was this boy?
The boy smiled. “Maybe. My revenge.”
That made the Doctor laugh in an odd, tight way. Then the image, the ghost began to fade. “Adric,” the Doctor said. “You know I-”
“You don’t have to tell me that. I know. I know.”
And it was gone. The Doctor let his hands fall apart, and the warble of the screwdriver ceased. He looked… shattered. He didn’t moved his gaze from the spot the boy had been.
The man’s lips twitched and he looked at Rose.
When he didn’t explain, Rose said in a worried tone, “What was that? You knew him, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. For a while, a long time ago.”
Rose peered up at him, biting on her lower lip. “So, that toy…”
“It probably pulls images off the surface of your head. Offers closure to the grieving, maybe. Not really a toy, but a curiosity.”
Rose watched him closely, seeing the walls rise up around his wounded soul. “So, it wasn’t really there?”
He shrugged. “No. I think I saw what I wanted to see. Or what it thought I wanted to see. Like I said, it’s broken.”
He started to stride back to the TARDIS as if nothing had happened. Rose followed, not even trying to catch up, and wondered.