“Alright, you lot,” said the Doctor, “here we are. Manchester, 30 October 1986. The Smiths play the Manchester Free Trade Hall. With me!”
“Oh, Lord,” said Rose. “Manchester again?” She pulled a face. “Doctor, I know you're from another planet, but I'm beginning to wonder if you weren't adopted by humans and raised in Manchester. You sound like it, and then there was our last trip here....”
“Tell me about that one, Rose,” said Jack. He leaned against the TARDIS console as if he were posing. The Doctor still couldn't figure out how, no matter what Jack was doing, he looked as if he were posing for a photo shoot in whatever 51st century version of GQ there was. It must be nice, he thought, to have that kind of chiseled manliness. Certainly he'd never known what that was like. While some of his past bodies had been quite strong, and attractive in their own odd ways, they'd never been what was considered conventional lookers. And this body, while well-toned and strong, came with a face that was certainly unique but not made for magazine covers.
“We went to a United match, then afterwards, we wound up going on a three-day piss-up with Georgie Best. Who grabbed my arse twice. And snogged the Doctor three times, and gave him his pants in the end.”
The Doctor grinned sheepishly.
“Still one of my prized possessions, though I'm sorry he grabbed your arse, Rose. Anyway, come on! This is the penultimate show the Smiths play. With me or not?”
Jack shook his head. “Sorry, Doctor, it's really not my thing. I've heard their stuff and I honestly prefer jazz and show tunes.”
The Doctor sighed. “Rose?”
“Afraid not, Doctor. I mean, I'd love to explore Manchester, but I'm going to have to beg off a Smiths show. Too depressing. Not my kind of music at all.”
“Philistines,” grumbled the Doctor. “Alright, look. It's 17.00, the show starts at 19.00. Everyone back in the TARDIS tomorrow by 17.00 and we'll have our own little adventures.”
“Fair enough,” said Rose.
“Sounds fine to me,” said Jack.
“Great,” said the Doctor. “Have fun.”
It was inside the Free Trade Hall, and the Doctor couldn't help feeling a little warm. Humans were naturally hotter than Time Lords, and when crowded together, they gave off more heat than radiators. He checked his watch. Still a few moments. He scanned the crowd and -
Holy High Tea Cosy Of Rassilon.
He knew that face. He knew that figure. The outfit was new, but he would have known her anywhere.
Ace. Miss Dorothy Gale McShane, purveyor of explosives, fearless tomboy, and...Smiths fan? Well, it made sense. He chuckled to himself, that they had something like that in common. But something inside him was stirring.
When they'd traveled together, he'd kept his hands off and his eyes off. She was vulnerable and needed a friend and mentor, not some lech. She'd had enough of that with Sabalom Glitz, and she was more than capable of finding her own romantic adventures. But now, having been re-awakened to a desire to – well, dance – by both Rose and Jack, he looked at her with new eyes. And damn her, she was making it a very pleasing sight. The jeans tucked into her Doc Martens were of a fit that was probably illegal somewhere. The blouse underneath the denim jacket was equally fitted, and her sandy hair was pulled up underneath a boyish newsboy cap.
“Oi,” she said, shooting him a death glare. “You wanna take a picture? It'll last longer.”
“I'm sorry, Ace,” he said, absently, forgetting for the moment that there was no reason for her to recognize him.
“Do I know you, mate?” she asked, her tone suspicious.
He looked at her, and for a moment was at a loss for words.
“Let's just say there have been some changes, but yes, I do. I'm the Doctor,” he said finally.
Her eyes widened.
“The last time I saw you, you were a short little Scotsman in a bad suit.”
“And now I'm a tall Manc in a leather jacket.”
She sighed. “Regeneration. You explained. I just never thought I'd see you again.” She raised an eyebrow. “Not bad. I think you came out well fit.”
He blushed. “Ace, I -”
“Shut up! The band is on,” she hissed, and the Smiths took the stage and immediately launched into “Ask.”
“Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you, from doing all the things in life you'd like to...” crooned Morrissey. The Doctor looked at Ace, swaying to the rhythm slightly awkwardly. He shut his mouth and swayed along.
During the show they stuck close together. And then the band started playing “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” and they sang along, looking into each others' eyes.
“And if a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die...and if a ten ton truck kills the both of us, well the pleasure and the privilege is mine....”
It struck the Doctor how many times they'd come to close to that. It must be crossing Ace's mind, too, because he saw a tear slide down her cheek. Neither of them had homes, when they were together, and they'd come close to death together so many times. And yeah, it would have been an honor, he thought. He would have regenerated – maybe. But Ace?
She grabbed his hand. And squeezed. At the end of the song, as everyone around them applauded, she threw her arms around him, stood up on her toes (couldn't have been easy in those boots) and kissed his mouth.
He managed not to recoil in shock as her tongue entered his mouth. She knew what she was doing, he thought, probably better than he did, but he kissed her in return, cupping her face in his hands.
She broke the kiss and smiled at him.
The rest of the show almost seemed an anti-climax, despite the hard-hitting version of “Meat Is Murder” and the rocking finale, “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”
Afterwards, they walked the streets of Manchester almost in a daze, holding hands, silent.
“There's so much to say, and tell,” he said, finally.
“I would say the same,” replied Ace.
“I have to be back by 17.00 tomorrow,” he said.
She shrugged. “I didn't think we'd start traveling together again.”
He sighed with relief. “Yeah, about that.”
“You've got someone else with you.”
“Two someone elses, and it's complicated.”
She laughed. “I've got my own traveling right now, okay? Don't ask. I'm doing my own thing, Doctor, thank you very much. I don't really need a Professor anymore. So tonight you're not going to be the Professor again.”
“Then what am I going to be?” he said. “What was all that at the show if I'm nothing to you?” He felt obscurely hurt.
“You're the Doctor, this strange, incredibly fit, romantic man I met at a Smiths show, and snogged. 'This Charming Man.' The man I took back to my hotel room for an intense shag,” she said.
“You don't want to?” she said. Now she looked faintly hurt.
“Of course I do. But – well. I, er. Hadn't been planning this,” he said.
“You planned far too much when we traveled together, Doctor. All your plots and chess games and gambits,” said Ace. “This time, let me do the planning. I'll have you ready in time to go home.”
He looked in those eyes – eyes that he'd seen hurt, and crying, and sad so often in the past. But those eyes were now shining with anticipation, and he nodded.
“Well, Jack, what the hell happened to you?” said the Doctor. He'd made it back to the TARDIS at 16.30, after Rose, who was serenely reading a magazine with her feet up, but not ahead of Jack.
Jack's clothes were incredibly rumpled, he reeked of lager and cheap cigarettes, and there were two distinct, perfectly rounded bruises on his neck.
“Not sure,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I made it to Canal Street and met a very nice man named Terry. He took me on a pub crawl. It's all a bit blurry, really.”
“What about you, Rose?” he said curiously. She had had a gentle smile on her face from the time he entered the TARDIS.
“I went to a chippy, and tripped and fell – but this nice boy named Sam helped me up. Turned out we had the same last name, so we went back to his place. Well, his mum's place. We stayed up all night talking.”
“Just talking?” leered Jack.
Rose blushed. “Well, we spent some time talking. He was a sweetheart. Only 17. But he was so polite, and he made coffee for me, and we held hands and listened to his records. He's so innocent. But charming. Incredibly charming.”
“Well, I met a charming man, and so did Rose. That's two of us. How about you, Doctor?” said Jack.
“I am the charming man,” said the Doctor, grinning enigmatically.