The rotor column was quiet as he stared at the locked front doors of his TARDIS. For several minutes he stood in silence, contemplating next steps and fearing the outcome. Oh, but he wasn’t looking forward to this. He wasn’t in any way mentally prepared for it. Rassilon, he was nowhere near physically prepared for it, either, but he was fully aware of the potential that there would be a physical component to this…
…Potential? HA! It was a guarantee. And yet, maybe that would be a good thing. Maybe it would actually take away this numbness that he felt inside and make him actually physically feel the pain.
His fingernails flicked at a small button on the console. It wasn’t a particularly important button, just one that was supposed to light up this section of the panel to allow him to better see the measurements and dial controls. It hadn’t worked of late, not since the fall into the heart of a planet that was the front door of the Devil. He hadn’t really thought about it, such was the autonomy of piloting his ship, but now that he thought about it, perhaps he should look into just what was wrong with it: A burnt fuse, burnt bulb, break in the circuitry?
The column let out a wheeze and he lifted his eyes to the ceiling.
“Yeah,” he drawled out on a hoarse whisper. “I know, old girl. I know.” He huffed and looked back to the door. “More pressing matters need addressing.”
Three times since dropping Donna off in Chiswick, he’d landed here, trying to find the courage to step outside the doors and confront his biggest fear since the Daleks. His first time was after dropping off Donna on Christmas day – such an amazing spirit was held inside that woman. Such fierce determination and courage. Oh, she would make a great companion…
…But that was Christmas Day. Who was he to ruin a holiday of that nature? No. He felt it better to wait until a more appropriate and non-family holiday moment…
The second time, was weeks later in Earth’s timeline, Easter. Just as bad as Christmas.
This time, it was late Summer. As far as he could tell, there was nothing in the Human calendar to suggest the timing would be in poor taste. Although … when would be a good time for this?
Rassilon. He’d never had to do this before, which actually did seem quite shocking really. In almost a millennia of travelling, and so many companions at his side facing danger at every step, he’d never actually found himself in this rather delicate – and quite frankly frightening – position. All of a sudden his respect for army officials and police officers skyrocketed. This was something they did by routine…
He steeled himself with a deep inhale and clenched his fists tight to ready himself. “Right then,” he murmured to no one in particular. “Best we get to it.”
He strode purposefully toward the door. He clutched at the handle with one hand, unlocked the door with the other, and pulled open the door. Immediately he was blinded by the brilliant sunlight of an late Summer’s day. He stayed just a moment to relish in the warmth that single sun offered; not as warm as Gallifrey, but pleasant nonetheless.
A child screaming in tantrum broke his short reverie, and he looked toward the scream with his brows high. The youngster was on her back the dirty floor, kicking her little legs and clenching tiny fists as her poor mother tried desperately to settle her. He briefly wondered what had upset the child, but figured it wasn’t worth the time to deduce nor intervene. Rose had told him that little ones did tend to tantrum over the most ridiculous things. She’d shown him an internet page full of tired parents showing pictures of a tantrum with a caption noting what caused it…
…All of which were mindblowing.
A smile crept onto his face at that point. He had to wonder if Rose had pitched an unreasonable fit when she was that age. Probably. She was fairly good at it now … Well … so was he, really.
He looked up toward the second balcony railing, and to the plain dirty white door of Jackie Tyler’s flat. Closed and quiet, with a ratted sticky note that was no doubt an ignored flier of sorts for the local Chinese restaurant. He’d seen something like that on a previous visit. He wondered for a moment if this was the same one, or if they were replaced almost as quickly as they were removed.
With a sigh, a look to the left, and then to the right, he thrust his hands deep inside his trouser pockets an headed bristly across the courtyard. He continued to check left and right as he bounded a single stride up onto the curb and made his way to the stairwell. Habit made him take the stairs two at a time, and he had to stop himself from looking behind him with a grin to tell Rose to hurry up.
His head dropped when he made it to the balcony, and with a kick of his plimsolls at a small jagged pebble that bounced across the floor and over the edge of the balcony, he walked toward Jackie’s flat.
Dread filled his chest as he took one hand from his pocket and curled it into a fist to knock at the door. He made the motion to do so, but softened the strike of his fist the merely press it against the door instead. His breath drew out haggardly and he leaned forward to press his forehead against his fist.
Perhaps he should take a trip back to Crandinia and have another look for Rose. Maybe he missed something, and his precious girl was still alive out there? It really couldn’t hurt for him to go back and spend a year or two taking another look. Best to be very, very sure before giving Jackie any news to the contrary.
The Door suddenly opened, and the Doctor gave a gasp as he stumbled forward. Both hands shot forward onto Jackie’s shoulders, which then slipped across them. Inadvertently he’d fallen into an awkward hug, which was very quickly reciprocated by Jackie, who hummed happily as her arms went around his waist.
He peeped. She purred. He tried to pull back, she kissed him on the cheek.
“Well hello to you too, Doctor,” she purred as much as growled as she pulled back, cupped his stunned face with both hands and planted a wet smooch onto his gobsmacked mouth. His eyes were open wide with horror, and his arms shifted to a flail. He pulled back with a gasp and a stumble that was reminiscent of stumbling our of a regeneration blast.
He held off on using his full sleeve to wipe clean his mouth, but only because she was looking around him to find her daughter – no doubt to greet her in much the same fashion as she had him.
“Where my Rose then,” she asked with bright and happy curiosity.
He pulled at his earlobe. He looked behind him, and then ahead again to Jackie. “Mind if I come in?”
Her face creased happily, and she nodded as she took a step backward, opening the door further to give him space. “Of course,” she answered in a manner to suggest it wasn’t something he actually needed permission for. “I’m guessin’ my Rose is haulin’ along another bag of laundry for me.” She pointed a finger into his chest as she passed. “You might be a gentleman and help her out with that, you know.” She looked him up and down. “You might be a skinny little streak of nothin’, but I reckon you’re capable of carrying a bag or two for her.”
He followed behind her, his hands now deep again in his trouser pockets, as she led them toward the kitchen. Tea was always an offering at Jackie Tyler’s place, so no doubt she’d want to put a pot on.
“You know,” she said with a smile in her voice as she walked. “I was just tellin’ Bev on the phone yesterday how I hadn’t seen you and Rose in a while. Almost a year, now.” She turned her head to narrow a playful glare at him. “Promised me you’d be back for Christmas and all you did,” she accused. “I didn’t believe it for a second, mind, not with your piloting skills being on the same level as a British Airways pilot. Can’t keep a schedule and all that.”
She grabbed a kettle from the stove and ran it under the tap to fill it. “But then I saw the ruckus downtown that day. Big star in the sky, the Thames bein’ drained. Had no doubt it was you and my Rose trying to head off that problem.” She led him into the kitchen and gestured toward a seat at a small round table that was no doubt circa 1950.
“I’ll stand,” he muttered with a shrug.
“Anyway,” she continued. “So then I thought, well, if you’re both in London, maybe I’ll get that visit afterall.” She sighed. “I waited. Nothing. Spent Christmas day by myself with a bottle of sherry.”
“I’m sorry,” he managed.
She flicked her hand at him. “Oh no mind,” she said with a smile. “I was expectin’ it. Had to come a time when Rose didn’t want to hang about with her boring old mother anymore.” She gestured toward him. “Not when there’re more exciting people like you around. Can’t quite compete against that, now, can I?”
“Don’t think that way,” he corrected, pain flashing in his eyes. “Rose. Rose thinks the universe of you.”
Jackie smiled. “Well of course she does. I know that, you plum. I’m her Mum. Just that sometimes we mums have to take a step back behind… Well … behind the man our girls falls in love with. Did it to my own mum, and my mum did it to hers.” Her eyes lifted. “Of course, what Rose did is a little different… But, kids these days.” She smiled warmly at him. “Glad she’s got you, though, Doctor. Skinny hair gel and all that, she really does think the world of you.”
He made a choking sound.
“Oh don’t pretend you don’t know,” she scoffed. “You both can deny it all you want. I know you were regularly bumping the uglies with my Rose. Don’t think I don’t know a thoroughly shagged out couple when I see one. And old big ears you always had that just laid glint in his eye.” She narrowed her eye at him. “You. Not so much so.” She shrugged. “Guess the honeymoon’s over for now. Go from doin’ it every five minutes against anythin’ you can lean on, to once or twice a week in bed, and more because you’re bored than actually frisky for it…”
Yeah, the Doctor was swiftly approaching the limit with this particular line of conversation. “Jackie, please. With all due respect to you and your apparent openness about such things with your daughter, I’m becoming very uncomfortable with this topic.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.” Her eyes pinched with confusion and she looked around the Doctor toward the front door. “Where is she?” she muttered more to herself than to him in question. “Never known her to take this long.”
The Doctor swallowed a gulp. It appeared that the moment for full disclosure had arrived. He couldn’t put it off much longer. “Jackie. Can I ask you to take a seat?”
Dread almost immediately passed across her face. There was a wash of terror across her eyes, which she tried desperately to shield. “Why would I need to take a seat, Doctor?” she queried in a voice that showed she was trying desperately not to panic. “Where is she? Where’s my Rose?”
He put his hands on her shoulders, wincing when she abruptly twisted to jerk away from him. “Jackie. Please I need to tell you something.”
“Where is she?” Jackie demanded again, panic now reigning supreme over any other emotion. “Don’t you dare tell me that you’re here to tell me somethin’s happened, Doctor.” She shook her head. “Don’t you dare.”
He tried reaching for her again. “I’m sorry, Jackie. I’m so sorry.”
She only let him touch her shoulders for a second before she roughly pulled back from him. “No,” she seethed out though her teeth. “I don’t believe you. Not my Rose. Not my baby.”
He slumped in place, trying to think of how to make her believe him. No words came, and any effort to try and think of anything were hampered as she shoved him out of her way to get to the front door.
“I see,” he mumbled, fully expecting that she would hold that door open and demand he leave. “I’ll just go…”
Surprisingly, she didn’t demand he leave. Instead she threw open the door and stalked out onto the balcony, cupping her hands over her mouth and calling out her daughter’s name. Over and over she hollered out, demanding that she stop this nonsense and come inside right now.
Each cry of her name turned more broken the longer this went on until the Doctor could let it go on no more. He pulled from his slouch and stalked quickly to the doorway. He came up behind Jackie leaning over the balcony and curled both arms around her. Tight. He said nothing as she struggled hard to get away from him. Hollering and calling out to her daughter. He kept his hold on her tight, barely even wincing at the whip of her hair against his face, nor the pain of her feet kicking at his shins. He just held on, held her until she had no fight left within her. And when she fell, he was definitely there to catch her. He barely winced when he was suddenly burdened with her entire weight. He merely dropped slightly at the knee, hooked his arms underneath her knees, and lifted her up against his chest.
He couldn’t blame her when she finally broke and the tears fell. Rassilon, inside he was doing the exact same thing.
With her sobbing against his chest, the Doctor carried Jackie back inside the flat and kicked the door closed behind him.
He surprised even himself that he didn’t simply take off and leave Jackie sobbing and crying for her daughter. How could he leave? Jackie had just lost her only child. If he knew anything about the fragile emotional conditions by which human females lived by, it was that emotional distress could lead to very dangerous behaviours. Jackie had just been dealt a very severe blow, he wasn’t going to leave until he knew for sure that she’d stabilised enough to begin to move on.
Right now he was entering his second hour of listening to her heart wrenching sobbing. It was a grating and painful sound for him to have to endure, but he felt deserving of the pain. Rose wouldn’t have been lost if it wasn’t for him. Jackie wouldn’t be here sobbing the loss of her little girl had it not been for him.
His silence and the vacant look in his eyes finally captured her attention. Jackie looked across the coffee table at him and snatched a tissue from a tackily gold gilded tissue box in the centre of it. “I want to blame you,” she managed wetly, ending her words with a very loud blow of her nose.
The Doctor looked toward her. “I expect you to,” he admitted on a rather emotionless tone of voice. “You should blame me.”
“Did you kill her?” She managed weakly, squeezing out the last of her tears with a wip of a fresh tissue against her eyes. “And by that I mean, did you pull the trigger?”
“She wasn’t shot,” he corrected her, his voice still calm and devoid of emotion. “And as far as I am concerned, yes. Her death was as the direct result of…” He sniffed and inhaled through his mouth at the same time. “If I had’ve been a more considerate…”
“What happened?” Jackie asked after a swallow. “Tell me what happened, and let me decide who’s to blame.”
He inhaled hard and held that breath for a long moment. His eyes were downcast, unable to look into Jackie’s horribly red eyes. “We argued,” he admitted. “I did something that – in hindsight – was stupid. II didn’t explain it to her.” His breath finally wavered with emotion. “She ran into a storm, and I lost her.”
He leaned forward in the chair, leaning his elbows on his knees and his hands cradled together in between. “I looked for her, Jackie. I promise you I did.” His head lifted sadly. “I wouldn’t stop looking.”
“How long did you search for her?”
“A month,” he answered simply. “Every day, and every night for a whole month.” He kept his elbows on his knees, but raised his hands so he could bury his face in his palms. “I searched, and searched for her… Not a trace.”
“It sounds like you did what you could,” she said softly.
“But it wasn’t enough,” he breathed out, rolling his hands into a single balled fist that he could rest his chin on. “I didn’t do enough. I could never do enough.”
“As long as you did your best,” she offered him in that tone all mothers used when they were lying to try and appease an upset child. “That’s all that matters.”
He chuckled ruefully as his hands dropped from his chin and fell down heavily I front of him. “I’m 907 years old.”
“What’s that got to do with anythin’?”
“You don’t have to speak to me like I’m a child.”
Jackie levelled a stare at him. “When you’re behavin’ like one, yes I do.” She stood up and walked around the table toward him. She briefly considered sitting on the armrest of his chair, but made do with sitting on the tabletop – hoping beyond all that it would hold her weight. She put her hand on his knee, gripping tight when he immediately tried to pull away. “My Dad always said to me: Hindsight’s 20/20. The only clear view you’re ever goin’ to get is lookin’ back.” She huffed. “Didn’t buy it then, and don’t much buy it now, what with us all romancifying our past and what-not.”
“Romancifying is not a word,” he corrected her.
“Don’t you go correctin’ me, Doctor,” she snapped. “My point is this: You lookin’ back and seein’ only what you think that you did wrong isn’t the right way to deal with this.” She squeezed the hand still clamped onto his knee. “God knows I love my little girl beyond anythin’ else on this planet, Doctor.” She sighed. “But I also know that she can be a right little madam who can throw a tantrum and stomp around when she doesn’t get her way. She’s more to blame for this than you are.”
“Stop!” she growled. “We can play the blame game if you want. You bet we can. Let me start: I blame me for not givin’ her the very best life after losin’ her dad, makin’ her always look everywhere else for excitement. I didn’t push her hard enough at school, nor did I fight against that whole Jimmy Stone thing,” she looked up and sighed. “Messed her right up, he did.”
The Doctor blinked, but stayed silent.
“I could’ve fought against her bein’ with you as well, Doctor. But I didn’t.” She moved in a little closer to him. “As her mother, it was my job to make sure that she was safe. I knew your life, I saw what you life had to offer her, and I let her go ahead with it anyway. You want to play the blame game, Doctor, then you have to stand behind me.”
He shook his head, tears filling his eyes. “It’s not your fault, Jackie. It’s not…”
“It’s not yours, neither. I know you thought the world of her and tried the best you could.” Her voice softened when he leaned forward into his hand and began to sob. “Oh you poor thing,” she cooed as she leaned down over top of him, circling her arms over his shoulders and back and resting her cheek against the back of his head. Her own voice wavered, sympathetically reacting to his sorrow. “She loved you, my Rose. More’n you’ll ever know.”
He squirmed slightly underneath her, trying to lift himself up to a sit. He finally maneuvred himself back up, but hugged at his stomach with a forward lean. “And I love her, Jackie. More than she ever got to know.” His eyes widened, and then fell into a wince. “Sure, I can say it now.” He let out a gruff grunt.
Jackie wiped at her eyes and tipped her head to one side. “What’re you on about now?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Nothing.”
“Doesn’t look like nothing,” she remarked softly.
He lifted his head and sighed toward the ceiling. “Just a glitch in the system,” he admitted as he tapped himself on the temple with his finger. “Nothing for you to be concerned about.”
“Believe it or not, Doctor,” she said with a weak smile. “I am concerned about you. Why don’t you stay here a couple’a days. Wrap your head around what’s happened. Cry if you have to.”
His red-rimmed eyes shifted to hers. “Thanks, but. I can’t.”
“The offer’s here,” she assured him. “And I hope. I truly hope, that you’re not going to just swan off and I’ll never see you again.” Her voice lessened to a whisper. “Don’t let me lose the both of you.”
“I’m sorry, Jackie,” he promised softly. “I really am. Rose. Well. Rose was. She meant a lot to me. She…”
“You loved her,” Jackie supplied.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
Silence fell for a moment, with neither knowing just where to shift the conversation from here. Jackie finally broke the silence with a sigh that suggested she had a question for him and was one that he probably didn’t want to hear.
“Go ahead,” he breathed. “Ask.”
Her eyes blinked sadly, releasing a tear. “You’ve got a time machine…”
He shook his head, knowing exactly where that was leading. “I can’t, Jackie. That’s going back into my timeline, and it’s .. it’s impossible to go back without rupturing the timelines.”
“You said you couldn’t find her,” she offered, brightening just a little. “But maybe you did. Maybe you leave here, go back, and get her… Bring my baby home to me.”
His head dropped. “It doesn’t work like that.” His eyes lifted. “I wish I could, Jackie, but I can’t.” His eyes filled. “She’s gone,” he croaked. “Jackie, she’s gone, and I didn’t even get to tell her.”
Jackie broke before he did. Her sob seemed to draw one from him, and while they didn’t embrace, each of them fell into their own postures of sorrow.
“I’m not goin’ to believe it,” she sobbed out. “That my baby’s gone, until you bring her home to me.”
He shook his head. “I said I can’t. What you’re asking is impossible. I can’t turn back time no matter how much I want to.” He huffed. “And Rassilon, Jackie, my hearts are telling me to do it, to say to hell with Time’s rules and find her.”
“Then do it,” she challenged him. “Or at least try. My God, Doctor. Bring her home to me. We owe her that much.”
He stood up slowly and wiped at his eyes with the pads of his fingers on both hands. He inhaled a deep breath for composure through an open mouth and quivering jaw. “I have to go.”
“Please don’t,” she pleaded. “Don’t leave like this.”
He moved toward her, cupped the back of her head in his hand, and leaned down to press his lips against her forehead. “If there was anyway I could, then I promise you I would.”
“Five minutes,” she breathed out as she grasped his wrist lightly in her hand. “I want you back here in five minutes, you hear me? I’ll be waiting for you.”
He knew full well that despite her words being a command, that she didn’t truly mean it. He slowly rose up to stand at full height and thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets. “Good bye, Jackie.”
“Don’t you dare say goodbye to me, Doctor,” she growled. “Don’t you dare.”
He gave her a half-hearted smile. “See you later, then.”
“Five minutes,” she called after his retreating form. “Five minutes, Doctor!”
He grit his teeth and let himself out onto the balcony. He only paused a moment to look across the courtyard toward his waiting TARDIS. Just a moment to take in the sight of Bucknall Hall for the last time and let it sear into his memory.
Perhaps he should take a trip to the Lotto agent, pick up a ticket for Jackie. Rassilon knows that woman – as frustrating and terrifying as she could be – deserved at least that from him. It wouldn’t replace the daughter she lost, but it should make moving on somewhat less stressful.
He walked down the stairs, hands in his pockets, not looking anywhere but the ground at his feet. A shrill cry of a crow captured his attention, and he flicked his eyes to look toward it. A lonely soul, perched on the very top of a wooden telephone pole that has more staples in it from old posters and signage than it had wood. He shook his head at an old flapping piece of paper, barely noticing the fading remnants of graffiti drawn with marker.
Bad, it said, in script very much like the old Michael Jackson album of the 1980’s. Michael Jackson. What a performer. Maybe he should take himself back into the late 80’s and take in a concert? Could be a good way to take his mind off things.
Oh, but there was something at the hospital that he needed to check on first. Some warning he received from the TARDIS shortly before landing here.
Probably nothing, but he’d better go check it out.
He ran his hand over the paper as he passed, letting his arm shift to behind him before letting go and allowing it to drop back to his hip. The paper fell with a flutter to the ground revealing the entirety of the message underneath.