Author's Note: Gaaah...it's 2am. As nice as inspiration can be, it's a bloody pain when it won't leave you alone long enough to go to bed. But there, the chapter is finished and I'm so tired now that I can't hear the plot bunnies. :D I must say, though, writing one-shots is rather fun and a LOT less stressful than working out a story with a big, complicated plot. There is, I think, just one chapter left. But it ain't getting written tonight, and probably not tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm going to play all the City of Heroes and WoW I'd planned to tonight, and didn't because the dang muse would let me be. :D Thanks for reading and reviewing!
It's chilly outside, and she's gone and forgotten her jacket. Stupid. But she was in such a rage, it was hard to imagine she'd cool off so fast.
Of course, it was her fault. If she just wasn't so–so–well, she couldn't think of an adequate word to describe just what her mum was, but whatever it was, she was certainly a lot of it. Always the same, nag, nag, nag. As if she wasn't practically an adult! And what did Mum know, anyway, with her dead-end job and her dead-end relationships and her dead-end-bloody life?
I'll never be like that. I'll be something. Do something important. Not just tick off the days on the bloody calendar, waiting for retirement. Waiting for life to happen to me, instead of goin' out and making it happen. I'll show her.
Another voice in her head, this one distressingly practical, points out that she wasn't going to do any kind of showing if she ran out of the house without her stupid jacket and froze to death
The light of an all night diner is a welcome sight, and she hurries across the road–cursing her shoes and her tight skirt the entire time–to duck inside and grab a stool at the counter near the drinks cooler, where the heat from its vent warms her chilled skin. Maybe the skirt is a little short. For the weather, anyway...
That isn't the point. The point is that I'm old enough to bloody wear what I want!
The skirt had only been the flashpoint for the row. Mum had seen it and gone spare, wanting to know what she was thinking going out this time of night dressed like that, and on a school night, too. (As if that somehow made the skirt less acceptable? Less short?) She'd said something flip, and it had all gone pear-shaped after that. They'd covered all the old ground, moving on from her wardrobe to her grades to her friends and back to her grades. It wasn't that they were bad–far from it–it was what they meant for her future. Mum wanted her to go to some stupid stuffed shirt university, but she had her eye on a liberal arts school far, far away from home. (And fine, so Ricky Hackshawe was a student there, but that didn't mean anything...)
And she'd gone and lost her temper and screamed at Mum about her loser job and her loser life. Fine, so maybe being a stewardess had been a glam job when Mum was young, but that was over twenty years ago! You'd think she'd have moved on to something better by now! And Mum's reply "It's safe." What did that mean? As if "safe" (read: boring) were somehow a good reason?
"You gonna order somethin'?" The waitress is old, and tired looking. Kind of like Mum some days, though even her thoroughly annoyed daughter is willing to concede that Mum is still a lot younger than this woman. And even Mum has never looked this bored.
"Um..." She fumbles in her purse, the little cute one she thought would be good to go clubbing with. There's a handful of change; she tugs it out. "A coffee?"
The waitress grunts and turns away to fetch the coffee pot.
"I'll have a coffee too, if you don't mind."
The girl startles, and turns her head to see a man sitting on the stool next to her. She doesn't remember hearing anyone else come in, but the waitress does not seem to be alarmed, so she relaxes a bit, keeping her head lowered toward the coffee cup but sneaking surreptitious glances at him out of the corner of her eye.
He's not bad looking, and he's got hair sticking up in the careless, windblown style that most of the boys at school try (and fail) to achieve. Could use a shave, but it seems to go along with the old-school pinstripe suit. He's wearing a tee shirt under the jacket, with some sort of band logo on it, which raises his cool-factor in her eyes some. She might consider him fanciable, if he weren't so old. He's got to be almost thirty.
He smiles his thanks at the waitress, flashing a dimple, but she's too far gone in dreary to notice. The girl notices, and immediately feels self-conscious for the noticing. The man sips at the coffee and sighs happily. "Nothing like a good ol' greasy spoon for coffee thick enough to bounce things off," he remarks to no one in particular. Londoner, by his accent.
"So..." He pauses and blows steam off the top of his cup and continues, casually, "Have a row with the parent?"
She stares at him. "S-sorry?"
"Oh, it's all over you. I suppose your Da objected to the party-clothes? Or was it because it's a school night?"
She hunches her shoulders. "I–I'm not..."
"It's all right. I'm not looking for a date, I promise." He winks at her, but it isn't like the creepy winks the Maths teacher sometimes levels at girls, or the obnoxious ones the boys at school try out. It's just...friendly. Like he's got a joke and he's inviting everyone to share it.
She relaxes without really realizing it. "My mum," she says.
"Over the skirt?"
"Bit. But mostly about everything." And without meaning to, the whole story tumbles out. He listens attentively, but he doesn't do more than glance toward her from time to time, instead keeping his eyes fixed on the retro-seventies clock on the diner wall. It makes it easier to talk. He drinks his coffee and makes encouraging noises from time to time, and before she knows it, she's even told him about Ricky Hackshawe. It's like–it's like how she used to talk to Mum, before Mum went and got so control-freak after Dad left.
And then she's railing on Mum. "I mean, it's such a dead end job. It's like she's got no ambition, like she's given up on life. It's so stupid, and it's so embarrassing. I mean, try telling your friends that your mum is a stewardess. And that's what she calls it, even though everyone else calls them flight attendants now. She just doesn't care. And all she'll ever say is that she likes it, because it's 'safe.'" Her voice drips with disdain. "I mean, who ever went and got a job just because it's safe?"
"Oh...possibly retired test pilots," the man murmurs. "Or former lion-tamers."
"Maybe if she'd been one," she grumbles, propping her chin on her hand. "'Least then it would make sense."
He's still studying the clock, but cocks an eyebrow in her direction. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen," she admits, torn between pride and reluctance.
"Oh, nothing. I'm sure you've worked out all the sense to be had in the world, old as you are."
She can't quite be sure, but she thinks there's some sarcasm in that remark. He's better at it than Mum, anyway. Mum's attempts at sarcastic are like being hit over the head with a great huge club. This is much more subtle–and much harder to get angry at. Instead she flushes. "How old are you, then?" she demands sulkily.
"What month is it?"
"Is it really? Goodness. Well if it's March of, let's see...2007, then that makes me–oh, I the exact number is depressing. Let's say over nine hundred years old and leave it at that, shall we?"
She stares at him for a long moment, waiting for the punchline. It doesn't come. "I'm sorry, did you say nine hundred?"
"Something like that. Actually it's a bit more, but like I said: it's depressing."
"Nine hundred," he agrees solemnly.
She summons the depth of scorn only a sixteen year old can manage. "Pull the other one, it's got bells on."
He raises his eyebrows and looks at her over his shoulder. "You don't believe me?"
"No one can live to be nine hundred years old! It's impossible."
"Is it? And you, with the great and venerable wisdom of your sixteen years, know everything that is and is not possible in this universe?"
She flounders. "Well, no, but–I mean...come on. That's just silly. You can't be more than–than thirty. Humans don't live much longer than hundred years, if they're lucky. Maybe they did in the Bible or something, but not anymore."
His eyebrows crawl up further toward his hairline. "Who says I'm human?"
She shoots a nervous glance toward the waitress, wondering if the woman has heard the complete nutter-talk going on here. If she has, though, the old woman gives no sign, apparently engrossed in a tabloid. She's on her own. "You're crazy."
"Heard that one before," he says, unconcerned. "But that doesn't change the fact, Molly Jovenka, that you don't know everything. Unless you're some sort of prodigy, in which case I'll stand corrected."
She didn't tell him her name. She knows she didn't. A cold spike of panic jabs her. "W-who are you?"
He turns to face her fully. She tries to look away, but his eyes–dark and weird–hold hers. "I'm not your enemy, Molly," he says softly, and her gaze is suddenly released. She stares at his tee shirt instead. It's for someone called 'Ian Drury and the Blockheads, whoever they are.
"Then who are you? How d'you know my name?"
"I'm an old friend of your Mum's." The smile appears again.
"Of my...oh, God, did she send you after me?"
"Heavens, no!" He looks offended. "She doesn't even know I'm around. Probably just as well," he adds. "She was always more likely to thump me than give me a hug."
She stares at him in disbelief. "How old a friend?" Because she still doesn't believe that crap about being nine hundred years old, and he's only thirty and oh no she's gone and gotten a younger boyfriend finally. I think I'm going to die.
"I knew her when she was about twenty." He rubs a hand over his hair. "She wandered into my ship by accident and got lost. Didn't even know she was there until we were well off-planet."
Completely derailed off the horrors of dealing with a mother's younger boyfriend, she stammers. "Y-your ship? Off-planet?"
"Oh, you sound like your mother. Sorry, I guess you probably don't appreciate the comparison right now. Yes. My ship. Wasn't her fault–it looks like a police call box."
"I–I think I'm going to leave now..."
"Sit down." His voice is quiet, but it crackles with an authority that folds her legs right up under her. She sits back down on the stool, staring. "I stopped off to speak to your mother and caught the tail end of your row with her," he continues, and there is no warmth in his voice now. "You called her a coward, among other things, and I decided that maybe it was more important I have a chat with you than with her. So, Molly Jovenka, you and I are going to have a chat."
She opens her mouth, to protest, to scream for help, to something, but one look from those dark eyes shuts it again. She suddenly remembers a line from a poem at school, something about flashing eyes and floating hair. He's got the flashing eyes, all right. She thought that was just a silly figure of speech...
"Your mother isn't a coward, Molly." The icy chill is gone from his voice. Now it's just very sincere. "She's one of the bravest people I've ever known–and in nine hundred plus years you get to know a lot of people.
"She left Australia to become a, yes, a stewardess. Came all the way to Britain for the job, but instead of a job she looked forward to she found herself stuck on an alien ship, her aunt murdered, and herself farther away from home than she'd ever dreamed possible. To make matters worse, the alien whose ship she was in was cranky and disinclined to pay much attention to her distress, and promptly got himself into serious trouble of his own. Most people in your mother's position would go off into hysterics, or collapse into a gibbering heap. Instead, your mother helped save not only the alien who'd inadvertently kidnaped her, but also helped stop the man who'd murdered her aunt.
"Your mother saved worlds, Molly. Including this one. She saved whole galaxies. She traveled across time and space and faced down monsters out of nightmare. And she saved my life, more than once, though she had little reason to be grateful to the man who'd dragged her off planet." He half-smiles. "To be fair, she did all this under great protest, and seemed to take particular pleasure in ripping me a new one every chance she got. But I suppose it was not without justification.
"She and I never had an easy friendship, but I respect her deeply. And I respect her decision. She saw too much death, Molly. Death and destruction–those are things I deal with nearly every day. Finally she'd had enough, and she came back here to build a life for herself. A safer life. One without monsters and demons beyond those found in everyday life. A life that did not place on her shoulders the weight of worlds and the responsibility for saving them." His voice hardens again. "It wasn't cowardice that drove her away, little girl. It wasn't because she was a loser, or couldn't handle it. She simply got tired. She had done enough, and she deserved peace. So you remember that, Molly Jovenka, the next time you look on her with contempt. She deserves your respect as well as your love."
She sits, stunned. Part of her wants to reject what he's said as an impossible fantasy, as the ravings of a complete loon. But...she remembers some of the bedtime stories Mum used to tell her when she was little. Fantastic stories, adventures across time and space in a magical blue box. And a heroine who was forever getting the box's owner–a daft fellow called 'the Doctor'–out of scrapes. Old friend of her mother's or not, how could this man know about the stories?
"You want a refill, Doctor?" asks the waitress, ambling back over to them, coffee pot in hand.
"No, I'm good. Thanks, Marian."
This time she returns his smile, and then looks at Molly. "You ought to listen to him, girlie," she says. "He might babble on, but he's got a wise head on those skinny shoulders."
"As ever, Marian, your flattery underwhelms me."
She stares back and forth between the man–Doctor?–and the waitress. "But surely you don't believe–"
"That he's an alien?" Marian shrugs. "Don't know about that, but I do know he saved me, right here in this diner, from some kind of monster fifteen years ago. That's enough for me." She nods to the Doctor. "I'll see you next year?"
"Oh, probably next month. I do love the sludge you call coffee."
Molly fidgets on the stool, wondering what she's going to do now.
The Doctor is watching her steadily. "Well?"
Molly ducks her head. "I don't know," she mumbles.
"Eternal cry of the teenager," he says sourly. "It doesn't ever change. Planets, species, timelines–it's always the same. Still, it's your brain. You have to make the decisions yourself. What you'll believe and what you won't. I don't really care whether or not you believe me–but I do expect you to open your eyes and realize that your mother is neither a coward nor a failure. Not by any standards that count. Now...shall I walk you home, or would you prefer to go for the complete martyr package? I can even arrange for some snow, if you like."
His sarcasm isn't subtle anymore, it's bloody withering, but she's feeling pretty well ashamed of herself by now. What's more, she's starting to feel as though the world is a whole lot bigger than she'd ever dreamed. "You can walk me home."
He nods amiably to Marian and drops a fiver on the counter, blithely ignoring the old woman's glare. At the door he retrieves a long brown coat from the coatrack and, with a shrewd glance at Molly's outfit, drapes the heavy thing over her shoulders. "C'mon," he says, and shoves his hands into his trouser pockets, stepping out into the chilly spring night. Molly follows him, a little reluctantly.
He doesn't say anything on the walk back, and neither does she. She's turning his words over and over in her head. Can it be true? Does she believe him? Does she dare?
They reach the corner of her street, and she comes to a halt. Under the single, pathetic street lamp stands a tall wooden box. She can tell its blue even under the poor light, and the words "Police Public Call Box" glow from it's sides. "A magic blue box," she murmurs.
"You could say that," says the Doctor, a few feet ahead. "I've always thought so."
They walk on past the box toward her house. The lights downstairs are still on, even though it's past midnight. She can make out her mother's shadow through the half-drawn blinds, pacing back and forth anxiously.
The Doctor stops at the foot of the walk. "This is as far as I go," he says. "It seems I came here to see you, not your mother. And I think she doesn't need the distraction of me invading her house tonight, not when she's been so very worried for her daughter."
Molly is feeling awful by now, but this brings out a scowl. "You really like guilt trips, don't you?" she growls, yanking off his coat and flinging it at him.
To her surprise, he smiles broadly as he catches the garment. "Aha! There's your mother in you after all! I'd started to wonder." He looks at the house again. "Say hello to her for me, will you? And tell her that Nyssa and Turlough were well, last I heard." He shrugs the coat on and without another word turns and walks away.
She watches him all the way to the police box. He pauses at the door and though she can't see his face as he turns back toward her, she's pretty sure he winked. Then he disappears inside the box. There is a thump, and a strange wailing sound, like someone scraping a saw across piano strings...and the box fades from sight. She stares at the spot where it was for a long moment, then turns and heads up the walk. She has a sudden desire to hear all those bedtime tales again–but the whole story, this time.
The door opens before she reaches it, and her mother stands in the doorway. Tegan Jovenka's face–still sharply pretty despite the years–looks worn out and angry. "Are you all right?" she demands sharply. "You must be half-frozen."
"No. Someone walked me home."
She sees the flash of worry chase the anger across her mother's face. "Someone? Who?"
Molly steps up into the doorway, faces her mother, and smiles. "A very strange man who calls himself 'the Doctor.'"