Christmas Eve 2007—six months after Canary Wharf.
One year ago, he'd found himself walking through this same graveyard, seeing lives encompassed in a name, dates and a few words carved on a piece of stone. Those few symbols didn't do justice to the individuals whose souls had burned brightly for such a short span of time then dimmed as the light was spent.
The grey skies reflected his melancholy mood; he'd lost too much in this extended lifetime to be truly in the Christmas spirit. Having survived Satellite Five and watched the TARDIS dematerialize, he'd soon learned that his life had turned from a blessing into a curse. Now he was living the slow path, having traveled back to the nineteenth century, and life had been filled with plenty of heartache and goodbyes since. Shuffling his feet, Jack shrugged deeper into his blue overcoat and inwardly screamed at the unfairness that surrounded him.
It was moments like this he would have been happy to forget about Time Lords, Daleks and timelines, but then he never would have met her. His finger slowly traced over the name again, Rose Tyler, and next to it another name he recognized as belonging to her mum, Jackie. His hand splayed over the engraved letters as if he could erase them by hiding the words underneath, the solid surface offering no comfort. His head hung low, a man defeated by memories, by events he couldn't change. As the snow began to fall, he pressed his forehead to the stone and thought back to another year.
Christmas Eve 2005
He'd only wanted to see her again. He'd limited his visits to once a year, making sure to keep out of sight so that she wouldn't see him; he was well aware of the consequences that messing with timelines could cause. But like an addiction, he wasn't able to stay away and once more was drawn to seek out Rose, watching her grow into the young woman who'd captured not only a Time Lord's heart, but a fifty-first century Time Agent-turned-conman as well.
Christmas Eve had seemed the appropriate time. Having no family to call his own, he'd felt the pull of seeing her again even more keenly, and now here he stood, feeling a bit like a stalker as he watched her mum hanging a poster on the street lamppost. Jackie was her name, he recalled.
She wasn't a stunning woman, yet listening to the Doctor speak of her had taught him that her strength of character and down-to-earth practicality were qualities she'd passed on to her daughter. He could still hear Rose's voice as she referred to herself and her mum as 'common,' and Jack smiled at the memory. There was nothing 'common' about either one of them, aside from living in the Powell Estates.
He ambled over to read the poster she'd hung, his heart racing as his eyes drifted over the notice. Those familiar brown eyes staring out at him caused a shortness of breath. She was as he remembered, but when had she disappeared? Then the memory came flooding back: the Doctor describing his second time meeting Jackie, and the now infamous slap at having brought Rose back twelve months later rather than twelve hours. Jack broke into a grin and chuckled, trying to imagine the Time Lord getting his face slapped.
Startled, he turned to see Rose's mum standing there, hands on hips. Jackie's eyes lacked any humour, and Jack understood the Doctor's apprehension as he was now subject to the piercing stare.
Jack swallowed visibly. "I was thinking how pretty she was." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder indicating the poster. Jackie's eyes narrowed dangerously and Jack hastened to add. "In that photo. She has a beautiful smile." He, too, smiled warmly, hoping he wasn't coming across as a total psycho, and relaxing a bit when Jackie's features softened, gazing at the photo beyond him.
"She's a beautiful girl." Her voice trailed off and Jack's chest constricted at the anguish he heard. Jackie took a shaky breath, blinking quickly and looked away.
"How long has she been gone?" he asked softly.
Jackie faced him again, with a trembling chin and a look of defiance. "Seven months." Hastily wiping away a tear, she lowered her head as if the admission somehow embarrassed her.
Jack stepped forward; placed a hand on her shoulder, surprised when she relaxed against him. Emboldened, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. "I'm sorry," he whispered, resting his chin on her head while offering her what comfort he could. After a few moments she relaxed, hugged him back briefly then pulled away apologizing.
"Don't know what got into me. Guess I just need to know." She looked at him expectantly, his hand squeezing her shoulder lightly. "Know she's all right." Her voice caught and she took a step backwards. Jack let his arms drop, started to open his mouth then stopped. "Just some kind of hope, you know?" Her expression held a silent plea and Jack was torn. He simply nodded as she thanked him for his kindness and hurried off disappearing around the corner. Jack found himself drawn back to the poster and imagined he could hear the Doctor telling him it was for the best.
Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, he strode away, mentally kicking himself for not doing or saying anything more. He wasn't here to screw up the timelines, he argued with himself, but the other half of his conscience was telling him he was being selfish and looking after his own interests; if he were to interfere now there was the likelihood he would never meet Rose and the Doctor, instead condemning himself to the life of a common, ordinary conman.
Yet he couldn't forget the look of anguish in Jackie's eyes.
He stopped in front of a shop window, letting the flashing lights and colourful display distract him. He heard the laughter of a child as he watched the boy gleefully tug on his mum's hand attempting to hurry her, then he entered the shop.
He knocked on the door of Jackie's flat, half expecting no one to be in. He heard the rattle of chain locks being undone and shifted his stance, holding out his offering as the door opened part way. Jackie's eyes were red-rimmed and Jack wondered if it was due to drinking, crying or perhaps a combination of the two. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I brought a bit of Christmas cheer." He stood feeling like a nervous teenager on his first date. "Mind if I—" He nodded at the door and Jackie just watched him, refusing to budge.
"How did you know where I lived?"
Jack chuckled. Now for a little white lie. "I showed that poster to at least two dozen different florists until one recognized the picture. No one should be alone at Christmas."
"And what about you?"
"Well-" he said giving her a wide grin. "I won't be alone either, unless you're going to leave me standing out here in the hallway all night."
Jack waited patiently, hoping he hadn't judged her wrong, and was relieved when Jackie took the poinsettia from him, turned and walked away leaving the door open. Stepping inside the flat, Jack wasn't at all surprised to see a Christmas tree lit up in the corner of the room, bright packages underneath, cards above the mantle and two stockings hung on either side. He dropped his coat over the back of the sofa and wandered over to the fireplace, picking up another picture of Rose. This one showed a pigtailed girl on Santa's lap and whispering into his ear.
"Jackie," she said as Jack replaced the photo and accepted the cup of tea.
"What is it that you do, Mister Harkness?"
"Jack, please." He looked around the room, his eyes settling on the stacks of posters covering the kitchen table and crossed the room, lifting one of the notices. "Let's just say I'm a freelancer." He hesitated, set his cup on the table and turned to Jackie. "Tell me about your daughter."
Jackie sat on the edge of the sofa and Jack stepped forward and sat beside her. "You've been hurt, you miss her terribly and I can't possibly understand what you're feeling." He lied almost too convincingly he thought, and continued. "But I'd like to hear about her. And maybe I could help--in some way." He knew he was reaching for straws and that Jackie might possibly tell him to get out, but instead she began talking about her daughter.
Hours later they were sitting side by side on the sofa. Jackie had brought out a family photo album, Jack had found the wine and a couple of glasses and they sat reminiscing. Jackie told stories and Jack laughed at most of the tales as the evening wore on. The last page Jackie turned to was empty, yet one could still see the outline of where a photo had lain. Jack guessed it was the same picture used for the missing posters, and slid an arm around Jackie's shoulder as she ran her hand over the blank page.
They were quiet for a few minutes, letting the silence settle peacefully between them. Jack turned the now empty glass in his fingers watching it capture the light in tiny rainbows of colour. He leaned forward, setting the glass on the table and turned to Jackie.
"What would you say if I told you I knew where your daughter was?" he stated quietly.
Jackie froze and he saw panic flash in her eyes, changing to disbelief. "I'll ring the police."
Jack cut her off and quickly forced her back onto the sofa, settling himself on the coffee table across from her, never letting go of her arms.
"What do you want?" she shouted and struggled against him.
"Jackie," he warned as she attempted to escape his grasp. "Just listen to me. Before you ring the police, let me explain. Please," he begged. "Just give me this one chance." He continued to hold onto her. "Rose is safe." He wasn't sure if it was the amount of alcohol or the statement that convinced her to listen.
Jackie stilled, her eyes never leaving his as if seeking confirmation. When she relaxed Jack eased up on his grip then let her fall back against the cushions. "How do you know? Whatever it is you know about my daughter you better be talking fast, mister." He hid the grin, hearing Rose's voice over her Mum's. "Tell me she's safe, and not alone." Jackie's voice quivered.
"Let me tell you a story. A story about an alien and a time machine." He grinned when she laughed and waved a hand in the air.
"You're putting me on. You're as pissed as me," she laughed. And Jack began his story, handing her another glass of wine, the small bit of fizz going unnoticed.
At first Jack wasn't sure Jackie was paying much attention to him, until he described the Doctor and the destruction of the Nestene Conciousness, at which point Jackie visibly paled and commented about flirting with such a man. Jack couldn't hide his grin.
Then Jack told her about the Doctor's travelling companion, ignoring Jackie's threats to slap the living daylights out of the man, alien or no. He finished by explaining how the companion had saved the life of a certain conman, and gave him another chance at life.
"Rose isn't alone?" she asked sleepily. Jack shook his head.
"Your daughter is safe, and she'll be home soon," he whispered as her eyes closed. Jack laid her gently down, covering her with a knitted blanket, then leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead. He was careful to put away one of the glasses before he left, then let himself out, setting the poinsettia just outside the door so Jackie would find it in the morning.
Christmas Eve 2008
One year later, a year of discoveries, new faces, old friends and a year that never was, Jack strode through the same graveyard. This time he was a man on a mission, head held high, his arm curled protectively around a poinsettia wrapped in red foil. Stopping in front of the memorial, he smiled as he found the two names he sought, bent over to set the flower down and straightened back up. Raising his head to the clear sky he looked as if he searched for something amongst the stars, and then dropped his gaze and reached out to trace the names. "I hope to see you soon," he said softly, smiling as the sound of the TARDIS grew louder.