A/N: The first bit of fanfic I've written since my Harry Potter obsessed youth, and the first thing I've ever written in the present tense. Also totally unbetaed, so please be a little forgiving! I know everybody and their mother has written a post-'Journey's End' fic of some description, but I just couldn't help myself, you know? It's like 10/Rose shipper threapy on the cheap.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership whatsoever of the Doctor Who world or characters and am making no money from this in any way shape or form. That's the BBC's pleasure.
Jackie sort of bounces from one end of the dining room to the other, duster in hand, humming along to a tune on the radio that she'd would never have enjoyed back in the other universe, but still with one ear listening for Tony while he naps. She likes doing her own housework now that she knows she doesn't have to, and feels the warmth of satisfaction whenever she stands back to look at what she's achieved. She misses Mickey and frets about Rose and Pete, out there defending the Earth, but at her very core she is happy.
That's why the Doctor likes watching her so much.
She talks about anything and everything; balls and parties and politics and all sorts of things that he'd never thought Jackie Tyler would have the remotest interest in, and when he brings it up with her she laughs and reminds him that the old Jackie Tyler never had to entertain the President at her dinner parties. He likes the way she can differentiate between new Jackie, who has money and Pete and little Tony, and old Jackie, who only had Rose, and only until he took her away. It's that struggle to reconcile the past and the present – the future – that brings him to sit with her when she's dusting or hovering. He loves the fact that she treats him just the same as she ever did.
"You're in my way," she hisses as she tries to reach round him to dust the top of a picture frame – this one's Pete with Tony on his shoulders – and she tuts her disapproval when he perches on the edge of the dining table. Waving her duster like a weapon she starts on one of her rants, usually along the lines that if he thinks he can sit around making her house look untidy he can go whistle, and the Doctor prepares to let it wash over him as he so often does. He never thought Jackie Tyler yelling at him would become a comfort.
"We're not keeping you, you know," she begins, and it's dissimilar enough to the start he's used to that the casual smirk he puts on for their sparring fits slips.
"I should think not," he says in his haughtiest manner, "I've seen what happens to your pets Jackie Tyler."
Rosie-dog growls from behind him.
"No offence," he adds.
"Well," huffs Jackie, rubbing at what must be a very stubborn patch of dust on the mantelpiece, "you're really going to have to think about keeping yourself. Not that we can't afford it, mind," she adds hastily, "and we don't want anything from you for board or anything like that, never charged Rose, it's just, well," she stops scrubbing at the dust to look him in the eye and he's shocked to see tears shining in her eyes, "I'm worried about you. I think you need to feel useful."
He opens and closes his mouth for a moment, the shock of Jackie Tyler worrying about him almost overwhelming his horror.
"I don't need your pity," he spits; his pride, undimmed by the lack of a double heartbeat, rising up in him like bile in his throat, "I don't need anything from you."
"Don't you?" She asks, and it's so gentle - so not like the torrent of abuse he was expecting - that his pride deflates like a popped balloon. She points at the photographs with the end of the duster, and gesticulates towards one in particular, young Pete only just losing his hair, young Jackie smiling up at him bouquet in hand.
"That's me - the other me - the one that died."
She wipes the duster gently over the ornate frame.
"Sometimes, when Pete looks at me, I know that he's still seeing her." Jackie turns to face the Doctor again, and he tries not to be irritated with her all-knowing look, "and you know what, that's never going away, and it's okay."
"Well that's just super," growls the Doctor, unable to hide the little quirks of speech that remind him painfully of Donna, "so far you've insinuated that I'm useless, pitiable and now I'm never going to be good enough. For someone who worries about me you do an absolutely brilliant job of making me feel like shit."
Jackie sighs one of those sighs that makes even the Doctor feel like a naughty little boy irritating his long-suffering mother.
"That's not what I mean, you daft man."
Her eyes narrow shrewdly, and she vividly reminds the Doctor of a particularly venomous snake going in for the kill, "How's Rose?"
"She's fine," he says, acting for all the world like he can't see what she's getting at, "you saw her off to work this morning. Ham and pickle sandwiches. Getting forgetful in your old age Jacks?"
Her right hand twitches threateningly, but she carries on in the same calm voice, "What was the last thing you said to her?"
The Doctor pretends to think about it, but he knows that Jackie won't be fooled. He and Rose have spoken only a handful of times in the two weeks they've been here, normally pleasantries about the weather, or the dinner, and on that first day when she'd laughed with him about his need for a better suit and more than one t-shirt. He'd thought at that point that maybe everything was going to work out for the best.
He's still waiting.
"I said," he draws the second word out for emphasis, "did you sleep well."
"And what did she say?" Jackie's voice rises; she can smell victory.
"Fine," and he knows that he hasn't managed to keep the bitterness out of his voice, because Jackie's eyes have widened as she realises her success and he decides that as he's in for a penny he's in for a pound, or would be if they existed in this universe.
"But she's not."
Every morning he asks her how she slept, and every morning she says fine. Every morning the circles round her eyes are getting darker. He hates himself for putting them in this position, hates this stupid human body and all the misery it's brought on them both. Hates being trapped in this house watching Jackie Tyler polish photographs of her dead past self because i his /i past is still alive. It's his past that's haunting Rose's exhausted eyes, his own happiness thrown into doubt by the ghost that lingers there, and he'd be much more sympathetic, he really would, if the ghost wasn't himself.
"She's not," agrees Jackie, and then she looks at him like she expects him to come up with the answer.
He shrugs his shoulders, opens his arms wide, and looks to the ceiling for salvation.
"I don't know what to do about it," he says, and Jackie huffs at him and turns her back to continue dusting.
"Maybe," she wafts the dust away from a photo of Rose holding baby Tony, "you should try talking to her. Have a good row. Works for Pete and I all the time."
Tony starts crying somewhere down the corridor and Jackie drops her duster and bustles off to see to him.
The Doctor sits for a while longer; looking at the photos; noticing the places she's missed in her distracted cleaning, and hopes that she's right. He hopes he'll let him live it down if she is.
It's getting late, and he's sat with Jackie again, but the atmosphere's changed from earlier. They're in what Jackie lovingly refers to as her 'best' room, Tony playing with toy cars on the carpet, Jackie and the Doctor watching the phone.
It's been three hours since Pete and Rose should have been home.
They can't see anything untoward outside, and the news makes no mention of any alien related disasters, but it's been three hours and they've not had so much as a phone call. Three hours has never been such a long time to him. That's because, he supposes, they're three hours he'll never get back.
Jackie rang Torchwood two and a half hours ago, when she was still full of irritation and prepared to have one of those rows she'd been so keen on earlier, he'd not been worried – at least no more worried than he was every time Rose stepped out of his sight – until he'd heard her breath hitch and seen her drop the phone.
"The line's dead." She'd told him, and her eyes had been so wide, so terrified, that he'd had to look away. They still aren't looking in each other now. The Doctor's never felt so helpless in all his long lives, and finds himself wishing so hard for the TARDIS, for the Screwdriver, for anything that might help, that if wishes were TARDISES he'd have enough for a thousand regenerations.
So many things are impossible now.
Tony's humming a tune to himself, unaware of the tension that surrounds him, and occasionally looks up to give the Doctor a wide smile so familiar that it breaks his single, useless, heart every time he sees it. Tony thinks he's the hero of all the bedtime stories he's ever heard. Tony doesn't care how many hearts he has. He tries very hard not to be bitter that Tony's the only one.
"Where's Daddy?" Tony asks Jackie, and Jackie, to her credit, manages a brave smile and a steady voice when she reassures him that Daddy's just at work, that's all. She's tearing tissues to pieces in her lap, and the Doctor just can't take it anymore.
"I'm going," he says, and Jackie looks up at him in terror.
"Where? You can't leave us here. What if…"
He pulls Jackie to her feet, trying not to notice that his hands are as clammy as hers with the fear, and holds her face in his hands.
"It's a human body, Jackie, but I'm still a Time Lord, still have a Time Lord mind. I know more than anybody in that organisation. Whatever it is that's stopping them…" he takes a deep breath, it's harder not to show fear with this body, "Whatever's out there Jackie. I can help."
Jackie nods once, swiftly, and he drops his hands from her face and bolts for the doorway, grabbing the brown trench-coat she's brought him as a gift and hoping that it brings him luck. Tony calls after him, and he spares him a wave, glad that he's still somebody's hero. Maybe that's all he needs after all, that faith. He heads out the front door, and through all his human fear can't help but grin for the adventure.
It's a pretty brief adventure when he finds them halfway up the drive, but the relief is like something he's never known before.
"Never," he hisses in his best Jackie voice, "never do that to me again."
Even though she's wiping blood from her eyes, he's pretty sure he can see her smiling.