The response to the final chapter was so great! Nice to see so many of you worried for Mari. Time for the epilogue, aka Esther Did Not Deserve Any Of This.
Who will bring me flowers when it's over
And who will give me comfort when it's cold
Who will I belong to when the day just won't give in
And who will tell me how it ends and how it all begins
Don't ever say goodbye
I'm only human
I said I'm only human
Flowers For A Ghost - Thriving Ivory
"It's only been two days. She was gone for months that first time, remember."
Gwen Cooper, ever the voice of support as well as sense, was in Esther's kitchen making them both a cup of tea. Esther was leaning against the pantry with her arms around herself.
"I know, but these people, Gwen, they're monsters, most of them literally," Esther said morosely, "And I know she can take care of herself but she's not invincible. I shouldn't have listened to her, I could probably have stopped them-"
"Or they could have killed you and taken her in the time it took for you to come around," Gwen pointed out, "Or they could've tortured you for centuries to control Mari like she said to you. If I were evil and trying to keep a hold on someone like her, it's what I would do."
"These people messed her up, Gwen. They're literally the monsters under her bed in her childhood. They're the reason that Marion was so - well, you remember."
"Bit hard to forget," Gwen said wryly, handing her the cup of tea and getting a small smile of gratitude for her trouble.
Esther gulped her down the hot beverage, barely wincing as it scalded her throat.
"I just want her back," she whispered. "With me, where I know she's okay."
Gwen put her hand on her arm and gave her a sympathetic look. "You've really fallen hard, haven't you? In less than half a year."
Esther sighed and nodded.
"Does she know?"
"I like to think I've shown it, even if I haven't said it," the blonde said quietly, "It has gone so fast, but it never seemed that way. It just felt right, all of it."
"You and Narke," Gwen said, making a face, "Who was actually an alien planning murder the whole time we knew her. Now that's something I didn't see coming."
Esther snorted. "I don't think anyone saw any of this coming, not even her. A year ago this whole conversation would've seemed like the most ridiculous thing imaginable."
Before Gwen could reply, there was a knock at the door.
Without even thinking about it, Esther dropped the tea cup and ran for the door, ignoring the smashing of the porcelain on the tile. She was too busy closing her hand around the door knob and using it to yank the door open.
But it wasn't Mari standing there.
It was the others. Jenny and the Doctor and Aliya. Mari's family, as the redhead had finally been coming to terms with since returning from Silencio.
"Doctor," Esther said, heart sinking, "Mari's not here, she was taken-"
Their somber expressions finally registered in her brain, and her hand went to her mouth. "No, please tell me you're not here for the reason I'm thinking you are."
"What's going on?" Gwen asked, coming to join Esther at the door.
"Where's Mari?" Esther demanded of the three aliens on her doorstep, ignoring her friend's question.
The Doctor looked at her with those big, apologetic eyes of his. They were currently filled with a great sadness and guilt. "Esther, you're right to worry, but things aren't quite as bad as you're probably thinking. Well, they are, only they're not, they-" He bit his lip. "Mari is - temporarily - dead."
Esther felt faint, but held onto the one bizarre outlier in his sentence. "Temporarily? What the hell does that mean?"
"It means that she died," the Doctor said seriously, "And it was at least partly my fault, and for that I'm sorry. But she's being brought back. Eventually."
"Eventually?" Gwen, who looked almost as shaken as Esther felt, had asked the question at the exact same moment she had.
"It's not an easy process. She was disintegrated - it's a lot of parts to put back together."
"Disintegrated," Esther repeated, her voice quiet while despair seized her heart, "What the hell happened? If you know about it, why didn't you do something to stop it?"
"We were there, and we tried - there wasn't anything we could do," Aliya told her.
"Oh, I'm sure," Esther said bitterly, strangely unable to stomach the look of apology on her face, "I'm sure you were even sad about it for a second when you failed, too."
The comment was directed at Aliya and they all knew it. The surprise on everyone's faces at her hostility matched the surprise in Esther's own stomach. She'd never been bothered by the strained relationship between her girlfriend and their old co-worker, who happened to be Mari's mother. But something about it now, with Mari disintegrated, to have her just standing there like she was actually mourning her…
"She was my daughter," Aliya replied, her voice shaking for a single second.
"Barely. She said you had maybe half an hour together after you actually came to terms with that, but I've cared about her for months."
"And I've been missing my baby for over a century and a half, Esther, so don't try to turn this into a competition that I have no interest in competing in," Aliya said, her tone abrupt enough that Esther almost jumped, and for the first time Esther saw the age and otherworldly authority in the older blonde, "The situations couldn't be more different."
The point was valid, and when Esther's gaze fell on the familiar silver locket around Aliya's neck, any hostility in the immortal melted away.
"I'm sorry," Esther breathed, her hands covering her mouth as the horror of what she was being told set in, "I just - oh god." Tears began to run down her cheeks. "She died to protect me. They have no reason to come near me if she's dead."
"She didn't just die, she was killed," the Doctor said tightly, "But I do believe that your well being might be one of the reasons she didn't try to escape, even if I doubt she'd have managed it if she had."
"But she's not gone forever," Jenny reminded her urgently, "She's being reconstructed. It's just going to take a while."
The Doctor gave a hopeless shrug. "Years, at the very least. I mean, it's tricky because we time travel, but it depends on the entity that's currently reconstructing her. The short answer is, well, that there isn't a real answer at all."
"Oh," Esther said, trying not to feel too disheartened. After all, she was being promised that her dead girlfriend would eventually come home to her. A lot of people didn't get that deal.
"But I mean, you're immortal, you'll last any length of time it might take," the Doctor pointed out, before making a face, "Although, you were only together for a matter of months, so if you didn't want to wait-"
"I'll wait," Esther told him sharply.
He smiled at her. "I'm...glad to hear it. You mean the world to her, Esther."
She just nodded. "What about you three? How are you guys holding up? Did you...see it happen?"
"Yes," Aliya murmured, "And I suppose the only way to put it is that we're going to do our best to deal with it. Do what the Doctor does best and keep moving. All of time and space is a pretty good distraction when you're waiting for someone to come home."
To come home. Esther couldn't be sure whether Mari would have been incredibly touched by that or if it would have made her nauseous.
"That makes sense, I guess. Are you going to pop in much?"
"Er, I don't know," the Doctor admitted, scratching his ear, "I suppose maybe we should, but it wasn't in the immediate plan - not that we don't like you because we definitely do."
"Shut up, Dad," Jenny said, somehow without being rude about it. She looked to Esther, a pain in her eyes that matched Esther's own. "I'm...pretty keen to stay away from reminders of her for a while, if you don't mind. Even if she's coming back, we don't know if it'll be centuries before that happens. And I saw her die. It still feels like she's dead."
"Yeah, it does," Esther agreed, biting her lip and wishing she would stop crying in front of them even if her tears were silent. Jenny was right. Esther didn't want to see them for the time being any more than they wanted to see her - it just made Mari's absence the more painfully obvious. Better that she be allowed to get on with her Torchwood work in peace without them turning up to make things weird.
"So we might give Cardiff a wide berth for a bit," Jenny continued, and hugged her unexpectedly with a bone-crushing tightness, "But Mari loved you so much, and I know that you're why she was so brave in...in the end."
Jenny's words were so kind that Esther had to make sure her eyes didn't get any ideas about crying harder than she already was.
"Thank you guys for being the family she needed," Esther told the trio, wiping under her nose as Jenny let go of her. "I know she didn't say it, because it wasn't something she knew how to deal with, but it was starting to mean a lot to her."
"Thank you for being her anchor of sorts," the Doctor told her, smiling softly, "Our 'family' would never have been possible without your influence."
"Well, here's hoping we'll get her back before I've gone grey or you've changed faces."
"One of those things is likely to happen centuries before the other," Aliya said wryly, shooting the Doctor a critical look.
Gwen put an arm around Esther's shoulders, like she could sense or see that Esther's composure was slipping and that she was an inch away from breaking. "I think it's time for you three to go," she told them firmly.
"Of course," the Doctor said, swallowing, "I'm so sorry, Esther. Goodbye, Gwen."
The blondes either side of him echoed similar sentiments and turned to go right before Esther shut the door. When they were gone from her sight, she let out a shaky breath and half fell into Gwen's arms.
"She's dead," she sobbed, clutching her dark haired friend for dear life, "She's dead and it's my fault."
"She's going to come back," Gwen whispered, rocking her back and forth slowly and keeping her grip on her tight, "And I'm going to miss her too, so any time you need to talk, I'm here, okay?"
A more logical part of her knew that she was lucky, that at least the person she loved was going to come back, supposedly. But in the meantime it just felt like she was dead. And it was Esther's fault that she had died at the hands of her childhood nightmares.
Esther continued to cry. "I never told her."
"Told her what?" When she gave no answer, Gwen made a noise in her throat. "Oh. Dear god this whole thing's a mess, isn't it?"
Esther held her tighter and murmured her agreement. How had her life become this? A few years ago she'd just been a CIA analyst, more or less a normal American. And then Miracle Day had happened.
With it had come Torchwood, and Jack and Gwen, and a new closeness to Rex she hadn't expected.
And then she'd been in that airport at Buenos Aires and that woman in the line behind her had made some loud offhand comment about blondes always being underestimated, leading to her to have the idea of doing the transfusion instead of Rex. It had worked, because they'd shot her to try and make Rex co-operate and Jack's blood had flowed out of her into the breach before them, ending the travesty of the Miracle.
If she hadn't done the transfusion, Esther was sure she would have died that day. And for all the horror of being immortal she was glad for the chance to live. Even if living had meant going on to get tangled up with aliens and all their utter bullshit. For being immortal, she was still only human, and she felt so small compared to them most of the time.
"I'm so done with all this alien crap," she gasped, "I don't know how to handle it. They're all these fancy alien lords of time and I'm just - I'm just me. I'm only human, I don't care if I can't die, I'm just still human, how did all of this shit become my life?"
Gwen stroked her hair. "It's going to be okay. You can do this, I know you can. You're so much stronger than you know, Esther. I promise."
A part of Esther internally admitted that it might be true. Even if being around their alien friends made her feel small, what Jack had said, in a way it was possibly the opposite - she would quite probably outlive every single one of the Gallifreyans. She was a lot of things, but small in the grand scheme of the universe was no longer one of them.
She supposed she had that woman at the airport to thank for that. The obnoxious bitch in shabby clothes, her red hair thrown up in a messy bun.
Holy shit. It was Mari. Mari's the reason I'm alive.
Esther was glad that her face was still buried in Gwen's shoulder because she wasn't sure if she wanted her shock to be visible.
But she had never told anyone where she'd had the idea to be the one to do the blood transfusion. Not even Mari or Jack. Which meant that the only reason Mari would know to go back to during the Miracle and be in that airport was if Esther had told her in the future.
Which meant that she was definitely coming back.
Esther started crying again. She knew that on a day that wasn't today, this realisation would make her feel better. Not only that but be a true miracle of sorts that she probably didn't even deserve.
But today it just felt like Mari was dead. It would feel that way until she was back in front of her, making stupid scathing comments and rolling her eyes at everyone around her. Until she was in Esther's arms.
Please hurry back to me.
And it's over! I can't believe it. It's a bit longer than DS, which I never thought would happen, but took me almost a year less to write! (Then again, I wrote 365k words last year and about two thirds of it was on this story.)
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO HAS BEEN WITH ME THROUGH THIS STORY. Whether it was from the beginning or coming in partway through (which is actually more impressive given the sheer size of the series), your comments mean the world.
And without further ado, the summary for the third installment/sequel, Path of the Not Quite Lost, the prologue of which is going up immediately after this chapter is published.
Path of the Not Quite Lost summary:
The Doctor had his hands full. His generated anomaly daughter was finally on board the TARDIS as a full time companion, and now somehow he'd managed to pick up a Korean musician as well. Not to mention the Arpexian whose preferred hobby was criticising him without offering any alternative course of action. Yep, this was gonna go great.
OR: How Jun-Young Kim met a madman in a box (and the two blondes who travelled with him) and became a confused passenger in the fourth and fifth dimensions.
I hope to see you all for the next story! Go onto my profile to check it out now!
Guest Review Replies:
EvenEth13 - You will be getting more mother and daughter time with Aliya and Mari, just not for a while now. So glad you're still loving it!
GuestCat - Thanks so much, I'm so glad you liked how I did the thing with Mari! Yes, the next story IS from Jay's POV, but I'm so curious as to how you know that because I'd not revealed his name yet? My only thought is that you've been stalking my Charahub? I don't see how else you could know?