Seventh in the dystopian!verse series.
Magpies, Ravens, and Crows
Here is the end of everything she has ever known. She hopes they will survive it.
When: Pre-Ground Zero
She wakes in her bed, and knows that something is wrong. The Watchers are screaming, she thinks. Why?
She yanks her bedside drawer open, before remembering that she has handed her comm device in for servicing. There is panic in the air, bitter-salty, like iron in the blood. Her pulse is racing, beating a drumming tattoo of foreboding in her mind. The Watchers are screaming. She has to get to the Agency now. Something is so, so very wrong.
Her clothes are shed with little care, and she is out the door in under a minute. Her shoes pound the hard pavement beneath her feet and her breaths are little explosions to her ears. Her skin is crawling, senses shivering with questions and suspended knowledge. The Watchers are screaming. She runs, and doesn’t stop for the world.
She passes the information district, and feels hidden eyes mark her progress as she dashes through. The whispers of things unknown call out to her, and she beats them back with her speed and hurry. The wind carries a faint message, ghosting across her skin in caresses and icy stabs.
There is news, it says. All along the Watchtower. There is news.
She convinces herself that the crushing pressure around her heart is not fear.
Jack is in his office when she bursts through the door. He is up from his chair like a shot when he takes in the pallor of her cheeks and her trembling hands.
“Rose? What is it? What’s wrong?” She grips his forearms like a vise. Her eyes are wide, and the pupils are dilated. She looks like a deer in the headlights, or a pinned-down butterfly.
“There has been news,” she gasps out. “Bad news. All along the Watchtower.”
He sits her down on the chair opposite his desk, and takes a seat in the high-backed leather swivel chair behind it. His eyes are serious on hers. “Tell me.” His voice brooks no argument, firm and insisting.
She nods, and it is jerky and forced. She has to take several shaky breaths before she can start, but the words tumble out like dominoes once she begins. “The network. It’s compromised. Some – some of us are dead. Ten Watchers, last night. All murdered in their homes. And this morning, the Repository, I don’t – I can’t quite explain this, you’re not a Watcher, it’s hard – it’s not the same.”
She pauses, and takes a deep breath. When she looks back at up, she doesn’t see him, not really. Jack is sure she sees something worse. Much worse. “Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.”
He nods slowly, and bites the inside of his cheek. She can almost see the cogs in his mind turning, and waits for the inevitable question. “What is it?”
He notes the way her hands ball in her lap, and the way her posture stiffens. She exhales, and her answer is the one phrase you never want to hear from a Watcher.
“We don’t know.”
The pencil he twirls between his fingers snaps cleanly into two.
She winds up in a beat-up part of the city, in a smoky pub somewhere in the south end of London. It is a quarter to two, and the curfew will be starting soon.
The glass of brandy in her hand is cold, a soothing coolness that seeps into her palm. The brandy burns a straight line down her throat. She tells herself that her knuckles are bone-white on the glass because of it. The other patrons in the pub are not of the savoury sort; she spies several Runners and Sins and Sleepers. She is too far gone to care.
She signals for a refill, and wonders who put the room on spin. A brawny man sidles up next her, all swagger and pose, and she immediately pegs him for a puffed-up assassin, even through her alcohol-induced haze. She snorts into her glass, wondering what this Sin would think if she told him she was fucking an Operative.
“Hey, Babydoll,” he leers, and his breath carries the strong stench of whisky. “How much for a coupla hours?” She giggles a bit at that, sardonic and cynical and a little broken. She finds herself thinking that it might be more worth it to sleep with someone who pays her for her time. At least, she thinks, she will get something out of it. He, she thinks vehemently, mind wandering to tall lanky men in brown overcoats, wants and takes everything from her and leaves her empty.
The Sin hears her giggle and preens, running grimy fingers through thinning hair. Bile rises to the back of her throat, and her fingers on the brandy glass tighten. How low, she muses, has she gotten? Fragments of the day’s earlier events drift into her mind, and she knocks back her brandy in an effort to banish them.
“Sorry, buster, I’m not for sale.”
He leans in, sending her a lascivious grin and a wink. “Oh, honey, everyone has a price. C’mon, I’ll pay you well.”
“I’ll double whatever he offers.” A swift hand yanks the drunk Sin away from her, and the voice from behind is heartbreakingly familiar. It is low and smooth and rich, like caramel and honey, so real that she is sure she can almost reach out and touch it.
The Sin is furious. “Listen, buddy, go pick on someone your own –” He spies this newcomer’s expensive suit and silk tie, and blanches a little at the realization that this man isn’t some street-level peon. The Doctor raises an eyebrow, and the Sin bows and scrapes as he disappears back into the woodwork.
She turns back to her now-empty glass, tracing the planes and ridges of it with a shaky finger. He settles into the vacated spot next to her, and orders a shot of vodka. She defiantly ignores his pointed stare and disapproving glare when she calls for another round, and swills down half the glass when it arrives.
After a long, long moment – minutes and hours and years, she thinks, he opens his mouth to speak. “I heard about the Watchers from Mickey. I’m sorry.”
She makes a noise at the back of her throat, part discomfort and part sadness. She doesn’t want to talk about it, not now, not here, not with him. This pub on the fringe of respectability had been picked just to avoid him.
“How did you find me?” Sometimes she really hates him, and hates the way he can tie her up in knots and make her question herself and her life without meaning to. Sometimes, she thinks, she hates herself.
“I’ll always find you,” he replies, and she sees him look down and stare at his shot glass out of the corner of her eye. He picks it up, and the tableau is strangely fascinating; long, tapered fingers wrapped around a fragile, tiny artifact, and she cannot help but feel a little like that shot glass.
“I know,” she sighs, and his words are the weight of the world on her thin, wasting shoulders.
He sets the glass down, and the clink it makes on the battered surface of the table is decisive and almost-final. His hand goes up to rub the nape of his neck, and she knows that something is heavy on his mind.
She wants to cry. She could, she thinks, and she could blame it on the alcohol. But she won’t, because even if he might believe her excuse, she will know she is a lie, and when this is all over she may never forgive herself.
“You – Why don’t you ever come to me?” His question startles her out of her self-recrimination and self-reproach, and she wonders, why now? He has never wanted to talk before, so his sudden query at the worst time possible makes her want to laugh bitterly.
“I had to hear about the Watchers from Mickey. Word on the grapevine is that you went to Jack first. I just – Why don’t you ever come to me first?” He is not looking at her when he speaks, his eyes trained on the row of neat Champagne bottles lined up behind the bar. His next words are a murmur, soft amidst the din around them. “No walls,” he says. “The walls are down.”
The walls between them are down, but she knows that there are lines where the walls had once stood, and she is smart enough to know not to cross them, not yet.
“You’re never there,” she tells him, words butterfly-light and faint as the wisps of smoke in the air. “You’re always off saving the world, but you never have the time to save me.” He begins to speak, but she shakes her head and presses on. “And I don’t need you to, really, I don’t. You’re not my knight on a white charger, and I’m hardly a distressed damsel.”
She stares at her brandy glass, and notes that the edge of it bears a chip. “But you’re like this ghost, you know? You leave and arrive when you want to, and I can’t ever catch you. It’s not that I want to, anyway.” He is watching her now, out of the corner of his eye. She pretends not to notice. “But a phantom isn’t something you can really believe in. You can’t believe in something if it isn’t there.”
She turns fully now, to face him, to face their problems and their worries and their mistakes and everything that lies in the yawning chasm between them. “And you’re not there. You never are.”
He takes her hand, traces the lines of her delicate palm with his fingers. “But I’m here. I’m here now.”
She sighs, and it ghosts over their entwined hands. “Yes. Yes, you are.”
He presses a kiss to the centre of her palm. “Maybe that’s all that really matters, in the end.”
They leave the pub at half past three, and dodge the Patrollers and Snits with unerring ease. They slip down darkened streets and stroll along deserted pathways, and his hand never once leaves hers.
The night air is cool, a pleasant chill that sweeps the edges of alcohol from her mind. They pass Trafalgar Square, and a sliver of memory jolts her.
“I saw a magpie.” He turns to look at her, and his gaze is mildly amused. She repeats. “One. Just one magpie.” He nods, and his mouth quirks upwards a little when he recalls her penchant for superstitions.
She stares at the empty square, where flocks of pigeons gather in the day. “One for sorrow,” she says.
He frowns, as if remembering something vague. “Oh, that magpie. The one trapped in the foyer?” She hums her assent.
“I saw it too. So between you and me, that’s two magpies.”
She laughs a little at his peculiar brand of logic, and starts to shake her head. “That doesn’t –”
He cuts her off. “Two magpies,” he reasserts. “What’s that line again?”
His thumb is stroking her hand. She leans into him, into his real and solid presence.
“Two for joy.” His hand squeezes hers lightly.
“Yes, there you go. Two. That’s two of us, then.” His voice is light and almost teasing, but she knows and feels the strength of the meaning behind the words, hidden and obscured by his flotsam and jetsam of language and half-smiles.
She nods. “Two of us.”
He clears his throat, almost awkwardly.
“Good. That’s good to know.”
There is a note for her at the Watcher desk when she enters the Agency at half to nine. Now. Urgent. It is in Jack’s distinct handwriting, a near-illegible scrawl that somehow conveys his arrogance and smirks and flair with several strokes.
He is not in his office, but she is a Watcher, and it does not take her long to find him. He is in the stronghold conference room, along with several others she recognizes. There is a pause in her step when she spies Section Director Harriet Jones.
“Watcher Tyler,” the Director greets. “Please, take a seat.” She does, and Jack slides a manila file across the table to her. He is quick to add, “Rose, don’t misunderstand when you –”
She flips the file open, and her heart freezes in her chest when she sees a glossy photograph of the Doctor and her at their favourite patisserie. She rifles through the file’s contents, and comes across numerous other close-up shots of them – him leaving her apartment, her talking to him in the cafeteria, her letting him into her flat. Her blood runs cold.
Her eyes are ablaze when she looks back up at Jack. “How could you?” He opens his mouth to reply, but she has moved on. She rounds on the Director.
“What is the meaning of this?” She jabs a furious finger at the file before her. “This violates all Watcher-Agency agreements. No one watches the Watchers.”
The Director steeples her fingers on the table, and watches her with shuttered eyes. “That may be so, but you need us as much as we need you. Sit down, girl, don’t be a fool.”
Her nails bite into her palms at the Director’s casual dismissal of her anger. She sits, and does not look at Jack in the eyes. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“They tell me you’re our best Watcher,” the Director begins. “So tell me, Watcher Tyler, what have you heard of Little Red?”
“Suicide.” Rose’s voice is strong and sure, but she cannot shake off the creeping worry that drifts up her spine. “It’s suicide. It’s a proposed Agency plan to infiltrate The Government by sending in wiped Watchers, in the hope that one will get close enough to The Master. It’s strategically sound, but it can’t be done. You can’t wipe Watchers without killing them.”
The Director watches her with a hooded gaze. Something is wrong, Rose thinks, and her mind darts to glossy photographs in manila folders. “And what if I told you that we found a way?”
“A way?” She frowns, unsure and hesitant and not liking where she thinks this is heading. “A way to wipe the Watchers?” She shakes her head, slow side-to-side movements. “There isn’t one. We would know. The Watchers would know.”
“Humour me. Say there is a way; what would you do then? Would you be willing to join Little Red? Will you serve your country and –” The Director leans forward, and her next words are low blows. “– save those you love?” It is a loaded question, and the answer lodges itself at the back of her throat.
“But there isn’t –”
“I’m telling you there is, Rose Tyler. So what say you? How will you respond to our invitation? I’m asking you to join Little Red. What is your answer?”
She swallows hard, and ignores Jack’s imploring eyes that beg her for forgiveness.
“I guess that makes me the Bad Wolf, then.”