‘Come on, Ace,’ the Doctor said as they clambered down the hill, ‘we’ve got work to do.’
And she looked up at him then, smiling there next to her with his hat jammed on his head, wiry hair poking out from under the brim, and she realised in the most profound way she had ever felt, she was hungry.
‘Can we get some dinner first?’ she asked.
‘Tea,’ he replied. ‘And crumpets.’
Ace grinned, and the Doctor slipped a fatherly arm across her shoulders. He felt cold.
‘Wicked,’ she agreed. ‘Where?’
The Doctor didn’t reply, just took a finger and pointed it down the rolling slope of the hill. Ace followed it with her eyes.
Down below them, Perivale sat bathed in the amber light of dusk. She could see it all from up here - something she’d never noticed when she’d lived here. There was the pub, with a crowd of teenagers steadily gathering outside, and the supermarket beside it, still cheerfully advertising its wares. There were the little houses clustered around the main road, each with a family inside probably settling down for dinner and Neighbours. The trees rustled slightly in the early evening breeze, and the windows of the buildings caught the sunlight and cast its rosy glow back up to them.
It looked like a dump.
‘There?’ she asked, pointing her own finger down to the main road, to the TARDIS. Home.
‘There,’ the Doctor agreed.
Something rustled in the bushes. As she looked, a small black cat poked its nose cautiously out, ready to bolt if she moved too fast. Ace surprised herself by crouching down slowly and holding out her hand to it. She seemed to have developed a soft spot for the little fur balls. Big surprise.
It walked out, slowly, just in case, and looked up at her with two bright green eyes. Then
Ace saw herself, bathed in alien yellow light. She was looking up at herself, crouching on the floor, arm outstretched, sunlight glinting on the myriad of badges speckled across her chest. She saw the Doctor standing beside her, eyes to the horizon, and
‘It’s one of them,’ she said, shaken. ‘A kitling.’
The Doctor didn’t move - at least, she didn’t hear him move. The vision had passed, and she could no longer smell his emotions, strange and different in her mind. It wasn’t something she wanted to repeat: nor was the situation something she wanted to remember. The feline Cheetah people, piece, loyal, free, and doomed. It made her shiver when she remembered how close she’d become to being one. The kitling nuzzled its ear against her hand, and she didn’t dare move.
‘There’s bound to be a few still around,’ he said softly. ‘Scavenging. They shouldn’t cause too much trouble.’
‘I . . .’ the kitling rolled onto its back, offering up its stomach for inspection. Or the fatal bite. ‘I saw through its eyes.’
‘Ah,’ said the Doctor. ‘I did say you’d always take the planet with you. I shouldn’t worry. You’ll be alright. You didn’t fight.’
Ace found herself stroking the soft fur on the kitling’s belly. She hadn’t intended to, but somehow she was. Instinct. Even as she did it, she was looking up to the Doctor. He seemed like a giant, towering over her, leaning gently on his umbrella. The breeze ruffled his hair, slightly. It smelt of alien sands, and brimstone.
‘No,’ she said. ‘But you did.’
‘Yes,’ agreed the Doctor. For just a moment, Ace was sure his grey eyes flashed bright yellow.