The bottle of whisky appears beside Kate from seemingly nowhere. It wouldn’t be overly alarming in a bar or a pub or any of the other places she used to frequent of an evening – back when, you know, she’d had a job and a life and friends and colleagues and money and a thousand other things besides – but no, she’s sat in her own lounge, and she’s on the verge of screaming when she realises that burglars aren’t usually this polite. Not in London, anyway.
“Thought you might need it,” a warm Yorkshire voice says, before a gangly figure folds itself into the seat beside her that Osgood had vacated only minutes before. “You look like you do.”
Kate has so many questions that she can’t quite think of where to start.
Who the hell are you?
Why are you in my house?
How are you in my house?
What do you want?
But the first one that comes out of her mouth is: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Heard about UNIT,” the stranger – now that she’s seated, Kate can see that she’s a woman in her mid-thirties, with a blonde bob and a somewhat outdated powder-blue coat on – says forlornly. Her expression looks oddly contrite as she continues: “From some woman in a call centre who had absolutely no manners or tact whatsoever; nor did she fully appreciate the level of the threat I was dealing with. I knew this Brexit idea was a rubbish one; I didn’t realise it was this rubbish.”
“Urm,” Kate says in bafflement, too confused to disagree. Best to just agree with this northern, alcohol-bearing stranger. “It’s… really quite shit, yes.”
“Don’t worry,” the stranger says brightly, and there’s something that’s decidedly familiar about the tone she adopts next. “Give it three centuries and rising sea levels will drive Europe to war over shampoo prices, and then everyone cedes from the union.”
“Err,” Kate blinks hard. A nagging suspicion is starting to settle over her: stranger, weird coat, prescient knowledge of the future? It can only be-
Clara’s head appears around the edge of the doorframe, a bemused expression on her face. “Doctor, you did say top cupboard, fourth from the left, right?”
“You’re…” Kate stammers, looking from Clara to the stranger – or not – and back again as realisation crashes over her. “You’re… you’re…”
“Ah. Right. Sorry. I knew I’d forgotten something, and not just where you keep your glasses,” the stranger sticks out a hand with an odd air of formality, sitting up straight and saying in a rush: “I’m the Doctor. I think we’ve met, but not recently.”
“Kate Lethbridge-Stewart,” Kate takes the proffered hand and shakes it in wonderment, before asking herself why on earth she’s playing along with this interview-like charade. “I believe we have.”
“You’ve met me,” Clara says with a grin, giving a cheeky little wave. “Hello. Where do you keep your glasses?”
“She was close,” Kate admits. “It’s top cupboard, third from the left though.”
“Ah,” Clara nods sagely and disappears.
“What… how… you…”
“Long story short, I saved a bunch of space colonists from a fate worse than death, got shot quite a lot by a bunch of Cybermen – much less friendly than your old dad was in his silver suit, let me tell you – and then wandered through a World War 1 battlefield before getting a bit of a makeover. I’m still adjusting, honestly. Bras are a whole new level of awfulness.”
Kate is on the verge of speaking again when she’s cut off by the Time Lady.
“Speaking of your old dad and wars, I met a relly of yours! Captain Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart. Nice chap. Bit muddy. Uniform needed a good dry-clean.”
There’s a piercing scream from the direction of the kitchen, and Kate leaps to her feet in panic.
“Bugger,” she mutters, all questions forgotten. “I’d forgotten about… that’ll be Osgood.”
“I’m sure Clara can manage,” the Doctor pats her leg reassuringly, and that in itself is so bizarre that Kate sits back down again. “They’ve met before, remember?”
“Yes,” Kate says faintly. “And then Clara died.”
“Yeah, well,” the Doctor grimaces, then her face lights up. “Now she’s not dead. Surprise!”
“How on earth did you manage that?” Kate scowls, her attention snapping back to the Time Lady at her side as she realises the utter weirdness of this whole situation. “I thought you weren’t supposed to meddle with these things.”
“Another long story. This one involved my people, a gun, and a prophecy. Really long story; very boring; won’t make you sit through it. Short version: she can’t die.”
“She can’t what?” Kate yelps, more and more questions tumbling to the forefront of her mind with each new utterance that leaves the Doctor’s mouth. “And what do you mean ‘your people’? The Time Lords? I thought they were lost! How can they… how can she…”
“It’s a long story,” the Doctor said again in a reassuring tone, offering a sympathetic smile and a pat on the arm that Kate tries veryhard not to find condescending. “I’m sure Clara will explain when she reappears. Or she might demonstrate, depending on how she feels –it can be a bit alarming if she does, as a fair warning.”
“What do you mean, dem-”
Clara reappears, one arm holding aloft a tray of glasses and the other around Osgood’s waist. Osgood seems both amazed and horrified by this development, but she’s somewhat busy taking long puffs of her inhaler, and she continues to do so as Clara sets the tray down and helps her into a seat. She plonks down on the other side of the Doctor and half moves her hand towards the Time Lady, then seems to think better of it.
“Hi, Kate,” Clara says with a smile, as though they’re old friends separated by nothing more sinister than distance or time. “How are you?”
“Clara, I’m not wishing to be rude, but you’re dead.”
“Was dead. Am dead. Not quite sure about the ‘dead’ status. I’m sort of Schrödinger’s Clara Oswald. Dead and not-dead. Maybe-dead? Who knows.”
“I’m sort of stuck between one heartbeat and the next. Long story. Very boring.”
Something about the way that Clara’s words echo the Doctor’s suggest to Kate that this is a practised response; she resolves to get the truth out of them one way or another once the whisky is cracked open.
“And you’re… travelling together now?” Kate asks, frowning a little and reaching for the bottle of alcohol. It’s a good brand, expensive, and a fine vintage that she remembers her father drinking. Trust the Doctor to remember that. “Again? What happened to that other girl – no offence, Clara-”
“Bill, was it?”
“You never met Bill,” the Doctor raises her eyebrows in a silent challenge, and Kate freezes, the bottle of whisky forgotten. “So how would you know that?”
“Please, like we don’t keep tabs on you.”
“Yes, her name was Bill,” the Doctor acquiesces. “Bill Potts.”
“‘Was’?!” Kate’s expression becomes aghast. What do you mean, ‘was’?!”
“She’s sort of dead too,” Clara chips in helpfully. “I mean, she died, then she un-died, then she got made into a Cyberman, then she died again, then her space girlfriend brought her back to life with space water. Forever, actually. So you and Osgood are the only mortal humans in the room. Sorry.”
“Right,” Kate says faintly, looking over at her hyperventilating friend. “How are you feeling about all this?”
“Intrigued,” Osgood wheezes, looking between the Doctor and Clara with bright, wide-eyed curiosity. “And horrified. And amazed. She…” she indicates Clara. “Said they’re… they’re…”
“Dating, yes. If that’s the right word,” Clara says coolly, taking the Doctor’s hand as she speaks, and Kate freezes, caught between amazement, jubilation and horror. “Or just ‘together’. That works better, especially as someone isn’t always very good at organising date night.”
“So, you’re together as in…”
“I love her, Kate,” the Doctor shrugs. “Problem?”
“No, just… without wishing to be indiscreet, aren’t you married?”
“OK with this. Also, if we’re being technical about this, she’s also dead-but-not-dead.”
“I’m starting to notice a recurring theme here,” Kate grouses, unsure how to feel about the aforementioned theme. “When do I become dead-but-not-dead?”
“You already did that,” Osgood reminds her, regaining enough of her faculties to chime in with a helpful memory aid. “When you got Zygoned.”
“As did I. So, everyone in this room has at least sort-of died at least once,” Osgood pushes her glasses up her nose, then adds wistfully: “Oh, if I had a lab, I’d be all over this.”
“About that,” the Doctor shifts a little in her seat, dropping her gaze to her lap. “What if I said I could get UNIT up and running again?”
Kate lets out a yelp of incredulity; Osgood just blinks at the Time Lady in stunned stupefaction. “How are you going to do that?” Kate asks slowly. “It’s impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible,” the Doctor says simply, shrugging as though it were no big deal, and then leaning forward and taking the whisky bottle from her. “Now, I think we should crack this open before we proceed. Plan?”
“Plan,” Kate says faintly, and for the first time in months, she feels a flicker of hope in her chest.