Chapter 1: part one: 1965
It can never be said that Elizabeth Shaw doesn't know her own mind.
She knew her own mind when she first started seeing Stephen: a graduate student and a professor is not a pairing readily accepted by the academic community. And she knows her own mind in this moment as she walks in to the registry office and promises her life to Stephen, in defiance of her father and the expectations of her peers.
The wedding is a small affair - just a few friends - and Liz barely feels the passage of time between entering the registry office and leaving it a married woman.
Married. The word hardly holds any meaning to her, not really: Stephen had wanted it - her father had made it quite clear he didn't want her to agree - and Liz, being a woman perfectly confident of her own heart and having no fear of being held back by the institution, had seen no reason to refuse.
No reason to refuse. Now, leaving the registry office, it strikes her that it was perhaps a rather half-hearted reason to do this. And yet the sun is shining, she is happy and she is married to the man she loves; what do reasons matter?
Stephen takes her hand and smiles down at her, a shy, nervous smile she's not really used to seeing. "Well?"
"Well what?" she shoots back, mischievous. "Is something supposed to be different?"
His fingers play with the new ring on her left hand. "I think that was the idea."
"It was?" For all her teasing, she really doesn't feel a change. It's still just them, together, and she doesn't know why she expected anything else.
The car is parked a few seconds down the road and they walk the short distance in silence. Tomorrow they'll both be back at work, Stephen lecturing and her in the lab until some ungodly hour of the night; there's no time for a honeymoon but she rather thinks that's okay. They'd probably end up in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, both bored out of their minds after a few days of laziness. She'd rather be working, and while she doesn't presume to judge for Stephen, he probably would too.
She steals glances at him as they walk along. The weak summer sun illuminates his face and his hair is ruffled by the breeze, and suddenly she's struck by the enormity of what she's just done. Her hand tightens around his, clinging on, she thinks, to everything they are. They haven't changed. A few words and two rings don't change people.
They reach the car and with an affectionate smile he disengages his hand and opens the door for her.
She hesitates. "Stephen..."
For a moment she stands still, unknown words on the tip of her tongue, but the moment passes. "Nothing," she says, and leans in to kiss his cheek. "Nothing. Let's go home."
She's sitting down to breakfast. The tea is hot and the toast is buttered and Stephen is at the other end of the table with the paper. He gives her an affectionate smile as she reaches for the milk. It's every morning they've ever had rolled in to one, and she's struck by the sudden thought that it might be like this forever: toast and tea and a smile at seven o'clock, for the rest of her life.
Her hands curl around the warm mug of tea as she studies her husband. A fellow scientist, he's all she could ever ask for: kind, attentive and humourous. And yet the dominant part of her brain wants to be able to shout at him. She wants to argue over quantum mechanics, quarrel over the cooking arrangements and infuriate him to anger over ridiculous, inconsequential things.
She doesn't want to be taken quite so seriously.
In this moment she feels a little lost. They've settled in to a comfortable relationship, as if they're a middle-aged couple secure in their knowledge of each other, slightly old-fashioned and very distant.
It feels wrong.
Oh, she's fond of him, extremely so, but watching him frown his way silently through the editorial section of the newspaper she realises that this isn't how she wants to live.
This isn't who she wants to live with.
She pushes the mug away, abruptly enough that the tea inside rushes turbulently over the sides, and stands.
Stephen doesn't look up.
Four weeks later she tells him she doesn't think their marriage is working. The relief in his eyes is unmistakeable before he hugs her and whispers in to her hair that he thinks she's right.
They separate the next day and Liz returns to her solitary life with barely a regret; they still meet for dinner every now and then, their interaction all the more easy for the fact that they no longer share every moment of their lives.
And now it feels right.
Chapter 2: part two: 1970 to 1971
She wakes up to unfamiliar shadows on the walls. The bed's too hard and the pillows are too soft but the shadows are what really bother her, tree branches dancing like disjointed skeletons on the wall opposite.
The curtains are too thin.
She misses her old rooms in Cambridge, with high arching windows looking out over the quad and a view of ancient, elegant architecture straight out of a period novel. More than that, she muses as she watches the shadows play ever more extravagantly, she misses the solidity of her old life.
Having your whole world turned upside down isn't an experience with which to go home to a new house.
So she sits up and swings her feet out of bed, wincing as they hit the cold floor, and goes to the window.
There's a wind up, blowing tiny wisps of cloud across the face of the waning moon and silently shaking the glass in its cracked, chipped pane. It whispers to her like it always has, an old friend, comforting in its disregard for comfort or practicality, and she opens the window, one hand holding it steady. The wind curls its fingers around her hair and brushes it softly against her face. She can smell the freshness of the grass and the cleanness of the air.
The darkness used to be a friend too, her constant companion in the face of endless nights spent reading, or writing papers, or conducting experiments alone in the physics lab. She used to feel safe in the darkness.
Now she wonders what's out there.
She closes the window with a bang and gets back in to bed, closing her eyes on shadows that suddenly look all too much like grasping hands, and curses herself for her weakness.
The pillows are still too soft and the bed is still too hard, and she doesn't sleep until a thin, washed-out light permeates the room and the shadows disappear.
Morning is creeping in through the laboratory windows and she's still working. The Doctor, still furious at the destruction of the Silurians, hasn't been seen for days, and the Brigadier has been noticeably wary of entering the lab. It feels more like a prison than ever, and she feels like she's in solitary confinement.
The windows don't open.
Security, apparently, but it doesn't help when she can barely keep her eyes open and the defective heating system is just a bit too hot.
It's very tempting to storm out to the Brigadier's office and just hand in her notice.
She glances outside, at the grey dawn light that's slowly bringing the world in to clarity, and then returns her attention to the experiment she's running. It was important at six o'clock last night - now it's indispensable.
The cocktail of chemicals bubbles away in oblivion and she adds another ingredient with a practised hand.
Now she just has to wait.
She's used to waiting: she knows the laboratory inch by inch, every crack in the walls, every acid burn in the tables, even every scratch mark on the floor. It's the inevitable product of too many hours spent analysing and reanalysing physical impossibilities with nothing for company but the choked gurgling of the half-dead heating system; she even knows the language of the waterpipes.
A rap on the door breaks in to the predictability of sounds and she half-jumps, unused to the intrusion. "Yes?"
"Ah, Miss Shaw." The Brigadier. She thinks, briefly, that he looks exactly the same at this godforsaken hour as he does at any other hour of the day. Nothing ruffles his military calm. "I was looking for you, in fact."
"I'm busy," she says curtly.
"We're all busy," he reminds her, and the tiredness in his voice is startling, at odds as it is with his demeanour. Maybe he's not so infallible.
"Yes." She sighs, rubs a hand across her eyes. "Yes." In a softer voice this time, with one eye on the elaborate entanglement of glass that is her experiment, through which a clear smoke is drifting.
"Come to the mess when you're finished," the Brigadier says. "There's coffee. Everyone's heading there for a break."
It's an unexpected act of kindness.
She smiles, a little surprised, and lets out a slow breath. "Thank you."
"No problem at all, Miss Shaw."
He leaves the door open when he leaves and suddenly the room feels less like a prison and more like the laboratory she knows it is.
Maybe she likes this job a little more than she's been admitting.
After all, there's coffee in the mess.
They end up in a pub, of all places: her, the Doctor and the Brigadier. The Three Musketeers, she thinks with a smile, looking around. It's a tiny place in the middle of a country village, all wooden beams and oak tables in a haze of smoke, comfortingly normal in the face of the day they've had. A couple of elderly men are sitting in the corner.
"A drink, Miss Shaw?" the Brigadier asks, and she nods her thanks.
"Beer, please," she says, leaning her head back against the wall and inhaling the smoky air.
The Doctor is silent, thoughtful. He's resolved his conflict with the Brigadier - she doesn't dare ask how - but he's been noticeably quieter since the Silurian business and she's starting to miss his old exuberance and mischief.
She turns to look for the Brigadier just as he hands her a mug of beer and she shoots him a quick smile. The drink is thick and strong, and she has the hilarious feeling that it probably fermented in a barn for a few years, but it takes her mind off just how tired she is.
The three of them sit in comfortable silence for a while, communicating through glances and brief smiles. She's not sure where the non-verbal communication came from, least of all on the Brigadier's part, but she's glad of the relative quiet. It's been a long day.
But halfway through her drink she realises that the warmth has turned stifling and she needs to get some air.
It's freezing cold outside and she is struck again by the incongruity of her clothing in the middle of the countryside. Her breath condenses in to tiny white clouds as she exhales. The road opposite winds in to nothing either way, trees only visible as blackness where they block out the stars. Looking up, she can see an infinity of stars, pinpricks bright against deepest black: constellations so familiar she could draw them from memory.
The darkness doesn't frighten her any more.
"I thought I might find you out here, Miss Shaw."
She jumps, just a little. The Brigadier appears to be adept at sneaking up on people. "Where else," she says wryly. "I just wanted some air."
"The Doctor stopped talking about ten minutes ago. Haven't got a word out of him since."
"He's been a little distant today." She hasn't taken her eyes off the stars. "He hates being stuck here."
"As he hasn't failed to remind me a hundred times over."
Her laugh mingles with the crisp air and fades in to the darkness, and they stand together in silence, Liz's eyes on the sky and the Brigadier's on the undulating shadows in the fields across the road.
Eventually, she can't help but shiver.
"Come back inside," he says in as gentle a voice as she's ever heard. "You're freezing."
"No, I'm fine." She tears her gaze earthwards and smiles at him. "Go and make sure the Doctor hasn't drunk the bar dry."
"Very well, Miss Shaw. Enjoy your stargazing."
He disappears back in to the pub and she stands there, alone again, feeling suddenly swallowed up by the darkness. One last hesitant glance up at the stars and she follows the Brigadier back inside.
He doesn't comment on her apparent surrender.
When she gets home the next day her hair still smells of smoke. She sits at her window that night and stares in to the sky.
She turns up to work at midday and nobody says a word.
The Doctor doesn't acknowledge her as she enters, his attention on a device that looks like he's raided the kitchen utensils to construct some hideous modern art.
For all she knows, he has.
"Afternoon," she says eventually.
And that's all he says. She can do nothing but wander the lab, tidying the equipment with noise proportional to her growing frustration, and consider the wisdom of even turning up.
A beaker almost falls to the floor and she grabs it mid-air, breath catching in her throat, only to put it back with such force that it shatters against the table. She stares for a moment, blood mingling with broken glass on the wood, and her eyes dart across to the Doctor.
He doesn't react.
Heat and an odd tingling, soothed by warm blood, combine in her hand. She washes away the pain with cold water and she's reaching up to find the first aid kit in the cupboard when a hand touches her shoulder.
"Let me take a look at that, Liz."
"Let me look." She turns and puts her hand palm-up between them in silence, not meeting the Doctor's eyes. He runs a gentle finger from her wrist to the tip of her first finger. "You'll live," he says softly.
She looks up. For a moment she says nothing, searching his eyes for an answer that will save her from asking the inevitable question, but she sees nothing of use so she speaks. "What's wrong?"
"Just as I said - you're fine. There's nothing wrong with you."
Her eyebrows lift at the blatant misinterpretation. "Doctor," she says warningly. "I'm not here to be ignored, I'm not here to make the tea, and I'm certainly not here to tidy the test tubes. What's wrong?"
"My dear Liz, there's nothing at all wrong. What on earth has given you that idea?"
She pulls her hand away sharply. "It's the parallel universe you found, isn't it? You still haven't told me whether we met."
"No, Liz, we didn't meet." His voice is soft. "I have no idea whether you were even there."
There's a moment, a vast, heavy moment, when she studies him and knows he's lying.
She almost demands a real answer.
And then she sighs, smiles and reaches out to touch his arm with her unblemished hand. "You know, it's an honour to work with you," she says, watching his face.
She sees the precise moment the twinkle returns to his eye.
"Likewise," he replies warmly. "Will you be okay now?"
Seeing his smile, she thinks that perhaps she'll stay for a while longer.
She decides to leave on a high note.
They're celebrating the successful conclusion of what was, for a while, a touch-and-go interstellar diplomatic incident: an alien child, its pod crash-landed on the windswept Cornish moors, safely returned to its parents.
It's a rare unqualified victory and in this moment she feels entirely happy.
She glances around the mess, noting the familiar faces, overhearing snatches of conversation in familiar cadences, and allows herself a moment of sentimentality. She has loved this job, despite its inauspicious beginnings. The thirst for adventure, not just knowledge, has crept unawares in to her veins - she should probably have expected that.
But right now, before the next crisis comes along, before something else goes wrong and someone else dies, it's time to go.
She notes with relief that the Brigadier isn't in the mess so with one last, fond look at the scene before her she slips out unnoticed and heads for his office.
One knock on the door and his voice tells her to come in. She doesn't say anything, just puts the unsealed envelope on his desk and arches an enquiring eyebrow, knowing full well that he's perfectly aware of what it is. She's been hinting at her departure for some time now.
"I take it," he says, a slight frown forming on his forehead, "that this means you're leaving us, Liz."
"I can't hand him his test tubes forever," she says. "I'm going back to Cambridge and I'm going while things are good."
"Yes, well, it would hardly do to let you leave with a bad impression of us."
There's silence for a moment, but the twinkle in his eye doesn't go away. "Are you going to make the rounds, then? Say your goodbyes?"
She's considered this, considered whether she wants to put herself through the rigmarole of saying goodbye to people she's either barely spoken to or can hardly bear to leave. "No, I don't think so."
"Slipping away quietly in the night? Yes, that does seem more your style. No fuss." He studies her with a smile. "I'm glad you caught me before you left."
"So am I," she says softly. "Really, I am." A brief pause and then she adds, "Explain to the Doctor for me, would you?"
"Of course. Goodbye, Liz."
"It's been a pleasure." She flashes him a genuine smile and then heads out of the door, closing it softly behind her. At the front gates she hands in her pass with an amused smile at the guard when he says he'll see her tomorrow, and then she's free.
No looking back, she tells herself sternly. This is what she wants and this is how she wants it.
Chapter 3: part three: 1981 to 1985
It's ten years later and Cambridge has been a blessing but she's growing weary of the academic life with its endless infighting and cutthroat competition. Her time with UNIT weighs heavily on her mind and she wonders, sometimes, whether it's part of the reason she feels so isolated - but academia has never been a social profession, especially not when you're regarded as something of a renegade. Well-respected though she is, her theories have been raising eyebrows for some time, based as they are in the knowledge she gained alongside the Doctor.
It's these theories that lead to a meeting, early one winter afternoon, with Patricia Haggard.
Patricia is a statuesque woman with more than a hint of fire in her eyes, something Liz is unused to seeing amongst the cynical college faculty. "We needs somebody with a scientific background," she says earnestly. "Someone with credibility who can't be accused of twisting the facts to suit their own agenda."
"Wait a minute," says Liz, confused. She takes a long sip from her cup of tea and eyes her visitor carefully. "Are you offering me a job?"
"Oh dear, I didn't make that very clear, did I? I'm offering you a job as part of the Preternatural Research Bureau - PROBE, we're calling it." Patricia smiles. "Investigating odd things."
"I'm a scientist," Liz protests. "I'm not an investigator. I deal with theoretical physics and I'm damn good at the job I already have, thank you very much."
"Alright." A scrap of paper is placed on the table next to an empty wine bottle - Liz has never quite got the hang of clearing everything away for visitors - and Patricia stands. "I'll leave you to think about it. Give me a call if you change your mind." She waves away Liz's attempt to show her out. "I'll be fine," she insists. "Not as if I mind wandering around Cambridge colleges instead of meetings in Whitehall."
The door closes and Liz goes to the window. Her rooms have a view of the quad and she watches as Patricia makes her way underneath the covered walkway to the Porter's Lodge and out on to the street, then turns back to the piece of paper on the table. She's half-tempted to screw it up and throw it away but she remembers the last faculty meeting, the hidebound elderly professors and the young incomers engaged in a polite but ultimately vicious war of words and Liz stuck in the middle wishing she could slip out inconspicuously.
In a moment of indecision she pins the note to her cork board and returns to her work.
Nine hours later and she's been staring at the same line of reasoning all evening, unable to find the point at which the logic breaks down.
She needs a break.
She needs more than a break. She needs something new, something challenging and exciting.
Her eyes fall on the telephone number above her desk and with a quick glance at the clock to make sure she's not calling too late, she dials.
"Patricia Haggard," says a voice immediately.
"Um...Patricia, it's Liz. Liz Shaw."
"I remember you," she says with a hint of amusement.
"I think I changed my mind."
There's a pause on the other end of the line and then a sigh that might be laughter and might be exasperation. "Can I come over?"
"Right now?" Liz has to suppress a full-throated chuckle at the incongruity of the whole conversation. "Yes, I'm still up. Aren't you in London?"
"I'm in Cambridge. I got a hotel - I thought, if you were going to change your mind, you'd do it tonight."
Again, Liz struggles not to laugh. It's been a while since anyone presumed she was anything but rational and prone to serious consideration of every choice in her life, and yet she's grown rather fond of acting on impulse. "You're really serious about this project, aren't you?"
"Do I sound like it's a joke?"
"You'd better come over then," she says. Putting the phone down, she looks around at the cluttered surfaces. She's got a few minutes - she might as well start clearing up a bit. After all, she doesn't intend to be staying all that long.
Liz gets used to the odd looks, the scepticism when she introduces herself to policemen at crime scenes, the disbelief of people she tries to question. PROBE has acquired quite a reputation in certain circles, part-legend, part-ridicule, but while the same sentiments at Cambridge eventually drove her away, here, they just encourage her to carry on.
She's only been with the unit for a year or so but she feels completely at home. It's a perfect combination of scientific research and actual investigation, a far cry from her days at UNIT and a relief after the stifling weight of too many years spent pandering to the expectations of patronising old men. It's freedom, and she loves it.
So when, one day when she's sitting in her tiny office, Patricia comes in and tells her she has a visitor from UNIT, she almost tells her to send him away. But common sense prevails and she rolls her eyes, sighs, and says, "Show him in, Pats.".
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart strides in with the smile she remembers from her later days at UNIT. "Afternoon, Dr Shaw," he says pleasantly as she stands and comes to the other side of the desk. "I've been hearing lots of good things about you."
"And I've been hearing nothing at all about you," she returns. "It seems UNIT is determined to remain well and truly secret."
"Regulations, Dr Shaw, regulations."
"You used to call me Liz," she reminds him. "Eventually, anyway."
He's silent for a moment and she's painfully aware of the tension that an absence of so many years has brought to a previously warm relationship. Maybe she should have kept in touch - phoned every now and then - but she had been so determined to make a clean break of it that, at the time, the idea would have been ridiculous.
"Liz," he says eventually. "I suppose I should have sent a subordinate to speak to you but I- I rather wanted to see you again."
"You needed an excuse?" she says wryly, then looks away. "Of course you did. I haven't exactly been encouraging, have I?"
"You could say that neither of us has been precisely eager to bring up the past." He shrugs and offers her another smile. "It's hardly your fault."
She nods, happy to leave the subject there. "So...why exactly are you here?"
"UNIT wants your help," he says frankly. "Your work here is getting a lot of attention and without the Doctor...we could do with another opinion on this case." He hands her a blank folder, full to bursting with documents, and raises an eyebrow. "What do you think?"
"It's not permanent?"
"Oh, no. Much as we would love you to come back and work for us, you've made it quite clear that you'd rather not. No, we were hoping we could ask for your assistance on odd cases - if you weren't busy with PROBE at the time."
Liz weighs the folder in her hand. "The Doctor left?" she says absently.
"Oh yes, some time ago. Took to the stars, if you can believe it. Turns up from time to time, dragging mayhem in his wake."
She laughs. "Well then, Alistair, I don't see why not. As long as there are no objections my end, anyway."
He looks a little sheepish. "There aren't," he admits.
"You asked?" Once she would have been irritated at the presumption but right now it strikes her as quite sweet. "Of course you did," she says, half to herself. "You would."
There's a brief silence as they smile at each other, which Alistair breaks with an apologetic, "Well, I should be getting back. Can't leave the fort undefended for too long, you know." He pauses. "Look, it's been years, Liz. I don't suppose you'd like to have dinner? Catch up and all that?"
"I'd like that," she says, almost without thinking. "I really would."
Alistair nods. "Tonight?"
"Yes, tonight's fine." No time like the present.
"I'll pick you up at eight."
She barely has time to nod her assent before he's out the door; Patsy must have been waiting outside because she comes straight in with a demanding, "Well?"
"He wants me to consult on an investigation," she explains, lifting the folder slightly. "And possibly more in the future."
"It's not exactly a soundproof office, Liz," Patsy says with a smirk. "Dinner, eh?"
"Dinner with a friend I've seen maybe twice in the last ten years." She shoots her associate a warning look. "Honestly, Pats, you're worse than a child."
"I do my best. Just for you, Liz, just for you. Anyway, it looks like you've got a lot of reading to do. I'll leave you to it."
Patsy rolls her eyes. "Another meeting. I envy you your mountain of paper, I really do."
"Shoo then. Go on."
The door closes behind her; Liz retreats back behind her desk, pulls out the first sheet of paper and begins to read.
It's become a usual occurrence for Patsy to turn up at her door late at night after a particularly gruelling investigation, generally holding a bottle or two of wine, and tonight is no exception. It's been a tortuous two weeks, the hunt for an abducted child ending in the worst possible way, and she knows that without Patsy she'd spend the night playing and replaying the whole thing over and over in her mind, second-guessing every decision and agonising over every lost second. She can only imagine how it must feel to have been in charge of the investigation: it's bad enough as a consultant.
And so when the doorbell rings she rouses herself from where she's been sitting ever since she got home, grabs a couple of glasses and answers it.
"Hello," Patsy says with a small smile, gesturing to the glasses in Liz's hand. "You were expecting me?" It's a running joke between them, has been for years now, because this ritual is as predictable as the clockwork motion of the stars and probably about as unbreakable. Constants in this life are few and far between.
Patsy walks straight in to the living room and collapses on to the settee with a sigh. "My god, Liz, it's been a hell of a week."
"You're telling me." She's uncorked the wine and now she's pouring the blood-red liquid in to the glasses. "I keep thinking-"
"It's rather difficult to stop," she admits, looking down at the floor. "I can't just turn it off."
"You know what you need?" Patsy takes a glass and gulps half of it down. "Lots of wine."
"That's not an answer." It might be true, but it's not an answer.
"Oh, Liz, you know as well as I do there aren't any answers. We did our best, it wasn't good enough. It happens, and all we can do is move on." She eyes the remainder of her wine with sad resignation. "And get bloody well drunk."
Patsy laughs ruefully and shrugs, leaning back against the cushions with half-closed eyes. "Just pretend it is." She hesitates, glances at Liz with veiled curiosity, and adds, "Was it ever like this at UNIT?"
"Oh..." The full weight of her memories open up suddenly in her mind and not for the first time she's glad that her friend has a clearance level to rival her own. "There was always danger," she says reflectively. "And I suppose there was death - quite a lot of death - but...but it was kind of removed from reality, you know? Scientific impossibilities, alien invasions...the loss of life was almost incidental. Expected." It sounds harsh when she says it aloud but it's true. "And the Doctor...well, he was almost a safety net. No chance of falling, no chance of getting too close." She falls in to silence, her empty glass staring accusingly up at her, and turns to meets Patsy's eyes. "I'm not used to this yet, Pats."
"More wine?" Liz says with a helpless laugh.
Patsy holds out her glass. "Go on then."
An hour passes, and then another, and before Liz knows it there are three empty bottles on the floor beside them. Patsy is lying back, arms behind her head, eyes focused on what must be a very dull patch of ceiling; Liz stands unsteadily and moves to the window, one hand pulling back the curtain.
There are stars in the sky, a million specks of light congregating around a heavy full moon, and she feels suddenly insignificant. There are people out there - people and aliens and wonderful, beautiful things, she's sure of that - but through the relaxing filter of too much alcohol she feels very much alone.
She has no reply to Patsy's voice, just oddly steady fingers reaching out to touch the cold glass that separates her from the sky.
"Liz, are you okay?" The settee creaks softly and she knows her friend is standing up, footsteps quiet on the carpet. "Talk to me," she says.
"I'm fine," Liz whispers. "Fine."
"You're a bit drunk."
"Only a bit." Not drunk enough, perhaps: rationality is still holding sway. She turns, anxious to put the cold, beautiful, distant stars behind her. "I'm just tired."
"It's..." Patsy looks round for a clock, finds none and shrugs, putting a hand on Liz's arm. "It's late. You should go to bed and I should go home."
"I know." There are tears in Patsy's eyes - really, the wine must be getting to her because this woman never cries - and Liz hardly knows what to do, but Patsy's hand tightens on her arm and she instinctively pulls her in to a close embrace.
They're both mildly drunk, clinging to each other like drowning sailors in a storm, and in any other situation Liz would have felt embarrassed. But all she says, as she hears the desperate screams of a devastated mother over and over again in her head, is: "Stay the night?"
Chapter 4: part four: 1990-2010
It feels like she's been working here forever, and while that's not a problem it's starting to bother her. She's taken to accepting more and more UNIT secondments between investigations, partly for a change and partly to remind herself that she really doesn't want to go back. It keeps her on her toes: that, and the increasingly political world of PROBE. She's never been one for authority, she admits that freely, but this is like pulling teeth; every time she needs anything she has to go with Patsy and sweet-talk a couple of politicians in to extending their budget by a couple of hundred pounds; Pats has taken to kicking her underneath the table every time she opens her mouth to say something sarcastic.
It's not something she ever thought she'd say, but she finds the work with UNIT far less stressful. Alistair is still heading the taskforce, although she suspects he's considering retirement: his wife, she has gathered from the few things he's ever said about her, isn't all that keen on him putting himself in the line of fire every other day. Nevertheless, she's growing fond of a lot of her co-workers and doing the kind of work she loves, and when she's not grovelling to politicians she feels lucky to have two jobs she's quite this passionate about. Her public life, if not her personal, is finally going well.
She's just getting up one morning late in March when the phone rings; she runs down the stairs and picks it up. "Liz Shaw," she says automatically.
"Elizabeth, it's- ah- it's your father."
She almost drops the phone, and then she almost hangs up, and then she says softly, "What do you want?"
"I want to see you."
She is lost for words. For a couple of minutes she stands in silence, the phone to her ear, her mind blank.
"Liz?" he says again, and she's struck by how old he sounds. The last time she spoke to him was almost twenty-five years ago, when his voice had been full of the strength of youth. Now he sounds like an old man.
"I'm...I'm still here," she says. "I'm not sure what to say."
"You could say yes?"
"I..." She gathers herself together. "Look, it's been twenty-five years. Forgive me if I sound a little surprised. I thought you'd forgotten I existed; you certainly did your best to, at least."
"I am well aware of my failings as a father, thank you, Elizabeth." Well, even weakened by age, the tone of authority still rings true.
"And are you aware-" she spits the word out- "that you told me I had a choice between getting married and being your daughter?"
"I'm sorry," he says simply.
She's waited half her life for those two words and it's almost a relief to realise that they haven't made the anger disappear. "Really."
"I truly am. And I won't say it again, so don't try and make me." He sounds almost childish in that last sentence; a quick mental count tells her he must be over eighty and for a moment she feels sorry for him, for the man he's become in her absence. "All I'm asking is for you to have dinner with me," he says. "You can leave at any point, if you want to. I just want to see you again, Elizabeth."
And she can't quite find it in her heart to refuse this old man who, once upon a time, was her father. "Just dinner," she agrees. "I can do that."
"Thank you," he says; she puts the phone down.
She's late to work and Patsy eyes her oddly when she walks in to the office but says nothing.
She's not entirely sure whether she could explain it anyway.
She dreams of dying. Dreams of pain beyond all possible imagination, flesh dissolving from bones, wishing for someone to just shoot her and end it - and then she wakes up, screaming, to find herself in a sterile white room with IV tubes in her hand and a heart monitor beeping at a frantic rate by her bed.
A nurse rushes in and stops when she sees Liz sitting up, a smile forming across her face. "It's good to see you awake, Liz. It was touch and go for a while but you're going to be just fine."
"What happened?" she demands. How can she not remember? Her memories stop halfway through an assignment on the moon with UNIT and she has no idea why she's here.
"You were very ill," the nurse says, coming forward to stand next to the bed. "Now, we're going to need to do a few tests to make sure everything's okay, and then there are a couple of people outside who've been waiting to see you."
"No - wait - I don't remember anything," she insists, panic starting to creep in to her voice. "What do you mean, ill?"
"I don't understand the half of it, I'm afraid, and the other half's classified. I just need you to stay calm while we do these tests, okay?"
She lies back, too tired to argue, as a team of doctors enter her room, enduring the barrage of needles and electrodes in silence and doing her best to push the visions from her dream to the back of her mind. What bothers her most is that the dreams feel like memories - almost-memories, not quite given existence, potential events that never quite happened. And to any other person that would be fine (she winces as a needle pricks her a little hard) but to her...she knows anything is possible.
The doctors are smiling at her and the nurse says brightly, "All fine, Liz. Do you want to see your visitors?"
She nods, the adrenaline rush of earlier almost completely worn away, and settles more comfortably in to the pillows. The earlier panic has been replaced by a deep lethargy; she closes her eyes and lets the beep of the cardiogram wash over her like music.
Then there are footsteps - two sets of footsteps - and a familiar voice says, "Liz?"
"Alistair?" She frowns and opens her eyes, half-doubting her ears. "Oh god, Alistair, please tell me what's happening."
He pushes her hair back out of her face with a gentle hand. "Hush, Liz, we'll explain."
"We?" she murmurs.
"We," says a new voice - a voice she doesn't know. Alistair steps aside and she sees a young man in a suit and glasses, hair spiked up in all directions. "Hello, Liz. Oh, but it's good to see you again."
"Who..." Her voice trails off: she hasn't got the energy to try and figure out what's going on.
"That," Alistair says with a hint of pride, "is the Doctor."
"Oh." Maybe she's seeing things, she thinks absently, because she's pretty sure the Doctor wasn't quite this young even thirty years ago.
"No, no, Liz, I've changed," he says earnestly. "I mean, I've got a different face. Same me, different face. Not that it matters. I just saved your life."
He must sense her confusion because he sits on the edge of her bed and puts a reassuring hand on top of hers. "Don't worry about it now, Liz. You were infected with a virus from the moon expedition - you remember going to the moon, don't you?"
She nods her assent.
"Well, the Doctor here just happened to be in the right place at the right time with a vaccine." His facial expression tells her all she needs to know about his suspicion of that particular coincidence.
"Actually," the man who claims to be the Doctor adds, "I'm wasn't so much in the right place at the right time as I was sent here. Time liked this version of me, I think, even if I broke her rules on a few occasions, and it's not as if I'm changing the world by saving you - just setting things right. I mean, a world without Liz Shaw? Really? That's just- that's just wrong!"
Alistair sends him one of those 'shut-up-now-or-I'll-shoot-you' looks she's so familiar with and she tries to laugh but it comes out as a hoarse cough. Suddenly her entire body aches. "Thank you," she whispers. He might be a madman but he did save her life.
"Okay, Liz, go back to sleep," Alistair tells her firmly. "Patricia was here earlier. I'm sure she'll be back. And I'll be here when you wake up."
"And him?" she manages.
The 'Doctor' shifts awkwardly and avoids her eyes. "I'll...um...I've got to be going. Places to go, people to see - lots of them, in fact, if Time keeps her promise."
"Okay." She closes her eyes again; consciousness starts to fade and within minutes she's asleep.
She's glad she was on the Moon for what was supposedly the Doctor's funeral.
Public mourning is not her style, never has been, least of all when it resembles more a deification than a funeral; and anyway, she did rather suspect it to be a farce.
She's never been so glad to be proved right.
Some things are eternal; the Doctor has always seemed to be amongst them. She's of an age that death is becoming a fact of life and it reassures her to know that the planet will be left in safe hands well after she is gone, well after Alistair is gone, well after children have been born and died.
That's the Doctor, she thinks wryly, walking up the drive to Sarah's house. Eternal hope.
She knocks on the door a little warily. Sarah Jane Smith has a reputation within UNIT for helping and even housing the strangest of creatures, and as much as she admires the sentiment she would rather not become the first victim of some domesticated Martian rabbit.
It's oddly ordinary, then, for the door to be opened by a young man. "Hi, I'm Clyde," he says with an open smile. "Come on in. Sarah Jane's expecting you."
She walks in to an open hallway; Clyde closes the door behind her. Quite the young gentleman. And then a door opens and Sarah Jane appears.
"Hello, Liz," she says warmly. "We've only met a couple of times but Alistair talks about you a lot."
"As he does of you." She inclines her head in greeting. "Thank you for seeing me at such short notice. I just wanted-"
There's a knowing look in Sarah Jane's eyes. "Let me guess. UNIT won't tell you what happened, Alistair doesn't know and you know enough to be curious."
"I think that just about covers it."
"Typical UNIT," Sarah Jane half-mutters. "One hand doesn't know what the other's doing."
Liz has to agree, if silently. "So what happened?"
"Well...putting it simply, a race of intergalactic funeral directors faked the Doctor's death to get access to his TARDIS."
"And I went to another planet," Clyde chimes in with a grin.
She looks from one to the other. It sounds ridiculous but she's spent far too long around the impossible to be disbelieving; and besides, this is Sarah Jane Smith. She doesn't joke about this kind of thing.
"Oh, and do you remember Jo? Jo Grant - she came after you, I think - she was there too." Sarah Jane puts a hand on her arm and grins conspiratorially. "If anyone had told me I'd still be saving the world at my age - I wouldn't have believed them!"
"From what Alistair says, it's something you do on an alarmingly regular basis," she says with a smile, a little more in awe of this woman than she'd like to admit.
"We're not allowed to keep score," says Clyde. "Apparently-" he glances at Sarah Jane- "it's 'not a competition'." He wiggles his fingers in the air as he says that last part, a good natured scowl on his face. "If you ask me-"
"Yes, well, no-one did. Would you mind putting the kettle on?"
He backs away, hands raised in surrender - "Tea. Got it." - and Sarah Jane eyes him suspiciously for a second before a grin spreads across her face.
Liz watches the exchange with fascination. She's wondered for a while how Sarah Jane manages to juggle the intensity of her work with the youth of her team; the answer is, apparently, with ease.
"I'm so sorry," her hostess says, ushering her in to the living room. "Please, sit down. I do let my guests in - eventually!"
"Don't worry." She glances around the room, noting the overflowing bookcases next to the tables of souvenirs from what, as far as she can tell, is a good deal of the world and very possibly beyond. "I don't want to intrude on your life - I just wanted to know what happened. I still worry about him, sometimes."
Sarah Jane shoots her a smile, a little sad. "So do I. And I bet most of his former assistants do, every now and then. He's never been very good at keeping in touch."
"Except with you."
"Oh, I'm no different to anyone else. I just get in to more trouble."
Liz raises an eyebrow. "That's not how Alistair tells it. He says you were his best friend."
For a moment, Sarah Jane seems to be about to reply, but then Clyde pops his head around the door: "D'you have milk or sugar, Doctor Shaw?"
"Just milk, please," she replies. "And do call me Liz. Doctor Shaw makes me feel like I'm teaching."
"Got it," Clyde says, and disappears again.
"You lecture at Cambridge University, don't you?" Sarah Jane asks. "Maths and Physics?"
"Not quite as glamourous as saving the world, is it? Although I do some work for UNIT every now and then. Gets me away from the students."
"Hey, do you work on the moonbase?" Clyde, setting a mug of tea in front of both her and Sarah Jane, collapses in to an armchair and eyes her expectantly. "Because Colonel Karim said you were there. Is there really a base on the moon?"
"Yes," Liz says simply. She can see he's dying to find out more so she adds, "It's been there for about five years. You go up in a space shuttle - the base is on the far side of the moon so it's impossible to discover by telescope."
"I suppose you could put it like that." She sips her tea, the steam warm against her face, and looks curiously at the young man. "If you don't mind me asking, what do you want to do?"
"Oh..." Clyde shrugs, glances at Sarah Jane. "I dunno."
"Clyde's an artist," Sarah Jane says with a mother's pride. "A very good artist."
The expression on the boy's face is part delight, part embarrassment, and Liz has to laugh. "There was me thinking you'd be aiming for a career in UNIT."
"Oh, no. I mean, they're cool and everything, but I don't think I'd be a very good soldier."
"Too many rules," Sarah Jane interjects slyly and he throws her a wounded look which she returns with a raised eyebrow. "Hey. I know what you're like, remember?" She turns back to Liz. "Do you want a tour of the attic?"
"There's a supercomputer in the wall," adds Clyde.
Liz looks from one to the other and sets down her teacup. "How could I say no to that?"
An hour later and she's walking out of the front door with a promise to Sarah Jane that she'll keep in touch. "Someone has to tell me all the things Alistair doesn't know," she says with a laugh, and heads down the drive with her coat held tight against the chill wind.
At the end of the road, she looks back. Sarah Jane has disappeared and it looks for all the world like any other street in any other city. It feels like there should be a sign, a plaque, something to show that the world has been saved a thousand times over from this location, but there's just the wind and the crunch of leaves underfoot. Extraordinary things in ordinary places, she thinks as she stops by her car. It's very much the Doctor's way.
But now, in between moonbases and invasions, Elizabeth Shaw is just going home.