Eleanor Calder had been travelling throughout all of time and space for a while.
It wasn’t a ridiculously long time – there were no grey hairs, or wrinkles appearing, and she was as fit as ever, but it was quite hard to keep track of how long you had been away, or how old you were, when everyday was a thousand light years apart.
The Doctor said that it had been about a year and a half since she joined him (so she would be almost twenty one…) but it felt like longer and shorter both at the same time.
She felt older.
They had been home a handful of times, most of which Eleanor had seen her parents, told them that no, the man she was travelling with is not a boyfriend and had visited her friends and told them that he wasn’t a boyfriend, he was just a friend.
Because, honestly, Eleanor didn’t want anything other than the stars.
Also, she had begun to notice, begun to see, little cracks in the Doctor’s charade.
It was a charade because it was a character he was playing, he wasn’t anywhere near as young as he looked (he only looked about twenty, swooping caramel colour hair and cerulean eyes, if he was human Eleanor would have been right in there, when in fact he was way over a thousand) and his name wasn’t Louis Styles as he told everyone.
But in fact, it was the fake name which started the snowball rolling.
They were on Earth again, visiting Martha, as her and Eleanor had actually been babysitter-and-baby at one point, as ridiculous as it seemed, and when the Doctor found out they had a relationship, he was straight down to Earth, ready for a reunion.
Anyway, once the Slitheen had cleared off back to Rax-a-corico-fal-lap-a-tor-ius for about the millionth time (or so it seemed, the Doctor told her), she and Martha got some down time, comparing metaphorical notes about their time with the Doctor, and it had all been going fine until Martha asked the question.
“So, does he still use that pathetic fake name? ”
Eleanor had frowned at this, as personally, she thought that his fake name was quite good, as it wouldn’t occur to you it was fake because it was slightly unusual but still known, and wasn’t overused and old fashioned, and he said it so quickly and never stuttered it had taken her a good month to accept this wasn’t his real name.
Louis Styles sounded like a real person to her, at least.
“What’s wrong with it?”
Martha’s eyebrows went up at that, and her eyes widened, and her whole expression said I don’t believe you.
“John Smith? It’s the worst fake name I’ve ever heard!” Martha’s voice was incredulous. Eleanor was about to rebuff the statement, when she realised what Martha had said.
“Yes, John Smith. He always introduces himself as John bloody Smith-“
"John Smith? No… he told me his name was Louis Styles. Guess he got sick of being a Smith?"
Silence followed Eleanor’s statement, and she realised that she had closed her eyes subconsciously. Opening them, expecting the worst (she wasn’t quite sure what the worst was but it had to be bad), she instead saw Martha smiling a small smile, an almost peaceful look in her brown eyes.
"Guess one of them finally got to him." Martha said, and she didn’t seem unhappy when she said it. Just contemplating. Slightly bewildered and confused. Eleanor guessed she looked the same. It was like they were saying why did I never get to him? Why was nothing I did ever enough?
So Eleanor talked when the doubts crept in, because that was what she did best.
"Who? Oh, one of the previous companions? You know, I can't work it out… after you there was Donna, and then Amy and Rory with River floating around for a bit … and before me came Caroline and Danielle before her, but between the Ponds and Caroline he keeps insisting there was nobody. I know he's lying, though. He won't let me in much, but I know he's lying."
Eleanor didn’t realize how desperate she had been to speak the words until then, how she had been storing up the information. When she had been growing up, she had been known as the pretty ditz who could do karate.
Now she was more than that, thanks to the Doctor.
Now it was time for her to return the favor.
"There definitely must have been someone. Someone he loved so much he let them go - either willingly or not. This is his last body, El. This is his last chance, he's the last of the Time Lords and when he goes who the hell knows what happens. He's scared and doesn't want anyone to miss him enough to do anything stupid. I'm guessing this person - this Styles person - did something to him to make him scared. Find out who she is, and you'll find out what really happened."
Martha nodded sagely as she spoke, and Eleanor marveled at her intellect like a schoolgirl did to a grown up, how she had figured it all out from the fact that he used a different name.
Eleanor realized the Doctor had been trying to hide it from everyone that he came across that he got attached. He had gotten attached to somebody so badly he denied their existence, denied he had ever met them. The only reason he’d do that was to keep them safe. Would he put himself through all that pain?
Yes, yes he would.
It sounded just like him.
Eleanor searched all over for the name Styles, and she made a list of everyone on there, crossing them off one at a time, all the things she knew about the Doctor and his preferences in companions.
They were pretty much all British.
Clever or interesting.
Most likely from this time period.
Then there was only one branch of the huge (okay, not that huge but it felt like it) Styles family left.
She whittled them down (none of the adults, they didn’t have the right air about them) and not the girl who pulled the wings off flies (the Doctor hated violence) and none of the boys (because Eleanor didn’t actually know if he’d ever had a male companion) until there was just one name left.
Her name was Gemma, she was born in 1992, she had straight brown hair with pink highlights, minimal makeup and green eyes. She did dancing when she was younger, she was taking Philosophy at Sheffield University, she had a boyfriend called Liam Crowe and volunteered weekly at an animal shelter.
She must’ve been the girl to get to the Doctor.
If anyone could she could.
Eleanor had to admit, she was a little jealous.
Eleanor finally plucks up the courage to confront the Doctor after they’ve been in Sheffield for a break, which is coincidently where Gemma Styles was studying (it all made perfect sense).
"Tell me what Gemma Styles did to you."
He staggers backwards like she’s slapped him (which, admittedly, she had done before) and she sees something (panic and relief) in his ancient eyes that makes her suddenly doubt her reasoning.
"Try again." He croaks and she goes to scream and yell and rage at him, but he shakes his head and calls for the Tardis and leaves her standing on a grassy knoll in Sheffield.
Eleanor tries to find the Styles family again, but she can’t.
So in the end, she does the one thing she swore (she swore to herself) she wouldn’t – she goes and pays Gemma Styles a visit (because she seems to be the only member of the Styles family left that hasn’t disappeared into oblivion, and even then she took some finding, and Eleanor wouldn’t have been able to find her if she hadn’t known she was there. It was the Doctor’s work, no doubt about that).
“Louis?” Gemma’s forehead creases minutely before clearing again “oh, yes, I remember him.”
Martha next to her grips her hand.
“Him and my brother, they hung around together. In fact, Harry went missing for about a year, when he got back he did his exams and went straight off to Uni because they were so good, they must’ve been studying together… it makes sense because Harry was the one who found him. He said they went travelling together. Still won’t say where he went though. It’s been driving Mum crazy.”
“Found him?” Eleanor butts in, because she realizes that she shouldn’t have disregarded all the male Styles’, and she should’ve taken a second look (stupid girl you stupid stupid stupid girl).
“Yeah, he was collapsed, disoriented, didn’t even seem to know his own name… that’s why his name is Styles, you know. Because my brother named him that. I wonder if he’s remembered his name yet, terrible case of amnesia, it was…”
And Eleanor knows, yes, she made a huge mistake in underestimating the Doctor’s male companions.
Eleanor and Martha are outside of Manchester University, and Eleanor’s hands are shaking (she tells herself it’s the cold, she knows she’s lying to herself).
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Martha looks at her sideways, bundled up in her own warm coat, and Eleanor nods.
“I have to.” And so do you, are the unspoken words. Because as much as Martha says she’s moved on, and she doesn’t care, and she’s happy, Eleanor knows that there’s something inside that needs to know more, like a nosy gossip magazine that pries into things that aren’t their business but at the same time are, because these people chose fame, like the Doctor chose the life he led, and they had a right to know, more than most.
As they step inside the dorms, there’s a blast of warm air and Eleanor feels her fingers thawing through her patterned woolen gloves.
She gets a few flirty looks as she asks for directions to Harry Styles’ room, and it takes half an hour to find somebody who actually knows, but she does find it and she’s standing outside room 317 with regrets and a headache and no idea what the hell she’s doing anymore.
The boy who opens the door is not Gemma’s brother.
Apparently his name is Niall, and he’s just leaving, and Harry’s in a lecture, but she can wait if she wants.
She says yes, and Martha echoes her.
As soon as Niall-the-leprechaun is gone, they look at each other before rushing round and rummaging through everything, the photos of Gemma and her male counterpart with curly hair and big lips and green eyes smiling on the mantelpiece, the heaps of foreign and alien money which would make you think that Harry was rich and not a lowly college student (Eleanor recognizes some of the currencies – this boy has definitely been with the Doctor), the skateboards in the corner and the laptop humming on top of the sofa.
Then Martha cries out.
She’s found it.
It is photos of The Doctor and Harry, and they look so crisp that Eleanor doesn’t want to know what special and sacred place to Harry Martha ripped them from. There are postcards, projections of messages, watches and gadgets and a mini Easter chick (Eleanor does not want to know) and then…
There’s a final photo, and on the back it’s quoted “Goodbye” in The Doctor’s handwriting, with four x’s after the single word.
It shows both of them dressed in posh clothes, Eleanor would date them back to the Victorian era, both smiling in black and white, but the difference is that the picture is moving, like the ones in the Harry Potter films, or a GIF transferred onto paper, playing over and over again.
Harry is smiling widely, laughing slightly, his eyes crinkling at the side as he chuckles soundlessly. The Doctor is laughing to, but unlike Harry, his eyes aren’t on whoever is taking the photo/film, but he’s watching Harry’s lips, until he leans forward, taking Harry’s chin in his hand and kissing him on the corner of the mouth.
Then the photo reel begins again.
Eleanor hisses to Martha put them back where you found them, I can’t do this and she runs out, her platform sandals making it hard to run as fast as she knows she can.
And, just as she’s about to get away from the crime scene, the place where she got in too deep (too deep, should’ve left the matter alone, The Doctor was desperate to keep that secret, and she should’ve respected that) she fell over on the stupid platform sandals.
Before she hit the floor, she was caught by strong arms, and she pushed her long brown hair out of the way, ready to thank her savior.
But she froze, because the face looking at her in concern had big lips and green eyes and pale skin and handsome features, and stray curls lay on top of his head.
“Are you okay?” Harry Styles asked.
Eleanor nodded shakily, before running away once more, ignoring Harry’s worried shouts of “What’s wrong?” after her.
But he didn’t follow.
Eleanor guessed there was somebody up there who had taken pity on her (ignoring the fact that the closest to a god she had was the Doctor).
But no, because she was probably one of three people (the Doctor and Harry being the other two) who had seen the almost invisible inscription at the side of the Goodbye picture which had flashed up every time the reel played over and over at the exact same spot for half a second.
I love you in the Doctor’s handwriting
Eleanor had pried too much.
She had gone too far.
It’s years later, when Eleanor next sees Harry Styles.
She’s become a columnist for the Daily Mail, a position she worked her ass off to get. She has a dog called Bert and a boyfriend who’s a major geek, working at the Space Center, called Dominic.
She loves her life, and she’s overjoyed at how it’s turned out, she has a lover and friends and a job and a three bedroom house and a dog and a mortgage and as the Doctor would say, it’s so damn human.
But she wouldn’t give it up for the world, yet at the same time, she yearns to go back in time (exactly six years, four months and twenty-one days – not that she’s counting or anything) and never bring up Gemma Styles (she threw it away for a wrong guess) and to continue travelling until she was all burnt out or dead.
She’s shopping at a small farmers market, deciding to go a bit retro for the day in a polka dot pink dress and high heels that weren’t copies of the original 1940’s pair (she bought them in the 1940’s, they weren’t an heirloom) with her hair tied up in a high ponytail.
It’s her homage to him, she decides, as she haggles for fruit and flowers and cheese and things she’s buying because they look good and not because she actually likes them.
She should’ve really moved on by now, like Martha did, but Eleanor was never as strong as Martha.
She reaches for a loaf of Homemade Granary Bread the same time as someone else. She looks up, ready to say “I was here first, mate!” when she freezes.
Big lips, handsome face, green eyes, brown curls.
Harry Styles hasn’t aged, or so it seems.
He obviously doesn’t remember her, why would he? She was just a random girl he ran into six years ago. But she feels saddened, upset, oh so guilty.
“Sorry, that was yours-“ he begins, a smile on his face as he pushes the insignificant loaf of bread into her hand.
“No! I didn’t even want it-“
“Please, take it-“
“What’s going on here?”
And Eleanor turns because she knows that voice; she knows that deceiving Doncaster accent and that smell of soot and fire and fresh wood.
The Doctor stares at her, and Eleanor stares right back.
It lasts for less than a second, so Harry doesn’t notice, how is he supposed to know that she’s important?
(She was important, she’s not important anymore, now she’s just stupid)
“Harry, could you go back and ask Mrs Myers the price of that painting again? I just need to haggle.” The Doctor says, a deceiving smile on his face as his looks at Harry, who doesn’t look convinced, but does what he says, laying a peck on the Doctor’s cheek.
As soon as Harry’s out of earshot, The Doctor’s gaze snaps onto her.
She had forgotten how those eyes could judge you, see right through you, swallow your soul and spit it back out again. She’d seen him give this look to aliens and monsters alike what felt like a hundred times, she’d never been on the receiving end. But here she is; now she’s the monster, now she’s the alien, now she’s on the outside looking in.
“El,” he begins and she realizes she’s gaping so she snaps her jaw shut “what are you doing here?” he hisses, his hair falling in his eyes slightly.
“Shopping.” she says, automatically and waves the forgotten loaf of bread in his face like an idiot.
He runs a hand through his hair, and she knows he’s panicking. She knows by the set of his shoulders and the shaking of his hands and the stillness of his feet.
“I learnt my lesson, Doctor. I made a mistake. A really, really big mistake. I was stupid. I am stupid.” she says, bashfully but she also means every word as she rests a hand on his shoulder lightly so as not to spook him “And I’ve been looking for a proper way to say I’m sorry.”
The way he looks at her then makes her feel whole and complete in a way she hasn’t felt in years, and she knows that the feeling will last, the way it rests on her form like a blessing.
He puts his hands on her shoulders, the tables have turned because he’s not panicking anymore, he’s content. He’s happy. “Thank you, El. You clever, clever girl.”
And she’s happy too.
So after they’ve had some lunch together and caught up and Harry’s finally been introduced to her properly, they head in different directions. And Eleanor, like Martha, doesn’t look back.