The house had been empty for years. Humans were so painfully short-lived. Sontarans’ lives were even shorter still, and after Jenny, there was no one left but her. But Vastra couldn’t bring herself to move out. The thought of it felt like she was abandoning Jenny’s ghost. So, despite the growing elaborateness of her deceptions and the passing of two world wars, Vastra stayed. She still took cases now and again; it helped to keep a body occupied. She pretended to be her own granddaughter now; one who had inherited her mother’s and grandmother’s unfortunate disfigurement.
She had been waiting at the foyer for precisely that moment. The letter in her hands was frayed at the edges and yellow with age. “Strangest thing,” The postman had said, scratching the back of his neck, “this old thing’s been rotting away at the office for nigh on forty years. Instructions said to send it to this address today, at precisely seven o’ clock at night.”
And even without opening it, she knew whose it would be.
I’m sorry, the letter said in a stranger’s tidy, round-edged hand, please wait at the door. I’ll need your help.
And her heart wrenched into her throat at the staccato bang of fists at her door.
When Vastra yanked it open, the woman at the door pitched forward to her knees and began to cough great billows of golden sparks. She was disheveled. She wore the Doctor’s clothes. Or, to be more precise, she swam in them.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped to Vastra’s floor, echoing the opening in the old letter Vastra clenched in her hand. She looked up at Vastra from behind a mad nimbus of thick, black hair. Her dark eyes were wide under the lamplight, and there was a sickly gray undertone to the deep ebony of her skin. “Oh hello! Thank goodness, it’s you, Vastra,” she sighed, and fell to coughing once again. Gold dust dissipated in the air around their feet.
Vastra traced the patterns the dust motes drew over the floor and tried not to let a looming sense of loss crowd out what the situation clearly called for.
Vastra helped her through the vestibule and closed the front door behind them. The Doctor grasped Vastra’s forearm and grimaced, “I rather died a bit, if you’ll notice. Bit of trouble, that.”
Vastra nodded, herding her towards the high-backed chairs in the parlor. It would be a tad dusty there, but it would have to do. She had never been as good at keeping house as Jenny had been. Familiar grief squeezed around her ribs. “I’ll suspect it was,” she murmured. A fresh pang clawed through her lungs at the sight of the Doctor’s fingers poking out of the now-too-long sleeves of what had once been a perfectly-tailored black coat. “I’ll make you a cup of tea, shall I?”
“I feel a bit odd,” the Doctor said. “My voice sounds funny. Don’t you think my voice sounds funny? I think it sounds funny. What do you think?”
“I’ll get that tea. I’ve heard that tannins can help stabilize you through the change.”
“Oh, piss on the tea, there’s something off about this regeneration.” She ran a hand through the cloud bank of her hair. “It must be the hair. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m still not ginger, I have entirely too much hair. I mean, I know I’d liked having it a bit long a few times, but this much of it seems rather a bit of overkill.” The hand fluttered to her throat, “And my voice. It really doesn’t sound right. What is th-” She paused, her eyes widened for a moment before she stood up and shot Vastra a half-accusatory look. “Where’s my Adam’s apple?”
Vastra suppressed a sigh, “Doctor-”
“No, this cannot be countenanced! I can’t not have an Adam’s apple! It’s like not having a…” The Doctor’s voice trailed off before her hand drifted downwards.
Vastra opened her mouth to speak, thought the better of it, and decided that the wallpaper needed a thorough inspection.
Vastra risked a glance in the Doctor’s direction, and received an eyeful of dark, purple-tipped breasts. They were very nice breasts, really. But still. She cleared her throat.
The Doctor looked up to shoot her a look that was halfway between astonishment and manic delight. She pointed at her open shirt. “I’m female!”
Vastra nodded, glad that her hide didn’t show changes in color as clearly as soft-skinned humans’ did. “That would appear to be the case, yes,” she managed.
“This is fantastic!” The Doctor exclaimed. She palmed her breasts, pressing them and running her fingertips over their shape. “And they’re so soft!” She grinned at Vastra, still holding her bosoms in her hands. “I can see why you like them.”
She cleared her throat again, “Yes, Doctor. But could you perhaps-”
Oh good gracious, her hand was in her trousers.
“Oh, and this… oooh, this is different!”
A giggle burst from the Doctor’s lips, followed by a shudder that made Vastra twitch.
She really shouldn’t be watching.
“Vastra!” The Doctor gushed, “You never told me it could be like this!”
Her breasts jiggled enticingly as she spoke.
“Doctor, if you could take a moment to close your shirt, I would be most grateful.”
“Oh, er, is that it? Oh right, pardon me.” Her skin was velvet-dark, but Vastra could clearly see how the color deepened with the blood rising from her collarbones to her cheeks. The effect was not unflattering.
“This being-a-woman business, it’s rather delicious, isn’t it?”
Vastra kept her eyes firmly focused on the Doctor’s jet-black eyebrows as her fingers worked busily at the buttons of her shirt. “I find it has its benefits,” she said lightly, remembering the nights she and Jenny shared, warm and writhing between the sheets.
But as with many things, it was in the past, and as the letter suggested, the Doctor needed Vastra’s help.
She gave the Doctor her best enigmatic smile and turned to make her long-overdue tea.
Tiny bubbles were just beginning to rise from the bottom of the tea kettle when the Doctor appeared in the kitchen, behind Vastra. There was a haunted quality to her that reminded Vastra that this Doctor and the ones that she’d known before were one and the same.
“I can’t remember where I parked the Tardis.”
Her voice was barely audible in the underused stillness of Vastra’s kitchen.
“I remember being me –the me I was before I became me- and now I’m here. I don’t remember what else.”
The side of her lower lip was a grayish purple, where she had clearly been chewing it. Distantly, Vastra catalogued the behavioral idiosyncrasy under one of the changes in the Doctor’s present regeneration, of which sex and ethnicity were the most obvious. The more immediate part of Vastra’s mind was preoccupied by the fact that the Doctor didn’t look well at all.
She hoped she had fish fingers in her icebox. If it was apples the Doctor needed, Vastra would have to run to the grocery. If it was still open.
“What was the last thing you do remember? What had been going on?” She placed a hand on the Doctor’s wrist, intending to guide her towards a seat on the stools around the island table, but the Doctor grasped her hand with surprising strength and curled her fingers into the edge of Vastra’s sleeve.
“Gallifrey,” she said. “I- we- I was heading home.”
Her other hand wrapped around Vastra’s wrist, holding her in place, “Don’t let me be alone, Vastra. Something’s wrong. I don’t know what it is yet, but I shouldn’t be alone.”
Decades rose up around her, followed by the familiar, ash-scented tide of loss. Vastra twisted her hand in the Doctor’s grip, and laced her fingers through hers. The Doctor quivered. Vastra was lost.
“I’m here,” she said. “I won’t leave you.”
Vastra was truly lost.