The Watchers by unfolded73
Summary: It's nighttime on the TARDIS, but Graham can't sleep.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Thirteenth Doctor
The Watchers by unfolded73
Chapter 1: Chapter 1Author's Notes: My first attempt at writing Thirteen, or at writing the Doctor at all in... *checks watch* seven years. But I love writing about grief and loss, so that's what I did.
The Doctor climbed out from under the console, and she only jumped a tiny bit to find Graham standing there, staring up into the shadows of the vaulted ceiling.
“Whr y’ doin’ hr?” she asked.
His eyes dropped down and met hers. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Taking the sonic screwdriver out from between her teeth, she tried again. “What are you doing here? Time may be relative, but I know that humans generally need to sleep after more than sixteen hours of activity.”
Graham raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you need to sleep?”
“Not as a rule, but I’m – as you so frequently point out – an alien. What’s your excuse?”
He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Stretching out her arm, she pressed a button on the sonic for a second before checking the readings. “Not over-oxygenated. The TARDIS used to do that, over-oxygenate the air like a bloody casino in Las Vegas. I imagine she thought it would cause my companions to sleep less, leave me less time to putter around in her inner workings.” She shot the center console a baleful look. “As if I would muck them up; I wouldn’t. Mostly. Not a lot. Not permanently.”
The Doctor shrugged. “Is it patriarchal of me, calling the TARDIS she? Maybe now as I’m a she, I should switch it up for the TARDIS? Or would that be weirdly heteronormative?” Graham stared at her, looking completely baffled. The Doctor sighed; she didn’t want to explain regeneration or TARDISes right now. She waved the whole ramble away and tucked her hair behind one ear. “Never mind.”
“It’s not your time ship that’s keeping me awake, it’s…” Graham looked down, embarrassed. “I got used to Grace at my side of a night. It’s lonely without her. And I keep thinking…”
“What?” the Doctor asked before she could stop herself. Because she could already tell this conversation was probably going to lead nowhere good. A past regeneration might have taken this opportunity to change the subject, dancing around the console while asking if Graham had ever seen the no-longer-lost Moon of Poosh or the Medusa Cascade, and of course he wouldn’t have, he’d never seen anything, but asking those questions would divert him from thinking about–
“I keep imagining that she’s back home, waiting for me, and that as soon as I walk through that front door I’ll smell her cooking in the kitchen, and I’ll realize that her dying was just a bad dream.”
The Doctor paused and then said, “I wish I could tell you it was.”
Graham cleared his throat and took a shuffling step backward. “Yeah.”
The Doctor walked over to the TARDIS doors, pulling them open and looking out again at the asteroids that tumbled harmlessly around them. She felt Graham approach, just behind her left shoulder.
“Go ahead, ask me the question,” the Doctor said, her eyes on a rock tumbling past. “It’ll drive you mad unless you ask me the question.” She calculated the asteroid’s trajectory, figuring it had a 65% chance of escaping the asteroid belt and colliding with Jupiter’s moon Europa in about two thousand years. Give or take.
She didn’t respond. He didn’t need her to.
Graham sighed in frustration. “You travel in time. You could go back and save her. Save my wife.”
“I can’t cross my own timeline.” She winced internally, remembering the times she had done exactly that. But she’d always paid a heavy price for those transgressions.
“So… so go back earlier. Change something else. Something that will make it so she doesn’t climb that tower. You’re clever, Doctor, you can’t tell me there’s not something you could change in the past so she doesn’t die that night.”
The Doctor closed the door to the TARDIS and faced Graham in the dim light of the ship’s entryway. It was tighter in here than it used to be, pinched off into a little anteroom the size of the actual police box it was on the outside. It made her feel closed in and itchy, made her want to run. Instead, she met Graham’s gaze, flinching at the pain she saw there.
“I was traveling with a human once who had lost her father when she was a young girl. He’d been hit by a car and had died alone. Sad story. And I was very raw then – raw with my own grief, and I wanted to impress her. I was in love with her, to be honest. So I did something very stupid.”
“You saved her father,” Graham guessed.
“I may as well have. I took her to be there, to comfort her father in his last moments, and she saved him.”
Graham wrinkled his brow in confusion. “Of course she did, what did you expect her to do?”
The Doctor huffed and folded her arms. “I wasn’t thinking all that clearly at the time, I’ll admit.”
“So what happened?”
“It caused a paradox that almost swallowed the universe.” Unable to stay still any longer, she dodged around Graham and made her way back toward the console, trusting that he would follow. “Messing with time like that, it’s incredibly dangerous. You have no idea how many people I’ve had to see die, and if I could have saved them…” She stopped, eyes closing, remembering arguments like this with other companions. The good ones, faced with the reality of time travel, they never imagined themselves taking advantage of it for profit. But even the good ones couldn’t resist the idea that they might travel in time to right a wrong, or save a life. Or to save themselves from grief, which was its own brand of selfishness. They didn’t understand, were too naive to understand the ramifications of those desires. “But some events are fixed. Your wife’s death is fixed.”
She could see the moment he shifted from sad to angry. Stages of grief didn’t always happen in order, she thought. They doubled back on themselves, running over the same well-worn ground. “What does ‘fixed’ mean?” he asked, his voice sharp and cutting.
“It means I can’t change it,” she said, looking him in the eye again. “I’m sorry.”
He deflated then, the anger sublimating away as quickly as it had appeared.
“I don’t know how much longer I have on this Earth, Doctor,” he said, and then sheepishly gestured at their surroundings. “Well, not Earth I suppose, but you know what I mean. The cancer could come back, and maybe I won’t be so lucky next time.”
The Doctor thought about all the times and places she could take Graham to ensure that cancer would never trouble him again. She could take him to hospitals that would extend his life by twenty, fifty, a hundred years. She bit her tongue to stop herself from suggesting it.
“But even if I live to a ripe old age, I don’t know if I can ever get over losing her. I try to stay positive for Ryan because he’s got his whole life ahead of him. The grief will fade for him, especially once he starts a family of his own. It’ll be a distant ache, maybe, a bittersweet wish that his kids could have known his Nan. But for me…” He took a shaky breath. “We may have fallen in love later in life, but surely she was the love of mine. I’ll never love another woman like I loved Grace.”
“Grief fades for everyone, Graham, I promise. And it may feel like a betrayal to even think that. You may feel like being sad for the rest of your life is some kind of honor to her, but you know she wouldn’t want that. You know it.”
He blinked, and she could see the glassiness of tears trying to spill over. “You’re right, Doctor.” He cleared his throat, and she could see him attempt to shut a door on his sadness. “What happened to that girl who lost her father? The one you loved?”
“I left her in another universe where as far as I’m concerned, she’ll always be young and alive.” The Doctor shrugged. “That was all a long, long time ago for me.”
She noticed the idea registering in Graham’s mind that she might not be as young as she looked. “How long ago?”
The Doctor smiled a brittle smile. “Honestly, I have no idea.” She checked their position in space on the monitor, watching as an asteroid bounced off of the TARDIS’ shielding. “That’s what I do. Leave people behind so that to me, they’ll always be alive.”
“As long as you never see them again,” Graham pointed out. “Not sure how from your perspective, that’s different from them being dead.”
She tapped her temple. “It’s different in here.” And then, an idea popping into her head, she took the TARDIS into the time vortex. “Come on, do this for us, love,” she murmured as she started the materialization sequence, bringing them in for a soft landing in 1978. Or what she hoped was 1978. Pulling the monitor closer and squinting at it, the Doctor grinned.
“Come look,” she said.
As she and Graham stared at the monitor, three girls spilled out of a Sheffield nightclub, giggling and made their way to a bus stop. The tallest one, her hair in long cornrows, adjusted her purse on her shoulder as she squinted down the street, looking for the bus.
“Is that…” Graham asked.
“Grace when she was nineteen years old.”
Graham watched, spellbound, as young Grace shivered in the cold in her short skirt, hopping from one foot to the other, laughing and joking around with her friends. The Doctor watched him look at her. “She was beautiful,” he murmured, and then he smiled a little bit. “She’d never have given me a second look back then. Not sure why she ever did.”
“She’s still alive here, Graham. She’s still alive at every point along her timeline. I know it’s hard not being with her, but perhaps it’ll be a comfort, knowing that. Those times aren’t gone. They exist. Somewhere in space and time, they’ll always exist.”
“You are a miracle, Doctor,” he whispered.
She demurred. “Nah, it’s just science.” On the monitor, a bus pulled up and the girls boarded it. Through the dingy windows, the Doctor could just make out the way they collapsed into seats near the front, still chattering among themselves. The bus pulled away and disappeared into the night. Flipping off the screen, the Doctor nudged Graham’s shoulder. “Try to get some sleep, Graham.”
He obeyed, bidding her goodnight and leaving her alone in the console room. After a long, silent pause, she piloted the TARDIS to another location, another time. The Doctor turned on the view screen and watched.
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