Grace stopped thinking about that crazy New Year’s she had around the turn of the millennium. It became just another blurred memory, a little more surreal than some of the stuff she got up to back in med school maybe, but not much more.
It was just a couple days. One night, when everybody else was doing crazy weird stuff too. It was easy to brush over.
Grace moved away from San Francisco, eventually. She got a new job at a new hospital–somehow Swift found it in himself to keep quiet about how and why she quit–found a man not at all like Brian (or the Doctor) who she thought she might learn to love, eventually. She made friends and went to the opera and for drinks with co-workers and sometimes when she was feeling a little melancholy she would play Madame Butterfly on the mp3 player.
It was easy, and routine, and Grace remembered that she had always preferred routine.
She ran into a guy with a thousand-watt smile who called himself “captain” with a self-deprecating (only five hundred-watt) smile, milling around in the waiting room when she came out of a surgery. Apparently he knew the person she’d just finished working on. Apparently he knew the Doctor.
“The Doctor?” she asked, staring up at him, still wearing her scrubs.
“Uhh…” he looked around the room, but they were the only ones there that late at night and it was quiet and empty. “Haggard guy, black leather jacket?”
“Overly energetic schoolboy, frockcoat,” she replied grimly. “Well, and the Scottish one before him with the GSW to his chest.”
“Yeah, same guy,” the captain sighed and sat down on one of the soothing blue couches that looked like they should be comfortable but weren’t. He didn’t say what he was a captain of, but he looked rather captain-like in his double-breasted greatcoat. He rubbed his face. Grace sat down across from him.
“How long have you known him?” she asked.
“The Doctor?” The captain looked up, hand hovering by his neck. He’d just been massaging it. A flicker of bitterness flashed across his face. “I didn’t know him long. He, uh, left without me.”
“Oh,” Grace said. “Me too.”
Grace moved up the hierarchy, started working surgery less and sitting more in conference rooms with endless cups of gourmet coffee. She still felt tired all the time, tired and somehow disconnected. She didn’t see the captain again after that night, but he’d dredged up memories she’d slid over for years, and sometimes–sometimes she wondered. Wondered if she should have gone off with that captain, since he seemed more likely to see the Doctor than she would. Wondered if she should have gone off with the Doctor in the first place–why had she stayed?
Why was she here?
Sometimes Grace thought about moving back to San Francisco.
She was coming out of the bakery she went to every morning for a croissant and coffee when she ran into the Doctor.
“Oh,” she said, staring.
“Oh dear, I’m so terribly sorry,” he said, even though he was the one with coffee all down his front, “are you alright–Grace!” He pulled her into a boisterous hug, and kissed her on the cheek, and bustled her toward a little table outside her bakery. “Grace, how are you? I had no idea you’d moved!”
“Of course you didn’t, Doctor,” she was amazed that she sounded a little amused, and a little resigned, and not at all surprised by finding him here. “It’s not exactly as if I had an address to send you an ‘I’ve moved’ card, was it?”
“No, you have a point there,” he looked abashed and boyish and completely unaware of the scalding hot coffee rapidly cooling off on his shirt and waistcoat. “How are you doing? You’re not still with Brian, are you?”
“Good god, no,” Grace blinked. “I haven’t seen Brian in years, no idea what happened to him. No, I’m–I’m with someone else now,” and she was still waiting to fall in love with him, eventually, but she didn’t think this was the right time to mention that. “I’m on the board of directors,” she said carefully. “I attend meetings and argue about budgets and expenses and schmooze over cheap champagne and sometimes even act like a cardiologist.”
“It sounds wonderful,” and she couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. He looked at her, bright and cheerful and as if she hadn’t seen him in years and he hadn’t just been a figment of her imagination and too much champagne on a New Year’s Eve years ago.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“They make a lovely croissant,” he said, surprised. “I just stopped off to get a half dozen for the TARDIS.”
Grace laughed. And kept laughing.
“Grace…Grace, Grace, are you alright?” He looked concerned and took her hand and he still wore a silly old-fashioned frockcoat.
“I come here every morning before going to work,” she told him at last. “I get a croissant and coffee. Every morning. I’ve never seen you here before. I haven’t seen you since San Francisco. I met someone, a few years ago, who knew you, but not the you I know–I can’t imagine you in black leather.”
The Doctor looked unsettled. “Yes, well,” he said, sitting back and letting her go, “there’s a lot of me running around. I’m sorry I didn’t keep in better touch,” and he really sounded sincere.
“Doctor, you wouldn’t know how to keep in touch if–if you had your very own personal assistant constantly reminding you to write emails and make phone calls.” She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath and then took his hand, looking him right in the eye. “How are you? How is the universe?”
“Still hanging together by a thread,” he said with a grin. “Oh, Grace, you should come with me! There’s this one planet, where the grass is blue and the sky is green and the people live in playgrounds–you know, with swings and sandboxes and all that sort of thing. It’s fantastic!” He was laughing, lines crinkling up around his eyes, and he kept his hand in hers as he talked, told her about worlds far away that she would never have even comprehended without him. She sat back and watched him and smiled at him and held onto his hand while she could.
Eventually she looked at her watch and roused herself, sitting up and reluctantly letting go of his hand. “I have to go,” she said, draining her cold gourmet coffee. “I’ve already missed one meeting this morning; I’m surprised my cell hasn’t been going the entire time we’ve been talking…oh. I had it on silent.” She sighed and flipped the phone closed, stuffing it back into her blazer pocket. She looked up, and the Doctor was watching her. She took his hand again. “It was lovely to see you,” she said. “I’m glad we had the opportunity to catch up.”
“You don’t have to go to your meetings, you know,” he said. He squeezed her hand. “You could still come with me.”
She smiled tiredly. “We’ve had this conversation before, remember?”
“Why didn’t you come with me then?”
“I wouldn’t have made you happy,” she told him. “And you wouldn’t have made me happy. We would always have been working at cross-purposes.”
“Oh, now.” Grace smiled again, and reached across the little table to put her hand on his cheek. “I like my routines too much, Doctor. I like walking around the block to this bakery every morning for my croissant and coffee and walking a few blocks down to my hospital where I get to haggle over buying new equipment because some businessman thinks it isn’t a good financial risk. This is where I belong now, Doctor. This life works for me.”
“Does it really?”
Never mind that she was disconnected, never mind that she still didn’t quite love her boyfriend of over five years (but then, had she ever really loved Brian?). Never mind that she still got melancholy sometimes and played Madame Butterfly. Seeing him again, she knew she was right. They wouldn’t have been happy, and she wasn’t happy now, and that–that was just life. She would have always wanted more.
At least this way she was comfortable.
She let her hand slide gently across his skin as she let it fall, and he caught it and kissed her knuckles. She laughed at him, and he grinned back as he let her hand gently drop to the little table.
“I never did thank you for killing me, did I?” he said brightly, and she laughed again and rolled her eyes and said, “You’re welcome, Doctor,” and he answered, “No, no, you’re welcome, Doctor,” and they both paused and looked at each other and let the silence get too long and awkward to break.
Eventually he stood up and indicated the interior of the bakery with a tilt of his head. “I should probably get those croissants now,” he said, “my friends will be wondering what happened to me.”
“Go,” she said, “shoo. Get your croissants. Save the world. Eat some jelly babies.” She looked up at him and said seriously, “Take care, will you? I don’t want you on my table again.”
“Oh, believe me, neither do I,” he told her cheekily, and she mock-glared at him. He bent down and kissed her quickly on the corner of her mouth, and she couldn’t tell if he’d missed or if that was the spot he’d aimed for. “You take care too,” he whispered before standing up and whipping around to enter the bakery.
She sat there for a moment, and then recollected that he’d probably be coming out soon and she didn’t think she could take another good-bye, so she stood up and collected her trash and brushed herself down and strode away, down the street, toward her hospital.
And maybe that night she listened to Madame Butterfly.