“You work in a hotel. You should know. Everybody leaves.”
The Doctor walked purposefully out of the hotel, Charley’s letter balled up and lying in the reception’s waste bin. He found his way back to the TARDIS, navigating his way through the Singaporean streets whilst furiously blinking tears away.
He fumbled with the key, fitting it into the slot after three attempts. Now safely in the console room, his resolve slipped and he let one tear go before quickly wiping it away with his sleeve.
“Why did she have to leave!” he yelled, pounding the console with a fist, although deep down he already knew why. All those assistants and not one of them stayed. Somehow he’d managed to convince some part of him to believe that she’d be with him always, like the fact that she’d already escaped death multiple times was a precedent for the rest of her life.
He ran a hand through his curls, exasperated.
The TARDIS gave a few indignant beeps over the Doctor’s punch, before her dials whirred, setting the date for the first of January, 2001. The Doctor squinted at the date, wondering why she’d chosen then of all times.
“No rest for the wicked, hey, old girl?” he muttered.
The TARDIS beeped again and he sighed. “Well, I’ll trust your judgement,” he said in reply, pulling the handle down, without his usual flourish. The engine burst into life, blue lights pulsing.
After a short while, they’d landed and the Doctor peered out of the door. When no danger was imminent, he stepped outside. He soon realised that he was in Los Angeles; the road signs and general architecture being a dead giveaway. He wondered why the TARDIS would bring him here, especially as it was now growing dark and there was no suspicious activity that he could see.
He had only been observing the surroundings for a few minutes before he reached his answer.
Across the road from the TARDIS was a dark blue four by four pulling into a driveway and a familiar figure in hospital scrubs stepped out. The Doctor tentatively took a couple of steps forward before turning and looking back at his ship.
“Oh you know exactly where to put me don’t you?”
The corners of his mouth twitched upwards. He walked over to her, slowly at first, then breaking out into a small jog. She was putting her keys into the door by the time he was at the end of her driveway.
She turned sharply, her face a picture of absolute surprise.
“Oh. My. God.”
The Doctor smiled.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. It’s actually you.”
She walked forward apprehensively. “It is you, isn’t it, Doctor?”
“Why yes it is... Doctor,” he replied, giving her a short nod of his head.
Grace suddenly threw her arms around him. The Doctor reciprocated, the human contact being exactly what he needed. They broke apart and Grace started to shiver, her uniform only providing a mediocre amount of warmth.
“Come inside, I’ll get you a drink.”
A short while later, they were sat around Grace’s kitchen table, both having a steaming cup of coffee in hand. “So, what brings you to L.A., Miss Holloway?” the Doctor asked before taking a sip.
“You say that like I’m the one visiting!” she replied. “Besides, you know I quit my job last year so I had to find a new one. This one is definitely an improvement.”
“No tricky patients messing up X-rays with binary vascular systems, I assume?” the Doctor joked.
“Well no, but that hospital was messed up anyway.”
Grace took a drink from her own mug, watching the Doctor.
“I have just realised you’re wearing the same clothes. Do you ever change? Wait, how long has it been since-“
“Long enough,” said the Doctor, his eyes tired.
“Wanna talk about it?” Grace replied, picking up on his expression.
“I suppose I should, but what good would it do?”
Grace raised an eyebrow and the Doctor conceded, taking a deep breath.
“I met a girl.”
Grace smiled. “Ahhh...”
After his initial admittance, the words just tumbled out. “Well, a girl and a Eutermesan. I saved her from the burning wreckage of an airship, and I grew to realise that I loved her. And she loved me. We were happy, for a while, before the Time Lords interfered and then all hell broke loose. Then we met C’rizz, who became our friend. He was like a brother to-“
He couldn’t bring himself to mention her name yet.
“-to her but he was killed. I shut myself off, naturally, but she wasn’t happy after that. So she left me.”
Grace put a reassuring hand on his arm. “Time has not been kind to you, has it?”
“I suppose you could say that. The TARDIS brought me here, though. I think she thought I needed friendship.”
“Well, New Year’s Day is a time for fresh starts, even if I have been working all day. And I guess, if you don’t even belong in this time,” Grace replied. “Then again, to a Time Lord, it’d always be New Year’s somewhere.”
“That’s one way of looking at things.”
“Go on, Doctor, admit I’m right,” Grace said, gently punching his arm.
“Alright, alright, Grace Holloway, you are a hundred percent correct,” he replied.
“Thank you. What you are about to do now is pick yourself up and get back out there. The universe is waiting for you, Doctor. There’s that old Earth saying: there’s plenty more fish in the sea. And you, Doctor, have the biggest sea imaginable.”
The Doctor smiled, his eyes pricking.
“You’ve grown wiser in the last year.”
“That’s what happens when an alien from outer space lands on your doorstep, gets you fired and saves the world,” Grace laughed.
“I’ll have you know, you killed me first!”
“You’re alive now though, so that’s all that matters.”
“So, how have you been?” the Doctor said, diverting the conversation before draining the last of his coffee.
“It’s actually been great. The hospitals here are so much better, and there have been hints at a promotion including a research position,” Grace replied, smiling. “It may not be on the front line, but it’ll do more good in the long run.”
The Doctor grinned. “I knew you’d do great things!”
“And so will you,” she replied. “You just need to carry on.”
“Now... this catch-up has been awesome... but I’ve been working since the early hours... of this morning,” said Grace, punctuating her sentence with yawns. “Same time again next year?”
They smiled at each other and the Doctor gave her a nod.