Dr. Grace Holloway looked out of the window at the iron-grey sky.
It was odd, she thought. It had only been a few weeks since war had been declared, and a day less since everything had ended, mushroom clouds billowing on the horizon, but it was beginning to seem like she had always been here, in this house that was serving as a makeshift medical center, caring for patients who would have hardly stood a chance even if they'd been in a proper hospital, being cared for by doctors who specialized in radiation instead of two veterinarians, some well-meaning volunteers and a surgeon who had been out of town for the weekend. She sighed, running her fingers through her hair, tufts of it coming loose as it did.
"Excuse me–Dr. Holloway?" She turned around. One of the "orderlies"–a kid, had been planning on going to San Antonio or somewhere in the fall–stood there nervously. "Some new guy just showed up, out of nowhere. Says he's a doctor."
"Alright," said Grace, and she allowed herself to be led to the front room of the house, where there was, indeed, a "new guy", talking animatedly at one of the veterinarians.
He was British, judging by his accent–not particularly common for southern California, but that was one of the most normal things about him. He was dressed in the most bizarre get-up; some sort of frilly shirt under a velvet coat, with a small cape, the sort of thing you would see on a children's magician, flung over his shoulders.
"Look, Doc," the veterinarian–Adams–was saying, "I really can't talk right now, I've been working for the past 12 hours and I just want to go hide in a pillow for at least the next six. He noticed Grace. "Look, here's our human-certified doctor. Talk to her." Without so much as a backwards glance, he left the room.
The two of them watched him leave. "Sorry about that," she told the newcomer. "We're all wearing a bit thin here, what with...everything."
"Yes, I can see what you mean," he replied.
"So I heard you're a doctor?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
She glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean, exactly?"
"I'm a doctor of...things. All sorts of things, really." He looked around, clearly uncomfortable, and she couldn't help but feel some vague sense of recognition. She shook the feeling off as he continued. "Actually, I was looking for something of mine when I came across your establishment, and wondered if there was anything I could do to help–"
"We can always use help," she interrupted. "What sort of medical experience do you have? And," she added as an afterthought, "what's your name? I didn't catch it."
"I normally just go by 'Doctor'," said the man, and she couldn't help but be irritated, at this man with his ridiculous outfit, who wouldn't even give her a proper name–
He must have seen the shock flash across her face, because he reached out towards her and asked, "Are you all right?"
Before he could do anything to stop her, she grabbed his outstretched arm at the wrist, and felt the distinctive double beat that meant this could only be one person.
"Oh my god," she said, choking back a sob. "Doctor, it's you."
"Well, I certainly hope so. It would be rather odd if I was someone else," he said, awkwardly. "And you are...?"
She stared at him. "You mean you don't–? It must have been a while, if you've changed your face again, but it's me, Doctor. It's Grace."
"Ah," said the Doctor. "Well. You see, the thing is, I'm a time traveler. I don't always meet people in order. It's quite possible you met one of my future selves."
She laughed, bitterly, as what he was saying sank in. Of course. It was the end of the world, and she had bumped into the man who had changed her life in the best way possible and he hadn't even met her yet. "So, what are you doing here?"
"Looking around," he said, evasively.
"Did you lose your TARDIS?"
"How did you know about–" He paused. "Never mind. If you know about regeneration, I suppose it's not surprising you're familiar with the old girl. And you probably shouldn't tell me, anyway–I can make myself forget about this meeting, but finding out about events in my personal future can seriously corrupt the timeline." Another pause. "Although it seems to be rather corrupted already."
"What do you mean?" asked Grace.
"This. This whole war. It's wrong. Right now humanity should be, I don't know, replacing dial-up with broadband, not driving itself to extinction with a nuclear holocaust."
"And I guess you're going to try and fix it," said Grace, smiling a little despite herself.
"Why yes, as a matter of fact I am," he said, smiling in return. "Just as soon as I figure out where the TARDIS went. I may have gotten a bit lost in the woods last night." He thought for a moment. "Would you like to come with me? To set things right?"
Grace thought for a moment. These people, here in the hospital, were relying on her for care. But the others were about as qualified to deal with burns and radiation poisoning as she was. And if the Doctor was right, if there was a way to undo this, then they and millions of others could all be well, as if it had never happened.
"Alright," she said, and she took his hand. "Let's go save the world."