There are no stars in the sky tonight.
Susan watches the still ocean as the temperature drops. And slowly, ever so slowly, it begins to freeze.
She is not cold.
“I was beginning to wonder if you would come,” she says.
“I’m not late.”
“Even so, I was wondering.”
Each time, each year, they meet. A linear cycle, but both approve of the view and neither is bothered by the cold.
Romana carries a candle, shielded from the wind by a glass cylinder. Such a primitive invention, so simple. She keeps one by her bed.
She places it on the rocks and it lights her companion’s face in white-pale flesh and faint shadows under her brow and in the curve of her lips.
She looks so young. All the age is held in her eyes.
“You’ve seen him,” she says.
Romana nods. “He made me no promises.” And so he owed her nothing. He always felt he had to run from his obligations.
This woman had never set foot in the Academy; Susan’s wisdom is the Doctor’s wisdom. She has seen her husband and children and children’s children grow old. She understands Time; she understands the Doctor.
She is stronger than both.
“I can ask him?” Romana offers.
Susan shakes her head. Her grandfather forced her from his ship, but she will not force him to return. Not with guilt or hope or the promise of forgiveness. “How is he?” she asks instead.
“The same,” is the inevitable response.
Susan does not understand Romana. She holds herself as the Cardinals had, and she speaks with their same age-old quiet dignity. But she is so quick, so clever, her eyes are mischievous with secrets and she smiles often, a genuine warmth.
Susan cannot remember a Cardinal ever smiling.
“I do love him,” she says, as though she has been cruel and must apologise for it.
Romana moves her hand to Susan’s, a comfort. “He won’t have forgotten you.”
“He came back to you.” And her tone does not betray the sadness she feels.
“He came back to Gallifrey. There’s a difference.”
The Doctor’s granddaughter. Romana has never asked, not the Doctor, not Susan, not the archives at home which would almost certainly have the answer. She has not tried to find out, not when they both so clearly want to keep their secrets.
Susan has his curiosity though. And Romana knows that her own past is no secret. She has never refused to answer questions.
“Why did you leave him?”
Romana is very still, perhaps holding her breath, listening for some other sound in the night air. “It was too easy. He was clever and I was cleverer.” She pauses. “And I don’t think he would ever have left me. One of us had to be brave.”
“You were frightened?”
“Oh yes. A new universe? A civilisation to save all by myself? How could I not be?”
“But you didn’t tell him that,” says Susan, teasing.
“Of course not,” Romana scoffs.
Somewhere, some time, there is change. These are the quiet moments. Both commit to memory. It will not be forever.
“Is Gallifrey really changing?” asks Susan, thinking of her planet. Her memories, seen through a child’s eyes.
“I might like to see it one day.”
“You’re more than welcome.”
“You won’t be in power forever.” And Romana would know when to give it up. She would not fall from her pedestal, but descend gracefully. Her fall, a dignified affair.
“But I am trying to build something,” she says.
“I did that too,” Susan reminds her. “But there came a time when it didn’t have a place for me anymore.”
In the morning Romana will kiss Susan goodbye. And they will embrace. It will be Susan who lets go because she understands loss.
Romana will return to Gallifrey, Susan to Earth. Different planets for different people.
And the ocean will crack as the sun melts the ice. The silence will end.
“Is that why he runs?” Romana asks. A place for everything and everything in its place.
“I don’t know. He managed sometimes, to stay still for a little while. But it did frighten him.” She looks up at Romana, sees her eyes watching not the ocean, but the candle. Her voice is gentle, “You miss him, don’t you?”
She answers without hesitation. “Only when he’s not there. The Doctor and Gallifrey don’t mix well.”
“They never did,” says Susan, her smile reluctant. “But at least you gave him a reason to go back. I’m glad he can do that now.”
“Sometimes…” Her tone is child-soft, faraway, but Susan understands.
“You want to leave with him.”
“Oh no. I’ve grown-up. Most people do, sooner or later.” It should be patronising. It isn’t.
Romana nods. “You think I’ve still got to grow-up.”
“No,” Susan tells her. “I don’t think you ever will.”
“I have responsibilities.” A feeble protest, but she makes it anyway.
“That you find every excuse to run away from.”
“And I always go back.”
Romana asks, she always asks, though the answer will be the same. “Come back with me?”
And they stand quietly, waiting for dark to melt into dawn.