It was days earlier, and the light had grown calm and warm. This far into the autumn of 1962, it felt like it might not be autumn much longer at all— there were trees already almost bare of leaves; you could feel winter breaking out through the gaps to the sky. Leaves mulched under Yaz and the Doctor’s feet as they clomped their way up the road. The world smelled full of mush and rain as they came up to the house where they were staying.
Absolutely none of this was on Yaz’s mind. There was only a haze, a mixture of anger and dread. She’d known the Doctor for a fair while, now, but she still sometimes did things that were impossible to explain. Not in the “alien from outer space” way, either— in a frustratingly human way, like a friend from work whose head was in the clouds. There was no other way to describe someone who’d suggest holidaying in 1962 and not thinking to mention—
“A missile crisis!” she said again, out loud.
The Doctor smiled.
“Like I said, Yaz, It’s nothing to worry about!” she said. “That’s why I didn’t think to mention it.”
Yaz boggled. “How can it be nothing to worry about?” she snapped.
“Because it’s fine in the end! You’re the proof of it. Everything’s tense for a while; the US and USSR glaring at each other. But it’s nothing more than that. You know how many alien invasions your planet’s survived?”
Yaz frowned. “That’s not as reassuring as you think it is,” she said.
They were staying in a top floor flat in a compact and semi-detached flat; one the Doctor had ended up with and then forgotten about. Yaz had been shocked that the Doctor had property in London, and more shocked still that she didn’t seem to care. A real estate portfolio as well as a time machine, while Yaz was stuck as a renter for life in Sheffield. It was true in more ways than one, she thought. The Doctor really was from another planet.
The door to their flat was down the side of a narrow lane, one barely wide enough for a person to squeeze within. In front of it was a garden where a woman was trying to rake leaves, though the pile she made seemed to squelch into mulch as she did. She was small and black and perhaps in her middle thirties, the age someone might think the Doctor was if they didn’t know that she was ancient. There was a grim expression set hard on her face. She didn’t look like someone who thought things would work out in the end.
The woman heard them come up the lane and smiled, though Yaz could see tension straining behind it. The thought the woman was trying not to have; the thing the world was trying so hard to forget. She’d seen it so much in her travels. These days, she even saw it in her mirror.
“Are you two moving in?” the woman said. “I thought that old flat was abandoned. An old bloke used to own it, ages back.”
“Are you his daughter?” she asked the Doctor.
“Something like that. This is Yaz; I’m the Doctor.”
The woman chuckled at that, a weary laugh that said she’d met too many doctors before.
“That’s right, is it?” she said. “And I’m a nurse, up at the hospital here. Judith,” she added, in a way that wasn’t quite friendly enough.
“Nurse Judith!” said the Doctor, grinning, like she’d eaten all the friendliness left behind. “Fancy that! We share all the medical knowledge I probably know. How many hearts you’re supposed to have. Whether women get man flu.”
There was an awkward silence.
“You’re both doctors, then?” said Judith after too much of it had passed. “Down from the North?”
“Yaz has a job in the police force,” said the Doctor. “Doesn’t start for a while yet.”
There was a flash of something on Judith’s face again, the huge thing unsaid that was hanging in the air. That there might be no police force for Yaz to go back to. That there might be nothing for anyone, and very soon.
“You’re a brave girl,” said Judith to Yaz. “A job like that, as someone who isn’t white. I hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for; it’s worse there than it is on the wards. And it’s hard enough there. Believe me.”
“Don’t worry,” said Yaz. “I can handle myself. We’re both tougher than we look.”
“Well, we all have to be,” said Judith. “When it comes to times like this.”
The silence came back again, no longer awkward. It held threatening, ominous. It felt like a weapon itself.
“There’s no need to worry!” said the Doctor, oblivious. “Don’t listen to what they say on the news. All of it’ll blow over, in the end.”
Judith fiddled with the rake, its weight mulching against the leaves.
“That’d be something,” she said, very quietly.
“Trust me. I’m— well. I’ve said that bit already. But it is all going to be fine. I know what I’m talking about.”
“Doctors often do,” said Judith.
“We’ve seen more than people realise,” said the Doctor, missing the subtext completely. “And I’ll see you again, once all of this is over. Make a thing of it, maybe. Three cheers for being alive.”
Judith didn’t cheer, not even once. Her rake looked limp, slack there in her hand. Yaz caught her eye as the Doctor went up to the flat door. A sympathetic look, a tiny nod. Sometimes people needed to know that she knew, too, the way that her friend could often be.
She went through the door that the Doctor had opened, watching as her friend bounded up the concrete stairs, fishing a key from her pocket for the door at the top. Wishing her walk could be as enthusiastic, Yaz followed.
“I think this is the house that still has a boiler,” said the Doctor as she opened the door.
The blast of cold air hit them at the same time as the smell.
“Hang on,” she muttered, “that’s the one up on Tottenham Court Road.”
Yaz once thought it’d be really brilliant, to travel through all time and space.