The ocean pitched and rolled outside, throwing itself onto the rocky shoreline with restless abandon. Victoria leant in closer to the window until her breath turned the dusty glass opaque, watching a long strand of seaweed tumble through the water. It seemed as restless as she was herself, twisting amongst the swell just as she tossed and turned beneath the grey blankets of her bed. The sight of it stirred up memories she did not often allow herself to dwell on – of standing on the same beach, two years before, and playing in the sea-foam with her two dearest friends, with no idea of what was to come.
Her fingers itched to reach under her pillow and pull out the sampler she kept there, as they always did when she thought of the Doctor and Jamie. Instead, she wrapped her arms around herself, curling her hands into fists at her side. The scrap of fabric she had embroidered with their names was only to be looked at once a year, she reminded herself sternly. Only after the Harrises had finished celebrating her arrival into their household, when she retreated to her room and let herself cry. The Doctor had taught her how to let people sleep in her mind, and she had succeeded with her father. Now it was his turn to sleep, and Jamie’s too.
She rose from the bed, crossing the room to fumble for her hairbrush on the dressing table. Many months ago, in a fit of homesickness, she had found that if she arranged the table just so, and closed her eyes a little as she worked, she could pretend that she was in her own time, preparing for a trip into town with her father. It was a far cry from her own room on the TARDIS, a recreation of her old bedroom that was perfect in every detail, but it was a small thread of connection nonetheless.
Sitting down heavily in the chair, she propped her head up against her hand, watching her tangled hair fall across her cheek. She was being rather unfair, she told herself. The Harrises had opened up a new world to her, and she ought to be enjoying it, not moping away in her room, longing for the shadows of people she had left behind. At last she had everything she had wanted, before the Daleks had stolen her away – two loving parents, friends amongst the girls at her school, and a comfortable life, even if it was a little remote. But the girl who had been locked away was not the girl who had left the TARDIS for the last time, and she found herself walking through her new world like a ghost, invisible to passers-by.
Her melancholy was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Victoria? A letter arrived for you this morning.”
Victoria almost shoved the chair over in her rush to stand up, her heart pounding. She threw the door open and was met with the sight of Maggie Harris, still in her dressing gown and wearing a tired expression that pulled a twinge of regret from Victoria’s stomach. She knew it was the same every time a letter arrived for her – endless hoping and wishing that this time it would be from him, and then endless disappointment. But she could not abandon the idea that someday, somehow she would hear from the Doctor again. “Who’s it from?” she asked.
Maggie’s sympathetic look crumpled her heart before she had even opened her mouth. “It’s not from him, dear,” she said, patting Victoria’s shoulder comfortingly. “Funny sort of name, though. You’re not in any trouble at school, are you?”
Shaking her head wordlessly, Victoria took the letter from Maggie. When she turned it over, she frowned, silently mouthing to herself the name written there. Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. There was only one person she knew by that name – but why would the Colonel be writing to her?
A faint thought glimmered in her mind, that perhaps he had sent it on behalf of the Doctor, that he was in some sort of trouble and needed her again, and she ripped the letter open.
“Dear Miss Waterfield.” Her frown deepened as she read. “I am writing to you on behalf of one of our contacts, who identified your place of residence after leaving the Doctor -” She leant against the wall, feeling a little unsteady. Maggie watched her with concern, but kept silent. We have arranged a meeting that we feel would be helpful for you. I have enclosed a train ticket to London, to be used on the 12th November…
“The twelfth of November,” she murmured. “It’s today.”
“What does it say?” Maggie asked anxiously.
Victoria thought it over for a long moment. She trusted the Colonel – but for all that she missed the Doctor, she had no desire to be drawn back into the dangers of his world, and the business about a contact tracking her down filled her with unease. Was it right for her to risk casting away her new life so readily? But a part of her ached to take up the offer, to speak with someone, anyone, who knew the Doctor – to speak the truth of who she was. The Brigadier might not be the Doctor and Jamie themselves, but at least she would not have to lie to him and pretend she was just like any other girl.
Turning back to Maggie, she drew in a deep breath. “I’m going to London.”
* * *
The waitress cast her yet another sympathetic look, and Victoria sighed, burying her head in her hands. The staff seemed to have decided that she had been stood up by a date, and the frivolity of it filled her with frustration. She had shown up for the meeting in the desperate hope of feeling less isolated even for a few moments, but now, more than ever, she felt entirely alien, universes away from the people around her. She had been born decades before anyone else in the room, had travelled from one side of the universe to the other, seen the most beautiful things the world had to offer and the most terrible things too. And yet here she was, sitting in a perfectly ordinary cafe, pretending that she had not spent the last few nights crying and screaming until her throat was raw with the pain of losing family after family, and people thought her eyes were red-rimmed over some boy.
The bell above the door rang again, and she forced herself not to react, instead wrapping her hands more rightly around her mug. Only when she caught a glimpse of someone approaching her table did she look up.
There were two of them, she realised with surprise, both strangers – a man and a woman, perhaps ten years older than her, wearing equally nervous expressions that she was sure matched her own. She craned her neck, trying to see whether the Colonel had accompanied them, but saw only a dark-haired girl standing behind them. She looked as if she was Victoria’s own age, but her eyes seemed old, more tired than those of any regular teenager. Appearances were not everything, Victoria reminded herself. She had seen the same heaviness in her own eyes, when the weight of pretending to be someone she was not threatened to crush her.
Realising she was staring, she hurried to stand up. “Yes, I – I’m Victoria.”
“A friend of yours told us we should meet you.” The woman held out her hand, smiling warmly. “I’m Polly Wright, and this is Ben Jackson. We were told you knew our Doctor.”