The Lost Girl

People get lost in time sometimes, but there's no one quite as lost as Amanda Grey. She's spent an eternity jumping from place to place, much like the Doctor does, but she can't control it, can't stop it. She's alone in the universe, but she has hope. There are stories scattered through time about the Doctor. Fair warning - female Doctor. If you don't like don't read.

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7. Lost Love

We sat watching the light die, eating chips off a McDonald’s tray with napkins spread over it, just like old times. Nathaniel looked a little pale, and the large chunk in our chip supply was mostly down to me. I shivered as I caught sight of a statue looking down on the street. I was afraid to even blink, afraid that if I did I’d open my eyes and it would be gone. Nathaniel had stared at me for a long time after I told him, and then at the sky above us, where we lay on some piece of grass somewhere in New York. The place didn’t matter. He did.

“So you could just disappear, at any moment?” He asked, for the third time, tracing the title of his latest battered paperback friend with one long finger. His coat was draped over the back of the plastic chair, grass-stained, torn, as worn and beaten as I probably looked.

“Yes”, I said as I extracted another twig from my hair, which I really should have cut a long time ago, but the hair on my head, the ragged split ends; they were the only things I had left of my life before all this.

Nathaniel shook his head slowly, “So you’re not just an exchange student from London?” I thought that was pretty evident, but he hadn’t learned to stop asking pointless questions, and I loved that about him. I loved that he hadn’t seen even a little bit of the world outside his city, I loved that he was enchanted with adventure books even though the very notion of leaving his neat little world terrified him beyond words. Adventure is scary, but it’s also worth it.

I grinned my Cheshire cat grin, “No, dear. I’m a time traveller from London”. He picked up a chip and nibbled the end, pretending to be distracted, pretending to be thinking deeply and coherently about what everything meant. I could see in his eyes that he was just reeling, crashing through the walls of his own mind in an attempt to understand the impossible.

I reached across the table and took his hand, “I know it’s a bit… overwhelming, but you have to know the truth. I thought I’d lost you for so long, and I can’t be ripped away from this time again and think that I left you with nothing. At least this way you know, and you can be ready”.

He laughed, “Ready”, he yanked his hand out of mine, “Ready for you to disappear again? You have no idea what those five minutes felt like. One minute we were walking and the next you were gone!”

People are so selfish. I’m almost inclined to call them humans at this point, we’re so different. How can you measure yourself against a people whose existence fizzles out in just a century, when you’ve lived for longer than anyone could possibly understand? How do you bridge that gap? Even with love like the love I felt for him, I couldn’t understand him anymore.

I was angry, and I knew that what I was about to do was stupid, but I started to do it anyway. My chair flew back behind me and someone let out an outraged cry. Nathanial was fuming, I could see that, not because he was really angry at me. No, he was angry with the universe for making his life suddenly and eternally complicated. In that moment he probably wished he’d never met me on that rainy day.

I was surprised I could even keep it together, looking at him now, because time had dropped me back into his life once before this, briefly and tragically. It had been raining that day too, and he was crying, looking down at the street so very far beneath him. I had screamed and slammed my palms against the glass, but he didn’t hear me. All he heard was the howling in his ears and a certain, sad urgency to end it all.

I watched him jump, watched him fall and watched him break into a million pieces. The curse of travelling through time is that you get spoilers, and even though then I’d thought that he was dying because he missed me, I knew now that it wasn’t that. It was something so much darker, and so much more my fault. He’d seen me again, and I was living that part of his history now, and some part of me wondered if I could change things right now. A part of me wondered if I could stop it.

Time was egging me on, urging me to say the things that I longed to say to him. I wanted to tell him how long I’d waited for him, waited to be thrown back into his life just once more. I wanted him to know how many times I had begged on my knees for just one more day. I wanted to scream that five minutes was nothing compared to the years that had passed since I’d seen him last, and I needed him to feel guilt that had weighed heavy in my heart during all that time. But I knew what that meant now, and I knew that I could stop it. It was a paradox, but paradoxes resolve themselves. The Doctor and I had made the universe acquire that skill.

You see, when you’re me and when you’re forever, you start to care less and less about the time-space continuum and keeping it happy. Sure, I thought that humans were selfish, but what I was about to do was worse. I would change the future, and I didn’t give a damn. Paradoxes resolve themselves. I was counting on it.

I rushed forward and kissed him, fiercely and fully, long enough to leave us both reeling and dizzy when it ended. Already I could feel time twisting around me, that incorrigible force preparing to yank me off of planet Earth. I pressed my lips against his ear and I told him the name of a book I would write for him. I told him where to find it, and I told him I was sorry.

I stepped back and smiled, “Learn to live without me, Nathaniel, learn to grow flowers and paint pictures and write stories. I’m not coming back, but you still have a life. Keep an eye out for my book”. Because one day, I knew, I’d be dropped in a position to write him a story, and I’d get someone to publish it, and he would find it, and I would stop one of his futures from happening.

It was all I could give him. I hoped that it would be enough.

“Doctor!” Alex whirled around, and he could hear them, everywhere, moving in his peripheral vision, but however fast he jerked his head around, however wildly his eyes searched, he could never quite see them. But they were there. “Doctor!” he screamed, his voice breaking. He was cracking, trying not to tremble as they moved and moved around him in jeering circles.

He was standing in what might have been a library, but the spines of the books held only incoherent jumbles of letter, and when he yanked one of the down from the shelf it wouldn’t open. Nevertheless he clutched the tome to his chest as he stumbled around corners desperately trying to escape.

The Doctor had been staring up at the ceiling, laughing in delight as the world around them dimmed and the Tardis began to pull them back into reality, but in that moment Alex had felt it; a terrible, gut wrenching tug. He’d woken up on the damp carpet in a place that might have been a library if it had contained anything approaching coherent information, but even the walls seemed to warp around him.

He had called and called, but the Doctor wasn’t there. The Doctor was gone, standing alone in the Tardis with her skinny shoulders hunched, having another heated argument with the monster, perhaps, or trying to find him. He felt so lost, so awfully lost and alone. It was all he could do to stop his cries turning into screams and wracking sobs. It was all he could do to keep running.

He felt the book becoming heavier and heavier in his arms, as though resisting him, and eventually it dragged him down onto the carpet. He skinned his elbows as he desperately yanked his hands out from under the book before it smothered them against the floor, squashed them into puddles of blood. His stomach lurched, he retched, but he was empty.

“Help me”, he called, rolling onto his side, staring up at the warping letters, twisting and changing before his eyes, utterly nonsensical. “Help me”, he whispered again, his ears aching with the sound of scrabbling feet. Whatever was chasing him was getting closer.

He froze as he heard trainers slapping against the carpet, and suddenly someone was yanking his arm. He blinked, his vision still somewhat skewed by the optical shenanigans of the books, but he recognised her well enough. It was the girl they’d been chasing, dressed in clothes that looked vaguely twenty-first century Earth, screaming at him as she tried to drag him to his feet.

Numbly, he stood, and she smacked him, really hard, “Get it together sweater boy!”

He stumbled into a shelf, “What the hell just happened?” he groaned.

The girl grinned, “Little tip”, she pointed to the shelves on either side of them “Don’t look at the books”.

She began to drag him down the aisle, and he tried to keep his eyes fixed on her shoulders, “Why shouldn’t I look at the books”.

“They’re a trap”, she told him impatiently, “Honestly, did the Doctor teach you nothing?”

“I don’t think that educating me was really her aim”, he retorted.

“I suppose that’s not really surprising”, she said, sighing, “I have met her. She’s like a five year old fiddling around with time”.

Alex felt somewhat affronted, “I think she’s wonderful”, he said huffily.

She laughed, “Don’t get me wrong. I see no reason why she cannot be both. I suppose it was a little irksome to be treated like the child in the equation when I stepped into her Tardis. Honestly, I’ve been to Gallifrey. I’m used to seeing Tardises floating around”.

Alex almost stopped walking. He missed a step and tripped over his own feet, “You can’t have been there. Gallifrey is in the Time Lock or whatever. The Doctor told me. Gallifrey is lost to time”.

“I’m the exception to a lot of things”, she said evasively.

They walked for a while, and the sounds that had seemed so deafening before faded, “What are those things?” Alex asked, glancing behind him.

“Nothing at all”, the girl said, and like all of the time travelling beings he knew, she refused to elaborate.

“Okay”, he said impatiently, “But I can hear them”.

She turned her head, “I can’t”.

“Right… so?”

“Must I spell everything out for you?” she asked, rudely. She looked at his face and sobered. Alex didn’t doubt he still looked scared, “The books are the predators. They scramble your brain, and their pages hold toxins released on touch, which then render you unconscious, for a very long time. Didn’t you wonder why the carpet was damp?”

But Alex wasn’t listening anymore. He was staring at his hand, recalling how he had tried to pry the pages apart, how he had held that book close to his chest. The girl continued speaking unabated, “People have died here and rotted away to nothing. The carpet is covered in… for want of a better word… humus. These books were all crafted from living trees. It was genocide. I tried to stop it, but this ruddy inconsistency of mine prevented it, and here they are now, trying to restore the forest. They don’t know that they’re dead yet. It’s quite sad, if you think about it”.

She seemed to notice then that Alex’s hand had gone limp in hers, and a moment later he collapsed. It didn’t take her long to suss it out. She’d noticed the book on the floor beside him, but she’d figured that he’d knocked it over flailing around. He was vaguely attractive, now that she had a chance to look at him, and she had gone, as usual, and made him hate her.

Still, that wasn’t important at the moment. She could already feel herself becoming less and less of a fact in the environment. Hopefully the Doctor was on her way, or Alex would be spending a very long time with these books.

Then she heard it, wailing, not far off. The Tardis was materialising. Amanda heaved Alex onto her back and made her way, wobbling beneath his weight, towards the sound. She unfocussed her eyes so that she wouldn’t see the dancing letters on the books.

“Alex”, the Doctor called, “Where are y- … oh”. Amanda turned the corner and saw the Doctor standing quite still, staring up at one of the books.

“Don’t look at them”, Amanda wheezed, and the Doctor turned her head, her eyes full of sadness.

“Oh, don’t worry”, she said, “Their mind tricks don’t work on me. They don’t want my DNA spoiling their mixture”. The Doctor ran to Amanda, who lowered him. The Doctor picked him up in her arms, demonstrating an inordinate amount of strength for someone so skinny.

The Doctor looked at Amanda, “I underestimated you”, she said, “And I’m sorry about that”.

“No worries”, Amanda waved dismissively, “It must be nice to know that you’re not actually the loneliest being in the universe, though coming second always sucks”.

The Doctor frowned, “The thought hadn’t crossed my mind”.

“Which, considering your wealth of mental acuity, must make it a pretty insignificant to you”.

She looked down at Alex in her arms, “I’ve been very lonely, Amanda – your name is Amanda?”

Amanda nodded. “Well, Amanda, I gave up believing that a long time ago, because of these people, these companions of mine. That creature, the one responsible for everything that has happened to you, said that I drag them around like a dead weight, which just goes to show that it doesn’t understand loneliness. Loneliness is dragging people around, but Amanda, these companions of mine have chased me, flagged me down. I said it before a long time ago, ‘I never know how, I only know who’”. The Doctor smiled as Alex stirred in her arms. She hadn’t betrayed the slightest hint of straining with his weight.

Amanda felt time tugging at her again, and evidently the Doctor could feel it too, because she looked up, her eyes suddenly furious, “Stay strong, Amanda, stay alive. I’m going to stop whatever it’s doing, and then I’m going to come and get you, wherever and whenever in the wide universe you are. I promise, I will stop this”.

The Doctor smiled as Amanda faded. The girl raised one slender arm to wave, and then she was gone. She could hear the books whispering, lathered with the remains of a once great consciousness, pleading with her, asking her to help them, liberate them. The Doctor turned back to the Tardis, standing silent, waiting, still a bit shaken from being taken over.

That creature, that being she had crossed swords with. It was infinitely terrible, infinitely impossible. She’d seen it, felt it invading her mind, pushing the memories to the surface. It was a defence mechanism. She’d thrown herself into the safer memories as it tried to drown her out of her own mind. She’d forgotten about that one. It was a reaction, not a plan, but it hadn’t taken long for the Tardis to explain. She’d always wondered just how much it fiddled around with her mind when it got bored.

The door opened when she snapped her fingers and she carried Alex inside, her boots clanging on the steps as she carried him away to his room. It was a nice space, because the Tardis liked him. Simple, but stylish, with the kind of bed that you dream of falling asleep in. She set him down on the duvet and he groaned loudly, starting to wake up now that the Tardis had set to work purging him of the poison.

The Doctor walked back through the corridors, past doors she hadn’t opened in centuries, room she was still afraid to wander into. The console glowed contently as she climbed the stairs and began to push buttons. She loved the sensation of flying around in the Tardis, twisting cogs, pulling levers, travelling in any direction, to any time or place, but this time she knew she didn’t have a choice.

She set the coordinates and the Tardis immediately began to protest. “I’m sorry, my dear”, the Doctor muttered, “I made a promise to a very important person. I have to end this”.

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