Author's Note: Inspired by the Doctor's message in "The Parting of Ways". This is an AU of that episode in which Rose never returned to him.
Summary: "Just let this old box gather dust. No one can open it, no one will even notice it. Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner." And for years, no one does notice it, except for Billy.
William hasn't been home since he went off to University. No, he had vowed that he would never step foot into that retched flat or speak with his useless parents ever again after he left. But he hasn't return home to see them. He came for something else.
And there it is, sitting silently at the end of the road, just as it always has. But William just stands there, looking at it. Two publics works men are tugging at the binds holding it in place and waving dramatically for the man in the yellow truck to hoist it into the area. They are taking it away. And William can't decide whether he should stand there and cry for his lost friend or run over to them, yelling and screaming for them to leave it be.
He does neither. Maybe it is time for the little blue box to be done with its lonely life on the corner of some unknown street in the rundown council estate.
William never noticed it when he was very young. He supposes that it was always there and, if he digs back far enough, that it was there before the day he saw the old woman.
But it was that day that he did notice it. Billy was ten, walking home from school, when he turned the corner and- for whatever reason- glanced to the side and saw it. There was nothing very strange about a big, blue phone-box or about the old woman standing there. He supposes what was strange was the way the old lady was resting her forehead against the blue panels and her palm was pressing into the neighbouring panel. Billy thought she was crying. He thought it seemed like a funny thing to do against a blue box.
But with every step he took closer to home, and inevitably, closer to the blue box, he saw that she wasn't crying. Her lips were pulled back into a soft, sad smile and her hand wasn't resting against the panel for support, but it was actually lightly stroking the wood. Her lips were moving but her voice was too quiet for anyone but the silent box to hear.
Billy wondered, at the time, what she was saying to the box. Mostly he wondered why, but he also wanted to know what.
William is twenty-seven now. He's made a life for himself far outside of the past that had once held him captive. He graduated from University, engaged himself to the woman he loves, and has put his foot in the door at a large publishing company. All in all, he feels that he's made a good life for himself.
But there's something still nagging in the back of his mind. Something he feels needs to be done. He just can't quite decide if he truly wants to.
That's why he came back to see the blue box.
He never saw the old woman again, but the blue box was still there every day after school as he walked home. And every day after that he paused, his mind captivated by the box, wondering just what that woman had whispered to it.
Billy spent weeks just thinking about it, but eventually the curiosity was too much. He stopped, right in front of it, and let his hand reach out and let his fingertips run along the blue panel. And maybe he imagined that it hummed in response. And maybe he imagined that the awkward blue box was a lonely, old thing enjoying his company. But he came back every day after that, stopping for just a moment to run his hand along the panels and smile in response to the imagined humming.
He just stares at the box as the men hoist it into the air. It's not the prettiest thing- never was. It was rickety; easily shaken and the wind was always howling through it. The lock was jammed after years of kids trying to pry their way into it. One of the door handles had long since fallen loose and was twisted to the side. The dark blue paint had begun to fade and chip off on the bottom and on the edges. Dirt and mud and leaves clung to it in awkward places. White swirls of spray paint intersected with the brighter yellow and green and red, forming gang tags and ridiculous sayings and he remembers that once the words BAD WOLF were the most prominent written along the side.
But William doesn't care that it's old and dilapidated and defaced because he looks at it and remembers his childhood friend. The one that helped him through his parents' violent separation and awkward remarriage and his father's drinking and his mother's affairs. The one that made math seem easy and science seem fun and writing the greatest escape in the world. The one that showed him things beyond his wildest dreams.
Day after day, he spent just a little extra time there. It was just one more minute that he wasn't home. It didn't take long before he started to tell it his secrets and his stories (some real, some fictional) and he patted it gently as he talked. But he didn't just talk; eventually he learned to question the box and pause to see if, just maybe, he would hear a whispered reply. It was likely that he imagined when it responded to him, because it was impossible for wood and blue paint to answer questions.
After a while, when the weather got warmer, he began to stash a blanket by the box and he sat there for an hour or two and did his homework and maybe he imagined that the box made him smarter, as if it was looking over his shoulder and nudging him in the right direction.
He never does find the blue box again, even after a half-hearted search of the city. He likes to think that he's grown past childish thoughts and dreams, but he's a writer and he'll never be able to let go of the fantasy that took over his mind so many years ago.
And that's why he's standing there, trying to force his feet to move faster, to climb the stairs without trembling, to approach the door without turning and running away.
He can't, because he needs to do this. Not to see them, not to make amends, just to find something that he had thought he had chucked out years ago. Years ago when he believed himself too old to believe in lonely old blue boxes that befriended lost little boys.
He kept going to see the box even as he passed into his teenage years- more often actually, because that was when the bouts of boredom and fear and loneliness came. He probably imagined that the box entertained him with fantastic tales, because blue boxes don't have the ability to spin tales of science fiction and romance and adventure. But one day, while leaning against the panels, his mind came alive with the notion that the blue box was not simply a relic left to gather dust, but a time ship, capable of travelling to other worlds and other times. And the box showed him adventures of danger and amusement and times and places he couldn't believe or imagine. It told him of a daft looking alien and his friends. Some times the alien was old, some times it was an awkward looking man with scarves, and some times it was one of many others. But, mostly, it was the one he liked- a Northerner with elephant ears and a big nose and a goofy smile. He liked his friend, too, a young London girl and some times there was a man- an American, he was pretty sure.
He liked the stories so much that he wrote them down, every night when he got back home, he sat for hours jotting down the words and the places and the people he had seen in his mind. His parents never read the stories and his teachers all thought he had invented them on his own; or maybe he had just imagined that he hadn't. But the box was still there and it still cured his loneliness and boredom and, he liked to imagined, that he cured its as well.
Years in the future, when William was nearing his forties, he will be sitting in some quaint bookstore, reclining back in a stool before his audience. With captive sighs and gasps and shrieks, young children and teens and even adults will listen as he gives words to stories that he had once seen in his mind as a child.
And when he will end his latest book in his long series with loose ends, his crowd will groan in protest and he will smile, promising that the final chapter of the exciting journey will be finished soon. But the truth will be that he has no idea how the last adventure goes because he never saw it as a child. He was never told how the glorious old box had landed, stranded forever in the Powell Estates.
He will smile and spend the extra time to speak with his audience personally and he'll pull out an old fashion pen and sign whatever people hand him.
And that's when he will see her again, for the second and last time. He will be able to see then that he had made her much older in his mind when he was only ten but he will be certain that she is an old lady now, quickly nearly the final years of her life. He will forget the world around him and approach her, not sure what he will say but wanting to thank her for opening his eyes to the wonderful world the box had showed him.
But she will speak for him when her tired, old voice says gently, "You're missing a story, I think."
"Just the last one, ma'am."
She will laugh softly at that and he will remember not to address her as that. And that's when the wrinkles around her eyes rise with her laughter and he will see it then- the age and wisdom in her eyes. It will remind him of the blue box, how- despite its obvious uselessness and its decrepit appearance- it still held an air of respect and command and a majestically whimsical nature. The old lady is a woman of experience and adventure.
And that will be when he knows just what she said to the box all those years ago.
"Come, walk with me. I want to tell you a story."
"About adventure and excitement, about love and loss, about danger and fear, about bravery… and death. I want you to know how your story ends."
And she will tell him everything. She will tell him about how his stories are true, about how the blue box was truly a disguised time ship, about how she had once met a man named the Doctor, about how she had fallen in love with him. And she will tell him about a war and the horrors of a place called the Game Station. And finally he will learn that the blue box had landed on a deserted street in London, England to spare a young girl's life as people died thousands of years in the future.