It feels like she's been working here forever, and while that's not a problem it's starting to bother her. She's taken to accepting more and more UNIT secondments between investigations, partly for a change and partly to remind herself that she really doesn't want to go back. It keeps her on her toes: that, and the increasingly political world of PROBE. She's never been one for authority, she admits that freely, but this is like pulling teeth; every time she needs anything she has to go with Patsy and sweet-talk a couple of politicians in to extending their budget by a couple of hundred pounds; Pats has taken to kicking her underneath the table every time she opens her mouth to say something sarcastic.
It's not something she ever thought she'd say, but she finds the work with UNIT far less stressful. Alistair is still heading the taskforce, although she suspects he's considering retirement: his wife, she has gathered from the few things he's ever said about her, isn't all that keen on him putting himself in the line of fire every other day. Nevertheless, she's growing fond of a lot of her co-workers and doing the kind of work she loves, and when she's not grovelling to politicians she feels lucky to have two jobs she's quite this passionate about. Her public life, if not her personal, is finally going well.
She's just getting up one morning late in March when the phone rings; she runs down the stairs and picks it up. "Liz Shaw," she says automatically.
"Elizabeth, it's- ah- it's your father."
She almost drops the phone, and then she almost hangs up, and then she says softly, "What do you want?"
"I want to see you."
She is lost for words. For a couple of minutes she stands in silence, the phone to her ear, her mind blank.
"Liz?" he says again, and she's struck by how old he sounds. The last time she spoke to him was almost twenty-five years ago, when his voice had been full of the strength of youth. Now he sounds like an old man.
"I'm...I'm still here," she says. "I'm not sure what to say."
"You could say yes?"
"I..." She gathers herself together. "Look, it's been twenty-five years. Forgive me if I sound a little surprised. I thought you'd forgotten I existed; you certainly did your best to, at least."
"I am well aware of my failings as a father, thank you, Elizabeth." Well, even weakened by age, the tone of authority still rings true.
"And are you aware-" she spits the word out- "that you told me I had a choice between getting married and being your daughter?"
"I'm sorry," he says simply.
She's waited half her life for those two words and it's almost a relief to realise that they haven't made the anger disappear. "Really."
"I truly am. And I won't say it again, so don't try and make me." He sounds almost childish in that last sentence; a quick mental count tells her he must be over eighty and for a moment she feels sorry for him, for the man he's become in her absence. "All I'm asking is for you to have dinner with me," he says. "You can leave at any point, if you want to. I just want to see you again, Elizabeth."
And she can't quite find it in her heart to refuse this old man who, once upon a time, was her father. "Just dinner," she agrees. "I can do that."
"Thank you," he says; she puts the phone down.
She's late to work and Patsy eyes her oddly when she walks in to the office but says nothing.
She's not entirely sure whether she could explain it anyway.
She dreams of dying. Dreams of pain beyond all possible imagination, flesh dissolving from bones, wishing for someone to just shoot her and end it - and then she wakes up, screaming, to find herself in a sterile white room with IV tubes in her hand and a heart monitor beeping at a frantic rate by her bed.
A nurse rushes in and stops when she sees Liz sitting up, a smile forming across her face. "It's good to see you awake, Liz. It was touch and go for a while but you're going to be just fine."
"What happened?" she demands. How can she not remember? Her memories stop halfway through an assignment on the moon with UNIT and she has no idea why she's here.
"You were very ill," the nurse says, coming forward to stand next to the bed. "Now, we're going to need to do a few tests to make sure everything's okay, and then there are a couple of people outside who've been waiting to see you."
"No - wait - I don't remember anything," she insists, panic starting to creep in to her voice. "What do you mean, ill?"
"I don't understand the half of it, I'm afraid, and the other half's classified. I just need you to stay calm while we do these tests, okay?"
She lies back, too tired to argue, as a team of doctors enter her room, enduring the barrage of needles and electrodes in silence and doing her best to push the visions from her dream to the back of her mind. What bothers her most is that the dreams feel like memories - almost-memories, not quite given existence, potential events that never quite happened. And to any other person that would be fine (she winces as a needle pricks her a little hard) but to her...she knows anything is possible.
The doctors are smiling at her and the nurse says brightly, "All fine, Liz. Do you want to see your visitors?"
She nods, the adrenaline rush of earlier almost completely worn away, and settles more comfortably in to the pillows. The earlier panic has been replaced by a deep lethargy; she closes her eyes and lets the beep of the cardiogram wash over her like music.
Then there are footsteps - two sets of footsteps - and a familiar voice says, "Liz?"
"Alistair?" She frowns and opens her eyes, half-doubting her ears. "Oh god, Alistair, please tell me what's happening."
He pushes her hair back out of her face with a gentle hand. "Hush, Liz, we'll explain."
"We?" she murmurs.
"We," says a new voice - a voice she doesn't know. Alistair steps aside and she sees a young man in a suit and glasses, hair spiked up in all directions. "Hello, Liz. Oh, but it's good to see you again."
"Who..." Her voice trails off: she hasn't got the energy to try and figure out what's going on.
"That," Alistair says with a hint of pride, "is the Doctor."
"Oh." Maybe she's seeing things, she thinks absently, because she's pretty sure the Doctor wasn't quite this young even thirty years ago.
"No, no, Liz, I've changed," he says earnestly. "I mean, I've got a different face. Same me, different face. Not that it matters. I just saved your life."
He must sense her confusion because he sits on the edge of her bed and puts a reassuring hand on top of hers. "Don't worry about it now, Liz. You were infected with a virus from the moon expedition - you remember going to the moon, don't you?"
She nods her assent.
"Well, the Doctor here just happened to be in the right place at the right time with a vaccine." His facial expression tells her all she needs to know about his suspicion of that particular coincidence.
"Actually," the man who claims to be the Doctor adds, "I'm wasn't so much in the right place at the right time as I was sent here. Time liked this version of me, I think, even if I broke her rules on a few occasions, and it's not as if I'm changing the world by saving you - just setting things right. I mean, a world without Liz Shaw? Really? That's just- that's just wrong!"
Alistair sends him one of those 'shut-up-now-or-I'll-shoot-you' looks she's so familiar with and she tries to laugh but it comes out as a hoarse cough. Suddenly her entire body aches. "Thank you," she whispers. He might be a madman but he did save her life.
"Okay, Liz, go back to sleep," Alistair tells her firmly. "Patricia was here earlier. I'm sure she'll be back. And I'll be here when you wake up."
"And him?" she manages.
The 'Doctor' shifts awkwardly and avoids her eyes. "I'll...um...I've got to be going. Places to go, people to see - lots of them, in fact, if Time keeps her promise."
"Okay." She closes her eyes again; consciousness starts to fade and within minutes she's asleep.
She's glad she was on the Moon for what was supposedly the Doctor's funeral.
Public mourning is not her style, never has been, least of all when it resembles more a deification than a funeral; and anyway, she did rather suspect it to be a farce.
She's never been so glad to be proved right.
Some things are eternal; the Doctor has always seemed to be amongst them. She's of an age that death is becoming a fact of life and it reassures her to know that the planet will be left in safe hands well after she is gone, well after Alistair is gone, well after children have been born and died.
That's the Doctor, she thinks wryly, walking up the drive to Sarah's house. Eternal hope.
She knocks on the door a little warily. Sarah Jane Smith has a reputation within UNIT for helping and even housing the strangest of creatures, and as much as she admires the sentiment she would rather not become the first victim of some domesticated Martian rabbit.
It's oddly ordinary, then, for the door to be opened by a young man. "Hi, I'm Clyde," he says with an open smile. "Come on in. Sarah Jane's expecting you."
She walks in to an open hallway; Clyde closes the door behind her. Quite the young gentleman. And then a door opens and Sarah Jane appears.
"Hello, Liz," she says warmly. "We've only met a couple of times but Alistair talks about you a lot."
"As he does of you." She inclines her head in greeting. "Thank you for seeing me at such short notice. I just wanted-"
There's a knowing look in Sarah Jane's eyes. "Let me guess. UNIT won't tell you what happened, Alistair doesn't know and you know enough to be curious."
"I think that just about covers it."
"Typical UNIT," Sarah Jane half-mutters. "One hand doesn't know what the other's doing."
Liz has to agree, if silently. "So what happened?"
"Well...putting it simply, a race of intergalactic funeral directors faked the Doctor's death to get access to his TARDIS."
"And I went to another planet," Clyde chimes in with a grin.
She looks from one to the other. It sounds ridiculous but she's spent far too long around the impossible to be disbelieving; and besides, this is Sarah Jane Smith. She doesn't joke about this kind of thing.
"Oh, and do you remember Jo? Jo Grant - she came after you, I think - she was there too." Sarah Jane puts a hand on her arm and grins conspiratorially. "If anyone had told me I'd still be saving the world at my age - I wouldn't have believed them!"
"From what Alistair says, it's something you do on an alarmingly regular basis," she says with a smile, a little more in awe of this woman than she'd like to admit.
"We're not allowed to keep score," says Clyde. "Apparently-" he glances at Sarah Jane- "it's 'not a competition'." He wiggles his fingers in the air as he says that last part, a good natured scowl on his face. "If you ask me-"
"Yes, well, no-one did. Would you mind putting the kettle on?"
He backs away, hands raised in surrender - "Tea. Got it." - and Sarah Jane eyes him suspiciously for a second before a grin spreads across her face.
Liz watches the exchange with fascination. She's wondered for a while how Sarah Jane manages to juggle the intensity of her work with the youth of her team; the answer is, apparently, with ease.
"I'm so sorry," her hostess says, ushering her in to the living room. "Please, sit down. I do let my guests in - eventually!"
"Don't worry." She glances around the room, noting the overflowing bookcases next to the tables of souvenirs from what, as far as she can tell, is a good deal of the world and very possibly beyond. "I don't want to intrude on your life - I just wanted to know what happened. I still worry about him, sometimes."
Sarah Jane shoots her a smile, a little sad. "So do I. And I bet most of his former assistants do, every now and then. He's never been very good at keeping in touch."
"Except with you."
"Oh, I'm no different to anyone else. I just get in to more trouble."
Liz raises an eyebrow. "That's not how Alistair tells it. He says you were his best friend."
For a moment, Sarah Jane seems to be about to reply, but then Clyde pops his head around the door: "D'you have milk or sugar, Doctor Shaw?"
"Just milk, please," she replies. "And do call me Liz. Doctor Shaw makes me feel like I'm teaching."
"Got it," Clyde says, and disappears again.
"You lecture at Cambridge University, don't you?" Sarah Jane asks. "Maths and Physics?"
"Not quite as glamourous as saving the world, is it? Although I do some work for UNIT every now and then. Gets me away from the students."
"Hey, do you work on the moonbase?" Clyde, setting a mug of tea in front of both her and Sarah Jane, collapses in to an armchair and eyes her expectantly. "Because Colonel Karim said you were there. Is there really a base on the moon?"
"Yes," Liz says simply. She can see he's dying to find out more so she adds, "It's been there for about five years. You go up in a space shuttle - the base is on the far side of the moon so it's impossible to discover by telescope."
"I suppose you could put it like that." She sips her tea, the steam warm against her face, and looks curiously at the young man. "If you don't mind me asking, what do you want to do?"
"Oh..." Clyde shrugs, glances at Sarah Jane. "I dunno."
"Clyde's an artist," Sarah Jane says with a mother's pride. "A very good artist."
The expression on the boy's face is part delight, part embarrassment, and Liz has to laugh. "There was me thinking you'd be aiming for a career in UNIT."
"Oh, no. I mean, they're cool and everything, but I don't think I'd be a very good soldier."
"Too many rules," Sarah Jane interjects slyly and he throws her a wounded look which she returns with a raised eyebrow. "Hey. I know what you're like, remember?" She turns back to Liz. "Do you want a tour of the attic?"
"There's a supercomputer in the wall," adds Clyde.
Liz looks from one to the other and sets down her teacup. "How could I say no to that?"
An hour later and she's walking out of the front door with a promise to Sarah Jane that she'll keep in touch. "Someone has to tell me all the things Alistair doesn't know," she says with a laugh, and heads down the drive with her coat held tight against the chill wind.
At the end of the road, she looks back. Sarah Jane has disappeared and it looks for all the world like any other street in any other city. It feels like there should be a sign, a plaque, something to show that the world has been saved a thousand times over from this location, but there's just the wind and the crunch of leaves underfoot. Extraordinary things in ordinary places, she thinks as she stops by her car. It's very much the Doctor's way.
But now, in between moonbases and invasions, Elizabeth Shaw is just going home.