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sleepless in London
by Raven

PG-13, gen. Saving the world, one person at a time.

The Doctor can't sleep.

Like all of her kind, she has no need to; the last of the waters of Gallifrey still ebb and flow in her veins, like time and tide and all things in between, but years of living with humans have given her certain habits. The heavy summer air should serve as her blanket, over the single sheet that clings to her skin, but she can’t make that shift into dreams.

Lucky little humans, she thinks. Lucky, blessed race of people who can escape from reality when they want. Look at Rose, dreaming about peaches and cream.

Dreams were too anarchic for the Time Lords. The Doctor gets up.

Clothes, first, and she stumbles through the blackness, pulling on some of her own, some of Rose’s, and staggers and nearly falls, steadying herself on the edge of the bed. “Doctor,” Rose murmurs. “I’m lost... I’ve lost my key.”

The Doctor lays a brief hand on her hair, whispers it’s just a dream, and feels Rose’s timeline twist and lengthen as she sinks back into sleep. Something is humming, the fridge or extractor fan, and a red light blinks on the base of the television. The bedsit is a grotty little place, the sort of thing the Doctor likes for the anonymity while she despises it for the stench of despair worn into the carpets. All at once, she needs to get to the window.

Lurching across, she sticks her head out. The air is cool, pleasant, but it doesn’t calm her. She is restless, settled beneath the same sky night after night, twitching from wanderlust. She wants to go chase her dragon.

Breathe in, breathe out. Remember, Doctor; pass for human. Something lands heavily on the ceiling and she startles. Their neighbour above is awake too, pacing the floor in a sequence of dull thumps. Like the Doctor, she never sleeps.

But for all her misery, she is not a creature out of time. The Doctor’s will is stronger than many things but not the movement of the stars. Rose is still sleeping, and the Doctor leaves her be. She walks barefoot from the room, down the stairs with their broken glass cutting into her skin, and out into the cobbled square. The moon and stars drift serenely above.

Outside, the trees wave gently in the breeze. They are in leaf, vibrant green and transpiring heavily so the air is laden with dew.. The Doctor has always wondered if the colours of day cease to exist under darkness, if the green is really green or merely grey. That she can think such a thing in the midst of visceral beauty reminds her of the rigid, humourless scientist who remains, lurking, at the base of her mind. She is who he will be and he who she was; the Doctor who was born on Gallifrey and was an alien wherever he went.

Above her, a light goes on in a window. The Doctor knows Rose’s silhouette intimately, each line and curve of it, and is aware that the shadow that crosses the blinds is that of a stranger. In the room below, Rose sleeps. The woman standing in the light is awake, and afraid.

The Doctor watches from below, her mind idly ticking over. She can see the fear in the rigidity of the stance, the careful movements. There is a voice, muffled by glass and brick, but the Doctor hears it and it is not the voice of a woman.

The first crash is vicious and muffled. Down on the cobbles below the trees, the Doctor’s ears prick up. She hears a shout, a thud as something hits the wall. Someone – this time, a woman – cries out.

The Doctor reaches down beneath the tree-roots, and finds a rock. It is pleasingly heavy in her hands, risen from deep within the soil and smoothed by some long-receded sea. She throws it at the window in a long curving arc, and the glass smashes.

“Fucking hell!” comes the voice, and the Doctor smiles. He comes to the window and screams at the teenagers, the fucking yobs, the fucking state of the fucking country, and the Doctor steps out from beneath the tree and shows him the slight, curly-headed woman who has momentarily shaken his world. He shouts his abuse and she takes it. A shadow flickers across the blinds and is gone.

After a moment, he runs out in the square, in time for the Doctor to disappear into the shadows. He wakes most of the neighbourhood, but he never finds her, and he goes to call the police.

Above, the light goes off in the window. The Doctor stands still, a silent figure among the trees, and she is not afraid. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, not even on nights like these, not even when there are women out there crying in the dark.

The Doctor is not afraid; it is the only birthright she has not yet cast off.

Taking soft steps, she walks back upstairs.

Rose is still sleeping when the Doctor curls up on the windowsill, staring out at the dark. Rose will be happy to get away from here, never quite understanding why the Doctor wants and needs to stay. Rose can empathise, and forget; she can fight for her cause with the inborn passion of humanity, but then sleep and dream of irrelevancies. The Doctor only wishes for such a gift.

She still can’t sleep. She stays where she is, listening to the sound of movement through the ceiling. Another night ticking past, another world saved. It’s time to go, back to the TARDIS hiding beneath the trees.

Last night it was a curly-headed man who threw the rock through the window. Two weeks ago, a blonde cricketer. An elderly gentleman was once even detained for questioning.

The Doctor listens to the BBC World Service, very quietly, until dawn. England dozes serenely through its summer; tomorrow, the cricket team will win the Ashes. The women’s team, too, but the ink of history fades quicker from their pages.

One day Rose will find a place she won’t be glad to leave. Her happiness, her birthright, will all at once be tied up in one place. Like the nameless woman upstairs, whose life is saved by a stranger every night.

In a hundred years, the Doctor will come back to this place. Time and tide wait for no man, but they’ll wait for her.


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