Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: Liz Shaw, Jo Grant
Summary: Liz Shaw wanted someone to talk about her old, odd world. Jo Grant was the perfect someone.
Author's note: This was written for ravenskyewalker , for the 2014 fandom_stocking fun. I've owed it to her for more than three months, and I hope she accepts my apologies for the delayed IOU. She indicated a fondness for the companions of the Third Doctor and, since he is one of my favorite Doctors as well, I thought I'd take a dip in the Classic pool. For those interested in chronology, this is after Death of the Doctor on The Sarah Jane Adventures and somewhere near the end of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure.
Edited by: The perspicacious dr_whuh, aka buckaroobob .
“— I’m not sure any conversation between his companions would ever pass the Bechdel test.” Jo sipped at her green chai, then grinned.
Liz smiled slightly in return. “ I rather think they would, at least technically. After all, he’s an alien, not a man.”
She felt slightly affronted when Jo guffawed in response and kicked back from the table, attracting the somewhat bemused attention of other couples in the cafe. Then she shrugged her shoulders; at least they’d been dining al fresco. Jo’s laugh could really have been overwhelming in the cafe proper. “Well, he is.”
Jo got herself under control and said, “Yes, but he’s an alien man. And believe me when I say that he always took close notice of those ridiculous micro-minis and knee-high boots I used to wear.”
“Probably because they were terrifically inefficient whilst running away from whatever he’d set in motion,” Liz pointed out.
“Well, yes,” Jo allowed. “But he always seemed disappointed when I wore my elephant pants and trainers.”
Liz couldn’t help it; she snickered. That, of course, set Jo off again, although this time it was a slightly more sedate giggle fit. Now the looks around them were visibly curious, and possibly annoyed. Liz knew what an entire dinner with Jo Grant Jones could be like, and decided she’d been right to stick to an afternoon chat instead. At her age, she prefered her social engagements to be more decorous than otherwise.
Still, Liz couldn’t deny that it was lovely to talk to someone about the Doctor; especially Jo.
With Alistair and Sarah Jane gone — once again she felt the stab of pain — she had no one she could really talk to. John Benton was about, of course, but they had never been particularly close and, after he left UNIT and started his car business, she’d never thought to search him out.
And poor Mike Yates … while they had some shared interests when it came to art and politics, talking about the Doctor brought out something dark and bitter in Mike. Tom, who was very protective of the man he loved, asked her to stay away from most UNIT subjects and she’d complied. They still did dinner together three or four times a year, but there was an emotional distance there; Liz thought Mike knew she wanted to talk about the old days, and felt guilty about not wanting to do so himself.
And she did want to talk about the old days, she mused, still surprised at her own desire to reconnect with that long-gone part of her life.
She’d been happy without it for years. There had even been times when she’d almost convinced herself that she hadn’t liked her time with UNIT, generally after she’d got the fish eye from potential academic employers who looked askance at her military attachment. But the truth of it was that she’d probably never felt quite so alive as when she’d been dealing with the daily impossibilities with which UNIT and the Doctor regularly presented her ….
“Zoning out, eh? My students could learn a thing or two from you.”
“Hmm?” Liz shook her head slightly. The cobwebs gathered more easily these days ….
Jo’s smile was sweet, despite her teasing. “You were so far out in thought that you could have been meditating. Some of my students never managed to get that level of zen.”
“My apologies. Just —”
“ —thinking about the Doctor does that,” Jo said. Her own gaze grew a little foggy. “Thinking about the past, too. It was so many years ago, for both of us. Funny to think that, if he wanted, he could drop by and visit us right now, right this very moment, and it might only be a few weeks after he saw us last.”
She looked unusually sorrowful for the briefest span of time, and then continued with a return of her smile. “Or one of his newer selves could drop by, even older than he was when we knew him first.”
“That’s right.” Liz straightened slightly, ignoring the twinge in her back. Arthritis was such a nuisance. “You met his latest iteration. What was he like?” She held back all of the other questions crowding into her head.
“Young, for one thing. And a little shorter — do you remember how he used to loom over everyone? He doesn’t loom so much now. But he still has memorable hair, of the floppy, modern hipster sort.”
The Doctor as a floppy modern hipster was a ridiculous image. Liz considered it, recalling velvet opera capes and an aristocratic lisp. Perhaps not so ridiculous, then. She startled herself with the bark of a laugh, then decided to let some of the questions out. “You said he was younger; are you sure it wasn’t an earlier incarnation?”
“Oh, no, this wasn’t an early Doctor, I’m very sure of it; I’d talked to Kate about it,” Jo said. “He was the one who followed the one with the pinstripes, the thin-lipped fox-faced one. And that one followed … hmmm, Kate showed me some pictures … I think Foxface came after one who looked like a surprisingly handsome stevedore. So, no, this one may look like he’s 29 or so, but as far as Kate could tell, he’s over 1,000 of our years old.”
“Ah. Fascinating.” Liz found a position that was more comfortable and considered the subject carefully. She’d heard of his subsequent regenerations of course, from Alistair and the others. But she’d never seen the change, as Alistair and Sarah Jane had, and she had always wanted to observe it. She didn’t think any version of the Doctor would begrudge her her scientific curiosity. “Was his personality the same, or was it—”
“Oh, quite different … but still the same. It’s an odd thing, you know, to see the same person peering out of eyes and a face that you don’t recognize.” Jo tilted her head in thought. “He’s more deliberative, but he hides it all behind an extremely goofy facade.”
Which sort of presentation Jo would know a great deal about, Liz suspected. In the years since she’d met the younger woman, she’d come to understand that she was far more intelligent than she let on. It served Jo well in her life of activism, but it must have simultaneously frustrated and surprised the Doctor, she thought.
“I remember that Alistair once told me the Doctor said that the process rebuilt him from the cellular level, but if it was that simple, you’d think he’d just regenerate into a younger copy of himself,” she continued, now musing aloud. “I shouldn’t doubt that whatever happens to the Doctor might go far deeper, rewriting himself from the DNA on up ….” She narrowed her eyes, considering the logic of such an alien process.
“I hear the researcher in your voice,” Jo said. “You’d love to see him change, film it and study it and write reams about it, even if you weren’t able to publish what you wrote anywhere..”
Liz acknowledged the barb with a wry grin. “Can you blame me? Certainly you must have been a little curious yourself.”
Jo’s smile was as wry as her own had been. “Well, yes, I was always curious about the Doctor. But my scientific credentials are pretty non-existent, as you know. Those A-levels are 45 years out of date now! No, I was far more curious about his life than about his body.” She sighed. “I never had much chance to ask him about himself while we were together, though. We were always pelting up and down corridors, racing around in that lovely old flivver of his, dashing about, desperately trying to save ourselves or the world from the latest madman or alien. All the running was apt to keep one’s mind off trying to wheedle stories of his childhood out of him.”
If the idea of the Doctor as cool young man had struck Liz oddly, the idea that he had ever been a child left her almost speechless. That was no problem, since the waiter chose that moment to come over.
“Do you ladies want anything more?” He looked at Liz with that unbearably fond soft-headed gaze that told her he thought she looked a lot like his grandmother. She got that far too often these days, and if she thought it would do any good, she’d either give him a good talking-to, or scream.
She was about to wave him off, but Jo was faster. “You know, I think I’m hungry. Do you still have any of those particularly lovely egg and cheese tarts I saw when I came in? Or maybe the quinoa and edamame bowl? No, not that, that’s more porridgey than I want, so yes, the tarts, do you have them? Oh, and look, it’s after 4 o’clock, which means that the sun is definitely over the yardarm, so I’d like a glass of your house red to go with the tart.”
The waiter stared at her, nonplussed at the torrent of words. “Erm … yes, I think we still have the tarts.”
“Wonderful! I’d like two of them, then, with the wine. Liz, what do you want?”
To her surprise, Liz realized that she was hungry, too. She’d meant to finish up the last of her very cold coffee and make her goodbyes, but the thought of going home to her very quiet flat abruptly seemed rather dull. “I’ll have a chicken salad sandwich and one of your small house salads. And a glass of chardonnay.”
The waiter, obviously relieved that she was less precipitous than her table mate, headed off to start their orders.
“I’m so glad you decided to stay and eat,” Jo said, looking, to Liz’s surprise, noticeably relieved. “I’ve been enjoying this so much, but I wasn’t sure if you weren’t bored to the bone.”
“Not in the least, my dear,” Liz said, pleased to know that she was speaking nothing but the truth. “This is the most fun I’ve had for quite some time. It’s good — very good — to be here with you. I have never, ever, been bored when I was with you.”
Jo smiled her thanks, and Liz continued. “It’s been so long since I could talk about those days. I know others who knew about our old, odd world, but for some of them, that time was something they wanted to forget. And others, like Sarah Jane, they were pretty clearly still living it. You found that out, of course. I just wanted someone who understood, and who had the time to understand with me.”
Jo nodded. “And of course, too many of our old friends are gone now.”
They were silent for a while in shared remembrance, then Liz blinked, to clear her eyes of incipient tears. Time to think of something else. “So how long are you in England for? Are you heading back to South America soon?” Jo and the rest of her peripatetic family never seemed to let themselves get chained down, and despite being in her 60s, she might be off to the Amazon rainforest next week, or on one of her periodical trips to Nepal or almost any place, really.
“I’m here for the duration,” Jo responded, to Liz’s very great surprise. “Santiago finally made his mind up; he’s going to buckle down and study, and he wanted to do it in what he called his ancestral home.” She shook her head, chuckling. “So he’s reading philosophy, politics and economics at Magdalen. After all the sun-filled climes, and foreign wonders we’ve taken in together, now it’s back to fog, more fog, and Conservative pettifoggery for yours truly. And he swears he won’t even miss swimming competitively. I do not understand young people these days.”
“And Cliff?” Liz had liked Jo’s botanist husband the one time she’d met him.
Jo’s smile was a little lopsided. “He swears he’s not coming back, except for visits. I expect that to last about six months. We really don’t do well without each other. I’m giving him time to finish his latest projects; thank God, I’d finished mine up by the time Santiago decided to venture to the auld sod. Now I just have to find a flat for myself.”
“Up at Oxford.” Liz tried to hide her disappointment.
“Oh, heavens no! Santiago’s quite happily settled in quarters up there, and he needs to stand on his own. I’m staying here in London. Once Cliff gives in and closes up our house in Brazil, then we can talk about moving closer to the grandson.”
Liz drew a deep breath. That was just what she’d hoped to hear. “Well, if you haven’t found a place yet—”
She hadn’t thought Jo’s smile could be any broader. “Of course. And yes, I accept!”
Liz became aware that her jaw had dropped. She shut her mouth with a quickness, and then she smiled back at the younger woman. “You’re a quick study, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and extremely cheeky; I have that on the best authority.”
They were still laughing when the waiter came over. “Ladies?”
They both looked up. He wasn’t looking at either of them with that fatuous “respect for the aged” look now. Instead, he looked more than a little shellshocked. “There was a … I mean, the gentleman who paid your bill—”
They looked at each other. “What man?”
“ I mean, the men who paid your bills ….” He trailed off. Their intent gazes appeared to unsettle him even more. “Well, the first one, the young man, said he wanted to pay your bill, Ma’am—” He nodded at Liz. “He took off at a tear, after leaving way too much money, and then the, the … the extravagantly-dressed older gentleman in the cape came in and said he wanted to handle your bill—” This time a brief nod to Jo.“He seemed quite put out at the younger man. Maybe it was his son, he was oddly dressed, too, a sort of purple morning jacket, but he said … the older one, I mean … erm, he said ‘That fool forgot Jo. No one should forget Jo.’ And then he left. He didn’t leave quite enough, but his son left enough to make up the difference.”
The waiter probably had no idea he was babbling. The Doctor often had that effect on people, Liz thought, simultaneously delighted at knowing who the mysterious men were, and furious that he — either of him — hadn’t deigned to come to the table and talk.
“You poor thing,” Jo exclaimed. “He can be infuriating, we know. Here, have my wine. We’ll take the sandwich and tarts with us, shall we, Liz? Or, no, why don’t you have them, or give them to staff for supper, we’ll fuel up a little later.”
Liz cocked an eyebrow.
“Well, he — they — can’t have gotten too far. Perhaps we can catch him.”
Liz started to demur — she was too old to go chasing after any Doctor — then stopped, and checked her shoes. Sensible flats. In that case … “ I think a little exercise is just what my arthritis needs.”
They exited the restaurant with a speed that left their erstwhile waiter breathless. He wasn’t sure if he pitied the old man and his son, or envied them.
He was almost through his shift when the rasping howl from somewhere down the street briefly caught his attention. He cocked an ear, frowned in confusion, then went back to mulling the mystery of the sprinting old ladies. Honestly, the things senior citizens did!