From a distance he was little more than a single white speck amongst the granite, unmoving, unremarkable. The graveyard was so big, and he so small, that he was lost in a sea of cold stone slabs and lush green grass. Here and there, flowers bloomed: daisies pushing up through verdant soil, dandelions raised their heads to the sky, roses entwined with the stones. He ignored them, just as the rest of the graveyard ignored him. They were so small, such a tiny speck of life, that they simply didn’t register. As, from a distance, neither did he.
It was only when you moved closer that he became of interest: his eyes so cold and grey, so fixed and unblinking; his face so lined and careworn; his hands gripping his unopened umbrella as if it contained salvation. He was the only patch of colour against his slate surroundings, and yet even here he did not seem vibrant. The graveyard seemed to drain the colour from his cheeks, the twinkle from his eye. Even the red of his umbrella’s handle seemed mute and drab. The hat that sat perched on his head failed to do so at a jaunty angle, and lips that so wanted to break into an infectious grin resolutely refused. Nothing would break his mood, his concentration.
Somewhere, crows laughed harshly. He paid them no heed.
The object of his attentions lay prostrate at his feet, covered in weeds and long grass. She was beautiful, although it wasn’t that which drew him to her. Her skin was pale and dry, but without blemish, covered in the softest chiffon, billowing gently in a non-existent wind. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders in flowing curls, softly merging with the white feathers of her wings. Her wings - the great wings of an eagle - were at rest behind her back, but looked for all the world as if the very next second they would stretch out and carry her back to the heavens.
But this stone angel was flying nowhere today. Time had not been kind to her as she stood guard over the gravestones, and the ground had shifted beneath her feet, sending her crashing to the earth. She had barely survived the fall, beautifully inert, proud in the face of her suffering.
And he looked down on her, his face equally inert, equally proud, and thought thoughts that were entirely his own.
‘Subsidence,’ she said, suddenly beside him.
He didn’t look. He knew what he would see. A young girl, so nearly a woman, dressed black as night and quite possibly with a disapproving look in her hazel eyes. He didn’t need that. Not now. He could disapprove quite enough for the two of them. He’d had years of practice.
‘And since the grave was put in,’ she said again. ‘Either that or they’d been at the communion wine when they put that statue up.’
Silence. Still silence.
He turned his cold grey gaze on her then. For just a moment, she felt the weight of the centuries press down on her. Thousands of choices made, and regretted? The cold eyes failed to transmit that much. But he looked at her, and he didn’t see what he feared. There was only worry, and love, and trust.
As she watched, a spark fired deep in his grey eyes. He smiled gently, and tapped a playful finger across her nose. She grinned back. The Doctor was definitely in.
‘Penny for them?’ she asked softly.
He looked back to the angel, his eyes meeting hers for a moment. She stared impassively through him, indignant.
‘There’s a grave under there,’ he said quietly, his Scots burr softening the sound. ‘One hundred years old, and no-one left to cut the grass.’
Ace looked at him, squinting against the midday sun. With a steel-tipped toe she pushed the heaviest of the weeds aside, to reveal a flat granite slab face up on the ground. Stubborn thistles still obscured the top half, but the weatherworn writing on the bottom could still just be made out: And also, it said, Ruth Ann, Great-granddaughter. And below that: born asleep.
‘Poor kid,’ Ace breathed.
‘Indeed,’ said the Doctor, darkly.
Ace pushed aside some more of the weeds with her hands, kneeling down to study the gritty stone from underneath a frown. Something struck her, and she said:
‘There’s no date.’
‘Isn’t that unusual?’
The Doctor looked again. The angel stared back, blankly, as if daring him to question her.
‘I suppose so,’ he answered.
Ace turned away from her search to look up at the Doctor. Despite his short stature, he seemed to tower over her. So solid, so unmoving, so sure: there were times when it seemed to Ace that he was the statue, looking down on her with stone cold, unblinking eyes. Perhaps if she grabbed him, held him, and stared deep into those eyes, she might see something that would tell her, something . . . just something.
‘What?’ she asked instead.
‘I was just thinking,’ he said softly. Ace remained quiet, hoping he would say more. ‘There are no children on Gallifrey. No real ones. Time Lords are born sterile.’
Ace kept looking up at him, but the words “born asleep” tripped quietly through her mind.
‘That’s terrible,’ she said, firmly.
‘Yes,’ the Doctor said. Or, at least, that was what Ace heard him say.
Ace pulled herself to her feet and brushed the clinging greenery from her black clad legs. Brushing her skirt back into place, she looked at the Doctor. He didn’t seem like he was ready to move, and wouldn’t be for at least another century. She folded her arms across her chest and looked at him like a disappointed mother.
‘They’re waiting for us,’ she said. ‘Are you coming? The ceremony’s already started.’
‘We don’t have to go,’ he said, avoiding her eyes. ‘We could just slip away. I know a planet where the skies are pink and the seas orange. Or is it the other way around? We could go and check. We could -‘
‘Come on,’ Ace said, ‘or we’ll miss it.’
The Doctor stopped, seeming to deflate.
‘I’ll be there soon,’ he said.
‘I’ve just never been good at this sort of thing. Go on.’
With a last look, Ace shrugged her hands into her pockets and wandered away the way she had come, weaving through the myriad of stones. The Doctor didn’t watch her go. He didn’t need to: he’d seen it before, he’d see it again. He knew it wouldn’t start yet, not without him: the guest of honour. His eyes fell instead on the gravestone, quietly resting in its shroud of greenery. With the tip of his umbrella he pushed aside the last of the weeds, to reveal the inscription: Susan. And below that: Beloved Granddaughter.
With a last unreadable glance, he turned away, to follow Ace towards the remembrance ceremony.