Summary: Over the years Tegan's memories add up to a realization.
Genre: angst, romance
Character(s): Tegan, Fifth Doctor, Adric
Warnings: Doctor/Tegan unrequited, post-series
Partly inspired by this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtftQZH5Ig0
"People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them." - James Baldwin
It's been one month and two days when the scent of the TARDIS comes flooding back, that odd scent of machine and man, a mixture of salt and spices from thousands of centuries, hundreds of worlds and ages, and dozens of passengers. It's a scent like remembering holidays with family, fresh baked goods and pies, burning candles and logs on a fire, warmth and nostalgia wrapped around the bad years.
She's folding her clothes when she catches the fragrance, all this time and several washings and it still hasn't vanished.
For a moment she feels lost and frightened, like a child separated from her parents in an unknown place. She feels somehow disconnected from those outside her window, faceless forms rushing by. Her hands shake as she clenches them together, wiping them against her skirt. The scent remains imprinted in her skin, stamped where no amount of soap, water, or perfume can erase it.
Finally, she gives up and throws her clothes away, everything she wore in the TARDIS, replaces them with clothes that smell only of Earth and not some distant planet. After a while it wears off her skin and the scent vanishes, pressed away in her memories like violets in a book.
Eventually she forgets.
It's been one year to the day and the moment after a storm when she steps outside and tastes the air, the unmistakable taste of clean earth and sky like the air in places she remembers, rich and brimming with life.
She laughs, feeling like running out and exploring a strange place, chasing after the Doctor. But it's only Earth, and she's left him, and there's no going back, not now, not ever, even if the rain still tastes of memories best forgotten.
It's been five years when the sound of the TARDIS in flight returns to her mind, not the whoosh of air as it leaves but rather the all- encompassing cacophony as it darts through space, a thousand stars plucking at it, a million notes swirling around them until she thinks her head will burst from the exquisite beauty of it all.
They've stopped on another planet, some strange and rocky place that the Doctor takes in with the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas, when he spies a shining bit of something tucked in a corner of the roof of the TARDIS and climbs up to pull it down. It's a burned out star, colors swirled through it when it catches the light, and he drops it wordlessly into her cupped hands as she teases Adric that he can replace his badge with a real star.
Six days later and eons away, Adric dies, burning up across the galaxies like the bit of space they'd held in their hands, becoming part of endless fields of stars and sky. There's no body to bury, but in the next place they stop she scratches a hole in the ground and buries the piece of star. She's covering it over when the Doctor appears behind her, coming silently like a ghost, the broken fragments of Adric's badge in his open palm. He kneels and lays them beside the star, hand brushing her's as they shift the dirt over the shallow grave.
After that, space sounds different than before, somehow vacant like voices calling, mournful, never the same as before.
It's been five years and she wonders why she remembers it the beautiful way.
It's been seven years and two weeks when someone shakes her hand and like floodgates opened the memory pours over her of the feel of his hand in her's, the distance between them as his fingers tightened almost imperceptively in the instant before she pulled away.
His hand was warm and calloused, the steady double threads of his pulse entwining with the racing pace of her single heartbeat. She felt the heat of his hand on her skin after their hands broke apart, fingers curling toward her palm in a clenched fist to steady herself, his words strengthening her resolve. "Brave heart, Tegan."
The person holding her hand is staring and she averts her eyes as hot tears spring unbidden. She blinks them away before they spill over, hand falling limply to her side.
It's been ten years when an image forms in her mind, one thought forgotten, tampered down and hammered into place long ago, bolted in a secluded corner of her memory where it could do no harm and rest hidden from the present. It's an image of him, head bent over the console, the light tangled in his hair, turning the strands to liquid gold, spilling over his clothes and onto his hands, fingers framing some alien object, forehead knitted as he examines it.
In that moment her breath had caught as if for the first time she realized that he was a Time Lord, that the deceptively young and human body concealed the ages he'd seen pass, the two hearts that set him apart from her. He'd looked like a fiery angel in that moment, otherworldly, burning in time like a shooting star.
The picture of him is as clear and vivid as if she'd stood beside him only yesterday and she blinks to dispel it.
After a while the memory fades and blurs, dulling with time. And one day it disappears altogether. But she never searches for it so she doesn't know until it's much too late.
It's been fifteen years and she's washing dishes, such a mundane task that her mind drifts away from the flat and into her memories, when she realizes that he's gone. She doesn't know why it would occur to her now after all these years but it does and the dish spills from her hand and shatters into the sink, white shards amidst a cloud of soapy water.
The body would still be young by human standards but she knows that her Doctor with his reckless abandonment for his own safety combined with a penchant for danger would not have survived this long. He'd have regenerated at least once by now, transformed into a stranger with an unknown face and mannerisms, a man she might have passed on the street and never known. Her Doctor, with the endearing smile, the ready charm, and the stick of celery, is gone without a parting word or even a gravestone to visit.
When her husband finds her ten minutes later she's leaning over the sink, sobbing. He tries to comfort her, questioning the reason for the tears, and all she can say is "memories". After all, how can she explain that she's mourning someone who isn't even truly dead?
It's been thirty years, one month, six days, and ten hours since the moment she left him and it strikes her as absurdly funny that she can remember the exact time, the exact place she last saw him. It's been so long than when the realization comes it's like a punch to the stomach, the air rushing out of her lungs until spots dance before her eyes.
She loved him.
She tries to picture his face, torturing herself with trying to remember whether she'd seen a light in his eyes when he looked at her, struggles to recall the sound of his voice to determine whether a tenderness was tucked beneath the words "Brave heart, Tegan", whether he reached for her hand and withdrew, smiled at her in a way he didn't smile at the others.
But it's been too many decades, years, months, weeks, days, and hours. The time she once never thought of, the eras she walked through, have eroded the only thing she took with her when she left him - her memories. It's too late to know, too late to return and discover the truth.
And thirty years, one month, six days, and ten hours after she left him, she mourns. Not for all she's lost but for all she might have had if she'd stayed.