Standard Disclaimers Apply. Thanks to Krypto for the quick read-over. Believe it or not this actually part of my insidious plan to eventually get Rose and the Doctor in the same universe. Cleverly disguised, no?
Neither Here Nor There
Coming around the console room to the always-empty coat rack, the Doctor prodded the hot pink sleeping bag on the floor at its base with his trainer. She didn't move. He picked up the plate at Violet's head, removing the now slightly stale white bread sandwich from the plate and finished it. Every night she'd eat a single bite of what he gave her, never any more. He wasn't sure how much longer that could continue.
As he dared to contemplate just how long the peanut butter and chopped bananas had been out and on the floor, he watched her for a moment. Other than the rise and fall of her chest, there was no further indication that she was still awake.
Good. It was really hard to do the whole Father Christmas bit with the tyke still up, and it didn't help that Violet'd taken to sleeping in the console room—on the floor—every single night for the last four months. Things had been… rough. But he had some kind of weird hope that only Christmas can bring, that this one day would make all the difference for her.
There'd always been a sort of cheerfulness with her gloom-and-doom attitude. She'd ask how he planned on killing her today, or just how long he thought it'd be before they managed to bring about the destruction of the universe when they got into especially sticky situations before. Now she was just… sullen. Quiet, studious and terribly, impossibly clingy. Her room was now more of a trophy room to hold her collection of various odds and ends from their travels than a bedroom; her doll house sat unused, which annoyed the little wooden doll family to no end, her stack of novels was growing dusty and the bed hadn't been turned down in months.
Sighing, the Doctor lifted one of the grates, pulling out his least favorite wad of cabling and a box of parts. He'd been trying in all of that time to manage another phone call through the void, but it wasn't working. The last two times he'd even tried, the ship had been thrown into the vortex and bounced around like a pinball through time and space.
A few days ago, he'd gotten a call to ring through twice without the ship's location within time and space becoming unstable, even though there'd been no one on the other side to pick it up at the time, and Christmas was the perfect time to make this work.
Digging through the old 1940's style wooden soda crate, he found the tools he was looking for. Maybe talking to her mother would cheer her up. Maybe he'd start to see just some small bit of the girl's old self there.
Violet wasn't eating—the single bite taken out of the sandwich was enough to tell him that. She had gone from six hours of sleep (unconscionable for children on Earth) to three, sometimes four hours. It left him with little time to himself, but he was more worried about the shift in her behavior.
She was more attentive to her studies, and usually fell asleep with a textbook in hand. Some of the subjects she'd been lacking in had improved greatly now that she'd stopped having such a linear mindset when she approached the problems in the texts. The speed with which she was plowing through the work was breakneck. It was all she did, morning till night (they ran strictly on GMT, Violet had insisted upon it years ago, and he'd decided to let her have that battle). It wasn't normal to be that focused on school, no matter how much you enjoyed it. There needed to be time for doing other things, like playing or physical activity. The only real breaks she took were when he got her to help with the ship. There were two things she wanted to know every last bit of: the ship and the Gallifreyan language.
Right now she was laying face down in a text he hadn't started until he was much older.
The subjects she used to have trouble with were now easier. She wasn't a prodigy by his people's standards, but she was finally allowing herself to think like them. He should have been delighted that she was using her full potential and not hindering herself with denial, wishful thinking and a bunch of useless other psychological tactics.
He missed Violet. He missed her sarcasm and humor, he missed her wishful thinking, trick-playing, homework avoiding, eating everything in sight… He missed her humanity.
She wasn't human. He'd been trying to impress that upon her for years—mostly when it caused a problem with her understanding of her texts and practice problems, or when they'd gotten themselves into a jam that would have easily been solved if she hadn't been so…human. But she faked it well enough.
How could she not? She'd spent her early years leading a normal human life. Well, give or take some familial weirdness involving aliens and secret government agencies and such. And being related to Jackie Tyler (which Rose had also somehow managed to overcome, thank God).
She used to like painting her nails (horrid colors like fluorescent green and black—together he might add), playing with her dolls, going on useless missions throughout the ship looking for her lost cat… She'd steal his psychic paper (oh, he knew she was rummaging through his coat pockets when he wasn't wearing it), and she'd go off to her room with it for hours, and he'd hear her laughing at whatever her mind was producing. Knowing the trick never seemed to make it any less magical for her.
And now, here they were.
She didn't like being alone, which didn't bode for him having anything resembling 'Doctor time' as he liked to call it. She studied just about every hour she was awake, didn't eat, didn't sleep, didn't laugh…
It was like she'd been replaced with a pod-person. She'd had an extremely trying experience involving a chemical-induced reduction in her natural mental barriers, not to mention the involvement of plant zombies and watching the complete and total upheaval of a peaceful society.
She'd encountered a lot of grown-up things in one twenty-four hour period, in addition to her own convalescence. It had taken her almost a week to get up and about again, and he wasn't sure all of it was due to her need to recover from physical harm.
Their strings had been pulled that time, and had been several times since. He didn't know who was doing the tugging and maneuvering, but something big was out there, coming for them. Perhaps the girl was worried about that as well.
Looking down at the parts in his hands, the Doctor realized he'd been staring off into space. He really did need to work on this. Mostly, he knew, when a kid born on earth wasn't excited about Christmas…there was something seriously, SERIOUSLY wrong.
Violet hated when he replaced things on the console. Mostly she hated that he almost never had the correct part, and was making due with something else entirely. The mishmash of technologies and the cluttered appearance of the control column had always made her slightly insane. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, much? He'd always suspected that her need for a tidy console (which for some unknown reason did not translate into a need for for a tidy bedroom) was just one step away from compulsive hand washing.
It was probably why she got along with the other TARDIS so well—back in the day she'd slip off to the pristine white console room and just keep it company. It was a long way from being repaired—the ship (of its own accord) had managed to shove a mostly grown TARDIS into a drinking-straw sized thread between realities and push itself through, and to here. The mere act of departing and arriving in the same place in two separate universes had broken things he didn't even know were capable of breaking. Eventually she'd have to accept that he was going to have to start replacing broken bits with…non-standard parts. He had a better chance of fixing the trans-locational echoing system with a couple a couple of lawn-sized windmills and a roll of sticky tape than he was to get the original parts working again.
He sensed it might be something about 'keeping things as they should be,' whatever that meant. The problem was worse when he went back to working on this particular experiment. It meant dropping thick black cables out of the ceiling and running them into an open hatch below the control panel, thus keeping the hatch open and disrupting the order of things, at least to her perspective. Another reason why he only tried to do this while she was asleep.
Quietly pulling the cables down, he climbed off the railing he'd been using as a step stool, then popped open the appropriate panel. Violet had always been full of wishful thinking, and it might be wishful thinking on his part that he cold finally get this thing to work for Christmas. Oh well, there was always Boxing Day, he supposed, but it wouldn't quite have the same magical flair it would, if he could manage it for Christmas.
He wanted her to believe in fairies again.
"Why're you muckin' with that again?" a tired voice asked from behind the Doctor.
He was haunched over a relay and converter, neither seemed to be handling the astral energy conversion at an acceptable rate. It was drawing in massive amounts of energy from the sun they were hovering above, but that energy wasn't being converted into signal. It was just being lost. "Go back to sleep, Vi." But he knew she wouldn't. "Everybody needs a hobby, so never you mind. If I want to putter with the communications systems, I will."
There had never seemed to be a good time to tell her that he'd gotten it to work once. It might have given her some happiness or hope…or it could have made things worse. So he'd told her he was working on the communications systems, and left it at that. When she'd ask why they always needed to be near some vast and powerful star to do it, he got incredibly evasive. This had better just work, because she wouldn't be ignorant forever.
She didn't go back to sleep though—he heard pages turning in her book about two minutes later. It would be useless to ask if she was hungry—she'd just tell him no, maybe later. Getting her out of the room for the test would be impossible.
So this had better just work.
Adjusting the converter to compensate for the perceived loss of signal, he put everything back together and decided to fire everything up. Flipping switches, spinning dials, he grinned when the output remained steady, failing to drop or explode in his face. "Well, Vi. Lets see if this works." If there WAS some being out there interfering with their lives, the Doctor would very much like said being to just give him this one.
It rang. And it rang. And it rang…"Huh?" the voice asked on the other end. A live person!
"Hi, is Rose home?"
There was some shifting. Please don't let him have…"Do you have ANY idea what time it is? And no, Rose ISN'T home. YOU PEOPLE sent her out of town! For Christmas! If my entire family gets killed for the holidays because of some daft 'business' deal with a race of slime-sucking aliens--"
"Jackie!" The Doctor cut her off loudly. "Jackie, listen to me--"
The response was immediate, high pitched and furious. "Who said you could call me Jackie? Who is this, anyway? Just who do you think you are…"
Violet was standing next to him now, a look of shock on her face.
He just grinned before responding. "Jackie Tyler," he interrupted loudly. "I know this is going to be tough for you, you being you and all… but SHUT UP. There's someone here who wants to talk to you." Without waiting for a response, he thrust the phone at Violet. "Say hi to your gran," he whispered. "She misses you." The deranged witch.
Why wasn't Violet smiling? "Gran?"
"Sweetheart? Violet? Is that you, honey?" Jackie was so loud he could hear her from several feet away.
First Violet nodded, forgetting she was on the phone. "Yeah. I'm here." She sounded meek, timid. He almost didn't know this girl. "No. Nothing's wrong. I think it's just a bad connection. I guess that's what happens when you try to stuff a Double-Repeating Camiac wave through a hole in realities." She was so clinical about what he must have done in order to force the signal through. "No, I'm fine. I just woke up. He didn't wake me up, Gran. I just woke up on my own."
He watched her face. It wasn't tense, but it was hardly as relaxed or excited as she should have been in this circumstance. "All kinds of stuff. I finished another set of text books last week. Yeah. I do all the problems." There it was, right there. All the excitement and joy of being out there, where it was all happening—it was gone from her voice. There was no twinkle in her eye…nothing. Not even excitement that she was talking live to a family member another universe away.
She started shifting her eyes back and forth, fidgeting with her oversized t-shirt. "I know. I miss you an' mum and granddad and Uncle Mickey. Yeah, it's Christmas here too. We're supposed to go to Earth for a few days. We got your last pictures…" after a moment, she bit her lip. "The Doctor wants to talk to you again."
Without giving him any chance to stop her, she thrust it at him and began walking away. "Vi, come back! Where--"
"What did you do to her?" Jackie demanded, the sound of it crackling and just a bit distorted in his ear. That's why she hadn't recognized his voice either time he called. Not the greatest connection yet.
The Doctor sighed. "Nothing. Ok, maybe I did. I sprung this on her. It was supposed to be a surprise. A GOOD surprise."
Jackie gave an audible sigh of disgust. "She doesn't sound like she's sleeping properly. You're probably not feeding her right, either."
A tortured smile spread across his lips. "Actually, it's what I wanted to talk to Rose about. She's not sleeping and she's not eating, and--"
The Doctor didn't say anything. He wasn't sure how to respond. Especially to the tone in her voice. For the moment, the 'it must be your fault' tone in her voice was gone. She was genuinely concerned for Violet, which put them on the same team.
She only let the silence go on so long before prompting him again. "Go on. Something must have happened. She doesn't sound like my granddaughter. So either something's happened, or you've managed to keep her blocked off from people for so long you've made her alien." Which was one of the fears Jackie'd always had for Rose—that he'd change her into something unrecognizable.
Closing his eyes, the Doctor sat on the grill, using one knee as an armrest and tucking the other leg beneath him. Leaning back against the console, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "She's not human, Jackie. She's not even half human, any more. And I don't mean the way she's acting. Her genetics have been overwritten. Probably started with the surge caused by the universe expanding, but would have happened on its own over time. I'm sorry Jackie—she's just not…well, human."
"That isn't what I mean, and you KNOW it!" Oh good. They were back to her hating him. "She's my grandbaby, and she's a sweet little girl, and you should keep her that way."
That's what that phone call was supposed to do. "She had…a bit of an upset…" he began. There was no way in the universe Jackie wouldn't blame him for this, but he had her here and now, and maybe—just maybe she could help with Violet.
He explained what had happened on the colony… not seeing much point in sparing the details. Ugh. Talking to Jackie was painful. Admitting that he was failing with the thing she held most dear—why not just stick a knife in him? It'd be easier.
When he finished, there was silence. Great. "Jackie?"
More silence. Maybe the connection had dropped.
Finally he heard breathing on the other end. "I'm thinking it over. First of all, she needs to sleep in a bed. Second, if she gets up early, make her go back to bed. Don't even let her out till the alarm goes off, whether she goes back to sleep or not. No books, nothing to do. Make her a cup of tea before bed, tuck her in, read her a story, and then shut off the light an LEAVE."
He rammed his head against the metal plating of the console. "Don't you think I've tried that? What can I do if she refuses to go to bed in her bed? Lock her in her room?"
Jackie's exasperation with him was evident. "What good are you? You're useless."
"Thanks," he mumbled.
There was another moment's lull in the conversation. "Look, I'm sure you're doing your best." It probably took ten years off her life saying that to him, the Doctor mused. "But you're the adult. She's the child. She doesn't GET to make decisions for herself. I don't care how clever or conniving she is. If you say she has to sleep in a bed, she has to sleep in a bed."
"And if not?"
"There're consequences." It sounded so…manipulative. Jackie was slightly evil. He'd always known that about her, but it was really rearing its ugly head at the moment. "No television or whatever it is you do out there. No games… well, I guess if she's not paying attention to that anyway… no traveling. Tell her you'll both stay right where you are until she behaves."
"But she's not misbehaving!" It had come out much more forcefully than he'd intended—mostly it was fueled by a frustration that had been building for months. "She's just—I don't know--"
She saved him the burden of having to go on by cutting him off. "Children need boundaries and structure. Even if she's going through a rough time, she's not going to get over it till there's some sameness in her life. I never let her sleep anywhere but her bed. Rose never let her out of her room until the alarm went off. Otherwise she'd be wandering around the house making trouble at all hours of the night and day."
Running his hand through his hair, he turned it over and over in his mind, not sure what to do about it.
Jackie must have taken his silence as resistance. "We've got you bested on this one. Just admit I know what I'm talkin' about. If she gives you a hard time, tell her that her gran said she'll get a swift paddling next time I see her, if she doesn't listen."
The Doctor had no idea if she was serious or not. Jackie was, after all, bonkers.
"And for God-sakes. Whatever you do, DON'T you DARE--"
The ship lurched only once, but hard enough that he landed on his side, slammed into the grill floor. He was still clutching the phone, but his arms had gone out in front of him to cushion the fall. Putting the phone back up to his ear, he started getting to his feet, looking at monitors. "Jackie, are you there?"
It was dead, and they'd jumped again. Dammit. The last time the connection had lasted for nearly four hours. This time it was more like a half of an hour, and it had sent the ship skipping through the vortex like stone across water.
Looking at the monitors, he started trying to pinpoint their location. Nothing was readily apparent. He couldn't get a fix on anything near-by, so frame of reference was going to be tricky…
Punching in calculations, he sighed. "Damn. Dammit, dammit dammit, and dammit all to hell." This would be fun, except he had other things to worry about just now. Which was another reason he was so angry. The TARDIS had gotten a tad domestic when she arrived, what with attending to the constant needs of a small child and all. But they'd been traveling companions as well. He was teaching her about the universe, showing her new places, new things… he liked that roll, of teacher, guide, sometimes-friend. Jackie was asking him to be something he wasn't sure he was capable of being—a parent.
Why did Violet have to be so damned complicated?
And why was he getting absolutely NO reading from the sensors about a ship that he could very plainly see on the visual external monitors? That rather long imperial type war ship with the guns pointing directly towards the TARDIS?
Well, it seemed that Christmas was destined to be for crap. Maybe he could try New Years?