After Easter service, she takes a few minutes to walk in the Palace garden, as she does most days. As she passes a venerable oak, a voice behind her says, "Oooh, that's a big one."
She freezes. Calm. Stay calm. It isn't the first time she's confronted an intruder alone. Is this man just another thrill-seeker or troubled soul, or is he something more dangerous? A competent assassin would not give her a chance to call for help, but a terrorist might take time to gloat. Fanatics of all varieties tend to be braggarts.
"Do you know, I helped to plant it?" the voice says.
She relaxes. Almost certainly not a terrorist. That particular tree was planted during Victoria's reign. So either he's a polite madman, or... She turns slowly and lets out the rest of the breath she was holding. They've met before, though she's never seen this face up close.
"Did I startle you? Sorry."
"I am... a little surprised to learn that you were here at that time. I heard that my great-great-grandmother was not entirely pleased with you, Doctor."
"Oh, that was just a misunderstanding," he replies, just a little too quickly.
Misunderstanding? You were banished from the realm. She's too well-trained in diplomacy to say it aloud. In any case, that particular error has been corrected. She saw to it herself after the disaster at Canary Wharf. "You were remarking on the tree?"
"The tree? Oh! The tree. Albert was planting it. Welll, when I say 'planting', I mean he was supervising the gardeners. It was in honour of the birth of..." He creases his brow and screws up his face in deep concentration. "Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert -- blimey, that's a mouthful! May 1850."
She nods, waiting for him to continue.
"I was aiming for May 1851 -- the opening of the Great Exhibition -- but I landed a year too early," he says in an aggrieved tone. He sounds very much like a footman she'd once overheard grumbling that he'd been late to work because he got off at the wrong Underground station. "Sooooo... while I was here I decided to take a stroll around the garden, and Albert spotted me." He grimaces. "I was young and foolish -- just barely turned four hundred -- and I'm afraid I dressed rather shabbily back then. Albert took me for one of the under-gardeners. He called me over, and told me to make myself useful. So I did. The only tree I've ever planted." He pats the trunk of the oak in a proud, almost possessive gesture. "And since I was in the neighbourhood today I thought I'd drop in and see how it was coming along."
She knows who and what he is. She has read all of the classified files. And yet, this young man (who is neither young nor a man) still has the power to astonish her. He speaks of visiting the Great Exhibition as casually as a tourist planning a trip to the Tower of London. If she were younger she might be frightened of this alien with ancient eyes and a schoolboy grin who walked her land before Duke William ever stepped into the surf at Hastings. She is not young. She has served her realm and her people for fifty-seven years. She knows the ways of power. She has seen it wielded by the evil, the incompetent, the courageous, the greedy, the weak, and the sentimental. The Doctor is none of these, though she suspects he would be a sentimentalist if he could manage it.
His pleasant voice prattles on about trees and gardens as she thinks about a matter that has been troubling her for nearly a year. The Doctor has saved the world from destruction countless times, and rescued Britain from many near-catastrophes, yet he has never been properly rewarded for his deeds. Victoria's decree of banishment turned the knighthood she bestowed into an insult rather than an honour.
Does he even regard a title as an honour? Certainly he does not care about conventional social status. More than once, the Doctor has claimed the authority to speak on behalf of her entire planet. What can a few letters after his name possibly mean to him?
A tangible gift might be suitable, if it's the right one. She recalls a certain diplomat who was passionate about Chinese porcelain. A Ming dynasty bowl from her personal collection reduced him to speechless joy. If the Doctor wanted such a piece, she muses, he would probably travel to fifteenth century Beijing and commission a potter to create one. "In a nice blue, please," she imagines him saying, "to match my TARDIS."
She is quite possibly the world's leading expert on gifts, having received thousands of them at home and abroad. Images flit through her mind: cowboy boots, a necklace of whale teeth, lacrosse sticks, a Maori canoe, a live jaguar. And other, humbler gifts: flowers, fruit, sweets. Just this morning in church, a primary school choir from South London sang her favourite hymn. She spoke to the children afterwards. In addition to the ever-present bouquet, one of the little boys offered her a gift. Judging from his teacher's reaction, it was the child's own idea, kept secret until the last moment. He must have taken it from his own Easter basket. She thanked him gravely and placed the gift in her handbag.
At such moments, she remembers the old proverb: it's the thought that counts. What material object could ever be adequate thanks for saving the world? And yet, and yet... with enough thought and care, it is usually possible to find a gift that delights the recipient.
She had tried to discover if there was something the Doctor desired that he could not (or would not) obtain for himself. One of his former companions was most likely to have a suggestion. Which one ought she to question? Not the journalist woman, nor Jack Harkness. She trusts Captain Harkness with her life and with the safety of Britain, but not with matters of delicate protocol. Dr. Martha Jones might suit. Loyal and clever, but still... so very young. Her choice was made -- mostly -- on practical grounds. Sir Alistair was utterly dependable, and had known the Doctor for many years. He was also of her generation.
He had been apologetic about his lack of helpful information. "The Doctor never seemed to care about things, Ma'am -- other than his TARDIS. Although he did have an old roadster that he was always fussing over. It's in storage in a secure location." A motorcar did not seem to be a practical gift for someone who was constantly flitting about the universe.
Was there nothing else? Any whim or predilection? Anything at all? Sir Alistair hesitated. "The Doctor was once rather fond of... jelly babies, Ma'am."
Jelly babies? She might have thought that he was pulling her leg, except it was impossible to imagine a military officer of his age and rank jesting with his sovereign. In the end, she thanked Sir Alistair, and reluctantly set the question aside. Now, months after he pulled the Earth back into place like a fractious dog on a lead the Doctor is standing in her own back garden, and she still has no notion of how to reward him.
She follows the path that loops around a patch of glorious daffodils, heading back towards the Palace. The Doctor trots beside her. He eyes the flower bed as if it is a strange dog that might bite without provocation, but his flow of words continues uninterrupted. "A few Medraxian gorfles might look pretty over there, near the bluebells. I suggested that once to Fred -- he was head gardener then -- but he was rather rigid about sticking to Earth flowers. Mind you, Earth has very nice flowers," he adds hastily, and goes off on a tangent about some planet where all the flowers are mustard-coloured and smell like Dettol.
They round a bend in the path, and she spots a pair of her security staff. Even at a distance, she can see the two men stiffen, and she hastily gives the hand signals for 'friend' and 'I am not under duress'. One of them appears to recognise the Doctor, and immediately begins scanning the skies above the Palace. She signals 'no danger', there being no designated gestures for 'aliens are/are not invading'. An omission that should be remedied, perhaps?
The only alien within sight stoops down, plucks a primrose, and carefully threads it into the buttonhole of his coat. She turns to him, struck by a horrid notion. "Doctor, you said that you happened to be in the neighbourhood. I trust there is no... problem?"
"Nope. I just did a major overhaul of the TARDIS navigation systems. She's in tip-top shape, thanks." Before she can rephrase her question, his eyes become as big as tea-cups, like the magical dog in the fairy tale. "Ohhhhh... No, no, no! I was just tracing some odd readings. Nothing to worry about."
"Good. We'll have a quiet Easter, then?"
Amazingly, his eyes grow even wider. "Easter? Is it Easter? I always seem to miss Easter, somehow. Little baskets with ribbons. Rabbits. Chocolate eggs."
"Today is Easter Sunday." She hesitates. "2009."
He nods. "I haven't been here for Easter--" Does 'here' mean London, Britain, or the Earth? "--since 1471."
The date stirs something in the back of her mind, but she doesn't pursue the thought. If he remains true to form, the Doctor will dash away soon. This may be her only chance to speak to him face to face. Formal words of thanks, already too-long delayed, must be given now. No matter that she has no gift, nor even the faintest notion of one. "Doctor, on behalf of the people of the United--"
He tenses, and those dark, expressive eyes look apprehensive. What does he imagine she is going to say? Surely he must realise that she feels only the deepest-- The penny drops. He knows precisely what she is going to say. Standing in front of her is the galaxy's leading expert on official expressions of gratitude. Earth is not the only planet that he has saved from conquest and devastation. He's done this more times than he can count.
The realisation takes only a split second, time enough to change the direction of her speech. "--Kingdom, I wish you a very happy Easter." She unfastens the clasp of her handbag, removes an item, and offers it to the Doctor.
"For me?" he squeaks. He takes the gift and cradles it in his upturned palm. He leans forward, gazing at it with such rapt attention that it might be one of the jewelled Fabergé eggs from the Royal Collection rather than a large chocolate egg wrapped in gold foil.
"For you," she confirms, and allows herself a smile.
"Molto bene!' he exclaims, and the change of language startles her almost as much as the loud outburst. "That's gorgeous, that is. A chocolate egg. Do you know that in the twenty-ninth century on Grugrun IX this--" He holds the egg up. "--can be traded for its weight in lipherite? But I am going to eat it," he says.
"I trust that you will enjoy--" She is interrupted by a muffled beep.
The Doctor removes some sort of instrument from his right coat pocket. It is slightly thicker than a fountain pen, and has a flickering blue light at its tip. He peers at it. "Aha! There it is again," he announces. He swivels in response to something he sees on the device, and begins trotting in a southwesterly direction.
"Sorry! Must dash!" Without slowing his pace, he looks over his shoulder at her. "Happy Easter! Thanks for the egg!" He veers off the path and breaks into a fast run.
Bemused, she watches him until he vanishes into a grove of maple trees, still clutching the pen-like device in one hand and the chocolate egg in the other. As she turns towards the Palace, she smiles, and resolves to speak to the Master of the Household about acquiring a supply of jelly babies.