Title: The Very Last Christmas Ever—For Now

Author: Unknown Kadath, aka kadath_or_bust

Rating: G

Characters: 11th Doctor, Amy, Jackie, and Rose

Spoilers: Not really—vague references to End of Time.

Summary: The Doctor revisits Christmas Past to keep a promise to Rose.

Disclaimer: Don't own it.

Beta: ChellusAuglerie

Author's note: To anyone reading "The Fall," or wondering when I'm going to continue my 10.5 series, I'm sorry about the delays but I do still have every intention of going on. I've had a bit of a health meltdown over the past year or so, and it finally got to the point where I couldn't concentrate well enough to write. However, I've been getting better recently (hence the Christmas fluff) and hope to get back to them within a few months.

The Very Last Christmas Ever—For Now

"Christmas. 1860. Happens once. Just once, and it's gone. It's finished. It'll never happen again. Except for you. You can go back and see days that are dead and gone and a hundred thousand sunsets ago..."

Rose Tyler, "The Unquiet Dead"

1. A Polite Request

"No," said the Doctor.

He closed his eyes and counted to ten, knowing that when he opened them, his trusty, reliable, and above all obedient ship would have seen reason and removed the offending object from his sight.

He opened his eyes. It was still there, now accompanied by a vague sense of exasperated amusement in the back of his mind, a gentle but firm suggestion that flattery would get him absolutely nowhere.

"Not today, dear," he said. "I will do it. But this is hardly the time. I promised Amy I'd show her a planet—yes, I know Earth is a planet. A different planet."


"And why now?" he went on. "It's been years, you've never so much as suggested I go back. What difference will a few more days make?"

Silence, with a hint of skepticism. But as the skepticism was directed at his a few more days rather than her stubbornness, he didn't take it as a promising sign.

Since It was still sitting solidly in the corridor and showed no sign of evaporating back from whence it came, he turned on his heel with a squeak of his boots and strode off in the direction of the console room.

He got exactly one step before smacking face-first into a wall that hadn't been there a minute ago.

"Now, really, was that necessary?" he asked, addressing the ceiling from his position on the floor. He rubbed at his nose, making a show of checking for breaks. "I'm a reasonable fellow. I can take a hint. There's no need for violence."

It didn't look like he had a choice, anyway. Not if he wanted to land anywhere interesting for the next century or two. The last time the TARDIS had gotten like this, she'd kept landing at cross-stitch conventions. Nothing but cross-stitch conventions. The Doctor liked a bit of cross-stitch now and again, but after forty-two different conventions he'd given in and gotten her flux-combobulator professionally repaired.

Interfering thing. Getting above herself these days, forgetting who her pilot was. Or maybe it was age. Yes, that was it. Even machines could get a bit batty, a bit rusty in the logic circuits—

The lights flickered ominously. The Doctor terminated that train of thought (he'd had enough cross-stitch conventions for all his lifetimes) and climbed to his feet, finding the wall that had barred his way had vanished as silently as it had come.

2. Borneo

Amy's curiosity didn't get the better of her until the Doctor handed her the blowgun.

She'd asked about the Santa hat, of course, when he'd come into the console room wearing it and a pained expression, and wheeling a child's bicycle. He'd told her they were going to deliver a Christmas present, which was the only reason she hadn't snatched the hat off his head at once and thrown it out the doors for his own good.

"Why? Is it Christmas?"

"It's always Christmas somewhere," he'd said, not quite meeting her eyes. He leaned the bicycle against the console, very carefully. She'd noticed that he'd been touching it as little as possible, as if it burned him.

"Is it on a planet? An alien planet? Do they have Christmas in outer space?"

"Yes, no, and they will do."

She'd looked at the bicycle while the Doctor fussed with the controls. It was the quintessential Shiny Red Bike For Christmas that every little girl dreamed of—assuming they dreamed of bicycles at all. Every inch of the frame was gleaming fire-engine red, and it had a red-and-white woven plastic basket, and red-and-white streamers from the handlebars. And a horn. It was an archetype, an ur-bike, the Platonic Ideal of a bike.

"So why're we delivering presents?" she'd asked, following the Doctor as he'd circled the room, pulling boxes out of alcoves and rummaging through them.

"Timelines," he'd said immediately. "I made a rash promise in my younger days. I said that I had already delivered this, so … if I fail to deliver it, it's not just a broken promise, it's a paradox. Very dangerous things, paradoxes. You might not believe this, Amy, but I wasn't always the steady, responsible elder that I am now."

"Really?" she'd said. Well, snorted. Besides, he'd been glaring at the ceiling as he'd said it, which made her think that the TARDIS (who seemed to be the one in charge, half the time) had been the responsible one.

She might have said more, but then he'd lowered his gaze and his face had creased with pain. "And because I don't want to make a little girl cry," he'd said. "Again."

It had sounded like an old, badly-healed wound, so she hadn't asked him anything else. She'd followed him around on his mysterious quest, and she hadn't even protested when he'd found an elf hat (it was just like his, felt trimmed with white fluff and a pom-pom, but in forest green, and matched a coat he handed her a minute later) and stuck it on her head. Nor did she comment on the three fruitcakes he'd rejected before settling on a fourth (and what the hell was he doing with four fruitcakes on a time machine, anyway?) or the small flock of doves that had burst out a chest when he'd opened it and flown away into the depths of the TARDIS—though she badly wanted to know if they were turtledoves, and what a turtledove was, anyway.

But when he handed her the blowgun, she could keep quiet no longer.

"It's got tranquilizer darts," he told her, as if that explained something.

"Tranq—why do we need tranquilizer darts to deliver a Christmas present? Are we going to Borneo? Do they celebrate Christmas in Borneo? And why did you give me the coat if we're going to—"

He clasped his hands behind his back and gave her a look of studied patience. "It's for protection," he said.

"Sounds exciting." She turned the blowgun over in her hands. "How d'you use this thing?"

"Point and blow. You'll have to move quickly if she charges us—it's a fairly tight space. Now! We're crossing timelines, so we must be very careful. Do not, under any circumstances, mention the TARDIS once we step out those doors. Or time travel. Or planets."

She frowned at him. "Why don't you just tell me not to talk at all, then?"

He paused, obviously considering the answer that would get him into the least trouble. Then, in a show of recklessness, he went for truth. "Because it would never happen and I don't want you to hurt me. And it's best if you don't call me 'Doctor,' either."

"Are you gonna tell me your real name, then?"

"No. Er, 'Professor.' No one's called me 'Professor' in a while. You can call me that. Only for today, mind you."

Amy made a face. "I like 'Doctor' better. But 'Professor' matches the bow-tie."

The Doctor grasped the bow-tie between his thumb and forefinger, twisting it around and trying to peer at it past his chin. Then he gave up and reached for the door control. "Are you ready, Pond?"

She checked to make sure there was a dart in the blowgun. "Ready," she said, bracing herself for lions, tigers, and/or bears.

The doors opened, and they stepped out (with far more caution than the Doctor usually displayed) into chilly gray sunlight.

"This isn't Borneo," said Amy. She looked around. No jungle, unless it was the urban kind. A blacktopped playground, cement sidewalks, flats and graffiti. It looked distinctly lacking in anything for which one might require a blowgun. The TARDIS had parked itself discretely in an alley, where it was obscured by the day's lengthening shadows.

"London," said the Doctor. He stood by the TARDIS, hands clasped behind him and shoulders slumped. The word had come out listlessly, like air deflating from a balloon. The next words came out in a defeated mutter. "The Powell Estate. Over there." And he indicated an ugly, blocky building with a jerk of his chin.

Amy examined the building. She'd never been to London, and there was nothing so industrial in Leadworth—sickeningly quaint or nauseatingly "twee," perhaps, but nothing so starkly, functionally "block of flats." It didn't look like a great neighborhood. Not awful, but definitely not a high-rent district.

"Are there gangs?" she asked. "Is that why I need a blowgun?"

"No, there are not 'gangs'," snapped the Doctor. Then he stopped and thought. "Well, there might be. Might have been. Once. I expect she'll have put paid to anyone trying to join a gang in the neighborhood where she'd raising her daughter …"

"Doct—Professor," she corrected herself at his glare, still making the word a whip-crack command. "Tell me. What are you afraid of?"

He rocked on his heels, stalling. Then he hung his head and addressed his toes in a mumble, "Jacqueline Andrea Suzette Tyler."

3. Old Haunts

He wanted to wait for the cover of darkness to deliver the bike, so he'd given Amy some money and told her to go shopping. That was the way to get rid of humans—the females, anyway.

He'd meant to go off somewhere alone, somewhere away from the memories. Instead he found himself revisiting them.

There was the church where he'd hidden from the Reapers. There was the Henrik's he'd blown up. (And … there was Amy, shopping in the Henrik's. Which was simply weird, even by his standards.) There was the garage where Mickey would work.

There was the street where Pete Tyler had died.

There was park where they would put the memorial to the local residents killed by the Cybermen, during the Battle of Canary Warf.

There was the place where he had stood/would stand in the shadows on New Year's, 2005, and told/would tell Rose Tyler she was going to have a good year.

He stopped and stared at the spot for a long time, waiting for his hearts to break.

He'd told himself he'd never come back here. Well, he'd told himself that before the regeneration, too. Back then her very name had been a burden to him, something always ready to burst in on his mind if he let his thoughts wander back, a raw nerve even when he didn't. He knew if he'd come back here all the months and years and miles he'd put between himself and his memories would come crashing down, and it would be like the day he'd lost her, the pain eternally fresh.

And he'd known that he would have to come back anyway, because there was still the bicycle. But he'd put it off, put it off, saving up the last little piece of Rose's life that still belonged to him, like a miser saving up a scrap of food until it went bad and turned into something he couldn't let go of but couldn't bring himself to swallow.

He waited for his hearts to break, and realized that all he could think of was that funny-looking graffiti which a boy in a red cap was putting up.

It ached, he realized, but the pain was dull. An old wound, healed over and disinclined to bleed. The memories were ill-fitting, like something from another life (well, really, they were something from another life), a safe distance away. They no longer transported him through time, no longer called her face and voice to mind with overwhelming clarity. Seeing her in person might change that, but he had no intention of doing that—couldn't risk the paradox—and the location was simply that; a location, a collection of streets and buildings, and …

"I'm sorry," he said to the graffiti artist, unable to contain himself any more, "but—"

"You got a problem?" snapped the boy in the red cap, who was a scrawny little thing and looked to be bitter about it. "You gonna call the police? Ooo, I'm scared."

"I doubt the local law enforcement could tell me what your portrait is intended to represent," retorted the Doctor, "which is the only thing I'm interested in at the moment. Do tell me. I'm dying of curiosity."

The boy looked at the Doctor as if trying to figure out what he was. Then he looked at green blobby thing on the wall with much the same expression.

"It looks rather like one of the giant friendly caterpillar-people of Atraz V," offered the Doctor, helpfully.

"Yeah," said the boy. "One of them things. Nice bow tie, gramps."

"Why, thank you!" said the Doctor, beaming at him. People always said the younger generation had no respect, and they were always wrong. Well, nearly always. "I like your hat. Merry Christmas!"

He strolled off, trying to enjoy the sight of the wreaths on the doors and garland in the windows without turning over old memories. Trying not to remember the girl who was about to receive the only Christmas present he could ever give her.

Or why the TARDIS had brought him here now. Because he still thought it was too soon, and that she must know it, so the only reason for him to be here now was that he wasn't going to get the chance later. The cracks in the walls had given him a bad feeling, and Amy's missing memories had only made it worse.

There was a shop selling Christmas cards. The TARDIS hadn't given him a card to go with the bike. He decided, partly to distract himself from his morbid thoughts, to buy one.

4. The Gorgon's Lair

Amy had done a bit of shopping—the stores were mobbed with the Christmas Eve rush, but access to London stores was still an opportunity not to be missed. Back home in Leadworth she'd had to take a half-hour bus ride to find shops half as good.

And, too, the Doctor was paying. Possibly. The credit card he'd given her looked real, and the clerks had accepted it readily enough, though Amy had half-expected to be arrested the first time she used it.

He was waiting by the TARDIS when she got back, the bike leaning against the bright blue wood. It now sported a gaudy gold bow—the sort that looked like a cross between a prize ribbon and an exploding chrysanthemum—on its basket. "Time to go, Pond," he said. "The light's out in their flat."

"Can I stow my bags inside?" she asked. She'd been hoping to stop for some hot cocoa or hot something. Or anything, hot or cold, as long as it was inside the warm TARDIS. She was wearing a short skirt and it was cold out. But the Doctor had the look of someone who wanted to get a painful task over with as quickly as possible.

He unlocked the door for her, smirking at the jumper peeking out of one of her bags. "And you comment on my fashion sense."

"I can comment some more, if that's what you want," she retorted. The jumper was a cheerful pumpkin orange and several sizes too large for her and it was comfy. True, it didn't flatter her figure very well, but flattery was overrated. Amy didn't feel any obligation to dress as eye candy, unless she was getting paid to do so. "What about you? What've you been up to?"

"I bought her a card," said the Doctor, for all the world as if this was quite good for several hours' work. He pulled it out of his jacket and handed it to Amy. "What do you think?"

She looked at the card. Then she looked at the Doctor. Then she looked at the card again.

"You were overwhelmed by the selection and grabbed the nearest red-and-green thing, didn't you?" she asked. It was a rhetorical question.

His eyes went wide. "How did you know?"

"Because it says, 'Happy 90th Birthday' on the front." It showed a very old man trying to blow out a cake that had caught fire.

"Oh." The Doctor drooped.

"How old is she?"

He opened his mouth and closed it again. "I've no idea, right now. I expect the TARDIS does. What year is it?"

Amy hadn't bothered to find out, not that she wanted to admit it. She waved this information away. "Can't be too old, considering the bike. Round about ten? Kids that age don't need cards. They pretend to read them so the adults think they're polite. Or because they're hoping there's money inside." She tore up the birthday card and stuffed it into her pocket, just in case he decided to give it to her anyway.

"If you say so," said the Doctor, doubtfully.

"I do. Come on, let's go if we're going. It's cold out here."

A flight of outside steps led up to the apartment. The Doctor shuffled around at the bottom, trying to find the best way to carry the bike up, turning it and himself this way and that. He finally settled on holding it over his head and walking backwards, somehow managing not to fall in the process.

"Blowgun ready?" he asked at the top.

Amy pulled it out of her coat, feeling like a loon. More of a loon than usual when she was with him, which was saying something.

"Absolute silence," he hissed, sonicking the door and slipping inside.

Amy followed, peering around the flat in curiosity. It didn't seem like the Doctor was ever going to tell her who the bike was for, but maybe the flat would tell her what the girl was like. Maybe there would be pictures, even.

There was a small light on in the kitchen, and the Christmas tree was lit. It gave enough light to see most of the details of the room. Not too messy but not really tidy, either. There were fashion mags and couple of romance novel lying about, a pink jumper tossed over a chair, a few knickknacks. The obligatory ugly knitted-by-a-relative afghan crumpled among the throw cushions on the sofa. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting from a council flat, but this didn't look too shabby. It was decorated as if by someone trying to keep up appearances on a budget, but not too uptight for a little homey clutter.

She spotted a set of framed pictures on a table. Ginger bloke, blonde woman, baby. Little blonde girl, presumable the baby, in various stages of development.

Funny, now she thought of it—didn't look like a man lived here now. The flat was a little too pink.

The Doctor was fidgeting with the bike by the Christmas tree, trying to pose it to its best advantage. "D—Professor," she whispered. "Aren't they going to wonder how that got there?"

"It's Christmas," he hissed back. "She'll think Santa brought it down the chimney."

"They haven't even got a fireplace! Anyway, I meant her parents!"

The Doctor opened his mouth to reply. Whatever his answer to that question was, Amy was sure it would either be stunningly brilliant or spectacularly stupid, and dead wrong either way. But she never got to hear it.

A loud snort and a mutter came from the afghan on the sofa, which began to stir. Amy and the Doctor exchanged horrified looks, but they didn't have time to do anything else before the afghan sat up, revealing the blonde woman from the photo. In real life, she looked older, and she had dark roots to her hair and a thunderous scowl on her face.

"Who the bloody 'ell d'you think you are, breakin' in Christmas Eve?" she growled. She picked up a bottle which had been sitting, along with a glass, on the floor by the sofa. She obviously meant to use it as a weapon.

"We're not," squeaked the Doctor, taking a step back as she stepped forward, brandishing the bottle. "We're just—aren't we, Amy?"

"Damned punk kids—you fink I got a posh stereo or somefin' hidden away in here?"

The woman's voice broke slightly at the end. Amy realized she was at least as frightened as she was angry, and, above all, pained by the violation of her home.

Also, by the smell of gin, more than a little drunk.

"The door was unlocked," said Amy. Whoever this woman was, she seemed to have literally frightened the Doctor out of his wits—and she didn't recognize him. So it was Amelia Pond to the rescue. Again. "We just wanted to give you a present—"

"Oh, like I'm gonna fall for that," snapped the woman. "What are ya, elves? Santa Claus an' his little bit on the side? Well, I'm gonna give you a Christmas you'll never forget—comin' in 'ere while my daughter's sleepin' in the next room—"

Amy realized she'd made a tactical mistake. Now the woman (who was madder than ever) was advancing on her.

"We're friends of Pete!" yelled the Doctor.

The woman stopped in her tracks. The arm holding the bottle wavered and dropped to her side, and the anger drained from her face.

Then she burst into tears, fell back onto the sofa, and covered her face with her hands.

5. Pete

"There now," said the Doctor. He handed Jackie (as he'd introduced her to Amy) a cup of the tea he'd made and set a plate with a slice of the fruitcake on the table before her. He'd navigated the kitchen as if he'd lived here once himself, only hesitating when he'd seen a child's crude crayon drawing of a howling wolf with terrible fangs pinned to the fridge with a magnet.

("Bad Wolf," he'd muttered.

"It's not that bad," said Amy. "At least you can tell what it is. More than you can say for most kid's pictures.")

"Thanks," said Jackie, still sniffling a bit. "You're a love." She poured a good slug from the bottle into the tea, doing the same for the Doctor. Amy managed to wave her off in time. "You gave me a start, the pair of ya!"

"Sorry," said Amy. She'd decided she liked Jackie; the older woman was wearing a hideous fluffy pink robe that Amy's aunt wouldn't have been caught dead in (or allowed Amy to be caught dead in, for that matter) and the Doctor seemed terrified of her. For some reason.

"Ha! Don't be," said Jackie, with a sad little laugh. "I couldn't afford to get Rose 'alf what she wanted, poor fing. An' truth be told … I could use the company tonight."

"Hm." The Doctor took a sip of his tea, grimaced horribly, and spat it back into the cup. Jackie didn't seem to notice.

"It's worse this time of year," she said, scrubbing at the wreckage of the day's mascara on her cheek. "I get to finkin' bout it, you know? An' after Rose goes to bed … s'just me. Me an' my memories. Be nice to have a chat with folks that knew him."

"Well, technically, I'm the one that knew him," said the Doctor.

"Well, you can talk to me about him, then!" said Jackie. "Stay a bit. 'Ave a chocolate. Go on, I always buy too much, must fink I'm still buyin' for three …"

"Well, technically I'd met him," said the Doctor. He took a chocolate from the box Jackie had pulled from the clutter, bit into it, and spat it back into the little paper wrapper. "Good man, though," he soldiered on, after he had finished grimacing. Fortunately, Jackie seemed just drunk enough not to notice. "Hell of a good man. All those mad schemes of his—"

"They'd've worked!" said Jackie, voice going into a slightly slurred shrill. "They'd've worked in the end!"

"Of course they would!" said the Doctor, patting her hand. "A few more years, that's all he needed. That Vitex stuff, now."

"Oh, the Vitex!" Jackie rolled her eyes. "Nuffin' in that. Hair tonics. That's where 'e'd've made 'is fortune."

"Er," said the Doctor, fidgeting. He took a bite of fruitcake, chewed with all the outward appearance of enjoyment, and (to Amy's amazement) swallowed. Then he took another bite.

She shouldn't be surprised. This was the man who ate fish custard.

"'Ere now, is that a blowgun?" asked Jackie suddenly. The pipe-shaped weapon propped up by Amy's chair had finally penetrated the alcoholic fog.

"Er, no," said Amy brightly. "It's a flute. I was caroling earlier."

"If that's a flute, I'm a billionaire," retorted Jackie. "I may've 'ad a drink or two, but I can see that fing ain't got holes. I'd like to see ya try playin' it."

Amy was pretty sure the only thing that could be played on this particular "flute" was a little ditty called "Dart in the Neck." If her aim was good. And seeing the way Jackie's eyes had narrowed, that might be a good idea …

"He told me we were going to Borneo," she said, pointing at the Doctor.

The Doctor choked on a bite of fruitcake. "I did not say Borneo! She was afraid of gangs!"

"Gangs!" snorted Jackie. She knocked back the last of her tea and refilled her cup from the bottle. "Where d'you fink this is?"

Amy glared at the Doctor, trying to telegraph his impending death with her gaze. He seemed amused at the situation, which didn't help her temper.

"You'll have to excuse her," said the Doctor. "She's Scottish."

"Oh. S'pose she is." Jackie took a sip from her cup and gave the Doctor a tipsy smile over the rim. "Y'know, if you're worried about walkin' home in the dark, you could stay. I've got a spare room you could take, Amy."

The tipsy smile became sultry. The Doctor started to choke on his fruitcake again.

"Sorry, Jackie," said Amy. "We've got that flight to Borneo tomorrow. Leaves at the crack of dawn."

"Quite right!" said the Doctor. "Mustn't keep the orangutans waiting! Very impatient beasts. I'm writing a paper on their use of bananas as a primitive proto-currency. I expect it to revolutionize the study of economics. In fact, we really should be going now."

"Oh, don't," said Jackie. Her voice had dropped from seductive back into heartbroken. "Just a few more minutes, can't ya spare that? Tell me 'ow ya knew Pete."

"Oh … er … ah! Ah ha!" The Doctor set his plate aside (Amy took to opportunity to unload her own slice of fruitcake onto it) and started rummaging in his pockets. "I've even got a picture. International Health-Drink Purveyors' annual gala—my father used to sell banana drinks, that's how I became interested in apes …"

He pulled out the psychic paper and held it out for Jackie's inspection. Amy thought there was a soft plink as his hand passed over their hostess' teacup.

"Oh, that's my Pete," sighed Jackie. She sniffed loudly and wiped at her eyes. "Mind, I don't know who took that picture—'e looks like 'e's 'alf bald …"

She drained her cup and fell over sideways on the sofa as if poleaxed.

"Well, that's a relief," said the Doctor

"Doctor …" chided Amy.

"A mild sedative," he blustered. "And a thirty-second century hangover remedy. I think it was a hangover remedy, anyway. It may have been a cure for Martian spiderpox …"

"Will Rose be all right, with her mum out cold?"

"She's a deep sleeper. She'll wake up in the morning and won't know anything except that there's a shiny new bike just for her."

"So who is Rose, anyway?"

The Doctor reached for his plate and crammed the entire slice of fruitcake into his mouth to avoid answering, which she thought was rather childish of him.

6. Rose

"She might have landed closer to the hotel, if she didn't intend to let us leave last night," grumbled the Doctor. He was going to have words with his beloved TARDIS over this.

Assuming, that was, that his key was working this morning.

"You could have stayed the night with Jackie," said Amy, snickering.

"Shut up. I can still take you back to Leadworth." He took three more steps, stopped, and turned to glare at her. "Laughing silently," he informed her, "is just as offensive. If not more so."

Amy brought herself under a feeble sort of control, though she couldn't stop her lips from twitching. "Sorry, Professor Smith."

She kept a far more cheerful pace beside him for a while, arms swinging, waving to the people who were out and about. It was early morning, and a brighter day than yesterday, if only slightly warmer. It would be a good day to try out a brand-new bicycle.

"So the TARDIS doesn't trust Jackie to make sure Rose gets her bike?" she asked.

"Who knows what she's thinking?" huffed the Doctor. "Thinking machines! Never let a machine think, Pond. It makes them uppity. It leads to machine uprisings and militant toasters. Trust me, I've seen it and it's not pretty."

He knew full well what the TARDIS was thinking, of course. He wasn't here to check up on Jackie's parenting skills—he knew that would work out well enough in the end.

He was here to say goodbye.

But it wasn't fair. He'd said goodbye already. And it wasn't safe. He'd managed not to say anything to Jackie, but that was Jackie—even if he'd convinced her his strange warnings were important and not the ramblings of a madman, she'd been just drunk enough that she might have gotten the details wrong in the morning.

But with her … the last time he'd seen her he'd been dying, with no possible future with her, not as he'd been. And before that … well, he'd proven that after losing her and traveling alone, he'd been capable of anything.

Even if he resisted the urge to meddle in Rose's timeline, he wasn't sure if Amelia was capable of restraining him from … whatever he did next.

His scowl deepened, and some of the passer-bys started to send curious and sympathetic looks his way.

"But why?" asked Amy. "Why's it so important?" He almost snapped at her, but then she went on, "I mean, if you're so intent on not making a little girl cry, why didn't you go back for me? When I was seven, I mean," and he softened.

"I couldn't cross my own timelines," he said. "I'm sorry. Not for you, not for anyone."

"Except her."

"Not even for her!" He stopped and turned on Amy. "What have I done here, Amy? Nothing. I haven't seen or spoken to her. I haven't given her any advice that will help her or comfort her when she needs it, I haven't done anything to make her life better, I've only given her a toy that will probably last her a year or two before she outgrows it or forgets it. I can't do anything here!"

He took a deep breath. Amy was being quiet. Amy was never quiet. In fact, she looked a little frightened.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Can't you … can you … in her future, after you met her … or is she …?"

"I can't go back for her in the present, or the future," said the Doctor. He kept his voice carefully neutral. "Not ever. She's living in a parallel universe, and the walls are sealed, and this is the last time I can have any sort of contact with her at all, and the only thing I can do is give her a bicycle."

"I'm sorry," said Amy again. Then she gave him a gentle smile. "But it was a good bicycle. That's a bicycle a little girl will remember for the rest of her life."

Maybe that would be enough. The Doctor forced a smile. "Perhaps. Now come along, Pond. Things to do."

He set out once more for the Powell Estate, and was brought up short one last time by the honk of a toy horn and a small voice piping, "Merry Christmas!"

The Doctor spun around so quickly that the little girl on the bike came to a halt as well, staring at him with wide, startled eyes. She had soft blonde hair and a sweet, curious face (now somewhat dismayed by his reaction), the sort of face he would have done anything for. Once.

"Aw. Merry Christmas," said Amy.

The girl gave her a quick grin and turned uncertainly to the Doctor. "Merry Christmas, mister?"

The Doctor looked at her and remembered the good times they'd shared … and found the memories still more sweet than bitter. He found he had no urge to change them, and that felt good. Like a terrible weight had been lifted from him.

"Merry Christmas, dear," he said, smiling at the girl.

She grinned, honked the horn, and pedaled off, weaving around the pedestrians and calling Merry Christmas! to everyone in her path.

"Is that the last time you'll ever see her?" asked Amy, softly.

"The very, very last. Absolutely the last," sighed the Doctor. He started walking again. His step was lighter now, as if he'd been relieved of a terrible burden. "Although, come to think of it, I've said that before …"