The loud whirring of the TARDIS engines woke Merry. She sat up in bed suddenly and pushed her hair back as it blew across her vision. Almost immediately, the door swung open and the Doctor bounded out.
"Happy birthday!" he cried excitedly. Merry blinked, taking in her father's appearance. His suit, bow tie and braces were the same as usual, but he wore a vibrant pink sash across his front with "18" splashed all over it. His shoulders were covered in the contents of several party poppers and a lot of confetti – most of which fluttered to the floor with his wild movements – and he carried in his hands a rectangular parcel and party blower. Buy the icing on the colourfully camp cake was, of course, the cardboard party hat on his head. Merry sighed, rubbing her face in an attempt to wake herself up a little more.
"Pappy, my birthday isn't for three days." The Time Lord's expression faltered slightly and he looked back to the TARDIS.
"Saying goodbye to Amy and Rory must've upset her coordinates." He mumbled, stroking the wooden box fondly before shaking his head and turning back to Merry, "Never mind: I'm here now." He bounced across the room and threw himself onto the bed beside her; the rest of the confetti was sprinkled across her carpet as he went. The Time Lord thrust the parcel vigorously into her lap, "Open it! I made it myself."
"You made it?" she asked dubiously, gingerly fingering the package as if it might explode at any second. The Doctor smiled and nodded enthusiastically. Merry paused and looked him in the eyes.
For her seventeenth birthday he had made her a pasta collage. It had been pretty impressive for all his creative worth, but it wasn't exactly what she had hoped for. That was the trouble with travelling in opposite directions; to him she was only a few years old. And he had the mind of a child – that probably didn't help. Deciding that it felt solid and harmless, Merry took the string from around the parcel and tore the brown, crinkled paper away. It fell away to reveal a tatty book. There was no title or inscription on the cover and the spine was ring bound.
Merry looked to her father. He was watching her expectantly and nodded encouragingly when she paused. Merry looked down again and carefully opened the book. It crackled a little as the pages, heavily coated in glue and sellotape, fell apart to reveal an opening message. Merry immediately recognised that the writing was in her father's hand and she began reading.
"Happy birthday, Merry! I feel it's my moral duty as your father to impart some kind of knowledge now that you're eighteen, so bear with me. Firstly, never get a boyfriend. They're not worth it. Also, I'll never approve of any of them unless they were Einstein. In fact, not even Einstein – he was a womaniser at the best of times, good old Bertie. Cheeky fella, but a good laugh. He always had a joke up his sleeve, quite literally once or twice.
Anyway, my second piece of advice is to never listen to your mother. She tries to contradict me far too much for her own good and I dislike that in a woman. Never contradict your husband, Merry, especially if he's someone like me. Except you won't need to worry about that, because to have a husband, you first need a boyfriend. And I've just told you not to get one of those, so ignore the husband thing. My point is – or was, I lose track – that you should ignore everything that woman says, unless she's right, in which case, listen to her. Just, use common sense really.
And finally, if you've bothered reading this far, believe in yourself. I know you might not have a normal life or a normal family, and I know this whole teenage Time Lord thing is scary, but you'll be alright, as long as you hold onto your dreams. Never let them go, Merry not for anyone. I believe in you."
Merry finished reading several minutes before she eventually looked up. She could feel tears welling in her eyes, but she forced them back; she hated crying. It was too much fussing for no good reason.
"Thank you so much, Pappy." She said quietly. He didn't seem to register that his message meant a great deal to her. She could feel the tingling start in her head as her emotions began to heighten, but the Doctor didn't notice. He frowned.
"Thank you for what? You haven't even looked inside it yet." The young girl was about to explain, but decided not to; she'd only confuse him. She turned the page and almost dropped the book. Splattered across the double spread in front of her was a maze of things: a tuft of fur from the Fuath, the bio-damper ring, a clipping on the Fuath from what looked like a text book, a photo of Amy, Rory, River and Merry taken by the Doctor and a picture of space whiskey. There were plenty of other things there, but the young Time Lord was far too excited to take in all of them.
She turned the next page hurriedly and found even more sellotape-coated things. A badly attached map of Paris fluttered a bit and covered the scrawled title 'Paris, 1872'. A hand-written receipt from the café they ate in stuck out awkwardly in the corner. There was a photo of Jenny and the Doctor – both of them smiling, but only for show – along with a few pictures of the new planet. Merry had always wondered why her father hadn't just taken them back off to Gallifrey; surely there would've been people willing to take in at least one of the children? But he must've had his reasons, he always did, and she didn't have the confidence to question them yet. She would work on that.
Merry turned the page again: it was completely blank.
"The rest of the pages are for you to fill in." The Doctor said, answering her unasked question.
"This is amazing." Merry cried, looking to her father. The Time Lord grinned and Merry was about to hug him when her door was flung open. River glared into the early morning gloom, but her stare faltered as she recognised the Doctor.
"Oh. It's you." She said in disappointment, slipping her gun back into the holster she wore over her pyjamas.
"Who did you think it was?" The Time Lord asked suspiciously. River shrugged, giving him a suggestive glance.
"Want breakfast?" she called over her shoulder as she walked back out. Merry looked back to her father. The Time Lord was watching the door with a pathetic kind of longing. It didn't take him long to follow his wife from the room. Merry grimaced. Disgusting.
She stayed staring at the scrapbook for several minutes and then found her dressing gown. She put it on extra slowly and then wandered cautiously downstairs. She didn't want another awkward run in with her parents. Merry peered around the kitchen door, but thankfully they were only sitting at the table, quietly talking over cups of tea. Merry sidled in, pouring herself a mug, cradling a bowl of cereal in her arm and grabbing the milk with her free hand. She sat down heavily at the table and set about eating her breakfast.
"So what do you want to do for your birthday then, Merry?" The Doctor asked.
"Not my birthday." Merry muttered through a mouthful of cereal. The Time Lord ignored her.
"I'll take you anywhere you want, any when you want." The young girl looked up hopefully.
"Could I take a friend?" The Doctor frowned.
"If you do, I choose where we go." He answered sternly.
"Because anywhere you choose will be so much safer." River snorted sarcastically. The Doctor shot her an insulted glare and decided not to take any notice of her comment.
"Finish your breakfast and get ready. We'll pick up your friend on the way."
Half an hour later, River saw the two of them off with an amused smirk on her face. Merry knew why – the Doctor's irritation suggested that he didn't. They arrived at one of the white house only ten minutes later. From a distance it had looked just like all the other houses, but on closer inspection the house number thirteen was wonky and one of the window shutters to the left of the front door was hanging from its hinges. The gate creaked open noisily and Merry was able to see the worried expression on her father's face as he noticed the scorch marks on the lawn.
Merry grinned and knocked on the door firmly. There was a loud scuffling and an almighty thump. The windows to the left of the door blew out and shattered glass sprinkled the lawn. Smoke starting billowing from the edges of the frame and both of the Time Lords started to cough a little. Heavy footsteps sounded an approach and the door was flung open. Whoever opened it wasn't visible through the grey smog. Merry waved her arm about until it began to clear and a head of messy blonde hair came into view.
"Her!" The Doctor cried incredulously, "You want to take her?" Merry rolled her eyes.
"Nobody's taking me anywhere." Lilly snapped.
"Is Ellie in?" Merry asked her mother's friend. Age hadn't wearied her at all – she still looked as young as ever, just like River.
"I wouldn't be head to toe in soot if she wasn't." Lilly replied, "Come in."
Merry followed her inside first and they took a sharp left into the room that the explosion had come from. The room was an absolute mess. The walls were blackened and objects lay smashed across the floor. In the centre of the room lay the tattered remains of a fish tank and a mangled computer shell. It took Merry several moments to recognise that there was also a blackened figure stood alongside the remains that were clearly at the heart of the explosion.
"What happened here?" Merry coughed violently. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Doctor forget his hesitance and moved to examine the mess.
"An explosion." The figure replied. Merry was about to retort when her father cried out.
"You blew up a steel reinforced computer with sodium!" The blackened figure only blinked.
"Pappy, this is Ellie. Ellie, you know who this is." Merry said. Ellie turned to greet him.
"Howdy." Looking slightly taken aback, the Doctor returned the gesture with a head nod.
"You'd better get cleaned up if you're going to come with us." Merry commented, looking in minor disdain at her filthy friend.
"Where are we going?" Ellie asked, still not showing much interest in the situation.
"Anywhere, any when." The Doctor chimed in happily – it was clearly his favourite line. The soot-covered girl's eyes lit up and she engulfed the Time Lord in a side hug that turned into more of a rugby tackle. He very nearly fell under the unexpected forced and only regained posture when she let him go and dashed upstairs, leaving a trail of soot behind her. The Doctor sighed, dusting himself down and glaring at his daughter. Merry grinned.
A short while later, Ellie bounded back down the stairs and into the kitchen – where the Time Lords had been relocated to – wearing clean clothes. Her ash blonde hair was now visible, contrasting the one dyed streak of black and complementing her pale skin. In her hands she carried a small, plain box which she held out to Merry as she approached. She was a few inches shorter than the young Time Lord, and of an athletic build, but she was inarguably strong.
"It's from my dad." She commented. Merry gave her a suspicious look. She knew Ellie's dad well and did not trust him to be sensible, "I know you've still got three days to go, but I want to know what's inside." Ellie shook the box temptingly and it clattered a little. Merry had the same weakness; she wanted to know. Reluctantly, the young Time Lord sighed and took it from her friend. She glanced up at her father, who was edging closer to get a better look. Merry had a bad feeling about this gift, but she held her breath and pulled off the lid all the same. She immediately wished she hadn't.
Almost spilling over the edges of the box were several dozen condoms. Merry froze in horror. The Doctor made a strangled noise before blushing a deep red from ear to ear, and forcing the lid shut as if just the image would ruin his daughter's innocence. Ellie just laughed loudly and Lilly watched the scene blankly.
"This isn't funny." Merry said quietly.
"What kind of gift is that?" The Doctor cried. He huffed quietly, "Only Jack would do something like that."
"Jack Harkness, I presume." Lilly commented. The Doctor spun around.
"You know him?" Lilly raised an eyebrow.
"He got me pregnant, so just a little bit." She replied sarcastically. The Time Lord looked to her stomach. The shock was blindly obvious in his eyes, "I'm not pregnant anymore."
"You had-" The Doctor froze as realisation fell heavily on him. Merry watched with a knowing smirk as he turned slowly to face the two young girls, "You." Ellie looked to Merry, and then back to the Doctor. He hopped over to her and looked her over, now noticing the resemblance. He grabbed her hands and studied them carefully before looking into her eyes.
"Howdy." She said with a happy smile. The Doctor blinked and repeated her greeting with a hushed kind of awe.
The room became silent as the Doctor and Ellie began some kind of unannounced staring competition. Merry looked hopefully to Lilly.
"Are you going?" She asked suddenly and brashly. The Time Lord looked up, still in a daze.
"Oh, yes. Allons-y." He turned quietly, dithered a bit and then left. Merry and Ellie smirked at each other. This was looking set to be the best birthday ever.