Sometimes, the Doctor does things – stupid things, because he feels like doing them and because he's lonely, but mostly the first. It's definitely the first, has to be, because the second is only a never-ending circle and if he let himself be guided by that – well. Hello.
(Alright, so maybe it's the second just as much as it is the first.)
But sometimes, the Doctor does things. Stupid things.
And that's all you need to know.
"He is too real." Nine year old Amelia Pond says, arms crossed over her chest and face turned down in a scowl. "Of course he's real." She reaches out a finger and pokes – jabs, really – Mels in the chest. "So stop saying that he isn't." The voice that she's using clearly indicates she's about five seconds from stomping her foot on the ground in a really bad impression of a soap opera.
"Okay, okay." Mels raises her hands in a gesture of innocence, shaking her head back and forth. "I just don't know how you explain it."
"I told you." Amy flops down on the bed next to Mels, turning on her side to face her. "He's got a time machine."
Mels furrows her brow. "Like the Doctor?"
"Yeah. Though his looks like the sleigh, I s'ppose." Amelia pillows her hands underneath her head and Mels turns on her side to face her too, arms wrapped around Amelia's pillow.
"And what about the reindeer?"
Amelia pouts thoughtfully before her eyes brighten. "They're holograms, obviously."
"Obviously." Mels mimics, causing Amelia to punch her arm. Mels doesn't even flinch. She never does.
"Don't make fun. It's not nice. I told you, he's real. Because –"
"I know, I know." Mels says, with the air of someone who's had to repeat it one too many times already. "He brought the Doctor to you."
There's something in Mels' eyes that Amelia doesn't really understand, whenever she talks about the Doctor. After a few years, she's chalked it up to one simple thing: she believes as much as Amelia does, and that's really something. Because Rory – well, he's Rory, and he believes because he's her friend and that's what friends do, but Mels – it's like she'd have believed it if anyone told her.
Amelia likes that.
She grins, scampering off the bed and rushing towards the window. She can sense Mels following behind her. She's always right behind her – or sometimes right ahead of her, but she's always there. It's turning into tradition, this staring out the window on Christmas Eve.
They should have been asleep hours ago.
"I'm glad your Mum let you stay." Amelia tells her, and Mels shrugs. "My mum would never let me go to a friend's house on Christmas Eve." Amelia presses her face against the window. She's watching the sky when she hears Mels answer.
"I like my Mum."
Amelia giggles. "Me too." She's frosting up the window by being so close to it, but then again, she's always doing that. Except that tonight is different. Tonight is the one night in the whole of the year that she doesn't look for the Doctor – well, she doesn't just look for the Doctor.
Because she looks for Santa, too.
"So how do we know if he came or not?" Mels asks, pressed up against the window on Amelia's right.
"It's the presents. There'll be some that are different, I promise.' The nine year old answers just as strongly as she did before, even though there was no proof last year, or the year before that. That's something she's got a lot of.
Amelia Pond believes.
There is a lonely man who sits in a room by himself on Christmas Eve.
Well, it's not really Christmas Eve. It's any time. It's all the times at once, and that's the beauty of his world, isn't it? Every time, any time, any when or anywhere, and he's alone on Christmas. At least, he's alone in the way he's counting Christmas this year: counting the days since he dropped Mr. and Mrs. Williams off for the last time.
It's Christmas for them, today. He wonders if they're expecting him.
He knows himself – a little too well – and he knows he can't give himself that day because he'll never leave, and where would that leave him then? All that saving them, all that making sure – all gone in a flash because he was lonely.
"Just you and me, Sexy." He says, stroking a hand down the TARDIS' matrix. She hums, and the Doctor smiles a smile that doesn't reach his tired eyes. The words haven't been said for more than five seconds before his ship hums, nearly sings, and he turns to find levers moving.
"What are you doing?" There's a significant note of panic in his voice, because they're just supposed to be drifting. That's all they're doing today, on his own personal Christmas. They're drifting through the vortex but now they're not, because she's landed.
He can feel it.
The Doctor catches his breath when he steps out of the TARDIS. The landscape is familiar and foreign all at once, a terrible mix that leaves a pain in his throat and sends his hearts scampering. He's not supposed to be here. Shouldn't be here, can't be here. It's too green and overgrown and the paint isn't chipping yet.
Slowly, he turns back towards the TARDIS, pressing a hand flat against her door. The ship vibrates against his fingers.
It's almost like she's laughing.
The Doctor snaps his fingers, and the rumbling grows louder. For the first time since landing he realizes the second disorienting thing: it hadn't made any noises. He likes that noise, but there'd been no noise. She'd been absolutely silent when she landed, and now she's not opening the doors for him again.
He groans, pressing his face against the wood of the doors. "Not tonight, please." He rubs his fingers along the door and it's almost like she's growling with him. She's angry. "You want me to go in there, don't you, old girl? Well, I can't. That would be a no good thing. It would be bad, very bad, do you hear me? It doesn't happen like this. Never did."
He turns to look over his shoulder, at the house with the paint that's not yet chipped, at the house with no lights on – no lights on.
The TARDIS rumbles.
"I can't do this," He begs, resting his forehead against the door again. "You know that. Let me back in, old girl. I'll use the stabilizers this time."
The door remains firmly locked.
For the third time, he turns back towards the house. "I could – no, I shouldn't." The Doctor takes a step forward, then backwards, and then forwards again until he looks like he might be doing a dance, right there in the yard. He lets out a little noise of frustration and reaches into his pocket to find – oh.
Because that's the thing about Christmas.
"Oh, Ponds." He whispers, kneeling down next to them. Amelia and Mels are curled up against the cold glass of the window, seated on a window ledge made out of a rather not sturdy looking stack of large books. He swallows, heavily, breathing in and stroking a hand over Amelia's hair.
"Little Amelia. What am I going to do with you?" The words are barely uttered, not even whispered as he wraps his arms around her and lifts her into his arms. She's light, barely a feather, and she curls against his chest as he carries her to the bed, placing her down on the pillow and pulling a blanket over her, like he did all that time ago. It's been so long since he's seen her, little her or older her, and he misses her. It's there constantly, in his chest, between his hearts, an ache that he can't get rid of. It's fresher than the others, too recent to not hurt. Not that the others don't hurt, because they do – every Christmas, every year, every day when he expects to turn a corner in the hallways of the TARDIS and have Donna slap him for something stupid, or when he's stuck in a bind and realizes too late that Martha really did have the answers, when he crosses into the wrong room and finds her room, because the TARDIS does that, saves things, and sometimes he takes a wrong turn and can't bring himself to leave Rose's room just yet.
Silently, he crosses the room again – nearly tripping over what turns out to be a nearly perfect model of the TARDIS – and pauses in his decision to lift Mels. Time lines, touching, not a good idea, but he can't just leave her there.
Until she opens her eyes and she's staring at him, and he's really, really glad he's got the Santa hat pulled down nearly over his eyes. Her eyes are widening and he places a finger against his lips, watching her look back and forth between where Amy used to be and where she is now, tucked up in bed.
"Go to bed," He says, and his voice is deeper because he's making it that way. It's too early. In his mind, he's cursing his ship for ever bringing him here, whether or not she tends to bring him exactly where he needs to go.
He nods. Why not?
"Don't wake up your friend," he says, voice catching, and for once she seems to listen to him – or she's half asleep, and he wonders how long it's been since she's actually slept. Time lord sleep habits and all, but when they're out, they're really out. With any luck, she won't remember him in the morning.
Mels is in the sleeping bag on the floor by the time he turns around again, and it's just like he thought – she's out cold. He smiles. They look so peaceful now. A clever lie for the both of them really. They're both waiting, aren't they? Waiting, and it's still going to be so many years.
The Doctor crouches next to Amelia's bed again, unable to help himself. He's already here. What harm can it do? New outfit since the last time she saw him, and he's got the hat halfway pulled down his face.
But then – maybe mother and daughter really are alike, because her eyes are open and she's watching him, holding her breath, and he does the same thing he did before – places his fingers against his lips.
"Shh. Go back to sleep, Amy."
"My name's Amelia." The little girl whispers, tired sounding, but her eyes are wide. Something catches in his throat and it won't let go for anything. He leans forward, kissing her forehead. One last time. The first time. A never ending cycle. She still has so much ahead of her, but right now, she's Amelia.
"Good." He nods, and by the time he pulls back and looks at her, her eyes are closed again.
"Knew you were real." She whispers. He forgets who she's talking about for a second, just for a second, and then remembers the hat on his head. "I told her."
He chuckles. "Of course you did, Amelia." The Doctor reaches into his pocket – bigger on the inside – and pulls out a bracelet. She'd forgotten it on the TARDIS. It's funny; he'd always thought she'd made it when she was little. The beads were as blue as his TARDIS and shone brightly. Carefully, he slipped it onto her wrist.
It fit perfectly.
Of course it did.
"Merry Christmas, Amelia." He whispers, laying both his hands over one of hers. It's so tiny. "Keep believing. Just a little bit longer. For the both of you. She needs it too." His eyes drift over to Mels before coming back to Amy. "Nighty night, Ponds." He whispers, throat tightening, and then he stands.
There's a tiny, kid-sized Christmas tree in the corner, and it's strung with lights that are duller than they should ever be. In a single movement, he takes the sonic and points it. The lights burst into spectacular color – Christmas reds and greens, and, okay, maybe there are just a few TARDIS blue in there. He can't help himself.
He removes his hat, ringing it between his hands before crouching down next to Mels and tucking it gently under her arm. "You're amazing. Don't forget that. Do you understand me? As Mels, as Melody. As River." A smile curves his mouth. "Go to sleep. Dream big, Song."
The TARDIS is waiting outside, and he thinks she'll let him in now, but he turns back when he's reached the door.
Amelia Pond laughs, turning her arm in the sunlight. The bracelet sparkles. "See, Mels? I told you. Santa came and he brought me a bracelet. It looks like the TARDIS, see?" She shows it to the girl with the Santa hat on her head.
"Amelia! Mels!" The call comes from the living room. "Breakfast! Wash your hands."
Amelia grins, poking Mels' arm. "Come on, Mels! Christmas morning!"
They laugh as they race each other to the bathroom.
Naturally, Mels makes it there first.