Title: The Thirteen Doctors Of Christmas 1/2
Author: Unknown Kadath, AKA kadath_or_bust
Rating: All Ages
Word Count: 8,400
Characters: Susan Foreman, Doctors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10.5 11, 12, and 13, with appearances by Rose and River
Beta: tardis mole
Author's Note: My annual Christmas fic, which somehow managed not to be crack this year. I'm almost done the rough draft of the second half and I'm expecting to have that up in a few days. Oh, and one of the past Doctors refers to Sarah Jane as Sarah. This is not a mistake—it's canon for Classic Who, though in the SJAs she insists on "Sarah Jane" exclusively.
"A new dress."
"Ooo, did you hear? Terry Evans is getting a kitten!"
"She says. Said that last year and got socks!"
The girls laughed, Susan snickering along with the rest. Until Anna Hart turned to her and asked, "So what are you getting?"
"Oh," said Susan, suddenly a bit flustered. "We don't celebrate Christmas."
The girls stopped walking, the other students streaming around them on their way to the doors. Today was Friday, and there were classes all of next week, but after that the Coal Hill School was letting out for the holidays and most of the students' minds had departed for that destination already, classes or no.
"What, never?" asked Sandy Upton. "No presents at all?"
"You're weird, Susan," said Lacey Keller. Anna gave her a bit of an elbow. Not too hard; the truth was that Susan was weird. She was strange and she had only come to the school a few months before, and though she was likeable enough she had not yet become truly close friends with anyone there.
And never would. Anna was beginning to suspect it, though none of the others were. She didn't think much about it, not consciously, but there was something about Susan—something more to her than a new girl with an eccentric family and a habit of saying odd things in class. Some secret that kept her ever so slightly apart from everyone else.
"Grandfather thinks it's frivolous," explained Susan.
Lacey rolled her eyes. "He's too cheap, you mean."
"Oh, no! Nothing like that," said Susan earnestly. No one had met her grandfather, but it was obvious to anyone who spent any time with Susan that he must be a very odd man—and that Susan was very attached to him. For some reason. There was an audible uppercase when she talked about him, always "my Grandfather" rather than "my grandfather," the way people used to talk about "the War." Something that had traumatized a generation into capitalization. "But it's not our religion, you see."
"So?" scoffed Sandy. "Bobby Brewster's family are atheists and that didn't stop him from getting Lacey under the mistletoe and—"
Lacey hit her on the arm with her History text.
"Ow! All right!" She rubbed her arm and scowled. "Anyway, it's no excuse not to get you one lousy gift. If he's got money to go globetrotting to all those places you've seen …"
Anna elbowed Sandy's other arm and gave her a little shake of the head. They thought Susan's grandfather must have loads of money to have traveled so much, but there was always the possibility that he and Susan had settled down here because he'd, well, run out. True, Susan dressed well enough, but …
"Anyway, you should ask him," finished Sandy.
"All right," said Susan. "I'll give it a try. But he can be ever so stubborn about things."
"At Christmas?" said Anna, shaking her head.
The girls split up outside the doors, Anna and Lacey heading north, Sandy south, and Susan east. It was dark already at this time of year and bitingly cold tonight, but Susan wasn't afraid of the dark and the cold didn't bother her people as much as it did her friends. She pulled on the gloves her Grandfather had given her, less for comfort than because it was how things were done here, and because they were such a pretty blue color, almost the color the TARDIS had turned when they landed here.
She watched the people and the cars as she walked, the bags and parcels they carried, the ribbons and the wreaths in the shop windows. One shop had a sale on model airplanes, another on a portable radio, another on scarves. Susan looked in all the windows as she passed but only stopped once, at a bakery, and bought herself a mince pie using a little of the spending money her Grandfather had given her. He always said things like that would spoil her dinner, but they never did—and if she ate it as she walked and finished before she got home, he'd never know.
She could see trees through one or two windows of the houses she passed, and more ribbons and bows, and the shiny leaves and berries of holly branches. One house had little stained-glass ornaments hanging in its windows. "Peace," said one. "Joy," said another.
These were the things that Susan loved. Her Grandfather's hearts were in the big things, the history and the great people and the great events. Hers were in the details, the minutia of lives as they were lived in the moment. That was a kind of history, too, her Grandfather would say, but it wasn't history that Susan wanted, not really. It was to live that life for herself, if only for a little while.
Susan shivered a bit as she came to Totter's Lane, and not from the cold. Sometimes she and her Grandfather wanted very different things. Mostly she went where he wanted, and sometimes he let himself be talked into going where she wanted, and sometimes they argued over it. And mostly she liked going where he wanted, but every now and then she thought that one day she might want more for herself than he was willing to sit still for, and then there would be more arguments, and worse, and what would come of them?
There was a faint singing coming from the TARDIS, and Susan gave her chin a swipe with her gloved hand to get rid of any stray crumbs before she went in. Her Grandfather stood at the console, pecking fussily at the controls and peering at the resulting readouts through his half-rimmed glasses. "Ah, there you are, child. I was beginning to wonder where you'd got to."
"I'm not late," said Susan. "Not very, at least. I was looking at the decorations in the shops. And there was a radio at one of them." She rushed out the last bit, not letting herself stop to think twice about it.
"Oh, yes? And don't scoff, child, I'm sure it's quite impressive for the time period." He twisted a knob, frowned at it, twisted it again.
"I wasn't scoffing, Grandfather!" Susan protested. "I was only enjoying the music."
"Hm? Oh." He frowned at her now, shaking his silvered head. "Well, if it's not in our databanks, I'm sure we could get it easily enough. It'll sound much better that way, I'm sure, and you won't have to stand around in the cold worrying an old man."
"Yes, Grandfather." But it's the radio I want … "Anyway, the decorations were so pretty. I was wondering … if we could get a few for the TARDIS?"
But even as she said it his frown deepened further, knotting the lines on his brow together. "You're getting too attached to these people, Susan," he said. "Attending this school of theirs is one thing. Joining this savage religion of theirs …"
"Oh, but it's not just about the religion, Grandfather, it's about presents and being festive and … and … joy, and peace."
"Peace," he snorted. "It's a religion that's one short step away from torture and murder of anyone who disagrees with them."
"But they did step away."
"Hm, hm, perhaps. But they didn't step very far, now, did they?" He flapped his hands at her. "Oh, off with you. Go get yourself your dinner. And then perhaps you can make yourself useful, help an old man with these sensors."
His eyes sparkled at the last, and Susan smiled at him. She loved helping him with the TARDIS. "Yes, Grandfather!"
2: The Clown
Susan and her Grandfather both slept most nights. Susan because she was young and still growing, Grandfather because he was in the latter years of this regeneration. Of course he could go on for many years yet—if he got the proper rest.
They did not speak much of their dreams. What Grandfather dreamed of Susan didn't know, but she herself dreamed of the worlds they visited, places she'd like to go back to, places she'd like to go … and home. Home back before it all went wrong, or at least too wrong, of her parents when they were still alive, of the house and the people and the ceremonies.
Even if they wanted to, they couldn't go back. None of those things were there anymore. None of them ever would be again. Grandfather had traveled to their future, he said, and there was nothing of what Susan missed there. Only emptiness and pale echoes. Even their ceremonies were dry imitations performed by rote.
Tonight she dreamed of the TARDIS. That was her home now, and Grandfather her people and her family.
She walked the halls, humming under her breath along with the thrum of the engines. She had always felt the sound was comforting, like the sound of her mother singing her to sleep, though Grandfather said that was nonsense.
Now there was another sound. It was a faint, reedy piping—more of a tooting, really, laboriously spelling out a simple tune one note at a time, like a child learning to write. And it was coming from the console room.
A strange man was sitting in her Grandfather's chair, playing a recorder. He was dressed a little like her Grandfather but far more shabbily, his checked trousers and black coat both rumpled and rather too large for his short stature. His hair was in a messy bowl cut, rather like "Moe" from The Three Stooges. The lights were turned down for the night, and everything else was so like waking life that if Susan had been human (or the stranger more threatening) she might have thought she was awake and been frightened.
"Hello," said Susan. "What are you doing in my dream?" She really couldn't imagine why she would dream of such a person.
The stranger set aside his recorder and bounced to his feet as if made of rubber. His face seemed to be made of rubber, too; it stretched into a beaming grin, full of warmth and mischief, that reminded Susan of Anna's uncle who had come to pick her up from school one day. It made her like the stranger at once, if not (quite) trust him.
"Susan!" he said, spreading his arms wide. "It's so wonderful to see you, my dear!"
"I'm very sorry," said Susan politely. "But I've never met you before, I'm sure of it. Please, how did you get into the TARDIS?"
The stranger's face and arms fell. "Well, of course we've met," he said, giving her a hurt look that was almost comical. She wondered if perhaps he wasn't very bright. There was something very childish about him. "Granted, I've changed a bit since then …"
Something about the word "changed" struck a chord in Susan. Not just changed in the ordinary sense; changed more deeply, changed irrevocably, changed …
Regenerated. This man was a Time Lord. They'd been caught.
Susan would have been very frightened, dream or no dream, except for two things. First, it was impossible to be truly frightened of the funny, friendly little man in front of her. Second, because there really was something very familiar about him.
"Oh, yes!" said the scruffy little man, beaming again.
"Oh no," said Susan. "Oh dear."
"Eh?" said the man (she still couldn't quite bring herself to think of him as her Grandfather), and scowled. His scowl was every bit as impressive as his grin, with his eyebrows coming together like black waves crashing in a stormy sea, and his voice was sharp. "And what do you mean by that, hm?"
He sounded so much like her Grandfather then that she had to believe it, even if she still didn't want to. It wasn't that she didn't like him, it was just that he … wasn't himself.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Only … you're not really like him, are you?"
He sighed. "Well, I suppose, in some ways … perhaps … some would say I'm an improvement, you know!"
Susan was pretty sure her Grandfather wouldn't. This was all too strange for her. She'd never been close to anyone who had regenerated before, but she'd heard things could go very wrong. And …
"Is he going to … is he going to turn into you very soon?" she asked.
"Oh, not for a good long while," said the scruffy man. "In fact, that's why I'm visiting you now. I never had the chance to meet you after I changed. You had stopped traveling with me long before that."
"Stopped … you mean I left you?" Had they had an argument? How bad would it have to be for her to leave him all alone? Grandfather wasn't like her, he didn't make friends quite so easily in the places they visited. He'd keep wandering on through history with no one but fleeting acquaintances, no one of his own kind by his side. "But I wouldn't …"
"Susan," said the scruffy man gently. He held out his hand to her, and his smile was so wise and kind that she took them despite the way the cuffs came down over his knuckles as her Grandfather would never have allowed. His fingers were thicker, stronger and shorter than she was used to. "Now you mustn't worry about me, you know. It was my decision as well. And I unbent enough to start making friends in our travels—oh, yes, even back when I was that crusty, cantankerous, obstreperous old … ah … hem," he put on an expression of not-quite-sincere innocence, "Grandfather of yours."
"Really?" said Susan, not quite believing it.
"Oh yes. And you'll meet some of them before you go, and you'll come to like them very much, so you'll know you're leaving your poor helpless old Grandfather in good hands."
He beamed at her, and then his expression turned a little graver, though he was still smiling. "Besides," he said. "It isn't right that you should spend your whole life, or all your lives, traipsing around looking after me. Don't you see? Sooner or later we all have to find our own paths. And I'm very happy for you. And I really wouldn't be happy if I knew I'd taken you away from what you wanted, just to keep me company."
"I suppose so," said Susan. Now she looked into his eyes, clear blue like sunlight on the sea, and she could see her Grandfather there despite the ill-fitting clothes and the silly hair. "Only I hope it isn't for a long time!"
He leaned forward to kiss her forehead. His lips were warmer than his old self's, but he smelled the same. Sandalwood and mothballed clothes.
"Good heavens, child, what are you making that noise for?"
Susan lowered the recorder guiltily. "I'm sorry, Grandfather." It was harder than it looked to play it properly. Though not as hard as her Grandfather's future self had made it look.
"Where on earth did you get that?"
"I found it," she said, which was true—it had been on her pillow that morning when she'd woken from the dream, clumsily covered in wrapping paper. How a dream had left gift on her pillow she had no idea, but she took that as proof that it wasn't just a dream. "In the wardrobe room," she added, hoping her Grandfather wouldn't see she was lying, as he usually did on the rare occasions she tried. She was an honest girl by nature, and falsehood didn't come easily to her.
Fortunately her Grandfather seemed more interested in getting his breakfast from the food machine than in the origins of her new toy. "Well you had better put it back there when you're done playing with it, hadn't you?" he said, in a tone that suggested she finish playing sooner rather than later.
"Yes, Grandfather," she said meekly. "Grandfather?"
"What's it like when people regenerate, Grandfather?"
He looked up, a bit startled. It was quite a serious question for a Time Lord, like a human child's "What happens when we die?" and he seemed to decide it needed a serious answer. He said nothing immediately, but came over to the table and sat down, putting the plate with his food bar in front of him and ignoring it.
"Well," he said slowly, "it's a very great change, yes, a very great change. Sometimes greater than others. Sometimes it can be most unreliable. And yet I think it's not always so great a change as we believe. I have known people to go through it, and when I meet them afterwards, I felt I did not know them at all! That they were entirely different people. And yet when I thought back, I saw that the new people they had become had really been there all along, beneath the surface." He took a thoughtful little bite of his food bar. "So perhaps when we find the change disturbing, it is only because we never really knew a person at all. Not so well as we think we did, at least!"
"Oh," said Susan, turning the recorder over in her hands. Was that scruffy little man really part of her Grandfather right now? The mischievous twinkle in his eyes, yes, and the kindness, she could see that. But that haircut … It wasn't so much the look of the thing, as the idea of her Grandfather voluntarily going around looking like that. And perhaps it was a very small thing, all in all, but it was a reminder that despite all that remained, in some way they were simply not the same man.
"What's brought this on, child?" her Grandfather asked. "You're not thinking I've grown quite that old and feeble, are you?" And the gentle twinkle in his eyes reminded her of the other man.
"Oh, no, Grandfather."
"And you're much too young. Are you feeling ill? Why didn't you say? I'll take you to the med-bay at once. You young people, every sniffle is a death knell." He tsked and reached out to feel her forehead.
"No, Grandfather," Susan giggled. "I had a dream. I met your next regeneration."
"Really? What was I like?"
"Well, you were younger."
"Hmph!" He seemed very amused now. "I should hope so, or what would be the point? What else?"
"Well … you were a bit less … dignified."
"Only to be expected from young people, I'm afraid."
"And you were very sweet."
"Oh, and I'm a cantankerous old man now, I suppose!" He huffed, pretending to be very insulted. "The ingratitude of you young people today. I bring you with me, I show you the stars, and this … this is how you choose to repay me!"
He leaned forward as she laughed, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "I'll tell you this, my dear. If you had known me when I was a young man, you would never have believed I was your Grandfather. It's Time that changes people, Susan, only Time and the choices that we make and the things we see and do. Regeneration does nothing but make the changes happen faster."
She was in a car. An old-style car, bright yellow and with the top folded down, leaving only the windscreen and the wind and the winding muddy road they were bouncing along. At a very high rate of speed, too. If she hadn't been dreaming, she might have been a bit worried about that, especially the way the driver was taking the turns.
Or if the driver had been human. They didn't have the best of reflexes. But as it was, she found the ride rather exciting.
She turned to the driver. He was a little older than last night's visitor, with a mass of curly grey hair and a beak of a nose. He was much taller, too, and better dressed, not to say foppishly, in a cape and velvet jacket and a frilly shirt.
"Grandfather?" she asked.
She wasn't sure what it was about the man. But tonight she'd been half-expecting it, anyway.
He turned to her and smiled. "Hello, Susan. I trust you find this version of me an improvement over that rag-bag who frightened you last night."
"I thought he was sweet," said Susan, although this one seemed sweet enough as well. And he could still be just a conceited as his first incarnation …
"Sweet!" snorted the fop. "People do keep saying that and I can never understand why."
Susan looked him over. He was still younger than her Grandfather, stronger, and his manner had more fine wine and less vinegar. But now that she'd met several of him, the changes were becoming less disconcerting, easier to look past.
"Where are we going?" she asked. They were out in the country, and there was no obvious destination in sight. Only rolling heather and gorse and the occasional copse of shrubby trees.
"Nowhere in particular," he replied. "I found I enjoyed driving in this incarnation. Well, I was grounded for the first few years, unable to use the TARDIS." He grimaced and lowered his voice. "They caught up with me, you see."
"Oh, no." Susan put her hand to her mouth. "Did they?"
"It's quite all right," he reassured her. "They were going to—well, never mind about that. The point is that I convinced them I'd done far more good than harm and they decided to exile me to a place where I could be of use to them—namely, Earth in the 1970s. Quite inordinate number of invasion attempts. And … er, do you recall Koschei?"
"Yes," said Susan, making a face. "Don't tell me they exiled him with you?" She didn't know Grandfather's old school friend well, but she knew they'd had a falling-out her Grandfather wouldn't talk about, and that she didn't much like him.
"Not exactly." The fop cleared his throat. "You see, he's turned renegade himself. Caused me quite a bit of trouble."
"Him? But he was so …"
"I know." He sighed. "But sometimes the worst sticklers for the rules are the worst rule-breakers when they finally let go. And he never was very stable. Started calling himself 'the Master,' you know." He tsked. "He used to tease me over 'the Doctor,' too, the hypocrite." And his lips quirked into a smile.
"And are you still trapped on Earth?" That worried Susan. She knew her Grandfather wouldn't be happy staying in one place very long, not in any incarnation. He might put a brave face on it for her sake, but he'd never like it.
"Oh, no, they gave me back my freedom long ago. Er, best not to tell my younger self. First law of time and all that."
"Yes, Grandfather." It was getting easier to call them that. "Grandfather …"
There were so many questions she wanted to ask him, but the road was covered in mist, and she felt herself drifting away into wakefulness.
4. The Bohemian
"Hello, Susan. Would you like a jelly-baby?"
It was summer, or perhaps a warm, clear day in spring, and she was sitting on a park bench with a very strange man. He was even taller than last night's visitor, and younger, and had a deep, booming voice. In one hand he had a bag of corn, which he was feeding to the ducks, and in the other he had a bag of sweets, which he offered Susan. She took one and chewed slowly, looking him over.
This one had curly hair like the last, but longer and wilder and brown instead of grey, with a battered hat jammed on top. His clothes were far more casual, a mix of reds and browns and russets. A scarf that matched just about everything made several extravagant loops around his neck, with yards left over to sprawl out across the bench.
"It's very good to see you again," he said. His voice was rather slow and leisurely, very unlike her Grandfather, and his eyes and smile were both far too wild. For a moment she remembered what the last Doctor had said about poor Koschei going mad, but there was something inherently good-natured about this man. "Did you like the screwdriver?"
"Screwdriver? Oh, is that what it was, a sonic screwdriver! How very clever. Did you—the other you—invent it?" She'd woken up to find the little device on her pillow, like the recorder. It hadn't taken her much experimentation to discover that it was a sonic tool with several settings, though she hadn't figured out what all of them did yet, and asking her Grandfather was out of the question.
"No, I didn't," said the man, affably. "I had one in my laboratory and hardly used it. Then I started carrying it with me in my pocket, and I found it was really very handy. Now I wouldn't be without it. Watch!"
He pulled out a device similar too, but not quite the same as the one his third self had given her, and pointed it at the bag of corn. There was a whir, and a series of pops that frightened the ducks, and a mouth-watering smell.
He held the bag out to her, grinning more widely than ever. "Popcorn?"
"Thank you." She took a handful, hesitated. "You seem a bit different from the others."
"Oh, I'm different from everybody. How did you mean?"
"Well, I'm not sure," said Susan, searching for the right words. More carefree, perhaps? Although that could be said of the second one. There was something expansive about this one, something harder to pin down, as if he could be many different things and wasn't about to be pinned down by any one of them. "A bit … wilder?"
He laughed. "Oh, yes, that's me! My friend Sarah once suggested I was having a mid-life crisis."
"Oh …" That didn't sound good. "I'm sorry. Did it get better, though?"
"I didn't want it to get better," he said earnestly. "I liked being me. I really am a very wonderful fellow, once you get to know me. I'm much nicer than the others. They're all far too conceited."
"And are you still traveling?" Susan asked. "And you're not alone, are you?"
"Yes I am, and no I'm not," he said. "My friend Sarah came with me for a while, and then there was Leela. And then I traveled with a young Time Lady named Romana—very clever girl. I even had a dog for a while."
Susan had to giggle at the thought of her Grandfather—any of him—with a dog. He seemed very happy with the life he'd made for himself, and she was glad. But there was something he'd said …
"You said you liked being this you," she realized. "Not like. Is something—something wrong?"
He took her hand, calming her. "Not at all, not at all. But you see, all of us appearing to you in your dreams, we're only psychic projections. We always meant to come and visit, and somehow we never quite got round to it, so now my future self is dreaming us all up so we can meet you. Isn't that clever of him?"
It bothered her faintly that this man wasn't alive anymore in his timeline (though in hers, he hadn't yet been born) but she forced a smile. "Yes it was. Grandfather …"
"I'm glad I met you," she blurted. "All of you. And I like this you, too."
"Why thank you!" he beamed. "How very kind of you to say so!"
As the dream faded, his smile lingered like the Cheshire Cat's.
5. The Cricketer
When she saw the young man strolling through the field, Susan thought that she had missed tonight's dream. Technically it wasn't even "tonight," it was tomorrow morning. It had been Monday, so she'd spent the day at school. (She'd worn the new scarf that she'd found on her pillow, fortunately closer to normal length than the giver's, and her friends had all complimented her on it. That, and the yo-yo that came with it, were her favorite gifts so far.) Then when she'd come home her Grandfather was still fussing with the sensors and wanted her help again. There seemed to be something quite wrong either with them or with local space-time, and he was beginning to get frustrated. He could get very difficult when he was frustrated, and she'd started to think he'd keep her up all night.
And since all the other dreams had come earlier in the night, and since the mild-faced, fair-haired fellow in the cricket outfit looked nothing like any version of her Grandfather that she could imagine (though her imagination had been very much stretched the last few days) she thought that she'd simply have to wait until the next night.
Then the young man saw her and waved her over. "Hullo! Lovely day for a stroll, isn't it?" he said.
"Hello—Grandfather," said Susan. Because as she came closer she saw that the man's face was a bit blander than she'd thought, though he had a very pleasant smile … but he also had a stalk of celery pinned to the lapel of his jacket, and she couldn't think of many people who would wear something like that.
"Oh, you recognize me," he beamed. "How do you always do that?"
"Practice," she said. And, to keep the topic off the celery, "I didn't think you'd like cricket, though. Or is it just the clothes?"
"Oh, no, I live for cricket." A frown creased his smooth forehead. "Why wouldn't I like it?"
"Oh, because it's so human."
"I quite like humans," protested the young man. "Didn't I tell you about Sarah Jane the other day? She was one of my closest friends. Although I suppose I've mellowed quite a bit since your day—back then I didn't have much use for humans, did I?"
"No, Grandfather, not really. I'm glad you like them now, though," she added, though she was a bit unsure about this man. He seemed nicer than her Grandfather, less irascible, and certainly saner than last night's visitation, but … well, perhaps that was why sometimes he seemed like a younger, unfinished version, someone who could be her Grandfather someday and wasn't quite there yet.
But it was good that he could be friends with humans. Sometimes her version didn't seem to get along with much of anyone, and there was a distinct shortage of Time Lords willing to travel. If he didn't mind humans anymore there was much less chance of him being lonely.
It occurred to her that this man seemed more open and agreeable than the others. Maybe she could persuade him to answer a few questions. "He said you were all mental projections of your future self, too. How many of you am I going to meet?"
He sighed. It was a slightly fussy sigh, and sounded incongruously like her Grandfather when he was impatient. "Oh, dear, I do wish I could tell you, Susan. But from my point of view none of that's happened yet. I have no more idea what comes next than you do."
"Oh," she said, disappointed.
"But come along," he said, clapping his hands and smiling again. There was something quietly but stubbornly determined under the mildness of his voice, something that brooked no argument. "It's too nice a day to stand here moping. There's a nice big field over that way and I think I've got my bat around somewhere …"
He led her away, chattering. It wasn't until just before she woke up that it occurred to her that he must know more than he said if he knew he was a mental projection from a future incarnation of himself to begin with, and that if nothing else Time had made her Grandfather better at lying and changing the subject.
"Grandfather," said Susan after breakfast the next morning, just before she left for school, "what were you like when you were young?"
"Hm? What do you want to know that for?"
"Well …" Susan tossed her new cricket ball from one hand to the other and shrugged. "You said the other day, remember, when we were talking about regeneration, that I wouldn't recognize you when you were younger. And I had another dream last night about a future you. He was very young and he had blond hair, and he was sort of sweet and polite and—not that you aren't, Grandfather!" she added hastily, as he had started to snort and scoff.
"No I'm not!" he cackled, in a fit of honesty. "Aha! Ha! Hoooo! And I never was, dear girl." He leaned forward and waggled a finger at her. "When I was that age I was the worst rapscallion anyone at the Academy had ever met! Oh, yes, I was, I won't deny it, don't ever let me tell you otherwise!"
He was practically sputtering with mirth as he waved her out the door, and she could hear him chortling to himself as she went. "Sweet! Polite, even! What an imagination, hm, what an imagination!"
6. The Joker in the Pack
"Finally!" said a very loud voice, and Susan found herself standing in the console room facing … well, she wasn't quite sure what, but he was rather large and wearing the most ridiculous clothes she'd ever seen outside of a circus and she had a sinking feeling that he was still her Grandfather.
"And what sort of time do you call this? Hm?" He pulled out a lime-green pocket watch and made a show of checking it. "Far past your bedtime, young lady."
"Sorry, Grandfather," she said automatically. True, this one looked absolutely nothing like him, and he was managing a good deal more volume than the older man, but she'd heard that tone often enough that it overrode even the hideously multicolored patchwork coat. "Only you're still working on the sensors, and you wanted my help. You said the distortions could be another time capsule and you wanted to make sure—"
"Well of course it's another time capsule!" shouted her Grandfather. "It's mine, and my incompetent replacement had better check his shielding if he doesn't want to give the game away. But that's no excuse, absolutely no excuse," he shook an angry finger in the air, "for neglecting his duties as your guardian. I would have very harsh words with myself, very harsh indeed, if it wouldn't violate the Laws of Time. The upbringing and education of a young person is a grave responsibility, a very grave one indeed, and …"
Susan looked him over as he steamed ahead through his rant. He wasn't much older than the last one, taller and stockier, hair a shade darker and in a shock of curls. She'd been half-expecting him to continue getting milder and more affable as he went through his lives, but apparently her Grandfather (or Nature, or some other power) had decided he'd gone far enough in that direction and it was time to go the other way, as far as it was possible to go.
She wasn't sure about either extreme. She'd liked last night's version, but he'd been just a bit distant. This one was refreshingly blunt. On the other hand, he looked even madder than the fourth.
"How old are you now?" she wondered out loud.
He sputtered to an indignant halt. Then he gave a tight, forced smile. Then he gave her a mock-stern frown and tapped an admonishing finger on the tip of her nose. "Rude," he pronounced. "Badly brought up. I really must speak to this Grandfather of yours."
"Are you going to answer me?"
"No!" he said. "Now come with me. I've cooked you breakfast. No carrot juice, if you like carrot juice, which frankly I can't imagine but I'm told some people do. I can't abide the stuff myself, won't have it on the ship …"
He'd cooked her a large, elaborate, and somewhat eccentric breakfast (which included the normal things such as bacon and eggs as well as some oddments like bubblegum milkshakes and banana pancakes with ketchup) and asked her about her school. She found herself telling him about her friends, and about her teachers, and how poor Mr. Chesterton was really quite good and it wasn't his fault he lived in such an unscientific age. She'd never told her Grandfather any of this—he'd never asked, and tended to lose interest and dismiss the subject whenever she brought it up.
She'd thought she wouldn't like this one when she'd first seen him, but she found herself having a very good time, and she was sad when it was over. "And I never met you, either, I suppose," she said.
"Afraid not," he sighed. "By the way, I'm hoping he's been kept out, but if you see a man in black who has a face like curdled milk and calls himself 'Valeyard,' run away."
"Why?" asked Susan. Then she found herself waking up with a ticking sound in her ear.
There was a clock on her pillow this time. When she pulled off the obnoxiously bright wrapping paper, it proved to be in the shape of a cat, with the dial in its belly and its tail forming a pendulum. There were no numbers, only a ring of question marks.
Susan grinned and went to hang it on her wall. Like her grandfather, she found clocks amusing, though she hadn't needed one to tell time since she was a very small girl.
Later, she discovered it meowed to mark the hour.
7. The Shadow
She was walking through a shadowy maze, filled with mist and vague, looming shapes, drawn on by a rhythmic clacking sound. It was frenetic and echoing, and when she came around the corner and saw the small man twitching and contorting, she thought he was having some sort of seizure brought on by the noise.
Then she realized he was playing the spoons.
"Grandfather?" she said.
He started, one spoon flying out into the darkness and the other flipping up to strike him on the forehead, making his eyes cross in comic surprise. Then he gave her a big grin.
"Hello, Susan," he said.
He had a mild, soft voice with a gentle Scottish accent. He really was an unassuming sort of man, small, almost elfin, dressed normally enough except for a pullover knit in mustard yellow with a pattern of tomato-red question marks. That had to be a holdover from his last life. There was a faintly manic edge to his smile that echoed the fourth, and a sweetness that reminded her of the second.
Perhaps she was getting used to these visitations. It was becoming easier to see the similarities in these men without being distracted by the differences. Or perhaps it was the depth of age in his eyes. For the first time, despite his younger face, she found it easy to believe that this man was older than her Grandfather.
"Shall we go somewhere a bit more cheerful?" he asked, pulling a hat from a nearby statue and plopping it on his head. He lifted an umbrella that had hung from his pocket by its question-mark handle, and smacked his raised foot with it, spinning himself around on his other heel like a weather-cock to finish by pointing down a darkened passage with the umbrella. "This way, I think." He beckoned to her with a theatrical flick of his hand, and she set off after him.
The passage opened out into a sunny park, much to Susan's surprise, and the two of them walked together, the Doctor using his umbrella much the same way that her Grandfather had held his walking-stick. "Are you quite all right, Grandfather?" she asked. He was strangely quiet, with a thoughtful shadow behind his eyes.
"Oh, yes," he assured her. "But I sometimes wonder …"
"If I did the right thing bringing you with me. Perhaps you would have been happier staying behind."
"Oh, no, Grandfather!" she said earnestly. He always thought he knew best for her, and sometimes he did, but in this case Susan was absolutely sure of herself. "I would have hated it. I love traveling with you. I wouldn't miss it for anything."
"Yes, you say that now," he mused. "But can any of us say what would have happened? Suppose you had never known what it was like to travel. Suppose you had stayed behind, tucked safely away on Gallifrey. You might have decided in time that you liked that, as well."
"No, I wouldn't," said Susan, stubbornly. "I didn't like it there. I never would have liked it."
"Then perhaps you would have traveled on your own. Or with someone else. Or found a way to change the world you lived in to something more your liking."
"I'm still glad I came with you," she said. "Who knows what would have happened if I'd stayed behind? Even if it could have been better I'm sure it wouldn't, not really."
He sighed. "Perhaps. There are things to come that may change your mind."
"What's to come, Grandfather?" She'd wondered about the reasons for these visits before, and it had worried her, but this was the first time she'd started to feel afraid. "Tell me!"
"Even if I wanted to, I don't know enough to be useful," he said. He fixed her with a stern look. "But I suggest that when you part company with me …"
"Travel for a long, long time. I suspect that things back home may be … unhealthy."
A shadow, like the gloom of the maze, passed over them, chilling her briefly. But when she looked up, she could see nothing that cast it, and found herself standing in the bright sunlight again.
"Enough of this," said her Grandfather abruptly. "Come along. Let me buy you an ice cream, and you can tell me more about your adventures at that delightful school of yours."
"I want to hear about you," she said. "You seem so unhappy, and I don't want to see you end up that way."
He sighed. "Oh, Susan," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm not unhappy. Yes, I've had unhappy days, and sorrows, and times when I forget all the good I've seen. But most of the time my life is very good." He smiled suddenly, turning impish. "Did my fourth incarnation tell you how I became Lord President of all Gallifrey?" And he rolled his R's with great relish.
"No he didn't, because it never happened," said Susan, unable to stop herself from smiling back.
"It most certainly did happen, and it would go very nicely with a black raspberry swirl. This way." He set off, Susan hurrying to stay by his side. "It was all completely accidental …"
"On your part or theirs?"
"Oh, both, of course …"
8. The Free Spirit
She found him drinking tea and reading a novel in an ornately carved chair, a youngish man with a cascade of chestnut curls and a bottle-green velvet coat. There was faint opera music playing on something that looked like an antique gramophone but sounded like a state-of-the-art sound system.
Any impression of restrained, refined leisure flew out the window the instant he saw her, however. "Susan!" he cried, practically throwing the cup and book aside as he bounced up out of his chair as if spring-loaded. He bounded over to her and spun her around, laughing, before sweeping her into a tight hug.
"Grandfather!" she laughed. This one, in the brief look she'd gotten while he was standing still, seemed to have gotten younger again. Not so much in his face but in his eyes.
"Let me look at you," he said, pulling away to arm's length. "Hmm. I hope that old schemer you met last night didn't depress you too badly. I must apologize for him. I always seem to be apologizing for myself, whenever more than one of me are involved in something, I've just realized that. What does that say about me, I wonder?"
He didn't seem to mean the last question seriously—in fact, he seemed quite unconcerned about having to apologize for anything. "It's all right," she said. "Thank you for the ice cream last night. And the umbrella, I needed it this morning." The umbrella had been hanging from her headboard when she woke. And filled with jelly babies. "Grandfather?"
"Hm?" He had the most innocent eyes of any Doctor she'd met yet, except perhaps the fifth.
"I really am happy with you. And even if something does go wrong in the future, I wouldn't change a thing."
"Quite right," he said approvingly. "It's no use brooding over things that are said and done, wondering if they could have gone differently …"
He trailed off, and for just a moment his eyes looked very old indeed.
"And I don't want you to feel responsible, either," she said. "It was my choice to come, you know."
"Susan!" he cried. "Susan Susan Susan. Of course it was. You know, my last self held himself responsible for everything, tried to manage everyone, and I don't think it ever did him or anyone else any good in the end. Always getting tangled up in my own plots, fretting over everything that happened … it was time for a change. From now on, I'm taking life as it comes."
She smiled. "I'm glad." Then she noticed something oddly familiar over his shoulder, a six-sided console with a glass column rising and falling in its center. And yet it and the room were so very different—baroque, ornate, gothic, filled with dark corners and rich colors, cobwebs and candlelight. "Grandfather, what is this place?"
"It's the TARDIS!" he exclaimed, throwing his arms wide. "I'm turning over a new leaf. Redecorating! What do you think?"
"I think it's marvelous!" she said. "I suppose it's too soon to ask Grandfather to do this? Back in my time, I mean."
"Oh, that's a pity." She strolled around the chair, running a finger over the spines of the books on the shelf behind it, looking at the book lying on its cushion. The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells. "It's wonderful."
"I meant it to be different, this time," he said, and she looked up sharply at the tone of his voice. There was a deep, weary regret in his eyes, visible only for a moment. "I meant for so many things to be different."
"No, don't mind me," he said with a quick smile. "Have you read this? I met the author once, you know. I was in my sixth incarnation and he mistook me for a devil. Can't say I blame him—you've met my sixth."
"Grandfather," she started to say, about to demand an answer from him. But then she smelled the smoke, and saw the orange flicker of flame in the corner behind him. "Grandfather, look out!"
He saw the smoke and leapt forward to take her by the shoulders, eyes grim. "Susan, I'm sorry. I thought we'd have more time. But you have to wake up right now."
"But what about you?" she demanded, gripping him back. The flames had spread with amazing speed, encircling them and now closing in, the smoke thickening until she began to choke.
"I'll be fine," he snapped, the fear in his voice belying his words. "This is only a memory—there's nothing you can do to change this." He gave her a little shake. "Wake up. NOW!"
Susan sat bolt upright in bed, gasping and coughing. She didn't know what had happened or would happen, only that her Grandfather was in some terrible, unimaginable danger. She had to go to him—
Her hand fell on the cover of a book on her pillow. It was a copy of The Time Machine. Not the same copy, she felt instinctively; though this looked the same, she was quite certain nothing in that room had survived the inferno. Perhaps not even her Grandfather.
But a ghost couldn't have left me a book, she thought, clutching it tight. A memory couldn't do that, and he said he was a memory.
She sat up all night, rocking herself gently and clinging to the book like a lifeline, repeating those words in her mind.