The Thirteen Doctors Of Christmas
Author's Note: I'm continuing to capitalize "grandfather" whenever it's Susan's POV. I know some of it's not grammatically correct but I felt it was right for the character. I'd like to finish the story that way for the sake of internal consistency.
Also, the flower was stolen from a Marc Platt novel.
9. The Stranger
Susan did not speak of this dream to her Grandfather the next day, or to anyone at school. It was the last day before the break and everyone else was far too excited about Christmas to pay much attention to her mood. Anna asked her, sympathetically, if her Grandfather still didn't want to celebrate Christmas, and said he was a right old Scrooge and needed to lighten up. But even she was too excited to worry about Susan for long—she was going to visit her cousins, and spent most of her time talking about that.
Back at home, Grandfather was preoccupied with his sensors. He was beginning to get truly frustrated with them, and just a bit anxious. "They can't have found me," he muttered to himself. "Or why haven't they done anything yet? Hm? They wouldn't track me down to this planet in this time and then fail to find me … or find me and leave me at liberty. No. No, it must be a fault."
Susan told him she was tired and slipped away to her room early. She half wanted to go to sleep and ask the next Doctor if he was all right now, and what had happened to the one she'd met last night. The other half of her wanted to stay up all night so she wouldn't have to find out.
What she actually did was to read The Time Machine straight through. It was a short novel, and while she enjoyed it, it wasn't, on reflection, a comforting story. It was about a man who traveled into the future and found that his civilization had fallen, and his people devolved first into a race of simpletons and a race of savages that preyed on one another, then into near-mindless beasts, and finally disappeared altogether.
"It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind."
In the end he found the planet a lifeless, frozen wasteland, and returned to his own time … only to set out on a second expedition, never to return.
"The Time Traveler's still out there somewhere, having adventures," she told herself. "That's all. It's not that anything bad's happened to him. He's like Grandfather. If he finds something that interests him he'll forget everything else. He could go on for years—centuries—so long as he kept finding places he liked better than home."
It was the sensation of a drop of water falling on her cheek and a gentle brush of lips on her forehead that roused her. She hadn't even been aware of falling asleep. When she opened her eyes and found herself in her bedroom, just as she'd left it, she thought for an instant that she'd woken up again. But no; her instincts told her this was still a dream.
It was nearly dark, the lights dimmed for the night. At first she thought she was alone, and she was about to get up and go looking for tonight's visitation. Then she saw the man standing in the shadows by the door.
"Grandfather?" she said, sitting up.
The lights responded to her motion by increasing slightly, and she saw that it wasn't her Grandfather—not any of them. He was a rough-looking man in a leather jacket, hard-faced, with cropped hair and icy grey eyes, and he was watching her with all the expression of a block of granite.
Susan took in a sharp breath at the sight of the intruder. He looked dangerous, menacing, capable of pretty much anything—that was the immediate impression she had of him, and she could only assume his purpose here was sinister. But he was already turning to go, striding out the door and into the darkness of the hall beyond.
It was only then that she registered the sorrow buried in his eyes, and the faint glimmer of moisture on his cheek, and realized that he'd been crying.
She touched the drop of water on her own cheek. "Grandfather?" she whispered.
And then she was truly awake, struggling upright in bed and sobbing.
On her pillow was a single flower, a tiny Gallifreyan starbell, glowing like a captured spark encased in petals.
10. The Adventurer
The flower had faded by breakfast. They never lasted long, only a day, less when cut, and it was never any use putting them in water. Susan held it while it lasted, smelling the sweet faint fragrance, thinking of home. Not that it had ever truly felt like home. And on close inspection, it was a desert starbell of the sort whose seeds were carried on ships for experimental purposes, not the mountain species she'd grown up with.
It was still the closest she might ever come to going back.
Her Grandfather was by now so frustrated with his sensors that he didn't notice anything wrong with her at all. In fact, shortly after they began, he told her to go off and amuse herself and get out from underfoot. Ordinarily she would have gone off a little ways and waited for him to remember he wanted an assistant on hand to pass him tools and listen to him mutter to himself, but today she was just as happy to go off to the library and leave him to it.
She lay awake for a long time before she fell asleep that night. She'd been so afraid for her Grandfather's safety. Then she'd been given proof he'd survived … as a man she barely recognized. What if the next one was a madman, or a monster? If that was his future, she didn't want to see it.
But then there was the tear, and the flower. He'd still been the Grandfather who loved her and looked after her. But … why wouldn't he speak to her?
The thoughts went round and round inside her head. But she was young, and sleep had always come easily to her, and presently she found herself standing in a half-familiar room surrounded by twisting pillars of … coral?
"Hello, Susan," said a soft voice behind her.
She turned and saw him standing by the latest version of the TARDIS console. This one was very tall and thin and dressed in a pinstriped suit, with a mess of spiky brown hair. His face was young but his eyes were older than she'd ever seen. Ancient. But they were warm and sane, and she ran to him and threw her arms around him.
"Grandfather," she said.
She held him a bit too tightly for a bit too long, or maybe that was him. "It's all right, Susan," he said. "Never mind that idiot in the leather jacket. Everything's all right. Well, I say all right, I wanted to be ginger this time 'round and I'm not, but you have to agree that the ears are an improvement. And the nose. Well, I say an improvement, quantum leap forward might be a better way of putting—"
"I'm dead, aren't I?" she said, stepping back just a little without letting go of him.
The animation drained out of his face. For a moment she could see him trying to decide whether or not to lie (and she knew this one was going to be even worse at it than the others), trying to find any way around it.
"That's why you're doing this now," she said. "Because you can't go and visit me in your own timeline. I'm not there any more."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry, Susan."
"Does it happen soon?" she asked. She knew she shouldn't, but he shouldn't be here either, and she was trying to be brave, but …
"I don't know when. Our timelines were out of sync. There was a—well, there was a planet. I didn't find out you were there until it was too late." He shook his head. "It was too late all along. And I couldn't do anything to stop it."
He reached up to brush a tear from her cheek, watching her with concern. This one really was very open—she could read every emotion in his face. "I didn't know you were there, not until the end. It was some future regeneration of you. I think you were older than I am."
She sniffed and gave him a slightly strained smile. "I'm all right, Grandfather," she said. "None of us can live forever, can we?"
"I didn't mean for you to know," he said. "I'm sorry, Susan. No one should have to know a thing like that. It was selfish of me to come here. I should have known you'd figure it out." His mouth quirked into a lopsided smile. "You always were too clever by half."
"I'm glad you came," she told him. "I'm glad I met you—all of you. But what about you? I saw your face last night and you frightened me. You were like a stranger."
"Yeah." He scratched the back of his neck and pulled at his ear, grimacing. "He was fine underneath all the attitude and leather, really. Well, eventually he was fine. I got off to a bad start in that incarnation … there was … the planet, you see." He shook his head, his eyes haunted. "Well. I spent a good bit of that life learning to live with … what had happened."
She met his gaze and held it, looking for any trace of a lie. "Were you alone?" she asked. Because however many friends he made, she couldn't help thinking she should have been there. And she wasn't. She never would be again.
He smiled, and it was genuinely happy. "No! I wanted to be, or thought I wanted to be, but it didn't last long. I had some very good friends who wouldn't let me."
"Tell me about them," she demanded. Now it was more important than ever—these were the people she had to trust to look after him when she was gone.
"There was Rose," he said. Susan could tell from the tenderness in his voice that she must have been very special to him. "And her mother helped, but don't ever tell anyone I said so. And Mickey—don't tell anyone that, either. And then there was Jack, he was a very good friend of mine but if he ever comes near you it'll be my solemn duty as your Grandfather to kill him. I know he's immortal but that's not gonna stop me …"
Susan smiled as she listened to him. She'd always wondered what her Grandfather would do without her, but she'd never thought about what would happen to him if she died. But even after that it seemed he'd be all right. A little sad, still, but he had so many other people in his lives, so many things to enjoy, she couldn't worry about him too much. He was so very alive, young in his hearts despite the weight of years in his eyes.
And she was sure she'd be all right, too—she was going to live a very long life before any of this happened, too long to worry about herself now.
"And I'll tell you something else," he said. "I do celebrate Christmas. I stopped a giant replica of the Titanic from crashing into Buckingham palace Christmas day—"
"I know!" he said, eyes wide. "Can you believe that? A cruise line actually went and named a ship after the Titanic."
"That doesn't sound like Christmas," she said, half-covering her smile with her hand.
"It was, too! They had killer robot angels and everything!" He frowned abruptly. "Okay, so maybe that wasn't too Christmas-y. Wait, is that a word? Anyway, the year before that, I saved a bride from a giant spider. And her fiance. I mean, I saved her from the fiance, I didn't save the fiance from the spider. Actually, he was working with the spider."
"I think that's Halloween," giggled Susan.
"Saving people!" protested her Grandfather. "That's Christmas. And there was a Christmas Star, too." He frowned again. "Which killed people. And got shot out of the sky by a tank. Okay, I take your point. But the Christmas before that …"
10.5: The Other Grandfather
Susan practically skipped to the console room the next morning. All the fear and doubt of the last few days was gone, and she'd woken up with a note on her pillow telling her to Look outside. What might be waiting for her outside she had no idea, but she was sure it was something wonderful if it was her gift for today. What would have to be left outside?
Her Grandfather was standing by the console. She was so excited that she almost missed the look on his face. Almost—he stepped into her path and frowned so severely at her that she stopped in her tracks, the smile fading from her lips.
"You've gone too far," he said. "Much too far indeed. I should have expected better of you, Susan. I wouldn't have believed, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, that you could be so irresponsible."
"Grandfather?" She was almost too baffled to be hurt by his words—yet.
"You know perfectly well," he sniffed, affecting disdain and turning away to look at the controls. "The weather controls, child. The atmospheric systems!"
"There's no use playing innocent," he said, turning back to her and raising his voice. "There's a fresh coat of snow outside, and these readouts quite clearly indicate it was artificially induced. Now that was very childish of you. It's sure to attract attention and you should have known it would put us both at risk, but no! You were thinking of yourself, eh, thinking of how you'd like a nice little white Christmas?"
Susan stared at him, feeling tears start in her eyes. The sheer unfairness of it was appalling. "I didn't!" she said. "I wouldn't, you know I wouldn't! And anyway, you know perfectly well the atmospheric exciter isn't working, I couldn't have even if I wanted to!"
He smiled coldly. "Oh, I'm sure there's some explanation as to how you did it. That's for you to tell me, though, isn't it?"
"Oh …" She was so angry for a moment she couldn't think what to say. "Oh, that's so very like you!" she burst out in the end. "You don't know something so you blame it on anyone you can, just so you don't look foolish—and then you look like a bigger fool than ever!"
It was her Grandfather's turn to start sputtering with rage. "I don't know what you're—"
"You're a horrible, conceited, self-centered old man," Susan pressed on, the words practically tripping over each other. "I don't know how you can be so hateful—or how I could dream you'd ever be those other people!"
She snatched her coat from the stand and rushed out the doors, leaving him to protest vainly behind her.
"Susan, come back here this instant! Where are you going? I demand you come back! Come back, I say!"
She'd meant to put her coat on outside, once she'd gotten away from her Grandfather. But instead of stumbling into a drift of snow and the bite of cold wind, she found herself indoors again, in a room lit by glowing amber panels set into walls of polished ebony. The floor was a stained-glass mosaic of rose and amber Perspex over an underlevel filled with more wood and gleaming machinery.
It was sleek and modern, all angles and shine, and might have looked cold, but the wood and the warm tint of the light gave it a homey feel. So did the Christmas wreaths hung on the walls.
And something else—the sense of welcome she associated with the TARDIS, but younger, newer.
And there was a six-sided ebony console, set with controls of antique ivory and colored lights like jewels. A gold-tinted pillar of glass rose and fell at its heart.
There was a young blond woman standing by it, staring at Susan with wide eyes. For a moment, Susan thought she was another Time Lord—time seemed to swirl around her strangely, and burn within her in a way it never would with a human—but she didn't feel quite like a Time Lord. Then the woman half-turned to an interior doorway and shouted, "Doctor!"
"What?" came a half-familiar voice.
"I think I found where that time distortion was comin' from …" She turned fully back to Susan, and if anything, her eyes went even wider. "Oh my God," she said, no longer calling to the man in the next room. "You're her, ain't ya? You look jus' like the paintin' he did …"
The man hurried in. Now Susan could see why he sounded familiar—he was the same version of Grandfather she'd met last night. In a blue suit over a red t-shirt rather than brown over a blue button-down, but …
This wasn't a dream. She knew that. And this wasn't her Grandfather's TARDIS. It didn't look like the version she'd dreamed of last night and it didn't feel the same, either. And there had never been other people in the dreams, and now there was this strange woman, and her Grandfather was carrying a baby in his arms.
The baby was perhaps six months old, with her Grandfather's brown hair sticking up all over the place, and the blonde woman's wide hazel eyes.
"Susan?" whispered her Grandfather. For once he looked as surprised as she was. No, far more surprised—practically frozen in shock.
The blonde woman obviously thought the same. She hurried forward to take the baby, probably worried the Doctor would drop her. He didn't even seem to notice.
"What? What? But … how can you be here?" he said, his voice rising almost to a squeak. "How … how is this possible?"
"I don't know," she told him. "I was coming out of the TARDIS, and then I was here. And you're really here, aren't you? It's not just a dream, or …" She reached out with her mind. He was making no effort to shield himself, and she could tell he really was a Time Lord, really was her Grandfather, though there was something just a bit off about the feel of him. "You really are him."
"Susan," he said again, and he ran to her and wrapped his arms around her like he'd never let her go. "Susan, Susan, oh, I've missed you."
She held him just as tightly. He was trembling, and he felt far too warm, and he didn't smell right—not bad, but not quite normal. And she could feel his pulse pounding in his chest, and that didn't feel right, either.
"Grandfather?" she said, pulling away.
He held on more tightly for a moment, then reluctantly let her go. "Yes, Susan," he sighed. "And no."
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"I'm a metacrisis of your Grandfather," he said. "A regeneration went wrong. There are two of me now. This one …" He gestured to himself resignedly. "This one's part human."
She stared at him a moment. Now that she looked, he wasn't quite exactly like the one she'd met last night. There was a ginger tint to his hair (or was that the light?) and he looked a few years … younger? No, older—there was a bit of grey in his sideburns, and a few more lines around his eyes, and she thought he might have gained a little weight. But there was something in his manner that made him seem younger, at the same time.
She reached out and put a hand to his chest. One heart, just like a human. And he had the higher body temperature, and he even smelled a little like them.
Then she looked up at his face. He had the same eyes, but they looked uncertain, and she realized he was waiting for her to reject him.
"Grandfather," she said firmly, and she hugged him again.
He shuddered and relaxed in her arms, rocking her gently. "Always, Susan. Always."
When they finally parted again, he had to wipe tears from his eyes. "Sorry," he said. "'M all right. Human tear ducts."
"Oi," said the woman, sounding amused. "Still doesn't have anything nice to say about us," she complained to Susan. "I'm Rose, by the way."
"Rose!" said Susan. "Oh, yes, Grandf—I mean, the other version of Grandfather mentioned you."
Rose smiled. She had a huge, blinding smile, a little too big for her face and with a pink tip of tongue sticking out from between her teeth, and Susan decided she liked this Rose very much.
"My wife," said the part-human Doctor proudly. "And this … is Susan."
At first Susan thought he was introducing her to Rose. Then she realized he meant the baby.
"Oh," she breathed, stepping toward Rose and looking more closely at the child. She reached out hesitantly, and Rose shifted to give her better access. The baby grabbed at Susan's hand, dragging her fingers towards her mouth.
"Oi," chided the Doctor. "You can't go stickin' half the world in your mouth, you know. Anyway, it's rude to go 'round tastin' people."
"Yeah, rude and sticks stuff in her mouth," said Rose. "Dunno where she gets that from …"
"Rose Noble, I don't know what you mean," huffed the Doctor. "But Susan, how can you be here? This is a parallel universe, you know!"
"Yeah," said Rose. She rolled her eyes and mimicked her husband (or his counterpart), "'An' the walls are sealed, Rose, they're sealin' themselves up forever …'"
"That was him," said the Doctor irritably. "I never said that."
"It's always 'him' when he's wrong, you mean."
"No I don't. It was after we were two separate people, it was him, not me."
"Yeah, well, I didn't hear ya arguin' with him, did I?" Rose caught Susan's eye and smirked.
Susan giggled. She had a hard time imagining her Grandfather married to a human (if that was really what Rose was), but it was suddenly a lot easier, the way these two behaved.
"And in her timeline, they haven't been sealed yet."
"Doesn't count, you were still wrong."
"So anyway," said the Doctor, "you shouldn't be here unless something's very, very wrong."
"I don't know, Grandfather. I thought you did it. See, there's a future incarnation of you …"
The part-human Doctor listened intently as she explained what was going on. He stood with one arm around Rose's shoulders and one hand shoved in his pocket, and while Susan could imagine the Time Lord version of this incarnation doing something similar, she thought there was something more casual in this man's posture. His body language was looser and somehow lighter than it had been.
It wasn't that he looked younger, she decided. He looked older than his Time Lord counterpart. It was that he acted younger.
"He's got to have parked his TARDIS near yours, maybe even inside it to mask himself from your sensors," he muttered. "Dangerous, that." He added something that Susan couldn't make out. It sounded like, "Stupid Martian."
"Maybe enough to set up a resonance with this TARDIS," said Rose. They looked at each other.
"Susan," said her Grandfather, "I don't think he meant to send you here at all. You'll have to go back soon. If we can figure out how."
"Can't I stay for just a little bit?" she pleaded.
"Wellll …" Rose gave him a stern look and he scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "Well, you have to stay until we find a way back. But then we can't wait any more."
They spent the next half hour poring over readouts, laughing and joking as the Doctor and Rose told her about their lives. "Are you part Time Lord, too?" Susan asked her.
"No," said Rose, smiling. "I'm human. Well, mostly. There was a sort of accident with the TARDIS—"
"More of an 'on purpose'," interjected the Doctor.
"Shut up. Anyway, picked up a few tricks, but I'm still the same underneath."
The pair smiled at each other again, and Susan felt something in her relax. It was one thing to hear that her Grandfather was fine, and that he had other people with him, but it was another to meet some of those people and see him happy with them. Even if this wasn't quite the same man as her Grandfather would become, they were enough alike that she knew the Time Lord version could be happy as well.
Susan kept watching the baby in fascination. The little girl was quiet, though her parents had to be careful with her—she kept wanting to grab at the controls. Rose, sensing the older Susan's interest, let her hold the baby for a while. The child was too warm, and she had an odd milky human smell, but there was a sparkle of more-than-human intelligence in her eyes and Susan could feel the faint telepathic flutter of her mind.
"This is useless," said her Grandfather at length, running a frustrated hand through his hair and glaring at the console. "It'll take days to figure this out. C'mon, Rose, let's take a break. We can introduce Susan to your mother!"
"What, an' scare her back into her universe?" quipped Rose, before relenting. "All right. But just for a bit. She can't stay here, you know."
"I know," said the Doctor. He looked absolutely heartbroken for a moment. This version seemed happier and more open than his Time Lord counterpart, but he seemed more fragile, as well. Just like a human. Susan half wanted to tell him she'd stay, but she really didn't belong here, and despite their argument she needed to go back home to her first Grandfather. "Here, let me get you something, then we'll go over to the house for a quick visit. We're parked right outside."
He darted into the interior of his young TARDIS and came bounding out a moment later with a small toy zeppelin in his hand. "There wasn't a Hindenburg in this universe," he explained, "and these are more popular than airplanes. I made this myself for our Susan, but the propellers come off an' Rose won't let me give it to her—"
"Yeah, small parts an' a girl who sticks everythin' in her mouth, what could go wrong?" said Rose, rolling her eyes.
"Thank you," said Susan, taking the toy and kissing him on the cheek. She hugged him again. "Shall we go to the house, then?" she added, seeing his eyes start to tear up again and not wanting to embarrass him.
"Yeah. Yeah, let's do that." He blinked rapidly and smiled, ushering her to the door. "You'll love Jackie," (she noticed him quickly cross his fingers) "and Pete, and little Tony. They're—"
What they were, Susan never learned. She stumbled as they stepped out the door, and found herself standing alone, in the snow, outside the familiar blue shape of the TARDIS.
11: The Child
She didn't go back inside. Now that she was back, she remembered the argument she'd had with her Grandfather. And she wanted time to think. So she pulled her coat tight around her, tucked the little toy zeppelin safely into a pocket, and slipped out of the junkyard to make her way down the street, weaving through a throng of last-minute shoppers.
It was so strange to think of Grandfather living a human life, so finite and fleeting. She wouldn't have believed it if she hadn't seen it. And yet he'd still been so very much himself underneath everything.
And Rose, and the baby. It wasn't quite like a Gallifreyan family, and yet it made Susan think of her own home, when she was very small. Before it all went wrong. It was what a family was supposed to be like. Being surrounded by people who loved you. Belonging someplace, having a place to call … home.
Susan. Baby Susan. It softened the knowledge of her death, to know that the story wouldn't be over when she left it, that there would be some girl named Susan who carried on. Perhaps that was the meaning of a family; being a part of something larger than oneself.
She jumped a bit when the woman spoke to her out of the crowd. It was someone she'd never seen before, a smiling woman with masses of blonde curls. She looked friendly enough, but there was something a bit out of place about her. Susan had never seen her before. "Hello?" she replied.
"I'm River, sweetie. River Song." She held out her hand and Susan shook it automatically. River had a firm, confident grip. And a coat in entirely the wrong style for the time period, Susan realized. "Your Grandfather sent me to look for you. He's very sorry."
"You know my Grandfather?" Susan was surprised, although perhaps she shouldn't be after the day she'd been having.
"Not yet," laughed River. She had a nice laugh, and Susan decided she liked her. "A long time from now. But he remembers being worried about you."
The surprise trip between universes had thrown off Susan's time-sense, but by the light she thought as much time must have passed in both places. She'd have been gone for hours.
"I suppose I should go back," admitted Susan. "Which one of my Grandfather do you know?"
"Oh, I've known a lot of them," River evaded.
"I'm not sure which one is visiting me," said Susan. The metacrisis Doctor with his human life (and lifespan?) had made her think of the reasons for those visits. She couldn't bring herself to ask him, but perhaps River could tell her. "It's his last, isn't it? He doesn't have any regenerations left, and he wants to say goodbye."
She knew it would happen someday. But seeing it happen … that was another story.
"Oh, sweetie," sighed River. She put an arm around Susan's shoulders as they walked through the Tenth Doctor's artificial snow. "I can't tell you. I'm sorry. You know, sometimes I could just strangle that man. He gets a prophecy, or a footnote in a history text, or a giant radioactive space wombat, and he turns into such a drama queen—goes around saying goodbye to everyone he's ever met. I think it's a phase he's going through."
"But which one sent you?" Susan persisted.
"The Sixteenth," said River. Then she winked and slipped away down a side street. Susan spent the rest of the walk back to Totter's Lane trying to figure out if she'd been joking.
She was glad she'd met River and Rose. It made her feel that her Grandfather really would be all right some day if she left him. Not that she expected to see any of him settled down on Earth with a normal human family, but if he could go around making friends with people like that, there would be someone to look after him, someone who would stop him from being too lonely.
"Susan! Susan, there you are!"
Her Grandfather hurried up to her, putting on a stern face and trying to pretend that he hadn't been worried about her. And that he wasn't out in the snow looking for her. "And where have you been?"
"I was out walking," she said, not quite ready to forgive him yet.
He fidgeted slightly and looked at her sidelong. "Yes, well, I've been looking over the equipment in the TARDIS. It's quite out of order. I'm not sure the sensors are working correctly, either—very strange readings the last few days, very strange indeed, most unreliable. It's entirely possible this snow is natural. Probable, even. Yes, I should say—"
"I'm glad it did snow," said Susan, relenting. Besides, she really was glad it had snowed, and she wanted his future self to remember. If it hadn't been for the snow she'd have stayed in the TARDIS all day and never met River, or the other Grandfather, or Rose and baby Susan. "It's very pretty."
"Well, I suppose it is, child," said her Grandfather, trying not to look too relieved. "But let's get inside out of it now, shall we? It's getting chilly."
She dreamed of the snow that night. In the dream it lay in even thicker drifts, uninterrupted by buildings and streets, unmarked by any footprints except her own.
Susan looked around at the great white expanse of it. There didn't seem to be anyone here, so she indulged in something she'd heard about—she lay down on it and began to wave her arms and legs to make a snow angel.
"Eep!" she giggled, as the snow started to work its way down her collar. She sat up out of the angel, and found someone offering her a hand up.
"Having fun, dear?" asked a kindly voice.
This Grandfather had ancient eyes set in a face younger than any Susan had seen so far, with floppy hair and a chin that looked like it might have been intended for someone else entirely. But however young his body was, he dressed like the oldest, stuffiest teachers at Coal Hill—the tweed and the braces and the bow tie. With one exception …
"Hello, Grandfather," laughed Susan. "What are you wearing?"
He smiled and fingered the bow tie.
"No, on your head!"
He smiled wider and puffed out his chest proudly. "It's a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool."
"Really?" asked Susan, torn between horror and mirth.
He deflated suddenly, and looked so exaggeratedly forlorn that Susan had to keep fighting laughter. "No. Not really. I try, but no one will let me. Amy stole it. And then River—River shot it. Who shoots hats? Nobody …"
"I met River," said Susan.
"What?" he said, distracted.
"I met River. And before that I met a metacrisis of you, and his family. I never met a metacrisis before. And they—"
"What! No, no, no, no, that can't be right!" He started to pace up and down, wearing a trench in the snow, pulling at his hair and almost dislodging the fez. "Gaaah!"
"But I got back all right, and everything's fine, and he thinks it was just the TARDISes parked too closely together," she went on.
Eventually he calmed down. "I suppose, since I don't remember the planet exploding, it must be all right," he conceded. But he made her tell him everything that had happened, twice. "I haven't really kept in touch with them, you know. Well, obviously, different universe and all."
"They seemed very happy," said Susan.
"Let's build a snowman," he said. "I always wanted to build a snowman with you. I was just too busy being a stuffy grown-up back then."
The snowman turned out wildly lopsided, with a crooked smile of coal ("Ha-ha! There goes your gift—joking, joking!) and out-flung arms of gnarled branches. This Doctor really did seem to have given up on being an adult. He had all the energy of a puppy and as little coordination, with a funny walk and extravagant waves of his arms. But when he put his fez on the snowman's head, he placed it carefully, making fussy little adjustments like an old man and peering at it with his eyes nearly crossed.
"I thought you liked your fez too much," said Susan. "Why're you giving it to the snowman?"
"Because snowmen are cool, too," said her Grandfather. "And for safekeeping."
"Yeah. Coz I'm about to do this!"
He whipped around and hurled a snowball, striking her on the shoulder. Susan shrieked as the snow splashed onto her face. "Oooh, no, you're not getting away with that!" And she scooped up an icy handful and returned fire, laughing.
"Ah! No! Help!" For all he'd started the fight, he really wasn't much good at it, and before long Susan had knocked him into a snowdrift.
She woke up just as she was about to shove a handful of snow down the back of his shirt, which she thought was deliberate, not to mention unfair, but probably understandable. There was a fez perched on the pillow beside her.
12: The Distinguished Gentleman
The next night, she found herself walking in a well-manicured garden in a dusky summer twilight. The scent of roses filled the air. There was a man walking beside her, a tall slim man in a white suit. His hair was neat and dark, silver at the temples (she knew at a glance that this one's hair would never turn so dull a color as grey) and he carried a stick much like her first Grandfather's, crunching faintly against the gravel as they walked.
"You're very different from the last one," she ventured.
"Yes, I dare say that I am," he said. His voice was smooth and coolly amused, and yet not without affection. His face was a bit more youthful than his silver hair suggested, and he had eyes of a striking pale green, a color caught between ice and new leaves. "I thought perhaps it was time to be an adult. After all, if not now, then when? Do you like my garden, by the way?"
"Yes, very much," said Susan. Then she registered the word he'd used. "Yours? Is it a real place or a dream?"
"Quite real. Part of a property I acquired on New New New Earth, in the year Seven Million."
"Property?" said Susan, trying not to smile at the thought. But a quick look at his impassive face showed he was entirely serious. "Are you … have you stopped traveling?" She couldn't quite imagine him staying still long enough to have a house and a garden and things, let alone bothering with them. The car he'd had during his exile she could understand. But this place?
"Oh, no, I still travel," he assured her, with a dry little chuckle. "I have a staff of liberated robots who maintain all this while I'm away. But it's good to have a place to come back to." His expression darkened slightly, like the fading sky above them. "Someplace that belongs to me, rather than relying on the welcome of others."
"Are there still troubles back home, Grandfather?" asked Susan.
"Home?" he asked, startled. Then his eyes widened, and he gave a small, sharp shake of his head. "This is my home, child. River quite likes it, she tells me."
"Oh, you still know River?" said Susan.
"Oh, yes, for several lives now. I'm not sure this is her favorite incarnation of mine, between you and me," he confided. "She tells me I'm turning stuffy. Or senile. Keeps using the topiary for target practice, says it'll keep me from getting too set in my ways." He made a small tching noise, though he didn't seem terribly bothered. "Perhaps I am getting old. I like to have a place where my family can gather."
"Family?" asked Susan.
He turned to her and smiled, all secrets and mysteries.
"Tell me, Susan," he said. "What did you see, in the Untempered Schism?"
Susan was silent for a moment. She almost stopped walking in her surprise. That was something that was simply Not Talked About, and here was this prim-and-proper incarnation of her Grandfather, asking her so baldly about what was supposed to be the most private of things.
But she realized that he was still waiting patiently for an answer, and Susan cared even less about what was 'proper' than her first Grandfather had.
"I saw Gallifrey," she said after a moment's thought. "Gallifrey with all eternity around us, and our time stretching out in front of us. And all that we were, and all that we could ever be … That's why I came with you, Grandfather."
"Because …" She toed a loose bit of gravel. "I saw that Gallifrey had already been about as much as it was going to be, and I wanted more."
"I see," he said, nodding thoughtfully.
"What did you see?" she asked on impulse, not expecting an answer.
"You saw Eternity from the shelter of Gallifrey. I didn't see Gallifrey at all," he said. "Only myself, alone, unshielded, unprotected against the backdrop of Eternity. First I ran from it. And then … then I ran towards it. Towards …"
He raised his stick, pointing at the sky. Susan looked up. Night had fallen fully, and there were a million million stars shining like diamonds against the darkness …
She woke up, feeling tears in her eyes at the wonder of it, and a fading homesickness for a place she had left behind, and a place she would never go. On her pillow was a little snow globe, of the sort humans made, and inside it was a replica of the Citadel, perfect in every detail.
"Grandfather?" asked Susan.
"Hm?" He looked up from the chessboard, listening attentively. He hadn't apologized for what he'd accused her of, and Susan knew better than to expect it, but he obviously realized he was in the wrong. He had stopped pursuing his sensor gremlins with such intensity, though Susan knew how much it must still bother him, and he was going out of his way to do other things with her.
She thought maybe she could take advantage of his mood to ask him a few things he might refuse to talk about otherwise. "Do you ever think of home, Grandfather?"
"Eh? Home? Why, what's brought this on?" he sputtered, suddenly peering at her suspiciously.
"Oh, it's just all the people at school, talking about Christmas. How they're going to visit all their relatives." Susan toyed with a pawn, pretending the subject was of no great importance. "I was just wondering what was happening back home. What everyone was doing. If you ever thought about it."
"I don't see why I should," he sniffed. "I dare say they're getting on perfectly well without us. And don't think we'd be given a warm welcome if we popped back for a visit—unless it was a welcome too hot for our liking."
"Oh, no, Grandfather, I don't want to go back there," said Susan hastily.
"Oh. Well. That's very good, as I can't take you." He looked very relieved, and Susan wondered if he'd thought she would ask to go home because of those things he'd said. Silly Grandfather, how could he think that? "You want to visit these children you've met at school, then? Well, I don't see what harm that could do, if you don't make too great a habit of it. You'll want to see them on Christmas, I suppose."
"No …" said Susan, although normally he discouraged her from getting too close to human students. "It's Christmas. They want to be with their families. You're my family, Grandfather. I want to spend it with you."
"Oh! Oh, I see," chuckled her Grandfather, ruffling her hair. He was obviously pleased by this, though he was trying not to show how moved he was. "Silly girl—don't you spend most of your days with me?"
"Well, yes, Grandfather." Susan smiled at him, thought about asking again to celebrate Christmas with him, and didn't quite dare. She moved her bishop instead. "Check!"
13: The Ginger
If Susan had been human, she wouldn't have been able to sleep at all that night. As it was it took her a great deal of concentration and every breathing technique she knew.
Part of the problem was that she wasn't sure she wanted to fall asleep. She very much wanted to see her next future Grandfather, now that she was used to the changes and had come to look forward to them. But Time Lords only had thirteen lives, River's joke (it had to be a joke) notwithstanding. This would be the last night, and she didn't want it to be over.
When she did sleep, she was disappointed. All she dreamed about were tap-dancing penguins, and she was pretty sure none of them were her Grandfather. Finally, around three in the morning, she woke herself up.
"I was wondering when you'd get tired of the penguins."
He was sitting in the chair by her bed, a very young man (even younger than the Eleventh, and only a few years older than Susan herself) dressed all in black. He had a black velvet coat, black shirt, black jeans, black boots, with a black tie patterned in little silver question marks.
It should have looked sinister, but despite the color his clothes were such a mish-mash of styles that it came off as merely eccentric at worse. And his face was too open and cheerful to look anything less than friendly.
His hair was flaming ginger. His eyes were older than the stars, and as bright as a child's, and he had a smile like the first light of dawn on Christmas morning.
"Grandfather," she said. "You're here, really here."
"I got tired of sleeping so much," he said. "Anyway, you've met everyone else. It was time to meet the real me. The last me."
Susan got up and went over to hug him. "I'm glad I met you," she said, "all of you."
"And I'm glad I came back to see you." He moved away to arm's length, looking her over fondly. "Ah. My Susan."
"Are you in danger, Grandfather?" she asked. "Is that why you've come back now?"
"No!" he said. Then he looked guilty and ran a nervous hand through his hair, which already looked like he styled it by giving himself massive electric shocks. "Well, not really. Well, not really more than usual. Well, there's—"
"Giant radioactive space wombat?"
"You have been talking to River, I see. Well, yes, there's that." He fidgeted. "But I did simply want to see you. And I did promise you I'd come back, one day."
He sighed. "I put things off, you know—always have. I store things up for rainy days. And I've done it for so long I'm starting to have more things than days. Now, now," he overrode her protests, "I still have a good many days left, I hope. But there's something about being on one's thirteenth life that gives one a different perspective of time. And promises are made to be kept."
They were interrupted by a young ginger woman bursting into the room. "Doctor, that old geezer's woken up and he's on the warpath. I managed to distract him by turning half the knobs in the engine room—"
"Oh, dear, I wish you hadn't done that," said the Doctor, tugging at his hair again. "This is Donna Temple-Noble," he said to Susan.
"Doctor Donna Temple-Noble," said the woman, rolling her eyes.
"I traveled with her gran," finished the Doctor.
"Pleased to meet you," said Susan, shaking Donna's hand. "I'm Susan."
"So you're his … granddaughter," said Donna, looking between Susan and the young man. "It's a job and a half looking after him, isn't it? He got us arrested three times last week."
"I only got us arrested twice!" sputtered the Doctor. "The other time was your fault. Pay no attention, Susan!"
"Well, if you had gotten the decade right, my bikini wouldn't have been public indecency, so … still your fault," Donna shot back, hands on her hips.
He stuck his tongue out at her and turned to his granddaughter. "Susan—"
"I know." She would very much like to get to know Donna, and this version of her Grandfather, but she knew if her first Grandfather was awake they didn't have much time. She hadn't had nearly enough time with any of them. "I love you, Grandfather. I'll never forget any of you."
"My dear Susan." He took her in his arms and kissed her forehead one last time. "I've always been so proud of you. And I always will be. You never did waver in your beliefs, even when I faltered in mine. And you will always be an inspiration to me."
He gave her shoulders a last squeeze and stepped away. "I must go. I've left your last gift in the console room."
"Grandfather will go mad," said Susan, wincing.
"No, I won't." He gave her a crooked smile. "Trust me, I was there."
Susan found herself crying. She knew what had to be, but she couldn't stay strong any more. "Grandfather, I don't want you to go."
"I don't want to go, either," he said, reaching out to touch her face. She saw that he wore the same amethyst ring her Grandfather had brought with him from Gallifrey. "But you must have no regrets, Susan. You'll still have me, your own proper version of me. You'll see me in the morning. Now it's time for you to … sleep."
His fingers found the contact points on her cheek and temple, and the world drifted gently away.
They ran into the old man on the way out. He was scowling fiercely, a wiry white-maned old lion, and holding a walking stick that he seemed more likely to use as a bludgeon than for support.
Donna started to step in front of her Doctor, but he waved her back. "You know who I am," he told the old man.
"And I can't say I think much of what you've become," sneered his first self. "It was you who made the snow, was it? It's been you all along. And what is the purpose of all this, may I ask? I assume there is some reason for this foolishness."
Donna looked between the two men. Two? Young and old, a pair of black coats and amethyst rings, a matched set of icy blue wrath-of-God glares. The impression was of a man staring himself down in a mirror … which, in a way, he was.
"I only came to steal a few moments," said the last Doctor, in a voice that could have given a glacier pause—and chills. "You'll find they're more precious than you think. Do try to find that out before you run out of them." He fished a small package wrapped in festive paper from his pocket, strode bravely into striking distance of the old man, and handed it over. "That's for Susan. Pretend you bought it for her. Children grow up so very quickly, after all."
And he brushed past the old man, Donna hurrying in his wake, and into a small linen cupboard the first Doctor couldn't remember seeing there before.
"Mind you keep that young hooligan away from the engines!" the old man snapped after him, as the cupboard door vanished with a wheeze and a groan.
1. Grandfather Christmas
Susan could feel the time even before she opened her eyes and saw the cat-clock on the wall. "Oh, no," she groaned, getting up and racing from her room. There wasn't much hope of getting to the console room and collecting her gift before Grandfather saw it (assuming it was something that could be collected) but she had to try.
When she got there, her worst fears were confirmed. There were wreaths and ribbons and holly everywhere. And a Christmas tree in the corner, an actual Christmas tree, and there was her Grandfather, peering at something attached to one of its branches.
On the other hand, visible steam wasn't pouring out of his ears.
He looked up to see her standing in the doorway with her hand over her mouth. "Well don't just stand there, child," he said. He didn't sound upset …
"It wasn't me, Grandfather," she blurted out.
"No, no, of course not. I'm not so dense as all that, you know. Oh, yes, I know what's been going on." He harrumphed, prodding the tree with his stick. "I had worked it out myself, of course. But even if I hadn't this tree has a note. Saying, 'To my dear Susan.' In my handwriting."
"Oh," said Susan weakly.
"Yes, I don't know what I was thinking. Or will be thinking. It seems I've been blaming you for my misdeeds …" He hastily changed the subject. "I'll still want your help cleaning up all this, this—" He snatched a handful of glittering strands from the console.
"Tinsel, Grandfather. Yes, of course, right away."
"Oh, there's no need to rush, no need at all," he said, waving his hand airily. "Tomorrow is soon enough. After we've finished celebrating our holiday."
"Celebrating?" said Susan. She could barely believe it. "You want—you want to celebrate Christmas with me?"
"Yes, well. Hem. We've had this, this ritual vegetable sacrifice delivered to us," he prodded the tree again, "we may as well continue on with the rest of it, eh? Come here, child, I have your gift."
"My gift?" Susan came forward and took the small package from him, unwrapping it at his urging. She squealed with delight and threw her arms around him, startling him. "Oh, a radio! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"Good gracious!" sputtered her Grandfather, though she could tell he was pleased. "There's no need to be so excited. I give you enough spending money, you could have bought it yourself if you wanted it that badly."
"Oh, but it's not so much about having it, Grandfather," she said. "It's about … it's about getting it on Christmas morning from someone who loves you, and unwrapping it, and being excited because you never quite know what you're getting!" She beamed at him. "I didn't think you were paying attention when I mentioned it. And I didn't want to come right out and say because then it wouldn't be a surprise at all—if you got it for me, I mean, and I didn't think you would …"
"Not paying attention?" said her Grandfather, pretending to be offended. "Me? Nonsense! You think I'm going deaf, is that it? Or maybe getting forgetful in my old age?"
"Oh, no, Grandfather, not at all. Wait here a moment, I have something for you!"
Susan ran back to her room before her Grandfather could ask her any questions. When she came back she had a small package in her hand and the fez on her head.
"What's all this, then?" he wanted to know.
"Why, it's a fez, Grandfather. Fezzes are cool."
"'Cool'? 'Cool'?" he muttered. "What's that wretched school doing to your English? Oh, this is for me?"
"Yes, Grandfather." She'd never expected to be exchanging gifts with him, so she'd had to make do. She'd used one of the bigger pieces of wrapping paper that had come off the clock.
He pulled the paper away and peered at the small device within, fiddling with the buttons and listening to the whine. "A sonic …"
"Screwdriver," said Susan. She held her hands behind her back and crossed as many fingers as she could. "I found it in a store-room when we were cleaning out. I suppose it got left behind by one of the previous pilots."
"Hm, I suppose," he said, fortunately not paying very close attention. "Very clever idea. Yes, this will come in very useful in my laboratory. I shall take it there as soon as we've finished our celebrations. Thank you, my dear. Now! What comes next?"
"Well," said Susan, "I suppose we could start with some hot cocoa. And then …"