a/n: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! This is being written for the Bad_Wolf_Rising Christmas ficathon. The prompts I chose were Susan/Jack and a Christmas Reunion.
Her TARDIS hummed and pulsed and sang and Susan Campbell stroked the console gently. She never thought she'd see a TARDIS again, let alone fly one, but desperate times called for desperate measures. When the Daleks had come knocking on the Citadel doors the Time Lords had called everyone in, even a woman who hardly remembered Gallifrey,. She had spent most of her adult life on Earth, had never even graduated from the Academy (any of them), but she'd still felt the call. David had died years ago, and their children had followed—even Alex. Capricious Time Lord genetics had skipped over their son and he had lived, and died, as a human. She'd been bitter for years after that, angry at her grandfather for leaving her, at David for loving her and leaving her, and at the universe for taking so much from her. Eventually, though, she healed (as much as a wife who has buried her husband, a mother who has buried her children, can heal). There were far more good memories than bad; David and Alex and all of their children had given her a precious gift and she wasn't going to let that go to waste, she wasn't going to make their lives meaningless.
And then It had come, a telepathic cry and call to arms. Even grandfather answered, although that might have had more to do with the current President (an old friend of his, apparently) than any sort of duty he felt towards their people. The Time Lords had ostracized him long before he stole a TARDIS and ran away with her, and although he cleaned up messes for them fairly frequently they continued to decry his methods. Once they went as far as to put him on trial; he managed to escape, though, by getting elected President and then running as fast and as far as he could. Susan had no such tricks at her disposal, which was why she found herself in the midst of the deadliest war she'd ever seen.
A Time War was nothing like a regular war—it was so much worse. Two pinnacle civilizations fought for dominance in the universe and a thousand other worlds were drawn into the battle and desecrated: collateral damage, the council said, but Susan couldn't agree. She didn't even know how old she was, anymore. So many possibilities and tangents were being written and unwritten every day that it was impossible to keep track. The Web of Time was fracturing and it was all she and the other Time Lords could do to keep it from shattering completely. It was a losing battle. Every day they lost more ground and the Daleks gained. There were whispers of resurrecting Rassilon in the hopes that he could chase Davros's death machines back. Susan wasn't sure which was worse. Grandfather had told her stories of Rassilon, of his madness and his genius. There was a fine line between the two, and while he danced between them, the Doctor came out on the right side. Rassilon would not.
Still, she was out of contact for years, possibly decades, or maybe just days, fighting the Daleks in the far corners of the universe. Time twisted and contorted around them and it felt like they had always been fighting, like there had been nothing before this endless war of attrition—and like there could be nothing after. She understood why the Doctor never went back. It was easier to think about life before the War than to go see it, to see how Ian and Barbara had lived after they left the TARDIS. She wanted to imagine that they were happy, that they had lived full lives untouched by the chaos that surged around her.
Susan was wrenched from her thoughts as her TARDIS heaved. Alarms blared around her and a bell sounded from somewhere deep within the ship. She grabbed the monitor and swung it around. 'ERROR,' it read in huge, mauve letters. 'ANOMOLY DETECTED. TIME VORTEX FAILING.' She let loose a string of blistering curses and went to work. The splintering of the Web of Time destabilized the Vortex, sending violent ripples throughout the not-space. It took careful piloting to navigate them, and she thanked whatever deities she still believed in that her TARDIS was new enough to have a single pilot console. She wasn't sure how her grandfather managed to steer his ship with its original six-pilot configuration, but she didn't have the luxury of dancing around the Time Rotor like a madman. The Cloister bell sounded once more, and then the lights flickered—and went out. The vessel heaved and tossed like an old Earth ship on stormy seas and Susan clung desperately to the console. In the Vortex time had swirled like a riptide around them but now, now she was caught in the maelstrom. She tried every trick she knew, she pleaded and cajoled and threatened and desperately tried to get the TARDIS to latch on to something, anything.
After sixty eight seconds of hearts-stopping freefall her TARDIS grudgingly materialized, and then the real trouble started. They were in the Void, in the space between worlds, and there was nowhere for the TARDIS to go. Susan jettisoned half of the rooms and rerouted all of her remaining power to the dimensional portal and barely managed to squeeze through a crack in the walls between the worlds. The strain, though, was astronomical. Her ship shook around her, vibrated like a tuning fork and the sterile white paneling on the walls began to crumble. A horrible sound, like metal tearing, echoed through Susan's mind and she knew that her TARDIS was screaming and maybe—was dying. She couldn't stop. If she stopped they'd be caught between the worlds, stuck half in the Void and they would die a slow, painful death.
The console burst into flame. The Time Rotor shattered and she covered her face against the spray of glass shards. Thick black smoke poured from the jagged stump and burned her throat and lungs. Whole panels fell from the wall and crashed down onto the floor around her as she struggled to remain upright and get away from the flames that licked hungrily towards the TARDIS ceiling. Something warm trickled down her hand and she turned her arm over; what looked like hundreds of tiny glass shards were embedded in the skin. Her respiratory bypass engaged and she hoped they were somewhere with an atmosphere, because the bypass could only last so long.
White hot pain flashed through her and she fell, pinned to the floor like a bug in a display case by a thin metal pipe. An iron tang coated her mouth and her tongue and blood oozed up around the pipe and ran down her side to pool beneath her. The edges of her vision blurred and she found herself remembering the strangest things: the way David loved chocolate milkshakes, the way the light glistened off the silver leaves of Gallifrey's trees when the suns hit them just right, the safety she felt when her grandfather was with her. With the last of her strength she gripped the pipe with hands made slippery by her own blood and pulled. It came free and she released it with a gurgling sigh. And then a strange singing filled her mind and golden fire filled her vision. It was painful, regenerating. Like dying, except there was no tunnel and no white light, just the fire of rebirth and the tingle of new nerves growing where old ones had died. Her bones shifted, reformed, and her skin molded itself to the new infrastructure, over new muscles and veins and brand new, fixed-up hearts. If only her pain could melt away so easily, but the core of her, the experiences and ideas that remained her essential self remained.
The fire faded and she was disoriented for a few seconds, just long enough to get to her knees before the wall behind her collapsed and she fell forward onto her face, pinned beneath the rubble. Ashes coated her tongue and her lips and she spat. She had a brand new body practically humming with energy, but she couldn't use it because she was trapped. Desperately Susan clawed at the floor with her hands but there was nothing she could grab ahold of, just more rubble. A strange lassitude stole over her slowly and her lungs burned—her respiratory bypass was reaching its limit. Blackness crowded the edges of her vision and she let her arms fall. She wasn't yet out of her regeneration cycle. When she died, it would be final. Vague regrets took shape in the fog that clouded her mind. She wanted to see her grandfather. She wanted to feel the suns' light on her face and the wind against her skin. She wanted to dance in the rain. She wanted to laugh again.
A crash and then a burst of cold air roused her from the half-sleep she had fallen into. A masked figure dressed all in black stood over her. Susan tried to speak, but she could only cough. Strong hands seized her arms and pulled and then she was free of the rubble. Blood trickled down her legs and what felt like a hundred little cuts stung but she nearly sobbed with relief. She was free. The same arms half carried her through the door, where other black clad figures waited. Other arms supported her and her savior peeled away the mask with a gloved hand. Susan had the impression of golden hair and deep brown eyes and a woman's voice—and then her body betrayed her and the world faded into blackness.
She woke gradually. Tendrils of a dream clung to her mind and she forced them away sluggishly. She was warm, nearly uncomfortably so, and apparently underground. There was a damp chill in the air and a stillness that spoke of enclosed spaces. The walls and floor vibrated slightly—generators, although she couldn't determine the type from the sonic frequencies. There was another sound, an annoying, high-pitched beeping that was synced up to her heartsbeat and probably corresponded to the two metal disks she could feel taped to her chest. Susan shifted and something pinched on her hand: an IV. For a moment she panicked, but a quick internal check revealed that she was basically healthy, besides a bit of regeneration sickness and a strain on her lungs. The abrasions she'd suffered in her TARDIS (don't think about it don't think about it don't think about the silence in her head) had healed nicely. Whoever inserted the IV either knew a great deal about Gallifreyan physiology or was extremely lucky. She wasn't sure which possibility was more disconcerting. She wasn't on Gallifrey, she knew that immediately. The nearly overwhelming chorus of her people's minds was absent. Actually, she couldn't hear anything in her head, anything at all. She'd been so focused on ignoring the gaping wound that was the loss of her TARDIS that she'd overlooked the silence.
It hit her with the force of a freight train. For a time she couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't breathe. She'd never been alone in her life, not like this, not alone in her head. The Time Lords were a stuffy, immobile, infuriating lot—but they were always there. Now—there was nothing.
"I know you're awake, so you might as well stop pretending." A woman's voice drifted over from her left.
Susan disengaged her respiratory bypass and took a deep breath, forcing her heartsbeat to remain normal. Panicking would not get her answers, after all. "It was risky," she responded scathingly, "hooking an alien up to an IV designed for a human. Or are your people not technologically advanced enough to differentiate between humans and humanoid aliens? Although to be fair," she continued, "we came first."
The woman chuckled. "I may not be able to perform surgery, but a basic IV is well within my capabilities. Careful," she cautioned as Susan attempted to sit up.
"I am quite well, thank you." Susan frowned. She had a bit of an accent this time, sounded like she was from London, as did her—captor? Savior? Babysitter? The woman was young, late twenties, early thirties at most. Her long, straight blonde hair was pulled back from her face and her dark brown eyes were warm and knowing. Her lips were full and lightly painted and curved up slightly, but there were faint lines at their corners, and around her eyes, that spoke of hardship and pain. Her face was thinner than her bone structure indicated was healthy and there was an air of weariness about her that was unusual in one so young.
Susan glanced around the room; it was bare except for the cot she was lying in and the chair which the woman occupied. It was small, and the walls, floor, and ceiling were smooth concrete. A door was set into the wall opposite the bed; it was thick steel with a narrow window at head height.
"Am I a prisoner, then?" Susan asked coldly. "We are in a cell, after all."
The woman shrugged. "If you like. It's not strictly true but you have just regenerated, so I wouldn't recommend running away—and you wouldn't get very far, even if you did. I'm sorry about the accommodations, but we're running out of space to put people. Still, they're decent cells, and clean. I'd give them at least a seven out of ten."
One eyebrow rocketed up. "Had much experience with prisons?"
The woman grinned. "Oh, a fair amount. I have this friend, he can't seem to avoid them." She held out a white ceramic mug that held some sort of hot liquid. "Here, drink this. It will help with the regeneration sickness."
Susan brushed her hair—longer this time, and brown, and far curlier than it had ever been—back behind her ear and took the steaming mug cautiously. "What is it?" she asked and sniffed it.
"Tea," the woman answered, amusement plain on her face and in her voice. "Just tea, I promise."
Susan took a slow sip, her eyes still on the woman. She catalogued the chemicals (useful talent, having hyper-sensitive taste) and found that it was tea—just tea, hot and sweet and strong. Rather sweeter than she found she liked, in fact, but still decent. Plenty of tannins and free radicals to help quell the regeneration sickness and get her back on her feet.
"Now." The humor drained out of the woman's voice like water through a sieve. She straightened in her chair and fixed Susan with a look that could have melted steel. "I'd like you to tell me what a Time Lord is doing in this universe as there are not and have never been Time Lords here, and how you came through—seeing as I have it on very good authority that the walls between the worlds have closed."
Susan's grip on the mug tightened until her knuckles were white. "The Time War," she replied after a long moment of strained silence. "The Vortex is unstable. Gallifrey has more important things to worry about than a single TARDIS caught in a parallel world."
"Oh." There was something in the woman's eyes that Susan didn't like. She'd seen it before, often enough, when her grandfather had terrible news. She straightened.
"'Gallifrey,'" the woman murmured, half to herself. "He never told me the name, not once."
"What is it?" Susan asked. "Please, tell me what you know!" For a moment the woman looked like she would refuse, but then she sighed. "I'm sorry," she said eventually. "I'm so, so sorry—but it's gone."
Susan blinked. "What?" The woman remained silent, but her eyes carried oceans of sorrow. With a great deal of effort Susan stretched out her hand and caught the woman's arm. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
"Gallifrey. The Time Lords. It's gone. It's all gone. There was a war—and you lost."
Susan sat back, her eyes wide and staring. It was impossible, completely and totally impossible. The Daleks were formidable, but gone? How could Gallifrey be gone? It all made sense now, the silence she felt, the way the Earth felt wrong beneath them. Not even a parallel universe could cut her connection to Gallifrey and she'd spent centuries with the Earth spinning below her. "How?" she managed to choke out. Tears burned in her eyes and at the back of her throat. Her whole family was gone. Everyone she loved—everyone she loved was dead. She was an orphan, well and truly, in a strange and hostile universe without even her TARDIS for companionship and comfort.
The woman shook her head. "I don't know, I'm sorry. He hardly ever spoke of it. I didn't even know what your planet was called."
With difficulty, Susan reigned in the chaos that threatened to overwhelm her. Later, there would be time to fall apart later. "Right." Her voice was flat and angry and there was something hot building in her gut—rage and determination. It was easier to be angry than to process what she'd been told. "Now it's my turn for answers. Let's start with who you are and what this place is. Oh, and how you know so much about my people."
"My name is Rose Tyler," the woman told her. There was understanding in her warm brown eyes, and something like sympathy. "Right now we're in what's left of Torchwood 3 in Cardiff, Wales, Earth—Pete's World. And I know about Time Lords because I traveled with one."
"You said there aren't any Time Lords here," Susan reminded her.
Rose smiled. "Never said I traveled here, did I?"
A hope so fragile that Susan almost couldn't bring herself to ask bloomed within her chest. If someone else was out there, anyone, there was a chance that she could leave this place, a chance she could get back. With one Time Lord on one side of the divide it would be impossible, but with two…"Who? Who was it?"
Rose looked away. Her lips pulled into a thin line across her face and Susan read pain in the set of her shoulders and the tightness around her eyes. "He was called 'the Doctor.' I never got his proper name, if he even had one. Just—the Doctor."
Susan opened her mouth to say—something, but the words wouldn't come. Her grandfather was alive! She felt like dancing. Well, not really. Her legs still ached and her head felt fuzzy and there was a bone deep weariness that made any sort of significant movement unattractive, but she was not alone.
"He told me no one else survived," Rose continued, heedless of Susan's incredulity. "I asked, but he said he could feel his people, and it felt empty. He was the last of his kind, traveling alone because there was no one left—no one but me." A smile stole across her face, small and broken.
Oh. Susan blinked. Well, that was—that was interesting. He'd always been a bit of a rebel, her grandfather, always disdained the superiority complex Time Lords as a whole seemed to have. Several times he'd been accused of inappropriately fraternizing with 'lesser species,' but there was a line he refused to cross. She'd seen it with Sarah Jane and with Tegan and a handful of other companions. But in the aftermath of the Time War, if he believed himself to be alone in the universe, the sole survivor—would he have crossed that line?
Later, she reminded herself. There would be time for all of this later. If her grandfather was alive, if he was out in their original universe, she could get back to him. Susan tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed, but the smallest movement took an incredible effort, and she ended up only shifting herself slightly.
"Take it easy," Rose advised. "You're not well."
"You don't understand." Susan shook her head and tried again, but she moved even less, and her arms shook. "Grandfather is alive, I have to—I have to get back."
"Grandfather?" Rose's eyes were huge. "What, seriously? I mean—children, he said, not grandchildren."
Susan paused. "Hang on. If you knew my grandfather, if you traveled with him—why are you here?"
Rose looked down at her hands, which were clasped in her lap. Her posture was rigid, her movements sharp and controlled. "There was a war." Her voice was soft, so soft that Susan almost didn't hear it. "Not the Time War, another war, another battle. And we won, but there was a price." She chuckled bitterly. "There's always a price. I was trapped here and the walls closed. There's no way back. And now I'm trapped in the wrong universe, and there isn't even an Earth left to defend." Rose looked like she was going to say more, but a knock at the door interrupted her. She stood. "You'll want to rest. You're going to need it."
"Time Lords don't need nearly as much sleep as humans do," Susan tried to argue, but she was shaking just from the effort of sitting up, and she could tell that Rose knew. With a sigh she gave in to her body's urgings and slid back down on the bed. A murmur of voices, Rose's and a man's, washed over her before sleep claimed her.
Susan opens her eyes slowly. The twin suns of Gallifrey are high in the sky and the wind blows down from the mountains and carries with it the sound of a thousand silver leaves chiming together. Rolling hills covered with tall red grass undulate like an endless, scarlet ocean. A flutterby dances in the wind and she smiles. It's good to be home. The white stone of the parapet is warm beneath her and a book is by her side: 'The Time Machine,' by H.G. Wells. It is one of grandfather's favorites, and he's determined to meet the genius who could envision time travel in such a backwards time.
"Susan? What are you doing, child?"
A smile breaks over her face and she scrambles to her feet. "Grandfather!"
He stands before her as she first knew him, old and seemingly frail, with neatly brushed white hair and piercing blue eyes. As always he spurns the traditional robes which denote his status as a Time Lord, the Academy from which he graduated, and his position. He prefers a suit from Earth, of all places. His hands clutch at the lapels of his suit, as they always do when he is angry or disappointed. "Grandfather?" she asks again, and takes a hesitant step forward only to find that something holds her legs immobile.
"Where were you, Susan?" he asks her, and there is accusation and weariness in his voice. "I searched for you, I searched the whole universe. I needed you, Susan, and you weren't there." Something flickers red-orange at his feet—and then her grandfather bursts into flame.
"No!" she screams and desperately tries to reach him—but it's like walking through tar. By the time she stands where he was, only ash remains. Susan falls to her knees beside the pile—so small for what had been a person—and tries to gather it together, but it slips through the space between her fingers. Shadows fall over her, and when she raises her eyes seven figures stand in a circle around her. "Please!" she begs and tears run down her cheeks. "Please, I tried, grandfather! I tried!"
The seven men—her grandfather, all of them—say nothing, but the accusation in their eyes cut into her like knives. The stone disappears, and the suns, and the red grass, and she is falling through a blackness so deep that nothing can escape it—not even the sound of her screams.
Susan knew she wasn't alone before she opened her eyes. She was a Time Lord, after all, and her superior brain had already catalogued the faint, floral smell of Rose's soap, the light sounds of her breathing, and the faint brush of her unshielded thoughts against Susan's own barriers. The bits of metal were gone from her chest, along with the pinching IV needle and the annoying beep of the heart monitor. She judged it to be about five hours later, which was an impressive length for a Time Lord to remain asleep but the fog was gone from her mind and her limbs fairly thrummed with energy. Her lungs were better too; a quick internal scan determined that her body was once again operating at full capacity. She sat up and her new hair—long and brown and curly—promptly covered her face. Susan huffed and pushed it behind her ears. Perhaps she would cut it—years spent as a soldier left her with a preference for functional, practical things. Long hair was troublesome and time consuming, no matter how fetching it appeared. She swung her legs over the side of the cot and stood; they were a bit wobbly, but really just needed breaking-in.
Rose was sitting in the lone chair, watching. But for the book which sat closed on her lap Susan would have sworn she hadn't moved. "Feeling better?" she asked.
"Fit as a fiddle," Susan confirmed, and then paused. "That is the correct idiom, yes?"
"Yeah," Rose confirmed with a half-smile. "Feel like a bit of a stroll? I meant what I said, earlier. You're not a prisoner, but we had to be sure you weren't an ax murderer or sommat like that."
Susan stretched her arms high above her head and then cracked her neck. "Lead on."
Rose led her down twisting, cement hallways, past dozens of other rooms just like the one Susan occupied. Most of them held multiple occupants with their few possessions. It was like walking through a refugee camp, in some ways. The only things she saw were things that could be easily carried; there was none of the excess she was used to despite the apparently higher level of technology as demonstrated by the constant vibrating hum of the generators. They must have been massive to generate enough power to heat a complex so far underground, and so large as it apparently was.
Rose pointed out the hydroponics lab, where most of their food was grown, the armory (Susan wrinkled her nose—weapons still left a bad taste in her mouth), and the workshop, where the tech squad worked to keep the facility running and hopefully salvage some of the infrastructure that was left behind.
"What is this place?" Susan asked as they stood on a catwalk and watched children as young as five and as old as twelve sorting machine parts, sweeping floors, repairing ripped or worn garments, and fetching supplies for various adults below them.
"It used to be Torchwood three," Rose replied. Her confusion must have been obvious, because Rose continued. "The Royal Torchwood Institute was founded in 1869 by Queen Victoria, to protect the British Empire from alien threats. She was attacked by a werewolf, and in our original universe the Doctor 'n I saved her." She huffed in wry irritation. "No good deed goes unpunished. No Time Lords here, but she managed to get away, and she formed the institute just the same. It's why I'm here: in our original universe Torchwood found a weak spot between the two, and they couldn't just leave it alone, no, they fired a particle beam at it, made it bigger. An' on this side there were cybermen tryin' to get through, and right in the middle, hidden in the Void, was a Dalek ship. The ship went through and the cybermen infiltrated Torchwood One in the other universe and they forced the hole wide open." Her fingers tightened around the railing until her knuckles were white. "We closed the hole—but I was sucked through. If Pete hadn't caught me I would have ended up in the Void."
"Pete?" Susan asked.
Rose swallowed. "An alternate version of my dad. My mum'd already gone through; my real dad died when I was a baby and it was a chance for her to be with him again. He—died. They both did, and my little brother."
Susan laid a hand on her arm. "I'm sorry. But look at what you've done. This is—this is brilliant."
She laughed. Susan blinked. "What?"
"Sorry." One corner of her mouth tugs upwards into a wistful smile. "You sounded just like him there. He was always nattering on about how 'brilliant' things were. Bananas, usually." She shook her head, amusement plain on her face and in her voice. "I don't know where his banana fixation came from, but it was unhealthy how much he loved them."
"My history is perfect," Susan said after several long moments. "And I don't remember the Earth being anything like this, not in the 21st century. What happened?"
"Not our Earth," Rose reminded her. "There was this huge meteorite that hit in the Slavic Republic—Russia. We tried to stop it, but it was too massive. Scientists say it's like when the dinosaurs went extinct: the meteor threw up all this dust into the atmosphere…"
"Triggering an ice-age," Susan finished. "Causing a chain reaction of extinction and starvation—disaster on a planetary scale."
"Yeah." She kept her eyes on the children below. "There aren't many of us left. Food is scarce, an' we're closer to the poles. Down near the equator it's better, I hear, but there's no way to get there. We can't walk—one of the downsides of living on an island—and all the ships that are seaworthy are gone. An' even if they weren't, who would sail them?"
"You've got hydroponics," Susan pointed out.
Rose shook her head. "It's not enough. Torchwood three funnels energy from the rift that runs through Cardiff, but the converters were damaged and they can barely keep up."
Susan straightened. "Show me."
She ran her hand over the thick wires that hung down from the ceiling and eyed the rift converters above. The external damage was minimal and appeared to be mostly to the casings, but the internal damage was the tricky part. A power surge had melted a few key circuits and until those were replaced the converters would run at half power at best. Rose introduced her to Toshiko Sato, the head of the tech squad (all four of them) and the woman responsible for patching the converters up as they were. It was brilliant work, for a human in the 21st century, but Susan was a Time Lord and she'd been doing this sort of circuit work since she was a mere 52 years old.
"I can fix this," she told the women. Rose grinned and Toshiko's eyes widened.
"Really?" the petite Asian woman asked.
Susan smiled. "Really. But—I have one condition." Rose gestured for her to continue. "If I do this for you—then I need you to give me space to work and access to your tools for my own project."
"Which is?" Rose prompted.
Susan cleared her throat. "A trans-dimensional transport engine." Rose opened her mouth to reply but Susan held up a hand. "Hear me out. With one Time Lord on one side of the Void it would be impossible to travel between the worlds without destabilizing both worlds to a degree that would be unconscionable. But with one on each side the chances of travel between are far more likely. My TARDIS," her voice broke. "My TARDIS is dead, but there are parts which are still intact, parts which I can use to build a device that will allow me to get back to our original universe. Help me do that, and I will show you how you can live quite comfortably until the ice age passes."
"Take me with you," Rose replied without hesitation.
Susan blinked. "The stress of two passengers will reduce the accuracy, and travel without a capsule is dangerous. I can't promise that you will make it through the trip—intact."
"I've traveled by jumper, an' it can't be worse than that," she shot back. "Take me with you, or no deal."
"Rose!" Toshiko protested.
"Deal." Susan held out her hand, and Rose shook it.
"Deal," she agreed. "Now, let's get you back to your TARDIS."