War by the Numbers:
Oddly enough, he’d been traveling alone when he’d decided to go home, and his subsequent…recruitment by Romana (and the High Council, which she’d cowed rather nicely into compliance, at least where he was concerned) hadn’t changed that. Once or twice, he’d found someone who he might have enjoyed bringing along, but somehow the Doctor felt guilty when asking. Although the loneliness was almost crippling at times, he couldn’t–at least not in good conscience–endanger someone like that. Of course, he’d done so before (far more often than he liked to admit to himself, too), but this time was different. Everything in him cried out that this time was not like the others.
A storm is coming.
The mere thought sent a shiver tearing down his spine, but he couldn’t escape it. For close to three years, he’d been playing Romana’s hatchet man, being the Time Lords’ eyes and ears in a universe that was rapidly changing. Why or how he couldn’t quite tell, but nothing felt the same, and he’d long ago taught Romana to trust such feelings. Her instincts, like his, were beginning to indicate that something was very wrong, so the Doctor had abandoned his long-accustomed rebellious ways and started to help.
He couldn’t not, after all. Whatever was happening was churning a monster of a mess up in his stomach as well, and although he’d probably never see eye to eye with most of Gallifrey (Romana’s best efforts notwithstanding), the Doctor had to do his part.
Typically, he’d been tinkering underneath the TARDIS’ console when he heard the unexpected voice coming from her open doors. He’d been expecting Romana–she’d said something earlier about the Monk having gone missing–but not this.
“Grandfather?” the familiar-but-not voice called again. He’d never heard this particular voice before, but he knew exactly the soul that lay behind it.
“Susan!” he exclaimed, pushing himself up and out from under the console. “Ow!”
A semi-girlish giggle reached him as he rubbed his head, watching stars fly across his vision until they focused on the figure tentatively crossing the TARDIS’ threshold. “Hi,” his little girl said, barely having time to get the word out before the Doctor leapt to his feet, crossing the room in three long strides to wrap her in a bear hug, oil-covered hands and all. “Watch the hair!”
It was long, this time, and blonde, he noticed. Beautiful, really. The Doctor pulled back long enough to take a look at her face, slightly freckled and still young looking, though older than he remembered her last form. “You look beautiful.”
“You always tell me that, Grandfather.” But Susan, his little Susan, smiled.
“It’s always true,” he replied with a grin. “Look at you! Almost as tall as me this time, and not nearly as gangly as you once were. What is this? Three? Four? And how long have you been here without seeing me?”
“Three,” she replied with a smile. “And I’ve been home, on and off, for years now, Grandfather. I lived the slow way for…well, years, but eventually I tired of watching people die. Ironically enough, Romana and I ran into one another, and I came home with her.”
“You look wonderful.” He couldn’t stop smiling–it was Susan! Susan, who he’d left because she desperately wanted him to and would never say it. Susan, his first companion, who’d been along for the original and very wild ride the TARDIS had taken them on. Susan, who he’d held as a baby girl, his eyes wide with wonder that he’d thought he lost after his own son, her father, had grown up. My little girl. Susan, the child who was far more like her grandfather than either of her parents could comprehend, who he’d held as she sobbed after their deaths. My Susan.
“Thank you.” Her eyes were wise, now–his Susan was over nine hundred years old, hardly the child he’d traveled with or the budding young woman he’d left behind. Like her grandfather, Susan had been fed up with Gallifrey and ready to flee…but her wanderlust had faded, first into the need to settle down, and later–now–into something more. He could see something ironclad in her stance, something changed and something brilliant. “I kept trying to find you, but somehow we always missed one another.”
“How long have you been back?” he asked, still in awe of the changes, the beauty. Her confidence was extraordinary; he’d always hoped for her to find herself, and clearly she had.
“Over a century. Coming up on two, actually. I’ve been teaching, actually, at the Academy. I quite enjoy it.”
“I’m glad. So very happy for you.”
“I just quit.”
He almost choked on his smile. “What? Whatever for?”
“The same reason you’re leaving. Things are happening, and if we don’t figure out what, it’s only going to get worse.” Her green eyes met his brazenly, and even as a part of the Doctor objected–not my little girl! She’s not going into danger without me to look out for her!–warm pride welled up within him. Here was Susan, doing what they’d always done!
“With who?” He could tell from her face that she wasn’t there to ask for a ride, as much as he’d dearly love to give one to her. She’d grown past that, Susan had, and didn’t want her grandfather along to tell her to be careful.
And I would, too. I always, always, would
“With myself,” Susan chuckled. “I’m over nine centuries old, Grandfather! I think I can pass a TARDIS piloting test and make my way out into the cosmos without someone holding my hand.”
“I didn’t–You mean you passed the test?” he changed topics in mid-stream, his scowl turning back into a grin.
“Of course I did! With a double-first, too.”
“Brilliant! Susan, I’m so proud of you.” He couldn’t resist the urge to hug her tight again. “There’s one thing I’ve never managed to do.”
“Oh, I can think of quite a few of those that I’ve done,” she replied with another laugh, laying her head against his shoulder.
“Like what?” the Doctor challenged her.
“Settling down, for one.”
“I settled down! I had your father, remember? Married and everything, for over a hundred years.”
“But you were never happy like that,” she said softly. “Not after–”
“I know,” he cut her off, still not wanting to think of that.
“I’ve missed you, Grandfather,” Susan suddenly whispered, and his arms tightened around her.
“I was going to ask you,” Susan said over dinner, “about the Keeper of the Matrix.”
“Oh? What about him?” the Doctor asked around the meat in his mouth–and the fork still attached to it.
“Grandfather! Chew your food first!” She tried to look affronted but wound up giggling; back when they’d traveled together, it had always been Susan’s job to keep her ornery grandfather in check. She hadn’t always had an easy time–not with that him–but she’d always tried.
He laughed with her; seeing family again was good. She was all he had, and the Doctor’s chest suddenly seized up with grief for not going back for her. Yes, she’d wanted to stay behind, but it had been over nine hundred years… I should have gone back.
But then, this him was the making-up-him, the one that mended bridges and forgave grudges. This was the peacemaker him, the nicest man he’d been yet–and the Doctor had found that he could at least try to make up for old wrongs this time around. He was well on his way to being accepted by the High Council as somewhat of an ally, after all. Making up lost time with his granddaughter was definitely possible.
“So, what about him?” the Doctor asked after he’d finished chewing. Nice manners aside, this him did have a tendency to talk with his mouth full. Disconcerting, sometimes, for someone that was usually nice by nature.
“I don’t know,” Susan replied. “He’s just…strange. I’m not sure I can define how. He doesn’t feel normal, and oddly enough–well, he’d just creepy.”
“‘Creepy’ isn’t the type of word Time Lords are supposed to use when they’re approaching their one thousandth birthday, my dear,” he countered with a wink.
“Oh, sod off! Have you met the man?”
“Of course not. Not in years, anyway. I doubt it’s the same Keeper these days,” he replied, chewing thoughtfully.
“Will you try to?” she asked, suddenly serious.
He blinked. “Of course. Is it that important to you?”
“Yes.” Susan’s voice was firm. “There’s something about him that isn’t right, and every time I’ve talked to him, he’s practically run away. As if he didn’t want to talk to me at all.”
“Maybe he’s shy.”
The Doctor quirked a smile, but was tamed immediately by her glare. His Susan had grown up into such a focused young lady! He wondered if that was an aspect of this personality of hers, or the result of growing older. “I apologize. I’ll endeavor to meet him, as soon as I’m done chasing the Monk.”
“Thank you.” She squeezed his hand and beamed at him, the same way she had when she was younger. But then her brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Why are they sending you after the Monk, anyway? He’s never been that bright…a brand new academy grad with no knowledge of the universe could track him down.”
“Except they already sent a few of those, which is where I come in,” the Doctor replied. “They didn’t find him.”
“That’s out of character.”
“Indeed. So I get to track down our old friend. Care to join me?” Oh. No. He didn’t mean to ask. Shouldn’t have. Definitely should have known better.
“I–I…can’t, Grandfather.” Poor Susan looked instantly guilty. “I wish I could, but I’ve got an assignment of my own. A few Time Lords–classmates of mine, actually–have gone missing. They were on an exploratory mission, and they’ve absolutely disappeared. No one can find them.”
“It’s all right,” he replied quickly. “I’m not sure why I said that–probably an old habit.” The Doctor smiled, feeling so proud of her but feeling furious at himself. They both had things to do, and if he was lonely, that was his own fault. He was the one who’d steadfastly refused to pick anyone up after the last incident…
Don’t think about that now.
Susan took his hand and squeezed. “When I get back, let’s go somewhere. Anywhere. The first moment we both have, let’s find a world to explore and history to get embroiled in.”
“It’s a date.” The Doctor smiled and squeezed her hand in return.
“I’ll hold you to that, Grandfather. I know how bad you are at keeping appointments.”
They laughed together, and that slight feeling of home he’d felt upon returning to Gallifrey blossomed into something extraordinary. He’d never been one to keep his feet on any one patch of ground for long, and he still wasn’t–but there was something to be said for this.
When the Doctor left the next morning, it was with a far lighter heart. Yes, this him was definitely better at making and keeping relationships. That ability had taken over twelve hundred years to manifest itself, but he sincerely hoped that his later incarnations would continue this tradition. The path he’d chosen would probably always be a lonely one, but with Susan to come home to–well, perhaps it wasn’t as bad as he’d once allowed himself to think it was.
There was hope for the future. Storm coming or not, there had to be.