Occasionally the TARDIS proved it was alive by taking the initiative. Usually, if it was necessary to come to someone’s aid, they would send out a distress signal that it received which the Doctor could check and hear for himself. But, every once in awhile, it would just send him somewhere without ever having recieved a distress call, and would send him some place where all system distress calls would have been impossible to make anyway, because they simply didn't have the technology at that place or time. Yet, it usually did turn out that there was a situation where the Doctor’s help was necessary. The Doctor really didn’t know if all TARDIS had this ability, or if it was unique to his alone.
So, he wasn’t too surprise when one day, before he could tell the machine where they were to go, it started working, taking him to some destination known only to it right now.
“Where are we headed, Master?” K-9 asked, realizing that the Doctor hadn’t even had a chance to get to the controls before the TARDIS had taken off.
“I have no idea,” the Doctor admitted, looking at the control panel and realizing it wasn’t telling him much. “Earth, it seems, but as for where and when, that’s a mystery. But, I expect we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?”
Barely had the words left his mouth, when there was a lurch, indiciating the machine had stopped. “Better wait here, K-9,” the Doctor murmured, as he went for the door. “We don’t know what’s out there for us.”
Cautiously, the Doctor opened the door and looked around. They appeared to have landed in some sort-of storage area, barely big enough to hold it, in part because of the many boxes, bags, and other things inside of it. Once he walked out of the TARDIS, he barely had enough room to open the door that led out of the closet, which he did carefully, grateful the door opened out rather than in.
He poked his head out to look about. He seemed to be in a hallway of some sort, not very big from the looks of it, but there didn’t seem to be anything of immediate danger lurking about. He ventured out into the hall and started walking around carefully.
He was in an apartment of sorts, not very big, with a stamped out appearance as if it were one of many. He made his way into the living room of the place and looked out the window and saw other apartment buildings. Clearly, he’d landed in some type of complex and from the looks of it, working-class housing. Affordable but little individuality.
What trouble could be happening here? He asked himself. For a moment, he wasn’t even sure there was anyone else in the place, then he heard a woman’s voice coming from further back in the place.
“Darling, I know you’re upset, but there’s nothing I can do!” a female voice was saying. “They need me to work, you’ve got to understand that. Please don’t be like this.”
The voice was coming closer as it spoke. The Doctor looked about, debating if he could hide, but realized there wasn’t a whole lot of places to hide in this living room. He might be able to make it out the door, but he was reluctant to leave the TARDIS inside the apartment. Let’s see what happens, he thought to himself.
The woman who walked into the living room was in her mid to late 20’s, with very light blonde hair and very dark brown eyebrows, indicating she owed her hair color to a bottle. She was an attractive enough woman, but she had a look in her eyes that indicated her life had been far from easy for her.
He waited for her to notice him, inwardly cringing as he imagined her reaction to seeing a strange man in her apartment.
“Oh!” She gasped when she spotted him, sounding surprised, but not scared. Before he could say anything, she continued. “Good, you’re early. Bit surprised you let yourself in, but I probably didn’t hear you ring the bell. You’re a real lifesaver.” She paused looking him over. He tried to speak, but the pause was too brief and she continued talking. “Bit long in the tooth for a babysitter, I really expected Grace’s nephew to be younger. No matter, just glad you could make it. I hate having to do this, but next week is my daughter’s birthday, and if I work this shift, Bob promised me time and a half, which’ll come in handy to buy her birthday presents. Yes, she’s a bit fussy, I promised I’d take her to the park today, until I got the call. I said I’d take her tomorrow, but you know how kids are, she’s having herself a good sulk. Give her a few and she’ll get over it. There’s plenty of stuff in the kitchen when she’s hungry, help yourself too. I’ll be home in about six hours, if all goes well.” As she spoke, she gathered up her purse and was putting on her jacket.
She paused only a second when the blast of a car horn could be heard. Again, the Doctor tried to interrupt, but couldn’t be heard above the horn, and the moment it finished blasting, the woman started talking again as she headed for the door. “Oops, that’s my ride, nice to see she’s prompt. Well, I have to run, see you later!”
The Doctor made a serious attempt to make it to the door and block her from leaving, but she proved to be too fast and made it out the door, closing it behind her.
He stared at the closed door, for a moment dazed and amazed at the woman’s speed of both talking and leaving. “Incredible,” he murmured in genuine appreciation, then realized she was leaving him alone with her daughter.
He ran for the door and opened it, determined to find her and explain this was mistake, but as he looked over the tiny hallway balcony, he saw the woman getting into a car. Curving his thumb and index finger almost into a circle, he brought them to his mouth and release a shrill whistle, hoping to catch her attention, but it was too late, she was in the car and the car was driving away.
Oh, wonderful, he thought. Now what do I do? As he turned to head back into the apartment, he remembered what the woman had been saying as she left. Something about expecting him, which was impossible. While occasionally the TARDIS was able to take him places he hadn’t planned on going, it hadn’t managed to learn how to announce that he was coming in advance. Therefore, this was clearly a case of mistaken identity and she had thought he was someone else.
This means that eventually the person she thought I was, this “Grace’s nephew,” will show up, he thought, relief washing through him. With any luck, I’ll be out of here in a few minutes at the worst.
As he walked into the apartment, he heard a disembodied voice carrying across the room. “Hi, pick up, will you? Oh shoot, I’ll bet you’re in the shower. Well, this is Grace, I’m calling to let you know my nephew won’t be able to make it. I know, this is a terrible disappointment, but he’d forgotten he’d already made plans. I’m so sorry, I’d watch her myself, but I’ve got to work too. Call me this evening, again, sorry!”
He looked around and realized the voice was coming from a box next to a telephone. Device to answer the phone when the person isn’t around to pick it up, he thought. Realizing the message was exactly what he didn’t want to hear, he rushed to pick up the phone, hoping maybe he could talk this “Grace” into skipping work to watch this female he’d been entrusted to care for. Telling her I’m a total stranger ought to do it! But, as he picked up the phone, there was a click as the party had hung up.
“This is definitely not my day!” he informed the empty room.
Well, clearly there was only one thing to do, and that was to meet this child. Maybe she would be able to tell him where her mother worked. Then, he could call, explain the situation, and hopefully convince her to return home.
He headed back to the hallway and walked past the closet where the TARDIS was. There was an open door across and up just a bit. He poked his head in the room. The predominant color was pink and several toys were scattered about. He looked over to the bed and saw the girl he’d been entrusted to watch.
She was very young, he’d been hoping the child might be a teenager, or at least nine or ten. He would even be willing to settle for six or so, but this child was in that period between toddler and child; she couldn’t be any older than four.
She was a pretty enough little girl with brown hair and expressive eyes. He hair was swept off her face and held back by an elaborate plastic silver tiara adorned with with several sparkling fake gems. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a pink shirt with a butterfly on it. A white bath towel hung down her back, held in place with several safety pins sticking it onto the shoulders of the shirt.
His experience with children was almost non-existent and his own childhood was so many years behind him, he could barely remember it and very rarely did he run into children while traveling. In his first form, he’d traveled around with a young girl who had looked at him as a grandfather, but she’d been old enough to reason with and if he remembered, he didn’t do such a bang-up job with her all the time either. Still, he was stuck watching this child, at least until her mother could be notified and he’d never be able to find the mother unless he spoke with the child. “Uhm, hello,” he said as he walked into the room.
She looked over at him, arms crossed over her chest, those expressive eyes showing a fair bit of anger. She said nothing, just stared at him.
I guess her mother was right, she is having a bit of a sulk, he thought. “Uh, well, let’s start by introducing each other. I’m the Doctor.”
Her expression changed immediately from one of anger to terror. “No!” she shouted as she scrambled off the bed and crawled under it. “Go away, go 'way!”
He was completely baffled by her behavior and didn’t have a clue what to do. “Uh, I really can’t do that, not without your help at least. Why are you hiding?”
“Doctor's bad!” the child shouted, scrambling to push herself further under her bed. “No jab!”
“Ah!” he nodded, realizing the problem. “You think I’m that type of doctor! I’m not, I won't do that.”
“All doctors do!” she disagreed.
“Not me.” He squatted down, peering under the bed. Her eyes were closed tight, as if she hoped that by making him disappear in her vision, he would disappear for real as well. “I’m not allowed to give jabs. They don’t trust me with needles.”
“Huh?” The eyes were still shut tightly, but she’d stopped screaming at least. “Doctors haveta’ give jabs, it’s what they do!”
“Not me,” he assured her again. “They took all my needles away from me and forbid me to give any more injections. Seemed I just refused to give them to little girls and was just giving them to the parents instead. It irritated the parents considerably, but I just couldn’t bring myself to poke holes in little girls as if they were pin cushions.” As he spoke, her eyes opened and she watched his face. “So, you’re completely safe, even if I did have a needle, I could never stick you with it. Your mother, on the other hand, is another story. If I had a needle, I might be able to find it in me to give her a jab...or two.”
A slow smile crept across the child’s face as he spoke of giving her mother an injection and she pushed herself closer to the edge of the bed. “But if you don’t give jabs, then you can’t be a doctor.”
He considered explaining to her that it was possible to be a doctor without ever having to administer anything by needle, but then changed his mind, knowing this child just wasn’t going to buy it. The day this planet masters the hypo spray method and injections become a thing of the past, the children of earth shall rejoice. “Well, you can still call me, Doctor.”
“No,” she said, poking her head out from under the bed. “I won’ call you Doctor. Might forget an' wanna poke me wif' a needle.”
Mental note, earth children are a stubborn lot. While this stubbornness was a bit of a bother, he rather admired her for sticking to her guns. He had met too many human women who played doormat quite easily and he never liked that trait. “Well then, what do you want to call me?” he asked her.
She crawled out from under the bed and stared at him, studying him carefully, her gaze wandering over him, taking him in. “You have a lot of hair for a man,” she remarked.
“I suppose I do,” he agreed, figuring he must be at a point in time when most males had short hair. “But that’s a bit long for a name, maybe we should shorten it?”
She giggled, those soulful eyes of hers suddenly lighting up. If she was cute when she was frowning, she was close to enchanting when she smiled. “No, silly, I was just saying you had a lot of hair. I’m gonna call you, uhm, ..” She frowned again, deep in thought, then smiled as she figured out the perfect name. “Mr. Scarf!”
“Well, that works as good as anything else.” He smiled. “Now that we know what I’m to be called, what shall I call you?”
“I’m the princess,” she declared.
“Of course you are,” he agreed. “I knew that from your crown and robe. But even princesses have a name.”
“I wanna be the princess!” Her eyes began to cloud over and her brow to furrow, indicating she was more than willing to go back into sulk mode.
He found she was a lot more pleasant when she was smiling and really wanted to avoid more of having to coax her out from under the bed. “All right, I’ll call you Princess. For today at least, I’ll be Mr. Scarf and you’ll be the Princess.” She nodded and scooted along the carpet so she was closer to him. “Well then, Princess, do you know where your mother went to work today?”
“At the shop she work at,” Princess said, her tone indicating that he should really know these things, after all she did and what type of adult knew less than a child?
“Shop, that’s good. Do you know the name of the shop?” he asked.
She nodded. “That slave camp!”
“Slave camp, that’s an odd name-” he began, then stopped as he realized that’s probably what the child’s mother referred to the place as, but not the actual name. “Er, does your mother ever call it anything else?”
“Ya, but if I say those names, then I haveta’ sit inna corner.” And expression of worry crossed her face and she watching him cautiously to make sure he wasn’t trying to trick her into doing something that would get her punished.
“Well, I’d hate to have to send you to a corner,” he said, beginning to resign himself to babysitting. “That being the case, it’s best you don’t tell me those names.” He smiled as he saw the worry leave her tiny face, only to be replaced with another of her sunshine smiles. “So, I guess we’ll be spending some time today, Princess. What do you like to do?”
“Go to the park,” she said. “I wanna go to the park. Mum was gonna take me, but she had to work instead.”
She began to frown, making him wonder if all children had such fast mood swings, or if this girl was unique. “Uhm, I’m sure she’d rather be with you, but she wants the extra money so your birthday will be extra special this year. How old are you going to be?”
“Four!” she proudly declared, also holding up four tiny fingers, just to drive the point home. “Can you take me to the park?” she added hopefully.
He had misplaced things a time or two in his life, the last thing he wanted was to add a child to that list. Keeping her in the confines of the apartment seemed like the safest way to assure that wouldn’t happen. “I don’t think we should do that,” he answered. “Your mother wants to take you tomorrow, I don’t want to spoil that. Besides, I’m sure we can have lots of fun here.”
“Doing what?” Princess asked with a skeptical look that instantly made her look older.
He frowned, trying to think of something as fast as possible. Chess was most likely out of the question, and the boyhood games he remembered were either for older children, or involved objects that could only be found on Gallifrey. “Well, I suppose we could...” he began, stalling for time to think. “Uh, we might be able to...”
She sprang to her feet, quickly and gracefully. “We can play wif my blocks!” she declared, running over to the closet. Grasping the knob in both hands, she turned it and flung the door open, then rummaged around inside until she found a couple pillow cases stuffed with things that didn’t look like pillows. Grabbing one with each hand, she started dragging them into the room. It was obviously not an easy task for the child, but it didn’t deter her from her mission. When she got both bags into the middle of the room, she let go and turned to look at him. “Blocks!” she proudly announced. “Help me get them outa the bags!”
He helped her by dumping the contents of the bags on the floor, discovering that indeed both bags contained large amounts of colorful wooden blocks. Princess grinned as they clattered to the floor. “Yay, Mr. Scarf!” she cheered as if he had managed to do something that was practically impossible, then flopped down on the floor next to him.
“Now what do we do?” he asked, although he had a pretty good idea what you were supposed to do with them, there were similar styles of toys on Gallifrey.
“We build somethin’” Princess informed him, with an air of someone who was quite wise in the ways of toys. “Somethin’ really, really, really big. We gotta use all the blocks!”
They set to work together, placing blocks on top of each other. Princess, for all her independence, was more than willing to let him dictate what the structure should look like, so he attempted a crude model of the council headquarters on the planet Dulkis. He varied the design to make it a taller structure than the original (in scale, of course) because Princess seemed to find it most important to build up than out. For the most part, he would tell her where to put the blocks, and she would place them. On a relatively difficult placement, when one ill move might cause the whole structure to collapse, when Princess was successfully able to place the block where it was supposed to go, she would clap enthusiastically and proudly and fully expected Mr. Scarf to join in with her. “I did it!” she would proclaim.
Once you got past the extreme silliness of clapping and cheering for something so trivial, the Doctor could actually understand why Princess liked it. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a cheering section every time we managed to accomplish the most basic of tasks? I dare say the human race would be a lot more cheerful if someone was there to clap for them when they got home from work, or finished mowing the lawn. Hurray! You brought in the mail!
When it was finished, the chances that anyone who had seen the council headquarters on the planet Dulkis would recognize the blocks as an imitation of said structure were very unlikely. However, the Doctor suspected that if you told them that was what it was, and they squinted, they might see the resemblance. “Well, we did pretty good, didn’t we?” he remarked, smiling at Princess.
“YES!” Princess exclaimed, nodding as well. “We use all the blocks!” Making sure every block was used seemed to be just as important as how the structure looked. “All of 'em!”
“Yes we did,” the Doctor agreed, as he moved back to admire their handiwork. “Now what shall we do?”
“KNOCK IT DOWN!” Princess roared happily, as she began doing exactly that, kicking and pushing at the fragile structure, which of course sent the blocks flying about the room.
“Careful!” he cried out, just managing to duck and cover up his head, before his face was bombarded with several pieces of wood. He had traveled time and the galaxy for hundreds of years, it would be pretty embarrassing to find he had a concussion because of a toddler throwing her toys about.
Princess appeared to not have heard him, being so caught up in the pure glee of throwing blocks about. Fortunately, while the construction had taken over an hour, the destruction was mere seconds. When all the blocks were scattered about the room, or piled on the floor, Princess clapped her hands and started running about the room, gathering them up. “Again!” she demanded.
Realizing that the destruction was just as important, if not more so than the construction, the Doctor decided not to be so concerned about the appearance of the block towers, but instead to focus more effort on speed and height.
For quite awhile he was able to keep Princess amused, building block towers and letting her kick them to bits. It seemed a bit monotonous at times, but far better than a temper tantrum. The Doctor began to wonder why parents so often complained that it was difficult to keep young children amused. So far, this was going rather well.
After knocking down another structure, this one resembling a skyscraper of a generic variety, Princess crossed her arms over her chest and looked at him. “I’m hungry!” she declared.
“Well, I can understand that you might be. It takes a lot of energy to build and destroy and we were doing a lot of that,” the Doctor commented, then realized that Princess wasn’t just notifying him of her status, but expecting him to do something. “Oh! I’ll bet you’re hoping I can help you with that, aren’t you?”
Princess nodded. “I want a sandwich!”
That seemed easy enough. “I think we can do that.”
“And chips!” Princess added, starting out of the room.
While he was a bit of a scientist, and when it came down to it, cooking was quite similar to chemistry, the Doctor wasn’t quite ready to go messing around with boiling oil. “Err, I don’t think we should have chips,” he objected, as he rose to his feet and followed her into the kitchen.
Princess paused in the entry to the kitchen, weighing his objection to chips. Her brow furrowed, then she shrugged. “Crisps then.”
Ah, much safer, he thought, relieved this problem would be solved quickly. “Sounds good, uhm, that is if there are any.” While Princess's mother had assured him there was plenty of food in the house, she had not bothered to give him an inventory of what was available. He figured it would be better not to make a promise he might not be able to deliver.
“There’s always crisps,” she said, with that air of confidence and certainty he was rather enjoying. She was so young and had so many things to do and see in this world, had she been an adult, she would most likely be overwhelmed at the thought of all she would have to learn, but being a child, she was able to scale it down correctly. For Princess, the central focus of the entire universe were contained within the walls of this apartment and when she was in the center of her universe, Princess had complete confidence.
“Well, if you say so.” He looked about the kitchen, feeling a bit out-of place, but certain he could handle this. “So, what do you want for a sandwich?”
Princess walked over to the refrigerator and opened it up, tugging on the handle with both hands until it finally yielded to her. Once the door was open, she looked inside and pulled out a jar of jam and a loaf of bread, which she put on the counter. Then, she pointed to a cupboard that was out of her reach. “Open,” she informed him.
Since clearly she knew this kitchen and he didn’t, he decided to do as she asked. When it was open, she pointed to a jar “That!” she exclaimed.
He grabbed the jar, which was filled with some white substance. “This?” he asked, just to make sure.
She nodded. “Fluff,” she said. “Jam and Fluff!”
He unscrewed the jar and looked inside. The “fluff” was so white it looked more like a packing material or a sealing compound than food. “You eat this?” he asked her, a bit skeptical.
She nodded. “It’s good!”
He ran his finger along the outer edge of the jar, catching a small blob and cautiously tried it. “Marshmallows!” he remarked, pulling the jar back a bit so he could read the label, which he saw clearly announced the product not just as “Fluff” but as Marshmallow Fluff.
“No, Fluff,” she corrected him. “Wanna Fluff and jam sandwich.”
“Is that good for you?”
Princess shrugged. “Don’ know, but it tastes good.”
He smiled, appreciating this logic. This child had her entire adult life to worry about what would be good for her to eat; right now, she was on the threshold of four and what was important was not the nutritional value, but sheerly the taste. There was an old saying that went “Life is too short to drink bad wine,” For Princess, perhaps the saying should be “Childhood is too short to worry about cholesterol.” “Well then, a Fluff and jam sandwich it is.”
“With crisps,” she reminded him. She opened one of the lower cupboards and brought out a large bag of them.
He made her a sandwich, but she refused to eat it, because he’d made the mistake of cutting it straight across in both ways. “Haveta’ cut it this away,” she told him, making an angular slashing motion in the air, indicating that the sandwich needed to be cut corner to corner instead.
“But what about this sandwich?” he asked her.
She rolled her eyes, indicating that she knew the solution and was disappointed to find out he did not. “You eat it.”
He chuckled, quite amused at this science of sandwich making, but made another one to her specifications. She then informed him that they must have chocolate milk to wash the sandwiches down with, and showed him a container of it in the refrigerator. He poured them each a glass.
While he wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of them, Fluff and jam sandwiches weren’t bad. A bit on the sticky side, but he was a man who enjoyed jelly babies, he certainly was not adverse to sweets. Princess ate her sandwich in almost dainty bites, nibbling off the crusts. “I don’t eat crusts,” she told him. He had a feeling she did when her mother made her lunch, but since her mother was not there, he decided not to argue the point.
When the sandwiches were finished, she informed him she wanted chocolate covered bananas for desert. He looked about the kitchen and saw a couple of bananas, but they were safely in their peels. “I don’t think we have those.”
“Of course not,” she said, shaking her head sadly at poor Mr. Scarf’s obvious ignorance about such important matters. “You don’t have choco cover bananas, you make 'em!”
“Ah, I see. And how would we go about doing that?” he asked.
She pointed to an upper cabinet, the same one that stored the Fluff. “Choco chips!” With her help, he was able to locate a bag of them easily. “Now, a bowl,” she explained, pointing to another cabinet.
He opened the next cabinet and was confronted with a huge selection of mixing bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes. “Err, any particular one?”
She pointed to a medium sized, clear bowl. “That one.”
He brought it out. “Okay, now what?”
“Put the choco chips in the bowl,” she explained. “An then you put 'em in the microwave an’ turn it on 'till they melt.”
That seemed relatively easy, and relatively safe, so he did as she requested. He wasn’t sure how much time the chocolate would need to melt, so he put it in for two minutes, then checked. Three two minute increments was what was needed to completely melt the chocolate down so it was a thick, sticky, liquid. Princess showed him how you peeled the banana and dipped it into the chocolate. Once he tried it, he had to admit, it was rather tasty.
She nodded. “Lotsa things you can dip in chocolate,” she said, sharing her wisdom with him.
“Brussels sprouts?” he asked her, a gleam in his eye.
The look on her face was one of pure horror and she shook her head. “No, not Brussels sprouts! I hate those, icky!”
“Me too,” he said. “Nasty things. I just wonder if the chocolate would improve them.” When she shook her head violently indicating that no, chocolate covered Brussels sprouts would not be an improvement, he smiled. “You’re right, it would be a terrible waste of good chocolate.”
“Yes,” she agreed, nodding as well. “But we can dip other stuff.”
“Why not?” It seemed a shame to waste all that chocolate, and they were out of bananas.
They went through the kitchen, finding all sorts of things and dipping them into the chocolate. They agreed marshmallows, biscuits, strawberries, and bananas were great things to dip in chocolate, apples and grapes weren't quite as good, and bread or cereal flakes weren't helped at all.
When she finally declared she was full, the Doctor noticed her eyes were looking bright as stars and she was squirming and fidgeting in the chair. “Are you all right?” he asked, wondering if perhaps she’d eaten too much.
“Yes,” she told him. “Wanna play now.”
“Err, I’d think after all that food, you’d want to take a nap,” he suggested.
Her eyes narrowed and became twin pools of fire. “NO NAP!” she screeched. “NO!”
He had a feeling that if he argued the point, she’d end up going on a complete rampage. “All right then,” he said, trying to quell the storm. “No nap for Princess. What do you want to do?”
“Play!” She wriggled out of her chair and ran out of the kitchen. “I hide, you find me!”
He figured this would be easy, she was just a child, after all, she’d probably find a few obvious places to hide, then probably get tired and curl up for a nap on her own. He was soon to realize that if someone on earth could just figure out a way to harness the energy Princess produced, they could have a source of power for the whole of Europe. She kept him running for what seemed like hours, first playing her version of hide-and-go-seek, which meant he was always the finder and she the hider. When she bored with that, she found various other amusements she wanted to indulge in, most of them involving her doing a lot of running and him doing a lot of chasing.
Just when he felt as if he was going to pass out, she stopped dead in her tracks, and turned to face him. “Let’s do bubbles!” she declared.
“Bubbles?” he asked, having not a clue, but hoping that bubbles involved being quiet and still.
“Bubbles!” She took his hand and lead him into her room. “C’mon we gotta get the magic stuff.”
“Bubbles” turned out to involve some type of liquid and a wand that had a loop at both ends. The principle was simple, dip the wand into the liquid, blow through the loop, and bubbles came floating out. “This must be some type of soap,” he said, staring at the bright pink liquid.
“It’s bubble magic,” Princess stubbornly insisted.
“Yes, that’s right.” By now he knew better than to argue, besides, it did make bubbles, so in a way Princess was right. “But, I’m not sure we should be doing this inside.”
“I do bubbles on the porch,” she informed him.
He figured that was pretty safe. The place didn’t really have a porch but there was an open hallway outside the door with a rail to keep Princess from falling off the edge. He extracted a promise from Princess not to run off, but to stay close by. Since she was more interested in bubbles than running, she agreed.
It was dusk when they started making bubbles and after a bit the street lights came on, which made the bubbles look almost like floating bits of glass as she released them from the wand. She would release a few bubbles, then stop and watch them floating lazily. When they had all vanished or popped, she would dip the wand again. He leaned against the building, glad she’d found something a bit more sedate to occupy her.
As it grew darker, he noticed she had stopped making bubbles, but was still looking out the balcony, looking up into the night sky. “Do you see something?” he asked her.
She nodded. “Stars,” she said, her voice suddenly sounding much quieter than it had been. “Lotsa’ stars.”
He came over and looked up. It was a clear night and even though they were in the city, several stars could be seen. “You like to look at the stars?” he asked her.
She nodded, not taking her gaze away from the sky. “Pretty,” she said. Raising her hand, she pointed to the North star. “See that one?” she asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“That’s my daddy,” she said, her voice lowering to almost a whisper. “Mummy said he had to go to heaven when I was just a baby. Heaven is up in the sky, so when people go to Heaven, they must become stars. Since that star can be seen almost every night, that must be Daddy, cause he wants to watch out for us.”
He could have argued; he could have explained that stars were not the souls of the dearly departed, but just as wonderful in other ways, that they were suns, many offering light and warmth, the keystones to life on other worlds just as the sun she knew did for this planet. He could have taken this opportunity to expand her mind on the nature of the universe.
Instead, he looked up at the sky, trying to see the stars the way she did. He had always loved the stars, they’d always represented the future, the past, creation, destruction, all there was, and all there would ever be. He never thought the were as another way to see them, but through the eyes of science. But, suddenly, he was able to see them the way Princess did, as warm, guardian angels watching out over those still alive. “I’ll bet you’re right,” he said. “He’s probably happy he can keep an eye on you and see what a wonderful little girl you are.”
She never stopped looking at the stars, but a gentle smile played across her lips. “Someday,” she said wistfully.
“Someday what?” he asked.
“Someday I’m gonna go to the stars,” she said, her tone one of both confidence and awe. “I’m gonna go up there an’ see them close up, an’ visit my daddy.”
As she spoke, she reached out her hand, groping blindly until she found his. Tiny fingers curled around his bigger ones He hesitated only briefly, then wrapped her fingers in his.
They watched the stars for a long time, until she started rubbing her eyes and yawning. When he suggested they go back inside, she nodded. Once they got inside, she was more than happy to indulge in more sedate activities and asked if he knew any stories.
You didn’t live as long as he had without knowing a story or two. He told her that yes he did and yes, he’d be happy to tell her one. They sat down on the couch together, her curling up next to him. He barely started the tale, when he noticed she was fast asleep.
Gently, being careful not to wake her, he scooped her up and carried her into her bedroom and placed her on the bed. He removed her shoes and covered her with the bedspread, figuring that her mother could worry about getting her into her PJ's “Sleep well, Princess,” he whispered.
As he left the room, he could hear the door from the outside opening. Heading into the living room, he saw Princess’s mother coming in. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “Sorry I was a little late, but I had a couple stubborn customers that thought an announcement saying shop closing in fifteen minutes meant time to do a months worth of shopping and it took forever to get them out of the place. I hope she wasn’t a bother.”
“She was no trouble at all,” he assured her.
“Good.” She held out some money. “Well, here you go, thank you so much, you were a total lifesaver.”
Not quite sure what was the proper thing to do, he accepted the money and asked if he could wash his hands before he left. She agreed as she sat down on the sofa, looking tired.
He went back to the closet where the TARDIS was hidden. Just as he was about to go inside, he stopped and instead headed into Princess’s room. When he’d been there earlier, he’d noticed a tablet of paper and some crayons. He located them again and scribbled a note.
When he finally did make it back to the TARDIS, K-9 asked him if everything was all right.
“Yes, everything’s fine,” he assured his mechanical companion. “One of the more interesting rescue missions I’ve been sent to, I have to admit.”
“What was the emergency?” K-9 inquired.
“Uhm, I had to watch out for a little girl,” he confessed. “Her mother had to work and there was no one else to watch her.” He was relieved his companion was a machine rather than one of his more traditional companions. Had this been one of them, they would probably start giggling at the thought of him babysitting. “Interesting little girl,” he said thoughtfully.
“Do you think you’ll ever see her again?” K-9 asked him.
He thought for a moment, then smiled. “I can’t say for sure, but I rather hope I do.”
It was almost half an hour before Jackie realized the baby sitter had somehow managed to sneak past her and leave. Odd, considering she had been sitting where he’d have to pass in order to leave, but she’d been so tired, she had closed her eyes for a moment, maybe he’d thought she was asleep and let himself out quietly. It was either that, or he had managed to vanish into thin air and she knew that wasn’t the case.
She got out of the chair trying to ignore her tired legs and headed out of the living room. As she passed the answering machine, she saw the light flashing, indicating she had a message. She decided to check on her daughter first.
The child was sound asleep, two fingers in her mouth, a contented expression on her face. Rose had been in such a snit when she’d left, Jackie was worried she might be a holy terror for Grace’s nephew, but it seems that things went well. The only thing that was off about the child was that she was still in her play clothes. Jackie stripped her out of those and got her in her nightclothes. The child stayed asleep until the very end, when she opened her eyes and smiled. “Mummy, you’re home.”
“Yes, darling,” Jackie said as she tucked her under the covers. “Did you have fun today?”
Rose nodded, her eyes already closing, ready to drift off again. “I like Mr. Scarf, he’s fun,” she managed to say before sleep claimed her again.
Jackie smiled at the child’s nickname for her babysitter. Wait until she told Grace that Rose had nicknamed her nephew, “Mr. Scarf.” That should be good for a laugh or two.
As she was leaving the room, she saw a folded piece of paper on the dresser by the door. It was labeled, “Princess’s Mother” in bold, red, crayon. Curious, she picked it up and left the room so she could examine it under better light than a simple child’s night light.
The paper was folded around the money she’d given “Mr. Scarf” for babysitting and there was a short note:
Please use this money for Princesses birthday. I might suggest a telescope, if they have any that can be operated by a child as young as her. She seems to be quite interested in the stars and I think you should encourage that trait. If not, perhaps some extra “bubble magic.”