Author's Notes:
Originally published December 25, 2021, on AO3.

"She said she was coming," said the Doctor mournfully, pacing around the console room. "She asked me to wait for her."

"I'm sure she'll be here in a minute," said Ace for the hundredth time.

"She said she would hurry."

"You are the most impatient time machine owner I've ever known," said Ace.

"I will wait for her," he sighed. "Even if it takes centuries."

"Professor, it's been ten minutes," she replied. "She's probably just picking out a silly hat."

He frowned, seemingly on the point of answering her, when the door opened. "Romana!" he cried, suddenly delighted at the sight of her. "You look beautiful," he added, wide-eyed, as Ace rolled her eyes fondly.

"So where are we going?" Romana asked as the Doctor fussed over coordinates, which Ace thought was quite a touching sign of her faith in him. Personally, she liked to get her answers before he even touched the console.

"Cambridge," he said briefly.

Since she'd used a Gallifreyan word that meant both "where" and "when," this was a particularly incomplete answer, but she just said, "Oh, I like Cambridge," and waited.

"1918," he added with a smile.

"Am I dressed quite correctly?" she asked, smoothing her long skirt. Having been warned to expect cold weather and Edwardians, she'd selected a graceful flame-colored gown and what appeared to be a fur coat and hat—although Ace was morally certain it had never been on a mink, especially as the Doctor didn't seem to object to it. No, judging by the way he was looking at Romana, he didn't object to any of it at all.

"Quite," the Doctor answered. "On the one hand, estimating the price of the ensemble, you don't look as if I could even keep you in bootlaces; on the other hand, perhaps you're independently wealthy and you married me for my charm and good looks." The Doctor, of course, had refused to dress the part, or in fact to do anything to his appearance beyond attempting to brush his hair.

"More likely your impudence," she said fondly. Get a room, Ace mouthed. But then the TARDIS landed with its cosmic wheezing sound, and Romana took the Doctor's arm as they swept out the door, Ace in tow.

"Ace thinks it's Christmas eve, you see," he was explaining, and she broke in.

"It's not like I have some, like, mystical Christmas sense," she said. "I'm not even that into Christmas. But I counted, and it's been 364 days for me since we were last on a December 25. Remember, Professor? With those three-armed things, and you tried to convince them to have a Christmas truce but it turned out the only Earth holidays they recognized were Lunar New Year and the August Bank Holiday."

"So," he concluded, "that's why I thought we should celebrate." He put one arm around Ace's shoulders and the other around Romana's waist. "Take my favorite ladies to my favorite planet."

"And specifically," said Ace, who had been told this already and was getting impatient, "the beginning of the famous Christmas eve service at King's College. Like on the radio."

"Ah," said Romana.

They found a seat near the back as the organist played his prelude. The music was vaguely familiar to Ace, and she subconsciously hummed along under her breath as the Doctor and Romana kept whispering in each other's ears.

"Stop taking notes," he told her. "I can tell by your expression that you are."

"I'm being interested," she said.

"You can do sociology later."

"It's xenoanthropology."

"You can do it later. Listen to the music."

"I am listening," she said.

But he didn't follow his own advice, for his eyes kept darting over the congregation, and he was soon whispering to her again. "Imagine for a moment we belong here," he said. "Mr and Mrs Smith. I'm a Cambridge scientist. I'm terribly excited about Noether's theorem this year."

"I write books," she said, playing along, "and try to make the university take me seriously. I'm an historian, probably."

"We live a few streets over, and our niece is visiting us for Christmas," he said.

"Statistically," she said, "we probably lost someone in the war." They could certainly see enough black armbands in the congregation.

He frowned. "All of my imaginary relatives are conscientious objectors."

Before they could get any more morbid, Ace poked the Doctor in the ribs. "Shh, you two," she whispered. "They're starting."

"That was beautiful," said Ace afterwards. Actually it was far from her style of music, but that was the sort of thing you said. And she was in an extra good mood because the Doctor had produced a flask of hot cocoa from his improbable pockets, so that while they were standing around outdoors rather than in any civilized place, at least they were reasonably warm. With chocolate.

"Do they really think anything will change?" said Romana thoughtfully.

"Because of the carol service? Well, the Dean hopes it will draw people back into the Church after the trauma of the war," said the Doctor. "Because of Christmas? Well..."

"Not necessarily," said Ace. "But that's not the point."

"That's right," said the Doctor. "It's about belief—faith, if you will. Believing in something better."

There was a pause, and then: "Not that either," said Ace. "I don't believe in anything much—not anything religious, I mean—but the service still, you know, sort of got to me. I figure it's more about hope."

The two Time Lords looked at her, Romana attentively, the Doctor with a question in his eyes.

"Belief comes from inside you, right? You have to bring it with you, and none of us three did. But there was still something there. We felt it, along with everybody else in there." She sipped her cocoa. "I think it must be hope. Not just hope that things will be better, but hope that maybe, in spite of all the evidence, someone Up There cares about us."

Romana nodded, once, slowly. Ace went on. "Like I said, I was never into the stuff about cute ickle wickle baby Jesus. But 'with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth,' and 'they shall not hurt or destroy'," she quoted from the service—"if I was ever gonna be religious, that's what I'd be into. Not that people mostly think about this on Christmas, unless they're really churchy, but if you want to do your anthropology, that's the origin of it, isn't it? And that's what they were saying, in that service. That God cares about people enough to get involved personally. And I think that'd have to mean fixing the things we can't ever seem to fix. Even those of us with time machines," she said, slightly abashed to realize how impassioned she'd gotten. "Anyway, maybe that's what we felt, even just imagining for a moment that it's true."

"There are more things in heaven and earth," said the Doctor abstractedly. Romana didn't say anything, but she looked like she was thinking very hard. Ace hoped she was thinking something other than 'gosh, humans are stupid.' But then she smiled and said, "It's certainly much nicer than trying to be your own omnipotent deity," in the tone of voice that Ace knew meant she was complaining about Time Lords.

"Oh, don't worry, we've tried that one too," said Ace. "Although with even less success."

"Now let's take a walk," said Romana briskly, taking the Doctor's hand. "I was far too busy for sightseeing when we were here last."