Doctor Who: A Legendary Gift (Part 1 of 3)

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Doctor Who: A Legendary Gift (Part 1 of 3)

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NOTE: The Doctor in this story is the same "Unbound" Doctor featured in the Fifth Doctor's K3 chapter, as well as a few solo stories (including "The Doctor vs. Dracula"). Just wanted to clarify.
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“...and do be careful with the boxes, Emily! Those decorations have been in our family for generations!”

“And they'll still be here after this Christmas, Mum. I promise.”

Emily Grace Quinn sighed as she ascended the stairs to the loft of her parents' flat. Coming home from Uni for Christmas was something she'd looked forward to—except it's more than just Uni, she reminded herself, giggling at the thought. It had been....two, maybe three years since that faithful day at Trinity Leeds, and she still couldn't quite wrap her brain around all the ways her life had changed.....

Focus, Emily. You can always reminisce later.

The tradition of returning to her parents' flat for Christmas had been a cherished one for Emily, but every year there seemed to be some new kind of “drama” waiting for her. Last year, it had been the boiling-over of simmering tensions between her cousin's spouse and the entire rest of the family; the year before that, one of her uncles on Mum's side of the family had landed in a spat with one on Dad's side, which led to a fight on the front lawn. A year prior to that, a friend of her sister's had brought over friends of her own, one of whom turned out to be a kleptomaniac...

“At least it's never been as bad as the soaps.” Again, Emily giggled—soap operas always had a tendency to dial up the misery, come Christmas. Characters would die, couples would break up, and every so often a Christmas party would get blown up by a freak lawnmower accident. It was almost comical, in a weird way.

Just like always—or “as sure as eggs is eggs”, as her Gran used to say—Emily found the boxes loaded up with Christmas decorations in the far right corner of the loft. With a nod, she set to work moving them out of the way: biggest one first, as was “tradition”, then the long one, then the one that looked big enough to hold a violin case....the order she'd move the boxes in was almost a routine in and of itself, but one that she found comforting in its familiarity. Smaller boxes go right over there, then the two square boxes.....

Just as the last box was moved from its usual resting place, Emily stopped. Something seemed to be....glinting, just under the floor.

“...that's odd.” Emily frowned; in all the time's she'd been in the loft, she'd never spotted this before. “What is it....”

Carefully, she tried the floorboard just over the glint. Her eyes widened as it moved away with ease..almost like it'd been left that way on purpose, just for her to find. The boards around it were similarly lose, and she found that none of them were nailed in or secured in such a way that whatever that glint was couldn't be accessed. Within minutes, a stack of floorboards had piled up next to the boxes of decorations....

….and in the gap they'd lain over, Emily saw.

The glint had come from wrapping paper—gold foil, as bright and shining as the day it'd been purchased. Green, red and silver also gave off the faintest sparkles behind it—someone had put a cache of gifts up in the loft, at some point, only to forget about them. A feeling of guilt overcame Emily in that moment—had one of her parents hidden the gifts up here to surprise her with them later? She shook her head, feeling a bit foolish as she went to set the floorboards back in place....but something caught her eye. The label of the gold-wrapped box was plainly visible—and also plainly blank. No “To”, no “From”. Quick examinations of the other boxes revealed their labels to be blank as well.

Even stranger, despite the dust all around them, none of the gifts had a single particle of the stuff on them at all.

“This is too weird....” Emily shook her head at the sight, carefully replacing the floorboards. There was no way to tell what was in each box, and she didn't feel like shaking them all.

Besides, the rest of the house wasn't going to decorate itself....
----------------------------
“....you're positive that she won't mind us just showing up?”

Even as he adjusted his coat collar in the reflection of the monitor before him, the Doctor grinned. “Seeing as how I'm not a twelve-foot tall, two-headed green abomination with dripping fangs and a slavering maw, I'm pretty sure the both of us will be more than welcome to partake in the Christmas party at the Quinn house.” He retrieved a comb from his pocket with a flourish, straightening his hair and nodding. “Besides,” he continued, never looking away from the monitor as he spoke, “if anyone asks, we have a perfectly legitimate reason for being there—or at least I do.”

“And I don't.” Hannah Barnes rolled her eyes at the Time Lord's flippancy. “You can just pass yourself off as a professor or a scholar or something...maybe even a carny—”

“Been all three before,” the Doctor admitted, cleaning his glasses lenses. “Had just as much fun with all three jobs, too.”

“And can any of them explain why you're traveling with a college student from 2026?” Hannah inquired, planting her hands on her hips.

Now, the Doctor did turn around, arching his eyebrow. Hannah—and her two friends/classmates, Derrick Blake and Alysha Reyes—had met him during a class trip on their senior year of high school, at a castle with a bloody history, a full dozen or so “ghosts” and enough secrets to fill a crime novel, and had been rescued plenty of situations and scrapes since then. Being from 2026, the only conspicuous thing about them was their fashion sense....though, in Hannah's case, there was also the small matter of medial grade implants to replace her failing eyes, boost her hearing, make up for withered limbs and bolster her remaining organic muscles, as the result of a degenerative condition that conventional medicine had no hope of reversing. None of her “augmentations” were obvious enough to draw scrutiny in the past, but should anyone catch her “plugging in” or (in the worst case scenario) having to repair them....

“....Doctor?”

Hannah's question snapped the Time Lord out of his funk. “Sorry. I was just wondering....”

“Yes, everything's fully charged.” Hannah shifted one hand away from her hip—the subtle whirring of her prosthetic left arm barely audible to anyone without her own enhanced hearing (or the keen senses of a Time Lord). “Everything can be set to run in Natural mode, too, so I won't sound like a toy robot every time I move.”

“And we can both be lucky your hair is still a natural blonde,” the Doctor replied, nodding as he turned away. “Unlike some people....”

“I told Alysha it was a bad idea to use color-changing dye!” Hannah insisted. “She said it'd be fine as long as we didn't go anywhere cold....I mean, she couldn't have planned for what happened!”

The Doctor actually chuckled. “To be fair, the name 'Ice Warriors' should've given it away...in any case, it's in the past, and no harm was done—though I suggest you remind her, for future reference, that she stick to natural hair colors for travels to any decade before the 2010s.” He circled around the console, flicking a few switches. “Granted, she made up for the folical faux pas by figuring out a decryption code that had UNIT's finest stumped, so all credit to her for that...”

“I still don't get why we both have to go. I mean, it's not that I have anything against Emily—”

“She'd think the world of it if you showed up to partake in the Christmas festivities,” the Doctor explained. “Personally, I've always found the whole pomp and circumstance of how the British celebrate Christmas to be....fascinating. Nothing against how they handle things in the States, but....” He grinned. “And I'm not just saying that because the Christmas dinners tend to be massive there.”

“Don't they celebrate on your planet?” Hannah inquired.

“.....we have somewhat different holidays on Gallifrey,” the Doctor admitted. “And believe me, a few Time Lords don't feel like there are any worth celebrating. Aside from that, if we headed back there, I have a feeling I'd either be hauled in for questioning or asked to run for office.” He rolled his eyes at the thought. “I'd much rather spend the lead-in to Christmas celebrating with a near-and-dear friend, if it's all the same to you.”

Hannah shrugged. “Can't argue with that.”

“While we're on the subject,” the Doctor mused, checking a few switches on one panel of the central console, “what's the fondest Christmas memory you can recall?”

“In terms of gifts, or my overall situation?”

“Either/or.” The Doctor tilted his hand slightly from side to side.

Hannah nodded. “The year after my first procedure—the first time I got out of hospital with new eyes and a new arm. It was....” A grin flitted across her lips for the briefest moment. “The front yard looked like a Christmas card come to life, Doctor. Snow everywhere, the light on in the windows to show off the Christmas tree....and it only got better when I got back inside. The spread for our Christmas dinner was amazing. And the presents, of course...” She shook her head, a sigh leaving her lips. “The whole day, I never once thought about the pain I'd been in for months before, or how scared I was that something might go wrong on the operating table. Nobody brought up my 'condition' just to mention it, either, until I was ready to talk about it that night....”

“The old Christmas magic,” the Doctor mused, nodding. “A veritable balm of Gilead, if only for once a year. It's a pity we've never had anything like it back on Gallifrey.”

“So nobody on....Gallifrey...ever celebrates anything?” Hannah inquired, striding over to the console.

“Oh, Time Lords celebrate their graduation from the Academy,” the Doctor admitted. “Used to be, the newly -appointed would go off on a quick jaunt to some backwater world for an interesting souvenier, or go off to some grand historical party and trying to pass incognito as a native.” He gave a mirthless chuckle. “Granted, after that one incident at Roanoke Island, the Academy made it clear that all 'off-planet' celebrations were to be non-temporal in nature.”

Hannah's eyes widened. “....a Time Lord was at Roanoke Island?”

“...told him not to bring non-native technology, I'd said it a dozen times, but he just didn't....” The Doctor stopped, in the middle of his tirade, and sighed. “To put it simply, there's a very good reason why time travelers of all walks are asked, if not ordered, to leave any and all advanced technology behind if they're traveling to the past, even if it's just for a 'quick jaunt'.” He shook his head. “Several good reasons, to be honest...but that's another story.”

“So we're going to the party, then.”

“.....yes, Hannah, we're definitely going to the party.” The Doctor pressed a few buttons on one panel of the console, threw a switch on another and nodded. “It'll definitely be a break from what we've been going through.”

“That incident on Tetran was pretty crazy,” Hannah conceded. “Not to mention what happened at the hospital....”

“Indeed.” The Doctor threw a large lever on another console panel, grinning as the familiar VWROP, VWROP sound filled the console room. “But that's in the past—well, your past, at least.”

“Can we not have a lecture on the grammatical issues of time travel right now?” Hannah couldn't help but laugh.

The Doctor threw another switch. “Before a Christmas party? Perish the thought.....”
----------------------------
Predictably, nobody downstairs mentioned the apparently hidden cache of gifts while helping Emily to decorate the house; her father, as per usual, was complaining about the cyclical rerun of Police, Camera, Action! (as he did every Christmas), while her mother was cheerfully bustling from room to room, helping with the cooking (Emily's cousins had shown up two weeks prior for “various activities” around town, and chipped in at the flat when they weren't busy elsewhere) and the decorating in equal measure. Her paternal grandfather and one of her uncles were supervising the nephews and neices (five, in total, though more would arrive at the flat in the coming days) as they added decoratiosn to the Christmas tree—and, of course, telling the youngest of the bunch not to climb the thing.

The thought occurred to Emily, as she took in the sights, sounds and smells around her, that the gift cache in the loft had been forgotten for ages....except forgotten gifts weren't usually wrapped in such bright, pristine paper and ribbons, were they? Nor would such a cache be left with no names on the tags.....

“....and I'm not going to drive half of you to hospital just because one of you felt like playing 'Forest Ranger' on the tree only to fall off and land on the rest!” Emily's Uncle Sean shook his head, frowning as he glanced back over his shoulder at his nephews and neices. “I'd swear they got into the Buck's Fizz, the way they're acting...you didn't see any of them sneak a sip, did you, Emily?”

“Hmm? Oh, sorry....I don't think they did, no....”

Sean arched an eyebrow. “I know that tone....something's on your mind, isn't it?”

“Not really....well, apart from—”

Emily's phone rang, prompting a groan. “Rain check....” She rolled her eyes, ignoring her uncle's shrug as she retreated for a quieter part of the house (the few cousins who weren't helping out in the kitchen were in another room, belting out Christmas songs at the top of their lungs). “Emily here.”

Well, I'm hoping you'd be there, answering your own phone, otherwise this conversation would get very awkward....”

The sarcasm in the Doctor's voice quickly lifted Emily out of her funk. “Doctor?! Why are you calling my mobile?”

Oh, just to see if you couldn't spare a bit of room at the flat for two extra guests for the ongoing Christmas festivities.”

Any question of who the second “guest” would be faded from Emily's thoughts as Hannah Barnes' voice piped up in the background: “And can we not land in the city center next time?!

I keep telling you, Hannah, nobody's going to notice this thing even if a spotlight's shone on it....”

“And you both want to just...show up here, for the party?” Emily was both surprised and delighted at the prospect; while she did appreciate the company of her family, it'd definitely be an interesting change of pace for the Doctor to be a part of the Christmas party. “I mean, I thought you'd have more to do than just visit me here in Swindon...y'know, traveling the universe, saving planets, all that stuff.”

Even I need a break every once in a while. Having two hearts doesn't give me infinite stamina, or anything like that.”

Emily nodded, hoping that the Doctor wasn't using a public phone to call her. “We'll meet in the city center, then?”

Unless you'd prefer that Hannah and I meet you at your flat.”

“....I think we'd be better off meeting in town. Just in case.”

Perfectly understandable.....”
----------------------------
“....and Hannah doesn't have a problem with it either.” The Doctor nodded, not caring that Emily wouldn't actually see the gesture. “See you in a bit!”

Bye for now, Doctor!

The Time Lord ended the call, glancing around the city center as he returned what looked like an ornate fob watch to his pocket. “Nobody was watching us over the last few minutes, were they?”

“Not a soul.” Hannah sighed. “Two guys across the street looked 'interested' when you pulled out the watch, but as soon as you started talking into it...” She rolled her eyes at the thought. “I guess they thought you were just a random weirdo or something.”

“They'll be picked up for mugging an undercover officer later tonight,” the Doctor casually replied. “Third offense.”

Hannah's eyes widened, a barely-perceptible whir accompaning the lens apertures dilating. “You can't know that.”

The Doctor gave a noncommital shrug. “It's less about 'knowing' things and more about probability and averages, to be perfectly honest with you They probably would've tried to 'bump into' me and pick my pockets for the watch on the way out of here if I hadn't started talking into it....” He chuckled. “A bit of enforced eccentricity can do a world of good in certain situations.”

“Reminds me of the time my brother asked my aunt and uncle for Christmas money early,” Hannah mused, “and then told Mom that he was asking them to sell him a square of land—a foot long on each side. She believed him, too.”

The Doctor regarded her with an arched eyebrow. “A square of land?”

“He apparently thought it was the kind of thing she'd expect him to say....which it apparently was.”

“As long as he didn't get into too much trouble for it...”

The pair decided to stroll around the area for a bit, taking in the sights. Christmas itself was actually still four or so days away; the Doctor had initially considered spending all of December in Swindon, but various incidents, reports and hints of trouble on distant worlds had forced him to keep an active schedule through the majority of the month. Thankfully, his various allies had helped him stay on top of the various crises that would need his immediate attention; River Song, in particular, had pointed him towards potential Dalek aggression threatening a human colony on the moon in 2162 which had taken almost the entire first week of the month to deal with.

“...I wonder.....”

The Doctor's muttering caught Hannah's attention. “Wonder what?”

“There's an escape room here in Swindon. 'Incarceration' or something like that....I wonder if it's open right now.”

Hannah nearly tripped over her own feet. “You're asking about an escape room, in December?”

“I've never heard about seasonal restrictions on escape rooms,” the Doctor admitted. “Of course, Christmas wouldn't be the ideal time for such things....” He started to shrug again, thought better of it and decided instead to button his coat in an effort to fight off the wind chill. “Might want to zip your jacket, Hannah...wouldn't want to catch cold out here.”

“A cold's not going to knock me off my feet, Doctor. My implants—”

“Are astounding, yes, but they don't make you invincible. Last thing you need is a cold to tank your immune system.”

Despite herself, Hannah nodded, zipping her jacket up to the neckline. “Better?”

“Much. I should've brought a scarf out here, now that I think about it....” The Doctor pondered the notion for a bit. “Eh, I don't really know if I have a scarf that'd work with this particular ensemble...and you can stop giggling, Hannah.”

“So what are we actually going to do at the party, Doctor?”

“Interact and observe. Simple as that. As I've previously mentioned, I find British Christmas celebratory customs to be quite fascinating...and, of course, the opportunity to join in the festivities with Emily and her family is one that I couldn't pass up.” The Doctor grinned as he beheld the sights and sounds of Swindon. “If they ask either of us, I'm a professor of anthropology and you're a student of mine from the States.”

“Making up an alibi for visiting a Christmas party is...a bit weird, Doctor,” Hannah mused.

“Alibis are for the guilty. I'd rather say I'm a professor of anthropology than a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, located in the constellation of Kasterborous at galactic coordinates 10-0-11-00:02 from Galactic Zero Center....and I'm pretty sure you can tell which one would be easier for them to digest.”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Right, right....and I'm your 'student' because....”

“'Student' rolls off the tongue a lot easier than 'fellow time-traveller'.”

“Ha ha ha....”

After a few minutes of aimless wandering, the Doctor retrieved the fob watch from his pocket. “....and that'll be Emily,” he stated, tapping the surface of the watch. “Yes?”

“Everything at the flat is calm, Doctor. I'll be 'round in a bit to pick you and Hannah up....where are you, by the way?”

“A park....I, ah, don't know which one, there's not a sign anywhere around....” The Time Lord frowned. “I seem to have allowed Hannah and myself to wander aimlessly enough to....” He snapped his fingers. “Actually, I've got just the thing to help.” He tapped another part of the fob watch's screen, nodding.

“....my phone just lit up....you're on the GPS, now!”

“And I'm assuming you won't have any problem directing your current ride to our location?”

“I'm driving—and the phone is on hands-free, just so you know.”

“Glad to hear it.” The Doctor grinned. “Again, see you in a bit!” He tapped the phone's screen, ending the call with a nod. “Well, we'll be on our way to Emily's soon enough...” He clapped his hands together, the excited gleam in his eye almost making him seem like the proverbial kid on Christmas morning. “A few days of taking a break from travelling the stars and tripping through time....all I could ever ask for, really, especially at this time of the year.”

“And if something comes up that requires your attention?”

“I've got friends who can handle it. If something really sketchy happens, the Time Lords will intervene....hopefully, it won't come to that.” The Doctor sighed. “In any case....” His grin returned. “There's Emily's car!”

“I never thought someone hundreds of years old would be so excited about Christmas,” Hannah mused.

The Doctor shrugged. “What's the point of being grown up if you can't be a bit childish sometimes, eh?”
----------------------------
“...so you're my professor from the States, and Hannah's a fellow student on holiday.” Emily regarded the Doctor and Hannah taking their seats in the rear of the car, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at the Doctor's “backstory” for them being in Swindon. “That's....actually not as weird an excuse as I thought you'd make up, to be honest.”

“You expected me to say I'm your boyfriend?” the Doctor replied, feigning offense. Hannah immediately giggled at his overly-dramatic tone.

“I dunno what I expected, to be honest....” Emily couldn't help but chuckle. “I guess I thought your explanation would be a bit less...mundane than being a professor.” She checked to make sure that the Doctor and Hannah had fastened their seatbelts before starting the car. “....an archaeologist, maybe, or a physicist.”

“With you as my apprentice?”

Emily rolled her eyes. “....right, right, you've made your point...also, while we're on the subject...”

“You're still wondering why I've chosen to take a break from my usual 'rounds' and pay a visit to Swindon?” the Doctor mused; he didn't sound offended by Emily's curiosity, merely intrigued.

“...that's pretty much it, actually.”

“Two things. First off, it'd be my honor and privilege to celebrate Christmas with you. Secondly...and please feel free to not say that you think I'm a raving loony for this part....I find the customs used by the British in celebrating Christmas particularly fascinating.” The Doctor's tone was casual and sincere, as if he didn't have any problem admitting that he found British Christmas celebratory customs to be interesting.

Emily found herself regarding the Time Lord with an arched eyebrow, via the rear-view mirror. “You find our Christmas customs....interesting.”

“Gallifreyans and Time Lords don't exactly have a Christmas equivalent,” the Doctor admitted. “We do have celebrations for the 'Pillars of Our Society'....” He rolled his eyes at the title. “....granted, a few of the more progressive Time Lords in power are of the mind that not everything the Founding Three did was worth celebrating, and as such should probably be phased out....” A dark muttering of something that sounded vaguely like “the Game” left his lips, and he stared out the window of the car for a moment, looking uncharacteristically sullen....but just as quickly, the moment passed, and he sighed. “In any case, I do in fact find Christmas a fascinating holiday, and out of every culture and civilization on this planet, the British take on it captures my interest the most.”

“....I guess I could take that as a compliment,” Emily mused. “And Hannah doesn't have a problem with you not being interested in how they celebrate Christmas in the States?”

“Believe me,” Hannah replied, “if I never have to hear another lecture on why 'Happy Holidays' is a valid substitute for 'Merry Christmas', I'll be happy. Commercials especially love throwing that phrase around...and don't get me started on the argument for changing 'Christmas tree' to 'Holiday tree'.” She groaned at the thought.

“'Holiday tree' would translate to 'vacation tree' here,” Emily mused, unable to keep herself from giggling.

“Eh, nothing wrong with a vacation tree,” the Doctor replied, grinning. “Granted, it's not the kind of decoration that'd be consdidered in the spirit of Christmas...unless you're an ex-pat, but that's a story for another—” Something clinked against his shoe, stopping his train of thought mid-sentence. “.....wine?”

“It's for the mulled wine,” Emily explained, her eyes never leaving the road. “Dad wants to go carolling tonight.”

Hannah and the Doctor exchanged glances. “Carolling? In this weather?”

“Everyone will have coats,” Emily sighed. “It'd be great if it actually snowed this time....and please don't 'rig' things so that it does, Doctor.”

“Can you even do that?” Hannah murmured, giving the Time Lord an awed look.

“Long story, I'll explain later.” With a wink, the Doctor turned his attention back to Emily. “Wouldn't dream of it.”

In the grand tradition of Christmas song lyrics, the street lights did indeed blink a bright red and green, and lampposts all over Swindon had been decked out with tinsel, ribbons and all other manner of trim. The Doctor merely nodded at each new bit of ornamentation, smiling. “You look like you just got everything you wanted for Christmas,” Hannah noted, somewhat amused.

“Like I said, Gallifrey didn't really have an equivalent celebration to Christmas. This level of cheer and goodwill towards fellow....beings of the same species, I guess, wasn't ever really a factor in things.”

“That sounds utterly abhorrent,” Emily stated, shaking her head.

“I'm probably making it sound worse than it really was,” the Doctor admitted, “but....yeah, it wasn't ideal.”

After a few more minutes of driving (and impromptu karaoke to a few Christmas tunes on the radio), the trio arrived at Emily's flat. “I think you've met my parents already,” Emily mused, “but just in case, let me handle the introductions.”

“Not a problem.” The Doctor nodded. “Your house, your introduction.....or something along those lines.”

Hannah just rolled her eyes at the Time Lord's turn of phrase.

“...and for the last time, stop trying to climb the sodding tree! If any of you falls on the other....” A tall, dour-looking man with a blonde mustache shook his head, apparently at the attempted tree-climbing anticcs of Emily's cousins. “I'd be amazed if they hadn't taken a dip in the Buck's Fizz,” he muttered. “That, or....” His annoyance faded as he noticed Emily making her way to the door, with the Doctor and Hannah in tow. “I see you've brought friends,” he mused, his frown fading to a grin as he embraced his daughter.

“You've met one of them already,” Emily stated as she broke the hug. “Doctor....”

“Van Richten.” The Doctor stepped forward and shook hands with Emily's father. “Professor of Anthropology. I'm using this Christmas break to study the Christmas celebratory customs of the British—this is Hannah Barnes, a student of mine from the United States.” He gestured to Hannah, who nodded and waved.

“Anthropology....study of human culture and development?”

“Indeed.” The Doctor nodded. “Fascinating subject, if I do say so myself.”

After a few seconds, Emily's father nodded. “I've heard of worse subjects to study....y'know, a mate of mine from work was obsessed with 'swine odor'. Thought our government should actually divert funding from other projects to conduct conclusive research on it...utterly barking mad.” He led the Doctor, Emily and Hannah into the house—stopping only to avoid getting hit by a rugby ball flying past his face. “RIGHT, who threw that?!”

“I'm guessing the 'no ball in the hall' rule went out the window,” Hannah mused, trying not to giggle.

“More like it was never put in place to begin with,” Emily sighed.

The Doctor, meanwhile, was taking in the sights, sounds and smells around him, nodding thoughtfully.

“JOHN!” A woman's voice—high, but not unpleasant—called out from across the flat. “Bertram and Clint are wondering if they can skip the carolling tonight! Something about a prior engagement!”

Emily's father groaned. “We're all going carolling, Elizabeth!” he shouted back, raising his voice only to be heard over the sudden cacophony of noise coming from the TV. “And I'd bet fifteen pounds their 'engagement' is a pub quiz!”

“I get the distinct feeling that we've arrived here in the middle of something,” the Doctor murmured.

“It's nothing serious,” Emily assured him. “They wouldn't skive off for the pub on carolling night.”

“....every year, I tell her....” John (Emily's father) was shaking his head in exasperation. “....anyway, ah, Doctor....you said you're here to study British Christmas customs?”

“....partially for work, partially as a hobby,” the Doctor admitted. “I'll be in Swindon until the 28th or so—I have a hotel room in reserve, as does Hannah—funded by the foreign exchange program, of course.” Hannah quickly nodded her agreement (and reinforcement of the Doctor's story).

John regarded the pair for a moment, then nodded. “Better learning it in person than from a sodding website, I say—”

Another ball was inbound towards the group—specifically, towards John's head; Emily barely had time to utter the words “Look out, Dad!” before the Doctor lunged forward, one hand extended, and caught the ball a mere five inches away from John's skull. “Would've hit you right in the ear,” he explained, casually tossing and catching the ball; the nephew who'd thrown it ran up, apparently thinking that he'd actually beaned John in the head, only to spot the projectile in the Doctor's hand. Hannah nodded to the nephew in question, prompting the Time Lord to regard the awe-struck child.

“I assume this is yours,” he mused, nonchalantly handing the ball back to the boy.

The boy merely nodded, too stunned to reply.

“.....you, ah, might want to try throwing it around outside, where there's less of a chance of it hitting someone in the side of the head,” the Doctor offered. “I mean, yes, it might hit a wall or a window, but those can be fixed. A human skull, on the other hand....”

Again, the boy nodded silently.

The Doctor returned the nod, and John—himself more than a bit surprised at the Doctor's insane reflexes—cleared his throat. “I, ah, think you can run off now, Geoff.” The boy nodded a third time, nearly tripping over his feet as he turned to rejoin the other nieces and nephews in the adjoining room.

“That catch,” Emily declared, “was one in a million.”

“The odds can't have been that high,” the Doctor countered. “I just didn't want John to get a collapsed eardrum or any other nasty side effects from being beaned in the brainpan by a wayward ball.”

(to be continued on January 04, 2020)
Through the darkness of future past
the magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds
Fire....walk with me.

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