Dawn broke over Swindon on Christmas Day, with Hannah emerging into the console room to find that the Doctor had traded in his coat again, this time for one in a rather impressive red and green pattern. He'd also swapped out his dark undershirt for a white one, and even the vest was now adorned with gold snowflakes. “I was going to go with the fractal patterns,” he admitted, “but I figured subtlety would be better.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Let's just get to Emily's before everyone starts opening presents, Doctor...”
John greeted the pair at the door, gesturing them to stay as quiet as possible as they entered. “Pretty sure the whole procedure of opening gifts is the same the world over,” he admitted, his voice barely above a whisper, “so this bit might be somewhat disappointing.”
“Unless everybody gets socks, sweater vests and cellphone payment plans,” the Doctor replied, “I doubt I'll be bored.”
Every adult relative of Emily's was already in the family room, muttering in speculation about what everyone was going to get. The Doctor and Hannah were guided to their seats by John; Emily quickly apologized for not having bought the Doctor anything for Christmas, but he waved aside her concerns. Before he could explain why she needn't have worried, the younger of her relatives filed into the room, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and staring in wonderment at the pile of presents by the ornament-ladden Christmas tree.
“Right,” John declared, “I've worked out an ordering system here, going by middle and first names—”
The kids all surged forward at once into the pile, squealing with delight as they found the wrapped parcels bearing their names. Liz gently nudged John in the side, and he quickly gave up trying to restore any measure of decorum; the rest of the gifts were summarily handed to the older relatives by those closest to the pile (who did their best not to get elbowed in the face by the kids as they opened their presents).
Thankfully, the Doctor's remark about socks, sweater vests and cell payment plans were unfounded—everyone in Emily's family did, in fact, receive a gift that they actually wanted (or, in a few cases, found hilarious). The youngest of the bunch (especially those who'd received foam dart-launching “blasters”) immediately began chasing each other around the room with their newly-acquired toys; Hannah nearly took a suction-cupped dart to the face, and had to use a couch cushion as a makeshift shield. The older relatives settled for thanking each other for the gifts, warning the children not to break anything and trying not trip amidst the wrapping paper and discarded boxes.
“They ever have anything like this on Gallifrey, Doctor?” Hannah quietly asked, grinning.
“Not nearly often enough,” the Doctor quietly admitted—just as Emily gave him a hug. “Like I said earlier,” she stated, “I didn't get you anything....”
“Just traveling with you is a gift in and of itself, Emily. Never forget that.”
Once the general mood of the room had quieted down, Liz requested that a few relatives help with cleanup; the Doctor volunteered to assist in gathering the torn wrapping paper, empty boxes and other detritus without complaint, doing his part to carefully separate any bits of the various toys that may have fallen into the paper and boxes and returning those to their rightful owners.
With the gifts opened, everyone settled in for a morning of Christmas telly—thankfully, nothing on in the morning was as melodramatic as Emmerdale had been the night before, and was in fact far more bearable. “Y'know,” the Doctor stated, leaning over to whisper to Hannah, “these are a lot less goofy than the Cloverdale special.”
“Pretty sure that's by design, Doctor.”
“I'd hope so....”
Three hours later, Liz declared that “the dining room is ready”, informing everyone that the substantial Christmas dinner was about to be served. “I hope you haven't had any big meals before you got here, Doctor,” Emily mused.
“A light breakfast in the TARDIS,” the Time Lord quietly replied.
“Good call.” Emily grinned. “Also, Hannah, we're having sprouts, so....”
Once the pre-meal prayers had been said, and John had thanked everyone for being there for Christmas, it was time for the “feast” (which very well may have qualified as one, given the quantities of food available) began. Turkey, as dictated by familial tradition, was the main course, offered up alongside beef, pork, pigs in blankets and, courtesy of Bertram, a Beef Wellington. The countertops were ladden with side-offerings of rost poatoes, roast parsnips, the Brussels sprouts Emily had previously mentioned, Yorkshire puddings, sausage rolls and mince pies, among plenty of other supermarket-bought “nibbles”.
Emily found it fascinating that, for every time the Doctor politely insisted “I couldn't eat another bite”, he ended up going back and redoubling his efforts to clear his plate. Even more astounding, he never once missed a beat in conversing with those on either side of him at the table (he did, of course, stop to chew his food, seeing as how “a man of his academic standing” had to set a good example for the younger relatives).
“I thought Time Lords only ate those little freeze-dried pill things,” Hannah muttered, nodding at the Doctor.
“He never said they couldn't eat normal food,” Emily reminded her, giggling quietly. “I wonder how he'll react when Mum brings out the pudding....”
By the time the table had been cleared of the lunchtime fare, Liz had cannily turned the lights out. A few of the kids, not accustomed to what was about to occur, groaned and grumbled about it—until Jan emerged from the kitchen with the Christmas pudding set alight, provoking awestruck gasps from the previously-grumbling youngsters and appreciative nods from the older relatives. The Doctor, in particular, went so far as to applaud the presentation. Thus, the “dessert” round of lunch began, with both the pudding and the Christmas cake (which even the Time Lord was able to recognize as fruitcake) passed around the table and enjoyed (for the most part). The Doctor pronounced the pudding “excellent”, and the cake the best he'd ever had.
For the next hour or so, with lunch over and enjoyed, the various relatives discussed things happening in their respective lives or settled in to watch TV (and quote Michael Caine films, for some inexplicable reason). A few of them had imbibed the various alcoholic beverages on-hand, but none were so intoxicated as to fall over each other or themselves, or run into closed doors. The Doctor, of course, had ignored the alcohol entirely, and was in the process of taking notes on how to make a good Christmas pudding when he felt a tug at his sleeve. “Hmm?”
“Ah, Doctor...” Emily nodded to a side room. “Can we, ah...”
With a nod, the Time Lord thanked Liz for sharing the familial recipe with him and followed Emily. “Something wrong?”
“....not 'wrong', as such, but.....” Emily wrung her hands. “A few days go, when I was up in the loft getting out the boxes of decorations....” She leaned in and whispered to him. “Nobody brought them down here for the present-opening bit, and, really, I've never stopped wondering what they're up there for.....who put them there, and why, all that stuff, and I figured, since you and Hannah showed up....well....”
“You want me to see if everything with those particular boxes is copacetic,” the Doctor finished.
The Time Lord nodded. “I don't see why that should be a problem. Lead on, Miss Quinn!”
“....mind your head, Doctor....”
The Doctor ducked just in time to avoid bashing his skull into an overhanging rafter as he followed Emily further into the loft. “And you said they were unlabeled?”
“No 'To', no 'From'. There wasn't even any dust on them!”
At this, the Doctor's lips turned down in a thoughtful frown. “Really....”
By the time he reached the far end of the loft, Emily was already removing the boxes from the space below the floor where she'd first glimpsed them. “The labels don't even look like the names faded, or anything,” she mused, holding up one wrapped in flawless green paper. “They're just...blank!”
“And nobody downstairs has mentioned them at all?” the Doctor inquired.
“Well, I've tried to ask about them, but....” Emily shrugged. “It's weird. Before I could mention them to anyone, they'd get distracted by something else and wander off...” She chuckled. “It's probably just me overthinking things—”
“Or it could be a low-level perception filter.”
The suddenness of the Doctor's remark caught Emily off-guard. “You're not.....you don't think these were....”
“Until I see what's in these parcels, I don't know what to think.” The Doctor retrieved the Sonic Screwdriver from one of his coat pockets; Emily could tell, from the lack of a flourish to the gesture, that he was treating this as something that could potentially be quite serious. Without a word, he pressed the button, holding it down for a moment, before letting it go. “And the scan says.....oh.”
“'Oh', what, Doctor?”
“Be glad you didn't tear into these right away, Emily.” The Doctor nodded to the seemingly-innocuous presents. “What most people would take for common wrapping paper, ribbon and tape....” He nodded at a faintly-visible strip of “tape” on one side of a red-wrapped gift. “Nano-thin security device. Unless the strands are disengaged in the proper manner, whatever's inside is destroyed. Any rip or gash in the 'paper' would've immolated whatever is inside as well.”
“....and untying the ribbon?” Emily quietly asked.
“Haven't figured that one out yet, but I know it sends a signal. And as for those mysterious blank labels.....” The Doctor gestured to Emily. “I'm going to need a hand.”
“....well, what do I—”
“No, I mean, a hand. As in your hand....or at least your thumb.” Noting Emily's confusion, the Doctor sighed. “The label is a biometric scanner, and it'll deactivate the other security measures.”
“What if I'm not the correct recipient?”
“Then I'll try—actually, tell you what.” The Doctor retrieved another parcel, holding it aloft. “I'll take this one, and you can take that one....hopefully, neither of us gets splashed with acid, singed with fire or mind-wiped....not that I really think we'd be in any danger of those kinds of things,” he quickly added. “I wouldn't put you at risk of something like that if I wasn't willing to put myself at risk.”
“.....I'll hold you to that, Doctor.” Emily nodded, preparing to press her thumb to the label on her gift.
“On three, then. One......two......three.”
The Doctor and Emily pressed their thumbs to the labels of their respective parcels—the Doctor braced himself, either for a jolt to his own body or for a scream from Emily.....but after a few seconds, nothing happened. “....right,” he stated, nodding slowly. “Now, we set the boxes down, carefully.....and preferably, with the taped side facing up.”
Emily did as the Doctor suggested, setting the box down on the floor—and then gasped. “Look!”
The parcel she'd set down was, inexplicably, unwrapping itself. The ribbon uncoiled of its own volition, while the tape seemed to lose its grip and allow the paper to “blossom” off of the box within.
“....Doctor,” Emily breathed, “that's.....not an ordinary parcel....”
Indeed, the box under the wrapping paper wasn't the typical cardboard and packing tape one would expect to find. If anything, it looked almost too beautiful to be hidden by wrapping paper—a cube of what appeared to be metal, with clear, crystalline sides. The box the Doctor had set down looked identical, beneath the paper, though the contents of each were unique. Emily's chosen gift contained a small, golden rectangle with three bars—red, blue and green—inlaid in the upper right-hand corner; the Doctor's gift, meanwhile, held a golden sphere the size of a regulation baseball, with gems of red, blue and green inlaid into its surface (as well as a few purple gems).
“.....impossible,” the Time Lord murmured. “This.....this is impossible.....”
“What is it?” Emily regarded the sphere with awe. “Doctor....”
“They said it had been lost,” the Doctor continued, as if he hadn't heard Emily. “All those history lessons at the Academy, all the lectures....” He gently lifted the box, turning it around carefully in his hands. “....Emily, this device, this artifact, is nothing short of an item of Time Lord legend.” He sighed. “I've explained before how the TARDIS is capable of moving through time and space, right?”
“.....yeah,” Emily hesitantly replied. “So you're saying that thing is...what, a miniature TARDIS?”
“Not quite.” The Doctor turned the box again. “It's been said that the founding fathers of Time Lord society created a prototype, a device that could be implanted in someone to allow for personalized time travel, without a TARDIS....it was tested, successfully, but they determined the risk was too great to mass-produce it. If a Time Lord were captured, for instance, and examined.....” Another sigh punctuated his sentence. “The Sphere was among the items meant for display in the Lord President's office in perpetuity, but at some point before I attended the Academy, it just disappeared.”
“So we need to bring it back to Gallifrey, then?” Emily mused.
To her surprise, the Doctor shook his head. “It's been considered lost for ages. Any Time Lord who just walked in with it would be questioned...interrogated, really, as would their associates.” He turned to regard Emily with concern. “Believe me when I say that I'd never want your family to get dragged into Time Lord politics,” he informed her. “I don't know how they ended up with such a legendary gift hidden under the floor in the loft....but we can't just take it out of here and return it to Gallifrey.” He turned his focus back to the sphere, frowning thoughtfully. “It feels like....this was meant to be here. Someone had a purpose for putting it here, and we only found it by chance.”
“And this?” Emily gestured to the gift she'd selected.
“.....I don't know. Just from appearances, it looks like it was meant to compliment the Sphere....but none of the lectures ever said anything about a device like it.” He went to retrieve the Sonic Screwdriver from his pocket, only to pause.
“There's something under those gifts.” The Time Lord nodded to the space under the floor. “Help me move the rest of the parcels out of the way....”
Within a few minutes, the hidden parcels had been cleared—and Emily couldn't help but gasp at what was under them.
Hidden under the boxes, inside the floor of the loft, was a chamber just big enough for a humanoid being to lay in while at rest—which made sense, considering that a humanoid being was, in fact, laying inside the chamber. The clear lid, its surface containing a few digital inlays and other readouts, was too frosted to see the figure's face clearly.
“....could be in suspended animation, or possibly an android or gynoid in standby....” The Doctor aimed the Sonic at the lid of the chamber for a moment. “....it's locked. No way to read any other vitals or open it—well, we could open it, but the occupant's well-being may be irreparably compromised....” He glanced back at the clear box holding the Sphere. “I wonder....no. It's.....it'd be too convenient...”
Emily didn't say anything. Somehow, she felt that she might know who the figure in the chamber was.
“.....and if they know—ah, Emily?” The Doctor snapped his fingers. “You okay?”
“....sorry, I was just.....I think we may know her.”
The Doctor frowned. “'Her'?”
“.....I can't explain it, Doctor, but I think we may have some connection with whoever is in this chamber.” Emily regarded the frosted lid, cupping her chin in one hand. “....though I doubt my parents know there's a life support box hidden up here under the floor....”
“So it'd be best if it stayed hidden.” The Doctor nodded. “As well as all the other gifts.”
“You think they were all left here by the same person?”
“I'd be surprised if they weren't. Whatever the case, even though we've opened these gifts now, we're not the intended owners.” Again, the Doctor nodded. “Which means they go back under the floor....wrapping paper and all.”
“And how are we supposed to re-wrap......”
Emily's question trailed off to a stunned stare; the Doctor had placed the box containing the Sphere in the center of the unfolded wrapping paper it'd been wrapped in and aimed the Sonic Screwdriver at it. As he thumbed the activator of the Sonic, the paper seemed to fold itself upward, as if invisible hands were gently lifting it back into position to fully cover the box. Even the ribbons seemed to move back into position of their own accord.
“....that's.....” Emily couldn't help but giggle. “It's like magic, Doctor!”
“Normally, I'd go into some long-winded technical explanation as to why it's most definitely not magic....” The Doctor grinned. “....but for now, at this time of the year, I think everybody could use a bit more magic in their lives.” He nodded to the gift containing the gold rectangle. “Now for that one....” Emily set the box down in the center of the wrapping paper, and once the Doctor thumbed the Sonic Screwdriver on, the process repeated itself. Once the box had effectively been rewrapped, Emily and the Doctor set it, and the others, back over the lid of the chamber beneath the floor.
“I suggest we avoid mentioning any of this to your parents,” the Doctor mused, almost casually. “If they haven't brought it up before now....”
“I get the point,” Emily replied, nodding. “Think we'll make it back downstairs in time for the Queen's Speech, Doctor?”
By the time evening had rolled around, most of the visiting relatives had left for whatever lodgings they intended to stay at overnight; after asking around, the Doctor learned that the vast majority of them would return the following day (“It's Boxing Day, after all”, John had explained). Thus, the Quinn household was substantially quieter than it'd been for the majority of Christmas Day, allowing the Doctor, Hannah and Emily a moment to relax (after helping Liz do the washing-up from lunch and dinner).
“Well,” John mused, “I think this particular Christmas has been....on a scale from one to ten, I'd probably say a solid nine and a half.”
“Not a full ten?” The Doctor arched an eyebrow, genuinely curious as to what, if any, aspect of the day had been subpar.
“Cloverdale takes off half a point.” John shook his head. “I'll say it again: worse than last year's episode.”
The Time Lord nodded. “Let's just be glad that the actual celebration here didn't turn out like what happened in the show. Seriously, I can't think of anyone's actual life that ever went as badly as that show.” He chuckled. “It's....I can barely guess how that whole show got approved.....nobody's actual life could possibly be that tragic.”
“I've got a running bet going that the show is just indulging in self-parody,” John admitted. “That, or the writers are just running out of ideas that actually make sense.”
“Could be.” The Doctor shrugged. “Everyone liked their presents, the food was great, and apart from Cloverdale, the offerings on TV were pretty impressive.” He glanced over at the sofa on the other side of the room; Emily and Hannah were discussing Cloverdale and how it'd gone downhill over the years. “And I've got more than enough notes on the British Christmas celebration....”
“A winning holiday on all counts for you, then,” John mused.
“Indeed,” the Time Lord agreed. “Just out of curiosity, though....” He leaned forward, his fingers steepled. “Did anyone, ah, forget any gifts this morning?”
John frowned. “I counted every last parcel. Every present was given to the ones who they were meant for.”
“.....so, nobody left any boxes in....is it the attic, here, or the loft?”
“The loft, and I'm pretty sure there weren't any gifts left up there. Why do you ask?”
The Doctor shrugged. “Just wondering. Wanted to make sure nobody got left out.” He leaned back in the comfy recliner he'd been seated in, nodding. “Celebrations like these are what I love about this planet....”
John arched an eyebrow. “'This planet'?”
“This planet, and the people on it. The way different cultures celebrate, the way they mourn, the way they handle any number of things...it's all so different, and to be quite honest, those differences are amazing. In all my travels and all of my studies, I'm never not impressed with what I find.” The Doctor rose from the chair, glancing around the room. “If I haven't already said it before, Mr. Quinn, thank you for letting me spend this Christmas here.”
“You're more than welcome, Doctor.” John left his own chair and shook hands with the Time Lord. “I assume you'll be back tomorrow for Boxing Day?”
“I don't see why I wouldn't be.” The Doctor grinned. “Just so we're clear, it doesn't involve punching at all, does it?”
“Unless you're in line to return gifts,” John chuckled, “pugilism doesn't really factor into things.”
As the evening faded into night, the Doctor and Hannah bade Emily and her parents goodbye before heading back to the TARDIS. “Well,” the Time Lord declared, clapping his hand together, “that was fun. No other way to say it.”
“When you're right, you're right,” Hannah agreed. “And we'll be back there tomorrow for Boxing Day?”
“Definitely. Like I said, we're in town until the 28th....” The Doctor sighed. “I just wonder....”
“....Emily had found some presents up in the loft, underneath the floor. No 'to' or 'from' names listed on the labels, not even any dust on any of the boxes or wrapping paper. As for what was in them....” The Time Lord chuckled. “I'll say this much, they weren't just Poundland specials—”
“So they weren't for anyone there?” Hannah inquired.
“I'm pretty sure they weren't,” the Doctor replied. “What was in those gifts wasn't of this earth, Hannah.”
Again, the brief silence that followed the Time Lord's remark allowed him to hear the subtle whir of her prosthetic eyes' lens appertures dilating. “....you're kidding.”
“Believe me, I'm not. The items in those boxes were of alien origin...in one case, Gallifreyan origin.” The Doctor glanced up at the sky, frowning. “I have no idea how a legendary artifact from the Time Lords ended up under the floor of a loft in a flat in Swindon.... John didn't recall leaving any presents hidden under the floor in the loft, so I'm pretty sure he didn't know.”
“You think he might be a Time Lord?” Hannah offered. “Or maybe Emily's mom—”
“Time Lords have a psychic link that allows them to detect other Time Lords in the immediate vicinity,” the Doctor cut in, shaking his head. “Even without concentrating, I could tell that none of Emily's relatives were from Gallifrey.”
“....so they didn't put the boxes under the floor.”
“I highly doubt anyone other than Emily knew they were there—she'd found those gifts when she was up in the loft to get the Christmas decorations.” The Doctor considered mentioning the stasis chamber under the floor, but decided that enough high strangeness had been discussed for the night. “In any case, let's focus on the positive: we've both had a great Christmas at Emily's, and we'll be back over there tomorrow for Boxing Day.” He grinned. “And seeing as how the fob watch hasn't binged even once....”
Hannah rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the grin that formed on her lips. “Fine, fine....just for the record, I'm not miffed that you didn't get me anything for Christmas, Doctor.”
“Who says I didn't get you anything?” the Time Lord countered.
The Doctor merely winked. “Unless you don't want any gifts....”
“Oh, shut up.” Hannah lightly punched the Doctor in the arm, trying and failing to not giggle.
“Barely even felt that...in any case, Merry Christmas, Hannah.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Doctor.”
“.....and you're sure they're both coming back tomorrow?”
Emily's question earned her a look from her father. “He'd said that he'd be in town until the 28th,” he reminded her, “and I'm pretty sure that the only people who celebrate Boxing Day in the States are ex-pats. I figured it'd be a nice bonus for him to get a lot of notes on Boxing Day, for his studies and such.”
“Just as long as he doesn't want to go for a swim,” Liz called out from a few rooms away. “I never did understand that...”
“Some people apparently think it's a perfectly reasonable idea to go swimming on Boxing Day,” John replied, heading to meet his wife in the other room. “In fact, one year, a few of my cousins....”
Emily didn't follow her father into the other room, choosing instead to regard the fully decked-out Christmas tree, which still looked impressive despite the lack of parcels underneath it. The Radio Times Christmas issue, brought by one of her uncles, had been left on the arm rest of a nearby chair; she considered reading through it, but decided instead to just regard the scene outside the window. A light snow was just starting to fall, and the whole street looked picturesque: lights in every window, the gentle chorus of Christmas music from the TV, a clear, starry sky....
“Happy Christmas, Doctor,” Emily whispered, grinning as she brushed a hand against the window.
“And to you, Emily.”
The sound of the Doctor's voice behind her startled Emily enough to think she was dreaming—only a quick examination of the window, and the reflection of the Time Lord on the glass—confirmed that she wasn't. “Doctor?!”
“Indeed.” The Doctor grinned. “I was going to do this thing where I'd wait until you turned away and then tapped on the window, but then I thought that might be a bit creepy....” He cut his explanation off as Emily wrapped him in a hug. “I'm guessing you're not mad that I got in here without you knowing,” he mused.
“I'm not angry at you,” Emily assured him. “I just....how did you get in here?”
The Time Lord rolled up his left sleeve, revealing a device housed in a leather bracer. “Vortex Manipulator. Long in a short, it's quick and dirty teleportation.” He nodded to the door. “Think we can, ah....”
“Nothing wrong with going for a quick stroll in the snow,” the Doctor reasoned. “You do have a coat, right?”
“....a walk,” Emily mused, nodding. “I...I thought you wanted me to—”
“I figured my gift to you could be a well-deserved break from time-travel,” the Doctor admitted. “To spend time with your family, and such....”
Emily nodded. “Right, right....” She glanced past the Doctor. “MUM?”
“I'm going out for a walk! Won't be long! I've already got my coat off the rack by the door!” After hearing a vague but affirmative reply from the other room, Emily threw on her coat. “Thirty minutes?”
“Better than nothing.” The Doctor grinned as he stood aside to let Emily unlock the door. “Shall we?”
“As long as you don't start singing 'Baby It's Cold Outside'....”
As he walked alongside Emily, the Doctor couldn't help but admire the scenery all around him. “I'll say this much,” he mused, “humanity has a much greater appreciation for decorating their houses and such than anyone on Gallifrey could ever lay claim to.”
“Do we, now...” Emily giggled.
“....you want me to change the subject,” the Doctor sighed. “Figured that.”
“It's not that I don't mind talking about Christmas decorations, or anything,” Emily assured him. “I just...I'm guessing you showed up at my flat because you had something....I dunno, important to talk about.”
“And I thought Time Lords were the only ones who could read the minds of other Time Lords...” The Doctor sighed. “I did indeed want to talk with you about something important—and I'm not kicking you out of the TARDIS, just to get that possibility out of the way. In all honesty, I've been....wondering.”
Emily nodded. “Wondering....what, exactly?”
“If you want to keep traveling with me. Considering everything that we've dealt with, in our travels....I mean, you're in Uni, now, and I'd hate to be the reason you fall behind in your studies—”
“Doctor....” Emily couldn't bring herself to glare at the Time Lord.
“....I just want to make sure I'm not impeding on your life, or anything like that.” The Doctor stuffed his hands into his pockets as he continued strolling along. “All this wandering through time and space can really do a number on anyone who's not up to the challenges...and I'm not saying that's you, just so we're clear. Anyway...I just...”
“Figured I could use a break?”
Emily's assumption earned her a nod. “If you don't think you need one....”
“....I actually appreciate the thought,” Emily admitted. “And I appreciate the break, too. Traveling with you is brilliant, I'll admit, but...” She looked up at the sky for a moment, her pace never faltering. “....taking a break from it all to go to classes at Uni, and spending Christmas here with my family.....I like this. I even think I needed it. Ever since Trinity Leeds, I've been thinking of what would happen if I just dropped everything and left with you, if I never came back...” She pulled her coat tighter around herself. “....to be honest, Doctor, I.....I was afraid.”
The Time Lord merely nodded. “And what, exactly, were you afraid of?”
“Never coming back. Or being....stuck, somewhere—not like how you ditched Lindsay, but...” Emily shook her head. “I actually got scared that, if she ever came back, Lindsay would be the reason I got stuck anywhere.”
“I'd never let her be the reason you got stuck anywhere, Emily,” the Doctor assured her.
“I hope not....” Emily chuckled. “I mean.....Jase is back home, right now, isn't he?”
“And...Alysha and Derrick? The other two, who were with Hannah....”
“They're also back at home with their families. I don't just drag people through space and time against their will, away from their lives and their loved ones...you'll recall that I always asked if you wanted to come with me, for every trip after Trinity Leeds—and that time barely even counts, thanks to extenuating circumstances.”
Emily nodded. “.....and what about the stuff under the floor in the loft?”
“Still ruminating on that, actually. Fun word, that, 'ruminating'....but anyway.” The Doctor sighed. “That issue does bear further looking-into, but at a later date. The parcels under the floor don't pose an iminent risk to anyone's safety, so I think we can safely ignore them for the time being...”
“So we just leave them there? And what about that...person...in the chamber under them?”
“It is a bit weird that there's a stasis chamber under the floor,” the Doctor admitted, “but again, there were no signs of imminent danger to the occupant, so.....” He shrugged. “Now, if you or your parents hear anything weird from the loft in the middle of the night, you might want to give me a call, but that's a possibility for another day....whatever the case, I don't think it'll be an issue.”
“Positive. Cross my hearts....you know the routine.” The Doctor grinned. “Oh, and I do intend to come back tomorrow for Boxing Day...might say high to the triplets. Tom, Timmy and.....Twinkletoes, were they?”
“Tom, Timmy and Todd,” Emily corrected, giggling.
“....that was my next guess. ANYway.....” The Doctor glanced at Emily. “If I haven't said it already, thanks for letting me and Hannah spend Christmas with you and your family.”
Emily grinned. “No problem, Doctor. Will Hannah be back tomorrow, as well?”
“I don't know if she's ever taken part in Boxing Day festivities....there aren't any actual boxing gloves or anything involved in that, right?”
“Doctor....” Emily giggled again. “I'll tell you more about Boxing Day tomorrow.”
“I look forward to it. OH, and, ah, if your parents make the observation that I seemed to be a bit young to be a college professor, just tell them...ah....I dunno...” The Doctor sighed. “I don't really want to lie to tehm, but I have a feeling the truth would just confuse them.”
“If they mention it, I'll think of something,” Emily assured him—and quickly realizing that the “short stroll” had taken her (and the Doctor) all the way to the TARDIS. “....I didn't think we'd walked that far....”
“I only parked a block or two away from your place,” the Doctor admitted. “Figured it wouldn't really work out all that well if Hannah and I had to dodge cross-town traffic just to get to your flat....” He paused, noticing Emily regarding him somewhat oddly. “...something wrong?”
“Not 'wrong',” Emily replied, “but....it's weird.”
“'It' being....what, exactly?”
“You have that accent....you sound American, pretty much, but you keep using British words and phrases.” Emily gave a short chuckle. “I don't really know how to describe it...it's not annoying, or offensive, or anything, believe me, but when I hear you talk like that, with an American accent...”
“I sound like a tourist,” the Doctor finished, sighing. “Always figured that'd give me away...”
Emily's laugh cut him off, and he settled for chuckling. “All right, all right...I assume you want to say hi to Hannah?”
“And to thank her for showing up,” Emily reminded him, pulling the TARDIS doors open. “Seriously, the both of you being at the party was....”
She stopped, gasping in surprise. “Doctor....”
“Tada!” Inside the console room, Hannah grinned and gestured at a fully-decorated tree, with a large pile of presents under it. “We figured it'd be good to wait until after the get-together at your place....” She trailed off as Emily entered the TARDIS, her gaze moving from the tree to the lengths of tinsel and other decorations hung up around the console room with care.
“.....I, ah, kind of lied when I said I didn't get you anything,” the Doctor admitted, “but—”
Again, his remarks were cut off by a hug from Emily, who dried her tears of joy on his coat. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“You don't even know if all of these are just clothes and such,” Hannah teased, as the TARDIS door closed behind Emily.
“I'd never get her fifteen parcels full of nothing but socks,” the Doctor countered, feigning offense at the idea. “I mean, socks are important—so's a towel, now that I think of it—”
Emily had already started on the pile of presents, bringing his musings to a halt. The gifts had been sent from their other fellow travelers—Captain Jack Harkness, Susan Foreman, River Song, Jason David May and last but not least, Alysha and Derrick—and each newly-opened gift brought a smile and a declaration of appreciation from the ever-grateful Emily.
The Time Lord watched her open the presents, smiling. “Happy Christmas, Emily.”
Thirty minutes later (the TARDIS had materialized right in front of Emily's flat to drop her off, as opposed to requiring her to walk the whole way on her own), Emily was back at home, turning in for the night (and enlisting both the Doctor and Hannah to help bring her presents inside). With that, the TARDIS departed for its “parking spot” again, and within the Quinn flat, all was calm and bright.
For an hour, at least.
With an hour or so to go until midnight, John Quinn found himself rereading the Radio Times, sighing. A restlessness had settled on him, since Emily's return from her walk....
“You think she knows?”
The question from his wife barely prompted a response. “That professor friend of hers was asking if we'd left any gifts up in the loft,” he mused, not looking up from the Times even as Liz entered the room. “Didn't mention anything else.”
“We'll have to tell her eventually, John. We can't hide it from her forever.”
John lowered the Radio Times, frowning, as he glanced at Liz. “And what happens when she finds out?”
“Nothing has to happen. No matter what, she's still our daughter. Regardless of whether we tell her or if she finds out another way, nothing has to change.”
After a moment, John nodded. “I can only hope it's that simple when we do tell her....” He rose from the recliner and crossed the room to give Liz a brief kiss on the cheek. “I forget which one of us said we're blessed to have her as our daughter...but we are.”
“Always.” Liz returned the kiss. “We'll always be blessed to have Emily with us, John.”
“.....ten minutes. If she's not here in ten....”
Across the street from the where the TARDIS parked, a man in white waited patiently. He'd observed the Doctor and Emily entering the police box—or rather, the Type 40 time capsule that just so happened to look like a British police box, thanks to a chameleon circuit that was either disabled or faulty; the Doctor could never decide on which excuse to use when their paths crossed—and had seen it disappear shortly after. The sight hadn't drawn any reaction other than a brief chuckle, at the time....
...but of course, they weren't why he was there. There was business to wrap up in Swindon, after all.
“Nine minutes, fifty....”
He cut himself off as the air shimmered a few feet away, revealing a shuddering girl clad in purple and pink—her winter-wear looking as if it'd been shredded.
“So you didn't forget the rendezvous point....run into trouble?”
“Nobody got hurt,” the girl—the silver skin of her face no longer hidden by a scarf—replied. “I got there before he could get to any of them...” Whereas most would be exultant over that news, the girl was on the verge of tears. “He got away, again. I tried to stop him, I tried—”
White gloved hands gripped her shoulders, steadying him. “You've done more than enough, Galatea. Believe me.”
“But he got away! You told me yourself, Oberon, we came here to—”
“We came here,” Oberon intoned, “to ensure that innocent lives were not extinguished by the raging fires of death and fear. On that note, we succeeded.” He gently raised Galatea's head with one hand, so her stare met his. “As far as I'm concerned, that qualifies this operation as a full success. We can always apprehend him another time.”
“....I hope so,” Galatea murmured. “I really hope so....”
Oberon nodded. “In any case, we'd best be off. Don't want to attract any undo attention.” He nodded to the police box across the street.
Galatea followed his gesture, her gaze resting on the TARDIS. “Did he....”
“Attend the Christmas celebration at Emily Grace Quinn's flat? He most certainly did—and he brought Emily out here to have a brief celebration in the TARDIS, earlier. His path and ours weren't meant to cross on this day.” Oberon sighed. “For now....I think we owe it to ourselves to partake in our own celebrations. 6 AM should be early enough, I think.”
After a brief moment's hesitation, Galatea nodded. “I could definitely use a break, after today...as long as—”
“Wade Wilson has his own matters to attend to. That, and I made him swear he wouldn't ruin this ending.”
Oberon's remark finally prompted Galatea to laugh. “You didn't do the 'pull a sword out of nothing' thing, did you?”
The air around the two shimmered, and they both seemed to vanish into thin air. The space where they'd stood, just like all of Swindon on that Christmas night, was blanketed in snow and tranquility, leaving no trace that they'd ever been there at all....
But the Doctor will return!
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