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A Box of Memories

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Bill had always said she didn't need stuff as long as she had people to love and memories to treasure.

Sometimes, people talked total bollocks until they learned better.

The problem with learning this particular lesson was that it always, always hurt. Even the most possession-averse person had something they treasured and couldn't be without. And even the most unsentimental people had to accept that some things--like clothes and text books--were necessary and had to be replaced, no matter how far into your overdraft it took you.

So yeah, people talk bollocks about situations until they have to face them.

The shattered remains of the house looked sad in the daylight. Bill stood between Paul and Shireen, staring at the piles of rubble that had been their home for one hope-filled day. All right, it was creepy and haunted and weird, but there had been acres of space and the rent had been affordable. They weren't going to find another place like it.

"Are you sure it's safe?" Harry asked.

Bill tried to look confident and knowing. "Yeah, 'course it is."

Paul looked dubious. "How do you know? I've seen earthquake ruins that look more stable."

Shireen raised her eyebrows. "You've been in an earthquake? A proper one?"

Paul scratched the back of his neck. "Er, not exactly. But I've seen them on the news."

"It's safe, okay?" Bill said. "I guarantee it."

She'd watch the Doctor do something cool and technical to stabilise the remains. There had been sparks and a blue shimmery cloud that had settled over everything and vanished. The Doctor had thrown a rock at a fragile-looking fragment of wall and it hadn't even wobbled.

Harry grinned. "The Doctor fixed it. It's totally safe. He's a legend."

Bill thought Harry's gleeful assurance was a bit over the top, but he led the way to the ruins and at least it got them moving, so she didn't complain. The Doctor had warned that his shield would only last a day and she didn't want to spend longer in there than they had to.

Picking through the ruins was slow work, but nothing fell on them. Nothing even creaked. By the time they took a break for lunch--Pavel bought sausage and chips for everyone from the chippie down the road--Bill had found her stuffed toy and the crushed wreckage of the chest of drawers from her room. Only a few items of clothing had survived, but that was still better than nothing.

Everyone else had their own piles of rescued possessions. They were depressingly small. Never mind their deposit, replacing all the clothes, books, and essentials was expensive and they hadn't been able to afford contents insurance.

"He's not really your grandfather, is he?" Harry said, looking thoughtfully at a chip.

Bill pasted on her best grin. "He is! Totally my grandfather. One hundred percent grandfather having, that's me."

Shireen gave her a funny look. "Okay, now I don't believe you. Who is he?"

"It's obvious, isn't it?" Felicity said. "He's an alien."

Suddenly, everyone was looking at Bill. The chip she was chewing got stuck in her throat when she tried to swallow.

Paul laughed, looking uncomfortable. "No way."

But Harry's eyes had gone wide and knowing. "My grandad told me about this bloke he worked with once. Back when he was in the Army…or Navy…one of those. He worked for this weird department that did secret squirrel stuff and there was this man who knew about aliens and he called himself the Doctor."

Bill stared at him. "Your grandad? The one who got arrested for nicking a bit of the Great Wall of China?"

"Not that one, the other one. My Dad's dad. He was a doctor, too, actually. A medical one not a…what is the Doctor a doctor of, anyway?"

"Physics," Paul said at the same time Shireen said "Chemistry" and Bill said "Everything".

They all looked at each other.

Pavel watched them for a moment before he said, "Not music, I think."

Bill almost made a joke about meeting Mozart, but she stopped herself. Her housemates knowing the Doctor was an alien was bad enough, but knowing he was a time-traveller? It was probably time to do some damage control.

"So, if he's not your grandfather and he's an alien, who is he?" Shireen said.

"He's the Doctor," Bill said, "and he's my tutor."

Harry's eyes were wide. "Mad respect."

She grinned. "Yeah."

"Why was he helping you move, then?" Shireen asked.

Bill did a bit of mental calculation, weighing the benefits of telling a little bit of the Heather story against the potential for someone to go blabbing to the press, and concluded that telling some of the truth was safer. They'd already guessed a lot, and if she didn't tell them how she'd met the Doctor, they'd just make up something worse.

So in the ruins of a house that had tried to eat them, with sun beaming down while they sausages and chips out of paper bags, Bill told them the story about the girl who became a shape-shifting spaceship.

***

"I can make another copy of that for you," the Doctor said.

Bill looked up from the photo of her mum. The glass in the frame was toast, but the picture had somehow survived. New frame, it would be fine. "You've decided to admit you took it?"

The Doctor bent over the TARDIS console and flicked a switch. An alarm started wailing somewhere and he rushed around the console pressing buttons and turning dials until it stopped.

"A back-up would be great, yeah," Bill said, when the Doctor stopped rushing around. "Just in case, you know?"

The Doctor's smile was sad and understanding. "You could leave one here, if you'd like."

Bill nodded. "That would be good, thanks."

"You could leave other things here, if you want. For safe-keeping."

The box of stuff she'd rescued from the house was sitting on the floor beside her. It looked pathetic compared to her memory of the pile of boxes she'd had a couple of days ago, but the important stuff was there. They'd mostly walked away with the stuff they really cared about, although Pavel's record player hadn't survived and Felicity hadn't been able to find a book her godmother had given her.

Bill shook her head. "Nah, you're good. I'll leave it at home. Moira doesn't mind."

The flash of hurt came and went so fast that Bill almost thought she'd imagined it, but the Doctor's intense interest in polishing a patch of the console with his coat sleeve gave him away. Bill put the picture in the box and went to his side, not touching but near enough for him to notice. She could see the side of his face, the hint of a frown in the drawn lines around his mouth.

"You get why this isn't home, right?" she said quietly.

A too-bright smile looked wrong on the Doctor's face. He bustled around the console again. "Absolutely. This can't be your home. That would be ridiculous. It's a ship, not a home."

Except his eyes were haunted and Bill didn't believe him. "That's not it. This is more than a ship, it's your home. But it can't be mine. There needs to be a bit of me that isn't here." She looked around at the shining panels and blinking lights. "This is amazing, yeah? But I'm a student now and I didn't think I'd get to do that and I want to do all the student stuff properly."

The Doctor stopped twiddling with buttons and looked up. "You want to be an ordinary student? Just...ordinary?"

"Well, yeah."

"You'll never be ordinary," the Doctor said, in a strangely gentle tone that absolutely did not make Bill's eyes water at all, definitely not.

She grinned. "Thanks."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm your tutor. Choosing someone ordinary would be pointless. They'd have pudding brains and they'd never understand anything."

Bill had never met anyone who could deliver a compliment with so much blatant boasting underneath, but she'd never met anyone like the Doctor, either. He was unique.

"Do you know someone called Harry Sullivan?" she asked, to cut off the flow before it could turn into a lecture.

The Doctor frowned thoughtfully, before his whole face lit up. "Harry! Bit of a pudding brain himself, but useful in his way."

Bill decided not to pass that on. "Harry is his grandson."

"Harry Sullivan nicked a bit of the Great Wall of China?"

"No, that was Harry's other grandad."

The Doctor grinned toothily. "I thought so. Harry was always a bit of a stickler for the rules. Can't imagine him defacing a cultural icon."

Bill leaned forward on over the console. "Tell me about him."

And he did.