Sometimes she dreamed of a golden goddess mouthing words that she could not hear. She also dreamed of wolves and painful, beautiful songs that broke her down before lifting her up again. She could never remember the melodies. Whenever she woke, she would lay as still as she could and try to hold onto the uneasy, contradictory comfort of foreboding reverence.
The books and articles on the Internet that she had read about dreams had brought her to the conclusion that the wolf was her spirit animal, her totem, and so she never told anyone about it. Not her mother or father, not David, or even the girls from her dance classes that she drank coffee with. (And they were all into that spiritual stuff. Deirdre was always trying to do her astrological chart or read her her horoscope.)
She was afraid that if she said any of it aloud, it would end. She'd never see the haloed face again, or feel the hard, cold ground rush under padded feet while the wind whispered stories of the stars in her ears.
These dreams were more precious than even the waking ones she'd had all the time while she was at university; the ones where she heard the discordant roar of the TARDIS engines and broke out of her Literature class, or the ones where she ran into a lanky, brown-coated man in Converses while she was out jogging.
It had been nearly seven years since the Doctor had brought her home to her mother on that chilly December day.
Sometimes she thought that he had forgotten her. Sometimes she thought that he was dead. She would have liked to believe that no force could stop him from finding her if he wanted to, though she usually berated herself for thinking that he didn't have better things to do than worry about silly Charlie Elliott.
She was twenty-two now, and she was done with university just like Mum and Dad had wanted (or more truthfully, had insisted upon). She still lived at home, just for now, just until she could find a steady job, but David wanted to get a flat of his own, and he kept talking like she'd be there with him.
Charlie liked the idea of a flat. She liked the idea of David and seeing him everyday instead of one or two nights a week. However, the idea of 'moving in together', as a concept, scared her more than she ever would have admitted. But David was a good boyfriend—better than the disaster that Gregory had been. David got her flights of fancy and her seemingly odd observations. At least, he tried to.
Of course, she hadn't filled him in on the gory details about the... peculiarities... of her family. He said he wasn't phased by madness, though, because he'd grown up hearing some pretty crazy stories himself. He'd been raised by his grandparents after his mum had died and his father had all but disappeared. (Mad with grief, or depression or whatever his excuse had been.) His granddad was gone now, and his gran lived in a home. David visited her every week, like a dutiful grandson, and he sat with her for hours. She frequently called him by the wrong names, but he never wavered. He wasn't the wavering type.
He'd brought Charlie with him to visit a few times. His gran had smiled at her and called her Susan.
"One of her students," David had informed her afterward. "Way back when."
David's gran didn't smile all the time. She was imperious with the orderlies and nurses, and once or twice she berated David for things like losing her glasses while they were still perched on the bridge of her long nose and got incredibly upset when he tried to correct her, no matter how gentle he was about it.
Still, Charlie liked her. She called her Gran, because it made the old woman smile and it made David look proud.
One week, she went to visit the old woman on her own. David had flu and didn't want to spread it, but he couldn't bear the thought of his grandmother missing his visit. As she wasn't working at the moment anyway, Charlie decided to go in his place. She fortified herself with Vitamin C and zinc supplements and wrapped herself in the long purple, red, and blue scarf that she'd crocheted the previous winter. It was wider at one end and there were bits of wool poking out where she'd failed to hide the ends properly, and it was longer than she was tall—which wasn't the most difficult feat a scarf could achieve, considering—but she wore it anyway because the wool and silk blend had cost almost three pounds a skein, she'd made it, and she enjoyed telling people so when she was asked.
Gran asked about it first thing when Charlie sat across from her. "Where did you get that?" she said, playing with the tube that was feeding oxygen into her nose. (This was new.) Charlie gently took the old woman's hand from the equipment and held it.
"I made it," she said, smiling to hide the nervous flutter she got from all the medical equipment surrounding the bed. The old woman didn't look particularly ill, although she didn't look good, either. But she was, what? Seventy-eight? Eighty? Charlie felt guilty for not remembering.
"I used to make things," Gran said, a wry smile on her dry lips. "Where's your young man?"
"David's not feeling well," Charlie said, apologetically. "But he always comes on Thursdays, so I thought I'd come anyway."
Gran patted her hand. Such a grand-motherly gesture, Charlie thought. At least, it was the kind that she had come to expect from telly, having never known her own grandparents.
"You're a sweet girl, Susan," she said.
Charlie didn't correct her. For one thing, there was an odd satisfaction she got from the name; it was her maternal grandmother's name, so it was in her blood anyway. Why not don it for an afternoon?
"It's too bad Ian isn't here to see you," Gran said. Ian was her husband's name, Charlie remembered. The two of them had been school teachers before they'd moved to Cambridge. Incidentally, they had once taught at the very same school where her dad now taught. Charlie always catalogued coincidences like that. They were one of the few things that made her feel like she belonged in the world around her.
Gran's husband had died from a stroke about three years ago. Charlie wasn't sure what one said to a person who'd lost her spouse of nearly fifty years, so she just smiled and squeezed Gran's hand.
"I like your hair long," Gran went on, lifting her wizened limb and touching it. Charlie's hair almost reached her waist; seven years growth, give or take the occasional trim when the ends got to resembling a bird's nest. "It frames your face."
Charlie accepted the compliment with a shy smile. "So, what have you been up to since I was here last time?" she asked before she had the thought that asking an Alzheimer's patient to remember something so specific as a month-gone visit was stupid and cruel.
Gran's smile was sly. "Oh you know, the usual. Marriage, children, pension, Majorca."
Charlie didn't let herself frown. "That's quite a lot," she allowed. David always humoured his grandmother's assertions, such as her strong opinion that his rock band wasn't going to last forever. That was actually David's uncle Johnny, who David claimed had had a decent career in pop music in the 80s. He'd played her a few songs on his phone back when they'd first started dating. Charlie hadn't thought the music worth much thought, though she had sort of liked the one about stargazing.
"What about you?" Gran asked her.
"Not nearly as much," Charlie replied, laughing. "I haven't even done that first thing."
"Oh, well, you'd better get to it. You and David won't be young and in love forever."
Charlie smiled again, though it was harder. Marriage was hardly anywhere near the top of her list of Things to Do.
Gran asked her to turn the telly on, so she did. She tuned it to the five o'clock news. The newsreader droned on about the same problems in the Middle East. The Americans were getting set to elect a new president in less than a week. Something about the Prime Minister meeting with Obama about the same on-going project they'd been blabbing about for months.
Charlie found it hard to care too much about current events, unless they sounded like aliens might be involved. Mum kept her up to date on most of that, and once in a while, Charlie would talk to Martha or, less frequently, Gwen, but she never received more than titbits of information. The Cardiff Rift had been quiet for a long time now, and the skies were empty of alien ships. Charlie knew that she shouldn't have been disappointed by this, but anything alien meant a chance that the Doctor would appear.
The silence worried her mother. Earth nearly always had one alien or another sneaking a quick peek at it. If they were avoiding the planet all together, that should have been a signal. Of course, Mum said that UNIT didn't take her firm seriously when they told them to be on alert. UNIT knew that Jane Elliott was from the future, and that she and her comrades at Smith & Jones had all, at some point, travelled with the much-lauded Doctor. That was why UNIT had hired her in the first place all those years ago.
Charlie tilted her head and refilled Gran's water glass from the little pink plastic pitcher.
"Time for your medicine, Professor Chesterton," the nurse announced as she came into the room.
Gran frowned. "Oh, you and your pills," she said irritably.
The nurse was a good-natured woman with burgundy hair and ugly mauve scrubs. She rattled the paper cup. "Now then, be a good girl," she said.
Charlie pursed her lips at the nurse's condescension, but Gran took her medicine without further complaint.
"What I wouldn't give for the right kind of doctor," the old woman sighed when the nurse left.
Charlie leaned on the edge of the mattress with one elbow and watched the television with glassy eyes. "I know what you mean," she muttered. She frowned and realised that she hadn't actually been listening. "Wait, what did you say?"
"My doctor," Gran said. "I do miss him, that funny little man and his hats."
Charlie shook the niggling thought from her head and they went back to the telly, flipping through channels until they found something worth watching. There were a couple of episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus that Gran insisted they watch, one telling of the problems with clever sheep, the other a science fiction story about blancmanges playing tennis. She'd always liked that one.
"Sentient blancmanges," Gran said as the final credits ran. "Perfectly ridiculous." She was smiling a bit, though.
"I just love Michael Palin in a kilt," Charlie said with a grin.
"There is no planet Skyron in Andromeda," Gran informed her. "I'm sure I would have heard about it."
"Don't think that the telescopes can see that far yet," Charlie said with a wry smile. She looked at her smartphone. She'd promised David she'd come by his flat afterward. "It's just about time for me to go now, Gran."
"Barbara," Gran corrected her.
Charlie assumed that this was approval, not distance, so she smiled. "Barbara," she repeated.
Barbara peered up at her, as if she were suddenly confused, even a little bit frightened. At that moment, it was like a different person was sitting in the bed. "Who are you?"
Charlie's smile slipped. "Charlie. Charlie Elliott, Barbara," she said, fighting to keep heartbreak out of her tone. "I'm your grandson David's girlfriend."
"If David's here, where's Susan?" Barbara demanded. She looked around the room, eyes brimming with tears. "Oh, I do wish he hadn't left her behind. I miss her so."
"Who?" Charlie wondered.
"Susan," Barbara said, glaring at her impatiently. "In the twenty-second century. After the Daleks. Why am I explaining myself to you?"
Charlie's heart started to gallop. Daleks. Nobody talked about the Daleks. Mum and Dad wouldn't talk about them, the news tried to pretend it had never happened (except on anniversaries). Aliens were real, the Earth had left its home in the Solar System and come back again, metal men had walked the streets, Death had gone on holiday, but no one ever wanted to talk about it. Even Martha didn't want to talk about it. (Mum always insisted that the Smith-Joneses not be pestered about work when they were at the house, but Charlie knew that that was what they would all talk about the moment she was out of the room.)
Charlie spent the majority of most days wanting to shout at the top of her lungs: I know these things, and they are real, and I'm sick of pretending that everything is normal. People had had more than enough opportunity to witness alien life in the last ten years. Why wouldn't they admit it?
"Who left her behind, Barbara?" she asked, somehow quiet and calm despite the torrent of fear and hope rushing about inside her.
"The Doctor!" Barbara shouted. She batted at Charlie's hand on her shoulder. "Stop asking stupid questions. Where's Susan?"
The nurse heard the raised voice and came back into the room. Charlie feigned worried helplessness to cover up the sick thrill of excitement in her stomach and the nurse shook her head and smiled. "Don't worry, love. She gets like this sometimes."
"I want to go home," Barbara said, glaring at the nurse. "Where's Ian? What have you done with him? The Doctor said he'd take us home."
"There, there, love," the nurse cajoled. "You are home. There's a good girl."
"I've... er... I've got to go," Charlie said, standing on awkward tip-toes.
"That's all right. Just sign out at the desk."
"Bye, Barbara," Charlie said, waving. Barbara looked up at her with dark eyes and no recognition.
Charlie took the bus all the way to the flat that David shared with his mates, a flurry of questions flying around her mind. Her scarf caught on the handrail as she tried to get off the bus, and she was nearly dragged along as she tried to free herself. She was lucky that it simply tore and didn't snap her neck or something. She promised herself that she'd mend it later and ran the five streets to David's flat.
One of the flat-mates, Doug, buzzed her in. She found David half-asleep on the couch in the living room watching an old Simon Pegg movie.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Wha?" David's nose made a loud 'snuck'. "What's wrong? I thought you went to see Gran? What time is it?"
"I did," she said, sitting on the edge of the couch and unwrapping her scarf. "I just left there. We have to talk."
He looked alarmed. "Is she okay?" He sat up and wobbled.
Charlie pushed him back into his pillow. "She's fine. Can we go to your room?"
"I can barely walk, Charlie," he said, meekly.
Charlie very much doubted that he was that ill. "Okay." Charlie looked over the back of the couch at Doug. He was in the kitchen, boiling water in the kettle for a Pot Noodle. "Doug, you mind giving us a minute?"
"What, you two gonna start snogging?" Doug asked, grinning like he was the master of comedy. He was a portly sort, with blonde hair and a patchy moustache. He had been David's best friend since they'd been twelve.
"Bugger off," David said.
"I'm cooking," Doug said. The kettle whistled. He peeled off the lid (taking his sweet time about it), made a long, grand show of adding the sachet of flavour and then, finally, he poured the boiling water in up to the brim. Charlie was glaring daggers at him by the time he said, "All right. 'S all yours."
"Is Brian home?" Charlie asked Doug as he pulled chopsticks from the kitchen drawer.
"Nah, he's on a date."
"Really?" David sounded surprised.
"Yeah, I know," Doug said. "Apparently there's a she-yeti out there looking for lurve."
Charlie rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Doug," she said pointedly.
Doug grunted and disappeared down the narrow hallway into his bedroom.
"What's this about?" David asked her from behind a wad of Kleenex.
"Has your Gran ever mentioned the Doctor to you?"
David blinked his green eyes, confused. "What, you mean like, the family doctor? Doctor Baxter?"
"No," Charlie said impatiently. "Like a... not a real doctor, but a man called the Doctor. Like that's his name."
David's raised eyebrow clearly stated that he thought she was being odd again. "No," he said definitively.
Charlie's heart sank. "Oh."
Her heart rose again. "Yeah?"
"Well, when she's really out of it, sometimes she..." David's already pink face went a few shades darker. "She's sick," he muttered defensively. "She says a lot of things."
Charlie bit her lip. There were several things to consider here. One thing being David's affection for his poor sick grandmother, another being the fact that Charlie had never actually mentioned the Doctor herself. Not by name anyways.
David knew that she was obsessed with aliens (she was hardly alone in that respect, one could see that if they spent any time on the Internet), and he knew that she wanted nothing more than to travel. Travel the Earth, travel the stars, all of it. She'd spent hours telling him her daydreams of seeing the Pleiades up close, or actually walking on the surface of the moon.
But she'd never told him that she'd already walked on the surface of a moon, light-years away and several millennia in the future. Or that the 'eccentric godfather' she'd spoken of on rare occasions was really an alien with a living time machine.
"What do you know about Susan?" she asked.
"What did she say?" David demanded. He wiped his face and ran a hand through his light brown hair, making it stick up in the front.
Her lip was going to get raw from all this worrying, she thought grimly. She sighed and stood up. She pulled off her tailored red jacket and wrapped it around her scarf before throwing them into the ratty old chair the boys liked to sit in while they played video games. David said it was not a chair; its proper appellation was "The Throne" and it should always be referred to as such. Charlie happened to know that Brian had found it by a skip in the alley next to his favourite pub and that the three of them had dragged it home in the middle of the night. The only reason it didn't still reek of piss and garbage was because she'd used an entire bottle of Febreze on it. (Now it reeked of Febreze.) Had she been less wound-up, she would never have put her things on it.
"Charlie? What's wrong?"
David looked up at her with those green eyes and that swollen red nose and the messy hair and her heart melted a little.
"I've got to tell you something," she said.
David pulled a Kleenex from the box on the floor and shifted back so that he could sit up.
"Just so you know," he said. He blew his nose loudly. "It's bad form to break up with a man on his death bed."
Normally, she would have laughed and swatted his knee or shoulder, or kissed him. This time, she sat perfectly still, eyes still trained on his knees under the blanket. David's face fell. "Oh God. You're not breaking up with me, are you?"
Charlie shook herself. "What? No!" she cried. "Of course not! I just... I don't know how to..." She gathered her hair to the front and held onto it with both hands. "It's about my godfather."
David frowned. "Your godfather? What about him?"
David took another tissue and blew. Charlie's eyes fell on the mountain of used ones that was growing on the coffee table. "What is this?" she demanded. "Kilimanjaro?" She got up and went into the kitchenette for the waste bin. She plopped it beside the tissue box and gave him a meaningful look.
"What about your godfather?" he asked, picking up a handful of wadded tissue and dropping it into the bin.
She took a deep breath. He's a Time Lord with a TARDIS and he travels through time and space and saves people and he saved me and my mum and dad and he's wonderful and I miss him so much. "Well..." She stopped herself and fought back a smile, remembering the way the Doctor had drawled the word. "He's an alien."
David's hand hung over the basket. Slowly, he dropped the tissues and he put his hand in his lap. Holding her breath, Charlie forced herself to look at his face.
"An alien," he repeated.
"No," she replied. She bit her lip. "Do you believe me?" That wasn't much of a battle, she thought.
"Depends." He shrugged. "I've heard weirder things. Those Cybermen, that time the Earth moved. Gran and Granddad went spare about the Daleks."
She relaxed. London was quite the hotbed of alien activity. Of course other people noticed. "The big eyeball-snowflake things," she added. "That giant bird monster on Westminster Abbey. The little people made of fat."
David's lips quirked into a smirk. "He's not one of those, is he?"
"No," she said, rolling her eyes. "He looks human." She paused. "He's the Doctor."
"That's his whole name?"
"I don't know any more of it," she replied. "But I'm trying to tell you. I know him—knew him. He travelled with my parents in his ship. Then he... well, I went with him once, too. Just to fix this... thing." God, it was hard to put in words. How did one really describe the TARDIS or the end of the universe?
"He abducted them?"
"No! He... er... he saved them. It's a really long story."
David nodded slowly. "And this has what to do with my Gran?"
It was a long time before David replied. "Your godfather."
"The Doctor. He's not really my godfather, that's just something I call him. He's as good as." She wished that she didn't feel the need to defend herself.
David cracked a smile. "He's Sirius Black, isn't he? And you're really a witch posing as a Muggle or something. Right?"
Charlie rolled her eyes. "Actually he's more of a Dumbledore." She picked bits of fluff off of David's blanket. "Except he doesn't look old. Really, he is, though. Incredibly old. He's about nine hundred."
David let out a low whistle. "And he's not in a wheelchair? That's pretty good. Sure he's not a wizard?"
She frowned. "Stop taking the mickey. I'm being serious."
"Charlie," he said, rolling his eyes at her a little bit. "Come on, really. You're telling me that your godfather is a nine hundred-year-old alien. What does he do, send you moon rocks at Christmas and a few pounds on your birthday?"
"No." Charlie picked more fuzzy bits off the blanket.
There was another long silence. David looked thoughtfully at her.
"And Gran?" he asked, at last.
"I don't know!" she cried. "She said that he'd left Susan behind in the twenty-second century and then she..."
He rubbed his mouth with a hand and watched her. Charlie wiped her cheek with her palm and looked at the coffee table. "She said 'after the Daleks'."
"Daleks in the twenty-second century."
"So then, they come back, do they?"
She peered at him. That was his question? "I suppose so," she said. Did that mean he believed her?
"Does..." He licked his lips. She noticed how chapped they were, and regretted not having her lip balm with her. He never took care of his skin. "Does this Doctor have curly hair and a deep voice?"
"No," she replied. "He's a tall, skinny bloke with messy straight hair."
"Does he have a scarf?"
"Not that I saw. He wore a suit and tie when I saw him." She frowned. "Your Gran said something about hats."
He shrugged. "Must be someone else I'm thinking of. Or there's more than one of him."
She hugged herself. "Don't know."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
Charlie rubbed her eyes. "2009, right before Christmas."
He whistled again. She felt his hand on her wrist.
Seven years later, no one had any real explanation for that Christmas Day. Neither Charlie or her parents could remember anything about it, but they'd lost hours of time. There was the footage of President Obama turning into a blond-haired white man on camera. Despite the countless other people, mostly on the Internet, who insisted that it was real and not some WiFi-induced hallucination. Charlie had added it to the growing list of Things We Don't Talk About. Not even she wanted to talk about that; it was too frightening.
She nodded. "Yeah," she lied. "Just a bit shaken." She hesitated and narrowed her eyes at David. "I said twenty-second century."
"So you... you have heard about him before!" she said accusingly. Her eyes widened and she couldn't help but stare at him. "The time travel! You knew!"
David's face was red. "I told you. Gran says a lot of things. They were just stories, I thought. The ones Granddad liked to tell about Marco Polo, and giant ants, and the French Revolution. But when Gran went into care after he died... She showed me this bracelet she'd gotten in Italy. She wore it all the time when I was growing up. She told me that Nero gave it to her. The actual Emperor Nero." He paused and blew his nose again. "And she was always talking about a doctor and how he was going to take her home. I'd thought it was just the Alzheimer's. It got so much worse after Granddad..."
Charlie took his hand and rubbed the back of it with her thumb. He looked at her.
"So he's real, then?"
She nodded. "Yes," she said, smiling because it felt so good to say it. "Yes, the Doctor is real. My Mum's got a picture of him." She tilted her head. "What about that curly-haired man you were asking me about?"
He shrugged and picked up another tissue. "Oh. Just this bloke my Granddad knew. I met him once in Cambridge when I was a kid. He seemed to know Granddad, anyhow."
Charlie leaned against the arm of the couch with a sigh. David blew his nose. They sat in silence for a while. Eventually, David un-paused the DVD and Simon Pegg took a flying leap over a garden fence. Charlie got up and made them some tea. They cuddled on the couch with their tea and Jaffa cakes until Brian came home with his she-yeti. (Actually, she seemed very nice, but she did make Charlie feel even shorter than usual. And she was very broad across the shoulders. And she did have a bit of a moustache.)
Brian and his date retreated to his room. When the movie was over, David turned the telly to a murder mystery. It looked like CSI: Cardiff.
Charlie rested her head on David's shoulder and thought about Gran and the Doctor and decided that she would order some Chinese take-away—wonton soup for David and maybe a chow fun or chicken-something for herself—when the eight o'clock news came on.
A sanitary-looking newsreader appeared on the screen. He launched into a story about the President of the United States cancelling a meeting with the Prime Minister and blah blah blah.
"No word on the reason for the President's change of heart, though White House officials were firm in their assertions that the change was not related to the Prime Minister's recent—"
Charlie jumped as strains of Michael Jackson blared from her smartphone. She raised her hips and slid the phone from her pocket. She noted the ID and pressed the screen.
"Charlotte!" Her mother's voice was unnaturally high and tense. "Thank goodness. Are you at home?"
"No, I'm at David's flat. Why, what's wrong?"
"Have you heard the news yet?"
"I can't hear the telly," David complained. Charlie got up and went into the kitchen.
"I'm going to call your father," Mum said. There was a lot of busy background noise. The line blurred out with static for a moment.
Charlie put a finger in her other ear and faced the fridge. "What's wrong?"
"We're working on it. Just stay indoors, all right?"
"Mum," Charlie warned. "What's happening? Is everything all right?"
"I have to go. Keep your phone on, okay?"
"Yeah, I will. But what—?"
"Professor Taylor!" Mum shouted at someone in the background. "Where is that—?" The signal cut out. Charlie took the phone from her ear and stared at it. Mum had been calling from her mobile, not the office, which usually meant she was in the field.
"Did you hear that?" David had thrown off his blanket and was pointing at the television screen. "Tell me you heard that!"
"Heard what?" Charlie looked at the telly. The newsreader was still talking, face devoid of real emotion. It hadn't sounded like much of an emergency. "The President cancelled a meeting."
David shook his head in disbelief. "Do you read your news feed at all?"
"Sometimes..." she said. She poked the screen of her phone and brought up the news feed, then she closed it again and put her phone back in her pocket.
"You do know there's an election next week?"
"Those happen pretty regularly, don't they?" she said archly. "I hear they're pretty popular in democratic societies."
"Obama and the PM." David rubbed under his nose. "They're supposed to be finalizing the plans for..." Charlie's eyes went to the screen. The anchor had stopped talking. David watched intently.
There was finally some form of emotion on the newsreader's face; not a good one. He looked thunderstruck. He blinked for a few moments before going on.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I've just been given news that the Prime Minister is dead."
Charlie's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh God."
"No details are forthcoming, but it is confirmed. The body of Prime Minister Denise Riley has been found in her offices at 10 Downing Street."
"Oh, Christ," David breathed. "Oh Jesus Christ."
Charlie looked at her phone. Was that what Mum had been calling about?
"Bloody Americans!" David snarled. "I knew that—"
Charlie's phone rang again. This time it was her father.
"Are you watching the news?"
"Yeah. Did Mum call you?"
"No, have you talked to her?"
"Just a minute before the news... Do you think she's there?"
"I hope not." His voice was low and earnest. "I really hope not."