Susan wakes to David calling her name. She sits bolt upright: breathing heavily and wild-eyed, confused.
David sighs, more sadness than irritation. “What was it this time?” he asks.
“The Degradations,” she says. She purses her lips together tightly.
David gathers her in his arms. He doesn’t ask more questions when she makes that face. He knows, by now, that Susan can’t explain most of her dreams, or won’t. Never will; he’s not the one with the strange relationship with time, and he doesn’t try to pick through Susan’s. His life started, continued, will end, in an orderly fashion. More than once, Susan has thought how lucky he is for that.
“You’re safe here,” he says, kissing her forehead, her nose, her chin. Susan nods.
It’s a bold-faced lie, but they never discuss it further.
Susan’s life has three distinct phases. One, childhood: Gallifrey, and running away, exploring the universe. Two, adolescence: living on the ruined Earth with David, learning to grow, learning how to settle down and build a sense of self. Three, maturity: Gallifrey again, the Council, and the responsible and terrible decisions that come with a war.
Simple, she thinks. In each: a boundary, a definition. Each with its horrors (the injustices they’d seen; the devastation to overcome; the war...the war), and its pleasures, too.
But: there are fourths, and eighths, and one-seventeenths, and in each the yearning, the longing: to be free again, to be freer than ever. To run away and release herself from the terrible burden the war has imposed.
Three is a silly division for a humanoid life form, Susan thinks, with our fingers and our toes. And expecting linearity at the epicenter of a Time War is the dream of a little girl, not a responsible woman.
She has a network inside the Citadel. Spies and informants, she calls them, when she’s feeling rebellious; hopeful allies, when she’s pragmatic. Grandfather’s popped in and out of Gallifreyan life a few times, and thankfully at least a few of the people he’s interacted with don’t want to kill him on sight, and instead think kindly of his descendants.
The hot breath on her neck and the fingers on her shirt buttons weren’t supposed to be part of the deal. But Rodan - Rodan, she has let get close.
“I heard a rumour about Rassilon today,” Rodan says afterward, curled around Susan’s body. She knows not to talk shop while in the moment.
Susan sighs. Everyone’s heard a rumour about Rassilon, but Rodan still works on the transduction barriers, and has access to information before most everyone else, so this rumour is probably true. Susan’s not sure the Council realizes quite how much Rodan knows and sees, but she’s certainly not going to be the one to tell them.
“They underestimate us,” Rodan says, reading Susan’s expression. “It will be a woman who ends this, mark my words.”
Susan has already agreed to pass the Moment to Grandfather. Does that make her the woman who ends it? Will he not use it, will they have to go on, continuing to fight? A vision enters her mind: a woman, cloaked. She shakes her head.
“Tell me the rumour about Rassilon,” she says, kissing Rodan lightly on the lips.
Later she dresses in silence. There are probably bare days left, if one can even count days any more. As she laces her boots she thinks of David; she always thinks of David, even if he was a blip, a mere hiccup in time. She stayed for him. She will always wonder: why? She wants to run away, now more than anything, but she let his one place and time hold her down.
It was a peaceable responsibility, she thinks. Yes: that must be it. It was a home.
“A Reality Bomb,” the Time Lord says, laughing. “At least, that’s what he claimed Davros called it.”
“Davros is dead,” the other Time Lord says dismissively. “Honestly, believing a single word that comes out of that madman’s mouth, I wouldn’t have thought it of you.”
The first Time Lord becomes defensive. “I don’t claim to believe it. I’m merely reporting the account that came through the Medusa Cascade, and we have no way of verifying how that account came to be or where it is from. And the account says the Doctor stopped the Reality Bomb from detonating, anyway.”
Susan mutters under her breath, and the two men turn around, surprised. They hadn’t realized she’d been listening in on their conversation.
“Well,” she says, flustered to be caught out. “It’s not as if existence even matters in a Time War. I’ve personally witnessed things that never happened. Twice last Tuesday, in particular.” She holds her head up proudly, defiantly. “What sort of timeline are we talking about here, anyway? Where or when or how did this happen?”
The first Time Lord has recovered his haughty expression. “The one who did not go to the Academy tries to discuss Time with us,” he says. The other Time Lord laughs, and they turn and walk away.
Susan’s face burns. It doesn’t help to know what Grandfather is up to, she tells herself, again, for the hundredth time, for the last time (she hopes). But it’s so similar; vulgarities of naming aside, it’s so similar, and he stopped it. Would he use the Moment when the time came? Can she trust him?
Trust him, she thinks, trust him to commit genocide on an unimaginable scale. She laughs bitterly. It didn’t use to be like this. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.
She turns, and catches a glimpse of a familiar coat rushing away down the hall from her. She goes to call out, but her voice is caught in her throat.
She doesn’t see the Cruciform. She doesn’t, she won’t, she can’t, she shan’t, she wouldn’t, she isn’t: the Cruciform does not exist.
Every time she falls asleep there is something in the corner of her mind’s eye and she does. not. look.
“Oh, I know this one,” she says, gleefully, as she watches the life-form signals of the advance team rush away from a Dalek strike force. How wonderful: straight from her personal history, easy, simple. She knew she’d made the right decision to be involved in this particular battle. She relishes the feeling before switching on her comms device. “Aqueduct, twenty paces ahead to the right, it’ll take you to the main conference room.”
The other Time Lord monitoring the incursion turns in surprise; they don’t have maps or plans of the area, and have been relying on visual observation from their orbiting space station. Susan shrugs.
“I was young, once,” she says. “And someone told me I had a gift.”
The Sense-Sphere is secured after that. The planet, with its ultra-high frequencies that boost telepathic powers, is a powerful communications weapon for the Time Lords. Susan brushes off the suggestion of recognition for the part she played; she knows the Council wouldn’t be pleased to hear how she had gained her experience. But oh, Grandfather would be proud. She beams. A small victory, and her timeline, intact.
She has never let the warrior get close.
Leela sees too much, senses too much. She is emotion and instinct, and acts accordingly, and to be honest, it scares Susan: scares her that she will be seduced by it, and forget her new station; scares her that Leela will see through her and deem her a fraud.
Leela sees Susan exiting Rodan’s rooms and smiles. Susan bristles, but then realizes that, as always, Leela is not playing a game. Leela is an open book, and she approves of Susan’s actions, so she smiles.
Susan raises a hand in greeting, and Leela returns the gesture.
She tries not to feel personally responsible when Leela’s division is lost, but she has appointed herself caretaker, and it is all falling apart.
She slips the Moment in Grandfather’s coat pocket, hanging over the edge of the console. The TARDIS looks so different now, and it hurts her to think about it much at all.
She turns to leave, but, almost involuntarily, she brushes her hand against the controls, saying hello, saying goodbye.
The images flash:
Ian and Barbara, standing together there, laughing. Oh, the way humans could laugh.
David as he made love to her, putting his hand over one heart, then the other, his eyes promising to keep her secret.
Grandfather tearing apart the De-Mat Gun to create the Mome-
She jerks awake, or more fully so. The Gun. The Moment. She stares hard at the console, and the lights dim.
He knows, then, what it will take. And she knows he will do it.
So. She was almost done here. Why didn’t it hurt more? Why didn’t she scream and cry, hijack the controls, take herself as far away as she could? Why didn’t she run?
But the TARDIS is smart, and showed her. She sighs. There is linearity in her life after all; she was born, she lived, and now she will die to keep Rassilon from undoing all that has been done, to make sure that the past and future live on.
She passes the Master in the corridor as she walks back to the Council meeting room. He’s jumpy, sweating, and doesn’t meet her eye.
Let him run, she thinks. She knows what he is going to do. She knows what they will all do, what they have all done, what they will all do again.
Susan wins the war.
David had been sad that they couldn’t have children, though he didn’t love her any less for it. But there were so many orphaned children, and so little time for any of the children at all. Life post-Dalek invasion was hard, and adults worked and children, far too soon, grew up.
They always kept their door open. David teaches them to throw a ball and other such trifling pursuits; Susan sits them on her knee, and sings them strange lullabies and tells them stories of a world with orange skies and silver leaves on the trees.
“Do you want to go home?” David asks one day, after Susan has shooed the children out so she can get to the mending. He has been listening, and wondering.
“Yes,” Susan says, “but I'm also happy here. I have chosen my path, and it lies here with you, and with them.”
He kisses her then, and she shivers, just a little, whether happy or scared she can’t tell. She decides to go with happy. It’s the sensible choice, and, just maybe, there is value in that for once.