A carnival. There was just something about one that could always manage to make Rose feel like she was ten years old again. Something about the mix of hot sunshine and flashing coloured lights, the music, the heavy, wafting scents of fried food and sugary treats, the promise of fun- it made the world seem a little warmer, a little sweeter, a little brighter.
It fueled a laughing camaraderie amongst her group of dear friends, as they walked the rows of games and rides.
The sporadic, high-pitched whirr at her right, however? Decidedly out of place. And annoying.
Rose elbowed her husband. "Oi, Doctor. No more sonic. Seriously. I'll take it away."
Hair swooping over one eye, the Doctor stole a quick peek at his screwdriver's readout before he reluctantly pocketed it, fixing the carnival worker with a suspicious, squint-eyed look. The stick-thin man had his back to them, unhurriedly replacing bit of broken balloons on a big blue dartboard with colourful fresh ones.
"I can't help it, Rose," he replied. "Fun-fairs make me nervous; they seem to attract aliens like ants to candy. I'm just waiting for one to pop out and make trouble."
Rose arched a brow. "Um, that's already happened today, remember? Only the troublesome alien was our four-year-old daughter."
"Ah. Right." Grinning, the Doctor turned a fond look on the small, adorable girl clutching his hand. Suzy was quiet, the quietest she'd been all day actually, her brown eyes gone wide as she took in the impressive height of the Ferris wheel. In her pink and green plaid dress, her dark curls neatly tied up in beribboned pigtails, she was the picture of childish innocence.
But the Doctor was not fooled by this, and Rose smiled as she saw him readjust his grip on their daughter's hand. Smart to be wary of whatever might be going through that cute little head.
Suzy'd already escaped them once today- on the carousel of all places, when they'd felt perfectly fine to temporarily take their hands off her. One moment their child was happily waving to them from her brightly-painted horsy perch, and on the next go-round her seat was empty.
It might've taken longer to find her if she weren't so quick and clever with her hands. Only a couple frantic minutes passed before the carousel shuddered, then began hurtling its riders round at twice the normal speed. It was easy to figure out where Suzy had disappeared to.
Rose was upset, but it was hard for the Doctor to scold their daughter much, because he so empathised with why she'd done it. Suzy was growing rapidly, now at an age where normal human interests held limited appeal for her. Even at a fun-fair. Rides and games weren't enough; Suzy wanted to know how the mechanisms worked.
"You two've got your hands full with that one," commented Mickey, smugly enough to earn a dirty look from the Doctor. Mickey had hold of his own four-year-old, who was almost as angelic as she looked. "Good thing you fished her out of the innards of that contraption before she got caught, or the fun might've been over for the day, Boss."
Rose felt defensive. "She's just busy. And too curious by half."
"Too clever by half," the Doctor added, glancing again to the little girl he had by the hand.
Or, had had.
Gasping, he and Rose spun around, scanning the area in panic.
"Oh, she's here!" called Rose, relief flooding her as she instantly spotted Suzy, riding up on Rory's shoulders. Thank heaven for Rory.
The Doctor exhaled a long breath. "Blimey. I don't know how she got away from me again."
One corner of Rory's mouth turned up. "You know, what amazes me is how you're both so endlessly surprised by that."
"She's too quick," Rose said, brushing a hand down the Doctor's rolled-up shirt sleeve before linking her fingers with his.
"She's darling," Martha chimed in.
"And she's hard-wired to be precocious," Amy added. "It's not a bad thing."
"So true." Leaning into the Doctor, Rose lowered her voice. "Which is why, love, I still think we need to consider beginning to travel with her a bit."
And, cue the chin jut. "That's not the plan," he replied dogmatically, eyes tracking the spin and zoom of the Scrambler. "She's not old enough; not even close. I was well over a century old before I traveled off planet."
"Not so loud," Rose warned him.
"Yes, yes, off planet!" shouted Suzy from behind them, apparently having caught only his last two words. "Are we going, Daddy? Today?"
The Doctor frowned at Rose, disapproval in his green eyes. "Now you've done it."
"What do you mean, I've-"
"Look, Suze!" Jostling her, Rory pointed. "Over there, I think that's a stand with candy floss. Let's go buy you some, yeah?"
"No," said the Doctor and Rose simultaneously, shaking their heads.
Rory considered them, tapping his chin. "Did I mention, by chance, that last week I was forced to endure yet another lecture from Anthony's school principal?"
"Again?!" exclaimed Martha, with a reproachful look at the Doctor. "Did he give Anthony some of that Three-Course-Dinner gum too?"
Rory blinked. "What, like the Willy Wonka gum? The sort that makes people swell up into blueberries?"
"Yes, that's it. I mean, Charlie didn't chew any himself and nobody swelled up, but several of his classmates had purple skin for days."
"Was it the rude ones?" Rose overheard the Doctor ask Charlie, low. The two shared a high-five that wasn't near as surreptitious as it was probably meant to be, since everybody caught it.
"Doctor," Rose reproved.
"What?" he said, hands going up when he noticed all the eyes on him. "Probably did them good. Would probably do lots of humans good, having to change colour once in a while."
Rolling her eyes, Amy turned to Martha. "No, it wasn't that. Let's just say our son told his teacher her lesson on Columbus was absolute rubbish-"
"Did he really?" interrupted the Doctor, pleased. "Brave little lad!"
"You did?" said Charlie to Anthony, obviously impressed.
Anthony flushed, looking happier at his friend's praise than the Doctor's, even though at eleven he was a year older than Charlie, and much taller.
"I certainly hope you backed him up," the Doctor continued, fixing Rory with a stare, "because that history textbook of his is shockingly inaccurate and biased-"
"Candy floss," stated Rory emphatically. "Let's go, Suze! A giant pink candy floss, to match your dress!"
As Rory strode off, Rose held the Doctor in place with a hand on his arm. "Let him have this one, love."
"Yes, well, when she gets high from sugar and dismantles the Tilt-a-Whirl, don't complain to me."
Rose smirked. "Like father, like daughter."
"Oi, her penchant for wandering off did not come from me," he retorted hotly.
"So Suzy's been asking to travel off planet?" queried Amy.
"Oh, endlessly. She's like her mother, thinks if she brings it up enough times and bats her big brown eyes, I'll give in."
"And why shouldn't you?" Amy's nose curled, like she could scarcely bear his idiocy. Rose bit back a smile. "She's a mini Time Lord! And honestly, I don't know how you, being you, have stayed in one place so long without going bonkers. Well, without making poor Rose bonkers, anyway. Living on the slow path, not traveling anywhere unless it's to see Martha and Mickey- I just keep thinking of that time with the black cubes, you know, the time you stayed with Rory and I? You were impossible. I wanted to throttle you."
The Doctor scowled. "I've matured since then."
Amy's lips pursed. "Debatable. But okay, even comparing you-then with Suzy-now, I still feel worse for her, since she's the one who's actually four."
"Oi, shut up. I keep busy; I'm parenting. I keep my daughter busy."
"I know, I know, educatin' her. You're educating her all day long. You've mentioned."
"Speaking of education," Martha spoke up, "have you decided where she's going to attend school?"
Amy eagerly latched onto this. "Yeah, cos that poky little school where you're living won't have a clue what to do with her. And I don't think Anthony's school in the city could do much better."
"My granddaughter went to an Earth school and loved it." The Doctor turned pleading eyes on Rose. It was easy to see he felt ganged up on, and she pitied him, a little. But she wanted him to at least think about this.
"Yes, but Susan had her difficulties with it too," said Rose gently, patting his chest. "Besides, all the problems they're pointin' out, it's nothing you haven't said yourself."
He sighed. "Right, but..." Another sigh. "Well, we've got a year to figure it out, eh?"
There was a note of finality in his voice- discussion over. Mickey did not pick up on this. "Well, I vote for the Earth school, if you want my opinion. Suzy'll be fine."
The Doctor said nothing, apparently finding it preferable to have no one on his side than Mickey only. He crouched in front of Millie. "Miss Smith," he said, "are you as thirsty as I am? Shall we go and find ourselves a root beer or something?"
Eyes lighting up, Millie stuck a finger in her mouth, looking to her mother for approval.
"Well..." Martha hesitated.
"Oh, let her have one, babe. We're on holiday."
Millie and the Doctor smiled at each other, and he took her hand as he straightened. "Anyone else care to join us?"
"Can I, Mom?" asked Anthony hopefully.
"Course!" the Doctor replied. "You too, Charlie, you'll love it. See, in 1956 soda-pop's still made with real sugar. Comes in a cool glass bottle with a cap that goes pop-" he flicked his thumb. "And best part is, only costs a nickel, and I've got a whole pocketful of 'em!"
"He gets one soda-pop, Raggedy Man," said Amy threateningly. Martha nodded in vigorous agreement.
With a taunting grin for Amy, the Doctor set off on his soda search, the boys racing ahead while Millie trotted at his side.
"Those kids adore him," commented Martha, watching them go.
Amy snorted. "Course they do, he's a kid himself."
As they chatted, a group of laughing teenage boys passed by, all nicely dressed with collared shirts, hair neatly parted and combed. Eyeing them with a hint of disbelief, Mickey kicked at a clump of grass and Rose saw he wore his old ratty (and anachronistic) Nike's with his nice trousers. He and Charlie had complained endlessly that morning over having to 'dress up for a fair'.
"Ya know, Rose," he said, noticing her watching him. "You lot could always come live near us. Suzy could be in Millie's class. It's this backwards year that's the problem."
"Millie's been a godsend," replied Rose carefully, not feeling up to yet another debate with him on the merits and downfalls of their decade of choice. "Charlie has too. I think Suzy listens to him better than she does us." She gave Mickey's shoe a kick, grinning. "That's part of why we visit you so much, you know."
Martha pointed past them, beginning to chuckle. "Uh oh. Check that out."
Rose turned, grimacing as she caught sight of her daughter, dancing and hopping as Rory chased closely after. Suzy carried the remains of an enormous pink candy-floss. She was practically vibrating.
"Uh oh," echoed the Doctor's voice as he returned, coming up alongside Rose. They shared a look of alarm.
"Maths and reading," Rose declared. "That's it. You are no longer allowed to help our friends' children with any other sort of homework."
The Doctor gave a low whistle, not seeming to have heard her. "Make sure you've got your trainers tied tight, Lewis. Looks like we've got the makings of an exciting afternoon."
"Look! A maze!" Anthony shouted, pointing toward a high wooden privacy fence, painted all over with pictures of crops. From her perch on her daddy's shoulders, Suzy spotted a sign reading "Kiddie Fun Maize", mounted beside a bright red archway cut in the fence. There were hay bales all around, raised gardens of corn and sunflowers and beans, over which a scarecrow stood guard. And...oh, it was talking to people. It was alive!
She tugged hard on one of Daddy's ears. "Is that scarecrow an alien?"
"No, no, dear, it's a person in a costume." A pause. "Hopefully."
Suzy was not overly disappointed. "Can we go inside the maze? Please please please please please!"
Charlie kicked at a paper wrapper lying in the dust, glancing up at her. "We don't wanna do that, Suze. It looks boring."
Anthony slumped, looking embarrassed.
Suzy was confused. Charlie was big and smart and fun, but how could he say that about a maze? She'd seen pictures of mazes, traced them in activity books when she was much littler, she adored them. And this was a real, actual maze, surrounded by a tall, delightfully mysterious wall. Anything could be behind it.
"Boring, Charlie?" countered her daddy, with a reassuring pat to Anthony's shiny blonde hair. "Don't be ridiculous. Mazes are brilliant... well, usually. Once I got properly lost in one, didn't get out for three days, but, the worst part was that at nightfall, these thorny, toothy vines on the walls would wake up and try to eat-"
"Doctor." Mummy's tone meant it was time for Daddy to stop talking.
"Course, there's no vines in this maze," he went on, swinging Suzy down to the ground. "Just hay and crops and scarecrows, looks like. Scarecrows are...ehm. I'm sure they can be loads of fun."
"I've been to a maze before," said Charlie, yanking his buttoned collar from his throat for the umpteenth time. "It was dark inside, with black lights. And laser tag."
Aunt Martha, who had been talking to the scarecrow, turned to them with an eager smile. "Listen, gang. He says it takes kids a good hour to get through it, usually. There's workers inside to help if they get lost, and, best part, there's tables and concessions round at the maze's exit."
All the grown-ups smiled at each other, looking very happy, probably because their children were about to have such a good time. Martha gave Charlie's head a playful cuff. "You're doing the maze."
"The four of you stick together, mind," she continued, bending to adjust Millie's headband and kiss her forehead. "Millie, you listen to Charlie."
"You'll listen to Anthony," said Mummy to Suzy, sternly. Anthony raised his eyebrows, and Suzy gave him a sweet smile. Anthony was a nice boy and she loved him, but she also enjoyed the fact that he was a tiny bit afraid of her.
Charlie gave Anthony an understanding look. "Wanna swap babies, mate?"
"Yes," said Anthony gratefully.
Suzy and Millie glowered at Charlie. "We're not babies!"
Shrugging, Charlie smiled his handsome white smile at Suzy. "Well, you're not," he decided, taking her by the hand. Suzy beamed.
Charlie jumped. "Ow! Mom, did you see that?" Nostrils flaring, he glared at Millie. "Miss Perfect kicked me!"
"Millie, you know we don't kick. Apologise to your brother."
Charlie gaped, incredulous. "What? I would've gotten in way more trouble for that!"
"I'm not a baby." Arms crossed, Millie looked so baleful and stubborn that Suzy felt a rush of warm camaraderie. "And I'm older than Suzy!"
"Only by three months," Suzy reminded her.
"Apologise," Aunt Martha repeated.
"Sor-ry!" Millie spat, and stomped away.
"So, Rory," said Aunt Amy. "Do you still think Anthony needs a sibling?"
Charlie was right. The maze was boring.
"I want to be done," said Suzy, righting an old popcorn box that was lying on the path.
"Well, that's too bad," said Anthony. "We aren't even close to the end. But Millie and I like the maze, don't we, Mills?"
Millie shrugged, grinding the heel of her ballet flat in the dirt.
Crouching, Suzy weighted the popcorn box with a handful of gravel. "I know how to get out, Charlie," she said as she straightened, wiping her dusty hands on her skirt.
Charlie didn't hear her. He clung tight to the top of the wall, having stacked two hay bales in order to reach it, and was struggling for a foothold to climb up.
She smiled. It would be interesting, seeing what he did if he actually got up there. Would he simply look for the best path out, or would he actually walk the tops like a balance beam? Suzy hoped for the latter, because people would likely start yelling, all surprised. That would be funny.
"I hate these stupid slippery shoes," Charlie complained, giving up and jumping down. His face shone with sweat and his trousers were dirty, speckled with hay. "I don't know how you put up with them all the time, Tone."
Anthony, whose trousers remained pristine, narrowed his eyes. "I own athletic shoes too, you know. Everything's not a future invention."
"Sorry," said Charlie. "I know that. I just wish we had 'em on now, ya know? So I could climb up there and find the way out."
"Well, I don't want to cheat anyway."
"I know how to get out," Suzy repeated, climbing up the prickly hay bales with a handful of gravel. It was lovely and high; she could kick the middle of Anthony's back if she wanted to. She began tossing the pebbles into the popcorn box ten feet away, plink, plink, and giggling. Plink.
Giggling at her, Millie hurriedly clambered up to join in the fun. Suzy handed her some stones. "No, you throw them in the box," she explained, after Millie's turn, tossing a few more to demonstrate. Clearly her friend did not understand this game.
Anthony watched this, disbelieving. "How are you-"
"Well, guess I'm gonna have to go ask a dumb scarecrow," Charlie announced, taking off for the T a few meters ahead. Sighing, Anthony reluctantly followed him. As they made a left turn and disappeared, the little girls shared a surprised glance, slid from the bales and ran to catch up.
"You're supposed to take care of us," Millie accused them, panting.
"We're going the wrong wa-ay," sang Suzy.
A second (wrong) turn finally brought them to a scarecrow. As they approached, it was easy to see his face was covered thickly with yellowish-brown makeup, textured to look like burlap. He wore a straw hat, overalls and a flannel shirt, with straw poking from his collar and cuffs. It looked very itchy. "Would you like a hint, children?"
"Can you show us out?" asked Charlie, openly staring. "My sister is scared."
Millie huffed. "Am not!"
Makeup cracked at the corners of the scarecrow's smile. "To what do sunflowers turn their faces?" he asked, with a dramatic gesture to the bright yellow flowers painted on the walls.
"To the sun!" shouted Suzy.
"We don't want to do riddles," said Charlie, outright impatient. "We just want to get out."
"You don't like our maze?" The scarecrow seemed taken aback. Hurt, even.
"I like it," replied Anthony, giving Charlie a defiant look. "It's cool. And I want to find my way out without any clues."
"Excellent!" Smile restored, the scarecrow patted Anthony's shoulder. "And look at you, minding the little ones, so responsible. You like the rest of our carnival too? You're not afraid to go on the rides?"
"Nope." Anthony grinned. "I like The Whip the best. I went three times!"
"Lame," Suzy heard Charlie mutter, under his breath.
"That is one of our scariest rides!" Genuinely impressed, the scarecrow considered Anthony, and began fishing in the front pocket of his overalls. He produced a small card and handed it to him. "You are a special boy. Enjoy the rest of your day!"
A huge smile stretched over Anthony's face.
"What'd he give you?" asked Charlie as they trudged off. "Coupon or something?"
"Yeah." Still smiling, Anthony turned it over in his hands. "For a free game. Any one I want."
"Lucky." Charlie sighed. "But that wasn't helpful. Sunflowers."
"I know how to get out," said Suzy, pushing between them, snatching the card from Anthony's hand.
"Hey, that's mine!" he yelled, grabbing for her. She skipped out of reach.
Charlie scrutinized her, suspicious. "Okay, let's hear it. How?"
"It's the sunflowers," she said, jumping to touch one of their swirly black centers. "Most of them face the way we're supposed to go."
"I thought you said they face the sun," said Anthony.
"Real ones do," she said, glancing at the card she'd nicked. "Not painted on ones."
It was a very plain card, with two lines of writing. Nova Carnivals. One free play at game booth of choice. She flipped it over, more interested in the strange picture on the back, a hash of lines and curves that sort of resembled a Ferris Wheel. No, not a picture. A phrase, in a different language. She could read it.
Genuine Earth fun, brought to you from Lepsma, Centaurus A.
Her nose scrunched. Just a dumb slogan. But wait- Centaurus A? That wasn't on Earth. Centaurus was a galaxy, millions of light years away.
"They are aliens!" she screeched, twirling with joy. "The scarecrows!" This wasn't a boring maze, it was an alien one, and oh, wouldn't Daddy be so surprised and proud? Closing her eyes, Suzy focused inward, on the bright strong warmth that was him, linked to her mind. She had to tell him, now.
Anthony's voice cut in, loud and dismissive. "You think everything's alien."
Blinking, Suzy set her jaw. "This is."
"Yeah, right. And why would aliens want to run a carnival?"
Her hands went to her hips. "They probably force humans to run it," she shot back. "That's why they gave you that card. They're probably going to kidnap you!"
It was satisfying, seeing fear flash across his face, but now Suzy's mind began to whirr. Why hadn't this occurred to her before? Aliens were frequently bad, that was why Mummy and Daddy said she was too little to visit other worlds. But...maybe this was her chance, to show them she was big enough and smart enough, that she could handle it. Yes. She would save Anthony all by herself, Mummy and Daddy would see how much she could help, and then, surely, they'd go traveling together!
Gaze sharp and focused, Suzy took in her surroundings, the gravel, the painted farm scenes on the walls, the sky. The maze's towering center caught her eye: a tall, squared-off section, painted red, meant to help you orient yourself.
It would also be a perfect spot to hide something.
She turned on her heel, a plan taking shape in her head. "Allons-y!"
A scuffling sound as the others chased after her. "Where are you going?" Anthony's voice was nervous.
"To stop them from kidnapping you."
"By breaking their ship. That's what Daddy did, one time when he found alien scarecrows."
"He- what? What ship?"
She sniffed. "Daddy says there's always a ship."
Millie pulled at her hand, tried to make her stop. "Your daddy says no more wanderin' off. You're gonna get in trouble."
Ignoring this, Suzy yanked away and ran, not stopping till she reached her tall crimson goal.
Tilting her head back, she gazed upward, at seeming miles of red wall with the blue sky beyond. Undaunted, she put her hands flat against it, put her nose to the boards. It was faint but unmistakable, that dark oil smell, just like the TARDIS engine grease Daddy often got on his hands. Had to be a spaceship.
"All I need to do is climb this wall," she decided.
Millie stared at her, wide-eyed.
"That's too dangerous," said Anthony.
"Too impossible," added Charlie.
Accepting their comments as valid, Suzy surveyed things again, and a biggish rock on the path gave her an idea. Snatching it up, she found a weak-looking spot with a knothole on the wall's bottom edge, and gave it a good whack.
"Let me do it," said Charlie, getting into the spirit of things. Bang! Bang!
"I can't believe you're helping her," groaned Anthony.
...bang, bang, bang, CRACK! Tossing the rock aside, Charlie pried a chunk of splintery board loose. Suzy dropped to her belly to peer through the hole.
About the size of a car, it hovered just over the grass, oblong and pebbled and black- a strange black that hurt her eyes. Suzy's hearts skipped. She'd found it- an actual spaceship! With effort, she wriggled under the fence, and as she got to her feet she was proud to find her dress was even dirtier than Charlie's trousers.
"Suzy, come back, okay? I don't want you to get hurt." Charlie's serious tone made her hesitate. Glancing back, Suzy saw his face at the hole, looking worried. "We should really go get your parents."
Suzy bit her lip, considering, and then shook her head. "It's okay, Charlie. I know all about spaceships." Feigning confidence, she went and laid a palm on the ship. It buzzed, warmed, and when a door shimmered open she grinned.
Inside, there were blinky buttons everywhere, every colour of the rainbow. Rows and rows of different-sized levers, a wide glowing screen with an outside view. Her daddy once pushed lots of buttons to break a spaceship, but Suzy clutched at her skirt and did not touch. This was confusing. Nothing like the TARDIS. And she'd forgotten her rock.
It didn't matter. Suzy was too scared to break anything.
Charlie was right. She should tell Mummy and Daddy.
Anxious to be back outside, she turned hastily, her foot catching on an unseen something. Her elbow struck a lever, and it hurt when she fell, and then lots of blinking and beeping was followed by a whoosh.
Suzy's tummy felt strange, like when she swooped up too fast on her swingset.
"Uh oh," she said.
Fear, sudden and icy, charged through the link, and the Doctor nearly choked on his popcorn. His eyes met Rose's for one horrified instant, and they leapt up from the picnic table.
Dimly, he could hear shouting, their friends calling out, "what's wrong?" A vitally important question he couldn't respond to, because he didn't know, all he and Rose knew was that something had terrified their little girl, and they needed to get to her, now.
As they made a mad dash toward the maze, the answer rose up, literally, before their very eyes.
"Oh no," gasped the Doctor, clutching Rose's hand tight.
It was a sort of ship he'd never seen before, odd and nearly void of colour. Hanging motionless in the air, just above the maze, there was no doubt his daughter was aboard it. Praying it wouldn't fly off, the Doctor tried to gather his wits, to think.
"Help her," Rose whispered, and that did it. Eyes falling shut, the Doctor poured his entire focus into the link.
Suzy? Tell Daddy what's wrong, sweetheart. Why are you in the ship? Does somebody have you?
No, came her small reply, after a few endless seconds. I bumped the lever, I think.
That rose up a dozen other questions, but the Doctor shoved them away. Okay, baby. I'm going to help you land it. But I need you to look at the controls, very carefully, and don't look away. Let Daddy see them, please?
A hazy picture swam into his mind. Lights and dials and buttons, slowly sharpening into focus, while he and Rose sent Suzy wave after wave of reassurance. "Aha!" he said out loud, once he could study it properly. Suzy? See the two rows of six red buttons, near the bottom of the dash? There's a lever to the left of them. Pull it down, very, very slowly.
He didn't breathe again until the ship sank back down inside the maze walls, and then his knees went weak. Rose, pale and shaken, slumped against him, and he wrapped her up in a long, tight hug.
They caught up to the children near the maze's employee exit, escorted by three gobsmacked men dressed as scarecrow. Running forward, Rose snatched up her daughter and cuddled her close. "Suzy, Suzy, what were you thinking?"
Suzy's cheeks were wet and tear-streaked. "They were gonna kidnap Anthony."
At that, the Doctor's fear ignited into fury. "So that's your little game, is it?!" he shouted at the alien scarecrow men, Oncoming Storm raging forth unchecked. "Abducting innocent human children?! That's in gross violation of galactic law, according to article 34.5 of the Shadow Proclamation, and I'm giving you thirty minutes to clear this place out because I'm about to have the Judoon swarming in here like-"
"We're not abducting people!" one of the scarecrow cut in, shaky but indignant. "Check the records; we've been running this fair for years! I gave the tallest boy a card for a free game, is all, because he was nice and polite!"
"We have a permit to be here," added another, twisting his hat in his hands. "And frankly, your idea that aliens abduct is a stereotype. An offensive stereotype."
"Oh," said the Doctor, all the fight going out of him. "May I...may I see your permit?"
"Well, son," said Rory to Anthony, after they'd all recovered at the picnic area for awhile. "Want to go redeem that card for your free game? Maybe win a prize?"
Anthony shook his head, a funny look on his face. "Nah."
Rory blinked. "Really? Why not?"
"He only gave it to me cos he said I was responsible and brave. But-" Anthony gave a little shrug. "He's wrong about that. I let Suzy get into huge trouble."
"That was not your fault," the Doctor refuted.
Charlie frowned at his friend. "Besides, I was the one who said I'd be in charge of her."
"Well, that doesn't matter, because you're the fun, cool one. You live in the future. I'm just lame Anthony Williams from the lame 1950's." He glanced away. "But at least I'm responsible. Sort of."
"You're not lame," replied Charlie, so emphatically that Anthony looked at him in surprise. "And neither is this year. It's super fun, coming here."
"He means it, mate," said Mickey. "Charlie loves all the freedom you have- he's not allowed to run all over his own neighborhood, by himself, the way you get to. New York in our year is way too dangerous."
As Anthony absorbed that, the Doctor spoke up. "Rose and I could live anywhere, anywhen, you know that. But we chose this time-period." He gave his bow-tie a tweak. "Because it's the coolest."
That got a grin out of Anthony, though his gaze at the Doctor was knowing. "Aunt Rose always says she's the one who picked where you live, cos she wanted my mom to help her keep you in line."
"Oh, that's nice," drawled the Doctor, giving Rose a Look while everyone laughed. He shifted Suzy on his lap, tipping his face down to hers. "And you, young lady. Why didn't you listen to Anthony and Charlie today? That was so dangerous, going into a strange spaceship all on your own."
Suzy fiddled with the sash of her dress. "I thought if I could help somebody, like you and Mummy do, an' stop aliens, then you wouldn't be scared to take me into space."
Of course. With trepidation, the Doctor peered up from under his brows, and sure enough- all his friends' eyes were on him. Judging, probably.
Amy was the first to open her mouth.
"No," the Doctor shut her down. "Don't. I know exactly what you're going to say, Pond; I don't need nagging at again. Rose and I decided long ago that we're not traveling with a young child."
Amy stared him down, eyes dark and wise. "I just figured that you, Doctor, of all people, would know what they say about best laid plans."
Rolling his eyes, he began retying one of Suzy's hair ribbons. "Yes, and it's a rubbish saying, not even close to accurate. I'll have you know that when I said that to Burns, I was referring the plans of mice-men, not 'mice and men'. To this day I don't know how he misunderstood me, considering how we'd just spent half the day rooting loads of the tiny buggers from his cellar-"
"Doctor," chided Rose gently. "Stop deflecting. It doesn't fool any of us."
"Fine," he replied petulantly, "but it still doesn't fit. My own plans don't 'often go awry', they always do. Isn't today more proof of that?"
Martha blinked at him, a napping Millie in her arms. "Since when do you hate winging it so much?"
"I don't, unless it affects the people I love."
All his friends looked at each other, and the Doctor could tell they weren't sure what to say to that.
But Rose stroked the back of his hand. "But even then, lots of times our plans go awry for the best. I mean, we didn't plan on havin' Suzy, right?"
That got him. For a long moment he said nothing, just gazed into Rose's smiling eyes, those dark, vibrant eyes he adored. "Right," he finally admitted, a smile curving his lips in spite of himself. "And I certainly didn't plan on you."
"Sweet," said Rose, palming his cheek, looking so pink and pleased he had to lean in and kiss her.
"Get a room," said Amy, as usual.
Dragging himself from his wife's tempting lips, the Doctor bestowed a warm look on everyone. "Guess I didn't plan on any of you lot, really."
Rory, who sat at his left, inched back. "That's nice, but save the kisses for your wife, okay?"
"So, Raggedy Man," said Amy, as everyone laughed again, "maybe it's time to give plan B a go, yeah?"
Squinting, he looked sidelong at Rose, slipping an idea from his mind to hers. As she smiled they turned to the small girl on his lap, who had been listening to this whole exchange intently.
"Well, Susan Jacqueline Tyler," he said, nudging her chin up. "What are you going to do, first thing, next time you find trouble?"
"Tell you an' Mummy."
"That's right," said Rose. "We understand you were trying to help today, but that was a thing for grown-ups to handle. We're your parents, and we know lots more than you, and that's why you need to obey us, yeah?"
Suzy nodded solemnly.
"I know you want to travel, sweetheart," the Doctor added, "but this is part of why we haven't yet. If we can't keep track of you at a little fun-fair, we don't dare take you to the anti-grav trampolines on Napo VII, do we?"
Eyes liquid and sad, she shook her head.
"But," the Doctor said, "I'll make you a deal. You show us for one month that you're working hard to do as you're told, with no running off, and then we'll try taking you off-planet."
Suzy flung herself at him, little arms tight around his neck. "S'a deal, Daddy."
As he hugged her back, a pre-pubescent voice called out from the road beyond the picnic tables. "Look, it's Williams! Hanging out with a bunch of little kids! Hey, Williams!"
The Doctor looked over to find a group of four boys waving at Anthony, smiling rather mockingly and holding up toy slingshots. Anthony had shrunk back into himself a bit and the Doctor frowned, wondering what the story was here. Had these boys bullied him at school? Either way, their very presence seemed to deflate some of Anthony's confidence, and the Doctor was not at all pleased.
"Got these at the Balloon and Dart booth," a freckled, ginger one said, snapping the band on his slingshot. "Now we're going over to the Ball and Bucket Toss. Wanna come watch us win?"
Anthony said nothing for a moment, and then...a smile. "That game's not so hard," he declared, with a bit of a scoff that made the Doctor proud.
Predictably, the boys jumped all over that. "Oh, and you can do better?"
Anthony squared his shoulders, chin aloft. "Actually, I bet my four-year-old cousin could do better."
They burst out laughing, like the obnoxious little brats they probably were. "You're on!"
"C'mon, Suzy," said Anthony, sharing a knowing grin with the Doctor as he took Suzy's hand, helping her down from his lap. "Let's go have some real fun."
"That's an excellent job, my dearest, really well done," said the Doctor ten minutes later, as the rather embarrassed boys slunk away. "Look, the nice man wants you to choose a prize."
Eyes scanning the rows of plush animals, Suzy pointed, her decision firm and instant.
The Doctor cringed. "Oh, but sweetheart...don't you want the nice bunny instead? The bear, perhaps?"
Giggling, Rose laid her head on his shoulder. "Always has a fondness for the squid-looking things, hasn't she?"
Suzy cradled her new friend, enjoying the way his soft blue tentacles hung over her elbow.
"Your name will be...George, okay? I think you get to live with us now. Right, Daddy?" She yanked on his hand. "Can George live with us? Oh, and can he come with us into space?"
"Of course he can, dear."
Suzy smiled at George, conspiratorially.
George winked back.