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A Child of Our Time

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River tightened her grasp on the basket, stroked the baby’s dark hair, then took a deep breath, and touched the vortex manipulator, praying that the calculations were right and that she really could get through the time-lock. Predestination paradoxes made even her head hurt. A moment later, she was in a study and breathing air she had never quite believed she would experience.

There was a desk, and at it a thin man. His hair was snow-white.

“Oh my love,” she said, without thinking, “You’re so young.”

So young, and so arrogant. He looked up calmly, as if strange women materialized in his study and addressed him affectionately all the time, and she was fairly sure they didn’t. Especially here and now.

“I don’t believe we’ve met, young lady; you seem to be being a trifle over-familiar, hm? Now, if you would be kind enough to explain what you’re doing in my study with an infant, before I call for-”

“I’m your wife. I’m your wife, and this is your granddaughter.”

He flinched, and a shadow seemed to fall across his face. “You most certainly are not! I should have you arrested at once.”

“I will be,” she said, and spoke his true name.

He turned white, but she saw that he believed her.

“Now,” she said, speaking quickly, “I’m afraid I can’t explain, because there’s a paradox involved, and anyway some very nasty people are after me, and after our granddaughter-”

“Our granddaughter,” he echoed her. “My granddaughter…”

“So all I can tell you is two things. One, you need to look after her, do whatever you have to to keep her safe, because her parents and I can’t. Just trust me on this; you’ll understand eventually. Very eventually.”

“Of course I’ll keep her safe,” he said indignantly, “do you think I’d let any harm come to any child or grandchild of mine, hm? I thought you said you knew me!”

Her heart seemed to contract painfully, but she said briskly, “Of course not, sweetie. Now, the other thing is, as soon as I leave, you must forget all about me. And you can’t remember this till your granddaughter is born.”

“Of course, of course, we mustn’t risk the integrity of the time-lines,” he said, and then paused. “But how will I explain her?”

“Oh, you’ll think of something, my love, you always do,” she said, and passed him the basket, which he set down, looking bemused, on the desk.

“Ah, there there, child, I’m your grandfather,” he murmured to the baby, who stirred fretfully as he picked it up, and stood himself, rocking her. “Hush now!”

River had wondered if this younger man would have her Doctor’s knack with children, but he clearly did; the baby stopped whimpering and looked up at him with clear dark eyes.

“What’s her name?” he said. “And what’s yours, my dear? After all, I’m going to forget you; it wouldn’t do any harm to tell me, surely.”

“Spoilers, sweetie,” she said, hesitated, and then swept him and the baby into a hug, and pressed a kiss on the old-young lips. “Spoilers.” She was blinking back tears. It’ll be all right, she thought. You know it’s all right, because he’s told you about her. Even if you didn’t know who she was, at the time.

She forced herself to let go of them, and turned to go.

“At least tell me her name,” he said. “I can’t keep calling her ‘child’.”

“Oh.” Just before she touched the vortex manipulator, she said the first name that came into her head, “Susan. Call her Susan.”