Once there was a girl named Susan. In another place they called her Queen and she travelled to marvellous, faraway lands as the beloved, gentle ambassador. But those tales are for another day. In this place, on this day, her travels are much more mundane: nothing more extravagant than walking into town to look at the shops. And as is true in many a smaller town, there was a cemetery at its edge. Or at least at one time it had been the edge of town, until the town continued to grow around it.
"How odd," said Susan Pevensie, stopping up short.
"What's that, Susan?" asked the girl in a matching school uniform. Like Susan, she was in Fifth Form and eager to be done with school, believing they had already learnt far more than they would ever use in their lives.
Susan bit her lip. There were times when she forgot herself, still noticed things others never did. And while she'd grown adept at lying to herself, she had yet to gain a skill for lying to others. She pointed toward the blue box tucked between two pines inside St. Peter's cemetery. "That."
"That police box, Betsy."
"What about it?"
"It's in an odd location." The odd location was the least strange thing about the box. Susan declined to point out how battered its exterior was, yet how uncommonly modern it looked.
Betsy shrugged. "I suppose. Never gave much thought to where the police put them." She tugged at Susan's sleeve. "Come on. Let's see if the shops have anything new."
Just then a couple -- for they were holding hands as couples do -- turned the corner, banging right into them. To Susan's mind, they were as odd as the police box. He, in a blue, pin-striped suit and burgundy plimsolls that were contrary to the reality of rations, and she, a brassy blonde with roots as dark as Susan's hair and wearing denim trousers. Susan would have thought her an American if not for her lack of an accent as they all murmured a series of awfully sorry...you all right...I didn't mean tos. But to Susan's horror, he didn't stop with the simple courtesies.
"Sorry, there." He tilted his head and pulled out an object the size of a fountain pen, waving it before her. "Anyone ever told you that you have the strangest temporal signature? Exactly how old are you? Thirty? Thirty-one?"
"Doctor!" scolded the blonde.
"Well, she is!" he replied, throwing up his hands.
Susan eyed him coolly, her mouth puckered like a rose bud. "I was born in 1928, thank you very much." For, as has been said, she was no good at lying, but had no intention of acknowledging that which she'd told herself was a childish dream. Linking her arm with Betsy's, she said, "We have only a brief time before we must return to school, so if you don't mind, we'll be on our way. Good day."
As they walked away, Susan cringed, realising just how loudly the voices of the pair carried. She hoped keenly that her friend was as oblivious to what was being said behind them as she had been to the police box.
"That's right. I do know her. Gave me a little pull cart, even. Met her right before meeting you. Bit older then; about your age, I'd imagine. Turned me and the TARDIS down flat. Unbelievable."
"Telling me I wouldn't be here if she'd said yes, yeah?"
"Weeell, ah... I'm sure I still would have invited you along."
"You are so dead, Doctor." Her laughter, the exclamation point.
Though the sun was bright, a shiver ran up Susan's spine. And later, as they walked back to school, she noted that the police box was gone.
Susan's first experience with the flow of time was the one most of us know: that time was linear, like a train travelling on a track, the order of station stops the same for everyone. After being to and fro (and to and fro) Narnia, Susan understood time differently. Time was like the race between the tortoise and the hare: racing in Narnia and crawling in England. (Was it any wonder that others perceived Susan to racing to adulthood in the eight years since she'd last been to Narnia?)
What Susan was about to learn was that time could move in a third way: like a cross-stitched sampler. For most, the back side was nearly as orderly and presentable as the pattern displayed on the front. But for others, like a Time Lord, the back side showed a needle that hopped and jumped, backwards and forwards, through time and space, making a tangled thicket of overlapping threads. Though to the individual Time Lord, it was full of order and meaning. And on this day, Susan was about to meet for the second time a man who had not yet met her.
As Susan finished applying her lipstick she heard a whirring noise coming from the attic. She'd never heard such a thing from their normally stuffy, dusty, quiet attic. The unbidden thought of Narnia popped up like a child's beach ball held too long under water. Then, with a shake of her head, she told herself the sound was not coming from the attic at all, but it was far more likely their neighbour boy learning a new instrument for school.
There simply wasn't time to check. She was to be picked up for the cinema any minute. But a study of her watch told her that any minute was over ten minutes away. When she heard the thump just above her head, she concluded that there was, perhaps, time to climb the stairs and have a look before he arrived. Besides, keeping him waiting just a tad wasn't so bad either.
Susan pushed open the door and saw that same police box she'd seen in the cemetery years earlier. Would it now look odd to Betsy amidst broken doll buggies and Christmas ornaments? Its back was toward her, so she eased the trap door back into place and walked around to the other side.
Years later, when Susan would look back on this day, she'd remember many things. How her new, very red lipstick was called Queen of Hearts. How the day had been warm and bright, full of every good possibility. How she wished she had her bow and quiver. And how badly she felt about being short with Lu when her sister had called, urging her to join them - and wondering, if she turned around right now and borrowed her landlord's car, if she could get to the train station in time to do so. The one thing she could never recall was the name of the boy for whom she had been waiting. John. Or Jack. Or Mark. Or some such. What had been his name?
"Doctor?" she queried. A man was slumped against the door frame. Likely the thump she had heard was his fall. There was no response, and upon closer inspection, he wasn't the man she'd met during her school days. He was dressed the part for a comedy of manners, but his velvet suit coat was crushed and torn, his curls matted terribly with blood, and under the bruises, his complexion was sallow. If only she had Lucy's cordial. But then, if she had the cordial, she'd be in Narnia and all manner of things would be different. "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," she muttered, returning her focus to the man and not herself.
"Hello?" she called, touching his shoulder. There was no response. Shaking it harder, she said more loudly, "Hello!"
His eyes fluttered open and he clasped his hand over her own upon his shoulder. "Please, bright angel."
"What can I do?" she asked, leaning in more closely.
"Please." He drew a ragged breath. "Step away. And after--"
"And after what?" Susan demanded. But instead of answering, the man made the most horrid gurgling sound. Susan knew it far too well from the battle fields. If he were to die, she would not let him die alone. But when his eyes held hers, she felt compelled to comply with his request, backing away a good metre, clutching the corner of the call box.
It was then that he began to glow, his features blurring as if he were cloaked in a thick London fog, then clearing like the haze burning off. The result was the last thing she expected, freezing her in place. And Susan was someone who had seen a great deal of death in her first youth; she'd even been a witness of sorts to Aslan's resurrection. However, Aslan had been himself. A better, brighter, more beautiful self, and the memory still made her eyes shine.
But this man? The face and body before her shared nothing in common with the one that had been there mere moments before, other than his unconsciousness. Everything tender had been sluiced away until only the craggy granite remained. He was all angles and sharpness instead of bend and bow. Except his ears, whose size and curve reminded her of Reepicheep.
And just the memory of the brave mouse was enough to compel her to action. It didn't matter how this could be; it was. Grasping his wrist, she felt for a pulse, which beat strong, if uneven. Satisfied that he was stable, she stepped inside the blue call box.
Susan hadn't nursed anyone in years, but she reckoned that no matter where you come from, a soft pillow under your head and a blanket tucked under your chin were comforting. She would have managed a cold compress for him as well, but he already felt cool to the touch, so bundling tight would have to do.
Hours passed, and still the man did not wake, though he did mumble and groan, his agitation clear. Like so many of those who had fought in the War, or any wars, sleep was less than the slumber it should have been, something Susan knew first-hand. In particular, it was his moans of "Gone, they're all gone" that rendered gossamer cracks in the chain mail she'd linked tight around her heart.
Whilst she waited for him to wake, she prowled the halls and other rooms of the call box. Originally her intention had been to explore the whole of it, bow to stern as it were, but that quickly proved a fool's errand, as there was always one more room past the last. Thankfully, she had found the kitchen and his bedroom easily enough.
She frowned slightly at the thought. At least she was mostly sure she'd put him to bed in his own room - there were so many. And each with its own personality. The tidy room with turned-down hospital corners, a Spartan one in shades of grey with just the basics, another that looked as though a whirlwind had come through. Susan wondered where were the people who went with these rooms, as she never found anyone else. The closest she came was finding a composition book.
At first she thought nothing of it; it looked like the type in which one kept school notes or wrote a long exam. But the title, written with elegant flourish, hinted at something far different: The Care and Feeding of your Doctor. Flipping through its pages, it appeared to be an instruction manual, or perhaps a survival manual.
"He's not a tame Doctor, is he?" she murmured to herself as she carried it back to his bedside and turned the pages. There were exceedingly practical ones. Try to avoid pears a small, looped script suggested, as he hates them, and has a habit of going on about how he hates them. Or the page that smelled of a tropical island and entreated the reader not to give him coconut juice OR HE'LL BE DRUNK FOR DAYS! It wasn't hard to imagine the exasperation behind that scrawled note. More of a wonder was the tidy hand that added, complete with a smiley face, Though a bit of shredded coconut gives him a delightful buzz.. She smiled and remembered when they'd all unwittingly consumed far too many wintercherries, as no one had thought to warn them that something so sweet and effervescent could be so highly fermented.
Then there was the page that started out, We keep our Doctor safe; the next line, in a different hand, added, And he saves us, followed by another: It's not a fair trade, but he never complains. She ran her hands over the words as if, by touching them, she could touch the authors. So poetic, so full of love. Who was this Doctor?
It is then that a hand darted out and wrapped itself around her wrist, tight. "Who are you and what are you doing in my TARDIS?" he barked.
With a start and a yelp, she dropped the notebook before rattling off, "I'm Susan Pevensie. You... changed and were unconscious. Thought it best to bring you inside." Remembering herself, she took a breath, drawing up straight and adding in her most queenly voice, "And really, the better question is who are you and what are you doing in my attic?"
"Fair enough," he said, releasing her arm and allowing his head to drop back to the pillow. "I'm the Doctor. Though I'm not sure who I am yet. Prefer to be the kind of bloke who didn't snarl at little girls at every turn. It's not looking too likely, though."
At this, Susan resisted the urge to point out that she wasn't a little girl. She'd finally reached an age (again) where one realises that protesting you aren't a child is, well, rather childish. Instead she refocused her attention on picking up the notebook and smoothing its pages as he added, "And I'm not sure how or why the TARDIS put me here."
With a wave of his hand, he encompassed everything around them.
"Oh, you mean your police box."
"It's not a police box, it's a Time And Relative-- Oh, never mind."
Susan bristled. "Of course it's not a police box! What do you think I am? Some dumb creature? But she looks like one - and it makes as much sense to think of her as that than a ship."
He smiled and sat up on his elbows, restored by her medicinal. "Well, you didn't say what everyone says upon entering the TARDIS, so perhaps you're not a stupid ape. Though I suppose you might have said it while I was unconscious."
She couldn't help but smile back. "That it's larger on the inside that the outside?" She shrugged. "Lots of things are." With no intention to say more about it, she stood and changed the topic. "You must be starving. Do you feel well enough to go to the kitchen or shall I bring you something?" And, wickedly, she couldn't help adding, "Pears, perhaps?"
That got him out of bed like a shot and he ranted on the terribleness of pears for far longer than it deserved, being that there actually weren't any to be found. (How wooden had the one he'd eaten been? And if only he could try a Narnian pear, thought Susan.) "Look at that," he ended. "I still hate pears. Fantastic!"
It was then that he spied himself in the glass. Shoes and socks were gone, for it doesn't do to wear one's shoes to bed. And while socks, particularly wool ones, are rather nice in the winter, the Doctor's had been several types of wretched. Now barefoot, he wiggled his toes.
Susan blushed and looked away. It had been one thing to remove clothing from a person who was unconscious and in need of aid, as it was simply a matter of practicality. But when the patient was up and about, particularly when he was not an unattractive man, even if acerbic and glowering, there was a realisation of just how intimate the act had been.
He turned side to side, studying himself at every angle before facing the glass again and pulling on his ears. "How did you manage to get me all the way back here? Pretty tall, this body, and I must weigh nearly twice as much as you -- you're just a slip of a thing."
Relieved he wasn't making a fuss about her ministrations in general or of relieving him of that horrid jacket and shirt in particular, she happily accompanied him down the hall, explaining the nature of an attic and how just about everything mums couldn't bear to let go of ended up in them -- even a child's wobbly pull cart, which in a pinch made a poor but functional form of transport.
"Fantastic. Humans. Always so inventive." He stopped up short in front of a door that Susan hadn't found in her wanderings. "I'm going to clean up a bit. Meet you in the galley in a shake? Can you find your way?"
Susan, of course, could. She'd always had a much better sense of direction that her brothers had given her credit for. In fact, she included a detour back to the room where she'd found the notebook. Before tucking it away, she couldn't resist her own addition: He still doesn't care for pears, but it is fun to watch him splutter so.
She had only just perched herself on a stool in the galley when he reappeared. Standing in the entry he looked around, like a man who'd just taken purchase of a house and seeing it in a new light.
Not only was he clean, but in a completely different ensemble. Clad in a dark t-shirt, and dark leather jacket and trousers. (In what shop would one even find leather trousers?) He no longer looked anything like the romantic fop from some comedy. He looked unlike anyone she'd ever known. And if possible, it made his already fierce demeanour that much fiercer.
"I'm hungry enough I could eat a horse," he declared.
"I've always hated that phrase, but I'm rather hungry myself."
"Well, then, I'll make something for us," said the Doctor, as he proceeded to bang around the galley opening nearly every cupboard and drawer.
"May I help?"
"No, no. You were kind enough to care for a total stranger who stumbled into your attic. Least I can do is make you supper. Or lunch. Or breakfast. What time is it for you?"
Susan shrugged. "I've lost all track of it."
"Then supper it is. What's your guess?" he asked, throwing out a challenge with the lift of his eyebrows. "Think I'm a good cook or not? I'm leaning toward the idea I might be a fantastic disaster at it."
Susan studied him while he fumbled around the space, running his fingers along counters and edges, opening and closing doors in no discernable pattern, at random announcing, "Ah, there it is!" Yet he seemed to be pulling out a reasonable combination of food stuffs. "I'd guess you're a competent cook, at least for the things you like. Nothing fancy, though."
"Yeah, doubt I'm the next Delia Smith."
He pulled a knife from the block with a flourish before chopping an onion with gusto on the wooden work island. "Not important."
"Why are you talking as if you don't know your own nature?"
"Do you like liver and onions, Susan?" he asked, not looking up.
"Oh. Well then, perhaps an omelette? We'll go breakfast. Wake up and start the day with a good breakfast."
"Well enough. Why are you talking as if you don't know yourself?" Susan Pevensie was not one to be put off by chatty misdirection.
"How about a good pasta and sauce? Something to stick to those thin ribs of yours?"
Susan did not deign to give answer and the silence stretched between them. Susan wondered if she had pushed too far, but he was the one who kept referencing it, just the way Peter, Edmund, Lucy - and even Eustace – would. Dropping comments, hinting of Narnia, nearly willing her to engage. Granted, she kept all of that in her heart. They could talk to each other if they wanted. But this was different. This Doctor, he had no one else to listen to him.
"You said you were there when I changed." His head was down, studiously chopping the onion into the tiniest of pieces. "My people, we..."
He stopped for a long time, saying nothing, but Susan knew. Finding a clean towel, she handed it to him, her voice soft. "You're just like me. Onions make my eyes water."
He took the towel and pressed it to his face for a long moment before exchanging it for a green pepper that he cored and began to chop. When he continued, his words were as measured as his slices. "I'm not human. When I'm mortally wounded, I regenerate - I take on a new form. Tends to play havoc on my looks and personality. Takes me a while to figure out who I am. As you aptly put it, I change."
Susan didn't know about being mortally wounded nor about taking a new form, but she knew what it was like to have an old form thrust upon her. "I would imagine that would be as much a curse as a blessing. To regenerate like that. Like mixing up dominoes. You never know if you're picking up tiles with pips or blanks."
At that he looked up, appraising her. Too many thought near-eternal life would be jolly good fun. Often it wasn't. For every benefit, there were the graves of a dozen friends who'd left you behind. Humans rarely grasped that concept without being cuffed around the ears first. But he said nothing, returning to his task and for all appearances having no intention to answer.
After the pepper and onion were slid into a frying pan, he finally spoke again. "I don't lose all of myself. The memories, the experiences, the people who've touched and changed my life, it's all still there. It's a bit like this onion." With that, he peeled a second one and sliced it length-wise, holding up the inside for her to see. "There's these layers. Some are thicker, some thinner. Each layer's got more surface, each layer's just that much further from the one before. But it's all still there, inside."
Susan nodded, considering the idea, comparing it to her own experience. "Still. I would imagine that would be rather hard on relationships."
The Doctor barked out a laugh. "You have no idea."
Hopping down from the stool, she found a wooden spoon, and began stirring the onions and peppers. "Perhaps more than you might think," she said softly.
After that, the silence was companionable. He even let her share in buttering the bread, though he insisted on crushing the garlic - his hands were already a stinking mess; no need for both of them to be in that state. When the butter had melted deep into the crannies of the bread, and the garlic was just the lightest shade of brown, and most importantly, a strand of pasta stuck to the wall when he threw it, they sat down to a meal.
It wasn't fancy, but it was good. There was some sort of red wine and a vegetable that Susan had never had before. "What is it? It's delicious."
"That's wirlp. From a planet called Siwelc. Salt of the earth people. Other than the not being Earth. You'd like it there, just for a visit."
"In the TARDIS. She's a Time and Relative Dimensions In Space craft," he said, without elucidation.
She wasn't going to ask either. Not after he'd been so dismissive earlier. Though that had been previously, before they'd begun eating. And more often than not, she'd known many a gruff creature to turn pleasant with a spot of warm food in its stomach.
"Bread?" she asked handing him the basket. "Might you say more? About your travels, I mean."
He talked in generalities, like someone explaining a concept, not like someone sharing his life. Whatever had happened to him, he didn't want to think about it, let alone share, but at least he was talking.
After dinner, he asked again, though this time it sounded like a true invitation, not simply one of those things you say to be pleasant at a dinner party. "Would you like to come along? Travel with me?"
Susan turned the idea over in her head, soaking in the marvel that was the TARDIS, thinking on the notebook. "So you're offering I could travel with you, see amazing places, and have amazing adventures."
The Doctor nodded emphatically, a smile on his face.
This was almost enough to make Susan feel bad about finishing her thought. "You haven't said as much, but I'd imagine that at some point you'd need to return me here, leave me behind in this mundane world while you see grand, new things. And if I told anyone, they'd think me mad. I'll not volunteer for that pain again," she said, shaking her head emphatically, her hair falling in her face.
The smile was gone. She felt bad for taking it away, for causing the hunch of his shoulders. If he'd been Reepicheep, even his ears, whiskers, and tail would have drooped. She didn't mean to be cruel to this bruised soul; she'd once been known as the Gentle. Had she lost even that when they'd been pushed away? Reaching out, she touched his arm one last time. "But thank you for the offer. It was quite kind of you. I do hope you find a proper travelling companion."
With that, he walked her to the door of the TARDIS and they said their goodbyes. This was unfortunate. There was a reason the TARDIS had brought him to that particular moment in Susan's life. While the Doctor had concluded it was because Susan would rise to the strangest of occasions, there was more to it. What he hadn't sorted out in his post-regeneration haze was that the selection of here and now was not just for his sake, but hers. Time had not stood still in England while she had been inside the TARDIS.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Susan Pevensie," he offered before closing the doors.
As for Susan, she closed the attic's trap door behind her and stepped down lightly, unsure what time of day it was, let alone what day. For the first time in years she was holding herself as she did in Narnia, and even thinking of sharing with the others her adventure, wondering what they'd make of it. She made it as far as the living room before her flatmate found her.
"Susan! Where have you been?" cried Hazel.
"Sorry. There was this emergency. A friend, the Doctor, he--"
Hazel grasped her tight. "Oh, Susan, I'm so, so sorry. And you're so brave. Which is good, as your Aunt Alberta's been calling, she's frantic."
"Whatever for?" asked Susan, attempting to disentangle herself.
"That's not funny."
"I'm not trying to be funny," Susan said slowly, a chill gripping her. "What's wrong?"
"You don't know, do you?"
"How could I? Tell me!" she commanded.
"The train. There was an accident."
"Mum and dad? Please, no." Susan sagged into the couch.
Hazel sat next to her and, haltingly, for there was no good way to share such devastating news, that Susan had lost not only her parents, but her brothers, sister, cousin, and even some family friends. It was everyone who'd ever been touched by Narnia.
All that Susan could do was repeat their names, Mum, Dad, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Mum, Dad, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, until the words blanketed her from the world. Blanketed from any additional horror Hazel might tell, and from even the whir of the police box, deserting her attic.
As a Time Lord will tell you, one can't return twice to the same moment in time, but if one door in time closes, another will eventually open.
"Coming, coming!" Susan called as the knocking, no, banging, continued insistently. Leaving the chain on the door, she opened it a bit. In front of her was a man with bright blue eyes in a form-fitting polo neck jumper, denim trousers, and five o'clock shadow of stubble. He reminded her of one of Peter's professors, and her heart squeezed tight with the memory. "Yes?" she asked, just wishing he'd go away.
"You? You! Never mind. Hello! I'm from TV Licensing. You've been identified as havin' an unlicensed television," he rattled off quickly. "And I need to come in, if you please. See for myself about this telly of yours."
Susan looked him up and down. "I do not have an unlicensed television, I don't care what that van might suggest. You're not from TV Licensing." Even if he'd had the credentials, she'd not have believed it. He was just too... something to be from that office, doing these pedantic checks.
"Ah, darlin'. Oh course I am." Holding up and opening a little wallet, he added, "Here's my ID right here."
Susan sighed. "There's nothing on that paper."
He looked at the paper and frowned before turning back to her. "So it is. Let's try the unvarnished truth. Susan-- It is Susan, yes? I'm in wee bit of a spot. Please let me in and I'll explain it all."
Susan narrowed her eyes. "You're one of them."
And by "them," Susan meant the various people who'd come out of the woodwork after the Bristol Train Crash. The barristers eager to bring a case against the railway. Former boyfriends. Former girlfriends of Peter's. And the reporters! With their horrid flash bulb cameras! The headlines had said things like Little Orphan Suzie and A Little Pevensie. Though the references behind the headlines mattered not at all. The masses were crazed for the content: a heart-rending real-life tragedy. And it didn't much more tragic than a beautiful young woman whose entire family died, leaving her a rather substantial inheritance.
And of course, the hunger for even more details about Miss Susan Pevensie turned the good will sour. What had been first seen as an act of providence - What a blessing she wasn't on the platform with her siblings - became a question, an indictment. Why hadn't she been there? What was the horrible rift in the family? Baa, Baa, Black Sheep was splashed across the papers instead.
It was little wonder that Susan had moved to a small, remote town (that her telly received the signal at all was remarkable) and cut her hair to a short bob. Not only was she ignoring the styles of the time, but it was also as unlike as possible the long locks that had fallen to her feet when she was Queen in Narnia. Much shorter and you'd been shorn, lovie, her neighbour Mrs. McLeod had offered.
"Hasn't it been long enough? Leave me be," she hissed.
"What are you on about? Dinnae we part on better terms than this? I'm the Doctor. We met in that wee town. Rose was with me and..." He snapped the wallet shut, slapping it against his palm. "It was so long ago. What else, what else... I went on about your age. And you're what now?" he asked, fishing out that fountain pen-sized object and waving it around. "Thirty-eight? Thirty-nine? Even if the calendar claims you're what? Twenty-four?"
"I have no idea what you mean. Please go," she said, trying to close the door, heartsick that even a schoolgirl chum of hers could be so grubby as to go to these lengths. But the man had his foot in the door. "Remove your foot!"
"Before that, we met in your attic! Or maybe it was after that for you? So long ago," he repeated, shaking his head. "You nursed me back to health. Very kind of you. And it would be a greater kindness if you'd extend that hospitality of yours again!"
Those claims most certainly caught Susan's attention. Narnia she may have shared with her brothers and sister, but the events of the attic she shared with no one, not even trusting to write it down in a diary, particularly after the feeding frenzy. She caught her lower lip between her teeth. Trusting anyone but Mrs. McLeod had grown nearly impossible for Susan. And everything about the man from his body to his dress to his voice was different. But, then, given what she'd last seen, that was to be expected. Besides, she couldn't ignore that something thrummed true and deep within her when she looked into his eyes.
"All right," she said. "I'll let you in, but you have to let me close the door if I'm to open it."
As the door closed, she supposed she could pull the bolt and walk away, but she'd given her word, so she undid the chain and let him in. "Doctor, I see you've regenerated again."
"More'n once. Finally a wee bit ginger," he offered, running a hand through his hair. "Now, let's get that door locked." But before he could turn the bolt, there was another knock at the door.
"Hello! We need to see proof of your television licence," called an odd voice from the other side.
"Oh for P--" was as much as an exasperated Susan managed before the Doctor clamped a hand over her mouth, pulling her away from the door.
His mouth was so close to her ear, she could feel the stubble as he whispered, "Don't make a sound."
In that moment, Susan experienced a rush of adrenaline, fuelled simultaneously from two sources. The first was fear. If the Doctor was this apprehensive, something was deeply amiss. The second source was frisson. A shock nearly electric when his hand and lips made contact with her face.
She nodded to tell him she understood and that he could remove his hand. Not that she really wanted him to let go, but now was not the time to indulge in the sensory experience of his nearness. Besides, he was mostly a stranger. Perhaps she'd been in self-imposed exile too long.
He dropped his hand, and with a combination of gesture and significant looks, they crept behind her sofa. Again, his mouth was to her ear, whispering. "They can't hear well, but they can feel the smallest vibration."
"Miss Pevensie, please come to the door." The voice broke off in a squeal, like someone adjusting radio reception, and Susan's heart hammered so hard she was sure they'd be found out.
Surely they would leave if there was no answer, no sound. They didn't move on. Rather, as Susan and the Doctor peered over the top of the couch, the doorknob rattled, then began vibrating, faster and faster. The Doctor pulled her down just before they heard metal shattering, whizzing in every direction. She tried not to think of what it had done to her wallpaper.
It was in her house. The floorboards hummed beneath her. Had it felt them like a spider feels a fly in its web? It was a terrible hiding spot between her small sofa and the window. All she could hope for, since she couldn't ask the Doctor, was that he knew what he was about.
It felt like forever. Surely her heart would burst. She tried not to hold her breath, but kept it shallow and steady. She felt the gentle pressure of his hand on the nape of her neck, and though their situation could only be described as dire, she felt safe. Closing her eyes, she waited.
Finally, the vibration faded away. But Susan stayed still, trusting the Doctor's decision on when it was all right to move. He eased himself to the ground, motioning her to do likewise. Lying on their stomachs, propped up on their elbows, chins in their palms, it felt more like they were children camping out than in the middle of some terrible invasion.
Flashing a boyish grin that belied their situation, he inched forward until they were again cheek to cheek, lips to ear. "The telly van – its aerial loops are intensifyin' the radio waves. Holdin' the Fleen together, makin' them stronger, more solid. Aggressive, even," he explained, his voice hushed and low. "We need to create a conflictin' harmonic. Somethin' with a long wave to the sound. Somethin' with a wee bit of heft to it. Can you think of anythin', darlin'?"
Susan's closed her eyes and tried to see the town through its sounds. It was a quiet town, not a lot to hear beyond children, radios and televisions, and the occasional car horn. There were the booms of thunder that woke her rattling from her sleep, but that couldn't be reproduced. Then her eyes flashed wide with the a-ha. She would have shouted the answer, but caught herself. Instead, she whispered low into his ear.
"Ack, that's it. Back door?"
As fluid as a cat, he was on his feet, helping her up, giving her a smile she couldn't help but return. One of Susan's heels had already fallen off in the course of events, so she toed off the other shoe, mourning what would surely be the ruin of her nylons as they made their way out of her house, down the alley, and toward the town square.
They saw no one, neither the people of her town nor creatures that were stalking them. It came to Susan that whatever was after them could be an invisible creature. She shivered and again trusted the Doctor knew what he was about.
Once inside the old, stone structure, he held up that fountain pen-sized tool of his, turning full circle in the space. "Good, they aren't in here," he said in a normal voice, putting the object away. "Stone's a dampener, a darlin' break for us. Haven't been to church in years. And that was about seekin' a wee bit of sanctuary as well, come to think on it."
"It's been a few for me too." A funeral with five caskets for one family.
She must have looked stricken, as he offered his hand, saying, "Come on, let's find that bell tower."
Gladly taking his hand, they dashed across the sanctuary, finding the door to the spiral staircase on the second try. As they raced up the stairs, Susan thought it quite possible that if the Fleen didn't kill her, keeping up with the Doctor might.
Reaching the platform of the bell tower, the Doctor again pulled out his pen. "What," she asked breathlessly, "is that thing? You're always waving it around."
"This?" he asked, waving it around.
"This," he said with pride, "is my sonic screwdriver."
"Undo the bell rope?" As she unwound the rope, he fiddled with his screwdriver and muttered, "Ampin' up the harmonic for overlappin' sinusoid patterns, reverse the polarities, and..." Looking up, he asked, "Are you ready to pull with all your might when I say…?" He pointed the screwdriver at the bell. "NOW! And dinnae stop!"
Susan jumped and pulled, letting her own weight lift off the ground, a satisfying dong ringing out. Then she pulled again, and again, the sound deepening, overlapping, and vibrating down to her bones. She'd never known this bell to sound anything like this.
"What?" called Susan, for she thought the Doctor was yelling something to her. But then she realised he wasn't shouting, but laughing. Now, laughing at a moment of such seriousness often comes off as maniacal or insanity, but it wasn't that at all. Seeing his head tipped back and that generous smile widen into was something more was glorious to behold, and Susan felt the death mask of grief shatter from her heart as she joined in laughing for the pure joy of it.
Then the Doctor joined her, his hands above hers, adding his strength and heft to the cause until it felt like her very soul was vibrating with the tintinnabulation and a near-blinding white light filled the small portal windows of the tower.
Finally the Doctor let go and gestured for her to do likewise. They sprawled on the wooden floor, working to catch their breath as the last reverberations of the bells stilled themselves.
"Did we… kill them?" Susan asked tentatively, the ringing in her ears making it hard for her to know if she were whispering or shouting.
"Ack, no. The Fleen were the ones who sent the distress call," he replied, straightening his jumper. "We released them to their proper state is all. Poor things were mostly out of their minds, all that energy bound up like that."
"Oh. And everyone in town?"
A small shadow crossed his face. "I wasn't here soon enough for quite everyone. But!" he added, jumping to his feet and again offering his hand, "with your help, darlin' Susan, we averted a catastrophe that would have consumed more than your burg."
Taking his hand, they made their way out a side door, for everyone was now outside and drawn to the church, marvelling at what had transpired. They heard more than one person remark, "I thought there was only that one dull bell," and shared a conspiratorial smile.
"I must look a fright," said Susan, running her free hand through her hair and relieved that he was leading them through the less peopled side-streets.
"Don't say that," he admonished, giving her hand a squeeze. "You looked glorious on that bell rope, and you still do, even if you are a bit dishevelled."
She blushed and laughed altogether.
"I suppose you'll be wantin' to clean up," he offered.
"Oh, yes." The first thing Susan wanted was to draw a warm bath and submerge herself until only her nose was outside the water. But instead she pulled up short. "Why did you stop?"
He nodded to the blue call box tucked away in the alley. What had he called her? "Oh, it's the TARDIS," she replied, releasing the Doctor's hand to give the box a rub. It was an odd pleasure, like being introduced to a childhood friend you'd lost all track of, and didn't expect you would still recognise. But the warmth quickly dissipated as she realized what else the TARDIS signified. "You're leaving," she said flatly.
"Weeell," he said, stretching the vowel to near breaking. "Eventually, but I thought you might fancy a look inside. Could get cleaned up if you'd like."
Now Susan, who had once honed flirting to a fine edge and could read the slightest of cues, had grown, in her cloister of one, quite oblivious, as was evident by her saying, "But my home's not more than a street away."
He jammed his hands in his pockets and dropped his head, more mumbling than saying, "Thought you might fancy a ride, too."
Susan blinked hard, and resisted the urge to ask, "What was that?" She had put him off in no uncertain terms, a regret high up on a pretty impressive list of regrets. Never had she imagined she'd meet the Doctor again, let alone be invited inside the TARDIS, let alone--
Snapping out of the micro-emotion of shyness, the Doctor closed the space between himself and the TARDIS, and swung open her doors. "Oh, do come on. You know you want to. We'll be like peas and carrots."
She arched an eyebrow. "Peas and carrots."
"Yeah! Or haggis with neeps and… tatties."
"Nothing," she said, crossing her arms and trying hard to look serious, "goes with haggis. And if we're going to travel together, let's not compare ourselves with haggis ever, all right?"
"Is that a yes?" he asked gleefully, clamping his hands on her shoulders. "Oh, the places we'll go!" Pulling her into the TARDIS, he continued on, "Oh, where first, where first… Oh! We'll visit a planet that only appears every 75 years. Quite the event!"
"Like Halley's Comet?" she asked.
"Not a wee bit, but that would be fun to see as well. This is more like that odd show on the telly, LOST."
He snapped his fingers. "No! Like Brigadoon!" Closing the door, he began flipping switches, pumping levers, and generally moving around the space like a whirling dervish until the now-telltale whir of the TARDIS began.
"But that's a musical, and a myth." Though why she needed to point that out, she wasn't sure.
He looked up from the controls, grinning wide, and eyes twinkling. "Oh, the universe is a big place. I've found most myths are more steeped in truth that you might imagine."
Susan wrapped her arms around herself and thought of Narnia.
Once there was a man named the Doctor. It wasn't his given name, but a name he'd given himself. That, however, is a tale for another day. In fact, the Doctor has tales enough that when you find yourself with a rainy day where nothing sounds so good as curling up in an overstuffed chair and an oversized jumper, with a good cuppa in hand, ready to read a yarn, you would find yourself deeply satisfied to choose one of his. And at the end of that sitting, you would still have tales enough for every rainy day for years to come.
Now over the years the Doctor has had a number of travelling companions, mostly all human: delightful, curious, courageous, outspoken, and often surprisingly devoted individuals. In his estimation, he never deserved all that they gave. In this, Susan Pevensie was no exception.
What did make Susan an exception to the rule was while most of his companions had families they missed and longed to visit, even if they were usually ready to weigh anchor ten minutes into said visit, Susan never asked. Prior to Susan, he could look at his companions and, knowing the snapshot in Earth's history in which they'd been born and raised, guess their histories with surprising accuracy. And what he couldn't intuit, they shared with open abandon. But not Susan. His assumptions about who she was and what her life had been about didn't fit with the woman travelling with him. It was though someone had taken two jigsaw puzzles and tossed them together into one box.
Take that trip to Camelot. He called her bonkers for wanting to see King Arthur's court. Assumed it was due to being English. Children's nursery rhymes are nearly Ring around the Round Table and Old King Arthur was a merry old soul. He blamed himself a wee bit for planting the idea the most myths had reality backing them. Still, it was a rather more pedestrian request than he expected of her. But he offered, and she asked, and he took her there.
Should have given her fair warning. The movies always made it seem, cleaner, brighter, with finery and bathing; the reality surely wasn't the movies. There was a hunger in her eyes when they landed, before the TARDIS doors opened, which was quickly followed with the merest crease of a frown where her eyebrows pinched together. But just as quick, she shuttled it off, smiling and curious to see the real Camelot.
He should have realised something was amiss. As they walked back to the TARDIS after an adventure in which Arthur (and they themselves) barely avoided death, she commented, "For a king, he's got a lot to learn. Even the youngest Faun knows you always keep an eye on your advisor no matter how much you trust him, and it's only common sense to—" She stopped, shaking her head. "Doesn't matter. It all came out in the wash, thanks to you."
Hand to heart, he was on the cusp of saying it did matter and what did she mean, but then she thanked him for bringing her, hugged him and gave him a peck on the cheek. And if that weren't enough, after she stepped inside the TARDIS, asking him to undo the first of the miserable clasps on the back of her dress. It went without saying that he became utterly distracted.
There were other times that followed. Like when he took her to the star gazing rock on Thrainen 7. He looked forward to sharing a wee little intergalactic astronomy with her, but then she took one look at the large, smooth slabs – they'd broken in half ages ago, the one making a rather lovely backrest for the other – and backpedalled into the TARDIS, nearly tripping over the picnic basket.
"I can't be here," she insisted, nearly hyperventilating. "It's too much like-- I can't be here, not now, please."
Later, he tried to find out what troubled her so. She even got as far as opening her mouth, but never managed the words. She then shook her head, her lips in a tight line.
"Ah, darling, we all have demons," he said, pulling her close until her head rested on his shoulder. Then he opened the picnic basket and they ate its contents right there on the floor of the control centre.
So yes, Susan Pevensie was, if not purposely secretive, indeed a mystery: a mystery which elicited two feelings in the Doctor. One was the feeling of being a wee bit stupid, particularly in the face of being a genius. It took him several weeks to notice that she didn't talk of family or friends or any concern for the life she'd left, save once wondering aloud if Mrs. McLeod was all right and if she'd found someone to walk her Saint Bernard.
"Fancy a visit?" he asked, assuming she'd light up like a Christmas tree.
"No. There's nothing for me there. But thank you for offering." Then she smiled that pretty smile of hers and asked, "Where to next?"
The second feeling it elicited was just how frustrating it was to not know. He'd gotten quite used to humans being open books, wearing their emotions on their sleeves, but not her. It gave him a wee glimpse of understanding just why Rose or Martha or Sarah Jane would get so exasperated with him when they learnt something they deemed important about him, yet he never thought to mention it. He'd not meant to hurt their feelings, but it wasn't an easy thing for him to sort out what were the important needles in the haystack of his life.
It was after a particularly sobering trip, one in which a couple gave their lives so that the rest of their community might live, that they both were adrift. He settled the TARDIS on a broad field in a deserted place, and they lay in the meadow, listening to the wind rattle through a copse of birch trees. After a long while, she said, "They must have found comfort in being together, at the end, right? Knowing the others lived?"
"I'm the last of my kind." He hadn't expected to blurt that out.
She looked at him with bright eyes and asked, "Please, tell me about your home."
It was then that it dawned on him that perhaps he should stop waiting for her to tell her stories, but should tell his own. And he did. He told her about Gallifrey and his childhood, of the Time War, and how he'd had so little will to live, but then the TARDIS had brought him to Susan's attic, all those years before. How the grief had indeed gotten a little bit easier, but had never fully gone away. How he'd had his twelfth and final regeneration, so perhaps he ought be a wee bit more careful, but he usually forgot himself.
Then she told him about the loss of her family, hiccupped tears throughout. He marvelled that she never asked him to take her back to the time when they were alive. He gathered her close until her head was tucked against his chest and kissed her forehead.
Before she drifted off to sleep, she murmured, "Once upon a time I lived in Narnia, and I will tell you everything, I promise."
That promise was fulfilled on a trip to the heart of Alaska, just as gold was starting to cause such a fuss. He opened the door and stepped out, arms wide open. "It's a lovely place, especially in winter; snow just sits on the trees like a fairytale and-- Su?"
She stood in the doorway, her face as white as the wintry forest before them. Shaking her head, she smiled and stepped outside as if nothing were amiss, taking his gloved hand.
"I'm fine," she insisted. But not more than a few steps into the woods, she stopped. "No, I'm not all right. When you opened the door, it looked just like Narnia did the first time we stepped through the wardrobe, when the White Witch reigned. I nearly expected to see a lamp-post."
"A wardrobe? You travelled to a new country through a wardrobe."
"Yes, I know. But that is exactly what happened. And on the other side was a lit lamp-post in the middle of a snowy wood. All sorts of impossible, really. It's been ages and ages since I've talked about Narnia." Laughing, she pulled at his hand. "Come on, I'll share while we walk."
A piece of advice learnt from The Wizard of Oz: always know exactly what you are parking your house upon. It was for the want of two metres over and eight metres down that the Doctor found himself being tried for high treason. Apparently it was a crime for anything to be higher than the statue of the shepherd boy-turned-king, which sat on the highest turret of the crumbling castle. And the TARDIS sitting atop the other turret, clearly rising above the statue, was not taken kindly. Of course, the Doctor didn't take kindly to the Raxacoricofallapatorian inside what had been the Boy King either.
"Next you'll say I'm mad as a hatter," he finished, a smug smile on his face. He'd heard this once or twice or hundreds of times over the years from various companions.
"Well, you are," she retorted in the most reasonable tone she could muster. Then, though the bars of the cell that separated them, she leaned in close and kissed him on the lips. "For luck."
Befuddled as a schoolboy, all he could think to say was, "You've always been my lucky penny." The guard was walking toward them. "Best you go, darlin'."
After he was led out to the platform, the rope around his neck, he requested his final words under Intergalactic Agreement 1893Z, subsection 13. The confused Raxacoricofallapatorian granted it. The Doctor was tickled to see the look of complete incredulity on Susan's face as she discovered what he'd already known: a good quality St. Crispin speech can really rally a people who've had enough.
With that, he watched as Susan and a couple other brave souls she'd recruited sent arrows flying toward the object of the Raxacoricofallapatorian's obsession, the infamous statue. And quite vital to the plan, ropes were tied to the arrow shafts, with the other ends in the hands of the people.
"Now pull!" he yelled, and they pulled, sending the statue tumbling down. It cracked open, exposing a machine that was most certainly dampening the Raxacoricofallapatorian's signature, hiding him from something far more dangerous.
Pointing the sonic screwdriver at it, he roared, "Now show them your face!"
Unfortunately, one thing the Doctor had not considered was that the hangmen's noose was still around his neck and the Raxacoricofallapatorian was still next to the lever. So when Boy King's form gave the lever a kick, the floor dropped out from under the Doctor's feet.
"Doctor!" he heard Susan scream.
Thankfully the neck of a Gallifreyan was stronger than a human's. Before the Doctor could begin to worry about strangulation, the rope split, dropping him safely, if gracelessly, to the ground below the platform.
By the time he extracted himself, the Raxacoricofallapatorian was running for the stables. The Doctor anticipated that it had an escape pod nearby, but he also anticipated its crimes went beyond the death of the child whose skin it inhabited, and what waited for it beyond this world would extract more than sufficient consequence.
So he didn't resist when Susan threw herself at him, choosing instead to hug her as tightly as she gripped him. The community flowed around them, an island of relief in a roiling river of outrage.
"I thought I'd lost you," she mumbled into his jumper.
"What are you on about? Never, darlin' lass, never." Finally, pulling apart, he brushed her hair from her face, laughing with delight. "It was you, wasn't it? You cut me down with one of your arrows, dinnae ye?"
She nodded, her smile watery.
He wrapped his hands around her face, saying, "Dinnae I tell you you're my good luck charm?" And then he kissed her.
It was the kiss the Doctor had wanted to give her ever since she told him his psychic paper was blank. Though it has been said that perhaps he'd wanted to even before that, back when she'd offered him a pear. It's not like he hadn't known about that notebook. Or her addition to it.
And when asked when she'd first wanted to kiss the Doctor, Susan would never say. Only that it was the kiss she'd been waiting for since last leaving Narnia. It was the kiss that told her she was home and safe, and would never be separated from love again.
After that, it was a hand-holding, giddy, breathless run up the still-tallest turret of the castle to the TARDIS, fumbling for the key, and then nearly tumbling inside, doors barely closed before they divested themselves of jumpers, trousers, shirts, and skirts, removing the last of the barriers that separated them.
Later, when they would discuss the moment, both of them would claim to have initiated the first kiss. She would point to that jail cell moment, and he would counter that with, "It was just a peck, like my granny used to give me. Now, darlin', that kiss in the court yard, that was a kiss."
It was an argument they delighted in stirring up - again and again - as it, inevitably, led to some quality snogging. But afterwards, that first time, as they curled close, her head resting on his chest, there was no quarrel to be found.
Sleepily, she told him, "Your heartbeat; it's syncopated."
"Got two of 'em. I told you that, dinnae I?"
She smiled and kissed his chest twice.
As for the Doctor, he ran a hand through her hair, marvelling at its dark gloss in particular and delighting that he could still be surprised by human nature in general. "Your hair," he murmured, "it seems longer than it was."
"I've been letting it grow. There was a time when it nearly reached my ankles. I told you that, didn't I?"
He smiled and kissed the top of her head. "That would be a crownin' glory, wouldn't it?"
The problem with being a Time Lord, particularly the last Time Lord, was having an ego that wasn't kept in fully in check. This isn't the same type of ego that one might think of with Captain Jack Harkness, a self-confidence that turns the heads of men, women, and others throughout time and galaxies. No, this is the type of self-confidence that gets one into situations that could have been averted if one had taken into account the constancy of change within the universe. What was true for a place on a last visit was often different the next time around.
And that is how the Doctor and Susan found themselves on a planet whose oxygen-rich air had recently been sold off to the highest bidder, and was being harvested at that particular moment.
"Don't fall to pieces when I die," she demanded, the words coming in gasps.
"Dinnae talk!" he ordered. Pointing, he urged, "The TARDIS." You cannae leave me, was his silent plea.
"Shh, listen!" she demanded, stopping flat.
"What are you on about?" There wasn't time for this. Was the environment already too unstable for her?
"The horn, don't you hear it?"
He was about to explain to her that she wasn't hearing a horn, that it was the side effect of oxygen deprivation. He rather hoped the sharing of that wee bit of information would irritate her into fighting on. Long enough to reach the TARDIS – still a fair pace off. "It's not—"
"There! There again. My horn."
She was right. There was a horn. "Dinnae expect that." Time later to sort out how a horn could be heard when there wasn't any air. But now, Susan's lips were a terrible shade of blue. He pulled at her hand, "Come on, we're nearly to the TARDIS."
"You saved me," she gasped. "You know I—" Her knees buckled beneath her, though her grasp on his hand didn't loosen.
"Darlin'! Susan!" He fell to his own knees before scooping her into his arms and carrying her the last few metres. And he was faring little better. By the final few steps, only one of his hearts was still beating. He feared Susan had no pulse at all. "I'm sorry, Su," he mumbled as he pushed open the doors.
What he found inside was the last thing he expected.
He was on a white sand beach, the cliffs to one side, the seas to the other, and Susan, no longer in his arms, but standing before him, dressed in full queenly regalia, her fingers twined in the mane of a lion the size of a small elephant. Perhaps he'd underestimated the level of poison in the air.
"Son of Time, welcome," said the lion, the ground trembling with the timbre of his voice.
Talking beasts? Definite underestimation. Then he remembered Susan's tales of her first life. "I know ye! Well, I dinnae know ye, but know of ye. Susan's shared a wee bit. She said your name was, your name was…"
She was definitely giving him that please-do-be-serious look of hers, though what Susan hadn't ever fully realized was that particular look, coupled with those full, pursed lips, always made him hungry to kiss her. But even he conceded the timing might be less than appropriate, so he resisted. For now.
"Doctor, this is Aslan."
"That's it!" he said, with a snap of his fingers.
Susan's eyes went wide, fingers tightening in the mane. The Doctor knew this creature and this place meant everything to her, and here he was, mucking up this first impression. Good thing he'd never had to meet her father.
"Forgive me for bein' irreverent. I think the thin air's done messed with me."
Aslan roared – but not the roar of anger or offence, but the grandest roar of laughter the Doctor had ever heard. "No need to apologise. It's your nature to be irreverent. And the universe is a better place for it."
He must have looked shocked, for now Susan was laughing, burying her face in Aslan's mane. The Doctor felt the corners of his own mouth turn up into a smile that spilled into laughter. It's not every day that a lion stood before him, and not only affirmed his impertinence, but roared at him, showing an impressive collection of teeth, and yet having breath like a breeze over the sweetest meadow.
When the laughter had subsided, and he and Susan had wiped their eyes, he asked the obvious. "So, if you dinnae mind, where exactly are we?"
"Doctor! It's Narnia!" Susan exclaimed, hands outstretched, spinning round.
"Your Narnia. Narnia," he repeated, rolling it across his tongue and smiling at her. Then he turned back toward Aslan. "So we dinnae die? Pretty sure we were dead."
Aslan nodded solemnly. "You did die. You both did. But do not be troubled; you are in my country. All worlds are here."
"That cannae be," the Doctor replied, sceptical.
"You should not be too surprised, Son of Time. When you love someone deeply, anything is possible. Even miracles," Aslan replied.
To Susan, the Doctor exclaimed, "You dinnae tell me your lion paraphrased musical theatre!"
With one arched eyebrow, she said in her most conversational tone, "I mentioned he wasn't a tame lion, didn't I?"
She was delighting in this, wasn't she? "And that was supposed to cover Brigadoon? I mean really, darlin', I--"
The Doctor's mouth hung open. It was not that he hadn't been scolded in his life, though he'd never been scolded by a talking lion before. Talking cats, yes, but not a talking lion. The thing that caught him so off guard was being called a child. And knowing Aslan meant it.
It was then he found himself drawn to Aslan, and looking straight into his eyes. It was even more frightening and magnificent than looking into the Untempered Schism. It wasn't just that Aslan was older than himself, or as old as time, he was all time… And without time. But unlike his eight-year-old self (nothin' but a wee babe, he'd been), he felt no urge to run away. And he was mostly sure this wasn't madness. It felt like coming home.
"Indeed you are home, Son of Time. And as you journey further in and higher up, you will find Gallifrey with her yellow-orange skies. Now go; there are so many eagerly waiting for you both."
With that, the Doctor and Susan clasped hands, and ran without breathlessness, further in and higher up.