Since their last visit Susan HAD organised a car port, and the TARDIS materialised within it, screened from the curious eyes of the neighbours. Chris and Davie, playing in the garden, heard the familiar sound and came running. They were waiting when The Doctor came out through the door.
“Hello, boys,” he said, as they came to be hugged and kissed by their great grandfather. “Rose has a present for you.”
Rose came forward out of the TARDIS with a large package loosely covered in brown paper. The boys ripped the paper off quickly to reveal a wire cage containing two unlikely time travellers.
“Guinea pigs,” Chris said with a laugh as he remembered learning about the pets that had become extinct on earth in the mid twenty-second century, so that they had never seen or heard of them.
Rose had her share of hugs from the boys before they took the guinea pigs, promptly christened Gregory and Gary, to their bedroom. Rose and The Doctor meanwhile were brought to the living room and given coffee and sandwiches by Susan. The boys came back and sat either side of The Doctor, determined not to let him out of their sight while he was there with them.
“That is a sight I once never thought to see,” Susan said to Rose as they both watched The Doctor with the boys. “You know, he took care of me from when I was a baby. He was the only parent I knew. I missed him a lot when we parted. When the twins were born, I so wanted him to see them. I didn’t even know if he was alive or dead then. Everyone assumes I named Chris after my father, but I didn’t even know him. I named him after Grandfather. I wish he’d come sooner. I wonder sometimes… did he forget me, or did he stay away because he thought I didn’t want him? Or because he didn’t want me?”
“Susan!” The Doctor stood up and came to where they stood, slipping his arm around his granddaughter. “Don’t talk about a Time Lord within his superior hearing. You ought to know that. You’ve been living on Earth too long. I’ve never forgotten you. I wandered the universe for five hundred years after you left me, and I never forgot you, my dear child, my own flesh and blood. I never stopped loving you. But I thought it better to let you live your own life. I thought you were better off without me.”
He paused and both Rose looking on and Susan held in his tender embrace were aware of him blinking back tears he didn’t want them to see. “I think, now, I was wrong. I’m sorry for that. I am so very sorry. I should have been there for you when you needed me.”
“You were,” Susan told him, easily forgiving him the long hurt of missing him as he held her so sweetly. “Grandfather, in my hearts, you always were here. Do you remember when I was a baby, singing Venusian lullabies to me as I slept in your arms. I used to sing them to the boys. I sing them to Sukie now. And I always think of you.”
“I remember. I sang them to your father when he was a baby, too. I loved him so much. I love you, Susan, and your children.”
“Steady on,” Rose told him. “You’re starting to sound like a character from a Disney family movie. It doesn’t go with that tough northern accent.”
Susan laughed and agreed. So did The Doctor, but he wasn’t finished with the sentimentality, yet.
“You’re all a part of me, and of Julia. Susan, you look so much like her it hurts to look at you. But I would suffer that hurt any time. As for the boys - they are the future – my future that I never knew I had.” He paused and held his granddaughter tightly for a long while before the boys claimed his time again.
They wanted to play games with him. He sat with them at the table and taught them to play chess. It took only a few minutes for them to pick up the rules. In another half hour they were beating him. Rose, watching closely, knew he was not deliberately losing to please them. He fought them at every game but they had got good in a very short time.
He set aside the ordinary chess board and conjured an image in front of them of what looked like a multi-level chess board. He said it was how it was played on Gallifrey. The challenge was obvious. Not only to learn a new version of the game, but to mentally manipulate pieces that existed only because he was thinking of them.
“Good grief,” Susan said. “The mental power….” She and Rose both watched in amazement as Chris and Davie took it in turns.
Rose looked at The Doctor. She wondered how much strain it was putting on him to keep up the image against their manipulation of it. His eyes glazed over and he did not speak. She went and stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders, hoping that she could lend him some support. She was almost relieved when Chris won the game outright and he was able to dissolve the image. She felt him sigh deeply and sag momentarily before recovering his poise. It HAD been an effort. He touched her hand on his shoulder and smiled at her.
“I’m all right,” he assured her. But he sounded tired even so. Susan was concerned for him and for the boys.
“Grandfather,” she said. “I think that’s a bit advanced for them.”
“No, it's not,” he assured her. “It's a bit advanced for ME. They’re doing fine. Look.” The boys had managed to create an image of a table football game and were playing against each other. “They’re exercising their psychic skills.” He laughed out loud triumphantly.
“So much for half bloods! THREE generations of Human-Time Lord blood and they have stronger abilities than the masters at the Academy – those who taught me all I know about telepathy. The arrogant fools with their ‘pure-blood’ probably inhibited our true evolution.” He became so excited as he spoke that Rose and Susan both began to be alarmed.
“Doctor… Try to remember they’re just children,” Rose said. “YOUR great-grandchildren. Not a genetic experiment.”
“I KNOW THAT,” he protested. “But still… Oh, there is so much I need to teach them still.”
“It doesn’t all have to be at once,” Susan said. “Give yourself a break.”
“When they are fully fledged Time Lords is when I can take a break,” he said. “Until then… Oh, if I ever had a good reason to be alive… to teach them everything….”
Rose and Susan looked at each other. Susan spoke the thought they had both had.
“When did you ever think there WASN’T a reason to be alive?”
“After the Time War,” he said, suddenly very serious. “I should have died with the other Time Lords you know. It was a freak chance that kept me alive. That and my TARDIS wouldn’t let me die. And there have been times when I wondered if it did the right thing. If it should have let me go.” He paused and smiled weakly. “But I have you two,” he said, taking both their hands. “And I have my boys now.” He looked at them playing their incredible mind game.
“Just don’t let David hear you talk about ‘my boys’,” Susan said. “I understand what you mean, Grandfather. But David…. He still feels you want to take them away from him. But I am glad you feel there is a reason to live.” She put her arms around him again. “I would never have known what happened to you.”
“I was being stupid anyway. Life… life is always the better option. Death only has one outcome. Life has a million possibilities.” After his moment of melancholy, which Rose strongly suspected was caused by his mental powers being weakened by the game, he smiled brightly again. Both she and Susan felt it was like the sun coming out after rain.
The days they stayed with Susan, Rose thought, were the longest period she had known The Doctor to be happy. They fell into a routine it was possible to get very used to, beginning early with Rose’s martial arts lessons, which Chris and Davie joined in as well, The Doctor deciding that they, too, could benefit from the disciplines and skills of wiser people than any of them.
After breakfast he spent the morning in the many theory lessons he had to teach the boys, all in those ten minute telepathic bursts. Between the lessons he talked and laughed and played with them but they still got through whole subjects in a few hours.
In the afternoons he found different ways to hone their telepathic skills now they had moved on from sending pictures to each other. The multi-layered telepathic chess game was one they both enjoyed.
The Doctor gave up trying to play against them. He simply imagined the board and let them play. Chris was marginally better than his brother at the movement. Chris’s abilities at all levels were slightly better than Davie, he noted, but not so much that it mattered. And Davie had a quick wit that he used in compensation.
After tea, he invariably played in the garden with the boys, their football games going on for hours. If they were not Gallifreyans with double hearts and superior strength Rose might have wondered where they got the energy. She was exhausted watching them.
She enjoyed keeping Susan company. It was strange, but the age gap between them didn’t seem to matter, nor did the fact that she was – for want of a better word – the girlfriend of Susan’s grandfather. That was, she admitted, a pretty strange thing to cope with.
Susan talked often about the adventures she and her grandfather had in space and time. Rose was fascinated with the fact that Susan actually spent her childhood on board the TARDIS. They had left Gallifrey when she was four, and they didn’t settle on earth until she was fourteen. And even then, the TARDIS had been the place she went home to every evening from school.
“It didn’t seem strange,” she said. “The TARDIS was my home. Grandfather was the one who took care of me. And sometimes I took care of him. We had each other.”
“I know that feeling,” Rose said, glancing at HER Doctor as he talked with the boys. “We look after each other, and mostly it's just the two of us.”
“Yes.” Susan looked at him too and bit back any other comment. She had reluctantly come to terms with her grandfather’s relationship with Rose. The fact that she LIKED Rose helped a lot. The reservations she still had about them being together she would never mention to either of them. Rose would be too upset and The Doctor would just be stubborn. He had lost none of THAT about him. He might look like a forty-five year old, but there was still a lot of the downright stubborn, insufferable old man she remembered in him and Susan didn’t want to rock the boat by letting that side of him out in the open too much. She liked him happy, content, playing with the boys, accepting the domesticity of her life in a way he never had before.
“I remember when we left Gallifrey,” Susan went on. “I WAS only young, but I remember it so vividly. Grandfather came back one night from a meeting of the High Council. He was in a terrible rage. They just would not listen to him. He sent my nurse away and told her she wouldn’t be needed anymore. He said that he had retired from the service of the High Council and could look after me from now on. Then he dressed me. I remember wearing a black cloak with a hood and I was excited because it was night time. There was a full moon, silver bright, and we just looked at it for a long time. I didn’t know then that was because we would never see it again. Then we travelled to the depot where the TARDIS’s were kept. Grandfather’s one was being serviced.” She laughed. “Its chameleon circuit was broken.”
“It still is,” Rose laughed with her
“After all these years, I can’t imagine a TARDIS that ISN’T shaped like an English police public call box. If anyone turned up with a different one it wouldn’t seem real.”
“OUR TARDIS is the only one left now, isn’t it?” Rose said.
“Yes, I suppose it must be.” She sighed. “I’m glad ours is still here. My home. Funny to think we had to ‘steal’ it. Grandfather did something to the sensors around Gallifrey so that nobody knew we had left. We escaped undetected. But we were exiles. If we’d gone back, he would have been arrested. We heard later that he had been tried in his absence and declared a criminal. His father was forced to disown him from his family. I know that hurt him. But we WERE free. We were together. I suppose he could have left me with my nurse to be looked after by the family. But he loved me too much to leave me. And I am glad. We were happy. He could be so cross sometimes. He was so angry about what had happened. But he was always kind to me.” She sighed. “No, I suppose that sounds too perfect. We did row sometimes. Especially when I was older. But we still loved each other.”
“Sounds like a normal family to me. Rose said. “Just like me and my mum.”
“That is the nicest thing anyone ever said,” Susan told her with feeling. “That we were NORMAL. It's actually nice to think that we were.”
“What’s NORMAL?” The Doctor came to them as they talked, and Rose suspected he had heard quite a bit of the conversation. “Susan, you said it yourself at the start. It WAS normal for us. Even if it wasn’t recognised by anyone else. Rose, aren’t you used to “normal” being me and you kicking around the universe together by now?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“Well then, let everyone else measure “normal” by their standards and we’ll have ours. But come and sit down for a moment, Susan. I want to ask you something.” He looked so serious then that Susan did. Rose sat beside her.
“I think it's time the boys got some field experience,” he said. “I want to take them for a few weeks, to show them some of the things they’re just getting the theory of at the moment.”
“A few weeks…” Susan looked at him, then at the boys sitting at the table at their game. “Well, they’re so advanced at school it wouldn’t even matter if they missed some time. But…”
"Susan!" The Doctor smiled indulgently at her. "You've lived in linear time too long. You've forgotten what we are. I could take the boys away for a year and bring them back before teatime."
"Don't do THAT," she shrieked. "I couldn't miss a year of their growing up. You wouldn't do that to me."
"No, you're right. I couldn't. And I wouldn't. But this little time at least. Time for them to get to know my way of life, the life that USED to be ours, Susan."
"USED to be," Susan emphasised. "NOT now. It’s not how I've brought them up."
"Even so, it IS and it SHOULD be their life. They need it. They need to learn. And I need to spend the time with them to teach them these things."
“David was right. You do want to take the boys from him… from us.”
“No, Susan. Please don’t think that. They ARE your children. They always will be. But they NEED what I have to offer.”
“What about…. What if something happens. Grandfather, you…. The things you do. They would be in danger all the time.”
“She has a point,” Rose said. “You haven’t even taken me for a picnic lately without trouble starting.”
“Yes, but it's not as if I LOOK for trouble.”
“Grandfather, trouble usually finds you.” Susan said with a wry smile.
“And I deal with it. I always HAVE. You both know that. And after all, did I ever knowingly get either of you into danger?”
Both immediately replied, Rose reminding him of the time they chased a Chula ship to Earth in the middle of the 1941 blitz and Susan mentioning Daleks and Cybermen.
“Yes, granted. But if you’d both LISTENED to me and stayed put when I said stay put and ‘don’t touch’ when I said ‘don’t touch’ you’d have had a lot less trouble. And so would I.”
“And you think Chris and Davie are going to ‘stay put’ and ‘not touch?’” Susan laughed. “Even I can’t make them do THAT!”
He conceded the point.
“But anyway, I wasn’t planning to take them anywhere with Daleks or Cybermen. I thought some historical and cultural tours. They’ve been learning Earth history from books. I can show them it first hand.”
“Grandfather, your favourite period of history is the French Revolution.”
“Not there,” he promised. “But that still leaves millennia to explore with them. Please, Susan. Let them have some of the wonder that you had when you were their age. It wasn’t all frightening. We had some wonderful times. Do you remember skiing on that planet that was entirely covered in snow?”
“I remember you broke both your legs,” Susan replied. “And we were stuck at the top of a mountain, in a cave, until your bones mended and we could get out of there.”
“Yeah, that was painful. But we were in no ACTUAL danger.”
“Grandfather,” Susan said. “I have never regretted a MOMENT of the time I spent roaming the universe with you. The TARDIS was the only home I really knew until David and I married. You were the BEST parent a child could ask for. Even when you were being downright cruel to me.”
“When was I cruel to you?”
“Every time we left a place where I had made friends,” she sighed. “THAT was the great drawback. We never once returned to see any of them. It was always onward, new places, new people. And you never saw how hard that was. But I had you. And that was enough. At least until David came into my life.”
“I should have just pushed him into the TARDIS and brought him with us,” The Doctor said. “Instead of locking you out of it.”
“You what?” Rose looked at them both.
“He locked me out of the TARDIS because I was going to give up David to stay with him and look after him,” Susan explained. “He MADE me choose. And by the way, I never thanked you for that. David and I have had a good life thanks to you. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it WAS the right thing.”
“There, see. I’m not such a bad grandparent, am I? I knew what was best for you. And I know what’s best for Chris and Davie.”
“I don’t know what David is going to say.”
“I do,” The Doctor sighed. “He’s not going to like it. But I hoped you would persuade him.”