The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Doctor Who;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jeri MassiThe Second Doctor Who Christmas Story Episode Four
The Second Doctor Who Christmas Story
Written by Jeri Massi
"There's only one place she would have been persuaded to go without making a fuss," the Doctor said.
"Yes, the old lodge," Jo answered as he hopped around on one foot to get his left boot on. Then she added, "Uncle Chubby's already driven off cross country to get there. He took John to help."
"What else did he take with him?' The Doctor stamped his foot the rest of the way into the boot.
"Nothing, I don't think."
"All right, let's get blankets and a first aid kit and go after him in Bessy."
They ran from his room down the steps, past the open doors to the sitting room, now strangely quiet and immaculately clean. It looked as though the previous night's revels had never occurred.
Fresh from a preliminary search around the house, already bundled into their coats and scarves, James and Andrew met the Doctor and Jo in the coat room. The Doctor sized things up at once and gave orders. "Andrew," he said sternly. "Can I count on you to stay by that telephone in the entry way and not move?"
Eyes big, Andrew nodded.
"Then do that. Be polite, but keep the line clear. Have the authorities been notified?" He turned to Jo.
She nodded. "Aunt Marilla's calling them on the extension."
"James, bring me the blankets from the beds," he said. He glanced at Jo. "Do we still have a first aid kit in Bessy?"
"Right! I'll get her warmed up. Help James will you? He can come with us. He may be useful."
In less than five minutes they were trundling across a white meadow, Bessy's wheels churning through the virgin drifts as though the snow was only so much water.
In spite of his worry, James was puzzled. "How does this car go so well in snow?" he asked.
"Traction is a matter of square inches of surface area being able to connect to square inches of surface are," the Doctor called. "Bessy's tires are narrow, as you see, but they're made of a resilient carbon filament that I invented. It's actually coiled up in tight spikes on the surface of the tire. They grab the snow like lots of little fingers."
"Are you a genius, sir?" James asked.
The Doctor afforded the boy a glance and switched to a lower gear. Bessy roared forward through the next steep, drifted meadow. "Something like that. When I've got my wits about me." James settled back into the rear seat, deeply impressed, but the Doctor shot a second look at Jo. "I was an idiot to not think of Julia," he said.
"But how could you have known that cousin Philip would do something like this?" Jo asked. "Oh, the note was dreadful. He warned Uncle Chubby not to dare send the law after him. He said we were to wait until he sent word on Julia. How could anybody have suspected him of doing this?"
"Because I realized last night that he is not your cousin Philip!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Unless I am very much mistaken, Philip is in the USSR on a lark, and his good friend Tobias came here in his place!"
Jo was stunned at this revelation, but suddenly, from the back seat, James pointed ahead. "Look! It's Uncle Chubby!" further up the steep slope, Uncle Chubby's four-wheel drive had slewed sideways and was still.
"The drifts are too bad up this far," the Doctor said. "He couldn't get through. How much further is it to the lodge?"
"See that fringe of trees up there?" Jo asked, pointing higher. "About a quarter mile beyond that, as the crow flies. It's not a bad walk if the way is clear."
"Even Bessy may not be able to break a way that far, but we'll do our best," he said. "But we've got to make sure she can be driven back. If Julia is up there, we may have to get her back to the house in a hurry."
For a moment they were all silent with the anxiety of contemplating the unpleasant possibilities. Then the Doctor said, "What can you tell me about the lodge?"
"It's a run down old wreck," Jo said. "When I was a little girl it was pretty solid, and the older boys used to go camping in it. But it's weathered away pretty badly the last few years."
"It has a main floor at ground level and then an attic," James added helpfully.
"Julia's coat was taken, wasn't it?" the Doctor asked. A short distance beyond the stalled vehicle, Uncle Chubby and John were pushing their way through the snow. The Doctor tooted Bessy's tin horn.
"We think she's got her coat," Jo said. "Surely, no matter who he is, he wouldn't be very cruel with her?" she asked. "She would be so frightened in the dark if he left her there. They must have left at least a couple hours ago."
But the Doctor shot her a look, telling her to ask no more.
"There is that game cabinet in the attic," James said. "You showed it to us, Jo."
She looked suddenly at the Doctor. They came to a halt beside the first two members of the searching party.
"However did you get this old contraption up here?" Uncle Chubby asked. Jo scrambled into the back with the boys to allow her uncle to come up front. "Drive, Doctor!" he exclaimed. "My poor niece!"
"If Tobias put her in her coat and hat, then he surely did not intend to harm her, sir," the Doctor said. "He wanted a delay tactic so that he could get away."
Uncle Chubby stared at him. "Tobias?" And then realization dawned. "Tobias! Bu then where is Philip?"
The Doctor grimaced. "I don't think Tobias is more than a petty thief," he assured the man. "It seems to me that he and Philip traded places in the spirit of a game. To see if they could pull it off. Philip is probably being bored to death right now on an academic tour of Russia."
"The D.O.M. told us that Philip was a good boy but foolish," Jo reminded her uncle. "Could he have known all along? Oh, why didn't he tell us if he suspected from the beginning?"
"Because he had no proof to convince you for one thing," the Doctor said. "And because I think that's not his way to interfere in such matters. What about this game cabinet, Jo?"
"It's a heavy beamed space, with a door," she said. "Up in the attic part of the lodge. The rest of the place is falling to bits, but the cabinet is still pretty solid."
"She may be locked in there if he knew what he was about. We'll have to leg it from here!" he exclaimed. They were at the fringe of trees. He pulled to a stop. They pulled out the blankets and the first aid kit. With the Doctor leading to make a way through the snow, they hurried in single file up a steep incline that brought them nearly to the summit of the high slope. As the ground leveled off, they moved more quickly.
The old lodge was, indeed, a wreck. Though its sturdy wood frame was intact, the walls were nearly rotted away to nothing. There were no doors or shutters left, and the staircase inside was plain to see from the yard out front.
"Look, skis!" James exclaimed as they came closer. A pair of cross country skis, short and sturdy, were leaned up against the corner of the building.
"Tobias must have hidden them here to get down the mountain by daylight," the Doctor guessed.
"Then why are they still here?" Jo asked.
As the Doctor led the way through the gaping, lopsided door frame, a grim sight met their eyes--not Julia, but her kidnapper, lay sprawled on the frozen and ruined floor, his arms huddled at his chest, but his face deathly white, and one leg twisted up under him. The Doctor knelt down by him, followed by Uncle Chubby, while Jo kept the twins back.
"Is he alive?" Uncle Chubby asked sadly.
The Doctor found a pulse at the throat. "Barely," he said. He glanced up at the ruined floor above. "Looks like he fell through."
"Hand me a blanket," Uncle Chubby ordered, stripping off his expensive wool coat. He looked at the Doctor. "Do we dare to move him? Even going as fast as they can, rescue crews must be at least an hour and a half away." He spread his coat, warm from the warmth of his own body, over the prostrate body at his feet. John handed him one of the two blankets.
"That leg is severely broken," the Doctor said, standing. "It may be best to keep him warm and try to get him through shock until better equipment arrives." He glanced at Jo and the boys, then made a quick decision. "John," he said. "Can you run for the house? You must tell your Aunt to direct the rescue crews up here and to tell them that the young man is hurt, and he's nearly frozen."
"Right, sir!" And John sprinted through the door again. Jo called after him. "Stay in the tire tracks!"
"It's at least a mile and a half down to the house," Uncle Chubby said. "Even at his best, it will be thirty minutes or more before he gets home."
"It should give him and your wife time to get some hot water and thermoses ready," the Doctor said. He stood up and looked at the stairs.
"Stay here," he told them, and he went up, cautiously, testing each board with his feet. He came up to a flat, bare, windswept room that had once been an enclosed attic but was now little more than a deck, buffeted by wind. To his left, he saw the tiny game cupboard, its door intact and hanging open, where Julia no doubt has been intended to be kept as prisoner. Off on his right was the broad expanse of the rotting floor, and all the way across it, slumped down in her coat, was Julia herself.
"She's up here," the Doctor called down.
Jo appeared at the foot of the stairs. "Is she all right?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. She must have run away from him when she realized what he was going to do. He probably fell through the flooring when he chased her." He lifted his head and called out. "Julia! Can you hear me? It's the Doctor! I've got your uncle with me!"
Julia was hunched down, instinctively balled up against the cold. He thought he detected a slight motion in her, the last vestiges of rocking to keep herself warm. In spite of knowing full well that she had no power to move, he called out, "Stay there. I'll come get you!"
Moving gently, he came up the last few steps and gingerly set one foot out onto the sagging floor. Without so much as a warning creak, the boards gave way, and his foot crashed through. But his other foot was on the stairs, where the boards were sturdier.
With a slight groan, he wrenched his foot back up through the hole. He came back down the steps.
"It's no good," he said. "Not that way." He noticed that Uncle Chubby had spread one blanket over Tobias and was using the other to keep warm.
Uncle Chubby glanced around at the Doctor's grim report. "Are there any sound boards?" he asked. "We could use them as planks--"
"Precisely," the Doctor said. He glanced at the back wall. "This seems like the sturdiest section of the whole place. "Let me see." He worked his right hand into a narrow fissure between the old boards and gave a quick jerk, ripping a solid plank off of the frame. "This looks pretty decent." Unaware of the amazement of James at this feat of strength, the Doctor found another solid plank and ripped it away.
"Jo, I need you," he said. She followed him up the steps.
He braced one of the planks on the cross beam at the top of the steps, and she sat on it to provide a counter weight. Then he stripped off his cape and his shoes, went down belly first onto the plank, and slowly crawled out onto the ruined floor, pushing the second plank ahead of him.
"The cross beams may be sound enough," he said quietly. Jo was silent.
He pushed with his hands as he went, feeling for rotted places, and listened. At the furthest reach of the plank, he found a crossbeam under the flooring. He had to set the second plank at an angle to the first, but one end of it rested over the crossbeam, and the far end reached all the way to a solid sill that had once housed a wide window.
"That's good," he murmured. The path would take him to within an arms' reach of Julia. Now that he was much closer to her, he saw that she was on her knees and elbows, hunched down, rocking slightly. He started out on the second plank. The creaking and protesting of the cross beam let him know that if it was sturdy, it wouldn't be for much longer.
He crawled out past the hole that Tobias has made, and then he was able to reach out with his long arm and lay it across Julia's shoulders.
"Julia," he said quietly.
After a moment she made a sound, a little like a whimper, and he realized that she was not conscious enough to do anything of her own volition.
"Jo," he said quietly.
"It's going to hurt her when I move her. Tell James and your uncle not to be alarmed."
While Jo saw called down, he managed to wrap his arm across Julia's shoulders and drag her closer. As he'd predicted, she let out a cry but still did not really come around to consciousness. She was cold, senseless, but breathing and reacting to at least some stimulus. He got a better grip around her and dragged her to himself. She convulsively kicked and cried very loudly. Her arm flailed out and hit him in the face. He pulled her up against himself, rolled onto his back on the plank, and settled her on his chest. The cross beam and window sill both protested loudly at this activity. He waited. She settled down, and at last as everything became still, he inched back down the plank, on his back this time, pushing off with his shoulders and crab walking with his feet.
At last they were at the stairs. Jo took Julia, wincing as the child cried out and started to come around.
"Give her here." The Doctor swung his feet over the edge of the steps, took up his cape, and wrapped her up in it. "Do you hear me, Julia?"
She seemed to still be in a semi-conscious state. She scrunched her eyes closed and said, "Only if he says not to go!" and was still.
"You first, Jo," the Doctor said. They came down the steps.
Down below, James was backed up against the far wall. He let out a sound of relief at sight of his younger sister. Uncle Chubby, with the second wool blanket thrown across his own shoulders, stood up from Tobias.
"You must get her back to the house," he said quickly. "You're a medical doctor, aren't you?"
The Doctor threw his glance down at Tobias. "What about him?"
"I can see to him," Jo's uncle said. The Doctor hesitated only for a brief instant at the prospect of leaving an injured boy with the man he had so grievously wronged, but Jo quickly spoke up. "I'll stay with Uncle Chubby. But he's right, Doctor. We can't do anything for Tobias but what we are doing. You've got to see to Julia."
The time lord nodded. "Right. Come on, James."
* * * *
Hours later, the Doctor was resting on the sofa, his feet up on a padded footstool, with James sitting propped against him, asleep, and John stretched full length, his head pillowed on the Doctor's knee. The image of good hearted and innocent cocker spaniel puppies, tired from a busy morning in the snow, had again occurred to him as they had gobbled down tea and cookies and then bedded down against him with their instinctive preference for his protective companionship. He heard a sound and turned his head. Jo, looking weary with a weariness that stabbed into the Doctor and rekindled the longing pain in him, poked her face into the sitting room.
"Is there tea?" she asked.
"Mrs. Willis brought it in about ten minutes ago," he told her. "The water in the pot should still be warm."
"I just looked in on Julia. Aunt Marilla's with her." She entered and sat down on a love seat without pouring herself tea. She stared at the fire in the way that humans have when the day has been long.
"Julia will be fine," the Doctor told her. "I'd barely popped her into bed with a few hot water bottles tucked around her when she was awake and asking if she could hang her stocking tonight." The Doctor unwound his long arm from James and gently slipped out from John. The two boys simply shifted around and fell back to sleep. He poured tea for Jo, found two gingerbread men, and brought them to her.
"It was only very mild hypothermia," he said. "She should be up by tonight. Where's your uncle?" he asked her.
"Down at the village hospital," she told him. "Tobias came around. You were right about him and cousin Philip."
"What's the outlook for him?" He handed her the tea and cookies.
"Oh, thank you, Doctor. I'm ready for this." She gratefully took the tea and drank about half of it off right away. She set it on her knee. "The village doctor says Tobias' leg took most of the impact of the fall." She looked pensive. "He spoke a little bit--right before I left. Didn't apologise or anything, but told Uncle Chubby he'd just meant to delay a search for him."
"He took the silver," the Doctor said.
"Oh, yes." She nodded. "We found it at the lodge before the rescue people even took him away. It was in a sack, thrown behind the skis. Didn't find the microfilm, though."
"Didn't you ask him about it?"
She forced a smile. "He was still lying about stealing the silver last I saw him," she told him. "He didn't know we'd found it. Said he was afraid that we'd guessed he wasn't really Philip, so he wanted to bunk."
"I imagine that Tobias is a fairly experienced thief," the Doctor said grimly. "It may explain how he has managed to do so well for himself on nothing but scholarships and charity. She was silent, and at last he asked, "So what is your Uncle Chubby doing?"
"Sitting by him," she said. "Seeing to him. Wanted to know if there was anybody he should call." She shook her head. "Tobias said not to bother. That's about it. He was pretty doped up. The village doctor said they'll have to do some surgery just to determine how best to get the leg to mend. Uncle Chubby was talking about bringing an orthopaedic surgeon up."
The Doctor sat down next to her and with gentle insistence nudged a gingerbread man into her hand. She suddenly smiled and took a bite.
"Your uncle," he said at last. "Is a great man, Jo."
She was surprised. "You think so?"
"Well yes, of course. I mean, he's always been so generous and kind hearted with me." She hesitated and then said meekly, "But I wasn't sure you would think so. I mean, he's part of that beauracracy that you hate so much, and he's not--not quite a scientist. None of us are, really. We're all just frightfully ordinary."
"Who said so?" He possessively wrapped an arm around her head and drew her in for a quick hug against his shoulder. Then he let her go and handed her the other gingerbread man.
She ate it, and he could see the weariness leaving her. Food and amiable conversation could sometimes revive Jo better than all the medicines of the universe. He realized that he was smiling at her. "Do you remember last night very well?" he asked her.
"Last night?" She rolled her dark eyes, thinking back. "I woke up when the others came home from the village dinner. I came downstairs and played some games with the children even though it was so late. The D.O.M. gave us some of his wine. He makes it himself, you know, and then we went to bed."
He gently stroked her hair back. "It sounds like it was a quiet night," he said softly.
She frowned, suddenly perplexed. "Maybe I drank too much wine. That home made stuff has quite a kick." Her dark eyes were puzzled as she looked at him and tried to recall the previous night. "But you know, I seem to remember that somebody else came in. Big fellow. A friend of the D.O.M., but really, really wild." She sat up straighter, suddenly aware that more had happened than she had first recalled, suddenly on the verge of remembering something, and then abruptly she gave it up. She shook her head. "But maybe I dreamed that part."
He decided not to pursue the subject. He stroked her hair again. "Maybe it was just a dream." Suddenly happy and content to be with him, she kicked off her shoes, leaned against him and folded up one leg under her. "What did you dream last night?"
He smiled down at her. "I dreamed that I saw a little doe. Whopping great eyes, and a cold nose." He tweaked her nose.
She smiled and went back to her tea, taking another long drink and resting. They were silent, until she said soberly, "Thank you for saving Julia."
"That was a team effort. I was glad to do my part."
She was tired and she was glad to be quiet with him, listening to the fire. He looked down at the top of her head, aware of her life force coursing through her: vibrant and radiant, a higher, faster, more fragile pulse than his own. It was a sleepy afternoon, the sort of cold, sunny winter day that is ideal for naps, and it was affecting her. James and John, at opposite ends of the sofa, snoozed peacefully while the low fire popped and crackled. Jo became drowsy as she sat still. He could very faintly sense her pulses accommodating to the lure of sleep. The communication of her gentle weariness, a communication of which Jo was entirely unaware, called the longing pain from his hearts again.
The Doctor still did not quite understand what the D.O.M. had done to him, but instead of fearing the pain that had been imparted to him, he was glad of it. It was fading now, weaker every time he felt it. Yet only now was he beginning to discern nuances in it--happiness and longing at the same time. He wanted to understand it. It was some curious human emotion, so deeply lodged in the human psyche that humans themselves seemed to have no word for it--or none that he was aware of. He now knew that he never would have guessed at its existence, never reasoned his way to this sense of being mortal, of needing the comforts of family and home, of knowing with a knowledge too deep for words that all the trappings of permanence and security really reflected the great impermanence of it all.
He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of Jo's tea cup rolling onto the carpet. He caught her before she took a header off the love seat. Gently, he set her head and shoulders down into the deep corner made by the cushions and the arm rest. He stood up and lifted her feet onto the cushions. She instantly conformed to the contours of the love seat, snuggled down, and fell asleep. He rested his hand on the back of the love seat and looked down at her, concentrating on her face, on the slower rate of her breath and heart.
"She is also impermanent, Doctor," a voice said.
He glanced around, saw the D.O.M. standing by the foot of the love seat, and turned back to look at Jo. "I've always known that," he said, not wanting to pursue the topic.
"Have you? Then let her go when the time comes."
The Doctor turned again and looked at the D.O.M. more sharply. "You're saying she'll die?"
"She must die or change," the Old Man said. "That is the way with them. She cannot stay so young forever. But if she lives and thrives while in your care, she will grow. And if she grows, she must leave you one day."
The Doctor looked down, unwilling to agree to this prediction but knowing it was true. At last he asked, "When? Soon?"
"It will seem too soon to you, whenever it comes. But if she chooses to go, let her go with a good will. She has much to do before the dog snaps his teeth. If she does not end her days young, then the fullness of marriage and childbearing and continuing the family line lie ahead of her."
The time lord looked down at Jo and after a moment nodded. He didn't hear the D.O.M. walk out, but after a moment he knew that the Old Man was gone.
* * * *
Julia was permitted to make an appearance at supper that night, well and only half aware of what had happened at the lodge. She did not remember it clearly and was not questioned about it very closely. Her parents would arrive the next day, Christmas Eve, along with half a dozen or so other relatives from various parts of the family.
Christmas was about to become very busy. The children were put to bed early. In the quietness before the real hustle and bustle of the festivities, Uncle Chubby, Aunt Marilla, Jo and the Doctor had drinks in the sitting room and said very little of consequence. The only real topic of discussion was Tobias.
"The thing is," Uncle Chubby told the Doctor as the Doctor sat and the short, round human paced restlessly. "If we pack him off to jail, then he's ruined for good." He stopped and meditated. "But how do we know he's not already ruined for good? What if the next crime is a deeper shade of scarlet? Petty thievery is one thing; taking a child off in a sub zero morning is something quite different."
"Well, with all the charged he might face, he can't be charged with the theft of the microfilm," the Doctor said. "Because it hasn't been found on him. And I don't know about the kidnapping of your niece. It was only a mile and a half from the house, and he never left her. And she appears to have gone without a struggle or resistance."
"It's the note that condemns him," Uncle Chubby said.
The Doctor glanced up at him. "You've been very generous with him so far."
He shrugged it off. "Perhaps some sort of enforced guidance," he suggested. "Not prison but some sort of detention where he might be given a chance to appreciate right and wrong." He paced restlessly to the tree. Jo and Aunt Marilla looked on in sympathy. After all, Uncle Chubby was a lawyer and knew better than any of them what options were still open. "I mean, it is true that he has had a hard life!" he exclaimed. "He's lived by his wits. With a better upbringing, who knows how he might have turned out."
"Nobody can say," the Doctor told him. "But at any given moment, he can decide for himself to live his life a different way."
"Geoffrey," Aunt Marilla said at last. "You may have to leave it up to the courts."
Uncle Chubby sighed and frowned at the tree. "I suppose you're right," he said at last. He stared hard at the adorned branches before him, as though lost in thought. Gradually, his round dark eyes focused on something. "By Jove!" he exclaimed softly. He reached a pudgy hand into the fragrant boughs and withdrew a Christmas ornament. "This is it! Marilla! Jo! Doctor! Here it is!"
They stood up and gathered around him. He showed them the decoration--a round white ball spangled with glitter, and taped to it by one corner, a square of film.
The Doctor burst out with a laugh. "Like the purloined letter!" he exclaimed. "Hidden out in the open."
Uncle Chubby gently extracted the film from the ornament, passed the decoration to his wife, and fished in his pocket for his wallet.
"That wretched boy must have wanted to get rid of it as soon as he knew it was worthless!" he exclaimed.
"Being charged with selling government secrets must have seemed a worthwhile risk when he thought the film might be worth something," the Doctor added. "But once he knew it was worthless, he must have been more anxious to get rid of it."
"Yes, and to make sure that if it were destroyed, its destruction would be carried out by someone else." Uncle Chubby wrapped the small square of film in a white slip of paper and put it in his wallet. He returned the wallet to his pocket and beamed at the Doctor.
"Doctor! I beg your pardon again for ever accusing you!"
"And I beg your pardon for insulting you, sir. You are one of the finest huma--er, men I have the honor to know!"
"Come, we shall drink to our friendship!" And Uncle Chubby led the way to the sideboard.
* * * *
On the morning of Christmas Eve, as the Doctor lay stretched out on the bed in his room, half dozing and half wandering in his mind over the events of the last three days, he heard whispers out in the hallway.
He sat up on his elbows. It was two quiet voices, and then one of them giggled. Both female, he guessed. The conversation seemed to consist of a good many shushes and the tones of one person coaxing another. There was another giggle.
A small fist knocked on his door, about level with the door knob, and Julia's small voice asked, "Is that bear in his cave?"
He smiled. He had told Jo about playing the bear with Susan. She must have decided it was just the thing for Julia.
He rolled out of bed onto his knees and pulled on his robe.
"Is that bear in his cave?" the small voice asked again, and the door pushed open a crack. Just as two brown eyes peeped around the edge, he let out a roar and sprang for the door.
Jo's muffled laughter on the other side and Julia's louder laugh and running footsteps brought him to the door on his knees. He pulled it open and stuck his head out into the hall. Jo had disappeared, and Julia was much further up the hall, bundled into her quilted robe, her hair not yet brushed. "The bear is hungry," he growled. "So you better watch out. Don't come into my cave!"
He whisked back inside.
He could hear the soft footfalls as Julia crept back towards his door. Across the hall from him, Jo--also on her knees and in her robe--peered out of her doorway and nodded for Julia to come to his door. Julia's face came around the corner of the door sill and the Doctor roared and sprang.
Shrieking with laughter and calling for her brothers, she bounded away again while Jo laughed. He chased Julia this time, halfway to Andrew's door, and then he retreated again on hands and knees. He heard Andrew's door swing open and Andrew's voice asking what they were playing. In another moment the two of them were cautiously approaching his door.
"Be careful, children," Jo warned. "That bear is hungry."
There were some answering giggles, a few whispers, and then Andrew poked his head around the door sill.
"Raugh!" the Doctor roared, and sprang after them.
He chased them up the hall with long bounds on his hands and knees and was just tackling the two of them when the door to the twins' room opened and James and John threw themselves onto his back.
"Oh ho! Four of you eh! Well it doesn't matter to a fierce old bear!" he shouted.
Pulling Julia and Andrew with him, he retreated to his door, with the older boys hanging onto him and being dragged along. There was a great deal of laughing and wrestling, but he got turned around and started back for his doorway with his prey under each arm and the two would be rescuers clinging to his back and shoulders as he resolutely traveled in shuffling strides on his knees.
"Jo, Help!" Andrew shouted.
Just as the Doctor wondered where she had got off to, two slim hands grabbed his left ankle and pulled his left knee out from under him. He toppled forward. Julia and Andrew scrambled free and climbed onto his back.
"Now we've got you!" Andrew shouted.
"In a pig's eye!" he exclaimed, and got up on all fours with all of them on his back and shoulders.
They shouted and laughed and tried to hold him tightly to make him stop.
What saved them was Uncle Chubby's call from downstairs, a nasal imitation of a cockney. "Oi! You lot upstairs! It's breakfast time! Mrs. Willis has made gingerbread!"
The bear was quickly eluded. In a rush of flannel and wool, the four children footed it down the hall, around the corner, and down stairs.
The Doctor collapsed against the wall, panting. Jo plopped down in front of him, ready to say something funny, and she caught herself.
"You're crying!" she exclaimed.
He raised a hand to his chest. "One last hurrah before it fades away." He looked at her and did nothing to check the tears that ran down his face.
"Doctor!" Without thinking she took his face in her hands. "But why are you crying?"
"Because I always knew that life for humans is brief, and now I feel it as well. It hurts to know it like this, Jo!" He did not sob, but fresh tears fell down his cheeks and over her fingers. He could sense her life force with her so close, and now for the first time, enlightened by the longing pain in his hearts, he could sense her termination point as well. Jo would die--soon, compared to his life span, even if she lived to what humans considered a good old age. For a moment he understood her mortality fully as a time lord, and yet also as a human.
"Oh, you've always known we're short-lived compared to you!" She used the cuff of her robe to wipe his eyes, but the tears kept coming.
"I know that nothing stays the same, but now I feel all the loss that has to come in every human life--even yours! The children, your aunt and uncle--nothing ever stays the same. It's all lost. It can never stay like this."
"You don't mean you wish it could always be Christmas?" she asked him. She stroked back his hair, suddenly maternal and wise. "Every human being has probably wished that it could be Christmas every day, Doctor, with no changes. But once we grow up, we know what a disaster that would really be." She smoothed back his hair. "Humans need change, even though we hate change. I suppose we even need death, even though we hate death more than we hate anything else."
"Is that why it's so important to believe that God sent His Son to Earth?" he asked her. "Because somehow that is something permanent, handed down through generations?" He answered himself. "Maybe it's the hope that in some great heavenly house, every day will be Christmas somehow. All the home-ishness of home, and all the perfection of heaven."
"And none of the death or change," she whispered. She solemnly tweaked his nose and added soberly, "Or maybe we believe it because it's true, and everything you see at Christmas is the earthly echo of something heavenly."
"Do you really believe that?" he asked.
She looked solemnly up at his eyes and quietly said, "I don't know. But I don't disbelieve it as thoroughly as you do."
He said nothing to that. He sat and caught his breath as the pain in his hearts finally faded away to nothing and was at last entirely gone. And he realized that he would never know that longing pain, and its odd pleasure, of being human again. He suddenly felt more estranged from Jo than he had felt on the night of the wild feast, when she had backed away from him. And it made him even more wretched.
"Doctor," she said again.
"Jo, you'll stay with me for a little longer?" he asked.
"Of course I will!" Moved by his distress, she framed his face in her hands again. "I'm not going anywhere!" she exclaimed.
"No, no of course not." He leaned back against the wall and was once again himself, and he knew it, and it no longer distressed him. The fear and the solitude and wretched loneliness passed from his eyes. He saw that her dark eyes, not comprehending what was going on inside him, were looking anxiously at him. Touched by her compassion for his momentary sadness, he stroked her cheek.
"It's all right then, Jo," he said. He got to his feet and helped her up. "Come on. We'd better go see about some of that gingerbread for ourselves!" Merry Christmas to you! My sincere hope is that in this Christmas season, you will rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, the Son of God.--Jeri Massi