Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire
seanan_mcguire

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Fanfic: Five Moments In a Life That Never Was.

Title: Five Moments In a Life That Never Was.
Rating: PG.
Fandom: Doctor Who.
Synopsis: Five snapshots of Susan Foreman, later Susan Campbell, daughter of Gallifrey. Written ages ago, and re-posted in honor of the 50th. Thanks to khaosworks for fact-checking.

***

When she sleeps, her name isn't Susan.

When she sleeps, her name is something long and liquid, made of syllables that dance off the tongue like water flowing over stones, every one of them leading naturally to the next, seamlessly fitted to the length and breadth of her. It is a name for an alien girl, one born to walk through high-arched marble halls, to wonder at things the human mind can barely dream of, to grow tall and sleek and elegant within the cradle of a civilization that was old when the stars themselves were young. It is a name for an alien woman, one who could walk in hallowed company, and think great thoughts with the most brilliant minds of a thousand perfect ages.

She never remembers it when she wakes up. When she wakes, she's Susan again, just Susan, just the sum of the name given to her by a girl named Jill in a dying hospital. It was a gift, but it's also become a burden, in its way; without it, Grandfather would have come up with something to call her, some nickname or diminutive, and those few precious syllables might have carried the name she dreams of with her into the waking world. She might have remembered who she'd been, if she'd never grown into a Susan...but she did, and that name was lost, along with so very many other things, in all the folded fragments and fabrics of Time.

When she sleeps, she almost remembers where she came from, almost remembers Gallifrey, a word that means as much and as little to her as the phrase "the Old Country" has always meant to the children of immigrants. It means a home that's never belonged to her at all, a place her family left behind because they wanted something better. It means tradition, knowing yourself, understanding yourself as something more than a Susan, something longer-lasting than a girl with a first name that was given to her in honor of someone else's fallen mother, and a last name taken from a junkyard sign. "I.M. Foreman," indeed. At least it means she's something. When she sleeps, she's a Timelady, a daughter of the ancient and eternal traditions of Rassilon, and she's going to live long enough to see centuries die, and she's never going to be hurt, and she's never going to cry, and she and her grandfather will be together, forever.

When she sleeps, the world is perfect.

Susan always wakes up.

***

This is the story of a little girl—an unearthly child, if you will, born to alien parents on an alien world. For all that her face and form are human enough, and fair, for all of that, built with symmetry and grace, the DNA that performs its ancient dances in every cell knows nothing of the planet Earth, nothing of the rise of homo sapiens. The apes that it was born from lived and died in jungles nothing like the vaunted Eden, and the angels it aspires to may have twenty wings, or a thousand, or none at all, but they know nothing of Earth's skies. The galaxy is fond of common forms. Planets, for the most part, will be round. There may be exceptions—square worlds, worlds shaped like dinner plates, technologically-forged cubes that have developed ecosystems of their own, shattered bands of asteroids that have somehow clung to atmosphere and life—but planets, for the most part, remain spherical creations. Stars will give off heat and light, in all its myriad spectrums, and black holes will drink it in like the very finest wine. Atmospheres will form like tattered shawls. And life, most commonly, will seek out the same conformations. One head, to centralize the nervous system and store the sensory organs. Two hands, to grasp and manipulate the world. Two eyes, to provide binocularity of vision. The list goes on.

It is not that Man was made in the image of Gallifrey, or that the Timelords were made in the image of Earth. It is simply that the universe, once a successful form has been achieved, achieves it time and time again, refining and improving, but never straying far from the template that endures. Planets are round, stars are bright, and men, whatever world they hail from, are two-legged and curious, with clever hands and the need for something more. So Man may pass for Timelord, and Timelord pass for Man, and so this little girl—this singular, impossible little girl—may pass for something more familiar than she is.

She says her name is Susan, although it isn't. Many things have come from Gallifrey. An empire that spans millennia, ships that travel space and time as easily as the rafts of their ancestors traveled rivers and streams, an academy renowned throughout the ages of a thousand worlds for all the wonders it contains and all the scholars it produces. And now, Gallifrey has produced Susan, a dark-haired little girl who wanders the galaxy beside her grandfather, each step she takes another entry in their travelogue for voluntary exiles.

The world is full of wonders in the eyes of a child. Everything is new, and everything is magical, and everything will disappear if you're not swift enough to see it out, plunge your hands into it, and make it into something known. Just one world is full of wonders; what happens, then, when the child is offered a hundred worlds, a thousand, a million different places in a million different times, and all of them hers to run through, all of them hers to explore? What happens when the Cave of Wonders is never closed, but merely keeps expanding, deepening its treasures, pulling the curious further inside?

Does childhood ever truly have to end, when the world never stops rewarding you for thinking like a child?

This is the story of a little girl whose grandfather adored her, seeing in her the potential for everything their race had left behind, the wonder at a universe of worlds interlinked by invisible waves of correspondence and continuity, the courage to step out into the time stream, rather than hiding in an ivory tower and worrying about responsibilities too great to be ignored. You've been ignoring those responsibilities for centuries! he wanted to scream at them; you've been ignoring those duties since Rassilon went away, and took the best of the soul of the Timelords with him! You've grown soft and slow and stupid with hiding in your holes, you've grown drunk with power that doesn't mean anything, because you won't allow it to mean anything. You won't act, you only observe. You won't be. He wanted to scream those things, but he knew they'd never listen, and so he acted in the only way he had open to him. He left.

He wonders sometimes, as he watches her running through the fields of a thousand summers, whether she understood what he was doing when he slipped into her quarters, a bag already packed for her and ready in his hand. Whether when he said "come with me," she really understood the choice that she was making. That she was throwing away centuries of peace and beauty and elegant discussion for the short, dirty life of a wanderer. There had been rogue Timelords before—would always be rogue Timelords—and their Regenerations were measured in centuries, not millennia. He was taking away everything she should have expected, in her time.

He was giving her her birthright.

At night, when Susan sleeps, the Doctor sits outside her door, and thinks of her mother, and thinks of Gallifrey, and wonders whether, in the end, he made the right decision.

***

When the TARDIS disappears and the air rushes in to fill the space where it had been only a moment before, all Susan can do is stare. It's an alien hole in the shape of the world: a horizon with no TARDIS either on it or beyond it, no TARDIS hiding anywhere, no TARDIS coming back to pick her up and carry her away. This is a world without a Doctor, a world without a Timelord or a time machine, a world with...

A world with nothing in it stranger than a Susan.

She ought to cry. Her home has left her, her family has abandoned her, and here she is, daughter of Gallifrey, standing shipwrecked on the soil of Earth, where never her kind has been known. She ought to wail and weep and bash her fists against the walls, and demand to know how her grandfather—her family, the man who brought her here to begin with—could abandon her like this. But she doesn't. That would be silly, and Susan, for all that she may not really remember where she comes from, save when she dreams, is still a child of Gallifrey. She does not stand for silliness.

The wedding is held in the spring. David is dashing and strong in his suit and his anxious glances, like he expects Grandfather to return at any second, to declare that it was all a joke, ha ha, and sweep Susan off again to some endless new adventure. Susan is glorious in white lace and ivory satin, with ivy tendrils woven through her hair and her hands filled with the blood and snow of deftly mingled red and white roses. This is a new adventure, she would tell him, if she could; will tell him that night in their room, when his hands find the catches on her dress and flick them open, one, two, three, when he peels her out of the silk like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon; this is a new adventure. This is life lived sequentially, this is real, this is adulthood. This is something that she can't just walk away from when it bores her.

They make their oaths in the name of a God that may or may not know anything of the angels and the apes of Gallifrey, and to Susan, every word sounds just like "once upon a time."

David scoffs behind his hand that there's no wedding gift from her grandfather, but Susan doesn't mind, because she understands them both somewhat better than she used to. Grandfather gave the both of them a wedding gift—he gave David a bride, and he gave Susan a wedding, and a husband, and a world that she could learn to love as something of her own. David feeds her sugar-frosted wedding cake, and the guests—mostly his friends and family now, but that will change, she knows it already, can see the story set out in front of her like a road she can't wait to start running down—cheer for the health of the happy couple.

In the receiving line, the people call them "Mister and Missus Campbell," and Susan smiles so widely that she feels as though she's flying. She was given one name out of misguided kindness, and took a second out of necessity, but this name she has chosen for herself, because she wanted it. This name, of all the names she's known in waking, feels like her own.

That night, David takes her in her arms and carries her over the threshold in her lace, oh, all in her lace, and she feels, for the first time since the dimly-remembered night when her grandfather took her hand and took her away from Gallifrey, as if she's coming into something she belongs.

Susan Campbell looks into her husband's eyes at the moment that he crosses over her threshold, the lace long cast aside, and feels as if she's finally home.

***

Gallifrey remembers.

Gallifrey remembers, and she is Gallifrey, all Timelords are Gallifrey, and Susan, little Susan, taken as a child, raised wild and unfettered as the timewinds, left to have her womanhood on a world not her own, Susan is a Timelady, no matter what else she may have been. She has been a wife and she has been a mother, although the foster children that trickled through their doors like water shared not a drop from her own alien seas. She has been a citizen of England, has paid her taxes, brewed her tea, and watched the man she loved grow old without her, while her own genetics clung stubbornly to the youth that was their heritage. She has done her best to be a citizen of Earth as well as England, would have changed her blood to match her husband's, if she could. If she had the choice. But the choice was never given, and now...

Now Gallifrey remembers, and has come to claim its own.

When David dies, Susan feels it. She didn't feel him take the shot meant for her grandfather—now apparently a man almost as young as she is, and with a face she's never seen before, but part of her, the part of her that is Gallifrey, will always know him for her kin, whatever skin he happens to wear—and she has never been one of those wives who claimed to suffer stomachaches when her husband had the flu, but still, she feels him die. With the walls of his murderer's TARDIS all around her, she feels the moment that his heart stops beating, feels the confusion of a mind that has been deprived of blood and hence, of oxygen, feels his cells screaming, one by one, as life slips away from them. She feels his death in a way more intimate than sex, more intimate than childbirth, as all the long-ignored channels of her Gallifreyan mind rip open, and let the trauma pour inside.

Mouth and eyes both closed tight, Susan sees it all, and she screams in the only way she can without letting the world inside: she screams with her poor, wounded mind, and with her heart, and with every ounce of agony that's in her. The Master is unbraced, and unprepared. How could he have known? He'd met Susan as a child, yes, and known her then, but that was years ago, and what rogue son of Gallifrey expects to find a Timelady hidden, needle in a haystack, amongst the thronging tribes of Earth? Susan Campbell meant nothing to him, and Susan Foreman had never really been her name, and only now, her screams echoing like razors through his mind, does he understand what he has taken, and what his ignorance has done.

He stumbles, screaming, out the TARDIS doors and onto the planet's surface, and Susan, all fire and madness, once again a petulant child in her grief, reaches out to the great machine around her, reaches out with her untrained Timelady's mind, and gives the one command that she can find to frame:

"Take me home."

The machinery rumbles into life. Time bends, space changes, and the TARDIS, with a sobbing, broken woman cradled in its belly, is headed home, for Gallifrey.

***

There will be no monument for Gallifrey. No tombstones for her dead, no beacon to mark that here, once, there was a grand and glorious civilization, here, once, there was an empire that thought itself undying, here, once, there was an academy that trained the greatest minds the worlds had ever known, or ever would know, from the very dawn of time unto the very end. There will be no songs sung to mark her passing, no trumpets sounded in her honour, no books written chronicling her final hours. A thing must be remembered to be mourned.

Oh, the Timelords will be remembered, in their way. They'll be fairy tales and children's stories, boogeymen and great heroes, responsible for the banishment of the Daleks...who will, in their turn, be rendered into fiction, used to frighten boys and girls into behaving. Be good, or the Daleks will get you, just like they got the mighty Lords of Time. Don't wish too hard to grow up, or the Timelords will come and steal your childhood, and use it to stay young forever. He's been to the ends of time, looking for some sign that he isn't alone, that the silence in his head where the voices of the others should be is just shock, that somewhere, someone else is calling out into the void; he's been there, and he's heard the stories, and there will be no monument for Gallifrey. There's nothing up ahead but silence. Silence from now until the end of everything.

There was a time he ran away from that world, and everything it represented. There was a time he hated it, hated the oppression, hated the halls where no one went, the traditions that no one understood, hated the way they held themselves apart from the cosmos. Well, they abandoned that isolation in the end, didn't they? They stepped out of their ivory towers, they took up their swords, and they erased themselves and their works, even back to the beginning of all things, until the worlds were safe, and they were nothing but a story.

He wonders if Rassilon would be proud of what his children made.

He rather thinks the old bastard would be.

There will be no monument for Gallifrey. Gallifrey is gone. But there will be a funeral, none the less, and there will be a time of mourning, and there will be remembrance, even if only from a few. There will be what little he can give, to a world that he hated, and loved, as ever children have hated, and loved, their parents. Not just for Gallifrey; for her other children, the lost ones, the ones who fell. For Romana...and for Susan.

He buys the property at 76 Totter's Lane in 1974, when the junkyard goes on the market. In 1985, he arranges for the building to be removed; they break ground on the park ten years later, in 1995. His instructions are exact. His finances unlimited. He doesn't attend the groundbreaking, or the opening, doesn't, in fact, set foot there for another twenty years—not until time has had its way with things, and the trees are tall and strong, and the stones are weathered well, and a fine patina has settled over the copper statue that stands, never moving, never aging, never growing old, at the point where all the pathways meet. He walks through the park, listening to the distant shouts of children and the cooing of pigeons, and stops in front of her, looking up.

She is young, this girl, perhaps eight, perhaps nine, perhaps a very small twelve. Her clothing is formal, even slightly out-dated, now; her hair is short and sleek, and her eyes are fixed on some point past the horizon, something he can't quite see. One hand is raised; she's smiling. This is the girl who became a woman of Earth, and a Timelady on Gallifrey, who died six Regenerations later as a tall, elegant widow with copper-red hair and a snarl on her face, when her TARDIS was slapped out of the sky by a careless gust of time. This is the one he loved first, and last, and best of all. His granddaughter. His darling.

The inscription reads Some Still Remember.

"Hello, Susan," he says, and smiles.
Tags: fanfiction, geekiness, too much tv
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