Sitting on the sofa with Mikey in her arms, Traci rocked the baby while Katie marched her toys around the floor, regaling her mother with the story of how Lady and the Pumpkin were leading the dance at the Princess Ball. Mom had her legs straight out in front of her, as the little girl liked having the Prince and Princess promenade down them like they were the grand stairway into a ballroom.
"But how does the Pumpkin dance? He doesn't have legs," Mom asked.
"Don't need! He rolls and Lady dances." Katie rolled the stuffed pumpkin all around the floor, giggling as it tumbled over the other toys. She began running around the room, rolling the pumpkin up the walls and furniture, over Mom and the baby.
"No, Katie, not on Mikey." Traci held the baby up so that he was pumpkin-free, and the girl ran past them. Luckily, Mikey remained oblivious to the gourd-based assault. On her second circuit of the room, Katie climbed up on to the sofa and stood next to her mother, poking a finger at the baby, who took hold of it.
"Can I feed Mikey, Mommy?"
"He just ate. He should take a nap soon. But you can feed him when he wakes up." She had been afraid that Katie, who loved to fight with her older brother, wouldn't take to the new baby, but she'd turned out to be a mom in miniature, always asking to help with him.
"Okay." Just then, the doorbell chimed. "Jay-Jay?" She jumped down and ran to the front door.
"No, sweetie. Jason's at school. He won't be home for a while." Hugging Mikey to her shoulder, she rose from the couch and stretched her torso, then followed her daughter, who was now trying to work the doorknob. "Coming!" she called.
At the door, she used her free hand to pull the door open, then immediately bent down to restrain Katie, who she knew would run out of the door if left to her own devices. Thus, she had to identify her visitor from his brown pin-stripe trousers, the hem of his long coat, and his cream sneakers.
"Doctor!" she exclaimed without looking up. No one else dressed like that.
"Hullo! And who is this?" Dropping to a squat, he grinned at the little girl, who scooted behind her mother's legs.
"This is Katie. Come on, sweetheart, say hi to the Doctor."
Katie peered out at the strange man, then shook her head and dodged back behind Mom. Traci laughed. "I usually can't stop her from jumping on everyone she sees, but she's smart, you see. She already knows the word 'doctor' means being poked and prodded and jabbed with sharp things. Come on, sweetie," she coaxed as she looped her arm around her daughter's shoulders and squeezed, "go back to the living room." She nudged the girl in the right direction and Katie wandered off slowly, staring back at the Doctor as she walked.
Once they both straightened up, Traci invited the Doctor in. "If you don't mind, I should change Mikey and put him down for a nap. I'll be back in a few. Make yourself at home."
Traci watched him follow Katie into the living room, and as she carried Mikey to his room, she hoped that her daughter would be okay with the Doctor in the room.
She needn't have worried. When she returned to the living room twenty minutes later, the Doctor was sitting cross-legged on the floor peering into a sofa-cushion fort. Katie's "gzhrrrrrr!" noise emanated from inside, and when it stopped, she leapt out at the Doctor into his arms, giggling. Taking a firm hold of her, he flipped her upside down, then rose to his feet and swung her around the room once, before depositing her on the armchair next to his discarded coat.
"I'm glad you two made friends," Traci commented, smiling delightedly.
"Mommy! The Doctor made me a time machine! I'm a Time Lady! We saw Queen Lizabet!" She jumped down from the sofa and latched onto the Doctor's leg.
Traci was horrified. The thought that her children might be half-alien had never occurred to her. The Doctor immediately caught the look on her face, and he hastened to assure her, "No! No no no, no no! She's not. She's human. Completely human!"
"Are.. are you sure?" She stared at her daughter hugging the Doctor's leg.
"Oh, yes. I'd know if she was Gallifreyan in any way. I'd hear her." He tapped his temple. "You're human and your children are human."
Traci breathed a sigh of relief, but her apprehension darkened her mood. She knelt down and gently detached Katie from the Doctor. "Go on and fly in your time machine. Why don't you see what you're gonna be when you grow up?"
"Okay!" Katie dove back into the fort and the time machine's engines started up again. "Gzhrrrr!"
"Coffee? Tea? Soda? Juice?" Traci motioned the Doctor towards the dining room, from where she'd be able to watch Katie playing and hear Mikey if he woke up.
"I'd love a cuppa, thank you. Tea, that is," he clarified when Traci frowned in confusion at the British term. He took a seat at the dining table and watched the little girl as Traci fetched the beverages and a plate of cookies. Depositing the refreshments on the table, she checked the two children one more time before joining the Doctor.
"Are you sure…?"
The worry must have been plain on her face, for the Doctor leaned forward and squeezed her hand. "I am. She's perfectly human." He slid the saucer towards himself and, selecting a packet of Earl Grey, began preparing his tea. "Thank you."
She sighed. "Good. Because I don't want them to…" Her sentence trailed off.
"I know." He smiled comfortingly as he poured the hot water into the cup, then leaned back while it steeped.
"No, you don't." Traci took a sip of her coffee to still her nerves. "The last couple of years have been terrifying. I've been so afraid I'd be found out."
"What?" An eyebrow arched high as he stared at her, concerned. "Why?"
"All the aliens." Just the thought of them made her shiver. "It's like suddenly everything wants to invade Earth."
Comprehension dawned on the Doctor's face. "Ohh! The Sycorax. Then the Cybermen."
"Oh, you heard about them then? Then the spiky spaceships with the eyeballs this year. And other things, smaller things, like that hospital that disappeared in London. They said aliens took it to the moon." She had selected a cookie, but it was forgotten in her hand as she remembered the incidents.
Frowning, the Doctor studied her face, thumbing his chin as he thought. "All in the last two years for you, weren't they?"
"Yes." Traci felt somewhat privileged to have someone she could talk to about this, who might be able to make some sense of it. "Why is it, Doctor? Why are aliens coming to Earth now? It's not because of me, is it?" Her last question was quiet and timid.
"Oh, no!" His immediate, emphatic negation dispelled the worry that had nagged her ever since that spaceship appeared over London and controlled a third of the human population. "They've been coming to Earth for millennia. They just haven't been so obvious."
"What? How could we not know?"
"Well," he drawled as he picked up his teacup, "there are plenty who you can't tell. Everyone assumes I'm human, for one. Then there are species that disguise themselves or hide. And they aren't all hostile. Some are very peaceful." He toasted her with his cup before taking a sip.
Traci gaped at the Doctor for a moment. "I, uh, I don't know whether to be horrified that there are aliens everywhere, or relieved that I'm not alone."
The Doctor returned his cup to the saucer and picked up a cookie before replying. "There aren't aliens 'everywhere.' Their numbers are quite few. I'd be surprised if you've met a single one. Well," he drawled, "except for me, of course." He stuffed the cookie in his mouth.
"Well, there's plenty of people who think that there are aliens everywhere, living among us, and they've been trying to unmask them. One of those groups had a rally at City Hall. I was so scared walking past them." She shuddered at the recollection.
Swallowing the last bit of his cookie, the Doctor shook his head. "Humans. Always so afraid of anything new, anything they don't understand." He reached over the table and placed a hand on her arm. "Traci. You don't have to worry. Your physiology is completely human. No one on this planet has the ability to identify you as anything but human. No one in this galaxy, even."
She suppressed the urge to yank her hand away from him. "Except you. You were able to tell."
"Because of the watch, and because I know what to look for. Time Lords are a myth to most people, so they wouldn't even think to look for one." He squeezed her arm. "If it makes you feel safer, don't carry the watch with you."
Somehow that didn't feel like an option; the watch almost felt like a part of her and she couldn't just leave it behind. On the other hand, it was also the thing that made her feel the most alien, and thinking about it only lent to her insecurity. Traci turned the Doctor's arm over and grasped his wrist, feeling for his pulse. When she found it, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply while she felt it. Presently, she opened her eyes and withdrew her hands from his, smiling sadly. "Sometimes I check my heartbeat, just to make sure. It's comforting to feel yours again. Because it's not mine."
He nodded. "I'd no idea the planet was being affected like this." Taking another cookie, he nibbled on it as he thought. "There's nothing to be done about it. Humans have to learn to cope on their own."
"How?" she blurted out before she could stop herself. "These aliens can fly through space and have laser cannons and things! What are we supposed to do against them?
"You humans have more defenses than you know. You just seem to like keeping such things secret." He popped the rest of the cookie in his mouth and grabbed another one.
"If you say so," she replied, not really believing him. "Even so, it's still terrifying. What those aliens can do. That hypnotism thing, people all over the world were hypnotized to climb up on the highest building they could find and jump to their deaths. They say that they shot the alien ship down just in time." She shuddered. "It was the middle of the night and I just found myself on the edge of this building a mile away, in my nightgown. I didn't even know how I got there! And when I got home, Alex said he hadn't been able to stop me, because he had to stop Jason." She took a gulp of her coffee to calm herself. "They say it happened all over the world. How can they even do that?"
"It's called blood control." The Doctor waved a dismissive hand. "It's a parlor trick: they got a bit of A-positive blood and controlled people through it. They couldn't have made you jump, though. Your survival instinct is too strong and you wouldn't have jumped if they tried. Well, they did try. Well, honestly, it wasn't them who tried."
Traci frowned. "How would you know that?"
Leaning back in his chair, he cocked his head as he airily explained, "Oh, it's an ancient technique. I hadn't seen it in years."
Staring at him suspiciously, she leaned forward over the table. "No, that's not what I mean. How do you know that's what they were doing?"
Sipping his tea, he replied with a flippant wave as he set his cup down. "Oh, the Sycorax? I was there."
Traci blinked as her jaw dropped open. "You were on that spaceship?"
"You were with the invaders?" Her voice cracked as she glared at him.
"What?" He scowled as he started with disbelief. "No! I was there to negotiate with them, so they would leave the Earth alone."
"Negotiate?" she spat back at him. "What negotiation? We shot the ship down."
"Oh, no." He sat back in his chair, relaxing. "That was after the Sycorax left. They were shot down as they were leaving in peace."
Traci blinked, trying to comprehend what he was saying. That wasn't what she had heard, and it just didn't make any sense that the Doctor, of all people in the entire universe, had been there, talking to the alien invaders. "That's just ridiculous! You're saying that in all of time and space, you happened to be on the Sicarite -"
She fumed at him. "Sycorax. Whatever. You were on their spaceship just at the moment they invaded this planet?"
"It was the result of a string of unlikely events involving game shows in the year 200,100, a refusal to go to the planet Barcelona, and thermos full of tea, but yes, I ended up there." His sunny expression suddenly turned puzzled and he scratched his head. "That kind of thing seems to happen to me a lot."
Crossing her arms, she straightened and glared at him like a schoolteacher listening to her student's preposterous excuses. "And I suppose you're going to say that you were there when all those ghosts appeared and turned into robots?"
"They're called Cybermen. Remember, I mentioned them earlier." An amused smile curved the Doctor's lips. "And yes, I was there."
Shaking her head, Traci continued staring at him with a look of utter disbelief on her face. "Doing what?"
"Figuring out how to get rid of them." His expression darkened for a moment. "Sucked them into the Void, we did."
Traci smirked at him. "And the spiky spaceships?"
The Doctor leaned back and wagged a finger at her. "Now that, I don't know about. With eyeballs, you say? Don't know what those are. But it's always possible I'll be there in the future. Don't know."
Traci threw her hands up in frustration. "But that was earlier this year!"
"Well," the Doctor drawled as he rolled his head back in that odd habit of his, "my future. Your past. Oh," and he straightened up in his seat with an eager grin, "but that hospital on the moon. I was there, too."
"No." Crossing her arms, Traci set her lips in a firm line. "That's just ridiculous. I don't believe you."
"Honest! The Judoon used an H2O scoop to take the hospital to the moon. They were looking for a plasmavore who'd probably killed someone important." He stared absently out of the window. "I never did find out what she'd done."
She shook her head. "How can you possibly...? That's just too much coincidence! The universe is huge! Why would you be on Earth so often, and in the middle of all these aliens?"
The Doctor waved an open hand at the rest of the world around them. "I like the Earth. One of my favourite planets."
Taking a cookie, Traci bit off a piece as she regarded the Doctor with narrowed eyes. "So is that what you do, then? You're like Earth's diplomat to the universe."
"Oh, nothing so official." He shrugged. "I just happened to be there and saw something to do. I'm not a good Time Lord. I interfere. Told you that. I'm supposed to just let aliens invade a planet if they want, but I can't stand by and watch that. I really can't do a whole lot, but I try."
"Not a whole lot? You averted two alien invasions by yourself. That's amazing!"
"Oh, I wasn't alone. I always have my friends helping me. You can't discount them. But really, you didn't need me." He leaned forward and patted her hand encouragingly. "You humans are capable of all that. There are organizations that protect the Earth from hostile visitors. You just don't know about them."
Traci stared at him. She was quite sure he was prevaricating, whether out of humility or perverse pride, she couldn't tell. He seemed to relish confusing her, but didn't want to claim credit for these events. She shook her head slowly. "No. I don't believe you. In all the time I've known you, you've never talked about yourself, and when I ask you anything about you, you change the subject, or you tell me just the bare minimum. I wouldn't be surprised if you're lying to me, when you tell me about yourself. I don't think you just travel around and see the universe. I think you do a lot more than you say, and I think that's what you like to do. But you don't like anyone knowing who you are, do you?"
Sniffing, the Doctor sat back, his shoulders falling just a tiny amount, revealing his embarrassment and something else that Traci had never seen in him before: vulnerability. When he spoke, his voice was low and contrite. "I'm just a wanderer, Traci. Really I am. Yes, I can't stand by and watch people die, and I get involved more than I should, but all I am is a wanderer." He glanced out the window for a moment, then turned back and raised his eyes to her. "You're right that I don't like to talk about myself and I try to get out of it every time. But I have never lied to you. Well, once. That negotiation with the Sycorax was conducted with longswords."
Those few sentences told Traci more about him than all of their many conversations had before, and she felt privileged that he'd opened up to her even that much. Tracing the rim of her coffee cup with a finger, she peered up at him, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. "I think you're a lot more complex than you're letting on. But I won't push you. Everyone has their secrets." Gathering up her courage, she barrelled on. "But, you know, Doctor, there's one thing that's been bugging me for the past, oh, I don't know how long, and I think it's important. Enough to ask you directly."
The Doctor frowned. "Oh? What's that?" he asked, clearly bracing himself against the expected personal question.
"You've visited me now, what, five or six times? You show up whenever you feel like it." She caught his gaze and held it with her serious stare. "What if I would like to see you? I don't have any way of calling you, texting you, sending you a letter or a carrier pigeon or whatever. It's really not fair that I have to wait for your whim."
Astonished, the Doctor blinked twice, then his mouth dropped open. "You actually want me to visit?"
Traci bobbed her head in an exaggerated nod. "I like getting together with my friends every so often, yeah."
The Doctor's face broke into the most brilliant, toothy smile. Traci had never seen him so delighted. Straightening in his seat, he clapped his hand to his mouth as he began musing on the puzzle. "Well, I don't usually give people the ability to call me, but... I could adjust your phone, but if you lose it or get a new one... Oh! I know what you always have. Give me your watch."
He beckoned peremptorily with his hand, as if it was the most urgent request in the world. "Your watch. Your chameleon arch."
As she went to find her purse, the Doctor began rifling through the pockets of his jacket, dumping a large pile of objects on the table that included a neon green water gun, a red leather ball, a magnifying glass, a white paper bag with colored lumps in it, a flashlight, what looked like a gold-colored video game controller, and a half-completed sock with knitting needles and a trailing ball of blue and brown yarn.
"How are you carrying all that stuff?" Traci asked as she returned and handed him her pocket watch.
Taking the watch, the Doctor placed it on the table in front him, then pulled a silverish rod from his inner breast pocket and began working on a small doodad from the pile of miscellany. When he pointed the rod at it, the device whirred merrily and its end glowed blue. "My pockets are dimensionally transcendental."
Traci had heard that term before, but it took a moment for her to remember where. "Oh! The TARDIS. It's like the inside of the TARDIS."
Grabbing the watch, the Doctor grinned without looking up. "Fair play t'you."
He looked up, confused. "What?"
"What did you just say?"
He thought about it for a moment. "Er, I said you got it?"
"If you say so."
He had already returned to fiddling with the watch. Traci watched him silently as he worked, curious as to what he was doing to her prized possession. Presently, he straightened up with a proud smile.
"Here we are!" He handed her the watch back. It now had a chain attached to it, and on the ring that connected the chain to the watch hung a small round charm etched with a design similar to that on the watch cover. "It's about time your watch had a fob chain."
She examined it, then commented, "It's very pretty. How do I call you with this?"
"Well, the charm is actually a button." He reached over and tapped it with his finger; it flipped over to reveal more interlocking circles on its back. "Just squeeze hard and hold it for three seconds, and it'll call me. Not too long, though. Five seconds and it'll knock out all electronics on the block for a half an hour. Handy if you need an excuse to skive off work."
Taking the charm in her hand again, she rubbed her thumb over the engravings. "And it'll call you? Even if you're millions of light years away, or back with the dinosaurs or something?"
"Yup." He beamed, rather pleased with himself. "Transtemporal frequency. I'll get the signal. Anywhere, anywhen."
Traci bit her lip, but she couldn't hold back her grateful smile. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Mommy!" Katie lay giggling under a pile of sofa cushions. "My time machine is broken! Can the Doctor come fix it?"
Traci adopted a mock stern stance. "What do you say, Katie?"
Traci smirked at the Doctor. "I don't know. Doctor, do you think you can fix it?"
"Certainly! Looks like your friction contrafibulator needs recalibration." Hopping up, he strode into the living room and slid to the floor, dragging the girl from the pile and swinging her out of the way. Rebuilding the fort, he assured Katie that it would never break again, and Traci, sipping her coffee, watched the two as they traveled from Earth to the planet Alzarius in a strange dimension, to the Italian Renaissance to meet Leonardo da Vinci, to Mars in the year 10,000. As he painted elaborate verbal portraits of far-off places and times for her and she populated them with fantastic creatures and elegant lords and ladies, the child's imagination shone in her bright wide eyes, her enthusiasm and spirit mirrored in his. Traci found herself wishing that she, too, could see these wonders and coughed to hide her embarrassment at the irony. When it came time for the Doctor to leave, Katie clung to his leg once more, begging him to stay, and biting his lip, he glanced at her mother as he apologized to the girl. Traci took Katie into her arms, and with one last tiny smile that conveyed his gratitude and contentment, the Doctor spun and strode out of the front door, disappearing in a blur of brown.