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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-18 12:32 pm

The Gift Of The Mad Guy (Doctor Who, PG)

Summary: The Doctor joins some Kings of Orient following a star, helps a quartet of sociologists, gets thrown in prison, meets shepherds (ditto: talking sheep), finds a baby in a stable, uses Christmas carols for nefarious ends, and learns The True Meaning Of Camel.
Notes: I can't take credit for the turtles; it references an urban-legendy anecdote, by way of Stephen Fry on Quite Interesting. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] hija_paloma for beta-reading.
Warnings: None.

Originally Posted 12.21.08

Also available at AO3.

The Gift Of The Mad Guy
A Doctor Who Christmas Special Fanfic


"Hey. Mister."

The Doctor had found, as time wore on, that his senses were sharpening. His tenth body had a particularly keen sense of taste. Also a good ear, or he probably would have missed the sound entirely in the crowded marketplace.

"Mister, hey, mister, c'mere."

He stopped, casting about for the source of the voice. He'd set his destination at random and had no idea which planet he was on, and was consciously ignoring what time it was; there were humanoids, and things were for sale, so nothing could be too wrong with the universe.

"Mister, over here."

He turned the other way and almost collided with a woman selling figs. Beyond her, five malevolent-looking quadrupeds were tethered to a wooden rail. Camels -- dromedaries? Camels? You go about calculating the quantum waveform-collapse point of neutron stars with no trouble, but the old one-hump-or-two thing is always a toss-up. Like whether you're supposed to feed a cold and starve a fever, or starve a cold and feed a fever. Really ought to get that one down, being a Doctor and all.

They must be camels, he decided, and also made a mental note to scare up a new Companion at some point because rambling on like that in his head was much more unsettling than doing it aloud to someone else.

He glanced around and then strolled casually over to them.

"Were you talking to me?" he asked the nearest one politely.

The camel rolled its eyes. "Do you see anyone else around here who speaks Hrnuf?"

"Oh!" The Doctor beamed, suddenly. "You aren't camels or dromedaries. Big relief, I can tell you."

"Told you," said the ca -- the Hrnu next to him. "I smelled it on him a mile off."

The Doctor sniffed the air delicately.

"Time travel," the first Hrnu said. "Smells like pomegranates."

"Brilliant! I never knew that," the Doctor said. "I'm the Doctor."

"Gene. That's Maud, Mildred, and Cornelius." Gene the Hrnu Not A Camel nodded his head expressively.

"What about h....er?" the Doctor guessed, pointing to the fifth one.

"He's a camel," Gene said impatiently.

"Well, he's still got a name, hasn't he?"

"We just call him Sticks," Maud said, flaring her prodigious nostrils.

"Why do you -- " the Doctor got a good look at the legs on the fifth member of the retinue, then decided he didn't really need to ask.

"Listen, could you do us a favour?" Gene continued.

"Sure, sure," the Doctor agreed. "Blimey, do these lot know you're here?" he added, jerking his head at the humanoids going about their business.

"Do we look like idiots?" Cornelius asked. "They're humans."

"Ah," said the Doctor, wondering vaguely why he always ended up with humans. Probably some great universal reason, unknowable to less cosmic minds. Destiny, fate, kismet. Or maybe the TARDIS just really liked humans. "Why are you here, anyway?"

"Oh, you know..." Cornelius trailed off.

"Students?" the Doctor asked knowingly.

"Sociology," Maud said. "It's our internship."

"Studying humans?"

"Good god no," Gene said. "We thought the camel population might be interesting, but they're -- "

"Really, really not," Cornelius said.

"No knowledge is wasted," Gene scolded.

"You must be Professor Gene," the Doctor said.

Gene preened a little. "I like to think of myself as more of a mentor, really..."

"Until he gets us lost," Maud remarked to no one in particular.

"My point," Gene announced, turning to give her a glare, "is that we've got two days to get to our ride and -- "

"Oi! You there!" came another voice, and the Doctor turned to find two men in expensive-looking robes bearing down on him. "What do you think you're doing with our camels?"

"The fuzz!" Mildred whispered, and all four of them bent in unison to the hay-bale nearby. Sticks looked around vaguely and then began chewing on his tether rope with placid indifference.

"Hiya!" the Doctor said cheerily. "Just admiring your fine examples of...camel...dom. Dromedaryism?"

"How do we know you're not a thief?" one of the men asked.

"Well, you don't," the Doctor admitted. "But honestly if I were going to go round stealing livestock I'd hardly do it in broad daylight in the middle of a market, would I? Place isn't exactly built for high-speed camel chases, after all."

The men looked at each other.

"Then what...were you doing?" one of them asked curiously.

"Told you, admiring your camels. Fine lot," the Doctor said, and smacked Maud on the shoulder. A puff of dust rose up and she snorted and gave him a look that said there would be words about it later. "You must just be passing through yourselves. I'm the Doctor. And you are...?" he held out his hand.

The taller of the two shook it. "Jasper. This is Mel. Sorry for shouting, but you can't be too careful these days."

"Oh, I think you can always be too careful. The trick is in being just careful enough," the Doctor observed. Mel, who was shorter and had the air of peering over the rims of glasses even though he wore none, tilted his head.

"That sounds like an epigram," he said. "You said you were a doctor?"

"The," the Doctor said. "The Doctor."

"Is there only one in your country?" Jasper asked.

The Doctor bit his lip. "These days, yeah," he said. "Anyway. Nice camels. Where are you gentlemen headed?"

The pair exchanged looks.

"We're astronomers," Jasper said finally. The Doctor kept his smile fixed in place, waiting for them to continue. "We're researching a phenomenon."

"Superstitious twaddle," Maud mumbled into her hay.

"A comet?" the Doctor asked, ignoring her.

"A what?" Mel said.

"There you are!" came a new voice.

"This is getting to be quite the conference," the Doctor murmured, as a young man carrying a wicker basket approached.

"I have been combing the markets for you two," he said. "Gossiping with foreigners as usual, I suppose."

"As foreign as they come," the Doctor said. "I'm the Doctor."

"Doctor, this is Balthasar," Jasper sighed. "We were just discussing astronomy, Balthasar."

"We don't need any horoscopes told," Balthasar said.

"Oh, I don't tell horoscopes," the Doctor replied. "Also, that's astrology. Anyway, I'm dead good at camel-wrangling. Don't suppose you're in need of a groom for these fine animals?" he added, this time remembering to give Sticks a slap instead of one of the others. Sticks promptly tried to bite him. The Doctor jerked back just out of reach, and the Hrnus shoved Sticks around to the other side of the pole. Balthasar had a hand over his mouth, apparently trying to hide his grin.

"But you don't know where we're going," Mel said.

"Neither do you," the Doctor rejoined.

"He has a point," Jasper said to Balthasar.

"We know where we're going, we just don't know when we're stopping yet," Balthasar said. "Anyway, he looks sturdy enough. Can you cook?"

"Course!" the Doctor said indignantly. "Well. Not cook so much as...reheat. And by reheat, I mean pull the tab on the little..." he trailed off, realising he'd lost them. "Yes. Yes I can."

"Good, you're hired," Balthasar said.

"What's in the basket, anyway?" Jasper asked. Balthasar slung it into a pack sitting on the ground nearby and heaved the whole thing onto Maud, who swore loudly in Hrnuf.

"Language," the Doctor murmured.

"Stuff," Balthasar replied to Jasper.

"Stuff?" Jasper asked.

"I bought some herbs and incense," Balthasar said, giving Jasper a look. "Right; your first job as stable boy is to get this lot saddled and try not to lose any fingers."

The Doctor gave the Hrnus a warning glance and picked up one of the peculiarly-shaped saddles. Beaming, he began settling them on the aliens' obedient shoulders.

***

Riding a Hrnu was not the most comfortable of experiences, but he soon settled into the jostling, rambling gait as well as he was likely to. The trio of humans were not exactly great conversationalists; they did talk a lot, but it was all philosophy and the most egregiously bad science the Doctor had encountered in some time. The Hrnus were fun, though.

"This is the life," Gene announced, as they plodded through the empty scrubland. "Fresh air, nice hot climate...reminds you of home, doesn't it?"

"Reminds me of the last three weeks," Cornelius said, and jostled Jasper extra-hard. "Not that I'm not having fun, Gene, but I'm ready to move on."

"Only two more days," Maud said. "Besides, it's better than being cooped up in some space station lab or a classroom."

"We're seeing the universe!" Gene enthused. "Meeting new people!"

"Sticks isn't people," Cornelius said.

"Technically he's a camel," the Doctor remarked, and then winced when the three humans glanced his way.

"What did you say?" Jasper asked. The Doctor opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again.

"I said, where...I'm from...we believe...camels," he said finally. The Hrnus snorted with laughter. "That's right. The whole world is the hump on a camel's back."

"Interesting," Balthasar looked thoughtful. "As in...just a hump? Or is there a camel attached?"

"Oh, you know...theology," the Doctor waved a hand.

"If it were -- and I'm not saying it is -- then surely there's another hump out there somewhere," Mel remarked. "With other people living on it, maybe?"

"Could be, could very well be," the Doctor agreed.

"Unless," Jasper put in, "It's a dromedary, not a camel. Then there's just one hump."

"Oh, is that how it goes?" the Doctor asked. "Must remember that."

"If there were just one hump, that'd be upsetting," Mel mused. "Alone in the camelverse."

"Dromeverse," the Doctor corrected.

"But it isn't, really," Balthasar said, looking annoyed. "The world, I mean. It's round. Everyone knows that."

"You'd be shocked," the Doctor murmured.

"I hear some people think it rides on the back of a turtle," Jasper announced.

"What does the turtle stand on?" the Doctor asked.

"Another turtle, so they say."

"And that turtle?"

"Well, that's the problem, isn't it," Mel said. "Every turtle stands on the back of another turtle."

"But what does the last turtle stand on?" the Doctor pressed.

"It's turtles all the way down I'm afraid," Jasper said sadly. "Infinite turtles. That's why I can't be having with it."

Gene and Maud were in hysterics. The Doctor gave the humans a smile and pulled gently on the reins to Gene's bridle, slowly dropping back from the group.

"It isn't nice to laugh at humans," he said, when they were far enough back that the others couldn't hear.

"It's just so hard not to," Gene replied. "Turtles! Honestly."

"Well-respected mythological creature, your average turtle," the Doctor said. "Also delicious in soup."

"Nice going getting a job with them, back there," Gene continued. "Much obliged."

"My pleasure. What exactly did you need from me, anyway?" the Doctor asked.

"Well, it's just that they made Mel the navigator and he gets a little lost. They tend to hit us with sticks if we try to lead them the right way. We thought you could, you know, nudge them a little."

"Oh, sure, right, I can do that. Where are we headed?"

"Southwest, from here -- there's a signal beacon, we're bound that way. You'll see it tonight, can't miss it," Gene said.

"Wouldn't want to," the Doctor smiled. "You don't mind me riding like this, do you?"

"Not at all. Good for the backbone," Gene said. "How's the ride?"

"Oh, no particular complaints. How'd you hook up with this lot, anyway? They're weird even for humans."

"They were going the right direction," Gene answered. "And they're amusing. Good story to tell the folks when we get back home. Aren't you a human?"

"Nope. Your standard one hundred percent alien, me."

"We thought maybe you were a Time Agent."

"Known a few. Not the best occupation for humans, to my view."

They rode in silence for a few minutes, until the Doctor realised something and started laughing.

"What's so funny?" Gene asked, tilting his long neck around so that he could get a look at him.

"Nothing -- it's just, I always end up with blondes," the Doctor said, ruffling the yellow hair on the Gene's hump.

***

They made camp at a small oasis as the sun was setting, efficiently and quietly, the humans setting up tents and starting a fire while the Doctor helped Gene, Maud, Mildred, Sticks, and Cornelius out of their saddles.

"Anything else I can do for you lot?" he asked, as they shook themselves and stretched. Sticks gave him the stink-eye.

"Fine thanks; just make sure Mel's holding the map right-side-up," Gene told him. "And don't eat the couscous, it smells like it's off."

"Ta," the Doctor said, and joined the humans at the fire.

"I will say this, you're not bad with the camels," Balthasar said, as Jasper hauled a pot of water to the fire and settled it to boil. "You're not Doctor of Camels by any chance, are you?"

"No, just easy to make friends with," he said, leaning back against the willowy trunk of a tree. "You don't exactly seem like the camel-wrangling type yourself. Must be a pretty important astronowhatsis for you to hurry all the way out here for it."

"See for yourself," Jasper said, pointing over his shoulder. The Doctor turned.

"Ooh," he said, staring upwards. It was obviously Gene's signal beacon, nothing more than a galactic bus-stop sign, but in the star-littered sky it shone out brilliantly and beautifully. Even when they meant them for the most mundane uses, people sometimes made the most amazing things.

"We've been following it since we left our homeland," Balthasar said quietly.

"It's an omen," Mel added.

"Omen of what?" the Doctor asked, not looking away.

"God knows," Jasper said. "Big trade in prophecies right now, back home. Some say it's the end of the world, some say it's the coming of God, some say it's the sign of a new emperor being born."

"What do you say?" the Doctor asked, turning back.

"We say we want to find out," Balthasar said. The Doctor grinned. "What?"

"That's the one thing I never get tired of. Human curiosity," he said. "You just keep poking the universe with sticks. It's lovely, really. Terminal, sometimes, but lovely nonetheless."

"Well, if we don't poke, how are we going to learn anything?" Jasper asked.

"Exactly!" the Doctor laughed. "Good show. So what do you do for fun? Round the campfire, I mean. Shall we have a sing song?"

"I don't sing," Mel said.

"Couldn't carry a tune if you handed it to him," Balthasar whispered, leaning over to the Doctor.

"Cards, then?" the Doctor asked.

"Cards?" Jasper asked.

"Rummy, poker, three-card-supernova...well, probably not yet, but Rummy's not too hard..." the Doctor dug in his pockets. He was sure he'd put a pack of playing cards in one of them -- it was a handy thing to have around. His interior coat pocket produced the sonic screwdriver, a left-handed glove (he'd been looking for that, but he'd already thrown out the right-handed one), and a small flask; his back trouser pocket proved to have a small rubber duck in it, but no cards. The humans watched with growing amusement as he stood and rifled his front pockets. TARDIS key, bit of string, random stopwatch -- Jack was probably looking for that -- couple of coins...

"Aha!" he said, when his hand finally closed around the slick deck of cards. "Here we are!"

"Oh!" Balthasar laughed. "Fortune-telling cards! I thought you said you didn't tell fortunes."

The Doctor looked down in surprise. What he'd taken for a pack of ordinary playing cards were, in fact, a 32nd century deck of Tarot cards, printed during a renaissance in the superstitious arts.

"Brilliant," he said. "Let's play Emperors."

The humans gathered around and listened intently as he explained the rules, then ran them through a test-game so that they could ask questions. By the end of the night they were playing with, if not strategy, then at least a bit of finesse.

"All right, stable-boy," Balthasar said, as the Doctor handily won a round and gathered up the chips of incense and gold they'd been gambling with. "We've got an early day tomorrow. You're bedding with the camels."

"Right-o," the Doctor said, thinking cheerfully that four warm Hrnus and a camel were probably going to keep the desert-night chill out of his bones a lot better than the dying fire the humans had built.

"Sharping them, eh?" Gene asked, when the Doctor approached, counting out his gold chips from the little knots of myrrh among them.

"I never sharp. I can't help that I have superior intelligence," the Doctor said loftily. "Now, budge up, delicate physiognomy here, clear a warm spot."

***

The next morning, Gene woke him just at sunrise with a nudge of his head and a loud braying "Hello, sunrise!"

"Is it?" the Doctor asked, squinting around in the darkness. When he finally located the right direction, he did see a hint of light peeking over the horizon.

The Hrnus were all getting to their feet, shaking dust out of their coats and bobbing their heads in the direction of the light. Solar worshippers, their race; nice to say hello to the sun when you could, though it made for some awkward times once they'd got out into space and there were suns practically everywhere you looked. The Doctor leaned against Gene's warm, shaggy side and waited for them to finish.

Peaceful, this; probably what he'd needed, a bit of a break, bit of a camping trip -- very human, camping, only race in the universe that did it, but still. Nice. Watching the sun as this half of the planet turned out of shadow and into the light, listening to the low hums and grunts of the half-awake Hrnu sociologists, anticipating another day of companionship and perhaps a few more card games with the Humans.

Then someone hit him in the head from behind with something heavy, and he fell over about the same time Gene tried to take off running.

Figured.

***

When he woke, he was lying on straw in a dark, stone-walled room. Stone-floored too, by the feel of it, which the straw didn't do much to compensate for. He sat up with a grunt and looked around.

"I am going to hex them, I am going to put such a curse on them," someone was saying, and the Doctor made out a vision in the darkness -- Balthasar, to judge from the robes, sitting crosslegged and doing something obscure with his hands.

"For God's sake, Balthasar, put your headdress back on." That was Jasper, who sounded about as well as the Doctor felt.

"Oh, I'm sure they won't be back anytime soon, these kinds of people leave you down in here for years," Balthasar said sulkily. "I'm sure I'm quite safe. Hah!"

Hair -- Balthasar was braiding long locks of his dark hair...

Well. Not his dark hair, so much, the Doctor realised. Her hair.

"Oh," the Doctor said. The other three looked at him.

"Tell anyone and I'll gut you," Balthasar said calmly.

"I believe you," the Doctor agreed. "Is there anyone around to tell? Where are we?"

"Prison," Mel replied. He was tinkering with something in a far corner -- a gate, with a heavy lock on it. "The king's guards got the drop on us."

"What did they do with the camels?" the Doctor blurted. All three of them looked at him strangely. "I, well, you know, you get...attached."

"Attached," Jasper repeated, raising an eyebrow.

"Now now, enlightened people don't judge," Mel said to him.

"Uh-huh," Balthasar sniffed, tying the end of the braid with a bit of leather and winding it up in a neat coil. Jasper passed her a large sheet of silk and she wrapped it around her head, knotting it neatly. "Well, we don't know what they did with the camels, but rest assured if you get us out of here you can have them."

"I'm telling you, it's weird," Mel said. "They didn't even bother searching my pockets."

"Mel, no offence, but I wouldn't try searching your pockets either," Balthasar said. The Doctor pushed himself to his feet and began investigating the door. Solid metalwork, double-bolted pin-hinges, big old lock. He felt in his pockets and was startled to find his screwdriver was still present.

"HELLO!" he called down the prison corridor. "HEY! MYSTICAL WISE MEN HERE, WE WANT OUT! AND OUR CAMELS!"

No reply.

"Well then," he said. "Soon have us out of here, just got to calibrate for -- "

There was a slam as an iron keyring whacked against the bars. The Doctor jumped back, startled, and then dodged Mel, who was fleeing for the opposite wall in terror. The Doctor looked up into a face that had probably seen many battles in its time, and also was missing half its teeth. He let go of the bars completely.

"Well, by all means," he said, gesturing at the door. The guard unlocked it roughly and shoved it inward.

"King wants to see you," he said.

"The king, or someone named King, or -- ?" the Doctor began, but Jasper stepped on his foot pointedly as he passed. The Doctor waited until Mel and Balthasar were out as well before he followed.

"They're taking us to see the king," Balthasar whispered to him.

"Why?" the Doctor whispered back.

"Dunno? Maybe he thinks we're trespassing," she said. "I mean it, Camel Doctor, don't tell about me."

"I'm really not that interested in it," the Doctor replied in a hushed voice. "I mean, I assume it's because you're an independent-minded and high-spirited young person who wants to shake off the shackles of the patriarchy and prove the gender bias is a fraud, and why shouldn't you, and besides nobody bothers the young men like they do the young women when they travel, or if they do it's a lot more subtle. Anyway, it keeps life exciting and makes for very good stories someday."

Balthasar blinked at him.

"Or you just like wearing mens' clothes?" the Doctor tried. She beamed.

They were ushered into a receiving room of some kind, high-ceilinged but lacking some of the splendor that the Doctor generally associated with kings. A small, piggish-looking man was seated on an elevated chair.

"Chair means king," the Doctor muttered under his breath. Jasper drew himself up to his not inconsequential full height, and Mel gave the king his best over-the-glasses-I'm-not-actually-wearing look. Balthasar glared.

"My apologies, priests," the king said, after a moment. "When I instructed the guards to bring you to me, they interpreted my orders a little...liberally. I hope you have not been too badly maltreated."

"Oh, no, just a few coshings," the Doctor said. Balthasar elbowed him sharply. "Ow!"

"I'm sure Your Highness meant nothing by it," Jasper said calmly. "We would, of course, have come willingly if we were summoned. Your, er, palace lies on the road we are journeying along."

"Speaking of which, about my camels -- " the Doctor started, but Balthasar elbowed him again. "Ow! Seriously!"

"Stabled with my horses, not to worry," the King smiled at him. "You're very outspoken for a camel boy."

"You have to excuse the man, he's a trifle simple," Jasper said quickly. "Very good with the animals, though."

"I understand you've come from afar," the King continued. "Following the new star in the sky?"

"Yes, sir," Mel said.

"Why?"

"Well, we'd like a closer -- "

"I'd prefer you didn't lie to me, really," the king interrupted. Jasper and Balthasar exchanged looks. "You're coming to see the newborn king, yes?"

"Well, not so much king," Jasper said slowly. "You're the king."

"Yes," the king said. "I am."

"But there is a rumour about a child born under the star, and obviously that's very interesting," Mel supplied.

"Obviously," the king nodded. "I'm very interested in it myself. That's why I wanted to speak to you."

"That's what this is about?" the Doctor hissed at Balthasar. "Babies? I got coshed over babies?"

"We don't know much about it, I'm afraid," Jasper was saying to the king.

"Nor do I, but you're obviously more...mobile than I am at the moment. Court concerns, you must know how it is -- you're nobles in your own land, aren't you?"

"Scholars, your highness," Mel answered.

"I'd like you to find this child and, well, look him over a bit, find out what the story is," the king said. "Nothing you weren't planning on doing anyway, is it? And then, on your way back, I strongly suggest you accept my invitation of a hospitable bed for the night, in return for which you might tell me what all the fuss is over."

The other three looked at each other, and then Jasper nodded.

"Seems fair enough," he said.

"Brilliant!" the Doctor clapped his hands. "Now, lead me to the camels."

***

"Hoo boy, am I glad to see you," Gene said to the Doctor, when the barn door opened. "Come on, chop chop, doors open."

"Sorry, I was unavoidably unconscious," the Doctor said. "You're a clever sentient species, why couldn't you get the doors open yourselves?"

"I don't know if you've noticed but all the technology on this planet is designed for opposable thumbs, which I do not have," Gene pointed out.

"Is that the Doctor?" Cornelius called from a distant stall.

"Yep, won't be a minute," the Doctor said, undoing the complicated bolt on Gene's door and moving one down, to where Sticks was stalled. He studied the camel, who managed to chew his cud menacingly at him, and then kept going, releasing the other Hrnus before returning to very, very carefully let Sticks out. He gathered up their reins and led them out into the afternoon sunshine, where the humans were waiting.

"Happy now?" Balthasar asked him.

"As a camel in sand," the Doctor replied, hauling himself up into the saddle on Gene's back. "Allons-y!"

"Eh?" Jasper asked.

"Oh, nothing."

"They must have carried us a fair piece," Mel said, squinting at the map. "Although to judge from this, in the wrong...."

He stopped as the Doctor gently reached over, took it out of his hands, and turned it right-side up. "Oh! Are you sure?"

"Very good sense of direction," the Doctor assured him.

"Thank you," Maud grunted.

"My pleasure," the Doctor replied. The humans had stopped even bothering to look at him strangely.

"This way," Mel said, pointing east. The Doctor leaned over again, grasped his sleeve, and tugged it westward.

"Doctor, camel boy, and navigator. Your surprises never end," Balthasar said.

"Neither do yours," the Doctor replied. She laughed as they set out once more.

***

That afternoon they rejoined the crowded main road, riding high and aloof above the scattered groups of people walking or riding donkeys and horses west. The Doctor, perplexed, rattled Gene's reins a little to get his attention.

"H'm?" Gene asked, lifting his head.

"What's with all the humans?" the Doctor inquired. "It's like there's some kind of migration."

"I don't pay attention to politics," Gene replied. "Something to do with a census. They're all daft, you know. Totally resistant to categorisation. One of my colleagues is studying them, he's a bit daft himself, and he says they're a complete mystery even to him."

"I know the feeling," the Doctor said. "Maybe they're following your signal beacon too?"

"Do you think so?" Gene sounded amused. "That'd be pretty hilarious."

"Well, you never know. Mel!" the Doctor called, nudging Gene to catch up to Maud and Mel. "Where are we?"

"Outside Breadville," Mel replied. "I think."

"Breadville?"

"I don't name them," Mel replied testily.

"Real beds tonight?" Jasper said.

"If there's any room at the inns," Balthasar answered, gesturing at all the people on the road.

"Well, we've roughed it before. Besides, our phenomenon looked very close last night. All we need is a roof and a reference point," Jasper replied.

"Excuse me!"

Gene and the Doctor both looked up; the other Hrnus did as well, but the humans didn't seem to notice.

"Hallo up there!" the voice called again. A young man with a shepherd's crook in his hand came alongside of the camels. There was a lamb slung over his shoulders; he looked to be a well-built sixteen, or perhaps a weedy eighteen. Behind him, a small herd of sheep were following, kept in line by two more shepherds.

"Hallo," Gene said amiably.

"Hiya!" the voice again, and the Doctor realised it was the lamb on the young man's shoulders. "Are you a Hrnu?"

"We are. Who're you?" Gene asked.

"I'm a Br'eni," the lamb said. "Are you on the road to Breadville?"

"Stopping there tonight. You hitching a ride with the transit ship?"

"That's us!" the lamb gave him a cheerful look. "Listen, my boy here's dead tired, don't suppose I could hitch a ride with you for a little while?"

"I'm not so tired," the young man said. The Doctor blinked. "I can carry you a bit longer."

"Nonsense, you're all but worn out."

"Up you come," the Doctor ordered, reaching down for the lamb. "And if you can get up on Sticks, you're welcome to ride," he added to the human.

"Oh, thank you," the boy said. "I'm Christopher."

"I'm the Doctor," the Doctor answered, pulling to a halt and stopping Sticks as deftly as he could. The young man clambered up nimbly and nudged a few of the sheep with the long end of his staff. He waved to the other two shepherds, who grinned and waved back. "So, you can hear talking sheep?"

"He's slightly psychic," the lamb confided.

"Well, that's handy. Are these all Br'enis or are you blending in?" the Doctor asked the lamb.

"This is my family. We're on holiday, we're catching the transit ship and these shepherds just started following us," the lamb said. "I told Christopher where we were going, he said it sounded like a lark."

"Didn't realise it was going to involve so much walking," Christopher said.

"Hey! Camel Doctor! Who's your friend?" Balthasar asked, as they came alongside.

"This is Christopher. He has a talking sheep," the Doctor said.

"He only talks to me." Christopher lifted his chin proudly.

"Really? Are you a shaman?" Balthasar asked.

"I might be! What's a shaman?"

"Sun's setting!" Jasper shouted from up ahead. "Come on, I can see Breadville from here! Get a move on, Doctor!"

"So I said to him, Shepherd Boy, do you know what I know?" the lamb explained. "And he agreed to come with us, and so these other blokes followed us. Hey, by the way, did you see the king on your way in?"

"We did, we did," the Doctor said.

"He stopped us too. And we couldn't very well say we were just passing through to catch a spaceship, so I told Christopher to tell the king that there was a special event going on in Breadville, some new king being born, I thought he'd rather like that. But I don't think he does, so much."

"No, perhaps not," the Doctor agreed. Christopher and Balthasar had drifted off a little, and were talking interestedly with each other as the humans, Hrnus, Br'enis, one camel, and a Time Lord picked their way along the road.

"I tell you what, I don't trust that bastard," Gene said. "Listen, once we're gone, you tell the humans not to go back and tell him where the kid is, if there is a kid, okay?"

"They've figured that out," the Doctor assured him.

"He's a creep," the lamb declared.

"Truer words were never spoken."

"There it is!" Gene said, in a satisfied sort of tone. The Doctor looked up from the lamb riding crossways on his saddle and found that they were nearly at the gates of a clay-brick city, with a sign outside proudly proclaiming WELCOME TO BREADVILLE.

***

Jasper and Mel weren't very interested in Christopher and his talking lamb. They had more important things on their mind: namely, a roof over their heads and a meal in their stomachs. There were five or six inns in Breadville, but the little band of humans and aliens had arrived late in the day, and even private houses were turning people away.

"We've been booked up for four days," one of the innkeepers told him. "Tell you what though, go down a few streets and knock on the door of the Lucky Breadstick, I hear he's putting people up in the halls and yards. Plus, he's got a new tourist attraction."

"Really?" the Doctor asked. "What's that?"

"Dunno, some religious thing. See, you know the star? Well, it shines right down on his stables, and you wouldn't believe how many people are off to see it."

"Thanks," Jasper said. "We'll just trot along and see if he's got a place, eh?"

"What kind of a name for an inn is the Lucky Breadstick?" Christopher asked, as they got underway again.

"I was just thinking that!" Balthasar agreed.

"On we go then," Jasper gestured to the shepherds to nudge the flock ahead, and they paraded down the dark street, following the light of the signal beacon, until they reached a cul-de-sac and a large mud-brick building with a pair of breadsticks painted above the door. Even as they arrived, a woman stepped through the doorway and crossed her arms.

"Listen, we've got people sleeping in the hallways and four or five in our own living room," she said. "There's folks out in the barn. If you're looking for rooms we are dead out."

"Even somewhere to put the camels?" Jasper asked hopefully.

"And the sheep," Christopher added.

"Oh, for God's...right, okay, go round back. You can camp out with Marian and her husband if they say it's all right," she grumbled. The humans dismounted, and the Doctor carefully passed the lamb back to Christopher before sliding down off Gene.

The back of the inn consisted of a large closed stable, bathed in white light from the star, and a wide yard with tethers for the camels. The Doctor hurriedly began removing saddles and packs, loosening bridles on the Hrnus so that when the transit ship picked them up they could get them off easily. The woolly Br'enis clustered around the Hrnus, near the door of the stable. The Doctor made sure Sticks was tied up tightly.

"There's a king in there, they're saying," one of the shepherds whispered to him, as the Doctor unpacked a camel saddle-bag.

"So I hear," the Doctor said drily. "Jasper, what are you doing?"

"Getting a reference point!" Jasper answered, hoisting himself onto the low eave-roof of the stable. "I think -- "

"JASPER!" Balthasar shouted, as Jasper tumbled straight through a rickety set of planks and into the closed stable. "For god's -- JASPER!"

"I'M ALL RIGHT!" Jasper called. "JUST FINDING A -- hello!"

With a creak and a clank, the stable doors began to slide aside, revealing Jasper on one door and a tall, dark-haired man with his shoulder against the other. Everyone in the yard -- shepherds, sociologists, tourists, astronomers -- looked up.

"Jeez," the dark-haired man said, leaning against the wide frame of the door. "Did you bring the whole zoo?"

The Doctor put his hands on his hips, narrowed his eyes, and sighed.

"Jack," he said. "What on Earth are you doing here?"

Captain Jack Harkness dusted his hands and grinned. "Hiya, Doctor," he said. "Wanna come meet the family?"

***

The Hrnus had slipped their bridles, but nobody seemed to notice; they poured into the barn along with the Br'enis, followed by the humans. When the Doctor finally pressed through the throng he found almost everyone crowded around a tiny baby in a crude crib stuffed with straw.

"Hey, give him a little space," Jack was saying, pushing one Br'eni back with a hand on its fuzzy forehead. "Listen, I'm serious now, this has been going on for three days, he's nothing special. Well, I mean obviously he is, he's my son, but -- "

"Oook at his wee feetsies," Mel said, then looked suitably embarrassed.

"He's awfully wrinkly," Balthasar observed.

"That's the way babies are," Christopher replied.

"I'm sorry, is there another way up onto the roof?" Jasper said.

"Human babies are so weird," Maud remarked to Gene.

The lamb put his small hooves up on the edge of the crib and peered down at the child, who against all odds was still asleep. The Doctor craned his neck to find still more humans were standing at the edge of the crowd, looking hesitant.

"Jack Harkness, if you weren't too big to thrash..." the Doctor warned, edging around to where Jack was trying to shove Cornelius and Mildred back a few feet. Too late he realised Jack was probably going to offer to be thrashed anyway, not to mention a remark on his size --

"Tell it to the jury," Jack said wearily, instead. The Doctor paused, then forged ahead.

"This is awful. You're breaking the timeline of one of the major events in human history!"

"What?" Jack asked.

"And since when did you start time-traveling again, anyway?"

"I'm not time -- okay, seriously, shepherds, herd your damn sheep please," Jack called. The Br'eni, abashed, backed up a little. "I'm not time-traveling!"

"Jack, this is Anno Domini," the Doctor hissed. "The actual Year Of Our Lord."

Jack looked at him, perplexed. "What?"

"Look around you! Holy baby, star in the sky, Mother Mary -- "

" -- Marian -- "

"Fine, but still! Camels, sheep, wise men, shepherds, the whole bit! You're in a stable! What have you done with Joseph?"

Jack blinked at him, then burst out laughing.

"It's not amusing, Jack!"

"Oh, no, seriously," Jack wiped tears of mirth from his eyes. "Doctor, that's not Jesus Christ, I promise you. That is my son in the -- "

"Manger?" the Doctor prompted.

" -- well, okay, maybe there are some similarities, but that's not my fault. I swear, I'm still on the slow path."

"Then how do you explain all this?" the Doctor waved his hand. "Jack, these people were willing to consider the idea that the earth travels through space on the back of a camel's hump."

"You came here pretty much straight from Cardiff, twenty-first century, didn't you?" Jack asked.

"Well, I took a few side trips."

"So I've met you again, but you haven't met me again...this might make more sense in another few hundred years, at least for you. Anyhow," Jack added, elbowing through the crowd, "This isn't Earth. It's a little place called Landfall. You're in the forty-ninth century."

"I am not," the Doctor protested.

"You so totally are," Jack pointed a finger at him. The Doctor frowned, took out his sonic screwdriver, and adjusted the setting, listening to the blue tip of it carefully.

"Oh," he said. "So I am. Didn't check before I left."

"See?" Jack looked smug. "We wouldn't be here ourselves if I hadn't had to set down for refueling and then Marian went into labour...listen, this is a devolved little planet, they don't remember the original space colonists coming here."

"Gene, is that true?" the Doctor asked, turning to the Hrnu. Jack looked curious.

"Pretty much," Gene said. "We thought their camels might be devolved Hrnus, too."

"Well. This is just all very archetypal," the Doctor crossed his arms. Jack gave him an indulgent smile.

"Doctor, come meet my wife," he said.

They found Marian sitting with Mel and Balthasar, the shepherds keeping the Br'enis from getting too close. Balthasar had a small sack of incense she was showing to Marian, offering it to her as a gift. Jasper had already casually placed a box of gold in the baby's crib.

"For nappies and such," he said, when Jack looked askance at the box. Christopher leaned over the crib and waggled his fingers at the waking baby, who cooed and spastically waved an arm. As Jack and the Doctor approached, Marian looked up and her face lit with pleasure.

"Hi, sweetheart," Jack said, bending to kiss her forehead. "Feeling all right?"

"Brilliant," she replied.

"Livestock not bothering you?"

"No, of course not," Marian smiled curiously at the Doctor. Her speech held a slight trace of accent -- Irish, perhaps. Jack had a thing for accents.

"Like you to meet an old friend of mine," Jack crouched next to her and gestured up at the Doctor. "This is the Doctor."

Marian looked at him and burst out laughing. "You're the Doctor?" she asked. "Oh, it is nice to meet you. You didn't tell me he was so tall, Jack."

"Well, he wasn't, last time I ran into him," Jack replied.

"Jack's told me all about you," Marian offered him her hand. "I'd get up, but childbirth really takes it out of you."

"No need," the Doctor shook it, casting an amused look at Jack. "So, you managed to pin this one down, huh?"

"He pinned me down," Marian said. "About two minutes after we met."

"Married long?"

"Three years," Jack said proudly.

"Good time to start a family, I suppose," the Doctor cast a wary glance at the child. "Jack, I didn't think you could -- "

"We had a hard time concieving," Marian said. "Ended up using in-vitro. Even then they had to clone from Jack's blood, instead of...well, the natural source for that kind of thing."

The Doctor turned to the little baby. Jack was such a fixture in time, a dark blurred spot that never moved or changed, and the universe could probably support one of those. But two...

He glanced at Marian for permission, then bent and picked the child up, cradling him carefully. He looked human enough, and when he stroked a finger over the child's tiny nose he felt nothing unusual. A slight sense of skewed time, perhaps, but that wasn't necessarily uncommon; he'd felt it before, mainly in humans who'd changed history, or would change history, or were changing history.

"We named him Kaz," Jack said, holding out his arms. The Doctor placed Kaz in them cautiously. "It means 'gift'."

"Your language?" the Doctor asked Marian, who nodded. There was a warm puff of air over the Doctor's shoulder, and Gene's head appeared from behind him.

"Transit ship's leaving in a few," Gene said. "Everyone's supposed to go out to the yard. You coming?"

"Got my own ride -- thanks though," the Doctor said under his breath.

"Well, nice to meet you, Doctor," Gene said. "Take care of yourself. Thanks for all the help."

"My pleasure. Get on with you then," the Doctor said to him. The Hrnus and Br'enis began to slowly leave the barn. Jack was busy cooing over his son and showing him off proudly to the other humans -- more had come in, crowding forward, some of them hesitantly leaving little bundles and boxes in a camel-pack next to the crib.

"Who's he?" Marian asked the Doctor, pointing to Christopher. "He's cute."

"Shepherd lad. Traveling with a bunch of alien tourists, they're just about to board."

"Thought so, something looked a bit weird about the camels," Marian said. "So. You're the one who got away."

The Doctor blinked. "Come again?"

"Jack's Doctor. He never mentions it but he's told me all kinds of stories. You drop in on his life, have an adventure or two, run off. I wish you wouldn't try any adventures this time, though, if it's all the same; he's got a baby now and Kaz is bound to fuss if Daddy dies too often."

"So he's told you."

"Oh yes. I imagine it's bound to make for difficulties in sixty years or so, but he's a good man. I've definitely dated worse."

The Doctor laughed. "Nice to see him settling down."

"For a given value of settling," Marian said, as Jack offered a handshake and a broad, sexy smile to Christopher the Shepherd. "It's an open relationship," she confided.

"I...half-expected that," the Doctor confided back. He watched as a middle-aged woman elbowed her way through the humans and leaned up to say something in Jack's ear. Jack's face changed, almost instantly; he nodded, thanked her, and held Kaz tighter in his arms.

"Trouble on the wind," the Doctor said, just as Jack pivoted and returned to them, settling Kaz in Marian's lap.

"We've got to get out of here," Jack said, glancing around. "Some tinpot little king followed you here and there are guards at the gates. They want Kaz."

"What? Why?" Marian asked.

"I don't know!"

"They think he's a king," the Doctor said. "See, I told you this was trouble."

"Why would they -- "

"Because there's a bloody great star shining down on his birthplace and humans are mental!" the Doctor retorted. The other humans were beginning to scatter. Balthasar ran up to them.

"We have some camels," she said. "You can take Sticks, he's mean in a fight. Come on, the king's after you."

"Marian..." Jack looked hapless. She propped herself on a wooden rail and stood.

"I'm fine, but the ship's not fully refueled," she said. "We'll have to do a bunk, Jack."

"Where's your TARDIS?" Jack demanded.

"Two days east by camel," the Doctor said apologetically.

"Well, we have enough energy to get us that far, anyhow," Marian decided. "The ship's at the river, it's not far."

"You've got a boat?" Balthasar asked.

"Sort of," Jack said.

"We'll come along," Christopher volunteered.

"Right, okay -- Marian, take Kaz, go with them," Jack ordered. "I'll stay here and -- "

"You bloody well will not, Jack Harkness," Marian retorted. "You're not the boss of me."

"Is now really the time to have this argument again?"

"I outrank you!"

"She was an admiral," Jack growled to the Doctor.

"Well, then you'd better follow her orders," the Doctor answered. "Go with your family."

"What are you going to do?" Jack asked.

The Doctor grinned at Jasper and Mel, who were already picking up large, heavy boards. Christopher passed Balthasar his equally large and heavy shepherd's crook.

"Cause a distraction," he said.

Jack looked at him, smiled, and then grabbed him and kissed him on the mouth.

"Knew you'd help," he said. Before the Doctor could react, Marian was also kissing him. Humans were such hormonal creatures.

"This way," Christopher said, hauling Sticks along. Jack helped Marian up into the saddle, passed her the baby, and swung up behind her. Sticks grunted.

"Be good," the Doctor told the irate camel. Christopher gave the reins another tug and led them out through a side-gate.

"So," Jasper said conversationally, peering out into the yard full of aliens and the Royal guards beyond. "How many of the guard do you think we can take out?"

"Do you know how to fight?" Mel asked the Doctor.

"Better," the Doctor said. "I know how to think. GENE!" he called. Gene lifted his head. "What's the countdown?"

"THIRTY SECONDS!" Gene shouted.

"Brilliant! Give me a count from ten!"

"Aye aye, Doctor!" Gene called, even as a band of large, heavily-armed men approached him. The Hrnus bared their teeth. The Br'enis, as one, pissed on the ground. Some kind of declaration of war, the Doctor recalled.

"Let us through," one of the men said. "We're here on official royal business."

"Kiss my arse!" Balthasar called, holding up the stick threateningly. The Doctor sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.

"You'd better not," he said, pushing through the Br'enis. His shoes were going to be ruined. He took the staff from Balthasar. "See, I'm the boss here, and I say, no kings allowed."

The guards laughed.

"You and what army?"

"Oh, I don't need an army," the Doctor said. "I'm the Doctor."

He closed his eyes, stamped the staff into the dirt, and began the only invocation he could think up on short notice.

"Chestnuts, roasting on an open fire!" he shouted. "Jack Frost nipping at your nose! Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressing up like Eskimos!"

The guards were backing away, looking wary.

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Fa la la la la!" the Doctor continued.

"Ten seconds!" Gene called.

"The holly and the ivy when they are both full grown!"

"Nine!"

"Of all trees that are in the woods -- "

"Eight! Seven!"

" -- the holly bears the crown!"

"Six!"

"HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS!"

The guards had begun a cautious second advance. Balthasar swung at them with a handy board, driving them back a few feet.

"FIVE!"

"GOOOOOOOOLDEN RINGS!" the Doctor yodeled.

"FOUR!"

"O COME O COME EMMANUEL!"

"Who's Emmanuel?" Jaspar shouted to Mel, who shrugged as Gene called out "THREE!"

"KINGS OF ORIENT ARE! BEARING GIFTS, EVEN!"

"TWO!"

"SLEIGHBELLS RING, ARE YOU LISTENING?"

"ONE, TAKEOFF!" Gene called.

The Doctor waved the staff in a high arc and shouted, "ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH!"

There was a crackle of noise in the air. The Hrnus and Br'enis lifted off the ground and floated in the air for a minute, as the forcefield caught them, and then with a horizontal flash of light they disappeared.

The guards took to their heels.

"Wow," Mel said to the suddenly empty yard. "I mean. Wow."

"Who's Emmanuel?" Jasper repeated.

"No time, sorry," the Doctor said, tossing the stick to Balthasar. "If they have pickets Jack and Marian are done for. Come on!"

He took off running in the direction Christopher, Sticks, and the fast-growing Harkness family had gone. Behind him he could hear Mel and Jasper panting; Balthasar was keeping up, beaming as they ran.

"This is great!" she shouted, turning her face into the cold desert wind that was beginning to blow.

"I know!" the Doctor cleared a low fence with a leap and kept going.

By the time they reached the others, near the banks of a river, Jasper and Mel had fallen far behind. There was firelight in the distance, growing larger by the moment. Jack had dismounted and was holding Kaz protectively.

"It's on the far side," he panted, pointing to a bare patch of earth -- a cloaked ship, probably a small one. "Can camels swim?"

"I don't know!" the Doctor retorted.

"I'll take him," Balthasar said, and grabbed the reins from Jack, giving Sticks a swift kick behind one of his knees. The camel shambled forward and stepped out into the river, striking for the far side. Alongside of him, Balthasar had one hand on his throat and the other on Marian's arm as she kicked through the current.

Jack thrust Kaz into the Doctor's arms. "I'll go ahead, hold onto me, I'll pull you across."

"Oi!" Christopher called, ankles-deep already. "Coming or not?"

The Doctor looked at Jack. Jack gave him a swift grin. "Just like old times."

He tugged the Doctor forward, into the chilly water, and began to swim. The Doctor wrapped an arm around his neck and held on. Kaz, high and dry in his arms, started to cry.

"Daddy's here, Kaz, it's okay," Jack called over his shoulder, taking a mouthful of water for it. He sputtered and kept going. "Rock him! He likes that!"

"Excuse me?" the Doctor asked. "Does now look like the time for parenting lessons?"

There was a surge of movement from beneath and Jack looked around to see Christopher taking some of the weight, paddling along like an expert. The Doctor closed his eyes and twined his fingers in Kaz's baby blanket.

With a jolt and a cry of triumph from Jack they reached dry land again and staggered up, dripping and shivering. Jack coughed, spat into the sand, and held out his hands immediately for Kaz.

"You're cold and wet," the Doctor told him. "I'll carry him."

Marian was already standing in the hatch of the ship, only her top half visible. "Come on! All of you!"

"Bring the camel!" Balthasar added. "The Doctor's got attached!"

Sticks was standing on nothing and looked very annoyed by it. Jack, bustling up the side of the ship, put his shoulder under the camel's hindquarters and shoved sharply, then helped Christopher up as Sticks disappeared. The Doctor clambered up, placed Kaz in his mother's arms, and dropped down into --

"The ISS Donkey," Jack said, waving an arm perfunctorily around as he dove for the controls. "Strap in and get to know her. Marian!"

"Transferring power to solar cells," Marian said, flicking switches. "Engines warming."

"This is GREAT!" Christopher observed. "Where are we?"

"Spaceship," Jack said. "Welcome to your cultural heritage. Marian?"

"Just putting the baby in," Marian said, placing Kaz in a baby-basket and strapping him down. She dropped into the chair next to the Doctor and buckled up. "Fire away, Jack!"

"Love to hear you say that," Jack said, lifting a small, metallic yoke out of the console.

"Why do you call her the Donkey?" the Doctor asked Marian.

"She bucks," Marian replied, and then the ship jerked into life. The deck began to vibrate.

"I see what you mean," the Doctor said.

"Wait for it -- "

There was a bray of displeasure from behind the cockpit as they leapt from hovering to movement in an instant. The Doctor turned to see Sticks leaning against one wall, still trumpeting his discontent.

"Doctor, you want to set us a course?" Jack asked, and the Doctor unbuckled long enough to slide up behind him and enter the coordinates of the TARDIS into the console.

"And to all a good night," Jack added, as the ship banked overland low enough to blow out the torches of a Royalist mob standing on the edge of the river. As they blasted past they saw Jasper and Mel gazing up at the ship in wonder, beaming and waving.

***

They put down the next morning, just outside the city where the Doctor had originally landed. Balthasar and Christopher tried to coax Sticks back onto solid ground while Marian gave the baby his feeding. Jack and the Doctor watched, Jack resting one shoulder companionably on the TARDIS.

"You're always in the right place when I need you," Jack said.

"Of course I'm always in the right place," the Doctor replied. "I take your meaning though."

"Taking off?" Jack asked, tilting his head at the TARDIS.

"Thought I might. You know me, never one to hang about."

In the background, Sticks tumbled to the sand and snorted. Balthasar started laughing.

"I do know that," Jack said. "Hey, so the last time you saw me was on Earth, in Cardiff?"

"Mmhm."

"So..." Jack frowned. "Donna wasn't long ago for you, was she. Donna was the redhead, right?"

The Doctor nodded, unwilling to meet Jack's eyes.

"You'll meet me again, then," Jack said. "I can guarantee that."

"I could pretend to be surprised."

"If you would. And go easy on me, I had a lot of growing-up to do."

The Doctor nodded. Jack touched him, just two fingers under his chin, redirecting his gaze to Jack's face.

"If you came here from there, then I'm older than you now," Jack said. "I've done a lot of living, Doctor."

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. Jack smiled.

"Take a tip from an old man. Don't think about the future too much. Your future."

The Doctor tilted his head at Marian and Kaz. Jack nodded.

"There's always going to be pain in the future. You're always going to lose people. So why think about it too much? Enjoy it while you got it. The now is everything, Doctor."

"Jack, I'm a Time Lord -- "

"The now is everything," Jack repeated.

"I don't know if a Time Lord can live like that."

Jack smiled. "It's easier than you think. MARIAN!" he called.

"Yes?"

"How much more charging?"

"I think we're ready," she said, walking up to them and handing Kaz to Jack -- along with a spit-up towel. "We can go anytime."

"What about them?" the Doctor asked, pointing to where Christopher and Balthasar were helping Sticks to his knobby feet.

"What about them?" Jack asked with a knowing grin, propping the baby on his shoulder. "They seem like good people. Fond of running. Come on, sweetheart," he said to Marian. "We've got places to go, grandparents to surprise."

"Jack, I will come when I am ready and not before. Thank you, Doctor," Marian added.

"Oh, Jack!" the Doctor called, and Jack turned around, leaving Marian to walk on towards the ship. The Doctor reached into his pocket and tossed him the small bag holding his winnings from the card game. "For the baby."

"Thanks," Jack said. He tucked the bag away and turned back to the ship, waiting patiently for Marian to lead the way up the ramp and into the hatch. With a blast of heat and a roar, the ship lifted off. Christopher and Balthasar shaded their eyes, watching it go.

"A space-ship," Christopher said excitedly, running up to the Doctor. "That was incredible."

"Are there a lot of those in the sky?" Balthasar asked. "There are all kinds of legends about how our ancestors came from them..."

"There could be more than one?" Christopher demanded.

"There are," the Doctor said, thinking of Jack and how he'd always expected a younger man to defer to his wisdom. Perhaps turnabout was more than fair play. He took a deep breath. "Want to see?"

"See?" Christopher asked.

"Sure. Want to see the stars?"

"Yes," Balthasar said promptly.

"Right then. Step inside," the Doctor said, and elbowed the door open. He knew what the other two were doing behind him as he walked to the console. They were exchanging concerned looks about getting into a phonebox with a stranger. They always did.

"Coming?" he called.

"Oh fine, I'll go first," Balthasar said, and walked into the TARDIS.

"LEAVE THE CAMEL!" the Doctor yelled back to Christopher. There were footsteps on the metal grating as Christopher boarded.

The door closed.

***

On a bare patch of earth outside of a market city in the desert, on the planet called Landfall, a camel watched thoughtfully as a small blue wooden box lifted, began to spin, and flew off into the sky.

The camel spat, shrugged (a complicated move, for a camel) and shook his head. Then he wandered towards the nearest farmhouse, cropping up weeds and small plants along the way.

"What do you mean, there's a camel outside?" someone said in the house. "Whose camel?"

"Nobody's," another voice said.

"It must be somebody's!"

"Maybe not. Weren't you saying we needed a camel? It's obviously a gift from the gods."

A crowd of children poured out of the house and ran over to the camel, who stood patiently while they clambered onto his back and began tying grubby ribbons around his knees.

"It's a miracle," one of the children announced.

"Hey," Jack said to Marian, as they made their way towards home and Kaz's new grandparents. "You ever hear of the Miracle of the Camel?"

"No," Marian said. "What's that?"

"Just an old festival my family used to celebrate. Don't know what made me think of it."

"Well, don't look at me. Here, I'll take Kaz for you."

Jack smiled. "No, I can hold him for a little longer."

"Landfall seemed nice," Marian said, watching as the small blue planet dropped away. "We should go back someday."

"Maybe when Kaz is a little older."


END

Author's endnotes:

Breadville is an homage to Bethlehem, which translates literally (so the Internet tells me, and it's never wrong) to "House of Bread".

The original wise men who came from the East aren't named in the Bible, but the internet common rumour says that their names were Gaspar or Caspar or Jasper, Melchior, and Balthasar.

Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, a folk hero who carried Jesus across a river on his back during the flight to Egypt.

Bactrian camels have two humps. Dromedaries only have one.

You should starve a cold and feed a fever. (Actually you should feed both, but that's folk wisdom for you.)

Ordinarily I don't make a big deal out of fanfic awards, but I was really pleased and proud when The Gift Of The Mad Guy won at [livejournal.com profile] smith_awards for best New Who Gen, because it's all done anonymously and you get reviews, which to my mind makes it more balanced somehow. Plus, this banner is awesome. So!


The link will take you to the page where Mad Guy was reviewed.

[identity profile] never-ender.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:23 am (UTC)(link)
first comment, with nothing to say, ha!

[identity profile] never-ender.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:23 am (UTC)(link)
okay going back and actually reading now >.>

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[identity profile] never-ender.livejournal.com - 2008-12-22 04:13 (UTC) - Expand

[identity profile] blairprovence.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:42 am (UTC)(link)
Ahh, very fun. For a minute there, with the turtles and the camels, I thought there would be a Discworld digression into polytheism and advanced mathematics. But an excellent Christmas story, which should be filmed by the BBC.
germankitty: (Default)

[personal profile] germankitty 2008-12-22 03:06 pm (UTC)(link)
But an excellent Christmas story, which should be filmed by the BBC.

This.

YES!!!

(no subject)

(Anonymous) - 2009-04-13 19:48 (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

[personal profile] germankitty - 2009-04-13 19:57 (UTC) - Expand
bookfanatic: Image: white spider over desert landscape, Source: cover of My Chemical Romance's album Danger Days (Default)

[personal profile] bookfanatic 2008-12-22 03:47 am (UTC)(link)
This is lovely and hilarious! Thank you for sharing.

[identity profile] gritsinmisery.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:53 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, this was wonderful! Thank you so much!

[identity profile] golden-d.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:53 am (UTC)(link)
SO MUCH LOVE. This is hilarious. What a gift indeed!

[identity profile] fizzylizard.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:54 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you Sam.

[identity profile] sabra-n.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 03:56 am (UTC)(link)
*blinks* The Internet is right, actually. "House of Bread" in Hebrew is "Beit Lechem", which can easily become "Bethlehem". Hee.

[identity profile] stelmarta.livejournal.com 2008-12-23 03:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Curiously,the Arabic for Bethlehem -- بيت لحم (bayt laham)-- literally means "House of Meat." Which sounds somewhat less welcoming, I think.
pocketmouse: (bernard_real_dickens)

[personal profile] pocketmouse 2008-12-22 03:59 am (UTC)(link)
*snorts with laughter*

OMG, that was awesome. Especially the Doctor and the Christmas carols. I could totally see him doing that, especially the five gold rings.

[identity profile] amanda-now.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:00 am (UTC)(link)
Cute!

[identity profile] blushingflower.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:00 am (UTC)(link)
random stopwatch -- Jack was probably looking for that
almost made me hyperventilate

So I said to him, Shepherd Boy, do you know what I know?
hee!

[identity profile] ruisseau.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:01 am (UTC)(link)
So much love for this. :)
jadelennox: Senora Sabasa Garcia, by Goya (Default)

[personal profile] jadelennox 2008-12-22 04:02 am (UTC)(link)
when I read stories, I like to give detailed feedback about the specific sections I liked. The problem with your stories is that I like everything -- and I don't even particularly like Christmas stories. But I still like so much that I couldn't possibly give detailed feedback.

Bethlehem does literally translate to "House of bread" (Beit = house, lehem = bread), so Breadville cracked me up.
Edited 2008-12-22 04:03 (UTC)

[identity profile] lefaym.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:05 am (UTC)(link)
I thoroughly enjoyed this-- thank you! :)

I was pretty sure something was up when you introduced Christopher, as that name didn't exist before Christ, and I do love the way you've set up time as cyclic, without banging us over the head with it. And bonus!Jack-- I'll never complain about that. :)

[identity profile] melayneseahawk.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:06 am (UTC)(link)
This was amazing. You definitely tricked me. :D

[identity profile] cobweb-diamond.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:16 am (UTC)(link)
This is the best Doctor Who Christmas Special ever.

[identity profile] redstapler.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:18 am (UTC)(link)
A fantastic story!

Happy Christmas, Sam. ^_^
ext_77335: (coffee)

[identity profile] iamshadow.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
HAHAHA... oh, I should have guessed that Jack would be involved somehow, but your tale took me completely by surprise. I was totally expecting Jesus, not Kaz.

Daddy!Jack is adorable, by the way.

[identity profile] sam-storyteller.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 02:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Daddy!Jack charmed me actually. I love picturing him swimming through the river, hauling the Doctor and Kaz, and trying to reassure a kid who totally won't understand that "Daddy's here, it's okay!"

[identity profile] starlady38.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:20 am (UTC)(link)
I don't think I have anything so say except LOL awesome.

[identity profile] ysabet.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:29 am (UTC)(link)
This... was UTTER CRACK. Lovely, lovely crack. I enjoyed it immensely and could damn well hug you for it; I needed good crackfic tonight. ^___________^ Thank you, and happy Yule!

[identity profile] nicefeet.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:29 am (UTC)(link)
Ahahaha! That was brilliant.

[identity profile] clodia-risa.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:34 am (UTC)(link)
AHAHAHAHA!

When Jack showed up I just started saying "what" at my screen over and over. My mind was blown.

Brilliantly done - excellent variety of references, and you had the 10th Doctor's voice down pat.

[identity profile] sam-storyteller.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 02:27 pm (UTC)(link)
AHA! That was exactly the reaction I wanted :D Glad it paid off.

[identity profile] daizy2k2.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:35 am (UTC)(link)
That was a lovely fic to end the weekend.

And they played Emperors!

[identity profile] onyxtwilight.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:35 am (UTC)(link)
Sam, that was utterly adorable. :-)

[identity profile] sgt-majorette.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:48 am (UTC)(link)
I do so love a "very special holiday episode" of just about anything!! I just wish I knew more about Whoville Cosmology!


"You should starve a cold and feed a fever." Are sure it's not the other way around? I think when you have a fever of unknown origin (as opposed to the fever that's a symptom of a cold), you're just supposed to break the fever by any means necessary and anything else can wait...

[identity profile] sam-storyteller.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 02:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Technically you should feed both, but I believe the reasoning behind it is that you don't want to eat when you have a stomach bug, but when you have a fever you need to eat because the fever is burning up more calories than normal.

(no subject)

(Anonymous) - 2011-01-29 16:37 (UTC) - Expand

[identity profile] cameragirl88.livejournal.com 2008-12-22 04:50 am (UTC)(link)
You are so so so epically awesome

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