By Trina L Short
Ace was having a bad week. First off, the Doctor was being all mysterious and secretive again. And this after she'd opened up to him and talked about her childhood, her dad, and the divorce. She was supposed to share with him, why couldn't he share with her?
During the course of this particular bout of secretiveness, he'd commandeered the workshop. She needed to replenish her stock of Nitro 9 (perhaps even modify it to make it even more explosive), which she couldn't do now that the workshop would open only at his voice command.
And the worst thing was the TARDIS laundry eating one of her socks. It couldn't have eaten the one with the hole in the toe. No, it had to eat one half of her favorite pair. Stupid TARDIS. Stupid Doctor. Stupid week.
As she sulked in her room, she heard the Doctor call out "Good night, Ace!" The TARDIS dimmed the lights in her room. When *he* decided it was night, the TARDIS complied. Stupid TARDIS, she thought again.
She lay down on her bed and thought about getting into her pajamas. Except that she really wasn't feeling sleepy. So she listened to the hum of the TARDIS, hoping it might hypnotize her to sleep, as it so often did. After half an hour of boredom, the hum of the ship changed. She sat up abruptly - the TARDIS has landed somewhere!
Ace quickly gathered her basic supplies and stuffed them into her knapsack. Then she grabbed her jacket and rushed into the corridor. When she got to the console room, the Doctor was already gone. Damn him, leaving her to go off and have adventures of his own.
She turned on the scanner and saw that, wherever they were, it was pissing down rain. Ace just barely made out a figure with an umbrella and carpetbag wandering down a wet city street. When she noticed the umbrella handle was bright red, she knew that was her target.
Ace grabbed a second umbrella from the stand and put a trench coat on over her jacket. If he looks back, he won't recognize me, she thought. She zipped out the door, locked it, and followed the man with the bag.
After sloshing though a couple of side streets, Ace realized that she was roaming through London. Could be contemporary (for her) or perhaps a few years previous or after. But it was definitely London.
The Doctor moved down an alley and knocked at a door. After a short wait, it opened and he moved into the building. Ace hurried after him and managed stop the door from shutting and locking. She peeked into the room and saw that he and the person who let him in had already left it. She closed her umbrella and entered the building.
He's probably answered some distress signal, she thought. Maybe some aliens need a way off the planet. Why didn't he let me in on it, she wondered? Did he think I'd screw things up? Blow things up? Heck, how could I do that when he locked me out of the workshop all week?
The carpetbag! Of course, Ace remembered now where she'd seen it before. The Doctor had taken it into the workshop at the start of the week and it had been empty. She noticed on the wet walk to this place that it was certainly full now. He's probably built some alien communication device or weapon or something. Planning the whole thing all week. And didn't tell her! Stupid Doctor!
Ace listened at the inner door in the room. The Doctor's Scots brogue was easy to recognize, despite the muffling of the door. She couldn't make out what he was saying, but he was talking to a woman, she thought. She carefully opened the inner door and looked around. It looked like a storeroom or something. And it was empty.
Quietly, Ace moved to the next inner door. This time she could hear a lot better.
"How many this year?" she heard the Doctor ask.
"Fifteen. Our most yet," the woman replied. She sounded frustrated. Maybe these people are always having trouble with alien intruders?
"We're in luck. I happen to have exactly fifteen in my bag!" She couldn't see him, but she pictured that goofy smile of his as he said it.
"You're a marvel, Doctor. I don't know how you do it," the lady replied.
"Where shall I put them?" he asked.
"Right over here. They'll be so excited in the morning when they see them." The voices moved further away from where Ace was standing, but she was still able to hear what was going on.
The woman spoke again. "Oh wow! Those are wonderful! The children will just love them!"
Children? Ace was confused. The Doctor was rescuing alien children?
"Thank you. I'm always happy to help. But now I must be off."
The Doctor's voice got louder as he talked, so Ace started to moved back to the first room. He hadn't seen her yet and she wasn't about to let him see her now.
"Must you go so soon? The children will want to thank you for the toys!"
The door to the storeroom opened, and Ace froze. But thankfully, the Doctor was looking into the other room as he spoke. "Just tell them Father Christmas sent them. Knowing the kids will have toys this Christmas is thanks enough for me." Ace watched as the Doctor raised his hat to the woman in the other room, and she quickly raced out of the building, hoping to beat the Doctor back to the TARDIS.
Curiosity, however, stopped her briefly. She moved around to the front of the building and read the sign above the front door. "Grace Street Homeless Shelter." She glanced around and noticed the Doctor was walking further into the city and away from the TARDIS. Good, she thought, I can get a closer look.
Ace walked over to look in the window. She saw the Christmas tree (looking rather shabby, but with many handmade decorations, probably by children) and the newly placed gifts under it. All of the gifts were wooden toys. The Doctor makes toys? Ace smiled at the thought. No wonder he needed the workshop all week! She decided to forgive him. This time…
Before she turned to head back, she was reminded of something. The toys… Wasn't that one a…? It was! A hand-carved top, just like the one her dad…
Ace moved to the front door, intending to get a closer look at the toy, when a hand on her shoulder stopped her progress.
"Ace," the quiet voice said.
She turned to the Doctor, tears in her eyes. "The top. That's the top I told you about, isn't it?"
"It may be. I've made hundreds of those over time."
Ace sniffed as she said, "What? Hundreds?"
The Doctor gestured towards a café that was still open this late. Neither said anything on their way to get out of the rain.
Once they both had a cup of hot chocolate, the Doctor sighed.
"I wish you hadn't followed me."
"Yeah, well, I figured you were up to something. And, as usual, you were." She stared at her mug. "Why didn't you tell me you were playing at Father Christmas? I could have helped."
"Actually, I would have. Several of my companions have helped over the years." He paused and took another sip. "Why do you suppose I didn't involve you?" he asked, with a knowing smile.
"Not another initiative test!" Ace shook her head. But she thought about the top, and the emotions it pulled up in her mind.
She was seven years old the Christmas she'd been given the top. Her dad was so excited to see what she'd do when she got it. And what did she do? Tossed it over her shoulder and went on to the next present. What did she need with some lame, old, wooden top? It was all scratched up from use - it wasn't even new! What's up with that?
At age 10, when the divorce happened, her dad gave the top to her again. He said he'd saved it "for a rainy day" and asked Ace to read the letter that came with it. Dad was going away and who knew if she'd ever see him again.
Alone in her room, later that day, she read the letter, written in her dad's messy handwriting.
"Dearest angel, I want you to have my favoritest toy. It's kind of silly, I know, but when I was your age, it was the only Christmas present I got. And I treasured it these many years. It always reminds me that when things get bad, there's still hope. So never forget that, kiddo. You probably won't understand this now, but maybe someday. Love dad."
Lame? How could she have thought the toy lame? Even with her 10-year-old eyes, she could see how nicely the toy had been made. She'd spun the top, using the old string, which had come with it. The top had perfect balance. Ace had played with it for hours, thinking about her father. It quickly became her favorite toy.
Ace was still quiet, thinking, when the Doctor gently tapped her hand.
"Your chocolate is getting cold," he said.
She chugged the rest down and then looked at the Doctor. "Have you given him the top yet?" she asked.
"I don't know. I rarely see the children who receive the toys. I prefer to not destroy the illusion of Father Christmas, if I can help it."
Ace shrugged. "You were afraid I'd get after you to take me to him or something." It wasn't a question.
She grabbed her knapsack and put it over her shoulder. "Well, come along, Santa, you've got more toys to deliver, haven't you?"
He smiled, as he picked up his carpetbag. "Indeed, there's a few more stops tonight."
It was nearly dawn when they returned to the TARDIS. The Doctor unlocked the door and gestured for Ace to enter first. She did a double take when she noticed the fireplace. And then the Christmas tree in the corner where the coat rack usually stood. Christmas music was playing in the background.
"Merry Christmas, Ace!" the Doctor said, as he followed her into the console room.
She went over to the fireplace (a fireplace in the console room? With a fire blazing? The Doctor really was a marvel) and noticed the sock hanging from the mantle.
"My sock!" she said, astonished. "That's my favorite sock!"
"Is it?" the Doctor asked.
She carefully removed the sock from the mantle and emptied it of its contents. An orange, a candy bar, and few wooden toys. There was a rubber band-powered car, a small catapult, and a large top, just like the one her father had given her years before. She ran over to the Doctor and hugged him.
"Thank you, Father Christmas," she said.
"And thank you, chief elf" he said, tweaking her nose.
Ace laughed as she bent down to examine the gifts under the tree. This was the best week ever, she thought to herself as she started opening presents. And probably the best Christmas ever.
Big thanks go to elsaf for her constructive comments. If you liked the story, that's all thanks to Elsa. If you find errors or didn't like it, well, that's my fault. :-) judiang and my folks were also beta readers/listeners as well. Thanks to them too!
PS dark_pheonix: do you do commissions? I need a piece of art for this piece. :-)