Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: The Doctor, a companion or two
Word Count: 10018 (including the epilogue)
Summary: Sam sits on a doorstep, watching the celebrants heading for the ball drop in Times Square. He isn't joining them. He has more important things to do, like figure out where his next meal is coming from.
Pulling his threadbare coat closer around himself, Sam kicked at the ice in the corner of the doorway, left over from the snowfall a couple of days ago. Tonight was blessedly warm - a few degrees above freezing - but he’d be damned if he was gonna spend the night sitting in a cold puddle.
Having cleared his chosen spot of the crusted icy fluff, he sat himself down, adjusting his arm carefully to avoid hurting it any more than it already was, and nestled into the corner to avoid as much of the gusts of light wind as possible. He no longer had his blanket, taken from him at the last hostel when he’d been unable to pay the penny rent for his cot, just before they’d pushed him out the door, so he had to help his coat with keeping himself warm any way he could.
It wasn’t so bad, really. At least his gloves were whole, if thin, given to him by a kind woman whose son had just found a coveted job running groceries and had bought her a celebratory skein of wool to knit new gloves with. And this street and doorstep was a lot cleaner than the alley he’d occupied the previous night. Ma had always said that how you were when the new year arrived was how you’d be all the next year. If that were true, he was determined to be hopeful.
It certainly didn’t help to expect the worst, or to envy the fortunate, passing him by on the way to Times Square. There’d always be someone richer, and somebody poorer, and in this Depression, everyone was suffering. For a lot of people, the ball drop was the only spark of happiness during the dark, cold winter, costing nothing to attend and, for a few hours, distracting them from hard reality with glittery lights.
Sam didn’t go in for that kind of thing, but he hoped a celebrant or two might feel jubilant enough to toss a coin his way. Thus, he’d set up on this side street, close enough that there’d be a good number of potential donors passing by but far enough outside the coppers’ patrols. Already a few people had passed, though none gave him even a first look, and there were others scattered down this block and the two adjacent, waiting a bit more before braving the crowd in Times Square. Sam pulled his collar up around his ears, secured his tattered cloth hat a little tighter on his head, and settled back to wait and watch.
On a holiday like today, most celebrants didn’t bother to modulate their volume, but one girl, with a clear, young voice like the tinkling of a glass bell, caught Sam’s attention. Bundled in a brightly-colored long wool coat, she was walking, almost skipping, with a white-haired man in an old-style cape and hat carrying a gnarled walking stick. Her exuberance reminded Sam of… well, that was hardly worth thinking about. The man seemed to be tolerating her excitement out of habit.
“But it’s wonderful, Grandfather,” she was saying. “They time it to coincide with the beginning of the new year in this time zone, and thousands of people come here to watch it.”
“Wasteful!” the old man snorted. “Four hundred pounds of iron, just sitting up there. Think of all of the time and effort they’ve put in to make it work like this, and they use it once a year for ten seconds? So typically human.” Both of them had fancy English accents, and Sam idly thought how nice it must be to be able to afford to travel across the Atlantic.
“I think it’s beautiful,” the girl insisted. By this time, the two had walked down the sidewalk and were directly in front of Sam. The girl stopped and turned to him. “Aren’t you going to the celebration?”
Before Sam could draw breath to answer, the girl’s grandfather placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Susan, my dear, I believe the gentleman is sitting there because he has nowhere else to go.”
Susan frowned, her eyes twitching between the old man and the one in the doorway, seemingly not understanding what her grandfather meant. When the thought hit her, she clapped both hands to her mouth. “Oh! You don’t have a home?”
“No, miss, not this past week.” It was a truth of life for so many people that Sam was not embarrassed to readily admit it.
“We don’t either, to tell the truth,” she stated. “We can only travel and Grandfather is showing me such things, but we never sleep in the same place twice. I suppose that is the same for you.” She turned to the old man. “Can’t we do anything to help him?”
“A coin would buy me some bread,” Sam supplied with a hopeful smile. “A few would get me a bed and meals for a week.”
“Money? Oh, no,” the old man replied. “We haven’t a quid between us.” Sam had no idea what a quid was, but he got the gist of it. They were an odd pair, down and out yet dressed so well.
“At the very least, you must keep warm.” Susan pulled her thick wool scarf from under her coat and looped it over Sam’s neck. It was only then, when the scarf no longer protected her neck, that he realized that her dark hair was cropped short, like a boy’s. “There. That’s a sight better, I imagine.”
It wasn’t a coin, but the scarf would go a long way toward making the winter much more bearable. “Yeah, it is. Thank you kindly, miss,” Sam said as he wrapped it around his neck and tucked it under his coat.
“Oh, Grandfather,” Susan breathed, tugging on the old man’s arm. “Isn’t there anything else we can do?”
Hooking his hands on his lapels, the old man leaned forward to peer down at the beggar. “I suppose there might be. It’s the new year, isn’t it? Two hours to go. Time for a fresh start.” Straightening up, he looked down his nose at Sam. “You’re here for the night, hm?”
“As long as the coppers’ll let me,” answered Sam.
The old man nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll come back around when I can.” Without another word to the man in the doorway, he turned and resumed his journey toward Times Square. “Come along, Susan,” he called.
“Coming, Grandfather!” she answered. Flashing an encouraging smile at Sam, she assured him, “Don’t worry. Grandfather always sorts it. You’ll see.” She waved before dashing off to catch him as he turned the corner.
Sam settled back against the door jamb. Those two had been a strange pair and he knew better than to expect them to return - too many dashed hopes and broken promises these past six years - but he was a little warmer for the encounter and sometimes just meeting people and talking made it all better.
Even though he’d chosen this particular doorway because the nearby street lamp provided enough light that he would be visible to passersby, fifteen minutes passed without any acknowledgement from anyone. It was disappointing but not unexpected, and Sam tried not to despair. Instead, he forced himself to watch the revelers as they wandered past, picturing himself in their stead back when life was rich and bountiful. He became particularly entranced by a couple leading their three children toward the celebration that he didn’t notice two men and a girl standing nearby until they spoke.
“There are so many people sleeping on the streets here, in such a great city. How can this be, Doctor?” The girl, dressed in an old-fashioned full dress, was clearly addressing the small man with shaggy black hair. From his shabby, ill-fitting jacket and pants, Sam would have thought he was a beggar like himself, but it was clear that both the girl and the other man paid him great respect.
“Ah, well, it is a difficult time here, Victoria. Yes, very difficult indeed.” The Doctor steepled his fingers in front of his chest as he thought about how to explain the circumstances. “You see, this time period is called the Great Depression. All over the world, the basic necessities of life are scarce and money is worth so little that people can’t purchase them. If you’re lucky enough to find work, it’s barely enough to buy you food and shelter. Many, like this poor fellow, fall on hard times. Hard times indeed.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” exclaimed Victoria. “All that, and a few streets away, people are celebrating. How cruel!”
“Don’t be fooled by the noise and excitement, Victoria,” the Doctor cautioned. “Many of them are not much better off. For them, the New Year celebration is the only entertainment they’re likely to encounter all winter.”
The young man, clad in a fur jacket and a kilt that made Sam wonder how warm he could possibly be, knelt in front of the beggar. “Dinnae ye have a clan fae which ye can seek aid?”
“My family’s no better off than me,” Sam told him.
“Then how can we help ye?” he asked. “We’re all kin in times of need.”
“The best way, Jamie, is in the usual way of beggars, with money,” said the Doctor. “However, the coin we have, you can’t spend here.”
“And we’ve no food,” added Victoria, shaking her head sadly. Then, she brightened. “Oh, but could you use these?” She pulled off her mittens and held them out to Sam. “They might be a bit small, but you can pull them over your gloves.”
Sam didn’t need a second offer. He took them with a smile and pulled them over the thin coverings on his hands. “Thank you, miss!”
Jamie tapped Sam’s shoe with a finger. “Yer shoes dinnae look like they’ll last the week. Would ye trade them for me boots?”
Now that was generosity itself, but it was just too much, and Sam refused them. “I won’t have you spending your winter in these shoes.”
“Och, it’ll only be the night, and the Doctor’ll find me new ones on the morrow. Here, take them.” Sitting down on the cold brick sidewalk, Jamie pulled off his boots and set them in front of Sam.
As the beggar switched shoes with the young man, the Doctor watched them with a proud smile. “And if I may ask, what is your name, young man?”
“Sam. Sam Courtland.”
Leaning forward, the Doctor grasped Sam’s hands and shook vigorously. “Well met, Sam. A pleasure to finally make your acquaintance,” the Doctor pronounced as Jamie hopped to his feet and stood next to him. “Now hold tight, and I’ll be back again before you know it.” He patted the man on the shoulder, then spun away, beckoning, “Jamie, Victoria,” as he strode on. Jamie let the girl precede him, then bowed to Sam and walked on.
Sam had barely a moment to contemplate his odd but good fortune when the strangest-looking pair strode into sight at the corner. Already taller than most, the man’s dominating presence was bolstered by a wide, heavy coat that hung to his knees and a cloud of curly dark hair barely tamed by the felt hat on his head. As he spoke to his companion in a clear, booming voice that echoed off the surrounding buildings, the most teeth Sam had ever seen in one person’s mouth glinted under the lamplight. A long, colorful striped scarf draped around his shoulders at least three times and still trailed the ground behind him.
His friend was no less remarkable. Bundled in a long wool coat that was too large for her slight frame, she trotted along in her light, low leather boots to keep up with the long strides of her friend. She moved like a panther on the prowl, her eyes darting about, searching each shadow and movement, and her hands twitched at her sides, restless, like she was unused to having them idle.
“- just not something you’ve ever seen, Leela,” the tall man was saying. “Not every place is blessed with warm weather all year.”
“Why should one want to live here?” Leela wondered as she wrinkled her nose at a mound of dirty, icy snow. She stopped to toe it with her boot, then hurried to catch up with the man. “One must work hard to simply survive in this cold. Though, I suppose that one’s enemies would be as hampered by this weather.”
“That is certainly true. However, you don’t truly comprehend how many people live here.” The man gestured at apartment buildings high above them. “In this city alone, there are millions. When there’s so many people, you build your home where you can. For example, this fine young man.”
‘Young man’? Again? It wasn’t a phrase Sam had heard applied to himself in over a decade, but he wasn’t going to argue. “A happy new year to you both,” he greeted, his mood bolstered by his warmth.
“And to you,” replied the man. “Sorry I’ve been away so long.”
“Eh?” Sam had no idea what the man was talking about. He’d never seen the man before in his life.
“I hadn’t meant to,” he continued, “but you see, I’d been stuck here for so long, once I got my wings again I couldn’t imagine coming back. Selfish of me, I know, but I figured I’d have the opportunity again, and here we are!” Pleased with himself, he flashed Sam a smile full of teeth.
Leela peered up and down the street, then up at the rows of windows stretching In both directions. “This is a strange place to make a home. There is little shelter from the wind and snow. Can you find no better?”
Sam bristled at the woman’s insensitivity, but kept his sarcasm in check. A civil tongue attracted more coins. “In these times, you take what you can get.”
“But where is your tribe?” she asked. “Can they not provide for you?”
Now that was a strange word, but Sam knew what she meant. “I’m supposed to be filling their mouths, not the other way around. It’s why I came to the city, and I send them every bit of my wages, what I don’t eat. When I have wages, o’ course.”
“Are you not cold?”
Sam could match her bluntness with his own. “Yes, miss, I am.”
“Then you need this more than I.” Leela slipped off her wool coat and held it out to Sam. Beneath it, she wore a short sleeveless leather dress, like something he’d seen in a movie, on Tarzan’s Jane.
“Oh, no, I can’t take that, ma’am!” Sam protested, waving his hands in front of him to ward off the offering. “You’ll freeze.”
“I am a warrior of the Sevateem. This weather is a small hardship. And I will not be outside during the night like you. Each to his own need.” She pushed the coat at him again, and this time he took it. “I hope that when you are able, you will help those less capable than yourself.”
“I sure will.” Getting to his feet to put the coat on over his own, he bowed to the woman. Somehow, it seemed appropriate. “Thank you kindly.”
As Sam eased the coat on, taking care to not jostle his hurting shoulder, the tall man unwound his scarf and began wrapping it around his companion. When he was done, he stood back and appraised her look. “That’s a sight better. You look rather fetching.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” she replied, though she sneered as she looked down at herself. Her arms were hampered by the loops of cloth around her.
“Come along, Leela. We’ve yet to get to the ball drop. That is the true harbinger of the new year.” As before with the others who’d spoken with Sam, the man turned and strode off, leaving the woman to trot after him.
“This, I do not understand,” she stated as she caught up with him. “Tomorrow is no different than today. Why do they call tomorrow a ‘new year’ and today ‘old’? And why must a ball be dropped to signify it?”
“Oh, Leela,” the Doctor sighed. “It’s not just the change of a day. It is a celebration of hope for the future, that the next year will bring better fortune. As for the dropping ball, I admit that is a bit strange, but I believe they do that so that -”
Sam never heard the Doctor’s theory, as the couple turned the corner and his voice was lost among the general noise. This was certainly turning out to be an odd but fruitful night. All this clothing was going to keep him warm, and they were all in such good condition that they would fetch a good price come spring. Sam sat back down in his corner and thought about how many meals just the scarf would buy.
“Good evening, Mr. Courtland,” intoned a friendly voice.
Sam looked up to see a young man dressed in beige - his pants, his sweater, his jacket, even his floppy hat. Somehow, his summery attire seemed stranger than any of the outfits he’d seen so far this night. Also, Sam couldn’t quite be sure in the shadowy light, but it certainly looked like he’d stuck a stick of celery to his lapel. Next to the man, a small pretty girl in a deep-colored velvet dress stood quietly, her hands clasped in front of her.
“Do you know this man?” she asked plainly.
“We’ve met, oh, three times now.” He turned to Sam. “How are you getting along?”
“Warm, against all odds.” He peered up at the man and worked up the courage to voice his confusion. “You got the advantage on me, sir. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“I suppose we haven’t formally been introduced. I’m the Doctor and this is my friend Nyssa.” With a sedate, formal smile, the girl bowed a little in greeting.
Another Doctor. What were the odds? “Some kind of Brit medical meeting or something in town?”
The Doctor’s sunny smile was infectious. “Oh, no. I’ve been coming here quite independently, to show my friends your quaint New Year tradition.”
“But you’re not here for the celebration, are you?” Nyssa asked. “You’re here because you don’t have a home to go to.” She turned to the Doctor. “This is because of the economic difficulties you told me about, isn’t it? I’m starting to understand this world better.” He nodded to her.
“I do have a home, miss,” Sam replied. “Outside of Lancaster. I’ll get back there someday, when I can afford it.”
“Ah, I see. When you have money. And you work to earn that, don’t you?” She seemed to be working through understanding the concepts.
“Well, I would, if I had a job.”
Nyssa nodded. “And those are scarce as well, I understand.”
“Well, there’s a bit of new construction out in Brooklyn, but I don’t qualify for much, now that I hurt my shoulder. Maybe in a week or so.” He rubbed at his painful joint.
The girl instantly knelt by Sam’s side. “Oh, let me look at that. Can you pull off your coat?” Sam shrugged off the sleeves of his new and old coats and let the girl check his arm. He grimaced as she moved it around, though her touch was gentle. “This looks sprained. What happened?”
“Hauling lumber at that building on Seventh. It happens.” He shrugged then jerked at the pain.
Nyssa frowned. “This should at least be bound, to keep it still and let it heal.”
Sam looked down at himself. “This is all I got. And I’ve got to look fit to land a job. I can at least do light work until it’s better.”
She hopped back up. “I don’t see why you must wait. I’ll be right back.” Without waiting for either man to reply, she dashed off in the direction from which she had originally come.
“Sprightly young girl,” Sam remarked as he pulled his coats back on, wincing a little as he tweaked his arm.
“That she is. Clever and caring as well. I’m quite fond of her,” the Doctor replied with a smile. “Travelling is a much more enjoyable experience when you’ve got a friend along.”
“Most things are,” Sam agreed. “It’s tough getting by on your own. Even just having someone to complain to is a bit of a help.”
The Doctor laughed. “Oh yes. I do enough of that, I’m sure. But I daresay you’re getting along much better tonight.”
“I’m doing a damn sight better than I was an hour ago, if you’ll pardon my French.” Sam leant forward. “Tell me you’re having me on, with all these doctors walking by giving me stuff. Are you some kind of charity program?”
“No, not at all. Would it make you feel better if I was?” Sam had no answer to that. “I’ve just been keeping my promise. I did say I’d come back around.”
“You said what?” Perplexed, Sam thumbed his chin as he thought about what that might mean, but the young woman dashed up and knelt next to him. This time, she had a small bag slung across her body, and, rummaging in it, she pulled out a small device fashioned of brushed steel.
“This will just take a moment. Hold still, please,” she urged as she waved the instrument over and around his shoulder. She then peered at it closely and nodded. “Yes, it’s sprained. If these are the readings after two weeks, the initial injury was quite bad.” Replacing the device in the bag, she pulled out another one. “This will ease the ligaments back into place and return them to their normal length.” Sam didn’t seem to understand, so she tried again. “That means it’ll heal, though it’ll continue to hurt for probably another twelve hours or so. Is that all right?”
Sam stared at her, his scepticism plain on his face, but he nodded, willing to do anything that had even the slightest chance of helping him return to work. “If you can make this go away, then I’ll owe you one.”
“That’s not necessary. Now, let me see. It’ll work better with less clothes in the way, so can you please take off your coats again?” As soon as he’d eased the coats off his shoulder, she pressed the head of the instrument against his shirt, on the front of the shoulder joint, then flipped a switch on the handle. The thing buzzed for about ten seconds before she turned it off. Then she repeated the treatment on the back of the joint. “There. Can you move the shoulder and see how it feels?”
Sam lifted his arm gingerly, then with more vigor when it didn’t so much as twinge. “It’s a little achy, but the pain is gone,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks!” He glanced up at the Doctor. “I thought you were the doctor.”
The Doctor simply smiled and gazed at Nyssa with pride. “Yes, well, we should be getting to the ball drop. Come along, Nyssa. And a good evening to you, Mr. Courtland.” He bowed, then directed his friend to precede him with a gallant gesture.
Grabbing his shoulder, Sam flexed it as he watched the pair walk up the street, the ache from the movement oddly comforting as he puzzled through the events of the night. All these Doctors coming by, walking with friends, helping him out with gifts of warm clothing, and then this… He massaged the shoulder again, wondering at the absence of the pain that had been crippling him for the last two weeks. It occurred to him that maybe he’d succumbed to the cold, unconscious and frozen on this doorstep, and this was simply his final dream.
“Yes, yes, Ace,” came an annoyed nasal whine, startling Sam out of his thoughts. “I do expect there will be some fireworks as well.”
“Cause it can’t just be a big metal ball on a pole, can it? That’d be boring,” answered a petulant, teen-aged-sounding girl.
Sam turned to see a small man in a white suit coming up the street, wearing a straw hat and carrying an umbrella. Next to him was a rather large girl, or at least Sam thought so until he realized that she was simply wearing a jacket that ballooned around her, black with strangely colored spots. As they neared, they appeared to be logos and images sewn onto the oddly shiny material.
“It’s not the display itself that’s remarkable, Ace. It’s the symbolism. Picture the ball sliding down the pole, far above everyone’s heads.” He gestured with the bright red hooked handle of the umbrella, tracing the imaginary ball’s path in the air. “All the people watching it, they know when it’s going to reach the bottom, and they count down as it drops, calling out ‘Zero!’ the moment it hits the bottom.” He smacked the umbrella into the palm of his hand. “Thousands of people, from all walks of life, marking that exact second as the beginning of their year. Synchronicity, Ace,” he declared, purring the ‘r’. “At that moment, every single person is equal, coming together as one. That’s what we’re here to see.”
“If you say so, Professor.”
With the man’s strange getup, Sam had suspected that this was another Doctor on his way to confuse Sam even more, so the honorific “Professor” eased his mind and he smiled, massaging his shoulder one last time before he pulled his coats around himself and settled back into the shadow of the doorway.
“And a good evening to you, Mr. Courtland!”
Sam nearly jumped out of his skin. He gaped at the small man standing in front of him, the girl behind him grinning as her ponytail bounced around her. “Uh, hey,” was all he managed to reply.
“I fear I must apologise for the last time, Mr. Courtland,” the Professor remarked as he doffed his hat. ”I arrived one year too early, then got distracted by a situation down in Lower Manhattan involving the unexpected arrival of two, shall we call them, alien ambassadors. Not at all unexpected considering who I was, but that really doesn’t help you now, does it?”
Sam blinked, having trouble simply trying to parse what the man had said. “You did what when?” he finally mumbled.
“Oh, never mind that,” he snapped, waving the umbrella at Sam. “We’re here now, and that’s really what matters, isn’t it? I’ve told my friend Ace here all about you -”
“The Professor’s told me about your entire evening.” Ace’s eager smile was infectious and Sam found himself grinning along with her, though he was still just as confused as before. “Bet you been here a long time, haven’t you?”
“Mostly,” he agreed.
“You can’t’ve had anything to eat, then?” Dipping her shoulder down, she let a sack that had been hidden against the puffs of her jacket slide to the ground, then knelt to open it. It was a curious construction, with panels of black and gray cloth and straps that presumably were used to sling it across her back. She opened it by pulling back the tab on one of those new-fangled metal zip fasteners to loosen a flap. It was quite an ingenious idea to use one of those to close a sack.
“I couldn’t think of much that you could eat cold, so here’s some sandwiches.” The objects, eight in all, that she was pulling out of her sack and piling on the step looked nothing like sandwiches. Sam leaned out into the dim light to inspect them, prodding one with a pointed mitten. Soft and springy, the layered material was shiny and translucent, sparkling a little under the lamplight. It was like nothing Sam had ever seen, and he thought at best, there might be something edible underneath it all.
The girl then pulled out a metal cylinder with a red cap and handed it directly to him. “But I thought you might like something hot. A bit of stew. And,” with a flourish, she extracted a metal tin and held it out in front of Sam, “a camp kit. You see, it all fits together for easy carrying.” She fiddled with it and it broke apart into a fork, spoon, and two metal bowls. Then, with a few deft motions, she folded the parts back into its original compact form. “See? Isn’t that brill?” She dumped the kit into Sam’s astonished hands. “That’ll keep you a couple of days, I hope.”
Placing the kit on the step, Sam looked over the metal cylinder, then picked at the cap, which was made of a red material he’d never seen before. A moment’s experimentation revealed that it twisted off. Beneath it was a sturdy stopper which also twisted off, and a wisp of steam issued from the opening. A rich meaty aroma tickled his nose, and his stomach growled. After years of saving every penny he could to send home, Sam was accustomed to eating only the barest amount every day. The pile in front of him, if in fact it was all food, would keep in this weather and last him a week, and it all started with the hot stew in his hand. “Oh, thank you, miss, from the bottom of my heart. This is too much.”
“It’s not enough, really.” Ace knelt and, pulling the camp kit apart, handed Sam a bowl and the spoon. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sam grabbed them and, pouring the stew into the bowl, began greedily devouring the meal. Ace climbed back to her feet. “We’ve got to go now. The Professor says we’ve got to see this ball thing. Take care of yourself, Sam.”
“Farewell, Mr. Courtland.” The Professor doffed his hat as he executed a deep bow. “I’ll see you next time.”
Not bothering to wonder at that this time, Sam continued chewing and waved his spoon at them as they left.
The stew vanished quickly, as a long-anticipated meal is wont to do. Sam spent the next few minutes filling the various pockets scattered among his two coats with the now-empty cylinder and the “sandwiches” Ace had given him. He then settled in the doorway to puzzle through how to put the camp kit back together again, a task that was made more difficult by the gloves and mittens keeping his hands warm. He’d finally gotten the last piece into its correct slot and the lid back on when another snatch of conversation floated by. As he slid the kit into another pocket, he settled back and waited. Nothing was surprising anymore. Not on this New Year’s Eve.
“Oh, Charley, you’ll love it,” the man was saying to his companion, his voice gentle and melodic. His dark frock coat, cravat, and long flyaway hair reminded Sam of the bust of Beethoven in the music room of his school, all those years ago. “New York is a fascinating city, rich with history and culture, welcoming people from all over the world to its shores. And I doubt you’ve ever seen so many people in one place before.”
“It sounds positively horrible,” replied the girl. She bounced along with tomboyish energy, her short blonde hair bobbing with each step, and Sam suspected she wore trousers under her full-length coat. “All those people pressing in on you, and all the noise. Give me a nice place out in the country, away from all this hubbub, or better yet, somewhere we can get in a spot of trouble,” she suggested with an enthusiastic grin.
“You can get into plenty of trouble right here,” he assured her. “England doesn’t have a monopoly on strange phenomena, you know.”
“No, but it does seem to gather there,” she replied with a wink.
The man nodded. “Trouble does like to have its tea before it gets to work. I’m surprised you wouldn’t like the city. If I may ask, why not? So many wonderful people to meet.”
“Too many.” Charley’s gaze wandered up and down the street, noting the other pedestrians heading for the square. “I like to meet a person properly, talk to them, get to know them.”
“Plenty of opportunities for that. Here’s one right now.” Sam was not at all surprised that they stopped in front of him. “Good evening, Mr. Courtland.”
“A fine evening to you, Doctor.”
Charley stood stunned. “You know each other?”
“Well,” Sam replied. “I figure, seeing the two of you, he’s got to be another one.”
“Another one?” she repeated. She peered at her companion. “Is this another one of your silly time tricks?”
“No,” the Doctor denied. “Well, yes, perhaps a bit. But Mr. Courtland and I go way back.”
Though Sam still didn’t get what the Doctor was talking about, he knew how to play along. “A least two hours.”
“You’re lucky, then,” Charley told him. “Most people don’t get that long. The Doctor flits in and out, and people barely get a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ before he’s gone.”
The Doctor played the hurt puppy. “I hope I’m not quite as transient as you imply, Charley.”
“I bet you are,” Sam commented.
Charley laughed at the Doctor and clapped. “Oh, he has your number!” she exclaimed. She turned back to Sam. “I know now that two hours is the right time to know him. Is that how long you’ve been here?”
“Yes, ma’am. Settled in here about that long ago.”
“And you’re likely to stay here the night. I’m so sorry. This isn’t right, not in the least.” She turned to the Doctor. “Can’t we do something? At least provide a warm place for the night?”
The Doctor opened his mouth to reply, but Sam cut in. “Actually, ma’am, you’ve all done such good for me. I’m warm and I’ve got food for days, and my arm’ll be strong tomorrow. I’m just in a bad place but I’ve got plenty to pick me up by my bootstraps. I’ll have work and a bed by the end of the week, you’ll see.”
“Are you sure we can’t help?” Charley asked, clearly not believing him.
“There’re plenty out there with no home and nothing to eat. You can help them.” Sam shrugged. “I mean, we’re all in this together, ain’t we? If everyone was fit and able, we could pull ourselves out of this.”
The Doctor smiled. “Yes, I do believe you could.”
Charley nodded. “Then we shall do that.” Tugging on the Doctor’s sleeve, she urged, “Come on, Doctor, that’s our next adventure. Forget about your big city crowds and your silly ball drop thing. We’ve got people to help.”
As she pulled him away, the Doctor called over his shoulder, “A good evening to you, Mr. Courtland.”
“And to you, sir,” Sam replied, chuckling at the girl’s enthusiasm. A pair like that, they could get maybe a handful of people fed and sheltered, but every little bit counted.
As midnight approached, the foot traffic grew, the celebrants speeding past towards Times Square, determined not to be late for the big event. They took no notice of Sam and, unlike earlier in the evening, he was content with that. He was warm and as comfortable as could be expected, sitting in a doorway in the middle of winter, and he had a full belly for the first time in who knew how long. Content with the evening and his prospects for the next week, he pulled the coat closer around himself and sat back to watch.
The clear, ringing voice calling, “Doctor, come on! We’ll miss it!” did not surprise Sam at all. With a roll of his eyes, he sat up and craned his neck to search for the speaker. A young girl, possibly as young as the first girl he’d met this night, she wore an oddly short dark jacket, cut at the waist and buttoned against the cold, and the tightest pair of work denims Sam had ever seen. Her wild blonde hair contained under a bright blue knitted hat, she trotted along in front of a tall man in a black leather jacket, his round ears sticking out under his closely-cropped hair.
“Plenty o’ time, Rose. No need t’ rush,” he replied, sauntering along at his own speed. “The ball drops at exactly midnight. Not a smidgeon sooner.”
“Could be midnight now.”
“No’ a chance,” the Doctor stated with finality. “We landed at precisely eleven-thirty-three, and it took you eight minutes to find your favourite jacket. ‘I’m going wiv nuffin’ less,’ you said.” The Doctor’s accent was like nothing Sam had ever heard, and he strained to understand him.
Whirling on him with her fists on her hips, she laughed, “Shu’up!”
“Only the truth, me. Then we stepped out and you pranced about pointin’ at the skyscrapers. ‘Nother three minutes. Ball drop’s fifteen minutes out.” Plopping on the stone fencepost in front of the building under which Sam was sheltering, the Doctor crossed his arms. “Slow down. Take a load off. Smell the roses.”
“All righ’, then.” Rose slowly spun in place, gazing up at the buildings with bright rapt eyes. Her tongue peeked out between her teeth. “It’s gorgeous,” she finally pronounced. “All the buildings. American charm, this is. A bit dirty, though,” she added as she toed a piece of trash on the sidewalk.
“Feel right at home, then, comin’ from the Powell Estate,” commented the Doctor.
She whirled to shoot a sarcastic glare at the Doctor and spied Sam in the shadow of the doorway. “Oh! Hello!” She approached him. “Didn’t see you there. You doin’ all righ’?”
“About as all right as they come, in these times, miss.” Sam replied. “It’s been a good night for me. People’ve been generous.” He eyed the Doctor, who gazed at the two of them with a complacent grin.
“Not generous enough,” she commented, pulling her hat from her head. “Can’t be too warm wiv tha’ dreadful fing on your head.” She dropped down on the step next to him and, snatching his hat away, she replaced it with hers, folding the edges up for him. She then set his hat on top and, leaning back, appraised her work, shaking her hair out and fluffing it with her fingers. “That’s a sigh’ be’er.”
Bright blue, or bright anything, wasn’t quite Sam’s color, but beggars can’t be choosers. “Thank you, miss.”
“I’m Rose. Whass your name?”
“Pleasure, Rose. I’m Sam.”
“Where you from, Sam?”
She grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorta not from around here. Where’s tha’?”
“I kinda guessed that,” Sam said. “West of Philadelphia.” When that sparked no recognition in Rose’s eyes, he added, “Which is west of New York.”
“Okay,” Rose drawled as she obviously decided that knowing exactly where Lancaster was located wasn’t vital. “And you came here for work.”
“Got family back home?”
“Couldn’t bring ‘em wiv you, then?”
“Nah. Couldn’t afford it. Too many mouths.” He smiled to let her know it was all right. “It’s a good thing, though. At least this way, Annie makes a bit of dough sewing dresses and the kids have a roof over their heads. It’s just me out in the cold. And back there, if it gets bad, I got a brother and Annie’s got her dad who might help, if they have a dollar to spare.”
“I bet you miss ‘em somefin’ fierce.”
“Absolutely, miss. But you gotta do what you gotta do.”
“Yeah, I getcha. I miss m’mum, every day, but I had to go wiv him.” She jerked her head toward the Doctor, perched on his post. “Travellin’, he said. He takes me everywhere. Brought me here. No’ the same, I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do.” She grinned at Sam with bright eyes, then, biting her lip, asked, “Tell me about ‘em? Your Annie and your kids.”
Sam’s face went as cold as the night air. He didn’t like to think about his family. Thinking about what he was missing only made his lot so much harder. He hadn’t sent a dime back in weeks. He didn’t even know if they’d starved long since. “No.”
“Aw, come on,” she urged, knocking him companionably with her shoulder. “Tell me. I be’ Annie’s gorgeous.”
She was, and her image in his mind’s eye warmed his heart. “There’s not much to tell. Annie was a nurse until they couldn’t afford to keep the staff. So she works at home now, which is good for the kids.” Once he got the first words out, the rest came easily. “Maribel’d be a bit older than you. She quit school to work, back when this all started, so the others could stay in. Odd jobs mostly, anything she could find.
“Then there’s Louise. Smart little cookie, top of her class. Graduates this year. We’d thought she was headed for college, first in the family, but, you know…” That had been the hardest, dashing his daughter’s dreams, but then everyone’s dreams had collapsed, six years earlier. She’d just had to learn that lesson of life before she’d entered her teens. “She’s hoping to put her brother Jacob through trade school. He’s right after her. And the last is little Joseph. I left two days after his ninth birthday, and now Annie’s last letter said he’s the tallest of the bunch. Not so little anymore.”
“Oh, thass lovely,” crooned Rose. “Sounds like they’re doin’ okay.”
“For now. Haven’t had a dollar to send back in weeks, but they keep me going. I’ll go back someday.”
“I know you will. This isn’t going to last forever.” She took his hand and squeezed. “What’d you do, back in…” She struggled to remember the name of his town. “...Lancaster?” she finished with a big smile. He grinned right along with her.
“I was -” Sam faltered as the jubilant noise of the crowd from down the street grew. “Oh, miss, the ball drop! You’re going to miss it. You’d better run.”
“Nah,” she replied, squeezing his hand again. “The real fun’s here. You was sayin’?”
Swallowing against the sudden tightness in his throat, Sam grasped Rose’s hand in both of his. She looked nothing like his Maribel - this one was light and blonde and primped, where Mari was serious, stoic, and plain - but her earnest interest made him long to be home again, and he couldn’t help but remember them to her. Recollecting the night years later, he knew it had only lasted a handful of minutes, but in that short time, he recounted life during the days of plenty and his hopes for their return, framed by the chant of the city welcoming the new year.
“Oh, it’ll be grand, jus’ you wai’,” she assured him when he said he dreamt every night of waking up next to wife again. “This won’t last forever. It might seem like there’s nuffin’ at the end of the tunnel, no help comin’, but it’s closer than you fink. Just anuvver couple o’ years.”
“Rose.” The Doctor’s first quiet word since Rose had sat down was a reprimand. He hopped off the post, his hands deep in his jacket pockets. “Time to go.”
“But Doctor!” she protested. “We was talkin’ about his wife. I wanna hear about her.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself. I got plenty o’ other years to visit.” He turned to Sam and bobbed a shallow bow. “Good evenin’, Mr. Courtland,” he said with a smile, then spun on his heel and strode off back the way they’d come, arms swinging.
In a panic, Rose reached out toward the retreating figure of the Doctor, then turned back to her new friend. “I’m sorry, Sam, but I gotta…” she murmured, a worried frown creasing her brow.
“Oh, go on with your Doctor,” he urged her. “Don’t worry about me. I’m not alone.”
Catching his hand, Rose squeezed it in encouragement. “Good meetin’ ya, Sam. Chin up, yeah?” And jumping up, she sped off.
“Safe travels, Miss Rose,” Sam called after her. Clinging to his memories of his family and the sweet girl, he watched the pair until they were out of sight. Pedestrian traffic on the street was picking up as the celebrants began to disperse from the main event, their cheer echoing between the buildings. Sam paid them no mind. After all, he was as fortunate as the best of them.
Holding his laden coat against himself, he climbed to his feet. He made his way up the street, against the sparse traffic, to the building on the corner of the next block. He nodded to the figure standing in the shadow of the doorway, whom he’d noted as he’d made his way to his chosen camping spot two hours earlier.
“You’re him, aren’t ya.” It was a statement, not a question. “You’re all of ‘em.”
The man stepped out of the shadows. Clad in a long brown coat over a dark suit, he looked to be about Sam’s age, but somehow Sam knew his looks meant nothing. He ran a hand through his mess of short brown hair before answering. “Yup-ah, that’s me. Good evening, Mr. Courtland.”
“Good evening yourself, Doctor,” he grunted. “And call me Sam.”
The Doctor grinned. “All right. Sam.”
Sam got right to the point. “What are you? You an angel? Are you my guardian from heaven?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” the Doctor denied in an amused growl. “Not hardly. No one who knows me would call me an angel. And if I was, I’ve not been doing my job, now have I?”
“What are you then, if you’re not?” Sam demanded. “How do you change like that and still be standing here?”
The Doctor leant back against the doorjamb, crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s just me. Different lives, different faces, different times. It’s complicated.”
“And your friends?” Sam thumbed over his shoulder at his doorway. “They’re all one, too? Just different faces?”
“Oh!” The Doctor startled up straight again. The thought had obviously never occurred to him. “Oh, no, they were all different. Different friends from different lives.”
Sam chewed on the ideas for a moment, then decided it wasn’t worth wasting thought on. ‘Angel’ was close enough for him. “Well. I don’t pretend to understand a word of this, but I have to know, and don’t think I’m ungrateful, but what was this all about?” Sam turned, gesturing back toward his doorway. “Why’d you come back here all night, giving me things and feeding me up? And why me?” he added. That last bit was what was really bothering him.
“Oh, you saw,” the Doctor breathed. “You were there. The first girl, Susan, remember her?”
“Of course. It was just a couple of hours ago.”
“Well,” he drawled, “it’s been a bit longer for me. She was my granddaughter. My favorite, actually. She asked, you know, if I could help you. I could never say no to her, not ever. So I came back when I could.”
“Bringing me a coat and boots and gloves and stew,” clarified Sam as he nodded, sorting the Doctor’s explanations into some reasonable order.
“Well, not really.” The Doctor’s wide eyes caught Sam’s, then turned dark. “If you think about it, I never gave you anything.”
Sam bit his lip. “Your friends,” he murmured.
The Doctor tapped the tip of his nose and pointed at Sam. “You see, I’m not an angel. I wasn’t helping you. I used you. I wanted to see what my companions would do when they met you.”
“And they helped me.”
“Yes.” The Doctor smiled, a proud, loving smile. For a moment, his eyes sparkled as he remembered each and every one of them. “Brilliant, beautiful, and kind, every one of them!”
Sam allowed him his memories, and he couldn’t help but smile at the Doctor’s fatherly nostalgia. After a bit, he shrugged. “Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t feel used. You’ve gotten me through a tough time, and I’ve got hope again. That’s all I need going on with, and I thank you.” He stuck a hand out, and the Doctor grasped it, shaking it warmly.
“It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, Sam.”
Sam stepped back and straightened his hat over Rose’s yarn cap. “So, if I can ask one last question…”
“Why are you here now?”
A shadow passed over the Doctor’s face and he looked away, scratching at the back of his neck. “Well, you see, I’m out of friends. Just me now, travelling on. But, I thought, there’s one last thing to do. It was time to find out what I’d do when I met you.”
Sam retreated a step. “Oh, no, I don’t want for nothing, Doctor,” Sam replied. “I’ve got food and health, and I can afford shelter now. I don’t want anything from you.”
“All right. No help.” He stroked his chin. “A gift, then, from one friend to another.”
Somehow, the idea of the Doctor calling him a friend warmed Sam more than all the clothes he’d received this night. “All right. I can do that. A gift.” He hastily held his hands up to stop the Doctor’s next words. “But no more ‘sandwich’ things. My pockets are full and I haven’t the faintest how you eat them.”
“Oh, the sandwiches!” the Doctor exclaimed. “Ace was never very good at avoiding anachronism. They’re wrapped in plastic, which isn’t something you’d know about. Bit after your time.” He gestured at one of Sam’s bulging pockets. “You just unwrap them, but I’ll show you that later. Right now, my gift. I’m taking you on a little trip. Just a tiny one.”
“A trip?” Sam frowned. “To where?”
“This nice little town. You’ll like it.” The Doctor slipped his hands in his trouser pockets. “You see, there’s a new WPA project opening in Lancaster. They’re building a school, two years’ worth of work, and they’ll be announcing it in a few days.” His voice grew gentle and dropped an octave. “It’s time to go home, Sam. You’ll spend the rest of the week with your family, and next week, you’ll be first in line for those jobs.”
Sam’s eyes grew wide, stinging with hope. “You’re taking me home?”
“If you’ll let me.”
Sam’s heart leapt into his throat and he stumbled backwards a step as his knees went weak. “Please, oh, please let this not be a dream.” He grasped the Doctor’s shoulders and broke into a broad smile at the firm reality he felt beneath his fingers. “Oh,” he breathed. “Oh, thank you, Doctor!”
“My pleasure, Sam. Call it a late Christmas gift.” The Doctor grinned, jerking his head toward a cross street. “Come on, my motor’s this way. Get you home in a jiffy. Faster than a jiffy, even. We’ll get you home an hour ago.” He loped off in the indicated direction.
“An hour ago?” cried Sam as he trotted after him. “How…?”
If the Doctor heard his question, he gave no indication. “This way, you can ring in the new year properly, with your family. Sets you up to be with them for the rest of the year.”
Sam dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “That’s an old wives’ tale.”
“Oh, no, it’s absolutely true,” protested the Doctor. “You establish a temporal eigenstate that resonates through the time vortex and establishes a periannual hyperchronal shell that…” He caught Sam’s skeptical look and grinned. “It works. And it’ll certainly work for you this year.”
Sam’s smile mirrored the Doctor’s. “Now that, I can believe.”