Rewind nineteen odd years and he’s just as wrapped around his daughter’s finger. A prequel to For you, dear, anything 1,623 words.
One day he will do anything for her. Walk the streets of London for hours searching for the perfect strawberries-and-vanilla-ice-cream crêpe, get up twenty times in a single night to sing her back to sleep when she has that recurring nightmare about pirates, huddle down in a theatre to watch Swan Lake for the millionth time even though he’s had just about enough of Tchaikovsky to last a dozen regenerations.
Today though? Today she is tiny and squalling against Jackie’s breast and he is honestly just a tiny little bit terrified.
Well. A lot. Maybe. Ish.
It’s just that Time Lords didn’t really do children – not in the way humans do in any case. No, Gallifreyans were loomed and then brought up by those with more time and patience and inclination than he’s ever had. He’s not sure he’s even held a baby before. He must’ve. Mustn’t he? In nine-hundred odd years? Hasn’t he?
Sweet Rassillon but he’s going to cock this all up somehow.
Not that he doesn’t love her – he loves this tiny creature, has loved her since he first learned of her existence. He’s spent months with his face pressed into Rose’s belly at inopportune moments, crooning and singing and chattering away to their unborn child. Now that she is out in the open air though, he is frozen.
It is one thing to love your child, but quite another to like them – especially when they’re making such a god-awful racket. It’s turning her squishy little baby face a violent shade of purplish red and he is a little repulsed at the thought that he has helped to create this screaming, crying thing that so obviously does not want to even be here.
“She’s got Tyler lungs,” Jackie comments, calm as anything as she rocks the screaming bundle. She seems completely unperturbed by the screaming. Like it’s normal for such a small person to be carrying on like a two bob watch. In the Doctor’s experience, when people are screaming and crying and turning purplish red it is usually because there is something unpleasant happening to them.
What on earth could be happening to his child to make her scream like that? He briefly panics. Just a little bit. Maybe lots. Ish. Because what if there’s something wrong with her? Something that wasn’t picked up on the scans? 21st century technology is so primitive – even with all the stuff they’ve pilfered from Torchwood. The growing of a child outside of a loom is an incredibly dangerous process.
He knows, has facts in his head, figures upon figures of infant mortality rates from Earth. His brain goes into meltdown with all the possibilities. There are so many things that could have gone wrong – could still go wrong even if there’s nothing yet that...what if she becomes ill? What if she can’t support her own hybrid DNA and she mutates? It could kill her, it could...
“Here,” Jackie’s voice breaks him out of his terrified stupor. “Why don’t you go to your daddy? Maybe he’ll have more luck with...”
She is right in front of him, pressing the warm swaddle of blankets at his chest and he takes a panicked step backwards, stumbling over an awkwardly positioned chair. His daughter’s screams only seem to intensify the further he backs into the corner.
“I don’t...” he begins, breathless from tripping upright and retreating behind the chair. “I can’t...”
“Oh don’t be stupid,” Jackie snaps. “Just put your arms out...”
He holds out his hands automatically, stunned into obedience, but just as quickly he recoils and Jackie tuts indignantly as she swoops her granddaughter back against her chest. “Oh honestly! Face down Daleks and the end of the Universe – fine! Hand you a baby and you turn into a wobbly mess! Typical man. Don’t know why we bother with them Rose. Your dad, when I first had you, wouldn’t even change your nappies he was so bloody terrified of...”
“What if I drop her?”
He’s blurted it out before he’s even registered it as a thought. Shame colours his knees wobbly with fear and Jackie looks startled, as though the thought hasn’t even occurred to her that he might be that clumsy. The Doctor looks pleadingly towards the bed. Rose is propped up on pillows, pale and exhausted and in no state to be looking after him but he can’t help himself. He’s overwhelmed, adrenaline running high and it’s not like he can just turn that sort of thing off like he used to be able to. Rose though – she understands. She’s seen more than one of his panic attacks since Norway.
“Mum,” she calls out and he feels a tsunami sized wave of relief. His heart rate slows immediately at the sound of her voice and the easy promise in her gaze. “Go easy on him yeah? He hasn’t done this for a long time. Maybe not ever.”
“But it’s easy,” Jackie says, surprised, then rounds on him sternly. “Hold your arms out you. No, not like that, bend them in a bit...like this...take her weight...make sure you hold her neck...not like that! Support it...don’t pinch her she’ll only cry harder! There you go! Shift her about till it’s comfier. See, not so hard is it?”
Obediently, he has fumbled the bundle of pink blankets into a clumsy embrace and wound up with this tiny squalling face pressed against his shoulder. She looks even more purplish red and squishy close up. She is surprisingly heavy. A dense blob of squishy baby fat wrapped in blankets in his arms and he has an abrupt desire to giggle. Success! Though, she’s still crying and that is a little discouraging.
“She’s still crying,” he observes. From the bed, Rose smiles and shakes with silent laughter. Jackie however, rolls her eyes.
“Rock her a bit,” she schools him, demonstrating on her own imaginary baby. “Talk to her.”
He bops gently, trying not to jostle her too much but is stumped for conversation starters. “About what?” he wonders.
“About anything. You had no trouble chatting away to her when she was just a lump inside Rose’s belly. Just say hello.”
Peering down, he tries to capture his daughter’s attention. She stubbornly continues to cry, gasping out little huffing breaths in between squeals.
“Hello,” he says. Then a little louder. She’s still crying. In desperation he says it a third time. “Hello there!”
There is a momentary lapse in transmissions then, the noise stalling for just long enough to give him hope. He continues to chatter away to her, to rock her, no real idea what he’s doing and praying for the same reaction again. She grizzles quietly in his arms and carefully, oh so carefully, he extricates a hand, making sure that he’s still got a firm grasp on her with the other.
Experimentally, he twinkles his fingers down at her.
“S’alright,” he tells her, a little desperately. “Don’t cry little one. I’ve got you – no need to cry now is there? Eh?”
He touches tentative fingertips against the wet bow of her lower lip, the tiny nose, then brushes at the dark fluff of hair on her crown and is stilled by the downy softness of it. Overcome with the strangest desire to nuzzle at it, he abruptly scoops her higher and bends his face down towards her at the same time, pressing a kiss to her peach fuzz skin. His hand cradles her tiny face, fingertips brushing just so...
She hiccups, once, then falls silent. Her tiny eyelids flutter as he pulls back and gazes at her in astonishment.
He can feel her – inside his head. Not strongly mind, but enough. It’s just the barest hint of a telepathic link, hardly even worth noticing, but it’s there. No wonder he’s been feeling so panicked the last few minutes he realises – he’s been picking up on her distress too. The thought is a little boggling and fantastic and frightening all at once.
He is abruptly close to tears.
It takes him a moment to look up and search for Rose. Inexplicably, he beams, wading across the room on legs like spaghetti.
“I can feel her,” he tells her, delighted even as he snivels just a little bit. “Inside my head!” he clambers onto the bed, one fingertip still resting soothingly against their daughter’s temple and his other arm sliding around Rose’s shoulders. “Look at you, you clever girl!”
“She’d want to be,” Rose grumbles good-naturedly, cuddling into him and the Doctor is surprised by the sudden wash of contentment that flows over him like treacle. “What with having half of your genes and all...”
“She looks more like you than him,” Jackie says conversationally as she excuses herself to update Pete. “’Cept you were bald.”
“Mum,” Rose whines tiredly, burying her face in the Doctor. With her voice once again comes that warm, syrupy feeling, warming him up from the inside out. Utter contentment. He feels like he might just burst with it all, sitting here, surrounded by...well it’s such a contrast to how he’s used to being, how he used to feel all the time. So...
“She was lonely,” he realises aloud, watching their daughter as she snuffles down in his arms to sleep. “She just...wanted us. She couldn’t hear our voices and she panicked. Look, she’s happy now.”
“S’just as well she’s got you then,” Rose mumbles sleepily, nestling into his side. “Her own personal translator. Must be nice...”
She trails off into a doze and, as if in answer to her mother, the bundle in his arms yawns and relaxes into sleep too.
The Doctor has held many things – many people in his arms. But never with such complete contentment in his heart.