Title: A Grounding Influence
Disclaimer: Discworld is Terry Pratchett’s, Dr Who belongs to the BBC.
Notes: Takes place after “The Waters of Mars” in Dr Who time and after “Wintersmith” in Discworld time
The woodland clearing was sleepy with silence only occasionally broke by the bleating of a herd of goats which picked its way around the outside of the ramshackle cottage. To an unknowing observer the only reason the cottage appeared to be upright at all was luck rather than any architectural element. Smoke curled out of its crooked chimney, floating away on a breeze which barely stirred the leaves.
The tortured scream of the time vortex being contorted screeched out and a blue box began to materialise in the middle of the vegetable garden. The goats fled in terror before its presence, and as the noise died away a flock of bees rose lazily from the hives and began to buzz around the box, encircling it before breaking away into a chaotic swarm.
The door on the blue box swung open and a man staggered out, his clothes dishevelled, his hair sticking up in all directions, his eyes wild with madness. He was laughing hysterically but there was no joy in his laughter, only mania. He walked a few steps then fell to his knees, gasping for breath. His gaze fell upon a pair of black leather boots in front of him and he managed to look up into a fearsome face. The woman shook her head and held her hand out to him. He took it, feeling the strength and warmth behind the grip, and was pulled to his feet. He stared for a moment into bright blue eyes and the laughter bubbled up again inside him and fought its way free. The force of the blow she dealt him silenced him and in a moment of sanity he managed to gasp out two words.
The mania tried to take hold again and he fought back, breathing deeply trying to keep the force of the hysteria tamped down inside.
“Timelords,” the woman snorted derisively and slung one of his arms across her shoulders to half carry, half drag him into the cottage.
She dumped him none too gracefully into a chair and left him there to move around the kitchen, tipping a mixture of herbs into a wooden cup and filing it to the brim with hot water. She brought the steaming cup to him and instinctively he inhaled the scented steam, and then almost gagged at the smell.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
Her hand shot out, pinching his nose shut and forcing his head back in one deft movement. She poured the mixture down his throat and then released him, stepping away as he leaned forward wheezing for breath.
“That’s.... that’s.... absolutely disgusting.” He flopped back in the chair and stared at her. “You.”
“Me,” she answered shortly, not taking her eyes from him.
“How did I get here?”
The woman raised her eyebrows. “You don’t remember?”
The Doctor shook his head and frowned in confusion. “I don’t remember. I was ...on Mars.”
The frown deepened and he stared at her in horror. She waited as his memories flooded back into his mind. Words tumbled out as he recounted what had happened. Granny Weatherwax, whilst not understanding exactly what had taken place, managed to grasp the enormity of what had happened. As he talked, she began to potter around the kitchen making noises of encouragement, taking a bottle from a bucket of cold water and pouring some of its contents into a wooden cup, mixing in a spoonful of something else and steeping some herbs in the mixture before removing them and handing the cup to the Doctor. This time he drank it without hesitation. She waited as he continued to talk then he paused suddenly and looked at the cup suspiciously.
“Valerian.” He sniffed “And something else.”
“Nanny’s applejack from last year.” Granny said calmly, catching the cup as it fell out of his hand.
“Drat,” she said a moment later realising her mistake. One sleeping Timelord lying sprawled in a chair... and the bed was upstairs.
An uncertain knock on the door was followed by Tiffany Aching sticking her head round the door.
“Granny? Are you here?”
“Come in girl.”
Tiffany brightened when she saw Granny. “Granny did you know you’ve got a big blue box in your garden?”
Granny stepped to one side and revealed the unconscious man in her rocking chair. He was dressing in unfamiliar clothes, blue coat and long britches, his brown hair falling into his peaceful face.
“Give me a hand then,” snapped Granny and between them the two women managed to get the Doctor upstairs and dump him on the bed. They stood looking down at him.
“Granny, what happened?” Tiffany ventured.
“I gave him Dreamless Sleep,” Granny answered absent mindedly.
“You did WHAT?” Tiffany was sufficiently shocked to forget who she was talking to. “What did you use?”
“Nanny’s applejack from last year.”
“Did you dilute it?”
“Oh hush girl. This man is... different. And much in need of sleep.”
“Who is he?”
Granny turned her gaze to Tiffany and narrowed her eyes. So that was it. She sighed.
“Come downstairs Tiffany. Leave him to sleep. I need you have a look at my goats. ”
“Who is he?”
“He’s the Doctor. You’ll have heard me mention him.”
Tiffany nodded. “But you’ve never said WHO he is.”
Granny fixed Tiffany with bright stare. Had Tiffany been anyone else she would have thought it odd that this conversation was taking place in a goat shed, Granny watching with a gimlet stare as Tiffany ran her experienced eye over her herd of goats, one that was pregnant, about to drop and in Tiffany’s opinion, it would be a difficult birth, and a difficult conversation.
“He’s .... he’s a Time Lord.” Granny held up a forestalling finger before Tiffany could speak. “Listen to what I’m saying. Not The lord of time. A Time Lord. He’s from somewhere....other. A place he calls Gallifrey. But there was a war. And his people died. All of them. So he’s the last.”
Tiffany was silent as she tried to grasp what Granny was saying to her albeit very obliquely, her hands still occupied with Granny’s goats. She failed.
“Tiffany,” Granny said eventually. “Tell me what is at the heart of you? What defines you? What does your name mean?”
“Land Under Wave. My land. The Chalk.”
“Exactly right. It grounds you. Beyond everything else, it is at the heart of you. Just as this place,” Granny gestured, “is at the heart of me. Now tell me, why do we visit?”
“To...” Tiffany tried to put words around it. It was an unspoken thing, you checked on other witches to make sure they were grounded, to ground yourself, to make sure you were real, not going bad, getting carried away. Tiffany knew the stories. Granny nodded as she grasped her way to what Granny was saying.
“Is he a wizard then?”
“No no, he’s more useful than that.” Granny was disparaging. “I can’t explain it. Not really. To know him truly you have to travel with him. See what he does.”
“Are you telling me to go with him?” Tiffany was confused. “I’ve just gone back home. Settled in. I don’t have time to go winging off with someone.”
Granny laughed shortly. “ Time is NOT the issue.”
She beckoned Tiffany outside and the two witches settled themselves on the bench by the back door, the afternoon sun warm on their faces.
“Tell me Tiffany. Who do you respect? Truly respect.”
“I suppose Nanny. Granny Aching.”
“Not your parents. Or perhaps that boy? Miss Gristle maybe?”
“And if you were in trouble.... who would you go to?”
Tiffany considered the question. If she was in trouble, the kind of trouble she couldn’t sort out for herself then it would have to be Granny. Because if she couldn’t sort it out, chances were very few others could.
“And when you do things do you think ‘Granny would do this’ or ‘Granny wouldn’t like this’”
“And what would happen if I wasn’t here? If you hadn’t learned all that you’ve learned, if you weren’t visited by others....”
“I suppose.... if that happened.... I would end up like Black Aliss.”
“Indeed.” Granny waited while Tiffany followed where she was going.
“So imagine you’re a Time Lord, without peer, with no one to respect, or visit you. What do you do then? You FIND someone. But what happens if that person isn’t there anymore?” Tiffany looked at Granny in horror and he enormity of what Granny was saying struck Tiffany into silence.
“You have to make him acknowledge you, respect you. If he’s alone too long he becomes twisted, skewed. He loses his compass.”
“Granny I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
Granny’s stern expression softened very slightly. “I’m saying that one day you’re going to be the one he comes to.”
When the Doctor opened his eyes, he found that he had been tucked into a lumpy bed, a patchwork eiderdown pulled up to his chin. He blinked and stretched, dislodging the bundle of fur that had been sleeping on his stomach. The cat stretched as well, digging her claws in through the covers.
“Hello You,” he said. The cat stared at him for a long moment, her blue eyes shining in the sunlight, before arching her back and leaping off the bed and vanishing out the door.
A moment later Granny Weatherwax entered. She handed him a bowl of soup and a spoon. He took it without question and began to eat.
"Travelling alone are we?" she asked after a long silence.
"What makes you think that?"
" I've never seen you in this state when you've been with someone."
"I needed some peace and quiet."
"You need someone to stop you. And there wasn't anyone this time, was there?"
"I thought I could save everyone, give them a happy ending...."
"No you didn't. You thought you were the master of Time. You were delusional. You were...." she hesitated for a moment. "You were cackling."
"Cackling." The Doctor knew exactly what she meant.
"Cause and effect Doctor. Can't have one without the other. Or did you forget that? Did you think you were above that?"
"I'm a Timelord," He murmured quietly, almost as if he was reminding himself. He remembered his arrogant words, words that could have led to a fracturing of the timeline, had it not been for Adelaide. “There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws, but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It's taken me all these years to realise the laws of time are mine! And they will obey me!”
"Time's Bitch maybe," she allowed, not unkindly. "And you've learned the lesson the hard way."
"That I'm as much at the mercy of Time as everyone else?"
"That too. But I was going to say that you need someone with you."
The Doctor leaned his head back and shut his eyes. "Everyone who travels with me gets hurt," he said heavily.
Granny grinned and the Doctor felt a little sorry for himself at the sight of it.
"I think I know someone who could benefit from some time with you." She frowned. "In the meantime, get out of bed. The goats need milking."
When the Doctor entered the goatshed, he found someone had got there first. He watched curiously as she bent over and cursed under her breath before turning slightly to talk to him.
“Well don’t just stand there, come and help.”
The Doctor dropped the milking bucket and moved around the girl to find that she was not bent down but knelt with..... he blinked... with her arm inside the goat.
“Are you stuck?” he asked and stepped back at the force of the glare she turned on him.
“Just hold the damn thing still will you?” she snapped and he darted forward to do as she asked while she did something complicated which resulted in the goat squirming in his hands and screeching. The girl grunted, twisted and fell backwards, pulling her hand free as she did so. A kid goat followed, landing in a bloody pile behind the goat. The Doctor released the goat who turned and began to nuzzle the baby goat. The Doctor made to free the kid from the slime that covered it but the girl shook her head.
“But it needs help.”
“Not from you.” The girl brushed her hair back from her forehead, leaving a bloody mark. “You must be the Doctor. I’m Tiffany Aching.”
The Doctor grinned and held out his hand automatically. “Nice to meet you Tiffany Aching.”
She smiled back and held up her hands to show why she wasn’t accepting his handshake, then nodded to the mother and baby who were nuzzling each other.
“See? They managed it all by themselves. Don’t suppose you could get me a bucket of water?”
“For the goats?”
“For me.” Tiffany wiggled her gore covered fingers.
When he returned Tiffany Aching had scrubbed the kid down with a handful of straw and ushered the new family into a stall in the outhouse.
“Thanks,” she said gratefully, rinsing her arms in the ice cold water, not seeming to notice the chill. She dried her hands on the edge of her dress, a green dress, the Doctor noticed and then held out her hand for him to shake.
As their palms touched, a wealth of images poured into his head, a child standing on green hills beneath an endless blue sky, the chill of snow against the heat of belief, the wrapper of a Jolly Sailor tobacco pouch. As she stared dazed into her eyes he realised that she too had been overwhelmed. Her eyes were bright with tears when she looked at him.
“You OK?” he asked.
She nodded and whispered. “You’re not.”