Rumble looked around the darkened foyer with concern. It was a family home, that much was certain— it practically oozed love and warmth from the walls. There was a glass vase on the top of the mantle. Rumble stared at it for a long moment. It was only a vase. Red glass, shiny, would look good with some flowers in it. That’s all. He shuddered and moved on into the kitchen, where Granny was waiting.
“There y’are, ya young lollygagger. Come on over here and help an old mare!” Granny said, pulling out a chair and pushing it over to the kitchen windows. “Climb up there and lock ‘em up.”
He did so, but as he was in the process of locking the last one, Granny continued, “Now, supposin’ you tell me what th’ matter is, eh?”
Rumble froze. “I— I don’t know what-”
“Don’t lie t’Granny, Tumble,” the old mare snorted. “There’s a reason it was mah granddaughter that made Element o’ Honesty.”
Granny Smith sighed. “Is ev’rything alright at home? Yer parents treatin’ y’alright?”
Rumble’s face hardened. “I haven’t got parents,” he said, steel in his voice. “Not anymore.”
Granny blinked. “Oh,” she said. “Ah’m right sorry t’hear that. I lost my son and daughter-in-law some time back. Do ya wanna talk-”
“Not like that,” Rumble interrupted. “They’re still alive. They just… aren’t my parents anymore.”
“...Y’all wanna run that by ol’ Granny once more, Fumble?”
Rumble sighed. “I… okay. Fine.” He turned around, scowling. “I doubt that you’re going to let this go, so, fine. But I want a Pinkie Promise that none of this leaves the room.”
“Aight. How does that ol’ chestnut go? Ack-hem! Bless me ol’ heart, cross my eyes, stick an apple in th’ pie,” the old mare said.
“FOREVER!” a voice hissed out of nowhere.
“...Good enough,” Rumble decided. “So. Mrs. Smith.”
“Call me Granny, Crumble, everypony does,”
“Right. Granny, you know that… sometimes… stallions like… other stallions? Instead of mares?”
Granny chuckled. “Ah, so that’s it. Don’t you worry ‘bout that. Lotta mah kinfolk are the same way. M’self, Ah’ve always subscribed to the ‘Whosoever Will’ Doctrine -- you ever heard of that? “Whosoever will, let him, or her, or them, come.” Ooh, Celestia, Ah have got some stories…”
“Uh… right,” said Rumble. He paused, took a breath. “And, um, you know that sometimes ponies are born in the… wrong body. For their gender.”
“Well, certainly ah do. More’n a few o' them in the ol’ Apple Family Tree there, too. Ah remember when mah sister came out, tol’ our parents that she wanted to be called Ida Red. Celestia’s sake, poor mare was so nervous, Ah think she thought we was gonna… throw her… out… oh.”
“Got it in one,” Rumble agreed grimly.
The old mare’s brow darkened and she pursed her lips tight. “Well. If that ain’t the lowest thing Ah ever did hear tell of...” She caught a glimpse of the pegasus’s face and paused. “Who-all’s lookin’ after ya, then?”
“My big brother. He’s got a place with his marefriend and her sister, so I just kinda moved in.” He forced a chuckle. “Sometimes, though, I wonder who’s looking after who.”
The old mare’s face was still drawn and grim. “Ah’m sorry. Shouldn’t have pried.”
“No. You shouldn’t have.” Rumble sighed. “But I know you. You only did it because you cared. I forgive you.”
“Welcome. That all for the windows?”
“Hm? Oh, yes.”
Rumble nodded. “I’d better get going, then. Errands to run.”
“Humble!” Granny called after him. He paused, turning back to look at the old mare. Her lined face was full of concern. "When Ah call ya by th' wrong name... Ah ain't never called you by the... wrong name?"
"No, Granny. You're not likely to run into it by accident, either."
"Good, good." She hesitated. "Ah bin' round fer awhile now, young'n. Ah've loved, Ah've lost, an' Ah like t' think Ah learned a thing or two. So... if y’ever need to talk.”
He nodded. “Thanks, It’s been about five years now, so I think I’m alright, but thanks.”
He walked out the door. Granny Smith sighed and sat down heavily. She pulled a bottle of cider out of a cupboard. “One for th’ road? Yes please, thank you very much…”
She looked at the door contemplatively, taking a long swig of the foaming amber liquid. “T’aint fair,” she murmured. “Poor child. Who’d want t’ leave ‘im out in the cold like that?”
Rumble winced as he fluttered down the road. The wind was fierce now, and icy. He’d always hated this time of year. It was cold and miserable and blank. Others might have found the snow comforting, but to Rumble, it was nothing but ice and stark misery.
When he was four, he’d fallen into a snowdrift. His father had lifted him out, brushing away his tears and getting him to a hot bath and a mug of hot cocoa.
When he was eight, he’d gotten hurt in a hockey game. His mother had given him a bandage, a kiss, and a candy cane.
When he was twelve, on a cold, dark evening, he’d told his parents that his name was 'Rumble,' and he still had a crush on that colt from school. Neither one had picked him up that time.
Rumble glared at the snow as though it had personally offended him. He trudged along a little faster. The sooner he got to the shops, the sooner he could go home, and the sooner he could get out of the snow.
“There you are, madame Mayor,” the Doctor said, smiling. “One cuckoo clock, good as new!”
Mayor Ivory Scroll gave the stallion a long look. “You did add that special feature?”
“Yes ma’am. The clock won’t chime between the hours of nine in the evening and eight in the morning,” the Doctor replied.
She breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank Celestia,” she said. “That thing kept me up half the night, and it’s an heirloom, of course, so I can’t get rid of the Tartarus-forsaken thing.”
“I’ll make sure she gets your thanks,” the Doctor grinned.
“I— who— oh. OH.” Ivory blushed. “Well. I suppose without the sun and moon, we’d have nothing to set the clocks by.”
“True enough,” the Doctor agreed with a smile. Then he caught a glance at the clock’s face. “Oh, dear, is that the time? Must be going…”
The mayor’s ears perked up. “Are you going on an adventure?” she asked hopefully. “Full of danger and exciting things and… maybe… handsome stallions?”
The Doctor looked at her. “No. It’s my tea break.”
Ivory turned as deep a crimson as her official sealing wax. The Doctor smiled. “Don’t worry. I promise, I’ll be glad to take you along sometime.”
“That would be nice,” she agreed with a small smile, “but I’m afraid I just don’t have the—” she paused for a moment and snickered. “I just don’t have the time,” she concluded, shoulders shaking with laughter.
The Doctor watched with raised eyebrows as, still chortling, the mayor took her leave. “Don’t have the time,” she repeated, shaking her head. “Oh, I’ll have to remember that for the council meeting, they’ll love it.”
“Right,” the Doctor said to himself. “And, with that brief reminder that every living being in this town is absolutely bonkers, I could really go for a cuppa.”
Whistling a theme from an opera idly, he popped out to lock the door, only to be confronted with a familiar face. “Oh! Hello there, Rumble!”
“Hi, Doctor.” He seemed distracted.
After a long pause, the Doctor prompted, “Is there something you wanted?”
Rumble shook himself out of his stupor. “Oh. Yeah, I’m here to pick up the toaster?”
“Ah. Well, actually, I was just about to close up for a bit…”
The pegasus seemed quite distraught, the Doctor thought. “Ere! Why don’t you come in? I’d hate to leave one of my daughter’s friends out in the cold like this. Come in, I’m making tea.”
He trotted toward the back room and, after a moment’s hesitation, Rumble followed him.
The back of the repair shop was fairly spacious. Rumble looked around, frowning. “Where are all the…”
“Tools?” the Doctor suggested. “Right here.”
He waved toward a table standing against the wall. It appeared, at first glance, to be empty, but looking closer, Rumble saw a bronze cylinder with a light at the end. “The sonic screwdriver,” the Doctor said, grinning. “Beautiful little thing- does just about everything. Cuts wires, undoes locks, fixes toasters— once, I even used it as an actual screwdriver!”
“Wow. That’s impressive,” Rumble replied.
“Isn’t it just?” the Doctor beamed, not noticing the dullness of the pegasus’s tone, nor his slouching posture. “Mind, it doesn’t do wood. But I’m working on that.”
“So! What would you like? Earl Grey? Green? Oolong? I’ve got some more obscure varieties, too…”
“Whatever you’ve got is good.”
This time the Doctor paused, setting the kettle down, and turned to look at Rumble more closely. “You alright there? You seem a bit out of it.”
Rumble stared sullenly into space. “I’m fine,” he replied flatly. “I’m just…” he trailed off, lost for words.
“Hm.” The Doctor stared at him for a long moment. “You know what you need?”
“Nah, nah. Well. Maybe that, too. But what you need is a trip. Take yourself out of things for awhile.”
He walked over to the TARDIS and patted its side gently. He looked over at Rumble, brows raised. “Well? How ‘bout it?”
Rumble hesitated. On the one hoof, he had things to do here— grocery shopping, getting home, and so forth. On the other hoof… well, he could do with a break. And it was a time machine, after all… “Alright,” he agreed, a small smile forming. “Let’s do it.”