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Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

Chapter Text

The Doctor was raring to go...to sleep. For the last forty-eight Transcellan hours, which roughly converted would be eight earth days - not that he always converted everything to earth time, mind you - he'd been delivering miners of the planet of Dover from their cruel overlords, the Dover Elite. The Tardis had welcomed him back with open arms - figuratively speaking, of course - and he'd only just stopped to put her into the Vortex before collapsing on the captain's seat and putting his feet up on the console. Her protests resounded in his head, but he couldn't fully comprehend them, half dead as he was. Even Timelords needed certain modicums of rest and he hadn't been properly fed during those forty-eight hours. Not even one banana. He closed his eyes, feeling safe within his ship, and wanting never to see another alien race ever again. Or perhaps only for about the amount of time it took for a quick kip.

It must have been later - yes, an hour and fifty-six seconds later - when he thought he heard lots of whirring and alarms and if it wasn't for the cotton stuffed into his head he might have been in a position to do something about it.

“Hey! Wake up! Hey, Big Ears, care to join the party?”

What were they talking about? Big Ears? True, he'd never really looked in a mirror since his regeneration - he'd had the Tardis remove them all from the wardrobe before he would pick out new clothes - but Big Ears? They didn't feel that big. His head was extremely light and carefree, thank you, and he didn't appreciate the sentiment. Still, if he could only open his eyes he could see what all the fuss was about and stop the annoying poking which had recently joined in with the annoying voice.

When he did open his eyes, he knew he hadn't really woken up because if he was awake Cordelia Chase wouldn't be standing in his Tardis, one hand on her hip, the other engaged in poking him rather rudely.

“I knew I never should've landed on that planet,” the Doctor groaned. “Too many humans - all muddled in my head whether they are or aren't real. I probably have Dover Coal Miner Disease.”

“If you're done?” she asked pointedly.

“Not at all,” the Doctor replied, stretching and feeling strength flood back into his body. “I've only just started with you, Cordelia Chase. To my eternal sorrow, I suspect. Still, only got one life to live - well, you do, or would if you were real, which apparently, you are!”

He beamed at her, his irritation dissipated in fascination with the conundrum with which he found himself presented.

“That's all real nice and everything,” she answered, “but who the hell are you, where am I, and how do you know my name?”

“Oh, where to start,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I'm the Doctor - always best to start there - and you're on my ship, the Tardis - acronyms to be had later - and you're quite famous, you know.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“Oh, but you are. You're brilliant, you. What a character arc!”

“You're back to not making sense. Actually, you never made any in the first place. Now, what is going on?”

“Haven't a clue,” he answered. “That's always fun. Wouldn't want to know everything. Still, I'm sure we'll figure it all out. Well, I will.”

It looked like she was about to object again and the Doctor inwardly groaned, remembering how sharp her tongue actually was and wondering why, out of all the fictional characters in time and space, it had to be her. Before she could chew his head off, there was a flash and the alarms started going off like mad and he guessed it was just going to be one of those days.

“You kidnap people often?” Cordelia asked, eyebrows raised at the young man who'd appeared in the room with them.

The Doctor opened his mouth and gaped a bit.

“A cosmic joke, this,” he said in disbelief and then spun to look at Cordelia once again. “Well, maybe you aren't Cordy after all, maybe you're Kendall. Wait, no, you answered to Cordelia - maybe you're both or something tried to bring something along with you and could only manage from a different show. Or maybe it's all just a weird coincidence, which isn't likely at all." He spun to address the man who was looking slightly shell-shocked. “Hello, I'm the Doctor and this is Cordelia Chase.”

“Logan Echolls,” he said faintly in return.

“I know,” the Doctor said, nodding his head vigorously. “Aren't you just?”

“Stop talking about us like we're your favorite paintings in the Louvre!” Cordelia snapped.

“Oh, good, that,” he said. “Though I wouldn't have thought you'd be a fan.”

“My parents took me to Paris every year until I was-”

“A senior, yeah, big pity that. Gotta follow the rules though and really, it helped make you who you are now. I wonder what when you're from?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Logan said, not sounding sorry at all. “But I wonder if someone could fill me in on what the hell is going on?”

“I don't know,” the Doctor said, “which is beginning to be more a nuisance than fun. Right, let's find out.”

He reached into his pockets and pulled out several odd looking objects before finding what he was looking for.

“Who's first?”

“I refuse to submit to an alien probing,” Cordelia said firmly. “Though I'm not convinced aliens do exist. Who knows what Willow was really talking about with their space slugs and crazy people? That's like Sunnydale on a normal day.”

“At least season two then,” the Doctor said under his breath. “Hair bears it out. And when are you from?” he asked, turning to Logan.

“If this is a kidnapping,” Logan said, “it's pretty...cool, actually. The last couple of times weren't this exotic.”

The Doctor decided this had all gone on long enough. His patience for ignorance was especially low in this body and he'd rather get on to the fixing the problem part of his day.

“Right, well, since neither of you two know what to do, I suggest you zip it and leave it to me. It's my ship, my rules.”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” Logan muttered.

“I do, actually. Never mind, come on. No probes, just scans. Maybe you're holograms or manifestations of some part of my subconscious.“

He quickly scanned the two of them, standing as far back from Cordelia as possible. He hadn't watched all of Buffy and Angel several times for nothing.

“Well, what are we?” she asked in scathing tones.

“None of that,” he snapped back. “Still, hang on a tick, be back. Don't touch anything and don't let cross show hormones mess you up now!”

With a final grin he left the room but stood just outside the door.

“Now that the blithering idiot's gone,” Cordelia said, “let's figure out what's going on.”

“I could swear you were her,” Logan said. “Still, moving on. What do you suggest?”

“I suggest leaving by the door.”

“Someone ate her daily helping of fish, I see,” Logan answered before the door popped open and the Doctor winced. The Tardis would keep them safe enough but no one should really be looking into the Vortex. Especially fragile humans.

“I might need to sit down,” Cordelia said in a stunned voice.

“I'm right behind you.”

“So, we're not on Earth anymore.”

“No.”

“So, where are we?”

“The Vortex,” the Doctor answered, popping his head back in the door. “Now, can I actually leave you two alone for a minute or are you going to try something stupid again?”

“What's stupid about opening a door?” Logan asked, obviously not expecting an answer.

“What's stupid is that's the whole of space and time out there. Makes some of my species go mad and what do you think it'd do to an ape like you!” the Doctor groused before leaving again.

This time he actually left and swung by the medical bay to grab a reality gizmo, which was a ridiculous name for a scientific instrument, but the people of Gizmo 35 had been very definite in their labeling. In any case, the device would help him interpret the scans he'd taken with the sonic screwdriver and help him figure out exactly why fictional characters kept popping into the Tardis at whim. Speaking of the Tardis, she chose that moment to psychically kick him in the head and he stopped short. They still weren't very used to each other, this version of him and the Tardis, and he didn't like it when she did that.

“What? What now? Got enough problems on my hand!”

Rather grouchily, he thought, the Tardis began to show him how she'd sensed reality vibrations being stretched and broken and had tried to intercept the cause, thereby, causing the sudden interruptions in his life.

“I could do with a project,” the Doctor said, shrugging and ignored her subtle sighs. “Still, maybe a bit of a preemptive warning would've been nice.” He tossed the now useless gadget aside.

***

When they were alone, Logan shook his head, sure that last night's hangover, or something like it, had affected his mind. When nothing happened, he was forced to concur that he was on a spaceship with a Kendall lookalike and a crazy alien with big ears. Having settled that thought firmly in his mind, he felt relieved and sat down, prepared to enjoy himself until something happened to change his mind again.

Kendall 2.0 didn't appear to be having the same inner peace. She was pacing up and down, cursing someone named Angel, and glaring at him every time he looked at her.

“Well, it's not my fault,” he finally said, since she was making him dizzy. “I didn't ask to be brought here. Don't look at me.”

“For all I know you and that manic idiot could be in on it together,” she snapped.

“Excuse me if I might point out the tiny flaw in your logic, my dear,” he said quite politely, ignoring her sputter at his term of endearment. “But you were already here when I arrived; hence, it's much more likely the two of you are in it together.”

“Oh, you two could've planned it that way,” she said, desperation in her voice. She resumed her pacing for a minute and then leaned back against the console in slightly hysterical laughter. “I give up,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

“Certainly looks that way,” he agreed. “Now, can we agree to find out what's going on amicably?”

“We could,” she said, “once I find out who Kendall is.”

“Would you like the G or R rated version?” he asked.

She narrowed her eyes.

“The full version.”

He told her, not sparing himself or Veronica or Kendall. But even he had to admit his tone implied his enjoyment of the debriefing.

“I don't believe a word of it,” she said. “You're as crazy as he is.”

“Maybe,” Logan said, smirking. “But my Kendall had a tattoo in a delicious area. Perhaps you don't?”

Cordelia's mouth opened slightly, then she glared again and launched into a tirade that he quickly grew tired of and started to give as good as he got. They continued on like that for several minutes and Logan was annoyed and challenged at the same time until the Doctor, or whoever he was, burst back into the room again.

***

When he got back to the console room the Doctor found Cordelia and Logan arguing in fierce whispers and he tut-tutted. They broke off and glared mutually at him.

“Can't we all be friends together?” he asked and didn't wait for them to answer. “As far as I can tell, you two are the result of someone tampering with the fabric of reality and I've got to find a way to put you back. Looks like you two are only the beginning.”

“I've had it,” Cordelia said. “I've been very patient, but I want to know what the hell you mean when you talk about reality fabric and vortexes and whatever else it was you were talking about! Beginning of what?”

“I'm surprised at you,” the Doctor said. “I'd think you'd take something like this on faith considering all you deal with on a daily basis. Your boss is a vampire, correct?”

“Vampires and Hellmouths and LA I know and can handle, but what-” she pointed all around “-is all this? This is not magic.”

“Very good. Magic is rubbish, of course, but not in your world.”

“I'm beginning to feel like the third wheel of a very attractive sandwich,” Logan interrupted again. “Look, Doctor, or whoever you are, all this might be real simple for you, but it's not for us, so could you just sit down and explain? Vampires?” he ended, turning to Cordelia. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

“All right, all right. Time for a kiddie beddie bye story.” The Doctor led the way to the kitchen, brewed them both proper cups of tea, ignored their rather wide-eyed stares and explained, without giving any personal details, who he was and what he did and how they were there.

“I'm as real as anybody, buddy,” Cordelia asserted.

“And I don't believe one word of what you just said,” Logan agreed.

“What more proof do you need?” the Doctor cried. “You're in my bloody space ship!”

“You sound like Wesley after he's had a conversation with his father,” Cordelia mumbled.

“How is the Watcher?” the Doctor inquired. She didn't answer. He turned to Logan. “And you, are you on or off with little Veronica at the moment?” Logan didn't reply either. “I hate to tell you this, but you're not real. And I wish you were, if only so I could drop you off on some humanoid planet somewhere, but I've got to figure this out and I need your help.”

“If you put us back,” Logan asked, “will we be real there?”

“Until you get canceled,” the Doctor replied cheerfully.

“I'm not convinced,” Cordelia said, but her straight face was slipping, “but I can't wait to tell everybody about it anyway.” The Doctor let that slide. No sense in telling them they wouldn't remember anything. No point at all. They'd just forget and make a lot of fuss before they forgot and, if anything, he wanted to save himself from that.

“I can just see Veronica's face trying to put all the pieces together,” Logan said. “So, let's do it.”

“Fantastic. Now, I've got some hours of calculations ahead of me, so if you don't mind, I'll get to it. Kitchen's here, the Tardis will entertain you if need be, just don't entertain each other...” the Doctor's voice trailed off as he got up. “Really not Kendall then? It'd make more sense. Anyway-”

He was cut off by more alarms and he scrambled for the door, the other two following behind.

“You think this happens often?” Logan commented idly.

Chapter Text

Despite the many aliens and assorted other things that had traveled with him, the Doctor valued his privacy highly. This recent interruption by two humans who weren’t even real so soon after his rather trying regeneration had him slightly testy. The feeling was augmented when he returned to the console room and found a cow there. Not just a cow, but a cow head, with a short neck and then nothing. It appeared to be floating in mid-air, not exactly chewing its cud complacently, but something like. He asked the Tardis what was going on, but she only replied with the equivalent of a mental shrug, giving him a picture of the string of energy she’d connected from herself to the cow when she'd intercepted its energy signature.

Behind the Doctor, Cordelia and Logan entered the room, stopped short at the sight of the head, and gaped at each other.

“Pardon me, Doctor,” Logan said finally, “but there appears to be a cow’s head floating in your ship.”

“Don’t get flippant with me,” the Doctor muttered before turning back to inspect the phenomenon himself. He walked all around before realizing that the reason there was only a head was that this was a puppet. He very nearly put his hand into it but decided to ask permission first.

“I say, that’s awfully decent of you,” the cow said in a pleasant, moony voice, causing Cordelia and Logan to jump in surprise. “Most people just stick their hands in without regard to my feelings at all. Would you like to have people doing that inside you? I should think not. Go on, old thing, doesn’t hurt.”

“I think I’ll pass,” the Doctor said, upon further thought. “Do you mind telling me exactly what you’re doing on my ship?”

“I really couldn’t say. I was just reading the news - we were on the air - and I…well, I, I’m here now.” The head beamed at the Doctor and his only rational thought was how very odd it was to see a cow smile at him.

The Doctor whirled to look at the two humans behind him.

“And what were you two doing before you got here?”

“Oh, I’d just been in the cafeteria and there was this idiot harassing-“ Logan said before breaking off. “I-I can’t really remember.”

“Well, I’d just been in labor so I think I win for most traumatic crossover,” Cordelia shot back at him. “No, wait, I was going to meet him and then I was there - it wasn't me. Then - well, well, Angel was…I needed, - I so don’t get paid enough for this kind of thing.”

“Right,” the Doctor said. “Idea number one: all connected to television. Idea number two - hang on, what’s your name?” he addressed the cow.

“I’m the Cowhead,” the Cowhead said. “A pleasure…?”

“I’m the Doctor and this is Cordelia Chase and Logan Echolls and that’s going to get real old if I have to keep doing it. Whereabouts are you from?”

“Moonfola 5. It’s a planet devoted to-“

“Intergalactic news with a special segment for kids. I knew I’d seen you before. Right, so idea number two: you all vanished from a program. Idea number three: why?”

“That’s not an idea,” Logan pointed out.

“Not helpful.” The Doctor started to pace as he thought. “What do you all say to a nice vacation on Moonfola 5?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t suggest that,” the Cowhead said, alarmed. “They don’t take kindly to outsiders. Too much political disagreement over how to run the broadcasts. My segment doesn’t get it too much, you know, the kids don’t care as much, but other than that, it could be real warfare.”

“Sounds fantastic,” the Doctor said and spun several dials on the console, then ran to the other side and picked up a mallet. “Hang on to your hats.”

The Tardis started to shake and roll and the passengers were flung to one side and then the other. The Cowhead remained comfortably floating in mid-air and the Doctor saw Logan give it a very fierce glare from his semi-recumbent posture on the floor. They finally landed and picked themselves up while the Doctor beamed at them.

“I’ve been kidnapped against my will,” Cordelia said firmly. “I’m not going anywhere unless I’m sure it’s safe and though the source seems highly questionable, I did hear something along the lines of this place not being safe from Mr. Missing His Milk Bag over there.”

“Cowheads are very trustworthy, Cordelia,” the Doctor admonished. “Have you ever met a cow that lied to you?”

“Have you ever met a cow?” Logan asked. The Doctor ignored him and opened the Tardis doors letting in some light. He disappeared having little doubt that everyone would follow him. They did and they all found themselves standing inside a television studio with artificial sunlight and grass everywhere. There was a news desk in the middle of the room with daisies as decorations and a microphone.

The Cowhead blinked in surprise at its surroundings.

“This is my studio,” he said, “but where is everybody?” He glanced at the clock. “It’s time for the news! I have an important broadcast for the children.”

“You know, when my thoughts turned towards the probabilities of aliens and their television, talking Cowheads reading the news didn’t really come to mind,” Logan said, running his hand over the news desk and picking a daisy.

“That’s your lot's problem,” the Doctor said. “Humans, always thinking they know everything and came up with everything and have the best imaginations. Such superiority complexes.”

“I’m sure whatever shows we have on earth are better than cowhead journalism,” Cordelia snapped. “No offense, Mr. Cowhead, but really now.”

“I’m the number one rated children’s journalist on this planet,” the Cowhead said, drawing itself up stiffly in pride. And to see only a head doing that was quite a feat, the Doctor thought and he chuckled.

“You tell her, Bessie. Now, could you show me where you were when you disappeared?”

“I can try,” the Cowhead said pleasantly.

“This is all ridiculous,” Cordelia said, folding her arms.

“Enjoy the rest, princess,” Logan told her, flopping onto the grass while the Cowhead led the Doctor over to the desk and he started to scan it and the Cowhead. “You’re looking more like Kendall every minute with the whining and you don’t want to be a tramp in all your incarnations, do you?”

Cordelia looked down at him and smiled a smile that the Doctor was sure could probably burn Logan into little pieces. She opened her mouth to reply and a beautiful diatribe would certainly have come pouring out if the doors had not suddenly opened and a lot of people-ish type things not come through. There were more floating puppet heads and six armed-humanoids who appeared to be operating others as well as waving makeup around and wearing headsets. Their eyes were a deep purple and the clothes they were wearing resembled nothing less than a feather pillow gone wild.

“Invaders! Intruders! Interlopers!” one of them cried.

“Spies! Sneaks! Scouts!” another joined in.

“Round them up! Restrain them! Rope their arms!” said one at the back with an especially big feather pillow cloud around him and the rest obeyed.

Before they knew what was happening a swarm of feathers had descended on all of them and despite some rather impressive moves by Cordelia, they were circled, captured and carried along to a room with very little maneuvering capability and tossed inside where they found themselves pressed up against each other and locked in. The Cowhead mooed mournfully, thankfully, above them.

“I told you my people wouldn’t take kindly to strangers. It’s all very hush hush around here. But I don’t know why they took me along with you. I suppose it’s all about a lesson I’m supposed to learn about not fraternizing with the enemy.”

“Do shush up and let me think,” the Doctor said.

“You’re supposed to be this genius, or so you say,” Cordelia said. “Can’t you do anything?”

“The man said shush up,” Logan said. “Do you have to take charge of everything?”

“Do you have to make a comment about everything?”

“Do you have to-“

“Shut up, the pair of you,” the Doctor said harshly, “before I shrink you down and stick you in my pockets where you’ll have to learn to live with each other and build a makeshift society with the other odds and ends I’ve stuck in there over the years and believe you me, it won’t be pretty!”

From their forced positions close up to him, the Doctor had to hide a smile at the looks on their faces. He started to focus on the problem at hand, reaching into his pocket for the sonic screwdriver which he had a beast of a time finding since he'd recently restocked his pockets.

“Doctor,” Logan said, almost without a glib tone, “my foot’s starting to go to sleep and I’m sure you’ve got a wonderful plan, but perhaps you’d let us in on it?”

“Easy. Going to unlock the door with my magic screwdriver, lead us on a merry chase back to the Tardis, cut the energy linking the Cowhead to it and get us off this planet, figure out where the signal that teleported the Cowhead came from, go there, cut it off and get your annoying voice out of my life for good.”

“Amen to that,” Cordelia said, “and I almost believe you can do it.”

While he’d been talking the Doctor had unlocked the door and poked his head out cautiously. Seeing none of the many-limbed feather people, he motioned them all to follow him and made his way back to where he’d parked the Tardis.

“What’s going to happen to me?” the Cowhead asked, floating in the back. “I’ve been ruined! And I’ve got to read for the children tonight.”

“Quiet!” Cordelia said. “Do you want to lead everyone right to us?”

“Maybe they’ll go easy on me then?” he said hopefully.

“Logan, be a dear,” the Doctor said, rolling his eyes. Logan sighed and put his hand inside the puppet head and clapped his other hand over the mouth. Cordelia’s smile at the sight was rather infectious and the Doctor stopped himself from laughing since they were approaching the Tardis and its wall of feather guards.

“Bowl through them,” the Doctor said. “Keep 'em off while I unlock the doors. Then we’ll release Cowhead. Got it?”

The other two nodded, sudden trust for him in their eyes and the Doctor ignored the twinges of satisfaction it gave him.

They ran from their cover and burst through the surprised feathers, causing what was the equivalent of a violent pillow fight. The Doctor made straight for the door and opened it and they all rushed inside, covered in feathers.

“Now that’s what I call a success story,” he panted. “Not useless, you two.”

“You aren’t, by chance, in need of a new feather pillow, Doctor?” Logan queried, scooping up an armful of feathers. “Cause there are some naked aliens out there who’d like to contribute.”

The Doctor laughed and used the sonic screwdriver to sever the Tardis’ link to the Cowhead and shoved him back out the door.

“Shall we see where else we need to go?” he asked them.

“I want to see what was so important that the Cowhead would freak out like that,” Cordelia said.

“That can be arranged,” the Doctor said and led them to the Tardis cinema, flipping to the appropriate channel. The two guests stared at the room in astonishment.

“Hang on a second,” Logan said. “We were just outside this ship.”

“Yeah?” the Doctor asked.

“It was a wooden box,” Cordelia answered.

“Yeah?”

“It has a cinema,” said Logan.

“With all the perks,” the Doctor replied.

“It’s…bigger on the inside,” Cordelia said slowly.

“Right again.”

A slow smile spread over Logan’s face.

“I’m starting to think this being fiction thing isn’t all that bad.”

“Maybe not,” Cordelia said, swatting him upside the head. “But it might be better without you.”

“Spoilsport,” Logan said, plopping down on the couch and putting his feet up.

“Jerkface,” she answered, pushing his feet aside and sitting down, reaching for the popcorn the Tardis provided. The Doctor stared, wondering at their sudden change of attitude and fearing what it meant for his future.

“Well,” Cordelia said, staring up at him, “aren’t you going to sit down?” The Doctor folded his arms and remained standing.

The screen flashed on and a picture of the Cowhead came on. He looked very content.

“And then the ant returned to the anthill and was able to tell the queen about the new colony across the river. The queen was glad for the news and thanked the ant with many favors, including a trip to the capital city where he could learn all there was to know about becoming the journalist he’d always wanted to be.”

The Cowhead finished with a beam and a serialized message flashed across the screen with information about how to join the journalism contest the station was running.

The three of them looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

Once the laughter had subsided, the Doctor had to figure out what to do.

“Right,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “I'm going to look at all the scans I haven't had time to look at yet because I keep getting bombarded with fictional people.”

“And Cowheads,” Logan corrected solemnly. “Never forget about the Cowheads.”

“No,” the Doctor replied, knocking a feather off his chest. “How could I possibly?”

“Well,” Cordelia said from her position by the door, “aren't we going to run scans?”

“I'm going to run them,” the Doctor said. “You are going to try not to rip reality apart anymore.”

“I don't get it. Doctor, what is so wrong about us being here?”

“Look, I haven't got time to explain basic universe mechanics to a bunch of people that don't exist!”

“Make time!” Cordelia said, eyes flashing. “Or I will reality rip to my heart’s content!”

“What she said with less bitchiness,” Logan chimed in. Cordelia swatted his shoulder which Logan rubbed with a wounded look on his face.

“They're not real,” the Doctor said to himself and made his way to the control room.

“Stop saying that!” Cordelia said, following him. “I swear you're worse than Angel. Can't you just admit we're here and we're not going anywhere? Maybe we could help you figure out what to do if you'd stop being so prickly.”

“You might at that,” the Doctor said, without acknowledging anything else she'd said. “Come on, you too,” he threw over his shoulder at Logan. “We'll go investigating!”

They took up positions around the scanner that the Doctor plugged the screwdriver into.

“It's in some weird language,” Logan said.

“Gallifreyan,” the Doctor answered shortly. “Only language the Tardis won't translate for you.”

“The ship translates languages?”

“Anywhere in the universe. What, did you think that cow was speaking English?”

“What else were we supposed to think?” Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, just explaining a little bit would make everything easier on everyone.”

“Right, do my best,” the Doctor said, gritting his teeth and wishing for a few Cybermen to deal with. “Now, with your permission?” he asked in mock servitude.

“Proceed,” she said with all the regality of a princess.

“You two appear human, or something like it, on a basic level, but the scan here says that you're covered in particles, reality particles to be precise. The whole of space and time is covered in a layer of reality, making it possible for things to exist. You shouldn't be here, somehow you've come through that layer, tearing it in the process and covering yourself. You're quite filthy looking, actually.” He didn't bother hiding his smile at Cordelia's glare. “You got here somehow and I was hoping that the scans would show where and we could go get this sorted out. However, because you've come blank out of nowhere, there's not too much I can do with you two. The holes were too tiny, not leaving enough of a trace. The cow came from a physical place and was only connected to non-reality through a tenuous link. The rip was on this side of reality for him. Therefore, I can trace the source of the rip and that's what I'm hoping to do if you would condescend to it, Your Ladyship?”

“Tell her, Doctor,” Logan cheered him on, gaining another swat from Cordelia.

“I haven't started with you,” the Doctor said. “Let's get something straight. I might have to put up with you, but this is my ship and I'm real and what I say goes.”

“Just treat us like real people,” Cordelia said, “and I'll follow you to the ends of the earth to get back to my life and away from him.”

“And while I just love the constant bruising,” Logan said, “I'd like to get home too. So, let's get on with it.”

“Glad we got that settled,” the Doctor said, wondering if anything had really gotten settled, and set coordinates to follow the slight trail he'd gotten from the Cowhead. The Tardis made its usual shifting noises and shakes and the Doctor found himself thinking he might just take care of this sooner than he thought when the Tardis stopped suddenly, having lost the signal.

“No, no, no!” he cried out, dashing around. “I was so close!” Logan and Cordelia exchanged glances which the Doctor ignored. Before he could continue his rant, more warning bells sounded and another person materialized in the Tardis. The Doctor squinted and then sighed.

“Another one?” Cordelia asked.

“A worse one if possible.”

The character in question shifted uncomfortably in his shiningly bright aviator jacket and tried to toss back a strand of gorgeously highlighted hair with ease, somehow managing to catch it on his eyebrow.

“Ace, I presume?” the Doctor asked.

“I suppose you want some help trimming your Christmas tree, or perhaps a princess needs rescuing and/or a tyrant overthrown? Whatever the case, I'd like to get it out of the way as I have a lot of cowering behind boxes to do afterwards.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow.

“You've gotten a lot less heroic, or maybe more heroic, eh, Arnie?”

The stranger started in surprise, then narrowed his eyes.

“How did you know that?”

“Look, do I really have to go into it all again?” the Doctor asked the unresponsive universe. He didn't wait for the answer and launched into an explanation that Logan and Cordelia interjected a lot of comments into.

“This isn't a great big hoax?” Rimmer asked suspiciously.

“Nope, I wish it were.”

“I'm not real then?”

“No.”

“I'm not Ace?”

“No.”

“Not even Arnold?

“No and don't ask again!”

A look of almost pleasure came over his face.

“Well, this changes everything then. Thank all that's holy that I don't have to go swanning around the universe as a topshot spacepilot who couldn't get out of his closet fast enough.” His voice had changed entirely, becoming more and more weaselly.

He dumped his space helmet on the floor and took off his aviators and his hair and threw them unceremoniously on the floor.

“That was...unexpected,” Logan remarked.

“Please don't take off anymore,” Cordelia pleaded.

“Let's all keep our respective pants on,” the Doctor said. “Rimmer, how's about we find out where you came from?”

Before he could answer, there was a loud sound and the ship started to rock.

“If I'm not real, I can't be killed, right?” Rimmer shouted.

“You're a hard light hologram,” the Doctor shouted back, lurching to the controls. “Protect your light bee and stop being a nuisance.”

Logan and Cordelia must have been somewhat used to the unexpected commotion by now because they simply each took one of Rimmer's arms and held him steady while grabbing a hold of a coral strut with their other arms. The Doctor didn't stop to be impressed because he was too busy pulling up the scanner.

“We've got ourselves a ship outside,” he said. “Someone must have followed us.”

“Not from Moonfola 5?” Cordelia asked.

“Reality Hurts 5: Revenge of the Feather Pillow,” Logan said, grinning.

“Nope, someone after him,” the Doctor pointed.

“Me? Why is it always me? It's not like anyone really cares,” Rimmer complained. “I might have helped that barber with the roach problem with the teensiest bit of insurgence, but it was all very hush hush. Being Ace isn't worth this.”

“Shut up and let me pilot away,” the Doctor said. “Or I could just give you to them.”

“How do you know they're after him?” Logan asked.

“Oh, the ape has questions,” the Doctor groaned. “Listen, it's the only explanation considering we stopped short of our destination in the middle of nowhere and then he shows up and then they do, alright?”

“I yield to your wisdom,” Logan said mockingly.

The Doctor raced around the console, pulling levers and moving them through space.

“I thought we wanted to find out who was behind this,” Cordelia pointed out. “You're running away.”

“Ever seen Empire Strikes Back?” the Doctor asked.

“What, that trumped up, sad excuse for space exploration of a trilogy?” Rimmer asked. “It's been banned on Earth for years, ever since it caused that riot when people at a convention started arguing over who was better, that little green puppet or the big, hairy creature.”

Logan burst out laughing and even Cordelia cracked a smile.

“Boy, am I glad that's not real,” Logan said.

“How do you know? My point is,” the Doctor said, “that I'm not running away, just turning the tables. We're going to follow them.”

The banging and shaking stopped and the passengers relaxed.

“Now, just sit tight like good children and we can be on our way.”

“I don't suppose my dimension jumper came with me?” Rimmer asked hopefully.

“No, it didn't and stop trying to get out of helping.”

“Per Spacecorp Directive - I guess those aren't real either?”

“And you'd only get it wrong.”

“I'll have you know I've been studying up on them since I set out to save the world. What else is there to do? I mean, sure, the universe needs a brave, heroic bloke running around saving it-”

“Thanks very much,” the Doctor interrupted while Logan chortled into his arm.

“-but all the same,” Rimmer said, glaring at the Doctor, “it's amazing how short a supply there is for someone in my line of work. How much waiting there is between world saving. And it's not like I can just jolly around my ship since it's a bit of a tight squeeze as it is. I was of much better use back with the slobbiest human in the universe. A man so physically repellant that his own socks were banned in five systems that we passed through and finally condemned to death by beheading.”

“I get it,” the Doctor said knowingly. “You miss Lister and Red Dwarf - sorry, Starbug - and being universally chastised.”

“Smeg off,” Rimmer said shortly. “As if I would miss that lot. Miss a hovering robot with two separate groinal attachments, a feline evolutionary cockup with more clothes than an entire country's worth of department stores and a slobby, pathetic bum of a man who - well, we already went over the socks. Miss them, I laugh at them, struggling to find a mis-parked rusty ship where nothing works. They deserve it, the lot of them. I, I've moved up that ziggurat, lickety split.”

“He misses them,” Cordelia said to Logan.

“Like his mother's arms,” he agreed.

“Probably not, considering her,” the Doctor said. “But right on the missing part.”

“Leave me alone,” Rimmer snapped. “I didn't ask to be made not-real and get stuck with you.”

“Nor we you,” Logan muttered. Cordelia smiled. The Doctor shook his head. Either they were having a bad influence on him or he was having a bad influence on them. He couldn't tell which.

“Look, now that I've got myself some definite coordinates, I don't need you,” he told Rimmer. “I can send you back. You might not be the right Rimmer, per say, but it's not like the show was ever continuous anyway. We'll just skip right over the eighth season and put you Back in the Red.”

“I can practically see those capital letters,” Rimmer said. “You just said an episode title, didn't you?”

“Guilty. Now, will you go nicely?”

“What about that lot?” he said, waving his hand at the other two. “Why don't they have to go?”

“This lead might turn out to be a bad one. Besides, I still haven't figured out where exactly to send them and how. They were the first. You, you're easy. The rip's practically gigantic by now. I can see it with my bare eyes. I know exactly where to send you. The designation's practically written all over your face like a big fat H.” The Doctor might be exaggerating just slightly, but luckily only he knew that.

“But what if it doesn't work? What will happen to me?”

“I know what I'm doing.”

“He does,” Logan assured him.

“Practically a genius,” Cordelia confirmed.

“Oh fine,” Rimmer conceded with the air of a martyr. It looked to the Doctor like he was relieved to go. He probably was. Rimmer wasn't the best in dicey situations and he was at his happiest when he was insulting Lister and being driven nuts by him and no one could remotely be considered in authority over him. And the Doctor highly doubted he could tolerate Rimmer's presence on the ship for much longer. The man was a weasel even if he was extremely amusing to watch.

“You don't suppose they threw out my shoe trees?” Rimmer asked as the Doctor started calibrating. “Of course they did.”

“All will be jim dandy when you get there,” the Doctor said, waggling his fingers. “Bye now.”

“Bye.” Logan and Cordelia waved in unison. Rimmer straightened up and started doing his customary salute which the two not acquainted with him watched in fascination. He disappeared a few seconds later.

“Remind me to watch that show when I get back home,” Logan said. “I think I'd like it.”

“Trust you to,” Cordelia said. She turned to the Doctor. “Now what?”

“It looks like we'll be landing soon,” the Doctor said. “I'm pretty sure I know what you are, but not why. Let's find some answers.” He grinned at them and they grinned back.

More lights and alarms lit up the Tardis and the three of them turned to see the distinct figures of Nightcrawler from X-Men and Anamaria from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

“Or not.”

Chapter Text

“I'm going to have a black eye,” Logan complained as the Doctor finished materializing the Tardis inside the ship they had followed and which appeared to be floating around a non-descript planet in the Beltoni system.

“Yeah, like fixing a link on a teleporting mutant with an angry tail is easy!” the Doctor scoffed. “Quit your whinging and follow me quietly,” he added, exiting the ship. “We're not sure what to expect.”

“Life typical on board the Tardis,” Cordelia said.

“Isn't it fun?” he flashed a quick grin at her.

“Being slugged by a lady pirate who's quite indisposed to her new surroundings?” Logan queried sarcastically. The Doctor and Cordelia turned to look at him. “Okay, it is,” he said, grinning, but gingerly touched his eye.

“The way you were drooling over her, I'm not surprised,” Cordelia said. “What about this little Miss...Veronica you're supposed to be so in love with?”

“We could start talking about brooding vampires while we're at it,” the Doctor said, a finger to his lips.

“As opposed to brooding aliens,” she retorted, but in a sensibly quiet voice. The Doctor chose to ignore the statement, preferring to creep down the hallway.

“What are we looking for?” Logan asked.

“How do I know?”

“You know everything or so you like to think.”

“I know somebody's having some fun with telly tropes as it were. Tropes in general, seeing the last two we met up with. I expect more of the same lines and hopefully, we can find some real alive people who know what's going on.”

“When you say people...” Cordelia said.

“I mean aliens. Or people. You never know. Keep up.”

They walked quietly along the corridor of what the Doctor guessed was a Teranian ship based upon the architecture. Though why the Teranians would have anything to do with this was puzzling to him. Their technology was barely at space travel let alone reality ripping devices. They came to what was basically a door though it was two sizes too small for them, odd considering the hallways were big enough.

“Looks like some kind of holding cell,” the Doctor theorized. “Wonder if we can get it open?”

“Duh, screwdriver,” Cordelia said.

“It's not infallible, little one,” the Doctor told her, “but it's always the first option.”

“That will not be necessary,” a quiet voice said from behind them. They all spun around and saw...nothing.

“Where are you?” the Doctor asked.

“I'm here,” said the voice, barely able to be heard, coming from down below. They looked down and saw an extremely fragile looking china shepherdess standing just out of reach from their big feet. Several sheep lurked behind her skirts and looked out from behind her shepherd's crook.

“Speaking of little ones...” Logan remarked.

“Oh, beautiful, you are,” the Doctor said, leaning down. “Am I right in thinking you are-”

“It's Bo Peep,” Cordelia said, bending over as well. “At last something I recognize.”

“How do you know me?” the tiny doll asked.

“We're big fans,” Logan said. “Great movie.”

“Movies,” the Doctor corrected.

“Oh yeah, there were two,” Logan said.

“Three.”

“There was not a third Toy Story movie,” Cordelia objected.

“After your time,” the Doctor said. “A real tearjerker, marred by the absence of our little friend here and now I know why.”

“I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about,” Bo said. “I was just in my boy's room.”

“Why is she even talking to us?” Logan whispered. “Don't the toys usually play dumb around humans?”

“Ordinarily yes,” Bo answered, “but I find myself beyond simple rules like that right now. I appear to have vanished into one of Buzz's stories and I'd rather somebody helped me find my way home. The sheep are very frightened.”

“Do you mind?” the Doctor gestured and when she shook her head, he helped her walk onto his hand while the sheep trotted along with her. He opened up his jacket pocket and stuck her inside gently, her lower body disappearing with her upper body sticking out. The sheep vanished entirely, apparently unconcerned with anything now that they felt safe and confined.

“Oh, that is much better,” Bo said. “I feel much less breakable now.”

“A bit hard to talk to you now,” the Doctor said softly, “but now I won't worry either. I'm the Doctor, by the way.”

“Worried, is it?” Cordelia said teasingly.

“The old softie,” Logan said, tsking.

“None of that, you two,” the Doctor said, shaking his head. “Let's just get little Bo here back to the Tardis, then I'll explain things to you.”

Before they had gotten very far, a gray skinned, vaguely human-ish alien rounded the corner and spotted them.

“Not a Teranian,” the Doctor commented, mostly to himself. The far too disproportionate alien started making high pitched wheezing sounds which when translated sounded something like:

“Intruder alert! Sound alarms. Prisoner escaped.” The dialect was a bit off, but the Doctor thought it sounded like a primitive version of Hurdgorese.

“That's done it,” he said and grabbed Cordelia's hand, pulling her along. Logan ran beside them and they ran right at the astounded looking alien, who jumped aside at the last second while they swept past, headed for the Tardis.

“Nothing like a nice game of chicken,” the Doctor triumphed, feeling little china hands clenching his jacket tightly.

They were almost at the Tardis when more aliens came from the opposite direction and weapons began to be pointed.

“We're here peacefully,” he shouted, putting his hands up, raising one of Cordelia's with him.

“You are intruders!” one of the aliens said.

“We were just picking up a friend.” The Doctor stepped in front of his companions and they picked up the hint, stepping slowly backwards towards the Tardis.

“This is a private ship; you are not authorized to be here.”

“And we'd be thrilled to leave,” Logan said.

“Over the moon,” Cordelia agreed.

“Like the poem,” the Doctor put in, which only confused everybody. “Cow jumped over the moon?” he offered and everyone still looked confused.

“He's got cows on the brain,” Logan said, motioning with his head.

“No wonder,” Cordelia said, almost sympathetically.

They'd all but finished nudging along the last five feet or so to the Tardis while this cow and moon conversation had been going on.

“Halt, you are diverting us,” the backmost alien said, catching on.

“Nobody ever said you weren't brilliant Hurdgi,” the Doctor said, pushing the door open and shoving his companions inside, waving goodbye. “See ya!”

He closed the door to see Logan and Cordelia laughing their heads off again. Way too prone to laughter, those two.

“I don't know what you're going on about,” the Doctor said. “We still didn't find out anything.”

“But I'm eternally grateful to you,” Bo said from his jacket. “I had been...conversing with Woody and then I found myself in that big room-”

“Little room,” Logan said in an aside to Cordelia.

“-and it was so big, we were able to get through the flap underneath the door but before we could, those creatures came in and started speaking in the most nonsensical way. It wasn't until you started speaking to them that they spoke English.”

“Tardis,” Logan and Cordelia each said in a sing-song voice, then glared at each other.

“Show offs,” the Doctor muttered, then turned back to his pocket and Bo. “It's okay, go on.”

“Well, that's it, really,” Bo answered.

“Could you remember what it was they said before I got there?” the Doctor asked.

“It was all nonsense,” Bo answered.

“Just think about it very hard,” the Doctor asked, putting his thumb and forefinger close enough to touch her temples. “Telepathic,” he murmured to the other two.

“With china?” Cordelia asked.

“She's obviously got brain patterns or she wouldn't be talking to us,” he said. “Now shut up and let me concentrate.”

The Doctor reached into the strange, little mind and found an approximation of what he was looking for. He retrieved it and left.

“Well?”

“We need to go down to the planet. Whoever they're working for was going to transport Bo and her charges down there to a holding cell to be picked up. Hopefully, we can learn about where to go next.”

“Excuse me,” Bo said, “but is it necessary I go with you to this place? I'd really rather not. Is there any way you can send me home? I don't want to know what's going on. I just want to rejoin my family.”

“I'm afraid they've moved on without you, Bo,” the Doctor said gently. “While you were gone, Andy grew up and the others have a new owner now.”

“What!” cried Logan. “That's horrible.”

“How could they leave Bo behind?” Cordelia asked.

“It wasn't really their fault,” the Doctor said, “whoever's pulling reality tricks pulled her out and they had to go on.”

“Well, you're a ‘time lord,’ “ Cordelia said, using her air quotes fingers. “Send her back so she goes with them.”

“It's an established event,” the Doctor said. “I saw the film in the cinema myself, about seven hundred years ago.”

“I'm not even going to pretend to understand that,” Cordelia snapped, “but if you're supposed to be this almighty alien, you shouldn't have a problem sending one toy back to its home. You did it for those others.”

“I sent them back to their own timelines and realities,” the Doctor said back, his voice heating up. “Don't tell me about my own life! I've got to make these decisions, it's my responsibility and you don't know what you're talking about. There's no one but me and this is what's right!”

Cordelia pressed her lips together hard, but kept quiet. Logan looked at him curiously, but didn't say anything.

“Bo,” the Doctor began, then stopped. “I wonder,” he mused to himself, “well, it shouldn't matter, after all, like I said, I am doing it on my own.”

He strode to the Tardis and dematerialized it, and the faint noises of aliens trying to get in faded away. He sent them to the other side of the planet where they could hide for a moment while he figured out what to do.

“Time was,” he announced while fiddling with the console, “my people could do almost anything in time or space. Not that they bothered to, much too indolent for that. But I bothered and got a lot of flack for it. Still, I was always proud of our capabilities. Time is a very tricky thing, people think they know it but they don't. You watch films or read research papers and it's mostly all rubbish because in trying to pin it down they're missing the whole point. But it's something that comes naturally to me and you'll just have to trust me when I say I know what I'm doing. I can feel when it's wrong and to try to rewrite something like that would be disastrous. But with all that responsibility comes a little bit of trickery and since Bo's already out of the picture, there's no reason I can't send her into the end of it.” He flipped some switches. “You'll like Bonnie, Bo, a good kid and I'm sure you and Woody have a lot of catching up to do.” He winked at her while gently extracting her and her sheep from his pocket and putting them on the console.

“Goodbye, Doctor,” Bo said softly. “I hope you find what you're looking for.”

“Me too,” he said, pushing the final button and she faded from the Tardis along with her sheep.

“Where'd you send her?” Logan asked.

“With all the rest of the toys. I just slipped her into the box after Andy'd already paraded them out, had a good romp and left. Nobody at home will be any wiser, but she'll be with her family in limbo, let's say, forever.”

“I'm sorry, Doctor,” Cordelia said, “I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. You obviously know what you're doing and I'm still just a little freaked out about this not being real thing. I'll try not to anymore.”

“Same here except I didn't,” Logan said, automatically stepping aside so he avoided her fist.

“I still don't know what you are talking about,” Cordelia said. “I guess I'll have to watch the movie. Maybe after you tell us more about yourself and that little story you hinted at.”

“I'd much rather get you out of my hair for good,” the Doctor said, softening. “Besides, don't you want to know what you are?”

“Actually, yeah,” she said. “But I haven't forgotten the other bit, Doctor. You will tell us.”

He shook his head at her. Cordelia Chase and her blessed nosiness.

“You ever watch Happy Days?” he asked.

“Who didn't watch that?” Cordelia asked.

“Uh, me.” Logan raised his hand.

“Great show,” the Doctor said. “A little early for you. Anyway, boy name of Chuck goes upstairs one season and never comes back down. Never explained what happened to him. He's what's called a trope namer. Anytime that happened in a series after that people would say the character had been 'brother Chucked.' “

“That didn't happen to us, right?” Logan asked.

“Not really you,” the Doctor conceded, “but Cordelia's a sub-trope of that popular trope. Bo, Anamaria, Nightcrawler, all victims of some type of missing character trope. Biggest of them all is Chuck Cunningham Syndome. Someone's causing them unnecessarily or maybe this is the original cause. But, while it's an established thing, since you're flesh and blood now, it's not good for reality in general.”

“If Chuck Cunningham's so all important, how come he hasn't popped up yet?” asked Logan.

“Maybe he's the grand finale,” the Doctor said with a wink. “But I wouldn't be surprised if Chuckie boy didn't show up at some point. Still, let's go down to the planet and prevent it from happening at all. You two up for it? You seem to have the handle for this kind of life, I will admit.”

“And all on his own,” Logan crowed. “You're growing, Doctor.”

“Don't make me regret this,” the Doctor said and prepared to go planetside.

Chapter Text

The Tardis materialized on a grassy hillside, on the other side of which the Doctor assumed the base was located. And when the Doctor assumed, assumptions became knowledge, thank you very much.

“This is beautiful,” the slightly higher pitched voice of Cordelia reached him. The Doctor sniffed the air, yup, high traces of helium in the atmosphere. Best they not stay outside for too long.

“Why's-” Logan began and stopped.

“Helium in the air,” the Doctor said, grinning at them. Their faces had some unusual expressions on them. “Makes the grass blue.”

“I thought they were flowers,” Cordelia said in wonder and bent down to inspect it further.

“Nope, just thick grass.”

“The helium can't do that,” Logan said. “I didn't pay a lot of attention in school, but I paid some.”

“That's what you think,” the Doctor said. “Besides, it's an alien world, alien science. Not like humans know everything there is to know anyway.”

“You're kidding us,” Cordelia said.

“You'll never know,” the Doctor said, turning to go. “Now, if you don't mind, let's get started.”

“How come your voice is normal?” Cordelia asked petulantly.

“Different lungs,” the Doctor called back, not even needing to look to know what their expressions looked like.

“And you call us showoffs,” Logan said. “What's this place anyway?”

“The Cinu of Melataxas.”

“Mela-what?” Cordelia asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Taxas, now try to keep up. The people here are friendly. Ish. Anyway, they've never been a problem with the Shadow Proclamation. But they keep to themselves a lot. I'm very interested to know who they're working with and why they'd be willing to do that at all.”

“Why they're willing to kidnap innocent, make-believe people?”

“Yes, Cordelia, thank you for stating the obvious. Now, this ship we're looking for should have landed somewhere at this base in order to explain why their prisoners aren't there or to tell why. Either way, we need to find out.”

“I'm expecting some sort of snappy insult,” Logan said, “but aren't those the same thing?”

“Depends on if the Teranian ship, not piloted by Teranians, but by Hrudgi, is the boss or if the Cinu are. They might need to ask for instructions or give them. You see?”

“Oh, yes. It's all so simple,” Cordelia said, rolling her eyes.

“Fantastic. Keep up.”

The Doctor led the way into the base where they crept along as quietly as possible until the Doctor figured out where he wanted to go.

“This is ridiculous,” Cordelia said. “We don't even know where to go or what we're looking for.”

“Very good,” the Doctor said. “Nothing like an honest inquiry.” Spotting a counter with a glass window like one would find in a police station, he marched up to it, his companions trailing behind.

“What is he doing?” Logan asked under his breath. The Doctor ignored both of them.

“Hello,” he said, waving his fingers at the Cinuian behind the counter. The alien's four eyes looked back unblinking. “I'm the Doctor. Can you help me?”

“Inquiry form?” it asked.

“Form? Oh.” The Doctor patted his chest pockets before pulling out the psychic paper. “Here you go.”

“Reality Specialist?” the alien said, reading it over.

“That's me! I just need to know which room to pop into.”

“I'm afraid we need this in triplicate,” the alien said blankly.

“Okay,” the Doctor said, taking back the psychic paper and flashing it in the alien's face three times. “What room, please?”

“Second door on the left,” the alien said in a gray tone.

“Thanks ever so much,” the Doctor said, beaming and led the way down the hall.

“That was awesome,” Logan said. “How did you do that?”

“Psychic paper. Shows them what I want them to see.” The Doctor opened the door and led the way into the room. Alarms sounded all around them and a gate crashed down behind them at the end of the hall.

“Or maybe that's what they wanted you to think,” Cordelia said, swatting his shoulder.

He rubbed it in protest, suddenly sympathizing with Logan's frequent complaints of abuse.

“How do you know I didn't want them to think they made me think that I made them think that?”

“I will not fall for that,” Cordelia said. “So, now what?”

“We'll meet whoever's behind it,” the Doctor said. He made his way into the room and sat down in one of the chairs in what looked like an interrogation room, cheekily waving at the one way mirror. The other two followed, and they didn't have long to wait before some more aliens similar to the one they'd already encountered entered.

“Hello!” the Doctor said. “Thanks for dropping in.”

“We could say the same, stranger,” the foremost alien said, sitting down across from them. Or it could be sitting because he seemed to have several legs coming out of his stomach and a good deal of him was still towering above them.

“Didn't they tell you I was coming? I'm a consultant, just needing to know exactly the particulars.”

“Of?”

“Oh, everything.”

“Where are you from?”

“I doubt you'd know it.”

“Where?”

“Little old place.”

“Tell us where and why you're here.”

Logan and Cordelia leaned forward, obviously wanting to know the answer as well, the single name Gallifreyan not meaning much to them.

“I'm here,” the Doctor said, leaning forward, “because some idiot's been messing with the reality of my universe and I'm getting tired of it. I'm here as a friendly inquiry and that's as plain as I can be. Now tell me why you lot are condescending to treat with other species when your usual modus operandi is to keep to yourselves like nice little hermits.”

The alien turned to the other two.

“Put them in the cell. We'll let the Trikini deal with them.”

The Doctor's head shot up at that, but he didn't protest as they were all led down the hall and thrown into a holding cell of some kind with limited lighting and sparse furniture.

“Don't they have gender specific cells?” Cordelia protested.

“I'm sure they were thinking of your comfort when they designed the place,” Logan said.

“Better all together,” the Doctor said. “Now we can calculate what to do.”

“Don't you want to stay here at the party?” chirruped a new voice. They all looked
around and spotted another alien perched on the ceiling.

It was about the size of a small dog with a red body and thick wings protruding from the back. A large, mischievous, relatively human face grinned down at them and it raised its arm, shook one of its two fingers at them and spoke again.

“The band is just really starting to get going.”

Cordelia gaped at the thing and Logan didn't look much better, but the Doctor grinned.

“It's the Space Imp,” he said, pointing excitedly. “Oh, I loved watching you. The antics, the shenanigans, oh, it was beautiful.”

“You know this thing?” Logan asked.

“Watch who you're calling thing, thing,” the Imp said, pulling its body down so it was clinging to the walls by its feet. “Me, I'm full blown sentient. How about you?”

“Him, not so much,” Cordelia said, getting a jab in the ribs for her trouble.

“We’ve got us a true case of the syndrome here,” the Doctor said. “The Space Imp is a very popular children's show on his planet. A season till the end and the Space Imp simply disappears and nothing shows up to take his place, just his little pals going on as if nothing happened. Nothing quite like the title character just vanishing. Obviously the show didn't last long after that.”

“That was because of the book, silly,” the Imp said, now hanging by one foot and one hand. “I was made from a book. It happened there too. We take literal translation very seriously. People always thought it was a printing error. They wanted to make the show, but they had to stay true to the story.”

“No unwanted sequels?” Logan asked.

“Not unless they were already written.” The Imp hung from his head.

“I could get used to that,” Logan said.

“It's the other extreme,” Cordelia said. “At least we would make up some kind of closure.”

“Sometimes,” the Doctor said. “Now come down here, you rascal.” The Imp obliged, letting go and landing with a graceful plop on the Doctor's shoulder.

“How come you know you're not real?” Cordelia pointed out. “That shouldn't be right.”

“I'm very self aware,” the Imp said, straight-faced. The Doctor started to laugh.

“Oh, you're a riot.”

“No, really,” the Imp insisted, starting to smile himself. “Okay, fine, I just have good hearing. The guards are talking about all sorts of things and I listen. I know I'm a character. It's a lot of fun not being real.”

“You're telling me,” Logan said. “The Doctor here will poke fun at you and assume you're stupid.”

“Hey, I'd do that even if you were real,” the Doctor protested. “I'm that genuine.”

“The Doctor, I presume,” the Imp said, shaking the Doctor's ear in greeting.

“Logan and Cordelia,” he said, gesturing to his companions. “And yes, I'm the Doctor and I'm very attached to that ear.”

“Quite literally too,” the Imp said, vaulting over to the door and perching from it again.

“Doctor, can we keep him?” Logan asked, peering up at the rough, red, furry body hanging above him.

“I kept you, didn't I?” the Doctor asked. “Now, Imp, be serious for just a minute and tell me what's going on.”

“Do I hafta?” the Imp asked sadly, pulling such a face that would make any adolescent girl long to give him a hug.

“Yes, now come over here.”

The Imp swung his way over to where the Doctor leaned against the wall and started to explain that he'd suddenly found himself in this room with nowhere to go. Several aliens had come by and brought him food, but no one had answered his questions or talked to him. He'd finally decided to listen and overheard several of the guards talking about his show and that's when he'd learned he was fictional. He had also heard about some aliens called the Trikini who'd captured some higher up in the Cinuian government and were the ones who were having the Cinuians hold their captives here. A ship of hired Hrudgi using a stolen Teranian ship were the legs of the operation, but where the head of it was, he hadn't heard.

“Now there's an informant for you,” the Doctor said, nuzzling the Imp's head. “Good boy.”

“Hey, how come he could understand them?” Logan asked.

“Universal translator chip,” the Imp said, sounding surprised. “Don't you have one?”

“Kinda,” Logan answered, looking confused.

“So, again, what do we do now?” Cordelia asked, getting back to the matter at hand.

“How you do harp on,” the Doctor said. “We let the Imp keep using his ears until we escape.”

“Some of us need sleep,” the Imp protested and promptly fell asleep with no other warning.

“That was unexpected,” Logan said, staring at the creature.

***

They'd been in the cell for twenty four earth hours and the Doctor was getting very bored. The Space Imp was an entertainment show in and of himself, but he could only do so much with his limited environment. The adrenaline and excitement of the chase were obviously wearing off for Logan and Cordelia and their impatience at being imprisoned was about to get on the Doctor's nerves. He disliked being imprisoned as much as the next fellow, but at least he knew how to behave when he was.

“How many times have I been in jail?” Logan mused, looking wearily at his fingers. “A couple of murder charges and so on. That one time was on purpose.” Cordelia blinked in surprise at him but didn't ask questions. The Doctor stirred from where he'd been fiddling with his screwdriver.

“I don't approve of violence much,” he said, “but that was an interesting thing you did there.”

“I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a compliment,” Logan replied, “but I'll take them where I can get them. I think I'd rather be there anyway. Anywhere on Earth, anywhere in Neptune. I'd sleep on Weevil's porch if he'd have me.”

“I don't even want to know what a Weevil is,” Cordelia said. “If he was real, I'm sure Phantom Dennis would be really missing me about now.”

“He suffers a bit from our favorite syndrome, you know,” the Doctor said. “You don't exactly come home at the end of season three.”

“Poor Dennis,” Cordelia said. “He was so protective of me.”

“You lot are a bunch of sour pusses,” said the Imp, suddenly awake. They'd managed to get used to his bouts of sleep and waking which happened at odd iterations of forty five minutes to an hour and with no warning. “Time for a sing-a-long.”

The Imp burst into a song that the Doctor recognized and laughed at and the other two seemed to make no sense of, which made sense, considering it was very difficult to translate and even the Tardis could only manage to substitute the highly questionable 'gestating mermaid' into an important part of the chorus.

The Imp's performance buoyed morale for the next couple of hours, but soon Logan started to pace and nothing anyone did could calm him.

“I never wanted to end up like him,” Logan said, almost frantically. “I'm not meant to be in here. Oh, she'd laugh if she could see me.”

The Doctor was not very patient, he'd already established this. He was not a comforter, he'd already established that. And he had no idea what to do with a claustrophobic, homesick, slightly sociopathic bit of fiction.

The Imp might have helped a bit, but his charms seemed to be redirected to listening as the guards changed. The Doctor silently applauded his focus as that was the most important part of obtaining their freedom.

Cordelia sighed in exasperation and looked up at the Doctor.

“Don't look at me,” he told her. “I don't do comforting.”

When she still just looked at him, he sighed and made as if to go over to Logan. She put her hand on his arm and he stopped.

“I got it, champ,” she said sarcastically. “Nice of you to want to help, but us non-real people have our own way of dealing with crises.”

The Doctor left her to it, putting one of his ears into trying to hear what the Space Imp was hearing and the other listening to his companions' conversation.

“Logan!” Cordelia said sharply, her philosophy apparently always to shock people into submission. “Stop it. You're being a crybaby and I, for one, cannot handle it.”

Logan stopped running his hands through his hair and laughed when she stepped closer to him.

“Nice try, my dear, but I've been listening to sentiments like that my whole life. I'm immune.”

“Immune to this?” Cordelia asked and slapped him, pretty gently for her.

“Ow!” Logan's loud voice cut into the air and the listeners turned in unison.

“Shush!”

“Sorry,” Cordelia said, then turned back to her self-appointed charge. “Now that I've got your attention, sit down.”

Logan sat down, probably in shock, and Cordelia slumped down next to him.

“Listen, I get it. This is all really upsetting and confusing and if you think I like being locked up in a small cell with limited toilet facilities with three outrageously difficult males, you’ve got another thing coming, but I'm going to handle it. And so are you. Not that I've known you that long, but we've been through some things and I think you can handle this.”

Logan took a deep breath and refocused his attention on her face.

“Okay, nice work, Chase. It's actually quite a lot to take in. And when you're not running around with Cowheads or rescuing china dolls, it tends to take over.”

“I do get that. And I think you might actually have it harder than us. The Doctor is obviously used to this kind of stuff. The Imp, well, that's his own story.” Logan chuckled. “And I, at least, come from a fictional world where unusual stuff is normal. So, kudos for keeping it up as long as you have, just don't lose it anymore or next time it won't be a slap.”

“You're verging on annoying again,” Logan said, standing to his feet. “I'll remember that.”

“See that you do.”

Cordelia stood along with him and shot a triumphant look over at the Doctor. He simply shook his head and turned back to the door, almost bumping into the Imp as the latter shook his wings in excitement and flew all about the room.

“The Trikini, the Trikini,” he sang as he flew. “The Trikini are on Marvello, Marvello. There once were some Trikini and they were so very meanie, that they pulled a little teeny-”

“Imp,” the Doctor interrupted, “I'd be glad for the musical version later. Let's get some shorter answers now.”

“Less tone deaf too,” Logan mumbled.

The Imp shook his head and practically flew into Logan's arms, nuzzling him under the chin like a cat.

“Poor silly human with no motor skills,” he said. “You'll go home soon enough and you'll miss it here. You'll miss us all. You would if you could.”

“I won't,” Cordelia said, folding her arms.

“You wills, you will,” the Imp said, hugging her, only reaching about half way with his tiny arms. “The Imp makes everyone happy.”

“Push off, you little squirt,” she said, almost affectionately. “Now, tell us what we want to know.”

The Imp flew into the air and stood motionless apart from his wings fluttering in excitement.

“The Trikini lost their home in some kind of war.” The Doctor flinched, then schooled his face into an impassive mask, but he could still feel Cordelia looking at him intently. “Devastating. They took up home on the planet Marvello. They kidnapped the Cinu and hired Hrudgi and stole Teranian vessels and no one knows why. But you can find them on Marvello. Marvello!”

“Thanks, Imp,” the Doctor said. “Now come on down, Your Magnificence and let's escape!”

The Doctor had made careful charts of the guard changes in his head and so he waited until the opportune moment and unlocked the door, blessing his pockets for their immunity to normal searches and led them out of the base. There were a few hairy moments and the Doctor accidentally trapped his hand in a door, leaving him inwardly cursing, but other than trying to make sure the Imp didn't break out into song, there were no other dangers until they were outside and once again by the blue grass.

“My voice is funny again,” Logan said.

“Mine too, mine too, mine too!” the Imp shrieked, getting higher and higher as he flew above them.

“Calm down, you idiot,” Cordelia hissed, pulling on his leg.

“Going down,” the Imp laughed, falling into her arms and curling up there, as content as could be.

An alarm sounded behind them and as they started to run back to the Tardis, several Cinuians came running out of the base. The Doctor turned and started to twiddle with the screwdriver, pointing it at the aliens and grinning as they began to float, their guns already out of their hands and plummeting to the ground.

“Helium, so easy to manipulate,” he said, grinning at his companions. “Come on, time to run.” He took Cordelia's hand again, upheaving the comfortable Imp who jumped to the ground and starting running like a dog.

They made it safely back to the Tardis and slammed the doors behind them. The Imp immediately started flying around, making observations and being a general (likeable) nuisance while the Doctor set the controls.

“All set to Marvello,” the Doctor crowed. “One step closer!”

The Imp stopped suddenly.

“What? But I want to go home.”

“You don't have one,” the Doctor pointed out.

“Come with us,” Cordelia said.

“Save me from Manic Brooding and Her Bitchiness, please?” Logan pleaded.

“I never said he could come,” the Doctor said grumpily. “I don't do domestic bliss with teenage son, daughter and the family dog.”

“Dog yourself,” the Imp said and landed on the console. “No, I just want to go home. I don't want to be on my show, I just want to live. Let me live, Doctor. I'm going to open a restaurant.” Three sets of eyebrows were raised. “What? I can do it. I'm the best cook you've ever seen.”

“I don't want to know what you cook,” Cordelia said.

“I'll take you back,” the Doctor said. “Then we have to get going because I don't want anymore interruptions.”

“Won't he cause rips in reality or something like that?” Logan asked, puzzled.

“What, a little thing like him?” the Doctor said, taking great care to sound careless. “I'll handle it. I've got nowhere to send him really since he doesn't exist at all. Clean him up a bit, close his particular rip and Bob's your uncle, a reality-compatible thing. Once I fiddle a bit. The Imp's lucky we're in his particular time and I know his planet's history.”

The Space Imp didn't look worried in the slightest, though the Doctor could hear Cordelia muttering something about how he had better not try that with her. He didn't want to go into the details with them. He knew the Space Imp realized that if the Doctor sent him back, it would effectively mean his death and he was willing to cheat just a little for him, just a little more than he'd done for Bo. There was no one to stop him after all. If it had been time, well, that was different. Space was so much easier.

He reset the coordinates while the Imp fist-pumped the air and then buzzed around with excitement. The Doctor would be sad to see him go and he could tell the others would, too. This Chuck Cunningham Syndrome was a complete bother, but rather fascinating.

Chapter Text

The Doctor leaned against the console, suddenly tired.

“Well, I don't know about you two, but I've seen enough clerks from the Men's Wear counter at Grace Brothers to last me at least one lifetime. I never want to hear about another inside leg.”

His companions nodded in agreement, but with more amusement.

“When he just expected us to get him a glass of water,” Logan said, chuckling. “’Seniors before juniors!’ That's another show I have to watch. I'm going to start writing them down.”

“I bet it won't do you any good,” Cordelia muttered, who'd been eying the Doctor rather fiercely over the last day while they'd been surrounded by British sitcom retail clerks.

“Don't be so glum,” the Doctor said, “or I'll quarantine you.”

“The Tardis wouldn't let you,” Cordelia said smugly, having worked closely with the sentient ship during the Are You Being Served debacle.

“The Tardis and I are loyal to each other,” the Doctor warned, “never forget that.” He stopped suddenly and turned as said ship spoke to him. “A huge rip this time,” he said, starting to run into the interior of the ship. The other two followed him. He led the way to a bedroom close to the console room and tapped gently on the door before opening it.

The door opened to reveal a typical bedroom on the Tardis, meaning it wasn't typical at all. This one looked like a turn of the century farmhouse bedroom. There was a fire crackling in the fireplace and an open window that looked out onto a snowy farmyard. In the bed was a tiny waif of a blonde girl, swathed in blankets and coughing.

“Not you, Cecily,” the Doctor groaned. She hadn't really appeared to have noticed them, probably lost in her own head. He closed the door quietly and spoke to his two companions.

“Listen,” he said sharply, “this is a very sick girl and I don't want any of your so called modernity upsetting her. Cordelia, there's a wardrobe three floors down and two doors over. The Tardis will show you proper clothes. For that matter, take him with you. Come back here, but don't go in unless I say so. You got it?”

They gave him strange looks, but nodded.

“What about going to Marvello?” Logan asked. “We'll never get there if these characters keep popping in and out all the time.”

“Says the original,” the Doctor said sarcastically. “Just do what I say. Cecily's got to be handled differently, a whole different trope, and we'll worry about Marvello when we get to it.”

They went back down the hall, whispering urgently to each other and he rested his forehead against the door when they were out of sight. He didn't have time for this. He didn't want this responsibility. But there was nothing else for it. He couldn't cheat on this one, not so far as he could see. And he didn't know exactly how this was going to go. He hated and loved that feeling, but right now he mostly hated it.

He knocked more loudly this time and heard a weak affirmation to enter. He opened the door and Cecily looked up at him in confusion and fear.

“It's okay,” he said, walking slowly toward her. “I'm not here to hurt you, Cecily.”

“What's happening?” she asked. “Where am I?”

“It's all right,” he said. “You were just at the sanitarium, weren't you?” She nodded a yes. “You're very sick,” he said, coming closer. “You already know that. I'm the Doctor and I'm going to try to help you, okay?” He glanced out the window and saw it now represented the sanitarium yard.

“Where are my parents?” she asked, before starting to cough. He poured her a drink of water from the pitcher by her bedside.

“They're at home, remember? They want you to get well so they sent you away until you can go home again.”

“But she didn't say goodbye,” Cecily said, almost panicking. “Why?”

“She did now,” the Doctor said, kneeling by the bed. “You just don't remember. But I'm going to help you, okay? I just need you to rest and be strong for me. I've got a couple of friends who are going to try to help too. We'll bring you in some food, are you hungry?”

She nodded, clutching at the bedspread and obviously still fearful of the unknown. He didn't know how he was going to break it to her that she was fictional. Maybe he wouldn't have to. Oh, he hoped he wouldn't have to.

“I'll go and get you something,” he said. “Any requests?” She shook her head and he smiled.

“Okay, I'll do my best to get you something you'll like. I'll just be a minute.”

When he got back outside, he headed for the console room and put them in the Vortex. That wouldn't stop other fictional characters from getting aboard if the Tardis managed to catch them, which was harder and easier to do the more rips in reality there were. But being in the Vortex would protect them from anything else and give him time to figure out what to do. He just wanted to make her disappear, but he couldn't do that.

***

Cordelia was still having trouble getting over how incredible the Tardis was, but she was less concerned about that right now than about how strange the Doctor was acting. She hurried along the corridors with Logan, without even thinking about where she was going. They made a left turn and found themselves in the most amazing room in the universe, she was positive. It was huge, with curving staircases and hidden coral nooks and crannies and absolutely bursting with clothes from every era in every planet in the universe. Her mouth dropped open.

She only closed it when Logan started laughing at her.

“This is the place I've been waiting for my whole life,” she said, eyes lighting up at the sight of a shoe rack high on the wall.

“Typical,” Logan said, sighing, and started forward. Cordelia followed him, ecstatic and quite willing to never leave. The Tardis must have known what to do because they found themselves in the early twentieth century Earth section or something like that. The Doctor didn't seem to be very organized because a clown suit was next to a Regency style dress and a suit of armor.

Cordelia selected a simple dress of lavender hue with the tiniest waist and the least constricting collar she could find. Logan was nearby, complaining loudly about having to wear suspenders.

“Would you like the corset instead?” she asked, flashing it at him.

“I guess I'll survive,” was his response before they each slipped into a little coral dressing room. Cordelia loved this place.

“So, who do you think is in the bed?” Logan asked, his voice muffled.

“I don't know, but it seemed to make the Doctor really unhappy. Even more so than normal.”

“Agreed. Which is an astonishing thing in and of itself.”

“Come on,” she groaned. “Stop trying to be clever. This could be really serious.”

“In what way?”

“The Doctor going psycho and a) killing us all, b) killing himself and leaving us stranded, or c) blowing up the universe in a grand combination of a and b.”

“Drama, thy name is Cordelia,” Logan said. “Have you ever read King Lear?”

“Only in auditions,” she said. “Shakespeare doesn't help with the demon hunting much.”

“Probably not, maybe a witch hunt, but not demons.”

“I wouldn't say that around some of my friends,” she said, stepping outside and looking at herself in the mirror.

“You have witch friends?”

“I grew up on a Hellmouth, I acclimated.”

Logan joined her, looking rather humorous in his suspenders and knee socks. It must have been summer in that outfit. She was too busy looking at herself to worry about him. She looked amazing and she never wanted to change. That is, until she got to try on some more of these clothes.

“This is so awesome,” she said. Looking down, she saw some hairpins that weren't there before and an instruction manual on how to do her hair. She laughed and started to try and manage it.

“Maybe I should just go,” Logan said, apparently bored out of his mind.

“Wait for me,” she said. “Not because I enjoy your company but because I don't want to unhinge the Doctor. He's about ready to blow. Let's just try to watch him. It's funny how much I do trust him, and even you, but we can't be too careful.”

Logan watched her with a funny look in his eyes, but he agreed with her and she nodded, satisfied. Also being satisfied with her hair, they left to go join the Doctor.

***

The Doctor's next stop was the kitchen and he heard Logan and Cordelia walk past. He poked his head out and motioned them into the kitchen.

“Well, you two clean up almost nicely,” he said, inspecting their clothing choices with approval.

Logan clutched his suspenders with true 1910 pride and managed to look impressed.

“That wardrobe is seriously cool, Doctor.”

“I want so many of the things in it,” Cordelia said, almost squealing. “It's like the best shopping mall in the universe!”

“It's not a mall,” the Doctor said sternly. “And you're not to go back in unless I say so.”

“You're like the enemy of fun, did anyone ever tell you that?” she asked and stuck out her tongue at him, swishing her dress as she sat down in a huff. She looked spectacular, the Tardis even managing to help her hair look somewhat like the style of her supposed era.

“We've got a lot more trouble than clothes,” he said, whipping up a quick shepherd's pie while he explained Cecily King, tuberculosis, and the Road to Avonlea. Unsurprisingly, Logan had never heard of it and Cordelia had only caught a few reruns.

“There's no way she'll understand being fictional,” he said, putting some final touches on top. “There, fit to come from Janet herself. Now, we’ve just got to keep her as healthy as we can until I figure out what to do with her. I know where and when to send her, but not how to do it without messing up established events.”

“I still don't understand why fictional events are so important,” Cordelia muttered.

“It's not the show, you megalomaniacal harpy,” Logan said. “It's the world that watches it. If they're all used to it one way, changing it would be bad.”

“Like you know so much,” Cordelia snorted, but didn't say anything else.

“We settle that?” the Doctor asked, incredibly patiently, he thought. “Good, now come with me and meet our new guest.”

When they got back to Cecily's room, her eyes were wide with alarm, softening when she saw the other two in normal clothing and the incredible looking dinner tray that Logan was also eying enviously.

“Hello,” she said nervously. “Doctor...what's your name, sir?”

“Just the Doctor will do fine,” he said, setting down the tray. “This is Logan and Cordelia and they're going to be helping me take care of you.”

Cordelia practically oozed sympathy and tact as she sat down and started spooning out some food.

“I'm so glad you're here with us, Cecily. Do you feel strong enough to eat something?”

“Yes, I think so.” Cordelia helped her sit up and put the tray on her lap so she could start eating.

“Well,” she said, looking at the men. “Don't just stand there. Go do Doctor-y things. I've got this.”

They looked at each other and the Doctor sighed, knowing Cecily would probably be more comfortable with a woman, even one who didn't know a thing about medicine.

They left the room and the Doctor decided to go see if he could do any work on the Tardis, watching Logan stand alone for a moment before the young man started off in the direction of the room he'd had only brief time to see and hopefully falling into the bed.

***

Cecily was a great patient, never complaining, but eating less as time went on. She was coughing up more blood than the Doctor would like and he wracked his brain to decide what to do, feeling how incredibly cruel it was to have so many medical advancements on board the ship and not give them to the long-suffering girl. She wrote a lot of letters to her parents with Cordelia's help, who'd become almost maniacal about helping Cecily. The Doctor didn't throw them away. Logan had taken to wandering the halls outside of Cecily's room, obviously feeling useless. When Cecily was feeling up to it and Cordelia slept under orders, the boy would sit by Cecily's side and tell her jokes, making up letters from her brother to read her, though the Doctor doubted Felix would write about some of the things Logan was writing about.

Once, Logan came to him while he was tinkering with the console and started questioning him about consumption. After his fumbling and speaking in innuendos for awhile, the Doctor felt like he should intervene in Logan's obvious discomfort.

“What's your point?” he asked. “You're obviously worked up about something.”

“How dangerous is tuberculosis?” Logan asked. “It's not something we deal with a lot where I'm from.”

“It was devastating back then, highly contagious, and swept through a lot of good people.”

“Then should...” Logan scuffed his shoes on the floor and then looked up, finally asking as if annoyed with himself, “should Cordelia be so close with Cecily?

The Doctor looked closely at him and smiled.

“I believe the boy cares,” he said.

“Not as much as you seem to think,” Logan said. “I don't want to die like that either, you know.”

“Don't worry,” the Doctor said, becoming grim again. “You're safe. The Tardis will protect you and even if it didn't, I could cure you at first contraction.”

Logan nodded, and went back to the library the Doctor had shown him a few days before when he'd first started having questions about the disease.

“It takes a terminal illness to get that boy to study,” the Doctor said, turning back to the Tardis and ignoring his own feelings on the matter.

***

Cecily had been on the Tardis for a little over a week when they had the argument. Only one other character had come in during that time and was dispatched quickly. Cordelia's common sense had gone missing the longer she spent with Cecily. A mother hen if there ever was one, that girl. Logan had also developed over-protective big brother tendencies. That left the Doctor with the role of bad guy who had to make the tough decisions. Not that he didn't normally have that role, but he absolutely hated it this time.

Cecily was sleeping, actually comfortably, the Doctor having used some advanced sedatives to help her. They were sitting around her bed and Cordelia was fiercely whispering about how he needed to do something. It didn't have to be what she thought was right so long as he did something.

“Would you have me kill her?” the Doctor finally asked openly. “Because that's what sending her back will do. I've nowhere to send her without doing that and if I let her stay here, she'll die anyway. I can't cure the disease, I could only ease her. What is it exactly you want me to do, Cordelia?”

“You can do anything,” she said, several tears falling. “I've seen it.”

“I can't break the rules,” he said. “I'd like to, but I can't.”

“You're a heartless alien,” Logan said. “And I know that's not true, but I don't care at the moment. Look at her.”

The Doctor didn't need to look at her to see the too brilliant bloom of scarlet in Cecily's cheeks and the way her lungs struggled to breathe properly. It was painful to watch.

“I know it would be difficult,” Logan said finally. “But maybe we could let her make the choice by letting her know the truth.”

“I can see how that would go,” the Doctor said. “ ‘Hello girl from the early nineteenth century, you're not real. You were made up by a nice woman named Lucy Maud Montgomery who decided to write you with an incurable disease. You're stuck on a spaceship in the middle of the Vortex of space and time with some other made up time-traveling characters and an alien who’s got a century on you.’ What do you think she'd say?”

“Probably nothing so sarcastic,” Cordelia said, wiping her eyes with Logan's handkerchief that seemed to come with the outfit. “I know she'd be scared and wouldn't understand. I still don't - it just seems wrong to deceive her.”

“I know that,” the Doctor said. “But listen to me, I can't send her home. She's not real.”

“Then how am I here?” Cecily asked without opening her eyes. Cordelia opened her mouth, but the Doctor hushed her with a look.

“Do you want to know the truth, Cecily? Will you believe me no matter how strange it sounds?”

“I don't know,” she asked. “I don't understand this place, but I've seen from the beginning it was not the sanitarium. I see a lot more than people think I do.”

“I bet you do, sweetheart,” Cordelia said, smoothing the covers around her.

“I learned a lot by listening to my brother and sister and cousins,” Cecily said, sitting up further. “It helps to pay attention. And your differences cannot be explained by being a Yankee. You talk of things I cannot imagine. And you're not even real.”

“I am,” the Doctor said. “But they aren't and you, you're fictional.”

“From a book?”

“Originally,” he said. “A wonderful book, Cecily and you're loved and golden in it. And you might not be as appreciated as you could be in other mediums, but you're very important and your family loves you very much.”

“I know that,” she said, beginning to cough again. “They mean very well and I love them too. But I'm going to die.”

“No-” Cordelia began, but the Doctor stopped her.

“Yes. I can't help you with that. I wish I could. But you've heard enough to know there are rules I have to follow. I can't just heal you when you're supposed to be sick. And on the program - it's like a magic lantern show, only far greater - you come to the sanitarium and when they talk about you again, well, it's not you anymore but somebody else playing you. Do you understand?”

“A little bit,” she answered. “It's rather confusing and it scares me.”

The Doctor hugged her gingerly.

“I know, little one, but you're doing well.”

“Does my family know?” she asked. “About it not being me?”

“No, they think it's you and they go on loving you and you get well and strong and take care of your horses and one day you'll take care of the farm.” The Doctor was going a bit off canon there, but he didn't care.

“It's still me,” she said. “And I get well?”

“Healed,” he said. “It won't be perfect and I'd give Janet King a kick if I were the new you.”

She smiled.

“Mother is very overwhelming sometimes when it comes to us.”

“Mothers are,” he agreed. “Wonderful creatures. Now, what do you want to do, Cecily?”

“If I stay here?” she asked. “Will I die?”

The Doctor nodded, ignoring Logan and Cordelia's angry looks.

“But there will be a new me that my family can love and will get healed?”

“Absolutely.”

“Then I want to stay here. Because if you send me back and I know you want to, Doctor, I can see it, then I'll die anyway and they'll be unhappy. I want them to be happy.”

“You blessed child,” the Doctor said. “Alright, Cecily. We'll do it your way.”

“You can't,” Cordelia cried. “You can't let her die.”

“I can't heal her,” he said, snapping at her. “I could give her more life, but at what quality? Would you have her suffer even more? Stop being so selfish.”

Cordelia just stared at him, then bowed her head and turned to Cecily.

“Do you really understand what you're doing?” she asked softly.

Cecily took her hand.

“I don't know who you are, but you've been so kind to me. I want to do this. It will be okay."

“Giving up, huh?” Logan asked with a wry smile. Cecily shook a weak finger at him.

“And you, you would give Felix a run for his money. But I think you would be friends. And I thank you for being him for me.”

“No problem,” Logan choked out. Cecily turned to the Doctor.

“That book you mentioned, do you have it?”

“Got every book,” he said, winking at her. “Would you like me to read it to you?”

“I would like that.”

So the Doctor got out The Story Girl and The Golden Road and read it out loud to his make-believe charges. They read it for a few weeks while Cecily got weaker. The Doctor had to deal with a few emergencies in the meantime, but despite how fond she was of Cordelia and Logan, Cecily would only have the Doctor read to her. She seemed to like it, asking questions and making astute observations about the changes, subtle or otherwise. She mourned the loss of her Aunt Hetty and relished the comradeship of the little troupe of children. When he finished the last page, she smiled and said she'd like to have a nap. The next morning she was gone.

The Doctor wrapped her up gently and he and Logan carried her to the Tardis doors where they sent her out to float among all of time and space. Cordelia's expression was very hard when the act was done, but she did not berate the Doctor again. Logan took her hand without saying anything and Cordelia didn't protest.

The Doctor stood, unblinking, looking into the Vortex for what felt like an eternity and only five minutes.

“I'm the lord of space and time,” he whispered, knowing they could hear him. “All of Gallifrey lives on in me and yet I can't save one human child from making the choice for her own death.”

Cordelia went forward to him and, without letting go of Logan's hand, put her arm on the Doctor's and leaned her head on his shoulder, shutting her eyes against the glory of the Vortex.

Chapter Text

The Doctor fiddled with the console a little more than necessary. At that particular moment he wanted nothing more than to be alone in his Tardis and away from the prying eyes of Cordelia Chase. It had only been two days since they'd lost Cecily and in that time Cordelia had hovered around him as if on suicide watch. She'd been short-tempered and fought with Logan constantly, who also seemed to be on edge. Maybe they were discovering life onboard the Tardis wasn't all fun and games. He could and had told them that, but the silly humans had been too busy having fun with the wonders of space and time travel. It was really too unfortunate considering he'd been getting used to them and their idiosyncrasies. No, they were much better off leaving now if he could only figure it out.

“Marvello time?” he asked, gesturing toward the door.

“Finally,” Logan said, almost running toward the door. Cordelia followed and if the Doctor's hearts sank a little, he wasn't admitting anything, thank you kindly.

“Carefully,” he snapped, coming after them.

Marvello was a red hot planet with a nasty smell in the air and way too much volcanic rock for anyone's liking. The inhabitants had been forced to evacuate over fifty years prior due to the gradual pull of the sun making it unlivable. It was surprising and yet obvious that the Trikini would take up residence there. Short term exposure would be preferable.

But when the Doctor stepped outside the Tardis he found it approximately forty degrees cooler than it should have been. They had landed in the middle of a city and there were Marvellians. Real Marvellians, not Trikini. He bounded over to the nearest and accosted them, ignoring his companions.

“What year is it?”

The answer annoyed him as much as the sneer that accompanied it. Marvellians were ridiculously snobby. Their orange noses could be looked down with astonishing alacrity despite their lack of height. He'd miscalculated when bringing them here and they were about a hundred years too early for when the Trikini would be here. Nothing to do but gather his companions and try again. He started to explain it to them when there was a massive explosion that threw them all to the ground.

“What the hell?” Logan shouted, crawling over to the Doctor. The Marvellians were running around like chickens with their heads cut off and the Doctor had never thought an expression so apt, considering the short, squat figure of a Marvellian.

“We're here too early,” he said, as another explosion rocked the street. “We should

leave.”

“We have to help them,” Cordelia said, looking at him with extreme disapproval. He couldn't have cared less, really. She got up and started to examine prone forms lying around. What she thought she could do, he didn't know, but he admired her compassion. At least she hadn't started running toward the explosion.

The Doctor was rather curious about that himself, actually, so he stealthily made his way toward the center of the disturbance, bringing Logan and Cordelia along behind him. What he saw astonished him – a black robe, long, blue streaked hair, a red molecular dissolver and steel gloved hands. The tall figure had his back to him, but the Doctor wasn't so well-versed in every single fictional program ever for nothing and thus, he recognized Rachini the Devourer. Unfortunately, it wasn't only good people who were being affected by this trope business.

“We should not be seen,” he hissed behind him.

“That one of our syndrome victims?” Logan asked, sensibly keeping very quiet. The hysterical cries of Marvellians helped to mask their presence.

“A nasty one,” the Doctor confirmed. “The arch nemesis of the Dragon King on the program of the same name.”

“Arch Nemesis?”

Dragon King, keep up. That's a rough translation of course. It's broadcast in the Stein Galaxy. This man is very bad. You know how they like to give villains sympathy back-stories? Not this one. He was born evil, is evil, and will die evil.”

“Then this is part of our problem and we can't just come back in whatever number of years?”

“Got it in one, Logan.”

“Fine, what's the plan?”

“I'll let you know when I come up with one,” the Doctor said, his mind racing. His considerable mind, that is. Before he could finalize his thoughts, there was another explosion and the sound of guns. Before his eyes, the Middleman and Wendy Watson aimed their weapons on Rachini and opened fire.

“No, no,” he shouted. “That's no good. It won't work.”

He was right, as usual, when Rachini simply pushed a few buttons on his wrist and vanished from sight, leaving some bewildered Middlemen behind, diving out of the way of a vast explosion aimed directly at them. They picked themselves off the ground gingerly.

“What the f-” Wendy started to say when the Doctor cut her off.

“Stop that,” he said. “You're going to get yourself killed and until I know when you come from, that would be very bad.”

Wendy just stared at him and the Middleman put out an assuring hand.

“Thank you for your concern, sir, but I'm going to have to ask you to stand back. The situation is under control.”

“None of your useless posturing here,” the Doctor said sharply. “I know who you are and I know your name, so be quiet and listen to me. The Middlemen and O2STK don't exist here. You're dealing with things you've no idea how to handle.”

“Crispy fried toads, Dubbie,” the Mdidleman exclaimed. “We are in a parallel universe. You owe me two glasses of milk.”

“I'm the one who's been to a parallel universe, bossman,” Wendy said. “This is nothing like that.”

“They're not all the same.”

“Obviously.”

“There are wounded...aliens,” the Middleman said, sheathing his gun. “Personal concerns take second place to medical needs. I wonder if there's some kind of hospital around here.”

“Sounds like they're on their way,” Logan said, cocking his head to the sounds echoing around the panicking city.

“If we stay here, we're gonna be blamed for all this,” the Doctor said. “We should hide.”

“Nonsense,” the Middleman replied, looking less confident than usual. “We'll simply explain what happened.”

“I'm with him on this one,” Wendy said, pointing her thumb at the Doctor. “We're not in Kansas anymore in case you hadn't noticed.”

“Astute, yet obvious, observation,” he said. “Very well. What action do you suggest we undertake?”

“I think the man already said,” Cordelia said, beckoning them all down an alley. “Hide!”

They all ran for several minutes and Cordelia's course led them away from the Tardis, but the Doctor wasn't as concerned about that as getting his hands on some rocksalt. It was the only thing he could use against the villain. There'd be no talking to this one. There'd be no sending him home. He didn't even want to. Rachini was responsible for endless fictional, and now real, suffering.

“So, what's the story with this dude?” Logan asked, jogging alongside the Doctor.

“I already told you.”

“No, what are his strengths, his weaknesses, his backstory, how does his show end, what trope is he?”

“Classic syndrome,” the Doctor answered. “At the end of series eight he was wounded and backed into a natural cave formation. He never came back out and the Dragon King never mentioned him again. It was always thought the producers realized he was too evil to be a good villain and didn't want to have to deal with him. But I'm guessing not. And that makes our job very easy.”

“It doesn't matter how you send him back?” Cordelia guessed.

“Nope.”

“Am I to understand that that man is a fictional character?” the Middleman asked, behind them, not even sounding winded.

“Three guesses as to what you are,” Logan shot back.

“Hold up now,” Wendy said, stopping in her tracks. As they were far enough away from the disturbance, the Doctor stopped too, figuring they'd get the usual explanations out of the way. “Are you saying we're not real here?”

“That's right,” the Doctor said. “Out of the five of us, I'm the only real one. These two come from shows from Earth, just like you. Logan and Cordelia. I'm the Doctor.”

“Just Doctor?” Wendy asked sarcastically, looking curiously at Cordelia as if now recognizing her.

“That's right again, just the Doctor and I'm the only one who knows how to defeat that man so I suggest you keep your eager little Sensei Ping trained hands to yourself and not get in my way.”

“Courtesy isn't all that hard,” the Middleman interjected. “I'll have to ask you to keep a civil tongue in your head.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Oh, there we are. Heroism at its best, I admit it, but it's a bit much to take in real life.”

“Doctor, remember that patience thing we talked about?” Cordelia said, pointedly.

“Like you're one to talk,” Logan muttered.

“Pull up a piece of rubble,” the Doctor said, ignoring both his charges. “I'll explain. Again.”

And he did. The Middleman was somewhat excited and Wendy only a little less so when the Doctor told them he could send them back home.

“Only, it seems like you're a rather late version of yourselves, if Little Miss Middleman's clothes here are any indication,” he said. “You wouldn't be going back to a life, just fandom.”

“We're staying right here until we help you take down that man,” the Middleman said firmly. “A Middleman has his duty no matter what his existential identity.”

“What he said without all the weird stuff,” Wendy agreed. “But you can send us home again? Back to horrible, slandering robots and adorable roommates and perfect boyfriends?”

“As much as you're going to get,” the Doctor said.

“Fine, how can we help?”

“Right,” the Doctor said, slapping his hands together. “We couldn't have landed on a better planet. I bet there's loads of natural rocksalt deposits outside the city. That's Rachini's only weakness. When he was little and building his first weapon of mass destruction he got trapped in a mine and acquired an allergy - a rather feeble plot device that is going to come in real handy. Now, somebody needs to alert the city as to what they're dealing with. I need to nip back to the Tardis and get some materials to neutralize his wristwatch. He's got enough armament on that thing to bomb the whole city.”

“Doctor?”

“Yes, Cordelia, now what is it?”

“Shouldn't we find out where he is?”

“Again, I need the Tardis for that. I can trace him through the watch. But I need to do it fast, so any more stupid questions?”

“Yeah, I got one,” Wendy asked. “You always have that stick up your ass?”

The Doctor hid a smile.

“Watch it, Dub-Dub,” he said. “Now, you and Cordelia run along outside the city, head southwest. I'll bet you three glasses of milk you'll find rocksalt there. Take that wheelbarrow thing lying over there.”

“That doesn't belong to us,” the Middleman objected.

“They can put it back when they're done,” the Doctor said. “We've got devastation and mayhem here.”

“You're right,” the Middleman said, “but need is no motive for theft.”

“I'll bear that in mind. Now, you and Logan go present yourself to the city council. Take this,” he said, throwing Logan the psychic paper. “Tell them you're intergalactic cops or whatever lame excuse you normally use and get them to not arrest us on sight. Have them issue alerts for everyone to stay in their homes.”

“There some reason why I'm doing the heavy labor?” Cordelia asked.

“Come on, crybaby,” Wendy said, shouldering past her. Cordelia's eyes narrowed and the Doctor was glad he wouldn't be around to see that catfight.

“Will you be all right?” the Middleman asked Wendy.

“Yes, yes. Remember I can take care of myself. I've got it.”

“Yes, I'll be fine too,” Cordelia said, glaring at Logan.

“I never had a doubt,” he said, smirking. He fumbled in his pocket, pulling out his cell phone which the Doctor had upgraded several weeks prior and tossed it to her.

“And whom exactly am I supposed to call?” she asked.

“I bet MiddleHero here or MiddleGirl has one.”

“Here,” the Doctor said, grabbing Wendy's phone out of her hand as she pulled it out and sonic-ed it quickly. Cordelia tossed Logan's phone back to him and they all went their separate ways.

***

“So, give it to me straight,” Wendy said as they jogged. “Who is that guy?”

“You don't even want to know his issues,” Cordelia answered. “Trust me. It's like Angel on steroids and that isn't pretty either.”

“I do know you,” Wendy said. “I never really watched Angel, but I've been a Buffy fan for way back.”

“That's way too weird, even for me,” Cordelia said, shaking her head. “I feel like an insect under a magnifying glass just talking to the Doctor. I never saw your show, it was after my time, I guess. Let's leave it at that.”

“Whatever,” Wendy said. “Let's just get this incredibly stupid salt.”

“So stupid,” Cordelia agreed, detracting her desire to see this other woman obliterated into tiny fictional pieces. She had enough going on without starting a rivalry over who was Queen Bee in the Testosterone Poisoned Hive.

They made their way outside the city with a wheelbarrow and Cordelia had never wished for her old convertible more. It was rough terrain and despite her daily workouts, she was hurting by the time they reached somewhere Wendy declared rocksalt-heavy. She used a very cheesy skull-covered device to do so, but Cordelia wasn't going to argue with the chick from an obviously tech-heavy show.

“Let's get loading.”

They worked in silence for awhile before they felt awkward and exchanged the mindless, social questions people asked at such a time. Not that said people were usually hauling rocksalt to stop a power-mad villain when those times occurred, but Cordelia would take her normality when she could these days.

Cordelia relaxed more and more as Wendy explained how she'd been recruited by the Middleman, and worked with a secret identity and a cranky librarian robot and barely got time to see her best friend and boyfriend anymore.

“Your show sounds a lot happier than mine,” Cordelia commented. Wendy had been doing a lot more of the talking since she already knew most of Cordelia's history.

“It's a good life. I'm really lucky. But it can get dicey and it's tricky doing the darting into phone booths thing.”

“Trust me when I say,” Cordelia assured her, “that secret identities are way overrated. Practically everyone in the world knows Buffy's little secret. And I don't know anyone in LA who isn't aware of what Angel does.”

“It's a Middleman thing,” Wendy said. “He takes the whole identity thing very secretly. I don't even know his name.”

“I get it, I do.” Cordelia straightened up and wiped sweat off her forehead. It was way too hot to be doing this kind of thing. “But I'm just saying that the people close to you who aren't total idiots deserve to know. Don't start broadcasting it on the streets, but your best friend and boyfriend are going to find out. It's like the fictional law of secret identities, and it's going to be messy when they realize you didn't tell them. That's all I'm saying.”

“I believe you,” Wendy said. “I think about that kind of stuff a lot. I'm pretty much just bound by my Middleman oath at the moment. Not that I actually swore an oath or anything.”

“I bet your boss did, or made one up so he could.” Wendy laughed.

“I bet he did. Something your boss would never do judging from his attitude.”

“Firstly, he's not my boss. Secondly, something's off with him,” Cordelia said. “Don't ask me what, but something bad happened with his planet and there was some kind of war and he holds himself responsible and believe me when I tell you that he should be in some kind of counseling. We had someone die recently and I keep expecting him to snap, you know?”

“And we're taking orders from this guy?”

“Don't get me wrong, he's a genius and he knows things I can't even imagine, but he's got survivor's guilt or PTSD or something.”

“I'll watch out for that then.” Wendy stood up and stretched. “You ready to blow this salt stand?”

“You want first turn or shall I?” Cordelia returned. Wendy's face frowned as she looked back down at the loaded wheelbarrow.

“Oh, phooey.”

***

Logan was having a hard time keeping up with the Middleman. A lifetime of surfing and drinking coupled with a month of running around with the Doctor did not serve to help him keep up with the comic book type hero who was also an ex-Navy Seal, as the man informed him. He did his best and he got a chance to rest when they'd finished dealing with the local politicians who had, understandably, taken a lot of convincing. That was where the Middleman's skills had really come into play and Logan didn't think the Doctor could have done better. In fact, he'd probably have done worse, especially with how on edge he'd been since Cecily died.

Logan didn't even want to deal with that. In fact, what he wanted to do was go home, somehow convince Veronica to take him back and get lost in her forever. She was the only person who'd ever understood him, even though she was also the only person who never accepted him as he was. He was a bonafide masochist, but he'd accepted that a long time ago. He was willing to take a little hardship to gain the greater good, and he knew Veronica was that greater good. He'd felt it in his bones ever since she'd kissed him at the Camelot. But instead of that happening, he was on an alien planet with alien villains and strange heroes and the Doctor. And it had been exciting at first and it still was, but now he feared he was in over his depth and the Doctor might just cast him further out to sea.

How he had the mental capability to think about all this, and answer the Middleman's probing questions and dodge accusations from the resident aliens, he would never know. But the human brain was an amazing thing, even the Doctor acknowledged that. Logan wondered if he might be going crazy.

“A fascinating idea,” the Middleman mused. “You say the dimensional proportions of the inside are inordinately larger than the outside? I would love to see it.”

“Most fictional characters end up doing just that,” Logan told him. “The Doctor always seems to be at the center of anything weird.”

“I know the feeling,” the Middleman said, actually patting Logan reassuringly on the back. “It's a hard life fighting evil. But it's well worth it.”

“I'll take your word for it,” Logan said, restraining from rolling his eyes.

“Well, Mr. Echolls, it appears we should be getting back to your interesting friend. The alien authorities are informed and ready to deal with the situation, and now it's up to us to stop this fiend.”

“Your back-story must be an amazing thing to behold,” Logan said, jogging to keep up.

“I wouldn't know, having never been privy to seeing it myself. But what I do know of myself is important to me. Why wouldn't it be? A purely rhetorical question, mind you.”

“Uh huh,” Logan said, going faster.

“You're quite adept at this kind of thing,” the Middleman said, almost with admiration. “A great Middleman-in-training.”

“I wouldn't let your girl-child hear you say that,” Logan said. “She seems awfully confident. And possessive.”

“She's a true whiz-kid, that one,” the Middleman said proudly. “We've been through quite a lot. Which reminds me, I need to record a Code 47 for her. You don't mind, do you?”

“Uh, no?” Logan said, confused.

“Good man.” The Middleman stopped in the middle of the road and Logan leaned back against a wall, glad for a reprieve. The Middleman started speaking into his watch.

“Wendy, if you're watching this, then we have failed in our attempt to stop the fictional villain, Rachini the Devourer. I hope you fared better in our battle. By now, if he has not destroyed the alien planet Marvello and our new friends, the Doctor, Mr. Echolls and Miss Chase, Rachini will have been put down by your joined efforts. I know you'll have done me proud. I suggest you seek the aid of the Doctor and figure out a way to get home where Ida will have all the particulars necessary to promote you to full Middleman. Perhaps Mr. Ford could become your new Middleman in training, although, I warn you, Dubbie, office romances can often come back to kick you in the pants. Still, I trust your judgment and I know you'll do your duty to the end. It's been a privilege and an honor to serve with you.”

Logan simply stared for a moment as the Middleman clicked some buttons on his watch.

“You do that often?”

“Every mission. You'll see this gets to Wendy should I suddenly become molecularly dissolved, won't you?”

“Sure,” Logan said. “I'll be sure and give her your undying love. That and the molecularly dissolved watch.”

“That's perfect. Now, let's get back to the Doctor and let him know we're legal and set to go.”

“I'm not sure legality is his first priority,” Logan murmured.

“You seem upset. Is there anything I can do?”

“No offense, but you're just as fictional as I am and just as far from home.”

“Homesickness, huh?” The Middleman's eyes started to look far off. “I know the feeling. There's nothing quite like bunking in your own home. It puts your equilibrium off to be anywhere else. But you're young and this is quite exciting.”

“Home's exciting enough for me. Being arrested every other week and having a rapist/murderer movie star father is enough notoriety for me.”

“Well, that does sound rather strenuous. Perhaps this could be more like a vacation?”

“A vacation where I’m on the run from comic book villains with guns and china shepherdess figurines pop up every other day? Besides, it's the Doctor. At home I know the darkness, half of the time it's me. Here, I understand nothing, and he's rather unpredictable.”

“I'm afraid I can't advise you, son.” Logan's head snapped up at that. The man was what? Ten years older than him? “But my gut tells me the Doctor's okay. He's a hero and sometimes a hero has to make the hard decisions. That won't make you miss home any less, but at the end of the day, I hope you know you're in good company.”

“Uh, thanks,” Logan said, deciding it was useless to talk to the noble, morality-driven man with the most ridiculous jacket he'd ever seen. The man's words resounded in his head, but it was still useless to talk to him.

They'd arrived near to where the Tardis was and Logan spotted the Doctor's telltale leather jacket. He was rummaging around behind the Tardis and fiddling with several mechanical, technical, alien things that Logan had no clue as to what they were. Before he could let the Doctor know he was back, he felt his phone go off and knew it could only be one person.

“Logan,” Cordelia's voice screeched through the phone, “find the Doctor and get over here fast! He's here! We're-”

Her voice cut off and Logan found himself staring at the phone, more concerned than he'd ever thought he'd be for her.

“Doctor!” he called, his first instinct, as was obviously hers no matter their concerns, to get the help of the alien who always seemed to have the answer.

Chapter Text

The Doctor leapt into action with energy that surprised even himself. He was no hero, he was a survivor and he felt inclined to clean up his own messes, but that didn't mean he had to like it or any of the stupid people who seemed to surround him.

Logan's choppy explanation hadn't given him very much information, but they all rushed off to save the day anyway. The Doctor brought his sonic-ed up jammer with him. It was crude, but it would have to do. He was at his best in a rush anyway. Logan seemed to have forgotten his feud with Cordelia and the Middleman was obviously anxious for Wendy's safety. That left him to be the sensible one. Again. And he didn't care, no, he didn't.

They found the abandoned wheelbarrow with bits of rocksalt strewn everywhere. The girls had obviously tried to defend themselves by every means necessary. Apparently, it hadn't been enough, because they were gone and the Doctor could only hope they were alive. Rachini wasn't known for taking hostages. He didn't monologue, he didn't go for the pain; he went for the kill. He was smart and not given to normal villain foibles.

“What's the plan, Doctor?” Logan asked, practically jumping out of his skin.

“Give us a moment,” the Doctor said, thinking and scanning and doing everything his enormous Timelord brain could think of.

“They might be hurt,” Logan insisted.

“Since when do you care what happens to her?” he snapped back, concentrating on his screwdriver.

Logan's eyes narrowed in a frighteningly convincing Cordelia impression.

“Since your cold alien hearts both died. Now, do you know where they are?”

“I can trace the watch,” he said. “Let's go.”

They turned and made their way back toward the Tardis, the Middleman taking the wheelbarrow along.

“I might sound like an old song here,” the Middleman said, seemingly having no trouble with the heavy wheeling, “but don't you think you'd better put your differences aside? Lives are at stake.”

“Oh, good, none of us were aware of that,” Logan said sarcastically.

“No need to get snippy,” the Middleman said. “I don't want to intrude, but it's my firm belief that when people work as a team they have to be able to depend on each other. If I have troubles, I bring them on you and vice versa. For the sake of those girls and yourselves, I hope you'll come to realize that yourself.”

The Doctor ignored the two of them, even if he realized the Middleman's sage advice was worth hearing. Didn't mean he was going to follow it. He had better things to do, like finding out where Rachini was. The little humans could sort out their own problems, and hopefully, by this time next week, he'd be all alone in the Tardis with no more fictional realities, companions, or anything.

“Here's the plan,” he said, turning back to the others as they reached the Tardis, interrupting a promising lecture on responsibility from the Middleman and a sarcasm tirade from Logan. “Using the trace from my screwdriver, I'll pilot the Tardis there, then use the jammer to keep his gun and watch from working. You're on distraction duty, Middleman - whatever you can to keep him away from little Logan who'll be going after the girls. Are we clear?”

“Oh, crystal clear,” said Logan with mock enthusiasm. “Just one more thing. Where does the precious rocksalt that the girls sacrificed themselves for come in?”

“Before we go,” the Doctor said, smiling, “you're going to have a bath.”

Logan's face defied description.

***

When the most terrifying thing she'd ever seen, and that included Angelus, had come at her, Cordelia had not blanched. She'd called Logan, while throwing rocksalt with her other hand. Her first shot had landed square on Rachini's nose, causing him to sneeze violently which let Wendy get off a couple of shots. Her gun was largely useless, but she got off one lucky hit on the wristwatch of doom, which had seemed to render it incapable of firing missiles at them. He still had other kinds of weapons, though, one of which made Wendy's cell phone bite the big one, making it incapable of ever making another call.

“Get behind me,” Wendy shouted. Cordelia obeyed, grabbing handfuls of rocksalt as she went, and then as quickly as possible, rubbed it all over herself and sprinkled it down Wendy's shirt and rubbed it on her arms.

“I'm not getting fresh or anything,” she said, trying to ignore the recovering super-villain headed for them. “I just figure he shouldn't be able to physically touch us under any conditions.”

“Oh, I'm so good with that,” Wendy agreed, firing. Rachini stopped, considered them for a moment, and then smiled.

He disappeared, and Cordelia was about ready to heave a sigh of relief when she realized she had disappeared too, as had Wendy.

“Where are we?” she hissed to her gadget-knowledgeable friend.

“Teleported to his evil lair's my guess,” came the answer.

“Perfect.”

“Hold on to this a second,” Wendy said, giving Cordelia her gun and fishing around in her utility belt. Yes, she had a utility belt. Cordelia wondered if it was required Middleman gear, and if so, made a mental note to never sign up for that particular job.

“What are you doing?” she asked, looking around for any signs of Rachini.

“Finding protection,” Wendy hissed, pulling out a little gray round thing of some kind.

“It's time to die,” a high, grating voice said from behind them. They whirled to find Rachini pointing his gun at them.

“What, no monologue?” Wendy asked. He fired and she hit a button on her gray thing.

The blast never reached them, instead seeming to be absorbed by a translucent shield that shimmered around the two girls.

Cordelia made another mental note to at least think about getting some of those and carrying them in her purse.

Rachini's eyes narrowed and he tried again, varying his shots and positions. Nothing worked. He advanced toward them and Cordelia was about to get ready to stick out her tongue when his hand reached through the shield and closed about her neck. Her throat constricted and suddenly breathing didn't come naturally anymore.

He sneezed again and withdrew his hand and Cordelia fell back, rubbing her throat.

“Rock salt? Not a bad idea,” Wendy said, smearing herself more thoroughly.

“Oh yeah,” Cordelia agreed. Rachini said some foul things that the Tardis really should have been more considerate about airing in her head and stomped out.

“Okay, let's get out of here,” Wendy said.

“I don't think he's just gonna let us,” Cordelia said, taking stock of their surroundings – a natural cave formation, rocksalt free, and probably deep underground. They had a wall to their backs and the only way out looked to be the one Rachini had taken.

“True, but most likely he's gone to find another way to kill us,” Wendy said. “This shield will block all projectile weapons and the rocksalt should keep him from physically slaughtering us, but he could always cut our throats with a knife.”

“After you,” Cordelia said. They cautiously made their way toward the exit. Rachini was waiting for them. They backed up again and headed for the wall. Rachini watched them go, a nasty look in his eyes.

“Was he?”

“Yeah.”

“Eating a-”

“Yup.”

“I think I'm gonna be sick.”

“Me too.”

They waited.

“How long does that thing last?”

“Not long.”

“The Doctor better get his big head over here soon,” Cordelia said.

“I'm sure they’re all on their way. Seriously, I know what you told me, but I don't think you have any reason to worry about him rescuing you.”

“The man unnerves me,” Cordelia admitted. “Me, Cordelia Chase, unnerver of men everywhere! The stupidest thing is that, well, he's amazing. He's like a kid sometimes and he's exciting and I've seen some cool things since I've been with him and he knows so much, but...I have this thing about the people I love not letting me help them.”

Wendy smiled at her and Cordelia grimaced.

“Crap, I just said I loved him, didn't I?”

“You sure did.”

“Well, forget it. It's not love love, it's just that the stupid idiot made me care about him and won't return the favor.”

“Can't help you there. My boss is all about showing the caring. He's probably recording a stupid Code 47 for me as we speak.”

“Stupid what?”

“I guess it's not stupid. There was a time when I recorded one too. A message for if we die on a mission. And sappy as it is, it's nice knowing he cares.”

“Gee, thanks for making me feel better!”

“Sorry. Not my intent. I guess I'm just going to channel him for a second and say that even if the Doctor has this emotional closeness issue, you can't give up on him because it can get lonely saving the world or the universe as it may be and whatever trauma happened to him, he obviously needs help getting over it.”

“How touching,” Rachini said, coming back in, aforementioned knives clutched in his fists.

“Been nice knowing ya,” Wendy said, gripping her gun.

Cordelia moved into the fighting stance Angel had taught her and wished for a sword.

“You too.”

She heard a sound and there had never been a more blessed noise than the engines of the Tardis

***

The Doctor tried to steady the Tardis as it materialized inside a cave. There was no smooth floor and they ended up on an incline and everything looked rather tilted, which could be fun later on.

Logan and the Middleman re-entered the room smelling heavily salted. The Doctor suppressed a smile, never completely done amazing himself at making his companions do things that he had no intention of doing. And as horrible as this situation was, he was glad to be doing things again.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” the Middleman replied clearly.

Logan simply nodded and the Doctor opened the doors.

There was an explosion in their general direction and Logan barely made it back inside before the flames engulfed him.

“Jammer!” Logan cried and the Doctor nodded impatiently.

“I've got it, now go!”

The Doctor pushed harder on the jammer controls and there was the sound of cursing from outside and he smiled.

Logan and the Middleman slipped out and the Doctor sat down on the Tardis steps, as it were, to keep the situation under control. From what he could see, Cordelia and Wendy were fighting to keep from being knifed. They also were covered in rocksalt and he grinned. Clever girl, that Cordelia.

The Middleman fired, his weapons more effective now that the Doctor was jamming the wristwatch. Rachini fumbled with his buttons and it suddenly got a lot harder. Rachini turned to face the Middleman allowing Cordelia and Wendy to slip around him and join Logan who was slinking toward them in the back.

“Did you miss me?” he asked.

“Like a skin rash,” Cordelia replied and hugged him. Logan's face contorted weirdly, but he seemed to get over it and beckoned them to follow him back to the Tardis.

“What about him?” Cordelia asked, gesturing at the Middleman who was bleeding from the forehead.

Wendy shouted in anger and dropped her now useless shield gadget, shooting her gun with reckless abandon.

“Atta girl, Dubbie,” the Middleman said, bringing his own gun into play.

“Well, I guess we're useless,” Cordelia said.

“Yeah,” Logan agreed. “You noticed that too, huh?”

“If I had a sword...” she said.

“If I had a gun...” he replied.

“Trust me, that guy eats guns for breakfast.”

“How indigestible of him.”

“He also eats other things.”

“Do I wanna know?”

“Not really, might do indigestible things to you.”

“Well, we can't have that.”

“Oh, no, we must protect your tender tummy.”

“I gotta be on the go to rescue Kendall lookalikes.”

“I thought you didn't even like this Kendall.”

“I don't, but it's hard not to think about her when it looks like she's standing right in front of me.”

“I apologize for looking like your cradle-robbing girlfriend, but I doubt Veronica would be happy to hear you talking like that.”

“Nope, but then she generally doesn't like anything I have to say.”

“Considering how many times she's taken you back, I doubt it.”

“When did you get quite so savvy?”

“Since being forced to face my own fictional mortality.”

“How nice for you.”

“Oh, it was just lovely, smothered in salt, nasty villains trying to kill me.”

“At least you didn't have to bathe in it.”

“You did what?”

“The Doctor's idea.”

“Oh, he's right back on top again, isn't he?”

“Seems to have snapped out of it.”

“Could you two quit gabbing and join the rest of us?” the Doctor finally called in exasperation, glad they were back to bantering instead of fighting and not wanting to have to deal with why he felt that way.

“Excuse me,” Logan said politely to Cordelia and headed back toward the Doctor's side.

Wendy and the Middleman were still fighting the good fight and Rachini was very hampered by his lack of gadgetry. But the Doctor could see that wouldn't last very long. Rachini never stayed down forever, even if he appeared to be having an allergy attack.

A blow from Rachini's steel gloves sent Wendy reeling and after knocking the Middleman backwards, Rachini turned towards her and aimed the knife downwards.

“Hey!” Cordelia shouted and Rachini didn't even blink. The Middleman threw himself on Rachini's leg, dragging him far enough away that the knife only grazed Wendy's thigh. Logan rushed in and dragged her toward the safety of the Tardis.

“Hey, hey,” she said, staggering to her feet. “There are hands that go there but they are not the hands of you.”

“Oh, I'll just leave you to it then,” he said, but he let go.

“Doctor, do something spectacular,” Cordelia said, watching the Middleman fighting for his life and probably getting ready to help, sword or no sword.

“What makes you think I can do anything?” he asked slyly.

“Because you're the most wonderful man in the universe,” she said and obviously meant it.

“Shall we leave you two alone?” Logan asked.

“Say, Logan?” the Doctor queried.

“Yes, Doctor?”

“Ever wonder what happened to the rest of the rocksalt?”

“Why yes, Doctor, it's been weighing heavily on my mind.”

“Rest easy then,” the Doctor replied, grinning and turned the jammer around.

“Rachini,” he said, standing up tall.

While the alien had ignored everything said to him since they'd met, he didn't ignore the Doctor. As he turned, the Middleman kicked him heavily in the back and as the villain stumbled forward, flipped out of the way.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to stop hurting people.”

“That's not possible.”

“Probably not, but you always get a choice and this is the one I'm offering you. I'll put you back in your world if you surrender and you can do whatever fictional things they come up with for you.”

“You can say what you like,” Rachini answered with a sneer, “but I don't negotiate. I kill. That's my whole plan.”

“And it's...” prompted Wendy. Rachini didn't even look at her.

“It's not sheer elegance in its simplicity, Wendy,” the Doctor said. “It's just evil. And this is what you do to evil.” He released the button he'd been holding down and the rocksalt flew out of the end of the jammer and went straight past Rachini's shields and into his skin, into his bloodstream and the villain faltered, choked, turned red and fell down, dying as he hit the ground.

“That's the first time I've ever seen anyone killed by salt,” Cordelia commented.

“Watch Supernatural sometime,” Wendy answered.

“I wish those boys had had a better upbringing,” the Middleman said and sighed.

“What are you even talking about?” Logan asked. “Never mind, a show after my time, right? Why is everything after my time?”

“You really should know about Buffy,” the Doctor said, “your family is in the entertainment business after all.”

“Blame me for having a life,” Logan muttered and the Doctor could practically see him resolving to watch every single one of the shows when he got back. He chuckled and felt better than he had in awhile, even if he knew Logan's desires probably wouldn't get realized.

“Right, well, time to get going,” he said. “We've got to get somewhere and we've only got a hundred years to do it in.”

“I daresay you'll make it,” the Middleman said, actually daring to clap the Doctor on the back. “This is a fine team you've got here.”

“Come in, and try not to bleed on the carpet,” the Doctor said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

Once they had all trooped into the Tardis and various medical concerns had been taken care of and the Marvellians had been alerted that the danger was over, the Doctor did some configuring with the Tardis and addressed his make-believe charges.

“Now, you guys know what's going to happen. You're going to get put into a comic book. The show's over.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Wendy said. “We get it already. We're alive and well in fandom and that's all I really care about. I don't want to live in reality if it means being away from certain people.”

“Well said, Dubbie,” the Middleman said proudly. “Send us home, Doctor.”

“And heaven help home,” the Doctor said.

The Middleman shook hands with all of them as did Wendy and it was all really kind of sad, but the Doctor in no way regretted sending them away. One set of irrational humans was enough.

“Don't forget what I said about identities,” Cordelia told Wendy.

“Don't forget what I said,” Wendy replied. The Doctor bit his tongue. It was getting harder for him not to make comments about that not being possible.

The Middleman clapped Logan on the shoulder this time, called him a fine young man, at which Logan did roll his eyes, and then they were gone.

“Well, alone at last,” the Doctor said.

“Oh, the Doctor missed having it be just the three of us,” Logan said.

Cordelia nodded, grinning like a Chesire cat.

“And I've decided it doesn't even matter if he'll admit it or not.”

“You two are something so ridiculous I don't even have words for it,” the Doctor said. “And that's saying something.”

“It is indeed,” said Logan. “So, Doc-” he ignored the vicious glare the Doctor sent him- “where is Chuck Cunningham, huh? Why does he elude us so?”

“Probably to avoid you,” the Doctor said, and stalked out of the room.

“You really are the most wonderful man in the universe.” He could just barely hear Cordelia say it under her breath and he almost went back inside to hug her, but he was stopped, mostly by a snap in the air and the appearance of a huge crowd of people that he grew to realize, with a sinking feeling, was practically the entire casts of both Boy Meets World and Saved by the Bell.

Chapter Text

It was hard to pilot the Tardis alone - the Doctor was in full realization of that, having done it for most of his nine hundred plus years. Back in his first body it had been nearly impossible even with Susan's help. But it was infinitely harder to do when he had a bunch of teenagers and a motorcycle-riding English teacher shouting in his ear and messing with the console and wandering around the Tardis. Logan and Cordelia were no help at all as they sat back and laughed at his discomfort. He swore that if Miss Bliss and that Minkus kid didn't stop fighting, he was going to do something incredibly drastic.

And then they were gone. Mercifully, they were all gone. His two companions were left grinning at him and he glared at them as ferociously as he knew how. He wanted to take them straight to some ice rings he knew of in a galaxy far far away and leave them there for a week, and said as much.

“Don't threaten us so, Doc,” Logan said, having developed a horrible propensity for calling him that. “We'd never survive without you.”

“And Logan would be dead,” Cordelia said sweetly. The Doctor turned away and leaned over the Tardis console, trying to make sure everything was okay.

“No, no, no!” he cried, momentarily wishing he had hair so he could pull at it in anguish. “I wish I hadn't send them back, I'd make them-”

“Something wrong, I presume?” Logan asked.

“Brilliant deduction there,” the Doctor snarled. “Those idiots have gone and ruptured and pulled and broken and tweaked their little brains out and it's going to take me a week to fix it all.”

“Anything we can do to help?” Cordelia asked politely.

“You have any idea how to take apart and put back together my fabulous ship with parts unheard of on Earth?”

“I'm not going to dignify that with a response,” she said loftily. “I think I'm going to step on through to the wardrobe. If you'll excuse me...” She exited and the Doctor groaned; he was definitely having a bad influence on her.

“I suppose you want to do something like that too?” he inquired of Logan. “You want to swan off and leave me to do all the work?”

“Of course,” Logan said and exited, presumably toward the kitchen. The Doctor couldn't really blame him. He was being unreasonable. But he had a perfect right to be and he was going to keep on with it. He started pulling up panels and getting out tools. It was going to be a long week.

***

Logan caught up with Cordelia before she could get to the wardrobe.

“I wonder if something's really wrong,” she said.

“Nah, I think he's grousing for the sake of it. You know how he is, he doesn't want to admit he wants us around and, let's face it, we weren't very helpful during the sitcom invasion.”

“No, but you have to admit, it was funny.”

“Hilarious,” Logan agreed, “but I'm sure he didn't appreciate it. I don't suggest letting up on him for a moment, but he is the designated driver in the universe of the unknown.”

“I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that,” Cordelia said, rolling her eyes.

“Hold up,” he said. “I want something to eat. Yes, I know, again.”

“Get it yourself,” she said. “I'm not your cook.”

He looked at her with an odd sense of déjà vu before answering.

“I wasn't suggesting you cook for me, I was just saying wait for me while I grab a sandwich. My entire life isn't about you, you know.”

“But you want me to wait for you,” she said smoothly as they entered the kitchen. Further discussion was disrupted by the fact that there was a guy about Logan's age shoveling food down his mouth at the kitchen table.

“Who are you?” Cordelia asked.

“Hi,” the unknown answered. “Sweet setup, dude. The name's Cody.” The guy started laughing for no reason and then Logan started laughing.

“Cody Lambert?” he asked during chuckles.

“Yeah, how'd you know? Are you, like, psychic? Cause that'd be way too cool.”

“I'm ashamed to say I used to have a crush on Dana. Probably where I got my Veronica problem.”

“You know the Danester? Right on. So, who are you?”

“The name's Logan and this is Cordelia and do you have any idea where you are?”

“Not really, but as long as there's eats, I figure I'm good.”

“Oh, the Doctor is going to love this,” Cordelia muttered. Logan caught her eye and motioned back toward the hall.

“Be right back, Codeman, keep eating.”

“Radical.” Cody gave them a chin up gesture and kept right on eating.

Out in the hall, Logan leaned against the wall and started to laugh in earnest.

“What is going on? Who is that? What show?”

“That is Cody Lambert from Step by Step.”

“I only watched the later episodes. Had he Chuckied himself?”

“Yeah, he just kinda disappeared. Later on, I think he calls his family or something. Very Brady Bunch show.”

“It's that kind of a day. Should I go get the Doctor?”

“Yeah, might as well, tell him he missed one.”

“He'll love that,” she said, smiling, and left. Logan re-entered the kitchen and joined Cody at the table.

“May I?” he asked.

“Sure thing, I guess it's like your food anyway, huh?”

“Not really. I'm a guest, like you. So, Cody, do you believe in aliens?”

“Can you doubt it, bro? There's infinite signs.”

“Well, then you're in luck, because this is a space ship and you're being piloted by an alien. You're not really real, but a character on a tv sitcom called Step by Step and somehow you've vanished from it.”

“Gnarly!” Cody said, a big grin spreading over his face. “An adventure among the stars.”

“Well, you're taking it well,” Logan said, finishing his sandwich and taking a big bite. It was rather refreshing, like being with a spacier Space Imp who'd spent too much time living in a van.

“Life's too short to be all freaking out about stuff,” Cody replied, leaning back with gusto. “Gotta enjoy it all.”

“Well, just to warn you, this alien is rather short-tempered and he might not appreciate your blasé attitude.”

“He'll chill out or no skin off my nose. Righteously weird expression, huh?”

“Very. His name is the Doctor.”

“Sweet name. So, what do we do as fictional characters and all? Cause you're, like, not real and everything too?”

“As fictional as Santa Claus. We pretty much look for a way to become unreal again. We're not supposed to be here, messing up the fabric of reality and all and the Doctor seems awful picky about the state of reality. He likes having us around though, so just weather through his grumpiness.”

“No worries, dude, I can out smile any grump any time.”

“I think you can,” Logan said quietly as the Doctor and Cordelia swept into the room.

“Hey, Doctor Man,” Cody called out. “Great grub!”

“Logan, tell me you didn't prepare him against me?” the Doctor said. Logan simply folded his arms behind his head and smiled. “Right, well, Cody, since Logan's filled you in on the situation; he can take care of you during your stay in Casa de Tardis.”

“You're not gonna send him home?” Logan asked, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“Why no,” the Doctor said with too sweet a face, “I'm afraid I can't just right now. Our little friends from before have damaged the circuits I need. We're lucky we were already in the Vortex when it happened. So, I'll just leave Cody in your capable hands.”

He left and Logan glared at Cordelia, who'd started laughing.

“It'll be your turn next,” he mumbled.

“You shouldn't have tried to one up the Doctor,” she said.

“You try all the time,” he snapped.

“Oh no, you're not getting mad at me. Besides, I thought you liked him.”

“I do,” Logan said, glancing at Cody, who stood up and offered his hand to Cordelia.

“Cody. What's your inevitably babe-a-licious name?”

“I'm Cordelia,” she answered.

“And do you hail from the lovely land of make-believe?”

“Yes,” she said. “The grown-up part.”

“Cool. Well, would you like to join us for a repast of fantastical proportions?”

Cordelia raised one eyebrow at Logan who shrugged and smiled, not quite willing to let go of the humor of the situation.

“I'd be happy to.” Cordelia sat down graciously and started nibbling on some food. She was a big eater, Logan had seen her in action, but they'd had a huge meal earlier with the rest of the sitcom people.

“So, Cody,” Logan asked, “why'd you decide to leave the Lamberts?”

“Well, it wasn't really a decision, but I kinda just was gone, you know? I think so. And then I guess I was here with you guys.” He grinned at them and Logan was amazed at how much food the guy could eat. Cordelia sat upright and started chewing faster, a sure sign that something was bothering her.

“Logan.”

“Yes, my sweet?”

“Shut up and listen to me. You and I need to start using our heads. You know how the Doctor's so evasive when it comes to how he sends them back home?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, think about it. There's something fishy about how he doesn't want to talk about it. And about how desperate he was with Cecily and with needing to make sure everyone goes back to their own timeline and how he's cheating somehow.”

“He's the Doctor; he's like that with everything.”

“Something's different with us,” she insisted. “Why doesn't he just send us home? He knows how surely. He knows where to go to find whoever's doing this. He keeps talking about how he doesn't want us here, about how he has to fix reality. Why us, and not the Space Imp, and how was Bo able to go back, but not the Imp, and why didn't he care about Rachini?”

“What do you suggest we do about it?” Logan said, intrigued despite himself. Cordelia was more fanatical about getting under the Doctor's skin then he was, but he'd always had the same questions she had.

“We need to find out more about this reality question,” she said. “I really wish Wesley was here with his books or even Giles. But, we should also find out all we can about our own shows.”

“The library and the cinema it is then,” Logan said, immediately claiming the cinema portion of the task.

“Sweet,” Cody said, finishing his sandwich. “Let's go, dudes.”

Logan and Cordelia looked at each other.

***

Cordelia might never admit it, but it felt really good to be in a library and researching something. There was a certain familiarity to it that made her feel like she was home again with Wesley in the next room, Angel just coming down the stairs, Gunn sorting out weapons and Fred making some sort of crazy invention out of toothpicks and a toaster. After they'd all put their heads together and figured out the problem, they'd go and slay the monster and perhaps go out to Caritas for a drink where Lorne would call them all sugary nicknames. She was getting seriously nostalgic.

It hadn't all been fun and games though. She could remember serious pain and angst. And she couldn't even remember all of it, really. There was some deep wound that she couldn't quite remember. Something about betrayal and suffocation and there was a baby and Angel looking more hurt than she'd ever seen him. Then darkness and being stifled and suppressed and in pain. So much fun. Sometimes Cordelia thought that must be what it would be like to be the Doctor, because when she looked at him she could see those half-remembered things in his eyes. Despite that, she wanted to go home and she wanted the familiar and to have her friends back. She wanted to feel like she was doing something - to feel the results of it. She even missed her visions. She made a mental note to ask the Doctor about them, because from what she'd seen, everyone else got to bring their things with them, why not her?

She walked through the seemingly endless library, running her fingers over the books as she passed. She wasn't really sure what she was looking for. Universe Mechanics, perhaps? As always, though she was never really sure how, she could feel some sort of guidance from the Tardis. That would be something she missed when she went back home. Perhaps she was better equipped to become friends with the ship than Logan because she was so used to Phantom Dennis and feeling communication rather than having it spoken to her. Whatever the reason, she was grateful for the Tardis and somehow, she thought the Tardis was thankful for her and that she was there for the Doctor. She came to a section of books and felt the impulse to stop. There was a cushy armchair and an open table, so she sat and began to research.

What she read was surprising and she didn't understand half of it. There were a lot of books in what she could only assume was Gallifreyan and that didn't get translated. There the Tardis seemed to be as stubborn as the Doctor. But what Cordelia did find out was mind-numbing. She stayed in the library for hours, for days, doing more research than she'd ever done before.

***

Logan quickly decided that to like a character on tv and be with them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week or whatever alien time they were on, were two entirely different things. Having Cody follow him around was exhausting and he quickly repented of ever trying to get the best of the Doctor. It was like that for the first ten hours or so. After that, Logan began to feel numb or what he could only term as de-Cody-fied. He soon learned that if he just put a guitar in Cody's hands or showed him a kickboxing ring, the other man would become engrossed for hours in doing absolutely nothing.

Logan used that time to watch the show Veronica Mars. He'd never found something so interesting and so hard to watch. What could you possibly say about yourself as you were forced to re-watch all of your worst decisions? Or perhaps your best. It was the most illuminating experience of his life. There really wasn't anything he could do about what he was seeing. He couldn't stop Lilly's death or his Mom's or keep his father from doing all he did. He couldn't help but see Veronica go through everything she'd gone through, everything he'd done to her.

There was the bus crash. There was Duncan, his best friend, running for freedom with his daughter, there was everything that happened with Hannah, there was Veronica in danger and him on trial for murder. After that, there came Hearst and the rape scandal and Veronica's inability to trust him and Madison and the dean's murder and Piz and Parker and the sheriff race and her telling him off and him coming to her defense and then her walking off alone.

When it was over and the credits rolled for the last time, he sat with tears falling from his eyes. A great tv show, but it was more than that, it was his life. And his life had been far from perfect. He'd done a lot of stupid things and he'd hurt a lot of people. But he decided he liked his end. That was how he wanted to go out, fighting, flippant yet genuine, and caring for Veronica with every fiber of his being. Now, more than ever, he wanted to go home and try and make things right with her.

He wondered how that could possibly work. How could he go home to nothing? Is that why the Imp hadn't wanted to go? He puzzled about it for awhile and then figured that he understood his own show, so now it was time to understand Cordelia's. He hadn't seen her very much in the last few days. She barely came out of the library, just like he barely came out of the cinema. His Cody responsibility could be done because Cody liked to watch tv just as much as Logan and when he was bored, Logan sent him off to do other things. Logan did regret he didn't spend as much time talking with Cody as he could have. The other man was fascinating in his attitude toward life and general lack of intelligence. But there were important things to be done. Both by him and Cordelia.

All Cordelia would say about what she was doing was that she was learning stuff. And the Doctor barely came out of the console room though he checked on them every now and then. Logan didn't necessarily hide what he was doing, but he could somehow sense whenever the Doctor was coming and went to check on Cody during those times. It was all working out a little too nicely.

Logan popped in Buffy the Vampire Slayer so that he could watch Cordelia's first three seasons and after that switched over to Angel. He had, in fact, started a list of shows to watch when he got home, but he had the lingering feeling that it wouldn't matter somehow.

***

The Doctor felt bad about leaving the three of them on their own. After all, it wasn't entirely their fault that his ship had been nearly torn apart by a tide of raging teenagers. He checked on them as much as he could. Logan and Cody seemed to be getting along well, watching a lot of movies and doing a lot of kickboxing. Cordelia spent all her time in the library and he worried over her because he knew she must be trying to figure things out, trying to figure him out. He didn't feel like he should stop her, but he also wasn't sure how ready he was to tell her everything. It was just too raw, too personal for him and too alien for her. So, he spent most of his time fixing the Tardis which legitimately needed to be done. And he tried not to brood and he focused his brain power on what to do with his charges. He felt confident that he could deal with Cody pretty well. Cody had a spot to go back to. He had a phone call to make and a check to write. But...the other two. Maybe the Doctor just didn't want to admit that he didn't want them to go; but he wasn't admitting it, mind you, just admitting maybe he didn't want to. There was a vast difference in those two things and he was going to cling to that. Maybe he was a bit bored. He missed the three of them fighting and the running and the problem solving and the new places and the running and trying to keep them from being merely human.

The Doctor sighed and went back to work, but then he got an idea and he groaned at what an awful idea it was, but he knew he was going to do it anyway. The Tardis was just about done, but he needed to wait about twenty hours for a final test to run, and so he had the time.

***

Cordelia had read until her eyes were starting to fall out of their sockets and now that she knew more than she ever wanted to know about reality and what it should be like, she had started to investigate television tropes and how to diagnose them and show timelines and things like that. Of course, now that Logan had started to watch Angel and was nearing the point where she couldn't remember anymore, she spent more time in the cinema with him and sometimes Cody.

They were just finishing season four and her head was spinning with the consequences of it all. She could feel Logan looking at her, even Cody seemed uncharacteristically silent, but she just shook her head and wiped away some tears.

“I have to get home,” she whispered. “I have to understand this.” Logan nodded.

“How are you planning on doing that? Have you figured out what the Doctor can do with us?”

“Not really,” she said. “It's true what he said, that we were the first to go through into reality. The more things go through the easier it is to send them back because it becomes more obvious where they came from as the 'holes,' for lack of a better word, get bigger. But the whole universe becomes more unstable. We're probably the most stable, but the more characters come through, the less rational or like themselves they'll be. And the less stable the universe. Great, now I'm repeating myself. We need to destroy whatever's doing this or everything could collapse in on itself. And I think the Doctor knows where to send us. I just don't think he can bring himself to. There's something he doesn't want to tell us.”

“We could ask him to go home. Things aren't perfect there. They need us.”

Cordelia looked longingly at the screen where a broken Angel stood, frozen, but she shook her head.

“He needs us too.”

That's when the Doctor stuck his head in the door.

“Come on,” he said. “We've got some place to be.”

“You've fixed it!” Logan said, jumping up.

“Nope, almost.” The Doctor started to walk away and they had no reasonable excuse to not follow.

***

The Doctor had to hide a grin at how curious they must be right now. He had discovered a new sense of fun in the last two hours and he wasn't quite ready to get rid of it. Perhaps it was a bit like Scrooge after his ghostly experience, even though all the Doctor had done was make some food.

“Not all day now,” he said gruffly as he led them, not to the kitchen, but a different room altogether. It was decked out to the nines and, in the antechamber off the main room, outfits were laid out for all three of them.

“This is all totally spectacular, dude,” Cody exclaimed, looking around him like a kid at Christmas and laughing. “I'm suitably impressed.”

“I'm glad you're happy,” the Doctor said sarcastically. “Now get your clothes on, all of you - changing rooms are there - dinner's almost ready.”

Logan and Cordelia exchanged glances and the Doctor was astonished to find that they seemed to have developed some kind of silent communication system. He was proud of them. Any reservations Cordelia seemed to have vanished when she saw her dress. It was black and velvet and perfect and she squealed and hugged him, which he accepted and returned before she went off to change. Logan's own change went rather less dramatically, and Cody's less still, but the two of them looked rather good in their tuxes.

“I better be on my best behavior,” Cody stage-whispered to Logan. “What if I spill soup on this? That'd be a bummer, man.”

“I suggest you utilize your napkin well,” Logan answered and Cody nodded sagely in agreement. The Doctor couldn't stop grinning.

When they were all seated around the table the Doctor served dinner and the other three quickly fell to and enjoyed the amazing meal he'd concocted for them. He'd chosen only the best, using many foreign food stuffs but only ones that could be truly enjoyed by humans.

“Righteous eats,” Cody praised, giving him a thumbs up. “Excellent.”

“You enjoying your stay on the Tardis?” the Doctor asked. “Sorry I haven't been able to send you home just yet.”

“Oh, no worries, Doctor Man. This place is like no other, you know what I mean? Yeah, I hope the fam is doing okay, but otherwise, it's like mega vacation time!”

“I'm a bit surprised we don't have more Step by Step-ers popping in,” the Doctor said.

“Really? Like who?”

“Oh, aunts and sisters and little Lillys and perhaps a crazy French man or two.”

“Sweet,” Cody gushed. “I'd love to see them all. You know, I guess I should say,” he said, his face turning as serious as it was possible for him to get, “that I really do miss them. Like, JT's, like, my best friend and the Danaburger and Frank and all. There's no place like home, even when home is a van.”

The Doctor looked rather thoughtful and watched his companions' faces closely. What he saw decided him. He would send them home and he would try every trick he knew to make sure they ended up happy.

“You all ready to go home then?” he asked. “Cause I can do that much. Circuit's all fixed.”

Cody smiled.

“Awesome. Thanks, man.”

The Doctor nodded, but his gaze didn't stray from Cordelia and Logan. They were doing their silent word thing again and didn't say anything.

“Come on, Cody,” the Doctor said, “you need to make a phone call before we can send you back.”

They had had a lovely dinner party and the Doctor led them all back to the console room where he dialed and handed Cody the phone, then fiddled with knobs and gears.

“So many holes in reality. It's easy to phone through.”

“Can you see what I meant about them becoming more unstable?” Cordelia asked Logan.

“Actually,” Logan said, watching Cody make some rather unique facial expressions, “he's kinda always like that.”

The Doctor shook his head, they'd been snooping.

“Well, then?” he asked again, “what's it to be? Three or two or one?”

“Don't be silly,” Cordelia said, taking his hand and squeezing it. “We're not leaving until this is over.”

“What would you do without us, Doc?” Logan asked, leaning his arm on Cordelia's shoulder. “Besides, we need to meet the guys responsible for our dimension hop.”

“It wasn't a dimension hop,” the Doctor corrected automatically, even if he was only just keeping from jumping up and down. Timelords do not jump for joy.

“Whatever,” Cordelia said, dismissing the matter with her hand. “The point is we're staying, and after you went to all the trouble of giving us a goodbye party.”

“You think I'm so transparent, do you?” the Doctor asked.

“I know you are,” Cordelia said, hugging him. The Doctor hugged her back and then pulled away, shaking his finger at her.

“Stop meddling, I'm not like Angel and I won't cow before you, Cordelia Chase.”

“Nor will I quake in my boots before you, Doctor,” she said defiantly.

He grinned.

“Good. You two just do as you're told and we'll be fine.”

“Were we not already?” asked Logan, jumping up casually on the seat.

The Doctor merely groaned inwardly and turned to Cody who had just hung up.

“Time to go.”

“Thanks for everything,” Cody said, hugging Logan and Cordelia and the Doctor, whether he wanted to be or not. “You are all far-out.”

The Doctor flipped some switches and the last thing they heard was him calling, “Party on!” and his ridiculous laugh.

***

After they'd all cleared up the dinner things and changed back into their regular clothes and the Doctor had gone back to check on the Tardis, Cordelia pulled Logan aside.

“We need to finish talking.”

There was a crack and the air shimmered like it always did when there was a break in reality. A girl on a tricycle way too small for her appeared in the hallway of the Tardis.

“It never really lets up, does it?” Logan asked the air under the sounds of the alarms.

Chapter Text


“And what's your name?” Cordelia asked.

“Judy Winslow, what's yours?” The girl seemed like she would be a little firecracker. Perfect, just what they didn't need, thought Logan.

“I'm Cordelia and this is Logan. We're...friends.”

“I highly doubt it. I've never seen you before. And I don't know what your game is, but I want to go home right now.”

“Maybe we should let her,” Logan said, nudging Cordelia. He was anxious to hear what she wanted to tell him. And the more interruptions, the slower they'd get to Marvello.

“I'm getting the Doctor,” Cordelia said and left Logan alone with the teenage girl who looked about ready to kick his ass.

“Who are you?” she asked him, keeping her distance.

“I'm just a guy,” Logan said, putting his hands up. “Don't be scared.”

“Of you?” she scoffed. “Don't be silly.”

Logan had to smile at her bravado. He liked it. The lights flickered and he frowned. That had never happened before.

“What's going on?” Judy demanded.

The Doctor and Cordelia appeared at the end of the corridor.

“What's with the lights, Doc?” Logan asked, concerned.

“Reality's crumbling, as per usual,” the Doctor said, sounding tired. “I'm going to send her home now. You and Cordelia go and get ready to land. I'm getting us to Marvello now!”

Logan and Cordelia exchanged a glance and did what he said. The last thing Logan heard was Judy's defiant voice.

“You touch me and I'll have my dad put you in jail so fast your head will spin, mister!”

“Tell me,” Logan said.

The lights flickered again and Cordelia looked worried.

“I was afraid of this. The more characters keep punching holes into reality, the more unstable it gets. We have to stop these aliens. We can't keep stopping to send individuals home. I don't want to tell the Doctor that, but I'm sure he knows.”

“Probably,” Logan agreed. “But tell me about us. What did you want to say?”

“We're, well, we're real now, but we don't really exist. We might seem all personality-imbued and real on tv, but we're not. We're following a script laid out for us. If I ever get my hands on a certain Joss Whedon, he'll be singing a different tune, I can tell you.”

“What does that matter? We already knew that.”

“So, everything that's happening to us now, that's real. What becomes of that when we go back to La La land? Are we some sort of mutant hybrid? I don't think so. I don't think there's any point to you trying to remember new shows to watch or the Doctor telling us anything about his past, because we won't remember it!”

Logan blinked and tried to process the information.

“Then why bother to keep us?”

“Well, I don't think he did know where to send us at first. Now we're all he has and he doesn't want to let us go and frankly, we kinda don't want to go, but if he doesn't, the universe will collapse! He's making too many concessions and that's partly on us.”

Logan shook his head, but the whole Tardis shook before he could answer and a blonde girl popped up in front of them.

***

The Doctor massaged his aching shoulder where Judy Winslow had used whatever moves Carl had taught her and bruised him. He had to laugh at her antics though he could understand her fear and applauded her sense. Anyway, she was gone now and he didn't have any more time for niceties. He could feel all of space quivering and crumbling and it was all his fault, even if he hadn't started it. Logan and Cordelia came back in the console room leading Becky Connor.

“Number one, I presume,” he said.

“She's a bit confused,” Cordelia said.

“And I don't blame her, but it's time to get unconfused. She, at least, has a future.”

The Doctor threw some switches and she appeared, but another girl popped up in her place. Logan and Cordelia jumped even though they had to be used to such things happening.

“Becky number two,” the Doctor said, waggling his fingers. “Goodbye.” She disappeared and girl number one appeared.

“What is this?” Logan asked. The girl raised an eyebrow.

“Who are you all?”

“She doesn't remember us,” Cordelia said, a too-knowing tone in her voice. The Doctor didn't have time to think about that. More switch throwing and she was gone, but number two was back and he'd expected that, so he made her go too. Then they both appeared together and the Tardis started shaking and they all fell to the ground.

The Doctor sent both Beckys back to where they came from and then hastily set a course to Marvello.

“We've got to solve this now,” he said. “Go, go and search the ship. Find any more characters, because we need to make sure the Tardis can get where it needs to go. I don't have time to explain, but there are too many rips in reality and we've got to send you all back.”

Logan and Cordelia didn't argue, just went and did what he'd asked them to. He'd never appreciated them more. There were more alarms going off and Mandy, Founder of Mandyville, formerly of Washington DC, popped into the Tardis. The Doctor smiled, because what else could he do?

“Fantastic to meet you.”

***

Cordelia and Logan were searching every nook and cranny of the Tardis that they knew. Cordelia knew it couldn't be everything because that ship was more packed full of secrets than anything she'd ever seen.

“So, tell me more,” Logan urged.

“This may sound stupid-” Cordelia began.

“Never stopped you before,” Logan said, grinning, but seemingly more from habit than anything else.

“-but, I think the Doctor's afraid to let us go. I mean, he wants to be alone and have his privacy back, but whatever happened to him - that war, his people being gone, it's made him terrified of being alone. So, he should have sent us home a long time ago, but our continued presence here has helped cause these cracks to rupture too far. That and whoever's doing this being maniacally and trope-crazy.”

“The Doctor already blames himself too much,” Logan said, ducking under a doorway.

“You don't have to tell me that,” Cordelia snorted. “The man's a one man brooding machine. Why couldn't I have gotten a break from that?” she asked the air.

“But back to how we get back. About what he's not telling us. Are you saying we're going to die?”

“I don't know for sure. But that seems likely, doesn't it? Let's take it all in point, okay? The Cowhead was real, not fictional, so he just needed to send it home. Okay, that's fine. Rimmer left his show and kept coming back for more episodes. The Doctor did cheat a bit because there was supposed to be a version of Rimmer in between where he sent him, but that's really okay for that show, believe me. It's ridiculous. The point is that there was more for Rimmer to do. But Bo...she wasn't supposed to be anywhere. She didn't exist anymore. If she'd just suddenly shown up in the box at the end of the movie, that would change things, but the Doctor did it so that even though she was in the box, nobody saw her in the movie. But, she was physically there, so even though Toy Story has ended, she was there when it went into fandom limbo or whatever.”

“I don't get it,” Logan said, frustrated. “I should've done trope studying too.”

“No, you just got to watch a lot of tv,” she said.

“It was hard...” he said quietly.

“I imagine so,” she said without spite and then kept on with her trope list. “Okay, so, after Bo came the Imp. I'm not quite sure what the Doctor did, but the Imp had literally no place to be sent back to. He was kaput from his show. If the Doctor had sent him back, he wouldn't have existed. That seems like death to me. I think the Imp knew that, didn't he keep saying things like that? So, he had the Doctor cheat. The Doctor made him real somehow, like some weird Pinocchio science, and sealed up his hole. But it was a cheat, because there's one more thing in this universe that isn't supposed to be here. The universe likes to keep track.”

“Remind me not to piss off the universe,” Logan said, as they turned to make their way back to the console room.

“So, after the Imp comes Cecily and we know how that turned out. She was supposed to die and the Doctor basically just let her say what she wanted even though it was going to happen anyway.”

“You know how torn up he was about that.”

“I know.” Cordelia punched the wall as they walked. “That doesn't make it any easier.”

“Okay, go on.”

“After Cecily came the Middleman and Wendy and you remember how he kept telling them that they had to know they weren't going back to their show?”

“Which is weird if they're really going back to be in comic books.”

“Still, they had a place to go back to.”

“Yeah, but they won't be like themselves now. They don't even exist in the first place,” Cordelia answered, frustrated both by her inability to explain and her inability to understand.

“Hey, don't short out on me, Chase. Keep going.”

“Okay, and Rachini died and that didn't matter to his timeline because no one knows what happened to him anyway. Good riddance there. And then there's Cody, but he had another appearance on the show to make, so the Doctor sent him to that.”

“So, basically I'm going to die,” Logan said. “I have no show to go back to. We're canceled. I don't have any comic books.”

“Just a whole lot of fanfiction,” Cordelia said. “And I think the Doctor knows that and he's keeping you here, but the more you stay here, the more real you get and the more you'll have to lose when you go back. I don't really know. But I just think we need to be ready to do the self-sacrificing thing for the sake of the universe.”

“How thrilling,” Logan said, but he gave her a short, tight nod and she knew he agreed with her.

There had been many times in her life when Cordelia Chase had been prepared to die and she thought that now seemed as good a time as any. From having seen what happened to her on Angel, she wasn't sure she wanted to go back. If only to be with her friends again - yes, she did. But, as far as she knew, she was lying in a coma. Or to coin a trope phrase - Put On A Long Bus Trip.

The Tardis shook again and they stumbled on their way into the console room.

***

The Doctor looked up as his companions reeled into the room looking like they'd had a night on the town.

“Welcome back,” he said, grinning. “Don't you look lovely?”

“Flattery, Doc,” Logan said wryly. There was a flash and a redhead in a blue spandex suit appeared. Logan's mouth opened wide and the Doctor shook his head.

“Sorry, Beverly,” he said, “we don't have time to talk to you right now. I'd love to, really. You were fantastic, but the universe is crumbling.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but the Doctor flipped switches and she went.

Beverly Crusher went and Kate Pulaski came and the Doctor sighed again. He'd love to speak with her too. She'd made the second season of Next Generation a positive delight, but he didn't have the time.

She'd just started to speak when he sent her away.

“Doctor, I know you know this, but we can't afford these kinds of setbacks,” Cordelia began, almost apologetically. “Every time we get a new person the Tardis has to stop and we're that much closer to never getting there.”

“I told the Tardis to stop accepting them,” the Doctor said wearily, energetically pushing switches and levers and pulling knobs and hitting buttons. “But the resistance is kinda thin with her just trying to keep her place in reality. She's doing her best. Those Trikini must be doing a mass pullout.”

There was a long silence where the Tardis whirred and shook and the column went up and down and his companions didn't speak, for which the Doctor was thankful. They were very close to their target and he wanted to land in one piece and, hopefully, the right time. It was embarrassing how much he'd let his own personal feelings interfere with his duty to the universe at large. Still, he wasn't going to think about that.

Simultaneously, there was a large whump sound and a flash. They'd landed on Marvello and there was a skeleton wearing a ski cap and skis sitting on the console.

“Do I even want to know?” Cordelia asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Soap operas,” the Doctor sighed and sent poor Bobby back to the attic. “Are you two ready to meet your maker, so to speak?”

“Very funny,” Cordelia said, walking past him.

“If I don't meet Chuck Cunningham, then I'll be disappointed,” Logan said, following her.

He was going to miss them, and gloating wasn't refined, thank you very much.

Chapter Text

There were a couple of things the Doctor was sure of. One, he was responsible for genocide and he was now the only one of his kind. Two, in order to keep that from happening again, he had to make some difficult choices. And he wasn't an idiot. No, he was very, very clever and there wasn't a chance in hell that his two fantastically intelligent companions hadn't worked this out on their own without his ever having to say a thing. Not that he shouldn't have said something. Not that he didn't wish he'd told them everything. But there was no time now and the one thing he wasn't sure of was the situation on Marvello and how he would be fixing it.

The heat blasted into them as they stepped outside. The temperature was definitely right this time and he could only conclude they'd landed in the right era. If he hadn't been the Doctor, he would've taken off his jacket. Thank goodness for inner temperature regulation. His companions weren't so lucky and immediately started complaining.

“Keep your beaks shut,” he hissed at them.

Cordelia sent him an annoyed look, but acquiesced.

They'd landed in a compound of some kind. The Tardis, with all of her effort, had followed the neon, blinking signal of so many characters being blasted from nothing to something and landed them, probably dead center, in the midst of where they needed to be. The Doctor spared a quick caress to her outside as he locked the door.

“Little lesson on Trikini,” he told them, moving silently. “They're tall, skinny and gloomy as all get out. They've got hairy faces over droopy mouths. Real long necks and white skin. Other than that, they're fairly humanoid. But they're quick and they don't need to breathe underwater. They can stand the heat better than most though this temperature is just riding at their limits so they probably come down from their ships in shifts or something like that. They don't like the concept of dance, but their history is a vastly beautiful one when it comes to literature and fiction. Makes sense, yeah? They were fairly up technologically until the war and then they were decimated and most of their culture dissipated. A much smaller telepathic ability than I have, with a slightly elevated sense of time and space.”

“Then that's why they're doing this,” Cordelia said.

The Doctor looked at her with approval.

“I would hazard so. Still, only one way to be sure. Let's sneak around some. I've got to find the machine they're doing this with or I won't know how to stop it.”

They nodded and followed him down the corridor. It was a sprawling complex built over the ruin of a Marvellian city. It was obvious where the two architectures came together, the mis-matched patchwork of wood and steel and stone spreading as far as he could see. There was some sort of cooling system trying to work, but it paled when the hastily built walls let in blasts of the hot air from outside. The Doctor imagined that most of their power had to be going into the machine anyway.

They'd been walking for about ten minutes when they saw their first Trikini. It was elegantly striding away from them, long legs eating up the distance. He noted the gun strapped to its back and frowned. He motioned for them to stay where they were until the Trikini had turned a corner.

“Let's follow,” he said quietly. “Nothing else better.”

They followed the alien through several tunnels and rooms and hallways. There wasn't much else to see; the rooms were empty and there weren't any other aliens or even characters that they could see. Finally, the Trikini led them to a huge warehouse door, towering over them and shored up with wood and locked with intricate locks, with two guards and several lasers hovering outside the doorway.

“You think that might be it?” Logan mouthed, an innocent look in his eye.

Cordelia shoved him slightly, but both were careful to not make any noise.

“I need to get inside,” the Doctor whispered. “I can hear Vortex energy screaming from here. There's a lot in there.”

“Distraction time?” Cordelia offered.

“Perhaps,” the Doctor said slowly, nodding. Their original alien had started unlocking the doors and turning off the lasers.

“I'll go,” Logan said. “You guys get ready to go inside when he does and then I'll get those other guards to come after me.”

The Doctor agreed, ignoring twinges of worry. This wasn't a time to be soft, but a time for action. There was more at stake here than Logan, who technically didn't even exist.

Cordelia touched Logan's arm.

“Good luck.”

“Don't get all soft on me, Chase,” he said, grinning at her.

“If you're not captured, get back here,” the Doctor said. “If you are, you'll either be dead or brought back here anyway.”

“Great speech to the troops,” Logan told him. They all watched.

The doors opened and the Trikini went through. The guards proceeded to shut the doors and Logan ran into sight, then seemingly tripped and when down on his nose in front of the astonished guards.

“How did this one get out?” one of them grumbled.

Logan sprang to his feet and ran in the opposite direction. The guards sighed heavily and followed him. The Doctor and Cordelia kept themselves pressed to the shadows and then, once they'd turned the corner, ran to the door where the Doctor caught it just before it closed. Once they were on the other side, they darted behind a huge pile of crates and the Doctor scanned the door.

“Deadlock seal,” he grunted. “I wouldn't have been able to open it.”

“Then little Logan's run was worth it,” she said quietly.

“Absolutely,” he agreed. They peered around and Cordelia's mouth opened in astonishment.

It was a warehouse and it was huge. Right where they were standing was a small maze of stacks of crates. Directly across from them was a mechanical monstrosity that the Doctor stared at it in awe. The Trikini were geniuses to have built such a thing. It was beautiful. There were shields and guards standing all around it. Taking up the majority of the space was a giant cage. There were hundreds if not thousands of characters jam packed into it, seemingly sorted by species and size. There were some sections of the cage larger than others, but they were mostly all just flung in together with flimsy bars separating each group and thick, thick bars keeping them all from the outside.

Cordelia's face grew hard.

“We need to do something about this,” she said firmly.

“That we will, Cordelia,” he assured her.

***

Logan wasn't sure how much longer he could keep on running in such heat. It was ridiculous how much sweat was pouring out of him. He made a mental note to tell the Doctor to always have his companions carry bottles of water around with them for all the running bits of their adventures.

The Trikini were very fast and if Logan hadn't been great at dodging and running himself, a lifetime skill learned from being Aaron Echolls' son, he would've been caught several times. As it was, he knew that time wasn't far off. It happened when he turned a corner and ran smack dab into a dead end. There was no way out but the way of the Trikini. Logan decided to pull on whatever acting genes he may have possessed and threw his hand on his forehead and swooned, quite credibly.

It was a relief to lay there on the floor and let his breathing come back to normal. The Trikini gathered him up and one slung Logan over his back. Other than the danger of getting even more light-headed, Logan was feeling much better. He made himself as relaxed as possible.

“I don't know how they keep doing this,” one Trikini mumbled. “I know some of them have interesting abilities, but security's really tight.”

“We shouldn't talk about it now.”

“He's out, and besides, this one is human - they can't understand us.”

Logan blessed the existence of the Tardis in his head.

“Okay, then. There's just too many of them to keep track of. That's all. I don't know what the higher-ups are doing.”

“We're going to have beauty again, that's what they're doing.”

“Seems like a really complicated way to get it.”

“But faster than building up an entire civilization again. We have nothing, you know that.”

“I know, it's just, I have a bad feeling about this whole thing. What about those aliens that came to Malataxes? That wasn't a good thing.”

“No, but we haven't seen anything of them since. And the final stage is in half an hour.”

“You've been at this longer than I have.”

“Don't I know it!”

The Trikini fell silent and Logan contemplated what he'd heard. They needed to act fast. Hopefully, the Doctor already had the situation well in hand. If not, well, he should get there to help.

“You been near the machine yet?” the Trikini not carrying him asked.

“Nah, not enough clearance. But I was one of those who helped with the initial stages. There was a funny string of numbers that they put into all the designs. It didn't seem to make sense.”

“How odd. Do you remember them?”

“Oh sure, I saw them so often, I couldn't help it.” The Trikini listed off a bunch of numbers and Logan gritted his teeth, saying them over and over again in his head. “It's a pretty wonderful bit of technology. Even those Timelords would have been awed by it.”

“Don't say that name,” the other one warned. “I don't want to get in trouble.”

“I won't. I'm just proud of our accomplishments. The machine is brilliant. From what I've heard it's along the lines of their time machines, but it's built on a reality principle instead of a time principle. I don't understand the mechanics really. I was just there for the heavy work. But supposedly they're similar.”

They paused, presumably in front of the big door, and Logan knew he was right when there were lots of sounds of bolts being unlocked and pin pads being used.

Logan risked a quick eye opening to see that they were indeed entering a vast warehouse full of characters of all kinds and a large machine. There wasn't a sign of the Doctor or Cordelia and he hoped that meant they were figuring out a way to do something.

“Another one escaped,” he heard the Trikini carrying him say.

There was a quick jolt of pain and Logan bolted upright.

“Ow!” he yelled. “Stupid Trikini!”

They all stared at him in confusion and suspicion.

“Habla espanol?” he asked sheepishly.

“This one is different,” a Trikini with a clipboard said. “This one has not been scanned. He displays initiative. Take him to the chamber.”

“Just what I've always wanted,” Logan said, sighing.

They hauled him across the room and through another set of locked doors. Logan was surprised to find it already occupied.

“We are busy,” the Trikini said, “making preparations. You will wait until the ceremony.”

“I don't suppose I'm getting an award of some kind?” Logan asked.

They did not answer him. When they left, Logan turned to the alien sitting across the room who looked a lot like the Cinuians had.

“Hey, you wouldn't be a hostage, would you?”

The Cinuian turned to look at him.

“I am the Minister of my world and the Trikini have exploited that fact.”

“I've heard about you. Say, you want to get out of here, right?”

“Naturally.”

“Well, I have a friend who can help.”

“I hope you are right,” the Cinuian answered him gravely. Logan hoped so too.

***

The Doctor had explored every bit of the room. He estimated a total of one thousand and fifty-five characters from every time and planet in multiple galaxies were being held in the cages. The cages were locked with deadlock seals, but looked to be designed to open automatically once you got past the initial doors.

“Don't you think a herd of fictional people making a jailbreak would be a great distraction?” Cordelia asked.

“Certainly, if we can find the controls. I'm guessing they're in that lovely guarded area over there.”

“That'd be where I'd put them,” she agreed.

“Well, I can't think of a better way to get in there than to give ourselves up,” he said.

“What if they just throw us in the cages?”

“Then we need to wreak a little havoc first.”

Cordelia grinned at him and he chuckled a little bit.

There was a section of the floor that looked a bit like a junkyard and Cordelia found herself a nice piece of metal to use for a weapon, and then they crept around the machines, clunking guards and opening as many locks as the sonic screwdriver could.

They got through the inner ring of guards and past the outer locks before they were caught.

“Clever escapees,” a Trikini said, as a gun was pointed at them. The Doctor frowned, because he really didn't like guns.

“Pardon me, but I think you have me confused with someone else,” he still said politely. “I'm the Doctor and I'm as real as they come.”

The Trikini drew back as if he'd slapped them.

“The Doctor!”

“Hello!”

“How did you get in here?”

“Usual way I get into any place,” he said cheerfully. “Wits and luck.”

“Bring him,” the Trikini said, and turned and walked further into the machine.

The Doctor winked at Cordelia and followed him.

“Cocky idiot,” she mumbled, but followed.

They were led up onto the operating platform. The whole setup looked familiar, but the Doctor couldn't quite place it. He had other things to be thinking about, didn't he? Yes, he did. There were several Trikini, working on the machine and making calculations.

One of them, wearing a dark blue band over his head, turned to them.

“I see you decided to join us, Doctor.”

“You know me, never could resist a good fictional blowout.”

“Very amusing. I'm glad you're here, Doctor. You're going to see the strength of the Trikini restored before you die. All of this is your fault; it is through your action that my planet died.”

The Doctor's face grew hard.

“I couldn't save you,” he said, “there was too much at stake.”

“Who are you to decide?” the Trikini hissed. “Place them over there and bring in the honored guests. We have a ceremony to complete.”

“I'm warning you now,” the Doctor protested as he was forced to the side. “You're breaking so many laws and being so nonsensical even I can't begin to fathom it. If you do this, you're bringing this down on your own heads.”

“So be it,” the Trikini said, a mad look in his eyes.

The Doctor wanted to try and reason with him, but there was a disturbance and several Trikini entered, leading a young man with his hands bound, one encased in a baseball glove.

“There you go, Cordelia,” he said, gesturing, “the start of it all.”

“Chuckie boy himself?”

“The bonafide lad.”

“I'm so going to gloat about this to Logan,” she said gleefully.

“You all right there?” the Doctor asked.

“I'm just more than a little confused,” Chuck said, his voice breaking.

“Don't worry,” Cordelia said, “the Doctor will sort it all out and then you can go back home.”

“That's...reassuring,” he said, licking his lips. “I've been here for so long. Such a long time.”

There was another commotion and this time it was Logan and a Cinuian who were led into the room, bound.

“You just had to get yourself caught,” Cordelia said, under her breath.

Logan winked at them, but otherwise, didn't say anything. The Doctor nodded in approval. No sense in letting the Trikini know they themselves were the ones in trouble. Probably anyway.

“This one knew too much,” the foremost Trikini said, pointing at Logan. “He can understand us though he should not.”

“It is of no consequence,” the leader Trikini said. “When this is over, it will not matter what he knows. He will be as he was before he came through the veil.”

The Doctor sucked in a breath, the idiot couldn't mean what he thought he meant?

“Stop this!” he warned. “You are going to be extremely unhappy with the results of a reality reversal.”

The Trikini's mouth twitched, but he did not say anything, simply gesturing to his people to carry on.

They started the machine.

“Doctor, what's a reality reversal?” Cordelia murmured. “What I think it is?”

“Probably.”

“We become fiction again on this side of reality?”

“Yup.”

“Won't that cause the already unstable universe to implode?”

“Yup.”

“Good to know.”

“Be quiet!” the Trikini shouted. “It has begun.”

The machine whirred, and its engines or gears or whatever it was made out of began making noises similar to the Tardis on a bad day. The room started to shake and a huge column of light shot to the roof and passed through it.

“Being in the innards of the machine should keep us safe,” the Doctor said, “for now.”

“That's a great comfort,” Cordelia replied.

The noises changed and the roof started to crack and rain down bits on them. Several Trikini were knocked unconscious. The Doctor moved towards the machine, intent on stopping it before it was too late.

“Don't move,” the lead Trikini demanded.

“Hey, buddy,” Cordelia said, tapping his back with a gun she'd lifted from a downed Trikini. “Don't you move.”

“Doctor, stop!” the Trikini yelled. “You must not stop our work. We must rise again! We must be as we were! This is all your doing!”

“You made your choice,” the Doctor said, “now I make mine. I'm sorry.”

“Untie him,” Cordelia said pointing at Logan. The Trikini grimaced but moved toward the young man and untied his hands. “And them.”

The Cinuian and Chuck were released as well. Logan picked up another gun and joined Cordelia in keeping watch over the Trikini.

“I hate guns,” the Doctor called to them.

“That's why we're holding them,” Cordelia said, a strange mix of defiance and compassion in her voice.

The Doctor shook his head and made his way over to the machine controls to figure them out and stop it before the universe was no longer there.

“Cordelia,” he said, “take Chuck with you and go down and unlock all the cages. Just the outer doors. I'm gonna need them all contained so I can get a fix on them, but I can't do that with the outer doors locked. Then get back here. You don't want to be out there when I activate this.”

“Why does she get to go with Chuck?” Logan grumbled. Cordelia smirked at him.

“You're going to look out for our High Magistrate here,” the Doctor said, without turning around.

He turned his full attention to the machine, learning as he went. It was horribly frustrating because nothing made sense. It was like and so unlike what he knew.

The room continued to shake and they had to dodge more of the ceiling as it fell. Panicked cries reached his ears from the cages and he redoubled his efforts.

“Doctor!”

“Not now,” he snapped.

“It’s like a Tardis, but built on a reality principle,” Logan said. “That mean anything to you?”

The Doctor stared at him for a second.

“Logan, you’re brilliant!” he shouted, and then really went to work, flipping switches and entering numbers and turning knobs just like it was a Tardis. Now he understood. Now everything was simple.

***

Cordelia had been nearly hit on the head half a dozen times and it was starting to upset her. She had to practically force the nearly useless Chuck along with her.

“Some trope starter you are,” she said, covering him as he cowered. They reached the cages and she discovered the sonic screwdriver now worked. The distance was vast, so it took her quite a long time to make her way all around it. The inmates screamed and cried and yelled for her to free them.

“What does it look like I'm doing?” she muttered. She shoved Chuck through the first door. “Stay in there, it will be safer.”

The inventor of the syndrome nodded and stayed put.

She could tell which characters had come through later and which ones had been first. The former were half-crazed, rationality not at the top of their list. The latter were obviously sane, although depending on the character, panicking or trying to figure out how to escape. She even saw some she recognized, but now was not the time to exchange pleasantries. She just went about her job.

There were still Trikini around. Most had been taken out before or were knocked out by falling debris. But there were some who tried to stop her. She handled them well enough, blessing Wesley for his gun training, until her gun ran out of ammo.

“You'd think they'd have unlimited,” she said to herself, then picked up some more metal lying around.

She had gone three quarters of the way around the cages when a Trikini snuck up behind her and knocked her down. She got back up, gripping her metal like a sword. She'd torn a strip from her jacket to wrap around the end to avoid hurting herself and was ready for battle.

The Trikini was as quick as the Doctor had said, but Cordelia could see he was inexperienced as well. He was probably a relief soldier, one who usually sat everything out unless necessary. He swung out against her and she dodged, bringing her blade up to sweep across his belly. He leaned back swiftly and threw a long leg out to sweep her down. She jumped over it, bringing her sword down hard on his head, knocking him out.

“Even when I don't exist, I'm better,” she said, going about her business. She had several more encounters like that before she made it all the way around.

There was a strange whirring sound and the wall farthest from her completely collapsed. She stood staring, because, although she was used to the outside of Marvello from her previous experience, it was even more of a wasteland now. It wasn't just the extra hundred years. There were giant cracks running through the surface and the sky itself was black and wavering like it was going to collapse on the planet.

The air grew thin and she felt exhausted. She moved as fast as she could back toward the machine, fighting against the urge to lie down and take a nap. A great wind rose out of nowhere, pushing against her. The outer hull of the machine loomed in front of her and she could see only a small gap in the doors as they started to close. She flung herself forward with all her might.

***

The Doctor slammed his hands against the machine in frustration. There was something he was missing, some vital key to reversing it and he couldn't tell what it was. He turned to the Trikini leader, Logan standing guard.

“What's the sequence?” he asked. “Tell me or we all die here. You don't get a shiny new culture, you don't get to live, you just kill everyone and everything. You can sense time, but you don't know anything about this universe. I do. Now tell me!”

The Trikini just looked up at him.

“I'm begging you,” the Doctor said quietly.

“We begged as well,” the alien said, hardly audible over the cacophony of noise ringing through the air. “The Timelords ignored our pleas and our planet was destroyed. I cannot help you now.”

The Doctor closed his eyes, feeling every inch of his years, and pulled up every single memory he could to help him solve this problem. He couldn't let this happen again, even if it would be the last time.

Logan's face had gone scrunched up and he started murmuring something to himself.

“Not helping,” the Doctor said. “I need to concentrate.”

“Doctor, try this,” Logan said, suddenly spouting out a string of numbers that made the Doctor's mind reel.

“Logan, I could kiss you!”

“Please don't.”

The Doctor had no time for kissing. The Doctor was busy working the machine. The Doctor was busy saving the universe.

“That's it!” he crowed. “Just touch this button and every single character goes back home.”

“What about Cordelia?” Logan asked.

The Doctor shook his head.

“I'm sorry, but I can't wait any longer. The universe will die and then it won't matter if Cordelia is here or not.”

Logan's eyes closed and he looked like he was struggling internally.

“Then do it.”

The Doctor hit the button and sounds rose and fell in a mighty symphony of destruction. It sounded like the universe was imploding, but it was simply righting itself. The Doctor could feel it all as lines snapped themselves into place and bends unbended and cracks were mended and the stars lived in the right places and something was healed within himself.

Then there was a deadly quiet and Logan and the Cinuian and the Trikini all held themselves in hushed silence as the Doctor opened the doors of the inner part of the machine and looked out. Every single character was gone. The cages were empty. The Marvellian sky was red again, cracks in the planet's structure that weren't there naturally, gone.

“You just had to start the party without me,” he heard a dry voice from below.

Bending down, he saw Cordelia clinging to the inside of the outer hull of the machine. She was buffeted and scratched and dirty, but she was there.

“Ha, ha!” he crowed and bent down, picking her up and hugging her. “Cordelia Chase, you're a marvel.”

Chapter Text

They didn't linger long on Marvello. The Doctor checked around the compound to make sure there were no leftover fictional bits and pieces lying around. Cordelia and Logan bound all the guards and secured them in the same room Logan had been kept in earlier. The Cinuian wasn't much help, seemingly rather petrified at recent events, but he stood stolidly by and let them get on with everything. Once the Doctor had finished searching, he went back to the machine and set about wiring it to destruct.

“A shame,” he said, “it's so beautiful. But it's dangerous and I can't let it stay where it can be used. Anybody with a minute sense of time could find it and do something stupid.”

So, he set the controls and took Logan, Cordelia and the Cinuian Minister back to the Tardis and then triggered the detonation. The blast was contained and wouldn't harm any of the imprisoned Trikini.

“What say we take you home?” the Doctor asked the Cinuian, who simply nodded gravely, as if unable to cope with his reality.

“What about the Trikini?” Cordelia asked indignantly. “They could die there. And they should be brought to justice.”

“I'm calling in the Judoon,” the Doctor told her, flipping some switches. “They can take care of the whole mess under the Shadow Proclamation. Nothing more for me to do.”

“You could give a statement to the press,” Logan said, grinning.

“Naw,” the Doctor said, grinning back. “Don't like talking to that lot. Never quote me correctly.”

“It is a serious problem,” Logan agreed, sighing heavily.

They materialized on the Cinu of Malataxes and the Doctor solemnly ushered the Minister back to his people and then came back to the Tardis.

“So, what's the universe look like, Doc?” Logan asked.

“Only two trouble spots I can see,” he said, gently smiling at them. “Gotta do something about that.”

“We're ready, Doctor,” Cordelia said, taking his hand. “We're not afraid.”

“You are clever, you are,” he said, “but you don't know everything.”

“Well, the simplest solution to that is to tell us,” Logan told him. “You think we can't take it?”

“I guess you could,” the Doctor said, shrugging and led the way to the kitchen.

They all sat down at the kitchen table and the Doctor told them about his life and the fall of Gallifrey.

“I've traveled the stars for so many years,” he told them. “I've been an exile, a wanderer, with friends and alone, lost and full of purpose. I've saved millions of lives and multiple worlds and species. I've loved and lost and met more amazing people than you can imagine. But in the end, because of what happened, I'll always be alone.”

“I'm sorry,” Cordelia said.

He shook his head.

“Now don't go there, Cordelia Chase. I'm fine and I don't need fictional sympathy.”

“And I don't need realistic bluffing,” she told him, eyebrow arched. He simply sighed. He would miss her.

“Look,” he said, “I could've sent you home awhile ago, but I was selfish and didn't. Things went a little bit wrong because of that.”

“I'm going to jot this down in my journal,” Logan said. “The Doctor admitted he was wrong.”

“Pinch me,” Cordelia said and Logan obliged. “Ow!”

“You said-”

“Shut up, twerp.”

“Shame you're not really on the same show,” the Doctor said. “This all ends now, though. No more fighting, flying or adventures.”

“We know that we won't remember anything,” Cordelia said. “We watched our shows; we know how we end.”

“The thing is,” the Doctor said, grinning at them, “that there's a whole planetful of people who love you. Even some alien worlds love you. And they won't ever let you die. You'll live on in a fandom world forever and ever. You just won't know me or anything that happened here.”

“That's not fair,” Logan said. “I was going to watch so many shows.”

Cordelia jabbed him with her elbow.

“That's not the point, moron.”

“A little levity never hurt anyone, my sweet,” he said.

“But I have to put you back,” the Doctor said. “The Tardis is holding onto the two holes you made, but she can't do it forever. And unless you go back, Cordelia, a lot of things won't be able to happen.”

“Actually, we never got to that part,” Cordelia said, intrigued.

“There's nothing for me, Doc,” Logan said. “And I don't get the girl.”

“That's what you think,” the Doctor said, winking at him.

“I love her,” Logan said quietly. “I want to be with her any way I can, no matter what it may cost me.”

“Good boy,” the Doctor told him.

“And I've people waiting on me,” Cordelia said. “They're in so much pain, fictional or otherwise, and I've got to help them. I owe that to them.”

“So, we'd love to stay, Doctor...” Logan began.

“But we can't,” Cordelia said, shrugging. “You'll just have to bite the bullet and let us have our own way.”

The Doctor shook his head at the temerity of his companions.

“You win,” he said, exaggerating his words. “I guess I'll just have to learn my lesson and stop manipulating reality to get some company.”

“At least they're not imaginary,” Logan said.

“There is that. Now, get on with you so I can get my privacy back.”

“Don't be alone, Doctor,” Cordelia begged him. “You have a lot of work cut out for you and you shouldn't do it by yourself. If you find someone, like you used to have or like us, take the chance. Take it more than once.”

“I'll consider your words,” he promised her.

“Doctor,” Cordelia asked, after a moment, “why don't I have the ability to get visions here?”

“You've got the ability,” the Doctor said, “just not the signal. The Powers That Be can't get through to you here. A nice little vacation, huh?”

“Comas aren't restful enough,” she said, and winked at him.

They all got up and went back to the console room where the Doctor pushed in the coordinates.

Logan hugged him goodbye and the Doctor let him. Cordelia's hug was longer and more forceful.

“Oh,” she said as she pulled away, “and you're welcome.”

“I'd remember that line if I were you,” the Doctor said, pushing the button on the console. They glowed gently and then faded away, their presence nothing more than a memory. The Doctor stood still a moment, hoping they'd find use for his final gift. A sense of will. They might not remember him and they might not be technically real, but they'd have some inner sense of what was right and wrong for their characters from that point on, even if through fanfiction, and Logan would suddenly find himself compelled to watch a few things he hadn't before.

The room felt suddenly empty and maybe he could use another nap. He was getting old, wasn't he, to need so much rest? Not that it showed, no, indeed.

The Tardis suddenly dinged, a sign that she was receiving a signal. He moved to the scanner and read what it said. Coming from Earth?

“Fantastic!”