The first she knew of trouble was when Belle was tipped out of her bed.
Normally, the anti-grav converter was strong enough to keep the inside of the TARDIS stable, but when she landed on the ceiling, she had a sneaking suspicion that something might just be wrong. Dodging falling - or would it be rising? - books, she crawled down the wall to the door and hauled her way out into the hall.
“Don’t worry, dear!” He was calling her ‘dear’. That usually meant they were ten seconds away from impending doom.
The gravity kicked in again and she dropped across the threshold with a grunt. One day, she knew she would start wearing pillows around her body at all times, just to keep from being a mass of bruises. She liked blue and purple, but being those colours all the time was just ridiculous.
She staggered upright and ran down the corridor towards the control room. The Doctor was standing on top of the console. No. Dangling. He was dangling above the console by the back of his jacket, one leg stretching down to try and kick at the controls.
“Ah!” He shot her a quick grin and waggled his foot. “Would you be a love and pull that knob with the red ball on the end?”
“Knob with red ball!” She took the stairs up three at a time and grabbed it. “Got it!”
He giggled somewhere over her head. “Pull, lass. Give it some welly!”
Sometimes, she wondered if he was as much of a pervert as, well, her.
A lever somewhere above her head retracted, and the Doctor fell to the floor.
To his credit, when he stood and dusted himself down, he didn't look at all embarrassed, "Well, good morning, Belle." He only sounded the teeniest bit drunk, on the cusp of actual sobriety, and Belle was a little bit impressed.
"That's one way to look at it." She murmured, glancing around, "Where's Bae?"
"He should be around here someplace..." the Doctor glanced around, up as well as left and right, and for the hundredth time Belle felt sorry for the poor boy. At least she'd chosen to spend her life with this insane - completely brilliant - drunkard.
She saw his eyes light in recognition, and she followed his gaze to the uppermost coral strut, where a young man was perched and dangling his feet, "Y'alright up there Bae?" the Doctor called.
Belle smacked his arm, and he frowned at her, "Of course he's not alright! He's stuck twenty feet in the air!"
"Nah, he'll be fine," the Doctor waved her concerns aside, and looked back up at his son, "Got himself up there."
"Only because someone decided it'd be fun to play with gravity." Belle retorted, "We'll get you down!" She called up, "I'll fetch the ladder!"
It said something about her life these days that 'I'll fetch the ladder' was a commonplace phrase. That and 'Oh dear God, who unlocked the liquor cabinet?'
Bae was, as usual, fine, shaking Belle’s concern off.
“It’s not like dad hasn’t flipped the TARDIS before breakfast, before,” he insisted, swatting her away and ducking around behind the control panel.
“See?” The Doctor beamed at her, and pulled his cravat off the spinning wheel that was whirling away at the heart of the console. Apparently, he claimed, it kept it just nice and warm enough to tie into a decent ruffle.
Sometimes, just sometimes, Belle missed her library on Adinos. It was quiet. She got through a night without some misadventure. There were even other people who loved the books as much as she did.
But then, there wasn’t him.
He’d crash-landed into her life probably six months earlier. Probably, because with a time-traveller, you never can tell. And the crash was a literal one. He started their relationship as he meant to continue by crash-landing through the wall of her residency pod while she was sleeping and tumbling out of the doors of the TARDIS in a cloud of purple smoke, with strands of his hair on fire.
She had been too startled to tell him that protocol rules meant no extra planetary visitors after curfew, and he certainly hadn’t helped by bowing like she was some kind of dignitary. Of course, then Bae had sprayed them both with a fire extinguisher and all the alarms had gone off.
He had grinned, all wicked glee, and offered his hand. “Fancy an adventure, lass?”
Now here she was, maybe-probably-most likely six months-ish later, and he'd been entirely true to his word. She'd nearly died thirty-two times at last count, and socked a Sontaran in the jaw, and watched the Doctor con a Venusian seamstress out of three rolls of golden thread.
They weren't allowed back to Venus. He was working on replicating the thread so he wouldn't have to steal it.
And now he was twisting dials and pushing buttons like there was no tomorrow, hair still wild from his trip to the ceiling and back, yelling strongly-accented commands at Bae, who looked at him like he was a total idiot and did something else.
She never got an explanation as to why the Doctor had such a different accent to his son. But at least in her first days aboard the TARDIS, when she still wore her traditional blue dresses and didn't believe that the Universe could really be infinite, Bae had been able to translate for his father when she couldn't understand the words.
He was completely comprehensible when he was sober. It was when he had been on the bottle that the slurring became something unrecognisable as speech. Six months in, and she could understand him almost as well as Bae himself.
She liked to stand back in these moments, and watch them work together. They were such opposites: the certifiably insane, alcoholic adventurer and his calm, collected, entirely rational son. But she loved them both like they were her own kin, and these times when they worked together, understanding each other as only family could, were enough to melt her heart.
Of course, the two seconds of order and tranquility were shattered when something exploded - as always - and the Doctor let out a harsh Gallifreyan swear word, and they were all jolted to the ground.
Belle was working on her landings: she was proud when she fell in the break position and was back on her feet in seconds.
“There!” The Doctor clasped his hands together when the ship swung back onto an even keel. He whirled around to face her, and bowed with a flourish. “Coming in to land, and not a hair out of place.”
Bae rolled his eyes at Belle, reaching over to haul the stabilisers back into the correct position to make sure it stayed that way.
“Hmm.” Belle reached up and flicked a strand of the Doctor’s hair. “And this is meant to be standing on end, is it?”
He waved her hand away. “Morning hair,” he said cheerfully, then bounded down the stairs, coat flying behind him. His clothing seemed to have been cobbled together from a dozen items from a dozen eras of a dozen planets, and not one bit matched any of the other. Topped with his mad glee and electric-wild hair, it worked.
“I think he might not have had a drink yet,” Bae warned, leaning on the console. “I haven’t seen him this lively in a morning for months.”
Belle eyed the Doctor suspiciously. He was at the hatrack, trying hat after hat on, until he settled on an obnoxiously broad-brimmed item with a peacock feather jutting from the brilliantly blue brim.
“Doctor,” she said. “If you don’t mind me asking, where are we?”
“You’ll see in a minute, lass,” he replied, checking the hat in a mirror. “One of the best places in the world. A place of culture and history, and you wouldn’t believe what they can do with their mushrooms.”
Belle glanced at Bae, who is trying his best not to grin.
“This isn’t another place famous for their distilleries, is it?”
"Now, Belle, why would you possibly think that?" he spins to face her, claps an open palm to his chest, mouth open wide in overly dramatic shock. He was one of the few men she'd ever met who was less insane after a drink than before.
"Precedent." She muttered, but she couldn't help returning his infectious grin when he grabbed her hand and dragged her out into the sunlight. They were in yet another marketplace, and Belle had learned that all shopping districts looked alike. They also almost always had a bar somewhere nearby.
Bae vanished in the direction of a stall covered in cogs and wheels: the boy was an obsessive engineer.
Belle, however, was intensely bored by machinery, so she let the Doctor haul her over to a stand that sparkled in the sunlight. They were weaving necklaces out of diamond thread, light as cobwebs, and she giggled when he draped one around her neck, eyes uncharacteristically soft as he admired it, "Why don't you wear more jewellery?" He asked, "You wear it fine, lass."
"I don't know, maybe because it tends to get caught in things, stolen or lost in the process of running from explosions. Most of which are your fault."
He stuck his tongue out at her, childishly, and then - partially, she thought, just to spite her - he bought the thing for her, and wandered off before she could thank him.
For a man dressed like he'd been dragged through a costume shop backwards, he was stupidly hard to spot.
Belle was a woman in charge of a 1200-year-old time travelling alien, and his 14-year-old son. It was absurd that the teenage son was easier to keep track of, and less likely to stick his fingers in electrical sockets or piss off a monarch to the point of "Off with his head!".
She approached Bae, and waited for the boy to be done with a rather intense conversation about the relative merits of transdimentional gear shifts versus manual warpleap cells - Belle memorised every word of such things, and wrote them down later, but never understood them - before interrupting. "Bae?"
"Have you seen your dad anywhere?"
Bae’s hand froze over a gear. “You lost him? Again?”
She put her hands on her hips. “We’re not having this discussion again, Bae. I’m not your father’s keeper,” she said. “And if I was, I would make sure to put a collar and leash on him before letting him out in public.”
Bae pulled a face. “He’d probably let you, if you asked,” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small console, flipping several switches and studying it intently. “That way!” he declared, setting off determinedly through the crowd.
Belle followed, wondering vaguely if Timelords matured backwards, because Bae certainly seemed to have all the maturity and common sense that his father really should have had. “What is that?” she asked.
“A tracking beacon,” Bae said over his shoulder. “I replaced one of the buttons on his coat with it.”
“A bit more subtle than a leash,” Belle said, squeezing through the gaps between two stalls after him. She looked around, frowning. There were buildings gathering in on both sides, towering upwards, and notably few pubs. “Bae, this doesn’t seem like the kind of place your dad would normally go.”
The boy frowned, turning around. “There’s something wrong with the transmission frequency,” he said, tapping the console in his hand. “Dad didn’t notice the button, so he can’t have fiddled with it, but this is a subsonic sound wave interfering with the polarity.”
“Meaning?” Belle prompted, sudden worry gnawing at her gut. The Doctor could get them out of a lot of sticky situations, but she had a feeling that on his own, he would meet a sticky end, especially if he wasn’t as heroically drunk as he tended to be when he saved them.
“Meaning there’s some kind of creature here that is more technologically advanced than it should be,” Bae said, grabbing her by the hand and breaking into a run.
Belle gave up dresses the first month in the TARDIS. There’s only so many times you can get in a tangle and fall on your face while fleeing for your life. Fitted trousers that definitely didn’t tangle were a lifeline. Now, her boots pounded the steel-flagged ground after the slight boy.
They searched the pubs, first. Bae's console got them far enough - into the right area of the city, at least - but it was the quarter with all the bars, which was annoying but not unexpected.
Sooner or later, Belle thought, she was just going to lock him in a room somewhere in the TARDIS and leave him there, where he couldn't get into anymore trouble. But that lead to the same problem she always had when she swore she'd go home to Adinos and work in the library like a good girl for the rest of her days: she'd miss the drunken bastard.
She was still going to slap him silly when she saw him, though.
"How much time do we have?" She turned to Bae in the middle of their seventh bar, who was frowning at the console with a look eerily similar to his father's: the 'Bloody hell we're buggered now' look.
"I'd say around... thirty-two seconds before they catch up with us."
"And who're we running from this time?" She asked, turning another drunk in a long coat around and taking a look at his face. Not the Doctor. "Bae?" The boy didn't say anything, and Belle turned to him, to find the usually calm and composed teenager staring in horror at the door behind her.
Belle turned warily, expecting something massive, tentacled, and dripping slime, something that would be truly horrifying and monstrous. To find two objects that looked like portable toilet facilities from her home planet was a bit of a let down.
They were roughly human height, like misshapen boxes on wheels, metal, and covered with gleaming copper balls. Each of them had a plunger fixed to one side and a claw-grip to the other. It looked like an Adinosean plumber had finally got tired of carrying his toolkit around and just strapped it to the toilet carriage.
“Bae, tell me I’m not looking at a sentient lavatory…”
Bae shook his head, white-faced. “No,” he whispered. “Dalek.”
Belle’s heart leapt in panic. They’d never come across these creatures in her time in the TARDIS, but she’d heard enough from both father and son to be grateful that it was the case. And now, here they were, in a pub, unarmed, without even a laser or bloody sonic bottle opener, and the Doctor had buggered off somewhere.
“You are the companions of the Doctor.” The voice emerged from a speaker panel, crackling and mechanical.
“Bae,” Belle said quietly and calmly. “What the hell did he do?”
Bae looked nervously at her. “Blew up half their fleet,” he said. “And that was when he missed.”
“I’ll kill him,” Belle hissed to the boy. “I’ll string him up by his own cravat.”
“Answer, female.” The Dalek at the front moved forward, the metallic stalk looming close to her face. “You are the Companion of the Doctor. Affirmative or negative.”
“Do you see the Doctor?” Belle asked.
“Negative. The Doctor is not present.”
“Well then,” she said, reaching down beside her. “I can’t be his companion. I would have to be in his company to be his companion.”
“The female wears his mark. The half-male wears his mark.” The other Dalek rumbled forward as well. Belle made a note of that. His mark indeed. If that meant clothes that had a ‘do not dry-clean’ in Gallifreyan, she definitely was going to wring the man’s neck. “They are his companions.”
“I’m no one’s companion,” Belle said, wrapping one hand around Bae’s wrist and tugged, the silent code to be ready to run. She swung her other arm and whacked the chair right across the Dalek’s eyestalk. “I’m a librarian!” She shoved Bae under the grasping claws and dived after him. “Run!”
They bolted for the back of the bar, but they smashed into a forcefield before they made it five paces.
And the Doctor was nowhere to be seen, and even Bae - calm, sensible, unshakeable Bae - was shaking by her side, his hand trembling in hers.
The boy was still only fourteen, despite his half-Time Lord heritage, despite his unconventional upbringing.
"You will come with us." The voice, cold and mechanical, came from behind them, and Belle didn't have time to say 'No, we won't', before they were encased in electromagnetic energy, like two tubes, and the almost-familiar tingle of a tractor beam rippled across her skin.
"Bugger." She muttered, as she slipped into unconsciousness. When she saw the Doctor again, she was going to skin him alive.
Bae awakened first; Belle could tell by the hand shaking her arm, the urgent voice in her ear telling her to wake up. She was wide awake in moments, pushing herself off the cold, metal floor and into a standing position, ready to run. And staring down the eyestalks of four Daleks, who somehow - even though they still looked like portable toilets - managed to look smug.
"You are companions of the Doctor. You will kneel." The first Dalek commanded, and Belle, who had had just about enough of this by now, brushed down her jeans and levelled her most fearsome glare.
"No. You're going to send us home."
"You will kneel." They repeated, and Belle sighed, pushing down the terror welling in her chest. She wasn't going to tremble before these monsters, she was braver and brighter than that.
"Just let us go!" Bae yelled, the fear getting the better of him for the first time in the six months Belle had known him. He was staring at the creatures with raw terror in his eyes, his hand in hers limp and sweaty and shaking. There was more to this than staring down the barrel of a gun, but Belle didn't have time to wonder about history right now.
"You will kneel." The Daleks ordered, once again, and Belle pushed Bae to comply.
At least obedience might push things along. "Listen, we're not companions of anyone," she explained, calmly and rationally, "I'm a librarian, and he's an engineer."
"You're also a pain in the arse," A broad Scottish accent came from behind them, "But he's not so bad."
Belle’s heart sang, but she still shot a dark look at the bloody great idiot. “Pot and kettle,” she said.
He bowed flamboyantly, twirling his hat, and sauntered towards them, as if his mortal enemies weren’t holding his son and his very-much-not companion hostage right in front of him. He was plastered, swaying all over the place.
“Doctor!” As one, the Daleks turned.
If they blasted him now, the sheer quantity of alcohol in his system would probably blow the roof off the place.
Belle reached down into Bae’s pocket. It wasn’t usually a good idea, but just occasionally, the boy had something useful and - more often than not - highly explosive tucked on his person.
She kept one eye on the Doctor, who was swaying in between the four Daleks. The stupid sod had got a hold of another hip flask. That had to be the fifteenth since she had joined them, and every time she and Bae managed to get rid of one, another would sprout from a previously undiscovered pocket in his coat.
“You will surrender Doctor.”
She groaned inwardly when he threw an arm around the nearest Dalek’s dome. “I know, I know,” he said, leaning into it, as if it were an old friend. “Surrender, be exterminated, blown to tiny bits. Got the memo.” He patted the dome and leaned down to give it a firm kiss. “You are my very best enemies. Very best, y’hear.”
“The Doctor is intoxicated.”
“Oh well-observed,” Belle muttered dryly, pulling out Bae’s tiny sonic screwdriver. Unlike his father’s bottle opener, it had about the same power as her old electric toothbrush, but unlike his father’s bottle opener, it actually had practical uses.
Bae tugged out his receiver, catching on to what she was trying to do. If the Daleks had interfered with the signal waves, then perhaps, with a little tweaking, it could be rebounded on them, and maybe give them enough of a distraction to escape.
“I,” the Doctor said, tapping one eye-stalk, “love you. No, really. Better than the Sontarans. An’ so much better than the Cybermen. All legs and stamping and hands and parts.” He wrapped his other arm around another Dalek. “If I didn’t want you all dead, we’d be best friends, honest.”
“You will release us, Doctor.” One of the Daleks jabbed at him with its laser. “You will join your Companions and be exterminated.”
The Doctor wagged a finger. “First, I want to give you a kiss,” he declared. “No exterminidation-thing if I don’t get to give you a kiss.”
“Dad!” Bae groaned in dismay. Belle nudged him, forcing his attention back to the console. They didn’t have much time.
“Daleks do not kiss. Daleks do not follow orders of the Doctor.”
The Doctor giggled. “Shame,” he said. “This is a special gift. All the way from home.”
The clang of his forehead smacking against one Dalek’s eyestalk was echoed when he brought his arms together and cracked two of the Dalek’s domes together, shattering their eyestalks.
The forcefield around Belle and Bae broke, and they ran past the ruined remains of their Dalek guards with more than a little relief.
This was the fifth time he'd gone through this basic routine, but Belle was still convinced that, one day, he wasn't going to show and they'd be alien food.
It was kind of heartwarming, the way Bae wrapped his arms around his dad and buried his face in his shoulder. Belle waited for the pair to separate before she thumped the Doctor on his forearm, and glared right into his face.
"Well, it's bloody lovely to see you too, lass."
"What took you so long?" she demanded, eyes blazing, irritation emanating from every hair on her head. But she still slipped her hand into his, where it always felt like it fit perfectly, and drew an embarrassing amount of reassurance from the fact that he was here, in one piece, nutting Daleks and saving the day, like always. An unremovable and essential Universal truth.
"I got here in time didn't I? You didnae die or anything!"
She doesn't answer that, moves on to something more important, "Bae was petrified."
Bae, in fact, looks mortified. His father is brave and fearless, he runs across the universe drunk off his ass and insane, but manages to also be brilliant, and save every world he lands on. Showing cowardice in front of the Doctor is one of Bae's worst nightmares.
But the Doctor hauls Bae back in with his free arm to hold him close, and presses a kiss to the top of his son's head, "And with good reason. These bastards are bloody terrifying."
He lead the pair of them back into the bowels of the ship, to a loading dock where the TARDIS rested. They went through dark, dank service corridors, avoiding any of the Dalek army Belle was sure was hidden behind every corner, up every staircase.
But as always, it was hard to be too scared with the Doctor's firm, warm hand wrapped tightly around hers, and the TARDIS, their home, at the end of the next passageway.
Still, next time, she was demanding a beach. Someplace where alcohol was outlawed, and the only residents were small, harmless bunny rabbits.
They'd be bored in five minutes, but a girl could dream.