Chapter 1: maybe i'm born right out of my time
The TARDIS sets down in the middle of an old industrial complex, though he's not happy about it. If it was up to him, he'd keep her orbiting the nearest black hole and never set eyes on another living soul, but her sense of self-preservation is stronger than his. While there's probably no one around for miles, she still nudges him to clean up a little and take a jacket with him, because it might be cold. She's worried, he realizes, and well, she's got reason. Not the right - because he's just wiped out two entire races - but his indignation is meaningless to her when he's suffering.
He takes the jacket anyway.
Just as he's walked a bit down the old access road across from his ship, a car comes screeching around the corner and nearly runs him down, doing a quick 180 to avoid him. His reflexes haven't dulled, and he quickly darts to the side, thankful for the jacket which protects him from the gravel the car's kicked up. It skids to a stop alongside him, and a bloke in a black suit and sunglasses rolls down the window to shout over the sound of the motor.
"Oi! Looking for a wanker in coveralls, carrying a posh, mouthy tart with an arse like Shirley Eaton. You seen him?"
"No, I - I haven't," he stutters, unused voice patterning itself after the bloke's and oh, he hasn't imprinted in a long time. "Just you, mate."
The man doesn't respond, just pushes his sunglasses back on and hits the gas, tearing back the way he'd come. The Doctor looks around - if he were a kidnapper with the law after him, where would he be? There's a warehouse just down a ways, plenty of places to hide in there, and a big shiny padlock on the door to throw off anyone chasing him. He jogs over to the main door and pulls hard. The lock isn't even closed - pops right open without even having to use his sonic screwdriver. Bugger.
He pulls open the door, and immediately dodges the two-by-four swung at his head. On the other end is a woman, tall even without her ridiculously-heeled boots, her curly hair flying out in all directions. And she's yelling her head off.
"Do you have any idea whom you've just kidnapped? I'm DI Alex Drake and you'd better believe I've got fifty CID men just waiting to take a lick out of your hide! I was trying to reason with you, you bloody construct, and then you had to go and knock me on the head, as if I haven't had enough trauma for ten lifetimes-"
"Oi! I didn't kidnap you!"
"Like bloody hell!"
He holds up his hands and stays where he is. "There was this bloke, blond, wearing sunglasses and driving a flash red motor, looking for you. This looked like the only place to hide someone way out here. I was just trying to help."
She lowers the length of wood, and steps closer. He can see her through the skylight - forehead sporting a nasty purple bruise - and as soon as she decides he's no threat, she drops the two-by-four to the ground.
"Got yourself a nice shiner there," he remarks, pointing to her head. "How hard did he hit you?"
"Hard enough for me to start seeing that stupid clown again," she says, gesturing to the corner opposite him. He doesn't think he should mention that there's nothing there, because, well, there are a lot of things that lurk in the shadows. He eases closer to her, and guides her to sit down on a nearby wooden box. She looks up at him, surprised. "You're not going to take the piss out of me for seeing impossible things?"
He smiles, enjoying the way the new facial muscles stretch. "I try to believe three impossible things before breakfast. And seeing as how I'm brand new, I haven't had breakfast yet today."
"You are barking mad."
"Madder than traveling in time?" At her wide-eyed gasp of shock, he nods. "Only been done this way once before - guess you're familiar as to who."
"Sam Tyler," she breathes, reaching out to touch his leather jacket, startled when she realizes it's real.
"Wish I could help you, DI Drake, but this is your adventure. I suggest you go find that Wizard - and listen to him this time when he tells you there's no place like home."
Chapter 2: i swear it's my turn now
"Well, hel-lo gorgeous!"
He's still locking the TARDIS behind him, and odd, Jack's voice doesn't go quite that high. He turns to find a blur of blonde-and-green whizzing by him in an office chair, skidding to a stop in front of said ex-conman. They'd left Rose with Jackie for a visit and planned to hit Celaxia VI in time for the hoverball finals, but Jack's Vortex Manipulator had gone haywire and dragged Jack, the TARDIS, and himself along for the ride. Looking around, they've apparently materialized in an underground base of some sort. The date on the nearest monitor marks it as the early 21st century, with Eastern Standard Time highlighted. America, then. There are computers - and whoa, that program is definitely not for public use for at least six decades - and the aforementioned excitable blonde in her office chair looks rather impressed with herself.
Even Jack is momentarily surprised, but recovers, and kneels beside the girl. "You rang?"
"I brought you here?"
He can hear the leer in Jack's voice. "I'd say so, sweetheart. Locked onto my vortex manipulator and yanked us here. Not that I mind - there are worse people to get hijacked by than a pretty girl."
She blinks behind her multicolored glasses, glances at first him, then Jack, and shakes her head. "I didn't think it'd actually work! I mean, all I did was play around with a few equations Reid gave me. Something about the base code needed to tie Einstein's theory of mass-energy equivalence to the uncertainty principle - whatever he called it. It was just theoretical!"
Mass-energy equivalence - oh Rassilon. She's got his attention now.
"You were 'playing around' with quantum mathematics?"
She fixes him with a fairly impressive glare. "I was bored. What was I supposed to do, beat Katamari Damacy for the fifth time?"
Humans. "You're not supposed to have solved the theory to transmat travel, that's for sure. You're at least fifteen centuries too early - humankind hasn't even made first contact yet!"
Jack puts a hand on his arm, pulls him to the side and holds up a finger in a nonverbal "give us a second, will you?" to the girl.
"C'mon, Doctor - be nice to her. She's a genius, and it sounds like she works with another one. When was the last time you met a human who could solve quantum equations in their spare time?"
"Berlin, 1928. Decent bloke, name of Albert. Utterly brilliant. Probably should have taken him traveling with me, but well, we'd have no theory of relativity if I had."
"No freaking way," the girl said, planting her hands on her hips and giving them a good look at her multicolored sundress. A few of his previous selves would have approved of the color scheme, but this regeneration found it a little eye-watering. "You were alive in '28? Yeah, right."
Why do they never believe him? Jack, though, turns back to the girl and gives her one of those spectacular grins - not that he notices their quality, but Rose assures him that Jack's smile is, indeed, spectacular.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Miss Garcia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
"Hamlet. Very appropriate." She spins in her chair, and then stops, blinking up at Jack. "But I didn't tell you my name." Before Jack can offer an explanation, she pulls out a taser from underneath her console, and presses a button set into her keyboard. "Morgan, I need those rippling muscles of yours down here ASAP."
"Look, I shouldn't have called you by name, but we mean you no harm. We got pulled here by your equation by mistake. All we want to do is fix it."
She brandishes the taser, and he and Jack tacitly agree to back up to the TARDIS. She's not going to be playing around with transmat technology any longer - at least, not if setting 19 still works on his sonic screwdriver, which he employed while Jack was busy quoting the Bard.
A man kicks through the door opposite them, holding a gun. "All right, hands in the air, don't move - you okay there, baby girl?"
He and Jack hit the door to the TARDIS, but Jack can't resist a parting shot. "Looking good, Derek. Glad to see the FBI's working out for you."
He fires the old girl up, closing the doors on the two astonished FBI agents, and the last thing he hears before the TARDIS dematerializes is the man's voice.
Chapter 3: by the holes that it drills in me
He was expecting the rudeness, dealing with mercenaries. But they were Browncoats, and they'd gotten a raw deal in the War for Independence. The 23rd century wasn't very kind to humanity; least he could do was give them his extra rotating hyperdrive coil and the name of a good hideout on Boros.
The twitchy captain and his very-heavily-armed backups weren't too bad. The man didn't seem to be burdened with an overabundance of brains, while the woman? Well, Leela would have been swapping throwing-knife techniques with her inside of two minutes, once they'd figured out neither side meant each other harm. And the bouncy mechanic had thrown him for a bit, until she'd peeked behind him, shrieked, and made a beeline for the TARDIS's navigational array. The younger man was watching him warily, but that was probably due to his sister wailing and crying and hugging her knees to her chest.
Overly developed empath? Nah, not in this century, and she didn't look like she'd had any Companion training. Neurological disorder? Possibly, but why would it present only when he stepped on board? Then she looks up, straight at him, and a howl rushes through his ears.
The Archangel network . . . burn with me . . . no, Master, no, please . . . blonde hair, red nails, Rose never had those nails . . . Lucy wore diamonds not obsidian . . . bad wolf, bad wolf, who's afraid of the big bad wolf . . . came back wrong, Jack my lad . . . tell them the story and save the world, Martha Jones . . . you are not alone, old friend . . . NO, REGENERATE!
He breaks off the connection as her scream echoed around the bay, her brother running to her side along with the mechanic and the captain. Oh, the poor girl. Genetically enhanced telepath - DNA and neural pathways meddled with beyond even his comprehension - oh, that must hurt. Every second of every day, pain and fear and hurt like no one should ever know.
"What did you do to her?" the woman with the gun snaps, leveling the rifle at him.
"She's a telepath, isn't she? Hears what people are thinking, can pick up people's feelings and emotions, probably a little bit of precognition - dead useful in your type of situation - but can't control any of it. She's like an overloaded circuit, building up power and emotion until she can't hold it anymore, am I right?"
The captain looks suspicious, but the young man nods. "The Alliance did it to her. River's been like this since she was 14. If there's anything you can do-"
"Now, Doc, I know you wanna help your sister, but we don't know this fine gentleman here from Adam. Could be Alliance."
"I assure you, I've never-"
The captain interrupts him. "Don't know you. Don't much care to. You're willing to trade engine parts, but you ask for nothing in return. Got yourself a Londinium accent and a feng le looking ship that's giving my mechanic spasms of girly joy. Makes a man just a bit suspicious."
He edges carefully away from the guns and speaks directly to the young man. "I'm not Alliance. I'm not with anyone. But I might be able to help her."
After a silent exchange of glares with the captain, the young man nods, letting go of his sister. "If you can help her, I don't care who you are."
"Not human. Not from around here. Ran away from home and hasn't stopped running. Binary vascular system, Simon - you should hear it. Sound of drums."
Her voice echoes around the cargo bay, nails tapping on the steel-plated deck. Da da da da. Da da da da.
"Don't. Don't do that," he says, sitting cross-legged opposite her. "River, look at the light on the end of the device. Look only at that light and block out everything else that you feel. Can you do that for me?"
She nods, and he flicks the sonic screwdriver onto its lowest setting. All it's doing is emitting a slight hum and providing illumination. Gently, he takes her right hand in his left, and reaches out his other hand to touch her temple. It's not even conscious, breaching her psyche - she's got no barriers, no stopping measures to use against him. He can feel her panic, and he eases off, letting her know that he's not going to pick apart her brain like the people who did this to her.
Blue hands. Pocket-sized neural disrupters. Oh, those rat bastards.
"Two by two, hands of blue. No names, no faces, no mercy. They took River, made her into a tool, and put her back all broken. Needed Simon to get River back. Need a Doctor to put her back together. Don't want to be alone, Doctor - followed the path and never strayed, but the wolf got me in the end. Don't want to be the tool anymore. Just River."
He can fix her - she needs a Doctor, after all.
Chapter 4: remember me to one who lives there
It had taken him a while to want to go back into a library, even when Donna was still around. They'd eventually gotten around to spending a weekend in sixth-century Alexandria, and had cautiously spent an afternoon reading Justinian in the original Latin. Now, though, he can't even look at his library on the TARDIS without remembering Donna's face on that kiosk and the Vashta Nerada killing River's crew, one by one. Or worse - that squat little moneylender attempting to grope Donna and getting slapped so hard he spun like a top. Oh, they'd laughed till their sides split.
Nine hundred and fifty years, and you'd think he'd get used to the feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
Although, really, if he was looking so miserable slumped on a bench outside Oxford Library that random strangers kept offering him money or food, well, it was time for even a depressed Time Lord to pull it together. He's just about to return to the TARDIS for a cup of tea when a very pregnant woman sits down next to him.
"Sorry! Didn't mean to startle you. It's just that there's no more empty benches, and if I walk another step, my feet are going to come right off. Not that that's medically possible - my husband assures me that I'm just exaggerating."
She doesn't look a bit like Donna, or Martha, or Rose - actually, she reminds him of Sarah Jane - but she's got that smile that all of his Companions seem to share. Open and honest and showing a good deal of the heart she wears on her sleeve. She's wrapped in a warm pea coat, toting a shopping bag, and he scoots over to give her a little more room.
"Husband's a doctor, then? Well, I'm in good company. Sit as long as you like."
"Thank you, Doctor. Do you practice in Oxford? My husband gave a paper here not too long ago, over Thanksgiving. Calvin O'Keefe?"
He mentally runs through everyone he's met in London around the early seventies and hmmm, maybe. "Sounds a little familiar. What's his field of study?"
"Immunology. He and my brother Dennys are the 'real' doctors in the family. My mother and father have their PhDs in silly things like astrophysics and microbiology."
"Hmm, Dennys. Calvin. Astrophysics and microbiology and applied immunology. OH! You're not Meg Murry-O'Keefe, are you? Alex and Kate Murry's daughter?" At her chagrined nod, he laughs. "Blimey, you lot are brilliant! And I mean, coming from me, that's saying something, but you are. Your whole family. You're all brilliant and far too advanced for this silly little planet."
He'd love to tell her that it's her children - Polly and Rosy - who finish the work that Alex Murry started. Proving the existence of the fourth dimension and making it possible for Earthlings to travel in time and space. And it's she and Charles Wallace who use the full potential of the low-level psychic powers inborn in a tenth of the human population. He can feel her - tiny, fluttery little human mind pushing at his. All of the Murrys are special, but Meg and her younger brother are in a class of their own. Whatsit was right about them.
"We're not stars, you know. That was something Whatsit told you so you'd understand better. An analogy, like the tesseract. We do try to be Teachers, but some of us, not naming any names here, fail rather spectacularly."
He expects her to gasp, protest that this isn't happening, she can't be talking about other planets and time and space. He expects this because she's human, and that's what humans do before they begin to understand. They deny. But Meg Murry O'Keefe, who, out of anyone in the entire human race, has the ability to understand what he's talking about, just quietly reaches over and slides her hand into his.
"I do not know everything, still, many things I understand."
"Goethe. Brilliant man. Bit of an oddball. Had a thing for peach turnovers."
"That wasn't what I meant." She bumps shoulders with him, playfully, and shakes her head with a rueful smile. "Mrs. Who said that to my little brother, Charles Wallace, the day we went to Camazotz. I've never forgotten it. Charles is a traveler, like you. It's something you all need to remember."
Oh yes, very much like Sarah Jane, indeed.
"What else would you tell your brother?", he asks, almost jumping when she squeezes his hand in hers, and her voice brushes softly into his mind.
That he is never alone.
Chapter 5: can't stop what is on its way
Regeneration is never a fun experience, but this one really kind of tops even the indignity of regenerating from sixth-him to seventh-him because of a bump on the head. Ushas had a field day with that one.
"Explain this to me one more time. What exactly are you?"
Not who. What. There are times when he really, really doesn't love the human race.
He tugs at the handcuffs, hastily produced from a nearby guard as soon as he'd regained consciousness. "Laura, really, this isn't necessary. You've had breakfast every morning for the past three weeks with me."
She glares at him over her glasses. Ouch. Should've listened to the Admiral when the man had warned him about her temper.
"That isn't possible. You aren't the Doctor."
"Actually, I am. I just look different."
He supposes he should be glad - he could have been thrown in the brig, keeping the Cylons company. Instead, he's seated in a chair in the aft arms locker, being interrogated by the woman he'd thought he'd been having a fairly successful relationship with. Come to think of it, the Admiral had warned him about that too.
"I'd say so," she replied dryly, leaning against a shelf of grenades. "You used to be male. Of that I'm fairly certain."
He - wait, WHAT? He looks down at himself - and wow, would you look at that. Flared hips, smaller bones, delicate hands, and very apparent breasts. He's done the unthinkable - Time Lords joke about regenerating as the opposite sex, certainly, but only one in a million actually do it. And they usually do it deliberately, whereas he's managed it without even trying. Ushas would be rolling with laughter, if she were here to see this. Koschei would be beside himself; either that or extremely turned on.
Laura isn't really amused or aroused - she's rather irritated, actually. "No, seriously, what the hell are you?"
"I told you, I'm a Time Lord. You saw the scans you made Doctor Cottle do - two hearts, two stomachs, four lungs, and a neat little trick of evolution called triple helix DNA. The third strand is what makes it possible for me to regenerate - to grow myself a completely new body, when I die. You lot really should stop shooting suspected Cylons on sight, don't you think?"
God, she's gorgeous when she's angry. Eyes flashing, lips pursed, pale complexion reddening to a blush; she's always passionate, in everything she does. It's why he was so drawn to her - that, and she reminds him of another Lady President he'd known, once upon a time.
"You can heal yourself from a mortal wound. Resurrect yourself?" She actually has to grab hold of the doorframe, to calm herself. "Do you have any idea what that says to me?"
Bugger, he should have known. Should have remembered his history. President Laura Roslin of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, the reformer, the prophet - she has incurable cancer, and it's going to kill her. She dies just after the Fleet reaches Earth. How badly must she want to believe he's telling the truth, that he isn't a Cylon and that just maybe, he's a walking miracle for her?
"I've got a good idea." He tugs at the cuffs. "Let me go, Laura. You know I would never harm you. Or anyone else."
"I don't know anything, anymore, Doctor. Ten minutes ago, you were just another man. Now, you're someone new. What else can you change, with that fantastic ability of yours?"
"I can't change history," he says, bluntly. "I can't save you."
"You're dying. You haven't told anyone yet - not even the Admiral - but your cancer is back. It's more aggressive than ever, and no amount of chamalla or diloxin is going to help. And neither can I. I'm not a medical doctor - I can't cure cancer, or take you back in time to get another dose of hybrid blood. And even if I could, I wouldn't change time like that."
Whatever righteous indignation or titanium backbone that was holding her up just deflates, leaving her holding herself up by the metal shelving. She nods at the Marines lurking outside the hatch, and they enter, circling him to unlock the cuffs. At another nod, they head back outside and swing the hatch closed, and Laura backs up to the bulkhead, like the shelves just can't hold her any more.
He cautiously rubs his wrists - delicate, fine-boned, more even than his fifth or his tenth, and that's saying something - and approaches her. She flinches at the hand he lays on her shoulder, and just collapses into him, and wow, how did he miss how much shorter he is in this body? They're practically the same height, which is nice for these types of things, and he slides down the wall with her, ending with her slumped against him. She lays her head on his shoulder, and he brushes careful fingers through her hair, knowing in such a very short time, it's going to fall out as her cancer rips through her body.
It is only then that he realizes he has to leave her. He can't do it - watch another person he loves fade away before his eyes.
Coward. Every time.
Chapter 6: you who have been traveling so long
"Fish and chips, sausage and mash, beans on toast - NO! It's Christmas! Turkey! Although, having met your mother, nutloaf would be more appropriate."
Rose is staring at him like he's completely lost it. He laughs, hears the edge of mania to it, and oh, this is not good. He hadn't meant to go through bodies so quick. Regenerations get dodgier as you get older, and after that mishap between fifth him and sixth him, not to mention eighth him destroying Gallifrey, and then the blasted Daleks coming back, and oh, this is not good at all.
He's trying, he's trying so hard to keep it together, especially with Rose right there, but he can't. Not when seventh him is muttering in his head about his obsession with food, and ninth him (all sharp and loud and hurting so very much) is still pissed at Rose for coming back and looking into the heart of the TARDIS and bringing Captain Jack back to life . . .
"WoUld yOu liKe a FiSHie?"
And suddenly, there's thousands of floating fish swimming around the TARDIS. Rose is nowhere to be found, though - in her place is a girl he's caught glimpses of before, after his regenerations. More than an edge of Mania, then. More like wishing for some salt water and getting an ocean.
"'Ello there. I'd say it's been a while, but it really hasn't. Cup of tea? Do you drink tea? I've probably got coffee or water or Aeolian pella juice. Ooh, there's that bottle of quapang nectar Ace nicked from that little shop in Rhodes, they'll never miss it."
The girl - anthropomorphic personification, really, but who's splitting hairs at a time like this? - cocks her head and perches on the TARDIS console, giggling.
"NevEr tRied iT. I LikE tEa. IT's vERy gOoD. FlOwErS aRe sO fleEtiNg, arEn'T tHeY?"
"Flower, flower, what could you be . . . OH, Rose! Where is she?"
"ArOunD. YoUr sHIp iS sInGing. DiD yoU knOw tHat?" she says, popping the tiny stream of bubbles coming from a nearby fish one by one. "ShE sOunDs liKe mY bIg brOthEr."
"Yeeeeah. Okay. Sure. But back to Rose - is she okay? Where did she go?"
She begins to fade around the edges - Cheshire grins and Alice in Wonderland make a lot more sense now, and boy, does he have a new appreciation for old Lewis - fish winking out of existence along with her.
"NoT wHeRe. WhEn. BacK hOme. FiNd heR laTer. DoN't fOrGEt thE aPple oR yoU'lL miSs tHe baNanAs."
Only her eyes are left, and the mismatched green and blue slide into alignment for one brief moment. And he smiles: they are both of them at peace for that moment.
"Lots to see, Doctor. Don't hide from the wolves."
His regenerations flash before his eyes as she disappears. White hair, black hair, opera cape, long scarf, blonde hair, curly hair, question marks, ascot, leather jacket, and finally, red trainers and glasses. But they don't stop there. He sees three more - plaid jumper, ginger hair (yes! Finally!), and a silhouette of indiscriminate gender. Huh, he'd never considered regenerating as a woman before - various discomforting biological processes such as the possibility of bearing children had put him off. The last regeneration fades before his eyes, and is replaced by a girl in a blue jumper and a worried look on her face. And he smiles.
Rose. Time to see Rose again. That sounds good - Rose and a nice cup of tea.