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A Doctor, a Pott and an Ace

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"You got new shoes." The Doctor observed, pointing without looking at the shiny red sneakers Bill was wearing, a stark contrast to the word out Dr.Martens she normally favoured.

"Yeah I did." Bill nodded, dropping her backpack on the floor and sitting down in her chair on the other side of the desk. "Got them real cheap at the same place I got you that rug." She gestured to the cream coloured rug lying next to the TARDIS. She’d gotten it for him as a christmas gift, half-joking, and though he’d been quite angry about it at the time it had been lying on the floor next to the time machine since.

"And what place is that?" He asked, not bothering to even look at her as he flipped the pages of a thick literature book. Bill knew he was merely trying to be polite, engaging in small talk like 'humans liked to do', but in order to recognise his effort she decided to give him an answer anyways.

"It's a charity shop downtown. Worked there for a while when I was like fiteen or something. Still do a few shifts as volunteer work whenever I have the time." She answered politely, searching her backpack for the Wordsworth poems he'd given her last time.

"You worked a charity shop when you were fifteen? And it got you so hooked you still work there for free?" Looking up from her backpack, Bill could see that The Doctor now looked quite intrigued, and she smiled painfully.

"It was community service. I'd been in and out of trouble repeatedly at the time, doing service over and over. A week here, two months there. Finally, I got in some pretty deep shit, and they decided to send me to the so-called ‘U-turn’. Obviously it worked wonders.” She smiled fondly, remembering the summer she spent working in the charity shop, otherwise known as 'the U-Turn'. "90% of all the people working there are young people on community service. They take care of you and help you sort put your life while you're an employee. Afterwards, when you’ve straightened your act, you come back to work there and help others. " Finally, she gave up on trying to find the Wordsworth poems, realising she must have forgotten them, and straightened up in her chair.

"Free work force and a favour to society. What a great example of human thinking.” The Doctor mused, watching her with obvious interest. "You still haven't said what it's called, though."

"A charitable Earth." Bill smiled proudly."It's a part of a multinational foundation with the same name, and they’ve got 50 stores in the UK alone. They throw charity dinners and stuff, too, just to make money for poor people. So far they've raised billions."

The Doctor nodded. The name felt familiar, and somehow he thought he ought to know about it, but he couldn't figure out why. "Sounds great." He said instead, thinking it sounded a bit off compared to his normal repertoar.

Hearing this, Bill gave him a weird look. "You don’t think that it's run by aliens, do you? I mean I've met the founder more than a few times, and she's waaaay out there... but not in an alien kind of way. More like in a sixties and drugs kind of way." Bill commented, measuring The Doctor's reaction. He looked as though he was trying very hard to remember something, but couldn't, and it worried Bill.

Slowly, he shook his head. "Of course it's not alien. Either me, or UNIT, or Sarah Jane would have dealt with it a long time ago if it was." He pointed out dryly, and Bill looked up from rummaging around in her bag again.

"Who is Sarah Jane?" She asked. She knew what UNIT was - The Doctor had brought here there once when he had some business with the scientific advisor, Kate Stewart - but she had never heard him mention anyone named Sarah Jane.

"An old friend.” The Doctor quickly waved away her question, and Bill knew better than to pressure him. “When did you meet the founder of this organisation? You said you did, but if she is some kind of eccentric philanthropist and the head of a multinational foundations that has raised billions, then you shouldn't be able to meet her just like that, should you?”

At this inquiry, Bill grinned, her smile growing bigger as she heard his question. It was obvious The Doctor did not know the first thing about A Charitable Earth and it's founder. "She's not the office and pantsuits type. She’s super rich and successful and everything, but she still spend most her time traveling all over and visiting the shops and event that the foundation organises. She used to come to the store where I worked all the time. Like I said, waaay out there." She rolled her eyes, finally pulling up the item she'd been looking for: Her phone.

"Sounds like a nice woman." The Doctor remarked, a small smirk on his lips.

"Only because it's basically what you do all the time. Anyway, Dotty - that's what she insist we call her, she's amazing. She’s funny and eccentric and can make homemade explosives like it's nobody's business! Always got some in her handbag, too. Just in case she’d need it. She even used to sit with us and tell us how she straightened her act." Bill glanced at The Doctor, seeing that his frown had deepened, and quickly went back to scrolling through the camera roll on her phone. She didn’t know what was bothering him, but something was, and she hoped he’d be able to get over it soon. She liked it better when he was happy. "Apparently she met this guy, a professor or a doctor or something, when she was like seventeen, and they went on to travel around the world together. She used to say…” The words died in Bill’s throat as she finally found the picture of her and Dotty, a sudden realisation dawning on her as she looked at the picture she’d pulled up on her phone.

 

“Yes? What did she used to say?” The Doctor asked after a moment of silence, a little impatient. He could see there was something bigger going on inside Bill’s head, he face a mix of surprise and shock as she stared down at her phone, and he wanted to know what was going on. Because as Bill was drawing her own conclusions, so was he.

 

Dotty, or as he suspected she was really named, Dorothy McShane, had been a woman that had used to travel with him once. He’d picked her up on an alien planet to which she’d been transported by mistake and allowed her replace his earlier companion Mel when she chose to leave. Everything Bill had told him about the woman, from being good at making homemade explosions, to having had her life straightened out by a doctor or a professor, fitted her perfectly. He had always tried to make Dorothy call him The Doctor, but she had equally stubbornly insisted on calling him Professor instead.

 

“She.. she used to say he took her to see the stars.” Bill finally squeeze out, her voice threadbare as she spoke. “Normally, she’d talk about going to France and Mexico and Kenya. Of seeing the world, and doing things that sounded so amazing yet not entirely impossible. And that was fine. Only; sometimes, she’d tell other stories, too. She’d joke about vampires and cyborgs and Time traveling aliens and even the Loch Ness monster. Fairytales, things that couldn’t possibly be real.” She looked up at The Doctor. Before meeting him, those things had been impossible. With him, she’d already seen and defeated more monsters than she ever thought could possibly exist.

“Maybe that guy she met fed her drugs? A little too far out, is it not?” The Doctor asked as Bill lapsed back into silence, arching a brow. A thin smile rested on his lips.

 

Bill glared at him. At first she felt angry, but as she spotted his small smile, she felt the anger melt away and give way for happiness. “You...she traveled with you, didn't she? When she was younger. You're the Professor!” She tried to contain her excitement, but the thought was mesmerizing.

 

“Of course I'm a professor! Look, I got a desk!” He sat up straight, gesturing to the massive oak desk in front of him.

 

Bill sigh, rolling her eyes. “That’s not what I meant, Doctor, and you know it.” By now, Bill was quite certain The Doctor was on the same page as her. “Did she, or did she not, travel with you?” She stared him straight in the eyes, trying to wordlessly tell him she was not going to let it go as she pushed the phone and the picture across the desk for The Doctor to see.

 

Now it was The Doctor’s turn to sigh, leaning back in his chair as he picked up her phone, glancing at the picture on the screen. Standing next to a small chocolate coloured teenager in what looked like a convenience store, was a blond woman in an eerily familiar bomber jacket. Her smile was just as he remembered Dorothy’s to have been, and he felt his stomach knot with unease at how little this woman seemed to have changed from the girl in his memories. It had to be her. “Yes” He said, his mouth quirking upwards despite himself as he recalled the way she’d used to be when they traveled. “Dorothy McShane, also known as Ace and apparently Dotty, my former companion. Just as she told you, I took her to France, Mexico and Kenya, among others.” He paused, giving her a pointed look. “I am a time traveling alien, and we did meet Cyborgs and vampires and the Loch Ness Monster.”

 

At this, Bill couldn’t help by laugh. “No way!” She protested. “No bloody way! You did not just say the Loch Ness monster is real! I mean, then you could...you could take me to meet it! A selfie with the Loch Ness monster, what a day!” The thought was so absurd that Bill simply couldn't take it seriously, laughing as she went along.

The Doctor gave her an unimpressed look. “I could take you, if you want. You’d be the third total, and the first since Ace.” He smiled.

 

Bill nodded, no longer laughing but a shit eating grin still present on her face. “Sure, we could do that.” She said, trying not to show her excitement as she switched the topic. “But first, I just got to ask. I mean, Dotty...she’s rich like you wouldn’t believe it and she invented explosives with military grade usage and she’s raised billions for people in need. And she credits you for all of that.” Bill paused, chewing her lip as she tried to formulate the question in her mind. “Does…is that how everyone becomes, when they’ve traveled with you? Have they seen so much suffering and pain, that once they get off the ride they want to do everything to stop it.” She thinks of Spider, of the little boy being pulled down under, the Doctor barely having time to take the sonic screwdriver from his cold dead hand before he disappeared. It had awoken so many feelings in her, and among them she felt a need to do something, to try and protect all the vulnerable children still walking upon the Earth two hundred years later.

 

At first, The Doctor seemed shocked. It was clear he had not expected the question, and he stood frozen by his bookshelf as he pondered the answer. Finally, he nodded. “Yes. Yes that's how it is. Ben and Polly has an orphanage in India, Jo travel the world to attend protest rallies and climate conferences, Sarah Jane is an investigating reporter, and Tegan work for Aboriginal rights in Australia.” He paused, and Bill considered what he’d said, all he said people had done because he taught them to. “People do it because I showed them pain and grief and horrors. But not because of the guilt and fear all they witnessed left behind, but because they realised they loved doing it. Because the travels and adventures me and them pursued taught them to be honest with themselves, and allowed them to dare do what they really wanted.”

 

Bill observed him, and nodded. “You made them better people, without changing who they are. You allowed them to be of benefit  to Earth, without making them budge on their ethical and moral values.” She smiled, almost crying as she thought of the happy and spaced-out Dotty with her high hopes and energetic ideas. There was just so much energy , to keep pushing forward and keep improving. A burning ember in her that she could imagine The Doctor having fed until it was strong enough to survive on its own. Suddenly, she looked up at The Doctor.  “Do you think I will be like that, when I’m not traveling anymore?” For Bill, asking the question was almost scary. It was as though it would be hurtful if she tried to acknowledge, that one day she would not be travelling with the Doctor anymore.

 

Hearing her question, however, The Doctor simply smiled and shook his head. “One can always hope.” He said happily.

 

Chapter Text

“Doctor!” Bill screamed as she rushed inside the office, so excited that she forgot to even close the door behind her. “Doctor! You gotta come with me to this thing on Friday!”

 

Popping his head up from behind his desk, the Doctor gave her an angry glare, furrowed eyebrows and all. “Why would I spend my Friday night engaging in pudding brain activities with pudding brains on what is according to pudding brains a Friday night?”

 

Bill shot him a glare right back. “Because it's at the charity shop downtown, and Dotty’s gonna be there.” She gave him a huge grin, clspping her hands toghther in excitment. “You can meet her! Isn’t that great?”

 

The Doctor froze, shock clear on his face. Whatever motivation he’d expected her to give, it was not this. As she realised that The doctor was not as thrilled as she, Bill’s smile slowly died out, replaced by an uncertain frown as she waited for the doctor to say something.

 

“I don't  think you understand.” He said finally, once more diving down under his desk for whatever reason.”I don’t go back.”

 

Bill furrowed her brows. “What do you mean? You never visit any of your old companions after they stop traveling with you? Like, they never see you again?”

 

He shook his head defiantly. “No. I move on.” He paused, and waited a little. Bill could see he wanted to say something more, but didn't know if he should, and she kept her sudden range at bay in order to give him a chance to continue. “Most people do not wish for me to come back for them in the end. Either they're dead or angry.”

 

“Oh.” All Bill’s anger suddenly dispersed, as she realised that he did not leave them behind and move on because he didn’t care. Not at all. “Did Dotty hate you when she left?” She wondered. Bill knew Dotty quite well and she didn't think she’d ever seen her be angry with anyone. Not even when Pixie had knocked down and destroyed a hole shelf’s worth of vases had she been angry. Instead, she had hugged the younger girl and comforted her and told her it was really not that bad and she didn't have to pay for any of it.

 

Now, The Doctor smiled, shaking his head. “No. She jumped out of the TARDIS with a smile and told me to call her sometime if I feeled like it.” He looked down under the desk and shook his head a second time, a bitter expression now on his face. “I never did.”

 

“But you can!” Bill encouraged, feeling quite happy that the situation wasn't actually as awkward as she thought - it certainly would have been awkward if she’d suggested he meet her only to find out they parted in anger twenty years earlier. “Come with me to karaoke night at A Charitable Earth! You only have to pay at least two pounds to get in and it's all for charity! Plus I’ve been to one of these nights before and it’s wicked, especially when Dotty climbs on stage!” She can't help her teasing smirk, but she could see that she was slowly starting to sell The Doctor on the idea, too.

 

After another few moments of consideration, The Doctor nodded, and smiled - it was his ‘I’m taking you on an adventure’ smile, which he always gave her every time they exited the TARDIS somewhere new. “Fine. But I am not paying!”

 

At this, Bill bursted out laughing for real, because in the end all he required was for her to pay . She was about to drag The Doctor along to see Dotty and tell her that she knew her stories had been true because she had also met a time traveling alien now and all The Doctor wanted to agree to it was for her to pay .

 

Shaking her head and still laughing, she replied. “Sure Doctor, I’ll pay!”

 

The Doctor wasn’t as amused, but his smile was not entirely gone. “Great. Friday it is.”

 

“Yeah. I’ll meet you here, and we’ll walk there together.” With that, Bill left his office, walking away down the corridors of the university with a ridicoulesly happy smile on her face. She really felt as  that she was doing a good deed, attempting to help reunite the two friends, not to mention she found it a very exciting adventure herself.

 

This Friday was going to be wicked!

 

Chapter Text

Later that night, he sits in his chair, trying to wrestle a sudden wave of panic that had overcome him with a moment’s notice.  He was really going to meet Ace again, all grown up and raising money for those in need.

 

An eccentric philanthropist head of a multinational foundation, nothing like anything he ever figured for her to become.

 

Not that he had imagined much to begin with, though. That particular regeneration had been good at expecting the worst situations, ready for his companions to double cross him at any moment, and had had an attitude to match.

 

Hurrying to continue with what he’d planned before he lost his courage to do so, he quickly typed ‘interview’ and ‘Dorothy McShane’ into the google search bar, clicking to see the video options.

 

He thought maybe it’d be easier to face her - something he really shouldn't have agreed to, but he’d been lost in the moment and didn't think it through - if he knew what she looked and acted like nowadays. Hence the search for video clips.

 

After some scrolling, passing all kinds of interviews ranging from blog posts by teenagers to a BBC coverage of the foundation, he was surprised to find a four or five year old interview conducted by no one else than Sarah Jane Smith, and quickly pressed play.

 

The link redirected him onto the YouTube page, and after some buffering the video started playing.

 

The two women on the screen were both standing outside, at a noisy fair or perhaps an outdoor market, and Ace looked rather like she’d been caught in the act, hair fluttering freely in the breeze and an oversized handbag awkwardly placed in her arms.

 

“Miss McShane, can I ask some questions? My name is Sarah Jane Smith and I’m doing a video reportage about summer fair your foundation has put up.” Sarah was kind and considerate, polite smiles and careful approach as she spoke to the Ace, and it seemed to sedate the other woman because she put down her bag and nodded.

 

“It’d be a pleasure. What would you like to know, Miss Smith?” Ace smiled happily. Fake, The Doctor thought, but not entirely hostile.

 

“Well first off, let’s give some general information for our unknowing audience. Your name is Dorothy McShane, born in London, 29 years of age and founder of the ACE foundation, Ace coincidentally also being your childhood nickname.” Sarah Jane read off a note, and didn't notice Ace smile growing more frustrated and tired as she read. “And with that down, let’s go with the million dollar question. Why create A Charitable Earth?”

 

A charming smile from Sarah Jane as she looked up from the card, and Ace smile grew bigger, less false and polite. “Because I want to help. Money goes to youth and children in need, and the people who work in our stores are almost always youth serving community service, or people having once done the same.” She paused, looking a bit uncertain, and Sarah Jane waited patiently. “I myself was abandoned as a baby, and grep up in foster homes. I had trouble feeling safe and with a belonging, which lead to me being destructive and...ahem” At this, Ace had the audacity to blush slightly, even though The Doctor knew she had never been ashamed of her own manners. “Blew things up with the help of homemade explosives. It was going very badly for me, but when I was seventeen I  met a man who took an interest in me and helped me. He got me back on the right path and inspired me to want to give others the same opportunity.”

 

Sarah Jane smiled, the spark of recognition and familiarity in her eyes seemingly not missed by either of them as they shared a meaningful smile, and they were able to pass a moment or two in comfortable silence before Sarah continued. “Well, seeing as I know you’re going to be on stage in ten minutes, I’m just going to ask one last question now. What is next? For you, and for A Charitable Earth?” She kept a polite demeanor, but the way her face turned slightly foul as she said the last part told The Doctor more than he needed to know of what was going on in his friends brain. Clearly, Sarah only wanted to ask about the foundation, but if the girl was single the TV wanted a story about it.

 

Finally, Ace seemed to grow a little uncomfortable, her hands fiddling with her hair. It had obviously been braided earlier, but large chunks had come loose and flew freely around in the breeze. “As for the future of A Charitable Earth, we are putting a lot of focus on Australia, actually. I am friends with a human rights activist there who is fighting for Aboriginal rights, and we are cooperating to help figure out ways for A Charitable Earth to support the cause.” She smiled, a frown quickly replacing it as she started chewing on her lip. “As for myself, I suppose I have been to a few dates. Finding a partner is definitely on the list of things to do before my life is over.” She shrugged. “But there is plenty time still. I do not want children, either way, so that's not an issue.” The way she looked at Sarah Jane was almost pleading, begging her to release her from the torture of discussing her private life on TV.

 

“Alright, thank you Miss McShane. It was most enjoyable to interview you, but I think I’ll let you go now.” Sarah concluded, and The Doctor immediately hit pause, freezing the picture as the two women stood next to one another and smiling at the camera.

 

Taking a deep breath, he sigh and leaned back into the back of the stuffed chair. It was comfortable, but The Doctor hardly felt it comforting as he stared at the screen in front of him. Though he made note of Sarah Jane, definitely older than when they first started but still very beautiful, his focus is on Ace. Though the video is plenty old, he still can't help but feel struck by how little she’s changed since she left the TARDIS. At least twenty years on and her appearance and mannerism still appeared to be very much the same.

 

Sighing again, he turned off the screen, desperately trying to smother his nerves as he once more thought of his promise to Bill. There was no backing out now, it was going to happen. He was  going to meet Ace again.

Chapter Text

“So, ready for the big reunion?” Bill grinned, and The Doctor winced, pulling his coat tighter around him. It was wet, cold and miserable and he couldn't wait for summer to come, briefly pondering if it'd be so very bad if he just skipped ahead a few months until it was summer again. Not to mention, of he skipped ahead a few months, then he could avoid meeting Ace again all together. Considering the way his stomach clenched and he kept switching over to respiratory bypass  in order to keep his panic at bay, it seemed quite tempting.

 

“Don’t say it like that.” He snapped, giving Bill a sharp look from the corner of his eye. “You tricked me into this.” He picked up speed, trying to out-walk Bill even though he didn’t know where they were doing. For all the time he spent running around and fighting aliens in London, he had a surprisingly hard time finding his way along the many streets.

 

“Hey! You agreed to come, you said you’d come if I paid the entrance fee. I thought you’d like to meet Dotty again.” As Bill said the last words, she sounded almost sad. Disappointed, perhaps, that he wasn't sharing her excitement. Or guilty because she felt she was forcing him into something he didn't want. Whatever it was, it made him soften, feeling slightly guilty himself for blaming this on Bill when he said yes to the suggestion originally.

 

God, he was truly a mess.

 

“I’m sorry.” He muttered, so quiet Bill had to strain her ears to her it at all, burrowing his hands further into the depth of his pockets, a wobbly frown on his lips. “I’m just...I’ve never faced my old companions before. Well, maybe once or twice, but it's not been very successful endeavors.”

 

“But this Dotty !” Bill protested immediately, trying to keep a happy attitude despite The Doctor’s negativity. She knew she wouldn't be able to carry through with this, either, if she let his negativity get to her. “Pixie broke a hole shelf of vases once and Dotty didn’t even make her pay for it! She hugged her and gave her sandwiches!” Bill meant it. She didn’t believe Dotty was capable of hating anyone, at least not in the long run, and she didn’t believe she would be cross with The Doctor.

 

Hearing this, The Doctor stopped walking, turning around to look Bill dead in the eyes.

“So that means she won’t resent me for promising to call and never doing that? I left her behind, and she asked me to take care. Barely ten minutes later I was gunned down by gangsters and forced to regenerate, very nearly not even managing that.” The Doctor yelled, unable to help himself. It was not Bill’s fault, none of it, but he didn't know what else to do with all the sadness and fear and guilt tearing him apart. The picture of his blonde little angel with a baseball bat burned in the back of his mind and the words caught in his throat as he continued to speak. “If...if she’s never hated anyone before...I am going to be the first.”

 

As he finished his tirade, he took a deep breath that barely helped at all, sniffling and trying to suppress the tears welling up in his eyes. He felt embarrassed and ashamed over having lost his composure so completely. Normally, he was at the very least able to fake an aura of calm and confidence, but at the moment even that was too much of a stretch for him to be able to make it believable.

 

“I promise it's going to be okay. I’m here for you, okay? We do it together.” Bill’s hand landed upon his arm, squeezing it tightly in an attempt to comfort him. Seeing The Doctor very nearly breaking down had been scary, but she understood how he felt. Obviously, he wanted to meet her, but his fears kept tripping him along the way.

 

For a while, they continued on walking in comfortable silence. The Doctor didn’t feel like talking much, and Bill wanted to give him some space and allow him to gather his thoughts and feelings after his almost-break down. Bill’s hand remained resting on top of The Doctor’s arm, squeezing it lightly, the warm touch and gentle pressure acting as a sort of non-verbal comfort for The Doctor and a calming sensation for Bill. Feeling his arm resting under her hand, Bill felt safer, knowing she would be able to tell if he was getting upset again.

 

As they came to the end of the street, Bill tugged at The Doctor’s arm, dragging him with her down a side street. The street, which The Doctor didn’t think he had ever been on before, ended in a red brick wall with a door in the middle. The door was a real eye sore, bright pink and green splattered on across its wooden surface. Above the door, ‘A Charitable Earth -  ACE Foundation’ was scrawled with spray paint in a rainbow of colours. The Doctor could tell from the mismatched colours scheme and design of the letters that it was not one person who had once written it there.

 

“Look! I wrote the ACE letters!” Bill grinned, looking up at The Doctor and pointing at the blue, pink and yellow lettering in the middle, obviously proud of her handiwork.

 

“Good job.” The Doctor commented, smiling, feeling like a father inspecting one of his daughter's drawings. It made him feel warm and nostalgic inside, remembering when he’d used to travel with his granddaughter in his first incarnation. It was a bittersweet love that made itself reminded in his heart, but he enjoyed it for the moment, appreciating the way it for once didn’t hurt so much as comfort.

 

Letting Bill lead him by the arm to the door, The Doctor took a deep breath. This was it. He was going to step through that door, and he was going to face his past.

 

It scared him. He had never done anything quite like it, and he wasn't quite sure it was going to end well.

 

But he also felt excited, happy even. It might be frightening, but he wanted to do it. He wanted to see what had become of his Ace, wanted to hug her and talk to her and prove to himself that not all stories that involved him ended badly.

 

“Ready?” Bill asked, glancing at him and squeezing his arm extra tight. He nodded.

 

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

The inside of the store was largely what you might expect of a slightly run-down charity store at the end of a dead-end street. It was a cramped space, filled with second hand furniture and and shelves full of trinkets and everyday objects with scuffed paint and chipped edges. Because of all the things blocking the view, it was impossible to get a good view of the hole space. Had The Doctor not had Bill to lead him, expertly zigzagging between leather seats and bookshelves full of porcelain figurines, he was sure he would have gotten lost in the sea of used items.

 

Thankfully, Bill got the through safely and without a hitch, dragging him out on the other side of the labyrinth and showing that the ‘Personal only’ marked door on the other side of the counter lead into a much larger room on the other side.

 

The break room, which might as well have been bigger than the store itself, was decorated with a little kitchenette and a few chairs and tables. The furniture had been pushed to the side in favour of setting up a makeshift stage with a number of other chairs in front of it, and The Doctor marveled at how much space there was in something called a break room . Smaller groups of people were spread out throughout the room, making use of the space, and an aura of excitement and happiness hung in the air, mixing with the timid noise of the different conversations going on in the room.

 

“You okay?” Bill glanced at him, her hand seeking out his and squeezing it lightly as she waited for his reply.

 

Finally, The Doctor nodded. “Yes. It’s...I’m fine.” His eyes searched the room, his calculating mind discarding faces of people he didn't recognise at the speed of light as he searched for the one he had come there to meet. “Is...is Ace here? Do you see her?”

 

Bill shook her head. She hadn’t seen her yet. “I don't think so. I don't see her…” Her eyes roamed around the room, too, helping him look for the specific woman that this entire night seemed to center around with little luck.

 

The both of them were so busy looking around the room to try and see if their target was there, that neither of them actually heard when the door opened behind them and someone stepped inside.

 

“Bill? I didn't know you were going to come tonight!” A warm hand landed on Bill’s arm, and she almost jumped out of her skin as she turned around swiftly, suddenly coming face to face with Dotty’s blinding smile.

 

“Dotty!” She exclaimed, as much out of surprise as to warn The Doctor of her presence, knowing there was a risk he’d start to panic otherwise.

 

The woman, unsuspecting, nodded. “That’s me alright!” She laughed, happy and positive as always.

 

“Ace.” The Doctor’s voice was gravelly and hoarse, the words catching in his throat as he turned around and saw her standing there. It was the first time he’d seen her in so many years, and it was as though all air had been pushed out of his lungs, slowly suffocating him. He could feel his hearts beating at twice their normal speed as he took in the image of the woman before him, smiling more than he should.

 

A middle aged woman, dressed in a oversized denim jacket and a tattered green dress with black leggings and red sneakers. Long blond hair in a strict braid hanging over her right  shoulder and a large handbag hanging over her left shoulder, her arm jerking it upwards every so often as it started to slide down. A blinding smile rested on her lips and her eyes shone with a warmth and understanding that The Doctor had never seen anywhere else.

 

It was truly her. Twenty years and so many lifetimes later, he was back. Back with her, to give her the callback she always had deserved.

 

“Excuse me, do I know you?” Her eyes lifted to his face, one eyebrow highered just a little. There was no recognition on her face, and in a sudden moment of ice cold realisation it dawned on him, that she actually  didn't recognise him. That she was not The Brigadier or Kate, who’d know from just a sideway glance and barely even that that he’d changed faces again, but that it was still him. For her, all The Doctor had ever been was that tiny, cunning Scotsman.

 

A tall, grumpy, white haired Scotsman all too unlike the one she’d known didn’t rose any memories sleeping in her brain, and now that he thought of it he realised he should have know it wouldn't.

 

The knot in his stomach tightened and he could feel the words struggling to come even more, but finally he said something. “Yes.” He said, entirely useless but almost more than he could manage.

 

Somehow he hoped that Bill would come to his rescue. She heard what happened, heard what Ace said, and she knew the story, she could explain it to Ace, if she wanted to.



But she didn’t. Wordlessly and without as much as a goodbye, Bill suddenly  snuck off, passing by The Doctor and disappearing further into the room before neither he or Ace could protest.

 

Ace watched her go with a measure of amusement. “Well, she was in a hurry.” She commented, before looking back at The Doctor. She seemed puzzled, but showed no sign of understanding the reason for it. “Prey tell, who are you? You say we have met before, obviously when I was young and still went by that ridiculous nickname, but I can't say I recognise you.”

 

He thought about his response. His voice still did not seem to want to quite cooperate, and he was still feeling a sort of distant, yet acute panic at the thought of what he was doing, but he needed to say something to make her understand. He needed to tell her that he was him , The Professor, her beloved little Scotsman.

 

“Perrrrivale.” He said finally, settling on a one-word response, but trying to drag out the r like that incarnation always had used to. He hoped it would be enough to make her understand who he was, finally. The words refusing to come out of his mouth was frustrating and uncharacteristic, and he wished for nothing more than it to ease up, but it didn’t seem like it wanted to.

 

Not until Ace recognised him.

 

Saying that one word was like turning on a light in Ace’s brain, the kick she had had needed all along.

 

Suddenly, Ace seemed to understand exactly what it was going on. Her eyes went wide and her body tensed, hand coming up to cover her mouth out of pure shock. “Professor...professor...professor, is that you?” She looked almost scared, eyebrows knitting together in concern and tears rising in her eyes. Her reaction makes him want to run, to pretend he was never there, but his feet won't listen. They force him to stay put and not move regardlessly, and he watch as the moments pass by and the appearance doesn't change.

 

She is still terrified and unwilling to believe her eyes and he wish he could make it all be a dream for her sake. Because somehow he had always known, that this was how it was to end.

 

“I’m sorry.” He says, finally, the apology stretching so much further than scaring her and never calling her back all those years ago. It stretches out across time and space, to all those he never gave what they deserved. River, Martha, Jack, Ace, Sarah Jane, Jo, Katarina, Sara, Vickie, even Ian and Barbara had deserved better than what he gave them. Most if them he had no chance to make it up to anymore, most of them had been lost long ago, but Ace was still there- and therefor he had finally started making it right by giving her his apology. “I shouldn’t have come back.”

 

As he says the fateful words and give her the apology she always deserved, Ace seemed to break. Her handbag fell to the floor with a heavy thump, and, having opened up as it fell, its contents spilled out across the floors.

 

To The Doctor’s own surprise, the first thing to roll out of the green bag was two eerily familiar metal containers, soon followed by a worn out baseball bat. The Doctor could feel the air catching in his throat again, his voice stopping somewhere between a desperate cry and a joyful laughter.

 

Two cans of Nitro-9 and a baseball bat rested by his feet. The trustworthy, Dalek-defeating Ace McShane starter pack he’d helped her put together himself.

 

The sight of it convinced him. She truly was his Ace, even when she no longer went by that name.

 

“You haven't changed one bit, I see.” He said, filling the silence as she refrained from answering his earlier statement, quickly bending down to the floor and gathering the items in the bag again, standing up and reaching out to give it back to Ace. She looked at it, then at him, and then back at the bag once more.

 

“You made me something I never wanted to change from.” As she spoke at last, The Doctor found himself caught in a strong embrace as she instead of taking the bag gripped at his waist, pulling him in for a hug and letting the bag drop down to the floor again. “You made me everything I ever wanted to be, and more still...When I stopped traveling I, I couldn't, wouldn't change. I was going to stay on the path you lead me to.”

 

“Oh...uh...um...how great…” The Doctor, awkwardly recuperating the hug simply because it was too uncomfortable to try not to, tried to think up a good response. He couldn't. The shock was too great, the overwhelming warmth from Ace reminding him of how he pictured the meeting in his most optimistic dreams, but clashed with what he had actually thought would happen.”How great to meet you again Ace.”

 

“Professor, are you angry at me?” He looks down, and she looks up. Once, it had used to be the other way. But what hasn’t changed, though, is that she looks like a child, so small and shameful over a perceived error in her behaviour. It breaks him to see her act that way, because he had tried to train that kind of insecurity out of her for so long.

 

Quickly, he jam a hand under her -still prominent as ever - chin and raise up her head, smiling at her and hoping she’d smile back. “I thought you’d be angry with me .” He says, and now she smiles for real, even going as far as to laugh. “And don't be an insecure baby. I taught you better than that.” He gives her a stern look for effect, but knows she knows he doesn't mean it.

 

“I am not a baby anymore Professor!” She rebuts immediately, smiling, and it feel almost natural, the two of them slipping into old patterns even though nothing is like the old days.

 

He gives her a pat on the cheek and a cheeky smile. “There, there, you’ll always be my baby, Ace.” He surprised himself with how gentle his voice is, soft and warm and fatherly. It made his heart beat faster just to hear his own voice, a reassuring feeling warming up his inside.

 

Suddenly, Ace sigh, and instead of comforting warmth there is suddenly ice cold dread clenching his heart as she looked at him. There was a serious look on her face, her happiness having melt away. “Doctor, what are you doing here?” She asks, her voice more forlorn than a moment ago, a facade that has fallen apart.

 

Behind them, people has started talking more loudly, and someone has already stepped on the stage, working their way through a multitude of sad and dramatic Adele songs, straining their voices to reach the complicated, high-pitched notes. From the speakers, the heartbreaking lyrics of the latest song were echoing around the room.

 

It's hard to win me back
Everything just takes me back
To when you were there
To when you were there
And a part of me keeps holding on
Just in case it hasn't gone
I guess I still care
Do you still care?

 

The woman who was singing was not an expert, but her voice was powerful and so, so sad, the words she was singing perfectly matching the unspoken word resting between him and Ace.

 

Finally, The Doctor sigh too. “Bill. Bill, she...she took me here. Found out we had a past and thought there should be a reunion.” He smiled lopsidedly. “She is amazing, our Bill.”

 

It wasn’t what Ace wanted to hear. It wasn’t what he had wanted to tell her, either, but he could still remembers so very clearly how he had promised her not to lie. He wasn't going to lie to her ever again.

 

It didn’t keep her face from falling, though, and The Doctor could see how all happiness was lost; hostility growing instead.

 

“So you didn’t want to meet me?!” Her voice rises and she fights not to shout and attract attention from those around them, fingers clenched and face displaying clear signs of anger. “You’re here to appease Bill? Don't even have the courage to tell off your little companions any more? For that is what you’ve made of her, have you not? A companion! A new girl to travel alongside you until you throw her in the damn garbage can like everyone else!”

 

Oh, I'm so mad I'm getting old
It makes me reckless

 

He wanted to protest, wanted to tell her this was not it. For it wasn't. He had wanted to meet Ace, had thought of calling her so many times, but he’d been so scared.

 

He was still scared.

 

Suddenly, the room felt too small and too hot, too much noise resting in the background and too many people  crowding around them. His breathing was reduced to short, shallow gasps that barely contributed with any oxygen to his lungs as the panic suddenly started taking over.

 

The need to run is imminent and he can feel his feet moving before his brain does, rushing him out of the room before anything else could be said or done.

 

He needed to flee, to move and escape, or else he did not know what he was to do. He didn't know what to do. He only knew that ne needed to go.

 

“Professor wait!” Ace is screaming, chasing him because she knew he always fled even when he didn’t want to. She followed him through the maze of items and shelves in the main room of the shop, out of the store and into the alleyway.

 

Finally, once out in the allway, where he’d perceived himself to have a chance of being safe, he allows himself to stop - a split second decision he soon regrets as he feels a hand grabbing onto his wrist.

 

He knows it's her. That it's just Ave stopping him from making a grand mistake, but his brain doesn't quite listen.

 

A million memories of humans and aliens alike grabbing onto that wrist flickers through his mind, their sometimes hostile and sometime good intentions muddling everything up inside him and before he can really process it he is going in to elbow the woman attacking him in the face, backing away and turning to face her when he’s standing on the other side of the street.

 

Ace is doubled over with her hand covering her face, using the wall to steady herself. She’s not moving, and for a moment, he just stands and wait, wait to see what she is going to do.

 

He had hit her. The Ace he knew would never had stood for it, not even from him, but even after having spent what felt like hours with her he was not quite sure what stood before him. One moment she was exactly as he remembered his little Ace, one moment she was a different woman entirely.

 

He is about to do something- anything, actually, because he hit someone he actually genuinely cared about in her face  - but he never makes it there, because they are interrupted by someone else stepping out into the street, Bill suddenly standing in front of the both of them.

 

“The fuck are you doing?!”

 

 

 






Chapter Text

Bill had decided that she wanted to keep an eye on The Doctor and Dotty.

 

It wasn’t that Bill was worried The Doctor would screw up or anything. Both he and Dotty were mature adults, and she was confident that they could resolve whatever might need resolving amongst themselves.

 

No, she was merely curious to see how their interactions would pan out.

 

Bill felt slightly concerned as Dotty suddenly hugged The Doctor tight, clinging on to him as though her life depended on it. The Doctor looked a bit upset at this, but Bill remained confident it was going to be alright.

 

She stayed confident even as the both of them started looking more and more upset and distraught. It was just a phase, it would pass, and soon they’d be happy to be together again.

 

Finally, Bill’s confidence was completely destroyed when Dotty raised her voice to a half-shout, clenched fingers and undeniable anger as she talked. “So you didn’t even want to meet me?!” After a moment, she continued, and Bill’s heart almost stopped as she heard her words. “You’re here to appease Bill? Don't even have the courage to tell off your little companions any more? For that is what you’ve made of her, have you not? A companion! A new girl to travel alongside you until you throw her in the damn garbage can like everyone else!”

 

There’s such undeniable hatred in her voice that Bill feels stricken, taken aback by the sheer contempt Dotty held for the man before her. She had never believed the sweet, innocent Dotty to be able of such emotions. Still, she does do nothing. This was between The Doctor and Dotty, and even if it was going south at the speed of a derailing train in a downhill slope, they needed to figure it out between themselves.

 

Only when The Doctor loses it and run and Dotty goes to follow, fuming with anger and disappointment,  does Bill decide she needs to do something.

 

She follows.

 

She picks up Dotty’s bag that she has left behind and she runs after them, chancing that The Doctor was heading out of the store because he felt trapped and making it to the front of the store as fast as she possibly could.

 

Bill hears Dotty screaming for The Doctor, and hears The Doctor responding with a guttural roar. Bill is just about to open the door and look outside, trying to make sense of what exactly has happened, when she hears Dotty screaming in pain, a body soon hitting against the door from the otherside, hard.

 

Scared, Bill backed off, wondering what the hell was going on outside and only daring to approach once more as she heard the heavy weight leaning on the door shifting and moving away.

 

Carefully, she opened the door and looked outside, unsure what to expect but too nervous to wait.

 

“What the fuck?!” It slips out of her lips unbidden, wide eyes scanning the scene in front of her. The Doctor was standing directly across from her, pressing his body against the nearest building with a look of acute panic. Dotty, on the other hand, was standing next to the door, doubled over and cradling her face in her hands.

 

Looking over at her, Bill barely had time to see red blood splattered underneath her nose before she closed her hands together around her nose. It wasn’t much she could see when the older woman adamantly covered the damage, but she could guess from what she’d seen that she’d been hit in the face - by The Doctor, considering the panic in his eyes - and might have broken her nose.

 

“Bill. I can explain.” The Doctor spoke, slowly, his voice perfectly calm but his appearance and body language still giving away an inner sense of panic. His eyes were big and every muscle in his body was rigid, making it easy to see through his lie.

 

Sighing, Bill crossed her arms across her chest. “Alright. Explain.” She thought of Nardol, trying to copy his techniques to dissolve The Doctor’s excuses.

 

“It’s not his fault. He didn't do anything.” Dotty protested weakly, falling silent as Bill gave her a sharp glare. She pitied The Doctor. She had been angry with him, yes, but she knew how deep his fear of upsetting his companions was. She felt compelled to at least try to protect him, and if she couldn’t, she’d pittie him instead.

 

“What, you hit yourself on the nose? Bad enough that it started to bleed?” Bill told Dotty off swiftly, aggressively. She felt as though she was talking to two overgrown children, something that, now that she thought about it, was debatable in both cases. She sigh. “Look, I just want to know what happened. Not blaming anyone, just interested in if we should go back inside or head to the ER." At this, she pointed meaningly at Dotty, who was still cupping her hands around her nose.

 

“We could take care of her in the TARDIS if it’s bad. It’ll be quicker than human medicine and less questions asked.” The Doctor offered, peeling himself away from the wall and slowly approaching Dotty, trying to ignore the way she moved away from him.

 

“Yeah, no thank you. ER it is.” Dotty protested.

 

“You sure? He got a point about alien medicine in the TARDIS.” Bill said uncertainly. She didn’t know Dotty at all in this context, but personally she would have prefered to have her nose fixed as soon as she could.

 

“I know, thank you. But the TARDIS doesn't like me much. Never did. Like the time she kept moving the walls around so I’d walk into them because she was mad at me.” Dotty smiled a little despite herself, the memory humorous in hindsight.

 

“And I gave the TARDIS a scolding. Yes, I remember that.” The Doctor smiled, also feeling happy at the memory. Then he felt himself become serious again. “Please let me take you to the TARDIS to fix your nose. It’s the least I can do.” The Doctor pleaded, not wishing to walk away from it all knowing that Ace hated him.

 

Dotty sigh, then nodded. “Alright. Fine.”

 

Chapter Text

“I didn’t mean to hurt you, you know.” The Doctor said quietly, digging through a drawer in search for the bruise reducer that should be kept in it. He had already fixed the broken bit, and all he needed now was to amend the painful bruises as well.

 

Behind him, Ace sigh. “I know professor. I know you wouldn't hurt me on purpose. It was my mistake really.”

 

“Oh, was it,” The Doctor couldn’t help his sarcasm. Back when he’d known her, there had been nothing Ace hated more than apologising. “Looks like you’ve really grown up, Ace. Don’t even mind apologising anymore.”

 

“We all grow wiser with age.” Ace bit back, a small smile on her face as she spoke. Her anger and hostility had long since disappeared, and now, they were finally back where they had used to be. Words flying easily between them, teasing conversations bouncing back and forth like a well played game of tennis.

 

“See, this is more like it! This is how I wanted you to be, not knocking each other over like pro wrestlers or something!” Bill interjection, smiling as she followed the easy flowing conversation between her two mentors.

 

“Bill, go make tea.” The Doctor ordered, his fingers finally finding the bruise reducer. After a moment of thought, he added. “Please.”

 

Bill sigh, but nodded. Effortlessly, she jumped off the chair she’d been occupying, slowly walking her way out the door. “Alright. I’ll give you love douves a few minutes alone, but then I’ll be back!” She warned, waving goodbye as she went along.

 

Ace watched her go, unable to hold back her laughter any more as Bill finally disappeared out the door. The hearty laughter sent tremors through her body, and though her nose throbbed painfully at the movement, it didn't keep her from continuing laughing.

 

The Doctor didn't know what was so funny, but as he watched her laugh, he felt blessed. The sound was so similar to the one that had used to eachoe through the TARDIS all those years ago. It makes him feel at home, because he knows, that also one of the children of the TARDIS has found her way back home again.

 

“Good old Ace” The Doctor whispered. Then he spoke again, louder this time. “Ace, I found the bruise reducer. Let’s see if we can make it work!”

 

“Oh no, you’re not coming close to me with that if you can not confirm that it is working!” Ace warned, holding up her hands in defense as she leaned away from The Doctor and the untested machine.

 

“It works, trust me. Let me just see your face....” Gently, The Doctor grabbed onto Ace’s face, turning it this way and that as he inspected the damage. Then, he lifted the torch like object, moving up and down the length of Ace’s petite nose and a bit around her eyes. He worked as gently as he could, making sure to cover all the damaged area.

 

“Ah! It hurts!” Horrified, Ace tried to pull away from the burning sensation of the bruise reducer, but The Doctor was quicker and held her in place.

 

“Sit still. It’s over soon.” Holding on tight to Ace’s wrist, he squeezed it in comfort and support. He continues, running the machine over the hole nose area twice more until finally all the bruising has disappeared, and he let Ace go. “There, it is much better now.”

 

“Thank you” Ace breath, and somehow The Doctor can tell that it is a genuine offering of thanks. The smile she offered was loving,n and The Doctor wanted nothing but to reach out and pull  her into a long, warm hug.

 

All the fear he had felt against meeting her again had gone, and now the only thing remaining was a deeply buried love for a girl he thought he'd lost.

 

“Oh god, professor, just come here!” Suddenly, The Doctor felt arms wrapping around his shoulders from behind, violently pulling him into their embrace. “I can tell you wanted to hug me! I thought you would be over your fear of hugs like twenty years later?” Ace teased, giggling somewhere behind his ear.

 

“Twenty years, for you . Try one thousand and five for me. I’m over two thousand years old and do not do hugs!” The Doctor exclaimed empathically, still not moving a finger to remove the arms that was now wrapping themselves tightly around his throat. Had it been anyone else, he would have been threatened, but with Ace it simply feels normal. It was the way I had always been. “I’ve missed you, Ace.”

 

“For a thousand years? Ha! Like you have the attention span necessary to miss someone for a thousand years.” Ace grinned, tightening her grip on The Doctor’s next just slightly. Besides, it makes my twenty years seem bad.” Ace paused, and The Doctor saw his chance to cut in.

 

“Twenty years is a long time for a human...too bad we don’t get twenty years to catch up. You would be then, your short human life over in the blink of an eye” He says it lightly, but feels the twisting in his gut as he actually thinks about it. The way they all faded away, there the first day and gone the next.

 

“Aww, that won’t happen professor! I was just seventeen when I met you. Some thirty years on I’m definitely still in my prime!” Ace laughed, twirling The Doctor around so they could look at each other face to face. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said Doctor. I... its hard, yeah? I grew up here. This was my home. And then I left home, and i was so convinced...I thought it couldn’t possibly be the last time. But then time rolled on, and year in and year out, I heard about the new companions. About Sjs meeting you again. Then, the old ones even started dying and I realized… I might never step foot in the TARDIS again” At this point, Ace couldn’t keep the tears at bay. Because despite how much she liked to be back with The Doctor, twenty years of pain was being unearthed.

 

“Oh, Ace. Of course I come back. You belong here. You, more than anyone, is a child of the TARDIS, and she’s happy to have you home.” Smiling, The Doctor listened as the TARDIS hummed along with him, hugging Ace close in an attempt to comfort the woman.  “I am glad to have you home Ace. I want you to stay as long as you wish. I’m not going to be in any hurry to throw you out” He smiled, stroking a hand along the edge of her chin. Even so many years later, her hard, typically male jawline was entirely unmistakable. It gave the otherwise soft and pudgy female face a hard, manlike quality to it. It built the character that The Doctor knew Ace held.

 

“That's good. I mean, you even stroke my protege and out her onboard here, so I definitely don’t see any reason to leave unless I have too.” She smiled wickedly, leaning in just a bit closer and basically supporting herself against The Doctor. “I’m flying down to South America tomorrow. Maybe you’d like to take me there instead?” She asked, smiling cheekily as The Doctor’s eyes lit up like Christmas lights.

 

“Ih, I can get you there in no time! Just give me a few tries...maybe the old girl will be kind and let you get there pronto!” Energetically, The Doctor practically leaped off the hospital bed already half-way through the room before Ace had the sense to stop him.

 

“Wait!” She exclaimed, grabbing onto his wrist and pulling him back towards her. She may have gotten older, but not slower. She still had the millisecond reactions needed not to get killed by your own home made explosives. Or let crazed professors get ahead of themselves, in this case.”Come here!” Smiling happily, she pulled The Doctor into a hug and held him there, delighted to feel him hugging her back.

 

---

 

“I got tea! And coffee, because I know you never want to drink tea Dotty and honestly I wouldn’t make you even if…”  As Bill pushed open the door with her foot, she quickly trailed off. She had been expecting The Doctor and Ace to be sitting where she left them, but obviously they did not.

 

Instead, the two of them had crawled up on one of the hospital beds and fallen asleep. They were spooning, The Doctor the big spoon with his arm draped over Ace’s thin body. Ace was the small spoon, happily curling up against The Doctor’s stomach, their legs intertwined as they slept peacefully in each others company.

 

Bill was  convinced she had never seen neither Dotty nor The Doctor quite so  happy and content. It made her heart swell and convinced her that despite the rough start, the reunion had very much ended up a happy occasion.

 

Smiling, Bill quickly disposed of the tea tray on the nearest table. Then, she went dug out a  blanket from a cupboard, carefully draping it over the sleeping pair before backing towards the door.

 

“Sleep tight Doctor, Dotty.” She wished, turning off the light and disappearing down the corridor.