Chapter 1: The Good Ship TARDIS
The ports of the island of Gallifrey were busy that morning. Fishing boats returning to unload their catch, before returning to the sea with a fresh crew and empty nets. Prostitutes stood, half-disguised in dark alleyways, calling out to the sailors on shore leave, tempting them like sirens with voices and bodies and promises of liquor. Workers unloaded crates of spices and barrels of wine from the East, bolts of cloth and tea from Asia, laughing and calling out to each other.
The smell of day old fish and the salty brine of the sea filled the air, mixed with the sound of vendors running their stalls at the nearby markets. The scent of smoke filled the air - a combination of pipe smoke and the type used in an attempt to keep mosquitos away.
Lord Jonathan Smith of the Noble House of Lungbarrow smiled at the scene around him, before looking down at his fiancee. His smile faded into nothing more than a slight upwards turn of the lips. Miss Poisson was a beautiful young woman, but that was it. She was nothing more than a rich young noblewoman, whom John had been introduced to upon his return from his latest travels abroad. She was skilled in everything that was needed to run a household, and she was fair beyond comparison. But she was lacking in other ways - in things such as humility, and compassion. Her large blue eyes were filled with tears, and she pressed a lace-trimmed handkerchief into his hand.
“For you to remember me by.” Reinette said, in response to his look of confusion. She twisted her hands together, before smoothing over the pale cream skirt of her gown. He blushed, scratching at his cheek as her hand stopped at the neckline of her gown, drawing his eyes to her ample decolletage. “I will miss you, my angel.” she said softly, tucking a single strand of her pale blonde hair back behind her ear.
He could barely fake a smile in return. Miss Poisson was nice enough, he supposed - really, she was. But he had been forced to propose to her by his father’s dying wish. That was why he was going on this voyage now, to escape her and her life. She was like every other woman that he had been forced to court in his life so far. She was beautiful and poised, knowledgeable on the latest fashions and dances, and was proficient in the womanly arts of painting, music, and embroidery. But she was also conceited and full of herself, without a thought in her head but as to what she had to do to be the perfect wife.
He hated her.
But Lungbarrow House had fallen on hard times. Several of their ships had been caught and looted by pirates, leaving them without their full range of vessels. The money needed to replace the ships had been squandered away by extended family members, who then, in turn, drank themselves to death. Now that his father had passed on, John was the last of the family line. The House of Pompadour was richer than anyone else in Gallifrey, and the Poissons had worked out a marriage contract with his father between Jonathan and their eldest child, Reinette. Unfortunately for him, there were several stipulations in the contract that he personally disagreed with. He was to stop traveling with their company’s ships, hand over the TARDIS to the care of his second in command, and settle down on Gallifrey with Reinette.
So this was to be his last voyage - Reinette had made him swear to her. He had only been able to make this trip at all because he claimed that he needed time to grieve his late father - which, if she had known him better, Reinette would not have believed for a moment. John and his father had never gotten on well - he had wanted his son to take over the family business, staying put on Gallifrey and running things from there. John, on the other hand, preferred a more hands-on approach - he liked nothing more than to be on the open seas, seeing where the wind and the tides would take him. That was how he came to have his ship in the first place - he stole the old blue ship from the shipyard, performing the repairs that she needed as he sailed the seas with his crew. She was more of a home to him than his family’s stuffy manor could ever be.
He was to travel to all of his favorite ports - Arcadia, London, Aplan, as well as a few others - before returning home to Gallifrey, and once home again, he would settle down with Reinette, never to leave the island again.
He gave her one last smile before bending over to press a kiss onto the back of her hand. He turned to walk up the rough wooden gangplank that led to his ship. His boots - far too unpractical for him to actually wear at sea, but he had worn them to appease his fiancee - creaked against the wood, and his face contorted into a pained expression as he caught sight of several crewmembers laughing at the ridiculous clothes that she had forced him into. While any other captain would have had their heads for daring to mock him, John knew better. He was better equipped for studying and plotting courses on maps - not to mention getting the crew into obscene amounts of trouble whenever they docked - while his crew was better suited for the actual physical aspects of running the ship. Although none of them could actually steer the Old Girl - she was an extremely temperamental ship, and many a sailor swore that she was alive. That was one of the only reasons why he was captain instead of his first mate, Jack - that, and he could always be trusted to get them out of danger.
While he knew that Reinette would be watching in disappointment, he still took his place as captain of the TARDIS, giving the order for the sails to be raised. She frowned on the thought of him captaining the ship, saying that it would be so much safer for him to hire someone else to captain his crew. But he had grown up on the seas, despite his father’s wishes, and had been captaining the Old Girl for as long as he could remember. Because of that, he did not trust anyone else behind the wheel of the TARDIS.
He ran his hand over the fading blue paint, smiling as he gave the order to start preparations to depart, before disappearing into his cabin. He was determined to get rid of the terrible clothing that Reinette had given him, considering the possibility of giving it away to his crew - some of whom, he knew had trouble keeping their families fed when not working on a ship. Selling the clothing that she had forced him to wear would be enough to feed their families for a month or more.
Pulling off the formal clothing, he quickly changed into his regular tunic and breeches, pulling out old worn boots and quickly lacing them up.
His first mate, Jack Harkness, came into his cabin with a wide grin plastered on his face. “Good to see you again, Doctor.” He said, pulling the protesting Gallifreyan into a tight hug.
“Glad you could make it, Jack. I was starting to worry that we would have to leave without you.” John replied. Jack Harkness had been his best friend since they were children, but there had been many voyages in the past where he had been working on another ship. When asked, he would only say that it was another ship, before changing the subject.
“I wouldn't miss this for the world.” Jack promised. “I'll go tell the crew to weigh anchor.” He said, then left.
“Here's to our final voyage, Old Girl.” The Doctor said wearily, before heading out of his cabin towards the main deck.
Gay pirates were a thing - they were called 'matelotes', which is where the term matey comes from
At the same time that John Smith and the crew of the TARDIS were sailing away from Gallifrey for their last trip, a woman was being pulled out of the water and onto a merchant vessel that had just left the town of Bannerman. Bannerman was a small port town, run by Governor Smith and his wife, Sarah Jane. They had a son called Luke who was the pride of the town, and a daughter named Skye who was the apple of her father’s eye. The town was known for the inventions and discoveries made by both Mr. Smith and Luke, and as such was quite famous in its own right.
They pulled her out of the water, shivering wet and clinging to a barrel. There was no ship in sight - just wreckage. She was soaked to the bone, and while some of the sailors grumbled superstitions about having a woman onboard, but most of them just ignored her presence. She lay there on the deck of the ship, collapsed in a heap until the Captain came out of his cabin.
He stood over her with his hands behind his back, attempting to look commanding and not doing a very good job of it. “What happened to you?” He asked. He was trying to sound kind, but failing.
“Pirates, sir.” She said, still shivering from the cold of the ocean. The crew stilled - the ones who had been ignoring her now hung onto her every word. One of the crew was kind enough to drape a blanket over her shoulders, and she smiled gratefully. “We were sailing through Bannerman to get supplies when the ship was attacked. My lady… my lady was...” she trailed off, burying her face in her hands and letting out loud, heaving sobs. There was an awkward silence on deck from the moment she started crying, but that was all part of the plan.
The captain placed an awkward hand on her shoulder, trying to be reassuring. “Its quite alright, my dear.” He said, and her crying slowed down slightly before finally stopping altogether. “You're welcome to stay with us for the night, my dear girl. In the morning we will return you to shore.”
She smiled up at the captain, eyes shining with gratitude. “Thank you, sir.” She thanked him, climbing to her feet with the blanket still wrapped tightly around her shoulders. “Is there someplace I can freshen up?”
Judging by the looks of some of the crew of the ship, she guessed that the answer would be a resounding no. So she was happily surprised when the captain called for a cabin boy to take her below decks and allow her to clean up. It was only after she noticed the grin on the cabin boy’s face that she was glad that she still had her knife strapped to her thigh.
The moon was directly overhead by the time that the last of the sailors had nodded off - one less cabin boy among them. Their rescued victim had been laying in the hammock she had been assigned to for hours now, pretending that she was asleep. Once the last of the sailors had settled into heavy snoring and rhythmic breathing, she climbed out of the hammock. Pulling her knife out of its sheath, she clenched it tightly between her teeth before creeping out of her quarters and up onto the deck. She looked around quickly, making sure the coast was clear before she grabbed a lantern. She lit the wick, holding it up high into the air.
It only took a moment to get a response in the form of another lantern, some five hundred meters away. A triumphant grin crossed her face and she pulled the scarf off of her head revealing her braided hair. Coins and beads hung from the braids, clinking and jingling with every move she made. She had been forced to hide it in order for their ruse to work - luckily the merchant men had been too polite to ask the traumatized woman about it.
She stood there in the moonlight, watching the stars above her as she waited for the dinghy to come close enough for her to help them onboard.
It was another ten minutes at least before the small rowboat stopped next to the ship, and she lowered a rope so that the seven or so that came could climb up onto the deck.
“Where's the rest of the crew?” She asked, looking at her family in surprise. Calling them her crew wouldn't even cover what she felt for them at this point. These were the women that picked her up after a year of hell and helped her to stand on her own two feet again.
“They stayed behind.” Leela said, pulling her into a tight hug. “They'll bring the Darillium along in a bit - the Captain reckons we don't need them.”
She nodded, a smile spreading across her face as Vastra handed her a stack of clothes. Anything would have been better than the waterlogged dress that she was currently stuck in. “Oh, brilliant!” She enthused, seeing the simple shirt and trousers that she had been handed.
“You are of no use to us in that monstrosity.” The Silurian said, huffing slightly at what she called ‘the impracticality of fashion’. All of the women on the Darillium were treated to the warrior's treatise on men's standards of fashion for women when they first joined the crew. That had had almost all of them switching to trousers, if they hadn't switched over the moment they were given the option. A few of the men had tried to go to the captain to complain, but she had retaliated by forcing them to fight her while wearing dresses in order for them to learn just how impractical it really was. They had quickly stopped complaining after that.
It took her a minute to get out of the dress with help from Leela, while Vastra led the others around the deck, finding weapons and either keeping them for themselves or tossing them overboard. Once she had strapped her knife back onto her leg, she turned to face the others.
“Let's get to it, then!”
By the time that they had started to take over the ship, only a handful of sailors had even woken up. They were still half asleep, and the majority of them didn't even have weapons on them. She felt almost guilty for a moment, but then remembered why they had targeted this particular ship and felt her anger washing over her once more. That anger only grew when she saw the tattoo inked into one sailor’s wrist - the initials S.W.F. After that, she found slitting their throats was much simpler.
The only ones that they left alive were the captain and his first mate. They were tied together with some rope taken from the rigging, and sat in the middle of the deck.
Finally, the Darillium pulled up alongside the merchant ship, and the gangplank was moved into position so that the pirates could cross over.
“Martha Jones.” the captain said, making her way onto the now blood-stained merchant ship. Her signature boots clicked against the wooden floor, as red as the slick of paint shining on her lips. “Excellent work, Nightingale.”
She nodded her head, flushing slightly at the praise. “Thank you, captain.”
“Now then.” the captain said, turning her attention to their two prisoners. “What are we going to do with you?”
Both men looked up at her in fear, and it was no surprise as to why. She towered over them from their spot on the floor, and there was an unholy gleam in her eyes as she examined them.
It was the merchant captain who spoke first. “State your name and intention, pirate.” he hissed. He was having trouble making out who it was in front of him - all he could see was a strangely misshapen silhouette - due to the darkness surrounding him. One of the pirates lit a lantern, passing it to their captain. She held it up so that the light shone on her face, and he gasped.
Her eyes sparkled in the light, but there was a steely glint in them that made him worry slightly. An explosion of blonde curls surrounded her head, partially pulled away from her face. “I'm Captain River Song.” She said, planting her feet on the ground as she bent slightly to look at him. “And I've been searching for you for a long time.”
The merchant shivered. While he had never heard of this ‘River Song’ before, he could already tell that she was a force to be reckoned with. “I’m afraid I haven’t got a clue as to why you would be looking for me.” he said honestly.
The captain snorted out a laugh. “It’s not you we’re looking for, captain.” she said. In one swift motion, she pulled her sword out of its sheath and sliced through the ropes binding the two men together. She grabbed ahold of him, wrenching his arm behind him and putting her blade to his throat as her companions grabbed ahold of the first mate, wrestling him onto their ship. “It was him.” She dropped her lantern as she turned and walked away, back over the gangplank and onto the Darillium.
The captain was panicking slightly. “What about me?” He asked, trying to follow after her. It only took him a moment to realize that she had tied his hand to the mast so that he couldn’t escape.
“Didn’t you know?” River Song asked. “The captain always goes down with the ship.”
“Where are we heading next, Captain?” The Darillium’s navigator, a quiet blonde named Sparrow, asked.
“Into the breach once more.” River Song mused, her smile wide but her eyes sad. She watched the burning ship sink under the waves as they sailed away.
"Alright then, Doctor?” James, one of the youngest yet most capable sailors on the TARDIS’s crew asked not long after they had left home behind. The red shores of Gallifrey were still visible in the distance, but were getting smaller with every passing second.
The entire crew had called him ‘Doctor’ for so long now, that at times it felt like that was his given name, instead of a nickname thought up by his second-in-command, Jack. They insisted on calling him that at all times - something that he was grateful for. It made him feel even less like the man he was forced to be on Gallifrey.
“Just glad to be out here once more, James.” the Doctor said, as he breathed in the salty tang of the sea air. He couldn’t help the wide grin that stretched across his face as he looked out at the open ocean ahead of them. That was his favorite part of traveling - never really knowing where he was going, but always knowing that it was going to be fantastic.
“Glad to be away from that harpy of a fiancee as well, I expect.” James commented as he went back to swabbing the decks. There was sweat pouring down his back - it was obvious from the way his sleeves clung to his skin - but he refused to take off the waistcoat he always wore overtop.
“Whether I like her or not, Miss Poisson is still a lady, James.” The Doctor rebuked him gently. “Treat her with respect.”
James blushed, but then a mischievous smile crept onto his face. “Sorry, milord.” he responded, as he added a sarcastic little bow in, and John couldn't help but laugh softly. James had been only fourteen when he joined the crew - a runaway, he had stowed away on the ship until Mickey had found him not long after they stopped in London. When he had been asked why he had run away, James had only mumbled something about his family getting rid of him. After that, the only obvious option was to keep him around.
The Doctor was only able to turn his face back to the horizon for a moment before he was interrupted again. This time it was Jack who had come to find him, with the ship’s navigator, Mr. Sullivan at his side.
“Doc! Glad we finally found you.” Jack said, clapping his friend on the back. “We're going into port in London first - we should get there in two day's time if we cut straight through the oceans, taking the most direct path.”
John eyed his friend warily. “Why do I feel like there's a large ‘but’ coming?”
Jack's eyes twinkled with mirth, and he would have said something if it wasn’t for Mr. Sullivan cutting him off. Harry Sullivan had joined the TARDIS crew after an honorable discharge from the Royal Navy when he was injured in battle. He wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened to him, but they all knew that it had something to do with the Armies of Skaro. That was really all they needed to know to keep them from wanting to know the truth.
“But,” Mr. Sullivan began. “That would lead us straight into pirate territory. We would be waylaid in a matter of hours.”
“And face our doom.” the Doctor said, understanding what the navigator was saying. If they continued on their set course, they would all die in only a few hours time. “What are our other options?”
“If we stop in Aplan first, instead of going there last, we should be able to make up time.”
But the Doctor was already shaking his head. “We go around.” He said. “There's no need to make up time. We start in London.”
Jack protested, but the Doctor wasn't listening. At this point, the only thing that he was thinking about was running - running from Gallifrey, running from what they all wanted him to be. He was going to run as fast and as far as usual, and never look back.
Just like every other time he was out in the open waters.
The Rose & Crown was open and doing a roaring trade as the TARDIS’s crew arrived in the town of London. Enormous compared to Gallifrey, the city still had a fair amount of ships coming and going at all times even though it wasn’t technically a port. However, it was no surprise that London was so much bigger. Gallifrey had always been mostly closed off from the outside world, by command of the High Council. They preferred it that way - they thought that it made them seem that much more impressive to the rest of the world. They were the complete opposite of the Doctor. There were many back home who despised the thought of him being on Gallifrey on a permanent basis because he challenged so many of the rules and flouted almost every societal convention that there was.
But the Doctor cleared his mind of such thoughts with a shake of his head as the owner of the tavern came over, her crimson skirts sweeping along behind her. The crowds parted around her small frame, for her temper was known by anyone who had ever entered her pub. No one wanted to get on her bad side, for fear of the five foot two bomb that would explode in their faces. The Rose & Crown had been a favorite of the Doctor's crew since they began stopping over in London years before, mostly because of the tiny firecracker that was Clara Oswald.
“Hello again, Doctor.” she said, greeting the entirety of the crew with a wide smile. “Boys. What can I get you, then?”
“Clara!” the Doctor cried out excitedly, jumping up to kiss the air on either side of her face. “How lovely to see you again.”
“Flatterer.” She teased, brushing a lock of hair back behind her ear as she started to unload the drinks that she had piled on her tray.
“Clara!” Jack echoed, as he turned away from the dark-haired Welshwoman that he had been flirting with, much to the girl's disappointment. “Any news?”
Her dark eyes twinkled with mischief as she pulled a sealed envelope out of her pocket. “This came in for you, Mr. Harkness.” She said, tapping the envelope against the flat of her palm. “Said its from a lady called Myfanwy.”
The smile on Jack's face was enough to blind anyone who looked directly at him. He grabbed the envelope from her hand, nearly ripping it in half in his hurry to open it.
“Who's writin’ t’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash, then?” Mickey asked, taking a sip of his ale. While at first, he hadn't been all that keen on the idea of taking the young man on - he had formerly been a gunnery sergeant, fighting in the Cyber Wars - he had to admit that the other man was useful in a crisis.
“None of your business, Mickey Mouse.” Jack retorted, keeping the letter well out of his friend's grasp.
The other man just shrugged in reply, turning his attention back to the pint in his hand. The Doctor, on the other hand, was far more curious. He grabbed the paper out of his friend’s hands, ignoring his protests.
To the Doctor’s surprise, however, he couldn’t read a word of what it said. It just looked like lines of gibberish.
In the moment that it took him to get over his shock, Jack had already plucked the letter back out of his hands.
“What language was that?” The Doctor asked, still trying to sneak a look at the letter. It was rare to find a language that he didn't have at least a basic grasp on.
“Boe,” Jack told him, cutting off the word as though it pained him to admit even that much information.
“But-” the Doctor started to argue.
But Jack just shot him a look, telling him to drop the subject. If it had been anyone else, he would have continued to push. But he and Jack had been friends for long enough that he knew better than to push the other man. He was entitled to his secrets.
They stayed in London for three days time before setting sail again. The TARDIS left the harbor, and the ropes that kept the sails lashed on creaked and groaned as the wind filled the sails.
The Doctor stood at the helm, watching his crew as he steered the Old Girl. A small smile spread across his face as he watched them work and bicker. He couldn't help but laugh softly when Mickey ‘accidentally' tripped Adam - none of the crew really liked the man that had joined them in London. He was planning on dropping the young man off in whatever port they could leave him in. The main issue would be finding one that was willing to take him. They had almost managed to leave him in Clara’s care, back in London, but then he had opened his mouth and started talking.
He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of those thoughts. “Mr. Sullivan,” he called out, getting the navigator’s attention. “Set a course for -” he was cut off by a shout of surprise from the foredeck.
“Doctor!” James yelled, getting everyone’s attention. “There’s someone in the water!”
The crew moved as quickly as they could, working together to pull the unfortunate soul out of the freezing waters. Jack dove over the side of the boat and into the water, grabbing ahold of the woman. He did his best to slice off as much of her dress as he could, despite her protests - the sheer weight of the things would have quickly dragged them under the waves otherwise. The waves worked against them, pulling them farther away from the TARDIS and forcing them to fight against the current with every bit of strength that they had. Despite all that, Jack still managed to stick his foot in it.
“If you could stop complaining when I’m saving you, it would be appreciated.” Jack groaned, trying to keep her from punching him in the face again.
“Then stop tryin’ to cut my skirts off, and I won’t.” she spat back. Jack just laughed, although his grip loosened slightly.
“I like you.” he decided, smiling at her.
“Yeah? Well that’s good for you, isn’t it?”she shot back. A wooden platform held up by ropes was lowered down for them, and the pair quickly climbed on board, hanging onto the ropes as they were hoisted onboard the ship. They practically collapsed into a heap, voices shouting all around them.
Once they were dropped on deck, dry towels were brought for both of them by one of the deckhands. Jack hurried below deck, looking for something dry to wear. The woman stayed above deck, wringing the water out of her hair and skirts. Her hair was long and brown, and clung to her skin. Her dress was soaked through, leaving her shivering in the wind that came in off of the ocean.
The Doctor approached cautiously, not wanting to startle the poor woman. “Are you alright?” he asked, stopping a few feet away from her.
“Ace.” she said, flashing him a smile. “Thanks for the rescue, Professor.”
He flailed, unsure what to make of this woman. She didn't seem to be the type that would need rescuing - even if they were in the middle of the ocean at sundown. “Its Doctor, actually.” He corrected her, fiddling with his bow tie - the one thing that not even Jack and all his meddling could get him to leave behind. “And who might you be? What happened?”
She gave him a grateful smile, and he preened. “Dorothy.” she said, bowing her head slightly in his direction. “My name's Dorothy McShane.”
“Lovely name, Dorothy. Like a name from a fairytale.” the Doctor said, rocking back on his heels slightly. There was something about this woman that made him nervous, although he wasn't quite sure what it was. “How did you end up in the middle of the ocean?”
That was when her cavalier attitude disappeared completely. She looked terrified, like all of the recent events had finally caught up to her. Immediately, the Doctor softened, taking a gentle step forwards. Without all of her bravado, she looked years younger - the fact that she was still soaking wet only added to that. “Pirates, Professor.” she said, still looking upset.
That, of course, drew everyone’s attention. The usual noises to be heard - the clash of steel, creak of sails, shouts of sailors - stopped. Even the quiet sounds of the livestock on board stopped, the gentle coos and clucks and grumbles grinding to a halt. The only sound left was the lapping of the waves against the hull of the ship.
“Pirates.” Jack was back, and unimpressed by her statement. “Really.”
“Yes, of course pirates.” Miss McShane replied hotly. “What, d’you think I just went for a midnight swim for the fun of it?”
“I’m sure that he wouldn’t dare to imply such a thing.” the Doctor was quick to reassure. “What happened?”
“Our ship was attacked.” Dorothy told him, her face dropping. “Slavers. It was…” she trailed off, unable to continue. Mr. Sullivan was immediately at her side with a warm blanket to wrap the shivering girl in.
“That’s quite enough of that unpleasantness, I believe.” the man said sternly. He glared at the rest of the crew, as if daring them to contradict him. “What this brave young lady needs is some dry clothing and a warm cuppa.”
She looked up at him gratefully, but said nothing as he led her down towards the kitchen where Chesterfield - the TARDIS’s cook - was waiting.
The crew stood around for another minute or two before Jack got them moving again. “Come on now!” He shouted. “Everyone back to it!”
John Smith woke up in the middle of the night, knowing that something was wrong. He had been captaining the TARDIS for as long as he could remember, to the point where it occasionally seemed like the Old Girl talked to him. At the moment, her blue walls were warning of danger.
He quickly looked out of the porthole that was over his bed, making sure that it wasn’t a storm that had woken him. He didn’t think it was - he would have known just from how much the Old Girl was rocking - but it never hurt to double-check.
He grabbed his sword, hoping that he wouldn’t have to use it. Of course, he barely managed to get two steps outside of his cabin before his hopes were dashed. He was grabbed from behind, the sharp edge of a sword pressed against his throat.
“Keep your head forward,” a voice hissed in his ear. “Or you will lose it instead.”
“Alright.” he said, trying to keep from moving his head too much. “I don’t suppose you could tell me who exactly it is that’s attempting to steal my TARDIS?”
“Sorry,” a cheerful voice said from his other side. “Can’t.”
There was something about their voices that struck him as different, but it took him a minute to work it out. Once he did, he nearly turned to see who had spoken, but the added pressure put on the blade at his neck made him rethink things.
“You’re a woman!” he cried out, both “Oh, but that’s brilliant! You don’t see many female pirate around here. Around anywhere, really but then...”
Laughter seemed to erupt from all sides, and the corners of his mouth turned down as he tried to figure out why an entire ship’s worth of pirates would be laughing at him.
It was only once they got to the main deck that he realized what was so funny. Women were everywhere, each with some sort of weapon in their hands. Every single pirate on his ship - on his TARDIS - was a woman. They lounged against railings, clung to ropes, generally making themselves at home while simultaneously looking completely deadly. Several stood out to him - a dark haired girl who was casually tossing a knife around before catching it again; a tall girl with an afro who couldn’t seem to keep the smile off of her face; and a soft-faced blonde woman with wide brown eyes.
“A ship is no place for a woman.” Adam Mitchell spat, lunging forward.
One of the pirates - a tall, willowy woman in loose brown breeches - hissed, drawing her sword from where it was sheathed against her back and laying it against his neck in a single swift motion. “I suggest you watch your tongue, ape. Else I may cut it out of your little mouth.”
“The Captain’s coming!” someone said - a woman with skin like fresh earth and eyes that seemed kind for a pirate - and everyone went deadly quiet. The TARDIS crew were pondering their fates, while the pirates all waited with bated breath for their captain’s arrival.
The only sound to be heard was the soft sound of the ocean lapping at the side of the boat, and the sharp tapping of heels against wood. It echoed around them, seeming to press in from all sides, until that sound stopped.
“Watch your temper, Vastra.” A new voice chided, and the woman growled before replacing her sword in its scabbard. The voice continued. “Although she does have a point, boy. Be careful what you say, or you may end up dead.” The pirates all stood just that tiny bit straighter, as if that voice was enough to make them wary. The Doctor couldn’t see why they were acting so afraid of the voice - it was sultry and rough, and reminded him slightly of the ocean itself. That did not seem like much to be afraid of to him.
Then she stepped out of the fog and over the makeshift bridge between the two ships, and he couldn’t help but stare. He knew that she was a pirate, and was as bloodthirsty as they came. But there was something about her that made him notice her that had nothing to do with a pirate's bloodthirsty reputation.
And then she pulled out her pistol, resting its muzzle against Adam’s forehead. “What is your name, sailor?” she asked, and any musings he may have had about her were instantly shattered. For no matter how insufferable he might have been, young Adam Mitchell was still a part of his crew, and he would protect his crew with his life.
“Adam.” the boy said, leering slightly, and the Doctor nearly cursed. Adam Mitchell was a smug, stuck up child who was convinced that he was more competent than anyone else in the crew. Of course, he was completely wrong - which only made him even more insufferable.
“Did you know, Adam, that a woman is as good at swinging a cutlass and shooting a pistol as a man is?” She asked, her tone deceptively sweet. There was a huskiness to her voice that nearly made him shiver, but he was able to control himself at the last second.
“Stop.” the Doctor said, stepping out of the line that the pirates had forced them into. “Don’t hurt him, he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
She lowered her pistol, placing it back into its holster before she turned to examine him for a moment. She seemed to contemplate his words before turning her attention back to Adam Mitchell. All it took was one swift motion, and he was dead - his blood dripping off of the end of her sword that she had shoved through his chest. She didn't even wait for his body to fall before grabbing his shirt and using it to wipe the blood off of her blade before it dried.
Now then - who might you be to challenge me?” The woman asked. Her eyes glinted from underneath her mane of curls.
He ignored her not-so-subtle request for an introduction. “Who are you?” the Doctor asked, staring down this woman, his heart beating double-time in his chest.
“Captain River Song.” she replied grandly, allowing a wild mane of curls to tumble over her shoulders as she bowed low. A red bandana kept them out of her face as she stood back up, and the gold jewelry that covered her jingled with her movements. “Pirate Queen.”
She wore all black, except for the lurid red of her boots. A loose blouse was cinched in at her waist with a black corset, and tight fitting pants clung to her every curve. A sword hung at her left side, while her pistol rested in its holster at her right.
“Well, sweetie?” she questioned, her eyes sparkling with mirth. “Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?”
John paused, wondering first about the name that fell from her lips, and then about what he should say. He could introduce himself by his title, as a lord of Gallifrey, but that would most likely end in him being held for ransom. He didn’t fancy that idea at all, so… “Hello, I’m the Doctor.” he said cheerfully, kissing the air on either side of Song’s cheeks. It was an old tradition, one no longer seen in most of the world. The only place it was still really common was Gallifrey, but he doubted that she would know that.
Her blade came to rest at the base of his throat, and he froze. Her eyes glittered with amusement as she locked her gaze with his. “You do not touch me unless I give you permission.” she said. “Ace!” she called, making the Doctor frown in confusion. “How did it go, darling?”
That confusion turned to frustration as Miss Dorothy McShane stepped forward, a small smirk plastered on her face. She still wore the clothes that Mr. Sullivan had found for her - nothing much, just an old tunic and breeches, but they were dry and warm. “Hello, Professor.” she teased, before turning her attention back to her captain. “They almost all went with it.”
“Almost all?” the captain asked, curious.
Ace nodded, jerking her head in the direction of Jack Harkness. “Yeah. He didn't seem too convinced.”
“Yes, I can see why he didn’t.” she mused, the barest hint of a knowing smile on her face as she looked Jack over. “Hello, handsome.” she leered, and the Doctor blushed on his friend’s behalf.
“Sorry, gorgeous.” Jack said stiffly. “But you’re not my type.”
“Pity.” she murmured, but her eyes quickly moved back over to the Doctor. “I suppose I’ll just have to take this one instead.”
His crew protested immediately, and he felt his heart lighten at the thought that they were so willing to fight for him. But he wouldn’t let them get hurt because of him. “Don’t touch them.” he practically begged. “Do what you want with me, but leave them alone.”
Captain Song studied him, her eyes strangely gentle. “Look at you.” she said, her voice so soft that her words were practically nonexistent. “You still care about them. I could kill you right now and you probably wouldn't care... as long as they were safe.”
“Don't touch them, please.” He repeated.
She seemed to think it over for a moment as she made her way down the row of sailors, carefully examining them all. “Fine.” she finally decided, and her crew all seemed to take that as the signal to leave. Two of them came up behind the Doctor each taking one of his arms.
“Bring that one, as well.” the pirate queen called out, using her pistol to gesture at James. “They will prove to be quite… useful.” she purred out the last word, leaving little doubt as to what she meant, and the Doctor’s heart raced with fear for the young boy.
“Fine.” he said, his head hung low. “But do not touch anyone else.”
“Of course.” The pirate said, her hair whirling as she turned around. “We made a deal, didn’t we?
“I should warn you all.” Captain River Song said, casting her gaze out over the rest of the Doctor’s crew. “Our darling Ace is more than a pretty face - she’s also brilliant with explosives. There are packages of an explosive called Nitro 9 secreted onboard this ship. She’s quite pretty - I’d hate to have to blow a hole in her because you couldn’t leave well enough alone.” her eyes glinted with deadly humor as she flashed them all a red-painted grin, and he knew that as long as he lived, he would never forget that sight.
The Doctor watched, heartbroken, as the TARDIS sailed off without him for the first time in both of their long lives. He imagined that he could almost hear her calling out to him - the rustle of her sails and the creak of her wooden walls telling stories that only he could interpret.
“It’'ll be alright, Doctor.” James said, trying to comfort his captain. “We've just got t’ stick together.”
“Vastra, take James down to see Martha.” the Captain ordered, making her way towards the pair. “I'll be down shortly. Pretty boy, you're with me.”
He stood there for a moment just gaping even as James was led away by the woman in loose-fitting trousers.
“Pretty boy, with me I said!” The captain commanded. She turned around, sending him a look that nearly had him shaking in his boots.
“Oh.” he said, feeling slightly surprised. “Oh, I’m pretty boy?”
One of the crew members smirked at him as she nodded her head, her eyes running over his form with no small amount of approval. He could feel his face heating up, and practically ran to catch up with the captain.
“So those ears do work.” the captain said, not even bothering to turn around. It might have been childish, but he couldn’t help but stick his tongue out at the woman. Of course, she turned around just in time to catch him. Her mouth twitched downwards, and he gulped at her gaze dropped to the pistol that was still strapped to one toned leg. “I had begun to wonder if they were made for show, and that was why they were so small compared to…” she trailed off, a small smirk crossing her face as she eyed him curiously.
“Compared to what?” he asked, feeling slightly offended and not completely sure why.
“Have you seen that chin?” she replied, her eyes practically dancing with suppressed laughter.
“Oi!” he protested. “My chin is not that bad!”
She hummed, and he nearly started at the way she looked at him - like she was trying to devour him with her eyes alone. “You sleep here.” The captain said, showing him a small hammock down below decks. “You’re free to roam the ship, but don’t get in anyone’s way.” She smiled at him, and he nearly shivered. They had been talking nicely, to the point that it had nearly slipped his mind that she had technically kidnapped him. Until she added in her last words.
“Because if you do get in anyone's way, I can't guarantee that they won't just shoot you.”
She turned to heard back onto the deck and was almost out the door when he stopped her.
“They say you rarely leave anyone alive.” his voice rang out, and she stopped in her tracks. “But you didn’t touch any of my crew except for Adam.”
“Was that his name?” She asked, trying to force a hint of levity into her voice to hide the tension in her frame. “I’d forgotten.”
He ignored the anger that her words ignited in him, pressing for more answers instead. “Why didn't you?”
She shrugged nonchalantly, but her eyes were sad when she answered. “Maybe it’s because you asked so prettily.” He almost missed her next words, and had to strain to catch them. “Or maybe they didn't have what I was looking for.”
He contemplated her words as he listened to the tapping of her heels echo down the corridor.
Two days had passed before he realized that he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of James at all on the ship. Most of the crew was female, and the handful of men that worked the ship weren’t James. He had checked them all, making up an excuse about finding a missing button to explain why he was examining them so thoroughly. Only one of them had thought anything of it - a well-dressed young man with piercing blue eyes and a quiet air. So he went storming into the Captain’s quarters, determined to find out what happened to James even if it killed him.
The Doctor threw open the door, storming inside only to stop short. Captain Song was standing there, with nothing but a blanket on to cover herself. “It’s just you.” she said, as if confirming what she already knew, and then dropped the sheet. “What do you want?”
He could feel his cheeks heating up, as he tried to look anywhere but at the expanse of golden skin that was now on display. He tried to remember how to speak, but his tongue refused to work as he studied the wall behind the captain’s bed.
“Well, Doctor? I really don’t have all day.” She said, turning to face him. He squeaked again, closing his eyes as he felt his ears begin to burn. He scratched at his cheek, lighting up when he remembered what he had come in to ask about in the first place. He opened his eyes, squeaking again but managing to actually keep them open this time. The sound of her laughing gently at him was enough to snap him out of his panic, and
“Where’s James?” he asked, watching as she sat down to run a brush through her curls. Her sunburned nose scrunched up as she stared at him.
“James?” she asked, her eyes flashing with confusion. “Who’s James?”
Any strange flutters in his chest disappeared in that moment. “James.” he said, pulling at his hair in exasperation and just a little bit of disgust. “The young boy that you took from my ship.”
Her eyes cleared of any traces of confusion as she nodded, quickly being replaced with mirth. “Ah, that James.” she looked up at him then, her lips splitting into a wide grin. “You can drop the pretense, Doctor.” she said as she got up from where she was sitting, moving over to the chest that sat at the end of her bed. “We know all about James.” she told him, pulling a pair of dark brown breeches out of her chest and pulling them on. She added a white blouse and brown boots before pulling her gun belt off of the hook that it had been hanging on and strapping it on around her waist.
But the Doctor just looked at her in confusion, his nose scrunching up slightly as he stared at her - his irritation at her all-knowing tone made him get over his blushing and stuttering at having seen her naked. “What are you talking about?” he finally demanded.
River Song looked him over for a moment before laughing - a deep, sultry sound that did something to his insides, no matter how much he tried to deny it. “I thought you said you were a doctor, sweetie.” She moved over to her bed, pulling a dagger out from underneath her pillow and sliding it into her boot, before looking at him.
“There.” she said, giving her hair one last fluff before walking out the door. “Come on then, Doctor. Let me take you to your James.”
She strolled out of her cabin, before turning and gesturing for the Doctor to follow after her. In his hurry to do so, he tripped over her trunk, falling to the floor with a loud crash. He blushed as he got to his feet, and his blush only deepened as he heard the Captain’s throaty laughter dance back to him.
The first mate - Vastra, the Doctor thought he remembered - was in the middle of the deck, training a young girl in the art of sword fighting.
“Keep your guard up!” She hissed, striking out and nicking the other woman with the point of her blade. “You have to be quicker than that, ape, or you'll end up missing a limb.”
“Well if you'd give me a bleedin’ mo’ t’ breathe, it migh’ be a bit easier!” The other woman shot back, panting slightly as she tried to keep up with the master swordswoman.
“You won't get a chance to breathe in a fight to the death, my dear. What you may call a mercy I refer to as bad teaching.” She cut off her words cleanly, not even seeming to be breathing heavily as she danced around the deck.
The Doctor had never really had a chance to see Vastra before - she intimidated him slightly, and he didn't want to be caught staring at her - so now that she was distracted he took the chance to look at her. She was tall and willowy, with short brown hair and piercing blue eyes. A row of gold hoops filled her ears,and her smile was full of just a little too much teeth for comfort. But what really made her stand out were the tattoos that ran up and down her neck and arms. Tiny, intricate patterns of scales marked her skin, and that was what let the Doctor know exactly where she was from.
“Silurian.” the word rolled off of his tongue with ease, making Captain Song look at him in surprise. The Silurians were known for being even more reclusive than the Gallifreyans were - no one ever left their island except to get supplies and trade. Even then, they weren’t known for socializing. To see a Silurian on a pirate ship was a surprise.
“You know of them?” the captain asked, pushing a curl out of her face.
The Doctor nodded, watching the two women fight back and forth. He couldn’t make out that much of the other woman - she was moving too quickly for him to see anything more than her brown hair and dark clothes.
“Vastra! Jenny!” Captain Song called, getting both women to cease in their movements.
“Yes, Captain.” The Silurian replied, sheathing her sword and moving to her Captain’s side.
“Vastra, check in with Mr. Jones - he promised me the reports on what we need to stock up on the next time we’re in port.” River said. The taller woman nodded once before turning around and disappearing into the hold. “Jenny, with me.” the younger girl nodded, although she looked confused.
“Wha’ d’you need, Captain?” she asked, pushing a lock of hair back behind her ear.
“Your Doctor would like to know what happened to you, James.” She said, smirking at the young lady. “It would seem that he is not much of a doctor if he cannot tell when it is a woman on board his crew.”
He blushed, as the captain’s earlier remark suddenly made sense. I thought you said you were a doctor, sweetie.
“James?” he asked, moving forward to see the young woman in front of him. Her hair hung loose around her face, long brown waves of it. Parts of it were still choppily cut, but it was slowly growing back in. However, if he pictured it tied up, he could see how she had fooled him.
“‘S Jenny, actually.” she said nervously, barely even looking at him. Instead, she kept her eyes trained on the captain. “Jenny Flint.”
The captain either didn't get her hint or just ignored it, because she gave the girl one last reassuring smile before she walked away.
“Why?” Was the first thing he asked her, the question slipping out from between his lips without him telling it to. But as soon as he said it, he knew it was the right thing to ask. “Why did you hide from us?”
The look that she gave him was one that he would have never even suspected the mild-mannered James to even be capable of. “Why did I hide tha’ I was a woman on a ship full of men?” She asked, her tone practically dripping with sarcasm. “When most o’ them would 'ave chained my legs an’ thrown me overboard in a ‘eartbeat.”
“We need to get out of here.” he said, still staring at the horizon. There was nothing there except for the blue-green water, white sea foam churning occasionally.
“You keep sayin’ that, Doctor.” Jenny said, her legs swinging as she studied the ocean. She was nervous, he noticed - one of the tells that Jenny and James had in common. “But you volunteered ta be ‘ere, or don’t you remember that?”
“She gave me a choice, you know.” Jenny said suddenly, pulling the Doctor out of his thoughts.
“Sorry, what?” He asked, turning to look at the small woman.
“She gave me a choice.” Jenny repeated, looking up at him. “Said I could join ‘er and ‘er crew, or they could drop me at the next port that they came across.”
“But-” the Doctor pressed, but Jenny cut him off again.
“I've been talking t’ some of the others, Doctor.” she said. “They told me their stories - ‘ow they joined the crew of the Darillium.” she pointed out one woman to him - she was examining the ropes for damage, the beads and coins woven into her hair glinting in the sunlight. “That's Martha Jones, th’ ship's doctor. She was in London when Guv’nor Saxon took over. Spent a year bein’ hunted down like a dog ‘cause she refused t’ accept ‘im as ‘er “Lord an’ Master”. She led the rebellion against ‘im, then everyone just… forgot about ‘er when everythin’ was over.” she looked upset for a moment before shaking herself out of it. “Wasn’t long after that ‘til she joined the Darillium.”
“Then there's Vastra.” a slightly dreamy look crossed the young woman's face when she mentioned the other woman's name, but it was quickly drowned out by the blush on her cheeks. “She was goin’ t’ London with ‘er sisters when they were attacked by what she calls ‘apes’.” Jenny snorted a laugh at the incredulous look on the Doctor's face. “she means ‘umans, Doctor. They killed her sisters, an’ she killed them. Tha’s when th’ captain found her, half drunk on bloodlust.”
“What about her?” the Doctor asked, pointing to a familiar brown-haired woman. Miss Dorothy McShane sat near the bow, her hair piled up on top of her head as she bent over a small silver container.
Jenny's eyes lit up. “That's Ace. She's brilliant, honestly. Can make a bomb out of anythin’, from what I've ‘eard.”
“So you,” he paused, trying to find the right words. “You… like it here?”
“Yes, sir.” She replied, nodding her head quickly enough that he worried it might fall off of her neck. He was shocked by just how enthusiastic her response was - onboard the TARDIS he had never managed to get her to say anything more than a half-hearted 'maybe’.
“Vastra,” the Captain called out from the front of the ship, getting both of their attention. “We have our heading.”
The Silurian smiled, revealing too many teeth. “Where to, Captain?”
Captain River Song turned, her hair flying out behind her and her jewelry shining in the sunlight. The rest of the crew listened in attentively even as they tried to act like they were absorbed in whatever they were doing. “Maldovar.”