They were about halfway along the day's route between Vorkosigan House and the Imperial Residence when Esterhazy's voice came back to him from the driver's compartment. "Something's going on forward of us, milord. We're diverting to the secondary route."
"Understood," Aral said, and then--since Esterhazy was not usually so imprecise as that something--Aral keyed his wrist comm to his security team's channel.
"I don't know how it got there," an aggrieved voice was saying. "We cleared the route not ten minutes ago, and now there's this big blue box--"
Aral's response occurred at combat-speed and nearly without volition. "ImpSec, Vorkosigan here. Stand down, on the Regent's order. Do not approach the blue box. I repeat, stand down on Lord Vorkosigan's order."
There was a short, stunned silence, and then Simon's voice came back; clearly Aral wasn't the only one curious about the vague something happening on his morning commute.
"My Lord Regent," Simon said, very precisely, calling up the ghost of Negri's cutting tone, "I'm sure you're not interfering with my men without a superior tactical understanding of the situation."
Aral snorted silently, thinking back to a night sixteen years ago and the source of his superior tactical understanding, such as it was. His encounter with Captain Jack Harkness seemed nearly a dream, now, but sharp and vivid as if he had dreamt it only last night. He had given his word, after all, and whatever else he did, a Vorkosigan did not simply forget his word. Least of all Aral.
"I know what I'm doing, Simon." To Esterhazy, without turning off his wrist comm, Aral added, "return to the primary route. I need to see the blue box."
"Private channel," Simon bit out, and Aral shifted the setting on his wrist comm even as he said, "Esterhazy."
"Yes, milord," Esterhazy said, with a faintly reproachful tone of long suffering. Aral felt the groundcar swing slowly around as Esterhazy navigated back the way they'd come.
"Aral," Simon said, "Your personal security is--"
"I know what the blue box is, Simon." It was stretching, but Aral knew he was going to have to push hard to keep Simon from doing things for Aral's own good. "It doesn't constitute a threat, except perhaps to my honor, if I forswear myself by being rude to the man it belongs to."
"You are sworn to Gregor," Simon said, "you have an obligation to your emperor, to say nothing of your obligations to your wife and son--"
Aral silenced his wrist comm. Esterhazy had just come around a corner, and Aral had gotten his first glimpse of the blue box through the heavily polarized canopy of the groundcar. Esterhazy rolled cautiously toward it, unimpeded by any other traffic--it must all have been diverted, already, as soon as the thing appeared. Only minutes had elapsed, at most, but ImpSec was hardly about to let morning traffic stand in its way when establishing a security perimeter.
"This is close enough," Aral said. "I'll walk from here."
"Yes, milord," Esterhazy said, and stopped the groundcar right there in the middle of the street. He wasn't required to come around and open the door; two of the plainclothes ImpSec men from Aral's inner perimeter were there covering the door nearly before they'd come to a halt. Aral opened the canopy with his own controls, as they showed no interest in doing so. "Thank you, gentlemen, but I believe I can step onto the street unassisted."
They both had the slightly fixed expressions which indicated that Simon had realized Aral wasn't listening and had moved on to haranguing them via earbug. They didn't impede him, but flanked him closely as he walked across the street toward the blue box.
It was taller than a man, and nearly half as wide as it was tall. There was writing near the top in printed Barrayaran Cyrillic. The words were in English: POLICE BOX.
Aral had crossed half the distance between the groundcar and the blue box when a door was flung open and a young woman stepped out in a rush of copper hair and bare coltish legs.
Aral stopped, stunned--Jack had said he, surely. Jack had said it was a man who belonged with the blue box, a man with two hearts.
The red-haired girl was easily as tall as Cordelia, but much younger. She came to an instant, wide-eyed halt when she saw Aral and the men flanking him. Aral watched as her eyes darted around, no doubt taking in the rest of his inner perimeter and the street which was empty but for his own vehicle.
Aral limited his own gaze to a quick survey. She was dressed Betan-style, for hot weather and loose standards, in a shirt that covered her arms to the wrist but a skirt that left her legs bare halfway up her thighs. Her hair fell down around her shoulders in soft waves.
She stood framed in the doorway of the blue box like a deer poised for flight. In an accent Aral could have sworn was straight out of the hill-country, her voice high and strained, she called out, "Doctor!"
A man stuck his head out of the door just behind her. He had long untidy hair, mousy brown, and his eyes swept smoothly over the scene outside the box.
"Would you look at that," he said, seeming entirely unsurprised. "Pond, you've stopped traffic."
Unless Aral was very much mistaken, Pond hadn't had much to do with it; it would be this doctor who was controlling the situation. Very likely the doctor was Jack's man with two hearts. Aral could believe it of him, even at first glance; there was something of Jack's quality about him. His gaze took everything in so quickly and coolly, and his eyes were older than his face.
"Doctor," Aral said, moving forward again with his hands spread. His ImpSec escort lagged a little further behind than they had when the blue box was still sealed--less alarmed now that a half-naked woman had leapt out, instead of a commando. Simon would doubtless point out to them later that half-naked women were perfectly capable of being commandoes; he'd known Cordelia long enough, and heard enough of her lectures, to think of it. In this case, however, Pond was either nothing of the sort or an actress who would soon take over the Nexus with her rendition of wide-eyed innocent bewilderment in the face of armed men.
"And... Miss Pond?" Aral inquired gently. Miss Pond nodded, starting to relax from her brittle stillness. The doctor gently shifted her aside with his hands on her shoulders, so she no longer either blocked his exit from the blue box or served as a human shield. A gesture of good faith. Aral returned it by closing the distance between them and offering a hand in greeting.
"I am Aral Vorkosigan," he began, but the doctor's surprisingly strong grip cut him off.
"Of course, of course--Amy, this is Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan, Regent to young Emperor Gregor of Barrayar, who is now--what is it, fifteen years old? Sixteen?"
"Sixteen," Aral agreed, extracting his hand. The doctor did not have any noticeable galactic accent--he sounded like a well-educated officer, in fact, though not quite Vor, somehow--but he was unquestionably not a Barrayaran; his strange clothes were as untidy as his hair. Aral noted automatically that he wore a blue tie in a bow around his neck that matched the blue box--colors of his house, in a manner of speaking. Miss Pond's red clothes seemed like an almost aggressive counterpoint, though Aral's eye was prone to pair them; they were nearly the same shades as parade red-and-blues, taken together.
"I should tell you, doctor," Aral said, noting that the doctor still had not given his name, though he had quite casually surrendered Miss Amy Pond's, "that I have had the fortune to be slightly acquainted with Captain Jack Harkness. He commended you to my attention, and I promised him I would assist you if your travels ever brought you to this world."
The doctor had been turning toward Miss Pond with a delighted smile to say something, and the smile slipped as Aral spoke. He looked suddenly very old. His face reminded Aral for an eye-blink of Miles's face, when his pain somehow managed to startle him in a new way, and the mask he wore to hide it slipped unexpectedly. His son was ten years old, and it grieved Aral that he had such a mask already. The doctor, when he smiled, looked scarcely older than Miss Pond. When he stopped smiling he looked much, much older.
"You've met Jack," the doctor said slowly, his attention settling with an almost palpable weight on Aral. "I haven't seen Jack in a long time."
"Neither have I," Aral said calmly, wondering how a shaggy-haired boy could summon a laser-focus that weighed upon him as the old Emperor's had. Still, he had faced Ezar down, and he could face the doctor. "Emperor Gregor wasn't yet born when I met him, in fact, but Captain Harkness was quite... memorable."
The doctor's face regained some of its animation, and he glanced back to Miss Pond and then met Aral's eye again. "Jack is certainly that. You said you promised him, did you--"
"Wait," Miss Pond said abruptly, heedless of the impropriety of interrupting--of course, her clothing suggested that she was heedless of most improprieties. It was only that Aral had difficulty squaring that in his mind with her accent, which belonged in his mind to deferential servants and villagers. "Wait, who's this memorable Jack, Doctor? You've never mentioned him once."
She sounded, actually, exactly like a sharp-tongued hill-woman with a put-upon husband or kinsman, and the Doctor gave a little sideways look that might have belonged to such a man.
"Later, Amy--did you say you gave him your word, Lord Vorkosigan?"
Aral gave a shallow nod, his attention still on Miss Pond, who did not look as if she intended to wait long for that later. "I did. So I hope you will agree to be my guests while you are in Vorbarr Sultana, and accept my hospitality."
"Your protection," the doctor murmured, nearly under his breath, without looking around.
Miss Pond heard him, and shot a quick glance over Aral's shoulder before saying, a little louder, "I think we'd love to accept your hospitality, Lord Vorkosigan. Especially if you can tell me about this Jack who is a friend of the Doctor's and yet I have never heard of him."
"Excellent," Aral said, even as his mind boggled at the idea of telling a fresh-faced young girl anything whatsoever of what he knew about Captain Jack Harkness. "As guests of my House, allow my armsman, Esterhazy--" Aral turned slightly and was not at all surprised to see that Esterhazy had come up to flank the ImpSec man on Aral's left. He stepped forward on his name and offered his arm to Miss Pond. "--to drive you to my home here in the city. I'm afraid I must go to my office and deal with some appointments I can't reschedule--"
"Runs three planets, by the way," the doctor murmured to Miss Pond, and Miss Pond laid her hand very lightly on Esterhazy's arm, as though Esterhazy were the delicate and breakable one, or as if she did not quite believe he was real.
She said, "So that's Churchill times--"
"Twelve or fifteen, population-wise, thousands by geography," the doctor murmured.
When they seemed finished interrupting him and each other, Aral went on, "I'll let Lady Vorkosigan know to expect you. I'm sure she can entertain you until I return home for lunch, and then I'll be happy to speak to you both further."
"Oh," the doctor said brightly, "I've always wanted to meet Lady Vorkosigan. You'll like her, Amy, and I bet she'll like you."
Aral rather agreed, but he had a few more aspects of this situation to manage before he let himself be distracted.
"Doctor," he said, "is this box of yours heavier than it looks?"
"No," the doctor said, glancing from the box to Aral's groundcar to the men arrayed around them. "That is to say, yes, but she's so good at not looking it that you'll never know the difference."
Aral nodded shallowly, accepting the gist of it, and said, "I'll have it sent after you, then. There's a vacant lot beside Vorkosigan House where it may be stored without interrupting traffic."
"My lord," one of the ImpSec men, casting a suspicious look at the blue box and no doubt thinking of the security perimeter.
"No, no trouble," said the doctor, and darted back the way he'd come to open one of the doors--the one he'd left closed before, Aral thought, with a vague recollection of trick cabinets and magicians. Aral moved around to look in--Jack had not forbidden him to look--and was not at all surprised to find that the doctor was helpfully patting the solid blue wooden inner sides of a perfectly ordinary wooden box.
"You see," said the doctor, "nothing to be worried about."
While his ImpSec men were peering suspiciously at the box, Aral spared a glance toward Miss Pond, who looked rather as if she had something to be worried about. Aral didn't think that was what she had expected to be revealed inside the box, at all.
"It will be delivered to Vorkosigan House," Aral repeated firmly. "Perhaps the rear courtyard, if my security does not put up too great a fuss over it. In the meantime, you and Miss Pond should go on."
"Wait," Miss Pond said, looking around the empty street. "If we take your car, how will you--"
Quite perfectly on cue, an equally armored groundcar pulled up from the opposite direction and stopped just in front of the Vorkosigan vehicle. Simon stepped out.
"I believe I am being offered a ride myself," Aral said, gesturing in that direction. "Please, go on, I will tell Cordelia to expect you. I'm sure you will be quite welcome."
Aral walked toward Simon before Simon had him dragged or burst an aneurysm, and Esterhazy smoothly steered Aral's guests into the Vorkosigan groundcar. Aral settled into the comfortable rear compartment of Simon's groundcar, and Simon threw himself down opposite. The door shut, sealing them into perfect silence.
"You heard me mention Captain Jack Harkness," Aral said quickly, cutting off any possible tirade.
"I did," Simon said grimly. "I also know that neither I nor Negri have ever had a file on him. When--"
"Before Komarr," Aral said. "It was a highly irregular contact, but he offered me some intelligence which was proven extremely accurate. Nothing Negri would have wanted on paper."
"Hm," Simon said, studying him intently, but Aral was not excessively concerned about Simon ordering his guests arrested at this point. Simon had allowed him to claim them as guests and move them onto his own ground; that was as good as total surrender. If Simon wanted to try to unravel Jack's identity instead, Aral would wish him joy of it and look forward to his report.
Aral had other urgent matters to attend to, in any case. He keyed his wrist comm to yet another channel. "Dear Captain?"
"Dear Admiral," Cordelia said, sounding amused. "Has it been a terribly exciting quarter of an hour since we parted?"
Aral smiled. "In fact it has--I am sending you a pair of houseguests, so I do hope I remembered your schedule for the day correctly, and you will be able to greet them and get them settled, at least. They're offworlders, a little lost here--I'll explain more when I come home for lunch."
"I am at home but not At Home," Cordelia confirmed, "except, I suppose, to our new offworlder guests. Are they coming from the shuttleport?"
Aral silently blessed his wife's endless unflappability. "Esterhazy's bringing them, they'll be at Vorkosigan House in a few moments."
"Oh," Cordelia said, and he heard soft sounds of movement, as if she were rising from a chair. "All right, then. Do you suppose they'll be suitable people to introduce Miles to? He could use a distraction today."
Miles had had yet another surgery twelve days ago, relatively minor in the scheme of things; at the two-week mark he was to be permitted to return to unrestricted activity, or rather to activity no more restricted than normal.
"Use your judgment," Aral suggested. "I'm sure he'd find them interesting, but perhaps excessively so."
"I see," Cordelia said wryly. She did see, of course. "I'll just check where he and Bothari are. Try not to encounter too much more excitement before elevenses, Aral."
"I'll do my best," he promised, and shut off the wrist comm, belatedly glancing up to see what Simon made of this bit of domestic business--but Simon was frowning out the window, lost in thought.
"You gave your word as Vorkosigan, did you," Simon said. He had, through one channel or another, been privy to all Aral had said to the doctor and Miss Pond.
"Personally, yes," Aral agreed. "At the time my name's word was all I had."
Simon nodded. "You didn't specifically make it an Imperial order, when you told my men to stand down. But I suppose that if Lord Vorkosigan petitioned the Lord Regent for Imperial protection for his offworld guests...."
"He would of course receive it," Aral agreed. "You're not about to forbid me from permitting myself a little nepotism, are you?"
"No," Simon sighed. "I suppose I'm not."
The Prime Minister's car was like a limousine. It had a back compartment with plush bench seats, and the driver was up front with a barrier between them. When he shut the door Amy suddenly couldn't hear the city outside. All it needed was a bottle of champagne, though it seemed to be early for that, here.
"So," Amy said, elbowing the Doctor as they both lounged against the soft seat. "What just happened, exactly?"
"Oh," the Doctor said. "Well. This world can be a bit... dangerous, for strangers. But we're in luck, because we're Lord Vorkosigan's personal guests, and I don't believe there's anyone on this planet who would dare to interfere with us if Lord Vorkosigan says they shouldn't. This year."
"This planet," Amy repeated, deciding not to worry about this year. "Didn't you say he runs three planets?"
"Yes," the Doctor said, dragging the word out cautiously. "On the next planet over there are probably quite a number of people who would happily kill us if we mentioned being friends with Lord Vorkosigan. We won't go there."
"No!" Amy agreed. "No we won't! What kind of Regent is he?"
"A good one," the Doctor said firmly. "An excellent one, with a very difficult job. I've wanted to meet him for ages--and Lady Vorkosigan is amazing, she's a hero in her own right--"
"Speaking of people we'd like to meet," Amy said, coming back around to the point. "Who's Captain Jack Harkness, and why did you look like you'd seen a ghost when Lord Vorkosigan mentioned him?"
The Doctor didn't look so shocked this time, but he edged away from her slightly and looked out the window. "Jack traveled with me for a little while, and I--I was different then. Different and also differently different, actually. Things were very complicated with Jack."
Amy watched the Doctor as he watched the city going by. The car slowed and turned toward a set of gates as the Doctor finally said, "I did some things I'm not proud of, when it came to Jack. But if he's going round this universe asking people to look out for me, I suppose I'm forgiven. That's nice to know."
Amy wanted to ask what all of that meant--the this universe bit as what the Doctor had done to Jack Harkness and why--but of course that was when a man in a brown uniform that looked just like Esterhazy's opened her door and offered a hand to help her out.
Cordelia paused at the door to the smaller sitting room, where Miles was spending most of his days since the latest surgery, doing his schoolwork under Bothari's watchful eye. She detected a reassuring rather than ominous silence--punctuated by stylus-taps and Bothari's slow pacing across the carpeted floor--and moved on without drawing their attention.
She buttonholed an upstairs maid, asking her to prepare two adjoining guest rooms for immediate occupancy. Aral had said a pair of offworlder guests, but better to have more rooms than necessary than too few. Cordelia headed down the back stairs to the kitchen, to make sure that the day's lunch and dinner would include options that weren't too excessively Barrayaran--she still remembered her first experiences of unbridled carnivory--and so she had just reached the front part of the house when Armsman Vogti reached her and said, "Esterhazy's just pulled up, milady."
"Thank you," Cordelia said, and allowed Vogti to escort her to the front door, reaching the foyer just as it opened to reveal a very blank-faced Armsman Maisky escorting a young woman wearing a very short skirt.
Well, Aral had said they seemed a little lost here, and now Cordelia knew what that meant. A young man trailed in after Maisky and the young woman, and he looked directly at Cordelia and smiled brightly, as if they were the dearest of friends.
"Hello," he said, dodging around the others to offer his hand to Cordelia, who shook it, Betan-fashion, as he obviously intended. "I'm the doctor," he said brightly. "This is Amy Pond. Lord Vorkosigan said he'd tell you we were coming."
"He did," Cordelia agreed, triaging all further questions as slightly less urgent than the immediate sartorial culture clash. "Doctor, would you like to explore our library? Armsman Maisky can show you the way, and I just need to borrow Miss Pond for a moment."
Maisky looked very faintly relieved as he released Miss Pond's arm and turned toward the doctor, who said blithely, "Oh, the library. Yes, Amy, go on with Lady Vorkosigan," and turned away.
Miss Pond, who had been staring around the foyer with interest, smiled brightly at Cordelia, obviously entirely unaware of the effect she was having on anyone.
"This way," Cordelia said, gesturing toward the stairs, and Amy fell into step beside her. "My name is Cordelia Vorkosigan, incidentally. Have you had a long journey, Miss Pond?"
There was, Cordelia noted, a conspicuous absence of luggage following the travelers in. How had these people come to Aral's attention?
"Oh, please, call me Amy," Amy said. "I mean--unless that's--is that not allowed here?"
"It's quite all right," Cordelia said, smiling. The young woman did at least have the idea that differing mores existed. She just didn't seem to realize she was in violation. "Call me Cordelia, please. I suppose Aral was very formal with you?"
Amy nodded quickly. "But there were also a lot of big men with guns around, so I was a bit distracted."
Cordelia stopped short, even as she thought that that was a more or less standard description of any given group of Barrayaran males. "Aral didn't mention how exactly you met."
"Oh," Amy said. "Ah." She glanced back down the stairs, in the direction the doctor had disappeared. "Well. We'd got a bit lost, and I think we alarmed some people by being where we weren't expected. They seemed to have... stopped traffic for us. But Lord Vorkosigan apparently knows someone who knows the Doctor, and he told everyone it was all right because we were his guests, and sent us here."
Cordelia tried to piece together what that might have looked like from ImpSec's view. Something urgent enough that they'd diverted traffic, and yet Aral had managed to walk right into the middle of the situation to claim these people. Simon must have a migraine already, and it wasn't even ten in the morning. "Who did you say your mutual friend was?"
"Captain Jack Harkness," Amy said promptly, and gave Cordelia a hopeful look.
"Ah," Cordelia said, turning to walk again. Aral had told her about Jack once. In a way, Cordelia probably had Jack to thank for the first time Aral proposed to her, since Aral had considered her rather the fulfillment of prophecy at that point. Cordelia glanced over at Amy, whose hair was the bright, perfect copper color Cordelia's had been that day on not-yet-Sergyar. "Jack."
"Have you met him?" Amy asked brightly.
"No," Cordelia said, "I think Aral only met him once, and--"
The door of the smaller sitting room opened just as they reached the top of the stairs. Bothari stepped through, glanced toward the stairs, and then froze entirely.
"Sergeant?" Miles said from the other side of him. "Is something wrong?"
Bothari broke the freeze at once, turning to face Miles. "Your lady mother has a guest."
Miles peered out between the doorframe and Bothari's hip, and Cordelia glanced over at Amy, who was offering an impartially friendly smile to Bothari and Miles both. When Cordelia looked back at Miles, he was looking from Bothari to Amy uncertainly. Bothari seemed to be staring past Cordelia and Amy, focused on some distant point at the bottom of the stairs.
"Sergeant, Miles, excuse us," Cordelia said, taking Amy by the arm and tugging her away toward their suite.
Cordelia resisted the impulse to actually interpose herself between Amy and Bothari's line of sight. She satisfied herself with dragging Amy along too quickly to allow her to do anything but look back briefly.
"All right," Cordelia said, closing the door behind them. "So now that the horse is not only out of the barn but possibly lost in the mountains--didn't anyone tell you how to dress on Barrayar, Amy?"
Amy's eyes went wide, and she flushed brightly as she looked down at herself, then at Cordelia, then back at herself. "He just said it was the--" Amy cut herself off sharply. "The city, a big city. And nice weather this time of year."
Cordelia shook her head, though she remembered that--being just out of school and with no notion of how other planets worked other than what she'd gotten from holovids. At least Amy and her friend hadn't gone the way of that group of Betan kids who'd nearly caused an interplanetary Incident a few years ago by showing up in faux parade uniforms, thinking they'd blend in with the natives that way. That lot hadn't even gotten as far as her doorstep; she'd wound up being patched through to the transfer station to talk sense to them in their detention cells.
"Do your own cultural research next time, it saves arguing afterward. Come on, I have more clothes than I know what to do with--you can play dress-up. We'll have to take in the waists for you, but at least they'll be long enough."
One of the most delightful things about traveling not to a parallel universe but to one which intersected at right angles with his own was that there tended to be so many books around that he hadn't read. The Doctor prowled happily around the Vorkosigan House library, noting as he did that the TARDIS was doing a fine job managing all four of Barrayar's languages; he picked up a couple of volumes of Barrayaran history and sped through them, muttering, "Ha! Just as I--wait, no--really?"
He wondered if the author knew that, and considered whether he could pay her a visit, after he and Amy headed home, to tell her. She probably wouldn't believe him, but so long as she remembered the idea....
The Doctor returned the book to its shelf, recalling abruptly just why they were here. Playing tourists, yes, for Amy's sake, but properly almost refugees. Possible future retroactive refugees. He'd been careless with Rory, and now Rory was lost from everywhere in the multiverse except the Doctor's own memory. He wasn't going to make the same mistake with Amy.
That brought him right back around to the uncomfortable awareness that things were only going as well as they were for him and Amy because Jack had been here, sixteen years ago, and put in a good word for him. He could leave aside the question of how, exactly, Jack had managed to get here--Jack had more time than anyone in any universe to figure out that puzzle, and if he were sufficiently determined the Doctor wouldn't bet against him doing anything. Even, demonstrably, staying dead.
It would have been a Time Lord's solemn duty, once, to find out how a human had accomplished travel between perpendicular universes--and to see that it didn't ever happen again. But they weren't the space-time continuum's police anymore, and even when they had been the Doctor hadn't taken his solemn duties especially seriously. Now he only wondered what had sent Jack running with such great determination so very far from home. To say nothing of why, if he were so eager to get away, Jack hadn't come to him, to the TARDIS. They'd parted on rather good terms, the last time, and finding him should surely have been easier for Jack than finding Barrayar.
The library door opened, and the Doctor decommissioned that train of thought and turned, expecting to see Amy and Cordelia return. Instead, he found a startlingly tall and ugly man in a brown and silver uniform, followed by a startlingly small boy.
The Doctor grinned uncontrollably. "Oh, hello! Armsman Bothari, Lord Miles, how excellent to meet you both. I'm the Doctor."
Bothari looked unimpressed, and the Doctor hastily added, "Lady Vorkosigan told me I should wait here until she and Miss Pond were finished with whatever they're doing."
Bothari's expression got even harder to read at that point, but he nodded and moved to take up a guard stance by the door, leaving the Doctor alone with Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. The Doctor reminded himself sternly that they'd never actually met before. As far as Miles knew.
Miles also looked unimpressed. "What kind of doctor are you? I have fourteen doctors already--Dr. Vaagen, four orthopedists, eight different surgeons, and the nutrionist. You're not another nutritionist, are you? You're almost as skinny as I am."
"I'm not that sort of doctor," the Doctor said. "And I'm not here to help you. I'm actually here because I hope you--and your parents, and your Armsman, and maybe a few other people--can help me and my friend."
Miles went from unimpressed to openly scornful, and turned away to look for a book. "You don't have to pretend we're all as important as my father, Doctor."
The Doctor knew perfectly well that he could not tell Miles Vorkosigan, age ten, that there were whole universes of people who thought of Aral Vorkosigan first as Miles Vorkosigan's father and second as Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan's husband. He was tempted anyway, but--spoilers. Definite, universe-bending spoilers. Possibly universe-destroying spoilers, and there was plenty of universe-destruction going on without that.
Anyway, Miles would never believe him, and he needed Miles to believe in him. That was rather entirely the point.
"No, really," the Doctor said, "I'm a time traveler, and I tend to need different kinds of help to what ordinary people do. I need you and your mother and Sergeant Bothari to help me--and especially to help Amy. It'll be easy for you, but it's desperately important for us."
Miles turned around to face him again and said, "Doctor, I'm short, not stupid. There's no such thing as time travel."
"You," the Doctor said, because he was pretty sure about this bit, "have not yet studied five-space math."
Miles folded his arms and scowled, and Bothari shifted his weight meaningfully. Amy had been much, much easier to impress than this--but then Amy had been younger, and living in Leadworth, which hadn't even got ducks, let alone spaceships and five-space math. And his appearance in Amy's back garden had been rather more impressive than his entirely conventional arrival at Miles's home.
Just then Bothari turned on his heel toward the bank of windows. Perhaps at some unseen signal from him, or perhaps automatically, Miles hobbled stiffly but quickly to the Armsman's side; Bothari, with a delicate hand on the top of Miles's head, urged him to move behind him, relative to the windows. The Doctor moved toward the windows just because other people were moving away from them, but halfway there he turned back, grinning. "Special delivery--one time travel machine! They've brought the TARDIS, come and see."
At this, Miles crept out from behind Bothari and started edging in the Doctor's direction. Before he'd gotten very far, the library door opened. Miles and Bothari whirled around, perfectly in sync--the boy could only move slowly, and the Armsman moved slowly to be sure he wouldn't collide with the boy.
This time it was Cordelia and Amy. Amy had gone delightfully native, which only reminded the Doctor of Amy getting dressed up in Venice. She'd made Rory braid her hair for her; she said he'd always been better at it than she was. Now she had combs to hold her hair back, not a braid in sight.
She did, however, shoot him a significant look, which the TARDIS, despite its proximity, declined to translate for him. He countered it with a blinding smile and clapped his hands.
"Excellent! Everyone's here. Nearly everyone, close enough. Lady Vorkosigan, my luggage has arrived, wouldn't you like to come and see it?"
Miles seemed desperately curious to see the doctor's luggage, and Bothari looked only slightly more dubious than he looked about any enterprise which involved Miles going outside, so Cordelia assented with only a few side-warnings to Miles about remembering his activity restrictions. The doctor looked faintly apologetic when Cordelia mentioned them. He seemed to be consciously restraining himself to a sober walk through the house and out into the rear courtyard where his things had been delivered--though that might have had more to do with the physical and verbal grip Amy had on his ear along the way.
The luggage, when they reached it, turned out to be a large blue box, taller than it was wide. It seemed to be made of wood, or an excellent simulation of wood. Cordelia noted that there were words near the top on each side--from where she stood, she could see the French and Russian versions, and after eleven years on Barrayar her mind automatically filled in the English and Greek on the unseen sides. Then she stopped short, tilting her head to study the doctor and Amy--whose luggage had yet to be mentioned at all, though surely in this cargo-container there was room for her things as well. Why did two Betan kids have their things labeled Barrayaran-style in four languages? And why, of all things, was it labeled Police Box?
The doctor broke loose of Amy's grip and went around the other side of the blue box, which turned out to sport doors and the inevitable English words, both at the top and on a smaller placard on one door. Cordelia saw Miles reading them, frowning and looking suspiciously at the doctor, who was beaming like a man about to do a magic trick. "Ready? Want to see?"
"Oh just open the door already," Amy said, seeming a bit tense herself--not nearly as sure as he was that the trick would come off, which, if the doctor was treating her as a lovely assistant, was going to cause problems. On the other hand, Cordelia could already see where Amy had grounds for skepticism.
The doctor snapped his fingers, and the doors swung open behind him. Amy sighed relief, Miles gasped, and Bothari was ominously, utterly silent. When Cordelia's eyes returned from tracing the interior to focus on the doctor, still standing on the threshold, she found he was focused on her.
"Containerized five-space anomaly?" Cordelia said, using the very bland voice she had perfected for being pointedly unimpressed with Miles's more dangerous stunts.
"More than five," the doctor said, and finally moved inside, beckoning them after him. Cordelia reached down and took Miles's hand in a firm grip before stepping into the--ship, surely, she could see what had to be a nav station from here--and the doctor added, "Basically all of them. As I was telling Miles in the library--it travels in time, too. It's called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space."
He didn't tell Amy they were coming to a city, Cordelia thought. He told Amy it was the future, or the past, or a civilized time, and she could dress how she liked.
On the heels of that thought came another. He's not even close to being Betan. And wherever he's really from, the actual meaning of the words in the acronym still comes second to making it spell something interesting.
Miles tugged on her hand, and Cordelia looked down to warn him--be careful, go slowly--but Miles was looking around with an expression of wide-eyed and perfectly childlike wonder. Cordelia could only stare; Miles got intent on things, got obsessed with them, and he had more enthusiasm than any three adults could keep up with, but he'd never really believed in Father Frost, or anything like that. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him taken entirely out of himself by wonder, his face lit up in the golden glow of the TARDIS as he stood still and looked around.
Aral ought to see it; Cordelia's fingers itched for the camera that she'd have had handy every second if she were a proper Betan parent--and usually kept close when she knew she'd be spending time with Miles when he was having fun--but of course she didn't have it now. And if she did, it would only distract Miles from this singular moment. She'd just have to remember.
An instant later he was distracted anyway, though Cordelia couldn't have said by what, exactly. Miles's gaze snapped suddenly down and past Cordelia, and Cordelia turned to follow it. Bothari was standing in the doorway--no, just beyond the doorway, still on terra firma--looking blank in a deeply distressed way.
"It's a stable portable five-space anomaly, Sergeant," Miles said. "He was telling the truth, he really can travel in time."
Miles turned back to the doctor and Amy. "What kind of help do you need, then? You said you needed our help."
Amy raised her eyebrows, so this was evidently news to her. Cordelia remembered not to let go of Miles's hand, and noted that despite Miles's reassurance, the Sergeant had not moved inside.
The doctor said, "Oh! Ah, yes, help--"
Amy said suspiciously, "You're not going to make him cook for you, are you?" To Miles she added, "He crash-landed in my backyard in the middle of the night and then made me cook, and I tried one thing after another for ages and finally he decided that what he really wanted was fish fingers. With custard."
Miles's face screwed up in delighted disgust; Cordelia resigned herself to requests for fish fingers and custard for lunch for the foreseeable future. It ought to be high in calories, at least.
"We have a cook," Miles said. "A bunch of cooks, actually. They can fix you anything you like. And we have maids and footmen and Armsmen and things. But you said you needed my help, Doctor, and Mother's and Da's, and Sergeant Bothari's--and you didn't say what your name was, either. Just Doctor."
"That's it," the doctor said. "Just Doctor. The Doctor, in fact. It's the sort of thing we go round calling ourselves, where I'm from."
"Which is where?" Cordelia interjected, having been offered an opening. He wasn't Betan, she'd stake her life. No Betan within a recognizable timespan in either direction would have brought this kind of technology within the grasp of Barrayarans. Which meant that maybe Aral's Jack hadn't been Betan, either--or maybe all time travelers tended to cross paths with each other, regardless of where they came from.
"Ah," the Doctor said. He glanced at Amy and quickly away, looking around the inside of the TARDIS. "Gallifrey. I don't think you'll have heard of it."
Cordelia hadn't, and it had been Cordelia's job, not so long ago, to know where everything was within known space; she still kept up on the major developments. But there was no knowing where the Nexus might have expanded to in the future--which meant he was from the future, which meant he knew things about them that they didn't know yet. Jack all over again; Cordelia hoped this visit was less portentous than that one had turned out to be, and her hand tightened on Miles's.
"I'm from Earth," Amy added helpfully. "Have you heard of that one?"
She seemed to be asking without irony, genuinely unsure whether Earth would be as exotic to them as this in-all-senses-distant Gallifrey. The Doctor looked over at her quickly, smiling, and said, "Yes, Amy, they know about Earth--they came from Earth, originally. They're human."
Cordelia only raised her eyebrows, but Miles leapt into the breach--almost physically, leaning hard against her grip on his hand. "We're human? Aren't you?"
"I am not," the Doctor agreed. "I'm a Time Lord. I've got two hearts and I'm nine hundred and seven years old."
"I'm a Vor Lord," Miles said, "but I'm still human. There are native Barrayaran plants and native Sergyaran animals, those are sort of aliens, but if there were sentient ones they wouldn't look like us. Are you sure you're nine hundred and seven? What kind of years? How do you keep track, if you travel in time?"
"The TARDIS keeps track for me," the Doctor said. "She's very clever about time. She even knows when Christmas is, every year without fail."
Miles nodded importantly and said, "I know when Christmas is, too. Grandmother Naismith sends me presents for it every year, even though it keeps moving around our calendar, because you have to go by Earth's. But you don't look like you're nine hundred and seven."
"How do you know what a person would look like if they were nine hundred and seven?" the Doctor asked. "For that matter, how do you know what sentient Barrayarans or sentient Sergyarans would look like, if there were any? I'm what sentient Gallifreyans look like. It's called parallel evolution."
"Much nicer than the horrible fish-vampire-things," Amy added helpfully. "Or the Silurians."
The Doctor seemed to freeze for an instant at the mention of these other races, though Amy seemed merely to be bragging a bit, name-dropping alien races she'd encountered. A girl from Earth who didn't know whether Barrayar or Beta Colony had heard of her planet--which had to mean she'd never heard of them. But she did know sentient and non-human aliens, which meant....
"Let's not talk about the Silurians," the Doctor said brightly. "Let's show our guests around the TARDIS! I've got a library too, Lord Miles--and mine's got a swimming pool in it, would you like to come and see that?"
Miles nodded frantically, and then hesitated, turning back toward the door. "Sergeant?"
Bothari looked actually pained, but he stepped into the TARDIS. "It's not right, milady," he said quietly. "This place. It's not... not right."
"Sergeant," Cordelia said firmly. "These people are trusted guests of my husband's. Miles and I will be safe with them. You stand guard outside--I'd rather no one moved the TARDIS while we were in it."
Bothari shot her a look that said he knew perfectly well what she was doing--he was on his meds, his life had been stable for a decade now, he was as well as Bothari had ever been--but he let her do it, all the same. With a slight bow and a low, "You mind your mother, milord," he stepped back out of the TARDIS and turned his back to them, guarding the door.
"Right," the Doctor said, leading off confidently up a ramp. "The library. Amy, have you seen the library since Tuesday? It's been wandering lately."
Aral managed to escape early for his regular long lunch--rescheduling the rest of his morning would give Lieutenant Antoniou something more interesting to do than he usually got, as Aral's secretary--but Vorkosigan House was quieter than he expected.
"Lady Vorkosigan and Lord Miles went out with the visitors to inspect their luggage, milord," Maisky said, closing the front door behind him.
Aral felt a--not particularly unfamiliar--stabbing sensation in his stomach, nodded shortly to Maisky, and set out for the rear courtyard. The blue box. He ought to have thought of this when he sent it here, but surely--surely the man would not--
The blue box stood alone in the courtyard, showing the Russian and French versions of its strange slogan. Aral walked quickly toward it, and then Bothari appeared from the other side, looking stricken, and Aral stopped short. Bothari was alone, without either Miles or Cordelia, waiting outside the blue box. Aral pressed a hand to his stomach for a moment, willing the familiar, irritating pain to subside, and then started moving again, hurrying toward the thing, trying to remember--hadn't he told Cordelia of Jack's warning, the vow he'd requested from Aral? Whatever you do, don't step inside.
Bothari, agitated, said, "My lady told me to wait--said you trusted--" but Aral only shook his head as he ran to the very threshold of the thing. Of course it was different inside this time--impossibly huge.
Aral shouted, "Cordelia!" and could think only of Eurydice--of Icarus--
Aral stared blankly for a moment at the impossibly young and Barrayaran version of Cordelia who appeared on a walkway above him.
She called out, "It's all right, everyone's all right!" and Aral recognized Miss Pond, wearing one of Cordelia's dresses and a pair of Cordelia's hair combs.
"Miles only got a bit soaked," Miss Pond explained, looking back over her shoulder and then down to Aral again with a sweetly sheepish smile. "He was just too excited about the books to watch where he was going, but Lady Vorkosigan said there was no harm done. He's a very good swimmer, isn't he?"
Aral stared helplessly at this bizarre attempt at reassurance, and then Cordelia herself appeared, towing Miles, whose slightly damp hair was sticking up in every direction as if hastily dried. Aral didn't notice anything about Miles's appearance beyond that, because he had a stunningly beatific expression, as if he had seen heaven.
As if he had flown nearly close enough to touch the sun, inside the blue box.
Miles caught sight of him a second later, and turned that transported smile on him. "Da! Da, come and see, it's a five-space anomaly in a box! And there's a swimming pool in the library!"
A swimming pool in a library was very possibly Miles's idea of heaven. Aral tore his gaze away to look at Cordelia, who seemed mildly rueful about the entire scene, and the doctor, who was grinning. "Now everyone's here. Do come in, Lord Vorkosigan. Sorry about the trick earlier, but I didn't think ImpSec would let the TARDIS go if they saw what was really inside it, and I've had quite enough of having it confiscated."
Aral shook his head mutely, and watched as Miles dragged Cordelia down the walkway to him. "Da, Sergeant, please, it's the most amazing thing--the Doctor hasn't shown us the engines, but if you ask--"
"Spoilers," the doctor called out from where he stood by the bizarre console in the center of the raised area. "Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. No looking at the engines, young Miles."
Aral glanced over at Bothari, who kept looking at Miles and then away around the courtyard, like he was trying to fix his position in reality. He probably was; visible impossibilities were not the best of all things to expose the Sergeant to. Aral gritted his teeth and--feet still outside, not stepping into the box--reached across the threshold just far enough to pick Miles up. He didn't feel like he'd been swimming any time recently, Aral noted automatically, though he'd have cheerfully drenched his uniform if Miles had been dripping. Aral was the only person Miles tolerated picking him up at all anymore, outside of medical emergencies, and Miles was so excited that he simply slung an arm around Aral's neck and kept looking around.
"Da, it's the most beautiful thing--it grew, it wasn't even built. And it doesn't need wormholes, it can go anywhere. The tactical--"
"Okay, I told you--no wars!" The doctor shouted, turning around to face them. "I don't like wars!"
"Except when you're winning them," Miss Pond put in, earning her a betrayed look from the doctor.
Cordelia, meanwhile, was watching Aral with concern. She settled a hand on the arm he was holding Miles with, and said, "Aral? You did send them here, I thought...."
Aral shook his head. "I gave my word never to step inside."
Miles went quite still at that, and so did the Doctor. Amy frowned, and Cordelia stepped abruptly out of the box to stand with him.
Forgiven, then, but not forgotten--not ever likely to be forgotten. The Doctor nodded down at the Vorkosigans, assembled like the archetype of a nuclear family there in the TARDIS doorway: man, woman, child, lurking guardian just over their shoulders.
"My apologies, Lord Vorkosigan," the Doctor said. "Amy, come on, no point hanging about in the TARDIS when we've come to visit Barrayar!"
Amy followed him out without hesitation, and the Doctor was madly calculating. Had this been enough, just showing Cordelia and Miles the inside of the TARDIS? Actually using it would have been better--but if Aral had given Jack his word never to step foot into it, and Bothari simply refused....
"Lord Vorkosigan, Lady Vorkosigan," the Doctor said, as they all stood in the courtyard, "there's something I'd like to discuss with you both, ah--" he looked at Miles and Bothari, and forced himself not to indicate Amy by eye, "privately."
Miles looked instantly riveted. "Is this about helping you?"
"This is about something private," Aral said sternly, setting Miles on his feet. "Why don't you and the Sergeant show Miss Pond around the house, Miles."
Miles gave the Doctor a mutinous look, but then he turned a charming smile on Amy and said, "Please, Miss Pond, come and see Vorkosigan House. It has five floors, plus the attics, and it's two hundred years old."
"I would be delighted," Amy said cheerfully, offering her hand for Miles to take, and Miles led her off across the courtyard.
The Doctor took the screwdriver out of his pocket and aimed it at the central console; after a couple of seconds his ears popped, and he knew the shields had extended over this spot on the pavement past the door. No one would overhear, now.
Cordelia and Aral both looked like they were aware of that, and the Doctor gave them an apologetic look. "I--really it's just Amy I don't want to tell about this. She doesn't exactly realize the danger we're in, she and I. You see, it's not just that we traveled in time and space to come here. In a sense we didn't. Amy and I come from another universe."
Aral got a very blank look, glancing sideways at Cordelia as if he could gauge from her reaction what he should think of this.
Cordelia looked as unperturbed as she had when he opened the TARDIS doors. "I wondered. Amy's from an Earth that has yet to found even Beta Colony, but she's met multiple species of sentient aliens--including yourself, apparently. That's not our history."
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "I am an alien! I don't know why you find that so hard to believe when you believe everything else I tell you without blinking."
Aral cleared his throat and, when he had the Doctor's attention, deliberately blinked. The Doctor grinned, and then remembered what he was trying to tell them and stopped.
"As I was saying: another universe. You've heard of parallel universes, I'm sure--" they both nodded, Aral looking faintly impatient, like he suspected he was about to be condescended to. "Well, it's not one of those. Your universe runs perpendicular to mine."
Cordelia frowned and opened her mouth, and the Doctor waved his hands. "Metaphorically, obviously. All of your cosmologies are metaphors. But your universe intersects with many universes which run parallel to mine, and it's better for everyone if I don't tell you how I know that--just trust that our histories are different in a specific way that is very important right now, because my universe is dying, and yours can't."
Aral looked worried and a little pained--he touched his stomach without seeming aware of the gesture. Cordelia continued to look pointedly unimpressed, raising her eyebrows. "Would you care to expand on that metaphor, Doctor? I do have a reasonable grasp of theoretical physics."
Cordelia was, by her standards, understating--by his, the Doctor thought, she just about hit the mark.
"Something is causing cracks in my universe, Amy's universe. Some of them are space/time rifts, like your wormholes but occurring in random locations--when I met Amy there was a crack in her bedroom wall that led to a detention facility halfway across the galaxy."
They both looked unnerved by that, and both glanced up over their shoulders toward the same window on the third floor--perfect timing, actually, because just then the window pushed up and Amy and Miles leaned out, waving. The Doctor waved back while Cordelia and Aral made some sort of coordinated quelling gesture, and a large hand appeared on Miles's shoulder, firmly anchoring him.
"Some of the cracks don't go anywhere," the Doctor said, returning his attention to Cordelia and Aral and drawing their attention back to him. "Some of them are cracks in reality, and on the other side is nothingness. I'm not sure how that works, or what's causing it, or what it means--but when things fall into those cracks they are lost. They are written right out of the universe, as if they never existed. Amy and I got very close to one of those, just recently, and...."
The Doctor hesitated, wanting to tell them about Rory and hardly daring to--he couldn't make Rory real to them, and he didn't want them carrying some half-ghost of Rory around in their heads. He could probably trust Cordelia and Aral never to mention Rory to Amy if he explained things, but he couldn't trust them not to look at her like a victim, like someone broken. That wasn't how he wanted them thinking of Amy, not when how they remembered Amy might become so very deeply important.
I'm sorry, Rory, he thought, not for the first time, and skipped that part.
"... I now have reason to believe that whatever is happening, when it blows up--I mean literally blows up--Amy and I are going to be right in the middle of it. It could tear apart our universe, but more importantly, it could destroy Amy. Worse than kill her. Make her unhappen."
Cordelia was intently focused on the Doctor, but Aral glanced back toward the window at that. It was, again, Cordelia who spoke. "Won't it kill you, or make you unhappen?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I'm hard to kill. And if I'm erased from the universe I won't be around to worry about it. But I've lost people before, and I don't intend to lose Amy. I mean to take every precaution."
Cordelia folded her arms. "If you plan to leave her here--"
The Doctor shook his head quickly. "No, of course not, she'd never stand for it. She's the type who'd take being left in another universe as a challenge, and I already know how that works out."
Cordelia's lips quirked, as if she imagined that was a joke.
Aral, deadly serious, said, "Doctor, please explain what it is, exactly, that you and Miss Pond need from us."
"Your memories," the Doctor said. "I mean--I want to make some for you to keep, that's all. The trouble with the reality-cracks is that they rewrite time--rewrite history, memory. But I'm pretty sure they can be defeated the same way. Your universe is safe, you are safe, and if you remember me and Amy--I think if you remember us, we can find our way back. That's all I need, just to spend some time with you, so that your memories of us are a part of your universe when we go back to ours."
Cordelia was frowning. "By what mechanism, exactly...."
The Doctor shook his head. "I just need you to remember us as a part of your reality. That will be enough to lead us back to ours. One memorable day on Barrayar. Can you do that for us? I was hoping you'd all remember the TARDIS, but...."
"Well," Cordelia said, smiling. "I don't think Miles is going to forget it. Not the pool, anyway."
Aral, however, was frowning past the Doctor, at the TARDIS. Aral was going to be the sticking point. And Aral's decision was going to be based on whatever Jack had told him. The Doctor tried very hard not to regret the way he'd treated Jack more now, because of this, than he had just for Jack's sake.
"Can you swear to me," Aral said slowly, "that you have brought none of this danger to Barrayar? To our world, our--reality?"
"I swear," The Doctor said. "My name's word, if you want--whatever this thing is, it can't have followed me here. Your universe is too different."
Aral nodded slowly, seeming to accept this without particularly understanding it. Cordelia was still frowning like she wanted to figure it out.
"Jack," Aral said slowly, and the Doctor tried not to wince visibly. "Jack said that he couldn't die because of something to do with the blue box. He said he hid his heart there."
"Metaphor again," the Doctor said. "But it's true that he can't die, and it was the TARDIS that made him what he is, yes. The TARDIS and a girl named Rose."
Cordelia's attention sharpened. "Where is Rose now, Doctor?"
"Safe," the Doctor said firmly, not thinking of his last sight of her and his clone--ha, clone twin! He should come back in about twenty years and have a long talk with Miles. "She's with her family; she couldn't travel with me forever. I always did everything I could to protect her while she traveled with me, and I'm not going to do any less for Amy."
He remembered Amy sobbing in his arms, screaming for Rory--remembered, worse, the sudden wiping away of her grief into nothingness. "Everything I can do, I will. Please, please, I am begging you to help me keep Amy safe, and all you have to do is remember her."
"Jack trusted you," Aral said slowly. "He told me to help you any way I could. And he told me not to step into the box, but--" Aral looked sideways at Cordelia and smiled slightly. "He didn't say anything about not putting my heart inside."
"What do you mean, exchange of hostages," Amy said. She didn't even properly shout, but Lord Vorkosigan and Cordelia both winced. Miles looked even more excited, but then Miles was ten years old and would probably think being a hostage was a great adventure. Anyway, Miles was going with the Doctor.
The Doctor just flapped his hand. "Hostage in the sense of host. Host-age. The Vorkosigans are our hosts. Lord Vorkosigan will host you, while I host Lady Vorkosigan and Lord Miles."
Amy narrowed her eyes at him, but he wasn't really looking at her--he was keeping something from her, and if he already knew there was going to be some gigantic disaster on Barrayar while he ran off to take Cordelia and Miles for a spin in the TARDIS, Amy would--would--
"Miss Pond," Lord Vorkosigan said, in the same carefully polite and gentle voice he'd used when she first met him, out in the street. "Though we are strangers, I would consider it a privilege to introduce you to my homeworld. You will not be in any danger, and no harm will come to you. I give my name's word."
Amy felt herself blush. Lord Vorkosigan was meeting her eyes, giving her a serious look that made her feel about an inch tall for making a fuss--except that unlike the Doctor, he wasn't telling her she was silly for making a fuss. "Oh. I mean. Thank you. Yes."
Lord Vorkosigan gave her a nod that was almost a bow, and Cordelia was smiling--she winked when Amy met her eyes. Amy looked back to Lord Vorkosigan, but he had a hand on Miles's shoulder and was saying something quickly and quietly, in a heavy accent. Amy couldn't quite make out the words, but from the impatient look on Miles's face it was obvious he was saying something along the lines of hold your mother's hand and don’t go running off by yourself.
Amy looked back to Cordelia, who was now beckoning toward Sergeant Bothari. Amy had worked out that the sergeant was more or less Miles's nanny--Miles had introduced Bothari as his bodyguard, which she supposed made sense, if Miles was the Regent's son, but she also suspected that Miles was being a bit melodramatic.
"Sergeant," Cordelia said. "You heard Aral. Miss Pond must be kept safe. I am assigning you to her protection--guard her just as you would my son."
"Milady," Bothari said, nodding, and frowned. Frowning wasn't a good look on him, but when Amy glanced at Cordelia, she was watching Bothari intently, searching his face for something beyond the obvious gargoyle-expression.
Finally, Bothari said, "I'll guard her as I would you. Milady."
Cordelia seemed to flinch at that, though Amy didn't know what the difference was. Guarding was guarding, right? But the expression smoothed out in an instant, and Cordelia looked over to Lord Vorkosigan.
Amy followed her gaze, but she couldn't read the look on Lord Vorkosigan's face; he nodded to Cordelia, then turned his attention back to Miles, bending down to kiss his forehead.
Even as Lord Vorkosigan straightened up, the Doctor clapped his hands. "Right then! Off we go!"
Aral had to remind himself again and again that, despite her accent, Miss Pond was not a Dendarii hill-girl. It became harder to remember when they were on their way down to the District in the lightflyer, and Miss Pond stared out through the canopy in unabashed amazement.
Aral pointed out the sights as they passed--Bothari was flying, with Maisky in the co-pilot's seat, leaving Aral and Amy in the comfortable passenger cabin, roomy enough to bring Cordelia and Miles back to the capitol tonight.
Assuming all went well; assuming the Doctor really did bring them to Vorkosigan Surleau tonight, as he had promised.
But in the meantime, Aral was entertaining Miss Pond--much more pleasant company than the parade of ministers he'd been scheduled to spend the afternoon placating. Still, knowing that she had traveled with the Doctor, in the blue box which had made Jack what he was, Aral could scarcely fathom her enthusiasm.
Finally, as they were approaching the mountains, he said, "Surely you have seen more extraordinary things than this in your travels, Miss Pond."
Miss Pond turned to look at him instead of the ground below them, her eyes bright with fascination.
"One time," she said, "when I was first traveling with the Doctor, I told him I didn't believe the TARDIS was really a spaceship. It doesn't look like a spaceship, and there aren't any windows inside to see where you're going. So he opened the door and there we were--in space! It was all black and full of stars, and while I was staring at it he pushed me right out the door. I nearly floated away, but he held on to my ankle. I actually floated in space."
Aral didn't even attempt to interrupt, or answer, that impossible pronouncement. If Jack had become immortal by traveling in the TARDIS, why should Miss Pond require a pressure suit or respirator?
"Anyway," Miss Pond continued, turning to look out the window again as if irresistibly drawn. "There aren't any windows. I've never actually flown anywhere, in a proper plane or flying car or anything. You can see everything from up here, it's brilliant!"
Aral sat and studied her for a moment. She had her cheek pressed to the glass and her eyes darted back and forth across the landscape below. Her whole face was illuminated with wonder.
Aral leaned forward and touched the comm. "Sergeant, take us through the gorges on our way to the house, will you?"
"Yes, milord," Bothari replied, and Aral marveled at the degree of reproof Bothari could pack into a monotone without any body language to back it up. "With all the safeties active, milord."
Aral glanced over at Miss Pond again, but she had turned to face the side, and the bright fall of her hair hid her expression from him.
"Every one of them, Sergeant, yes."
"Now," the Doctor said, beaming at his guests. "Seats are just over there, you'll want to sit down for this. Hold on tight, and don't touch anything. Except the seats, obviously, can't hold on if you don't touch the seats. Don't even touch the ketchup dispenser, Miles, ketchup's no good without candy floss to put it on and you wouldn't believe the mess it makes in flight."
When the Doctor looked up, he found Cordelia lifting Miles into a seat. She took the spot next to him, but leaned across him to hold the far edge of his seat, as a human restraint system. Miles had both arms wrapped around her arm and was looking around intently--probably for the candy floss dispenser, but that had wound up in Amy and--in Amy's room, and she had refused to let him have any since the first time she saw him eat it.
"Okay," the Doctor said, switching on all the stabilizers and ruling out every destination that might result in a sudden stop and Miles Vorkosigan being broken to universe-derailing bits in the TARDIS control room.
"This may get loud," he said, looking over again.
Cordelia nodded firmly, and Miles screwed up his face in obvious delighted anticipation. The TARDIS promptly obliged with plenty of engine racket, and the Doctor could have sworn that even Cordelia looked surprised, in the glimpse he had of her face before he had some tricky flying to do. The TARDIS may have tolerated being called a five-space anomaly in a box, but it didn't make her any happier about navigating among the wild variety, especially not the collapse-prone crowd around Barrayar.
Still, they got to where they were going with as smooth a landing as anyone could ask for.
"Right," the Doctor said. "Lord Miles, if you would care to walk very slowly and patiently to the door and open it, you have the opportunity to be the first person to set foot on a brand new, uninhabited world."
"Slowly," Cordelia reiterated before she let go of Miles, but give or take a ten-year-old's natural margin of error he really did more or less refrain from running down the ramp to the door. He also stopped and looked back for his mother before he opened it.
Cordelia was almost on his heels, and she looked back to the Doctor, who shooed them both forward.
Miles looked out, then turned back to the Doctor with a frown. "This isn't a new world, it's the long lake. We're two kilometers from Vorkosigan Surleau."
The Doctor grinned. "We're in a time machine, Lord Miles. The long lake was new once--is new, right now. Go on, step out onto Barrayar a hundred years before the Firsters got to it."
Miles went wide-eyed, peered out again, and then looked up at his mother. She shot the Doctor a rather weary look and said, "Just don't touch anything."
Allergies to native plants, right, and at this point the only plants around were native. "And definitely don't eat anything," the Doctor added. "Even with ketchup."
Miles gave him a slightly scornful look, but ruined it by looking out through the door, his eyes going wide all over again and his eyes darting around--spotting landmarks, the Doctor thought, and the landmarks that were missing, the buildings yet to be built. Miles put his chin up, straightened his back as much as it would go, and stepped out of the TARDIS.
Cordelia stepped out next, and the Doctor followed, drawing even so he could watch her face. He'd gotten just the spot, as far as he could tell; it matched the description perfectly. It must have been just about here that she saw Vordarian's men land in lightflyers, rushing into Vorkosigan Surleau.
Cordelia's jaw dropped, and the Doctor burst out laughing and punched the air in triumph. "There! There it is! Now I've impressed you!"
Cordelia shook her head, grinning. "I was just thinking that it's like being back on the job--Betan Astronomical Survey, you know. Barrayar wasn't one of ours, but I wonder what it would have been like, if the Firsters had been Betan colonists instead of coming straight from Earth."
The Doctor refrained from suggesting that they could find out. He glanced in Miles's direction and didn't mention the glittering tinsel of neo-feudalism, either.
Cordelia, beside him, shook off the moment of abstraction and looked down at Miles. "Well, kiddo, we're understaffed for a proper survey, so we'll just have to make do. Technician Miles, please give your initial observations of the landing site."
Miles gave his mother a crooked smile and then walked closer to the edge of the bluff to look out over the lake. He stood quite still, looking around carefully and thoughtfully.
The longer he stayed quiet, the more worrisome it was. What if this was the moment when Miles Naismith Vorkosigan--influenced by a time traveler but more importantly by his mother--decided to follow in her footsteps and join the BAS? What if he became a geologist, or an archaeologist--as if the Doctor's life needed any more hyperactive archaeologists, mental note: keep Miles Vorkosigan and River Song far, far apart--or any other thing that would transform this safe, solid universe to a marginal and unstable splinter-reality. That would be no kind of refuge for Amy. He could try to counteract the effect, but one thing he'd never gotten good at, in all his years, was talking up the advantages of a military career over the allure of science and discovery. His heart wouldn't be in it--neither of them. Who wouldn't rather have science and discovery?
"Well," Miles said, turning back to face his mother and the Doctor. "I thought at first that we should build the castle here, on higher ground, instead of on the headland, where it really was. But then I thought about the logistics of supply. The terrain is too rough on this side of the lake for a good wide road, and obviously we can't trust that we'll be able to get in and out by lightflyer--so I think the castle really was in the best position."
Miles paused to look around the clearing and then added, "We could use this site better, though--maybe a minor fortification, a watchtower. It has a good line of sight for signaling, although it's too far for conventional guns to be of any use defending the castle or the town...."
Miles trailed off and began to wander around the clearing, continuing his decidedly military survey in silence.
The Doctor forced himself not to laugh, lest Cordelia ask him to explain the joke. When he glanced over at her she just shook her head and said in a tone of fond exasperation, for the very first time, standing on a world yet to be named, "Barrayarans."
Amy had managed to get rid of the maid who wanted to help her "freshen up" when they got to Lord Vorkosigan's country house. Lord Vorkosigan had seemed a bit apologetic that it wasn't a castle, but he'd pointed out the ruins of what used to be his family's country house. This one was still properly a mansion, with stables and its own village and everything. The village looked bigger than Leadworth, and Lord Vorkosigan practically owned it--somehow that was even more mind-boggling than his being the ruler of three planets. Amy couldn't see three planets all at once, but she could compare Vorkosigan Surleau to Leadworth easily enough. She'd have to ask him whether the village had a duckpond with actual ducks in it.
She'd have to ask him, if she ever found him. Amy had managed to use the future-loo just fine (it wasn't even particularly weird, unlike some future facilities she'd run into), but she was starting to regret getting rid of the maid, because she'd got turned around somewhere and now she was lost in Lord Vorkosigan's enormous house. She found a railing and peered over the staircase, looking for signs of the area where they'd come in, or anyone she could ask to lead her back to her host.
There were soft, running footsteps behind her, and Amy whirled around quickly--her skirts flared out impressively as she did--only to find a little girl, maybe ten years old and nearly shoulder-high to Amy. She was wearing a brown pinafore over a red shirt, and looked as if she'd just gotten out of school. She stopped short when Amy turned around, and Amy got a glimpse of her delighted expression before it fell away.
"Oh," she said, and then made a graceful curtsey. "I'm sorry, milady. I thought you were Tante--I mean, Lady Vorkosigan."
"Hello," Amy said brightly. "You must be Miles's cousin, then, if Cordelia is your auntie. My name is Amy, I'm visiting."
The girl blushed bright red and shook her head. "I'm not, milady. My name is Elena Bothari, I'm just--I mean, Lady Vorkosigan--"
"Oh, you're the Sergeant's daughter, then, aren't you?" It was a bit like being back in an old novel, except with flying cars--Elena was the common ward living with the noble family. Amy made a mental note to ask the Doctor later if she was going to end up marrying Miles or the Emperor or someone.
Elena nodded quickly, and then volunteered softly, "I thought I might get to see him, if Lady Vorkosigan was here. She doesn't come down to the District without Miles, and my Da is always with Miles."
"Oh, but he's here," Amy said. "Your Da, I mean, not Miles. Lady Vorkosigan assigned him to me, just for today. She and Miles are going to be here later, my friend is bringing them down." And hopefully they're not twelve years late, Amy thought, or Miles is going to miss his chance to marry you for sure.
And Amy would be stuck here as a hostage--with Lord Vorkosigan and the Sergeant and Elena and flying cars--for twelve years.
Amy smiled and tried not to look tense, even though Elena was frowning dubiously. "They'll definitely be here. Tonight. And your Da is here now! Why don't we go find him?"
"Oh," Elena said, looking around, "oh, are you lost?"
Amy grinned and looked around as well. "Just slightly. I think Lord Vorkosigan was going to show me a pavilion, by the lake."
Elena grinned. "That's way on the other side of the house from here. I can show you."
She straightened up like a soldier, chin raised with pride, and Amy glimpsed her father in her, just for a second--she was very pretty, nothing like him, but Amy recognized the way she stood, the way she moved.
"So," Amy said, stretching her legs to keep up, "are you going to be in the army when you grow up, like your Da?"
Elena gave her a wide-eyed, stunned look, then looked away quickly, the soldier-straightness of her shoulders disappearing into a defensive hunch. "I know I can't," she said quietly. "I know it's only for men. You don't have to tease."
"Only for--" Amy stopped short and reconsidered the long skirt she was wearing. Historical novel, right. "Well, it isn't like that everywhere," Amy said firmly. "And I bet one day they'll have women, too. Maybe by the time you're grown up."
"Eight years?" Elena said doubtfully, opening a door and leading the way down a narrow staircase. "Tante Cordelia talks about how it is on Beta, but--I could never leave Barrayar. And even Tante Cordelia doesn't think it will change as soon as that. Maybe my daughters, she says."
"Well, maybe--" Amy said, just as they emerged onto the next floor down, and came face to face with a tall old man in clothes that looked like a uniform, though not like any of the ones Amy had seen so far.
Elena let out a little squeak and curtseyed, and Amy felt her spine straighten and shoulders go back without her thinking about it. This man was in a whole other class from the Sergeant; he didn't just seem like a soldier, he made Amy want to seem like a good soldier just standing in front of him.
A few frozen seconds passed like that, and then the man gave them a stiff, formal nod, sort of the idea of a bow without quite bending his body.
"Miss Bothari," he said gently. "It is delightful to see you as always. I see you have made a friend. Would you care to introduce her?"
"Thank you, milord," Elena said. "This is...."
She trailed off, looking up at Amy uncertainly.
Amy looked up at the old man with her most dazzling smile, and suppressed the urge to launch into a kiss-o-gram routine on the spot. She couldn't think of one that went with this costume, off the top of her head.
She stuck out her hand to shake, instead, remembering Lady Vorkosigan. "I'm Amy Pond, I'm here as Lord Vorkosigan's guest. And who are you?"
Amy saw Elena's head whip around in the corner of her eye, and she kept her chin up and her shoulders straight, waiting for the old man to answer. He was staring at her with an expression Amy couldn't read, and Amy abruptly realized that Elena had said milord and added, "...Sir?"
He grinned suddenly, and reached out to take her hand in his--but instead of shaking it he raised it and kissed the back. "Miss Pond, a pleasure to meet you. I am Count Vorkosigan--Lord Vorkosigan's father, you see. This is my house, in fact. But any friend of Aral's is welcome here, naturally."
Amy blinked, thrown off-balance by his sudden friendliness, and the fact that Elena, at her side, was still looking up at both of them worriedly.
Count Vorkosigan patted Amy's hand and came around to her side, taking her arm smoothly in his. "Where were you headed, Miss Pond? Perhaps I could be of some service showing you around this place."
"Oh," Amy said, looking down at Elena, who was starting to edge away from her. "Elena was going to show me--her Da is here, with Lord Vorkosigan, at the pavilion by the lake."
Count Vorkosigan got a very strange look on his face, looking from Amy to Elena and back, and then smiled again and said, "In that case I shall have the honor of escorting you both. This way."
Elena fell in behind them, and Amy shot her a quick apologetic look over her shoulder. She could see from a mile away that the Count was the Forbidding Guardian and Elena didn't want him around for her visit with her Da, but there was no way out of it now. Maybe Lord Vorkosigan could sort things out.
They went down a series of hallways and two rather grand staircases, while the Count chatted about the history of the house and his family and Amy nodded and smiled in the bits where it seemed like she was supposed to. Soon enough they were outside, walking up a little hill to a pavilion.
Amy waved as soon as she saw Lord Vorkosigan, feeling a little desperate for rescue from the old Count and his stories--she'd had a bad dream about old people a while ago that popped up at weird moments. Like now, for instance, when Lord Vorkosigan didn't raise his hand to wave back, but hurried toward her as fast as he could without running. Sergeant Bothari stayed right at his side, though Amy could see that Bothari could have easily outpaced Lord Vorkosigan with his longer legs.
"Miss Pond," Lord Vorkosigan said, and the look on his face made Amy suddenly recognize the resemblance between him and his father--it was almost exactly the same weird unreadable expression the Count had gotten when she mentioned that Elena's Da was waiting for them. "I see that you have met my father."
"And I have met Miss Pond," Count Vorkosigan said, patting Amy's hand again. Amy kept her smile in place and resisted the irrational urge to pull her hand away and run--the count was being perfectly nice. Except she didn't think Lord Vorkosigan thought he was.
"She's quite charming," the count added. "A welcome ornament to the--"
Lord Vorkosigan's face went blank, and he started to turn red--not blushing, it didn't look like a proper blush at all. It looked like he was a heating element starting to glow.
Amy looked over at Sergeant Bothari just as Elena stepped out from behind her and the count and waved shyly at her Da, and she saw the Sergeant's grim expression suddenly turn to a confused smile.
"Elena," Lord Vorkosigan said, and obviously that wasn't what he'd been about to say. "How good to see you. Why don't you come with us while we show Miss Pond around."
Lord Vorkosigan offered Amy his arm and she grabbed it, eager to escape whatever bizarre costume drama she'd fallen into. If she wound up dealing with this for twelve years she was going to have more than just a cricket bat waiting for the Doctor when he got back.
Miles wound down after several minutes from pacing to stillness, which Cordelia recognized instantly as the potentially dangerous planning mode. She looked to the Doctor to see if he had thought any further than bringing them here--just to impress her, apparently. She didn't have time to consider the implications of that, because the Doctor was looking around their landing site with a disorientingly familiar speculative expression.
"Pre-colonization Barrayar," he said, talking to himself by his tone, but loudly enough to be heard. "No animals. No animals, no paths. No paths, young Lord Miles has to wade hip-deep through allergens to go exploring."
The Doctor, who had--Cordelia dared a quick glance to check--certainly captured young Lord Miles's attention, withdrew something from his pocket that looked like an oversized penlight and almost certainly wasn't. He tossed it in the air and caught it, and in the same thoughtful tone said, "Sonic screwdriver...."
Miles looked downright gleeful at the possibilities, though Cordelia was certain he had no more idea what a sonic screwdriver was than she did. For her own part, Cordelia had an instant, horrible vision of the two of them managing to burn down all of Vorkosigan's District with that thing; they'd come to high summer, and the red-brown brush was tinder-dry. She supposed there wasn't anything here yet to be hurt, as such, but burning an entire mountain range had to be contra-indicated when time traveling.
"Perhaps we're better off not exploring too far," Cordelia said, putting as much command into her voice as she could while still keeping it within the bounds of diplomacy. "You've shown us what the TARDIS can do, but we won't get to know you or your ship better by going off bushwhacking."
Wrong word, Cordelia knew, as soon as she said it. Too adventurously evocative. Miles looked obstinate for a flickering second and then politely thoughtful as he started marshaling arguments; she could see him doing it. She looked to the Doctor, but he was now giving Miles the same speculative look he'd been giving the landscape a moment before, and the sonic screwdriver was already headed back to his pocket.
"Excellent point, milady," he said. "Miles, you could go and have a look around the ship while your mum and I talk about, you know, things. Just stay out of Amy's room."
Miles looked suspicious for an instant, and then his face went blank, and Cordelia knew he was thinking of the engines he wasn't allowed to see. She opened her mouth to intervene, but the Doctor flicked his fingers at her in a wave, at an angle Miles couldn't see.
"I like ships," Miles agreed, making it sound like a major concession. "Are there any special points of interest?"
"Well, let me know if you find the box room, but don't open any of the boxes. And don't look too long into the catalogue in the library or it will start looking back."
Miles nodded gravely and walked as slowly and sedately as his surgeon could wish back to the TARDIS. Cordelia drifted closer to the doors, but for as long as she could hear his footsteps they stayed properly slow. The Doctor came over next to her and laid his hand on a panel of the exterior.
"Keep him close for us," he said in a conversational tone. "Rooms with soft floors, that sort of thing. Definitely no engines."
Cordelia looked from the Doctor to the TARDIS and back, and he smiled. "She never talks back, and she doesn't always listen, but she always hears me."
"Well," Cordelia said. "There's something to remember."
The Doctor grinned. "We don't actually have to stay here and talk--would you like to see more of the ship? Or go anywhere else?"
"In fact," Cordelia said, "I'd like to stay here and talk." She looked round for somewhere to sit where she wouldn't have to entirely abandon the enchanting sight of the long lake in its native state. Finding no better options, sat down in the open doorway of the TARDIS.
The Doctor made a politely inquiring noise and then sat beside her--a little crowded, but not uncomfortable. He stared out toward the lake, seeming as fascinated by it as Cordelia was. "Anything in particular you wanted to talk about? I've been everywhere, I know loads of stories."
Cordelia smiled. "I suppose that's somewhere to start. I want to hear your stories. You want me to remember you, but I hardly know anything about you."
"Oh," he said, and looked tongue-tied for the first time. "Yes. Well, I--"
Cordelia shook her head. "If you tell me about yourself all I'll learn is what you want me to think of you. Tell me about Amy."
He looked startled for a moment, and then brightened. "Amy's brilliant. I met her when she was a bit younger than Miles is, crash-landed in her garden--"
"Made her cook you fish fingers and custard?"
He grinned. "I cooked those, actually. She didn't want anything to do with it. Didn't know what she was missing. She wasn't a bit scared of me, you know, strange man falling out of the sky in the middle of the night in a blue box. But then I was nothing compared to the crack in her wall, at least I was shaped like a thing that actually existed."
Cordelia had it on the tip of her tongue to ask where Amy's parents had been, and why she bloody hadn't been scared of a strange man in her kitchen, but she bit back the impulse. She was getting awfully Barrayaran when it came to the intersection of children and security; it was an effort to remember that most children, in most places, didn't live with necessary layers of protection radiating outward from their own personal Armsman-bodyguard to ImpSec. Strange men--stranded travelers, accident victims--were not threats to most children, in most places.
"When she was younger than Miles," Cordelia said instead, studying the Doctor and wondering how differently eight hundred ninety-three had looked from nine hundred and seven. "Fourteen or fifteen years ago, then?"
"No," he said, "well, yes, for Amy, but it was only--" He leaned his head against the frame of the door, looking thoughtful, and Cordelia wondered whether he was consulting his own memory or his ship's. "Maybe half a year, for me. I only spent a few hours with her, that night when she was a little girl, and then I had to go deal with the TARDIS. I meant to be back in a few minutes--I told her I would show her a bit of the universe. But when I came back a few minutes later, it'd been twelve years for her. And then she hit me in the head with a cricket bat!"
A cricket bat, Cordelia thought, would be the least of what would be waiting for the Doctor if they got back twelve years late from this jaunt. Cordelia was proud of the steadiness of her voice as she asked, "Is that likely to happen again?"
"The cricket bat? Oh, the twelve years! No, no, absolutely not. The TARDIS is tip-top now--that was an exceptionally bad day for us, with the crashing and burning and so on. No, I gave my word I'd have you home by teatime, and you will be."
If they weren't--well, if they weren't, there was nothing Cordelia could do about it until it happened, so she might as well assume that the alien with the impossible ship was telling her the truth.
"Do you do this often? Taking people out for a spin in your time machine, I mean--like you meant to take Amy. Like you did take her, I suppose. Is this what Time Lords do?"
"No, Time Lords--no. Just me." He turned his face away for a moment, and Cordelia didn't think he was particularly admiring the mountain slope to the west. He ran a hand through his hair and said, "I suppose whatever I do is what Time Lords do, though. I'm the only one left. I'm sure this business with the cracks would never have happened when they were all around, looking after things, but--now it's just me. So I suppose...."
He gave a short, bleak laugh. "I suppose Time Lords spend most of their time traveling round thrilling the locals."
Cordelia looked out at the lake for a little while, waiting for his posture to shift back to neutral. When it did, she bumped her shoulder gently against his--strange how easily the body-language of playing Mama Captain to her Survey crew came back with a Betan accent spilling angst in her ear, even if the angst in question was on a scale she couldn't entirely comprehend. "But now you have Amy, don't you?"
"Amy is--" the Doctor stopped short, and then said in a different tone, "Human. She won't--this isn't her real life, not forever. She ran away with me to have adventures before she settled down. She'll travel with me for a little while, and then she'll get tired of it and go do something else. That's what humans do."
That's what you do, Cordelia thought, but she didn't say it aloud. Career Survey types never did understand why their partners eventually left them for someone who was willing to stay on one planet most of the time. She wondered how long his career had stretched, and whether he'd ever had a different one, back before he was orphaned. But for now they were talking about Amy.
"You don't mind that? Knowing she won't stay with you?"
He shook his head quickly, stiffly. "I won't stay the same man forever, and she'll--she's not going to need her imaginary friend forever. Someday she'll--she'll find someone real."
He kept saying real like it meant something other than what it meant to Cordelia; it occurred to her abruptly what it could mean.
"Are you saying the two of you aren't--involved? Romantically?"
"Thank you!" the Doctor snapped, hands flailing out in some reaction too intense for mere words. "No, we're not, and I don't know why everyone assumes that two people who look like roughly the same species must be, just because they travel together."
Cordelia raised an eyebrow. "I suppose you probably have a wider array of data points than I do, but surely it's a common pattern."
"I'm a Time Lord," the Doctor groused. "We're the definition of uncommon. Amy and I are good friends--that's all."
"But you can see where people might get confused," Cordelia said gently, "when your good friend is the most important person in the universe to you."
The Doctor looked over at her sharply, then just as sharply away.
"You've come all the way into another reality to make sure she's safe," Cordelia said. "Your entire universe is in jeopardy, and you could have brought anyone, but you only brought Amy. It's more important to you to keep Amy safe than anyone else in your entire universe."
"I'm not going to let it happen," the Doctor said. "Whatever it is--I'm not going to let the whole universe blow up. I've put a lot of work into that universe, I'm not having it just smashed up like this after all this time."
Cordelia nodded. "But after all this time, it's a woman you've known for half a year who you brought here, to make sure people would remember her. She really must be incredibly important to you."
"Of course she's important," the Doctor said impatiently. "She's here, she's my friend, and I have to protect her. You have to save the person you can save. I can always save Amy."
Cordelia studied him sideways. "Not other people? But always Amy?"
"I like saving people," he said, as if it were a moral failing he'd come to embrace. "But you can't, always. There are people you can't save. Not just because you didn't get there in time, or there was nothing you could do--there are people who.... Sometimes things have to happen the way they happen. That's how it is, being a Time Lord. You know the way the story ends."
He shot her an almost furtive look, and Cordelia decided not to think about just what he knew about her, or how.
"But not Amy?" Cordelia prodded gently.
He looked away again. "Not Amy. Amy's time is very unsettled--the timestream, I mean, it's very uncertain around then. Humans were just figuring out the universe. Everything was always changing. Everything still is changing, everything is forever always changing. So I don't know what happens to Amy's world. I don't know what happens to Amy. And that means I can always save Amy. Saving Amy is always the right thing to do, no matter where I have to go. No matter what I have to do. I can save Amy."
Cordelia controlled her expression with an effort, thinking of Bothari asking her to tell him when it was all right to kill. No matter what I have to do, he'd said, and Cordelia had no idea how to tell what he meant by that. Amy had said he only liked wars when he was winning them. For her? She had seemed to say it without self-consciousness, as an innocent dig against her annoying traveling companion. Did she realize what she was to him? Was there any chance that it was better for her not to know?
He was looking at her now, and she wondered if he realized. Cordelia studied him, trying to think of how to ask, and then saw Miles in her peripheral vision, dropping down to crawl around under the nav station.
"Oh, dear," she said involuntarily. "Should I...?"
"No," the Doctor said, "It's all right, she won't let him get into anything he shouldn't."
"All right," Cordelia said, and turned back to the Doctor. "So, tell me more about Amy--what came after the cricket bat?"
All of Aral's purposes were served by walking briskly toward the village with Miss Pond's arm firmly in his. His father was loath to pursue them, since any appearance by the Count in Vorkosigan Surleau was unavoidably a local Occasion. Aral was thus able to get Miss Pond away from the old man (before she realized what he was implying), and Bothari away from him (before he decided that the insult to Miss Pond's honor required immediate and physical redress). Furthermore it was a public venue, the better to keep anyone else drawing the conclusions his father had either sincerely drawn or perversely delighted in hinting at. Finally, there was an even chance that Karla Hysopi would spot Elena and reclaim her before Elena had a chance to ask where Miles was, and why her father wasn't there with him.
Miss Pond, however, had no idea of Aral's objectives. Her steps slowed as they followed the road to the village, and Aral, watching her drink in the sight of the lake and the mountains, hadn't the heart to hurry her along.
She turned an equally bright smile on him, and confided, "It looks a bit like home. Like pictures, at least. I don't think we ever lived anywhere like this."
Amy was gazing upon the Dendarii Mountains and proclaiming in a Dendarii accent that they looked like home; the congruity was so complete as to instantly deny itself. "Where is home, then?"
"Scotland," Amy replied at once, with a definite tone as though she had learned not to let her answer be questioned. "But I haven't lived there since I was a little girl, before my parents died. I had books and pictures and things. Parts of it look like this, with the hills and the lake."
Orphaned, and taken away from her home as a little girl, forced to learn about it only through books. "You have no family there, then?"
Amy shook her head. "I had to go to England to live with my Aunt Sharon, but she's gone now, too. When the Doctor came back to Leadworth for me, there wasn't any reason to stay. There wasn't any reason for us to--to go back."
Amy frowned, staring out at the lake. Aral was at just the right angle to watch sunlight reflecting off the water standing in her eyes.
Almost under her breath, Amy murmured, "Why did we go back? But we didn't stay. There wasn't any reason to stay."
A tear spilled over, leaving a shiny line down her cheek, and Aral glanced back at Bothari, who was watching Amy intently, with a particular pained frown that confirmed Aral's suspicions.
"No one?" Aral asked gently. "No--young man, no friends?"
Amy shook her head, grinning unabashedly, as more tears spilled down her cheeks. "There was never anyone but the Doctor for me. I ran away with him and I've never looked back."
Aral didn't have to look back this time. He knew. The Doctor had looked him in the eye, sworn he only wanted to protect Amy, sworn that memory was the key--but Amy's memory had been tampered with. Someone had been taken from her, someone she had loved. Someone, perhaps, who had kept her from handing herself over entirely to the Doctor. If the Doctor hadn't done it himself, he must know who had, and he hadn't said a word about it.
Aral was going to have to have a talk with the Doctor before he tried to take Amy anywhere. He'd have to be quick about it, and careful; he didn't think Bothari would bother with talking at all, if Aral didn't supervise.
There was no very noticeable sound, but Cordelia leapt to her feet and called for Miles at the same instant that the TARDIS gave the Doctor a jolt of something's wrong, hurry. Cordelia got to him first. He was sitting on a catwalk, cradling his left arm against his chest, and the swelling over the break was already impressive.
"I tripped," Miles said, even as Cordelia knelt beside him in a billow of skirts. The Doctor spared a glance up--yes, there was the invitingly obvious access panel which only gave onto a rather inconvenient storage space. If Miles had tripped, he'd been standing on the handrail when he did it; thank the TARDIS he hadn't tipped the other way and fallen much further.
"Doctor," Cordelia said, sounding tense but not at all out of her depth, and then she looked up at him with a frown. "Are you a doctor?"
"Of sorts," the Doctor said, at the same time Miles said, "Not that kind."
Miles gave him a suspicious look. "You said you weren't."
"I also said I needed your help," the Doctor pointed out. "Now the situation's turned around--it's just a fiddling few broken bones, that's practically first aid."
Miles still looked suspicious, and Cordelia said, "Doctor, Miles's bones are--"
"Very brittle, yes, I know," he said, and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. "Look, why don't we start by setting up a counter-resonance in the pain nerves to block the signal."
Before either Miles or Cordelia could protest, he pressed the sonic screwdriver into the crook of Miles's elbow; he knew he'd got the right spot when Miles's face went suddenly slack with release-of-tension.
"Oh," Miles said, wonderingly, and looked down, wiggling the fingers of his broken arm. "That's--it doesn't hurt. I can feel it, but it doesn't hurt. That's so weird."
Cordelia's lips parted, and the Doctor didn't look too closely at her eyes. It shouldn't be harder for a mother to see her son not in pain.
In the next second Miles raised his gaze from his arm to the sonic screwdriver, with something very like love-at-first-sight in his eyes, and the Doctor thought, Oh. It's now. This is why. This is how.
A little weight lifted from his shoulders--he could see to the end of the story now, in a straight and untroubled line. He grinned and said, "So, now we'll just get that swelling sorted."
It took a change of settings and a slow sweep down the forearm, and then a minute's wait while the body began to believe what it was being told and shape itself accordingly. He scanned the bones, in the meantime, but they were hardly even displaced, so it really was practically first aid. He found the setting for bone, checked it twice, and gently braced Miles's arm with his free hand.
"Here we go, now."
Miles nodded, and by the time he'd finished the gesture it was nearly done. Another few seconds and both bones were knitted as if they'd never been broken. Well, not today, anyway, or recently. In another few minutes he'd have nothing but a bruise on his wrist to show off, just like an ordinary kid who took an ordinary tumble.
"There," the Doctor said, and very carefully placed the sonic screwdriver back into an inside pocket. No need to place too much temptation in the way of a ten-year-old Vor Lord's honor, and if Miles got hold of it that would make everything... complicated.
He looked over at Cordelia again, and she was white-lipped, looking wrecked as she hadn't when Miles's arm had been broken and he'd been in pain.
"Doctor," she said, while Miles sat frowning and flexing his arm. "Take us home now, please."
He opened his mouth to ask where, when, and then closed it. Home is not a place.
"Yes, milady," he said softly. "At once."
Cordelia held firmly to Miles's good hand--though they were both good, and that was the trouble--as they walked down to the doors again. She wouldn't wonder where they were going to be when she looked out. She would open the door, and they would be there, and she would go forward from that moment.
She opened the door, and was half-blinded by afternoon light on the long lake--but not blinded enough not to know exactly where they were, halfway along the track between the Count's house and the village. Certainly not blind enough not to see Aral standing there, wide-eyed, with Amy and Bothari and--oh dear--and Elena arrayed behind him, no matter how much water was suddenly standing in her eyes.
"Da! Elena! Sergeant!" Miles shouted. "You'll never believe--look at my arm!"
He towed her out of the TARDIS, and before she'd gone two strides Aral was there, gathering her, gathering both of them into his arms as if they really had been gone twelve years.
Miles almost immediately began trying to squirm free, but Cordelia kept hold of him even as she caught Aral's hand with her free one. When they broke apart enough for her to look around, the Doctor and Amy had walked over to the lake's edge, and Elena was already examining Miles's arm with fascination. Bothari was frowning, and Aral frowned, too. He knelt beside Miles, and Miles offered his bruise for examination.
"It broke," Miles explained. "But the Doctor fixed it with his sonic screwdriver. Just a couple of seconds--he even stunned the nerves so it didn't hurt--but just the pain ones, so I could still feel my arm!"
Aral shot a sharp, dark look up at Bothari at that, and Bothari gave a grim nod back. Cordelia squeezed Aral's hand--whatever this was, she needed to be in the loop--and Aral looked up at her and nodded. Bothari took charge of both children, and Aral led her away from them, and away from the Doctor and Amy as well.
He kissed her, first, which was welcome and necessary as breathing. When their lips parted, he pulled her into another tight embrace, and whispered into her ear, "Someone's tampered with Amy's memory. Could he have done it, with this screwdriver of his?"
Cordelia felt as if ice formed--a sudden hard sublimation--in her stomach. She looked over Aral's shoulder to where the Doctor and Amy stood. He was gesturing grandly, and she was laughing.
"If he thought he was protecting her from something," Cordelia said. "He'd do anything to protect her."
Aral's arms tightened around her, then relaxed enough to let her breathe. "If she isn't safe with him--"
Cordelia nodded with her cheek against his. She didn't know what they could do against the Doctor and his screwdriver and his TARDIS, but if Amy needed help they couldn't fail to try.
"It could be something else," Cordelia said, by rote, because someone had to say it. "He might not have done it."
"At the very least he knows it happened and hasn't told her," Aral murmured. "I spotted it within a few hours of meeting her. He must know, and she doesn't."
Cordelia winced. There wasn't a good face to put on that. "We have to find out exactly what this is before we try anything else."
Aral nodded. "Our turn to divide and conquer, dear Captain. You take Miss Pond this time. Bothari and I will see to the Doctor."
Cordelia winced again, and pulled gently free of Aral. "Tell him for me, nothing that leaves a mark." She raised his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles. "On any of you."
Aral's grim look softened ever so slightly, and he tugged their joined hands toward him and kissed her knuckles in turn.
"Not yet," he murmured against her skin, and Cordelia found she was Barrayaran enough, in this, to consider that a sensible answer.
Amy couldn't stop peeking at Lord and Lady Vorkosigan. It was something about the way they stood, hugging--the way they were just the same height, she thought, or the way his short hair ruffled up against the long fall of hers. Amy could almost feel--
The Doctor's hand brushed across her cheek, and Amy turned her gaze quickly back to the lake, her cheeks flushing hot at being caught staring. She looked quickly to the Doctor, and his smile looked a little sad. "All right, Pond? You haven't said how you liked Barrayar."
"It's beautiful," Amy said, looking around again, up to the mountains. "Kind of weird, though. Everyone's so--you know. Like they've got an instruction book and I haven't. Let's go someplace easy next, all right?"
"Every place is easy once you get the hang of it," the Doctor said. "But we can go back to Earth, Earth is nice."
Amy nodded firmly and was about to start bargaining--someplace where they didn't mind legs would be good--when she heard Cordelia call her name. Amy turned, and Cordelia was smiling, standing by the door of the TARDIS. She waved Amy over, even as Lord Vorkosigan started walking toward them.
Amy dropped a silly little curtsey as they passed each other halfway, feeling like she was in the middle of some long, complicated dance--Barrayarans must have complicated dances to go with the fancy clothes. Lord Vorkosigan gave her a little half-bow in answer, but his smile didn't quite reach his eyes, and Amy watched him over her shoulder as she walked the rest of the way to Cordelia.
Bothari was coming in from the opposite side, and Amy called out a wordless warning as they closed in on either side of him. The Doctor just looked left and right and then looked over his shoulder at Amy and waved cheerfully, but the Barrayarans didn't look friendly at all. Amy looked at Cordelia, who gave her a crooked smile.
"I'm afraid they want to ask him about his intentions toward you. It's all very Barrayaran."
Amy noticed, abruptly, that Cordelia sounded American while everyone else--all the adults, anyway--sounded sort of Russian. Miles and Elena sounded halfway between, though--Cordelia's influence. So Cordelia wasn't from around here.
Amy glanced back at them again--Lord Vorkosigan and Bothari both had their arms folded, and were both frowning intently at the Doctor, who was moving his hands in short, intense gestures. He shook his head sharply, and Amy looked back to Cordelia.
"He hasn't got any intentions, I promise you," Amy said. "I wish he would, I all but bloody jumped him, and he just--"
He'd just said no, and then they'd gone back to Leadworth, hadn't they? No, they'd been in Leadworth, in Amy's bedroom--but they'd gone somewhere else, right after--well, to Venice. Why Venice? Venice was all sort of romantic, and the Doctor had been determined not to be romantic at all. Well, not that the fish-vampires had left a lot of room for romance.
Amy looked down at her dress. She'd been dressed up in Venice, too, when she went to offer herself to them--all alone? But there hadn't been anyone to go with her. They'd already seen the Doctor.
"He didn't want that?" Cordelia asked, and Amy looked up quickly, shaking her head to throw off the thoughts. She was so easily distracted lately.
"No. Just friends, he says. But practically all of us who've ever traveled with him have been girls. Pretty girls. And the boys were pretty, too."
"Ah," Cordelia said. "There have been others?"
"Well, you heard him," Amy said with a shrug. "He's nine hundred and something. I think it was always one or two at a time--I couldn't get the TARDIS to tell me much about them, it just showed me their pictures. But you can see it would be lonely, traveling around by yourself."
Cordelia nodded slowly. She looked like she was trying to make it make sense. Amy wished her luck. She still hadn't worked out the why of it, just that she hoped it would last a long time. There was nowhere else Amy wanted to be.
"He says I help him see," Amy added. "He says--he's seen everything, and none of it's new anymore. But it's all new to me, so when I'm there he remembers how amazing it is."
Cordelia squinted. "And you don't mind that? Being... being his eyes, that way?"
Amy frowned and shook her head. "No, why would I? I get to see all of it too. If he hadn't come to Leadworth I would have...."
Amy couldn't even imagine that life. Leadworth and nothing else, not even the memory-dream of something else. She'd never made proper friends in Leadworth. Maybe she would have, if she hadn't been the odd girl who wanted to play games no one else would join in, but who'd want to be friends with people who didn't want to even try fish custard?
And as dull as Leadworth was, Amy had never been able to imagine a way out that wasn't the Doctor's way.
"So the two of you travel through space and time? Thrilling the locals?"
Amy laughed. "Did he say that? We don't, mostly. Mostly the locals thrill us. And then sometimes they try to kill us, or we try to help them. Or we try to help them and then they try to kill us."
Amy stuck her foot out far enough to show her sneaker and added, "Got to have good running shoes, that's the main thing."
Amy couldn't read Cordelia's face at all, now. She looked over toward the lake at the men. They'd moved in closer, and Amy couldn't see Bothari's face at all, but Lord Vorkosigan seemed to be listening more than scowling now. How long did it take to explain not shagging her? Well. Amy supposed it could take quite a while. Amy would have like an explanation herself.
"And the Doctor... he looks after you, when it comes to fighting like that?"
Amy looked sharply back to Cordelia. "Just as much as I look after him. We're friends, I'm not his damsel to rescue."
Cordelia nodded slowly, and Amy suddenly realized that Cordelia was probably old enough to be her mum (older than her mum had ever been, or even her Aunt Sharon). "It sounds dangerous, but then that's what my mother's been saying about Barrayar for eleven years now."
Amy shrugged again, and tried to think of how to explain how perfectly inevitable this was, how her life with the Doctor was the only thing that made sense.
"When I was a little girl, he was my imaginary friend," Amy said slowly. "When he came back for me--it all came true. He's real, he's--" her memories of Leadworth were so distant; it seemed sometimes like she remembered everything in black and white, in photographs. Everything she remembered was flat, every memory was missing whatever would make it an actual life.
"He's the only real thing," Amy said softly, and remembered the dream where she'd gone back and forth--empty, awful, safe Leadworth or hurtling into a freezing sun with the Doctor at her side. "How could I ever give him up?"
Amy looked up at Cordelia, then followed Cordelia's gaze to the three men at the edge of the lake. They nearly had their heads together, now.
Cordelia looked back at her, and her eyes were sad but understanding.
"You can't," Cordelia said, and she smiled a little. "There's no cure for love like that."
Aral didn't bother with any preamble.
"Tell me," he whispered, "who it is that Amy can't remember when she cries."
The Doctor's eyes went wide, and he looked from Aral to Bothari and back, but didn't look toward Amy. Aral could see him resist the impulse.
"Right," the Doctor said softly. "Right, okay, so I can see where this looks very bad to you, Amy crying like that--"
"You made her forget," Bothari growled, and the Doctor flinched and raised his hands in a sharp negation.
"Not me, I promise you. I tried to help her remember, but she's human, and even humans who time travel can't always hold these things in their heads. His name was Rory Williams, and Amy loved him and he loved her, but he doesn't exist anymore. He never existed, now."
Bothari shot Aral a should I get a knife look, but Aral gave him a quick palm-down gesture. Wait.
"The cracks in reality," Aral said.
The Doctor nodded rapidly. "Rory--Rory died. He saved my life, which saved Amy's, because she couldn’t have gotten the TARDIS out alone. I don't know if Rory thought of that, or if he just--he was brave, he was very brave. And he died, and there was a crack there and his body fell into it. And after that, Rory was gone. Rory had never been, and Amy--"
The Doctor's face twisted in remembered pain, and when Aral glanced over he could see Bothari recognized its sincerity as he did.
"Amy forgot," the Doctor whispered. "She tried--but Rory was everything to her. They were going to get married, probably make a bunch of little red-headed babies. She couldn't bear to lose him and she couldn't--how do you hold on to a memory when it's nothing but pain?"
Aral winced, and kept his gaze on the Doctor.
To his surprise, Bothari murmured, "You don't."
"I didn't want you to remember Rory being lost," the Doctor said rapidly. "So--you have to remember this, too, now. Remember his name was Rory Williams. He was a nurse, a healer, all his life he wanted to help people. All his life he loved Amy Pond more than anything in the world, and Amy loved him too. He had a big nose and hair the color of mine but short, except once he grew a ponytail--but he'd cut it if Amy hated it. He was exactly her height, they could kiss without anyone getting a crick in their neck. He knew that green-skinned aliens were people too. Rory was good, and brave, and smart, and he should be here. Remember that Rory should be here. Remember that Rory was here. Remember that Amy deserves to have him back."
Bothari just nodded. Aral made it as firm in his mind as he could, then whispered, "My word on it. My word as Vorkosigan."
The Doctor met his gaze steadily. "I will depend on you."
Aral looked around for Miles, then, but found him and Elena skipping stones five meters away--he seemed to be showing off the strength and soundness of his bruised arm. Aral was going to have to get the story of that--but behind them Amy called out, "Oi! Doctor! Are we staying for dinner?"
The Doctor looked back and forth between Aral and Bothari before he turned and said, "No, Pond, I think we should be going."
Aral looked to Cordelia, nodding his acceptance of this, and she gave him a wry smile back, agreeing.
And that was--give or take Miss Pond's unexpectedly enthusiastic hug goodbye--that. It was only minutes later that Aral was standing on the road watching the blue box vanish. Miles stopped waving a moment after it was no longer visible, and turned toward the house. "Gran'da will be surprised to see us, won't he?"
Aral slanted a look at Cordelia, remembering, and smiled as he said, "Yes. I didn't have a chance to tell him you were coming."
That silent-landing trick of River's was handy when, for instance, you wanted to land inside a lady's dressing room without ImpSec bursting in to see what you were doing there.
Amy stopped in the doorway and looked back at him. "Are you going to peek?"
"No, Pond," he said sternly. "Go and change."
She left the door open, rather pointedly. He didn't peek. He did tap his fingers gently against the little red jeweler's box while he waited, when he normally ignored it as much as possible. He'd done what he could for Rory. It would be up to them to do the rest.
He looked up an instant before Amy reappeared in her own clothes, retrieved from Cordelia's dressing room, and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She pulled the door shut behind her and came to take her place at his side. His hearts seemed to beat a little easier, having his proper Scottish 21st century Amelia Pond back.
"So," she said, looking around the console with interest, "this is going to be tricky, isn't it?"
"Not really, we'll just keep the stabilizers on," he said, but he kept an eye on the monitor as they took off in silence. There, they'd escaped Barrayar with no harm done to anyone. Or at least, no more harm than they were supposed to do.
"Not that," Amy said, watching his hands as he guided the TARDIS back toward home. "Getting back to Earth. Getting back to Earth in our universe."
His hands stilled for a moment, and he looked up and met her eyes. Amy looked rather pleased with herself. "You said Jack was going round this universe telling people to look out for you. And Lord Vorkosigan was telling me about their city that was destroyed by nuclear bombs and said of course on Earth we probably learn all about that sort of thing in history, since a dozen cities were wiped out at the end of the twentieth century, except I remember the end of the twentieth century and they weren't. Different history, different universe."
"Well," he said, frowning down at the controls. River probably knew a way to travel between universes just by flipping a switch, but... spoilers, no doubt. "Yes."
"Yes?" Amy demanded. "Yes? That's all you're saying? You took me to another universe and you didn't even tell me? Did we go through one of the cracks? Is this what's on the other side?"
"Yes; yes; yes; yes I did; no we didn't; and no, it isn't," the Doctor frowned. "Probably not, anyway. No. Definitely not. But I wonder if the nothingness is an absence of story--forgetting--"
Amy blinked at him, puzzled, and the Doctor dropped that line of speculation for the moment. "I didn't tell you because from our universe this universe is fiction, and I didn't want you spending the whole trip wondering if it was really real."
Amy rolled her eyes and slapped him on the arm. "Course it's real. Why shouldn't they be real? They weren't even really weird, just complicated."
"Weird's no kind of standard for reality, Pond. And everyone is complicated."
"Everyone?" Amy said, and leaned across the console, her body not quite resting on his hands, to look up into his face. "Even Captain Jack Harkness?"
In an instant, with Amy balanced over his hands, her hair still a cloud of copper suspended above the console, he wondered about Jack, the unnatural fixed point around whom he had so long resisted orbiting. Had Rose made him proof even against the destruction of the universe? Would he wake up again in the wreckage, or worse, in a void?
Jack would remember the TARDIS, if he did--different console, different face, but Jack would never forget him, and could never forget the TARDIS. But he wouldn't remember Amy.
The Doctor considered it, as Amy grinned up at him, as he guided the TARDIS through a place where two universes intersected, taking her back to uncertainty and danger and home. He could probably find Jack, if he put his mind to it. Jack and Amy would certainly get on like a house on fire, complete with terror and destruction and people fleeing into the night. Amy might even be so happy, with Jack around, she'd forget there was something she'd forgotten to be sad about.
By the time Amy raised one hand to poke a finger into his chest, he'd decided there were some things he just wouldn't do for her--or to her. Still, that was no reason not to make her smile. He spun the TARDIS on a trajectory toward Earth and turned his hands under Amy, propelling her up off the console and around into something like a pirouette.
"Captain Jack Harkness," he said, "is either the least or the most complicated person in the entire universe, and he's also the first man I ever danced with." Give or take certain definitions of man and dancing, but it would do as a story for Amy.
Amy twirled back to his side, eyes shining. The Doctor looked down at the console, toggled a few permissions, and added, "If you ask very nicely, the TARDIS will probably show you a recording."
Amy bounced straight into the air and then darted away toward her preferred display monitor, calling out, "TARDIS, please oh please oh pretty pretty please display visual records of the Doctor dancing with Captain Jack Harkness."
She made a wordless, high-pitched noise of delight a second later, even as the Doctor was wandering over to see what angle the TARDIS had chosen to show her. She looked from the monitor to him and back again, and said, "I like your hair better this way."
"Hey," he said, as the TARDIS displayed a loving close up of Jack's wink, "how do you know which one is me?"
Amy leaned over and tilted her head onto his shoulder, still watching the playback. "You're my Doctor. I always know you."
Miles stopped short in the middle of the chaos when he saw a flash of blue. He'd never forgotten that exact color, and when he looked, there it was. The TARDIS, on Marilac, on the day the heroes returned. Miles hesitated a moment before heading toward it, but at this point no one particularly needed Admiral Naismith. He wove through the--wonderfully orderly--crowds, looking for the tall skinny man in the strange suit with the shaggy mouse-brown hair. He couldn't look so much different at nine hundred twenty-two than he had at nine hundred and seven, could he?
Miles was nearly at the TARDIS before he spotted someone walking toward him--on a track to intercept him before got to the ship, in fact. Tall and skinny, yes, but the hair was darker, and the suit was brown with blue pinstripes. He was wearing Amy's shoes. Miles hesitated, rocking on his heels, but the man continued toward him, breaking into a smile as he did.
"You're Miles Naismith, aren't you?" he said. Betan accent to match the one Miles was currently using--just like the first time Miles met him, when he sounded Betan whenever he spoke to Miles's mother, Barrayaran when he spoke to Miles's father. And though he looked at Miles with recognition, it didn't seem like the right kind. It was like he'd seen Miles on vids, not like he'd once mended Miles's broken arm with his sonic screwdriver.
Miles nodded slowly, even as it occurred to him to wonder if the sonic screwdriver had a setting that could undo stunned hair follicles. "Are you the Doctor?"
The Doctor looked so taken aback that it could only be a yes.
"Have we met?" he asked, not seeming at all fazed by the possibility.
"Not yet, apparently," Miles said, and added, with a thoughtful glance toward the TARDIS, "Spoilers."