Space: Inside the travelling TARDIS
Time: As present as time can be
It was midnight. The TARDIS laid all in silence, except for the low humming sound she always made when travelling through the vortex. The golden lights were dimly lit, wrapping the room in a warm, soft blanket of light. No rustling, no flickering, no alarms going off. The atmosphere was, for once, quite peaceful.
The Eleventh Doctor stood by the console, pawing a few buttons and levers, checking a screen, straightening his bow-tie. His hand lingered on a big blue round button, his fingers thrumming a little rhythm there.
"Boringers, blue boringers," he muttered, looking slightly annoyed.
He started pacing around the console. After having counted about twenty laps, he tried skipping a little. Then, he turned around to walk backwards. He tiptoed. He did frog jumps. He moved his body sideways, and backwards, and sideways again. He even travelled a small distance on his hands.
When he had tried out all of John Cleese's silly walks, he finally came to a halt. The Doctor didn't like to admit it, but he was actually quite... bored. He found the sheer fact that his body was able to be in this state very annoying. How could that be? He, who could easily travel anywhere and anywhen he wanted, he who could enjoy pretty much what came to his mind. He, who could conquer a country, ride a bob sleigh, fly any spaceship or try out liquorice/tuna ice cream. Bored! Huh. He didn't find boredom very dignifying for a Time Lord.
But the truth was - he was. Amy and Rory were fast asleep, and the TARDIS was travelling a pretty long way this time and he had promised them no pit stops since Amy had really wanted to have breakfast at Hyperion, they had a particularly good water melon smoothie over there.
If he was being honest to himself, there was actually another reason for him being extra annoyed by being bored today. Even though "today" was very relative when you were the Doctor, today, or maybe the past twenty three hours, was his birthday.
And it was not just any ordinary old birthday, no, today the Doctor turned no less than a thousand year old. He couldn't really see how that wasn't a reason for all of the universes getting together, throwing him the biggest surprise party world history had ever seen. Unfortunately, the truth was the total opposite. Much to his vexation, nobody had showed any signs of remembering his great anniversary, even though he had hinted at it for quite some time ("Oh, I wonder how many years I could be this day? Rory, Amy, wanna take a guess? No?") and now it was only an hour left of his birthday.
The Doctor pouted and sauntered down the stairs, over to the shelf where he kept all of his movies. He ran his hand over the back of the cover of Duck Soup, but threw it away. He had watched all of his films more than three times now, he had even started re-watching the ones that his tenth self had liked, like the French New Wave stuff - he could clearly remember really liking The Four Hundred Blows. Nowadays he fell asleep just by watching the cover.
Maybe he could do that, actually, watch some old Godard movie that would soon lull him to sleep just to put an end to the boring disappointment this day had turned out to be. He yanked the dvd out of the shelf and was just about to head for his bedroom when all of a sudden-
The loud bang made the Doctor jump, and half a millisecond later he was hit by something heavy and soft and oddly enough pretty good-smelling, he noticed, as he found himself trapped between the floor and this something. After he had gotten over the initial chock of being knocked out of balance, he started to struggle to free himself, but his upper body was entangled in some sort of fabric and he slightly panicked before he managed to uncover his head. It didn't really help, though, since he had fallen onto his stomach and would have to crane his neck in a kind of impossible angle to have a look at what was pinning him to the floor. He twisted and struggled, trying to free himself, but the something had gotten hold of his wrists, holding them tight, effectively preventing him from moving. It seemed like he was stuck, face flat to the floor.
"Well, I suppose that getting the 'surprise' out of a 'surprise party' is at least half a birthday celebration," he muttered.
At the sound of this, the something moved. It crept up his body, sort of leaned in over him, and then said in his ear:
"I don't believe you! You can not be serious, no, you just can't. Doctor, is today your birthday?"
"River?" the Doctor spat out from where he lay sprawled on the floor. "Yes, yes, it is, River! I'm so happy you came, even though it's very last minute, but I still appreciate it. You did read the list of preferred presents, didn't you? I do understand if you couldn't get the pink elephant, but the Sycorax motorcycle? Yes? No?"
River didn't reply, but slowly released his wrists and rose to her feet. She shook the dust out of her hair, straightened her jacket and brushed off her sleeves.
The Doctor flipped over, now lying on his back with a wide grin on his face.
"And under no circumstances do I want any strawberries on the cake, only a lot of custard."
He smiled at her. River didn't smile back. In fact, she looked mad. Really mad, actually, if you wanted to put it that way.
"O-kay? No cake? Nope? Are we maybe... going out then? I know this really good restaurant at the egde of one of Neptune's moons, they serve things that are exotic even to me, such as grilled intergalactic zebra and-"
River stood frozen, just staring at him.
"Um, okay, no... I have to say, it doesn't exactly look like we're going out, either. So... okay, I think this might be a good time to pose the question: where have you just been?"
The Doctors eyes widened and there was some arm-related flailing when as a response to that, River grabbed his lapels and brusquely pulled him into a sitting position.
"Oh you fool, I have been with you!"
He pointed a finger to his chest.
"Yes, you! Unless there is some other idiot swaying around the universe calling himself the Doctor!"
"As far as I know, I'm unfortunately the one and only," the Doctor muttered, not at all pleased with the tone she used. "Where, or when, have you been?"
"I've just come from another birthday of yours."
"That is reassuring to hear, that you seem to care about at least one of them," the Doctor snorted.
"Oh, please, Doctor, don't play that victim card - I've spent over a hundred birthdays with you. And realizing this is also a birthday, I see we have a problem here: can I see your diary?"
"No, because I gave it as a gift to a person who didn't get any for his very special birthday," the Doctor pouted.
"Oh, you self-absorbed, sulking moron! How old are you turning today? Five? Just give it to me. I need to know why you willingly risked the existence of the whole of time and space by compulsively wanting to re-live a day that to me seems to be one of the worst in the category of birthdays," River said, staring at him.
"What? Why? What?" The Doctor was getting worked up. "I haven't been going on some splendid 're-living a nice day'-trip today, the only thing I've done for twenty four hours is stand here, all alone, in this... stupid, boring, just travelling vehicle, nobody hasn't even wished me a happy birthday and now you're picking on me for something I haven't done yet? That's like... scolding at a twenty year old Margaret Thatcher! By that age, all she had done was inventing the soft serve, which is a good thing! I might not have come up with a fabulous dessert, but I did do a few other fantastic things, like for instance saving countless spaceships and planets and entire species and galaxies and universes ten times or more so I'd like to have the right to not being scoffed at, and especially not by you, at my birthday."
"Is there any possibility that you would consider keeping the volume of this little marital - or, well, pre, post, marital, whatever - barney down?"
Rory appeared in the door frame, heavy-lidded and bedheaded, apparently having been woken up by their argument.
"I'm very sorry for belonging to a species that demands it, but your human pets are trying to get some sleep."
His eyes flickered between the Doctor, sprawled on the floor, and River kneeling, still holding the Doctors lapels. "Um... special occasion?" Rory asked, a little unsure of what this scene actually meant.
"Yes! Yes, Rory, as a matter of fact, it is!" the Doctor muttered. He freed himself from River's grip and got up on his feet. "Today, I turn no less than a thousand years old and thank you very much for not noticing. So far, my presents have been a tell-off and, let's see... nothing! And since you don't seem to bring up the subject yourself: did you and Pond happen to bring any proper gifts for this very special day?
"Um, well, congratulations, mate," Rory said clumsily. "Didn't bring presents, not this time, we didn't know... Sorry 'bout that. Really sorry."
The Doctors face fell a little.
"Not switching travelling companions every second year would probably help from people not remembering or even knowing your birthday, " Amy filled in, appearing behind Rory. "And by the way: how do you even know it's your birthday?" she continued in disbelief.
The Doctor snorted.
"Is that so hard to figure out? Oh, you humans with your tiny human brains. I keep a count, of course! When I first left Gallifrey, I celebrated my birthday haphazardly, just by coincidence every time I happened to arrive at a December 21st, but a couple of hundred years ago I changed it to actually go visit a December 21th every 365 days. That way even I can have a proper birthday, even though nobody seems to remember it, I do enjoy knowing that I have one. "
"Doctor, that's very lovely and all," River said, "but tell me one thing: there are so many, many years in all of the universes calendars, why did you have to visit the same December 21st twice? What's so important about that specific december day?"
"Since I have never done such a thing, I am still not the proper Doctor to be yelling at for this matter," the Doctor said, very defensive now. "Why am I to be blamed if the twelfth or thirteenth edition of me decides to go on some misbegotten expedition in spacetime? And by the way, what do you know about that being impossible? By that time, all today's laws of time might have ceased to exist and he can go cancan with any edition of himself he wants to!"
"In the future, yes, if that would have been the case," River said, "but one of the Doctors present were you. The first one was definitely silly bow-tie guy you, and the second one was skinny coat guy, in that long faux suede coat."
The Doctor looked offended.
"Fake? That coat is not fake, it happen to be a hand sewn genuine - thank you very much - suede coat, made by Janis Joplins great grandmother, Ms. Arminta Robertson, who was born in Sweden in the late 19th century and received the suede as a dowry from her soon to be husband, I think his name was Porter, Robert Porter, if I'm not mistaken, very nice man, when they moved to New England and-"
"Doctor!" River interrupted, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. "Focus! For once! Listen to me! I've just watched you interfere not only with yourself, but a younger version of yourself. This is kind of bad. "
The Doctor stilled. It seemed like he had finally realized what she was trying to tell him. He blinked a couple of times, swallowed, and then fell silent.
He was brought back to reality as Rory gently knocked on his shoulder.
"What?" he said, turning around.
Rory was clumsily hiding his hand behind his back, and he looked almost shy as he addressed the Doctor.
"Okay, I-I know it's not much, but I found this and it looks like a really cool leather bracelet," he said, showing the Doctor the said leather bracelet with a flap covering the front. "It seems like it could be a suitable present for you, with this display and all, look, it has quite a few really cool functions... I think you could wear it on Sundays."
Rory removed the flap covering the display and some buttons and pushed a few of them trying to demonstrate to the Doctor what they did.
Then it all happened at once. The Doctor saw Rivers face changing its expression, her eyes widening in horror while mouthing a "No!". She plunged forward, trying to get hold of Rory, but it was too late. Before the Doctor could say "suede coats are cool," Rory had vanished from the spot.
The room fell quiet.
"Sometimes I have a really hard time believing that I actually carry those genes," River said dryly, having covered her eyes with her hand. After a little silence, she peeked through her fingers and said:
"But oh well. There it is."
"What is? The sight of a really bad gene pool?"
"No, the explanation to why you were having a double date with yourself in the year 4. 999. 999. 993"
"What?" the Doctor raised his eyebrows.
"I now realize why you had, well, have, to go interfere with yourself. You had your reasons."
"What?" the Doctor stared at her in utter disbelief.
"Well, that 'bracelet' Mr. Williams so very kindly was trying to give you for your birthday, that happened to be mine, and it happened to be my vortex manipulator. I usually keep it in my pocket while I travel since the strap is a little too tight and it must've fallen out when I landed. The device was set to only being able to travel between here and there, and only for two trips," River explained. "Rory has effectively sent himself to New New York, and I doubt he'll be clever enough to figure out how to get back here. You, the eleventh you, were there because you'll now have to go get him, because you are the only one that could re-calibrate the manipulator, you did it for me in the first place – you never really gave me an explanation, you just muttered something about timey-wimey – so you don't really have a choice. "
The Doctor just stared at her. He blinked. Once, twice. Then, slowly, his face cracked up.
"Did I say that a surprise couldn't be a party?" he said, the stupid grin accompanied by sparkling eyes.
He jumped to his feet and enthusiastically clapped his hands.
"Oh! So off we go! Need to get rid of you, then, Doctor Song, sorry 'bout that, but you know we can't all go! Would bring too much attention to the operation, more than one soul crossing its own timeline, and Pond, you keep your mother company, hey, hey off we go!"
He pushed River and Amy out through the door, waving them off while they were protesting loudly.
"What are you doing, you old fool? Don't you realize this is a very serious operation that would care for some planning?
"Of course I do, but since when do I plan anything? Didn't you know that the expression 'go with the flow' is actually Time Lord and was invented by, well, me, when I was accidentally rafting on the largest wave of time energy in all of history? No one on Gallifrey had ever seen such a relaxed attitude towards being totally out of control! King of out of control, they called me!"
"It's freezing out here!" River snorted. "Don't you dare be away for more than five minutes!
"Be back in a wink, River, promise you that, and Amy, I'm so sorry for this happening to Rory all over again, but I promise I'll bring him back, safe and sound, as usual!"
"You are so really not sorry," Amy said, shaking her head in disbelief. "You actually enjoy this, don't you?"
As an answer to that, the Doctor just blinked at her and grinned before he slammed the door in their faces and rushed to the control panel, not being able to his enthusiasm.
"Always like a good adventure, right?" the Doctor said to himself, practically bouncing around, pushing buttons and pulling levers as if there was no tomorrow. The TARDIS took off, and he shouted "yee-haa!" like a cowboy. Skipping round the console, excited as he was, he eventually tripped over his own feet and fell onto a seat and leaned back into it, catching his breath. After all, this was going to be an exciting night.