Silently, the Doctor and the Piper followed the Rani back to the console room, the both of them on edge. The Rani, too was sensing something amiss, and slowed down just as they reached the room. To her horror, the lights started flickering again in warning.
This time, however, the Androgums swarmed them, grabbing their arms and holding them.
"So!" Brasher roared. "You, Doctor, betrayed us, as well—you turned the Tellurian into one of your own, and then pretended that you didn't know it was him!"
"I didn't know it was him!" the Doctor protested. "Androgum senses were clouding my own!"
"That no longer matters!" Brasher growled. "What matters is that you overrode this TARDIS; now we can go to Gallifrey! You see, Doctor, we no longer need you; we just need a way to get there, and we have, thanks to your disabling the security measures when you were still working for us! And now, I have programmed this craft to take us right to the heart of your glass-domed city!"
The Doctor bowed his head, seemingly in defeat as the Rani hissed at him in Gallifreyan—which the Piper could now understand, as well.
"Now do you see what your interference has wrought!? Even if we survive this, the High Council will surely take away our regenerations and execute us for this!"
"You started this whole mess by getting involved with the Androgums in the first place!" the Piper said, rushing to defend the Doctor.
Whatever response the Rani had planned was preempted by her TARDIS taking off. The Androgums roared in triumph. The Piper looked to the Doctor in desperation, wondering if he had any sort of plan. To his surprise, he could see a smirk threatening to push its way through the Doctor's features. The Piper's eyes widened for a moment before he looked away; all was not lost, then!
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself!?" the Rani now fumed at the Doctor.
"Leave him be," the Piper ordered.
"Enough!" Brasher yelled, as the TARDIS engines stopped. His eyes gleamed, eagerly. "We are here! We will utilize the element of surprise while we still have it!" He stepped over to the console as the majority of the Androgums positioned themselves in front of the doors. "When I open the doors, you will use your strength to overpower every single Gallifreyan we come across!"
The creatures grunted in agreement.
"At last…" Brasher said. "Gallifrey is ours!"
He opened the doors, and the Androgums rushed out, roaring in triumph. But the triumphant roars soon switch to howls of fear that were cut off by a series of splashes, and only the last wave of Androgums—about a dozen remained, staring horrified outside.
"What has happened!?" Brasher bellowed.
"This isn't Gallifrey!" an Androgum fumed. "This is our planet! This craft is suspended in midair over our planet!"
Brasher strode over to the doors, looking down to see the dazed Androgums floundering in the water below.
And the Androgums holding the three Time Lords now loosened their grips, trying to see for themselves. The Doctor chose that moment to make his move.
"HAI!" he exclaimed, using Venusian aikido on the one that had been holding him; the beast fell after a few blows.
The Piper followed suit on his former captor, while the Rani simply dispatched the third by exploiting the pressure points on the Androgum's neck. Soon, the three of them were facing Brasher and the last line of Androgums.
"What happened!?" Brasher bellowed, looking furiously to the Rani. "What did you do!?"
"I did nothing!" the Rani hissed. "That cretin over there was the one who overrode my TARDIS when he was a hybrid!"
"Yes, quite right; I did," the Doctor said, unapologetically. "But, you see, Brasher, you made the assumption that I was working for you when I was a hybrid. I never was. Jamie had been right all along about me—that I wouldn't attack him, and that my protective instincts over him would allow me to stay in control of myself. Not only that, but thinking of Jamie—and my goal of finding him again—was enough to give me the presence of mind to set the navigation coordinates for your planet, just in case you tried to take this TARDIS to Gallifrey yourself." He sighed. "Jamie has always been my moral compass—and he continued to be, even after he was gone."
The Piper bit his lip, choosing not to react to any of what the Doctor had said about Jamie.
Brasher, however, did not have such self-control. With a roar of fury, he led the other Androgums in attacking the three Gallifreyans.
"The doors!" the Doctor said, in their own tongue. "We shan't be able to overpower them all; we'll have to use leverage to get them to join the others!"
The Piper nodded and allowed the Androgums to chase them around the console towards the doors. The Rani, however, had other plans; she focused on her controls, trying to override the Doctor's override and regain control of her TARDIS, stopping only to pinch the pressure points of one of the Androgums that halted its chase to deal with her. There was one surefire way to get all of the Androgums off of her TARDIS, she knew—taking off with the doors open, which would rid her of not only the Androgums, but the Doctor and the Piper, as well, in one fell swoop.
Meanwhile, one by one, the Doctor and the Piper utilized Venusian aikido to force their enemies overboard and into the water below. Their opponents outweighed them and were more powerful, but attacking in tandem allowed the two Time Lords to gain enough leverage.
And Brasher saw red. Knowing that this TARDIS was out of his reach, he opted to take revenge on the Doctor; he launched at the Time Lord in a flying tackle. The Doctor froze for a moment just before the tackle hit home, the momentum sending them both out of the TARDIS. At the last second, one of the Doctor's failing hands clutched at the edge of the TARDIS's floor; Brasher hung on to the Doctor's legs, forcing the Doctor to carry both of their wright as his fingers desperately tried to anchor themselves to the floor.
"Jamie!" he cried out. "Jamie!"
There was no Jamie—only the Piper, who saw the situation, and was beginning to assess what the risk would be in attempting to free the Doctor from Brasher's grip. He knew the Rani would head for the Vortex the moment she regained control of the TARDIS, and the remaining Androgums were converging on him; he would have to decide if the risk was worth taking…
The Doctor's panic-stricken voice filled the Piper's ears, and the Piper was momentarily disgusted with himself. Wasting no more time, the Piper leaped over both of them, landing such that his foot planted on Brasher's face.
With a roar, the Androgum let go of the Doctor, trying in vain to grab at the Piper. He failed, falling into the water.
The Piper would have followed, as well, had the Doctor not used his free hand to seize his arm.
"Oh dear…" he gasped, as the remaining Androgums on board now leered over him.
"Doctor, let go!" the Piper cried, as he fished in his sporran.
"Trust me; just let go!" the Piper pleaded. His hearts skipped a beat again as he heard the Rani exclaim in triumph, and then heard a deep clungg—a sound that immediately preceded a TARDIS's take-off. "Doctor, please!"
The Doctor agreed, and they fell towards the water as the Rani's TARDIS dematerialized. The fates of the Androgums aboard the Rani's TARDIS were sealed, but the Androgums below in the water roared and yelled as the Doctor and the Piper fell—Brasher's voice being the loudest of all.
The Piper then pressed the button on the Stattenheim remote control; mere feet above the water—and below the falling the Time Lords—the familiar police box materialized on her side, and the two of them fell into the familiar console room. They continued to stay there, against the back wall, stunned, as the doors closed. Brasher let out one last roar of useless fury as the police box dematerialized.
"Why didn't you tell me you had the Stattenheim with you?" the Doctor said, after a long pause.
"I was too preoccupied with using it at the proper moment," the Piper responded. "…You're welcome, by the way.
"Hmm? Oh! Oh, yes. Thank you for that apt timing. …Though it too you long enough to act."
"Yes…" the Piper said, dully.
This didn't escape the Doctor, who now got up, helping the younger Time Lord up, as well. The Doctor then crossed over to the console, rubbing his hands together before adjusting the controls.
"Now, then, the Rani will be out of our reach by now, and the Vortex will be filled with flying Androgums," he said. "Rather than stay in the Vortex and deal with a potential collision, I say we visit the Eye of Orion and calm our nerves like we first intended to do before this whole mess started. …Well, that is to say, like Jamie and I first intended to do before this whole mess started." The Doctor sighed, wistfully. "You'll like it either way, I'm sure."
"I don't think so," the Piper said. "I'm not going to the Eye of Orion."
"No?" the Doctor asked, looking up, but not looking too surprised.
The Piper shook his head.
"Doctor, it is time that you and I said goodbye."
"Goodbye?" the Doctor repeated. "Well… Oh, I suppose it is wrong of me not to let you go to the Academy, isn't it? Great things await you there."
"I'm not going to the Academy, either," the Piper said, with a wan smile. "Doctor, you can drop the act."
"Why, whatever do you mean?"
"Doctor, I know you. You could have gotten out of the way of Brasher's charge. Your reflexes aren't that bad."
"Well, there was a chance he might have gone after you had I not taken the attack."
"To say nothing of the fact that it illustrated your argument," the Piper said. "Not only did you do it to save me, you did it to prove a point."
"It was a risk," the Doctor said. "And my main intent was to save you; the point, assuming there is one, was a bonus."
"There was a point," the Piper sighed. "Oh, Doctor, I should have known better than to think I'd win an argument against you… Just tell me one thing—when you cried out for Jamie, was that intentional, or a reflex?"
"The first two times, it was a reflex," the Doctor said. "But then you hesitated, didn't you? The Piper hesitated."
"I was calculating the risk," the Piper said, bitterly. "You didn't hesitate to take Brasher's attack for me, but I was calculating the risk I would put myself in if I tried to save you from him."
"And so, the third time, I called for Jamie intentionally," the Doctor admitted. "The chameleon arch does separate your entities, but your entities are still tied together—you cannot escape that fact."
"You called for Jamie, because Jamie wouldn't hesitate to help you," the Piper said. "And, in doing so, you proved your argument. That the human could do something better than I could."
The Doctor now pulled the fob watch with Jamie's essence out of his pocket and held it out to the Piper.
"I may have proved my point, but I stand by what I said; I shan't force you to change back. But I shan't lie, either; Jamie means a great deal to me."
The Piper took the watch, staring at it for a moment as it rested in his hand.
"It's alright, Doctor," he said, after a while. A smile crossed his features. "You mean a great deal to him, too. And I know he can look after you far better than I ever could." He paused again, sighing deeply as he registered his dual heartbeats one more time. "Goodbye, Doctor."
"Goodbye," the Doctor said, with a nod.
The Piper opened the watch, his breath stilling momentarily as the human essence reentered his body. The process of changing back wasn't as painful as the initial transformation had been, but suddenly reverting back to a solitary heart and having an entire brain chemistry rewritten was more than a little disorienting. He took a few step forwards and stumbled, but the Doctor's arms were around him in an instant.
"Are you alright?" the Time Lord asked him, softly.
Hazel eyes, no longer glowing with tapetum lucidum, looked back up at the Doctor with some amount of trepidation.
His old dialect had returned to him, and it was music to the Doctor's ears. The Gallifreyan drew his now-human-again companion close.
"Welcome back, Jamie."
Epilogue: Nine Times Blue
It was an awkward evening spent beside the fireside; though they had landed in the Eye of Orion, the crackling fire proved to be too much for the Doctor to resist. He seemed hungrier than usual—a residue of his transformation, he decided, and Jamie took the opportunity to retrieve some of the friend Gumblejack from that morning. The Doctor was no fool; he knew Jamie was walking on eggshells around him, and as Jamie returned with the platter of fish, the Doctor addressed it.
"I'm not upset with you, Jamie," he promised. "How could I be? I was the one who set everything up for you to change; I wanted you to be safe. It never occurred to me just how harshly you viewed yourself; I know I've done my best to convince you that you are brilliant, but I fear it wasn't enough."
"I don' know what ye're talking aboot," Jamie said. "It was the Piper who hated me. I'm nae really him."
"I know how chameleon arches work, Jamie; I own one of my own, though I've never had to use it," the Doctor said. "Even with an arch modified by the Rani, one thing stays the same; the consciousness brought about by the transformation is driven by instinct, yes… But the personality of the new form is something from deep within the user's subconscious. You saw it with me, after all, and you were right—even with Androgum instincts, I could never hurt you. The Piper was a part of you, and that means that everything he said was something you believed about yourself."
Jamie looked away, staring at the fire.
"When you rejoined me after you were sent back to your own time, we had a discussion," the Doctor reminded him. "I wanted to teach you the Gallifreyan language, and you thought you weren't good enough. You told me that people from your own time, and various other creatures we had encountered had belittled you and your intelligence, and I told you they were wrong. You agreed to the lessons, and I truly thought we had made progress. And now, years later, I find that you still view yourself so lowly."
"It's nae like that," Jamie said. "…Though hearing Shockeye saying things like I was too primitive to feel pain while he was tenderizing my leg di'n help. I know ye think highly of me, and I try to live up to yer expectations, too—I really do! But the Piper was cleverer, and just because he was a Time Lord, he was respected more than I could e'er be. I wanted that. I knew if I was the Piper, I'd be something, and he knew it, too. …Och, but it doesnae matter now, does it? I'm nothing again."
"Jamie, you are everything to me."
The Scot looked back at the Time Lord, who looked back at him with a gentle, sincere expression before drawing him close.
"Aye, I know," Jamie said, blinking back a few tears. "And that's why he let me come back to ye—the Piper, I mean. As much as we wanted that cleverness and respect, we di'n want it at the cost of yer happiness—or safety, as that tangle with Brasher showed."
The Doctor gently pressed his forehead against Jamie's.
I truly did miss you, he silently transmitted.
"Aye, I know ye did," Jamie began, and then he paused. "Hey… I heard ye better. I can read ye better now when ye do that thought-transmission thing!"
"Must be a residual effect of your transformation, as well," the Doctor mused. "But, never mind that; it's probably restricted to a slight increase in being able to receive transmission of my thoughts, as it was my DNA you used to prime the Rani's chameleon arch. …Oh, crumbs; we never took it from her!"
"The Piper did; it's in yer desk there," Jamie said, with a lopsided smile. "Yer tooth is in there, too."
The Doctor sighed.
"Still a waste of a perfectly good molar. I hope this trend of losing a tooth per regeneration doesn't stick…"
"Doesn't stop ye from eating the fish, does it?"
"Well, it's only a molar. You haven't eaten since breakfast, either; go on, then…"
Both he and Jamie partook of the fried Gumblejack for a while.
"You know," the Doctor said, after a while. "I did say I have a chameleon arch of my own. If things ever get to the point that you want to be the Piper again, we could arrange his return."
Jamie pondered this for a moment.
"No," he said, at last. "He's too clever when it comes to self-preservation. And ye need all the help ye can get."
"Besides," Jamie interrupted. "I think the Piper and I both agree that we couldn't take away yer happiness again."
"Now that is an answer I can appreciate," the Doctor smiled, taking out the teakettle from that morning's breakfast.
Jamie stared at it.
"The teakettle you took to the pub the night before and filled with scotch?" the Doctor finished, taking two small glassed from his pocket. "Yes, it is. I do believe that your return is a celebratory occasion."
He decanted some of the liquid into the two glasses and handed one to Jamie.
"Cheers?" he offered.
The Scot grinned and gently brought his glass to meet the Doctor's.
They drank, and Jamie had to admit that he was content; being human had its advantages, and despite being different species once again, it didn't change the fact that he and the Doctor were still a tiny, mixed-up family.
That was the only thing that mattered.
Notes: And that's the end! I figured today was the best day to put up the finale-I put up the first chapter on Pat's birthday, so finishing it on Frazer's just seemed like the logical thing to do. Thanks again to everyone who followed this, and I hope you'll stick around for Two and Jamie's next misadventure!