The final leg of the journey was the slowest, vexing as it was—the clouds were bringing an early night, causing the temperature to fall even lower. The Master was resorting to using Victoria as a crutch—something which infuriated him.
"Your temperature is very low," Victoria said, as she placed a hand to the Master's forehead. "Jamie, how is the Doctor?"
"Doing better than the Master is," Jamie responded, still keeping his face close to the Doctor's. The Doctor was clinging to him, but wasn't depending on him to walk like the Master was depending on Victoria—partly due to the fur coat, and partly due to Jamie being in constant close proximity.
"This is exactly why I didn't want us to be out at night," the Brigadier murmured. "And it's already well past midnight! How much further do we need to go, McCrimmon?"
"It's nae far now," Jamie said.
"It is closer than you think," Salamander said. "We left the machine just outside the city—Maestro and I know the exact location." He glanced back at the Master, who was still being supported by Victoria just to walk forward. "…I will lead you now."
Jamie gave Salamander a piercing look.
"If this is a trap ye're leading us into…"
"Why would I seek to trap you when my life is also at stake?" Salamander reminded him. "You are not the only one who wants to live."
Jamie silently agreed to this, and followed Salamander while still clinging to the Doctor. The fierce wind was making it very difficult to progress further, but he still gritted his teeth and continued onward.
Suddenly, Salamander stopped dead, cursing in Spanish.
"What!?" Jamie asked. "Have we gone the wrong way!?"
"No! This is the right place!" Salamander insisted. "Maestro and I left the machine right here—and now it is gone!"
The Master cursed now, and waved his hand for Victoria to help him to where Salamander was standing.
"He is right," the Master said. "This is the right place; it is gone."
"Gone!?" sputtered the Brigadier. "Has someone stolen it!?"
"Impossible," the Master insisted. "We had secluded the machine here, obscuring it with shrubbery to ensure that no prying eyes would attempt to do anything with it."
"See," Salamander said, pointing at the snow with a flashlight. "There are the tracks of the wheels in the snow—and no footprints."
"That doesn't make any sense at all!" the Doctor huffed. "By that evidence, it would seem as though the machine left here of its own accord!"
The Master and Salamander briefly exchanged a glance with each other, and the Doctor's eyes narrowed for a moment before he turned to the Master.
"What did you do?" the Doctor asked, his voice as cold as the snow around them.
The Master responded with a slight shrug.
"We did program it with an AI—" he began, and the Doctor cut him off.
"Are you mad!?" the Doctor fumed. "After that disaster that happened back at the Academy, you'd try programming an AI again!?"
The Master shrugged again.
"It appears that the AI attempted to strengthen the feedback loop—and it decided to use the time vortex as part of that feedback loop to store the converted energy."
"Then it wasn't my fault!" Zoe exclaimed. "My prying into the iPad wasn't what caused the machine to act in such a way—the AI did that on its own!"
"Yes, just like back at the Academy!" the Doctor finished, still glaring at the Master. "Clearly, you learned nothing from that!"
"What exactly happened?" the Brigadier queried. "Or do I not want to know?"
"There's no time for that now," the Doctor said, waving a hand in the Brigadier's direction. "We need to find out where that machine has gotten to!"
The words had been barely out of the Doctor's mouth before the speed of the wind suddenly increased; a flash of lightning and crack of thunder overhead accompanied the increased wind gust.
"It would appear that the machine has found us," Salamander replied, glibly. He suddenly pointed to behind a snow drift where the tracks were heading. "Over there!"
They struggled against the wind, attempting to get around the snowbank. There, a wheeled machine was visible.
"This has gone far enough!" the Master said. "Initiate verbal command sequence: shutdown!"
The machine didn't respond; the chilling wind continued to blow all around them, much to the Master's chagrin.
"Shutdown!" the Time Lord roared over the howling wind. "You will obey me! Shutdown!"
"Negative," an electronic voice emanated from the machine. "Shutdown overridden. Continuing with current weather pattern."
Salamander now attempted to verbally shut the machine down, as well—in both English and Spanish, and received the same response from the AI.
The Brigadier, deciding that he'd had enough of the machine's replies, attempted to shoot it.
"Strengthening weather pattern as defensive strategy," the machine replied, and the speed of the wind increased.
"And so, once again, your usual standby is just as effective as it always is!" the Master chided the Brigadier.
"I don't see you attempting to use that shrinking device of yours!" the Brigadier countered.
"It is a Tissue Compression Eliminator!" the Master reminded him. "The machine has no tissue to compress!"
Salamander, in the meantime, was trying to use his iPad to wirelessly transmit the input code, and his vexed expression was a clear indication of his failure.
"It is not accepting remote instructions at all!" Salamander fumed. "It is completely unresponsive!"
"Then we have no other choice!" the Doctor called over the wind. "We have to manually input the code on the control panel to override the AI!"
The machine responded to this by upping the wind speed even further; the ice particles tore into their rainwear and anoraks, exposing them to the full fury of the weather as the holes in their protective gear grew larger. The Master was brought to his knees from the cold; not even Victoria's support could keep him up, and she was holding onto him to prevent being carried away by the wind. Zoe nearly went flying backwards; the Brigadier was keeping her from flying off by holding onto her arm, not daring to let her go for fear that the wind would whisk her away.
"It's up to the rest of you!" he roared, as he braced himself against the wind. "Stop that thing!"
"The Master is falling unconscious!" Victoria cried, realizing that he was no longer able to aid them. "I can't keep him awake!"
"It's torpor! Stay with him, Victoria—try to stop his temperature from going any lower!" the Doctor exclaimed. His fur coat, built for the coldest climates, was the one piece of protective clothing still staying intact, keeping him from the same fate. "Jamie! We have to stop that thing!"
"Aye, but how!?"
"We have to corner it and put in the code in the control panel!" Salamander yelled.
With the others unable to move, the Doctor, Jamie, and Salamander now made a move towards the machine. The machine responded by retreating backwards, wheeling away from them.
"This isnae working!" Jamie said.
"Go around from behind!" the Doctor said, softly.
"Are ye sure? What aboot ye?"
"I'll be alright with my coat," the Doctor promised. "Salamander, follow me!"
For once, his doppelganger didn't question him; as Jamie snuck around the back of a snow drift, the Doctor and Salamander charged towards the machine as fast as they could against the wind.
The machine now focused on increasing the wind speeds, sending even more shards of ice at everyone. Though the Doctor's coat withstood the ice, the twine holding his coat closed did not. With a slight snap that was inaudible over the howling wind, the twine came loose, and the wind blew the fur coat right off of the Doctor's shoulders, smacking Salamander—who was directly behind him—right in the face and throwing him off-balance.
Now in only his usual shabby shirt, trousers, and frock coat against the unbearable cold, the Doctor dropped to the snow like a stone, unable to move any further. Torpor would come soon.
"NO!" Jamie cried. Shock and fear turned to anger against the machine. This had just gotten personal. "Creag an Tuire!"
Even as the machine turned to and attempted to veer off to the side to escape, the piper had anticipated it. He was already in mid-tackle, and landed on top of the machine. The machine veered and spun around rapidly, trying to throw him off, but Jamie gripped onto it, shifting his weight so that the machine would topple over. At last, it tilted up on two wheels, wobbling precariously for a moment, before crashing over.
He remembered the code that the Doctor and the others had told him; pressing it into the control panel, he hit the enter button.
"Weather pattern altered," the machine responded. "Accessing data cloud. Making necessary adjustments."
A multicolored rift began to appear in the sky directly over the machine; recognizing it as the vortex opening up as it had done on Neo Serenity, Jamie knew what was coming. He clambered off of the machine, crawling through the snow towards the fallen Doctor as the wind now changed to suction as snow began to rise from the ground, heading for the open vortex. As the snow entered the vortex, it began to displace the pent-up energy inside, which began to scatter across time and space—wherever it belonged. The suction increased, the snow now whipping upwards in a reverse blizzard.
"Doctor!" Jamie exclaimed, as he finally reached the Time Lord's side.
But the Doctor was unconscious; as Jamie looked around, he could see that the others were either unconscious or exhausted, pressing themselves to the ground to avoid getting caught in the vortex's suction.
As his own adrenaline began to wear off, Jamie clung to the Doctor as he, too, began to slip into darkness once more, hoping that he had done all that he had been supposed to do.
Epilogue: Dawn of a New Day
Jamie awoke to the sound of birdsong and the sensation of sunlight on his face and grass touching his skin. Opening his eyes, he blinked as his vision focused on the Doctor, clad in his fur coat and standing nearby, bending over the unconscious Brigadier and searching through the soldier's pockets for something.
Jamie blinked, surprised to see the Doctor doing that; it was most unlike him, especially when the Brigadier and Zoe were both unconscious in front of him. Why wasn't he helping them?
Jamie tried to sit up, but then paused as he realized that he was clinging to someone. Turning to the side, he saw the Doctor beside him, still unconscious but stirring slightly, in his normal shabby clothes.
He stared at the Doctor for a moment, and then looked back to the other Doctor, who had now pulled the vortex manipulator from the Brigadier's pocket. And he suddenly realized that it wasn't the Doctor after all.
"Salamander!" Jamie yelled, angrily tackling him.
Salamander responded by wriggling out of the Doctor's fur coat and rolling to the side, turning back to the piper, who was left holding only the coat.
"Hasta luego, McCrimmon!" he taunted. Before Jamie could make another move, Salamander pressed a button on the vortex manipulator, vanishing on the spot.
Jamie let out a yell of frustration, and then quickly looked around to make sure that the Master hadn't vanished, either. Thankfully, he had not; he was still unconscious, with Victoria close by. Refusing to let him escape, as well, Jamie used the broken twine that was around the fur coat to bind the Master's hands behind his back.
Satisfied, the piper returned to the Doctor's side, gently bundling him in his coat and holding him close to warm him up. He soon realized that this effort wasn't needed; it was a warm, summer morning, and the Doctor was slowly coming out of torpor as his body temperature warmed up once again.
"Hullo," the Time Lord said, with a smile, as he looked up at Jamie. "You succeeded, then?"
Jamie smiled back.
"Aye, it seems so."
"I knew I could count on you, Jamie," the Doctor said. "I never doubted that for a moment. Help me up; we need to awaken the others."
"Aye, but… Salamander's escaped," the piper said, as he helped the Doctor up. "He woke up and stole his vortex manipulator from the Brigadier."
"Well, if I know our luck, it shan't be the last time we'll see Salamander," the Doctor sighed. "But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it…" He trailed off, seeing the Master tied up. "…That was your doing?"
"I'm nae letting him escape, too," Jamie insisted.
The Doctor merely shrugged and helped Jamie revive the others. Zoe took a moment to appreciate the warm sun and green grass; the Brigadier took custody of the Master, as Victoria watched on.
"You won't hurt him, will you?" Victoria asked.
"No need to worry about it, Miss Waterfield," the Brigadier said. "We will treat him humanely."
"And I will find my way out soon enough," the Master assured her.
The Brigadier was not amused, and decided not to continue the subject.
"Now all we need is a way back…" he began, and trailed off as he heard the sound of a vehicle approaching. "…That's one of ours!"
The UNIT vehicle soon arrived, revealing Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton inside. They saluted the Brigadier.
"We headed for Inverness as soon as the storm cleared," Yates said. "It's quite remarkable how all the snow and water vanished like that; it took no time at all to get here. It's as though it never happened."
"Oh, but it did happen," the Doctor said. "I don't know how you'll explain it to the rest of the world, though."
"That will be attended to later," the Brigadier stated. "Right now, we've got to get the Master to a holding cell—"
He was cut off by a familiar vwoorp-vwoorp-vwoorp as the Doctor's TARDIS now materialized beside them.
"I didn't use the Stattenheim…!" the Doctor began, and then his eyes widened as he realized what was going on. "Oh, no! He's come back!"
Sure enough, the tall, white-haired Doctor now emerged from interior of the TARDIS, followed by a woman with blonde hair.
"Will someone kindly explain to me what is going on?" the older Doctor demanded. "One minute, I find myself nearly fading from existence, and then it stops. I return to UNIT and find everyone talking about Salamander and the Master having a weather machine here in Inverness…" He scowled as he took notice of Jamie's Doctor. "So, you are mixed up in this, as well! I might have known!"
Jamie's Doctor merely scowled right back before giving a warm look to the blonde woman.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Jo," he said. "Pity I cannot say the same about myself!"
Jo gave a nervous smile.
"It's nice to see you again… I mean, this version of you," she said, hoping they weren't going to fight again.
"Doctor, is that really you?" Victoria asked, looking at the older Doctor.
"Unfortunately," both Doctors chorused, and then proceeded to glare at each other again.
"Well, one thing is good," Jamie said. "The fact that the older Doctor is here means that everything is back t' normal. All his other selves will have come back, too."
"Forgive me for not celebrating," the Master grunted.
"It looks as though I'm here just in time," the older Doctor said. "I'll take him from here, Brigadier."
"All the same, I ought to stay with the both of you," the soldier replied, skeptical about the whole idea.
"If you insist," the Doctor sighed. "We can take him back in my TARDIS; I'll have what we need to make sure he won't escape."
"Good," the Brigadier said. "Yates, Benton; I'm leaving the both of you in charge of taking custody of that weather machine—or what's left of it."
The two saluted and got to work.
"And as for you," the Brigadier said, turning to the younger Doctor and his companions. "Shall you be returning with us to UNIT HQ?"
"Not as long as he is there!" the younger Doctor insisted, still glaring at his older self. "We've got some things left to take care of here in Scotland, anyway."
"Yes, that's right," the Brigadier said, remembering their walk through Culloden. "All the best for that."
The older Doctor's expression softened; he placed a hand on Jamie's shoulder.
"They'll be quite proud of you, Jamie," he said, gently. "I know I always was—still am, actually."
"Finally—something we can agree on," the younger Doctor said, placing his hand on Jamie's other shoulder.
"Oh, so you're Jamie?" Jo asked. "He never stops talking about you; I feel as though I know you already!"
"Aye, really?" Jamie asked. He cast a smug look at the Master. "He ne'er stops talking aboot me. Imagine that."
It was the Master's turn to scowl now, looking determinedly elsewhere as the older Doctor now warmly greeted Zoe and Victoria.
After a brief chat, it was time for the older Doctor to return to UNIT; he, Jo, the Brigadier, and the Master soon departed in his TARDIS as Yates and Benton finished loading the weather machine into the UNIT vehicle and started back the long way.
The younger Doctor, pleased now that his older self had left, used the Stattenheim remote control to summon his TARDIS and turned to his three companions.
"Shall we?" he said, softly.
The three humans looked at each other and headed inside the welcoming console room.
It was a somber and moving hour spent at Culloden, in front of the McCrimmon grave marker. Jamie played the bagpipes for his family and for the McLarens; the Doctor and the girls placed flowers there and respectfully stood back and listened.
When they left, Jamie had felt as though a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Closure was something he had needed, and was glad to have finally gotten it.
"That was very lovely, Jamie," Victoria said.
"It was wrong of me not to let you do that thirteen years ago," the Doctor said.
"I'm just glad I got t' do it now," Jamie assured him.
"You will be alright?" Zoe asked.
"Aye," the piper agreed. "And now I guess we're off on the next adventure?"
"Well," the Doctor said, thoughtfully. "I think there's still a lot more for us to see here in Scotland."
Jamie perked up at this.
"Can we stay here for some more time?" he asked, excited.
"Certainly," the Doctor grinned. "You can put us up in your castle!"
"Aye, of course," Jamie laughed.
"I think that's a wonderful idea!" Victoria said.
"Yes, there's such a rich history here!" Zoe agreed.
"Good—it's settled, then!" the Doctor said, as he led them inside the TARDIS again. "I'll just find a nice place in the castle to leave the Old Girl…" They held on to the console as they dematerialized and rematerialized moments later. "Right here in the Great Hall seems to be best."
Eagerly, they stepped outside the TARDIS and into Castle McCrimmon's Great Hall again.
"It's changed!" Zoe exclaimed.
"Changed?" Jamie asked.
"Yes, look around you!" the astrophysicist said. "The last time we were here, this place looked abandoned and not very well maintained at all."
"She's right—it looks so much better now," Victoria agreed.
"Well, since his future was once again in order, it would seem that the Laird of Castle McCrimmon was able to keep the castle well," the Doctor said. "That's his portrait over the fireplace—and legend has it that the other fellow in that portrait is the sorcerer who spirited him away, over and over again on his many visits to the castle."
"Oh, Doctor…!" Zoe said, placing her hands on her hips.
"It's a nice likeness of the both of you," Victoria giggled.
Jamie folded his arms.
"Ye think so?" he asked. "I look so old—all those lines on my face, and my hair color lost. The Doctor hasnae changed, but I certainly have aged."
"That's right…" the Doctor said, his eyes widening. "That's right! Jamie, you do look old!"
The piper let out a baffled squawk as the Doctor hugged him in joy.
"Why does that please ye so much?"
"Oh, Jamie, don't you realize what it means?" Zoe said. "If that portrait is of an old man, then an old man had to pose for that portrait. And that old man is you—still with the Doctor, after so many years."
"Ohhhhh!" the piper exclaimed, as he finally caught on.
"Yes!" the Doctor exclaimed. "And, even better, I'm still me; I haven't regenerated yet!"
Victoria and Zoe exchanged glances as the Doctor and Jamie began to dance around the Great Hall in utter joy.
"What are we going to do with those two?" Victoria asked, shaking her head in amusement.
"Try to keep them in line," Zoe answered. "And probably fail miserably."
Victoria nodded, giggling as the dance now turned into a spontaneous recorder-and-bagpipes celebration duet.
And as for the Doctor and Jamie, their hearts were filled with joy and anticipation as they played. After spending the last few days uncertain of their future, they now knew they were headed for one that was bright and fulfilling—together.
Notes: And, it's done! Thanks so much to everyone who followed this! My next project will be a crossover, so check back for that at the end of August. Until then, I'll be working on my 6B and Legacy vignette series.