Epilogue – The Last Time Lady
And so we reach the end! A big, huge thank you to anyone who's stuck with this story through the long chapters and complicated plots and general weirdness. Another, huger thank you to the people who reviewed, despite having their brains scrambled, and a massively ginomous thank you to my fabulous beta, Emery Board, because you rox my sox!
Though the day had progressed from sun-up with a droll, gloomy drizzle, the clouds had seen fit to part late in the afternoon. Now the sun's rays drifted lazily across the sky, casting it's reflection on the distant lakes and illuminating the system's other planets. It made the Eye seem like the alien world it was. The horizon had begun to turn a rose-pink just over the mountains. It was, for lack of a better word, peaceful.
It felt wrong.
Iris tugged her coat closer against the evening breeze and touched the bottle of warm Kentucky bourbon to her lips, but she did not sip. She had drunk enough of the contents to create a pleasant buzz in the back of her mind, but it was also a warning – her new body wasn't as alcohol-tolerant as her last. Yet another thing to get used to.
She sighed and finally took a pull at the lip of the bottle as the sound of the Doctor's approach crunched on the gravelled pathway. The liquid burned down to her gullet, resting heavily, and she gave a satisfied smack of her lips, looking up at the man as he came to a stop beside her.
"Evening Doc. Welcome back to the land of the upright and conscious." She smiled cheekily and offered him the bottle. With an endearingly cute puzzled look that knit his brow, he took it from her, and studied the label as he sat down beside her.
"Maker's Mark? I don't recall ever making a trip to Kentucky," he remarked. Iris shrugged.
"Jack," she said by way of explanation. "It's good stuff." She retrieved the bottle when it became apparent he wasn't going to partake, and took another mouthful from the contents.
"You should go easy on that stuff," he commented, stretching his legs out with an appreciative groan. Iris shrugged.
"It's just to take the edge off," she replied softly. "So much has happened in just a few days, it's hard to wrap my head around it all. I keep debating whether I should be comparing it to the good old days, or crying my eyes out. And I don't cry. Shows just how scrambled my brains got."
She tapped the side of her head for show and let out a bleak laugh. "I remember, back on Gallifrey, no one really cared that I had hacked my way into the Matrix and erased all record of myself. Can't even remember why I did it. It hurt, though, the silence. But I got used to it. I was free, no one to tie me down. And was it ever a rush, bouncing around the cosmos with friends –"
"Whom you kidnapped," the Doctor input with a mild smirk.
"I didn't kidnap all of them," Iris objected with a lenient smile. "But now…" The smile faded. "Now everything is different. It feels different. It's a different sort of silence. The clothes still fit, but the fabric feels wrong."
The Doctor nodded in understanding. "It helps if you can keep a hold of something tangible, something familiar…" he said softly.
Iris nodded faintly, and raked her fingers through her curls. A short chuckle escaped her throat. "And then," she giggled, "I reach out, and I touch your mind, way in that little corner of darkness, and all I want to do is cling to it like a life-raft in a storm." She took another pull on the bottle and hung her head. "We're both like that, I suppose; adrift at sea without anything to hold on to but each-other."
Iris gave a small hiccup that turned into a sob, and she scrubbed her moist eyes with her fist furiously, taking another drink. The Doctor stole the bottle out of her hand with a frown, and set it on the ground. Iris drunk was one thing. Iris depressed and drunk was another.
"The TARDIS is about ready to go," he said, shifting the subject and nudging her shoulder lightly. "I don't know what you did while I was out, but it seems to have made her happy. Thank you."
Iris didn't reply, and he shifted the subject again, glancing around curiously. "Where are the kids?"
The notion that their three companions were considered children brought the barest of smiles back to Iris's face. She motioned towards the forest.
"Went exploring, I think; I get the impression that it's rare for them to land on an alien planet where something doesn't want to eat your face," she said dryly.
The Doctor grinned. "More often then I like. But what's adventure without a little danger, eh?"
"What indeed?" Iris agreed with a smile, before it faded. "Cept…what's travel without a home? We're renegades from a world that never existed. No place to run from. And I don't even have a TARDIS anymore…"
She lingered for a moment, before reaching over and snatching back her bourbon. "Othering Other, I never used to be this morose. I think you and your guilt complex rubbed off on me."
The Doctor watched her gulp down the last of the contents with a guilty silence.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "I am. It was either saving her, or saving you, and I just couldn't let it happen. Not again."
"S'alright Doc. I understand it, really I do. It'll just…hurt for a while." Iris screwed the cap back onto the empty bottle and set it down beside her feet. "I'm just glad we did one last good deed before her end…one last adventure to save space and time."
"And for once, there wasn't one of your homicidal handbags involved."
She cracked a grin at that, and giggled. "Yeah."
He grinned. "It seemed like every time I ran into you, some evil cult was after your handbag."
A laugh. "Remember the sentient one and the whole mess with Verdigris?"
He shuddered comically and smirked. "How could I forget? It took me forever to clean up that house."
She cackled wildly, and leaned against him. "And the whole Federation Council was hidden under a hill in Wales!"
He joined her, and they were still laughing gleefully as Martha, Jack, and Mikael returned from their hike. Jack's trousers were soaked up to the crotch, and Mikael's borrowed tunic was splattered with mud. Martha was stifling giggles.
"What's so funny?" Jack asked with an old teasing light in his eyes as he grinned impishly at the laughing Time Lords. The Doctor managed to sober up, but he was still grinning as he eyed the three up and down. Iris had less success, spluttering into another fit of giggles.
"Just reminiscing; what happened to you?"
"Got shoved in the lake. I could've walked back naked, but Martha threatened me with a stick if I corrupted Mikael's poor innocent mind." Jack pouted at her playfully and she shoved him with a grin.
"Sounds like a fun time."
Jack grinned. "More fun to be had, Doctor. The TARDIS all ready to go?"
"Just about," the Doctor smiled, and turned to Iris, offering her a hand up. She pulled herself to her feet and wavered for a second before steadying. The Doctor grinned at her, taking her hands between his. "Well Iris?"
"Well what?" she blinked at him. "If you're about to propose…I'm hardly at my best, Doctor, it really wouldn't be the most romantic thing in the world."
His smile fell into annoyance. "No, Iris. I was going to ask, would you stick with us? Hang about the ol' girl, travel together. You'd go nuts staying in one place, one time, y'know. It'd be like exile."
For a moment, a flicker of bright hope appeared in her blue eyes, lightening them to the colour of the sky. Then it faded, and she gave him a sad, wry smile. "It'd never work out, Doc. We're at each-other's throats ninety-five percent of the day. Even I see that. Travelling together, we'd kill one-another in under a week."
He smiled, sadly. "Yeah…I know; didn't hurt to ask." He dropped her hands, hugged her shoulders gently with one arm. "Course, I knew that from day one…which is why I took a detour from the detention centre on my way to the hospital, pre-programmed your bus to follow my TARDIS on the return trip, and used the Katseye – that was the other Key segment I mentioned – to power the crossing between that side, and this one."
He snubbed her nose with his finger and smiled his most brilliant, poncy-Lord-of-Time smile.
She stared at him as if he had grown two heads. "Say what?"
As if summoned by some magical cue, the air was filled with the familiar rushing grind of a TT-capsule materialization sequence, and out of the thin of the air, Iris' bus condensed into view, parked neatly alongside, and a few yards away from, the squat blue form of the Doctor's ship.
Iris was speechless.
"Am I forgiven?" The Doctor asked in a low voice.
She punched him in the arm, hard.
"YOU GIT! You made me sit there lamenting my heart out for an hour and you had this planned all along!" Iris punched his arm again and he grinned, bouncing out of her reach and rubbing the tender area. Meanwhile, Iris had forgotten all about him in the span of two seconds, and dashed over to the vehicle, crooning happily and giving the front hood a hug. "Aunty Iris missed you ol' girl. Welcome home."
"You're welcome," the Doctor called, and smiled over at Mikael, who grinned back. Martha shook her head and strolled over to where the Time Lady was fussing over her ship.
"She looks a lot better then when we found her the first time," the medical student commented, giving the paintwork a warm caress and smiling brightly when it thrummed under her fingers.
"You better believe it. My ol' bus can withstand anything!" Iris beamed, and pushed open the doors, wincing reflexively. The main cabin was a mess, the result of the bumpy ride through the vortex, and the lights were on emergency power. She could only imagine what the trip had done to the rest of the interior dimensions.
Her enthusiasm quickly evaporated into concern as she stroked the console soothingly, coaxing life back into the computers to get a diagnostic. The Doctor stepped up into the cabin and unplugged the power circuit he had constructed, pocketing it and the Katseye diamond in his duster.
"Not too much damage, I hope?" he asked, leaning on the back of the seat and peering over her shoulder.
"It all seems fine, nothing I can't fix, but I'm running a bit low on power," Iris said worriedly. "I don't think she has it in her for another trip."
"The Eye of Harmony isn't accessible anymore," the Doctor said. "But I've got that worked out as well. C'mon." He tugged her arm and she followed him out of the bus. "Jack!"
"I'm on it!" The Time Agent turned heel and disappeared into the TARDIS. A moment later, both ships had dematerialized, and only the Police Box reappeared, standing where the bus had been a moment later. The Doctor smiled.
"Jack's learning quickly. A quick spatial hop, and your ship now rests quite comfortably inside mine. We'll be able to take her anywhere in time and space, and I know the perfect place for her to rest up and refuel."
"Cardiff, here we come!" Jack cried triumphantly as he burst out of the TARDIS, and paused. "I never thought I'd say THAT."
"CARDIFF?" Iris repeated with disbelief.
"What's in this…Cardiff place?" Mikael asked curiously.
"A rift-scar. It's been opened and resealed a few times, and it makes for a good fuelling station for wayward TARDISes. And, convenience; the Torchwood-3 hub is hidden right beneath it." Jack smirked thoughtfully. "At least, as long as the team hasn't sucked all of Wales into a pocket dimension. Ah, makes me homesick just thinking about it. Or is that sick of home?" He chuckled and put an arm around the young man's shoulders. "You'll love it, Mikael, I promise."
The young scientist blushed. "Gratias ago vos nam. A couple of weeks ago I would've scoffed at the idea of other worlds beyond Orion. Now I'm faced with an overabundance of aliens. Not that's a bad thing," he amended, smiling at Iris. "But what will happen to me, in the end? I doubt I'd fit in very well in your time, Jack. Or yours, Martha, though Mars sounds beautiful." He shrugged Jack's arm off his shoulder and folded his arms across his chest in a defensive posture. "I suppose I feel a bit lost."
"We could always take you home," the Doctor suggested. "Not Venustas; Rome, on Earth. History shows that the last of your people made it there, decades before the city was built, and helped found the Roman Empire."
"Wait a minute, how did you know that?" Martha asked suspiciously. "We never got to tell you. You dashed out before we could say anything about the evacuation."
"Because he put the books out for us to find," Jack said with a mixed note of annoyance and impressed humour, having worked it out long ago. "Or rather, the TARDIS did."
The Doctor nodded. "I counted on Martha's stubbornness to help, and Jack's loyalty to the web of time, being a former Time Agent, to sense the right course of action and act accordingly. I took a risk, trusted your instincts, and you didn't let history down, which is why I didn't fly off the handle back in Advica. However, you cut it rather close for comfort, getting back to the TARDIS."
Iris rolled her eyes. "You're getting more and more like that Scottish you every day, Doctor," she muttered darkly.
The Doctor tried to look indignant. "It's just foresight and planning!" he protested.
"We…cut it a bit close for comfort?!" Martha looked like she was going to hit something –or someone. The Doctor made sure Jack was between him and the irate Martian.
"You manipulative –"
"Miss Jones, please," Jack admonished. "There are ladies present."
Martha looked annoyed for a moment longer, and then caught herself laughing. "I'm just glad you're both alright," she admitted.
Mikael shook his head. "It was clever of you, Doctor. But I don't think Rome is the place for me either. By all rights I should be dead; I don't need experience to read that that might be a problem in the long run."
"Normally, you'd be right. But in this instance, the small ripple of your survival was swallowed by the larger wave that the explosion created. You're safe as houses; no inter-dimensional birds of prey shrieking for blood over our heads."
"And if you wouldn't mind so terribly to travel around with an old bat like myself, I'd love the company," Iris said hopefully. Mikael blushed and smiled widely.
"Sono somnium. If I was going to be spooked off, I never would've climbed onto that first shuttle to Niveus Astrum with you at the wheel."
Iris laughed and hugged him brightly. The Doctor grinned, and clapped his hands together, rubbing them excitedly. "Alright kids, all aboard! Next stop, the Millennium Centre!"
As his two companions ushered the young scientist into the police box, the Doctor stole a glance at Iris, and found that she hadn't moved. Her gaze had turned to the horizon, and the light of the sunset framed her hair in a fire-glow with the oranges of the sky. Her eyes seemed wistful, lost in thought. The Doctor slid his hands into his pockets as he approached her, gazing out at the view.
"What's on your mind, Wildthyme?" He quipped with a smile. She smirked with a soft chuckle, and shook her head.
"Just enjoying the last of the view, Doc. Floating in the silly thoughts of an old Time Lady," she said, tucking her hands into the pockets of her tattered old coat. "It's a brand new world, Doctor."
"New-new Iris," he joked. "But all kidding aside, you will be careful, won't you? There's no CIA to heal our little mistakes anymore. You'll have to tread carefully, stop drawing attention. Avoid picking up handbags that happen to be relics of cult-worshipping zombies."
She nodded with a chuckle. "I'll try my best, if you do. We've got to stick together, us two. Last of our kind."
Her gaze sharpened with a glitter of mischievousness and she sighed, leaning her head against his arm. "And it's only really started to sink in properly, I think. You and I, we really are the last of our kind. The only two Time Lords – the only Gallifreyans, even, left in the whole universe…"
The Doctor's smile faded as her tone took on a dreamy quality, and he stiffened. "No."
Her smile fell and she looked at him with a wounded pout. "But you don't even know what I was going to say."
"Yes I do. And you can forget about it. No, no, no-no-no-no, a million times no." He started walking towards the TARDIS, unlocking the door.
Iris scampered after him, a devilish grin on her features as she followed him in. "But it's our duty to the whole of creation to repopulate our species!"
"Duty? What duty? I am duty-free, Iris. I owe the universe no such favours."
"What's this about repopulating a species? If you're looking for volunteers I'd be happy to–"
"Jack! Don't encourage her!"
The sound of laughter was drowned out by the rhythmic, wheezing groan of the engines as the light atop the Police Box began to flash, and the TARDIS slowly faded away into the Vortex.
To be Continued in Part 3: The Temple of Blood,
Coming soon to your local Teaspoon.
Gratias ago vos nam -Thank you but no; thanks but no thanks.
Sono somnium - Speaking nonsense