As I am a professional writer and have work to do to get paid, I have decided to deal with these thudding plot bunnies in the traditional manner - I will inflict them on others. Please see my Profile for the Challenges of the Month. July Challenges are now available, and what a twist for one of them. If you'd rather do June's, instead, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks to all those who have participated thus far - we had an exceptional turn out for June II for example. The new challenges will run through the end of July. Please let me know when you respond to a Challenge so I can read and review.

For the July II Challenge, I was asked by Genne for the Doctor to take a sort of "quest" after Journey's End. I was given the specific situation: the Doctor thinks he ruins his companion's lives. I was asked to show something different.

I was required to have him witness the funeral of one, the wedding of another, ask advice from one, and see a companion simply living a life. I was also asked for Bessie the car.

This fic will, therefore, be in four chapters, posted over the next four or five days.


Simple Gifts

Chapter 1: Alistair's Advice

He was an old man now and he had long since retired with the rank of a full general. Nevertheless, his eyes were keen, his hands were steady, and his reflexes remained sharper than a man's half his age. His given name was Alistair, but most of his friends - and a vast majority of his family as well - simply referred to him as "Brig", short for Brigadier, a momento of a rank and a life that he had grown beyond.

Still, he loved that life. The trophies of it, bits of metal and ribbon mostly, followed him everywhere, but they weren't what meant the most to him. The pension paid for the full renovation of the old estate. The people, however, were his true retirement benefit: the friends he had made, the men still loyal, the contacts who still listened, the wife who still loved, and...

An unearthly wail, the sound of time arguing with it's owner, filled the house and the grounds.

...and the alien who would still remember all of them when everything else was dust.

When the TARDIS didn't appear near to hand in the back garden, the Brigadier resigned himself to hearing from his wife later about unnaturally large London memorabilia on her hardwood floors. Still, he hurried. The Doctor had only done it once before, but it had been an emergency. Maybe this was, too.

A quick search of the downstairs leant no light to the situation, so he finally went upstairs. There was one room, not a guest room as such, a room that was always kept for a friend (or family member?) who seldom used it. The Brigadier walked down the hall to that room, and took a quick glimpse inside.

There was a tall, thin man in a brown suit and an overcoat stretched out on the king sized bed, his head on the ornate pillows, his eyes fixed on eternity as seen through (or possibly around) the ceiling.

The Brigadier raised an eyebrow. "What did Doris tell you about shoes on the bed?" he said.

Three quick twitches and the bright red trainers dropped to the floor with a thud. Otherwise, the man hadn't moved.The Brigadier sighed. "Can I get you anything, Doctor?"

The Doctor said nothing. The Brigadier, who really was getting on in years, decided he didn't have forever to wait for the Doctor to acknowledge him any further than he had, so he took a seat in the nearest chair and snagged a book from the night stand. It was one of the Doctor's, apparently, as it looked like it had been read only once by being flipped through at an impossible speed.

They stayed there, like that, in silence, for an indeterminate amount of time. The Brigadier was just thinking of going to get a drink when the Doctor finally spoke.

"I can't do it any more," he said, in a choked whisper.

The Brigadier nodded. He'd heard this before. He didn't necessarily believe it. "I see," he said.

The Doctor looked at him, then. His eyes were huge and so very dark, full of stars and incomprehensibly ancient pain. The Brigadier had watched those eyes change over the years, growing older and just that tiny bit more mad every time he saw them, even as the color of them and the face that bore them varied wildly.

"You're serious," the Brigadier said.

The Doctor nodded. "I missed you during the Sontaran thing."

"I heard," the Brigadier said, hoping to get a comment about how UNIT had nothing better to do than gossip. It didn't happen. "The Daleks?" he ventured.

"As always," the Doctor said. "They're gone now, but I've still lost everything. And I had so much, this time... too much, maybe, more than I deserve, certainly. But I've seen what I've done, what I've become. Davros is right - everything I touch turns to ashes."

"Is that the way you see it, then? Not the things you've done that have saved the world and made people better?"

"I used to do that," the Doctor said. "I used to make people better. But now, I don't. I touch their lives and destroy them, one way or another, and nothing you say can change that."

"You have a time machine," the Brigadier said. "Why don't you get out there and see for yourself?

The Doctor lay there, looking thoughtful for several minutes and then, abruptly, he sat up. "Let me take you away from here," he declared, a look on his face of zealous determination. "You and Doris. Let me do that."

"Whatever for?"

"This is the twenty-first century. Everything's going to get very complicated. The invaders are going to be stacked up so deep, they'll practically have to make appointments to take over the world. You're my oldest friend, Alistair, maybe my last friend. Let me get you and your wife away from this."

"No," said the Brigadier firmly.

"But you could die here!"

"I can die anywhere," the Brigadier reminded him. "I'm mortal and I'm human. You seem to enjoy forgetting that, since you've managed to know me for hundreds of years. But I'm only human, Doctor, and I'm dying every day, have been since I was born. That's our fate, just as this constant changing is yours. But I only have one death - it's mine, the only thing that is wholly mine, that no one can take from me. It's mine to spend however I choose, and if I want to use it to save the world or change it, that's my choice. I won't let you take that from me, not for any reason, and certainly not because of... this."

The Doctor just gaped at him, and the Brigadier watched as the wheels in that vast brain began turning. He looked, for a moment, as if he might never speak again, and that was, of course, exactly when he chose to speak. "There was a paradoxical time line that didn't happen. Where an old enemy managed to take over the world."

"You mean Harold Saxon?" the Brigadier asked. He almost laughed at the look of dismayed incredulity on the Doctor's face. "I may only be human, but believe me when I tell you I recognize that megalomaniac when I see him."

"Then you can imagine," the Doctor said. "A lot of good people might have died - did die - didn't die. It was all my fault."

"You never did give yourself enough credit, Doctor. Oh, all the blame, you heap that on by the bucket full. But you never let yourself think that maybe it's not you. It's the way we are. We're born in blood, Doctor. Human to the bitter end, and most of us would rather die than betray our greatest friends. I've been down that road. It wasn't pretty."

"I really can't do this any more. I'm so old now, and I'm so tired."

"That's your choice, of course. And you're welcome to stay as long as you like. But if you don't mind advice from an old friend who'll never be as wise, I don't think you should give up."

"Is it giving up? Or would it be saving the Universe again? This time from me?"

"Why don't you check?"

"What?"

"Go look in on some old friends, Doctor. I know Miss Smith's seen you recently, but what about some of the others? Why don't you see them again? If you really have destroyed their lives, if your intervention really did make them miserable then, please, by all means, retire with the rest of us. But if I'm right, that isn't what you'll see. And you may understand then."

The Doctor considered these words, and finally stood up. "I... I might try that."

"Good," said the Brigadier. "But before you go, I wonder if you might help me with something."

The Doctor - so young, with such old eyes - swallowed hard. "Anything," he said.

The Brigadier smiled. "It's just there's this car in my garage gathering dust. Someone ought to take her for a spin, don't you think?"

The ancient eyes lit up, bright and incredulous, full of delight and wonder. "Bessie," the Doctor breathed excitedly. The trainers were on in a whistle, the young old man and the old young one out the door together in mere moments after that.

The garage door lifted, the tarp pulled back. The car sat there gleaming, alien and Earth, all cobbled together into something as unique as it was yellow. A soft, reverent grin lit the Doctor's face, practically from the inside. "Oh, that's brilliant!"