It had been three days, and Lisbon was convinced that if she hadn't had that dratted key, she would have been quite content to believe that that entire incident was just a dream. They were wrapping up their latest case—Jane had managed to get a confession quite quickly, though at this point she still wasn't entirely sure how, and wasn't sure that she ought to know, in case he hadn't exactly followed protocol to get it. But as they began tying things up, her mind kept drifting back to that dream that wasn't a dream, and she wasn't sure what to make of it.
Perhaps Jane was wrong, and the Doctor wasn't going to turn up after all.
Perhaps he wasn't even real.
Though, if he wasn't, she didn't know who would go to all the trouble of making up a character like that.
No, he was real, she was nearly completely sure of that. And she had his key. She was sure it wasn't just something he'd leave behind. He'd needed it for something or he wouldn't have kept trying to get it back from her. But if all that were true, he ought to have turned up by now. Even if he'd been halfway across the world, he should have made it here by now.
She shouldn't be bothering with all of this. She just needed a breath of fresh air, that's all. That she hadn't been in the office for most of the day was beside the point—she'd been too busy to stop and enjoy any of the fresh air that she might have been out in. She'd been quite busy, actually. Just…not busy enough to forget everything that had, or hadn't, happened.
She could ignore it for a while, but it always seemed to creep back to the forefront of her mind, standing in the wings when she pushed it away.
It was late, anyway. Well, latish. It was past seven now. Closer to eight, actually, now that she had a chance to look at her watch again. She really ought to get a bite to eat, even if she wasn't particularly hungry. Had all the loose ends been tied up, she wouldn't have had to worry, given their tradition of dining on pizza—without pineapples, if Cho had his way—when they officially closed a case, but as it stood, she was the last one left in the office. Even Jane had finally left, though she couldn't recall when; she'd been too busy trying to focus on her work and failing to completely ignore the key that she still had in her pocket—the key, and everything it meant.
She had just decided, while waiting for the elevator, to put this entire thing out of her mind once and for all when the doors slid open and she saw the Doctor standing there.
Predictably, he grinned as he stepped out to shake her hand. "Agent Teresa Lisbon," he crowed. "Just the person I wanted to see!"
For a minute, she didn't believe he was there. She almost thought she might be imagining it all. But there he stood, just as she remembered, suit, tie, sneakers, and all. And then he hugged her, blithering on about how good it was that she appeared to be perfectly healthy and hadn't suffered any side effects, and that he hoped the same was true for the rest of them. By the time she got away, it was a struggle to open her mouth, but when she finally did, all that came out was, "How the hell did you get here?"
"Get here or get in here?" the Doctor asked, both hands now stuffed into his pockets. "Because those are two very different questions, and while I think you look like you'd want to know the answer to both, I'd hate to waste your time by going off on something you really don't care to know about." He paused, and must have read something in her expression, because he then continued, "Well, as for getting in here, it wasn't much trouble at all. Never is; just have to show them my handy-dandy psychic paper if anyone stops me, which you might recall from the last time you met me, which I know you remember because of your kind greeting. As for getting here, well, I was in the mood for a bit of a chitchat, and I promised a friend I would take it slowly for a day or two, so I hitchhiked."
"You hitchhiked?" Lisbon repeated.
"Well, I didn't exactly have a ride, or even a proper place to be once I got out of the trap, not like you lot," the Doctor said. "And, yes, it did take loads longer than flying, but it's much more interesting. I met all sorts of people. Much more talkative than the sort you meet on a bus. Well, most of them. I took a bus not too long ago. That didn't end so well. Well, it ended not too badly, actually, but it nearly didn't end up very well at all. I suppose it could have been worse than it was, but it was bad enough as it was anyway. Buses, planes—I needed a change. Ooh, I could have taken a train, I suppose. I haven't taken a train in ages. But then there's all that bother with procuring money, and I'd much rather have a nice visit with someone who picks me up off the road. I had some really interesting conversations. Did you know that—?"
"Not likely, no," Lisbon interrupted, realizing that if she didn't break in now, she might not have another chance, "but I'd rather you answer some of my questions, Doctor. I have enough of them."
"Oh," he said, looking distinctly less cheerful. "You would, wouldn't you? Suppose I ought to have expected that. Well, I could just pick your pocket and be on my way, since I have the feeling that you've got my key with you, but that's just plain rude, and I really ought to try not to be rude, because I seem to have this terrible tendency to—"
"Babble?" Lisbon cut in.
The Doctor looked a bit sheepish. "Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to get off topic like that. It's just a bit of a habit. I start off on something, and—oh. Sorry. I was doing it again, wasn't I? Sorry. You were saying?"
"I wanted to ask," Lisbon started carefully, "what happened. Back…then."
"In the trap?" the Doctor asked. He looked a bit unhappy when she nodded. "Oh, you all want to know that, don't you? You lot are all the same, asking the same questions, having the same disbelieving looks when I tell you the truth…." He trailed off, seeing her face. "It never seems to make much more sense when I do explain it," he cautioned her.
"I don't care. Just tell me." Lisbon crossed her arms, waiting. The explanation she received didn't make much sense, as the Doctor had warned. She kept asking questions, and he kept answering, though he starting giving less and less detail and she strayed further from the subject of the time trap and what seemed so much like a dream to her. Finally, she asked, "Who are you, really? Not Dr. John Smith, not Inspector Smith, not the Doctor, so who are you?"
"I am the Doctor," he insisted, looking vaguely offended that she had disbelieved him.
"But that's not even your real name," she protested. "It's not even a name at all!"
"But it's who I am," he answered. "No more, no less. Just the Doctor."
"Really?" she asked, sceptically. "So when you're back in the UK, is that the name you put on all the forms? Is that the name on your passport?"
The Doctor laughed. A good, long laugh, like he hadn't had reason to laugh in ages and now could hardly contain it once he'd started. Still smirking, even though he'd finally pulled himself together, he asked, "Didn't I ever tell you I never bother with paperwork?"
She did recall that, and told him so, but added, "Are you going to try to tell me you don't have anything? A social insurance number, a mailing address, a health—"
"I don't need one," the Doctor said, cutting her off, though he was still grinning. "Well, not anymore. Not that I ever did bother with all of that when I was stuck here. Perhaps I should have. Well, with some of them. I have gotten a few things, though, over the years. Like a library card. I'm…not entirely sure where that is now. I should find that. It'd be a bit outdated now, though. Do those things expire? I haven't seen it in, oh, when was it…. For you, it might've been…the seventies? Sixties? I've a terrible memory, actually, when it comes to that sort of thing. You wouldn't believe the things I've lost over the years simply because I put them down somewhere and haven't come across them again."
Lisbon closed her eyes. "Why," she asked, not bothering to open them, "are you doing this?"
"Doing what?" came the innocent response.
"Driving me insane," she retorted, opening her eyes again. "Going on and on as if you don't belong anywhere and you're free to do as you please and as if you're a hell of a lot older than you look!"
The Doctor's face fell at her words. "Well," he started softly, "I am older than I look, for one, and there aren't a lot of people who can get the better of me, so to a certain extent, I can do what I want, though I am beholden to my own conscience, and that's often better than following the rules set out by my people, since I break about as many of those laws as I uphold. As for belonging, well, you're right about that, I suppose. I don't belong anywhere anymore."
"What?" Lisbon was still trying to follow the sudden shift from cheery to bleak, laughter to sorrow.
"I don't really want to talk about it," the Doctor said. He sounded…almost broken. "That entire trap was just a painful reminder, that's all. I didn't think it could still exist, after everything that happened, and I think the only reason that it survived was because it was dormant, and so was the wound. If they had been active, it would've been locked away with everything else."
"But that trap—"
"Was exactly what I told you it was, when I explained it the first time," the Doctor interrupted. "That hasn't changed, even if you're no longer caught in it. It was designed to catch me and keep me there, and that it did, at least until Patrick Jane reminded me of a few things I shouldn't have overlooked in the first place. And I'm lucky he did, frankly, because I…I'm not sure…. I don't know if I would have put it together quickly enough," the Doctor admitted. "I was looking too hard for an answer that was right under my nose. I…miss things, sometimes. And, well, it hasn't been the death of me yet, but it very nearly has been before, and it very well could have been then."
"Please, Teresa," the Doctor said. "Really, please don't ask me to tell you everything. Aside from the fact that you really don't have enough time to hear it all, it's…a bit complicated. And…more than a bit painful. I…don't really want to…tear those wounds open right now."
She'd seen Jane wearing that same look and knew it was genuine. "Sorry," she said. "It's just that you aren't really explaining anything, and I need it explained so that I can understand it all."
"Is it so bad," the Doctor asked, "if you don't understand it all? I mean, there are things in this world you don't understand, aren't there?"
"Clearly," Lisbon said, in a not very amused tone of voice.
"So is it so terribly hard to put that experience with the rest of the things you don't understand? Well, that experience and me, though I don't know why you'd expect to understand me when you've hardly known me at all, since I've had people travel with me for years and still not really understand me, even if some of them come quite close to it."
"But how am I supposed to talk about any of this to anyone if I can't even understand it? Jane can't even explain it, and he usually thinks he has an answer to everything!" Not that she didn't think that Jane knew something he wasn't telling her, but she'd never get him to admit it. He usually did know more than the rest of them, but knowing didn't guarantee that he'd tell it, any of it. Frankly, she wasn't convinced that he wouldn't deliberately withhold information from them if it ever worked in his favour—something that made her worry even more every time they had a lead on Red John. If Jane ever followed up a lead without telling them, he could….
"Did you want to talk about it?" the Doctor asked, looking surprised. "Most people don't. They'd rather ignore it and push it away and forget about it, going around pretending it never happened. I would've thought you'd rather do that."
"I do, but I can't." Lisbon shook her head. "I just…. I keep trying to sort it out, and I can't, because if all of that really happened, then there are so many things that no longer make sense, and I can't…."
Evidently she didn't need to finish, because the Doctor was nodding, as if he understood her response. "If you're willing to accept," he started, carefully, "that there are things out there that you never dreamed of, but are as real as you or me, then I can give you the number of a good friend of mine. I'm sure she wouldn't mind. I met up with her not too long ago, and she extended that offer to a…another friend. This friend of mine, Sarah Jane Smith, well, I left her in a bit of a lurch a few years back. Well, more than a few, actually. But she managed. She managed brilliantly. But…she'll understand, when you tell her, if you want to talk to her. And she'll believe you. She knows more about me than you do, after all. And…she says it's hard, when people are dropped back into their lives without another word. And she's right, you know. I would've done that to you, too, if you hadn't still had the key to the TARDIS."
"The key to what?"
"The TARDIS. My…blue box. The one that holds most of my secrets, the ones that I don't just keep up here," the Doctor answered, tapping his temple. "You'll…understand if you ring up Sarah. But now's not the time for me to tell you everything. You're tired, for one, and wouldn't believe a word of it in the morning until you looked to see if you still had my key. So it's really best not to go into it all right now. But, if you decide to talk to Sarah, don't, well, tell everyone else everything. They're liable to lock you up, for one. I'm lucky that it doesn't happen to me. Well, not too often. Well, not for very long, at least." A slight hesitation, then, "Also, I'm not sure if…. There are still things out there that are my enemies, and I don't like to have them know everywhere I've been or everything I've done, so I try not to leave too many traces, especially now that I'm the…." The Doctor stopped. "Well, let's just say that they know anything they find will lead them to me. They won't be confusing my trail with anyone else's."
Lisbon stared at him for a moment. "You're worse than Jane," she said. "You don't tell people anything."
The Doctor gave her a small, slightly sad, smile. "Lately, I've been getting into more trouble when I tell people things than when I don't. It wasn't always that way. You lot aren't quite as…open-minded as you used to be. Or as trusting. I don't get as far as I used to, when I try to tell you things. Sometimes it's easier not to say much at all. But then I leave people with too many questions, and more than one of you lot have gotten yourselves into trouble searching for the answers. There's no telling whose attention you'll attract when you try that." He paused, then rummaged in his pockets for a bit before pulling out a pen and pad of paper. He wrote something down, then tore off a sheet and handed it to her. "Sarah Jane's number," he said. "She lives in Ealing, so mind the time change; she has a son now, and probably doesn't want to give him the excuse to be up in the middle of the night when he's got school the next morning."
Lisbon took the number and looked at it. "Ealing?" she repeated. "That's London, right?" She wrinkled her forehead. "Eight hours or something ahead of us, then?"
The Doctor nodded. "At the moment," he agreed. He paused, then added, "And, perhaps it would be best to mention what I'm wearing, or how I look, just so she knows and gets her story straight. Well, that'll depend on how much she tells you, I suppose." He paused again. "Of course, if you'd like to try to find someone to talk to face to face, you could try tracking down Dr. Grace Holloway. But…I've changed since I last saw her. I don't know where she is now. Haven't seen her since the first hour of 2000. But she did live in San Francisco. I don't know if she does now." He hesitated again before adding, "She knows a bit more than you, but not much. Sarah can give you more answers than Grace, but Grace understands how it feels to have time rewind on you and then be left with hardly a word in parting."
Lisbon smirked. "You do this a lot, then?"
"More often than I should and yet not often enough," the Doctor answered quietly. "And recently, yes, even excluding you and your team, I've done it. Easter. It was Easter. That was…quite memorable."
"Easter's next week," Lisbon said bluntly.
"Oh." The Doctor reached up one arm to scratch the back of his head. "Right. Should've remembered that. That's the trouble with it moving all the time. I can never remember when it is." He frowned, then said, "No, wait, this is 2010, isn't it? It was last Easter, then. 2009."
"And that's recent, is it?"
"For me it was," the Doctor answered.
Lisbon pursed her lips. "Fine. Call it recent. But if you can't tell me who you are and how you're really involved in all of this, you can't expect me to give you your key back. That's the only thing I have as a guarantee that I'll get any straight answers out of you in the end."
"Well," the Doctor said, pulling a face as he dragged the word out, "I wouldn't, exactly, put it that way."
Lisbon crossed her arms. "And why not?"
The Doctor gave her a sheepish smile. "Well, I may have, sort of, figured that you might refuse a simple request like giving me my key back."
"I, well…." The Doctor trailed off. "I was rude," he said.
"What?" Lisbon asked, not understanding what he was getting at.
"Just plain rude," the Doctor added unhelpfully.
"Just tell me what you mean," Lisbon said. "Quit trying to beat around the bush."
The Doctor swallowed, and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. "I figured it would be in my best interest not to trust you," he said, and replaced the key in his pocket.
Lisbon stared at him for a moment, and then she realized what he meant. Her hand flew to her pocket, and she found it empty. "You stole it!" she accused.
"Well, it's not exactly stealing if it's mine, is it?" the Doctor asked. "I was just…taking it back. Although I did, sort of, steal the TARDIS back when I first left. But no one wanted her then. Is it really stealing if all you're doing is taking something no one else wants?"
"I can't believe you!" Lisbon exclaimed. "When did you take that off of me, anyway? Right at the beginning? Why didn't you just leave, then?"
"Well, I didn't want to be too rude," the Doctor pointed out. "And I, well, sort of need to be on this floor anyhow."
Lisbon glared at him for a moment, and then sighed and shook her head. "Oh, I just…. I can't believe you," she repeated. "This is just utterly insane."
"If you find this so bad," the Doctor said, "then maybe you shouldn't ring Sarah."
Lisbon frowned at him. "This isn't like The Matrix," she shot back. "It's not a choice between a red or blue pill."
"No, nothing as definitive as that," the Doctor agreed. "It's merely a question of how much you want to find out weighed against how much you don't really want to know."
Lisbon made a face. "Have you always been like this?" she asked sarcastically.
The Doctor shook his head. "Nah. I've got a bit of a fluid personality. I'd say this is one of the better ones, really. You should have seen some of the ones I've had in the past. Of course, some traits carry through. Some don't. I wasn't always this rude. Or this talkative. Or—"
"You know what?" Lisbon interrupted. "I've changed my mind. This isn't insane. You're insane."
The Doctor chuckled. "This from the woman who is asking me about a dream of a reality that can't fit into this timeline? I never said this would make sense to you, Teresa Lisbon. I never promised you that. I may have agreed to explain, but I hardly ever have the time to make proper explanations. The thing is, I can never fully explain something to someone. And sometimes, I'll slip in a lie to make things easier, and people never know the difference. If I told you I was, oh, 906, say, would you believe me? Not likely. And it wouldn't be entirely true, either. It can't be, the way I spend my life. Some days I count; some days I don't. Would you believe me any more if I told you I was an alien?"
Lisbon snorted. "Fat chance of that," she said, "since I somehow doubt you're referring the fact that you're not from the US."
"There, then, see? No sense in saying any of that."
Lisbon raised an eyebrow. "You're not serious," she said.
"Am I or aren't I?" the Doctor returned. "Hard to tell, isn't it? I've spent a lot of time acting, Teresa Lisbon. Sometimes I'm good at it. Sometimes I'm absolutely terrible. But if I can hardly make sense of myself, why would I go to all the trouble of trying to allow you to make sense of me when you clearly can't do that when I'm changing so much that I sometimes surprise myself?" He shook his head. "I've learned a lot of things in all my years. I know when to fib and when to tell the truth and when to mix the two together, and I know more languages than you can count, but sometimes I can't just come out and say things. It's still too difficult. So I dance around the topic and beat around the bush and make quite certain that no one really knows precisely how much to believe or how much of what they guess is really true, and then I can pretend, just for a moment, that the truth isn't what it is and that things are better than I'd thought they were."
Lisbon just stared at him for a moment. Then she said, "You can't pretend forever."
"No," the Doctor agreed. "I can't. And perhaps I shouldn't try. But sometimes I'd rather pretend than face it all, all I've done and all I didn't do, all the good and all the bad. But I can't tell anyone everything. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't."
"You're always running, aren't you?" Lisbon asked. "From your past."
The Doctor was quiet for a moment before saying, "And my future. I'm not particularly looking forward to that, either." Before she could say any more, he continued, "But, that's neither here nor there, is it? I've my key and you've some answers, so we've all got what we want, yes? No need to stick around."
He was running. Lisbon had no doubt about that. He would talk, but only about so much. She couldn't tell if the pain was a recent one. Whether it was or not, it was kept fresh. Like Jane, he looked pained, but he hid it. Behind his grins and enthusiastic demeanour, something was eating away at him, and he did his best not to let people see it. But they did, she figured, if he let them get too close. And he had, evidently, decided that he couldn't risk it of late, perhaps because last time things hadn't gone as he'd planned.
Jane had probably realized that ages back. Perhaps he'd noticed when they'd first met.
Those two were alike in many ways, but not in all of them. One of the most jarring differences she could notice was that Jane was searching for Red John, striving to find him and pouring all his energies into every lead that turned up. But the Doctor…. He wasn't searching for something like that.
Jane had someone to blame for the tragedy in his past, but Lisbon suspected the Doctor only blamed himself for whatever had happened. He certainly looked like he wanted to blame someone else, but the things that he had told her made her think he took a good part of the blame upon himself, as if he were responsible for whatever tragedy had occurred in his past.
It was different with Jane. Jane felt guilty for what had happened to his family, but he buried that guilt under anger at the person who had murdered them. The Doctor…the Doctor acted as if he were the one who had not only caused the deed to happen, but had also committed it himself.
Some things she would never know, and some things she had no desire to know.
"I'll see you out," Lisbon said.
The Doctor looked like he was going to protest, but then he relented. "Very well. I just need to nip over to the broom closet. I left something in there."
"That box of yours?"
"Yes," the Doctor agreed, starting off. "My TARDIS."
"You named it?"
"My granddaughter did. The name spread. Except for those few who were exceptional sticks-in-the-mud, most people called those boxes like mine TARDISes. Not that they were all just boxes. They can be most anything."
Lisbon snorted. "Your granddaughter?" she repeated incredulously. "Yeah, right. Pull the other one."
The Doctor gave her that small smile of his again. "Told you I'm older than I look," he said.
"Sure. A bit older than forty."
The smile grew slightly. "Just a bit."
They spent the rest of the short walk in silence. As they approached the broom closet, Lisbon said, "I'll get the door, if you like. It jams sometimes."
"Nah," the Doctor said, reaching out to open it with ease, though he didn't open it wide. "I'm good with doors." He grinned at her then, the bright grin he'd given her so often before. "Goodbye, Teresa Lisbon. And good luck."
"Goodbye?" Lisbon repeated. "This isn't goodbye. You're just grabbing something and coming back out."
The Doctor gave a little shrug. "Sarah Jane told me I never say goodbye. I'm trying to learn. So goodbye, Agent Lisbon. If I still wore a hat, I'd tip it to you. It's been a pleasure, really. And…tell Patrick Jane to be careful, will you?"
"What?" Lisbon asked, now thoroughly confused. "Be careful about what?"
"Just to…be careful. Because…he can't protect everyone, even when he tries. I know. I've tried." The Doctor's smile was that small, sad one again. "And good luck to you. Things won't be as bad as you think they will be. Just…be sure to keep going. Don't change too much; only change just enough to get by." And before she could question him further, he opened the door wide and slipped into the closet, closing the door tightly behind him.
She stood there for a few seconds, too shocked to move. Then she reached for the door, trying to get it open. The darned thing had jammed again. As she fought with it, she heard some sort of grinding, wheezing sound, unlike anything she'd ever heard before, escalating and then fading away, and she had to wonder what the hell the Doctor was doing in there. But by the time she got the door open, the sound was gone, and the closet was empty.
A/N: Well, I finally finished. Some questions I answered; some I didn't (even if I perhaps should have), but I had fun anyway. How did it turn out, overall? Any suggestions? I've gotten a couple, most regarding the confusion of the two Doctors, but am open to more. As far as that goes, though, I'd like to thank everyone who's read and reviewed, offering comments or suggestions or encouragement or pointing out things that I needed to fix, which I hope I managed adequately: Ezzi, becciehill, wishyfishy, Poppie, DrippingPen, emma, Sarcasm-the Lowest Form of Wit, Sarah, Shoveler, Sizz, Basia Orci, VirendraLione, lilaclila, NRZWolf 13, Elvaro, RuthLeilani, Shard Aerliss, Nefra, TotallyLosingIt, and Amazing Bluie. I always appreciate hearing what people think, so thanks! And a very merry Christmas to all of you.
UPDATE: All right, in acknowledging that I might have left a few too many questions unanswered, I wrote a short follow-up to tie up a few things, appropriately titled Loose Ends.