For Karenza, for her birthday.
"So then I said to him 'why don't you mind your own business?' Get it? Mind? Cuz he was a mind reader? Get it?" the Doctor looked eagerly at his audience, but neither of them were laughing. In fact, they were both giving him blank expressions as they leaned against the railing of the TARDIS's brand new, slightly steampunk, control room interior.
Both Jenna and Elizabeth, erstwhile librarians and companions extraordinaire, looked nonplussed at his sad attempt at a joke. He may have changed from the skinny man in the brown coat who had blown up their library to a gawky man in suspenders and a bow tie, but he still made lousy puns.
"That one is so bad you don't even need to put a quarter in the pun jar," Elizabeth deadpanned.
"Oh no," said Jenna. "It was so bad he needs to put a dollar in the pun jar. Extra surcharge for being so cheesy."
"Come on!" the Doctor objected. "That was funny!"
"What, did your new regeneration forget to grow a new sense of humour?" Jenna asked.
"Seriously, Doctor, that was a really lousy joke," Elizabeth agreed. "Can't you do better than that?"
"It was funny at the time," the Doctor grumbled. "I guess you had to have been there."
"We could have been there," said Elizabeth. "Except that you dropped us off for one day – one day – to do our laundry and feed Jenna's cat, and when you come back to get us you'd regenerated. And had a whole new companion. I can't believe you'd do that to us!"
The Doctor fiddled uncomfortably with his bowtie.
"Yes, well… sorry about that, girls. It wasn't on purpose. I just sort of… died. You know how that is. I didn't plan on it happening, really I didn't. And then I met Amelia, and then I couldn't leave the little girl, could I? She was waiting for me! And she really did help me a lot when I crash landed. Except that she wasn't a little girl any more, and she had a crack in her wall that was following us. But I came back for you, didn't I? In the end? Don't I get points for that?"
He looked at both girls slightly desperately, willing them to understand his predicament.
"Do you think we should forgive him?" Jenna asked.
Elizabeth tapped the side of her chin.
"I'd consider it. Maybe. He did give us quite a scare when he stepped out of the TARDIS looking completely different."
The Doctor ran a hand through his already floppy hair, making it even more rumpled.
"I said I was sorry," he said imploringly.
Elizabeth laughed softly.
"Aw, this version of you is all cute when he's flustered. Your ears go all pink."
"Does that mean you forgive me?" the Doctor asked.
Elizabeth couldn't help laughing at his sad-puppy face.
"I guess so," she said.
The Doctor brightened immediately, slinging his arms around both the girls' shoulders and hugging them to him in an exuberant show of affection.
"There's my girls," he said warmly. "I knew you wouldn't be too hard on me. I was going to come back for you straight away after I regenerated, I swear. But then I got caught up with Amy and the Pandorica, and the cracks in the universe, and the silence, and… it's a long story."
"Aren't they all," Jenna said, rolling her eyes. She slipped out from under his arm to lean against the TARDIS console, letting herself look around the much larger space. The TARDIS had changed since they had last been in it. A change that Jenna personally approved of. "Like the redesign, though. It's pretty cool."
The TARDIS sang her pleasure at Jenna's compliment into their minds.
The Doctor patted the TARDIS's console, and looked around the space with satisfaction.
"I like it too. Loads more buttons and levers to play with. And look over here. A typewriter!"
"Speaking of buttons," said Jenna, who had now moved to the other side of the console. "This one is flashing."
"Oh?" the Doctor moved around to where she was standing, scrutinizing the flashing button. Frowning, he punched several keys on the typewriter, which made an old fashioned clicking noise as he pressed each one. The screen above it lit up, showing a simple typed message.
Sweetie, I'm feeling peckish. Care for a dinner out? 32.46. 492. Alpha. XOXO River
The Doctor sighed.
"I suppose that means she wants me to break her out of prison again."
Elizabeth and Jenna traded curious looks.
"Who is River?" Jenna asked, voicing the thought in both their minds.
The Doctor made a face.
"She's someone I've met. Will meet. It's all very confusing. Our time lines are a little tangled and tricky to work out. Lately she's been calling me to pick her up from all over the galaxy. Look at that! Coordinates. River," he said sternly, addressing the screen. "I'm a Time Lord, not a taxi service."
The screen wiped clean of its message, replaced by a single red heart, which stood out starkly against the white of the screen, as if in answer to his rant. The Doctor sighed heavily.
"Fine, fine. I'm coming. Stay where you are," he said, addressing the screen again. "But if this is another prison break, so help me, River…"
He wandered away, muttering darkly under his breath.
It only took one exchanged look for Elizabeth and Jenna to burst into hushed giggles. They leaned together, their eyes still on the heart on the screen.
"What do you say, the Doctor's finally found a woman who can keep up with him?" Jenna asked.
Elizabeth shook her head.
"No way. Not possible. The Doctor's so not like that."
"Did you see how flustered he got when she called?" Jenna laughed. "I bet my last dime they're a couple."
"Ten dollars and full access to the closet for a week?" Elizabeth suggested.
"Raising the stakes are we? You're on. They are so a couple."
"No way. Elizabeth said. "The Doctor does not do couple. He's anti-domestic, remember?"
"She's whistling for him, and he's coming!" Jenna reminded her friend. "If that's not serious whip-age, I don't know what is."
"But he's the Doctor," said Elizabeth. "No way someone's ball-and-chaining the Doctor. He doesn't do domestic." But she sounded a little less convinced than she was before.
"Listen, girls," said the Doctor from the other end of the console. "Do you mind if we stop off for a little while? I have to go pick up an old friend."
Both Jenna and Elizabeth had matching grins as they nodded. This was their chance to settle their bet.
"Sure Doctor, we can go pick up the Misses," Jenna said boldly.
The Doctor winced, but didn't correct her, merely entering the new coordinates into the TARDIS's flight centre, and pulling the lever down. The familiar grinding sound filled the room, and the TARDIS took off, spiraling out into the void. From long habit, Jenna and Elizabeth clutched the railing to prevent themselves from falling as their ship hurtled through time and space to the coordinates River had sent.
The blue police box made a relatively graceful landing. Graceful in that none of the occupants ended up on the floor. Elizabeth clutched her railing tightly until the shaking stopped, but Jenna, with a grin, let go fairly early on. She almost always did this. She took a wide stance, and spread her arms out, as if riding the currents. As the TARDIS rattled to a stop, she tucked her arms in, grinning widely.
"You have way too much fun doing that," Elizabeth chuckled.
Jenna shrugged, offering no apology for her behavior.
"TARDIS surfing is fun."
The Doctor, not noticing their antics, marched to the TARDIS door and threw it open wide. Outside, the sound of gunfire could be clearly heard. A women in a plain gray jumpsuit came sprinting around the corner, her sandy brown curls bouncing behind her as she turned to shoot a compression rifle over her shoulder. Two men in uniform were coming after her, both with guns of their own aimed at her as they fired off round after round. As the woman saw the TARDIS, her mouth widened into a grin, and she darted forward towards it. The Doctor stepped out of the way with a resigned look on his face as she rushed in through the doors. She didn't stop after she got through the doors, but continued to race up the ramp to the main console, where her fingers flew over the keys of the control panel. The familiar sound of the TARDIS taking off echoed around the large control room.
"Hello to you, too," said the Doctor, still facing the closed wooden doors.
"I'm glad you dropped by, Sweetie," panted the woman. "It would have been rather difficult to explain if I had been running towards that area for no reason."
"Why is it, River, that I'm always breaking you out of prison?" The Doctor demanded, coming up the ramp to the main console with his arms crossed over his chest.
The woman, River, grinned broadly.
"Spoilers," she said. She came forward, her arms outstretched, and the Doctor submitted to a hug from her. "Did you miss me?" she asked coyly.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "I rather think I did. Life is never boring with you, is it?"
"Come now, you wouldn't have it any other way," River teased.
Sensing that they had been completely forgotten, Jenna loudly cleared her throat.
"Ah yes," said the Doctor. "Introductions. Jenna, Lizabeth, this is Dr. River Song. River, these are my two companions, Jenna and Elizabeth. I blew up their library."
"Nice to meet you," said River, shaking both their hands. "But what happened to Amy? Last time I saw you two, we had just gotten away from quite a lot of weeping angels."
"Oh yes?" the Doctor said keenly. "That was some time ago for me. You see," he said to the two human girls, "River and I keep meeting out of order. We're never sure what part of our lives we'll be in when we bump into each other." He turned back to River. "Nothing's happened to Amy. That is to say, something's happened to her, but that was more to do with Rory than me."
"Rory?" asked River, raising her eyebrow.
"Amy's brand new husband. I dropped them both off at her house a while ago. Apparently, time radiation isn't very good for a baby before it's born."
"Who knew? Congratulations to Amy and Rory then. So you two are the new companions?"
"Well, technically we're the old companions," replied Elizabeth. "He dropped us off to do our laundry, and when he picked us up he was all new."
"He does that. At least he didn't forget about you. He's been known to do that from time to time."
The Doctor glared at River.
"I've never forgotten you anywhere!" he said indignantly. "And whose side are you on, anyways?"
River laughed, and stretched on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
"My own," she said huskily. She slipped away from him, sauntering over to the other side of the console to examine a screen. A Mona Lisa- like smile hovered on her lips.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at the Doctor, and Jenna bit her lip to hold back her giggles.
"I'm so going to win that bet," Jenna said.
"Hmm?" said the Doctor, looking between his two companions.
They shook their heads, identical expressions of amusement on their faces.
"Nothing," the said together.
The Doctor was saved from answering them by the TARDIS, which chose that moment to let out a whistled alarm.
Glad of the excuse, the Doctor bounded over to the console, stroking it gently with his tapered fingers.
"What's the matter, girl?" he crooned. "Does something hurt? You know I can fix you if you hurt."
"Don't be silly, Doctor. It's just the restaurant locator," said River in an authoritative tone.
The Doctor frowned at her.
"The restaurant locator hasn't worked since the 14th century. Tried to take us to some Celtic beer garden…" He shook his head in disgust
"That's because I tweaked it," River said, winking at Elizabeth, who was standing beside her now. "Every so often a girl needs a couple of glasses of stiff Celtic honey mead. And that was definitely the time for some honey mead, if you know what I mean." She ran her hand consolingly over the console. "Poor girl. He never understands you properly, does he?"
"It's my TARDIS," the Doctor grumbled. "Of course I understand her. We've been together for hundreds of years, I understand her perfectly."
"Of course you do, Sweetie," said River in a placating tone.
Jenna looked at the flashing button.
"So what does this do?"
"It's the restaurant locator. It locates the best restaurant in the universe," said River.
"So this takes us to the best restaurant in the universe with a push of a button?"
"Not the best restaurant in the whole universe," the Doctor corrected. "That would take ages to get to. Right to the end of the universe, in fact. No, this button'll take us to the best restaurant this area of space. You should have seen the time it took us to the one right on the edge of the universe. Quite an experience, watching the universe go supernova and start all over again. Not anything I haven't seen, mind you. But a nice place to bring the companions for their first trip. Impressive, and kind of showy. Show them what they're in for."
"How come we got a dragon, then?" Jenna muttered.
"Met an interesting, if rather depressing, robot there once." the Doctor continued to ramble, ignoring Jenna's interruption. "His ship was one of the most interesting things I've seen in a long while. Infinitely interesting, in fact." He turned back to the button, regarding it fondly. "Handy little thing, isn't it? It came with my new taste buds."
"Very handy," agree River. "Because right now I'm starving. I could use something to eat. Prison food is not very nice, and I would appreciate the best restaurant in this area of space. Want to push it?" she asked Elizabeth.
"I've been warned the dire consequences of pushing random buttons in the TARDIS," she said. "You never know what's going to happen. Which is why, as a rule, I always do it."
Reaching out, Elizabeth gave the button a firm push.
"Oh, I like her," she said.
The TARDIS groaned to life, hurtling through the void towards the best restaurant in the universe. A loud, jarring thud indicated that it had landed.
"I told you, you can use the blue dampers and it won't do that," River said.
The Doctor ignored her entirely.
"Ok, old girl" he said to the TARDIS. "Let's see where it brought us this time."
"Don't you know?" Jenna asked.
The Doctor shook his head.
"It picked up the signal while we were in the void. Could be any time, any place, any where in the universe. Anywhere at all. Fabulously exotic locations on stunning planets in far flung corners of space where they serve cuisine that you've never dreamed of. Why don't you go check?"
Jenna grinned, and strode down the ramp to the wooden doors. She threw them open wide to see the fabulously exotic landscape that she had been promised. By standing there, she blocked out the view from the others standing on the raised console platform. She stood frozen in the doorway, her mouth opening and shutting but no words coming out.
"What is it?" Elizabeth asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. "Where are we?"
"You've got to be kidding me!" Jenna groaned, leaning her forehead against the TARDIS door. "This is so unfair."
Elizabeth came to stand behind Jenna, peering over her shoulder.
The scene in front of them was an utterly mundane, utterly familiar one, a sight that up until recently Jenna had seen every day. Bayview Avenue, Toronto.
It was Jenna's street.