Karena leaned back in her chair with a sigh of contentment.
"I'm so full," she groaned.
"That was almost worth being drugged and locked up almost all night," Jenna agreed, taking a sip of her green tea. "Turns out I really do like sushi. Thank goodness for that."
The Doctor grinned, glancing around the crowded market place. They sat in an out-of-the-way table in a small outdoor shop, eating the second best sushi in the universe. The bustle of ancient Japan swirled around them, taking no notice of their strange clothes and even stranger manners.
"I told you, right?" he said. "Great sushi. Not as good as the place we were before, but…"
"This stuff isn't going to poison you and drug us," Jenna cut in wryly.
"This is true," the Doctor acknowledged with a nod of his head.
"And nobody's tried to kill us… yet," Elizabeth said, looking around the busy market place with mock alarm.
"Don't worry," River said. "Ancient Japan is the only place the Doctor doesn't have enemies."
"Yet," the Doctor added, grinning widely. "Just give me time."
"Isn't that the truth," River replied archly.
"Oy!" objected the Doctor. "You're supposed to be on my side!"
"Yes, dear," said River. "Of course, dear. Whatever you say, dear." She patted his arm in a soothing manner.
Jenna gave Elizabeth a significant look.
Elizabeth scowled back.
"I still don't believe it," she muttered to her friend.
"You're not seeing what you don't want to see," Jenna told her. "It's right there in front of you, just look at them!"
Elizabeth glanced over at the Doctor and River, who were lost in their own private joke, the Doctor with his arm casually draped over the back of River's chair, while she gently leaned into him in an obviously intimate and familiar gesture.
"Hmph," she said eloquently.
River stood up from the table, her chair scraping against the ground as she got up and stretched.
"Well, this has certainly fulfilled my craving for sushi for a while," she said. "There's nothing like sushi when you're down and out. Somehow sushi always makes you feel better, no matter what the circumstances are. It feeds the soul as well as the body."
"Sushi for the soul," Karena summed up, smiling.
"Exactly!" agreed River. "But I'm afraid I really should be getting back. This was only supposed to be a dinner date, and my keepers will be wanting me back soon."
"Keepers?" Karena asked.
"It's best you don't know," she said, grinning.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "I think it's time we headed home."
The TARDIS hummed a happy hello to them as Team TARDIS returned, this time unscathed from their venture outside her doors.
"I don't get in trouble every time I go outside," the Doctor muttered to her as he pushed and pulled various levers and knobs.
The TARDIS whistled in disbelief.
"Once in a while I come back in one piece," the Doctor reminded her.
The TARDIS gave a smug beep, and threw herself into the vortex.
"Next stop, Stormhold," the Doctor said.
River nodded, collecting her gray jacket from the back of the pilot's seat and slipping her arms into it.
The TARDIS landed with a soft thump.
"We're here," said the Doctor, checking the monitor.
River walked to the TARDIS doors, but didn't open them just yet.
"I suppose you're not going to tell me when I'll see you again?" the Doctor asked, a note of hopefulness in his voice.
River laughed a deep, throaty laugh.
"Spoilers, Doctor. You know I can't do that."
"Well..." drawled the Doctor. "I thought I would ask anyways. It was worth a try."
"You try every time," said River. "And I always say the same thing."
"Someday you won't," the Doctor reminded her.
"Someday. Someday soon."
"Goodbye, River," said the Doctor.
River threw her arms around him, and dragged the tall man into a hug. His arms went around her, and he hugged her back.
"See you soon," she promised, kissing his cheek.
She let him go, and opened one side of the blue wooden doors, throwing a wink over her shoulder before she disappeared outside them.
Jenna turned to Elizabeth, her arms crossed over her chest.
"You can't deny that one," she said. "It's blindingly obvious."
Elizabeth threw up her hands in surrender.
"Ok! Ok! You win!" she said. "I surrender. You were right!"
Jenna looked smug.
"That's a tenner you owe me," she said.
Elizabeth handed the bill over, looking grumpy.
"I can't believe you were right."
"Right about what?" Karena asked.
Elizabeth looked at the Doctor, who stood ridged before the closed door, one hand still touching the cheek River had kissed, as if he could feel her lips there still.
"Nothing," she said. "I was just wrong about something, is all."
"Here you are," said the Doctor, indicating the tidy apartment building on the small, tidy street with satisfaction. "I brought you back in one piece, and almost before you started too. It's only been twenty minutes since you left to meet Jenna and Elizabeth for dinner."
Karena looked from Elizabeth to Jenna and back.
"Are you two really staying with him?" Karena asked, "You could come home too, if you wanted to."
"What, and go back to boring life?" Jenna asked. "Feeding the cat and watching TV and going to class? No thanks."
"We don't have to learn about history," Elizabeth agreed. "We're living it. There's so much to see and do and experience. There's no way I'd give that up to go back to books and bills and writing notes."
"But what about the danger?" Karena asked. "We were very nearly killed back there."
"Part of the job. You hang out with the Doctor, you end up doing those kinds of things."
"You get the monsters thrown in."
"But how can you live like that? Always running away, always moving from place to place. It's too mad an existence for me."
Elizabeth and Jenna exchanged grins.
"It's fun, once you get used to it," Elizabeth promised.
"A bit fast-paced," Jenna admitted. "But still really fun."
Karena shook her head emphatically.
"No thanks, not for me. I've got a home and a fiancé to get back to." She jerked her thumb to the tidy looking apartment building behind her.
The Doctor shrugged.
"Suit yourself. You might like it, you know. And I could have you back here before anyone even knew you were gone."
Karena shook her had.
"I'd know I was gone. I'd miss him," she said, nodding to her apartment building once again.
"Here's the thing, though," said Elizabeth wrinkling her nose, "The us in your timeline, we haven't met the Doctor yet. You can't tell us where you've been all this time, why you didn't show up for dinner."
"You can't talk about it at all," chipped in Jenna. "It will screw up the timeline."
"So what do I say?" Karena asked.
Jenna looked thoughtful.
"It's weird. I remember what you said. You just refused to talk about it. At the time I thought it was really weird and suspicious. Huh. Weird. I remember it, but it hasn't happened yet."
The Doctor shrugged.
"Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey," he said by way of an explanation.
"So I should just refuse to talk about it?" Karena asked.
"I think that would be best," Jenna said. "After all, we'll understand some day."
Karena nodded. She hugged both her friends.
"Be careful," she said. "Don't get yourselves killed on some distant planet a million years ago."
"We'll try not to," Elizabeth laughed.
They exchanged waves, and then Karena pulled her key out of her pocket and unlocked her apartment.
"Hey Karena," those standing outside heard from the apartment inside. "I thought you and your friends were having supper tonight."
"I decided to stay in with you instead," Karena said. She turned slightly to smile at Team TARDIS, then vanished into her apartment, closing the door behind her.
The Doctor draped one arm over Jenna's shoulders, and one over Elizabeth's.
"Well, that was fun," he said, turning away from Karena's door and towards his blue telephone box, which was sitting unobtrusively on the side of the road.
"Fun isn't exactly the word I would use," Elizabeth joked.
"More like crazy and weird and death-defying," Jenna agreed.
"Like I said, fun," said the Doctor.
His companions both burst out laughing. He grinned, pleased with himself.
"Well, girls," he said, opening the TARDIS door with a flourish and ushering his two companions in. "Where shall we go now?"
Elizabeth and Jenna exchanged amused looks.
"Why don't you surprise us?" Jenna said.
In a distant galaxy, in a distant time, a disgruntled Gami warrior sat hunched in the cockpit of his small ship. He glared fiercely at the blackness of space.
"I hate their rules and their stupid code of honour," he informed the stars outside his viewport. "I hate having to follow every guideline. We need to evolve as a species. We can't stay locked in the ancient past, following all the old rituals blindly!"
He slumped in his pilot's chair, and glared unfocusedly out of the view screen. To his surprise, an object floated past in his line of vision. He sat up quickly.
"Computer, identify object," he instructed.
"Unknown," the computer replied smoothly.
"Retrieve object with a tractor beam," he snapped quickly. His curiosity was piqued.
"Stand by," replied the computer.
There was a moment's wait, and a small thud as the strange object was deposited into the ship.
The warrior reached into the slot, and pulled the object out. It was a bundle of papers, and a plain white envelope.
First, he unrolled the papers. They were scrawled all over with a strange flowing, twisting, swirling script that he had never seen before. Its beauty and complexity took his breath away.
Next, he opened the envelope, already feeling the thrill of excitement shoot down his spine. What would he find next in this mysterious package from the depths of space? Inside, the envelope was full of a slightly orange powder. He stuck his finger in and brought it to his lips, tasting in. His eyebrows shot up as he recognized its properties.
A gleam appeared in his eye. He had the perfect idea.