The Doctor bounded out of the TARDIS, glad to be onto his next adventure. Not that he usually went looking for adventures, but they always seemed to find him, so he expected it and rather quite liked it, now that he'd gotten used to it. Besides, adventures meant distractions. He liked distractions. Especially now, when his mind tended to turn to his future, and especially now when he knew that future wasn't going to be particularly pleasant.
It was with understandable disappointment, then, that the Doctor found himself in a dark room—and a small one at that, judging by how quickly he'd barrelled into the door. He vowed to start checking the scanner more often and turned back to his ship to find out precisely where she'd dropped him. The doors swung shut in his face.
"Oi!" the Doctor exclaimed, pushing on the door. Locked, of course. He dug out his key and found the lock—easier now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, though the movement was practiced enough that he could find the lock by sense alone—and tried it, but it was to no avail. The TARDIS still didn't open. Grumbling, the Doctor tried snapping his fingers. It didn't work.
Why did the TARDIS never warn him when she tried to teach him a lesson?
Still. Could be worse. He hadn't been dumped in the sweltering heat or the freezing cold or in the middle of nowhere. He was, most certainly, somewhere. How could he not be, when he was inside? Mind you, that was suspicious in itself. It meant he wasn't supposed to sort out his mood on his own. Not that he was in a mood, which was why this was a bit surprising. The TARDIS hadn't left him somewhere and locked him out since his ninth regeneration. Well, not willingly. Well, not deliberately on purpose, at any rate.
Still. If he was somewhere, he might as well figure out where, exactly, that somewhere was. He couldn't help but feel that he'd been here before. Not that that narrowed it down. He guessed that he was in a closet, and the TARDIS had parked herself in a number of those over the years. By the smell, he could peg it as a broom closet. Actually, it was a very familiar smell. Not that he ended up in broom closets all the time, but it was just….
The Doctor, suspicious now, reached out and found the doorknob, testing it. It stuck, and needed a special twist of the wrist to get it open. Glowering, the Doctor turned back to his ship. "I just left here," the Doctor complained. "Why bring me back?"
Not five minutes ago, it was a week before Easter, 2010. He wondered when it was now. After Easter, he'd bet. The chances of him finding it two years in a row, so quickly, hardly a few trips apart—that wasn't just unlikely, it was downright improbable, nigh on impossible. Especially considering his track record. Though, perhaps not his track record with impossible—he seemed to find his fair share of impossible, and quite quickly. Generally, when he thought things impossible, the universe found a way to prove him wrong.
He didn't really mind. If he had to be wrong, he'd rather be wrong about that. It was always so much of a challenge trying to solve a conundrum he'd thought previously impossible, and he loved that.
Being locked outside of the TARDIS in a place he'd just left—not so much.
Nothing for it, though. He wouldn't be able to get on his way until he went and did whatever the TARDIS clearly expected him to do. He'd thought he'd wrapped things up, though. Quite well, actually. Better than other times, surely. He may not have given Agent Teresa Lisbon all the answers she'd wanted, but he'd given her the means to them, and that was more than he'd done for others.
The Doctor, resting his hand on the closet doorknob again, glanced back at the TARDIS. "You won't even consider letting me in to leave my coat, will you?" No such luck, of course. She was too smart for that.
The Doctor sighed and stuck his head out the door. Coast seemed to be clear at the moment. Trouble was, it was daylight, and clearly the building was busy, so sneaking about would be a bit more difficult. He wouldn't mind, ordinarily, but people were bound to recognize him now, and he wasn't sure how long it had been since they'd seen him. Or how they'd react to seeing him, given the circumstances in which he'd left them. Bit vague, those circumstances, even with his explanations. He'd never told them everything.
That didn't matter, really. They didn't need to know everything. And he wasn't certain; he'd never checked. Well, he hadn't really had time to check, either. But…he suspected he knew more about the trap in which he'd been caught than he'd ever admit to any of them. It had been a bit of a gamble when he'd called Jenny on the rules—he hadn't been entirely sure they'd existed. However similar the trap had been to others of which he'd heard tell, it was the only one he knew of that had ever been specific, targeted to catch a particular prey. He hadn't been sure how much had been changed because of that. Thankfully, it hadn't been as much as he thought it could have been.
Still. It told him things he hadn't known, gave him pieces to the puzzle that had been hidden. It built a clearer picture than he'd had before. No matter. What he'd admitted to Lisbon not ten minutes ago still held true—he was running from his past and his future at the moment, though clearly not very actively, or at least not very successfully, if he had wound up back here to confront something he'd thought had been dealt with effectively. Evidently that assumption was something else he'd had wrong, though he knew very well who had made that judgement. The TARDIS had made it before, after all, and this time probably wouldn't be the last.
The Doctor slipped into the hallway, closing the closet door behind him and shoving his hands in his pockets. It was busy today. People bustled about in one direction or the other, carrying papers with them more often than not. Others were at desks, hunched over folders or staring at computer screens. He got a few curious looks, but evidently seemed to look like he knew enough about where he was going to be let by. It wouldn't matter if someone stopped him anyway—his psychic paper would serve him well. He could count the number of times it had failed him on one hand…. Well, maybe one hand for each regeneration, if he had to count the times it said something that still managed to get him into trouble.
He knew where he had to go. If the TARDIS figured he'd better tie up a few loose ends before he left, then he had to go to where he had left them, whether he wanted to or not. It wasn't fair, though. She didn't question him on his judgement nearly as much as she used to. Well, that wasn't precisely right. She questioned him as much; she just didn't enforce it as much. She trusted him more. They trusted each other more.
Even so, she knew the prophecy as well as he did. Maybe she thought he ought to tie a few of those loose ends up before he got tangled in his past in his next regeneration. If he did regenerate, that is—but he should. Hopefully. Or maybe she agreed with Sarah and thought that he should say goodbye more often—close things off instead of leaving them mostly finished, in a less-than-perfect state that anyone else could clean up while he went off elsewhere. If that were the case, the TARDIS clearly figured that the goodbye he'd bid Teresa Lisbon didn't count.
He still didn't think that it was fair that she could make that call and force him to do something about it, but here he was.
The only one in the main office area was Grace Van Pelt, her gaze intent on the computer screen in front of her. She looked vaguely unhappy. The Doctor glanced down at the desk nearest to him, hoping to spot a bit of paper with the date on it. He'd be on much better footing if he knew the last time they'd seen him.
Fortune, however, was against him. Not that that really surprised him, but still. It wasn't that there was nothing to find; rather, there were three separate files on the desk, each of which had a different date and none of which told him anything about today's date. No matter. It wasn't terribly important. It just might've helped him to gauge the reactions towards him.
No sense in putting it off any longer.
The Doctor cleared his throat, and Van Pelt glanced up at him, noticing him for the first time. There was a trace of confusion before her face smoothed out into a polite smile. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes," the Doctor said, smiling back at her. "I'm looking for Agent Lisbon. Is she in? Or could you tell me when she'll be back?"
"She should be back shortly," Van Pelt replied. "I suppose you could wait for her in her office, Mr.—?"
"Smith," the Doctor supplied readily. "John Smith. And it's Doctor, actually." He saw a flicker of emotions on Van Pelt's face and hurried to move off.
He didn't get very far. He hadn't even made it five feet. "May I see your identification, Dr. Smith?" she called out.
"Yes, of course," the Doctor replied, turning back to her and pulling out his psychic paper. He handed it to her.
Van Pelt studied it with a puzzled expression on her face before closing the wallet and giving it back to him. "Thank you, Dr. Smith. I'm sorry, but may I ask why you wish to see Agent Lisbon? I'd thought I may have run into you before, but I don't recognize your credentials."
The Doctor took this to mean, quite plainly, that she did recognize his pseudonym and face but couldn't quite tell why. Well, the little run-in with the time trap clearly wasn't fresh in her mind, and it had been too long for his appearance to pull what she probably figured was a dream to the forefront of her mind. Perhaps Lady Luck was on his side after all. "Oh, it's possible," he agreed cheerfully. "I do get around. I've done plenty of travelling in my line of work. Then again, me, I've got one of those faces. And my name's never much of a help."
Van Pelt hesitated, and the Doctor had a horrible feeling that she was going to say she'd meant that he didn't recognize his credentials. At all. As in, the psychic paper had said something that she didn't recognize. It wouldn't've been the first time it had done it, despite its purpose. His tentative good luck, however, decided to hold, and Van Pelt inclined her head in agreement. Then, she repeated her first question.
"Just wanted to stop in for a brief chat," the Doctor told her. "Nothing official, really. I haven't seen Teresa in, oh, I'm not sure how long it's been now. Trouble is, I seem to have misplaced her number, so I thought I'd stop in and surprise her at the office. Not for very long, of course. She's much too busy for more than a short conversation. Only, I'm not sure when I'll ever get back here and thought it best if I didn't miss the opportunity."
Van Pelt still looked doubtful but seemed to decide he couldn't get into too much trouble in the next little while and waved him towards Lisbon's office. He didn't bother to correct her assumption. After all, he shouldn't get into too much trouble. He was far more likely to get into trouble after Lisbon showed up. He had the distinct feeling that she would be able to place him.
He wondered if she'd ever phoned Sarah Jane or tracked down Grace. He hadn't tracked down Grace yet. He really should. There were so many people he hadn't seen in so many years. And that was his fault, all of it. He should at least know where they were, how they were doing on their own, what they were making of their lives, and what adventures of their own they were having. He should find them before…before he caught up to his future.
Still. One more thing—or rather, many more—to add to his to-do list. It was getting lengthy, that list. So many places he had yet to see with these eyes….
Sarah would have told Lisbon about him if she'd ever phoned. Lisbon would have had her answers. There was no reason for him to be dragged back here, really. Even if she had wanted to speak to Grace and couldn't find her, Sarah Jane would've been able to trace her. That computer of hers, Mr. Smith—he was more than just an ordinary computer. If Grace needed to be found by extraordinary means, Sarah Jane would've been able to help Lisbon to do it. So that wasn't why the TARDIS had taken him back here, either.
But if Lisbon had her answers, and Van Pelt and Rigsby and Cho acted like the rest of the human population and ignored or explained away the things that they didn't understand, that left—
The Doctor groaned. Patrick Jane was a formidable opponent, yes, and one he'd quite happily face if he had to, but he'd really rather not. He was difficult to get away from. He'd managed it, once, though the Doctor wasn't entirely convinced that that hadn't been to his detriment—he had, after all, gone back and ripped open a wound in time. Unintentionally, yes, but he'd still done it. Jane had dropped their conversation, then. He'd let him go.
But that was before he'd learned everything.
And the Doctor had spent enough time with the man to know that he'd learned it all, or at least a good deal more than Lisbon. Jane had picked up on things. He'd been listening and filing things away even when he hadn't believed a word the Doctor was saying. If he'd made any sense of that last conversation the Doctor had had with Jenny, then there shouldn't be any doubt in his mind that he'd pieced the puzzle together correctly even if the answer wasn't a logical one. He had had enough clues, after all, to see the picture once the Doctor had shielded his mind from the effects of the bleeding wound. Jenny calling him a Time Lord would have just confirmed it.
He wondered how long he would have to wait to find out what wasn't finished here.
As it turned out, the Doctor wasn't waiting long. Lisbon and Jane returned to the office at the same time. The door to Lisbon's office was open, and the Doctor could hear Van Pelt telling Lisbon that she had a visitor. He also didn't need to turn around to know that Jane had spotted him. He was in Lisbon's office before she was.
"Back for your key?" Jane asked lightly, sitting down on Lisbon's desk, right next to where the Doctor was resting his feet.
"Oh, I got that a long time ago," the Doctor said, even though he wasn't at all sure if that was true. He moved to sit up in his chair. "But you knew that, I expect." If he was quick enough to place the Doctor and know exactly who he was, he wouldn't miss something like that. Lisbon had looked frazzled enough when he'd gone to get the key from her; her behaviour had to've changed just slightly after he'd retrieved it, and that would've been something someone as observant as Patrick Jane would've noticed.
The Doctor hadn't really been expecting an answer, but Lisbon came before Jane could give one. She closed the door behind her and walked slowly around to look at the Doctor. For a moment, she just stared at him. Then, "You're back."
"Yup," the Doctor agreed, popping the 'p'. "Did you miss me?"
"You don't…look any different," Lisbon said, ignoring his question.
"Did you expect me to?" the Doctor queried.
"I don't know," Lisbon said, shaking her head. "I just…how long has it been?"
The Doctor chuckled. "That's usually the question I'm asking," he said. "Mind answering it?"
"So Sarah Jane was right," Lisbon said, more to herself than to anyone else. From the look Jane gave her, the Doctor realized Lisbon must've kept her conversation—or conversations, as the case may be—with his former companion quiet. That probably meant Sarah had told Lisbon quite a bit about his life.
"Oh, Sarah's not often wrong," the Doctor pointed out, smiling. "Not when it matters, anyway."
"Why are you back?" Lisbon asked, looking like she didn't really want to hear the answer.
"Nothing important," Jane answered. "He probably just dropped in for a little chat."
Well, however long it had been, it certainly hadn't dulled Jane's skills at reading him. The Doctor sighed, thinking that Jane would probably be able to get a jammed door open a lot faster than Lisbon—if he'd even let it close in the first place. Escape may not be an option to end this conversation.
After all, he had no guarantee that the TARDIS wouldn't just drop him off in their relative future again, set coordinates or no.
"Did Sarah Jane have the answers you wanted?" the Doctor asked, looking at Lisbon. Might as well be sure.
"I don't think you'd tell me anything she didn't," Lisbon admitted, "judging by what you said last time."
Yes, he still didn't particularly want to talk about that. Or about anything else Sarah Jane didn't have all the answers to, like the War and its outcome. Sarah Jane knew what had happened—the end result: that they were all gone, that he was the last one left—but she didn't know how, not really, and he couldn't…. He just couldn't.
The Doctor swallowed and turned to Jane. "And I assume you pieced it all together?"
"Most of it, I expect," Jane answered. His tone was cheerful, but his eyes were still studying the Doctor intently. "It hasn't been very long for you, has it, since we were trapped?"
"Not nearly as long as it has been for you," the Doctor agreed. He opened his mouth to continue, but Jane cut him off before he could even start.
"It's the week before Christmas. It's been months. But you, you look like it didn't even happen a week ago, let alone the week before Easter."
"I don't change much," the Doctor answered softly.
Lisbon looked at him, then at Jane, and then back at him. "He's right," she admitted. "You look…. Even I can see that it's all still written on your face. You look just like you did when you left." She paused. "Well, except for the coat." Another pause. "But Sarah Jane's right, you know. You can read so much in your eyes. And…and they're still pained." She shifted on her feet for a moment. "Did you want to talk about it?"
Oh, no. No. No, no, no, no, and no. The Doctor plastered a grin on his face. "Nah," he said lightly, getting to his feet. "Nothing really to say. All I wanted to do was see how you were, what you were up to. And you've been handling this all brilliantly." Leaning forward, closer to Lisbon, he added in a whisper, "See? Told you things wouldn't be as bad as you thought." And before she could say anything, let alone realize what he was up to, he spun on his heels and was out the door.
The TARDIS had better let him in. She had no right to do this. She'd respected his decision not to take on a companion again. She knew how much it hurt to see the pain he caused them, even if he'd never meant for any of it to happen. It hadn't even been that long. He'd been travelling alone for longer periods of time than he had been for this last stretch. There was no reason that she should be tired of his conversations already. He did not need to talk to anyone else.
The Doctor rounded the corner and drew to an abrupt stop. He sighed. He should have known that that abnormal stretch of what had appeared to be good luck wouldn't last long.
Patrick Jane was leaning against the door of the broom closet, effectively blocking his exit.
The Doctor stared at him, trying to figure out how he'd managed to get there so fast. "How'd—?"
"Oh, I know all the shortcuts," Jane said, "and Lisbon had told me this is where you were last time, so I thought it stood to reason that you might think it would be a good place to come back to this time around."
"She'd told you after I came back to get my key," the Doctor surmised. He wasn't really surprised; it seemed to be highly difficult to keep a lot of secrets around Jane. Even after all the time she spent working with him, Lisbon couldn't be nearly a good enough actor to pull it off. Jane had undoubtedly managed to weasel at least part of the story out of her at some point in time. "So why ask me if you already knew the answer?"
Jane smirked. "I wanted to know what you'd say."
The Doctor blinked. "Oh. She didn't tell you everything, then. I suppose you'd like the answers you couldn't work out for yourself?"
"I don't need them," Jane replied, surprising the Doctor. "I did work it out. Everything important, anyway. I spent more time with you than Lisbon ever did, and I didn't forget things."
"It should've come back," the Doctor said, concerned now. "Whatever she lost that she'd had before she entered the trap, I mean. It all should've come back. I found it. I put it back, or at least within reach so she could get it." That must be the real reason the TARDIS had dropped him back here. He really hadn't had things finished. It—
But Jane was shaking his head. "No, she's fine." He must have noticed the Doctor's expression because he added, "I'm not going to squeeze answers out of you, Doctor. That's not why I'm here."
That may be true for Jane, but the Doctor wasn't entirely sure it wasn't the case for him. He rather hoped it wasn't, though. The TARDIS hadn't pulled a stunt like this after the War. He couldn't be in worse shape now than he had been then. He wouldn't ever find anyone who would understand, but he had to admit that Jane, given his own history, would have a sliver of an idea of the guilt that he felt.
"If you don't want answers, why stop me from going?" the Doctor asked.
"I still want answers," Jane answered. "I'm just not going to force them out of you. I expect you'll want to give them to me if you can. Come with me."
"Come on," Jane said, turning and starting back in the direction from which the Doctor had come.
"What?" the Doctor repeated. "What's all this about?"
Jane didn't answer. All he said was, "It just happened for you, didn't it? It can't have been more than a few days."
"What makes you say that?"
Jane stopped and turned back to him. "I know that look. You're still trying to work everything out. If it had been any longer, you either would have worked it out or put it aside until something else came up to explain something."
Well, he couldn't exactly deny that. "But if you know I don't know the answers, what do you…?"
The question died on the Doctor's lips. Jane had led him to another office—belonging to one Madeleine Hightower, according to the name on the door—and had hardly paused to knock before walking in, clearly expecting the Doctor to follow him. The woman at the desk, who had looked up at the intrusion, quickly reworked her exasperated expression into one of polite neutrality. "Mr. Jane, may I ask what the meaning of this is?"
"This is Doctor John Smith," Jane said, pushing the Doctor forward. "He's a friend of Francis Slocombe. He has a knack for working things out. I think he might be able to give us some insight into the McDonald case."
Hightower frowned. "Jane—"
"Asked me to look into this as a favour," the Doctor interrupted smoothly, pulling out his psychic paper from his pocket as he did so. He handed it over to Hightower, who scrutinized it as he continued, "Hope you don't mind, but I was in the area. I could go through all that red tape to get permission, but things will be faster if I just take a quick peek off the record."
Jane eyed the psychic paper with interest, but Hightower had returned it to the Doctor before he had time to get a good look at it. "What, exactly, did Jane tell you about the case, Dr. Smith?"
"Next to nothing," the Doctor admitted. Hightower still looked unconvinced, but a bit of wheedling had her handing over the file. It had taken a bit longer than the Doctor had anticipated, but he assumed that that was simply because she'd become used to Jane rather than the fact that he was losing his touch.
The Doctor knew the moment he saw the file that it was the reason the TARDIS had brought him back here. He'd suspected it the moment Jane had said McDonald, of course, but he hadn't been certain. Jane didn't have any memory of the girl, after all. There was nothing for the name to snag on in his consciousness.
Then again, there must have been something. He'd practically handed the Doctor another missing piece to the puzzle; he had to have known what he was doing when he did it.
Julia Aileen McDonald, age nineteen. Disappeared without a trace from her hometown of Bluewater, CA, ten years ago, and found dead in Hummingbird Park in Sacramento three days ago. No records during all that time. The only personal effect found at the scene was a partially-filled notebook.
The Doctor stared at the crime scene photos for a moment, then at the school picture of the smiling nine year old that had been plastered on posters in 2000. She'd been reported missing on New Year's Day and hadn't turned up, despite extensive searches and offers of a substantial reward for information. She'd been found three days ago. Three days. Three days ago for him, he'd been recovering from his time spent in the trap. Three days ago for her, she'd been alive.
Three days ago—nine months ago—her consciousness, her memory, had been released from the trap. It would've been fragmented, damaged. It had been caught and replayed on a loop, after all. He hadn't thought it possible that she, being the mould, the imprint, the template for the little girl he had met back in Bluewater, could even be alive.
And now she wasn't.
She'd been happy when she'd just been a little girl. Then, the trap had taken that away from her. They'd separated her very self, harnessing her spirit and releasing the useless shell out into the rest of the world. Parents Carol and Mark, who now resided in Michigan, finally knew what had become of their daughter. They finally had closure, or would once the CBI solved the case of the murder. It was just the horrible, gut-wrenching sort of closure, the type that extinguished that last glimmer of hope.
"Dr. Smith?" Hightower prompted after a few moments. "Do you think you can help us?"
"Stabbed, left to bleed out," the Doctor murmured, ignoring the question. "Any chance I can see that notebook of hers?"
"I'll see that you get it," Hightower agreed. "It doesn't contain any concrete information, but fresh eyes might spot something we missed."
"Not a diary, then?" the Doctor asked.
Hightower gave a slight shake of her head. "Story, if it's any more than scribblings. Jane didn't make much of it."
"I didn't have all the pieces," Jane said in response to the Doctor's surprised look. "Even I need a bit more to go on than a notebook of nearly illegible writing and a bit of quartz."
"Bit of quartz?" the Doctor repeated dumbly.
"You might as well show him, Jane. But I want a report on my desk in the morning if anything comes of this, do you hear me?"
"I'll show you," Jane told the Doctor, neglecting to acknowledge Hightower. The Doctor followed the police consultant out of the office, getting the distinct feeling that Jane didn't get away with this sort of behaviour as often as he might like, even if it was a good deal more often than anyone else ever did.
"You don't remember Julia, do you?" the Doctor asked after a time.
Jane shook his head. "No. But I had a feeling she might be connected to the trap somehow."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Really? Why?"
In response, Jane pulled a notebook out of his suit pocket. It was still in the evidence bag, but the pages had been flipped around the ring so that the three words on one page were quite clear. Stiff and jerky as the letters were, sprawled across the page as if Julia had tried writing with her non-dominant hand, there was no mistaking what they said.
"'I'm still bleeding,'" the Doctor read softly.
"She had a rock clenched in her other hand," Jane informed him. "I don't have it with me, but I trust you'll take my word for it when I tell you it looked familiar?"
"But I gave that to you," the Doctor said, knowing precisely what Jane was talking about.
Jane shrugged. "I didn't have it when I came back."
The Doctor snorted. "Worked its way out of your pocket the same way I lost my key, I'll bet. It must've been some connection between the trap and the rest of reality. I'd have to take another look at it to know for sure, now that I'll be able to get some clear readings. Should've known Jenny would lie about that." Seeing Jane's look, the Doctor added, "Oh, yes. She was quite real. She just wasn't herself. Might still not be, though, given what had happened with Julia." He paused. "If she still isn't herself, she might be the one you're looking for. There are plenty of things out there that are adept at clever manipulation and mind control." A thought struck him, and he asked, "What's Lisbon think about this?"
"Oh, the usual," Jane replied. "But she'll come around. She won't have a choice if you agree with me."
"She doesn't think there's a connection between this?"
"It's been nine months," Jane said. "She thinks it's just a coincidence."
"But you don't."
"There's no such thing as coincidence," Jane replied, repeating words the Doctor had heard from him only a few days ago.
"Doesn't seem to be," the Doctor agreed absently, having removed Julia's notebook from the bag and skimmed it. It started out intelligible enough, like a story—her own story, the Doctor suspected—just as Hightower had pointed out, but quickly degraded into random sentences, words and phrases that made no sense out of context. Disordered though it was, however, the Doctor recognized it. He knew their context. Well, most of it. He could guess at the rest.
The last page of writing, partway through the book, held a piece of the conversation he'd had with Julia just before she'd been written out of the trap. Begin the fragmentation process. Julia had never managed to say those words in their entirety to him, but he'd known what she'd meant. She'd meant it as a warning. Here, it looked more like an order, a command to be carried out.
And, in a way, it had, really. Julia's life had been fragmented, smashed to pieces and scattered far more effectively than his timeline and therefore his own life had been. He'd managed to battle the infection off, though. A bit of rest and a bit of help, and he'd been as good as new. She'd been effectively shattered.
"Who was she?" Jane asked. "Julia McDonald?"
"When I met her? Just a girl. Well, a memory of a girl. Herself, clearly, though she didn't know that. She helped me." A small pause, then, "I couldn't help her." The Doctor stopped again, frowning. "But, I can help her now, and I intend to. She may have been written out of the trap, but she clearly wasn't kept in stasis to keep her memory alive, not if she's aged. And, the people back in her hometown would recognize her name if they heard it. But me, did I ask? No, of course not. I'm too thick to think of something like that. I was thinking that the imprint didn't matter, but it does, of course it does. Whoever had a hold of her didn't want to let her go, but when she was written out of the trap, her true self escaped. They caught up to her, clearly, given her state, but they'd needed her alive, like the Zygons need to keep the people they capture alive in order to renew their form, and—" The Doctor broke off. "No," he finally continued. "Not their style. But it stands to reason that if they needed to keep Julia alive, they needed to keep Jenny Blake alive. If you find her, you'll get some answers."
Jane raised his eyebrows. "Will they be the right ones?"
"Not entirely," the Doctor replied. "It'll fit, all of it, if you find Jenny. But…."
"But?" Jane prompted.
"But it won't be her fault, I think," the Doctor continued slowly. "Whoever is controlling her…. They had her before they had Julia. They've had her for nearly twenty years, if Lloyd Waterer's got a good memory, and I've no reason to believe he doesn't. If you find her, and she's in her right mind…. There won't be much left."
"You think there's a chance we will find her?"
"Oh yes," the Doctor said. "Quite a good one, actually. Trap's gone, after all, and the wound's sealed. This is just cleaning up." The Doctor's voice was bitter. "Probably built into the program. Took a while for the release mechanism to kick in, but that may be my fault. I might've tweaked something I shouldn't have when I was patching the wound up. I tried to be careful, but…even I make mistakes sometimes."
"But we'll be able to question her?"
"If she's still alive, there's nothing stopping you from trying, but I wouldn't have my heart set on answers if I were you." The Doctor glanced down at the notebook again. "I wouldn't count on it. Whatever's driving her will burn itself out and her in the process. The best shot you'll have at answers will be something else like this." He slipped the notebook into the bag again and handed it back to Jane. "Even if she is released and she survives, she's going to remember everything. And she'll remember it well, not like you lot. Every single excruciating little detail will be burned into her memory. Even if her mind could make sense of it, she may not want to."
"Suicide," Jane surmised.
The Doctor nodded unhappily. "It's a distinct possibility. It all depends on what she does when she stands on the brink and looks over the edge." So much destruction lay behind her, and he wasn't sure what she would do when she got her first clear glimpse of it. Humans were so unpredictable that way.
"What did you do?"
The Doctor didn't answer for a long time. "I ran," he finally said. "I'm still running, just like you're still looking for revenge."
Jane didn't deny it. Instead, he changed the subject. "Did you want to see that rock?"
The Doctor was about to shake his head—he could disable it from here, after all, if it was still active—but changed his mind. "Might as well. Just to be thorough." He had a hunch, and he'd been travelling long enough to know to trust them when he got them.
Not ten minutes later, the Doctor was sitting opposite Jane at the man's seldom-used desk, scrutinizing the crystal. Van Pelt had started to ask questions, but Jane gave her the same excuses he'd given Hightower. As these didn't match the Doctor's self-proclaimed reasons for being there, Van Pelt had tried to protest, but she didn't get very far before Jane had taken control of the conversation, turning her words back on her and getting her to admit that any help would be welcome.
A few quick scans with the sonic screwdriver told the Doctor that the bit of quartz was indeed just a bit of quartz, though the residual energy clinging to it told him that it had also once been used as a sort of transistor to create a bridge between the trap and reality. It had been, he figured, the device used to project Julia's memories of her nine year old self into the trap, where they had been moulded and refit to match the current circumstances. When the feed had been abruptly cut off, the energy had been directed back to its source, shorting out the connection that had held Julia captive.
It didn't explain how she'd ended up in Hummingbird Park, but the Doctor was used to diversions like that.
He licked the marble-sized rock, trying to see if he could detect anything in the composition that would tell him where it had come from. Nearby, he was sure. Well, nearby meaning within the state of California. If Julia had made it out of wherever she'd been held on her own, he doubted that she had come from out-of-state. And if she'd been transported or teleported or whatnot, he didn't think it would be for a long distance, especially if it was a result of being jolted out of the immediate control of the trap. The last of the energy that had powered the trap was dying down now. He'd noticed that some of it had remained when he'd been mending things, cleaning up the infected wound and sealing the tear, but he'd thought that it would just dissipate on its own.
This wasn't the first time he'd been wrong when it came to that accursed trap in which he'd found himself caught.
Then again, he wasn't entirely wrong. The energy was dissipating. It was just taking a lot longer than he'd expected.
Jane was still watching him, tactfully not commenting on his taste testing. "I think," the Doctor said, putting the rock back into the evidence bag, "that you might want to check for Jenny Blake at Crystal Ridge." Jane raised his eyebrows, and the Doctor added, "This quartz came from there, I'm sure of it. It had a bit of a tang, a sort of, ah, tangy sort of tang that's a bit different from the usual sort of tang you might taste. Well, providing there's a tang to be tasted in the first place."
Lisbon interrupted them before Jane had a chance to comment. "You're still here?" she asked, genuinely surprised. "I thought you would've been long gone."
"I was cut off at the pass," the Doctor informed her, grinning. "And, that's just as well, it seems, because I hadn't done what I'm here to do."
Lisbon gave him a look he'd received many times now. "So much for just stopping in for a bit of a chat."
"Yeah, about that. I might have…stretched the truth," the Doctor conceded. "Just a little bit. Thing is, I thought things were finished. But they weren't. There were still a few loose ends that need to be tied up."
"What are you talking about?"
"The trap," the Doctor replied, rather grateful that Van Pelt had answered the phone and was therefore too preoccupied to be tempted to listen in. The last thing he needed was to be explaining everything again. He'd already explained himself twice in the last three days, and he didn't fancy repeating himself again. "That girl you found, Julia McDonald? She was there, even if you don't remember her. And, you see, she's not the only one from there who was real. Well, real and caught. Plenty of others who were real and not caught, like the good Officer Waterer. And Jim and Ellie. She makes a very good cherry pie, Ellie. And— Oh, yes, right, sorry. I mean, yes, they were caught, but Julia had told me that everyone who was real like that was supposed to get out. Admittedly, I thought she'd meant something else at the time, given her phrasing, but really, that was just another piece to the puzzle. Whoever set this up was very careful to cover their tracks. It'd be too suspicious if everyone just up and disappeared, now wouldn't it? Mind you, that's probably because—" The Doctor broke off. "Well, let's just say they'd have a better chance of hiding in the woodwork again than if they'd done things differently."
That wasn't, strictly speaking, a lie. The trap had been set before the end of the War, back when there were more people to deal with the consequences and hand out the appropriate repercussions. The Shadow Proclamation was still mainly responsible, yes, since the Time Lords would never interfere for something so insignificant as the disappearance of one tiny population of humans on Sol 3, regardless of their potential. Look at Atlantis. But whoever had set the trap must've known that if he had managed to get out, he wouldn't rest until he'd tracked them down. It wasn't as if he didn't intend to try now anyway. They had, after all, still interfered, still murdered innocent people, and he couldn't forgive them for that. They'd known precisely what they were doing when they did it. The setup was too complex for the converse to be true.
Besides, he'd asked Jenny to stop. She hadn't. They'd had their warning.
"Still," the Doctor said, continuing on with his explanation, "Jenny Blake—you remember Jenny, don't you?—is just as real as the rest of them. I don't know who's controlling her, or manipulating her, or using her, however you want to say it, and I don't even know if they're still around or if this is just the last kick at the can, a self-destruct mechanism in the programming, or even if it's just a fault. Whatever it is, it's at its end now. It wouldn't be trimming off those loose ends if it weren't. It's using Jenny to do it, I expect, though I'm not sure what'll happen when she's outlived her usefulness. It's not her fault, though I wouldn't doubt that she'd think it was if she's able to."
"So we just need to find her?" Lisbon asked, looking doubtful.
"Seems like," the Doctor confirmed. "Thing is, she's been infected. Like Julia was. Like I was. Her past was torn apart. It may not have been ripped away completely, like it was for Julia, but it certainly won't be in good condition. It's been mixed up and rewritten, pieces taken from here and there and put together to form something else, something false. I don't know if anything replaced it. But because of the infection, she won't last long on her own. Julia didn't. She was targeted, yes, by Jenny, or rather whoever was behind Jenny, but that doesn't mean that Jenny won't be targeted, too. She'll be next, whether by her own hand or by some other twist of fate."
"Unless we find her first," Lisbon realized.
"Even if you do," the Doctor said quietly, "that's no guarantee of anything. Just because she's alive physically doesn't mean her spirit's still intact."
The Doctor saw a trace of emotion cross Jane's face, but it was gone before he could pin it down. "And you think she's at Crystal Ridge?"
"Crystal Ridge?" Lisbon repeated.
"It's where the quartz came from," the Doctor said, nodding at the rock, "so it's likely."
"And you think Jenny will have the murder weapon?" Jane asked.
"She might," the Doctor said. "She will if the plan is to have her use it on herself."
Lisbon looked ill. "Plan?"
"Probable self-destruct mechanism, as I said," the Doctor reminded her. "And, if it is, it means that I shouldn't get involved. Not directly. Just in case. I didn't expect things to take this long to sort themselves out. If I turn up, it might trigger something, and I don't want that. If Jenny is alive when you find her, I want her to stay that way." The Doctor didn't need to add anything else. He knew Jane knew what he was thinking, and it was obvious from Lisbon's expression that Sarah Jane had included that little bit of information about him. Some things didn't change. Life was precious, and he'd seen too much of it wasted to risk one more.
"But we don't have any reason to extend our investigation to Crystal Ridge," Lisbon said. "Our hands are tied."
"I'll take care of it," the Doctor assured her. "I'm good at making things happen."
"Are you sure you—?"
Lisbon was interrupted by Van Pelt. "Boss, I think we've got a potential lead on the McDonald case," she called out, hanging up the phone. "A Scottish geologist, Dr. James McCrimmon, was out in Crystal Ridge and found what might be our murder weapon. It's a long shot, but he claims he saw the story of the murder on the news a few nights ago and seems convinced the culprit dumped the knife out there, where he came across it. Something about the fact that the victim had a piece of quartz in her hand being the clue to it all." Van Pelt frowned. "I don't remember that we released that to the press."
Lisbon stared at her for a moment, too shocked to comment. The Doctor grinned and winked, but it was Jane who spoke first, saying, "Some details were leaked by the people who found her."
Jane's explanation, regardless of its truth, gave Lisbon enough time to gather wits. "Is he staying put to be questioned? This…Dr. McCrimmon?" She glanced at the Doctor, then back to Van Pelt, adding, "He didn't touch anything, did he?"
The Doctor suppressed his indignant response, though he couldn't be sure Van Pelt had entirely missed his affronted look, judging by the way she had looked at him. "Not to my knowledge, no, but he's agreed to stay there until someone comes along. He gave GPS coordinates; I passed them along to the nearest PD. They should have things organized by the time we get there."
While Lisbon busied herself with getting the rest of the details, Jane leaned forward to whisper to the Doctor. "I thought you said you couldn't get directly involved."
"Well," the Doctor said, considering, "I'm not sure that's directly involved. I'll be sure to keep out of Jenny's way. She won't notice me. I don't even really need to stick around. You'll be able to sort things out without asking Dr. McCrimmon questions, won't you?" He grinned.
Before Jane could reply, however, Lisbon abruptly rejoined their conversation. "I'll tell Hightower you figured we should follow McCrimmon's lead because of the quartz," she said, clearly assuming correctly that her boss had been made aware of the Doctor's presence. He figured Julia's file, which was still in front of him, probably gave that away. "Just make sure we find something, all right?"
"I'll do my best," the Doctor replied, getting to his feet.
"Did you find the actual murder weapon?" Lisbon asked.
The Doctor shrugged. "Haven't yet, though I expect I found something if I went and mentioned that I did."
"So you're going now?" Lisbon asked.
The Doctor glanced at Jane. "Don't see anything stopping me this time," he said, "and I do have business to attend to, knives to find, calls to make. That sort of thing."
"Are you going to come back?" Lisbon asked. "To, I don't know, check up on things and make sure you didn't miss anything else?"
The Doctor shrugged again. "I can't say I really know. I don't always know where I'm going." He smiled and winked at her then, adding, "As I'm sure Sarah would tell you. She never did think much of my piloting skills."
Lisbon frowned. "All right. But just…be careful, okay?"
The Doctor frowned. "Why?"
"Because you're still travelling alone," she answered.
The Doctor knew better than to ask, so he merely nodded and let it pass. "All right, then. I'm off. Do give my apologies to whomever turns up to question me, but you know how it is. Places to go, people to see, things to do." He grinned at them again and waved, starting off towards the TARDIS. She'd let him in now, he was certain. He'd done what he'd needed to do. Besides which, he'd also gotten himself another task. He had to deal with that, too.
He hoped things would work out for Jenny. He didn't know; he hadn't looked. He just knew her story didn't have to end the same way Julia's had.
Jane's words followed him as he rounded the corner. "You can't run forever," the police consultant called. "You might end up right back where you started."
"No chance of that," the Doctor whispered as he reached the broom closet which concealed the TARDIS. He let himself back into his ship. "Gallifrey's gone." It wasn't ever coming back.
And frankly, given how he had last seen it, that was rather a good thing. The last days of the War had been particularly dark, and he wasn't in the habit of inviting nightmares. It was much better to think of his people as they had been before.
Still. Onward. He fully intended to keep running, after all. He didn't want to be caught in the dark. When he finally had to face whatever was coming, he wanted it to be on his own terms. He wasn't quite ready yet.
He was still scared.
He probably still would be even when he did face it, whatever was coming out of the dark, but at least then…. He'd deal with that when it came to it. It was coming, and so long as it was still coming, it wasn't here, and he didn't need to worry about it until it was here. After all, he couldn't very well stop something from coming when he didn't even know what it was.
The Doctor sighed, tossed his coat over one of the coral struts, and walked up to the console. The TARDIS hummed her greeting, and he smiled, but it was a weak smile. He didn't need to put on a brave face for his ship when she knew precisely what was going on inside his head. But…it was good that she was there. It meant that he wasn't alone. Not entirely. He'd always have her, right there in his mind. Right up until the end.
"Come on, old girl," the Doctor said, patting his ship fondly. "Let's finish this up, shall we? And then we can be off again."
He set the coordinates and threw the final lever, drawing comfort from the sounds of his beloved ship. They'd be together, the two of them, whatever happened. Just as they always had been, ever since the day he'd found her.
Some things didn't change.
A/N: Amazing how you can tie up a whole bunch of loose ends without actually answering the question a lot of people want to know the answer to... Anyway, I'd like to thank Vorel laraek, cricket, and Amazing Bluie for reviewing the first part, and for anyone who's read the second part and either isn't familiar with The Mentalist or, like me, doesn't recall names of characters who show up only once, Francis Slocombe is the Scotland Yard detective in The Red Box.