Thanks to everyone who has reviewed and encouraged me. It's been fun, but we're coming to the final lines. Enjoy!
She was dreaming it again. That whispering haunted her sleeping hours, telling a disappointed child he had come back for her to show her a wonderland of galactic adventures. The Raggedy Doctor, her Raggedy Doctor, had returned in his magic ship to rescue a little girl from her heartbroken, dissatisfied life.
A rushing, raw abrading sound she knew so well mingled amidst these childhood visions. She saw a little girl, seated upon a suitcase, nearly nodding off while she waited for her imaginary friend to visit again. These confused remembrances blurred as the cyclical grinding intensified, followed by a loud bang as something heavy settled into place.
Amy Pond's eyelids shot open, a thrill fluttering her stomach, making it clench at her own uncertainty. Had the sound been real or only wistful memory? She scrambled out of bed, sending the covers flying in every direction, scampering to the window of her room to get a look at the open air.
Her breath caught, throat tightening. Sitting in the middle of her darkened backyard, looking for all the world as if it had always been there, she saw the most incongruous of objects. It was a blue police box, light pouring from its windows like a miniature sun. She clutched the windowsill for support, her eyes going wide, heart thundering.
Steadying herself, Amy ran for her door, out into the hall and downstairs, determined not to let The Doctor escape her so easily for a third time.
It might have been his imagination, but to The Doctor's critical eye, his TARDIS seemed to brighten when Rose stepped aboard. He liked the idea, actually. The ship seldom felt more like home than those days when this corky, clever, quirky young woman travelled by his side. Neither of them were what they had been at their prior meeting, and this all might yet end in tragedy, but a second chance for a fresh start made him feel younger than he had in years.
The TARDIS' engines powered down. Locking the controls, he left the console and nearly walked into Rose. Skidding to a halt on the balls of his feet, he caught a certain something in her eyes that stopped him.
The Doctor searched her face but could not make out her intent. "What is it, Ms Tyler?"
Rose smiled at the idiosyncratic turn of phrase. "Oh. Nothing," she replied as he settled back on his heels. "I'm just... settling. Everything is still so new."
Nodding, The Doctor agreed. Then he asked, "Are you going to come out with me?"
Rose bit her lower lip, finally shaking her head. "Nah. I think she'll be happier to see you alone." She smiled again, straightening his bowtie. "You sure you don't want to change this?"
He fingered his collar. "What, this? Bowties are cool."
Rose cocked her head to one side and squinted at him. "Oh, no they're not."
Shrugging, The Doctor yielded. "Okay. I bow to your superior fashion sense... but I'm still going to wear it." He leaned in and confided. "And it's a lot harder for someone to drag you around by one of these."
She laughed, patting him on the shoulder. "I'll be here when you get back. You just go an' be her magic Doctor for once."
That he could handle. The Doctor made for the doors, reached for them and pulled the double partitions toward him. Stepping out of the TARDIS he came face to face with a little Scottish girl clad in a dressing gown, knit hat, jacket, and red Wellington boots, clutching a child's suitcase eagerly in one hand. Nearly gasping, he blinked - and a fully-grown Amy Pond stood there wild-eyed in her striped nightie, housecoat, and slippers.
And though the child was gone, The Doctor knew he would never see her any other way.
Mingled star shine and moon wash diffused in the chilly atmosphere. Amy swallowed hard, her face reflecting the tension knotting her whole body as she watched the tweed-jacketed interloper with baited breath. He closed the TARDIS' doors behind him, grinning the broadest, most open-mouthed grin she ever imagined, spreading his arms wide like he expected her to rush into them. Contrary to any such expectation, the redhead stood her ground.
"It's you!" This immediately struck Amy as an exceptionally stupid thing to tell The Doctor, but he politely did not seem to notice. "You came back!"
"Of course I came back," he said frowning, resting his warm hands on her shivering arms. "I always come back. What kind of ungrateful tramp do you think I am? Wait. Don't answer. Sorry for running off like that," he apologized, his face overflowing with excitement. "I couldn't resist though. The TARDIS. She's brand new all over again." He removed a paper bag from his inner jacket pocket, holding it out for her inspection. "Jelly Baby?"
Amy recoiled. "No. Yuck. Those things are completely rubbish," she teased.
The Doctor deflated, tucking the packet away. A hooting owl flew across the night sky. Overhead, a few bats beat their wings as they chased mosquitoes.
"And you kept the clothes?" she pressed.
"Something wrong with that?" The Doctor kicked at the dust under his feet, looking vaguely cross and guilty. "I just saved the world for about the millionth time. Yeah, I kept the clothes."
Amy bobbed her head. "Including the bowtie."
He held up a hand to stay her. "Yeah. Had that conversation already. Moving on."
The Doctor patted his phone box. "The TARDIS. Had a quick trip to two thousand five to run her in. She's ready for the big stuff now. So what do you say?"
Amy bit the tip of her tongue, shaking her head. "To what?"
"The big stuff," piped The Doctor. "I promised some of it when you were yea high. Still interested?"
Amy thought her heart had already hit terminal velocity, but this question proved her wrong. Another shot of adrenaline made her think she might faint if she could find no release valve for this emotional pressure.
"What does that mean?"
"It means..." he shrugged. "I'm asking you to come with me."
Amy planted her hands on her hips. "Come where?"
The Doctor laughed. "I'd say the sky's the limit, but it's not. We can go wherever you like."
The owl reasserted its presence. Amy looked over the police box in half-awakened apprehension. Everything he promised her when she was a little girl could still be hers, yet part of her hesitated to claim it. Another part simply wanted to scream because The Doctor once again failed to grasp a small but significant fact.
"All that stuff at the hospital," she began, overly calm. "Prisoner Zero, the Atraxi."
His gaze intensified. "Don't worry. There's loads more where that came from."
"Yeah, but those things, those amazing things..."
The Doctor silently grinned.
Amy took a menacing step forward. "... that was two years ago!"
The Doctor jumped. "Uh-oh! Oops."
He scratched under his chin, looking aloof. "I guess the engines still need some fine tuning. So that..."
"Fourteen years," Amy confirmed.
"Fourteen years since fish custard." She nodded and he went on. "Amelia Pond, the girl who waited, has waited long enough."
She smiled, just a bit, reading over the sign above the box's door. "Police Public Call Box," she mouthed. Then facing The Doctor, she frowned. "When I was a kid, you said there was a swimming pool and a library, and the swimming pool was in the library?"
"Yeah. The Swimming Library. Not sure where it trotted off to, but hopefully they'll be separate entities again when they turn up. No good swimming in Moby Dick when you can meet its author, right? So. Coming?"
Amy swallowed a mouthful of stinging acid. "No."
"You wanted to come fourteen years ago," urged The Doctor.
"I grew up," she snapped.
He grimaced. "No, see, you never want to do that." He gave her a shrewd, knowing look. "But give me some time and I'll fix it."
Amy shook her head. "Doctor. I'm twenty-one years old. I have... commitments."
The Doctor's cheeks seemed to fall in, a pained expression replacing the careless mirth. He reached toward her, stopping half way there to see if she would resist. When she did not, his hand spanned the gap to her face and he tucked a stray tress of ginger behind her ear. The world around her fell utterly silent.
"Amy?" he said tenderly.
"Yeah?" she breathed, torn by tears of conflicting emotion.
He worked moisture into his mouth and whispered. "Have you ever wondered why your life doesn't make any sense?"
Amy felt her eyes glaze for just a moment. She exhaled a sharp, cold breath, losing herself in the jumble of thoughts that deluged her. How did this man know about the myriad of loose threads out of which her life wove its disfigured patchwork? Could The Doctor, after meeting her only twice, have discerned a pattern Amy herself scarcely understood?
"What do you know about my life?" she questioned, perhaps a bit sharper than she intended.
He brightened a touch. "We can find out together. What do you say?"
Amy sighed. "I say... give me a tour of your box while I make up my mind."
The Doctor inclined his head, lifted a hand into the air, and snapped his fingers. In response, the TARDIS' doors creaked open of their own accord. Amy turned her gaze to the flood of light radiating from it, utterly dazzled. Neither asking, nor waiting to be asked, Amy stepped over the threshold and into a secret garden of unbelievable reality.
Her eyes adjusted to the splendour of the huge interior. It was the warmest, most mysterious-looking place any could dream of. Angular walls encompassed the massive chamber, a masterpiece of gold and silver, bronze and glass. Light poured from a myriad of circular wells on the walls and ceiling, appearing like leafless roses embedded in a carpet of sunset.
In the centre of the room, she spied a massive column of transparent material, surrounded by consoles and other control banks in a hexagonal ring. Inside the pillar, a second construct of spherical crystal flowed over itself in cascading tiers, a fountain of water, frozen in perpetual glass.
All the floor surrounding it was transparent likewise, revealing a second floor beneath. Covered conduits and metalwork, it looked like the root system of a sprawling tree, or a river of snakes interspersed with filigree.
There were a number of brown leather chairs surrounding the console itself. Suspended halfway between the floor and ceiling hung a movable display readout of a decidedly retro design. The controls were an eclectic mix of technology and toys. Keyboards and dials littered the majority of the console, but on one panel she spotted a little rotating doohickey that could have been anything at all. There were cables hanging lazily from the ceiling, disappearing skyward in a hazy tangle. For whatever reason, the TARDIS even came equipped with an occasional rubber mallet dangling on knotted twine.
Had she, like Rose, seen the TARDIS in its former condition, she might have come to the same conclusion. When the vessel rebuilt itself, all the bits and pieces or machinery The Doctor had cobbled together over the years had been assimilated in one stroke, and this was the result.
In all, The Doctor's ship was one of the strangest and loveliest places in the universe. Wendy may have grown up, much to Peter Pan's dismay, but his Neverland continued to amaze. Amy crept up a flight of metal stairs to get a better look, but her host sped past her, leaning against the console with his arms crossed, waiting for her verdict.
"Hi!" called a familiar voice. Amy waved to Rose, who sat on a railing by one of the many stairwells leading away from the central chamber.
"So. Any comments?" asked The Doctor. His brow shot upward. "Any passing remarks? I've heard them all."
"Oh, you brought the teenybopper with you, I see," she said flatly.
"And you've proven me wrong yet again. That one has the benefit of never having been tried." The Doctor gestured around him. "The TARDIS. What do you have to say about that?"
Amy shook her head. "I'm in my nightie," she managed lamely.
Rose laughed, and The Doctor screwed up his face. "You're not quite getting the hang of this, are you?"
Amy crossed her arms in front of her defensively. "Not quite how I expected to spend my evening. Is that all right?"
He winked. "Don't worry. There are plenty of clothes in the wardrobe, and, if you're lucky, a swimming pool."
The Doctor strode away, stroking a console as he passed. Amy watched her childhood friend adjust a few controls before peering into the monitor screen as though he might be the only person in the room. He glanced at her over his shoulder.
"So. Everything that ever happened or ever will, the whole of space itself. Where would you want to start?"
"You are so sure that I'm coming along."
He shrugged. "I'm very clever," The Doctor replied. "Plus, I think you like a good mystery as much as I do. You're the Scottish girl living alone in an English village. I know what it feels like to be out of place." He pointed at her and grinned. "And you've still got that accent. You held on to it after all these years. Of course you're coming with us."
Right... us, Amy reminded herself.
The Doctor had moved to the other side of the console, and Amy peered at him through the transparent column. "Can I be back by tomorrow morning?" she offered.
"Did I forget to tell you? This is a time machine. I can get you back for five minutes ago so we could watch ourselves having this conversation." He poked his head around to view her direct. "What's so special about tomorrow?"
"Oh, nothing. Appointments to keep and what not. Nothing special."
"Back in time for 'nothing special'. Deal?"
Amy smiled. "Deal."
She heard him cry out in joy just as the console ejected a green-tipped, silver and gold cylinder. "Oh! A new one!" The Doctor snatched it, depressing a trigger on its body. The new sonic screwdriver lit up a brilliant green, whirring softly as he played with it. His childlike wonder amused Amy, but everything was too new for jest. Satisfied, he patted the TARDIS and whispered. "Thanks, dear."
Rose burst into laughter again. "Do ya need me and Amy to give you two some privacy?"
He rounded on the blonde with a mock-stern expression. "No. Thank you very much. I've been knocking around on my own for a while. My choice. But I've started talking to myself. Always a one-sided conversation, that." He held his hands out to both the girls. "Besides. The more the merrier say I, and I thought it would be more comfortable for you two to be together; because, if you got tired of me, you might talk to one another, and laugh at my odd ways behind my back. Then, before you know it, you'll be good friends."
Amy and Rose looked at each other with the determined air of two girls who were neither "good friends", nor likely to moderate their opinions any time soon.
While observing them, The Doctor caught a flash of something out of the corner of his eye. He'd switched the monitor to scanner mode, and it was currently displaying a six dimensional spectrum analysis of the surrounding region. Only interspersed in its curving lines he spotted the jagged, curving leer of the smiling crack from Amy's childhood wall.
The Doctor reached out and flicked the screen with a forefinger to no avail. Then, he dealt with it the only way he could; he shut the display down, but then the reflection of his own young, worry-lined face confronted him. He would clearly have more to do concerning those strange phenomenon.
Sweeping the concern from his mind, he approached the girls excitedly, rubbing his palms together. "First on the agenda. Since neither of you will choose, let's head for Zerathustria." When this elicited nothing but blank stares, he elucidated. "The twelfth planet of your solar system. It's so far from the sun that its inhabitants had to construct multifaceted latices called 'sun stones' just so life could evolve. They're absolutely beautiful."
"Question," interrupted Rose. "How could they make anything if the planet couldn't spawn life?"
The Doctor grimaced. "Yeah. Long story. It's one of those harmless paradoxes I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say, it was an accident involving time travel, one of my former companions, and lost book of matches." He paused. "My fault. I slept in that day. Just never let it get out that there's an entire world out there who call Tegan Jovanka their deity."
Rose hopped down from the railing to join the others. "What about Rory?" she questioned. "Should we get him?"
Amy shrugged. "Nah. He's not really into the whole travelling thing."
Rose frowned. "You two are still together, aren't you?"
She saw Amy bite her lip, hesitating before she replied. "Oh, yeah. Of course we are. But our relationship isn't what it used to be."
This struck Rose as an evasion, but she let it pass, judging Amy could keep whatever secrets she chose. After all, she didn't exactly relish telling the redhead about being a meta-whatever duplicate.
To Rose, Amy had gone from a seven-year-old, heard distantly through the depths of the burning TARDIS, to a woman two years older than herself, and it all occurred in a couple of hours. Clearly this time travel thing would take some getting used to.
Amy broke into her musings. "This place. There's a whole world in here, just like you said, Doctor." She ruffled her hair, starstruck. "When I grew up, I… well I started to wonder if you were just like some madman with a box."
"Amy Pond," called The Doctor, turning deathly serious. "You too, Rose. Listen well." Both of them turned their eyes on him in concern as he continued. "There's something you'd better understand, cos one day your lives may depend on it... I'm definitely a madman with a box."
The three of them joined in laughter, running to the console. The Doctor danced from station to station, flipping controls with an expert hand at each step. "Goodbye, England. Hello, everything!"
One final lever pulled and the entire ship jolted. The "glassy fountain" in the centre pylon rumbled to life, churning up and down in the accompaniment of a familiar metallic grinding. Rose knew the TARDIS was on her way once more, burning through the cosmos as her occupants held on for dear life.
The bright blue box vanished in a burst of pulsating nothingness. Not far off, inside the house too big for its single occupant, a child's suitcase lay open on a dresser. Gotten down from the attic for nostalgia's sake a few hours earlier, even now its contents remained strewn across bedroom.
Nearest the luggage sat a pair of finger puppets done up to represent a little girl and a ragged man in worn clothing. Beside these, the observer would find two ragdolls depicting the same subjects. Beyond lay the tattered remnants of a blue dress shirt and rumpled, pinstripe trousers, and soiled, white sneakers. But the end of the line, dangling from the door of an open closet, hung an object as incongruous as the phone box which just vacated the yard.
This object, a garment, delicate and fine, was partially responsible for its owner's altered relationship with her boyfriend. An exquisite, whiter than white wedding dress.
In the privacy of his chambers, the Doctor lay down and pretended to sleep. While he pondered over the past day's events, the last threads of The Doctor's shadow converged. Intermingling strains of personality, bolstered by the odds and ends of old tissue not yet flushed from his system, gave way to a phantom figure, real as the original if only in his mind's eye. The Doctor shook his head, somewhat amused by the ghostly presence echoing in his mind. This was the ending least looked for to this atypical day.
"I don't know what their problem was with the bowtie," called the immaterial voice of the man he had been mere hours earlier. "We're talking the height of fashion there. But honestly, why fish custard?"
"You've eaten stranger things in your day," The Doctor countered, not quite smirking in reply. "What are you doing here, anyway? I'd thought you were already gone."
"Oh. I was. I just wanted to share something. I was a bit nervous about handing over the reins, but you've really won me over."
"Thanks," The Doctor mused. "But it's not like you had much of a choice in the matter. Regeneration and all."
"Well, I don't know about that," riled the shadow. "I could always stick around and be your personal poltergeist for the next few weeks. I might even be able to stir up a few of our previous selves to join in on the fun. Come to think of it, I bet good old number Four would rise to a challenge." A cacophony of strident laughter rang in his mind.
The Doctor sighed inwardly. "Don't even fool around. You know as well as I do that number Six pops up on occasion with no prompting whatsoever. You remember what we were like in those days. He doesn't need any encouragement, thank you very much!"
"You're a serious one, aren't you? You should really loosen up."
"You didn't seem to think so when you were me," deadpanned The Doctor.
The voice remained momentarily silent. "I guess you have a point. Just don't worry. Like Rose said. You'll be okay."
The Doctor took no solace from his predecessor's assurances. "Of course I will. Just like you always were."
"Hey! None of that! Think about it; you've got Rose back after all these years, something I never managed. You should be happy." He hesitated. "Only don't think you've seen the last complication concerning her. Same with the fairytale girl, or I'm no expert."
"That's just it, isn't it?"
"Yeah. But you're clever. Trust me on this. You're The Doctor."
"Nice to know the one with the most faith in me most is... me."
He received no answer to this. At first he thought his former incarnation had stopped paying attention, and it was only after an extended pause that he realized that the other presence had vanished. The Doctor was on his own.
No. Scratch that. The Doctor smirked. Between Rose Tyler and Amy Pond, he had never been less alone.