"Have I ever taken you two to Victorian times?"
The Doctor is shouting over the noise of the TARDIS in mid-flight, his voice drawling over her engines. He spins around the console and leans over the railings, looking down at the two companions on the level below.
"Yes, actually, there was the thing with the lizard-y woman…" Amy Pond sticks out her tongue to demonstrate.
"They're called Silurians," Rory corrects her, wrapping his arms around her waist. She laughs.
"Oh, go on then, Doctor, another time couldn't hurt. But I want to see my boys in period dress as well!" Rory swings her around and begins to carry her away towards the wardrobe, but a loud alarm from the console stops them.
"Teleport alert, everyone be aware!" the Doctor shouts. On the other side of the console room, by the doors, a beam of light begins to shimmer in front of their eyes, and River Song appears.
"Did someone say something about the Doctor in period dress?" she smiles, and the Doctor comes forward to hug her and say hello. Rory and Amy are waiting by the console for the two of them. They say hello, and River's smile widens.
"What's the occasion, dear?" the Doctor asks, adjusting his bow-tie self-consciously.
"I don't know, actually. It was very strange. Someone in charge let me have a day out..."
"Do you want to find out?"
"No, not really." River turns to Amy and Rory and asks them how they're doing. The Doctor sighs as he watches his friends chatter, and decides to set them on course for a nice afternoon out, and possibly an adventure.
"Here we are! 1994, England, Earth." The TARDIS lands with a bump and River presses a few buttons on the console, stabilizing them quickly. "Thanks, dear."
They follow the Doctor out the doors and into the sunshine. It's a lovely day, and they've landed on the outskirts of a lovely little village.
"Please tell me this isn't Leadworth," Amy groans. The Doctor sniffs the air and then looks at his watch.
"I'm not quite sure where we are, actually. It's 1998. We are in England, though. And it's a lovely day." He looks a little confused. "There's some kind of signal drawing us off course…"
"No, that's just your driving," River chuckles.
"Why are we here, anyways?" Rory looks uneasily at their surroundings.
"Ice cream! Come on, Ponds!" the Doctor shouts, running off towards an ice cream van he's just spotted. Rory grabs Amy's hand and the three of them follow him. He's already talking to the ginger-haired ice cream man, and they hope he hasn't said anything too outlandish yet.
"…One strawberry sugar cone for me, vanilla cake cone with sprinkles for Amy, double dark chocolate sugar cone for Rory, and…River?"
"Swirl in a sugar cone," she says. The man ducks into the van and they all look to the Doctor.
"How do you know my favorite ice cream order?" Rory looks at the Doctor, very amused and befuddled. He just winks.
"That will be £4," the ice cream man's deep voice interrupts them. The Doctor turns to Amy and Rory, looking embarrassed. Rory sighs and hands him the money.
"Thanks!" the Doctor smiles, hands the others their ice creams, and sets off on a walk. The others follow him, River casting a glance back at the ice cream van.
"Sometimes I forget how old you are," Amy says with a smile.
The Doctor takes a loud slurp from his ice cream and is about to reply when he yells loudly instead.
"OW! OW! OW!" He sticks out his tongue, revealing something small and round attached to it, with several small and sharp spines sticking into the flesh. A light blinks off and on, and a sudden beeping noise begins to emanate from it. "Ged id OFF!" he yells, slurring his words together, his eyes crossing comically as he tries to see it.
"Oh, hold still!" River shouts, grabbing his sonic screwdriver and pointing it at the tiny object. After a few frantic moments of buzzing and yelps from the Doctor, it detaches, and pops into her hand. He takes it and the sonic screwdriver from her. It has stopped beeping, but the object still flashing. He uses the sonic to scan it.
"It's not a weapon, don't worry. It's a computer, like a tiny answering machine…" The Doctor sighs and wrinkles his forehead before pressing it like a button. He holds it flat in his hand and watches a hologram of a screen appear above it. The words "MESSAGE ATTACHED" flash in blue. Amy, Rory, and River crowd behind the Doctor to read the words correctly. The Doctor hesitates before he presses the words where they hover.
A holographic sound meter appears and a deep voice begins speaking.
"Hello, Doctor. I do so hope that you enjoyed your ice cream." The Doctor raises an eyebrow, unable to place the voice. "It's been awhile, hasn't it? I bet that this is the last thing you've been expecting. I can't have you forgetting about me. Well, I just thought I would give you fair warning this time. It's much more fun that way."
His eyes widen as it begins to dawn on him, and the message continues. "I'll be seeing you very soon, if you're lucky. Keep an eye out - you wouldn't want to lose one of your lovely friends, now, would you?" River's mouth pops open and she looks around suspiciously, but the Doctor doesn't ask her anything yet. The message pauses.
"Now, just to make sure you understand that nothing has changed between us, this device will self-destruct in five seconds. Goodbye, dear." A loud beeping replaces the message and the Doctor throws it as far as he can, takes a hold of Rory and Amy's arms, and runs. A small explosion sends some stones flying, but they are largely unhurt.
"What was that?" Amy asks finally. But the Doctor doesn't answer her and looks around frantically, finally locating the street and the ice cream van. He runs towards it, and is only a few feet away when it begins to dematerialize and disappear into thin air with the sound of roaring engines.
"Was that another TARDIS?" Rory asks, catching his breath.
"Yes," River answers, looking at the Doctor.
"Who was that?" Amy asks the Doctor. He doesn't answer, his eyes lost in thought, and she crosses her arms. "Doctor, who was that?"
"I'm guessing you haven't met him yet, then?" River sighs, pulling Amy and Rory aside.
"No. Who is he?" Rory puts a protective arm around Amy.
"He calls himself the Master." She looks at the Doctor, several feet away. He is biting his lip.
"The Doctor looks scared," Amy points out in a low voice. "I've never seen him this worried."
"I'm not worried, Amelia," he turns. "Everything is going to be okay."
"No one ever said it wouldn't," she replies, still looking worried for him.
"Let's get back to the TARDIS." They have already dropped their ice creams in the confusion, so they head back.
"So, the Master's back," River falls into step beside the Doctor.
"So, you've met him," he replies.
"Yes. And I know who he is. I will tell you, as I always do, to think with your head this time." River sounds more worried than any of them are. The Doctor appreciates it, but he still closes his eyes for a moment and lets the pain wash away.
"That's what they all say. I will." River knows that he won't, but his mind is already set in high gear, thinking of the adventures that must await him, involving the Master, risk, and the best game of them all. He's ready for it, and he always will be.
Somewhere, in the back of the Doctor's mind, everything he knows has exploded and is whirring, rearranging itself, and tucking a tiny spark of hope away.
Author's Note: I would like to thank everyone who read and reviewed this story. I hope you enjoyed it. I wish I could reply to all of the lovely anonymous reviews individually, but thank you very much for your input. If anyone would like to send me constructive criticism, I would really appreciate it, as I'm always trying to improve as a writer.