Although Lenny was a bit more prepared for the rough take-off this time, it didn't ease his nausea any. It seemed like hours before he was finally ready to remove his head from between his knees, and when he did he just sat and watched the Doctor for awhile. Him standing there, concentrating thoroughly on the levers and buttons in front of him as he piloted the TARDIS brought to Lenny's mind an image of a schooner captain, hands on the wheel of his vessel, plowing forward with the ship he loved into whatever trouble the future might hold. The picture made Lenny smile. He didn't know how the Doctor had known that he would meet Allan in the castle, or that their conversation would lead to the reconciliation at least one of them, and he honestly didn't know if he should ask. As it was, he was content with just being grateful toward him.
He must have moved or made some sort of slight noise, because just then the Doctor turned and smiled at him.
"Oh, good! I must say, you're looking better. I've set a course for York, but it's always variable-you never really can tell where you'll end up."
Lenny nodded absently-the Doctor had lost him at "York".
"Did you know she was given a flat outside York?"
It was hard to believe that, when they got back, it would have just been that morning when those words had hurt him so badly that he could hardly breathe. He hadn't known, and when Will had said it, Lenny had felt hope flutter in his heart for just a second before reality had pushed it down again. It hadn't mattered where Tammy was-he couldn't have seen her again because he couldn't have risked hurting her.
Now he repeated the line over and over again in his head. York. He was going to York to be with the two people who meant the world to him, maybe even to stay forever. He felt like he was flying. Well, he was flying, of course, but in a different way. It was a thousand times better than this.
He thought he would be in that blue box for eternity-his excitement made the time crawl. Finally an enormous bump propelled his bum at least six inches off of the TARDIS floor and sent his heart into his throat.
"Let's see where we've ended up, then!" The Doctor eagerly pushed the door open. Lenny, to his own surprise, hung back. What if they weren't anywhere near York? What if they weren't even in the UK? Or worse, what if they weren't in 2003? Perhaps they'd ended up centuries in the future, long after Tammy and Katie were dead...
"Well, I must say I've done quite well, wouldn't you?"
Swallowing, Lenny peeked out of the TARDIS door into the snowy night. When he saw what the Doctor was pointing to, he felt a lump in his throat.
They were parked on the sidewalk in front of an electronics store. The building appeared to be empty and a brightly-lit sign declaring "closed" hung in the door, but displayed in the window was a digital clock which declared brightly that it was 7:12 pm on December 25, 2003.
There was still time.
"I believe the place you're looking for is Sapling Row. It's right on the edge of town-just follow this road straight down."
Once again, Lenny decided not to ask how he knew this information-he was too eager to get going. He waved a goodbye to the Doctor and set off in the indicated direction. After about five paces, his conscience tugged at him again as he realized that he had not even said thank you. He turned around to rectify this error, but when he did, there was no one standing in front of him, and the sidewalk was empty where the TARDIS had stood just moments before. The Doctor was gone.
... ... ... ...
Lenny found himself jogging, both for the warmth the aerobic activity provided as well as the speed that decreased the distance between himself and his family. Seeing a sign adorned with a young tree ahead of him, dimly illuminated, he squinted until he could make out the name- "Sapling Row". This was it! He paused to look at the place. The flats appeared to be entered from the outside, but the building itself didn't look just too shabby. And there were worse parts of the suburbs.
As he walked up the driveway, he noticed a grid of postal boxes on his right side. It was difficult to make out the names of their owners in the darkness, but eventually he spotted a paper label upon which the name "Bartle" was handwritten. Flat 214. Good. The second floor was safer than the first-it was harder to break into.
It wasn't until he mounted the staircase, hand sliding upward along the banister, metal with small speckles of rust, that he realized how quickly and shallowly his breath was coming. Though he had jogged several miles, he knew that it wasn't from the physical exertion-his training for the Army had left him in much better shape than that. 210...212...214. His stomach began turning somersaults as he stood in front of the dark green door, and suddenly he was so overcome with fear-fear that Tammy might not want to see him again after all, fear that she had let someone else, someone more stable into her life, fear that Katie wouldn't recognize him-that he almost turned away. What had he been thinking? How would him being here change anything? He would still have his nightmares, would still be haunted by the pain in Tammy's eyes when he woke with murder on his mind.
But then, just as he was about to give up the whole endeavor, from within the flat he heard a child's voice. He could not understand what it was saying, or even make out its tone, but within his heart he knew it was Katie's. And in that moment he knew that he had come too far too go back now, and that he'd be letting too many people down if he did. Allan. The Doctor. Katie. Tammy. Maybe even himself. No. It was time to fix what he'd broken.
Lenny reached out and rang the doorbell. From within the flat, he heard an inquiring voice, its words indistinguishable, and then footsteps heading in his direction. He could barely get his breath-in just a few more seconds, he would see her, after all this time. Then the footsteps stopped, the knob turned, and she was there.
She was wearing an old sweatshirt and sweatpants, both of which were too large for her. Bedroom slippers donned her feet, and her mouse-brown hair was tousled and thrown into a haphazard ponytail-no doubt she'd done nothing less than was sheerly practical with her appearance this morning because she hadn't planned on seeing anyone but Katie on this day of familial joy. But to Lenny, she looked just as beautiful as she had on their wedding day.
When she saw him, her hand flew to her mouth, tears starting immediately in her eyes. He had expected her to be shocked, to say his name questioningly and stand there as though he were a specter before her eyes, a ghost returned from the dead who she could not believe was there, who she thought she would never see again. Instead, she fell into him, wrapping her arms around him, sobbing, saying his name over and over. She was not surprised, only joyful, and it occurred to Lenny that it was because she had never given up on him. Had he not been so lost in her presence, he would have noticed that his actions mirrored hers but for the weeping. Her name repeatedly passed his lips, as though he were making up in these few precious seconds for all of the times he hadn't spoken it in the past few months. He barely noticed when they sank to the floor in their emotion and knelt together, encompassed in one another's embrace. The only thing in the world that mattered in that moment was that they were together.
Finally, they ended up sitting on the carpet, her leaning into his side, hand in his. He reached over to shut the flat door against the cold-the act of closing it had gotten lost in the sudden onslaught of welcoming love-and then cautiously began to stroke his wife's hair.
"I always knew you'd come back." Her voice was very nearly a whisper, but when she tilted her head to look up at him, her deep brown eyes spoke louder than if she had yelled. It was true, then. He was touched that she should have so much more faith in him than he had in himself.
"Every time someone rang the doorbell, or called on the phone, or even walked by outside the flat, my heart would flutter for a moment, hoping against hope that it was you. I called the radio station every week and put ads in the newspapers, hoping someone would respond saying they knew where you were, or at the very least had seen you." Her words were not accusatory or angry-she was just relaying a story, recounting her actions for the simple reason that he had not been there to witness them. But hearing everything that she had done out of confidence that she would someday find him made his heart tremble. He could say nothing, choosing instead to simply drop a kiss into her hair, watching the few tears he would allow himself glisten on its strands.
"You left because of the nightmares, didn't you?"
Swallowing hard, he nodded, willing words to leave his mouth. Never before had he felt the need to be so incredibly honest with anyone.
"I...I could see what it was doin' to ya, and Katie. I couldn't watch you watchin' me, and I was afraid that one day, either from the drinkin' or the dreamin', I'd really 'urt ya, maybe even worse. I 'ad to go."
Pain leapt into her eyes. "You mean you're not staying?"
He shook his head frantically. "No! No, I...I mean...if..." His words were a mangled mess, so he tried again. "If you'll 'ave me, after everything I've done to 'urt you, that is, I want to stay with you and Katie, forever." It seemed such a selfish thing to ask as he spoke it, but he knew her answer when she pressed her lips to his and kissed him for a very long time. When they finally parted, she cupped his face in her hand, and he leaned into her touch and closed his eyes as she murmured,
"Whatever comes our way, we can work through it together. I'll always be there for you, no matter what you're dealing with."
Whatever he might have said next was lost, for the promise he heard in her words finally brought him to the edge of what his emotions could handle. Leaning into her shoulder, he wept. He felt more vulnerable in this moment than he had during months alone on the streets, but it all was rendered well by her breath on his ear, her hand stroking the side of his face.
After several minutes of her holding him, he heard light footsteps approaching, and when he looked up he saw Katie, in pink princess pajamas, holding a tattered teddy bear that had once been his own, staring at him, her eyes enormous. Running the back of his sleeve quickly across his eyes, Lenny gave her a wobbly smile.
"Hey, Katie. D'you remember me?"
She shook her head and backed away, and terror like he had never known, not even in tensest battle, leapt into Lenny's heart. His fears were founded, then. His little girl didn't know him.
"Katie, love," Tammy said, "it's your daddy. Don't you know your daddy?"
The little girl's eyes, as blue as Lenny's own, darted back and forth between her parents for several seconds as Lenny felt his world spiraling out of control. Then suddenly, joy covered her face and she rushed into his arms.
Laughing with relief, Lenny squeezed her tightly, wishing for the moment never to end. It did, inevitably, when the three-year-old pulled back from him and said, hurt,
"Daddy, you went away."
He swallowed. "I know, lovie. I'm so sorry."
"Are you going to go away again?" The plaintiveness of her voice melted his heart. He shook his head emphatically.
"No." Seeing his little girl smile, he addressed Tammy when he added, "I promise."
She smiled back at him and tucked her head where it had always fit perfectly, next to his neck where his head met his shoulder, and he noticed that it still felt so right. Katie crawled into his lap and, smiling up at him, said cheerfully,
"Merry Christmas, Daddy!"
Looking around the little flat, furnished with only the basics and a small Christmas tree, from his spot on the floor with the two people around which his world would revolve from here on out, Lenny realized that he could never have asked for a better Christmas present than this. Speaking to the both of them, his heart full of joy, he responded to Katie's wish.