The message on the psychic paper said it was a gift. A set of coordinates he didn't recognize.
"I know you love the snow, sweetie. So I know you'll love this planet. And I know you've been traveling alone, you know better than that," she said with wifely scolding. He grinned sadly.
"So this is my gift to you. On Christmas morning, materialize on this planet, step out into the snow, and think of all your friends. I know it's hard, sweetie, when you've lost so many, but do this for me. Love, River XOXO"
He smiled at those Xs and Os, she always signed her messages with a kiss, ever since the first one. He wished it could be a real kiss, but he'd sent her away too, and, eventually, she'd gone.
He pressed his lips gently to those Xs and Os. He wished he could have kept her around, but he'd done it for her own safety. Competent as she was, it was too dangerous around him. He wouldn't risk her. Not her, the last one left.
But, she was stubborn, and beautiful, and even banished from the Tardis she wouldn't leave him alone. So he'd accept her gift, curious, despite himself. Dratted woman. She knew him too well. The thought swelled in his hearts, mingled with his grief.
When would he ever learn?
To a time traveler, every day was eternity, so he decided today may as well be Christmas. He input the coordinates, the sound of his shoes squeaking on the floor reverberated in his empty Tardis.
The ship groaned, a bit more heavily than usual, the emptiness weighted on her more heavily than being full of pounding feet. He ignored it.
They materialized with a thunk and he turned on the scanner to look outside. It was a vast snowscape, snowcapped mountains in the distance, forests of frosted evergreen trees scattered around, glassy ice blue lakes, sprinkled with snowflakes and rimmed in frost.
All of it completely pristine, unmarred by a single footprint. "Very Christmasy" he murmured to himself, smiling wryly, appreciative, even as his hearts wrung, knowing he had no one to share it with.
He shook his head and looked back down at the psychic paper. "Step out into the snow, and think of all your friends." Well, that wouldn't be hard, he couldn't seem to stop thinking about them lately. All the lives he'd ruined.
Eschewing a coat or scarf, or even a hat. He clumped down to the doors and pulled them open. A swirling gust of icy, blue-tasting air whirled in. He stepped out into the snow, enjoying the scrunch under his boots in spite of his mood.
It was even more beautiful out here. The cold, the quiet, the robin's egg blue sky, the sharp, crisp, somehow soft, smell of the snow.
He took a few steps away from the Tardis, tilted his head back, and let the snowflakes fall on him. Tiny little air kisses pattered on his face, snowflakes perched on his hair like fairies.
He thought of his friends.
He jerked. He scrunched his eyes shut tight. "Jamie?"
The voice laughed in his head. "Where ha' ya been ye daft coney?" The voice sounded older, wiser, more mature, but filled with love and welcome. He felt tears build behind his eyes. "I've been busy," he thought back.
"Aye, and when arne' ye?" He could all but hear the voice nodding in understanding. He could feel/hear the sounds of revelry, feel the tankard of ale in his old friend's hand. The feeling of family around him, of celebration. "What's this?" the voice said, as if it had been rummaging around in his mind. "Ye've a wife now?" the voice exclaimed. "And ye didn't tell me, why ya daft old cod. Ooh, and isn't she a beauty," he felt a phantom teasing elbow in his ribs as the image of River flashed across his mind.
"I've a wee wife of me own now, and bairns. Well," the voice trailed of proudly, as if his attention turned to something else for a moment. "No so wee anymore," he admitted with a mature chuckle. "Me bairns have bairns now."
"Jamie, how can you remember me?" the Doctor asked.
"Och, well, ye'r people arna' as clever as they like to think. Always thinking with their heads, never with their hearts. Ye came back to me. A little at a time, how could ye not?"
The Doctor felt a lump throb in his heart, in his throat. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, aye. It was a bit dicey there for a while. But life moves on. Ye taught me that. I've a good home and a good family and the respect of me peers." He said that last with a comical swell of pride. The Doctor grinned, tears in his eyes.
"What about you, Doctor? Been bumping up against any Ice Warriors recently?"
The Doctor settled in to reminisce with his old friend.
The Doctor startled. "Tegan?" Even as he continued visiting with Jamie in one part of his mind, another opened up to another connection.
"What the hell are you doing in my mind on Christmas morning?" she demanded.
He grinned. Still as irascible as ever. "Haven't had your coffee yet?" he asked puckishly.
She grumbled and grumped, he could feel her getting out of bed. "No, as a matter of fact. Where are you? Are we about to have another invasion?" she demanded, tensing up.
"No, no. I'm actually standing in the snow on an alien planet, galaxies away. This is just a Christmas hello."
"Oh, well, hello then. Are you all right? What have you been up to?"
He smiled and settled down into a conversation with his old friend.
Another snowflake landed.
All his friends. All of them happy to hear from him. He had dozens of conversations going on in his head. Every one of them delighted to hear from him, eager to tell him about their lives, wanting to know what he'd been up to.
Not one of them blamed him. Every one of them wanted to make sure he was okay. They worried about him.
Tears sprang to his eyes. Tears of joy. All of them, every single one, felt protective, and proprietary, and, like family.
He felt his gloom fall away.
Another snowflake fell.
"Who the hell are you!" The voice blasted across his brain.
"Oh, it's you, shoulda known. So what's up, Spaceman?"
"Oh, you Time Lords think you're so clever. I told you, I can think of things you'd never think of in a million years. I'm working on it."
He realized he was talking to the Doctor/Donna part of her brain. "But, you can't remember me, it will kill you!"
"Oh please!" the dear, familiar, irritating voice came back. "You put in a failsafe. Any time anything interesting happens I pass out. Thanks for that by the way!" she said with that sarcasm he'd come to love.
"So the conscious part of you isn't aware of this conversation?" he asked, fascinated.
"Nah! She's probably painting her nails. Oh, no," the voice paused as if checking something. "She's opening presents. That jumper is hideous!"
The Doctor burst out laughing. "Oh, Donna, I've missed you!"
"Course you have, Spaceman. Now what kind of trouble have you got into this time?"
The snow fell, the voices gathered, Christmas was celebrated all across the universe, in all different times and places.
And he was welcomed everywhere, gathered in with open arms and open hearts... and kisses in the snow.
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