With the Stars in our Rear-view Mirror
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't remind me.
"Do what I do - hold tight and pretend it's a plan." - The Doctor, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Perhaps it begins when a star dies, as such are wont to do, and takes a planet with it. Perhaps it begins when a man driven to madness by the grief at the sheer magnitude of his loss finds a way to express that grief in a way that even the universe takes note, splitting it in a way that the Doctor can only follow, too curious to stay behind. Perhaps it begins when a man dies who should have lived, and that loss ripples across the very stars themselves, the eye of the storm a little boy with eyes oh so blue.
Or, perhaps it begins when his dead wife whispers spoilers sweetie in his ear as his ship is hurtling to a head-on collision with the American Midwest, right before she flickers away.
It's a time machine, after all – there can be a lot of beginnings.
The Doctor sees them all.
Including this one.
But first…he's crashing. Again.
He crashes into a barn, in what the TARDIS's computer informs him is the American Midwest, the state of Iowa, the year 2252.
The Doctor, after he's assured himself he's still got all his legs and arms and such climbs to the door and sticks his head out and takes in the bales of hay, the tractor, and the cow standing placidly in the stall across from him, and is not quite impressed.
The cow is even less so, he can tell.
But well, he decides, not too bad all in all. The TARDIS just needs a little repair before she'll be ready as rain again, and he's still got all of his bits, so it could be worse. And well, America. It's been a while since he did that.
He pointedly ignores the ache somewhere between his two hearts that reminds him of blue denim and the legs and the nose and Mrs. Robinson. He's alone now, and he's been alone before, and he'll be alone again, and that's fine, just fine. He's just a little melancholy after leaving Clara's house and having to leave her there, and her, I lived through your whole life, every moment, and now I need to live mine. Please, you can understand, can't you?
And well, of course he does, and well, it was always going to end that way anyways – it always does – and it was brilliant while it lasted, and so he'll rattle around until he finds someone new, and then he'll show them the universe and give them a piece of his hearts and on and on and on.
It'll be fine.
The cocking of a shotgun behind him does little to support that assertion, he acknowledges this.
"You're on private land," the stranger holding the gun drawls casually, easy, and when the Doctor turns slowly to face the voice, he finds a human, young, closer to Rose's age than to River's – he's never been good at these human ages, because he's twelve hundred years old and he hardly looks it, except perhaps to those who know where to look – and just as golden, all yellow and pink and eyes nearly as shockingly blue as the TARDIS.
Now, he is a little impressed.
The cow is still blatantly not and also possibly judging him. He sends it a look.
It ignores him.
The human with the gun however is giving him his full attention however, and since the Doctor's still rather fond of this silly mug, he put his hands up in the universe 'I am but a harmless alien gesture' and tries his best innocent smile, and then, because he's never really been good at this part, "I come in peace?"
"Is that why the barns on fire?" The boy says drawls, but the gun is set aside – still within easy reach, the Doctor notes idly, and takes in the implications of the gesture – and those blue eyes are bright with humor, and so the Doctor take sit for the victory that it is.
"Well," the Doctor admits, running a hand sheepishly through his hair, "the landing might have been a bit rough. But honestly, I'd like to see you do better with a broken temporal gear and a leaking transradial gauge."
The cow moos in what could possibly be agreement.
The kid gives him what is definitely an unimpressed look, and yet also somehow conveys that he's seriously considering how to get the opportunity to do just that.
The Doctor feels a tingle of all too familiar anticipation run up his spine at that look. The last time he felt that tingle, he handed a pretty barmaid/governess a key to his third heart.
This is going to get him into trouble, he can already tell.
He can't wait. He never can.
"You crash landed your box in my barn how again?" The kid asks, and right, he's not alone, is he? Nope, still a human with incredibly blue eyes and a cow, both looking at him like they're not quite sure if he's all there.
He's not, but that's beside the point.
"It's not a box – well it is, strictly speaking, a blue box – but it's also a spaceship that travels through time." The Doctor replies, aware that wasn't quite as concise as it could have been, and then, because the kid still looks a bit skeptical, "And it's bigger on the inside."
"So it's basically like another dimension in there," the kid says in response, looking entirely at ease with the whole subject, and a tad cocky and fascinated all that the same time.
"What, I'm more than just my incredibly pretty face you know," the kid says, a smirk gracing his face like it belongs there, at the look of surprise the Doctor knows must have registered on his face, and now the cockiness certainly outweighs the fascination.
You blondes always are, the Doctor doesn't say.
Though, to be fair, gingers are pretty extraordinary. And he's known a few fabulous brunette's as well. And one or two great white haired ones as well. Honestly, it's perhaps possible that he's just met some amazing humans.
But still, the blondes have always had a special place in his hearts.
"So, you crashed her," the kid says, drawing him out of his tangent, voice subtly hinting towards the point he makes shortly after – the only reason The Doctor let's whole 'crashed her' thing slide, "do you need any help fixing her up?"
It's a question that gives him pause, because normally he'd never let anyone put their hands on his girl – and oh, had Jack ever tried. But there's something about this kid, something in those remarkable eyes that says that this is a being who loves the stars and that ships sail them, and to be frank, he really could use a hand – although he'd prefer two, to be honest – because this is a barn in Iowa and the although he admits it's possible, he also acknowledges that it's pretty unlikely that there's a surplus of TARDIS parts abundant here.
Although honestly, if there was, it wouldn't even make the top ten list of strangest things he's encountered.
Four words – he married Amy's daughter. And also Marilyn Monroe. But that one doesn't count.
But he digresses.
"I could possibly use a pair of steady hands," The Doctor finally concedes, smiling only on the inside at how that makes the kid just light up, as he continues sternly, "so long as you don't break anything, or touch anything without asking, or hit the red button and blow us all up."
And then, absently, as a side note, "Especially that last one."
"I'll keep that in mind, man," the guy says, eyebrows raised, but he follows The Doctor into the console room anyways, and then he pauses, and The Doctor takes in how the edges of his mouth go slack in what seems to be sheer admiration of his girl.
He loves that look.
"Nice wheels," the guy says, recovering fast, but there's still a hint of awe in his eyes that only endears him even more to The Doctor, which is why he hands him a wrench – not sonic, but what are you going to do – and full out his sonic and gets to work, grabbing a few wires and starting his jiggery-pokery.
"So you're an alien," the guy says, after a few minutes of work, eyes still determinedly on the wires, a careful, casual question, worded in the smooth diplomacy that The Doctor rarely sees in humans his age, and although he admires the natural skill, it's pretty unnecessary here.
"Yes," The Doctor says simply, because well really, that should be obvious, shouldn't it? Time travelling blue box and all that.
Besides, no human could make a bow tie look as good as he does.
"A British alien," the kid drawls leadingly, good-naturedly, eyebrows both raised skeptically, eyes twinkling brightly with the look of someone who knows their prey just took the bait.
"No, well – shut up," the Doctor says, because he's still rude and not ginger and also still without a fez, and those things add up, "I just land in London a lot, and some things stick you know, like tea and jammy dodgers, and bow ties." And then, with his typical, almost unconscious gesture to adjust his tie, "Bow ties are cool."
"Uh huh," the kid says, but the eye roll is fond, and so familiar that for a second he see's red hair and a magnificent pair of legs, and he has to look away, lest he seems less than the manic madman with a box. He thinks the kid sees anyways, but he says nothing, and The Doctor loves him a little bit, this near stranger with the brilliant eyes for it, for this quiet, understanding kindness.
"You're taking this all very well," The Doctor says instead, to break the silence, as kind as it is, "Alien crashes into your barn with his time travelling blue box and you don't even blink. Your average human, even from your time, might have some trouble with that."
"Lucky I'm not an average human then," the boy states, trying for casual confidence, but falling just short, and it's a speaking gesture, telling a tale of a child who knows their own brilliance, but lacks the reassurance of it from those who should have been there to tell him of it.
And yet, the potential is there, brilliant as the light of a thousand suns and The Doctor can see it clear as day, and it calls to him. No, the Doctor thinks, I don't believe you are, and his hearts thump with that ever familiar feeling of indescribable anticipation.
The TARDIS is always so good at finding the special ones.
"You got a name, not-British alien?" The kid asks, taking his turn to break the silence, and although the phrasing is inelegant and irrelevant, the question is only curious, and not mean spirited.
"The Doctor," he says, and then waits for the inevitable, Doctor Who? because really, he loves that bit.
"Jim," the human, Jim, says simply instead, defying his expectations once more, and the Doctor smiles, wide and slightly manic, opting for a strong, swift hand-pump instead of air cheek kisses – because there's vulnerability beneath that casually good looking skin, and The Doctor understands that only too well, adding in a fast, upbeat exclamation, "Good strong name, Jim – knew a fish named Jim once. Great dam he had."
"Right," Jim says, with a look that says he's seriously judging the Doctor's sanity, and the Doctor doesn't take offense, because honestly, he is a bit mad, "So, we need anything else to fix her up?"
"I don't suppose you have fish fingers and custard, do you?" The Doctor asks, eyebrows tilted up appealingly, and Jim throws his head back and laughs boisterously, and The Doctor knows he's going to like this one.
"Done," The Doctor says, a few hours later, springing to his feet and snapping his suspenders cheerfully in a job well done, "Good as new, right as rain. Well, maybe not that, because rain isn't really right, is it? Falls down and sometimes left, and even sometimes up. Except on Praxcis III – then it really is right. The umbrellas are a nightmare."
"That's great," Jim says, rising slowly and rubbing grease stained hands on his own shirt lazily, talking over The Doctor's rambling, "So where are you taking me?"
"I don't remember inviting you," The Doctor replies slowly, but it's not a denial, not really, and Jim obviously knows it as he replies, a shrewd light in those blue eyes, "No, but I don't remember you not inviting me either."
"That is…not the point, but equally true," The Doctor says, making a show of his sternness and his hesitation, because the too eager give too much away and loose too much as a result, "One ride, only one and I mean it."
"Uh huh," Jim says irreverently, blue eyes bright with the confident dismissal of his proclamation, rubbing his hands together eagerly, "You just wait. I'll be so good, you'll never want to get rid of me."
That won't be a problem, the Doctor doesn't say, closing the door behind him. He never wants to get rid of any of them.
That's always been the problem.
"So," he asks, because that is a thought for another time, the manic energy of the sheer universe of possibilities before them spiraling under his skin as he twirls merrily around to face Jim, "All of time and space - everywhere and anywhere - every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?"
"Out there," Jim says, throwing his hands out in a wide ark, a brilliant smile adorning his face, "Thataway,"
"I was hoping you'd say that," The Doctor says, his own smiling creeping across his face as he spins back towards the controls of his girl and fiddles with a few dials, before he spins his head back to Jim to pin him with a look, before he jerks the controls sharply and the TARDIS lurches into the time vortex, and beyond, "Thataway it is!"
And so they do.
He takes them to the markets of Nebulus IV, in the 50th century because it's a planet in a planetary system that Starfleet won't discover until longer after Jim is dead, and The Doctor wants to give him something he'd never see on his own.
It's all he ever wants to do, to be fair. Although, the awe factor doesn't hurt his mystique either, he will admit.
Case in point, Jim is currently staring at the marketplace with all of its foreign goods and people and technology like The Doctor has handed him the moon and the stars, and The Doctor covets that look away only because he has, and because that look – that sheer wonder in the magnificence of the universe on the face of a brilliant companion – is the thing that keeps him smiling even when he's sad.
However he plays it cool, leaning against the side of the TARDIS casually when Jim finally makes eye contact with him again, before springing up and saying, his finger raised for emphasis, serious face in place, "Rule number one, and this one is very important, so take note – don't wander off."
"You got it man," Jim says, and although The Doctor sends him a skeptical look – because they always wander off, distracted by something shinny or pretty or you know, screaming for help and then The Doctor just has to go rescue them – but Jim makes a point of falling in line with him, and actually following him and The Doctor almost lets himself believe it'll all go according to plan until five minutes later when he turns around to point out a Centuri hover-bike to Jim and realizes that no one is there.
Nobody ever listens to that rule.
However, after a few minutes of investigation it becomes clear that something more sinister than just being distracted by the shiny is afoot – apparently there might be a tiny bit of a military coup, and also possibly something about blue eyes being a sign of the Rebellion – he's heard stranger, to be fair - and this is how The Doctor finds himself breaking into a Nebulian jail in search of his wayward – and possibly kidnapped – companion.
"I didn't wander off," Jim points out reasonably, when The Doctor finally comes across him in a cell of plexi with a large, blinking control panel that is just taunting The Doctor to whip out his sonic.
"No," he says, baffled and almost impressed, whizzing the sonic screwdriver across the controls of the cell, that beeps at him testily, before chiming cheerfully as the door slides whooshes silently open, "Trouble actually comes to find you."
"My mother tells me that's what the T actually stands for," Jim says cheerfully, bouncing upwards to his feet as if he isn't being broken out of an alien jail, by an alien, in a century long after his death, and his sheer humanness is just breath-taking. Naturally however, this is the exact moment that the military notices that they're breaking out of this popsicle stand and give chase, and so with a jaunty, "Run!" to Jim The Doctor takes off, the sound of Jim's footfalls behind him a comforting melody behind him.
"This," Jim says, a few minutes later, when they're alternating between toppling the coup and running for their lives, a devilishly cheerful smile on his face, "could be the start of a beautiful friendship."
The Doctor finds that he can't help but agree.
And it is, as they save the people of Nebulus IV, liberate – perhaps accidently, but then isn't that just the story of his life – a ship full of Orion slaves in the 22nd century, fight against a squadron of Sontaran soldiers – before fighting for the glory of the Sontaran Empire – long story, don't ask – and take in the Deltain Festival of Lights for Jim's 20th birthday – which, apparently is more than just an orgy.
Huh. Learn something new every day he always says. Well, he's said it at least once. You know, right now. But he should say it – good saying that.
But he digresses.
And then, they do Marci Centauri at the dawn of the Voltan revolution, and it, quite suddenly, isn't.
The thing is, it's all going quite well – well, he says quite well when the particulars of the situation rather amount to being accused of high treason by a tyrant who wishes to see them hang for trying to expose his rather dastardly little scheme – but hey, still have all of their arms and legs, so victory, really right? But, as he was saying, it's actually going quite well, all things considered, until said tyrant – The Grand High Priest – demands of Jim imperiously, his voice a dismissive taunt, "And who are you, to question me, insignificant human?"
And then? Well then, this happens.
"I'm James Tiberius Kirk," Jim declares, chin tilted up in defiance, blue eyes gleaming with the cold, hard edge of justice and victory, "And I'm the insignificant human that hacked your computer and sent all the sordid details of your little scheme to the entire population. Hope you enjoy prison."
Oh, the Doctor thinks, as the Grand High Priest splutters and blusters and calls his loyal, if not stupid guards to arms, bravo – great timing, excellent execution – well done.
And then – oh, bugger.
And then there's running, and hiding, and escaping, all which are very thought consuming, but still, in the moments where he just stands and breathes, he hears James Tiberius Kirk, and just for a second, he closes his eyes, and feels as if his hearts were full of holes.
He always picks the ones he can't keep.
James Tiberius Kirk.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, of the USS Enterprise.
A human whose influence on the universe was so widespread, so deeply felt, that it had reached all the way to a little boy on a now deceased planet, who had read every word he could find about the brave space explorer, and had dreamed about taking to the stars and doing the same.
And then that little boy had gotten older, but never really grown up, and he'd stolen a museum piece TARDIS and gone and done just that.
That not so insignificant James Tiberius Kirk.
In all his travels, from Marilyn Monroe to Winston Churchill and the Daleks, to whatever he did to tick off good old Queen Bess, this, perhaps, will go down in his own personal history as the most risky thing he ever does.
Because, here's the thing – he won't give him up yet. He will in the end of course - he always does – but he's going to keep this one for as long as he can, and just be selfish for a moment.
After all, after Rose, and River, and Amy and Rory and Donna, Martha and Clara who are all gone, surely isn't he owed just a little more time?
He ignores that little voice that whispers, no, for that is not how the universe works, silly old man.
But he must not ignore it well enough, because a few days later Jim corners him doing repairs in the console room and says, with the fearless curiosity of the young, "You've been in a weird mood lately."
"I have not," The Doctor replies automatically, but it's hardly even a denial at best and Jim clearly knows it as he arches an eyebrow and responds simply, "Yes you have, and the TARDIS agrees with me. Isn't that right, beautiful girl?" Jim says, crooning the last part to the TARDIS, who hums playfully in response.
"Stop flirting with my ship," The Doctor grumps, shooting Jim a dirty look before returning to giving far too much focus to the wires he's fiddling with, still clinging to the unlikely hope that this conversation can be avoided.
"She started it," Jim points out in response, entirely reasonably, a glint of devilish humor in his eyes, and the saddest part is it's probably not even a lie.
His ship is a terrible flirt.
"Traitor," he grumbles to the TARDIS, but it's half-hearted at best, and even his girl knows it, as she only hums gently around him, instead of shocking him like when she's irritated at him.
"It's not a new thing, just something that plagues me from time to time. It will pass, so don't you worry," he says finally, acknowledging the point while also thoroughly withholding all of the pertinent details, for there are some things that even he with his great gob doesn't say. "Go get some of that sleep you humans like to waste your lives on, and then we'll head out anywhere you chose," he finishes, and it isn't even a lie. He's made up his mind – he'll hold on until he has to give him up, and then he will, and it'll hurt – it always does – but then, one day, even this too will pass.
Jim gives him a sceptical look, but he lets it drop, perhaps because he believes him, or perhaps because he doesn't, but he does understand him, because for someone so young, Jim has an overdeveloped understanding of the principle of letting things go for their own good, but The Doctor is grateful none the less.
It will pass. It always does.
And it does, because it always does, and once again The Doctor is regular, manic self, but then, of course, this happens, just like The Doctor had imagined it would.
"It's just," Jim says, a few weeks later in the console room again, uncharacteristically hesitant, and The Doctor knows what he means before he even says it, "it's a time machine."
"I could take you to meet your father, if you wanted," The Doctor says as gently as he can, remembering another time with another blonde and the same query, and how well that had turned out, "But you wouldn't be able to save him – his death is a fixed point. He has to die then, or history would try and rip itself apart."
And then, because he can see the cogs and gears of Jim's impressive brain cranking away with angles; that famous Kirk brain that did – will? Alternatives universes and time machines are havoc on verb tenses – beat the Kobyashi Maru, "And even if we took him away off that ship before he died, saved his life, we couldn't let him live it - it's been too much time – history has healed over the wound of him," he says, and he tries to be as compassionate as he can be, because he understands only too well the helplessness of having a way to help and not being allowed to use it, "It's gone on without him, in the story of you and your mother and your brother and every single soul who read or heard about his actions, and let them shape their own lives – too many destinies to rewrite. The universe is not so flexible."
"So, if I'd asked sooner –" Jim asks, punishing himself and because The Doctor can't stand that look on Jim's face, much less being the one who put it there he cuts him of, firmly but kindly, "If you'd met me when you were 4 weeks old and had possessed the capacity to ask then perhaps the universe might have been malleable enough - or perhaps it would have ripped a hole in the universe and devoured all of time and space. Either way, there was nothing you could have done," he finishes, and hopes that he communicated that to him in a way that sticks, because that kind of guilt is a terrible thing to bear.
The Doctor knows that feeling only too well.
"So, do you still want to go?" He finally asks, to break the silence that has fallen, because he did promise Jim anywhere he wanted to go, and although The Doctor might lie, he tries to never about this.
"No," Jim says finally, slowly, and The Doctor hurts for how much it obviously costs him to say it, "We both know I'd try anyways." And then with a rueful little smile that is just heartbreaking, "That just who I am – I don't believe in no win situations."
"Well then, how about Rigel Prime," The Doctor says, pasting an overly exaggerated leer on his face, waggling his eyebrows as suggestively as he can, which finally gets the desired laugh – even it is only a huff of it - out of this too somber Jim, "The woman there are very, very friendly."
And although Jim doesn't smile, his eyes do brighten back up again, and The Doctor feels his hearts lighten, because this will be a great idea, he can just feel it.
So, Rigel Prime turns out to be a terrible idea. And no, not because of the women.
Because of the woman.
"Who," Jim asks breathlessly, watching as a blonde woman incapacitates an entire hoard of violent, tribal Rigelians – they might be a few centuries too early for the peaceful Rigelian Empire, his bad – with only a square gun and a devilish smile, "Is that?"
"That," the Doctor says, a certain amount of resignation in his tone, even as his eyes drink in every second of her, "Is my wife."
"Your wife," Jim returns, seeming to find nothing out of the ordinary in the announcement, awe practically shining out of those extraordinary blue eyes, "is awesome."
Yes, the Doctor admits only to himself, she rather is. That's always been the problem.
"You miss me sweetie?" His wife asks as she saunters over one hip at a time, her enemy vanquished, and The Doctor bites back the only every second of every day that wants to escape, choosing instead a flippant rejoinder of, "Hardly ever," because he may be a lonely old man, but that doesn't mean he has to act like one.
"Good," she says, eyes quietly kind – because River has always known him; River was created to know him, and sometimes that's worse, and sometimes that's just what he needs - before they gleam with an all too familiar mischief, "Because I'm here for Jim anyways."
And then, before The Doctor can respond with what he's sure would have been a very witty comeback, River sweeps Jim off with a firm arm around his shoulders – not that Jim puts up a fight at all, though not even The Doctor can blame him for that – and they bugger off up the hill, leaving The Doctor feeling a bit chuffed at the bottom.
Although, to be fair, it's not as if he has nothing to do, with the prospect of watching two of his favorite humans lingering so temptingly in front of him. And it's not exactly a hardship - they make an attractive picture, The Doctor admits, these two golden humans with their laughing eyes and their fearless spirits, ready to take on the universe and win, all with a smile on their faces.
Yes, he has a fondness for the blonde ones.
They come down a few moments later, when his mind is contemplating both the possible horrors that his companion and his wife could probably get up to, and also whether or not he should change the colour of the light of his sonic screwdriver - magenta could be a great statement.
He's on the fence for now.
"So what was that all about?" He says, trying for casual instead of left out, to his wife, who steps up to him while Jim stays a few feet behind, instead of, I miss you, and you're dead, and you still shouldn't be here, and is this what's left, a lifetime of Easter egg occurrences with my dead wife, like the world's least satisfying treasure hunt?
"Spoilers sweetie," River says cheerfully, teasingly, and the Doctor makes himself frown as he replies with, "I hate that word," because even though every time she's said that his life was turned upside and even though he'd known the worst spoiler all along, it still warms his hearts to hear her say it, because every time he expects it to be the last.
"No you don't," River parries back, voice teasing but lovely eyes sincere, and the Doctor folds almost immediately, a self-aware smile on his face as he acquiesces, "No I don't."
This, naturally, ends up being a mistake as River smiles – just this side of too bright and obviously going in for the kill and says, rapid-fire and all confidence, and it is not a question, "Good, because I need to borrow Jim for a mo. I've even got a vortex manipulator just for him."
"It'd just be futile to ask where you're going, wouldn't it?" The Doctor muses, almost rhetorically, because of course his dead wife is here to go off with his companion and have an adventure. And of course he's not invited, and why would he be – he's just the time traveling husband after all.
No, no, makes perfect sense, really.
"Such a clever boy," River coos, feathering a hand over what she calls his 'sulk lines' on his forehead before planting a teasing kissing to his cheek, lips soft and gone almost before he can register they were there – the kiss of someone not counting their kisses in fear of them ending – before she sweeps back over to where Jim is standing.
And then, after fiddling with the device on Jim's arm for a second – he never asks where she finds those things, because honestly he thinks that answer might turn him into one of those boring jealous human men – she throws one more saucy wink and a bright, "Back in a tick," back over her shoulder at him. And then, with a blink of light and a wave that got cut off from Jim, they're just gone, and the Doctor is alone.
He's never been much good at that either.
"No, no, I'm fine," He declares loudly, and he'll admit, a bit petulantly to great gaping nothing around him, "Plenty to do here, don't worry about me!"
And then, at that very moment in the distance, a building explodes.
Well, the Doctor thinks, a rueful smile on his face, sonic screwdriver already in hand, already running towards the danger, ask and yee shall receive.
By the time he's sorted that out and saved everyone – and he does save everyone, and rebellions like that are always fun, because they're like parties where things explode – Jim is leaning against the side of the side of the TARDIS waiting for him, and River and her vortex manipulators are nowhere in sight.
"So, you're not going to tell me what that was about, are you?" The Doctor says, and it's a question only in the vaguest sense – barely more than a social nicety - because The Doctor absolutely already knows the answer.
"Apparently it's…spoilers?" Jim says, like he's trying out the word, but there's a glint in his eyes that says that he has some idea what that word means to the Doctor, and is also secretly amused by the whole situation.
"I figured it might be," the Doctor says with some resignation, pulling a celebratory shot glass – made of some kind of wood – which someone apparently shoved in his pockets, before taking an exploratory lick at the contents.
"So did I miss anything?" Jim says, raising his eyebrows at the gesture, though only a little bit, because it's not as if licking things is a rare occurrence for The Doctor.
"I was brilliant and noble and dashing and saved the day and there was no one there to applaud at the right moment," The Doctor says, with a dramatically wounded air, putting the shot glass back in his pockets, because they're bigger on the inside, and he likes these little tokens, these little tactile reminders of the lives he gets to be a part of, if only for a brief moment.
"So nothing then," Jim says in response, all cheeky, teasing confidence designed to lift the mood and The Doctor takes the bait, affecting a wounded air as he presses his hands dramatically over his heart, "Oi, right through the heart, lefty will never be the same," and Jim laughs and The Doctor smiles, and yes, it is a good day.
Earth, San Francisco, 2223 the TARDIS screen blinks blandly up at him.
I don't have to give him up yet, the Doctor thinks quickly, a jolt of unease under his skin. Jim is not even 21, and this is too early to be where he would get off. And yet, it is too close for true comfort, and it makes the Doctor distracted and off focus.
Oh, and also, the Vulcan Embassy might be on fire. Maybe. Just a little bit. Did he mention that?
No? Ah well, it isn't the problem.
This is the problem.
"This," Jim says, bright smile reaching all the way to his brilliant eyes, arm slung comfortably around the shoulders of a pretty human girl about his own age, all brown hair and warm brown eyes, "Is Mandy. She's great with a fire extinguisher, brilliant with languages, and also gorgeous. Can we keep her?"
"Rude," the girl, Mandy says, rolling her eyes fondly. "I don't want to impose," she says, but there's something in her eyes that hints of a longing for adventure, and the Doctor takes stock of everything.
The Vulcan embassy is a bit singed, but the perpetrator is in custody, and everybody lived, and this is a good day, and part of that is due to the girl with the warm brown eyes.
And well, let's face it, he's been three before, and he'd be willing to be three again. It never ends well, but it's always so brilliant that it's worth the hurt.
"One ride," The Doctor, wagging his finger sternly, eyebrows raised in his best serious approximation, "I mean it this time!"
"Uh huh," Jim says, utterly dismissive, and then, in a conspirators whisper to Mandy as he ushers her into the TARDIS, "He never means it," and the Doctor smiles to himself, because that, at least is the truth.
Besides, this ought to be fun - what's the worst that can happen?
Amanda Grayson, the TARDIS computer displays blandly. Born 2202, Seattle, Washington, United States of America. Occupation: Teacher. Married 2223 to S'chn T'gai Sarek, Federation Ambassador to Earth. One child, S'chn T'gai Spock, born 2230, Shi'Kahr, Vulcan.
As in Commander Spock, First Officer, USS Enterprise, under one Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
There are some sentences he should just stay away from.
Even the TARDIS is laughing at him this time.
And yet, he'll not give her up either, not until he absolutely must.
Because, as he was once asked by one of those fantastic humans - what's the point in them being happy now if you know they're going to be sad later?
Amanda Grayson: Died 2258, Shi'Kahr, Vulcan - the destruction of Vulcan.
The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.
He takes them to Denubus II, because the Denubians have possibly the most peaceful history of any race he's ever come across, not to mention one of the most visually captivating planets he's ever been on – so this should be a walk in the park.
Of course, apparently the Denubians also regard blue-eyed blondes as the most rare and attractive thing in their entire world, and so Jim – minus a shirt that had been literally ripped off of him – and The Doctor – fully clothed and feeling, bizarrely, a little neglected – are currently watching the entire Denubian High Consulate cower in fear from a 5 foot 6 inch human woman and her incredibly pointed lecture about gender equality running both ways and boundaries and sexual freedom not equating to freedom to touch.
It's possibly the most amazing thing The Doctor has ever seen. Unfortunately, Jim seems to agree, if the look in his eyes is any indication. And…no. Just no.
"You are not to do – human things – with Mandy. I forbid it," The Doctor declares, slightly flustered – because he's more than 1200 years old and he's always flustered about these things – but entirely resolute, and one or both of those things – both at least slightly uncharacteristic of him – must come through, because Jim tears his eyes away from the still compelling sight of Mandy figuratively ripping the Denubians a few new arseholes to send The Doctor a particularly raised eyebrow in response.
"No," he says firmly, still resolute, because this might absolutely not be any of his business but no matter how much he's got a history of well…altering history, even he knows that there are some things that you just don't mess with.
"Relax man, she's like the big, scary, badass older sister I never knew I wanted," Jim says, and he honestly seems sincere, and so it's with a certain cautious relief that he joins Jim in pausing to watch the Grand High Chancellor basically throw himself down on his knees at Mandy's feet and declare his undying loyalty to the 'Goddess' that stands before them,
"Competence is strangely hot though," Jim says, a half-teasing, half-musing look on his face and the Doctor declares, quite emphatically, with a few exaggerated hand gestures just for good measure, "I mean it! Not a good idea!"
And he should know – he kissed his mother-in-law.
It's a bad idea! And awkward!
And he popped out of his father-in-law's stag cake, so he knows awkward.
And then, even before Jim stops laughing at him – and really, he's quite serious - the Grand High Chancellor mentions to the crowd that there will be a feast in honor of the Goddess and her most exulted and attractive mate and their aesthetically average but well-dressed disciple – and honestly, after all the bow tie abuse he'll take it, because this is a silly old face.
"I can't take either of you anywhere," Mandy gripes resignedly, a glint in her eye suggesting that she's building up for another epic lecture while Jim starts up again until he's roaring with laughter and the Doctor just places his face him his hand to hide his smile.
Yes, it's always better with three.
And of course, one trip becomes two that becomes three becomes more – Denubus II becomes Praxis V that becomes Romulus and beyond – and one day becomes six months before The Doctor can barely blink.
And then? And then he does, and now the TARDIS won't move out of the vortex, and The Doctor knows what that means.
So it seems, does Jim, because he corners The Doctor in the console room while Mandy is safely away in the kitchen and says, voice quiet but it doesn't waver, and this is an accomplishment, "We have to give her up."
"She's got a destiny waiting for her, one that no one should keep her from," The Doctor says, instead of a yes, but it's a yes all the same, and they both know it.
"Doesn't make it any easier," Jim says, instead of the counter-argument he can see he so desperately wants to give, and The Doctor admires his restraint, even if he hurts to see how much it hurts him.
"No," The Doctor finally agrees quietly, because he agrees completely. It never does. "But it is the truth."
I have to give you up too, The Doctor doesn't say, once Jim has left, likely to drink in the last seconds of Mandy that he'll have, I'm just prolonging the inevitable.
It's never easy.
But then, nothing that's worth it ever is.
Earth, San Francisco, 2223. The Vulcan Embassy is no longer still on fire, though the smoke still lingers. They have been gone for less than a minute, though more than six months.
It's a time machine. There may be a lot of beginnings, but so too are there a lot of endings.
And The Doctor is not known for being very good with endings.
"Please don't forget me," Mandy says as she comes up to him, wearing the same dress she was wearing the day they met her, soot streaks and all, and although The Doctor's not said anything about it, he has a habit of picking smart companions, and Mandy is certainly no different.
"Oh Mandy," he says, truly baffled, and he pulls her into hug that he knows he'll have to force himself to let go, "how could I ever forget you?"
He never forgets any of them.
He does let her go in the end, but only so that Jim can draw her up into his arms, and The Doctor hears him say into her hair as he holds onto her, "We'll see each other again."
"Promise?" Mandy asks as she draws back, and she asks Jim, because she is too wise by far to ask The Doctor, and Jim presses a soft kiss to her forehead before he says, heartfelt and sure, as if by saying it he can make it a truth, "Promise."
And somehow, for this is the Jim that Jim has, the gift of Jim himself, even The Doctor - who knows how this story will end - believes him.
And then she's finally leaving, and The Doctor stands beside Jim and watches her walk away, watches her take in the situation once again, and watches her look back only once to them, before she enters into a discussion with a man The Doctor recognizes him as the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation, and even from their hidden position, The Doctor can see in the Vulcan's eyes a rare light of respect and interest as he looks at Mandy.
A Vulcan he knows is named Sarek.
Watches as history unfolds. It's all that he ever does really.
And then he leaves.
It's magnificent, but it hurts so much sometimes.
After Mandy's departure a melancholy falls over the TARDIS and its inhabitants. It's to be expected really – even the TARDIS feels a little down when she has to give up one of her favorite humans – and so, in a very literal way, the actual place they live in is depressed, and so to rectify this, The Doctor thinks up something that he knows isn't a good idea, but that will definitely change the mood.
He's going to regret this, he can already feel it his bones.
"Want to meet an old friend of mine?" The Doctor asks of Jim – mostly as a courtesy as he's already putting the coordinates in as he speaks, but he's been told it's polite to at least ask first, even if you don't really care about the answer.
"Sure," Jim says, attempting to drudge up some enthusiasm and mostly only reaching mild interest at best, but the Doctor appreciates the effort anyways, "What does he do, this friend of yours?"
"He," The Doctor says to James Tiberius Kirk with a certain sense of private irony, "is a Captain."
"Jim," The Doctor says, with a long-suffering air, upon finding the man he was looking for half-dressed in what can only be described as an 'escape' from he can guess what, "meet Captain Jack Harkness."
"The pleasure is all mine," Jack purrs, lifting Jim's fingers up and kissing them just this edge of scandalously, and because Jack is just Jack he somehow manages to be entirely comfortable and unreasonably pretty in just his pants and suspenders, coat thrown over one arm and hair unaccountably tussled.
What, The Doctor isn't blind – Jack might feel wrong to look at, a mess of time and guilt, but he's still as aesthetically pleasing as ever.
Of course because Jim is also Jim, he just bellies up to the proverbial bar and just coos, "Oh now, that's just selfish," so as not to be out done, pinning Jack with those extraordinary baby blues of his, "I assure you, it's more than mutual."
"I'd say no, but I'd probably just be wasting air there, right," The Doctor says, but he's more bemused than anything else, because to be fair, this is exactly how he expected this to turn out, and really, that he's the only one who gets it – Captain Jack and Captain Kirk – the secret of it just adds to that good humor.
He owes Jack for that YANA business anyways.
"With all due respect, I am absolutely not even listening to you right now," Jim drawls back, not even taking the time to stop eye-shagging Jack, and The Doctor just throws up his hands in dramatic, and entirely insincere frustration, and then leaves before Jack can try and talk him into a threesome – because Jack had winked, and The Doctor knows what that one means.
And it's not that it isn't tempting – it is, even for him – but there are just some parts of history that just…no. Hands off.
And so he lets them go, and do their human things, while he tinkers in the TARDIS and rescues a flock of star dolphins and tries very hard not to think about his wife, and all of the human things he'd used to do with her.
He fails, but at least he's trying right? That must count for something.
He thinks it does.
And, at least he can also amuse himself with the memories of Jack and Rose and a little more Spock – and yes, he might have accidentally left a Time Agent named Gene Roddenberry stranded in the 1950's on Earth for 20 years when he'd only meant to be gone for two hours, but really, it all worked out for the best in the end, didn't it?
He's just going to go ahead and chalk it up as a yes.
And then, of course, this happens, and he doesn't think of much else for a brief, lovely while.
"How do you even get banned from an entire star system?!" The Doctor as yells over his shoulder at Jack as they're running for their lives, from what can only be the army that was chasing Jack earlier – and he must a least give Jack points, because the wife he managed to piss off is the Supreme Empress of this solar system, and so although it's the oldest story in the book, the spouse who walks in on the affair, at least Jack goes big or goes home.
"You're just jealous I managed it and not you," Jack shoots back, entirely unrepentant, because Jack was born with absolutely no shame.
And well, yes, a little, but that's really not the point.
"Not the point!" The Doctor says testily, and Jim laughs even as he's running for his life, the sound wild and carefree.
"Just like old times, hey Doc," Jack says, entirely too cheerful for his own good, because Jack has less developed self-preservation instincts than even The Doctor himself, though he certainly knows why, and Jim laughs because Jim has absolutely no excuse, he's just crazy and The Doctor hides his smile and runs for his life.
Yes, he does enjoy it when there are three.
They drop Jack off at a pleasure planet in the 23rd century – and the Doctor doesn't judge, because Jack is perhaps the one being who will outlive even the Doctor, and that is a terrible, horrible thing – and then they do Regulus Two at the turn of the 75th century, Vulcan before the time of Surak, and the Doctor very definitely doesn't think about the fact that Jim turned twenty-one a while ago, and that at twenty-two he's recruited into Starfleet where his own best destiny awaits.
And then the TARDIS takes them to Earth, Iowa, 2243, and he can't escape it.
He is the last of the Time Lords, and he has run out of time again.
"It's time for me to go," Jim says as he walks into the console room, a bag already packed and slung over his shoulder, and perhaps The Doctor's face registers as surprised or perhaps Jim just needs to say it, "I'm actually a certified genius – figured out a long time ago there was a countdown for this thing, you and me and the stars. Just didn't know when it'd hit zero, but now I do I guess."
"If it was up to me, you'd never have to go. But it's not," The Doctor says, and although he imagines it does little to heal the sting of it, it's still the truth, and that must count for something.
"It's that big a deal, this destiny I've got waiting for me?" Jim asks, genuinely curious and somewhat skeptical, as if, even after all this - all the things they done and people they've saved - he can't see himself as a man with greatness in him.
It is, perhaps, why he is so great.
"Yes," he says, entirely truthfully, because it is, so mind-boggling, amazingly far reaching that there would be no Doctor without Captain Kirk, but then, equally as sincere, because that was never really the point, that big, shiny future, "but really, that's mostly secondary - you've always been a big deal to me, regardless."
They always are.
Jim must believe him, because he doesn't put up a fuss or sulk or fight it, he simply moves into The Doctor's space and then gently, softly curls his hands around The Doctor's cheeks and kisses him, firmly but sweetly, affectionate but unromantic, the kiss only the best of friends can give, and The Doctor kisses back in kind, drinking in emotion in one of its purest forms.
"For your records," Jim says softly, when he draws back, and says, eyes glowing with sincerity and a quagmire of other emotions, "Thank you for giving me the stars," then with one last smile, he turns and pushes the TARDIS doors open and walks out of them, leaving The Doctor inside, alone but for his ship.
Chastised by Queen Victoria, slapped by Elizabeth the First, and kissed by Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
Jim walks away and doesn't look back, and The Doctor knows only too well the strength that takes, for he cannot look away. He never can.
They're decent records, he thinks.
His hearts still ache, but he's used to it by now. They always do. Sometimes, for an alien, he is terribly human.
He is still not any good with endings.
Want to know a secret? Here's the terrible thing about a time machine – though it always a beginning somewhere, and those are all brilliant, it is also always an ending somewhere, and The Doctor gets to watch every single one of them.
And then of course there are the middles, where Amy and Rory and River all battle the Silence with him and he and Jim Kirk rescue the Vulcan Embassy with the help of a pretty brunette and Rose Tyler puts her hand in his and runs through apple grass with him. The middles have always been the Doctor's favorite.
But here's another secret – the dark part about middles he likes to forget - it always gets worse before it gets better.
And the Doctor gets to watch that too, except for the times when he can't.
The destruction of the planet Vulcan is a fixed point in this new universe – it is a necessity, an inevitability ever since a single Romulan locked eyes on the USS Kelvin – a cause and effect that cannot be stopped. The Doctor has known about it ever since he rode the waves of time into this new universe – has been aware that this was the price for admission, and he did it anyways, because how could he resist all those possibilities, and he hasn't regretted it so far.
And yet, there is still this; there are six billion people who live on Vulcan, and one of them is Mandy, and they are all going to die, and he isn't allowed to stop it.
He looks away when Vulcan dies.
Mandy dies, they all die, and the Doctor, the last Lord of Time, bound by the rules of time stays motionless, his hands white-knuckled on the TARDIS controls, and lets it happen.
But he cannot watch, and so, for the first time - for he made himself watch as Gallifrey died at his own hands - he looks away.
His hearts still feel like they're breaking.
It's a time machine, and sometimes everyone dies.
Sometimes there aren't happy endings.
Time, he is fond of saying is not linear, it is wibbly-wobbly time-wimely, but this, by necessity is a half-truth as well, because the heart of the TARDIS is the Time Vortex, and this itself is little more than a universal clock. The TARDIS keeps time for the universe, is a reference for all things, and all places, his brilliant, beautiful, sexy ship.
However, she is not actually a phone. Why does he keep having to remind people of that?
Oh right, because it's ringing. And apparently, not only does the phone that is not actually a phone…actually a phone, it also has voicemail. And he knows this, because when he picks up the ringer, he is greeted by the sound of the Captain of the USS Enterprise's voice, and the message he's left.
2258.51. Section 14, coordinates 22-87-4.James Tiberius Kirk's voice says, a familiar smile in the words, 13 hundred hours on the dot. Don't be late. And do try for the cargo bay, would you?
It has been ten years and three months for him and three years and four months for Jim since Jim has seen him, and according to the Time Vortex it has been three weeks since the destruction of Vulcan, and this time has not been stagnant for either of them. Jim was a cadet and now a Captain, and saved the Earth – again, he should mention, but really, it's a trick that never gets old – and although The Doctor has had adventures, and has saved the day and met some fabulous people along the way, he's yet to have a companion since Jim walked away that day.
He figures he could drop in for a visit.
He could use a friend.
Besides, Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the USS Enterprise has just sent him a message. Who could resist that?
Not this alien, that's for sure.
The landing is perfect – hardly a bump, right time down to the minute - until The Doctor walks out of the TARDIS doors and is confronted with a lot of blinkly, sleek consoles, a panoramic view of space, and an incredibly not amused Vulcan in a blue shirt, staring at him in a way that would not be, in any way be described as 'friendly'.
"So, not the cargo bay then," he says, looking at the intensely scary Vulcan with a sheepish look on his face – though to be fair, he got the time perfectly right, and that's a real accomplishment for him - lifting his hands belatedly upwards, because it appears he just landed his ship smack dab on the bridge of the Enterprise, and that a blue box materializing out of thin air might just maybe been seen as a sign of aggression, "I come in peace?"
"That," drawls the voice of James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise, a very familiar teasing smirk on his face, "would be a very interesting thing to see."
"Captain," the Vulcan says – Spock – he imagines, because in the story of James Tiberius Kirk there is always Spock standing right at his side, and to be fair he has Mandy's lovely eyes, which is a decent give away – and although the Vulcan's voice is emotionless and flat as would be expected, the eyebrow he's raised at dangerous angle speaks volumes, though to be fair, The Doctor did just make a giant blue box appear out of nowhere on the bridge, so it's probably an acceptable lapse, "You know this - individual?"
Jim laughs at that, loud and boisterous and The Doctor takes a second to soak it in the much missed sound that left the TARDIS paradoxically silent in its absence.
"This, Mr. Spock," Jim says grandly, stepping around the hand Spock has out between him and The Doctor, an instinctive gesture that The Doctor isn't even sure that Spock is aware of, to drape his arm comfortably around The Doctor's shoulders, "Is The Doctor. He's the alien who crashed his time travelling space ship in my barn, and then kidnapped me and took me off to see the stars."
"Oi! I think," The Doctor says in protest, with a careful eye on Spock, because he's not sure how well attuned he is to sarcasm, and the nerve-pinch hurts – Surak, it turns out didn't have the best sense of humor, who'd have guessed it? - "you invited yourself onto my ship and then wouldn't leave - kidnapping me, all things considered."
"That is also possibly true," Jim says without shame, extraordinary eyes twinkling with mirth, and Spock takes a long look at both him and Jim, and then the TARDIS, before he finally returns his gaze back to them and says, with a certain air of reluctant acknowledgment, "Fascinating."
And yes, The Doctor will admit that his inner fanboy did indeed absolutely love that one, because really, if that romp with Queen Victoria taught him anything, it's that catchphrases are brilliant.
And also that the British royal family are also possibly just a little bit werewolvish. But really, that first one is so much better.
"If he's an alien, then why is he British? And what's with the bow tie?" A man also in a blue shirt demands grumpily, whom The Doctor is sure is the doctor remembered far and wide as 'Bones', before continuing with hardly even a breath, "And my god man, why did he park his magic spaceship here?! It's a bridge, not a docking bay!"
"Everyone's a critic," The Doctor grumbles, adjusting his bow tie defensively, but Jim only laughs in response, before parrying back to the man, fond teasing colouring every inch of his words, "Ah Bones, I'll give you the crib notes version later. And besides, don't be jealous, you're still my favorite doctor."
"Jealous! You only wish!" Bones declares dramatically, before he turns to The Doctor and declares exasperatedly, but with a hint of hidden fondness in his eyes, "You're welcome to this one - I'm going back to my lab to actually work, because lord knows I'm a doctor, not a mad man with a box!"
"That," Jim muses aloud, chuckling at the joke that only he and The Doctor understand as Bones sweeps away to do just that, "Might have to go down in history as his best Boniesm yet."
And see, yes, this is what he was talking about - catchphrases! He was right – they make everything so much better!
The look on Jim's face says he knows exactly what The Doctor is thinking, and is also laughing at him on the inside, just a little bit.
The Doctor missed that look.
"So my friend and I are going to just jump in here for a second," Jim says to the room at large are Bones's departure, but mostly to Spock, gesturing to the TARDIS and then quickly, to delay the protest that is clearly about to come out of Spock's mouth, a smile gracing his lips, "We'll be fine Mr. Spock."
Spock clearly wants to put up a fight – in a completely logical way The Doctor is sure – but Jim cuts him off when he says, voice soft and somehow intimate despite the number of people in the room, "Trust me Spock."
"Of course Captain," Spock says, voce entirely strict and professional, but also sounding somehow affronted at the idea that he might not trust Jim, and The Doctor hides his smile behind his hand, because he loves watching history in the making.
Jim clearly see's it however, because he rolls his eyes before dragging The Doctor into the TARDIS, and then he stops, and just stands there, breathing in the TARDIS, before he strokes the console briefly and purrs, "I missed you too girl," and the TARDIs hums at him fondly.
"Not even five seconds and you're flirting with my ship again," The Doctor grumbles, but he can't be too bothered, because one of Jim's most endearing qualities has always been his love for the Old Girl.
"Quit pouting," Jim says in response, clearly picking up on The Doctor's true mood, a charming smirk on his face, "I missed you too - you're still my favorite mad man with a box. Besides, I've got a job for you."
"Do you now?" The Doctor enquires solicitously, eyebrow raised, though it's hardly as if he's surprised, because although he'd like to flatter himself with the idea that this is just a social call, Jim certainly summoned him here for a reason.
"Yep, but first things first," Jim says, matter of fact, a conspirators smile on his face, "You pretty much fucked me on that whole 'following the prime directive thing,' 'Mr. we don't leave anybody behind.'"
"Oops?" The Doctor says, not all that apologetic, and it clearly comes through because Jim smirks and then says, "It wasn't a complaint - it's more fun this way," that devil-may-care smile on his face, and it occurs to The Doctor that he might have created a monster.
Meh. It is more fun that way.
"So, Spock seems…nice," The Doctor says instead, choosing his words carefully, because he does have a bit of a habit of letting certain things slip…that occasionally leads to certain things blowing up. Sometimes literally.
He really is terrible at his own weddings.
"I insulted his mom – and thanks for nothing on that one by the way - and his sense of ethics and he tried to get me kicked out of Starfleet and then choked me on the bridge," Jim says levelly, and then, at the look of surprise The Doctor knows he must be showing, he elaborates, a bit ruefully, "I was kind of an asshole after you left – turns out you're a hard act to follow."
"Seems you're doing ok," the Doctor says, because it's blatantly clear that Jim is in his element, even if he didn't have the knowledge that this, the Enterprise, is where he is meant to be.
"Yeah, I am," Jim says, sheer happiness just flooding his voice, and in that moment he is so Captain Kirk that The Doctor can hardly breathe, before he smiles, just this side of dangerously and says, leadingly, but also quite seriously, before he shoves a pad in The Doctor's hands, "But I could be doing better."
And so The Doctor takes a moment to read the contents of it, and then he takes a moment to just stare at Jim, because he's twelve hundred years old, and even he wasn't expecting this.
"This," he says, voice somewhere between awe and disbelief, "is a plan to rescue someone from their death and integrate them back into the timeline without causing a temporal collapse."
"Yep," Jim says, as if he hasn't just handed The Doctor a loophole for time itself, "And a valid one at that. River and I did the math, but if you want to pretend that you need to look it over for errors, you can. We were especially exact with the temporal plasticity, it's negating effect on the reaper and the opportune time window for execution," Jim finishes, as casual as can be.
"This is what you were working on," The Doctor says, and it is not a question, testing out the idea in his head and finding it has weight. This is absolutely a River thing to do – bloody spoilers.
"Mostly," Jim says, but doesn't volunteer any information on what else, and frankly the Doctor is too absorbed in this to even ask, Time Lord brain aside, "at first I thought it was for my dad, but then Vulcan happened, and I knew it was for Mandy."
"Why?" The Doctor finally says, and though he hardly needs convincing, because this is so definitely him – cheating the rules of time itself - but it's a small word that encompasses so many things – why would River do this, why give it to Jim, and in the privacy of his own mind, why didn't she tell him so he could have saved her?
He could have saved her.
"Because it's a time machine, and six billion people died, and we can still only save one," Jim says, in a tone that says that he knows where The Doctor's head is, but he's answering the question that matters most, because he is Captain Kirk, and he gets it, "So we save that one."
"Very wise of you," The Doctor says finally, and it an acquiesce, an affirmation, and the smile on Jim's face says he knows it as well.
"I picked it up from a friend," Jim says, a soft look on his face and The Doctor ducks his head in a rare show of modesty, because honest compliments have always weighed on him uneasily. Instead, he nods briskly once in response, and then gears up the TARDIS – and yes, this is certainly not going to endear him to Spock but Jim, to be fair, does send a message saying they'd be back in ten minutes – and for perhaps nobody to stand in that particular spot until then - and it is a time machine, so really, it'll all be fine.
They materialize out of the vortex into a Vulcan that is so in ruins, that is so in pain that The Doctor almost looks away again, before he forces himself to watch this, this terribly familiar scene of grief and anger that had him turning his away before, and it is every bit as heart wrenching as he knew it would be.
And he has two hearts, so that's saying a lot.
They are silent for a long while, until Jim final breaks the terrible quiet – a kindness, for The Doctor knows he would have been unable to do so. "I offered him mercy," Jim says, solemnly, as they hang beneath the cliffs of a planet about to collapse in upon itself, and witness for a second time the rage that grief can wrought in the wrong hands, and although he says no name, there is no confusion here, "He didn't take it."
The Doctor does not say anything, for this is not a question, but this he does think. He does not like Nero, this is truth, but he does understand him.
How could he not, when they have so much in common, both the destroyers of worlds?
"I wouldn't have either," The Doctor says finally, and nothing else, for it needs no elaboration, no dramatic embellishment. It just is, and nothing can make it any prettier.
"No," Jim says in response, and although he doesn't look away from the sheer destruction in front of them, it is no more than understanding, and anything but simple, "But you at least, would have deserved it."
Personally, The Doctor disagrees, but it's that moment that Amanda Grayson falls through the TARDIS doors and all the way into the swimming pool, and so between that an piloting the TARDIS away from a planet imploding on itself, The Doctor has bigger things on his mind.
Still, it's a sentiment appreciated all the same.
"What the…Jim?" Is the first thing a slightly soggy, but completely alive Amanda Grayson says as she steps into the console room of the TARDIS, a towel in one hand and a slightly shocked expression on her face.
"What?" Jim says in response, affecting a look of total innocence – that's never been all that believable – before he finishes, as casual as can be, arms held out for a hug, "I promised I'd see you again."
"You're late," Mandy says, a stern look on her face, before she throws herself into Jim's arms and buries her face in his neck, and Jim holds on just as tight, as if he'll never let go.
"I think, actually, we're right on time," Jim says, squeezing her just a little tighter before he drawls back a little so she can see the smirk he has affected on his face, "Besides, you know me Mandy - I love to make an entrance."
"Excuse me," The Doctor cuts in, because this is all very cute and touching, but he wants his Mandy hugs as well, painting a wounded mask on his face, splaying his hands dramatically over his left heart, "I was very brilliant and daring and chivalrous, and I am being entirely ignored over here!"
"Don't mind him, he just drives the bus," Jim jibes good-naturedly in response, arm still slung around Mandy's shoulder's which shake with silent laughter as The Doctor parries back, a study in over-exaggeration, "Oi!"
"You were very brilliant, I'm sure," Mandy says sincerely, her eyes shining with silent gratitude as she detaches herself from Jim and moves over to The Doctor, wrapping her arms around him, and The Doctor melts into the embrace and listens to the comforting rhythm of her pulse, and pointedly doesn't think about how she didn't have that for a while.
Once he's finally able to let her go he does, and she smiles at him knowingly, before a thought seems to hit her, as she suddenly turns to Jim – likely taking in the Starfleet uniform he's wearing - and asks voice worried as only a mother's can be, "Where's Spock? He's my son and he was with me on the planet…And my husband!" And then, whipping her head towards The Doctor before looking back at Jim, "I have a husband and a son, are they alright? Do you know them – know if they got out alright?"
"They're both fine, and I know both of them," Jim says soothingly, running his hands down her arms comfortingly, but there's a certain irony in his eyes that Mandy obviously sees as she raises an eyebrow in silent demand. "Yeah," Jim drawls ruefully, rubbing a hand sheepishly through his blond hair, "About that…" he says, before spilling the whole story, starting at the academy and ending with the Doctor's arrival on the bridge of the Enterprise.
Amanda responds as all mature adults would; she bursts out laughing.
"Oh Jim," Amanda huffs out, wiping tears of laughter out of her eyes, "I used to tell him stories I said were made up about my adventures in a magic box with my two friends, and the planet where my friend Jim was declared the most handsome man in the world, but I never said your last name! And now you're his Captain!" Amanda finishes, silent laughter still shaking her shoulders.
"He's never going to let me live that one down when he finds out," Jim says ruefully, with a twinkle in his eyes that says he's remembering that particular trip, but there's a crinkle of laughter around his eyes, and The Doctor suspects he's looking forward to it.
"He hoarded pictures of blonde men with blue eyes and hid them from us for years," Mandy says, her smile just this side of devilish, lovely eyes just glistening with mirth, "you were my son's first crush."
The look on Jim's face says he's definitely looking forward to that conversation.
However, as charming as that conversation is the TARDIS picks that exact moment to land, and so The Doctor gives the controls a quick sweep, making sure none of the hazard alarms are beeping, before he turns back and says to his two passengers, "That should have set us down just about ten minutes after we took off, right in the same spot we were in before. Your friend Bones will not be impressed."
"Probably not," Jim chuckles, moving in closer to The Doctor before he asks, pitching his voice low so that Mandy can't overhear. "So we're good?" Jim asks, once the TARDIS has finished its lovely 'wosh-woshing,' and although he looks as confident as ever, The Doctor can hear the hints of concern in his tone.
"Well, assuming yours and River's math is correct, we shouldn't rip a hole in the space time continuum and get devoured by reapers. Definitely not. Ninety percent sure. Probably." The Doctor says, realizing just a second too late how incredibly not-helpful that was, rubbing a rueful hand through his hair, wilting slightly under the weight of the look that Mandy is giving him.
"James Tiberius Kirk," Amanda starts hotly, with a look on her face that The Doctor knows that warns of an upcoming epic lecture, and so he prompts that all by shoving the TARDIS doors open before he can change his mind and actually you know, think about it, and boldly stepping out, taking in everything that he sees. Blinky consoles, flashy levers, lovely view, but most importantly, no monsters of time waiting to swoop down and erase all of time and space in retaliation for what they have done.
There is however, a Vulcan that looks like he's going to kill him.
"So, ah, not ten minutes then," The Doctor says sheepishly, but hardly shocked, because really, this is essentially a defining trait of his now, so he might as well own it. "Ten point two four five hours," Spock corrects, voice blandly furious, and then his arm is raised and ow, ow, ow, and The Doctor is on the floor.
Nerve pinched by Commander Spock of Vulcan. He'll add it to his records.
Thankfully, however, the nerves of a Time Lord are not in the same place as a human's, and so the Doctor stays fully conscious, and this is a certainly a marvelous thing, because otherwise he would have missed what happens next.
Because at the sound of his body hitting the ground, Mandy rushes out to see what has happened, and at the sight of her Spock just halts, every last bit of him ceasing to move, like a puppet whose strings have been cut and the sheer mess of emotion on his face is just heartbreakingly heartwarming.
What? He has two hearts, he can be both.
"Mother…" Spock says, usually reserved voice just drowning in emotion, and it only breaks more as Mandy flings herself into her son's arms and the Vulcan that normally avoids even causal touches cradles her to him as if he never intends to let her go, before he asks, voice broken and oh so young, "How?"
"It's a time machine," Jim says, strolling leisurely out of the TARDIS to lean against the blue slatted doors, and the Doctor, who has picked himself up off the floor by this point looks at Jim as Jim says to Spock but looks directly at The Doctor, "and sometimes, there are happy endings."
And yes, The Doctor thinks, positioned just right so that he can see Mandy's radiantly tearful face as well as Jim's quietly happy one, and Spock's reservedly wrecked one, sometimes there are.
This is a good day.
He leaves shortly after. He stays long enough to soak in the victorious atmosphere and the sheer happiness on his companion's faces, this one little light in a storm of darkness, but this is their moment, no matter what role he played facilitated it. For all intents and purposes Jim's cheeky response was right – The Doctor was just the man who drove the bus – this was River's plan and Jim's execution and it is Jim and Mandy and Spock's joy for them to share, and their lives to live.
And so he leaves, but it is not a goodbye, because Jim and Mandy have both insisted that he'd better visit at some time in the future, and so it is instead a see you later, and The Doctor is much better at those. And so he returns to his TARDIS alone, and enters the Time vortex alone and tries not to think about that last word, when a piece of paper catches his eye on the console, a piece that certainly wasn't there before.
A mystery, he thinks with a hint of anticipation, as he turns it over in his hands, good sturdy paper with elegant blue text on it. He loves a good one of those.
And then he reads it, and it's a good thing he has a respiratory bypass, because he forgets to breathe for a while.
Spoilers, the outside of the envelope says.
Genesis, the slip of paper inside says. 2285. This is what we did with those vortex-manipulators, because we don't leave anyone behind. And sometimes, there are days when everybody lives.
And though there's a last line, but The Doctor doesn't get to read it, because at that moment a very particular voice echoes throughout the TARDIS and blinds him and deafens him to everything else.
"Hello sweetie," says the voice of his seemingly alive wife from the doors of the TARDIS, and in his peripheral vision he can just see the shadow of her, hip cocked playfully, glorious smile on her face, "Mind if I stay a while?"
And yet, even as every part of The Doctor wants to deny this, deny that it is even a possibility he turns, note barely held on to in numb fingers, and takes in the River that stands before him – the River that stood before him on Rigel Prime - and sees what he hadn't before, that it is also undeniably a River that has been to the library – a River that had died at the library – and yet, impossibly so, as he wraps his arms around her helplessly her and takes in the solid weight of her, and the healthy thrum of blood in her veins, a River that is also very much alive.
"No," he says quietly, voice choked with tears that he won't admit are falling, taking in the scent of vanilla and lavender and time itself that is unique to her, "That sounds brilliant to me."
And then he finally the opportunity to look at the note still in his hands, crumpled a bit from the sheer shaking of them, and at that final line, and takes it in all its cheeky irreverent wonderfulness.
Aren't you glad that no one spoiled this moment for you?
And yes, The Doctor decides, his hearts in the vicinity of his throat, his face buried in his wife's hair, the future an unknown laid out before the both of them, he rather is.
It's a time machine. There are beginnings, middles, and ends, and sometimes they are wonderful and sometimes they are terrible and sometimes they just are, and you know what? The Doctor wouldn't miss them for the world.
And so, he doesn't.
This is the story of The Doctor, and this is not how it ends.
A/N: So yeah, I have no idea what this is. This is like multi-fandom wish-fulfilment that no one asked for! I guess after Metamorphoses I had a hankering to write extremely long cross-over oneshots? And seriously, I find The Doctor's voice so hard that I've never written Doctor Who fanfic, and when I do I start with a 14k monster in his POV?! IDEK guys. And holy Hannah is this thing is long! It just went on and on and on when I was writing it! I almost gave up on this thing so many times, but as a Whovian and a Trekkie I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Also, for any Trekkie's who are reading my Ties That Bind Redux, this was the fic that I was stuck on, and that fic is what I'm going to dedicate my time to finishing, so thank you everyone for waiting! Also, any planets you do recognize belong to either Doctor Who or Star Trek – any you don't I just made up. Because I can! Although, fun fact, Vulcan is totally a planet in the Doctor Who Universe - seriously, go look it up!
But, a little technical nitty gritty/clarification for any less hard-core DW fans – the reapers are a creature that show up when the 9th Doctor takes Rose Tyler to see her deceased father and she ends up saving him, creating a life that existed that shouldn't – a paradox - and threatening to rip apart all of space and time, though these consequences are never mentioned again in similar situations like when The Doctor gets around the fixed point of his own death, or when Madge saves her dead husband (especially this one), or when River dives off a building and is rescued at a later point by the TARDIS catching her. The answer I give in getting around this is totally just something I made up, but hey, it's fic (and seriously, that Madge thing totally supports the whole 'it'll work as long as not too much time has passed idea') so let's just role with it, shall we? Unapologetic multi-fandom wish fulfilment don't need no logic y'all!
So, that said, if you actually made it too the end of not only my crazy long fic but this insanely long author's note, then thank you, and as always, I hope you enjoyed, and reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome.