A Brief History of a Friendship
Summary: The Doctor wasn't going to let his friend be alone for 69 years. He couldn't change history, but he could make it a little more bearable for those involved. He might never be forgiven, but at least he did what he thought was right. AU
A/N: This is an alternate universe story where Steve Rogers traveled with the Tenth Doctor during the war, and the Doctor helped to defeat Red Skull. Set sometime after "Journey's End" and at various points in Captain America and after The Avengers. For now, this is complete, unless I decide to write more later.
Pairings: mentions of Steve/Peggy
The Doctor was not accustomed to waiting. For anything. Everything was instantaneous for him. Every moment in history was his to explore. But not always to interact with. There were some moments he could not change, no matter how much he wanted to. He couldn't kill Hitler or Stalin or keep Rome or London from burning. He couldn't prevent World War II or the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some things, the Doctor simply could not change.
This was one of them. A small thing by some estimations, but huge considering what might not happen if the Doctor changed it. It wasn't necessary for the him to save New York from aliens in 2012, but it was necessary for him to allow one of the key players to remain dormant for 69 year. It was necessary for Captain Steve Rogers to be thought dead, to remain frozen, sleeping in a vast field of ice, buried under decades of snow.
But not alone.
It was 1943, and the Doctor found Steve Rogers. Theoretically, he could have pulled him from the ice, returned the world its hero, and given a worthy man a chance at the life he deserved. But the Doctor didn't. He let Steve sleep. He didn't tell anyone where the Captain was. Because Steve had to wake up in 69 years and help save the world. Sure, he might have lived that long anyway, but the world would have been different with a Captain America in it all that time. Maybe it would have been better, but maybe Steve would have been killed or left the role of superhero behind him. History could get along without him until he was really needed.
Still, the Doctor didn't leave the Captain to sleep in darkness and silence. Carefully, so as not to wake him, the Doctor dug through layers of ice, and placed his hands on Steve's face. He sent thoughts in the form of dreams, images of the life Steve might have had: marriage to Peggy, children, grandchildren, growing old. It would never have happened, but it didn't matter. It was an illusion to comfort the old man when he finally woke.
The time the Doctor spent in the ice was longer than it needed to be. He lingered, watching his friend sleep, weighing the consequences of what he so desperately wanted to do.
He told himself to leave, to get out of there before he changed history irrevocably, but the Doctor stayed. He stared at the semblance of death before him. For all practical purposes, Steve was dead. He would come back to life when he was needed, a tool of destiny. But the Doctor would find him. In seventy years, after the world was saved, the Doctor would find Steve. He would explain why he didn't save him. He didn't expect to be forgiven. Steve deserved so much better, but the universe would never deal him a fair hand. How could someone be so virtuous, yet so abused by his own purpose? Perhaps it was the Captain's virtue that led to his misfortune. The Doctor suspected, though he couldn't know for sure, that the best men always suffered the most. He would do what he could to make up for it.
But the Doctor couldn't change history. No-the Doctor wouldn't change history. It was a choice. And perhaps Steve would understand the importance of following one's conscience, even if the Doctor was rather hit and miss in that particular area. Steve didn't have to understand, though the Doctor would have liked to hope he would.
So, the Doctor left the ice. He left his friend frozen in time, dreaming of a life that would never be.
"I'll come back and see you," the Doctor promised, though his words were lost in the howling wind. He kept his promise.
It was an early spring day in 2013. As fast paced and ever changing as the city was, something felt different that day. Steve Rogers returned home from a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. It seemed as if that was all he ever did. Almost like the old days. Not really, but he tried to imagine it were. Strangely enough, Steve hadn't exactly been thinking about his missions for the Army lately. He had been thinking of another series of adventures that had nothing to do with the war. Steve was remembering the years he spent traveling the universe with an excitable alien. Years that took place in a single night or even an hour. Steve didn't age. He never changed. So no one ever had to know he was traveling with the Doctor.
Doctor Smith, he called himself, but everyone knew that was a code name. Steve met him when he was working with Peggy Carter. The man was an enigma at first, a technical pacifist who had unusual methods for helping the war effort. But Steve was observant. He always had been, and his senses were heightened by the serum. He didn't miss the lonely look in the Doctor's eyes. He didn't believe, as everyone else seemed to, that Doctor Smith was just another genius. (He used to get into arguments with Howard Stark, and almost always won.) No, Steve was certain there was something more to the Doctor than there seemed to be. So, one day, he followed him and discovered the TARDIS.
The Doctor had only looked at Steve and sighed. "Well, I guess I might as well tell you everything," he'd said.
Of course, Steve had wanted proof of the outlandish claims of time travel. So the Doctor (who by this time had informed Steve that his name was not Smith) took them on a little trip. A little trip that turned into a month's worth of traveling across the stars. Steve was in awe at the worlds he saw, but also at the Doctor. The man had lived so long, seen and done so much, and yet he continued trying to make the universe a better place. Steve was drawn to that from the beginning, and he liked to think he was maybe a little bit like the Doctor. He would never be as clever or powerful as the Doctor, but he wanted the same thing. He wanted to help people.
The Doctor had insisted Steve tell no one of their trips. Steve agreed, of course-who would believe them?-and the two of them continued taking off in the middle of the night, only to return in the morning, but months later for them. People thought Steve was 93 years old, but he was closer to 100.
Waking up in the 21st century had been a shock, not because he hadn't seen it before, but because his first thought was of the Doctor. But he wasn't there. He didn't come back. At first, Steve wondered if the Doctor had died. Then, as time went on, he convinced himself the Time Lord had simply forgotten about him. In all the universe, all of time, who knew how long or how far the Doctor had gone since Steve was lost in the ice.
Still, of all the people Steve had known back then, the Doctor was one he might still have the opportunity to say goodbye to.
But it wasn't worth worrying over. Steve worked hard and tried to keep busy. It wasn't difficult in this time to find things to do. Not always things he wanted to do, but there was plenty to distract. Still, in moments like these, winding down from a long mission, Steve thought about the Doctor and the amazing things they had done together. Steve had his eyes opened to the vastness of the universe, saw things no human ever had before. He learned so much about the world, that it was all much bigger than one war, one despotic nutcase. There were Hitlers enough to fill several planets, and Steve was glad to have aided in stopping a few. He often wished he could go back to that life, traveling the stars with the one person who could understand him.
As he released his pent up energy on a helpless bag of sand, images flashed through Steve's mind. Images not of death, but of beauty. A strange longing welled up in his heart, and he tried to suppress it. A longing for the way things used to be, for the beauty and expansiveness of all of space and time.
He had to stop this. Steve couldn't go on wishing for the way things were. If he wasn't thinking about Peggy and Brooklyn, he was thinking about the Doctor and the TARDIS. But he had to let them all go because they were never coming back.
"Can your muscles actually get any bigger?" a pronounced British voice asked when the resounding smacks on the punching bag had stopped.
Steve turned to see a familiar figure in the doorway of the gym. He looked exactly like he always had, young but somehow old, skinny and only slightly disheveled. His rubber soled shoes squeaked on the wood floor as he tucked one foot behind the other and leaned against the wall.
"No," Steve said, thinking of nothing else to say.
"So you going at a punching bag is like me using anti-aging cream?" there was a tiny smirk in the corner of the Doctor's mouth.
Steve nodded, and he might have been gaping a bit.
"I waited seventy years exactly," the Doctor said, the humor gone from his tone and expression. "Seemed a bit unfair for me to see you sooner than you got to see me."
"You could have come when I first woke up," Steve said, almost hopefully.
The Doctor shook his head. "You had things to do, a world to save. I would have been a distraction."
"Did you know where I was all that time?" Steve was surprised at the accusatory tone in his own voice.
The Doctor didn't hesitate. "Yes."
"You could have told them where I was. You could have gotten me out." Steve was speaking faster and louder now.
"Like I said: you had things to do."
"So the universe would have collapsed if I didn't stay asleep for 69 years?" The accusation was no longer seeping through his words but coating them.
"Bad things could have happened. I only discovered you were alive by coming forward in time. By then events were already set in motion."
"You yourself said time can be rewritten."
"Not all of it. Not you."
"I'm not a historical event."
"Yes you are. Don't you see?" The Doctor stepped forward, getting that frantic look in his eyes, gesturing wildly with his hands. "You are one of the most important people on this planet at this time. You needed to be here, under these circumstances. I'm sorry I couldn't change that. But without you, the Chitauri would have won. I'm so sorry, Steve. I really am."
Steve realized where he had heard those words, so many times before. "That's what you say when someone's about to die, and you can't stop it. That's what you always say."
"I wanted to wake you." The Doctor seemed desperate now, as if begging for forgiveness. "I wanted you to have that life you'd always imagined, but it wasn't going to happen. I've told you I can see the potential of time, and there was no chain of events that would lead to your happily ever after. If I had seen a way, I might have made a different choice."
"But it could have been." Steve wasn't arguing very forcefully now, knowing nothing he said would change his circumstances. "I dreamed of it while I was in the ice."
The Doctor nodded solemnly. "I know."
Steve frowned. "What do you mean, you know?"
"I gave you those dreams, to keep you company all those years. It was the least I could do."
"So you let me imagine a fairy tale? Teased me with a life I'll never have?" Steve's voice raised again, the anger speaking for him.
"I didn't want you to be alone!" The Doctor spoke as if by compulsion. "You deserved so much better."
"No." Steve shook his head and wiped sweaty hair from his forehead. "No, you're right. All those years I spent with you, I knew I'd never have a normal life. I knew I wouldn't age, wouldn't die." Steve laughed humorlessly. "I'm a lot more like you than I am a human."
"Oh, you're incredibly human, Steve. A rare example of what your race should be." The Doctor got that awed look on his face he had when discovering a new life form. "That's why I took you with me. And why I came back."
Steve tilted his head slightly. "What do you mean?"
"I've been waiting seventy years to ask you to come with me again, Captain Rogers. Would you?"
Steve let the question hang in the air for a moment. He gazed into the Doctor's pleading eyes, and saw the loneliness and sadness he had always remembered. "Yeah," he said. "I've been waiting seventy years for you to ask."