She was standing with a cup of hot tea in one hand over a table strewn with blue prints and memos, absorbed in her work as a series of mechanical howls announced his arrival behind her. Her eyes widened in immediate recognition, even after so many years, and she turned and began to slowly approach the battered blue phone box standing in the middle of her workroom.
The doors creaked open and out stepped a lanky man with wild brown hair and a pinstriped suit. He immediately turned his back to her without having taken any notice of her at all, busy locking the door and muttering to himself.
“Am I in the right place? Looks familiar, but too much maybe. They must’ve redecorated at some point--well, they were always stubborn about habits, and money has to go toward the aircraft carriers somehow… ‘course, it’s more likely I’m early, and wouldn’t that be perfect? The rare time you get me somewhere around the time there are people I know there who’d be expecting me, and it’s actually at the wrong point for me…” Finishing with the door, the man turned a comically curious expression up at the ceiling as he spun around. From there he looked down and his expression softened instantly. “Jo?” he asked faintly.
“Doctor?” she asked incredulously, carefully putting down the tea.
“I am he and he is me,” the Doctor burst out joyfully.
Jo let him dive for her, his eyes sparkling and his smile nearly desperate from the thrill. He pulled her in tightly, and she felt herself lifted off her feet. She returned the embrace with as much vigor, tugging affectionately at his back through his rather thin clothes.
“You never came to visit,” she said gently through a forced laugh once he had put her down. “I remember perfectly well saying you should, but five years and nothing!” And only by accident now, it seemed, and only god knew what had gone on in the meantime by the look of that face.
“Five years?!” The Doctor asked sharply. “No wonder you were so easy to recognize! …well, I suppose I’ve done far worse than showing up thirty years early. Never mind that!” He cupped her face in his hands, his face and his voice again warm and subdued. “Oh, Josephine Grant, five years is nothing. It’s been centuries.”
They spent seconds -- inordinately long seconds -- staring silently at each other, their smiles almost mournful. Jo raised one hand and wrapped it around one of his.
“So!” The Doctor’s expression switched to curious so fast as to be mildly dizzying. He dropped his arms and walked toward the worktable. “What’re you doing hanging around here?”
Jo brightened. “I’m working here! I came back after all the business with the mushrooms. I’m one of their agents.” The Doctor gave her a once-over, cocking an eyebrow at her pink blouse, skirt, and heeled boots. “Civilian. Undercover,” she added hastily.
The Doctor pushed aside some papers and casually sat on the table, facing her. “Good to see you’ve been productive. Business with the mushrooms over then? How does your Dr. Jones feel about a wife in the establishment, eh?”
Jo began fussing with all her papers, keeping her eyes on her hands and lightly trying to shake her hair forward as a barrier from his piercing look. “I couldn’t honestly tell you how he’s feeling at the moment. We haven’t seen each other for the past year.”
A painful sensation of concern settled in the Doctor’s gut like a rock, not at all what he would have expected to feel on hearing such news. “What happened?” he asked gently, resisting an urge to reach over and nudge the hair back from her face.
“Well, he’s very busy, you know, very focused on his work,” Jo rambled, “and that’s fine, it’s actually very good, I think, but he only ever seemed to want me around some of the time, and that’s not very good for anyone.”
The Doctor gazed over at the TARDIS. “No. You’re right, it isn’t.” Eventually, he looked back at her. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, never mind. It’s all over with now.” Jo finished stacking the papers and tapped the edge of the pile against the table to make it neat. “And what brings you here?” she asked, smiling at him.
He took a deep breath. “Well, I was aiming for a different decade, but I suppose planting the seeds of the idea here will do. I need to talk to someone about a recommendation, for someone I think would make a rather brilliant, actually, addition to the organization. Know anybody I could talk to about that?”
Jo pulled a face. “I’m afraid you’ve caught us on a bad day if you want a favor. Not a lot of the people who know you are around. The Brigadier’s in Geneva again -- they keep calling him over, he’s completely exhausted, keeps swearing he’s going to retire any day now -- and Benton’s gone to hospital--”
The Doctor looked alarmed. “What?!”
“--oh, it isn’t anything, his sister’s having a baby and he went to be with her. Speaking of which, Jenkins is gone today, too. Sorry to say you’re stuck with me.”
“No need to be sorry about that, Jo.” He gave her a small smirk.
“I could take down the message if you’d like.”
“That’d be great, thanks.”
Before they got a chance to take care of the Doctor’s business, the phone by the door rang and Jo ran to it. “Hello?…Yes, of course…Where did the report come in from? Hold on, I should write it down…” The Doctor handed her a pen and a memo from the top of her pile. She grimaced, then shrugged and flipped it over to use the back. “All right, I’m ready…Yes…yes…there we go. Thank you very much, sir.” She hung up the phone and beamed at the Doctor, holding up the sheet of paper like a sign.
“And what’s that?” he asked, returning her cheerful expression.
“Something I think you’ll like,” she teased. “I’ve got a little mission, and you can come with me. And there’s something else I think you’ll like.”
“Oh yeah?” Feeling chipper, the Doctor hopped off the table and followed Jo out of the room.
“BESSIE!” The Doctor howled at the bright yellow sight when Jo lifted the garage door. “Oh, good ol’ Bessie, she looks better than I left her. Cleaner, that is.” He scurried over and began running his hands affectionately over the hood and windshield.
“We didn’t really know what to do once you disappeared. Nobody could drive it, and the technology was too advanced to just get rid of for worry it would get into the wrong hands,” Jo explained, stifling her giggles at the enthusiasm she was beholding.
The Doctor looked scandalized. “Get rid of Bessie?! That’s completely mad! Who would do that?!”
Jo walked over and dangled the keys in front of his face. His eyes fixed on them, moving slightly from side to side as one with the keys. Making a face of comic frustration, she gave them an extra jangle, setting him in motion. He snatched them from her and leapt into the driver’s seat.
“Allons-y!” he announced, standing and one hand pointing to the ceiling. Jo hurried into the passenger’s seat and the Doctor sat down, started Bessie, and shot off.
The lush, hilly landscape whizzed past them and their hair flew across their foreheads. It was a day no cooler than normal for the area, but the speed at which Bessie rushed along added to the effect. Jo wrapped her arms around herself tightly against the breeze. The Doctor noticed. Letting go of the steering wheel, he began peeling off his suit jacket.
Jo’s jaw dropped. “Doctor!”
He waved her off. “It’s fine.”
“What’s fine?! Doctor, the steering wheel!”
“The steering wheel’s fine!” he assured her. True enough, Bessie was keeping a steady course on the road. In fact, the ride was smoother without the Doctor maneuvering. He flung the jacket over her shoulders and took hold again.
She shook off her shock after a few moments. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked him.
“No, never! Well, hardly ever. Anyway, not right now.” He grinned at her.
Jo pulled the jacket on. It was quite a surprise to wear. It was impossible not to notice that this Doctor was very skinny, but Jo still hadn’t expected his clothing to fit her so well. It was hardly wide at all. Maybe the sleeves were longer than she was used to, but that was about it. She also couldn’t help noting how the pinstripes clashed with the paisley of her skirt, but supposed it was lucky he hadn’t draped a flamboyant purple cape over her.
“Doctor, what happened?” she inquired shyly.
“How do you mean?”
“Your face.” She cringed. “Well, what happened to make it…to make you change?”
“Oh, a lot of things, Jo. This isn’t the first one since you last saw me. Actually, I’ve got more regenerations between this one and the one you last saw than I’d got before you met me.”
“Hmm.” Jo nodded along, then bit her lip and forged on. “What about the one I knew?”
He stiffened. “It’s not important. Happens all the time.”
“What do you mean, ‘it happens all the time?’” Jo asked, worry creeping into her voice. “Just what happened? Doctor, I wish you wouldn’t patronize me.”
The Doctor was taken aback. The comment was almost accusatory, coming from her. Not that he could blame her, not that it was unusual. He was just never as ready as he’d like for those moments. He’d been too busy feeling like he was back in those bitter days, taking comfort in her affection, to remember that she must have had some bitter days of her own. He looked darkly over at her expectant face. She sighed and looked away.
“I don’t mean it harshly. I’m sorry. It’s just curiosity, you know how that is.”
He always underestimated the curiosity of others. He couldn’t help it; they took interest in the strangest little things. “…do you remember that crystal I gave you?” he asked slowly, turning toward her.
“Doctor, the road. You should be careful,” she remarked, knowing as she spoke that it didn’t matter. “Of course I remember. It was really beautiful. But our guides down in the Amazon thought it was pretty horrible. I was absolutely crushed about sending it back, I felt like I was betraying you.”
“As it turns out, those superstitious guides of yours had a point!” He shrugged. “I had to take it back where I found it in the end. Took its toll, though. My own fault, really, I ought to be more careful about…well, everything.”
“But…you got that crystal for me!”
“Yes I did.”
“Doctor,” Jo said slowly, looking at him with a tragic expression, “do you mean you died because of me?”
Face falling in realization of what he must have just said, the Doctor immediately sprung into action. “Jo,” he burst out, letting go of the steering wheel again in favor of pulling her toward him, “don’t ever think that. I already said it was my own fault.”
It was a lot easier the first time he knew her, when she wasn’t part of the stories he told. Here again, with one of the few people he was ever so forthcoming with, the lines were much more difficult to draw. Of course she had asked, but it wasn’t as though he’d ever found it impossible to lie before, even to Jo. Yet here he was, rattling off his biography like it was no different. But it was, obviously, even if he couldn’t tell. It was different for her, at least.
Jo buried her face in his slightly overlong sleeves and spoke through them in a muffled voice. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Doctor! I’ll never be able to stop thinking of it.”
“There’s no need to think of it at all, you know. It’s not even death, Jo. I’m right here. All it did was give me a new body, a new lease on life even. It actually helped, you could say. No, it really did actually help.”
Jo peered over her hands at him. “Then you’re all right?” she demanded. “Are you sure?”
“I’m…yeah, it…it worked out fine,” he stammered as casually as he could.
With a last lingering nervous look, Jo leaned back against her seat. The Doctor gave her a small smile and couldn’t help chucking her chin before leaning back to take control of Bessie again.
“I hope we haven’t passed our destination,” Jo announced. The Doctor’s laugh was a bark piercing the wind.
“So, what exactly are we doing here?” The Doctor parked Bessie on the incline of a small grassy knoll and slid out of his seat.
“According to my report, someone was exploring a little cave nearby and came across a suspicious something that we think might be a spaceship.” Jo was halfway out when the Doctor came around and, taking her hand, helped her get her footing. He then kept a grip on her hand as they walked, with her leading gently. “They called the authorities and the information was relayed to UNIT.”
The Doctor nodded along soberly, taking in the scenery as he let himself be led. Next to him, Jo had started speaking into her walkie-talkie, assuring Greyhound Some Number He Didn’t Catch on the other end of their successful arrival. He couldn’t help but be surprised how much the same everything looked as the last time he remembered exploring the countryside surrounding headquarters, no matter how many times he tried to reason with himself about linear time.
“My assistant and I are going inside the cave now, over and out.” Jo finished her report and pressed the antenna into her hip to push it back down.
“Assistant?” the Doctor exclaimed, snapping back to attention. He froze in place and looked at her, his face contorted in an incredulous expression. Jo looked right back, her eyebrows raised and her face innocent. For just a few seconds, they were in a deadlock, then he broke into a sudden grin. “Honored, Miss Grant.”
Jo smiled back and continued pulling him along. “Just in there.”
They had an awkward time getting into the cave due to a low entrance and piles of boulders making an obstacle of their path. The Doctor scrambled over them on all fours, but Jo was having trouble, impaired by high heels and one hand gripping a supply bag.
“It’s so stupid of me, wearing these boots,” she spat. She tossed aside the bag and dug her nails into the surrounding rocks for leverage. “There aren’t a lot of options for women in the workplace.”
“I was wondering why a UNIT operative wouldn’t be wearing more sensible shoes,” the Doctor teased. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders, hooked his other arm under the crook of her elbow, and led her carefully down the boulders.
“You should talk,” she shot back affably. “Your trainers look like they would tear right off if you got your foot caught.”
He gasped in mock-defensiveness. “I think that’s uncalled for. All right, there we go.” They broke through to a cavern.
The Doctor reached over to Jo and pulled a torch from his inner jacket pocket. She spluttered on seeing the size of the thing illuminated by its own light.
“I didn’t even feel that,” she muttered.
“Dimensionally transcendental, Jo,” he replied with a flourish, “We’ve talked about this before.”
Jo shrugged to herself and followed the light with her eyes as it scanned the open space. “There,” she said suddenly. “I think I saw something shine.” She pointed to a spot near the back, against the cave wall.
“So you did,” the Doctor affirmed.
They walked together to the source of the glint. The ceiling got lower as they neared it, until they found themselves crouched and face to face with partially formed crystals.
“Well, hello,” Jo greeted them calmly.
“Is that what you saw?” the Doctor asked her.
“I suppose so.” She lowered her head, ready to turn back and try again, but the ground caught her eye. “Doctor, I’ve stepped on something.”
“What?” He cast the torchlight down at her feet. “Well, that’s most certainly not earth. Not from Earth at all, in fact.”
Jo stepped off of the object and the two hunkered down on the cave floor. The Doctor passed her the torch and dusted off the top.
“We’ve found your spaceship,” he commented. He gripped the sides with both hands and tried to tug it out. “Dig in,” he invited.
Together, they dragged the ship from the dirt entrapping it. It was small for a spaceship, Jo thought. The size of an decorative plate, and just as circular, thickest in the center. What most people might expect a spaceship to look like, but miniaturized. Jo had long since stopped expecting anything from the expanses of the universe to look anything like what most people might expect.
“Do you have any idea what we should do with it?” she asked as they set it down.
“Yes…yes…” the Doctor responded, impassioned and mostly to himself. “I’ve seen these before, these ships. UNIT needn’t worry, by the way. Totally benevolent species. Never caught their name in all the excitement of last time. Nervous little things, too, probably because they’re so small. Just…get this open…” Reaching over to Jo again, he pulled his sonic screwdriver out of the same pocket that had stored the torch and aimed it at the ship’s underside, near the rim.
“It looks different,” Jo commented.
“Oh. Yeah. Well, you know, time on my hands.”
“I can imagine.”
There was a click. “There we go!” the Doctor crowed. He pried open a strip of the ship that folded around to where it was hinged on the top and peered in. “Hello? Anybody in there?”
Jo leaned closer to peer with him and repeated his question into the ship. The little console room was very well lit, but empty of life. It looked surprisingly spacious, but in the way she was used to the insides of houses looking different than she expected from the outside. It was nowhere near the confusion of proportions that came with stepping into the TARDIS.
He looked up at her and rambled an explanation. “Must’ve crash landed, damaged the ship. Just need a good mechanic, I expect. If I can get a hold of them. I hope they haven’t gone and died. How long did you say they’d been here?”
“Can’t be more than two days.”
Jo nudged his head aside with her own so she could peek. After a few seconds, a shadow fluttered near the back, and a small, completely brown alien stepped into the little ship’s console room and peered out at them, apparently taken aback. It had a humanoid body and was very top-heavy. It could have passed itself off easily as a children’s doll.
“Hello,” Jo greeted it sweetly. It waved back at her. “My name’s Jo. And this is the Doctor.” She inclined her head a fraction to the left.
Following the direction, the alien waved at the Doctor as well. A gleeful, wide-eyed expression on his face, he raised a hand so it was visible through the entrance and returned the gesture.
“What’s your name?” he asked softly. “Your species name.” He turned to Jo and explained, “They don’t have individual names, at least not as recognizable to outside species. Isn’t that weird?” His thrill at the concept was apparent. “…‘course, it makes it a bit hard to remember any names at all when it comes to them. So really, what is your species name?” He turned his attention back to the alien.
“We are Meeples,” came a response in a distorted trill.
“And how did you end up stuck here?” Jo probed.
“Why’s that?” the Doctor and Jo asked in unison. He cast her a fleeting glance of appraisal that she didn’t catch. She couldn’t take her eyes off the Meeple.
“We suffered a mechanical breakdown,” the Meeple told them matter-of-factly.
“Ah! Said so, didn’t I, Jo?!” The Doctor nudged her shoulder excitedly. “Don’t worry, Meeple, I think I can help you. Point out the problem area.”
The Meeple obliged. The Doctor held up his screwdriver with earnestness, then dug into the tiny ship as best he could. Jo could hear the device’s cyclical sound but, despite looking over his shoulder, couldn’t catch what the Doctor was doing.
“There we go,” he said momentarily, pulling back and pocketing the screwdriver. He looked kindly into the ship. “Give it a try. Good luck, and goodbye if you have it.”
“Goodbye!” Jo chimed in.
The Meeple waved goodbye as the door lowered to a complete close. The Doctor and Jo bent their heads further and further down as it did, trying to keep the view as long as they could. Once he heard a click and a hiss, the Doctor gently set the ship back on the ground in its proper position.
“Watch,” he whispered, or nearly.
The ship rose above their heads, hovered briefly, and began floating toward the mouth of the cave. It gradually faded to invisibility on its way there.
“…is it supposed to do that?” Jo asked tentatively.
“That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. Wasn’t that brilliant?”
Jo chortled. “Yes! And he was very sweet, too.”
“I don’t think it’s a he, actually.”
“That was a girl?”
“Not exactly,” the Doctor explained. “The Meeples don’t have sexes as recognizable to outside species, either.”
“Huh. They really are weird.”
“I still like them, though.” Jo smiled to herself.
Their heads still facing upward from looking at the ship, both of them retraced the path it had taken until they were left staring straight above.
“Jo,” the Doctor drawled. “Crystals.”
Jo smiled up at the glinting crystals. “Hmm.”
The Doctor took a deep, contemplative breath and exhaled with a theatrical blow. Pushing down on his knees, he got up and pulled his sonic screwdriver out again. Gently cupping the crystals with one hand, he set the screwdriver on a low setting and slowly separated them from the cave roof. His face was set in concentration.
“…there…” he muttered to himself when he finally felt the crystals loosen and come off into his hand. He knelt back down next to Jo and delicately slipped them into her cupped hands. “Not quite as special as that other crystal I got you, but some brilliant colors, don’t you think?”
“As long as these ones don’t kill you, I should be glad to have them.”
A smile teased the corner of her mouth as she looked up to meet the Doctor’s eyes. He was looking back at her with a soft, serious expression, but she only caught it for a second before he leaned in with purpose and kissed her. His fingers lightly stroked her jaw line, and Jo felt herself relax and respond.
Eventually, the Doctor pulled back and focused intently on the dirt that had been displaced when the ship had been pulled up. He wasn’t sure of the wisdom of what he’d just done, but he was sure that it had been the only appropriate reaction. He dug absently at the dirt.
Jo reached over and took his dirt-streaked hand in hers, squeezing affectionately. “Come on, Doctor. I think we’re finished.”
He kept an arm loosely around her shoulders as she leaned over a piece of paper at her worktable, taking down the recommendation he dictated to her.
“Basically, someone just needs to make sure the people in charge know about me, so they don’t dismiss the importance of this document once its time is ripe,” he concluded. There was a pause as they looked at each other. “It’s far off, isn’t it? I should probably check up on it at a few points in the future leading up to it.”
“Yes, probably.” Jo made a face at him and nodded. “I’ll go and put it in the Brigadier’s inbox, I’m sure he’ll give it the attention it deserves.”
“Good old Brigadier!” the Doctor cried, lifting his arm from around her with a flourish.
Jo got up to take care of the letter. The Doctor got up with her, hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“I’ll only be a minute,” she assured him.
The Doctor freed one hand from his pocket and ran his fingers through the crystals scattered on the table. After awhile, he looked up at Jo, eyes and smile tender. “Thank you, Jo.”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Without warning, he pulled her into him and hugged her tightly, squishing her face against his poorly done tie. She ran her hands up his back, maneuvering carefully so not to crumple the paper meant for the Brigadier. The Doctor’s face was buried in the top of her head, and Jo thought she felt a butterfly kiss there before he finally let her go.
“I’ll only be a minute,” she repeated. He smirked at her and jerked his head toward the door. With a last big smile, Jo strode out to deliver the document.
She was in the Brigadier’s office, tapping the stack of papers from his inbox -- the Doctor’s recommendation on top -- against his desk to even out the edges when she heard the chilling cries that signaled the TARDIS’ departure. She gave a slight, instinctive shrug.
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