08/02/2001; 20:02. St Louis.
Fitz seemed incapable of getting beyond half-heartedly strumming the opening chords to some Simon and Garfunkel tune. He’d been playing those same chords for the past fifteen minutes. He couldn’t concentrate. This was ridiculous.
He glanced at his watch again.
He’d asked Compassion to drop him off a little early. Just a week or two, nothing much; he just needed some time to sort stuff out in his own head and he’d never been here before anyway. If you were going to travel, might as well make the best of it, yeah?
So he’d wandered around the city for the past couple weeks, taken in the sights, played his guitar in a few places. It was quiet, and relaxing, and the easiest time he’d had in a long time.
By the third day he’d become so restless he’d taken to prowling the park where Compassion had told him to meet the Doctor, scouting around to see if he couldn’t meet the Doctor a little early. Surely the Doctor would be impatient to catch up with him after being stuck on Earth for so long–right? Right?
Fitz checked his watch.
It was cold, and it was getting dark, and how the hell was he supposed to see the Doctor in a park after dark anyway? This was ridiculous. The Doctor wasn’t even supposed to show up for another couple hours. Fitz hadn’t seen him in the past two weeks, not once, and he had scoured every single inch of this bloody sprawling place. Maybe the Doctor wasn’t going to show at all. Maybe the Doctor had completely forgotten about him, lost the note, given up hope, didn’t want to see Fitz again, died.
That was just stupid. He’d survived destroying his home planet; how could anything on Earth kill him?
Fitz packed up his guitar and started walking. It was cold, and there were the remnants of snow on the ground, and he didn’t think he was supposed to be here after dark but he was used to dodging the occasional police car that trawled the roads that ran through this park, as well as everyone else who came his way. He hadn’t spoken to anyone but strangers for the past two weeks, and he’d barely spoken to any of them either.
This was a miserable, stupid way to live, he decided, and he hoped the Doctor hadn’t been living like that for the past century or more.
Maybe he’d gotten the TARDIS working and had already left the planet. Maybe he had no intention of keeping the meeting. Maybe he was angry at Fitz, because Fitz knew what he had done and he didn’t want anyone to remember.
Maybe he just hadn’t bloody arrived yet.
The strap holding his guitar case always dug into his shoulder, even through the layers of thick coat and sweatshirt and t-shirt, and he was constantly having to readjust the damned thing. He’d spent the past two weeks thinking and thinking; he’d even thought about leaving, running home to England, but what was the point when it was almost forty years in his future and he barely knew how to turn on a computer, let alone what the hell to do with one and it seemed like everything these days was done on the stupid little things? He’d thought about trying to get back in touch with Compassion, somehow, get her to take him back to his own time, but there was no point to that either, was there? He had no mum, he’d been on the run from the police when he’d left, and what would he do there? What would he do?
Fitz had also spent a lot of the past couple weeks panicking.
He glanced at his watch, rubbed his wrist where the band had been pressing into the skin all day. He really should loosen it. He didn’t know why he hadn’t. It was strange living his days from one to the next in a neat, orderly row again. He’d wandered this city on bus and on foot and waited for the monsters to fall out of the sky or jump from around the corner. They hadn’t. He didn’t know how the Doctor could handle it. After all, the Doctor hadn’t lived his life in linear steps in centuries, and Fitz had only been doing this traveling-and-saving-the-universe lark for a while now. Maybe he’d gone mad? Maybe the Doctor had spent the past fifty years or more locked up in an insane asylum someplace, raving about the monsters under the bed and in the fireplace.
You’re being stupid, Kreiner, Fitz lectured himself.
He’d decided, sometime last Tuesday in a coffee shop not far from the New Cathedral, that he couldn’t have abandoned the Doctor anyway. Not after everything they’d gone through together, not after everyone else had left, not after the Doctor had–hopefully–waited around to see him again. That was the deal, right? The Doctor would get better, the TARDIS would get better, and then they’d go off traveling again, the three of them, just like before. Yeah?
Fitz told himself it was too early to feel abandoned yet.
He was coming up to the hill behind the art museum now, where there were ruins of something or other and an old, useless little built-up pond that had probably had a fountain in it sometime. He didn’t think it was right for America to have what looked like ruins like that. The place wasn’t old enough. And they built up over the old stuff as quickly as they could anyway. He’d been on his own for too long and his thoughts were getting strange.
Somebody was humming.
Fitz stopped walking.
Somebody was walking along the dirty grey old stones that contained the (currently empty) non-fountain pond thingy, and they were humming. It wasn’t a tune Fitz recognized.
He couldn’t make out much in the dark, but the voice was male and the figure was wearing a long sort of coat over trousers, it looked like. His shoes clicked against the stones, and he started singing.
“Meet me in St. Louis, Louis; meet me at the fair,” the voice sang, and Fitz started laughing helplessly.
Meet me in St Louis, February 8th 2001 — Fitz.
He had been carrying that note around in various pockets for over a century and now he couldn’t find the blasted fellow he wanted.
St. Louis was a large city. Not as large as Chicago or Phoenix or LA, perhaps, but still large and sprawling and covering a lot of territory. How he was supposed to find one person out of the crowds of millions would have daunted anyone else into giving up before they even started.
The Doctor had gotten used to impossibilities and decided to give it a try anyway.
He’d often wondered about this Fitz. How this person knew him, knew he would live long enough to see the beginning of the twenty-first century. Sometimes he had been angry that Fitz would know more about him than he had ever managed to glean in over a century of trying to remember. Sometimes he had been insanely impatient, wishing the years and decades would move more quickly so he could finally get some answers. Sometimes he had been grateful for the long, slow run into the future; he wasn’t sure he wanted to meet Fitz and find out who he had been.
Now, today, he just felt a tiny bit nervous.
It’d been a long time since he’d felt nervous. The 1990s had dragged; he’d had little to look forward to or really care about since Miranda left. Just this note and a blue box and the possibilities that this Fitz person might bring with him.
Well, he assumed Fitz was a he. Who knew?
He’d headed for Forest Park–the obvious spot, he thought–and he’d spent all day there, just…hanging about. After all, he didn’t have a clue who he was looking for. Surely Fitz would know where to go and pick him out? After all, Fitz had apparently arranged this whole thing. The Doctor didn’t really like depending on other people’s plans like this. It irked him, a little. It had irked him even more as, throughout the day, Fitz had failed to show.
Maybe he wasn’t coming.
Fitz couldn’t be human, the Doctor had decided some years back. Fitz had to be of his own kind, perhaps immortal; otherwise how could he meet the Doctor? Maybe this had been a punishment for something he had done. He’d felt like it was a punishment. Maybe Fitz would give him the key to his freedom.
When he started thinking like that, the Doctor told himself to get a grip on himself and think about something else.
He had waited all day and Fitz hadn’t shown up and now he was still alone. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do now. He had been waiting for over a century for this moment and now that it was passing–what goals did he have left? What options?
He walked along the old fountain and sang the song that had made him choose this place to wait. He would wait until midnight if he had to; he would wait until Fitz showed his sorry face and then he would demand an explanation for what the hell was going on.
And he heard someone start to laugh.
The dark figure stopped singing and swung around, and Fitz could feel his eyes staring at him, his blue eyes, and bloody hell, it really was the Doctor, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? If it was just some local loony enjoying a night in the park in the dead of winter Fitz would feel like a right git.
The other person jumped off the fountain and walked toward him with a steady gait and stopped directly in front of him, getting up close, so close he was practically nose-to-nose with Fitz. Blue eyes, pale skin, curly brown hair, long coat and oh, Christ, Fitz was so relieved he pulled the Doctor into a hug without even stopping to think about it. He was still laughing, and his legs were weak, so it was probably a good thing he was hanging off the Doctor as he wasn’t sure he could hold himself up on his own at the moment.
“Fitz?” the Doctor’s voice was tentative, and Fitz pulled back, wiping at his eyes in embarrassment.
“Yeah, Doctor, it’s me,” he said, still grinning like an idiot and bloody hell, you’d think it’d been him stuck alone on the planet for the past century, not the Doctor, wouldn’t you?
“Fitz,” the Doctor repeated, staring at him, even through the dark. “So you’re Fitz.”
“Yeah,” Fitz answered, slowing down, heart sinking. He didn’t remember. He didn’t remember.
“Fitz,” he said again, studying Fitz like he was some kind of specimen in a jar. Unworthy.
The Doctor slapped him. Right across the cheek. Hard.
He was tall and gangly and grey-eyed and dark-haired, the Doctor discovered, before the other man enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug, still laughing and maybe crying a little too, and the force of the other man’s emotion startled him.
“Fitz?” He hadn’t recognized him, not even a spark, and he was trying to battle his disappointment. He’d hoped. He hadn’t wanted to admit it, had refused to even let himself think about it too hard, but he’d hoped that seeing somebody who knew him–before–would trigger at least something.
The other man pulled back and wiped his eyes and answered in the affirmative, and he was grinning so happily at the Doctor.
“Fitz,” he repeated, studying the other man. Who was he? Who was he?
He’d waited and he’d hoped.
He didn’t even realize what he was doing till his hand made contact with pale skin.
Fitz stumbled, still a bit wobbly on his pins from the unexpected emotional something-or-other, and instantly the Doctor was at his side, pulling him up and leading him toward the fountain to sit down.
“I’m so sorry,” the Doctor gabbled, and he sounded like he meant it, but Fitz was still in a state of shock about being slapped by the Doctor. “Honestly, I don’t know what came over me there, Fitz–are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine,” Fitz answered dazedly, and the Doctor pulled his guitar case off his back.
“Here, let me look.” The Doctor pulled Fitz’s hand away from his cheek and peered at the skin closely. He still hadn’t learned to stop invading other people’s personal space. Figured. He looked distanced, professional, like it didn’t matter whose cheek he was checking out. Universal doctor.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Fitz asked softly.
“No, I don’t,” the Doctor answered shortly, making Fitz wince, and then he sat down hard next to Fitz on the ex-fountain-pond-thingy. “I was hoping when I saw you I–” he bit off the rest of what he’d been about to say, and his head drooped.
He sounded frustrated and hurt, and Fitz kinda felt the same way.
“I’m Fitz Kreiner,” he said. “I’m your friend. I–we–we travelled together. For a while.”
“To different planets? Over a century ago?” The Doctor swung around and grabbed Fitz, startling him again. He placed both his hands over Fitz’s chest. “You only have one heart. You’re human, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
Fitz grabbed the Doctor’s hands and pulled them away, intensely uncomfortable. “Yeah,” he said. “Yes, Doctor, I’m human.” And you’re not, he didn’t say aloud, but he was thinking it, and he knew the Doctor knew he was thinking it because it was what the Doctor had been thinking for over a century.
He realized he was still holding the Doctor’s hands and let go, embarrassed. He turned away, looking out at the tall, straggly trees across the road. The old-ish stone beneath him was cold, numbing his arse. “We shouldn’t stay here,” he said and hugged his coat closer.
“Where is there to go,” the Doctor said. He sounded defeated.
Fitz stood up, unable to bear sitting there, listening to his friend give up. “Somewhere,” he insisted, even though he really just wanted to wander off alone for a fag and a quiet panic. “This is a big city. There has to be somewhere.”
Maybe the Doctor looked up at him, Fitz didn’t know because he wasn’t looking at the Doctor. “Come on then,” he muttered finally, standing up. “I’ve got a car.”
Fitz followed, wondering again if he could somehow contact Compassion, if he had enough money for a plane ticket back to London, if there was anywhere else for him to go.
They ended up in a bar. It was apparently Irish themed, judging by the O’ before the last name and the hackneyed clichés in the menu. But it was dark, and fairly empty, and the music from the jukebox–mostly jigs and folk songs, naturally–was loud enough to drown out their conversation if anyone had actually wanted to listen to it.
Fitz tried not to splutter when the Doctor ordered a whiskey, neat.
“Tell me what happened,” the Doctor said after their server walked away with their orders.
“I was hoping you’d’ve remembered on your own,” Fitz retorted. There was grey in the Doctor’s hair. Not much, but–grey. He’d been on the planet over a century and all he had to show for it were a few grey hairs and an extra line or two on his face. And a completely different personality. Maybe. Oh god.
“I tried.” He slumped back in the booth, and Fitz wondered if American bars had a no-smoking policy now. There wasn’t an ashtray on the table. Damn. “I tried for decades, not so much lately…” He looked up. “Why won’t you tell me?”
“I don’t think I should.”
The Doctor slammed his hand on the table. Fitz jumped. The Doctor muttered an apology, not looking at his companion. Fitz put his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands.
“This isn’t what I wanted,” Fitz said, pressing the palms of his hands into his forehead. “This is not the bright and happy reunion I was hoping for.”
He felt a gentle touch on his arm and looked up between his hands. The Doctor really did look apologetic. Fitz sighed and dropped his hands. “I’m sorry, Doctor. I can’t.”
He nodded, and they sat in silence till their drinks arrived.
“How did we meet?” the Doctor said. “Where did we go?”
You’re not supposed to be the one asking questions, Fitz didn’t say. “We went everywhere. Saved loads of people. We met because of my mother…”
Fitz sipped his beer. “Yeah,” he said. “It was, uh, a case. You were working on. These leech-thingys. Really bad. Um. My mum died because of them. So you asked if I’d like to go with you and I said yes.” He drank again and casually met the Doctor’s glance.
The Doctor looked slightly horror-stricken. “Everywhere I go,” he said. “Do I create trouble or does it follow me? I tried to live a normal life but I couldn’t fit in. Did I ever?”
Fitz didn’t want to hear this. He didn’t. He drank some more beer–it tasted awful–and carefully stood up and walked out.
The Doctor found him just outside, leaning against the wall, the tiny red-orange light from the end of his cigarette failing to illuminate even the bottom half of his face. The Doctor breathed in the smell and thought he could feel the smoke attempting to interfere with his respiratory system, settle into and blacken his lungs. It didn’t, of course, because he wouldn’t let it. As instinctive as breathing, or not breathing, and after a while he’d accepted it and stopped asking questions.
The Doctor wondered if he’d ever been a good liar, even to himself, and asking questions like that anymore just made him feel tired.
Fitz wouldn’t meet his eye, but Fitz was going to have to talk to him some time tonight if for no other reason than because his guitar was still in the Doctor’s rental car. Despite that, the Doctor got the sense that Fitz was seriously considering doing a runner. He wondered if Fitz was just terribly obvious, or if he really did know the man and he often did a runner.
Not that he could blame him, of course.
“This isn’t going the way I expected, either,” the Doctor said. “I was hoping…”
“That you’d remember me,” Fitz finished for him. “Yeah. Me too.”
“I’m sorry.” He felt like that was all he’d been saying all night, and he was getting a bit tired of that too. Fitz took another drag on his cig. The Doctor wrinkled his nose. “I do wish you wouldn’t smoke.”
Fitz huffed a laugh. “You’re always telling me that.”
The Doctor blinked.
Fitz finally looked at him and deliberately brought the fag up to his lips. “You’re always telling me not to smoke. You really like those little tomatoes–the cherry ones?–and you tell people to take responsibility for their actions and live in the moment, and you’re terrible at playing the recorder. Cats love you, you travel through time and space, and you really, really hate being locked up. You used to drive a Bug till it got clobbered in San Francisco–erm, this year, actually, I think, or is it next?–you like Turkish Delight, and you have a hero complex that sometimes really gets up my nose.” He straightened and took a step closer, and the Doctor noticed for the first time that Fitz was taller than him. “It doesn’t matter what happened,” Fitz said, pointing his cig at the Doctor. “You’re still you, and yeah, trouble’s always followed you or you’ve always followed it, but you’re the good guy. I know you are. With or without your memory.” He sounded as if he were trying to reassure himself as much as the Doctor.
The Doctor gently took the cigarette from Fitz’s hand, dropped it to the sidewalk, and stepped on it, ignoring Fitz’s surprised look. He looked up after he was sure the cig was out, and now Fitz stared down at him, wary and puzzled, and somehow the Doctor had the impression that that was not an uncommon expression on poor Fitz’s face. Suddenly, the Doctor wanted to smile.
“Time and space, you said?” he asked.
The Doctor drove along Kingshighway at speeds that were probably unhealthy and certainly illegal, and Fitz clung to the “oh, shit” handle wondering how the Doctor could live on the planet for all of the twentieth century and not gain better driving skills.
As alternating shopping centers and neighborhoods of small brick shotgun houses swept by, the Doctor suddenly said, “Why didn’t you tell me where to find you?”
Fitz glanced at him before returning his attention to the road. He wanted to be prepared to start screaming in case it became necessary. “Your note…”
“Only said ‘Meet me in St. Louis.’ I deduced from that you meant Forest Park, since that was the site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and I decided to head for the fountain behind the art museum since that’s the only surviving building.” The Doctor smiled a little, reminiscently. “I always did enjoy that fountain.”
“What does the 1904 Louisiana whatsit have to do with it?” Fitz asked.
“The song, of course. Written about the St. Louis World’s Fair. ‘Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,’” the Doctor broke into song, and Fitz blinked, “‘Meet me at the fair! Don’t tell me the lights are shining, any place but there!’ It’s alright, I suppose,” he added in his usual speaking voice, “though the melody’s a bit rubbish.”
Fitz laughed, and he was surprised afterwards that he had.
“I’m glad you figured it all out from that one line,” he said. Compassion had just told him where to go, not why. She was always doing things like that. The Doctor at least usually explained things eventually. When he knew. Sometimes he even used words small enough for you to understand.
“So’m I,” the Doctor was saying, but when Fitz glanced at him quickly he was watching the road, bland expression on his face.
“You managed to hang onto that note, then?” Fitz asked as casually as he could. “For all those years?”
“It was all I had,” the Doctor replied. “When I woke up. It was all I had sometimes for years.” A tiny, strange smile flickered on his face. “Curiosity, if nothing else, to keep me going. And hope.”
Fitz felt a little shaken, and a lot guilty, especially since he was still thinking about running away before he got in too deep again. “Sounds about right,” he said, his voice quieter and less light-hearted than he would have liked.
The Doctor swerved right, Fitz grabbed the handle again, and only after his heart had stopped pounding in his ears did he realize the Doctor had pulled the car into an alley behind a hotel.
At the end of the alley was a large blue box.
The Doctor turned off the ignition, and Fitz stared at the box in silence for a long time. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was feeling, but it felt a little bit like homesick, and he wondered when London in 1963 had stopped being his home.
“Tell me,” the Doctor said. “Please tell me this, if nothing else.”
“Have you got the key?”
Fitz’s voice was quiet, a little breathless from suppressed excitement.
“Key,” the Doctor muttered, and he started patting down pockets. “Key, key, key…of course!” He stared at Fitz. “Cubbyhole. Above the P.”
They tumbled out of the car and ran to the police box. The Doctor looked at Fitz expectantly, and Fitz realized he wanted Fitz to give him a leg up. He put his hands together and knelt low enough that the Doctor, using Fitz’s shoulder for support, could place his foot in Fitz’s hands.
“This,” Fitz said through gritted teeth after a moment, “is not going to end well.”
“Stand still, Fitz,” the Doctor ordered.
Just as he was about to lose his grip, the Doctor crowed in delight and jumped out of Fitz’s hands. He sighed in relief. The Doctor brandished a little, nondescript Yale key, grinning like a maniac, and despite Fitz’s sore fingers he couldn’t help grinning manically back. And then the Doctor threw his arms around him and snogged him, smack on the lips, and Fitz groaned.
“Not again, Doctor,” he said, but the Doctor was busy fiddling with the lock and didn’t pay him the least bit of attention.
The door swung open.
Both the Doctor and Fitz froze, and then Fitz looked around the alley to make sure nobody was watching them. “Well?” he asked. “What’s inside?”
“Fitz,” the Doctor said thoughtfully, standing on the threshold but not taking a step inside. “I think I’m afraid to look.”
Oh, Christ, Fitz thought. He’s afraid? Oh Christ.
He put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder, stood just behind him. “It’s your ship,” he said. “It’s your TARDIS. Maybe…maybe if you didn’t remember me, you’ll remember her?”
The Doctor looked back at him. “I was afraid you weren’t going to show today. That it was all going to be for naught.”
Fitz grinned sheepishly. “I was afraid you wouldn’t show either,” he confessed. “And I’d have to figure out something else to do.”
The Doctor laughed softly. “Terrifying prospect, isn’t it?” He turned around, took a deep breath, and entered the box.
Fitz waited a moment.
“Well?” he called when he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
It remained silent for minutes more that stretched out, and just as Fitz was about to panic, or step inside, or both, he heard humming. That same damn tune that the Doctor had been humming or singing ever since Fitz had run into him at the park.
There was something strangely comforting about Fitz, but perhaps it wasn’t so strange if the young man knew him as well as he’d suggested back in front of the bar.
It was rare, too, that somebody would so willingly follow his lead.
So when Fitz looked at his blue box with affection, excitement, hope, nostalgia–emotions the Doctor couldn’t even really put into words, and he doubted Fitz could either–the Doctor couldn’t help it when his own hearts started beating faster, his breath becoming more shallow.
Perhaps he’d been right to hope after all.
When he stepped inside, he stood for a moment in darkness. Fear stole his breath momentarily, fear and claustrophobia, and when he would have run back out of the box and started yelling at Fitz, a light flickered up. It was sluggish, and the Doctor could understand that it had been a while so she’d be slow to wake up, and then the whole room was lit up and–
He’d lived his life in tiny linear steps for the past few decades. He couldn’t remember how he’d lived before, but he knew it hadn’t been like that.
She was white and bright and humming, and he stepped up to her console and touched it gently. She responded; he could feel something in the back of his mind wake up, a connection that had been missing for too long, and he couldn’t help laughing.
He danced around the console, caressing controls as if they were old friends, and he didn’t notice he was humming until he heard a step and looked up to find Fitz had finally come in.
Fitz, who knew him and who the TARDIS knew, and the Doctor was so intensely grateful he’d kept that note for the past hundred years that he couldn’t help the grin that blazed across his face.
“Coming?” he asked, and he didn’t doubt for a moment what Fitz’s answer would be.
The Doctor was humming inside, and that had to be a good sign, and Fitz started grinning again. He couldn’t help it. He stepped inside, into a brightly-lit console room, and he could have sworn the room lit up even brighter when he got inside, as if the TARDIS were just as happy to see him as she was the Doctor, and he put a hand on the wall next to the door by way of saying hello.
And there was the Doctor, standing over the console, flicking a switch here, shifting a lever there, twisting a dial over there, and it just looked so right. He looked up at the sound of Fitz’s step and smiled sunnily at his companion.
“Coming?” he asked expectantly.
Fitz glanced back, involuntarily, at the door that led to the outside world. London, or maybe Compassion, or just plain old St. Louis, a life of linear steps and simple progressions. The Doctor wasn’t the same, not after living over a century on Earth, but Fitz did know him, and the Doctor had waited all that time to see him. And he thought the Doctor might still need him, maybe need a little reminder or three on how to navigate the universe.
He turned back to the Doctor. “Yeah,” he said lightly, “alright.”