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Fire. It was growing hotter. Closer. The Doctor forced himself to keep watching the controls. He couldn't look up – not even for a second. If he did, he knew, he would never be able to leave. How could he make that choice? Abandon this world to its fate in order to save another?
But there was nothing more he could do for this world. At last, the controls registered enough power. He threw the switch. Only then did he look up. The red-hot lava – the molten core of the Earth itself – was almost upon them. Almost at his friends' feet. In an instant, they would be gone. Burned away.
"Liz!" The Doctor woke with a start, breathing heavily. But still breathing. Which was more than they were doing now – those inhabitants of the parallel Earth he had visited. All gone. All burned alive. And he hadn't been able to do anything to stop it.
Liz – his Liz – was safe, of course. She had recently left for Cambridge. He would miss her, but that was nothing new. People came and went. Sometimes they left. Sometimes he left. And sometimes…
The Doctor lay there in the dark for a moment, collecting his wits. He would get no more sleep tonight; of that, he was certain. He was no stranger to nightmares, and knew by now that this one would linger until it was replaced by another. He couldn't recall the last time he'd had a pleasant dream.
Resigned to another sleepless night, he got up, dressed, and switched on the light in the lab. His lab. He grimaced at the thought. His lab. His office. His desk. Him with a desk. He kicked the misshapen piece of wood for good measure, only to be reminded that he wasn't wearing any shoes. He slammed his fist down hard on a stack of files left by the Brigadier.
One of them toppled to the floor. The Doctor sighed and picked it up, debated for a moment, then decided to have a look. The files were full of possible alien sightings – going back decades. None suggested anything particularly threatening, and had therefore been dubbed "not urgent" by those in charge. So the Brigadier had passed them on to him to look over if he had some "spare time," knowing well that he had far too much of it.
On the one hand, the Doctor knew he should be grateful. It gave him something to do when there was a lull in matters that actually were urgent. He could only work on the Tardis for so long at a stretch without becoming frustrated – both with the ship for refusing to cooperate and with himself for being unable to remember how to fix it. It wasn't his fault, of course – the Time Lords had wiped those memories before exiling him – but, still, it was maddening to know that the knowledge he needed to free himself was locked away somewhere in his mind, just beyond his reach.
So it was good to have a distraction now and then. But, on the other hand, paperwork – and lots of it – bespoke a permanence he wasn't ready to accept just yet. The Brigadier expected him to be around for quite a while, if the growing stack of files was any indication. He wasn't ready for that yet – not while there was still hope of fixing the Tardis.
Still, looking at one file wouldn't hurt, and he needed a distraction right now. The Doctor opened the file and skimmed it quickly. It was old – roughly ten years old. 1962. October. Cuba. A flying object had been sighted, and ships on both sides of a standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union reported inexplicable trouble with their missiles. They had fired on a beach – for reasons, of course, not included in the report – but the missiles had never reached their target. Instead, they had turned back in the direction of the ships, but had then exploded in mid-air.
All of this, of course, was the unofficial story. Officially, nothing unusual had happened, and both governments had hushed it up, as human governments tended to do with matters they either couldn't explain or assumed people couldn't handle. The Doctor shook his head. Ordinary people could handle a lot more than what those in power gave them credit for. And what they couldn't handle, they could ignore perfectly well without the government hiding it.
The Doctor yawned. The rebounding missiles could be the work of a force field. Or a tractor beam. Or any number of other things. But the flying object described sounded less like a spaceship and more like a human jet. An advanced one for the time, but not impossible. Or maybe it was a spaceship disguised as a jet, the way the Tardis was designed to blend in … when the Chameleon Circuit was working.
In either case – human or alien – someone had been protecting the beach. Why?
His curiosity sufficiently aroused, the Doctor gave the Tardis door a push and stepped inside. He stroked the console gently, and the ship hummed to life. He turned a few knobs and pulled a lever. "All right, old girl. Let's see what we can find out about Cuba – 1962."
He knew better, of course, than to expect the Tardis to be able to take him there – not in her present condition. But he had recently rigged up a crude form of intertemporal scanner, which – occasionally, when it decided to work – could collect information from another time and place. It was almost as if the Time Lords were taunting him, allowing him to see – but not touch – a few other corners of the universe. Now maybe it would come in handy.
The Doctor flipped a few more switches and turned on the screen. He was beginning to see an image. Trees. Sunlight. But it was still fuzzy. He fiddled absently with a few knobs, trying to get a closer view.
Suddenly, the Tardis gave a jolt, and a wheezing whoosh filled the room. The Doctor grinned. It was working! But why was it working now?
Then, just as suddenly, everything stopped. The Doctor hurried to the door and flung it open, expecting a beach. Instead, there was nothing. Darkness. No sunlight. No ground. No stars. Just black emptiness as far as he could see.
Only when the Doctor turned around did he see that he was not alone. A young man lay on the floor of the Tardis, staring up in wonder. But his look of awe was quickly replaced by one of pain. He opened his mouth, but was still too shocked to say anything. Instead, he pressed two fingers to his temple, and the Doctor heard a voice inside his mind. "Please … help me…" Then the young man passed out.
The Doctor was at his side in an instant, all thought of his current predicament and the darkness outside forgotten. As he knelt there, examining his new arrival, he reached up and gave the Tardis console a gentle pat. "Nice work, old girl," he nodded. "Just what I needed."
Charles Xavier took a deep breath, then let it out. Again. And then again. The pain was gone. But the nothingness, the lack of feeling, was far worse. Another breath. And another. Calming his nerves. Clearing his mind.
He wasn't alone. He could feel someone else in the room. But he didn't open his eyes. He wasn't ready. Not yet.
It was quiet. Too quiet. Even when he was alone, there were always people nearby. Not close enough to read their thoughts – unless he tried – but just enough to create a little hum. A constant background noise. He usually blocked it out, like people adjusted to the hum of a light or a fan. But now it was gone, and the silence was unsettling.
There was only one mind with him now. No. That wasn't quite right. There were two. Both were strange, alien to him, but one even more so than the other. Now he was curious. That was good. Familiar. He reached out. Just a little. Just enough to let the mind feel him in return. It shrank away, unsure. Charles drew back.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. The lights were dim enough not to cause him pain, but bright enough for him to see. The room was white – not a bright, blinding white, but a calm, muted white – and light pink. He was lying on a bed, also white, and very soft. A man sat in a chair – a large, comfy, cream-colored chair – by what Charles assumed was the door. He was waiting. Patient. A quick glance told Charles that the man knew he had questions but would wait until he was ready.
He was an older man – older than he looked, and that was rather old. His clothes were a deep red velvet, his shirt frilly and at least half a century out of fashion. He was tall, with curly white hair and eyes that were at once both stern and gentle. A teacher, perhaps, or some other sort of learned man. The intelligence in his mind was clear. Most of his mind was clouded, blurred – whether intentionally or not, Charles wasn't sure. But he couldn't hide the intelligence, the deep curiosity.
Not that he was trying to. Curiosity. Intelligence. Concern. Genuine warmth. All there, unhidden, in his face. A raised eyebrow told Charles that his companion knew he was studying him, thinking through what to say, which question to ask first. "Where are we?" Charles asked at last.
The man smiled. "Good choice. Not as rude as 'Who are you?' Not as self-concerned as 'What happened to me?' And likely to tell you more than either, in the long run." He had a twinkle in his eyes, and Charles knew that 'intelligent' had been a vast understatement. The look flickered for a moment, then buried itself again in the stranger's friendly tone. "I call it the Zero Room. I like to come here to think sometimes. The positive ions do wonders for the synapses. It's also an ideal healing environment."
Charles looked around. He could believe that. The whole room seemed designed to be calm and restful. He wouldn't mind staying a while, in fact – both his body and his mind were in desperate need of time to heal. But there was something else. Something the stranger had avoided saying. "And this Zero Room … Where is it? Where are we?"
The stranger rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "This is the Tardis. It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It's a time machine."
Charles could see enough of the stranger's mind to know that he was telling the truth, as unbelievable as it sounded. But it wasn't the whole truth. There was something else. Something more. Something far more dangerous. He lifted his hand to his head, meaning to look deeper.
"I wouldn't," the stranger cautioned. But it wasn't a threat. Merely a warning – a genuine concern that the results might not be pleasant, for either of them.
Charles lowered his hand. "All right. Then tell me."
The stranger sighed. "The Tardis is a ship. We travel in time and space, but the principle is the same as your sea vessels. Right now, we're … well, we're more of a raft, to be honest. We're adrift in time."
"And you're not sure you can get us back … to either of our times. You're from the future."
"Yes, but not as far into the future as you probably suppose."
"Far enough that velvet and frills are in style again?"
The stranger chuckled, and Charles realized he was laughing, too. His laughing soon turned to coughing, however, and he tried to sit up. The stranger came over to help him, propping him up against a few pillows.
Charles took a few deep breaths, collecting his wits. "So the world doesn't go up in flames, then. That's good news." Several times in the last few hours, he had thought it might.
The stranger was oddly sobered by the thought, and Charles knew he had hit a nerve. "I'm sorry." He wasn't even really sure what he was apologizing for. "I didn't mean—"
"It's all right." It wasn't, of course, but he hid it well. "No, by my time—" He stopped short. "When did that happen, I wonder. When did I start thinking of that tiny, insignificant corner of time and space as mine?"
"When you nearly lost it," Charles offered without thinking.
The stranger's eyebrows shot up. "Did you—" He put his hand to his head.
"I didn't need to. That's when we hold onto things the most, it seems – when we've almost lost them. Or when we know we're about to."
That caught the stranger off-guard. "You're wiser than you look."
Charles raised an eyebrow. "You can talk. Velvet and lace?"
"At least I'm not wearing tights."
Charles grinned. "My hair doesn't look like a nightmare."
"Well, at least the energy in here won't make me go bald like it does to humans."
Charles burst out laughing. He was joking. Probably. But he'd also dropped a very important piece of information. "Then you're not … human."
"No. I'm not."
Charles nodded. "And when you say that … you don't just mean that you're a mutant, like me."
"No, I don't."
"Then you're an alien. You – and your ship – you're not from my planet at all."
"From? No. But we've been stranded for a while. Seems like a lifetime. Which means more for me than it does for you. Your species in general, I mean – not you in particular. Of course, if we can't get out of this mess, our species' relative lifetimes will become a rather academic matter, I'm afraid. After all, what makes a thousand years of floating in oblivion preferable to eighty or ninety?"
Charles smiled a little. "Hope, I suppose. And life is life, even if you're trapped in a room with me forever."
The stranger smiled. "Oh, my young friend—"
"Charles." He held out his hand. "Charles Xavier."
"I'm the Doctor." He shook Charles' hand warmly. "And, Charles Xavier, there is so much more than just one room." He smiled. "Would you like to see?"
He knew the answer, of course, before he asked the question. The answer was always yes. They always wanted to see more. It was one of the things he loved about humans. They shared his curiosity. Unlike his fellow Time Lords, who were quite content to sit back and let the universe pass them by.
The Doctor rummaged through a storage closet for a few moments before finding what he was looking for. It was a wheelchair – simple, serviceable, but, like most things, more impressive than it looked. It could draw on any energy source, including the energy of the Tardis, and responded to thought waves. "Perfectly suited to your unique … talents," the Doctor explained.
Charles smiled. "It's all right; you can say it: my mutation. It's part of who I am, and, present company considered, there's no reason for me to hide it." He touched his fingers to his temple, and the wheelchair zoomed over to the bed. "Maybe someday, none of us will have to hide," Charles added quietly.
The Doctor nodded and helped Charles into the wheelchair. "Someday," he agreed vaguely.
But not someday soon. It would be a long, hard struggle. And what would happen, he wondered, if Charles never returned to play his part in it?
He'd recognized the name, of course. Professor Charles Xavier, one of the greatest leaders in the struggle for mutant rights. Or, at least, he would be, someday, if they made it back.
The Doctor watched as Charles tested his control over the new machine. Back and forth. Left and right. It could even hover a little. He looked intrigued, but the Doctor knew better. Knew he was merely trying to distract himself. Finding something to focus his attention on, because the memory of a devastating loss was still too fresh in his mind.
The Doctor smiled wryly. He only knew because he was doing exactly the same thing. Running. Refusing – for a while, at least – to look back.
So they ran together. The Doctor led Charles through room after room, down hall after hall, including some he had forgotten were even there. They explored. They laughed. And, for a while, they forgot.
At last, they made their way to the console room. Charles circled the console, studying. The Doctor watched, curious, hoping for a revelation. He had been trying to reconfigure the console, but, without the memories the Time Lords had stolen from him, the work had been painstakingly slow. He was having to relearn everything from scratch. If only…
Then it hit him. Charles must have noticed, because he was now watching the Doctor, waiting. "You have an idea?" he ventured.
The Doctor nodded. "I might. I was stranded on Earth by my people, the Time Lords. They rendered the Tardis inoperative and erased my knowledge of its design and workings. But the memories might still be in here, somewhere." He waved his hand near his head. "I can't access them, but perhaps together … But it could be dangerous. I'm not human, after all. I can't know what would happen to your mind while exploring mine. If I could think of another way…" He rubbed his neck uncomfortably. He didn't like asking for help. And he certainly didn't want to ask his new friend to risk his mind and perhaps his life.
But there was no hesitation in Charles' eyes. "It's worth a try," he agreed. "And I have to admit to a certain … curiosity about what it's like inside an alien mind."
"You might not find it pleasant," the Doctor warned.
Charles smiled. "I'll take that chance."
The Doctor nodded. There would be no dissuading him now. "Would you like me to do anything in particular?"
"Just try to relax. I may have to dig fairly deep in your memories, but I'll be careful. If there's something you don't want me to see, imagine a door and close it. I won't peek."
The Doctor nodded. "Thank you." It wasn't that he didn't trust the young man, but some of his memories would be of events in Charles' future, and that could be dangerous.
Charles put his fingers to his temple. "Look at the controls. Try to remember the last time they worked. Imagine them responding properly. Think back to the last time—"
He was cut off by a terrible roar as the memory resurfaced. Screams echoed in the distance, only to be suddenly and horrifyingly silenced. It was growing hotter…
The Doctor forced himself to keep watching the controls. At last, they registered enough power. He threw the switch. Only then did he look up. The red-hot lava – the molten core of the Earth itself – was almost upon them. Almost at his friends' feet. In an instant, they would be gone. Burned away.
Charles drew back in horror. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean – I never – the memory was so near the surface – I—" He looked up, at a loss for words. The Doctor leaned heavily on the Tardis console, trying hard to remain conscious. Lost in the knowledge that an entire world was burning, dissolved in fire, and there was nothing he could do to save it. Nothing he could do to save his friends, and nothing they could do to save themselves. Only able to watch helplessly as he escaped, the only survivor of the inferno.
The shock had sent him into a coma – Charles had seen that in the Doctor's mind. His last memory was of his friend Liz's face, just before he disappeared. Just before the fires claimed her. Charles pressed his fingers to his temples, and the wheelchair brought him to the Doctor's side. He was bent over, breathing hard, tears in his eyes.
Charles reached out and touched the Doctor's mind. "Look again, Doctor," he prompted, gently but firmly.
"No. I can't. Not again."
"Doctor." Firmer now. "Look. There's something you need to see."
Back. Just a little. Just before the end. And this time, he saw. He understood. As he looked up at Liz, she looked back. Met his eyes, just for a moment.
And she smiled. Not a smile of pity or regret. But a smile of triumph. They had succeeded, in the end. Their efforts had made it possible for the Doctor to return to his universe and save his own version of the world. She saw him disappear. And she didn't feel betrayed. She felt fulfilled.
The Doctor gazed sadly into his friend's face. "Goodbye, Liz," he whispered fondly, and she was gone. He turned to Charles and saw tears streaming down the young man's cheeks, then realized that his face, too, was damp. For a moment, that was enough – a shared sorrow over so many lives that had been lost.
"She was so very like my Liz, in the end," the Doctor said at last, quietly. "That doesn't make it better. Just … not quite as bad. Maybe that's enough, in the end." He smiled weakly. "Did that satisfy your curiosity?"
Charles nodded. "My curiosity? Yes. But I didn't find what we were looking for. When they're so near the surface, painful memories are … distracting."
"Would you like to try again?"
Charles nodded, collected his breath, and touched his fingers to his temple. This time, they went back only a few hours. The Doctor was fiddling with the Tardis controls. Trying to lock onto somewhere. Some other time. His time. 1962.
The memory rushed back. The missiles. That was what had attracted the Doctor's attention. But he didn't know the whole story. The ships had fired. And Erik had stopped them. Saved their lives.
But that wasn't enough. He turned the missiles back towards the ships. Unable for the first time in his life to touch the mind of the person he was trying to persuade, Charles' desperate defense of the crew had only made matters worse.
When words failed, he tackled Erik himself, knowing full well he was no match for his friend physically, but hoping, perhaps, to distract him enough to let the missiles go, or perhaps for a lucky chance to knock his helmet off. But neither was any use.
Then a gunshot. Moira. And another. Erik deflected them easily, but they distracted him for a moment, and Charles saw his chance. He struggled to his feet.
One bullet. Fired by one friend and deflected by another. But that was not the pain that ran the deepest. The loss of his friend. The loss of his sister. The knowledge that all of his words, all of his dreams, all of his longing for peace, could not persuade them. That, from this moment on, their paths lay in different directions, and could only cross in tragedy.
Charles buried his face in his hands, realizing why he had been unable to reach the Doctor's memories, why his own had resurfaced, instead. He didn't want to go back. Here there was wonder and excitement and new discoveries to be made for years on end. There … only pain. Years and years of working for a dream that his two closest friends no longer shared.
"Charles." He felt a hand on his shoulder. The Doctor. He didn't look up. "Charles. Look again."
"I can't. Don't make me. Let me stay."
"Charles." The Doctor's mind reached out. Took control. And they went back. He lay in Erik's arms on the beach, and Charles saw what the Doctor had seen.
The missiles. Erik had let them go. At the time, of course, he'd realized this, but hadn't had time to let it sink in.
"It was probably the only thing that could have stopped him," the Doctor said quietly. "The only thing that, in that moment, was stronger than his need for revenge. Your friendship. And that is one thing that will never change."
Never? Charles wanted to believe it. But how could the Doctor be so certain? "Trust a time traveler," the Doctor suggested.
But the memory that surfaced in the Doctor's mind wasn't of the future. It was far in his own past. The memory of an old friend who had become a deadly adversary. They had parted ways a long time ago and hadn't seen each other in many years. But the bond was still there, still strong, as if they were brothers. "I know because I've lived it," the Doctor admitted. "Some friendships are stronger than differences, or enmity ... or reason. And we can't always choose which ones. But we can learn to recognize them."
Charles watched again as Erik disappeared in a puff of Azazel's smoke. "Goodbye, old friend," he said quietly, then added, "until our next meeting."
He turned to the Doctor. "Thank you. To know that our friendship will last, despite everything … Well, it doesn't make it better … Just not quite as bad." He looked down at his legs. The only thing that could have stopped Erik. "Maybe that's enough, in the end."
The Doctor nodded. "Maybe now we're both ready – really ready to go back."
Charles held his fingers to his temples. "Third time's the charm?"
The Doctor smiled and made a show of smoothing his velvety jacket. "Well, I've always thought so, anyways. Go ahead."
Memories. So many memories. For a moment, Charles nearly lost himself in the Doctor's mind. A lifetime of memories was always overwhelming, but the Doctor was older – with far more memories – than anyone Charles had encountered before. All the memories from a lifetime – no, three lifetimes, and yet still the same one – poured through Charles' mind.
The Tardis. With the Doctor's help, Charles focused on that. Those were some of the best memories. The most vivid. The thrill of that first flight, right after he stole her and ran away, never looking back. So many adventures. So many companions who had come and gone. But this one bond, this connection between the Doctor and his beloved ship, had outlasted them all.
Together, they explored, searching for the secrets the Time Lords had hidden. Every now and then, a door closed, and Charles backed away. Deeper and deeper they delved, and yet came no closer to answers.
"Can you show me that day? When they took your memories?" Charles asked at last.
The Doctor hesitated. He had been avoiding it. But if the answer lay anywhere, it would make sense that it would be there.
Darkness. Charles looked around. They were standing in a room. Alone. The Doctor's companions, Zoe and Jamie, had been sent back to their own times, their memories of him erased.
Beside him stood a younger Doctor – shorter, with darker, floppy hair and a disapproving look for his fellow Time Lords. Coldly, they delivered their sentence. He was to be exiled on Earth, in one time, his appearance changed, his Tardis rendered inoperative.
"Why?"Charles asked quietly, and the Doctor opened the memory to him. The Time Lords disapproved of his interference in events throughout time and space. They wanted to be observers only. The Doctor had wanted to experience the universe – not just see it – and opposed the wrongs they were content merely to observe. Sending him to earth minimized the harm he could do.
"But why leave you the Tardis?" Charles wondered. "Why not just send you to Earth without it? Why leave you a means of escape?"
"To taunt me. They know I can't repair it."
Suddenly, the Doctor beside him began to change. Charles felt uncontrollably dizzy. His mind blurred. The Doctor screamed. "No! No! No! No, no, no, no, no…!"
Then the memory was gone. The images stopped. Charles shuddered and looked up at the Doctor. He looked pale but otherwise in control. "I'm sorry," the Doctor said reluctantly. "I don't think you're going to find what you're looking for."
Charles nodded. "You're right. The memories aren't just hidden or repressed. They're gone. I … I'm sorry."
"Don't be." The Doctor mopped his brow with his sleeve. "It's not your fault, and it was worth a try."
Charles was silent for a moment. "Yes, it was," he said at last. "And so is this."
And, without any further warning, before the Doctor could stop him, the placed a hand on the Tardis console and closed his eyes.
The Time Lords had made a mistake. They had altered the Doctor's memories, but either forgotten or ignored the fact that the Tardis, too, was alive. Sentient. She had memories of her own.
She was sentient, but alien. So alien. Her mind was so much more complex, so overwhelming that Charles thought his mind might burst. And it probably would have, if she'd wanted it to. But she was helping him. Holding back a part of herself that had the power to destroy him. Shielding him, only giving him the information he needed.
That was why she had pulled away at the start, he realized – when he had first touched her mind. She hadn't been hiding. She had been protecting him. If she hadn't withdrawn, he might have looked deeper, delved too far.
The Doctor watched as Charles sat perfectly still, concentrating, his face pale and damp with sweat. Was there anything he could do? Should he try to break their connection? Could he help at all? Charles must have felt his thoughts, because he reached out, opened his mind.
Then the Doctor understood. When he had activated the intertemporal scanner, it had backfired, sending both him and the subject of his scan into this empty space. To return didn't, in fact, require fixing the Tardis, or his missing memories. They needed to reverse the scanner, with enough energy to break free.
And that was why she needed Charles. She was drawing energy from his mind, as well. The Doctor nodded and placed his hand on the console, offering his own. Charles nodded, and the Doctor threw the switch.
There was a bright light and a terrible jolt, and then darkness.
Charles was the first to come to, collapsed in a heap on the Tardis floor. He reached out with his mind, and the Tardis hummed to life in response, letting him know they were safe.
The Doctor lay nearby, slowly coming to. Charles dragged himself over beside his friend and gave him a gentle shake. "Doctor? Doctor, wake up. We made it."
The Doctor opened his eyes. "Yes," he nodded. "It seems we have." He helped Charles into his wheelchair and checked the scanner. "Yes, we made it back. But to which of our times?"
"Mine," Charles said with certainty. "It's the one she was aiming for. She says she'll be able to get you back to UNIT."
The Doctor sighed. "It seems the Time Lords programmed her to return there no matter what. I feel like some sort of temporal yo-yo."
Charles smiled. He'd seen enough to know that the Doctor was fond of UNIT, despite what he might say. "Doctor, about that file you have on this time. My friends and I – anonymity is going to be our best defense. So the less you tell people…"
The Doctor nodded. "Don't worry. If the Brigadier asks, the island was protected by a race of giant alien spiders who wanted to keep it safe because it's home to a rare form of bacteria that they need to fertilize their eggs." He shrugged. "It's not as weird as living plastic."
Charles nodded. "Thank you, Doctor … for everything."
"Thank you, Professor."
Charles smiled. "One more favor, Doctor. Can I keep this?" He patted the arm of his wheelchair. "I know its technology is beyond our time, but—"
"It's yours," the Doctor insisted before he could finish. "It's the least I can do." He held out his hand. "Goodbye, Charles."
Charles shook it warmly. "Goodbye, Doctor."
The Doctor opened the Tardis door. "If you happen to be in London in about ten years…"
Charles nodded. "I'll look you up."
The Doctor smiled as he watched Charles leave, quickly swarmed by his friends, who were quite bewildered to see him appear from a blue box. The Doctor closed the doors before curiosity got the better of any of them.
He turned a few dials, threw a few switches. "All right, old girl," he said softly. "Let's go home."
As he'd expected, the Tardis materialized inside UNIT headquarters, a bit later the morning he'd left. The tea lady would be there soon.
The Doctor smiled and began tinkering with the Tardis console. Maybe he would never be able to repair it, but there was no harm in trying.
After a little while, he began humming, then started to sing quietly. "I don't want to set the world on fire…"