As usual, the Doctor was right on time. Gibbs had just finished wiping down the last fingerprints from the polish, the boat was perfect, and as he leaned back against his workbench, that strange but familiar whooshing sound floated down the basement stairs.
He laughed. "Down here."
"Oops." The Doctor was great with the timing, not so great with exactly where in the house the TARDIS ended up. The noise started again and then the blue box materialised next to the boat.
The Doctor bounded out, all legs and arms and enthusiasm. "Jethro! Always a pleasure! How's things?"
Gibbs managed to fend off a hug, and shook the man's hand instead. "Same old, same old."
"Still at NCIS? Splendid, splendid."
There was a grumbling behind him and an unfamiliar woman appeared. "I thought you was gonna take me somewhere warm next time, mister 'I can take you anywhere, anywhen'?"
The Doctor looked decidedly sheepish. "Um, well, this is a favour for an old friend, you see, and while we were passing through I thought-"
She finally noticed Gibbs. "Who the hell are you? Why's your house so bloody freezing?"
"Hi." He shrugged. "Winter in DC can get pretty cold."
She huffed and crossed her arms firmly across her chest. "Winter. Winter! All of time and space to pick from, and he chooses winter."
The Doctor leaned over her shoulder with a grin, apparently immune to her mood. "Gibbs, Donna Noble. Donna, Gibbs."
She looked him up and down with a sharp eye he suspected didn't miss much. "You another Time Lord, then?"
Gibbs blinked. "Uh, no. Why?"
"Well, you've only got one name. All these Time Lords go by just the one name, I thought maybe it was a thing."
He grinned. "Leroy Jethro."
Donna gave him a look. "You are kidding me."
"No wonder you go by Gibbs."
He looked over at the Doctor, who shrugged. "Don't mind Donna, she speaks her mind."
"Mind you," added Donna in a stage whisper, nudging the Doctor in the ribs, "he's a bit of a silver fox, innie?"
The Doctor closed his eyes and shook his head before looking over at Gibbs with an apologetic expression on his face. "I'm so sorry."
Gibbs shrugged, unsure exactly how to respond. The Doctor had brought some pretty strange people into his home over the years; the last time one of the Doctor's companions had tried to flirt with him, it hadn't ended well.
He shifted uncomfortably and there was a moment of awkward silence before the Doctor's attention was grabbed by the finished boat.
"Oh, Jethro. She's a beauty."
Gibbs was grateful for any distraction and talking about his boat was no hardship. Donna stood aloof for a while, but it didn't take her long to thaw, and then she started asking questions herself, showing a curiosity that almost matched the Doctor's own. The Doctor wasn't much of a sailor, but he did love to learn, almost as much as he loved to talk, and any given subject could also easily turn into an opportunity to share some of his own knowledge. Eventually Gibbs realised this could go on for a while. It had been a couple of years since he'd last seen the Doctor, and he'd half forgotten how easily the man could get distracted. He was worse than Ducky.
He interrupted the Doctor in the middle of a lecture about how tidal patterns on a certain planet had been instrumental in foiling a hostile takeover by - well, Gibbs wasn't sure what by, if he was honest. He tended to let those kind of conversations wash over him and not worry too much about whether he understood or even believed what he was told.
"So, can you help me move her, Doc?"
The Doctor didn't seem to mind being reined in. He looked at the boat again. "Ooh, ooh dear, a bit big for the doors this one, isn't she?" He screwed up his face and ran his hands through his hair, turning its usual style of barely contained disarray into a total mess. "Hmmm. Hmmm."
Not for the first time, it struck Gibbs how easily the Doctor took to calling his boats 'her'.
A few times over the years he'd referred to the TARDIS the same way, though Gibbs sometimes thought he meant it quite literally. There was something about the way he talked about his ship sometimes that made it seem as if the TARDIS was much more than a simple ship to him. He wasn't certain why he thought it, but it was a gut instinct, and he was very much predisposed to believe those.
The Doctor was walking around the boat, touching it reverently. "Beautiful work, Jethro. Always such beautiful work. How to get her out? Don't want to damage her." He tapped his fingers against his mouth as he considered the problem. "Hmmm. You know what, I may have just the thing!"
Without pausing to explain, he span round and headed back into the TARDIS, leaving Gibbs and Donna to entertain themselves.
"Well, I suppose now we just wait, do we?" Donna didn't sound too thrilled with the proposition, crossing her arms again.
She humphed and pursed her lips. "Next time, he's taking me somewhere warm, or he's going to be in big trouble." She humphed again, then turned to him. "So, Gibbs, Leroy Jethro." He got the impression she had decided to make the best of it, and at least it sounded like she would be supplying the topics of conversation. "What do you do when you're not building boats you can't get out of your basement without the Doctor's help?"
He leaned back against his workbench. "I'm an investigator. Work for NCIS."
"And what's NCIS when it's at home? Is that like CSI, on the telly?"
Only if you're dyslexic. Yeah, that would go down really well... "Kind of. But we only investigate crimes involving the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps."
"Hmmm." That shrewd look again. "So how long have you known the Doctor?"
He thought about it. "On and off for... a couple of decades I guess. Don't see him often, o'course."
"That long? Bet you've got some stories to tell, eh? Eh?"
"Well..." He shrugged. "He helps me with the boats. Sometimes on a case, but mostly, he just comes when I need a hand."
"Huh. That how you met? On a case?"
"Yeah, well he-" Gibbs laughed at the memory "-he contaminated my crime scene and broke my best suspect's alibi. Pain in the ass. But then he gave us a vital piece of evidence and helped us solve the murder, so... it kinda balanced out in the end."
"That sounds like the Doctor. Solves a lot of problems, but then, he caused half of 'em himself."
He grinned. "I can believe that."
"Wouldn't have 'im any other way, mind!" She said it sharply, wagging a finger in his face, as if she was daring him to argue.
She gave him a look, as she thought he might just be humouring her, but he must have passed the test because she settled back down. "So, mister investigator man-"
He cocked an eyebrow. "I'm a Special Agent."
"Hmmm. Special Agent." She actually sounded almost impressed. "Not sure I've ever met one of those before. Special Agent. Special Agent Gibbs." She murmured it a few times at the ceiling as if she was testing it out. "Hmmm."
"It's just... it's not a big deal. It's just a job title. We're kinda like... Navy cops. Investigatin' all kindsa crimes, theft, murder, terrorism. Mostly murder, though."
"Not the easiest of jobs, I s'pose."
"Guess not. But someone's gotta do it, find out the truth, who's innocent, who's guilty, bring people to justice."
She nodded. "I can see why the Doctor likes you. Truth, honour, justice, all that. Plus-" she chuckled "-murder mysteries, o'course.."
Donna shook her head, grinning. "I was just thinkin'. Murder mysteries. I think he likes 'em."
"I mean, we just met Agatha Christie the other week-" Gibbs did a double take, but Donna just carried on talking as if meeting dead authors was completely normal "-so maybe that's why you was on his mind, but I think he likes mysteries, anyway. I suppose it's a bit like what you do, solvin' mysteries, figurin' out the story behind something, you know?"
"Yeah, it's... somethin' like that."
"Only I think you're a lot better lookin' than that Poirot guy."
He blinked. "Uh. Thanks?"
He wondered if there was a secret to keeping up with her. Her mind was like Abby's - a pachinko machine, as McGee put it - and he figured maybe that was something the Doctor liked, too. It must be boring always being the smartest person in every room. What was difficult to follow for a human mind must be an unusual and enjoyable challenge for him. Should introduce him to Abs sometime. He had a feeling that would be an interesting experiment to test the Doctor's smarts, not to mention giving Abby someone who might actually be able to keep up with both her intelligence and her non-lateral, outside the box way of thinking.
Donna was still talking, and he still really wasn't following. "I mean they're not always murders, but there's usually some mystery to be solved. Well. I expect you know this, don't need me to tell you. Bet he loved having a real Special Agent on the TARDIS, eh? Not like me, I do my best but I'm only a temp from Chiswick." She sighed. "Yeah, I bet he loved it."
She sounded a little wistful, and he was almost glad he could disabuse her of the notion. "Wouldn't know. Never travelled with him."
She had been mostly talking at the ceiling, but that got her attention. "What?"
"Never been in the TARDIS."
She frowned at him. "Never?"
For a moment she just stared at him, eyes and mouth wide with shock. "You mean... Never ever? Surely he asked-?"
"He's offered, but..."
She looked bemused. "And you've never been tempted? Anywhere, any time? And you said no?"
"The places I'd wanna go..." He shrugged and shook his head. "Would be too hard not to interfere."
Donna's face softened, the bluster in her expression suddenly melting away and her eyes searching his face.
"Oh. Oh. I'm so sorry." Her voice was warm and compassionate. Suddenly he could see why the Doctor would choose her as a companion. He should have known, really. The Doctor's friends tended to be extraordinary, even if it wasn't always immediately obvious to an outsider. "Who did you lose?"
He cleared his throat and shook his head. Where could he even start? "Too many people."
She reached out and grasped his shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'm so sorry," she said again.
She turned to perch beside him on the workbench. For a few minutes they sat in silence, and then she took a deep breath. "The first place I ever went with the Doctor - properly went, I mean, not just accident'ly ended up going somewhere to get away from alien Christmas baubles or giant spiders or whatever - was Pompeii. Just before Vesuvius erupted." She shivered slightly, and he suspected this time it wasn't from the cold. "There's - I don't really understand it, but the Doctor says there's things you can change, and history will sort of-" she gestured vaguely with her hands "-mend itself, and then there's stuff you can't. Pompeii, you can't." She shook her head. "And I didn't want to believe him, so I tried. I tried to tell 'em, and no one would listen. All thought I was mad as a hatter." She laughed slightly. "Great big mountain sending up plumes of smoke and they thought the gods was angry."
Gibbs found himself rapt. It was one thing when the Doctor talked about alien worlds and historic events, and the TARDIS was a pretty convincing argument in favour of at least some of the weirdness being true, but he'd always tried to ignore the stuff he couldn't explain, to pretend there was an explanation he didn't know that would make the man just... very clever with unnaturally good timing. And with a blue box that could appear out of nowhere... Well okay, maybe his theory was a bit thin, but he had never done well with the inexplicable.
"I begged. Begged them to listen. Begged the Doctor to help, too, but you know... he knew better. And he usually does, which is... bloody annoyin', actually. But he knew it wouldn't work. You can't explain to people the volcano's gonna kill 'em all when they don't even know what a volcano is."
To have someone else, someone who seemed pretty, well, normal, human, ordinary, to hear her talk about aliens and giant spiders and dead people and now Pompeii, like she'd been there, it made it that much more real.
"There was one family, one family we saved, but all those other people, just... All the smoke and fire and ash. We stood on the side of a hill over the town and we couldn't do anythin' about it. It was... awful."
He tried to imagine what it would be like to know a disaster was coming - not just expect it or fear it, have a gut feeling about it, but actually know, as an irrefutable fact - and have time to spare and still not be able to do anything, not be able to help people, save people. He couldn't fathom it.
She shook her head. "Anyway. I see a lot of stuff, and sooner or later you realise you can't save everyone. But yeah, I think... I think I sort of understand." She patted his knee. "I think you're very brave to do what you do, and to keep going like you do. It's hard to keep smilin' when you see the darkness out there, an' I bet you see more of it than most."
He nodded and managed a smile, hoping she'd take it for the gratitude it was. She grinned, her whole face open and lighting up, and bumped her shoulder against his.
"You'll be okay, Gibbs. Trust me, I've got a good eye for this stuff. And the Doctor, he doesn't keep coming back for just anybody. If you need 'im, he'll be a proper friend, I promise. I know."
Gibbs unexpectedly found himself grinning back at her. He always said he got on better with kids, but just now and then he'd meet an adult with a similar lack of guile, and he had an idea Donna was one of them. She would, he found himself thinking, do the Doctor good.
"Sorry, sorry!" The Doctor's voice emerged from the TARDIS rapidly followed by his body, and the moment was gone. "Took me longer than I expected to find this thing." He shook his head. "Reeeeally need to sort out some kind of system, but there's never time, always worlds needing saving and all that."
Gibbs decided not to comment, instead looking at the object in the Doctor's hand. Whatever he had got looked a whole lot more like a weapon than his devices usually did.
"Hey Doc, is that a gun?"
The Doctor pulled a face of distaste. "Mmmm... in a manner of speaking. It's not mine. I just use it for things like this." He pointed it at the upper wall of the basement, where the chilly light from outside was highlighting the buildup of snow in the corners of the windows, and then there was a noise and a peculiarly angular pulse of blue light, and suddenly there was a large, square hole in the basement ceiling.
"What the hell, Doctor?"
The Doctor grinned and made the hole wider, heedless of the snowflakes now landing on the floor. "Not to worry, I can put it back once we've got the boat out." He wiggled the device in his hand happily, like it was his favourite toy. "Special feature. Not all sonic blasters can do that." He turned back to the boat. "Now, all we need to do is tether your lovely boat to my lovely TARDIS, and we can get you to the trailer, waterway or ocean of your choice in a jiffy."
"And how do we tether it, exactly? Not sure I got suitable rope."
"Oh, not to worry!" The Doctor grinned. "Me and my TARDIS, we once towed a spaceship out of a black hole, you know. Well, you don't know, but we did - and now so you do know, since I told you, so... anyway. Sailboat to a river? Not a problem, don't you worry!"
In a matter of minutes he had everything arranged to his liking, and it occurred to Gibbs that, in the circumstances, trusting the Doctor with his boat wasn't a big leap given he currently had a hole in the roof of his basement.
"Come on then, haven't got all day. Well... actually I have, but still."
Gibbs stepped aboard warily. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Doctor, but spaceships that didn't look like spaceships and didn't obey basic laws of physics like being the same size on the inside didn't sit well with him. Heck, spaceships which fit in his basement were pretty worrying to start with. And that was before he even considered the temptations that came with time travel.
He'd never seen the TARDIS fly before - it had always just materialised. He wasn't sure what he'd expected from it, but was slightly taken aback when it merely rose quietly into the air and soared out of the hole in exactly the way a phone box shouldn't, then hovered above his house, spinning very slowly. Something about the view out of the door versus the motion as it felt inside that TARDIS made him suspect that they were not occupying exactly the same space, and he tried to ignore the idea. Thinking about it made him queasy.
They stopped, and Gibbs hoped like hell none of his neighbours was seeing the blue box gently rotating above his house, his boat swaying back and forth beneath it.
The Doctor leaned out of the TARDIS, and fired his peculiar device down at the hole they'd just flown out of. One, two flashes of blue light later and the wall and garden and windows were all back in place.
"Good, eh?" He looked absurdly pleased with himself. "Squareness gun. Handy to have around the place."
"Yeah." Because really, what else could Gibbs say? "Very, uh, clever."
"I keep meaning to give it back to Jack, but he'd only use it as a weapon anyway. You remember Captain Jack, Gibbs?"
"Yeah, I remember," he said darkly.
"Yes, um... sorry about that."
Donna glanced between the two of them. "Who?"
The Doctor looked like he was trying to suppress a laugh. "You haven't met him yet." He cocked an eyebrow. "I think you'll like him." He grinned and rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes. And he'll definitely like you."
She grinned back. "I think I like the sound of him already."
"Be careful what you wish for," said Gibbs.
"Enough about Jack," said the Doctor. "Where do you want me to put this lady of yours, Gibbs?"
"Potomac River, Doc. I'm headin' down the Intracoastal Waterway."
"Multo bene. Always meant to sail that one day." He grinned. "Maybe another time, eh? Allons-y!"
The Doctor closed the doors and for the first time Gibbs experienced the dematerialisation from the inside. It was surprisingly anticlimactic. Shaking and rattling, that familiar noise, and then a few moments later it stopped. When the doors opened again they were over a familiar stretch of river, and the TARDIS was gently lowering his boat into the water.
"There you go. Lovely jubbly. Shall I take you back home for now or shall I leave you with her?
Gibbs gave it a few moments thought. He hadn't really intended to leave right away, but now he was down here, with a go bag on his boat, time off already arranged... "You can leave me with her. Thanks again, Doctor."
"You're very welcome, very welcome indeed." The TARDIS came down to land on the riverbank near the boat, and they walked down to the water, where Gibbs set about readying it to set sail and the Doctor carefully uncoupled it from his ship.
The Doctor coiled the tow rope and hung it over his shoulder, then came to stand on the little wooden jetty next to the boat.
Gibbs held out his hand, hoping to forestall another attempt at a hug. "Thanks Doc. Good to see you again."
"Always a pleasure, Jethro."
They shook hands, and then Gibbs turned to Donna. "Good to meet you, Donna Noble. Friends of the Doctor are always welcome, far as I'm concerned."
She held out her hand, and then he was taken by surprise as she used the handshake to pull him into a bearhug. Over her shoulder he could see the Doctor shaking his head and mouthing 'Sorry'.
"You remember what I said about him," she whispered in Gibbs' ear. "He'll be a good friend if you need one. And so will I." Then she released him and winked, giving him a grin like a Cheshire Cat. "Good to meet you too, mister Special Agent man Gibbs."
"Uh. Okay. Thanks."
"Right. Well. We'd best be off." The Doctor grabbed Donna's elbow and starting dragging her back towards the TARDIS, shooting an apologetic look and a wave over his shoulder as he did so.
Gibbs shook his head and laughed a little, then got on with his preparations to depart. Visits from the Doctor? Always... always interesting.
As they walked away, he could hear their fractious conversation. The pair of them bickered like an old married couple.
"You are such a spoilsport."
"Donna. Really not the time or the place." Gibbs had a suspicion that tone of voice probably didn't work on her.
"Hanging round with a long streak of nothing like you, can you blame me?"
"Hey, I'm not that bad." His voice went all high pitched and defensive.
"I didn't mean it like that, Doctor."
"I happen to be very fond of this face."
A pause. "It's all right, I suppose."
"You love me really."
"Most of the time." Gibbs looked up in time to see Donna grinning up at the Doctor, bumping her hip into his. He wondered idly how long she'd been on the TARDIS. They seemed to know each other pretty well. "So, where to next, space-man? Somewhere warm, I hope?"
"You know, while we're here anyway, we really should go back into DC and visit the Smithsonian, what d'you reckon?
"You wanna hang around here? In the middle of winter?"
"Ever been to DC in summer?"
"I've never been there at all."
"Well, take it from me. Humidity, not much fun. It'll make your hair go all frizzy."
A definite humph was audible even at this distance. "Is there at least a good gift shop at the Smithsoni-whatsit? I could get me granddad something nice."
And then the door closed behind them, there was a familiar 'whorp, whorp' noise, and they were gone.
~ fin ~