Warning(s): character death (sorta)
Word count: 7,108 (altogether)
Summary: Sometimes the joke gets better the more you tell it. Sequel to Two Doctors, a Nurse, a Detective, and a Scot.
The Joke is Better the Second Time
John nervously adjusts his bowtie (which Sherlock still cannot stop laughing at, and at one point nearly three hours ago, John swore the man had been laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes) for what feels like the seventh time in as many minutes.
"D'you think they'll show up?" John asks, looking over his shoulder at the (always immaculate) man behind him.
"I don't doubt it," Sherlock answers blandly. "Though I won't be surprised if he's late. It's very much his fashion."
"Don't blame him, he tries his best, you know," John adds, leaning solidly back against Sherlock's chest.
"I'm simply suggesting we don't wait for him. The registrar's time is valuable enough."
"All right, all right," John laughs. And they head up the corridor, not hand-in-hand but giving off the impression that they are, that they ought to be.
Mycroft is there, of course. His assistant nowhere to be seen, but she's likely somewhere in the building. The registrar behind his desk, smiling in a cookie-cutter fashion. And they're hoping Lestrade will appear to be the second witness, but Sherlock soon gets a text that informs him that a case has come up and he won't be able to make it. Mycroft off-handedly offers the use of his assistant's signature, if someone will fetch her.
"I'll go see if I can find her," John sighs (and why can't he just get hitched already?). He throws open the door to leave the office, only to come face to face with a solid wall of blue and the words FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC. The TARDIS door snaps open inward, and the Doctor's impossible grinning face meets his.
"Oh good, we haven't missed it," he says happily. Turning his head just slightly, he shouts back into the box: "Come along, Ponds! We've got it right!"
John backs out of the doorway, his face full of light (and Sherlock won't admit he's grinning to match). Mycroft's eyebrow inching upward is the only sign anything's changed, and the registrar's jaw will probably shut eventually. The time travelers all three try to fit through the office's doorway at once, and somehow they manage (Amy's dress is gorgeous, of course, and Rory actually cuts quite a figure when he dresses it up; John hadn't expected as much from the Doctor, but even the Timelord looks surprisingly dapper for the occasion).
"You got the invitations," John breathes a sigh of relief.
Amy hides a laugh in a sneeze, and the Doctor fidgets. Sherlock and Rory roll their eyes at almost precisely the same time.
The Doctor begins: "Well, you see, time is very interesting."
"Hippety-hoppity," Rory adds.
"Slidey-widey," Amy chimes in.
"Right, you two, joking privileges revoked," the Doctor snaps lightly. "This is a solemn and hallowed occasion."
John ruins the moment by giggling.
"All right, spoilers," the Doctor mutters quickly. "Maybe we missed it by a couple of hours the first time 'round."
"Try weeks," Amy cuts in, finally breaking from the doorway to grab John up in a tight hug.
"And more like the fourth time," Rory continues for her.
"Shh!" the Doctor demands, stamping one foot like a child. "You can't just give it away like that! That's not how all this timey-wimey business works! And I should know, I've been doing it for a very long time." He gives a wounded sniff.
Sherlock leans in to Amy's ear. "Tell us, and John and I will have tea ready for you."
(Amy grins. Because they will, and the Doctor will be baffled.)
"All right," the Doctor says, clapping his hands together, "let's get the two of you married! John, love the bowtie."
Sherlock almost feels jealous at the way John's ears go fully red.
The ceremony is disappointingly short, mostly legal and awfully boring (noted especially when the Doctor starts to bounce on the balls of his feet), and John and Sherlock sign their names quickly just to have it over with. Mycroft steps forward to sign as witness, but Sherlock decides at the last moment that he'd rather not have his brother's name all over this occasion. So he asks Amy and Rory to sign instead (John thinks he would have asked the Doctor if he'd been a citizen, but that was a long line of questioning none of them want to start).
Amy doesn't cry, but she's close. Especially when the registrar notarizes the certificate, and Sherlock pulls John into a well-earned kiss. Rory claps, and quickly drops his hands when no one joins him.
"Right, well, duty's done," the Doctor says, shaking both men by the hand with a kiss to each cheek for both of them. "I'll see you in an indeterminate amount of time in your future." And he's hanging out the TARDIS door when he turns back, grinning like a madman. "Ooh, you're going to love married life." The door closes after them, and once again they're gone with the familiar sound of wheezing engines and the indescribable whoosh of the time vortex swallowing them up.
"Two Thursdays from now," John says, up on his toes into Sherlock's ear.
"I'll have Mrs. Hudson stop by Fortnum's for a basket," he answers, dropping a kiss to the top of John's head.
Two Thursdays after the registrar's office, the TARDIS appears in the sitting room at 221b. John holds a cup of tea under the Doctor's nose, and the Timelord has to snap his jaw shut before he can check his watch and scoop up the proffered cup.
"How off am I?" the Doctor asks, plopping into John's chair. (Mrs. Hudson does a circuit around the box, muttering her oh dears and her Heaven's sakes.)
"What day is it?" Rory asks.
"Thursday," John supplies vaguely, along with the cup of tea he hands to Rory as he bewilderedly steps out of the TARDIS.
Amy looks devastated. "We missed it? We missed your wedding?"
"Not a wedding," Sherlock corrects her, off-handedly offering her the third cup of tea (he and John have already had four between them while they waited for the box to materialize). "Civil partnership. Do your research, Amy."
The redhead pouts up at him but finally breaks and stands on her toes to press a kiss to his cheek. "Missed you too, you big weirdo."
"To be fair," the Doctor points out, finger in the air, "we did just get back from a particularly interesting encounter with the Ice Warriors."
"On Mars," Rory says, his eyebrows doing most of the talking for his thoughts on the experience.
"Well, you're off by a couple of Thursdays," John supplies, taking a drink.
"And a Wednesday and a Tuesday," Mrs. Hudson adds, latching onto the whole time travel angle rather smoothly. "I'll go get those biscuits from the kitchen."
"Oh, a Tuesday?" the Doctor sneers. "I thought I taught you boys better than to do anything on a Tuesday. They're half as bad as Sundays."
John shrugs. "You could always go back and catch it."
The Doctor snaps, pointing vigorously at John. "Good idea. Brilliant Doctor Watson—you keep him around," he commands Sherlock.
"I can hardly get rid of him," Sherlock muses around his teacup.
"Perfect, there's just enough time to wash up and look respectable," the Doctor continues, heading quickly for the open TARDIS door with teacup still in hand when he skids to a halt and rushes back to John's side to peer knowingly into his face. "Hold on, are you telling us to go back because we were there or you'd like us there?"
John shoots Sherlock a troubled glance, and the detective waves him on.
"You were there," John tells him. He opens his mouth to say more, but the Doctor flails wildly with the arm that isn't holding hot tea.
"That's all I need! Hold that thought, back as soon as you can say kiss the groom! Do they say that? Blimey."
The Doctor forcibly takes the tea from Amy and Rory's hands and pulls them both by the wrists back into the TARDIS. By the time Mrs. Hudson returns, the box is gone and she has far too many biscuits in her hands.
"How did that Doctor fellow do that?" Mrs. Hudson asks once she sets the tray down. "With the flashing light and all that dreadful noise?"
"I kind of like it," John says with half a grin, head cocked and reminiscing.
"It would take quite a bit of explaining, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock says, guiding her out of the square indent pressed into their carpet, "and you're quite old enough without sitting through a crash-course on time travel."
She gives a displeased huff but allows herself to be steered to the sofa, where she watches as, not five minutes later, the box comes back.
The Doctor pokes his head out, staring at his watch. "How long have we been?"
"Three years," Sherlock says, deadpan as ever, flipping open a sheet of newspaper.
John breaks down laughing as the Doctor rushes back inside. "Doctor!" John calls, rushing after him and holding the TARDIS door with his foot. "Five minutes. Five bloody minutes, you're fine."
"Oh," the Doctor says, and he allows an incredibly long pause. "Grab the biscuits, won't you?" And he zips inside again.
Sherlock places the newspaper on his desk and picks up the tea tray as he goes by. "Won't be long, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock says, heading in the TARDIS door. "Unless we are. Don't wait up."
John apologizes in Sherlock's wake, as always, scooping up the biscuits and following after. The door closes behind them, and with a flashing light and a dreadful noise, they're gone.
And now there are two couples in the TARDIS. Two proper couples, two sets of married individuals, and the Doctor really hasn't thought this through at all. Because it's all very nice and sweet when John falls asleep on Sherlock's shoulder, the detective lowering his voice by degrees as John drifts off; or when Amy cuts Rory's hair in the infirmary because they're too stingy to hop off to see a barber (even when the Doctor suggests a good friend in Seville). No, those moments are what make it worthwhile having them all aboard, moments that make the Doctor smile and make the Doctor proud.
What he can't take is the shouting. Amy's way of shouting is very different from John's (and strangely enough, Sherlock and Rory rarely shout at all, unless it's at the Doctor, and he's not sure how he's so lucky). Once, Amy storms off into the TARDIS, finds Adric's old room, and locks herself in. The Doctor can hear her shouting all the way from the library, and he winces in sympathy for the boy he knows is on the other side of the door from her. They make up, of course, but only after nearly an entire three days under the watchful eye of their Cormanti captors in an intergalactic zoo.
When John and Sherlock fight, it's almost as though a war zone erupts in the middle of the TARDIS (unsurprising, really, considering that John's a soldier, whether he's serving or not). John curses like a man half his age, and the Doctor has learned to turn off the translator circuit when he feels the first stirrings of a storm, because Sherlock argues hardest in German, and the Doctor isn't sure John wants to know what Sherlock is calling him.
Sometimes Sherlock does one worse and ignores him. That turns John's blood right to fire, but no matter the abuse shouted at him Sherlock chooses not to let it move him. And on this particular tongue-lashing, John storms into the aquarium, where the Doctor is up a ladder and sprinkling food into the storey-high tank in the wall for the colorful, translucent fish swimming there. John looks like he'd like to kick something, and the Doctor hopes it's not his ladder. Instead, the doctor takes a seat on the bottom step of the Doctor's ladder.
"It's like he forgets how to talk to normal people," John begins, because he knows that, even if he's not prompted, the Doctor wants to know.
"We're not normal," the Doctor remarks. "Some of us aren't even people to begin with and it's really very rude."
"Sorry, sorry," John sighs. "But that's what I mean. When we're out here, fighting robots and getting lost in corridors, that sort of thing. He forgets we're normal people."
The Doctor climbs down the steps necessary to the one nearest to John, hunkering down and giving a lopsided smile. "Who'd ever want to be mistaken for normal?" He asks, a hand on John's shoulder. "You're certainly not. You're extra-normal. Super-normal. Para-normal." He gives a brief childlike guffaw before he continues. "D'you think Sherlock'd like any of us at all if we were in the least bit middling? And, let's be fair, I don't think I'd know how to talk to a normal person if I ever ran into one."
John laughs once, turns his face away to the shimmering fish that light up the aquarium in myriad colors.
Not a minute later, John's phone buzzes with a text.
What I said about your brain was unfair and I would like to retract all related statements.
And John laughs for real, because there's a part of him that doesn't even recall what they'd been arguing about in the first place (something about whatever Sherlock had put in the TARDIS's deep freezer). And this is as good an apology as John will ever get. (And of course Sherlock signs his texts, even to his husband. Of course he does.)
"Universal roaming," the Doctor drawls, shaking his head. "You could call anyone, anywhere in the cosmos and you text across the TARDIS. Pair of schoolboys, you two."
When River appears, the Doctor pulls out his blue notebook to match hers. John leans in, waves his greeting and says, “Hello, Doctor Song.”
River looks up blankly, eyes flicking from doctor to Doctor. “Sweetie, are you picking up hitchhikers again?”
“I don’t do it that often,” the Doctor grumbles. “And that Prefect chap was only a stop-off, made a mess of my linen closet. No more hitchhikers.”
“Wait, you don’t remember me?” John asks, slightly hurt. Yes, he’d only met River the once, but they had saved about twenty young men trapped in a mine on Bolzar Delta. Squeezing through small spaces is a bit of a bonding experience. “John Watson?”
“Ah, right,” the Doctor cuts in. “John, River and I are a bit… temporally incompatible.”
“They meet in the wrong order,” Amy supplies.
“Hence the diaries, I assume,” Sherlock observes.
River raises her eyebrows when the detective appears. “Oh, hello. And who’s this tall, dark and handsome?”
“Taken,” the Doctor says, jerking his thumb at John without looking up from his diary. He flips a page. “Have we met Ordo the Old yet?”
“Oh, the smell,” River says, wrinkling her nose. “How about Chernobyl?”
“That was a disaster,” the Doctor frowns. “Aha, have you got the planet of cats?”
“We do the planet of cats?” River laughs. “Why in God’s name?”
“Accident,” the Doctor mutters. “All right, all synched up then!” He snaps the diary shut.
They mean to have an adventure. They end up at the Eye of Orion and have a quiet day out.
Rory looks up from his food and suddenly asks, “Is this a triple date?”
River laughs first. Sherlock smirks.
River leaves with a kiss to John’s cheek and says, “I look forward to meeting you for the second time, boys.” And she winks at Sherlock, and she’s gone. When they turn to the Doctor, he tries to hide the goofy grin she’s left on him, and the fingers he’s been waving even after she disappears. He clears his throat loudly, excuses himself to the console on the pretense of pressing some buttons, and he fools absolutely no one.
Sometimes the Doctor tells stories. Well, all of them tell stories, really. Like the time the engines overheat and they have to float in stasis around Saturn to let them cool down (the Doctor doesn't tell them the process only takes four hours, usually, because sometimes, just sometimes, he loves this more than the adventures). The TARDIS is dim and quiet, the soft hum of engines in neutral and the natural, wonderful echo of her corridors when no one is in them. Cushions thrown to the glass floor of the console room where the four of them perch and watch the Doctor narrate in a style that can only be described as grand. Or maybe sweeping. Or bumbling, when he gesticulates too far and knocks something off the console ("Don't worry, non-vital. I think. Well, not any more, certainly.")
He tells them about the time he found (then lost) the Key to Time—twice. Vervoids and Sontarans, people with cheetah faces and devils from the sea. John's favorite is the one with the Space DJ, because it's utterly ridiculous and he's sure the Doctor's making most of it up (apart from the bit with Davros, he sounds like a number). Rory rather likes this fellow named Hex, and makes a point how nurses make the best sort of heroes in the end, really ("I mean, what's a Doctor without his nurse?"). Amy falls asleep, wakes up halfway through a story about some people named Jamie and Zoe (and she sleepily asks "Is Jamie your wife?", which the Doctor doesn't really answer).
Sherlock makes no running commentary, and aside from the occasional chuckle or the movement of his fingers through John's hair where he lies against Sherlock's shoulder, he makes no move whatsoever. So, it's only natural that, when the Doctor comes to a halt in one narrative, he grins and turns to the tall man sitting across from him.
"Sherlock," he calls the detective out. And he flicks the sonic screwdriver from his pocket and tosses it to Sherlock's waiting fingers.
"Is a screw loose somewhere?" Sherlock drawls, and Rory chuckles into Amy's hair.
"Whoever holds the sonic tells a story," the Doctor says cheerfully, and he finally pulls up a cushion and wraps himself in a big checked duvet.
Sherlock eyes him knowingly (of course he knows the engines are more than cool by now; the Doctor knows that Sherlock knows, because they're both really very clever, and they have to be so they can keep up with each other).
"I met John on the first of January," Sherlock says, feeling the weight of the sonic in thought.
Amy settles in for a good yarn.
John tries to break in several times and tell the story properly, to which Sherlock answers, "You haven't got the sonic, John, shut up."
Sherlock gets to the bit at Angelo's, and John can't stand it anymore, and there's a sudden tussle for the sonic screwdriver (the Doctor with a hand to his mouth shouting "Don't break it! Don't break it!"), and John has to roll Sherlock onto his back and pin him before he can wrench the sonic from his hand.
John tells it properly (Sherlock was most definitely hitting on him at the restaurant, by the way, he assures all of them), and no one mentions the proud look in Sherlock's eye as John narrates his brave shot across two buildings to save the man he hardly knew.
(And only the Doctor knows that it was Sherlock's plan all along to get John to tell it; more importantly to get John to pin him.)
"Well, yeah, of course it's my turn," Rory bemoans, letting the sonic sag in his fingers. "Like I can follow you up with your murders and your flirting. Mostly the murders."
"As if you could flirt if you tried," Amy says with a sly grin.
"Does Amy have the sonic?" Rory asks at large.
John shakes his head amusedly. Sherlock adds: "He can't be any worse than John."
"Who got a date with Sarah Sawyer the day he slept through his shift?" John asks pointedly (grinning as if a challenge has been thrown, practically nose to nose with Sherlock). "No thanks to you, by the way."
"How is Sarah?" Sherlock asks, mirroring John, head cocked.
"Sorry, it's my turn for a story, right?" Rory asks, limply holding the sonic screwdriver aloft.
"Oi, quiet down, you two," Amy calls, and silence immediately follows.
Rory ponders seriously for a short time, debating over which story to tell. But then he grins, points the sonic at the Doctor, and he says, “When Amy was a kid—”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Amy starts, her eyes going horribly wide. She makes a grab for the sonic, which Rory holds aloft and out of her reach.
“When Amy was a kid,” Rory says again, smiling wider and speaking even louder over Amy’s protestations.
“Rory!” she growls, snatching uselessly for the screwdriver. “You traitor, I fought for you!”
“She made me dress up like him!” Rory proclaims, and he’s up on his feet, dashing away from the redhead who comes after him with a vengeance. “She called me the Raggedy Doctor and we went on adventures to the center of the Earth!” He dodges around the console. The Doctor is practically rolling on the glass floor amongst the cushions as Amy leaps at her husband. And John can’t help it, breaks into hopeless laughter when Amy tackles Rory and the whole affair essentially collapses.
Sometimes, the laughing, that's the best bit.
"Oh, blimey, would you look at that," the Doctor says in mock surprise only when the sonic has come back to his hands. "Engines, cool. Who's up for a spin through the Han dynasty? Rory, I think imperial yellow could definitely be your color." He eyes the nurse vaguely up and down. "Oh, no, never mind, yellow is rubbish. Never wear yellow, Rory. Prague!"
But they're already half-asleep, and adventure can wait another twelve hours. As they all make their quiet way to their bunks, the Doctor can hear John when he murmurs a drowsy "I love you," to Sherlock's ear. And Sherlock doesn't reply, but he thinks about it for a good long time.
“Sherlock! Where the bloody hell are you? I’ve been calling for hours! There’s a—”
“Yes, hello Lestrade. I’m a bit busy at the moment.”
“Too busy for a case? Are you ill?”
“I’ll phone back when I’m not being chased through a swamp. Thank you for the consideration, Detective Inspector.”
“What the hell are you on about? Sherlo—”
“Should I be jealous?” John asks, leaning in the doorway.
Sherlock and Amy look up, covered in flour, just recovered from what must have been a spectacular food fight in the kitchen.
“Extremely,” Amy says, clinging to Sherlock’s arm (he scoffs but doesn’t remove her).
“Yeah?” John asks, laughing. “And what if I took your husband aside and made a cake with him?”
“Is that a euphemism?” Sherlock murmurs, a catlike grin slinking across his face.
John breaks into loud, barking laughter, doubles over. “Since when do you know about euphemisms?”
“Besides,” Amy purrs, slinking by John in the doorway, “I think Rory’d like that.”
And it’s John left with his jaw hanging open. Sherlock leans in and says, “That was an unexpected reaction.”
Two minutes later, Rory pokes his head into the kitchen and asks, “Was someone talking about me?”
Sherlock and John break into unmitigated giggles. “D’you want to make a cake, Rory?” John manages to get out between the laughter. And the poor nurse doesn’t understand, knows he doesn’t want to understand, and so he leaves it be. Leaves them in the kitchen and goes to find Amy.