Ian watched as the Doctor puttered around the hexagonal control console. The flurry of activity was enough to indicate to the school teacher that the TARDIS was landing, but where were they this time? Not to mention when? The central column ground to a halt and the Doctor activated the scanner. The view on the screen was of Big Ben, but Ian dared not get his hopes up, after all they had seen that the edifice was still intact in the twenty-second century. They where in the right place but who could say if it was the right time.
'There you go, young man. Twentieth century London.' The Doctor looked almost smug.
'So what if it is, Doctor? It's not much good if we've arrived before we left.''Or thirty years afterward,' added Barbara as she entered the console room from the TARDIS' interior.
The Doctor snorted. Barbara smiled and Ian laughed aloud. The Doctor's ability to operate his TARDIS was a touchy subject and Ian loved to poke fun at the old man. The corners of the Doctor's mouth twitched upward as he fought to keep from smiling.
'Very well, Chesterton. Let's see when we are, shall we?'
Ian and Barbara couldn't believe it. After all the disappointments, they were finally home. True it was five years after they had left, but for them it was only a little over a year. Looked at it that way, they had managed to extend their lives by the difference. The Doctor appeared to be happy, but Barbara couldn't help wondering how he felt. Susan was gone, left behind in the twenty-second century, and now she and Ian were home. The Doctor would be continuing his travels alone. A small lump formed in her throat.
'Ian, let's take the Doctor to dinner to celebrate."
'Worried how he's going to handle being alone?'
'Aren't you?''You know, I hate to admit it, but I'll miss the old bird.'
The Doctor graciously accepted their invitation and they soon found themselves in a nice little restaurant in the shadow of Parliament. As they ate the Doctor regaled them with stories about his travels with Susan before they had all met. Barbara was convinced that he kept talking to keep from feeling the loneliness that was surely closing in around him. Her discomfort grew as she remembered what she had said to him on Venus. She'd been very angry and the Doctor had never mentioned the argument since, but she couldn't help to feel as if the poor old man's heart had been pierced by her words.
'A toast,' suggested the Doctor. 'A toast to your return home; I told you...'
Barbara looked at the Doctor's suddenly lined face. She knew he'd finally lost his composure. This was it; he was going to start sobbing any moment now. She wondered for an idle second what people would think, but quickly pushed the thought aside.
'Doctor, are you all right?' asked Ian.
'I think we should return to the TARDIS immediately.'
'Why? Are you ill?'
'I'm sorry, my young friends but you can't stay here. We have to leave at once.'
Barbara could see the anger on Ian's face and she understood it. They where finally home and the Doctor was demanding that they leave with him again. Not just demanding, ordering. She could tell that Ian was going to explode, so she laid her hand on his arm to quiet him.
'Look, Doctor. I know you're feeling a little lonely and all, but we can't go with you. Our lives are here, this is our home.'
'Young woman, you can't stay. You're right, your lives are here. In fact they're right over there.'
Ian and Barbara turned to look in the direction the Doctor had indicated. At a small table across the room sat Barbara. Ian was on one knee holding a jewelry box in his hand. The two school teachers stared at themselves across the room. The Doctor was right, they couldn't stay. However, they both knew now that they would get home, eventually.
The Doctor stood in the darkened console room. His companions were sleeping by now; that would make it easier. He reached out and operated the telepathic circuit. He stood there solemnly as the TARDIS altered his companions' memories.
'Too bad they won't remember how close they came to being home,' he muttered to himself.'