Summary: The Doctor has a poignant encounter with Michael Jackson, the legendary King of Pop.
Author's notes: I was touched by the tribute done for his funeral and I was impressed by the "This Is It" movie. That's what inspired this story.
Using his special tracking gizmo, the Doctor followed the faint signal of his quarry to a rear entrance of the arena. The metal door was locked but was no problem at all for his sonic screwdriver. Inside the venue, he strolled about as though he belonged there and went completely unnoticed by the many construction workers, technicians, camera operators, musicians and dancers preparing for the big show. The Doctor smiled in anticipation. He loved live entertainment. As he walked around and took in the sights, it was easy to see that this was not the typical musical theater production. He spotted a giant, mechanical spider and a shiny bulldozer which were apparently to be used as props. A voice boomed over the giant speakers, asking for attention because rehearsal was about to begin. The Doctor made his way towards the front of the stage to get a good view of the show. He had no clue as to who or what he would be seeing, but that was okay because he also loved surprises. He didn't recognize the music at first but as soon as the shadow of a slim figure wearing a fedora and loose fitting suit appeared behind a screen, his grin grew even wider.
"Blimey, it's the King of Pop."
He had changed so much since the last time the Doctor had seen him, but the voice and the moves were still the same. He was singing "Smooth Criminal," and even with the occasional stop to correct some barely imperceptible flaw, the performance was breathtaking. The Doctor glanced around and saw that the crew was just as enamored with the performance as he was. Everyone applauded and cheered as the music ended and the spotlights dimmed. After the director called for a ten minute break, the Doctor overheard two young men standing nearby commenting. "Man, this concert is gonna be the biggest and baddest anybody's ever seen!" "Yeah, the man can definitely put on a show. Hope I'm even half that good when I reach fifty."
In an instant, it came to him. The Doctor quickly grabbed the closest of the men by the arm and asked, "What day is today?"
"No, I mean, day and the month."
"June 24th, 2009?"
"Yeah. What, you forget your wife's birthday or something?"
"Oh, I'd never forget that," the Time Lord responded as he turned and briskly walked off.
"Who was that guy?"
"I think he's one of the set designers."
The Doctor easily found his way back stage to the dressing rooms. A burly guard standing outside one of the doors was an indication that royalty resided within. The Doctor presented the man with his psychic paper, and after a quick perusal of the document, received a nod of acceptance. The guard gently rapped his knuckles on the door and announced. "Mr. Jackson, your doctor is here."
"Come on in," came the soft-spoken reply.
Inside the softly lit dressing room, the Doctor found the legendary pop star stretched out on a leather couch, one hand resting on his stomach and his other arm draped across his eyes.
"Wasn't expecting you to come, but I'm glad you're here," Michael sighed. "Not feeling all that great."
"Sorry to hear that."
Startled, Michael uncovered his eyes and looked up at the owner of the unfamiliar voice. "Who are you?"
Michael sat up and regarded the stranger with trepidation. "You're not my regular doctor."
"No, I'm just... the Doctor. As in... Lord of Time, owner of the odd blue box that's so much bigger on the inside. Ring any bells?"
Michael stood up at that and looked the man over carefully. "You're... the Doctor?"
"Yep. The one and only."
"But... what happened? You look nothing like you did before. The hair, the nose --"
"Oh, well, I could say the same about you. I've regenerated since the last time we met. What's your excuse?"
"I have a skin condition," Michael replied with mild annoyance. "Loss of pigmentation."
"And the nose?"
The singer shrugged. "I didn't like the old one that much."
The Doctor gave a slight nod in acceptance. "Fair enough."
"So what did you say happened? You reintegrated?"
"Regenerated. Think of it as a cat with nine lives. Only I have 13. You met me when I was on my ninth. This is my tenth. Same book on the inside, just a different cover on the outside."
"What happened with your ninth life?"
The Doctor shrugged nonchalantly. "Lets just say that saving the universe over and over again tends to take its toll."
Michael stepped cautiously closer and looked deeply into the man's wide, brown eyes. "Doctor? It really is you?"
"Yes, it really is me.... Trust me."
A large grin spread across the singer's pale face and his arms opened wide in invitation. The two men exchanged a welcoming hug. "It's so good to see you again, Doctor."
"You too, Michael."
After they pulled away from the embrace, Michael sat down on a nearby swivel chair in front of the makeup mirror. He patted the armrest of the matching chair next to it, indicating that his guest should have a seat. The Doctor sat down and immediately did two complete spins in the chair.
"Ooh, I like this. I should get one of these for the Tardis."
"You can have that one if you like," Michael offered sincerely.
"Really? No, I can't. Looks very expensive."
"It probably is. But if you want it, it's yours."
The Doctor gave it one more spin then shook his head. "If I bring something this nice on board the Tardis, it'll just accentuate the fact that everything else is still old and crappy. Thanks for the offer just the same."
"It's been such a long time," said Michael, a big smile still on his face.
"Oh, it hasn't been that long," the Doctor countered. "Um... exactly, how long has it been?"
"Really? That long. Mmph, seems like practically yesterday."
"I remember it so well because that was the year I won all those Grammys for my 'Thriller' album."
"Right, right! I remember now. That was quite a year for you, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it was. That whole era was just magical for me. And meeting you... that was pretty wild." Michael shook his head as he thought back to that special event. "You know, there are times I really regret not taking you up on your offer to go traveling with you."
"Well, you already had a pretty exciting life at the time. So much fame and fortune coming your way, it was rather senseless of me to even offer."
"But what you were offering was so much more than fame and fortune. To travel through space and forward and back in time... that's truly amazing. And that one little adventure we shared, it was totally wild, exhilarating, unbelievable, unforgettable and... completely terrifying. I loved everything but the terrifying part."
"Well, with a video like 'Thriller' I just figured... you know."
"Yeah, but that was just Hollywood make-believe. The lights come on, the make-up comes off and it's over with. But with you, the horrors were real."
The Doctor let out a deep sigh and nodded. "Unfortunately, yes."
"So did you ever find anyone brave enough to travel with you?"
"Oh, did I!" The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest as he thought about all his brave and loyal companions. "Rose Tyler. Only nineteen when I met her but she was completely fearless and game for anything. And then there was Jack Harkness, a bit of a cad at first, but he turned out to be quite the hero. And there's Mickey Smith who started off not so brave but more than made up for it later. Then there's the lovely Martha Jones and the wonderful Donna Noble. All fantastic people. I've amassed myself a nice little family over the past few years."
"That's great! I'm glad to hear that you're not all alone anymore."
The Doctor managed to hide the real truth of that statement by deflecting the conversation to the framed photographs he saw gracing the dresser top. "Oh, speaking of family. You've been quite busy I see."
"Yes, those are my babies." Michael leaned in a bit to point out and name each of his three children. "That's Prince, that's Paris, and his name is also Prince but we call him Blanket."
"Yeah, it's his nickname. An inside family thing. Has nothing to do with that incident of me holding him out of the hotel window that time."
The Doctor wasn't familiar with the aforementioned incident and decided that since everything apparently ended well, there was no need to pursue further details. "Well, they're all beautiful children. They must make you very happy."
"Oh, they're my life. They're what keep me going strong. Do you have any kids?"
"No, not anymore," the Doctor responded soberly as he stared down at the smiling faces in the photo he held.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Can't even imagine how that must feel."
"Life goes on," said the Time Lord stoically as he set the picture frame back down. His eyes roamed over the other pictures tucked into the edges of the mirror's frame. He recognized several high profile celebrities smiling for the camera, some posing with Michael and some solo. He started to point out one he had met personally, but suddenly remembered something. "So, um... you said you weren't feeling well."
"Earlier. When I first came in. You thought I was your physician and you said that you weren't feeling well. What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing really. Just... a little exhaustion, a few minor aches and pains. These rehearsals are kind of grueling and I'm just not as young as I used to be."
"Well, certainly couldn't tell by looking at you on stage back there. You were amazing by the way."
"That's kind of you to say," said Michael bashfully, "but that rehearsal was a far cry from being perfect."
"Oh, nothing in life is ever perfect. All I know is that I was very impressed by what I heard and saw. You were fantastic!"
The singer's head canted to one side as though he really did not agree but was willing to accept the adulation just the same. "That makes me feel better, hearing it come from you. I mean, I hear it all the time from the fans and people who work for me, but I'm not so certain they're being completely honest or just saying what they think I want to hear."
"So you feel you're surrounded by 'yes' men?"
"Sometimes. But on the other hand, I don't want to be surrounded by people who tell me 'no' all the time either. You know, I want what I want when I want it."
"Don't we all."
"This concert..." Michael began, "it needs to be perfect. There's so much riding on it. It was only suppose to be ten shows in the beginning. Do the shows, put out a CD and DVD version and hopefully make enough money to pay off my debts. But to everyone's surprise, the ten shows sold out instantly with fans demanding more. So we added a few more and a few more.... Now it's up to fifty shows. Not only is this an opportunity to get myself back on my feet financially and allow me to provide for my children, but it can put me back on top as a performer as well. I'll be able to shine again. Shine the way I was meant to. I have to tell you, Doctor, it's the most wonderful feeling standing on that stage in front of thousands of fans screaming my name and crying tears of joy. I miss that.... But at the same time, I'm a little terrified because... like I said, I'm not as young as I used to be. I'm not twenty-five or thirty-five or even forty-five. I don't have endless energy or joints that don't ache after a few too many moon-walks. Fifty shows... thirty of them all within the next three months. I'm worried that I might not be able to keep up the pace. Afraid that my voice won't hold up. What if I just can't live up to everyone's expectations?"
"Try living up to your own expectations. All you can do is the best you can on any given day. Doesn't do any good to fret or lose any sleep over it."
"Oh, and that is one thing I've been having problems with, sleeping. I don't suppose you know of a good cure for insomnia?"
Actually, he did. Besides the harmless herbal remedies he knew about, there was a setting on his sonic screwdriver that could stimulate the sleep centers of the brain and safely help induce sleep. He was tempted -- very tempted -- to offer the pop star aids that would solve his sleep problems and thereby save his life. But that would mean changing history, a history that had already been written and should not be altered.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor said, managing to keep his voice and expression even. "I'm afraid I can't help you."
"Well, that's okay. I have a feeling I'll sleep okay tonight. Would you like to come by the house and meet my kids?"
"That's probably not a good idea. You being the high-profile type with paparazzi everywhere and me being an alien who prefers to stay out of the limelight."
"Yeah, I see your point. But, tell me... why are you here? And don't say that you just happen to be in the neighborhood."
"No, not exactly."
"Let me guess. You're hot on the trail of some sort of dangerous alien being who's dead set on destroying the Earth. Am I right?"
"Ooh, very close. Actually, I'm hot on the trail of a teenaged, runaway alien who's dead set on exploring the universe and giving his parents a nervous breakdown in the process."
Michael laughed. "Oh, wow! Sounds like quite a mission you're on. And you tracked the alien here?"
"Yes, somewhere in the building, but then I got sidetracked by your rehearsal."
"What does this alien look like?"
"Very small, about the size of your hand, metallic-looking skin with large, glittering, butterfly wings."
"Butterfly wings? Sounds like you're describing a fairy."
"Well, not exactly of the Tinkerbell variety, but give it the head of a salamander and you're close."
"How did he get here?"
"Oh, probably just flew right through an opened door and--"
"No, I mean, on Earth. Does he have like a tiny spaceship?"
"No, he stowed away on board the Tardis. I had just rescued him and some of his friends from another planet I happened to be visiting. Stopped into this intergalactic marketplace and saw a vendor with several cages of various small life-forms he was selling as pets. I recognized Ooslar's species and advised the vendor that he should return them back to their home planet and their families. He advised me to mind my own business. But anyone who knows me, knows that's something I just can't do. I offered to buy them from him but he wanted an astronomical amount of money."
"So you stole them, didn't you?"
"That would have been the plan if he had not been willing to barter. Fortunately, he took a liking to the necktie I was wearing. Apparently, silk neckties from 21st century Earth are worth their length in gold or whatever the currency was there. Anyway, took the kids back to their planet but didn't think to do a head count before I left. Ooslar decided he wanted to do a bit more traveling so he hid away on the Tardis. I had just landed on the California coast to soak up a little sun on the beach when I opened the door and he flew past. He led me on a merry chase and I eventually tracked him here. His kind are highly attracted to lyrical music and bright, glittery things, which would go a long way into explaining why he would end up..." the Doctor trailed off as he looked carefully about the room. His gaze landed on a sparkling, rhinestone covered glove worn by a mannequin's hand sitting on a display shelf. He went over to closely examine the glove, turning it around to see the other side. "There you are. Come along now, your parents are worried sick about you." The Doctor held out his hand and after a few seconds, the glove appeared to come alive. It moved as the tiny alien revealed itself and hopped onto the Doctor's outstretched hand.
"Michael Jackson of Earth, meet Ooslar Ulixa of Pacagonu."
Michael stared in awe as the Doctor brought the alien over to the dresser and allowed it to climb off of his hand. At first glance, it appeared to be a tailless lizard with wings and smooth, silvery skin. Its sparkling wings flittered opened and close as it looked up at the pop star with gray, marble-like eyes and a wide, friendly smile. His lips began moving in silence as he waved his three-fingered hands about excitedly.
"His lips are moving. Is he trying to speak to me?"
"You can't hear him?" When Michael shook his head, the Doctor sighed, "Oh, human ears are so inadequate. You miss out on so much. You'd be able to hear him if you were a dog, or even a bat. Anyway, he's saying how much he enjoyed your singing and flashy dancing."
"You're kidding, aren't you? He didn't really say that... did he?"
"Actually, I was paraphrasing slightly. He is a teenager after all and teens all over the universe have their own unique language, but trust me, he's an instant fan of yours."
Ooslar's head nodded up and down in an agreeable fashion and he clapped his hands together a few times to get the point across further.
"Well, thank you, Ooslar. I'm glad you enjoyed it." When Ooslar's lips moved again in speech, Michael looked to the Doctor for a quote. "What's he saying now?"
"He wants to stay and watch some more of your rehearsals. Which he should not be allowed to because that would only be rewarding his bad behavior for running away in the first place."
"And it might throw my concentration off a bit knowing that there's a tiny alien from a distant planet watching me perform."
"And a big alien from a distant planet as well."
"Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting you're not from Earth."
There was a sudden knock on the door as a man's voice announced, "We need you on stage in five minutes, Mr. Jackson."
"I'll be there," Michael responded.
"Ooh, I love that song," the Doctor gushed. "Don't suppose you feel like singing just a tiny bit?"
Following a brief, bashful pause and a bit more coaxing by an audience of two, Michael softly began to sing. The Doctor held his breath as the gentle words came forth like a heartfelt lullaby, beautifully clear and ringing with innocence.
You and I must make a pack,
We must bring salvation back,
Where there is love, I'll be there.
I'll reach out my hand to you,
I'll have faith in all you do,
Just call my name and I'll be there.
The Doctor applauded lightly. He would have loved to have the singer continue but he was sure he would be in tears by the end of the song. The words reminded him of the recent loss of his companions and the fact that they would no longer be there for him. The angelic voice singing those words reminded him that the gentle soul it belonged to would soon be silenced forever. The Doctor wanted so badly to prevent that from happening, to give back the music to the fans and to give a father back to his children. But the death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop had already become a fact in the history of the world. His passing would have an affect upon millions of people, and his legacy would live on far beyond what he could have imagined.
"Sorry I can't go for the high notes right now," Michael apologized for not truly giving it his all. "Need to save my voice for the concert."
"Oh, no, no it was fantastic, just as it was. Truly beautiful. Thank you."
Michael looked down at Ooslar and saw the little alien staring up at him, seemingly frozen in place with his mouth hanging open. "Is he all right?"
The Doctor glanced down and grinned. "Oh, he's fine. The tone of your voice must have mesmerized him a little." The Doctor used the tip of his finger to gently push Ooslar's chin up and close his mouth. "See, he's fine. And I really should be getting him back home now."
"Almost wish I could come with you."
"You could, you know. The Tardis is parked right outside in the rear. I could have you back before anyone even notices you've gone."
"Oh, that's what you said the last time, and I didn't get back until twelve hours later."
"Yes, but to be perfectly honest, no one actually noticed you had left."
"That's because we left at ten o'clock at night and no one was expecting to see me until lunchtime the next day. But, I've got kids now and trust me, if I'm gone for twelve hours, they'll definitely notice."
"Right, of course they would. Well, I'll be going now. Ooslar, come along." The Doctor held out his left hand and Ooslar jumped onto it, waving good-bye to Michael as he was carefully cradled in the Time Lord's palm.
"Good-bye, Ooslar. It was nice to meet you. Oh, Doctor, if you'd like to come to one of the concerts, just let me know and I'll make sure you're on the V.I.P. list."
"Thank you. I'll keep that in mind. It was good to see you again, Michael," said the Doctor as he held his right hand out to shake. The pop star took hold of his hand, then pulled him into a brief embrace.
"Thank you for dropping by and reminding me how huge this universe is. Take care of yourself, Doctor. Remember, you only have three more lives left."
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind having a couple of extras myself," said Michael with a grin.
The Doctor walked over to the door, and before leaving out, he turned and smiled warmly. "Good-bye, Michael Jackson... King of Pop."
"Good-bye, Doctor... Lord of Time."
The Doctor managed to keep the smile on his face as he turned and walked out of the door. Back at the Tardis, he never let on to Ooslar the fate of the human he had just met. The teenager had begged and pleaded to leap ahead in time and go to one of the concerts, but the Doctor steadfastly refused. He was lucky he could use Ooslar's bad behavior of running away as an excuse not to grant his request. He delivered the teen back home without further incident, then found himself all alone in the Tardis once again, contemplating where and when to go next. His fingers hovered over the keyboard as images of the singing legend lingered in his mind. He took a deep breath, then punched in the coordinates of his new destination.
Funerals were something he preferred to avoid. But with this one, he was compelled by some magical force to attend. He didn't have a ticket, yet he had no trouble getting through the front door. He stood near a doorway alongside an usher and watched the activities broadcasted on the big screen. There was singing, words of remembrance, tears shed, and love shared. It was a celebration of life, love and music. It was a formal farewell to a legendary icon. For the Doctor, it wasn't just saying farewell to Michael Jackson; he was saying farewell to all his companions and would-be companions he had lost over the years. He had never really acknowledged their deaths or departures. He merely accepted it and went on his way. As Michael's brother, Jermaine sang the song "Smile," the Doctor closed his eyes and allowed the faces of all those who had touched his life -- no matter how briefly -- to surface and fill him with their warmth.
Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile, and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through....
Maybe it was the sound of so many others wailing that made it okay for him to add his voice to the mix. He allowed himself to truly mourn, not bothering to keep a stiff upper lip or wipe away the dampness from his cheeks. His chin dropped down to his chest, his arms wrapped themselves tight across each other, and his body shook with uncontrollable tremors. Suddenly, the arms of a stranger pulled him into a warm embrace and a motherly voice cooed in his ear, "It's okay, baby. Go on and let it all out. It's okay." It was exactly what he needed, to let it all out and to feel the touch of human compassion at the same time. With the release of tears, he also felt a release of much of the pain and guilt he had been carrying around bottled up inside. He cried not only for the loss of Michael, but for Rose and Donna, Astrid Peth, River Song, Jenny, and countless others.
After a while, he was finally able to turn off the faucet of tears and pull himself together. He thanked and graciously accepted tissues from the middle-aged, brown-skinned woman who had comforted him. Her name -- he remembered to ask -- was Mable. She had tears in her eyes as well but a big smile on her round face as though she had gained just as much from the encounter as he had.
The Doctor stayed until the ceremony came to a close and left feeling more at peace with himself. He returned to the Tardis, not to sulk in his loneliness, but rather to revel in the treasured memories that abound. He counted himself very lucky to have known all those brave people and to have shared whatever time he had with them. He picked his next destination at random, and as the Tardis headed off to parts unknown, he shed his jacket and tie and turned on some music. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" blasted out of the speakers and filled the room. It had been an awfully long time since he had done any dancing, and fortunately with this type of music, he didn't need a partner. The Doctor spun around on his heels and began to moon-walk his way across the universe.