Chapter 17: Compassion


 

     It took hours to locate every piece of the coral, but soon enough every trace of TARDIS, and Time Lord tech was stripped away from the obsidian labyrinth, and safely stowed within the depths of the Doctor’s own timeship.

     Each participant had a heavy heart as the last piece, the now dark and lifeless core, was loaded and stowed away deep within the recesses of the TARDIS.

     His ship had totally withdrawn from interacting with her passengers as they worked. The Doctor assumed she was mourning in her own way. This must have been why she brought them, but it couldn’t have been easy to see one of her sisters in such brutal condition. He sent her his love and commiseration through their bond.

     The triplets and Jack disappeared to change while he set the coordinates for Zeus Lycaeus.

     It was well into the twilight of the evening, and the Doctor wanted nothing more than to be done with this awful planet – why had he been so excited to come here again?

     Oh, right, excellent sweets.

     Still, awful, terrible planet – but he couldn’t leave without the remaining coral, and had to at least attempt to free their ruler from her organic prison.

     The Doctor landed them directly in the chamber of the lamentable queen, but they found it deserted, and throughout were obvious signs of struggle. Smashed statuettes and shredded flower garlands littered the floor, and the most disheartening of all, fragmented shards of red TARDIS coral.

     They followed the wake of overturned amphorae, broken flower vases, and pillars askew up to the ground floor and into the main temple containing the lupine edifice and altar. There, they found the women of Zeus Lycaeus in hopeless mourning.

     The truth, with all its horrific implications, had come back to them in a tumultuous flood. Some were sobbing, and clutching each other for comfort. Some were obviously outraged, with no vent for their righteous indignation, apart from the destruction of the physical manifestations of the lie they had been living for centuries. Those whom anger had overtaken were smashing the marble wolves, and ripping apart rose garlands.

     None in the Doctor’s party could blame them. Most of them felt like smashing things too.

     The air smelled acrid, and foul – like… burnt flesh – and further investigation revealed the altar had recently been used in some sort of ritual sacrifice.

     The Doctor scanned it with his sonic, and hung his head.

     When would anyone learn? Every species he encountered was guilty of it at some point, but it would never become easier to accept.

     He had a moment of rage, in which he considered walking away right then, leaving these stupid, shiny beings to rot in their idiocy. But, as quickly as the anger had come, he remembered the Master, and was overwhelmed with that age-old feeling of regret and remorse on another’s behalf. Would Koschei never stop dogging him? Would he never cease to bring him trouble and grief? No matter how many times he believed himself shut of it, no matter how often his oldest friend and enemy died – should have been gone forever, sealed in the nothingness of non-existence – he always found a way. One, or perhaps, it was more apt to say both, seemed cursed to haunt the other until neither remained. So, once again, the Master had slithered his way back into the Doctor’s life, like the snake he was, and this… mess was his, and his alone, and the Doctor steeled himself for confrontation.

     “You murdered them,” he said loudly to no one in particular.

     The temple grew as still and silent as a mausoleum. Those crying stifled their sobs, and those actively razing whatever they could get their hands on, froze in place. They were like toddlers startled mid-tantrum by a very cross parent.

     Lios spotted Clytie among the destroyers. She moved forward hesitantly, her eyes never leaving his face. Her own spoke of deep regret, and a pain he prayed he would never know. Still, he turned from her, keeping his expression neutral, and stared at the Doctor instead. He had been resolved to forgive; to acknowledge that his feelings of violation were to be laid at the door of another, but he knew what the blackened marks and the acrid smell meant as well as the Doctor. They had killed the keepers of this temple. They had burned them. All that remained of the holy women lay in putrid, greasy stains upon an altar. Had they burnt them while they still lived? Did they delight in the screams of the damned while they—she watched? Did it not occur to anyone that those they murdered may be no more guilty than they themselves? Clytie’s face told him she knew how she had abused him. Could she not then see how singling out a few to take the blame was wrong? They had wanted revenge, killed in revenge. The holy women were merely convenient patsies. Easily caught. Easily punished in the worst of ways, and that he could not— would not ignore.

     All life was sacred. It was one of the few tenets he held sacrosanct, that he allowed to define him on the deepest level, and, if taking it came so very easily to her, then he could not reconcile himself to a connexion with her.

     Perhaps, it was this rejection which sparked a little fire back into the girl, for she marched right up to the elder Time Lord with utter defiance in her every line, and spoke with no fear in her voice.

     “Evil deserves to die,” she spat. “Had we not burnt them, they would have fouled our very souls for eternity!” She pointed her golden finger in the direction of the altar and let her green eyes blaze, daring him to challenge her assertion.

     “Your queen was helpless and close to death.” The rage he experienced at this proclamation was palpable, but he responded with cool incredulity. “How was that going to work exactly?”

     “She would open Pandora’s box! She would bring back the one, the thing which brought ruination to our lands and doomed us all! Once the Child of Time was free, the Titans could be released again! We had to burn them all before they killed us, do you not see?” the woman stormed.

     He, of course, wasn’t daunted by her ire and shook his head. “Murder is murder. She deserved a trial and fair sentencing, if you had to punish her. Wasn’t her state for centuries punishment enough? You might’ve noticed how terrible her life had become. And the others? How were they any different from any of you? Can anyone here honestly tell me she was never made to do something she might not have chosen to do herself? You might’ve had a little mercy, but you lot hadn’t had enough bloodshed and violence, had you?” His voice was quiet but everyone in the room heard it keenly. “Well done. You now have a finite population, and have just successfully diminished it further. Well done indeed.”

     “What is it to you, Lord of Time?” she hissed. “Your people, and your war brought this suffering! What right have you to speak to us of bloodshed? We were a peaceful people before the other Lord of Time polluted our High Lady. He is to blame for her death, and the deaths of millions! Do not speak to me of trials or fairness! The High Lady and the priestesses were of Olympia, not Gallifrey! And that monstrosity should never have existed! We have done what we had the right to do!” Clytie railed and seized a nearby vase of yellow roses, hurling it to the ground where it shattered. This seemed to reanimate the room at large, and the rest began murmuring their agreement with the nymph.

     “When you claim to know who should live and who should die with such assurance of righteousness, you have lost the most essential part of existence. The fallibility that keeps you compassionate,” he admonished. “You’re lost. All of you. And… and I pity you,” he sighed heavily, “I hope one day you find your way. I’m finished here.”

     He motioned for the others to follow as he started back for the TARDIS, but the Omega stopped him with a hand on his arm. The Doctor searched the youngest man’s face, and saw his own conflict mirrored in piercing blue eyes.

     This was easy on no one, but Lios was not jaded in the way the Doctor had become over the centuries. He had no desire to just give them up as a lost cause, and walk away.

     The Alpha stepped up beside her brother and threw her arms around the Doctor’s neck.

     It was the shock of the unprecedented affection which truly snapped him out of his fury, and allowed him to absorb his own words.

     She pulled away from him and looked him in the eyes with a softness he’d never seen. “Fix it, Doctor,” she whispered. “Be the Doctor, an’ give ’em a way to heal.”

     He pulled her and her brother in for another embrace, before pulling the loom schematics out of his coat pocket, and striding to the blackened, oily altar. There he lay the hope for their future on the remains of their past.

     Without another word, the five interlopers left the Olympians to their grief, and went back to the timeship where the Doctor didn’t even wait for Jack to fully close the doors before starting the dematerialisation sequence, and hurling them back into the vortex.

     Lios announced without preamble – or a spare glance for anyone – that he would be fixing himself up in the infirmary, and refused each of their offers of assistance. His manner wasn’t sullen, but his need to withdraw, reflect, and decompress alone was overwhelming after the ordeal he’d endured.

     Torin and Jack, not being introverts and needing company for the comfort they required to get over the experience, made for the galley and the reassuring normalcy of tea and biscuits, while the Alpha shifted from foot to foot, and played with her layers, clearly wishing to speak, but unable to find the words.

     She needed to be doing.

     Doing anything, though her pragmatism focused the inclination of said doing in a direction of arguably moral grey area.

     “What is it, Selene Tyler?” the Doctor sighed impatiently.

     The Doctor needed to tinker. He too needed to be doing – but also to withdraw, like Lios, and brood over the evils of existence. She clearly wanted to talk, and it left him with a dilemma for which he cared very little. He felt obliged not to undo the progress they’d made. However, he had no interest in rehashing their adventure. In fact, he was desperate for the whole thing to never be mentioned again. So, instead of encouraging her to confide in him, he snapped at her, and hoped she’d back off.

     “Well? Speak up, or hurry up and go back to your hiding spot. And can’t you ever stand still? You look like a toddler who needs a toilet.”

     She huffed and stilled her fidgeting, but remained quiet. She looked like she’d been kicked, and the guilt kept him from simply walking away and abandoning her to her machinations. Damned kids. Damned mouth of his. He really hadn’t intended to say that, and he’d certainly not thought she’d take it so badly.

     Of course, for better or worse, Selene Noble-Smith was not the type who backed off when others snapped. Her misery, unbeknownst to the Doctor, did not arise from the jab he’d levelled at her, no, and it was hardly the first time she’d been told such things about her nervous habit. No, she had more important things on her mind, and the only way she could accomplish them, was to brave the Doctor’s foul mood. The look the Doctor assumed was a reaction to his harsh words, stemmed from a sick feeling at what she was about to propose.

     He let her stare at him in maddening silence for a few minutes before trying again, more gently. “If you can’t say it out loud, don’t.”

     She screwed her face into a slightly pained expression, but projected her thoughts anyway.

     I hate myself for even thinkin’ it, but… I couldn’t help noticin’ we brought aboard, well, erm, everythin’ we could need to… Am I a bad person for it? I know it’s horrible, I do, but…

     “No, Tyler. The thought occurred to me too,” he reassured softly, almost hesitantly. “I didn’t want to bring it up just yet, but… well… you’ll find what you want in that cupboard there.” He indicated a door leading to one of the many storage rooms across from the purple tree.

     The tension seemed to melt from them, as though each had been given permission to be who they really were. Neither would judge. No false show of his indignation necessary over her presumption. No offers of consolation, or shoulders on which to cry that she would not be comfortable giving. They were who they were.

     He was relieved that their goals, on multiple levels, coincided. She didn’t want to discuss Olympia. They both were in the mood to fix rather than talk, and he didn’t have to bring up the uncomfortable topic of the parts. Perhaps, he’d just help her identify what she needed before leaving her to it.

     Relief flooded her face, followed quickly by sheepish guilt. She swallowed and nodded.

     “Let it go, Tyler. Make the decision, and let it go.”

     She nodded again and marched toward the storage access with determined purpose.

     He helped her carry the parts to the door of her ship, but remained outside as she moved everything in.

     Eventually, she sighed impatiently and rolled her eyes.

     “Doctor, jus’ come in. ‘M not gonna—er—well, I… Look, jus’… you can come in, alright?”

     He stepped tentatively inside with an awkward shuffle, adding his armfuls to the piles around the console.

     She shot him a few furtive glances before saying to the room at large, “‘S a fiddly bit near the bariophaser ‘s been doin’ my head in. Could use a fresh pair of eyes, I reckon.”

     The Doctor tried to move to the console as casually as possible to hide the excitement he felt. Not only had she just invited him to actually touch her ship – which he’d been positive she’d indefinitely forbid – but he was going to get his hands on a TT capsule which had been growing without Time Lord manipulation. He’d never seen the insides of a TARDIS that hadn’t been tampered with to comply with Gallifreyan law. It was a truly fascinating prospect.

     With barely contained glee, he removed the grating, and insinuated himself between the floor and the bariophaser.

     After nearly an hour of quietly working side by side, they were both considerably more relaxed, and Selene went out to fetch a few more bobs from the storage.

     Torin approached her with a mug of tea on her return trip. His face went from friendly and curious, to suspicious and outraged in no time flat.

     “What’re you doing?” he asked, making a herculean effort to keep the accusation out of his voice.

     “Takin’ these in, wha’s it look like?” Her flippancy wasn’t designed to test his limits, but rather to deflect her own self-recriminations, yet she both wildly succeeded in the former, while failing spectacularly in the latter.

     “It looks like those are pieces of the ship we just put to rest.” The anger was cropping up despite his best efforts. “What are you doing with them?”

     “Like I said, I’m takin’ them in,” she huffed and walked in to their TARDIS with the Doctor inside, wading through the old pieces they’d acquired, and discarding anything that was now superfluous due to the genuine TARDIS pieces they’d salvaged.

     Torin charged in, hot on her heels.

     “You’re not using those in here.”

     “I am though.”

     The Doctor wisely kept his head down.

     “You’re not!

     “Oh? An’ why is tha’ then, Beta?”

     “You… can’t.” Torin folded his arms across his chest and glared at the Alpha, daring her to just try contradicting his sense of what was right.

     “I can, I have, an’ I will,” she stated bluntly, throwing his challenge right back in his petulant face.

     It was shaping up to be a knock out, no holds barred, cage match. This was precisely how all their major arguments inevitably went from bad, to fubacle. Selene insensitively dared his rebellion, Torin snapped at her bait, Selene punished his audacity, and Torin held a grudge. Only Lios could keep it from getting out of hand, and he was nowhere in the vicinity.

     “That ship was tortured for hundreds of years, Alpha! Have a bit of compassion!”

     “Oh, come off it, Torin, I do!” she cried, rounding on him defensively.

     Internally she was squirming again, and she didn’t need his judgement to make her feel worse than she did already.

     “These parts – an’ they are jus’ parts, Torin – are like long removed limbs tha’ couldn’t feel anythin’, an’ were jus’ sittin’ in bleedin’ junk piles. Jus’ like the markets we go to. You never moan like a damned prat about them.”

     “They weren’t ever alive, Selene!”

     “These parts aren’t anymore either, an’ haven’t been in a long time!”

     “It’s totally different!” he insisted fervidly.

     “No, Torin, it isn’t. How’s it any different from an organ donor then, eh?” She gave a tired sigh and met her brother’s furious brown eyes with a weary plea in her own. “Even if we’re not puttin’ it in the same category as other ship parts, how’s it any different from a new liver from a stranger, if it’s gonna keep this baby from dyin’? Answer tha’ then.”

     “Would it be alright if you had your organs ripped out, your body mutilated, then all of it chucked in a bin for someone to find and decide it’d do quite nicely in someone else?”

     “Well, I’d be dead, so, yeah, I probably couldn’t be bothered.”

     “You’re out of order, Selene, and you know it!”

     “Oh, don’t be stupid, Torin.”

     He gave a yell of frustration, walking a few steps away before rounding on her once more. “I swear, if you do this, I’ll never set foot on this ship again, Selene.”

     “‘S your choice, innit?” she sniffed stubbornly. “Abandon us. Go on. I can’t force you to do anythin’, can I?”

     Torin stormed out without a backward glance at his shaking sister.

     “I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” the Doctor comforted softly after a few beats of uncomfortable silence.

     She shrugged one shoulder half-heartsedly to cover her true feelings, while knitting her brows. Adrenaline pumped through her body and she was scared to death that her beloved brother meant every single word.

     “He might. He’s got options now an’ all.” She swallowed hard and shook her head to clear it. “‘S alright. Can’t help tha’ I’m a pragmatist. Torin may be upset with me, but I’m not wrong. Not sayin’ I’m right. Jus’… not wrong.”

     She buried herself under the exposed console and began installing the salvaged parts in question.

     “It doesn’t feel good to make hard decisions. For what it’s worth, you made the smart decision, and the one I’d have made myself.” He settled down on a rolling dolly and followed suit.

     “Yeah, ‘cos you always make the best choices, don’t you?” She fisted her eyes, then pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sorry. Tha’ was… Jus’…You’re really not helpin’.”

     “Oi! I’m trying to comfort you!”

     “Why? ‘Cos I’m so little?” she jabbed. “Don’t fret! Got my leather on now. As demonstrated, ‘m back to destroyin’ all tha’s fun an’ happy.”

     “Selene Tyler, you’re a barrel of – well, not laughs exactly, but something.”

     She smiled slightly, “I’m never gettin’ you to call me anythin’ else, am I?”

     “Not a chance,” the Doctor confirmed cheekily. “That is your name after all, though how you came by it, I’ll never understand. Selene? Lios? Torin? Your father and I couldn’t have thought too much alike if you lot ended up being called that. Must’ve been residual Donna, or did your mother forbid his input?”

     “Nah,” she chuckled, grateful for the Doctor’s intuitive change of subject. “Selene was a compromise.”

     The Doctor paused in his tinkering to shoot her a doubtful glance.

     “Well, I s’pose tha’s the nice way of puttin’ it,” she shrugged. “Apparently, there were rows. Mum wanted to call me Jacqueline—”

     The Doctor made a horrified face.

     “—but Dad insisted tha’ no Time Lord or Lady in the history of existence was ever called ‘Jackie,’ an’ tha’ wouldn’t be changin’. He wanted to name me for your granddaughter; said Arkytior was right proper since it also roughly means Rose. Mum said there had to’ve been a reason she went by Susan instead. Wha’d they call me casually? Arky? Tior? Ti-ti?” she chuckled, “Tha’ was bad, she said. Tha’s wha’ you do in the loo when you’re a little girl, not wha’ you call a little girl.”

     The Doctor scowled and fiddled petulantly with his sonic.

     “So, after a suitable amount of sleepin’ in the lounge, Dad suggested Selenialatovara, an’ Mum shortened it. A lot. Li’s name’s a similar story. Heliosdanaritaxicor got cut into Lios. Torin Mum chose. She insisted to Dad tha’ it was an Irish name she liked the meanin’ of, but she told us later tha’ it’s really Tony, Peter, and Jacqueline all smashed together.”

     The Doctor felt an irrational stab of jealousy that he hadn’t been involved in the naming argument, lounge banishment and all.

     It was, of course, exactly what he would have said – he even liked both the names Selenialatovara, and Heliosdanaritaxicor, as they were the names of the twin suns on Gallifrey – and he was irritated, and not a little offended by Rose’s arguments against Arkytior, which was one of the most beautiful names he could imagine.

     But Time Lady Jackie? He reminded himself to have a poke at Rose about that one when he could.

     “Lady Selenialatovara, eh?”

     “I fully regret tellin’ you already.”

     “It’s lovely!” he insisted. “And it’s you. Get too close, and you’ll be incinerated.” He grinned, for all the world, like he’d made the funniest joke in the universe. When she didn’t laugh, he asked, “You do know what it is?”

     “Ye-p. Still, not my name.”

     “But—”

     “Never. It’s the Alpha, an’ don’t you forget it.”

     “That’s my girl.”

     She shook her head and smiled, indulging him. “D’you know, I’d probably’ve chucked somethin’ at you if you’d said tha’ yesterday?”

     “What happened to still hating me after taking me for my tenner?”

     She hesitated a moment, stopping her soldering with her sonic, and stared at her idle hands. “Doctor…”

     “There’s really no need, Selene Tyler,” he assured, keeping his eyes on the loose connections before him. “You don’t have to say anything.”

     “Yeah… But…”

     “Really, it’s okay.”

     “Yeah… It isn’t.” She wasn’t proud of herself, and had to at least acknowledge it. “But I appreciate it all the same. Not tha’ great with words after all, me. I mean, I can talk. I can talk people blue in the face, but…”

     “Believe me, I understand.”

     She chuckled. “Yeah… Still… I’m… I’m glad you found us. You’re… you… you’re not a bad man, an’… maybe even a good one.”

     The Doctor remained silent, focusing on the gravitational flux capacitor he was wiring, but smiled inwardly. “Hand me the bit of wire there, will you?”

     “‘S closer to you, shiftless.”

     She stood and brought the coil of living wire to him anyway.

     “When my mum comes back, wha’re you gonna do?”

     He remained silent.

     She hooked her foot under the primitive dolly on which he lay, and rolled him back out. She bored holes into him with her honey coloured eyes.

     “What?” He cocked his head and frowned.

     What did that have to do with anything really? And what was this? Jackie Tyler reincarnated? Time Lady Jackie, indeed. He half worried she’d slap him if he said the wrong thing.

     His panic must have been evident on his face because she laughed, and relaxed a bit. “Gormless, I’m not… I’m not attackin’ you, jus’… well, you’re bad with words, yeah? Like me? Better with a plan than words then too, I’d wager, so make one, ‘cos she’s comin’ back as soon as I can manage it.” The fires of determination were ablaze in her gaze. “She’s spent nearly two hundred hard years without you—er—this you, yeah? An’ a century with jus’ us, so she’s not the naïve girl from a London shop you ran ’round with. Well, you’re both different, an’ if tha’ matters to you—”

     “It doesn’t.”

     He started to wheel himself back under, but she stuck her boot out again.

     “Shut up a minute,” she insisted with fused brows. “If tha’ matters to you – an’ you oughtta think about it, an’ hard too, ‘cos if you muck it up an’ make my mum sad again, I will destroy you—er, sorry, this’s really me bein’ friendly, I swear – but if it matters, I wanna be able to tell her ‘fore she goes runnin’ to find you. I mean, we never talked ’bout it, but I know my mum never got over— well, I mean, maybe she’s got her own things to work out, but I think she—er—an’ I know you got married an’ all—” her confidence steadily wilted, “Dad told us ’bout River Song at the Library – an’ no one, not even Mum, would blame you—”

     “Alpha…”

     “—if the part of your life tha’ Rose Tyler fit into was over, or you’d moved on an’ changed, or healed, or wha’ever. ‘S wha’ happens sometimes, y’know, with life an’ all. ‘S why I keep sayin’ you’re not under any obligation here—er—I jus’ want to make sure you’re sure—”

     “Tyler.”

     “—tha’ you can do it – if you wanted to, of course. You’re not gonna change your mind later because everythin’s so different an’, I dunno, leave her somewhere on a beach or somethin’ – I swear, if we have to go pick her up on a beach, I’ll strangle you, I will. I’d’ve strangled Dad too, so don’t feel special, jus’ tha’s my mum, an’ she’s too forgivin’ for her own good sometimes. So, yeah, make a plan an’—”

     “Selene!”

     “Wha’?”

     “I’m sure. Whether she’ll want me is entirely another matter—” he swallowed audibly, “—and a slightly, very frightening one at that. I mean, I look… different, and I-I know I’ve gone through a regeneration with her before, but, well, you just never know if new personality quirks – but I’ve had quite a long time to think about it, alright? You don’t know how often I wanted to strangle myself for being an idiot, or cross my own timeline and rewrite the past – how often I’ve been just a flip of a switch away from doing it, actually—”

     “God, we’re a hopeless bunch, aren’t we?”

     “—or from posing as a maths tutor to see her when she was still in school, or just jumping in when I knew I’d swanned off and left her at her mum’s for a while. Point is, I’m sure. I don’t care how much older she is. I don’t care if she’s different. Sure, we’ll need to, well, reacquaint ourselves… I positively hate some of the things she used to enjoy eating, I mean, have you tried bacon? Or pizza? Who thought pizza was a good idea? Although in Sweden they eat bananas on pizza, and I thought I might try that. And, well, I’m not so sure what she’ll think about my fondness for fish fingers, and I really have tried to stop myself from testing the chemical composition of things orally, but I hardly think about it before it’s done, and that used to just drive her mad – and it’s worse, much, much, very much worse now, but… I’m sure. Surer than sure even. Completely positive. No misgivings.”

     “Tha’s wha’ worries me! You’ve this perfect fantasy in your head!”

     He grinned and closed his eyes conjuring up Rose Tyler’s face in his mind as he lay in front of the young woman and her young console.

     “Fantasy could never touch the reality of Rose Tyler, my dear,” he breathed reverently.

     Of course, it couldn’t. She radiated good, wonderful, impossible things. That woman took in the time vortex and lived – not only lived, but saved him and the Earth while apparently designing a sustainable living paradox by creating her own existence! She sacrificed herself to save the world again at Canary Wharf, and should have stayed lost, but still she crossed the void to save him and the universe, only to have that very action become the catalyst with which she might have saved his species with these three!

     “Also, she’s one helluva kisser.”

     Oh. He’d said that last bit out loud, hadn’t he?

     Still, he couldn’t stop himself and added, “Seriously. Yowzah.”

     Selene cringed.

     “Oh, grow up and stop pulling faces, or it might stay that way. Do you honestly think fantasies and memories could ever do her justice even in my frankly magnificent brain?”

     “No.” She smiled, apparently satisfied. “I really don’t, but I wanted to make sure ‘cos, well, before with you an’ all— an’ it’s my mum. Carry on then. My ship won’t fix herself yet, old man.” She wafted a limp hand at him to shoo him away.

     He chuckled and shot her a dazzling grin.

     “You like me.”

     He rolled himself back under so that his legs were the only thing visible, but the grin didn’t fade.

     “Shut up.” She strode back to the area where she’d been working and set to stripping wires.

     “No! You do!” he pushed, giddy with his new discovery. “You like me, Selenialatovara Arkytior Ty—Yow!

     She’d thrown a spanner and hit him on the thigh just above the knee.

     He jerked upward, and knocked his forehead on the bariophaser above him. He rubbed at the injured area with a hiss. “Abusive! That’s elder abuse, that is!”

     “Don’t ever call me tha’ again. Makes me sound so—”

     “Time Lady-ish?” He grinned unabashedly. “Could’ve said Selenialatovara Arkytior of the Exalted Prydonian House of Lungbarrow to really slather on the eugh. Though, I suppose, since you weren’t loomed from it, you wouldn’t technically—”

     “Lungbarrow? ‘S tha’ like your actual las’ name then?”

     “No, er – no. How do you not know this? Your father never explained it?”

     She shook her head and shrugged, “Not exactly important tha’, is it? Not compared to learnin’ the complexities of time and spatial manipulation without the aid of a wormhole, or High Gallifreyan, or the correct temperature to solder livin’ wire without killin’ or injurin’ it. His name was jus’ Dad, or the Doctor, or John Noble-Smith to me.” Though her tone remained matter-of-fact, he could sense her anguish just under the surface. “An’ he died when I was thirty-six. Was jus’ a Time Tot then, really. I got more of his—er, your – stories from Mum than he had time to tell.”

     “Well, Lungbarrow is not a name in the way that humans use names – the way that you and your brothers are named,” he elaborated. “No one who understands our house system has ever called me Theta Sigma Lungbarrow—”

     “Theta Sigma? You’re literally called Nine Two Hundred? You’re Nine Sigma – four more than five sigma, so they were extra sure ‘bout it. Someone actually named you Theta Sigma, and you’re takin’ the piss about almost being named for a star?”

     “Oh, shut up,” he scowled, “like I haven’t had the piss taken my entire life about it. Like you, I chose my own name, thanks, and only my codgery brother calls me Theta anymore— called. Called me. Right. Now, do you want to know, or not?”

     She raised her hands and lowered her head in apology.

     “Lungbarrow is the house to which I belonged. Sort of like a family name, but not at all, actually, because families were much different among Time Lords. Love and family units were considered silly, and sentimental. Frivolous. Less like a family in the way you know, and more for socio-political connections, most often within the same house for – er – genetic purity.”

     “How very aristocratic. And… Ew.”

     “You’ve been around too many humans. The ‘ew’ wasn’t… in a species where genetic diversity doesn’t play a role in survival, interbreeding isn’t an issue. Technology took care of all of it. We had no defects… Well, my house, perhaps, did not escape the effects entirely… but that’s another matter. The Lungbarrows were always a bit unstable.” He chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. “But the aristocracy… yes. Exactly. A whole society of aristocratic snootiness and rules. I make it look fun, you know, but it was fairly sterile. Boring, to be honest. Feeling sentimental, or passionate about—er—much landed me in trouble. Often. Got chucked out, more than once, actually, even though later they… Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

     Thinking of being ostracised, and even banished, had never bothered him much until there was no longer a home planet from which to be barred.

     Still, he travelled everywhere with a little piece of home. It could be worse.

     Well, no, not really – not for him anyway, not much. Could’ve been much worse for the universe though.

     And that was worse, of course. No universe, no Rose Tyler and her wonderfully impossible offspring.

     He could carry the enormity of what he’d done for this to be possible, right now.

     “You should have seen what they made us wear to High Council meetings. Puts anything the Earth Royals wore at court to shame, and not because it looked smart. Bloody uncomfortable, and for a pragmatic society, utterly ridiculous. Time Lords loved their pomp. All in all, I was glad when they chucked me out—er—the last time.”

     “Hm. Interestin’,” she returned thoughtfully. “Stories I got ’bout Gallifrey were usually at Academy. Settin’ the professors in time loops to skive, an’ whatnot. Or drinkin’ with Koschei an’ the Shobogans… Theta Sigma?”

     “Shut up…”

     “Do… er… no, never mind.”

     “Go on.”

     “Nah, forget it, ‘s daft.”

     He looked at her with genuine curiosity. “No, go on. I’m all ears.”

     “Tha’s Torin. You’re all chin.”

     “Oi! Eyebrows!”

     “Do we have brothers or sisters? Or, I mean, not, no—er—do you have children?”

     “None living.”

     “Right. Sorry. Bad. Yeah. Told you it was stupid. Sorry.”

     “It’s alright. It’s only natural to be curious.”

     “I was jus’ wonderin’,” she shook her head and fumbled awkwardly with her scarf, “with River Song an’ all. Could be. Could’ve been. Maybe. Apparently not. Forget it.” She became very engrossed in finding a setting on her sonic.

     “No, actually. Not possible.” He too found his sonic screwdriver unusually interesting. “At all. Gallifreyans were—er—are—no—were sterile. We used looms. Hence the looming houses, and my having the schematics. Again, how do you not know this?”

     She shrugged at him and cocked her head slightly.

     “But there was an—er—incident on Messaline with a progenation machine… years ago, and… Dunno if you knew about… but she died. Jenny, her name was. Jenny. But she died. I had children on Gallifrey of course—er, looms and all – and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but… And River and I… even if we could’ve done—er… had children that is… I mean, with adventures, and end of existence, and sightseeing… well, we snogged a fair bit, but never… Why am I telling you this?

     “Never?” Her jaw could’ve hit the floor.

     “Does it matter?” he shot back in uncomfortable irritation. “I mean, why would we? Even Rose and I never…”

     “Why wouldn’t you? You were married you utterly daft git!”

     “In an abandoned timeline!”

     “Who cares? You still went through with it! Why not enjoy the perks?”

     She scooted over to his part of the console and began fiddling with the connections he had forgotten, her amused interest quite piqued, but refraining from teasing too much as he was clearly sensitive about the subject.

     “Weren’t you just making faces about me snogging your mum?”

     “‘S different,” she chuckled. “I don’t wanna know how nice it was with my mum. An’ you yowzed. You actually said the word ‘yowzah‘ without bein’ ironic. You meant to say yowzah. Who does tha’? No, I’m sayin’ you’re a stonkin’ idiot for marryin’ someone, an’ still actin’ like a monk, Dum-dum.”

     “Well, it’s complicated!”

     “Not really, unless you’ve got a weird quirk with this new body tha’— actually,” she paused and made a face, “really, I honestly don’t need or wanna know ’bout, ta.”

     “What? No!” he backpedalled. “You’ve spent far too much time with Jack. It’s just complicated with the…” He fidgeted and rolled his eyes in the direction of his forehead.

     “Telepathic link? Wha’, really?”

     He couldn’t understand her total lack of embarrassment in this conversation, which made him want to die and not regenerate.

     “Too much skin on skin, eh? Wha’re you embarrassed? Got somethin’ you don’t want anyone to—” her gleeful face fell for a moment, “—oh. Right. Yeah, I guess tha’ makes a bit of sense then. Still, you can’t block it, or jus’ maybe, I dunno,” the superior smirk reappeared in full force, “multitask? An’ you a genius? Oh, look at you blush an’ squirm! You are repressed, you are!”

     He glowered at her smug demeanour. He was the master of himself like any self-respecting— “I’ll have you know that Time Lords—”

     “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

     “Blimey, you’re rude.”

     “Time Lords are s’posed to be above all the physical rubbish, I get it, alright?”

     “Well, it’s true.”

     “Ye-p!”

     He really wished she’d stop grinning at him like that.

     “‘S why my sonic has a soundproofin’ settin’, innit?”

     He choked and coughed.

     “Dad jus’ programmed tha’ in there on the off-chance he might need it someday… for repairs.”

     She shook her head knowingly, aiming her sonic on its soundproofing setting at his face and pushing the button, bathing him in blue glow.

     He childishly retaliated with his own, lighting her face in green.

     “I’ll have you know, that’s a useful setting for—er—loads of— escape! Escape things—”

     “Yeah, yeah.”

     “Look, you couldn’t possibly understand without growing up in the culture.”

     She huffed. He’d touched a nerve, but he wasn’t going to have the last word.

     “Even you, oh, proper Time Lord of Gallifrey, cannot deny you’ve at least wanted to. An’ I know for a fact you have at some point in your, rather vast, history.”

     He opened his mouth to object, but she talked right over him.

     “‘Been around 900 years, me. I think you can assume, at some point, I’ve danced.’ Ring any bells?”

     “Why you little— Why do you keep— It’s completely unfair to— How are you doing that?”

     “Wha’?”

     “That thing with the quoting and face-throwing!”

     The jovial expression became a mask of mirth which did not touch her eyes. She shrugged, “I… I shared my body an’ mind with my mum briefly when…” she fidgeted. “Mostly, I don’t look at any of it – ‘s not mine – but I can’t help sometimes when they pop up.”

     “I’m sorry.”

     “Don’t be,” she grimaced, a bit of warmth returning despite the awful face. “It’s usually jus’ when you’re talkin’ absolute gobshite.”

     “Oi!”

     “Oi yourself, I’m not the one insistin’ married people don’t shag.”

     “I never—”

     “Add to tha’ I’m livin’ proof the thought occurs to you – an’ don’t go blamin’ tha’ on a little bit of humanity. The thought occurs to you, an’ why shouldn’ it? It’s bloody good fun.”

     He couldn’t help laughing in surprise, then turned it into a cough and a scowl. “You’re too young to understand. I’ve got over a thousand years of dark memories, and you didn’t grow up with the taboo, did you? Hard to get over, you know.”

     “No, I don’t. Don’t fancy knowin’ either.” She sighed, “I may not be a proper, Academy certified Lady o’ Time, but I don’t need to be to know when I’m right.” She grinned smugly. “Jus’ sayin’ you’re daft. Mum’s seen most of tha’ stuff in your head before, an’ if you stay celibate ‘cos you’re a Time Lord, it’d be ridiculous.”

     “Why am I talking about this with you?” He narrowed his eyes a second, then looked back at the wires he was meant to be soldering, and pushed back at his fringe.

     These were things he never talked about, even with Amy, but apparently here he was, lying under a console not his own, and discussing… with…?

     It wasn’t happening.

     Had he died on Rodan, and this was some sort of strange limbo where he was in the midst of a fever dream born of loneliness in the universe?

     Or, had he stopped just threatening to go over the edge, and was finally completely mental?

     “I want my mum to be happy,” she replied simply with her brows knitted, and her eyes far away. “We can’t chat like mates?”

     Her eyebrows shot up toward her hairline, then they sank back down and knitted together again.

     “Is this not how mates chat? Never really had one before, outside of Jack, ‘cos Torin an’ Li don’t count. How do mates chat then? I mean, I’m not sayin’ we’re mates…”

     The brows shot back up.

     “Only… I dunno, maybe I wouldn’t hate tha’.”

     She didn’t look at him, but screwed up her face and cocked her head as if the idea was doing her head in.

     “No! Yes!” he agreed quickly, in case she decided to change her mind. “Mates. Yes. That’s okay. Er— good even… but it’s you! We’re talking about – and you’re her – and you don’t… er, haven’t…? Or want… to do… well, those things… do you? Not that I have any right to—er—I mean, I’m not telling you not to, but, it’s not like you’ve got a regular bloke, you know, and you’re just, well, you’re awfully young! Too young!”

     She was too. Barely an adult. Preposterous.

     “Oi!” She giggled, then caught herself, and feigned an offended look. “You didn’t mind when my brothers were runnin’ ’round tryin’ to chat up those Olympian birds, did you? ‘S alright for the Lords, but not the Ladies, eh? Come on, Doctor, I’m one hundred twenty-seven, not a child! An’ I’ve even regenerated already! You don’t think in a hundred twenty-seven years—”

     “No!” He threw his hands up, nearly losing his grip on his sonic, and rolled out from under the console. “Really, I don’t want to know! Actually, never tell me, thanks. You’re… There are some things I can’t… Just, well, just not Harkness, right? Because I’ve wanted to chuck him into the vortex f— er… No. Never mind. Just, no.”

     He pushed his fringe back, and began wringing his hands.

     She laughed uproariously. “Keep makin’ tha’ face an’ it’ll stay tha’ way. Really, you wouldn’t want tha’, ‘s bad enough already.”

     “Mates, eh?” He furrowed his non-brows, and looked at her curiously.

     “Shut it.” She crawled back under the console to busy her hands.

     “Mates.”

     “Wha’s with tha’ face you’re makin’? Wha’ d’you wanna say then?”

     “Nothing! Nothing, really.”

     “Doctor, wha’?” she asked between bouts of sonic whirring.

     “Really! It’s nothing… mate.”

     He wasn’t sure why it bothered him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted her to see him as an adviser, or at least someone to be respected, or if it was something else. Of course, “mates” was a decided improvement from even two days before, but it levelled their playing field too much. Not that he had a problem being equal with others… but he was generally in a position of authority or influence, even amongst friends, and she really didn’t seem to care about that. She was headstrong, and he wanted to be able to teach her. That must’ve been it.

     “Better’n bein’ jus’ some bloody prat I hate, innit?”

     She rolled her eyes, and peered at him from her position below, but her expression was not unkind.

     “Look, you’re not my dad, an’ not my captain, are you? Not really. I mean, you didn’t change nappies for years, or teach me to fly, or hire me as crew, so I can’t think of you tha’ way, but we can be friends jus’ the same, an’ maybe tha’s better, yeah? Can talk more openly with a mate… an’ you won’t have any responsibility toward me.”

     Her eyes had gone a bit steely again. It was a bitter change from the warmth he had so recently found.

     “I can take care of myself, y’know, an’ them too ‘cos I am dead clever an’ all. We all are. We’re alright. We’re always alright.”

     She shook her head as if to clear it. A bit of warmth returned, and she grinned charmingly.

     “So, I’ll be able to shag who I want, an’ you won’t have to kill ’em, yeah?”

     He sighed and tugged at his tie. “Can’t you just leave off the shagging bit? I don’t want to know!”

     “You don’t… er… feel like you’re—er—our dad… do you? Tha’s not somethin’ you want… right?”

     He didn’t say anything for a minute. “Yes. No! Er… I don’t know what… I… I don’t know.”

     “Well, we should jus’ leave it, yeah? ‘S not complicated this way, an’ we won’t have to row—er—as much.”

     “Do you realise we haven’t shouted at each other in days?”

     “Oh, well, tha’ll never do, let’s fix tha’ then.” She started to haul herself from her spot in mock preparation.

     “Well,” he amended hastily, “you did throw a spanner at me. I think that means we can skip it this time, full stop.”

     He stood up, dusted himself off, and straightened his bow-tie.

     “Back in a tick. I’m going to see how your brother is fairing with the skin grafter in the med-bay.”

     “Ye-p. Go on then, you’re bein’ useless anyway. Out.”

     They grinned at each other, and he made his way back to his own ship.

 

 

 


Chapter 18: Such Sweet Sorrow


Chapter 16: The Ruins of Olympia


TPOLnew4-2

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