After the first week of fruitless searching, he had been frustrated.
And anxious, yes, very anxious.
Rubbish feeling, anxiousness. It made him antsy. He found it impossible to stay in one spot at any given moment, which wasn’t conducive to thoroughly searching the system.
Still, he left no stone unturned on the inhabited moons, and no cupboard un-sonicked on any space-port in the vicinity. He found nothing. Not a trace.
After the second week, he started to despair.
Despair was far worse than anxiousness and frustration – well, he was still frustrated. Anxious, frustrated, and upset, but now he was also beginning to despair. It was a very not-happy feeling.
Would he actually find them?
He hadn’t sensed anything again, not a single mental peep, and he feared he’d been too late.
It was entirely possible. They could have been killed, or moved on quickly, and in that case, he was only spinning his wheels by hanging about.
But what option did he have? He couldn’t not look; couldn’t just swan off and look elsewhere… until he was positive – and he wasn’t positive. The TARDIS had brought him there, and she did so for a reason. He trusted her. She’d have given him an indication if it was, in fact, time to go… He was pretty sure she would, anyway.
Now that nineteen days, twenty-three hours and seven minutes had passed with no hint of another Time Lord emergent, he was beginning to question everything – his sanity above all.
Had he imagined it all in his emotionally devastated state?
It could happen. The mind – especially an incredibly active one like his – could come up with a lot of strange things when under enough stress, and, well, stressed barely encompassed what he had been feeling, didn’t it?
Was it only his own grief and loss he’d been feeling, and it had somehow tricked his senses into believing the impossible?
Had he dreamed it all?
Was he so desperate for connection and reassurance that he’d had a break from reality?
He knew stranger things had happened to him.
His doubt settled like a fine layer of dust on the determination he had first felt, dulling all certainty.
Doubt, however, was infinitely preferable to the sinking feeling that he had simply failed.
He banished the possibility that they were gone.
They couldn’t be.
He wouldn’t allow it.
They’d have left traces somewhere, and traces were all he needed. He’d find them.
He had searched everywhere in the system – both moons and all four planets – to no avail. They were, simply put, unfindable – was that a word?
Every allowable second was spent in fanatic pursuit, even to the uncommon degree of ignoring local distress and curiosities, and he focused his considerable genius on this one all-important task.
He didn’t sleep, he didn’t tinker or fix the broken systems on the TARDIS – not that she – well, they, really – didn’t desperately need it. Both needed each other at their best, and neither, in fact, was.
Fervour and obstinacy was what fuelled them.
He had dark circles under his eyes, and was a cranky bastard, yelling at his ship and cursing her for things which probably, definitely weren’t her fault.
She wasn’t in the best shape – still battered from their last disaster of a trip – and couldn’t keep up with what he was asking of her, but he couldn’t face the notion that if he had just moved—a few seconds—faster instead of being floored by the pained, cacophonous clamour of thought, he would’ve been able to get real coordinates.
The failure had been his, not hers. Blaming her for anything wasn’t fair. He knew it and still had resorted on several occasions to bringing out the mallet he’d been so fond of in his last regeneration.
The TARDIS bore his wrath with the patience of a saint, shocking him only when he was going to break something vital, and mostly ignoring his diatribes. She was as desperately determined as he was, and would endure worse to ensure they found whom they were looking for. She sent him as much strength through their bond as she could spare, and his guilt over how he was treating her was palpable.
Several times she replayed the images of the violet sky, and marketplace – with rather more impatience as of late – and still with the puppies.
He knew her patience was waning, and she had to be frustrated that he was being so thick. The last time she’d insisted, he’d snapped at her that he was very well familiar with all that, thank you, could she please move on with something, anything remotely helpful? He yelled that she only wanted fixing and wasn’t really trying to help at all.
She’d responded with a mental huff, a shock, and refused to acknowledge him for hours.
Garazone Prime had been his best lead from the start. The Earth-like planet, with the violet sky and world-wide market, was inhabited by humans and Garans alike, selling intergalactic wares and coexisting peacefully. He’d visited many times before to scour the stalls for TARDIS parts – well, parts which could work in the TARDIS with some jiggery-pokery. He’d not found actual TARDIS parts since…
Yes, right, well, he needed to fix her, he knew. She would be much better able to help him if she were operating properly, so he returned once more to the markets which might yield the parts she required… and if he used the time to look again for his people in addition, so much the better.
He wandered through the piles of space-junk, hardly aware of what he was meant to be looking at, and hoping for a tickle, or nudge, or anything to come to him instead.
With a hand through his locks which refused to stay out of his eyes, and a sigh that spoke of despair and utter loneliness, he forced himself to focus before he started digging into the pile immediately before him.
He spotted something potentially usable, a Furidurb Graviometric bypass with only a couple smallish cracks that could be sonicked easily. He moved to pick it up when it was rudely snatched by a pair of slender, human hands. He looked up to glare at the owner of the grabby, thieving hands and saw they belonged to a woman in her late teens or early twenties – hard to tell, that, humans aged so quickly and all, but she looked young.
She was already engaged in hard-nosed haggling with the merchant and ignoring his ire completely. Something about the girl triggered a feeling of recognition, though he was positive he’d never seen her or anyone who really looked like her in his lives. Her inky black hair was cut in a jagged asymmetrical bob which looked like she’d cut it while it was tied back. She wore it loose, with only the fringe pinned back, and a black straw fedora hat jammed on top to keep it from swinging free. She had pale, ivory coloured skin with faint hints of pink about her cheeks and lips, and her figure tall and boyish. She wore a dark leather trench coat with dark trousers, a black polo-neck, a red scarf which lent the only colour to her rather utilitarian palette, and dusty grey-brown leather boots that came up to her knees. She bore no softness of countenance, her demeanour rigidly set to keep all others at a distance or too scared to approach. Her thick brows seemed to be naturally drawn together in an expression of wary seriousness, and she carried herself like she was ready to fight or run at any moment. A hardened soldier with the unfortunate face of a would-be-pretty-if-only young girl.
He disliked her instantly.
In all fairness, she had gotten to it first, it was true, and probably needed it, but, well, he didn’t care, did he? He’d seen it first (maybe), been closer to it certainly-ish, and he had reasons and needs that would trump any silly repairs to whatever insignificant ship she intended it for. He was trying to recover the last few of an all but extinct race! What could she possibly want which equalled that? No, his need was much greater! He was also tired of these frustrations and determined to win this one battle, right here, right now. He’d get that satisfaction at least.
Plus, she stood there with an air about her that screamed kicking bunnies was very good fun. No one likes a bunny-kicker.
“I’ll pay one hundred credits over your asking price if you sell that to me instead,” he informed the orange-skinned vendor who looked taken aback, but pleased at the development.
“Ah, yes, sir! Well—”
“Oi!” She cut the merchant off with a sharp motion of her hand and looked at the Doctor appraisingly. Her eyebrows contracted so they were almost touching, and she narrowed her eyes at him before taking a couple threatening steps closer. “S’cuse you, rude! We’re nearly at an agreement here! You can’t jus’ swan in an’ steal parts from a girl! Who d’you think you are, Bow-tie?” she scolded, yes, scolded him. “Off you pop now, before you get tangled in somethin’ you can’t handle, alright?”
He instinctively reached up and straightened his tie. He really did not like her.
She returned her attention to the merchant. “Fine then,” she gouged out through gritted teeth, paying more was obviously painful, “I’ll give you two hundred credits above the three from my last offer. Tha’ makes it five hundred, so we’ve a deal then, yeah?” she pushed, trying to insinuate herself between the merchant’s line of vision and the glowering Doctor.
“I’ll give you seven hundred credits,” he challenged, feeling the anger rolling off the raven-haired woman and taking more than a bit of savage pleasure in her frustration.
The vendor looked like he had just been told every day would be Christmas as he looked back at his young patroness to see if she was desperate enough to make a higher bid. What he saw caused him to flinch and re-think his bidding war tactic.
She ignored the way the man was slowly backing away from them, and looked the Doctor right in the eyes. “You’re a right wanker, y’know tha’?”
Normally he would have grinned cheekily, and maybe even bowed sarcastically, but she was closer now and her eyes had startled him, so the moment for a snide retort passed unused. What he had first noted as brown were not, in fact, when she was close. They were honey-coloured and full of fire. They were familiar somehow, yet completely foreign and terrible. They reminded him of R—… Well, her eyes were much softer and full of very good, wonderful, tender things – things that made him feel like melting butter and contentment. These eyes may have been the same shade, but were contradictory pits of ice and magma, steel and storm. And hate. Lots of hate. For him in particular.
He gave a slight, involuntary shudder at the torrent raging behind them. This must be what his own looked like when he stared down an enemy. Right terrifying, actually.
However, he was The Destroyer of Worlds, The Oncoming Storm, and The Predator, not this pathetic, puffed-up (bunny-kicking!) human girl, and he wouldn’t be cowed by some angry little child in a market, no matter how hard she thought herself.
Without taking his eyes from hers or softening his own expression, he fished out his credit stick and passed it to the cowering merchant who looked like the only thing he wanted was the two warring buyers safely far, far away from his stall.
She broke first, rolling her wolfish eyes, and all but stamping her foot before she stalked away like a wounded bear.
In his solitude, he found the victory tasted less sweet than he anticipated. He was a right wanker, wasn’t he? Yes, of course he was. He hadn’t considered her need, and maybe it was greater than his own… What if she had family to rescue from slavers in another system? What if she was trying to take life-saving medicine to her colony of… non-rabbit-kickers, and now they would all die of Fitaxian Leprosy with their faces melting into… Never cowardly or cruel, indeed. She was just a little girl. He shouldn’t have done that. His needs did not supersede all by virtue of being his. He knew better.
He ran into her again an hour later reaching for the same Fast Sub-Light Drive Capacitor – in miraculously rather brilliant condition – that he had just snatched up. She glared daggers at him but didn’t challenge him for it. Instead, she stomped a short distance away, leaning against a wall and brooded with her arms folded tightly against her chest, looking anywhere but at him. He’d been a half second from offering it up, but her disdainful expression and refusal to look his way cleared any residual guilt from his conscience. It was impossible to imagine she was on any heroic mission when her face clearly said she’d slug the first being to come within a metre of her.
He studied her from the corner of his eye after he made his purchase. She was… He couldn’t put a finger on what she was. Again, the feeling of recognition couldn’t be shaken. He didn’t know her and hadn’t known her, but something nagged inside. Perhaps reminiscent of people he’d known? Yes, he supposed that was the closest description; people he’d known and of whom he’d not been overly fond. The way she stood – or well, leaned, was familiar – the way she ducked her head as if she were lost in thought, but her eyes constantly roved and took inventory of her surroundings too was uncannily like someone he’d known well, but the ‘who’ in the resemblance remained elusive. Perhaps it was just the haunted behaviour of someone on the run, and well, he was quite familiar with that, wasn’t he?
That too had been the second part that they’d both needed – and not exactly run-of-the-mill parts which often needed replacing.
Was she following him or was it coincidence?
He wondered what kind of ship she was flying – or well repairing, she wasn’t necessarily the pilot, was she? – that would be so hard on both the gravitational systems and light speed generators. Maybe a Chula ship? It would have to be an extremely old and wholly knackered one, and a right Frankenstein’s Monster at that. Maybe an Antarian cruiser?
She was a puzzle, if an unpleasant one…
One that he really shouldn’t be pondering, he did have more important things to be getting on with, so he shoved the thoughts away and returned to his scavenger hunt.
He ran into her no less than six times before he had amassed most of what he needed and dragged himself back toward the TARDIS, her growing rage evident with each part she was denied, but she didn’t once try to best him again.
He didn’t believe in coincidence, and perhaps should have paid better attention to the fact that she had been hovering, or rather, was always in sight, but he was flagging, and planned to have a much-needed kip before starting on the TARDIS repair.
Just before he slipped down the alley where he had parked his beloved and very sexy time ship, he spotted her huddled together with two men.
Both were taller by at least half a head, clad in long coats, and slightly ridiculous hats which made distinguishing anything but general details impossible.
Natural perception filters, he mused, something he was well familiar with. Just mundane enough to escape notice, and just enough off the norm that the average brain couldn’t quite grasp what it was seeing and therefore avoided processing it entirely.
They weren’t speaking, but they were clearly communicating. She seemed to be in charge as they scoured each pile of junk.
Definitely soldiers. Or maybe thieves or con artists. Something not nice, even if they didn’t make sport of having a go at bunnies.
He shook his head in disgust and exhaustion before he strode into his TARDIS. He wasn’t here to catch criminals nor solve human puzzles. They’d be gone soon enough – well, unless they were stranded because he had bought all the parts they needed, but it didn’t matter, no, not this time. He was quite busy after all.