His leather-clad counterpart was grinning again, and waving his little black leather wallet around at reception when he strode in after.
Oh, blast it all! When did he ever behave like that? Was that really – he didn’t remember being so ridiculous then – goofy even! He didn’t remember being…
Well, at least he’d outgrown that.
He’d actually thought he’d been rather dark, and cool—like that vampire with a soul, with the hair, and the leather—
Wait, no, vampires were definitely not cool, and they didn’t actually behave like Angel, even if Angel was cool. Angel wasn’t real, but vampires were. They were aliens, and not the fun kind, he should know, after all, just ask Romana—er—no, couldn’t anymore, but vampires were bad. Not the good bad either.
He was cool though. Him, the Doctor. Now. Currently.
Much cooler than when he’d grinned at people like this with the teeth, and the eye crinkling, and the pushy waving about of psychic paper.
Still, he had been rather brazen and roguish, and Rose had liked him, ears and all – and he certainly had the poor girl at the desk on her feet in a hurry, though she had just looked up at him a bit wide-eyed—the himself him, the now him—
Blimey, he hated being around his other incarnations. Personal pronouns always became complete chaos.
—before she left.
“Thought we agreed you were leavin’,” the younger man remarked waspishly, the familiar scowl back in place now that no humans were around to charm with goofy grins, and crinkly blue eyes.
“Me?” He nearly choked on nothing. “I’m meant to be leaving? No, no, no! You— I… I was here first!”
“I was in London first.”
“To do bonfires and fireworks!“
“Still here first, Bow-tie.”
“Very mature,” he groused. “What about Rose then?”
“Wha’ about her?” the other him retorted defensively. “She’s with her mother, safe as houses.”
“You don’t know that!” he shot back. “What… what if… I mean… It would be in her best interest if one of us goes and keeps her safe. Whatever this is, it certainly doesn’t need two of us. Oh, I know!”
Oh, he was brilliant.
…And slightly horrible.
“You choose the Doctor who goes to her,” he grinned like the cat who’d caught the canary, “though suddenly, I do hope it’s me.”
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” he challenged with a mad glint in his sparkling, green eyes. “Never did tell you how old I am. I might be your very last regeneration. Rose may never see this face. Maybe, this face has never seen hers. Or perhaps, I have seen her, but never so very young, and… innocent.”
The younger man’s face flushed with anger, and his ears turned the colour of stewed beetroots as the man he would become continued mercilessly.
“Do you know how eager that would make me – any man really, but especially me—you—us—to see her again… as she is now?”
Big-ears looked murderous, but still he pushed.
“I happen to know you haven’t told her about regeneration. Fancy explaining all this to her?”
The shorter, but more solidly built Doctor advanced a few steps toward him, and he feared he was in very real danger of bodily injury. Daft Ears was livid. Beyond livid. He looked murderous—er… suicidal? In any case, he’d known this was a sure-fire way of provoking him, and provoke it had.
“I promise you I’ll leave it to you entirely,” he insisted, despite his surety he was in for a good punch in the face, “the explanation, I mean. She’s currently your companion after all. Yes, you stay. I’ll see to Rose.”
The younger Doctor, fists clenched at his sides so tightly, he looked like he was squeezing coal into diamonds, ground his teeth together, and cursed in their native tongue in an effort to control his rage before turning his leathery back to the arse in tweed.
“You’re a right bloody wanker, y’know tha’?”
“I’ve been told often enough lately, thanks very much,” he mumbled moodily in return.
It’d been one of the first things Selene had ever said to him after all, and it was as true then as it was currently. He hadn’t liked saying any of it, but he knew it’d make the idiot listen. Rose had always been the key, but he’d never imagined using her to manipulate himself.
…Alright, maybe he’d done it with his meta-crisis as well, but—
Sod it. He really needed to give up the whole line of thinking. Feeling guilty about making himself behave was stupid. It was done.
However, before the Doctor with the wonted broody scowl (now that he actually did remember) could finally go and leave him to his task, a familiar blonde woman in glasses, a sharp suit, and lab coat came striding into the room.
Kate Lethbridge-Stewart bypassed the Doctor in tweed – they hadn’t officially met as of yet in her time line, not this him – and walked up to the Doctor she currently recognised with a welcoming smile, and a hand outstretched in greeting. She then glanced his way, and he gave her a small nod.
“You’re the Doctor as well.” She wasn’t asking. “I’m very pleased to meet you both,” she turned her eyes on the man with the deep blue eyes and smiled indulgently, “though, I believe it was this Doctor who was at Downing Street when you hijacked our missiles to blow it up? I think we also have you to thank for the clean-up of Henrik’s department store, and the surrounding fire damage. And then the sewer wreckage near the London Eye? Quite fond of explosions this time, I take it?”
His ears went a little pink, and he grinned sheepishly, then cleared his throat. “Er… Sorry? An’ who might you be miss…?”
“Stewart. Kate Stewart. I’m a senior scientist for UNIT, and I’ve quite wanted to meet you again. My father is Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart.”
“Oh, Kate! Young Kate Lethbridge-Stewart!”
“Not so very young anymore, Doctor.”
“Nonsense! You’re workin’ for UNIT now? How’s the Brigadier General then? Good’n retired yet? Blimey, he must be gettin’ on, though still just a lad compared to the old Doctor, eh?”
The older Doctor was scowling. He mouthed, “the old Doctor,” silently behind the idiot’s back and rolled his eyes.
He’d already had this conversation. Just because the other him was doomed to a wibbly-wobbly repeat in the future, didn’t mean he wanted to do it again this time around.
“Kate,” he interrupted, not actually the least bit sorry, despite his next assertion, “I hate to interrupt, or be pushy, but I’m looking for someone, and it can’t wait. She said she was here, but I couldn’t land inside.”
“That’s because the Tower is a no-fly zone for all craft, both terrestrial, and extra-terrestrial. Even the TARDIS. Sorry, Doctor.” She, too, looked not sorry in the least. “It isn’t personal, just precautions and protocol, you understand.”
He really didn’t. He didn’t care for her attitude regarding the whole business either.
“We haven’t had any reports of unauthorised personnel,” she continued, oblivious to, or uncaring about his sour feelings over their policies, “is it a member of UNIT you’re looking for?”
“No, not as such, no,” he hedged with a dark look at the doors separating the tourist attraction from the secret organisation, “but I doubt you’d have found her if she didn’t want you to. Only, she sounded like she was… in a spot of trouble to be honest.”
“I’m not sure what to tell you Doctor. Is she a missing companion? Human?”
“No, she’s not a companion.”
It wasn’t really a lie. Selene Tyler would murder him if he ever called her that, and the last thing he needed was UNIT poking their noses around the triplets. If anything led back to Rose Tyler, it could spell trouble with the timelines.
“She’s out of her time, and I’m just helping her get back home. We ran into a little glitch, and this was where she phoned from. Tall, dark-haired young woman. Looks, oh, about twenty… and really doesn’t play well with others.”
“Are you sure she meant UNIT?” Kate asked while typing in a few notes on an electronic device. “Not the visitor’s section above?”
“You sure you got the date right then?” his younger self asked with a satisfied smirk.
“Yes,” he hissed.
How one could be so pleased to point out the shortcomings in the man that he’d later become was beyond him.
“I’m sure! My accuracy has infinitely improved since I was you!” He flapped a hand at the him sniggering to his left, and turned his attention back to Kate. “What I want to know is if you’ve caught anyone here in… oh, the last… few months even?”
“Pffft. Improved accuracy my—”
“Of course,” he interrupted loudly, “I probably should have checked the tourist area first. She might be waiting there even now, but I thought I’d ask.”
Kate pulled out her mobile, and began scrolling through her numbers. “I can call my connection at Torchwood, and check with them too, if you like—”
As she spoke, he saw the door she’d come through open slightly.
Two grinning faces looked out at him. Torin gave him a thumbs up.
He frantically signalled for them to retreat by waving his arms around and glaring.
Kate and Leather and Ears looked up at him.
He played it off as coolly as he could by feigning a good stretch, and started sidling to the door.
“—but the best I can do now is have security do a thorough sweep. You did say she was supposed to be here? We can separate all humans from non-human through a few scans, and identify the one who doesn’t belong if she is.” She finished her scrolling and started to make the call.
“Not necessary!” he almost yelped before sidestepping Kate, then moving more quickly toward the doors leading into the main headquarters. “She’s human! Wouldn’t register. Waste of time, really. I’d forget the whole thing if I were you. I’ll just have a quick look around!”
“Doctor, I can’t let—”
“You two—er—we, as in, the me who is you but not actually this me, and Kate, stay and—er—chat.”
“Well done, you can tell the difference! Yes, that you—me and Kate, not this me. Won’t be two ticks.”
He threw himself through the doors as he heard Kate calling after him, and quickly pushed both young men through the first door he could find.
It was a broom closet, so they were rather chock-a-block, but hidden, and hidden was good.
“What’re you—Doctor! I can hardly breathe in here, and it smells like chlorine and mildew! Eurgh!” Torin moaned. “Ooh, is that a fez?”
The skinny young man bent down along the wall to retrieve it off the floor next to the mops, squashing the other two men further in the process.
“Yes, well, cosy!” the Doctor chirped as his face smashed into the wall.
He righted himself, and tried to straighten his bow-tie as Torin stood, only he didn’t have room to move his arms.
“Wait, did you say fez? What is it about mops and fezzes? Still…”
He snatched it from Torin’s grip, knocking the other two into the walls, and tried to put it on, rather unsuccessfully.
“Oh, forget it. Look, you lot can’t be—Oi! watch the elbows! You can’t be hanging about! I couldn’t get rid of myself, that regeneration was unbelievably stubborn!”
“Oh, really? ‘Cos that’s not like you now at all, is it?” Torin retorted, trying to shift so he could properly see the other two without knocking over mops and buckets, or putting out anyone’s eye. He managed, but ended up with an arm above his head, and no way to put it down.
“Is that important right now, Torin Tyler? Having a go at the old man?”
“Both of you, shut it!” Lios chided as Torin’s arm wavered ever closer to knocking him one on the conk. “You’re not helping, Torin!”
“Well, I can’t get my arm to—”
“Just stop moving, Torin!” Lios looked murderous; a glare to make his sister proud.
“Right.” Torin froze with his arm in the air above his head, and an expectant look at the Doctor. “So, what’s the plan then?”
“I don’t have one yet.”
“What?” Lios exclaimed in total disbelief.
“What do you mean, you ‘don’t have one yet?'” Torin cried, his voice raising in pitch and his jaw hanging open. His raised arm was also swinging dangerously close to their faces. “How come? You have to have one! You’re the Doctor, and you always know what to do! What are we supposed to do then?”
“Look, not everyone plans every single second to come!” the Doctor reasoned with not a little annoyance. “I’m just as in the dark as either of you, you know. We have to think on our feet, and be creative—”
“But, the Al—”
“The Alpha isn’t here,” he snapped before remembering himself, and lowering his voice in what he intended to be a wise manner, “and what good is all her insistent planning in the end? In the immortal words of Rabbie Burns—”
“Doctor!” Lios scolded.
“Right. Shutting up. Still, point is, plans don’t always work, so why bother?”
He had the urge to tug at his fringe, but settled for trying to blow upward, and flipping it back with a backwards head tilt. He only managed to hit the back of his head on the wall, and push into the other two. The pieces of hair still tickled at his forehead. He found, to his delight, that the momentary shift had been all he needed to free his arm and finally put the fez on his head. Perfect.
The other two looked decidedly less delighted to have been shoved around again for a hat.
“I really don’t think that’s what that saying means…” Torin’s arm gave an impatient little wobble, and his wool clad armpit met with Li’s nose. “It means to plan as best you can, but always have something prepared for the worst because often as not—”
“Torin!” Lios cried with a small shove at his brother in the direction of the wall – which wasn’t a huge distance, but Torin scowled just the same. “Shut your gob! And you’re both wrong! You’re taking it too far out of context! It means human plans, in the grand design, are about as important and fool proof as the plans of a mouse.”
“Right.” The invitation to debate was too great for the likes of Torin, even in a sardine tin. “Or is it all of them together then? No, Li, I think you’re forgetting that we’re Time Lords, not humans, so the proverb doesn’t apply to us in the least—”
“Since when is a line of poetry a proverb?” Lios argued.
“Well, here in this period of human culture it may still be on the borderline between poetry and proverb, but it’s a comparatively short span of years from now that it’s regarded as one. Like the ramblings of Confucius had been in—”
“Oi!” the Doctor interrupted. “Shut up! Never mind all this drivel! Seriously, for Time Lords, you two need to work on your timing and danger—er—senses. Where’s your sense of urgency?”
“You started it!” Torin brought his raised arm down to point at the Doctor, and managed to knock his brother on the head in the process.
Lios pushed him into the wall in return.
The Doctor ignored both the accusation, and the angry protests of pain from his sons. “What did you find?”
“Not much,” Lios admitted as he gingerly checked his nose for blood. “Admittedly, we haven’t seen much, but I can’t find her here.”
“She has to be here, we’re just not looking in the right place!” the Doctor retorted hotly.
She’d asked him to trust her. Why wouldn’t she be here if she’d asked for his trust? What was she doing? What was going on? Why did everything concerning Selene Tyler always end up complicated?
“I can’t feel her. She isn’t here.” Lios repeated more firmly. He knew he’d be able to find his sister if she was anywhere this side of Jupiter. She wasn’t there.
“She may still be blocking,” he rebutted, more to play Devil’s Advocate than with any real conviction.
Torin looked sceptical, and tried to reach up to fiddle with his hair or rub at the back of his neck, but too many bodies were in the way and Lios shot him a warning look not to bump him again.
“Weeell, why?” the curly-haired man mused. “Why would she? She said she was wrong, yeah? Before she asked you to come?”
The Doctor nodded.
“Why would she continue to block us out?” Torin continued. “It hurts! No reason to do, and every reason to not. She wanted to be found, and humans aren’t telepathic, so having an open connection to one or all of us would be the clever thing to do. She’d always do the clever thing – on principle even… Unless she couldn’t.”
“She’s being held against her will,” Lios said with utter surety. “She doesn’t want to put us in danger.”
“Perhaps,” the Doctor mused, worried, but he had a hunch they were spinning their wheels. “Can’t rule it out, but I think your first assessment will prove most likely. She just isn’t here.”
“Think she was taken?”
“I think she was never here to begin with,” he muttered darkly. “Tell me, has Selene ever been held, let alone dragged anywhere against her will for longer than two minutes?”
“Er… sort of. On Olympia they had her for a bit, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple of hours at the outside. Still, you never know—”
“You’re right,” he conceded. “But, Occam’s Razor.”
Lios groaned and nodded, but Torin cocked his head slightly.
The Doctor looked like Torin had dribbled on himself. “The theory says—”
“I know about the sodding law of parsimony!” Torin huffed. “Why would not being here be a better or simpler answer than—”
“It’s a smoke screen, Torin,” Lios interrupted with a sigh.
“Oh… Can’t be! The Alpha—”
“Left us behind,” the old man sighed. “The sooner you come to grips with that, the better, Torin Tyler. I know you trusted your sister. Didn’t occur to you that she’d be deceitful, did it? And it shouldn’t. She has a lot of explaining to do when we find her. ‘You trust me, and I trust you,’ indeed.”
“So, what now then?” Torin muttered despondently. He was fighting bitter feelings of betrayal.
“Now, I ditch Ears and Kate, and we go to Cardiff. That was the last place I’m sure she landed.”
A knock at the cupboard door, and a timid call of, “Doctor?” made them all jump, and struggle not to cause injury again.
“Stay here, Tylers!” he hissed as he wrestled the mass of Time Lords in over-sized coats and cleaning equipment into a position which might feasibly let him out. He opened the cupboard door and tumbled out in a heap, before closing them in quickly, despite the still-cramped quarters and the objections on both their faces. “Right!” he grinned as he jumped back up. “Not in there, then! Oh, hello! Who might you be?”
“Osgood, sir, I’m an intern here. Miss Stewart was looking for you, sir.”
“Nice scarf, Osgood! Love a stripy muffler! Don’t trip on it!”
“What were you doing in the broom cupboard, sir?”
“Oh, I’m the Doctor, not sir, Osgood the intern—” he took one of her hands in both of his and gave it a good shake, “though, I was knighted by Queen Victoria once! Oh, and I picked up some readings on one of your mops that seemed suspiciously alien in nature.”
He held up his sonic, and smiled like a dolt to distract her further.
“Doctor?” She reached into a pocket for a red inhaler. “Are – is it serious? Do we need to quarantine? Should I—”
“Oh, no, it turned out to be a bit of sentient mildew. Nothing to worry about. Been here for ages, and no global mildew takeovers have happened, have they? Best to live and let live wherever we can, don’t you think?”
“Oi! Bow-tie! Wha’ are you playin’ at? They’re searchin’ the whole buildin’ now!” Ears strode up to him as he blanched slightly.
The boys didn’t have psychic paper, or any way of explaining themselves, but they did have sonic screwdrivers, so he discretely pulled it out and sealed them in the small closet.
They’d be fine.
…He’d apologise later.
“Well, I suppose that’s our cue to leave then, they’ll sort—er—whatever is happening here in no time. That’s UNIT. On the job.”
The younger Doctor surveyed him sceptically, and he gave an inward groan. It was unlikely that his use of the screwdriver had escaped himself and those ruddy ears.
“Or, you just stay and sort it. I have other—you’ll have it under control, I’m sure. I’ll just be going. Now. Away. Don’t forget to forget when you’re finished.”
“Not bloody likely. I still wanna know who you’re after. An’ why is the dust smell stronger in here than outside?”
“Because your nose is unusually sensitive.”
“Oi! Wha’s tha’ supposed to mean, Chinny? An’ wha’ is tha’ thing on your head?”
“A fez,” he replied absently, “you have fezzes to look forward to.”
As little as he liked admitting it, the younger him had a point. The odour was stronger now that they were inside the Tower. He’d been so preoccupied with the boys that he’d ignored that particular sensory observation, and it certainly was out of the ordinary.
Maybe… just a quick look—no!
Oh, sometimes having a time machine made bad things so tempting.
What was he doing? He had other—
But it really was more than curious, wasn’t it? And he did have a time machine…
Because… well, it was suspicious even, since none of the stone in the area was so heavy on the limestone, and that was definitely, nearly the only type he was picking up…
Oh, hell, they could have been tiling a floor!
Well, no… not with that amount of airborne particulate matter. It was way too much. They’d have to be tiling every surface, and grinding most of the tiles into nothing.
Still, perhaps they were only doing an experiment that required—
“You look like Gollum an’ Sméagol when you do tha’. ‘S quite funny, actually.”
“Oi! Can you help what your face does when you’re having an internal debate? And I’m the wan—”
“Gentlemen, we have a problem,” a UNIT officer in military garb informed them. “Miss Stewart gave orders for you both to be brought to her office immediately.”
Daft Ears grinned at him mischievously again, and fell in line with the exiting soldier, a spring in his step.
He viciously tugged back at the fringe that had fallen into his eyes, and huffed.
He really hated himself.