The Alpha stole her way silently through the velvety shadows in alleyways and still streets back to her waiting family.
He’d been different from what she was expecting, this John Smith. Not that she’d been expecting him exactly, well, maybe a bit, eventually, but not this one, and not before they’d been ready for him. She’d had a job of making her brothers stay put when they saw him wandering around the copse looking for them. She didn’t want them to rush out into unnecessary confrontation with the stranger – though the nagging familiarity they’d all felt persisted, he could’ve been anyone looking to do them harm – so they waited for him to give up, she told them to stay, then followed the prat back through the streets.
Mega drives, and floppy drives, and psychic paper! What a scoundrel trying to con her! And after he’d severely put them off repair schedule!
Honestly, it felt like it was still far too soon. They’d barely been on the market world six months – well, five months twenty-eight days, twelve hours and two minutes to be exact – and their beautiful baby was nowhere near ready for travel. It looked like it might be months before another delivery of random ship bobbins, which never promised much, and she’d lost every useful piece on Torin’s list to the git she’d given the grudging half-invitation to see their home. It was a major setback which still sent stabs of fury and irritation through her; knowing who he was didn’t help.
If he’d understood what he’d done, would he still have behaved like an arse? She wasn’t sure, but the nagging doubt that they’d be of any import to the man didn’t help her mind-set. Getting themselves and their ship to this planet – to this universe – had been hard enough, and the cost… well, some costs will always feel too dear to pay, whether one has a choice or not.
Still, they had grieved enough – because, well, it hadn’t been like when Dad… no, Mum wasn’t dead… just… not technically alive per se, and they had mourned. Her brothers still could be caught weeping occasionally when they thought no one was looking – even though they could still communicate with Mum anytime – well, not yet anytime, but soon anytime – and maybe Selene hadn’t cried – wouldn’t ever because it was up to her to take care of them all now – but she had mourned, and enough was enough. Yes. She firmly believed the only way any of them would feel better, was to make it better. They had to be the pilots of their own destinies. They had to fix what hadn’t gone to plan, and until then, they had to keep moving, stay active and on their toes. It was time to move on and live life. She and her family had squatted on worse rocks than Garazone Prime. A diet of biscuits, tea, and crisps wasn’t the worst, and they ate at pubs when they could afford it.
She staunchly refused to sonic cash points, it was too risky by far, and she didn’t want to be locked up. Torin nagged that it was no different from picking pockets, which she disliked doing unless she saw no other alternative, despite what Lios thought, but she much preferred to work for any money they needed. She tyrannically dictated her brothers do little more than stay relatively out of sight (especially since they could be hurt to get at her,) and the kind of work one was likely to get on a trading planet was mercenary and dangerous. Thug work. At first, she tried to only take jobs involving delivery piloting, security, or tracking, but it didn’t always work out that way, and nearly half the time she found herself in positions that made her morally squirm.
She wouldn’t suffer kidnappers or slavers, but shortly into their marooning, there was little else for which she would not accept pay. Those who dealt in the trade of living beings, she shut down whenever she had the opportunity, leading to a budding reputation in the underbelly of the Garazone System, and more danger to herself than Torin and Li ever need know. And yet, all too often, she turned a blind eye to problems of others if paid well enough.
Her father would have been more than disappointed in her, he’d have been livid. He’d have raged, and possibly locked her in a wooden cell for an extended period of time, but still, she took these jobs and all the hating herself that came along. She let his voice ring in her head, tear her apart for her crimes while she knowingly committed them all. She saw her fault in the strung-out humans and Garans alike. Witnessed her guilt in the sick who went without medicine when she made off world deliveries. Wished she was anyone else when bedraggled homeless children begged for sustenance as she delivered piles of every lavish and ostentatious thing to the rich and powerful. Her brothers could handle it, she knew, but why let them suffer the hearts-sickness that she so often did? She’d always protected them from everything she could, and her parents wouldn’t have wanted this for any of them.
Still, the orange and purple world was the best they could’ve hoped for upon arrival. Even the dodgy work wasn’t as skeevy as it was in many places – places her father would’ve had fits she even knew existed. No, Garazone Prime was the best place to be until they were ready.
Her dad used to reminisce with her mum sometimes about visits to the planet. Her mum had loved the shops, her dad the scavenging for junk-treasure, and the peace was always well maintained in the system – for the most part – so not many trips here had resulted in running for their lives. Her mum was always the one who pointed that out though, and her father would grumble that she’d never complained before.
Perhaps, the relative safety had been what prompted her mum to bring them, perhaps she simply knew they’d need to be grounded somewhere with a roaring trade in space junk. Whatever the case, she was ultimately glad they were there – even if she had been arrested soon after arrival – but that hadn’t been her fault! She was still reeling from sickness, and not as discreet as she might’ve been, sure, but if Lios hadn’t been furiously trying to get her to put it all back – which was completely barmy since they were skint at the time and they needed the coils, would have lost Mum and the ship for good without them – they’d have gotten away without a peep, and they’d still be able to go to the shop with all the living circuits. Not a single shop like it on-world either. At least she’d managed to hide it all in a concealed, trans-dimensional inner pocket, and they’d used it as sparingly as possible.
She needed to talk to her mum. She’d definitely be doing that when she returned, now that she could, or well, would be able to soon. The piece she’d filched, at the expense of a highly offensive taste on her tongue and the lingering stench of a randy Garan minger, was the ticket. And Mum would know what to do about “John Smith.” She was the “John Smith” expert after all.
His face was so young, she’d wanted to laugh when she realised who he was. Not that he’d been in control of what he would look like, but honestly! He looked like he could be her only slightly older brother, not her – well, he wasn’t that anyway, now was he? She ignored that her mother’s face looked just as young because she was familiar with it, and the disparity in their ages would only show when the Alpha aged past when her mother had stopped. Hundreds of years to go before that would be an issue. Ages. In any case, he’d never met her or her siblings before, and she didn’t know the man he’d become, not really. Didn’t matter. Only thing that did was the next step forward. She didn’t want it to include Himself, but knew Torin would be noisy about it. Lios she could count on to calm Torin down, but her fool of a sibling would be causing her a headache all too quickly.
She sighed heavily and tugged at her armour-like clothing to make sure it was in its proper place, covering every visible inch of her skin. She wasn’t cold – didn’t get cold except in extreme conditions – but the ritual made her feel better; more prepared to face whatever the future deigned to throw in her direction.
The triplets had a clear ending destination, had always had a clear end, but the footpath was currently a boggy one. They were without both their parents for the first time in 127 years. The Alpha stepped into the leadership role she’d been born for, but was thrown for a proverbial loop with the Doctor’s appearance. She’d hoped he would remain ignorant to their existence until their ship was in top form at least.
She hated not having an exit strategy always in place. If at all possible, she’d plan for every eventuality in her extremely capable mind. It was a compulsion as much as a life-saver. That’s what had come from a life on the run, she supposed. Her mum and dad would always have several before they set foot into any building, or even stepped onto any alien soil, and were always scanning for potential threats to their children and themselves. They were anomalies in a universe that wasn’t made for them, after all.
She’d arrived at the entrance to the ship without realising, she’d been so lost in thought. The hidden door flew open on the wide lavender “tree trunk” and Torin’s warm brown eyes searched hers expectantly.
She hesitated silently before shouldering past him. “Ye-p. Was Himself all right,” she reluctantly confirmed, stepping inside, shucking her coat, and casting it aside on the plain grey railing on the ramp that led to the control panels.
Lios was sitting cross-legged on the grating by the dimly glowing console, fiddling with the small, silver sphere she’d stolen earlier. He looked up at her with gentleness and understanding shining in his bright blue eyes, and held the device out in a mute entreaty.
“Blimey, not really what I expected, is he?” Torin gawped.
“Tell me about it. He’s a right wanker too.”
Torin screwed his face up into a pout and crossed his arms. He knew better than to challenge his sister’s assessment, but it didn’t mean he had to like it. Torin was an eternal optimist and romantic. Hearing his sister’s account of the Doctor’s “misdeeds” in no way damned him in his estimation. The man was a legend. And had been practically on his doorstep. “And?” he prodded instead of issuing a challenge.
“And… er… And he wants to… er… visit tomorrow.”
Both brothers startled at this proclamation, but she ignored Torin’s gasping-fish face and Li’s penetrating stare. She didn’t really want to talk about it now she was faced with the chore of doing so. She wished fervently they’d drop it and go back to the way things were.
Instead of elaborating, she palmed the silvery orb between her hands, then twisted. It opened immediately, revealing three tiny golden wires, and started to glow. Lios looked annoyed that she had opened it in less than a second.
“Should give her the boost she needs then, which couldn’t be better, actually. I need to talk to Mum,” she informed her brothers.
“Selene…” Lios started softly before allowing his voice to trail off and say more than fifty of his brother’s. He knew his sister was hurting, and didn’t like giving her more bad news.
Where Torin was optimistic and effervescent, Lios was reserved and tender. He balanced the both of his siblings opposing natures and kept the peace within the trio. Not an easy job as the Alpha was irascible and cutting at times, and Torin liked to poke the sleeping bear for kicks.
Her honey eyes snapped to his icy-blue, and he furrowed his thick blond brows. He only called her that when he needed her to really take his meaning, or to stop her from, well, whatever, honestly.
He was the only one that could keep her in line, Torin was usually busy aiding in her shenanigans anyway. Lios was quiet, intense, observant, and cautious. She relied on him to see into her blind spots. He was her rock and safe place as much as Torin was her right hand and partner in crime.
“Wha’s up then, Li?” she nearly whispered.
“Even with this,” he told her gently, “it’s never enough to bring her back, and it’d be wasted in one go. You can’t. Not yet.”
The Alpha’s eyes shot to Torin’s. He nodded in confirmation.
Torin was the best with machines. He could fix or improve anything, and if he couldn’t get it to work yet, she’d just have to accept it.
Damn. Another set of hopes dashed in one day. Her earlier triumph had vanished in a puff of silvery smoke and Doctor-shaped annoyance.
She only nodded curtly in return, and made for the makeshift galley for a cuppa without so much as an eye roll or a scowl. As thoroughly dischuffed as she felt at the news she would have to wait even longer to see and speak with Mum again, she really was going to eat an entire box of biscuits, even if they were getting low and it would mean taking another job.
“So, how’d you tell?” Torin had followed her. He obviously wasn’t done asking about the Doctor, and intended to push while Lios wasn’t there to stop him. “I mean how – what did he say? Does he—er—know who…?”
She opened a cubby, pulled out a box of chocolate biscuits and a few packets of pickled onion flavoured Monster Munch, still avoiding.
“Nah,” she said finally, “couldn’t tell ‘im anythin’ without my brothers with me, could I?”
Torin smiled at her and she returned it gladly, then reached out to tousle his long chestnut curls. He smoothed it back down over his largish ears and swatted at her hand.
“‘Sides, maybe once he knows, he’ll scarper. Could do, you know?” she hedged, not wanting him to forget her reasons for being cautious. “Dad always said he was a right coward sometimes.” Her brother opened his mouth to object, but she continued like she hadn’t noticed. “An’ I jus’ knew. Think it was when we argued tha’ firs’ time, actually. He got all hard, an’ a bit dicky in the eyes. Was scary, to be honest. Only seen it once before with Dad an’ I didn’t like it then either. I mean, once he said he was called ‘John Smith’ I really knew, but… I jus’ knew ‘cos ‘s still… him– sort of, innit?” Admitting it was harder than she liked. “Same sort of stupid manner tha’ draws the attention of everyone about… He actually tried to use slightly psychic paper on me too, can you believe it? The prat. Doesn’ really matter, though, does it? He won’t be stayin’.”
“Yeah, but—” Torin put in with the gleam of hope in his eyes which drove his sister batty.
“But wha’, Torin? Wha-t? Seriously, only thing we knew we could count on was gettin’ here, yeah? And tha’ was down to Mum! Not the stupid, too-important-for-everyone Time Lord Doctor! We don’t need Himself anyway! It’ll always jus’ be us three in the end. ‘S always how we planned it.”
“But I thought you said he asked to come here?” he objected reasonably.
Selene wasn’t going to sway him from the hope that had bubbled inside when he’d caught the man’s eyes in the club. The Doctor could be… a friend… something good, and they desperately needed some good in their lives just then. It’d been hard for so long, and he was anxious for change.
“Yeah, but tha’s ‘cos he doesn’t know any better, does he?” she all but shouted. “He thinks we’re jus’ a bunch of strangers with a common interest. One more group of lost people to save or impress. He isn’t our family.” She let out a huffy sigh and furrowed her brows in thought. “I s’pose you should go get Lios. I reckon we should be all together for this.”
Torin nodded and shut his gob, finally sensing his sister was on edge only after he’d nearly pushed her over it, and went in search of his sibling while she munched a biscuit and put the kettle on the little cooker for tea.
Once the tea had been poured and the three were gathered around the table in their tiny galley with their nibbles and accustomed, if chipped, mugs, the Alpha opened the discussion.
“Us three could use a bit of help, yeah?” she admitted grudgingly. Accrediting both sides of an argument was never her strong-suit. “Sortin’ things here, gettin’ ready for– for the important days to come. It’d speed things up to get advice an’ the like– on the ship, not the mission,” she acknowledged Torin’s hopeful look with a small nod, “maybe even a trip for a part or four. An’ tha’s good, but not our only option. Dad left us with all the instructions we really need, an’ we could do on our own like we planned all along. Take longer, yeah, but it’d be safer. I mean, wha’ if he goes mental an’ tries to take her away?”
Torin made a strangled cat noise in objection, but she held up a hand to prevent his total interruption.
“Tha’ might be extreme, but we can’t ignore any possible problem, can we? Dad taught us better than tha’. Gotta plan for every outcome. He always said if we were prepared for it to be as bad as it could be, we’d always find a way out of anythin’ an’ everythin’. Can’t really take risks, ‘specially right now while she’s recoverin’ from the crossin’, an’ so much got destroyed when Mum… yeah. I dunno wha’ to think. I was countin’ on bein’ able to lie low longer… but never mind tha’ now. I s’pose I can’t ignore tha’ the Doctor might be here for a reason, but I also won’t ignore tha’ we’re unprotected, an’ young, an’ inexperienced, an’ alone while our TARDIS heals. All this worry may be for nothin’ ‘cos who knows how tha’ daft old man will react to us, but I’ve already gotten the feelin’ tha’ he really doesn’t like me, an’ it could all go pear-shaped right quick. I don’t want ‘im here. I’m sure you got tha’ already, but I need to hear wha’ you both think.”
The brothers stared at each other for a few minutes, before Lios dropped his eyes, and a silent agreement was reached. Their older – well, twenty-three minutes and forty seconds older still counted as older – sister would make the final decision as always, and quite right too, it was how it had always been, but the way they posed their arguments would undoubtedly sway her.
Torin knew by his brother’s silent submission that Lios would argue caution because that was what Selene expected of him, but he also knew that they were in agreement, and it was up to Torin to convince her.
Li would argue first, but not as hard as he might, then Torin would swoop in and seal the deal with some rather brilliant and well-timed positives, and voilà! Molto Bene! They’d be having a cuppa with their father—no! Nooooo, he didn’t mean that, he meant the Doctor! Crikey, he’d better watch his gob, or he’d blow it; a slip like that would seal it for Selene – a cuppa with the Doctor in the morning. He began tapping his toes and opened one of the packets of crisps.
“Selene,” Lios began gently. He knew what he was doing, and, though Torin’s position was clear from the start, his was crucial to the Alpha’s compliance.
Torin’s head popped back up and he glared at Lios. Oi! That was cheating, that was! Torin nearly growled in his displeasure. He was sure Lios was sabotaging their meeting with the man who could dictate their futures, until his brother winked at him.
“I think we need the Doctor.” Lios gave his brother and sister one of his rare, sunlight-filled grins that turned the chips of ice in his eyes into oceans of joy and tranquillity, as they both let their jaws hang open in surprise.
The Alpha recovered more quickly than her middle brother, picking her jaw up off the floor and nodding once to Lios. She then turned to Torin to get either his rebuttal or confirmation.
For once, Torin found himself without words. Was he supposed to argue? What was Li playing at? He ran his hands over his long curly hair a couple of times to buy time, but it wouldn’t do. He’d never argue for something he didn’t believe, even for his sister, and he was utterly devoted to her. “I agree with Lios.” was all he managed to choke out, still just gobsmacked.
“Yeah, okay,” was her only reply. She looked unhappy, to put it mildly, but if her compulsively cautious little brother agreed with her overly zealous one, perhaps her own fears and prejudices were getting the better of her. She rarely ignored the advice Lios gave, especially since it was rarely asked for, and even more rarely bestowed.
She’d never give voice to how much this path frightened her because she saw timelines begin shifting as soon as she uttered her assent, nor to the part of her that felt they were betraying her father’s memory, nor that she’d been hoping they wouldn’t ask her to lead them in this direction – and so very soon, too soon – where she wouldn’t be able to stay, and they’d find so many reasons to do. The thought of being parted from the two beings that were the hearts beating on each side of her chest shattered her, yet they couldn’t stay children forever, and this shadow had loomed ever nearer throughout their collective memories.
She’d always had the strongest time senses, and forced the stinging tears behind her eyes to shove off as she watched her brothers’ each slowly begin to shimmer into view before her – still faint, yes, but present, and she could only see them if they weren’t inexorably bound to her own. She resisted the urge to go back on their agreement to meet with the Doctor.
The first of the flood waters had broken when they crossed the void, now the storm was approaching, waters were rising, and the dam would break.
They all stood and exited the galley silently, and headed to the console room where the large pallet of cushions sunk into the grating awaited them.
Without any more words, they all settled in, seeking the comfort of closeness which only children born in multiples share. The Alpha in the middle, her Beta on her left, and Omega on her right. They didn’t sleep often – and it was almost always for comfort rather than need – but they’d never slept singly, nor in any other position than this familial embrace that re-affirmed their connection and bond. As they had from their earliest memories, the young men instinctively curled into their sister, surrounding and protective, fingers interlacing, the way they had from the time of earliest infancy when they weren’t aware of anything beyond the six hearts beating between them.