The first time he appears in her domain, she doesn't ask questions. It doesn't matter whether he's there to use the Gate or has somehow stumbled on it unawares. His presence is forbidden. Therefore, his life is forfeit. She brings down the Key.
He catches it between both palms and pulls, making her own strength work against her, sending her tumbling to what passes for the ground.
Stupid! She knows that move. Should have seen it coming. But she never expected it from someone with fewer than six arms.
"Where did you learn Venusian Aikido?" she demands.
"Venus! Where else?" says the stranger, looking down at her in some bafflement. "I see what you meant when you told me to look out this time."
"Told you . . . ?" she echoes, on her feet again as quickly as she can manage. "I've never seen you before in my life!"
"Oh, that explains it!" exclaims the man. "Hasn't happened for you yet." He holds out a hand. "Nice to be met by you, Sailor Pluto. I'm the Doctor."
He's a perfect gentleman in that old-fashioned velvet coat.
She takes his hand.
She doesn't try to take his head off with the key this time; she just aims it at his chest like a loaded weapon (which is precisely what it is). "Identify yourself."
"Don't be ridiculous! And point that thing somewhere else," he snaps, waving it off like he doesn't care (which he probably doesn't).
". . . Doctor?"
"Do you know anyone else with a temperamental TARDIS that keeps breaking down in your wherever-this-is?"
She returns her key to a standing position, but doesn't relax entirely. "You've never looked quite so much like an insane clown before."
The Doctor snorts. "'Clown'? Well, I guess it's better than 'space hobo.' Look, are you going to help me out or not?"
It's been centuries since her last extradimensional engineering course, and she only passed by the skin of her teeth. But she does her best.
"Yes, that's me. Hello, Pluto!"
This one doesn't look much like a hobo. He looks like a younger Victorian gentleman, with another velvet coat and flowing ginger hair.
"Need help fixing your ship again?" she says.
"Oh! Yes, please!" he replies. "But there's no hurry. Say, you don't have any more of those little chocolate biscuits, do you?"
She doesn't have to ask this time; she knows who he is by the way his scarf is bending the space-time continuum.
"Biscuit?" she asks, holding out a plate.
"Ah, thank you!" he says cheerfully, taking the whole thing. "Jelly baby?"
She finds herself looking forward to his visits; but she is not expecting the next one.
He looks almost like a little boy now, hair wild and unkempt, hands thrust in his pockets as he scuffs his trainers on the not-quite-ground. Pluto is tempted to ask if this is his first incarnation, until she sees his eyes.
"About . . . what I did, last time," he says haltingly. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry . . . ."
She puts a finger to his lips. "Don't."
The Doctor manages a nod, but barely. His eyes are far too old for his face. The eyes of a survivor.
He glances once at the Gate, with a look of heartbroken longing; but he is not about to run for it, and Pluto drops the Key to fold her arms around him. "I understand," she whispers in his ear. "I understand."
The next time he arrives, it's an incarnation from the other side of the time-lock. Pluto offers him tea. It's in the Japanese style rather than the English, but he takes to it immediately, running back into the TARDIS to grab a kimono before sitting down for pleasant conversation.
Eventually the talk turns serious. "The girl I've been traveling with," he says. "Name of Ace. I've been thinking of grooming her to go to the Academy. Do you think that's wise?"
"Working on your replacement, Doctor?" teases Pluto.
"Oh, no, nothing of the kind!" he insists, tugging at his lapels. "I just think she's got the spirit of the best kind of Time Lady."
"Or the best kind of renegade."
"Is there a difference? Gallifrey could use a little shaking up, don't you think?"
Pluto changes the subject.
"Pluto! So nice to see you again!"
This one looks like a sweet young English gentleman out for a spot of boating. When he sees that the tea ceremony is Japanese, his face falls. "I'm afraid I don't have a kimono," he says apologetically.
"You'll get one," she assures him.
"You must be the space hobo!"
"Young lady, I am not a space hobo! Where ever did you come up with such a vulgar term?"
"I didn't—" she begins, then decides to let it be.
They discuss more over a full English tea, during which Pluto gains a rough idea of the order of his incarnations. (This is only the second, but he's already met several of the others.) The Victorian gentleman with the white curls is his next.
"Watch out for me next time," she warns him. "I don't pull punches."
"I'll remember it," he replies. "Oh yes! And I passed that item you gave me on to Susan."
"Thank you," she says, and makes a mental note to work out what he's talking about.
This time, she is expecting him.
He stalks out of the mist sparkling with the energy of a recent regeneration, torn and singed velvet coat still hanging awkwardly over his new form, all dark curls and broad shoulders and bared teeth. "Get out of my way, Pluto!"
"I can't." She is standing in front of the Gate, but not brandishing a weapon at him, not yet. "It is forbidden—"
"Fuck forbidden!" he roars. "They're dead, they all burned, and the whole damn thing is time-locked, so the only way to fix it is to let me through!"
"You can't fix it!" cries Pluto. "Doctor, you need to accept that some things can't be—"
He punches her. There is no grace in it, no method, no martial artistry, just a raging and ugly fist connecting with the side of her face.
She lands hard, cheek throbbing, but there's no time to think about it, no time to strategize, and no more talking to him now that he's two steps from the Gate and striding forward. "DEAD SCREAM!" she shrieks.
The attack is meant to be whispered.
When she finds him, there is a brief moment when she wonders if she's singed him bald; but no, he's just regenerated, into a body with very short hair. She lifts one eyelid to check that he's out cold. (His new eyes are blue.)
She carries him to his ship. It's not far off. The door is locked, but she has a key.
She can't help feeling a little jumpy around him at first, though the bruises have faded and the flesh is hardly tender at all. But he's so unfailingly polite—and so obviously baffled by where he is—that soon they are having tea, as delightful as ever.
The conversation is, in fact, so enjoyable that she almost forgets what she has been charged with until he is about to leave. "Doctor, wait! You need to take this."
The old man takes the locket, puzzled but agreeable. "It's a bit sparkly for my taste . . . ."
"It's not for you. It's for your granddaughter."
"Oh, I see!" He turns it over in his hands. "I say! It looks a bit like a chameleon arch."
"It is," says Pluto. "Just a bit."
"I don't believe any of it," insisted the girl. Ancient kingdoms on other planets, benevolent guardians of space and time, incredible powers—and she was supposed to be part of this? It was ridiculous!
"It's true, and I can prove it," said the cat. "Pick up your locket."
(To be fair, the fact that she was hearing this story from the mouth of a talking cat made it seem slightly less impossible in comparison.)
She picked up the locket, the one she'd had for her whole life, or at least as much of it as she could remember. "Okay?"
"Now, repeat after me: 'Gallifrey Planet Power . . .'"