"Let's go to Lipragopolis, he says. Fun times to be had there, he says."
Ace was grumbling, as she sometimes did in tight situations over which she had no control, while the Doctor carefully measured their cell, front to back and side to side, by pacing. Well, she thought he might be measuring; then again, the guards had taken his umbrella, jacket, and hat, so perhaps he was simply anxious. Not that Ace could blame him if that was the case; they had taken her jacket and rucksack as well, so she was getting a bit antsy herself.
A guard wandered toward their cell, followed by a pair of figures in long, hooded robes.
"Priests," the guard hissed, "from the Nosfer Protectorate. They wish to minister to you."
The Doctor nodded absently, still very focused on his pacing. Ace, for her part, flopped down on one of the narrow bunks in the cell and closed her eyes.
The cell door swung open, then closed, but Ace paid no attention until she sensed a visitor standing over her. Opening one eye, she realized that the smaller of the priests was there.
Also, this priest looked incredibly familiar.
Melanie Bush, late of the Doctor's TARDIS, now of the Nosferatu II, just smiled. The other priest, meanwhile, had tossed back his hood. Yep, there was Sabalom Glitz.
"We were in the area," he said, "and heard something about a peculiar pair of folks gettin' in trouble over something at a tavern. Sounded like you two, so we decided..."
"I decided," Mel corrected him, turning sharply.
"Mel here decided that we ought to check up on things, see if we could help out."
"Don't suppose you've got any useful tools for opening the cell..." the Doctor began, and Glitz held up the sonic screwdriver.
"I still have my TARDIS key," Mel said, "so we made a stop off to pick up things that might be useful. Don't worry, I didn't let Glitz near anything too important."
Glitz muttered something, no doubt a serious insult in seven systems or so, under his breath. The Doctor had already snatched the sonic screwdriver and was working to disassemble the door. Ace had sat up now, and she grinned when Mel pulled a canister of Nitro-9 from a pocket of her robe.
"Thought maybe you could put this to some use in a pinch," Mel smiled.
Rather than snatching the explosive immediately, Ace first stood, grabbed Mel by the shoulders, and impetuously kissed her. It was quick, but Mel seemed a bit dazed right after.
"Doughnut, you're a lifesaver," Ace said with a grin, and then the door fell with a BOOM and they were all running, dodging guards and grabbing the Doctor and Ace's confiscated belongings before making for the nearest, unfortunately blocked, exit.
"Stay back!" Ace yelled, pulling ahead of the rest and lobbing the canister of Nitro-9. She turned back and everyone sort of dove to the sides of the corridor, Ace and Mel winding up in the same little alcove.
The explosion rocked the whole building, it seemed, and it certainly cleared the door in the process. Soon enough they were homefree, picking their way through alleys and backstreets as they made their way to the TARDIS. Once they had got there, Glitz and the Doctor were arguing over something or other about how things could have gone much more smoothly. Ace thought the escape had gone wonderfully well, actually, and she and Mel left their companions to argue in the console room.
They wandered through the TARDIS a bit, neither sure where they were headed. But then, in a blind corner somewhere between the squash court and the boot cupboard, Ace stopped and turned around.
"Thanks for thinking to bring me the Nitro-9. I mean, there was no guarantee we'd have time to grab our stuff on the way out, or that the cans from my rucksack would still be there..."
"Don't mention it. I know how useful Nitro-9 can be, after all."
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Ace shrugged slightly.
"Hey, uh. About that - back in the cell, when I - what I did. I mean, I was so glad to - that..."
She trailed off, stared down at her shoes. Then suddenly Mel stepped a little closer.
"It's all right, Ace. It was nice."
The moment was tense in all the right ways, and Ace was rather hoping that she might get another chance to kiss Mel, or perhaps to do more, when Glitz's voice boomed through the corridor.
"Come along, Mel! We're double parked, so to speak, and we still need to get that cargo to Jesron before they cancel our payment."
"Be there in a bit!" Mel called back, and then smiled at Ace a little sadly.
"See you around?" Ace asked.
"Oh, you can count on that."
They'd both had enough champagne to be tipsy. Not drunk; of course not. Just silly. Mel was giggling at nearly everything, and Ace was finding it difficult to walk normally. She could just manage it if she closed one eye, squinted the other, and stuck her tongue out a bit. Her expression only served to make Mel giggle more.
"You - you look - like that sailor from the old cartoons!" Mel managed, and then sat down very suddenly on a nearby bench, still giggling.
"Pie pie - no, no, POPEYE! You look like Popeye the Sailor."
Ace wondered if she should be offended. After all, if she was Popeye, Mel was skinny enough to by Olive Oyl, and that meant they could date. And then she wondered why that was the first place her mind went. Rather than mention the possibility, she tried for some other train of thought.
"Well you. You with all the red hair and the curls. You're like - like Little Orphan Annie."
That only served to start Mel singing a rather off-key rendition of "Tomorrow," (not that Ace could've sung it any better) and Ace started laughing so hard that she had no option but to sit on the floor, lest she do herself an injury. Mel slid off the bench and sat beside her, and they were laughing so hard that they were crying by the time the Doctor strode into the vestibule. He looked down at them, frowning just slightly.
"Really, you two, I'm a bit disappointed. Mel, I thought you had more self control. And Ace, you promised to watch yourself. And then Mel promised to watch you."
"We did watch each other, honestly," Mel said, "but it was hard to see with all those champagne bottles on the table, so we moved them."
"Well, you didn't need to drink the contents."
"Made 'em lighter," Ace shrugged, and that set both of them off laughing again, literally rolling on the floor.
The Doctor made a hmph sound and walked out of the building. Ace and Mel were calming down a bit now, but they still lay on the floor, staring up at the little dome-like ceiling over them.
"Didn't know there were stars in here," Ace said, pointing up to the brass inlays of constellations in the woodwork.
"We should have some stars in our house, one day."
Rolling up onto her side, Ace looked down at Mel.
"Sure," Mel nodded, then leant up suddenly and let her lips brush softly against Ace's.
Before the feather-light touch could end, Ace slipped a hand behind Mel's head and deepened the kiss. It was long and lingering and sweet, and when it was over, each of them let out a soft sigh.
"But we shouldn't have our stars right inside the front door," Ace said.
"Oh, definitely the bedroom."
Neither of them was certain, when the Doctor showed up at the flat with his new face, that they could get used to the change. Yes, Mel had been with the Doctor through one regeneration already, but this change was somehow just more than they were ready for. This Victorian gentleman with his frock coats and his ringletted hair was a bit off from what they were used to.
But he needed their help, needed Mel's computer skills and Ace's knowledge of explosives to defeat a dictator on Bastillion. So they went, and they found that this was still very much their Doctor. His companion, Charley, was certainly nice enough, though Ace found herself a little jealous of any spare time that Mel spent with Charley. Of course, Mel found herself a bit jealous of any spare time that Ace spent with Charley, so they were evenly matched on that score.
They had the dictator defeated in about two weeks (oh, and it was just like the old days, running and infiltrating and fighting,) and the Doctor promised to get them right home again after a quick stop off.
"Can't believe we're letting him haul us to a fancy dress party," Ace said, digging through the TARDIS wardrobe.
"Oh, admit it," Mel teased, "you're looking forward to it."
"Well, traveling in time, ya end up in sort of fancy dress half the time anyhow. I just don't see - oh, wait. Okay. I know what I'm going as."
She pulled an outfit out and chuckled softly to herself. Mel shook her head and sighed.
"You would pick something with weapons."
"Hey, it's Robin Hood! A classic character of our native folklore."
Ace sounded exactly as if she were repeating something she had heard in school; probably she was.
"Besides, I've wielded Excalibur; I've basically been like King Arthur..."
"More like the Lady of the Lake, from what you told me."
"Anyhow, why shouldn't I be Robin Hood?"
Mel just went on digging through the clothes.
"Hey, Mel, wait."
Ace was still holding the Robin Hood costume, complete with bow and quiver, but now she had also pulled out a dress that seemed to match it in colour and style.
"If I'm Robin Hood, will you be my Maid Marian?"
Mel considered her options for a moment, then took the dress and examined it.
"Well, it's very nice..."
"And it looks like it'll fit great."
A little while later they were changed and had met back up. Ace looked very good indeed as the Robber-King of Sherwood, and she had been right about the dress fitting Mel perfectly.
"You look..." Ace began, but then she seemed to momentarily lose control of her vocal faculties. Mel grinned.
"So do you."
In a moment Ace was in Mel's personal space (not that they paid much attention to that lately) and had pulled her into a tight embrace, backing her slowly toward the nearest wall as their lips met.
So lost in the moment were they that neither of them heard Charley enter the wardrobe; they also missed out on seeing how wide her eyes got when she spotted them. Of course, that was probably for the best, in the end. Although it was a real shame that they ended up missing out on the party as well; not that they weren't having enough fun of their own.
Fighting in a Time War is, generally, a very dangerous proposition. Well, any war is dangerous, but a Time War? Not even worth considering. Ace decided, as she aimed for another Dalek, that she must have been temporarily insane when she let Romana convince her to join the war effort.
She felt a weight collapse on her, a sharp pain in her back as an elbow dug in near her spine, and shrugged off her fallen comrade. A moment later she was half-blinded by the flash of energy as Susan regenerated right next to her.
She pulled a pressure-syringe from her beltpack and turned long enough to hold it to Susan's neck, feeling the hiss-pop as it activated. She tossed the syringe aside and went back to picking off enemies.
A hundred heartbeats later, Susan groaned, stirred, and sat up.
"Thanks for that."
"Can't afford post-regeneration illness on the battlefield, right?"
"Course not," Susan said, grabbing the spare blaster that Ace had prepped for her.
"Just wish Acceleron didn't make me so damn dizzy."
"That'll happen, I guess," Ace muttered.
Suddenly there was a whip of wind around them, a familiar smell of stretched time. Ace and Susan both turned and saw a motorbike that had suddenly appeared on the crumbling terrace behind them. Not just any motorbike, either.
"Hop on!" Mel called, tossing helmets to both of them.
Ace leapt up, ran as quickly as she could to get on the bike behind Mel. Susan was there a moment later, sliding into the sidecar (Ace wondered where that had come from.) For half a moment Ace wondered how Mel had souped up the bike enough to make a trip all the way from Earth to Gallifrey so easily, and then she saw the old vortex manipulator (it had been a good idea to swipe it from that drunk Time Agent on Myrn after all,) on Mel's wrist. Then they were off, zipping through the vortex.
They popped up in the bunker where Romana and some of the others who had not fallen under the influence of the resurrected Rassilon were gathered, still planning their own strategies. This was the Time War, after all; infinite fronts, infinite allegiances, infinite stupidity.
Romana stared at them for a moment, then went back to her projectives. Susan had climbed out of the sidecar.
"Thanks for the lift," she grinned, tossing the extra helmet to Mel, who simply handed it back again.
"Hang on to that. Never know when it could come in handy."
Romana stood now, approached the bike slowly.
"Ace, you're clear to leave, if you like. It was silly of me, stupid really, to involve a human so deeply in the heart of the fighting. It's just that you know so much of everything that's gone on. But even if you are one of the Doctor's associates..."
"Romana, There're humans fighting all through this war. People who understand and people who don't. I was here 'cos I wanted to help. I've done a lot, maybe all I can. But if there's anything else..."
"Go, Ace. Get to safety while you still can."
"You could come with us," Mel said.
"You and Susan. There'd just be room in the sidecar."
Romana smiled a little but shook her head.
"Not quite enough room, I think," she said, and the expression on her face was all tenderness as her gaze flickered across the bunker toward Leela, who was in the corner discussing something with Rodan.
Mel and Ace switched places on the bike, said their goodbyes to everyone, and Mel activated the manipulator. Not too many hops later, they were somewhere in Ealing, back in their own time. Ace steadied the bike a bit and turned slightly.
"I'm tired as anything. Let's put off the trip back down to Pease Pottage, yeah?"
"Sounds fine to me," Mel shrugged, leaning close against Ace's back.
"That was a good idea, putting the sidecar on here. Though how you knew you'd have to pick up anyone besides me..."
"Well, that wasn't exactly why I did it. Right now, though, let's just get somewhere for the night. I'll tell you everything later."
They found an inexpensive hotel and checked in. Ace was in the shower for ages before she stepped out, wrapped only in her towel. She found Mel already in bed, clothes piled neatly on the floor. Ace dropped the towel and crawled into the bed.
"So," Ace began, "how long has it been for you since I left?"
"About two months. How long were you fighting?"
"Almost a year, I think. Give or take."
They cuddled for a while; nothing serious, just feeling each other out, getting used to the old closeness again. Ace felt drowsy, could see that Mel was ready to drop off as well.
"Hey," Ace said suddenly, "so you were gonna tell me about the sidecar on the bike."
"Oh. That. Well, I thought one day we might need it."
"Why's that?" Ace yawned.
Mel smiled; a small, secretive expression.
"Do you remember what we did, oh, two nights before you left?"
After a moment's reflection, Ace grinned.
"Oh. Yeah, I remember that. Finally put that little souvenir from Gherin to some good use."
That had been a wild night indeed, throwing caution to the wind and really just enjoying each other. And then Ace remembered just how the "souvenir" worked, just what was supposed to have happened.
"You're not," she said.
"I am," Mel nodded.
Mel just nodded.
And Ace didn't know whether to shout or get up and jump all around the room or just pass out.
She settled for kissing Mel hard, groaning when Mel managed to flip her over and straddle her hips without breaking any of their contact. But then she realized something and pulled away.
"You're pregnant with our baby, and yet you went all through the vortex, into the middle of a warzone, to find me. Mel, that's a bit dumb, really."
"Yes, it was probably dumb," Mel cut in, "but in the end, it was worth it."