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"My dear Brigadier, a straight line may be the shortest distance between two points; but it is by no means the most interesting."
"First things first; but not necessarily in that order."
~ The Doctor, Doctor Who:
It began with Enterprise.
The phone was unplugged, the curtains drawn, Pringles close at hand and the cast assembled; Brian on the floor, Daisy and Colin on the sofa, and Tim and Mike on the bean bag.
"I heard that it's not gone over that well in America."
"And the Guardian gave it a really bad review..."
"Daisy, will you shut up?" Tim would have turned to glare at her, but such an action might lead to him missing the opening seconds.
"All right! I don't see what all the fuss is about anyway, you never get this excited about Voyager."
"Because this is different, okay? This isn't Voyager. This is Star Trek going back to its roots, an actual Trek through the Stars if you like."
"And it's, er, got the bloke from Quantum Leap in it."
"Yes, Mike. And, as you say, it does indeed star Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap."
Brian was chewing on the side of his thumb, frowning in concentration. "So this is Star Trek."
"Which is different from Star Wars."
Daisy gasped. Mike groaned. Colin sneezed.
"We don't," said Tim, the vein in his neck beginning to twitch, "mention those films in this flat."
"Daisy, tell him."
"Just leave it, Brian."
"But what, Brian?" cried Tim. "Are you going to tell me that the new films - the Prequel Trilogy (or 'PT') - shouldn't affect my love of the Original Trilogy (or 'OT')? That I should forgive George Lucas for The Phantom Menace? For Jar Jar Binks? For making Darth Vader a whiny idiot? For rewriting the history of the entire fucking Clone Wars?"
"No," said Brian, "I was just going to say that I think the TV show's started."
All heads whipped back to the TV. "Shit!"
An hour later, the sandwiches were eaten, Colin had shuffled off to his basket, and emergency Jaffa Cakes had been produced from Daisy's secret store. Tim, meanwhile, was sobbing on the sofa.
"It's just that...Again, you know? Every time, every fucking time, they do this to us. Get our hopes up, release just the right bits of footage in the trailers, and then give us this...this...shit."
"It wasn't that bad," said Daisy, patting his arm. Tim issued a groan that sounded faintly like 'Rod fucking Stewart' and she looked at Mike in appeal.
"Right, yes." He cleared his throat. "I, er, thought the model shots were a particularly good example of how modern computer generated imagery can enhance traditional techniques of filmmaking."
Daisy stared at him before shaking it off and moving on. "Okay. Yep, and Captain Archer was good, wasn't he? And that Vulcan woman looked all right? It might get better, you never know..."
Tim slowly raised his head from his arms, streaked with tears. "Yeah, it might get better, mightn't it?"
"After all, lots of shows have had bad starts, haven't they? TNG didn't really get going until Riker grew the beard..."
"Absolutely." She gave him a hug. "Feeling better?"
He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah."
"Want to go for a walk with me and Colin before bed?"
"Why not?" He got up from the table, wiping his face. "Thanks, Daisy. After all, if they just change the theme tune...and the costumes...and rename it Star-Trek-hyphen-Enterprise...and get rid of a few crew members...and fix the continuity errors...oh God, why? Why? Why do they do this to us? What possessed them to keep flogging the dead horse? To keep resurrecting the dead parrot? It's the law of diminishing returns, Daisy! Star Trek: brilliant. TNG: rocky start, recovered magnificently. DS9: patchy, but not bad. Voyager: mostly horrific. And now this..."
Daisy turned back to Mike. "I think we might need something stronger."
"I think you might be right."
Trust No One
Tim, to his credit, recovered well from the effects of Enterprise. Once the crying and the tantrums were over, not a word more was said about it. Even the damp squib that was Star Trek: Nemesis couldn't quite wipe the smile from his face following the publication of his first comic with Dark Star, though the old Generations and First Contact posters did mysteriously vanish from his room.
Then came the last ever episode of The X-Files. Daisy knew for a fact that Tim hadn't actually seen an episode of The X-Files since they "turned it into a bizarre surrealist comedy that was too bloody sunny and not actually scary any more", and was therefore surprised to find that he not only wanted to watch the finale, but was strangely affected by it.
They sat in silence for some minutes after it had finished, in Daisy's case because she had fallen asleep halfway through the third flashback some time previously.
"Fucking Chris Carter!"
"What?" She awoke from her nap to find the room in semi-darkness, the TV off and Tim apparently in the middle of a seizure.
"Are you coming?" He was struggling to get his coat on, eventually ripping it off and throwing it on the floor.
"What are you doing?" she asked, yawning and stretching.
"Going to the pub. I need to get out and clear my head. Besides, we drank everything in the flat last night."
"I haven't got any money."
"I don't care! Look, I'll buy you a drink, just get a move on! I'll get Brian." He left, presumably to do so, and Daisy called after him;
"What about Mike?"
"Sah." Mike appeared in front of her with a salute and she nearly fell over.
"Oh hi, Mike. How long have you been there?"
"Ooh, approximately 47 and a half seconds?"
"Right." They looked at each other for a moment. "Okay, well, I'll just get my coat."
Tim reappeared in the doorway. "Ready? I don't think I can handle being sober for much longer."
"What about Brian?"
"He's not coming."
"Do you always have to ask so many questions?!" The veins were popping again. "Can we please just go to the pub so I can drown my sorrows in fifteen pints of Guinness and a packet of pork scratchings?"
"All right! You don't need to shout at me."
He looked as though he were about to continue arguing for a split second; then he sighed and backed down. "Sorry, Daisy. Look, I just need some company for a bit, okay? And some alcohol." He gave her a brief, one-armed hug. "So will you come?"
She smiled sheepishly back at him. "Go on, then."
Two hours later, Daisy was sat in the pub with half a pint of Guinness in front of her, staring morosely at the pool table where Tim and Mike had planted themselves two minutes after walking in the door and hadn't moved since. The occasional word or phrase floated from their corner over the strains of Queen on the jukebox; "babies", "super-soldiers", "alien babies", "Krycek", "fucking flashbacks" and "seriously, alien fucking babies!"
"Is anyone sitting there?"
She looked up in surprise to find a tall, dark, and not-that-unattractive stranger standing in front of her, indicating Tim's chair. He started to look worried as she didn't answer.
"Right, okay, sorry to bother you..."
"No, no, that's okay, there's no one sitting there. I mean, there is someone sitting there but he's not there at the moment. Well, obviously he's not there at the moment, you can see that, of course you can see that...He's over there, playing pool. So you can sit down if you want to. If you want to. You don't have to. Maybe you just wanted to take the chair, I don't know..."
He was, somehow, still there and still smiling at her when she paused for breath. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Sure. I mean, no, I don't mind."
He sat down, still smiling at her. Unnerved, she took a large swig of her drink and promptly choked on it. Quick as a flash, he vanished and then reappeared with a napkin, handing it to her to wipe the drizzle from her chin.
"No problem. I'm Alistair, by the way."
"Daisy. I-Is my name." She proffered a hand which he shook solemnly.
"So, Daisy, are those your friends over there?" He indicated the pool table.
She sighed, looking over. "Yep, that's them."
"They've left you here on your own for a very long time." He smiled at her. "Seems a bit unfair."
She shrugged and gulped down some more Guinness. "It's all right. Tim's just a bit upset about something."
"Still, it's not a good idea to leave a beautiful woman on her own for that long," he said. "You never know when some lecherous barfly will come over and ask for her phone number. You know, if you wanted to," he added, looking nervous at her lack of reaction.
Pulling herself together, Daisy glanced over to the pool table again before turning back to Alistair and leaning forward. "Tell me...are you much of a fan of the X-Files?"
He looked as though he wanted to laugh at the question, but controlled himself. "Um, not really. I watched it on and off a few years back..."
"Comic books? Buffy? Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings? Are you a Browncoat?"
"I'm not sure what that is," he said slowly, beginning to look as though he regretted ever taking the empty chair. "But no, I'm not really a fan of any of those. I was once a bit of a Doctor Who fan when I was younger. Is that a problem?"
"That depends," said Daisy. "Is your house filled with toys and comics? Do you obsess over every tiny detail and set fire to things if the show does something you don't like?"
"Well, considering Doctor Who ended 13 years ago, it's a bit unlikely." He was smiling again. "I had a few Dalek toys and some of the books when I was a kid but I got rid of those years ago."
She glanced over at the pool table one more time. She was being ridiculous, she knew. It had been a year, more than a year since Tim had made that epic journey to St Pancreas to tell her he loved her and bring her back home...and here they were, nothing changed, still stuck in the same status quo as she sat in a pub on her own. She made up her mind and smiled at her new companion. "Okay, then. I'd love to give you my phone number."
The Truth is Out There
"It's just..." Despite spending almost the entire evening at the pool table, Tim had still managed to get himself very drunk and slightly stoned. Daisy plonked the two coffees down on the kitchen table, sank into the spare chair and lit a cigarette. "It's just...it's all going to hell, Daisy. The Star Wars prequels. The X-Files. A bad even-numbered Star Trek movie. The Matrix sequels. The last Harry Potter book was rubbish..."
"Oh, I quite liked it."
"...and even Buffy's been crap the last year or so! Remember when Buffy was fun? And Angel, and SG-1 with the whole Jonas Quinn thing..."
"All right, now, Tim," she said, having had enough. "Pull yourself together. A few bad films and a couple of TV shows running for too long is hardly evidence of a global conspiracy, now is it?"
They locked bleary eyes for a moment, wondering, before common sense kicked back in.
"No," he admitted, "but it's a pattern, Daisy. Everything's just falling apart. They keep on doing this, holding things on for too long when they should just let them die, and bringing back things that should have been left dead. You know? Just because something might have been good once, they keep dragging it out and dragging it out until all the life's sucked out of it, like a relationship that should end but no one will let it while they're still remembering the good times and can't see that it's time to end it and move on before someone snaps and kills George Lucas..."
"George Lucas?" said Daisy lightly, stubbing out her cigarette.
Tim wasn't listening. "No, wait, it's more like when someone's ill. Like the cancellation of The X-Files was like your favourite aunt dying after she's been really ill and in pain for years; it's still sad, but it's a relief it's all over and you kind of wish it had happened two years ago before Chris fucking Carter went back on everything he'd ever said and decided alien babies were a good idea..."
He looked up. "What?"
"You're rambling." She picked up her empty mug and stood up. "I'm going to bed. I'm sure it'll all look better in the morning."
She stopped at the doorway of her room and looked back. "Yeah?"
"Did you really give that guy in the pub your phone number?"
"No. I gave him our phone number."
"Are you going to go out with him?"
"Any reason why I shouldn't?" she asked, trying to sound casual.
Tim stared at her, swaying slightly. "Well, he seemed like a bit of a creep to me."
"Yeah. You shouldn't go out with him just because he's the first person to ask you out in ages."
"I'm sorry?" In a sober state of mind, Tim might have noticed the tone of her voice. Unfortunately, the vodka was doing all the talking.
"I know you're probably a bit desperate after all this time, but you shouldn't go out with creeps like that just because they ask you."
"Right," said Daisy, ice dripping from her voice. "Thank you for your advice, Tim. I'll be sure to bear that in mind."
She slammed the door so hard that the entire wall shook, causing a bit of plaster to drift down from the ceiling. A distant Marsha-like "Oi!" floated down from upstairs as a dim sense of foreboding penetrated through the alcoholic fog in Tim's brain.
Fight The Future
Tim didn't take to Alistair. They met again on the morning following Alistair and Daisy's second date; a highly awkward and embarrassing situation for all concerned. But Daisy actually seemed to like the guy and it would take a harder man than Tim to say anything too negative in the face of that smile. He mumbled something instead, called her pickle and escaped as fast as he could to find Mike and vent.
Mike didn't take to Alistair. They met by accident on the stairs as Mike returned from TA training and Daisy and Alistair were heading out for their third date. A potentially beautiful friendship was destroyed forever when Mike mentioned where he had been and Alistair revealed his strong pacifist views. Tim, overhearing the end of the argument with glee, suggested they go downstairs and recruit Brian to their cause before he had a chance to decide for himself.
Brian didn't take to Alistair. It was, to be fair, sometimes hard to tell with Brian; but the mumbling was even more mumbly than usual and the eye contact down to zero. They met formally on a Sunday evening in, a too-chirpy Daisy doing the introductions before Brian escaped as soon as he could. Though that may have been to avoid Marsha, who turned up at the door seconds later, cigarette in mouth and a wine glass in hand.
Marsha didn't take to Alistair. He was perfectly nice and charming to her which she appeared to appreciate; but two days later over a bottle of Jacob's Creek, she confided her misgivings to Daisy. Alistair, she had decided, was a bit too smooth and you wanted to watch out for people like that. No one had ever seen her take so much of an instant dislike to anyone except Twist, and there had been reasons for that...
Twist didn't take to Alistair. She had never actually met him, still not having returned from Manchester, but she still managed to express her doubts to Daisy in an accidental drunken 2am phone call. (It later transpired that she had been confused between Alistair and Mike, due to the similar sounding names. Of course.)
Eventually, Daisy confronted Tim about it, one beautiful summer's morning once she had waved her new boyfriend out the door.
"Why are you all being horrible to Alistair?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Tim, sliding down a little further on the bean bag and becoming very interested in his PlayStation controller.
"Brian avoids him, Mike won't talk to him, even Marsha said she didn't like him and every time he tries to have a conversation with you, you ignore him, or you're sarcastic, or you start quoting old episodes of Buffy, or you run out of the room with some rubbish excuse."
"That's not true," he protested. "It's just that we don't really have a lot in common, so, you know, we don't have a lot to talk about."
"Could you maybe just try getting along with him?" she asked. "Please? For me?"
He looked up against his better judgement to find Daisy looking pathetic in his direction. It was a weapon he had no defence against.
"All right, fine," he said eventually. "I'll try harder."
"Thank you." Beaming, she crossed the room to give him a quick hug, messing up his hair with her fingers before moving to sit on the sofa.
"Get off me!"
"He's a really nice person, Tim, I'm sure you'll be the best of friends once you get to know him." She picked up a magazine and started flicking through it, either not seeing or ignoring the look Tim was giving her.
"Yeah, well, we'll see," he muttered, hitting the buttons a little harder than he needed to.
"In fact..." she said slowly, getting that ominous I've-got-a-good-idea on her face. "You and Mike are going paintballing tomorrow, aren't you? Why don't you take him with you?"
"Daisy, no," he said, twisting to face her in horror.
"Because..." He struggled to try and think of a better excuse than 'I hate your boyfriend'. "Because Mike and I always go together. It's tradition. It would be really confusing if we had to fight with someone else - I mean, alongside someone else."
"Oh, come on." She was smiling at him again, in that quite patronising, rather irritating but slightly adorable kind of way. "You can't take Alistair with you, just this once? He said the other day how he'd like to go but he's never had the chance."
"I thought he was a pacifist?"
"He is, but it's only a game, isn't it? It's not like you fight with real guns."
"We'll see," Tim muttered, not quite quietly enough.
She frowned at him. "Will you take him with you or not?"
"Fine," he snapped with bad grace, turning off his game and getting to his feet. "Fine! We'll take him. But don't blame me if he hates it, or if he gets lost in the woods, or if he ends up getting accidentally shot in the bollocks..."
"Tim, you're being childish."
"Well, of course I am," he said, stomping across to his bedroom door. "There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."
The War Games
"Look," said Mike as he strapped on his ammunition, "I understand how you feel about this guy and I understand how you feel about Daisy."
Tim held up a finger. "We don't talk about that."
"Okay. But if we let him get hurt today, there's a strong possibility that Daisy will be slightly upset."
"If he took off his safety goggles, he could end up blind like PJ in Byker Grove," said Tim wistfully.
"Yeah..." said Mike with a happy smile.
Tim sighed, finished doing up his boots and stood up. "All right. We'll look after him." He glanced around to check Alistair couldn't hear them, but he was still on the other side of the clearing. "It's just...he's always there, Mike! Every morning when I wake up, every afternoon when I come home, I go into the kitchen to find him there, smirking at me with that stupid smirk on his face, like Mr Smirkity-Smirk of Smirkania."
"Why is he always there?" asked Mike.
"Because he's her 'boyfriend'."
"No, I mean, why don't they ever stay at his place?"
Tim stared at his friend. It was, it had to be said, a good question. "That's a good question, Mike."
"You're welcome. It had to be said." He frowned thoughtfully at the distant figure. "Why don't they ever stay at his place? I wonder if he's got something to hide. Do you know, I think it might be time for some subtle questioning of Mr Taylor..."
Five Rounds Rapid
"So, why don't you and Daisy ever stay over at yours?" asked Tim, ducking behind his tree as a paintball whistled past.
Alistair stared at him from behind the adjacent tree. "I'm sorry?"
"Go, go, go!" cried Mike and the three of them ran into the wooden fort, crouching down in readiness.
Tim turned back to his nemesis and repeated the question. "Why don't you and Daisy ever stay over at yours? You're always at our flat."
"Is this really the time or the place?" said Alistair in disbelief, as the sound of paint-gun fire echoed in the woods all around them. Mike was squatting by the entrance, eyes darting back and forth in search of potential attackers.
"Not answering the question, are you?" said Tim. "Got something to hide?"
"No." They held gazes for a minute before Alistair cracked first. "I don't think it's deliberate, mate; it's just easier for me to get to work in the mornings from your flat than it is for Daisy to get back home from mine." He smiled at Tim. "There's no conspiracy, believe me."
"All right," said Mike, scuttling back across the floor. "Woods are clear to the east. Time to go for the flag." Tim tried to indicate with his eyebrows that he wasn't quite finished with his interrogation, but Mike was never that good at non-verbal communication at the best of times.
"You sure?" asked Alistair.
Mike nodded. "When I say run, run...Run!"
When they arrived home four hours later, bruised and battered, a sunny Daisy asked them if they'd had fun. Alistair answered in the affirmative, not mentioning the conversation he'd had with Tim and claiming he didn't know what had tripped him up but it was probably a tree root; Mike had enjoyed it as always; and Tim answered yes, accepted his mug of tea, and watched the happy couple out of the corner of his eye. It might be time to change tactics.
Live Long and Prosper
The news broke on a Friday morning some weeks later as Daisy stood in her pyjamas, staring at the fridge and trying to decide whether it would be more effort to attempt to make breakfast out of elderly mayonnaise, very old cheese and a mouldy tomato, or to simply walk along to the shop. She was still a long way from a decision when Tim burst out of his room, wild-eyed and breathing heavily.
"All right?" she asked, closing the fridge door and heading for the kettle. "Do you want tea?"
He made a few incoherent sounds, either having some kind of fit or too excited to form words.
"Coffee?" Daisy continued. "Squash? Juice? Water? Pop Tart?"
"Daisy, will you please shut up and listen to me?" he splurted out, finally getting enough of a grip to form a sentence.
"All right," she said, annoyed, and sat back down.
Tim placed both hands on the back of a kitchen chair, took a few deep breaths and managed to get the words out. "They're bringing back Doctor Who."
"Oh, right," said Daisy. "That's nice."
"No, Daisy," he said, sounding desperate, "you didn't hear me. The BBC - the actual, proper, genuine national BBC One - are bringing back Doctor Who."
"That's good," said Daisy politely. They stared at each other for a moment of mutual incomprehension before Tim gave up, throwing his hands in the air. He dived for his walkie-talkie while Daisy tried to work out what point she had missed.
"Greyhound Five, this is Trap One, are you reading me? Over."
There was a crackle of static before Mike's voice came through. "I thought I was Trap One, over."
"I don't care who's Trap One!" cried Tim, exasperated. "Have you seen the news? Over."
"Not today so far, Timmy, over."
"They're bringing back Doctor Who."
There was a brief but significant pause before the walkie-talkie crackled back into life again. "Roger that, Trap One. What were you thinking? Over."
Tim exhaled deeply. "Maybe Terror of the Autons, Genesis of the Daleks, and City of Death? What do you think?"
"Sounds like a plan to me, Timothy. Might I also suggest The War Games?"
"I dunno," said Tim warily. "It's a bit long to watch today. How about Caves of Androzani?"
"We'll watch it for the anniversary in November, okay?"
"All right, then," said Mike, not sounding very happy about it. "I'll see you at 0900 hours."
Tim looked at his watch. "It's 08:57 now."
"Roger that. Out."
He finally put down the walkie-talkie and looked back at Daisy, who was staring at him in utter bewilderment. "Do you want to explain to me what on earth that was all about?"
"Daisy, they're bringing back Doctor Who!"
"You said that already."
He gave her a look and then shrugged. "Mike and I are going to dig out some videos and have a celebration," he explained. "Want to join us?"
"What, this morning?" said Daisy, frowning. "What about Bargain Hunt? Cash in the Attic?"
"Daisy, they're bringing back Doc-"
"Yes, thank you, I get the picture." She crossed to the phone. "And no thank you. I had plans, actually, with Alistair later on. I think I'll phone him and see if he wants to meet me earlier if you're going to spend the whole day hogging the TV for an old kid's programme with rubber sets and wobbly monsters." She regretted it as soon as she'd said it, shocked by the look of hurt on Tim's face; but the phone was already ringing on the other end and Alistair answered before she'd had a chance to apologise.
Five minutes later, she threw herself on the sofa in a huff and sighed loudly. Tim, emerging from his room with Mike and a stack of videos, dropped to the floor and spent a few moments arranging them by the television before looking up at her.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
He glanced at her again before getting to his feet and coming to sit on the sofa next to her. "Want to tell me about it, pickle?"
She sighed again. "Alistair can't make it at all today. He's got to go into work, the deputy manager's off sick."
"Oh dear." Tim looked thoughtful. "He cancelled on you on Tuesday as well, didn't he?"
She glared at him. "They're very busy at work at the moment! They're short-staffed!"
"All right." He held up his hands in an expression of truce but she was in no mood to make peace with him. "I was just saying."
"Well, don't. Just because you don't like him..."
"I do like him," Tim protested, and even Mike, silent in the corner, and Colin in his basket looked shocked at the enormity of the lie. Tim quickly changed the subject. "Sure you don't want to join us?" He reached forward and picked up a video from the floor. "We've got Daleks."
Daisy suppressed the smile rising to the surface at the sight of his hopeful expression, and gave an indifferent shrug. "Why not?"
He grinned at her. "That's my girl."
"Are we ready to go, then?" said Mike, finger hovering over the remote control.
"Make it so, Number One."
Unstable? Unstable? UNSTABLE?
"Can I borrow your scrubbing brush?"
"Hi, Brian," said Tim without looking round. "Daisy let you in on her way out?"
"Yes..." said Brian, edging further into the room. "She didn't look, um, very happy."
Tim paused Lara Croft mid-leap and looked up. "Yes, well, she doesn't very often these days." He got to his feet. "What do you want our scrubbing brush for?"
"Hang on, second thoughts, I don't want to know." He walked over to the kettle and switched it on. "Want a cup of tea?"
"Um, please." Brian sat on the sofa and started scratching Colin's ears in an absent-minded kind of way. "What's up with Daisy, then?"
"Well," said Tim, folding his arms and leaning against the counter, "her 'boyfriend' isn't around a lot at the moment - working or something - and for some reason, she doesn't seem very happy about it. Don't ask me why. He's away again this weekend on some conference or other." The kettle boiled, taking him by surprise, and he started searching for mugs and teabags in the mess of a kitchen.
"Don't you like him, then?" asked Brian.
"I don't dislike him," said Tim, chucking squeezed teabags in the sink, "I just think he's a massive wanker."
"And I don't trust him," he added, bringing the mugs over and sitting down in the chair by the window. "Do you know Daisy's never even been to his flat?"
Brian looked surprised. "Really?"
"She told me one night, thanks to a certain quantity of Galliano. Said he keeps saying it's really messy and she can see it once he's tidied it up." Tim felt a flash of guilt. "I may have overdone it a bit though. She started crying and decided to phone her Mum before I was able to get anything else out of her."
"Do you think he's, um, hiding something?"
"I'm sure of it," said Tim darkly. "I asked him once why they always stay here rather than at his and he was very evasive. And he never told Daisy about me asking either, which is really suspicious. I thought he might be married, but who'd marry him? Besides, he's over here way too much for that... Ooh!" An idea struck him.
"What if he was married, and there's a room in his house full of his ex-wives, if you know what I mean?"
Brian looked at him blankly. "Not really."
"I mean he might have killed them, Brian."
"Do you really think so?"
"I'm just trying to think of the best case scenario," said Tim. "I wish there was some way we could find out for certain." He sipped his tea and looked sideways at Brian, who was stroking his beard, lost in thought. "After all, we don't want Daisy to get hurt, do we?"
"Do you think she might get hurt?" said Brian, looking upset.
"Well, if he is keeping something from her, it's better she finds out now than later, isn't it?"
"I suppose so..."
"And even if it meant doing something that might be considered slightly immoral, even illegal, it would be worth it if it meant preventing Daisy from getting hurt, right?"
"Right," said Tim, standing up. "I'll get Mike."
"Why, where are we going?" asked Brian.
Tim struck a dramatic pose in the doorway and smiled. "We're going to find out the truth. Either we're going down...or he is."
To Boldly Go
The three of them stared up in awe at the beautiful, modern, purpose-built flats.
Mike whistled. "Looks as though our Mr Taylor's been holding out on us."
"How did you find out where he lived?" asked Brian.
Tim gave his best mysterious smile. "Oh, we have our ways." And a phone book, he added to himself as they walked up to the front door to be confronted by a shiny, chrome entry system.
"So how do we get in?"
Tim's smile widened. "I have a cunning plan."
"Are you going to, um, use the Force?" said Brian.
"Are you going to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?" said Mike.
"No," said Tim. "Watch and learn, my young Padawans." He pressed the first button on the keypad. After a few seconds, a voice was heard.
Tim leaned closer. "Hi, delivering takeaway leaflets? Could you let me in the building?"
"Sure," said the disembodied voice and the door buzzed open. Mike and Brian looked at their leader in awe.
"The Force can have a powerful effect on the weak-minded," he said with a shrug. "Allons-y!"
Brian looked puzzled as they trailed him into the building. "But didn't you say...?"
"Anyway," said Tim, "anyone got any ideas about how we get into his actual flat? I didn't really think that far ahead."
"We could reverse the polarity-" began Mike but Tim cut him off.
"It doesn't really work, Mike," he said; then sighed as his friend looked shocked and hurt. "Sorry. I didn't mean that. I meant, it doesn't work without a sonic screwdriver, and we don't have one."
"Um, would these help?" said Brian, and he produced a large bunch of skeleton keys from his pocket.
The others stared at him. "Keys for every occasion, eh?" said Tim.
Brian looked sheepish. "I once worked with a performance artist called Nero. We used to break into offices and leave photographs of dismembered mannequins taped to the ceiling."
There was a pause. "...Why?"
"It was a symbol, Tim, if you can understand that; a symbol of man's tireless, futile struggle against the forces of-"
"Yes, sorry, forget I asked." The lift pinged and they emerged onto the landing.
"Right," said Tim, taking charge as well as the keys. "Brian, you keep the lift here. Keep pressing the button," he added in response to Brian's blank look. "Mike, you keep watch on the stairs while I try the keys."
"Um, question," said Brian, raising his hand.
"What is it, Brian?"
"Is this strictly legal?"
Tim rolled his eyes. "No. But we're doing this for Daisy, remember? If he's been lying to her, she deserves to know. And we're not stealing anything, we're just going to break into his flat and have a look around. No harm done."
"Okay," said Brian.
"Mm, just like old times, right Tim?" said Mike happily, and the other two gave him a look.
To Tim's astonishment, the fifth key actually turned in the lock, though with an unpleasant grating sound that might come back to haunt him. He swung the door open and beckoned the others inside.
It was, thought Tim, suspiciously tidy and well-decorated for a man who lived on his own. He pushed the pile of post to one side and closed the front door behind them. "All right, gang, let's split up and search for clues. Daisy said he's coming back home tonight so we don't want to linger. Let's find what we can and get out of here as fast as possible...Yes, Brian?"
Brian put his hand down. "What sort of clues are we looking for?"
"Anything that proves he's been lying to Daisy."
"Like this?" Mike's voice floated out from behind the nearest door. The others followed him into the room, which turned out to be a spacious comfortable living room, containing two sofas, a large, flat-screen TV and one wall covered in shelves from floor to ceiling.
"Wow..." said Tim softly.
"I seem to remember him saying he wasn't a Doctor Who fan," said Mike, and Tim nodded in agreement.
The wall in front of them told a different story. The shelves held a fairly average collection of DVDs and CDs, provided you only looked at the ones right next to the left-hand wall. The rest of the wall, however, displayed the greatest collection of Doctor Who merchandise he had ever seen. All the videos, DVDs, audio recordings of the lost episodes, carefully labelled fan-made films...
"...Virgin New Adventures, Virgin Missing Adventures, PDAs, EDAs, all the Target novelisations..." Tim worked his way along the shelves running down some kind of internal list.
Brian shook his head, looking sadly at the sight in front of them. "What kind of man, what kind of sad, lonely, twisted individual must he be to fill his whole life with this kind of...mass-produced, empty, noisy clutter?"
"Yeah," said Tim absently. "Ooh, he's got Curse of Fenric on DVD! I haven't got that one yet..."
"Does this count as proof, then?" asked Mike. "That he's lying to Daisy?"
Tim wasn't sure. "Maybe. But it's not enough. He can just say that he never brought her round here because he was embarrassed and she'll probably forgive him." He put Curse of Fenric back in its place with a sigh. "Come on. Let's keep looking for something more solid."
They found it eventually in a wastepaper bin in the study; a pile of discarded email printouts. They proved that Alistair was not, as he said, currently at a work conference in Birmingham, but instead at a Doctor Who convention in America. Tim's hands trembled as he held his proof within them.
"Wait," he said as Mike opened the front door and checked that the coast was clear. "Simply take these two sheets of paper home to show them to Daisy, and I destroy her relationship forever. Have I that right?"
"Thanks, Mike. Brian?"
"Good enough for me. Let's go."
We Help the Hopeless
"Well?" said Tim nervously. Daisy had had time to read the sheets of paper he had handed her several times already, but was still silent, staring at the emails. Mike and Brian had both vanished, leaving him to deal with the reveal on his own.
Eventually, she looked up. "Let me see if I've got this right. You don't like my boyfriend-"
"I do like your-"
"-so you broke into his home and searched through his possessions, which is illegal, immoral and really, really stupid?"
Tim paused. "Okay, all valid points, but...why are you being angry with me rather than him?"
"Because Alistair didn't break into anyone's flat recently!" she shouted.
"But..." He gestured at the papers in her hand. "He's been lying to you, Daisy."
"Oh?" She raised her eyebrows. "And what were you doing earlier when you told me you and Mike were going to the playground this afternoon and that I shouldn't come with you because I wouldn't enjoy it?"
"Well, I was right that you wouldn't enjoy it," he felt obliged to point out. She flung the emails at him.
"I cannot believe you would do this to me!"
"Wait, look, I know you're angry-"
"Oh, really?" she snapped.
"But I was just looking out for you, honestly. I thought he was hiding something and I was right."
"And what gives you that right? What business is it of yours? I don't go around meddling in your affairs!"
Tim had to stop at that one. "You meddle in my affairs all the time! Maybe if you'd spent a little less time constantly nosing into my business, you'd have finished that novel, or that screenplay, or any of those articles, and you wouldn't be pushing thirty and still on the dole."
There was a moment when they both stared at each other, flushed and slightly out of breath; then Daisy reacted first, heading straight for the front door and opening it.
"Fine. Get out."
"Go on, leave. He'll be here in an hour and I don't want you here when he arrives." She continued to hold the door open, not looking at him. Tim pulled on his beanie and headed out, pausing by the front door to touch Daisy's arm and begin an apology.
"I didn't mean -"
"Will you please leave," she said, still not looking at him. He picked up his skateboard and did so.
Daisy slammed the front door behind him, dropped onto the sofa and allowed herself a small cry. Then she stood up, a look of determination on her face.
When Alistair entered the flat an hour or so later, he was surprised to find it dark and gloomy, lit only by the orange glow of the streetlamp outside.
A voice issued from the far corner. "I have been expecting you, Alistair."
An office chair - borrowed from Tim's room - swung slowly round to reveal a new Daisy; dressed in a slinky black top and trousers, hair curled, Colin on her lap as she stroked him gently.
"I know that," he pointed out. "You just buzzed me in the front door."
"Um, right." Her poise shaken just for a moment, she stood up and gestured towards the sofa. "Why don't you sit down. We need to talk."
Stiff Upper Lip
The room was still in darkness some time later when the creaking open of the door signalled Tim's return. He entered the room silently, moving over to sit on the sofa where Daisy was sprawled with Colin beside her, head laid mournfully on her lap. She moved over to give him room.
They both stared in silence at the television for a moment.
He gestured towards the TV. "What are you watching?"
"Oh. What's it about?"
"Is it any good?"
"Oh." Tim finally turned to look at her. "Are you okay?"
She took a deep breath, held it, and then let it out again. "Don't know."
"Okay." There was a pause. "Well, I'm glad we had this conversation," he said and got up again.
Daisy's conscience finally kicked her into action. "Tim, sit down." He did so. "Look, I'm sorry I shouted at you. I know you were trying to look out for me."
"'s all right," he said, looking relieved, and he nudged her shoulder with his own. "I'm sorry for breaking into your boyfriend's flat without inviting you along."
"That's okay," she said, managing a smile. "And he's gone, by the way. Alistair. He's gone."
She turned to look at him again. "Are you? Really? You never liked him."
"That's not true," he protested. Daisy gave him a Look. "Okay, yeah, I never liked him, but you did. So, you know, now you'll be sad. And I hate it when you're sad."
"Yeah." He shrugged. "You're no fun."
"Sorry. Did you..." Tim hesitated before plunging on. "Did you break up because of the Doctor Who thing?"
"No," she said. "I said some stuff and he said some stuff...wait, no, that's not in the right order. Anyway, he was lying to me and it wasn't really working anyway and it's silly that he couldn't tell me the truth, then he said it was all my fault because I was intolerant of geeks, and I said that's ridiculous, look at my flat, then we argued...but no, anyway, the thing was..."
Tim nudged her again. "Skip to the end."
"...and now I'm single again."
"Brave heart, Daisy," he said. "You've still got me."
She attempted to smile, knowing he couldn't realise how much those words hurt. "It's just..." She waved her hands around vaguely, trying to convey something she was having difficulty putting into words. "I really thought this might be it, you know? A real, proper, grown-up relationship for once...I don't know."
"I understand," said Tim, and she looked at him with scepticism. "No, I do. You thought he was the Ian to your Barbara and he turned out to be the Harry to your Sarah Jane."
She stared at him. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I mean..." It was his turn to flail his arms around, looking for the right words. "I mean that he was just a temporary...companion on your travels along life's, um, highway, and maybe you're meant to travel with someone else. Someone who was there before he turned up and will be there after he's gone and was there all along."
"No, sorry," she said after a moment to think about it, "still not with you."
He sighed. "Daisy, I'm trying to think of a way to say this that doesn't rip off the speech from the end of When Harry Met Sally."
"Oh." Then realisation finally dawned and to her horror, she could feel the blush starting. She swallowed, her mouth inexplicably dry. "Well, that might do it."
And smiling, he leaned forward and kissed her.
We Swear to God, This Time We're Not Kidding
"Wait a minute."
She opened her eyes again to find Tim's face an inch from hers, looking worried.
"We're not going to end up like one of those couples, are we?" he asked. "Where everyone's rooting for us to get together, then when we do it's awful and everyone hates us because we're really boring and smug and annoying and all the chemistry's gone? Like Maddy and David, or -" he shuddered; obviously the memory was still painful "- Mulder and Scully, or Lois and Clark?"
"Lois and Clark?" she asked.
"New Adventures of Superman. Not the comics."
"Ah. Well, they were all fictional characters, Tim. We're real people."
"Not sure I'm quite understanding you..." he said, frowning.
Daisy thought fast. "Well, what I mean is, we might be a different kind of couple, where everyone roots for us to get together and then we do and it's great, and everyone still loves us because we're even more amazing together than we were separately."
"Like who?" There was a long pause. "Well?"
"I'm thinking about it! Um, Kirstie and Phil?"
"They're not actually a couple."
"Ron and Hermione."
"Buffy and Angel."
"They broke up. And he tried to kill her and all her friends. And then they broke up again."
"Buffy and Spike?"
"Now you're not even trying."
"Well, how about Spike and Lynda?"
"Yeah? Maybe we'll be like Spike and Lynda and always be fantastic whether we're together or not. Happy now?"
"Yep." He leaned over and kissed her again. "I love you."
19 Years 18 months Later
The phone was unplugged, the curtains drawn, Pringles close at hand and the cast assembled; Brian on the floor, Mike on the bean bag, Tim and Daisy curled up on the sofa together as usual, and Colin asleep in his basket.
Tim had been a bag of nerves all day. "I know, I know," he said as Daisy tried to calm him down yet again. "We've got to have faith and it's got really good reviews so far...but we've been here before, Daisy! Every time! I mean, Russell T Davies says he's a fan, but what does that mean, really? We've already got the wrong-sized windows on the TARDIS and a bloody teenage pop star for a companion...It'll be Bonnie Langford all over again!"
"I used to quite like Billie Piper," Daisy admitted and she started to sing. "'Why you gotta play that song so loud? Because we want to! Because we want...'" She stopped and coughed as the boys stared at her. "Anyway. I'm sure she won't be another Bonnie Langford, Tim. The Guardian gave it a really good review."
"Yeah, well," he muttered darkly. "They've been wrong before."
"You've got to have faith, Tim," she insisted and took hold of his hand. "Besides, if it isn't perfect...does it matter?"
He squeezed her hand, smiled at her, and realised for the first time in his life that it didn't. "No."
"As long as they got the TARDIS console right."