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Ace's head bobbed up at the first hint of the scent. It was a good smell, and an old, comfortable one. It brought just the hint of a smile to her generous mouth, and a gleam of melancholy and nostalgia to the deep brown of her eyes.

Popcorn, hot, buttered, and salted beyond all healthiness. It triggered memories she'd left behind ages ago. Darkness, lumpy seats, scratchy soundtrack and dusty visuals. Her mind filled in the musk undertone of the oil Manisha used to wear.

Salt on her fingers, yeah, for all the bitching they'd done about their parents and teachers, hissing under the laughter of little kids watching some dumb comedy.

And the butter was there for secrets, plans, past and future shared while Harrison Ford shot at alien monsters or Nazis or ran in some high speed chase to music that might have been thrilling if the sound system had been in better repair.

And then the warm clean under-smell of the popcorn itself, for the quiet anger . . . hiding in the movie theater away from the yelling and the taunting and the cruel laughter. Hiding behind the sounds of some stupid old romance.

She stood up and followed the smell.

 


The Doctor lounged in the doorframe, grinning at her. There was an enormous bowl of popcorn in his hands. He gave it to her in silence and led her inside. A tiny movie theater. Well cool. You never knew what the TARDIS was going to come out with next.

"What're we watching?"

"Up to you." he waved to a tall shelf, stuffed with video tapes.

Ace balanced the popcorn on the arm of one of the seats and grinned at him, looking over the choices.

Star Wars, yeah. She pulled out the box; it was signed by George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Dead Again was signed by practically the whole cast. There were also several of Branaugh's Shakespeare movies, all signed with a compact, businesslike "K.B." in one corner, and a fancy, cirliqued "W.S." across the bottom.

"Show off." She muttered.

Monty Python's Holy Grail was signed by all the Pythons, three times by John Cleese, each one with a different date. There were three copies of Casablanca, both endings, and one which, when Ace pulled it out, had a dramatic picture of Ronald Reagan on the front.

"Had to cheat a bit to get that one," the Doctor grinned, "sideways in time."

She couldn't help but grin back. There was a whole row of Disney films. Beauty and the Beast looked much worn, as did Fantasia. There was a new-looking copy of The Little Match Girl as well. Figured. They'd give anything a happy ending. There were also two copies of Aladdin.

"Alternate versions of that too?" Ace asked.

"Wore out the tape." The Doctor admitted.

On another shelf were a row of tapes signed by someone named Bill Baggs, an unboxed tape marked RD: Season XVI, and one labeled, Time Rift -- Blooper Reel.

Ace didn't recognize those, so she left them. She wanted to watch something old and familiar.

The Princess Bride. She pulled out the tape, grinning again. Sure enough, across Cary Elwes' face was scrawled a spidery signature: "S. Morgenstern". She handed it to the Doctor and settled into a seat.

She told him a little about her old teachers while Westley and Buttercup kissed goodbye, and he told her secrets while the Man in Black fought his duels. Not his secrets, of course, but the universe's secrets, which was almost as good. And together they hid in the time capsule, away from injustice and unrequited love and hate, laughing for a while, instead of fighting.

She couldn't help but chorus along with the old man who preached about "Mawage... that dweam wifin a dweam." But that was okay, because the Doctor's Spanish accent was really terrible as he announced "My neme es Inigo Montoya, you keeled my fater, prepare to die."

And then he insisted on reciting from memory the original ending to the story.

"I still think they lived happily ever after, Professor."

He smiled and took the empty popcorn bowl to the back of the theater.

"Could we watch another?"

"What do you want to watch?"

"Casablanca."

"Which one?"

"The one where she leaves him in the end. The real one. Okay?"

He started up the popcorn machine and so she might have misheard him. But she liked to think he said "As you wish."

He poured butter into the machine and the smell filled the darkened theater.

 

 

 

=1993=