He was old the first time she met him, though he didn't look it, and he called her by a name that wasn't hers.
"Guinan," he exclaimed, "I knew I'd find you here! Space bars are brilliant. Although, haven't spotted tea on the menu yet, and really, any establishment that doesn't offer tea is lacking something. What do you say, should we introduce it?"
Hailing from a race of listeners meant she had been exposed to all sorts of ramblings. Right now, though, she wasn't in a listening mood. She had left El-Auria because she wanted to experience her own adventures, without having to fear a visit and well-meaning lecture from her father afterwards, and besides, the first of her marriages had just ended. That was enough to put even an El-Aurian in a less than patient mood. Still, the being in front of her was intriguing, if only because what she sensed of him didn't fit together. He was at least as old as her father, who had celebrated his six hundredth birthday not that long ago. Her species wasn't the only long-lived one that aged slowly, so the fact that he looked youthful in his pin-striped suit, with his hair wild and disorderly, wasn't unusual, but his body did not match the age of his energy signature. This was disconcerting. Before leaving El-Auria, she had had a most unpleasant encounter with a member of a species her people called "the Questioners", who could pick their physical appearance at will. Not that she believed this was the same individual – their signatures were entirely different – but that one hadn't been able to shut up, either, and it was not a good memory.
"My name," she said in her most unimpressed manner, "is not Guinan."
"Right," he said, his smile fading. "Figures. That… actually, that means I've found you at the right time. Before – well, before. Listen, you were always there for me when I needed someone to talk to. And you only asked for a favour. I said no then, but things are different now. I'm different. So. You've always wanted to travel, haven't you? That's why you stuck to that starship so long. Will, in your future. So, why not take a trip through time as well?"
El-Aurians had a good sense of timelines, but they also had it drummed into them from childhood that they must never, ever interfere with them. That was for beings who fancied themselves gods, or the next best thing to it, like the Questioners. Not interfering with timelines meant avoiding time travel as well, on the "best avoid temptation" principle.
But then again, that same principle had been expanded to make everyone at home incredibly phlegmatic and avoid travelling altogether. And she did long for something new.
"Where would we go?" she asked cautiously.
"Anything not Metabilis III would be fine by me," he said with a quick grin, then sobered once more. "No. I'm going to do this right this time. Guinan, we'd go and destroy your people's greatest enemy before they can destroy you."
All thoughts of adventure were blown away as she stared at him, horrified. He really was as bad as the Questioner. "You want me to commit genocide?" she exclaimed, shocked out of her usual calm demeanor. "Are you insane?"
"Sometimes," he replied, but he did not smile, grin or gloat. Instead, he kept looking at her, very serious, his brown eyes full of sadness. "And you don't have to. We'd go back to the start. When they began. They'd never exist. That's what they told me to do, once, my people, about beings that weren't much different, and I didn't. But I've grown old now, and I've seen the results. You wouldn't have to. It's your decision."
It might be an elaborate prank, or test, or simply a method to scare her into returning to El-Auria; who knew whom her father could find to track her down? But she had to take it seriously, just in case, just in case. She couldn't imagine her people destroyed, and she didn't believe in conflict that couldn't be settled by negotiations instead of brute power. Any kind of conflict. Maybe it would end in an agreement to stay the hell away from each other, which was the resolution she and her former husband had found, and maybe it would end in reconciliation, but annihilation was never the answer. That was one of her firmest beliefs.
"Nobody," she said slowly, "should have that power. "
For some reason, that made him go so white even the freckles on his nose vanished.
"You're not going to kill yourself, are you?" he said hurriedly. "Please don't. Forget what I said. Or not, but please don't kill yourself. There are a lot of people in your future who need your advice. You could say the universe depends on it a couple of times. Also, you're the sole person who still wears brilliant hats that always reminded me of home even when I was really sick of the place and running away from it, and if you're not around to wear them, the hat as a fashion form will disappear in the 24th century, and we can't have that, can we?"
"I'm not going to kill myself," she said. Even a non El-Aurian would have known better than to let him go on that note. Listening to the unsaid as well as the said was something she couldn't just switch off, much as she sometimes wanted to, and it was obvious that someone had committed suicide recently, and that she should not let this… person… in front of her out of her sight, where he would wander off and proposition strangers with ideas about changing the future and/or committing genocide. If ever someone needed a listening -to, and possibly a tranquilizer in his drink followed by locking-up, he did.
"You haven't even told me your name," she continued. "Or asked about mine. Shouldn't that come before any invitations, fashion applause or advice to avoid self-harm?"
The corners of his mouth quirked. "Only if you're linear," he said. "I'm the Doctor. Which you always knew when we met; that's why I haven't told you this time."
He still hadn't asked for her name. Well, she needed a new one anyway, given that she had no intention of returning home in the near future, and "Guinan" wasn't so bad.
"You want to tell me more about that tea I'm supposed to introduce people to?" she asked, since she had never heard of the beverage before, and it was a better lead-in to a confessional than "So, who committed suicide, and how often have you changed timelines via genocide anyway?"
He looked vaguely scandalized. "Of course there was bound to be a time where you never heard of me, but what kind of universe allows you to live without knowing tea!"
Clearly, it was going to be a long conversation.
She was at the very least middle-aged the first time he met her, and he was quite young, but at least he didn't look it. It had been a considered decision, aging in his first body instead of inducing regeneration at the first sign of physical weakness, no matter what certain other people thought, certain other people who were gallivanting through the universe now, having already wasted three lives and calling themselves "the Master", of all the pretentious names to choose.
He thought he was looking quite distinguished with white hair and wrinkles, thank you very much, and besides, for some reason most species tolerated impatience and crankiness much better if it came from someone they perceived as old as opposed to someone who in the eyes of his people was barely past adolescence. It hadn't stopped Barbara from chastising him shortly after they met, true, but, he acknowledged ruefully, on that occasion he had deserved it. Still, both Barbara and Ian were considerably more accepting of his behavior than they would have been if he had looked only ten years older than Susan. He didn't plan on informing them about the average Time Lord life span or regeneration any time soon.
Some temporal disturbance must have attracted the TARDIS and caused her to materialize on a Starship named Enterprise-B, but as the Doctor and his companions soon discovered, it was packed with distraught refugees, so nobody paid any attention to four additional passengers. When the ship's crew wasn't taking care of the refugees, they were talking about the death of someone named Kirk who apparently had died saving said refugees, but nobody could say anything definitive about the nature of the catastrophe. The Doctor wondered whether he should risk using some scanners from the TARDIS when one of the refugees, a dark-skinned woman in a formidable hat, spotted him and uttered "Doctor?" in disbelief. Cautiously, he stepped closer. He did not remember her, but sometimes an aging body did take its toll on one's memory. He still thought he was right to keep it.
"My dear lady, I don't think we have met…" He began, when the woman took his arm.
"It is you", she said, and made an odd noise, something between laughter and crying. "You have to help me. I was wrong. Oh, I was wrong. I should have taken your offer."
By now, she definitely was crying. "They're dead", she said, "all of them, dead. All my children, my husband, my siblings, my father, everyone. What you see on this ship are all the El-Aurians now alive. And I could have prevented it. You should have insisted."
He still had no idea what she was talking about, but he was beginning to have an ugly suspicion. Unfortunately, Barbara and Ian, who were better at dealing with people in distress, were busy exploring the ship, and Susan was looking for traces of whatever anomaly had brought the TARDIS here by persuading one of the officers to let her onto the bridge, so he harrumphed, touched his lapel with the hand she wasn't clutching and said as kindly as possible:
"Unfortunately, young woman, I have no idea what you are referring to."
She let him go and took a step back. Her eyes narrowed. "Oh," she said. "You're younger."
Now this was interesting. There weren't many races that were sensitive enough to time that they could perceive a Time Lord's relative age. Also, she was implying that she had met him at a later point in his life, but if his suspicions were correct, that couldn't be true.
"I am indeed," he replied, "but let's keep this between ourselves, hm? May I ask for your name?"
"Guinan," she said. "You already have your time-machine, though, do you? The TARDIS?"
When he nodded, she said: "Then please, take me back in time to prevent this. I don't care about the timelines, not anymore. This is wrong."
"You cannot rewrite time," he said, shocked. "Not one word! I'm sorry, but this is how it is."
She pressed her lips together. Then she sighed. "You won't always think that."
"I most certainly will," he said firmly. "I may be an exile, but I am still a Time Lord. " He hesitated, but since neither Barbara, Ian nor Susan were nearby, he felt at liberty to continue. "My dear, you may be under the impression of having met me before, but I strongly suspect you were the victim of a tasteless jest by an old… acquaintance of mine. He must have impersonated me to raise your hopes and lure me into some kind of elaborate trap that way. It would be just like him."
Guinan shocked him for a second time by waving an impatient hand. "Not everything is about your relationship with the Master, you know. "
The Doctor stared at her. "He told you about -?"
"You did," she said. "You talk a lot when you're being tranquilized and don't want the drug to kick in. Which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't been so damn young and arrogant and sure I knew right from wrong. I just hope you'll get over it and I'll meet that later you again because…"
Her voice broke. "They're all dead," she whispered. "And then they weren't, and I was surrounded by joy, only to end up here. Doctor, if you can't take me back to the past, can you at least take me back to the Nexus?"
Something came together in his mind. "The temporal anomaly," he said tentatively. She nodded. "The Borg were bad enough," she said. "But everyone who is left of my people went through that loss twice when they dragged us out of the Nexus and we had to remember all over again. And now it feels as if only a shadow of me remains here."
This Nexus sounded like the kind of mind-warping pocket in the universe that usually served as a trap and storage room for entities that fed on lifeforms, definitely worth investigating and shutting down. But the mourning woman in front of him would not be helped by stating such intentions. Where were Barbara and Ian? He wasn't suited for providing comfort for people other than granddaughters, and this woman seemed to be his senior by centuries. At last, he said:
"The TARDIS currently is not in a state where I can steer her. I'll have you know that this is only a temporary state of affairs, and I shall inevitably – " master was not a term he wanted to use right now – "overcome this problem, but it means that right now, I never know where she'll land next, and it means I can't take you to this Nexus, either. If, however, you would care to travel regardless of the destination…"
For a moment, she looked tempted. Then she shook her head. The sadness in her eyes was still there, but her voice sounded more self-possessed and less brittle when she said: "Thank you, but no. Right now, I really want to know where I'm going. Maybe next time."
He was about to ask her again whether she really was sure she had encountered his future self and not the Master when Ian returned, gesturing excitedly, and told him that Barbara had been arguing with someone named Chekov about Russian history and that this had led to their discovery as stowaways, and now someone had to reassure the Captain of their good intentions and the release of the TARDIS which had been confiscated, and would the Doctor come with him right now?
When the Doctor turned around again, Guinan had disappeared.
She liked her new job on the Enterprise, she liked the people there, and she liked the way it proved to her that the joy of travelling and listening as all El-Aurians were taught to were not mutually exclusive. Every now and then the past caught up with her, as it did when her least favourite Questioner showed up and flung the Enterprise into the part of space that harboured the nightmare which had taken her people, but such events also proved she was not raw from her losses any more, and able to control what she felt again instead of letting it control her.
That first encounter with the Borg was important enough to make Picard decide he needed to report it to Starfleet Command in person, so the Enterprise made a brief visit to Earth. The human part of the crew visited their family in shifts, and so Ten Forward was less crowded than usual when an unfamiliar shape with a familiar energy signature appeared. This time, he wore green velvet and an opera cloak; the other guests in Ten Forward probably assumed he was someone's visiting relation. Everyone, that was, except for Worf, whose eyes narrowed as he stepped closer and demanded identification.
"I'm the Doctor," her visitor said breezily. "Come to visit the lady over there, old chap."
"It's alright, Worf," Guinan said, and the Enterprise's security chief stepped aside.
"Well," the Doctor said, a little hesitant, "how are you? I'm not surprised you remained on this ship, you know. It's a beautiful one. Susan did a drawing of it after we left."
"That was a different Enterprise," Guinan replied with a slight smile. "And I didn't stay then. It's been over sixty years, Doctor."
"You still can't steer your time machine, can you?" she asked, and he looked a little insulted.
"Of course I can! A few decades more or less, that is nothing. I did find you again, didn't I?"
"Mmmm," she said. "How many decades has it been for you?"
He harrumphed, flipped his cloak back and sat down on the barstool next to her. "Two centuries," he said. "More or less. Possibly."
Guinan had been married twenty three times by now, and there wasn't an excuse for lateness with which she wasn't familiar. But then, neither the Doctor nor herself had exactly made an appointment, had they? In truth, she was glad he hadn't shown up earlier. She might have done something she would have regretted. Whether that would have been a worse regret than the one she carried with her, she didn't care to find out.
"And what made you think of me, after two hundred years?" she asked.
"It just came to me," he said airily, and then faltered. "Well. Actually, there was an engagement."
"You got engaged?"
"No, my young companion did, Miss Grant. I – I spent some considerable time on Earth, before that. There were circumstances. Which now have changed. There is no reason why I should return to the planet at all, at least not for a good while. I couldn't wait to get away from it during all the time I had to stay there, you see. But now I can, and yet I keep returning. Which made me think of you, my dear."
"Interesting," she said, which was a tried and true synonym for "I have no idea what you're talking about" that made her sound understanding and encouraged people to explain themselves further.
"I remember what you said about feeling as if you left part of yourself in the Nexus, and only a shadow of you remained here," he said softly, and her heart skipped a beat. She had not thought of the Nexus in years. She tried not to.
"There is an irritating, yet highly honourable gentleman who fancies himself my employer," the Doctor said, "who told me about something the humans call "Stockholm Syndrome". It refers to being a prisoner and growing attached to one's chains, as I understand it. I thought that might have happened to you in the Nexus, and to me on the blasted planet below, when I lived there for years and could not leave. So now when I do leave, I feel as if a part of me stayed and wants to go back. Just like you did with the Nexus. Clearly, this is something both of us have to overcome."
She told the replicator to make some tea, and took the trouble to specify it should not be Earl Grey. Picard's taste not withstanding, there were other brews available.
"Or," she said, handing the Doctor a cup, "you might simply have made a new home. I know I have. Not in the Nexus, but here. Affection for one's friends and surroundings isn't Stockholm Syndrome, Doctor. "
"I already have a home planet. Which I don't plan to visit any time soon, incidentally, given what happened the last time I did. And the only home I have made and need is the TARDIS."
"If you say so," Guinan said diplomatically.
He took a sip from the tea cup and grimaced. "That is not real tea," he declared disapprovingly.
"Maybe your ship replicates better?" she suggested, and he shook his head.
"No, it's just that I had unreplicated tea for a while now. I suppose I got used to it. All types of tea from Earth, freshly brewed. Nothing like it."
"Stockholm Syndrome, hm?"
"There might be some things from Earth which is it rational to like and to return to," he conceded.
Given that the last time the Doctor wanted some peace and quiet for himself and his companions between adventures and visited the Eye of Orion, this had resulted in an enforced visit to the Death Zone in Gallifrey, yet another old friend and hero revealing himself to be a megalomaniac, various encounters with former selves he could have done without and the guilty realization he had completely forgotten to return for Sarah Jane back in the day and really should do something about that, like sending her a model of K-9 for consolation, he decided that another attempt at some downtime should have some professional help. Given that the rate of arguments between Turlough and Tegan as well as between Tegan and himself had increased to an average of 1 per 4,5 minutes, he really needed it.
Which was how he thought of the ship of beige decor, fitting with his own clothes, where Guinan served drinks, including tea, even if it was replicated. The TARDIS complied, except for the part where instead of materializing in Ten-Forward, she materialized on the Holodeck where a program was running that apparently involved a Western where all the characters looked like an android and fought each other. Turlough wanted to leave, Tegan wanted to stay, and the Doctor wanted to raid the saloon to cure his increasing headache but generously decided to help instead, except that the use of his sonic screw driver to fix the holodeck multiplied the appearances of the android and gave them some added firepower. At any rate, the TARDIS couldn't leave because the Holodeck fail-safes were off. This appeared to be an ongoing problem, but for some reason the Klingon security chief, who was also present, decided to focus on the Doctor's presence instead once the program finally had run its course, which was how the Doctor got to know the local brig as well before he, Tegan and Turlough finally made it to Ten-Forward and Guinan. Who took one look at them and brought out Romulan ale, except for the Doctor, who got served ginger beer.
"They are wonderful people, really wonderful," the Doctor said while Turlough and Tegan competed in chatting up someone named Ensign Ro with the Romulan Ale, "but sometimes I wonder whether I shouldn't be travelling on my own for a while."
"Mmmm," said Guinan. "Same here. But then I remembered this nasty habit of talking to myself and the things I talked myself into."
"There was a boy travelling with us as well, just before Turlough arrived," the Doctor said quietly. "He died. He wouldn't have if he hadn't been with me."
Guinan poured him some more ginger beer. "You can't know that," she said. "Unless his future was fixed, and in that case, I doubt you'd have taken him on board to begin with. Or would you?"
"No," the Doctor declared emphatically. "I never mess with fixed points in time!"
"Hm," said Guinan, and he recalled their first meeting, and what she had asked him for.
"I'm still sorry about your people," he said, "But nothing has changed."
"So you wouldn't go back to save your friend, either?"
He shook his head. "Can't. Especially since that would mean crossing my own timeline."
"Well, then," Guinan said. "Moving forward is the thing to do for both of us, it seems."
"And onwards," the Doctor agreed, noticed Ensign Ro had just slapped Turlough, sighed and rose to intercede. Which was when the ginger beer with its fiendish effect on Time Lords kicked in, and the floor rose to meet him instead.
"Well, you did say you wanted some time out," Guinan commented when he woke up later in the ship's sick bay.
The Enterprise-E wouldn't be finished for a while, and Guinan wasn't sure whether or not she would ask for an assignment. The return of the Nexus had shaken her, and besides, maybe it was time for a change. She'd miss Picard and most of the crew, but she could always rejoin them at a later point. Still pondering this, she was sitting in a San Francisco park, enjoying the sun, when a man with long, dark curly hair and an old-fashioned suit spotted her and promptly went for a hug.
"Guinan! I remember you!" he exclaimed joyfully.
"I remember you, too," she said bemusedly after squinting. "It is you, isn't it, Doctor?"
"Yes," he said fervently, "though I didn't know that for a while, either. This city just isn't lucky for me, you know? I regenerated here and lost my memories for a while. And then I got them back and travelled, but wouldn't you know it, this amnesia thing kept happening. So I thought I'd better face San Francisco again, maybe that would stop the trend once and for all, but I could hardly recognize anything here!"
Guinan sighed. "When exactly were you here the last time?"
"Oh, you know," he said, waving his hand, "just a few years go. The era where they had just invented cell phones and were shooting at people coming out of phone boxes. Err, the 1990s, I think?"
"You're not amnesiac, you're still horrible at driving", she said. "This is the 24th century. Which it also was the last time we met, so maybe your memory does have holes."
"Slander," he said, and plopped down beside her. "If this is still the 24th century, why aren't you on that ship with the multiplying android roleplaying games? See, I do remember."
"It crashed," she said shortly.
For a while, neither of them said anything.
"Listen," the Doctor said, "I am currently between companions. Would you care…"
"I would," Guinan replied, and discovered she had made her decision, "except that there is the problem of a return. Knowing you, you would promise to bring me back and end up dumping me in the 20th century instead. And I don't just want to know where I'm going, I also want to know where I can go back to."
"That's the definition of home, isn't it?" he said unexpectedly. It occurred to her that though she hadn't seen him in an old form for a while, he had aged when she hadn't been looking. Now he sounded downright wistful when he added: "Home is where when you show up, they've got to take you in." He rose. "Do you know, I haven't visited Gallifrey for a while? Maybe it's time to change that."
"Come on," Amy said. "One space ship. One really nifty space ship. Which isn't a tortured whale. Or crashes. "
"You are in a space ship, Pond," he said, and she laughed and said she wanted a real one. The Doctor was a bit insulted on the TARDIS' behalf, but a promise was a promise, and besides, there was an old acquaintance he still needed to look up. So he chose his coordinates very, very carefully. When the TARDIS materialized, he missed the beige décor immediately, but the view through the big window was still the same.
"That's… the Microsoft screen saver on the wall," Amy said when they stepped out of the TARDIS. "In a bar. You brought me to a bar with a screensaver projection?"
He clicked his tongue. "This is space," he said. "The final frontier. We're not in any old bar, Amy, we're on the starship Enterprise-with-a-letter-attached. At least I hope it has a letter attached, because that's the one I was aiming for, and I don't know the bartender in the one without a letter. "
"Doctor? " asked a voice behind him. He turned around, and there she was, in one of her magnificent hats, looking less than thrilled to see him, which he thought was rather unfair. Granted, he hadn't been at his best when he had last seen her, from his perspective – oh, well, he had been between a mental breakdown and his death – but still.
"Guinan!" he said, and smiled at her.
"I don't know whether you've noticed," Guinan said, "but people are trying to have a wedding here."
Which was when all the flowers and the tables and the people in dress uniform who, now that she mentioned it, surrounded the TARDIS and looked at them in a somewhat alarmed and irritated fashion began to make sense. He vaguely recognized the man next to Guinan, who hadn't changed much since the last time they met; the Captain of the vessel. He reminded the Doctor a bit of an uncle of his, a fellow without hair but with a taste for tea, and for the Doctor's mother, but that was another story and not one he cared to think about.
"Ah. Well. Congratulations, Captain Picard!" the Doctor said, remembering his manners. "Guinan is a wonderful woman."
"That she is," the Captain said with a deadpan expression, "but we're not the ones getting married."
Amy, the traitor, snorted in the background and pointed to the dark-haired woman and the bearded man everyone was circling around.
"I was just about to berate Counsellor Troi for taking my first officer and herself away," the Captain said mildly.
"Well, then, sorry for interrupting," said the Doctor. He began to have flashbacks to the last wedding he attended, which was unfortunately his own and involved a misunderstanding or two with Elizabeth Tudor. "We'll be off then."
"No way," said Amy. "If this is a space wedding, I want to attend."
At some point during Picard's speech, Guinan drew him aside.
"Is this still before, or after?" she asked, sounding very serious indeed. He considered pretending he didn't know what she meant, but decided against it.
"You were a brilliant young woman," he said. "Who told me just what I needed to hear."
"Nah, " she said, and shook her head. "I was just listening. And so were you."