Ted frowned at the incomprehensible menu projected over the bar, then gave up and held up two fingers to the bartender. The Green Lanterns had assured everyone that they would be scanned before being served and no one would be given food or drink that could harm them. Their help in saving the galaxy was being rewarded with drinks on the house, and Ted was determined to enjoy his first off-planet, multi-species, post-world-saving celebration.
The bartender was reptilian, with four arms and far too many teeth, but the drinks being offered to Ted were reassuringly beer-like. A little more orange than he was used to, but they smelled right. “Got you a drink,” he said, turning and holding one out. He blinked in surprise at the man next to him. “You’re not Booster.”
“Afraid not,” the man said with an easy grin that showed off dimples, taking the drink from Ted. “Love the outfit.” He was human (or at least looked human), with brown hair and surprisingly normal clothes, considering that most of the people here, human or not, were superheroes and dressed accordingly. Lots of green, since the Lantern Corps were well represented, with plenty of Earth superheroes in their bright colors (and a few in their dark and ominous colors). Ted was still in his Blue Beetle costume, although he had discarded the cowl and goggles.
The man held out the hand not holding Booster’s drink. “Captain Jack Harkness.”
“Ted Kord.” He took the Captain’s hand, but instead of shaking it, the Captain just squeezed and held on.
“Since we’ve both been abandoned by our companions, how about you and I get to know each other?”
The Captain led them to a table and soon had Ted describing his role in the battle against an invading army from another galaxy. The Captain (“Call me Jack”) leaned in, laughing and smiling, and soon was telling his own story about a cultural misunderstanding that turned into a fight that turned into an orgy. Ted shook his head. “I helped save a galaxy, you insulted an emperor, and you somehow have the better story.”
“The emperor’s second-born, their bodyguard, and a would-be assassin,” Jack corrected. He put his hand over Ted’s. “And I wouldn’t say I have the better story. Yours is definitely more...heroic. I have a weakness for heroes.”
Ted flushed, and Jack leaned back in his chair. “I’m afraid I’m a bit lost though. The guy I’m traveling with—great guy, smart, funny, definitely someone you want on your side in a tight spot, but he is the worst navigator. And this is not Radnaklitch, 3028. Fashion is more like Piar Corkon in the mid 45th century, but your skin isn’t purple enough, and the drinks,” he finished his off, “have a definite hint of New Japan hops, which didn’t survive the urgal fungus in the 2840s.”
Ted smirked at him. “You make all that up on the spot, or was it rehearsed? It’s 2004. I don’t actually know what planet we’re on, but it’s not far from Oa.”
“2004 according to which calendar?”
Ted laughed. “You’re really committed to this, aren’t you?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Space travel, time travel, sure. That you’re so bad at it that you regularly get lost? Don’t you need a license or something to fly a time machine?”
“Pretty sure the Doctor stole it.”
“Ha! We should introduce him to Booster. He stole his time machine too.”
“That so?” Jack leaned forward. “You know, I used to be a time agent. I have a duty to report unauthorized time travelers. Unless you can convince me...”
“Unauthorized.” Ted raised an eyebrow. “Like your friend, the bad pilot with a stolen ship?”
“Some people are their own authority. But speaking of my friend,” Jack looked around. “No one’s running or screaming, nothing’s on fire. I say we take advantage of this lull.” He stood, tugging Ted to his feet. “Come on, let’s dance.” Jack led Ted to the dance floor and pulled him in close, hands on his hips, and Ted hesitantly mirrored the position, resolving not to worry about the “running or screaming or on fire” part of the conversation. Bar full of superheroes—someone else could handle it.
Ted moved awkwardly at first, but he quickly relaxed, moving with the music and the pressure of Jack’s hands. Jack slid one hand around Ted, to the small of his back, and then down, squeezing, and Ted yelped and jumped. Jack laughed, leaned in, and pressed a kiss to Ted’s mouth.
Ted had convinced himself that Jack was teasing with the flirting. The kiss took him by surprise, and he couldn’t figure out how he was supposed to react. The kiss was brief, but nice, and Ted was trying to think of the best way to say “Thanks, but I’m not interested,” when Jack leaned in again to be heard over the music and the crowd. “What do you say we find some place more private?”
“Not interested” would be a lie, Ted realized, and hey, outer space with a guy who did not spend much time on Earth or even in this century—this was as no strings, no one will ever know, as he could get. Provided he ignored the fact that every hero he came into regular contact with was in this room. After a moment’s thought, Ted decided he was willing to ignore that, nodded, and was rewarded with another kiss.
“Mr. Beetle! Sir, sir!”
Ted sighed and turned to look at Skeets, hovering to the side. “The room is full of superheroes, and you need me?”
“I have detected a temporal anomaly and...oh. You have found it.”
“Twenty-fifth century, right?” Jack asked, assessing the small robot. “This place doesn’t seem fancy enough to have a such an advanced security system.”
“I have been upgraded to superhero sidekick!”
Ted decided to interrupt before Skeets could derail the evening even further. “I’ll investigate the temporal anomaly.”
“Is that what we’re calling it now?” Jack asked with a leer.
Ted ignored his comment. “Everything is under control, Skeets.”
With perfect timing, an unfamiliar voice with a British accent called out. “Jack! We’ve got a problem!”
Jack groaned, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead to Ted’s. “Not now, Doctor!”
“Yes now! Before you damage the fabric of reality.”
Jack and Ted turned to look at the people intruding on their moment. There was a tall man with short dark hair and a leather jacket, and a short blonde woman who was grinning at them in a way that made Ted feel like he was on display. Behind them was Booster, staring with his mouth hanging open.
“I’m just trying to have a little fun!”Jack protested.
“Hi, I’m Rose. This is the Doctor,” the blonde woman said.
“Ted,” Ted introduced himself. “Do you need any help? I’m not usually the one they call for fabric of reality stuff, but I’m willing to give it a try.”
“I have it under control,” the Doctor responded dismissively. He grabbed Jack’s hand. “Let’s go!”
“Ted? What are you doing?”
It was too much to hope that Booster would focus on reality being torn asunder instead of Ted almost getting laid. “Dancing,” he answered, and Jack, Rose, and the Doctor said it with him. Ted meant it to come out casual, dismissive, but Jack said it like it was a euphemism, Rose with a teasing lilt, and the Doctor with exasperation.
“Weren’t you getting drinks for us?” Booster sounded hurt.
“He took yours!” Ted pointed at Jack, who just shrugged and grinned.
“Sir,” Skeets interrupted, pushing between Ted and Jack to get closer to Booster (Ted suspected Skeets was trying to force him and Jack apart, although they only had to lean back a little to let the little robot through), “these people all have very strange energy readings.”
Booster nodded and stepped forward, pulling Ted away from Jack. “It sounds like the Doctor knows what needs to be done. I think we should let them take care of whatever problem they created.”
“Excellent,” the Doctor said, tugging at Jack while he and Rose protested being blamed for whatever was wrong. “Nice to meet someone who doesn’t try to complicate things. You two go save the world your way, we’ll save it ours. We need to get to the TARDIS.”
“What?” Ted demanded.
“TARDIS. That’s my ship. Best ship in the universe. Two universes.”
Ted shook his head. “No. You aren’t...you’re the Doctor?”
“You’ve heard of me then?”
“Well yeah, I watched the show and read the comics and books, but that’s not real. Is this a joke?” It had to be a joke, but who, other than him, would try to pull it off?
“Yup,” the Doctor said, chipper bordering on maniac. “You’ve figured it out, so run along, will you?”
“TV show?” Rose looked at the Doctor. “You have a TV show?”
“Here I do. Apparently.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Well you wouldn’t have, would you? Come on, time’s a-wasting.”
“That’s what you meant! You’re from a different universe, and you have to get back before your presence here disrupts the fabric of reality!”
The Doctor looked at Ted assessingly. “Clever one, aren’t you. Yes, that’s it. So you’ll understand that I have to steal your dancing partner away and—“
“Can I come?” When everyone turned to look at him, Ted hurried to clarify. “Not back to your universe, just to see. Just to see the TARDIS.” If this was a joke, Ted wanted to see how far it went. And if it wasn’t, then Ted would never forgive himself for missing this opportunity.
“Oh, I like him!” The Doctor let go of Jack and held out his hand to Ted. “Come on then, you can even take a peek inside, might be helpful to have a local, help calibrate things.”
“I see how it is,” Jack complained to Rose as Ted tentatively took the Doctor’s hand. “Asking him to dance never gets me anywhere, but if I’d asked to see his ship, I could have helped him calibrate his instruments. Fickle!”
“You love me,” the Doctor called back, weaving through the crowd, tugging Ted behind him. Jack and Rose followed, arms around each other, and after a nervous look around, Booster followed them, Skeets at his shoulder, occasionally beeping as he ran more diagnostics.
It was not a long walk; the TARDIS was parked in an alley two buildings down from the bar. Ted stopped and stared. “Oh my god.”
“You haven’t even seen the inside yet,” the Doctor said.
“If this is a prank, I think I’ll cry.”
“Why are you impressed?” Booster complained. “It’s just a big blue box.”
“Heathen.” Being from the future was no excuse for not knowing the classics.
“Could someone please tell me what’s going on?” Booster asked with exasperation.
“Time travelers, us,” the Doctor explained cheerfully. “Had a bit of a mishap. See most of the universe is made of nothing. All that nothing, it’s all the same. Stars, planets, they’re pretty much the same from universe to universe. Just rocks and gas and liquids, swirling and orbiting. But life, people, that’s where things get interesting. Problem is, sometimes you make a wrong turn, get caught between a supernova and a black hole, instruments go haywire, reality gets twisty, and your poor TARDIS can’t tell the difference between the whole lot of nothing behind you and in front of you and all around you. Before you know it, Bam!, you’re in the wrong universe, and you need to get back home before the universe you’re in realizes you aren’t playing by its rules and puts you in a time out.”
“Tell me more about this ‘time out’,” Jack demanded as the Doctor opened the door to the TARDIS and walked through. The others followed, Jack and Rose first, then Ted, followed by Booster and Skeets. Ted and Booster gasped, stopping just inside the door, and Skeets let out a startled beep.
“Wowzer,” Booster said.
“Even better than the show,” Ted breathed, looking around with wide eyes at the curving bronze-colored walls, branch-like struts, and console surrounding the central pillar. No way was this a prank.
The Doctor grinned at their reactions and continued his explanation, watching as Ted stared with wonder. “Different universe, different rules. Physics, space-time, they work a little different here. Different enough that if we stay too long, we might not be able to leave because according to the rules, the TARDIS can’t work.”
“We have time travel,” Ted said, walking slowly around the room, reverently stroking the walls and supports. “Space travel. We’re from Earth, Booster’s from the future. Sometimes people end up in alternate dimensions. If your rules don’t work here, it shouldn’t take you long to learn what does work and use that to leave.”
“It’s nice, having someone believe in me,” the Doctor said, glancing at Rose.
Rose crossed her arms. “We’re a million lightyears, a thousand years, and a parallel universe away from where we’re supposed to be. Hard not to doubt your piloting skills, yeah?”
“Where we intended to be,” Jack corrected, watching Ted. “Maybe this is where we’re meant to be.”
“Oi, listen to him,” Rose said. “One dance with a pretty boy, and suddenly he’s Mr. Philosophy. You think we were mean to crash a superhero-themed costume party?”
“It’s not a costume party,” Booster objected. “We’re really superheroes.”
“Right.” Rose rolled her eyes. “And I suppose that was really Superman I saw in there?”
Booster and Ted nodded.
“You’re putting me on.”
“Nope,” the Doctor answered for them, pushing a button on the console and projecting news footage of Superman fighting a giant robot into the space in front of Rose. “We’ve stumbled into a world where I’m a story, and your stories are real.” The Doctor sauntered over to grin at Rose, who was gaping at the recorded fight.
“Do we have to leave right now?” Rose asked. “Can’t I have a dance with Superman first?” Jack snorted, and Rose blushed. “Just a dance!”
Booster had been talking quietly with Skeets, and now Skeets zoomed over to the console, extending a probe into a nearby port.
“Hey, none of that!” the Doctor rushed forward, but Booster snagged the back of his jacket.
“Skeets is just saying hello.”
“This is fascinating, sir!” Skeets said. “The most advanced technology I’ve ever seen.”
“Well of course.” The Doctor twisted free of Booster’s grip and strode over to toggle some switches on the console. “What are you up to, old girl?”
“She says she can adapt to the physics here easily,” Skeets answered for her.
“Then there’s no need to hurry, is there?” Jack wrapped an arm around Ted’s waist. “Want to see the rest of the TARDIS?”
“Now wait just a minute!” The Doctor snapped, glaring at Jack. “This isn’t a cheap hotel. Locals are here so we can get readings from someone from this universe, help pinpoint the differences. That’s all.”
“And to stroke your ego,” Rose muttered.
“I never use cheap hotels,” Jack protested.
“Ted’s not going anywhere with you,” Booster insisted.
“Um.” Ted glanced at Booster, who looked back expectantly, clearly waiting for Ted to agree with him. Ted blushed.
“Oh I see, it’s like that.” Jack sized up Booster, a long lingering look up and down. “I can work with that.”
“What? It’s not like that! We’re not...Ted, tell him,” Booster stammered.
Before Ted could respond, the TARDIS hummed and whirled, the central column lighting up green while Skeets made happy chirping noises. The Doctor looked at the golden robot through narrowed eyes. “What are you downloading?”
“The TARDIS and I are comparing data to pinpoint the differences between our universes and chart a course back to your own. We both have comprehensive knowledge of our separate universes’ physical laws, and plenty of lifeform readings stored in our memories. There is no need for you to do anything.”
The Doctor slumped, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Oh. Right then. That’s good.”
“Guess I’m not the only one who was looking forward to taking readings,” Jack muttered, softly enough to pretend the comment was not meant to be overheard, but loudly enough to be overheard. Rose giggled.
“Do you have to make everything sound dirty?” The Doctor demanded.
“Oh my god, I have a type.” Ted stepped away from Jack, who watched Ted’s spandex-covered behind appreciatively as the hero walked over to the console, examining the controls and refusing to think about his terrifying moment of self-knowledge. Booster looked stunned.
Skeets disconnected from the TARDIS’s console and flew over to Booster, wobbling and weaving while a screen switched to a confusing display of symbols unfamiliar to all the humans in the room. The Doctor quickly skimmed through it. “Huh. That will work.”
“The TARDIS is brilliant,” Skeets said, voice awed. “Far superior to your time sphere.”
“Thanks, Skeets,” Booster said, “I appreciate that.”
“You’re welcome!” Skeets bobbed in the air. “I think I need to sit down.”
Booster pulled Skeets down, tucking him into the crook of one arm and poking Skeets’ faceplate with a worried frown. “You okay, buddy?”
“Information overloaded,” the Doctor explained. “Give him a couple hours to recover and he’ll be fine.” He pointed at Skeets. “And don’t you do anything stupid with whatever the TARDIS shared with you. From what I’ve seen, people in this universe are already playing fast and loose with the rules.”
“And he would know,” Rose said, and grinned unrepentantly as the Doctor’s “Hey!”
“Right, well,” the Doctor said, “I think we’re ready. It was very nice meeting you, but we need to get going.”
“It was a pleasure,” Jack said, striding over to Ted, cupping his face, and giving him a lingering kiss. “Sorry we didn’t get to finish our dance.” He looked over at Booster, but did not let go of Ted. “Booster, sorry we didn’t get to dance at all. Maybe I’ll get lucky, find you two in our universe.” He winked.
“Um.” Ted stepped back, looking between Jack, who was failing to look innocent, and Booster, who was turning an amazing shade of red. “It was nice meeting you all?”
“Yes, wonderful, but we really need to be going, so off you two go.” The Doctor ushered them to the door. Ted stopped as they opened the door and shook the Doctor’s hand.
“Thank you, so much. You have no idea how much this means to me. And if I could convince anyone that this really happened, it would make so many people so jealous.”
“Booster could back you up,” Rose pointed out.
Ted looked over at Booster and sighed. “No, Booster agreeing with me actually damages my credibility.”
“Hey!” Booster glared at the dimension hoppers who were all snickering. “Nice to meet you, safe journey, bye now,” he said, walking out the door and pulling Ted with him, who walked backwards as he waved good-bye.
Once they were back outside, the TARDIS door swung shut. There was a strange grinding, vwoo vwoo sound that made Booster’s brow wrinkle in puzzlement and Skeets mutter something about brakes, but Ted sighed happily as he listened to it and watched the TARDIS fade away.
“That was amazing.”
Booster shrugged, refusing to admit that any part of that had been impressive. “I don’t see what the big deal is. That Jack guy wasn’t even all that attractive.”
“Keep telling yourself that.”
“I’m better looking,” Booster insisted as they headed back to the bar.
“Debatable,” Ted answered.
“Based on my analysis of facial symmetry and ratios, and beauty trends of the early 21st century, Captain Harkness is more...”
“Shut up Skeets.”
“The TARDIS was beautiful,” Skeets said, sounding as wistful as his electronic voice allowed.
“Beautiful? It was a box.”
“I am trying to find words you would understand for a concept I cannot explain to a non-computer.”
“I understand,” Ted said.
“So,” Booster said, determined to change the subject. “You have a type? Time travelers?”
Ted glared at Booster, who looked back innocently. “We can talk about it after a few beers,” Ted conceded.
Booster nodded. Beers would definitely help this conversation, he decided. Taking a chance, Booster slung an arm around Ted’s shoulders, pressing in close as they entered the bar. Ted found he didn’t mind.