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a timelord is never late

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How conspicuous is a blue police box appearing out of thin air in a small alleyway?

Not very, apparently, in the city of Magical Earth’s New York, year 1927. The buildings are tall here (especially the ones he landed between) and it’s the time of day when busy New Yorkers are hustling and bustling to get where they’re supposed to. They also tend to mind their own business any other time, so it’s safe, basically, to be parking a TARDIS on this fine, dreary November morning.

Though he isn’t quite one of these magical folk, they established a system together some time ago to allow blending in. That’s why he can slip into the crowd, then after reaching the Woolworth Building, slip into the architecture’s other dimension. While not the most impressive sight he has ever seen, this other world certainly has its own charm. It’s common to see all sorts of things running about and floating through the air without carrying devices because they're powered by an intangible force. Everyone is equipped with a stick that is both a tool and a weapon, and cannot live without.

He thinks fondly of his own screwdriver and fully understands.

All the faces within are as harried as the ones outside, and in their hurry, none give him a second look as he passes by. A good thing, really, since he isn’t supposed to be here.

His friend had once suggested he change his outfit to something less colourful lest he get caught trespassing and cause an uproar regarding some secrecy laws, but that would have been most unbecoming of his current personality.

Newt does what he wants. Like giving himself a name other than The Doctor, and visiting this friend who had helped him trespass in the first place.

Well, ‘trespass’ may not be the most accurate word. ‘Exploring’, more like, because this world is fascinating and it’s usually best to stick to his friend’s side while he’s here.

The friend, however, isn’t here. When he asks to see him, they say the director took the week off.

“Who is asking?” questions the young woman, cute with her short, dark hair despite the scepticism she’s shooting his way.

“Nobody,” Newt answers cleverly. “Thank you, good bye!”

That should have been the first sign.

With his initial plan thwarted Newt feels at a slight loss, but now he has the time to prepare a visiting gift rather than showing up empty-handed like a thoughtless guest. He doesn’t think long about what to bring; someone once said that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

Of course that depends on the man, but surely even this one cannot resist a warm, sweet pastry.

It's a bakery Newt hadn’t seen the last time but his nose tells him he can't go wrong. The portly gentleman inside greets him with a welcoming smile. Jacob, he calls himself, a man fortunate enough to have the opportunity to follow his dreams through a kind hand.

“So, what does your friend like?” Jacob asks.

“That’s a good question,” Newt says, not minding the perplexed look he’s given. “I’ll take two of each.”

Jacob’s eyes widen.

“You know, in case he really enjoys one and wants another.”

Jacob seems unsure as he laughs. “Right.”

In a few minutes, Newt's leaving the shop with two large paper bags, and wastes no time towards his next destination.

Unfortunately, his friend isn’t at home, home being a fairly luxurious flat in central New York where one can take in the sights out on a balcony. That may or may not have been another sign, but Newt’s main concern at the moment is that the pastries are getting cold.

“Third time’s a charm, I suppose,” Newt mutters to himself, and sets off once more.

This last place at which he arrives is an old family house passed down for generations just on the outskirts of the city and makes the previous large, top-floor flat look quaint. Newt recalls some fond memories of here and hadn’t expected he’d be returning anytime soon with a new residence elsewhere.

He wonders as he knocks if that little elf fellow still provides his services. Perhaps not, when the knocking goes unanswered a second and a third time. Bollocks, another miss, is it?

Newt is about to turn away when the door opens; it’s no elf, only Percival Graves himself, surprisingly. It's nothing, though, compared to how surprised Percival is to see him. The series of emotions that pass through his eyes afterwards are too quick to read, but Newt can at least catch that none of them are happy about his presence. That’s unusual, and... unfortunate.

“A bad time, is it,” Newt tries lightheartedly.

Percival has no answer, only steps away to allow him in.

Despite the daylight, the Graves mansion is dark and terribly quiet. Their footsteps resound in the hall, no other words shared between them until they reach the first sitting room. There’s a fire already going, and in the light of the flames Newt can see the table next to an armchair set up with a bottle and half-full glass. The sight wouldn't have concerned him as much if the whole atmosphere surrounding his friend hadn’t felt off.

They sit across the room from each other, the bags of baked goods waved out of his arms onto another table, and Newt finally gets a good look. Percival is unusually slumped in his seat and hardly gives a glance Newt’s way as he picks up the glass of alcohol. He seems much older than the last time they met which was several earth years back, and not merely in the physical sense. A deep weariness lines his face, an obvious tension around the eyes.

“Hello, Percy,” Newt offers first.

It’s then that Percival turns his head, and something in his gaze makes Newt swallow.

“Hello, Doctor.”

“For someone who has time off, you look awful.”

Percival snorts. “Astute observation. What are you doing here?”

It’s a needless question; Newt has only ever come to see his friend. Rather, it’s a way to express that for whatever reason, Percival isn’t appreciative of the visit.

“I come bearing gifts,” Newt replies and reaches for one of the bags, playing ignorant. “Have you eaten yet?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Hunger isn't necessary.”

Frustration briefly crosses Percival's face but then it goes back to a mask of indifference.

“This isn't a good time, like you said,” Percival sighs. “I don't mean to be a rude host but I’d like to be left alone.”

He means it, utterly serious, but Newt can’t help suspecting that at the same time, he doesn’t. How can he not, when the man is obviously struggling with something he won’t say? The last thing Newt wants to do is leave him in this state, but perhaps he should make a tactical retreat for now.

“Alright, I’ll put these away first and go,” Newt concedes. “Don’t forget to have some later.”

“Thank you,” he hears, and it’s such a lifeless thing.

“I’ll be back, Percy.”

Percival meets his eyes, but they don’t see him. “I’m sure you will.”

They aren’t the words of belief; in fact, they hardly have any expectations, no longer waiting for what may never come.

Newt bites on his lip to hold back saying anything more, picks up the bags and exits the room. He knows his way to the kitchen, to any other room in the house, but it’s so very empty and devoid of warmth that he doesn’t find it the same. Though the Graves mansion hasn’t ever been a model of intimate family living, there had been more life, once. Percival had been younger, bright-eyed and curious, always up to an adventure.

Feeling wistful, Newt walks around to reacquaint himself with the place. Most furniture and such are covered with sheets so he relies on his imagination to draw what each one is, but he doesn’t remember as much as he’d like to. Normally he wouldn’t know a friend’s residence so well to begin with, always busy taking them away from it, but Percival has always been the exception.

Before Newt leaves, he checks on his friend one last time and finds that Percival has fallen asleep where he was left. Hoping that his friend will feel better tomorrow, he quietly makes his exit.

On his way back to the TARDIS, Newt picks up a couple things including newspapers. The magical one requires a detour back into the Woolworth building but it turns out to be necessary move. One article in particular grabs his attention, talking about an event that occurred around this time last year. It's mainly to do with whether the magical government has improved its security measures, but he focuses on a single line describing how the Director of law enforcement was kidnapped and unwillingly compromised.

Percival's name on the paper doesn't quite register in his head, and it's with some disbelief that he checks the database for articles in the past year starting from winter of 1926. His eyes skim through pages upon pages—factual reports, opinionated pieces, official interviews and speculations. They speak of a dark wizard with evil machinations and all his victims, out of which only one who concerns him—impersonated, held as a tortured prisoner for seven weeks until found at the end of December.

Both of Newt's hearts sink to his stomach, heavy and horrified. How in the galaxies did this happen? He hadn’t been away that long, yet in that time little Percy became someone so hurt and worn. It’s a reminder once again how frail humans can be despite their resilience, how easy it is for him to miss something important in the life of someone significant.

Though he always tells himself not to think of things that have passed—because what use is it to add the burden of the past on the mind?—it isn't successful every time.

Newt spends the rest of the night in silent mourning for what has passed, and contemplating what should be his purpose now.

In the morning, Percival appears even more surprised than yesterday by his presence, and just as exhausted. He hasn't changed his sleep clothes at all from the day before which only adds to Newt's worry.

“I did say I’ll return,” Newt says with a shrug.

“You didn't exactly specify when, Doctor,” Percival returns with a raised brow, thankfully seeming more himself.

Newt grins. “True.”

They go straight to the kitchen this time, and Newt notes with a bit of delight that the pastries have been eaten some, crumbs spilled on a small plate and the table. There’s also the familiar smell of a caffeinated beverage, and he wrinkles his nose at it.

“Newt,” Percival calls softly, standing with his back to him at the counter; shoulders hunched, he looks awfully small. “I’m sorry but I’m very much not in the mood to entertain anyone at this time. Thank you for visiting, but—”

“Oh, no worries,” Newt gently interrupts. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

Percival glances over his shoulder, and Newt spreads his arms wide.

“I’ve come to take you away,” he clarifies. “Let’s go, Percy; it has been far too long.”

Something in Percival's face breaks—seeing it, something twists in Newt's chest—and he quickly turns away. It’s quiet for a bit, but the struggle Percival is visibly experiencing is far from silent.

“I’ll have to decline,” Percival says in a tight voice. “I’m in no state to be going anywhere.”

Newt hums and approaches slowly. “You’ve been working too hard and long; I don’t think the timing could be any better.”

There’s no response even when he stands next to the man, and seeing tightly clenched fists on the counter, Newt covers the closest one with his own hand.

“There is much to show you, still,” Newt continues. “The planets, their people... I even found an outfit that might be to your taste, picky as you are. Oh, by the way, a couple angels miss your stoic company.”

“Don’t you dare, that was awful,” Percival mutters.

“You’re the only one who outran them so brilliantly,” Newt remarks.

“Besides you?”

“I’m getting too old to keep playing tag with them.”

“Such a terrible friend you are,” Percival sighs, and it sounds a little shaky.

“Perhaps, but I’m yours, aren’t I,” Newt says with a smile.

That finally gets Percival to face him with narrowed eyes, and still there is uncertainty, hesitation, but also something desperate.

“Come with me, Percy,” Newt says again; though it may not fix what has been left broken here, there might be a way for his friend to find what he needs to recover and cast the shadows from his eyes. “I’ve been lonely.”

Not a complete lie, he thinks; Newt misses this one more often than not even when he’s occupied by his travels.

“I won’t be decent company,” Percival gives a last feeble attempt, but he's already swayed by Newt’s earnestness.

Newt shakes his head. “Nonsense.” Then he tugs at the fist until it opens, takes it to fit in his hand. “Let's get you cleaned up proper and ready to appreciate fantastic sights.”

“I can do that on my own,” Percival objects, but doesn’t pull away.

It’s a start, Newt thinks, and for now that’s good enough.