Graduation Day minus nine months
Drax and Ushas cornered Theta Sigma in the common area after they saw Koschei being summoned by a proctor to undergo another personal dressing-down from Flavia. They both knew Koschei had no chance of escape for quite some time.
“He’s messed-up, Theta. Not right in the head,” Drax exclaimed, and tapped his own temple in emphasis. “How many times has he interrupted your studies? How many times has he discovered you were going off exploring, and found something else you absolutely had to do, together? How many times have you managed to sneak off, only to have him drag you back the minute he figured out where you went?”
They had Theta on a bench, towering over him like the mountains towered over the dome of the Citadel. Ushas took up where Drax left off. “And Rassilon help you if you show interest in someone else… You spent a week’s worth of nights calming him down that one time two years ago – we could hear the two of you all over the dorm. You groveled. And you didn’t dare leave his side for a month afterwards. He’s unnaturally possessive.”
“Don’t you just want some time to yourself? We’re Time Lords, Theta. Even though we live together in the Citadel, we’re a solitary race. My temporal dynamics teacher says some of the lab technicians don’t say a single word for years at a time, even when they work together. They come and go and get their work done, and they don’t bother each other. I’m to the point where I just want to skip class and work with my machines, by myself. I’m getting too old for this much interaction.” Drax shook his head in bemusement at how much the people he’d been dealing with since he was eight were really starting to annoy him.
“Maybe you’re right, Drax. I get so worn out; he’s a lot of work. Sometimes it feels like nothing I say is right. And I don’t get any time for just me. He talked me out of signing up for a couple of classes last term because he refused to take them and didn’t want me to go by myself. I’ve started looking for reasons to be alone. Professor Braxial would be astounded to find out how many times he’s supposedly had me up on the carpet lately. When I need to get away, I tell Kosch that Brax has called me in again, because I know Kosch hates him and won’t go near his office to check up on me…” Theta propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head in both hands, running his fingers through blond hair desperately in need of a trim, looking as tired as he sounded.
Ushas focused on the future. “What are you going to do when we get out of here? You can’t just be his shadow for your entire life. That’s of no use to anyone besides him, and a waste of your potential. Besides, there’re the things I’ve heard him talk about… He wants to control everything, not from scientific curiosity, not to make it more efficient, but just because he can. You, on the other hand, have a moral streak a galaxy wide, Thete. Sooner or later you’ll go against him. The damage the two of you will cause to space and time while tearing at each other… Get out now, for all our sakes.”
Lying in bed that night, Theta went over the conversation again in his head while Koschei slept next to him, spooned against his back. They’d slept together like that for years, starting well before they became lovers. Theta had trouble sleeping alone now, not that he had a chance to since the two had started taking their holiday breaks together. But before that, he’d spent the first few nights alone each break tossing and turning in bed until he was exhausted.
In his sleep, Koschei reached out and ran his fingers down the side of Theta’s face before slipping them under Theta’s elbow to wrap his arm around Theta’s waist. Somehow, although that possessive arm seemed to confirm everything Ushas and Drax had said, it relaxed Theta. He fell asleep holding Koschei’s hand.
“Theta-- Doctor, pay attention. I know who you’re looking for, and trust me, his people have taken him away just like I’m going to take you away for a while.” His father seemed quite annoyed by the entire situation. Not the graduation ceremony so much as the general confusion afterward, and the Doctor’s refusal to leave when his father was ready.
“But we didn’t get to decide where and when we’re meeting later.” The Doctor was still peering around one side and then the other of his father’s ceremonial collar at the crowd, trying to find the Master.
“You’re not, Doctor. You have obligations; decisions that should have been made well before today. You know that, but you’ve refused to do it. You have yet to choose a career despite the urging of your professors and myself. And there is the matter of your dynastic obligation to our House. I know you; none of these things will happen if he hauls you off. So I’m stepping in to make certain he doesn’t.” His father discreetly gripped the Doctor’s upper arm and started propelling him away from the Academy’s ceremonial hall. “This is quite likely my fault for not insisting that we have some time alone before now. After your mother died, the house seemed so empty. I thought if you brought him home with you over breaks, it’d make the place feel a little less lonely. Instead, it kept us from talking about the things we needed to. Things I felt we really should discuss privately, face-to-face.”
The Doctor, head still on the swivel, did his best to dig in his heels without actually doing so and embarrassing his father in public. “Dynastic obligations… But, but… I just thought the Master and I would…”
His father snorted. “I’ve read the reports, son. The consensus among the professors is that there is no way that man would share you with a houseplant, much less a child. Not even for the mere eight years before it was ready for the Academy. Besides, the other instabilities he’s displayed make him a risky candidate for a genetic donor, much less parenthood. Such a shame: good house; careful looming. Don’t know how it happened.” His father shook his head, dismayed that high House genetics could produce such a flawed individual.
The Doctor thought on his feet, something he’d learned to do long ago to keep his partner happy. “Fine, then I’ll donate genetic material – I’m certain you have a compatible donor picked out – and he or she can raise the child. I’ll live with the Master and see that he has nothing to do with it.”
His father stopped and stood face-to-face with him. The look on his face went from ‘Time Lord’ to ‘Dad.’ “Theta Sigma. Think. What would your childhood have been like without your mother? Or me? It’s hard enough now without her, and you’re grown. And holiday breaks -- how many of your friends spent them at the Academy, because neither of their genetic donors could be bothered to deal with them? You had a family, son; two loving parents, not just a couple of genetic donors and a House that would claim you once you’d graduated the Academy. Do you want to deny your child the advantage you had?”
“No, I just want the other parent to be Kosch.” The Doctor stared down at the ground, and just barely stopped himself from scuffing his foot like a child.
“He won’t want it, son.”
The Doctor glared at his father and replied sharply, “Have you asked him? I don’t think you have. He might be perfectly happy to be a parent! He has an obligation to his House too, I’m sure. And I know he won’t want to have a family with anyone else besides me. He’s planned for us… he wants us to have a life together.”
His father sighed and put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “I’ve read the reports, and I’ve watched the two of you over breaks. It’s obvious to everyone just from the way he treats you. You’re so bright, son; I’d hoped you’d see it for yourself before now. He won’t want you to have any life at all, other than to depend on him. You, my beautiful Theta Sigma, will disappear. You’re half gone already, and I want to see you back and whole again.
“Now, it’s time to be your own person, not the Master’s lesser half. Choose something useful to do that suits your interests and talents, and fulfill your House obligations with someone you respect and who will respect you. Give your child the same chance of happiness you had.” His father resumed walking and the Doctor followed him silently, still downcast.
The Doctor is dreaming. He knows it’s a dream even as he moves through it, because he’s been here before and he never gets to stay, no matter how hard he tries. But for now he’s here again, and that makes him happy. It’s the only thing that has made him happy for a long, long time.
It’s a cottage by the sea on Gallifrey. Deep inside, the same part of him that knows he’s dreaming knows Gallifrey is gone, but right now he’s standing in the doorway, looking down the front path, and it seems so real. The two suns are burning in the sky, the red grass waves in the wind, and he can hear the sound of the ocean that he knows is just over the rise at the end of the path.
Children’s laughter drifts to him on the breeze from an ancient grove at the side of the cottage, and a tow-haired, blue-eyed boy about six years old bursts from between the silver trunks of the trees and runs toward him.
“Abba, Abba, did Auntie Rani come?”
“Yes, Dagr, she and your Papa are in the lab. Stay away from them, now. I know you think it would be wonderful to have frog flippers instead of feet, but I’m afraid she might do worse if she got particularly upset with you.” He ruffles the boy’s hair, so like his own as a child. “Now run go fetch your sister; it’s time for dinner.”
As the boy streaks back to the trees, the Doctor steps into the cottage, walks down the silver-planked floor of the cramped hall with walls that he knows he’s whitewashed himself so many times he’s lost count, and steps into the suns-lit kitchen. Blue and white checked curtains hanging in the window over the sink flutter in the ocean breeze coming through the open panes. Decades ago when the Doctor put the first pair up, the Master derided them as a Terran affectation, but did so while holding the Doctor from behind and finishing the statement with a smile against the Doctor’s nape, followed by a quick kiss.
Suddenly from the back of the house there’s the crash of glass and a muffled boom that rattles the cottage’s windows, followed by a woman’s cursing. “Dammit, Master, I told you not to improvise!”
“How was I to know you’d changed the formula so much we couldn’t use the standard substitutions?” a male voice snarls back. The Doctor just sighs, grabs a rubbish bin and a handful of kitchen towels, and heads back to see what needs cleaned up.
“Wait, no, not that!” the woman cries out, and there’s a bigger boom, knocking the Doctor off his feet. Instead of landing on his arse on the cottage floor, he awakens with a jerk in his bed in the TARDIS.