Chapter 1: Prologue
It was obvious to anyone who had known him for any length of time that the Doctor was used to trouble. He was very good at getting himself into it. And most of the time he was also very good at getting himself and others out of it again. It was just what he did: travelling around the universe and finding adventure wherever he ended up. Sometimes he blamed the Tardis for what seemed to be his “bad luck”, but both Tardis and Doctor knew that in truth trouble was just his way of life and always had been. She knew him better than anyone and if he'd truly wanted a quiet life she'd have seen to it that he'd find one somewhere on a nice little planet in a quiet area of the universe.
Normally the mere thought made him shudder. Permanently settling down just wasn't for him.
But sometimes, when things had been a bit too troublesome even for his own tastes, all the Doctor really wanted was to find a place where he could rest for a while. And since Martha had left, since he had failed to save Astrid, it had become obvious to him that he needed some time to get back on his feet.
What was the point of travelling the universe and through all of space and time, when sometimes he really couldn't make a difference, and when he always ended up alone in the end?
Maybe it was time to take a step back, stop seeking out trouble and involving other people in it.
Just for a little while.
The Tardis was humming at him and he smiled. “Yeah,” he said to her, affectionately stroking along the console. “Just you and me now. We'll be fine. We always are.”
The Tardis hummed a little louder.
“Yeah, yeah. Lots and lots of stuff has happened recently. Feel like we've never stopped running. Not since the Time War.” Not since he'd lost the home that had never really felt like one. “You think we should take a rest, too, huh?”
She hummed, obviously liking the idea, and he was inclined to agree with her, ready to seek out one of the many, many rooms that he'd used as his over the years and just lay down and close his eyes for some time. He didn't really need to rest for long periods of time. If he wanted to he could push on and on and on. But sometimes it wasn't his body that needed the rest, but his mind.
“You're probably right,” he said, the words aimed at the Tardis, but spoken out loud for his own benefit. “I could really, really use a nap.”
His mind made up, he stepped out of the control room and into the hallway and the labyrinth of corridors that led to an enormous number of rooms. The last room he'd used was down near the wardrobe room, but that was also close to where both Rose and Martha had chosen to stay. He really didn't feel like seeking it out. “We still have the library, don't we?” he asked out loud, before choosing one of the corridors at random, not really sure when he'd seen the library last. It must have been some years. ´Some of his previous incarnations had been very fond of that room, but he had never really thought about it much since he'd regenerated. Neither this nor his previous incarnation had had much use for a library, too busy with notlooking back at their own history. But he distinctly remembered a cosy sofa in that very same room and that he had use for just now.
He found the library behind what he called the “jungle room” and took a moment just to take it all in. It really had been years since he'd set foot in here. Dust covered the books and shelves, but the little reading area was as clean and cosy as he remembered it. He sat down on the sofa, staring at the little table in front him. Books lay there, carefully stacked and ready to be read. Reading choices from another lifetime. He caught himself thinking that they were from a more peaceful, simpler lifetime, but he wasn't sure that his life had ever been peaceful or simple.
With a sigh he moved himself to the side and let himself fall against the soft cushions, his legs dangling over the armrest. He stared up at the ceiling and sighed again. The library air smelled of paper and dust and it brought back too many memories.
He really didn't like memories.
But now he was too tired to just leave and look for a better place to rest.
And the sofa was as wonderfully comfortable as he remembered it to be. So he settled into a more convenient position and closed his eyes – and hoped that this once he'd not be haunted by nightmares or remnants of his past.
Chapter 2: Dream
“Theta? Are you all right?” someone asked as if from a distance. He looked around and recognized Borusa's class room, his class mates had gathered and someone was softly calling his name.
The Doctor was quite sure that he had seen all this before - once, long ago, somewhere. Something about the scene was all too familiar. And the names... Something about the names... Why did it feel so unreal and distant? When had been the last time anyone had called him Theta? It seemed ages ago. And still someone was murmuring the name in his ear at this very moment. He opened his eyes.
The scene around him was foggy and far away as if he wasn’t really there at all. He didn't know if he could put any sort of trust in his own senses. It didn't feel like he should. Something was off, but his mind was too sluggish to catch up.
He was Theta Sigma, wasn't he? That's what everyone called him, wasn't it? Had he ever been anything else to anyone outside his closest family? It all seemed to be slipping away from him, but something felt incredibly wrong about all of it.
He tried broadening his perception and then with a sudden spark of insight he knew exactly what was wrong - if wrong was in fact the right word for it. Everything was distant and unclear, because he wasn't really here at all. This was a dream. A memory to be precise. He was nothing more than an onlooker. In the fashion of Time Lords he was dreaming a memory, his consciousness drifting through time. His mind was wandering forward into his own future or reliving memories of the past. Time around him was telling his mind that this was his past, and that he was merely a bystander, watching his own actions from long ago, not able to influence anything.
Here he wasn't the Doctor yet, he was only Theta Sigma of the House of Lungbarrow, student of the Time Lord Academy and today had been the day when he had gotten his first glimpse of what it would mean to leave Gallifrey with a Tardis.
He rarely relived things this vividly. Sometimes in his last regenerations, when his memories had become patchy and unreliable, reliving the past through dreams had made everything clearer, had helped to bring bits and pieces back together. But why was he reliving this? Why now? Had something triggered this memory?
He looked over at Koschei – the Master – standing beside him peacefully, although he was scowling and pursing his lip like a petulant child.
His fellow students were gathered around their instructor, all of them waiting to be allowed to actually do something. Instead Borusa was giving them a lecture about appropriate behaviour and conduct and about the importance of keeping their true identities hidden. Of course, they had already heard all of this before, but never had they come so close to put the knowledge into practice. Students of the Prydonian chapter would be allowed a trip to a space station inhabited by other life forms. It sounded so familiar and normal to the Doctor's ears, but this was supposed to be the first time he would leave Gallifrey, wasn't it? His consciousness was slowly adjusting to the dream scape. It was already becoming harder to remember the present. The dream was the present.
Koschei was standing only one step away from him and rolling his eyes. „Really, if they don't trust us at all, they shouldn't let us mingle in the first place, right?“
He wanted to answer him, but when he looked over at his friend... enemy... the strangeness of the situation made him pause. He couldn't clearly remember when he had spoken to his friend last. But his feelings told him that it had been an unpleasant affair. The knowledge was there, but fading away.
Borusa cleared his throat, pointedly looking at Koschei. “We have decided that it is a good opportunity in your studies to have contact with other species without them setting foot on Gallifreyan soil.” He knew what Borsua was going to say next: I do not have to remind you that it is meant to be a privilege. This year seems to enclose some of the most brilliant and most reckless students we've had in a while... “I do not have to remind you that it is meant to be a privilege. This year seems to enclose some of the most brilliant and most reckless students we've had in a while. This is meant to encourage you in your studies and quench the restlessness some of you might be feeling.“
Magnus and Drax were looking over at him. “Thete, are you all right?” Drax inquired in a lowered voice.
“Leave him alone,” Koschei hissed. “Of course he's all right.” Good old Master, the Doctor thought to himself, always a bit odd, but fierce and brilliant. Their years at the Academy together had been the stuff of legend: The mischief they had caused, the way they had fired each other's imagination and had driven each other to even more brilliance. And their most intimate time was still to come after this point in their lives. The Doctor had never forgotten the friendship. He hadn’t ever wanted to forget, not even when the Master was at his most cruel and most detestable. But he knew very well that he could only love the memory of Koschei. A memory he was now living.
They had been two of a kind in so many ways.
Drax and Koschei were starring at each other, the air bristling between them. The Doctor – Theta – smiled at Drax. “I'm just exited,” he murmured to his friends. The Doctor could hear his own thoughts, wondering, what was really wrong with him and knew that he wasn't really thinking these things. Not in the here and now. Young and old mind were meshing together. Their consciousness was separate but one, the way it so often was in dream scapes. He could already feel his own knowledge of this being a dream, a relived memory slipping away, too. He would have to let go soon to truly relive what had happened and not taint the memory with his own thoughts.
But for now he wanted to appreciate it for a moment longer as the Doctor. So he held on, watching through the eyes of his past self.
Koschei gave Theta a look that was so scathing that even a later incarnation of the Master would have been proud of it. He just shrugged his shoulders at him, not the leas bit apologetic. “You will tell me what is really wrong with you later,” Koschei whispered. It was a command and the audacity should have bothered Theta more than it did. Instead it made him grin despite himself, because Koschei seemed satisfied in presuming that he was up to no good. He just wanted in on his plan and didn't suspect anything wrong.
But to be honest Theta didn't know what was wrong himself. He felt nervous, exited, and as if something significant was about to happen. He had been waiting for a chance like this and now he was a little scared that his expectations wouldn’t be met. What if the space station was nothing but boring? What if the universe was like his teachers always described it: full of unsophisticated, child like civilizations, young and still in development, boring and ignorant, some of them doomed to vanish again soon.
The part of their consciousness that was still the Doctor smiled at the thought. Fond of the universe and all the things that still lay in front of Theta.
But the Doctor's consciousness was finally drifting now, not really sure how to feel about being sucked into the memory, already too far gone to make much of it. Why was this memory so important? And why had he forgotten about this part of his life in the first place?
He hadn't been having too many reliving-dreams since the Time War and he was very thankful for that little mercy. Most of the memories he would have had to relive were things he did not want to go through ever again. This memory on the other hand was welcome in its profanity. He still couldn't remember the trip clearly, but he hadn't been in trouble for getting up to something afterwards and for once he couldn't remember anything of consequence going wrong. Surely he would remember that much at least?
He vaguely could dig up the memory of meeting someone, but he couldn't put his finger on what that had been all about. And the goal of the trip had been to meet new people, cultures and races. So he must have met someone.
His first trip into the unknown. Why had he forgotten about it?
“I hope you take all of this to heart. Your families are not particularly in favour of this whole venture and I can see why they would think, it would be better if all of this year's students would be kept strictly inside the Academy.” Borusa looked into their direction and Koschei frowned, affronted.
The Doctor had the sinking feeling that this was more about his own house's Kithriarch having doubts about Theta's ability to behave, than it was about Koschei's family and their misgivings.
“But I am sure, if you keep to all the rules and do not reveal yourself to be anything but humanoid youths, there should be no problem. You are far from stupid. All of you. Thus it should be easy enough for all of you to fool the locals. So, I do expect you to behave accordingly and not cause any trouble. The only reason you are allowed on the station at all is the meeting members of the High Council have scheduled with two other time-sensitive nations that will send some of their children to Gallifrey for the next few years. Understand it as a form of educational exchange. The station will be full of different life forms and species from all over the galaxy. You will have time to observe and get in contact with them and find that their evaluational and technological progress differs and in almost all the cases is not even near the standard you are used to. It will be a good opportunity for those of you who want to enter the diplomatic circles after their education is finished.
“Use your time there wisely and I repeat, don't reveal yourself! Don't get involved. Don't interfere.”
The Doctor felt sleepy. His thoughts were slipping seriously now. He was becoming one with the memory. “What are you going to do with your time while we're on the station, Koschei?” his young voice asked cheerily.
“I think I'll just be glad to stay away from all of the boring Time Lord traditionalists for once. It will be a brilliant chance for vacation.”
Chapter 3: Memory
After two hours of exploring the huge station, Theta felt tired but elated. He hadn't seen any of the others since they had gone their separate ways, because there was no way to compromise on what to do first. Theta strongly suspected that not one of his friends had really had any intention to spend their precious time with the others, all of them already caught up in their own plans. Theta knew that he himself had been yearning to go off alone from the moment they'd arrived. And now he was finally free to do what he wanted, exploring on his own and to his hearts content. Only once in a while had he seen one of the Gallifreyan security people dressed up like locals. They had been giving him those disapproving stares he always associated with the Celestial Intervention Agency.
It had made it quite clear to him that there was reason to behave this time. He already had more than enough unpleasant attention on Gallifrey as it was. Possible attention from CIA members was not something he was particularly interested in. Not if one day he wanted to have a career in a field of his choice.
Still this trip was pure freedom in comparison to Academy life and he was not going to waste it. No, he was planning to enjoy every single moment of it.
Looking around, he tried to figure out where he was exactly. In his resolve to enjoy his freedom he hadn’t exactly paid attention where his explorations were leading him. With the confidence of youth he'd made his way through the corridors not really knowing what he'd do first. The only thing he did know for sure was that this was a chance. A chance to get to know something beside the stuffiness of Gallifrey. A chance that wouldn't come again too soon.
Like Borusa had told them there were many different species on the station and not all of them were known to Theta. Most of them were humanoid, some of them were not. Quite a few of the stations varied population looked like Gallifreyans – which was probably why the Time Lords had agreed to this in the first place. The students wouldn't attract undue attention if they just behaved like anybody else.
But it was hard to behave like everybody else when all you wanted to do was grin like a maniac, because everything was just new and exiting. The restless nervousness he had felt earlier had now returned full force. Something was waiting for him. He could feel it.
Still not really caring for his location he ventured onwards and followed the corridor down to a huge hall, where he found a panorama window. From here visitors could watch the black vastness of space around the station. The hall was bursting with visitors of all kinds and species. Intrigued Theta sat down on a seat in front of the window, briefly watching the glow of stars and planets, then instead watching the different people all around him and listening to their chatter. The Tardis systems were translating for him and he felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. Briefly he wondered where Koschei had gone off to.
If something big was going to happen, it would have been better to have an ally. But then why did he feel like something big was going to happen in the first place? He tried to calm down a little, watch the signs around him, watch the flow of time for information. But his train of thought was broken.
“Want a drink?” a man sitting beside him asked, giving him a leering smile and leaning slightly towards him.
Theta gave him a cautious once over, feeling quite repelled by the obvious look of want in the strangers eyes. He knew what he looked like to others. By Time Lord standards he was still little more than a boy, although strictly speaking he wasn't considered a child any more. Gallifreyans didn't put as much stock in the changing looks of a person as other species were used to do, but he knew here he would be considered an attractive youth. This person seemed to consider him one at least.
His mind was caught somewhere between the urge to flee and curiosity to find out what the more carnal lifeforms did when they tried to seduce someone. Well, maybe another time. “No, thank you. I'm all right,” he answered politely. Surely this was not the kind of contact with non-Gallifreayan life, he was looking for. There had to be something more worth his time.
The man, big and burly and probably attractive in a dark, sunburned and savage kind of way, was not deterred. “But you would like some company, wouldn't you?” The man had inched a little closer and was leaning forward, getting into his personal space. Theta was furrowing his brow, asking himself how to get out of this one without causing trouble. Surely nobody would blame him for defending himself... But then - with his record - he’d probably have to justify himself to the Academy anyway.
“Why don't you leave him alone? He has company!” The scathing voice was easily recognized as that of Koschei who had come to stand behind his seat without him noticing. His eyes were cold and fixed on the man beside him.
“There you are!” Theta knew he sounded relieved and immediately got up to rush over to his friend.
The man gave them both an interested look, then leered again in his unpleasant way. “I'm not against having more company.”
“I think not.” Koschei's voice was positively dripping with disgust and he was already grasping his friend by the arm to steer him away. They hadn't even taken more than a few steps before he started to berate Theta: “What do you think you are doing, you idiot? Letting yourself be drooled over by an uncivilized and disgusting creature like that.” Koschei's tone was level but he chose his words with the obvious intention to hurt. Theta knew him well enough to recognize that intent.
Normally Koschei's harsh temper didn't bother him all that much. He had a very nasty one of his own at times and wasn't too proud to admit it. But he hadn't done anything to invite the advances of strangers, and he certainly hadn't asked for his friends help. With a violent shove he freed himself from Koshei's iron grip and could feel his own often short temper rising. “Kosh, really. Stop being an idiot yourself! I was happy to see you because I hadn't even seen a glimpse of you in hours. But I was not letting that man do anything. How can you even think something so... so ridiculous.”
Koschei looked at him with bristling eyes. Theta had hit a nerve and he knew it. “See if I care,” his friend said in a threateningly low voice, turned and stalked away as suddenly as he had appeared behind him a minute ago. Theta could only stare after him, gaping at his huffy reaction. What had he done wrong this time? He had wanted to spend time with his friend before this, but that didn't mean he wanted to be patronized. If Koschei was in a mood, it was probably better to stay on his own.
When he turned to go back to the seats, he saw the strange man standing there watching him intently, and all of a sudden going back didn't seem like a good idea any more. He may have been considered naive about other race's conduct of seduction – not surprising, as Time Lords refrained from such “nonsense” and had introduced a strict etiquette for all personal relations since the times of Rassilon –, but he knew that going back there would send an entirely wrong signal. He had no intention of inviting that sort of trouble.
So he turned towards the exit again, but didn't really know where to go. Aside from this uncomfortable experience he hadn't really made any contact yet. Wasn't the point of being here to make interspecies-communication observations. “Your friend is right, you know?” Surprised he turned towards the voice. There was a man standing behind him. He hadn’t noticed him before - which in itself was disconcerting. Theta supposed the stranger was around twenty, maybe in his mid-twenties. He wasn't very good with estimating the ages of other species - after all it was a mute point to guess a Time Lords age depending on his appearance. Normally he would rely on his time honed senses, but the time lines around the stranger seemed to be in a state of disorder that didn’t tell him anything. He frowned.
“What do you mean?” he asked back, staring at this new stranger suspiciously. Something was not right about this man.
“He was worried about you. You shouldn't let people like that hit on you. It rarely ends well.”
Theta's frown deepened. The stranger smiled at him, unconcerned. It was a friendly smile, but Theta wasn't sure if it could be trusted. “You don't know us. It's none of your business,” he said bitingly. “As far as I know, you are not any more trustworthy than people like that.” He could feel his temper rising again at this strange man’s meddling.
The man gave him an even brighter smile. “I see. You're not really a people person? This is probably not your usual lifestyle, is it? Space stations, I mean.” He looked altogether too pleased by his deduction.
His expression must have darkened even more, but the stranger just went on smiling. “I still don't see how it's any of your business.” He hated to be scrutinized and questioned. Probably because he got enough of that at home.
This dark haired stranger only nodded enthusiastically. “It's obvious. You're new to the space station life, right? You would be used to the idle small talk otherwise. Newcomers are often confused by this. The people here are nosy. There isn't much to do but wait or waste time. It can be quite annoying to newcomers.” If possible, his smile grew even wider. “So you get testy, naturally, don't worry about it! Anybody who comes here ends up getting testy, it's expected. Don't be upset.”
“I'm not upset at all.”
And he was, of course. Not more testy than he could get when he was faced with stupid family traditions or Academy rules. But this was certainly not at all turning out like the first contact with the outside world he had dreamed of. He had hoped this would be exiting! Now it turned out to be even more annoying than home.
Waiting or wasting time? Was that all there was to the greater universe? He couldn't believe that. But it would be so typical. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Time Lords had chosen this station for the excursion for precisely that reason... The thought alone was irritating.
“I was about to get something to eat. Care to join me?” The stranger had turned towards the exit, but was politely waiting for him to catch up. Theta glared at him for a long moment, taking in the clean state of his clothing and the twinkling intelligent eyes watching him intently. He could admit that this mixture of intellect, nosiness and politeness was fascinating. It was also the first real puzzle to come his way since he arrived.
He wanted to decline the offer. He didn't need food that often and he didn't like to eat when he was angry. But declining would be like passing his first chance of non-Gallifreyan contact. Well, contact that at least seemed a little interesting if a little ominous...
Contact. That was precisely why he was here, wasn't it? To make knew experiences and get to know more about the “uncivilized savages” outside their world. The man standing before him, did not look uncivilized or savage, but naturally he knew that most of the Time Lord prejudices against other species were based on their own unsurpassed level of technological and cultural advancement.
He nodded abruptly, indicating that he was interested in spending more time together. This was where his experiences lacked profoundly. He didn’t want to seem too eager, didn’t want to seem unfriendly either, but had no idea how to convey both at the same time to a stranger. The insecurity made him irritable. He tried to quench the feeling and muster a smile - that turned out to be more of a grimace.
His new companion gave him a dazzling smile in return, probably to show him how this smiling thing was supposed to work, then made a gesture in the direction of one of the many restaurant entrances on the other side of the large corridor only steps away from the observatory.
Following him, Theta could still see the strange man from before from the corner of his eyes. He was still watching Theta's every move and now with a displeased frown on his face. He was probably thinking that the boy he had tried to take advantage of was now in the grasp of the next best scoundrel and he'd missed his chance.
It made Theta feel stupid and angry again.
Angry at Koschei for the most part. They could have gone off exploring together. There would not have been anything awkward about that. Why could Koschei never make things easy?
With a shrug he stepped towards the stranger and inclined his head. He would accept this invitation. There was no reason to trust this stranger and Theta decided to stay on his guard. The man made him feel nervous and inexperienced, but he wasn't sure that he could blame that on a man he barely knew. But he would go along with this for now. Even if it was only because of his determination to prove to Koschei that he could handle situations like this himself.
His new acquaintance lead him into a small establishment and didn't say anything about his broody silence. Not before they finally arrived at a table. “Will you be all right? You and your friend? You'll make up, right?” He was just pulling out one of the very comfortable looking chairs for him and Theta looked around the establishment suspiciously. It was a proper restaurant, not a shady den or brothel which was a relief at least. With all the warning he had been given on Gallifrey he had expected much worse. At least he had not been warned about restaurants or food, so this couldn't really be problematic. Could it? He peeked at his companion and again had that strange feeling of something. It was like a spark of electricity, like a warning - or a promise? - , but it didn’t really feel dangerous.
He straightened and looked around. It wasn’t much. Still this was new to him. His curiosity was piqued.
When Theta focused on the young man again, he was staring right back at him, an amused smile on his lips. “You're quite the dreamer, are you?” his companion asked.
Theta blushed and looked away. He didn't like being caught. The stranger seemed to take his embarrassment for shyness.
“Don't worry. I haven't got the highest code of honour when it comes to sexual exploits, but I prefer partners that are willing to at least play along. And you haven't even made up your mind yet. Maybe you're too young?” He gave another bright smile and Theta was really not too sure if that had been meant to make him feel more at ease. Because it wasn't making him feel at ease at all. It was far too flirtatious to be considered save. “Don't look so shocked. Not all people are brought up to be uptight, but that doesn't mean, I will harm you.” The way he said it was joking, but Theta had the feeling that there was something more to it. Something sinister and dangerous beneath the humour. He could see the time streams coil around the man again and asked himself why time seemed in disorder around him. It made him frown and look harder.
Somehow the mood had changed. He tried to muster up a smile. After all he didn’t want to make his companion suspicious.
Theta had read a lot about the universe, but this was his first time he really encountered it. He should really try to be friendly and not antagonize his first contact through overly suspicious or hostile behaviour. “I'm willing to believe you for the time being,” he said, “But I'm not sure why you consider me too young for flirting. That man out there didn't seem to think so.” He pointed in the general direction of the place where they had met. His voice was calm, although he felt nervous and a little out of his depth. He hadn’t imagined his adventures to include obvious sexual innuendo and flirting like this.
The other chuckled. “You know, he was thinking you old enough for a lot more than flirting, darling. Can't blame him. You look like a tasty morsel.” Theta's face grew dark. The man laughed. “You just seem a little young in the ways of the world. You look at everything and everyone around here as if it were new to you. You are new to space travel, right?”
“And that's bad?” Theta asked back defensively. It wasn’t that space travel was any kind of elaborate mystery to Time Lord society.
“No. That's refreshing.” The other leaned back in his chair and looked at him. “So. Are you hungry?”
Truthfully, Theta shook his head. He hadn’t really thought about that when he followed the stranger into a restaurant. The man shrugged. “You only followed me, because you wanted to get away from that other seedy guy, right?” he asked good-naturedly, “If you don't have money, I can pay for you.”
"It's not that," he replied in a cold voice. "I'm not hungry." And he wasn’t. Couldn’t other species take statements at face value?
"All right. I'll buy you a drink then." He threw him another bright smile and didn't give Theta time for protest. "You didn't answer my first question by the way. Do you think you and your friend will be all right?"
He nodded solemnly and relaxed at the sincere concern in the strangers voice. It wasn’t exactly the man’s fault that Theta was irritable and the change of topic was welcome. "We always get into arguments. It's half the fun of having him around."
The stranger chuckled at that. “Yeah, I have a friend like that.” The way he emphasized the word friend, spoke of a much more complicated relationship and Theta wisely refrained from commenting. When an android waiter hurried past, the man stopped him and ordered something. Theta tried to memorize the names but had no idea what it was he had ordered.
"I never know if he wants to kiss or kill me," the man said jokingly, getting back to the topic of “friends”. He was about to say that this described his relationship with Koschei very accurately at times. But when Theta looked at the man's eyes he couldn't help the feeling there was more truth to both the kissing and the killing part than his jesting tone would let on. It made his skin crawl for a moment. Then he watched the blue eyes again and felt drawn in.
He really wanted to ask more about his companion, but didn't dare to. It would inevitably raise questions about himself. He shouldn't feel this comfortable with someone he didn't know anything about in the first place, he reminded himself.
The other man stopped smiling and took a good look at him in turn, suddenly serious and scrutinizing. "There is something about you that makes you seem so very young. But there is also something that tells me you shouldn't be underestimated. Why is that?"
Theta just shrugged. There was no way to explain his own contradictory feelings. He felt comfortable and at the same time the urge to run away was getting stronger. "It's like I remember you, although I'm meeting you for the first time. Why is that?" he echoed the man's question with his own. His voice was still level, but he felt more nervous and insecure than he had since he had come to the station. Time lines felt like they were in flux all around them.
"Fair enough." The stranger nodded, more to himself than in answer to Theta's question and they both fell silent as the food arrived. Theta was astounded at the amount of food the man had ordered for himself. He eyed the green coloured drink he was offered warily. "It's not poisoned, I promise. Although I can accept, that you would be wary of a drink offered by a stranger. It's actually just proving you're smart. Smarter than your friend thought you would be." He smiled his eerily charming smile again and a shiver ran down Theta's spine. He could for a moment do nothing more than stare at his companion. The smell of the food was making the whole scene more surreal and exotic. "I do not even know your name yet," the man added.
He had to look away from the intensive stare that was cast in his direction. "Theta," he stated simply.
"Ah. Theta. Nice to meet you. You can call me John."
Theta just nodded and watched the other eat. It hadn't passed him by that the man had said “you can call me” and not “my name is” or “I'm called”. He didn't want to ask further questions though. After all Theta wasn't any more than a nickname either and only his family knew his birth name.
"You really don't want anything? I'm sure it's enough for two." Theta shook his head, feeling misplaced and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He really shouldn't trust strangers, but the exotic food looked so delicious that it was hard to keep his resolve. “Sure?”
“Actually... Maybe I'll try some of this.” This was a dish of fried stripes of some brightly blue vegetable that he had never seen before, but that smelled fantastic. And as it turned out it tasted good, too. They ate in companionable silence and Theta was glad that some of the tension seemed to ease out of him. When he finished his meal, he surveyed the remaining food on the table and looked up at his companion. “So, John, do you always order enough food for three?”
“Oh, with the life I lead, you never know when you'll have the opportunity to eat something decent. So I have to savour the moment.”
Theta smiled politely. He didn't want to know what kind of life it was John led, but he liked the notion of a life where you had to take chances. It sounded exiting. Then he spotted something around John's wrist and frowned. He had seen something like this before, in lectures of primitive time travel attempts. Vortex Manipulator. The word ghosted through his mind like a warning.
Though, when Theta watched John eat like this, he didn't seem in the least bit threatening. But he also knew that looks could always be deceiving. And time was always moving before his eyes, but when he focused, he saw that indeed this man lead anything but a chronological life. That was probably what had given him those strange vibes in the first place, although it had taken the Vortex manipulator to make him realize it.
This man was clearly living an adventurous life. Like he yearned to do. The thought of a live like that alone tasted of a freedom that he would never be allowed to feel on Gallifrey. It made him ache for a Tardis of his own. At home everyone had expectations and wanted him to walk an assigned path, to take his place in the family, to take his place in time lord society. But he knew he wasn't going to be happy with fulfilling anybody's expectations. No one ever asked what he wanted. And what he wanted was to be his own time lord.
Suddenly talking to John seemed like an amazing act of defiance.
They talked for a while about safe topics, topics that didn't give away too much about both of them. Theta supposed they were both at least partially aware of the other staying clear of sensitive details.
Then John proposed to go to one of the recreation centres on the upper floors, where there would be gambling and dance floors. He seemed intend on talking Theta into dancing.
Of course, he had learned about formal dancing at the Academy, but he had certainly never been to a dance floor where different species met and mingled. He supposed, that would be one of those lasting experiences he was looking for. So he shrugged and let himself be dragged away. If it wasn't to his taste he could always make an exit before John would have time to stop him. Even at the Academy his skills of avoidance were legendary.
"Don't you have to work?" he asked while they made their way to the lifts as inconspicuously as possible. "Or are you on the station for leisure?"
John gave a chuckle. "Believe me when I say: nobody is at a place like this purely for leisure. There are much better places for that out there." He made a telling gesture with his hand to illustrate what he meant by “out there”. "Everyone here has an ulterior motive. Really."
"What's yours?" He felt a little stung. John was making him look utterly naïve again on purpose.
"Oh, at the moment luring you to the dance hall is first and foremost on my mind." Avoidance. He was good enough at it to know when somebody used it against him, too.
"I should probably take your advice and not let myself be hit on by shady strangers then."
John gave him a condescending smile,"I'm not hitting on you, sweetheart. You'd know if I were. I'm just a very charming person." Theta gave a little chuckle at that. John may have been right in his assumption that all of this was rather new for Theta. But with his Gallifreyan upbringing a visit to this station was probably strange in a different way from what John was anticipating. He knew enough about the universe to know when somebody was flirting. John may not have any designs beyond flirting, but he was flirting. Theta also knew that on other planets and in other times flirting was occasionally seen as something like a sport.
This was frowned upon in the Citadel of Time Lords for many reasons, most of them tied to to tradition and a difference in costums that was grounded to some extend in their exceptional biology. But Theta had already found out for himself that there were those that saw it as fun and games even on Gallifrey. He really had no patience for things like that.
And he had no intention of becoming a trophy.
Suddenly someone called John's name. He looked up. “Oh.”
A blond woman stood at the other side of the narrow corridor. “Duty calls, lover boy.”
John gave him a rueful smile. “You'll still be here tomorrow?” Theta nodded reluctantly. The talks were expected to last at least three days, so he would still be here. He just had no idea if he wanted to make promises to someone obviously as unreliable as this man. “I'll find you again.” John gave him a positively seductive smile then went after the woman whohad already started to leave without him. Theta looked after them and wanted to ask how he could be sure about finding him again on a station as vast and busy like this. John must be very confident in his own skills.
He could see another, slimmer vortex manipulator around the stocky woman's wrist. Another time agent?
It made him freeze up. This was dangerous. He knew it. Something was going on here and it could not be good.
It was probably better if John did not find him again... In fact he really should tell someone about the time agents.
* * *
There was only one room where he could start looking for him.
When he reached the rooms, the Time Lords were staying in – heavily but unnoticably guarded – he found Borusa sitting at a table, reading something on a data pad. He looked up at his returning pupil. “Tired already? Some of your fellow students have already retired to our Tardis.” He made a nod in the direction of a great pillar, that had inconspicuously inserted itself to the interior of the room.
“Koschei isn't back, yet?”
“No. Knowing him, he will not be interested in coming back, before he absolutely has to. I'm a bit surprised to see you here, actually,” his tutor said in an amused tone and with a raised eyebrow. “Isn't this a great adventure to you, who never wants to stay still for a minute?”
He grinned. “Oh it is. I was just wondering... How are the talks going?”
“Everyone has taken a break from it for the time being. It's not going too well apparently. Everyone agrees that a non-aggression-pact is the only option, but the terms are a another story. Is that bothering you enough to bring you back here?”
“Is the CIA lis...”
“No. Don't worry. You know they have their spies everywhere, but this room is off limits by the Presidents order. The Castellan made sure of it twice. Is there something you want to tell me?” Borusa was looking at him in the way of a patient teacher. He was clearly expecting a confession of some misdeed.
Theta smiled. He had been thinking about it all the way back here: if John was a time agent, he should really pass that information on. But he had no real proof now. All that he could assume with any certainty was that John was most likely a time traveller. “Are there other time travellers around here?”
Borusa didn't blink, but Theta knew he hadn't expected the question. “Oh yes,” he answered calmly. “It's one of the reasons this place was chosen in the first place. It makes us less noticeable.”
“So, if I was to meet someone I suspected to be a time traveller, there wouldn't be anything to worry about?”
“Not necessarily. Why?”
He cocked his head to the side. “I met someone who I thought was human. But humans will not invent space travel for many thousands of years to come. I don't think they even exist, yet. And I just wondered -- It surprised me. That's all.”
Borusa nodded. “There are human time travellers around. Their technology is so far advanced, that we can guess, from which time they originally come from. But it's not worrying,” he explained. “This is a place known to many time travelling races. With the Medusa Casket in the vicinity and the possibility to contact other time powers, it gets a lot of attention. Which is why we have to keep our presence quite for the moment. Powers and governments that want to develop time travel technology have to be supervised closely and there is always the chance that they try to acquire our technology.” His tutor's expression was grave. “And there are few races who would be able to handle Gallifreyan knowledge wisely. If you meet another time traveller, stay neutral and don't get too close.”
Theta nodded, all the while thinking, that he had to talk this through with Koschei. Borusa seemed more worried than he wanted to let on. Were Time Lords aware of the time agents being here?
* * *
With every step he took towards the bustling life of the station the restless nervousness grew worse. He ended up on the leisure deck again, but left quickly, overwhelmed by the noise, the crowdedness of the dance floors and the chattiness of everyone. He felt jittery and not up to meeting people. But something was calling him. Something insistent, nudging at the back of his mind.
He tried to analyse the strange feeling. But he couldn't grasp its meaning. He looked at all the lifeforms around him, but nothing piqued his interest. This had seemed so exiting only hours before. Something was lacking and he wasn't sure what it was.
Surely, this couldn't only be a reaction to his row with Kosh. It could hardly be said that arguing was unusual for them. They argued all the time.
There was a botanical station on the 7th deck of the space station and he had been thinking of going there since the bustle on the leisure deck had made him a little dizzy. Other species where really preoccupied with touching, kissing and fornicating in public it seemed. It wasn't hard to ignore that, when they were getting it on between themselves, but it seemed it was hard to keep away from advances.
He couldn't take any more of it at the moment.
To his relief he botanical garden was nearly devoid of people. As it turned out it had been crafted into a park like scenery with walkways for interested visitors. It was the kind of peaceful and relaxing atmosphere he had been looking for.
Most of the planetary life here was a luscious green or bright yellow. Still the smell made him think of the bright red grass on Gallifrey. At home he loved to be outside of the oppressive atmosphere of amazing Citadel and he ventured out as often as possible. One day he would be able to explore other planets just like that. Leaving the Citadel and Gallifrey behind in a Tardis to see different worlds in amazing colours. At least that was his hope. He had seen pictures and studied so many foreign planets in theory, but he had yet to set foot on a planet that was not his shining home world.
He touched a yellow leaves above his head and smiled ruefully. This was the closest he would be getting to a similar experience for a while. A long while, he feared.
He was delighted to find a pool with shimmering fishlike creatures and leaned over the balustrade of a little bridge that was spanning across it. It looked charmingly old fashioned. Theta was happy to find a place like this on a space station that was obviously more preoccupied with advanced technology and carnal pleasures. Contradiction and a touch of the unexpected was always nice.
It was a few minutes before he noticed somebody's eyes resting on him. He looked up and found John standing in the middle of a walkway smiling brightly. “Found you,” the man said in a soft, but smug tone.
And Theta felt a little nervous about that. How had the man found him? Had he even been looking for him or was this only a chance meeting? “Hello,” he answered cautiously. He didn't believe in chance.
“Hello,” the human repeated. “You looked quite happy there.” John walked up to him and lay his arms down beside his, peering down at the shiny, glittering bodies playing in the water. “Wow. They are beautiful.” He sounded honestly amazed, but Theta wasn't sure if he wasn't just a good actor.
John tuned to look at him, still smiling. Then he sobered up a little. “Did you want to be alone?” He sounded, as if that thought had only now occurred to him.
Theta shrugged, forlorn, not really knowing how he should be acting. He had wanted to discuss his time agent suspicion with Koschei, before he had to decide how to act around someone like John again. The Time Lord Citadel bristled with political intrigue and you had to watch your steps and words around nearly everyone, but this was another layer of possible danger he wasn't used to. It felt unsettling. It felt exiting. And for some impossible reason it felt right. “No. I just wanted a bit peace and quite. I'm not averse to some company.”
That made John's expression brighten again. “Not averse, yeah? That sounds quite sophisticated, sir. Then I hope you are not averse to accompany me to a beautiful place of peace and quite I've discovered.” He held out his arm like an earth gentleman for a young lady.
Theta looked at it with a stern expression. “Oh please. I've already had enough of that flirting nonsense. If you want to impress me, make me like you without it.”
John looked astonished for a moment and then lowered his arm back to his side. “You really aren't the flirtatious type, are you now?”
“I hope not.” He turned fully towards his companion and gave him a challenging look. “If you can't keep to neutral conversation, we can as well go our separate ways now.”
That made the man give a condescending smile. “Okay,” he answered with a challenging look of his own, “You're not scaring me away so easily. I told you yesterday that you would know when I was really flirting and I was only trying to be friendly now. You wouldn't be this averse to it if I had been trying in earnest.” Theta narrowed his eyes at him. The tone of voice said clearly, that this man was used to getting what he wanted. It was all said with a charming smile, but the eyes were not matching the friendly expression on his face. They were too cold and calculating. “Let's just be civil then,” John said, staring him right in the eyes. Theta had the feeling that John had just risen to a challenge – just not the one that Theta had set for him.
He didn't know how to react.
Borusa had given him advise, to stay away from time travellers. He didn't want to make this man believe he was in any way interested in him. But he also did not want to spend all his time alone. And in a way he felt that John had just presented him with a challenge of his own. Theta was not one to not rise to a bait like that. He looked down at the water again. “I don't understand, what you get out of spending time with me, but let's try it. Just being civil, I mean. No advances. You warned me about strange men yourself.”
The man's blue eyes twinkled. “You are not what I expected. I give you that.”
Theta shrugged again and with a calm, superior expression turned to leave the bridge. “Thank you.” He couldn't help feeling at least a little nervous again. But this time it felt as if he was doing something forbidden. The right thing would be to stay away from this man. He could feel it. But he also felt intrigued. And his curiosity was just stronger than any misgivings.
They walked in silence for a while. Theta was pleased that he had astounded the potential time agent enough to make him follow his steps in silence. The handsome face was thoughtful and watching the way they were going intently. Theta still didn't feel too comfortable at the thought that the man might have followed him with an ulterior motive in mind. Did he suspect him to be a time traveller, too?
Stupid Koschei, he thought. He wouldn't even be in this situation if his friend hadn't made him angry yesterday. They would have slipped off together and he wouldn't have talked to John in the first place.
After a while John cleared his throat and tried his best to get an easy conversation going. He was obviously trying a different approach now. Theta didn't exactly feel inclined to make this task any easier than necessary. But he tired of his own snide remarks quickly and listened when John started talking about the botanical garden. The man seemed to know his way around the whole complex. Why hadn't their guardians taken the time to inform them better? Was this supposed to be some kind of training?
“Most of the plants here are from the Alturian home world. They didn't have such lush greenery, where I come from. It's always astounding for me to look at plant life like this.” John gave him a wistful smile. He did seem to think of his home, fondly and a little sad. This didn't feel like he was pretending.
“Why didn't your home have greenery?” he asked carefully.
“Oh, there was vegetation. But not this jungle like variety. Do you like plants?”
Theta contemplated that before he formed an answer. “I suppose, you could say that I appreciate life in all it's forms. It's just ingenious.”
John made a serious face and seemed to contemplate that in turn. Theta wasn't sure what to make of it. He was used to discussions with other Time Lords and sometimes Gallifreyans outside the Citadel, but he had never before tried to see the honesty in human reactions. He knew more than a little about deception, because intrigue and machinations were just everywhere when you lived at the Citadel (and to be honest it didn't just end when you went home to visit your family – in fact it got worse most of the time), but it was rarely played in an seemingly open way. John gave the appearance of a very outspoken and likeable person, but Theta - used to keeping secrets himself - could feel the secretiveness and subterfuge under the surface.
“You find joy in the things that you look at. That's something people tend to lose while maturing. Try not to lose it.” The voice of the man was more serious than he had been since their first meeting and Theta felt quite drawn to this glimpse of truth. He was nowhere near trusting this stranger, but he wasn't exactly in a position to judge another person's reasons for pretence.
“I hope I won't.” He thought about his friend the hermit, who lived outside the Citadel. He loved the knowledge that Time Lord Academy could give him, but without the insights he could get outside of the Academy nothing of it would make him truly see the beauty in all of it. He had seen the way Time Lords became preoccupied with ceremonies, with protocol and theory, spending all there time in their own secluded community of Lords, not even venturing out to the Low Town of the Capitol.
John led him down another path, where the way was lined with bright yellow trees. He smiled up at the strangely formed leaves. "It's not a form of religion, is it? Your loving life, I mean?" the human asked, sounding cautious.
Theta gave a small huff. "No. If you have to call it anything, you may call it philosophy. I don't believe in the merit of religion."
John watched him, as he was walking with his head thrown into his neck to better look at the branches hanging over their heads. He gave him another thoughtful expression, than turned away to watch where they were going again. "Do you want to stay here for a while?" He nodded in the direction of a yellow-beige grass patch. There was a sign that told them, that it was meant to be a place to rest and they sat down a little to the side, where they wouldn't be in plain view. John took of his black leathery coat, so they could sit on it. It was like the few times he and Koschei had sneaked out of the Academy together to spend time outside.
"This is not, what you wanted to show me, is it?" he asked after sitting down.
"No." John let himself fall back into the grass and closed his eyes. "But it's nice here, don't you think?"
"Yes. But it's a little too quite. There are no creatures around. A jungle should have creatures."
John laughed and peered at him through half closed eyes. "So you are more observant than most people, too."
"Am I? I wouldn't know," he said lightly. "My family tells me I'm positively absent minded." With family he meant everybody on Gallifrey.
That made John chuckle. "I can see that. You take notice of things that interest you. But that doesn't mean you are interested in the way people around you see things. You probably seem absent minded, because things that don't catch your notice just slip your mind." Theta gave him a sharp look. "I'm like that sometimes," John continued as if he hadn't noticed his reaction, although Theta was sure he had.
I shouldn't feel comfortable with him, a voice inside him warned, that was and wasn't his own. But it's like being with Koschei. We are different, but there is an understanding.
"So. Where did you want to take me then?"
"Oh, we can still go there later, Theta." He had his eyes closed again. "No need to hurry." Suddenly he opened his eyes again, settling on him. "Or is there? I haven't asked yet. How long are you going to stay on the station?"
Was that fishing for information? He thought hard, whether telling the truth would give anything away. "I'll leave tomorrow. I have to return home. This was only a stop over on the journey."
"I see." It sounded wistful, but this time not in a calculating way. "Then we should make the best of our time together." He smiled his cocky smile again, visibly keeping himself from coming across as too flirtatious in the process. The effort was endearing. "We have today then,” John said decisively. He jumped up, but gestured for him to stay put, when he made a move to follow. "Wait here. I'll be right back. I'll get us something to eat and we can do a small picnic. Don't run away."
Before Theta could say anything he had left him sitting on his coat, sprinting down the way they had come from. Astonishment kept him sitting there in silence, for a moment frozen in place. It was weird being alone so suddenly. On the other hand he felt relieved. Now at least he had time to think. He was enjoying himself in the company of the human and they hadn't even shared anything beyond trivialities.
It was exiting and fun to be around someone, who didn't know anything about you, your House or the path that was assigned to you. Someone who wasn't curious or judgemental about some of the skeletons you had in your closet. It was even more relaxing than spending time with Koschei. Because friends or not, Theta had always had secrets to hide even from him and Koschei had always tried to find out about them. Even the subterfuge and scheming that he felt was going on under the surface, wasn't tedious so much as interesting. Living with humans was probably very much not boring, if the things he knew about them and their history was anything to go by. They may never be able to reach the advancement of the superior Gallifreyan race, but at least they never stopped, never stagnated, never gave up. Time Lord society had reached a level that allowed them to do everything, but Theta felt they were instead choosing to do nothing much with any their own advancement, opting instead to keep to themselves when possible.
Even talks with other powers like those that were happening now only happened when the Time Lords decided it was in order to put other temporal powers in their place, because they were using time travel in potentially dangerous ways. Aside from that Gallifrey was keeping itself apart from the rest of the universe.
Theta's personal experience with humanity was therefore non-existent. He would have liked to know where John had originally come from, if he was really human. If he had the means for time travel, he had to be from a place far in the future from this point in time. So he was a lot farther from home then the young Gallifreyan, although he didn't have a problem acting as if he had been born into this kind of life. And maybe he was, because one day human life wouldn't be too different from life in Aldurian society.
For a moment he peered down at the material of the blue coat, he was sitting on. John's clothes didn't give anything away. He was dressed like the other humanoids around the station. The logical choice for blending in. Exactly the type of clothes Theta himself was wearing. Theta considered going through the coat pockets, but was sure that the man would not have left anything behind that would give him away. So he sat there, leaning back a little, just enjoying the tranquil atmosphere.
It wasn't long before he heard female giggling. He wasn't sure how long John had been gone, but he was itching for him to come back already, feeling nervous, sitting here by himself. When he took a peek around one of the bushes, that were planted all around the little lawn he was sitting on he was greeted with the stunning sight of Koschei and a blonde, suggestively dressed, humanoid woman. They were kissing.
Theta drew back immediately. He couldn't believe what he had seen with his own eyes. Hadn't Koschei been the one to lecture him on this behaviour being disgusting? Koschei was flirting. Koschei - with all his dignified "Time Lords are so much better than anyone else in this universe of retards"-talk was kissing a humanoid who very obviously was not a Time Lord. Kissing.
His hearts pounded in his chest and he really hoped, they wouldn't come along this way. There was soft laughter and whispering and Theta couldn't help but listen for every little sound. His face felt hotter than normal. He really hoped he was not blushing. When he heard the two move again along the path, he concentrated on his body to calm himself down and look as if nothing at all had happened. When he looked up they were walking past him, holding hands and Koschei slightly taller than the female looking at her, talking in soft tones that he rarely used.
Theta made an effort to school his features. When he looked up again, Koschei was looking right at him. There was the briefest hint of surprise in Koscheis eyes, before he assumed an aura of superiority again.
They looked at each other for a moment, but the pair just walked on, never stopping their idle conversation. They had nearly moved out of sight, when John appeared from another direction. He was walking quickly, then flopping himself back beside Theta on the lawn. "Here you go," he declared with a pleased smile. And Theta smiled back, glad that the human was here again and had broken the spell of nervousness that had settled in his stomach since the other had left. John pressed a little bottle with some kind of drink into his hands and then proceeded to open the boxes of food he had acquired.
"The assortment wasn't that big on this floor, so I hope you have a sweet tooth. These cakes were the only thing I deemed edible." He smiled again and watched Theta's reaction.
"I don't mind," Theta smiled. He was actually feeling happy about it. He had a good reason to not look at Kosh now.
"Good." Then John looked up and noticed the pair, that had conveniently stopped a little along the way. Koschei made it seem as if he was explaining something to his companion, but Theta was very well aware that he was watching them.
"Isn't that your friend?"
Theta followed his gaze as if he didn't know what John was talking about. "Oh. Yes."
Koschei was starring right at John now who held his gaze, smiling a little. "So, he doesn't have a problem with flirting?" John turned to look at him.
"That has nothing to do with me. Or us." His two hearts were beating faster again. It was quite uncomfortable. The human studied him with an intense gaze.
"Ah I see," John said facing Koschei again. "That is why he was so worried about you yesterday." He nodded to himself as if he had all the answers now. "And I gather you haven't made up?"
Theta suddenly laughed. "You are nosy."
"That's a no then?"
He shrugged again. "Actually, I haven't seen him since our argument..." He took a sip of the drink that John had given him. "Hmm. That's better than that green stuff you gave me yesterday."
That made John laugh in turn. "And I thought, you abstained from it, because you didn't trust me."
Koschei was glaring at both of them. Theta could feel it. He had always been tetchy when Theta had made new friends, but he could feel this was something else. He looked up and Koschei lowered his eyes at him as if in warning, then walked away with the girl on his arm.
"Huh," the man at his side smiled. "You must be quite a treasure if you get so many people to be competing for you attention in only two days."
Thetas brow furrowed. "I don't think you know what you are talking about. He is just testy 'cause I am getting by without him."
John took up a fork and started on one of the strangely coloured cakes. "Maybe you're right." It didn't sound at all convinced, and a small smile stayed on his lips. He wanted to argue, but the conversation died down as Theta discovered that the cake was indeed delicious.
* * *
They had been talking a lot, had had some even more enjoyable time of companionable silence and now they where watching the universe through a large glass dome. It was so much more breathtaking then the panorama window.
"You love the stars?" John had been very observant from the beginning and Theta didn't mind any more. The sense of danger had left him and by now he felt quite comfortable in John's company. Now and then the nervousness crept back in, though. He was sure it was because he still had to be cautious not to give away his own identity. His stomach fluttered every time the human made a correct observation about him. As it did now.
"I suppose so.” He thought about it. “No. Not the stars really, but the endless possibilities. I'd like to see so much more."
John leaned back. Something that Theta had come to like about him was his quite way of taking the things he said seriously and then giving them thorough thought before answering. "I understand. They represent travelling, the endless excitement that comes with landing in a new place."
Theta considered that. "Yeah, I suppose. I don't actually travel that much. I read up most of the information."
John gave him a soft smile. "There is nothing wrong with being a scholar, but I see a wish for a little more in your eyes, every time you look at something, at anything really. You're a contradiction."
The thought made him pause. He normally hid his true self better than this. Why could this man see right through him?
They sat there in silence for a while. No need to talk any more.
"You're leaving tomorrow? What have you been doing here, really?"
This was the question he had dreaded for hours now. He didn't want to lie, not now, after he had imagined that they had made a connection. "Oh, I spent most of the time with you."
"No, I mean, why are you here? You and your friend..." It was the first time that something like that had been brought up so directly and Theta felt a little surge of panic. Borusa had warned him not to get to close. Because the Time Agency knew about Time Lords? Was John fishing for information?
"You could say we're on a study trip. A little free time for the students," he answered, hoping this would be enough.
"You are at the same academy? Going to be a scientist, Theta?"
He nodded, not sure how to answer the question by evading the truth. "And you?" he tried to steer the conversation away from himself. “Why are you here?”
John leaned back against the posh leather-like seat, they were currently occupying. “I'm here to search for someone. At least I hoped, there would be a way to get information here.” He fixed his gaze to the vastness of space before them. “You see. I'm a Time Agent. Not sure if that means anything to you at all. I'm a time traveller from the future.”
Theta held himself suddenly very still. Now he had evidence, that all his suspicions had been true from the very beginning. But why was the man telling him that? Openly?
“There was a rumour at the Agency that some powerful time travellers would be here. I stayed here for weeks, but found nothing. I didn't really expect to find them. They're a myth, a legend, where I come from.” He sighed. “It doesn't matter now. I have to leave soon anyway.”
Never taking his eyes away from John, Theta could feel his hearts start to beat painfully hard in his chest again. “Why are you telling me this?” He sounded appropriately nervous and confused. After all he really had no idea why John was telling him this. Was he going to tell him now, that he had seen through him from the start? Like he himself had seen through John?
“I want you to know these things, because after tomorrow there will be no way of telling you. I'll go on a mission and you will move on - and it's unlikely we will ever see each other again.”
Theta just knew he was starring at the man. It was as if he couldn't control his own body any more. All of this sounded dramatic and emotional. He had no idea how to deal with it. Could a Time Agent be trusted to tell the truth under any circumstances? Could he take this for granted? Or was all of this tactics? A way to draw Theta out and make him give up his own secrets? His head was telling him to stay wary, not to trust this declaration. But his gut told him something else. His feelings were running haywire.
“For some reason, I feel you are something special, Theta.”
“How can you say that? We hardly know anything about each other! We met only yesterday. John isn't even your real name, is it?” The words were rushed and panicked. He knew John would pick up on it. Theta isn't your real name either, his mind supplied helpfully.
“No. It isn't,” John admitted without hesitation. “I thought it was obvious from the star.”
“What is this all about then?” he asked in a slightly calmer manner, although he was quite literally scared now. This was far from anything he had suspected. The confession had made everything so much more complicated. If someone had overheard he could get into serious trouble with the CIA. Who would believe him that he had only wanted to spend time in interesting company if said company was a Time Agent.
“I want you to know me. Even just a little.” John – or whatever his name really was – spoke in an earnest reassuring tone. “Things like this do not happen often, Theta.”
“Things like what? I have no clue what you are talking about at all.” And that was the truth. He was out of his depth.
John gave him a painfully soft smile. “Sometimes you meet someone who just feels right. Someone who can understand, take you for the person you really are, even if you are trying to hide yourself. Don't you feel that way?”
Theta starred back. His breath caught in his throat. John's eyes still held the peculiar soft expression, urging him to understand what was going on. But he wasn't sure, how to understand. And obviously John recognized his confusion.
He leaned forward and whispered: “I wanted you the first moment I saw you. I had been watching you before the fight with your friend. There was just something alluringly different about you.” Theta's breath was stuck in his throat for a moment. He knew he had grown pale. “Do you see? I'm serious now. No mistaking my intentions. You know now what I want.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He closed his mouth again, took a deep breath to calm his fluttering nerves. But there were no words. There were so many problems his genius brain could solve in milliseconds, but this was something foreign and he couldn't find a safe way to tell John what the problem was. Because he didn't understand it himself.
“Won't you say anything?” John leaned even closer, to whisper in his ear and Theta knew this was the first step of seduction.
He turned to look at John. Their noses nearly touched. “What do you want me to say? I thought it was clear, I'm not interested...” John's clean scent and a touch of what Theta immediately identified as pheromones made it a little harder to think. Not that his brain had been any help before.
“But you are.” John gave him another smile. “You want someone to see you. You want someone to know that you are special. And I see it. You want someone to allow you some freedom. You don't want to hide.”
Theta starred again. John's words had touched something, but he also knew there was no way, that this human, this Time Agent would be able to really see Theta for what he was. There was no point in denying that he was curious and fascinated, but he wouldn't play this game.
Before he could tell this to John though, soft lips touched his. It was only the shortest touch, but it made an electric jolt go through all of his body. His eyes fluttered closed. The human took this as encouragement and deepened the kiss slightly. When Theta felt a tongue lick along his bottom lip, he suddenly pushed himself away, shocked at his own weakness. John was watching him bemused. He couldn't stand it, panting heavily he bolted. He was already out of the observatory's main entrance when he stopped.
There, watching him with a dark, knowing expression, was Koschei. They starred at each other. “How long have you been standing there?” he asked in an angry voice.
“Oh, since the two of you got here.”
Theta couldn't believe it. “You were standing there...”
“Oh not here. I heard every word, by the way.” Koschei gave him one of those simmering, superior looks. His words were like a threat.
He felt the urge to hit his friend. Hadn't he been the one, kissing a female only hours before? But Koschei's words held more than a comment on the kiss he had just witnessed, he had implied that he'd heard everything. Theta had spent his day with a Time Agent and that could mean serious trouble for him if anyone found out about it. Koschei wanted him to know that.
He held back and tried to swallow down his agitation. Koschei passed him. “I'll see you back at the Tardis, then.” He gave him a cruel, belittling smile and Theta just shook with rage again. The message was clear: "Better you come back with me, where I can keep an eye on you." Theta detested the notion, that Kosh of all people was the responsible one.
Koschei just walked on, not even looking back at him.
He bristled with anger. Since yesterday he had wanted to talk to him about all that had happened, had even wanted to tell him about the suspicions he'd had about John. And now everything had gone wrong, because the kiss just now had confused him enough to be upset beyond words. He had only his friend's arrogance to blame for everything. His body literally shook with rage now and he was embarrassed to find an angry tear roll down his cheek.
Nothing would make him go with Koschei now. He was too angry for that, too embarrassed and too disappointed. His first trip to the outside world and it wasn't half as happy as he'd hoped. There was no way, he was going back before he had to. But where could he go now? He turned around. John was standing a good distance away in front of the seats they had occupied only minutes ago. He was watching him with a concerned gaze, but did not make any indication that he would run after him if he bolted now.
This would mean trouble, but he was in it head over heals now anyway.
With a decisive turn he walked back, to where John was standing and sat down on the seat. The man was watching him calmly, surveyed the door, then sat down.
“I'm sorry. I wouldn't have kissed you, if I had known the two of you were really involved.”
Theta gave a sharp laugh. “Oh yes, you would have. And we're not involved. He is just being more manipulative than he normally is, and that means very. That idiot!”
“You are really upset,” John concluded.
There was no use in denying it. “What gave it away?” he snapped angrily.
“I'm sorry for my part in it.”
Theta hoped that was true. He felt that he nearly craved a sign of affection now.
“Would you come with me? To a place a little more... private...?” John asked, nearly whispering.
Theta was starring at the stars outside, the black vastness of space. You really should say no. But he had already made up his mind.
John stayed in the standard guest quarters. They were not overly big or extravagant but comfortable. Theta sat down in an armchair. He wanted to make clear that his being here did not mean he was letting himself be seduced because he was upset. It was his decision. John didn't comment on it, but he seemed to understand the need to stay in control.
They didn't talk for a long while, just sitting there, he in the armchair, John on the edge of the bed. He hadn't felt this young in years.
The human wasn't looking at him. But his brow was furrowed. “This is not something that your culture usually approves of?” He gestured between them. “Two males?”
Theta shook his head. “Don't be silly.” The human looked surprised. “It doesn't really matter who you love or have sex with, as long as it stays between you and your partners. The physical aspect of relationships just isn't that important and it is nearly tabu to talk about it, albeit show physical affection in public.”
“It's not important? Maybe your people don't do it right?” The flirtation crept back into his voice.
He gave an unconcerned shrug. The talking helped to calm his nerves and focus his thoughts. “Some don't see a point in doing it at all.” It's the nearest to truth about his home he had told the human so far. The disbelieve on the other's face, just made it so much better. “It's deemed unnecessary ny some of the people in power.” Which was true, because they had the looms.
“So. You really do not want to have sex?”
Theta didn't answer straight away. He didn't even look at John. It was all so strange. “Is that shocking?”
“No. No, not really. Many cultures aren't so open minded about sex, although most cultures would probably admit that it's very important.”
That last bit made Theta smile. “We just do all of that differently. There is no need for flirting and innuendo. When you meet a person, you just know...” He couldn't elaborate on empathic needs being more important than the physical. But when he had spoken the words, he suddenly realized something. He had known. Never before had he felt the way he had felt with John. He had written it off to meeting his first real human and all the arguments going on with his friend.
John gave him a smug look. “I told you. Things like these don't happen often. Not even to me.”
“Not even to you?” Theta smiled. Maybe he should allow himself to listen to his own instincts.
“Yeah, you know, sex happens all the time. It's not hard to find good sex, fun sex, emotionally satisfying sex, but it's rare to find something truly special.”
The bluntness should have been off putting, but Theta only thought it refreshing. “I don't think I would know. No.” The mood was lightened quite suddenly. They laughed a little and it felt nice. Better than it had felt all day. There was still so much left unspoken between them and it could still be all a way to win him over, but it didn't feel as threatening any more. Everything would come down tomorrow, when he had to go back to the stuffy Academy life. He had no idea how to go about this.
“You only have to ask, if you want me to do the first step.”
“Are you reading my mind?” he asked smiling. John got up from the bed, stepping over to the armchair and leaned down, successfully trapping him on the seat. “Maybe I am.” He smiled. Then his face went back to an earnest expression. “No. I'm only guessing here. I wish I could see your mind though.” He bent forward until there noses nearly touched. “If I kiss you now, will you be upset again?”
Theta didn't trust his ability to speak and shook his head instead.
John's fingers ghosted along his jaw line, and he shivered in expectation. The kiss was soft and chaste and slow. This time the human was taking time, probably afraid of scaring him away again. It felt less awkward, less shocking and more affectionate. Theta knew, he wasn't good at showing affection himself, but it was nice to feel it directed towards him. The hand wandered down from his jaw to his neck. He gave a soft whimper against the warm lips. “Your skin feels so cool,” John marvelled, cupping his face with one hand.
He nuzzled his face into the hand. “Does it feel unpleasant?”
“No, not at all,” John whispered and ghosted a kiss along his temple. Then kissed a line down to his neck. The touches were chaste and gentle. Theta couldn't think of ever feeling this cherished before. He gave another sigh, when John softly nipped his earlobe, then the soft skin behind his ear. Without him consciously willing it, his head fell back against the soft material of the armchair.
The warm, fuzzy feeling, that churned through his body, was completely foreign to Theta and with a startled clarity he understood that this was arousal. A hand softly stroked his sides and although his clothes were still there like a soft barrier, it felt just so good.
“Shh,” soothed John and he realized he had given a moan of excitement. “We have time. No need to rush this. Let's make the best of the time we have.” And he held out his hand, getting up, and pulling Theta along in the direction of the bed.
He felt a little strange to let himself be guided, let himself be laid out on the soft mattress. They kissed again, John softly urging him to take a more active part. It was shockingly sexy, when their tongues met and Theta regretted that they had to break up for breath at all. A hand found its way under his tunic shirt and another jolt of pleasure and desire shot through him. It was overwhelming. Scary. Intoxicating.
John pulled himself up, watching him intently as he writhed beneath his touches, a fire in his eyes that betrayed his own excitement. "You are beautiful," he whispered reverently, making Theta feel as if he wasn't just talking about his appearance. "It's your eyes. Something in your eyes, sets you apart from everybody else." He bent down to kiss his neck and pushed up the fabric of his shirt. Theta’s hands came up to tuck at the others clothes with frantic movement. John helped him to get rid of his own shirt, then made him put up his arms so he could pull the tunic over his head.
"You are quite responsive, when you finally make up your mind," John smiled, lying down beside him and cuddling him in his strong arms. Theta lost himself in his scent and the feel of naked skin against skin.
"I figured. Don't worry..." He bent down to kiss his brow. "It's all right. Just tell me if something feels uncomfortable."
Theta nodded, but didn't feel too sure how to tell if anything was comfortable or uncomfortable. Everything felt new and exciting and scary. His nerves were frayed. Every touch was so good it hurt. "You smell good," he whispered, when he hid his face against the man's chest. He vaguely identified it as the effect of the pheromones and checked his own body's reactions. It was a relieve to find that he was reacting only now that he had made up his mind and that the pheromones hadn't been a part of all that had happened before.
John nipped the soft skin behind his ear again, and all thoughts fled him. His back arched of the bed, and John didn't make it better by stroking his sides, letting one hand wander down to his pants. In between kissing, the hand finally slipped below his waistband. Theta gasped pitifully before John even touched his now painful erection. "Easy," John soothed, "I'll take care of you."
A shiver went down his back. He wasn't sure if he was comfortable with giving up so much control, but it felt so good, that for a moment he forgot how to breath. "You're still cool to the touch", John remarked wonderingly. He kissed his chest and started to softly stroke him. "I love that. It's alluring."
“You're so very warm.”
John chuckled, and breathlessly argued: “I'm hot. I thought, you'd never notice.” They lost themselves in a kiss, before John added: “Although you haven't actually admitted to the fact, yet.”
Theta blushed a little. “Haven't I?” he asked softy, “I thought by now, we were a little beyond words... ahhh. Please.” John had nipped his throat and he suddenly lost his train of thought.
“Hmm. I knew you would like that,” John chuckled, finally making short work of Theta's trousers. “Wanted to try that the moment I first saw you.”
Theta wanted to help him get rid of his own clothes, but the human stopped him, taking his hands in a one handed grip and pressed him back down onto the soft surface of the bed. “Shhh... Don't be impatient, Theta.” A shiver went through him at the inappropriate nickname, and he gave in, let himself be pressed down. John seemed to consider this for a moment, before – in a deliberately slow motion and never once taking his eyes from Theta's face – began to slip out of his own clothes. Theta swallowed, a lump forming in his throat. He had seen a number of naked males, but never under these circumstances. It was strange to him to find his appearance this pleasing. Before the man finally discarded his own trouser, he took something from the pocket. Theta had a very good idea what it was by now.
He wasn't as clueless as the other man may be expecting.
When John leaned down over him again, he was already panting with anticipation. The human smiled another sexy smile and began to softly stroke the inside of his thighs. It made him give a mewling sound and bite his lip, to keep himself from crying out.
“Please, John, please, I need...”
“It's all right.” He settled himself beside Theta, pulled him against his broad chest. Their whole bodies were touching and Theta could feel himself lose control. “Really, not long now. Hush.” His hand wound around the seemingly younger body and pressed them together, their erections bumping together, making both of them groan.
Theta sneaked his hand behind the humans head, using the new found leverage to pull the man down into a searing kiss. He didn't notice, John opening the little container and coating his fingers with the fluid substance until, the slippery hand reached between them touching both their swelling organs, pressing them together and stroking them. He gasped into the mouth of his lover. “I can't hold on.. Please...,” he begged.
“You don't have to, Theta,” John answered breathless and gasping. “We are both so... uh... close... We can take our time later.”
Theta shivered with need. He could already picturing them doing this until morning. It felt so good. He grasped the man's shoulders, holding on, moaning pathetically. John's breath had quickened, too, and Theta could feel his frantic heartbeats. They were still pressed together, although he was desperately writhing. John put is free arm around his middle to steady him.
“Oh God,” he groaned, “I feel like an inexperienced teenager.” A gasp. “You drive.. me crazy.”
Theta liked the thought. The thought that he could drive this strong, dangerous, secretive man wild. It brought him even nearer to the edge. He could feel the orgasm descending upon him, could feel the first stages. His forehead fell against John's, he cried out, grasping the handsome face in his hands. Suddenly there were colours. Thoughts. Everything was a rush. He could hear John cry out his name in ecstasy. But it was distant and loud at the same time. He felt fascination, admiration, curiosity, fondness and yearning. All directed at him. Could see himself through John's eyes. He could see memories. A world of sand. Theta leaning over the rail of the bridge. A woman smiling at John. Two kids playing in the sand. Theta tried to find his bearings. Then he hit a wall and his eyes flew open.
They collapsed side by side, and with a creeping fear Theta realized what he had done. This had been the most intimate and intense experience of his still rather young Time Lord life, and now he had probably given himself away by touching another's thoughts without realizing it. And John had been trained enough to block him. He must have been aware of the intrusion.
Theta dreaded to open his eyes. He felt himself tense up, waited for the inevitable explosion. Then a hand came up to cup his face and pulled him into a very careful, loving kiss. John rearranged them on the bed and pulled the blanket over them without ever letting Theta go from his embrace.
They lay like that for a while, John tracing patterns on Theta's skin with his fingers. He had yet to say something about the connection they had shared, and the young Gallifreyan felt nervous that soon this comfortable illusion would shatter. But John didn't seem to be angry. Instead he seemed to be intend to help him relax again.
When he felt secure enough to let his guard down again, he snuggled a little closer and let his head rest on the man's shoulder. “Is that why you are so secretive? You're a touch telepath?” his partner asked.
Theta shrugged. He wasn't sure where the conversation would lead and reluctant to explain what had just happened. “Did I scare you?”
“No, you didn't. I've had a little psychic training. What did you see?” John sounded as unsure as he himself felt.
He hadn't expected the calm question. What he had expected was the accusation that he had tried to get information. John looked at him with a cautious expression that told Theta that indeed the man was a little suspicious now. “I saw your thoughts of me. I felt, what you felt for a moment. Did you see anything?” This could have given everything away.
John stared at the ceiling. “I saw a glimpse of you in strange red robes. Then I only felt your surprise. You are not used to being cherished.” It sounded a lot more grave, when John said it out loud with worry, than it sounded in his own head. But he is right. “You're used to keep away from others. But you like it when people look up at you.”
The alarming thing should have been that John had been able to glimpse anything at all. The transference of emotion was normal, but that a non-telepath – with or without some training – should be able to glimpse something of him in his own mind: That was simply strange. Alarming even. When he looked at the connection more closely he felt some energy linger between them like a thread, leading from one mind to the other. He didn't understand this, but it felt nice and strangely reassuring.
“I knew, you were special. Maybe I found something here. Not what I was looking for, but something more important.”
The human sounded painfully wistful and Theta didn't know what he was speaking of. It made him uneasy again. He had to ask. “What were you looking for?”
“I lost someone. Someone important and I hoped I could find a way to undo that...”
Theta felt even more uncomfortable now. John had wanted to find a way to change the past. He could hear that in his voice.
“That is why the agency sent me. They knew I would do my best to find the Time Lords, because I had my own agenda...” Theta was thankful for his ability to control himself, because he had a hard time not to tense up again. John sighed: “But they are just a myth.” He closed his eyes. “Just a myth.”
John opened his eyes to look at him. “The one from yesterday?” Theta refrained from asking how many women there had been, if he had to clarify, but the human went on unprompted. She was only there to tell me, my time here was up. We've failed to make any relevant contacts here.“
Theta kept still and John began to stroke his back again. “Are you afraid of me, he asked?”
He nodded against his shoulder. “A little.”
“Smart. Don't worry. You're not in any danger. I won't lie to you. I'm not always a nice man. I now that sometimes you have to do what you have to do. But I know I can be better.” He propped himself up on an elbow to better look at Theta. “And this is different. You know that.” Theta didn't know. But he could still feel the energy lingering between them and it felt non-threatening and calm. And even if John had been taught to hide his thoughts and memories it was unlikely that he wouldn't have picked up on any dangerous thoughts right? But he had been fooling himself all day, hadn't he? He had known the danger from the beginning and had consciously played with fire.
“You are afraid,” John whispered. His hand came up to little grasp his chin. “Want to do that again? Slip into my mind?”
Theta shivered. This wasn't something a Time Lord would do so casually. He had done it by accident in the first place. Because John's mind had been open at least to a certain degree. The thought hadn't occurred to him before. A time agent's mind surely shouldn't have been this open in the first place. An accident on both sides? He nodded. One way to find out.
“It's not that easy. I'm not really a touch-telepath. It's more...”
“Like a sex telepath?”
Theta gasped and shook his head, still reluctant to explain what had happened between them.
John smiled softly. “I don't care. But if you want to look it's okay.” Theta led his hands glide to the handsome face and brought their brows together. This time he concentrated and to his surprise he really found the mind completely open to him. His own shield were tightly in place. He could feel John's own uneasiness, his discontent with his current situation, his longing for adventure and excitement, his pain... John shoved some of his more pleasant memories and thoughts into the front clumsily like the less adept would often do. Theta could see, unpleasant things in the background and there were still some blocked areas. “You don't have to show me those things, you don't want me to see,” he said. “Just imagine them closed and I won't look.”
“But you won't trust me then.”
“John,” he warned. “You are willing to do this,” he said and disconnected. There was the lingering feeling of warmth again. “I've seen enough.” And he had seen enough. A glimpse of a difficult childhood and the thirst for adventure just like his own, the thirst for more, the need to find a lost brother. There was some good in the man. But he was also undeniably ruthless and dangerous.
“I scared you off.”
He shook his head and let himself fall back against the mattress. “You warned me about strangers, remember?” He sighed. “Everybody warned me.” He pulled the blanket over his head and mumbled: “I should have run of, when you told me what you were.” He didn't want to sound to knowledgeable, so ha added: “It sounded dangerous and you had made so many allusions...”
“Do you wish, you had gone with your friend?”
Theta sighed. “No, not yet.”
John pulled away the blanket, so they could look at each other. His eyes were glowing with a hint of flirtation again. He had probably decided it was time to lighten the mood, back to something more frisky. He gave John a small smile before the human kissed him and asked: “Do you want to waste time sleeping or...?”
* * *
They got dressed together and John playfully pulled him against his broad chest, nibbling his earlobe. It was a little awkward, but Theta was feeling too reluctant to stop him.
“This way we will never get out of here,” he reminded his lover reasonably, pushing him away.
“Would you mind?” the human asked undeterred.
Theta gave a sigh. “No.” And he wouldn't have minded, if in less then a few hours his own departure wouldn't be expected. His not turning up would bring the CIA and more than one enraged Time Lord storming into the room. That was something he wasn't to keen on explaining to any of the involved parties. And he wasn't to keen on what would happen to the human, if anyone found out about this. A time agent couldn't be allowed to have any knowledge of Gallifrey. He had gathered as much and could even understand the reasoning behind it.
“I thought not,” John whispered against his mouth. Then he grew serious again. “But I can't stay here. The Agency would never allow that. I'm in trouble if they find out I stayed longer than I should have stayed.” He smiled wryly. “I'm truly not a good man, Theta, I have done a lot of detestable things. I can't let you be dragged into this.”
Theta looked at him with a sad smile, because these had been his own thoughts exactly. Time Lords were never merciful to those who meddled with time. This had been a dangerous game and there was no use postponing the end.
“I'll not stay with them forever, you know?” He stroked the side of Theta's face. “Come with me.”
The Gallifreyan gave a chocked laugh and leaned into the touch. “We hardly know each other.”
“I know you.” John pressed a hand against his right heart and Theta froze in fright. “I know you, Theta. Come with me, please. You are not happy here.”
He tried to free himself from the grip with his superior strength, but John held on not forcing him to stay, but unwilling to let him run now. The time agent took his hands and led them to his own face. “Look at my thoughts, if you don't believe me.” Theta could already feel his mind connecting to John's without him willing it. There were these feelings again, fascination, admiration, curiosity, fondness and yearning. Yearning for something meaningful, something better. But there was also something new. The wish to protect and love, to give him what he was searching for. Still he felt a certain relieve, that John still didn't know, what he was. He would be save without that knowledge.
“I am not from here...This... can't be... ” he mumbled.
“Why not? I could show you the universe. We could travel through space and time together. That's what you want. Freedom.”
The strange warm feeling beckoned him to say yes. Don't do it, Theta, you are not ready, yet, his rational mind told him sternly and it sounded annoyingly like his older brother. “It's to soon for me, John. I need to learn first. There is so much more to learn. I'll be ready one day, but not, yet. Today I'm not ready. I can't go with you. I don't even know you're real name.” And although the man had given him something truly wonderful and touched him very deeply, he wasn't sure that their new born love would be enough to keep him by the side of a time agent that did things he would never be able to accept and forgive.
“You could have read my name from my mind,” the man said, sounding more jesting than persuasive.
“The point would remain, that you can't tell me your name, right?” Theta asked, deliberatly ignroing the opportunity to explain that he wasn't actually the kind of telepath John seemed to take him for.
They held each other for a moment. “If I go now we will probably never see each other again. Think about it.”
Theta gave a sigh. “Please, I'm sorry. I want to come. But I'm not ready. Please. It wouldn't be a good decision. They would follow...”
John silenced him with a deep, passionate kiss. “I'm sorry, too. I won't force you to come.” He kissed him again. “This is good-bye then.”
They didn't let go. “I'll find you one day. When I'm ready. I'll come and find you,” Theta promised.
“Through time and space?” John laughed sadly. “That's a big promise to make.”
“I'll find you. One day.”
“I believe you.” His voice shook a little. The human seemed shaken by his own believe.
“Try to be a better man then, so I won't have to run from you again,” Theta said imploringly.
John stayed silent for a while. “You don't even know the half of what I'm really capable of.”
Theta nodded. “Make it so, that I won't ever have to know.”
The human nodded, pressed another kiss against his brow and stepped back. “Make up with that friend of yours.”
He looked questioningly at the human. What had Koschei to do with any of this? The man seemed to recognize the incomprehension and went on. “He wanted you to be jealous. Even a blind man could see that.” He smiled. “But not you. You haven't noticed. If I can't be there to take care of you, somebody else should.”
That was so unlikely, that Theta didn't even know how to voice his protest. Then John pulled him into a final embrace. “Good-bye, Theta.”
John let go to step back. He gave a sad little smile and a mocking salute, bringing up the Vortex manipulator and pressing some buttons. This was it. Their eyes met. In a flash of light the man was gone. Theta sat down on the bed, feeling alone and crestfallen.
When he finally left the room of his first lovemaking, he did feel better. He knew that it had been right, not to go with John. They hadn't known anything about each other. Even the name he would remember his first lover by, was nothing but a lie. Still this experience had opened his eyes. He would hold to his promise and one day he would go out into the universe and experience freedom he would never have on Gallifrey.
And he would find the human again. He had seen the potential, like a light shining through the front of danger and deception. John could be a good man, he just had to find a way to do it. And they were not to different in that respect. Maybe it would take some time until he started looking, but he desperately hoped there would be second meeting however unlikely it seemed now.
Already the warmth that had stayed with him in the man's presence was leaving...
There hadn't been time before to examine the brief mind touches they had shared, but he had felt the touch lingering. The feeling had intensified after the second round of lovemaking, and now that John was gone it felt like something reaching out with no hope of connection. He asked himself what that could mean and wasn't able to make sense of it. Thoughts of it led to all sorts of unsettling possibilities, that he just did not want to be true. He hoped, he hadn't damaged the human in some unintentional way.
Theta had never given a thought to what his first love would be like and he was reluctant to think of this experience as love. He hadn't fallen in love. Nonetheless he felt the sudden surge of something that was suspiciously close to what loss must feel, and for a moment he felt ill. Maybe he should have gone with John. What if he never got away? If he would feel this trapped forever?
“Is he gone?”
When Theta looked up, Koschei was standing in front of him, staring at him with glowering eyes. He couldn't react at first, he was just staring back numbly. Then he nodded and tried to get past the other young man.
“Has he hurt you?” Kosh reached out to grasp him by the wrist and hinder his passage. “Has he?”
“No.” He tried to get free.
“He hasn't?” His friends voice was agitated and that got his attention instantly. “You are not hurt?”
He held his voice neutral and calm. He remembered what John had said. “No, Kosh. Why would I be hurt? The humanoids around here are not half as strong as we are,” he tried to get free with another shove. But the other held on tight.
Koschei gave him another imploring look. “Are you still angry at me?”
“A little.” He knew that he wasn't angry any more, but his pride absolutely forbade him to make this easy for his friend. It couldn't be credited to Koschei, that John had turned out to be good for Theta. After all he had found out about the man, he could just as well have ended up dead.
The dark haired Gallifreyan pulled him along. “We have a few hours of freedom left. Come on.” It was so like Koschei to just assume his obedience. He was to exhausted to argue and trotted along, demonstrating his dislike by sulking.
He was more than a little surprised, when Koschei led him through corridors to one of the lifts and pushed the code for the level, where he knew the botanical garden was placed. They didn't look at each other and Theta refused to ask where they were going, or more precisely why they were going there. His silence didn't deter the other in the slightest. He made no sign of wanting to let go of his hand. When the lift door opened, he was dragged towards the botanical garden area as expected.
“Kosh, really...” he said sternly, “I do not...”
“Come on. We haven't spent any time together, since we got here,” he was interrupted before he could really protest and was just dragged on. “We should talk this through, before we go back, don't you think?”
Theta could not suppress a snort. “I wanted to talk to you before. Now I'm not sure what there is to talk about.” We should make up, he thought. He had wanted to do that. But his thoughts were still full of all the things that had happened between him and the nameless time agent.
“You could get into serious trouble. He told you he was a time agent!” Koschei snapped with vehemence.
“Humans lie to be interesting, Koschei.” Theta used his most condescending voice. Two could play this game.
Koschei huffed. “Ah, you know everything about that, Theta, naturally. What else did he tell you? That he would love you forever?”
Theta gave a derisive laugh. John had been so right in his assumption that Koschei was jealous. “What did you tell the woman you were escorting around this place yesterday? That you wanted to get my attention?”
That only made Koschei smile in a very smug fashion. “You'd like to know that?”
“No, Kosh, not really.” His mood was getting darker by the minute and it didn't get better in the slightest when he noticed, that they were steering towards the little patch of grass he had sat on with John. “Will you tell me what this is about then, please..”
Koschei pushed a drink into his hand, took one of his own from his coat pocket. It was so much like the scenario that had played out with the human yesterday that Theta felt himself visibly cringe. His friend sat down first. “Sit down first. Then we talk.”
A commanding tone again. Theta considered just turning around and storming away. Arguing wouldn't make things better for him. But Koschei could get him in trouble with what he had overheard and that was not in his best interest. He felt tired, exhausted and a little sore. So in the end he flopped down on the grass beside his friend in the most casual manner he could muster and waited for whatever the other wanted to say. He took a sip of his drink, waiting for Kosh to begin talking.
“It should have been me.”
“The one with you in that room, should have been me.”
Theta looked at his friend hard, not wanting to comprehend what was lurking behind those words. “Koschei. Forget about it. I won't see him again. He was only someone I met here. An adventure. An opportunity to explore. Nothing... Nothing more.” He felt a pang at his own words and suddenly understood that he was lying to himself as well as Koschei. A tear rolled down his cheek and he tried to hide it, but his friend caught his chin in a a gentle but firm grip. The smile on his friend's face was affectionate, but sinister at the same time. His blood ran cold.
“I won't forget. I'll remember it for you. Don't worry, there will be no regrets in a minute.”
No, his suddenly sleepy mind cried out. He felt paralysed and cold hands were at his temples in a flash. So fast. No time to react or fight back. Koschei made contact before Theta could throw up his shields and protect his mind. He felt strangely helpless. The drink, it shot through his mind and from somewhere far away he could hear Koschei laughing at him. Everything went blurry and faded away.
Chapter 4: Present
The clearness of the memory wavered as the consciousness of the remembering Time Lord was thrown out of the dream, back into the waking world.
He woke up inside the Tardis, gasping for air. Disoriented. Agitated. Hearts pounding in his chest painfully.
The Doctor dragged himself out of his bed. He hadn't felt this lost since having actually lost his memories for a time during his eighth regeneration. He couldn't believe that his friend had done that. Not then when they had still been young, before they had decided on their chosen paths. He couldn't believe that the boy he remembered had already been as ruthless as the Master would be so much later.
Why had he been remembering this at all? What had he been doing recently that made him remember all of this now?
His head was pounding with a vengeance, it felt as if Koschei had just done what he must have done all those years ago: ripped out the memory, changed it warped it to fit his needs. That was why he never clearly remembered his first trip away from Gallifrey. All he'd had left then were very hazy glimpses of having spent a nice day with the boy who would become the Master later in their lives. Eating together, watching the stars, having fun. Nothing about arguments, humanoids and love affairs. Nothing about John.
John, who was in fact Jack.
He felt weak.
Jack bloody Harkness, who would have a field day, when he figured out he had been lucky enough to be the Doctor's first lover before he had even set out to become a decent human being just to impress the Doctor. A time agent! What the hell had he been thinking? He pinched the back of his nose, feeling dizzy and unwell.
Stupidity of youth.
His sleep muddled mind had at last come up with an explanation for what he had been doing before he had fallen asleep: He'd seen Jack. Meeting him in Cardiff above Torchwood. Only talking. He had wanted to know why Martha had been contacted by Torchwood, what Jack thought about Martha's new post, how this was nothing like what Martha's family had wanted for her. She had studied to become a normal doctor after all. In the end they had talked about careers and family hopes and not fulfilling expectations.
Jack had told him, how he'd made the final decision to leave his home and become a time agent. He had been driven by the childhood memories of war, the loss of his father and brother and the need to prove himself. He had reached out to the stars and at first had become little more than a scoundrel. The story had helped the Doctor remember that the strong Captain hadn't always been the steady presence he had turned into recently. What made you decide to leave? Surely there was no war on Gallifrey then? He heard Jack ask the question.
It wasn't perfect, Jack. It suffocated me.
The answer had been true enough and Jack had not even for a moment doubted his words, but urged on: Yeah, but when did you decide? Why did you make the decision?
There were so many reasons. I had the feeling, that I would be wasting my life and that there was something that I was missing. It was such a long time ago.
You left in search of adventure.
I left in search for something. And adventure followed my every step.
He had thought of his first 200 something years on his home planet, and leaving the planet with Susan. But hadn't he known long before that, that the only option for him was leaving? Wouldn't he have left the moment they would have given him a Tardis – if they had ever given him a Tardis?
The memories were flooding back in now, the way it always happened when dreams unlocked forgotten memories. Bits and pieces became clearer. He remembered now how he had been acting strange for days after they came back. Everyone had commented on his even more pronounced absent mindedness. He had been preoccupied and brooding. No one had known why. And even he himself hadn't had any idea what was wrong with him. Koschei had been watching him intently for days. Probably worried that he had damaged something beyond repair.
And all the time he had been pondering his future. Something in him had been taken by the idea of freedom, of taking his life into his own hands, to become something outside the scope of Gallifrey's traditions. Something better was waiting for him outside, somewhere in the universe, somewhere in time and space. He had known that nothing would hold him there forever.
Somewhere in his subconscious he had known, that he had lost something and had to go looking for it. The yearning increased with every year.
Something was missing. Something was waiting out there to be found. Something.
He had at first waited patiently for a chance to leave. But the chance had never been given and one day he had taken the opportunity, stolen the Tardis, left with his beloved grandchild. Searching the universe for something.
Sure, there had been many reasons to leave then, not only the yearning for more. Circumstances on the planet had been close to a state of civil war by then, he had detested the role he was supposed to play. He had been dissatisfied and unappreciated. He had seen a wish for freedom in Susan. And it had been answered by his own. He hadn't wanted her to be trapped like him.
Although the promise he'd made, had been essentially forgotten, he had felt drawn to earth and humanity in general. He had ended up on that little blue planet again and again and again. Other renegades and Time Lords had mocked him for his love of humanity, his travelling with human companions. And when the one he had been searching for arrived – he had been blind. He'd forgotten.
He'd even left him behind. Had moved on – without ever knowing.
Jack would have died on their very first adventure, if Rose wouldn't have asked him to rescue Jack and take him along. He would have died for him on the game station, too, if not for the loving heart of one very special human girl. There would never have been a discussion about why he had left his planet in the first place and none of the memories would have flooded back. He would never have figured out that he had found – and lost – what he had been looking for.
How strange it was to think about Jack now. It must have been only a few years after meeting Theta, that Jack had left the Agency and ended up trying to con the Doctor. Did he even remember the boy he had nearly seduced into coming with him then? Had he forgotten all about that little episode in between all the affairs he must have had. Special indeed, he thought wryly. Jack was a man with a big heart and he had a capacity for love the Doctor had never encountered before in another human, but then he had been a seducer, a conman and a scoundrel.
But why would he ask a boy to come with him? Had he even meant that? The Doctor thought back to the moment, raking his memory for every little detail and came to the shocking conclusion. He had meant that! And not in a shady or dangerous time agent way. The more he thought about it, the more it became clear that the man he had slept with, had been a sincere, determined, single-minded, but honest Jack. He hadn't been lying. Maybe he had been playing in the beginning, but he hadn't been lying in that room. Not at the end of it.
It scared him. If he told Jack, the human would make assumptions. He would be insufferable. Maybe he would even want to pursue a relationship. He didn't want that, did he? He couldn’t give that much of himself to anyone.
Not any more.
He remembered now, how special the human had made him feel, how special Jack could make him feel on occasion even today so many hundreds of years later. It still affected him the way it had when he was young. And suddenly he understood how they could have fallen into an easy camaraderie right away - after all that had happened because Jack had been irresponsibly trying to con somebody with that Chula war ship. Their minds had recognized each other, because they had touched before. He had been so utterly stupid and blind. Things like that should have made him understand what was going on.
He had found the something he was looking for.
He could have had that feeling of not being alone, of being cherished, that warmth – stupid childhood dream that it was.
But Jack had made his decision to stay with Torchwood anyway. He didn't need the Doctor to mess up his life again. The Time Lord had had his chance and missed it. And maybe that was best for everybody.
Oh Rassilon, he couldn't do it. He didn't need rejection and he did need innuendo even less.
Uneasy he thought about the moment, when John… Jack had pressed his hand against the heartbeat that should not have been there. “I know you.” Jack had shown an uncanny capability to recognize him, when he had first seen him in a new body. What if he had made the connection? Had the man really never figured out that he had bedded a Time Lord?
The only way to find out, would be confronting Jack.
And there was no way in hell that he would do this. There were too many centuries between then and now – for both of them really.
He would bury the memory and never tell Jack. They could go on as friends at least. If they met again. They wouldn't have to meet. He could evade that. After all he had a Tardis at his command and the whole wide universe at his feet and he would always feel the wrongness of the fact that was Jack Harkness.
Yeah. No need to tell anyone. Stupid thought really. He had just been travelling alone for too long.
He was so very good with running from the past. And he would run again. No big deal.
Jack would never have to know.
He had gotten back a memory and that was good. But it was best for everyone if he went on pretending not to have it. This way he had his hearts broken only that first time. Better to leave the past and Jack behind as far as possible.
The Tardis gave a sudden lurch, he was thrown against the console, trying to hold on, frantically trying to get readings. Then the Tardis came to a halt that was just as sudden and the Doctor was starring at the coordinates. “You've got to be kidding me! What the hell do you want in Cardiff, you daft old ship!?”
* * *
The Doctor wanted to be reasonable about this. He had no idea how to do that, though. The minute the memories had flooded back, he had decided not to tell Jack. And he still thought it was the best course of action. This was something that had happened in another lifetime for both of them, so long ago and far away. The people who'd met later had been different man – Jack no longer a time agent and Theta now wearing the name he'd chosen for himself. Now there was enough of complicated history between them without these memories of – youthful indiscretion? Romance? First love?
The closest that he came to call it was connection. Because that was why this was so unsettling. He'd felt a connection like that on with a wonderful Time Lady a long, long, so very long time ago. It was something rare and special even between their own people.
How could you be reasonable about something like that?
He turned around to look at the Tardis and sighed. “You traitor,” he said out loud. “Couldn't we just have gone to the Antarius system or Persakonev V? Either I could have seen one of the most amazing sunrises in the history of the universe – or we could have gotten into proper trouble and just forgotten about all of this.” The blue police box gave not indication of having heard or understood, mocking him with the still exterior the faulty chameleon circuit presented him with, but he knew the Tardis knew exactly what he was talking about. “First you are afraid enough to catapult us all to the end of the universe just ebcause he's around – and now what? You want him to come along so we can work out our problems?”
He snorted at that ridiculous thought and put his hands into is coat pockets.
No, he wouldn't change his mind. He had decided that it would be easiest to just stay away from Jack altogether. With Jack being like a beacon in space and time that couldn't be to hard, could it? Not hard to avoid someone you could feel wherever he chose to be.
Even if he happened to be right in this city.
So he threw a last annoyed look at the Tardis, made sure he could feel the fact that was one Jack Harkness right under the Plass and took out his sonic screwdriver to take some readings. This was Cardiff and somewhere out there would be something interesting to find. The device gave a small beep and he shook it a little then looked at the reading. The time rift was pretty active today it seemed.
When he looked up a young man was watching him curiously from across the square. The Doctor ignored it, like he always did and just walked off, like he owned the place.
* * *
Most people simply didn't want to know – probably out of unconscious fear of getting involved with things they'd rather not know about.
His steps were carrying him back towards Roald Dahl Plass and the Tardis. He could feel the proximity of the rift, but curiously enough he couldn't feel the ripples surrounding Jack Harkness. He had been careful to stay clear of that particular anomaly in time for hours, until the rift had obliged him and finally thrown a little adventure at him.
But now Jack was gone. No longer sitting under the Plass with his team of Torchwood agents.
The Doctor had feared he'd not be able to avoid a meeting and now felt relieved that it seemed that Jack had not come to find him. Whatever had led him away from Cardiff probably was connected to the heightened rift activity.
But was it likely that he'd not noticed the Tardis?
It was likely that he was overthinking this.
He had been alone for some time now. It was always easier to ignore his own insecurities when someone else was around to be impressed. There was rarely time to ponder his own past, when someone else was depending on him in the here and now. Not that there were any memories to be pondered, of course, because he'd already made the very firm decision to forget all about it.
He sighed, fed up with himself and his thoughts, going round and round in circles.
Being alone made hiding from himself a near impossible task. He was his only company already and it was becoming harder and harder to lie to himself.
It was high time to find a new travel companion – and soon.
Or maybe it was better to just learn to live with himself, before he lost another poor person to the dangers of the universe. His recent track record hadn't been good at all. Was it really fair to drag someone else along just so he wouldn't have to face his own memories?
When he got closer to the Tardis he took the time to look around one last time, fully intending to leave Cardiff – and Jack – behind again, and for a long time. At least if the Tardis would be cooperating with him now and actually let him leave. But even before he had opened the door something occurred to him.
There was a simple explanation for the fact that he couldn't feel the presence of any fact in Cardiff at this very moment. He was already half inside the door when it struck him with full force: There was no fact in Cardiff at this moment, because said fact was inside the Tardis.
“Hey,” Jack said, looking over at him from where he was sitting right across the control room. He was bemusedly smiling at the Doctor, who had the presence of mind to not act shocked or surprised.
“Captain,” he said. “Did she let you in?”
Jack waved his Tardis key at him and the Doctor smiled, sardonically, not really feeling it. His frantic overthinking had cringed to a very sudden halt and now he had no idea how to avoid this conversation. Not that there would be conversation about anything important, because there was no way Jack could know that they had in fact anything to discuss. He was only here to greet the Doctor, his friend. The person who was to blame for his little predicament of factness...
“Where did you get that?” Jack asked and gestured at the pulse rifle.
“Ah!” The Doctor said and let the rifle fall where he stood. “The wonders of Cardiff. Couldn't leave this lying around. Actually couldn't let a bunch of teenagers buy this from a Raxacoricofallapatorian arms dealer and get into trouble. Did you know your city has a little Slitheen problem? What is it with this city and Slitheen?”
“You met Garn? She's harmless. For the most part. Tries to earn enough money to pay for a trip out of here.” Jack shrugged and smiled, still leaning casually back in his seat and studying him. “Bigger fish to fry in Cardiff. The rift throws something new at us everyday.”
“Must be like travelling the universe. Without the fun of travelling.”
Jack chuckled. The Doctor couldn't tell if there was any mirth in it. He'd probably be able to read Jack if he could make himself look at him directly, but he avoided meeting his eyes. “It's fun. Never boring at least.”
The Doctor nodded. “I lived with UNIT for a while. Not boring, but not as much fun either. Well, and sometimes it really was boring.”
“Are you trying to invite me again?” Now Jack sounded amused, but the Doctor wasn't sure why it bothered him.
“Maybe?” he said, before he could stop himself, and startled at his own words. For a moment he froze, looking at the console in concentration and trying to find a way to explain away his own words.
But Jack was only smiling at him mildly, his blue eyes following his every move, but giving nothing away. The Doctor was sure his own poker face was holding just fine – he'd had a lot of practice after all –, but he was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the situation. What he really wanted to do was take the Tardis and run away. Running was something he excelled at for a reason.
“It's tempting,” Jack said, and the Doctor had a sinking feeling in his stomach, warning him that he'd just messed up. But then Jack tried hard to meet his eyes and the Doctor gave in for the sake of not seeming to suspicious and Jack added: “Can't leave the team. They've learned to get by without me for a while. But they're my team. I can't just leave now.”
The Doctor nodded enthusiastically. It seemed Jack was only here to say hello and then would stay behind in Cardiff with his Torchwood team. “I see. Yeah. Taking responsibility. You've grown up.” He turned towards one of the Tardis monitors, relieved, and already looking for the next place to go.
“So have you,” Jack quipped.
The Doctor froze. “In what way?” he asked, making his voice sound deliberately lighter than he was feeling.
He didn't feel any better about it when Jack just smiled and shrugged, watching him carefully. “Sorry. It just feels like that year...” He broke off and looked away. For his part the Doctor was still feeling that something more was going on here. It made his fingers itch, because he wanted to get his fingers on the controls so badly.
Then Jack suddenly looked at him again and asked: “How long has it been for you?”
“Not long at all,” the Doctor admitted and added in the silence of his mind: Not long enough. It had been unpleasant to live through, but it was still even harder to lose the one other surviving Time Lord, even considering how much grief he'd caused him over the years. Koschei had been his friends. And even now that this one certain memory had returned and the Doctor had to admit once more that his friend had always been selfish and ready to go to a long way to get what he wanted. The Doctor suspected that back then Koschei hadn't gotten what he wanted and had lashed out to correct his mistake. Maybe after that he'd gotten it: An equal. An adversary.
He tried to quench the thoughts of the past and shook his head lightly. “Not long at all,” he repeated and his lips quirked in the imitation of a smile.
Jack smiled back and nodded. “I though so. That's why you're still alone, huh?” He looked around the room and sighed. “You're still alone. Martha was worried about that.”
“You've heard from Martha again?”
“Yeah. Of course. It's easier to talk to people who know what you've been through recently. You know? You probably don't know.” Jack nodded to himself as if he'd just figured this out. “You never really talk about the things you've been through. It's easy to know you, but never easy to really get to know you.”
The Doctor looked away, feeling the urge to get away strengthening. “Don't tell me you're not keeping your secrets,” he said and let his fingers slide along the controls. “You'd have been a bad agent. And, well, you were rubbish as conman.”
Jack laughed out loud. “I wasn't. I messed up and you were around to see it.”
“I've messed up plenty of times,” the Doctor said softly, making it sound slightly apologetic. He couldn't blame Jack for any of it. It wasn't Jack's fault that he now had to deal with the returning memories of a long time ago. They had just come to an understanding after all the wrong he'd done to him and the Doctor really didn't want to leave Jack behind again without things being at least okay between them. He sighed.
“Of course, we all mess up,” Jack said. There was a hint of something there that the Doctor couldn't place. “Look at me. I'm a fact. I'm forever. Who would now better than me?”
His head shot up and he examined Jack closely. “It's not your fault. What happened to you was not your fault.”
“It wasn't really yours either,” Jack returned and it sounded like he honestly meant it. “In fact it was an accident. Because I sure as hell can't blame Rose for liking me enough to want something better for me than death.”
“I even understand your running away,” Jack continued, looking away from the Doctor. “The Tardis seems to be fine with me now, but she really was scared enough to flee to the end of the universe. That says something.”
The Doctor nodded and tried not to look away, until Jack finally met his eyes again. “She was scared. I was scared. I did what I do. I ran.”
Jack chuckled. “How has this turned into a gloomy conversation like this? I just wanted to say hi and remind you that you can drop in on me any time you want.”
The Tardis hummed contently and the Doctor looked at her with a slight frown. “I think she's glad you're here,” he admitted after a moment of thought. “I think she feels a little bad for her part in all this.”
“All this being my factness?” Jack asked with a thoughtful expression. “Or the end of the universe thing?”
The Doctor shrugged. He wasn't sure he should really say anything more. At least he had relaxed a little and didn't feel like it was necessary to run and hide again. Jack didn't know and Jack would probably never know. There was no need to dwell on any of it. It was just another memory he'd carry around and keep to himself.
With a smile Jack reached for the console and patted it affectionately. “There's no need to apologize. I was pretty scared myself when I figured out what had happened.”
“We left you behind,” the Doctor reminded him.
“Maybe it was better that way. Imagine the way Rose would have reacted. Maybe it's for the best that she'll never know.” Jack smiled and the Doctor tried hard not to look sad, because he still missed Rose, still felt like he'd failed her, even so she was probably happier in that other world with her family. “Why did you drop in on us, if it wasn't to say hello?” Jack finally asked. “Did the lady need some fuel?”
Finally the Doctor felt the last threads of tension fall away. “Something like that.”
“She giving you a hard time again.”
“She's travelling where she wants, yes.”
A chuckle escaped Jack, a strangely startled sound. “She wanted to come?”
It was the Doctor's turn to chuckle. “She did.”
Jack gave the console another affectionate look. “Did you miss me, old girl?”
The Doctor shrugged and rubbed at his cheek with one hand, trying to keep all his nervous energy under control. “Hm,” he commented eloquently, trying hard not to think about the reason the Tardis had thrown him out here. She made another droning sound, as if she was about to take off into space just to spite both of them. Curse their telepathic connection. She knew him too well.
Jack seemed to pick up on the silent exchange between Time Lord and Tardis and zeroed in on the Doctor again. “Did you miss me?”
A not formed in his throat and the tension was back. He was telling himself that there was no reason for it at all, but he couldn't help. When he said: “Don't be ridiculous. We just saw each other a few days ago...” His voice sounded normal and full of energy. Sometimes this ability to perform under emotionally charged circumstances even surprised himself. Well, and then he remembered life on Gallifrey and the necessity to pretend and perform just to get on with your life and then he was actually surprised that he was at all able to still recognize when his own emotions were at all genuine.
“It was actually a bit over two month ago for me,” Jack corrected him.
“Well, what's that compared to a lifetime like yours?”
A crooked smile and twinkling blue eyes answered the question better than any words. “Blink of an eye?”
Jack shook his head. “No, not really. Time doesn't really pass any faster just because I live longer. It just feels that way sometimes when I think back.”
“Yeah,” he said, surprised how apt the description was. “I always hate living on the slow path, because it seems so... so...”
“Slow?” Jack asked and laughed a little, quietly.
“Sometimes.” He'd been about to say “annoying”. His time spent with UNIT had had its fun moments, but it had been the worst possible inconvenience most of the time and although he sometimes thought back to those days with fondness, he couldn't ever claim to miss them. In fact he'd never felt that trapped since Gallifrey.
Jack was still stroking along the console and it was like a loving caress. Suddenly the Doctor couldn't look away from his fingers. Thankfully Jack seemed unaware if his attention and said: “I do enjoy living the linear life sometimes. It's has its moments. And there are people I care about.” He sounded rather serious and the Doctor pondered his statement for a moment, before Jack looked up and studied him with a very peculiar expression. “We all try not to lose people we care about.”
The Doctor had to think of Astrid, of losing her before they'd even had time to really know each other, before she'd ever really travelled with him. He swallowed down the feelings of quilt and nodded, trying to keep Jack from getting to close to any truth he might want to find. Let Astrid and that last messed up Christmas be one of his secrets, although there was no way Jack wouldn't know about a spaceship nearly crashing into Buckingham Palace. Was that what he wanted to talk about? The Doctor cleared his throat and stuffed his hands into his coat pockets, searching the sonic screwdriver. “Did you want to talk about something, or did you really just drop by to see us off again?” he asked.
Jack started moving around the console, never taking his hand away from the metal, but letting his fingers slide along the edge as if he was tracing a memory. And maybe he was. He had spent some happy time here with him and Rose after all.
“Yes and no,” Jack said and stopped on the other side of the console. “I know I said I didn't want to come along – and at the moment I don't. I have friends here, a team and...” He hesitated, before adding: “A family.” That made a lot of sense in many ways, so he nodded, understanding – and secretly glad that Jack would be happy here, when he left again to stay away for a long, long time. Jack looked at him from the other side of the room, smiling, like he knew something the Doctor didn't. And that did make a lot of sense too, because many people expected that the one thing the Doctor didn't know much about was having his own family. He knew, of course, but that didn't matter any more. Not since the Time War. “In a way I really want to come,” Jack was saying, watching him intently now. “I'm just not ready yet.”
When he nodded, Jack frowned a little, as if he'd been expecting something else. “Family is important Jack and you do have a lot of time. You'll go back to the stars one day.” He deliberately didn't say anything foolish about meeting again. Things had a way of happening on their own, but the Doctor rarely looked back if he could help it.
“I understand that now. When I was younger I didn't.”
He laughed at that. “Oh Jack, you're still young – and you have all the time in the world. But I'll tell you something: I never learned patience.”
Jack rolled his eyes at him and started to move again. “Sometimes you're really dense or maybe... I was saying that when I was younger, I didn't understand why people would chose to stay behind like I'm doing now. But now I've learned that sometimes you're not ready to leave a life you're still caught up in, just because it's your life – and there are people who depend on you. People you care about.”
“I understand that,” the Doctor snapped, exasperated.
“I know you do,” Jack snapped back. “You understood this a long time ago.”
The Doctor frowned at him and watched as Jack made his way around the room back to the place where he was standing at the moment.
“When you left me, back then, I was sure it had only been a mistake. After all even I didn't understand how I had survived. I remembered dying. So I thought one day the Doctor and Rose will realise and just come back for me. Then I understood that you weren't coming back. And I still thought it was because you thought I had died. So I tried to make it easier for you to find me...”
“Jack...” he interrupted, “I am really sorry.”
“I know,” Jack said with force. “Would you let me finish this story please?” He nodded and folded his arms before his chest. Jack leaned back against the console, standing very close now and watching his reactions. “So I believed one day you would find me. And I never could not believe it. I always thought it was because you were the Doctor. You just were so amazing how could I not believe in you. But lately I realised it wasn't because you were the Doctor, but because I had been waiting for a long, long time to be found...”
“What?” he asked and scrunched up his nose. He knew his eyes had that cold expression now, the one he got when he was judging people. “What are you trying to say?”
“That I wanted someone to find me,” Jack said in a matter of fact voice. “Someone I had met a long time ago.”
It took a split second for his expression to completely freeze up into an indifferent mask. “Someone?” he asked, as if he had no idea what Jack could possibly be talking about.
“When I met you and you just told me you were a Time Lord, a myth, a legend, I didn't say anything to you. But I had reason to go looking for Time Lords when I was a young agent. I wanted my brother back.... I had lost my brother when we were still children...”
“You're rambling,” he admonished and Jack shut up immediately.
Their eyes met and the Doctor knew his mask was holding. He'd discovered early on that this regeneration had a vicious, slightly cruel streak and in this situation he was glad for it.
“When I was young I met someone. I think he was from Gallifrey.”
“That's ridiculous,” he heard himself say, feeling disconnected and distanced from all of this.
Jack stared at him hard now and when he looked away, the Doctor was sure he would stop his line of questioning, probably satisfied that the Doctor didn't recognize him from a time before Jack Harkness had met the Doctor. The Tardis made a screeching sound and both of them turned to look at her core – the Doctor with an annoyed frown and Jack with surprise. When he looked back at the Doctor, his mouth set into a thin line and his eyes were hardening again, determined. “The Master told me that before he chose his name he was called Koschei.”
The Doctor froze, visibly froze. Poker face lost for a moment. There would be no way to explain this away now. “Why would he tell you that?” he asked weakly.
“Because he wanted me to know why he was killing me over and over again. Because he wanted me to know that I had offended him a long time ago.”
That was like a punch to the gut. And, yes, of course, in all of this the Doctor hadn't even wasted a minute on thinking about that possibility. He hadn't remembered for years, because the Master had locked away his memory. And stupidly he'd expected that Jack had forgotten all about it by now too, because that would have been so very convenient for him. But he hadn't given the Master any thought, beyond the anger and annoyance – and grief, always grief - he'd felt for him when he realized. He hadn't thought about the fact that the Master had seen Jack, must have realized who the Doctor was travelling with now, must have also realized that the Doctor and Jack had no idea...
“Rassilon,” he whispered.
“In his mind there was a good reason to kill me over and over again,” Jack went on, and the Doctor could imagine it all too well, didn't really want to hear it, didn't need to hear it, because he knew. “In fact he would have ended my eternal existence if he had any idea how to do it...”
“Jack,” the Doctor whispered, trying to make him stop the frantic flow of words.
“And you don't even remember do you? I didn't say anything before, because you don't...”
His hands were balling into fists inside his coat pockets and his jaw tightened. It took all of his strength to say: “I do remember!”
Utterly shocked, Jack stopped speaking and stared at him. For very long moment they didn't do anything more than stare at each other in silence. The Doctor did already regret his words and was looking for a good way out of this.
“You knew?” Pain and betrayal were heavy in Jack's voice, which was now cold and accusatory, barely holding the anger at bay.
“No. I didn't know. I... It came back just hours ago, which is why...” He pulled his hands from his pockets and used one to wipe at his eyes and then pinch his nose. There was no way of explaining this now, at least not in an elegant fashion. So he might as well just get it out there. “I had a bad time. After I left Martha I mean. I was tired and needed some rest and something happened. And now here I am having a memory that I'd forgotten for centuries! Centuries! And next thing I know the Tardis spits me out in Cardiff! I didn't even have time to think about it!” His voice is raised now and he knows that he probably doesn't make much sense, but that has never stopped him before. And he is angry, at himself, at Jack, at the Master and the Tardis – at the bloody situation. “This was not how I wanted to tell you,” he said in a smaller voice and looked away.
Jack stared at him, eyes wide with surprise again and all the anger bleeding away, but some of the betrayal was still right there in the piercing blue eyes. “You didn't... The Tardis did... You had no intention of telling me.”
He was still able to feel a little stab of guilt at the words, but not enough to regret his initial decision.
Jack's anger had drained away now, and he looked exhausted, pale, a little shocked. “He told me. He told me that you didn't remember. Because it hadn't mattered...”
He pinched his eyes closed. “I didn't remember, because he bloody messed with my memory,” he ground out, nearly hissing with anger. “Or none of this mess would have happened, because I would have known that first moment I saw you in London.”
“And I would never have travelled with you.”
There was no need for an answer, because they both knew it to be true. Jack hadn't even phrased it as question. It was just another fact standing between them.
Jack sighed and walked the small distance to the steps and sat down. “I can't believe it. This is so much to take in.”
He was probably also wondering if the Doctor was telling him the truth. But it was a lot to take in and he himself hadn't really had enough time to really process it yet. He walked over to Jack and sat down beside him. “It's a lot to take in,” he agreed. Maybe too much.
They sat together in silence. Once upon a time it would have been comfortable, but now they were both too tense and guarded.
“At least now I know what happened to innocent, wide-eyed Theta. He grew up,” Jack said into the silence.
“He regenerated a couple of times. And he was never as innocent as he seemed. He was pretty much aware that you weren't either.” Jack looked over at him, searching, probably trying to find a sign of that person from back then, but that body had died a long time ago and this face bore no similarity to the face of young Theta Sigma. “I'm still the Doctor.”
“I'm aware. But you did not lose the way to look at the wonders of the universe. That's something.”
He scoffed, but then smiled. “I'm curious.”
Jack chuckled. “Where does this leave us?”
This was the question he had feared the most. “I told you that my people don't really work that way. We live too long, sometimes too fast or too slow, but always pretty content with out own minds.”
“But we had a connection,” he argued.
“Yes, and that was a long time ago. We're not these people any more.”
Jack gave tired and slightly sad smile, before he turned away and said: “No kidding.” Then he dragged himself up and looked down at the still sitting Doctor. “You shouldn't travel alone. We may both need a while to think about this, but that doesn't mean I won't come looking for you again one day. If I can't be there to take care of you, somebody else should.”
The words, taken right out of his memory, made him shudder for a moment, before he caught himself and shook his head. “You know me.”
“That's exactly why I'm worried,” Jack answered. “I'll be here when you're ready to talk. But if you don't come back, I'll figure out where to find you.” The Doctor nodded, not because at the moment the prospect seemed appealing, but because there was nothing more to add. But Jack seemed to expect an answer and was still looking at him. “So? Am I going to see you again – or do I have to wait until I give up hope to find you again, Theta?”
He scrunched up his nose. “Don't. Just don't call me that. It's not... It's not really my name.”
“What is then?”
“Jack, don't be silly. I'm the Doctor. And you are Jack Harkness. You know why? Because that's who we chose to be. Let's not make this more complicated than...”
“Than it is?”
“This is not complicated. We shared a past and we shared a different past and now we're still friends. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“We had a connection,” Jack reminded him again.
He shrugged and didn't meet his eyes.
“Can I kiss you good-bye at least?”
“If you must,” he said, because Jack was already leaning down towards him to capture his lips in a sweet and surprisingly chaste good-bye kiss, that brought up the unfortunately brought up the memory of Jack kissing him good-bye on the game station. There were no sparks flying, no colours and no profound feeling of connection, but the Doctor felt something brush against his mind. It was gone too fast for him to examine it, but it had been here.
The Tardis hummed, a sound of pleasure and content, probably basking in the rift energy.
When he looked up, Jack saluted him with a sad smile and turned to leave.
“Just don't be a stranger”, he whispered, before he got out the door.
He remained in his place for a moment longer, looking at the place where Jack had vanished back into the Cardiff night.
“I did find you though. I really found you,” he whispered into the empty room.
Maybe it was time to find some new travel companion after all.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
He did not go looking for Jack, of course. They did meet again in another end of the world kind of situation that involved Daleks, meeting Rose again and then losing her once more, losing Donna and being face with a human metacrisis of himself. The earth had been saved once more and the Doctor found himself alone and without knowing it with not much time to live out this regeneration.
That the Master should be the one to help along the demise of this incarnation was strangely fitting.
Now he was all to ready to move on.
And move on he did.
A lifetime later he felt the pull again. Something very different was close and the Tardis was humming in anticipation. The Doctor knew what it meant. How could you ever miss something that was so obviously Jack Harkness?
And this time he was ready.
Jack was standing at the edge of a crowd of people watching a group of dancers dance in the middle of the street. His eyes were twinkling as he was watching the bodies move to the music with abandon. This little colony on the edge of the Galactic Empire did not have much reason for celebration and it made the festivities only shine brighter. Obviously Jack still knew how to cherish moment like these.
The Doctor walked up to him, noticing the way he caught Jack's attention when he came closer. He wasn't the same man, but he still knew how to carry himself. So he smiled a little and came to stand beside Jack, who wasn't moving, just watching him appraisingly from the corner of his eyes. The Doctor briefly wondered how old he was now, because he hadn't visibly changed at all.
“I was about to get something to eat. Care to join me?” he asked, echoing a question he faintly remembered being asked on a space station an impossibly long time ago.
Jack turned to give him another searching look, appraising him from had to toe.
“I thought you'd never come and find me,” he said and smiled.
“Never is a very long time, my dear,” he answered. “And eternity is a very long time to spend alone. Are you ready to go?”
“I was ready for this a very a long time ago,” Jack answered with a smile.
And this time the Doctor was ready too. So he led the way without another word.
The first thing Jack did when they arrived at the Tardis was to push him against the next surface and kiss him like he wanted to suck the air from his lungs. Blue and violet dots were dancing in front of his eyes; the returning signs of a long lost connection.
“I've waited a very long time for this,” he whispered against the Doctor's ear.
“So did I, I think,” he said with a slight gasp. “But now it will be perfectly worth the wait.”
Jack chuckled and made a step back to look around. “What's with all the white?” he asked, looking around the current interior of the console room.
“Actually the new interior changes colour,” he explained, feeling breathless and a little weak in the knees. “Want to check your room?”
“Actually I'd like to check the bedrooms. All of them. One at a time.”
The Doctor laughed out loud surprised and maybe just a little bit excited. “You'll never change.” He literally jumped towards Jack and took him by the hand. “I know just the place!” he exclaimed and dragged Jack after him into the corridor.
Yes, this time he was ready. This time he'd run away with a former time agent and it would all be terribly exciting and new. And maybe they'd never be truly alone again.