Sighing low in her throat, Traci snatched the resume she was reading from the desktop and slammed it down in the reject pile. It was unbelievable how many obviously unqualified candidates applied for the position when the posted requirements were so specific. Despite requiring three years of experience (which, she mused, considering the position, wasn't asking a whole lot), this one was fresh out of law school, and the one before him hadn't even attended law school - that one was hoping that a summer job at his mother's law firm was enough.
Out of sixty applicants so far, she had only found three that were suitable. She had about twenty more to look at; if the previous rate was any indication, she'll find only one more possibility. She had the go-ahead to hire two new people, but had hoped to make a case for a third. Now, it was starting to look like she'd be lucky to find one. She hoped that at least she could argue for a higher salary offer, so that she could be assured that the lucky candidate would accept.
She leaned back in her chair to relax a moment before grabbing the next resume. She was running out of time. She had really hoped to have the new hires settled and trained to a basic level before she resigned, but with only six weeks left, it was nearly impossible. Maybe, if she could get these hires done quickly, she could continue as a consultant for a while. Laying her hand on her swollen belly, she bit her lip, thinking. She really didn't want to continue on and have to take maternity leave, only to resign soon after she returned. That course of action was beneficial to neither her nor the company. She wished she had made up her mind to resign to raise her children a lot earlier.
She actually hadn't wanted to leave. She'd been at the company for six years now, originally hired as legal counsel for the small data storage firm, but as business took off and concerns about data protection, retrieval, and ownership piled up, she had become essential to its livelihood, as important to its smooth operation as the programmers and technicians. She had intended to organize a legal office for the firm, but had never had the time, and now her departure would be a big blow their stability. She couldn't just leave them high and dry, but she also had her family to think about. Jason had already spent the first year of his life in the care of a nanny, and it was high time he had a real mother.
The next resume could wait a few more minutes. She pushed herself to her feet and walked out of her office to fetch some water. The hallway was long, and she noticed that she was waddling more than she would have liked. She hadn't been this big at this point with Jason. This baby was going to be enormous.
As she grabbed a cup from the dispenser, Traci's cell phone rang in her pocket. Pulling it out, she flipped it open and propped it on her shoulder as she filled the cup with water. "Traci… I do?... Oh!... No, don't bother. I'm just on the other side of the door. Be right there." Clapping the phone closed, she dropped it in her pocket, put the cup down on the top of the water cooler, then headed to the door just fifteen feet down the hallway and pulled it open halfway. Through it, she saw the Doctor, this time clad in a brown suit under his overcoat.
"Doctor! Come in!"
He turned, smiling brightly. "Traci!" She pulled the door all the way open, and his eyes immediately traveled down to her waist. His expression transformed into wonder and delight, and he declared in a throaty murmur, "Oh, brilliant!" Stepping through the door, he caught her free hand and kissed it with easy gallantry.
Traci grinned, both proud of her condition and amused by the Doctor's reaction. She leaned through the door and called, "Thanks, Mel!" to the receptionist, then let the door fall closed as they turned to walk towards her office.
"Looks like you're doing well, then!" The Doctor fairly beamed with happiness.
"Pretty well, yes." As they reached the water cooler, she grabbed her cup. "Want some? Or a cup of coffee?"
"Oh, no, thank you."
"Suit yourself. My office's this way." She led him down the hallway into her little office and indicated to him the cheap guest chair that was pushed against the wall near the door. As he removed his coat then dragged the chair out to sit in it, she circled around her desk and eased herself down into her chair.
The Doctor gazed with fascination at the office, which was packed with filing cabinets and reference books. Every surface except the desk was stacked with papers and files. "Cozy! I like it."
"It's mine. I built it. I'm the legal department here," she declared with evident pride and self-satisfaction. "This company is poised to become a leader in data storage and content delivery in the next two years, and I handle all of its contracts and ownership and copyright issues. And soon, I'll have a real department set up here, with multiple lawyers to take on the increased client load."
"Everything you've always wanted, then."
"Yup. I'm proud of what I've done here. But I'm going to resign soon. It's time I was a mother to my babies." Reaching over to pick up a framed picture of herself, Alex, and Jason from her desk, she handed it to the Doctor. "Jason's sixteen months already, and I don't want to miss any more of his childhood. This one's a girl. We're going to name her Kathryn."
"Beautiful name." He tapped the photo. "Who's the lucky guy?"
"Oh. You don't know Alex?" She thought back to their last meeting and couldn't quite remember when it had occurred. "I thought I was dating him last time… I guess not? We've been married three years now. He's an engineer, works for the city of Palo Alto. Manager, actually, which is why we can afford me not working."
He held the photo out to her and indicated it with his chin. "You look very happy together."
She took it and placed it back on the desk. "We are. He's everything to me. A great father, too. He's coming to take me to lunch, actually, so you can meet him if you'd like."
"I would be honoured."
"So, yeah, everything's great. Life's wonderful." She didn't say anything more, letting the Doctor figure out her implication on his own. She caught his gaze, and after a moment, he nodded and smiled. "So," she continued. "What have you been doing with yourself?"
"Oh, same old thing. Travelling in the TARDIS, as usual."
Traci held up her hand and shook her head. "No, wait. You can't say 'the same old thing.' You've never told me what you do. You're going to have to start with that. What do you do?"
The Doctor seemed puzzled, and he shrugged. "Well, that mostly. Travel around. Meet people. See what I can see. Get into trouble sometimes. Run a lot." He cocked an eyebrow as he gazed off into space. "I do an awful lot of running."
She leaned forward, disbelief evident in her pursed lips. "Really? You just randomly fly around the universe all by yourself?"
"Well," he drawled, "not all by myself. I usually have friends. Right now, I've got a mate. Donna. Her name's Donna. She's at home visiting her mum right now."
"A mate? Good for you!" Somehow, she never even considered that this last Time Lord would find a partner from another species, but it made sense, and she was happy for him.
Panic-stricken, he raised his hands in protest. "Oh, no, not a 'mate'. A 'mate'! A friend. A companion. No, not like that. A…" - he searched for a word - "...a pal… uh…"
Traci got it. "Oh, you mean a mate in the British sense, as in someone you go to a pub with."
"Yes!" He pointed in agreement. "Like that! Donna's my best mate."
"Well, that's good, too." She leaned back in her chair, stifling her amusement at his reaction to the thought that his friend was his partner. In some ways, he really wasn't much more adept than a teenager. "Everyone needs a best friend."
"Aye. Donna's brilliant." His eyes gleamed as he thought about her. "Keeps me grounded, she does. Slaps me a lot." He frowned. "I'd like a friend who'd slap me less."
Traci laughed. "Maybe that's exactly what you need, though."
He grinned. "Probably."
"So that's what you do, then, travel around the universe with your friend in your phone booth, doing Time Lordy things?"
"Police box," he corrected, "and, well, not really. I've never been a very good Time Lord."
Traci didn't know quite how to interpret that statement. "Well, we all try to be the best person we can, don't we?"
The Doctor had been distracted by some train of thought, and Traci's question jerked him back to the present. "What? Oh, I don't mean that. I mean... well, the Time Lords and I never really saw eye-to-eye."
Confused, Traci fiddled with a pen on the desk as she stared at him, then leaned forward. "I… I think the problem I'm having here is that you've never really told me about the Time Lords either."
"Really?" He ran a hand through his hair as he tried to remember. "Thought I did."
"No," she replied, shaking her head at his negligence. "I haven't the faintest idea about the Time Lords, other than that I'm one of you, and that you've got two hearts, and that you see time somehow. That's why you're called that, right?"
"Right. It's called time sensitivity. There are other time sensitive races, but we were the first. Well," and he glanced away, "there were other races, but they're gone now, too."
"I'm sorry, Doctor."
He nodded absently as he thought about what he was going to say. "Well, in a nutshell, the Time Lords, they invented time travel and then established a timestream that the universe should follow, and called it the Web of Time. They used their power to watch over the Web, to repair paradoxes and prevent meddling. I suppose you can say that they watched over the universe."
Traci raised an eyebrow. "They sound like police."
He shook his head slowly. "No. That implies more direct action than is appropriate. I think the term I've heard that I like the best is 'senators'. They created the Laws of Time, then upheld them. They had a strict non-interference policy and would only act if the laws were broken or the Web of Time was endangered."
"Right. Meaning that they wouldn't get involved in other species' affairs, or influence the outcome of events. In practice, it's very difficult for non-time-sensitive races to affect the flow of time." He eyed her narrowly. "If you think about it, how would you go about creating a paradox?"
Tapping her chest, Traci furrowed her brow in confusion. "Me? I don't even know what that means."
"Exactly!" He wagged a finger at her. "So, you see, there was honestly very little for the Time Lords to do. For the most part, they simply observed."
She leaned her elbow on the desk and propped her chin in her hand. "Still, it sounds like it was fascinating work, overseeing the entire universe."
Grinning, the Doctor waved a hand at the stacks of files surrounding them. "Well, yes, given that you've chosen law as your career, I'd say you'd take to it."
Traci returned a sly smile. "But you didn't. You said you're not a good Time Lord."
The Doctor leaned back in his chair, grinding his teeth in embarrassment. "Let's just say that I tend to stick my nose into things that they wouldn't approve of."
"Oh, just go on and say it! But yeah. I like to help." He shrugged. "They'd say it's not my decision to make, who wins or who loses, but, I suppose I just don't like to see senseless death, or defenseless people taken advantage of."
She leaned back in her chair and stroked her chin, frowning. "I can see their point. I mean, if you have the ability, it's very noble to champion the wronged and the downtrodden, but vigilante justice has its own pitfalls. It's very easy to make a mistake in judgment, or to decide that your own definition of good is the right one."
"Oh, agreed. I've made mistakes before, and I'm sure I will again." Thinking with a slight brooding air, he chewed on the tip of his thumb for a moment. "It's one of the reasons I like to travel with companions. They keep me honest, show me points of view that I haven't seen. But," and his eyes locked with hers again, "I think it's better to act on your convictions, than to do nothing and let people suffer." He tapped his chin with his fist. "Not that I don't agree with what the Time Lords did. They had the responsibility of making sure the universe progressed as it should, and they devoted their lives to it. I did, too. Whilst I travelled, I also tended the Web of Time. I just couldn't see sitting still in a room on Gallifrey, waiting for something to go wrong. It just wasn't me."
Traci nodded a few times, pensive. "If you don't mind my asking, if the Time Lords are gone, who's making sure everything doesn't veer off course now?"
The Doctor shook his head. "No one, really. Things are wilder. The future is uncertain. Events that couldn't be changed before can be manipulated now. I do what I can when I find problems, but I'm just one man."
"One man guarding the whole universe."
The Doctor laughed at that idea, his self-mockery apparent. "Not possible. I really can't make much of a difference, but I can do things here and there."
Gazing at him with friendly suspicion, Traci shook her head slowly. "Somehow, I think you do a lot more than you say." Straightening in her chair, she adjusted her unwieldy body carefully. "I have to say that this is the first time becoming a Time Lady has sounded enticing. Administering the Laws of TIme! It sounds like something I would have loved."
The Doctor tugged on his ear with a sheepish grin. "It didn't occur to me that it might."
Traci smirked. "Yes, well, you're the one who doesn't always agree with it. It sounds like perfect work to me! Though," and she patted her belly, "not anymore. I've got so much more to worry about now."
Traci's phone trilled again. "Hold on a moment," she murmured to her guest as she fished it out and flipped it open. "Hey. Great, I'll be right out." Hanging up, she grinned at the Doctor as she stuffed the phone back in her pocket. "That was Alex. It's lunchtime." As she began to push herself up out of the chair, the Doctor hopped up and, skirting around the desk, offered her a hand, which she took graciously. "Thanks." Taking a moment to straighten her dress, she trundled around the desk then paused, covering her mouth with her hand like she was swallowing against nausea.
Concerned, the Doctor took her arm to support her and leaned in close. "Are you all right?"
Nodding, she blinked a few times, to compose herself. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you." Looking up at him, she could tell he didn't quite believe her. "No, really, I'm fine. I'm just.. I guess I'm just scared."
Embarrassed, she laughed at herself. "Of having Alex meet you."
"Oh!" The Doctor waved a hand, dismissing her apprehension. "No worries. He won't be able to tell I'm not human. No one can, really. Well, until I start talking. And then they usually just think I'm barmy."
This time, Traci's laughter was for him. "I can see that! But that's not what I mean. It's like..." She shrugged. "It's like I have this secret life hidden away and I'm finally letting it meet my real life. It's like I'm letting Alex meet my lover. Which," she hastened to clarify as the Doctor stared at her, his left eyebrow flying up to his hairline, "is not at all what's happening here but you get the idea. If this were a movie, this is the moment at which everything starts to fall apart and the main character loses everything."
Shaking his head, the Doctor stepped back to his chair to retrieve his coat, slipping it on. "That's just films. Nothing's going to happen. We'll exchange a few pleasantries and you'll go off to lunch, and Alex will ask you what planet you get your strange friends from. You'll even have an answer for him. Just make sure you keep a straight face." He flashed an impish grin. "Been there before, you see. And anyway, I met your friend Deb, last time I visited, and nothing bad came of that."
Traci smirked. "Deb doesn't count. She's not the father of my children and the person I'm spending the rest of my life with."
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he rocked forward on his toes. "You also don't have a secret life you're keeping hidden from everyone. You have just one life, a brilliant one, which happens to include an alien who visits you every so often, takes a few minutes out of your day."
She snorted at his statement. "You think that's normal?"
"It is to me." Another mischievous grin.
"I'm being silly, aren't I?"
"No, you're not. But honestly, you're you and you live your own life, and I couldn't change that, even if I wanted to; you'd never allow it. And I'm sure Alex knows that. I'm not a threat to him in any sense of the word, because your life is with him." He offered his arm to her.
As she absently hooked her hand on his arm, Traci nodded as she thought. "I guess you're right. I made that decision a long time ago, didn't I?"
"As to what is your real life, what you're devoted to? Yes."
Traci frowned. "If you're so sure about that, why do you keep coming back?"
His answer was immediate. "To see how you're doing. I am keeping your options open, I'll admit that. But you've never wavered on what you want to do." He patted her hand on his elbow. "Maybe that'll change someday, but not now, not when you've so much here for you."
She smiled. "I do. I'd never risk losing Alex. Or my babies." She hugged his arm. "Thanks, Doctor. I feel much better."
"Good!" Leading her toward the door, the Doctor bowed as he held it open for her and she passed him.
"Thank you, kind sir," Traci giggled at his gallantry as he took his place beside her and they walked out toward the lobby.