Motoko watched in silence as the Doctor fitted his slim fingers to the TARDIS console.
“Thank you again for this body, Doctor. Though, I imagine I’ll have trouble explaining it to Section Nine, should I happen to stop by. Batou will be hard pressed not to ogle me if I join him on any future missions.”
“Hm?” came the trailing, absentee comment from the central cylinder, “... oh, that. Don’t worry about that, Motoko-kun. Humankind won’t have anything near the technology required to analyze microcosmic nano hulls until at least, oh...year four billion five thousand six hundred and fifty seven point six five two or so. So, no worries, eh?”
He never looked up, not once.
“And besides, the last time I checked, Batou-san was quite the gentleman. Takes after me a bit, that one.”
A burgeoning smile threatened to stretch across her teeth then, pushing against her new lips, and she let it emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis. She wasn’t about to let him change the subject. She’d known him too long, half a century at least, if not more.
“Won’t that harm you in the long run? Or is that device near you a reductive modulator of some kind?” she asked, shifting her new artificial muscles in idle contemplation of his task.
“I hope the Captain’s friend gets there soon. I’d hate to think what would happen to those twins yours if they didn’t connect.”
The Doctor’s head shot up in a cloud of ginger, his face flush with golden light. He glistened with it, gleaming with tiny flecks of gold as though his pale flesh were floured in gold dust. Soon, before his lids could drift open, his long, poetic hands found the black sunglasses he’d stuck on a large lever. They lifted in his hands, farther and farther until finally he was able to find the bridge of his nose and push them up enough to cover his face. He cracked his neck from side to side, then stepped away from the console and spun to grab up his black duster.
“They won’t. There are certain subsonic tones I’ve added to that soundtrack that will insure they stay safe and asleep, and they’ll keep anyone from turning it off that shouldn’t be fiddling with it. Still, it’ll be fun playing at crossness, with Jack. Always is. Are we ready to go, then?”
He sounded cheerful, clipped. His tone was so loose that someone who didn’t know him would never have caught it. He was that good... except she knew what he had been doing there at the open console slot beneath the tube. He had been communing with the TARDIS, borrowing some of Her strength, much like his precious Rose had done. She suspected he didn’t realize she knew, but then again, the man was a hedge maze lined with mirrors when it came to showing emotion. Though, she could always tell when he wasn’t trying very hard to hide them, because he did try. Of course, the fact that he was allowing her to notice practically screamed of that long denied reality, otherwise he would have left her back at the flat to manage Jack. He needed her, needed her presence and support, namely because he’d just absorbed a huge amount of Vortex Energy, enough that without the help of the adaptive module he’d installed on the console and connected to the glasses, he would have been dead before he could have taken those two steps toward the coral entwine where he’d draped his coat. For his sake, she settled the duster on his shoulders, and then they were off, out of doors and sprinting across the grassy knoll that led to the UNIT HQ compound.
It was back to the fence, back to the main building’s subbasement. There, they would find the second polymorph, a barren female. He’d already briefed her. They travelled in pairs and were quick to learn speech, being naturally adept at infiltration and assimilation. Once a target society had been breached, they would then commence the rounding up of those few unlucky natives who would serve their purposes for food and breeding until a proper settlement had been established. But these two were desperate, the last of their kind. And the female surely knew of the male’s capture by now.
“Be careful, Doctor. I wouldn’t want to see a repeat of last time.”
But he just smiled and waved her on.
“Don’t be daft. Why do you think I brought these?”
His hand brushed the shades he wore, sleek, black, light drinking lenses formed of carbon nanotubes altered to filter and collect any huon particles that bled through his defenses. Theoretically, combined with the receptive/projective modulator back on the TARDIS, they would keep the excess huon from damaging his body long enough for him to convince the Polymorph it was wrong. Or, at least stop it from doing any harm to itself or anyone else. He would talk her in, draw her close enough, then feed her tidbits about what happened with the male, Lao-Tsen. Then, when she grew enraged, he would focus the huon on her body, timelocking her polymorphic capabilities until she surrendered. Yes. The plan was pristine, perfect in its simplicity. Their footsteps echoed down the halls, one after the other, white on white on white on white... the sounds of battle were drawing closer, and he could just feel the scintillating waves from the makeshift displacers as UNIT withdrew back into the intersection where they’d captured Lao-Tsen the week before.
“At least it’s not the Ice-Capades anymore!” he ventured brightly, trying for cheerful again in the midst of all the soldiers scurrying about their duties like ants in the nest.
“Hello me lads! Lasses! Wouldn’t want to discriminate, some of my best mates are female, but anyway! Did you miss me?” he beamed as several bereted heads turned to see who’d spoken.
“... 'cause honestly, that’s stellar. Oooh, that’s lovely, I should have t-shirts done.”
Before anyone could breathe he had swept into the fray, stooping briefly to pick up an overheated displacer.
“Let’s see now, a little of this, a little of that!”
Golden light burst out from his fingertips, infusing the gun.
“All right now! You all should retreat to a safe distance. I’ve got this. That’s an order.”
The weapon then disappeared, and abruptly reappeared in the Major’s hands with a tidy little pop.
“Think you can handle this temporal diffuser, Motoko? As you can see, I’ve quite a bit of Time on my hands.”
Immediately her presence made itself known within the modified internal uplink he’d given her.
“Of course. Tell me, Doctor... do you rehearse those, or do they just come to you?”
The word mirrored itself in several throats; soon every mouth was voicing it. He smiled as UNIT members on all sides of the intersection found him with their eyes and saluted amidst the cloud of swinging ice rifles. The whole of UNIT reminded him of a group of itchy turret minders on holiday at a fairground shooting game.
“I have my moments. Allons-y.”
He set a finger to his sunglasses, then dropped out of the uplink to speak to the crowd.
“All right, you lot! Fall in behind the Major and let’s get things going! Haven’t got all day! These shades’ll only work for an hour or so, and then the artron I’ve stored in my body will begin to affect me, which means that soon after that, it’ll be affecting you. Not an option. We have to clean this mess up before that happens, before it forces me to regenerate. Soo! Who’s with me?”
A line of UNIT soldiers fell in behind him. The Colonel. Private Blackburn. Captain Harris. Sergeant Lambtree, with his bandaged shoulder and Lieutenant Misha with her prosthetic leg. They held there, hands on their displacers, while still others lined up behind them.
“This is still a no kill situation, people. Proceed with caution,” the Colonel called out, signaling to Misha, who moved up the line with her displacer at the ready to join him.
They both stood closest to the Doctor, now. His blue smoke eyes were fixed on them both, studying, weighing every moment of their lives in the glass of their gazes.
“A man after my own hearts,” said the alien simply.
Then he turned to the Lieutenant and gently took her arm.
“You. Come here.”
She just looked at him, unblinking. She didn’t move.
Everyone stopped. All eyes were on her now, and she knew why. They thought she was the Polymorph.
“Lieutenant Misha! The Doctor is your superior. Why aren’t you moving?”
The Colonel was stepping back from her, tossing his grey eyes back and forth between The Doctor and the woman he was no longer certain he knew. The lines of soldiers followed, leveling their displacers at her head and feet while they retreated to a point some three meters back. Then, as footsteps halted behind her, she realized that The Doctor and herself were the only ones left in the middle of the intersection. Her friends and colleagues were casting a dragnet around them both, to prevent her from escaping should she prove herself their quarry. They covered every side, every exit, like bloodhounds on a fox, circling the tree.
Suddenly the Doctor’s grip tightened on her arm, not enough to cause pain, but... gingerly, just enough to let her know. As if she hadn’t already.
“I think you need to get something off your chest,” he murmured, smiling at her warmly despite the black sunglasses.
They were still covering most of his eyes, but had slid down his nose when he’d grabbed her wrist. There was golden light behind the opaque lenses, and she could almost see it as that same opaqueness seemed to drain him of it hungrily. Still, the gold kept gleaming from his eyes, flowing like honey around him. Could the others not see it yet? No. A human’s eyes were only capable of a narrow range of color vision... but being who she was, she could see the huon particles streaming around him in waves, ribboning off with every movement as if his whole bioelectric field were bleeding solar flares. The glasses, she had long since gathered, were keeping him alive, controlling the flow to prevent it from escaping and destroying him. He would regenerate, if that happened. This alien, this... Lord of Time... had traveled, seen, done things with his mind and his hands as would guide nations, destroy planets, save lives... or end them. And now he was standing in front of her, warm. Gentle. Patient. Misha could feel the life in him, flowing, ebbing, flowing, the space around his supple body like a veil of sunlight. But, soon the makeshift filter would cease to function, and he would be at the mercy of his own power. And hers.
“You... are a very strange man, Doctor. Even for a Time Lord,” she said softly, making subtle changes to the bones in her wrist, just enough for him to feel it.
That tiny movement would prove her polymorphic nature to him, force him to act.
But he just stood there, patient, waiting for her, his thumb on her ‘pulse’ point, as if she were truly what she seemed. What was that massive brain of his getting up to behind those light-eating shades?
Then he spoke again, and the huge room seemed to narrow as if the intersection was made of tiny straws instead of steel and concrete.
He nodded, and tipped her a sweet little childish grin.
“You regret all of this, and not just, don’t you?” the Time Lord said, opening his arms to her, inviting her aggressions on himself.
“I... want you to kill me.” The words left her mouth, and she let herself emerge as she truly appeared, a marblesque mannequin of watery silvers and blues, streaked through with little cloudy veins of muddy red.
The Doctor looked her over, scanning her glistening fluidic mass, noting the red splotches marring her silvery essence.
“You’re dying, then. I thought that might be why when I first touched the blue slime trail your brother left. It held early traces of the virus, which was why I had trouble in the first place. Isn’t that right, sweetheart? Well, I can do something about that, I think. Give me a second to deliberate with my former selves.”
One slender hand was stroking his chin now, as the wizened lie of youth that was his gaze smoothed in careful thought, then dove behind the black glasses. Just as suddenly, in less than a breath the golden orbs poked above the lenses again, eager for a rematch with the here and now.
“Bah. Self debate is overrated. I know I can help. I’m a genius. Now, just relax. You may feel a bit... tingly.”
He reached for her, the closeness of his flesh invading her intimate space. Then he stroked her watery cheek with a finger, faintly drawing the digit across the surface of her membranous ‘skin’, as a child might set a paper boat adrift in a tide pool, guiding it gingerly around the tiny rocks and shoals. His other hand raised, and suddenly she felt the golden aura make its circuit through her vitreous shape, energizing her core, her extensions, lifting years of sickness from her cells. He was making her whole. The red was disappearing... she could feel the disease melt away under his touching, under his care.
“Why?” she whispered as the last of the reddish haze left her fluid-body.
This drew another, slighter smile from the Time Lord, who had yet to back away and examine his handiwork. “Why not? Bibamus, moriendum est. You can thank Seneca the Elder, a human, for that bit. And, ohh, my head.”
He raised a shaking hand to his face, knocking the dark glasses from his eyes. They were closed, and his thin ginger brows had thrown themselves together above the fingers he’d pinched on the bridge of his nose. The sunglasses shattered on the floor, and he paid them no heed.
She formed a thin tendril and sent it toward them, reaching, wanting to pick them up for him. But he only shook his head at her.
“Don’t worry about those. They were only a harmless set piece, a bit of psychodrama for our friends the earthlings. Besides, they stopped working five minutes ago.”
A larger smile, and then he was back to spewing gold from every pore and wincing.
“This must have been what poor Rose felt like when she looked into the TARDIS... terribly painful, this. Hrm. Much more and I’ll have to regenerate... and then it’ll be Christmas with the Sycorax all over again, with the shivering and the fever and the hearts stopping and all of that, sans Rose, Jackie Tyler’s Christmas dinner and those nifty party favors. And no wrapped biscuits. Wrapped biscuits! The kind that you pull and you get a party hat and a little holiday message and then the biscuit? Only this time round, I’m stuck with no party hat, no paper, no yummy biscuit. No Rose. Not fun. I will admit to being a bit of a turkey, though.”
The Doctor forced his head up, meeting eyes with everyone. Golden streams of light were leaking down his face like tears. The light was filling him, killing him, eating him despite itself.
“You know, she can’t help it really, my TARDIS. It’s... not like she wants to... harm me... she just... she just... can’t... do anything about... Oi! What’s that?”
A flash had erupted where the refrigeration unit had stood the week before. Jack Harkness stood there now, holding up an Indigo Device with what looked to be... a smiley face sticker on the back? He was stomping toward them...
“Theta! You damn alien! I fix the Indigo you found, figure out where you’ve gone and this is how you repay me? By dying? What the hell? I’m coming, right now! You just... well... stay there! And don’t you dare regenerate till I get to you!”
Misha the Polymorph retracted her slim tentacle and drew herself up.
“You are his lover. Forgive me. He... did this for me. Please do not be angry with him.”
Jack looked at the woman as he neared them, seeing her for what she was. “His decision. Good enough. Now move. I have to see him.”
The Time Lord was on his knees, his head shaking, limbs and torso quivering with the effort of holding up his slight frame.
“Ah, Jack! Won’t be... long now, eh? Remember the last time, on the Game Station? Oh, those were the days! Ngh.”
The slightest of groans twisted his face, and then he swayed and crumpled sideways onto the floor, seeping gold into the air like streams of blood steam, his very molecules suffering and querulous and bleeding life. His eyes found Jack across the intersection, and he shoved out a hand toward the Time Agent, who was running.
“Jack, Me, he’s coming! Jack, you have to kill me! Kill me now! Somebody, please, Killlll Meeeeee!”
Gold filled the room, burning faces, flaring outward from his body as darkness welled from him, shoving against the golden light that was struggling to escape. It was over, over for everyone. Then the Doctor sat up.