There was sweat on The Doctor’s green tank. He was smiling. But it was a cold smile, a smile of concrete premise that belied nothing of the man beneath. And the Time Lord was running now, ducking punches, swerving easily to avoid the Major’s kicks as if they were insects to be swatted.
“What’s wrong, Motoko-kun?” he called, twisting out of reach of her foot again as they sprang apart, “... you’re not even trying!”
“Neither are you, Doctor. But I wouldn’t want to abuse an old man!”
Her perfect foot lashed out again, catching his cheek and whipping his hair. She balanced on her toes, waiting for him to come up for air.
He grinned, his mouth curving like a hungry cat’s as he pinned her leg behind her back and sent her sprawling. His hand spun, turning palm up in readiness to move as she leaped askance to avoid crashing into a support column. The cut on his face had already healed.
“They’re taking bets on us, you know!” the Doctor called out as he back flipped away from her double kick and landed in a crouch, one leg flung to the side, “... who are you gunning for? Me or that wall? Do try to get one in sometime today, Major. I have mouths to feed later on!”
Kusanagi dropped low as well, sprawling like a spider as she watched him, both of them searching for weaknesses. Of course there were none. Just how she liked it.
“Milk-hard nipples can be sensitive. I suppose that, to be fair, I’ll have to avoid them!”
“Oh please! You and I both know that the nipple twister is a totally ineffectual maneuver. It does nothing for the sport and is completely useless. It was only invented because the imbecile who thought it up was having a hard time in gym class bullying the other kids! Don’t insult my considerable intelligence!”
The Time Lord bent back in a sway of ginger hair, circling with his body as he ducked her jump kick and caught her thigh between his hands, sending her careening off to his left. He flitted away, his footwork feral like hers as they both leaned into their motions and avoided each other’s high kicks, then twisted around and met in a shin to shin block.
“True, but how will you explain the bruised ribs to Martha?”
“What?” he called out, but then Kusanagi flipped him with a quick scissor twist.
His side struck the floor, and a loud snap signaled the end of the match.
“Oh. Those. Urgh. Well, all right. Enough for now. Just don’t tell her.”
He was still griping when Jack reached them.
The Major was smiling as she knelt and stuck out a slender hand.
“You would have won if you hadn’t been distracted, Doctor. Want me to help set that?”
“Maybe. Oh, but bollocks, I’m old! You went easy on me!”
“No. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Don’t believe it. Sorry.”
“Liar liar pants on fire. Harkness don’t say anything.”
The Time Lord’s finger waggled itself at the man, who proceeded to blink and look up at the ceiling. Rassilon but Jack was handsome. Too handsome. Damn him, and damn his 51st century pheromones. Willing his respiratory bypass system to take over so his rib could heal, Theta pushed himself up and took hold of their arms to try and straighten the rest of the way without falling over himself like a frosh at fight club.
“Now you see, kiddies?” he murmured as the three of them strode carefully toward the UNIT soldiers, all of whom had gathered in a corner to place bets, “... violence never solves anything.”
The manic half grin on his face was enough to incite them to fits of snickering, and occasionally a burst of laughter rose from the small crowd, forcing him to hold his injury to keep from doing it himself.
“And Major,” he added, looping a hand around her muscular, feminine shoulders to hold himself up, “I am always grateful for our little chats. Many thanks, as always, for letting me bibble on. You keep this old man young.”
She stopped then, looking at him as if for the first time. Had he surprised her? She thought perhaps he had, and knew it.
“Of course, sir. It was my pleasure. Same time next year?”
He nodded, then leaned his head on Jack’s shoulder as they both helped him onto the lift.
First Misha and then the soldiers filed in, respectfully allowing him a wide berth due to his injured side, and as the doors closed behind them, he bleated loudly, “Sooo! Who was betting against me? I know you were doing it. Come on. Give over!”
“Sorry sir, that’s classified...” someone snorted under their breath.
He didn’t recognize the voice.
“Good thing I’m a pacifist, then.”
‘Why’s that good, sir?”
“Why, he says. You mean besides the massive intellect, the smashing good looks, the telepathic powers? Besides the spiffing Blue Box that can take you almost anywhere? Oh, this is just a hunch, but I’d wager you haven’t any idea why I’m a pacifist, do you, Private?”
“Erm, no sir.”
“Well, I’ll tell you. But I’ll wager you won’t like it. See, my people are from Gallifrey, nice planet, not big on tourists, lots of pretty toys! I like toys. Especially ones made of metal... and beautiful sunsets. Doesn’t everyone? Rassilon but those suns were something to see in the Gallifreyan dusk! But the thing is, there was a War between us and the Daleks... and after my exile here had been officially declared over, I returned home and became President. Then, some time later when I stepped down from that horribly boring post, my erm... former lady friend... Romanadvoratrelundar -who was only one hundred and something at the time I was saddled with her; I was nearly four hundred, thank you- took over. As in, the friend who got better grades than me at Academy, took over. Oh dear did I just admit that, well I really don’t care anymore. It’s been too long... leastways, to make a long story short... well shorter, they asked me back to save them from themselves and the damn Daleks, and then they asked me the cruelest thing of all. They asked me to destroy Gallifrey. And I did it. I’d do it again, too. Most of my people were naturally pacifist anyhow, though as I recall I do have a bit of human blood on my mother’s side. Yes, you heard me. I’m part human. Lovely woman, my mother. Bollocks, where was I? Oh yes. I think that answers your question, Private. Now run along before I change my mind and decide to wipe yours. Erm... I didn’t... I didn’t know so many bodies could fit in such a small lift.”
The Doctor sagged against Jack, feeling his vision start to narrow into a tube, like it had when he’d delivered the twins. Grimly, he forced a smile and turned to look at the soldier, who had fallen silent.
“Sorry, oh I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to take my flashback out on you. Wasn’t your fault. No ones’ fault really, but tell that to my head.”
A sudden painful panic clutched him, and Jack could feel him shaking inside, struggling to keep it deep so the others wouldn’t see.
“It’s all right, Doctor. Payback’s an old... you know. Just relax. It’ll go away.”
“Quite all right, sir.”
Was the soldier trying to comfort him? Oh, that was just...wizard. The poor child. And on it went.
“If it’s what you need. Just go ahead. Do your worst, sir.”
“Huh. The bodies? Oh they never do. They just fade in and out, like heat waves on the hood of a car. Speaking of cars... I wonder where my good old Bess is now... always liked that car. She was a classic, she was! A... a classic... Oh, yes.... the Brigadier and I were quite a pair, in those days.”
With a sigh, he ran a hand through his long hair, playing with the ginger length as though he were a five year old girl tugging at her itchy dress, dead set on fidgeting in the pews on church day.
Jack felt the air rush from his lungs. How long had this... how long had this...
“Too long, Jack,” the Time Lord said softly, looking pale even in the dim lights of the lift.
They were almost to the top. How dense could he have been to think he’d ever known fear before this? Jack chided himself dumbly as he struggled to turn away from the Time Lord’s empty, swallowing gaze.
“I look around myself, and all I see are the bodies. Children. Parents. Siblings. Piles and piles of Gallifreyan flesh, quivering with the mindless horror of steely rigor mortis. They’re always here. I can see... I can see them now. All... all around me. They’re suffocating me. The smoke is suffocating me. They regenerate uncontrolled, wasting life after life until all that’s left of my entire race is naught but ash blowing through scorched fields. Burns mark my flesh as I stagger to the TARDIS. I mean to die, but it is not to be, because I’m still breathing when I wake up on the grating. You see, I regenerated then, and the autopilot sent us careening toward Earth, only to stop on a dime near that Henrick’s I blew up. The place where I met Rose. Oh Rassilon... all those children. Children, Jack! Piles of them, huge mounds of flesh, children and animals and adults, mounded like offerings as they fall in front of me. Yet I... am. I...am. I am. Alive. I am alive. Running like the coward Koschei and Davros and countless others have named me, I leave and pull the closure tight behind, insuring the reticence of the most massive Temporal Lock in future history.”
The Doctor’s body caught itself up then, undulating in a rigid tremor that left him as quickly as it came.
“Rassilon but I want to pass out. What about you lot? You know you’re not going to be able to take your work home with you this trip, not with all my baggage, too.”
Jack released the breath he’d been holding and looked around. The UNIT soldiers standing around them in the lift hadn’t spoken since The Doctor had started his speech, and the way they looked, they weren’t likely to speak at all for the rest of the day. Hell, they were probably all going to need massive counseling. Maybe if he had enough Retcon...
“Doctor, I could... ”
None of them moved, spoke. Said anything. They had expected it.
“No. Don’t use those things, Jack. They’re shamefully indelicate. I’ll do it.”
The alien sounded tired, impossibly tired... and it was frightening, that tiredness. Even still, he let his blue smoke eyes slide shut, and soon, every normal human was swaying and yawning.
“Und zu alles, eine gute Nacht.”
The Time Lord’s mental voice was calming enough that it nearly lulled Jack to sleep, and he’d had the training.
Soon, as the lift halted its slow ascent, the last soldier folded, crumpling gently to the floor. But when a flapping arm and elbow struck the alien’s ribs, a sharp gasp wracked him and he collapsed on top of the pile. Motoko Kusanagi stepped forward, the sky blue eyes of her new body slicing at Jack. The cyborg’s perfect face could hold a cutting glare with such skill as others might hold memories of lovers. Perhaps she too had lost someone? Jack watched her kneel beside The Doctor, who was blinking weakly up at her.
“Sorry, Major,” he murmured within the uplink, “... it hurt. I was in too much pain to breathe for a bit, and blacked out before I could switch to my respiratory bypass. It’s all right. I’ll be quite my irksome self again after an hour’s kip. Just...help me to the TARDIS, would you? And set it for Jack’s flat. I need -and very much want- to see the twins, but Jack can take the slow way home. It’ll do him some good to take the air, after today.”
“Don’t apologize, Doctor. You have every right to be unnerved after such a resurgence of emotional trauma. You’re still in shock, and it’s been a long week. And you took such care to ease the soldiers into sleep. That, coupled with that broken rib I gifted you with, had to have taken it out of you. Even the Imprimatur has its limits. Am I wrong?”
“Alas, no. Motoko-kun... you’re Brilliant. I’ve been tortured countless times, and still... I never get used to that morning after ache. Do you?”
“Doctor, I’m a cyborg.”
“Oh, right! Sorry!”
“Get some sleep. Just make sure you wake up.”
“I shall, I shall. Good night, Motoko. And thank you.”
“Don’t get all sentimental on me, now. It’ll ruin your image.”
Ha! Leave an old man to his rest. I need my beauty sleep!”
“No arguments there. Ahahahah. Good night to you too, Doctor. Sleep well.”
Jack felt strange as he watched the Major haul The Doctor away as gingerly as she could without jarring his half healed ribcage. They reminded him of one another, in a sense. As he stood there, watching the TARDIS doors close, he wondered absently if the receding doors with their faded blue paint were more than slightly symbolic of his bad timing. God why couldn’t he have opened his mouth sooner rather than later? If he’d said yes, maybe then... Theta would have... no. The milk was spilt. And the Time Lord had never looked so stressed, so exhausted, not even after the problems he’d had in delivering the twins... he would have given anything to wipe that away. Except he hadn’t said a word. He’d done exactly nothing. What did that say about his personal priorities to a man who’d had to destroy his entire planet to save the universe?
It was always the little things that killed a relationship, Jack reasoned to himself as he closed his eyes and listened to the TARDIS’ departing hum. Too bad he’d gotten the memo a few hundred years too late.