"The Other Side of the Desk"
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: See: Chapter 1
AUTHOR'S NOTE: See how many fanfic authors you can spot!
Students and instructors alike turned to stare at the furious Time Lord who dragged an abashed student through the halls of the Prydonian Academy. The student in question was a well-known troublemaker by the name of Ansel. The furious Time Lord was a well-known troublemaker who liked to call himself the Doctor; he was also drenched to the bone. Water dripped from the tails of his green velvet coat and from his chin and the end of his nose. His fine chestnut curls were plastered to his head, and the visible portions of his white shirt clung wetly to his body.
When the unlikely duo reached the Dean's Office, the Doctor flung open the doors and dragged Ansel inside. The heavy wooden double doors made quite an impressive bang when the irate Time Lord slammed them shut behind him. The Dean looked up from his work, somehow unsurprised at this intrusion.
Zeta sat quietly at his desk for a moment, studying the dripping Doctor and the apprehensive Ansel in silence.
"Well," he finally said, and cleared his throat. He sounded strangely like he was trying not to laugh, but Ansel knew that couldn't be the case. "Lord Theta." His lips twitched, and he put a hand over his mouth.
"Are you feeling all right, Lord Zeta?" the Doctor asked pointedly. The Dean cleared his throat again.
"Of course I am," he replied, but his voice sounded a bit odd and he made a visible effort to collect himself before he spoke again. "Water balloons dropped from the balcony overlooking the Main Gallery would be my guess. Am I correct?"
"You are." the Doctor said evenly. "Lady Aya was also targeted. And Ansel's classmate Elana."
"Direct hit," Ansel said smugly before he could stop himself. Zeta's brushstroke eyebrows went up.
"Indeed," he said softly. He put his head to one side and studied the boy thoughtfully. "Do you know the difference between a great Time Lord and a great Prydonian?"
"No sir," the boy said quietly.
"Perhaps a week spent in detention after school will give you time to think about it," Zeta told him. The boy groaned. "If you are dissatisfied, I would be happy to make it two weeks – "
"No sir!" Ansel said immediately.
"All right," Zeta said with a sigh. "You are dismissed. Please try to stay out of trouble – and out of this office – for at least the remainder of the school day."
"Yes sir." The boy left, shutting the doors behind him. There was a moment of silence, and then Zeta burst out laughing.
"I am glad you are entertained," the Doctor said dryly. He took off his jacket and wrung it out, leaving a puddle on the Dean's office floor. Far from getting the hoped-for response, this only made Zeta laugh harder. "You know, you and Ansel would make a good team," the Doctor told him, only half-joking.
"Really, Theta," Zeta said, finally getting ahold of himself. "When did you lose your sense of humor?"
"The moment that balloon hit the top of my head!" the Doctor said, draping his damp jacket over the back of a chair. He unbuttoned his waistcoat and wrung that out too.
"You're making a mess," Zeta observed mildly.
"Good." He put the waistcoat on the chair with his frock coat. "This afternoon, my class will get their first practical experience in a TARDIS."
"Not your TARDIS, I hope."
"Heavens no! I wouldn't trust those little terrors in my TARDIS!"
"I wouldn't trust your TARDIS with them! It would be likely to take them anywhere – "
"Would you like to come along, Zeta?" the Doctor interrupted.
"Do you think it will be entertaining?"
"Ansel will be there."
"Ansel in a TARDIS. What a terrifying thought. No wonder you want me along."
"Four eyes are better than two," the Doctor agreed.
"Especially when all four eyes are attached to brains that have pulled off greater pranks than Ansel can even dream of. All right, I'll be there. If nothing else, my mere presence may intimidate him into behaving himself."
"Now Zeta, do you really believe that?" the Doctor wondered.
"No. But it certainly sounded good, didn't it?" Both Time Lords laughed.
The Doctor arrived at the Academy's TARDIS holding bay to find most of his class waiting in front of the glowing white cube that had been assigned to them for the day.
"Let's get right to it," he said briskly, unlocking the TARDIS and motioning them inside. A breathless student hurried to catch up with the rest of her class.
"I'm so sorry I'm late, Lord Theta," Elana apologized. "I had to borrow some dry clothing." She frowned. "You're wearing your teacher's robes today!"
"Yes," he agreed. "And you're wearing a tunic at least two sizes too big for you."
"I can explain – " she began.
"You don't have to, Elana. We owe the same person thanks for our current fashion statements," he told her, running a hand through his damp hair and directing a look at Ansel.
"You dropped a water balloon on an instructor?" Elana asked her classmate incredulously. Ansel merely shrugged. "Are you insane?"
"Probably," the boy admitted readily.
"Is everyone ready to go, Lord Theta?" a new voice asked. Elana turned, eyes wide.
"Lord Zeta!" she exclaimed, shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm coming along, if it's all right with you," he told her mildly. She blinked.
"Good!" she said, recovering quickly and shooting an angry glare at Ansel.
"After you, Lord Zeta," the Doctor said ironically, indicating the open TARDIS with a grand sweep of his arm. With everyone inside, the Doctor entered the TARDIS to the sound of Elana's voice.
"Leave that alone, Ansel!" she was scolding. "You don't know what it's for!"
"I do so!" he shot back.
"And what is it for, Ansel?" Zeta asked, sounding very interested in the student's reply.
"I thought so!" Elana said smugly.
"All right, all right," the Doctor cut in. "Settle down, people." He was very tempted to add, "Especially you, Zeta!" but didn't as there were students present. Instead, he threw the door switch and began setting coordinates. "Who thinks they can look at what I'm doing and figure out where we're going?" he asked as he worked.
"I can, Lord Theta," Elana said immediately.
"I'm sure you can," he agreed. "Why don't we let someone else have a go, hmm?" He looked up briefly. "Pearlesa, would you like to take a shot at it?"
"Um, m-m-me sir?" the girl sputtered, caught completely off-guard.
"If you please," the Doctor said. The student came forward, followed closely by her friend Warin who peered over Pearlesa's shoulder with interest.
"Elana doesn't know everything," Ansel was whispering to Walldig. "You should hear what she told me about – "
"Do you have something useful to contribute, Ansel?" the Doctor asked.
"Not right now," the boy replied cheekily.
"Hmm." The Doctor finished setting the coordinates and hit a button. Now they were on their way.
"If you think he's yummy now, you should see that holo I saw of him in his fourth – " Pearlesa was telling Warin. The Doctor cleared his throat.
"Well?" he asked. It took Pearlesa a moment to realize that he was addressing her. "Where are we going?"
"Earth?" she guessed. She looked at the coordinates again. "Earth," she said again with more certainty. She frowned… the rest couldn't be right. "Monroeville… Pennsylvania?"
"Local date?" the Doctor asked.
"Thursday December 3, 1992," she answered more confidently. "Local time is seven thirty-five PM."
"Very good!" he told her, beaming brightly as the TARDIS materialized. "Shall we have a look around?" He put his hand on the door switch.
"Shouldn't we see what's outside first?" Elana asked.
"Ah, an excellent suggestion," the Doctor told her.
"Yes. We wouldn't want to walk out into the middle of a shootout or something like that, would we Lord Theta?" Zeta asked innocently. A few of the students who were obviously in the know laughed at this. The Doctor gave Zeta a look and activated the viewscreen.
"Ah, we're in a shopping mall," he observed. "And there appears to be no shootout in progress, amazingly enough."
"Who's the man in the red suit?" Daren asked.
"Santa Claus," Elana answered immediately.
"A local deity?" Warin wondered. "Or a king? They've got him up on a throne."
"No, silly!" Drox told her, giggling. "He flies around on his sled delivering toys to all the good boys and girls!"
"That leaves you out, Ansel," Elana told him. Ansel scowled at her.
"We'll see about that!" he told her. He hit the door switch and ran out right past the Doctor before the surprised Time Lord could stop him.
"Ansel!" he cried, racing out the doors after him.
"What should we do?" Elana wondered, wide-eyed.
"Stay here," Zeta told the students sternly, stripping off his scarlet and orange robes, revealing a scarlet shirt and pants underneath. "And for Rassilon's sake, don't touch anything!" He piled his robes in Elana's arms and walked out of the TARDIS. The students watched the viewscreen for a few moments.
"Santa Claus appears to be handing out candy to his followers," Nocturnia observed quietly.
"They're not his followers," Elana said crossly. "They're just – "
"Striped hooked sticks," Rebekkah noted.
"They're called candy canes," Elana informed her.
"Wonder what they taste like," Samhantha mused, licking her lips.
"They're flavored with – " Elana began.
"I wonder what rituals one must perform in order to partake," Warin said. The students all exchanged a look.
"Oh no you don't!" Elana said immediately. "Lord Zeta said to stay here – "
"So you stay here and wait for that scrawny old scarecrow to come back!" Drox told her, shrugging. "We're going to see Santa Claus!" Her hand came down decisively on the door switch, and everyone followed her out save a girl named Panthera.
"They're going to get it for that," Elana said in a tone of smug satisfaction.
"You're probably right," Panthera agreed wistfully, visions of candy canes and sugarplums dancing in her head. After a moment, she gave Elana a look and followed her classmates out to meet Santa.
The Doctor ran through the crowded shopping mall, drawing stares from the bemused holiday shoppers who had never seen a Prydonian Time Lord dressed in the teaching robes of his Academy walk among them, let alone push hurriedly past them muttering "excuse me" and "so sorry" as he went. As he ran, he pulled off his orange overtunic and discarded it in a trashcan, stopping briefly to rid himself of the orange skirt of the long robes. These joined the tunic in the trashcan, leaving him in a scarlet shirt and trousers like Zeta's. At least he would draw fewer stares in this outfit, he decided.
"Where could that little hellion have gone?" he wondered aloud. Peering around, he spotted a store called Spencer Gifts and immediately knew exactly where his quarry could be found.
As he'd suspected, he found Ansel standing in the aisle dedicated to practical jokes. There was itching powder, red hot chewing gum, a fake ice cube with a fly inside, fake doggy doo-doo, plastic vomit, and a myriad of other juvenile joke items.
"Ready to go, Ansel?" he asked, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder. Ansel jumped in surprise.
"How did you know I'd be here?" the student asked. The Doctor merely gave him a look before grabbing his arm and dragging him away.
They met up with Zeta in the food court. He was carrying a large cup of soda and a pretzel.
"Oh there you are, Lord Theta," he said in a musing tone. "Want a bite?" he asked, offering the pretzel.
"I'd like some, Lord Zeta," Ansel said cheekily.
"I see you've found our little runaway," Zeta continued, breaking off a piece of pretzel and giving it to the boy.
"D'you have any mustard?" Ansel asked.
"Next you'll be asking for some of my drink," Zeta complained.
"Well, now that you mention it…"
"I suppose when we get back to Gallifrey I'll have to decide what to do about you, won't I?" Zeta asked the boy, who paled.
"More detention?" Ansel asked almost hopefully.
"Hmm," Zeta replied noncommittally, sipping his soda. "Goodness, this is sweet!"
"Aspartame," the Doctor told him.
"Marvelous," Zeta enthused, finishing his drink. "What will these humans think of next?"
"Don't you think we should be heading back, Lord Zeta?" the Doctor asked rather pointedly.
"Certainly. Let me just…" He made a vague gesture towards the pretzel shop with his empty soda cup. The Doctor sighed. "Go ahead. I'll catch up."
"Get me a pretzel!" Ansel called after Zeta.
"You'll be lucky if you're not expelled!" the Doctor told him.
"Well, doesn't the condemned man get a last meal? I could at least get a pretzel!"
"Come on, you!" the Doctor said, dragging him out of the food court. He dragged him all the way back to Santa's throne where a line of children was waiting to have their pictures taken.
"Look, there's – " Ansel began.
"I'm not interested!" the Doctor said crossly. He produced the TARDIS key from his pocket, looked around to be sure no one was really paying attention, and unlocked the door of life-sized gingerbread house set up near Santa's throne.
"Oh, Lord Theta!" Elana wailed as soon as they entered the console room.
"What is it, Elana?" he asked with a sigh. He glanced around. "Wait a minute, where's everyone else?"
"Look!" She pointed at the viewscreen.
"Oh no," the Doctor said, his eyes widening. Half of his class was standing in line waiting to see Santa, whose lap was currently occupied by a wide-eyed Leanne. The other half of his class was milling around happily licking candy canes. He watched as Leanne slipped off Santa's lap and he handed her a candy cane of her own.
"I tried to stop them, Lord Theta, I swear!" Elana cried. "They were determined to get their candy canes!"
"It's all right, Elana," he assured her, not even wanting to imagine what they might have been telling Santa they wanted for Christmas. He gave Ansel a stern look. "You stay here and touch nothing, or as Rassilon is my witness, I'll unravel you and personally re-loom you into something less troublesome… a fruit fly, perhaps!" Ansel stared up at him with wide eyes and nodded silently. The Doctor knelt down and removed the main space-time element from the underside of the control console. "You're not going anywhere now!" he told Ansel smugly, pocketing the component. He glanced at Elana. "I'll bring you a candy cane," he promised as he walked out the doors.
"Do you think he can really do that?" Ansel suddenly asked.
"Re-loom me into a fruit fly."
"Yes," she lied. "And he sounded angry enough to do it." She put her head to one side in thought. "You know," she mused, "everyone says that Lord Theta is quite eccentric and liable to do nearly anything…" She was gratified to see that he moved away from the control console and went to sit on the floor against the wall.
"I'm not touching anything!" he told her, just to make the point.
"Good." She went to sit beside him.
"Elana, what's this human holiday all about?" he suddenly asked. "All the kids I saw were so excited!"
"Well," she said thoughtfully, and began to talk.
Warin was currently occupying Santa's lap, whispering in his ear with the intensity of a penitent in the confessional. The Doctor cleared his throat loudly. "Attention, class!" he called. The students in their red and orange Prydonian tunics turned to stare at him, all wearing identical guilty expressions rather like a child with a hand caught in the cookie jar. "We're going to be leaving now!" he continued.
"Oh, are they're your students?" a female voice asked at his elbow. He turned to the woman, who had that generic Yuppie look about her.
"Um… yes. School outing."
"You're English, aren't you?"
"Oh? You sound English. Where do you teach?" Suddenly feeling mischievous, he decided to answer truthfully.
"The Prydonian Academy."
"Oh… my son attends Sewickley," she bragged.
"Does he?" he asked, uninterested.
"Yes. We hope he'll attend Yale… or Harvard. Nowadays it's so important to get them into the right school so they can get into the right college."
"Oh, I agree. A good education is very important."
"The Prydonian Academy… is that in Fox Chapel?"
"Hmm. It sounds like it belongs in Fox Chapel."
"It's not. It's quite a ways away."
"It's very exclusive?"
"Where can my son submit an application?" she asked, her eyes suddenly taking on a gleam that made him think of a predatory bird.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." He turned away from her and clapped his hands. "Class… come along now!" The last student had acquired a candy cane and the class rather meekly filed past their irate teacher to disappear behind the gingerbread house.
"What's going on here, Theta?" Zeta asked, suddenly appearing at the Doctor's side clutching his cup of soda. The woman's eyes widened. The Doctor sighed.
"English, Zeta. Speak in English."
"Oh. Yes. Right," he agreed. "Sorry," he apologized to the bewildered woman. She stood staring at him for a moment, taking in his scarlet outfit that was identical to the Doctor's. Must be some kind of uniform, she decided.
"Do you teach at the Prydonian Academy too?" she asked. Zeta's deep green eyes widened in shock.
"I'm the Dean," he told her, and shot the Doctor a look. "And you scolded me for not speaking in English! Honestly, Theta – "
"How can my son submit an application?" she asked Zeta.
"An application?" he repeated, his eyebrows going up.
"To your school," the woman said, speaking patiently as though to a very small child.
"I don't think he's qualified," Zeta told her.
"I'll have you know he's at the top of his class!" she huffed indignantly.
"I'm sure he is," Zeta agreed.
"He attends Sewickley!" she informed him.
"Good for him," Zeta said.
"If he's good enough for them – " she began.
"On which Family's loom was he woven?" Zeta asked innocently.
"What?" she asked, baffled.
"Of course I'd have to see the pattern that was used and – "
"All right, Zeta," the Doctor said, grabbing his arm and steering him away. "I think that's enough interference for one day, don't you?"
"But she asked, Theta," Zeta reminded him seriously.
"You're as bad as Ansel sometimes!"
"Never!" Zeta scoffed. "I'm much worse!"
"Hey, you two!" a new voice called. An irate man was suddenly blocking their way. He wore a scarlet turtleneck and matching pants, oversized green elf shoes with large pointed toes tipped with bells, and a matching green elf hat with a large bell on the end. "I told them to send over more elves fifteen minutes ago," the stranger continued, tapping his watch for emphasis. "Where were you?" The Doctor and Zeta exchanged a look.
"I think you've mistaken us for someone else," the Doctor finally said. "We're – "
"Fifteen minutes late is what you are!" The elf grabbed their arms and dragged them over behind Santa's throne. "Here," he said, handing them elf shoes. "They go on over your regular shoes – "
"We are not elves!" Zeta protested indignantly as the elf reached up and plopped a belled green hat on his head. "We're Time Lor – "
"We're Jewish!" the Doctor interrupted, blurting out the first thing that popped into his head. The elf stared at them incredulously.
"You're Jewish?" He pointed at their scarlet outfits. "What the hell?"
"I'm a rabbit!" Zeta suddenly claimed.
"You're a what?" the elf asked, confused.
"A rabbi," the Doctor corrected quietly. "Not a rabbit. A rabbi."
"A rabbi!" Zeta agreed immediately. "How dare you swear in my presence?"
"Oh," the elf said. "Gosh, I'm awfully sorry – "
"Come on, Rabbi," the Doctor said ironically, grabbing Zeta's arm. He spotted a bucket of candy canes waiting to be distributed to all the good little boys and girls. "Shalom," he told the elf, helping himself to some candy canes and pulling Zeta away.
"Kush meer in toches!" Zeta called out over his shoulder, making a vague gesture with his free arm like someone giving a blessing. Soda sloshed everywhere.
"Zeta!" the Doctor exclaimed in shock, trying not to laugh.
"What?" Zeta asked, puzzled. "You mother used to say that to the High Council all the time!"
"That she did," the Doctor agreed, handing Zeta a candy cane. He frowned.
"These candy canes are awfully bland."
"Try taking the plastic off, Zeta," the Doctor advised patiently.
They returned to their TARDIS to find a loud argument in progress. None of the students even noticed when the Doctor and Zeta entered the console room.
"I'm never believing a word she says again!" Ansel yelled. "She doesn't know anything!"
"I do too!" Elana shot back. "It's not my fault that humans are confusing!"
"I think she just makes this stuff up," Leanne said. "She can't explain what Santa Claus has to do with a baby being born in a manger!"
"What's a manger, anyway?" Walldig asked.
"It's a – " Elana began.
"Don't listen to her!" Ansel advised. "You should hear the story she tried to feed me about the Doctor – "
"What story would that, be Ansel?" the Doctor asked curiously, kneeling down to put the main space-time element back in its socket inside the control console. There was sudden silence.
"Um…" Ansel said. Zeta hit the door switch, did a quick head count of the students, and began setting coordinates.
"I think I'd like to hear this," the Doctor continued, leaning casually against the wall and folding his arms across his chest. "Well?"
"She tried to tell me a crazy story about how you were made."
"Yeah. As though I'd believe nonsense like that! She must think I was loomed yesterday… you should hear what she told me! No species would reproduce like that, with the male putting his… well, it's just too silly!" Zeta and the Doctor exchanged a look.
"Oh dear," Zeta said. "Are you going to tell him or shall I?"
"By all means, be my guest," the Doctor murmured. Zeta took a deep breath and began to explain human reproduction to the wide-eyed class. Their expressions ranged from shock to outright disbelief as he went on, describing the entire process in graphic, punctiliously correct detail. When he finished, there was total silence. Every eye in the room was focused on the Doctor.
"You were… that's how… I mean…" Warin just couldn't believe it.
"Yes," the Doctor said with a sigh.
"That is just so weird!" Drox said, grinning widely at her teacher. "Cool, sir!"
"Thank you, Drox," the Doctor said dryly.
"But how do humans plan what the child will look like, how it will act…?" Daren asked.
"They don't," Zeta said. "It's all random."
"That's insane!" Samhantha protested.
"It doesn't seem very efficient," Rebekkah put in.
"It's just plain bizarre!" Nocturnia opined.
"Too strange for words!" Pearlesa agreed.
"I'm sure they would find our looming techniques equally alien and strange," Zeta told them.
"But looming makes sense!" Warin protested. "With the way humans do it, you could end up with anything!" She glanced the Doctor and blushed. "Um, I mean – "
"I know what you mean, Warin," the Doctor assured her. "And you're right. But that's the only way they know, and it seems to work for them. Now, I think that's enough smut for today," he continued, sending the class into fits of laughter. "Can anyone tell me why travel in the Time Vortex is not instantaneous?" Elana's hand went up. "Oh, that reminds me. I believe I made you a promise earlier." He pulled a candy cane out of his pocket and handed it to her.
"Thank you." She licked the candy thoughtfully. "It's got no taste!" she finally complained.
"Try taking the plastic off," Zeta advised sagely.
Zeta took off his elf hat and placed it on his desk, and then stood quietly for a moment, soberly regarding the troublemaker seated before him.
"Now, Ansel," he said in a musing tone, raking one hand through his shiny black hair. "What on Gallifrey are we ever going to do with you?" The student sat in the chair in front of the Dean's desk, looking properly subdued. "What do you think, Lord Theta?" Zeta asked, folding his long arms across his chest.
"Running off like he did during a field trip to an alien world is grounds for immediate expulsion," the Doctor reminded him, absently scratching his arm.
"That's right, it is, isn't it?" Zeta said thoughtfully. Ansel looked very worried now.
"However," the Doctor continued, scratching his neck. "In his defense, this student has displayed remarkable ingenuity and creativity. I think that with the proper supervision, he could one day become a great Prydonian."
"I'm inclined to agree with you," Zeta said, nodding.
"I thought you might," the Doctor said, scratching his head.
"So, Ansel," Zeta began. He frowned at the Doctor, who was scratching both of his arms rather vigorously, and then went on. "I think I'll give you an additional two weeks in detention to think on what differentiates a great Time Lord from a great Prydonian."
"Oh, I figured that out ages ago, Lord Zeta," Ansel told him, watching the Doctor scratch his neck.
"Did you?" Zeta asked with interest.
"Yes sir. Great Time Lords wouldn't drop water balloons on their fellows. Great Prydonians wouldn't get caught!"
"Hmm. An interesting answer," Zeta said with a smile. "All right, you may go, Ansel." The boy left, looking relieved. Zeta turned to the Doctor, who was scratching his head with one hand and his side with the other. "What in Rassilon's name is wrong with you, Theta?"
"I don't know," the Doctor replied, puzzled. A technician wearing the blue uniform of a TARDIS holding bay worker appeared in Zeta's doorway.
"Lord Zeta, we've been doing a routine inspection of that TARDIS that Lord Theta's class took to Earth," he said. "And we found this." He held up a small plastic jar. "Evidently, someone brought it back from Earth. Our chemists say it was made for humans by humans and that it shouldn't affect a Gallifreyan physiology, but I wanted to turn it over to you anyway."
"What is it?" Zeta asked, frowning.
"According to the label, it's itching powder."
"Is it indeed?" Zeta asked softly, watching the Doctor scratch. He held out his hand, and the technician handed over the bottle.
"I'm going to kill him," the Doctor said flatly, scratching.
"Honestly, Theta. Where's your sense of humor?" The Doctor's reply was unprintable. With a smile, Zeta added the empty bottle of itching powder to his windowsill collection.