Standard Disclaimers Apply. Thanks to krypto for the beta. I'm never good at titles.
Fade To Black
Greg set the enormous red duffel bag next to the TARDIS doors, taking a look around the control room. He'd miss this place. It had been an awesome time in his life—nothing could ever compare. But his time was up. He had to get back to the real world.
The Doctor was engrossed in something on the control column, and he could have probably walked out of the room without giving any notice, but he was suddenly feeling nostalgia-y. Which wasn't a word.
The occupants of this ship had rubbed off on him in a lot of ways, he supposed.
Coming around the console, he rubbed his clammy hands on his jeans. "Well, I guess this is it." He held out a hand.
The Doctor looked at it, like he wasn't quite sure what to do. Oh, well that was damned awkward. "I guess so. Last night on the TARDIS. Back to 'the real world' and all that." He didn't seem angry—reticent perhaps. "Already packed. You're going to make a mad dash for the door in the morning, aren't you?"
Greg felt his cheeks grow warm. "No, sir. I just…" Now his ears were burning. He scratched the back of his head, running his hands through the hair that had grown shaggy in the last few months. "I just… I get a bad feeling. Like if I don't, I never will."
Going back to what he was doing, the Doctor began unscrewing something from the console. "Yeah. I know."
Was there some kind of word for something even more awkward than awkward?
He stood there for a moment, watching the Doctor twisting the screw the rest of the way out with just his fingers. "Just…let her down easy."
Looking away, Greg felt something twist in his stomach. "That's why I, you know. With the bag."
A distant look came over the Doctor as he stared up into the rafters for a moment, one side of his face pulled back in an uneven smile. "I said let her down easy. Not flee for your life."
The young man unbuttoned the top of his polo shirt—it was suddenly very warm. He gave an uneasy chuckle. "So avoiding her until we reach home isn't the thing?" Of course he knew it wasn't, but he'd been trying. A lot. Ever since this afternoon's…fiasco. "I just…don't get why she's so upset."
He hadn't sent her mixed signals, had he? She was sixteen and a young looking sixteen at that, he was nineteen and thought of her more as the little sister he'd been denied by fate by being the youngest of seven children. Oh yeah, and the Doctor had made it clear on day .5 of his journey that if he looked at Violet like that, he'd find himself inside an erupting volcano…or worse.
Twisting the screw around in his fingers for want of anything better to do, the Doctor sighed. "She…hasn't had many friends. Maybe she thought if she dragged everything out, and you missed the deadline you set for yourself…you'd stay."
Greg blinked rapidly, trying to digest that. "So getting us killed by a Minotaur in the middle of a labyrinth was just an elaborate ploy to keep me around? That's the worst plan I've ever heard." But it did explain some things. He'd thought, at first, that maybe Violet was just letting him trying to figure out what was sure to be his last great escape, though he suspected she knew how to get out of the maze the entire time.
She'd seemed regretful when they ended up in the Minotaur's lair, and HAD at least kept him from being torn to pieces, but still—that was about three hours of his life he'd never get back. In fact, he'd probably still be down there if the Doctor hadn't found them. It would also explain the exceptionally annoyed look he'd shot the girl.
The Doctor shrugged, still not looking directly at him. "She's sixteen. She's female. She doesn't need to make sense."
Sighing in defeat, Greg's shoulders slumped a bit. "I'll go talk to her." He was nineteen, it was his obligation to be the bigger party. That's one thing that he'd learned in this last year with the Doctor and Violet; responsibility for taking the high road fell upon those who knew better.
"Good lad," the Doctor encouraged, turning back to whatever tinkering (Greg suspected it was just something useless to keep his hands busy) he'd been up to. He sighed, looking up again then muttered, "been a long time since I've traveled alone."
What was that supposed to mean?
She was in the kitchen with a cup of tea when he found her—he didn't have to look hard. It's where she always was at nine in the evening. For a bunch of people bent on doing something new every day, they certainly did have their routines.
He saw her legs were propped up on the chair across from her, so he pulled out the chair to her right, sitting down. "Hey."
Staring straight ahead, she continued swishing the tea around in the cup, as if it had some sort of secrets to tell her. "Hey."
The girl was not going to make this easy, was she? The Doctor was right—females had their own set of logic and rules, and never came with a manual. "Vi, I have to go. When you two invited me… I told you. One year. Three hundred and sixty-five days. Eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty hours. That was it."
"That's fine," she answered dully, still not breaking her concentration from the cup.
That had gone so well! Getting up, he pushed the chair back in. "I'm going to bed. My move-in time at the residence hall is 8 am." By all accounts, he'd only be gone a few weeks, off backpacking with friends (or so his mother believed). It was sometimes hard to think that he had a normal life to get back to, but he knew he had to do it. Otherwise he'd never go home.
He was from a large (slightly clingy and moderately codependent) Indian family, and that sort of thing just wasn't done. So he'd given himself one year to have the most fantastic time of his life before he went to university, which his father had played for with 'blood sweat and tears' or at least a job he wasn't all that fond of, but had sent all of his older brothers and sisters to school with. Basically, he was going back out of duty.
Which wasn't so bad—really. It could be worse. Other than being neurotic and in each other's business constantly, his family could have been a lot worse of a group of people to have duties to.
Of course, he was going to a school where a full 70 of the students had their own rooms and bathrooms, and his dad had declared he was only paying for the cheapest housing accommodations. Which meant living with whoever knew how many creepy freshmen. He kept having these prison movie nightmares involving the common bathroom and slippery bars of soap.
"Good night, Violet."
She continued staring deeply into her tea with those terribly round dark-brown eyes, a frown tugging down on full lips and round cheeks. Everyone was avoiding him tonight.
Defeated, he walked to the door, ready for his last night in his room in the TARDIS. It was already cleared out—the walls were bare and voices echoed off of them; it was already a foreign space. "Come and visit me, or something."
Walking back to his room, he thought about that. They had a time and space machine. It wasn't like she couldn't stop in whenever she felt like it. But he knew it wasn't the same. She wanted him to stay. She wanted things to remain the way they were.
The Doctor had said in that regard, she was very much like the others of their kind had been: entirely resistant to change. Well, that's life, his father would say. Get used to it.
He never made it back to his room; a few feet from the door, Violet called his name. And like the idiot he was, he went back into the kitchen, sure this was going to turn into a knock-down, drag-out type row. They'd had plenty of those in the last year. He could almost smell them coming on the wind now days.
But when he got in there, all he saw was a second cup of tea on the table. "Cuppa?" she asked, something tentative and apologetic in her voice.
Greg sat down, figuring he had even odds of getting bashed over the back of the head with a half-full kettle and dragged into a storage room and locked up until move-in was over. If that happened, he'd be seriously…SERIOUSLY unhappy, and Violet was going to get more than just the Doctor's usual 'did you really have to do that' unhappy look. "So," he began, waiting for her to play her hand.
Despite the lack of second (or third) bodies in the bed, it was terribly warm under the blankets and down duvet. The act of sticking his hand out of the covers to shut off the alarm wasn't a prospect Jack Harkness was looking forward to. Even if the alarm was incredibly annoying.
Of course that was the whole point in an alarm—something so hideous and screeching you HAD to get up, if only to make it stop stabbing your brain.
Maybe he could just do it very quickly. Quick thrust out, shut it off, hand back in before any damage is done.
But it never works like that. Soon as his hand hit the 'off' button, he groaned. The damage was done. He was awake and the magical spell was broken. Might as well do it. Might as well face the day.
The problem with getting in the shower, then, was that it was hot, and it made him want to stay in it forever. Or until the water ran warm then cold. The first would be preferable, but the second would be the more likely conclusion. He could just put his head up against the tile and…
There was a beep from his wrist computer in the other room. It was a particularly annoying beep, something akin to the alarm clock, this way he'd never mistake it for anything else. It had not gone off since the alert had been set, but there was no question what that sound had been.
Rushing through the morning routine as quickly as possible, he hobbled out of the bathroom after slamming his toe into the sink and nearly tripping over his towel as he attempted to dry himself off and make for the wrist computer on his bed. Too many actions at once landed him half on the mattress and half off as he dove for it, pressing the message button.
There it was, plain as day, the nose on his face…something. Between two dormitories on a local university campus. It sat there all smug and arrogant and so very, very blue: the TARDIS.
The pressing need to get rid of all the tea he'd consumed the night before was what woke Greg. Peeling his head off of the wooden table, he turned his head front and center, causing the muscles to spasm. Next to him, Violet was asleep with her forehead on the edge of the table, empty cup still clutched in her hand.
As he went through the painful act of getting to his feet, he looked at his watch, which read seven-thirty, and tried to contemplate how much sleep he'd gotten. At three, he'd complained that she wasn't helping him get to bed. At three-thirty, he'd given up looking at his watch as he began regaling her with the tale of his sister's 'other' wedding. You know, the one that his parents actually knew about.
She'd been howling, absolutely delighted at the utter chaos that had unfolded that day, especially when the subject of the marriage license came up, and all the veins that were pulsing on his father's head.
For some reason, the more insane and dysfunctional the family story, the better she liked it. These things, she told him, made good future psychologists and even better stand-up comics. He retorted that these things weren't nearly as funny at the time, and he doubted his mum would allow him to discuss the family's 'dirty laundry' with other human beings, much less a crowded club. It didn't seem worth the bother to say it was good thing she wasn't human; for some reason it was a VERY touchy subject. It didn't bother HIM that she wasn't human, so he didn't know why she was all up in arms about it. At this point in his young life, girls were much more foreign to him than aliens.
Finishing up in the bathroom, he rubbed his chin. It wasn't much in the way of stubble, but it was more than he'd ever be able to manage in a twenty-four hour period a year ago. He wondered if his mum would notice, when he went home for the holiday break. It could be easily discounted—that'd be a whole two and a half months away. So much could change in three months, he'd tell her.
Or a year. It was hard to think that once he stepped outside those doors, he'd have to reset his watch to the "local" time for the last time, remember that he was eighteen years old, even though a birthday had passed in the TARDIS, and that normal life lay ahead.
He'd get over it.
What choice did he have, really? Violet didn't know how lucky she was—she'd go one forever like this—almost literally. She was always harping about 'normal,' and the wonders of his 'normal' life with his 'normal' (read: completely nutters) family.
And perhaps he could appreciate her situation. She'd certainly started out with something fairly normal, at least as far as humans were concerned. Being one of the last of your kind had to be tough. It was probably a natural refuge for the girl, hiding behind memories of a very comforting former life.
Patting the wall as he left the bathroom, he smiled. He'd miss the ship and all of her many sounds. All the other freshmen, he supposed, would be trying to learn how to sleep without the sounds of home. Greg knew he'd be learning how to sleep without the sound of the TARDIS groaning through time and space.
As it was, she was just making quiet little ship hums. They'd arrived while he'd been asleep, it seemed. Hopefully in the right time, day, year and place. The ship had been spot on the last several trips, but leave it to now for her to decide to throw them into one last adventure. The thing was, if it came to that, he'd lose his resolve and stay.
Continuing his fairly useless repairs, the Doctor worked to the sounds of hyperactive teenagers well into the night. Violet and Greg had been laughing in the kitchen for hours; the sounds of their animated conversation echoing down the halls of the ship and filtering their way into the control room. That was the way it should be. A pleasant last night. Well, for whom, it remained to be seen.
He wasn't looking forward to this. The fact that it had been Rose's suggestion didn't help. The Doctor'd done this before, and it hadn't bothered him, but now it did. Well, everything had already been set into motion, so what was done was done, and he'd have to live with the consequences.
Well, part of it had been Rose's idea. But the whole way of dealing with this…that was entirely bearing HIS signature.
A few minutes after he heard Greg making his morning toilet, Violet stirred in the kitchen. A minute or so after that, she came dashing into the control room. "Did he leave yet?" Practically falling over the control column, she breathed a sigh of relief, seeing the enormous bag near the door.
He folded his arms over his chest. "No. It's getting to be almost eight, local. So he'd better, if he's going to NOT end up with the top bunk." The Doctor shuddered. He'd fallen out of a bunk bed at the academy and bashed his head on his desk so hard he almost regenerated, right then and there. And that would have just been embarrassing. "I also have another box of stuff he can take—you might have to help him carry it though. I think he packed an entire dorm room into the duffel bag."
The Doctor kicked a large wooden crate towards her. "You're not seein' him off?"
Shrugging, he leaned against the railing casually. "I've spent too much time…well, in this time. Running into myself—or worse—someone who knows me… not worth cleaning up the paradoxical shards of too quickly cooled Pyrex, as it were. Besides—it's Cardiff. Something bad'll happen." It wasn't paranoia if something bad really DID happen every time you came to Cardiff, he justified.
Greg came into the control room a minute later, wearing a freshly-changed polo shirt and carrying the last few of his items. "Well, sir. It's been great…" Holding out a hand, he was surprised when the Doctor actually shook it.
Leaning in, the Doctor patted him on the shoulder, his lips close to the young man's ear. "There's a packet in your bag. Don't open it until I'm gone."
The young man gave a short nod. "Don't be strangers, both of you."
"Violet's going to help you carry some stuff." The Doctor gestured to the box the girl was hoisting. "Just some odds and ends that'll brighten up the room, help in case of an invasion. You know, that sort of thing. It IS Cardiff after all, and the world nearly comes to an end every other Tuesday."
Greg chuckled, following after Violet. "Thanks. It's been…indescribable." He pulled the door open before dragging his bag over the threshold then hauled it up onto one shoulder. Taking one last look around, he grinned then rushed to catch up to Violet, telling her which building he'd be living in. The door swung closed behind them.
The second the latch settled, the Doctor turned to the external monitors and watched them walk from between the two buildings and turn left, going toward the nearest of the dormitories. When they were out of his monitor range, he began working the time and space controls.
A moment after that, the TARDIS began yawing as it blinked out of this time and place. It had been a very long time since he'd traveled alone. He looked forward to the quiet and dreaded it in the same breath. And maybe…if he was lucky…Violet would forgive him some day. She was safe, though. That was the important thing.