Educating Koschei

An academy story of shameless Master lovin' and Old Skool Respect.

Not a sillyfic despite my best efforts.

Theta, of course, had it all figured out from the start. "I know what you need to become a Time Lord," he declared on the first day of the academy.

"To pass your exams," Koschei answered reasonably.

Theta shook his head. "No, that's what you need to be pronounced a Time Lord, not to be one." He raised a hand and ticked things off on it with a somber, serious air. "You need to be ingenious; you need to be captivating, unusual. You need to be noticed. You need to be unique — to be interesting."

Koschei thought it was a fascinating bit of advice, albeit probably colored by Theta's idealism. In his experience, brief though it was at his age, Gallifrey and the Time Lords were some of the least interesting phenomena in the known universe. It was why the both of them were quite so eager to graduate the academy and leave the misbegotten empire behind them. Sameness and regulations were valued. Being interesting was certainly not going to help you through your exams.

For Theta, being interesting came as something natural. In the first few years, before anyone in their class had quite picked up what made the academy more than just another school, he was always the life of the party, and Rassilon, the parties they held those days. He'd show up with some outrageous piece of regalia, picked seemingly at random of some primitive planet's wardrobe, spiking the non-alcoholic Gallifreyan punch with exotically colored and flavored substances, not all of them safe for humanoid consumption. He told the best jokes. He flirted with danger in the form of the coldest ice queens of the upper classes. He was being noticed everywhere he went.

Around that time, Koschei discovered that his own best way to be noticed was by being unnoticed. Theta flaunted the rules almost for flaunting's sake, while Koschei learned to break dimensional locks, teleport himself without approval around the academy, and hypnotize people for laughs. He had to do something to alleviate the dull continuity of academy life, courses both of them could have aced in their sleep. And of course Theta was always handy for a spot of trouble, so that they complimented each other really.

Theta was the one who saw the possibilities in trouble at the right time, the right fashion. Koschei taught him to manipulate the weather satellites from his desktop computer, so he made it snow for days at end until nobody in the academy could leave their rooms. To Koschei's surprise (indignation), he didn't do it on exam days. Koschei had invented a set of contact lenses that rendered clothes invisible, so Theta began giving them out around the academy. Things always got interesting when Theta was around, with Koschei cheerfully coming up with the next scheme. Those were good years in the Prydonian chapter.

Then Koschei had perfected his most astonishing project yet and managed to break into the TARDIS bay. Theta shoved the doors aside. They were light and easy to move, because no one was supposed to be able to break the lock. They walked in on tiptoes, looking around at the uniform gray cubes ordered in their perfectly straight rows, each in its own small docking unit. Koschei felt his hearts soar. One of these machines would be his, someday. One of them would take him away from this place. He would be a Lord of Time, free and almost immortal.

Theta took a look around. He put his hand on one of the boxes briefly, then turned and stalked out. Koschei never really forgave him for ruining the moment.

They got closer over the Great Escape Plan. Koschei would sit for long nights at his desk, toying with, building and rebuilding gadgets and little things to make life easier, while Theta dug up and read out the most unlikely things about the most backwards planet. He'd developed a taste for Earth food. He began to let his hair grow out of the severe square cut that fit neatly under the standard issue hats. He hacked into an audio-telescope and acquired strange musical turns from around the space-time continuum, and played them in the space of their room for Koschei to tap out the rhythm with his foot as he worked.

He learned to dance, and he taught Koschei too.

"What's it for?" Koschei wondered as they went back and forth awkwardly in the small available floor space of their littered apartment. One step forward, two steps back…

"That's in return for teaching me to hack the TARDIS bay," Theta said, and his hair made a halo around his face as he cast it back, and smiled.

Be interesting, Theta had said. Be noticed. People were starting to notice Theta and Koschei. They noticed them when they went around the corridors, whistling tunes at each other, noticed them when one or both of them fell asleep in class. They noticed them whenever something exploded, something smelled strange, something got lost from right under someone's nose.

"We're going to be Time Lords," Theta said. "Just you watch." He was blowing bubbles made of soap out of some small Earth toy, shining multicolored bubbles, like miniature worlds.

Theta always knew what he was saying. "You've got to enjoy it. Enjoy it all," he would say. "Life. Gallifrey. The universe. The smell of me making coffee in the morning. Passing paper notes in class. The gray of the TARDIS shell. You have to love it." He talked Koschei into painting a dazzling mural of a double sunset on the wall behind their beds. He collected seeds and let them grow in plastic cans around their room, and muttered to them when he watered them.

Koschei made a list of things in his head that he enjoyed. Breaking dimensional locks. Inventing overcomplicated pranks. Little moments of superiority when he deigned to answer something in class to his teachers' astonishment. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling his two hearts beat, and dreaming of lives, thirteen sweet lives, centuries, millennia to do with as he wished. And Theta.

Theta got noticed. Theta got noticed not for doing anything, he only went around being himself. He got noticed for not doing things, for failing his exams, for sleeping in on class days, for letting dust and leftovers and broken toys gather up in his rooms. He stood out. He couldn't help it.

Koschei's dreams began to change. That is, when he had time to dream. Most of the time he was studying, calculating, building, inventing, and tutoring Theta. Theta never scrapped less than would've been enough to keep him in the academy. He never learned anything in class. Koschei taught him everything he knew, late into the night, by the fizzling yellow lamp that Theta brought in with him from home, with nothing but coffee, temporal equations and the two of them for company. Theta would lean over the datapad, frowning, a wash of gold falling over his forehead and into his brilliant blue eyes.

"It's about what's beautiful, what you love," Theta said, and Koschei understood.

Koschei was never sure that he properly mastered being unusual and interesting, but he did pass his exams (fifty-two percents, on the second attempt) and was pronounced a Time Lord. He got his own TARDIS. He got thirteen beautiful lives, and his freedom. He left the hall clutching the silly Prydonian neckpiece nervously, glancing at Theta with a shy smile. "Let's go to Earth," he told him. "Let's go nuts on beer and chips, laugh at black and white TV, dance someplace where there's actually some room."

"You always said wanted to see the ends of time and the universe," Theta said, his smile suddenly faded, surprised. "Earth?"

"I want to see whatever you want to see," Koschei said.

Koschei had gone to Earth that night; but Theta never came.

In the years that followed, the decades, the centuries, Koschei had developed a particular loathing for Earth that he could never quite explain to its depth. He had to confess, in the end, that he understood neither himself nor his (friend)(lover)(rival)enemy. He was sure Theta did. Theta always understood. It infuriated him, and the taste of rage was a cold, familiar comfort.

"You have to be interesting," Theta said. "You have to shine."

"What if I don't?" Koschei asked.

Theta smiled. "Then I guess I'll have to do it for the both of us."

But Koschei never got around to finding out whether he could shine or not. It's hard, with the sun in your eyes.