A/N: Because tea always makes things a little better, because there's always hope, and because I love the subtle relationship between them. A small introspective interlude, set just before the events of 'The Three Doctors'.
The Doctor carefully slipped the dematerialization circuit into its waiting slot; months of delicate work, at last to see its fruition. His hands smoothed it downward into its cradle, then reached for the console's face to adjust the controls.
A gentle touch of power caressed the vortexial synapses, restored the welcome glow of life to the omegan interface points. Watching that warming kaleidoscopic glow, he slowly increased the power and his hearts soared as his beloved machine responded, moved, stretched her long-clipped wings to their fullest expanse and glowed in response. She leapt to obey his directives, the two of them swept one more into her native element, together. Stars and worlds of all colours scintillated, shining out before them. They were free.
Startled, he looked up at Jo's smiling face bending over him.
"You fell asleep working on that thing again, didn't you? At least you were smiling. Must have been a good dream?" She gave his shoulder a little squeeze and turned away to hang up her fur-rimmed coat, prattling on about something she'd seen on the way.
He didn't reply, or listen. The grey morning sun struggled to light the windows through the fog. The cold scent of solder and melted plastics lingered in the air.
Slowly sitting up, he straightened his back and he looked down at the lifeless circuit still clutched in his hand, fine wires trailing from his most recent experimental attempt. Across the lab, the TARDIS stood silent and dark.
Jo was rummaging in her purse for something. "Brr, it's cold in here. I brought some tea," she was saying. "That stuff from the canteen is just bleaugh. You want some?"
"Yes, I suppose," he said heavily.
She glanced up. "Forgotten that dream already?"
He looked slightly pained. "Forgotten?"
"Well, you don't sound too happy about it now."
He was quiet for a moment. "It never happened," he finally said in a low voice. He dropped the circuit back onto the workbench and ran a hand over his hair to smooth it. "Perhaps it never will."
"What will?" Jo fished a wad of tea sachets from her purse and set about untangling their strings. "Fill the kettle, would you?"
He moved to the small sink almost reflexively, taking up their battered kettle and turning the tap without complaint. "I don't know. That's the problem. There's too much I don't know. And I used to know it." The kettle overflowed as he belatedly turned the tap back off.
Jo succeeded in freeing two sachets from the tangle. Seeing him just standing there leaning against the cupboards, apparently studying the water drops as they made their way down the drain, she came over and plucked the kettle from his hand, setting it to heat. Tipping her head she tried to coax him out of the strange mood he seemed to have fallen into.
"Come on; it can't be as bad as all that. It's only morning, and we've the whole day ahead of us!"
He glanced over at her and gave her a polite smile, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Yes, well. We have that, don't we. An entire day. What a marvel."
Jo patted his sleeve as she reached past him to fetch a pair of cups. "You really do need some tea this morning, don't you? What's gotten under your bonnet that you've such a face?"
"Sorry. This is the face I woke up with," he said, but his smile was a little brighter. He shook his head and turned back to the workbench, pulling up a stool.
"I wonder sometimes how much I chose it and how much of it was chosen for me, but it's grown on me. Oh, don't worry about me, Jo." He nudged the dematerialization circuit. "I'm just a fool on a fool's errand, really, trying to fix a circuit like this with stone knives and bear skins."
"Now that would be a new fashion for the men here," she observed, adding sugar to one of the cups while waiting for the water to boil. "Would the Brigadier get a different colour than the rest?"
He had a faraway look, turning the circuit under his hand.
"At least it would be warm," she rambled. "I swear this building has more draughts than a, oh, something that has a lot of them. That's why I brought my fur coat in with me. Of course theirs couldn't be like that, they would need a nice brown bear color. Do you think a uniform like that would come with furry holsters? We'd have to be sure the pieces were properly coordinated."
"It could be done."
She knew he hadn't been following her at all. "Outfitting UNIT in bear skins?"
"What?" He looked up at her blankly.
She dimpled, arranging the sachets in the cups with one hand while waving the other over the kettle to check for steam. "Isn't that what we're talking about? UNIT fashion?"
"I was talking about my dematerialization circuit. Fashion? I have no idea where you get these notions sometimes, Jo."
"So," she said, leaning back against the counter to face him. "Tell me about this circuit of yours."
He made a small noise of impatience. "You wouldn't understand if I did."
She shrugged. "Not the details. But at the end the main point of it all would have been?"
Not meeting her eyes, he went back to slowly rotating it on the workbench. "That it should be possible to repair it," he finally said. "And I know it is. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know it is." There was no way he could ever communicate the well of frustration, hurt and entrapment he felt beneath those words. No human being could understand, he thought, so he could hardly fault his assistant for making light of it.
There was a long pause. She watched him, the kettle creaked and hissed to a simmer. He kept his eyes on the circuit, reflecting the dull morning light beneath his hand. Jo crossed to him and tentatively put an arm across his back, hooking her chin over his velvet-clad shoulder to look down at the oddly-shaped object of his regard.
"So," she said, slightly muffled against his cheek. "If that were working, what would you do?"
She hunted for something to cheer him. It was a familiar objection of his, but he didn't usually stay focused on it this way. "We've gone some places, though. I mean, those Time Lords, they've sent you out occasionally at least," she said reasonably. "Doesn't that help?"
"On a leash," he muttered. "Only at their pleasure." He knew she'd heard it all before, but the words escaped anyway. Something about that dream had made it all seem so close, so real,; it had brought the limitations he could sometimes forget close as well, they were too plain. He was torn between wanting to remember and wanting to forget.
She was quiet. The kettle began to bubble.
"They won't forgive," he murmured.
"They'll have to, someday," she replied, still trying to comfort. Her voice was so soft he wouldn't have heard it, except she was so close. "Nothing lasts forever."
Forever. What did humans know of forever? Still, he accepted what she was trying to say; that she wanted him to have hope. Wasn't he himself always reminding them what a powerful force hope could be? He pushed the circuit to the side and reached up to lay his hand over hers where she held his shoulders, a touch of acknowledgement.
The kettle whistled and she pulled away from him to pour the tea. Tea was important; tea always made everything a little more right in this world. He accepted that too.
"Sergeant Benton was in the hall when I came in," she said conversationally as she turned off the heat, moving to pour the water into the waiting cups. "He said something about some man with a concern about a weather balloon coming in." She returned, setting his cup down in front of him.
"A weather balloon?" the Doctor frowned. "What the blazes would that have to do with us?" It was a welcome distraction. He watched the tea, changing the water and being changed itself, sharing its essence with its surroundings.
"I have no idea. I wasn't listening too well, I admit; maybe someone mistook it for aliens landing. I suppose we'll find out soon enough." She leaned companionably on the workbench beside him and watched him stirring his tea. Lifting her own cup, she inhaled the steam while waiting for it to steep. She already felt warmer, now that they both had something to hold on to.