The City Over the Mountains
Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. Suing is bad for my health.
Summary: "You didn't love me in the real world."
Notes: I don't even know, you guys.
Title comes from T. S. Eliot's poem iThe Waste Land/i.
"What is meant by 'reality'? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable--now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech--and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates."
Verginia Wolfe, A Room of One's Own
Fitz approached the door slowly, palms sweaty where he pressed them against his jean-clad legs. The lights were dim, the air stale and smelling faintly of smoke. The carpet under his boots had once been plush, but water damage and neglect had left it moldy and a colour lingering somewhere between dishwater grey and shit brown. Wiring hung down from the ceiling, the occasional lonely spark of power leaping amongst the tangle. Behind him he could hear Compassion jumping to hit the dangling wires like a kid striking out at tree branches. She didn't want to be there, and was taking every opportunity to make that fact crystal clear.
The door itself was gunmetal grey, looming over them with an imposing menace which made it very apparent that visitors were not welcome. He had to shove it open with his shoulder, and when he stepped over the threshold his foot landed with a squelching sound that he was absolutely not going to think about. Once he was inside the room, he wished he wasn't.
'You'd think,' he thought to himself, 'I'd be able to deal with dead bodies by now'. There wasn't even anything all that gruesome about these particular bodies. They were enclosed in glass cases, propped up against the wall like some sick sort of trophy display. They ringed the entire room, but there were a few that stood in the very centre. A bleach-blonde girl, no more than twenty. A dark haired man who, in life, would have probably had a job as a Hollywood heartthrob. A professional looking, pretty young black woman. The last case in the centre had been shattered, and was lacking a corresponding corpse. Fitz added this to the list of things he was refusing to think about.
"These people could have been saved," Compassion observed clinically, entering the room. Fitz blew out a breath between his teeth.
"Of course they could have been saved. The Time Lords just didn't consider them Iworth/I being saved. Too much paperwork."
"All but one," she gestured to the empty case.
Fitz shrugged. "Have a long hard think about our lives. Then tell me a zombie's out of the question."
She didn't dignify this with an answer. In Fitz's opinion, it was a bloody good point, and one which was just asking to be made into an 'I told you so' moment later. He sincerely hoped it didn't come to that.
"None of these is The Doctor," Fitz said instead of the various other things fighting to escape from his lips.
"Unless he's regenerated."
Fitz felt his stomach drop into his shoes. "Christ." The message from Romana hadn't said anything about The Doctor having a new body, but neither had it specifically said that he didn't. He paced further into the room, eyes trailing over the row of slack, grey faces. "So many people."
Compassion walked the other way. "You did say this Master person is extremely cruel."
"Actually," he replied, consonants coming sharp and crisp, "I believe the exact phrase I used was 'fucking nutter'." He focused in on a section of blank wall (the only empty wall space in the room) and paced closer, lips pursed as he studied it. "That's gotta be some sort of door. Evil geniuses always go in for the hidden passageways."
Compassion didn't answer. He pressed his hands against the wall, running them up and down, looking for some sort of hidden release. To his surprise the wall gave easily under a bit of pressure, melting away like it hadn't been there in the first place. Knowing the man who designed the complex as he did, Fitz pulled his ciggies from his jacket pocket and tossed them through the door. A faint hissing, crackling sound emanated from the walls, but nothing else happened. "Nice to know the Time Lords were kind enough to disarm these traps, at least," he muttered to himself, and stepped through the door.
He didn't see The Doctor until he straightened up, ciggies in hand. He had not regenerated. He lay in a luxurious bed, soft auburn curls spread across a black silk pillow. His blue eyes were open, but staring glassily up at the ceiling. He was connected to an array of machines, cables leading away from his skull and arms like parasitic snakes feeding off his life force.
"Oh God," Fitz choked out, because this was his Doctor, here and safe (for a given value of safe) and Ialive/I. He moved to the bedside, touching The Doctor's shoulder hesitantly. "Doctor?"
There was no reaction. He shook him a bit, gently. "Doctor? Hey, hey. 'salright. Are you... You can't hear a word I'm saying, can you?"
Still, there was no reaction from The Doctor. Hands shaking, he reached out and turned The pale face to him. His eyes didn't focus, and he gave no indication that he knew Fitz was there at all.
"Compassion!" he called. A moment later, she appeared in the doorway.
"Oh look. It's The Doctor. How absolutely wonderful we've found him, I daresay we're all saved now."
"Fuck off," he snapped. "Can you disconnect him from all this? He's completely out of it, there's something wrong."
She studied The Doctor for a brief moment, and then began disconnecting wires and shutting down machines with an efficiency that was a little frightening. "Some of these are chemical bonds, and this one is Artron energy. While his body may be inactive, his mind's anything but."
"What do you mean?" Fitz asked, brushing a lock of hair off the Doctor's forehead.
"If I'm right, which I am, he's been living in a reality that's being generated entirely inside his head."
Fitz frowned. "And here I thought I was a special snowflake."
"Do you know how long he's been here in his personal timeline?" Compassion asked.
Fitz nodded. "About six years. Three for me, since he disappeared."
"And no one thought to go looking for him. What does that tell you?"
"We thought he was dead. And if you've forgotten, there was kind of an epic bloody war going on." There was a pain at the back of his throat because even standing there beside The Doctor's breathing body, he could feel that sick helpless panic that had been his constant companion in the months after The Doctor's supposed death. "You saying he's spent six years inside his own head?"
"Or longer. The Master could have easily skewed his time sense. Six years in the outside world could've been a hundred for him."
"Oh Jesus," Fitz said, and his voice came out in a scratchy whisper. It made a sick sort of sense. The Master hadn't been impressed when he'd been brought back to life to fight the Time Lords'' war against the Daleks for them, and the only time Fitz had seen him happy was when he was with The Doctor. The Doctor wouldn't have fled with him willingly --Fitz had been party to more than one of the Doctor's emotional and/or existential crisis regarding exactly that-- so if The Master could keep him hidden away, unresisting, until the war was over, he would do it.
"He should wake up on his own now," Compassion said as she removed the last tube from The Doctor's wrist. She wandered out of the room, and Fitz pushed aside an IV stand so that he could perch on the bed beside The Doctor. He watched his chest rise and fall under the rich red of the bedspread. He cradled one of The Doctor's limp, cool hands in between both of his.
It took about an hour for the Time Lord to wake up during which Fitz fielded text messages from Anji and Hex bloody Schofield, of all people, trying to wheedle out what he and Compassion were up to. His mobile rang just as The Doctor was beginning to stir.
He blinked. "Hello?"
"You've found him, good. Take care of him. He's still useful, and I certainly have no desire to see him dead."
Fitz froze. "Who is this?"
Silence. The Doctor blinked.
"You're Idead/I," Fitz informed the phone. "And I'd bloody prefer if you stay that way for this foreseeable future."
He came very close to throwing the phone across the room, but restricted himself to placing it on a table as far away from himself as he could reach without moving. It sat there, innocent. He turned his full attention to the slowly awakening Time Lord. "Doctor?"
"Yes, I am. What... Where am I? Jack? Is this Torchwood?"
Fitz frowned. "Doctor, it's me. It's Fitz. You're alright now."
"Fitz? That's not possible. My mind feels... Strange."
Fitz squeezed the hand he still held in his. "You've been... asleep for a while. It might have buggered up your mind somehow."
The Doctor's entire body went suddenly rigid. "The TARDIS. IWhere/I is the TARDIS?"
Fitz winced. He should've expected this. "She's... I don't know, Doctor. She disappeared about the same time you d-- 'round the same time you disappeared."
The doctor was trembling. His gaze had focused in on Fitz. "Fitz. What are you doing here? And come to think of it, where is here?"
Fitz shrugged. "Kestiel... Or Krestiel... something like that. But not for long."
"Fitz," The Doctor stared at him intently. "The Krestielia aren't telepathic."
Fitz blinked. "The Krestielia have also been extinct for half a century."
"Then there is something very wrong." The Doctor tried to push himself up, but his arm gave out immediately. "I can hear them, Fitz. They're in my head. Well, obviously it's not Ithem/I, but... I'm sorry. Usually I babble... My mind isn't going... Everything's very distracting. And a little bit wonderful. These sheets are delightfully soft."
Fitz stared. "You're still coming off of a bloody lot of drugs. Whatever you're hearing will probably go away."
"No, no. You don't understand. Fitz, I can hear the ITime Lords/I."
Fitz frowned. "And?"
"You know what happened at the end. You shouldn't even be alive, which we'll talk about later, but you know that all of the Time Lords were destroyed."
The Doctor looked surprised at his own words. Fitz was busy having an internal panic attack. "Doctor. Doctor, the Time Lords are fine. The Master, he..."
The Doctor's eyes lit up, in stark contrast with the next words that came out of his mouth. "He can't be here. He can't have survived."
Fitz squeezed The Doctor's hand, at a loss for what to say, where to start. "You've been dreaming," he said. "You've been dreaming since the middle of the War. Well, dreaming is probably a bit of a bollocks term for what you've been doing, but..."
The Doctor fell silent, but his hand crept up to touch his hair, combing his fingers weakly through the long strands. Idly, Fitz wondered if The Doctor's hair had been kept in some sort of stasis, or if The Master had cut it for him whenever it got too long. The thought sent a frisson of anger through his blood, muscles tensing. The Doctor brought a lock of his hair around in front of his face, staring at it like it was a physical manifestation of forty-two.
"A mirror," he said. "I need a mirror."
Fitz glanced around the room, but nothing looked at all reflective. He shrugged helplessly. "I don't think there's anything here."
" You said...a dream?" The Doctor asked.
Fitz shifted. "Three... Well, six years ago for you, you got hurt. Really badly. The Time Lords said you were dead, but apparently they just didn't want to admit they'd manage to lose you. Conveniently enough, no one made the connection between you disappearing and The Master sodding off at the exact same time. From what I understand, The Time Lords only became interested in The Master's whereabouts when time started fluctuating rather dangerously and it couldn't be traced back to them, The Daleks or The Faction. They found you here, in his secret base." Fitz did not say Trademark. It was very difficult.
"They're here? There are Time Lords here, now?"
Fitz sighed. This was not getting any easier. "No. Officially, you're still dead. I got a message from Romana giving me coordinates and a very brief overview of the whole mess. She told me to come get you, but if you go back to Gallifrey the High Council will deny any knowledge of your recovery."
"Too much of an embarrassment," The Doctor smiled. "That probably would have made me horribly angry at one point." His voice was scratchy with disuse, but he was losing the manic, jerky tones and his accent was smoothing out into its familiar shape.
"We should get you out of here," Fitz said after a silence had grown that was well on its way to being awkward.
"I'm not entirely sure that I can walk," The Doctor murmured, staring at Fitz with a strange, blissed out smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"Right. I'll get Compassion to come in here. She can't dematerialize inside the complex, but you won't have to walk out yourself."
The Doctor actually laughed. "Compassion? Really? My mind is a strange place."
Fitz frowned, but decided anything The Doctor might say was suspect with that many drugs still running through his bloodstream. He set The Doctor's hand back on the sheets and pushed himself to his feet. Compassion arrived in the doorway before he had taken two steps. "Are we leaving?"
"Yeah," Fitz nodded. "Don't think the Doctor's up to hiking trips quite yet, so you'll have to let him in before we head off."
She stared at the Doctor, who stared right back, still grinning to himself. "Fine." She stepped over to the bed and with no hesitation split herself down the middle, pealing back each half of her body like the doors to a well done haunted house. Fitz cringed a little. It sort of reminded him of the horror movies popular in Anji's time, filled with the most gruesome imagery the human mind could come up with. The fact that he knew it was all done with computers didn't actually make it any more palatable and in the same way knowing that Compassion's outer shell was simply a camouflaging dimensional trick didn't stop the lurch in his stomach . The Doctor made another attempt to sit up and was no more successful than his first try. Fitz slipped an arm behind him, bent awkwardly over his chest, praying that the Time Lord would be able to support at least some of his weight.
"Can you slide your legs over?" Fitz asked. The Doctor could, though it took a while and a great deal of awkward struggling. Feet firmly planted on the carpet, The Doctor sat propped up by Fitz and took a deep breath. Fitz frowned. "compassion, do you mind if I go in now too?"
"It doesn't matter," she replied, forming a mouth on the left side of her face. "It would certainly make it easier to avoid the security system if I don't have to watch out for you at the same time."
"Right. Fab. Love you too." Fitz turned to The Doctor. "Ready?"
"Yes," The Doctor replied calmly.
Fitz half pulled, half pushed The Doctor to his feet and they staggered the few steps to Compassion, practically falling over the threshold and landing on a hard floor.
"Bitch," Fitz said under his breath. Neither Time Lord or TARDIS responded.
"Can we do a medical scan on him?" Fitz asked once he was on his feet.
"If you like," compassion replied, sounding bored. But according to the monitors The Master had set up he's in perfect health aside from the muscle atrophy."
"And how long will that take to fix?"
"A day or two, if he keeps moving. Time Lords are far more resilient than humans."
Fitz bit back the sarcastic retort on the tip of his tongue and instead moved to help The Doctor over to the low cot that Compassion had provided. As soon as he was settled a medical scanner descended over him, clicking its way over his entire body.
Fitz had a sudden thought. "Can you give him something to counteract all the shite in his system?"
Compassion took a few seconds to reply. "There isn't much in his system. He metabolizes--"
"Faster than a human, yes, thank you. But there's got to be a reason he's so loopy."
"Shock?" she suggested dryly. "How would you feel if you found out the last few years of your life have all been a hallucination?"
Fitz grinned. "It would certainly make a hell of a lot of sense."
"Well. That's you." The scanner retracted into the wall. "As I said. Nothing more than muscle decay. He's fine. Physically, at least. Psychologically is a matter of opinion."
Fitz didn't answer. "Doctor? How are you feeling? What do you need?"
"Water, if you don't mind."
Fitz spun on his feet. "Of course! I'm so stupid. Compassion, where'd you stick the kitchen?"
"Door on your left."
Fitz felt the slightly ridiculous urge to point out how much more control Compassion had gained over her interior since her last meeting with The Doctor, but he didn't think either of them would appreciate it. When he came back with a glass of water The doctor had burrowed deeper into his blankets, shivering. Fitz dropped to his knees beside him, holding out the water. "You ok?"
"Cold," The Doctor replied. Fitz helped him hold the glass as he drank, and the relief on his face made Fitz want to do nothing more than wrap himself around the Time Lord and protect him from the entire universe. Which, he thought, was in essence what The Master had been doing. He drew back, suddenly feeling as if he was smothering the other man, hands awkward and useless as they wrapped around the empty glass.
"Sorry," he muttered, and he wasn't entirely sure what he was apologizing for. The Doctor's hand extended to him, clumsy as it landed against his leg.
"Look at you," the Time Lord murmured, fingers stroking against his jeans. "So gorgeously alive. You didn't love me in the real world."
Fitz didn't jerk backward, but only because Compassion chose that moment to dematerialize, and she still hadn't quite mastered doing that smoothly. Privately Fitz was pretty sure that she was perfectly capable but enjoyed watching her passengers get flung about. In this case, Fitz found himself almost face planting into The Doctor's chest, hands flying out to brace himself on the cot, the glass falling and rolling away to the other side of the room. He froze in place, the side of The Doctor's chest rising and falling against the inside of his arm. When it seemed safe to move, he sat back on his heels, fumbling for a cigarette.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked once he'd lit up.
The Doctor inhaled. "I couldn't have loved you, anyway."
Fitz felt something twist inside of him. "What're you talking about?"
The Doctor smiled at him gently. "Hush. I want to enjoy this. I want to look at you."
Time had dulled Fitz's memories of this part of The Doctor, the way he didn't deal with things he wanted to avoid by assuming an air of quiet superiority. He stood up. The Doctor may have every right to act superior, but it didn't make it any less irritating. "Could you not?"
"Do that. Shh me. Tell me everything's fine."
The Doctor sighed. "That's what I do. That's my responsibility."
"no," Fitz shook his head, his anger dissipating like smoke. "Doctor, this is me, for Christ's sake." Fitz did not point out that he had, in some ways, taken responsibility for The Doctor during his period of amnesia.
"Yes, it is you," The doctor agreed. "And isn't that brilliant? I love my brain sometimes."
Fitz wasn't sure what he was supposed to be saying. "Look. We're going to Earth. Your house. The one in Kent? You'll feel better after you've had a few days to recover."
"Yes," The Doctor nodded slightly. "I'm sure that would be lovely, but I think I've got to leave now."
Fitz's eyebrows shot up. "Leave? What the hell are you on about?"
"It was lovely to see you,"The Doctor murmured. "I've been so lonely, and this was a very pleasant distraction."
"Shit," Fitz fell back to his knees as The Doctor's eyes fluttered shut. "Oh God, Doctor? Come on, love. Compassion!"
"He's fine," she said calmly. "He's just falling asleep. A real sleep, not just chemically induced unconsciousness. His mind needs it."
"But you heard the way he was talking, he said he was leaving."
"Maybe he's really gone insane," she suggested.
"Thank you. That's a very cheering thought." He settled back on the floor, leaning against the wall, still smoking. He refused to acknowledge the little voice in the back of his head that suggested Compassion might be absolutely correct.
The Doctor had nightmares. It shouldn't have surprised him, but it was still disconcerting to watch the other man twitch and whimper, calling out for someone named Rose, tears trickling from the corners of his eyes. Fitz reached out, abortive gestures originally intended to wake him up, but the thought of facing The Doctor's strange, disconnected ramblings stilled his hand. Shoulders slumping, he made himself watch the pained expressions that crossed The doctor's face and listened to the heart-rending sobs.
Fitz was sitting at the kitchen table in The Doctor's house on Earth, 2004 CE, checking his e-mail. The wood floorboards under his socked feet were chilly, and the scent of dead leaves and rain trickled in through the window in the front that refused to shut all the way. Compassion entered the kitchen and he looked up.
"He's awake." He dropped his slice of toast onto the keyboard of his laptop (which wouldn't be on the market until the twenty-forties) and bolted upstairs. When he came into the room where Compassion had left The Doctor, the Time Lord was sprawled half off the bed, vomiting into the bin.
"Oh bugger," said Fitz.
"Oh Rassilon," moaned The Doctor, between gasps.
"I'm leaving now," said Compassion from the hallway. "IShe/I just dropped off Professor summerfield at the front door and I don't know why and I don't care why." Fitz heard the soft hum of Compassion dematerializing.
"Fantastic," he muttered. Part of him hoped that Ishe/I (Ishe/I being the occasionally overwhelming Iris Wildthyme) would come in as well and help him figure out what was wrong with his Time Lord. "Doctor? Are you... Alright?"
"I thought it was a dream," The Doctor said, voice terrifyingly calm.
"It was. That's right, that's good."
The Doctor turned to look at him. "No, Fitz. This. I was quite sure that this was a dream. That I'd wake up back on the TARDIS, alone. Thought maybe it was a sign that I was ready to talk about the war. River asked me, the last time I saw her. But none of that was real. None of the brilliant, wonderful people I knew? Not Rose or Jack or Martha or donna or River or any of them." He didn't pause, and Fitz was glad of it, immediately thinking of glass cases enclosing corpses with no physical injuries. "Don't answer that, I already know. I can feel it in the way that my mind is slower, more mathematical. The way my emotions are harder to control, my wrists are stronger and my hair is longer and I can feel time lapping at my consciousness and it's Iall/I so horrifically, beautifully familiar."
"And the Time Lords, yeah?" Fitz asked, wanting to be sure. "You can hear them?"
Downstairs, a key rattled in the front door. The Doctor's gaze darted to the open door of the bedroom. "Yes," he said softly.
"Hello?" a voice floated up the stairs.
"That'll be Benny," Fitz said. "Shall I go shoo her away?"
The Doctor laughed, but it was short and under his breath. "No, no. It's fine. Just... Hold her off a moment."
"Do you need help?" Fitz asked.
"I was practicing movement before you came in. I should be able to clean myself up."
"Time Lord healing powers," Fitz said flatly, then grinned.
He stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind him. "We're up here," he called.
He descended into the front hall. Benny was just removing her jacket, tossing it haphazardly on the coat stand.
"Hello," she said.
She sighed dramatically. "Peter decided to spend some time with Iris, seeing the universe from a different point of view."
Fitz smirked. "Not your words?"
"Is there coffee?" she asked instead of an answer.
"Oh don't sound so offended. It's been a long week. I intend to get spectacularly drunk later, want to join me?"
"Give it a couple hours and I'll buy." He led her into the kitchen.
"So explain. Iris didn't tell me much--"
"And how did IIris/I know?"
"Who knew through Anji. That will never stop being weird. You take milk?"
She shook her head. "All Iris would tell me was that The Doctor was alive, and you were taking care of him."
"That's all that's important," he shrugged under her steady gaze. "Was a bloke who calls himself The Master keeping him prisoner. Real nutter. Time Lord, but a bit of a 'take over the universe' sort with a nice helping of beard. I knew him during the first part of The War because Romana's response to problems seemed to be to throw The Doctor and The Master at them and hope nothing too important exploded."
Benny sighed. "He does get himself into the most unfortunate situations, doesn't he? How's he doing?"
Fitz handed her a mug of strong black tea. "I honestly don't know. He's The Doctor, you know how he can be."
"Mmhm. Is he still the pretty one?"
Fitz could feel his cheeks reddening. "Yes," he told the sugar bowl decisively. "He's just upstairs, he'll be down in a minute."
"He's down now," said The Doctor from the doorway. Fitz spun about. The Time Lord was leaned against the door frame like it was the only thing holding him up. 'You could have fallen down the stairs,' Fitz didn't say.
"Tea?" he asked. The Doctor nodded.
Benny nudged out a chair with her foot. "Sit down before you fall down, Doctor."
He focused on the chair as if it personified everyone who had ever hurt him. With a shaky stumbling gait he half walked, half threw himself across the kitchen, falling into the wooden chair, visibly trembling at the effort. Fitz imagined him flailing his way out of the bedroom, down the stairs and across the entry hall. 'Ready for that drink now,' he thought.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," Benny smiled at The Doctor through the steam rising from her cup.
Oh Christ. Fitz watched The Doctor's reaction, teapot poised over the cup. The Doctor returned Benny's smile. "It's good to be here."
Fitz was pretty sure he was on the verge of throwing up in his mouth. He finished pouring the tea, added milk, stirred three times clockwise. When he set it in front of The Doctor the other man would not meet his gaze.
Fitz busied himself with the washing up as The Doctor and Benny talked. Rain pelted the window and the streaks it left on the glass brought to mind the bars of a cage. He watched The Doctor out of the corner of his eye, the way his smile became progressively more forced as Benny enthused about her last archeological dig, the way his wrist trembled more dramatically with each journey of the teacup from table to lips.
"Shall we go for a walk?" The Doctor cut in to Benny's monologue. "I need to work at building up my strength."
"Should you be straining yourself?" Benny asked him, but she was looking at Fitz.
"Oh yes. I'm not really straining. Consider it physical therapy."
"Muscle atrophy," Fitz said quietly, wishing he could melt back into the counter. Benny, bless her, didn't ask any further.
The Doctor spent the entirety of their walk gripping on to Fitz's arm, cool, long fingers pressing against his own skin. The Time Lord seemed fascinated by every sight and sensation that crossed his path. His eyes flitted about, his free hand trailed over trees and fences, his tongue darted out to lick his lips almost obsessively. He refused an umbrella, and the rain had drenched his soft hair, plastering it to his neck and cheeks, making his white shirt almost transparent.
Conversation was stilted, and The Doctor tired quickly. After the third time he almost landed on the grass Benny called a stop to the outdoor adventure with an especially vicious glare for Fitz. He blinked back at her and wondered what he'd done wrong.
"It all feels the same," The Doctor said as Fitz helped him back upstairs. "I was hoping that there would be some sort of sign, something to tell me that this is more real than the last few years of my life, but there's nothing. Colours are just as vivid, the rain, the grass, the air, the passing of time. Everything is the same."
"Well, I guess it would be, all the chemicals and whatnot he had pumping through your brain..."
"It's Iall/I the same. There is no discernable difference. How am I to know I'm not going insane, locked in a hospital somewhere, beating my head against a padded white wall?"
Fitz shivered. "You're not. I'm real, I know I'm real, ergo you're not insane."
The Doctor shook his head slightly. "You can't prove that. It's alright, it's not your fault."
Fitz didn't know what to say. "You want to try eating something?" he asked, feeling a little ridiculous.
"Not particularly. Everything will taste different and I'm not at all hungry."
The Doctor fell onto the bed, all of his previous energy fading like fire hit by a sudden downpour. Fitz stood in the doorway, not wanting to leave but not sure of a reason to remain. A chill had worked its way under his skin and the damp of the outdoors clung to his clothes. The grey daylight outside left the room in a muted dimness. The Doctor's eyes, when he looked up at Fitz were a brilliant flash of blue against the bleak backdrop. "When exactly did The Master get a hold of me?"
Fitz didn't even have to think about it. The battle at that planet with the liquid lifeforms, in our timelines about a week after Romana ordered the Looming of soldiers and about two days after that unfortunate thing that called itself a birthday party. You were injured pretty badly, in whatever the Time Lord version of a coma is. You were declared dead ten days after we got you back to Gallifrey. I left shortly after, came back to Earth, around Anji's time. Wasn't much I could do on Gallifrey on my own that a Time Lord couldn't do a hundred times better." The Doctor made as if to object, so Fitz kept talking. "Spent a few months generally fucking up my life, then I accidentally stumbled upon a Faction recruitment drive. Figured I should probably investigate, seeing as last I knew they had never existed. Things sort of spiraled after that and I woke up one day and realized I was leading the most unorganized, smallest, bitchiest task force I could imagine against a bunch of crazy Time Lords and crazier humans with equally crazy powers."
"And then you got very drunk?" The Doctor asked dryly.
Fitz grinned a little. "How'd you guess?"
"I'm glad," The Doctor said. "It's a far better future than The Master gave you."
"Hold up," Fitz froze. "You saying I was part of your brain's fantasy tour?"
The Doctor's expression became reproachful. "Yes. You... Died, just before the end of The War."
There were quite a few burning questions that Fitz wanted to ask, but he restrained himself. He had a feeling he didn't want to know the answers. "Well. I'm glad that wasn't real. I quite like the whole breathing thing."
The Doctor smiled briefly. Fitz decided he was ready for that drink, and wandered out to find Benny.
"You and he were lovers, weren't you?" Benny asked from across the table. Fitz was quite proud that he did not snort his whiskey through his nose. Overhead the telly blared from over the bar, competing with the conversations of the eclectic mix of frustrated sports fans and snobby academics.
Benny rolled her eyes. "You and The Doctor. You were having sex and romantic walks on the beach."
Fitz slumped back in the booth. "For two months," he nodded. "Though I'm pretty sure there were never any beaches. Deserts, though. Lots and lots of deserts."
"And since he's gotten back?"
"He can barely walk, for Christ's sake."
"I wasn't talking about sex, but it's interesting to know that's where your mind went. I meant, have you two talked at all about... Rekindling anything?"
Fitz shrugged. "Haven't really had the time."
"Because you ran away at the first sign of meaningful discussion so you could drag me down the pub."
"I'm sorry, I must have hallucinated the part where you arrived and tried to drag me away right off."
"We're not talking about me."
"I don't know how well a relationship talk would go right now. In his mind, I died a while back."
Benny arched an eyebrow. "And that's different from what you went through how?"
Fitz blinked slowly, and took another pull on his drink.
She sighed loudly. "You thought he was dead. He thought you were dead. Seeing as neither of you are, in fact, dead--"
"We could be zombies," Fitz interjected under his breath. Benny stared at him like he'd just shoved peas up his nose.
"As I was saying, neither of you are dead and you're both going to need to get over it."
"I don't know if I want to be the one to bring it up. He's been traumatized, I've got no right to go pushing him into things that he's not ready to deal with."
"Don't know how you people can drink this shit on a regular basis," Benny muttered, downing her drink in one go. "Has he told you about his regeneration?"
Fitz's brain flailed. "How do you mean?"
"You couldn't tell? The way he was acting, the things he was saying? I'd put money on the fact that he regenerated during The Master's mindfuck."
"You can't tell him that I told you," he said hurriedly. "About what The Master did to him. He didn't say anything about not telling, but he didn't mention it to you, so..."
She covered his hand with her own on the sticky tabletop. "I'm not going to spill any secrets.""
Fitz spent a minute contemplating how much effort it would take to get another drink. "You really think he regenerated, then? I mean, is that even possible?"
She shrugged. "Won't know until you ask."
"Lovely. I'll let you know how that conversation goes, shall I?"
"Don't get bitchy. Go fetch us more alcohol."
Obediently, he went. As he waited, he pulled out his phone and dialed the house. There was no answer. He hung up before the machine picked up, and put the phone back in his pocket before he could call again. The Doctor was probably sleeping.
"How many people have you slept with since The Doctor?" Benny asked as soon as he sat back down at the table.
He set her drink in front of her. "You Iknow/I it's at least one."
She grinned back at him. "Yes I do. But as I said, we're not talking about me."
"Not that it's any business of yours, but I have slept with a respectable number of people in the last three years. I am a little bit irresistible."
Benny snorted. "You're good, Kriner, but you're not that good. Have any of those been at all emotional?"
"Of course they have," he retorted.
"Right, right. Stupid question, this is you. Better question would be have any of those relationships lasted longer than a month?"
Fitz wasn't quite sure if he wanted to follow this conversation to it's inevitable end. "No. Yes, I'm still in love with him. No, I don't have any idea if he's in love with me. Yes, I do think he fell in love with someone in his brain. No, I don't know how I'm going to deal with this. Feel free to fuck off anytime."
The archeologist smiled sweetly at him and he shrank back a bit against the sweating vinyl. "I have had a perfectly horrible couple months, and yet this is me, trying to help you deal with your relationship with the man you love. The man who has come back from the dead, more or less, and let me tell you, most people don't get that kind of chance."
Fitz did not bring up Jason for fear of getting punched in the face. "Can I smoke in here?" Benny shrugged.
"Not my time period."
"Not mine, either."
He lit a cigarette and no one came to kick him out, so he figured he was good. "I'm not going to bring it up unless he does."
"That's called avoidance."
"I don't want to push him. Is that so bloody wrong?"
"You don't want to push him and yet he's already sleeping in your bed."
Fitz swore colourfully. "There aren't any spare rooms. I'm hesitant to get rid of anyone's belongings because I don't know when The Doctor used the house. We could have Chris Cwej walk through the door next week and I wouldn't want to bugger the timeline any more than we'd already be."
"But the rituals that you and Compassion have been practicing should layer the realities enough to prevent that."
Fitz shrugged. "If they work the way they're supposed to, sure. But most of what we're doing is last resort sort of stuff. Not all of it is mental linkages and metaphysics. There's a portion that's strictly faith, which neither of us have. And we're not going too deep for fear of becoming a tragic cliché. Fighting fire with fire isn't safe, by any means.
"you're avoiding again," she sing-songed.
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"I want you to tell me you're not going to let this thing stew until you're both miserable."
"What am I supposed to say to him? Hey, right before you were mind-raped and kept prisoner for six years we had a thing for a couple months. Wanna shag?"
Benny snorted. "Only if you promise to take a picture of his face."
"But honestly, I'm not fantastic at talking about relationships at the best of times."
"Ask him if he'd still be interested in trying out the whole relationship thing, seeing where it goes. It's not a matter of life and death, the worst he can do is say no."
"Oh, is that all?"
"Finish that," she jerked her head toward his glass. "Have another and then you can call him, if you'd rather do it over the phone."
"No one said anything about doing this tonight, and I'm absolutely Inot/I doing it when I'm pissed."
"Easier that way," Benny shrugged.
"He's not picking up the phone, anyway. So your plan is flawed."
"Should he be sleeping so much? He essentially spent the last few years asleep, you'd think his body would need to be active to work on regaining his strength."
Fitz let his hands fall open, palm up, on the table. "Hell if I know. His mind hasn't been asleep, maybe he needs the..." he paused, trying to remember the proper acronym. "REM. You know those studies they do that say people can't go more than ten days without sleep? Maybe it's like that."
Benny laughed. "This century is adorable," she announced, and headed off to the bar.
Five drinks later, Fitz couldn't stand it any longer. "I need to go back to the house. He's still not answering the phone. What if he fell and hit his head? He could be lying on the floor, too weak to reach the phone..."
"Shut up," Benny rolled her eyes, but tugged on her coat nonetheless.
"It's not that I don't trust him to take care of himself," Fitz continued as they walked out into the chilly night air. "It's just, he has this ...skill for getting into stupidly horrible situations, it's like... A Doctor-specific curse. You must've noticed it, traveling with him. He's all confident and 'Oh, don't worry, I'll have us home in time for tea', and then next thing you know he's strung up by his ankles over a pit of lava looking pathetic and still making like he's got a brilliant plan, even though nine times out of ten he's got no bloody clue."
Benny shook her head. "Not my Doctor. He always had some sort of plan."
"Well," Fitz resisted the urge to stick out his tongue. "Mine's prettier."
"Not going to argue with you there," she smirked. "But no, yours isn't bad at all. Sometimes I think there's a bit of my Doctor hiding under the surface, down in his subconscious, guiding his actions so he has a master plan even when he doesn't know it."
"That's what makes him a little frightening."
"A little? I don't know this version of him very well --unless you count biblically-- but from what I've heard there are times where his plans have consisted of charming his enemy into coming close enough for him to snap their neck."
Fitz closed his eyes briefly before he remembered that he was walking. "I think," he said carefully, "That he could do a lot worse than that if pushed far enough and in the proper way. But the important thing is that he never has."
Benny shook her head. "And that's why he'll never be my Doctor."
"Ah, right. Becoming the chess master of the multiverse with barely a thought for the rights of others is far preferable, natch."
"He still had that inner core of... Doctorness. You always knew you were safe with him."
"He's still got that," Fitz objected. "I've seen him willing to die to try to save an ecosystem."
Benny laughed. "You're slurring horribly."
"I'm not. And you're going to walk into that light post."
She cleared her throat. "We were talking. Now. Are you telling me you've never been uncertain if The Doctor would be able to get you out of whatever really horrible situation he's got you in? From what I've heard he needs saving as often as his companions."
Fitz increased his pace. "He's not a god. He's just a really bloody amazing man."
They spent the taxi ride back to the house in silence, and it wasn't until they were stood outside of the gates that Fitz spoke again.
"I'll ask him tomorrow, assuming he's not dead somewhere inside the house."
Benny smiled. "Good. Maybe the hangover will earn you sympathy points."
"This boat," he gestured grandly. "We're both in it."
"Open the gate."
"Oh. Suppose that would help, wouldn't it?"
The Doctor wasn't dead as he'd feared, though the sight that greeted them when they located him in the library wasn't much better. He was pacing frantically, gesticulating wildly in the air in front of him, body trembling and eyes bright. Compassion was standing off to the side, looking apathetic. As soon as The Doctor spotted them he rushed over.
"Fitz, Bernice. Good. We've got to go back."
"Back where?" Fitz asked, brain struggling to catch up.
"Back to where I was being held."
"What? Why? We're not going back there!"
The shorter man caught Fitz's hands in his. "Compassion told me about all the people that were being kept there. I think I know who they are, but I've got to be sure. And there's a possibility that I can save them."
Fitz frowned. "They're dead. I'm not quite sure what you could do to save them."
Benny coughed and it sounded remarkably like the word 'tact'.
The Doctor shook his head. "Perhaps some of The Master's life-support systems are still running. We have to check. I have to at least try, I owe them that much."
"Who do you think they are?" Fitz asked, already knowing the answer.
"They're the people I know-- knew. The Master could have kept them there, connected to my mind by the same system he was using to construct the mental landscape."
Fitz rubbed his hands over his face. "Right then. I don't suppose we can do this when I'm sober?"
The Doctor gave him a familiar frown of disapproval. "It's hardly my fault if you chose to go--"
"Ok, ok!" Fitz spoke over him. "You're absolutely right, it's entirely my own fault. Let's go find your friends." He turned to Compassion. "Do you mind?"
"A little bit, yes," she retorted. "But I'll still take you."
"Thanks," he said, and it was heartfelt. The Doctor looked about ready to vibrate right out of his skin, and Fitz was never entirely comfortable with him when he was in one of his hyper-manic phases.
They filed into Compassion, Fitz keeping a hand on The Doctor's shoulder as much to attempt to calm him down as to insure that Fitz didn't fall flat on his face. The room slanted a bit to the left. He almost snapped at Compassion, but he figured he'd best resolve which of the three Bennies standing in front of him was the proper one before he started hurling accusations.
"I should be able to make it to the planet much faster than the last time, now that I know how it's hidden," Compassion informed them.
"Lovely, thank you," The Doctor said, darting out from under Fitz's hand and across the consul room to fiddle with something. "Did you know that I could--" He was promptly thrown back from the wall by a jolt of power that left him trembling on the floor.
"Don't touch me," Compassion snarled.
"I'm sorry," The Doctor got out. "I just saw that your--"
"I don't care what your excuse is. Don't do it again."
Fitz swore under his breath. "Compassion, there was no need for that! He's still weak, God knows what you could have done to him. And Doctor, what in God's name gave you the idea that attempting to modify any of Compassion's systems would be a good idea after what you did to her?"
"Shall they start calling you mother now?" Benny snarked.
"No one likes you," he muttered, making his unsteady way over to kneel by The Doctor's side. "You ok?"
"Just a little stunned," the other man lifted a hand to the back of his head. Fitz flinched.
"I Itold/I you he's got a concussion!" he called over to Benny.
"You're not a psychic."
"I don't have a concussion," The Doctor sat up fully. "Just a bump. Everything's fine. Are we there yet?"
"For my own sake I wish we were," Compassion answered coldly.
Benny sat down on the floor and folded her hands in front of her. "So would someone like to explain why we're going back to the scene of the crime?"
"There were people there," Fitz said, turning to face her. "A whole collection of people in glass cases."
"Dead people," Compassion added. Fitz inclined his head. The room wavered.
"But there's a chance they might not remain that way if we get there quickly," The Doctor said pointedly.
"I know this might be unfamiliar to you, being a ITime/I Lord and all, but we're engaging in time travel. We could have waited a year to go back and still arrive at the same time." The disdain in Compassion's voice was a palpable thing.
The Doctor's shoulders slumped. "You're right, I'm sorry. I've been dealing with a great deal of stress lately, but that's no excuse to be rude."
"So how many people are we talking here?" Benny asked a moment later. Compassion answered, but Fitz was too distracted by The Doctor's sudden fascination with his jacket. It was nothing special, comfortable black leather that he'd had forever, but The Doctor was fiddling with it --still no concept of personal space-- staring at the fabric like he expected it to form a mouth and start babbling out the secrets of the universe. Fitz didn't really mind, as long as he was involved with Fitz's jacket he wasn't off riling Compassion or panicking about his lost friends. Plus, he smelled really good. The rest of the trip was a little surreal as The Doctor continued to fixate on Fitz's jacket and yet managed to ignore Fitz himself completely.
They arrived outside of the dampening field and Compassion told them bluntly that they could walk.
"The Doctor's still weak," Fitz objected from his position half sprawled on the floor. The Doctor was curled against his side and he was doing quite well pretending Benny and her knowing looks didn't exist.
"It will do The Doctor good. You just don't want to move."
She was right, so he contented himself with glaring at the centre consul as he struggled to his feet, disentangling The Doctor from his jacket and swaying a little on the spot once he was upright. The walk went faster than it had the first time. The Doctor was darting ahead, dealing with the security systems that still remained active (Fitz would remember that if hell froze over and the Time Lords ever needed his help) with ease. Fitz made a point of informing Compassion that it had taken her much longer to do these same tasks. Benny muttered something rather uncomplimentary about the maintenance shaft they had to climb, and The Doctor paused long enough to question if there wasn't a lift they could use.
"Not one that works," Compassion shook her head.
"It appears that the Time Lords came after The Master with a lot of rather big guns."
The Doctor bowed his head, and kept climbing. Fitz scrambled over the lip of the shaft, sucking in deep breaths.
"Smoking will kill you," Benny chirped from right behind him. She followed this statement up by tumbling gracelessly from the shaft to the floor, and Fitz felt a little vindicated.
"Compassion," The Doctor called from further down the corridor. "There are three more time bubbles, according to the map. You'll have to deal with them."
"Why?" she asked.
Fitz caught up with The Doctor and found him staring at his arms where they were hanging by his sides limply. He hissed out a breath.
"Climbing that latter buggered your arms, didn't it?"
The Doctor nodded. "I haven't used my arms near as much as my legs, and it's only been thirty-one hours since you retrieved me. Even Time Lord healing can't perform magic."
"Time Lord healing, nutrient injections and painkiller patches," Compassion said from too close behind Fitz. He jumped. The Doctor turned away.
"You're in pain?" Fitz asked stupidly.
"Compassion? The time bubbles, please," The Doctor bit out.
"Yes Sir, noble Time Lord Sir."
"She doesn't like me very much, does she?" The Doctor murmured once she'd stepped through the next door.
"I really don't want to have this conversation," Fitz replied calmly.
"What conversation do you want to have?" The Doctor's full attention was on him with such sudden intensity that he almost took a step back. Benny's words from the pub looped in the back of his mind and he decided that he really needed a cigarette.
"Whatever conversation it is, I don't want to have it when I'm this drunk."
"Really?" The Doctor actually sounded surprised.
"When did you turn into such a lightweight?" Benny asked, jogging up to them.
"I'm Inot/I, I just haven't eaten more than a piece of toast in the last day. And I'm also not a bloody alcoholic, but thanks for implying it," he shot at The Doctor.
"It's safe to come through," Compassion called. Fitz wondered if anyone was ever going to be allowed to finish a conversation.
The room of cases was exactly as they'd left it, grey faces staring lifelessly out at them, slack jaws hanging open to reveal dried up tongues and yellow teeth. Fitz shuttered.
"Not much time for hygiene when you're being kept in status," Benny commented, following his gaze.
"And yet The Doctor looked fresh as a daisy."
She shrugged. "He also had a bed."
The Time Lord stumbled against Fitz, a sound more appropriate to a wounded animal wrenching from his throat. Fitz put an arm around him, trying to tug him around so he wouldn't have to look, but The Doctor was shaking and panicked and Fitz couldn't keep hold of him. He ran to the first body, kicking and punching the glass fiercely, but his uncoordinated attacks didn't even crack it. He began to run from case to case, pressing his hands against the glass as if he could dig through it, forehead resting against the smooth surface. Compassion was examining the controls at a computer that Fitz had failed to notice on his first visit.
"Bit morbid," Benny said darkly.
"He's not going to be okay after this. This was a fucking horrible idea," Fitz choked, hunching his shoulders into his jacket.
Eventually, The Doctor made it to the central point of the room and fell to his knees in front of the young blond girl. Approaching, Fitz was fairly sure the Time Lord wasn't breathing. Tears hung on the eyelashes of his upturned face as he pressed his folded hands over his mouth like he was trying to hold something in.
"Doctor?" Fitz asked tentatively. Then, when there was no reaction, "Theta?"
"He killed her," The Doctor choked out from behind his hands. Fitz's nails bit into his palms.
"Time Lords did this," Compassion cut in distractedly. "Too much of a mess to clean up, I'd imagine."
Fitz wished with all his might that he'd hallucinated her words. The last thing The Doctor needed was that tidbit of information.
To Fitz's surprise this seemed to calm The Doctor a little. "Yes," he murmured, hands falling to rest against the glass. "He wouldn't be so cruel."
Fitz very much wanted to snap that yes, The Master would be that bloody cruel --had been, as a matter of fact-- but he knew from past experience that he wouldn't win.
"There's no way that they could be revived," Compassion said, and Fitz thought he detected a hint of gentleness in her voice.
"No, no. He might have programmed in safeguards that you wouldn't be able to see. I need to check." The Doctor scrambled awkwardly to his feet. "It's quite likely a mental link, something only he would know."
"And thus it can be taken as read that you will also know it," Fitz muttered under his breath. The Doctor nodded.
"You sure you should be hooking your brain up to more of his tech?" Benny asked.
The Doctor shrugged. "I don't have a choice, do I?"
"They're really, really dead," Compassion snapped irritably.
"And yet I still try to save them," The Doctor smiled. "Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here."
Fitz groaned and made shushing motions at Compassion that she cheerfully ignored. "Do you ever take time to listen to yourself?"
The Doctor poked at a touch panel, arm shaking noticeably. "Yes. On occasion I even say something of some importance." He grinned. "Oh yes, there is a psychic interface. Come now, Master, share your secrets..."
The panel exploded. Fitz swore and leapt back, then rushed forward again as The Doctor fell to the ground. His face looked unharmed, for the most part, but his throat, chest and arms were peppered with shards of plastic and glass.
"I'm alright, I'm alright. Mind that, there might still be power running through those wires." He pushed Fitz away, hurrying over to the four main cases. "Come Ion/I. Please, please, I was almost in. You can't do this to me!" He through himself against the glass of the movie star look-alike. "Jack! Jack, come now. You're immortal, this is ridiculous. This is a Ijoke/I, and it needs to end."
Fitz stood frozen, hands out in front of him, as if trying to pull The Doctor to him or trying to hold him off. He didn't know which. Compassion watched dispassionately, kicking the fragments of the panel together into a little pile.
"Doctor!" Benny snapped. "That's enough. Calm down, you're hurting yourself."
"Donna," said The Doctor with such sudden calm that Fitz flinched.
"Sorry?" Benny frowned, and took a step closer.
The Doctor spun to face them. "There's one empty coffin. Donna. She's missing."
"If you say a word about zombies I will make sure you meet with an unfortunate accident." Compassion smiled sweetly at Fitz.
"Wasn't going to," he objected.
"She got away," The Doctor smiled. "Of course she did, lovely, brilliant Donna. We'll need to find her. I can take her home, she won't even recognize me. She'll have to be unconscious until we get to Earth, of course. Can't remember anything."
The Doctor's speech patterns were changing again. It was making Fitz nervous. Compassion was already shaking her head. "We're the only living things on the planet."
The Doctor bounced on his feet. Blood dripped down his forehead into his eyes and he swiped at it with a tattered shirtsleeve. Fitz winced.
"Christ, Doctor. Let us help you get the glass out of those cuts before you do more damage to yourself."
"Right," The Doctor strode toward the door. "Perhaps The Time Lords considered Donna too valuable to time to leave her here. Wouldn't surprise me, she's quite important to time. I'll be fine until we get out of the materialization barrier."
"Whoever this Donna is," Benny said quietly. "Whatever fantastic things she did to make her important to time..."
"Never really happened," Fitz confirmed.
Compassion looked as if she were about to say something, but simply jogged off after The Doctor.
The street was quite possibly the most average thing Fitz had ever seen. It was mid-afternoon, cats sunning themselves on the roofs of cars, puddles steaming on the pavement, children crashing through front gardens, an old man reading on the front step. It was towards this man that The Doctor was headed, wrapped up in Fitz's jacket, hair tangled around his face.
"Hello!" he called out warmly.
The old man looked up with a politely friendly smile. "Hello."
"I'm The Doctor." He drew up at the bottom of the steps and held out a hand, raw from where he'd used it to grip the edges of the latter as he'd slid down it.
The old man set aside his book and shook The Doctor's hand. "Wilfred. You here to see my daughter? She's gone to the shops."
"No, no. Your granddaughter, actually. Donna."
"She's popular today. You're not the first man to come to see her. I'll call her down." He rose and leaned in the door of the house. "Sweetheart, someone here to see you."
He turned back to The Doctor, then noticed Fitz, Benny and Compassion where they were loitering not so subtly at the bottom of the drive. He arched an eyebrow, but didn't comment. Fitz waved awkwardly. The old man shook his head in amusement or annoyance, Fitz couldn't tell, and picked up his book, dusting it off and tucking a bookmark into the pages. The door opened again and a ginger haired woman, mid-thirties, relatively attractive, walked out.
"Hello," she greeted The Doctor.
"Hello Donna," The doctor replied softly. Fitz was sure that if he could see The Doctor's face he'd see that ridiculously pleased grin. He was probably just standing there staring at her, too.
"Do I know you?" she asked, polite still, but a little wary.
"No," The Doctor said quickly. "No, you don't."
"Well, you've got the advantage. What's your name?"
"I'm..." he hesitated, then straightened his spine and nodded a little. "I'm The Doctor."
She tilted her head. "Seriously? You're not kidding, that's what you call yourself?"
The Doctor nodded again, more vigorously. "That's right."
"Imagine that. He was bloody telling the truth. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you," she hopped down the steps and held out her hand,though Fitz noticed that she didn't look near as comfortable as her cheerful tone implied.
The Doctor held on to her hand longer than was really appropriate. "May I ask you a very strange question?"
Fitz groaned out loud. Benny elbowed him. Hard.
"Sure," donna agreed, extracting her hand.
"Have you been feeling ill lately? Headaches... Strange dreams?"
She shook her head. "No. Haven't had a headache in months, and my dreams aren't any stranger than normal."
"Good, that's good. That's wonderful, Donna. It's... Yes. Alright. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
She shrugged a little. "'salright, it's not like I've got anything else to do with my life besides talk to nutters."
The Doctor laughed. "I'm sure you'll find something. You're fantastic, Donna Noble. Remember that."
She blushed,shaking her head again. "I'm not, but it's nice of you to say so."
"I wish you wouldn't talk about yourself that way," he said gently.
"You a doctor of psychology, then?"
"something like that. But I should be going, don't want to keep you and your grandfather all day."
"Alright. Well, have a nice day."
"Goodbye, donna," he said, and there was such finality in his voice that Fitz felt a little chilled. In his pocket, his phone vibrated. He refused to answer it. Compassion glanced at him.
He stared back challengingly. "This is my imaginary friend. I call him denial."
Benny took a step away from them both. The doctor walked slowly back to them, shoulders hunched, hands drawn up in the sleeves of the oversized jacket.
"IFuck/I," Fitz breathed, and took a deep breath. A depressed Doctor was almost as bad as manic.
"Shall we go?" The Doctor asked as soon as he reached them.
"You alright, doctor?" Benny asked before Fitz got the chance.
"Oh yes," The Doctor's smile went beyond the realm of forced right into downright painful. "She doesn't remember. She doesn't remember and she's not going to burn. Because it never happened. She was never the most important person in the entire universe. The Time Lords wiped her memory with far more skill than I did. Which makes sense, seeing as I didn't wipe her memory. Not really. But she's real. She's Donna and she's brilliant and she's here, with her grandad, right as she should be."
Fitz was starting to have his doubts that any Time Lords had had anything to do with Donna Noble's return to Earth, but he was barely willing to acknowledge this to himself, let alone the others. Besides, there were more important matters to focus on, such as the way The Doctor looked on the verge of tears, and the way Donna and her grandfather were watching them like they were a bunch of strange people having a low-voiced conversation at the end of their driveway.
"We should leave," he said. Compassion was thoroughly distracted by something across the street, and The Doctor looked as if he would be quite happy to stand and watch Donna all day. Fitz took his hand and led him off down the sidewalk, leaving Compassion to Benny.
"I left their bodies there," The Doctor said flatly. "I caught on to the idea of Donna and suddenly corpses held no importance in the slightest. Rose, Jack, Martha, River. It's incredibly disrespectful, or at least that's what part of me is saying. But my natural instinct, my... This self, considers them dead bodies that can't hold a candle to a living being."
"Benny said she thought you'd regenerated. Is that right?"
The Doctor nodded listlessly. "Twice, actually. Two minds, two bodies that were entirely of The Master's creation. Appropriate, really." Fitz bit his lip. The Doctor continued talking. "Either of the men I was, will be, would be... I'm sorry, English doesn't have the proper grammar for this. You know the tense I'm trying to use."
"Hypothetical future past," Fitz inclined his head.
The Doctor shrugged. "Close enough. The point is, I wouldn't have left them all there to rot, and I would want to go back."
"And now you don't."
"Not particularly, no. I suppose that is how I should feel... No regrets for a life that never was."
"Essentially," Fitz said cautiously. "Everything you experienced, all the people you experienced it with. It was all real. You were interacting with other real people, even if it was just their minds. All of your experiences effected you the same way they would've if they'd really happened."
"Yes, yes. Thank you for the therapy session. I have figured this all out for myself and I promise you, it doesn't help."
Fitz flinched, and he could feel his cheeks reddening. "Right. Sorry. I just... Don't know what to say to help you."
"There's nothing you can say, Fitz. This is something I have to deal with."
"Right." Fitz dropped his hand awkwardly. The Doctor remained silent the rest of the way to the back alley where Compassion could dematerialize without drawing unwanted attention. Fitz wondered if anyone would notice if he slipped off to be sick.
She dropped them off right back in the library where they'd started. The Doctor went upstairs with an Agatha Christie book and shut himself in Fitz's room. Fitz took a blanket from the linen closet and settled on the sofa. He'd not slept in God knew how long, and he was on the verge of unconsciousness within a couple minutes.
Naturally, his phone rang. He decided that he really needed to get a new number.
He sat up. "Romana?"
"You have successfully rescued The Doctor, I assume?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he's safe. Well, for a given definition of safe, but that's not your concern, is it?"
"I do care about him. It was not my personal desire that he be left there, as my message to you conveyed quite clearly."
"Sure, sure. President of the Time Lords and you can't even provide one of your own with appropriate counseling after his ordeal."
"Is that what we're calling it?"
"Respectfully fuck off."
"There's no need to be crude. How is he doing? Really?"
Fitz blew out a breath and fell back on the sofa. "He's falling apart. He's drug us back to where The Master was holding him because he thought he could revive the bodies of his friends -- brilliant job with that, by the way. And then we had to go visit that one woman you lot felt was worth saving and let me tell you, that was IfantasticI for him. Personally I think he's still waiting to wake up and find out this was all a really horrible dream."
"The Time Lords didn't rescue any of the humans that The Master was keeping." He could hear her frown over the line. It really would figure that she would pick that to focus on out of his sentence.
"I was worried you'd say that," he muttered. "Look, I'm nackered, The Doctor's locked himself away and I've got an impending hangover to look forward to. Unless you've got a TARDIS waiting outside to take him back home and give him the help he needs, I'm not interested in talking to you anymore."
"You understand why we can't do that. The Doctor was a great asset to us in the beginning of the war, but to admit that we lied about his death... To explain that he disappeared and we didn't have the resources to look for him... The Council can't afford to let something like that slip out at this point."
"How's that war going for you then?" Fitz asked dryly.
"Do you think he's going to try to kill himself?" she asked, her voice still professionally distant.
"Hell if I know. You know what it's like, he's not about to slit his wrists in the tub. If he wants to die he'll wait until he can save someone or someone by doing so."
"Then I'd expect you're keeping him out of such situations."
"Ah yes, because I can control what he does. Clearly. I'll just snap my fingers -- sit, stay, good Doctor. I'm hanging up now." And he did, tossing his phone across the room where it barely avoided a potted plant.
He woke up with a crick in his neck and feeling like he'd got no rest at all. There was also a desert living rent-free in his mouth, but he was used to that feeling and the drum band in his skull that came along with it. He ran his fingers through his hair and followed the scent of fresh coffee into the kitchen. Benny was standing over the coffee press like it was a particularly valuable artifact, and Fitz decided that his pounding headache could suffer without caffeine a little longer. Compassion was on the other side of the kitchen, talking on his mobile phone. He contemplated going back to sleep.
"There's sun out there," Benny stated resentfully, pointing at the window and it's closed curtains. Fitz hated those curtains with an intensity that some might have considered unreasonable. Personally, he was quite convinced that having to share the kitchen with frolicking kittens and butterflies was going to drive someone to murder. Fitz ran a glass of water and tentatively lifted aside the corner of one of the monstrosities to look for himself. If he'd been in a better state to appreciate it, such as not hungover, he would have called it the perfect example of a lovely autumn morning. The sun was just finishing its climb over the horizon, casting an orangey haze through the dissipating fog and onto the red-gold trees. Under one of the larger trees was a figure, incongruous against the naturalistic backdrop, and yet somehow managing to seem part of it at the same time.
"How long has he been out there?" Fitz asked, dropping the curtain.
"Since I've been awake," Benny replied. "Which, admittedly, hasn't been that long."
Fitz glanced over at Compassion. He wondered what she was doing there. More importantly, he wondered who she was now swearing at on Ihis/I mobile. He arched his eyebrows at her, making hand gestures that he hoped conveyed 'get off the bloody phone and do it politely'. She turned away from him.
"Do you know who she's talking to?" he asked Benny.
"Anji. And that conversation has also been going on since I got up."
"Bugger." He poked the kettle. Still hot, so it wasn't like The Doctor had been outside all night. He made himself tea and took his cup away with him, passing Compassion as he left.
"She's right. She's always right," he warned her. She walked away from him. He flipped her off, and shoved his feet into his shoes. The grass and dead leaves underfoot were still soaked from the previous day's showers, and the scent of precipitation hung on the air.
The Doctor's tree wasn't far from the house, and he looked up upon Fitz's approach. He'd found some of his old clothes, Fitz noted. They'd packed away any of The Doctor's belongings when they'd started using the house, timelines be damned. Fitz couldn't stand having the closed off bedroom that no one ever entered for fear of disturbing it's contents. Not when it was The Doctor's and The Doctor in the form that they knew him was never coming back. Ace and Benny had objected, claiming that The Doctor's seventh incarnation used the house after these years, but Fitz and Anji had ignored them with a single-minded stubbornness that he, personally, was quite proud of. Most of them had homes away from the house, --and he wondered if anyone else had started unconsciously capitalizing that in their heads-- but Fitz considered it home for the moment, and Compassion, in as much as she needed a home, did as well. He had been trying to move on, and living in The Doctor's house, working with his former companions, had been quite enough without adding a ghost room to the mix.
The Doctor had obviously spent enough time rummaging through closets to find his familiar garb. The only thing missing was the velvet jacket, in its place Fitz's leather coat draped over his shoulders. Fitz had the feeling the coat was rapidly becoming shared property. It was a little too big on him, and as he looked up at Fitz from behind his soft curls, Fitz was hit by a rush of affection.
"Good morning," The Doctor called when he was close.
"It is morning now, isn't it?" Fitz replied, swallowing a mouthful of hot tea.
"Last I checked. Did you sleep well?"
Fitz prodded tentatively at his neck. It hurt. "Fantastically. I assume you didn't?"
"I think I've spent quite enough time unconscious." He patted the blanket he'd spread on the grass. Fitz settled beside him, wrapping both hands around his cup. The Doctor immediately curled into his side, one hand resting innocently on Fitz's thigh. Uncertainly, Fitz wrapped his arm around the Time Lord's shoulders.
"I think you should know," Fitz said softly. "I'm rather hungover. Just, if you're going to hit me with a confession or emotional moment, I may not respond as coherently as you'd like."
He felt The Doctor's slight laugh through his side. It was familiar and comfortable, the way they fit together almost perfectly, though not quite. After a few minutes Fitz set aside his cup and twined his fingers with The Doctor's elegant digits.
"I'm trying very hard to settle," The Doctor informed him finally, voice calm and steady. "This, here, it feels like something that is good and right. It's... I don't think I'm alright with being happy here, with feeling Igood/I. I'm waiting for the curtain to come up, for the camera to appear. It's going to take time to understand, truly understand, that this is real. The Time Lords help more than you can possibly comprehend. Seeing Donna helped. And I've been thinking back over time that The Master created, and there were some glitches. He accidentally stole a few things from my memories -- becoming human and teaching at a boarding school, you can ask Benny about that, and when The Master put himself into the facsimile, he had a wife. A pretty young woman named Lucy who was very mentally unbalanced. Sound familiar?"
"Like that girl who was in the experiment with my mum."
"Precisely. And he specifically chose Companions that I would be familiar with. Young women from twentieth and twenty-first century Earth, an archeologist, a Time Agent."
"Like Kala and her bunch?" Fitz asked.
"A couple of centuries later, but the same organization. The Master was able to disappear him with no investigation only because he had fled the Agency."
"That's got to help a little," Fitz said hopefully. "Defining all those inconsistencies."
The Doctor nodded. "It does. I... I know, logically, what has happened. I could draw you a diagram. I'm just having a hard time integrating."
"Initiative test," Fitz offered with an uncertain little grin. The Doctor nodded, returning his smile.
"I suppose it is, at that."
And then The Doctor kissed him, and it was hopeful and desperate and reassuring and a little awkward as Fitz tried to bend his cramping neck to accommodate their positions. When The Doctor pulled away he looked a little like he'd just realized he was standing on a land mine.
"I won't say that I'm sorry, but I acknowledge that you've probably moved on --of course you've moved on-- and that may have been rather inappropriate."
Fitz decided to kiss him in order to shut him up, but a thought struck before he could do so. "Um. I've got bloody awful morning breath."
The Doctor blinked. "I--"
"I've not moved on. I tried, a bit, but it could have gone a lot better. Ask Anji... Benny... Compassion... Hex... Ace. Right, I have no friends. I think you're obliged to love me to make up for that."
It was a horrible idea to use the L word, he thought as soon as it left his lips. The Doctor nuzzled his neck. "I think I'd be very interested to hear those stories."
Fitz didn't ask who The Doctor had loved in his years away. A gust of wind whipped dead leaves at them, tangling in The Doctor's hair and darting into the collar of Fitz's shirt. The Doctor's hand snaked up to pluck it away, and wrapped around Fitz's amulet instead. He pulled it out, a simple round crystal holding a shifting centre of red and gold. The Doctor drew back, eyebrows climbing his forehead steadily. Fitz shifted as much as the other man's hold on the amulet allowed.
"It's a detector. Warns of severe time anomalies near by and a lot easier to explain to anyone from before the twenty-ninth century than a technical thingy."
"What's in it?" The Doctor asked quietly.
Fitz shrugged, hoping it came across as casual. "You don't want to know."
"Does it have something to do with the way that this house and its grounds seem to be running on a perfectly concurrent yet separate timeline than the rest of the world?"
Fitz grinned. "Neat trick, isn't it?"
The Doctor opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly. He let the crystal fall back against Fitz's skin, leaving his cool hand resting over it. "How do I feel?" He murmured close to his ear.
Fitz shivered. "Tingly."
The Doctor laughed lowly. "One would think I'd warrant a little more than 'tingly'." The Time Lord slipped even closer, almost in Fitz's lap, and licked a quick stripe down the skin of Fitz's neck. Fitz sucked in a sharp breath. It wasn't that this was unfamiliar --The Doctor could be a horrible tease when he wanted to be-- but he felt as if he'd missed a very important plot point. How the bloody hell had they gotten from barely speaking at the end of the previous night to snogging in the grass like a couple of teenagers?
While his mind was working through this his hands had crept under The Doctor's shirt, tracing meaningless patterns against the soft skin of his back, then moving higher over the places he knew scars to be. The Doctor crushed their lips together, his tongue thrusting demandingly into Fitz's mouth, their teeth clicking together. His taste, the little noises he made when Fitz pressed hard at the top of his spine, the way he never closed his eyes while they were kissing, it was all so familiar that it felt as if they'd never stopped.
"Right," gasped Fitz when they came up for air. "We're not doing this out in the yard, and I think I need a shower and a toothbrush and some Aspirin."
The Doctor framed his face in his cool, lovely hands. "I think that can be arranged."
"And…" Fitz lifted his own hands to The Doctor's face. "You're absolutely sure about this? You're ready, so soon after--"
"I need things to anchor me here," The Doctor spoke softly. "You've always been a good indicator that I am where I should be."
Fitz sucked in a breath. How had he become an anchor for the sailor? And to stretch the metaphor a little bit past breaking point, was he holding him back from his tomorrow? "We should head in," he said.
The Doctor didn't move for a long moment, staring at Fitz intently. Finally, he relaxed, and his tongue darted out to poke Fitz's palm where it rested against his cheek. Fitz grinned, and shoved the other man off of him.
They walked back to the house, hands linked. Fitz went to the kitchen to drop off their cups and barely managed to dodge the mobile that Compassion threw at his head. He grinned widely.
"She was right, wasn't she?"
"You going to go make mad passionate love to your Time Lord now?" she asked flatly.
Fitz absolutely refused to blush. "I think the idea of a shower came up."
"Was that the only thing to come up?"
Fitz stared at her. "I'm going to go away now."
"Mmhm. Just remember not to look too closely."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't you think that was a little too easy?"
"You don't even know what's been happening, you've got nowhere near enough information to make a judgement."
She shrugged. "Count the ways that this is not my problem."
"You're right. And therefore you can stop talking about it."
She nodded once. "He still hasn't eaten," she called after him as he turned away.
He left the kitchen to the sound of Compassion's dematerialization. The Doctor had already disappeared upstairs. When Fitz entered the bedroom, he found the Time Lord sitting on the bed, tracing fingers over Fitz's guitar.
"I'd still like to teach you," Fitz offered quietly. The Doctor looked up, and smiled.
"I think I'd like that," he answered. Fitz reassured himself that he was imagining the distance in his voice.