Oh wow. I am so sorry for taking so long... again. Long story short, I moved to the other side of the world, not that that excuses the length of this delay.
But! New chapter! The final one of Strangeness and Charm! Huzzah! I just want to thank you for everything, for all the support and reviews. I love you all, especially for your patience.
Enjoy! And please, review :)
"How's it going under there?"
John's voice was muted in the dimly lit console room, his eyes unreadable as he offered the Doctor a small smile. The Time Lord in question had returned to his beloved tinkering, twisting wires into one another , his brows furrowed in concentration. Working, essentially so that he didn't have to think.
Rose had long since gone off to bed, shadows under her brown eyes, a wave of her hand dismissing his concerned, albeit somewhat awkwardly laid out offer that he join her.
He made a sort of humming noise absentmindedly as he pressed two wires together, causing the gentle rumble of the TARDIS to change frequency slightly. He cooed gently to her as he worked, only actually realising that John was stood waiting for an answer when the man in question leaned over, firmly tugging the strap of elastic holding his goggles in place, and releasing it with a ping and a sharp smack on the back of his head.
He tugged the goggles off, rubbing the back of his head sulkily.
"There was no need!" He grumbled, causing John to roll his eyes.
"Answer me then." He replied shortly, and the Doctor pulled a face.
"Just putting a firewall around the Matrix. Almost done." He didn't mean his tone to sound quite so...whiny and yet it came out exactly like that.
John smirked, a trace of cruelty simmering beneath the dark chocolate of his eyes, a reminder of the Dreamlord within.
"Aww..." He simpered mockingly, "are you going to make her talk again?"
The Doctor turned back to his wiring, face dark. He had had enough of this ,of it all ,quite frankly.
"Oho." Snorted John, leaning against the railing of the stairs, ankles crossed over one another, arms folded, inspecting his nails in the very picture of self-assurance. Just hours ago- had it really been that short a time?!- he had been so tense, so aggressive... The doctor gritted his teeth, trying very much not to think about what could have happened in that time, that time with Rose, to make him so arrogant. "Why not? I probably could ..." He continued, his eyes positively sparkling with it now, that same smirk lighting his features, and making the Doctor's blood boil.
"Well actually, " The Doctor replied tersely, feeling very much like he was losing the battle, "you know as well as I that it's because the Time Lords discovered that if you take an eleventh-dimensional matrix and fold it into a mechanical then..."
John completely ignored him, very deliberately yawning, straightening and wandering over to the web of machinery, absentmindedly touching two wires together, causing them to spark alarmingly.
That about did it.
"Oi!" The Time Lord snapped impatiently. "Leave her alone."
"Sorry." He replied cheerfully, not meaning it a bit. Thus ensued a long and awkward silence, until he spoke again, softly, seriously.
" At the end, she was talking." The Doctors eyes flickered in his direction, interested despite the fact that he was angry, and scared and miserable and he just wanted Rose to be ok- he took a small breath to calm himself , listening as the faux Time Lord continued.
" She kept repeating something. Textbook enigmatic, she was." he mused, fingers tracing wiring delicately, thoughtfully, his eyes never leaving the mass.
This made him look over, that old instinctive curiosity, that very human urge to know warring with his dislike of conversation with John.
" What did she say?" The Doctor asked.
"The only water in the forest is the river." came the muted reply. "She said that we'd need to know that someday. It doesn't make sense, does it?" He finally looked up, into the Doctors eyes, the same curiosity that he felt was reflected in his clone's eyes.
"Not yet. You're right,though, " The Doctor conceded reluctantly, "...thats...enigmatic to a tee."
Staring at one another made the Doctor realise something. Beneath that annoying arrogance, there was something more. He was covering up, but the Doctor could see it. He could see how John still trembled ever so slightly, how his skin was still a shade too pale to be normal. His eyes were a little glassy too. Shock, thought the Doctor incredulously, and the question blurted out faster than he expected it to.
"... You OK?"
John looked at him in brief puzzlement, before shrugging nonchalantly.
"... Not really. I watched her die. I should be over all of that. I shouldn't feel bad that she died, why do I?"
The Doctor's blood boiled again at the nonchalance with which he mentioned the woman, his TARDIS. She had been absolutely amazing to meet, and yet John seemed to think she was worthless? How dare he?! But then he realised, John did feel bad, questioning why he mourned the loss of this woman.
"You're not the same man that killed all those Daleks. " The Doctor spoke quietly, almost inaudibly over the hum of the time ship. "Letting it get to you - you know what that's called?" he asked, looking to John who just stared, face unreadable. He continued regardless, his tone gentle. " Being alive. Best thing there is."
Johns jaw jumped for a second, an old warning sign.
" Being alive right now," The Doctor pressed, " that's all that counts.
" Don't get all sappy on me." John snapped, turning away and heading for the steps.
"Ah, yes. Well" The Doctor turned back to his wiring, speaking louder now, to be heard above, where John had begun to prowl around the console, a hand trailing across various devices and switches. " Nearly finished. Two more minutes, then we're off. The Eye of Orion's restful, if you like restful. We could never really get the hang of restful, do you remember Midnight?"
"Yes I do, thank you-" he cut off abruptly, a small smirk lighting his features again. "So, Doctor. You say I've changed?"
"Hmm? What? Oh, well, yes, a fair bit. Why?"
The smirk grew.
"So have you, you know." The Doctor didn't speak, but John knew he was listening from the stillness below. He continued, voice deliberately taunting. "Because I remember Midnight. I remember the fear we felt, when that thing invaded our mind, when it took us over, made us parrot everything, I remember how hard it was trying to take control and calm those poor people down, I remember not knowing how to help them, how to save them. And I remember , most of all, the agony of realising we didn't even think to ask that hostess' name. Remember her, the one who saved us all by dying?"
"Yes, that poor woman. Funny though, I remember swearing that she would be an example, that we would never again forget to ask for such a simple thing again."
"...What are you getting at?" The Doctor asked slowly.
"The TARDIS used a woman's body. What was her name?" John asked casually, triumphantly, knowing that the Doctor simply didn't have an answer. John tutted loudly in the dim lighting, and then suddenly, the Doctor was all movement, acting as though John hadn't just thrown the weight of the universe on his shoulders. He bounded up the steps, over to the console.
"Not the Eye then. What do you think, dear?" He asked his TARDIS, avoiding John's eye. " Where shall we take the kids this time?"
John's smirk widened.
"Look at you pair." He said, the lilting mocking tone returning, simmering beneath the surface. " It's always you and her, isn't it? Long after the rest of us have gone. A boy and his box, off to see the universe."
Relieved that he hadn't pressed the subject, though a little accusing voice in his head screamed 'coward' at him, the Doctor smiled.
"Well, you would know how it feels. But honestly, it's the best thing there is."
John reached out, twisting a dial slightly, his gaze sly.
" Better than her?"
Immediately, the Doctor froze, his gaze warning.
" Don't." He ordered.
" And why not?" Came the even retort. " 'Cos she's gonna be around the both of us for a long, long time." The reminder was subtle, but enough to twist the Doctors hearts painfully, another stab of guilt. " Either you prepare yourself for that," John warned softly. "Or I will happily take her off your hands."
The Doctor pinched the bridge of his nose, his voice tired.
" John, don't threaten me, we've moved past this."
His features positively glowed in the light of the console, eyes gleaming, though not with the old madness. With a confidence that the Doctor could swear he had drained from him, for he felt powerless, weak and far, far out of his depth.
" Now who said that was a threat?" John asked softly, tone measured and even, and even more thrilling for it. " Not me. And it's not. It's a promise. You and Rose, you can have all the happiness you want. But you remember, every little mistake...I'm the one who will pick up the pieces. I'm the one who comforts her. And one more big mistake, she'll welcome me back with open arms. So tread lightly, spaceman."
That said, he left the console room slowly, sure of himself, in knowing that the Doctor was so very near breaking point already. oh this, John thought, was going to be so very, very, simple.