Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who.
Author's Note: At last, a new chapter. It's not the best, sorry. Hold tight for a more eventful one to come next. Read, review and hopefully enjoy.
"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting."
Gatsby was on the brink of an afternoon nap, a much deserved nap, the perfect middle of the day and finally nothing to do nap, when the Doctor barged into her room waving a shredded loafer over his head. There was lightning in his eyes. Gatsby groaned. She knew that look. There was only one reason for that look. She hated what happened when he had that look.
"He ate my shoe!" the Doctor cried, waving the ruined loafer under her nose. It smelled of the ocean with a hint of caviar.
"He what?" Gatsby sat up and pushed him away.
"Your orphan alien thingy took a great big bite out of my loafer." The Doctor rarely called Lemmy by his proper name. Well, neither did Gatsby. The boy's birth name was impossible for anyone but a Bettadotta citizen to say. Its pronunciation was something like the sound a cat smoking a cigar might make when run over by a lawn mower, but the Doctor even refused to call him by the name future Gatsby had given him. He was the orphan alien thingy or the vortex defibrillator violator or some other ridiculous title he'd earned during his two weeks on the Tardis.
"Maybe he's hungry," Gatsby suggested.
"Then feed him," the Doctor snapped.
"Why don't you?"
"I've got more important things to do, Goode! There's an entire universe out there that needs my attention. I don't have time to cut the crusts off of his sandwiches."
"You were watching the football game," Gatsby accused. She knew he had a special fondness for football. He never missed a game. The Doctor flushed, caught red-handed.
"My shoe!" he cried, not knowing what else to say.
"You have a thousand more pairs."
"But this one was my favorite. See, it has tassels." With a groan, Gatsby swung her legs over the bed. She didn't know who was more of a child; Lemmy of the Doctor. They hadn't had to save the universe for two weeks, but between the two of them, Gatsby still hadn't managed a single moment of rest. Lemmy was constantly underfoot. She couldn't go ten minutes without hearing a clatter, a bang or a yelp. She couldn't go ten minutes without the Doctor barging in to complain about something or other the alien boy had done. They were both driving her crazy.
Gatsby pushed past the Doctor, leaving him to mourn his tasseled loafer, and made her way to the kitchen. It hadn't been her idea to bring the alien boy with them. It had been the Doctor's. He'd made future Gatsby a promise to take care of Lemmy, but he was a terrible guardian. He had no patience whatsoever. If only future Gatsby could have asked for anything else. It had been too long since he'd had to care for children. He'd forgotten how awful the little mites could be. He hadn't known, or considered, just exactly what he was getting himself into.
Gatsby was just as clueless on the subject of child rearing, especially alien child rearing. She didn't have the faintest idea what to do with the boy, but the Doctor seemed to think that she did. Perhaps it was because she was a woman. Perhaps it was because in the future she would adopt the very boy that she couldn't control now. Whatever the reason, the Doctor had left all of the caretaking duties in her hands; hands that had never changed a diaper or wiped a smudge of jelly from the corner of a child's mouth or soothed anyone to sleep. She couldn't even look to her own mother for advice. Mothers in the 32nd British Empire were strictly hands off. Gatsby couldn't remember a time her mother had touched her, let alone cut the crusts off of her sandwiches.
She was treading water. The Doctor had finally given her too big of a task. Gatsby wasn't a mother. She was hardly more than a child herself. Yet someone had to do it and the Doctor was too upset over the loss of his shoe to attend to the boy's needs. He was too busy watching the football game or too busy worrying about all of time and space. At least those were the excuses he used, but really he just didn't like the boy and he didn't trust him on the Tardis, with good reason. After all in two weeks Lemmy had managed to fill the swimming pool with custard, clog the vortex defibrillator with jam doughnuts and worst of all he'd destroyed half a dozen of the Doctor's suspenders trying to make a bungee cord to launch himself into a black hole.
"Aliens," Gatsby muttered to herself as she stepped into the kitchen. Lemmy was there at the counter, nibbling on the other loafer.
"How about a grilled cheese instead?" Gatsby took the shoe from the boy. There were only a few teeth scuffs, but she hid it under the sink anyways to save herself from having to listen to another of the Doctor's rants. Lemmy grinned up at her. Without his perception filter, he still bore a striking resemblance to a human child, except for the pointed teeth, which explained his love for gnawing on leather, and the magnificent lavender shade of his slanted eyes. His normal appearance had unnerved Gatsby at first, but she'd become accustomed to his oddities. Children were children no matter their species.
She had a soft spot for the boy. Despite his mischievous ways, he was quite sweet when he wasn't setting man-eating beasts loose in London. Lemmy never listened to the Doctor, but he was obedient enough when Gatsby ordered a command. He was smart for his age. He knew who she was. He knew that somehow she was the same person as the old woman who had taken him in. He didn't miss the old lady because she was still here, even if her face was less wrinkled and she didn't smell like cabbage. In fact, he was happier than he'd been since his parents had sent him away. The Blue Box was much more fun than Earth had been. It was closer to home.
Gatsby slapped a plate down in front of the boy. Lemmy scrunched up his nose at the sandwich and poked it. It was squishy.
"Eat," Gatsby ordered. "You'll like it." She didn't know that mother's all across the universe were telling their children the same thing at that exact moment. Lemmy reluctantly took a bite of the squishy thing. He didn't like it. Not at all. He much preferred the shoes. Gatsby plopped down across from him and folded her arms on the counter.
"You're not going anywhere until you finish that sandwich," she stated.
"It tastes like Bugga-beast dung," Lemmy whined. She narrowed her eyes at him threateningly. The boy glared back. It was a grilled cheese sandwich standoff.
"If you eat the sandwich the Doctor will you let you play with the hologram recorder." Gatsby won. She doubted the Doctor would let him do any such thing, but Lemmy was too young to understand the finesse of little white lies. He forced himself to take another bite of the grilled cheese.
Absently Gatsby took a napkin and rubbed clean a smudge of grease on his chin. No one knows how to be a mother. It isn't something that can be learned from books. It's a skill that people acquire after they've been plunged into the world of parenting. It's an instinct that waits patiently for the opportune, or inopportune, moment to jump out of the shadows and steal your purse. Motherhood is a military strategy that not even the boldest generals are willing to risk using. It's a long con, a day by day lesson that no one can master. Gatsby was doing her best. She didn't know that mothers all across the universe were doing the same thing.
"Now was that so bad?" she asked once Lemmy's plate was clean.
"Yes," the boy grumbled. Gatsby sighed. She unlaced her own shoe and gave it to him. Sometimes being a mother is about compromise. Eat your vegetable first and you can have a tennis shoe for dessert. So on and so forth.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," she chided. Lemmy stopped sucking on the toe of her shoe.
"We can try out the playground the Doctor installed for you. It has a slide and everything." Lemmy scowled at the idea. "Okay, how about I read you a story. There are thousands in the library." Lemmy shook his head adamantly. He hated books more than he hated slides. What he really wanted was to be back on Bettadotta chasing Bugga-beasts and catching glowing starbugs. The Blue Box was certainly better than being on Earth, but it still wasn't home. The boy looked down at his empty plate. His bottom lip began to tremble.
"Hey now," Gatsby murmured. "Don't cry." She rounded the counter to stand beside him. Her hand hovered over his shoulder. What was she supposed to do? She'd never comforted a sad child before. She wracked her brain for answers, for the next step, while the first tears trickled from the corners of Lemmy's eyes.
"I want to go home," the boy sobbed. And like children do when they are lost and alone, he reached out for the person closest to him. He wrapped his arms around Gatsby's waist and buried his face in her stomach. He reminded her of the Doctor, a misplaced little boy who could never go home and who held onto whoever he could find. She stopped searching for the perfect things to say. She stopped thinking about what do to next. Instead she acted on what she felt. Gatsby stroked the boy's hair.
"I know you do," she said. "And I wish we could take you back." Lemmy blinked up at her.
"Why can't you?" Gatsby sighed. The questions children asked were always the hardest to answer. She pulled the boy into her lap. Of course he didn't understand why he couldn't go home. She could explain to him about the Bethbells and how they'd taken over his planet, but she knew, or rather she felt, that it wouldn't comfort him.
"You know, I'm a long way from home too," Gatsby said. "The Doctor kind of took me just like he did you."
"Your parents sent you away too?"
"No. I chose to leave."
"Why?" Lemmy sniffled a bit, but he'd stopped crying.
"You think you're bored now? The place I'm from is much, much worse. It's the most boring place in the universe. I think I would have died there, but the Doctor, he saved me." In more ways than one. "See, I was very sick and no one knew why. Then one day the Doctor stormed into my room. I thought he was crazy."
"What was wrong with you?" Future Gatsby had never told him any of this. She'd never even told him about the Doctor.
"There were these awful smoke monsters. They lived in my mirror and they made me sick. The Doctor got rid of them. He asked me if I wanted to travel with him. I didn't think about it at the time. I just said yes."
"Did you still think he was crazy?"
"Absolutely," Gatsby chuckled. "But I'm glad I went with him." She flicked the little boy's nose and smiled. "Because I got to meet you. It's hard, I know, being away from home, but you've got me and the Doctor. We'll take care of you and maybe someday we'll be able to take you back to your parents." Lemmy brightened at her tentative promise. "Until then you have to stop eating the Doctor's shoes."
"Or I'll toss you into a Supernova." Gatsby looked up, surprised to find the Doctor standing in the doorway. She wasn't sure how long he'd been there, but he didn't seem angry anymore and she was grateful for that. She tickled the boy under his chin until he smile reluctantly and then slid him back to his stool.
"Don't worry," she whispered into Lemmy's ear. "I won't let him do anything like that."
"As if you could stop me. I'm a Time Lord," the Doctor said smugly.
"Yeah, and I'm human. Don't underestimate us."
"Never." The Doctor made his way to them and slapped a torn envelope onto the counter.
"What's this?" Gatsby picked up the envelope curiously. It was made out of a type of paper she'd never seen before; reflective and slivery.
"It's mail," the Doctor answered.
"You get mail?"
"Of course I do. Do you have any idea how many wedding invitations I get?" Gatsby didn't have any idea. She was hardly listening to him as she slid a folded piece of paper from the strange envelope. The handwriting was too flourished for her to read.
"Well, is this a wedding invitation then?" Gatsby asked. The Doctor shook his head. He was rocking back and forth on his heels. A grin creeping across his lips.
"Much better," he said.
"Doctor, just tell me," Gatsby sighed. He snatched the letter from her hands and waved it over his head.
"I've won the grand prize!" he exclaimed.
"Grand prize," he repeated slowly. "The lottery. The new car behind the curtain. The beach house on Carragulla." He was practically dancing.
"It's like Miami, but instead of rainbow fish there are actual swimming rainbows in the ocean."
"And you've won a house there?"
"No," the Doctor said exasperatedly. Once again he'd forgotten that her mind didn't go at supersonic speed. Gatsby gaped at him, utterly bewildered. "Forget the beach house. I don't know what I've won. It could be anything. This letter-" He wiggled the piece of paper under her nose. "Says that we have to go to the Prodechomai Space Station to collect my winnings. I've already set the coordinates."
"Hold on a minute." Gatsby held up her hands. She didn't like this. Not one bit. A mysterious letter. A mysterious prize. "Why didn't they just tell you what you won?"
"Well, that wouldn't be any fun, now would it, Goode?"
"I don't like it." Gatsby stood up and put her hands on her hips. "We shouldn't go. It could be dangerous." She glanced meaningfully at Lemmy, who was content chewing on her shoe again. Since the boy had joined them, Gatsby had made the Doctor promise they would put saving the universe on hold for a while. Jumping from planet to planet, risking their lives on a daily basis, was all fine and well when there wasn't a child involved.
"Come on," the Doctor wheedled. "Don't be such a spoil sport."
"A party pooper."
"I would never defecate at a party!" Gatsby cried defensively. "That would be incredibly rude."
"It's an expression," the Doctor groaned. When she continued to look at him blankly, he hurried on. "Oh, never mind. It's the grand prize, Goode. We can't not go. It could be a new pair of tasseled loafers." Gatsby wanted to argue. She wasn't convinced. There was a wriggly feeling deep in her stomach, a terribly uneasy feeling about all of this. She was well aware that the Doctor couldn't go anywhere without landing himself, and her, into trouble. She was also well aware that it was pointless trying to talk some sense into him when he was excited about something.
"Fine," she relented. "But if anything goes wrong, we leave."
"What could go wrong?" Before she could answer, the Doctor was skipping out of the kitchen. Gatsby rested her hands on Lemmy's shoulders. What could go wrong? She'd heard that a thousand times since she'd flown away with him, and whenever he said it something terrible always followed. The question wasn't what could go wrong. The question was what would go wrong.
"How do I look?" The Doctor spun in a 360.
"Like an idiot," Gatsby muttered. She stepped up to him and straightened his bow tie. A beautiful idiot, she thought to herself. They'd made it the Space Station without any trouble, but the Doctor had changed his tie at least a dozen times. He'd even gone so far as to shine his shoes.
"Maybe I should change back into the other suspenders."
"You know some of us actually have to worry about getting old. What you're wearing is fine."
"Are you sure? The other suspenders-"
"Look just like these. When did you start caring about fashion?"
"I've always cared."
"Really? It hasn't showed."
"I happen to be very trendy," the Doctor protested. "Besides it's not every day I win the grand prize." Gatsby rolled her eyes. She wanted to get this over with, preferably in one piece, but she'd settle for two pieces if it came down to that.
"Well you're very handsome today. Can we go now?" The Doctor ran his fingers through his hair in a last minute attempt to make it behave.
"Alright," he said at last. "Shall we?" The Doctor held out his arm for her. He was reaching for the door when she remembered they'd forgotten something.
"Lemmy!" she called.
"Do we really have to bring him?" the Doctor grumbled.
"Unless you want to leave him alone with the Tardis…" He certainly didn't. Though he muttered under his breath while they waited for the boy, he made no further complaints. Lemmy skidded into the room.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"The Protégé Space Station."
"Prodechomai," the Doctor corrected.
"As if I'll ever be able to pronounce that one," Gatsby groaned. The words seemed to become more ridiculous by the day. She took Lemmy's hand and held it tightly.
"Now you stay with me," she ordered. "No wandering off, understood?" Lemmy nodded. She still didn't trust him. Between the boy and the Doctor she doubted the Space Station would survive their visit.
"Beach house, here I come!" The Doctor threw open the blue doors and together they left the Tardis. Gatsby had never been on a Space Station before. She expected complicated chrome piping or walls made of gold. She expected the air to be heavy with exhaust fumes or big windows into space. She expected something exciting. She was disappointed.
They took one step outside of the blue box and found themselves in a line. The longest line Gatsby had ever seen. The longest line even the Doctor had seen. It stretched on and on and on. The line was what infinity would look like if infinity was a physical thing that could have an appearance at all. And they were at the end of it.
The walls weren't made of gold. In fact, the Space Station reminded her of home; grey and dull. The ground thrummed beneath their feet. Deep below engines stirred and they were the only thing moving. The line surely didn't seem to be. Nor did anyone in it. Most of them were asleep. The air was not filled with fumes. It was filled with snores.
"I don't see a beach house," Gatsby said, standing on her tip toes for a glimpse of the line's end. She quickly stopped trying. "Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Of course I'm sure," the Doctor snapped, though he wasn't. This wasn't what he'd expected either. A line? If he had to wait in line for his prize then he didn't want it. There were certain things the Doctor never did; waiting in line happened to be one of them. Using his fingers to do sums was another.
"I'll just nip back and check," he said. "Wait here." He turned around to go back into the Tardis only to find that there was no Tardis. There was only a red rope where the Blue Box had been.
"Goode, try not to panic," he said slowly, staring at the grey wall in front of him.
"Why would I…Where is the Tardis?" She gaped at the empty space. She gaped at the Doctor, and then she glowered. "I knew this was a bad idea! What could go wrong," she mimicked. "This! You've lost the Tardis. I'd say that's something gone wrong!"
"You're panicking. I didn't lose it. I just, erm, misplaced it."
"You!" She poked him hard in the chest. "You were too worried about which bow tie to wear and forgot to put on the brakes."
"I did not!"
"The floor ate it." Gatsby and the Doctor rounded on Lemmy.
"Not now," Gatsby snapped. "I don't want to hear any of your stories." She turned back to the Doctor. "I told you this was a trap. I told you we shouldn't have come, you brainless twit. We're stranded here and it's your fault."
"I'm not lying," Lemmy whined, tugging at her sleeve. "The floor did eat the box. I saw it!"
"Lemmy, I swear, if you don't-" Gatsby wasn't able to finish her threat. She was cut off by a voice that seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere.
"Welcome Doctor," the voice said. "Congratulations, you have won the grand prize." The voice was smooth. It was velvet. It was eternal peace. Gatsby forgot that she'd ever been angry in her life. The three of them froze. They grinned dreamily as the voice washed over them. "Your transport will be returned to at the end of the line. Please remain calm and keep within the red rope." The voice faded away, taking the momentary peace along with it. Gatsby blinked free from its spell. For a moment she'd been in love with that voice.
"I told you so." Lemmy was the first to speak. "The floor did take the box." He crossed his arms and stared up at the adults. Gatsby felt shame creep into her cheeks.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Apology accepted," the Doctor answered.
"I wasn't talking to you," she snapped. "We're still stranded and it's still your fault."
"You're being a party pooper again. This is a teensy weensy glitch in the plan. We'll get the Tardis back and everything will be fine."
"And how are we going to do that?" Gatsby asked skeptically. Although the Doctor hated to say it, there didn't seem to be any other options.
"You heard the voice. We're going to wait." The three of them looked ahead at the line. At infinity. Gatsby slumped against the cold, metal wall, settling in for a long haul. Waiting was the one thing she'd never had to do since she'd joined the Doctor. She'd never wanted to wait for anything again. She'd rather they have stumbled into the apocalypse on some foreign planet than this
"I'm bored," Lemmy complained after five minutes had passed.
"Eat the Doctor's shoes," Gatsby grumbled. When, if, they made it back to the Tardis she was going to feed the boy every single one of the Doctor's loafers. This was worse than anything she'd imagined. The Tardis was gone. They were stuck at the end of infinity. Whatever this mysterious prize was, it had better be fantastic. It had better be worth the wait. Gatsby doubted anything was worth waiting for eternity.