"Hey, Sleeping Beauty, wake up. Come on, two days of beauty sleep is more than enough."
Doran's rakish grin faded as the silence stretched. Emma hadn't regained consciousness since regenerating forty-nine hours prior. He had begun to worry that she wouldn't. Self-consciously taking her hand, he considered the differences between her old body and new.
No longer elfin, her body curved, from her shapely thighs right up to her voluptuous breasts. Almost as tall as he, hard muscles underscored the softer portions of her figure. Her hair was the color of the darkest raven, her lips a sensual red, and if he were a poet, he might describe her skin as white as snow.
It wasn't, of course, but her pallor worried him almost as much as the strange golden energy which occasionally still burst from her mouth. His wrist strap documented it as a variant of artron energy, and he feared something had gone horribly wrong in a process he couldn't even begin to fathom.
Mostly, though, he worried about her mind. Did she still believe herself to be Melina? Or had her memories returned when her body had changed? And, if she truly had reverted to her Time Lord self, would she want to have anything to do with him?
At least they were safe for the moment. He'd had this haven prepared for several years now, although he'd hoped never to have to use it. The supposedly sustainable biosphere he'd secreted inside one of the largest asteroids in the Omega Nebula was accessible only by Vortex Manipulator or long-range teleport. Unfortunately, he'd bought the closed environment secondhand, and it had definitely seen better days.
When he wasn't sitting anxiously by Emma's side, he spent most of his time cleaning the algae pools, which did not produce as much oxygen as advertised. By his calculations, they had three more days before the oxygen level in the living quarters dipped below safe levels. If Emma didn't wake by then, he'd have to take her to Sto and hope for the best. At least she no longer looked like the Agency's escaped prisoner.
An alarm began to blare in the distance. With a sigh, he kissed her forehead before heading out the tiny living space to deal with the latest emergency. If he hadn't been so adept at mechanics, the biosphere would have failed hours ago. He could only hope his temporary patches would hold until she woke. Then, maybe, if he were lucky, she might have a plan. He certainly didn't.
Stretching, Emma experienced the oddness of her new skin. Her body was no longer lithe and petite, but solid and muscular. Although, from the brief pat down she gave herself, she had padding in all the right places. Finally opening her eyes, she found herself in a modular sleeping compartment whose gray walls were as unappealing as they were cold. She took in a deep breath, immediately noticing that the carbon dioxide level was a tad bit higher than a standard Earth atmosphere.
Standing, she bumped her head on the low ceiling. As she rubbed the forming bruise, she noticed two doors leading from the small room. The first opened to a dark hallway while the second revealed a basic area to take care of one's bodily needs. As she performed a more thorough search of the utilitarian space, she discovered undergarments and a jumpsuit that looked to be her size. That decided her; she would take a shower and dress before doing any more exploring.
Eight minutes later, she quickly turned off the faucet to the shower as the water temperature went from tepid to freezing. Briskly drying off with a thin towel, she studied herself in the small magnifying mirror. She appeared young, but not so young that one might mistake her for an adolescent. There were faint creases around her mouth and eyes if one looked very closely. Her black hair cascaded halfway down her back; she thought the length more of an annoyance than asset. Deftly, she put her wet hair in a long braid as she vowed to shorten it when she found a pair of scissors.
The clothing fit well, except where the fabric strained against her chest. She left the zipper down as far as decency allowed and smiled in amusement. The dark blue jumpsuit made her look like one of those pinup girls the Time Agency used in its recruitment vids.
The Time Agency! It all came rushing back—the Daleks, the Time Corridor, her imprisonment and torture. Staggering to the bed, she clutched her head as she recalled the more painful memories. Her stomach churned as she realized where she had spent the last year. Was there no end to Rouchmel's suffering? Although she couldn't remember the events leading up to her regeneration, she knew she had betrayed him yet again, albeit in innocence this time rather than cold calculation.
Then, her mind turned to Doran and her stomach churned for an entirely different reason. Had they been separated? Was he a prisoner of the Time Agency once again? Was she? If she found him would he understand her duplicity, or had she lost him already?
As her thoughts became a torrent, the door leading to the dark corridor creaked open. Warily, she looked up to see a beaming Doran duck through the entrance.
"You're awake! Just in the nick of time too, because this biosphere won't last more than another day. I just had to flush the nutrient solution with . . . ." He trailed off, suddenly unsure.
"Emma? You look a little confused. How are you feeling?"
She could feel his concern, which unsettled her greatly. Telepath or no, she should not be able to sense his emotions without making contact first. And, how did he know her name? When had she told him?
"You know my name."
If she hadn't already been sitting down, she would have staggered under the weight of his despair. Almost gingerly, he sat down beside her, his expression morose. When he took her hand, she let out a shuddering breath at the extent of his devastation.
"Yeah, I do. You made the name Ilsa up, remember? And Melina was the one your—that Rouchmel gave you. But you've had a name all along, just not one you could remember. It's Emma. I like it; it suits you, sweetheart. But, if you want to go back to being called Melina that's okay, too."
His voice started to waver. Automatically, she tried to rest her head against his chest, but with her height had to settle for resting against his shoulder instead. As he played with her braid, he continued to talk, although the subject was obviously a difficult one for him.
"We can't go back to Galbon. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it's got to be, sweetheart. Rouchmel . . . ." His voice cracked. "He wouldn't understand. And, it's not safe for you anymore. Unless . . . do you remember who kidnapped you?"
She'd been kidnapped? She didn't recall anything of the sort. The last thing she had remembered was Hanna putting up her hair for the interstellar trade conference's reception. Everything after that was a blank. Her head ached terribly as she strained to remember. Pressing her hands tightly against her temples, she demanded answers.
"How did you learn my name? Did I tell you? When was I kidnapped? Is that why I regenerated? You said Rouchmel wouldn't understand. Do you? How did you find me? I can't remember much after Hanna fixed my hair for the trade reception. Was I kidnapped from my room or later?"
She could feel a tiny shred of hope kindle deep in his heart.
"You understand the concept of regeneration? I don't have to explain what's happened to you?"
Her mouth gaped. Then, with a jolt, she understood. He thought her still addled. Well, she could reassure him on that point, at least.
She faced him sheepishly. "I seem to have regained my mind. I'm a Time Lord; of course I know about regeneration. The question is: how do you?"
His surge of joy stole the breath from her lungs. Something was horribly wrong. Perhaps her psychic barriers had eroded after such a difficult transition from one body to the next.
Staggering off the bed as she clutched her head, she put some distance between them. It helped, but not nearly as much as she had hoped.
"Doran? Do you think you could tamp down your excitement for the moment? Your emotions are a little too much right now."
His resulting anxiety sent her to her knees. Just as she thought she would black out from the sensory overload, he abruptly appeared in her mindscape. Astounded, she could only watch as he approached. He wore black trousers and an orange wool tunic, simple in its design but elegant and refined in its tailoring. His eyes were ablaze with conviction and he walked with the confidence of one comfortable in his own skin. She couldn't help but wonder where this strange, self-assured Doran had come from, or how easily her mind relaxed under his skillful care.
His mental caress was gentle and tender and a balm to her confused thoughts. She found herself luxuriating in his attention, all worries temporarily held at bay. Only belatedly did she understand exactly what place he occupied in her psyche.
"This is impossible," she murmured as he teased her pleasure center. "You can't be here. I'm already bonded."
"I can be into bondage."
He answered cheekily, aggressively propelling her senses into a haze of bliss even as she began to panic over the loss of control. He'd been in her mind before, but never like this, never so assertive, never in a place so intimate, never in a place she long thought reserved solely for another.
Alarmed by his dominance, she tried to push him out of her mind, but his hold over her was too firm. As she vainly struggled against the intrusion, he tightened his embrace, but her discomfort didn't increase. In fact, the tighter their minds entwined, the more contented she felt, as if his very being encompassed some hitherto unknown portion of her soul.
Equally frightened and exhilarated, she walked alone in a cold, vast desert of sand wondering how a human's mind could possibly be so complex. After hiking up and down rolling dunes for what seemed like hours, she finally caught a glimpse of him. He stood in the distance on the top of a steep rise of sand wielding a shining sword like a heroic knight in a fairytale.
As he turned towards her, her perception shifted until they stood mere feet apart. Studying him, her mind boggled. His familiar features seemed so alien in the stark mindscape, and he radiated strength of character that in the past year she had only begun to suspect he possessed.
He broke out in a wide grin and joyfully uttered her name—her name, not Emma or the Emissary or Melina or the scores of other aliases she had used throughout her long life, but her one true name, the one woven into the fabric of Time itself. And yet, he was a stranger, a stranger with whom she had shared an intimacy so profound that he knew her better than she perhaps knew herself. Hesitantly, she reached up to touch his cheek to assure herself that he was in fact real. His grin faded a bit as his eyes sobered with tender compassion.
"Hey, it's okay, Sweetheart. You're not hallucinating. I'm as real as it gets."
Her shrill reply held the threat of hysteria. "Who are you?"
In a dazzling flash, he showed her glimpses of a future she could barely comprehend. Reeling, she asked the first question that popped into her mind.
"How can you—?"
"Spoilers," he warned with a rakish gleam in his blue eyes. "Though, technically, you might say I'm cheating. My younger self ran from you, panicked because he caused you pain. I have four point seven minutes before he realizes what an ass he's been."
"You are Doran, then?"
For the first time, the man's confidence wavered. Oddly, that fact comforted her. It made him seem more human.
"I was. He'll always be a part of me, a part I don't regret."
"But . . .?"
He sidestepped the question. "But, nothing. Life is fantastic, Sweetheart."
"All those things I saw . . . ."
"I'd spare you the worst if I could. If you don't believe anything else, at least believe that."
She had no desire to change her future. In the midst of so much pain, she'd seen equal amounts of joy, oftentimes too closely entwined to unravel one without damaging the other. But, she understood his temptation. It was one faced by every time traveler, Time Lord and human alike.
"You shouldn't be crossing your own timeline like this. It's dangerous."
"It's necessary. Our timelines are so tangled that our bond reverberates backwards as well as forward. At this linear point, though, it's one-sided. When I tried to fix the damage done by the Dalek mind probe, I went too deep into your psyche. That's when I first bonded with you, but neither one of us are currently aware of it." He appeared sheepish. "Sorry, that's one of the reasons why you're having such a difficult time blocking my emotions."
She'd never heard of such, although she immediately believed him. Having proven just how much control he wielded over her, he had no reason to lie. Still, the idea of being bonded to more than one person made her extremely uncomfortable.
"What about the Doctor?"
"What about him?" He asked with a smirk, tantalizingly using the Doctor's true name. "He's not one to talk, since he's already crossed this particular timeline to fix the damage I couldn't. In fact, when you remember this, you can thank him for restoring your mind before your body died. You wouldn't have regenerated otherwise."
"He . . . ." She staggered at Doran's use of her bondmate's name. "The three of us?"
He once again stroked those parts of her psyche sure to bring pleasure. "A triumvirate—your phrase, not mine—but highly appropriate."
Rassilon, but he was smug, and definitely holding something back. She could sense that even if she couldn't discern the secret. Before she could ask for more information, though, he began to tinker with her mental barriers.
This time, knowing it was for her own good, she didn't fight against him. He worked quickly and efficiently, focused too much on his task to impart any further information. Finished, he abruptly pulled out of her mind, leaving her alone and surprisingly bereft.
Drained, she gazed up at his face as he checked her pulses. His appearance surprised her. She had assumed him to be much older. As she stared at him quizzically, he seemed to understand her question.
"I moisturize," he stated dryly before injecting her in the arm with a hypospray.
Reflexively, she attempted to sit up, but the sedative was a fast acting one.
In a very Doran gesture, he kissed her forehead. "Sorry, Sweetheart. Too many spoilers. When you wake up, you'll feel better. I promise."
She could only hope he was right.
Racing out of the sleeping area, Doran couldn't believe his cowardice. The thought that he had caused Emma's distress, however, was too great to bear. She was a Time Lord, a race millions of years more advanced than his own. What had he done while trying to repair such an intricate mind that now caused her so much pain? Would she ever be able to tolerate his presence again?
Pacing around the algae pools, he fought conflicting desires. He wanted to help Emma. No matter how different she looked, he loved the woman whose memories he'd shared. Yet, he couldn't handle her rejection. He'd seen their possible future, a beautiful future, but as a Time Agent, he understood the fragility of potential timelines. He may have ruined his last chance before he knew it as a possibility.
After several minutes of pacing he knew he had to return. The future he so desired would never be written if he simply left her on the floor to suffer like an insensitive coward. Preparing himself for an angry rebuff, he trudged back to the tiny bedroom only to find her unconscious on the floor, a yellow piece of paper clutched in her hand.
Once he determined that she breathed easily, he tucked her back into bed. Wryly, he hoped he wouldn't be forced to pick her up again. Emma's new body wasn't nearly as petite as her last one. Only then did he glance at the scrap of yellow paper.
He instantly recognized the handwriting as his own. Intrigued, he read the note.
Give her tea. Tell her you love her. Don't fuck up.
Well, that was short and to the point, although the tea advice was simply bizarre. He knew without looking that tea wasn't one of the beverages he'd stocked in the biosphere; hypervodka, on the other hand . . . . Still, his future self must have written that instruction for a reason; he couldn't simply ignore it. After a moment's thought, he knew just the place.
"Starship UK?! You brought me to Starship UK?!"
Doran winced at the shrill, outraged tone in Emma's voice. He'd thought it a fantastic idea at the time, but now he wasn't so sure. Mutely, he handed her a cup of Earl Gray. She sipped it silently as her eyes swept the palatial bedroom. He swiftly decided to follow instruction number two.
"The Time Agency isn't interested in this period of history. I thought it'd be a safe place for you to recover from your regeneration. I love you too much to let the Daleks find you, sweetheart."
Her eyes went wide, although he wasn't sure if she'd reacted to his utterance of the Daleks' name or his heartfelt declaration. Mutely, she drank two more cups of tea as he grew increasingly nervous. Just as he'd begun to fear he'd fucked it up, she put down her cup to take his hand. But the dour expression on her face didn't give him much hope.
"I'm not Melina, Doran. I'm not that innocent girl you thought you'd rescued from the Time Agency. I haven't been that innocent in a long, long time. I'm an assassin and a spy who's been fighting in a war for longer than you can ever hope to live."
"I know," he argued, unwilling to let her wallow in her multitude of sins. "Emma, I know. I've seen some of your worst memories, remember? I know what you did on Galbon, and I know why. I know your daughter died in front of you-twice. I know you isolated yourself for centuries the first time. I know how lonely you were. I know you'd lost hope. But, you got on with your life. Just like you did after the Daleks shattered your mind. It would have been easier to give up, but you didn't. You fought, sweetheart. And, I love you for that."
Her voice began to quaver. "You think you know me? I'm nothing more than a killer. I'm not worthy of anyone's love."
Tenderly, he caressed her hand. "That's not true. Killing doesn't make you a killer. I've seen you agonize over what the war's forced you to do. Emma, you're more than worthy."
She pulled away her hand as if he'd scalded her. Her icy blue eyes boring into his, she ruthlessly recited a list of her crimes.
"Thirty million dead on Hoxtan after I kidnapped Sultan Poi's daughter during the Fair Trade Talks. A preemptive thermonuclear strike on Pennavi after I danced with Willard the Cruel. The collapse of New New Zealand's economy after I bribed a corrupt official. Zladda torn apart by opposing black holes. The annihilation of the Embre on Chaku Seven. The killing of untold trillions after I ensured that the first three solar systems conquered by Skaro never supported life. The Cyber conversion of eight million on Lotus because—"
He couldn't take it anymore. She was tearing herself apart as viciously as her alternate personalities had on Galbon. Desperately, he gripped her shoulders.
"Stop! Just stop! You have to stop! You can't do this to yourself, Emma! You're fighting a war! Of course there's going to be casualties!"
She pushed him away forcefully enough to send him reeling. Facing him, she raged, her screams brimming with agony and torment.
"Dalek casualties! There should be Dalek casualties, Doran! Not innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire! Not people deemed to be acceptable losses because they aren't Time Lords! Not people I've laughed with, eaten with, not people I've loved!"
Her jaw visibly trembled, and he could only watch as she crumbled before him.
"I never wanted to hurt him. He was a good man, a kind man. He reminded me so much of someone I had loved and lost so long ago. I never intended to fall in love again; it just happened. I begged and pleaded with the Council that they find another way. Brax told me they had and I believed him. And, all that time, Leska kept dosing me with minute traces of the poison so I could ingest a fatal dose and survive."
"Sweetheart, I know—"
Tears running down her cheeks, she cut him off. "You don't know this, Doran! Leska dosed me with the poison for months. It affected my metabolism. I began to lose an alarming amount of weight, and he had to give me hormones to counteract it."
Sniffling, Emma took a deep shuddering breath before she could continue, but he had a horrible suspicion that he knew how her story ended.
"The hormones—they had an unexpected side effect. My genetic structure, it's a throwback to the Dark Times, a one in a trillion anomaly. I think I knew that day, but I was too scared to acknowledge it. So I blamed the sickness I felt on nerves and refused to consider that the Council didn't give a damn about a planet that would eventually fall to the Daleks anyway. I woke up in the critical infirmary of the Citadel. The mission had been a great success. There had been only one complication, and the healer assured me that it had been dealt with discreetly."
Although she spat the words with pure venom, her legs shook. Before he could move, she collapsed to the plush, carpeted floor, great sobs wracking her frame. Sitting beside her, tears slipped down his face as she bawled against his chest.
"I would have kept it. It was my child as much as Rouchmel's. No one asked. No one. Because not one of them could imagine how a Time Lord could sully herself by carrying a bastard half-breed to term. You think we fight because we're some honorable race protecting those who can't? We're nothing more than a bunch of arrogant prigs who couldn't be bothered with the Daleks until they threatened what we held most dear—ourselves."
Still crying, she gazed miserably at him. The self-loathing behind her red-rimmed eyes broke his heart.
"Don't love me, Doran, please. I don't want to destroy you, too."
With a tremulous smile, he gently wiped away her tears with his thumbs. "You never could. You've already saved me, Emma. Before you, my life had no meaning. Live or die, I will always love you."
"Doran, please, I don't—"
He stopped her protest with a tender kiss. "Of course you do. You're a good person. A good person who's been forced by war to do horrible things. I'm so sorry about the baby. I wish I could undo the pain I caused by taking you to Galbon. I know I can never take Rouchmel's place. I don't expect you to love me in return. But, I love you, sweetheart. You are the strongest, the bravest, the best person I have ever met."
She opened her lips to protest once more, but he took the opportunity to plumb the depths of her mouth. When she didn't immediately pull away, he could only hope he'd been given another chance. He used his hands, his fingertips, his mouth, his lips, his tongue to wholeheartedly demonstrate her worthiness. Eventually, she acquiesced, although her deep blue eyes still reflected a hint of disbelief.
He murmured in her ear. "You just have to believe in second chances, sweetheart. You taught me that."
Turning towards him, she crinkled her brow as if she faced a particularly difficult conundrum. "Why me?"
The answer he'd given her much younger self on Gallifrey proved just as valid now. "Because I love you and you need me."
Lying on the carpeting, she considered his answer before running her fingers through his hair. "It scares me sometimes."
"What? That I love you?"
"That you love me so much. I'm scared I'll disappoint you."
Wearily, she rubbed her eyes. He could see a maelstrom of self-doubt swimming below the surface of her blue irises.
"Doran, I'm not some ideal for you to put on a pedestal. You know what I've done."
"No," he solemnly agreed. "You're not. But, I'm not looking for an ideal. Hell, I think someone like that would intimidate me if you want to know the truth. I don't love you because you're perfect, Emma. I love you because you don't give up."
"What if I do?"
"I won't let you."
In that moment, something changed. Her doubts, while still present, finally gave way to hope. Straddling him, she intently studied his face. "You won't leave me?"
"No, sweetheart. No matter what, I won't ever leave you."
Reaching up, Doran traced her lips with his finger. Her eyes closed, and for the first time since she had awoken in her new body, he saw a measure of peace on her face. Exulting in their new second chance, he pulled her down towards him. As their lips melded together, he silently thanked his future self for giving him impeccable advice. He would give her tea. He would tell her he loved her. And, most importantly, he wouldn't fuck up.
Author's Notes - Not so much action in this chapter, but an important one nonetheless. And, I promise that's the end of the timey-wimeyness for a while as Emma has to make a decision about her continuing role in the war.