A/N4: So this is it. This is how I imagine romance happening between two uberpowerful, old, time-and-space travelling incurable philanthropists. Thank you, everybody, for your support!
xTaking Advantage: sek on t hra matin
2,059 Earthtime, Earth, United Europe
The Doctor had never expected him to call, to be truthful. Well, he wasn't always the best judge of character, but he had thought that he had pegged the Family of Blood quite well and… thinking again, maybe his judgment had been a bit clouded by rage at that time.
Also, he now realised, there was very little they wouldn't do for one another. Affection was the force behind almost everything the Family had done, even if it was affection to the exclusion of everybody not of the Blood. He loved his Sister. He wanted, very desperately, to buy her forgiveness. Therefore he sank into his role, he became what the Doctor had ordered him to become, and when the time came, he called.
The Doctor had wanted, more than anything, to run, to leave this place and time so he wouldn't have to think about what he had attempted to do and what he had done. With no limitations set it was oh so easy to play with his power, to try and fight against eventuality and to destroy everything in a moment of vainglory. Adelaide Brooke had saved him. And that was unfair. It should have been the other way around.
He so hated feeling ashamed of himself.
"These are my just desserts, aren't they, girl?" he asked of the TARDIS, tempted to run away anyway, but knowing that she wouldn't let him. At least he had her.
She responded by opening her door and quite unceremoniously chucking him out into the street where she was parked, not even letting him grab a coat. He was going to freeze.
"Oh well," he grumbled as she slammed her door shut behind him.
He picked a direction – away from the sea, from the lights in the distance, from the teeming centre of the city – and started walking. His hands grew colder with every passing minute, and he petulantly contemplated if it was a kind of corporal punishment. After a while, he started jogging to keep himself warm enough. He was good at self-flagellation when the mood struck him, but right now he had enough residual anger and curiosity driving him, and wasn't sinking into depression just yet. He ran. Past the houses, across the suburbia, through the grove, across another township, ran until industrial centres gave way to storage houses and those gave way to grassy plains and the beginnings of a forest.
He ran until he arrived in a field, frozen, covered with a thin layer of snow, black and white in the early hour, guarded by a scarecrow limply hanging from a stake.
"You called?" he asked – wheezed, actually. He was tired, thirsty, hungry, still annoyed and childishly hurt, cold was seeping back in under his suit and the sweaty shirt, and he knew he was badly off when a memory of his childhood resurfaced, and he wished someone would hold him, just for the comfort, without asking for anything.
The scarecrow shuddered. Dim green light appeared in the depths of its straw-filled head, and it laboriously lifted its arms-like appendages.
'Doctor,' it signed.
"What do you want?" the Doctor asked, bouncing on the spot to retain at least a little of the warmth he had accumulated during the run.
This would have gone so much easier if he could communicate with the Son telepathically, but the protector of the fields of England was either being stubborn, or too stretched to manage any significant telepathy.
'Sister,' the scarecrow demanded. 'Freedom.' He paused, expectant, but once it became obvious that the Doctor was not going to relent, he added: 'Danger. Explain.'
The Doctor had to admit that he had been unusually, and perhaps unnecessarily cruel when he had judged and sentenced the Family of Blood to eternal punishment. They had had to be stopped, yes, but he ever prided himself on being merciful, and there had really been no mercy. The Family had been neither Daleks nor Cybermen, and the manner in which he had dealt with them had been extreme and fuelled by negative emotion – the result of having had nine centuries of memories, of which most were not nice at all or at least tinged with the ubiquitous sorrow and loss, crammed into his mind, with only a laughable warning.
"First the explanation," he demanded. If nothing else, he should have allowed them the relief of death. These punishments truly were unconscionable.
The scarecrow lifted its arms again, when the ground began to buzz. The buzz quickly grew into a rumble, and before the Doctor could pinpoint the source, there was a distant roar of detonation and the earth split beneath his feet.
It was too late to run.
The Earth's crust was being ripped apart, and the Doctor stood right on the spot where the chasm would appear-
The Son resided in every scarecrow, so there was no need to worry about him.
There was, however, the need to worry about the man that sprinted across the field towards the Doctor – into the danger.
"Stop!" the Doctor shouted.
The ground moved. The Doctor lost his footing, and then the chasm appeared and it seemed as if he had remained suspended in the air for a prolonged instance before gravity caught up to him and pulled him down, into the depths of the planet (well, most likely only a couple hundred feet downwards).
The Doctor felt cheated – where were the four knocks he should have heard before his death? – when the sprinting man he thought he might have imagined earlier jumped over the newly-created edge of the ravine after the Doctor. They crashed together in midair; the man madly struggled for a grip, and then something theoretically impossible happened.
The Doctor's physical body was spontaneously forced through hyperspace. The whole experience lasted for almost seven tenths of a second. He, much to his surprise, survived the journey.
The Doctor and the running madman ripped through the event horizon back into the regular four set of dimensions and promptly fell into a body of heavily chlorinated water.
They treaded their individual ways to the surface – the Doctor noted artificial lighting overhead and guessed they were in a swimming pool – and spat out water. The Doctor coughed. The stranger checked on him, found him capable of unassisted swimming, and by tugging on his soaked-through jacket set the direction toward the edge.
They climbed out and paused to catch their breath, before the stranger spoke: "Sorry about that. I suck at redirecting kinetic energy. I did my best to reduce our momentum, but it's always safer to appear above water."
The Doctor decided not to be too cross, considering that his newest acquaintance had saved his life. Maybe all his remaining lives. He didn't see how regenerating on the bottom of a chasm would have helped him get out. There was still the travelling through hyperspace that needed to be addressed, but that could wait until they had found a way of drying themselves, because – he had been told – pneumonia wasn't a nice way to die. Better than ingesting the chemicals humans used for rodent control, or burning to death or radiation poisoning or decompression, but still not nice.
The Doctor flopped to his side and narrowed his eyes at his rescuer. "Oh, hello," he said. "You seem familiar."
"I would," the stranger replied (ironically) dryly, and without further ado lifted himself off the tiled floor. He stood and stretched in a way that made it obvious he was used to perfunctorily cataloguing the functionality of his limbs.
The Doctor recognised a man who took tumbles routinely and relished in that lifestyle.
"Are we acquainted?" he asked. He liked to think that he remembered the people who would remember him, but there were always mass media to propagate his myth and… well… too many cultures thought he was a god as it was.
Luckily, though, it seemed that his rescuer wasn't suffering under any such delusion.
"Not that I remember," the man said, pulling what looked like a wooden rod out of his water-soaked sleeve. "I seem to have contracted a vicious strain of celebrity."
The Doctor grinned and climbed to his feet as well, his eyes glued to the potential weapon. A memory surfaced, many disappointments ago, a brief meeting and yet briefer explanation. "Is that a magic wand?" he inquired.
The stranger seemed a little taken aback by the Doctor's enthusiasm, but the expression was quickly erased from his face. His stance shifted; a pair of bespectacled, startling green eyes suspiciously surveyed the Doctor from his converse shoes to his perpetually unmanageable, and presently plastered to his skull, hair.
"Okay…" the man said noncommittally, and then shrugged to himself. "Yes. You don't seem very surprised, but at the same time you don't seem like you've ever seen one before…?"
It was a very nice, comprehensive observation, of course, and the Doctor would have applauded, but there were so much more pressing matters that he decided to postpone his admiration and sort out his priorities.
"I'm not from around here," he explained, bouncing. It really was quite bitingly cold, still, although that was probably his perception, since he had been cold before he had taken a swim and climbed out into an air-conditioned poolroom.
The man surveyed him again, paying much attention to the sonic screwdriver clutched in the Doctor's hand. "Not from Newport, not British, or not terrestrial?" he asked.
The Doctor couldn't quite stop himself from doing the fish impression – the human was a little stupefying, even aside from the whole magic thing. And magic reminded him of Harry, and now that he thought about it, the stranger looked a lot like Harry, or rather he looked like Harry would have looked if Harry was older, maybe the equivalent of forty years of human age, because even after all this time the Doctor had not yet found a sufficient explanation for what or who Harry was (Jack didn't count, because Jack was wrong and the Doctor would have noticed something that wrong about someone he had just met, and if he by some miracle hadn't, the TARDIS certainly wouldn't have liked Harry so much). Still, the resemblance was uncanny. The facial structure, the eye-colour, the spectacles, the hair, all resembled the teenage-looking magically inclined intruder he had met.
"Yes," the Doctor said.
"I generally don't like to assume," the stranger spoke, accepting the response at face value with the same aplomb with which the Doctor had accepted magic – and obviously that meant he had at least as much familiarity with extraterrestrials as the Doctor had with magic – and then he started waving the wand around. He looked very picturesquely fantastical. "In this case, however, I'd like to believe that you weren't one of the group that had planted and set off that device."
The Doctor's head swivelled at the mention of a device. He determined his current position in relation to his previous one near Newport, mentally measured the ravine that had been created, extrapolated what kind of technology could have been used to create it and counted how much energy it would have needed and where it would have been located. Two seconds later, he replied: "I'm not, but I'm also fairly sure it was a bastardised Malmooth terra-forming shaker-upper – and let me just express how very limited your language is – but it's definitely not the Malmooth using it, so you're most likely dealing with a different species or an interspecies association. What is it about this planet? Everyone wants it! Everyone! Take it or use it or destroy it or just sell its nuclear fallout to the highest bidder – do you know? In just a bit more than a decade, there's going to be Cybermen up there," the Doctor exclaimed, pointing upwards to the ceiling-obscured Moon. "That's another thing, the Cybermen. Is it just me, or are they like cockroaches?"
"A strangely Earthian similitude for a self-proclaimed alien, Mister," the stranger replied. He didn't seem like he had ignored the Doctor's soliloquy, but it had definitely left him way too impassive. For a human. If he was human. Because if he was Harry, he might not have been human.
Oh, he was interesting.
"It's 'Doctor'," the Doctor said. "And there's nothing Earthian about it. Cockroaches invaded your planet long before any other extraterrestrial species, and they did it covertly and non-confrontationally, so it was a few millennia before anyone noticed, and by then they could claim acquisitive prescription."
The Doctor turned back to his companion and found him looking up from whatever 'incantation' he had been so occupied with. "Another 'Doctor'?" the man asked, mouth curving in a rather unpleasant downward curl. "And I suppose you're the 'the' Doctor as well?" He, sadly, disregarded all the interesting information about his fellow species.
"The…" the Doctor paused, thinking about how to answer that little trick question, before he settled on: "…the only 'the'?" At least, he had never known of another Doctor. It was quite possible, naturally – there were only so many unique appellations available to the Time Lords – but even so, helping other species had never been high on any Gallifreyan list. Also, compassion had been considered almost shameful. Which, in hindsight, was one of the reasons why the Doctor had been ridiculed by his peers, and also why he found humans to be so amazing.
The stranger (who, now that Doctor thought about it, most likely was Harry) gave him another considering look, so the Doctor hastened to add: "But, you could say that I get a new face every once in a while."
Harry had originally thought that causality was a pain in the arse, but after he had learned to live in it and had become familiar with its pitfalls, he could appreciate the amount of sense it made. It was still nauseatingly, headache-inducingly complicated at times, of course. For example, there had been that one report of his in the MAGIC division of the UNIT archives, dated from 2059, that he would discover in 2209 by triggering a hidden subroutine in a search engine by changing his password to Car22Har?08Mar_Fri/132.
The report mentioned his as-of-yet inexperienced participation in the obligatory saving of the Earth from an alien group. He had glimpsed the word 'Doctor' in the report before he had closed it to prevent himself from learning more than he should have known. Of course he had Apparated back (hundred and fifty years), and of course his uncanny instinct – and some unusual readings – led him to the spot where the first device was set off.
Also, naturally, he had managed to save someone before he had even taken a good look around.
Less routinely, said person claimed to be an extraterrestrial, and Harry was inclined to believe him. His other claim about changing his face was a little less probable – the known species that could morph at will were aggressive, carnivorous and possessed of extremely low verbal intelligence.
"The old one gets out of fashion? Or you get bored looking into the mirror?" Harry mused mockingly, trying to gauge the person he had saved. He had a niggling feeling that the guy would be trouble, but there just wasn't the usual evil vibe. Also, he was inclined to believe the 'Malmooth shaker-upper' explanation.
The Doctor – provided he was telling the truth – proactively found the nearest exit and started unlocking it using a buzzing little cylindrical device with what looked like blue LED light on top.
"You could say it's a genetic predisposition," the Doctor replied, grinning when the lock clicked and whirred and the door obediently slid aside. "I cannot quite control it. Not like you do. If you're the 'the' Harry Potter, then I think this is not what you really look like."
"Why would you think that?" Harry inquired, scowling freely, since he was following the Doctor into the vacant corridor illuminated with pale blue energy-saving pharos panels.
He hadn't bothered to check his glamour against his contemporary pictures before he had Apparated, but he didn't think he had miscalculated enough for it to be immediately apparent to someone who didn't even know him personally.
The alternative was, of course, that the Doctor already knew him – similarly to how a 'the' Doctor had already known Harry more than two hundred years ago (from Harry's perspective) in Surrey.
"You look different in twenty seventy, when I return your ape," the Doctor replied, waving at a security camera mounted in the corner of a stairwell.
"My- What do you mean, my ape? I had never seen the ape before!" Harry exclaimed, momentarily forgetting that he was chronologically before twenty seventy, and therefore should know nothing about an attempted Cybermen invasion, or any celebrations after it would fall through, and least of all anything about a monkey. The monkey still stumped him, as did the man that had delivered it. Harry had seen the face in his pensieve often enough to be sure he would recognise the man if he met him, but almost hundred and forty years had gone by and no luck.
But if the Doctor really could change his face, it might have been him… except that each of the three men Harry had met that had introduced themselves as 'the' Doctor was completely different, not only in appearance, but in speech and attitude, too.
Damn Harry's inborn aversion toward all libraries and archives! If he had been Hermione, he would have done his research on 'the Doctor' as soon as the MAGIC had negotiated an information exchange with the UNIT.
Supposing this man was the same person, he and Harry would get to know each other. Harry still wasn't sure how he felt about that, and presently concentrated on sabotaging UNIT surveillance, since the Doctor obviously wasn't going to do it. The first negotiations between UNIT and MAGIC would be initiated next year (for all he knew, it would happen because of his presence here and now), which basically meant that UNIT would automatically consider him a threat, not to mention that he had just spontaneously appeared in the basement of their training facility with an alien in tow, seconds after some alien group had attacked Earth. Best to avoid contact.
"I believe that," the Doctor conceded (Harry had to mentally backtrack to figure out he was still talking about the monkey). "Either way, I should like to inform you that you wanted to meet me at Car'Antares the day after the Kakumei – your later self requested that I tell your earlier self."
Harry let his wand down, satisfied that both he and the Doctor were under Notice-me-not spells and enveloped in personal dead-zones for any scanners and detectors used on Earth up to the beginning of the twenty-third century.
"Thanks, I suppose," he said, with light irony. Now if only he knew where was the 'Car Antares' place and what was the 'Kakumei.' Or when was the 'Kakumei,' at least. It seemed that Harry was going to lose objectivity about his past knowledge if he would have thought that this message would mean anything to him now.
The Doctor, untouched by sarcasm, clasped his hands behind his back and grinned. "Oh, it's my pleasure. And speaking of pleasure-" He found another password-protected door and pulled his handy little device to do Merlin-knew-what to the electronic lock. "-I always thought that it was ridiculous to delegate it to second place after work. Work should be pleasure, or at the very least it should be pleasure for those of us smart enough to ponder if it should be pleasure. Also-"
"You hate silence a lot, don't you?" Harry inquired, not as much out of curiosity as simply to halt the avalanche of purposeless words.
"It's deafening," the Doctor returned without thinking about it and straightened from his examination of the electric lock. Which did, apparently, somehow, become unlocked.
"What is that thing, anyway?" Harry asked, squinting at the wonder-device. He didn't recall seeing it with either of the 'previous Doctors.'
"A sonic screwdriver," the Doctor explained, leading the way out into frigid November.
A wall of cold slammed into both of them, and Harry closed his mind against the stinging killer-snowflakes that attacked his face. "Not a weapon?" he pressed through chattering teeth.
"No," the Doctor replied in the same tone, and decisively moved back into the temperature-regulated corridor. "No weapons."
"A pacifist?" Harry guessed, and finally managed to get his wand to comply. A moment later he was comfortable, with his work clothes (he had given up on robes after he had left his family) back in a usable state. He could have cursed himself for being too bloody distracted to think about keeping himself alive and healthy. And hale.
"A Doctor," the Doctor replied, staring cross-eyed at the eddy of snowflakes that formed between his hands after Harry had made them both temporarily impervious. "What was that?"
"A Drying and a Warming Charm," Harry explained. "I don't want you to catch your death. Also, it would be wise not to leave a wet trail wherever we go." Not that it would matter if they were going outside. Harry didn't like the idea, but needs must. Besides, he disliked the idea of the Earth being invaded and/or destroyed by aliens much more intensely.
"Thank you," the Doctor said absently, and surveyed the exterior of the mostly darkened training facility. "I need to contact the people we want to stop and then I want to know all about spontaneous, unassisted hyperspace-travel."
Harry sighed. He should have known. Nevertheless, he nodded and decided to Apparate for the abandoned Torchwood Four facility, since it had all the technology they needed and none of the people that would get in the way. Plus the Fidelius Charm – ever so practical.
Harry didn't actually do much explaining about his way of travelling – not that he had much to explain. He didn't even use the three 'D's anymore, so it was really just a think-will-push process for him. A split second decision with a flex of his mental muscles at best. It was easy.
He hadn't known that Apparition was using hyperspace, and if he was to be truthful, he didn't have a clue what 'hyperspace' was.
"This is Torchwood Four," the Doctor pointed out, running around a quaintly cyberpunk bridge and examining the equipment. It seemed as if he had already gotten over the bout of pouting Harry's explanation of 'it's magic' had elicited. "But Torchwood Four was lost!"
Harry shrugged, perched on a sofa that had lasted through the time only thanks to some preservation charms, and turned on the computer on the table in front of him. It obviously didn't belong there, but he was an honourary purveyor of chaos, so he was duty-bound to support some disorganisation. "Yes, the Royal Family lost it. And maybe someone found it and made sure they wouldn't get it back anytime soon."
The Doctor glanced up. "Magic?"
Harry noncommittally inclined his head. His computer was old – late twentieth century, laced with alien technology. The keyboard was familiar, though, and he didn't have much trouble with the software, since it was English and purposely user-friendly. He set about resurrecting the base's receivers and activating subroutines that, theoretically, should have copied data from other Torchwood bases.
This place was Hermione's pet project. Officially, it belonged to MAGIC, but the organisation had decades to go before it was ready to start actively reacting to the threat from space, and as of yet only Hermione's inner circle would have known and tended to this place. Harry himself, certainly, and Hugo, then Hermione's colleagues Megan Jones, Delta Chant, Perdita Durand, Euan Abercrombie, the Harpers, in twenty years or so Susan Foreman, and the triplets Weasley were the elite that had (would) put together this place and prepare it for use later on.
The Doctor continued puttering around and mumbling to himself. He never switched languages, which was the first indication Harry had that the Doctor wasn't actually speaking English and their mutual understanding was the result of technology so advanced it was indiscernible from magic.
"You're crossing your own timeline," the Doctor accused, out of blue.
Harry blinked. He supposed that, to someone smarter than he was, he might have given enough clues to come to that conclusion, but he was glad that it wasn't expected of him to trace the progression of that deduction.
"Predetermination," Harry replied. He wasn't in the mood to explain that he was once again doing something he knew he would do because he had already done it. Besides, if the Doctor was who he said he was, he understood better than anyone. "Have a look at this. Maybe you can find something."
The Doctor plopped onto the sofa next to Harry, put on a pair of glasses almost as ridiculous as Harry's used to be, and accepted the keyboard Harry passed him. He started typing, much too fast for Harry to follow.
"Tea?" Harry offered.
"Hot," the Doctor replied, not taking his eyes off the screen.
Harry went off to find the supplies. He could have conjured the tea, but conjured food was little but imitation, and after the half-hour he and the Doctor had had, they deserved real warm drinks. Besides, it was soothing. Harry gladly took the time off from saving the world to make tea. He could think, for a while, free of the pressure.
He wasn't certain of the Doctor. What he remembered was vastly different from what he was seeing, and this new face of the Doctor seemed to be coupled with an indurate attitude. Certainly, the thirty-five or so minutes since the shaker-upper had gone off couldn't be taken as a true indication of the man's character. Still, Harry's dislike of people who were looking for something in him was deep-seated, and stemmed from a lifetime of being pressured to live up to his own reputation. The Doctor wasn't being exactly dismissive, but Harry felt it rather keenly that the man was looking beyond Harry, for something that he had expected to find but wasn't seeing.
If they knew each other in Harry's future that was the Doctor's past, that made sense. Nevertheless, Harry disliked the sensation.
He returned to the bridge-like room with a tea-tray, shrouded in the herbal smell of the brew.
"I found them!" the Doctor reported excitedly, grinning at Harry. "I'm establishing connection. You want to see?"
"Not really," Harry replied. He set the tray down onto the table, next to the computer display, and took a seat on the nearest swivel chair.
The Doctor filled his cup, drained it, filled it again and drained it again. Then he sighed in contentment. Apparently, his digestive track was made of asbestos, or otherwise his cells weren't based on proteins, and Harry decided quickly not to let his mind go down that path, because it definitely wasn't big and bad enough to go by itself. It might have gotten lost. Or robbed. Or raped and murdered. Biology wasn't his forte. Frankly, nothing scientific was.
"What are we dealing with?" Harry inquired, while the screen proudly displayed 'INITIALIZING.' He wondered why the software was American. Or if it wasn't, why it would use American English. He had met enough aliens to know that even they preferred British English.
"Someone new!" the Doctor claimed. "At least, I've never met them. Or heard of them. But I was right – they're a mixed group. Interspecies."
"Any ideas what they want with our planet?" Harry asked, but then the 'INITIALIZING' notice disappeared and a green, hedgehog-like – or was it cactus-like? – face appeared in its place.
"Greetings," the Doctor said. "I am the Doctor."
The Vinvocci (Harry hadn't met one of those before, but they looked fantastical enough for him to remember what the race was called) said something that Harry couldn't understand but which, judging by his expression and tone, was a curse.
Harry almost reflexively hexed the Doctor when he felt two fingers touching his temple.
"-your education is of no consequence," the Vinvocci was saying. "You are complicit of crimes against the natural environment of this planet. Your jury agreed unanimously. You were judged guilty. Your punishment is death."
"I have the right to meet my accuser face to face!" the Doctor demanded.
The Vinvocci sneered. "You have only the rights which we allow you. This is not one of them. You have the right to surrender. You have the right to pray to your deity. You have the right to die."
Harry and the Doctor exchanged worried glances. Harry wasn't sure if the Doctor was feeling the same vibe he was, but there was definitely a Dark-Lord-esque undertone to the speech. Sure, the Vinvocci was only a representative of a group, but maybe genocidal megalomania was contagious?
"I have a complaint about your conduct," the Doctor said, apparently pursuing a different parallel. "I wish to speak with your manager."
The Vinvocci hesitated and turned to someone out of the range of the webcam.
A growl of exasperation could be heard, and then the point of view shifted and they were looking at a scowling – as much as it was possible for this species to convey scowling – Blowfish.
"We only obey the laws of nature!" the Blowfish exclaimed, as the very picture of hubris. "Speak to nature, if you think it will help you, human! Pray and beg! See if she forgives you for the suffering you caused her!"
"Your ship is the old model of Proxima Cruiser's Discus line," the Doctor pointed out. "It's been recalled from circulation eighty-seven years after the last vessel was produced, because it was fuelled by exhaustible resources-"
The Vinvocci flinched.
"Our engines have been modified, human. We need not justify ourselves to you!" the Blowfish snarled.
"I so hate being called human," the Doctor muttered under his breath.
"Should have gotten a different face then," Harry replied just as quietly, smirking a little.
"I got stuck with it because I spend so much time saving your people," the Doctor grumbled. "It's your fault for being so brilliant. For a pack of primates."
"Silence!" It was the first time Harry had ever heard a fish hiss.
"No one here recognises your legal authority," Harry told the Blowfish and the cringing Vinvocci, who was staring at the screen, which must have been full of the Doctor's face, since the man was leaning in really close to the camera. Harry observed the horror growing on the green face. Maybe the Doctor did have the kind of reputation he had implied by using the definite article. "You have committed an act of war against the citizens of this planet. Therefore, we declare war on you. You have half an hour to surrender, before we attack!"
The Doctor glared at Harry.
Would that the other aliens had taken Harry's bluff (Torchwood Four didn't have any weapons to speak of, much less something capable of destroying an orbiting ship, and Harry had never heard of any magic that could be used on such a scope) at least half as seriously, because they merely laughed. That was, the Blowfish and some of its flunkies who were standing out of sight laughed; the Vinvocci shivered.
"Oooh!" a Hoix appeared on the screen. "Kitten's got claws!"
"Can you get any more cliché?" Harry complained. He leaned over to the Doctor and put the call on hold by pressing a combination of keys Hermione had drummed into his head once upon a time. "Are you sure they're alien?"
The Doctor nodded vigorously, frowning at the screen. "Yes, they are – of course they are alien. They definitely aren't human. Your human psychiatry, and let me just say how much I don't like that, never mind that you people trundle around calling it science of all things, and it's got nothing to do with whatever diagnosis I might or might not have had forced upon me back – forth, actually – in the day, but anyway, no one of your species who loves nature to this degree is considered sane. Which is saying something, because your species invented the electric toilet brush. But-"
"You digress," Harry cut him off.
"So I do. I do that. I digress," the Doctor agreed, nodding to himself. "What I was going to say is that yes, they are alien, and yes, they are smart enough to have watched and studied the planet they were going to 'liberate of the oppression of the sentient species brutalising it' for long enough to learn the general expectations of villainy a local person would have."
"Ah…" Harry had seen far more farfetched things than aliens watching bad movies to find out how to intimidate people. Actually, that even sort of made sense. "Out of curiosity, do those general expectations include a long-winded victory speech in which they would explain their entire dastardly plan just to watch us squirm and beg and cry and escape at the last moment to save the day… you think?"
The Doctor froze with his hands suspended an inch above the keyboard. His jaw sank and he straightened, open-mouthed, to stare at Harry for a moment, before his mind went 'zing' and he pointed both forefingers at Harry's chest. "Harry Potter… I like the way your mind works."
He re-activated the connection.
"So," the Doctor said, "my friends don't want to admit it, but I know we don't stand a chance." His act wasn't all that believable, but that was okay, because – with the exception of the Vinvocci – the group was too busy patting their backs to observe the proceedings more closely.
"I see you are smarter, human!" the Blowfish said smarmily. "Of all those useless organisations who called us, you are the only one to know when you're finished!"
The Doctor grimaced.
Harry clucked his tongue to attract the man' attention, then shook his head and mouthed 'act cowed,' which, admittedly, must have been difficult to decipher without the sound. Harry sighed. He was so much better than the Doctor at looking pathetic.
"This UNIT! And the Queen of the Britain! What is it Britain? One measly island!" the Blowfish was exclaiming needlessly enthusiastically. "And the Torchwood! And the USA! All the little people, separated into tiny little nations, like a race for who is going to destroy the nature faster! Shame on you!" He hesitated, and then a sneer stretched across his face. "Death on you!"
"We'll stop you," Harry claimed, from out of sight, putting as much desperation into the claim as he could.
The Doctor's fists were clenched, very theatrically conveying the same message.
It was a Malmooth who broke first, letting them have their much-desired crumbs that would lead them to their objective: "Mur - you cannot hope to stop us - chak! Mur – we will set off the blasts simultaneously at twenty-seven locations-"
"Silence!" the Blowfish commanded.
"Oh, let Murchak have his minute of glory," an honest-to-Merlin Raxacoricofallapatorian spoke up, and gestured the Malmooth to continue. "It was his idea, after all."
"Mur – the program has already been activated – chak!"
"What?" The Blowfish rapidly turned around and practically ran to a console. "What part of 'wait on my orders' didn't you understand?"
"The part where it's you giving the orders," the Raxacoricofallapatorian said unapologetically.
"You've got twenty-eight minutes, but I bet you can't stop the countdown," a Bruydac informed the Blowfish gleefully.
"We should get out of here before the Judoon come down on us," the Vinvocci advised.
The Malmooth scoffed. "Mur – yes, so very intelligent – chak. Mur – then the signal will not be sent and the devices will not be detonated – chak."
At this point the Doctor cut the transmission. He stood up, prompting Harry to follow the example.
"Are you thinking what I am thinking?" the Doctor asked, setting the keyboard down onto the table.
"Probably not," Harry replied candidly.
The Doctor put his glasses away and clapped. "Malmooth devices activated from a Proxima vessel mainframe means that they operate in the usual four dimensions and therefore have a transmitter that can be disabled without causing any unwanted side-effects that would rip apart this reality, which means that if we can get on that ship and disable the transmitter and persuade our nature-loving friends to give up their dastardly plan-"
"Merlin save me from eternal optimism," Harry grumbled. He was right in that they were thinking very different things. His idea had been to invade and seize the ship by force. He doubted any of the extraterrestrials had ever faced magic, so it wasn't going to be much of a challenge.
The Doctor dismissively waved his hand. "Pfft! You have the ability to transport both of us across space to a point of your choosing. I have a sonic screwdriver. They won't know what hit them!"
Harry didn't really see the disadvantages of going through with the plan. If it would fall through, like he was almost certain it would, there would be no problem with switching tactics to a shitload of Stunnings and Petrifications and seizing the ship for the good of the human race and profit of the MAGIC.
"Hug?" Harry asked, opening his arms for the Side-along Apparition.
"Don't mind if I do," the Doctor replied, grinning, and stepped forth.
"Someone has a sick sense of humour," Harry opined.
The Doctor didn't really agree, but this one time he didn't have the support to argue the veracity of Harry's implication. Scenarios were running through his head as he stared upwards (relatively) at the bottom of what was the transmitter, welded into the hull during the boasted engine upgrades.
Structural harm to the transmitter would be harm to the hull, which would kill them all, with the possible exception of Harry (and he was sure it was Harry, because there couldn't be two such men in the universe).
To use the sonic he needed a certain interface, which was apparently out there in the vacuum.
He didn't have a pressure suit handy.
The ship was old and unauthorised alterations had been made to it, so it couldn't withstand either a crash landing, or partial structural damage.
The crew was hostile, so Harry couldn't safely transport them out of harm's way.
Last, the crew was hostile, so the Doctor couldn't get to the mainframe (where they had gathered to watch the results of their terra-forming) and sabotage the countdown from there.
"It is a bit of a pickle," he agreed.
"As I said, sick sense of humour," Harry repeated, looking askance at the Doctor.
"What about magic?" the Doctor asked. It seemed prudent at this point.
"That would be cheating," Harry pointed out mockingly, and then, seriously, continued: "I don't know what I'd be doing. I'd probably kill everyone aboard, the two of us included. And that's not to speak of what could happen if magic works differently in space than it does on the surface of the planet. No ley lines up here."
"Somebody didn't make their homework," the Doctor complained, but he was already brainstorming again, so he didn't pay attention to any possible response. It was difficult to pick apart the options when none of them were truly impossible, only very, very difficult. He also didn't have an accurate estimate of Harry's skills, so there was a limit to how much he could rely on the other man.
"If we neutralise them, what would we do with them?" Harry asked. "Give them to UNIT? Or Torchwood?"
It was a valid question. In the year 2059, the UNIT had changed from what it had once been into a rather mercenary organisation. They were still reasonably friendly, even helpful, to the Doctor, but they had stopped being human and became human instead.
"Give them the chance to leave-"
"And do this to some other planet?" Harry cut in, scowling as if it was the Doctor's fault that there were creatures who refused to refrain from harming other creatures.
The Doctor wasn't such an optimist that he would believe a word of an already established terrorist. Nevertheless, he wasn't a policeman, and it wasn't his business what anyone was doing, unless it threatened those whom he had chosen to protect. If it was some other planet, not Earth, then the Doctor wouldn't be there, striving to protect the inhabitants. Full stop.
He recalled that his previous incarnation thought that Harry was much too nice. Now he could see why.
"I've seen your kind of mercy before," Harry spat. "Give them a chance, and another, and another, because we must be kind and just and magnanimous. And who gives a damn about the innocents they'll kill tomorrow?"
The Doctor found himself looking into a pair of green eyes. The gaze directed at him was scorching him.
"Because, Doctor," Harry continued in a lower tone, "you don't like to think about it, but with every second chance you offer to someone who had already proved themselves inclined to kill, you are robbing many others of their first chances."
The Doctor could hear his hearts beating madly. He could believe that he would love and hate such a man as Harry in equal measures.
"Those others are not my responsibility," the Doctor countered weakly. He was just giving a token protest, and Harry knew it.
"With great power comes great responsibility," Harry quoted a little banally. "Your inaction can result in people's suffering. Yes, you're right, they're not your responsibility. Tell yourself that when you can't fall asleep at night for the weight of your conscience."
"Damn you…" the Doctor whispered. "I won't become a killer."
"Someone like you already is," Harry said cruelly, "if only inadvertently. People like us – we carry a kind of aura that effects everything we touch. We can't stop everyone from dying. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions, because even not making a decision is making a decision for us-"
"Enough," the Doctor ordered. He set his jaw, pulled his shoulders back, and strode off toward the exit that would lead him to engineering. He would find a space suit and do this the hard way.
And then he would offer them the chance to leave.
Harry wasn't really seething mad at the Doctor, more like annoyed.
Yes, he could understand the feeling of emptiness that came with being the last, being left behind. And he could sympathise with the horror and self-disgust that every moral being felt at killing another moral being, no matter if the morals were somehow skewed. It was pointless to agonise about it – he still remembered the ridiculous amount of self-flagellation to which he had subjected himself as a child after he had found that the prophecy would force him to kill – but that didn't mean manslaughter should ever become mundane.
The Doctor and Harry were both beings that affected the universe just by existing. It was forever, it was exhausting and oftentimes plain depressing, but it was fact and Harry wasn't going to close his eyes to it.
That was the reason why he was now standing in the centre of the alien ship's bridge, after he had Stunned all present crew-members (easy, taking into account that they had never before encountered magic and that he was wearing Notice-me-not and Disillusionment Spells) except the Vinvocci, who was trying to make himself as small as possible, hiding under a console, never mind that his grass green skin contrasted with the soft grey interior of the ship quite sharply.
Harry cancelled the spells he was wearing.
"What do you want?" the Vinvocci demanded, peeking out over a ripped-out and upturned seat.
"I don't know what you mean," Harry replied. He nonverbally Summoned all the weapons in the room onto a pile – there were surprisingly few – and Vanished them.
The Vinvocci stared at him, wide-eyed. He blinked repeatedly, as if trying to dispell an odd afterimage, and said with confidence that sounded ridiculous from someone crouching under a counter: "I thought it was a pretty simple question."
Harry shrugged. Leaning over some switches, he closely examined a readout that presumably reported on the installed devices. He couldn't understand anything. "…I wouldn't say no to some sugar-coated almonds?" he suggested absently. Maybe chocolate, too. Chocolate helped lift the mood, after all.
And did every single of his treacherous thoughts have to lead back to the Doctor?
"Is that a joke?" the Vinvocci asked, trembling.
"Is that a trick question?" Harry asked back. This was useless. He knew enough about computers to operate one, as long as the software was English, but this computer was extraterrestrial, and probably needed some serious hacking. He would have just blasted it, except that would probably crash the ship. He didn't want to kill the aliens – he just wanted them to have their deserved stay in prison.
Philosophy was such a poisonous can of worms. He didn't want to open it, if he didn't have to.
The Doctor probably felt the same way.
"Answer me, human!" the Vinvocci exclaimed, shivering and panting in his hidey hole.
"What was your question, then?" Harry returned, disinterested.
"What do you want?" the Vinvocci desperately repeated his initial question.
Harry glared at him. "I want you to stop this countdown, before any of the people down on this planet-" He pointed at a screen that displayed a picture of the Earth. "-are murdered. Unless you can give me that, you're of no use to me."
"D-don't k-kill me!" the Vinvocci begged.
Harry sneered in disgust. Was that why people were so ready to kill others? Because they didn't know what death, or fear of death, was like? He wasn't a killer by choice, but by what he perceived as necessity. There was no force that could with certainty deem someone's death as necessary, but Harry did his best, and he could console himself with that.
He pointed his wand at the Vinvocci and Stunned him, too.
The Doctor yelped when someone seized his shoulders from behind.
It wasn't often that he was snuck upon, but whether it was the rapidly running out time, or his elation at finally having found a pressure suit, or simply the assaulter's skill, the sneaking upon was successful this time.
"Two things!" Harry said as he roughly spun the Doctor around. "First – you're a bloody self-righteous prig. Second – I've got a solution."
"So do I-"
"Mine's better," Harry cut in. "But we've got eleven minutes to implement it, so I suggest we leg it."
There were times when the decision-making was much helped by the fact that the Doctor was a time-traveller, ergo he had been to the future, ergo he knew that there had been (would be) no major catastrophe striking the Earth today. Also, he knew that Harry would not die and if he himself did, he would regenerate from it.
He followed Harry through the manhole and down a maintenance shaft.
"Start talking!" he yelled downwards as they scaled a ladder.
"I've neutralised the whole crew," Harry said and, just as the Doctor's stomach clenched at the image of magical slaughter, the man added: "They're nice and unconscious and waiting to be transported to the surface."
Harry jumped off the third stave and ducked through another manhole into a Bruydac-sized corridor. The Doctor bit the inside of his cheek and hurried after him, feeling maybe a little guilty. It was difficult not to expect some kind of violent instinct from the person he was attracted to. After all, he had a nearly catastrophic history of caring for people who disappointed him.
He should have believed that Harry was different. Occasionally, the optimism he would have liked to feel failed him.
"You can transport them?" the Doctor asked, just to be sure, because the absence of the TARDIS remained in the forefront of his mind.
"Yup," Harry called from the mouth of the corridor. He opened a transparent panel for himself and the Doctor and entered the bridge.
The collective crew, counting fourteen members of eight different races were slumped on the floor, piled up and connected with a long string that looped around each individual's wrist (or pincer, in one case).
"I'll portkey them down. It's different form Apparition, but they should survive the trip, even through the vacuum and the atmosphere."
"Should?" the Doctor asked unhappily.
"Never been done before," Harry replied, shrugging. "But, hey, we survived the Apparition up here, and that's never been done before either."
The Doctor wondered if this was how his companions saw him. It wasn't very flattering.
"Anyway," Harry continued – disturbingly, it was a lot like looking into a mirror – grabbing a personal reader from one of the consoles and waving it, "you need to look at this and find where they've put the devices, so someone can go and get them later on. Torchwood. Or UNIT. I don't give a damn. But we can't just leave them lying around-"
"Gimme!" the Doctor demanded. He snatched the reader out of Harry's hand. It was a lot of information. Rather than waste time reading and memorising it now, he pulled out his trusty sonic screwdriver and downloaded it.
"Then, we need to blow up this ship before the signal is sent. Which would be-" He glanced over at the decipherable numbers on one screen. "-in seven and half minutes, roughly. Ideas?"
"They've gutted the engineering and put in Malmooth engines. They are very environmentally conscious." The Doctor felt that this should be emphasised, since every good thing about the motley group of the interplanetary cousin of Earth Liberation Front might count in securing them lighter punishments.
"Conclusion?" Harry prompted.
"If we destroy the cooling, it will overheat and explode," the Doctor explained.
"Two and half minutes. More likely three."
Harry nodded and muttered a chant while pointing his wand at the string binding together his captives. The pile of extraterrestrials vanished.
Harry spun and grabbed the Doctor's arm. "Lead the way."
The Doctor couldn't quite suppress a grin. "Run!"
"By the way," Harry said as they jogged down another of the endless corridors, hoping that the Doctor knew where they were going, because he was already completely lost, and mentally laughing at the inanity of his comment, "my favourite spot in Little Whinging was the swings."
"What?" the Doctor exclaimed, pointing his buzzing screwdriver with the blue-lit tip at a locked manhole.
"I thought I'd offer a non sequitur, too?" Harry paused and leaned against a plain wall panel. He wasn't out of breath yet – these days it took more exertion to wind him – but he didn't mind a few seconds of rest.
The Doctor scowled at the lock he was fighting, and pressed out: "Oh, non sequitur is an art – you cannot do such a hack job of it! In fact, non sequitur is as much an art as segue-"
Harry grabbed his shoulder, wrenched him out of the way, and pointed his wand at the unyielding lock. "Reducto!"
"Oh," the Doctor said as the metal groaned and the passage opened for them. "Good aim." He climbed through, careful of the splintered, charred pieces of steel (or whatever the ship was made of). "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Harry replied as they hurried down another corridor. How big was the ship exactly?
"Little Whinging?" the Doctor repeated, sounding as pensive as one could while running and stumbling over unattached cables. "Really? Whinging? And Little? Must be in Britain…"
"Reducto!" Harry opened the block on the other end of the corridor.
They entered a room that was positively cavernous compared to the rest of the ship. Also, it was literally freezing in there.
Harry promptly renewed their Warming Charms.
The Doctor raised the screwdriver above his head and started buzzing everything in sight, looking like a deranged will-o'-the-wisp flitting through the darkened room. Then lights clicked on, flooding the space with soft illumination other than the bit coming in through the open manhole. Most of the artificial cavern was filled with a huge cylinder that thrummed – or, more likely, roared, but mostly below the audibility threshold.
"Oh!" the Doctor shouted. There was, strangely, no echo. "We have to destroy one of these pumps." He pointed out what looked like decorative girders. They were centrally symmetric, leading from the walls to the cylinder in regular intervals.
"Which one?" Harry asked.
"Doesn't matter at all," the Doctor said. He activated the screwdriver again, and let its blue light dance over the girders. "Eeny meeny miney-"
"Reducto!" Harry cast.
"That's not how it goes!" the Doctor complained.
There was a crash. The third girder on the right from them, the one at which the Doctor was pointing, was blown out. A coolant started chugging out of the open end of a pipe, and Harry hastily cast Bubble-head Charms at himself and the Doctor. He liked to think that the Doctor wouldn't have forgotten to point out that the stuff was toxic if it was, but better safe than sorry.
For a good measure, Harry destroyed two more pumps. He offered his arm – this time he was confident that they would survive the Apparition even without extensive bodily contact – but the Doctor remained standing beneath the towering cylinder behind which the engine was hidden, staring.
"Shh," the Doctor shushed him. "I'm counting."
Harry doubtfully looked at the leaking pumps, at the rapidly spreading pool of coolant on the floor, at the sparks where an open circuit shorted out, and then at the cylinder in front of him which was – hopefully – rapidly growing hotter until it would explode. The most profound thing to say that occurred to him was: "Uh – what about the radiation?"
"Right," the Doctor, much to Harry's surprise, agreed. "We should get a move on. Radiation poisoning. Bad way to die." He reached for Harry's arm.
"Why here?" the Doctor whinged, pouting and ostentatiously scowling at the red-beretted young men and women saluting him.
"Because this is where I sent the captives," Harry replied with over-exaggerated patience, as if he were talking to a five year old.
The Doctor pouted more intensely, until a UNIT Major led the saluting crowd away so as to please their visitors.
"This doesn't disconcert you?" the Doctor asked, glaring at every motion that might have led to a salute.
Harry didn't see how he was the weird one in this situation. "It's not like I am seeing them for the first time," he said. Well, they were possibly seeing him for the first time, but he was in the company of the Doctor, and as far as he had heard (gossip spread everywhere, even in the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) being with the Doctor amounted to instant security clearance. Score.
"Oh yes. You were at the UNIT base before," the Doctor mused, grin dangerously growing. "Have you ever met Martha?"
Harry shook his head, now becoming more nervous as the vestibule emptied with the exception of heavily armed posted guards. "No. Not that I remember."
He remembered Harmony Waters, a UNIT Major, even though that probably wasn't her real name. Also, there had been – would be – a Lieutenant Doumeki. But that was still a century and half away, and right now there were different officers, and his memory really wasn't that perfect. He recalled a couple of people he had personally met at the scenes of fights, but that would be later, after he would have abandoned his family.
"Pity," the Doctor quipped. "She would have a heart attack."
He really was asking for it. "Then I suppose it's a good thing I never met her?"
The Doctor stopped bouncing and stared at Harry, slack-jawed. "Are you being, in a strange and suspicious switch of characteristics, literal?"
Harry didn't think he overused metaphors that much, but the Doctor seemed to think that he should. Or maybe that he would in the future. And that the Doctor himself wouldn't… "You were using a hyperbole, which is a sort of a metaphor," Harry pointed out. "I think. I'm not a linguist. Anyway, I thought it was expected of me." If nothing else, it was fitting.
The Doctor would have probably retorted something biting and witty, but then a dark-skinned woman in a white coat came up to meet them. She was quite pretty, Harry thought – all big brown eyes and an easy smile – except that she was looking at the Doctor as if she was seeing the sunrise for the first time in her life.
"Hello," the Doctor said. "I'm the Doctor. Who are you?"
The woman offered her hand. "Leticia Smith, Doctor, a geology and seismology expert. It's an honour to meet you – and your companion?"
"Go on, introduce yourself," the Doctor said, gently shoving Harry forwards.
"Harry Potter," Harry said, shaking the woman's hand. There went his nice anonymity, together with the lack of staring and/or snickers. "Nice to meet you, Miss Smith."
"Likewise, Mr Potter." She unsuccessfully tried to hide a chuckle behind her hand. "I'm sorry; it's just such a literary name. My grandmother adored the story." She quickly pulled herself together and, mostly serene, smiled at the Doctor. "General Folchart wants to speak with you, Doctor. I'll keep an eye on Mr Potter in the meantime."
So, she was Harry's guard. At least she was nice about it. And pretty. And so far thought that Harry's name was a funny coincidence, or maybe that his parents had been fans. Why had he not thought to change his name in the books? Oh, damn it, one would have thought that at sixty-something he wouldn't have been quite that young and stupid anymore.
"Harry?" the Doctor asked.
It wasn't like Harry minded much, unless someone was going to shoot at him, or hit him over the head, or inject him with something. "Don't wander off?" he asked.
"Cross my hearts," the Doctor replied, grinning not as freely as before.
"See you," Harry said, moving away from Miss Smith, just in case.
She set out toward the lift, but before she reached it, she turned back to the Doctor (who obviously knew where he was supposed to go).
"Oh, and Doctor?" she said. "My grandmother asked me to tell you that you are a barmy old codger, and that she hopes you choke on a Puking Pastille."
Harry choked. That was – straight out of the book. Dumbledore's description of himself as relayed by Dobby. Applied to the Doctor. Damnably fitting.
"What?" the Doctor yelped. "Why?"
"For not picking up your phone," Miss Smith replied with perceptible reproach.
The lift door opened with a ding.
"But… Martha?" the Doctor said. "Where is she?"
Miss Smith shook her head. "I don't think visiting her grave is going to make much difference," she said sharply, and gestured Harry to precede her. "Get in, please, Mr Potter."
Harry obediently let himself be led through the building. He tried to remember the way. It wasn't very hard, because the layout of the building was very similar to every other UNIT base, and it was designed to be well-arranged, easily negotiable, and yet more easily defensible. Miss Smith took Harry to a room that for all intents and purposes seemed to be a geology laboratory, packed with a multitude of various machines that Harry stayed well away from, because they were obviously expensive and he was too magical to mix well with most Earthian technology.
He had found, to his mild surprise, that some kinds of alien technology were more resistant to him (for example, he would have bet that the Doctor's screwdriver wouldn't have reacted to him).
"Have you known the Doctor for a long time?" Miss Jones asked, tacitly offering Harry a seat on one of the armchairs surrounding a low table laden with paperwork.
Harry sat. It wasn't comfortable, but he had been running around and didn't protest the chance to rest his feet.
"Some days it seems longer than it has been," he non-answered the first real question she posed to him.
Miss Smith smiled, took a seat opposite him, and passed him a paper printout with some satellite pictures. It was barely more intelligible to him than the data he had found on the alien ship.
"I am curious," she said. "Has he taken you to other planets, like he took my grandmother? What is the rest of the universe like?"
Harry blinked and replied with another non-answer.
Miss Smith briefly frowned, and then realised that he wasn't going to be easy prey for her information-hungry superiors.
They talked for more than an hour. It was, of course, an interrogation, but Miss Smith was so nice about it that Harry didn't mind that much. In fact, had he not had copious amount of experience with warfare and law enforcement, he might not have noticed he was being interrogated.
"So they're – what? Extraterrestrial eco-terrorists?" Miss Jones asked, laughing again. She laughed a lot, and smiled, too, all too aware that she had the gift of putting people around her at ease.
"Basically," Harry allowed.
"That is new," she professed. "You would think, in a field like geology, it would be the same thing over and over… But some days, the Earth is on the brink of destruction and I get one of the front seats." She managed to portray the right amount of awe and enthusiasm, but Harry recognised an actress.
She didn't exactly look as if she had just taken off the uniform and grabbed the nearest civilian clothes for disguise, but her posture and the calluses on her hands were legacy of a different life than that of a scientist. She might have studied geology and seismology – and it would have made sense to put her on this case if she had – but it was more likely just a handy excuse to explain her presence.
"You don't look like you've been very worried," Harry pointed out.
Miss Smith laughed again. "I grew up hearing stories about him, you know? The Doctor. He was this mythical hero. When I was really small, I imagined him like Brad Pitt in Troy, so handsome and strong and tragic… I suppose, the bottom line is that I always believed in him. So no, I wasn't worried."
That sounded like she was telling the truth. It was a believable story. If her grandmother had been the Doctor's companion and a fan of the Harry Potter books, it explained a whole lot.
"Do you not believe in anything?" she asked.
A very personal question, Harry mused, and probably posed out of genuine interest as much as because she had been ordered to ask.
"You mean like, believe in myself? Or believe in a higher being? Or fate?" Harry counter-questioned.
"Yes, any of those," Miss Smith replied, leaning back in her chair and surveying Harry, maybe trying to figure out if he resembled the literary hero intentionally or if it was an accident. "What is your faith, Mr Potter?"
"Faith…?" Harry shrugged. He had never been much of a believer. He had, a very, very long time ago, trusted Dumbledore. He had learned his lesson. Since then he put faith mostly in objectives, not into anything tangible. "You could say I believe in technology," he allowed eventually.
"Technology is science," Miss Smith argued.
"So is magic. So is the Bad Wolf – arguably," Harry pointed out.
Judging by her expression, Miss Smith didn't know what he was talking about. She would be inclined to accept magic – the Doctor thought so, and even though Harry wasn't ready to put his faith into the Doctor, his way of knowing was uncanny – but she wasn't aware of it yet. She also didn't know about the Bad Wolf. Come to think of it, how did Harry know about the Bad Wolf?
Hmm… maybe it had been Delta Chant, who had mentioned it to him. A long time ago. Well… perhaps around this time, actually.
"But we know how science works!" Miss Smith protested.
"No," Harry refuted. "You know how it works. I see a levitating Dalek and know it's not magic keeping it in the air, so I believe it is technology."
Miss Smith shook her head in exasperation. "Your worldview is completely upside down."
The Doctor hoped that Harry had survived the last hour in better shape than the Doctor had survived the meeting with General Folchart. Folchart was very young for a UNIT General, appeared to be more German than anything else, and was also an alien. Relatively alien. Genetically he was human, but he wasn't from Earth. Probably from one of the colonies, and he got somehow stranded out of his time.
The Doctor had considered offering him a lift, but the TARDIS wasn't speaking to him at the moment (he wasn't surprised – he had really gone very overboard with the Time Lord Victorious episode) and Folchart seemed happy where he was.
He had been asked about Mars, of course. He had said the bare minimum – no need to pour salt into his own wounds, and the UNIT people knew that they wouldn't get more out of him than what he offered freely – but he respected that they had a reason to be edgy. Two foiled attacks on the Earth in two days. That was – well, no, it wasn't a record. Still, it was a bit extreme.
Finding Harry wasn't much of a trial either, since Folchart's aide had been kind enough to provide directions; the Doctor didn't even need to ask. There went one of his excuses to forget that he was supposed to find Harry. Up until the moment when the aide opened his mouth and informed the Doctor where he would find Harry and that he was welcome to get him – and would he like someone to accompany him there? – the Doctor hadn't even considered whether he would keep his promise to Harry or not. His automatic reaction would have been to run away. After all, he lied routinely. He was a routine liar.
Now, armed with information, he stopped by a window and looked out into the yard. He couldn't have guessed whether they were in Britain, in the USA, in Canada or Brasilia or Poland or Australia just by looking outside. The UNIT had become worryingly uniform. Still, his senses couldn't be confused so easily, and he felt the North and South pole, felt the movement of the planet, of its single natural satellite, of the entire solar system rushing, hurtling through the galaxy that spun within the universe-
"Hello again," he said, standing in the doorway of the geology laboratory. There was, surprise, surprise, no layer of dust covering everything.
Harry gave him a thin smile. The Doctor decided to be proud of himself for, this time, keeping his word. Harry was different from his other human friends in that he didn't see the Doctor as superhuman. Different, yes. Smarter, if he had to admit it. But never superior, and never human.
The Doctor was attracted to that, he couldn't deny it. He was attracted to the mystery that was the inclusion of Harry Potter in his life, perhaps even more than he was fascinated by the mystery of River Song. If not going back on his promises was what it took to figure out Harry, then the Doctor was willing to make the experiment.
"Finished with the bigwigs?" Leticia asked.
Harry stood up, indicating that he was more than ready to leave. He didn't look too harassed, so he either had not noticed that he had been interrogated or (more likely) knew how to deal with a situation like this. It wasn't so bad at this time, but in a few hundred years the UNIT would practically be made of red tape.
"Thank you for entertaining my friend in the meantime," the Doctor said, grinning at her.
Harry scoffed. He briefly met the Doctor's eyes, and the mental balance of the scene shifted from the Doctor intruding upon Harry and Leticia to Leticia intruding upon Harry and the Doctor.
"I was happy to do so," Leticia said obligingly. "Mr Potter is delightful company."
Harry glanced ozone-layer-wards as if to point out that she could finally stop with the over-the-top friendliness before she became downright obsequious, but instead he said: "Thank you, Miss Smith. Excuse me, please."
He snuck past the young woman faster than she could catch him, and just as she was opening her mouth to say something to halt them, the Doctor called out: "Say hi from me to Martha!" pretending that he had in the meantime forgotten that she was dead.
Harry hurried down a hallway, keeping up with the Doctor.
The Doctor forbade himself grief. Everyone died, one day or another. He hated it when he left his companions or they left him, but Martha had been gone a long time ago, and anyway, if he wanted to see her, he only had to hop a few years back.
"I can Apparate us where we're going," Harry offered as they descended a staircase (the Doctor much preferred staircases to lifts, if for nothing else then because it was too damn hard to run in a lift).
"Waste of magic," the Doctor replied. "They're keeping the TARDIS in the basement. I need to talk to her." He hoped that the TARDIS' anger had run its course, and if he appeared to be contrite and regretful of his actions, she would welcome him back. Not that he regretted what he had done – he had saved Mia and Yuri – but he admitted that he shouldn't have gotten carried away.
He mentally thanked Adelaide Brooke to saving the continuum from his whim.
"TARDIS?" Harry repeated quizzically.
"I'll explain later," the Doctor replied. The basement lock gave away to his sonic, and then he – and Harry – stood at the doorstep of a huge underground garage cum hangar cum junk yard, full of cars, hovercrafts, planes, ships, spaceships and pretty much everything in between. Some were totalled, others were being taken apart, and a few stood proud, waiting for such a time when the UNIT would find use for them.
The TARDIS would be completely out of place among them.
"You found out it would be here how?" Harry inquired, staring at a rustic Sontaran hoverboat. "The secret art of asking?"
The Doctor adopted his best injured expression, even though he was feeling a bit petulant. Harry had guessed disconcertingly close. Still, he had a replica for this situation, and it was so woefully underused that he couldn't let the opportunity escape. "I thought it was time to resurrect my own, very special technique that I had not used for quite some time."
"Which is?" Harry obediently asked, making it more than obvious that he was just humouring the Doctor.
It was, therefore, disappointing, that the Doctor had to concede this round to Harry by admitting: "Keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut."
"Oh. I see how your verbal diarrhea would conflict with that," Harry said, consolingly patting the Doctor's hand.
"You're mean," the Doctor replied.
What he thought, however, was that he had been both right and wrong in his previous assessments of Harry. Right in that Harry was nice, interesting, had a sense of humour compatible with the Doctor's, and he was a delight to argue with. He had been wrong in thinking that Harry was too soft to survive the cruelty of the universe, that he acted irresponsibly toward causality, that he was smarter than the Doctor and that he could – with proper care – be avoided.
He also distinctly remembered that Harry Potter had looked like a seventeen-year-old.
He decided that the TARDIS could have another minute to reconsider before they went to find her, and turned his full attention to Harry. "Can I see your real face now?"
Harry stiffened. He took a deep breath and purposely released the tension in his shoulders. Then he waved his wand. He didn't say anything, but the Doctor could hear a quiet crackle of electricity and knew that any surveillance within the room had been disabled. There were no people; guards stood outside the glorified parking lot, but the inside was supposed to have been safe, rife with security cameras as it was.
Harry stood with his back against a future Earthian hovercraft – most likely a bit of the debris that had come through the Rift in Cardiff after Jack had abandoned Torchwood Three – and he made a series of gestures. It was as if his face flaked and then burst outwards in an explosion of multicoloured sparkles. What remained was more or less the same face, only this time the lines that came with age were gone, the skin pale and almost smooth, stretched a little too thinly over cheekbones that weren't originally meant to be quite that prominent.
The man seemed to shrink, gaining a boyish stature, complete with narrow shoulders and a bulging Adam's apple. Harry's eyes remained green, shielded behind circular spectacles, but his hair gained a bit of colour back – the Doctor had, of course, noticed the occasional grey hair in Harry's haphazard coiffure, but it hadn't seemed quite as obvious as it was in contrast to a full head of universe-black hair.
"It's quite handsome," the Doctor said in reference to Harry's seventeen-year-old visage. "Why the pretence?"
"Can you imagine how hard it is to make people take me seriously when I look like a teenager?" Harry replied, shrugging those thin shoulders, looking the very picture of a petulant adolescent, when the Doctor knew him to be in fact several times as old and wise enough to keep pace with the Doctor himself.
"You got stuck like that?" the Doctor guessed. Yes, this Harry was the same Harry as the one that had appeared in the TARDIS at Thoros Beta in the year twenty twenty-five and turned a few of the Doctor's reality-simplifying beliefs on their respective heads.
The physical changelessness reminded the Doctor uncomfortably of Jack, but Harry's cause for remaining in a stasis-like state was indisputably different form Jack's. He felt… essential. A part of the giant machine that was the multiverse, where the impulses made the elementary particles made the hadrons made the atoms made the molecules and minerals and further up the evolution path also tissues, and of them organs and organisms and self-awareness and intelligence and civilisation and… affection, as Harry had once diplomatically worded it.
"Seems like it," Harry replied, and the Doctor winced at how banal the response sounded compared to his all-encompassing train of thought, but that was his fault for thinking big, not Harry's for replying so very honestly that he just didn't know.
One of the things the Doctor respected most was not knowing.
Not knowing – like Socrates had once clumsily tried to explain – was the most important aspect of having something, anything to live for. The poor fellow had had too much hemlock and didn't get the chance to realise just how far into the future of the humankind he had seen, past all the hedonism and religion and floccinaucinihilipilifistic 'forty-two' that his fellow philosophers had guessed to be the Reason.
Harry, self-consciously curled upon himself, said: "A friend of mine strongly suggested that I should alter my appearance with spells to mimic aging. It worked for a while. In twenty oh-eight I had enough clout to delay informing the Prime Minister of some state secrets until he had shown himself to be a psychopathic megalomaniac. The Minister for Magic was just going to tell the bastard everything. The collective wizarding society has the self-preservation of a lobotomised pixie."
The Doctor banished the picture of what the Master armed with genuine magic would be like. It would have been very bad, because the Master was even more of a megalomaniac than the Doctor himself, and that was saying a lot, because Time Lords had compulsory megalomania encoded in their genetic information.
The Doctor knew chillingly well how power seduced. He had been ready to forsake the name he had proudly carried for centuries for something banal like 'Victorious.' The Master, whose self-control hadn't been half as good as the Doctor's, would have jumped at the chance to become 'Wizard' or 'Warlock' or 'Magician.' The Earth would have been gone and forgotten so fast that the other species wouldn't even notice that something was missing, and then those other species would follow. He would seize the TARDIS and destroy it, since it would have become obsolete to him. He would unlock the Time Lock, release Gallifrey, release the army of Daleks and they would destroy everything.
"That would be why they have you as a protector," the Doctor said softly, aware that nothing he could put in words would encompass the scope of the catastrophe Harry had unknowingly prevented.
"It gets old. Fast." A momentary telepathic connection conveyed the exhaustion of years upon years of mindless guarding under Harry's belt, and how thoroughly sick of it he was. "I'm off this planet as soon as I decide where I'm going."
And that was the Doctor's clue to recall that he was eager to get off the planet as well, to find a place that wouldn't demand saving quite as often as the Earth did (he understood Harry's exhaustion to a point that evaded verbal description) or at least one that would offer a warm supper and a soft bed. Earth wasn't really the most hospitable planet around.
The TARDIS was standing next to a concrete pillar, in between two alien vessels – one geared toward crew that was about two inches tall in stature, the other a one-man fighter with one of the engines missing.
"At least they've put her close to the exit," the Doctor muttered.
"It looks like a Police Box?" Harry inquired, after he had realised that the Doctor was talking about a vessel, and which vessel in particular. Then he slapped his forehead with his palm. "Of course it looks like a police box."
"How is a TARDIS looking like a police box expectable?" the Doctor exclaimed. He had thought it was rather charmingly eccentric. Expectability would be akin to a rain on his parade.
"Never mind," Harry muttered disappointingly.
They stopped in front of the TARDIS door, which sprang open upon the Doctor's touch to it, and Harry – somewhat assuaging the Doctor's sense of individuality – curiously glanced over the Doctor's shoulder too see the insides. He made no comment on the difference in dimensions, but the Doctor had not really expected him to. In fact, had Harry conformed in wondering over why the TARDIS was 'bigger on the inside,' the Doctor would have been disappointed.
They glanced at each other, and then away. Harry pretended to be examining the alien vessels on display; the Doctor engaged in a brief communication with the TARDIS, during which he learned that he wasn't forgiven yet, but well on the way, and the TARDIS was willing to welcome him back if he promised to be good and keep his head down – as much as he ever managed to keep his head down.
The Doctor knew that the best way of culling his more megalomaniac impulses was begetting a human companion.
Harry was… there.
"You want to…?" the Doctor asked, gesturing toward the insides of the TARDIS.
"No," Harry replied, vigorously shaking his head, inadvertently making the Doctor like him yet a bit more against his will. "I think I have my own way of travelling. If you don't hear of me again, I'm so much space dust-"
"No," the Doctor cut in, scaring himself with how much that option was just plain unacceptable to him. "No, I have met you before. Well, later for you," he explained.
Harry's smile, if marred by his apparently eternal youth, was downright beatific. "Good. Means I'll get it right."
"Yes," the Doctor said.
"Yes," Harry said.
There was a brief silence, and then the Doctor laughed at how very awkward they were being. "Oh, go, Harry!" he crowed. "Go and discover the universe! Laugh at its sense of humour and fall into its pitfalls and meet many, many brilliant people, so we can compare notes-"
Harry leaned in and kissed him.
It was a short contact, timid almost, never mind that Harry must have known that the Doctor was on the verge of initiating the same, and that they definitely both wanted more. Harry, obviously, was bitingly conscious of the lack of mutual knowledge, despite the sympathy so easily fostered between them. The kiss – a funny word, 'kiss,' full of sibilants that were at best undeserved – was momentary and shallow and soft and ripe with promise of future passion.
They separated swiftly, and returned to their pre-kiss awkward stances, keeping to their respective personal spaces.
Harry bit his lower lip.
The Doctor shrugged, extended a hand to touch the doorframe of the TARDIS, and said: "We'll probably always be all twisty-and-turny in time-space, but the first meeting should be on equal grounds… n'est-ce pas?"
"Absolutely," Harry agreed, smiling again.
The Doctor aimed both his forefingers at Harry and inclined his head, expression as expectant as he could make it. "Car'Antares, day after Kakumei."
Harry nodded. "I'll write it down, just in case," he promised. "It's a date."
355,814 Earthtime, Car'Antares
The bar – although bar was a very loose description – was as bright as he had expected it to be. Everything glowed, glittered and glinted enough to blind a man. The Antaresians sure liked their overillumination.
Fortunately, within a minute Jack's eyes adjusted. This was a specifically alien-friendly establishment, otherwise humans would have had to wear sunglasses or risk blindness.
He looked around, checked out the anthropoids (he was in the mood for something traditional today) and found several prospects, moth male and female and indeterminable. He was about to move over to the shaded table in the back to try and chat up a Cat, when he noticed the figure that sat at the bar.
The man – boy, by his looks – appeared to be fully human. He was small for a human, almost child-like, with messy dark hair that reflected the refracted light in an improbable halo of all visible colours. Jack observed the motion of slender limbs dressed in clothes that were out of a different millennium, sparse and sexy. Still, none of that registered as vividly as a shadow of a recollection of a memory.
Jack tried to remember. His first few hundred years had left a strong emotional impression, but ever since then he only retained the most traumatising or relatively recent memories. That he even recognised this person was incredible. He couldn't recall a name, but the assignation 'miracle-boy' resonated.
Something about one of Jack's lovers during that time. There was an association of a stopwatch. And a pterodactyl, strangely enough. The man had died. Of course he had died. Most of Jack's partners had.
Miracle-boy, however, had done something very bad to Jack. He couldn't think of the exact circumstance anymore, but it had been a downright criminal act, and it had isolated Jack from the people around him at the time. What, though… something breaking the Laws. Hence 'miracle-boy.' Jack wondered where he had left his journals from that time. They might have been destroyed when Epsilon Vega collapsed and the resulting meteor shower demolished the Earth colony – whichever one it had been.
"It is you, miracle-boy," Jack said, getting a close-up of the face as he situated himself on the barstool smack-dab next to the young human. He turned to the bartender. "A Starlight Sonata for me, and for my acquaintance another of whatever he's drinking."
"Do I know you?" the miracle-boy asked, unattractively tartly.
"I should think so," Jack replied. He rested his elbows on the counter, accepted his mixed drink, complete with a flamboyant piece of fruit and a straw that was one of the universally present tropes. Jack made a show of passing a ball of transparent liquid to the miracle-boy while he said: "I didn't peg you as the kind of man who tortures someone and then forgets about it."
The boy scowled at him and moved as far away as he could without vacating his seat. "Now I know you've mistaken me for someone. I've tortured exactly five people in my life and you weren't one of them."
The bartender on the other side of the counter giggled. Jack didn't think it was funny. He hadn't thought torture was funny since his days at the Boe peninsula, and lost his appetite for it entirely after Emily Holroyd and Alice Guppy had gotten their paws on him.
"Besides, you're being kind of friendly for a victim with a grudge," the miracle-boy professed. "Stockholm syndrome?"
Jack snorted. He had loved very few people in his long, long and – had he mentioned long? – fruitful life. Most of them had betrayed and hurt him… before he had fallen in love with them. Maybe the miracle-boy wasn't so far from the truth with his assumption, but Jack was very certain that neither betrayal nor any arbitrary hurt were the reason why his subconscious raised an alarm when he had spotted the guy.
"Not on your life, lovely," Jack said, sipping the Sonata. "Let me guess. You time-travel."
The boy shrugged. "Sporadically. Not enough to mention."
He was lying. It was difficult to tell, but Jack was almost sure. And he had to give it to the miracle-boy, because as an ex-conman who had lived for millennia, it was next to impossible to lie to him without him knowing.
"Apparently enough to go back and meet me," he returned, cutting through the bullshit.
"There are not many people vying for my attention quite so pertinaciously in this corner of the galaxy, Mister…?"
"Captain Jack Harkness," Jack said. He had used different names before and since, but this was the one he gave to people who mattered. Maybe because it was one of the few names he used that mattered.
"Oh, right," the boy said with a mockery of realisation. "The stripes."
The joke gave Jack a pause. It was based on a very specific culture that had existed on Earth before the First Bountiful Human Empire, back in the days of Torchwood. He remembered Torchwood. It had been a bad time, but fulfilling. He missed feeling needed. Important.
The boy could be a Time Agent.
"Have you ever met the Doctor?" Jack inquired, wondering how come he could already see the bottom of the glass, and why did the idiots give him the Sonata in a glass instead of a much more practical gravityball.
"What's it to you, Captain?" the boy asked archly.
Jack shrugged, doing his best nonchalant impression. "I travelled with him for a while. I thought, if it turns out we had a common acquaintance-"
"I might let you into my pants?"
"Or skirt, as seems to be the case," Jack agreed, and pointed out, complete with a gesture: "I've bought you a drink."
"Thank you, Captain," the boy replied with a grace of a centenarian.
Jack blinked. "Wait… that's it?"
"I thought that was polite."
"It's not really etiquette I'm interested in," Jack protested. He gestured for another Sonata and gave back the stupid, archaic glass.
"I could tell," the boy next to him dryly muttered into his ball of drink, before he looked up. "You've got the smile, Captain Harkness. You've got the looks and the moves and the words. But you don't want me. If you hadn't recognised me, you wouldn't have come over here-"
"You're wrong," Jack cut in. "You are beautiful."
And he was. Not classically beautiful – he was much too thin and pale and edgy for that, with too much scarring, and the proportions of his body were generally not quite right, but Jack's idea of sexual appeal wasn't limited by any conventional standards.
"Thank you," the miracle-boy said, giving no room to interpretation.
"I really don't have a chance?" Jack asked. He couldn't tell if he was disappointed or relieved. He had had to try, either way. This person was not someone who could be by-passed.
"Doesn't happen often to you, does it?"
"That's twice too often now," Jack said self-deprecatingly.
The boy shrugged. "You'll live."
Jack shook his head and made his way to a free table by the wall, muttering: "You have no idea."
Jack wouldn't normally give up that easily, but what little he knew of the person the miracle-boy would become put him on guard. For once it didn't really matter that he couldn't die; it was smart not to anger the future god-like being… even if the being was being too sexy for their own good. Most who appeared in public with this kind of natural, non-pheromone-induced magnetism, ended up raped and murdered in an air-vent shaft before the dawn – but then, Jack doubted there was actually anything that could touch the miracle-boy without his invitation.
Jack had major troubles just shaking off the vision of burying his hands in that wild mass of black hair, watching the coy green eyes widen in pleasure… the casual coolness and air of effortless power around him made Jack ache for this version of the miracle-boy.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack noticed a tall, thin man in a navy blue suit. It was an ingrained reflex of his: whenever he spotted a suit, a bowtie, a cravat, anything in any way resembling the later incarnations of the Doctor, the ones who might recognise him, he had to sit up and make sure-
"Is the chair free?" A local girl with her bothria provocatively twined around her middle practically covered Jack in a cloud of pollen-like aphrodisiac.
Jack absently nodded, craning his neck. He had stopped physiologically reacting to common drugs targeted for humans when he had been around fourteen thousand.
He surveyed the room and found the man in the suit again. Like thousand times before, he took a deep breath – and choked on it when the man turned. It was the Doctor.
The Doctor spun in a circle twice, attracting some limited attention from the other patrons. Car'Antares was one of the inexplicable places that had simply evolved into beauty. There was nothing particularly peaceful or refined about the Antaresians – certainly not compared to many other species – but they had that genetic predisposition towards creating beauty without being noticeably invested in it.
Whilst most of the post-Kakumei celebrations were still going on in the streets and plazas and palaces and baths and especially on the beaches, the catering establishments weren't half as crowded as he had feared they would be. Full of light, light music and light fun, that was this chamber. Made exotic by the dome ceiling of glass with tens of thousands of facets that made for an optical explosion in all colours of the rainbow and a few more if they were visible to the observer, the club was full of those wealthy enough to afford the exorbitant prices yet not all that gung-ho about the recent political changes.
Most of the clientele were off-worlders.
After the second spin the Doctor zoomed in on Harry.
The boy – if the label was even applicable, but if a bird looked like a sparrow, the Doctor was liable to call it a sparrow – was sitting at the bar, cradling a ball of liquid in his palm, taking occasional sips. There was nothing at all about him that might have suggested his origins. He was wearing a leather miniskirt that would have been more than scandalous on Earth even today, and a bolero with long, wide, see-through sleeves for propriety's sake.
The Doctor paused briefly by the jukeball and with some surreptitious jiggery-pokery and judicious use of a sonic screwdriver added a song (that wasn't actually on the available list) into the queue.
Harry turned on the barstool. His eyes were just as poisonous as the Doctor remembered them. The radiant smile didn't detract from the air of casual danger he wore in the woeful deficiency of reasonable clothing.
"Did you know there's two thousand and seven human-friendly establishments just on the Northern hemisphere of this planet?" the Doctor asked.
"And I bet this was the first one you walked into," Harry returned.
Of course it had been the first one.
The Doctor snatched an untouched ball of liquid from where it hovered above the counter in front of Harry and sniffed it. It was sparkling water. The minerals were somewhat unusual, but still within the limits. "You were awfully certain that I would be here."
"That was a fellow patron's attempt to court my favour," Harry replied. "Needless to say, I informed them that I was otherwise entangled tonight."
"You are awfully certain of the entanglement," the Doctor returned, keeping the even, mildly curious tone just to see how Harry would react, and offered his hand.
"Not certain. Hopeful." Harry accepted the hand and let himself be tugged out of the seat and onto the dance floor. The song the Doctor had installed tuned in a second later, and Harry's poisonous eyes widened in appreciation.
…were you looking for somewhere to be? Or looking for someone to do?
"How did you know?" Harry breathed, one hand resting in the Doctor's palm, the other falling easily onto the Doctor's right shoulder. After a few steps they found a rhythm and continued to move together easily.
A few of the other dancers tried to copy their movements. It was a very old song in a very old style of music. Most of the instruments weren't even known anymore.
"You fit in here," the Doctor commented, looking over Harry's head at the scenery. "More than you ever fit in on Earth."
Harry spun under his arm and deliberately missed a step. The Doctor allowed the request and caught his dancing partner against his chest.
Harry grinned up at him. "Car'Antares has all the freedom of the sixth millennium and none of the fear. What's not to like?"
…our best made plans...
The Doctor grinned back. "What's not to like?" he repeated.
"Flatterer." Harry pulled away, stood upright, and nudged the Doctor back into dance. It was a very odd moment and, seeing as this was the Doctor's thought, that was saying something. They shared a brief mutual mental transference.
-this man, curious brown eyes, this man with warm, long-fingered hands, so tall and nauseatingly active in every instance, was going to be Harry's lover… always thought it would be a such a daunting moment, but for refusing the inevitability he's so easy-going about it-
-old young sparrow creating his own little vortices in the Vortex, always here, in the back of the mind, in that place where not checking was the best idea because abandon hope ye who enter here – seemed like there should be something more complicated, more satisfying than simple metagravitation pulling us together to this place, that's just lame-
"You're like last time. Different from how I remember you from before," Harry said, threading his fingers through the Doctor's hair.
…don't leave me here to pass through time, without a map or road-sign…
"Good different or bad different?" the Doctor asked, sadly recalling Rose's hesitant 'just… different' – but it must have been a gargantuan shock for her, and 'just different' was heaps better than 'bad different'… or even than 'good different,' because that would have meant that his previous self had been the 'bad different' and… well, Rose had tried so hard to be diplomatic.
Harry was, probably, too old for denying that he had an opinion.
…lying on ice you will be before the day is over, so case in point may be that you never thought it through…
…but it seems they've lost their powers, now all I'm left with is the hours.
"I'm biased," Harry said. "The memory of you alternately frightened and excited me throughout my youth. You can imagine the resulting weirdness – wet nightmares."
…don't leave me here, my guiding light, cause I, I wouldn't know where to begin…
The Doctor scrunched up his nose. "Don't tell me what I'll have done to you. I don't want to know."
A little breathless from the dance and from being held in the hands that had stitched together gaping wounds of the universe, Harry pulled the Doctor to the bar and ordered clean water for them to share. The Doctor seemed a little displeased, like he was used to these things happening around him but not the being involved in them personally.
Harry moved closer, pressing his back to the Doctor's chest in a silent request for embrace.
He received it, too.
"How old are you?" the Doctor asked. His arm was warm around Harry's stomach, and Harry could feel the flutter of twin hearts against his skin.
"Younger than you, probably," Harry replied, "but I can't be sure. Stopped counting long ago."
"It's incredible that you remember me at all."
Harry didn't find it strange that the Doctor remembered him. He had scrounged up any and every information on the Time Lords he could find, and thus he had a very good reason to believe that the Time Lords were possessed of eidetic memory, and therefore, he expected, the Doctor would recall every being he had met – especially those with whom he had saved a world – but that was an advantage of being unencumbered with natural limitations and forgetfulness.
Harry had a whole different reason for not forgetting.
"You left a huge impression," Harry said softly, wishing that the embrace would tighten further so that he could feel not only the coarse fabric of the Doctor's jacket against the bare skin of his lower back, "and I used to be embarrassingly impressionable."
The Doctor nodded. "Will you travel with me?"
"Maybe tomorrow," Harry refused. There was so much more he wanted. Becoming yet another companion to the Doctor would have been too disappointing. "Come home with me tonight?"
"On the first date?" the Doctor countered, trying very hard to look scandalised.
Harry didn't point out that the Doctor had essentially asked him to move in – and not for the first time – so in term of human relationships neither of them were in any way reluctant to initiate a more intimate bonding.
Instead, Harry said: "Doctor, we've met before. That we've never actually correlated doesn't seem half as interesting to me as the fact that we obviously will feel very deeply for each other. I've waited for a long time."
Rather than gracefully accept defeat, the Doctor released Harry from the embrace, took a step to the side and offered his hand. "Another dance?"
"Sure," Harry agreed, greedy for more of the body heat.
The Doctor gave Harry a very suspicious look. "You've agreed awfully easily. It's a plot. I know a plot. I recognise it from the smell-" He took an ostentatious sniff of Harry's hair as if he expected it to stink of gunpowder.
"Yes, well," Harry replied, suppressing guffaws, "once upon a time dancing actually was a mating ritual."
"It's difficult to win in a debate with you," the Doctor complained. "You make compelling arguments."
"I don't intend to let you have your way and claim the defeat as a victory," Harry said, enjoying the warmth that enveloped his hand as soon as he had offered it to the Doctor for the taking. "You will come with me, Doctor, share my bed, partake in my body, and on the morrow I will accompany you on your travels. What better way is there to get to know each other than facing danger together? It's worked for us before." There had been that one kiss, an absurdly long time ago, on Earth, and Harry was embarrassed for having clung onto the memory for so long… Or, rather, he would have been embarrassed, were it not for the reality of the Doctor's presence here and now.
"That is your idea of romance, Harry Potter?" The Doctor asked as they kind of sickly swayed to the lack of melody of what passed for music on Car'Antares. "Mortal danger, hordes of angry aliens, brewing wars-"
"Explosive violence," Harry interposed under his breath, "blood, pain, fear, lust-"
The Doctor shut him up with his palm pressed to Harry's mouth.
The gargling and chirping music wasn't conductive to dancing, and even the Doctor wasn't self-assured enough to make a complete fool of himself in the present company, or else he must have been so discomfited by what Harry's presence implied that he was not enjoying himself, therefore the idea of another dance fell through before they even tried.
Harry held the Doctor's wrist and pulled the obstructing hand away.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the salacious Captain from before being abandoned by an Antaresian girl as he ordered yet another highly psychotropic drink.
"I think we're acquainted past this scene," Harry suggested. The Doctor didn't protest, so he ventured further: "I could Apparate us, or we could brave the streets?" He wasn't sure how detailed was the Doctor's knowledge of magic at this point in his timeline, but they were both old enough to warrant another level-up from 'adult' and they could deal with all kinds of insanity. Harry saw no reason whatsoever to feel self-conscious about his ridiculous amount of power in front of his future lover.
"We'll talk later," the Doctor informed Harry, let go of him, and made his way toward the exit.
Harry followed. He had no problem with following when it suited him, and he sure as Hell had no problems with running to keep up.
The outside of Tal Pen'ta knew no true darkness.
Inside a private abode, darkness was a choice. Harry had been living here for a few dozen years, but his bedroom roof had remained perpetually unobscured; so long so, that it was probably stuck in that mode.
Starlight and the glow of public lighting filtered through the crystal, deepening the shadows and making the pale colours stand out all the more starkly.
"You should share yourself more often," Harry muttered. His hand absently roamed over the Doctor's shoulder-blades, and left a velvety trace down his spine toward the dip of the small of his back. "It's such a waste to keep yourself from being touched."
The Doctor's arm shot out and wound around Harry's hips, pulling him closer. They shifted a little; Harry ended up on his back, with the Doctor nuzzling the stretchy bit of skin next to his hipbone.
Harry stroked the man's hair.
"Different time, different place," the Doctor mouthed, meaning that of course his values would be different as well, because he was so resistant to all strange ideas.
"Again you hide behind the Time Lord excuse," Harry replied. "You're legendary. People don't expect you to be human-"
"Some do," the Doctor objected. "They're invariably disappointed."
Harry gripped his hair, forgetting how gentle he had wanted to be. It was the Doctor's fault, anyway – no one could remain impassive when wicked fingers explored the inner side of their knee and thigh.
"It's such a faulty definition," Harry lamented, biting onto his lower lip to keep down a whimper. "As if tenacity and insecurity, and compassion, and irrationality were unique to the human race. It's our using a human language, imprinted with human cockiness-"
Harry shuddered and sighed at the soft, teasing touch of the Doctor's lips. He was being played, like a cither, by a man who had learned him in the matter of hours. No wonder the Doctor was universally recognised as genius. Harry just had to hope that, in this case, familiarity wouldn't breed contempt.
"There is no word for 'human' in Gallifreyan, High or Low," the Doctor said, so laconically characterising his home culture. He lifted himself on all four.
Harry, admittedly, didn't know much about Gallifreyan culture – only what little remained of its history in the legends. Time Lords had been an arrogant, pretentious, war-oriented race, harsh to the point of amorality by Harry's standards.
He tried to use his leg to capture his lover, force him closer, but they ended up tussling, falling back onto the mattress with Harry being the (very willingly) captured one.
"There are no words for sek on t hra matin in any human language," Harry replied, panting from the struggle.
The Doctor froze and stared down at Harry's face, unnaturally pale under Antaresian nightlight.
Harry found himself looking into the eyes of a man who had lost too much and sworn off responsibility for the rest of his life, but who still tried to save people for no other reason than that he felt he should have been able to.
A spastic surface, and beneath it – the Oncoming Storm.
Harry had not wanted anyone as desperately since… probably ever.
The Doctor, still trying to dissect him with the laser-sharp scrutiny, asked: "Where did you hear that?"
Sek on t hra matin could be loosely translated as two pilgrims whose paths kept intersecting, but it was actually a reference to an old legend and a prophecy – the ideal of a Time Lord and a Time Lady who were unaffected by metagravitation but travelled through the causality in a double helix, meeting and parting and meeting and parting until either time or space ran out on them.
Most young Time Lords dreamt of being one of t hra matin – until they looked into the Vortex. That was a sight that discouraged any belief in order or balance or symmetry. As if something like a helix could exist in all that chaotic wibbly-wobbliness! Everyone grew out of the dream; Gallifreyan mentality didn't lend itself to metaphor. The Doctor had spent enough time around humans to understand figures of speech well enough, and he had to wonder if, perhaps, the author of the prophecy had simply had a tad too much human in them.
"There are still bits and pieces of Gallifreyan languages scattered across the universe," Harry told him quietly. "Davros knew some, and by extension so do the Daleks."
There shouldn't have been any Daleks left. Nothing should have remained from the Time War, nothing of Gallifrey, of Time Lords, of Davros, and especially nothing of the Daleks. That Harry even knew Davros' name promised an impending apocalypse. More planets gone. More people lost to someone's violent greed or pride.
Also, there was something mildly unsettling about having this conversation naked, in bed, and about to re-engage his companion in some rather enjoyable life-affirmation.
"He wouldn't have known that phrase," the Doctor told Harry. "That's – poetic. Well, as much as there ever was anything poetic on Gallifrey. Only madmen were poets – or poets all were madmen. It was hard to tell. We had rhythm and rhyme, but not poetry."
Harry raised himself on his elbows, coming a little too close for a proper conversation, but this hadn't been a proper conversation in any of the traditional meanings of the words, and the night also acted like a natural low level perception filter that put things into a skewed, mad, poetic perspective.
"It is a kind of madness, I suppose," Harry mused, tracing irregular patterns on the skin of the Doctor's forearm. "But we're all a little mad. Sanity scares me, some days."
"Where did you hear that, Harry? Sek on t hra matin?" the Doctor insisted. He clenched his fists when he heard his own pronunciation – the familiar, long-unused accent. It transformed his voice completely, as if he was singing rather than speaking, hitting the right notes of the wonderfully complex language – a dead language, one that no one understood anymore.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. "Would you believe me I have dreamt of it?"
"No," the Doctor answered, and then thought it through. Going back to human neurology and considering the theory that dreams were basically sensory experiences fabricated by the cortex as a means of interpreting signals from the bridge, it implied a subliminal perception at some time that was most likely associated in Harry's later life and used as a means of connecting other perceptions in a logical manner.
Harry's disappointed exhale prompted him to say: "Unless it had been planted into your subconscious. You were on Earth in the beginning of the twenty-first century."
"Nineteen eighty to twenty-two eleven or thereabouts," Harry said, green eyes wide again, asking at the same time as Harry tried to figure it out himself. "I used to hop around quite a bit."
That meant that Harry had been there for the Master's destruction of humanity by humanity paradox and the Archangel being used as an amplifier for the Doctor's psychic abilities. Technically none of that should have left any after-effects, but Harry was enough of an oddity that perhaps some memories of the year that never was had remained buried in his subconscious. It was still unlikely, but with a planet-wide telepathic network centered at the Doctor, weird things were practically guaranteed to happen.
The Doctor had thought of the Master then, of how they had been the last two, the last two Time Lords in the universe, the only ones who had survived, meeting and parting and-
"I've actually met you for the first time in nineteen ninety-five. I was thinking of jumping off a church tower," Harry added. There was absolutely no reason for his smile. In fact, the smile was altogether too tender, and in conjunction with the prospect of splattering oneself over a churchyard in the form of a bloody sauce with pieces of gristle and bone rather morbid.
Harry let himself be held tighter, pulled closer, as if some wonderful human instinct was telling him to allow the Doctor to have control for a while, before he adjusted to not only the sudden switch of topic (his brain was used to worse rapid changes of direction) but to the idea that such an inordinately extensive part of the eventual stream had hinged on a child's decision to not suicide.
"At fifteen?" he asked, because that wasn't at all certain with time-travellers.
"My childhood had few bright spots," Harry replied. "You might have been one of the most defining ones, for all of the hour you'd spent."
The Doctor reflected; yesterday had been a very long day for him, but the day before yesterday had been fast and hard and full of running around and saving people who couldn't have saved themselves, and Harry had been there, already giving the Doctor those askance glances that most of his companions eventually would give him, looking like he did now, not a day younger, only much more dressed.
And now Harry was here, not saving anyone, warm, bony, affectionate, with devilish fingers and eyes that were like looking into a mirror for the Doctor. Why were they discussing this again?
"How long have you been waiting?" he asked, because sometimes his curiosity opened his mouth before his brain could keep it closed.
"Very, very, very long," Harry said. Then he shrugged. "But, I'm thinking, it was worth it."
The Doctor had only half-expected Harry to remember him. Half-hoped, too, and that was saying something, because he didn't like hope and hoping. It was necessary, but he viewed it as a bit of a necessary evil, because the grief after a hope was broken was the worst.
After a long meandering and splintering bout of self-reflection, cut short by the presence of warm limbs and a lover with centuries of experience, he couldn't but agree.
Yes. Yes, it was worth the wait.
Harry ate another of the reisha – as the fruit was called in basic Antaresian, although Harry liked to think of it as strawberries, discounting the light blue colour – on his plate, and surveyed the Doctor, who looked far less composed than usual in his blue trousers and burgundy shirt, with its two topmost buttons left undone, his hair wet from the traditional water-shower and clinging to his skull.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor said after a prolonged while.
Harry glanced up, searching for hints in the Doctor's otherwise expressive face. He could barely recall the other incarnations he had met – he knew now about regeneration and not-quite-death – and he had to keep the memories of them available with the use of a pensieve, but it was enough for him to compare. The Doctor in twenty seventy whom he had encountered at the party on the Skye Island had been a right git, in the way all bitter people were, but the one from nineteen ninety-five had been… Well, he had definitely been older than today's Doctor, and Harry was selfishly looking forward to the regeneration.
He didn't want it to happen anytime soon, because he could sense just how much this Doctor enjoyed life, and Harry would have been loath to see that enjoyment lost.
"What for?" Harry asked, hoping that this wasn't the Doctor's way of announcing his imminent departure from Harry's life.
"For making you wait," the Doctor said. He finished tying his tie and set down at the table, poking at the food Harry had so benevolently prepared for him.
Harry could have laughed with relief. "We could have met at any time, in any place. We have chosen here and now. Neither of us owes the other one an apology for that."
"Car'Antares," the Doctor said, leaning back in his chair until he was staring at the ceiling, although Harry doubted he was seeing it at all. "Day after Kakumei."
"What made you decide to come here?" Harry asked, more to keep the conversation flowing and distract his companion from his musing than out of any particular interest. Of course he was interested – just as much as he would have been interested in any other tidbit of information about the Doctor.
"I promised I would meet you," the Doctor non-answered. He snatched a reisha with his fingers, watching askance if Harry would protest the breach of etiquette, and faux-happily munched on it.
"Now can be whenever for you, Doctor. You could actually be the worst case of avoidance and procrastination there is – who would know?" Harry carded his fingers through his hair in a nervous gesture that was a legacy of his misspent youth, and that still occasionally resurfaced. "Never mind, though. I didn't mean to interrogate you. You don't know me enough yet to confide in me."
The Doctor was apparently canny enough to interpret that plaintive note, because he replied: "I found myself solitary and in the mood for companionship."
Basically, that meant that he had been lonely and remembered that he had a rendezvous with someone who wanted him. That was okay with Harry. Somebody who had lost as much as the Doctor had would be fighting against a romantic attachment tooth and claw.
"So, tell me, Harry," the Doctor said, lifting a piece of fruit to inspect it against the light filtered through the tall, narrow window, "what do you do, apart from time-hopping and arranging dates with elder alien men?"
"I'm kinda chary about the 'elder' thing, to tell you the truth. And I'm just as alien as you are – more so, perhaps," Harry pointed out. They were on Car'Antares, after all. "To answer your non-implied question, I dabble. After some time, you try more or less everything to keep yourself from going off the deep end."
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully. He picked out another reisha. It was just as smurf-blue as the ones before. The wonders of mass-production.
"Do you have a job?"
"Suppose," Harry allowed. "Not really a 'job' job, but a reputation that brings clientele that brings money. A vocation, I guess." There was a knowing glint in the Doctor's eyes, and Harry was fairly sure that the Doctor had already known what Harry did before Harry said: "I'm a healer."
"A doctor?" the Doctor asked to confirm.
"Nah." Harry smiled. "I leave that to you."
The Doctor grinned back.
Fortunately, he had simply thought it to be a play on words in English – Harry could use English when speaking to him, which was indescribably freeing and, he felt, part of the reason why the sex had been so good – and that allowed Harry to keep his thoughts private. He didn't have to explain how he had put the Doctor onto a proverbial pedestal in his mind, based on the way the Doctor strove to save the universe, to keep it going, keep it healthy, how he cared for it and held its metaphorical hand through the worst parts.
Harry had liked the Doctor before he had realised the magnitude of who the object of his infatuation was, and after he had awakened to the scope of the truth, his feelings had gained an anchor in unshakable respect.
"You can take a trip then?" the Doctor asked, buttoning his shirt up to his neck and pulling a tie out of his sleeve.
"I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it," Harry said. Apparently, the Doctor still didn't know that Harry could Apparate through time. Well, that was one surprise that Harry could keep for a more poignant time.
"And I'll find out how, one of these days," the Doctor promised, stealing another reisha from Harry's plate, as if the ones on his own plate weren't just as good. "Not today, though – or, probably not today. Of course, it depends on your definition of today, because time is a real function at worst and as any artificially settled period 'day' is at best relative and I've got a TARDIS."
He promptly filled his mouth with sankru, which was basically bread – insomuch as it was baked from a ground corn-like plant and eggs.
"Is that an invitation?" Harry inquired, pretending to the best of his ability that he wasn't presently sneaking the Doctor two more reisha off of his own plate.
That wasn't a bribe at all.
"Sure," the Doctor agreed easily. "The TARDIS gets cranky when a timeline is ripped and I have memories of you taking advantage of the extent of our acquaintance to which I wasn't privy at that point."
Harry grinned; he could tell that he was probably glowing with glee. "Well… There's still the thing with the monkey that I just need to put my finger on. You can start with the TARDIS. Explanations. Introductions."