She never should have studied Gallifreyan.
She'd realised this somewhere around the fourteenth verb tense, used for the second-most stable outcome of a fluctuating past, when it finally hit home that the translation exercises she'd been so fascinated by in those wonderful, beautiful times of ignorance were completely useless. Gallifreyans didn't really think in terms of past-present-future, there was no translation for most of the language, and she was going to die, and it would not be pleasant. Her saving grace was that the Vinvocci, unlike their sister species, the Zocci, were passably telepathic. Nearly 40% of the concepts every other spoken language had, like love and fear and misery (especially misery, thought Lotivver), could only be communicated telepathically in Gallifreyan. It was a fascinating culture, but it was hardly practical for outsiders.
She'd been told that, of course, and of course she had simply resolved to work hard. She'd been in love with Gallifrey, the people, the culture, the history, and the language had seemed so intriguing...
She fought back a moan and dropped her head into her arms. There was an exasperated sigh from somewhere to her left and she could feel Zaph glaring at her. Without lifting her head out of what she was told was a textbook but more accurately resembled a cornerstone of some sort, she made a very rude gesture at him and then folded her arms back over her head. She was in no mood to be judged today.
Not my fault I haven't been thinking in sixteen and a half billion tenses since I was born, you with the perfect circles and the calculus and the ridiculously perfect hair and I know for a fact you polish your nails, who does that, probably sleeping with the instructor oh go die in a hole already what time does this class let out?
There were no clocks in the room. Of course there weren't, it's not as though the Gallifreyans needed them. When she'd applied to the Academy, the woman fielding her application had taken one look at her and written down her birthdate to the nanospan. Lotivver knew. She'd checked.
She thought about asking Zaph how much longer this torture—lecture, rather, however did that slip out—was supposed to last, but the last time she'd asked a Gallifreyan a question with the word "time" in it he hadn't shut up for at least three microspans, and by then she had figured out how long you were supposed to boil an egg by trial-and-error. She had even had time to run to the store and back (he hadn't noticed her leaving). And take a shower. And contemplate homicide.
She took comfort in the fact that she didn't appear to be the only one bored to tears. Glancing down the tiered rows of desks she could see at least three others dozing off, and directly in front of her and down three levels someone was writing KILL ME in Old High Gallifreyan, over and over and in variously-coloured ink. She was fairly certain she could pick out a Terran Latinate phonetic transliteration as well, and assumed that the myriad of others she couldn't figure out were being plucked from other languages. It was quite impressive, actually.
Of course, they were probably bored because they'd learnt all of this when they were a week old. In Lotivver's experience, Gallifreyans existed solely to make every other species look like idiots.
And some Gallifreyans existed solely to make other Gallifreyans look like idiots.
Exhibit A: Culsu Oakdown.
"Aren't you forgetting the nominative eleventh tense?" she asked. Unlike the rest of the class, she had been sitting upright and alert, nodding periodically throughout the lecture and scribbling her notes down quickly, as if afraid to miss a moment. "The Other conclusively proved that a stable course of events formed by an action of oneself automatically fixes itself within one's personal timeline, while remaining variable in all others until any alternate possibilities have proven themselves to be unviable, and of course that would change the tense, if you're being specific."
There was a collective groan of despair, and the thud of fifty heads connecting with their textbooks. "Shut up!" someone called from the back, and a chorus of voices shouted their agreement. "I have a life!" drifted over from the far side of the room, and even some of the students with their faces firmly entrenched in their books laughed.
Culsu looked right at him. "No you don't. You have psychoaffective drugs. There's a difference."
There were rumours that when Culsu looked into the Untempered Schism, she had gained omniscience. Those were among the kinder ones. Oakdown had a bad track record.
"That's enough," the instructor called. The laughter and shouting across the room died down, though there was still a great deal of snickering. "Culsu raises an interesting point. While certainly archaic, nominative tenses are often used in the application of temporal theory..."
When she finally got out of the lecture, it had gone from letting out a few microspans early to five of them late and Lotivver could no longer remember the difference between the past and the present, let alone the secondary eighth variation of the nominative whatever and how it related to anything, and she was late for her next class. As the students filed out of the narrow doorway, she could hear a somewhat less theoretically-functioning Gallifreyan; the voices of fifty-odd teenagers (or what passed for it, what with Gallifreyan aging) gossiping.
"Ugh," said one, "can I kill Cthulhu?"
"I won't stop you," laughed another. "Does she actually think anyone cares about that shite? Oakdowns..." and it's said like a curse.
"...understand the concept of variability in personal timelines," muttered someone behind her, oddly accented, under their breath. "And will probably end up writing your thesis paper, you're welcome..."
Lotivver wondered if the two laughingly pantomiming Culsu's more infamous questions realised she was standing barely three metres behind them.
"And Culsu is a guardian demon," she added as a defiant afterthought. She glanced up and found Lotivver watching her. She bit her lip, flushing and looking angry with herself, and slipped sideways through the crowd and off. Lotivver almost felt like following her, but she was really very, very late to her next class already.
The rest of her day pretty much went downhill from there. As it turned out, walking while looking over your shoulder at a possibly-psychotic Oakdown while in a large, boisterous crowd was a very bad idea, especially if you happened to forget the large set of stairs just outside the lecture hall. Which, naturally, she did.
And, naturally, Zaphon-insert-half-a-dozen-syllables-here just happened to have been right next to her when it happened, ready with the gentle explanation that her species only had eyes in the front of their heads, and she would have made an even ruder gesture than usual but her hands were full of books and so she had to content herself with sticking her tongue out at him, which fell somewhat flat thanks to the fact that they weren't actually seven.
So she was late to her temporal mechanics class, and half-ran in looking exactly as if she had just fallen down a flight of stairs while holding a pile of books, tried to save time by cutting across a decorative garden, and realised at the last moment that the only way out the other side was to force her way through a hedge. It took most of her free span afterwards to track down all the papers that had come loose and been subsequently stuffed into her bag, and sort them back into their proper folders, and by then it had started to rain and she hadn't gotten any of her homework done.
Which meant that when she finally got to the library, it was late and she was tired and wet and she didn't even bother trying to track down the book she needed before collapsing into a large, comfortable armchair (if Gallifreyans did one thing right, it was their libraries, so long as you didn't want to actually read anything) and thinking helpfully at whatever deities might be listening that if they were ever going to smite her, now would be a good time.
It actually took a microspan or two for her to register the voices on the other side of the bookshelf, too loud for a library but sounding carefree and enthusiastic about something. Well, she thought, she could use a break. It wasn't a crime to take half a span to just hang out, was it? She pulled herself out of the armchair and was just coming around the far end of the shelves when she finally paid attention to the nature of the conversation.
"So did you go the way of your Cousin, then?" said one of the group. "Hearing things? Having any thoughts about world domination? Destruction of Time itself?" There was a great deal of laughter at the question. A second chimed in "Oh, no, she doesn't have enough of a backbone for that. Davros' pen pal, maybe? Some friends in the Great and Bountiful Human Empire?"
"Awfully ambitious for one regeneration," said the first. "Even the Master's been through, what, nine? Ten? Want some help with that?"
The answering voice made her blood run cold. "I'll pass, thanks." One of the group of slouching older boys shifted slightly, confirming the identity of the girl in the center.
"Oh, you're so uptight," moaned a girl mockingly. "Come on, just one game of Eighth Man Bound, no big deal."
"Hey, maybe one of your regenerations will actually be interesting," someone suggested, and the others laughed again.
"Just watch," said another. "Turns out she ends up the looker of the millennium or something. You'd probably thank us!"
The laughter this time is crueller. "Right," said the tallest one sarcastically. "Five treazant says they're all the same. Passed out in a library somewhere, alone."
"And then trying to destroy the universe?" one of the girls asked brightly, and, predictably, they laughed again.
"Only one way to find out, Oakdown," the first said. The careless teasing is gone now, his voice challenging, almost a threat. "I think she's afraid we're right!"
Culsu, to her credit, ignored him, coolly copying down, with painstaking accuracy, a particularly complicated-looking set of circles from the huge tome in front of her. Her lack of reaction clearly irritated the group, and Lotivver wondered how drunk they would have to be not to notice the tension along her spine, the way she clutched her pen so hard it looked in danger of snapping.
"See, now she's ignoring me," complained one of the more boisterous members of the group, the one leaning on Culsu's desk and peering over her shoulder with a complete lack of interest. "Can't get her to shut up half the time, but try to start a friendly conversation..."
"Yeah, well," said another, a boy Lotivver recognised from her history class, "you know what they say about the Newbloods. Looking into the Untempered Schism does things to their heads, you know? The Oakdowns especially. They try, their minds just aren't strong enough to handle it." He reached over and ruffled Culsu's hair fondly, like a favourite pet. She didn't move, but she shot him a filthy look out of the corner of her eye, and then she noticed Lotivver watching and, for a few moments, made eye contact.
Culsu promptly broke it when one of the group—were there nine of them? Ten? Something in that range—clapped her on the shoulder, enough to turn a meticulously traced circle into a hard ink slash. "Yeah, but she's smart!" he said grandly, putting his arm around the girl and shaking her. "I think she could handle it. Right, Cthulhu?" he laughed, squeezing her and almost pulling her out of her chair.
Even having watched the whole thing, Lotivver wasn't sure how she'd gone about doing it, but one moment Culsu had been being held by the taller Gallifreyan, and the next she had slipped through his arms and ducked away, looking disgruntled and haughty. The others thought this was terribly funny (Lotivver was getting more and more annoyed at their raucous laughter), and Culsu made short work of her books, flipping them shut and gathering them up in less time than Lotivver would have thought possible. There were mockingly disappointed protests from all around as she made to move off, several members of the group calling for her to stay; she ignored them, attempting to slip out of the circle and leave, and then one of the brawnier ones reached out and grabbed her elbow.
She stared at him, and Lotivver couldn't help but think of the old myths of the Lonely Assassins—"the eyes are the doorways to the soul", said the legends, and in that moment she couldn't help but believe it. Culsu's dark eyes practically sparked with hatred.
Now, Lotivver wasn't the most developed telepath, certainly not compared to a Gallifreyan, but she felt Culsu throw off her mental shields with far more force than necessary. Probably everyone in the Academy could feel it. And then, so loud she nearly heard it, as though the vibrations in hers and no doubt everyone else's minds had made their way into reality, was the sound of drums, the rhythm of a Gallifreyan heartbeat.
The hand grasping Culsu's arm snapped away as if her skin had turned to acid, the whole group stumbling backwards in terror, staring at her as if she were mutating into something horrific and deadly. Lotivver took an instinctive step back, but the Gallifreyan girl looked exactly the same as ever—pale, small-boned, stick-thin and dark-haired and almost sickly, as far from threatening as possible.
Of course, she only had a split-second to think it before the sudden wave of terror crashed into her mind.
The thing about Gallifreyans was that they were, at their core, a telepathic race. Their language was (she refused to think beautiful or fascinating ever again) intricate and complex but more an afterthought than something really of Gallifrey; it had been a politeness, a way of communicating with other, newly-sentient species, but it would never be their true method of communication. There were plenty of ideas and concepts other species could describe that still had no words in Gallifreyan, that could only be communicated mind-to-mind. It had all sounded terribly romantic to the younger, more naïve Lotivver, the idea of a race to whom things like love and grief and joy were so sacred and complex that no words could describe them. As it turned out, however, not only was the need to break off conversation in order to project brief glimpses of emotion into someone's mind irritating at best and headache-inducing at worst, there was an even more important concept that could only be expressed telepathically, and that was the idea of all-encompassing, mind-numbing terror.
With a sense like trying to close a heavy door against a flood, Lotivver managed to slam up a mental barrier, but behind it she could still feel the violent backlash of the terror of every Gallifreyan in mental range, hear that four-beat rhythm thundering beneath it all, and then as suddenly as it had begun it stopped. The drums stopped racing, paused and fell silent, and after a microspan in which she could feel the entire campus shaking with dread, the fear began to die down as well, until it stopped pressing quite so hard against her temples.
Culsu's tormentors were even paler than she was, staring at her and looking as if they might faint.
"S... she—she's insane!" one of them finally choked, stumbling backwards, tripping over his own feet and catching himself clumsily on a shelf.
Slowly and deliberately, holding eye contact with the foremost of the group, Culsu raised her hand and held it over her notebook.
Tap - tap - tap - tap .
They scrambled over each other in their rush to get to the door, and for just a moment the barest ghost of a smirk almost showed on her face.
A few moments of absolute, terrible silence. Culsu looked at Lotivver, gaze unreadable, and tilted her head. No words were said, but the feeling, the concept of disgust hung in the air. Lotivver opened her mouth, not quite sure what, exactly, she wanted to say, but she never got a chance regardless; Culsu walked past her without pausing and never looked back.
Culsu's roommate, whose name was something long and unpronounceable that started with an "A" ("Asdfghjkl", maybe?), couldn't seem to wrap her head around the idea of someone actually wanting to talk to Culsu Oakdown, let alone being willing to wait for her in order to do so.
She'd answered the door with her fiery-red hair pulled back into a loose bun, eating some kind of frozen dessert, and looked puzzled to find a very green, very nervous Lotivver clutching a dorm directory with Oakdown, Culsu highlighted and circled, asking if she could possibly come in.
A-whatever's confusion was not lessened when she learned that Lotivver was trying to find her roommate.
"Wait," she said, frowning. "You want to talk to her? Why?"
Lotivver twisted the directory in her hands. "I just need to apologise for something."
"She probably doesn't even remember it," the Gallifreyan girl scoffed. "I don't think she'd remember her own name if it wasn't, you know, Cthulhu Oakdown."
"Culsu," Lotivver corrected her.
"Close enough." Adjasomething crumpled up her wrapper, tossed it at the rubbish bin and missed. Lottiver watched with a small degree of horror as the floor opened to devour the wrapper and drop it through the ceiling panels into the bin. "Point is, if she didn't read it in a book the size of a mattress, she probably doesn't remember it and she probably doesn't care, either."
A millispan before, Lotivver might have agreed with her. "It's important," she insisted. "I just need to tell her something. Do you know when she'll be back?"
"I never know when she's coming back!" The girl gave an exasperated sigh. "Sometimes she stays out all night. I think she sleeps in the library. I'm telling you, she's insane. She likes books better than people."
"Is... is it alright if I wait for her?"
She waved a hand carelessly. "What do I care? I'm leaving, though, and I'm warning you, she might not even come back. Not that I care. She never talks to me, you know that? Curls up in the corner with a book as big as she is and only comes out to eat. I think it's true about Oakdowns, their minds can't handle the Schism."
"I'll take my chances," she said, unexpectedly irritated. (Wasn't there anyone who didn't hate Culsu? She was weird, sure, but really.) "Thanks."
Ad-she-didn't-really-care suddenly looked a bit nervous. "Um," she said. "Are you going to murder her or something? I mean, I can understand the temptation but I'd rather not know about it."
"No!" said Lotivver, aghast. "No," she repeated, "I'm not going to murder her. Honest."
"Oh," said Asedawhatever, somehow seeming both relieved and vaguely disappointed at the same time. Maybe that was a Gallifreyan thing. Non-linear emotions. "Well, good luck anyway."
"Yeah," said Loti, systematically shredding the directory. "Thanks."
Lotivver was just about to give up on the whole thing and go back to her room when the door opened again.
Culsu glanced up as she entered, but didn't seem to actually register the room; her attention was immediately demanded by the large pile of books she was attempting to balance on her hip while simultaneously opening, walking through and then closing and locking the door. Having accomplished this feat, she placed the books in a neat stack next to her headboard, plucked an only-moderately-bricklike book off the top of the pile and sat down, scooting across her bed to curl up against the corner and tucking the book against her knees.
For a few microspans, she didn't say a word, and finally Lotivver realised that she probably wasn't going to.
"Um," she said. "Culsu?"
Culsu froze, paused her reading, and looked up, peering intently at her face. "Asedifeghejekal..." she said slowly, as though talking to a particularly stupid child, "you're green. You haven't always been green, I'm quite sure. Did you regenerate?"
"Um," said Lotivver. "No?"
Culsu blinked, and then calmly stood up and walked out the door. Lotivver was beginning to wonder if she'd said something horribly wrong, but Culsu came back in only a moment later.
"So you haven't regenerated, and I'm in the correct room. Then what are you doing here?" she asked, seeming horribly confused.
"Well," said Lotivver, not quite sure how to begin, "I'm Lotivver."
"The exchange student?"
Lotivver blinked, and said, completely deadpan, "What gave me away?" She figured, as odd as Culsu was shaping up to being, she'd not make assumptions. That didn't mean she couldn't be exceedingly sarcastic. She was, after all, green and covered in spikes.
Culsu glanced back and forth around the room, vaguely confused. "Well," she said, "you're green. And covered in spikes. Also, Lotivver is such a Vinvocci name it's ridiculous." She frowned. "You were in the library last night, weren't you?" She didn't seem to be harbouring murderous motives.
Lotivver shifted awkwardly, nerves twisting in her belly. It was ridiculous to be so nervous, she knew; this was why she'd come, after all. "Yeah," she said, staring down at the student directory that has now been mangled beyond all hope of repair. "I, er, actually that's why I'm here. I wanted to apologise." She swallowed. "For... you know. Not saying anything."
Culsu tilted her head. Lotivver was starting to think it was a signature expression of hers. "Why?"
"Er," said Lotivver. She didn't really have anything to say to that. "They were threatening you. And I'm not actually a complete monster. I don't really know what I was thinking."
"You weren't," said Culsu simply. "You didn't want to be singled out, to be persecuted like I was. It's hardly something to apologise for."
It would have been so easy to take her at her word, accept her reassurance, but Lotivver had seen her fear and she'd seen the look on Culsu's face when she realised there was no help coming. "You're a really good actor, aren't you?"
Culsu shrugged. "You're kind of a spineless bitch, aren't you?"
Lotivver cringed. "Look, I'm really, really sorry, okay? I didn't realise they would go that far, and by the time I was going to do something, you'd already, er," she gestures vaguely in reference to the drums. "That was awesome, by the way. Like, really. I mean, scary, but awesome."
Culsu looked at her like she had food stuck between her teeth. Lotivver fought the urge to check. "You think so?" said the Gallifreyan.
"Well, yeah," Lotivver said. Obviously. "And I know you were just scared and it's probably going to make things even worse for you now and I'm really sorry I didn't say anything sooner because I should have, but—"
"Worse?" Culsu laughed like broken glass. "Are you kidding? They're terrified of me now. I should have done that a span ago!"
Lotivver felt a few moments of relief, but something about that laugh had been just slightly off. "I... um," she said; and then, after a few moments of awkwardness, added quietly, "Did you, uh... want them... to be scared of you? Really?"
"Why not?" she said bluntly, the spark of determination in her eyes seeming more like madness as she grinned.
"Because if you wanted people to be afraid of you I don't think you'd write papers for them at the last moment without asking them for anything," Lotivver answered just as bluntly. She almost thought she was getting the hang of talking to Culsu Oakdown. That was probably a bad sign.
Culsu shook her head irritably. "That's different," she insisted. "I don't do it for them. Some of the essay topics are just really interesting. I'm working on one now about the significance of circles and how Circular was developed. Everyone knows the basics, of course," and Lotivver decided not to mention that her knowledge of the creation of Circular Gallifreyan began and ended with 'Circular Gallifreyan was created', "but the intricacies are one of my favourite topics to write about. It's my guilty pleasure, I suppose. There so many more important things about the language, but the process to discovering it was nothing short of inspired, I could spend the rest of eternity writing about it. And the others, well, some of them are rather basic but I can't help it." She smiled shyly. "I love the language, I love everything about it. I even love the imperfections that annoy everyone else because the stories behind how they got there are so interesting! People don't realise—but of course," she suddenly said, as if she'd just realised something obvious. "I don't need to say any of this to you, you know it all already."
Lotivver looked askance at her. "What do you mean?"
Culsu grinned, much more sanely this time, genuine if not quite open. "Well," she said, "I've never met anyone else willing to come all the way from Pandorica VII to study at the Academy just because she wanted to learn about the Gallifreyan language."
"Oh," said Lotivver. "Oh, God. No. No! Gallifreyan is evil!" was what she wanted to say, but instead, she smiled shyly. "Well, I still don't know a lot of the history behind it all; back home all of the studies I read were practical, not theoretical. But I'd, er, I'd love to learn more." Culsu seemed like the sort of person who needed a friend. And besides, Lotivver was failing linguistics. Lotivver was failing everything, actually. There were so few exchange students at the Academy, the Gallifreyans hadn't seemed to realise that other species didn't have timesense and superintelligence and a really terrifying primary schooling system that had children under a span in age doing calculus (And Gallifreyans aged slowly!), so they didn't put any sort of curve on the marks. Hers were nausea-inducingly horrific out of context.
Culsu looked horrified. "But the theoretical side is the important part!" she exclaimed. "You can't understand the language without knowing the reasoning behind how it was created—how are you passing any of your classes?" Lotivver was spared having to explain that she wasn't, actually, when Culsu continued in the same breath, "You haveto know the theory, you'll go mad trying to understand anything about the language otherwise. Listen, I don't know your schedule but I can work around it whenever you have time, I don't really do anything after my classes are over but work on theory anyway; if you don't want to we don't have to, of course, but I really think I can help you!"
Respiratory bypass was a fantastic mechanism of Gallifreyan biology. She wasn't even out of breath.
"Oh," said Lotivver, because she didn't know what else to say. "I don't want to be a bother..."
"Not a bother at all, really, I'd love to work with you on it! I mean, after all, you're interested in the language. Most people just take it for granted, and completely ignore all of the history that makes it so fascinating."
Lotivver hesitated, but then she really was going to fail dismally without some sort of help and what Culsu was offering was almost on the level of divine intervention. And then there were those huge dark eyes, looking so hopeful...
"I'd love to," she said.
Lotivver's courses didn't actually require her to be able to read Circular Gallifreyan. She had tried to explain this to Culsu when the Gallifreyan girl had shown up with an armful of books filled with incomprehensible circles, but Culsu wouldn't hear of the concept.
"You can't learn Gallifreyan without knowing Circular," she had said sternly. "Circular Gallifreyan isn't some other way of writing, it's the original language, much older than the verbalised version. It started out because they needed to be able to share information without being immediately present in the time-zone..."
That had been three months ago. Now, and after countless gruelling spans under Culsu's relentless teaching, Lotivver was as comfortable with Circular Gallifreyan as she had ever been with Linear, and was beginning to actually enjoy learning about the different tenses (even if she couldn't use them; Culsu may have been a good teacher, but she wasn't a god, and couldn't somehow make Lotivver timesensitive). Culsu had been right; once she understood why the most rudimentary basics of the language worked the way they did, everything started to click. She was beginning to remember why she had wanted to study Gallifreyan in the first place, and rediscovering her love for the language and the culture that had created it.
Though the maths were still utterly beyond her.
"You're going to do fine," Culsu said calmly. For once their positions were reversed; Lotivver was surrounded by piles of giant books written in complex Circular, painstakingly copying down paragraphs in careful, practiced handwriting (Culsu still said it was childlike, but Lotivver would rather be able to read her own notes, unlike some people) while Culsu sat cross-legged in an armchair pulled up next to the desk, a novel on one knee and her notes for whatever ridiculously advanced quantum linguistic theory course she was taking open on the other, with a thoroughly forbidden mug of a bright purple Vinvocci drink Lotivver had introduced her to ("It's kind of like tea except really nothing at all like tea.") tucked carefully behind her feet.
"Easy for you to say."
"Well, you certainly can't do worse than you were doing three months ago," Culsu pointed out smugly. "You were still trying to work phonetically."
It seemed ridiculous to think about it now, of course, but yes, there had been a time when Lotivver had been trying to think of the Gallifreyan symbols as phonetic, instead of as simplifications of concepts reduced to their key components (all 2 000 of them). Looking back the idea of trying to learn Gallifreyan without learning Circular seemed incomprehensible, completely insane. Modern Gallifreyan used more than 300 000 basic symbols, with which the compound words the larger portion of the language consisted of were formed; trying to memorise those, instead of simply learning how they came to be and understanding the nature of the language itself, was all but impossible.
Lotivver moaned. "I'm going to die," she said.
"No you aren't. Your time signature isn't near short enough for that."
A horrible thought crossed Lotivver's mind at that. "Culsu, do you know when people are going to die?" she asked carefully.
"No," said Culsu, "it's only relative to their own timestream. I know the length of a person's life, I can't tell what timezone any part of it takes place in except the start."
Well, that wasn't depressing at all. "But, like, people who have never time-travelled and never will, you know when they'll die?"
"Yes...?" replied the Gallifreyan, confused. "Everyone can."
No, Culsu, sweetheart, they can't, thought Lotivver. She had a tendency to call people "sweetheart" within the confines of her own mind. She was working on it.
Well. Less "people" than "person". Still.
Culsu took a long swallow of steaming purple liquid before setting her mug aside. She closed her notebook with a snap—not that she'd really been studying anyway, she already knew everything–and sat up straight with a businesslike expression. "Review," she said curtly. "What are Raselion and Galeif links?"
"Space and Time, respectively," Lotivver answered immediately.
"Nominative tenses are...?"
"Not on the test," she said breezily, "because nobody but you uses them anymore." Culsu looked disappointed, so she relented enough to add "but they were an essential part of the language in the Rassilon Era, and were necessary for a greater understanding of the nature of Time itself to have come about."
Culsu appeared mollified. "What theoretical concept are the Lonely Assassins a practical illustration of, and how did they come about in the first place?"
After several moments of horrified silence, she took pity on Lotivver. "Oh, wait," she said innocently. "That was for my Temporal Mechanics course."
There was a slight chance that Culsu took slights on the nominative tenses a bit personally.
"Last question," she said, dodging the paper ball that Lotivver threw at her head. "The sky is...?"
Lotivver experienced another brief moment of panic as she tried to remember when they had covered the subject in class before realising that she was, in fact, incredibly stupid. "Orange, Culsu," she said flatly, and Culsu laughed, leaning over to retrieve the paper ball and fling it back.
"Give yourself an Ice Planet. Also, you're going to be late. You have three and one-fifth microspans."
Lotivver's insides squirmed disturbingly, and she resisted the urge to crawl under the desk and hide until finals were over. "I'm going to die," she reminded Culsu, who rolled her eyes.
"You're going to be fine," she said. "I have money on you, so you'd better be. You will fail if you miss your exam, however. Three and one ninth, by the way." Lotivver gave her a pitiful look, and she shook her head indulgently. "I won't be here when you get out, I have Temporal Mechanics in two millispans. You'll do wonderfully." She made a shooing gesture, and Lotivver stuck her tongue out at her before she turned to leave.
"You'll be wanting a pen," Culsu pointed out.
Lotivver retrieved several pens and left the library with as much dignity as possible.
"I am so glad that's over!" moaned Asedifeghejekal, flopping dramatically onto her bed. "Those tests were completely unfair! If they want anyone to keep coming to the Academy they should stop making their courses impossible to pass! I swear, half the exam was things we only talked about for a millispan at most. How is anyone supposed to pass anything here?"
Culsu had been living with her roommate for 240.67 spans; this was par for the course as far as it went, and clearly Asedifeghejekal had yet to flunk out of the Academy; she would barely manage to scrape by, just like every school-season previous, and as usual would likely celebrate her failure to fail by going out with a large group of traumatisingly perky friends and stumbling back in the next morning with a splitting headache, vowing never to drink again.
In other words, normally Culsu would have ignored her completely, if she even registered that she was being spoken to. For some reason, however, this time it annoyed her.
"The tests are perfectly fair," she argued. "Your inability to prepare for them is hardly the fault of the exams themselves. Have you even opened a textbook this trimester?"
"Oh, shut up," Asedifeghejekal snapped. Culsu was vaguely surprised; not only at her roommate's uncharacteristic response, but also at the fact that she had said anything to be responded to in the first place. "Everyone knows you passed everything perfectly. Not all of us are freaks."
"Really?" said Culsu lightly, "I hadn't noticed."
Asedifeghejekal shot her a filthy look. "Well, if you never come out of the library except to eat and go to class, yeah, exams are easy. The rest of us actually have lives."
Feeling petty and argumentative, Culsu snapped "I have a life!"
"You have a heartsbeat," Asedifeghejekal muttered.
A rush of irrational defensiveness and anger had Culsu thinking, just for a nanospan, of drumming out said heartsbeat on the nearest flat surface. She quickly remembered that she wasn't actually a sociopath, and settled for aggressively turning the page of her novel and pointedly ignoring the statement.
Asedifeghejekal, however, was not willing to let the matter sit this time. "It's not my fault I'm a normal well-adjusted sane person. I'll take a few low marks over spending my whole life alone in a library drumming to myself."
Culsu immediately regretted ever showing self-control. It never did seem to work out. "Since you clearly haven't noticed, I am not alone in the library. Just because my social interaction doesn't require me to end up with nausea and a headache..."
"Your social interaction is being used as a free tutor for some Vinvocci airhead who bit off more than she can chew. See how often you hang out once she's out of Linguistics."
There were a lot of things that could be said to that, but the first that came to mind was "She's studying to be an interpreter. She'll never be out of Linguistics."
"What about when she graduates? She's not going to stay until our graduation, is she? Or will you fail her so that she has to?"
"How pathetic do you think I am, Asedifeghejekal?" said Culsu.
"Pathetic enough that you talk like someone on their ninth regeneration, for starters. You do know that the Deca are the only ones who still use that syntax, right?"
Culsu tilted her head. "The Deca are the most famous alumni of Prydon. How is that supposed to be an insult?"
Her roommate raised an eyebrow and counted off on her fingers, looking more and more appalled with every member. "Dead, insane, insane and dead, professional thief, exiled, politician, exiled, insane, insane and exiled and executed for terrorism, and let's not forget the Master."
"At least two of them are perfectly upstanding members of society," Culsu protested.
"Coordinator of the APC Net, and a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency," noted Asedifeghejekal. "That's the least upstanding you can get while still on two legs."
"None of which has anything to do with you deciding not to study," Culsu grumbled.
Asedifeghejekal threw up her hands in a mixture of disgust and exasperation. "I have some sort of balance in my life! I date—"
"I know," Culsu observed solemnly. "Hence why I prefer to sleep in the library."
For a moment it seemed like Asedifeghejekal couldn't decide whether she wanted to laugh at Culsu or slap her. She compromised by spluttering furiously for a moment and finally snapping, "Very funny, Oakdown. Well, when you finally snap and try to destroy the universe—"
It could have ended very badly, but thankfully at that moment the door burst open.
Culsu was accustomed to the door bursting open at various speeds and with varying degrees of anger at all times of the day and night, so it took her several nanospans to register the fact that the door had no business bursting open when both she and her roommate were already inside it.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in bewilderment.
"I passed!" Lotivver cried. "I mean I actually passed with passing marks in an uncurved course, I still have no idea how to use most of the tenses and I'm pretty sure I never will, but I got passing marks and extra credit on the essays, which was amazing, and I got passing marks, Culsu, passing marks, and, and, and..." She trailed off, looking at Culsu with an unreadable expression. "You're amazing," she said, suddenly solemn. "You're brilliant and amazing and pretty and amazing and I'd never have passed without you and thank you so much."
"Sounds pretty final..." Asedifeghejekal said. Culsu ignored her.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Lotivver continued. "And I'm sorry I'm such an idiot and can't figure out tenses and get on your nerves and say stupid things, and I'm sorry I apologise all the time, and I'm sorry because you're probably going to hate me or think I'm even stupider than you think I am now or something, I don't know how your mind works and I don't really think I want to know, to be honest, but—"
And that's when Lotivver snogged her.
It wasn't like she'd planned it.
Really. On the list of things she'd planned to do on Gallifrey (the list which had shortened almost immediately upon arrival at the Academy to "try to fail as gracefully as possible"), falling for Culsu Oakdown not only failed to make the top, it did not appear at all. She still didn't understand how it had happened, or when, and actually hadn't realised until she practically threw herself at the girl how long she had in fact wanted to do so.
If she took a step back and looked at the situation rationally, it made absolutely no sense. Culsu was interesting, yes, but interesting in the sense that it was impossible to understand exactly how her mind worked and the things she said were fascinating even if they made no sense. She certainly wasn't, despite Lotivver's insensible ramblings, particularly pretty; she wasn't ugly but she was pale and skinny and her hair was a thoroughly uninteresting shade of brown and never seemed to fall in a way that had any hope of flattering her.
And yet ...
There was something about the way her eyes lit up when she talked about history, the carelessness when she etched out perfect circles while barely glancing at her notes that was simultaneously irritating and endearing, the way everything about her transformed when she gave one of those incredibly rare genuine smiles that combined to twist up Lotivver's emotions in ways that were almost, if not quite, as confusing as nominative tenses.
Which was, of course, why she'd been avoiding Culsu for a week.
It was incredibly boring. She didn't dare go to the library, and the only other places she could think of—the little place that Culsu was always complaining about but learned to love because it the only restaurant in the vicinity that served Vinvocci drinks, a pastry place filled with all kinds of terrifying-looking objects that were apparently food, but which Lotivver had learned to love because while they looked terrifying they were absolutely delicious, the secondhand bookstore they always seemed to end up in after they'd made the rounds of their other haunts—were far too dangerous to even consider, because of the very high possibility of running into Culsu. It was a good thing Culsu had always avoided the dining hall like the plague (there were far too many people and it was far too easy for them to spot her) or Lotivver would probably have starved.
She didn't have much of an appetite anyway.
So she'd been spending more time in her shared room than, she was quite sure, Zaph had spent in his entire time as a student here. But then, she was also quite sure that when Zaph kissed a girl he didn't precede it by babbling like an idiot about his grades, nor follow it up by freezing like an Angel and then bolting out of the room. She was also pretty sure that the girls he kissed didn't respond by stiffening in shock and then staring at him with eyes so huge they looked in danger of swallowing her face.
Clearly, the logical course was to barricade herself in her room and spend the next span or several avoiding her only friend, who also happened to attend the same school and, while it felt like a secondary concern at the moment, was her only hope of passing anything for the rest of her life.
Knock knock knock knock.
She didn't acknowledge the door, and for a little while, she thought she'd been left alone. But then, again.
Knock knock knock knock.
"Leave me alone!" she shouted, her voice muffled by the pillow she'd put over her head.
Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock.
Oh, Rassilon. She wasn't going to go away, was she.
Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock knock knock . Knock knock kno —
She answered the door, and was immediately assaulted with a heartsfelt snog.
When Lotivver had to breathe, she pulled back, and Culsu was glaring at her.
"Don't you ever, ever do something like that again," said the Gallifreyan.
"...What?" Lotivver said intelligently. Then, forcing herself to focus, "Listen, I wasn't thinking, I was just really happy and I swear I only came over to tell you—"
"Lotivver." Culsu practically growled, and that little spark of borderline insanity was back in her eyes, which was oddly reassuring. "I have spent the last three months reading more cheap lesbian romance novels than I ever wanted to see in my entire life right in front of you. We split a Lover's Knot at that pastry shop you pretended to hate. And no, the variation of personal pronouns based on your relationship to the other person isn't actually so complicated that it takes a week to understand, you idiot, I just liked hearing you say it, so apologise for running away if you like but don't you dare apologise for kissing me."
Lotivver felt herself getting choked up against her will. This was slightly worrying, as it was interfering with her ability to breathe.
"Culsu," she choked. "Let go of my collar, please..."
"Right!" Culsu snatched her hands back awkwardly, and Lotivver breathed a sigh of relief.
There was a long, only mostly awkward pause.
"So," Lotivver asked eventually, "Are we...?"
"Yes," Culsu said firmly. Lotivver apparently did not get a say in this, but it wasn't as if she would be campaigning for anything different. Still, conventional wisdom would dictate that this was the kind of thing people talked about.
Judging by the slightly disturbed look on Culsu's face, she was thinking the same thing.
"Should we maybe..." Lotivver started.
Culsu hesitated. "...go to the library?" she suggested hopefully.
And somehow, suddenly, that seemed like the only logical thing to do. They ended up pulling out several books from a section Lotivver had never actually been in before—she hadn't known the Academy library had a recreational reading section—and that Culsu said shyly were classics, and then foregoing the use of their usual armchair-and-desk combo in favour of simply curling up together in a corner. After a few moments of awkward trial-and-error as they tried to find a position that didn't end up with Culsu impaling herself on Lotivver's spikes, they finally managed to arrange themselves so that nobody's circulation was cut off unduly, but there was no way for both of them to see the same book at the same time; at least not easily.
"Do... you want me to read to you?" Culsu offered, looking nervous at the prospect.
It was tempting... but at the same time it wasn't really what Lotivver wanted.
"Why don't we just read?" she said with a smile. "It's nice, just like this."
She didn't know how long they stayed like that, just leaning into each other reading Gallifreyan classics, but the librarian passed them by several times and looked at them with a smile that said they weren't the only ones who had been waiting for this to happen for a long time.
And if Culsu was reading unnaturally slowly because she kept glancing over her shoulder and watching Lotivver like she would disappear if she looked away, well, what of it.
Lotivver was beginning to have a sneaking suspicion as to why Culsu had been so uncharacteristically considerate.
Would you be willing to make a quick library run? she'd said. There's no point in both of us going. I'll get us lunch and we can eat on the lawn?
Of course I will, Lotivver had said happily. That's so sweet of her, she'd thought. How very kind a gesture that was.
Culsu was apparently taking every class in the entire Academy.
Luckily, they were friends with the librarian; when it became obvious that Lotivver was apparently collecting every textbook the library carried, Lokrnothale had very kindly offered her the use of one of the library book carts, and they were now making the rounds while Lotivver checked titles off the list Culsu had shoved into her hand before running off so she couldn't give it back.
"And how was your vacation?" ey asked cheerfully, kicking the one stubborn wheel of the cart with good-natured violence until it unstuck and reluctantly fell into line with the others. That near right wheel was a constant thorn in eir side, and while a bit of oil would have fixed it Lotivver suspected that the librarian secretly respected its stubborn resistance and independent spirit. It was equally possible that Lokrnothale simply liked kicking things.
"It was nice, thank you," Lotivver said politely, frowning at her list. Culsu had truly horrific handwriting, and to top it, was probably one of only a few hundred people who actually wrote in Circular on a daily basis. She should get a geography textbook while she was here, find out how many people actually lived on Mt Perdition. It couldn't be more than a few hundred, she was sure, but it would bother her, now. "I think this one is Application of Quantum Theory in Design, or else something about peanut butter."
Lokrnothale laughed and turned the cart around the way they'd come. "Quantum Design will be Culsu, I imagine?" ey said conversationally as the near right wheel squeaked ominously in protest at the idea of forward motion. "And how did she enjoy your vacation?" There was an impish sparkle in eir eye whenever their budding relationship was even vaguely alluded to. Lotivver had reason to believe that the librarian wanted them to work as a couple more than they did.
"Er," said Lotivver. "I met her family. It was kind of hard to tell?" That was probably the safest answer, with the least-awkward implications.
"Good House, Oakdown," ey said. "Shame about Koschei, of course. He was always such a nice kid, too. If I had to choose anyone from that group of theirs to become what he did, well, it'd probably have to be that young friend of his. Thete? Now that was an odd one."
Lotivver was occasionally thrown off by how young Gallifreyans could look. "How old are you?" she asked. "Not to be rude."
"Let me put it this way," ey said with a grin. "I knew the rocks out on the lawn when they were pebbles. Went home with Culsu for the summer then?"
"You're more invested in our relationship than we are," Lotivver complained, crossing off Application of Quantum Theory in Design and frowning in bewilderment at a set of circles that seemed to be a comment about someone's fruit shoes.
"Well, someone has to be!" Lok exclaimed. "It took the two of you long enough. How many longing looks does a girl have to give you over the top of a romance novel before you catch on?"
Lotivver glared at em without any real heat. "Yes, thank you, I'd gone two spans without someone reminding me about that." Lok winked, and Lotivver shook her head in exasperation. "I honestly have no idea what this is. Is it some sort of gardening equipment?"
Lok frowned for a moment, then smiled, took the paper out of Lotivver's hand, flipped it upside-down and handed it back to her.
Lotivver was fully prepared to be angry with Culsu. At the very least she had every intention to feign a deep sense of betrayal and inform her that she really, really hated her and that the only reason for her forgiveness was the fact that Culsu had bought them lunch.
She was prepared for this right up until she bullied the borrowed library cart around a corner (Near Right Wheel was attempting to stir up a rebellion among the other wheels, and while Lokrnothale assured her that a good hard kicking was all that was needed to put the cart to rights cracking down so harshly made Lotivver feel slightly tyrannical) and saw Culsu yet again surrounded by a group of rowdy Gallifreyan students who did not appear particularly friendly.
"...out of her den!" one of them called, and the others laughed.
"Spend the whole summer in the library again?" one of the shorter ones asked, elbowing his friend and grinning."
"No, actually," Culsu said coolly. "I went home and visited my family. I do have one, you know."
"I thought they were all in Shada," laughed one.
"What're you doing out here, huh?" prodded another. "I thought you were allergic to sunlight."
"Meeting someone for lunch?" asked one of the girls.
"I think they are lunch!" someone said, and the laughter was bolder.
"No," insisted the girl with a wide grin. "Look, she's got drinks and a Lover's Knot and everything, that's so cute! Who is he?"
There was even more uproarious laughter at that. "Yeah, right," scoffed one of the older boys, a confident, dark-haired someone-or-other that Lotivver recognised from that night in the library. "There's nothing sadder than someone eating a Lover's Knot alone, you know," he said mockingly.
Lotivver had just spent a good two spans trudging through the library in search of a ridiculous number of textbooks while struggling to oppose a vicious revolution instigated by a wheel. She had absolutely no patience for this.
"Hey, Culsu," she said airily, striding through the group and sprawling on the grass next to her. "Sorry it took so long, the library's full of idiots who haven't checked their class postings for the textbooks they need. They're all freaking out, expecting Lok to track it down for them." Several members of the group turned faintly red at this, and Culsu made a valiantly terrible effort not to smirk. "Thanks for lunch," she added casually, breaking the crumbly, sugar-crusted Knot in half and leaning over to very obviously kiss the corner of her mouth. "You have no idea how much I needed this."
"Hmm. Took you long enough. Did you get lost?" said Culsu curiously, treating the bystanders like some sort of entirely boring backdrop. The smiling girl from earlier tried and failed to hold back a high-pitched squeal of delight.
"No, I did not get lost," said Lotivver, irritation showing through her words, "I had to find all seventeen of your textbooks. And even Lok had trouble reading your handwriting, and ey's had kilospans to practice, so no, it's not just a me thing. If you were wondering."
"I have perfectly good handwriting," argued Culsu.
"For a blind and arthritic sea slug, maybe."
The bystanders started to move along; this wasn't exactly Grade A* Entertainment, and they had better things to be doing, like finding out what textbooks they needed.
"I have no problem reading my handwriting," Culsu insisted.
Lotivver narrowed her eyes at the girl and handed her the list of textbooks. "Third from the bottom."
Culsu frowned in confusion. "Why would I tell you to get me fruit shoes?"
The name Culsu Oakdown had always been synonymous with 'Huge Pile of Books'. Lotivver was more than used to it; it was more unusual to see Culsu walking down a hallway without at least three large books.
This, however, was ridiculous.
"Culsu," she said incredulously, "this is impossible."
"It's completely possible," Culsu argued, "it just isn't common."
"For a reason! You're drowning in schoolwork!"
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not being ridiculous, I'm being literal. Culsu, I can't see you."
There was an exasperated sigh from behind the tower of thick leather-bound tomes, and then there was a slight movement in the center and the top four wriggled their way free and were dropped with a THUD somewhere on the other side of the desk.
"Hello," Culsu said dryly, waving at Lotivver through her impromptu window. "My pen's out of ink, could you pass me another one?"
Sure, but I'll have to get it to you with a catapult, Lotivver thought. She dug through her bag and passed a pair of black pens through the slot. "Culsu, there's no way for you to get through all of these classes. It's not possible. You're not going to catch up on this week's homework for the next month at least. Maybe it'd be different if you were taking all language courses, but you're still learning Temporal Mechanics, and—give me your schedule," she demanded suddenly, as something rather important had just occurred to her. She reached back into her bag and started rooting around for something.
"No," Culsu said petulently.
"Give it," said Lotivver, finally pulling out a thick, shiny booklet, emblazoned with the Academy logo and lots of pictures of students smiling more widely than could possibly be natural.
"Culsu Oakdown, I swear I will ask Lokrnothale to find me the most in-depth history of the Prydonian Chapter they have in the library." For some reason, Culsu tended to avoid telling Lotivver anything about her family's history.
Shooting her a filthy, deeply-betrayed look, Culsu reached into her bag and shoved a rumpled schedule through the gap.
Lotivver flipped through the course-description booklet briefly, confirming her suspicions. "Culsu, half these courses are the prerequisites for the other half! What are you thinking?"
Culsu mumbled a reply.
"I said," and she glared with all the heat of an especially warm Ice Planet, "you graduate half a century before me."
"Well, yeah," Lotivver said, confused. "But it's not like it's a competition, I'm just taking a less advanced degree, translating Gallifreyan's hard but it's not exactly designing Matrix casings, I mean—oh." It took a moment for Culsu's meaning to sink in, but once it did Lotivver blushed almost as hard as Culsu was.
"Shut up," Culsu muttered, ears burning.
Lotivver took a few moments to let the dizzying, giddy rush of affection die down so that she could speak coherently. "Culsu," she says gently, "that's incredibly sweet and I want you to graduate with me too, but you're going to kill yourself trying to take sixty spans' worth of classes in less than ten. Not even you can do that. I'd rather help put you through school than help pay for your therapy when you go completely insane and, and, and start writing books in your own blood or something."
"You found an example to use that didn't have anything to do with drums," said Culsu brightly. "Good job."
"Well, they could be music books," Lotivver grinned. Growing serious again, she hesitated. "Culsu..." She would have taken her hand, but they were currently communicating through a small gap in a wall of books. "Don't do this to yourself, it's not healthy. I'm not going anywhere for another nine and a half spans—"
"Nine and six elevenths," Culsu muttered reflexively, and Lotivver ignored her.
"And at that point even if we did graduate at the same time we'd end up going to different places regardless, at least for a little while. Translators aren't generally needed in Gallifreyan Pediatrics Wards."
Culsu scowled, but couldn't actually refute the statement.
"Besides," Lotivver added reasonably, "at this rate you won't retain half of what you're trying to learn even if you do somehow manage to pass all of your classes. Wouldn't you rather wait sixty spans and be the best in your field than scrape by fifty spans early and not even understand what you're doing?"
Culsu made a sound halfway between a growl and a sigh, and dropped her head into her hands. "I know," she grumbled.
"So...?" Lotivver prompted.
Culsu grimaced and sketched reluctant circles in the margins of her notebook. "I'll drop the extra courses," she said finally. "But only because psychotherapy is expensive and I don't know how to write music."
"And this is why I love you," said Lotivver, shaking her head with a smile. Culsu's head snapped up in surprise, and after a moment Lotivver realised what she'd said.
"...well don't let it go to your head," she said. "You're still insane."
Culsu threw a wad of paper at her head, and everything was back to normal.
Gallifrey was the most amazingly advanced civilisation that had ever existed. They were lightyears ahead of the rest of the universe (and they knew it, which was more than slightly irritating at times), and they had access to technology that other species' brains would not be evolved enough to even comprehend for millenia.
But some things were universal, never changed no matter where in space and time you happened to be; and there would always be that one classroom that still used ancient transparency-slide projectors.
This was especially ironic given that it was Lotivver's Modern History course. Her justification for taking the class was the hope of picking up terms and cultural references that might come up in a translation but wouldn't be covered in a purely analytical class. In truth, she was just tired of not understanding anything Zaph talked about, and was secretly morbidly curious about whatever it was that made Culsu refuse to talk about her family. She had expected the course to involve a good deal of current-events talk, analysis of political climates and the like.
Apparently, the Gallifreyan definition of "modern" was "occurring within the last ten kilospans".
"So, today I'm supposed to be talking about the formation of the Prydon Academy, except, see, I don't really care, and nobody's ever going to need to have that information anyway. If you're really interested, read a book. We have a library, with a librarian who is far more able to put up with you idiots than I. If you don't know where the library is, don't come crying to me."
The Modern History professor was a bright but impatient woman ("female pronouns, please and thank you") who made no secret about the fact that she hated both her subject and her students. Apparently, as Lotivver had only discovered after signing up for the course, Modern History was the class that new or unpopular professors had thrust upon them if they happened to have an empty slot. As such it was a wildly different class from season to season, and the promising descriptions she'd received from the previous season's class were no longer even vaguely relevant. Last season's class had been taught by the mellow older gentleman who coached the debate team, and had consisted mostly of organised class discussion and the occasional essay.
This season, it had been foisted on an a young professor of Upper-Level Gender Studies who was clearly deeply traumatised by having to deal with the general student population. Lotivver always made sure to sit near the door, preparing for the day when their History professor would snap and murder them all with the antique matter compressor in a display case on her desk. She didn't know where the hype about Culsu had come from. If anyone at the Academy looked like they were hearing drums in their heads, it was this lady.
"So instead of the creation of Prydon, we'll be talking about its students, or, rather, two of them specifically.
"The most iconic figures of Time Lord society at our current coordinates are renegades. What does that say, exactly, about our culture? About how stagnated we are? Gallifrey is so isolationist and holier-than-thou, our most positively-thought-of figure is a known terrorist." The projection shook slightly as she placed a transparency onto the machine.
"It's upside down!" several students called. Curses visibly cycling through her mind, she flipped the picture. Lotivver's lips twitched slightly. Gallifrey didn't have particularly terrifying terrorists; the slide was a picture of a man with a mop of wild black curls, a floppy hat, a scarf that looked like someone's grandmother had made it while on drugs and never figured out when it was time to stop knitting, a bright red ascot... for a known terrorist he was downright cuddly-looking.
The professor must have seen the students trying not to laugh. "Don't let his appearance fool you," she said harshly. "The Doctor has left a wide trail of destruction everywhere he's been. Whole planets gone, civilisations brought to their knees, children stolen out of their homes."
"I heard he eats babies," a girl whispered. The professor, having a fully-functioning temporal lobe, looked at her for several nanospans with an utterly pathetic, I-am-seriously-contemplating-suicide look on her face. She finally made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a whimper and turned away.
"Jelly babies," she said shortly, with the clipped tones of someone trying not to commit mass homicide, "are not infants. They're candies from mid-twentieth century Terra. They're made of gelatin. You bloody idiot."
Before the deeply offended girl could voice her deep offense, the professor turned back to the projection screen. She removed the slide of the Adorable Terrorist With A Scarf and slid a second image onto the projector, glancing over her shoulder to line it up. Deeply Offended Girl promptly forgot about her deep offense. Possibly it had fallen to the floor next to her jaw.
While the previous example had looked sweet and nonthreatening, this one looked... inviting. Intriguing.
Like sex on a stick, Lotivver thought, and mentally apologised to her girlfriend. The man had dark, subtly wavy hair, eyes that were almost black and shone with a mischievous sort of energy. He had an impish smirk, and while he was incredibly pale it was somehow also incredibly attractive, and she understood the term "porcelain skin" for the first time. Well, she thought to herself, at least if she was ogling hot guys in her history class it was a good thing they were only pictures, that couldn't be wrong, and feature-wise he even sort of looked like Culs—
"This," said the professor, "is the Master."
"He's hot!" Deeply Offended Girl blurted. The broad-shouldered blonde athlete-type sitting next to her looked horribly disturbed, as if he had just had an unsettling sexual revelation.
The professor stared at her, eyes filled with the sort of burning hatred Lotivver had never seen except for in a documentary about Ood infected with the Red-Eye Virus. "He's evil," she said emotionlessly, like she was trying not to scream.
"He's hot," Deeply Offended Girl repeated, dumbstruck. She was practically drooling.
"Yeah," said Sexual Revelation absently. Deeply Offended Girl turned to him, scandalised, and was interrupted by their increasingly suicidal professor.
"But he's evil."
"Those eyebrows are evil," exclaimed a girl from the back of the room. Lotivver couldn't really disagree with the sentiment.
"Can I be a known terrorist too?" called another.
The professor's eye twitched. "Certainly," she said, with manic cheerfulness. "All you have to do is rip apart the fabric of reality, destroy a few dozen planets, and murder countless multitudes with an horrifically painful compression field which causes their hearts and brain to burst. Being a sadistic rapist would probably help, too."
"Well, I know he's evil," protested Deeply Offended Girl, who appeared deeply offended by the implication that she did not realise this. "I'm just saying you can be evil and hotter than lightning at the same time. I mean, look at him."
"I bet he's great in bed!" called out one girl.
The professor looked near tears. "What part," she said, slowly, calmly, and quietly, "of 'sadistic rapist' did you not fucking hear." She bit down on her fist with look of intense depression, shaking slightly. "He wouldn't be 'great in bed'," she said, the quotation marks neatly falling into place, "he would be unspeakably cruel. That is, more or less, the definition of 'sadistic'. And he likely would not restrain himself to your mind alone."
Some of the girls looked uncomfortable at this declaration. Deeply Offended Girl, however, was unmoved. "Look, I'm not saying I have a thing for the Master," she said irritably. "But there's nothing wrong with being a little kinky. The Doctor's supposed to be this crazy dangerous guy too and you're not ranting about him being evil."
There was a very long pause, wherein the professor made a great deal of very interesting facial expressions. Lotivver especially liked Look of Extreme Self-Pity Mixed with a Rather Good Deal of Nausea #7. It complemented the Look of Lost Faith in the Future of My Species #4 nicely. "Well, see," she said finally, "as dangerous as the Doctor is, he will not torture you because he wants to hear you scream. He will not utterly mangle a Fixed Point for fun. He will probably offer you a piece of candy. Then he will destroy the foundation of your society, or throw your planet into a Black Hole, or one of a thousand other things, but it won't be drawn-out, or humiliating, or painful, and at least he won't be laughing while he does it."
Deeply Offended Girl looked mostly subdued, but still opened her mouth as if to argue for the principle of the thing. Before she could, however, a young man on the other side of the room called over, "Dude. He's gay for the Doctor." Sexual Revelation perked up slightly, and then looked disgusted with himself. Deeply Offended Girl huffed and closed her mouth.
Lotivver took the opportunity to make a strategic exit, slipping out of her chair and out the door as the professor's face cycled through expressions again before landing on incoherent despair. They were definitely not getting anything done today, and she was fairly certain she hadn't been imagining their professor's hand twitching toward the matter compressor.
At this point, she and Culsu practically owned their favourite desk/armchair combo; it was a very rare occasion when one or both of them wasn't present to hold it, and even when they weren't there the rest of the student body seemed to know better than to move in on it.
Culsu looked up in surprise when Lotivver walked up. "You're here early," she said, shortening the string on the remnants of a chocolate-and-vanilla-swirl Ice Planet to stop it from swinging into her face.
"Class was three seconds from turning into a bloodbath," Lotivver said shortly. "Apparently the Master being an insane, sadistic, murderous rapist doesn't detract from his sex appeal."
Culsu froze. Coughed. "Really?" she said, voice strangled.
"My class is full of idiots," Lotivver said by way of avoiding the question. "And I think our professor is going to murder them all."
"What classes are you taking?" Culsu asked, as if she hadn't read Lotivver's schedule almost before Lotivver herself had gotten the chance. "Most linguistics courses don't talk about Kosch—the Master's sex appeal." Lotivver wasn't sure whether or not she was imagining the slight bitterness just underneath the casual surface of the question.
"Modern History," she said. "You know that! I wanted to learn more about the culture, maybe pick up on some figures of speech."
"Mmmhmm," said Culsu noncommittally.
Lotivver flushed slightly, not making eye contact as she fumbled with no particular purpose through her bag. "Well I just like knowing what's going on, I've been living on Gallifrey for almost twenty centispans now and I still don't really understand anything about it, it's important to not live in the dark all the time..."
"Mmm," said Culsu.
Lotivver was vaguely annoyed, but still didn't look up. "I mean it!"
Culsu snorted softly.
"What?" said Lotivver, defensive. "You never talk about the history or anything; I have to get it from somewhere. I mean, as notorious as the Master is, all I knew was that there were drums involved somehow and you hated when people brought him up! Well, hey, now I know why. You could have, you know, talked to me, but instead I have to take some stupid class with a homicidal professor to learn anything about your family!"
When she finally looked up, she realised exactly how stupid she was. Culsu was staring at her, wide-eyed and looking terribly hurt, with an Ice Planet string dangling from her mouth. Very slowly, she swallowed and folded the string into its wrapper.
"Did you know," she said quietly, "until just now I actually believed you when you said you just wanted to learn more about the culture?"
"That's true!" Lotivver said quickly.
"Good," Culsu said coldly. "Because there are plenty of things you need to learn. For example, the Master is in Shada. He has no legal familial ties. If you recall, you met my family. But, then, I suppose none of them count? There will only ever be one former Oakdown anyone else cares about, I don't know what else I should have expected."
"That's not fair," Lotivver protested. "You know that's not what I meant!"
"Isn't it?" said Culsu. "I don't talk about Koshei for a reason, have you ever thought about that? Just like how the Lungbarrows never mention their problem child. Of course, nobody cares what the Lungbarrows do or don't do, not like Oakdown."
"What the hell is a Lungbarrow?" Lotivver demanded.
"What?" said Culsu sweetly, a spark of insanity in her eyes, "Your class talked about the Master but didn't mention his best friend Theta Sigma Lungbarrow?"
Lotivver'd heard that name before, she was sure of it, but that's more or less where her knowledge ended.
"The Doctor," Culsu said blankly. "The boy who murdered when he was seven. The Oncoming Storm, the Destroyer of Worlds, Ka Faraq Gatri. They were best friends, didn't your professor mention that?"
"Um." Lotivver tried to find a way to explain that they didn't really have a chance to talk about the Doctor at all beyond that he didn't literally eat babies, but higher brain functions seemed to have deserted her.
"And see," continued Culsu, "he's sane. It's almost worse, don't you think?"
There were replies she should have made. A lot of replies she should have made. But all she could think to say was "Sane? Have you seen that scarf?"
It wasn't really her brightest idea, in hindsight.
Culsu went even paler than usual, which Lotivver hadn't thought was physically possible. "You don't even realise what's wrong, do you? You honestly have no idea why this isn't some stupid joke to me. It's certainly one to you." She took a deep breath, finding it less calming than it was purported to be. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be an Oakdown? What we deal with on a daily basis because of him? It's not funny, Lotivver. It really, really isn't. If I get angry, look out, I'm going to go ballistic and murder everyone; if I control myself, I'm plotting something; if I speak up I'm annoying, if I keep quiet I'm a freak, but no matter what I do it's never me doing anything, it's just my Oakdown showing."
"Look," Lotivver said. "I'm sorry people give you a hard time but that's not my fault, all right? Keeping me in the dark isn't doing anything but making me curious, what, did you think I wouldn't want to know what's going on just because you don't like talking about it?"
Culsu shook her head sharply. "Educating yourself is one thing, but treating it like it doesn't matter—"
"I think it matters kind of a lot, actually," Lotivver snapped.
Culsu went very still, and there was a long pause. She closed her eyes and smiled mirthlessly. "Of course," she said with terrifying serenity. "Of course it matters to you now that you know what the Master really is. All those things about me you thought were harmless little quirks are actually warning signs, because the fact that one member of my House went mad has retroactively altered the psyche of every other Oakdown who will ever live, and despite the fact that no two people ever react exactly the same way to the Schism the only available path for Oakdowns now is as rapists and mass murderers."
"Nobody's saying that, Culsu," Lotivver said warily.
"Everyone is saying it, including you, you're just not saying it out loud!" Culsu sat back in disgust. "You're looking at me like I'm going to slit your throat in the middle of the night if you say the wrong thing. Well, maybe I will!' She gave a harsh, choked laugh. "Why shouldn't I? You're the only one who ever gave me a fair chance, nobody else ever really thought of me as just Culsu and not Culsu Oakdown, and you were only doing it out of ignorance, so why disappoint the universe? Go ahead, tell me what I want to hear or I'll kill you, does that make you feel better about yourself?"
"Oh, stop," said Lotivver irritably. "Now you're just being stupid."
"Oh, I'm stupid?" snapped Culsu. "At least I understand the concept of verb tenses."
It was like a slap in the face. "Yeah?" Lotivver choked. "And I know how to deal with my problems without mind-raping half the campus, is that an Oakdown thing?"
It was too far, lightyears too far over the line for both of them and they knew it but they couldn't stop, they were both in too much pain.
Culsu, Lotivver thought, could have easily murdered her in that moment. "Don't pretend to know anything about how our world works," she snarled. "Your pathetic little brain can't handle it."
"Fat lot of good yours has done you!"
Culsu leapt to her feet. "No one cares what you think!" she said. "If you had anything interesting to say you wouldn't spend your whole life taking other people's words and dumbing them down. If you think you're so clever, go write about it and don't you dare use the language I taught you, write it in your own blood for all I care, just leave me alone, that's all I ever wanted!"
Lotivver stood. "Well have fun with it," she hissed, and stormed out.
Culsu let the anger burn for as long as it took for Lotivver's heel to snap out of sight, and then the sudden loss crashed over her, and she put her head down and sobbed.
After what felt like aeons, she felt a gentle hand rubbing between her shoulder blades. "Easy," murmured Lok. "You have to breathe, sweetheart, you'll make yourself sick. Easy, now, it's all right."
She obeyed em blindly, sucking jumpy, desperate gulps of air until she wrangled her breathing back into an almost normal rhythm. Ey handed her a handkerchief wordlessly, and she gave a choked sort of laugh as she accepted it. Lok never stopped rubbing her shoulders, and after a microspan or so she managed to sit up, rubbing her eyes and just barely too exhausted from the flood of emotions to be embarrassed.
"Thanks," she whispered. Lok smiled reassuringly and squeezed her shoulder.
"Now I know neither of you meant a word you just said," ey said quietly.
Culsu cringed. "You heard that?"
"The whole library heard that, I'm afraid," said Lok, patting her consolingly on the back. "And the whole library knows neither of you really believed a word of it. Everyone says stupid things when they're hurt. That's just pure animal instinct. When you're in pain you lash out at anyone who gets close. It doesn't mean you really want them hurt too."
Culsu felt a powerful urge to either cry again or be sick. "She might have," she rasped.
Lok shook eir head without hesitation. "Don't kid yourself," ey said sternly.
Zaph could, rather unfortunately, name to the nanospan how long it had been since Lotivver's argument with her girlfriend. Or ex-girlfriend. Whatever.
He didn't really want to be able to do so. He had better things to be doing, like trying not to fail his classes. Having a miserable Vinvocci in the corner was interfering with his sleep-schedule. She didn't have the greatest mental shields.
Knock knock knock knock.
Lotivver moaned from her bed, under a pile of blankets. "Go away!"
Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock.
"Lrtrvvr," he growled into his pillow. "'s your crazy girlfriend, make her stop."
Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock. Knock knock knock knock.
Zaph made a discontent sound in the back of his throat, the sort of precursor to words of Gallifrey in ages past, and pulled himself out of bed. He opened the door mid-knock, blinking at the sudden light.
"It's 0300," he said miserably. "What do you want?"
"Is Lotivver in?" she asked anxiously, standing on her toes to try and look over his shoulder into the darkness.
"Where else would she be? It's 0300," said Zaph, shaking his head tiredly, at the same time that Lotivver mumbled "No," from her fortress of blankets.
"May I come in?" asked Culsu.
Zaph briefly considered saying no and closing the door in her face, but that would probably just make her start knocking again.
"Fine," he said shortly. "But if you're going to murder her don't make too much noise, I'm trying to sleep." He made to go back to bed, then turned back. "And don't get blood on my homework."
"I'll try," Culsu assured him. Zaph grunted, fell into bed and pulled both blanket and pillow firmly over his head.
Culsu picked her way gingerly across the room, stubbing her toe on a hamper and almost tripping over a stack of books, which was a highly successful result considering the state of Lotivver and Zaph's shared floor space. "Lotivver," she said, prodding at the blankets. "Lotivver. Lotivver."
An irritated "What?" issued from the pile of fabric, about a metre upwards of where she'd been prodding it. "And stop poking my leg!"
Culsu stopped poking her leg. "You're still using the nuclear pronoun set," she noted.
Lotivver's head appeared from underneath the blankets, followed by her arms as she dug herself out. "Yeah, well, so are you," she said harshly, her tone not doing much to counteract the spread of deep blue on her cheeks.
Culsu nudged Lotivver's leg out of the way, sitting down carefully on the edge of the bed. "I think," she said slowly, "we're very, very stupid."
"Did Lok talk to you, too?" asked Lotivver.
"I told em ey was getting senile in eir old age," continued Lotivver, "because there was no way you didn't hate me after what I said."
"I don't hate you," said Culsu. "I..." She paused.
"...hate trying to talk about your feelings in Gallifreyan?" suggested Lotivver tentatively.
"Yes," said Culsu gratefully. Lotivver felt a tentative, hopeful press against her mind, and let it in.
Culsu's mind was a whirlwind of complicated emotions, but that first contact was a wave of pure relief. Lotivver wasn't sure whether it came from her or Culsu or both, but it was like a sudden end to pain she hadn't realised she'd been in. This was nothing like the last time Culsu had touched her mind; she wasn't projecting now, only inviting, reaching out shyly to meet somewhere in the middle. There were rough patches in the shifting, fluid emotions, barbs of pain and faint lingering resentment that was almost ashamed of the fact that it still existed despite their best attempts to get rid of it.
But the flow of other, gentler emotions slowly smoothed down the grating patches, dulled the barbs, laid the foundations for the negative places to eventually be washed away completely. It was reassuring just to see, to know, that their mental and emotional states lined up pretty evenly. Culsu's chagrin and subsequent rush of apology at the realisation of how marginalised Lotivver had been feeling flared at almost the exact moment Lotivver herself made a private vow to never forget the hollow, aching loneliness the Gallifreyan associated with the Oakdown name.
I know, they said silently, mentally pressing close and warm and with utter and complete forgiveness. I understand.
"If you're going to have sex," said Zaph suddenly, "do it somewhere else."
It was a good thing they made up, because two spans later Culsu came down with something. Being Culsu Oakdown this did not prevent her from going to her first two classes, but when Lotivver met her in the library looking like death warmed over—and warmed over quite a lot, actually, as placing a hand on her forehead was almost painful—the Vinvocci informed her in no uncertain terms that she was going to go back to her room, go to bed and stay there. She then escorted Culsu back to her room, just to be certain, because she did not trust her to take care of herself for a nanospan.
"It's not that bad," Culsu insisted before she promptly threw up in the rubbish bin.
A span later her fever was still raging, even she had been forced to admit that she had no business being out of bed, and Asedifeghejekal had gratefully accepted Lotivver's offer to switch rooms for what they expected would be at least two weeks. Culsu hated being fussed over, but Lotivver had never been very good at fussing, so while they were not exactly having a wonderful time they at least avoided driving each other completely insane. Culsu was actually a surprisingly good patient once Lotivver learned to ignore the word "fine" whenever it came out of her mouth. The only real logistical problem was keeping her hydrated; Lok couldn't make the run from the library to the dorms and back with any kind of speed; ey wasn't elderly, exactly, but was perhaps older than ey preferred to let on, and anyway was all alone in the library and had an actual job to do. Asedifeghejekal stepped up unexpectedly when she overheard Lotivver and Lok discussing the problem, and so Culsu had one more person to refill her water bottle during the day and glare at her until she took her medicine.
She did quite a lot of sleeping, for which Lotivver was grateful; when Culsu was awake she got the most miserable expression on her face. Lotivver had never seen anything look quite that pitiful. Sometimes, though, especially on days when she was feeling slightly better than usual and declined the afternoon cough syrup that would normally knock her out, Culsu could not for love or money find a way to get to sleep and would end up whimpering at the ceiling in the dark, waiting for the pain reliever to kick in and struggling to keep down the thin broth Lok was making for her.
So Lotivver would read to her. Lok helped her find both old and future classics from all over the universe, and she would sample them, seeing which ones Culsu liked well enough that they distracted her a little from being utterly miserable. She met with mixed success; Culsu was surprisingly moved by the tragic love story between a young Sontaran and a beautiful Rutan, though she claimed afterward that it had been the cough syrup talking, while she claimed a play entitled paghmo' tIn mIS (or rather Lotivver's horrific pronunciation of it) gave her a headache.
There was one book that they always seemed to come back to—a worn volume of Gallifreyan fairy tales that actually belonged to Lok. It was a beautiful book, the title engraved into the wooden cover in a form of Circular dated enough that Lotivver had trouble understanding it; rather than the modern format of a subject tied with a galeif to an action, in turn connected to modifiers, it was condensed, with modifications made to the subjects and actions themselves. It was beautiful and poetic, and hell to try to read.
As it turned out, Gallifreyan nursery rhymes were, for the most part, terrifying historical tales geared towards teaching important life lessons like "don't take candy from strangers", except that the Gallifreyan version of not taking candy from strangers was "don't jump into the Untempered Schism", and unlike another culture's childlike, humourous fabrications (a witch will try to eat you!), they just went out and said what would happen to you. It was actually more than a bit worrying, as far as Lotivver was concerned.
One such færie-story was called "The Pandorica". It was about an evil goblin, a destroyer of worlds which could not be reasoned with and could not be stopped, and the story said that all of the peoples of the Universe came together, the Time Lords, the Atraxi, the Sontarans, the Silurians, the Daleks, the Cybermen, and hundreds other races, all of which hated each-other but had come together to accomplish a common goal. One ancient race, the Celestis, brought forward a powerful wizard who had designed a prison for the goblin, one they were sure would hold him, and they created a situation they knew the goblin would never be able to resist, so that he would come and they could trap him for the rest of time, for the sake of the Universe itself.
Culsu liked that one, so Lotivver saved it for especially bad moments.
"...and so it came to pass," she read quietly, "that the goblin's own arrogance led him to his doom, for as he reached out to claim his prize, so the Pandorica reached out to claim him. He saw the trap but saw it too late, and it closed around him and sealed his evil away for all time. But they say," she said slyly, "that to this day no one knows where the Pandorica was sent. Some say that it was flung into the heart of a burning star, others that it was banished outside the very universe. But some say that the goblin, ever a trickster, eluded his captors but dared not show his face so boldly again, for fear that they would imprison him once more and this time there would be no escape."
Culsu hummed softly, and Lotivver smiled widely to see that it didn't seem to cause her any pain this time. "You forgot the part about the children again."
Lotiver grimaced. "It's a children's book," she said. "You can't possibly want me to read about how the Goblin ate children."
"You have to," insisted Culsu childishly. "It's part of the story."
Lotivver sighed. "And if this is true," she read dutifully, "then certainly the Goblin is a clever creature, for he has never been caught again; but he still retains a hunger for the flesh of children, and whenever he hears a child being naughty, it attracts his attention, if only for a moment. But one day, one day, the hunger may grow too great to resist, and the Goblin will hunt again. We can never know where, or when, only that a misbehaving child is a terrible temptation and in terrible danger. There, happy now?"
Culsu smiled. "My mum used to tell me about a Centurian who the goblin tricked into killing the woman he loved. She said that he was so distressed about what he had done, what the goblin had made him do, that he went to the wizard and asked him to make him immortal, and to this day he guards the Pandorica, never sleeping, as penance for what he had done, and to make certain the goblin could never hurt anyone ever again."
Lotivver smiled fondly down at her. "You're a hopeless romantic, you know that?"
The medication looked like it was finally kicking in. Culsu nuzzled up against her and gave a sleepy smile. "You kicked my roommate out to take care of me," she pointed out, and Lotivver couldn't exactly argue the point.
"Is it just me," said Culsu, "Or is your family more insane than mine?"
Lotivver rolled her eyes. She'd invited Culsu along when she realised she was going to have enough time over the winter break to visit home. Culsu had been afraid Loti's family wouldn't like her; Lotivver, knowing her family, had slightly different worries that had since proven well-founded.
Her parents, as it so happened, were particle physicists. They had always been supportive of Lotivver's linguistics studies and made sure to voice the opinion quite often that they were proud of her for following her dream and for sticking with such an unorthodox path, but the statement was always made with a look of utter bemusement. Lotivver was not entirely certain whether they, even now, understood the concept of becoming a professional translator, though they (to be certain) supported the notion.
They liked Culsu a lot. Very a lot. Extremely a lot, in fact. And because they had all the knowledge of recent Gallifreyan events of your average 14th century Terran, they didn't think she might become a mass-murderer someday. It was amazing how much more friendly people were when they didn't think that about you. Lotivver thought Culsu was actually a bit scared.
"Well," Lotivver pointed out, "your family took three spans to use pronouns around me because they weren't sure whether I was female, so I think we're even."
Culsu waved a hand dismissively. "Millispans," she corrected, "and they do that with everyone."
"So do they," Lotivver said, sweeping an arm to vaguely indicate her parents, who were on the porch sipping glasses of the Gallifreyan wine Culsu had brought them and watching the violet sunset.
"I asked them what we were having for dinner and it turned into a discussion of symmetry breaking," Culsu said incredulously.
"Welcome to my life," said Lotivver. "And you're supposed to be drying dishes."
"I am!" hissed Culsu, without heat. It was the principle of the thing. She lasted for maybe ten seconds without continuing, "It's just I've never met someone who wasn't a Time Lord talk about the wave function of the universe as though it was fact. I mean, they obviously don't understand most of it, not that three-dimensional beings even can, but they acknowledge it—"
"Yes, thank you," said Lotivver, resisting the urge to flick her with a dishrag.
"So," said Culsu quietly, not that it mattered, considering she said it in Gallifreyan, "I should probably have mentioned to them that our wine is a good deal more... concentrated than what they're used to."
Lotivver glanced up sharply. "Culsu," she said, "Did you just drug my parents?"
Culsu winced theatrically. "Maybe a bit?"
Lotivver managed not to facepalm herself with a soapy pot, but it was a narrow thing. "Culsu," she sighed.
"I regret nothing," Culsu said with dignity, drying a glass for the fifth time.
"Well, at least if they're passed out you might not end up banished to the sofa like a kid again," Lotivver allowed, exasperated. She wasn't sure whether her parents just didn't quite understand the nature of their relationship, or whether they understood it all too well and thus their oh so generously setting Culsu up on the pull-out sofa on the other end of the house—the one that shrieked like it was being murdered whenever anyone shifted slightly—had been intentional.
"Maybe," Culsu said slyly.
Lotivver peered at her.
"You did that on purpose," she decided.
Culsu innocently dried a plate. "I was simply fulfilling a CTC. It's fated, Lotivver."
"I don't want to know," Lotivver said quickly. "What, did your future self come back and go 'drug your girlfriend's parents or the universe will collapse'?"
"I thought you didn't want to know?" Culsu said sweetly.
"You're evil," Lotvveri decided.
"Only a little."
"Only a lot."
"Well, yes, but you like it," said Culsu with a dark sort of playfulness.
Lotivver blushed. "Oh, shut up."
Culsu smirked wickedly. "Make me."
Lotivver choked slightly on her tongue as she attempted to form words that would create some kind of witty response to this. Culsu grinned and kissed her quickly on the cheek, and she was spared having to think of a response when her parents weaved their way unsteadily into the kitchen.
Her mother giggled, which was incredibly alarming. Her mother didn't giggle.
"Culsu!" she said happily, as if she had momentarily forgotten there was a Gallifreyan in her house. "We were just talking about you." Lotivver's father nodded in agreement. "How many dimensions did you say you're in right now?"
Culsu looked expectantly at Lotivver, who glared at her. "Oh, come on," she protested. Culsu raised an eyebrow, and Lotivver rolled her eyes and translated the question into Gallifreyan. It was completely unnecessary; Culsu was more than capable of communicating with Vinvocci. However, in the last two spans—sorry, millispans, because apparently the fact she wasn't talking about periods going into full star-rotations wasn't contextually clear—she had flat-out refused to do so, insisting that Lotivver needed the practice.
"Five, technically, but it really functions more as four, thanks to the whole anthropic casing thing." She gestured downwards at her body vaguely. "Ties me down in the Fourth. Otherwise it's nearly impossible to communicate with lower-dimensional lifeforms. That's a Rassilon thing, I think. Or was it Prydon?"
Lotivver stared at her for a few seconds. "Four and a half," she translated.
"Really?" said Harolld. "How does that work?"
"I swear, Culsu," Lotivver warned her.
Culsu looked at Lotivver blankly. "What did he say?" she said innocently.
"You will regret this," Lotivver hissed. "How, exactly, do five dimensions work?"
"Did he really say five?" said Culsu. "Didn't sound like he said five."
"Culsu," she growled.
Culsu gave an insolent grin. "Well, see, it's a bit like taking a cross-section. What you're seeing is the part of me that exists in three dimensions, and of course, that varies depending where I am in them. At any particular point, I might be kana or ana of your linear perspective of time, in which case I'll appear differently, which your primitive brains translate as the apparent shifting in shape to another being entirely, which we call Regeneration. Of course, certain differentials are so slight they don't translate at all, which is why it appears that a Time Lord has thirteen semi-mortal 'lives'."
Lotivver was going to murder her.
"The fifth dimension is what lets them regenerate," she said flatly.
Culsu shook her head in mock despair. "And you call yourself a translator. No. No. The fourth dimension is what 'lets me regenerate'. The fifth dimension is what lets me leave the fourth dimension entirely. Like a tesseract."
"My bad," Lotivver translated with a slightly maniacal smile. "The fourth dimension lets them regenerate. The fifth dimension makes them annoying little twats." At Culsu's glare, she amends, "tesseracts, I mean."
This didn't seem to have actually made Culsu any happier, but whatever.
"Oh!" gasped Cantrell. "So it's like Flatland!"
"Don't ask," Lotivver said.
Apparently Culsu didn't need to. She smiled indulgently, like she was praising a particularly intelligent pet, which made Lotivver more than a bit uncomfortable. She might not understand any of this herself, but her parents were the best in their field, and Culsu was treating them like toddlers. "A bit. More And He Built a Crooked House, really. Do you mind asking," and this was directed to Lotivver, "what they think of the fact that there's no proof of an initial trajectory with zero multiplicities anywhere within the Newman-Unti-Tamburino model?"
It was around that point that Lotivver began rethinking her life choices.
"I hate you," Lotivver moaned.
"No you don't," said Culsu cheekily.
"Do too," Lotivver pouted. "Hey! Hands off!"
Culsu frowned, ignoring her utterly. "But what is it?" She held the statuette up to the light, squinting at it. "A Sontaran?"
Lotivver snatched it away from her. "It's private, is what it is."
"Well, it looks like a half-melted Sontaran."
Lotivver's forehead creased in what would have been an eyebrow, if Vinvocci had eyebrows. "Sontarans can melt?"
"What is it, really?" Culsu asked, curious.
Lotivver blushed fiercely. "Nothing," she squeaked, throwing the Not-Sontaran into a random dresser drawer with slightly more force than necessary.
"It's obviously not nothing," said Culsu, amused.
Lotivver fought the only-slightly-irrational urge to hide under the covers and die. "It's a vibrator," she finally managed, very nearly setting a new record for 'most mistakes in a three word sentence'.
Culsu fished it out of the drawer. "But what does it do?" she asked curiously, inspecting the rubber-and-plastic implement.
Lotivver stared. "Culsu," she said seriously, "you're, what, 150? How don't you know what a vibrator does? It, it," she made a vague downwards motion, "vibrates!"
Culsu tilted her head. Lotivver wanted to scream. "But... why?"
If she had to explain how babies were made, she was going to kill someone. Didn't Gallifrey have Sex Ed?
In the end, she did have to explain how babies were made, but so did Culsu, so that turned out to be... informative.
"I see," Culsu said, ears flaming as she stared determinedly at the ground. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
"No, no," Lotivver squeaked. "That's fine. You didn't, um." She swallowed. "It's fine."
Culsu cleared her throat awkwardly. "Gallifreyans," she said carefully, "reproduce psychically. While physical... it's not unheard of, only..." She coughed. "Not... common."
Lotivver was determinedly looking anywhere but at her girlfriend. She gave a nervous laugh in an attempt to break the tension. "You're missing out," she joked weakly. "Or, you know, so I've heard. At least now I get why I never had a sex life at the Academy. Surrounded by gorgeous, brilliant university students who don't have sex."
Culsu smirked. "I never said that."
Lotivver barely made it off the stage before Culsu tackled her.
"I'm so proud of you!" she squealed, throwing her arms around Lotivver's neck and squeezing her. "You're amazing, congratulations, you only failed one course, Lotivver, I am so proud of you!"
"Can't breathe," she choked. "Culsu—!"
"Oh," said Culsu, reluctantly letting the Vinvocci go. "Sorry, forgot you don't have respiratory bypass." She had the grace to look ashamed.
Lotivver grinned and threw her arms around the little Gallifreyan just as fiercely. "Never could have done it without you," she whispered gleefully, kissing her cheek.
"No, you couldn't have," Culsu agreed, the very picture of modesty. "But I'm still proud of you."
Lotivver took the small cube out of her bag. She wasn't entirely sure it was going to work how Culsu said it was, because it certainly didn't look like a hyper-advanced piece of technology. It looked like a little marble cube.
She inspected the thing curiously. No buttons that she could find.
Tap tap tap tap.
She almost leapt out of her skin. "Culsu?!" she yelped, a hand going instinctively to the side of her head, where she'd felt the polite little tap.
Last I checked. May I ?
Lotivver hastily dropped her mental shields, and a very small Culsu appeared in her head.
It's good to see you too, said the miniature Culsu in her head.
"Can you see me?"
Just barely. Mini Culsu frowned. Try to concentrate.
Lotivver was trying, but the tiny version of her girlfriend walking idly around inside her head was slightly distracting.
Mini Culsu smiled. That's all right. I can see you well enough. How are you settling in?
"Well, it's nice not having to live with Zaph," Lotivver answered, bemused. "I haven't really been here long enough to have settled in properly, but it's getting there." She peered out of the small set of windows in her room, overlooking the sea. Gallifreyan translators, it turned out, were generally needed in rather high-profile locations."There's only one sun here."
Mini Culsu smiled again. Most places only have one sun, she pointed out. The ones with two can hardly help being better, can they?
Lotivver laughed. "You're very Gallifreyan," she said affectionately.
Thank you, said Culsu. I think. Is that a compliment?
"It's not an insult," Lotivver said.
Good enough, Culsu said cheerfully. How's the job?
"I hate your entire species," said Lotivver with feeling.
Scientific conference? asked Culsu.
"Yes," Lotivver moaned.
I hope you didn't tell them the fifth dimension is 'what lets us regenerate', Culsu said sternly.
"No," Lotivver griped, "I told them that while theories of higher dimensions such as 12D F-theory and beyond will produce effects such as gauge terms higher that U(1), and that the components of the extra vector fields in the D-brane actions can be thought of as an extra set of coordinates. However, the known symmetries, including supersymmetry, currently restrict the spinors to have thirty-two components, limiting the number of dimensions to eleven, or more accurately twelve if you include a second time dimension."
The Culsu in her mind blinked. Do you have any idea what that means?
"Not in the slightest," said Lotivver happily. Culsu opened her mouth as if to explain, and she added, just as cheerfully, "I will murder you."
No you won't, said Culsu, you love me too much.
"Aren't most murders crimes of passion?" said Lotivver sweetly. "Anyway, enough about me. How's the Academy?"
It's fine, said mental Culsu. I'm taking a specialty in noncommutative geometry.
"Does that mean you're living up to your nickname, or is that the whole bigger-on-the-inside thing?"
Yes, said Culsu simply.
"Anyone giving you trouble?" Lotivver asked. The thought had been bothering her, and was one of the many things she was worried about, leaving Culsu for so long.
Surprisingly few, Mini-Culsu said. I've pointed out that none of them have girlfriends. It was disproportionately effective.
"What about if they do get girlfriends?" Lotivver asked.
Culsu gave a rude mental snort. I don't see that happening. Now, boyfriends, I can see that for a few of them. A young man from your history class asked me to introduce him to my Cousin.
"Oh my god," said Lotivver.
I didn't know you were religious, said Culsu.
"It's a figure of speech, Culsu," she said mildly. "At least my culture doesn't worship physicists."
Rassilon isn't a physicist, argued the Gallifreyan.
"Well, anyway." Lotivver stretched slightly, turning the cube in her hands. "If anyone starts messing with you again, tell me, I'll come back over a weekend and we can hit them with books."
Lok's already promised to ban them from the library if they try anything, Culsu assured her.
"Well, call me anyway," Lotivver said with a smile. "We can make them incredibly jealous."
A slow smile spread across Culsu's face. Well, she said, and Lotivver had to take a deep, steadying breath as Culsu's mind brushed hers flirtatiously. You don't have to be here to do that.
Lotivver gave a deeply regretful sigh. "Culsu," she said apologetically, "It was a long day, I'm tired, I have to get up tomorrow to talk about wormholes..."
Mini Culsu nodded with an understanding smile and blew her a kiss. Ofcourse, she said, the mental caress growing less heated and more comforting. Get some sleep. Will this time work tomorrow?
Lotivver nodded gratefully. "You should sleep too. What time..." She frowned, and her eyes went wide as she glanced at the pair of clocks she'd hung on on her wall. One had her current time, while the silver-rimmed one informed her that the Gallifreyan time was... "Culsu!" she exclaimed. "It's 0200, what are you doing awake?"
I was studying, Culsu said, surprised.
"Well, you need to sleep, too," Lotivver said firmly.
Mini Culsu chuckled. Yes, ma'am.
"I love you," Lotivver said quietly.
Culsu didn't say anything, but that soft mental tendril reached out again, and she didn't have to.
Culsu, Lotivver thought with no small amount of exasperation, was actually disappointed.
She had come within six months of becoming the youngest-ever Temporal Mechanical Design graduate in the history of the Academy, and while Lotivver pointed out that the holder of that record hadn't also been taking Advanced Quantum Linguistic Theory in his spare time, Culsu clearly still wished she'd been able to beat it.
"Well, you could have let me fail," she pointed out finally. "That probably would have freed up enough of your time." Culsu was forced to acknowledge that she was, in fact, glad she'd helped Lotivver through school, and then Lotivver reminded her about the dinner reservations, and she seemed mostly cheered up.
It wasn't a terribly fancy place, as Culsu was just out of the Academy that afternoon and Lotivver... well, Lotivver had her own expenses, as she would reveal in due time. But it was quiet and the food was good and Lotivver had managed to slip down to their old pastry shop and, of course, smuggle an only-slightly-crushed Lover's Knot in her purse, for old time's sake.
"So you were at Midnight? How was that?" asked Culsu. They'd talked about it at length previously, but as fantastic as the technology was, it was hardly the same as a face-to-face conversation. Lotivver had to keep reminding herself to stop absently touching Culsu's hands, as she needed those to eat.
"You'd have liked it better," she admitted. "It's very stressful trying to translate things you don't understand. Luckily, I have another job lined up."
"Oh?" said Culsu with a careful blankness, trying and failing to hide her disappointment. "Where?"
Lotivver tries not to grin too widely and give the game away. It hadn't been easy keeping the secret this long through the nightly mental links, but it was worth it. "There's a publishing company that wants to translate Gallifreyan classics and bestsellers. I met someone involved in the project by accident, actually, and he contacted me a few months ago asking me to be their primary translator. I said yes, obviously."
Culsu remained speechless for nearly a quarter of a microspan. "So you'll be..."
"Here. Gallifrey. Yeah." Lotivver smiled widely. "I didn't get you a graduation present, by the way."
Culsu calmly stood up and came around to the other side of the table, motioning the Vinvocci to move over. Once the space was cleared in the bench-seat, she sat down and allowed a bright smile to overcome her features. "Yes you did," she said, and then she wrapped her arms around her and kissed her until she couldn't breathe.
Culsu loved the flat, which was good, because Lotivver had already put down the deposit on the place. Well, she said she loved the flat, at least. She also called it "quaint", so Lotivver wasn't entirely sure.
"No!" said Culsu, a bit too quickly and far too cheerfully, "Quaint is good! I adore quaint! There's, like, charm. And personality! I love it when living spaces have personalities, really! But," oh, there it was, "but... Lotivver. Those curtains."
Lotivver sighed. "We're getting new ones, Culsu," she said.
Culsu visibly relaxed. "Oh," she said. "Good. That's all right then." She looked around the empty space. "We may have to use your furniture for a little while, though," she said. "I have a rubbish bin, but that's pretty much it."
There was a slight pause.
"You don't have any furniture either, do you."
Lotivver did not, in fact, have any furniture—at least no furniture beyond a small round table and the big squishy armchair she had been lugging around the universe for the past four spans out of sheer stubbornness. Thus, for the first three months in the new flat, she and Culsu lived on a mattress in an empty apartment, flipping a coin for squishy-chair rights and attempting to fit dinners onto a round end table roughly thirty centimetres in diameter.
Somehow they were both happier than they had been in ages.
When they finally felt like they were in a mental and financial state that would support the purchasing of furniture, they did so. Their only real argument on the subject was regarding pull-out sofas. Lotivver argued their many, many uses; Culsu remained convinced they were the root of all evil, and pointed out that Gallifreyans simply didn't use pull-out sofas; they weren't even telepathic, she'd added, horrified, with the standard Gallifreyan opinion that if it wasn't at least arguably sentient it shouldn't exist in the home. Lotivver pointed out coolly that she wasn't Gallifreyan, and Culsu finally said that if they got a pull-out sofa they would have to carry it upstairs.
Lotivver grudgingly admitted that it was possible to survive without a pull-out sofa. However, she said, if they weren't going to get a pull-out sofa, then she would get to keep the god-awful curtains. Lotivver sort of liked them, in a rescued-from-a-scrapheap sort of way. They were very durable. She respected that in a set of curtains.
Culsu looked vaguely horrified, but the curtains didn't mysteriously disappear.
About a month later, Lok invited eirself over, armed with a large container of various foods.
"I know perfectly well you girls aren't feeding yourselves properly," ey said sternly. They couldn't exactly argue the point.
"Now see," said Lotivver, "if we had a pull-out sofa, we could invite em to spend the night."
Lok had begun to give eirself a tour of the flat. "I love what you've done with the place," ey said. "And those curtains are fantastic! Where did you get them?"
Lotivver smirked triumphantly. Culsu looked suddenly nauseous. "They came with the flat," she said. "I think it was previously owned by the Original Evil."
"Nonsense," Lok said cheerfully. "They give the room a bit of colour! I love it!"
"Thank you, Lok," said Lotivver.
"Yeah," muttered Culsu. "I'm sure Krop Tor was really colourful. All the fire and brimstone really gave the place a sort of native charm."
"You're something else," Lotivver murmured, kissing her quickly on the cheek before crossing the room to help Lok unload the crate of assorted food products.
When Lotivver got home, the flat was filled with smoke, an alarm was going off, and there was an intermittent banging sound coming from the kitchen.
"...Culsu?" she called hesitantly. "Are you okay?"
Culsu cursed under her breath and the alarm shut off abruptly. "Fine," she spat.
Lotivver nervously looked around the corner. The banging had apparently been Culsu shoving the myriad fallen pots and pans out of the way so that she could set up a metal ladder—where had she even found that?—and forcibly rip out the smoke-detector battery. And the backup system. And then the wires connected to the miniature speaker, when the previous methods failed. (Gallifreyan smoke detectors were rather advanced pieces of technology.)
"It wouldn't shut off," she explained when she saw Lotivver staring at her in confusion.
"What happened?" said Lotivver, coughing from the smoke.
"I made supper!" said Culsu cheerfully. "Well. I tried, at least. Does that count for anything?"
Lotivver peered into the smoke at the charred something on the counter, hooked up to a complex system of wires. "You tried to use artron energy?" she said.
"Traditional cooking method!" said Culsu defensively.
"Culsu, it's ash."
Lotivver looked at her for several long beats, then burst out laughing.
"I'm sorry," she gasped. "It's just... What were you trying to make?"
"Celery," Culsu said blankly.
A few seconds later, she started laughing too.
Eventually, they pulled themselves (mostly) together. They opened the windows to let out the smoke, and Lotivver rummaged through the fridge and came up with some cold cuts, a bag of an interesting sort of reddish-brown vegetable, a loaf of frozen bread that was toasted without the use of artron energy, and two vanilla-chocolate-swirl Ice Planets. Culsu shyly produced a bottle of Gallifreyan wine with a label that looked really very expensive, and Lotivver raised an eyebrow at it. They did, in fact, have a kitchen table now, but they had gotten so used to eating dinner on the floor of the living room that on nights like this they would sometimes revert to it.
"To adventures in cooking," Lotivver said with a smile, and Culsu rolled her eyes and met the toast.
"So why the sudden interest in cooking?"
Culsu shifted uncomfortably. "I just thought I'd try to make something that wasn't from a box."
"Why?" Lotivver gave her an utterly bemused look. "I thought you and the stove hated each other."
"We do. Which is why I didn't use the stove." Culsu said it slowly, like talking to a child.
Lotivver smiled and shook her head.
Culsu twisted her hands nervously. She took a deep breath and said quickly, "I was going to ask you to marry me but I didn't want to go anywhere public in case you said no and then the celery caught fire and then I couldn't get the smoke alarm to turn off so I had to call Lok and ask em for a ladder and then I had to go and get it and then it still wouldn't turn off and—" She took another deep breath. "And. That's what happened. How was your day?" She looked like she couldn't decide if she wanted to burst into laughter or cry.
"...what did you say?" said Culsu.
"Yes," said Lotivver again. And then neither of them knew whether to laugh or cry, so they decided to just do them both at the same time.
Lok's regeneration came as something of a shock.
To be fair, it was less the regeneration itself than the fact that ey hadn't given them any warning, and had simply turned up at their wedding in a vest and a bright green tie, smiling cheerfully and pulling Lotivver into a warm hug before she could ask who, exactly, this person was.
"Don't recognise me?" Lok laughed. "All that time, Lotivver, I'm almost hurt."
Culsu seemed to have somehow noticed em from all the way across the room from a discussion with Sexual Revelation (who was there as the date of a very handsome and not particularly evil Cousin of hers), and launched herself at em. "Lokrnothale!" she said excitedly. "You look dapper. Pronouns?"
Sometimes Lotivver was really jealous of the Gallifreyan ability to know exactly who someone was, even if they looked some sixty-five spans younger and had a different accent.
Oh, right, five dimensions. She'd forgotten how superior Gallifreyans were for a moment there. Her mistake.
Lok smiled and spread eir arms. "Same as ever," ey said. "And may I say, it took you long enough."
Culsu smiled shyly. "You always say that."
"And I am always right," Lok said with a great deal of contentment.
"Nice tie," Lotivver said. It was really a very, very bright green. It was almost as bright as the polka-dots on their curtains.
"It's nice to meet you properly," said Sexual Revelation, who had come up behind Culsu. Lok turned to chat with him, and Lotivver realised that she had a rather important role to play in this whole ceremony thing, and should probably not be standing in the middle of the crowd when her own wedding started. She glanced over at Culsu, who was clearly waiting for her; she made a little shooing motion, and Lotivver very maturely stuck her tongue out at her before picking her way into position.
The Oakdowns were one of the only Gallifreyan families that still subscribed to the True Name tradition; which was, of course, the reason Lotivver had only ever heard Culsu referred to as Culsu. This would be the first time she had ever heard her fiancee's—now her wife's, and that would take some getting used to—real name.
She smiled when Culsu said it.
It, like her, was beautiful.
The war, she supposed, had really been going on for ages; but it had never felt quite this real. "Lok," said Lotivver, "are you sure about this? It'll be dangerous."
Lok had cut eir hair down to a more militant style, andem had even ditched the neon tie ey had become fond of in this regeneration. "Wars generally are," ey said, trying for careless cheerfulness and not quite succeeding. "But yes, I am sure. I've been a librarian for too long, I think. Someone else can take care of history; I think it's about time I started taking care of the future, don't you?"
Culsu was, in a slightly disturbing show of emotion, crying. Not a lot, or obtrusively, just silent tears running down her cheeks. Lotivver didn't think she'd noticed, even. "Lok..." she said, sounding horribly lost.
Lok took her hands and rubbed them between eirs. "I know, sweetheart," ey said quietly. "But it's something I have to do."
"Why?" she asked miserably.
Lok smiled—sadly, but at the same time ey looked quietly proud of something. "You two have each other now," ey said, "and I haven't got any other family. You'll be starting one of your own, soon, I think. Someone has to make sure my family's got a decent universe to live in. Might as well be me. I don't trust anyone else with it."
Culsu took a deep breath, wiping tears away from her eyes and trying to smile for Lok's sake. "We haven't even talked about that," she said with a shaky half-smile.
Lok gave a much more genuine smile. "No time like the present," he said. Turning to Lotivver, ey told her sternly, "Don't you let her get herself down over me. And don't you go mourning me before I'm gone, either. If I didn't think you could take care of each other I'd be staying."
"Thanks, Lok," she said, and ey pulled her into a tight hug, ignoring her spikes.
"You take care of her," ey told Culsu. "And take care of yourself, too. The two of you, you're going to be something great. I can see that already." Culsu nodded tearfully, and Lok smiled and kissed her forehead.
Culsu looked like she wanted to say something, but didn't have the words. Luckily, Gallifreyans didn't need them.
Lok closed eir eyes and gave a soft sigh. "That's just what I needed, sweetheart," ey said with a smile, and Culsu abandoned all pretense and hugged eir tightly.
"Try to come back," she pleaded. "Just try."
"With what I have to come back to? Try to stop me." Lok glanced over eir shoulder at some cue Lotivver hadn't noticed.
"Don't you two waste any more time," ey said, and with one last mental brush of love, ey turned and walked away.
Lotivver came back from the greengrocer's to an armful of sobbing Culsu, the latter having launched herself at the Vinvocci woman the moment she'd opened the door.
"Culsu!" she yelped, struggling not to drop the cucumbers. "Culsu, what's wrong?"
Culsu shook her head and clung to her. "Shh," she whispered. "Just... could you..."
Lotivver put the cucumbers down and hugged her tightly. "Of course," she said soothingly. "I'm here, what's wrong?"
Eventually, and once Lotivver managed to move them both onto the sofa, Culsu managed to calm down enough to vaguely indicate the letter lying open on that tiny round end table that was useful for nothing but got used for everything nonetheless. She couldn't quite seem to look at it, and the hand she'd waved in its direction returned immediately to clutching Lotivver's collar. "Arcadia," she croaked.
The moment Lotivver saw the emblem on the letterhead, she knew.
"Lok," she breathed.
"Daleks," said Culsu, nearly in hysterics. "Daleks, Lotivver. They, they..." and she broke off, sobs coming anew.
"It was quick," Lotivver assured her, trying to be comforting. "I'm sure of it. Ey didn't feel anything."
'Comforting' wasn't really her strong-suit.
"They say," hiccoughed Culsu, "that the death a Dalek brings is a thousand spans in pain in a single moment. That it's so profound, Time ceases to exist." She said it solemnly, like she had run out of tears, run out of emotions entirely.
Lotivver kissed her temple softly. "Who says that?" she asked, trying for some tiny amount of brevity. "The Daleks? I think anyone who's been killed by one can't really tell about it."
"President Romanadvoratrelundar. Everyone. No one. They don't really need to say it. We know," she said, tapping her temple. She coughed, looking miserable. "Not everyone stays dead from it, and even when they do, you still hear the screams."
Lotivver thought very carefully about her response. "Daleks," she said finally, "are supposed to be pure hate. If there's anyone who never let hate get the best of them, it's Lok. Dying's never exactly pleasant and ey... god, ey didn't deserve it, but ey's not in any pain now. And ey wouldn't want us to drive ourselves insane worrying about something we can't undo."
Culsu huddled close to her, and finally nodded stiffly.
"Ey thought we'd be starting a family soon," she choked. "I almost wanted to. Stupid."
Lotivver looked down at her. "No," she exclaimed. "What's stupid about it?"
"With everything going on," Culsu sobbed. "Bringing more Oakdowns into the world. It's not safe. It's not right. People would just get hurt—"
"Don't you eversay that," Lotivver said harshly.
"I..." said Culsu shakily, and then stopped. She nodded tentatively, and took a deep, gasping breath, like she hadn't really breathed since the letter had arrived (and maybe she hadn't).
Lotivver held her as she cried.
"...until one day it came to pass," Lotivver read quietly, "that the Goblin's evil grew too great to be ignored. And so all the races of the universe, from the noblest of the Time Lords to the cruelest of Daleks, were forced to put aside their differences and work side-by-side to confront and imprison him, once and for all. For the first time in all of history, the least and the greatest of races stood, united, against the Goblin. The craftiest and cleverest of them all came up with a plan, a clever trap that he would not be able to resist; and one ancient race, the Celestis, brought forth a powerful wizard..."
She glanced down and smiled. Just like her mother.
Lokrnothale Oakdown, known by that name (as per Oakdown tradition) to her family only, Loki to the rest of the universe, drooled on a worn plushie Raxicoricofallipatorian and slept without a care in the world. A bright green tie dangled over her crib—for good luck, Lotivver had said. Loki seemed to like it, when she was awake.
"Sleep tight," Lotivver told her, blowing her sleeping daughter a kiss.
Lotivver snuck out of the small, brightly-decorated bedroom quietly, careful not to close the door too loudly, and went out into the main living area. Culsu had given in about a span ago, and they were now the proud (or, in Culsu's case, mortified) owners of a pull-out sofa. They still hadn't gotten rid of the curtains, despite their initial deal. Culsu said that they gave the room a bit of colour, and Lotivver, sensing a loaded topic, hadn't pressed the issue, or mentioned her previous opinions of them.
They were still in the same flat, and it seemed to have grown with them. Culsu denied all allegations of altering the internal dimensions, and Lotivver reluctantly believed her, because it was really only useful, except for the one cabinet in the kitchenette that, if you put anything in it, it would end up eaten.
And that did mean anything, including silverware, towels, and assorted rat poisons. It was the most maniacally babyproofed area in a fifteen-lightyear radius.
"Finally got her to go to bed," Lotivver said with a smile. "You'd think I'd have learned to just start with the Pandorica. She gets that from you, just so you know."
"Does she?" said Culsu blankly. "That's good."
Lotivver paused. "Sweetheart, are you alright? You sound odd. Are you feeling sick at all?"
Culsu was... well, she was always pale, but she wasn't usually white as a sheet and trembling.
"Lotivver," she stammered. "Lotivver, I love you, I love you so much—"
"Culsu?" Lotivver moved to hold her. "Culsu, calm down, what happened, tell me—"
"No," she said, panicked. "The timeline just changed, I don't... No, there's no time, Lottiver, I love you both so much and I never tell you, I'm sorry, we were supposed to have so much more time—"
"I will ensure that the Faction's reality is chosen. You will never destroy the Faction. All of time and space is riddled with us."
"Riddled? I'll give you a riddle. I've been thinking of a paradox—an extra special one, just for you. That missing arm of yours, the stuff of your legend."
"I removed it myself. To defy the Time Lords branding me their prisoner."
"No you didn't. You cut off your own arm because you used it... to do... this."
Hey, guys! There's a sequel now called Loop on a Thread, and it's at least 5% less heartbreaking. You should check it out!