Chapter One

Hello

The Last of the Time Lords.

If she got her way, that's what she would be when this was all over. Seven hundred years since she'd last seen him, that unstable, quirky, half-mad fool she'd married oh, so very long ago. Seven hundred years since he'd stolen a TARDIS and left Gallifrey with their granddaughter and not so much as a by your leave to her. She'd gone through the standard coping methods, the processes she preached to those she tried to help: Give yourself time to reflect. Give yourself permission to feel what needs to be felt. Be brave. Be private. And in all things, be honest. She had done all of that, allowing herself to feel something totally foreign: Grief. She grieved the loss of that strange idiot because somehow, in the nearly three hundred years she'd known him, she'd allowed herself to love him.

The worst of it was that she hadn't seen it coming, none of it. She had been given her title, her name, because she could see things, understand them, process them quickly, and explain them better than any of the other Time Lords. There had been no better telepath in tens of thousands of years, and there had been no more prestigious pedigree. She had been exceptional from the day of her birth.

Her husband, however, had not been allowed the same privileges of birth. It had been a surprise to everyone when he'd been awarded a place at the Academy, and an even bigger surprise that his odd heritage seemed to lend itself to his specialty: an advanced intuition and an almost hyperkinetic sense of calculation, making his every action seem like a lucky guess. Low-born and brilliant – what better attractant could there be to Gallifreyan nobility?

She shook her head and felt a twinge in her neck. She had only regenerated once in her life, and it seemed to be coming time to do it again.

But not yet. First I have to find . . .something. Someone. Someone to help me find . . .him.

She cast her thoughts out in the old way, the instinctive way, searching for a compatible mind, an exceptional mind, even if had to be a human mind. There were no options. Her TARDIS had a faulty fuel coil – probably due to repeatedly punching through the multiverse to find the correct universe – and she had to give it time to recharge itself after her repairs. Surely there was a human extraordinary enough to help her.

I have to forget him. The Doctor. My Doctor. I have to press on. Somehow I have to keep going until –

Those hadn't been her thoughts, but they were so close to her own that they startled her. She became aware of her surroundings – nearby. This mind, it's nearby. And it's exceptional, so remarkable.

She stood and followed the neural trail that would lead her to that mind.


This is pointless. He's married now – of course you can't text him.

He shoved the mobile back in his pocket and sighed. He lifted the glass of absinthe to his lips with a shaking hand. The strong scent of the liquor assaulted his sense of smell: Anise, that cloying sweetness, the licorice smell of it. He smiled faintly, but it was a bitter, angry smile. He took a sip and winced.

He put the glass back down on the bar and yanked the phone back out of his pocket. Just because he's married doesn't mean I can't reach out to him, does it?

Are you bored yet? –SH

He studied the message. Should he send it? Was it childish? It was childish, yes. Of course the man wasn't bored yet. He was newly married, off snogging his new wife on an island paradise somewhere, no doubt. The last conversation they'd had made it clear that the life they'd shared was over.

"You'll get bored."

"No, I won't."

"How can you know that? Married life seems incredibly dull. It's why so many marriages end, you know."

"And you think that will happen to Mary and me, do you?"

"I'm nearly certain of it."

"I'm not having this conversation with you. I'm tired of being your experiment."

"Come now. I may have tested out a few theories on you, but you yourself were never an experiment."

"Do you know why you had to test theories on me? Because you needed to know how a human would react to certain situations. You needed a human pet, a guinea pig. He was right about that, you know. I was a pet. And I'm tired, so tired, of being your pet."

"Don't exaggerate."

"I'm not exaggerating. It's all true. Besides, I don't understand why you're so dissatisfied with this situation. You've always been married to your work. I'm removing myself from your relationship. No more blog. No more aggravating flatmate. Enjoy your work the way you did before I came along. It's what you're good at."

Not another word was spoken, not even during the wedding ceremony. He hadn't been asked to stand with the man who had been his closest friend, his only friend. He'd been in a pew near the back, watching the vows being said and not understanding how this could be any better than the life they'd had together. He'd skipped the reception. It would have been too much farce.

And now here he was, the resurrected consulting detective, getting plastered in a bar. He'd gotten a few texts – potential work – but he'd ignored them. He was unhappy, and he was disappointed with himself.

I have to forget him. The Doctor. My Doctor.

Yes, that was the answer. Forgetfulness. And that was why he'd ordered the absinthe. Vehicle to the stars, this stuff, if the bohemian artists of the last century were to be believed. And wouldn't he just love to see the stars? See for himself what planets revolved around which stars. Disconnect from the part of his mind that analyzed things and just drift for a while.

He grunted. I could never disconnect.

He suddenly became aware that he was being watched. He turned on his bar stool and looked over his shoulder. Standing in the door of the tavern was a woman – not The Woman, not Irene Adler, but something about her attitude and expression reminded him of her. She was approximately five and a half feet tall, with sandy blonde hair and tawny skin, like she'd been sunning herself under a cloudless sky somewhere. But the most remarkable thing about her was her eyes – from even this distance he could see that they were almost golden, a bright bronze color that was alarming and unsettling.

Clothes – silk, expensive, finely tailored, therefore affluent. Hands clean, manicured but not fussy. Hair showing strands of gray, so not fussy on that score, either. No visible cosmetics. Signs of athleticism, but not trying very hard at it. Everything clean – no pets, no bad habits, no recent meals.

The only clue he had about her was the strange jewelry she was wearing on her hands – bracelets connected to rings on her index fingers by thin silver strands. A few random images flashed through his mind, images of similar jewelry fetishes called slave bracelets, but the items this woman wore were not decorative – no flourishes, no jewels, no adornments. They seemed simple, efficient, and practical.

Despite himself he felt his lips quirk into a hint of a smile. If she's offering work, I'm accepting.

She approached him, her gait confident and as efficient as her clothing. Her face was neutral, passive. He turned towards her and felt calmer, less anxious. Except for his trembling hands, he hadn't fully registered his own anxiety.

"Hello," he said.

"Tell me about the Doctor," she said, sliding into the stool next to him. That got his attention. No greeting, just right to work. It was something he would have done – it was something he had done. Besides, her voice was odd. American accent. That's strange. Tourist, perhaps. Or CIA. Tossers.

"Are you on the clock?" he asked.

"Sorry?"

"Did Mycroft send you? Checking up on me, is he?"

"Is Mycroft the Doctor?"

He frowned. She's focused. If she's not on the clock, I'm a Soviet spy. "You know he isn't."

"How do I know that?"

"Because he sent you after me."

"Who did? The Doctor?"

He finally, fully turned towards her. Her strange bronze eyes bored into him. Focused, yes, so very focused. He sifted through his questions, so many questions, so much he wanted to know. She hadn't verified any association with his brother Mycroft, but she hadn't denied it either; even so, he suddenly doubted that assumption.

If she isn't from Mycroft, then who is she? And why does she keep asking about the doctor? Which doctor? John?

He finally asked the only question that mattered:

"Doctor Who?"