It's quiet this late at night. The boys have long since been put to bed, and Heidi is in bed as well; she has a busy day tomorrow. The servants are sleeping; the house is nothing less than a black, silent mausoleum. Several hours to go 'til dawn, several hours gone since dusk.
The floor is dark and hidden in places, shadows spilling across it like upset pots of ink. The armchairs are little more than blocks of darkness. Closer to the fireplace there is illumination, the flames small and somehow not penetrating all the darkness, lighting a small circle of warmth in the blackness, where armchairs and coffee tables are set in a seemingly haphazard nonpattern. A book has been left on the mantelpiece.
Nathan pads across the floor silently, feet bare, placed carefully; it wouldn't do to wake anyone, but he's not confident enough in the safety of his home to risk exposing himself by floating. Still dressed in yesterday's suit and a half-undone tie, he moves like a wraith across the room, over to the drinks cabinet.
He gives the velvet-smooth wood a light, almost absent stroke, and he leans down, retrieving a pack of cigarettes and a dark glass bottle, no label and more than half-full. Heidi doesn't like this one. Heidi doesn't like him smoking, but it helps when he's stressed, and he can't remember being under more stress than he is right now. He puts the cigarettes in his pocket for now and finds a clean glass. Another pet of the cabinet, and he starts over to one of the armchairs.
"Late for drinking, isn’t it?"
The voice drifts across the room, just loud enough to be heard, strongly accented with the twang of Northern England. Nathan doesn't look up, nor does he tense, but his movements turn even more deliberately careful, as he sits and pours a glass of rum, idly eyeing the painting behind which is a safe containing a gun.
"Not in Australia."
There's a soft, sardonic laugh, and the man unfolds himself from the corner and is there in front of Nathan. Tall and rangy, somehow looking half-finished or as though he's survived something terrible, and Nathan should be annoyed that his planned nightmorning of drinking has been interrupted but he's not.
Nathan should be worried about this stranger in his home, worried about whether this is some trick of Linderman's, some new way of ensuring that Nathan will do what's needed -- wanted, he thinks bitterly, he can't bring himself to believe that so much death is needed -- but he's not. This man, this strange man with large ears and a battered leather jacket, does not frighten him.
"You shouldn't, you know." The voice is almost playful, as though the man's mocking himself somehow. "You'll have a horrible headache in the morning."
Nathan shakes his head and tosses back half a glass of rum, resting an arm on a drawn-up knee. He looks up at the other man for a moment, eyes unreadable and almost black in the darkness, and gestures to the other armchair nearby.
"You want to sit down?"
He doesn't, hovering as though he can't remember the little societal niceties that most people live by. Nathan supposes that societal niceties might be a bit lost on someone who seems to think it's the done thing to break into someone's home to let them know that they'll have a hangover if they overindulge.
"Will you tell me what's wrong?"
Nathan shrugs elegantly, drawing his knee up a little closer. "Nothing's wrong. Want to tell me who you are?"
The man makes a brief gesture around the silent, dark room. "It's two-thirty-one in the morning, you're downstairs with the lights off, and you seem intent on drinking yourself into a stupor. That doesn't strike me as the sort of thing a man does when everything's peachy. And I'm..." His lips twist into a sharp smile, edged; Nathan has seen the like on his mother, his father before he died; himself, in the mirror. “The Doctor.”
He shrugs again. "I couldn't sleep. This seemed like as good a plan as any. How did you get in here? Did Linderman send you?"
The Englishman's eyes are very sharp, and older than his face. "What keeps you awake?"
Nathan tosses back the rest of his glass of rum, pouring a second. He tilts the bottle towards the Doctor, offering. The Doctor shakes his head at the offer, and Nathan stares studiously into his drink, idly turning the glass between his fingers. His expression is hard to read in the darkness. Perhaps that's not a problem for this man who isn't, somehow, entirely a man.
"Would you bear it all on your own?" He gives a soft laugh. "Stupid question. Of course you would. You monkeys are all the same. You can't be the hero all the time."
Nathan laughs. “Hero? You're mixing things up, I'm no hero. Who are you?”
“You haven't answered my question,” the Doctor says quietly, ignoring Nathan's questions. He is, for a moment, reminded of Peter, but only briefly. This man may have the same infuriating ability to see through Nathan's shields and carefully-constructed masks, but he's not like Peter, not really. He's somehow harder, sharper.
"What do you want me to say?"
There's the barest hint of a smile. "What do you want to say?"
Nathan laughs. "You're not following the script."
He raises an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Nathan nods, pulling out the pack of cigarettes and lighting one, taking a long drag before answering. Heidi will skin him alive if she catches the smell of cigarettes on him.
"Mmm. You're supposed to say you want me to tell the truth. Then I lie, and you get pissed off at me and leave, and I get myself drunk enough to sleep. It's tradition."
Quietly: "Why aren't you sleeping, Nathan?"
There's a long pause, and Nathan exhales a stream of smoke that dissipates into the darkness, the glow at the end of his cigarette not strong enough to do more than cast a faint hint of light on the fingers holding it.
The stranger's eyes are so old, so alien in such a human face; he is somehow gentle and old and beautiful and terrible, all at the same time, and Nathan's suddenly more frightened of him than he's ever been of Linderman.
"What will make the dreams go away?"
The question gets no reply, other than the laugh. The Doctor asks again, "what will make the dreams go away, Nathan?"
He lifts the glass, but the Doctor leans over and covers it with one long-fingered hand.
"It won't help."
He's rewarded with a tired glare, none of the emotion behind it that Nathan so expertly feigns. "You know, you're very pushy for a man who's in my house without an invitation. Who sent you? Does Linderman want something more from me?"
"Will you tell me your dreams?"
Nathan tosses back the rest of his drink and looks at the stranger. The Doctor. What sort of Doctor? If they think he's cracking under the stress -- they're probably right, he admits to himself, but he'll be damned if he admits that to anyone else.
"Good night, Doctor."
"-- wait a moment."
Nathan smiles. It's not a happy smile, and it's not a friendly smile. It's just a smile.
"Good night, Doctor."
Another late night perhaps a week later; a bottle of Jack Daniels this time, and no cigarettes, not after the reaming-out Heidi gave him last time. The same armchair, the same man trying to lose himself in alcohol.
The Doctor sits down across from him.
"You're going to give yourself a hangover. Didn't I already tell you that?"
His mouth curves briefly in a tired smile, and the Doctor got here a little late this time because a quarter of the bottle is already gone.
"Evening, Doctor. I was wondering if you'd come back or if you were a hallucination. Looks like I'm insane. Isn't that good news?"
"What's wrong?" the man who might be a Doctor and might be an agent of Linderman but who is certainly more than he seems asks. "You never did tell me."
He gestures loosely, possibly indicating the room where Heidi waits, sleeping. "Can't sleep."
Nathan laughs softly and takes another drink. "Want to guess?"
The Doctor looks at him quietly. Nathan grins and tosses back another swallow of alcohol, settling back in the armchair.
"You're not playing."
"Perhaps I'd rather solve serious matters than play."
Nathan laughs, long and discordant.
"Oh, see, now that's better. You're going by the script this time. Let's see . . . now I say but Doctor, I don't want to be serious. Life's too short for seriousness. And you say--"
The Doctor sighs. "Nathan."
"Well, okay, that could work. The script's a bit fluid, so it could go either way. I'm not clear on what my next line is, though, seems to've fallen out of my head."
He peers into the bottle. The Doctor leans over and takes it from his fingers, looking at him silently, and Nathan frowns.
"That's not in the script."
"I've never been one for scripts."
"What d'you want, Doctor?"
"I want to know what troubles you. What keeps you from sleeping and sends you down here to drink yourself into a stupor."
Nathan studies him, silent for a few minutes. There's more light tonight, a gibbous moon waxing in the sky and shining brightly through the open window, making a mockery of the choice he's been given. Nothing should be so bright when everything around him is going to hell.
"I've got hard choices to make. I can deal with it."
"Drinking won't take you away from it."
Nathan's face twists and he looks away.
The Doctor is quiet, watching him, and Nathan gets the impression that the Englishman -- is he even English? He sounds English, but that's not hard, really, and he gets the feeling that this man is much more than the sum of his parts -- knows all too well what it's like to have to make hard decisions.
And, abruptly, he has no stomach for alcohol anymore.
"Good night, Doctor."
A smile. A tired, sad, defeated smile. "Good night, Doctor."
Third time's a charm.
Nathan looks up, and his eyes are tired, dark shadowed smudges beneath them.
It's October the twenty-seventh.
"We have to stop meeting like this, Doctor. Going to tell me what you are this time?"
One of his hands lies lax on the armrest, and there are scabbed-over half-moon cuts in his palm. The Doctor stands before him and takes that hand in his own, lightly tracing the cuts with his thumb, infinitely gentle.
He gives a soft, defeated whisper of a laugh. "Turning psychic, Doctor?"
"No." He smiles at some secret joke. "Just . . . observant." A pause. "Will you tell me what you dreamed?"
There is a long silence. Nathan leans back, closing his eyes and letting out a stream of smoke. Finally:
“No. Will you tell me who you are?”
“Not sent by Linderman,” the Doctor says quietly, “not an assassin, not a spy. Is that enough?”
“Maybe. Might be enough for a night.”
Nathan looks at the Doctor, and there is something like curiosity and something like yearning in his face. He stands fluidly, idly smoothing his shirt, wondering absently if he's going to wear the blue or red tie in six days, wondering why the hell he cares about ties when the world is going to change so drastically, because of him.
"Good night, Doctor."
The Doctor doesn't move. Nathan looks at him, face blank.
"Please get out of my way."
"No." Firmly, but with an odd sort of sad gentleness. "I'm not letting you self-destruct."
Nathan's expression hardens. "Get out of my way."
The Doctor doesn't stand. Nathan narrows his eyes.
"You're going to be worse than C'rizz," the Doctor sighs, and releases him, stepping out of the way and moving aside to let Nathan pass. Nathan's expression is impassive as he slips past.
"Good night, Doctor."
For a wonder, it’s the Doctor in the armchair instead of the lawyer, leaning back and looking as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He hasn't bothered to get a drink from the cabinet, settling instead in the armchair and curling up like a cat, chin resting on his folded arms.
Indeterminate moments pass, before a cup of coffee is placed on the table in front of him. The smell reaches his nose and he blinks, looking up to see Nathan, sitting in the other armchair, a cup of coffee in front of him and an unlit cigarette tucked behind his ear, a sombre expression on his face. Wordlessly, he offers the pack of cigarettes to the Doctor.
He wrinkles his nose and shakes his head, murmuring, "I'm not so eager to get lung cancer in this body, thanks. It's still got the shine on it."
Nathan lights his cigarette, taking a long drag before speaking.
“Are you going to tell me how you get here, Doctor? And why? It seems you've taken up residence, I think I deserve some sort of explanation.”
“It’s been a long week.” The answer is quiet, and it’s not really a direct answer.
“And I'm sorry, but honestly, this is getting a bit ridiculous. You're not from Linderman, or you'd have made demands already. He knows I'm his man.” A hint of bitterness creeps into his voice, at that. "Who are you?"
There's a brief wave of one long-fingered hand, and the Doctor smiles a little. “Just the Doctor.”
“That doesn't explain anything. What do you want?”
“To talk to you,” the Doctor says quietly, sipping his coffee. “Perhaps to steer you from a foolish path.”
Oddly, he can't bring himself to be alarmed at that statement, although the people who know of their plans number less than he can count on one hand, at this point in time. Nathan’s voice is tired, when he finally speaks. “I suppose I’m curious as to why you care, Doctor. Because this seems to be more about me than about what's going to happen.”
"And I'm curious as to why you brought me coffee, why you haven't called the police," the Doctor counters, looking absurdly fragile curled up the way he is, hands wrapped around his coffee mug. How can a man so tall, so hard-looking, seem so fragile, as though Nathan could touch him the wrong way and he'd shatter?
“You looked tired.” Nathan shrugs. “I may not be the nicest person around but I’m not such a complete bastard that I enjoy seeing people suffering. Despite the situation, you haven't done anything to hurt me or my family. And it seems you're going to be in my house regardless of what I do, so I may as well be hospitable until you explain why you've taken such a shine to me.”
The Doctor smiles. “That does you credit.”
“Glad to hear it.” His voice is distracted, and he absently twines his fingers together, the movement agitated.
After a moment, the Doctor reaches across the table, large, strong hands covering Nathan’s, stilling the movement. Nathan is quiet, for a few moments.
“You know, you never answered my question. Why do you care what I do?”
It is, almost, a tacit admission that something is planned.
“People love you.”
Nathan shrugs. “Maybe so.”
“No. Not 'maybe'. They do.”
“There'd be a lot of people who would refute that,” Nathan points out dryly. “Is it a reason to worry?”
He gives Nathan a slight almost-smile. “Perhaps not to worry. But to be curious. Concerned.”
“Because you interest me.”
Nathan laughs, setting down his empty glass. “I'm looking the other way while millions of people die, Doctor. Millions of deaths, and I'm ignoring it all for the call of power. Why does that interest you?”
“Is it so surprising?”
Another pause, as Nathan finishes his cigarette.
“I don't know.”
Softly, “perhaps if you find out, some day, then you might tell me.”
He's silent again, eyes closed, before he whispers, “I’m so tired, Doctor.”
“I know, Nathan.” He smiles, oddly gentle. “You need to rest. Things aren't what they seem, not to someone stuck in linear time. And you're not the monster you think you are. Trust me.”
The lights flicker and go out for a moment.
For a moment, in the silence of the empty room, there is an odd thrumming, pulsating sound, beautiful and haunting and somehow familiar, and the Doctor stands, hands tightening on Nathan's, and --
-- and he knows, somehow, that this man, this strange, unknown man, forgives him for all he has done, and all he will do, and loves him still.
When the lights come back again, the Doctor is gone.
When he hears about Linderman's death, for a moment he dares to believe that he won't have to go through with this, won't have to stand by as his brother dies. And then his mother tells him that it changes nothing, and he echoes her words emptily, feeling another part of him go cold inside.
Claire tries to run. Peter looks at him, looks so betrayed, and runs. His own brother turns invisible and runs away from him, as though he doesn't recognise the man in front of him anymore.
I challenge everyone here tonight to inspire by example. To fight the battle, no matter the cost. Because the world is sick. Spinning out of control. But we can heal it.
Maybe Peter's right not to recognise him.
Claire asks how he can do nothing to stop this. He doesn't have an answer for her.
The future is not written in stone!
And she's right. He can't live with himself if he makes Peter be responsible for so many deaths.
And so he takes matters into his own hands.
It's easy enough to find the plaza, easier still to pick Peter out from the others -- who else would be glowing, giving off white-red light, who else would Claire be pointing a gun at? Peter can't focus, that much is clear, not with so much power coursing through him.
He won't have his brother tortured by the blood of millions on his hands. Peter's too gentle for that sort of pain.
Peter says there's no other way. But he doesn't see, he's too panicked to see. There's too much power and he can't control it, and he's scared, Nathan can see that. He can see the fear in Peter's eyes, the same fear his little brother used to show when he was a kid and scared of the dark but not willing to let their parents know. When Nathan would sit with him until he was asleep and then sneak back to his room, their parents none the wiser.
He soothed the fear before, and he can do it now.
"I'm not leaving you, Peter. There's another way to end this, and you know it."
He's afraid, too. But this is the way things have to be. He wraps his arms around his brother and takes them high, high enough that the air is thin and sharp in his lungs, high enough that the explosion won't affect New York. And he finds, oddly, that he's ready to die.
When he wakes up, his first thought is that there's been some mistake and he dreamed the confrontation in the plaza. A glance around proves him wrong; this is not any place he knows.
The Doctor is sitting by the bed, looking grave.
After long moments of silence, Nathan says quietly, “I've gone insane.”
“No," the Doctor corrects gently. "Although I'm sure some of the people who've known me will say it's not much of a stretch, knowing me and insanity."
Nathan sits up a little; the ache in his lungs that should be there after being unprotected in such high atmosphere is absent. For some reason that bothers him more than what the sheer fact of his being conscious implies. “Aren't I dead?”
“You were about to be.” The Doctor's smile is sharp-edged. “About to be and should be are two entirely different animals.”
Nathan looks down at himself, touching his chest with one hand. Everything appears to be in order, but he's never heard of this happening before -- of course not, because clearly he's suffering from post-mortem hallucinations -- and as far as he knows, his body is somewhere else, burned and charred from the explosion and glowing radioactive, and that'll put a crimp on his love life, certainly. Nobody likes kissing people whose skin should come with a radiation warning.
He's vaguely aware that that line of thought is not exactly rational, but for the most part he's just curling in on himself and laughing softly, hysterically. He's supposed to be dead and this man-god-being has for some reason decided that he doesn't like that plan, and Nathan has no idea why.
The Doctor shifts to sit on the side of the bed, and pulls Nathan into a loose embrace. Nathan stiffens for a moment, holding himself tense, and then turns his face to the Doctor's shoulder; not quite crying, not quite shaking, just holding himself very tightly.
One arm is wrapped around Nathan's shoulders, gently at first and then tightening as his resolve breaks and low, moaning sobs begin to break the stillness of the night. The Doctor's voice is gentle. "It's all right, you're going to be all right. Just relax."
Hardly more than a whisper of sound. Nathan makes a choked sound in the back of his throat, hand fisting in the Doctor's jumper, and tremors course through his body. The Doctor holds him as though he's a child, crying after a nightmare, one hand stroking softly over Nathan's hair, and in that simple touch there's infinite understanding and gentleness.
“Rest, Nathan,” he murmurs. “It'll make more sense later.”
It doesn't make more sense later.
Eventually, his senses return enough that the Doctor, who seems to go simply by that honourific and no actual name, explains more.
Nathan doesn't understand how the Doctor snatched his body away from the explosion an instant before he died. He doesn't understand why, and the Doctor doesn't explain that part, saying only that he does what's not expected of him, because sometimes it's better that way.
He sleeps a lot, the first few weeks, and the Doctor doesn't explain that either, except with a cursory “you'll sleep more until you've adjusted.”
When he begins to feel more himself, he begins exploring the room that the Doctor has brought him to, and eventually the house. Not actually a house, the Doctor tells him, but a TARDIS; Nathan can't find any sense in the word and files it away in the back of his brain, as the Doctor explains that it's bigger on the inside than the outside, and that he could explore it for months and still not run out of rooms. The TARDIS becomes his world.
Enough of a world, for now, although he feels strange, alone here with this man. He wonders, vaguely, what everyone at home thinks happened.
And then one day, not long after his recovery began in earnest, the Doctor comes to his room and says quietly, "I've got someone I think you should see, Nathan."
He leads Nathan through the maze of corridors that Nathan hasn't even begun to become familiar with, into a section of the TARDIS that looks somehow more . . . clinical, perhaps. Sterile, almost. The Doctor opens a door and leads Nathan into a room that reminds him of a hospital room; tiled floor, clean walls, a bed in the centre of the room, although the colours are pale yellow and seafoam blue, not harsh, sterile white.
He absorbs the surroundings in a bare instant, his conscious attention taken up by the man in the bed.
Peter's hair hasn't changed. Oddly, that's the first thing that grabs his attention; Peter's hair is still flopping over his forehead, making him look younger than he is. Nathan's reminded of the horrible two weeks after Peter went to Odessa to save Claire, two weeks when he was sure his brother was going to die. He seems to be sleeping easier now than he was then, and there aren't as many machines clustered around the bed; the one monitor that Nathan can see is keeping track of a heartbeat that seems reassuringly regular.
He can't finish the sentence. His chest feels tight, as though there's a rubber band around his heart, and he can't do anything except stare at Peter, unwilling even to blink, in case he vanishes. He's hardly aware of the Doctor moving to stand beside him, hardly aware of the arms that wrap around him, comforting. He only really realises that he's crying when he tastes salt on his lips, and that's when he realises that the Doctor has been talking softly for some time now.
"He's going to be all right, Nathan. He's comatose right now, because he's still got some healing to do. But he'll wake up, and I'll make sure he's all right, I promise. He's going to be all right. You're both going to be all right."
Nathan is still staring at Peter. He'd known, objectively, that Peter wouldn't die during the explosion. But he'd been trying not to think about it, while he carefully taped the pieces of his sanity back together. He doesn't understand.
"How did he get here?"
"I brought him," the Doctor says quietly. "Just after the explosion. I got you before, ducked inside the TARDIS to avoid the worst of it, and then I grabbed him. He's a bit knocked-around inside, but he'll be all right."
He can't breathe.
Peter is lying in the bed, alive and whole and real, and Nathan can't breathe.
"Calm down," the Doctor says, gentle but firm at the same time, and Nathan can't keep back a whimper of protest as he's forcibly turned away from Peter to look at the Doctor, who reaches down to take one of Nathan's hands, pressing it to his chest. "Breathe to my heartbeat. Can you feel that? Follow it with your breathing. Just focus on that. Your brother's here, and he's all right, and he needs you to be all right. So focus on my heart, through your hand, and breathe. Nice and easy."
Slowly, his breathing eases, and there's more in his mind than just Peter Peter Peter you're alive Peter. He hasn't been this terrified about his brother since the two weeks Peter spent in a coma, since the day Peter threw himself off a building to prove that he could fly. Since seeing Peter lying in their home, covered in blood and not moving, not breathing.
He can't live without his brother. Peter's what makes him good, what gives him a guiding hand. His conscience. He can't imagine life without Peter, and right now all that's important is that, for now, he doesn't have to.
"He's going to be all right," the Doctor tells him again, gently. "He's had a big shock, both physically and mentally, that's why he's still asleep. I have to make sure his mind's all right before I wake him up. But he'll be ready in a day or two, and then I'll let him wake up and you two can talk. All right?"
Nathan nods, staring a little numbly at his own hand, still resting against the Doctor's chest. The Doctor's heartbeat is strange, he realises vaguely; he can feel the strong, reassuring beat through his hand, but there's a second beat behind it, and that confuses him.
"Come on." The Doctor steers him through a door and into an adjoining room, where there's a bed set up. "You need to rest; you're not strong yet. You've had just as much of a shock as your brother."
He's guided over to the bed and sat down, the Doctor's hands gentle on his shoulders.
"Sleep, Nathan." That strongly-accented voice, still sounding almost mockingly playful even in seriousness, seems somehow more intense, like it's inside Nathan's head. "You need rest, if you're to recover. And the world needs you both. I saved you for a reason. Now sleep."
He wakes up, an indeterminate period of time later, to the sound of voices in the next room. Not just the Doctor's voice -- voices. He slips out of bed and stumbles into the next room, halting at the doorway to stare at Peter.
Peter, who is sitting up in bed and looking -- pale, yes, and tired, but alive. The Doctor is sitting beside him, likewise looking tired, but when he sees Nathan he gives him a brilliant grin and gestures for him to come over.
He doesn't feel his feet touch the floor; he might as well have flown or teleported to the bedside, for all the recollection he has of traversing the space between him and Peter. He doesn't bother finding another chair, sitting on the bed itself and pulling his brother into a fierce hug, one that he doesn't want to end. His brother is alive, alive and awake and he doesn't know how but he's so grateful, more than he knows how to put into words.
He tries. He turns to the Doctor, still holding Peter close, and tries to put his thanks into words; the other man waves it off, still grinning.
"Thank me later. You two still have a bit of healing to do, before your real work starts."
Later, there will be questions about this place, this -- TARDIS, that's the word the Doctor used. Questions about the Doctor, too, and his enigmatic phrasing -- "The world needs you both. I saved you for a reason."
Later, Nathan will have questions. But now he has his brother, and that's enough.
Doctor Who and its accoutrements are the property of the BBC, and we obviously don't have any right to them. Any and all crossover characters belong to their respective creators. Alas no one makes any money from this site, and it's all done out of love for a cheap-looking sci-fi show. All fics are property of their individual authors. Archival at this site should not be taken to constitute automatic archive rights elsewhere, and authors should be contacted individually to arrange further archiving. Despite occasional claims otherwise, The Blessed St Lalla Ward is not officially recognised by the Catholic Church. Yet. |
Script for this archive provided by eFiction. Contact our archivists at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read our Terms of Service and Submission Guidelines.