Part One: Light
He wants to take Ace to visit the ruins of Tintagel, because she expresses a certain amount of understandable curiosity about “King Arthur and his lot” as she puts it, preferably without getting caught up in the middle of the versions from this universe. But instead of landing near castle ruins in Cornwall, he misses a digit in the coordinates somewhere and lands them in the middle of a tiny modern town in Wales.
It’s a nice little town, as far as nice little Welsh towns go. Not clean, of course, because it’s still a bit too close to the mining areas for that, but it’s fresh and neat and picturesquely charming in the bright morning sunlight. It has a little corner shop, a mechanic’s garage, a cafe and even a launderette. There are a few cars scattered here and there, all with 1966 licenses.
Ace isn’t impressed. “Just like sodding Perivale,” she says. “Only smaller.”
“Give it a chance, Ace,” the Doctor urges. “Beautiful countryside. Why don’t we get a lunch at the café and have a picnic before we leave?”
She gives him that patented suspicious look she’s developing. “There’s monsters in them thar hills,” she said darkly, paraphrasing the cowboy film they watched recently. “If it’s anything like our usual picnics, anyway.”
The Doctor grins at her. “There’s Nitro-9 in them thar pockets,” he reminds her, bringing an answering grin to her face.
“Too right there is, Professor.”
They sit on the pavement in front of the garage, a little too close to the driveway, and the Doctor takes his moneybag from his pocket and upends it, spilling coins from a dozen different planets and nearly that many Earth eras. He digs through the rabble until he thinks he’s found sufficient pre-decimal currency while Ace smirks at his hopelessness with all things monetary. He tweaks her nose, then presses the money into her hand with firm orders to bring back a jug of tea for them, whatever else she decides to buy.
He sits on the pavement waiting for her, tapping the end of his umbrella on the ground in time to some music that exists only in his head, and watches the goings on of the town with genuine interest. Behind him, the ever-present background noise of a rattling engine switches off abruptly, then restarts twice more before it’s shut off altogether. Soon after, the front door of the garage opens with a loud creak, and a small figure comes out and takes a seat next to him.
“Never thought I’d see you round these parts again, Doctor,” she says, in that lilting, musical Welsh voice he still remembers.
He turns and beams at her, exclaiming, “Ray!” She’s several years older by now, but she hasn’t changed much. Still the sweet, resourceful girl he met at a holiday camp during that mess with the Chimerons some time back. Her mouth is still wide and friendly as she smiles at him, and her face is still smeared with grease. He can’t help remarking on the fact. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Oh, I’ve got older, Doctor. But you,” she says, studying his face carefully, “you haven’t. Saw you a few minutes ago, but I had to finish the car first. I’m glad you stayed.”
“So am I,” he says, instinctively taking her hand. She smiles at him again and transfers her oily rag to her other hand. “Is this your garage, then?” he asks.
She considers the question. “Suppose it is now, yeah. Technically it belongs to my husband, but he’s taken himself off and left me to it.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
Ray shrugs. “Oh, it’s no never mind,” she says. “He’s not worth frettin’ over, so I haven’t bothered. Should have expected it. After all, I’ve only to be attracted to a man and he runs away. Leaves the planet, some of them.” The statement hangs in the air between them, leaving the Doctor with vague questions about whether her old friend Billy is the she only man she means. The silence to him is slightly awkward, but Ray seems to be perfectly at her ease. At length she asks him, removing all ambiguity as far as he’s concerned, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Billy? And Delta, of course.”
He shakes his head. “No, I don’t, sorry. I’ve never checked on any specifics regarding the Chimeron race. If you’d like me to, I could always—”
“No,” she interrupts him. “Never mind. I’d like to know, but not really, if you know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
They’re still holding hands when Ace comes back from the café, holding a bag of food and a thermos of tea. She’s already complaining by the time she’s halfway across the street. “Tried to make me buy the bleedin’ carafe, but I wasn’t having that, Professor. Told him I’d bring it back before we left. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, though.”
“It’s the jacket,” Ray says easily. “That’s old man Llewellyn’s prejudice. Thinks anyone in a leather jacket’s straight out of a James Dean picture.”
Ace studies her for a moment, obviously put off by the sight of the hand-holding. “Who’s she then?” she asks the Doctor.
“Don’t be rude, Ace,” he admonishes. “Ray, this is my friend Ace. She lacks a certain polish – though we’re working on that – but on the plus side she’s a dab hand at homemade explosives. Ace, this is Ray. Rachel. She’s a mechanical genius.”
They quickly leave the town behind in favor of a scenic picnic spot that Ray recommends. Ray refuses the Doctor’s invitation to join them, claiming she has far too much work at the garage to take off for impromptu lunches, although he thinks Ace’s sullen attitude might have had a bit to do with it as well. She’d rolled her eyes behind Ray’s back when the latter insisted they stay in the area long enough to have dinner with her that night.
“She some sort of old girlfriend or something, Professor?” asks Ace, without even an attempt at subtlety.
The Doctor laughs. “No, Ace, she is not some sort of old girlfriend.”
“You ever travel with her?”
“No. She’s just someone I met once upon a time, and we got on rather well, that’s all.”
“So you wanted to take her along?”
“I never asked her,” he says firmly, putting an end to her interrogation.
The two of them spend the afternoon exploring the backroads of the Welsh countryside, enjoying one another’s company and the bright afternoon sunshine, and Ray’s name is never mentioned for the rest of the day. In the end, old Llewellyn’s tea flask gets left behind as well.
Part Two: Shadow
Ace refuses to wear a dress, no matter how nice the restaurant in the next town is supposed to be. Ray’s indifference to the matter gets taken as the first point in her favor. By the time the party has driven five miles, Ace is hanging over the front seat of Ray’s car, asking her questions about the motor trade with no trace of hostility. Halfway through dinner they’re firm friends, even sharing good-natured insults about the Doctor, much to his chagrin.
He dances with both of them, but Ace is the one who actually manages to coerce him onto the dance floor. For a child of the eighties, she proves very adept at learning the dances of the sixties. He has fun with her, but realizes she looks like an energetic teenager dancing with her middle-aged father. In a manner of speaking, that’s exactly what she is. It’s almost a relief when some gawky youth takes a fancy to her and she leaves to dance with him. The fact that he’s not her sort at all tells the Doctor volumes. The next dance is a slower one, a proper dance, and he holds Ray at arm’s length and guides her around the floor. It lacks the awkwardness of their very first dance together seven years ago because it lacks the emotional undercurrent of bitter disappointment and jealousy.
Some other undercurrent is still there, though. Something they’d both noticed the first night they’d danced together at the Shangri-La holiday camp. Halfway through the song, she moves closer to him, as if by accident, and he doesn’t discourage her.
Ray drives them back to her village and pulls her car into a little shed round the back of her garage. “I haven’t got a proper shed at home,” she explains. “I leave the car here and walk home.”
The Doctor hesitates, torn between doing the sensible thing by returning with Ace to the Tardis and leaving this place immediately, or doing the gentlemanly thing by escorting Ray home. There’s no question of Ace needing an escort, of course; the Tardis is parked just there on the corner and he can see its shadowy form from here. Nor, he admits to himself, is there likely any danger to Ray, who after all makes this same journey every night when she finishes work. Neither of them actually need his solicitude, but he rather thinks one wants it more than the other does. He doesn’t allow himself to think past that at all, because if he does then there’s no decision to be made.
Ace unintentionally makes the decision for him, suddenly announcing that she’s sleepy and is going straight to bed. “See you in the morning, Professor,” she yawns, and heads off toward the Tardis and her bedroom. Whatever her issues were with Rachel she seems to have resolved them for herself.
Ray and the Doctor look at one another. “Well…” she says finally.
He says nothing, just watches as the retreating figure of Ace moves away into the shadows and disappears into the Tardis. “I suppose I should go,” he says, and the statement comes out sounding more reluctant than he intends.
“I suppose,” Ray concedes. “You might walk me home first, though, Doctor. If you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind,” he says quietly, with that same sense of inexorable fate. He’s never even believed in fate. Still doesn’t. But it’s a good excuse.
She takes his arm and they head off down a side street where the streetlamps are fewer and further between. Under cover of relative darkness, the kind that makes people brave enough to share confidences they never would in full light, Ray tells him quietly, “I think I always fancied you a bit.” He says nothing, and she hesitates before adding, “I sort of thought maybe you might have fancied me as well.”
They turn into a short lane that’s really no more than an unlit alleyway. Ray’s house is just a few steps down, and there’s a carriage burning outside her front door, providing the only illumination, throwing the bushes and fence into sharp relief and casting bizarre shadows over the surrounding area.
Ray opens the door and he hesitates on the step. “I should be leaving,” he says, when she asks him in for a drink.
She nods understandingly. “Yes. It’d probably be for the best.” But as he starts to turn, she says suddenly, “I’ll never see you again, will I, Doctor?”
“No, I shouldn’t think so,” he admits.
She says, with the sort of forced casualness that proves she’s been trying to work out how to say this all night, “Right. But, see, if you leave and I never see you again, I’ll still have regrets. And I think so will you.”
The Doctor raises one eyebrow. “Are you asking me to invite you along?” he asks, intrigued at the possibilities.
“No,” Ray tells him. “I’m just asking you to stay with me. Just for a little while, before you go away again.”
It’s a fairly direct proposition, just the sort he’s been halfway expecting. It’s the kind of thing he should have been guarding against, except that he refused to actually admit to himself where this was headed all along. She holds out her hand and he takes it in solemn silence. She doesn’t even bother turning on the lights as she leads him down the long hallway to the bedroom at the back of the house. The master manipulator is letting himself be manipulated for once.
He’s not completely passive, however. He’s the one who kisses her first, he’s the one who draws her into his arms. Otherwise, it’s all Ray. She pushes him down on the bed, and they don’t even bother to get undressed any more than is absolutely necessary. Her shoes go, and she slips off her underwear, but she leaves on her stockings and her dress. She’s on top and they do it quickly, without foreplay, on top of the covers.
Afterwards, they undress and turn the bed down, lying together in the darkness. She rests her head on his shoulder while the Doctor holds her and feels the first stirring of regret, glad he can’t see her face clearly. He doesn’t do this, he reminds himself, despite the number of times over the centuries that he’s done just this very thing. This is the reason he chose not to ask her along when they first met. He’s regretted that decision from time to time, when he chanced to think of her. She’s just the sort of person he likes to have travelling with him; good company, resourceful enough to take care of herself, interested in learning things and completely unfazed by anything that happens. Much like Ace, he thinks, and then backs away from that thought in this context. There’s the difference, though. Ray is a grown woman. More so now then she’d been seven years ago, but even then he’d been unable to think of her as anything but an adult. He’d been entirely too aware of the fact she was a woman.
Ray does an uncanny impression of a mind-reader when she asks suddenly, “Were you afraid I’d fall in love with you, years ago? I wouldn’t’ve, you know.”
The Doctor can’t help smiling. That’s exactly what he likes about Ray, the fact that she’s straightforward enough to say just that sort of thing.
“What happened to your husband?” he asks abruptly.
She shrugs dismissively. “He just left. Couldn’t stand being confined anymore. He was in Ireland for awhile, but I haven’t heard from him in two years. Could be anywhere now.” She plays with his fingers, and drops a line of kisses along his chest.
He sighs, knowing he has to ask the question and yet fearing the answer even now, no matter what she says. “Would you like to come with us?” he asks. It seems overwhelmingly important suddenly to emphasize the us.
Ray laughs. “No, Doctor, it’s a bit late for that now. I’ll let you go now without regrets.”
He kisses the top of her head and murmurs his approval.
Later, he fucks her again, slowly and thoroughly till she moans and cries beneath him. This is his one opportunity, and he doesn’t want to leave with anything unfinished between them. It’s better this time because he knows she’ll never want to come with him, never let him mess up her life, never regret sharing her bed and her body with him for one night out of their lives. His earlier self-loathing is forgotten as they move together. When he comes, he says her name tenderly. “Ray,” he says. “Rachel.”
He walks her to work early the next morning when the sun is just starting to promise another lovely, bright Welsh day. There’s a spring in his step after one last quickie five minutes ago, and neither one of them can keep from grinning. Ray opens up the doors of the garage and pulls him inside into a dark, secluded corner, giving him a goodbye kiss that he’ll remember for centuries. He cups her face and looks into her eyes one last time, then turns and walks away from her.
Ace is just about conscious when he gets back to the Tardis, and he pretends he’s been up for hours. Already been out for a walk this morning, he tells her briskly, then bustles around the console setting coordinates for anyplace else in the universe. She believes him for once, and in some strange way he’s unspeakably relieved to find his reputation with her untarnished. She and Ray are too much alike in some ways, shockingly so, but he’s able to think of Ace as a child still and he’s desperate to keep it that way.
The Doctor smiles to himself as he sets th Tardis in motion. Just for once, he has no regrets at all.