1984. She squinted up at the sky, eased one of her heels off her blistered foot, and frowned. The frown turned deeper as a distant drone turned into a loud roar, and she jumped back with a shout as a motorcycle pulled up in front of her.
The woman driving had long brown hair, mirrored shades, and positively radiated attitude. She also had a second helmet.
"You coming, or what?" the woman said, pushing up her sunglasses and narrowing her eyes at Tegan.
"That thing looks like a death trap," Tegan said. "I've rather had enough of unreliable transport for a while. And who are you, anyway?"
The woman smiled, a little hard around the edges, a little bit predatory. "I'm a taxi service, ma'am. You look like you need a ride."
"I haven't any money," Tegan replied, feeling slightly stupid as she did so.
"I don't charge for down-and-out cases. Come on. I'll take you away from here."
As Tegan held on to the woman's waist, helmet securely fastened, the roar of the bike deafening, she realized she had had enough of princes on white horses (or men in blue boxes) taking her away for quite some time, thank you very much. It was time, she decided, to choose where she was going to go for herself.
She intended to tell the woman that, but suddenly they were — they were in between, and then nowhere and then the ground was solid underneath them and from the smell of the air, without even opening her eyes, Tegan knew she was home.
"Thank you," she stuttered out, gasping for air. The woman laughed.
"Was told you're never lost for words. Here we are. Go on, go home, raise some hell."
"I can do that," Tegan said, standing up unsteadily and handing back the helmet. The woman shook her head.
"That one's yours now," she said, revving the engine. "I'll be back, and you'll have to be ready to go for a ride."
"I'm not getting on that thing again," Tegan said, voice rising. "I don't even know who you are!"
"We've crossed the River Styx, Tegan," the woman said. "And I need companions to keep oblivion at bay."
And with a roar, the motorcycle was — nowhere, again, and Tegan blinked, dust flying up into her eyes. From a distance she heard a shout, the sound of human voices raised in disbelief and joy, and she turned slowly to face them, head held high.
At nights, when the city was noisy to ears accustomed to the alien hum of a ship moving through time and space, Tegan would hear an engine rev, and sit up straight, flushed and anxious, every nerve on red alert.
She realized, however, that no matter how else she felt, she wasn't afraid.
The woman came back three times.
"Ace," the woman gasped out, standing in the middle of an empty battlefield, gun slung low over her hips, Tegan's arms around her tight.
Tegan pulled back and wiped her eyes, full of dirt mixed with a bit of blood from a wound on her head.
"Nice to meet you," she said, laughing. "Took you long enough, didn't it?"
"We won, Tegan," Ace said, pulling a dirty handkerchief out of her pocket and leaning in to wipe at the dirt on Tegan's face.
"That's disgusting," Tegan replied. "Heaven knows what space germs you have on that thing."
Ace gaped at her, a grin spreading across her face. "Space germs," she repeated, as Tegan flushed. "Shouldn't do this, then." And she leaned in and kissed Tegan's wound, right at her hairline, carefully and gently.
"Feels better, doesn't it?" she said as Tegan stood stock-still. And it did.
"Who are you?" Tegan asked.
"I'm your ferryman," Ace replied, and she leaned in to kiss Tegan square on the lips.
Back at home, watching the city lights, Tegan felt the magic in Ace's mouth still running through her body, her whole nervous system alive and crackling, ready to live and love and fight. She looked out at the stars, and only missed one time traveller in particular.
The second time she came back, Ace was younger than she was the first time, and Tegan, proudly and with some effort, held her tongue.
"Don’t worry," Ace said after their ride, standing on a cool blue planet, all water and strips of sand. "I can see that we're out of sync. I can feel it. We'll get it right next time."
"Next time for you, or next time for me?" Tegan said, feeling itchy in her skin, time and space clinging to her and Ace standing apart so aloofly, so maddeningly anonymous yet.
"I like Australia," Ace said, apropos of nothing, sweeping an arm out in front of her.
Tegan laughed nervously. "This isn't Oz. And anyway, I've been thinking of going abroad."
"Don't go where I can't find you," Ace said, turning on that devastating stare of hers. "We have one more trip to make."
"I don't want to wait around forever," Tegan complained. Ace shook her head, and climbed back on the bike.
"Just once more, Tegan," she said, and for all this Ace was a bit younger, she looked tired and worn, and Tegan felt her heart go out to her, and to herself, all at the same time.
"Brave heart, Tegan," she whispered to herself, laughing quietly, as they travelled into nothing and back again out the other side.
There was no fourth time. Tegan packed up, said her goodbyes again, got on an airplane. As soon as she was on board she missed the air, the sky, the land, but excitement burned inside her, new adventures awaiting her, all on her own. She'd find her own apostles, in a brave new world.
She buried the helmet by the water before she left, a relic for some child to dig up in the future (the past, another universe, maybe; another trip into the unknown).
"You're free," Ace whispered, her fingers writing instructions in invisible ink all over Tegan's skin. Tegan took a shaky breath; the air was cold and thin here, so close to the stars.
"Why me?" Tegan asked, the question she'd always had in her mouth, that she'd been biting back.
"You're magic too, Tegan," Ace said simply. "There's stardust in your veins and these days I can never get warm. It's a touch of home, a compass point. I left it behind so many years ago."
Tegan frowned. "I'll never be normal again, will I?"
"Were you ever?" Ace asked, and leaned in to seal the advice she'd written with her tongue.
And on an alien planet, a million miles or more from her beginnings, Tegan realized she'd crossed over the dividing line into eternity, and never wanted to cross back.