Author's Notes:
Summary: The first confrontation

“They’ve been ages,” Ryan says, still squinting at the dais suspiciously as he paces around it.

Jack is leaning against the wall, arms folded. He looks, for all the world, like a sentry, well, a laid back sentry. Ryan wonders how sensitive the sunglasses the Doctor gave him are and if he could be on guard. He’s gleaned over the time spent with him that he used to do something vaguely military and possibly to do with aliens. He shifts on his feet and looks at Ryan. “Not that long.”

“We don’t know what’s down there, though.”

“I thought there couldn’t possibly be any life other than us on the planet. Even the Doctor can’t get into too much trouble on a totally barren planet.”

“You’d certainly think that,” Graham responds laconically. “But then you actually travel with the Doctor, and you realise she could get herself into trouble in an empty room.”

Jack tilts his head, lips kicking up to the side. “True enough.”

Before any of them can say anything further though, a figure suddenly appears in the centre of the platform. There’s no sound or flash of light; one moment it’s just the three of them, and the next moment they are being surveyed by something humanoid and thin and dressed in a long black robe, the hood of which hides its head.

“Uh, guys?” Ryan says.

He doesn’t need to. The others have already noticed. Jack pulls himself up off the wall, standing straight and arms dropping to his side.

“Ah,” what they can see of the creature’s unnaturally pale face breaks into a smile that shows off pointed, shark-like teeth. “The Doctor’s friends.”

“Yeah,” Graham sounds wary, “Who are you?”

The smile broadens. They all make a point not to judge on appearances after all their experiences, but Ryan can’t help but think that that smile looks nasty.

“Oh, an old friend. The Doctor and I go back through many lifetimes.” It says, something mocking in the hissing sibilant tones.

“Yeah? And your name?” Jack demands.

It steps down and glides across the room until it’s in front of him. For a second he’s certain it is going to touch him and vows not to flinch away, but it doesn’t, tucking hands instead into voluminous black sleeves and simply considering him. “I could restore your sight, you know.”

“Really.” He keeps his tone expressionless.

“Indeed. And all you have to do is consent.”

“Jack-” Graham’s tone is low and tight with warning and worry.

“I know,” he doesn’t turn away from the thing, staring it down with sightless sockets and wishing the sunglasses afforded him more than outlines. “I won’t.”

It gives a hissing sound like a rush of air escaping a tire. Somehow, despite the inhuman quality of the sound, all three know it for a laugh. “But it is unfair, isn’t it, that they get to see Gallifrey and you do not? You’ve known the Doctor the longest. Are you sure you won’t consent?”

Jack’s heart lurches in his chest and he knows he mustn’t, knows it’s wrong, but still can’t keep from asking, from the words grinding out of him, “And what then? What happens after I consent?”

“Your eyes are returned, whole and unblemished. A favour, nothing more. And - perhaps - one day, you’d be in a position to do a favour for me in return.”

“I-”

“Stop!” the Doctor’s voice rings abruptly from the entry.

Everyone in the room whirls to face her. She’s slightly dishevelled, as though she’s been running and her face is pale but otherwise composed. Yaz beside her looks uneasily at the thing, a fear Ryan has no context for in her eyes as she looks at it. He suddenly worries that it is standing too close to Jack.

“Doctor!...I wasn’t going to.” It’s only when he says it that he realises it’s true.

She tilts a slight smile in Jack’s direction though her attention never leaves the creature. “So, Trickster, you’re back.”

It gives the nasty smile again, and the Doctor returns it with a sarcastically polite one of her own and strolls nearer to it. “I am weaving myself all through your timeline, Doctor, in little more than a week, there will never be a time when I haven’t been a part of your life, a part of your mind.”

She waves a hand, “Yes, yes, we’ve seen that bit. I sacrificed a regeneration to your service to pay a debt, but being in your service means being utterly unable to disobey, doesn’t it.”

It answers with another of those hissing laughs.

“A fact you never bothered to mention.”

“You never asked,” it taunts.

The Doctor ignores the barb. “Well?” she says after a slight pause, “Go on then. You must be new at this. This is the part where you tell me your terrible scheme.”

“Don’t you already know?” it asks incredulously. Then it pulls itself up tall and announces, “I am the Trickster, an Agent of the Pantheon. I serve the Black Guardian and bring chaos and discord. The universe longs for chaos, keens for it, I am scrubbing the timelines clean, keeping them pure and free of your interference so that the irrationality of the universe can finally have free reign!”

The Doctor actually laughs aloud. “That was a little melodramatic,” she points out. “You could have just said, ‘I like disaster and explosions’. Maybe thrown in a ‘you can’t stop me’, at least that’s traditional.”

“Oh, Doctor. You can make your little jokes, but you can’t stop me.”

She smiles broadly at the Trickster. “There, didn’t that feel good? Always a buzz to deliver a really classic line, in my experience. And, by the way, of course I can stop you.”

“How?” the Trickster sneers.

“I’m glad you asked,” the Doctor’s beam gets even bigger. “When you were controlling the earlier version of me, forcing her into the CIA and ensuring that she became so problematic that Gallifrey itself would remove her from time, did you stop to consider who I am?”

She turns back to look at her friends clustered behind her for a second, “It’s a good plan to have Gallifreyan authorities pull me out of time, because it means it can’t be over ruled by other more powerful members of the Pantheon, but also it would be illegal for any other time agencies to intervene. It would be my home planet, dealing with a rogue agent, no untidy attempts to change it.”

The Trickster gives an angry hiss like serpent about to strike, pulling the Doctor’s attention back towards it. “You are the meddling Time Lord known as the Doctor.”

She draws herself up. “I am the Timeless Child and a member of the Pantheon in my own right. I founded Gallifrey and granted the gift of regeneration and I have power you cannot even suspect untapped in my mind.”

There is a long moment of silence and then the thing starts to laugh. “Oh, Doctor. Did you truly believe that pitiful lie?”

She doesn’t waver, “Confirmed by the Matrix, Trickster.”

“Well, of course. The Matrix doesn’t decide for itself what is right and wrong, it just takes the knowledge of all Timelord minds and stores it away. If it is common knowledge that such a thing is true amongst a certain echelon of Time Lords then,” the Trickster shrugs expansively, “then the Matrix has no reason to question the veracity of that understanding.”

“Right, so it is generally understood that-”

“That you are the Timelesssss Child,” it hisses out, unable to control the laughter once more. “Did that make you feel good, Doctor? Powerful? You have always sought purpose haven’t you, always been secretly afraid that everything you stood for was for nothing. But how better to get all of Gallifrey to accept a lie, but to base it on fact and secret it away in the Celestial Intervention Agency’s own classified files.”

“What’s the truth then, if you’re so clever?”

“That there was a Timeless Child once, and they did indeed come from my dimension. They were a pitiful, weak thing, ever seeking others to protect them, but like us, they were indestructible. The Timeless Child could, in your own terms, regenerate. But they have long since departed from here, they were on Gallifrey once, you may even be part of the same perverted genetic chain, but you aren’t special, Doctor.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Ask yourself, does it seem likely that you have been here since before this citadel? All those times you feared to die, is it likely that you had endless regeneration capacity to draw on? But it was convenient to have you believe it in readiness for this moment.”

She stands in considering silence for a moment, not allowing her expression to flicker. And doesn’t it just say everything that she’d rather believe the Master’s version of events? He’d love that, she’ll have to tell him.

“It’s not that easy to make Time Lords believe something patently false. And the Matrix hosts a clear psychic imprint. I didn’t make contact with it, but I felt its familiarity and the Master knows the shape of my mind. He wouldn’t be easily fooled.”

The Trickster sniggers again. “The Pantheon plays a long game, Doctor. To us, even Time Lord lives are little more than the blink of an eye. When you fought the Black Guardian for control of the Key to Time, this gameboard was already set. We had your mental impressions.”

“From the version of me you tricked?” she can’t keep the edge from her voice, can’t believe she was ever so naive as to make such a bargain. Even as she says it, she knows it to be wrong. “Those files in the Matrix go back much further.”

“There is a perfect imprint of your mind on Earth at this moment. An imprint that will die in a mere human lifespan, a fraction of a moment for a being like me.”

The Doctor considers, probably only for a second or two, but, under the intense scrutiny of the Trickster and her friends it feels like an age. Beside her Jack shifts his weight slightly, as though he has considered asking a question but didn’t want to distract her and realisation slams into her with all the weight of an asteroid.

“Donna,” she breathes.

Jack goes rigid.

“It was a simple thing to pluck her from her own timestream at the moment of her death, she was happy to consent to it when I promised it meant that she would be remembered and revered. I simply grafted your imprint to old histories of the being who granted your people the power of regeneration and waited, and when the time was right, the Master was...guided to the correct place.”

“And you knew I would believe him.”

“Doctor, it is not only your companions who long to be special. It was pathetically easy to convince you that you were the chosen one, the designer of Gallifrey.”

She grit her teeth slightly and struggles not to show any emotion. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I can beat you anyway.”

“How? You have nothing, no additional skills or intelligence, a finite number of regenerations and I control your timestream, virtually from the beginning. You are fading, Doctor and there’s nothing you can do about it. Chaos will reign and it will do so in your name.”

“You’re wrong. I’ve got my TARDIS and I’ve got my friends and I’ve got a plan and I will stop you.”

It hisses, irritation this time. “Explain yourself.”

“No,” she says firmly. “No, I don’t think I will. A week you said, to see who wins and who falls. You’ll just have to play the game in linear order.” A pause, then the Doctor takes a step towards the door they entered through. “Come on, fam.”

Silently, they move in the direction she indicates.

“Yaz, you’ve got my screwdriver, take the others back to the TARDIS.”

Yaz hesitates but doesn’t argue. The Doctor remains in the doorway, looking at the Trickster. “Any other last minute plans you’d like to share?” she asks cheekily.

“You cannot stop me,” it sounds furious. And just a little panicky. Good.

“Plenty of people bent on universal domination have said that to me,” she makes a show of looking around herself. “Where are they, I wonder?”

“I am not. People.”

“No. You’re a self-styled god.”

“You are a puny mortal, despite gifts given to you by one of my kind. I am a god.”

“We’ll see,” the Doctor doesn’t sound impressed. She turns to leave, following Jack and then, as if an afterthought, turns back once more. “Although, Mr practically-a-god, you could do one thing for me.”

The Trickster sounds furious as it demands, “What?!”

“Jack’s eyes.”

“Doctor!” Jack spins back towards them, openly horrified. “No!”

“Go with the others, Jack.”

He doesn’t, but he does stop arguing.

The Trickster gives a slithering smile. “All I need is your consent, Doctor.”

“My consent to do you an unspecified favour at some later time?”

“Would it make any difference, Doctor, if I promised that I will not force you to carry out harm on another being.”

She remembers her other self and the vicious looking pulse rifle, the deadly explosion. It does relax her, if only slightly.

“Then yes,” she says. Her chin tilts upwards, punctuation to her agreement. “I consent.”

“Doctor,” Jack pleads.

He is ignored by both the Doctor and the Trickster. They hold one another’s gaze for a long moment. It is the Doctor that breaks it, turning away almost carelessly.

“Come on, Jack. We have to stop my timeline from unravelling.”

He follows in her wake, and realises, as they leave the citadel, that he has begun stumbling awkwardly. The outlines being projected on his visual cortex interfering with what his eyes are now telling him.

Hand shaking slightly, Jack reaches up and takes off the sunglasses.

He blinks in the bright sunlight. The Doctor stops, gazing blankly into the distance, to give him a moment to adjust, and Jack takes the fewest possible number of seconds. He understands instantly from the rubble why she wouldn’t want to stand there. He remembers seeing the peninsula where he grew up in a similar shape after the raiders.

Just outside the TARDIS they stop again and the Doctor has composed herself enough to look him fully in the face now, her expression a study in bland. “Well, say what you like about the Trickster, but he does thorough work,” she says lightly, examining his eyes closely. “Follow my finger.” She waves it in front of his eyes.

He bats it away. “That’s for concussion. I’m fine.” She doesn’t lower the hand and instead prods at the skin around his eyes that had, mere moments ago been ruined and burned.

“Does it still hurt?”

“No. I’m fine,” he repeats. “Doctor-”

“Don’t.”

“Doctor, this whole thing happened because you made a deal with that thing. You can’t just-”

“Don’t tell me what to do, Jack Harkness. Don’t you dare.”

He glares at her. “I will tell you when you’ve been an idiot.”

“He could fix you,” there’s a second where she looks like she’s chewing glass, then spits out, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t fix you. Would you really want me to just leave you blind and helpless and who knows what we’re heading into?”

“Yes,” Jack shouts back at her, “Yes! You shouldn’t have put yourself on the hook owing some interdimensional bastard anything. Who knows what he’ll make you do! It’s not like whatever it is can kill me!”

“There are worse things, Jack. You’re my friend,” she hisses, low voicedly furious, “and besides. A version of me hurt you. It was my responsibility to-”

Jack is almost shaking with rage as he barges past her into the TARDIS. “I’m not your responsibility. And I won’t be your penance. I’ve watched you beat yourself up over things beyond your control for two regenerations already.” And with that he storms through the console room without a word and into the sprawling corridors of the TARDIS interior.

The fam turn in unison to look wide eyed at the Doctor, but one look at her face and they don’t ask.

“Wait…” says Ryan, “was Jack wearing his glasses?”

The Doctor flips the dematerialisation lever with more force than is strictly necessary and the familiar grinding whir fills the room.

“Where are we going?” Graham asks in an attempt to diffuse the tension.

“The Trickster feeds on Chaos. He creates it. That’s what he’s using my younger self to do. We’re going to find her.”

“The universe is a big place, Doc.”

She smiles grimly up at him. “Yeah, but Jack and I borrowed this TARDIS from her timeline.”

Ryan looks over sharply. “So this isn’t our TARDIS. Is that why I can’t find my phone charger?”

“I’ve got another one,” the Doctor says. “My Second self collected bits of wire. I’ve got a whole box of iPhone bits. I used to love showing off to Polly what humans would be capable of in just a few years. It’s in that cabinet over there.”

“Is all our stuff gone?” Graham asks quietly.

Yaz looks anxiously at the Doctor for an answer. She has various momentos from the places they’ve visited herself, and she knows Graham has a couple of pictures of Grace in his room.

“As soon as we restore my timeline, my TARDIS will reappear.” She gives her best reassuring smile. “Don’t worry.”

“You were telling us how you knew where she was, Doctor.”

“Well,” she admits. “I don’t know where she is yet, but she’s travelling without a TARDIS. The Trickster must be teleporting her. Transdimensional beings leave very particular energy trails. I just need to pick one up, and we can track her. Easy.”

“Easy,” Yaz agrees. “And what’s the plan when we get there?”

The Doctor looks surprised to be asked. “Plan?”

“You told the Trickster you had a plan,” Ryan reminds her patiently, already rooting through the box she had mentioned for a substitute charger.

“Oh, yes. Well, obviously I have a plan. Find the other version of me, get her to take back her deal with the Trickster, restore order to the universe.”

“But...Doctor. If she takes back her deal...doesn’t that mean that the Master will end up working for Trickster instead.”

“That sounds worse,” Graham adds. “I’m sorry, Doc, but you said that she was unable to disobey. You mean the Trickster had to empty her mind completely, right? Remove all the stuff from her that makes her you?”

“Yes,” the Doctor says unwillingly, remembering the unnatural sterileness of the mind of her Other.

“But he wouldn’t have to. Not if the Time Lord was willing to work for him.”

“Which of course the Master would be,” Yaz points out.

“It’s not a perfect plan,” the Doctor concedes, “but it’s the best I’ve got. At least my timeline wouldn’t be disintegrating which would buy me time to figure out how to get rid of the Trickster forever.”

They all consider that for a second. The Doctor turns back to the console and makes some tiny adjustments.

“I’ll let you know where we end up pointed at,” she offers after a moment.

Clearly dismissed, the others leave the console room.