03 Bloodline

by MizJoely [Reviews - 3]

Printer
  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Het

BLOODLINE

Prologue: The Coming of Night

"To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream."

The voice echoed eerily through the empty chamber, seeming to come from everywhere and
nowhere at the same time.

"For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come..."

Laughter floated through the darkness, although the speaker remained unseen. "Yes, dreams it
shall be. After all, dreams brought her to us the first time."

More laughter, unpleasant and gloating, as the silhouette of a figure appeared briefly against the
relative brightness of the open window. A few pale stars shone in the distance, the sliver of a
sickle moon, all blotted out as the figure drew the curtains.

"Sleep well, Doctor," the voice whispered as the night sky disappeared from view. "Enjoy your
dreams while you can. I plan on disturbing them all too soon."

Part I - Daylight Fades

The Doctor stopped in the middle of a sentence, his eyes suddenly far away from the
conversation he and Tegan had been involved in.

"What's wrong?"

The Doctor looked up at his wife's question. At what he was just realizing was a repeated
question. Tegan was standing next to the table, one hand clutching the back of a chair. She'd
been over by the sink when he entered the kitchen and sat down; when had she moved?

"I was just contacted by the High Council," he said distractedly. "They need me to return."

"Why? For how long?" Tegan demanded.

"Only for a short while," he assured her. "Just for the election and installation ceremony for the
new president. It shouldn't be more than a few days and if it is, I'll make sure that it isn't. If you
know what I mean."

He stopped, uncertain if he should continue or not, aware that he was babbling. But the message
had shaken him; he'd half-expected the call to inform him that he'd been made an exile once
again for having married an earthling and fathered a half-human child. Fortunately, the Council
was more kindly disposed toward what they called his "eccentricities" these days. The current
President was ready to step down, due to failing health and imminent regeneration, and the
Council assured him that he wasn't a candidate this time. They simply requested his presence, as
past president and a good friend of the current president, as well as president-elect Naretta.
Strongly requested.

Tegan sank into the chair she'd been gripping as he fumbled through this explanation, stony
faced. When he finally came to a stop, it was a long moment before she spoke. "You want to
go?" The Doctor nodded. "But you promise you'll be back in a few days." Another cautious nod.
"And you promise they don't intend for you to stay on Gallifrey, that this isn't some kind of
elaborate ruse to get you off Earth and away from our bad influence?"

The Doctor opened his mouth, then closed it. He'd been about to categorically deny that
possibility, but realized he couldn't. Unfortunately, he knew, not only from past experience but
from the lessons of history, that it wasn't beyond the High Council to act in such a manner.
Unlikely, yes, but not impossible. "It would be far easier for them to confiscate or disable my
TARDIS and exile me again," he finally replied, picking his words carefully. "They wouldn't
need to try and lure me to Gallifrey for punishment; it would be far easier to tamper with my
memories and disable the TARDIS the way they did the first time." He frowned; that hadn't
been his favorite period in his many lives, but he'd survived it. Working with UNIT had
certainly helped.

Tegan raised her chin stubbornly. "But you might be wrong."

She'd always had a low opinion of Gallifrey and the High Council, especially since the Castellan
had tried to get them all killed at the Tomb of Rassilon, and her husband found it difficult not to
agree with her. But this time was different; he had to make her see that she was just being
paranoid-without putting in quite those terms, of course. After seventeen years of marriage he
knew when to walk delicately, and now was certainly one of those times.

"The High Council is just as capable of deviousness and subterfuge as any other governmental
body," he acknowledged, "but I don't think they're up to anything this time. Besides," he added,
"President-Elect Naretta is an old friend of mine; she offers her personal assurances. I'm not
considered a criminal any more, not after the number of times I've helped Gallifrey, not to
mention the rest of the Universe. Especially in the recent past."

"You believe this in spite of Gallifrey's rules about non-interference?" Tegan's voice remained
skeptical.

"Yes, in spite of their stated policy of non-interference," the Doctor corrected her. "You're
forgetting the CIA and the Guardians. Rather of lot of my personal 'interference' has been on
their behalf, either directly or indirectly."

Tegan was silent for a long moment as she digested his words. Finally, she looked up. "You're
determined to do this?"

The Doctor hesitated a moment, then nodded, trying to ignore the defeat in her voice. She was
still unconvinced, but willing to let her own instincts be overruled in deference to his. She was
always trying to protect him, especially from himself, which was one of the reasons he loved her.
One of the many reasons.

"Tegan, I have to," he said, trying to make her understand. "We both knew this day would come.
Short-term TARDIS jaunts with the children are all very well and good, but this is as good a
time as any for me to risk a journey to Gallifrey. I said I'd never leave you, and you know I
meant it-"

"But I told you I wasn't going to hold you to that promise," Tegan finished, her voice barely
audible. "And part of being married to a Time Lord is expecting him to have to go home once in
a while." She sighed and wrinkled her nose distastefully. "You're right." Before he could
respond, she rushed ahead. "Do you know how much I hate saying that? But like it or not, I
suppose I have to this time."

"Much as it goes against the grain?" the Doctor asked lightly, but didn't bother trying to hide the
relief in his eyes at his wife's willingness to accept, or at least tolerate, the fact that he had to go
to Gallifrey. No matter what their mutual doubts as to the High Council's true motives. "Thank
you, Tegan." He paused. "But I won't go if you honestly don't think you'll be able to handle it."
He hated the thought of coddling her, and knew she did too, especially after the larger part of
their marriage had been spent in virtual denial of his alien heritage, but he also loved her enough
to stay if she thought she needed him. As far as he was concerned, he'd already put her through
more than enough pain, and the thought of doing it again was almost too much to bear.

But Tegan was shaking her head, a determined expression on her face. "No. You should go."
She tried a smile. "I'm sure I can handle things for a few days while you show the rest of the
bloody Time Lords we haven't completely corrupted you."

"Brave heart, Tegan?" he murmured questioningly.

She ducked her head in a half-nod, avoiding his eyes as she answered, "Something like that."

The Doctor wasn't certain how much of that was true and how much was just a front, and
neither was Tegan; past history was against them. During the first five years of their marriage,
she'd had horrible nightmares and even black-outs from time to time--panic attacks, the UNIT
shrink called them--sometimes for no apparent reason, but usually when her husband was out of
town. They'd worsened after Jason started school, but over time had faded to a series of
unpleasant memories.

Once gone they hadn't come back, not even right after David and Ace returned, which was a
surprise to both Tegan and her husband. But then, John hadn't had to be away for any extended
periods of time since then, either during the day or overnight. Even his occasional trips on the
TARDIS never seemed to take more than an hour or two-a bit longer when Ace and David went
along, of course. That boy never did seem to be able to stay out of trouble on the TARDIS. This
would be the first real test, for both of them; if Tegan made it through this night without
nightmares, knowing that he was leaving the next morning, he could go with an easy mind. If
not...

Tegan refused to dwell on the "if not". It would be too easy to slip into fear and panic, and she
wouldn't allow it. Too many people depended on her now, not just the Doctor but their son, not
to mention Ace and David. Those two had been back from their inadvertent trip on the TARDIS
for nearly six months, and nothing untoward had happened. There was no reason to believe
something would happen now, no reason at all except past experience. And past experience told
them both that trips to Gallifrey never turned out as expected. Even if neither voiced the thought
to the other, it still remained in their minds. Waiting.

Tegan rose abruptly from her seat, stopping in front of the sink and reaching blindly for a
dishtowel. She grabbed a random plate out of the drain, took a half-hearted swipe at it, then
scowled and threw the towel in the sink. "Gallifrey," she spat as she clutched the plate in both
hands. She said nothing more, but the Doctor knew what emotions lay behind that single word.

It was his turn to rise to his feet and cross to the sink, gently removing the plate from his wife's
hands and placing it back in the dish drain before she cracked it in two--or hurled it across the
room. He took her in his arms, kissing her forehead lightly. There was nothing more he could say
or do to ease her fears, except cancel the trip. Which would only be putting off the inevitable.
They'd both known this day would come, that someday he'd have to return to Gallifrey. Now,
like it or not, "someday" was here.

Tegan wrapped her arms around her husband's waist as he glanced down at the top of her head
and frowned. Her hair was beginning to gray; when had that happened? As she looked up at him,
he forced his face to relax into a smile as she kissed him once on the lips, once on the cheek. She
was starting to get crow's feet around her eyes as well, and the Doctor realized with a start that
his wife was nearing 40. Not old by any standards, but heading toward middle age for a human.
A chill ran across him, which he sternly suppressed. Now was not the time for him to worry
about his wife's mortality.

But he was aware of it, and the knowledge could not be ignored forever.

* * *

"Can I come with you?"

Tegan and the Doctor exchanged glances; the question was not unexpected. "I don't think it
would be a good idea, Jason," the Time Lord explained carefully. "Just because Naretta is a
friend of mine, doesn't mean the rest of the Council really approves of me 'going native', so to
speak. I don't think it would be a good idea to bring you to Gallifrey just yet; the investiture of a
new president can be a volatile time, politically speaking, and it wouldn't do for my attention to
be split. Do you understand?" The Doctor felt it prudent not to mention the fact that Jason's
mother was not quite ready for both her husband and her son to visit Gallifrey. One step at a
time; his successful return would make it that much easier for her to allow a second visit, one
including his son. He hoped.

Jason wanted to argue, it was there on his face and the tip of his tongue, but something about his
father's expression warned him it would be useless. "I guess," he mumbled, dropping his eyes.
"But I don't have to like it."

"None of us do," the Doctor replied. "If you'll excuse the expression, just give it a little time.
One day, I'll take you to Gallifrey. That's a promise." His eyes held steadily on those of his son,
until Jason nodded his reluctant acceptance.

"When are you leaving?" Jason asked, not quite changing the subject but forcing himself to deal
with the practicalities of the trip instead. He was just as aware of his mother's frailties as his
father was. "How long are you going to be gone?"

"I'm leaving tomorrow, and I believe I'll be gone close to a week," the Doctor replied, reaching
over to take Tegan's hand as he answered his son's questions. "But no more than that; I already
promised your mother I'd be back in time for the week-end. I'm hoping it will take considerably
less time than that."

"What if the TARDIS acts up?" Jason asked, darting a concerned glance at his mother.

The Doctor winced as he felt Tegan's fingernails digging into the back of his hand. "I'll cross
that bridge if I need to. But, as a wise man once said, there's no sense in borrowing trouble."
Gently disentangling his hand from his wife's vise-like grip, he patted Jason on the shoulder.
"Don't you have some math assignments to finish?"

"Quantum Physics," Jason corrected absently. "Can't it wait?"

"Certainly not," the Doctor replied firmly, steering his son toward the stairs. "You only have a
few more classes to finish before you start at University, and I know you don't want to delay
that." In fact, Jason could have started at University the previous year or even earlier, but his
mother had stood firm on his having as normal an upbringing as possible, under the
circumstances. She'd only agreed to an accelerated program after the TARDIS returned,
recognizing that "normal" was a lost cause at that point.

"I'll be up in a bit to look it over for you, if you'd like," the Doctor offered. "Your mother and I
still have some things to discuss before I go, and I need to contact UNIT as well." He glanced
back at Tegan as he and Jason continued to walk toward the stairs, worried that Jason's concerns
might cause the very thing Tegan was most frightened of right now: a panic attack. But her
breathing was normal and her eyes, although worried, weren't filled with the blind, semi-
hysterical terror he'd half-feared he would see.

"We still have Ace and David to tell," was all she said as Jason headed up the stairs. The Doctor
watched him go, and Tegan watched her husband out of worried eyes. She knew he thought she
was just being paranoid, although he would never come out and tell her so. He knew her feelings
about Gallifrey and "the in-laws" as she scoffingly referred to the Time Lords, when she referred
to them at all. And she knew that he was more than likely right, that nothing untoward would
happen.

But that didn't make it any easier. She turned back toward the kitchen. Nothing would make it
any easier.

* * *

Ace, of course, wanted to go with the Doctor, demanded to go with the Doctor, and insisted on
knowing why she couldn't go with the Doctor.

"I don't think this would be a good time for me to bring anyone to Gallifrey," the Doctor
repeated patiently. "What I told Jason goes for you two as well; it will have to wait. Besides," he
added hoping to forestall any further argument, "I certainly couldn't bring you after telling Jason
no."

"Why not?" Ace continued to argue, although David could tell that she'd already lost this one--
which she also knew but wasn't willing to admit. "This not bringing outsiders to Gallifrey seems
to be awfully arbitrary; you told Sarah Jane you couldn't bring her, then you went and dragged
Leelah with you--and she got to stay and marry that chap Andred! So what's the difference?"

"The difference," the Doctor replied sternly, "like it or not, is mostly one of rank. Andred is a
soldier; I am past president of the High Council. And the circumstances that allowed me to bring
Leelah but not Sarah Jane--I'll have to go into those another time. Maybe," he added, raising a
warning finger to stop the objection Ace was about to raise. "For right now, you'll just have to
accept that I'm going alone."

Ace tried to stare him down, but soon gave up and stormed out of the room. David and the
Doctor exchanged glances. "She'll calm down in a day or so, but I would advise walking around
her very carefully until then," the Doctor finally said.

David nodded. "Yeah, I think you're right."

"I'm counting on you to keep things on an even keel while I'm away," the Doctor said, his
serious tone marred by a self-deprecating smile as he added, "Not that I'd consider myself the
steadiest influence, mind you, but I know the dynamics of our little family pretty well, and I
know I'm an even unsteadier influence when I'm away than when I'm home. You've got the
steadiest head on your shoulders, at least amongst this lot."

David flushed under the Doctor's unexpected praise. "I'll do my best, sir," he promised.

The Doctor nodded. "I know you will." He stood and stretched, and David rose from the sofa as
well. They were in the front parlor, alone for the moment, which was why he'd chosen to wait
until now to speak to David. Usually he and Ace were inseparable, but the Doctor knew his
refusal to allow her to go to Gallifrey would cause the very reaction it had, and allow him the
privacy to say what he had to say to David. "You're a good lad, David, in spite of anything I may
have said otherwise under, er, less auspicious circumstances."

David knew he was referring to the times he had managed to screw something up on the
TARDIS, which the Doctor always managed to forgive. "I also know I can trust you to keep
things in hand until I return." He stretched again, wincing a bit at a twinge along his side. "I'll
see you before I leave. Good night."

"Good night."

David waited until the Doctor left before plopping back onto the sofa with a groan. "Great, just
what I needed. More responsibility," he muttered. But quietly. Very quietly.

Even though his words were complaining, he still felt proud of the fact that the Doctor was
essentially leaving him in charge. Oh, not in the literal sense; he could guess how well that idea
would go over with Tegan! Not to mention Ace. Or Jason, for that matter. The Doctor's son
liked Ace and David well enough, but not to the degree that he was willing to take orders from
either of them. Oh, on the TARDIS under dire circumstances, yes, but that was as far as that
went. His parents were the only authority he recognized in this house, unless Sarah Jane and
Harry were visiting. Ace and David he considered peers, no matter how much older they were.
The fact that he was taking university level courses alongside the regular course of studies his
mother insisted on didn't help his attitude, but no matter how far advanced he was intellectually,
David still believed Jason had as much emotional maturity as any other sixteen-year-old. All of
this, of course, came from his own lofty perspective of twenty-one mostly linear years, but it was
all a matter of how you looked at it. Or so he told himself.

The sound of slamming pot lids in the kitchen brought David back to the present. Speaking of
emotional maturity He winced much as the Doctor had before he pulled himself reluctantly to
his feet and headed into the other room to make sure Ace wasn't destroying anything of value as
she vented her temper. He just hoped she would be calm enough by morning to be able to wish
the Doctor a safe journey.

Somehow, he doubted it.

* * *

The Doctor kissed Tegan tenderly, hugged Jason, shook David's hand, and raised his head to the
ceiling to shout a cheerful good bye to Ace, who, as predicted, sulkily refused to come out of her
room. "I won't be long," he said reassuringly. "I promise to keep it as brief a visit as possible."

"You've already said that, Dad," Jason pointed out. "We know you will. Just make sure you bring
back a souvenir."

The Doctor stared at him, the smiled as he realized his son was joking. "One postcard that says
'Having a wonderful time, wish you--' well, maybe not that," he amended hastily.

"How about a T-shirt that says 'My Father Went to Gallifrey and All He Bought Was This Lousy T-
shirt?'" David suggested. "Or a piece of genuine Gallifreyan rock from the planet's surface, with
a brass plaque and some carbon scoring from the Sontaran invasion? Or a statue of Rassilon with
a clock in the stomach? Or maybe-"

"Now that's more like it," the Doctor interrupted, amused by the litany of bad taste David was
reciting in order to lighten the moment he had inadvertently fumbled. Tegan managed to muster up
a smile as well before kissing him again.

"You just remember to come home, John Smith," she whispered in his ear, fixing him with a fierce
gaze. "There are people here who need you as much as the rest of the galaxy does. More."

"I'll never forget that," the Doctor replied. He kissed the palm of her hand, then stepped back for
a last look. "All right, then. I'm off." He turned and vanished into the TARDIS.

It was gone an instant later, only the fading ratchet remaining to remind them it had ever been there.

David headed back inside, leaving Tegan and Jason alone. As he turned to shut the back door, he
saw Jason move a step closer to his mother, who reached out blindly and put an arm around his
shoulder.

* * *

"And then one day you find/ten years have got behind you/no one told you when to run/you missed
the starting gun..."

Tegan flicked off the radio with a curse. "I never liked Pink Floyd," she muttered by way of unclear
explanation as David, Ace, and Jason turned startled eyes on her. She marched out of the room,
slamming the door behind her.

"She must've found another gray hair," Jason deduced, then buried his head back in his book with
a shrug. He had grown up with his mother's moods, even if the other two were still getting used to
them after only six months of sharing a house with the Smith family. Of course, her moods were
caused and directly affected by rather different things nowadays than they had been when he was
younger, and it was sometimes a little harder to gauge what would set her off, but he was pretty
confident about the gray hair. He'd caught her frowning at her reflection far too often lately, running
her fingers through her short hair and muttering to herself.

"What's the big deal?" Ace asked with a shrug. "So you get gray hair. Happens to all of us sooner
or later, right? Even your father," she added. "I've seen what he looked like before, and believe me,
he's been a lot grayer than she'll ever be."

"Maybe that's the problem," David interjected, his eyes troubled. Jason and Ace looked over at him,
their books forgotten. "I mean, think about it. She's a human married to a Time Lord; not only has
he lived a lot longer than she has, but think about how many lives he's still got ahead of him--" His
voice trailed off as he realized who he was speaking to. "Hey, Jason, I'm sorry "

Jason shrugged, trying for indifference, but his eyes told Ace how troubled he was by David's
words. She'd have to give the Yank what-for later; she was usually the one whose mouth ran ahead
of her brain. "I think she's just edgy because the Doctor isn't back from Gallifrey yet," she
announced. "It was sort of a test, him going off like that, and I think she's just nervous that
something'll go wrong."

Whoops, now it was her turn to wish she'd kept her mouth shut. The look Jason was giving her told
her that she wasn't helping ease his mind any--and the only reason David wasn't pouncing on her
slip of the tongue was because he'd made a bigger one himself. "Jason, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to
make it sound like I thought the professor'd run into trouble; he isn't even overdue or anything,
right?"

"Maybe we should go study in the backyard," David suggested, closing his books with an apologetic
look at Jason. Ace nodded and swept her own books and notepad up into her arms before exiting
the room as quickly as possible. David hesitated a moment, then ducked his head and followed.

Jason watched them go, then glanced over at the stairs. His mother had gone up after she turned off
the radio, but he wasn't sure he wanted to talk to her. Ace and David had made him consider some
things he didn't really want to think about--and he knew his mother didn't want to think about them,
either. Somehow, when his dad was around, things like that never came up, or seemed too remote
to worry about. But now, when he was literally thousands of light years away, all the worrisome
questions rushed to the front of his son's mind. Jason thought he'd been doing a passable job of
keeping them at bay, but the longer his father was away, the harder it was--and never mind Ace and
David putting their collective foot in it. He'd been avoiding thinking about the implications of his
father's visit to his home world and how it might affect their family, just as he'd always managed
to somehow avoid asking his father questions about their shared alien heritage. Certain questions,
anyway, like how long they would live, and what about regenerating. They'd stuck to the intricacies
of the TARDIS and various alien cultures, and talked about their own heritage obliquely if at all.
It had been easier to deal with the birds and the bees talk a few years past.

Jason sighed and pulled his book back open. Maybe when his father was home all the troublesome
questions would retreat again, but Jason had a feeling they wouldn't. Pandora's box, wasn't that the
story about not being able to put things back once you've let them out? And his worries and
questions were out now, if only in his own mind, and wouldn't take kindly to being shut back up
again. Not without answers or at least reassurances.

He allowed himself a final glance up the stairs before forcing himself to pay attention to the three
chapters of the novel he'd been assigned to read. When his dad came back, maybe he'd approach
him with some of those questions. Until then, it was no use letting them take over his mind. It would
only be a few more days.

He could wait.

Interlude

It was time. The figure turned from the window, lips lifted in a silent smile at the irony of the choice
of words. Time. The one thing the Time Lord thought he had in abundance was about to run out.
The figure glided into the shadows, unheeding of the darkness. Light was no longer a necessity for
sight, hadn't been for many years.

Darkness suited the purpose to which the figure was now set, the course that had been selected.

Darkness, and dreams.

Part II - Racing the Sun

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death...
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon - "Time"

Tegan woke up with a gasp, clutching the blankets convulsively. Taking a deep, shuddering breath,
she flicked on the light, blinking thankfully at the brightness as she threw her legs over the side of
the bed and simply sat for a moment, struggling to regain control of herself.

This nightmare had been the worst of the lot. She'd started having them once her husband left for
Gallifrey, none of them bad enough to be considered panic attacks, just bad enough to make her
uneasy. No, if she was honest, she'd have to say she was afraid. Frightened, to the core of her soul,
that the panic attacks would return, just as she was afraid her husband would never return. If John--
the Doctor--didn't get home soon, she would be forced to ask Harry for something to help her sleep
without dreaming, and that would lead to some very awkward questions, maybe even some more
sessions with Dr. Lyons, the UNIT shrink.

Tegan shuddered as she got up and went into the adjoining bathroom. She hoped she wasn't fooling
herself about the nightmares. True, she hadn't had a panic attack in over ten years, but the
nightmares she was having now didn't have the same feel to them, nor did she have any of the other
symptoms that went along with them. No troubles breathing, no sense that everything was spiraling
out of control, no blind terror in her waking moments as well as her sleep. This time, she thought--
she hoped--she could put it down to simple stress. Lord knew, she certainly had enough to be
stressful about. She tried to push her worries aside as she splashed some water on her face, then
examined her image in the mirror.

She didn't like what she saw. More and more gray hairs seemed to spring up every day, and there
were lines around her eyes and mouth that hadn't been there a year ago. "You're getting older,
Tegan," she mumbled to her reflection. Just what she needed; another thing to worry about. As if
her husband wasn't enough, or Jason. Not to mention Ace and David...

Tegan sighed as she turned out the light and returned to bed. "I've got enough worries for three
people," she muttered as she crawled under the covers, doing her best to ignore the empty pillow
next to hers. "No wonder I'm having nightmares. John, you'd better return home soon," she
whispered, eyes automatically seeking the expanse of starry sky she glimpsed through the bedroom
window. "I need you."

* * *

"I'm worried about Mom."

Saturday morning breakfast was always casual in the Smith household, and the three members of
the younger generation were eating in front of the television. Jason's words came after a few
minutes of moodily pushing his cereal around with his spoon.

"Really?" Ace widened her eyes in heavily exaggerated surprise. "I hadn't noticed."

Jason pulled a face. "Come on, Ace, I mean it. I'm worried about her; she doesn't look like she's
slept since my father left, and now that he's late getting back..."

"He's not that late," Ace interrupted impatiently. "He's only a few days off; that's nothing for him.
He's probably just lost track of time or had to investigate some sort of spatial anomaly on his way
home. I'm sure he'll be here soon; until he's a week overdue, I don't think we need to worry. And
even then he'll show up with some lame excuse, he and your mum will have a row, and it'll be over
with." She turned back to her own breakfast.

"Try and convince my mother of that," Jason snapped back. "She's worried, and she's trying not to
let us see it."

"That's true, but Ace also has a point," David said, trying to keep the peace. "Of course your
mother's worried, but the Doctor tends to lose track of time when he finds something really
interesting; you know that. Plus he's visiting friends he hasn't seen in a while--" however long that
was to a Time Lord "--so he's bound to be late getting back. Ace is right; we shouldn't worry about
him for a little longer. But we should try and do something to get your mom's mind off it. Any
suggestions?"

"The only thing that'll get her mind off it is Dad showing up," Jason retorted. He stomped out of
the room, leaving the other two staring after him.

"How'd we end up living like this?" Ace finally turned to ask David.

"I think we picked it," he offered with a shrug. He took a bite of his now-cold toast and made a face.

"Yeah, well, I'm ready to pick something new," Ace muttered. "I thought my own family was
dysfunctional!" She glared defiantly at David as he raised an eyebrow. "If I want to use words of
more than one syllable, I'm bloody well allowed!"

"Yeah, but you usually don't want to, "David teased, glad the tension that had been growing was
broken--at least for the moment. Ace was right, the Doctor was only a few days late. He was bound
to show up soon, full of apologies and explanations and fascinating stories to tell. Tegan would stew
for a couple of days, then things would get back to normal, or what passed for normal in this family.

At least, that was what he kept telling himself. By the end of the week, they were all forced to
confront the idea that the Doctor might not be coming back, for whatever reason.

Of them all, Tegan was taking the idea the worst, but doing her best not to show her worries to "the
children" as she still thought of them. If she'd realized how well they knew her moods, she might
not have bothered trying to hide anything. The days she could endure, but the nights had become a
time of dread, not only because there was nothing to distract her while she lay in bed, but because
she knew that the nightmares would come once she did sleep.

And there was nothing she could do about it.

* * *

Tegan stumbled out of bed, slumping to the floor in a miserable huddle as tears streamed down her
cheeks. The images from this dream were as clear as when she'd been asleep; for once she could
see each detail as clearly as if she were still dreaming. Jason and his father, sadly waving good bye
as she receded farther and farther away from them, until, finally, they vanished. Not a dream many
would find frightening, but it was her worst nightmare.

It was even worse, knowing there was no one there to comfort her. She was still alone in her bed;
her husband was overdue. Days overdue; although she tried not to let Jason and the others see how
worried she was, tried to convince them and herself that the Doctor simply had to stay longer than
anticipated, she knew she wasn't pulling it off. The fear of being left alone without the man who
meant more to her than anything, in this world or off it--except their son--was becoming a terrifying
reality.

She didn't think she could take it much longer.

There is a way. The words were nothing more than a soft whisper drifting across the back of her
mind, but she shrank from them as if they'd been screamed at her in anger. Try as she might, she
could not ignore them, nor the truth they represented. There was, indeed, a way, but the only person
she knew that could help her was unlikely to be willing to do so.

Even with her limited exposure to him, Dracula had never struck her as a particularly forgiving
person.


* * *

It was not a pleasant evening. Not that Ace helped any; diplomacy had never been her strong point,
but when she stood up after dinner and point-blank asked Tegan what they should do, who should
contact Colonel Lamb at UNIT, how long they would wait, it was too much, too soon. Jason was
on his feet in an instant, shouting, accusing Ace of giving up, trying to upset everyone. Ace was
shouting back, angry, agitated, defensive, knowing that she'd blown it but unable to do anything to
fix it. And David was in the middle, trying to be the voice of reason amidst the rising chaos, casting
worried glances at Tegan's silent figure, standing frozen next to her chair, hands full of dirty china
and silver.

The sound of dishes smashing to pieces on the floor stopped the noise at the other end of the table.
Tegan was still standing there, staring at them, her hands empty. When she realized they'd gone
quiet and were staring back at her, she lowered her eyes to gaze uncomprehendingly at the broken
crockery and scattering of silverware littering her dining room floor. She looked up at their shocked
stares, her face blank, before stumbling out of the room and up the stairs without a single word.

Jason whirled back to Ace. "Bloody wonderful!" he hissed, his eyes wild and agitated. "I hope
you're proud of yourself." He, too, rushed out of the room, pounding up the steps two at a time.
They heard him knocking on the door to his parents' room, the quiet murmur of his voice as he
asked for admittance, then the squeak of hinges as he entered, only allowing it to slam a little bit
behind him.

Ace stared after him, then turned stricken eyes on David. "I didn't mean..." Her voice trailed off,
and he nodded sympathetically. "Davey, you know I didn't mean it to come out that way," she tried
again.

"I know." But it had come out anyway, not the way it should have, perhaps, but no longer lurking
in the corners of their minds. "Let's get this cleaned up. Maybe we can figure out a better way to
talk about it in the morning."


Later That Night

Tegan sat on the edge of her bed long after her son had slipped away, presumably to his own room.
He'd talked to her, tried to reassure her, and she'd let him, comforted by the sound of his voice even
if she wasn't hearing the words. He'd left, defeated, when it became obvious she wasn't listening
to him. She loved him for his concern, but there was nothing he could do to help.

There was nothing anyone could do to bring her husband back, nothing anyone could do to help her
with her other predicament. No one except one who had no reason to do so...She finally fell into a
troubled sleep, knowing that she had to try and rest in order to continue to present a brave face to
the others in the morning, knowing how futile a hope it was, that she might be untroubled by
nightmares.


Tegan woke, suddenly, startled out of sleep as if by a loud noise, but it had merely been the breeze
whispering against the curtains. Or had it? She blinked, pulling herself upright, not sure when she'd
finally laid down and fallen asleep on her husband's side of the bed. The wind might have stirred
the curtains, or it could have been something else.

Something, or someone. She looked around, but saw no one until her gaze returned to the window.

There was a figure standing there, a figure that hadn't been there a moment ago. One she recognized
instantly, even after so much time.

One that might be able to help her.

"Hello, Tegan." The voice was exactly as she remembered, cool and unfazed. The opposite of how
Tegan felt, with her heart hammering in her ribs. "It's been a long time."

"You're right, it has. What do you want with me?" Tegan demanded, frightened. "We never thought
we'd see you again..."

"Because you thought we were done with each other? Not entirely true," came the soft reply. "We're
connected, all of us; just because we've been apart doesn't break that connection. But I haven't
come to talk about the past." The voice was soothing now, calming. Tegan felt her heart rate slow
down, almost back to normal. After all, if this was some sort of attack, there would be no need for
conversation. "Right now, I'm speaking of the future. Your future. I sensed your distress, it drew
me here in spite of my better judgment, and now I know it was the right thing to do. You need me.
We both want the same thing," the voice continued in the same soothing murmur. "To live as close
to forever as we can. Is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so. And I know you don't,
either."

"It's so unfair," Tegan agreed hesitantly, her fear of her visitor not completely vanquished but
overwhelmed by more immediate fears. "My husband and son, they'll live so much longer than I
will--I can't bear the thought of having to leave them so soon! Especially," her voice faltered, "if
John doesn't come back. Jason needs me; if his father doesn't return, he'll need me more than ever.
We still don't know how much longer than a human he'll live, not with his heritage..." It was a
relief, finally putting her fears into words, no matter who she was speaking to.

Her voice trailed off, and her visitor smiled invisibly in the darkness. That was as close as Tegan
could bring herself to admitting that it wasn't just the Time Lord physiology that troubled her about
her son. The fact that his heritage was vampiric as well was something she struggled to forget, since
it had never manifested itself in any way she or Harry Sullivan had recognized. But either way, her
son had the blood of immortals running through his veins, and his mother was merely human.

Human, and hurting in her uncertainty of what the future might bring. Her husband was gone,
overdue, possibly never to return, and her son needed her. Would undoubtedly need her far longer
than the normal human lifespan that was all she had to look forward to. "Come with me," her visitor
urged. "As I said, all that happened between us is in the past. If you trust me, I can help you now."

"Yes." All hesitation was gone as Tegan turned away from the window, dressing quickly in the dark.
Peace of mind was hers for the taking, the belief that she would finally lay her fears to rest
consuming her thoughts. Her son needed her, her husband might be lost to her forever, and even if
he wasn't, she would never come close to living as long as either of them.

Unless she took what was offered her. It was her one chance, and she refused to let it slip through
her fingers.

* * *

David woke with a start, not sure what had brought him from the comforts of unconsciousness to
full awareness. As he listened carefully, he realized it was the sound of someone breathing. "Who's
there?" he demanded as he sat up. If this was one of Jason's stupid jokes, he'd kill the brat. "Is that
you, Jason?" He knew the teen was still angry at Ace for upsetting his mother, but now wasn't the
time to talk about it, if that was what he wanted. Time for that in the morning, when they'd all
cooled off a bit.

"No," came a voice from the darkness, a female voice. Ace's voice. David groped for the light
beside his bed, only to be stopped by Ace's hand on his wrist. She sat on the edge of the bed, and
he could see her now, outlined by the faint light of the moon shining through the window. "It's just
me, Davey."

"Uh, what's up? Is something wrong?" David asked. He tried not to notice that her hand still rested
on his, or the fact that her oversized t-shirt was slipping down over one shoulder, concentrating
instead on her voice as she answered him.

"Nothing's wrong, I was just...lonely, that's all," came the startling reply. David scooted back a little
as Ace slid into bed next to him, too bemused to protest. Not that he was one to protest when a
woman showed initiative like this--and Ace had never been shy. Why should something like this be
any different? When she turned her head to kiss him, therefore, he kissed her back eagerly. If this
was her way of making up, he was happy to oblige.

"Are you sure about this?" a modicum of chivalry prodded David into asking. "I mean, I don't want
you to think this is something you have to do just because we had a fight..." His voice trailed off as
Ace sighed with what sounded suspiciously like exasperation and pressed her body closer to his,
rubbing against his thigh suggestively.

"Your problem, Yank, is that you don't know when to keep shut." That pronouncement was
followed by another kiss, more passionate than the first. This time, the voice of chivalry was
completely buried beneath the clamoring of desire, the pounding of his blood, and the moans that
might have come his own throat, or from Ace's. Or both; he wasn't really sure. All he did know was
that if Ace said she wanted to do this, he wasn't the one to stop her.

* * *

The next morning, David was up with the sun. Ace had returned to her own room, but he hadn't
been able to go back to sleep after she murmured something about discretion and slipped away. Not
after the best night of his entire life. He'd been hoping that he and Ace would become closer, and
it would be hard to get closer than they'd been last night.

He grinned at nothing in particular, then frowned. They were both old enough to make that decision,
but the fact that he and Ace had both known that she had to return to her own room let him know
that they both expected Tegan to disapprove of their change in relationship. Not to mention the
Doctor; what would he think, how would he react? Not that David thought it was any of their
business, but the two of them were sharing the Doctor's house--well, technically it was Harry and
Sarah Jane's house and UNIT was paying the rent, but that was just picking nits. The point was that
if he and Ace wanted to continue doing what they'd spent a better part of last night so
enthusiastically doing, then they'd better figure out a better plan than slipping into each other's
rooms and sneaking around. Not that he objected to Ace's slipping in this time...

David had half-returned to sleep, drowsily reliving a few of the choicer moments of the previous
night when someone pounded noisily on his door. He jumped out of bed with a start and yanked the
door open before he'd even fully opened his eyes.

It was Jason, still in his pajamas, standing there with a wild look in his eyes. "David! Have you seen
my mother?"

It took a few seconds for the meaning of Jason's question to percolate down through the layers of
sleep, but when it finally penetrated, David's eyes snapped fully open. "Isn't she in her room?"

Jason shook his head. "I've looked all over the house and outside. She isn't here, and she wasn't
planning to go anywhere today. Plus she didn't leave a note. That's not like her!"

"What's all the noise?" Ace poked her head around the corner. She'd thrown on some sweats and
pulled her hair back into a casual pony tail. She looked all business this morning, and much more
alert than David felt--a far cry from the previous night. He forced himself to concentrate on the
matter at hand, but it wasn't easy.

"Jason thinks Tegan's missing," he replied as she joined them.

"She is," Jason insisted, his voice fighting hysteria. "You should see her room, half her clothes are
dumped out, the bed isn't made, her purse is gone and so is her car," he added significantly.

"Maybe she just went to the shops?" Ace suggested, only to be met with a violent headshake to the
contrary.

"This early? No way," Jason insisted. "Go to her room and see for yourself!"

Ace and David did so, standing dumbfounded in the doorway as they stared at the wreckage of the
elder Smiths' bedroom. Clothes, as Jason had indicated, covered every surface, including the floor.
And the bed, usually so meticulously made up, was a disaster. The sheets and blankets were twisted
and half on the floor, the pillows lying in a jumbled heap, as if Tegan had spent a very restless night.

"What happened?" David asked, half-whispering. His mind was racing through several possible
scenarios, although it was quite obvious that Tegan hadn't simply stepped out to the market. "Where
did she go?"

"It doesn't really look like a struggle," Ace pronounced doubtfully. "Not like someone was taking
her against her will or fighting with her, no matter how messy the bed is. It looks more like she was
in a tearing great hurry to pack so she could go somewhere."

"But where?" Jason demanded.

Ace shrugged. "Dunno." She looked at David, who spread his hands in a helpless gesture. He was
about to suggest calling Harry and Sarah Jane when Jason interrupted, this time glaring at Ace as
he spoke.

"Your room is right down the hall, didn't you hear or see anything?" he demanded in frustrated
anger. "You guys share a wall, surely you must have heard something!"

Ace looked guiltily at David. "Uh, sorry mate. I couldn't hear anything."

Something in her tone alerted him. "Why? What do you mean?"

Ace shrugged. "I wasn't in my room."

"Then where were you?" Ace and David shared another guilty look, and Jason stared at them
incredulously as he realized exactly what those guilty looks signified. "You knew my mother's been
having a hard time dealing with Dad being so late getting back from Gallifrey, you saw what
happened last night when you started that fight after dinner, and all you two could think about was
sex?"

David had the grace to look embarrassed, but Ace merely shrugged. "What's done is done. We're
above the age of consent, no one told us we couldn't, and we didn't know we needed to be looking
for your Mum to dash out of here without telling anyone where she was going. Maybe she heard
from your father," she added, as inspiration struck. "Maybe UNIT called and she had to go fetch
him."

Jason shook his head. "She'd have woken us up first. No, something's wrong."

"Then let's do something," Ace said. "Let's phone UNIT, or the police."

"Or at least Sarah Jane and Harry," David interrupted hastily. "Let's not bring the police into it if
we don't have to. I don't want to be the one to try and explain to them exactly where Jason's father
is right now, do you?"

"But where did she go? And why?" Jason suddenly sounded lost, forlorn, and David put a
comforting hand on the younger boy's shoulder. Jason looked up at the two of them, his eyes as lost
as his voice. "Why would she just leave like that? Without telling anyone? Without telling me?"

Neither of the other two had an answer.

* * *

There were still no answers as the morning dragged on. Sarah Jane and Harry were unavailable,
Colonel Lamb was locked up in meetings that were absolutely not to be interrupted, and none of
them wanted to leave a message with the disdainful voice on the other end of the phone. Not unless
they had to.

Which meant they were on their own, unless they wanted to drag the police into it. Jason and Ace
agreed with David's reasoning; although "Dr. John Smith's" connections to UNIT were well known,
it would be difficult to try and explain why his "disappearance" hadn't been reported as promptly
as that of his wife.

They searched her room, checked outside, then did all the things they remembered from endless
television police programs. The only useful clue was the discovery that her passport was missing
from the desk drawer where they were usually stored. "We should call the airport and train station,
see if she bought a ticket anywhere," David suggested.

Jason's eyes lit up. "Right, we can check on-line " He stopped in mid-sentence, smacking himself
on the forehead. "What an ass! Of course!" He ran out of the room, leaving the other two to follow
or not. Ace dashed after him, with David close on her heels.

Jason sprinted up the stairs, the others right behind, skidding to a stop in front of the door to his
father's study. He hesitated only a second before trying the handle. "Locked," he muttered.

"We're not allowed in there when your father's out," David reminded him uneasily. "What are you
looking for?"

"I want to use his computer, he's got software to track the homing device on the car," Jason
explained, still studying the door.

"Homing device?" Ace and David exclaimed at the same time.

Jason shot them a guilty look. "A couple of months before you came back, I thought I was ready to
drive...turns out lessons were necessary after all. Mum wanted a standard GPS tracking system put
in, like On-Star, but Dad insisted on something he cobbled together himself. He put one in both cars,
and I think Aunt Sarah and Uncle Harry's as well. Only his computer has the software, but the
bloody door is locked." He pressed tentative fingers against the doorframe. "I suppose we could
kick it down." His tone was doubtful.

"No worries," Ace interrupted cheerfully. She crouched down and studied the lock. "Yeah, I can do
it,"she muttered. "Back in half a tick." She jumped up and ran down the hall to her room. David and
Jason exchanged puzzled glances, then waited for her to return.

Ace reappeared, grinning widely, and held up a small parcel. "Got me kit right here! Now back off
and give a girl some room to work." She made shooing motions, and Jason and David stepped
obediently away from the door as she set to work on the lock. Moments later, after a few muffled
curses and a triumphant, "Got it!" the latch clicked and the door swung open.

They crowded around the computer desk in the Doctor's study, Jason dropping into the seat and
booting it up at the same time. "We're in luck," he announced after a few moments' frantic
keyboard action. The screen that came up was unintelligible to Ace and David, but apparently the
Doctor's son had no problem deciphering what the other two saw as gibberish. "He didn't lock it
with an algorithm or anything too complicated. We're in."

"Can you find the program to track your mum's car?" Ace asked.

Jason nodded. "Just give me a sec...Got it!" He grinned up at them triumphantly. "Right here." He
tapped the screen as the gibberish disappeared and a digital map appeared. "Heathrow, looks like
a parking garage," Jason muttered, zooming in for a closer look. "So we know she flew out
somewhere...but where?" Anxiety returned to his voice.

"Can we use this to see if she booked a ticket anywhere?" David suggested tentatively.

"Not legally," Jason replied. He hesitated, then set his mouth in a grim line and looked back at the
computer monitor. "But I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. Give me a couple of hours."

It was David's turn to hesitate, until Ace touched him on the shoulder and shook her head. "We'll
keep trying Sarah Jane and Harry," she said to Jason's back as she tugged at David's hand and led
him out of the room. Jason didn't even nod, too absorbed in his task to hear her.

Two hours later, Jason pounded down the stairs with a whoop of triumph. "Got it! She went to
Wales!"

"Wales?" Ace repeated doubtfully. "Who does she know in Wales?"

Jason shrugged. "Dunno. But that's where we have to go." He headed for the front door.

"We can't just take off for Wales!" David protested. "We don't know where she went after she got
there, do we?" He looked over at Ace for support, only to find her shrugging into her jacket and
scooping up her backpack. She'd brought both items downstairs while David futilely tried to contact
Colonel Lamb once again. "Do you have any friends or family there?" he asked as he reluctantly
headed for the hall closet and his own jacket.

Jason shook his head, nodding abstracted thanks as David tossed him his coat. "All my mother's
family is either in England or Australia. Unless," he was struck by a sudden thought, "she went to
the UNIT field office?"

"I doubt it." Ace shook her head. "If she heard from them, she'd have told us. Just like if she'd heard
from your father."

"OK, let me think," David said with a frown. "We've tried Colonel Lamb, and been put off every
time. We can't get hold of Harry and Sarah Jane, not even on their cell phones or email." He'd tried
both, while Ace tried their offices and home phones. No luck, and no one had seen them this
morning. "They're not missing, because Sarah's newspaper said she's out on assignment, and
Harry's in the meeting with Colonel Lamb." That had been the one bit of information they'd
managed to get out of whoever was answering the Colonel's phone.

"My mother didn't just get up in the middle of the night and decide to fly to Wales for no reason,
without letting us know she was going or leaving a note," Jason snapped. "We need to find her.
She's in some kind of trouble, I know it."

"We don't know that for sure," David tried, only to be cut off by Jason again.

"Yes we do! Stop pretending everything's OK!" Jason shouted. "It's not! My mother's missing, my
father's missing, and we need to do something!" He took a deep breath and visibly calmed himself.
"Look, we can't search for the TARDIS, but we can search for my mum." He stared at David
challengingly. "I'm going to Wales. Are you in or out?"

"In," Ace declared, taking David's hand in hers. "Let's get to Heathrow. We'll figure out where she
went after we get there. Maybe she rented a car?"

Jason nodded. "Maybe. I'll check that before we leave." He ran back up the stairs, taking them two
at a time.

Ace turned to David. "Come on, Davey, you know this is the right thing to do."

He nodded reluctantly. "I guess. I'm just worried about what the Doctor will say when he gets
back what if he shows up and nobody's home?"

"So we'll leave a note," Ace replied. "Write it up now while Jason's finding out about the car. I'm
going to check Tegan's bedroom again. Just to make sure we didn't miss anything." It was her turn
to head up the stairs, not as precipitously as Jason, but not dawdling either. David stared after her
for a long moment, then fished a pencil out of his jeans pocket and hunted for a notepad in the desk.

"Bloody hell!"

David started, then cursed as the lead snapped on the pencil. He threw it on top of the half-finished
note and ran up the stairs. Apparently Ace had found something.

Jason was just running into his parents' bedroom as David reached the top of the stairs. "What's
wrong?" he demanded, skidding to a halt and nearly bowling Jason over. He was frozen, staring at
the window-seat cushion Ace held up by one edge.

They'd overlooked it, or hadn't recognized it. Jason hadn't, anyway. He'd been the one to search
the window area, looking for signs of forced entry or damage, anything to give them a clue as to how
and when his mother had left. The fact that she'd apparently boarded a plane alone and of her own
free will had muted his concerns somewhat, but he'd been convinced the entire time that there was
something he'd overlooked. Something he'd seen and not recognized, not realized the importance
of.

There it was. A small stain, two drops, on the edge of the cushion. Small, unnoticeable unless one
were looking for just such a thing.

Two drops of blood, blending in almost perfectly with the floral pattern of the cushion, the bright
colors camouflaging the telltale marks. Jason's breath hissed in his throat at the sight.

"How did we miss it?" he demanded without removing his eyes from those small stains, as if afraid
they would vanish if no longer pinned by the weight of his gaze.

David shook his head, as numbed by the sight as the other two. Two small, insignificant stains, but
they were enough to remove any doubts. Whatever had happened to Tegan, why she had gone to
Wales, it wasn't as harmless as they'd fooled themselves into hoping it would be. The stains weren't
old; besides, Jason's mother would never leave blood to set like that.

Something about the blood, and Wales, caught at the edges of David's memory. He frowned as he
tried to figure out why the idea of the two things bothered him so much, then gasped as his mind
finally put the threads together. Ace and Jason turned to stare at him. "What is it?" Ace demanded.
"You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I wish," he mumbled, reluctant to voice the thought that had come to him, but knowing that he
couldn't keep the possibility, slight though it was, to himself. "Tabina she had a family home in
Wales, an estate some uncle was living in. She kept a picture of it behind the counter at her shop
in Australia." The look they exchanged was chilling.

"Tabina? Tabina Doyle?" Jason's voice rose as he looked for confirmation. He knew the name, had
been told an abbreviated version of the circumstances surrounding his conception and birth, if not
the full truth. He still didn't know that Tabina's employer, the legendary Count Vladimir Dracula,
was his true father, although he'd been conceived while the Count had been physically transformed
into the body of a Time Lord. The Doctor, to be specific, the fifth version that Tegan had first fallen
in love with and believed had returned to be with her, while her mind was controlled by a
combination of Dracula's hypnotic powers after he took blood from her and Tabina Doyle's
spellcasting abilities. Jason knew the witch had helped the vampire kidnap his mother and try to
erase her personality, but that was all. Dracula had assured them that he would leave them in peace,
had given his word, but no one had ever said anything about how the witch felt about any of it.
"Would she be out for revenge? After so much time?"

David shrugged helplessly "I don't know. She was working for Dracula, it was his plans we spoiled.
If anyone would want revenge, it would be him. She could still be working for him, we just don't
know. It's not as if we could keep tabs on them."

Indeed, Dracula's castle in Transylvania had been searched a few weeks after Tegan's rescue, but
the hidden tunnel leading to the vampire's underground sanctuary had been blocked off by a
mysterious rock fall shortly after their escape. Neither the Count nor Tabina had been seen or heard
from since, which they had taken as a sign that the Count meant it when he promised to leave them
alone.

"The Count gave his word, said he'd let us go and not come after us," David murmured, puzzling
it through, thinking out loud as he tried to put the facts together. His blood ran cold at a sudden
thought. "We all believed him, your father said we could, but what if he was just waiting for the
Doctor to be out of the way before he made his move?" It was a sobering, horrifying thought, and
Ace took it to its logical conclusion.

"Maybe he was waiting for us to get back as well." She nodded. "It makes sense, the timing of the
whole thing. We came back, the Doctor left for a longish trip without any of the rest of us are we
sure," she interrupted herself to ask, "that the message from Gallifrey was real? I mean, if Tabina's
still working for the Count, they played mind games with Davey and Tegan before. Maybe they had
a hand in this all along."

"That still doesn't tell us why Mum would go to Wales," Jason protested.

"If Tabina and the Count are still working together, they're just as likely to have taken her there,"
David said soberly. "No, it makes sense," he insisted at Jason's disbelieving stare. "I mean,
Transylvania would be the first place we'd look if we thought Dracula was involved, rockfall or no
rockfall, and Tabina might not remember that I knew about her place in Wales."

"It's the only lead we have," Ace agreed. "Time for talk's over, mates. Let's go." She dropped the
cushion to the floor and stepped over it, then paused at the stricken look on Jason's face. "The blood
doesn't necessarily mean she's been hurt," she said gently.

David nodded. "She's right, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Maybe Dracula had to, I don't
know, strengthen his hold on Tegan. It's been so long since he had her under his control, I'll bet it's
slipped a lot since then, through time and disuse. Then he left, but told her to go to Wales to meet
up with him and Tabina." He looked up, blinking, as he realized how much time had passed. "We
have to get going, or we'll never catch them. I kind of know where the estate is, a travel agent
should be able to look it up, it was called Crow's Keep. We all have our cell phones, right?" He
pulled his out of its beltclip. Ace patted her backpack, and Jason dazedly fumbled at his own waist
to make sure his was there as well. David nodded. "So if anyone tries to call us, they can."

The three of them headed down the stairs at a run, stopping only for Ace to snatch up her backpack
before dashing through the front door, faces grim.


Part III - Darkest Before the Dawn

Something was wrong. The Doctor could tell the moment he stepped out of the TARDIS. It wasn't
anything he could point at, an overgrown lawn or gaping doors, but there was something...He had
it; the windows. They were dark, empty against the soft glow of early evening. And, he realized, the
light over the back door was off. Tegan always turned it on before dusk, whether they were home
or not, a leftover habit from the time they'd spent waiting for Ace and David to return in the
TARDIS.

Before he could do more than form a concerned frown, he heard a sudden noise and whirled to face
it.

"Doctor! Thank heavens!" It was Sarah Jane, running through the gate and into his arms for a
heartfelt embrace. There were tears in her eyes, glimmering on her lashes but not yet falling. "We've
been so worried!"

"Sarah," the Doctor interrupted as he gently disentangled himself from her embrace. "It's obvious
I'm late. I'd better pop back in the TARDIS "

"No, you can't," Sarah interrupted him urgently. "You'll just end up here again. Your TARDIS, it's
been booby-trapped. It's all in the note," she added, pulling a crumpled piece of paper from her
pocket and thrusting it at him. "Here."

The Doctor scanned the note rapidly, reading bits of it aloud. Bits Sarah Jane knew by heart, but
couldn't help wincing as she heard it again. "'Be sure to give this to the Doctor...involving UNIT
would be a mistake...Crow's Keep...don't bother trying the cell phones or tracking devices, they're
dead and so will certain members of his family if he doesn't join me immediately upon his return...''
He looked up, his face ashen. "I take it you followed the instructions and didn't involve UNIT or
the police?"

Sarah Jane shook her head. "Technically they've been gone less than 24 hours, if the messages we
received had the right time and date attached to them."

She and her husband had inexplicably received all the telephone and cellphone messages from the
children simultaneously, and their computer emails had filled with messages from the three
youngsters at the same time...hours after they were supposedly sent. They'd set off immediately for
the house, tense and filled with dread, to find it empty, both cars gone and a half-finished note lying
on the hall table by the telephone in David's neat handwriting. The other note, the one the Doctor
held so delicately in one hand, had been theatrically pinned to the mantlepiece by an unfamiliar
dagger. "The note said you'd been deliberately delayed and when to expect you. Harry didn't want
to wait, wanted to go to UNIT right away, but I convinced him it would be better to do as the note
said. Especially after we found this."

It had been lying on the ground outside the house, directly under the Doctor and Tegan's bedroom
window. It was a silk scarf, black, with a single initial picked out in gold thread in one corner: a D,
the silk of the scarf marred only by the ominous presence of a rusty red stain below the letter. The
Doctor said nothing as he slowly reached out and touched the stain with one finger. His face
remained unreadable as he stared down at the crumpled piece of cloth.

"I took it as a warning," Sarah Jane whispered, her eyes also drawn to the small brownish spot. "A
warning to back up the note. Harry and I did as we were instructed, we haven't called in UNIT,
although we had the devil's own time convincing Colonel Lamb the kids had panicked and missed
a note Tegan left them, that everything was all right they'd called and left messages for us and for
him," she finished breathlessly, her words jumbled but their meaning clear. "We were away, he was
in meetings, it was all a mess. They said Tegan was missing, asked for our help, but we didn't get
any of the messages until it was too late. They were already gone."

Her voice faltered, but she took a deep breath and continued. "After we read it, after we convinced
Colonel Lamb it was a misunderstanding, there wasn't anything we could do except wait for you to
come back." It had nearly killed her to do so, to take so passive a role, but she and Harry agreed that
they couldn't risk the lives of their friends.

The Doctor nodded his agreement as he reached out once again, this time taking the scarf into his
hand, gingerly, as if it might vanish if he snatched it up too quickly. "You did exactly as you should
have," was all he said as he guided Sarah Jane into the house, sounding much calmer than he
actually felt. Now was not the time to allow emotion to overcome him, not with the lives of those
he loved at stake. "Tell me everything you know."

Wales

"It looks creepy," Ace pronounced from the passenger side of the small rental as they pored over
the guide book. Crow's Keep was on the historical register and offered guided tours on a monthly
basis during tourist season, but one had to be extremely determined to visit since it was in such an
out-of-the-way location.

They were almost there, stopping only when forced to eat and relieve themselves, to ease the
cramping brought on by the uncomfortably small motor car they'd rented. They pressed on, ignoring
the discomfort as much as possible in favor of speed. David did most of the driving, although Ace
took her turn as well. They periodically attempted to reach either UNIT or the Smith-Sullivan's on
their cell phones, but with no luck. Conversation was minimal, tension was high, and the depressing
description of their goal was no help.

"Sitting in splendid isolation on the wind-swept moors of northern Wales," Ace read aloud from the
book before tossing it to the floor in disgust. "How does Dracula manage to hide in places that are
open to the public on a daily basis?"

David and Jason ignored her. Jason's already moody nature was completely subdued; he hadn't
smiled once since his mother had gone missing, and Ace had given up trying to jostle him out of the
black humor into which he'd fallen. Of course, if it had been her mum she might be just as unwilling
to look on the bright side. Not that there was a particularly bright side to this situation; the Doctor
overdue from a trip to Gallifrey, Tegan trotting off to Wales without a word to any of them, and
those suspicious spots of blood on the window seat cushions...

Ace fingered her neck unconsciously, shivering slightly at the memory of their last encounter with
Dracula. He'd bitten her, and she still didn't remember it happening. He'd bitten her, taken her
blood, and told the Doctor that she belonged to him now. Had he found another way to restore Mina
Harker's soul to life, another spell for Tabina Doyle to try? It made sense, it was the only thing that
made sense to Ace's mind. And, she suspected, to David and Jason as well. Even without knowing
the full truth, Jason did know that was why his mother had been kidnapped by Dracula the first time.

"There it is!"

Jason's triumphant shout interrupted Ace's moody reverie. The car lurched to a sudden stop as
David pulled over to the side of the road and jumped out of the car without bothering to turn the
engine off. Ace reached over and turned the key, pocketing it as Jason scrambled past her to join
David. She stepped reluctantly out of the vehicle and turned to see their destination, still some miles
ahead and below them. "Splendid isolation indeed," she muttered as she joined the others.

The track they'd followed to this point was narrow even by Welsh standards, bordered on one side
by steep walls broken only by the occasional gate--for sheep, David supposed--and the even rarer
turnaround. These narrow spots were designed for cars to make way for oncoming traffic along the
one-lane road, but the scarcity of these spots indicated how little-traveled the road really was.

The manor stood at the bottom of the valley, on the edge of the moors, miles of nothing behind it
and steep, unwelcoming mountains bordering two sides. The road they took would eventually join
up with the lane they could see straggling its way to the manor and its small huddle of outbuildings.

"OK, we've seen the view," Ace snapped after a few minutes spent studying their destination. "Let's
get down there and scope it out up close."

"We need to be careful," David reminded her, careful to keep his own voice calm. "If Dracula's
here, then he's still got Tabina working for him, right? So that means she'll have some kind of
mystical alarm system around the place. That's how they got us the last time, remember?"

"And how do you propose we keep from tripping it, eh?" Ace retorted. "I haven't been studying any
spells at University, or how to break them. There isn't a bloody thing we can do about magical
booby-traps, and you know it. So it's no use worrying about them."

She was right, though David didn't want to admit it. Jason seemed completely uninterested in their
argument, his eyes focused intently on the desolate manor and the landscape surrounding it.
"There's only one way to get in, unless we want to do some mountain climbing," he said abruptly.
"Ace is right, we can't worry about magical warnings or traps, there's nothing we can do if Tabina's
got them set up. But if we just drive up like we've a right to, who's to say we're not some
addlepated group of tourists out to see Crow's Nest? She has to leave it open for them, so she has
to leave it open for us. If we come sneaking in the back, that's where she'll have her traps. She
wouldn't think we'd dare just drive up."

Ace and David looked at each other. "He's right," David said, reluctantly. "It's the best way in. Just
brazen it out."

Ace nodded. "Right. Then off we go. And if Plan A falls to hell, we go to Plan B."

"Plan B? What's that?" Jason asked as they clambered back into the car.

She hefted her backpack meaningfully. "If we have any problems getting in, some nitro-nine will
do the trick." Her words were jaunty, meant to reassure, but David saw the concern in her eyes,
concern she tried to hide from Jason.

"Right, that should do it," was all he said as he started the engine back up and returned to the tricky
maneuvering required to get back on the narrow lane. "When all else fails, blow it up."

Jason didn't appear to hear them at all as he stared through the windshield, his eyes on their
destination. "We're coming, Mum," he muttered. "We're coming."

* * *

David pulled to a stop in front of the house, parking the car as if they had every right to be there.
Which, he reminded himself, they did. He put a restraining arm across the door as Jason lunged for
the lock. "Hold on! We have to make sure we're all on the same page," he said.

Jason glared at him. "We go in and we make them give me back my mother," he growled. "If they
don't, Ace uses those explosives she likes so much. Force them to give her back."

David was taken aback by the utter coldness with which Jason's words were uttered. "Hey, we're
not commandos and we're not murderers."

Jason shrugged. "Dracula's been dead for centuries. Can't murder someone who's already dead."

"Tabina's not a vampire," David reminded him, hoping his voice didn't sound as desperate as he
felt. Jason needed to keep himself under control, or they would all be in even more trouble than they
already were.

Jason's glare turned even colder, if that were possible. "Doesn't matter. She tried to kill my Mum,
remember? Switch off her personality and switch Mina Harker's on. Killing her wouldn't be murder.
It'd be justice." He shoved against David's arm with unexpected force, slamming it out of the way
as he jumped out of the car. "Should have seen if there was a pistol in the house," David heard Jason
mutter as he and Ace hastily followed him toward the front door.

They caught up with him as he raced to the top of the steps, Ace tugging his arm down as he reached
for the doorknob. "Jason, wait, Davey's right this time, we need a better plan than just rushing in."

"Especially if this is true," David agreed, pointing at a discreet sign to the left of the door. It read:
"Closed to the Public Until Further Notice."

Jason shook Ace's arm off as easily as he had David's. "My mother's in there. We have to get her
out. End of discussion." There it was, that icy tone again, the one that gave David the shivers. This
time, when Jason reached for the doorknob, no one stopped him.

The knob turned easily, in spite of David's expectations to the contrary. "I guess if you're a witch
you don't worry about locking up," he muttered to no one in particular, but the sound of a voice
from within froze them all in place.

"Locking up? Why would I do such a thing when I'm expecting guests? Come in, children, come
in."

Jason didn't even hesitate, but plunged into the dark entrance without waiting for the others. Again.
Ace followed, with David trailing a reluctant third behind her. I knew this was a bad idea, he
thought, but didn't bother voicing his opinion aloud. He was sure it was written all over his face,
and no one liked to hear an "I told you so."

When his eyes adjusted to the relative gloom of the large entry hall, he saw Ace waiting by the door
while Jason marched straight up to the owner of the voice that had called them inside and the
owner of the mansion as well. Tabina Doyle. She looked exactly as David remembered her, a tall,
cool blonde with an aristocratic manner and impeccable taste in everything from clothes to make-up.
"David. How nice to see you again," she said, ignoring Jason's glare and offering him her hand.
"You must be Jason, and of course I remember Ace."

Jason ignored the proffered hand, which Tabina allowed to fall gracefully to her side. Of course.
Ace gritted her teeth. The damn woman did everything gracefully. "What did you do with my
mother?" Jason demanded. He was almost trembling with restrained rage, his hand balled into fists
by his sides.

"Jason," Tabina murmured, unperturbed by his outburst. "How like your father you are."

David stiffened. Ace could tell he was worried about what his former employer might reveal,
because she was worried about the same thing. Not that she didn't think Jason deserved to know the
truth about his parentage because she thought he did but this wasn't the right way for him to find
out. Not from Tabina. The two of them moved slowly, warily, closer to Tabina and Jason. "Look,
we don't want trouble, we just want Tegan back. Dracula gave his word, he can't bloo flaming go
back on it now." Ace was as belligerent as Jason, and hefted her backpack warningly. "You don't
want UNIT all over this place, do you?"

"If you'd been able to contact UNIT, they'd be here already," Tabina replied dismissively. "I didn't
want them. I only wanted you. All of you," she added, looking directly at David. "Why do you think
it was so difficult to reach anyone? Why do you think your cell phones weren't working? And why,"
she added, "did it seem like such a good idea to come here completely on your own?"

David felt as if he'd been punched. Tabina and Dracula had teamed up to trample through his mind
once before, and the thought of them in his head again made him almost physically ill. "You
manipulated us?" he asked hoarsely.

"Of course." Tabina's voice was matter-of-fact, but underlain by a hint of malice. "I manipulated
all of you."

Before David could ask what she meant, Jason interrupted. "Where's my mother?!?" It was obvious
what little patience he retained had worn thin. He took a threatening step forward. In a flash Tabina
raised her hand and spoke a single, unintelligible word. Jason froze in place, and Tabina moved
away from him with an unhurried motion. She took a seat near the fireplace, murmuring a few more
words and making a "follow me" gesture. Jerking around like a puppet on a string, Jason lurched
after her. Ace shouted and ran after him, pulling him by the arm, to no avail. She glared at the witch
and fumbled in her bag, but Tabina spoke again, and both David and Ace found themselves frozen.
After a minute, during which Tabina gestured once and Ace's backpack vanished, she spoke and the
three of them were suddenly free to move again.

"What did you do to us?" Jason demanded, sounding shaken.

"Reminded you who has the power here." Tabina's voice was colder than Jason could ever manage.
"Now. If you would like to see your mother, you may ask my permission. Nicely."

Jason looked over at Ace and David, who shrugged helplessly, then reluctantly returned his gaze to
Tabina. "Please. Let me see her. I need to know if she's all right."

"Much better," Tabina said approvingly. "Not to worry, she's perfectly fine. She sought my help,
and it would be a poor return on my part to harm her." Her "guests" exchanged dubious glances,
which she seemed to find amusing. "You doubt me? Look and see." She gestured toward the grand
staircase that dominated the entry hall. "Up those stairs, second door on the left. She's sleeping, but
I daresay you won't disturb her."

Jason glanced at Ace and David, then bolted for the stairs while Tabina called after him: "Please
join us when you've assured yourself of her well being."

When the others made to follow, Tabina uttered a "tutting" noise and pointed at the settee opposite
the fireplace. "She's not your mother, either of you. Mind your manners and allow the boy his
reunion without interference from...outsiders." When they hesitated, her expression hardened.
"Remember, I can make you sit."

Jason pounded down the stairs a few minutes later. "What did you do to her?" He demanded. "She
won't wake up!"

"That's a question I'd like answered as well."

Three heads snapped around at the sound of that familiar voice, coming from near the heavily
curtained windows. Ace grinned, David sighed with relief, and Jason shouted. "Dad!"

Jason started forward, then stopped, darting a glance at Tabina. She merely raised an eyebrow as
if surprised he sought her opinion. He glared at her, then ran to his father. Who embraced him
without ever removing his eyes from the witch.

Tabina spoke first. "Surprised to see me, Doctor?"

"A little," he admitted. "To be honest, I was expecting "

"The Count?" Tabina finished, flashing a neutral look at Jason before returning her mocking gaze
to the Doctor. "I'm afraid that would be...quite impossible."

"I see," was the Doctor's only reply. David found himself extremely interested in knowing why it
was impossible, but kept it to himself. This was the Doctor's show. "Then perhaps you wouldn't
mind explaining why "

"I lured you here?" Tabina nodded. "A fair question, and one I'll even consider answering." She
smiled. "Shortly." She glanced at the staircase. "But first, wouldn't you like to see your wife?"

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," the Doctor replied with rigid formality.

"No trouble at all." Tabina closed her eyes and whispered to herself. David strained to hear, but
wasn't able to understand her words. As she spoke, he sidled closer to the Doctor.

"We came here after Tegan went missing," he muttered in a low voice. "Not all on our own; Tabina
says she manipulated us, and she's put Tegan under some kind of sleep spell. We're really sorry "

"That will be quite enough," Tabina interrupted without opening her eyes. "Children should be seen
and not heard, and if you say one more word, you will spend eternity in that condition. Unspeaking."
She opened her eyes. "The Doctor will have to wait and see how his wife is doing for himself." Her
eyes flickered toward the stairs. "And here she comes now."

David, Ace, and Jason turned to face the stairs. The Doctor moved forward a single step, then
stopped as he watched his wife drift silently down to meet them. Her eyes were open and
unblinking, and she moved with the same stiffness that Jason had shown when under Tabina's
power. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that looked like a costume from every vampire
movie David remembered seeing. Knowing Tabina, he suspected that bit of theatrical showmanship
was deliberate.

Tegan came to a stop at Tabina's side, her eyes staring straight ahead, but David knew she wasn't
seeing anything. Nor was she hearing anyone; Jason was calling her, had moved toward her and
shook her arm gently, but she didn't react, just stood there. It was chilling.

"What have you done to her?"

It was the Doctor who made that demand, and it was to him alone that Tabina responded, ignoring
the others as if they were no longer there. And, David realized bitterly, to her they weren't. She'd
already proven her ability to control them all with no sign of strain. As far as she was concerned,
the only threat in the room was the Time Lord facing her.

"Given her rest from some very disturbing dreams," the witch replied. "She sought the Count, but
found me instead." Another cold smile, this time revealing her teeth and the fangs that now
protruded from her upper jaw. "Before he departed...the Count was gracious enough to give me
payment for my services, in spite of the fact that those services were disrupted by your presence."

"You're a vampire!" Jason burst out. Tabina looked at him oddly, then back at the Doctor, her eyes
glittering with some unknown emotion.

"But of course I am, young man; why else would your mother seek my help?"

"What kind of...help?" the Doctor asked, but he had a sinking feeling he knew the answer to that
question already. Had known ever since Tegan started fretting over gray hairs and wrinkles.

"Why, she wanted some way to live as long as her husband and son, of course." Tabina's voice
dripped patently false surprise. "She sought what so many have: Immortality." Tabina's expression
filled with dark triumph. "Unfortunately for her, she didn't realize that she was doing exactly as I
wanted her to." Her eyes raked contemptuously over David and Ace. "As did these two."

"What do you mean?" David asked distrustfully.

Tabina smiled, a disturbing sight with the fangs fully extended. "I distracted the person in the room
closest to that of Mrs. 'Smith,' so there would be no chance of anyone accidentally overhearing us."

David paled at Tabina's words, while Ace flushed red with fury. "You mean you sent me to
David?"

Tabina nodded. "Of course. I did say I had manipulated you."

"What about the Doctor, did you manipulate him?" David broke in carefully. Ace looked ready to
do something stupid, like attack the vampire-witch, and if she did, chances were Ace would come
out the loser. Tabina had already proven how easily she could control them; they'd have to deal with
that casual, cataclysmic revelation later. If there was a later. Besides, it was a logical question;
Tabina couldn't have known the Doctor was going to return late...unless she'd arranged for it to
happen.

"She set up a temporal net, so I wouldn't return from Gallifrey when I planned to," the Doctor
confirmed. "The TARDIS was deflected to now, instead of when I actually intended to arrive." His
voice dripped with anger. "Isn't that right."

"It's interesting how seldom people think about the supernatural when planning their defenses,"
Tabina mused. "Even when they've encountered it before, they simply don't anticipate encountering
it again." She made a tsking noise and shook her head in mock sorrow. "It pains me when people
are incapable of learning from their mistakes. But then, anyone that repeats a mistake deserves what
they get." She smiled slowly and stretched one arm back toward Tegan's unmoving form. "Or what
they lose. Dreams are very powerful, Doctor; they can bring us our heart's desire," she pulled the
arm back to her side, "or they can snatch it away from us."

"So you sent dreams to Tegan, lured her here, and waited for us to show up." Tabina nodded
serenely. "Do you intend to tell us why?" the Doctor asked. "I doubt it's revenge, since you've
obviously gotten what you wanted from Dracula. Are you working on his behalf?"

A strange expression flashed across Tabina's face, one David was hard pressed to put a name to.
Regret? Disillusionment? Whatever it was, it vanished with her next words. "No. We went our
separate ways long ago, after he granted me immortality. Vampires do not share their territories,
Doctor. Besides, he gave his word." There it was again, that strange look, this time with a hint of
rage. David shivered, and Ace squeezed his hand even as she continued to glare with an ice-hot fury
at the witch. Who ignored them both as utterly as if they weren't in the room.

"Then what do you want?" the Doctor asked. There was a definite edge to his voice now; whatever
patience he possessed, David sensed, was coming to an end.

Tabina tilted her head, as if considering his request or, David privately believed, as if sensing the
change in the Doctor's mood then gave a thoughtful nod. "It's time you knew the truth, Doctor."
She raised her head, spoke a few words in a language that made David's skin crawl, and gestured
once, sharply. In her outstretched hands, with no fanfare, as if it had been there all along, was a
book. An ancient book, its cover cracked and yellowed with age.

Tabina caressed the cover of the book before placing it on the table near the fireplace. "This is what
started me on my current course of action, Doctor." She spoke the title mockingly. "This is what led
you here. Let me tell you a story..."

"Why are we listening to her instead of jumping the bitch and taking Tegan away?" Ace interrupted,
voice and eyes vicious with hatred. The idea of the English witch messing around in her mind,
ruining something as special as her first time with David, made her blood boil.

Jason nodded his agreement, his own eyes burning with equal hatred. But the Doctor raised a hand
commandingly and shook his head, even as he continued to stare at his wife.. "Because I'm certain
that if we were to attempt any such thing, Tabina has defenses that would not only protect her, but
might possibly do harm to Tegan. And that I cannot allow."

"Very perceptive, Doctor; you could see that my confidence was not merely due to being 'on home
ground', as the Americans say," Tabina replied, not bothering to look up as she gestured at the book.
She removed her hand, and it floated in mid-air, then flipped itself open to a page about a third of
the way in. "For me, the story begins here. I found the book at an auction a few years ago, after it
had nearly been destroyed in a fire. The more I learn about it, the more I'm convinced that the fire
was set solely with the destruction of this volume in mind."

"What does it have to do with us?"Ace burst out impatiently, while Jason smoldered silently at his
father's side and David forced himself to keep from fidgeting.

Tabina's gaze flickered over Ace in annoyance, then moved back to the Doctor. "Time for that story
after all, is it?" She proceeded without waiting for a response. "Once upon a time there was a world
with a great many sorcerers and necromancers and alchemists, who all shared two obsessions:
turning base metal into gold, and finding the secrets of immortality. Some of them were merely
clever, some tapped into the hidden powers of the human mind, and some actually discovered the
secrets of magic. But none ever discovered true immortality. Why, you may ask?"

She looked around at her captive audience. David found himself leaning in, fascinated in spite of
himself. He had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going. "According to this book," Tabina
continued, "it's because evil magicians from another world tainted their spells and potions and
concoctions so that instead of living forever, they died or suffered horrible side effects. Or if they
did manage to find a way to live forever, it wasn't the way they expected to."

The Doctor had gone very still as Tabina spoke, his attention no longer focused on his wife but on
the other woman's mocking words. "Sound familiar, Doctor?" she asked.

"Who did the tampering?" Jason asked, sounding reluctant. As if he was afraid he already knew the
answer, and dreaded it.

"Who, indeed," Tabina murmured, still looking at the Doctor. An ironic smile hovered about her
lips. "Shall I tell them, Doctor, or should I leave the honor to you?" When he remained silent, she
turned to look directly at Ace, David and Jason. "The Time Lords, my dear children, are 'who.'
They deliberately tampered with all immortality spells created on this world, including one that lead
to the creation of vampires."

"And this book proves that the Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey were responsible?" Ace's voice
dripped disbelief.

"The Doctor knows it to be true," Tabina murmured, nodding toward the Time Lord. "Just look at
him. He knows. Don't you, Doctor."

David didn't bother looking to the Doctor for confirmation. Unfortunately, it all made sense. He
frowned. Well, mostly... "I thought the Great Vampires were brought down by Rassilon, that they
were exiled to E-Space "

"They were." The Doctor's voice was cold. "I have no personal knowledge of such tampering by
the Time Lords. But," honesty forced him to add, "it is the sort of thing they used to do before
Rassilon reined them in."

"What does this have to do with us?" Ace demanded. She was nearly shaking with impatience.

"Nothing," The Doctor answered flatly. "It has nothing to do with any of you." He studied Tabina,
a slight frown creasing his forehead. "It has to do with me. Being a vampire's not all you hoped it
would be, eh?" he asked shrewdly. "A little too restrictive, especially for such a young vampire, with
all those inconvenient vulnerabilities no passing over running water, no going out in daylight,
allergies to certain woods and silver...do many of your spells require the use of silver, I wonder?"
His voice was taunting. "Presents a great deal of difficulty, I imagine. And it must chafe, knowing
you have to answer to Dracula anytime he wants you to. That he has absolute power over you...tell
me, did he make you a vampire to reward you or to punish you?"

"Enough!" Tabina traded glares with the Doctor, then visibly collected herself, the first time David
had seen her rattled. He felt his spirits rise; maybe she wasn't as on top of the situation as she made
herself out to be. "As I said before, we went our separate ways long ago. He may not even exist any
more." She continued before anyone could ask about that bombshell: "As for his motives for
granting my request for immortality, they are irrelevant." But she still seemed rattled, slightly off-
balance, as if she hadn't anticipated the Doctor's lightning-swift analysis of her situation. And it was
the right interpretation, David just knew it; Tabina had messed up by not knowing Jason had a Time
Lord's physiology, and Dracula had gone all O. Henry and given her what she thought she wanted.
And now that she was stuck with being a vampire, she was looking for someone to blame. It made
perfect sense, in a warped way.

"His motives may be irrelevant, but yours aren't," the Doctor retorted. He glanced at his wife, and
his expression hardened. "Fine, you want revenge. I certainly understand that. But you have no
quarrel with the others. Let them go."

Tabina shook her head. "Do you take me for a fool, Doctor? I know you're planning something,
trying to find a way to turn this situation to your advantage. If I let them go, you'll have fewer
distractions. Besides, I promised your lovely wife my help, and I, like Dracula, prize myself on
keeping my word."

"About what?" The Doctor asked through gritted teeth.

Tabina seemed to enjoy his anger and helplessness. "Why, I simply intend to do as your wife
wanted when I first approached her. Endow her with my particular brand of immortality, courtesy
of the Time Lords' tampering. Perhaps Jason as well. Should he need it."

Jason blanched at her words, and the Doctor gripped his shoulder reassuringly. "He has a Gallifreyan
physiology, Tabina. He'll live quite long enough with that, thank you. As for my wife, I think we
can find a way to work things out on our own, if its all the same to you."

Tabina snapped her fingers, and the book vanished again. "No, Doctor, it isn't." She bared her fangs
threateningly. "I intend to keep my promise, whether you like it or not."

* * *

Tegan didn't even blink as Tabina yanked her head back, exposing her throat. There were already
marks there, proof that the witch had already begun the process to turn the Doctor's wife into a
vampire. Before anyone could react, Jason lunged forward, knocking Tabina away and bringing his
mother tumbling to the ground. "Mum! Wake up! You have to wake up!" he shouted as he regained
his feet and pulled her toward the massive fireplace.

Tabina hissed angrily, then whirled to face the Doctor, who had moved to shield Ace and David.
"Run," he said quietly, warningly, and David tugged at Ace's hand. He wasn't about to argue with
that tone of voice. Not now. But Ace was having none of it; she pulled her hand free and dashed
around the Doctor to join Jason in bringing Tegan back to her feet. Without breaking stride, she
grabbed a poker from the wrought iron stand in front of the fireplace and held it up threateningly.
David hesitated only a moment before running...to join them. "We'll get Tegan out of here, Doctor!"
he shouted. Hoping he was telling the truth.

With a scream of pure rage, Tabina hurled herself at the Doctor. She thrust one hand over her
shoulder, sketching a brief sign in the air, shouting the words of the spell while her other hand
reached for the Doctor's throat. David and Ace found themselves immobilized, helplessly watching
as Tabina and the Doctor crashed to the floor in a struggling heap. But Jason could still move;
apparently Tabina's hasty casting had missed him, and he shook his mother with increasing force,
trying to get her to react, to answer him. She stood blankly, her eyes staring at nothing, not reacting
to anything around her. As Tabina grappled with the Doctor, Time Lord strength against that of the
vampire, Jason pushed her past Ace and David's frozen forms, forcing her head toward the desperate
struggle being played out in front of their helpless eyes. "Mum, look, it's Dad, he's in trouble,
you've got to snap out of it, please Mum..."

Nothing. Swallowing his anguish, Jason cast about for something, anything that might help. His
father's words came back to him, hadn't he said something about wood allergies? A stake, what
could he use...there! Jason skidded across the floor, grabbing one of the wooden chairs that flanked
the fireplace. Raising it above his head, he dashed it to the floor, yanking the leg off with strength
born of desperation. It had splintered and cracked, with one end now forming a wicked point.
Perfect.

The Doctor had managed to regain his feet, but Tabina threw him back to the ground, her fangs
snapping at his throat as he strained to keep her from fulfilling her deadly threat. Jason threw
himself at her back, only to find himself hurled halfway across the room with contemptuous ease.
As he scrambled to regain his feet, she spoke the same guttural syllables that had stopped Ace and
David in their tracks. The stake rolled to a halt at his mother's feet as he stiffened into immobility.

The Doctor took desperate advantage of her split attention, kicking her onto the floor and hauling
himself onto his knees, only to find her again reaching for his throat. He smashed a fist into the side
of her face, but her attention was fully fixed on her revenge, and she didn't even react as her
tightening grip forced him back to the floor. "Time for a lesson in mortality," Tabina snarled. He
gasped for air, fighting ineffectually against her inhuman grasp. "A lesson the Time Lords have long
needed learning." She leaned closer, inch by inch, forcing the Doctor's head back to expose his
throat.

"NO!!"

Before Tabina could react to that unexpected scream of denial, it was too late. Her eyes widened
in shock, and she dropped the Doctor's body as something thrust itself through her torso. Blood
fountained from her chest, gushing from the terrible wound Tegan had inflicted. Tegan, who was
no longer standing across the room in a stupor, Tegan who had just watched the man she loved
viciously murdered. Tabina stared uncomprehendingly at the chair leg now protruding through her
chest, sinking to her knees and clutching it in rapidly numbing hands.

Tegan didn't stop at thrusting the stake through her adversary's chest. She spun wildly, then raced
back to the fireplace. She yanked an axe off the wall, a huge one, and used it in one, desperate thrust
to slice off Tabina's head. She was sobbing uncontrollably the entire time, as Ace, David, and Jason
stood there, too stunned to move even after Tabina's spell abruptly ended, freeing them at last.

Too late to do anything to stop the tragedy unfolding before them.

Tegan swayed on her feet as Tabina's head rolled to a stop beneath the elaborate table in the middle
of the room, her eyes tracking it disinterestedly before her gaze returned to the witches' corpse.
Emotion returned in a rush as she wrenched the headless body off her husband with a choked sob.
She sank to her knees, unmindful of the mingled blood of her husband and her husband's murderer,
intent only on him. She reached out and shook him hesitantly. "John?"

Jason moved them, stumbled forward, stopping only when he reached his mother's side. "Mum."
She ignored him, continued to shake the Doctor while Ace and David stood in horrified sympathy,
unable to bring themselves closer. "Mum, it's too late."

"It's never too late," she snapped at him, finally acknowledging his presence, her voice and eyes
fierce. "He's a Time Lord, even if he didn't prepare." She returned her gaze to his unmoving form.
"Come on, John, dammit. Regenerate!"

As if he heard her, the Doctor's eyelids fluttered. Tegan stepped back, watching intently as a blazing
light sprang into being around her husband's ravaged body, bathing it in an eerie glow before
brightening in intensity, forcing everyone to turn their eyes away.

The glow faded, and before their wondering eyes, the body shimmered and changed. David saw
immediately that it was very different from what had happened when Dracula took on the Doctor's
form. Less disturbing, somehow. Ace gave a whoop of joy while Tegan noted the changes with great
satisfaction, and Jason simply stared, open-mouthed, at the new person lying where his father's
lifeless body had been a moment before. Hearing regeneration described was one thing; witnessing
it was something else entirely.

Tegan looked up in triumph. "You see?" she demanded. "I told you!" Ace and David hugged each
other in relief as Tegan threw her arms around her son. "It takes a lot more than a vengeful vampire
to take your father down!" she crowed.

Jason grinned in return, then frowned as he returned his gaze to his father. Something wasn't right,
why was the glow returning, less intense but still unbearably bright? He'd already seen his father
change before his disbelieving eyes into an entirely different person, why was it happening again?
He looked up, confused, to meet his mother's stricken face. She'd gone white, her fingers trembling
as she reached out as if to touch the Doctor's face. Not the face Jason had grown up with, but not
the face it had been only a moment earlier. "Mum, what's happening?"

Ace and David moved closer as Tegan snatched her hand back and shook her head. "He's
regenerated again, that's not supposed to happen!" She sounded panicky, unsure what to do but
unable to stop whatever was going on with her husband's body. She blanched even whiter as he
suddenly changed forms again, for the third time, then again, and again, five times in all. The last
form was the most confusing; he suddenly looked as he had Jason's entire life, exactly the same.

They held their breath as his eyes fluttered and he gazed up at them, confused and blinking. Then
he shook himself, took a deep breath, and smiled. "Well, that's done it. Sorry it took so long." His
voice was weak, but recognizable, and Tegan wept to hear it, great choking sobs of relief mingled
with fear.

"What have you done?" she demanded in a horrified whisper, when she could control her voice
again, when he seemed to recover from the effort of speaking so soon after regenerating. She was
leaning over him with an equally horrified expression on her face. "What have you done?"

"I've regenerated," her husband replied, his voice weaker than he liked. He frowned and tried to
raise himself to a sitting position; it annoyed him that Tegan had to help, but then, it was his own
fault. And really, being in her embrace was enormously comforting right now. It was an immediate
and irrefutable reminder of why his actions were worth doing.

"I know you've regenerated," his wife replied, her voice still angry but tempered with tender
concern as she hauled him up into her arms. "You regenerated five times. Tell me why." She knew
already, deep in her soul, but she had to hear the words, to hear him say it.

"So you don't have to worry any more," he confirmed. "So we can truly be together. It was the only
way. Now, we're a little more even."

She shook him slightly, then pulled him closer for a fierce, tender hug. "You idiot," she said softly,
but her voice was filled with astonished gratitude as tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks. "I
can't believe you did this to yourself. You're stuck, you know. No going back."

"I know," he agreed, his voice getting stronger with every passing moment. His body felt stronger
as well, but he made no move to leave her arms. "I should have done this years ago. Then perhaps
all this," his arm waved weakly, taking in their surroundings and situation in one motion, "could
have been avoided." He reached up to stroke her cheek tenderly. "I love you, Tegan; if I'd known
you were so afraid of us outliving you that you'd even entertain the idea of becoming like Tabina..."

"Hush, it wasn't my idea and you know it," Tegan protested, but softly. "Tabina took my fears, yes,
but she put the temptation of immortality into my head to lure me here, and all just so she could get
at you. I know there aren't any guarantees in life, even if you aren't married to a Time Lord. I'll
manage on my own. Without supernatural intervention." She shook her head. "I just can't believe
you'd give up so much just to be with me, with us..." She choked off a sob and hugged him again,
smiling brilliantly through her tears.

That smile told the Doctor that he'd done the right thing. He returned the hug with all the strength
he could muster, his eyes seeking and finding those of his son. He reached out a hand, and Jason
moved forward, reaching out tentatively to take his father's hand. The Doctor hauled him closer,
pulling Jason to his knees, ignoring the blood. "I would give up more to be with my family," the
Doctor said softly, as Jason's arms tightened around both his parents. "Much more."
The three of them continued to embrace each other silently.


Epilogue: The Dawn's Early Light

They were home. UNIT had sent a helicopter, the rental car had been returned, and Colonel Lamb
had been, if not placated, then at least given an explanation he could pretend to live with. Sarah Jane
and Harry had met them in London and driven them home in anxious relief, visibly restraining
themselves from questioning what had happened, allowing themselves to be satisfied with promises
of explanations when a little time had passed.

Ace and David made themselves scarce soon after their return, murmuring excuses that none of the
others noticed. Jason was too full of questions for his father, and Tegan was silently absorbed in
watching the two of them discussing things she didn't even pretend to understand. Every now and
then she'd reach out to touch Jason's cheek with her free hand. The other hand was firmly wrapped
around that of her husband, who seemed disinclined to free it. He, too, found frequent excuses to
touch his son, often under the guise of making some point or other, but fooling no one.

They'd been like that the entire trip home, not exactly excluding David and Ace, at least not
consciously, just too immersed in their own situation to be able to spare any energy for the other
two. There were so many potential ramifications to the Doctor's actions that David didn't even want
to think about it. So he didn't mind being left out, and he didn't think Ace did, either, but he wasn't
sure. She was uncharacteristically silent, beyond voicing satisfaction that Tabina was dead and
chiding the Doctor for his tendency to overdo the grand gesture. To David she spoke not a word, and
he knew why. Or thought he did. He wasn't about to second-guess anyone, not today.

But it seemed obvious. Tabina had manipulated Ace into having sex with him, to put it bluntly. And
now she regretted it. Hell, why shouldn't she? It was this shy of being rape--wasn't the most
common definition 'non-consensual sex'? If Ace had been in control of her own mind, the situation
never would have occurred. And now it was up to him to make things better between them, if that
were even possible. He had to do something, say something to keep Tabina's manipulation from
destroying any future they might have together. And a future with Ace was something he wanted
more than anything, he knew that now. If nothing else the entire miserable situation had shown him
exactly what he wanted for himself, what kind of life he wanted, and he damn well wanted Ace in
it.

He just hoped it wasn't too late.

They wandered outside, heading by mutual and unspoken consent for the little park a few blocks
away. Neither one spoke until they reached the quiet corner where they liked to study together on
nice days, took their accustomed places on the bench with the best view, and stared at the sunset for
a while.

"Ace, I'm sorry--" "Davey, we need to talk--"

They broke off awkwardly, and David gestured gallantly for her to start, not sure if she wanted him
to apologize first, but certain that she would let him know. If he knew anything about Ace, it was
that she had no problem telling people how she felt. Which was why her silence worried him so
much. If she was so hurt or angry or humiliated that she couldn't even berate him for his part in this,
then things were much blacker than he'd feared.

"Look, about what Tabina said...what she did," Ace began, then stopped.

David took that as a hint. "Hey, I understand," he rushed in. "Tabina messed around in your head,
made you do something you weren't ready for or didn't want to do."

"It's not that I didn't want to, Davey," Ace interrupted with a frown. "I just don't know if I would
have picked that particular night."

"I'm sorry," David mumbled, refusing to be encouraged by Ace's use of her favorite nickname for
him. That could only be habit. "I'm so sorry, if I'd know you weren't in control of your own mind,
that it wasn't your decision...I understand if you're mad at me."

Ace stared at him blankly. "Mad? At you? For what?"

"For not realizing, for taking advantage of you..."

Ace's laughter startled him. "Is that what you think? That I'm mad at you? That I blame you?" She
sobered at the stricken look on his face. "I know, it's not funny. But I'm not mad at you, I don't
blame you, Davey. You and I both know who's to blame, and honestly, I'm glad Tegan killed the
bitch." Her voice was dismissive as she reached out and turned his face toward hers, her fingers
gentle on his cheek. "Just because she manipulated me into going to you, doesn't mean she stuck
around for the whole show, if you know what I mean." She smiled. "It was a good time, wasn't it?"

David allowed himself to smile back, relief in his eyes. Ace wasn't just saying this to make him feel
better, he knew her better than that; if she was mad at him, she'd let him have it, and then some. "It
was the best," he said softly, pressing his hand against hers. "I hope it can be that way again.
Someday. When you're ready and it's your own idea. It just seemed so...you, something you would
do. Just make up your mind and go for it."

Ace nodded. "You're right; I would. And," she added with a wicked grin, "I will. Someday. But
probably not right away. I hope that doesn't bother you, but if it does," she shrugged and grinned.
"Too bad. I'm betting you can wait."

"Believe me, I understand," David grinned back at her. "I have no problem waiting until we're both
really ready." No problem at all; he was over the moon with relief. She didn't hate him, she didn't
blame him, and she was willing to think about the future. A future with him. It was more than he'd
expected. He stuck out his hand. "Deal?"

"Deal." Ace took his hand and solemnly shook it, then laughingly pulled him closer for a kiss.

[WC: 19,703]

Alternate Ending:

(As the Doctor regenerates)

"It's never too late," she snapped at him, finally acknowledging his presence, her voice and eyes
fierce. "He''s a Time Lord, even if he didn't prepare." She returned her gaze to his unmoving form.
"Come on, John, dammit. Regenerate!"
As if he heard her, the Doctor''s eyelids fluttered. Tegan stepped back, watching intently as a
blazing light sprang into being around her husband''s ravaged body, bathing it in an eerie glow
before brightening in intensity, forcing everyone to turn their eyes away.
The glow faded, and before their wondering eyes, the body shimmered and changed. David saw
immediately that it was very different from what had happened when Dracula took on the Doctor''s
form. Less disturbing, somehow. Ace gave a whoop of joy while Tegan noted the changes with great
satisfaction, and Jason simply stared, open-mouthed, at the new person lying where his father''s
lifeless body had been a moment before. Hearing regeneration described was one thing; witnessing
it was something else entirely.
Tegan looked up in triumph. "You see?" she demanded. "I told you!" Ace and David hugged each
other in relief as Tegan threw her arms around her son. "It takes a lot more than a vengeful vampire
to take your father down!" she crowed.
Jason grinned in return, then frowned as he returned his gaze to his father. "Mum?" he asked
uncertainly as his father's features, so different in this new body, suddenly shimmered and changed
again, until his father looked exactly as he always had.

Tegan was frowning as well, concern in her eyes and posture, but the frown transformed into a smile
of relief as her husband stirred and attempted to sit up. Tegan was back at his side in an instant,
taking him tenderly in her arms. "Don''t push yourself, you've just regenerated." She kissed his
forehead. "I thought I'd lost you forever," she whispered, tears finally coming.
The Doctor started to speak, coughed, then cleared his throat. "That would be impossible, my dear."
His voice was as unchanged as his regenerated self.

"Why'd you go back to looking the same?" Ace burst out. She sounded irritated.
The Doctor attempted a shrug, wincing as he did so. Tegan's hold tightened slightly, then eased as
he spoke. "I've committed to this life, and it would inconvenient to have to explain my new self,
even to UNIT. So I opted for the path of least resistance. I must remember to thank Romana for
showing me how to control the regeneration," he muttered, mostly to himself.

"Explanations can wait until later," Tegan said, her voice all business. She was done crying for now.
"We have to get in touch with UNIT so they can take care of this." She waved her arm vaguely,
carefully not looking at Tabina's body. Or her head. Or the puddle of blood she and her husband
were reclining in. Well, she could hardly ignore that. She made a face and gestured Jason forward.
"Help me get him to his feet. There's got to be a shower around somewhere." She frowned
distastefully as she realized what she was wearing. "And a change of clothes, at least for me."
The Doctor made "wait a minute" gesture, and Jason obediently stopped hauling at his father's arm.
"Tegan, are you sure you're all right?" The Doctor''s voice was urgent. "I know why you came here,
what's been bothering you lately..."
Tegan shushed him, flashing a quick glance at Ace and David, who tried to look as if they didn't
know what the Doctor was talking about. Another glance at Jason showed her it was no use hiding
anything, and she sighed in resignation. "Stupidity brought me here," she snapped. "Tabina made
me think she had the solution to a problem that might not even exist, and I let her influence me.
But," she added, "the only thing I did was give her an opening. I never would have come here on
my own, you have to believe that. I'm not so desperate to be with you that I'd willingly give up my
soul."
The Doctor reached up to stroke her cheek. "I know. I just wanted you to know that I understand.
We can talk later."
Tegan threw her arms around him for a fierce hug. Jason hovered uncertainly in the background,
until his father pulled him in for an equally fierce hug. "If it's in my power, I''ll never leave you.
You're my family," he whispered. "Let's go home."

Epilogue: The Dawn's Early Light
They were home. UNIT had sent a helicopter, the rental car had been returned, and Colonel Lamb
had been, if not placated, then at least given an explanation he could pretend to live with. Sarah Jane
and Harry had met them in London and driven them home in anxious relief, visibly restraining
themselves from questioning what had happened, allowing themselves to be satisfied with promises
of explanations when a little time had passed.
Ace and David made themselves scarce soon after their return, murmuring excuses that none of the
others noticed. Jason was too full of questions for his father, and Tegan was silently absorbed in
watching the two of them discussing things she didn't even pretend to understand. Every now and
then she'd reach out to touch Jason's cheek with her free hand. The other hand was firmly wrapped
around that of her husband, who seemed disinclined to free it. He, too, found frequent excuses to
touch his son, often under the guise of making some point or other, but fooling no one.
They'd been like that the entire trip home, not exactly excluding David and Ace, at least not
consciously, just too immersed in their own situation to be able to spare any energy for the other
two. David didn't mind being left out, and he didn't think Ace did, either, but he wasn't sure. She
was uncharacteristically silent, beyond voicing satisfaction that Tabina was dead. To David she
spoke not a word, and he knew why. Or thought he did. He wasn't about to second-guess anyone,
not today.
But it seemed obvious. Tabina had manipulated Ace into having sex with him, to put it bluntly. And
now she regretted it. Hell, why shouldn't she? It was this shy of being rape--wasn't the most
common definition non-consensual sex? If Ace had been in control of her own mind the situation
never would have occurred. And now it was up to him to make things better between them, if that
were even possible. He had to do something, say something to keep Tabina's manipulation from
destroying any future they might have together. And a future with Ace was something he wanted
more than anything, he knew that now. If nothing else the entire miserable situation had shown him
exactly what he wanted for himself, what kind of life he wanted, and he damn well wanted Ace in
it.

He just hoped it wasn't too late.

They wandered outside, heading by mutual and unspoken consent for the little park a few blocks
away. Neither one spoke until they reached the quiet corner where they liked to study together on
nice days, took their accustomed places on the bench with the best view, and stared at the sunset for
a while.

"Ace, I'm sorry-" "Davey, we need to talk-"

They broke off awkwardly, and David gestured gallantly for her to start, not sure if she wanted him
to apologize first, but certain that she would let him know. If he knew anything about Ace, it was
that she had no problem telling people how she felt. Which was why her silence worried him so
much. If she was so hurt or angry or humiliated that she couldn't even berate him for his part in this,
then things were much blacker than he'd feared.

"Look, about what Tabina said...what she did," Ace began, then stopped.

David took that as a hint. "Hey, I understand," he rushed in. "Tabina messed around in your head,
made you do something you weren't ready for or didn't want to do.

"It's not that I didn't want to, Davey," Ace interrupted with a frown. "I just don't know if I would
have picked that particular night."

"I'm sorry," David mumbled, refusing to be encouraged by Ace's use of her favorite nickname for
him. That could only be habit. "I'm so sorry, if I'd know you weren't in control of your own mind,
that it wasn't your decision...I understand if you're mad at me."

Ace stared at him blankly. "Mad? At you? For what?"

"For not realizing, for taking advantage of you..."

Ace's laughter startled him. "Is that what you think? That I'm mad at you? That I blame you?" She
sobered at the stricken look on his face. "I know, it's not funny. But I'm not mad at you, I don't
blame you, Davey. You and I both know who's to blame, and honestly, I'm glad Tegan killed the
bitch." Her voice was dismissive as she reached out and turned his face toward hers, her fingers
gentle on his cheek. "Just because she manipulated me into going to you, doesn't mean she stuck
around for the whole show, if you know what I mean." She smiled. "It was a good time, wasn't it?"

David allowed himself to smile back, relief in his eyes. Ace wasn't just saying this to make him feel
better, he knew her better than that; if she was mad at him, she'd let him have it, and then some. "It
was the best," he said softly, pressing his hand against hers. "I hope it can be that way again.
Someday. When you're ready and it's your own idea. It just seemed so...you, something you would
do. Just make up your mind and go for it."

Ace nodded. "You're right; I would. And," she added with a wicked grin, "I will. Someday. But
probably not right away. I hope that doesn't bother you, but if it does," she shrugged and grinned.
"Too bad. I'm betting you can wait."

"Believe me, I understand," David grinned back at her. "I have no problem waiting until we're both
really ready." No problem at all; he was over the moon with relief. She didn't hate him, she didn't
blame him, and she was willing to think about the future. A future with him. It was more than he'd
expected. He stuck out his hand. "Deal?"

"Deal." Ace took his hand and solemnly shook it, then laughingly pulled him closer for a kiss.