The title is from Ace's "I'm a mysterious time traveller, wouldn't you like to get to know me better?" seduction speech to the guard in Fenric. I was stuck for a title for a long time, and then peeeeeeet suggested an NA reference and that got me thinking about quotes generally and I think I ended up searching various Who-quote sites for literally hours until I came across this and realised it fitted perfectly. I have avery hard time with titles
Anyway, as I say this was written for lgbtfest, which I was both thrilled to be involved with and very scared about. It's one thing to write about pretty people kissing and what have you, another to Address Issues, and I was quite scared of Doing It Wrong. Having said which, I grabbed the prompt ("Ace McShane is young and coming to terms with the fact that she's bisexual. Unfortunately, the only person she has to talk to about it is the Doctor ...") as soon as I saw it because I thought "Yes, I can totally see that", and then I realised that I'd never actually written Seven and Ace, and that that was because I was scared of not doing the Team TARDIS Of My Childhood justice. Anyway, I was very second-guessy about this fic for a long time, is my point. I am very pleased with the end result, though; it's probably my own personal favourite of everything I've written.
"Hmm?" The Doctor didn't even glance up from whatever it was on the TARDIS console that was fascinating him so much.
Standing there in her dressing gown, Ace felt suddenly foolish. How did you ask a man who never seemed to sleep if he ever had strange dreams? Dreams that startled you into aroused wakefulness, dreams that wouldn't fade the way dreams were meant to, but tormented and confused you for hours as you tried to get back to sleep, questioning who you thought you were.
"Nothing," she said. She headed back into the darkened corridors of the TARDIS's night.
I'm very pleased with these little sections, the repetition element and the way they set up what's happening next because even though she hasn't managed to say anything, the Doctor's still picked it up.
* * *
The Dreaming River of the Sapphire Band, Humanian Era Year 11,372,161
Calling it the Humanian Era is from the TVM; the year is meant to be another million years or so past The Ark, or very much into posthuman territory in Faction Paradox terms.
Ace lay back on the deck of the yacht and stared at the opposite side of the world. It seemed impossibly distant, but from what the Doctor said the fact that she could see it at all meant that the Sapphire Band was quite small, as terastructures went.
This is of course a mini-ringworld, or, if I'm even more honest about my sources, an Orbital out of Iain Banks.
She listened to the gentle sounds of the wildlife and the water lapping at the hull; she even imagined she could hear the sweet nothings the yacht's slimdrive whispered to reality, as it glided ever further downstream.
Far future tech. I'll explain later.
The river flowed all the way around the inner surface of the Band, a ceaseless cycle perpetuated by the same sort of indistinguishable-from-magic technology that kept the whole thing stable in its orbit around the local star.
Referencing Clarke's Law is very much the in thing in this era, but I probably overuse it. I recall briefly considering trying to work out if the forces involved in spinning an orbital would keep a river going without assistance, but then remembered I suck at hydrodynamics at the best of times, and decided it wouldn't be wrong for them to be using tech even if you could do it without.
What was really interesting, though, was the psionic water.
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do." Actually going to the place where the rivers dream is a very deliberate callback, I wanted to locate the fic in the just-after-S26 gap where so much stuff seems to have happened. I actually went through the whole thing trying to work out which bit of it fitted best; the dream sequence only came as a result of that.
It's just occurred to me that talking about this fic is going to be very difficult, because it was basically written completely out of order. This was the last of the three situations that I thought of, but the first that I actually finished. I had two bits that weren't working as fics by themselves, and I do feel that three is a better number than two for this sort of thing, so as I say I deliberately went through the Survival speech looking for inspiration. But once I got it, writing the dream sequence really helped me nail down what was important in the other bits.
"Are you ready to listen to the river now?"
Bathela had managed to come up from below decks completely silently. Now she sat cross legged behind Ace's head. Ace craned her back to look at her friend. "Question is, is the river ready to listen to me?"
With exquisite gentleness, Bathela put two fingers to each of Ace's temples. Ace felt her whole body become instantly more relaxed. "The river is always ready."
I like this little exchange, the way Ace is Ace-like but Bathela is unflappable.
"So now I just try and go to sleep?"
"You don't even need to try." Bathela was stroking Ace's hair, away, away, always away ...
... further away, everything receding, until there was nothing but bottomless darkness. Sensation ebbed, as though even her body was infinitely distant.
"Bathela?" Ace tried to say, but she had no throat, no vocal cords.
I'm here, I'm always here, came a reassuring voice that wasn't a voice. Relax, let yourself--
Lightning split the darkness, and suddenly it was revealed as a desolate landscape of cliffs and caves, scree and boulders. Ace was there again, a tiny figure against geological immensity.
You have turbulent dreams, Bathela didn't say.
Ace tried to respond in the same way. You're telling me.
Lightning again, and a figure in the distance. It had only just appeared. It had always been there. It was never there. There was no there.
I think all this stuff works, but it's very hard to sustain.
Everything is true.
What do I do?
Whatever you choose.
Ace started running towards the figure. Maybe it was someone in trouble. Maybe it was someone who could explain things to her. Maybe it was herself.
Or, of course, all three simultaneously.
There was moonlight now, a full moon that cast a softer light, transmuting the landscape from harsh angles to gentler curves, rounding the blunt edges. Cliffs weren't obstacles, but opportunities. Caves turned from sources of unknown terror to places of comforting security.
That bit's exactly what you think it is.
"Night time is our time." The figure turned as it spoke and Ace saw that it was Mags, the werewolf. Somehow, she was unaffected by the moon.
No. She was of the moon, and did not need to hide her beauty from it. She was raw, primal and alive ...
I'm really pleased with this, because Mags does fit perfectly with moon imagery.
... she was Karra. "Run with me, sister," she growled.
They joined hands and sprinted into the wind, outran the wind, became the wind. Their passion scoured the land, whipped up waves when they reached the water's edge, high crests breaking to foam.
But two waves didn't break, didn't fall back, continued rising and writhing as they took of form and colour and life.
Oh, eep, that "of" should be "on", I shall go and fix that in the other versions in a sec.
"Come into the water." Jean beckoned with a finger.
"Everyone wants to come into the water," Phyllis breathed.
This bit really doesn't make concessions to people who haven't watched all of Seasons 25 and 26 over and over, does it?
Ace dived in, leaving Karra behind, taking Karra with her, making Karra part of her. She swam down. Further and further, deep enough to know that there was no bottom, that the water was everything and she was the water, flowing and filling the world.
After a timeless interval, she surfaced again. As soon as she did, she was dry, the water not gone but locked away inside her. The sky was light now and the landscape had changed again. Rolling meadows of lush greens, thorny hedgerows filled with life, and in the distance something that might have been a church or a castle or a folly.
There's a vague attempt at four-elements-y stuff here, with the traditional Who countryside setting sort of being Earth. I felt a lot freer to do naff imagery and metaphors and stuff in a dream sequence than I would elsewhere.
There was another figure, standing in the shadow of the stone. This time, it ran towards her. She waited. As it neared, she saw it was dressed in a formal dinner suit, pleated shirt, bow tie and all.
This kind of prefigures the fact that the men are going to start appearing.
"Gwendoline!" Ace said happily.
"Tell me, Ace, have you ever been to Java?"
A handkerchief had appeared in her hand. Ace began to back away, matching each step of Gwendoline's onward march with a backwards one, afraid to look away even for a second.
Until she stumbled into another figure behind her. Whirling, she saw Sorin. "It's OK, Ace, you're safe now," he told her.
"Is it?" she said.
"Have faith," he said, but his eyes were glowing.
Yeah, this wouldn't make any sense if you didn't know the source material, would it? That's terrible.
Ace turned on the spot to see another figure approaching. Suzie Q levelled her gun. "Happiness will prevail," she intoned.
She turned past Gwendoline again to a fourth figure. Mike. "You have to choose the right side, Ace," he said.
This, though, I'm well pleased with, turning his plotline in Remembrance into stuff to do with bisexuality - he represents the "you can't choose both" position within Ace's subconscious.
Ace screamed mentally: Bathela!
An anguished reply: Something's wrong! I can't lift you from the dream. I'm sorry, Ace, this has never happened before. Something's wrong with the river ...
Bathela fell silent, and for a single moment Ace was trapped between the four of them.
And then a familiar voice, impossibly welcome but louder than she'd ever heard it before, boomed out of the heavens. "Ace!" She looked up into the sky to see the Doctor's face filling it. "This isn't your dream any more, Ace! There's been an invasion. The Smin want to corrupt the river, use it as a weapon. I can stop it, but I need you to keep them distracted. Just a little while longer, Ace. Just hold on!"
I don't know if it comes across properly, but in my head this looks like a bad '80s video effect: the Doctor's face is all stretched and a bit pixellated.
He vanished. Ace realised that the circle around her had grown, adding new members. She saw Alison, Glitz, Shou Yuing ...
At this point I was just going through Ace's TV stories trying to make sure I hadn't forgotten anyone. Canonically, Glitz took Ace's virginity. Thanks, Paul Cornell!
She yanked a can of nitro from a rucksack that hadn't been on her back a moment ago. Finger hooked into the fuse, she held it up like a talisman, turning round and round to face them all in turn. "I'll do it," she yelled. "Don't think I won't!" Slowly, but remorselessly, they began to advance on her. Her finger trembled as they came closer. At the last moment, she looked straight into Mike's eyes and said, "This is my choice."
It was a long time since I'd last seen Battlefield when I wrote this; having watched it recently on DVD I can't help feeling I should have had this addressed to Shou Yuing.
For a split second of dizzying forever, there was nothing but blinding white.
Ace started awake, felt Bathela's hands still on her forehead. Saw the Sapphire Band above her, just as before, except ...
"There is a wound in the world," Bathela said. And there was: a jagged crack all the way from one side of the band to the other, about a third of the way round from where they were. The edges of the chasm glowed red hot. "It was a riverwheel," Bathela went on.
"Sometimes the doctor needs to operate," Ace said.
I am very proud of that line.
"Hush, now," Bathela said. Her fingers started working their magic again. "Sleep. Sleep without dreaming."
* * *
The Doctor looked up and favoured her with one of his most dazzling smiles. "Yes, Ace?"
She paused, taking in the question mark tank top and paisley scarf as though for the first time. How did you ask someone like this, who made such virtue of eccentricity, who scorned convention and categorisation, if he'd ever felt the need to hide his feelings to fit in? How did you ask if he'd ever wished he was just like everybody else, when there was nobody else like him in all of time and space?
"Never mind," Ace said, and smiled back. "Where to next?"
One thing I like about these bits is the subtle differences in the ways they interact with each other.
* * *
London, 1892 AD
This was the second part I thought of, and again, there's a deliberate use of a Who standard - in this case Victoriana - to try and ground it in the story. I came up with the idea for this as a backup when my first attempt - which was a much longer version of the 51st century segment - started to flounder, but I never got very far with it until I made the decision to combine the two and add more.
Anyway, this whole bit is completely ripped off from Tipping the Velvet. The telly adaptation, not the book, which I still haven't read. I did NO research and relied entirely on my memory of Nan's adventures. Basically, the (offstage) Rani is in the role of Diana (the Anna Chancellor character), though her brain-sucked blokes are just the general homophobic men, as George points out in a minute.
Ace saw a suitably shadowy doorway and dragged George into it. They couldn't run indefinitely and this was as good a place to rest as any. They flopped back against the heavy glass of the darkened shopfront and started breathing heavily.
George is an intentionally gender-ambiguous name. She's quite tomboyish, I hope that comes across.
"Have we lost him?" George asked.
"I think so," Ace said, her breath coming in gasps. After she'd recovered a little, she said, "I'm sorry to drag you into this."
"Don't be daft," George replied. "I've been running from idiots like that who thought that all I really needed was their tiny cock between my legs since long before they started having their 'cerebral fluids' drained by that posh friend of yours."
"She's not my posh friend, she's the Doctor's posh friend." Ace decided that hadn't come out right. "Sort of."
Using the Rani is another thing that tries to place it in its era. But it's just occurred to me that I never come right out and say it. Again, highly unforgiving of people who aren't familiar with the source material. But then it is fanfic.
"Well, thank you for rescuing me from her, anyway," George said.
"My pleasure," Ace said.
"Not that I'm saying I wouldn't have been able to get out of there in the end, myself," George added, "because I would. But I'm glad I didn't have to."
"You actually like it, don't you?" Ace asked. "All the hiding and running around, you positively enjoy it." Ace liked George -- a lot -- and she was grateful to her for showing her the hidden side of London that she inhabited, but she really didn't think she understood her.
George laughed. "Are you trying to tell me that you don't? Don't forget, I was running right next to you. And what did you say just now about rescuing me? 'My pleasure'? Seems to me that Doctor of yours is a dangerous sort of chap to hang around with."
"But that's what I do, not who I am," Ace said. "It's something I choose. You're in danger just because of who you are."
"And I wouldn't be me if I didn't do the things I do, now would I?" George said. "Stop splitting hairs."
This is horrendously voice-of-the-author.
Ace caught a movement, dimly reflected in the windows of the shops on the other side of the street. She hissed a "shh" to George, who leaned further back against the glass. Ace stared at the glass, waiting for another movement. She became excruciatingly conscious of her breathing, and George's next to her, the tiniest twitches of their ribs as they took shallow, silent breaths.
Another dark glint. George stood on tiptoes to lean in to Ace's ear and whispered, "We should run straight past him, down the other way. One either side. Disorientate him, hopefully." Ace nodded.
They both waited a moment, took a deep breath, and ran for it. Ace felt the grin spreading on her face as they streaked straight past the befuddled drone, who turned very slowly from side to side trying to watch them.
Then everything seemed to happen at once. Ace heard a loud groan behind her, and the unmistakable sound of a body slumping to the floor. And she saw and felt the Doctor, as she ran straight into him as he came around the corner. His arms went round her in something that she was pretty sure was actually a hug.
George stopped and stood next to them. "Hello, Doctor," she said.
"Hello, again, George," the Doctor replied, doing something complicated with his arms to let him doff his hat to her while still keeping one of them around Ace's back at any one moment. "How are you?"
I love this bit of business with Seven's hat, even though I have no idea how it would actually work.
"Oh, never better."
"What happened?" Ace asked. She turned back to nod at the body behind her.
"Oh, he's just asleep. Funny thing about the remote manipulation of neurochemistry, you can do all sorts of things with it. He'll be fine once his natural homeostatic processes are back in control."
"You've stopped her, then?" Ace said.
"For the moment," the Doctor said guardedly.
"You'll be going now, won't you?" George said. "In that police box of yours."
"You could come with us, if you like," Ace said suddenly.
For just a moment, the Doctor seemed slightly taken aback, but then he seemed to consider the idea. "Yes, yes you could."
This is somewhat inspired by new school and people constantly getting invited on board by Rose.
"Thanks," George said. "Really. But I've got a life to live here. And you've got lives to live ... out there."
"Very well," the Doctor said.
Ace disentangled herself from the Doctor and went over to give George a kiss on the cheek. "Bye," she said.
"Oh, you can do better than that," George said, and grabbed Ace by the cheeks to give her a full kiss on the lips. "Now that's a proper goodbye." Ace felt the colour rising in her cheeks, her embarrassment heightened by George's uninhibited wolfish smile.
But when she got back to the Doctor, he was smiling too.
* * *
The Doctor didn't say anything, just looked at her expectantly.
And looking into the depths of those alien eyes, she just knew that she couldn't ask him if he'd ever fallen in love with another man. Sometimes it seemed that he'd never fallen in love, that he barely understood how emotions were supposed to work. And sometimes it seemed that his love was too big for any one individual, that his heart was broken and remade each second by the tragedies and triumphs of all the beings in the universe.
I'm very pleased with this as a positive statement of the no-Doctor-shipping position, which I do occasionally still find myself defaulting to, particularly when it comes to Seven for some reason.
And sometimes, when she thought about the Cheetah Planet, and the last time she'd seen Perivale, she thought she knew the answer, and wished she didn't.
I've had more than one comment saying that this was an unexpected bonus in the fic, but it never occurred to me to put "mentions of Doctor/Master" in the pairings list or anything; Doctor/Master's just canon, as far as I'm concerned.
Ace looked back at the Doctor and didn't say anything either.
* * *
Villengard, 5083 CE
There were people saying "OMG it was Ace" almost as soon as Doctor Dances had gone out, but I wish I could remember who they were so I could credit them. This was the first part of the fic I came up with in detail. The general idea that the Doctor's way of dealing with this sort of thing would be to take her on one or more educational TARDIS trips rather than Actually Talk To Her was just obvious, and as I cast about for places he might take her, I remembered the Moffat omnisexual 51st century and thought it would be a good contrast with Ace's uncertainty about things. And then I remembered the she-did-Villengard bit of fanon, and I just had to do it.
"You were working for them all along," Ace said, the realisation hitting her like a wave of nausea. "You're a Time Agent."
All this is only the very end of the very long and complicated scenario I worked out when the 51st century section was going to be the whole thing. The reason I ended up restructuring the way I did (and I'm really glad I did, because I think it worked out very well) was that I just wasn't going to be able to write the story in time, it would have been 5000+ words, easily. It was all about Ace meeting up with and going off with Jane while the Doctor sloped off to Mirror-Sat Two (this is all based on trying to reconcile the banana business with the idea from either Talons itself or Emotional Chemistry [can't remember which] that it's an Ice Age on Earth in this era; the idea is that Villengard is only suitable for banana growing because it's having extra sunlight reflected down onto it from space) and having lots of sub-Remembrance-sugar-conversation chats with the bartender that would elliptically be about all the things he doesn't know how to say to Ace.
They were standing on opposite sides of the main control table for the autofactory. Jane had picked up a sonic blaster -- one of the very weapons they'd supposedly been coming here to stop being produced -- and was pointing it directly at Ace's head. "And you're an unlicensed time traveller. Oh, don't think I didn't know. You're simply dripping with chronal energy. Not that the anachronistic social attitudes weren't a dead giveaway," Jane said. "All that nineteenth century stuff." She started mimicking Ace cruelly. "'Doesn't it bother you that I'm a girl?' 'I like how no one minds.' Grow up and be yourself, girl."
"Autofactory" = deliberate attempt not to make Ace a mass killer. "Jane" = obvious fake name for a non-real Time Agent (or would Jill have been better?). The rest of the paragraph = basically summarising the important stuff from what would have been the previous 4000 words or so.
"Twentieth century, actually," Ace said. "Well, twentieth century via the year two million or so. So don't think whatever fancy security widgets you've got down there are going to be able to stop all that nitro nine I've packed round the reactor core. The fifty first century's ancient history so far as my fuses are concerned."
I had actually forgotten about Iceworld for a moment when I was writing this, and I was scratching my head trying to work out how nitro nine could in fact be threatening to the future's security systems. And then I remembered and it fits perfectly.
"You're bluffing." The gun started shaking slightly in her hand.
Ace gave a thin, deadly smile. "That stuff's blown up Daleks."
Jane's eyes went wide. But she said, "I should shoot you where you stand."
This is trying to reference Jack's reaction to the Daleks in Bad Wolf and reinforce the idea that as far as the Time Agency is concerned most of the properly interesting time travel stuff is legend. This whole section doesn't feel quite canonical to me, because my take on it is that the Time Agency only became as significant as it seems to be in new school because of the absence of Gallifrey, and Gallifrey's obviously still around here.
"That's your lot's answer to everything, isn't it? Lie, steal, kill. You should put one of those signs up in here. You know, 'You don't have to be psychopathic to work here, but it helps.'"
This is a rather negative take on the Time Agency, but judging by Torchwood it does seem like little more than an organisation of con artists.
There was a moment of complete stillness. Neither blinked, neither's muscles twitched.
"I'm going to run for it now," Ace said, "before the building turns into its component atoms. You can come with me or you can shoot me. Up to you." And without looking to see what she would do, she sprinted for the exit.
A moment later, she felt Jane running next to her. They ran down the central corridor, through the exit and had almost reached the edge of the huge concrete apron the factory complex was built on when the titanic explosion behind them thrust them forward onto their hands and knees in the muddy grass just beyond the perimeter.
Ace opened her eyes to find herself looking at the tip of an umbrella she knew very well. Next to her, Jane was awkwardly frozen in mid-crouch, as though she'd been getting back on her feet when she'd seen something that made her stop dead.
"You're him," Jane breathed.
And of course the Doctor is the Grandfather of all the legends.
"You have no idea who I am," the Doctor snarled. "And you should leave. Now." Jane scrambled to her feet and ran, her blaster clattering to the ground as she did. The Doctor picked it up, turning it over in his hands as though it might bite him. "Nasty stuff, sonic technology, if it's applied unwisely," he said to no one in particular. "Just ask the Martians." He twisted a dial and pressed a button, then dropped the blaster back on the ground. It fizzed into uselessness.
I'm pleased with this glimpse of Oncoming-Storm-y Seven. I don't often write him this particular way. Also the gratuitous Ice Warriors reference.
The Doctor seemed to notice Ace again and his expression did a swift about turn from sour to sweet. "Impressive initiative," he said. "Very commendable. As it happens, I met a man on Mirror-Sat Two who discovered, through a frankly unbelievable chain of coincidences, that he has an inheritance dating all the way back to the 42nd Century that says all of this is his. When I last spoke to him, he was planning to turf out the Time Agency and plant bananas. He seemed very keen on bananas for some reason." He smiled at her. "Still, looks like you've saved him some demolition work."
I'm even more pleased with the sudden switch to being friendly. This is the point at which I have to thank peeeeeeet again, because all the next bit is much better for his input at the beta stage (drho and astrogirl2 were both also extremely helpful, for the record, but in more general ways that are less interesting to talk about in a commentary). It was originally a much blunter conversation with Ace essentially saying "Just talk to me next time, yeah?" and as peeeeeeet pointed out, that's not really how they work. So this much more elliptical version came into being, and I think it works very well.
"Not the only demolition work I've been doing," Ace said after a moment.
"Oh?" The Doctor offered her his arm and she put a hand through it. They began walking over the grass, casting long shadows behind them as the sun lowered in the sky.
"I've been knocking down some walls. Internal walls."
The Doctor turned to her. "They weren't supporting walls, I hope?"
"At first I thought they might be, but things seem even stronger without them."
"Where did they come from?" the Doctor asked.
"I used to think I'd put them up, but now I reckon I must have been letting other people do it for me. Everything's so much brighter and airier without them."
"Glad to hear it. You should never let anyone else make those choices for you." He chuckled slightly. "Not even me."
"Oh, especially not you," Ace said vehemently.
The Doctor reached out and smudged her nose with a hooked finger. "Back to the TARDIS?"
"Back to the TARDIS," she affirmed.
They walked together into the sunset.
And this again echoes the end of Survival, really.
* * *
She looked across at him, at the crumpled suit, those crinkly eyes that could light up with laughter or darken with worry in an instant, that tangle of hair, and saw only the Doctor. Her best friend, who stuck by her, and helped her, and always accepted her.
Sometimes, there were things you couldn't say. And other times, there were things you didn't need to.
It's terrible to be so pleased with your own stuff, but this line really makes me happy, and it rounds off the fic very nicely.
"Nothing. 'Night, Doctor."
"Sweet dreams, Ace."