fic_of_fork: (Default)
[personal profile] fic_of_fork
Word Count: 3352
Summary:  The Doctor helps a friend come to terms with a recent regeneration. Follows a week after the events in "Mykonos."
Warnings: Swearing  (but not too bad.)
Rating: PG
Characters: The Doctor (ten), Mike, Maggie
Genre: General, AU
Author's Note: Happens after "Mykonos," so about mid-way through Season 4.  Donna is off shopping, charming the locals, or something.
Disclaimer:  I don't own Doctor Who, Torchwood, Bernice Summerfield, or any of its characters, and I'm receiving no profit from this beyond the joy of writing.

Margaret picked up the ice skate and felt her stomach sink in disappointment. The leather was carefully conditioned and preserved, and the blade was kept sharpened and ready for use. She didn't need to try it on to know it wouldn't fit, but she squeezed her toe in anyway, only to have her suspicions become a certainty. Not even her arch fit into the skate, and leather grotesquely bulged out of place at the intrusion.

With a heavy sigh, she slipped out what part of her toes she was able to cram in. There was no logical reason that the skates would fit this time. The foot that wore the old skates was shorter and skinnier, but her current foot--her third--was longer and wider than either of her previous feet.

Spread out on the bed was various pieces of what looked to be armor, although Margaret knew it as her padding and other protective equipment. Like her skates, it had been custom made for her. She squinted her eyes shut, trying not to cry that the gear wouldn't fit, either. She had only tried the shoulder pads, but her new shoulders were too wide for the gear, and the chest guard was too tight, making it hard to breathe.

Opening her eyes, a few tears leaked out, and she noticed a man, her fiancé Vardan, standing in the doorway, calmly observing her. A sob escaped, and her shoulders heaved as she cried.

He gently moved an elbow pad out of the way and sat on the bed next to her. Since her last regeneration, she was unsettled, as if she were always on edge. Putting his arms around her, he let her cry into his shoulder. "We can get new skates," he said.

When Margaret remembered how her uncles and scrimped and saved their money to buy her the things she needed, it made her cry even harder.

"What if I can't skate anymore?" she said between sobs.

Vardan held her close and smoothed her hair. "You know how this works, Meglet. It's going to take time for your brain--your knowledge--to reteach your body. There's no reason why you can't skate. Kinesthetic memories don't fade with regeneration. Maybe for once I'll have a prayer of keeping up with you..."

At Vardan's comment, Margaret began to sob.

***


The Doctor sat at the richly polished table and studied the two people sitting opposite him with his head cupped in his hands and his elbows resting on the surface of the table. "This isn't about skates," he finally said. "And it's most definitely not about skating ability--Maggie and I went skating a few weeks after her first regeneration, and it took her a matter of hours to get comfortable on ice skates again. It's only been a week since her most recent regeneration."

Vardan and Ada exchanged a glance. "We just want what's best for her," Ada began.

"Then give her time. Blimey. I'm lecturing a pair of Time Lords about time. All due respect, but neither of you really understand what she's going through.”

"If you're talking about my lack of experience in certain matters--" Ada began.

"I most certainly am," the Doctor interrupted with the slightly patronizing air of a grandfather, who is absolutely convinced he's right. "You can study regeneration all you want, but until you go through it, you haven't a clue. I'm not sure I understand it, truth be told."

"Doctor, this isn't my first body," Vardan interjected.

"No, mate, but how many of the regenerations you've had do you remember?" Neither answered the Doctor, but looked as uncomfortable as their decorum would allow. “Let me talk to Maggie. But both of you, back off. She needs time to grieve for her former body. Give her space.”

***


In the rebuilt Citadel, the Doctor didn't know the back ways to the different sections of the city, so he wound up being more visible than he would have liked. After the first few greetings, he became surly at the deference paid to him by the younger Time Lords, the majority left after the Time War. Their ways were strange to him—in one respect they clung to old rituals and disciplines that were falling out of use in his time. But in other respects, they were completely different. None of the current generation knew anything of the paranoid xenophobia that led up to the Time War and almost destroyed them as a people. The current President—Ada--was the first to attend the Academy with off-world students. The new generation of students who just began the Academy at eight had never known that off-worlders were ever banned.

Finally, the Doctor recognized the area he was in and found an alley to walk along, needing his solitude. As he neared Mike's apartments from the back, he could hear a raging argument.

“I don't understand why you never told me,” the Doctor heard Mike say, his voice heavy with concern.

“It's not a big deal,” Margaret answered, fully annoyed. “Plus I was way over the legal age.”

“That's not the point.”

“Look, it's just a stupid tattoo. I sold a poem I wrote to a literary magazine, got some money, and decided to celebrate. It's moot, anyway, since it was two bodies ago. You've got one. Did Grandma and Grandpa ever know about it?”

“Maggie, you know damn well it would've killed them, if I told them that their son, a priest, got a tattoo. I'm not them, though.”

“So it's okay for you to do what you want with your body, but not me? I'm not my father's property to be handed over to my husband.”

The Doctor heard a heavy, exasperated sigh from Mike. “Did you think, maybe, that I didn't care that you got a tattoo and wanted to share something neat in your life?”

“Whatever,” Margaret retorted. “I've got a class to teach.”

The Doctor held his breath and waited, as he could hear loud footsteps echoing away from the front of Mike's apartment. When silence descended over that part of the Citadel, the Doctor slid around to the front of the building and began to enter an override code for the door, then decided otherwise. He put in his own identification code that would alert Mike to the presence of a guest outside.

A few minutes later, the door slid open and Mike sighed at the Doctor, still flushed from his argument with Margaret. “When did you quit letting yourself in?” he asked.

“Heard a bit of a spat going on, and didn't want to interrupt,” the Doctor said.

“Was it that obvious?”

“I snooped,” the Doctor admitted.

Mike let the Doctor inside, and the door discretely slid shut behind them. “I don't know what's going on with Maggie. She picks a fight about everything lately. It's just not her, know what I mean?”

“About bodily issues,” the Doctor observed.

“Yeah, I found a picture of her on Facebook showing off a tat she got—from way back when. No clue why I didn't notice it before then. I merely said I liked it. It was kind of cool—one of those tribal designs that was popular with people her age.”

“You brought up a part of her body she no longer has,” the Doctor mentioned.

“Well yeah. It was two regenerations ago,” Mike replied.

The Doctor groaned and rubbed his forehead with hand. “What was it they say about the road to hell? Okay, look. Second time I've said this today: back off poor Maggie. Give her space, especially about things relating to her new body. She's surrounded with people who have no idea what she went through.”

“Oh God,” Mike blurted. “She's rejecting her regeneration? Please let it not be a personality imprint failure...”

“What? No, no. Much too late for that. See, this is what I'm talking about. All of you are treating her like she's spun sugar in a rainstorm.”

“Are you forgetting that we thought she was dead?”

“Of course not,” the Doctor gently interjected. He fidgeted on his feet during an awkward silence. “Okay, some of this is really, really, really hard to describe because regeneration's a deeply personal thing. It's a rebirth. I mean, completely: mind, body, soul, the works. It's exhilarating, ecstatic, and, well, wonderful, but it's also excruciatingly painful. Did you know that's a lot of adjectives beginning with the letter 'e'? Anyway, it's also a death, and I mean that metaphysically, as well. There's no way you can endure something like that and not be a different person after. Even humans know that—big, life-defining things change you. Like giving birth, getting married, and burying a loved one.”

“I'm so stupid,” Mike groaned. “I've assisted at how many regenerations, now, and I completely missed it. I've seen the idea of it terrify the most stoic of Time Lords.”

“No, you're just human.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“She's mourning, Mike,” the Doctor continued. “Just let her be. Regeneration is disrupting enough, not to mention when it happens as a result of some extreme trauma.”

“I feel like an asshole,” Mike confessed.

“Considering what happened—she being captured, imprisoned, and then later being assumed dead—it's understandable. Come on, you and Vardan were going through hell during those months. Not to mention Ada, who couldn't publicly show it when she had to be President.”

“Yeah, I guess. What can I do to help Maggie?”

“Actually,” the Doctor said, “I was coming to see you about that.”

“Oh?” Mike said. “Walk with me. I've got someplace I need to be.”

***


Vardan heard a voice, but was so wrapped up in his never-ending pile of paperwork that the voice didn't immediately register. The voice repeated itself, and finally Vardan looked up.

“Pardon?” Vardan asked. The Doctor peeked around a large pile of papers.

“Blimey, you can't be hard of hearing already,” the Doctor said.

“What?”

“Five hundred and forty is a bit young to be going deaf,” the Doctor yelled.

“I'm not deaf,” Vardan replied in a normal speaking voice.

“Oh.”

“So why are you sitting in the Castellan's office, Doctor? Did you get thrown out of the Arcalian sector again?”

“No, I asked if you trust Maggie.”

“What kind of a question is that? Of course I do,” Vardan responded with some hurt showing.

“So if she came to you and said that she'd be going away for a week or so, what would you say?”

Vardan snatched a tablet computer from the middle of one pile before it could topple over. “Let me check my schedule... I absolutely can't get away for another two weeks, at the earliest.”

“I wasn't talking about you.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was so much easier back in my day,” the Doctor muttered. “Families paired you up, a marriage was arranged, dowries were exchanged, and that was the end of it.” To Vardan he said, “I didn't say she was taking you with.”

“She can't go off by herself.”

“And what happens when you use that tactic with her?”

“We get into an awful argument. It's been happening all the time lately,” Vardan sighed.

“Would that have worked with Maggie before her last regeneration?”

“Of course not. I'd be regenerating, myself. Or sleeping on the couch. Or stuck sleeping on the couch after I'd regenerated.” Vardan was silent as understanding dawned. “Oh gods. But I'm absolutely terrified something will happen to her.”

“This is why I don't do domestic. A good break from each other is just what you two need.”

“You know, I wouldn't mind time to do a good cleaning. Don't misunderstand me, I missed Maggie's chaos, but...” Vardan sighed. “I just can't take the clutter.”

“And here's a packing list,” the Doctor said, as he gave Vardan a sheet of paper.

***


When Margaret returned to her office in the Patrexean Academy, she found the Doctor busily drawing upon a sheet of paper at her desk. Without looking up, he asked, “Do you still have a bicycle?”

“What kind?” Margaret asked.

“A good one,” the Doctor responded.

Margaret snorted. “My AM bike is custom. You didn't think I'd be riding some wussy cross-trainer, did you?”

“AM?” the Doctor asked.

“All-mountain,” Margaret explained.

“Does it still fit?” the Doctor cautiously asked.

“Yeah, I'm not much taller than I was,” Margaret said. “Quick seat adjustment and I'm good to go. I took it out on the foothills near here for a quick ride and nearly created a crisis.”

The Doctor looked up from his drawing. “What happened?”

“Everyone else freaked out. God, I'm so sick of it. I need some time to myself once and awhile, you know?” Margaret admitted as she sat behind her desk facing the Doctor.

The Doctor broke into a big grin and flipped the piece of paper around so Margaret could read the meticulously drawn map. “This should be an interesting trail. It's probably quite overgrown, though. Would that be a problem?”

“Not for me,” Margaret responded.

“Okay, good,” the Doctor said. As he spoke, he made little annotations to the map, pointing out various details. “I'll drop you off here. It's near where my family's House used to be. East up the mountain isn't much, but there's a little stone hut where a hermit used to live. I'll meet you back there in a week. Now, if you head north you'll come across a valley. Follow it north-northwest, and it'll flatten out into a plain. Not a huge one like on the Western Continent, mind, there isn't much flat room in the south. That plain is the northern-most boundary of our land. If you run into another mountain to the north—should be Mount Perdition—you've gone too far.”

“Hold on, it'll be mid-winter, right?” Margaret asked.

“Nope, other hemisphere. Middle of the summer,” the Doctor corrected. “Anyway, go south, you'll eventually hit a pond that's fed by a stream that has its headwaters in my family's land. Follow the stream, you'll eventually make your way back to where you started. You'll find plenty of water along the way—it's all fed by snowpack.”

“I carry a filter and water purification tabs on me, too,” Margaret said.

“You shouldn't need the filtering, but you never know,” the Doctor said. “At least we never got sick as kids, but that isn't saying much.”

“Is it all right?” Margaret asked. “To be there, that is?”

“I don't care that you're there. I doubt the House to the north—the one by Mount Perdition—would care much. I don't believe anyone actually lives there anymore. If, for some reason, you'd wind up too far east, you'd bump into another House's land, but I doubt they'd mind much, either. They're a bit fussy, but they would fall all over themselves for the honor of a Cardinal visiting, even if she hasn't showered in a few days.”

“I can't just leave my classes,” Margaret asserted.

“Haven't you heard? Guest lecturer!”

“Who?”

“Me! And, legally speaking, you're owed a sabbatical after a regeneration.”

“You?”

“Well, why not?” the Doctor asked. “By the way, what are you lecturing about these days, anyway?”

“This term is mostly psychic defense. There's a small seminar on advanced telepathy, but they shouldn't be much trouble, since they've got research projects to work on. But what kind of a message would I send, if I up and leave to go mountain biking for awhile?”

“How about giving them the message that they need to take good care of themselves, as well?” The Doctor plopped a ring on top of the map. “Mike's time ring, just in case of an emergency.” There was a chirp at Margaret's office door, then it slid aside to show Vardan laboring under a well-stuffed backpack while walking with a bicycle. “And here's Vardan with the rest of the things you'll need!”

***


In the dusky golden light from the two suns, neither fully setting, the entire area radiated a gentle warmth that matched the summer night. Margaret dismounted her bicycle when she reached a level area halfway up the mountain, not because the ground was impassable, but because she could almost feel the presence of others around her. If she looked into the undergrowth closely, she could see chunks of marble pillars, and every few steps, her feet would walk on broken tiles. She stopped for a moment and let her hand play on a hunk of fallen marble column, and she could feel how the stone's coolness would've provided a welcome respite from the hottest part of the day to those who used to dwell within the halls held up by the column. Her hand traced the carved lines, but found a melted patch that snapped her out of her reverie, a small clue as to what had happened to the Doctor's ancestral home.

Margaret knew better than to ask the Doctor—if she did, she'd be met with a small, sad smile and an abrupt topic shift. For a moment, Margaret felt her own loss rise up and echo among the ruins. But as it faded, she was once again at peace. It was difficult to be sad in such a beautiful place.

She walked with her bicycle up a winding path, until she emerged into a clearing, the treeline and ruins far below her. The landscape was craggy and rocky, but there was something appealing in its barrenness. Bright yellow flowers that looked to be a cross between a rose and a daisy poked through rock in scattered intervals, and the patchy grass was a dark maroon that almost looked black. She stopped to catch her breath because of the altitude, and saw blue box peek over a nearby ridge. Gathering her second wind, Margaret walked up the hill towards the TARDIS.

Cresting the ridge, she climbed down the other side and found herself in a small valley that was less rocky than the rest of the mountain. Margaret leaned her bicycle against the TARDIS and dropped her backpack beside it. While removing her helmet and gloves, she walked towards the stone hut.

The Doctor sat cross-legged on a low, flat rock in front of the hut with his back to her, as he watched the long sunset. Margaret crunched over rocks and grass and sat beside him on the ground next to the rock. They sat in silence for a few moments, and Margaret spontaneously hugged herself, drawing her knees against her chest. The Doctor merely smiled at her blissful reaction.

“Endorphins,” he finally said. “Just what you needed. That and a good sleep always makes me feel better after.”

“Like I didn't have enough flooding my system right before I regenerated two weeks ago?” Margaret asked.

“Hopefully without the associated stress and pain. It's not easy facing death.”

“I feel more at ease in my own body, if that makes any sense,” Margaret said as she stretched out next to the Doctor with her head on his lap to watch the sunset. The grass was surprisingly soft underneath her, and the warm air was like a blanket. She mumbled something about returning, but suddenly her body was too tired to obey. As the Doctor stroked her hair while they watched the sunset, each limb grew heavier and heavier until she could no longer keep her eyes open. As she shut them, she thought to herself that there was always time for a small nap, and she surrendered to sleep.

Date: 2010-02-14 06:42 am (UTC)
ext_3965: (10 Coat Swirl Fires of Pompeii)
From: [identity profile] persiflage-1.livejournal.com
Trust the Doctor to do exactly what Maggie needs.

Date: 2010-02-14 06:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] garpu.livejournal.com
He's been through it often enough...

Date: 2010-02-14 06:54 am (UTC)
ext_3965: (Animated 10 Doctors TND)
From: [identity profile] persiflage-1.livejournal.com
Which is why I trust him to know what to do...

Date: 2010-02-14 06:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] garpu.livejournal.com
Yeah...he'd be more familiar with what's going on in the whole "holy crap I almost died" mindset, too.

Date: 2010-02-14 07:48 am (UTC)

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