Waiting outside, not understanding what was going on in that man’s head, Lisa wasn’t sure if he had allowed her permission to follow or had hoped that she would merely close the door behind him and walk away.
Either path would lead to emotional turmoil on both fronts.
Calculating the possibilities, she felt that the best course of action would be to follow. Poking her head inside, she heard him say ‘Go away, I’ll find you if I need you.’ Ugh. TARDIS says otherwise, she quipped. If not, the door would have slammed in my face.
“Temperamental, yes, but not directly forceful unless you’re looking to point a loaded gun at… something,” he managed, hunching over with his hands massaging his temples, his eyes closed. “I want to be alone.”
“Door, slam, didn’t happen. She wants you to have company.”
“She knows what will happen if I don’t, is that it?”
The tone in his voice was not what Lisa was expecting. The turn of events in just the small amount of time he took to play with a little puzzle box had literally toyed with his emotions to the point where he shut himself away from everything. Even her. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself. You’re being stubborn.”
“As are you.”
Talk about a slap in the face, she muttered silently. “Did you check to see if there was anything in the―”
“I don’t want to discuss the matter.”
“I want to be left alone, that’s why I’ve kept myself closed off. I gave you a taste, you reacted in kind, and I don’t know what will happen if I break down.”
I’ll break down with you.
“Exactly. Leave.” Leaning back in the chair, he let his hands drop down to the silver case in his lap while his eyes stared blankly at the console. “I’m not even sure I’ll bother searching. I have no quarrel with a dead woman, only one with myself and my memories.”
How did she die? Taking the chance, she walked half-way up the slight stairwell. The tear in the corner of his eye meant that he was either there when she died, or that he felt he should have been there when she died. There was no point in having a direct connection to his emotions when she could see them plain as―
“War. She was a complete idiot and went to the summons. I could have stopped her, but even if I had I knew she wouldn’t listen.”
Are you telling me what *I* want to hear, or what you *want* me to hear?
“It doesn’t matter. She’s dead.”
His blank stare held its course, keeping its attention on the TARDIS console. “If you’re not ready to open it, I can keep that little trinket in hiding where no-one―” Even though his stare still held, his hands maneuvered the latch and fetched the key within it. The way he held it aloft for her to see allowed it to glitter in the dim lighting. “It is very beautiful.”
“Now will you leave me alone?”
Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back.
“You can open it if you want, it’s on the other side of the console.”
No wonder you were staring off in that general direction.
“I’m glad you noticed.” A frown appeared as soon as she bypassed the key and went directly to the actual box in question. “What are you doing? I left it there for a reason.”
So you can have something standing between you and it, I know. Seeing the patterns on the box, Lisa knew for certain that the puzzle was made to mimic in kind. Mother of pearl inlay with swirls of silver lacing danced through the multiple tones and types of wood that― “Did she really make this?”
“That, or she found someone who could help her finish a planned design, yes.” Sitting the silver key-box on the floor, the Doctor gave in and stood to his full height. “I told her she could not leave my side in her exile until she could show herself worthy of wandering the Universe. Time and planning and secretive plotting went on behind my back, but I allowed it as long as she still helped me with various projects at U.N.I.T.
“When she presented that to me,” he finished in a whisper, “I knew I could no longer keep her in check. I had to let the little bird fly away.”
“And wreak cheerful havoc upon the galaxy!”
The clock-work actions he gave, though with a slight smile on his lips, were made as though he were sleepwalking, Lisa thought. He came to her side, knelt to the box itself and picked it up with key still in hand.
Are you going to dance? It looks like you’re going to start dancing.
“Don’t be silly, Lisa, I’m just… well, I’m just going to, umm.” Frowning, the Doctor shook his head as though to release a sudden fog. “I’m just going to sit it down in the underpinning, that’s all. There’s something of a pedestal down there, nice place for it to sit. Maybe I once left it there on purpose, I just―” Not realizing he had actually walked the entire way there while explaining himself, a frown settled itself at his brow.
“I left it at the console because it kept calling me. The vixen kept calling me.”
Vixen? I don’t understand.
“While it sits on a pedestal… it calls to me. It’s been calling ever since I had that dream.” Finally placing it on the aforementioned area that waited behind the lower banisters and underneath the grated upper flooring, he called, “Can’t you hear it?”
Hearing nothing, Lisa shook her head. You said it was a mailbox. Did she put an alarm system on it to notify you of a letter? Like a call waiting program or… something?
“I don’t want to open it,” he muttered. “She might have left a will.”
“All the more reason.”
“All the more reason and more. I don’t want to open it.” Sitting the key atop, the Doctor merely bounded back toward the console with a grin. “Where are we going, eh? Haunted Moons of Therak? Maybe the Seven Rocks and Rivers! Oh, I’ve wanted to go there for so long, let’s―”
“―open the box,” Lisa managed, a stern look on her features. Don’t make me call Medicus. We’ve been hunting herbs for weeks, I’m sure he’d be furious to be called away from his work just to tend the muddled mind of a Timelord.
“I’ve been to Theros Beta, what about Theros Alpha? I’ve heard rumors that… you’re not going to let me touch the console, are you?”
I’ll hold you down so long that there will be an imprint of the floor left on your skin. If you open the box it will, most likely, stop taunting you. Be rational.
“If you insert the key, if you open it, I will stand beside you. Nothing more.”
The look on his face…. “Fine.” Grabbing hold of his hand, Lisa nearly had to drag him down the stair and to the pedestal. Desperate times, she told herself, call for desperate measures.
Taking the key into her hand as though it were nothing more than a commonplace occurrence, Lisa managed to act as though nothing were amiss… and then pressed the key into the Doctor’s hand with pin-point accuracy, forcing his hand to insert it into the lock and turn it despite his shrill shouting.
“Why did you do that?!” he screamed, holding his hand as though it had been burned. “I told you to do it, not go ‘Aha! Got you!’ like some goon in a school yard making fun of―” Blinking, the Doctor whispered, “It stopped.”
“What stopped? The naughty vixen’s call?” Seeing the slight nod, she added, “It was call waiting, you dolt.” Checking the hand he was cradling, Lisa smiled and kissed the palm as though he were but a child. See? All better. Taking the initiative, she opened the lid and allowed him a peek. “You wanted to check the old letters, yes?”
“Why did you even have a pedestal down here? It should have been in the library or the, well, the library, not the console room.”
“I knew you’d find it odd in the library if you came this far, Lisa,” the Doctor moped. “And then you’d go plundering through old books to be horribly disappointed for not finding her name in any of them.” Seeing the deadpan features she displayed, he gave a sigh. I threw her away. I don’t need her, she’s venom. Risk.
Solitaire, she added, taunting him. Taking her first look into the box itself, the interior surprised her greatly. “How in the world…?”
“She made sure I’d let her go, Lisa. Bigger on the inside. Something small but very similar to a TARDIS, just without an actual running system. If someone wanted, they could fit themselves inside, although it would be very cramped. She sent me a coat through it, once,” he added absent-mindedly while rummaging for the collected notes from years gone by. “Said she never kept her letters from me, but I know she was lying. She kept any and everything so she could go back and prove me wrong later.”
Watching his movements so that nothing went awry, his smiles and sudden glee seemed to be nothing more than show once he found the bound letters. While flipping through them, a single letter - never opened - fell to the floor. “What’s this?”
“Hmm? Oh, scrimmage. Let it be, there’s no reason for it.”
One: More game terminology? Two: If there were no reason, why did you keep it?
Ignoring her completely, he kept his mind on finding the one letter that― “ ‘I can’t possibly dance: You know as well as I do that I trip over my own feet while seated.’ That is what I woke up to, her saying those words, but I woke too soon to hear her say the ‘while seated’ bit.”
Picking up the fallen envelope, Lisa waved it in the air. Hello-o. This is probably what needs to be read, not some long ago and far away note! Not getting a reply beyond seeing the fabric on his back, she added, If you don’t, I will.
“I’ve seen too many war letters. I’ve seen far too many war letters, and that’s probably her last―” Turning at the sound of tearing paper, the Doctor scuttled as fast as possible to take it from her. “Don’t do that, that’s mine!”
Nine-tenths! Constantly turning about to keep it out of his reach, she managed to pull the elaborately decorated note card out into the open. Should I read it, or will you? She has beautiful handwriting.
“UGH!” Snatching it up while she was in pause mode, he grumbled to himself while looking it over. “This makes no sense. Almost everything she has ever sent to me makes no sense.”
And it says…?
“ ‘What a wonderful word: Hello.’ ” Flopping himself onto the floor with his head bowed, he knew he shouldn’t have said anything at all as a hologram appeared from the box. It displayed a woman seated in a formal gown decorated with hardly noticeable Seals of Rassilon embroidered into several areas.
I know her!
“No you don’t, she regenerated on Gallifrey not long after she had arrived. She never left.” Giving her a shush when Lisa tried to talk to him about her again, he tried his best to keep his attention on the message.
*[I do not know how much longer I have as far as my life is concerned. There are things that I have been told in the past hour that have changed the Universe as I know it.
*[The twelve that stood beside me on our attempts to avoid war at all costs have been slaughtered by the chancellery guard in my absence. I should have known that something was amiss when I was asked to come alone to give an impromptu speech to the Inner Sanctum, but the twelve nudged me to go forward with our combined notions.
*[They all believed that I was the best in public speaking, the most commanding of others’ minds and thoughts when it came to campaigning for our cause.
*[Hindsight and all that rubbish.]*
I know her, Lisa managed again while she watched the hologram pause in repose, as if the woman were choosing her words carefully. She was a Jedi Knight, the long white hair, the calmness, the―
“Then you met someone who looked like her,” the Doctor snipped lightly, getting up and closing the box. “Let’s find that someone who looked like her, eh?”
“What?” Glancing up to see what Lisa had noticed, he turned with a quick jerk toward the laughter passing behind him. There she was, curly red hair dancing around her face as she leaned down to peek at them. The smirk on that face he knew all too well, and the fact that she was―
“Seen a ghost, Doc?”
The Timelord merely glared. “You’re a hologram. Go find a new server to infiltrate.”
“Virus, sorry. You closed the box,” the Red shrugged. “Rules are rules.”
Seeing the two of them in a staring stalemate, Lisa cleared her throat. “Hi, yeah, sorry. Sorry we closed the box.”
“He read the letter out loud. He closed the box. He is now cursed with a virally integrated notion that can be extremely annoying. She made me this way on purpose,” came a grin. “Grates on his flooring, isn’t that odd?”
Lisa sighed. There he goes, ignoring everything that’s right in front of him. There he goes, she noted as he walked off with the letters in tow, holding on to old memories. Her thoughts snapped when she heard, “Is he always like this?”
Are you really a hologram?
“Winged Wonder, I am a virus. I thought you heard me.”
Walking closer to examine the details, Lisa admired the life-like textures and how the lighting― “A virus, eh?” Seeing the nod and the way that the notion’s body resituated itself to watch her walk up the stairway, she laughed under her breath. “She would never have been able to create you. I don’t even know of anyone who could have created you.”
“You would,” the Doctor muttered, fiddling about with the console. “Which database are you inhabiting? I can’t figure out where you’re located.”
“Yes, none, nope.” Still on the grated floor, the notion turned itself around to watch the two with interest. “You can rid yourself of me if you open the box and listen to the rest of the message, you know.”
He’s not going to do that, Lisa frowned. He’s going to try to fish you out of the TARDIS databanks.
“Out of the frying pan and into the emotional headache.”
“Shut it,” came a quick quip from the Timelord. “You were always doing that, saying things that didn’t make sense. You’d mix up your metaphors or scramble two halves to make a whole or, or… where are you?!”
“Tell him to open the box, Lisa,” the notion nodded, lowering its decibel level so it might not aggravate him as much. “I’m here, he can’t rid himself of me. This TARDIS and her TARDIS made arrangements to make me for the what if eventuality of her unfortunate demise.” Sulking, it added, “There was a truce, and it was based completely on the use of their mutual mailing boxes. If there was a last rites or something of that nature, and one or the other of them had to use a second key―”
“I think I found it.” Acting as though he had been completely ignoring everything it said, the Doctor managed to grant the console a half-circle pace before tapping away at the keys. “I… no, that’s not right. Why would it be in the operating systems?!”
You’re too loud, Lisa admonished. Just open the box, stop stalling.
“Thank you, Winged Wonder.”
You’re knocking yourself down a few pegs on my Respect-O-Meter when you call me that, you know. Seeing the shrug, she added, This second key, what does it do?
“Opens the box.” Standing up and dusting herself off as though she were actually real, the notion smiled. “If he still had the original key, none of this would be happening. The letter would never have been in the box, he would never have seen the message, he would never have been around me.”
“It would help me very much if you could just be grounded,” the Doctor managed through gritted teeth, still trying to figure out a way to remove the coding from the mainframe. If he shut it down where it was currently located… he’d shut down the TARDIS, too.
He’s not going to let this go― What do we call you?
“Virus, object, irritating,” the notion rattled off, hoping to get his attention. “What do you want to call me? He won’t call me by her name, he just won’t, I’ve heard him. He even cursed her name, so he’ll never call me that name.”
Seeing the realistic movements, Lisa was floored. The way it walked, talked, gave simple gestures that only that person would have used, it made her think that it wasn’t actually a virus. Especially since those movements put it closer to the Doctor, watching over his intensive attempts of killing it.
“Did you curse her name?”
His fingers faltered, shrinking at the question, then tried to find their place again. “She found things in my then future. She never told me she went forward, she never… she kept sending me those cryptic messages.
“I figured them out all too late. She’s not even worth a memory, I just,” he stopped, grabbing hold to the side of the console in thought. Taking his time, he couldn’t find the right words to express his love and hate, then merely walked slowly away from the console and back toward the box. “I need to return it to the library.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Lisa saw him pause in place, stock still and staring forward. What’s wrong?
You have to ask? he managed in return. “Why shouldn’t I, wraith? Will it burn me to cinders if I don’t answer the riddle correctly?”
Pouting, the notion leaned against the console as though such was just a normal occurrence. “It was created to become very hot and very heavy when I’m out and about, that’s all. I can cancel that nuance in the programming, but you have to say something nice to me.”
What if I were the one to say something nice, does that count? Lisa asked.
“He opened, read, and closed. He’s at fault, therefore he must apologize. Or open the box. The act of opening the box might be nice enough.”
“And listen to the rest of her end?” Finishing his walk toward the object in question, he flopped the old letters on top and glanced up through the grated flooring. “I believe you when you say there’s a trigger. There’s always a trigger, if you’re the embodiment of the creator, and I am willing to say something nice.”
“Go on,” the notion purred with a grin, loving every second.
Clearing his throat, the Doctor merely stated, “Please let go.”
“Spoil sport.” Its happiness a few seconds ago nothing more than a far-flung memory, the notion just shrugged toward Lisa as though it knew she would follow him to the ends of the Universe and back. “Keep him emotionally safe back there, okay?”