46.9 hours earlier (Earthtime: Monday 5:17pm Eastern)
Earth. In jeopardy. Again. And it was all my fault.
Tristan didn't protest as I hauled him bodily into rush-hour traffic on Riverside Drive -- he just hung limp in my grasp, resigned and despondent, as I stalked us across four lanes of jammed-up, honking vehicles.
Of course it would be Earth that would be so at risk from my own child's untutored ignorance. Because of course it would only have been a human of Earth who would be his mother, a human of Earth whom I would have fallen in love with and produced a child with -- however in Rassilon's great realm such a thing could have happened. And so of course it would only have been here that that child would be present and capable of doing such unwitting harm.
I glared down at him, skinny and gangly and scared, and I loosened my grip just a bit, chagrined. Tristan, my son. I was responsible for bringing this child into the universe, and I didn't even know how. How could he even be? I knew exactly what I was doing when I greedily took advantage of Ayren's ignorance of what loving a Time Lord would mean for her. I knew it was a recipe for misery for both of us. But this -- Tristan yelped as I yanked his arm again, dragging him into Riverside Park -- how could I have been so wrong that I didn't even know there was a right?
"Hey," Tristan said as we tromped through the park. "Where are we going?"
I stopped us in front of the TARDIS. "Right here." I fiddled with the key in the lock. "Inside..." And I shoved him in.
I had to shove him again inside: he was riveted in the doorway. "Quit your gawping," I told him, pulling him toward the console. "We've got work to do."
"It's..." His mouth gaped, and then he grinned. "It's dimensionally transcendental."
"That's the same thing--" That's the same thing your mother said the first time she stepped inside the TARDIS. Not "It's bigger in the inside" but "It's dimensionally transcendental." "That's the first thing most people notice. Nothing gets by you, eh? Sharp as a tack, you are." It came out sarcastic -- I couldn't tell him right now how proud I was that he grasped the concept, not when I was in the middle of an enormous scold at him for being a too-clever little wanker.
I set a few dials and flipped a few switches. "See that knob there?" I pointed to the big green one right in front of him. "Turn it, all the way round."
He stared at me through the bashful shock of blond hair that'd fallen over his eyes as he edged closer to the console. "That one?"
He hesitated, his hand hovering over the knob like he thought it might burn him, and then he grabbed it and twisted it, and the look of delight that transformed his face when the time rotor began its creaking up and down made my hearts stop: it was so like his mother's.
Ayren, his mother. Ayren, my lover... a long time ago, eons ago, universes ago. Ayren, shining like a beacon beyond this temporary hell. Just get through this, fix whatever mess Tristan has made, and she'll be waiting on the other side of it. Assuming she would see me. And if she would, that she would actually see me, and not stare past me like she did last time.
"You're an alien," Tristan said with a nervous twitter.
"You look pretty human to me."
"You look pretty Gallifreyan to me."
He thought about that for a moment, then laughed. "You mean, I'm the alien to you."
"Yup." At least, that's what you need to keep thinking for now. And I was glad of the console right in front of me, that I could lean heavily on it without him noticing.
But he was too busy soaking up the wonder of this space to see my distress. I followed his eager gaze around the big room, tried to see this familiar place though his newcomer eyes, and couldn't: it had been home for too long, and too full of pain to be marvelous for me. Maybe one day he could do for me what Rose and Jack did, let me share his innocent awe and fresh enthusiasm... or maybe who he was would always preclude that. Maybe who he was meant he was too powerful to ever be innocent, only ignorant. But he belonged here, in the TARDIS, the same way his mother had from the moment of her arrival, too: he kept his hands clasped carefully behind his back, much as she had done that first time, not touching anything but bursting to do so.
"This is your lab," he said. It wasn't a question.
"This is the TARDIS."
"I've never seen it in the park before."
I grinned. "No, mate, you haven't."
He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans now, ashamed. "And you can fix whatever I've done here?"
"I hope so." The time rotor had stopped. "Come on." I strode down the ramp to the front door.
He frowned. "But we haven't done anything. Have we?"
"You wanted to see alien bodies in Washington Square Park?" I pulled open the door. "Here we are."
Sweltering, muggy oppression smacked us as we stepped out of the TARDIS onto the periphery of an open field. The cooling trees of Riverside Park were gone, as were the pleasant spring breezes of 2005, and before us was a vision of hushed horror: Moving among the raw streaks of upturned soil that ravaged the acres of earth before us were rickety wagons drawn by tired horses, laden with canvas-shrouded corpses piled high like so much cordwood.
"We've moved..." Tristan whispered. "We've moved in time."
That startled me again, though it shouldn't have. He was a Time Lord, there was no doubt. Inexperienced, untutored... unaware, even. But he was a Time Lord.
I didn't say anything. But my hearts jumped.
"I felt it," he said. "How could I feel that?"
I ignored that. "It's 18th September, 1822. New York has been ravaged by yellow fever all summer. This sorry spit of land north of the city has been a potter's field for years--"
"That's where people too poor to afford a real cemetery get dumped when they die. And criminals. People who did bad got a pauper's grave."
I felt his guilty gaze on me at that, and now I turned to glare at him. "And now, the city doesn't want to take the chance that yellow fever will be spread by the dead, so they're burying the plague victims well outside the city."
"This is Washington Square Park?"
"It will be."
"But..." I thought he might cry. "Little kids play here. I ride my skateboard here. Sometimes I play chess with those chess guys..."
"There are no aliens here, Tristan." I pulled my own portable quantum spectrometer from my pocket and made a show of pushing buttons, though of course I'd taken readings before we'd ever left 2005. I showed him the display screen, even if he couldn't read it. "No weird gasses. Just ordinary dead anonymous human beings who've been forgotten by history."
His shoulders slumped. "I didn't think..."
"No, you didn't."
Now silent tears did slid down his face. "I made a... a timequake here?"
I sighed, forcing myself to take in the quiet misery of the landscape, which would indeed one day be a place of happiness and pleasure. But not today. "Not today. Not this day in particular. But yes, what you did would have been felt all through time, to varying degrees."
"Did I... did I disturb them?" A sob burst from him now, sudden and short and quickly stifled.
"No," I said softly. "I don't think you did disturb them."
I was glad that he was hurting. It meant that he did have a conscience, and empathy, and a sense of individual ethics. It meant that he could be taught to appreciate that his great and inhuman talents meant he'd have to listen more closely to his own scruples. If he was going allow himself to be as Time Lord as he was human, that is, once he came to understand the difference.
I wouldn't have worried too much about that -- I couldn't imagine any child of Ayren's not sharing her profound, sometimes almost pathological affinity for the concerns of others -- except that empathy was not a typical Time Lord trait. But she'd raised him well. I'd known she would.
Maybe the last Time Lord would turn out to be the best one, and because he was half human, and because she'd been his mother.
Tristan sniffled again, hunched in front of me. I'd stood like this once as a boy with my father on the blasted plains Outside the minor Gallifreyan city where I'd grown up, when he'd taught me a lesson about the Time Lord idea of compassion: that it was nonexistent. My father had ignored my anguish then. If he'd thought that would serve to undo it, he'd been wrong.
So I let myself feel Tristan's ache now, and draped a careful, consoling arm around his shoulder. But he shrugged it off, and I stepped away from him, cursing myself. There'd be opportunities later -- I hoped -- to do better for him as a father than my father had done for me.
"I want to see my mom," my son moaned.
So do I. "Not yet," I said. "We've still got lots of work to do."
I nodded back toward the TARDIS, and as I watched him slouch dejectedly toward it, I recalled the last time, the only time I'd seen him before, when, as a four-year-old just moved from London to New York and still chattering away with an English accent, he'd run out from the house onto the patio calling for his mummy...
It hadn't been anything then -- well, not anything except the first glimpse I'd had of my impossible half-human child: a punch in the gut, the deepest shock of my life. But it had only acquired a new resonance recently when, just days ago, bare moments ago, a random moment of synchronicity brought me to a place where a small blond boy calling for his mummy amidst the nightmare of the Blitz reminded me why I'd come to Earth again in the first place, before I'd gotten sidetracked by Rose and then distracted by Jack.
Ayren was going to reject me: of this I had little doubt. She had no reason to embrace me, not after all this time. But now, seeing the boy that Tristan was and the man he could become, I knew that I'd have to find some way to convince her to tolerate me, because if I had anything at all to live for now, it was Tristan, and his promise that the Time Lords were not entirely extinct, and that I was not entirely alone.
*** *** ***
Peter's stationhouse on West 39th Street was -- as he liked to call it -- a nuthatch. It was always a nuthatch, this Midtown South Taskforce auxiliary building, but moreso today, throbbing with terrified citizens and eager TV reporters and triple the usual mob of harmless crazies who, even if they had close to the right end of things with their "lunatic" tales of alien abduction and monster sightings, still came across as insane. That Peter's Special Situation Squad was in charge of handling anything extraterrestrial and criminal was supposed to be a secret, but certain everyones seemed to have guessed it anyway, and so those everyones had descended upon his headquarters in the wake of the attack by disembodied alien tentacles in Times Square.
I giggled. Disembodied alien tentacles. Even I found this preposterous, who hadn't grown up here with 1950s B movies and bad science fiction on TV on Saturday nights. Even me, whom UNIT had guided toward creators of entertainments like The X-Files as someone who could lend an air of authenticity to their fantasies while making sure they didn't get too close to the truth.
Imagine if these crazies here knew that I was from their future, and had loved an alien, and had borne his child. A child who lived and walked among them! I giggled again, and wondered momentarily whether I was losing the grip on sanity I'd worked so hard to regain.
Murphy, the desk sergeant, knew me, and he gave me a friendly nod over the mob and a roll of his eyes as he misinterpreted my giggle. His office, he mouthed, and jerked his thumb in that direction, and buzzed me through the security door to the inner sanctum of the Weird Shit Squad. A couple of young uniforms held back the crowd behind me.
Peter's team knew me, too, of course, knew I was some sort UN liaison who was either there to throttle their investigations, or help them, or a little of both. Some of them liked me, some of them had decided I was bad news, some of them didn't know what to make of me, and so I got the usual mix of glares and smiles and halfhearted hellos as I wended my way among their desks to get to his glassed-in office in the corner.
I was glad I'd decided to walk up Seventh Avenue on my way to UNIT, glad I'd taken the chance for some air and the mindless bliss of motion to recharge. I wasn't sure, though, whether my decision to stop in to Peter's HQ along the way was the right thing to do. It was always as much a trial showing my face here as it was at UNIT.
But Peter's voice, in response to my knock, inviting me in, was reassuring, even though he didn't even know it was me. "Hey, babe," he said, sweetly and spontaneously, when he looked up at my entrance. "I didn't think I'd see you again today."
"I was on my way up to UNIT," I said, collapsing into the chair opposite his desk. "Ada says she's got something to share with me about our little friend from Times Square."
He leaned forward over his desk and smiled at me in a way that made me wish my heart tripped over his attentiveness more than it could. "Anything come out of your meeting this morning? We didn't get much of a chance to talk about that earlier..."
"No, we didn't," I agreed. "You getting ready to go talk to those media hounds out there?" I inclined my head back toward the muffled ruckus in the lobby.
"Yeah. In fact..." He plucked at his shirt, soiled with purple slime, and opened a drawer of his desk, and pulled out a new shirt, still encased in plastic, and stood and shuttered the blinds that divided his office from the crew outside, and stripped off his ruined shirt and tie while I talked.
"Then you should know," I said, perfectly content to watch Peter get half naked, "that the White House would be very eager to claim this as some sort of Al Qaeda stunt. I guess there's no need to actually panic people by telling them that aliens are invading, but..."
Peter quirked a sad smile at me. "But we don't need that idiot down in DC opening up another front in the 'war on terror'?"
"Something like that." We had spent many a night lying awake wondering whether this country was descending into a nightmare it wouldn't be able to pull itself out of, which was something that my knowledge of this point in history did not give me much hope about, even if things had now diverged from what I knew. Scary as the unknown future was, though, I loved how worrying about it in tandem with Peter rooted me here, made me feel at home. That was something the Doctor and I had never done, and never would have, with the nomadic existence we'd shared utterly divorced from any long-term concerns larger than our own.
So when I stepped up to Peter and took the placket of his clean shirt in my hands and slowly buttoned him up, his gaze on me felt accusatory, as if he knew just how very, very selfish I knew I was being in expecting that he would tolerate my new dalliance with the Doctor and still be around when the Doctor was gone. Because I was going to take as much from the Doctor as he would give me for as long as he'd stay, and then I'd want Peter again afterward. I knew that wasn't fair to Peter, but I was going to do it anyway.
"I should get soaked in purple alien blood every day," he said softly, with a little grin. Somehow, his hands had ended up resting loosely on my hips, and he drew our bodies together.
I left the top buttons of his shirt undone, thinking about all the many times I'd unbuttoned him, and how very pleasant all those times had been. "You don't have another tie, do you?"
He shook his head. "Nope. Gotta replenish the stash."
"That's okay," I said, hoping he didn't notice the quaver in my voice. "You'll look like you've rolled up your sleeves and are hard at work on the problem."
He fixed me in his clear, honest gaze, and his hands slid around to the small of my back and pulled me tighter against him. "I've missed you these past few weeks," he whispered.
I hardly noticed at all. I was embarrassed to admit it even to myself, and I didn't say it: I just let him kiss me to make up for it, and didn't hesitate in kissing him back like I meant it. Which I did. I do like you an awful lot, Peter Varela. Just not as much as you deserve.
It was without a doubt lovely, our arms clasped around each other, gazing into each others' eyes for a long quiet moment. But the man with whom this was incomparably lovelier was waiting for me in my house at this very second, and I was going to try again to seduce him tonight.
"The cop who died in the park," Peter said finally. "His funeral is on Saturday morning. Will you come with me?"
"Of course." He believed that cops should go to cops' funerals, and this would not be the first one I'd attended with him. "But then you must come to my house afterward. I'm having a little party..." The thought hadn't struck me until I articulated it just now, and it stumbled out before I could stop myself.
Peter went rigid in my arms. "For him. For Tris's dad?"
"Yes," I admitted.
He stepped back and planted his hands on his hips in frustration and wouldn't meet my eye. "I guess I should have known this day was coming."
I crossed my arms, suddenly shivery in the air-conditioning of the office. "I never made you any promises, Peter..."
"No, you didn't," he snorted. "You never promise anything."
"If you want promises..." I shrugged, and didn't want to say this, but it was true. "...then I'm not the woman you want."
A cloud of abject horror shadowed his face and then was gone as he yielded to me, and I suddenly wondered if his willingness always to concede rather than to fight would make me hate him someday. "I just don't know," he sighed, "if I can sit with him and drink with him and see you with him."
"Why not say, I want him to sit with you, and drink with you and see me with you?"
Now he leveled a glower at me. "But that's not how it is, is it?"
I sighed. "Maybe it's both."
He shook his head as he grabbed his badge and gun from the desk and secured them back at his waist. "Okay without the jacket?" he asked at last, holding his arms out for me to survey him. "It's ruined too."
"You look great. They won't be able to find a movie star gorgeous enough to play you."
That sent a vain grin flittering across his face -- he knew he was handsome enough that that was not necessarily empty flattery. "Times Square Invasion," he said.
It was a favorite game of ours, imagining the terrible movies our cases would inspire. "Incursion in New York," I replied.
I laughed. "Oo, I like that one."
We came together again at the door to his office, but he blocked my exit and pinned me with an imploring gaze. "Tell me you love me," he begged in a raspy whisper. "Even if it's not true."
I didn't hesitate at all. "I love you." But not the way you need me to.