Title: Variation on a Theme
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: All Audiences
Starring: Doctors 3, 4, 6 and Jo Grant
Genre: Humor, Hurt/Comfort
Notes: Many thanks go out to rude_not_ginger, merlinsseer and philosophercat for their fantastic beta skills.

Synopsis: What is a naturally chilly space alien to do when a blast from his past comes down with heat exhaustion? Jo and the Sixth Doctor find out. No, it's not like that. (Well, maybe a teeny bit like that.) Note the rating.

(I wrote this before learning that Jo becomes aware of the concept of multiple Doctors in 'The Three Doctors.' Oooops. Well, this is how she finds out in the Singe-verse!)









"Its warmth was not heat and its cool was not cold. -- Ferdusi of Persia


"This way! This way, please. Everything's fine. Everything's perfectly all right." Jo Grant's mantra was getting monotonous but, if she kept it up, it might become true. A nasty shaking of the desert sands surprised her and the group of saurian bipeds, the unfortunate S'rllsks, she was ushering towards one of three enormous evacuation ships. The reptiles hissed en masse in fear as they clutched what possessions they could carry tighter. Jo hissed, too. It really did make her feel better as she pinwheeled her arms to stay upright. The tremor finally stopped and she gulped with relief as well as she could with a throat as dry as the hot winds that pelted them all. She tightened her desert poncho and wiped a thin film of dust from her goggles. "It's all right. We have plenty of time. This way, please, everything is fine."

"Nothing is fine!" snapped, literally, a tall female S'rllsk, her triangular green head stretching up on a long neck towards Jo's face. The human woman looked at the sharp rows of teeth confronting her, slapped a hand over her nose and hoped that her heavy goggles would protect her eyes. "I had everything invested in this colony! I want my funds returned!" Angry lizard breath blew Jo's hair back.

"Sorry, I don't have them."

"Everything I own gone! My nest! My scrolls! They wouldn't let us take anything!" Furious claws struck the air. "Nothing is fine! Nothing at all!"

Jo stood her ground. "I'm sorry," was all she said. All that she could say, really. The troublemaker crouched to spring and Jo brought up one arm to block and the other to...to get bitten off, probably.

"Stop!" Another S'rllsk, the skin of his neck saggy and blue with age, stepped between them. He faced Jo's attacker. "Forget your stupid things. You have your life. And this human is trying to help us. Calm down and keep going," The complainer hissed more insults but the older saurian held firm. He unstrapped a basket of well-padded eggs from his back and handed them off to a young, anxious male without breaking eye contact with the female, his long green tail whipping with exasperation. Finally she whirled away in a fury of hisses and went on towards safety. Jo relaxed and shot a grateful look at her rescuer. He twitched all over, the S'rllsk equivalent of a friendly nod, as he traded his eggs for the youngster's heavy pack. The boy's bulbous eyes bulged even further with the sudden responsibility but Jo approved. Keep the fighter free to fight and keep the babies safe above all. The old lizard sent the kid off with a friendly swipe at his head and Jo motioned her crew to keep going.

Then she cursed the Doctor for landing her in such a burning hot hell. Cursed him from his shiny shoes to the tips of his white, curly hair.

"Jo, could you guide these fellows the rest of the way onto Thyr...'Syrrsa's Claws.'" He wasn’t watching her so Jo smiled. The Doctor, bless him, had the most adorable lisp that he usually managed to keep hidden but all the sibilants in the S'rllsk language were giving him fits. Conniptionth even. "I'll meet you there. I have to go talk to the Leaders. Again. The future of eighteen galaxies at risk and they're dueling over what order they should retreat in. No one wants to be first. Idiots. Well, they improve. I'll take you there, 2,000 years into the future, so you can see for yourself. Oh, I have so much to do now, though, on all three ships. It’s going to be very, very tricky."

"Doctor, honestly," Jo had protested. "You can't be on three ships at once!"

He had laughed and drew his opera cape tight against the desert winds. He cut a very incongruous figure. "Don't underestimate me. A special temporal dispensation from the Time Lords and hey! Presto! More Doctor than is good for anyone. They've done it before. I've done it before. And I've done it before and even I've done it before and..."

"Huh?" She was confused. "D'you mean you're going to use the TARDIS to keep jumping back in time? One ship to the other and then the other?"

"No, doubling back on myself that way would be most unhealthy."

"Then how?" she asked, drawing an arm across her forehead.

"If you're a very, very unlucky girl, Jo, you'll see. Here, take this." He passed her a wrist communicator. "Press this little button here to speak to me. Only if you have any emergencies, now." And then he was gone, white hair and broad shoulders disappearing into the hissing, snapping crowds.


Jo sighed and then realized that the old S'rllsk was tramping beside her and looking her over. "Out of sheer curiosity, what would you have done if she had leaped?" he asked, shifting the heavy pack on his back.

Jo looked at her dusty, claw-less hands. She balled up her fists. "Punch with this fist...POW! Then kick with this leg. BOOT! Then trip on this other leg. Curse. Bleed. Scream. Die a lot." He laughed, a jolly chirping noise, and his tail stirred up the sand as it flicked the ground. A delayed wave of relief made Jo dizzy and she laughed, too, a dry wheeze.

The dizzy spell worsened and she staggered a step. She felt a rough paw on her arm, steadying her, and she blinked rapidly until the wave passed. "Are you well?" he asked. Her crowd perked up. A human, any human, was interesting enough to the semi-isolated S'rllsk but a collapsed human would be downright fascinating. "Shall I call a medic?" To their credit, many onlookers seemed ready to dash off in a dozen directions for help but Jo shook her head and kept walking.

"Oh, no. No, thank you. I just don't handle heat well."

"And the sun is making your hide burn," agreed her new friend as he contemplated her red forehead and nose. "You must come from a cold, dim place."

"Ohhh, yes." She thought of a soft English day with real longing. She closed her eyes and imagined skies of pearl grey clouds raining delicious water down on her parched skin. Cool fog drifting over thick, green grass. A clear spring. A splashing fountain. Icebergs. Water. Water. Precious water. A wave of nausea blindsided her but she forced it back. It would not do to vomit in front of the people she was rescuing. Bad heroic form. Jo pressed the button on her wrist comm and spoke into it. "Doctor? Are you there?"

"I'm here. For now."

"Doctor, can we leave soon? It's too hot."

"Nonsense, put on a hat!”

“UNIT's not paying me enough for this. You’re going to be so sorry when I melt away,” Jo promised. “What a world, what a world.”

“A little sun won't hurt... KIII-AII!" Jo heard a crash then several thuds and just as many pained hisses and squawks came through her communicator. She hit the button again and dropped her arm. She exchanged a significant glance with the S'rllsk beside her. The Doctor was clearly a little busy.

"We’re almost there,” she began again. “We've almost reached the shade of the ship, thank you, God. Everything’s fine.” Trudge, trudge, trudge across the horrid sand, sand, sand. Jo wondered if the Doctor would really be sorry if she decided to just up and go away. Would he miss her at all? Who knows? She had a rock in her shoe, that was all that Jo knew. She heard a groan of metal and a large group of the very young, the very old, and the infirm went past on a vehicle that slithered like a snake. Jo watched it go, impressed with its hypnotic movement and the way the fierce sun gleamed on its metal body. It disappeared through the blowing sand inside her destination. She looked behind her and was relieved to see that her's was the last group of colonists to be gotten in. Then, ahhhh, the sun was blocked by the ship and she squeaked with something very close to joy. It would all be over soon: the terrible heat, the worry, the earthquakes, everything.

"I can't see a thing," her new friend groused.

"This way. Here's the gangplank." Jo paused to check for stragglers. There were none and she grinned.

"Can you see in the dark?" he asked, blinking.

"No. It isn't dark at all under here. My eyes have barely adjusted, it's so bright."

"I bet your people developed in caves," he sniffed. "Didn't they?"

Jo laughed. "I think they did! In water, then in burrows, then in nice, cold caves." He hissed, his tail sticking straight out from his body, horrified at the very thought. "What's your name, by the way?" Jo asked. She was so pleased to see her entire group slowly disappear into the ship. She'd done it.

"Hask. Yours?"

She'd really done it! She threw her head back and answered with pride. "I'm Jo. Pleased to meet you, Hask."

"Szo, I like that name. Er, it's thoroughly pleasing to meet you." She noticed they were the only people left on the gangplank. Hask noticed it, too. "Care to fight for the honor of being last off the planet?"

She glanced at his raptor-like claws and sharp, sharp teeth. “I don't want to hurt you so the honor is all yours,” she answered and started up. He chortled again as he swaggered up the gangplank behind her. And so old Hask was the last S'rllsk to leave the trembling planet. A fact Jo was sure he'd never let his descendants forget.

Jo stumbled at the top and he steadied her once more. "Thank you." They walked into the vast holding chamber of the bottom level of the evac ship and Jo gasped in dismay. Then she coughed as her lungs cringed. It was an inferno inside. An infernal inferno...it was hot. The searing suffocating heat was even worse inside the ship than it was under the desert sun. Too many people? Too little oxygen? Good god, were the very deck plates radiating?! Hask's neck stretched upwards and he sighed with reptilian pleasure. He looked out over the crowd. "Now where have they gone?" he mumbled to himself. Jo wanted to cry. She couldn't expend the moisture, though. Even her sweat had dried up long ago.

The gangplank folded shut behind them and the gritty wind was blocked at last. Four interlocking doors of hardest Zrrshn steel followed by several invisible force fields clanged and hummed into place to seal them all safely in. Jo gasped for breath and took her goggles off. Having that tight band off her head and face relieved her throbbing head somewhat and she rubbed at her eyes. Dust floated to the floor from her hair.

Her wrist comm whistled and she pressed the button. "Hello, Doctor!"

"Jothephine!" he barked, his lisp breaking through clearly out of what sounded like sheer fury. She fought back an inappropriate laugh. "Where are you?!"

"I'm on the ship. I just now made it in." There was a sudden vibration under her feet. She didn't like it, it felt too much like another sickening earthquake but it began to dissipate almost as soon as she'd noticed it. "And I think we just took off. Where are you?"

"I'm on 'Syrssa's Claws.'"

"So am I."

She felt a tug on her sleeve. "Actually, no. I recognize this as 'Krsak's Fangs,'" Hask informed her apologetically.

"It is? Oops."

"JO!" her wrist howled. "Honestly, the wrong ship!"

"Ooooops," she repeated stupidly and Hask leaned closer to her. The room began to list and she tilted her head to bring it back into alignment. Oh, that hurt. "Well, you try to find the right ship in a sandstorm."

"It's going to be crowded in there. And you just had to pick that one, of course," he sighed.

"What's wrong with it?" She sank to the deck and crossed her legs. The heat traveled up her backside as if she'd sat in a frying pan. The dizziness was back. Her arm was getting heavier and heavier, it was a struggle to keep the wrist comm up.

"Szo, I really don't think you're well," Hask whispered, dropping his pack.

"Who's that?" the Doctor demanded.

"Doctor, would you please get me a drink of water?" Jo very politely asked and her arm dropped into her lap. "My head is killing me."

The annoyance disappeared from his voice, "I...you know I can't. Jo? Jo, are you all right?"

"Thirsty," she told the air and closed her eyes. "I'm so thirsty and it's burning in here." Down a long, searingly hot tunnel she could hear the Doctor's voice echo. "Jo?" Jo? JoJoJoJojojooo...

She lay flat and ignored him. Hask pinched at her arm with his claws but she barely felt the pain. She heard the Doctor shout an odd thing, "Contact!" and then she closed her eyes.




Heat, says Professor Tyndall, is a mode of motion but I know not how he's proving his point; but this I know --hot words bestowed with skill will set the human fist a-moving and where it stops the stars burn free and wild. --Ambrose Bierce




Heartbeat. Heartbeat against her cheek. Her cool cheek. Heartbeat and echo of heartbeat. Beat. Echo. Beat. Echo. Heart, hearts, heart, hearts...leisurely but strong and so soothing...

Jo dragged her eyes open and saw an enormous, fanged lizard staring at her. She sluggishly considered being afraid until she recognized the concern in its eyes.

"Szo?" A fore-claw gently scratched her scalp.

Memory gently bubbled to her consciousness. "Hhhask?" she gasped. "Wha happ...?"

He chirped with relief for a moment before he answered, "He called it 'heat exhaustion.' Your body can't regulate the high temperatures of our world or our ship so you started to cook. I thought I smelled something tasty." He fiddled with her arm and Jo saw that he was idly straightening the S'rllsk equivalent of an IV drip. Her weak mind identified and accepted it as a water tube. Water at last. She realized she was in a small, quiet room (some sort of medical nook?) and after the sweltering press of the crowds it was a great relief. A beam of green light suddenly swept the room and her skin tingled. She noticed there was no sand, dust or sweat anywhere and the purpose of the light became clear. Clever. A...a laser scrubber. And she wasn't thirsty anymore.

Wait. Tasty? Jo finally smiled at Hask’s joke and listened to the beat, beat, beat for a moment while she gathered herself together. She was lying on something deliciously cool. Chill bands were wrapped around the small of her back. The cold of it and the warmth of the air, somehow bearable in here, created a fine sheen of moisture all over her skin. The miserable heat was gone at last. "Thank you, Hask."

"Thank the medics. Thank him." Hask nodded in her direction and a note of amused awe crept into his voice.

"Who?"

"Him."

"Me."

“WHAT?!” Jo jumped as the coolness against her skin vibrated with speech. A voice against her! She lifted her head and saw, good god, she was lying on the broad chest of a man. A human male, stripped to just his shorts and lying on a pallet on the floor. Similarly unclothed she was lying on top of him. Bare chest to bare chest, his cold arms wrapped around her waist. Oh, no. No. Blue eyes gazed into her own with amusement. His hair was a mass of blond curls that clung to his temples with the damp. He was handsome but his mouth seemed to be built for smirking. And it was doing what it did best. "Your sense of direction is utterly laughable."

"I...what...excuse me?!"

"There's no excusing not knowing your right from your left." His accent was English, specifically the English used by the officious types that Jo always had the luck to be trapped next to on airplanes. Anger and embarrassment sent a flush to her face and she tried to roll off and away from him but her arms were weak and refused to obey. Her head could barely lift. It dropped back to his chest and she pouted as the room spun. An Englishman here? And he was so cold. Why was he so cold? So wonderfully cold? Because he wasn’t an Englishman, stupid. She felt a small movement of his arm and Hask jumped as if he'd been zapped with electricity. "You. Out. Eat. Find your family."

Hask immediately turned to leave. "Yes. I'll be back when we're all settled, though." The man nodded in agreement. "Be fine, Szo."

"Hask?" She watched him go with wide eyes. The door closed with a hum. Wanting desperately to cry, still, she turned her attention to the only available target. "Let m'go."

"So sorry, but I'm the only bit of cold available on this flying desert paradise, and believe me, we searched. So I’m stuck with you until we land. Which we'll do in about two hours."

Two hours? Two hours snuggled up to this stranger? No, thank you. Jo’s mind wasn’t anywhere near its best so she tried to struggle. "Let. Me. GO!"

"No. You're not going anywhere, Miss Grant. Not this time." She tried again but her heart sped up into dangerous territory and she trembled. "Down!" he demanded. Then his voice became moderately softer, "Down, down, down, down, Jo. Down." He lifted a hand to the back of her neck, brushing aside her hair, and it was icy, beautifully icy, against her furious pulse. "Jo. Really, now."

"Whack...pow..." She went limp. Soon her heart slowed and her mind sluggishly began to clear. Where was she trying to go? Back into the superheated hold? You're rude so I'm off to kill myself? The stranger’s other hand began to gently run up and down her bare back and she tensed again. Then it felt wonderful. More then wonderful, lifesaving. She heard his heartbeat again. Heartbeats? Hearts-beats? The beat and the echo of...two hearts. Two hearts and a touch to make you shiver.

"You're a Time Lord?" she whispered, and struggled to look him in the eyes again. She barely succeeded. “Here to help?”

"Yes. You're safe. And so observant."

Pain began to seep into her bones and the air was becoming oppressive again. Unfortunately, the only thing between her and true suffering was him. How galling. She cleared her throat and decided to start over. She tried a polite, professional tack. "I'm Josephine Grant, UNIT operative and the Doctor's assistant."

He raised an eyebrow at her credentials but all he said was, "I know."

The Doctor must have told you, Jo thought. She waited but no return introduction came. Who was this, for god's sake? She tried again. "Well. I haven’t met that many Time Lords."

"You’ve met exactly two."

"Er, yes. Yes, that’s true. How did you know?"

"Again, I know."

“You know everything, don’t you?”

“Of course!”

"Well, you make three Time Lords."

"No, you're still stuck with just two."

"What?" Jo really didn't need this.

He nodded, his eyes wide. "It's a riddle. See if your overheated brain can solve it."

She glared at him and found the energy to clench her fists. "Oh, shut up."

"Make me."

She considered biting him. Well, no, that would be a bad idea. He really was helping so she didn’t quite want to interfere with that and, and, and she was just going to kill the Doctor when she caught up to him. It was all his fault. Profoundly humiliated she drooped again. Her new best friend began to sing. "We're havin' a heat waaave! A tropical heat waaave! The temperature's rising, it isn't surprising, she certainly can can-can!" Jo groaned. The Doctor had dropped scattered bits of information about the other Time Lords. He found his own people insufferable. Here was proof that he hadn't been exaggerating. High-handed, smug...she glared again and he laughed, jostling her.

Hand. Spine. His hands were still on her back. They were still blessedly cool. Yes. Well. Mouthy he may be but he still let down his Time Lord dignity long enough to save her life. In a rather intimate sort of way. She dropped her eyes as simple embarrassment overrode all other emotions. Hello, Time Lord chest. Hello, biceps. Nice biceps. Jo huffed with irritation. Oh, leave it to her to notice such a thing at a time like this. She shook her head and wondered what he thought about having to play cooling system to an ill human. Probably best she didn't know. "I give up. Who are you?" she mumbled.

He stopped his singing, hallelujah. "I'm your knight in shining armor! Sans armor at the moment.” Jo almost blushed. “Lucky for you I was here. Lucky for me you gave me something to do. The S'rllsk had calmed down considerably after I ripped off that one gal's tail and whacked her with it." Jo began to disbelieve him until she remembered Hask's respect. She studied what she could of her rescuer. He looked capable. She frowned and imagined a giant, bloody stump of a tail thrashing wildly by itself on the deck floor. The combative S'rllsk would have utterly loved a display like that. She believed him.

"Euuuuugh."

He adjusted her position and she became somewhat more comfortable. "She was causing problems. Screaming about her lost possessions and attacking anyone that looked at her. The others thanked me. You should thank me, too, you know."

"Thank you," she replied immediately and he seemed disappointed. They lay in silence for a moment and Jo would have sold her soul for something, a sheet, a towel, anything to be between her and him. Her back was beginning to hurt from the effort of keeping perfectly still so as not to rub her...chest against his...chest. And he was strange. She wasn’t strong enough for strange right now.

"She'll grow a new tail. Many reptilian types do," he said, almost apologetically. For the sake of Stumpy the Tailless S'rllsk Jo would have turned away from him if she could. She would hit him with a rock if she could. "Er, calm down, Jo."

"Their home is tearing itself apart. They've lost everything. They're upset!" She would cry if she could.

"Down." His fingers stroked through her hair to her temples. Her anger began to leach away. She didn’t wonder how. She knew that much about Time Lords. "I’m helping them, too, remember? Down, down, down." He really was helping them. And her. She had to keep that foremost in her mind. Finally she relaxed fully and they were both still. After a long moment, he asked, "Have you figured out who I am yet?"

"Rumpelstiltskin, of course," she mumbled.

"Noooo. C'mon, give it a try. It’ll give you something to do." He raised his eyebrows at her. "Hmmm?"

To distract herself she set her muddled mind to the riddle. Had she met him before? Good god, she'd remember if she had. Time Lords don't fall out of trees. Except for that one time, poor Doctor. Ugh, and there was the Master. That particular Time Lord, however, would only help Jo Grant to a push over a high cliff. And he certainly would have left the S'rllsk to die.

She rubbed her burning forehead against his pec (not noticing it was rather a forward thing to do) and forced herself to concentrate. Jo weighed his hint, you’ve met exactly two, against the scattered information the Doctor had shared about this mission. Yes, she’d met two Time Lords, the Doctor and the Master. This wasn’t the Doctor and it certainly wasn’t the Master. Who then? What did the Doctor say about the ones helping him? He said he was helping himself. How? "I've done it before. And I've done it before and even I've done it before." She puzzled and puzzed until her puzzler brought up a different, older memory. Their mutual friends at UNIT, who'd known the Doctor before she did, had told her the story of how he had changed. He used to be a little, dark fussbudget. He went away and came back a tall, fair charmer. She'd taken that with a grain of salt. Changing bodies as if he were changing a pair of socks? Don't be ridiculous. UNIT soldiers weren't above exaggerating the oddities they met in order to impress someone, particularly a pretty woman, but UNIT’s Brigadier himself had sworn it. The Doctor's face and body, even his personality, had changed.

Her eyes went wide. It was true? Then this was...oh, no. Oh, never. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t be. He said he was helping himself. Was it a different self? A different body from a different time? With a time machine you could certainly be in two places at once. So. So, once you eliminate the impossible (the Master) whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Elementary, Watson. She slowly lifted her head again. "Doctor?"

"Yes. Congratulations. It took you long enough." His words were offset by his arms tightening around her in a gentle embrace. Her uncertainty fizzled to be replaced by weak astonishment. This was the Doctor? This was the Doctor! A different Doctor. So, he was all right? He was saving her life. He was the Doctor. He was more than all right. She looked for some similarity, any similarity, between this big blond and her own refined friend. She saw none at all.

Except for...maybe...there was something in his expression, a little hint around the eyes, an emotion that might be within hailing distance of affection. Affection for her.

"Doctor. Hello," she said with wonder, with relief, with affection of her own and her spine relaxed at last as she sluggishly tucked her arms closer on each side of him. A weak hug but it was the best she could do and his mouth softened into a genuine smile. Aw, he had a nice smile. Relief tumbled through her. She kissed him on the chest and he jumped. Finally it was Jo's turn to laugh and she enjoyed it. "She started a heat wave by letting her seat wave in such a way that the customers say that she certainly…!" she sang.

"Spare me, please, I beg you."

She wanted to tease him some more but the nook went away for a moment. Jo felt secure enough to let it go and she rested, listening to the slow double-beat of his hearts as his chill seeped into her skin and soothed her. She might have dreamed a little. Dreams of fields of green grass and rain. A dream of the Doctor. Am I in your dream or are you in mine? Yes, he answered. Arms around him. Arms around her.

When she opened her eyes again she was a little stronger, a little more lucid and very curious. “So,” she said and he jumped again, surprised at her sudden wakefulness. She decided to indulge herself. “Doctor. Where are you in relation to...I mean, are you going to change into my Doctor someday? Tall? White hair? God’s gift to UNIT?”

“No! Rassilon prevent it, never again. He’s going to be fortunate enough to become me. God’s gift to everyone.”

“When?

“In about a hundred years. Or five thousand. Or next Thursday. I can’t tell you anything specific or it spoils the surprise. And the timelines.”

Jo nodded. A future Doctor would have to be careful with his past. Made sense. “Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why do you change?”

“Eh?”

“Why?” She brought up her arm (being careful not to shift any other, er, part of herself. She was still intensely self conscious about, um, things and the situation) and tapped his cheek. “Does your warranty run out? Do you get bored with the same face?”

“Bored?” He seemed to tense and his eyes wandered the small room. Jo held perfectly still and wondered if she had asked a rude question. She was about to retract it and apologize when he smiled. “Yes, I got bored. I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror. I looked at the white hair and the huge nose and the serpent tattoo on my arm and decided I just couldn’t be this anymore. So I sneezed, gave my genetics a shuffle and became someone new. An improvement, right?” He narrowed his eyes at her.

“Right!” Jo could be tactful but she was also intensely loyal. “But I have to admit I really liked the nose and the hair. I’d miss them if they were gone.”

“Would you? Would you really?” His hand drew through her hair.

Jo nodded. “I’d miss them and him…and the…tattoo?! A snake tattoo?”

“How it got there, I don’t know. It’s on my forearm so get me to roll up my sleeve and show you when you get back.” Jo grinned. His voice went dark and mysterious. “There are others. Elsewhere. If you ask nicely I might show you those, too.” She weakly giggled against his skin. Hmmm, skin. This was the most Time Lord skin she’d ever seen. Or felt. It felt rather soft. She focused on it. Pale, cool flesh with the occasional freckle. Thin, golden hair on his chest and arms. She turned her head. He had a mole on his ribcage. She would not have thought him strange if she had passed him on the beach. What she could see of him, anyway. Which begged the question... “What are you looking at?” he suddenly asked.

“Nothing!” she exclaimed and froze. She could actually feel the effort it took for him to not laugh at her. For some reason that amused her and her awkwardness went. “Sorry, I'm sorry. I’m looking for your tattoos,” she admitted.

“Ah. I don’t have any. You?” He craned his neck to check.

“Not so much as a ladybug. Stop that.” His head dropped back onto the pallet and they cracked up laughing at exactly the same time. It felt like the nervous giggles teen Jo and her awkward boyfriends used to get but it was wonderful. It was a moment Jo would never, ever forget. A nude giggle with the Doctor, heaven help her.

But she soon wilted, exhausted.

Silence reigned for a short while until she worked up the nerve to break it. “Doctor, I’m really very sorry about this,” she muttered. “This can’t be comfortable for you.”

He recognized the hidden question to her relief. "Actually, I don't mind at all. A human extreme of temperature is nothing to me. Ah. You? Too cold?”

“No! No, not at all. Er. Humans can adapt to anything, you know.”

“Yet again, I know. Believe me, I know.”

Her eyes slowly shut. "This is a treat," she whispered.

"It is? I mean, of course it is." There was a whistling sound and they startled. Ah, she was still wearing the wrist comm. He lifted her hand and hit the button. He said, "Go away," before powering it down completely and Jo smiled, oddly pleased. The calm and comfort of the med nook enveloped her. She felt him take a deep breath. “Jo, speaking of a treat, I want to ask you…Jo?” It took too much effort for her to answer. She was drifting. “Ah. Well. It can wait.” He caressed her shoulders as her mind wandered away into a lovely peace.



Continuous eloquence wearies. Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated. Continuity in everything is unpleasant. Cold is agreeable, that we may get warm.
-- Blaise Pascal





Shouting woke her and she irritably opened her eyes.

"Don't you dare malign my brain, you jumped-up jester!"

"What brain? You sent a human out into that heat! Were you trying to kill her?"

A new voice, a deep one Jo'd never heard before, interrupted. "Gentlemen, please. Remember your blood pressures."

"Shut up!"

"Shut up!"

Where was she? Oh, she was wrapped in a blanket on the ground. Soft, grassy ground and the breeze was utterly cool and delightful. They’d made it. They'd made it! Jo looked towards the yelling and was greeted with a bizarre sight. Three police box TARDISes, several gawking S'rllsk and her Doctor and her new Doctor (dressed in the most frightening multicolored coat she'd ever seen) were shouting each other down while a third man stood by. A third Doctor? Had to be, he was tall and curly-haired like the other two but dressed like a Cossack with a long, long, long scarf wrapped several times around his upper body. The ends skimmed the ground. With a start she noticed he had a S'rllsk bloodsword in his hand and was using it to idly slice a moat through the grasses around his feet. He looked as if he'd been born with it. He also looked as if he were about to fall to the ground kicking and laughing.

"This planet is cold and wet," hissed a familiar voice. "And riddled with dark caves full of simians, I bet."

"Hask!" Jo was glad to see him. He flopped down, took off his pack, and scratched his muzzle with his claws. "Oh, Hask, you look exhausted."

"So do you. We're too old for this."

Jo laughed and nodded. "Did you find your family?" To her delight she was just able to struggle upright into a sitting position. She crossed her legs and tied her thin blanket under her arms.

Hask brightened. "Yes! And not a single egg was cracked. Unbelievable."

"Oh, good." She took his rough hand in hers and his tail whipped with pleasure.

"Job well done, eh?" A shadow fell over them and they looked up to see the scarfed man beaming down.

Jo smiled back and asked, just to make absolutely sure, “Doctor?”

“That’s right,” he answered and his eyes opened wide as if they shared a secret. She laughed. Why, she didn't know, it was all just so strange and so fun somehow.

Hask wasn't amused, though. His eyes flicked nervously from the sword the Doctor still held in his hand to Jo and then to the Doctor's face. The Time Lord noticed him and spoke again. "Ah, yes, this is yours isn't it?" He presented the hilt to Hask with some ceremony and the old lizard closed his eyes. "And so King Haskrrrsth the First claims his destiny." Jo gasped with delight but Hask shrank back. "And so King Haskrrrsth the First claims his destiny," the Time Lord insisted.

"Give it to me, then!" Hask angrily swiped the sword out of the Doctor's hand. He stomped away. Several surrounding S'rllsk reacted with shock at his passing as, one by one, they seemed to recognize him, unbowed, no pack, bloodsword in hand. One by one they began to prostrate themselves on the ground, their claws digging into the soft loam, their tails waggling in the air. Over the excited buzz the King suddenly whirled and came stomping back. The crowd followed him.

He stopped in front of the humanoids. When in Rome, Jo decided and, smiling, grabbed the grass and bowed as best she could from her sitting position. The Doctor knelt beside her before the new monarch.

Hask straightened, his neck lengthened and he gripped the sword, resigned. Resigned but suddenly very regal. "Our gratitude, Time Lord. Wear this Honor Scar with pride." He stabbed the Doctor in the arm with one quick thrust. Jo flinched. The Doctor didn’t even blink. Hask turned to her. “Our gratitude, Szo. Wear this Honor Scar with pride.” She braced herself but Hask merely gave her shoulder a nudge with the point of the blade. She felt the sting but didn't flinch and was proud of herself. A single, large bead of red blood welled up. “May your nests overflow with eggs.”

"Thank you, thank you." The Doctor salaamed a little.

Hask looked kindly down on his friend. "Be fine, Szo."

"Be fine, Hask...King Hask!" Hask turned towards his people and they surrounded him excitedly, hissing so loudly they sounded like waves upon the shore, and then he disappeared among them. The S'rllsk abandoned the true heroes of the hour but none of the heroes cared.

Jo certainly didn't bother herself. A king! A hidden king to boot. Marvelous. Jo watched Hask go with fondness. Then she turned to her new, new Doctor and reached for his arm, concerned. "It's all right," he reassured her. "Half healed already."

"Odd way to honor somebody. But it was quick!" she said, knowing well his distaste of long goodbyes and ceremonies of praise.

He flipped his scarf out of the way and sat directly beside her. You couldn’t fit Hask’s blade between them. Jo didn't mind. It wasn't as if he was a stranger. Not really. He smiled at her again. A shark would have less teeth and his wild brown hair blew in the wind. His scarf had mended punctures and scorch marks on it. She realized she was looking for similarities again. Again, she found none. How could the Doctor become so different and still remain the same person? Maybe it was all an elaborate joke. But there, in the eyes, there it was, a sort of easy familiarity and, yes, affection. He knew and liked her, at least. She decided she liked him, too. "How are you, Jo?" He dug around in his pocket and produced a small, white bag. "Jelly baby?"

"Ooh, yes." She picked a green one, popped it into her mouth and nearly swooned over the welcome sweetness. "And I'm feeling much better. Stupid but better. The wrong ship," she sighed.

"Your brain was boiling thanks to my own stupidity,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the more colorful Doctors who were still sneering at each other, “So I’ll have to give you a pass.” He munched an orange candy and his face became somber and more than a little guilty. "Humans are a whopping 38° Celsius, 98° Fahrenheit, a full Five Xixis, et cetera, and I remember that I didn't think the extra heat would cause any harm. Erm. Sorry."

"It's all right,” Jo said immediately. “I forgive you." And she did, too. She was alive and well, or would be soon, so no harm done. This earned her another sweet and she happily chewed. Oh, this was the good life. Sitting on the cool grass, resting and eating candy with her best friend, no matter what he looked like, was okay by Jo.

"Everything's fine then," he said. She laughed and nodded. "I forgive you, too," he continued and his voice became almost soft. Then he suddenly snaked an arm around her waist. “He's coming. Quick!” Fast on the uptake, now, Jo threw her arms around him.

"Stop that!" They both jumped with feigned guilt and began to laugh. Jo turned to see her Doctor striding towards them: mouth set, cape missing, white curls not quite so perfectly combed anymore, blood trickling from a fresh wound on his arm. “Off. Get off her. Immediately.” He gently pulled Jo one way and booted his rival, not so gently, the other way. The Shark allowed it but somehow his excruciatingly long scarf tangled around his opponent who fought it as if it were alive. Which made Jo's new/old friend laugh, if possible, even harder. "Shut up, you.” Her savior Doctor appeared then, smirking up a storm. His blood didn't make much of a difference to his garish sleeve.

Jo, at least, remembered her manners. “Doctor, you should be nice to yourself! You helped you and me.” He said something foul and bent to inspect the scratch on her shoulder. Jo hauled off and threw him a Look of Reproach with an extra dollop of Large, Pleading Eyes thrown in and hoped she looked pitiful enough for it to work. It worked. He calmed down and unwrapped the scarf from around his neck with care. It fell away and he threw it back to its owner. The other two watched their younger self go on his dignity with amusement.

He took a deep breath. “Thank you both ever so very much. You simply must come to tea someday,” he said, his lip not quite curling.

“Doctor!” Jo protested.

“Yes?”

“Yes?”

“Yes? Oh, honestly. Come along, Jo. We've had enough." Her Doctor took her arm and began to pull her up off the ground.

"I haven't had enough," said the colorful one. "Jo, why don't you come with me?"

She blinked with surprise and the other two reeled back. "What?" they said.

The blond smiled but it was grim. "It’s almost time. What real difference does it make if she leaves with me instead of him?"

"She is most certainly leaving with me!"

The Scarfed Doctor climbed to his feet and he wasn’t smiling anymore. It was a disconcerting sight. But then he spoke. “Gasp! Uproar! Babble! Mayhem! Calamity!"

“Be quiet, you. And you! You're not poaching Jo!"

"Why not? She can do anything she wants!"

“Strife! Turmoil! Chaos! Violence and lots of it!”

"Stop!" Jo shouted, waving her hands in the air. The three looked down at her. "Stop yelling."

"I'll yell if I like!" all three pointed out and Jo rolled her eyes.

She slowly stood, her blanket billowing in the wind, and the Cossack gently helped her. She was confused. What was this shouting? Were they fighting over her? That was ridiculous! Take up with a different Doctor?! Was that even possible? "Please. I'm too old for this.” She looked at her colorful cooling unit. That coat certainly didn't improve with proximity and he looked like he was going to literally explode with anger. Amusement to anger in zero time, that was impressive. She had to stop it. Jo wobbled forward and threw her arms around him, resting her head against his broad chest once again. She was eye to eye with an enamel cat pin that had pride-of-place on his lapel and she decided she loved it. And the coat. They were so...him. "Calm down. You can't fight yourself."

"Oh, can't I though!"

“Riot, din, turbulence, great big whopping scene…”

"Please! Please." She hugged him tighter.

His arms slowly went around her and the angry flush in his neck began to disappear. "Yes. Well."

"Thank you," Jo said quietly. "For everything. Thank you."

Finally she felt his muscles relax and she knew she'd won. He cleared his throat. The other two stilled and watched. "Well. I suppose…not for forever. Just a visit then?” He tugged on her hair in a boyish way. She remembered how good his stroking of it had felt and she was so tempted. But no. It’s not as if she could ask him to pet her hair on a daily basis. Or at all. Could she? No. Leave her Doctor? Even for just a visit? If she stepped into a different TARDIS it'd be for more than just a visit, it's a time machine after all. No.

As much as she'd grown to love this patchwork pirate in the small amount of time they'd spent together Jo couldn't even consider the possibility. "I can't. You know I can't." He let her go and she stepped back. Jo indicated her tall, dignified partner who looked as if he were on the verge of passing out a sample of Venusian Aikido to everybody. "I won't leave my friend."

Doctor Crazycoat caught her eyes for a long moment and his expression was unreadable. Then he nodded and, pausing only to send one last glare of disdain at his two counterparts, turned and walked away towards the middle TARDIS without another word. He went in and closed the door. The mechanical, pulsing, ripping sound of its dematerialization filled the air and then it disappeared. Jo watched the small square of flattened grass it left behind begin to spring up again.

He was gone. Just like that. He’d saved her life and now he was out of it. Probably for good. The tear she'd been wanting to cry for a long time finally, weakly came and fell down her face. She sobbed once.

A brown handkerchief with a pattern of yellow horseshoes on it appeared at her elbow and she took it. "Thank you." She wiped her eyes. A full bag of jelly babies followed and she took that, too. "Thanks." She then found herself holding a Scrooge McDuck comic book and a pen featuring a lady with a sliding bikini. She frantically backed away from the jar of pickled pigs feet. "NO, thank you!" Doctor Scarf flashed his wild smile and put the jar back into his large pockets. She laughed and sniffed.

He then leaned towards her and tapped his mouth. She could take a hint. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him goodbye. It was a quick, chaste one but behind them her Doctor sputtered, "Get away, Jo, he's crazy."

"Like a red Vulpes Vulpes," agreed the other, smugly tapping his mouth again. Then, readjusting his scarf as if he were a Rajah flinging back a jeweled cloak, he strode off to his TARDIS on the right. One last wave and he was gone, too.

The remainder sighed with relief. "Lunatic. All teeth and curls but no propriety. And that other arrogant clown, don't get me started. Everyone on his ship was afraid of him. I think they enjoyed it. Can you imagine?" She nodded, remembering Stumpy. "I have grave concernth…concerns about the future," he said. He stared at the spaces the two TARDISes had been and then he looked down at Jo. "Grave concerns." He paused then visibly shook off what looked like worry. "Nevermind. Time to leave." He turned towards the last TARDIS. To tease him she walked off in the other direction. "No! This way!"

She felt a cool hand on her shoulder and the world tilted. He had scooped her, silly gifts and all, into his arms and was carrying her away. She thoroughly enjoyed the moment. “Doctor?”

“Mm?”

“I want to see your serpent.”

"My what?!" His arms flexed. “Oh. That. He told you, did he?”

“Yes. He also told me about…”

“IT’S A LIE!”

She leaned her head against his chest and grinned. Leave him? Never.



End
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