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A gentle rap at the door roused the Doctor from his absent-minded puttering with the shatter-fry generator. He placed his sonic screwdriver on a bench and opened the door.

“How’s it goin’?” asked Hal, who stood on the other side of the door with hands in her lab coat pockets.

“She,” he said as he broke into a huge grin, waving Hal into the TARDIS growth room. “She’s doing just fantastic!”

Hal stepped across the threshold and paused. “Wow, Frankenstein’s lab is becoming more impressive by the minute. I expect Elsa Lanchester to sit up in the tank any minute.”

“Hmmm, growing my own wife in a lab,” mused the Doctor. “Now there’s an idea I never considered. Couldn’t turn out worse than an arranged marriage, that’s for sure.” Turning to pick up his sonic to make more adjustments, he pulled out his chair for Hal to sit in. He noticed a shadow of a frown as she sat down.

“Not a fan of marriage?” he asked, hoping to draw the petite scientist out.

She shrugged. “Nothing against marriage, per se,” she replied. “Marriage for love isn’t always that much of a picnic, either.”

Deliberately turning his attention back to the equipment, the Doctor spoke softly, as if a louder voice might frighten Hal off the delicate subject. “You speak as if from experience,” he said without looking at her.

“Yeah,” she said, inflectionless.

“In the other universe, I gather.”

“Oh, yeah. I was quite young, actually,” she responded after a deep breath. “Lasted all of six months. Never even bonded. He left one day and joined a pleasure ship full of ladies of the evening. Took me a decade to track him down and get it annulled. At least he had the good graces to get himself killed by a jealous husband.”

“Blimey,” he said breathily, looking back at Hal in surprise. “But you’re in a relationship now? With someone here?”

“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m betrothed to… someone in the other world. Please keep this to yourself, though.”

He paused perplexed, thinking for a minute. “But that wasn’t in the psychic transfer you gave me. Why wouldn’t you have included him… or her?”

Hal burst into a laugh. “Him!” she chuckled. “And I never talk about such things to anyone. How do you mention a fiancé that no one will ever see? I didn’t want to have to answer a lot of difficult questions.”

“Oh,” he muttered. “I suppose that’s why you don’t wear a… ring, or something?”

Reaching under her collar, Hal pulled at a gold chain about her neck. He’d noticed the glint of the gold against her neck on occasion, but she never wore it on the outside of her shirt for him to see it in its entirety. As the chain emerged, he saw it was laced through a tiffany style ring with a large bluish stone setting. It appeared to be about three carets in size. She held the ring up to him, still attached to the chain around her neck.

The Doctor whipped out his glasses from his lab coat pocket to take a closer look. He whistled. “Oh, wow… that is just gorgeous,” he said in admiration. “Sapphire? Oh, wait… no… that’s a blue diamond!”

“From Altair VII,” she nodded. “Indigo blue hues in natural diamonds are extremely rare on Earth. On Altair VII they are a bit more attainable. This one is flawless, something that is rare even for Altair VII. He said that it reminded him of the colour of my eyes.”

“I can see that. Oh, what an absolute pity you don’t wear it where it can be seen, Hal. It’s easily one of the most beautiful gems I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

She dropped the ring into her shirt again, and patted it down. “I don’t need even more of a reminder of how much I’ve lost, Doctor.”

“He must love you very much. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had more than your family to get back to.”

She cast her eyes to the floor. “He adores me, and he’s a great friend. My best friend outside of the family. My only friend, really,” she trailed off with a vacant look.

The Doctor leaned against the tank, arms crossed as he tried to figure out what wasn’t being said, his sonic dangling loosely from his fingers. “Do you love him?” he asked rather rudely.

Hal shrugged again, eyes rolling a bit. “Told you, marrying for love isn’t a guarantee of success.”

“Why, for Rassilon’s sake, would you agree to marry someone you don’t love? Never mind if he adores you,” the Doctor said, slightly put out.

“You probably wouldn’t approve, or just laugh,” she said, and chewed on her lip.

“I won’t laugh or judge,” he promised with his hand and sonic in the air in a Boy Scout salute.

She sighed. “It was sort of… arranged. By my family.” She saw the look of horror creep over him. “I told you, I really, really suck at relationships!” she blurted. “He’s quiet, calm, super-intelligent and wouldn’t harm a flea. He’s about the only person who could possibly put up with my quirks or keep up with me intellectually. And… and… and my family adores him, too.”

“So, everyone is in love with him, but you. What’s wrong with him?”

“Uhm. Well. He’s… he’s sort of… mind blind,” she said so low that he almost couldn’t hear her.

“Completely? Come on, is he non-sentient? A rock? Even non-telepathic humans can usually communicate with a strong telepath on some level.”

“He’s sentient, but not human.”

The Doctor stared at her expectantly. “Well, he’s… he’s… so not human,” she said haltingly. “An android, really.” The Doctor’s jaw dropped, along with his sonic.

What?!?,” he yelped a little angrily. “Your family bought you an android for a husband?!?”

“No, no,” Hal said, shaking her head rapidly. She jumped up from her seat, scooping up the sonic to hand back to the Doctor. “They didn’t buy him. He’s fully sentient and qualifies as a life form. Legally he is recognized as an autonomous individual.”

“But an android, Hal? Really? Androids aren’t something you marry… they’re like… I dunno… tools!” he cried, holding up his sonic screwdriver as an example.

“So are some men, Doctor,” she retorted, face suddenly very stony. “And I thought you weren’t gonna judge?”

Shoving the sonic and both hands back into his pockets, the Doctor rocked on his feet. His face softened a bit as he thought. “Sorry,” he said, lowering his voice. “I did say I wouldn’t do that, didn’t I? A bit of a shock, that was.”

“Well, there are a lot of advantages, you know,” she said a little defensively. “I don’t have to deal with the drama of someone else’s emotional baggage, and he doesn’t have to deal with mine. I don’t have to worry about him running off with a ship full of trollops. If he talks too much, which he sometimes tends to do, I can pull his head right off and put it into a box for a while. Works fine after I put it back on.”

“You’re barmy,” he said, albeit with little smile.

“I told you that already! And were all Time Lords as intolerant as you seem to be, at least about synthetic humanoids?”

He shut his mouth with a loud click, before shuffling his feet like a schoolboy. “Worse, really,” he admitted contritely. “You’re the second person to point that out recently. I wasn’t too nice to my friend, Jack, either. Called him ‘wrong’ when he became immortal and a fixed point in time. To a Time Lord, he was plain unnatural. Suppose I need to work on that.”

“Don’t suppose you were too thrilled about becoming partially human, either,” Hal noted with some sympathy.

He gave her a self-deprecating grin. “Nope,” he said with a loud pop. “Think I said something like ‘that’s disgusting’ when I realized I had only one heart. Almost killed myself trying to stay awake the first few weeks, completely in denial. Worst of all, I almost permanently damaged myself rolling over in bed a few mornings, totally forgetting that some things are controlled by the autonomic system in humans!”

They stared at each other for a few seconds, unsure what to say after the Doctor’s stream-of-consciousness ramblings, and then both broke into uncontrollable peals of laughter.

“I’m so sorry, Hal,” he gasped. “I’m a right git sometimes, I know. Thanks for keeping me honest.”

“Actually, I reacted in much the same way about synthetic life forms at first,” she said with a blush. “Had the unmitigated gall to call Daryl ‘the Tin Man’ a few times when we first met.”

“Do you think he’ll wait for you, however long it takes to get back? If the TARDIS matures on schedule, you’ll have been here ten years.”

“He’ll wait,” she said, nodding. “As long as he knows I’m alive, he’ll wait.”

“But you’ll never know the joy of a marriage bond. And what about children, Hal?”

She made a face. “Ew, children. Little walking petri dishes of microbial activity with stuff spewing out of both ends? No thanks. Nieces and nephews are fine, ‘cause I can hand them back to Elly when I grow tired of them. I think the maternal nurturing gene were lost somewhere in the eugenics lab. And a marriage bond? I can live without a marriage bond. I have my sibling bond, and that will have to be enough for me.”

“If you say so,” said the Doctor, unconvinced.

“Well then, are you done with this round of dissection? I came to see the coral?”

“Ah yes! My baby girl TARDIS,” he said as he sprang away from the tank.

“Why’s the nutrient solution kinda purple?” Hal asked.

“Titrated potassium permanganate,” he responded. “One of the trace nutrients needed by the coral as she grows. She’s already starting to bud!”

Hal crouched down next to the tank, trying to see through the somewhat murky solution. “You stuck her in some sand? To stabilize her?”

“Right. No other reason. Keeps her from floating around in eddies created by the filter pump.”

“She looks like a sea squirt,” Hal remarked.

“Oi,” laughed the Doctor. “That is a highly evolved life form, I’ll have you know! Sea cucumbers are about as primitive a life form as they come.”

“Can I touch her?”

“Of course,” he said. “The potassium permanganate may stain your clothing, mind.” He brought over a box for Hal to stand on, since the top of the tank came slightly above the diminutive researcher’s waist.

She stripped off her lab coat and tossed it onto the chair. “Good thing I’m wearing a purple shirt,” she grinned, shoving the sleeves up above her elbows. Climbing onto the box, she bent over and was just barely able to stroke the coral as it stood upright in a bed of sandy material when the box tipped. Hal gave a surprised squeak as she tilted headlong toward the solution. Moving so quickly he was a blur, the Doctor grabbed Hal about the waist and hoisted her up before the solution reached to her shoulders.

Slipping on the wet floor from the solution Hal slung about in panic, they both went down in a heap with Hal sitting astraddle the Doctor’s lap facing his feet. They were both giggling so hard that they never heard the knock on the open lab door.

“Ahem,” said Rose, clearing her voice. She stood next to the open door with her arms crossed, cheeks reddened in what the Doctor hoped was embarrassment for the two of them. Rather than scramble to their feet, Hal and the Doctor descended further into fits of tearful hysterics before Hal was able to roll herself off the Doctor, gasping for breath.

“Rose!” the Doctor choked out, trying hard to compose himself. “You’re finally here! Do you wanna see the baby TARDIS? Just don’t do what she did and fall in with her.”

Finally rising to her feet, Hal gasped for breath and tried to finger-comb her dishevelled hair back into place. Wiping tears from her eyes, she grinned. “I was just trying to touch it,” she laughed.

“Her!” hissed the Doctor as he sprang to his feet.

“Oh yeah, her,” Hal gulped, eyes wide and suddenly serious.

“I see,” Rose said, staring down the Doctor.

They both stepped aside as Rose walked over to the tank to peer in. “Looks like a sea cucumber stuck in the sand like that,” she remarked. Hal shot the Doctor a look of vindication.

“Ahem… urr, yes, I guess it does,” the Doctor replied, pulling at his tie to loosen it. “Would you like to touch it, too?” He got a sharp elbow in the ribs from Hal. “HER,” he yelped in pain. “Would you care to touch the TARDIS coral, Rose? I could find a better box for you to stand on, ‘though you may not actually need a box, seein’ that you’re a bit taller and such.” A glare from Hal sent him into full Oncoming Lecture mode.

“Thankfully, the nutrient solution is kept at a constant 30.7 degrees Celsius or it would have been quite uncomfortable for poor Hal. The purple colour in the nutrient solution is titrated potassium permanganate, which the TARDIS coral needs for her growth cycles. Unfortunately, it stains a bit so you don’t want to stay in contact with it for too long. A new burst of growth can be expected every…”

“’s ok, Doctor,” Rose said with her palms up. “I don’t need to touch her right now. Maybe when she’s a bit bigger, yeah?”

“Absolutely,” he chirped, clapping his hands together. “Anytime you like.”

“Primarily came to tell you that I got final approval for your Field project. You can start travel arrangements whenever you like. Jus’ let me know, ‘cause I’ll be accompanyin’ you,” Rose told them.

“Oh, that’s fantastic, Rose!” Hal exclaimed excitedly. “Thank you so much. We’re very eager to find additional fragments for analysis. We’ve not found any additional artefacts in the archives that we can relate to the one we have on hand.”

“How much of the archives have you gone through this week?” Rose asked the Doctor, who had turned a shade paler at the announcement that Rose would be joining them. His freckles had jumped out in stark relief against his naturally light skin.

“Hal was kind enough to assist me in sorting through the lot, and so far we’ve managed to identify and properly classify three quarters of the archives. Quite a few we deemed rather dangerous and had moved to the vault. Hal’s knowledge of weaponry almost exceeds my own,” he said proudly.

“At least I don’t have to lick every weapon I come across to identify it,” Hal snorted.

“He does that,” Rose said with a grin, crinkling her nose.

“Oi! I didn’t lick them all,” said the Doctor rather lamely. A warm feeling of hope spread through his chest at Rose’s comment. Is she finally accepting that I’m really the Doctor, he wondered.

Mixed feelings coursed through the Doctor as he contemplated two weeks camping with Rose. On one hand he was elated. Rose had worked so hard to keep him at arm’s length for months. The thought of spending an unbroken stretch of two weeks with her made him want to whoop with joy. On the other hand, he was fearful of a complete and utter failure in reconnecting with her, and the very thought destroyed him.

“Pete ought to be happy about that,” said Rose. “About the clearance of the archive, not the licking,” she clarified, her tongue peeking out between her teeth. She turned to Hal, who had retrieved her coat and was putting it back on. “So, are ya comin’ to the Torchwood party tomorrow, Hal?”

“Actually, I think I am,” she replied with a smile. “And I believe we’ve convinced Malcolm to come this time, as well.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “Malcolm?” she said in astonishment. “Malcolm Taylor? His mum is really gonna let him go? Or didya use blackmail?”

“No blackmail,” said the Doctor, amused. “We promised to take him to lunch where here can get a cheeseburger and chips every day for two weeks.”

“Well, tell him I’m pretty sure Pete will have burgers at the party. Loves his red meat, that man. I’ll see you both tomorrow, then,” Rose said as she left.

Letting out a loud sigh of relief, the Doctor removed his glasses and placed them back into his lab coat, now splotched with light purple watermark stains.

“See,” smiled Hal cheekily. “Told you the brainy specs would get you somewhere. I’d suggest you get a pair of sunglasses just like them to take onsite. You’ll definitely need sun protection, anyway.”

He smiled, marvelling at how a pair of simple glasses could become an instrument of subtle seduction. His smile quickly slid into a pout.

“No sunscreen or suntan lotion!” he growled. “What is with that nasty coconutty, sorta pineapply smell, anyway? And why can’t someone make one that doesn’t feel like you’ve coated yourself in lard? They’re both absolutely abhorrent and disgusting.”

“But necessary in the Southwest in Springtime.”

“I’d rather slather on Dalek slime!” the Doctor spat.

“Sorry, I think we’re fresh out of Dalek slime. I’ll pick up a case of my favourite brand before we go. It’s not quite as icky as the standard Torchwood issue,” Hal said with an eye roll.

“Don’t bother… won’t wear it. Been on planets with far hotter suns. Never once got sunburned,” he retorted obstinately.

“Were you half-human at the time?” Hal asked, hand on hip.

He rubbed his neck in frustration, trying to think of a suitable return.

“Thought so,” she sighed as she headed for the door. “Still picking me up tomorrow?”

“Yeah, yeah... right at 3.30. Don’t forget your jimjams,” he said with a boyish grin.

“Right… pyjama party… can’t wait,” she said sardonically as she closed the door to the lab behind her.

###################################################

Hal seemed quite skittish on arrival to the mansion. They were at least an hour and a half ahead of the start of the party, but the thought of facing approximately fifty people for several hours filled her with dread. Dressed in a pair of denims, a light-blue linen blouse and trainers, she carried a duffle bag slung across her shoulder as she entered from the garage. Almost hiding behind the Doctor’s tall frame, she wasn’t visible from Jackie’s perspective.

“Where’s your friend?” Jackie asked, looking a bit puzzled. “I thought you went to pick her up!”

Hal leaned slightly to peer around the Doctor as he twisted aside a bit. “Hello,” she said meekly with a sheepish smile.

“Oh, come here, dearie. Don’t be shy,” Jackie said consolingly, taking Hal by the arm to draw her further into the hallway. She noted the bag hanging from her shoulder and glared at the Doctor. “Oi, you prat! Don’t you know to carry a lady’s bag for her? What’s wrong with you?” she snapped, giving him a half-hearted backhand swat on the arm.

“That’s ok, Mrs. Tyler,” responded Hal. “I’m used to carrying my own bags.”

“Nonsense,” Jackie sniffed. “He’s gonna learn how to treat a real lady if I hafta beat it into ‘im.” The Doctor took Hal’s duffle and retreated out of Jackie’s reach before she could whack him again.

“Upstairs?” he asked Jackie.

“Yeah, let me show you were you’ll be stayin’,” Jackie told Hal graciously as she lead them up the stairs. “Most of the guest rooms are in another wing, but I thought you might like to be a bit out of the way of the… uhm, inebriated,” she said apologetically.

“Oh, so you’re staying down there, too?” the Doctor barbed, running up the stairs before Jackie could reach him.

“Pay him no mind,” Jackie advised her. “He’s completely off his head. Always has been.” She leaned closer to Hal and lowered her voice. “He’s like a son to me, though. Love him to bits, but don’t ever tell him I said so. Head’s big enough as it is.”

“I heard that!” the Doctor’s voice drifted down from one of the bedrooms. Jackie rolled her eyes.

“I know he’s not completely human,” said Hal softly. “He’s told me a lot about him, but his secret is safe with me.”

“Big 904 year-old kid, he is,” she nodded. “I’m so happy he’s found someone to trust, ‘cause he really needs someone. “ She looked up to see if the Doctor was in view. “But don’t ever make ‘im properly cross. He can be fully scary,” Jackie whispered with a fearful look.

The Doctor’s head appeared over the stair rails at the end of the hall. “What’s takin’ you two so long? I’m gettin’ old up here!”

Hal and Jackie giggled as they joined him at the doorway. Hal stepped inside and hummed in approval at the large bedroom with en suite bathroom. “Very nice, Mrs. Tyler. Thank you,” she said.

“It’s Jackie, please. We don’t put on any airs around here. And the Doctor’s bedroom is down at the other end. Feel free to knock him up if you need anything.”

Hal’s eyebrow flicked up to her hairline, giving the Doctor a very quirky half-smile of amusement as he flushed a bright pink.

“We’ll see you soon,” he told Jackie as she scampered down the hallway to check on the preparations.

He turned around to take a look at the guest room. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this room,” he noted. “It’s nicer than my room!” He crossed the room to throw open the doors to the balcony. “Look, you’ll have a nice place to sit and avoid the crowd, if you want.”

“Oh, I suppose,” she said. “Although, it would probably be a bit rude to hole up in the bedroom during the party.”

The Doctor gave her a huge grin. “I know just the place!” he said, grasping Hal’s hand and pulling her out of the room and down the stairs. Stopping in front of the library doors, he swung them open dramatically and escorted her in. Hal took one look at the sofas and chairs, turning slowly around to view the towering bookcases, and suddenly relaxed.

“Wonderful. This reminds me of the library back home,” she said wistfully.

“Brilliant! If things get a little too intense for you, we can come here where it’s a bit quieter.”

Hal sat down heavily, a thoughtful look crossing her features as she stared up at the Doctor. “We need to talk,” she said in a small voice.

He sat down next to her, a bit worried at the seriousness of Hal’s demeanour. “What is it, Hal?”

“I’ve been thinking,” she said. “What if we talk to Rose before we tell Pete about me tomorrow? Whenever I think of telling Pete, but not telling her, I start feeling a little unsettled. How do you think she’ll feel if she finds out Pete knew before she did?”

He thought about this for a second or two, rubbing the back of his head as if it helped him think. He looked at Hal again, a little uncertain. “I dunno. Are you sure you want to do that, Hal? I mean, I think it would be a good thing, but I don’t want you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with... Except come to a Torchwood party, perhaps. Or go out to lunch every day. Or sing karaoke with me in the Great Hall tonight…”

“Not singin’ karaoke, Doctor,” she insisted, scrunching up her face.

“Oh, come on…”

“No,” she said with finality. “I sing, but never karaoke. Karaoke is just stupid. With drunks, it’s downright mortifying. But let’s get back to Rose.”

“Right, right,” he muttered, a tad disappointed. “Would it help if we both talk to her, together? I mean, we could bring her here at some point.”

Hal chewed on her lip, deep in thought. “Perhaps. I’m not sure. Maybe I can have a little one-on-one chat first, and see how it goes. If she doesn’t react negatively, then perhaps we can tell her together. I’d rather clear the air with her first, to let her know I’m not a threat.”

“A threat?” he asked with a grimace. Hal pulled the chain around her neck to dangle the ring in front of him. “Oh,” he nodded with understanding. “Right. But I’m still not convinced she’s the least bit interested in me as more than maybe, and that’s a big maybe, a friend. Would she even care if you’re engaged?”

Hal let out a big huff of air. She leaned slightly forward and thumped the Doctor in the middle of his forehead. “Still thick, I see,” she drawled.

“Ow!” whined the Doctor, pressing his hand to the spot, and then checking it as if for blood. “Bloody hell, woman. What was that?”

“Ahaa, I finally knocked Donna loose!” snickered Hal. “It’s about time you let her out of the cabinet.”

“What?”

“Since when have you started using swear words, Doctor?” Hal smirked, with her arms crossed.

“Since some barmy blob woman started thumpin’ me in the flippin’ forehead!” he shouted back. Suddenly realizing what he’d said, his eyes widened and he slapped both hands over his mouth in horror.

“Blob woman,” Hal repeated, eyes narrowing. “Ok, I’ll let you slide this once, Timeboy.”

A look of utter devastation came over the Doctor. “That’s what she used to call me,” he said. “Donna used to call me Timeboy and Spaceman. You remind me a lot of her, sometimes. I miss her so much, Hal. And I never told her how much she meant to me. Never told anyone how I really felt.”

“You’ve always been sort of chatty with me,” Hal said softly.

“Nah. Never used to do that. Never talked about myself. It must be Donna’s influence.”

“I don’t think you talk about your feelings all that much, at least not to the people for whom you have feelings. Donna may be able to help you there,” suggested Hal. “She can help you make this transition, if you’ll let her. Don’t keep her locked away all of the time. She’s up there for a reason,” she said, tapping him gently on the head.

“But who’s going to help you, Hal?”

Hal looked askance and sighed, but didn’t respond. “You’re as locked away as tightly as I ever was; maybe more,” he noted.

“I’m alright,” she said, still looking away.

“Yeah, just like I’m always alright,” he said sagely.

“You are where you belong and where you will stay, Doctor. You must make a transition. I will be going back, no matter how long it takes. Once I am home, I will truly be alright. I can’t afford to let myself become too attached to anything, anyone, in this world. If I were to bond to anyone on this side of the Void, it would be… devastating… once I returned. Surely you must understand what I’m saying?”

“What I’m finally understanding, Hal, is that I let the fear of pain and loss keep me at arm’s length from the people I loved, and who loved me. And when I lost them, the pain wasn’t any less. After a millennium of losses, most of what I have left is regret.”

“If you make me sing karaoke, you’re gonna have one more regret to throw on the stack, brother,” Hal digressed snarkily.

The Doctor nodded in concession, thinking of how he’d dearly love to have a sister the likes of Hal. He stood up and wiggled his fingers invitingly to her, hoping she would snap out of her guarded moment and accept his invitation to join the party. She glanced at his hand and hesitated momentarily before reaching up. He grasped her slim fingers tightly and laughed, pulling her up to start running out of the room and into the hallways with him.

The Tyler Great Hall was truly a sight to behold with its festive decorations, long rows of tables laden with food, and a stage in the back. Beautifully set round tables draped in starched linens partially encircled an open area in front of the stage, presumably for dancing. A baby grand piano sat next to one of the walls, drawing Hal’s attention almost immediately.

“Oooh, look! Nibbles!” the Doctor spouted gleefully. He hardly noticed his companion had disappeared and was making her way to the piano. Malcolm Taylor rushed over and started pumping his hand enthusiastically. In his other hand was a plate piled high with two burgers and a load of chips. “Malcolm, you actually made it! Did you bring your Mum?” the Doctor greeted.

“Oh, nooo, Doctor! I wouldn’t have these had she come,” the little Welshman said, holding up the plate of taboo foodstuff. “Said I was goin’ to a place of ill-repute, she did.”

The Doctor shook his head and laughed. “Sometimes I think we were switched at birth, Malcolm my boy. Glad to see you’ve escaped the cradle!”

A sharp clap to his back startled him as he turned to see a broadly grinning Jake Simmonds behind him. “Jakie!” he said happily, giving the man a tight hug.

“Hallo, Doctor,” Jake said. “Where’s your twin off to? I ‘ere you’ve picked up a shadow since I saw ya last.”

“Hal? Well, she’s right… Hold on,” he frowned, twisting about to see where Hal went. “Well, she was right here,” he muttered. “Always have that problem of companions wandering off, you know.”

“There she is,” pointed Malcolm with a nod of his head toward the piano. “Looks like she’s talkin’ to Ms. Tyler and playin’ the piano. She did mention this week that she plays keyboards. Maybe she’ll play a bit for us tonight!”

“Hhmmm,” hummed the Doctor. “Let’s give them a little time to talk first, and then we’ll ask her, ok?”

“Evenin’, gentlemen,” they all heard behind them. Pete Tyler was standing next to Jake holding two glasses of whiskey, appearing to have started the party early.

“Double-fistin’ it tonight, eh, Pete?” grinned Jake.

“Damn right,” he responded with a big smile. “Karaoke on the agenda. Gotta get liquored up for that one.”

“You’re singing?” asked the Doctor, surprised.

“Oh, no way. I gotta get liquored up to listen to it,” laughed Pete. “You ever hear Jackie sing after a few snorts?” He drained one of the glasses and placed it on a tray held by one of the servants, who immediately handed him another full glass as if on cue. Pete, the Doctor and Jake all laughed loudly, while Malcolm just smiled politely.

Hal was about halfway through the Moonlight Sonata, playing softly so as not to bring attention to herself. Sipping slowly on a beer, Rose leaned against the piano and watched. Hal shifted her gaze to the stage every now and then as a DJ set up his equipment in preparation.

“You play beautifully,” Rose told her.

“Thank you,” Hal replied with a weak smile. “I was trained as a concert pianist when I was quite young.”

“Oh, where was that?”

“A little school you wouldn’t have heard of before,” Hal said. “Just as well, since I prefer to play classic rock.”

“I’m rubbish at piano,” Rose said. “Can barely pick out Chopsticks, me. My Mum didn’t have money for piano lessons.”

Hal paused between phrases for the briefest of seconds before responding. “Really? An heiress who doesn’t have money for music lessons?”

Rose leaned a little closer. “Haven’t always been an heiress. How much do ya know about me?”

She stiffened a little, but didn’t stop playing. “Other than what I’ve learned from working with you, just what I’ve been told,” she said tonelessly.

“By the Doctor?”

“Yes,” replied Hal. “And all of it has been fairly complimentary.” She met Rose’s gaze and saw a myriad of emotions. Hal was tempted to reach out a tendril to tap into her feelings, but her natural instinct prompted her to keep her shields solidly in place in a room full of strangers.

“How much do you know about the Doctor?” Rose said after a long pause.

“More than you might think.”

“Enough to trust him to get into your head, it seems,” Rose said pointedly.

Hal hit a sour note and winced. She kept her gaze on the ivories as she thought of how to respond to Rose’s last words, knowing that she was almost literally on thin ice. She finished the piece and let her fingers run lightly over the tops of the keys, thinking.

“It’s not so much a matter of trust, Rose,” Hal answered finally. “We had a bit of a misunderstanding, and it became necessary to clear the air.”

“You know that he’s not human, right? Didya know he’s kinda emotionally unstable and dangerous? I don’t think you know what you’re playin’ with.”

“He’s no more dangerous than you,” snarled Hal before she could stop herself. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to rein in her emotions. The last thing she had expected was to jump to the Doctor’s defence. Rose, however, smiled enigmatically as if she’d predicted it.

“I’m sorry, that was rather rude of me,” said Rose, although she didn’t seem incredibly contrite. “That’s not exactly somethin’ one should say to someone about their boyfriend, even if one knows him better, now is it?”

“If you know him so well, why aren’t you with him? Don’t leave your toys lying carelessly around if you don’t want anyone else to play with them!” puffed Hal, eyes fiery.

“So he’s a boy toy, huh? Well, I guess he is kinda pretty, isn’t he? Even if he’s broke,” Rose said snippily.

“Look, Rose,” Hal said after drawing a long breath, “he wants you, and only you. If he ever loses faith in you, you’ll lose him. Someone else is gonna pick up the pieces if you’re not careful. But there’s nothing like that between us. He’s not my boyfriend; not even a potential boyfriend, and we’re just friends.”

“No, you look,” said Rose as her cheeks reddened in annoyance. “The Doctor and I, the proper Doctor in the other world, we were really close. We travelled together for two years. Two years, Hal! And not once did he ever go into my head like he did yours. It’s… it’s… sorta intimate, like… like takin’ your clothes off in front of each other. Why would he do that if you’re just mates?”

Hal stared into Rose’s eyes, panting very softly in anxiety. She knew what she needed to do, but the fear closed in on her, stopping the words. She could see that Rose’s eyes were sending a silent pleading, a wish that Hal would not lay claim to something Rose didn’t yet have firmly in her grasp. Hal couldn’t say more without outing herself, and for that she felt she needed support.

It’s time, she sent silently to the Doctor.

“Rose, do you really want to know the truth? The whole truth? You have nothing to fear from me, and I swear to you that I speak the truth when I say I don’t want the Doctor. But in order for you to understand, I need to be able to trust you.”

“I don’t understand,” Rose said, slowly shaking her head in bewilderment.

“What if I told you that I’m from your universe?”

Rose’s jaw dropped. She stared silently at Hal, not quite in disbelief, but not far from it.

“Hallo!” came a familiar voice next to Hal’s ear. “Did I hear a little birdy call me?” the Doctor said with a grin as he sat on the piano bench, pulling Hal about the shoulders into a hug.

“What are you two on about?” asked Rose, still confused.

“Shall we take a little walk, ladies?” asked the Doctor as he stood up. “I think we have quite a bit to talk about.”

Taking a side door out of the Hall, they strolled through the meandering hallways to the library, Rose trailing silently with a strange look on her face. She stopped in the library and crossed her arms, staring at the two as if she didn’t know them. “Ok, who’s gonna tell me what the devil is goin’ on?” she said with a slight frown. “What’s this about Hal comin’ from my universe?”

“Our universe, really,” said the Doctor. “We’re, all three of us, from the same universe. Hal popped into Pete’s World through a rift five years ago, even before you came here the first time, Rose.”

“Does Pete know this?” Rose asked.

“No,” Hal sighed. “But we are telling him tomorrow after breakfast. We have a meeting set up with him to do so.”

“Hal wanted to tell you herself before Pete found out,” the Doctor added. “It was her idea to tell you. And she is showing a lot of trust and a great deal of courage, I might add.”

“Why haven’t you told him before, Hal? It’s not like it’s a huge deal. He has a daughter and wife from the other universe, not to mention Mickey and the Doctor here came from there. Why hide it?”

“I’m not completely human,” Hal said softly. “I didn’t know how Torchwood would react to me. I was afraid I’d end up in the dungeons along with the weevils, or worse.”

“What are you?” Rose asked as she took a seat. Seeing that Rose wasn’t running and screaming down the hallway, Hal and the Doctor relaxed a little and sat across from her. The Doctor placed a reassuring hand on Hal’s forearm, waiting for her to speak.

“I’m a shifter,” Hal answered. “But not one of the alien shape shifters like you’ve encountered before. My people are practically indigenous to Earth. We’ve been there longer than humanity itself. Probably three per cent of the human population has ancient shifter genes and don’t know it. The genes are highly concentrated in me, but I’m still about eighty per cent human.”

Hal spent the next thirty minutes telling Rose about her background, her people’s background, her family, and how she came to be in Pete’s World. Rose sat calmly and tried to take it all in. The Doctor sat quietly as Rose asked completely cogent and intelligent questions. He swelled with pride at Rose’s acceptance of Hal’s story regarding Sontarans, Rutans and other alien species she’d only encountered through her travels with him. She was certainly no longer an ignorant London shop girl.

“And you came through the Rift?”

“A rift, not the Cardiff rift. There are unstable rifts all over both universes. But yes, I came through while chasing a fighter ship and got stuck here.”

Rose looked away, thinking furiously. “So… so you joined the Dimension Cannon project hopin’ it could help you get back to your home in the other universe, in Prime?”

Hal nodded. “Yeah, I was using the star charts I brought over from Prime as a guideline to charting locations here, hoping to further the project. It became particularly critical after the stars started going out here. I don’t think we would have succeeded in time without that data, to be honest.” She sighed deeply. “In the end, I was hoping that once you succeeded in getting across to the right universe and found the Doctor, I could slip through myself before dimensional retroclosure occurred. Didn’t quite work out that way.”

She looked up to see Rose sitting with tears hanging precariously from her lashes, her face flushed pinkish by emotion.

“Oh, Hal,” Rose breathed. “All this time you were workin’ to get me safely through the Cannon, and you never said a word to me. We were in the same boat, you and me. Stuck here, wantin’ to get back. I would’a helped you. I could’a took you with me when I knew we were so close. You wouldn’t be still stuck here now!”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I’m so sorry I didn’t trust you back then,” said Hal quietly, staring at her hands. “I was just too afraid. The Torchwood I knew from Prime would have locked me away, experimented on me, or dissected me. With you being the daughter of the Director of the Torchwood here, I didn’t feel I could risk it. Yet, everything I needed, all of the science and equipment, was readily available only at Torchwood. It was sort of like working in an asylum when you’d just escaped as a patient from another.”

Rose got up to sit on the other side of Hal and took her hand. “I’m so sorry, Hal. I really am, and I understand. It’s just a pity that you missed your opportunity to get back home.”

“There may be another way, Rose,” the Doctor spoke up.

“How?”

“The baby TARDIS. Once she’s matured, we may be able to find a wormhole that is stable enough to traverse. Hal has experience charting and navigating wormholes, it seems,” he said with a smile.

“Sounds dangerous,” Rose said.

“It is,” Hal nodded. “I’m not sure if we can get it done, or if the TARDIS can get back if we do get across.”

“But that’s… at least another five years, yeah?”

“At least. I’m not sure I can accelerate the growth of the TARDIS coral beyond what Donna theorized. And we still need to locate a suitable wormhole. If we’re very, very lucky, we might be able to get Hal’s ship functioning again. That would be ideal, if it can be done,” shrugged the Doctor.

“So, that’s what your project is about? You’re lookin’ for Time Lords?”

“Or at least Time Lord technology. Plus… well… I have my own little pet project, but I’m not quite ready to disclose the nature of that yet,” he said with a crooked smile. “Sounds kind of barmy right now.”

“So, you see, Rose… I want to get back to Prime,” explained Hal. “That’s all I want. I don’t want to hurt anyone, in any way. You’ve nothing to fear from me.”

“Don’t worry,” said Rose. “I’ll help you in any way I can. Let me know if you want me to attend your meeting with Pete tomorrow.”

“That’s my Rose Tyler!” the Doctor said with a big grin.

“I need to get back. Vitex heiress an’ all that rubbish, you know,” Rose said as she got up to leave. “Give me a call tomorrow if you want me to show up. I’m sure Pete will need time to stop his head from explodin’ first.”

“Thank you, Rose,” Hal said with a warm smile.

“Oh, and Doctor,” Rose called out as she turned at the door. “I know I’ve been a proper cow to you since you came here, and I’m sorry. Can’t quite tell what I’m feelin’ yet, but I hope we can start over to become friends, yeah?”

“Oh, I’d love that, Rose,” said the Doctor, shocked and elated.

They listened as she walked down the hallway until her footsteps became inaudible. Turning to each other, the Doctor gave Hal a high-five before they both started grinning like maniacs.

“I do believe we both have something to celebrate,” said the Doctor. “May I escort you to the party, Doctor Forbin?”

“Absolutely, Doctor Smith!” grinned Hal.

They linked hands and ran through the corridors, following the sounds of loud dance music drifting from the Tyler Great Hall.


************************************************************************
The Doctor (Ten II) sets up the TARDIS growth chamber. Hal reveals some quirky secrets and struggles over whether to tell Rose about her origins.

Title: Wayward Son - Chapter 18: Need to Know, Part I

Characters: Jackie Tyler; Ten II; Pete Tyler; Tony Tyler; Original Character
Genre: Alternate Universe; Angst; Character Study; Het; Romance
Author's Description: Set mostly in the AU of Pete's World; TenII hits a big snag in his efforts to forge a new life with Rose and finds himself facing an unexpected identify crisis.
Length: WIP
Rating: Teen for slight swearing

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
biteymadlady58
Feb. 13th, 2012 07:46 am (UTC)
Heehee! Told you, you would like it. ;-)

And poor Malcolm. You could just tell the poor sod lives with his mother, now couldn't you? LOL

Looks like Hal has at least five years to reveal her secrets, so... hmmm. ;-)

Next chapter is mapped out, but unwritten. I'll try to get some of it written during the week, because parts of it are burning holes into my brain. We shall see.
kelkat9
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:21 am (UTC)
Hal and an Android! I just about died at this point that was sooo funny! I can't wait for their trip. This is going to be good now that Rose is settled down some.
biteymadlady58
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC)
Ha! There are other advantages she didn't mention. LOL!

The trip should be quite exciting and funny at the same time.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )