Evil Plotbunny (hhertzof) wrote,
Evil Plotbunny
hhertzof

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Closer to Fine (7/12, PG)

Title: Closer to Fine
Author: hhertzof
Pairings: Doctor/Sarah, Doctor/OC, Sarah/Paul Morley
Rating: PG
Beta(s): whatkaitedid, persiflage_1, attempt_unique, paranoidangel42
Summary: The Doctor believes Luke is his son and that Sarah lied to him at Deffrey Vale. The truth is more complex than anyone suspected.
Notes: Paul Morley is mentioned in Christmas on a Rational Planet. The title and end quote come from the Indigo Girls song, Closer to Fine
Written for Tardis_bigbang 2009. I'll be posting a chapter a week, but if you're eager to read the whole thing you can find it here. The links below will go live as I post each chapter here.

Chapter 1 Chapter 5 Chapter 9
Chapter 2 Chapter 6 Chapter 10
Chapter 3 Chapter 7 Chapter 11
Chapter 4 Chapter 8 Chapter 12




The watch bothered her. Paul persisted in holding on to it, even though it hadn't worked since she met him and somehow, every time she went to take a closer look at it, it wasn't where she thought it would be.

Finally, she resorted to the pickpocketing skills she'd learnt from the Doctor, and retrieved it from Paul's pocket. Not that she wanted to get rid of it. She just thought that given half an opportunity, she might get it working again. It would be the perfect birthday present for the man who had walked into her life and cured her loneliness.

Settling down at her desk, she took out a set of jeweller's tools (often useful in dealing with alien artefacts) and considered the watch. Immediately she went still. How had she never noticed the design on the top? She studied it carefully from all angles. Gallifreyan writing, not that she could read it. Frowning a bit, she slowly released the latch and opened it, only to be hit by a rush of memories. Someone else's memories.

Orange skies and silver grass. Faces, some familiar, some strange. Enough familiar faces that she knew they were his. Weird, seeing herself through the Doctor's eyes. The images flickered quickly and were gone and she immediately snapped the watch shut, fearing what might be lost.

But she realised as she closed it that she might have been too late. His memories were still swimming around in her head, threatening to overwhelm her. She closed her eyes and tried to reassert her own self and slowly won. The memories were still there, but she thought she could control them and keep herself separate. She'd never had any interest in losing herself in a man, even the Doctor, and she wasn't about to start now.

Once she finally got a grip on his memories and tucked them away into a small corner of her mind, she curled up in a chair and tried to think. This changed everything and nothing. Of all the men she could have married, this felt something like betrayal and something like an unspoken wish come true. Unspoken, unacknowledged, and certainly unhoped for. She wasn't sure if she liked the idea. He'd been - they'd both been wanderers, and here they were in some fantasy of a happily-ever-after that she had never wanted from him or for him.

He'd been both friend and lover, but Sarah had never thought she wanted more. It was all about the adventure and the freedom to travel and explore. She had never fancied herself in love with him or planned for a house and garden and all the traditional accoutrements of marriage. Even when she'd married Paul, she hadn't thought she'd wanted that. But maybe she had, deep down. Or wanted to believe she did. Some strange desire to prove that she was normal and that she could have what other women were supposed to want from life.

And now? It was a lie. Whether he'd planned it or not. His memories tucked up in that fob watch, his alien body wrapped in the trappings of human anatomy. This wasn't how she wanted him. Trapped and caged, remade into a fake human to fit her life. To her he symbolised all that was alien and strange and wild and wonderful. This wasn't him, just some strange facsimile.

She did wonder if he'd known. If he'd done it deliberately. If it was what he had wanted. Or perhaps he had been trapped in this form and had somehow instinctively reached out to her to save him. She stared at the watch, wondering whether she should leave be, or give him back himself.

A knock on the door interrupted her reverie. Tucking the watch in the pocket of her jeans, she stood up to answer it, her mind still caught in weighing and considering what her next move should be.

"Ms Sarah Jane Smith." The man was tall and heavy-set, and wore his clothes like a costume. Alien, probably. Not like the Doctor, who understood but chose to break the rules. Like someone who was unfamiliar with the way humans dressed, and so everything was slightly off.

"You have the advantage of me," Sarah said guardedly. There was a very good chance this had something to do with the watch, but she couldn't make assumptions. Not yet.

"You can call me...Bob," he replied a little too pompously.

She recognised him then. From the watch. A flicker of memory. A Time Lord from the council. The Doctor knew him, and there was a sense of tenuous trust that went with it. Sarah had heard him speak of his people before, threadbare courtesy covering dislike, disdain and distrust. Therefore, this one must have some worth, if the Doctor gave him more than that. "All right, Bob. I presume this has something to do with the watch." The memories were confirmation enough. Best to admit to the watch. The timing was too close. He had to know that she had opened it, or he wouldn't have come round.

"You really shouldn't have meddled, but given your history, I can't see how we could have expected anything less." There was a slight admiration in his voice, despite the clear noblesse oblige.

Sarah accepted the compliment with a gracious smile. "I've had a lot of practice. So now what?" The ball was in his court. She wasn't offering anything more until she got some information in return.

He smiled at her grimly, but she thought he looked slightly amused at the situation. This one had a sense of humour. "Now I explain to you what we are doing here and trust to your perspicacity that you won't interfere."

"I'm listening. Mostly because you've been gracious enough so far." She was curious enough that she would play along for now.

"We may have our faults, Ms. Smith, but we do have the sense to realise that according to your dossier, you have little patience for being toyed with. Of course, we had hoped that it wouldn't be necessary to explain, but as you know too much already, you will be less apt to disrupt our experiment if you have a good reason not to." He entered the flat without asking, and took a seat on the sofa.

This was surprising. A Time Lord with common sense. What was the universe coming to? "And here I thought you Time Lords all looked down on us lesser races." She could have protested the invasion of her home, but superior forces were not to be trifled with. Instead she sat down in a chair facing him, and waited to hear what he had to say.

"Some of us do. Some just work with the tools available. And a good craftsman knows his tools." Still fencing.

Sarah did not object to the comparison. It was only to be expected. "So, this experiment...."

"We have figured out a way to take a Time Lord and rewrite his DNA so that he was, to all intents and purposes, human. The Doctor is our test subject." He steepled his fingers and looked at her over them, waiting to see how she reacted to this bit of information.

Sarah just nodded. Time and journalism had taught her patience. "He's probably the only one of you who'd be willing to co-" the pause was deliberate and clear "habitate with another race. But I return to my last comment and ask why? This doesn't seem like something a Time Lord would do for fun."

To her surprise, he actually answered the question. "There is a war on. We're fighting the Daleks in a battle that spans all space and time. Time Lord vital signs are too recognisable-"

"Sleeper agents. You're creating sleeper agents." Of all the insane plans.

A nod. "Precisely. Long term sleeper agents made all the more effective because they believe their own cover story. The Doctor was the obvious choice as test subject because he has spent so much time around your race and was less likely to be- squeamish about the idea," Bob said delicately.

Sarah refused to take offence. "And was I part of the original experiment?"

"Not particularly. We did place him in London, so that the odds of meeting former companions and old friends were increased, because we knew that would be useful data. We did not expect-" He broke off and Sarah thought he might be trying to find some tactful way of ending that sentence.

"Our marriage," Sarah finished. "Or your Paul Morley being human enough to fall for another human." She could only imagine how the Time Lords would have reacted to that idea.

"We did conceive of the latter and were prepared for him to build ties. We just didn't expect the main tie to be with you." Bob leaned back against the sofa and let her draw her own conclusions.

Which she did. "A known troublemaker." Sarah grinned at this. "But I imagine this was useful data too."

"Everything is useful data. One does not always know what it is useful for immediately, but it will always tell you something about what you are studying." He paused, looking slightly awkward. "Unlike the Doctor, I know very little about humans besides what I have learnt in this study, so forgive me if I broach a subject that may be considered tactless in your society."

Sarah couldn't help laughing at his discomfort. "Oh, get on with it. It isn't easy to embarrass me, and I'm used to aliens with different customs. But I would have expected you to be less amicable to the situation we now find ourselves in."

"As I said earlier, we have a dossier on you, along with each of his other former companions. We are aware that you were lovers when you travelled together." The phrasing was hesitant, as if he were afraid she would object to his mentioning the subject.

Sarah shrugged. "I didn't expect that was a secret."

"But it is unusual. You were the first human he slept with, and the last. When we were doing the debriefing before the experiment started, I inquired as to the reasons. He stated that you were the first human he had found sexually attractive - not unexpected as our species has a much lower reproductive drive than yours-" He seemed to be relaxing a bit, as he brought the discussion to a more clinical level.

Sarah didn't object. This was an experiment after all, and like many scientists she knew, Bob seemed inclined to lecture on his topic, forgetting who was listening. Not so different from the human scientists she'd interviewed. She knew precisely how to keep him talking now - a hint that she had some knowledge of the subject and some curiosity. "I would be surprised if you didn't. With your lifespans you'd quickly face overpopulation issues."

Bob stared at her thoughtfully, and continued, "But he also said that he assumed that given your lack of innate telepathic ability, he would be able to walk away from you without forming the usual telepathic bond that binds two Time Lords together under such circumstances," He paused, looking a bit uncomfortable again. "Time Lords mate for life. Though we do form multiple such bonds. This gives you an odd place in our society. You are his wife, as we define the term, and thereby have all rights and privileges we would give to a member of our own race in that circumstance. And yet, as an alien, you have no idea what these rites or privileges are, nor any idea of the social customs surrounding them."

"Let's see. Polygamous, mate for life," Sarah mused, "given the low libido, you probably don't take many spouses, but enough to create more opportunities for genetic diversity in a smaller population. Given your long lives and again the low libido, you probably don't maintain a family structure like ours. More like a 'give me a call when we're both in town' sort of relationship." The sort of relationship she'd always thought she'd wanted from the Doctor.

"Impressive. And mostly correct." He seemed to mean it, which surprised her. "We do sometimes choose to live together or separate, depending on the situation. We also have the time to get over old hurts and remember what brought us together in the first place, so there is less of a need to make a clean break and start over. Though there are always a few couples who separate for good. Or make more complex arrangements."

"That does explain a lot about the Doctor's- attitude about certain matters." Now she was being circumspect. She wasn't sure if she should be worried or comforted by this new trend.

"There is one other subject that I wish to broach. During his Fifth incarnation, the Doctor applied to the Keeper of the Looms requesting a child bearing your genes and his. The application was turned down at the time, because there was no means of gaining your consent to this." He backtracked, feeling the need to explain. "The looms were originally created to aid those who could not have children naturally- same sex partners, and those with infertility issues. Now it is an option for anyone, but unlike natural births, the applications are screened. Consent is the main reason. Any parent who contributes more than 1/10th of the genetic material must consent to its use. While we screen for other genetic issues, we will rarely forbid a child on those grounds, though we will inform the prospective parents of any potential problems. As you mentioned earlier, genetic diversity is difficult in a population as small as ours, and sometimes those flaws can have unexpected positive side effects."

Sarah grinned at this. "Sounds quite sensible to me. We're just starting to map our DNA and I hope that after a generation or two of genetic screening, the human race will come to the same conclusion. There's just too much evidence against monocultures. We're already seeing it in our plant breeding and organisations have grown up to fight against strains being bred out of existence. Am I guessing you want me to sign something, then?"

"We have not spoken to the Doctor about it, but it seems an appropriate gesture, once the war is won, to allow him this." He looked at her gravely, as if to make her aware of the great honour they were granting her.

She couldn't resist a little teasing. "Despite getting dirty human genes in the pool?" Sarah laughed, then sobered, "But then it's another way of adding some diversity into your society."

"Perhaps a little of both, Ms. Smith." He was leaning back now, looking almost comfortable.

Sarah leaned back too, turning what he had said over in her head. "I'm surprised that you aren't requesting I get pregnant. For the sake of the experiment, I mean." Not that they needed to ask. Sarah assumed that they would have no trouble rendering her birth control pills useless or even implanting a fertilized egg in her womb.

The Time Lord stared at her. "But it is your body. The choice to physically carry a baby in your womb is yours alone."

"How civilised of you." Acknowledging that she had enough intelligence to make that decision for herself, rather than fall into their superior plans.

"We have had other options for a long time. Do not expect us to fall into the same fallacies as your own race, Ms. Smith. It is certainly not necessary for you to carry a child if you do not wish to." He fiddled awkwardly with his tie, and seemed almost apologetic for the arrogance in this statement.

Until now, Sarah had mostly been aware of the Time Lords as an annoyance, her views coloured by the Doctor's reactions to his own people. It had never occurred to her that there might be anything their society had got right. "I thank you for that." She paused. Now was the time to push, if she ever did. "Of course, this is all nonsense. Though I expect you told the Doctor the same story."

"Whatever do you mean, Ms. Smith?" Bob tried to look innocent and failed.

Sarah pressed her advantage. "First of all, as you pointed out your whole species is very long lived. So why can you only devote one year to this experiment, with only one subject. And the whole premise doesn't make sense. What good are sleeper agents with no trigger? Do you expect them to open the fob watches at just the right time? And how long until the Daleks recognise that the watches are the trigger?" She answered her own question, "No, you'd have to have a handler for each spy and that would defeat the entire purpose. This isn't a long term strategy, it's a bolt hole. It has to be. Why else would you even care if you could cross-breed?" She was ranting now and didn't care.

Bob sat back and just watched quietly, as though he were waiting for her to get to the punchline.

"Oh, don't give me that look. You're not interested in giving the Doctor a half-breed child; you're thinking in terms of racial survival here. And he'll probably be on the front lines as canon fodder." She poured all her pain into her speech. He might not be with her, but just knowing he was out there, righting wrongs and helping people, had meant something.

Silence. Then a slow nod. "Impressive deductions, Ms. Smith. Though not quite correct. You are right about the war and our long term plans, and the Doctor's special skills are key in our final gambit - in such a way that he probably will not reap the benefits. But this is all abstract at the moment. We hope we will never have to use it. We hope that somehow we will find another way of defeating the Daleks."

Hope was such a fragile thing. But she bargained anyway. "Fair enough. But if you find that you must resort to this insane plan, I want my child. You will find some way of getting him or her back to me." She would not be the best of mothers, but it was better than losing them both.

"Agreed. We are not unreasonable about this, and if we were to initiate this plan, there would be no one left on Gallifrey to care for him or her." He was trying to take control of the situation now.

But Sarah seized on this new information. "You do realise you've given me a time frame now."

"You must have suspected or you wouldn't have asked. A child would need a parent. An adult might manage on his or her own." He stared at her over steepled fingers again.

She wondered what impression she had given him of her, but that didn't stop her from asking the next question on her list, "Does he know what you have planned?"

"Not yet. Perhaps not ever. You will think it cruel, but he has skills the rest of us do not and if there is anyone who can salvage any part of this, it is he. Do you have any preferences for your child? Hair colour, sex, et cetera?" Bob genuinely seemed interested.

The Doctor was the only Time Lord she knew of with experience in situations like these. "A boy. I know you'll give him some convoluted Gallifreyan name, but call him Luke. I'd consider it. Having a child. Having his child. Human - we have a cliché - women knowing that they're going to lose someone having a child, so that they have this piece of him to hold onto. But the truth of the matter is that I'd be a lousy mother. Probably forget to feed him or get distracted by a story and leave him at the nursery while I flew to Africa. One can only hope that I will hold on to reason and not get swept away in the sentimentality of it all. Will he have someone to love him?" She didn't know why she asked that. After all, she was giving up a child to people in the middle of a war. She idly wondered about her own sanity.

"Your son? We are not savages, to turn a small boy into a lab rat. He will be given into the care of his next of kin, one of the Doctor's other wives. Her work covers what humans split out into obstetrics and paediatrics." He was trying to reassure her, but she wasn't sure she found that very comforting.

Sarah filed this information but didn't comment, instead returning to the technical side of things. "Low birth rate - I don't imagine it's a field that's highly in demand."

"And the demand has dropped. Your need to procreate goes up in times of war, because you are a fast growing species and your fertile period is short. We have more luxury, and few people will choose to bear children early in a war, though our population is dropping enough that that trend is starting to reverse itself. He will have a mother who loves him, who lost a child to the war, playmates his own age and a place in the academy, should he pass the test."

Sarah arched an eyebrow at him.

He shrugged. "Times change. We had admitted some humans to the Academy before the war, though now it is closed to all but our own. Gallifrey is not a safe place any more. I would be very surprised if he did not pass the exam. The Doctor may have scraped by, but that was pure laziness and we've seen what you are capable of. You may choose to represent yourself as a reporter, but you have more skill in the scientific fields than you admit." To her surprise, he sounded like he meant that admiration. Possibly because she'd been asking intelligent questions.

Sarah shrugged off the compliment. "So I have him until January. And I'm not to show him what's in the fob watch unless it's an emergency. And you will get my son to me, if things go the way you fear."

The Time Lord held out his hand. "Shall we shake on it? Or are you going to turn around and tell him everything?"

"You've shown me respect and fairness. I'll keep your secret for now. But if there is a catastrophe I can't handle on my own, all bets are off." Best to write in a contingency clause. Especially if there were Daleks involved. She shook his hand.

"Now if you'll sign here, and here and here. Your own alphabet will do." He handed her a contract she couldn't read and a pen that reminded her of some she had used in the TARDIS.

Sarah did as she was asked. It wasn't as though he was asking for her soul. Just her eggs, for now. She saw him to the door.

As he was leaving he reached out and touched her cheek, quickly making mind to mind contact. He didn't have much time and he had to be careful. Removing the memories completely was both unethical and unlikely to work. There were too many threads she could follow, and she'd been through this sort of thing too often. Instead he edited, leaving most of their conversation intact. It was only fair. But he had made a promise that he knew he'd be unable to keep, and it would be a kindness to remove it.

If this mad plan worked, Gallifrey would be erased from history and barring the few they could save with the chameleon arch technology, the people of Gallifrey would also be lost. If they did do the cross-fertility test, there was almost no chance they would be able to get the boy off Gallifrey before the end, and if they did, his very existence would probably be written out of time and space.

Sarah had spent too much time in the Time Vortex, and might remember the promise. He would not leave her to mourn for a child that no longer existed. If by some miracle, they could send him home to her, they would, but he did not want her to spend her life waiting for someone who would never make it home.

Bad enough that she would lose the Doctor, but at least she would know he wasn't coming back.
Tags: bigbang, closer to fine, fic, sarah/doctor
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