Izzy? Izzy, honey?
It's me, Ukyou.
...You're looking... better, now.
...Stupid of me, I know...
...Do you know how weird it is?
...I ...I can barely remember what you looked like when I first met you, that short gaijin girl yelling at me about P-chan...
I... I never... I thought... _You_ thought... that it was going to be over, done with in a few months...
Did... I _must_ have, I _must have told you 'bout Ran-chan, 'bout _his_ curse, all the times someone tried to make it permanent...
Once, we... we thought it'd actually _worked_, that he was stuck as a girl...
He... he didn't take it well...
[sniffles]...How selfish am I?...Here I am, moping 'bout Ran-chan and I can't even do anything for you...
...I wanted to take care of Ranma and I can't even take care of you...
...if only Akane could see me now...
I never realised...
You should have seen him when he arrived, Iz.
It... He... looked at me, and...
...there was nothing there. Nothing...
...Then it was like... like... someone turned a switch on inside him...
...and he was angry, but that was good, because I didn't have to look at the nothing...
How can someone so alive become so hollow...?
If he'd been like that after Gallifrey...
Ssard carried you - he must have...
...it was like someone cut the Doctor open and let out a storm...
Angry. So angry.
Later, we found the dents in the wall. In the door.
We'd forgotten. How much...
How much it hurts him when we're hurt.
And when it was _you_...
They called him the Oncoming Storm.
They were wrong.
The storm's _here_.
And we're riding it.
I can't even imagine it.
I'm supposed to be the musician, the creative one around here, and I can't even imagine it.
All I can see are...
...is the Doctor's face when he... when...
It happened to me. I know it happened.
But I never saw it.
You saw your body ... you saw it...
You saw it die.
You saw yourself die...
...you're still here. But... but...
...it's someone else, isn't it?
Just like me...
Look at us.
I still _look_ like me... but I'm not me. Not the original. Not the original Fitz.
You...you don't _look_ like you did... but you're still you. Still Izzy.
Casualties of the war, huh...?
Hold on in there, Iz.
I _know_ you.
Compassion offered to clone - actually, the word she used was 'remember' - a new body for you.
Fascinating as the procedure might be... especially one performed by a time machine..
...there are times emotion - and ethics - must take precedence in science...
At least that was what the Doctor told me.
He also observed that switching your mind with the clone's... would leave someone else in your predicament.
He rejected my offer of a mindless clone.
'It would still _feel_. It would still _experience_. Even if all it had was instinct, Washu... it would still be _alive_.'
'And I will _not_ sacrifice another's life for my friend's...'
'Not an innocent's...'
Not scientific. Hardly.
But that wasn't what mattered.
'I should have _seen_,' the Doctor told me. 'I should have _realised_. Destrii was a killer. She killed as easily as swatting a gnat. I should have... She wanted to get to _me_. To the TARDIS. To escape her pursuers. She was prepared to steal Izzy's _body_ to hide... I should have realised that she would kill to escape...'
'You couldn't have seen,' I told him. 'There was no _way_ you could have known...'
'No? But she _did_ kill. She killed a Mobox... and the Mobox's heart-soul, its... partner... killed her. In the name of "justice".' He spat the word out as if it were a pip. 'Killed Destrii... and Izzy's body with her. Leaving Izzy in Destrii's body.'
He shook his head, then. 'I could have... I could have put them back. Could have switched their minds back. Delivered Destrii to whatever awaited her. Perhaps pleaded for mercy...'
'She was a killer, Doctor. In the end, she paid the price.'
'And so is Izzy.' he told me. 'Izzy will be paying the price for Destrii's crimes for...' He fell silent.
'Destrii killed the Mobox while in _Izzy's_ body.' I said. 'If you had switched them back, _Izzy_ would have died...'
He shook his head again. 'I would have stopped it, found a way to calm them down...'
'Not without proof, Doctor. If..'
'If... Ififififififif!!! If only Destrii hadn't been so quick to _kill_! If only I'd _been_ there. If, if, if, if...! We could talk 'if' all _night_ and _still_ be no nearer a solution! It _happened!_'
'It did...' I looked at him. 'Justice is blind.'
'So is revenge.' he whispered. 'So is revenge... Raise up thy eyes and see the lives broken on your wheel.'
He nodded. 'The Lament of the Non-Operational.'
'Izzy's life may be broken. Is broken. She is trapped in an alien body - most likely, will be, for the foreseeable future. A _non-human_ body. She has been separated from human contact... human _understanding_. There is little chance she will regain a human body. She _needs_ contact. Someone who will not turn away from her.'
'I know, Fey.' His eyes turned on me, those pale, alien eyes. 'I _know_. And I will _not_ abandon her. I will not abandon any of you...'
He looked down, at his hands, then.
Softly, he repeated '_Any_ of you...'
Listen... K1 asked me if I could do a spell, turn you back somehow.
Just like him. He barely _knows_ you... but he still wants to do it.
Heh. It'd _work_, I know _that_... Magic still works, even on fish - and fish _people_ - so no problem there...
It's _you_ who'd be the problem, though.
Problem is... problem is... [sighs]... Delusion.
There's a massive risk. That you'd convince yourself that it was your body, not someone else's... and if that got knocked away...
You've got _enough_ to deal with the moment. _That's_ the last thing you need.
So... what we... what Bell and I were thinking was... was, if you wanted it, later, we could maybe go over this again, check out the pros and cons, see whether or not it would work, whether the spell'd be permanent.
Would that be okay?
'Autonomic systems still in working order...'
'Is that good?'
'If it _weren't_, Izzy would be dead... The autonomic systems are ...under the body's control, usually, not the mind's. Depending on species... Respiration, digestion, circulation... or equivalent analogues, I'll know more in a few weeks... all working as usual.
'At least, I assume it is normal for Destrii's species. They've stayed stable, at any rate... and the _Ship_ seems to feel they're fine...
'No eyesight problems...'
'Nononono... Izzy needed reading glasses. Because of her eyesight. _Destrii's_ eyes... were 20/20 by human standards. Izzy won't be needing the glasses anymore.'
'Opthalmologist _and_ medical Doctor. I'm impressed.'
'Later. Now... weight/height correlation I _assume_ is normal. Significantly stronger than... than Izzy was. Not superhumanly strong, but still... a noticeable increase.
'Blood pressure, heartrate, respiratory system, immune system, artron readings... for the moment, I'm going to have to take those as baseline readings, in the absence of anything else...'
'So, can she breathe underwater?... Sorry, tactless.'
'...Good question. Destrii's species were piscine - directly descended from equivalents to Earth fish. They _were_ fish, as _you're_ an ape.'
'You're welcome. But they were _amphibious_. They lived in and out of water... in fact, Destrii spent most of her time out of water. Oxygen-breathing, suggesting analogues to human lungs. Their lungs _may_ be adapted to extracting oxygen from water ...or they may have residual gills enabling the same...'
'You don't know.'
'No. The balance of probability would suggest it, though...'
'Mm. I wouldn't suggest swimming lessons just yet, though.'
'Mm. Teeth... in excellent condition, I'm impressed...'
'Are they _supposed_ to be pointed?'
'Naturally. They _were_ a mainly carnivorous species. Sharp teeth were needed to tear at the meat.'
'Somehow, that doesn't reassure me.'
'Hm? Skin... _scales_... apparently in good condition... nails, too.... webbing between fingers and toes expected... good muscle tone...'
'Doctor...um... this...um... why... um... why does a _fish_ have _breasts?_'
[blinks] 'I do hope that was rhetorical, Anji... antennae on bridge of nose... presumably used to sense changes in the water, adapted to minute changes in the air, necessary for a species that evolved dependant on knowing immediate changes in its surroundings... in effect, nasal equivalent. No nose necessary, respiring through other orifices...
'Eyes... cornea and pupil... no distinct iris, but Izzy still sees in colour...'
'Yeah... I didn't think fish _had_ cat's eyes...'
'To see the cat coming, of course... Mm. Full bill of health.'
'Under any other circumstances, I would give this patient a clean bill of health. Everything's there, working as it's supposed to - in some cases, better than it's supposed to.'
'Everything not under Izzy's conscious control.'
'I wondered when we'd get around to that...'
'..._There_, we'll have to wait and see. Izzy will have a lot to adjust to, Anji.'
'You're telling me.'
'Massive change in self-image... in _identity_. Having to adapt to a new body... on Earth, it takes years before they will let transsexuals undergo a gender reassignment operation, partly because they wish to be sure that this _is_, psychologically, what they truly want. Even then, they are _prepared_ for what will happen. Izzy was _not_... and she has undergone a change in _species_, potentially an even _bigger_ change. This isn't a cosmetic change we're talking about, Anji. Not a quick nip and tuck on the stomach.'
'I never saw the point, to be honest. Besides, it was usually the _guys_ in the office saving up to have their stomachs done... Or the hair.'
'Never saw the point of that, actually. Balding _is_ perfectly normal...
[giggles] 'Tell _them_ that. And let's not get into the penile enlargement...'
'Humans... It's not just that, Anji. She - _we_ - saw Destrii - and Izzy's original, human body - destroyed.'
'I _know_. Izzy has seen a lot of death, a lot of pain, so much pain... so much hurt... more than most people ever would, because of her travels with me... a consequence... but this was _her_ death, the death of _her_ body... and any chance she ever had of returning to normal. Even if she does regain a human body, _that_ knowledge will not leave her.'
'Izzy's no victim, Doctor. She's not going to shut herself in her room for the rest of her life, cut herself off from the world... and she's _not_ going to define herself as a walking dead girl.'
'Did I say she _would_? This _will_ affect her... she would have to be stoic beyond comprehension to walk away _without_ consequence... but Izzy is resilient enough to bounce back.
'She will be _different_. But she will still be the same. Still be Izzy.'
'Is _she_ going to believe that?'
'What do you think?'
'....I don't know.'
'...There are other problems, you know.'
'Your other incarnations. Your other companions.'
'Exactly. How they will react... I - we - I have a reputation for this. For changing you. They're starting to wonder why.'
[raises eyebrow] 'And I wonder how they managed to get out of this _unchanged_...'
'Shh. I wouldn't mention that around them. Not where they could hear.'
'...You're not serious.'
[eyes twinkle] 'You never know.'
'There are times, you know...'
'There's also the matter of Izzy's job.'
'The one _outside_ continuity? The one looking after the toddlers?'
[shudders] 'Don't remind me. Better her than me...'
'I contacted the Supervisor. Told him what had happened. Suggested that Izzy would be taking some time off, to reassess her position.'
'Nice choice of words.'
'Thank you... He already knew, of course... There's a baby Izzy toddling around in baby Destrii's body, now...'
'Oh my Gods...'
'They _are_ your baby versions. What happens to _you_...'
'...happens to them. Oh my Gods...'
'I _know_. It's a double-edged sword... Good _and_ bad...'
'I don't _know_. I don't know. No matter _what_ happens, they _always_ keep parallel with what happens to you. No matter what.'
'I _know_, Anji... He already knew, of course... Accepted my suggestion, and let me know that the position would always be open to her...'
'...if she ever wanted to return.
'I told him she'd let him know.'
'Yeah. With a two-fingered salute.'
'There's no perhaps about it.'
'Someone who has been through _exactly_ what Izzy has been through? She'll respond... somehow.'
'...No. They're not a coping mechanism. They're toddlers. They should _be_ toddlers.'
'They are toddlers, Anji. And Izzy does have... an affinity for them.'
'Is that enough to justify it?'
'What happened to Izzy wasn't justified, either.'
'...Doesn't excuse it happening again.'
'It doesn't stop it, either.
'In the end... In the end, we're left to learn from it. And try to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Ever.'
'...I suppose that's about as good as I can hope for.'
'Mm. We'll see.
The Doctor sat at the table, alone, shuffling the cards.
A figure sat down next to him.
'Ssard.' the Doctor acknowledged.
'Seven down, three to go...' the Doctor muttered. 'Seven down, three to go...' He shook his head. 'This seems to be the price I pay for _my_ change... _your_ changes. That _you_ get changed, because of your travels with me...'
'Change works both ways, Doctor. Some are good, some bad.' Ssard shrugged. 'That is the nature of life.'
'It seems to be a reminder to me...' the Doctor murmured. 'Life isn't safe or easy... it's passionate and hard and safe and unsettling and easy and difficult... Ecstatic and traumatic... Jumping into the abyss, and crawling back up.'
He squared the cards. 'But I _knew_ that, I knew that when I started this life, this incarnation. And I've lived it.'
'We are all still alive, Doctor.' Ssard said. 'in one form or another. That, I think, is enough to count as a victory. That we are all alive - and able to understand that.'
Slowly... slowly, a small smile broke across the Doctor's face. 'Simple. So simple...'
Ssard shrugged. 'Mammals always make things more complicated than they have to be.'
This time, the Doctor grinned. 'Well, of course. After all, my people invented the word 'devious' in the first place.'
'For some reason, I am unsurprised.'
Charley poked her head through the door. 'Umm... Stacy says Isabelle is about to wake up, and she wondered if you would be there.'
'I doubt she put it quite like that,' the Doctor observed.
Charley blushed. 'Actually...'
'No... No, tell her we will be there.' The Doctor set the cards down on the table.
Then he stood up.
For a moment, a brief moment, it seemed to Ssard that this pale mammal, this mammal with long, dark hair and his long, pale face, dressed in human-archaic clothes - a green velvet coat, a patterned waistcoat, a white shirt, a grey neck-covering, tan trousers, scruffy footwear - this mammal seemed to finally fit into the world around him. To be home, at last.
Then the moment passed, and he was the Doctor again, the creature who did not fit anywhere.
Ssard shook his head. Too much time around mammals...
'So,' the Doctor said, slipping the cards into his coat. 'Let's see how Izzy's doing, shall we?'
The Doctor looked back. Looked at them.
Anji. Charley. Compassion. Fey. Fitz. Sam. Ssard. Stacy.
Eight. Eight companions.
The ninth... the ninth was here too, even if only in spirit.
He always was.
And the tenth...
He pulled the cards out of his coat pocket, shuffled them again.
He had had these made a while back.
A present, of sorts.
Not _the_ present. A small gift. A reminder...
For his fifth anniversary.
Five years since his regeneration. Since this life had begun.
Humans placed so much value on time, on anniversaries... on markers.
Five markers since he had started this incarnation...
He smiled. He'd crammed so much into the years since, swirling his companions along for the ride. Changing them, as they changed him.
Now... Now, the latest change faced them.
Another end. Another beginning.
What would happen next?
For all his assumptions, all his guesswork, all his knowledge...
...he didn't know.
...He was afraid.
He was excited.
Once he opened the door...
...nothing would be the same.
And the part of him that was afraid...
...even there, he still wanted to know.
He looked back again.
His companions. His friends.
And behind them...
...friends he looked forward to meeting, people he had yet to meet.
The friends and foes they'd made while here. People who were beginning to know them, in ways he couldn't, perhaps never would...
Who wanted to know what had happened to a girl they barely knew.
Whether she was despairing or angry. Grieving or at peace.
What would happen to her. Whether she would ever be the person they'd known. How they would react if she'd never be the same again.
He shuffled the cards again. This was geting to be a nervous habit, he realised. He grinned at the realisation.
He'd intended to hand the cards out on the anniversary.
Now... now, with this...
Izzy would appreciate the sentiment, perhaps.
She would, he knew that.
As much as he knew anything.
His companions. Immortalised forever as Tarot cards.
With his own unique twist, of course.
He grinned again.
It would be a surprise, he knew _that_.
*Especially* when they saw _how_ they'd been immortalised...
A stray thought crossed his mind. He stored it away for later study.
The cards slipped back into his pocket.
His hand rested on the handle.
And the door opened.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat