It was a quiet, dark evening in the realms outside continuity.
Urd walked along the road to the 'Round, whistling.to herself.
Good work today. Mara wouldn't be pestering _them_ for a *long* time now.
Of course, it wouldn't stop her pestering the 'Rounders. And if she learned Bell was still on Earth...
Hopefully, she _wouldn't_ find out.
The shields Bell'd thrown up weren't meant to be permanent, but they _would_ stop anyone else finding out...
..and Urd _had_ unilaterally decided that she and Bell needed a break. Keiichi had had homework... so he'd ended up minding Skuld (who'd started work on a few more bombs), and, by now, K-Boy was probably getting blown halfway to Kingdom Come...
She smirked to herself. Heh. _That_ ought to be fun.
Lost in her own thoughts, she almost walked into the woman in grey standing outside the car park.
'Oh, hi there.' Urd said. 'Didn't see you...'
She frowned. 'You _didn't_ walk up.'
The woman shook her head. 'No. I... heard you coming. I wondered if-'
Urd sighed. That damn Fitz must've told everybody what she was. When she got her hands on him... 'I suppose this means you want something. Power? Fame? Wealth? Love? Whatever it is, you'd better check with the-'
'I don't want a wish.' the woman said.
Urd raised an eyebrow. 'Then what _do_ you want?'
'I... I need your help.'
'It's... about a man.'
Urd suddenly got interested. She _was_ a Goddess of Love, and this _was_ her speciality... 'Go on...'
She'd chosen him, fallen in love with him, long, long before he ever realised.
But when he _did_ meet her again... his choice took her by surprise.
Because he, by the most fragile of chances, had chosen her... though he'd never remembered the first time they'd met.
It had caused trouble. These things always do.
But somehow, their love had survived.
No matter what, she was there for him, be it an offer of security and respite, or rescuing him from even the greatest of traps. No matter what, he was there for her, to save her when the darkness almost triumphed, to support her in the choices she'd made.
Faith. Faith that he will come back to her, no matter what.
Change. As he changes, so does she. As she changes, so does he.
Belldandy, Goddess of the Present, looked up from where she was thinking on a bench outside the 'Round. 'Oh, I'm sorry, Urd. I was... remembering.'
'Feh. No problem, sis.' Urd said. 'We all get nostalgic from time to time. Heh. I was just thinking about the first time I saw a Police Box...' She patted the nearest TARDIS. 'Who's a good girl then?' She smiled. 'Yeah. Absolutely.'
'When the Doctor first visited us in Nekomi?'
Urd pouted. 'Aw, Bell... And I'd got this _great_ story about '60s London all set up.'
'Did it actually happen?' Bell asked. She _knew_ her sister - all too well, sometimes...
'Well, no... but that didn't stop it from being a great story...'
Belldandy smiled. 'Shall we go in?'
'I thought you'd never ask...' Urd strode into the 'Round as if she owned the place.
Which, as an agent of Kami-sama, she might, Belldandy reflected. You never knew where the next wish might bring you.
She smiled, remembering where her last wish had brought _her_...
Then she blinked. That was odd. Urd's forehead triangle marking had shaded from its usual blue to a light grey.
Had Belldandy caught her in the middle of a wish?
Urd hadn't _mentioned_ it... but Bell knew her elder sister. Urd would bring it up... eventually.
She looked after Urd, a touch of hope on her face. Hope that this wish would work out, maybe?
It was Dance Night at This Time Round.
No one could quite remember who'd suggested it to the Proprietor; nevertheless, he'd taken it up.
Astonishingly, it had worked.
Tonight, Dance Night was Partners' Night. On the floor now were Ian and Barbara, Ben and Polly, Stacy and Ssard... and Chris and Roz.
Once the initial shock of seeing the two mismatched Adjudicators on the floor had worn off, the audience had had to admit that they _were_ pretty good. Not goofily bad, or perfectly matched... but good, nevertheless.
The Seventh Doctor watched them from a stool, a proud smile on his face, as if he'd set them up.
Quite possibly, Benny speculated from _her_ stool, the manipulative little bugger _had_...
Meanwhile, in a different corner...
'Let's see... me, Maddy, Kirsten, two or three versions of me, couple of flings on Anathema, Compassion, weirdly enough, that Celestis in Antarctica...'
'Hmm?' Charley said, as she returned from the toilet.
'Just counting up all the girls Fitz ever got interested in...' Sam explained. 'Alura, Anya, Denna, Filippa, Arielle, Florance...Oh, and I think that member of Faction Paradox...'
'Not counting me or that goddess he's been hanging around with lately...' Anji added, shaking her head. 'Honestly. He _knows_ what happens to Dave. I'd have thought he'd be a _bit_ more sensitive...'
'It hasn't happened yet, Anj. When it _does_, he'll back off...' Sam defended her fellow traveller.
'Hmph. We'll see. Has he ever _had_ a serious relationship?'
'Most of them were serious... as in, he was serious about them. I should know,' Sam said 'I was there.' She was quiet for a moment. 'You know who he reminds me of? Al.'
'Hmn?' Anji said.
'Al Calavicchi? The hologram from "Quantum Leap"?' Sam said, to a blank look from Anji. 'Fey collects the videos. Get her to show you... Anyway, he's had God knows how many wives, and his number of serious relationships is off the scale...'
'He _is_ a nice guy,' Sam added. 'but those cigars aren't doing him anygood... and his dress sense...' She shuddered. 'The Doctors actually complimented it...'
Anji thought about this, and shuddered.
'Where was I... But there's only one woman he's always loved. Always. The others... he's kind, he's funny, he's charming... but it's not the same as _her_...
'You're not serious...' Anji said. 'All right, who's the light of _Fitz's_ life?'
Sam nodded at the dancefloor.
Fitz was dancing with a redhaired girl, holding her close, as they swayed to the music. Her withered arm hung by her side.
As they watched, he gently lifted her arm up, and put it around his neck. She didn't say anything. She simply held him tighter.
'Her.' Sam said. 'Filippa.'
Charley looked over at the dance floor. Then peered more closely at one of the couples.
'Isabelle's... dancing with a girl...' she said hesitantly.
'Sounds like a good line to start a song with, mm?' Fey observed.
'Mm.' Anji said.
'Bu- Wha- Wh-' Charley spluttered.
Anji looked up. 'Oh. That's her best friend, Carrie.'
'Ohhhhh....' Charley said. She frowned. 'But...'
'Shhh. Over here, guys,' Sam whispered.
The occupants of the booth peered over the side.
Sitting in the booth in front was the - *their* - Doctor, in the black frock coat he'd taken to wearing lately. He was sipping quietly at a glass of wine, and was watching the dancers with that faintly happy - sad expression of his. As if he _wanted_ to, but...
By the booth, her hand held out in... greeting?, was a lady in a dark blue ballgown, with a face mask covering her eyes.
And Sam was _sure_ she hadn't been there a moment ago.
'Who...?' Charley whispered.
'Sssh.' Sam said. 'Listen.'
'...may I have the pleasure?' the lady asked, her voice gentle and secure.
The Doctor stood up, and bowed graciously. 'You have my advantage, milady...'
The lady flashed a starry smile at him. 'As you have ever had with me...'
'It feels like I should know you. As I know myself.'
'But you do know me. Better, sometimes, then I know myself...' She laughed, a clear, tinkling sound.
The Doctor bowed, and took her hand as they stepped onto the floor.
They started to dance slowly, seemingly to a tune they alone could hear.
'Who _is_ that...?' Charley whispered.
'Compassion's mother...' Sam breathed.
'Oh.' Charley said. '*OH...*'
The dance finally came to an end, the partners separating. With a great deal more reluctance in some cases than others.
Fitz gently lifted Filippa's arm off his back, and they spoke quietly for a moment, occasionally looking over at Sam's table.
Eventually, he nodded. And went over to the table. 'Hi, guys.'
Sam was looking at him, stars in her eyes.
'Uh-uh...' Fitz said. 'Not a word. Not unless you wanna send _this_ relationship down in flames, too.'
'But...' Sam began.
'Not. A. Word.'
'Huh?' Charley said.
'Sam started being... a bit too motherly to Fitz after that one-nighter in "Unnatural History". Blew their relationship to hell.' Izzy said, finally gravitating over. She looked back coolly at the Killing Looks (tm) both were giving her. 'Hey, I was there...'
'That was _not_...' Sam began.
'...what happened, _okay_?' Fitz completed.
'Oh?' Izzy said, raising an eyebrow. 'So what _did_ happen?'
As the argument developed, Anji was the first to notice the new arrivals. And waved. 'Hey. Over here! *Now!"' she added a bit desperately.
'Where's Urd going?' a baffled Izzy said.
Belldandy had noticed Anji, and was heading towards them. Urd, on the other hand...
Urd was heading for the Doctor and the Lady, obviously intent on something.
'She said she had something to take care of...'
'Oh no. Oh no. The _last_ thing we need is for her to start tinkering with _that_ relationship...' Fitz breathed. 'Come on!'
But, like watching any horrifying accident, Sam suddenly realised she couldn't get her mind off the idea...
The Doctor stepped back as Urd approached them.
The Blue Lady bowed deeply. 'It's been a long time. Maybe... we left it too long, perhaps?' she murmured softly.
'Like time means anything to us?' Urd said, with a crooked smile.
The Blue Lady smiled. 'He must be rubbing off on us.'
'Or us on him...'
The Blue Lady looked down. Then back up. 'Are you ready?'
'As I have always been. As you have always been.' Urd said, equally gently.
They said nothing. There was no need.
They reached out their hands, quietly, softly...
There was a wheezing, groaning sound. Like... Sam finally realised, like a TARDIS dematerialising. But...
...when Sam tried to describe it later, she could only explain it as the mental image of a flash...
...There was no light, no sound.
But the onlookers flinched, and turned away, all the same.
When they looked back...
Urd was holding herself up, using the bar as support. She looked... confused?
And where the Blue Lady had been, was...
...a woman in grey. Grey robes, which covered her body, but for her hands and feet. And on her head. a grey cloth, which covered her face.
'You...' Izzy said softly.
'Mother...?' Compassion whispered, the voice of a frightened, lonely child.
'No...' the Grey Lady said.
Sam caught Compassion's expression... and knew, just as surely, that Compassion would deny *ever* showing _that_ face.
The Grey Lady lifted her facecloth. Underneath... was the face of the Blue Lady.
'I am... myself. After so long...'
'I thought so...' Izzy murmured.
By the bar, Belldandy was having a hurried conversation with Urd. Finally, Urd waved her sister off, and sat down with a "whumph". 'I think... Well. Let me explain...'
The Doctor waited patiently.
'I... the TARDIS was... reaching out, I think, is the right word... reaching to me, to herself... to the Doctor. You could feel it radiating off her...' Urd glanced at Belldandy as she said this.
Belldandy gasped as a memory slotted into place.
'How...?' Charley began.
Izzy nodded to the Grey Lady. 'That's the way the TARDIS appeared to the Doctor and me in the strips...'
'Which means...' Compassion whispered.
'The two TARDISes - comic and novel - are back together again.' Urd confirmed. 'They've... what's the word? Rejoined...'
'We... _needed_ to.' the Grey Lady said. 'I had been... infected by the Master. He was purged from me, but... I was still weak.'
Her robes flowed and shifted, reforming into the Blue Lady's ballgown.
'And _I_... I was still recovering, after a hundred years on Earth. Still healing... as _he_ was.' Her hand indicated the Doctor, who nodded in understanding.
'So...' Urd said, 'I let Ol' Grey share my body for just long enough... just enough time to let her tap into my power, let her come back to herself... Bit of a mindtrip... but it was worth it.'
'Wow...' Sam said.
'I'd expect nothing less, dear Sam...' the Lady said. 'I... Izzy, Fey...' She hesitated. 'Kroton... Sam, Stacy, Ssard, Fitz... I remember meeting all of you. I remember Ace dying in her teens... and living in Paris when she left the Doctor in her twenties. I remember both histories... they're the _same_ to me...'
She gently lifted up Compassion's head, but Compassion didn't look at her. 'And I remember my daughter, my child. I remember.... Teaching you what I knew, what you were, what you could be. Letting you know that I would always love you, that I would always be there... then letting you go.'
Compassion finally looked at her... then buried her head in her mother's shoulder.
And if any of the onlookers heard the sound of a little girl sobbing, they never mentioned it.
When Compassion finally let go, her eyes were dry. 'What now?'
'I will take her where she needs to be.' The Doctor smiled. 'Or she'll take me where I need to be... Taking the lead, as she always does.'
The Lady chucked his chin. 'Maybe this time, you'll get to lead...'
'We'll see...' the Doctor said. Then he grinned.
The jukebox began to play a slow, soft waltz.
'One last dance?' the Doctor asked.
The Lady smiled. 'For old times' sake?'
'Or for times to come, perhaps.'
They took each other by the hand, and let the music move their steps.
And if, during the dance, when they held each other so gently, the Lady whispered in his ear... and if, as they turned and turned again, the Doctor told her his response...
...Some things belong to the night.
Finally, the music stopped.
The Doctor bowed. The Lady curtseyed.
And she was gone.
The Doctor looked at the floor, eyes closed.
When he looked up... his eyes were shining, as if seeing everything for the first time.
'Hello. I'm the Doctor. And these are my friends.'
And Fitz began to laugh, partly out of shock, partly because of the Doctor's grin... but largely, for the sake of relief. And the knowledge of redemption.
Izzy caught his face, and started giggling. Then Anji looked at _her_ face, and started to giggle too.
Soon, Charley and Stacy joined in.
Fey had a hand over her mouth, but the others still heard the muffled laughter.
Sam looked at the expressions on all their faces, and she couldn't help herself. She laughed her head off.
Compassion had remained stony-faced... but as Sam laughed, so did she. A clear, pure laugh, unforced, without mockery or venom. The laughter of a child, finally free.
And Ssard, who'd been looking at them in reptilian bafflement... Ssard's mouth quirked, and then...then...
Ssard's impassive features finally creased into a grin.
The others grinned back.
Then they noticed the way everyone else was looking at them...
...and brought themselves under control.
'A-_hem_...' Anji said.
'Y'see...' Fitz said.
'Obviously...' Compassion said.
Sam's face remained impassive. 'Well, he's...'
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. His companions clammed up.
'What I believe we were _about_ to explain...' the Doctor said, his face that of an irritated teacher with a pack of unruly pupils. '...is that...'
His face shifted into a childlike grin. 'We're back...'
His companions joined in, in perfect synchronisation.
As one, they turned to the jukebox.
Which started playing the theme from '2001: A Space Odyssey'.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. 'Well, we can't have everything...'
The jukebox came to a halt, then started playing the TVM theme.
At which point, the other denizens of the 'Round looked at each other, and started to giggle.
Which eventually turned into peals of laughter.
The Doctor and his friends stood by the bar, watched the others, and generally managed to look good-humouredly exasperated.
'So,' Sam finally said, smiling. 'Where to next?'
The Doctor smiled a slow, secret smile. And tapped his nose.
Nine companions, of different species and genders, from vastly different cultures, times and locales, with virtually nothing in common bar one shared friend, all looked at each other and chorused:
'Oh no, not again...'
'Urd... that was a brave thing to do.'
Urd shrugged. 'Not really, sis. My speciality's building relationships, remember?'
'But after...' Bell left the question hanging. 'You weren't afraid?'
'Bell... I was scared as _hell_. Having a Lord of Terror take over your body doesn't exactly give you a good perspective on possessions, y'know?'
Urd grinned. And nodded at the Doctor. 'You know something, Bell? Those two reminded me of a couple I knew...' She looked back at Bell. 'Hope it goes as well for the Doctor as it did for them...'
And that, Belldandy knew, was as close as she was going to get to an explanation from her sister.
But still... she wondered. Thought about the car park, and her memories of Keiichi.
Slowly, beautifully, she smiled.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat