Meeting Monsters

The phone rang.

'Yeah?' Fitz said, as he answered it. ''Kay, I'll get her.'

He covered the receiver, and yelled 'BELLDANDY!'

Bell came out of the living room, dusting off her hands. 'Hm?'

Fitz handed the phone to her. 'Here. It's your boss.'

Bell nodded thanks to him, and took it. 'Yes, my lord?'

She nodded. 'Yes. Yes. ...Where?! Yes. Yes, we'll look into it immediately. Thank you, my lord.'

'What's up?' Fitz asked, noting the worried look on Bell's face.

Bell turned to him. 'Yggdrasil reports a brief, localised spike of temporal energy approximately two minutes ago.'

Fitz facefaulted. 'Probably Cam tinkering with her systems again. If I've told her once...'

'They traced the spike to the local ice rink.'

'Ice...?' Fitz whispered. 'Oh Christ. Charley. That's where Charley's gone.'

'Charley...?' Bell murmured. 'Why, what-'

'Long story.' Fitz reached for his coat and hat. 'But if we don't get there pronto, we'll have enough time in Limbo...'

Compassion stuck her head through the door. 'Fitz, could I talk to you for a moment?'

Fitz indicated himself and Bell. 'Can't this wait?'

Compassion's expression darkened dangerously.

'Christ, the ginger whinger's on the warpath again. Wait right there.' Fitz trudged over to the door. 'Yeah, Cam?'

'We have a situation.'

'Unless it includes the words "temporal spike", "Charley" and "ice rink", I'm not interest-' Fitz trailed off. Compassion was staring at him as if he'd just grown an extra head.

'It does. How did *you*-'

'Some of us,' Fitz said as he retrieved his hat and coat. 'have inside information. C'mon, let's go.'

Bell hid a grin as the trio left.


Thunder rumbled in a clear blue sky.

In a realm where people can control the weather, throw lightning bolts, or just have it as a nifty special effect, this sort of thing rapidly becomes background noise.

Which is a shame, because this particular thunderclap was quite special.

A clue to just how special could be found in a certain well-appointed farm some distance outside Tokyo.

More specifically, in one of the pens, where a gigantic mobile mountain had decided to snuffle at five bodies that hadn't been there a few minutes ago.


'BACK, MONSTROUS FIEND!!' Kuno declared, bokken at the ready.

'YEEEEK!!!' Skuld shrieked, scooting over to the other side of the pen. 'IT'S A MONSTER!!'

The dark mountain snorted in disdain, as if to say 'I am *not* a monster'.

Lee's voice was eerily calm in the face of the mountain. 'It's either a walking mountain of pork, or a very, very large pig. At the moment, I'm open to suggestions.'

'It's a sumo pig.'

'Sorry?' Skuld cleaned some more mud out of her ear. She couldn't possibly have heard that. 'I thought you said it was-'

'A sumo pig.' Ryouga finished. 'Yes. One of a breed raised by one particular family in Japan for one hundred and eight generations. Very large, very strong, very hardy.'

'*Someone's* been reading up on their pig breeding.' Lee observed. 'Must come with the territory.'

Charley shook her head, trying to clear it of the ringing which seemed to have taken up residence. 'Ow. Owowowow...'

'It's not...' Ryouga fumbled for the words. 'I've been here before.'

'So you know who runs the place.' Lee said.

Ryouga nodded, flushing a little.

'Old girlfriend?' Lee teased.

Ryouga nodded.

'Really?' Charley said.

The lost boy nodded again.

Lee rolled his eyes. 'Oy...'

Then he looked at what was in the other pen.

'Ryouga...' Lee finally said, in an eerily calm voice, 'just outta interest, your old girlfriend herds Pokemon too, right?'

Ryouga's brow furrowed. 'No. Just pigs.'

'Then I think someone should tell *them*.' Lee indicated the other pens.

The others followed his hand.

As far as could be seen, in every direction, every pen was filled almost to bursting with Pokemon. Muffled snorting could be heard from under the little creatures.

'Oh Lord...' Charley whispered. 'Oh my _Lord_...'

'That's not the least of our problems...' Skuld said, looking up into the sky.


A horde of Pokemon dropped out of the sky.

Silence descended once more over the pens.


There was a muffled knock at the farm door.

The old man lying on the futon sighed. Not again...

He looked at the pretty, black-haired girl sitting by his side. 'Go and see who's there, Akari. Give them a good cleanup, and if it's another unhappy customer, our sincere apologies.'

Akari nodded and rose. 'Yes, Grandfather.'

Hmm, the old man thought as Akari left. Someone outside was shouting 'REMOVE YOURSELVES FROM ME, HELL-SPAWNED CREATURES!' again...

He was getting far too used to that.


The door opened.

And a jet of cold water hit the unfortunate group - and the Pokemon swarming over them - who happened to be standing outside.

'BWEEEE!!!' a small black piglet protested.

'You said it.' Skuld said, wringing water out of her T-shirt.

'Oh no!' Akari dropped the hose she'd been holding, and clasped P-chan to her chest. 'I'm so *sorry*, Ryouga! I didn't know!'

'You... know him?' Skuld said slowly.

'_She's_ your girlfriend?' Lee said. 'You _lucky_ sonofapig!'

P-chan glared daggers at him.

'Oh... I'm sorry, I'm sorry... Can you ever forgive me?'

P-chan sighed, and snuggled closer to her.

Akari finally looked up. 'Oh, I'm sorry. You're...' She hesitated for a moment.

'Chang Lee,' Lee offered, 'but call me Lee. Short stuff here is Skuld, retrochick is Charley, and the guy yelling at all your Pokemon is Kuno.'

'Retrochick?' Charley echoed.

'Sorry,' Akari said apologetically. 'We've been trying to do something about them, but nothing we try seems to work...'


'Oh...' Akari said.

'Don't mind Kuno,' Skuld said. 'He always talks like that.'

'I know. But I didn't think he hated Pokemon *that* much...'

'You know him?'

Akari nodded. 'Yes. I met him when I came to Tokyo.'

'We're sorta fellow travellers.' Lee explained, to Akari's unspoken question. 'Met Ryouga on his travels, came back with him, get some stuff sorted out, kinda thing.'

'Won't you come in and get dried off?' Akari offered. 'It's the least we can do for inconveniencing you like this.'

'Thank you.' Charley said.


'So why are all these little monsters running around the place?' Charley asked, as they settled down.

'Pokemon fanfics.'

Lee twitched slightly. 'That's what I thought you said.'

'Actually, we had Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Rancher... anything from the pocket monster genre,' Akari was deep in thought. 'And the more fanfics there were, the more new monsters were created. And with the new monsters came more pens, more cages... and more escapes.'

'And... Oh God.' Lee buried his head in his hands. 'Oh my God. No wonder you're covered in monsters.'

'And as the fanfics kept on multiplying, so did the monsters. And there was nothing we could do to stop them. We didn't have nearly enough traps to trap every monster that came along, and at least one of them would have an attack that would get through a given barrier. They're quite off their feed with worry.'


'Our pigs.' Akari clarified. 'They're off their feed.'

Skuld briefly wondered how anyone would notice *those* mountains were off their feed.

'Never fear, fair damsel!' Kuno pronounced. 'We shall clear this infestation from your land, and once more return its glory!'

'Uh-huh.' Skuld said. '/How/?!'

'Perhaps I might try something...' Ryouga said.


'Ryouga...' Akari said, as they entered the pig pens. 'Are you sure you're going to be okay?'

'Probably.' Not, the cynical part of his mind added.

'This won't hurt them, will it?'

Ryouga shook his head. 'Everybody stand back.'

He reached inside.

I'm back.

Back with Akari. Back with a girl who loves you, who's willing to wait for you, no matter how long it takes, no matter how far you wander.

And how long will it be before you get lost again? How long will you have to wait to come back to her?

And what if you forget? Because you did, remember. Forgot all about her, when you learned Akane had made her decision. You still loved Akane.

You forgot Akari. You /forgot/ this kind, sweet, gentle girl - a girl who knows what you really are, yet still loves you. How can you live with yourself, knowing that?

You forgot her. You betrayed her. How can you face her? How can you bear to be around her?

Why should you deserve someone like her?


The world *exploded*-

The others lowered their hands.

The Pokemon had taken off.

Skuld clapped Ryouga on the shoulder. 'Good job. Hope you can keep that up.'

'Keep... Keep it /up/?' Ryouga whispered.

'Sure. You think that's gonna scare them off for good? Trust me, as someone who's had bug infestations, that's not gonna work.'

Ryouga raised a sceptical eyebrow. 'Bugs.'

'Bugs.' Skuld said. 'And... err... a clan of mini-ninja...'

Ryouga blinked. '*What?!*'

Skuld winced. 'I _really_ don't wanna get into that...'

Charley stretched. 'At least we've bought ourselves a little time...'

'Yeah...' Lee said, deep in thought. 'Yeah, we have. Just *one* thing, while we've got it...'

He led Charley a little away from the others.


'How'd we get here?'

'Surely we were brought here by Heaven's most gracious will, that we might assist a damsel in distress!' Kuno proclaimed.

'Uh-huh.' Lee's eyes hadn't moved from Charley. 'Y'see, the last thing I remember, before we ended up here, Kuno's crashed the rink, we've drawn the short straw, as per usual, and then your Adaptation kicks in...'

Charley swallowed.

'And you're talking, you're saying "The Doctor never came for me. He was never here".' Lee's voice was soft, gentle. 'Charley... You know, don't you?'

Charley hesitated, then nodded. '...Yes. Yes, I do. I... I remembered - I *knew* - when I visited Edward Grove.'

'Remembered what?' Ryouga asked quietly.

'I should be dead.' Charley said. 'I should be dead - I should have /died/ - Inside.'

'But you've still got ongoing stories-... oh.' Skuld said. 'Oh.'

Charley nodded. 'I should have died - but the Doctor saved me. And... And I /remember/ dying, I remember the flames, the screaming... But... But I didn't die. I survived. The Doctor saved me... but he didn't. He did - but he didn't. And I remember both, remember that when the Doctor doesn't save me... then I die.'

Akari's eyes were wide, horrorstruck, as Charley's words sank in.

'And 'cause you're Outside, the temporal energy stays quiescent - this *is* Outside - but each time you go Inside, it builds up, more and more... until you just have to let it /out/.' Skuld said, more or less to herself. 'And 'cause you've got an Adaptation, it goes out through *that*... which's how we ended up here... 'course, Wonder Boy's doin' the Blue Thunder thing simultaneously probably didn't help...'

'Come on.' Akari grabbed Charley's hand.


'Inside.' Akari's voice brooked no argument.

The others looked at each other, shrugged, and followed Akari and a still-spluttering Charley.

Outside, it began to rain Pokemon.


Fitz whistled as he took in the devastated ice rink. 'Whoo. Looks like a hurricane hit the place...'

'Or Skuld.' Urd looked around. 'This definitely looks like the squirt's handiwork.'

'Really? Me, I was thinking it was more kinda a Kuno thing.'

'No, this looks more like a Skuld thing.'

'Nah. See that crater in the middle of the rink? Definitely a Kuno thing.'

Compassion's brow furrowed.

'Well?' the Doctor said.

'Got it.' Compassion said. 'Temporal spike, minor time corridor created, end point a short distance away in all four dimensions. Signature of temporal energies similar to...' She hesitated. 'Similar to Charley's.'

The Doctor closed his eyes.

'Doctor?' Bell said. 'If Charley's at the centre of this...'

The Doctor sighed, and turned to Bell. 'I know. And it's my fault.'

'Why?' Bell asked quietly.

The Doctor's eyes remained closed. 'The R101. The greatest airship of the British Empire. Launched October 5th, 1930. Crashed into a hillside outside Paris the morning of October 6th. Everyone on board died.

'Or should have died.

'Charley had stowed away on board, disguising herself as a steward, intending to make her way to Singapore - a destination she should never have reached.

'But I'd been forced to land there by a chance encounter in the Vortex. I was there. And I saved Charley from the crash.

'I should have taken her back on board. Should have left her to die.

'But I didn't. I /couldn't/. Which was more important - the web of time, or the life of one girl?

'Earlier in my life, I would have said the web of time. Earlier. But now... no.

'I'd taken people out of their times before. The web of time had rapidly healed itself over, allowing for the changes I'd made.

'I thought - I hoped - the same would happen to Charley. It didn't.

'Time /refuses to heal/. As far as it's concerned, Charley is dead on board that ship. But she's not. And the longer she lives...' The Doctor's voice faded into silence. 'Outside... Outside, it's not a problem - it /shouldn't/ be a problem. We're outside continuity - the laws of time go out of the window. Or should do...'

Bell inclined her head.

'As for the Inside consequences...' The Doctor pulled his fobwatch out of his coat. 'We should know in about two months, Reality time.'

Fitz shuddered.

'But whatever happens, I have no regrets. When it came down to it, I chose life - Charley's life. And I will answer to whatever powers demand my judgment willingly.'


'Here you go.' Akari handed Charley a cup of tea.

'Thank you.'

'How are you finding Nerima?'

'A /little/ surreal...' Charley allowed.

Akari smiled. 'It was like that for me when I first arrived.'

'Was that when you first met Ryouga?'

'Grandfather sent me to Nerima to find a strong husband. Anyone who could knock out our family's prize sumo pig, Katsunishiki, would have the strength to be a worthy husband.'

'Knock... out?' Lee echoed.

'.../Prize/ sumo pig?' Skuld echoed. If what was out there was a /normal/ sumo pig, she'd hate to meet the prize one.

'And Ryouga managed it.' Charley guessed. 'It sounds like something from a fairy tale. Beautiful heroines, cursed heroes...'

'A seriously warped fairy tale.' Lee muttered.

Charley glared at him.

Akari continued, oblivious to Lee's comment. 'It was - at least for a while. But eventually, when I had to return to the farm, Ryouga promised he'd come to find me as soon as he could.'

Knowing his sense of direction, Skuld thought, that could have taken years...

Wait a minute-

'So, Hibiki, wilt thou do the noble thing, and wed this damosel?'

Skuld sighed. Yep, beaten to it again by a would-be champion.

'I... er...' Ryouga stammered intelligently.

The idea sank into Skuld's brain.

Ryouga - my actual champion - stays with Akari. Therefore, /Kuno/ - our /would-be/ champion - becomes our - *my* - champion by default.

Oh no. Oh nonononono...

Skuld tried to picture Kuno as her champion. It was all too easy.

Wait a minute... even for Mr 'Terminally Freaks Around Pretty Girls', this's taking a long time.

Huh. Must be more freaked than I thought.

'Um... err... needamomentCharleycanIseeyouinthehall?'

Without waiting for an answer, Ryouga disappeared, dragging a very surprised Charley Pollard behind him.


'So,' Fitz said, breaking the silence. 'where're they? Knowing Cam, they're probably halfway up a pyramid in Ancient Egypt.'

Compassion glared at him. 'Hardly. The corridor's endpoint was...' She blinked. 'A sumo pig ranch outside Outside Tokyo, about a couple of hours ahead of us.'

'/Sumo pigs/?!' Fitz echoed.

'Actually, pigs are very peaceable creatures.' the Doctor observed. 'I found their presence quite relaxing.'

Fitz sighed. 'Doctor, while your experiences in pig farming are no doubt highly relevant to our current situation...'

'Relevant?' the Doctor said. 'I hadn't thought so... Compassion?'

The young TARDIS nodded. 'No. And yes.

'No, nothing has come through yet. Yes, something /can/ come through.'

'As the situation stands, Charley is safe enough - as it stands.' the Doctor said. 'But if something comes through here - or there...'

'Then someone's gotta be here to make sure it doesn't, right?' Urd finished. 'Warding Mandala should work, right?'

'I don't know...' the Doctor murmured. 'I was thinking of something a little more global.'

'That would mean breaking a buffer.' Bell pointed out. 'The situation is serious, but not that dangerous.'

'Then... in that case...' The Doctor paced in thought, before he snapped his fingers. 'Auto-Banishment! Anything coming through gets bounced back where it comes from!'

'Sounds good to me.' Urd said.


'What about Charley?' Fitz stuck in.

'Charley will be fine,' the Doctor answered, half-distracted. 'If something comes through, it'll get us before it gets her.'

'That's a real comfort, Doctor.'

'Thank you. Now, let's see...'


'Wh-what's the problem?'

' did anyone happen to say anything about Akari?'

Charley frowned. 'No... Why?'


'...Ryouga, what is it?'

'Um...well, if no-one actually told you...' Ryouga's blush grew deeper. 'Err... um... that is...'

'Come on, Ryouga. It's not as if you're going to propose to me-' Charley paused. 'Um, you're not, are you? Only that keeps happening to me...'

Ryouga shook his head 'no'. 'Um...'

'Is there someone else you want to propose to?'


'Someone else you're... in love with?'


'Someone else... as /well/ as Akari?' Charley facefaulted. 'First Skuld, and now you. What /is/ it about love triangles here?'

'/Skuld?!/' Ryouga gawped. '/SKULD?!/ But she's- that is- I mean- huh?!'

'I think that was pretty much our reaction,' Charley said sardonically. 'Yes, she has a crush on two different boys, yes, they don't know, and yes, sooner or later it's probably going to blow up.'

'Why that-' Ryouga paused. Um. Er. This was him being a hypocrite, wasn't it?

Yes, Conscience told him.

'A-actually...' He got his voice under control, using every ounce of self-possession at his command. 'No... No, I /am/ in love with someone else - but she's found someone else, and she's happy with him. And he'd better make sure she stays happy unless he wants-... no, she's honestly happy with him, and I /can't/ take that from her, I /can't/ hurt him... and he's a good man, she /deserves/ that.

'But in there... there's a girl who /wants/ to spend the rest of her life with me, who /wants/ to be with me -

'-and I can't say the simple word "Yes". I can't say it. I want to spend my life with her, and I can't tell her that.'

'Like Akane and Ranma?' Charley inquired.


'Isn't that what happened to them?'

'But they- And he- And she-' They /argue/ all the time! Ryouga almost said, and then he froze.

Wait, that was the /point/, wasn't it? It was so difficult to say it, they'd rather argue than admit it.

It wasn't going to be that difficult to tell Akari, was it?

He couldn't say no. That was a given.

But he could freak, and babble, about it... and it'd be put off a little longer, and a little longer, until he actually had the courage to say yes.

But if he stayed, he'd never make it to Ranma's wedding. Never find out how it turned out for his best friend and the girl he loved.

What about the other girl he loved? How long would it take him to get back to Akari now? Wouldn't going back be another way of putting things off?

Ryouga did what he always did in emotional dilemmas: he froze up, while his emotional circuitry looked for someone to unload on.

And Number One on that list was...

'Ranma...' he said through gritted teeth. 'Ranma, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!'

And punched a hole in the wall.

Charley dodged the splinters.

'Um... you do know that was the wall?' she inquired.

'I have made my decision!' Ryouga rumbled.


Ryouga paused. Wait a minute, that wasn't him...

'Sounds like they've come up with something.' Charley said. 'Come on.'


'Behold the glory of divine Skuld's incredible plan!!' Kuno pronounced, as they entered.

'Lee helped.' Skuld said, as an aside.

'Really? What did you come up with?'

'Well...' Lee said, 'it's like this. What are Pokemon scared of most?'

'I don't know,' Charley said. 'I've never played Pokemon.'

'But I have - and believe me, after several late night sessions on Pokemon Gold, the last thing you wanna see is another Pokemon.' Lee winced at the memory, then continued. ''Kay, the basic point of Pokemon is to collect and train these mini-monsters to fight, right? And they've got alla these people after 'em, including our heroes, and the nutball badguys, Team Rocket. But the Pokemon ain't scared of the things you use to collect them, no matter what it looks like. Sorta like the way Adric puts up with dying so often - you don't like it, but it's a part of life.'

'So what *are* they scared of?' Charley said.

'That's the catch...' Skuld said. 'Akari doesn't have it 'round the house - odds on no-one here does - so I'm gonna have to port back and get-'


'What was *that*?!'

'Oh my God...' Lee whispered. 'Oh my God. The damn thing actually /followed/ me!'

'What followed you?' Akari asked.


'I think I'd better show you.'


There was a motorbike standing in the driveway.

Akari blinked. 'That's odd. I wonder who left this here?'

'It did.' Lee said.

'Strictly speaking,' Skuld said. 'it's Lee's, but it came after him by itself.' She grinned. 'Real Kamen Biker Chronos, huh?'

'Kamen who?' Lee said blankly.

'Series 'bout a bike of undetermined origin? With special powers of its own? You've never heard of it?' Skuld shook her head, before a grin broke across her face. 'Hey, I wonder if this means you're gonna get a suit of battle armour with it?'

Lee bugged ever so slightly at that one, as he examined the bike. 'Huh. Well, let's see if "special powers" covers having exactly what we need... Whaddya know.'

'It doesn't?' Skuld suggested. 'Make a change...'

'Nope. Got it right here.'


'Y'know, I'm really gonna haveta check out this thing's compartments sometime.' Lee headed back for the house. 'C'mon, no time like the present.'




"And make it DOUBLE!"

At the sound from the jury-rigged loudspeakers that now lined the estate, the minature monsters turned.

"To protect the world from devastation!
"To unite all peoples within our nation!
"To denounce the evils of truth and love!
"To extend our reach to the stars above!"
"Jessie!" "James!"
"Team Rocket BLASTS OFF at the SPEED OF LIGHT!"
"Surrender now, or prepare to fight-"

Minutes later, as the Team Rocket Entrance (tm) reverberated around the ranch, the Pokemon had disappeared.

'Got you.' Skuld said, grinning. 'I think this's the time to say "Sorted".'

'Jeez...' Lee groaned, pulling the cotton wool out of his ears. '/I'd/ wanna run for the hills after that one.'

'O/kay/...' Skuld said, walking over to Akari. 'I've set up the recognition program with images of all known Pokemon, Digimon, whatever, so any time any of them comes into range - *bam*. Instant Team Rocket Entrance. There is no /way/ they are getting used to that... unfortunately, there's that whole car alarm problem, waking you up in the middle of the night, but you can't have everything.'

'But I think you'd better stock up on the cotton wool.' Charley advised. 'The pigs are going to need it.'

'All you need to do is give it a regular update, make sure you don't miss any of the little monsters, and everything should be fine.'

'Should have been obvious.' Ryouga remarked. 'How likely is it that a /Pokemon/ hunter will have a Team Rocket CD?'

Lee raised a finger. 'Uh-'

'It's... it's /incredible/.' Akari whispered, taking in the pig pens, now empty of any and all Pokemon. 'Incredible.'

Skuld grinned. 'It was pretty good, even if I do say so myself...'

'Behold! Through the Lady Skuld's power have these miniature fiends been driven from this green and pleasant land!'

'Bit like having your own fan club, isn't it?' Lee remarked.

'Shut /up/, Lee...'

'Akari?' Ryouga said, apparently lost in thought.

'Yes, Ryouga?'

'I promise, no matter what it takes, no matter what threats I face... no matter what stands in my way...'

Go for it, Confidence said. Just a little more...

Ryouga looked into Akari's eyes. 'No matter what comes between us... I will /always/ return to you.'


Skuld rubbed her jaw. 'Ow. That *hurt*.'

'That... wasn't you?' Lee said.

Skuld gulped. 'Um... no.'


'Um... that was the Universal Force.'

'Which means...' Lee prompted.

'Which means his promise just got backed up by the Universe's mainframe, is what it means.'

'WHAT?!' Ryouga turned from Akari. 'What did you say? But I don't /get/ a wish-'

'No...' Skuld said heavily. 'No, you don't. But what I /think/ it means is that any promises you make - make with /real/ feeling, promises you can keep - are gonna get backed up by the Universal Force - so long as you're our champion...'


Skuld half-smiled. 'Bell keeps saying promises aren't a light thing... You're our champion - we're responsible for you, and you're responsible to us - which means, when you took the job... well, the Universal Force triggered a couple of subsystems when you became our champion. No special powers or anything... but I think you'd better watch your step from now on...'

'And if I declined...?'

'Then the subsystem would lapse - unless there was another champion in waiting...' Skuld nodded in Kuno's direction.

'Oh Kami-sama...' Ryouga whispered. 'You're not serious.'

Skuld nodded. 'Yup. Promised to do good works in my name. Long as he keeps that, he's in the running.'

Kuno. Doing good works. Ryouga tried to make the two concepts fit together, but failed.

'Looks like a happy ending, wouldn't you say?' Charley observed.

'Not yet...' Lee said.

'No...' Charley admitted. 'But I don't know how it's going to turn out, I don't know what's going to happen.

'But that's no reason to throw away my life. No reason to stay where I am and just give up.

'And when the time comes... I made a difference. I helped a single person. If nothing else, I did that.'

'Yeah,' Lee said, watching Ryouga stammer as he talked to Akari. 'What the hell. There're worse things.'


The air above the rink began to shimmer.

'Stand back...' the Doctor said.

Then the air _rippled_, as something began to push its way through, pushed into Panreality, its face forming in the air.

And then it was pushed *back*, the very substance of Panreality turning against it, forcing it out, forcing it /away/.

'Not here.' the Doctor told the thing. 'Not today.'

+Not yet+ the thing hissed. +Not yet, but soon. And my time will come.+

'Then let us decide this *then*!' the Doctor returned. 'Not now. Not here. Not Outside. *Go!*'

The air rippled-

-then was calm.

Urd shook her head. 'You know... for a moment there... I could have /sworn/ that was Charley's face.'

'It was.' Bell said.

The Doctor nodded. 'In a way... it /is/ Charley. And it is something far more alien - alien even to my universe. Something that seeks out time travellers, time anomalies... and destroys them.'

'Hold on a moment...' Fitz objected. 'We're Outside. It /can't/ kill us permanently. It can't do /anything/ to us permanently.'

The Doctor's pale eyes locked with Fitz. 'It doesn't need to. Imagine being torn apart for a subjective eternity... that lasts only a second. Imagine that repeated day after day after day. Imagine knowing that there was no escape, not even in death... because it /will not let you die/. It /cannot/. Because it still needs you.'

Fitz swallowed.

'That is what's after Charley. That's what it wants. And in two months... we'll see, one way or another.'

'Gordon Christ...' Fitz said. 'And I thought Adric had it bad...'


Skuld was porting back, while Kuno and Lee had taken the bike.

However, since the bike couldn't support four, that meant someone would have to walk back.

And... no, Kuno was a pain in the butt, but he didn't deserve *that*. Neither did Charley.

Which left him. And he just /knew/ he'd take a *week*, Outside, getting back.

Which was when Charley had stepped in, and offered to come with him. Then Akari, in her soft, shy way, had suggested that returning with Charley would be a good idea.

At which point any resistance he'd had crumpled like a damp dishcloth.

Which just left Akari and him.

Alone. Together.

Ryouga hesitated.

What should he say? What could he tell her?

He would come back. That, at least, he was sure of. One day, he would come back, would bring her to the wedding... at least, he would if he could /find/ the wedding...

Until then... there would be grief, and sorrow, and depression. Such was the way of the Hibiki mind.

But he had promised. And he would see Akari again, would make the final commitment.

If his lack of self-confidence didn't kick in first.

And if he could just erase that nagging worry about whether or not she loved him for turning into a pig...

But he had a reason to keep going, right?

And he would keep going. For Akari's sake.

Well, if he could just find a way out of this "champion" thing without making Kuno the next champion...

'W-well...' he began.

'Shh.' Akari said, putting a finger to his lips, silencing him. 'I know. And I'll be waiting.'

Ryouga nodded, and turned to go.

Then he turned back. 'A-akari...?'

Akari looked at her feet. 'Y-yes...?'

'Th-thank you. F-for everything.'

Akari blushed, a beautiful, brillant rose.

Ryouga felt himself blushing in response.

Charley touched him gently on the arm. 'Come on. Time to go.'

'Charley... do you have a boyfriend?' Ryouga asked, as they left.

'No! No, of course not!' Charley blustered. 'Well... not *really*... there's this trader, back in 1930, but he's not a real boyfriend, not really...'

Where've I seen that before... Ryouga wondered. Oh...oh yes. Standard Embarrassment Response (tm).

'If you say so...' he said, a faint smile touching his lips.

'HE IS *NOT* MY BOYFRIEND!' Charley spluttered.

Then she realised what she'd said, and who she'd said it to. '...I despise you, do you know that?'

'I know.' Ryouga assured her.

He turned and waved.

It might have been his imagination, but he could swear he saw the figure outside the ranch wave back.

Trick of the light, he decided.

Still, it was a while before they started back along the road.

'So...' Charley said eventually. 'What happened after you knocked her pig out?'

Ryouga bent his head, a smile on his face. 'It's a long story.'

'We've got plenty of time.' Charley said, indicating the road ahead.

'All right. After I knocked Katsunishiki out...'

Their voices faded as they walked down the road, leaving a half-imagined whisper in the air.

'I'll be waiting...'


The End


Summary: Charley has a stalker, Ryouga has a brief encounter, and Pokemon fall from the sky.

Disclaimer: Doctor Who, the Doctor, Compassion and Fitz are the BBC's, Lee is the BBC/Universal's, and Charley is BF's. Akari, Kuno, and Ryouga are Rumiko Takahashi's. Urd, Bell and Skuld are Kosuke Fujishima's. The thing after Charley? Gets revealed in 'ZigZag' (coming soon to a webpage near you).


Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat