(Doctor Who is depressing me so much right now that I promise I will soon write Doctor/Rose that is full of squeeful happy shippiness in COMPLETE DENIAL of any kind of doom. Because I don't think television is supposed to make you depressed! DO YOU?!)
Title: Somebody Else
Author: ninamazing, or Nina
Word Count: 1743
Spoilers: Takes place somewhere in Series 3, before "Utopia." Maybe right after "42." Yeah, that sounds good to me. And set after Serenity-the-movie for Whedonites.
Characters: Ten, and Inara Serra from Firefly. Whee!
Author's Note: This was done from the prompt [ "I didn't realize it would happen like this." ] in the Ten/Inara Ficathon of AWESOME, otherwise known as sonic_tea, which I have promised to love and honor until the end of my days. I am cohosting the ficathon with goldy_dollar, who beta-ed this fic to a fine sheen (and more importantly, bolstered my courage!). I kind of love her.
The only warning she had was the rhythmic, throaty rattle — she knew what it was even before the TARDIS whirred into existence at the center of her shuttle.
Out he strode, not in the brown pinstripes she'd seen before, but in deep blue and red. There was no one beside him this time, and he slammed the door behind him as he approached her. Inara opened her mouth, and the Doctor gripped her shoulders in his hands and kissed her.
She might have imagined what it would be like to kiss him the first time they met, so many months ago now. If she had, it wasn't like this. His fingers were rough, but his lips were sweet; he was both fast and careful, hard and forgiving, intense and quiet. He wasn't a client — she should have shoved him away — but Time Lord played in her mind until she gave in to him. It didn't take long.
She let the kiss deepen, let his hands slip down her arms and around her waist, let his body rock hers back until she could barely stand. She did this until, abruptly, the Doctor turned cold and stepped away, letting go of her. He looked like he might almost fall — as if it was a relief that the blue doors of the TARDIS were behind him for support. Inara still wasn't certain he knew where he was.
"That was interesting," she commented, loosely folding her hands in front of her.
"Hello, Inara," he said softly.
"Hello," she answered. "I'd ask how you are, but —"
"But the answer seems a bit obvious."
"I was going to say that you'd bypassed the portion of the visit where we indulge in social niceties."
This would have made him laugh, last time. Now he just smiled like his cheeks hurt and looked away.
"Where are we?" he asked. He shoved his hands in his pockets and he was the Doctor again — at ease, in subtle control. Inara might have believed it, if this had been her first time meeting him.
The Doctor wrinkled his nose and went on, reaching out to touch the wall. "Looks like a midbulk transport. Classcode 03-K64 — a Firefly?" he realized with surprise, as Inara nodded.
"You live here?" he said.
"Yes," she answered, giving him the coy look of a mildly insulted lady. "We're on Serenity. This is my shuttle. Is there a problem?"
A grin from the Doctor, this one less pained. "I forgot how you bristle," he replied. "I just didn't peg you for an edge-of-the-universe, illegal-smuggling kind of woman. You had rooms last time. And very eager attendants with nibbles."
He'd probably keep talking without encouragement.
"You'd have to wonder what would make a well-known Companion stay on a vessel like this," he went on. "I mean, last time, you had tapestries and marble floors and — and — well, big green olives with spiced almonds in them, for one."
Inara smiled. "Yes." She let that hang in the air for a moment, and then: "And you had a friend last time, if I recall."
She regretted it instantly. The Doctor didn't look at the floor or turn away; he didn't even move. He just stared through her, into the distance, something chilling and horrible happening to his eyes. This man wasn't Mal. He wasn't cocky; he didn't need to be shut down. He had already been shut down for a long time.
"I'm sorry," she said, and stepped forward to put a hand on his shoulder. He didn't acknowledge it.
"I'm forgetting myself," she continued. "You've come a long — Doctor, would you like some tea?"
The look she got in return was well on its way toward becoming a smile.
"So," she asked, "to what do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visit? You know the general procedure is to make appointments." The general procedure was also to have sex, not just drink a lot of Oolong and trade ideas about nuclear propulsion, but Inara figured she'd solve one bewildering problem at a time.
"Well, you know," he answered, looking at her over the top of his cup. "Thought I'd just stop by. Sometimes I come back and see old friends, you know."
Inara resisted the impulse to respond: We're old friends?
"How's business?" he added, and she allowed herself a smile. Of all the men who had ever asked her that question, he had to be the least personally interested in the answer, and yet he went ahead with it anyway, as though it were a matter of course. He almost fit in this century, she thought. He'd fool anyone who wasn't paying really close attention.
"I don't really see us talking about that," she replied.
"No?" He shrugged. "Okay, then. Has the second War of Independence ended yet?"
"The second — has it — no," Inara answered finally. "No, it hasn't. It hasn't started, as far as I'm aware."
He looked very guilty. "Oh," he said. "Well, forget I said anything." He smiled beatifically at her now, as though that would erase the memory. Inara hadn't remembered him being this disturbing.
That first day, that was all she got in the way of true conversation. Anyone would think he was fine, that he was giddy. Anyone would think he had only come to grill her incessantly about the trade problems in Lower Persephone, or the research into teleportation at the Academy on Osiris.
Inara knew better.
When he'd been investigating the disappearances at the Training House, he'd been easily distracted, constantly jumping from idea to idea, always stopping to say some exciting thing he'd just thought of to the girl by his side. Now he was focused so narrowly on the topic at hand, on never running out of things to do, on finding the next problem to solve. He was systematic. He was relentless. He was terrified of stopping.
In the middle of a story he was telling her, he let her name slip and the burden of a dozen hours was suddenly out of his voice, and it all came back to Inara. Rose.
"I'm with someone now, you know," he told her hastily. Inara glanced at him. "She's sleeping. In the TARDIS."
"What did you do when Rose was sleeping?" she wondered softly.
"Nothing," said the Doctor, and if he had to close his eyes for a moment to stop the tears from rushing through, Inara pretended not to notice.
Later he crumpled, unable to stop himself from doing what he had truly come to do, and in every moment of it Inara felt what she was unable to give him. She was no Gallifreyan, no Rose; she was just the bought-and-paid-for jian huo of a thousand-year-old alien, and as far as professional challenges went this one was fairly huge.
Actually, she wasn't bought and paid for at all. She was doing this for free.
"Doctor," she cried out, because she thought he might like to know that she wasn't thinking about anybody else, that she was trying, for him — but he shushed her, put a finger to her lips, and then took the finger away and kissed her again.
"How often do they ask you to be somebody else?" he whispered, and his eyes were desperate again (Rose, Rose, Rose), so she looked up at him and lied and told him it happened all the time.
And it turned out that Time Lords were the same as everybody else in some ways, and in other ways, they were not. At the end, when both of them could barely breathe, he still called her Inara.
"I didn't realize it would happen like this," he told her later, solemn-faced and twirling a lock of her hair in his fingers. She told herself it wasn't his fault.
"Did you plan to kiss me, when you jumped in the TARDIS and set the coordinates for here?"
"I didn't jump anywhere," he told her truthfully, and they stared at each other for a moment. Inara was thinking of the things River said now, after the Operative, and the expression on Simon's face when she said them. She couldn't guess what the Doctor was thinking, or not thinking — it could have been Rose's hoop earrings or super-efficient transducers or rites of suicide on Arkhon or anything, really. Anything.
"What are you going to do?" she said softly.
"I don't know," he answered, and his hands stopped moving in her hair. "Huh. That used to make it more fun."
If it hadn't been for that look in his eyes, Inara would have laughed at the irony, that the hours-long ritual that had saved so many other souls in her path just seemed to leave him more empty. She wondered if this was what happened to Companions when they weren't very good.
"Where is she?" Inara asked. It seemed the only pertinent question.
"I don't know," he hissed, "I don't know," and before when Inara had held people while they cried she knew what to say and what to do and where to gently touch them — before, perhaps, but not now. She held him and his hands didn't seem to be able to do anything but curl into useless fists against her back; he shook like he was about to die and she cried like she was already at his funeral.
He kissed her again, after awhile, pressed his lips to her cheek and trailed along the side of her jaw until he reached her ear and whispered sorry, and Inara wasn't sure if he was sorry for today or the last time or everything or just sorry about Rose. She told him it was all right anyway. She told him it was all right until the tears had dried into saltwater film on his face, and his eyelashes stuck together, and he could talk about the hyper-electrical disintegration of telepathic waveforms.
"She'll find you," Inara reassured him, when he was taking his last sip of tea. The Doctor stopped drinking, and set down his cup.
"I didn't expect it to happen like this," he repeated, hollow. She thought he had heard her. She couldn't be sure.
"What did you think it would happen like?" she asked.
He flashed the cheeks-hurt grin again, kissed her forehead, and dematerialized in a matter of minutes.