This story is a bit different from all of my others. For one thing, there's mild swearing. For another, it's set in a bar. So don't expect complete crack, 'cause this really isn't a nice story.
I fell in love with Ace's character a while back, and I've been recently working my way through the Virgin New Adventures. They were really great- and then I hit Love and War.
This is my way of keeping sane. Writing fanfiction that resolves some stuff.
"If you're betrayed, release disappointment at once.
By that way, the bitterness has no time to take root."
― Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut
It was a sleazy sort of pub, the type that only the people who were very tough or very stupid went to. The lighting was dim, with people in huddled groups in the corners. Occasionally a raucous laugh would echo through the room, or a chorus of drunken singing would rise up, usually cut silent by the fact that the people singing the song didn't know half the words. The bartender, a slinky Altrian who looked like he would rather be anywhere else than where he was currently, was brewing up a particularly noxious brew for some alien customer behind the corner, feelers waving frantically. The whole setup was designed to be reminiscent of twenty-first century Earth, but didn't come off with that effect. When you were in it, you got the impression that the people building it had given up half way and handed the job over to a construction team that really didn't know what they were doing. Hence, the peeling wallpaper only half-disguising the fact there were massive cracks in the wall and the draughts that occasionally spun their way through the creaky floorboards and between the feet of the patrons drinking their way out of their misery.
It was on this planet, with the out-of-the-way pub tucked into the backstreets and the busy spaceport that took in several hundred ships a day that Spacefleet had decided to dock at for a two-day rest period. The men welcomed the break. Long months spent on a battle cruiser, fighting Daleks and whatever nasty creatures may come your way was a feasible way to drive a man insane. Indeed, this had already happened to at least a score of Spacefleet's finest. The chance to put your feet back on solid ground, and eat some good food that didn't come from the ship's dispenser was too much to resist. Currently there wasn't a soul left on the ship, save for some service droids cleaning up the mess that occurred when you shoved a bunch of members of the male species into enclosed quarters and left to boil.
Only one member of Spacefleet had come to the out-of-the-way pub, and they weren't typical. In fact, they weren't even male. Her name was Ace. And all she wanted at this moment was a drink.
"Your strongest," she requested, not sparing any of the other patrons a second glance as she sank into the darkest corner she could find. The bartender eyed her appraisingly. She was easily the prettiest customer he'd had in a while. Straight chestnut-brown hair, tied back in a neat ponytail, and probably striking eyes behind those sunglasses of hers. She wore a leather jacket over a skintight combat suit, and had a cold expression on. The bartender poured the drink, and scuttled over to hand it to her.
"Ta," she said, nodding approvingly. Her faint smile turned into a scowl as she realized that he wasn't leaving. "What do you want?"
Altrian language compromised most of clicking that, to a human, would probably mean nothing. All Spacefleet operatives, however, were equipped with a translation unit that worked in the six major languages of their current Galaxy. Altrian was one of them.
"This establishment probably isn't the best place for a pretty lady like you," came through the device. It could have been a mistranslation, but Ace somehow doubted it. In response, she reached deep into her pocket, and brought out a wicked-looking knife, which glinted silver in the dim light. She placed it on the table in front of her with a carelessness that made her cold expression seem almost icier.
The bartender chittered, and scurried off. Ace smiled, and took a sip of her drink. It wasn't the best she had tasted- probably watered down, it seemed like the sort of place- but booze was booze, and she needed some. Badly.
The last assignment her group had been sent on was a complete and utter fiasco. Half of the group was currently six feet under and pushing up daisies, thanks to a group of rogue Daleks that Command had kindly omitted to mention in the briefing. One man had turned out to be a Dalek replicant- she could still hear the cracking of bones and the cruel mechanical sound as an eyestalk had emerged from his skull. She shuddered, and took another sip, slightly deeper this time. Come on, Ace. You're a tough girl. You can take this.
On the other side of the bar, a game of four-dimensional poker started up.
"Mind if I sit here?" The voice jerked her out of her reverie. It seemed to be one of the Terran tongues, as far as Ace could tell, and the translator made it sound… almost British. This was impossible, of course, because no one spoke English anymore, not pure English anyway.
"Bugger off," she said, rather eloquently she thought, and returned to her drink.
The bloke who had spoken ignored her and sat down anyway. She briefly considered showing him exactly how skilled she was with the knife she had placed on the table, but dismissed the thought. He didn't look that dangerous, after all. He looked like he might be someone's cool older brother. Large brown eyes, a bit like a puppy's, and- god, his hair went everywhere, didn't it? And his dress sense was a bit questionable, too. Who wore a trench coat over a suit?
She decided not to speak to him, and he ordered a banana daiquiri, which was another questionable life choice. He grinned at her as he took a sip, and she quickly fixed her eyes back down into her own cup, although she knew he couldn't see them behind the sunglasses. He intrigued her, somehow. She knew him. Like they had met somewhere else in another time or place.
"You're with the army, then?" he asked cheerfully, setting his drink aside. She made a noncommittal grunt, which he seemed to take as a 'yes'. "I had a friend who went off to join the army, a long time ago."
She disposed with her previous decision to not talk to the man, and instead tried very hard to come up with something wise to say. It was hard. The alcohol was already working, which is what she had intended to happen when she started to drink.
"A lot of people," she said finally, "have good reasons for going to war." She was well aware that her sentence was simple and not that deep, but she didn't particularly care at this point. She took another sip. The liquid had stopped burning her throat about halfway through the glass.
"True enough," the man shrugged, leaning back in his chair. Ace watched him for a second, taking in his appearance again. "Look," she said, frowning. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
He hesitated for a split-second. "Nah. Never met you before in my life."
"Are you sure? Because I've been around the universe a fair bit, and it's really entirely possible that I've met you somewhere that you wouldn't expect-"
"No." He shot her a disarming smile. "Honestly, I'm sure. I've just got one of those faces. Tell me, what do you do?"
"I'm in demolition," she said, and left it at that.
He nodded. "I figured you'd be."
She eyed him suspiciously. A roar of approval went up from the game of poker on the other side of the room. Someone had just scored a royal flush.
"I'm Ace," she said by way of introduction, realizing that she hadn't done so before.
"John Smith," he nodded, reaching out halfway over the table to shake her hand. She shook her head and he withdrew, looking chastised. "Sorry."
"No problem. I just seem to have a lot of trust issues at the moment." She paused. "A mate of mine used to go by that name, John Smith."
"Oh?" He seemed vaguely interested, but people would do anything for quick shag nowadays. God, she was sounding old. "You mean it wasn't his real name?"
She laughed, realizing that this was the most relaxed she'd been in months. "He called himself the Doctor most days." Her expression dropped suddenly. "Haven't thought about him for ages."
It was John's turn to make the noncommittal grunt.
"What do you do?" she asked, for a change of pace. He glanced up, startled.
"Oh! Well, I suppose I travel."
Ace sipped the last dregs of her drink. "He did that too." It was less painful to talk about him now. Not like when Jan had died, and all she had felt was that burning, all-consuming rage. The need to break something; to show the world that you meant what you felt. Like Gabriel Chase. Like so much of her life.
"Oh," he said, starting to stand up. "You've finished your drink. Do you-?"
She sighed, and nodded. "Why not? You're paying."
He made his way to the counter again. Ace toyed with her knife for a moment, before slipping it back into her pocket, sheathing it. The light glinted on something that John had left behind. A short silver rod with a blue sort-of gemstone on the end. She picked it up, twisting it beneath her fingers.
John returned, balancing two drinks, seeming absolutely delighted. "They added extra banana!"
She frowned at him. "What's this?"
He set the drinks down, and scratched his head. "Oh, that. It's just a… thing of mine. A sonic s- a sonic pen."
A terrible suspicion was itching that the back of Ace's mind. "Sonic screwdriver."
"Sonic screwdriver. That's what you were going to say. It's a sodding sonic screwdriver, and you're the crukking Doctor!"
She snatched up her drink from the table, and threw it as hard as she could at his head. She missed, and the glass shattered all around him. "You bastard!"
(Somewhere, in the back of her mind, a little voice was telling her that it would be extremely embarrassing if it turned out she was wrong and this was just some random stranger.)
She advanced on him, feeling that wall of white-hot hate rearing up in her mind again. Jan and betrayal, that was all she could think of right now.
"Don't you even dare! You come strutting in here after god knows how long it's been for you, pretending to be someone else, and you expect me to- god, I don't even know what you want-"
"-and whenever you come back into my life I know it means that you're going to fuck my life up again, so just keep away-"
She stopped, panting for breath, and glared daggers at him. She had forgotten how much she had hated him; she thought she might forgive him if she met him again, but now that he was right in front of her-
"I hope it hurt," she muttered bitterly, crushing a shard of glass under her boot. She sat down suddenly, no longer feeling like breaking things.
"Your regeneration. I hope it hurt you just as much as you hurt me."
He looked down for a moment, and when he glanced back again, their eyes met. Hers were glistening with tears, and his were-
-the same as ever, (even though they were brown) containing the universe and hidden wonders, and humour, and a hidden steel that she had always hoped she'd never see. And a concern for her, too-
-okay, she hadn't made any sort of mistake; this really was the Doctor.
"Cruk," she sank down in her chair, and hit her head against the table. "I'm pretty sure I'm too drunk to handle this right now."
"Ace," said John- no, the Doctor again, and suddenly Ace was painfully aware that she was dressed in a combat suit with a heavy dose of leather. Her Doctor would have been horrified to see her in this outfit. She languidly wondered what this one thought. He looked so very earnest, and her previous assessment of him looking like a puppy seemed quite apt.
"Yeah?" She felt slightly drained after her furious outburst a moment before.
He looked a bit lost. "It did."
Now it was her turn to look confused. "Huh?"
"The regenerations. All three of them." He looked down. "They hurt."
She immediately felt somehow guilty, and wanted to say so many things to him, not least of which was I didn't mean it, but that was wrong because at the time she did. Logical thought seemed to go out the window whenever the Doctor was involved. He had somehow gotten within a one-meter radius of her without her noticing or trying to hit him, and now he was so close that she could reach out and touch him, she couldn't bring herself to shove him away.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, almost pleading. "I'm so, so, sorry, Ace. I wasn't myself then, I'm not going to force you to come with me, I just wanted to see you one last time, you've got so much more ahead of you…" It was a random string of apologies and answers that really weren't even coming out in the right order, and half didn't make sense to Ace.
"Doctor," she started, and stopped, because it wasn't quite right. "Professor-"
"I'm not your Professor anymore," he told her, hands twitching by his side, like he wanted to wrap her up into a hug, check that she was still there. She half wanted to let him, just because she was so tired of keeping a cold iron shield around her heart, and pretending that she didn't care about how many people she killed, as long as she got the job done. It was the Doctor's job to be the great pretender, not hers. But somehow here she was.
"Screw this," she said, and kissed him hard on the mouth. She wouldn't have dared to do this with her Doctor, it wouldn't have seemed right. But right here, right now, the Doctor looked like he was in need of the equivalent of a slap across the face, and she couldn't quite bring herself to slap a puppy. No matter how much she hated him.
His eyes widened with shock, and he twisted to the side, breaking the kiss. "Ace-"
"That was for all the good times," she said, "and the glass of beer was for being a complete git."
"That's putting it mildly," he muttered, no doubt recalling some of his more manipulative ventures. They both sat down; ignoring the whispers and hurried glances other patrons shot them. The Doctor pocketed his sonic screwdriver carefully, and seemed determined to look anywhere but directly at Ace. He finally settled on staring at a spot just over her shoulder.
"What I want to know," she said finally. "is, why now? Three regenerations later, that's a bit late, even for you."
There was a long silence.
"I'm dying, Ace," the Doctor said softly, tracing circular patterns on the table. "I'm dying and I wanted to see my friends once last time before I went. Is that so wrong of me?"
It wasn't wrong of him at all, and she almost opened her mouth to say so, but then remembered his fingers tightly wrapped around her wrist, preventing her from moving, from ripping him to pieces. She swallowed hard, and didn't say a word. She reached up and removed her mirrored glasses, placing them in her pocket, next to the knife.
"I wanted to apologize." Those bright brown eyes of his finally met hers and they were shining with emotion, although she couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. "What I did back then was- wrong, I wasn't myself, but I know that that's no excuse."
She laughed humourlessly, laying her arms flat on the wood of the table. "You really have changed. The other you would never have said sorry."
The Doctor watched her, as if trying to memorize every aspect of her. He reached out across the tabletop again, fingers lingering against her skin. "Oh, Ace…"
This time she let him. "What did it?"
He tilted his head in a questioning manner.
"What is it that's killing you? Did the latest one decide to poison you because you screwed up their life too much?"
"Don't," came the quiet response. Ace could immediately see that she'd hit a nerve with her latest accusation. The subtle way his shoulders slumped and his face changed. "Just… don't."
Ace shrugged nonchalantly. "I just want you to know, you're a complete and utter bastard. Don't you forget that."
He laughed. "I won't. Thanks, Ace."
"For what?" she asked, nose wrinkling up. "I chucked a beer glass at your head."
"For reminding me," he let go of her hand finally. "That not every person I travel with is the same. For being you. And Ace?"
"I'm proud of you," he said, suddenly sitting right next to her without her having been aware of him moving. "Don't you forget that."
"Oh," she said, because it was really all she say right now. The Doctor was the only person that could make her feel like she was six years old again, and he was really extraordinarily good at doing that. "Thanks," she managed, and hugged him a tiny bit. He smiled; an infectious, beaming grin, and wrapped his arms around her.
"We'll meet again," he promised her, and stroked some hair back from her face where it had come down from her ponytail. "Just not in this old body. Goodbye, Ace."
She had her eyes closed, so she didn't see him brush his hand against her forehead. She did, however, feel a dizzying, swooping sensation, like she was falling from a very great height.
The last assignment her group had been sent on was a complete and utter fiasco. Half of the group was currently six feet under and pushing up daisies, thanks to a group of rogue Daleks that Command had kindly omitted to mention in the briefing. One man had turned out to be a Dalek replicant- she could still hear the cracking of bones and the cruel mechanical sound as an eyestalk had emerged from his skull. She shuddered, and reached for a drink that wasn't there. Her hand grasped at empty air, and she scowled down at where her glass used to be, before her gaze wandered over to the ground, where broken shards of glass lay scattered. That was odd. She didn't remember that happening.
The bartender skittered across the floor towards her, carrying a drink that she hadn't ordered.
"That's not mine," she said, waving him away, but he waved a feeler insistently, and placed it on the table in a respectful sort of way.
"From your friend in the trench coat," the Altrian said, and retreated to the safety of his bar. She looked over to the door, and saw a swirl of brown exiting through the door. For some reason, she felt a pang somewhere in her heart. She hadn't felt anything like that for a long time.
She got up hurriedly, dashing towards the door. "Hey, wait!"
She reached the door, and threw it open. At some point, it had started to rain outside, and now it was bucketing down. She stared out into the night, not seeing anything through the haze that the oncoming storm was providing. The man, whoever he was, was gone.
Absently, she wondered why tears were streaming down her face.