glinda: pirate TARDIS (pirate TARDIS)
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Title: All You Need is Time
Author: Glinda
Characters/pairing: Ace/Charley, Eighth Doctor
Rating: PG13 (for swearing)
Warnings: action adventure violence, implied references to the horrors of the Time War
Summary: No one you can save that can't be saved
Word Count: 2210 words
Notes: Spoilery for the beginning and end of Charley's arc, set during the Time War. For paranoidangel42 in the dw_femslash ficathon, thanks to livii for the last minute beta.




“Bastards.”

“Stupid. Lying. Arrogant. Bastards,” Ace repeats, punctuating each word with a kick to the ancient console. The screen above them flickers briefly with static but carries on showing its view of a particular star going supernova.

Charley looks down at the note in her hand, at the co-ordinates she'd told Ace about and the message from the Doctor that she'd kept to herself.

I wish so much that you were here and I cannot begin to tell you...

~

Ace's instructions are as unhelpfully vague as any she's received from the Time Lords during this mess. She's to neutralise a paradox. Given the complete carnage of time anomalies, paradoxes and general Dalek induced mayhem that is the rest of the universe right now, Ace feels that one little paradox unrelated to the Time War is hardly a priority right at this moment. There's an air of mania about some the Time Lords, that speaks of desperate last ditch acts that have nonetheless failed, and Ace suspects that certain people are trying to send her out of the way, so they can try something even more monumentally a bad idea. Ace isn't above being amused that she's currently operating in an environment where the Doctor regularly calls upon her to be the voice of reason.

She resists going until the Doctor tracks her down with one vital piece of information. The paradox is a person. A former travelling companion of his called Charley. There's a bitter undertone to his voice as he speaks, of the way the Time Lords fear Charley even now, of what damage she might still might do in the right place at the right time. There's loathing in his eyes when he meets hers again, though it is directed at himself, she can tell. There's nothing Ace can say to ease that, nothing she'd want to say to him even if she could. He's her mentor, her oldest friend, and she will always come when he calls, but there are many things for which she cannot forgive him. What does it matter to her that he feels guilty for turning his friends into weapons, when he still does it anyway? Best she can do for this Charley is let her know truthfully what she's getting into and let her make her own decision.

~

The Time Lords aren't the only ones searching for Charley. There are things in the darkness, lurking, circling, waiting to strike. Ace begins to understand that the High Council wanted Charley neutralised because they fear her being used against them. They've weighed up the value of her use as a weapon against the danger of alienating their best weapon – the Doctor. They think he will not countenance using his friends as weapons. They've underestimated how much the Doctor hates the Daleks. How much they've already taken from him, how much he might sacrifice to stop them taking anything more.

She destroys the things in the darkness. Old species that feed on time anomalies, that crawl out of the woodwork during time crises to feed, new mutant horrors that the Daleks have dreamed up, forgotten nightmares that Gallifrey likes to pretend they never made flesh. Ace blows up a Faction Paradox ship and wonders when that blood-drenched cult became the least of her worries for Charley's safety. At least they'd keep the girl alive long enough to be rescued.

~

Charley reads the letter carefully through twice before she looks up at the other girl. She needs time to compose herself. The Doctor has made her a vital part of his plan, just not the one Ace thinks is unfolding. Ace knows her job is to keep Charley safe; she doesn't know that Charley's job is to keep Ace safe in return.

She carefully folds the note up and places it in her top pocket, before nodding to her new companion.

“Come on then, we've got work to do.”

~

Mostly their work involves being certain places at certain times, leaving messages on particular walls, notes on particular desks, occasionally calling in favours from old contacts of the Doctor's. They've both been around for enough of his grand plans and schemes that they can extrapolate whole plans from the pointers he's given them. Before they know it months have passed, as Charley spins the plans out carefully over larger and larger sections of space. She's not entirely sure how this is all helping the Time War but she mostly worries more about Ace figuring out that they're off the map, that they've run out of preplanning and pointers. They watch the ripple and the flow of the vortex and learn to tell when and where they need to go next. It's brilliant and terrifying, heartbreaking and rage inducing, but that's life in a TARDIS Charley supposes. She worries that Ace will cotton on that where next will never be Gallifrey.

It dawns on Charley one day that Ace knows they're so far off the map they can't even see it anymore, and has never called her on it; that worries her more.

~

The first time Charley thinks she might have the answer they're standing on board a small airship, approximately two miles above an alien city. The cityscape below them is beautiful and brutal, like a steampunk fantasy of Victorian London, with all the inherent moral duplicity, human degradation and exploitation that the real one harboured. Charley is at the wheel, because this is almost exactly what she dreamed about when she stowed away so long ago, and besides Ace is actually a bit nervous of these things, though she's getting the hang of it. She mutters darkly about the Hindenberg and Charley realises that Ace doesn't know the details of the paradox.

So she tells her about the R101, about stowing away, about plots and adventures and oh, the fact that she should have died there.

Ace leans on the edge of the ship's balcony and watches the city drift by below them as Charley talks. After Charley stops speaking and comes to rest leaning beside her, Ace is silent for a long moment before she replies.

“Fair cop,” Ace admits, “I'd have taken you with me too. Sod the Time Lords.”

Charley feels the careful curl of Ace's fingers through her own, and lets go of the breath she didn't know she was holding in a puff of laughter.

It should have dawned on Charley before, during shared meals or shared laughter, or in the room they share on the TARDIS – with its lack of endless corridors and maze of rooms, that she can't get used to – waking each other with a pillow attack because they've had too much to drink and one of them is keeping the other awake by snoring. They're friends now and this plan she's woven might actually work.

~

Charley wakes one morning to find Ace watching her steadily. Over the last few months she's grown used to Ace's changeable moods, the way she can flip from enthusiastic and joyful to careworn and cynical at a moment's notice. The way she can sometimes feel like living with a force of nature. That look though, Charley's only seen that once before. For all Ace is barely older than she is, her eyes are much older. It's easy to forget about when her surface is all easy froth of changing emotions, how much she's seen and done in her years – how much they both have – how far away that teenager from Perivale really is now. For a moment she's back at the research station, facing the stranger who'd breached the Viryan's defences so easily. A woman waiting for her, who looked her age, but had much older eyes, eyes that had seen too much for her age. Charley thinks she can be forgiven for thinking Ace was a Time Lord at first sight.

Ace leans in slowly to kiss her, not saying a word but telegraphing her intention, moving slowly so Charley can derail her easily if she wants. Instead Charley cups her cheek and draws her in like a magnet. The kiss is intense, both passionate and strangely chaste. There will be a thousand kisses to follow, light pecks to the cheek, gleeful snogs of relief and triumph, tender brushes over skin and angry embraces against walls, but this kiss burns into Charley's memory as pure distilled Ace. A permanent reminder of the grown up Ace that Ace hasn't figured out how to be quite yet, isn't ready to be yet. The Ace who isn't running away from herself any more.

Sometimes Charley wonders if either of them will ever be grown up enough – will live long enough – to see that person take the fore. If either of them would even want that to be the case.

~

Ace does eventually get round to telling Charley what she believes will be in store for her when they get back to Gallifrey. Charley takes it disturbingly well from Ace's perspective, but on the inside she's worried sick about what might happen if the Doctor has made his plans based on sentimentality rather than sensible pragmatism. The Daleks must not be allowed to take Gallifrey, this is one of the few points she and Ace agree on from the start, because if they do the Daleks will unleash unspeakable horrors on the universe. There will be no afterwards worth speaking of, no safety for anyone ever again.

The instructions she keeps so close to her heart are stage settings, preparations for an afterwards that she can't quite conceive right now. She can't help feeling that he was planning for a future that didn't include him, that he's preparing them to do what he won't be around to do in the aftermath.

She lies in the dark and listens to Ace breathing - sleeping the sleep of the pragmatic, her anger burnt out for now - and hopes that whatever is behind door number three is a better choice.

~

The screen above them is dark again, the cold darkness of where the Kasterborous solar system should be and now isn't. The speed of the reaction was so swift that it erased all doubt that it was anything but intentional.

Ace stares at it unseeingly from her spot on the floor. When Charley joins her she speaks for the first time in hours.

“How long have you known?” There isn't any anger there, not really, just defeated acceptance. They both know what the Daleks are capable of, that Daleks taking Gallifrey was untenable, that the last resort of the Time Lords would always be this.

“Since Arcadia,” Charley says simply.

The creatures born of Time Lord nightmares are worse than anything Daleks could dream up; they don't have the imagination to be so creatively evil. They'd got out before the fall but for all Ace had tried to shield Charley from the horrors taking place there, the screaming nightmares in the following weeks had told her enough.

Charley passes Ace the note she's been hoarding, keeping the last lines to herself all this time.

I wish so much that you were here and I cannot begin to tell you both how glad I am that you're not. Whatever else you do with the rest of your lives: love, laugh, forgive, dream. Nothing would annoy the Daleks, and, let's be honest, my own people, more.

It was never supposed to be a mission, just a distraction to buy them all sufficient time to do what they had to, but they've made it one. It's not the most conventional mission statement but is at least a fairly straight-forward one.
~

Ace is no stranger to the horrors of worlds where the sky is burning, but there are also all too many people made of smoke and cities of song. Charley could have told her how much less romantic those are in real life, but they go anyway. There are great big tears in the fabric of time and space, small eddies and anomalies that are no less dangerous for the difference in size. Some of them are too big for them to do anything about (the Rift at Cardiff on Earth is a notable one), and there are even cracks and fractures that whole species have evolved around, the universe healing itself, that they leave well alone. But things they can fix they do fix, those they can't save they mourn. If they're on a mission then it's one they chose themselves, because there's something about having travelled in a particular TARDIS that means you can't look away. They run hand in hand because it's better with two, easier to be brave and do the right thing with someone else by your side to remind you who you are.

And waiting in the TARDIS - not the TARDIS but their TARDIS, more and more each day – there is a pot of tea always just right for drinking, a warmer bed to share afterwards and in the morning, a softly beeping alarm on the console to lead them on to the next time wound in need of repair.

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