Fear & Delight
  • rating: +6+x

For every number that decreased on the GPS– time until arrival, distance until arrival– my anxiety increased by roughly 1 notch. What a notch was, I wasn’t sure, but they sure were increasing. We were headed towards my last known location: the rebel base.

Thankfully, at all of those heated meetings I’d been more or less forced to attend, they had to use maps. How would you make plans and mobilise your people without being able to communicate where you’re going?

I think they realised that I wasn’t going to tell on them when someone had gone into my room to change my bedsheets. I cringed thinking about it; ‘Where’d all this blood come from?’ with that blank expression, like I had a good and sane-sounding explanation. ‘Oh, my skin just falls apart randomly. I don’t know why, haha.’ I couldn’t even remember what I said, just that they didn’t offer to change my bedsheets anymore.

They had failed to realise that I wasn’t some high-spirited, brilliant young soul that was tragically sacrificing myself for the greater good. I just wanted to be done with everything, and if I could help fix things– even by being a botched experiment that they learned from, to do it better the second time– then that would put a meaning to my stupid, miserable life.

But my negative train of thought crashed and lost all of its rotten cargo when the man in the driver’s seat put his hand on my thigh.

“Ça va?”

“It’s just, like, I keep thinking about all the reasons that snowballed into everything, you know?”

“I do know. I understand how you feel. I never thought I would have gotten off of that ship. Some days I felt so cynical, for it would stain my hands forever if I… well, I eventually did what I had to do. And I cannot bring myself to feel regret, because even as the image of their mangled bodies is disturbing… I would have rotted on that vessel. Yes, I was captured by the Foundation, but if that had not occurred, what would have come of you?”

“I would be dead,” I admitted. “I, uh, yeah, I probably would have killed myself. I would have found a way.” It was weirdly raw, and squicked me to say out loud. But it was true.

“I am glad you didn’t do that.” He gave my thigh a gentle squeeze. “Life is infinitely more bearable with you around.”

“Right back at you.” I placed my hand over his, so extremely grateful that he was there. So, so extremely grateful that he’d been there, and decided to stick around after it all.

As if reading my mind, he spoke again. “It is not a chore to be around you. I know you think it is, as if you are simply that unbearable, but, ah, ce n’est pas la vérité. You are a joy in my life.”

The GPS chirped, letting us know that we’d arrived at our destination. The Doctor pulled up to the small patch of worn-down grass and I undid my seatbelt.

Okay, well, here goes nothing.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go in with you?” he asked as I opened the door.

“No, it’s okay. I keep a much lower profile than you. People would probably be disturbed at the sound of 100-kg heeled footsteps. Also, I think you would hit your head on the doorframe.”

“All valid points. I will be waiting right over there,” he indicated a spot just outside of the door’s view, “unless you do not return within the allotted 8 minutes.”

“I’ll be careful,” I said as I shut the door. He nodded, but looked troubled as he watched me turn.

The vehicle rolling away made me tense, and I had to remind myself it was literally just right over there. It was literally a 10 second walk away. Well, it wouldn’t be once I was inside the building…

It’s going to be fine, everything is fine. Nobody will notice, you won’t get caught. You won’t get separated again, you won’t get separated, you will not get separated from him.

The keypad attached to the door was worn in places, and I tried to piece together the most used characters in my broken– no, decimated– memory. I’d left through this door to take midnight walks, and more importantly, I’d re-entered it every time.

The code was… it was, uh…

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

A light inside the mechanism flashed red. Um…

Beep, beep, beep, beep-beep.

My finger slipped, pressing two buttons simultaneously. It flashed red again. Okay, well, this other one had to be it.

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

Weirdly, the handle turned despite the keypad flashing red. I reached for it absentmindedly, but before I could, it withdrew; the door opened inwards.

There was someone standing there, looking at me in confusion. Definitely not part of the plan.

“Hi, I left something inside,” I explained, trying to force my face into something friendly.

“What did you leave?”

“Field visor.”

“Who are you?”

“Someone who left its field visor.”

It squinted at me. “No, who are you?”

“Please let me get my field visor.”

“How did you leave it inside if you don’t know the code?”

“It was a while ago.”

“How long ago?”

“At least 2 seasons.” Was it? Maybe.

“Why did you leave it?”

“I didn’t think I’d need it.”

“What’s your designation?”

“Prefer not to answer.” I pushed past it, starting down the long hallway.

“Hey! Who are you?” It was right behind me. I walked faster.

“I’m on your side.”

“You’re a fucking Two! Do you think I’m blind? Do you think I can’t see your eyes?”

“Cosmetic surgery,” I lied as I turned a corner, making the mistake of glancing back. It was very close behind. Where was that room again?

“And you bleached your skin, and you filed down your teeth, too?”

“Extensive cosmetic surgery.”

“No, come back here, tell me what business you have in this place!”

I started running. Its footsteps pounded behind me. Fuck, god fucking damnit, was my room this far back? Would it even have the same things inside?

Just as my chest started to hurt from exertion and fear, I saw it: A door, unlike the others; it had a sign on it, printed in large letters.

Do Not Enter, or the equivalent in Kepler. I turned and slammed right into it, barely keeping upright as it flung open, hitting the wall with a loud noise.

It was right there, right on my bed. I knew instantly that the visor was mine, because it was the only one I’d ever seen that was small enough to fit my head. Its weight was all too familiar in my hands as I slipped it onto my head, wiping the dust off the front.

I hit the power button, and it took multiple precious seconds to turn on. Then it displayed an updating symbol– Now? Seriously?!

It dawned on me that I didn’t hear any footsteps. Whirling around, I checked to make sure the room was still empty; it was. And I didn’t see anyone in the hallway.

Fuck it, I thought. This might be a trap. No, this is definitely a trap. But I’ll get a head start anyways, because I have literally no other option.

Quietly stepping into the hallway, I scanned it more thoroughly; empty. Silent. Not a single open door.

Until the one not two metres away from me opened.

I didn’t even look to see who was coming out; I bolted. My legs hurt, and my lungs hurt, and it felt like someone was stabbing me right in the vena cava. But the adrenaline was enough to make a One vomit, and I kept going despite the thundering strides behind me.

My visor finished updating; an interrogation mark displayed across the screen.

[Please input credentials.]

I couldn’t even take a breath, how the fuck was I supposed to–?

“You think you can get away?!” the person called, dangerously close.

[Invalid credentials. You have 10 seconds to input the correct credentials, or this unit will lock.]




I’d gotten out of worse situations.


I was going to be fine, everything was going to be fine, right?


The corner was close.


The person chasing me started yelling. I didn’t even register the words. I covered the mic with my hand; if the visor picked it up, it’d think I was some thief, running away with government property–


“Authorise Unit 5a82!”


I turned the corner, but it must have been too sharp, because I ran into something, hard. I fell, rolling, hitting the wall– Oh.


The person I’d run into looked stunned. They had managed to stay upright, but I felt like one of those human cartoons with the birds flying around their head.

The One chasing me had caught up, but as I regained my mental faculties, I realised it was just standing there; the person I’d bumped into was actually standing between it and me.

[Voice pattern recognised. Hello, 5a82, thank you for your service.]

“Don’t. Don’t try anything. Do you know who that is?” it asked the other.

“I… but… that’s not… possible.”

“It saved our lives, yes? That too felt impossible.”

I scrambled to my feet, almost falling back down again, but nobody tried to stop me from going to the door. I was about to open it when someone spoke.

“What happened to them?”

“What-” pant, “happened-” pant, “to who?”

“The five scientists.”

“They died.” I tried to catch my breath. “Burned. Crashed.” I pushed down on the handle, opening the door and stepping out.

“They will never be forgotten.”

Before I closed the door behind me, I turned back to look at them. “How do you know my designation?” It came out hoarse, strained.

“You were never forgotten.”

After a lot of staring out the window and checking the mirrors to make sure we weren’t being followed, my companion seemed to pick up on something.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“Does what hurt?”

“You keep touching your shoulder and hipbone. Are you in pain?”

“Oh, I just slipped and… yeah. I fell, but it’s really not that bad.”

Silence. He was trying to get me to talk more.

“My profile was kept relatively low, but not that low,” I finally admitted.

He sighed. “I knew I should have gone in with you.”

“No, there was actually someone standing right by the door, that would have been worse.”

“What?” His head turned towards me, and I shrunk down against the seat. He seemed to realise my discomfort and looked back to the road.

“It- It’s not that bad, I have the thing I needed. They, well, so- they know who I am, but nobody will believe them about that. The most likely outcome is, is that anyone they tell will think someone broke in to steal my visor, and they made up a ghost story to not get into trouble.”

“Because you are dead.”

“Yes. Officially, I am dead.” I punctuated it by making a soft chopping motion against the top of the visor in my lap. “Officially, I died a while ago. Officially, I don’t exist. So I hope I don’t give 7cb7 a heart attack when I do this.” I raised the gear up and fumbled with the closure, then tried to hold my hair out of the way as I put it on my head. The hum of the car was dulled as the earpieces filtered the environmental noise.

[Hello, 5a82. Please input a command.] the screen displayed, one tiny line of characters in front of each eye, calibrated specifically for my face shape and interpupillary distance.

“Display notifications.”


[26 missed calls. 3 voice messages. 104 text messages. 728 missed reminders.]

Fuck, that’s going to take a long time to go through.

“Uh… sort by sending feed address, descending by quantity.”

[728 missed reminders - internal
69 text messages, 18 missed calls, 3 voice messages - UNKNOWN
26 text me-]

“Isolate line 2.”

[69 text messages, 18 missed calls, 3 voice messages - UNKNOWN]

“Why is the sending feed address unknown?”

[Encrypted sender.]

“What’s the form of encryption?”

[Encryption does not match government standard.]


“What is it?” the Doctor asked. I realised I’d been silent, just staring at the text.

“Disregard following input.” A mute icon popped up in the corner. “I- I don’t know what this is, someone messaged me, like, 100 times, and their address isn’t listed. They’re not with the government, I don’t know who it is. I don’t-”

But what if…

“Do you have any idea who it could be from?”

“Unmute input.” The icon disappeared. “Play oldest voice message.”

[Playing voice message from 286 sols ago.]

The quiet buzz of background noise from a bad microphone came alive in the headphones.

[Transcription is as follows:]

[Hey, what’s up. I’m just calling to say] – I knew that voice.

[that I’m okay, and you don’t need to worry about me.] Even through the shitty mic.

[Just wanted to make sure you’re doing okay.] Shit, my eyes were burning.

[I hope you don’t feel too bad] I blinked rapidly, the fluid that had collected inside spilling down.

[about everything. I don’t even know if you’re getting this message.]

[Call me back, okay? It’s lonely here, and… (laughs) I guess I miss you.]

[Voice message over. Replay?]

“Ah… cancel… close notifications.” I took the visor off, rubbing my eyes.

The voice had been so distracting that I hadn’t even registered the fact that the Doctor had already pulled over, parked in a small space between the clusters of trees that surrounded the road.

“I need you to talk to me. Please tell me what’s going on.” He was turned towards me, face creased with concern. His hand reached for my shoulder, but hovered, like he wanted to touch me but didn’t know if he should.

I placed my hand on the back of his and guided it to the side of my face; I leaned into the touch, craving comfort in my shocked state.

“Someone that I thought forgot me… it turns out that they didn’t.”

His thumb caressed the outer corner of my eye, wiping away the hints of sadness. “Nobody could.”

“No, it’s easy… I’m not really… important…” My hands hid in my sleeves save for the fingertips that were picking at each other in my lap.

He leaned across the console, clicking his tongue softly as his other hand brushed away the stray hairs that had fallen into my eyes. “Not important? I would take bullet after bullet for you… I would kill and die for you… I would start a war… I would, I would…”

His words were making my eyes damp all over again. “You don’t need to, I’m… I’m not… I’m not worth it.”

“You are worth the world.”

The thoughts going through my mind made me turn away from him, undeserving of his soft touch. “No, I’m horrible. I’m worthless,” the words tumbled out.

The Doctor’s hand followed, body shifting across the console. “Mon chou…” His hand slid down to my side, other arm following in a loose hold. I could feel his eyes on me, searching my face, but I stared at my clenched fists, wishing I could suck the tears that were threatening to fall back in like Earl Deveraux.12

“You are the sweetest, kindest person I have ever had the delight of knowing. You are perfect,” he assured me softly, hands repeatedly shifting like he wanted to pull me closer, but was uncertain.

“I… I… I…” My throat was doing that thing again, where it felt raw and tight; I could only breathe, not talk. I repeated over and over in my mind what I wanted to say, the sophisticated response that would make perfect sense, but all that came out was a strained “Um…”

Despite not having lacrimal puncta draining into my nose, I sniffled; I was trying to take even breaths, but my body had other ideas.

“It is alright. I understand how you feel,” he sympathised.

“What?” I managed to choke out. “B-But how? You’re- you- but- you’re so-” I managed to look at him, dark robes blending in with the dark interior of the car like a shadow. The large bulk of his body made me feel comforted, even safe; as a person who was much too small and weak to guarantee my own safety, it was invaluable to have such a sturdy person looking out for me. And I could look at his face for hours; it was so angular, sharp, but his eyes went softer than silk when he looked at me. I hated when anyone else looked, but oh, not him, never him. I never hated anything he did.

Swallowing, I laced my fingers through those of one of his hands. “I-I don’t understand. You’re… you’re perfect.”

“My sweet… that is the point. I do not have such problems with my esteem as do you, but I do not quite hold myself in the highest regard. Sometimes… I have feared that no ends justify my means, and so what does that make me? But if you, such a pure, lovely… angel,” he breathed, eyes crinkling slightly in a smile. “If someone as innocent as you could care for someone as condemned as I, perhaps it is so that I am not as terrible as I once thought. On the other side, if someone as hardened as I can appreciate the softness of you, that means you can shine through even the thickest of clouds.” He squeezed my hand. “You are not as terrible as some have tried to make you believe. In fact, you are not terrible at all.”

“I… I do care about you. I care about you lots and lots.” I immediately bit the inside of my cheek, fangs digging in as I realised how utterly immature I sounded.

My emotional intelligence was that of a rock; it’s not like I ever was a child that got to grow up, so while the logic and reasoning centres of my brain were fully developed, I was hopelessly lacking social skills– even more than other Twos. I hadn’t experienced the same meaningful connection with a caretaker that most of them had; relationships rich in emotional maturity were not something I was privy to.

His exhale turned into a fond noise of amusement, not loud enough to be a laugh but in the same burst-like pattern. “I know. I care about you very much as well.”

A small smile formed on my face, and I rubbed my eyes with my sleeve again; the man next to me settled closer, pressing the space between his eyes against my cheek, giving me a gentle squeeze with his arms.

I took a moment to just sit there and breathe, looking out the windshield at the beautiful flora surrounding us. Dappled light came in through the trees’ leaves, making the whole scene look like something out of a painting. It was relaxing, peaceful, even.

“I know what I have to do,” I said finally.

Someone rolled up their sleeve to check the ping that came to their watch; it was an absent movement, but once they saw the feed address, they stopped speaking mid-sentence and just stared at the LED display.

Are you alright? The person they were conversing with asked in Kepler. Is there an issue?

Um… Can we continue this discussion later? They smiled with large, sharp teeth, but didn’t wait for a response; they brushed by the other and quickly walked through the busy station, breaking into a run once they were out of sight. They only slowed periodically to check their watch again, to make sure they weren’t hallucinating…

Once they got to their room, they rushed over to the feed interface, aqua eyes fixating on the notification.

There was no way.

It couldn’t be.

It had to be.

I’d actually done it. I’d gotten ahold of 7cb7 through its hacked feed address, and we’d arranged a time and place to meet.

I was actually shocked how trusting it was; it must have been anxious to see me, because it didn’t even ask me to prove my identity. I could have been someone with the government, someone who’d made a ploy to lure the resistance out to be able to capture members and extract information. But why would they do that after such a long time?

On the other hand, what if the hacked console was more of a community thing rather than a private one for 7cb7’s usage, and it was someone hoping I was with the government, hoping that I would meet up with them so that they could capture me and extract information…

…Were the resistance and the government even at odds anymore? I’d heard snippets of conversations from the crew aboard the ship that brought us there, but they spoke more about technological advancements, trade routes, and intergalactic cargo hauling than politics. Was it simply not much of an issue anymore? That being said, nobody ever really talked about politics. Everyone liked to simply ignore it, pretend nothing was wrong, pretend the world wasn’t falling apart at the seams.

But I tried to just shove that all to the side as I walked across the dewy grass, water condensing on my boots as I took even breaths of the cool, foggy air.

It reminded me of the night that was my turning point, the night that made everything cascade in such a way; the reason why the Doctor was following behind me, instead of me going through it all alone like I always had previously.

The reminder was entirely intentional– we were meeting up at the same place where we last parted, all that time ago. The suspected rebel base, that had turned out to be nothing; the sacrifice, the life that was almost lost, that had turned out to be pointless…

Lost in my thoughts, I tripped on the curb while crossing the silent street. Instead of eating pavement, I was caught around the chest and pulled back upright against a solid body.

“Careful now, you wouldn’t want to get your clothes all dirty,” The Doctor chided.

“Oh– thanks,” I tried to un-wibble-ify my legs. “Sorry, I was just a little distracted…”

Once I was standing upright on my own, he let go of me, but kept a protective hand on my back as we slowly walked forward. Glancing at his feet, I wondered how he did it with those heels– though, I’d never seen him trip or stumble before, his movements being rather steady and fluid, well planned out. Everything about him was planned out.

“What are you thinking about?” He asked as we approached the building.

Luckily, I was able to find my train of thought again. “It’s… It’s not pointless,” I realised aloud.

“What’s not pointless?”

“I was just thinking… all these shitty things that have happened on this planet, even shitty things that have happened to me… maybe it wasn’t good that they happened, but they ultimately brought good things.”

“I suppose so,” he hummed in agreement.

“I don’t know if I would have ever met you… Even though it’s, like, a completely random set of events that made us end up here, together, it’s still a special random set of events.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call them random.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he mused, “it is true that things such as the rate of evolution on our respective home planets, and therefore technological advancement, and therefore the succession of events that lead to your species being aware of Earth, then building spacecraft to get there, et cetera… even if you take into account that there may have been a planetary mass ejection that caused the spread of life between my Earth and your Kepler billions of years ago– even though that may have been a toss-up of fate, as soon as you ended up in my containment chamber that August night, I knew.”

“Knew what?”

The Doctor’s hand trailed down my back, to my hand that he took in his. “Did you really think it was accidental?” I glanced at him– he was looking at me, the hazy light catching his yellow eyes. “No, as soon as I saw you… when you stumbled into the room, chest heaving, I could tell immediately that you were different. You just looked so… ah, les mots… t’es craquant, ouai, in a way I’d never seen before. Your face, flushed blue, body too slender for a human, heterochromatic eyes… moreso, you didn’t reek of the disease as nearly every human does. And you still do not… you cannot. The sickness will not take you– cannot take you– and that made you, makes you so special.

“You looked like you would faint, and normally I would not care about such issues, but yet I reached for you so carefully; I was extremely aware of every place your uniform covered your body, for I would never forgive myself if I touched your skin and… extinguished such an interesting flame. That’s how it started, interest, intrigue, but the way you looked at me, even as you were shoved to the ground, cuffed, dragged away… I knew, I knew. Nothing would stop me. You would be mine.”

Thank fuck I wasn’t an endotherm, or my hand would have been a clammy mess– I would be his? His? God, I wanted to be his, I wanted it more than air. It was something I couldn’t control no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I begged my brain to just let me repress it a little longer, but that ‘little longer’ would be forever, wouldn’t it?

Oh, that’s what was pointless. Trying to choke out how I felt about him, like my feelings were a weed. I tried to tell myself it was a weed, tried to tell myself it was wrong, to listen to that fucked up, xenophobic societal programming– but in my chest I had felt how my heartbeats quickened when he said that.

I knew how he gave me this feeling, a feeling I hadn’t ever felt before, a feeling that made me… happy? Calm?

Those words were too trite, they couldn’t encapsulate such a feeling.


No, because sometimes I wanted to scream into a pillow.


No, because I still wanted more, I wanted to be closer, I had a million words built up in my chest that needed to pour out; words I was repressing, but not just words, feelings, needs. It was like the air was electrified with energy, like we were in a ring of tesla coils, but I had to stay in the stupid safety cage so the arcs wouldn’t electrocute me to death. We had to stay in our stupid safety cages, because this couldn’t happen, it wasn’t allowed to… right?

Or was that just what people had made me believe?

His pace slowed. “What is it?”

Fuck. Fuck.

My hearts were pounding, and I realised I was gripping his hand so tight I was surprised he hadn’t pulled away.

No. Yes. No. Yes. No.

I breathed in and turned towards him. He stopped, looking at me confusedly. It was still a bit light out, but nobody was in sight. Faint noises of far-away traffic were the only tangible noise; that, and the rush of my own blood.


I stepped closer, putting my hands on his upper arms. I could feel his breath, and it made my insides itch; I knew where it came from, having seen him eat before, but only theoretically; only as a concept, for his dark skin blended so effortlessly into the shadows cast by his beak and cowl that it was as if nothing was there at all. But I would prove it to myself, as I leaned in so close that there was no going back… was there? And my lips parted ever so slightly, my brain hurtling through every shitty boy-meets-girl film and show I’d used as daydreaming material, and…


But there was a problem, and it was such a small and silly problem, but the fact that my head only came up to his shoulder was just enough of a wrench in the works that I suddenly pushed away from him, face feeling impossibly hot.

My figurative stomach sank somewhere between the planet’s mantle and core, and I balled my hands into fists so tight that my fingernails may have cut my palms. No, it wouldn’t work, it would never work, it couldn’t work. He’d never, ever, ever feel like that, never want that, never think of me like that. We were friends. Just. Friends. A deep, meaningful friendship, but it was a friendship. It started and ended at ‘friend’. Friends were just as important as any other kind of relationship, something that was actually overlooked in a lot of media.

But I don’t want to only be friends, I don’t, please, someone fucking help me, what is wrong with me–

I clenched my jaw, throat burning as I tried and failed to swallow. “Sorry. I-I thought, I thought I saw an insect. Some insects here are venomous. B-But there’s no insect. You’re fine. We can keep going.” I bit my lip until I tasted copper, trying to tamp down the crushing feeling in my chest, the black hole full of shame, shame, shame, shame.

There was a long pause, so long that I felt actual fear prickle at my skin– did he hate me? Did I ruin everything? Was I that much of a stupid, stupid fuck-up?

“Thank you for checking,” he said finally.

I did my absolute best to breathe, breathe, breathe. “No problem.”

I was entirely atheist, but still mentally listed off my thanks to every single religious figure and deity I knew when I saw that 7cb7 had already arrived at our meeting place. The mere thought of having to stand and wait in silence with the Doctor after that clusterfuck was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

But that would stay outside in the foggy night, I told myself as I nodded at 7cb7, slipping past into the building. We would just forget about that and move on; yes, that was what was going to happen.

The inside of the empty building wasn’t exactly well-lit, but the dim light was perfect for this kind of off-the-cuff meeting. 7cb7 firmly closed the door behind us, latching the various haphazard locks attached to it.

And we looked at each other, and a smile broke out on my face. “Hey,” I said, doing a small palms-up gesture. “You’re… not dead!”

“Yeah,” it smiled back with that smile, the smile. The one that looked so other at first, the one that was a physical marker of our division, and the one that I’d grown to seek out with any stupid little jokes I could think of. “Yeah, nice to see the same for you, dude.”

“I missed you,” was all I could think of to say. I thought it might be weird to talk about all the nights I’d lain awake, wondering what had come to be of my friend. Wondering if it was my fault, or what I could have done to prevent it.

It reached out and ruffled my hair. “Yeah, yeah. It’s crazy, so much has happened since you were gone. Well, so much, and so little at the same time, right? ‘Cause, like, I dunno. It just never felt right without you there, so I’ve been almost procrastinating shit like you’d just magically appear back here. But you have, haven’t you?”

“Well, now, I wouldn’t say it was magic! I had a lot of help, from…” I turned my head towards the Doctor. “You know, this guy.”

Its eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Yeah, who’s that?” It nodded towards him, mouth turning down slightly.

“He’s my…” I faltered, unable to come up with any kind of designations or descriptors.

“He’s my patient,” the Doctor filled in, stepping a little closer to me. Good, the live translators were still working. Despite him learning at the speed of light, I wasn’t the best teacher, and he hadn’t exactly learned the full Kepler language yet.

“Patient, huh?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Though, not in the same way that maybe we have on Kepler.”

“So it’s not from Kepler? Where’d it come from?” 7cb7 crossed its arms.

“Well, I mean, where do you think I went?” I asked lightheartedly.

“It’s an other, then?” Ah, that word. In a society so highly valuing conformity, nobody would want to be an ‘other’ now would they? It was a more polite version of some rather insulting things one could say. It was an expected reaction, of course, but I was still disappointed; I’d thought my friend would be more open-minded after everything it’d been through.

I shrank down a little bit. “Um… well, technically, but it’s not like-”

“We are all aliens to each other, are we not?” The Doctor spoke up. “It is best we put aside our differences.”

7cb7’s eyes snapped to the space behind me. “You tryna tell me what to do?”

“No, I’m sure that’s not what he meant,” I responded.

“Maybe that would be for the best for 6118, or as you know him, 5a82,” The Doctor shot back. Okay, that wasn’t helping.

“You think you know what’s best for 5a82?” 7cb7’s normally rounded, friendly eyes looked quite menacing, its fist clenched against a tense bicep. “News flash, I dragged its vertically challenged ass to the hospital when it had liver failure. Oh, and I visited it there every day, when nobody else gave enough of a shit to.”

“You think you know what’s best?” The Doctor’s hands had made their way around my waist, and we were all but front-to-back. “Good sir, the atrocities we have faced together, the depths I have pulled him from, from injury, from wretched others, from illness and even imminent death… no, I do not believe you know much at all about him in comparison to the things I do.

“Oh, what, just ‘cause you think you’re dating, ‘cause you’re his boyfriend, you know better than me?” 7cb7 countered.

My jaw dropped.

Even the Doctor froze.

7cb7’s sneer faded to confusion,aggressive posture relaxing, and it actually backed up a bit. “You are dating, right?”

“What? No, no, we’re not- of course not, we’re- it’s- no, we’re not dating,” I stammered, nervous laughter bubbling up at the end. I became acutely aware of how the Doctor’s fingers smoothed down the midaxillary line of my body to my hipbones, how he rested his body so specifically against mine; I wondered what he was thinking, if the idea repulsed him, intrigued him? Was I being too optimistic? I could never tell.

“Oh, oh, okay, I see.” Its hands shifted to its hips, and it took on that smug look that it had always teased me with. “As if he wasn’t just trying to compare dick sizes with me, over you no less.”

“Don’t say it like that!” I exclaimed, appalled.

“Too crude? My apologies, but if I remember correctly, you stared for an utterly absurd amount of time when we were watching human shows together, and-”

I covered my face with my hands and bowed my head, knowing what it was going to say.

“That actor took off his shirt, man, it was like you’d never seen a muscular guy before,” 7cb7 laughed to itself.

“Everyone has their preferences,” the Doctor said, voice tinged with amusement.

“Tell me this. Have you ever loved a woman?” It asked him, looking rather amused itself.

Well…” Oh. Oh. I stared hard at the hands covering my eyes. “It is possible for me to appreciate colleagues of mine who are women. But, if it is a kind of attraction you mean, no.” He pulled me a little closer, almost like he was saying it more to me than 7cb7. “No, I suppose I have never been attracted to a woman.”

7cb7 snapped its fingers, then pointed at us. “Gay.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re dating!”

“You say that, yet you are literally radiating energy that directly contradicts said words.”

After a pause, it dawned on me. “Are we dating?” I asked, turning a bit to look up at the man I was asking the question to.

“Darling… what did you think all of that was?” He looked as if he was holding back laughter.

“Um… satire?” I offered weakly.

“I’ll give you two a moment,” 7cb7 smoothly interjected, checking its watch and sweeping over to a door I hadn’t noticed in the dim light. It opened the door, looking at the Doctor. “Don’t be too rough…” It taunted as it closed the door behind itself.

That absolute son of a-

I didn’t have time to form any coherent thoughts before I was turned around and gently pushed backwards, my back hitting the wall. My eyes darted around the room, looking everywhere, anywhere but his face.

“So…” His head tilted to the side. “What was that, out there?”

I clasped my hands behind my back, turning my head to the side. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Hm…” A warm hand touched my jaw, then turned my head back to face him. His watchful eyes examined the small wound that his thumb first brushed over, then moved across to the rest of my lower lip. “How’d this get here, then?”

“I-I was nervous,” I stammered, feeling badly like I wanted to squirm out of my own skin.

“Nervous about a venomous insect?”

“Well, I wouldn’t want any harm to come to you…”

“So thoughtful, aren’t you?” He leaned in closer, hand moving from my lips to underneath my chin, tilting my head up. I swallowed, trying not to curse too loudly in my brain.

“Um… I… um…”

“No, there was no insect, was there?” I squeezed my hands together hard behind my back, wondering if he could smell the lavender soap I’d been opting to use for the past while, or the same-scented perfume that was among the few belongings I’d allowed myself to bring. He’d always shown a preference to that flower. “So what were you trying to do?”

“Nothing, I- I was just, um… I was… I…” I trailed off, hoping my face wasn’t as blue as it felt.

“What do you want?” He asked quietly, curving his neck down to lower his head to mine like a swan. One of his hands rested on my shoulder, and I realised I was all but pinned to the wall, not like I could get away from him anyways… nor did I want to.

The thought made something in my chest flip-flop, and I instinctively bit my lip in the same place I had on our walk. I didn’t register the pain so much as what came next;

He pressed my shoulder against the wall and tilted my chin up, turning his head to the side; I felt something very warm and wet against my lower lip, and I couldn’t help a small noise as it dragged to the corner of my mouth. My brain felt fuzzy, and even once he’d pulled away slightly, it was as if approximately one hundred ping-pong balls were bouncing around in my chest cavity.

“Don’t do that.” It was not a question, not a suggestion, but a command; warm, but firm, and my head started nodding on its own– as much as the virtually negative space between us allowed. “I wouldn’t want you to get an infection, especially not on those lips.”

I wanted to ask what that meant, why specifically it was the lips he was so concerned with, but I was much too flustered to do anything but picture myself melting into a puddle on the floor.

“What?” His finger traced my face. “Why are you being so shy now? After what you did out there, I thought you’d like this more…”

“I-I do,” I blurted, mentally kicking myself in the shins.

“Good,” he purred, and I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of a smirk. “Tellement soumis… j’crois qu't'es un soumis, non?” He murmured, and I sharply exhaled, mind reeling– the translators didn’t only translate English, and he had to know that.

“I’m not-!”

“Oh? You’re not?” His hands reached for mine, pulling them apart and placing them on his chest. Then his hands moved to the sides of my ribcage, and he shifted on his feet slightly– he lifted me up, and I made a stupid little noise of surprise as my feet left the ground; he set his body against mine, pressing me to the wall, which must have been a bit old telling from the creak it made. I instinctively let my legs bend and go around his hips, but it wasn’t like I was going to fall anyways. “Are you sure..? Would you like to find out?"

A loud knock came from the door 7cb7 had left from. I might as well have jumped out of my skin, and the Doctor sighed, turning his head to the source of the noise.

“Didn’t I tell you not to be rough? I said have a moment, not– okay, well, I’m opening the door,” 7cb7 called from the other side.

What did it think was going on–? Actually, I didn’t want to know.

The Doctor leaned back, easing me down to the ground and stepping away just in time for 7cb7 to come sauntering in, looking between us with a raised eyebrow. I was sort of relieved, but couldn’t shake this weird feeling of dissatisfaction– almost like if someone got to eat their favourite food, but only a couple bites; if one got to take a hot bath, but only for a minute; if you were in such close– physically, close– proximity to something that made your organs feel like they were going upside down and inside out, but never truly received said thing.

“I was trying to get you to have a conversation,” 7cb7 complained. “And instead you– what happened to your lip?”

I snapped out of my brooding long enough to realise it was asking me. I touched the wound, fingers coming away with saliva… but not blood. Huh. “Um… I don’t know?” I offered.

“Prefer not to answer,” The Doctor added. “Why is it of any interest to you?”

“Listen, man, I’m just looking out for my friend. Don’t want you to end up hurting it, or something…”

“I have no intention of doing so.”

“I mean, intention doesn’t always equal action, if you weren’t aware.”

“Guys,” I interjected, “can you not argue? Please?”

“Ugh, fine. Just please tell me you actually talked about your relationship? Like normal people? Functional people?”


“An action speaks a thousand words, doesn’t it?” The Doctor responded, hand sliding down my arm to take mine once more.

Well… maybe it wasn’t so bad. I mean, he’d straight up said we were dating…

“So you didn’t talk about anything.”

“Many things were found out, actually.”

“Doubtful… but, anyways, I didn’t invite you here to talk about your relationship; I was actually gonna ask you, or I guess both of you, to come stay with me at our main base of operations– us being, you know, those with a strange relationship with the government. It’s a lot safer than it used to be…” I lost track of what 7cb7 was saying as I was once more immersed in my thoughts.


“What?” I looked up at it, momentarily shoving aside the contents of my brain.

“I said that I’ll send the station’s address to your visor. Return to your vehicle and then drive there, okay? I’ll be expecting you by dusk.”


“You make sure it gets there safely,” 7cb7 said pointedly to the Doctor.

“To neglect such an important task would be unlike me.”


“Run along, now. It’s getting dark.”

He’d said…

We thanked it and turned to leave, still hand in hand.

We were dating?!

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