The graceful Corinthian column that the Seven's TARDIS had frozen into tumbled and spun through the temporal vortex. Normally, the trip was uneventful and smooth.
That's why, whe the first bump hit, Ezra knew something was wrong. He slid out of bed and hauled himself into utilitarian clothing. "Vin -- Vin, wake up!"
"What is it?" Vin asked, instantly awake as he, too, got out of bed and dressed. This time, though, the usually deliberate identical dressing was accidental. "What's wrong?"
"We hit something -- or something hit us." The mech-tech spoke over his shoulder as he and Vin strode into the control room. "And we've not landed -- so that should not have happened."
Vin opened his mouth to ask a question, but closed it swiftly as the TARDIS shuddered after a second jolt. "I feel what you mean, Ez."
"Shield your eyes," Ezra ordered as he moved to the videoscreen control. "This might be bright." He activated the controls.
Vin winced as brilliant light flared into the control room. "Ez--"
"Working on it!" With Ezra's sigh of satisfaction, a polarised filter slid over the screen. "There you go."
Nodding, Vin blinked to dispel the spots from his vision. When his vision was clear, his eyes went huge. "Ezra.... is that...."
"The timestream, yes." Ezra smiled at Vin's expression. He was so used to the timestream, he often took the multicoloured swirls for granted.
To see it through his human friend's eyes was to rekindle the wonder of it all. "What do you think?"
Awestruck, Vin merely shook his head. When he could speak again, his voice was a mere breath. "It's... Ezra, it's.... it's... magnificent!"
Ezra smiled, enjoying his friend's reaction. "That it is, Vin." His smile faded. "And that's what keeps bumping us."
Vin followed Ezra's pointing finger. In the lower right corner of the viewscreen was a swirling, dark mass. "What the hell....?"
"Hell is most apt," Ezra growled. "That is a time storm. If we stay in the timestream, with it raging, we'll be battered to bits." He began working the controls.
"Where are we landing?" Vin asked.
"I'm landing her blind." Ezra met his eyes as the familiar wheezing rattle of the landing TARDIS began. "Anywhere is prefer--" he grunted as he was shocked.
Then he licked his lips. "Anywhere is better than here right now, Vin. Anywhere."
The wheezing of the TARDIS's landing drew the other five out of bed and into the control room.
"So where are we?" Chris asked.
"Don't know yet," Vin answered. "We had to land blind."
Buck frowned. "A blind landing? Why?"
Ezra looked up from the control panel. "Time storm."
"Oh, shit," Chris and Buck – the other two Gallifreyans – breathed in unison. Ezcept for Vin, all the humans looked confused.
So Vin explained. "It's like a cyclone-producer – only in the river of time we travel in."
"If we'd have stayed there," Ezra finished, "we would have been battered until the TARDIS quite literally shook herself apart."
Everybody shuddered to think of that. "So we landed," Natalie said, stepping forward. "How long are we stuck here?"
"Until the time storm dissi--" Ezra grunted as he was shocked.
"Breaks up," Vin finished for him.
"Well, then," Chris said, tugging down the hem of his ebony sweater and running a hand through his hair to try to tame the unruly bed-head. "Find out when and where we landed."
Nodding, Ezra moved to the viewscreen controls and opened it once more.
And the three Gallifreyans sucked in their breath. Six shoulders tensed. The four humans frowned and Vin moved closer to Ezra. "What is it?"
"The TARDIS..." Ezra whispered. "When we landed blind --- she defaulted."
"We're on Gallifrey," Chris growled. "Ezra, you've got to take off!"
"We can't," Ezra sighed. "If we take off, we're dead."
"If we stay here, we're dead!" Chris roared.
"Maybe not," Buck said as he looked up. While they'd talked, he'd moved to look over Ezra's shoulder. "Chris, we've landed before the High Council realised you'd found what they'd done and gone Rogue."
"Before I took the TARDIS," Ezra breathed.
"So you're safe!" Buck grinned.
Chris didn't return the grin. "You're not."
The smile faded. "I know," Buck said gently. "But at least it's just one of us, not all seven. You'd best go change."
A nod, and Chris headed back toward his rooms.
"Where's he going?" Natalie asked.
"He was a Leftenant in the Time Corps at this time," Ezra said. "He's gone to get in uniform so we can wander without casting suspicion."
When Chris returned to the control room, Vin couldn't resist the low whistle. The uniform was all black with just a few hints of colour. "Impressive."
Chris smirked at him. It only lasted a moment, however, before it faded. "Vin, you and Nate may have a few – challenges – here."
Ezra groaned. "That's right. Nate, your gender-changing marks you as special. My people can sense it in you."
Natalie swallowed hard. "So – what do I do?"
"You stick close to me," Chris said. "And no matter what I say – or do – go along with it." He smiled sadly at her. "Even if you have to endure my kissing you or touching you – inappropriately."
She licked her lips, visibly nervous. "All for show, though – right?"
Chris nodded. "My people are horribly backward in some areas. You'll hear me say things that you know I don't mean."
Her hand crept into his. "I trust you."
Vin cleared his throat. "You said I'd have challenges, too?"
Ezra nodded. "You're a Communicator, Vin. That's why languages are so easy for you. It's a mild form of telepathy. My people can sense that, too."
"So what do we do?" Vin asked.
"You stick with me," Ezra said. "I ran a mech-tech con--"
"That became all too real," Chris couldn't resist teasing.
"Yes, well, I did not factor in the fact that I am good at mechanical repair--"
"Or that you like it," Vin grinned.
Ezra glared at him. "We do not speak of such things," he sniffed, but his lips were quirking with amusement.
When the laughter died down, Ezra went on, "Stick with me, Vin. We'll change clothing as well. It is not uncommon for a mech-tech to have a human Communicator by his side. Only humans are Communicators, by some twist of genetics – and since TARDISes are mildly telepathic as well, it's easier for a Communicator to aid than to have a single mech-tech working alone."
Vin nodded. He held it in till they were back in their room and Ezra broke their ubiquitous alike-dressing to draw on a jumpsuit the same colour as his eyes, zipping it only enough to show a hint of the black t-shirt underneath – completely hiding the quip of "E=MC2 -- YOU Figure It Out!".
Then Vin just couldn't keep it inside any longer. "TARDISes are mildly telepathic?"
"How else can they tell their mech-techs what's wrong with them?"
Vin pondered that.
Ezra drew on a silvery jacket over the jumpsuit. "And how else could she help you learn to read?"
That made Vin smile briefly. "But then why can't you seem to fix that missing wheeze in her?"
"Because she herself isn't sure what's causing it." Ezra zipped up the jacket halfway. "When she figures it out, she'll inform us and we'll fix her." He drew on a pair of gaudy boots that matched the jacket and stowed a pair of gloves in the jacket pocket. "Ready?"
"No," Vin smiled. "So let's do this."
Six forms walked out of the TARDIS. Buck had agreed to remain behind and monitor things.
Both of his Gallifreyan friends knew he wouldn't be safe for long inside the TARDIS, but they were also hoping the time storm would dissipate quickly.
If Buck left the TARDIS, he wouldn't be safe at all.
"I intend to take advantage of being home to get supplies for the TARDIS," Ezra announced.
Chris frowned at him. "Are you certain? You were a petty thief at this time--"
"And now I'm the closest thing to a real mech-tech we've got. Besides, I was off-world with Mother during this time-frame. We were running a high-stakes gaming vesel in the Arcturus Galaxy, if memory serves."
Chris nodded slowly. "So all we have to worry about is that storm passing on, Buck, and running into a younger me who was still loyal to the High Council."
Josiah looked at JD. "Now do you understand why temporal logic gives me headaches?"
And JD cracked up.
Ezra was haggling the final price of some second-hand but fully functional parts when Vin's hand landed on his forearm. He turned to see Vin's eyes soft and unfocused.
The Communicator was being communicated with.
Ezra turned back to the merchant, who held up a hand. "No more haggling," he said, naming a figure ten percent higher than Ezra's last figure.
"Done," Ezra said, paying and sending Josiah and JD to get the supplies back to the TADIS while he pulled Vin aside. "Vin? Vin?"
Vin blinked, focused on him -- and broke into one of the widest grins Ezra had ever seen on him. "That was Buck," he whispered. "Storm's broke."
Ezra nodded. "Let's find the others and get back to the TARDIS."
It was on the way back that Vin smiled and nodded to Chris from a distance, jerking his head in a "come on, already!" motion.
Chris frowned after him a black-haired woman with pale skin touched his arm. "Leftenant?"
Chris shook his head. "Stay here, Corporal. I'll find out what they want."
And Leftenant Larabee headed after the blue-eyed stranger -- unknowingly following his future.
"Are you all right?" Chris asked as they headed back to the TARDIS at a brisk pace.
"Not as all right as I will be once we're gone from here." Natalie's voice shook and her hand -- held firmly in his -- was damp with nervous sweat.
"I did warn you my people were horribly backward."
She shook her head. "I'm struck by how special you six are. My skin -- what I do with my gender -- the fact that I'm human -- my healing gift -- none of that matters to you. To you I'm just Nat -- just Nate -- just your friend."
Chris squeezed her hand. "As soon as we're all back at the TARDIS, we're gone. Buck said the storm finally broke."
"Thank goodness," Natalie breathed. "Then I can stop being Leftenant Larabee's Healer-Slave and go back to being Chris's friend Nat!"
"Natalie, I --"
"And if you say you're sorry one more bloody time, I am going to deck you!" She frowned at his grin. "What?"
"You've been spending too much time with JD and Josiah. You just said 'bloody' as a curse."
"Oh, for --!" She rolled her eyes. "Let's just go!"
They arrived at the TARDIS and Natalie went in with Ezra. Vin caught Chris's arm. "We might have a situation," he whispered.
"Why? What happened?"
"I saw you and motioned for you to come on. But you an' Nat just came from the other direc--"
"What the hell is going on?" Chris heard his own voice demand.
He turned to see himself -- young and freaked -- holding a blaster on them. "Vin," he said calmly, "get in the TARDIS. I'll be right there."
Vin slid into the open door, and Chris turned to fully face his youthful counterpart. "We're just leaving. We were grounded by a storm, but it's passed and we'll be on our way."
Leftenant Larabee nodded. "Yeah, there was a bad temporal storm. Are you me?"
Their shared, bedimpled grin was his answer.
"I.... still haven't regenerated?"
"I'm careful. Do me a favour, lad."
"What?" The blaster lowered.
"Go home. Hold Sarah like you'll never let her go. And love that baby growin' in her belly with everything you've got."
With that, Chris entered the TARDIS, which vanished seconds later with an asthmatic wheeze.
Leaving Leftenant Larabee shaken and very confused.
"It is so good to be on our way again!" Ezra groaned in relief.
"Somethin' still confuses me, though," JD said. "Buck, why couldn't you leave the TARDIS?"
"He's a wanted man on Gallifrey," Chris put in when Buck hesitated. "Ezra is a con and thief, but Buck's crime is much, much more serious."
"What did you do?" JD gasped.
"I'm guilty, now, too," Chris grinned. "We broke the High Council's most paramount rule."
"We meddle," Buck smiled. "We try to make things better all over the universe."
"And now we all three are wanted for exposing the High Council's hypocrisy," Ezra said. At JD and Natalie's puzzled looks, he added, "They're meddlers, too."
"Murderous meddlers," Chris growled. "And I won't stop till I have brought them down."
"No, Cowboy," Vin said. "We won't stop till we have brought them down."
And cheers of assent went up all around Chris.
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