llywela: (DW-4-DocHarry)
[personal profile] llywela
I have committed fic! Just a cute little short story this time, though, 7000 words.

Title: Lost Property
Show: Classic Doctor Who
Characters: Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, Leela, Sergeant-Major Benton. Honourable mentions for a few others
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: The Doctor, his TARDIS and his companions belong to the BBC. I have borrowed them for this story and am making no profit from this.
Summary: An average, hectic day at UNIT for Harry Sullivan takes a turn for the bewildering when the Doctor unexpectedly drops by with a strange new companion in tow
Author's Note: This story was inspired by a discussion that I read on an internet forum. Someone had posted a series of comical dialogue fragments imagining how Harry and Leela might have interacted, had they ever met: the polite English gentleman and the savage warrior woman. It was amusing enough to tickle my imagination – I wanted context for such dialogue and started to wonder about a scenario in which these two very different companions might possibly meet. That concept was the inspiration for this story, but is not what the story is actually about.
With thanks to Sue for coming up with the title that was staring me in the face.



"Saturday night, then," said Janet with a smile in her voice as she rang off, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan put the phone down and headed off to work with a smile on his face, and proceeded to spend the entire morning neglecting his daily duties in favour of thinking about Saturday night and Jan and that red frock she'd worn the last time he saw her, the scent of her hair…

Bright-eyed and golden-haired with a sultry voice and a wicked laugh, Janet Hardy taught art at the girls school where she'd once been games prefect, enjoyed horse-riding and dancing and parties, still found time to play hockey for the county squad, and was all round really rather wonderful, quite the jolliest girl he'd ever known, and he still wasn't entirely sure just what she saw in him.

She was also, he had to admit, rather distracting.

So distracting, in fact, that Harry managed to remain entirely oblivious of the latest crisis to engulf UNIT right up until the moment it was rather rudely thrust upon his consciousness by the arrival in his nice orderly sick bay of a whole mess of casualties.

Just what the doctor ordered.

"What's going on?" he wondered, and then had no time to listen to the answer, with so many urgent patients on his hands.

So he still didn't know what was going on when he finally emerged, exhausted, from the whirl of triage and treatment to find the place all but deserted – no one left but him, his sick bay full of comatose patients, and a very junior duty officer, whose garbled account of the day's events left him more confused than ever.

It was aliens, of course, and he wondered for the umpteenth time just when exactly it was that he'd begun to look upon alien invasion as a matter of routine.

The Brigadier had the lads out en masse to fend off this latest incursion, it seemed, which could only mean one thing. Harry gave up all hope of a quiet drink at the pub after work and headed back to sick bay to prepare for the inevitable next round of casualties.

And so it was that he was in sick bay, checking stock, monitoring vital signs and wondering where he could possibly even fit any more patients in, when a groaning, wheezing sound filled the air, loose papers flying around on a sudden draught that blew up out of nowhere.

The TARDIS. It was the TARDIS – after all this time!

Harry stared in disbelief as the only-too familiar form of that rickety old police box slowly materialised in a corner of the room.

The door opened and an equally only-too familiar curly head popped out, closely followed by the rest of its only-too familiar body, that only-too familiar face lighting up with a beaming smile.

"Harry Sullivan! Just the chap," an only-too familiar voice boomed out.

Harry boggled. There was no other word for it. "Doctor!"

The Doctor was already halfway to the door, exactly as if the past however long it had been had never happened, but swung around at once. "Yes?"

"It's you," Harry spluttered. "You're here – you're back!"

Another of those huge, toothy grins lit up the Doctor's face. "Well, yes, so it seems. We were heading for the Falls of Varnaqux – have you ever been to Varnaqux, Harry? Lovely place, thoroughly recommend it – but we appear to have gone a bit astray."

That was the story of the Doctor's life, as far as Harry could see. "We?"

"I need your help, Harry," the Doctor continued, just as if he hadn't spoken. "It's vitally important. There's something here that shouldn't be here and we have to find it."

Harry blinked at him, wondering what the dickens the man was babbling on about now…and then thought about his sick bay full of comatose patients and the Brigadier and the rest of the lads out there in the thick of it somewhere and whatever kind of invasion was going on now, and decided that, in all probability, two and two made four. "Now, look here, Doctor, you're not mixed up in all this, are you?"

"Mixed up in all what?" he reproachfully protested. "I was just passing by, minding my own business. It's not my fault the Tantalans just happen to have miscalculated their intra-stellar trajectory and dropped a priceless treasure onto British soil for UNIT to confiscate – dreadfully careless of them, I'm sure, but it can't be helped now. It's lucky I'm here, in fact, which is just what I told the Brigadier…"

"You've seen the Brigadier, then?"

"…I'll just pop along in the TARDIS and collect it, I told him," the Doctor blithely continued, again just as if he hadn't spoken. "We can hand it back, no harm done, let them carry on their way – all's well that ends well, don't you agree?"

"Hand what back to whom, Doctor?" Harry rather crossly asked. "What's going on?"

It was the Doctor's turn to be surprised. "You mean you don't know?"

"Well, no," Harry had to admit, and the Doctor grinned.

"Dear old Harry, you haven't changed a bit," he said, and he said it so fondly that it was impossible to take offence, although Harry rather thought that he should, all things considered, because that wasn't a compliment, was it?

"I've been a bit busy dealing with casualties to ask questions, Doctor," he pointed out, and the Doctor glanced around at the room full of occupied gurneys in surprise, as if he hadn't noticed them before – then zeroed in on one in particular.

"Sergeant Benton," he cried in dismay, charging across the room to hover at the man's side.

"Doctor? Have you found it?" a new voice called out, and Harry turned to see who it was and felt his jaw drop open in surprise.

"Good heavens," was all he could find to say.

A girl had stepped out of the TARDIS and was peering curiously around – a young woman who was carrying a very sharp-looking knife in a defensive posture and wearing quite the skimpiest outfit he'd ever seen outside of a pleasure beach…a dress composed almost entirely of animal hides, moreover. "You said you would be just a minute," she said to the Doctor, while Harry wondered where to put his eyes. "Well, it has been more than just a minute."

"Yes, just a minute, Leela," the Doctor absent-mindedly dismissed, still bending over Sergeant-Major Benton, and she rolled her eyes in exasperation.

Harry knew the feeling only too well. "Won't you introduce us, Doctor?"

"Certainly, Harry. This is Leela," the Doctor obligingly replied, gently lifting one of Benton's eyelids to peer appraisingly into the unconscious eye beneath. "Leela, this is another old friend of mine, Harry Sullivan. Harry, tell me about your patients. How are they?"

Harry joined him at Benton's bedside and assumed his best professional manner. "Well, the physical injuries are mostly minor, but they appear to have suffered some form of neural shock, as far as I can tell – I don't know the cause. I don't believe the damage is permanent, but none of them have woken up yet."

"What is the matter?" The girl Leela appeared at his side to peer curiously down at Benton, tucking the knife away in her belt. "What is wrong with these men?"

"That's a very good question," Harry told her. "What do you think, Doctor?"

"I think the Tantalans pack quite a punch," said the Doctor, stepping back as he concluded his examination. "But if they'd wanted to kill they'd have done so on the spot, as it were. No, they should be all right in time – no permanent damage. Bit of a shock to the neural pathways, that's all."

"That's what I said," said Harry, unsure whether to be indignant at having his own words so blithely paraphrased or pleased to have confirmation of his diagnosis.

"These men are warriors, then – like those others – struck down by the enemy?" Leela asked, and that was rather an odd way of expressing it, Harry thought.

"Warriors?" he queried, bemused.

"Well, in a manner of speaking," said the Doctor, flashing a mischievous grin as he added, "Even Harry here has his moments, don't you, Harry?"

Harry decided not to rise to the bait. "You said you were looking for something?" he reminded the Doctor, feeling that it was high time he got to grips with the situation.

It was Leela who replied. "Oh yes, a treasure – it must be returned to pacify the enemy," she said, and Harry was bewildered all over again by her strange way of speaking.

"Treasure?"

"Well, lost property, really," said the Doctor, wrinkling his nose. "Can't blame them for wanting it back."

"An enemy should be confronted openly and defeated in combat," Leela told Harry, and she was dreadfully earnest about it. "But the Doctor feels that pacification would be wiser."

"Quite right, too," Harry said, gesturing toward the gurneys full of comatose patients all around. "We don't want anyone else to end up like that, now, do we?"

Leela frowned at him. "You are a strange kind of warrior."

"I'm no kind of warrior," he retorted and, officer or not, he wasn't ashamed to admit it. "I'm a doctor!"

"No, he is the Doctor," she protested, deadly serious, and the Doctor laughed.

Harry decided to let that one drop, as well. "So tell me about this, er, treasure, or what have you. What makes you think it's here?"

"I don't think it's here, Harry," said the Doctor. "I know it's here."

"Why?"

"Why, because the Brigadier told me, of course!" he merrily chirped.

"Confiscated by UNIT, you said," Harry remembered. "I hadn't heard of anything terribly significant being picked up lately."

The Doctor shrugged. "No reason you would have – ten tons of alien material drift through space to land on this planet every day, Harry, and rather a lot of it ends up here at UNIT to be catalogued for analysis. This wouldn't have seemed anything out of the ordinary – just another funny-shaped meteor."

It was true enough; meteors and meteor fragments seemed to come in for precautionary investigation all the time and there was never anything especially interesting about them, as far as Harry could see. He thought about it for a moment. "Well, Professor Shaw is on holiday, so I suppose it'll be in Stores."

The Doctor beamed. "Lead on."

So he did, leading the way through oddly quiet corridors to the storeroom nearest the laboratory, which had become a bit of a catch-all for anything non-urgent that came in flagged for examination.

"I don't suppose Sarah's around at all, is she, Harry?" the Doctor asked along the way, in a very casual tone, as if the thought had only just occurred to him, but with rather a wistful look in his eye, and the question surprised Harry more than perhaps it should have.

"Why would she be here? The old girl's got a life of her own, you know," he said, and the Doctor looked a bit disappointed.

Then Harry thought about how worried Sarah had been when the Doctor dropped her off that last time and hadn't come back, how long it had taken her to fully accept that he wasn't coming back this time, and he wondered what on Earth he was going to tell her about all this.

There was a bit of a backlog in Stores, he was vaguely aware, but even so it came as something of a shock to see just how much extra-terrestrial material was housed in there. At least it was all neatly filed.

"So what are we looking for, exactly?" he asked, peering dubiously at the stacked shelves.

"Oh, I'll know it when I see it," the Doctor airily declared as he strode purposefully into the room and began poking around.

Harry looked at Leela and saw on her face an expression that exactly mirrored his own feelings. "That is not very helpful," she grumbled, but then rather unexpectedly turned to him and said, "The enemy spoke of a large crystal with many faces," and that description rang a definite bell.

"Faces? You mean facets? Do you know, I think I do remember hearing something…" and he had an idea where to look, now that he knew, and spotted it in the same moment as the Doctor.

"Aha!" the Doctor crowed, and these mysterious alien enemies hadn't been kidding when they said the crystal was large – oddly shaped, too, and with a dull shimmer to it, a bit like unpolished quartz. If that had dropped to Earth from space, it was no wonder it had been flagged as unusual enough to warrant investigation at UNIT.

Harry waited patiently as the Doctor slowly circled the huge, multi-faceted crystal – as best he could, given the cluttered racks of shelving – peering at it with intense interest, while Leela leaned in close, narrowing her eyes to study it with immense suspicion.

"What is it for?" she asked, and the Doctor shrugged.

"Search me. The Tantalans wouldn't say. It clearly has a meaning or a purpose of some kind, though. They're very keen to get it back."

"They said it was precious," said Leela. "A treasure, but it is only a rock – what use could it have?" She stretched out a hand to touch it with a fingertip…and it rocked at the touch, visibly rocked, almost as if something inside were trying to get out.

Leela jumped back and that knife was in her hand again in a flash, her glare fierce and almost affronted, as if the crystal had insulted her personally by reacting so to her touch.

"I say!" Harry stepped closer, intrigued. "It didn't do that before! I'd have heard."

The Doctor's eyes were alight with fascination, and Harry had almost forgotten that about him, that delight that he took in the unknown and the unexpected. "Certainly it would never have been filed away in here like this if it had been anything but inert when it was brought in," he agreed. "Ergo something has changed…"

"Or developed," Harry slowly suggested, and he wasn't even entirely sure where that half-formed thought had come from, except inasmuch as any change in nature of a supposedly inanimate object wasn't necessarily environmental in origin, was it?

The Doctor beamed at him rather like a proud schoolmaster might when a particularly dull student finally mastered a new task. "Yes, quite. Very good. Now, as much as I do always like to see lost property reunited with its rightful owner, I also feel it might be rather a good idea to find out just what it is we're returning to the Tantalans before we return it to them, don't you, so if you'll just help me with this into the lab, Harry…"

Luckily the giant crystal was on a tray, which made lifting it without actually touching it a little easier. Unluckily, it was every bit as heavy as one might expect a lump of rock that size to be, which made lifting it at all rather harder.

By the time they were halfway down the corridor, Harry huffing and puffing under the weight while the Doctor carried his end with apparent ease, the giant crystal had begun to emit rather an alarming humming sound.

Leela had taken the lead, knife in hand and posture defensive, like some kind of self-appointed bodyguard, but upon hearing the sound she dropped back and leaned in close to the crystal until her ear was almost touching it, listening intently. "It is alive!"

"It's a meteorite, a lump of rock, how can it be…?" Before Harry had even finished the sentence he knew how absurd it was to deny the possibility. Knowing what he knew, the things he'd seen since joining UNIT, the things he'd experienced while travelling with the Doctor – and remembering that half-formed idea that had tickled at the back of his mind when the crystal moved back in the storeroom… "Well, it's possible, I suppose – what do you think, Doctor?"

"I think we'd better hurry," said the Doctor.

So they did, and had just reached the lab door when the crystal rocked again, without anyone touching it at all this time, the movement distinct enough and startling enough that Harry jumped and almost dropped his end, and a moment later again a loud shout rang out through the corridors.

"The enemy!" exclaimed Leela, and she was gone, darting down the corridor at a run, knife in hand.

"Leela, wait!" the Doctor shouted after her. Then, "Quickly, Harry!"

They hurried through the double doors into the laboratory that had once been the Doctor's own domain, eased the heavy tray down onto a workbench.

"Quickly, Harry," the Doctor said again. "I'll see to this, you get after Leela."

"Right you are, Doctor." Harry left him to it and hurried off in pursuit of Leela, hoping with all his heart that the shout they'd heard wasn't this mysterious alien enemy, because just what an unarmed medical officer and a girl with a knife could do about it when the whole of the rest of UNIT had failed – must have done, if it was here – was beyond him.

He caught up with Leela in sick bay, where she was facing off against a very groggy Sergeant-Major Benton, sat at half-mast on his gurney, propped up on an elbow and clutching at his head, the first of the casualties to revive.

"Oh, Dr Sullivan," he exclaimed with evident relief the moment Harry appeared in the doorway, and Leela swung around to acknowledge his appearance, knife gripped tightly in her hand as if she were expecting to be attacked at any moment.

"It was this man who shouted, one of your warriors."

"Well, I wondered where everyone was," Benton rather dazedly defended, and then frowned in belated confusion. "Warriors?"

"Er…yes." Harry was still puzzling over that one himself and found himself watching Leela to see what she'd do next, wondering where the dickens the Doctor had found this strange, fierce girl, who dressed like Tarzan and talked almost like something out of a fantasy novel.

"This one is also waking," she announced, pointing with her knife toward young Corporal Jennings, who was just beginning to stir, and Harry hurried across to check him over, mentally kicking himself because he really ought to have done the same for Benton.

"Er…about the girl," Benton rather feebly called after him, and Harry gave him the most direct and informative explanation possible, in the circumstances.

"The Doctor is back, Mr Benton."

"The Doctor!" Benton startled upright and almost fell off his gurney and Harry had to abandon young Jennings to rush over and steady him.

Rather to his surprise, Leela took his place, soothing the confused Jennings as he began to wake a lot more gently than he'd have thought her capable of. "It is all right. You are awake now and all is well." To Harry she called, "He is fine, they are all fine – the Doctor was right."

"I was right," Harry corrected, since it was his diagnosis, after all, while Benton suddenly stared around the room at his injured men as if he'd only just seen them.

"The job – the Brig – what happened?"

"I wish I knew," Harry admitted. "I've had no updates since you lot were brought in."

Benton looked worried. "Where's the Brigadier?"

"Not here. There's no one here – just us, the Doctor and the duty officer. Now look, what happened out there with those…" What had the Doctor called the aliens? "Er…Tantalans, is it?"

"I don't know. Is it?" Benton looked confused.

"That is what the Doctor called the enemy, yes," Leela chipped in. "Tantalan."

Benton scratched his head. "Didn't see much of them, I'm afraid. We were establishing a perimeter, to keep them contained – and then I got clobbered."

"There was a battle but the Doctor negotiated a truce," Leela chipped in again. "The warriors stood down while he spoke with the enemy and now they are waiting for us to bring the treasure."

"Treasure?"

"Er…yes," Harry said again. "It seems we've picked up a piece of lost property, and these Tantalan creatures want it back."

"Lost property?" Benton stared at him, bleary-eyed and confused. "The Doctor's really here?"

"Large as life," said Harry.

"I thought he'd gone for good this time – and it's definitely him, is it, with the same face and everything?"

"What do you mean, with the same face?" It was Leela's turn to be confused. "He has but one face."

Benton was not so woozy that he couldn't muster a grin at that one. "That's what you'd think, miss."

"I am not a miss," she instantly countered. "I am Leela."

Benton looked at Harry as if expecting him to explain, but he really wasn't certain that he could. "The Doctor's in the lab," he offered instead, because that much he did know.

"Sir!" The shout came from the door and Harry turned to see young Charlton, the duty officer, charging into sick bay looking worried. The lad floundered hopelessly upon laying eyes on Leela, flailed around a bit when he saw that Benton was still laid up, and finally settled on Harry as the senior officer standing to receive his urgent report. "Message from the Brigadier," he squeaked. "Says them things, the aliens, they've vanished! He reckons they're after summat here an' they've got wind of us – they're on their way!"

Benton leapt to his feet at once…and promptly crumpled into a heap. Harry and Leela took an arm each to help him back onto his gurney, while Leela wondered aloud, "But how can they know where to find us?"

"The crystal," Harry realised, heart sinking. "That sound it made…well, it's active in some way now, isn't it – perhaps they can trace it somehow."

"Then we must defend ourselves," she exclaimed, and Benton again tried and failed to stand, unsteady legs unable to support him.

"You're in no fit state, Mr Benton," Harry told him, wishing fervently that it weren't the case; they were woefully undermanned here. "You just stay here and keep an eye on the others. Charlton and I will…"

What would they do? What could they do? He hadn't anticipated finding himself in charge of UNIT during an alien invasion when he woke up this morning.

"We'll warn the Doctor," he decided. "See what he has to say about all this."

It was Leela, rather than young Charlton, that he found at his side as he left sick bay – Charlton was just behind her, looking scared.

"You really should stay with Mr Benton, Leela," Harry told her, a potential battlefield was no place for a girl – even a fierce, knife-wielding girl – but she was having none of it.

"And leave but you two to defend this place?" She pointedly pulled the door shut behind her. "No. If the enemy attacks, then I will fight."

How fast might the aliens get here? Faster than the Brigadier could get back, no doubt.

"Look, if the enemy is going to attack, it'll save time if you warn the Doctor while we head straight for the armoury," Harry suggested, wondering as he said it if they even had any weaponry that might stand a chance of working against these unknown aliens, should they prove hostile, but again she shook her head.

"You have no weapon, you are no warrior – perhaps you should warn the Doctor, and I will defend you."

She was worse than Sarah – and that was saying something!

"So are we doing something, sir?" young Charlton ventured. "Or what?"

Harry gave in. "The laboratory," he said. Back to Plan A. "We'll warn the Doctor these things are on their way – he might be ready to…"

It was hard to say just what the sound was that told him it was already too late – something almost like the humming sound the crystal had made, but lower pitched and at the very edge of audibility, a low drone that vibrated right into the mastoid bone.

One glance at Leela and Charlton told him they could hear it too.

"This way," Leela confidently declared, and she'd charged off down the corridor before he could stop her.

It was possible, he told himself as he hurried after her, that he was deluding himself if he thought it at all possible that he could hold her back in any way.

The sound had cut off by the time Harry caught up with Leela. Crouched at the end of the corridor leading into the main entrance lobby, peering cautiously around the corner, she held up a hand in warning as he approached, lips forming a 'shh' without vocalising it.

Carefully tucking himself in behind her and motioning to Charlton to stay back, Harry peered over her head to see that it really was too late because the aliens were already here, inside the building, looking…like nothing he'd ever seen. Which was rather saying something, these days; his career with UNIT had been nothing if not an eye opener. It was hard to say just what they did look like, in fact – the outline might have been vaguely humanoid, but it was hard to make out through the glare of the almost blindingly bright wall of light that surrounded them.

What they did look, though, inasmuch as Harry could tell, was slightly lost.

"It is near, it is near, it is near," they seemed to be saying to one another, in voices that sounded a bit like the wind chimes his neighbour had hanging outside her back window.

"They were supposed to wait, the Doctor told them to wait," Leela hissed.

"Well, it looks as if the waiting's over," Harry hissed back at her, wondering that the Doctor hadn't heard that hum and come running himself – was that a bad sign, that something was wrong in the lab? Or was the other hum, the sound coming from the crystal, simply so loud that he hadn't heard anything?

Or perhaps he'd been distracted by something else entirely. With him it was never quite possible to predict.

Over at the front desk, the radio unexpectedly crackled into life and young Charlton panicked, shot forward almost as a reflex reaction to the reminder that he'd abandoned his post. "That's the Brig…"

His voice tailed off in shock and he froze mid-dash because the focus of the aliens was suddenly trained upon him – strange though it was to be able to tell when so little was visible behind that wall of light.

Harry froze as well, reached out to catch at Leela's arm in warning not to try anything rash, because it wasn't just Charlton the aliens had spotted – it was all of them.

"Humans, humans, where it is?" Was it just one voice or many voices? It was impossible even to tell. One word might be spoken by one, the next by many, voices like the sound of rushing wind. "Humans, tell us – the tantala is near, it is near, give it to us, time is short, where is it?"

Harry said, "Er," and what happened next happened very fast.

The radio crackled again, and the Brigadier's voice started to say something only to be abruptly cut off as a blinding flash of light from the aliens destroyed the set. Young Charlton squawked, "Oy, you can't do that," in outraged protest, darting forward again before Harry could stop him, and then Leela was dashing after him, trying to pull him back. A second blinding flash of light enveloped them both, sending them crumpling to the ground in a heap, and suddenly Harry was the last man standing, close enough to the energy blast to have felt the jolt of it, far enough behind to be spared the crippling neural shock. A split second and it was all over, almost breathtakingly sudden.

He had his hands up almost without noticing, shouting, "No, wait," too late to spare the others, and, "There was no need for that," before he could stop himself, more furious than was probably sensible, really speaking, and then he realised that the aliens were also crying out – "Stay, humans, stay" – and it dawned on him that they were frightened.

Which seemed odd, in the circumstances.

He kept still, waited a moment to be sure they weren't going to shoot again, and wondered what he was supposed to do now, unarmed and defenceless.

What would the Doctor do?

He'd talk to them. Of course he would.

"Er…so you've come to collect something, I take it," he ventured.

It was unnerving, to say the least, to feel the intensity of the aliens' focus on him without being able to make out their faces – or any features at all, really, only the vaguest of shadowy forms visible behind the wall of light.

"The tantala is near, it is here, here somewhere near, human, tell us, tell us where, be quick, time is short, tell us where," sang those almost hauntingly whispery voices, and he still couldn't tell – was it one creature with the voices of many or many creatures speaking over one another, all with one mind?

"A large crystal, you said," he carefully replied. "It fell from space."

The brilliant wall of light flickered, the colour of it shifting and shimmering…or was it the colours of those shadowy figures within that shifted and shimmered? A sign of agitation, perhaps; they certainly sounded anxious. "Lost, it was lost, the journey long, and welcome heat, the heat so near, so warm – so close, too close, and then lost, where is it, human, give it back to us."

The Doctor wanted to find out what it was before he returned it to them, just to be on the safe side – after all, who knew what their true intentions were, or what the crystal was for? It could be some kind of weapon, could be anything. So should he take them to it or not? Would the Doctor be ready?

"Well, it started behaving rather oddly," he offered. "So now may not be the best time to try to move it. The Doctor's taking a quick look to make sure it's safe."

Again the colours shifted and shimmered in agitation, dark and foreboding. "Tell us, human, the tantala, tell us, where is it? Give it to us, human, time is short."

"Why, what's inside?" he asked, curious. "Is it safe?"

The aliens hesitated, the flickering forms within that wall of light somehow looking rather pensive – perhaps deciding whether or not to trust him. They hadn't trusted the Doctor, not fully, but the situation was a bit different now, wasn't it?

Harry tried again. "Look, you said you were in a rush. If you tell me what the problem is, I might be able to help."

Another flicker-laden pause and then, "The geniture," they said. "It starts too soon, the geniture, too soon, it calls us. But here! Not here. Bring it to us, human, quickly, quickly, time is short."

"Geniture? Birth?" In his mind's eye Harry saw that rocking motion again and suddenly knew what it reminded him of, the chicken eggs he'd seen hatching as a boy, and all the pieces fell into place. "It's an egg? Is that what you're saying?"

"Quickly, human, hurry, hurry, bring it to us, planetside is wrong, all wrong, geniture near, so near – listen, it comes – quickly, quickly – new life, wrong, all wrong…"

The urgency of that plea sent a chill down his spine. That humming noise was audible again – not the low drone that had heralded the arrival of the aliens, but the higher pitched hum he'd heard from the crystal earlier, distant still but rising in volume.

"It's an egg and it's hatching. But what's wrong? Why is planetside wrong?" he demanded, his urgency now matching theirs, and the shifting, shimmering colours seemed almost to squirm, pulsing intensely as the aliens attempted to explain, those ghostly, breathy voices all but tumbling over one another.

"Atmosphere, planetside, wrong, all wrong – tantala is energy – energy, power, power of geniture – the outburst of new life – always in space, space, vast and clear to hold new life – future – but here, now here, so wrong, all wrong, power bursting out – so near, so near, hurry, human, let us take it – too late, too late, almost too late."

Harry tried to understand. "The crystal is an egg, your offspring, and it's supposed to hatch in space but you dropped it onto Earth by accident – you know, you really might have mentioned all this earlier. What happens if we can't get it back into space before it hatches? Can it survive here, in our atmosphere?"

He was a doctor – unexpectedly presented with what sounded like an extremely complicated birth, the first thing that occurred to him to be concerned about was the welfare of the child in question, even if it were a space-dwelling alien…but a moment later the full meaning of what the aliens had said sank in, driven home by the energy blaze of their flickering form.

"Hold on – power bursting out, you said – an outburst of new life. Does that mean…?"

And suddenly he was running, because the crystal was in the laboratory with the Doctor, and, if he'd understood the situation right, that meant that the Doctor was in danger.

The humming sound was getting louder and louder, approaching fever pitch, the thrum of it pounding in his ears as he burst into the lab to see the Doctor backing away from the frantically rocking crystal, eyes wide with alarm.

"Harry," he said, and he sounded worried. "I think something may be about to happen. Stand back."

Harry kept running and hurled himself at the man in rather a splendid rugby tackle, if he did say so himself, throwing both of them to the ground.

For a moment nothing happened and he thought perhaps he'd been a bit hasty, perhaps he'd misunderstood…

…and then the crystal exploded, in a shower of needle-sharp shards and a wave of searing heat that singed his back.

There was a moment of absolute stillness, during which Harry tried to catch his breath, the tinkle of broken glass falling from the windows the only sound to be heard, and then a sepulchral voice boomed from beneath him, "Do you mind, Harry."

"Oh. Of course. Sorry, Doctor." Harry rolled himself off the man, who scrambled upright and dusted himself off, looking rather annoyed.

"Well, a word of warning might have been nice."

Harry stood up. "You're welcome."

For a moment the Doctor only glowered…but then the glare became a grin. "Yes. Quite – that might have been rather nasty. Thank you, Harry."

It was only then that Harry became aware of the brilliant light flooding the room – and it wasn't just the glow of the small fires that were flickering here and there around the charred and scarred laboratory, barely an instrument left intact. He turned to see the air filled with millions of glistening, glowing shards, hovering silently, almost expectantly.

"The offspring," he murmured, awed. "It was an egg, Doctor. The crystal was an egg."

"Yes, so I see. Incredible." The Doctor's voice was low, filled with wonder, and Harry remembered again the almost childlike delight that he took in the new and the unexpected, inspiring others to see the universe as he did.

That humming sound was back, intensifying within seconds, a familiar low drone that vibrated right into the mastoid bone. Then it cut out, very abruptly, and suddenly the Tantalan aliens were there, exactly where they hadn't been a second earlier: a column of shimmering, shining light that was dazzling with bright, brilliant colour where before it had been dark with agitation.

"Oh, hello again," the Doctor greeted them with a beaming smile, as usual simply taking the situation as it was and running with it rather than waste any time backtracking. "Congratulations! It's a…multitude of baby fireflies! The friction of falling through atmosphere, I suppose, must have accelerated the incubation process. You know, you might have told me what the crystal really was, I could have helped, but all's well that ends well and here they are, safe and well and ready to carry on your way."

The aliens weren't listening, those millions of shimmering, glistening specks of infant beings, the crystal shards, floating into their light field as if drawn by a magnet, the light growing brighter and brighter as that humming sound began again, intensified within seconds to an almost unbearable pitch, and then – zap!

They were gone.

dwdwdwdw

"Isn't it remarkable," said the Doctor, "To think that we'll never know the full extent of what lies out there in the universe – so many forms of life, so many forms of being. I wonder where they came from, where they're going…I don't suppose we'll ever know now."

dwdwdwdw

There was rather a lot of clearing up to do.

There was also rather a lot of explaining to do.

Harry left the Doctor to it and sought refuge in his sick bay, where he had two new patients in the form of Leela and Charlton to take the place of those who'd now recovered, and there was time at last to stop and take stock, reflect on another day in the life of UNIT and wonder for the umpteenth time would he have accepted the transfer had he known where it would lead.

He would, was the answer. Of course he would.

"I thought the Brigadier was never going to stop talking, Harry – had to slip out while he wasn't looking. How is she?"

It was the Doctor, of course, and it was only then that Harry realised how late it was, after midnight, Saturday now, and he wondered if he'd manage to get any rest at all before taking Janet out tonight. Dinner and a show felt worlds away just at the minute, but it was amazing what a spot of sleep and a shower could do to bring real life back into focus.

"She'll be fine, Doctor," he assured his friend, watching him hover over Leela like a protective mother hen. "If the others are anything to judge by, she should be waking up soon."

"Good, good, then we'll be off – before the Brigadier finds another job for me to do." He caught Harry's eye with a mischievous twinkle in his own, and Harry had to grin, because they both knew it was true. "Never did make it to Varnaqux," the Doctor added, in rather a wistful tone. "I was looking forward to that – the Falls are one of the wonders of the universe, you know, all the pan-galactic guides say so – perfect spot for a holiday…"

He suddenly span around, face lit up with that huge, toothy grin that meant he'd had an idea.

"Tell you what, Harry – you've had a busy day, a holiday would do you the world of good. What do you say? Quick spin to Varnaqux and back – for old times' sake."

And it was tempting, even after everything, it was very tempting, so it was a jolly good thing, Harry told himself, that he had larger things to consider than the thrill and excitement of universe-trotting, else he might get carried away and then where might he end up? After all, the universe was all very well, but he was on duty. And there was Janet.

So he said, "I have patients, Doctor. And plans," and the Doctor's ears pricked up.

"Plans? What kind of plans?"

"The kind of plans I'd rather not be six months late for," he retorted…and the Doctor looked rather disappointed.

He hadn't expected that, found himself remembering the times they'd had together, rattling around the universe with Sarah, and wondered what it was really like to be a Time Lord and have the enormity of time and space at your fingertips.

Harry had had a taste of that life once, for a time, and knew how remarkable it was. But he'd returned to his own life for a reason and that reason still stood, and he was not about to change his mind now, no matter how beguiling the offer, because that was the kind of thinking that could see him missing another heaven-only knew how many months of his life and he simply couldn't.

"I see," said the Doctor. "Plans. Oh well, quite right too. If you'll just lend a hand with Leela into the TARDIS, we'll be on our way, then."

So Harry helped him carry Leela into the TARDIS, which looked different than he remembered – redecoration was one way to while away the time between travels, he supposed – and when she was settled comfortably in her own bed he headed back to the console room and the external doors to say goodbye.

Goodbye for good, this time, perhaps – he hadn't quite expected that the last time he said goodbye to the Doctor, but this time he knew it to be true.

"Well, it's been a pleasure, Doctor, as always."

"Likewise, Harry." The Doctor shook his hand vigorously. "Till we meet again."

And that might have been it, if the external doors hadn't closed in Harry's face when he turned to walk out through them.

"Er, Doctor…"

By the time he'd turned around to see what the Doctor was playing at, he could already hear the groaning, wheezing sound of the engines in flight, and felt a chill in his stomach when he saw that the Doctor was standing back from the console with his hands raised to show that he wasn't touching the controls, a look of alarm on his face.

"Not me, Harry. Something's pulling us, controlling the TARDIS – hold on!"

Harry grabbed at the door frame as the room lurched and bucked, and thought about Janet and UNIT and home, the commitments and responsibilities that made up his life, all the reasons he'd chosen to stay.

And then he thought about the excitement and adventure of the travels he'd already experienced with the Doctor, all the marvels of the universe, and he wondered where the TARDIS was taking them now.

"Here we go again…"

end


This story can also be found at Ao3, Teaspoon and my website, Randomness - or at my other journal, whatinthewho
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