Outside, the three fans were getting into their car -- a brand
new red Toyota Corolla. They were still laughing over their
encounter with the Annoying One and couldn't wait to tell their
friends about how thoroughly they'd "stuck it" to the most
universally despised character in all of fandom, when the sound
of a bang and a metallic crunch rattled their little vehicle.
It rocked rapidly for a few seconds. The three stopped, and
looked at each other curiously.

Then the woman, who was sitting in the driver's seat, carefully
turned the key in the ignition. A few clicks sounded, but
nothing happened.

She tried again. Still nothing happened, not even a groan from
the engine. The only thing that could be heard was the clicking
noise in the steering column.

They got out of the car, and curiously began to walk around it,
trying to figure out what was wrong.

It was the effeminate one who found the hole. It was barely
larger than his finger, but was still warm when he touched it.
The hole was on the passenger side of the car, toward the front
and just below the level of the hood. The impact appeared to aim
inwards and straight toward the engine block, an appearance which
was later confirmed by an amused mechanic, who eventually managed
to extract a .50 caliber armor-piercing slug amid the shattered
remains of the vehicle's cylinder head.


"Good shot, Alpha Seven."

"Thank you, Sir."


The Round was as peculiarly active as it always was, and Adric
was once more on-shift bartending. Relative safety for a few
hours, he thought.

But relative to what?

It had thus far been a boringly eventful evening. Turlough had
done a fairly credible Linda Blair impersonation (complete with
head spin, levitation, and pea soup), for which they were still
cleaning up the mess. A dazed and slightly stunned Katarina had
shown up for work and had found a large number of robed beings
standing outside, all of whom hailed her as a savior and a
heroine (she greeted them all embarrassedly, but declined to
elaborate to anyone else what it was all about). The Doctors
were all arguing among themselves as to who should have the honor
of attending the Barrayaran Emperor's wedding (the invitation
clearly specified only one Doctor and one companion, but didn't
specify _which_). 4Doc had been caught making another prank call
on the pay phone. Oh yes, the Lenny Henry-Doctor and the Dave
Allen-Doctor both made rare appearances, each pointing out that
if the Atkinson-Doctor, Lumley-Doctor, Grant-Doctor(s), and
Broadbent-Doctor were being allowed in, then they should as well.

But two female faces were nowhere in sight, and hadn't been all

Considering the events of the previous day, Adric didn't know
whether to be concerned or relieved. At least, he thought, the
work was steady enough to keep his mood off the other thoughts
that had been creeping in ever since.

He finished mixing a coconut rum for the Henry-Doctor, and pushed
it toward that patron. The timelord gently waved away some of
his strands of shoulder-length dreadlocked hair, and wordlessly
took the drink and departed. The gap was filled by a very
slender, red-haired young woman wearing a Cisco Systems
sweatshirt and carrying a stack of papers.

"The usual?" Adric asked Melanie Bush, his hand already reaching
underneath the counter for the bottle of carrot juice. Mel
nodded but didn't look up from the papers in her hand. "Yes,
that's fine." she said, intently examining one sheet. Adric
grabbed a glass and poured her a drink, his eyes wandering toward
the stack of pages.

One eyebrow slowly raised. "Story assignments?" he asked.

Mel nodded once more, still not tearing her attention away from
them. She took a drink from her glass. "Uh huh. They just came
in. I'm trying to sort everything before I pass them all out."
She shuffled a few pages, then tapped them vertically against the
counter to straighten the stack out. A slight look of bemusement
spread on her face. "Some unusual pairings in this batch. Should
be interesting."

Adric was about to open his mouth to ask the obvious question,
but was beaten to it by Ace, who happened to be shuffling past at
the time. "Oi, are those assignments?" she asked excitedly.
"Anything in there for me?"

Mel handed her a few sheets. "A novel and a couple of audios,
plus all the usual small stuff."

Ace grabbed the papers gleefully, but by that time word had
quickly spread and Mel began to be inundated with similar

"Just wait a moment, just wait a moment, I'll get to everyone if
you'll all just hold on... Jo, you and 3rd Doctor, as usual...
Hmm, this one's mine... so's this one... Anji, Fitz, here are
yours... Sarah-Jane, you and 7th Doctor -- remember to pack a
kevlar vest; it's a McIntee... Evelyn, here. You've even got a
novel appearance in this lot... Steven... Dodo... Jamie...
Turlough -- no, it's not Christopher Bulis this time... Leela...
Charley... pardon me, but could you please pass these over to 6th
Doc and 4th Doc? Thank you... Peri... Romana..." Her voice
trailed off as the stack became increasing light, until only a
couple of sheets remained.

Finally, she carefully offered the bartender one sheet,
face-down. "Um, sorry, not much this time. Just a piece of
fanfic, I'm afraid."

Adric looked at the proffered paper hesitantly. "Print, ADWC, or
RADW?" he asked cautiously, but taking the paper anyway.

Mel grimaced. "RADW."

Adric smirked, but did not bother to so much as glance at the
sheet. "Oh. Lovely." he muttered, then folded it up and placed
it in his chest pocket, unread.

Mel thought she caught a ripple of something cross his face.
"Yes, well..." she low-voiced cautiously, "I suppose not
everyone..." She bit her lip to kill the words she was about to
speak, then changed her tone to something a little more cheery.
"Well, there's always next time... you never know."

"Right, there's always next time." he agreed, tonelessly. But
once more, she thought she could detect that flicker of something
pass across his features. "There's always hope."

"Yeah, there's always hope."

A moment of silence. Adric's attention seemed to be... somewhere
else, far off into the distance behind her.

"Refill?" he asked finally, abruptly, as if suddenly coming to
his senses. He pointed to her glass.

"Yes, please." Mel confirmed, but her attention was now solidly
affixed on the young Alzarian across the counter. She observed
him intently as he poured more dark orange liquid into her glass,
searching his face for any sign of the flickers she had
momentarily thought she'd seen. But whatever it was had
seemingly now passed; he poured the liquid stiffly but
professionally, not once taking his eyes off the glass.

"So, who's left?" he asked conversationally, indicating the last
remaining assignment sheet.

So intent with watching him was she that, without thinking about
it, she handed Adric the assignment page for a look -- and
immediately regretted it. The Alzarian took it and began to
read, and once more Mel detected that flicker of something she
couldn't quite define, only now more intense than it had been
previously. And mixed within it, she thought, was just a hint of

"Well, well..." he muttered, his voice somewhat low. "'Asylum',
hmmm? 4th Doc and her. A real novel, even. I assume this'll be
a post-Terminus version of her?"

"From the looks of the assignment, yes." Mel answered evenly.

Adric handed her back the sheet, his face now a mask. "As you
said, an unusual pairing. Should be interesting."

"Yes, it should." She took a sip of her drink. "Maybe you'll
get a few days rest out of it, too." Mel suggested, trying to
come up with something positive to say.

Adric merely nodded. "Yes, perhaps. One can hope." He began to
polish the counter with a wet rag, cleaning up some of the minor
spills. As he did so, Mel heard one last set of whispered,
deadpan words as he turned away. "One can always hope." the
words were, the irony in the voice not the least bit consistent
with the sentiment.

Mel watched as he went on to a few of the other patrons,
mechanically filling their requests and keeping his small talk to
a minimum. She watched silently, contemplatively, as he answered
the calls of "Dead Boy" without comment, filling glasses and
mixing drinks and never once saying more than what was absolutely
necessary. Keeping his distance now, she realized. Away from
everyone else, as if glad that the presence of the counter could
act as a barrier, keeping them all at arm's length. And, most
distressingly, not one person there so much as noticing, much
less caring, that there was a perceptible change in him.

Not one, she thought. Not a single one.

Not a single goddamn one of them.


Normally, Ryoko rather enjoyed spending time in the 'Round,
mostly because of the vast and expansive list of alcoholic
beverages available for consumption, many of which she previously
had no idea were even available anywhere in this galactic sector.

But now was not being one of those nights. In fact, she had
barely touched the drink that bubbled and steamed before her all

She was also trying desperately not to think about Adric's
earlier point about Tenchi, but found that banishing the thought
was not nearly as easy as she wanted it to be.

A Polly-shaped shadow crept across her table, and she looked up.
"Name and universe?" the blonde-haired young woman asked.

"Huh? Oh, Lt. Uhura, Star Trek universe." Ryoko said,
automatically, more because it was the first name that came to

Polly nodded, and made a check on the liquid crystal display of
the slate in her hand. "Right, got you. Welcome back." Polly
looked at the ersatz Lt. Uhura curiously. "Um, pardon me for
asking, but you look a little different than last time..."

Ryoko nodded. "I dyed my hair." she said, in a complete deadpan.

"Oh, that it explains it, then." Polly smiled, taking the
explanation into account. "Have a pleasant evening." And with
that, the local continuity cop made an about face and moved to
intercept a leather-clad, short-cropped blond haired vampire that
had just stepped into the entrance.

Wesley and Lucas showed up just then, both looking glum.

"No sign of Ember, huh?" she asked them as they slunk down next
to her. Katarina came over to take their drink orders.

"Nope, not a clue." Wes answered. "It's like she's completely

Lucas nodded in slow confirmation. "Which, after last night, I'm
not surprised."

Ryoko smirked. Ember may be a nice kid, she thought, but the
girl had a frustrating tendency to come and go without warning.

"Any sign of, err, Psycho Bitch?" Lucas asked.

"No. She hasn't been around all evening, either."

Wesley grunted. "So, what do you think? Mutual Assured
Destruction? They both killed each other fighting over Adric?"

"Do you think that's what his problem is?" Lucas suggested.
"He's got two girls fighting over him now, and he doesn't know
which one to choose?"

"No, it's not that." Ryoko said. Her gaze was still on her
friend across the room, who at that moment was silently drawing a
pint for the 6th Doctor. "It's deeper than that." In as few
words as possible, she then tried to explain their earlier odd

When she was finished, Wesley nodded. "I'm actually not
surprised he said that. I think it's pretty obvious that he's
always been more disappointed by how things turned out than he
lets on."

There was a scrape on the floor in front of them, and a short,
thin shadow stepped forward over the table's edge, casting itself
upon three surprised faces.

"Umm, hi." Mel asked, looking at each one of them in turn. "Err,
do you mind if I sit here? I think I need to talk to you people
about Adric..."

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Five - Part Six

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