‘It’s freezing!’ shrieks Amy, hugging herself against the slicing, brutal wind that assails them the instant they step out of the TARDIS’s protective shields.
‘It’s the Antarctic,’ the Doctor snipes back at her with a look suggesting there are better things to worry about just at the moment. ‘And that is an Edacious Hemniphetdz Beast, which absolutely should not be here.’ Perhaps, Amy agrees upon regarding the hulking shape in the snow, there are more important things to worry about.
‘And what exactly are you planning on doing with it? It’s huge!’
‘All we need to do is stun it for long enough for me to get this ‘round it.’ The ‘this’ the Doctor brandishes is a sort of cable lasso attached to something that, to Amy’s eyes, looks like an ancient Atari controller. Maybe it is. ‘Then I can get it back to... wherever it came from. We’ll shepherd it into the water!’ The wind whips the Doctor’s words back over his shoulder. ‘The shock should be enough to knock it out temporarily.’
The Edacious Hemniphetdz Beast, however, does not want to be shepherded, and after shouting and arm-waving have no effect, the Doctor produces his sonic scredriver with a frustrated ‘Come on!’ The sudden roar that produces sends the Doctor tumbling backwards over his own feet, sprawling into a hummock of fine, powdery snow as the thing heaves its mass of aubergine-coloured flesh around to bare rows of-- not teeth, but fleshy, sucking tubes like anemones. Amy, who’d stumbled backwards herself, scrambles to her feet as the Hemniphetdz Beast takes an ominous, rolling step forwards.
Now, she doesn’t know about the Doctor, but the very last thing she’s expecting at this moment is for a small, densely bundled torpedo of a man to come skidding over the ridge and hoist the Doctor to his feet.
‘What the hell is that thing?’ the man demands breathlessly. Amy is pleased to note, even under the threat of eminent consumption by giant alien, that his accent is Lowland Scottish.
The Doctor doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Edacious Hemniphetdz Beast! Well, maybe not Edacious. But Mildly Peckish, at the very least. Reasonably Hungry--’
‘Never mind what it’s called; what’re you doing with it?!’
‘We have to get it into the water; the cold’ll stun it, and then I can--’
‘Aye, aye,’ the man runs over the Doctor’s words. His attention is all on the Hemniphedtz Beast, and though it’s difficult to judge expression when most of his face is covered, he looks like nothing so much as a boxer sizing up an opponent. ‘Not working, though, is it? This thing, it’s hungry, you said? Might fancy a bite out of one of you?’
‘One of us, I should say. Or any of your team.’ The Doctor sobers, his forehead creasing. ‘I assume you’re here with someone.’
But he doesn’t answer, just says shortly, ‘Wait here,’ and breaks away into a full run towards the alien, hollering at the top of his lungs and veering off towards the black water and pack ice of the shore. Amy’s stomach drops in a jolt of adrenaline and weird admiration. He’s mad, whoever he is; offering himself as bait to a gigantic monster with sucker-teeth without even pausing for a moment to consider it.
She’s about to observe as much to the Doctor when they’re interrupted by a shout.
It’s another man, dressed in much the same fashion, all straps and windproofing, and sounding quite panicked. He pelts up the ridge, shouting and looking quite ready to chase after his comrade. Before he can, though, Amy flings herself forward to catch him around the waist, and they both crash to the ground with an impact of air driven out of lungs.
‘No-- Birdie, what if he needs--’
‘It won’t do him any good us all running after him,’ she shouts at him, elbows clamped tight to make sure he doesn’t try to run again. Panicked blue eyes behind half-frosted spectacles meet hers, and after a moment he nods tightly.
More whoops are blown thinly over the wind, and then a colossal crunch and a bellow, and Amy pushes herself up in time to see Birdie, if that’s his name, hurl himself off to the side just as the Edacious Hemniphedtz Beast crashes as if in slow motion through the ice. Spume and great, greenish white chunks of ice crest around the creature like a sonic boom, travelling outwards, and when they settle, she can see the small, dark figure of the man sprawled in the snow where he’d flung himself. He’s safe. He’s alive, and the Beast is exactly where they’d wanted to get it.
‘Birdie,’ mutters the Doctor next to her, an expression of intense thought on his face. In a flurry, he turns to the second man, seizing his hands. ‘Birdie? That’s Birdie Bowers?’
‘Ohh, that’s-- haha!’ A delighted laugh bubbles out over any further words, and he actually spins on the spot for a moment. ‘Oh, that is marvellous. And you!’ He breaks off, and Amy can’t quite identify the expression his face melts into then. It’s something soft that twists his eyebrows together; she can see admiration in it, and a little melancholy, but that’s not the whole. Before Amy can piece it together, though, it snaps neatly back into warm enthusiasm. ‘You must be Apsley Cherry-Garrard.’
Apsley Cherry-Garrard fumbles at the wrappings over his face with one heavily-mitted hand, tugging them down just enough to reveal a windburnt, stubbled face creased with bewilderment.
‘I-- yes, yes I am, but how do you-- who are you? There’s nobody else here apart from the Norwegians, and-- and what in the name of heaven was that thing?’
‘Reasonably Hungry Beast of something, wasn’t it?’ Birdie Bowers tramps up behind them, breathing heavily, and slings an arm around Cherry-Garrard’s shoulders with a cheery, ‘Hullo, Cherry. Sorry about dashing off like that.’
‘Reasonably Hungry, close enough.’ The Doctor beams at the pair of them. ‘I am the Doctor, and this is Miss Amy Pond. Amy; Birdie Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Can I call you Cherry? Of course I can. What’s the date? Have you got your penguins’ eggs yet? Oh, I want stories!’
Between Birdie’s grinning and the Doctor’s mad babbling, Amy can’t help but join in with a smile of her own, although she does feel a little sorry for Cherry, who looks both overwhelmed and hideously confused. He looks imploringly to Birdie. ‘Reasonably Hungry Beast of something? It looks like--’ Removing his spectacles to scrub at them for a moment, he replaces them and squints at the fallen shape. ‘Well, it looks like nothing I’ve ever seen. Some sort of... terrestrial whale, if such a thing were possible, some evolutionary relic.’
Birdie shrugs, and Amy’s grin tilts a little. ‘Alien, actually,’ she interjects lightly.
‘Tell you what.’ The Doctor claps Cherry on the shoulder, pushing up briefly into his personal space. ‘Let me go take care of it, and then I think we owe you and Lt. Bowers a drink. And some warmth! Tea, and a little warmth, and an explanation. In that order or otherwise. Right! I’ll just be a moment.’
Thus, the TARDIS acquires another two passengers. It’s funny, Amy thinks, how she hadn’t realised that she’d thought it empty before there are other people there to shed a little retroactive light.
The Doctor gives them both a once-over with a tissue regenerator to get rid of the inevitable frostbite (it also has the pleasant side effect of regrowing a mouthful of teeth that Cherry had lost somewhere) and then shoves them off to the Wardrobe Room. Amy takes advantage of their absence to turn on the Doctor and pin him with an exasperated stare.
‘Are you ever going to tell me who they are?’
‘Who they are?’
‘Yes! Clearly they’re someone important, otherwise you wouldn’t be so ridiculously pleased with yourself at running into them.’
‘I am not pleased--’ the Doctor trails off under Amy’s arched eyebrow. ‘Alright, maybe I’m a bit pleased with myself. But they, Amy, they! They are some of the most important British explorers of the early 20th century. Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Birdie Bowers, they were-- or, well, they are, I suppose-- in Antarctica with Scott. Braving mad odds, nearly killing themselves for the sake of science and discovery! Men like that are the pinnacle of human endeavour. I am ashamed of you, Amy, not knowing about them.’
Amy shrugs carelessly. ‘I was never great on history. I... think I’ve heard of Scott?’ The name rings a vague bell, but not much more than that. But then, as far as she’s concerned-- what does it matter if she can’t remember the details and intricacies of Earth’s history when they’re in a time machine? The Doctor can take her to go see anything he feels she needs educating about.
‘Oh, come on!’ she laughs in the face of the Doctor’s crotchety-old-man disapproval. ‘They’re here, now I can learn about them. There we go; solution that makes everybody happy.’
The Doctor holds his disapproving face for a few more seconds before he relents back into enthusiastic lecturer mode. ‘Right, well. First thing you should know, Amy, they are from 1911-ish, so keep in mind, Edwardian sensibilities, try not to--’
Edwardian sensibilities or no, Amy doesn’t care, because the two men who’ve just walked back into the console room are an entirely different story from the heavily bundled, windburnt, snow-frosted explorers they’d brought in with them, and she cuts in front of the Doctor to eye them appreciatively. Braces and high-waisted trousers go surprisingly well with roll-necked jumpers, Amy finds, and topping that ensemble, Birdie Bowers is dark haired and pointy-featured and unexpectedly small. Next to him, Cherry looks a little more like a gentleman in high collar and tie, fine woollen waistcoat over a gratifyingly broad chest, his expression oddly shy.
And then the Doctor grabs her by the arm and pulls her back so hard she bumps into his chest with an ‘Oof!’
‘Birdie Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard!’ he reminds her sharply.
‘Yes, you said!’ she hisses, extricating herself from his grip pointedly.
Cherry and Birdie are looking at them rather curiously, and Amy rolls her eyes when the Doctor refuses to let go of her arm. ‘All right, all right,’ she grumbles. ‘Edwardian sensibilities, whatever you say.’
Switching on a more innocuous smile, she turns back to the two men just as the Doctor flits past her, looking as ever as if he’s on the verge of tripping over his own legs. ‘I believe I promised you tea!’
Cocoa, it turns out, is their beverage of choice, which the Doctor sniffs at, but Amy has a mug of it herself, choosing to top it off with an indulgent dollop of whipped cream-- that gets an odd look from all three of them. The explanations are long, and Amy soon finds out that in addition to being an Antarctic explorer, Apsley Cherry-Garrard is a scientist-- in interest and inclination, at least, if not education or profession. The Doctor’s self-satisfied ‘bigger on the inside’ and ‘Course there are other species out there! You didn’t reckon all the life in the entire universe was confined to your little planet, did you?’ speeches are designed to impress, and curtail any further inquiries, but the more the Doctor says, the more questions Cherry has for him. Birdie seems more the sort who, given no other option, has accepted the impossible with cheer and a slow-burning intrigue that Amy can see in his eyes, and she decides right then and there that she likes him.
‘So,’ she turns to Birdie, away from the heated conversation happening next to her, giving him a brilliant smile. ‘Wee Scottish bloke like you, how’d you end up in the Antarctic?’
He blinks, apparently surprised at being addressed, and then crooks a grin back at her. ‘Might ask the same of you, mightn’t I? Scottish lass in a—-what did he call it--dimensional--?’
‘Aye, that. Dimensionally transcendental time machine thing.’
‘Guest’s obligation; you first.’
So while Cherry learns about alien species and cosmology, Amy finds out about Henry Robertson Bowers who grew up in Greenock and had a taste for danger and adventure, so he sailed around the world five times and then some.
‘So, what exactly was all that about before?’ Amy demands, once Birdie and Cherry have been dispatched to catch some sleep (ostensibly, at any rate; after her conversation with Birdie, Amy more than half expects to find him exploring the corridors instead).
‘The--’ Amy grabs the Doctor’s arm, hissing, ‘Birdie Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard!’ in a truly awful imitation of his voice. He looks affronted for a moment, before lapsing into a thoughtful grimace.
‘They’re a... thing,’ he says vaguely, frowning and wiggling his fingers. ‘Historical... thing. Very important, significant sort of thing. Mustn’t interfere.’
‘Right,’ drawls Amy, drawing out the ‘i’ to spectacularly dubious lengths. ‘And plucking them out of 1900-whatever and taking them for a jaunt around time and space isn’t interfering?’
‘Different sort of interfering,’ he sniffs.
‘Right.’ Her eyes widen briefly as an idea occurs to her, and the Doctor actually draws back, looking vaguely alarmed, as if she’s likely to jump at him. ‘Wait, wait—thing? What sort of thing? Like—a thing thing, or just a thing?’
Clueless as ever to the tricky intricacies of human interactions, the Doctor blinks at her. ‘Thing thing? Sorry, does repeating the word change the meaning?’
‘You know! Are they a thing, like, together? The two of them? Or are they just an important historical thing, ‘cos Antarctic expedition and all that?’
‘… Well, they’re definitely the latter,’ the Doctor settles on after a pause. ‘Sort of hard to say about thing-thing-i-ness when you’re talking about men brought up at the tail end of the Victorian era, isn’t it? There’s all sorts of documents preserved, of course—letters and diaries and reports—but like I say, turn of the century, cultural attitudes are very different, any references to that sort of thing are going to be oblique at best.’
‘Well,’ the Doctor tries looking down his nose at her smirk and delicately raised eyebrow, ‘they’re here, now you can learn for yourself, can’t you?’
It’s one of those funny things about the universe, the Doctor says, that very few planets are in a position which affords them a good view of any neighbouring galaxies. Less than one percent. Or near one percent anyway. One or two. Or three. Either, being part of a galaxy themselves, they can only see parts of the whole, and have no conception of what the entire thing looks like, or they’re so far away from the nearest galaxies that they appear as just one more star in the sky, a particularly bright pinprick of light. Malliateos, he tells them with glee, is one of that one or two or three percent. It is actually, improbably in orbit around the nearby Phasmatis Galaxy, an irregular double barred spiral, a fact which plays occasional havoc with the planet’s gravity, but which also means that bi-annually, the galaxy rises and sets on the horizon like a sun. Which is, in the Doctor’s words, ‘nothing short of absolutely marvellous.’
Amy gets the distinct impression that neither Cherry nor Birdie really understand what he’s talking about until he opens the door with a flourish, standing back to let the two of them exit first. Birdie bounds out, enthusiastic despite-- or perhaps because of-- the suspicion and curiosity plain on his face; Cherry follows after more sedately.
Watching them, Amy thinks she understands what the Doctor meant when he told her that he takes people travelling because they can really see things.
They’re in a moor on the outskirts of a low, sprawling city, the buildings thatched, and built from some pale, lambent wood; the ground is carpeted with grasses and lichens in a spectrum of fawns and ochres, caught up with low shrubs that fade into a stand of coral-like trees. The crisp, autumnal air is resonant with a slow, deep sibillation—coming from the trees, Amy realises, which are visibly breathing in and out. And then there’s the sky: dark, dark indigo, fading into purple where it touches the ground-- and the galaxy, half sunk, taking up the better part of the horizon. It’s a blaze of brilliant violet and blue and white, a corona of dusty gold around it. The two central bars with their trailing spiral tails are in perfect definition, cut like glass in the alien sky.
Birdie is all agape, and his open-mouthed stare fades into a cracked, disbelieving laugh on the exhale. Amy can feel her own grin threatening to put a serious strain on her cheek muscles, and behind her, the Doctor murmurs:
‘What d’you think of that, eh?’
He’s not talking to her, though, and Amy turns to see him smiling and bumping shoulders with Cherry, who looks near the point of awed tears. His spectacles are disks of reflected galactic light.
‘It’s... spectacular,’ he says weakly. ‘Beautiful. I--’
‘Cherry?’ comes Birdie’s voice from behind her, and Amy feels him come up to hover by her shoulder, but hushes him before he can say anything else.
Cherry shakes his head, tearing himself away from the sky with an effort to look at the Doctor. ‘I never thought I could ever see anything that astounded me again, you know. Not after Antarctica. Nothing could possibly be more... terrifying and glorious than that, I thought. But--’
‘Wide old universe, Mr. Cherry-Garrard,’ the Doctor interrupts, slinging a chummy arm around his shoulders. ‘There are always, always things to astound, trust me. Little things too, not just galaxies and alien planets.’
‘So I see,’ Cherry says over an astonished little laugh, before breaking into a smile so wide it presses his chin down into his neck. Behind her, there’s a huff of breath, and Amy turns to see that Birdie’s face has crinkled around a smile as well, a small, subtle expression of fondness that makes his eyes glitter.
Yeah, Amy thinks. Definitely a thing thing.
They go to the moon, and Birdie insists that they should play football. No-one has the sense to imagine that Birdie Bowers’ enthusiasm in combination with one-sixth gravity is a bad idea until he concusses himself leaping to bounce the ball off his skinny chest.
Amy rushes over—or rather, bounces over—full of concern, followed a moment later by Cherry, who hasn’t yet quite adjusted to the gravity and looks rather constantly on the verge of injury himself. Birdie, however, just sits up, slightly crosseyed, and after a moment to reorientate himself, barks a laugh at the two of them.
‘Bloody hell,’ he breathes appreciatively, shaking his head to clear it. ‘It’ll take you by surprise, this place. Did I make it?’
Behind them, the Doctor hoists the football with a little grin, and a smile splits Birdie’s face.
‘Excellent. Help me up, aye, Cherry?’
One of Cherry’s broad, long-fingered hands closes around Birdie’s, pulling him up with such unnecessary force that Birdie collides with him as well. He compensates by draping himself around Cherry’s shoulders, his smile still broad, and just a little crooked. Amy stifles a giggle.
‘We should get you to the sickbay,’ she suggests around a smile, but Birdie waves her off with lazy contempt.
‘Nonsense. There’s football to be played! Anyway, it’s hardly the first time I’ve fetched myself a knock on the head. Is it, Cherry?’
‘Not in the slightest,’ Cherry confirms wryly, a tiny, fond smile tugging at his lips as he looks sideways at Birdie. Birdie grins back at him.
Amy thinks it best to leave them to themselves for the time being.
There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, Amy insists to herself. Insatiable curiosity has always been one of her strong suits; it is particularly an advantage when it comes to the sort of adventures that one tends to get up to when travelling with the Doctor. And if occasionally she applies it to matters that don’t necessarily merit it, well. She blames the Doctor, with his talk of ‘thing-thing-i-ness.’
It helps that the TARDIS likes her, and is willing to help her engage in the occasional bit of espionage if Amy sweet-talks her into it.
Cherry and Birdie share a bedroom, she finds out, when she has free time enough to snoop. That in itself isn’t necessarily significant—they don’t know the interior of the TARDIS very well, after all, and they have been sharing quarters with a whole boatload of men for more than a year, or so Amy assumes. She doesn’t know a lot about ships and Antarctic exploring in the 1910’s, but she bets the accommodations aren’t exactly luxurious.
What is significant, though, is the fact that they also seem to share a bed.
Amy isn’t quite sure why exactly this delights her as much as it does. Only that Cherry seems so quiet and sweet, and Birdie reminds her a little bit of herself, and it’s pleasing, the idea that two people could find each other on an Antarctic expedition, of all places. And they seem so happy together. Maybe it’s a sort of vicarious enjoyment of their clear infatuation with each other, even though Amy generally disdains that kind of obvious romance. Not her sort of thing at all.
She catches them in one of the TARDIS’s libraries, the one that doubles as an observatory. They don’t notice her, and she doesn’t blame them.
Cherry’s in a chair in front of the vast viewscreen, a hefty book and a sketchpad and pencil abandoned on a side table next to it. Bent over him, Birdie has fingers hooked under Cherry’s chin to tip his face up, and he’s kissing him with slow, thorough reverence. The tendons in Cherry’s neck are strained with the tension of wanting to press up, take control of the kiss from his end, but not doing so. Lips part for a moment, and there's a small, shaky exhalation from one of them; she catches a glimpse of wet pink tongue before their mouths rejoin. The angle Amy’s at only affords a view of one of Cherry's hands, but that hand flutters up hesitantly before settling on Birdie’s shoulder, gripping and sliding down to the nape of his neck. Long fingers thread through dark, overlong hair before tightening to pull him closer-- and Birdie yelps as he overbalances, falling halfway into the chair.
Amy chooses this moment to duck out, before her hobby of spying accidentally turns into voyeurism. She can still hear their laughter behind her.
‘You didn’t tell us.’
It’s not something she’s really taken much note of previously, but it occurs to her now as the sound of his voice halts her progress, that Cherry doesn’t seem to talk much, as a general matter of course. Or rather—he does, but not to her. With the Doctor, he’s all babbling, scientific enthusiasm, and with Birdie he has the ease of fondness and friendship and a shared context amidst the strangeness of the TARDIS. Amy supposes that the two of them never found a common reference point, as she did with Birdie, and Cherry with the Doctor. That combined with the formal awkwardness which seems to be Cherry’s default. It’s definitely his voice coming from a room down the corridor, though, sounding stricken, and more sombre than she has yet to hear him.
Her brow furrows. ‘No,’ answers the Doctor’s voice, and she creeps closer to listen.
‘Why not? If you knew.’
‘Changing history, Cherry; what happens to Scott and the polar party is an important part of history. Believe me, if I could just… zoom around stopping tragedy wherever it happened, I would, but that’s not how it works.’
‘No, no.’ Cherry’s voice is tight and strained, and the vague ache of worry plants itself in the crease of Amy’s forehead. ‘It’s not—of course not. I wouldn’t presume that you have either the right or the authority, but--’
There’s a silence that seems to last for much longer than it actually must.
‘I should have appreciated you telling me. Us. That was—when we first met, I had wondered why you seemed—why you knew me simply after I—after you realised who Birdie was. But--’
‘Yeah.’ The Doctor’s soft affirmation is barely audible.
‘How-- how much longer do we have? B-Birdie and I. Before--’
‘Ohhh,’ Amy can hear the forced flippancy in the Doctor’s tone. ‘A fair bit yet. Three months or so.’
‘Just three months?’ His tone is so utterly desolate that Amy feels it like a blow to her solar plexus. ‘And we have to return eventually,’ Cherry continues. ‘Can’t—can’t stay here forever. Tempting as it is to forestall fate.’
‘I’m afraid not.’
There’s no response from Cherry for so long that Amy wonders if he’s left. But he must not have done, because eventually, the Doctor’s voice comes very quietly, so much that Amy has to strain to understand him.
‘They’re heroes, Cherry. Know that’
A horrible, dry hiccough tells her why Cherry had been silent; it’s the sound of someone exerting the utmost effort to hold back the impulse to cry, or scream. ‘I don’t want--’
Amy can’t hear any more, and she’s left standing there against the wall with a hazy, abstruse sense of foreboding that she can’t do anything with.
They go to Rome in 1554, and for once, Amy and Cherry are the ones with something in common, both distracted and withdrawn. Amy wants to ask about the conversation she overheard, but she abstains. She gets the feeling Cherry wouldn’t appreciate it.
She ends up back in the observatory library quite by accident some time later, when she’s looking for a storeroom which the Doctor claims will have a box of Medusa spanners in it. It’s quite as it was the last time she saw it, even down to the book on the side-table. And because Amy’s curious, and the memory of that conversation is still weighing on her, she folds her knees up into the chair and picks up the book. It’s heavy and old, bound in blue cloth, with the title stamped on the spine in faded silver.
The Worst Journey in the World
And the author, beneath:
Amy begins to read.
The Doctor recoils sharply, arms flailing up to defend himself as a furious Amy Pond slams both hands into his chest, a whirl of red hair and sudden, unexpected passion. Amy herself wasn’t prepared for quite the vehemence of her reaction, but she’s nearly at the point of tears as she shouts at the Doctor, shoving him again.
‘Birdie! And—and the others, but—he dies. Were you planning on just letting them travel with us for, oh, a few months, and then setting them back all unsuspecting and letting that happen?!’
‘I found his book,’ she says coldly, her voice still shaking. ‘Cherry’s book. In the library. Doctor, you can’t.’
Drawing in a deep draught of air, the Doctor squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. He looks terribly, terribly old when he opens them again. ‘It’s history, Amy. And it’s not a little thing, it’s a… landmark. I can’t just change it at a whim.’
Her throat burns as she swallows, shaking her head disbelievingly; she knows he’s not human, but she forgets, sometimes how very alien he is.
‘Is that what you do?’ Amy spits. ‘Just pal around with people who’re going to die horribly and do nothing about it? What kind of sick person does that?’
‘That is not--’
‘Then what was Vincent? It’s the same thing—except worse, this time, because he’ll know, Cherry! About time travel. And that Birdie still died.’ A bitter, hysterical laugh bubbles up out of her throat. ‘You didn’t even think of that, did you?’
The Doctor frowns vaguely, his eyes shifting somewhere to Amy’s left. She’s right, she can tell; he hadn’t thought of it. Hadn’t even occurred to him.
‘It’s not that simple,’ he says eventually, sounding cross. ‘I can’t play arbiter for who lives and who dies over all of history; it’s not my choice to make. I can’t--’
‘You can. No, shut up, I know you can. Just Birdie, even—if Scott has to die, and the party has to fail and be this… horrible tragedy, then maybe it has to, I don’t know, but Birdie’s just one man.’
‘Amy.’ The Doctor sighs, deflating. ‘There’s no such thing as just one man.’
‘Scott,’ he overrides her firmly, sadly, ‘chose Birdie Bowers specifically. It was part of why the party died, Amy. He took five men when everything had been planned for four; if things had gone differently--’
She shoves him again. ‘Then Scott was an idiot!’
‘It’s not a matter of apportioning blame, Amy--’
‘They’re in love!’
Painfully the words tear themselves from her throat, and now there are tears on her face; she can’t say why it’s hit her so hard, so much like a personal wound, the idea that Cherry is going to lose the man loves. But it does. It aches. It makes Amy feel like she’s lost something—someone-- herself, even when she knows she hasn’t. She’s never been in love, not like that.
The Doctor’s looking at her now the way someone might look at someone diagnosed with terminal cancer, like he knows something she doesn’t, and Amy doesn’t understand that either. Suddenly, stupidly, the thought flashes into her head of the ring she'd found in the Doctor's jacket, and Vincent's words to her-- 'Then why are you crying?' Angrily, she shakes herself; this isn't about her. She may not understand her own thoughts, but she does know that nobody out-stubborns Amy Pond, not even Time Lords, and if she has anything to say about it, no-one is going to die. No-one else is going to lose someone they love.
‘They’re in love,’ she repeats herself, a little more weakly. ‘You’ve seen them, Doctor. Can it hurt so much, to let him live? Cherry’s book—he’s so miserably unhappy, it’s there in every word. I couldn’t stand it. We can fix that, just that one little thing.’
He presses his lips together, huffing out a breath. ‘Listen, I don’t like it any more than you do--’
‘You’ve read the book,’ Amy insists, ‘Haven’t you? I’m not saying we change history, just give one man some happiness. And give another one a chance at a life. You’ve done that before, Doctor, don’t lie. There is absolutely no reason in the universe you can’t do it for Cherry and Birdie.’
The Doctor says nothing, and Amy holds his gaze and refuses to let go.
For once, the TARDIS is astonishingly accurate, depositing her two resident explorers back at Cape Evans on 5 September, 1911, more or less an hour out from when Birdie had gone haring off after the Edacious Hemniphedtz Beast.
Cherry and Birdie shake hands warmly with the Doctor, and Amy insists on wrapping them both in hugs before they wrap back up in their winter gear. Birdie startles into a laugh, and claps her on the back; Cherry just startles.
‘It was a pleasure and a privilege, gentlemen,’ intones the Doctor. Cherry nods solemnly, and Birdie snaps off a crisp military salute, smiling.
‘Thank you, Doctor. I should say the same to you.’
Once the doors have closed, the Doctor turns to Amy, lifting his chin expectantly. ‘Time and place?’
Amy’s been doing her research, and doesn’t hesitate for a moment when she answers. ‘The Upper Glacier Depot. 20 December, 1911.’
She watches as the Doctor flips switches and fiddles with dials, before grinning broadly. ‘Right. Let me get my winter stuff on.’
‘Miss Amy! What the devil are you doing here? And-- what’s that you’re wearing?’
In her insulated, skintight silver jumpsuit, Amy looks more like something out of a pop video than anything belonging in the Antarctic, but she is very warm. Wiggling her fingers in a cheeky hello, she grins at Birdie.
‘Sorry about this, Birdie, but I promise, you’ll thank me later.’
But he doesn’t get a chance to get anything else out before Amy plants both hands firmly on his chest and shoves. His arms windmill, his eyes wide in the slit of his balaclava that she can see them through, and Amy winces in sympathy as the snow and Antarctic wind swallow the sound of impact as he tumbles backwards over the lip of the crevasse positioned conveniently behind him. Lip caught in her teeth, she leans over the edge to peer down the slope, nodding with satisfaction.
‘For your own good, I promise!’ she shouts down at him, before dancing off back to the TARDIS.
‘You what?’ The Doctor is at his agitated most ridiculous; his hands occupy the airspace between them, fingers like he’s playing an invisible piano, contorting into tortured shapes. His shoulders are hunched in, as if Amy’s words physically pain him.
She grins, proud of a job well done. ‘Shoved him down an ice cliff thingy. Crevasse.’
‘You shoved-- Birdie Bowers-- down an... ice cliff thingy crevasse.’
‘Not a very deep one!’ sniffs Amy. ‘Anyway, he only broke his arm.’
The Doctor’s voice does an excellent impression of a cracked slide-whistle. ‘Amy-- I-- why!? I thought you were going to, I don’t know, talk to him! Haven’t you learned anything from me? First thing you do, you always, always try talking your way out of a problem; a bit of first rate babbling can solve a lot of problems! And absolutely doesn’t involve-- breaking limbs.’
‘Yeah, but what if I talked to him, and he decided not to listen? All sorts of reasons why he’d choose to go anyway, aren’t there?’ Smirking, she crosses her arms under her breasts, a toss of the head flicking her hair over her shoulder. ‘Nothing left up to chance my way. Scott can hardly have any use for an officer with only one functional arm.’
‘Broken, sir,’ Atkinson reports, his tone firm, only the barest edge of regret to indicate that he might be sympathetic towards what a broken arm means for Birdie. ‘The radius is completely snapped. And the elbow--’ He gestures with two fingers at the joint of Birdie’s elbow. ‘Slightly hyper-extended, you can see.’
It is quite obvious to anyone who looks at him that his arm is broken, but Birdie’s bull-headed insistence that it’s nothing, that he’s fine, honestly, had shortly prompted an irate Captain Scott to get the doctor’s opinion on the matter. Scott’s face twists into the ugly expression of misfortune taken too personally, and he nods curtly.
‘Very well, Atkinson; get him patched up. Bowers--’ But he seems not to be able to decide on anything to say to Birdie, and after a tight breath drawn through the nostrils, he strides off.
‘Sir!’ Birdie protests, beginning to push himself up-- but with the wrong arm, and he falls back with a swallowed growl of pain, the lines around his eyes going tight.
Atch sighs, lifted eyebrows wrinkling his brow as he turns back to Birdie. ‘Leave it, Birdie; you know how the Owner gets.’
‘It’s not--! All right, it’s a bit busted up, but I can go on a broken arm; it doesn’t hurt that badly. Honestly, it doesn’t.’
Cherry, who’d found Birdie after he’d hauled himself out of the crevasse he’d fallen down on his broken arm, suppresses a smile. It’s an inappropriate occasion for levity, given that one of the most capable officers they have has just been fairly well incapacitated, but he can’t help it. From anyone else, that would be an absurd boast, a lie. Birdie being Birdie, he probably believes it.
The guileless frustration on his face certainly suggests as much, but Atch is unmoved. ‘I’m sure it doesn’t, but that’ll take two months to mend properly, out here.’ Birdie actually lets out an injured, angry little exclamation at that, and Atch softens somewhat. ‘Be realistic, Birdie. I know you wanted to make the Pole as much as the next man, but Scott’s got no use for an officer with only one functional arm. Let me get you something for the pain-- I don’t care how badly you say it doesn’t hurt, it will in a moment-- and I’ll set it.’
As soon as Atch takes his leave, Cherry crosses over to Birdie to look at him curiously. He’s been oddly mum about the circumstances that resulted in him breaking his arm, and Cherry thinks he knows him well enough to know when he’s hiding something.
‘What exactly did you do to break your arm? You’ve fallen down crevasses a hundred times before and never come up with anything worse than a bruise.’
But he cuts off, looking up as the sound of a footfall announces Atch’s return with the medical kit, and lays a discrete hand on Cherry’s. ‘Go on,’ he says with a truncated little nod. ‘I’ll tell you later.’
Two days after that, after Birdie’s told Cherry how he broke his arm, the first relief party is sent back from the Upper Glacier Depot: Cherry-Garrard, Atkinson, Wright, and a last minute, unexpected addition-- Bowers.
Some weeks later, they receive news of Scott’s final decision for the polar party; five men, not four. Scott, Wilson, Seaman Evans, Oates, and Lashly. Birdie snorts derisively when he hears Lashly’s name, but Cherry doesn’t say anything.
1924. Eleven years after Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Birdie Bowers return to England along with the remainder of the Terra Nova Antarctic expedition. A book sits on a shelf in the library at Lamer, hidden out of sight near the back, bearing the even coat of dust which signifies a volume long since read. This particular one hasn’t been unshelved since it was placed here eleven years ago, though there are a few stripes on the spine where the dust is thinner, marks which might have been left by the trailing touch of a man’s fingers in passing. Although the publishing date stamped on the title page is 1922, it has all the appearance of being the kind of thing one might find in a charity shop, sixty or seventy years old at least. Its pages boast faintly curling edges, the glue used to stiffen the spine cracked and yellowed, and the blue fabric along the edges of the boards is frayed, loose threads snaking free.
The book shares a name with the very one Cherry published only two years previous, and although similar, they’re not identical. Cherry keeps it there as a reminder of what he has, and how much he has to be thankful for. He doesn’t know, really, what happened to change the events of the history some other him recorded in that book, and he doesn’t think he ever will. He has an inkling, a fond notion that he keeps as a secret, and that is enough for him.
As for Birdie, well. Dear Birdie never did have much of a head for books, and that’s not something that’s changed over the course of years. Sequestered away in the recesses of the library, the odds of him happening upon this particular volume are as good as nil.