When Amelia Pond was six years old, her parents were eaten by a crack in the universe. She only remembered them in dreams, where she had a mum who put faces on apples and a dad who loved her even more than he loved rugby. When she was eight, she met the Doctor. He left her, promising he’d be right back, but he didn’t come for years and years. By then, Amelia Pond had become Amy.
When Amelia Pond was four years old, her parents were in a car crash on the motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Her mum died right away, but her dad didn’t. For the rest of her life, what she remembered most was everyone telling her things would be fine. She thought that meant that her dad would be fine, but three days later, he died. She never again believed anyone who told her things would be fine - except the Doctor. She met him when she was eight, and somehow he really did make things fine. Most of the time.
Amelia Pond’s parents never died or disappeared when she was a child. They were alive to drive her utterly mad for years. By the time she lost them, she was in her fifties and had grandchildren of her own. She wasn’t ready for it, because no one ever is, but it was all right. After all, she thought, that was how life was supposed to go. This Amelia Pond never met or traveled with the Doctor. But sometimes she dreamt of him, and her children grew up on stories about a fantastic blue box and the wonderful, strange, mad man who lived inside.
All these things are completely true, somewhere and somewhen. All of them are also completely false.
They were in Venice when things got really weird.
Not really weird like traveling in time - that was normal, or at least, it was normal to Amelia by then. Not really weird like space vampires - that was pretty cool. Not even really weird like the looks Jack and the Doctor gave each other sometimes when they thought she wasn’t looking, which made her feel safe and happy and also kind of embarrassed, or like her Aunt Sharon’s porcelain doll collection, which had been both weird and creepy.
No, this was really weird like coming round the corner and finding herself face to face with herself. Only not herself. Herself, but older, holding hands with some bloke she’d never seen before. Amelia didn’t even know how she knew it was her, but she did.
She stared. “You!” she managed.
The girl - woman - stared right back. “Oh my God,” she said, and grabbed her friend’s arm. “Rory, Rory, look. Am I seeing things?”
Rory. That was Rory? It couldn’t be. Rory was a boy in her class at school, the awkward boy with glasses who knew how to do all the math before the teachers taught it. He didn’t look anything like Old Amelia’s friend. Except for the nose. That was definitely Rory’s nose. At least he’d grown into it a bit, so it didn’t look so stupid.
Why would she bring Rory with her to Venice in the 1500s? How would she bring Rory with her to Venice in the 1500s?
“No,” Rory said, staring at Amelia, “that’s you. That is definitely you.”
“How did you get here?” Amelia demanded.
“With the Doctor, of course,” Old Amelia said. “How did you get here?”
“With the Doctor. In the TARDIS. With Jack.” She still couldn’t tear her eyes away. At least Old Amelia dressed kinda cool, she thought. She liked her stockings and her boots. And her leather jacket. She wondered if the Doctor would buy her a jacket like that.
“Who’s Jack?” Old Amelia asked.
“A friend. Is that really Rory?” Amelia asked, staring at him. She knew she was being rude, but she didn’t care. The Doctor never cared if he was rude, and she didn’t see why she should, either. “Like from our class?”
“Yup,” Old Amelia said.
“What’s he doing here?” She couldn’t imagine ever asking Rory to come along with her and the Doctor. He tripped over his own feet on the playground.
“Well, we’re a bit, you know,” Old Amelia swallowed, “engaged. To be married. We’re getting married in the morning. In four hundred and thirty years.”
“WHAT?” Amelia yelped.
“Amelia!” the Doctor’s voice said suddenly. “There you are!” The Doctor rounded the corner, Jack right behind him, and said, “Quick, back to the TARDIS! We’ve fallen into the wrong timestream somehow, and we need to go before you meet - oh.” The Doctor stopped.
“Oops,” Jack said.
“A bit oops, yes,” the Doctor agreed. “Amelia, I see you’ve already met -”
“I’m engaged to Rory!” she told him, outraged. “Stupid, clumsy Rory who already knows all his multiplication tables and practices them for fun! I don’t understand, how can you be engaged to Rory?” she demanded of Old Amelia.
“Oh, you know,” Old Amelia said, shrugging, “things happen. People change.”
Rory’s head whipped around. “Things happen? People change?” he repeated. “That’s your version of how we got engaged?”
“Well, and I fell in love with you, obviously, you big dork,” she said, smacking him on the arm.
“Amy!” a familiar voice called. “There you are!” the Doctor said, rounding the corner and skidding to stop. “Two words, Amy: space. vampires. How amaz - oh.” He stopped. He looked at Amelia, looked at Jack, and then looked at the Doctor. “Oops. Your timestream or mine?” he asked Amelia’s Doctor.
“Yours,” Amelia’s Doctor said. “Sorry, must’ve got pulled into an eddy on our way here.”
“Good,” Old Amelia - Amy’s Doctor said. “I’d hate to have to give up space vampires.” He looked at Amelia, then back to Amelia’s Doctor. “I take it you didn’t miss then?”
“Miss?” Amelia’s Doctor said. “No. How much did you miss by?”
“Oh, you know, just a -”
“Twelve years,” Amy answered. “And then by another two. Fourteen years, four psychiatrists, and one engagement. Consider yourself lucky, kid,” she added to Amelia.
“I do,” Amelia told her. “I’m not engaged to Rory!”
“Oi!” Rory said.
“And you have Jack with you,” Amy’s Doctor said brightly, like he’d never been interrupted. “Hullo, Jack! You’re looking fit.”
“You too, Doc,” Jack replied, flashing the smile that drove the Doctor mad.
“No,” Amelia’s Doctor said firmly, reaching out to grab hold of Jack’s hand. “He’s mine, you can’t have him. Find your own. And on that note,” Amelia’s Doctor added, grabbing Amelia’s hand with his free one, “we’re off. Good luck with the vampires - and I mean it, find your own Jack!” He spun on his heel, almost tangled them all up in the process, and the three of them took off through the winding Venetian streets back toward the TARDIS.
“Meddling in another timestream, Doc?” Jack asked as they jogged along.
“Mostly not on purpose,” the Doctor said, “and what was on purpose was only for the very best of reasons.” He snapped his fingers and the TARDIS doors flew open. He rushed to the console, where he pulled a screen around to face him. “Yup, just as I thought, we got sucked in by an eddy in the time vortex on the way here. Amelia, get the zigzag plotter for me. Jack, I need you on the hot and cold knobs.”
“Doctor,” Amelia said, “was that really -”
“Not now, Amelia, I’m trying to navigate back to our timestream without imploding the TARDIS!”
Amelia sighed. Jack smiled reassuringly at her as he took up position by the hot and cold knobs. The Doctor darted around the console, pulled a lever, rang a bell, and suddenly went still as a statue, closing his eyes. The Time Rotor groaned and the ship shook, and the only reason Amelia didn’t fall over was that Jack grabbed her.
This went on for a long time - long enough for Amelia’s hand to start cramping from holding the zigzag plotter in place, and for the Doctor to start looking white around the mouth. He didn’t look like he was doing anything at all - she’d never seen him stay in one place for so long - but he was pale and sweating. She’d never seen the Doctor sweat before, not even on very hot planets. She looked up at Jack, opened her mouth, and then shut it. Jack was frowning, watching the Doctor with worry lines all over his face. She gripped the zigzag plotter harder.
Then, all at once, it stopped. Jack gave her one last squeeze and hurried around to the Doctor, who was sagging in place, leaning heavily on the edge of the console. “Whew,” he said. “That was close.” He turned his head and accepted a kiss and an arm from Jack.
“Can I talk now?” Amelia asked, watching Jack help the Doctor over to the pilot’s chair.
“Yes,” the Doctor said as he collapsed onto the seat. Jack sat down beside him, and the Doctor leaned into him.
Amelia climbed up beside them. “Was that really me?” she asked.
“No,” the Doctor said. ‘Well, yes. But no.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Tell you what, Doc, I’ll handle this one.” He pulled Amelia in closer, so she was tucked into one side and the Doctor was tucked into the other. “That was you from another timestream. If you picture time like a river -”
“Which it isn’t,” the Doctor interjected.
“I thought it was like a ball of string,” Amelia said, frowning.
“Metaphors, you two,” Jack said, tapping Amelia on the nose. “They’re not perfect, but they get the job done. If you picture time like a river, then like a river, there are places where it branches off. Tributaries, they’re called. And those tributaries have tributaries as well. Places where things changed. So at one time, she was you. But you won’t ever be her, because you’re going to have very different experiences.”
“So something happened in her timestream that didn’t happen in mine,” Amelia said slowly. “What was it the other Doctor said - you didn’t ‘miss.’ What did he mean by that?”
The Doctor cleared his throat. “Piloting the TARDIS is more of an art than an exact science. The other me, when he came back to pick you up, he - missed. By quite a lot, it seems. Twelve years. And then, it seems, another two.”
“Oh,” Amelia said. “That’s . . . a long time.” Long enough to grow up and get a boyfriend. Long enough to decide the Doctor wasn’t ever coming back. What had Amy said? Fourteen years, four psychiatrists, and one engagement. That didn’t sound like much fun. It sounded a lot like her nightmares, actually, the ones where the Doctor took her home to Leadworth and left her there and told her he’d come back but never did.
“But I did come back for her,” the Doctor said, reaching across Jack to take Amelia’s hand. “That’s the important thing to remember. I’ll always come back.”
Amelia nodded, even though she didn’t really believe him. Someday, she thought, the Doctor would leave her for good, because that was just what he did. But not Jack. I will always be there for you, he’d told her, when he’d explained what he was. Always, always. Somehow, for some reason, she believed him. Jack wasn’t like other people, who left and never came back.
Unless . . .“How many timestreams are there?” she asked.
“An infinite number,” the Doctor said. “Sometimes they split off for very small things, and sometimes for very big things.”
Amelia swallowed. “Do you think,” she said, and stopped, because she wasn’t sure it was a question she really wanted to ask. It might hurt their feelings, make them think she wasn’t happy here, with them, when she was. She also wasn’t sure she wanted to know. But now that she’d thought of it, she decided, she couldn’t not know. “Do you think there are any where my parents are still alive?” she asked in a small voice.
“Ah,” the Doctor said. “Yes.”
“Could we -”
“No,” the Doctor said firmly. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to talk to them,” she said, even though she knew from his tone that there was no use arguing, “I just thought -”
“No, Amelia,” he said, reaching out to brush his hand over her hair. “It’s too dangerous. What just happened to us was very, very dangerous, and it would be irresponsible for me to do it on purpose.”
Amelia nodded. She’d known what the answer would be before she’d even asked, but she still had a sudden, tight feeling in her throat, and a burning behind her eyes. She squirmed away from the Doctor’s touch and out from under Jack’s arm. “Right,” she said, looking down at her shoes. “sorry. I’m just gonna go make some tea. Today was really weird, you know?”
She knew even without looking that they were exchanging a look over her head. “Yeah,” Jack said, reaching out to touch her arm, “it was. Are you -”
“I’m fine,” she snapped, jerking away from him. She spun away and ran for the stairs. Jack called her name, but then the Doctor said something, much more quietly, and he didn’t come after her. She ran and kept running until she hit the kitchen. Then she closed the door and slid down to sit on the floor. It was stupid, it was so, so stupid, she thought, wiping the tears away angrily with the back of her hand. She’d stopped crying about her parents a long time ago. It never did any good. They were always gone and she was always left behind. Except, it seemed, in some other timestream, where they weren’t and she wasn’t. But that didn’t matter, because she would never see them.
That really shouldn’t hurt as much as it did.
“Let her go,” the Doctor said quietly, putting a hand on Jack’s wrist.
“Trust me,” he said, a weary note in his voice. “Give her a few minutes.”
“Fine,” Jack said, sinking back, mostly because the Doctor still didn’t have any color in his face and he was awfully still. “I didn’t want to ask before, but are you all right?”
The Doctor’s head dropped to rest against Jack’s shoulder. “I will be. That was hard. I didn’t want to scare Amelia, but it was very, very close. It’s like getting sucked down in a whirlpool. You get trapped. You can’t get out, and you can’t breathe, and you’re getting slammed against rocks. Well, metaphorical rocks.”
Jack rested a hand on the back of the Doctor’s neck. “Do you want to lie down for a bit?”
“Might be a good idea,” the Doctor said. He pushed himself to his feet with a groan and swayed on the spot, nearly falling over. Jack caught him just in time and pulled his arm across his shoulders. There was the soft creak of a door opening, and Jack glanced across the console to see the Doctor’s bedroom waiting for them. “Thanks, gorgeous,” he murmured to the ship. Even exhausted and possibly injured, she still looked after them all.
In the bedroom, he helped the Doctor strip down to boxers and an undershirt. The Doctor was moving very slowly, as though his muscles ached, and he sank into the bed with a sound of relief. “I need to sleep,” he said, voice heavy with exhaustion. “Will you be all right to look after Amelia for a bit?”
Jack stroked the Doctor’s hair gently. “Of course. Get some rest, all right? You earned it. You saved us all today.” He pressed a kiss to the Doctor’s temple, and the Doctor turned his head to capture his lips. Then he laid his head down, sighed, and went completely limp, all at once.
Jack stayed with the Doctor until he was sure he was asleep. Then he left, slipping out into the unusually quiet and dim console room. He stroked a hand along the console in passing, received an reassuring psychic pulse in response, and made his way up the stairs.
The kitchen was the first door on the right, but it was firmly shut. Jack knocked. “Amelia?” he said through it. There was no answer. “I’m coming in, all right, sweetheart?”
The door opened easily. Jack stepped inside and nearly tripped over Amelia, who was sitting in a heap on the floor. He thought at first she might be asleep, but then she looked up at him with red eyes and a tear-stained face.
Jack crouched down. “Hey.”
“Hi,” she said. She peered around him. “Where’s the Doctor?”
“Resting. He’s fine,” Jack assured her, when her eyes widened in alarm. “Just tired. He and the TARDIS both need some downtime. We’ll take him some tea in a little while, all right?”
Amelia nodded. “I didn’t make any tea,” she said, as though confessing.
“That’s all right,” Jack said, brushing her hair out of her face. “The Doctor won’t want it yet. Are you all right?”
Amelia nodded. Then she shook her head. Then she leaned her forehead against Jack’s chest and said, voice muffled, “It’s so stupid.”
“It’s not stupid,” Jack said, cupping the back of her head with his hand.
“It is. It’s been a long time since the accident, and it was stupid to think the Doctor would let me do something like that. No redo’s, he told me. That’s the second rule, right after ‘don’t wander off.’” She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “He’s probably mad at me for even asking.”
“He’s not mad at you,” Jack said firmly. “And it isn’t stupid.” He sighed and sat down. She leaned against him and he stroked her hair gently. “Listen. A long time ago . . .“ He stopped, swallowed, wondered which story to tell her. He had so many stories of loss, it was almost hard to pick. He couldn’t tell her about Stephen, though - not now, probably not ever. He needed her to go on believing he wasn’t a monster for as long as possible. It would have to be Gray, he thought, and felt a familiar pang. Gray, at least, was an old scar; it still ached on occasion, but it wasn’t a new wound in danger of being torn open again. “Bad things have happened to me,” he said at last. “You know that, right?”
She nodded. “That’s why you have nightmares.”
“Yeah. And once upon a time,” Jack began, as though it were just another story, a folktale from the Boe or a story about one of his adventures with the Doctor, “I had a mom and a dad and a little brother named Gray. We lived in a place called the Boeshane Peninsula -”
“- where your stories come from.”
“Yes, exactly. It was a beautiful, safe place to live, and a great place to grow up.” Idyllic, actually. Bonfires on the beach and two parents who loved him. He’d been clever and handsome and athletic, and the whole community had worked to ensure that he had every opportunity to go somewhere and do something with his life, because, they believed, he would be the one to put the Boe on the map of the galaxy. “But when I was fourteen, we were invaded by an alien race. They didn’t want anything from us, they just wanted us gone. They bombed the Boe. My mom told me to take Gray and get to safety.”
He stopped. After a few seconds of silence, Amelia asked, as Jack had known she would, “What happened then?”
Jack closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the wall. “I let go of his hand. He disappeared. He didn’t die, but for a long time - many, many years - I thought he had. And when I became a Time Agent and found out about timestreams, all I could think about was seeing Gray again. I read everything I could find about them, trying to find a way for me to jump streams, just so I could see him one more time.”
“But it was too dangerous?” Amelia guessed.
Jack nodded. “And not only for me, but for the whole universe. All the universes. But I thought about it. I thought about it for years. So it’s not stupid,” he finished, tilting her chin up so she had to look at him. “And it doesn’t matter how long ago it was. We never stop missing the people we - we lose.” Jack’s throat was suddenly tight and painful. He swallowed hard, but it didn’t seem to do much.
There was no use hoping Amelia wouldn’t notice. She threw her arms around his neck. “Is it bad,” she whispered, “that part of me thinks . . . I miss them, but I don’t remember them much, and if they were alive, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be with you and the Doctor, would I?”
“Probably not,” Jack said. “And it’s not bad. It is what it is.” He pressed his lips against the crown of Amelia’s head and promised, once more, to whoever might be listening, that he would protect her. He had failed Stephen even worse than he had failed Gray, and though he knew it was unfair to Amelia, he thought of her as his third chance. He would be there, as much as she needed him, for as long as she needed him, even if it meant decades on the slow path.
They stayed that way for a long time, holding each other on the kitchen floor. At last, Amelia broke the silence in her usual inimitable way. “I still can’t believe I got engaged to Rory,” she muttered. “Rory.”
Jack laughed. It felt good. “He looked nice. Handsome.”
“He has an enormous nose,” Amelia declared.
“Hey, the Doctor used to have an enormous nose, back when I first met him. Didn’t stop me from falling in love with him.”
“Rory’s a nerd.”
“So’s the Doctor, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Amelia glared. “Well, it doesn’t matter, right? Because she used to be me, but I’m never gonna be her, so I’m never gonna marry stupid Rory Williams and his stupid nose.”
“Maybe not,” Jack said, smiling. “But you never know.”
“Definitely not,” Amelia corrected, fiercely. “And yes, I do.” She shoved herself off of him none-too-carefully and stood up. Jack decided this wasn’t the time to explain to her how convergent even drastically divergent timestreams could be in the end. Marrying Rory Williams in one timeline greatly increased the chances that she would do it in others. Including this one. “Can we take the Doctor tea yet? With ice cream and fish custard?”
Jack grimaced mentally. He really did not understand the whole fish custard thing Amelia and the Doctor had going, but it did seem to be this regeneration’s comfort food. Who was he to judge? “Sure,” he said with resignation, unfolding himself from the ground. “Do you need any help?”
Amelia gave a vague wave and stuck her top half into the freezer to root around for the fish fingers. Jack left her to it and went to see if their Time Lord was awake yet.
He was, though only barely. He was still in bed, which was worrisome in and of itself, and he looked as though just contemplating getting up was wearing him out. But he responded eagerly when Jack crawled in beside him and kissed him. “Mmm,” the Doctor murmured. “Where’s Amelia?”
“Cooking up some fish custard, so kiss me now because it’s not happening later.” Fish custard-flavored kisses were one of Jack’s few hard and fast limits. He settled on his side, with his head propped on his hand, and leaned in to steal one more kiss from the Doctor. “Why?” he asked, when he pulled back. “Were you hoping for something more than kissing?”
“Maybe,” the Doctor said, opening his eyes to half mast.
“Like what?” Jack asked, falling to the side on the bed. “No offense, Doc, but you don’t look like you have the energy.”
“Well, I was sort of hoping you’d do most of the work,” the Doctor said. He stretched, winced, and sank back down into the bed. “I think a rush of endorphins would help speed me back on my feet, and I can’t think of a nicer way to induce it.”
“Well, you know me,” Jack said with a smile, “always happy to help induce some endorphins. Later, though,” he added, as he heard Amelia’s footsteps on the stairs. Tonight, he decided, after Amelia had gone to bed, he’d start with a rubdown, using the sandalwood oil the Doctor liked, and then proceed to a nice, lazy shag. It wasn’t often he got that sort of sex with the Doctor, who was as energetic in bed as he was everywhere else. That’d been all right for a while; slow and sleepy fucking had been a staple of Jack’s life with Ianto, and even thinking about it had been too much for a long time. But now he found himself looking forward to it. That was a good sign, he reminded himself firmly, not something Ianto would have wanted him to feel guilty about.
But he was still going to make the Doctor brush his teeth first.
He helped the Doctor sit up, so he looked less like he’d been run over by a lorry when Amelia marched in with a tray laden with a pot of tea, peppermint ice cream (for herself), fish fingers and custard (for the Doctor), and a cappuccino (for Jack). She handed out the treats, climbed up on the bed, and seated herself crosslegged with her bowl in her lap. “We’re not going anywhere tomorrow,” she told the Doctor. “You look terrible.”
The Doctor, in the process of dunking his first fish finger, raised his eyebrows at Amelia. “Charming.”
“And right,” Amelia agreed, licking ice cream off the back of her spoon. “Right, Jack?”
“Yup,” Jack said. “Sorry, Doc, I’m with Amelia on this one. We’re taking a break while you and the TARDIS get back on your feet.”
The Doctor took an enormous, disgusting bite of fish custard. “Fine,” he said through his mouthful.
“That’s revolting,” Amelia informed him. “Were you raised by wolves?”
“Possibly,” the Doctor said, “quite possibly.” He finished the fish finger and reached for a napkin. He wiped his hands clean, then his mouth, and said, “I’m really all right, Amelia. I promise.”
She stared at him. “Are you lying?”
“Only a little. Nothing a big bowl of fish custard won’t fix.”
That seemed to satisfy her. “Good.”
“What about you?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Are you lying?”
“Only a little. Ice cream,” she added demonstrably, waving her spoon around.
The Doctor nodded. “Good.”
It was good, Jack thought, as he reached over to steal a bite of Amelia’s ice cream, to her vocal outrage. A day or two of rest and they’d all be fine again.
“So was that really me?” Amy demanded, after everything was said and done and Venezia was free to be magnificent again. The cracks in the universe were worrying, but there wasn’t a lot the Doctor could do about it just yet. “That little girl.”
“No,” the Doctor replied, bounding up the stairs to the console. “Well, yes. But no.”
“Thanks for clearing that up, Doctor,” Rory said. Cheekily, of course.
“What does that mean?” Amy asked.
“It means you were her but she’ll never be you. Different timestreams, don’t worry about it. Where to next?”
“Dunno,” Amy said, leaning her hip against the console. “Why don’t we find that bloke who was with the other you and the younger me? What’s his name, Jack?”
“Um,” Rory said, suddenly sounding a bit panicked. “Uh.”
“Find Jack,” the Doctor said dubiously.
“Sure,” Amy said. She sidled around the console and into the Doctor’s personal space. “The other you seemed to like him. Fancy him, even.”
“Ohhh,” Rory said, not quite a sigh of relief.
“Everyone fancies Jack,” the Doctor said, not looking at her. “Rocks fancy Jack, and I mean that in complete seriousness.”
“Oh c’mon, Doctor, what do you say? You two looked so cute together.”
The Doctor was silent and, just for a moment, very still. It’d been a bit of a shock to see Jack with the other him. They’d looked happy together - Jack had looked happy, and that wasn’t something the Doctor had expected. He wondered what it’d taken to get Jack looking that happy and if he really had it in him. Amy was a handful, and Rory didn’t much like him, and there were cracks in the skin of the universe.
And yet . . .
“Right then,” he said, suddenly in motion. “Finding Jack! Must warn you, Jack’s a bit different, he’s - well, I’ll explain later. Don’t take it personally when he tries to hit on you, unless you want to take it personally, of course. Everybody hold on, mid-21st century ought to do it!”
Or . . .
“The last thing I need, Amy Pond, is you and Jack Harkness in the same TARDIS. Rory, mate,” he clapped Rory on the shoulder as he passed by, “I’m doing you a favor, believe me. Besides, the thing about Jack is that there’s always plenty of time for me to find him again. What do the two of you say to Rio - space Rio!”
Somewhere, somewhen, the Doctor did both.