Chapter 1: TARDIS on the lawn
When the blue box oscillated into existence outside Helen's school at about two o'clock, Helen was not in the slightest bit surprised but she was very excited, so much so that she almost squeaked in class and got a reprimand.
She was also sort of grateful for the chance to use the word "oscillated", even inside her own head. It was a good word, but not the sort of thing you would use in an ordinary day, and nobody at school liked the same sorts of stories Helen did, so it languished, neglected, in daily life and they weren't working on physics right now so even in school-work she didn't get to use it often. But the TARDIS (because that was what it was) definitely oscillated, flickering in and out of existence with a little more push towards existence each time, until it quite solidly sat outside her window.
The TARDIS sat outside on the grass and Helen desperately wanted to run right out to it. But she sat in the middle of class, so she couldn't, not without breaking a lot of rules. So she sat, instead, and waited, and tried not to wriggle in her seat.
She felt exactly like Wendy from Peter Pan. Except, of course, less . . . .well, silly and pathetic. Helen chewed on her cheek and waited as she heard footsteps down the corridor.
The person who rapped sharply at the classroom door and demanded the attention of Miss Horn, however, did not look even a little bit like what Gran had described. To begin with, it was a woman. To follow, she was short. To finish, she had bright red hair in curls and rather brown skin with a lot of freckles, instead of black hair and rather white skin without any freckles at all.
She did point to Helen, though, and say, "I've need of that girl there. Here's a note from her mum," and then flash a wallet-y looking thing with some paper in it. To Helen's eyes it was totally blank, but Miss Horn read it with due solemnity and nodded. Then she said, "Helen, you're excused to go with Ms - "
But Helen was already gathering her bag and her notebook and wandering out after the Doctor (because it had to be the Doctor) before Miss Horn could finish being bewildered that nobody had given her a name.
"Come on, then," said the Doctor, so Helen followed her quite cheerfully out of the school and towards the TARDIS, trying to ignore the fact that her heart was racing and she could feel her face flush and the contents of her mind could most accurately be transcribed as eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! She would be very grown up and collected about this. She would. Even if her head totally full of eeeeee! and nothing else.
Except, of course, for remembering Gran's instructions very carefully. She wouldn't like to disappoint Gran.
When the reached the ancient blue police-box, the Doctor said, "I presume, then, that your grandmother has told you about me - "
As she turned around, Helen, obedient to Gran's oft-repeated instructions, punched the Doctor in the nose.
It wasn't a very good punch. For one, she was only nine and not very big, and the Doctor was a grownup and an alien besides. For another, Dad, being a conscientious objector, had interfered with every attempt by anyone else to teach Helen or her brothers to punch anyone properly; she'd had to make do with clandestine lessons from Gran, with careful look-rounds to make sure nobody else saw. And further, Helen had to hold her bag and her notebook. But given all of that, she felt it was a pretty decent punch.
The Doctor's head snapped back, at least, and her hands flew to her face. She stared at Helen in shocked outrage for a moment before exclaiming, indignantly, "OW!" but Helen didn't see any blood.
Helen bit her cheek, feeling slightly apologetic now. "Sorry," she said. "But Gran made me promise I'd do that if you ever showed up again. Plus I'm to tell you that if you get me killed she will break the last rule and build her own TARDIS and find you, and you're a bastard, and she hates you, and after we've done whatever it is you're after, if you don't show up for tea and an apology she will never speak to you again, and also you are a moron, and also she misses you." Helen looked upwards for a second, trying to remember if that was everything. "Oh, and also, apparently it's just like you to send a pair of weird Americans to do something instead of damn well coming yourself, you coward." The last came out by rote.
After a moment in which Helen's heart nearly stopped and she was terrified that she'd have to stay here at school after all and miss everything because she'd done it wrong, the Doctor flung her head back and laughed. "Oh Donna, I miss you too," she said, as if to the air. "Well then. You're - Helen, right? Right. Come in, come in. We'll go save some people, and then we'll see your Gran for tea."
Chapter 2: The water slide
"So my friend did do as he was told," the Doctor said, as Helen stepped into the TARDIS and tried, really hard, to be cool and grown up and not clutch her bag to her chest, stare with huge wide eyes and then jump up and down and squeal, because she was in the TARDIS and it was bigger on the inside, and the Doctor was real (if apparently a woman right now, but the Doctor was also an alien so maybe that sort of thing happened normally) and Helen was going with him.
Or her. As she currently was. But still.
"That's good," the Doctor continued, taking stairs three at a time to get up to what her Gran said was the console that controlled the TARDIS, inasmuch as anyone controlled the TARDIS, which wasn't much, but Helen hadn't entirely understood that part as it was the part that also meant Gran was, well, Gran. "That's really good," the Doctor went on, grabbing hold of something hanging down from the ceiling and swinging with it a half-circle around the console. "Sometimes, he asks too many questions, and I couldn't really explain much at the time."
"Gran said she explained after he'd given her the nanites," Helen told him, "but she also said to tell you that you nearly got your friend and his ridiculous little assistant shot. Also she wants to know why nobody has real names."
"Wendy? Wendy isn't ridiculous, Wendy's a darling, and she has a name - we'll have to go meet her at some point, you'll see. Your Gran was just taking out her irritation on other people again."
Helen took the stairs rather more slowly than the Doctor and more carefully, because she didn't want to start her voyage with a skinned knee and she couldn't watch her feet because her eyes were much too busy trying to look everywhere.
The inside of the TARDIS - well, this part of the inside of the TARDIS, Gran had tried to draw a map once and then given up because even modern computers couldn't give her a four-dimensional surface to work with - was much more . . . purple than Gran had described it. And the console didn't seem to match up quite, although the typewriter was there. The middle bit looked more like a sphere that pulsed in and out than bobbly glass that went up and down, and purple stars hung from the ceiling. Helen supposed that maybe it changed when the Doctor wanted it to change, or maybe when the TARDIS wanted it to change. Or something.
"Besides," said the Doctor, fiddling with what looked like a plastic banana and twisting it sideways and throwing a lever that looked like a wrench embedded in the console, "your Gran never had a gun, so she's exaggerating, too. A-hah. There. Fixed. Well, once the check finishes running, never, ever," and suddenly the Doctor turned on Helen with a stern face, pointing a finger right at her nose, "ever attempt to jump into an unstable time conjunction with a double-recursion without running all the checks. I mean it. It's a very bad idea, even if I do it sometimes in an emergency, which this isn't, because I have learned to plan - but seriously, never do it."
Helen blinked and tried to look less like a stunned kitten, which she was pretty sure she did. "Yes ma'am," she said, because she felt it was usually safe to fall back on that kind of thing.
The Doctor stepped back, frowning. "'Ma'am'?" she said incredulously, "do I look like I ought to be called 'ma'am' to you?"
" . . .yes?" Helen offered, because it was true. The Doctor shook her head.
"Absolutely not," she said flatly and firmly. "'Yes Doctor' will do, thank you."
"Yes ma' - Doctor," Helen replied, and the Doctor seemed satisfied, as Helen tried to sort of catch up with everything, even if she didn't feel quite sure what she needed to catch up with. It felt like her brain was still over by the door.
At the thought, she whirled around quickly to make sure it wasn't. From Gran's stories, you could never tell, with the Doctor. But no, unless it had come out of her skull invisibly, Helen's brain was right where it should be, and the feeling was just metaphorical.
The Doctor had turned back to something on the console, but then turned around again and gave her a sharp look. "Wait a moment," she said, "how old are you?"
"Um." Helen wasn't sure she wanted to answer that question, for fear that it meant she'd lose a place here, or the Doctor had Rules about ages, or something. But in the end, she supposed it was best to be honest. "Nine?"
The Doctor did frown, but it seemed like a frown of trying to figure out a problem, not a frown of I-am-unhappy. "Nine, nine, human, nine, nine - " she muttered to herself, "what on earth - ahhhh," she said, face clearing. "Old enough to know that you're too young to know better, but also old enough to know that sometimes the older people don't know any better, and not sure what to do about it," she declared. And after a second added, "And also quite concerned with coolth. I mean, with looking cool. You still use 'cool' in your century, right? Right. Which is why you're trying to make sure I don't see you looking around or staring or anything, because it would damage your appearance of cool."
Helen turned red, but it had sort of been a question, so she nodded.
Very carefully, the Doctor came over and took the bag out of Helen's hands and set it equally carefully on an armchair that happened to be sitting in the corner of the, well, little platform they were on. Then, with the same sort of kind expression on her face, the Doctor held out one hand. It took a moment for Helen to decide if it would be okay for there to be touching, or if it would go wrong, but in the end she decided that touching was okay, because the Doctor was sort of like family.
When Helen took the Doctor's, she found herself pulled in and picked up to sit, the way she really couldn't on her father anymore, on the Doctor's hip. Then the Doctor twirled around so many times that Helen started giggling, just because she was giddy. She hadn't expected that, and usually unexpected meant bad, but not this time.
"I banish coolth!" the Doctor announced. "There shall be no cool on my TARDIS, except actual temperatures and possibly bowties, but the jury's out on that one, I think Amy might have been right - I mean the metaphysical jury, no, I mean the metaphorical jury, there is neither a real jury nor a jury of angels on my TARDIS anywhere because I don't trust angels of any sort, it's just a figure of speech, but my point is," and the Doctor stopped to take a breath, "nobody in this TARDIS ever has to worry about looking cool, and honestly I think it's cooler when people are hugely excited and wonderstruck, although as I said, don't worry about 'cool'."
And with that, she hugged Helen and put her down again, catching her by the shoulder when she stumbled from the dizziness. "So how's that," the Doctor finished, when Helen was sturdy again.
Helen took a deep breath, looked around, decided to believe her and asked, "Is it really as awesome in here as Gran said it was?" It came out breathless and high but she had already decided she didn't care: the Doctor said cool didn't matter, and Helen would believe her.
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "Considering where I was in personal continuity when your Gran went about with me, prooooobably - yes," she said. "Actually, it's probably more awesome. For instance, I added a gigantic complicated super-fast but still human-safe waterslide to the swimming pool. Want to go find it?"
"Yes!" Helen half-shouted, before she stopped and said, "But didn't we have to go save people?"
The Doctor bent her head, curls falling forward, and lowered her voice as if sharing a secret - "Well, I don't know if you've noticed," she said, half-smiling, but this is a time machine. As long as the rush isn't in my continuity, I can always be on time."
" . . . I'm not sure I understand that," Helen admitted, and the Doctor waved a hand, airly.
"We'll have lunch after and I'll make a valiant attempt at explaining it then, but frankly, I'm nearly two thousand years old and I've only got a tenuous grasp on it, so don't feel bad if it doesn't make any sense. Just trust me."
Helen grinned suddenly, remembering more stories from Gran. "You're the Doctor?"
"Oh Rift-crack no!" the Doctor said, laughing again. "That would be a terrible reason to trust me - rule one, the Doctor always lies! No, no: trust me, your Gran knows where I live." She paused. "And for that matter, knows where where I live is. Regardless - you can trust me. And trust me when I say that right now is the perfect time to find the water-slide."
Chapter 3: Time is space
Helen's hair was still wet when she stepped out of the TARDIS, because apparently the TARDIS didn't have hair-dryers. When Helen had looked at the Doctor's soaking straggly ringlets and asked what she did, then, the Doctor had looked blank and said, "Just let it dry, of course. Everything dries eventually, why fuss?"
Helen had twisted her hair up and put a clip in it so that it didn't get wet all down the back of her shirt. The Doctor didn't seem to notice at all, despite the fact that the shirt she was wearing was white and had gone a bit see-through.
Granted, she had on a bright red tank-top underneath, but still.
However, it appeared to be pointless, because they stepped out into pouring rain. Helen shrieked, not expecting it; the Doctor grabbed her hand and pulled her forward over slippery wet ground and under the overhang of a building.
"Sorry," the Doctor said. "Checked landing time and life-saving environmentals, forgot to check for weather."
"It's alright," Helen said, feeling a bit abashed because that counted as an excessive reaction, "it just startled me that's all." She glanced behind to where the TARDIS was. "Won't anyone notice?"
"No, not unless they walk into it, and then they'll just be mystified," the Doctor said. "Let's go in."
Helen didn't get much of a chance to look around - she saw they were in a little residential sort of square, with what looked like flats all up above on the second level, and shops all down below on the first - before the Doctor was pulling her in a small door that jingled when it opened, into a tiny shop full of warm and a bit humid and the smell of chocolate.
The latter was because it was a chocolate shop. "Where are we?" she whispered, as the lady right in front of them handed over strange-looking money and got coins back. "And when?"
"We're in Canada in the late twentieth century," she said. "Very late - all sorts of people think the world's going to end in a few weeks, which is patently ridiculous. We're on a little island off the west coast, in the place that makes my favourite drink in the universe." The Doctor paused and added, "Currently, anyway - one of the most annoying things is that keeps changing."
"Gran says you like apples best," Helen said, testing this out, and the Doctor sighed.
"I did," she said. "But they've never tasted as good since - ah," she interrupted herself, looking up at the waiting lady behind the odd glass-and-wood counter, "two chocolate sevilles please. And yes, whipped cream!" She used the psychic paper again, this time pretending it showed a gift certificate, whatever that was. Helen felt a little guilty, but she supposed two drinks wouldn't hurt the place too much.
They sat at the one little table inside the tiny shop, and people brushed past them to get in and out. At first, Helen paid most attention to her drink. It was very good, and warm, and the Doctor gave herself a whipped-cream mustache. After a little while, though, nagging curiosity came back and Helen prompted, "You said you were going to explain?"
"Ah, right," the Doctor said. Helen handed her a napkin, and the Doctor licked most of the mustache off and only wiped the bits she couldn't get at with her tongue. "So, Helen - did your Gran ever explain to you how I explained time to her? How it isn't a river or a road or a string going one direction or another?"
"Yes," Helen said, nodding. She took another sip of her drink and then added, because the Doctor seemed to be waiting, "she said it was more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey . . . stuff."
"Right," said the Doctor, "that's pretty much what I told her, and it's pretty much what time looks like if you're not thinking about it right, but it turns out I was wrong."
"You were wrong?"
"I was wrong," the Doctor confirmed. "That happens from time to time. Well, often, really. Anyway. It isn't a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff."
"So what is it?" Helen prompted, when the Doctor looked thoughtful again.
"We-e-ell," the Doctor said. She pursed her lips. "Really, it isn't anything. I mean, 'time' doesn't actually exist. It isn't a thing."
Helen thought about that, and blinked just in case that made it make more sense. But it didn't. So she said, "That doesn't make any sense."
"Yes, I know," sighed the Doctor. "It's language that's the problem, you see. Even my own. I didn't quite understand it myself until I spent some enforced holiday with the Abrfcan of Fwee, it's amazing what months of telepathy will do for a mind. But let's try it this way: time is just a different kind of space. It's the space things need to happen and stay happened. What everyone thinks of as time isn't real, it's just this space that means we can see stuff has happened."
"I'm not sure that makes sense, Doctor," Helen objected, swinging her legs.
"I know," said the Doctor, "but bear with me a moment - so time isn't real, but causality is. Do you know what 'causality' means?"
"No," Helen replied.
"Right." The Doctor sat up. "Hold out your hand."
Obediently, Helen held out her hand, and then yelped when the Doctor flicked the back of it with her finger. The lady behind the counter looked over at them with a frown, but Helen ignored her. "Ow," she said, glaring and rubbing her hand until the feeling went away, which took a bit.
"Right," said the Doctor, ignoring that, "what just happened is part of a chain of causality. Each thing in it caused the other. I told you to hold out your hand, which - for various reasons - caused you to do it, and then I flicked it, which caused the nerves in it to protest, which caused that lady to look at us and caused you to glare at me. Of course, that's a very simple chain, but simpler is easier to follow. Do you see how that works?"
Helen cautiously nodded. "Another one might be," she said, "that Gran told me about you, which meant that I knew, which meant when you showed up I acted one way instead of another, and in the end that means we're here, now?"
"Even more simplified, but more or less, yes," the Doctor said, nodding approvingly. "So, the thing is, those sequences are real but 'time' is just a sort of space that they happen in - it isn't real, it doesn't really have any effect on anything, you don't really 'move in time', what you do is move through the spaces where things happen - make any sense?"
"Sort of," Helen said, slowly. "I think."
"Well," said the Doctor, "the point is, that means that everyone's life goes in a line of cause and effect, regardless of where in time it takes place. That's why paradoxes are bad - paradoxes happen when a sequence is broken so badly that the universe can't figure out what to do with it, and then the universe gets terribly confused."
" . . . is the universe really alive," Helen interrupted there, "or is that a metaphor?"
"That's an excellent question," the Doctor said, looking pleased.
"I bet the answer is 'I don't know'," Helen said, grinning, because she recognized that sort of thing.
"Absolutely correct," the Doctor agreed, "but those are the best kinds of questions. I'm sure I'll find out eventually - at any rate, the point is, as long as one doesn't accidentally break one's own chain, one can go when - or where - ever one likes, because of cause and effect." The Doctor paused. "But that does not mean it's a good idea," she hastened to add.
Helen squinted at her. "Gran always said you never really worried about whether things were good ideas or not," she said, almost accusingly.
The Doctor's answering expression was technically a smile, but to Helen it felt very complicated and she wasn't sure she understood it. "I've changed a little since I last saw your Gran," she said.
"Because I got tired of getting people hurt and killed," the Doctor replied, matter-of-factly. "Especially people I loved."
Helen didn't know how to answer that. Fortunately, the Doctor didn't seem to expect her to. "Well," she said, reaching over and tapping Helen gently on the nose. "That was a terribly depressing swing to the conversation, so let's finish our drinks and go save people. That always perks things up."
"Alright," Helen said. "Who are we going to save?" she asked, and then drained her cup.
"A friend of mine," the Doctor said, smiling. "She's ginger too, just like me and your Gran." Then she paused and added, "And she'll probably want to punch me just like your Gran, too, once she's figured out who I am."
Chapter 4: No longer waiting
Amy woke up.
This in and of itself was completely unexpected, for any number of reasons. She found it unsettling and uncomfortable: she had resigned herself to dying. She had resigned herself to one last bitter sacrifice necessitated by the failure of her childhood (let's be honest) god, for the sake of love (which was both embarrassing and somehow deeply satisfying), to falling into the darkness and never rising again: to seeing, really, what was on the other side. To dying. To being dead.
Which, apparently, she wasn't.
It struck her to wonder how she knew that. How she knew this wasn't the afterlife. Should she have been puzzled? Shouldn't it have been a question? But no, there wasn't the slightest bit of doubt, not even for an instant: she was alive. She was alive, in her body, and completely unsure how she felt about that.
Unsettled. Uncomfortable. Angry. Relieved. Emotionally paralyzed. Afraid - yes, afraid something had gone wrong, afraid that being alive meant her sacrifice hadn't worked or possibly had blown up the universe.
Because she might have. Because she would have. Because she had to make someone else choose because in the end she was just too selfish to care, except that she did. It had felt like her mind and body were being pulled apart, so she couldn't choose.
She felt bad about that. She felt awful about that. And she was angry, so angry, and knew she never should have believed him in the first place. Knew that she'd known that he lied when he had to, that he made things up when he had to, that he did whatever he thought was necessary to fix the problem that, at least part of the time, he'd created in the first place. That was how he worked. And he never even thought twice about it.
So she'd made Rory leave her to die, and accepted that she was going to die, and had at thought at least I won't have to remember anything anymore and wondered how she could have been stupid enough to think anyone would pick her over the other her in the first place (or even as well as) and had lain back and died.
Except, apparently, she hadn't.
Those were her first thoughts.
Her second thoughts were that she was not wearing her armour, she was not wearing her much-worn underclothes, she was not in the hospital at all, and she did not actually recognize where she was. And that obliterated all the other feelings with the very familiar tension and wariness that wasn't fear, exactly, but was like fear's older, wiser, more cynical cousin, the one that always knew there was some enemy around the corner, and knew that the less you understood, the more danger you were in, but didn't waste time getting uselessly upset about it.
And that feeling woke her up completely.
Amy lifted her hands to her face and felt - yes, wrinkles there beside her eyes, looseness of flesh here and here, and at her neck, and there the scars on her arm. She was still herself, the self she remembered, in the body she knew as her own. She was wearing . . . .well, to be honest they kind of looked like some kind of white pyjamas with embroidery at the cuffs and neckline. Just a pattern in blue and green. It was probably cotton; at least, it felt decently soft, and wasn't uncomfortable. It felt like she was wearing clean underwear, too, and if she didn't like the answers of how that got there, someone was going to be very, very sorry.
She sat up and winced, muscles protesting something or other. Probably that last stupid dash to the TARDIS, which had been a bit much even for her, especially since it turned out to be for nothing. Stupid, stupid, to ever believe him and she wondered if she ever really had. She swung her legs off the cot she lay on and put her bare feet on bare wood floor.
A wave of dizziness hit her and she had to put her head in her hands, bending forward to something like "head between your legs". The dizziness eased for just a second before she brought it all back, by jerking up to sitting when the little-girl voice said, "Are you feeling better?"
Through swimming vision that slowly cleared, Amy saw a girl in a white blouse and a blue skirt, with stockings and ankle-boots. She was somewhere between eight and ten, maybe, with long, black and slightly damp hair, huge brown eyes and a small gold hoop in her nose. "Who are you?" Amy demanded, and then, "Where am I?"
"My name's Helen," said the girl, completely unfussed about some strange old woman barking questions at her. "You're Amelia Pond, right? You're on the TARDIS."
Amy tried to shoot to her feet, and almost fell over. The girl rushed forward to help her sit back down and said, as she stepped back, "You have to be careful, you almost died."
"This isn't the TARDIS," Amy said flatly, ignoring that. "It isn't. I know the TARDIS and this isn't it - it doesn't sound right, it doesn't - "
Helen looked solemn. "She said you might be a bit confused. So if you can walk - maybe try getting up a bit more carefully? If you can walk, I'm supposed to take you out to the control room."
"She?" Amy stared blankly at the little girl, then frowned. "Is River here?" The question makes her heart squeeze tight and painfully sharp.
"No," said the girl. "I asked about that, because Gran remembered River, too, but the Doctor says River's busy right now, and besides, if River were here it would all get a bit too confusing."
Amy stared at her, feeling dizzy again, and Helen bit her lip. "I think it'll make more sense if you just come with me?" she said. "She says it works better if you see than if I tell you, because you'll just argue, and I think she's right." The girl offered Amy her hand.
After a long moment's hesitation, Amy took it and let Helen pull her to her feet.
Chapter 5: A complicated reunion
"Hello, Pond," said the woman who sat at a chair - an actual chair at the TARDIS controls. She had (damp) red hair almost as curly as River's, wore what almost looked like someone had crashed a matador's outfit into a set of combats and then bleached it all white, and had a lot of freckles on darker skin than Amy was used to seeing freckles on. "If you're going to try to hit me, I'd just ask that you wait until after I've finished recalibrating this panel or the TARDIS might just throw us somewhere uncomfortable in a snit. You know how she can be." And then she slid off the chair and under the console.
Amy stayed where she had stopped. She'd let go of the girl Helen's arm that she'd been leaning on since she almost fell in the corridor, because she needed to ball her hands into fists the moment she heard hello Pond in that tone of voice. She stayed where she'd stopped, stood and looked around the TARDIS that was the TARDIS but was all wrong, too, all the wrong colours and the wrong shapes and the wrong everything, the wrong sounds, and wasn't sure whether she wanted to scream or throw up.
She said, "No."
And she said, "No. You're not the Doctor. No."
The woman slid out from under the console again and sort of pursed her lips to the side, considering Amy for a minute. Then she looked behind Amy to the little girl and said, "Helen, do you think you might be able to go exploring for a bit? Otherwise you're just going to have to stand there awkwardly and uncomfortably for a while, and that's never any fun."
Amy looked behind her, just briefly, just enough to see the concerned frown on the girl's face. "Nobody hurt anybody," she said, with that authority that's easy (Amy remembered, and it ached) when you're eight or nine or ten and you believe in things. "I'm going to find the library."
"Right, I think that's turnwise, left, up, around, counter-clockwise and then the fifth door on your right, but I can't remember. Shout if you get lost."
"See you later," the girl said to the woman, and a bit awkwardly to Amy, and then she turned and trotted off down one of the corridors.
Amy tried to think of all the ways a trusting girl could get lost in this thing, and then she tried not to.
She stared at the woman and said, "You're not him," and wasn't sure what she meant by it. She felt light-headed again and like she wanted to do something she hadn't done in years and years and years, not since she'd reprogrammed Rory - her robot Rory. Not the real one. And that was scream and scream and scream until her voice hurt and sit in the corner with her head in her hands.
She wasn't going to do that. Not with an audience.
"Technically true," said the woman, still sitting on the floor with the sonic - purple, this time - in her hands, forearms resting on her knees and legs apart. "As I am not a him this time, at all and am in fact a her, which is weirder than I thought it would be but, in the end, not as weird as I was afraid of, but - " the woman glanced at Amy and held up the hand without the sonic screwdriver in it, stopping herself. "Not the point. The point is, yes, Pond, I am me - I am the Doctor."
"Don't call me that," Amy said, automatically, the words jerking out like someone was hitting her. The woman pursed her lips again.
"Well I can call you Pond, Amy, Amelia or 'hey red-haired lady'," she said. "Or something else if you tell me. Which would you rather?"
" . . .Amy," Amy said, after opening her mouth and licking her lips and trying to think past the wall in her head. "Use Amy." He'd used Amy, but everyone had; he'd used Amy, but he hadn't liked it. She'd picked Amy because Amelia was a bit fairy-tale and even a child resents waiting.
"Okay then," said the woman. "Amy. Yes, Amy, I am the Doctor, the same Doctor that stood on Stonehenge like an idiot yelling at all the fleets in the sky and never for a moment stopping to think that I might actually be totally wrong about everything." She pushed herself into a crouch and then to her feet. "Ask for any proof that you think you'll actually believe."
"You're the one who lost my baby," Amy said, the words dead and flat, "and lied to me and left me to die."
"Ye-es," the woman said, leaning on the console, "I was that Doctor, too."
Amy took one step down the stairs in front of her, looking around. "And this is the TARDIS."
"Yes," the woman - the Doctor - said.
"It's purple." The words came out of Amy's mouth almost like nonsense, with things behind and beneath words swelling up and she took another step down, another step towards him. Her.
The Doctor sighed. "Yes, the last time I, ah, made a mess of her the TARDIS decided to punish me with purple. I'm stuck with it until she stops thinking it's terribly funny joke, and since I actually can't entirely figure out what the joke is or why it's supposed to be so funny, I think that might not be for a while. Trying to keep up with something that's aware of every timeline at once in the whole of space-time can be unbelievably trying - "
She stopped, because Amy had reached level with the Doctor, and punched her as hard as she could in the face. It knocked the Doctor stumbling several steps away from Amy, and almost made her fall over except that she clutched at the console and stayed upright.
"Ow," said the Doctor. It felt almost more like an acknowledgement than a protest. She stood up, weaving a little, rubbing at her jaw before opening and closing it and rubbing at it some more. "Ow," she repeated. "Be careful with that, you could break some human's jaw."
"I was trying to," Amy bit out. Even with her arms folded across her chest, she still felt vulnerable. She wanted her armour. She knew that was stupid and psychologically revealing and it only made her want it more.
"Oh, well, as long as you know," the Doctor said, continuing to rub at the skin and stretch her jaw open and shut between phrases. "I just didn't want you crushing people's skulls when you only meant to give them a warning." She added, "You'd probably need a good solid wrench or billy-club or something, with about that much force, to crack Time Lord jaws."
"I can go get one," Amy retorted, but it felt empty and the threat felt weightless.
"I'd rather you didn't, I do have to go have tea with Helen's Gran at some point and that's sort of difficult with one's mouth wired shut." She eyed Amy for a moment and then said, "Pon - Amy," she corrected herself mid sound, "sit down before you fall down. You were only just alive when we found you."
"'We'?" Amy honed in on the word, even as she was lowering herself to sit on the steps, because her head was getting just that fuzzy at this point and she didn't want to fall. "'We'? You took a kid into that place?"
"No," the Doctor replied. "I left a very intelligent little girl here on the TARDIS with very clear written instructions on how to use the console to project the various fields and pulses I needed, and directions on how to get home if I got killed." She paused. "And a note to her Gran to try to get River to the TARDIS or the TARDIS to River if that did happen, so she wouldn't get lonely. The TARDIS, I mean."
"You told me River was only an echo in a computer," Amy said, honing in on that while the other bits floated around.
"I fixed it," said the Doctor. "Long story. She's teaching now - advanced graduate studies. Well, I say 'teaching', I mean she's really taking students out into the field and giving degrees to the ones who don't run home to their parents crying, you know how River is. She says hello, by the way. I mean, I'm sure she would if I'd told her we were coming to get you."
"You and a little girl," Amy said, sharp.
"Me and Donna Noble's granddaughter," the Doctor replied, like it was a correction. "And she was perfectly safe the whole time, or at least as safe as anywhere in the universe is safe, which isn't very but I can only do the best possible."
"You said you'd die if you went into that facility," Amy said, pulling another fact from her swimming mind.
"I said Helen was completely safe." The Doctor's mouth quirked in a smile that was older and sharper and darker than anything Amy had ever seen on her - him - before. "Safety isn't good for me, I start thinking I'm invincible. I need a good dose of mortal terror every now and again, and that adjective is chosen with care believe me." She tilted her head. "Look," she said. "You just woke up from almost dying. I've set us down on Dormus, best curry in six centuries, I'm going to go get us some. You've got to be hungry, you haven't eaten in more than thirty years."
It was hard to think. Amy ended up saying, "I didn't hear us land," because everything that was getting past the thickening soup in her head was inane and stupid and exactly like that.
"These days I take the brakes off," the Doctor replied. "Butter chicken?"
Chapter 6: Grownups with complicated emotions
Helen sat in the hallway just out of sight and doodled on her notepad while she listened. Mum said eavesdropping was a bad habit, but it seemed so often to be the only way that she learned anything that Helen did it anyway and gave herself permission not to feel guilty, even if it was breaking the rules.
Gran always said the trick was not to get caught.
The Doctor hadn't told her everything, but mostly, Helen thought, because Helen had seen that it made her uncomfortable and didn't push too hard. Sometimes people had things they didn't want to talk about, and that was okay. The Doctor had told her that they were going to rescue a friend who needed rescuing because of a stupid and selfish mistake she, the Doctor, had made "about a thousand years ago, as far as my causality is concerned."
Helen had pointed out that that seemed a very long time to wait to fix a mistake. The Doctor had made that strange, complicated smile again and replied, "It took a while for me to learn how not to be stupid, first. Then I had to wait until it was possible again." She'd tried to explain that to Helen, something about particular fluxes in the space-that-was-time, but to be honest, Helen got hopelessly lost a few seconds in and ended up just nodding and saying, "Uhhuh," a lot, like when Dad tried to explain the Russian-American cold war and other historical things like that: there always seemed to be a hundred thousand things all happening at once and they were impossible to keep track of, and Dad insisted that all of them were important.
Maybe that wasn't surprising, really: history and time-travel were kind of the same thing.
"And I need you," the Doctor had said, as she showed Helen how to work some of the controls, "because I need a pair of hands that I can leave on the TARDIS, and I'm going to need mine."
Helen had looked quizzically at her at that point. "I'm nine," she'd pointed out.
"Good age, nine," the Doctor said, and added, "and then I need you to draw a circle on this pad of paper here - don't worry about it being perfect."
Helen wrote that down in her notes; she also said, "Adventures are wonderful, but for saving someone, shouldn't you have found someone a bit older than nine?"
The Doctor had pursed her lips, something she did when she was thoughtful. "Well," she admitted, "I had meant to borrow you when you were a bit older, but the TARDIS landed when you were nine. She usually ignores me for a reason." She'd shot a jaundiced look at the console. "Usually."
And now Amy Pond was rescued, and apparently really angry with the Doctor. And apparently she punched much harder than Helen did.
The Doctor had gone out to get curry. Helen started to get up, very carefully and quietly. She jumped, squeaked and dropped her notebook and pen when Amy Pond said, "You shouldn't spy on people."
Helen bit her lip. Gathering up her notebook and groping for her pencil, she held them to her chest and stepped out of the hallway. "I wasn't really," she said. "I mean, I was listening, but I wasn't spying. I was just - "
"You were just what?" Amy Pond asked, when Helen petered off and came in to sit down on the top step.
"Well," Helen said, "she did show me how to get home, but I'm not really comfortable with trying it, and if you'd killed her I would have had to. I wanted some warning. And I thought I might be able to talk you out of it if you tried."
"You thought I was going to kill him." Amy Pond scowled, but it was hard to tell if it was a thought-scowl or a troubled-scowl or an angry-scowl. Her face went into scowls really easily, and the lines sort of blurred, and people could have so many different kinds of scowls.
"You were really angry," Helen said, with a shrug. "I could see you shaking when I left."
"I wasn't shaking," Amy Pond almost snapped, and Helen chewed on the inside of her cheek for a minute.
"Yes you were," she decided to say, in the end. "You were shaking and your hands were balled up and the first words you said were kind of like snarls." She shrugged again.
Amy Pond looked away from her and they sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Helen started rocking back and forth a little on the step, just because this was a little awkward and she wasn't sure what to do next.
"He's not safe, you know," Amy Pond said hoarsely, breaking the silence. She looked back at Helen and Helen stopped rocking. "I guess I mean she's not safe. The Doctor." Her eyes looked very hard, but it also looked like she wanted to cry and didn't know how. It was a strange look.
Helen tilted her head. "I know," she said, reassured. "Gran told me - the Doctor's like Peter Pan, except a grownup."
Amy Pond frowned, and then scowled, and said, "And she still let you go?"
"We didn't exactly ask first," Helen replied. "Besides, Gran said if she'd done anything right in raising Mum and helping Mum and Dad raise me, I'd know that not everything has to be safe. She told me to remember he's a person, and to remember that the longer people live, the bigger their mistakes can get, and to use my common sense." She left out the bits about being able to find him wherever he was. Well, she.
"Who was your gran, then?" Amy Pond asked, the scowl softening a little bit so that she looked puzzled instead of forbidding. Helen wondered how much the Doctor had ever told Amy Pond about his friends before her. Eventually, she decided just to tell the short version of the whole story.
"Donna Noble," she said. "She travelled with the Doctor when the Doctor was a him, for a while. Then something happened and she got all his memories and knowledge put in her head, so he erased her memory to keep her from dying." She paused and added, just to be sure, "She told him not to, and she was angry at him for a long time after the Americans showed up and gave her the nanites that meant she could remember without dying, but she said his heart was in the right place, he was just a fucking idiot." She made sure the last two words sounded like she was quoting, so she wouldn't get in trouble for swearing. Not swearing was a very definite rule.
Not that there was anyone around to get her in trouble, but breaking the rules still felt uncomfortable.
When Amy Pond started to laugh it almost sounded like she was crying instead; as Helen turned to stare at her, the laughter did turn half into crying, and, well, sometimes Gran did laugh a little when she said that, about the Doctor being a fucking idiot, but not like this.
And Amy Pond started to rock back and forth, which wasn't normal for most other people the way it was normal for Helen; Amy Pond hugged her knees and sounded like she was having trouble breathing.
After a second, Helen slid down a couple steps and carefully put her arms around Amy Pond's shoulders, ready to move back away if Amy Pond didn't like it. Gran and Mum both said sometimes grownup feelings got very, very complicated; Helen guessed this was one of them, so she didn't know what to say.
But most people liked hugs when they were upset. So Helen sat beside Amy Pond and gave her a hug, and Amy Pond didn't jerk away.
Chapter 7: Curry, confessions and decisions about tea and grans
The Doctor came back with curry. By that time, Amy had at least managed to stop crying and choking, and mostly stopped awkwardly apologizing to the little girl, who genuinely didn't seem to see what needed apologizing for and sort of awkwardly shrugged it off, which just made Amy want to crawl right out of her skin.
His heart was in the right place, he was just a fucking idiot stuck in her head, repeating over and over again in Helen's careful, precise little voice. It bounced off walls in her mind and grated against edges, the Doctor summed up and dismissed. It hurt, in its own way.
The Doctor came back with curry, handed off the little takeaway boxes to Amy and to Helen, and then swung herself off the side of the railing and under the glass floor, presumably to mess about with the TARDIS like he - like she always did.
The Doctor did have a box of curry with her, Amy saw when she looked down through the glass, and ate it absent-mindedly while poking and pulling at things, at one point sticking the plastic takeaway fork into the TARDIS while sticking the sonic screwdriver in her mouth. Some other time, that might have been incredibly funny.
Helen ate quietly and then said, "Your armour was really cool, you know. We still have it - I figured out how you got it on, the Doctor was just going to sonic it off and that would have broken it - it's just in one of the other rooms." She paused and said, "I'm sure I'll remember which one eventually."
"Fourth little room down the second hallway, the one that goes straight up," the Doctor yelled from under the floor.
Amy looked down at her, and then a the little girl and said, "Happened to be the door that was open while you were bringing me down to the other room?"
"Exactly," Helen agreed. "But it's there if you want it. And your sonic sc - wait, do you want me to call it a sonic screwdriver or a sonic probe?"
Amy opened her mouth, closed it again, and put her face in her hand for a moment. "Just call it a sonic," she said, and the girl nodded.
"Okay," she said. "It's there, too. And it still works."
"How would you know?" Amy asked, frowning. "He'd never check. He didn't make it." She felt absolutely sure of that.
"Gran made one," Helen replied, cheerfully, not correcting Amy for saying he instead of she. "She said it was too dead useful not to. I'm only allowed to use it when she's around, though." She looked solemn. "Gran's pretty amazing, too. I think you'd like her."
"What do you mean, 'too'?" Amy demanded, sharper than she meant to, because Helen was only a kid.
"Well, you're pretty amazing," Helen said, turning a little shy. "I mean, you made a sonic by yourself, and you didn't even have . . . " she waved her hands about. "Stuff. Extra knowledge, put in your head, like Gran did."
"Helen," the Doctor said, coming up the stairs again, with the sonic screwdriver and without the take-out box. "Helen most helenish, helenic and hel . . . . " she trailed off.
"That one got away from you," Helen said very solemnly.
"It kind of did, yeah," the Doctor admitted. "Go find P - Amy some shoes, would you? Think her name and image really hard at the TARDIS and she'll remember what size."
"Which wardrobe?" Helen asked, getting up and putting her empty box aside.
"Whichever one you find first," the Doctor said, and the girl scampered off - actually scampered off this time, didn't lurk about to listen.
"Stealing kids again," Amy said after the silence stretched for a minute, the Doctor leaning against the railing. "You don't really change, do you?"
"You remember," the Doctor said, in a faraway sort of voice, "when you asked me why you, and at first I said it was just because I needed company - "
" - and that was a lie - " Amy interrupted.
" - and then I told you it was because your life didn't make sense and I'd been concerned about it?" the Doctor went on, accepting the interruption but not stopping for it.
"Of course I do," Amy said, words short.
"That wasn't the whole truth either."
"I'm totally shocked." Those were short and sharp, too.
"The whole reason was the faces you made at me," the Doctor said, "and how you weren't afraid, and the idea of being your secret, magical friend who made your entire world better seemed like such a wonderful thing, after everything I'd just done before it."
"You didn't," Amy said flatly. When the Doctor glanced at her, she said, "Make my whole world better. You did this to me."
"I know," the Doctor said, with a sigh. She paused and appeared to chew on the inside of her mouth. It felt odd and a bit uncomfortable and unsettling, just like not being dead when she expected to be: this wasn't what she was used to from the Doctor. Even worried uncertainty was supposed to be big and over the top, as if shouting it to the world would make him less out of control.
Instead, the Doctor just looked at her, troubled and quiet. Amy looked back, staring into eyes that were completely different and trying to find the sameness. "It's not going to go away, you know," Amy told him. Her voice stayed quiet so that she didn't have to worry about it wavering. "What you did to me, that I'm angry, that I hate you - that I hated you."
"I know," the Doctor replied. "This isn't about that. It's - " she stopped, and shook her head. "I'm still not that good at this, but we don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"Say what you were going to say."
"I can't fix everything," the Doctor said, simply. She opened her hand, the one with the screwdriver, waved it around aimlessly. "Not everything that's wrong, not even everything I broke. But you died, and you shouldn't have, and I could stop that, so that you decide what you want to do. This isn't about me coming to say that I'm sorry or looking for forgiveness or absolution - that was very astute of you, back then, by the way - " but she went on before Amy could reply, "it isn't, really isn't about that. It's about, there's something that was right to do, and I could do it." She shrugged. "You have every right to hate me."
"I do," said Amy, and watched to see if she flinched; and then she said, like she'd meant to go on the first time, "I do have every right," and watched to see if the Doctor looked hopeful.
"You're alive," the Doctor said. "The TARDIS can take you almost anywhere you want to go, and I can make sure you have what you need to live comfortably there."
"You can't take me back to Rory," Amy said, and watched the Doctor chew on her mouth again.
"No," she admitted. "But - " the Doctor hesitated, and then said, "there are more things in the universe to live for than Rory."
Amy didn't answer. She couldn't at first, her throat closing up. She wasn't willing to make cracked, weepy-sounding noises, not here and not with the Doctor. Not yet, maybe not ever.
Then, just before her throat cleared, while the Doctor looked down and stared at the glass floor, Helen came back in. "I found shoes," she said, holding up a simple pair of flats.
Amy looked at Helen, took a deep breath and said, "I want proper clothes. I want to go meet her Gran. Then we'll talk about what happens next."
Helen lit up with a grin. The Doctor, on the other hand, put her face in her hands.
"Okay," she said, eventually. "Okay. Yes. We'll do that."
Chapter 8: Donna Noble gives her opinions
Gran was sitting on the porch when Helen stepped out of the TARDIS. Specifically, Gran sat on the porch and frowned at the TARDIS as Helen got out and ran across the garden to give her a hug. It was her most forbidding frown but she returned the hug happily enough. Then she put her arm around Helen's shoulders and looked the Doctor up and down.
"Well that's a new look for you, isn't it," she said, as the Doctor stopped and Amy Pond stopped a few steps away. Amy Pond wore some jeans and a shirt she'd found in the TARDIS after Helen found her shoes, although for a moment Helen had thought she would wear her armour. Amy Pond stood with her hands in her pockets and watched everyone sort of like Dad's cat when he, the cat, thought someone was going to take his toy away.
"You know me and a challenge," the Doctor said, putting her hands in her pockets as well, and sort of rocking on the tips of her toes, like she was nervous.
"What did you do to the TARDIS? She's not making the right noise," Gran demanded, the hand that wasn't around Helen's shoulders resting on her hip in a fist.
"As it turns out, that noise was from trying to land with the brakes on, so I've, ah, stopped," the Doctor replied. Helen leaned on Gran's side. She knew Gran: if Gran was barking questions like at an inquisition, she wasn't so mad at you that you couldn't fix it.
"Hnh." Gran looked the Doctor up and down again. "Did my granddaughter hit you like I told her to?"
"Yes," the Doctor said. She jerked her head towards Amy. "So did she. But I will say she hits a lot harder."
"What did you do to her, then?" Gran demanded.
"Well, I think she gets to decide whether to tell you that story," the Doctor demurred. That was another word Helen was happy to get to use.
"What's your name?" Gran asked Amy Pond, in a much nicer voice than she was using for the Doctor. Helen wormed out from under her arm and stepped over to introduce, properly.
"Gran, this is Amy Pond, who carried the whole universe in her head. She's River Song's mum, and she made a sonic . . .thing . . . all by herself. Amy Pond, this is my Gran, Donna Noble, who - "
"Oi, girl," Gran said gently, "we can talk about adventures and so on later." She was looking at the Doctor again, with her eyes narrowed. "You really ought to have had the balls to bring the nanites here yourself," she told her.
"I was a tiny bit busy at the time," the Doctor retorted, dryly. "You know. Saving the universe. Again. By the way, you're looking well."
"I was forty then," Gran said. "I'm eighty now. What's your excuse for the missing forty years?"
The Doctor opened her mouth, but Amy, whose arms were folded now, interrupted.
"He - she's always late?" and Helen got to think another favourite word, which was caustic.
Gran looked thoughtful. "Nicer explanation than mine," she said, "I was going to say 'bloody cowardice.' Now come here, you fucking idiot."
Then Gran stepped forward and hugged the Doctor very tightly. The Doctor hugged her very tightly back. Amy Pond looked away.
When Gran let go, she rested her hands on the Doctor's shoulder and said, very seriously, "If you ever try anything like that again, I will hire entire armies to come and kick your ass all the way to Hell. The real one."
The Doctor replied, also very seriously, "A lot of people keep trying that."
"Yes," Gran acknowledged. "But I'll succeed."
"I know," the Doctor said, and gave her another quick hug. Then Gran stepped back and nodded to Amy Pond.
"You want to come in?" she asked. "There's a cat to play with and I was going to open a bottle of wine."
Amy Pond, her arms still folded, didn't look at the Doctor but did look at Helen, and then at Gran. Helen slid her hand back into her grandmother's.
"Yeah," Amy Pond said, eventually. "I'd love some wine."
She stepped past the Doctor without looking at her and followed Gran's gesture into the house. Gran gave a complicated amused look to the Doctor, who let out a slow and silent, but very big, breath. "Well? You too, spacem - woman."
Then she leaned down to kiss Helen's head, and murmured, "You did hit him, right?"
"Yes, Gran," Helen said. "In the nose."
"Good girl," Gran said, and gestured for Helen to go through the door.