The TARDIS was drifting aimlessly through the Vortex, and the Doctor settled himself comfortably into the plush armchair he kept in the console room for just these sorts of lazy stretches of time. The lamp next to the chair cast a warm glow around him, and the hum of the time rotor soothed his ragged edges as much as the slim volume of poetry he was reading.
He missed Charley, more than he’d expected to — which was saying something, because he’d spent most of the time she’d been with him dreading the day she would finally insist on being left behind in Singapore. She was his best friend, and when he made himself be honest, he had to acknowledge that she was more than that in many ways.
The first place the TARDIS had landed him after he left her had been London in the 1930s, and that combined with his missing Charley had him reaching for TS Eliot. “Would it have been worth it after all,” he recited, fingers tracing words he didn’t need to look at to bring to his lips. He closed the book and leaned back against the chair, eyes closed. “Oh, Charley… it was worth it… every second was worth everything we paid.”
With his closed eyes and absolute stillness, someone who didn’t know him might have thought he was napping. Suddenly, the peace of the console room was rudely interrupted by the boom of the klaxon and a series of hard jerks that tossed the Doctor out of his chair and against the console. Clutching at the console to keep from falling once again, he stared up at the monitor and read the symbols that whizzed past at lightning speed.
When he realized what was happening, he groaned. Someone, most likely one of his fellow Time Lords, was traveling between two parallel universes, and the Doctor’s TARDIS had drifted too close. It was now caught in the time stream left by the nameless other Time Lord’s TARDIS, being pulled inexorably through the breach to the other side. After all that had happened because of Zagreus and Rassilon, the Doctor had had quite enough of parallel universes lately, thank you. Even once he’d been back in his own universe, what had happened in the parallel universe he’d inhabited for however long it had been — hard to tell when one is in a universe that doesn’t have time — had continued to affect his life in damaging ways, to the very point when Charley ultimately left him, for good this time.
Unfortunately for the Doctor, it appeared he had no choice. He was visiting yet another parallel universe, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He sighed, and tried to position himself so that when the TARDIS landed, he would fall into his armchair instead of into an unceremonious heap on the floor.
A few minutes later, he was dusting himself off and congratulating himself on his excellent aim whilst falling over. He wandered around the console taking readings and adjusting settings, trying to figure out where he’d ended up.
“At least this universe has time,” he muttered. “Ah, before I forget…” He pressed a series of buttons and then took a small device from a hidden compartment in the console and plugged it into a slot. He pushed a few more buttons, murmured “come on, then, don’t let me down” and then triumphantly pressed another button. “Yes!” He removed the device, which looked like a cross between a compass and a pocket watch, and tucked it into his pocket. “Excellent. Don’t want to miss my ride back to the proper universe.” He patted the console absently. “We’re better off there, aren’t we old girl?”
The time rotor pulsed, and the Doctor chuckled. “Still,” he added with a smile, “since I’m sure we’ve got a little time, it can’t hurt to explore, right?”
He crossed to the coat rack and was just slipping into his coat when someone pounded once on his door before he heard the scraping of a key being inserted into the lock.
“Isn’t that interesting,” he murmured.
All things considered, Rose Tyler mused, she was doing fairly well. It had been a year to the day since the horrible day at Bad Wolf Bay, which she still thought of as the worst day of her life. At least on the day she’d gotten trapped in the parallel world in the first place, she’d still had hope that the Doctor would come to get her, and soon.
Then she’d heard his voice calling to her, and she’d been so sure this was it. She’d packed bags, not just for the trip to Norway but to leave, completely. Mickey and her Mum had watched her like hawks, unable to conceal their concern or completely hide their disbelief that this was going to end well. Rose had refused to acknowledge their doubt. The Doctor was coming, and she was going to go with him.
But he’d only come as an illusion. The man who never said goodbye had burned up a sun to say it to her, but even then it was only an advanced sort of video conference. And worst of all, he’d said can’t. The man who ate impossible things for breakfast and never gave up had looked her in the eye and told her that there was something impossible, even for him. That this was it.
She’d been inconsolable for days, had cried herself to sleep every night for weeks. Then she’d thrown herself into her work with Torchwood with a dedication that even had Pete taking her aside and asking her how she was doing. It wasn’t until she’d seen a man in a brown pinstriped suit with wild hair and had nearly tackled him before she realized that he wasn’t the Doctor that she really dealt with what had happened.
Once she’d sopped up that round of tears, she found herself leading a much more balanced life. She went to work and gave it her best, but then she came home and read books and watched the telly, or she went out with her workmates or had dinner with Mickey and his girlfriend, Alicia. She got together with her mum and Pete, babysat her brother for them when they needed a night to themselves after his birth.
If she still missed the Doctor and the life she’d had with him every day, she didn’t show it to the rest of the world. It wasn’t their business, was it?
So when Mickey dropped by her desk a few minutes before she was due to head home for the evening and asked her how she was doing, what with it being the day that it was, Rose was able to congratulate herself on the believability of the smile she’d mustered.
“I’m fine, Mick,” she said brightly. “I won’t lie, it’s not my favorite day of the year and never will be. But I’m fine.”
“Alicia and I are headed down the pub,” he said, leaning against the edge of her desk. “I think Jake and some of the others will be there as well. You’re welcome to come.”
Rose shook her head. “I’d rather just go home, thanks.” She smiled again. “But you have fun.”
Mickey nodded, dropped a hand on her shoulder. “Call me if you need me,” he said, squeezing gently. “Any time.”
Rose nodded. “I will,” she said, mentally crossing her fingers. She fully intended to mark this day on her own.
Mickey squeezed her shoulder once more and then dropped a quick kiss on the top of her head. “See you tomorrow, then, Rose.”
“Bye, Mickey.” She turned back to her computer and finished up the report she was typing. She saved the document and e-mailed it off to Pete before shutting down the computer and gathering her things.
She was halfway to the tube station when she heard a sound that stopped her in her tracks, a sound she had never thought to hear again as long as she lived. She whipped her head to her left, from where the sound seemed to come, and gasped. She wasn’t sure that her knees would hold her, let alone allow her to run.
But she had to run.
The TARDIS had materialized twenty feet away from her.
In which Ten answers a distress call and Charley finds someone she doesn't expect.
A universe away from Rose Tyler and in another time, either in the future or the past depending on which way one looked at it, the TARDIS dematerialized while the Doctor watched the image of old Mr. Copper, still skipping with happiness, fade away on the screen. The Doctor hadn’t set any destination coordinates when he’d dematerialized, so the TARDIS simply drifted aimlessly through the Vortex.
The Doctor thought about heading to the kitchen to make himself some tea, or going to the library and curling up with a book — he had the oddest urge to read some of Eliot’s poetry, he wasn’t sure why — but he couldn’t seem to muster the energy to get any further than the captain’s bench in the console room.
He ached, in more ways than one. He’d told the people on the ship that night that he was nine hundred and three, which was laughably false. The truth was closer to a thousand and three, and even that was probably a low estimate. It was hard to keep track, but the point was that he was beginning to think he’d have to start admitting he was getting old if even in one of his younger-appearing bodies he was feeling like his back wasn’t quite what it used to be.
Then again, it had been a particularly physically taxing evening.
The ache centered around his hearts was even more problematic. Thoughts of Astrid flooded his head, unbidden, and with them were the inevitable thoughts of his lost Rose. Astrid had been so like Rose, with her small life and big dreams. He thought of how they’d both stood on alien ground and jumped up and down in their enthusiasm and a sad smiled crossed his face. Both of them had deserved so much more than they’d gotten, from life and from him.
He thought of the man in the newspaper stand saying that everyone had left London in fear of alien attack and found himself wondering what Jackie Tyler would have done. He shook his head. She’d have been right there with the newspaper man, he thought, shaking her fist at anyone — or any thing — that dared interrupt her third Christmas in a row.
He wished he could tell Rose that he’d finally gotten to say “allons-y, Alonso.” She would laugh and her eyes would twinkle when she patted him on the hand and said she was happy for him. Then she would ask him what the next thing he couldn’t wait to say was, and smile indulgently when he told her.
But then he remembered why Rose wasn’t there to hear about Alonso, and why Astrid wasn’t there gaping in wonderment at how the TARDIS was bigger on the inside. Memories swirled in his mind in sharp, unforgiving Technicolor. Rose’s fall into the bright white light merged with Astrid’s fall into the red-hot glow of the nuclear engine, and he found himself cursing his complicated Time Lord brain with its incredible recall abilities.
Some things he wanted to forget.
He wanted to forget the looks on their faces as they fell, wanted to forget the way they had reached for him, fingers outstretched with nothing to grab. He wanted to forget staring at the blank white wall, irrationally waiting for Rose to reappear once again, muttering about yellow buttons and idiotic Time Lords. He wanted to forget grimly allowing the Host to fly him up through the Titanic replica and then watching as all that was left of Astrid Peth dissolved into stardust.
He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in his hands. The Master had once taunted him with his choice of name — the Doctor, the man who makes things better — but he wasn’t that man. He was the man who got people killed, who ruined their lives. There was nothing for it, he thought. He’d have to stop traveling with someone else. He’d have to go it alone from now on. He wasn’t ruining anyone else’s life.
When the sound of an SOS call filled the console room, it took a moment for the Doctor to get wearily to his feet. He locked the navigational system on to the location of the signal and held on as the ship jerked out of the Vortex and began to materialize wherever it was he’d ended up.
The pounding on the door surprised him out of his mechanically automatic run-through of landing procedures. “What?”
He could hear someone shouting on the other side. “What took you?!” he heard, followed by “open up, open up!”
He opened the door and gaped at the woman standing there. “What?”
Charley Pollard knew the Doctor would come for her. Eventually. She refused to believe anything else.
She told herself that it didn’t matter that she’d left that note at the hotel in Singapore and knowing the Doctor he’d be disoriented when he got there and he’d find it and believe it, and it didn’t matter that the Doctor was convinced Charley not only wanted to leave him, but ought to leave him. He was her best friend, and she was his, and he would come for her.
She glanced at the watch the Doctor had gotten her on some alien planet whose name she’d forgotten — it always told her the correct time, no matter where in the universe she was, or when. And despite the fact that she was alone, finally the desert island castaway of her childhood fantasies — she used that watch every day.
She used it every day because like the desert island castaway of her childhood fantasies, Charley Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress was not sitting around waiting to be rescued. She didn’t doubt that the Doctor would come for her, but she didn’t think it undermined her faith in him if she tried to make it easier for him. So, in an act she knew would make him so proud of her, she’d salvaged pieces of the wrecked Cyber ship and created a crystal set. And every hour, on the hour, she sent out an SOS.
Somewhere out there, she knew he was listening. He had to be. And if he didn’t hear it, someone else would, and she would keep looking for the Doctor wherever she went. She wondered and planned and brainstormed about what she would do if someone else came, thought about ways she could track down the Doctor or the TARDIS. As she trudged toward her crystal set, which was protected from the elements by a rudimentary cover she’d pieced together from more of the debris, she pondered how one went about tracking down a time-traveler without running into him before you were supposed to have met him.
She began to tap out her SOS without really thinking about it, formulating her next journal entry in her mind as she tapped. Dot dot dot, she thought, dash dash dash. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat. It was the same every hour, but she did it without fail.
She tapped out the pattern, and though she firmly believed that one day the Doctor would come for her, she was admittedly not expecting much to happen right at that moment.
So when she heard the telltale grinding noise of the TARDIS engines, she couldn’t hold back the gasp. She nearly knocked over her crystal set in her haste to get to her feet.
“He’s alive!” she rasped out, her voice rusty from a lack of someone with whom to converse. “Oh,” she said, relieved despite how firm her belief had been that he would come, “he’s alive!”
Within moments the big blue box was standing incongruously on her empty beach, real and vibrant and not ten feet away from her. She ran to it without thinking, without worrying about any of her earlier musings about the perils of running into a time traveler at the wrong point in his personal timeline, and before she quite knew what she was doing, she was pounding on the door.
“Oh God, what took you? Open up, open up!” she shouted. “Oh God, I knew it,” she muttered, “I knew you’d come.” She pounded and shouted again. “Come on, open up!”
The door opened, and Charley froze mid-pound. A skinny young man in a torn and battered tuxedo stared at her, stunned surprise showing plainly in his brown eyes. His hair was a shock of brown spiking in all directions. He looked like he’d just come from a war fought in formal clothing instead of armor or uniforms. “What?” he said in a dumbfounded voice.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Charley said, fumbling for words and praying that her voice didn’t break from the emotional blow of someone other than the Doctor appearing at that moment. “I was expecting someone else.”
In which Rose meets Eight.
Rose’s hands shook as she fumbled to get the key into the lock on the door of the TARDIS. She was fairly certain that she wasn’t dreaming, unless she’d had an aneurysm sometime between leaving her desk and reaching this alleyway, because why would she have dreamt the entire workday first? Of course, if it was a dream, it would break her heart come morning, or whenever she woke up in whatever hospital bed in which she landed.
She didn’t care. If it was a dream, she was going to enjoy every second. The key slid into the lock and she nearly sobbed with relief. She didn’t stop to wonder why the Doctor hadn’t come barreling out of the door and into her arms. If she’d thought about it at all, she would have assumed that whatever he’d done to get him to Pete’s World in the first place required his continued presence at the console and that their epic reunion hug would have to wait until he had gotten the TARDIS back into their proper universe. She was okay with that, as long as she ended up back where she belonged eventually.
Her hands still shaking, it took her a moment to get the lock to turn. When it finally did, she burst through the door. “Doctor!” she shouted, scanning the room for him. She ran towards the console, not even noticing in her excitement how different the room looked since the last time she had seen it. “Doctor, I’m here!” Her heart, buoyed so high by the sudden appearance of her beloved blue box, began to sink as she noticed the distinct lack of coral, the presence of the plush armchair, the wood paneling on the console. “Doctor?” She turned around to look behind her and finally noticed the man standing next to the coat rack.
His hair was longer than the Doctor’s and lighter in color, curly. He wore clothes much fancier than either of her Doctors had worn — a velvet coat, embroidered waistcoat, and tailored trousers. “I believe you’re looking for me?” he said, curiosity in his voice. “I do enjoy these sorts of meetings.”
“You…” Rose swallowed, her heart sinking lower. “You’ve regenerated again?” He had been sick after the last time. Perhaps this time he’d had some memory loss as well, and that was why he wasn’t as happy to see her as she was to see him.
“Not recently, no,” he said. He stepped forward and Rose could see he had kind, sad eyes. Like her Doctor’s, except without quite as much of an edge. There was less pain hiding behind them, less agony.
“Oh, no,” Rose whispered. “We haven’t met yet, have we?”
He shook his head. “I am fairly certain that we haven’t. Yet, anyway. You seem delightful, though. I’m quite sure I’ll like you.”
Rose nodded numbly, then shook her head, eyes widening. “I… shouldn’t tell you that.”
The Doctor-who-wasn’t-her-Doctor chuckled warmly. “Perhaps not. Though I think given how pleased you were to see the TARDIS…” he trailed off, eyes sharpening. “This is a parallel world. I fully intend to go back to my proper universe as soon as possible. You don’t seem surprised to hear that this is a parallel universe…” Rose shook her head, and he continued. “Ergo, I must make it back and meet you in my proper universe.”
Rose nodded mutely. She wondered if even that was going to tear some sort of hole in the fabric of space and time. She added “what to do in the event of meeting a previous version of you” to her mental list of Things We Should Have Talked About Before They Happened. If she ever actually made a paper copy of the list, that particular point would be in bold, right under things like “regeneration” and “absorbing the Time Vortex: pros and cons.”
The Doctor made a low “hmm” noise in the back of his throat. “So, Miss…?”
“Tyler,” Rose supplied gamely. “Rose Tyler.”
“So, Miss Rose Tyler, if you belong in the other universe, how ever did you wind up here?” He grimaced. “I once accidentally wound up in one thanks to a nursery rhyme and the man who founded Gallifreyan society; did I ever tell you that?”
Rose shook her head. “I shouldn’t tell you that, though, right? You can’t know before it happens because you didn’t know.” Her eyes widened in horror. “You didn’t.” He couldn’t have known, she thought wildly, couldn’t have known and kept it from her anyway. But he’d been unsettled in the weeks before it had happened…
The Doctor stepped forward, shaking his head and interrupting Rose’s rushing thoughts. “No, no, I’ll have to wipe my memory of this after it happens. Lock it away somewhere until I’m allowed to remember it again. If I ever am, that is.” He came to within an arm’s length of Rose and blinked at her. “You’re very pale, Miss Tyler, why don’t you sit down?”
She winced at the idea of the Doctor calling her by the formal “Miss Tyler,” but allowed him to lead her to the armchair with a gentle touch on her elbow. She sat, and he knelt down in front of her.
“Tell me what you can, Miss Tyler.”
“How did you get here?” she blurted out. Her Doctor had declared it impossible for him to come through on his own, but she remembered him saying the first time they’d landed in Pete’s World that when Gallifrey still existed, it had been easy to travel between universes. And already this Doctor had mentioned visiting another universe, matter-of-factly; surely that meant he didn’t view it as an impossible journey to make.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, a slight whine in his tone making him sound like a child who needed a nap. “I was in the Vortex, minding my own business. Someone else from my world was making the trip, and I got caught in their breach.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what Rose thought looked like a pocket watch on steroids. “Breach detector. It’ll let me know when my ride home is about to leave.”
So Gallifrey was still floating in the universe somewhere, and all his people were still there, all around him and in his head. The Time War hadn’t reached its zenith. She looked in his eyes again. In them she saw the wisdom and age she expected, but again she was struck by the softness her own Doctors had lacked. Yes, this Doctor had been through a lot — it was clear that he carried his own burdens of sadness. But her heart ached for him, because he didn’t know what was coming. He didn’t know what he was going to do.
“What about you?” he asked her, a gentle reminder of his earlier entreaty for her to tell him what she could.
“I can’t…” Rose struggled to find words. “There are things I know that I can’t tell you. Even if you could make yourself forget them,” she said, anticipating his response. “I won’t be the one to tell you.” She shrugged. “We were saving the universes, you and I, and I got stuck on the wrong side of the breach,” she said, settling for simplicity. Best not to mention the Daleks, all things considered. She couldn’t know how much of the Time War had already happened, or how soon the end would come.
“But why haven’t I come to get you?”
The Doctor pushed to his feet. “Of course I can. Someone would hold the breach open for me. Romana would grumble, but she’d do it if I asked very nicely and reminded her of favors she owes me.”
Rose fought back the lump that rose in her throat. “You just can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t tell you why.”
The Doctor crouched back down in front of her. He must have noticed how distressed she was, because his voice lowered to a soothing murmur. “All right, then, it’s all right. Rose, it’s all right.” He patted her knee. “Would you like some tea? I find tea to be remarkably helpful in many situations.”
Rose sniffled a little, willed herself not to cry, and shook her head. “I want chips,” she said.
She nodded. “Chips. We had chips after the first adventure you took me on.” She smiled sadly. “Shouldn’t have told you that.”
“Already forgotten,” he replied with an encouraging smile. “But we should have time for chips.”
The Doctor got to his feet and offered Rose his hand. “Before my breach detector goes off and we have to get back to the proper universe.”
Rose gaped at him. “You’ll… you’ll take me back?”
“Don’t you want to go back?”
Rose stared at the hand he held out to her, so unlike her first Doctor’s wide workingman’s hands or her second Doctor’s long, thin hands. It was the hand of an aristocrat, the romantic hero of a poem by Byron or Tennyson. She took a deep breath and slipped her palm against his and let his fingers close around her hand.
“There’s nothing I want more,” she said, getting to her feet. “Except chips. I really need some chips.”
In which Charley learns about regeneration and Ten bends his new rule.
NB: For the purposes of this fic, Charley doesn't really remember recognizing previous incarnations of the Doctor during the events of "Zagreus" and therefore didn't consciously know about regeneration.
The door opened, and Charley froze mid-pound. A skinny young man in a torn and battered tuxedo stared at her, stunned surprise showing plainly in his brown eyes. His hair was a shock of brown spiking in all directions. He looked like he’d just come from a war fought in formal clothing instead of armor or uniforms. “What?” he said in a dumbfounded voice.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Charley said, fumbling for words and praying that her voice didn’t break from the emotional blow of someone other than the Doctor appearing at that moment. “I was expecting someone else.”
Charley stood just outside the TARDIS door, staring at the skinny man who had opened it. He stared right back, still looking gobsmacked. “I am sorry,” Charley said again. She shifted awkwardly on her feet. She wished the man would do something other than stare. Slam the door in her face, invite her in and ask her who she was, tell her where the Doctor was… anything other than stare.
Suddenly, a huge smile spread across his face, his eyes twinkling with happiness. “Charley Pollard!” he exclaimed. Before Charley quite knew what was happening, she was lifted off her feet momentarily as he enveloped her in a bear hug that was surprisingly strong given the apparent stringiness of his arms.
“Oh… my,” she said, nonplussed.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, setting her on her feet just inside the TARDIS door. “I just never expected… you left that note, and then of course there was the War…”
“What?” Charley interrupted. “How do you know about the note I left? I left that for the Doctor!”
“I am the Doctor,” he replied, his tone affronted.
“You most certainly are not.”
“I most certainly am,” he retorted in a fair mimic of Charley’s Edwardian cadence.
“No, no, you’re not. And this isn’t the right TARDIS, either, is it?” She gestured around the console room. “It’s like coral! Where’s the armchair? The only thing I recognize in here is the coat rack!”
The man claiming to be the Doctor nodded. “I love my coat rack. But really, I am the Doctor.” He took her hands in his. “Charley, it’s me, I promise. I’ve just… changed. Time Lords, we do that, we change. Instead of dying.”
Charley shook her head slowly. “No, this is some kind of dream, some kind of weird dream and when I wake up it will be time to sound the SOS so that the real Doctor will come and rescue me, or someone, and I can get back to him.”
“You’re Charlotte Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress. You wanted to see the world, so you agreed to meet a bloke in Singapore and stowed away on the R-101, but you met me instead.” His fingers tightened around hers when she tried to pull her hands away. “It almost tore the universe apart, but I saved your life and I wouldn’t take it back. Which is good, because you saved mine right back.” He smiled, a less manic one this time, and Charley could almost see her Doctor somewhere in this man’s eyes. “You were my best friend,” he finished. “Charley Pollard. The girl who never was.”
“Doctor?” she said, disbelieving. “It can’t be.”
“It is.” He tugged her the rest of the way inside and shut the door behind her, then pulled her up to the TARDIS console. “Like I said, Time Lords regenerate instead of dying. For a while, anyway. And after you and I parted ways, things obviously got really complicated back home, and I… well, I changed.” Charley watched his face and could almost see the shutters close behind his eyes. His entire face darkened for a moment before he forcibly brightened. “And then a while after that, I changed again, and some other stuff happened.” Charley stifled a chuckle at the way this Doctor babbled and gestured. Her Doctor had sometimes chattered nonsensically but this was on a whole new level. “So I was just traveling along in the Vortex and the TARDIS picked up the SOS you were sending out, which, by the way, very clever! I knew you were smart.”
Charley beamed in spite of herself. “I am clever, aren’t I?”
“One of the cleverest.” The Doctor clicked his tongue against his teeth. “I only take the best.”
Charley shook her head in wonder. “You’re really the Doctor?”
He nodded, his face serious.
“You’re so different. Not just how you look,” she said when he shrugged. “Your eyes… you never were this sad when I knew you.”
He seemed to close in on himself right in front of her eyes. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve just had Christmas, in London, with snow and everything. Well, sort of. But I’m fine, totally fine. I’m always fine.”
“Oh yes, I can see that,” Charley said. There was an awkward pause, and Charley sat down on the battered bench next to the console. “Doctor?” she said, and despite having almost finished processing the idea that this man who was so unlike her Doctor was still the Doctor, she was still somewhat surprised when he immediately turned.
“Can you… well, can I…”
“Can we what?”
“Can you take me back? To him — you, I guess. Back then. When you were still him.”
He shook his head. “I don’t remember seeing you again until now. So it didn’t happen.”
“You’ve made things happen that weren’t supposed to happen before,” Charley ventured.
“Yes, and look where it got us.” His voice went surprisingly cold. “I’ve had quite enough of paradoxes lately. It worked out with you because you resolved your own paradox and because of Zagreus and the other universe, but Charley… some things can’t be fixed.”
He looked so cold and so damaged when he said it that Charley bit back any further protests. Then another thought occurred to her. Perhaps she would have to spend some time getting to know this new version, and of course it would never be the same. But if he was the Doctor, then he was, well, the Doctor. And the Doctor was her best friend. A best friend who was obviously in need of someone right now.
“Then I’ll come with you now.”
“No, you can’t.” He turned his back on her and walked to the other side of the console, where he began punching buttons and flicking switches.
“Why not?” Charley exclaimed, jumping to her feet. She was at the Doctor’s side in a few strides and tugged on the sleeve of his tattered tuxedo. “I did before. I was brilliant, you said so yourself.”
He smiled at her sadly. “You were brilliant. I told you, one of the best. But you can’t come with me anymore.” He shook his head and looked back down at the console, refusing to meet her gaze. “No one can.”
“What?” His head snapped back up.
“You heard me,” Charley said sternly. “I don’t know what’s happened to you since we were separated, but you can’t possibly think that the best thing for you to do is roam about the universe alone.” She put her hands on her hips. “If you’re anything like you used to be you’d go mad within a week. No one to have tea with, no one to explain complicated concepts to, no hand to hold.” She shook her head. “Poppycock.”
He stared at her for a moment then seemed to shake himself. He stalked around to the other side of the console. “It’s too dangerous. I ruin lives.” He met her gaze again, and there was anguish in his eyes that made her stop wondering bemusedly if he knew how ridiculously dramatic he sounded and start wondering what had happened to make him believe it was true. “I ruined yours. The girl who never was.”
Charley walked around the console until she was close enough to cup his cheek with her hand. “You saved my life, Doctor. Don’t think of it any other way.” She grinned then, dropped her hand from his face. “Come on, just like old times.”
“Well,” he said, drawing out the “l” sound in a way that nearly made Charley giggle, “maybe just one trip.”
In which Rose and Eight have chips.
Rose poured vinegar and salt over her chips and watched the Doctor carefully do the same with his own chips. He was so different than either of her versions of the Doctor. Her first Doctor had usually put away a basket of chips with restrained gusto, heavy on the salt and light on the vinegar. Her second had shoveled them in with unrestrained enthusiasm and gone heavy on salt and vinegar. This Doctor ate them more delicately, though he gave every appearance of enjoying them.
“I don’t have these often,” he said, interrupting her thoughts.
“I love ‘em,” Rose replied immediately. “I used to always try to get them in whatever time or place we were in, just to see how they tasted. Of course some planets don’t have them…” She trailed off and looked down at her basket of chips. “Shouldn’t be telling you this.”
“Rose,” he said, waiting for her to look up at him before continuing. “You don’t have to watch every word you say. I told you, if you say something I shouldn’t know yet, I can erase my memories or lock them away somewhere until it’s safe to remember them again. And little things like how you like to visit a chip shop in every port will hardly cause a paradox.”
Rose managed a smile. “Okay.”
“Is there anyone you’d like to say goodbye to before we go?” he asked after a little while. “There’s no telling how long we have, but hopefully it will be enough time to get some things and say your goodbyes.”
Rose nodded. “Yeah, my mum is here, an’ my best friend.”
The Doctor’s eyebrows rose. “From our proper universe? You’re here accidentally, but they came with you?”
“It’s… complicated,” Rose replied. “I can’t really explain what happened. Trust me,” she added. “It’s not a little thing like stopping for chips.”
The Doctor shook his head slowly, sounding regretful when he spoke. “I’m always curious. But I always teach you so well, my companions.”
“You don’t really want me to tell you.”
“Rose, Rose, Rose. You obviously know me quite well.” He patted her hand where it rested on the table. “I don’t.” He grinned. “Because we all know curiosity killed the cat. And I don’t feel like regenerating today.”
Rose smiled. “Does it count as being suicidal if you know you’ll just come to life again a few seconds later?”
“An interesting question,” he said thoughtfully. “Very existential. Cheeky,” he added with a grin, “but also existential.” He ate a chip, chewing thoroughly and swallowing before continuing. “We can choose not to regenerate, you know.”
“What?” Rose said, surprised. “I thought it was like, automatic or something.”
The Doctor ran a hand through his curls. “For me it tends to be more so than for others. Romana’s very good at it,” he added. “If we weren’t limited in how many times we could do it she’d probably do it just for fun. Have you met Romana?”
“Er, no,” Rose muttered. “You’ve mentioned her a few times, but no, we’ve never met.” She leaned forward in her seat, eager to change the subject away from Time Lords — or Ladies — she’d never met and the natural question as to why she’d never met them. “You’re limited on how many times you can regenerate?”
He nodded. “Twelve regenerations, thirteen versions of yourself.” He shook his head a little. “I’m going through them far too quickly. Barely a thousand and I’ve already done it seven times.”
“A thousand?” Rose said with a laugh. “So even Time Lords lie about their age when they get older?”
“Why? What did I tell you? Oh, never mind,” he said before she could wonder aloud if it was okay to tell him or not. He polished off the last of his chips and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “I’m not sure how much time we’ll have,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the detector he’d shown her earlier and glanced at it. “It’s difficult to say until it gets closer to the time.”
Rose shoved her last chip in her mouth and licked her fingers. “I don’t need much time,” she admitted. She eyed him speculatively. “Especially if we could use the TARDIS instead of relying on public transport.”
The Doctor glanced once more at his detector and made a hmm noise in the back of his throat. “Normally I’d hesitate to use the TARDIS once I’ve landed in a timeline, but under the circumstances…” He smiled kindly at Rose. “Surely she’ll behave herself this once and we won’t overshoot.”
Rose grinned impishly. “If I recall correctly, it was often not completely the TARDIS’ fault when we ended up somewhere we weren’t supposed to end up.”
The Doctor affected a look of innocence. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I cannot imagine that in any incarnation I wouldn’t have full control over my own TARDIS.” Then he grinned again. “Cheeky.” He got to his feet, and Rose did the same.
“Back to the TARDIS, then?” she asked.
“Back to the TARDIS,” he affirmed.
Rose smiled brightly. “You really have no idea how happy I am to hear that,” she said.
The Doctor stuck his elbow out for her to take. “Then I’m sure you’ll be even happier to do it.”
Rose linked her arm with the Doctor’s and they left the chip shop. After a few feet, Rose’s curiosity got the better of her.
“Can you tell me about your life? I mean, that wouldn’t break any rules or make any paradoxes, right?”
“What would you like to know?”
Rose thought for a second, trying to decide what question to ask first. “Why aren’t you traveling with someone right now?” she finally asked. “When I met Sarah Jane, she said you liked to travel with an entourage.” She hoped he already had known Sarah in this incarnation. Luckily, he smiled at the mention of Sarah’s name.
“That sounds like something Sarah would say,” he said fondly. “I’m at a bit of loose ends,” he added. “I was traveling with someone. She was… brilliant.”
“What happened?” Rose asked cautiously, knowing better than anyone how bad the answer could be.
The Doctor shook his head sadly. “It was just time for her to make her own way, I suppose. But I miss her,” he added. “She was my best friend.”
“Maybe you’ll see her again sometime,” Rose suggested. “What was her name?”
“Charley Pollard,” the Doctor replied. “But no, I think it’s time I left her alone.” They reached the TARDIS and the Doctor held the door open for Rose. “Where to next?” he asked, shutting the door behind him after following her inside.
“My flat for a few things,” Rose said. “And then my mum and dad’s place, so I can say goodbye.” She gestured at his pocket, where the breach detector was tucked. “Do we have time?”
He pulled the detector out and flipped it open. “So far we’re looking good,” he affirmed. “Now tell me where your flat is so I can set the proper coordinates.”
At the end of the alley where the TARDIS was parked, a shadowy figure watched the TARDIS fade away, a grimly satisfied smile spreading slowly across her face, nails painted blood red tapping slowly against her arm.
In which Ten tries to take Charley somewhere lovely and fun.
“So, Charley Pollard,” the Doctor said, smiling at her across the console. “One trip. Where would you like to go?”
Charley thought for a moment. She was reasonably certain that she would be able to convince this new version of the Doctor to let her stay for more than one trip, but just in case she wasn’t, she wanted to make it good. Then again, it wasn’t as if she had a wish list of exotic planets to visit — she only knew about the ones which she’d already seen. “Oh, I don’t know,” she finally said. “Somewhere lovely. And fun,” she added as an afterthought. “Lovely and fun.”
“Lovely and fun,” the Doctor muttered, fiddling with some controls and watching Gallifreyan text speed past on the screen. Charley took the opportunity to watch him while he wasn’t watching her. Concentrating on choosing a destination, his face was less guarded, and somehow it made him look even sadder than he had previously. She had accepted that this man was the Doctor, but she was still struck by the incredible difference between him and the man she’d once known him to be.
Where once he had been of a medium build and had an aristocratic air, now he was almost painfully skinny and she thought that even if he had been wearing a flawless tuxedo or suit she wouldn’t have termed him aristocratic. Where once he had been, for the most part, an open book, now he was far more closed, far more drawn into himself. Yes, he’d hugged her and smiled at her with an almost manic edge to the enthusiasm, but emotionally he was further away from her than she’d ever felt he’d been.
She watched his face, so she saw the moment he decided to turn to her, because the subtlest of changes went across his features. A slight shuttering of the eyes, slight setting of the jaw. As if he were steeling himself to make contact. Then he turned to her, a small smile at the ready. “Brace yourself,” he said, winking — something else he hadn’t done before, at least not with any regularity. “We’re arriving.”
He’d barely finished speaking when the TARDIS jerked sharply and Charley stumbled into the bench she’d sat on before. She clutched the seat in an attempt to keep her balance and thought longingly of her Doctor’s armchair.
Nearly as quickly as the jerking had started, it ended. Charley blew out a relieved breath and got to her feet.
“Here we are!” the Doctor said brightly. Charley managed a haughty stare.
“Why ever did you get rid of the armchair?”
To her surprise, after a brief moment of being nonplussed by the question, the Doctor stiffened and his face became stony again. “I didn’t want to be comfortable,” he said darkly.
“Okay,” Charley said softly, deciding not press. She summoned a bright smile. “Where are we, then?”
“Carpaxia Seven,” he responded, his stony look once again given way to a veneer of enthusiasm and happiness. “Sunsets like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I do like a good sunset,” Charley murmured. The Doctor gestured to the door.
“You can go first.”
Charley smiled, bemused. “Wouldn’t you rather change first?”
“Nah,” he said confidently, “the weather on Carpaxia Seven is mild this time of year. I’ll be fine.”
Charley laughed. “No, I mean, wouldn’t you rather put on something that looks a little less like you’ve been in the middle of a bomb blast?”
The Doctor looked down at his tattered tuxedo. “Oh,” he said, as if he’d completely forgotten he’d been wearing it, or that it looked as bad as it did. “I suppose I could put on something a little more presentable. Don’t think we’ll run into anyone,” he added, raising an eyebrow. But he shrugged. “Still, can’t hurt. This tux is unlucky anyway.”
Charley prudently decided not to press for more details about that statement. “Well, go on then,” she said. “Don’t want to miss the sunset.”
“Time machine, Charley,” the Doctor said as he strode towards a door into one of the TARDIS’ innumerable hallways. “Time machine.”
“How could I forget?” she replied dryly towards his retreating back. She watched him until he veered out of sight and then took a deep breath. “Okay, Charley,” she muttered. “You wanted the Doctor and the TARDIS. You got the Doctor and the TARDIS.” She ran her fingers lightly along the edge of the console and walked a slow circle. “Maybe not how you were expecting them, of course.”
The time rotor pulsed sympathetically, or so it seemed to Charley. “I don’t know what’s changed more,” she said, “the Doctor or the TARDIS.” She wandered over to one of the twisting columns and ran her hand lightly over it. It even felt like coral, she realized. It was oddly beautiful, with the light from the time rotor casting bluish shadows against the earthy colors of the coral columns and walls.
She continued pacing in a slow circle around the console. She knew she wanted to stay here, on the TARDIS with the Doctor, even if he wasn’t her Doctor. For one thing, where else would she go? And even not considering that, she was certain that life on the TARDIS couldn’t have changed too much, even if the scenery had, and she loved that life more than anything. But how could she convince him that he should let her stay? If he were still her Doctor she was certain she would know how to get round him, but this man was entirely different. Entirely the same, somehow, but entirely different, and Charley had no idea how effective her old ways of handling him would be.
Her musings were interrupted by the pounding of the Doctor’s footsteps as he jogged back to the console room from wherever he’d gone, presumably his room. Charley had never seen it, though she’d assumed he had one. When he’d shown her to her own room, so long ago, he’d commented on her bed in comparison to his own. Of course, he hardly ever slept anyway and when she’d been traveling with him, if he slept at all it was usually a catnap in his armchair in the console room. Still, one had to assume he at least had a place to keep his regular clothes outside of the massive and usually chaotic wardrobe room. As the Doctor’s footsteps drew closer, Charley wondered if her room was still where she’d left it, if her things had been moved. So much had changed, why not that?
“Better?” the Doctor asked upon reentering the console room.
Charley scanned his brown suit — she liked the blue pinstripes, she decided — and took in the slightly dirty white trainers with amusement. “Is this how you usually dress now?” she asked.
“Of course,” the Doctor replied. “Why? Don’t you like it?”
Charley nodded. “You look fine, yes. Just… different.”
“I am different,” he said simply. “I don’t think velvet would suit me anymore.”
Charley laughed. “I’m not sure it suited you before,” she mumbled under her breath.
The Doctor narrowed his eyes slightly but he seemed to choose not to have heard her. He gestured toward the door. “Shall we then? Sunset’s waiting.”
“A sunset on, what was it?” She held up a hand to keep the Doctor from supplying the name of the planet before she had a chance to recall what it was. “Carpaxia Six — no, Seven. Right?”
The Doctor smiled proudly. “Yep.” He popped the ‘p’ sound and Charley added that to her list of differences between her Doctor and this new Doctor.
The Doctor held his elbow away from his body and smiled invitingly. “Let’s go.”
Charley slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, enjoying the texture of his suit jacket under her fingers, and let him lead her down the ramp towards the TARDIS doors. The Doctor had just put his hand on the door handle and was about to pull it open when all of the sudden the TARDIS lurched violently to one side and then to the other, tossing the Doctor and Charley off their feet.
“What?” the Doctor exclaimed, fighting his way to his feet and weaving up to the console, somehow managing to keep his feet under him until he reached it, despite the pitching of the ship.
“Doctor!” Charley yelled. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know!” he yelled back. He swung the console screen around and read the display. “The TARDIS is taking us away,” he said incredulously. “No, not taking us. Being taken.”
“Being taken?” Charley repeated. “By what?”
The Doctor, clinging to the console for balance, stared at Charley with wide eyes. “I don’t know.”
In which Rose says her goodbyes and Eight drinks tea.
“Here we are,” the Doctor said pleasantly, landing the TARDIS with what seemed to Rose to be a bit more finesse than she was used to experiencing when either of her versions of the Doctor were doing the flying. She wondered if the fact that Gallifrey still existed for him contributed somehow to his TARDIS-flying prowess. Then she found herself trying to wrap her mind around the idea that in theory, he could actually take her to Gallifrey even though for her it had always not existed in some terrifyingly permanent way that meant the Doctor — her Doctor — could never go back there, even if he traveled back in time.
The thought gave her pause. What if, when he took her back to the proper universe, he tried to take her to Gallifrey? Were humans allowed on Gallifrey? When he’d said he had left Sarah Jane on Earth because humans weren’t allowed there, he’d said they weren’t allowed there then, which implied that at some other date — earlier? later? — they had been. Would it be possible for him to take her to a place that for her not only didn’t exist but for all intents and purposes hadn’t ever existed? What if the crossing of their timelines itself was enough to do damage, with Gallifrey existing and not existing at the same time in the same place?
“Rose?” The Doctor stepped over to where she was leaning against the railing and touched her shoulder lightly. “I said we’re here.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said distractedly. “I was jus’… thinking.” She pushed the confusing thoughts away. This was no time to be contemplating paradoxes and imploding universes, not when she was this close to cashing in her ticket home.
Rose looked up and met the Doctor’s curious gaze. “Schrödinger’s Cat,” she said distinctly.
“Really?” the Doctor said with a smile. “I met him once. The cat,” he added. “Not Schrödinger.”
Rose shook her head and laughed lightly. “Of course you did.” She skirted past the Doctor and headed towards the doors of the TARDIS. Upon opening them, she found herself in her living room. “Oh, well done,” she said sincerely. “I won’t be too long.” She threw a glance over her shoulder. “There’s tea things in the kitchen, if you like.”
“I never pass on tea,” he replied, following her out into her flat.
While the Doctor fixed himself a cup of tea, Rose whirled around her bedroom tossing clothes, toiletries, and a few other items such as photographs and some small knick-knacks into a medium-sized suitcase she’d dug out of her closet.
She’d just zipped up the suitcase when she caught sight of herself in the mirror above her dresser and realized that she was still wearing her suit from work. She sighed, but on the off chance that things didn’t go as smoothly as the Doctor seemed to think they would, she thought it would be prudent to put on something a bit better-suited to running and sneaking about. She unzipped the suitcase again and pulled out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
A few minutes later, she lugged the suitcase out to her living room and found the Doctor placidly sitting on her couch drinking tea.
“I’m surprised you haven’t deconstructed the stereo by now,” she said dryly.
“Hmm?” the Doctor said, looking up from his teacup. “Do I do that later? How rude of me, I do apologize.”
Rose managed to hold in her laughter for about a second, but then it bubbled out of her before she could stop it. “Don’t worry,” she said with a smile. “You usually put things back together in the same or better condition than you found them in. Usually,” she said after a beat.
The Doctor said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow and drained the last of tea from his cup. “Ready for our next stop?” he asked.
Rose nodded. “Let me make one phone call first.” She pulled out her mobile while the Doctor got to his feet. She scrolled through her contact list until she got to Mickey’s name and hit send, bringing the phone to her ear. The Doctor rose from his seat on the couch, left his teacup on the coffee table, and picked up Rose’s suitcase to take it onto the TARDIS.
“Mickey, it’s Rose,” she said when he picked up. “No, I’m not coming to the pub. No, really. Look, I know you’re out with Alicia and everyone but I was hoping you could swing by Mum and Dad’s.” She rolled her eyes. “Yes, now.”
The Doctor appeared in the TARDIS doorway and leaned against the doorframe, waiting patiently for Rose to finish her call.
“It’s really important, Mickey. I’d rather just explain there. Yes, as quick as you can, please. I’ll be there shortly. Thanks.”
She disconnected and, with one last look around the flat she had called home for the last year, she crossed the room to stand in front of the Doctor.
“One last stop,” he said quietly.
Rose nodded. “Let’s get there.”
A few minutes later, the TARDIS was materializing somewhere in the vast Tyler mansion. Rose tentatively opened the door and peered out. “Got a thing for living rooms, have you?” she called over her shoulder before stepping out into the familiar room.
The Doctor appeared behind her. “They have such comfortable chairs,” he explained.
“Well, feel free to sit down in one,” Rose said with a smile. “I’m sure my mum will-” Rose was cut off in mid-sentence by Jackie bursting into the room, Pete close on her heels.
“Oh my God!” Jackie screamed. “It is him! I told you,” she said, turning briefly to look at Pete. “I said I heard the engines. Oh Rose,” she said, crossing the room to grasp Rose’s hands in hers. “You’re leaving then, aren’t you?” Before Rose could respond, Jackie caught sight of the Doctor sitting on her couch. “Who the hell are you?” she asked incredulously.
“I’m the Doctor,” he said, as if it should have been obvious.
“It’s the Doctor before he met us,” Rose said, squeezing Jackie’s hands. “He got here by mistake, because he got caught in a breach that another Time Lord made. I heard him materialize and I came bursting in. He’s taking me back, Mum. We’ll find the right version of him once we get back.”
Jackie glanced from Rose to the Doctor and back again. “He doesn’t know about…”
Rose squeezed Jackie’s hands warningly again. “No, and he can’t.”
“But you’re going with him?”
“I have to, Mum. I have to take this chance. I won’t get another.”
Jackie nodded. “Have you called Mickey?”
“He’s on his way,” Rose said. Nearly before she’d gotten sentence out, Mickey walked in to the room.
“All right, what’s the big-” He stopped in his tracks when he saw the TARDIS. He stared at it for a moment, but then he had eyes only for Rose. “You’re leaving,” he said flatly.
Rose shrugged. “What else can I do?”
Mickey shook his head and closed the distance between them, enfolding Rose in a warm hug. “Nothing. I know, there’s nothing else you can do.”
Rose tightened her arms around Mickey’s waist for a moment. Pulling back, she cupped his cheeks with her hands. “Be happy,” she whispered. “Be so, so happy.”
Mickey nodded. “And you.” It was only then that he caught sight of the velvet-coated Doctor sitting on the couch. After a near-perfect double-take, Rose explained again that he was an earlier incarnation of the Doctor, with suitable amounts of warning in her tone to keep Mickey from mentioning anything he shouldn’t in the ensuing conversation.
After some time, the Doctor withdrew the breach detector from his pocket and announced that it would be best if he and Rose returned to the TARDIS lest they miss their ride back to the proper universe. “I shudder to think of the paradox that would cause,” he said.
After a round of hugs, Rose and the Doctor got back on the TARDIS and shut the doors behind them. The Doctor moved the TARDIS back to the original place it materialized so that they would be more likely to catch the breach when it opened. He looked at Rose curiously.
“You’ll miss them,” he said softly. “You’ll miss them a great deal.”
“Yes,” Rose replied simply.
“You’re coming with me anyway, going back to me… to him, to the man I’ll be.”
Rose gave him an almost serene smile. “I love him,” she said. “And he needs me. Much more than they do.”
The Doctor blinked, obviously surprised by her response. He was saved from having to come up with an answer by a beeping from the detector in his pocket, indicating that the breach had been opened. “Here we go,” he exclaimed, with no little amount of enthusiasm. “Home again, home again,” he said in a slightly sing-song tone.
Rose was jostled against the console and winced a little before grabbing on to keep herself steady. The Doctor stared intently at the screen, watching data flow past. Eventually, the sharp jolting ceased and the Doctor beamed at Rose around the time rotor.
“And here we are, back again.” He took a last look at the screen and strode around the console to stand in front of Rose. “First stop, London.”
He reached over towards the navigation controls to set the destination. Suddenly, a distinctively harsh grinding noise filled the console room. Rose looked up at the Doctor, alarmed. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked incredulously.
“Oh dear,” the Doctor said, actually sounding worried. He nodded in the direction of the doors and the coat rack, where a large blue box was appearing out of thin air. “That can’t be good.”
In which Ten and Charley try to figure out where the TARDIS has been taken and why.
From here on out, many of the chapters will overlap slightly as I switch between Rose's and Charley's POVs. Don't be alarmed going forward if the chapters pick up prior to where the previous one left off :)
After a few terrifying moments of violent shaking and loud noises, the TARDIS fell silent and still. Charley got slowly to her knees, pushing away slightly from the wall where she’d braced herself during their wild trip.
“What on earth was that?” she asked, staring at the Doctor in shock.
His brown eyes wide, he shook his head. “I don’t know.” He staggered to his feet and began to inspect the console in earnest.
Charley got to her feet and walked tentatively up the ramp, fingers trailing along the handrail, ready to grab tightly to it at the slightest hint of turbulence. “You said we were being taken away. Do you know where?” she ventured.
The Doctor pulled out a device that looked similar to the sonic screwdriver Charley dimly remembered her version of the Doctor using on rare occasions — more often than not he would simply mention it in a litany of the contents of his pockets. As this Doctor aimed it at various points on the console, Charley mused that he’d probably updated it during the however-many-years they had been separated. “Doctor?” she said, trying to get his attention.
“Hmm?” he said, distracted by whatever nuances he heard in the low hum of the sonic.
“Where are we?” she reiterated. “And/or when are we?” she added as an afterthought.
“Oh, yes,” he muttered. “I’m trying to figure out how someone or something managed to override the controls.” He pulled the monitor around and muttered something the TARDIS did not choose to translate for Charley. “But how,” he continued, still sounding extremely frustrated. “That should be impossible.” He ran his fingers through his already-messy hair and looked from the screen to Charley. “I think we’re in the Vortex. Can’t tell for certain at the moment, because something has gone wonky with the controls.”
He pulled a pair of spectacles with thick black frames out of the pocket of his suit coat and pushed them onto his nose. Then the sonic screwdriver was humming away again, and the Doctor’s tongue poked out from behind his teeth as he concentrated on one particular panel.
“I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do to help?”
The Doctor straightened and blinked at her through his lenses. “Oh, well…” he glanced around the room as if he hoped the answer would be written on the walls or in the dust floating in the air. “Yes!” he exclaimed suddenly. He lunged down to his knees and pulled open a door in the grate floor. Beneath it was a storage bin jumbled full of odds and ends, some of which Charley recognized from her stay with the Doctor. In a quick but clear rush of words, he described a device to her that he said would help him diagnose the problem with the TARDIS and asked her to look for it while he continued poking at things with his sonic.
“You hardly ever used to use that thing,” she called up to him when she was reaching down into the storage bin, rummaging through the various items it contained. Even with her head down in the bin she could hear the screwdriver whirring away.
“I did used to go more hands-free, didn’t I?” he replied, sounding faintly reminiscent. “But last regeneration, I…” he trailed off for a moment, long enough that Charley stopped rooting around in the storage bin and looked up at him curiously. “Had some time on my hands,” he finally finished. “Lots of it, actually.” His voice took on the dark tone she had begun to notice in it before, and once again she wondered what had happened to him after she’d left him, and what she could possibly do to help him feel better. “Anyway,” he continued, “I pulled out my sonic and started working on it. It’s got thousands of settings now.” He flipped it up and neatly caught it. “Even resonates concrete.” He smiled then, but Charley thought it looked like a smile meant for someone who wasn’t there to see it. She dove back into the storage bin and the Doctor returned his concentration to the console once more.
A few minutes later, Charley jumped to her feet with a victorious shout. “I’ve got it!” She held out the device to the Doctor. “At least I think I have.”
The Doctor, who had made his meandering way to the other side of the console, came back around and took the device from her.
“Excellent work, Charley! Haven’t had to use this in ages, I’m sure it was pretty far down…”
Charley stretched a kink out of her neck. “Quite,” she said dryly.
The Doctor fixed the device over one of the navigation panels as Charley sat down on the bench behind him, watching curiously. She had always enjoyed watching the Doctor operate the TARDIS. She found the whole process fascinating, though she understood far less of it than she wished she did. Besides, sometimes it got rather amusing to watch the Doctor fly the ship. Earlier, this Doctor had seemed different only in that he put more of a flourish on his leaps and bounds around the console.
Now, however, he was far less kinetic, staying in front of the panel to which he’d attached his diagnostic device or hopping a foot or so to his right to check something or another on the monitor. He kept up a constant stream of babble, most of which flew over Charley’s head. Something about the Time Vortex and parallel timelines or tangential timelines and time shielding and she began to wonder if he was even making sense to himself.
Suddenly, he straightened and looked back at her, a tight smile on his face. “I think I can get us back on our feet,” he said.
Charley tilted her head slightly. “Then why do you still look worried?”
The Doctor shrugged with a halfway-decent attempt at nonchalance. “I’m not worried. I just still don’t know how we got into this in the first place.” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, I can get us out.”
He turned back to the console and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “I just have to find the right Vortex resonance pattern, lock on to a point outside the Vortex, preferably the first one that I can find just to make sure we get out, and then it’s just a matter of using the materialization override circuit to reverse the polarity and get us out.”
Charley rolled her eyes at the Doctor’s back. “Of course,” she muttered. “Reverse the polarity, why didn’t I think of that?”
“Brace yourself,” the Doctor called over his shoulder. Charley gripped the bench tightly, and was proud of herself when, after a few sharp jerks left and right, she was still safely seated when the TARDIS came to a stop once more.
Her relief was short-lived, however. Just a few seconds after the jerking stopped, nearly all the lights went out, and the pulsing of the time rotor slowed to a near stop.
“No!” the Doctor exclaimed. “No, no, no, what are you doing?” He ran around the console poking at things and pulling on others. Charley could see his expression by the dim light of the time rotor and the TARDIS’ emergency lighting system, and she thought she hadn’t seen the Doctor looking quite so at a loss for ideas about what to do since they’d first found themselves in the timeless parallel universe.
“Now what’s happened?” she asked carefully.
“It was too easy, I should have seen,” the Doctor muttered. “It was some kind of trick, someone wanted me to do that. We’re stuck in some sort of loop.” He was across the console from her now, and as she watched his face in the dim light, she could tell they had a real problem on their hands. “Time loop?” he said, pulling the monitor around and reading it quickly. “There’s Vortex energy looping out of my TARDIS and into…” He punched a series of buttons, said something else the TARDIS wouldn’t translate — Charley wondered if he did more of that now than he used to or if it was just a reaction to the extreme situation — and punched more buttons.
Then his jaw dropped. “That’s impossible,” he breathed, taking off his glasses and tucking them back into his suit jacket.
“What?” Charley got to her feet and strode around to stand at the Doctor’s side, although whatever the Doctor was reading was displayed in the symbols she remembered as being the written form of Gallifreyan. She touched his arm softly. “What’s happened?”
“It… looks like…” he said slowly, “there’s Vortex energy being looped from my TARDIS through to two other TARDISes.”
Charley shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s impossible,” he repeated. “One, because it looks like one of them might be my TARDIS, except different. Earlier, or later. Not this one, not like she is now.”
“You told me once that you’ve met yourself before. So surely you’ve had your TARDIS bump into herself before.”
“It’s not just that,” he insisted, eyes wide, staring at the monitor without actually appearing to read it anymore.
“Then what is it?” Charley asked, stepping closer. She reached up and gently cupped his cheek before dropping her hand to his sleeve. “Doctor, tell me what’s wrong.”
He opened his mouth as if he were going to reply, but then his hand slipped, pushed the button that enabled the video feed of what was outside the TARDIS. Charley gasped, and under her hand, the Doctor’s arm went completely stiff.
The monitor showed a room that was a curious mix of utilitarian metal, warm wooden paneling, and plush antiquarian décor. A richly upholstered armchair sat near the relatively futuristic console, and in the background there were large open rooms leading to further corridors instead of doors leading to hallways. And in the center of the screen stood two figures, one a man in aristocratic velvet and ruffles, the other a woman in simple jeans and t-shirt.
“It’s you!” exclaimed Charley. “My you!” She bounced slightly on the balls of her feet, her joy at seeing her Doctor eclipsing her worry over the situation. “Doctor, isn’t it…” she trailed off when she realized that the Doctor she was with hadn’t budged an inch since her Doctor and the woman he was with had appeared on the screen. “Doctor?”
“It can’t be,” he whispered. Charley squeezed his arm where she still held it just above the elbow, but he seemed to have completely forgotten that she was there. “Rose,” he breathed, almost too quietly for Charley to hear. She peered up at him in the dim light, trying to decipher the frozen expression on his face. She couldn’t decide if it was horror or joy.
She still hadn’t made up her mind when he raced down the ramp, leaving her gaping at him as he flung open the door and stopped once more, still as a stone, just outside.
In which Ten and Rose are reunited.
Rose stared mutely at the TARDIS that had just materialized in front of her and the Doctor. She tried to tell herself that it could be any version of the Doctor, at any point in his life. She reminded herself that she’d already run to the TARDIS once today and found someone she wasn’t expecting. She was so busy staring at the blue box and trying to keep herself from getting her hopes up too high that she almost didn’t notice when the lights went out.
Then the emergency lights kicked on and she realized that the gentle whooshing of the time rotor had nearly ceased. She tore her gaze away from the TARDIS in the corner and looked at the Doctor, who for his part had turned back to the console.
“What happened?” Rose asked, coming up behind the Doctor and peering over his shoulder at gauges and readouts of which she had only the vaguest of understanding. What little she did understand was thanks to the fact that before she’d been trapped on the parallel world, the Doctor had started to teach her how to help him pilot the TARDIS. But the console had looked — or was it “would look?” — very different then, so Rose was even less sure of what she was looking at than she might have been otherwise.
The Doctor shook his head. “Whatever it is, it’s not good.” He glanced up at the monitor hanging above their heads. “It’s something to do with Vortex energy,” he muttered.
Rose shuddered delicately. She knew how much damage that could do when used incorrectly. “What about Vortex energy?”
The Doctor called up more data on the monitor and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “It’s being looped through my TARDIS — both versions — and…” he said, pausing as though weighing his words. “I think through someone else’s.”
“Someone… else’s?” Rose said incredulously.
“Mmm,” the Doctor said distractedly. “Could be the Master, I suppose. He always seems to pop back up. Morbius? The Black Guardian?” He looked up suddenly and turned back to face the TARDIS. “Dear Lord, I hope it’s not the Valeyard.”
Rose gaped at him, struggling to keep from blurting out how impossible it would be for it to be any other Time Lord. Once again she found herself trying to wrap her mind around how it could be possible for her to visit a part of the timeline that her Doctor had assured her was locked in place by the end of the Time War. For the Doctor she stood next to right now, the Time Lords still existed, Gallifrey still hung in the heavens. For her, they didn’t — not only that, they never had, not as far as she was concerned. She shook her head to clear it.
“You don’t remember this?” she asked, though she was sure she already knew the answer. He’d told her he was in his eighth regeneration, and she knew when she had met him he’d been in his ninth. If he didn’t remember this, then maybe it was a later version of him in that box. Maybe it was her Doctor. She struggled to keep from getting her hopes up too high.
“Not at all,” he replied immediately. “Not even a little.” He shrugged. “Of course, it could still be an earlier version of me in there. If it is, I just haven’t reached the point where it’s okay to remember yet.”
They stood there silently for a moment, gazing at the silent blue box just a few feet away from them, waiting.
“What should we do?” Rose finally asked. “I mean, do we knock? Should I try my key?”
The Doctor was saved from replying by the door bursting open. For the space of a heartbeat or two, Rose was frozen, unable to do anything but stare at the one face she had been longing to see above all others for an entire year. The one face she had thought she would never see again until just a few hours ago. In that tiny space of frozen time, she took in his suit with its beloved pale blue pinstripes against chocolate-brown wool, his battered trainers, his messy hair.
“Doctor,” she whispered, sounding almost reverent in the silence of the powered-down console room.
When he spoke, his voice was low, guttural with emotion and terrified hope. “Rose.”
As if the sound of her name on his lips had released her from chains, she raced across the short distance between them, made even shorter by the fact that her movement spurred his own, so they met in the middle in a tangle of limbs and incomprehensible words that left them both breathless.
Rose’s hands found their way to his face, and she stroked her fingers down his sideburns and her thumbs along his cheekbones. “It’s you,” she said wonderingly. “My God, it’s really you. My Doctor.”
His fingers were already tangled in her hair, and she wondered if he’d noticed the slight difference in color, and he lowered his forehead to hers as if he were just soaking in everything she was. She felt something at the edge of her awareness, like his mind was brushing against hers without actually trying to get in, just seeking out her soothing presence, gone for so long. “Rose,” he said again. “My Rose.”
He tugged gently on her hair, tilting her head back ever so slightly. Gazing into her eyes, he slowly touched his mouth to hers, and she slid her hands into his hair, her fingers making fists in the spikes, like she dimly remembered doing when Cassandra had been in control of her body on New Earth. This, she thought, was much better. Much better.
A discreet cough broke through the haze of joy Rose had been engulfed in the moment her Doctor had stepped out of the second TARDIS. Her TARDIS, she thought giddily, with its coral and its uncomfortable bench and narrow hallways. She forced herself to focus on the crisis at hand and take time to celebrate properly later. After all, possible universe-endangering Vortex problems were slightly more pressing than long-overdue snogging from the Doctor. Slightly.
Rose pulled back slightly from her Doctor to look over at the other Doctor, who was watching them with a slightly gobsmacked expression on his face.
He coughed again. “Well, that was a bit unexpected,” he said calmly.
“It’s you!” her Doctor exclaimed brightly, striding away from Rose and towards his counterpart. “Oh, you’re one of my favorites, you are.” He looked around the console room, a huge grin on his face. “I always did like this particular look. The armchair was a nice touch, if I do say so myself. Good for having a cuppa between trips. And you did like your tea, didn’t you?”
Rose couldn’t help but smile at the bemused expression on the other Doctor’s face.
“I see I wasn’t at a loss for words when you were with me,” he said calmly to Rose, who stifled a laugh and shook her head.
“Not usually, no,” she said.
“Doctor,” he said, addressing her version of him. “Did you have any particular reason for landing in my TARDIS? You did save me the trouble of trying to find you to deliver Miss Tyler here to you, but all the same, it hasn’t exactly gone smoothly, has it?”
“Oh, I didn’t do this,” her Doctor replied, sobering instantly. “There’s something very wrong going on.”
“I was thinking perhaps the Master?” the Doctor said, stroking his chin again. “Or some other renegade Time Lord. I think there’s another TARDIS in the Vortex loop.”
Her Doctor shook his head. “I don’t understand how that can be,” he muttered, and Rose crossed the small distance between them to lace her fingers with his in a silent gesture of support. He squeezed her hand in response.
“Oh, my God,” said a woman’s voice from somewhere behind them.
Rose whipped her head around to look over her shoulder to see where the voice had come from and found herself looking at a young woman close to her age standing in the doorway to her Doctor’s TARDIS.
“It’s you,” she said, in much the same tone as Rose had used just a few minutes earlier. The woman stayed motionless in the doorway, staring at the other Doctor. “He said we never saw each other again, but it’s you.”
“Charley,” he said, and he strode purposefully past Rose and her Doctor, a smile plastered across his face.
In which Eight and Charley are reunited.
Charley gaped at the Doctor, silhouetted in the TARDIS doorway by the low lights of the console room in which they’d landed. She’d never seen her Doctor react this way to anything, and she was certain that this Doctor, with his silver tongue that never seemed to stop moving, didn’t often react this way either.
Rather than race after the Doctor, Charley looked back at the monitor on the console. She tried to gauge the reaction of the woman on the screen despite the dim lighting. Charley could just make out her lips moving, probably saying the Doctor’s name, Charley mused. Other than that, she was as still as a statue.
“Rose,” Charley heard the Doctor say, and then both he and the woman were running towards each other, meeting in the middle of the screen and tangling together in a way that had Charley’s eyebrows winging up in surprise. The Doctor’s hands were threaded in the woman’s hair, and they were pressed together so that between the dim light and the small size of the console monitor, it was difficult for Charley to differentiate between the two of them.
Then they were kissing, which had Charley’s eyebrows winging up even higher. Oh, there had been moments with her Doctor when she’d felt as if they were close to crossing lines, like in the clock tower on Caerdroia with the Eeyore side of the Doctor’s personality, and there were those odd dream-like memories of their first experiences in the timeless parallel universe. But beyond that, Charley had sort of thought the Doctor just didn’t get involved in that way.
Then she heard pointed coughs, and her gaze was riveted on the third person on the console screen. Her Doctor. His calm, deep voice drifted in through the doors and had Charley closing her eyes in relief. Even after seeing his image on the screen, she had in a way been afraid to believe he’d really been there.
Eyes still closed, she turned around so she was facing the door again, letting the voices outside wash over her. Her Doctor’s measured tones mixed with the other Doctor’s more manic babbles, and Charley opened her eyes. She strode towards the door and paused, staring out at the trio standing near the console.
Her Doctor was standing facing the TARDIS she’d arrived in, but he was looking at the other Doctor, who stood hand in hand with the woman he’d been kissing a few moments earlier. Charley could make out a faint smile on her Doctor’s face.
“Oh my God,” she said quietly, finally allowing herself to really believe he was there. She shook her head slightly, a smile spreading over her face. “It’s you.”
She wanted to step out of the doorway, wanted to cross the distance between them and burrow into a hug, but she stayed where she was, fingers curled around the rough wood of the TARDIS exterior as if she were trying to remind herself it was all real.
Her eyes flitted briefly to the other Doctor before returning to lock on hers. “He said we never saw each other again, but it’s you.”
“Charley,” he said, her name flowing out of his lips as it always had, a wealth of affection evident in the warmth of his voice. Then he was crossing the room to her, and he pulled her out of the doorway and into his arms, and she buried her face in the crook of his neck, hooked her arms securely around his waist, and savored the feel of his velvet coat under her cheek.
“Doctor,” she murmured against his throat.
“Oh, Charley,” he said, pressing his lips against her hair. “How I’ve missed you.”
“Missed you, too.”
He pulled back slightly, pushing gently at her shoulders so he could look her in the eye. “I got your note,” he said, sadness in his eyes. “I thought you wanted me to leave you alone.”
“I left that note before everything happened,” she explained, eyes wide. “I changed my mind. I wanted to stay with you. I wanted that more than anything.”
He reached up and stroked her cheek softly with the backs of his fingers. “You did?”
“Why do you think I wouldn’t let you make me forget you? I couldn’t forget you because you were the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Was I?” His tone was a combination of disbelieving and pleasantly surprised.
“Of course you were.” Now it was she who reached for his face, cupping his cheek with her palm. “I would have stayed with you, for ever. I was trying to get back to you.”
“Yes,” Charley said, her smile growing larger. “I was very clever, if I do say so myself.”
“Oh, she was brilliant,” the other Doctor broke in. He and the woman had come closer to Charley and her Doctor. They were still holding hands, their fingers woven together as if simply clasping palms wasn’t a tight enough connection. “She salvaged bits and pieces of the Cybermen’s ship and built her own crystal set! She was sending out an SOS, and I picked it up.” He smiled at her. “Land the TARDIS and suddenly there’s someone pounding on my door. Gave her a bit of a shock to see me instead of you, I think.”
“I suppose it would.”
Charley frowned up at her Doctor. “You could have told me about…” she glanced at the other Doctor. “What did you call it?”
“Regeneration,” he supplied.
“Yes,” Charley said. “Regeneration. It would have been nice to know about it beforehand. Imagine if I’d been with you when it happened! I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on.”
The woman holding hands with the other Doctor let out a laugh. “Been there, done that,” she muttered good-naturedly. “He’s not the most forthcoming of blokes,” she said. “He didn’t warn me either, and then he just exploded in a rush of golden light.” She shook her head. “Very upsetting.” She bumped her shoulder up against his. “But it turned out all right.”
She dropped the other Doctor’s hand then and held hers out to Charley, who extricated herself from her Doctor’s hold to take it.
“I’m Rose Tyler,” the woman said. “From Earth, born in nineteen eighty-six.” She gave Charley’s hand a friendly squeeze and shake before dropping it with a smile. “What about you?”
“Oh, I’m Charley,” she said. “Charley Pollard. I was born — on Earth — in nineteen twelve. The day the Titanic sank, actually.”
“I was there!” the other Doctor said brightly. “Got stuck clinging to an iceberg. Terrible mess.” He glanced at Charley’s Doctor, looking slightly guilty. “Sorry, shouldn’t have mentioned that. After your time.”
Her Doctor shook his head. “I suspect I’ll already have to forget much of what’s happening now. What’s one more detail?”
“Good point,” said the other Doctor. “Now that we’ve got all that squared away, who’s for figuring out what exactly is going on here?”
“An excellent idea, Doctor,” replied Charley’s Doctor.
“Thank you, Doctor,” replied the other. Rose rolled her eyes exaggeratedly and Charley suppressed a giggle.
The four of them made their way to the doors of her Doctor’s TARDIS, and the other Doctor took a deep breath before pushing them open.
In which Our Heroes venture forth to see where they've ended up.
Rose slipped her hand into the Doctor’s — her Doctor’s. She was still having trouble believing that he was actually there, that all this was actually happening, that it wasn’t some crazy dream or the aneurysm she’d briefly suspected when she’d first heard the telltale sound of the TARDIS’ materialization only hours before. It helped to touch him, to link her fingers with his and feel the cool skin of his palm against her warmer one.
He squeezed her hand once, smiled, and took a deep breath. Then he pushed open the door of his earlier counterpart’s TARDIS and stepped resolutely over the threshold. Rose followed, blinking owlishly. Unlike either of the Doctor’s TARDISes, wherever they were was not dimly lit, but rather bright. Behind her, Rose felt the other Doctor and the woman called Charley step out after her.
“It’s so bright,” Charley muttered.
“Just wait a moment, Charley,” the other Doctor replied, his voice soothing. “Your eyes will adjust quickly.”
“That doesn’t make it any less bright,” Charley said somewhat peevishly.
Rose grinned in spite of the discomfort of the brightness; she was certain that mutinous tone had been in her own voice any number of times. She blinked a few more times and began to survey their surroundings as her eyes adjusted.
They were in a large room which was dominated by a clinical shade of white with pale grey or silver accents. Along the walls were panels with electronics alternating with shallow cabinets fronted by glass doors. Their shelves were stocked with jars containing different colors of liquids, some with things Rose was fairly sure she didn’t want identified suspended within them. Her gaze tracked over a number of doors with electronic keypads next to them, some of which were standing open.
She and the Doctor took hesitant steps into the room, still holding hands. Rose continued to catalogue the contents of the room until her gaze landed on the center of the room. She gasped, the sound surprisingly loud in the still of the room.
“Doctor!” she exclaimed. “Is that what I think it is?” She stared up at his face, which was locked in one of his closed-off expressions, the kind she was always terrified she wouldn’t be able to wipe off with a well-timed joke or a sweet smile this time around. “Doctor?”
He tore his gaze from the center of the room and looked down into Rose’s worried eyes. There was a terror in his eyes that Rose was fairly certain she had only seen there once before — when she’d been clinging by the tips of her fingers to the lever at Canary Wharf, seconds away from losing her grip and falling into an endless hell of nothing along with millions of Daleks and thousands of Cybermen.
“It’s a TARDIS console,” he said, his voice flat.
“It’s not yours?” she asked, grasping for one last moment of hope in the face of the Doctor’s terror.
“No,” he choked out. He shook his head a little, and the shadow of a mischievous twinkle entered his eyes. “Certainly not one of my previous self’s, and honestly I can’t see me ever going for the mad scientist look.” For a moment Rose thought he was going to be able to hold on to the humor of that statement, but his eyes immediately shuttered again. “Besides, it doesn’t feel like my TARDIS.”
Rose closed her eyes and concentrated. Though since she’d looked into its heart she had often felt the Doctor’s TARDIS at the edge of her mind, had spent years taking comfort in its warmth, this room felt cold. Empty. No, she thought, this couldn’t be the Doctor’s TARDIS. This was definitely not her home. “No,” she said softly. “It really doesn’t.”
“I wonder whose it is,” the other Doctor mused aloud, leading Charley past Rose and her Doctor with a hand resting lightly at the small of Charley’s back. He drifted away from her then, towards the unfamiliar TARDIS’s console. “Doesn’t seem like quite the Master’s style to me.”
Rose watched her Doctor run his free hand through his tangled hair and wished she knew what to say to him to help.
“It can’t be anyone’s TARDIS,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else in the room. “This can’t be happening.”
“If you…” Charley paused momentarily. “Regenerate, right?” The other Doctor nodded at Charley, and she continued. “If you regenerate and it changes your personality, and your TARDIS can look differently if you want it to, why couldn’t this be this Master person, just… regenerated?”
The other Doctor nodded. “Could be,” he said. “But it doesn’t feel like his sort of thing.”
“It’s not the Master.”
Rose heard a finality in the Doctor’s tone that had her dropping his hand and stepping in front of him. She smoothed the lapels of his suit jacket in a manner she knew he’d always found soothing and then cupped his cheeks with her hands.
“Tell me,” she said softly. “Breathe, and tell me.”
He glanced over at his other self. “I can’t.”
The other Doctor gazed at them steadily for a moment and then gestured to Charley. “Come with me,” he said. “Let’s go see if there’s anything on the TARDIS that could help us.”
“But, Doctor…” Charley began. He cut her off with a pointed look at his other self and Rose, and she nodded. “Of course.”
As soon as they had re-entered the TARDIS, Rose pulled her Doctor’s attention back to her. “Now tell me,” she said softly, her hands dropping to his lapels once more.
“It can’t be the Master,” he repeated.
“You said that. Tell me why you said it the way you said it.”
“He survived, Rose.” The Doctor’s voice sounded dangerously close to breaking.
“What, the War? You said no one survived. You said everyone died.”
“He was hiding at the end of the universe, hiding as a human, so it missed him. What I did, it missed him, and there he was. I — we — that is, myself and this woman I was traveling with, Martha, and Captain Jack…”
“You’ve seen Jack?” Rose asked, brightening in spite of their situation. “How is he?”
“Oh,” the Doctor said. “Er, he’s fine.” Something in his tone made Rose wonder exactly how fine Jack really was, but she chose not to press that particular button when she was obviously already in tender territory. “Anyway, we met the Master at the end of the universe, and then he tried… he went back to your time, a little bit after Canary Wharf, and he tried…” He broke off.
Rose reached up and adjusted his tie. “What did he try to do?” she asked, trying to keep her tone businesslike.
“He stole my TARDIS and used her to create a paradox. He could tell Gallifrey was gone, and he wanted to bring back the humans from the end of the universe and turn the Earth into the base of a new Gallifreyan empire.”
Rose watched the Doctor go somewhere very far away in his mind, somewhere far away and very, very sad. Her heart ached for him, and for the fact that she didn’t know how to fix it.
“Eventually I got it sorted,” he said, a trace of his usual cockiness breaking through. “With a little help, of course. I was going to take him on board the TARDIS, keep him on board, keep him from wreaking havoc, but then he was shot right in front of me.”
He looked down into Rose’s eyes, his own eyes brimming with unshed tears. “He died in my arms, Rose. The only other Time Lord in the entire universe, and he died in my arms.”
“He chose not regenerate,” Rose whispered incredulously, thinking back to what the other Doctor had told her in the chip shop in Pete’s World.
“I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t save any of them, Rose, not any of them.” She knew he was talking about the Time Lords, not anyone who would have been affected by the Master’s plan to refashion Earth in some twisted image of Gallifrey.
Rose raised her hands back to the Doctor’s face. “You did what you had to,” she said calmly, steadily. “You did what was necessary, nothing more, nothing less.”
The Doctor lowered his forehead to hers and took a deep breath, then another. “I know,” he said raggedly. “I know.”
He pulled away and Rose let him take a step back, sensing he needed the distance to rein in the emotion he’d let loose. After a moment, she spoke up, once again using a down-to-business tone in hopes of helping him focus.
“So, it can’t be the Master. Who else can it be?”
“No one,” he said immediately. “There’s no one else, I told you I’d feel them if they were out there.”
“You didn’t feel the Master.”
“He was a human, and he was at the end of the universe, trillions of years in the future and an unimaginable physical distance away. And then he was using a satellite to mask his presence.”
“Doctor, we’re standing in a TARDIS that isn’t yours. Either we’ve crossed into a timeline you swore was unchangeable thanks to the war, or else there is another Time Lord out there who managed to keep himself masked from you.”
A low, feminine laugh sounded from the other side of the room, and the Doctor and Rose whipped their heads around to look for the source. A woman with blood-red nails stepped into the room from one of the corridors, a smug smile on her face.
“Or a Time Lady keeping herself masked.”
In which Eight and Charley cool their heels in the TARDIS before coming out to meet their hostess.
This chapter picks up about halfway through the previous chapter, following Eight and Charley into the TARDIS.
The Doctor’s hand was warm and comforting on the small of Charley’s back as he led her further into the third TARDIS’ console room. She listened as her Doctor and the other Doctor discussed whose TARDIS it might be.
“It can’t be anyone’s TARDIS,” the other Doctor muttered quietly. He shook his head agitatedly. “This can’t be happening.”
A thought occurred to Charley, and she turned back to look at Rose and the man whose hand she held. “If you…” She paused slightly, glanced at her Doctor questioningly. “Regenerate, right?” He nodded at her in encouragement, and she pushed on. “If you regenerate and it changes your personality, and your TARDIS can look differently if you want it to, why couldn’t this be this Master person, just… regenerated?”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Could be,” he said. “But it doesn’t feel like his sort of thing.”
“It’s not the Master.”
The sharpness of the other Doctor’s tone had Charley looking back at him in surprise. Rose had dropped his hand and was moving to stand in front of him, gently smoothing his lapels.
“Tell me,” she said softly, cupping his face with her hands, making him look her in the eye. “Breathe, and tell me.”
Charley saw his gaze briefly but pointedly flick over to her and her Doctor. “I can’t,” he said tightly.
Everyone was silent for a moment. Then her Doctor moved his hand from her lower back to her shoulder. “Come with me,” he said. “Let’s go see if there’s anything on the TARDIS that could help us.”
“But, Doctor…” Charley began. Then she caught the look in his eye and the slight jerk of his head towards Rose and his counterpart, and she realized he wanted to give them some space. “Of course.”
He led her back onto his TARDIS and, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him, skirted around her and headed straight for the console. Charley trailed after him at a slower pace, enjoying being back in the room in which she’d spent so much of her time with him — when they weren’t running for their lives or negotiating for them with some hostile person or alien. Even in the dim emergency lighting she could make out things that had been altered slightly, things that remained endearingly the same. It made her smile, and she held the warm feeling of home close to her heart, armor against the storm she knew they hadn’t survived yet.
She reached the Doctor and found him pressing buttons seemingly at random. “Is that really going to help?” she asked skeptically.
“Er…” the Doctor hedged. “It… could. Maybe.”
Charley raised an eyebrow.
“All right, maybe not. But he obviously needed to tell her something I couldn’t know.”
Charley nodded. “I did get that impression, yes.” She glanced around the dim room. “Is there anything we can do here?”
“Not really,” the Doctor said regretfully. “I suppose I could dig out my sonic screwdriver. I so rarely use it, but it might come in handy…” He glanced around absently, patting his pockets as he did so. “Could be anywhere,” he muttered.
“He’s got one,” Charley put in. “I saw it. He said it’s got thousands of settings.”
“Thousands, eh?” A wry smile ghosted across his face. “Either he’s done a lot of tinkering with it or he’s exaggerating for maximum effect.”
Charley thought back to the way the other Doctor had been acting before they’d been pulled by something unknown into her own Doctor’s TARDIS. “I rather get the impression he’s had some time on his hands recently.” She stepped closer to the Doctor and touched his arm. “And you? Have you been keeping busy?”
The Doctor looked down at her, a tender smile on his face. “I seem to end up busy without even trying. But I have missed you terribly, Charley.” He pulled her into his arms for a hug, and she burrowed into him.
“I missed you too,” she said into his chest. “So much.”
Suddenly, the Doctor stiffened. “Something’s wrong,” he said quietly.
Charley pulled back slightly and looked up at him curiously. “More wrong than it already is?”
He nodded. “I can feel him — the other me, I can feel him in my head — and something is wrong.” He let go of Charley and crept to the door. He peered out and saw the woman with the red nails striding into the room.
“Or a Time Lady keeping herself masked,” she said, sounding smug and proud.
Charley, who had followed the Doctor to the door and was peering out as well, touched his shoulder lightly. “Who’s she?” she asked in a whisper.
“I’m not sure,” the Doctor replied. “There are a few possibilities. Can’t be Romana,” he mused. “She wouldn’t do something like this.” He shook his head, muttering things Charley didn’t catch under his breath. “Wait,” he said. “The equipment in the console room, the specimens in the jars…” He fixed his gaze on the woman. “It’s the Rani,” he breathed.
“The Rani?” Charley questioned.
“She’s a scientist,” he whispered. “A brilliant, genius scientist without even a semblance of a moral code. If it benefits her research,” he explained, “then it’s permissible as far as she’s concerned.” He looked back at his counterpart’s TARDIS standing in his own console room, then down at Charley beside him. “If she’s behind this, it’s very, very bad.” He took a deep breath. “Well, no use hiding in here.” He slipped his hand into Charley’s. “Come on, Charley. Stay close.”
He pushed the door open and stepped through. The woman he’d called the Rani immediately looked over at them, a wide and menacing smile on her face.
“So good of you to join us,” she said.
“Hello, Rani,” he replied dryly.
“I was just about to explain why I’ve brought you here, and I do hate repeating myself. Such a waste of time, don’t you think, Doctor?”
Neither Charley’s Doctor nor Rose’s Doctor said anything in response, and Charley supposed this Rani person wasn’t really expecting anything anyway.
“You’ve done something,” she said, turning towards the other Doctor. “I want to know what.”
He was stone-faced for a moment, but then was all forced brightness, though Charley could see his fingers tighten around Rose’s. “Oh, I’ve done many things in my time, most of which I’m sure you would find interfering and lacking in vision. You’ll have to be more specific.”
“Oh, don’t be so thick,” the Rani replied impatiently. “You and the Master, always talking around everything like children, never just saying what’s what. How either of you ever got anything done I will never know.” She crossed the distance between the two of them until she stood less than a foot in front of him, staring him right in the eyes. “Gallifrey, Doctor. I was in a parallel world, and then suddenly I couldn’t get back. The way was shut. It took me years, Doctor. Years wasted trying to get back here when I could have been making progress with my real work. And months wasted finding him, in his different time stream, following him until he found her,” she gestured to Rose, “which made it possible for your time streams to cross. And here we are, after all that wasted time. So I’d like to know, Doctor. What have you done to Gallifrey?”
Beside her, Charley felt the Doctor go still. She, too, wondered what the Rani was talking about. The last Charley had known, everything was fine on Gallifrey. Oh, the Time Lords were pompous and Rassilon had turned out to be a bit of a turncoat, but Romana had been all right, and at least once they left they could laugh at the funny capes and hats and the Doctor could tell her the story of how he’d stolen the TARDIS when he was much younger and never stopped running since.
“It’s… gone,” her Doctor said suddenly. “I can’t… that’s what’s been bothering me since we landed. I didn’t say anything, I thought it was just that something was off with Time and it was part of the problem of your TARDIS in my TARDIS in this TARDIS, but I can’t feel Gallifrey.” He turned to look at his counterpart. “Where are the Time Lords? Where is Gallifrey?”
“There was a war,” the other Doctor said flatly.
“And?” her Doctor replied, still sounding confused.
In which the Rani presses the Doctor to explain what happened to Gallifrey before revealing her reason for orchestrating the situation.
When the Rani asked about Gallifrey, Rose wished she could whisk the Doctor out of the room, away from the woman with the sharp red nails and the sardonic voice who was insisting on bringing up old pain, resurrecting old ghosts. Rose grimaced inwardly. Resurrecting old ghosts? What if that was exactly what the Rani was trying to do?
Rose and the Doctor hadn’t discussed the Time War very often, but sometimes when he was feeling particularly morbid, or the occasional time he accidentally got drunk on an unfamiliar planet, he had let slip certain details. One of the ones he almost always saw fit to mention was that nothing about the Time War could be altered, that the entire thing had been time-locked, and that as a by-product, he could never go back to Gallifrey, even if it were to a time prior to the Time War.
Rose had never quite understood how that had worked, but considering the subject she had chosen not to press for further explanations. She was fairly certain she wouldn’t understand anyway — much as she loved traveling with the Doctor, the wibbly-wobbly nature of most of their travels often gave her a headache if she thought about it too much.
She shook herself mentally and resumed paying attention to the conversation around her in time to hear her Doctor speak in the tone he always used when talking about the Time War.
“There was a war.”
“And?” asked the other Doctor.
Rose squeezed the Doctor’s hand helplessly, knowing there was little she could do at this point. She promised herself that when they got out of this — and she refused to believe they would do otherwise, as she hadn’t managed to cross the Void only to lose him immediately — she would come up with something spectacularly cheerful for them to do.
“But that’s not an answer, Doctor,” the Rani put in. “I want to know what you did.”
“Why do you care, Rani?” he asked, looking her in the eye. “You hated them, all of them. You hated how they limited you, how they restricted you. Why do you care that they’re gone?” he finished angrily.
Out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw that the other Doctor still looked shell-shocked over the news about Gallifrey and the rest of the Time Lords, but was nodding along with what her Doctor was saying.
“I never wanted them gone,” the Rani exclaimed, pacing away from the Doctor. “Oh, of course I wanted them to leave me alone and stay out of my affairs.” She turned back to look at the Doctors and their companions. “But the Time Lords had their uses, and besides, my TARDIS doesn’t run the same without Gallifrey hanging about. And how am I supposed to get back and forth from my parallel universe without other Time Lords about to manage the breaches for me?”
“Tragic,” the Doctor murmured. Rose took it as a good sign that he was making snide remarks.
“But I digress,” the Rani said, striding back to the Doctor. “What did you do? You’re the only one left; it had to be you that did whatever it was that happened. Tell me,” she insisted. Her eyes slid from Rose’s Doctor to the other Doctor and back again. “Tell him what’s in store.”
“There was a war,” the Doctor said again. “A war with the Daleks,” he continued, and Rose could tell that he wished he had another choice. “At the end of it, it was a choice between Gallifrey and the universe.” He looked over at the other Doctor, locked gazes.
“I choose the universe,” the other Doctor said, his voice resigned and sad, but strong as well. Rose thought perhaps this Doctor had a confidence her Doctors had lacked, perhaps he didn’t second-guess himself as often because he hadn’t yet made that terrible choice, hadn’t yet followed through on it and destroyed his own people in the process.
“I chose the universe,” her Doctor acknowledged gravely.
“How noble,” the Rani said sardonically. “And then, let me guess, you time-locked it so no one — not you, not the Time Lords, not the Daleks — could go back or forward or sideways to change it?”
“I had to end it.”
The Rani folded her arms across her chest and made a humph sound. “That’s too bad.” She wandered over to her console. “As you probably remember, the last time we met I was experimenting with Time — manipulating it, controlling it.” She began to press buttons in a leisurely manner, continuing to speak as she did so. “You interrupted me, of course, and ruined much of my work. And now you’ve inconvenienced me again — a terrible habit you’ve made, ever since our school days.” She shook her head, turned back to face them.
“You’re making up for now, though, Doctor, because in inconveniencing me you’ve given me something truly excellent to experiment on. An expert time lock, truly well-done you,” she added, turning to the other Doctor. “And then years of your life have gone by,” she said, turning back to Rose’s Doctor. “You’ve even regenerated again, if I’m not mistaken. Massive paradox in the making if I’m successful in unlocking the Time War, and I’m not interested in destroying the universe while I’m standing in it, so that’s that to be taken care of as well.”
She reached behind her without turning and hit another button, and the time rotor of her TARDIS began to pulse slowly and emit a faint bluish-white glow. Rose shifted slightly, nerves humming. This, she decided, could not be good.
“Which is why I need you both,” the Rani finished. “Both your TARDISes, and both of you.”
“The Vortex loop,” the other Doctor said. “You’re going to use it to break the time lock on this Time War?” He shook his head. “That’s impossible.”
The Rani laughed. “You’re only saying that because you haven’t tried. Or have you?” she asked, turning to Rose’s Doctor, cruel amusement in her tone.
“No,” he said, his voice low and guttural with emotion. “No, I haven’t. I wouldn’t.”
“Of course not. Because you’re the Doctor, and your lot in life is to suffer in place of the universe, right?” She walked back over to him and Rose. “Why? Don’t you want Gallifrey back, Doctor? Wouldn’t you like to show her that sky you love and hate at the same time?”
“No,” he ground out, but his hand tightened on Rose’s.
“Pity,” the Rani said. She looked more closely at Rose, who resisted the urge to shrink away. “This one’s special, isn’t she?” the Rani mused aloud. “There’s something about her, something…” The Rani’s eyes sharpened and it seemed to Rose as if she were filing information away somewhere in her vast Time Lord brain. “That’s a question for another day, I think,” she murmured, and Rose shuddered a little imagining what that might mean.
The Rani paced over to the other Doctor and Charley. “Anyway, Doctor, as I was saying, you only think I can’t break your time lock because you haven’t tried, you haven’t researched.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, and Rose could see his whole body go stiff. “Everything can be broken, Doctor.” She dropped her hand and began striding back to her console. “You just need the right tools.”
“And you think you’ve got them?” Rose decided all couldn’t possibly be lost if her Doctor was still asking questions in that scathingly disbelieving tone.
But the Rani only laughed lightly. “I’ve got three TARDISes, Doctor. And I have you. Both of you. And if I’m right, if my calculations are correct… that’s all I need.” She smiled venomously. “You’ve always been rather blasé about meeting yourself, Doctor, but you know how dangerous it is. It’s even more dangerous with you two. For you,” she said, gesturing to the other Doctor, “Gallifrey still exists, the Time Lords are still alive, and all is well. But you,” she said, pointing at Rose and her Doctor, “for you, they’re gone. The two of you are a universe-imploding paradox waiting to happen.”
“You’re going to try use that to cancel out the paradox you’d create by breaking the time lock and bringing back Gallifrey?” the other Doctor blurted out.
“That’s insane!” said Rose’s Doctor.
Again, the Rani only laughed. “Three TARDISes with Vortex energy looping through all of them, building and building and building — soon the result will be strong enough to break any time lock. And a paradox to counter a paradox. I prefer brilliant to insane,” she said with a smile. “But to each his own.”
In which Our Heroes make A Plan.
Charley wasn’t sure how any of it was actually supposed to work, but it sounded to her like there was a lot of destruction inherent in the Rani’s plan. Breaking locks and double paradoxes — definitely not things Charley wanted any part of, she was certain of that.
“I prefer brilliant to insane,” the Rani was saying, “but to each his own.” Charley shook her head in disbelief as the Rani turned back to her TARDIS console to continue making adjustments.
Charley bit back an “oh!” of surprise when the Doctor nudged her none too gently with his shoulder, urging her to inch closer to the other Doctor and Rose. She complied, trying to tread lightly so as to make as little noise as possible. She and her Doctor reached the other Doctor and Rose in very little time, and she had just about convinced herself that the Rani hadn’t noticed when the woman called out to them over her shoulder.
“Oh, yes, did I mention? I’d prefer you didn’t move about the console room.” A beam of light shone down around them, encompassing the four of them in its glow. “Stay there, won’t you?”
Charley reached out tentatively, only to pull her hand back with a start when she felt a sharp electrical shock and ripples of energy flickered in front of them momentarily before dissipating.
“Energy cell,” the other Doctor murmured.
Rose reached out in the opposite direction from where Charley had until her hand encountered the same wall. “Doesn’t give us much wiggle room, does she?”
“As far as prison cells go, we’ve been in worse,” the other Doctor replied, a cheeky grin briefly ghosting across his face.
“That’s the truth,” Rose muttered, glancing conspiratorially at Charley. “Sure you can say the same.”
Charley smiled slightly, thinking of the endless nothing from when they’d first come to the parallel universe Zagreus had sent them to and quickly deciding that this was infinitely preferable to that. “That I can.”
Her Doctor softly cleared his throat. “You can swap prison stories once we’ve figured out how to stop the Rani.”
“Er, right,” whispered the other Doctor. He reached into an inside pocket in his suit jacket and pulled out the thick-rimmed glasses he’d put on earlier, when he’d been trying to get them out of the Vortex. Charley caught a small grin on Rose’s face as he slipped them on. After the glasses came the sonic screwdriver. “I don’t suppose you’ve got yours?”
Charley looked over at her Doctor. He’d mentioned looking for it while they were on the TARDIS. Had he found it? He began to dig through his pockets.
“Ball of string, pack of gum, sheet music for Beethoven’s fifth symphony…”
Charley raised her eyebrows. An inventory of the contents of the Doctor’s bigger-on-the-inside pockets never failed to surprise her in some way. She made a mental note to ask him why he felt the need to carry around sheet music for Beethoven’s fifth if — when — they got out of the mess in which they were currently stuck.
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed in a triumphant whisper. “Sonic screwdriver.”
“Good,” the other Doctor said, a grim smile on his face. “She’ll have to let us out of here if she wants to use us to cause a second paradox.”
“But how can she?” Rose asked. “I mean, you’re standing here together, and earlier you hugged — your TARDIS is inside his for God’s sake — and no paradox.”
“It’s… complicated. But with the right conditions and the right equipment, which I’m sure she’s got, ‘cause I mean, look around. This place is like, state of the art, I am telling you…” He trailed off, looking at the faces of his counterpart and his companions. “I mean, evil and terrible and should never ever be used the way she’s using it under any conditions.” He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “But state of the art.”
Charley saw Rose roll her eyes affectionately and stifled a giggle of her own. She loved her Doctor very much and was very glad that when this was all over, she’d be able to put her foot down about being reunited with him whether the other Doctor remembered it happening or not, but there was something about this stick-thin babbling version that she liked. She could see why Rose was so attached to him, anyway.
“Anyway, as I was saying,” the other Doctor continued, “she’ll have to let us out. She’ll be expecting us to do something, and she’s made a tactical error by putting all four of us in one cell.”
“Four of us against one of her, shouldn’t be a problem,” Rose said confidently.
Charley nodded in agreement, but her Doctor shook his head. “She’ll have something up her sleeve for that.”
“But if we act quickly, we might be able to get to her before she manages to get to us. She’ll expect us to have the sonics,” he said. Then he handed his screwdriver to Rose. “But what if we don’t?”
Charley found herself holding her Doctor’s sonic, its weight unfamiliar in her hand.
“What if they have the sonics?” her Doctor said with a smile. Then the smile slid off his face. “Charley’s never used it.”
The other Doctor grabbed it from Charley’s hand and fiddled with it until he found the setting he wanted. “Don’t change the setting, don’t touch anything except this button,” he said, handing it back to her. “That’ll turn it on.”
“But Doctor,” Rose said, touching his elbow. “It’s all well and good giving us the sonics, but what exactly are we going to be sonicing?”
“The console,” Charley’s Doctor said in response before Rose’s could reply.
Rose’s Doctor nodded. “Charley, you’ll go where the Rani is standing right now, see?”
Charley nodded, committing the spot to memory.
“Aim it at the big round dial and hold until the dial starts to throw sparks, then stop. That should disable the Vortex loop so we’ll be able to get our TARDISes away.”
“Okay,” Charley said, tucking the screwdriver in her pocket. “Throwing sparks?”
“Well, yes,” the other Doctor said apologetically. “If you hold it too long, you’ll start a fire. You can stand back a little if you’d like, you don’t have to be right on top of it. As long as you’re close enough to aim it properly.”
“I wouldn’t feel too guilty about starting a fire, either,” muttered Rose mutinously, earning her a stern glare from her Doctor.
“You,” he said, “will put it on setting 4795-B and go over to the section of the console with the navigational controls — they look sort of like chrome-and-plastic versions of mine, see?”
Rose nodded, already adjusting the screwdriver to the first setting she’d need. “I see them.”
“Sonic them for about ten seconds, that should randomize them. Then switch to setting 5894-A and sonic them for another five seconds.”
“5894-A,” Rose repeated, slipping her sonic into her pocket. “And what’ll that do?”
“Hopefully, make the randomizing permanent. It’ll be harder for her to do consistent damage if she can’t control where she ends up.”
“And what will we be doing, Doctor?” Charley looked over at her Doctor and wasn’t sure whether she should be amused or insulted by the doubtful look on his face. She decided he just didn’t like there being a part of the plan where he wasn’t doing anything, not that he felt she and Rose shouldn’t be given the sonics or the accompanying tasks.
“Hopefully,” the other Doctor responded, glancing over at the Rani, who was still bent over the console, “we’ll be restraining her.”
“What do you think she’ll come at us with? To restrain us?”
“If Jack were here,” Rose said conversationally, “I bet he’d have something to say right now.”
Charley glanced at the Doctor curiously, but he seemed to be as confused as she was, although Rose’s Doctor fixed a stern glare on her. “There’s a time and a place, Rose,” he said mildly, and Rose was clearly amused by his reaction.
“Whatever it is,” he said, refocusing on Charley’s Doctor, “there’ll still be two of us and only one of her. If Charley and Rose make a run for it as soon as we go for the Rani, we should be able to buy them enough time.”
“I don’t suppose there’s a stun setting on that thing,” Charley said, gesturing to the pocket Rose had tucked the other Doctor’s sonic in. “All those thousands of settings?”
The other Doctor gave her an affronted look. “What kind of man do you think I am? Stun setting,” he muttered. “It’s a screwdriver, why would it need a stun setting?”
“Why indeed,” Charley said under her breath while Rose sent her a sympathetic look.
In which Our Heroes and the Rani both attempt to execute their plans.
Rose immediately decided it wasn’t one of their most well-thought-out plans, but then again, it wasn’t one of their worst, either. And, she admitted, they were regrettably low on resources and assets. Still, it was four against one, unless the Rani was hiding minions in the walls or under the console. There were only so many precautions she could take to prevent them from overpowering her, even with a vast repository of Time Lord technology at her disposal.
Still, she edged closer to the Doctor and slipped her hand back into his, taking comfort in the reassuring feel of his fingers lacing with hers.
“So is there going to be some sort of signal to go?” she whispered after checking to make sure the Rani was still bent over her console.
The Doctor shrugged. “Obviously we wait until she deactivates the energy cell.” He glanced at the other Doctor. “She’ll go for you, don’t you think?”
He nodded slowly. “Probably. Hurt me, hurt us both, since you come after me.”
Rose shook her head slightly. It seemed too simple, too easy. Give her and Charley the sonics and wait while the Rani went for the bigger and stronger pair out of the four of them? Rose was about to open her mouth to express her doubts when a loud warning siren rent the relative quiet of the Rani’s console room.
“All ready,” the Rani said brightly, turning to face her captives. She had some sort of futuristic — in Rose’s mind, anyway — weapon in her right hand, which Rose surmised was some sort of gun or blaster. In her left, she carried a small device Rose assumed controlled the energy cell. She circled just outside the perimeter of the energy cell.
“Now then, Doctor,” she began. “Or should I say Doctors, plural? Regardless, shall we begin? Scientific method requires me to define the question and form a hypothesis, does it not?” She stopped in front of the other Doctor and smiled cruelly. “The question is this: can I reverse the actions you take at some point in your future by which you destroy our entire planet and presumably all of our fellow Time Lords?”
He had turned to face the Rani, so Rose couldn’t see his face, but she could see the way his shoulders had stiffened and he had gone still. She hadn’t wanted him to find out. Even though she knew he could and would have to clear his memory when it was all over, she would have spared him this pain. Especially since she knew there was so little she could do to spare her Doctor the pain. Oh, she could be there and help him to not think about it for a while. But he carried it with him at all times, and she had seen how it affected his judgment — sometimes in good ways, yes, but other times in bad.
“Further,” the Rani continued, “can I reverse those actions despite the time lock you will place on the entirety of our people’s conflict with the Daleks?” She tapped the energy cell device lightly against her chin. “Does that sum it up?”
Rose assumed the other Doctor did little more than grimace at the Rani, since she didn’t hear his smooth voice and the Rani’s smirk grew slightly colder. She moved on, came to a stop in front of Rose and her Doctor. Like the other Doctor had, they turned so that they were facing her, still hand-in-hand.
“I’ve gathered what data I could, from his TARDIS and yours, and I’ve formed my hypothesis for a process that should work. Would you like to hear it?”
The Doctor said nothing, only stared at the Rani, stone-faced. His fingers didn’t so much as twitch against Rose’s.
“As you know, I’ve set up a Vortex loop running from my TARDIS into his, through yours, and back into mine. His TARDIS, from a part of the timeline where Gallifrey still exists, has time energy flowing through it from a part of the timeline where Gallifrey is gone. If my calculations are correct, introducing the two of you into the loop’s energy circuit should add enough stress to the system to break the time lock.” She idly examined her blaster before meeting the Doctor’s cold gaze. “Thoughts?”
Rose thought the Doctor would stay silent, but then again he had been talking nearly non-stop since his regeneration, so perhaps she should have known better.
“I’m going to stop you,” he said, softly and clearly. “The Time War is over. I ended it,” he ground out, every word sounding like a battle to Rose. “I ended it,” he repeated, “and I am not going to let you rob the sacrifices I made, for myself and for the Time Lords, of all their meaning.”
The Rani looked taken aback for a split second, but then she laughed again. “Oh, Doctor.” She took a deep breath. “Always so ready to play the hero, no matter what the cost to you. Or, apparently, to your people.” She tilted her head slightly, gazed at him inquisitively. “You must have your limits. You’re not a god, you’re just a Time Lord. There must be something you’re not willing to sacrifice to save the universe.”
Before the Doctor could respond, the Rani moved, lightning fast. She hit the button that controlled the energy cell, deactivating it. In the same motion, she dropped the device, which then hung from her wrist off a small length of chain, and reached out. Instead of grabbing for the Doctor, however, she grabbed Rose. She pulled at Rose so swiftly and unexpectedly that her hand slipped from the Doctor’s and seemingly before anyone could blink, Rose and the Rani were halfway between the console and where the rest of them stood.
The Rani held Rose in a slightly awkward headlock, the end of her blaster pressed against Rose’s temple. “Or perhaps it’s someone,” she intoned smugly.
“Let her go.”
“Oh!” the Rani exclaimed in a syrupy-sweet voice. “Now that you’ve said that, I guess I’ll have to, won’t I?” She pressed the blaster more firmly against Rose’s temple, causing her to shut her eyes tightly and clench her jaw lest she give in to weakness and cry out or whimper. “I think not,” the Rani added.
“It’s just a suggestion,” the Doctor said, shifting closer to Charley and the other Doctor, hands in his pockets. “Interesting choice of weapon,” he said, his voice going into the rambling tone Rose recognized from the innumerable times he’d been forced to talk his way out of trouble. “Blasters, they’re not the most reliable of things, particularly that model.” He was now mostly in front of Charley, but very close to her. “I prefer my screwdriver,” he continued. “Sonic, of course. The Master had a laser one, did you know? I didn’t like it as much as my sonic. Handy things, sonic screwdrivers.”
He bounced a little from his heels to the balls of his feet and back. Rose wondered what he was up to. His sonic was in her pocket, and the Rani would notice if she tried to use it. Besides, it was currently on the setting for disabling navigation controls, not blaster guns. Then she remembered the other Doctor’s sonic, currently sitting in Charley’s pocket.
“I mean, what other tool can go from putting up shelves to resonating concrete? Do you remember the time I resonated concrete, Rose? Under the Thames? You ended up with gills that day, remember? Granted, I didn’t fix that with my screwdriver, but I do get us out of a lot of scrapes that way.”
Rose smiled a little, and out of the corner of her eye she thought perhaps she saw Charley move, as if she might have slipped something into the Doctor’s pocket.
“Blasters, now, they’ve only ever gotten me into trouble, never out of it. So I don’t particularly care for them, and I’d really appreciate it if you stopped holding that one to Rose’s head.”
“Rose will be fine if you and your other self step over to the console and complete the circuit. If you don’t, or if you try to disable the loop instead of completing it, I’ll shoot this one and then move on to the other.” She nodded in Charley’s direction.
The Doctor squinted, giving the appearance of thinking over his options. “You know, I’ve never been good at either-or directives,” he said conversationally. “I’m always choosing option c. None of the above!”
As he spoke, he pulled out the other Doctor’s sonic and aimed it at the Rani’s blaster. Rose heard it make a quiet click noise, and then there was the faint smell of burnt plastic. The Rani let out a frustrated noise, and Rose took advantage of her distraction to pull out of her hold. Without hesitating, she raced over to the console, stopping at the spot the Doctor had pointed out to her previously. She whipped the sonic screwdriver out of her pocket and aimed it at the console.
While it hummed, she looked up to find the Doctor across the console, busily using the sonic on the Vortex looping equipment. “5894-A, right?” she called out.
“That’s the one!” he replied.
She glanced over at the others and saw that the other Doctor and Charley were each holding on to one of the Rani’s arms tightly, though she was only struggling perfunctorily. The light in her eyes seemed to have dimmed, as if she knew she was beat. Rose looked away from the three of them and concentrated on adjusting the setting on the screwdriver and applying it to the controls.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang from the other side of the console. Alarmed, Rose looked over at the Doctor and gasped. Smoke was pouring from the panels in front of him. “I didn’t do that!” he exclaimed, sounding affronted. He waved his hands around, trying to clear the smoke to get a closer look.
Then they heard the Rani’s low laughter. “Self-destruct mechanism, Doctor. A last resort, in case someone unauthorized tried to corrupt my work.”
“You would rather destroy your TARDIS than be stopped in your mad quest to unleash two paradoxes on the universe?”
“I would,” she said, wrenching herself suddenly from the other Doctor and Charley’s hold. “You can’t stop the self-destruct, Doctor.”
He stared at her, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. “Get in your TARDIS, Doctor,” he said, without looking away from the Rani. “Take Charley and Rose and get ready to leave.”
The other Doctor nodded and took Charley’s hand. He gestured to Rose, inviting her to join them, but she shook her head.
“I’m staying with you, Doctor,” she said firmly.
“No.” She moved then, but went to her Doctor instead of the other. “Go on,” she said to Charley and the other Doctor. “I’ll bring him in a minute.”
They turned and headed into the TARDIS, and Rose concentrated on her Doctor. He was still staring at the Rani. Rose thought of what the Doctor had said about the Master dying in his arms, how broken up he had sounded about being unable to save him, even though the Master had been trying to destroy the Earth. This, she thought, was not going to end well in his head, even if on the whole it did.
“Come with us,” he said to the Rani. “Don’t do this.”
The Rani laughed harshly. “Come with you? Be stuck on your TARDIS like some pet while you ramble about the universe with your precious little human? I don’t think so.”
“We’re the only ones left,” he began, but she cut him off.
“Then finish what you started, Doctor.” She wasn’t laughing now. “You set out to destroy all the other Time Lords. You didn’t quite manage it. Leave me here, and you’ll have finished it.”
The Doctor stared at the Rani wordlessly, his eyes awash in pain. Rose slipped her hands around his elbow and pulled gently.
“Doctor,” she said softly, “we need to leave.”
“Please,” he said to the Rani. But she only shook her head and stared him down.
Rose leaned in and spoke directly into the Doctor’s ear. “Doctor. We need to leave.” She tugged again at his elbow. “I need you to come with me,” she added.
He tore his gaze from the Rani and looked down at Rose helplessly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “She’s not yours to save. But there are people who are, and they need you to leave.”
There was a loud bang and more smoke began to pour from the console. As if this were some sort of sign or trigger, the Doctor snapped into action, running back towards his counterpart’s TARDIS, Rose at his side. He ushered her inside in front of him and stepped over the threshold after her. As he shut the door, he took one last look at the Rani.
She was smiling at him through the smoke, just as the Master had smiled at him as he died.
In which Our Heroes escape the destruction of the Rani's TARDIS and the remnants of her Vortex loop.
Charley let her Doctor lead her into the TARDIS, jogging slightly to keep up with his long strides. She glanced over her shoulder as they crossed the threshold, saw Rose standing close to the other Doctor and watching him carefully.
“They are coming, Doctor,” she asked, worried. “Aren’t they?”
“Of course they are,” he said briskly, dropping her hand when she hung back at the door. He bounded up to his console and began working.
Charley watched the others outside, but couldn’t hear anything they were saying over the din of the Rani’s TARDIS self-destructing.
“Charley, I need you,” the Doctor called. She spun around and jogged the short distance to his side at the console.
“I can help?” she asked. The Doctor had never asked her to help him fly the TARDIS.
“Managing this is going to be a bit tricky,” he admitted. “Keeping his TARDIS along with mine while still getting away from the Rani’s without getting caught in the self-destruct…” He trailed off, his gaze going to the door. “We don’t have much time. And it’s going to take all four of us to make it out of this one.”
Charley took a deep breath and then nodded. “Okay, Doctor. Tell me what to do.”
He began to explain to her what she needed to do, until the other Doctor and Rose rushed in a moment later, the Doctor shutting the door behind them. Charley’s heart nearly cracked down the middle at the look on his face. It was, she decided, no wonder he’d been so extraordinarily happy to see Rose again. If he made a habit of going around looking that sad, Charley imagined he needed someone around who could make him smile the way Rose could.
“Ah, you decided to come after all,” Charley heard her Doctor say dryly from her side. “Good. I would have hated to leave without you.”
“I had to try,” the other Doctor insisted. “It’s important I try.”
“Hmm,” was all her Doctor said, and Charley wondered how much regeneration really changed him, despite his claims that it only changed his face and mannerisms. Then she thought about what the other Doctor had said about what happened to Gallifrey, how he’d told her she couldn’t travel with him because he ruined lives, and she thought maybe it was experiences that had changed him more than anything else.
The other Doctor and Rose met them at the console. “What still needs doing?” he asked briskly.
“I thought you and Rose could handle navigation,” the Doctor replied. “Charley and I can take care of keeping your TARDIS inside mine.” His eyes met his counterpart’s, and Charley was certain the tension between them could have been touched and tasted. “We need to land somewhere safe for the TARDISes to separate, and my instinct is to take us home, to Gallifrey. But apparently if I did, we’d tear the universe in two with our paradox, so I think we’d best not.”
“No,” the other Doctor said flatly. “I’ll take us somewhere safe, don’t worry.”
Just as he said it, there was a loud bang from outside the TARDIS, and the ship shuddered ominously.
“And the sooner the better, I think,” he added, jumping to the other side of the console. He gave Rose rapid-fire directions. Charley saw that her eyes were wide with nerves, but she followed everything the Doctor told her to the letter. Charley set her jaw, determined to be as cool under pressure. She turned to her Doctor.
“Finish telling me what you need,” she instructed.
After a few more harrowing bangs and shudders and one terrifying moment when they thought they were going to leave without the other Doctor’s TARDIS tagging along, Charley felt the subtle shift in atmosphere, the tiny adjustment of the TARDIS’ humming that indicated that they were in the Vortex. It was still a rough ride, but the Doctors were beginning to smile instead of frown as they worked, and Charley was certain that was a good sign.
“Where are we going, Doctor?” Rose asked suddenly, after he’d instructed her to hold down another lever and spin a wheel for a certain length of time.
“Home,” he said, with an intense look in the direction of Charley and her Doctor.
Charley glanced over at her Doctor, but his face was unreadable, especially in the still-dim lighting of the console room. Then there was a sharp jerk to the left, and she stumbled slightly. She forced herself to concentrate on keeping her balance so she wouldn’t be interrupted in the important work of keeping the two TARDISes tethered together during the journey.
Of course, there was only so much preparation she could make for what she was certain amounted to a crash landing, wherever they were. She found herself on her bum on the console room floor, a fresh bump on the back of her head from bumping it against the leg of the Doctor’s armchair. She got to her feet, resisting the urge to groan as she straightened up. Then she looked over at the other Doctor, who was running his hands along Rose’s arms and staring her up and down as though inspecting her for damage.
“Aren’t you supposed to get better at flying the more you practice?” Charley asked. Beside her, her Doctor chuckled lightly as he got to his feet. The other Doctor whipped his head around to look at her.
“How could I have forgotten how cheeky you are?” he said, a clear note of affection underneath the insulted tone of his voice.
“You always did have a bit of a selective memory,” she said with a grin. She switched her gaze to her own Doctor. “You really think I believe you’ve had genuine amnesia that many times?”
“Charley!” he exclaimed. “I’m sure I haven’t any idea what you’re talking about,” he said, his face the picture of innocence.
Charley beamed. Oh, she had missed him. And now, here he was standing in front of her, joking with her like old times. It was going to be like it was before, it just had to be. She didn’t care what the other Doctor said about not remembering seeing her again, she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from staying with her Doctor. Especially not after they’d gone through so much in the process of being reunited.
“So where are we?” her Doctor asked, interrupting Charley’s thoughts. “If Gallifrey isn’t there anymore, where is home?”
Silently the other Doctor took Rose’s hand and, gesturing for Charley and her Doctor to follow them, headed out of the TARDIS. Rose sucked in a surprised breath when she took stock of their surroundings, which Charley thought looked like depressing high-rising concrete buildings of some kind.
“But this is the Powell Estate!” she exclaimed, staring at her Doctor.
“The TARDIS has a default return setting that takes her to the place she considers home if it becomes necessary. Before the War, it was always Gallifrey. After, it sort of changed a lot.” He stroked his thumb lightly along Rose’s cheekbone. “With you on board, the Powell Estate was a natural choice — you had roots, I didn’t. She picked it for you. Ever since…” He swallowed convulsively and then continued. “Ever since Canary Wharf, it’s stayed here. I think she knew that sometimes I just needed…” He trailed off, seeming unable to continue, and enfolded Rose in a hug, burying his face in her hair for a minute. Then, kissing her forehead lightly, he pulled away from her and came to stand in front of Charley and her Doctor.
“We carry on, you and I,” he said seriously. “We hurt, so much, for such a long time.” He glanced back at Rose briefly. “But then we find reasons to keep going, good reasons. I know you’re just going to wipe your memory of what you found out about the Time War anyway, but I want you to know that until then. We are strong enough. We carry on.”
Charley’s Doctor nodded slowly. “All right,” he said softly.
The other Doctor mirrored her Doctor’s nodding and then shifted his gaze to Charley. “And now the question is, what to do with you?”
“I’m staying with him!” Charley reached up and put her palm over his mouth when he made to contradict her. “I don’t care if you don’t remember seeing me again after you read the note I left in Singapore! I don’t! After all that’s happened to get me here, I’m not leaving him!”
The Doctor reached up and gently pulled her hand away from his mouth. “I’m sorry, did you say Singapore?”
Charley gaped at him. “Of course I said Singapore, wherever else would I have said?”
“Oh,” he said, eyes slowly widening. “Oh. OH!” He jumped back from her and began to gesticulate widely. “When you first came on board the TARDIS before everything went crazy, I said something about the note you left and then you asked me how I knew about it and I said because I’m the Doctor…”
“Yes, yes,” Charley muttered, “I was there.”
The Doctor blazed on as if he hadn’t heard her interruption. She thought perhaps he really hadn’t, the way he ran on and on. “But we never said what note we were talking about. I was talking about the note you left me here, on the TARDIS. When you left for good.” He bounded back to her, grabbing her hands. “We worked that whole Singapore thing out!” He dropped her hands again, did a little bit of a fist pump, bending slightly at the knees for emphasis. “Now I remember!” He shifted his attention to his counterpart.
“’Cause you lock up all the memories of what happened but you do it with a deadline, and now I remember why. So that I could remember being you, watching me hatching the plan to take you back to Singapore!” He ran his hands through his hair. “It’s wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff all over again!”
Charley looked over at Rose and mouthed “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey?” Rose shrugged, but she was smiling fondly.
“We all go back to Singapore,” he continued, “and you modify your memories and I’ll modify her memories so that the last thing you both remember is getting back there after the Cybermen fiasco. We just… invent something, some way you managed to get back both at the same time, I dunno. You find the note she left at the desk and race after her, only to run into her in the lobby, racing back in to find you and tell you she didn’t mean it!”
“And you remember that?” her Doctor asked. Charley watched the other Doctor hopefully. He nodded enthusiastically.
“Clear as yesterday,” he said, still smiling manically. “Very well-timed memory lock, that one. Well done you.”
Charley thought about it for a moment. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of someone messing with her memories, but then again, she didn’t want to cause any paradoxes. And this was what the other Doctor — the one from the future, she reminded herself — said he remembered happening. Besides, wasn’t the only thing that mattered getting to stay with her Doctor, where she belonged?
“When can we start?” she asked firmly.
The other Doctor grinned yet again. “Right away.”
In which Our Heroes enjoy some downtime after saving the universe.
Rose sank down on to the captain’s bench in the console room with a grateful sigh. Eyes closed, she took a deep breath and steeped herself in the feeling of finally, after the longest year of her life, finally being home. A slight, secretive smile playing across her face, she opened her eyes to find that the Doctor had paused in his preparations at the console to stare at her.
“Feels good to be home,” she said simply.
Wordlessly, he set down his sonic screwdriver next to the TARDIS part he’d been working on and crossed to stand in front of her. He cupped her cheeks in his palms and leaned down to press his lips gently against hers. A moment later, he broke the kiss but didn’t move away from her, instead resting his forehead against hers. Rose reached up and lightly circled his wrists with her hands, and they stayed like that for an endless minute, breaths mingling, three heartbeats marking time against the steady pulse of the time rotor.
“You have no idea,” he finally whispered, “how brilliant it is to have you home.” Then he straightened up, stroked his thumbs lightly along her cheekbones, and then returned to the work he was doing on the console. Rose pressed her lips together as if to hold on to the feeling of his against them.
“You’re sure there’s nothing I can do to help?” she finally asked.
“Yes,” he replied instantly. “I’m just tuning some things up to lessen the chance of landing in the wrong place or time when we make the trip to Singapore to drop off Charley.”
“And the memory modification,” Rose began, “you’re going to do that, right? With your Time Lord superpowers?”
The Doctor laughed. “For lack of a better description, yes.” He glanced over at her. “It’s her decision. I won’t do anything she doesn’t ask me to do, no matter what I remember.”
Rose nodded. “I know. I know you wouldn’t.” She tucked her hair behind her ear. “I’d do the same, if I were her,” she admitted. “There’ll be no arguments from me.”
Rose met his questioning gaze unflinchingly. “Yeah, I would. Not to inflate your massive Time Lord ego any more than it already is,” she smiled at his affronted exclamation and then continued, “but you’re quite a bloke. You’re not easy to let go of.”
“Neither are you,” the Doctor said softly before looking back down at the TARDIS part in his hand. “Neither are you.” Then he ducked below the console to return the part to its correct location.
He was still under there when Charley wandered in. They had already disengaged the mechanisms holding the TARDISes together, and now instead of one funny blue box parked in an alley in the Powell Estate, there were two. Rose was fairly certain this would be more conspicuous than one, but neither Doctor had seemed particularly worried. Now, as they prepared to return the other Doctor and Charley to Singapore, they were all freely wandering back and forth between the two police boxes. Rose mused that it would be quite an interesting show for anyone bothering to watch the CCTV feed of that particular alley. She gave Charley a small wave in greeting.
“Hello Charley,” she said brightly. “How are things in the other TARDIS?”
Charley smiled slightly. “Going swimmingly, as far as I can tell. And here?”
Rose beamed. “Right as rain.” She pointed to the Doctor’s calves and trainers sticking out from under the console. “He’s just tuning things up a bit to ensure greater accuracy. The TARDIS likes you, though, so I’m pretty sure things would be fine anyway.”
“Hmm,” Charley said, gazing up at the gently pulsing time rotor.
“You do still want to go through with it, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, of course. It’s not as if I’ll be forgetting anything particularly wonderful anyway — a deserted island and then narrowly avoiding a universe-ending paradox or two.” She shrugged. “I just want to be with him.”
The Doctor pushed his way out from under the console and grinned at Charley. “And we’re going to make sure you can.” He got to his feet and leaned back against the railing, watching Charley carefully. “What is it?” he finally asked.
“I just… I was wondering…”
“No,” he said softly.
She blinked in surprise. “No what?”
“No, I won’t tell you why you left. Well, leave. Well… Did you know Gallifreyan has at least three times as many verb tenses as English? It’s terribly complicated keeping track of all the different times something can happen or have happened.”
“I’m just going to forget anyway,” Charley began, but the Doctor cut her off by taking her hands in his.
“Everything that’s happened to me in my life, and I promise you this, Charley — none of it would have been easier if I’d known it was coming, even for a little while. And some of it would have been less fun. That’s why we modify our memories if we find out too much.”
Charley nodded. “All right.” She managed another smile. “You’re the expert.”
The Doctor looked over at Rose. “Ah, see, you could learn from this one, Rose.”
Rose laughed and got to her feet. “Right. Listen, I want to go have a word with the other Doctor before we head to Singapore.”
“I’ll come get you when I’m ready,” the Doctor said lightly.
“’Kay,” she said, bumping his shoulder a little with hers as she passed.
She pushed open the door and glanced quickly around. She didn’t see anyone, so she hurriedly stepped out and shut the door behind her. Remembering her earlier thoughts about the interesting video the CCTV would be recording, she located the nearest camera and gave it a cheerful wave before crossing the short distance between the TARDIS that was her home and the other.
Knocking briskly, she pushed the door open and found the other Doctor sitting in his armchair staring at the floor. She stepped inside and closed the door.
“Something fascinating in the rug?” she asked blithely.
He looked up at her, and for the first time since she’d first tumbled into his TARDIS in the parallel world, she saw something approaching the same kind of sorrow in his eyes that she had grown used to seeing in her own Doctor’s eyes. “How does he stand it?” he asked. “Knowing what he’s done, feeling all that… nothing.” He shook his head. “I can feel them again, the Time Lords. Since we’re not in the Rani’s Vortex loop anymore, I can still feel them. But I remember…” He broke off, unable to continue.
Moved, Rose knelt down in front of him. “You were so sad when I met you,” she began, treading carefully, remembering what her Doctor had said about knowing beforehand not helping. “But even then you still knew how to find joy in what you do. You save the universe, Doctor. Every day you get up and eat impossible things for breakfast. You change lives for the better.” She reached up and held his cold hands, resting on his lap. “That’s what you did for me. Changed my life for the better. So much for the better.”
She cupped one side of his face with one hand, the other still holding one of his. “That’s how he stands it, how you will stand it. By remembering the good. Sometimes it’s easier than other times.”
She stood up and pulled the Doctor to his feet as well. “You’re fantastic, you know. Every version of you.”
He managed a smile. “I haven’t known you long, Rose Tyler, but I’m fairly certain that you’re quite fantastic yourself.”
Rose smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. His arms slid around her waist and he hugged her back.
“Ask me twice,” she whispered suddenly, urgently against his ear.
“What?” he asked, sounding confused.
Rose wasn’t sure why she did it, why she felt so certain she had to, but she clung to him so he couldn’t pull back and continued to whisper urgently into his ear, his curls tickling at her nose. “Just remember that. Even if it’s just a vague feeling you won’t even realize that you’ve got, even if you won’t ever remember that you remembered. Come back, and ask me twice.”
She felt him nod slightly, and could have sworn she heard, as if from a great distance, a song both familiar and unfamiliar. “Okay,” he said, still sounding a little confused. “Ask you twice,” he repeated, and the song faded from the back of Rose’s mind, forgotten once again.
The door opened behind them and Rose’s Doctor stuck his head in the door. “Leaving me for a younger man, are you Rose?”
Rose laughed and let the other Doctor go. “It was lovely meeting you,” she said honestly. “And thank you, so much, for saving me from the parallel world.” Her Doctor reached them and held out his hand for a shake.
“Add my thanks to hers,” he said solemnly. “I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am,” he admitted as he shook hands with his counterpart. “You won’t understand until you’re me. So you’ll just have to believe that you’ve done yourself a great service.”
The other Doctor nodded. “Charley’s ready, then?”
“Yep. You can go ahead and head for Singapore, modify your memory… don’t forget to go to the hotel lobby. We’ll make sure you run into Charley on your way out.”
“Then thank you,” he said, as solemn as Rose’s Doctor had been. “I don’t need to tell you how much I missed Charley.”
The Doctor shook his head, then took Rose’s hand in his and headed out of the TARDIS of his past and back to the TARDIS of his present. “Let’s go, Rose. You know, Singapore was on my list of places to take you, did I ever mention?”
In which Ten and Rose take Charley back to Singapore.
Charley sat on the bench in the other Doctor’s coral-filled console room, watching pensively as the Doctor showed Rose how to assist him with some aspect of flying the TARDIS. There was something about them that made Charley smile — something in the way they moved together, the way they looked at each other. It was clear that neither of them would do nearly as well without the other.
The change in the Doctor from when she’d first seen him in his tattered tuxedo was huge. Sadness still lurked somewhere behind his eyes, but to the idle observer he would have looked purely happy as he guided Rose’s hands over the TARDIS controls. Charley was glad he had someone to bring that happiness into his eyes. She couldn’t imagine living every day with the knowledge that you had killed your entire race, destroyed your entire planet.
If she were being honest, she couldn’t imagine the Doctor doing it in the first place. But, she admitted, it was fairly clear that he had. Or would. (Charley wondered what all those other Gallifreyan verb tenses the Doctor had babbled about were like. English was, she had to admit, woefully inadequate when one was trying to talk about events at fluctuating points on a timeline.) She tried to imagine the circumstances under which the Doctor would make that call, but even having met the Daleks more than once, she still had trouble picturing it.
She wondered if she was going to be there and felt licks of fear race through her blood at the thought. She reminded herself that the Doctor was her best friend and she loved him, no matter what. Thick and thin, she’d be there. Because, she thought, looking again at Rose, he needed someone who made him smile.
A short time later, the Doctor and Rose executed a remarkably smooth landing. Charley laughed.
“If you land like that when Rose helps, you should let her help more often.”
The Doctor looked torn between defending his own TARDIS-landing skills and praising Rose’s. “It’s easier with more than one,” he said petulantly. “She was designed for a crew of six!”
Rose laughed musically. “You just don’t want to admit you’re better off when you’ve got help.” She grinned conspiratorially at Charley. “You’ll have to try to convince your Doctor to let you help him fly the ship.”
“I will,” Charley said, returning Rose’s smile. Then her smile slipped a little. “If I remember that I ought to,” she said softly.
Rose shook her head. “You’ll want to anyway, won’t you? I’ve been tryin’ to convince ‘im for ages. Finally had him convinced an’ then I…” She trailed off painfully, glanced at the Doctor. Charley followed her gaze and saw his own face had gone still, shuttered. Rose took a deep breath. “Well, I’m home now,” she said with a cheerfulness that sounded suspiciously forced.
“As you will be very soon,” the Doctor said, coming around the console to stand in front of Charley. He glanced back at Rose. “Rose, can you go suss out where we’ve landed? According to the controls we’ve got the right day and city. I just want to know where we’ve ended up.”
Rose nodded and Charley watched her stride confidently out of the TARDIS. How was it, Charley mused, that she whose future was already written felt less confident than Rose, whose future still lay unknown, appeared?
“You’ll be all right, Charley,” the Doctor said, looking at her with that penetrating gaze he seemed so well-versed at.
She raised an eyebrow. “I thought you weren’t going to tell me my future.”
He smiled. “I don’t have to know your future to know you’ll be all right. You’re brilliant, Charlotte Pollard. Always have been, always will be. Absolutely brilliant.”
Charley smiled slightly. “I’m glad you think so. You’re not so bad yourself.”
“Oh, stop, you’ll make me blush.”
“Do Time Lords blush?”
“Only on special occasions.”
“I don’t want to leave you. Him, I mean.” Charley twisted her fingers together in her lap. “You said I left you a letter. I did that once and I regretted it almost immediately, I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to leave again.”
He brushed the backs of his knuckles gently along her cheekbone. “And you won’t, not for a while anyway.” He smiled tenderly. “You’ll leave when you’re ready, Charley Pollard, and not a moment sooner. You’d allow nothing else.”
The door to the TARDIS creaked open and Rose strode in. “The hotel’s a few blocks away,” she said brightly. “Excellent navigation on someone’s part,” she added with a wink. It had been Rose at the navigation controls, albeit doing what the Doctor had told her.
“Are you ready?” the Doctor asked Charley solemnly.
She started to nod, but then a thought occurred to her. “Doctor, how do you know it’ll stick this time?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“Well, the last time you — well, he, I suppose — tried to wipe my memories, it didn’t stick. I remembered anyway.”
“Well, that was because I tried to erase all of your memories of me, every single one of them. Trouble is, all those memories, they’re very important to you. They’re part of who you are. And humans hate forgetting who they are.” He took his hands back out of his pockets and gestured as he spoke. “You didn’t want to forget, so your brain fought back. Why would you want to forget me?” He adjusted his tie. “I’m brilliant.”
Behind him, Rose snorted softly. He ignored her, concentrating on Charley.
“It should stick this time because I’ll be leaving you with the vast majority of your memories intact. There won’t be as much missing, so your brain won’t react anywhere near as strongly to the loss. But Charley,” he said, his voice going low and intense, “this is very important. If you do remember, if the memory wipe doesn’t hold, you can’t tell me anything.” He took her hands in his and gripped them tightly. “Not anything, Charley. I can’t know what’s coming. If I do, I’ll try to change it, and too much has been sacrificed now to throw it all away.”
Charley nodded. “I won’t tell.”
“If I do my job right, there won’t be anything for you to not tell.” He held his hands up, hovering a few inches away from her head on either side of her face. “May I?” he asked gently.
Charley took a deep breath, blew it out slowly. Rose nodded encouragingly from behind the Doctor. Charley closed her eyes, and when she opened them again they were full of resolve. “Yes,” she said firmly. “I’m ready.”
The Doctor laid his palms against the sides of her head, his fingers sliding into her hair. “It will feel a little strange at first, but it will pass.”
Charley shuddered a little when she first felt the odd sensation of the Doctor’s mind brushing against hers. She forced herself to relax and let him in, let him do what he needed to do so it would be safe for her to continue on with her life as she wanted it to be.
A few moments later, as he had warned her it would, everything went black.
Rose watched tensely as the Doctor modified Charley’s memory. Though she fully understood why Charley had agreed to the plan, and even acknowledged that she most likely would have as well, she still didn’t like the idea of messing with someone’s mind. But the Doctor had assured her and Charley that it would be safe. He was living proof that it worked, at least on Time Lords.
Charley’s eyes slid closed and she went limp against the back of the bench on which she sat. Seconds later, the Doctor opened his eyes and removed his hands from the side of Charley’s head. He lifted her into his arms and jerked his head toward the TARDIS doors.
“Let’s go,” he said quietly to Rose. “We don’t have much time. She’ll wake up soon, and I’d rather it were you than me who tells her to get back to the hotel. You’re less likely to trigger the memories I’ve hidden than I am.”
As they had discussed before leaving for Singapore, they took Charley out onto the sidewalk, which was thankfully quiet, despite the bustle going on just blocks away. The Doctor laid Charley down gently and then got to his feet. He laid a hand on Rose’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I’ll wait for you on the TARDIS.”
She nodded. “You better.” Then she knelt over Charley and lightly patted her cheeks. “Miss,” she said loudly. “Are you all right? Miss?”
Charley blinked slowly. “Doctor?” she mumbled. “Doctor, I changed my mind.”
“Miss,” Rose said again. “Do you need a doctor? I can fetch one for you if you like?”
Charley opened her eyes fully and looked up at Rose. “Do I… know you from somewhere?”
Rose smiled blithely. “Jus’ got one of those faces. You were saying something about needing a doctor?”
Charley shook her head and sat up. Rose laid a hand on her shoulder to steady her. “No,” she said. “Not a doctor. I need the Doctor.” She glanced around, a wild edge to the movements. “I need to get back to the hotel! If he sees my note he’ll leave without me!”
Rose beamed. She did so like it when a plan actually worked out in roughly the way which they had intended it to work out. She pointed in the direction of the hotel, which was visible at the end of the street. “That hotel?”
Charley craned her neck around and then scrambled to her feet. “Yes! That’s the one!” She turned back to Rose. “Thank you for helping me, I don’t know what came over me. I’ll be fine, though. Just got to get back to the hotel.”
“To the Doctor.”
“Yes,” Charley said, beaming. “To the Doctor. Wish me luck!” With that, she turned and set off towards the hotel at a quick jog.
Rose smiled. “Good luck,” she murmured. Then she turned to go back to her Doctor, inside her TARDIS.
All was as it should be.
Chapter 19: Epilogue
In which Ten and Rose enjoy a day off in London.
The Doctor watched, a small smile playing over his lips, as Rose watched the crowd pulsing around them in the busy London square, absently eating chips from a basket in front of her.
“They’ll be by in a minute or so,” he said. She looked at him across the table, her expression holding excitement and worry.
“You’re sure they won’t see us?” she asked. “I mean, it could be problematic if we triggered their memories or something.” She shuddered delicately. “Had enough threats of paradoxes the last time we ran into them.”
“I promise,” the Doctor said calmly. “I remember today, visiting twentieth-century London with Charley, saving the day when some aliens try to steal all the art from the National Gallery…” He smiled reminiscently. “Even the terrible pieces, the silly things.”
Rose smiled. “We should leave as soon as we see them, or else you’ll be tempted to get involved with that even though you’re already taking care of it as him.”
The Doctor laughed. “No, I promised you an easy day, and that you’ll get.” He kissed her cheek. “Starting with chips and a check-in with my old self and Charley, because I know you’ve been thinking about them.”
“I just want to see they’re all right,” she said, scanning the crowd once more.
The Doctor smiled. That was his Rose, always worrying for everyone. It wasn’t enough that she was home and happy, she needed to know that it had worked out the same for Charley. Well, he thought, he was the one with the time machine and a Time Lord’s memory. He’d picked a place and day where he and Rose could blend in with a crowd and see his previous self and Charley without being seen themselves. It was a relatively simple task, and he would do — and had done — far more than that to make Rose happy.
He watched her watch the crowd, and could tell the moment she caught sight of Charley and his other self. A smile spread across her face, bright as the sun.
“They look happy,” she said, watching them fondly.
The Doctor glanced over at them, remembering how he had felt walking down the busy London street hand in hand with Charley, looking forward to a quiet afternoon in the National Gallery. He smiled. “They are.”
He shifted his gaze to Rose, took her hands across the table, nudging aside the half-eaten basket of chips. She took a last look at the retreating couple and then met the Doctor’s eyes. “And so am I,” he said seriously, wishing he had the words to explain to her how lost he’d been with her gone, how much better he felt with her back where she belonged. “So very happy.”
Rose squeezed his hands. “Me too,” she said. Then, mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she dropped one of his hands, grabbed one of the chips, and popped it in her mouth. “These chips are fantastic.”