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The Cosmos Within

Chapter Text

Three Years Ago

James McCrimmon propped in his bed with a rather large and battered volume of The Elegant Universe in his lap. Beside him, his wife sprawled on her stomach, thumbing through photos on a vidreader from their recent holiday to Barcelona. She hummed something off-tune and terrible as she flipped from one image to the next. Her hair, which had been blonde when they met, had grown long and had darkened several shades, but still she twirled the tip of one lock of it over her lips, like a child lost in daydream.

He smoothed his hand over her back and down the curve of her hip. She looked back at him, over her shoulder, and hit him with that dazzling smile of hers.

"What?" she said.

"You," he answered.

That smile again, and then she returned to her vidscreen.

Four years, they had been married now. Four years.

James returned to his reading, but the words on the page swirled and doubled. It had taken him a while to realize this meant his body was tired. Then came the pinch between his eyes. This was new.

He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt the pressure behind his eyes, a fishhooking sensation not yet like pain, but like the first jabs of lightning that foretell of a storm.

"You okay?" his wife asked.

"Yeah," he answered softly. "Bit of a – sort of – jab – right here – behind my eyes."

She rolled to her side to stare at him. "Maybe it's your glasses? Are you due for a new prescription?"

He closed the book, set it aside on the endtable.

"You know, I really have no idea," he answered. "But doesn't this happen to humans? You get random, irrational pains now and again?"

"Sure," she said. "But you're only part human."

"I'm half human," he protested.

She grinned. "I still only see about one part out of twenty."

James balked, incredulous. "I have one human part I'll show you—"

He grabbed her up, pulled her into his arms, but she turned it on him and flipped him on his back. His glasses skittered across the marble floor.

"Fancy another go, eh?" he said, leering up at her.

She smacked his chest. "There you go, baiting me with seduction. It won't work—"

"Oh, it's working," he answered. "Definitely working."

"Oh yeah?" she said. "Show me."

But as she pulled him toward her, the pain in his head lashed out in a burst of fiery whiteness.

Then it was gone.

He came to on the floor with her beside him, cradling his head in her lap.

"That's it," she said. "I'm phoning a doctor."

"I am the Doctor!" he protested.

"You were the Doctor. Now you're my husband, and I'm entitled to concern."

She was fumbling blindly with her free hand for something on the endtable. He sat up, blinking, and took both of her hands in his.

"Rose," he said. "I'm fine. It's passed. Look. I'm fine now."

She studied his face. He could see that she was unconvinced.

"And nothing's happened like this before?" she asked. "Not in the lab? While you're working?"

"No. Never."

"B-but you were unconscious."

"Yes, I was," he said.

He got to his feet, and he could tell as she watched him stand that she fully expected him to totter over any second. To her great and continuing credit, Rose didn't hover but let him manage on his own, with his dignity in tact.

"There now," he said. "All better."

Rose got up and locked her arms around him. "Don't scare me like that," she said.

James brought his arms around her, buried his face in her hair. "I won't," he said. "I promise."

But he had seen something, in that searing flash. He'd seen it, and his heart trembled.

He'd seen himself in a blue corridor, bathed in blue light, and when he came to a door, he said, "I'll just be a minute" and stepped inside.

Just that. A simple memory. One among billions. Harmless.

Only he couldn't recall what was on the other side of that door. And that left him terrified.

Chapter Text

Present Day

River stepped out of the TARDIS and strode ahead to peer across a broad and shockingly green field that stretched over gentling hills as far as her eyes could see. Hands on her hips, she breathed in the air: Spring, a hint of rain, the scent of lanolin mixed with road dust.

Something was off, though. She felt it like a current under her skin, like her cells were jostling around. She searched for the right word. Reorganizing? Realigning?

She opened her little blue book and skimmed its pages.

Amy came alongside her.

"Do you feel that?" River asked.

Amy scanned the plain, shrugged. "Rain?"

"No. Your nerves? Your skin? Anything?"

"My nerves are shot," Amy said. "He said we've fallen out of the time vortex, that it'd happened before. Do you know what he's talking about?"

River continued to flip through the journal.

"Are we on earth?" Amy asked.

"Yes," River answered.

Amy shivered. "Present times?"

River said nothing but kept flipping the pages, faster and faster, until Amy touched her shoulder to pull her attention back.

"Look," Amy said.

They watched as a gleaming cart of brass and silver crested the hill. Ahead of it, a herd of fluffy sheep poured into the field. A man sat astride a cushioned buckboard, and when he saw them he tipped his hat.

The man, the sheep, and the field all seemed ordinary. But the cart was the real standout, apart from its elegant exterior, it might have passed for normal, but instead of wheels, it had four articulated legs that carried it smoothly, soundlessly forward over the grass.

"I thought you said we were on earth," Amy whispered.

River lowered the book. "We are on earth," she said. "It's not our earth."

"Ha!" Amy said. "Different universe?"

"We're not meant to be here," River said. She glanced back at the TARDIS and shook her head.

Amy began, "You said we needed to get out of Paris—"

"No, we are really not meant to be here," River growled. "Look." She held up the journal and riffled its pages. "It's not even in the book."

"Oh. Well..." Amy said. "The Doctor gave me this." She held up the beaten leather wallet containing its single sheet of psychic paper.

"So he's awake?"

"Of sorts."

River shot another worried glance at the TARDIS.

"He'll be all right," Amy said. "Rory's got him."

"I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about us." River swiped the wallet from Amy and struck off in the direction of the cart. Amy trotted to catch up to her.

"But, why?"

Without breaking stride, River said, "Babe, it's been a long time since I've been off script. Hey!" River broke into a gallop and began waving the wallet in the air. The cart driver pulled his handbrake and turned in the seat to greet them.

River feigned breathlessness as she came alongside the cart. "Thank you. Oh thank you," she said. "We crashed a ways back," she thumbed over her shoulder to the TARDIS. "Can you tell us, what year is this?"

The man looked puzzled.

Amy said, "Uh, we hit our heads."

"Right!" the man said. Thick Scottish brogue. Rather expensive-looking scarf at his throat. "Well, it's 2017. Three-point-15."

"Near future, good," River muttered.

"And we're in Scotland?" Amy asked.

This time the man looked more amused than puzzled. "That's right," he answered. "You flying up from London, mayhaps?"

"Yes, we're on holiday," River said. "We need some supplies to get up and running. Might we trouble you for a lift?"

"Oh, aye. There's nothing round for miles, but you're in luck. You've crashed on the McCrimmon Estate," the man said.

Now it was Amy's and River's turn to look puzzled.

"THE McCrimmons, Lord and Lady," the man said. His eyes twinkled. "Come on! Famouser than the Queen."

River and Amy shrugged.

"You musta really jogged that head o'yours. Here. Climb up," he said. "You're about the meet The Inventor."

Chapter Text

The Inventor

How she heard the three-tone chime of the doorbell over the commotion in the stone courtyard, she would never know, but there it was, an insistent, excited ringing.

As she crossed through the study and into the hallway, she heard James call out, "Rose, I've already started the countdown, you're gonna miss it!"

"Just a second! Someone's ringing—" Rose passed through the kitchens, and Alicia, whose hands were white with flour, started to move toward the door. "No, it's all right, Alicia, I've got it."

Alicia smiled and Rose answered with a grin, as James cried out, "We have thirty seconds! Twenty-nine…twenty-eight…"

"A'right!" she yelled back. She swung the door open to find a blonde and a ginger staring wide-eyed around the property. People tended to do that, and it used to make Rose feel a bit conspicuous – what with the enormous house and the hangar and the observatory and the solarium, all of it sparkling with glass and gleaming with chrome...

Eh. She got used to it.

"Er…" the ginger stammered. "Hi. We. Uh. We crashed a few miles back and were wondering if you could help us."

Rose drew up short. "Crashed? What sort of crash?"

"A car crash," the blonde answered. "The – uh – leg snapped. We have a list of…"

At that moment, James burst into the entry hall, sweat agleam on his forehead and his hair wild. "You're gonna miss it, now hurry!" But he skid to a halt and his eyes locked onto the blonde's.

"You—"

"—Doctor?" she said. "How—?"

Rose and the ginger had time for a confused "Huh?" before James snatched Rose behind him and pounded a green button on the wall.

"Prescott, seal the perimeter, immediately," he bit out. "And we need armed guards at the main doors." He glanced again at the blonde woman and added. "Better make it four."

"But that's—that's psychic paper," Rose said, nodding at the wallet the blonde woman was holding. "James, it's the Doctor."

"No," James said.

"James." Rose closed her hand around his clenched fist. "Please. It says he needs help. He needs us."

Behind him a bright light flared, and everybody jumped, but it was followed by a cheery calliope fanfare and a spate of whooping and laughing sprinkled with a scattering of applause.

"Well, it must've worked," James said.

"We missed it. I'm so sorry," Rose said.

He exhaled sharply. "No, it's fine. I'll reset it and try again this evening." He glared at the two women on his doorstep. The ginger seemed mostly harmless, but the other was River Song, and her arrival only ever meant one thing.

Well, he thought. Not this time. He wouldn't let it.

He palmed the button again. "Belay the last command. Stand down, but keep at the ready." He wiped his brow. "And we'll need a transport."

XXX

"You called him the Doctor," Amy whispered as they followed Lord and Lady McCrimmon into their gigantic house.

"He is the Doctor," River answered.

"How?" she shot back.

"I don't know," River said through her teeth. She breathed in mingled scents of cake flour and gunpowder as they slipped down marble corridors between expansive libraries and studies and sitting rooms.

"He seems to have done well for himself," Amy said.

"Yes, he has," said River.

They had made introductions at the door. James and Rose McCrimmon, meet River Song and Amy Pond. Williams, she'd added, waving her ring. Just married. Yay!

Rose regarded them with a tight smile and said, "Congratulations."

Then a young woman in jeans and a button-down shirt met them at the archway of a huge kitchen. She cast a worried look at Rose before turning to address James.

"Mr. McCrimmon," she said. "Might I interest our guests in refreshment?"

"Thank you, Alicia," he said. "We'll be in the courtyard."

"Right. Yes, sir."

They walked on, down another vaulted hallway, and turned left into a gallery of glass doors that opened out into a flagstone courtyard filled with viny plants and trickling fountains and marble statues.

But none compared to the breathtaking centerpiece that hovered in golden glory in the center of the courtyard. It was a clockwork balloon of gossamer yellow silk, festooned with flags and tin pipes and twinkling lights. In the basket, a pair of wind-up children waved pennants while miniature aeroplanes looped and spun around it. Stitched across the front of the balloon in ornate gold lettering was a banner that read: Happy Birthday, Tony!

A half dozen men and women gathered to stare up at it, and when James and Rose pressed open the doors, they were greeted with applause.

An older, portly gentleman stepped forward and clapped James on the back. "It was magnificent, sir," he said.

"Was it?" he asked, staring up at the balloon.

"Astounding. He'll love it, sir."

James' face relaxed into a smile. "Yes," he said. "Right. We have time for one more test. Let's repack the canister, reset the system, and be ready in five hours."

"Aye, sir," the man said.

"Molto bene!" James said, shaking the man's hand.

The older man joined the others and they set about, tugging on gang wires, winding cranks, and toggling levers to collapse the balloon back down to the golden canister positioned beneath it.

James joined Rose, but kept enough distance between him and the newcomers, who seemed sufficiently dazzled to not overhear them.

"What do you think?" he said.

"I think it's lovely," she said. "Astounding, just like Gerard said."

"No. Well. Yes. Thanks. But," he squeezed her hand. "I meant about them."

"Right. Trying not to," Rose said.

"Succeeding?"

"Not remotely."

"If it's THE Doctor, Rose, the Doctor who was me, it means the TARDIS is here, and—"

"—They said it crashed—"

"—Of course it crashed. They're in the wrong universe, wrong time vortex, wrong everything, and if that's so then…"

"Bad news."

"So very, very bad."

A small bleep came from his pocket. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and pressed its comlink.

Prescott said, "Sir, the transport is ready."

"Very good." He glanced at Rose. "Stay with them, talk to them. Find out everything you can, and tell them nothing."

"What about you?"

He slipped the screwdriver back into his pocket and straightened his jacket. "I'm going to meet the Doctor."

Chapter Text

The Doctor

Prescott Lamb maneuvered the hoverlink along the coastline, scanning the cliffs for the wreckage Dr. McCrimmon had mentioned. As they skimmed through thin skeins of clouds that left cold drops of moisture on their goggles and in their hair, Prescott nudged the controls forward, pressing for speed.

He had never seen Dr. McCrimmon look so anxious, not during the Water Crisis, not even during the Locastalan Invasion of 2012. Whatever had crashed out there, it meant a great deal to Dr. McCrimmon, which made it a big deal to Prescott.

They had traveled nearly six kliks when Dr. McCrimmon leaned forward. He held his sonic screwdriver over the side of the hoverlink and sent a steady pulse ahead.

"There," Dr. McCrimmon said. He fed the new bearings back into the hoverlink's computer, and Prescott adjusted to the flight path. The craft banked right, cresting the cliffs and leaving the shore behind them.

"Sir," Prescott said, nodding at the clutch of storm clouds gathering over the sea.

"Yep," Dr. McCrimmon said. He twisted the screwdriver; the pulse intensified.

"But sir…" Prescott insisted.

Dr. McCrimmon's jaw tightened. "I know," he said.

Thunder ruptured from the storm, echoing around them. Prescott tightened his gloved fingers on the wheel. Below them, the hills rippled stark green against the graying sky.

The sonic screwdriver resonated a high-pitched chirp, and there it was, the strangest ship Prescott had ever seen: a bright blue box perched on the brow of a hill.

"That's it!" McCrimmon shouted. "Ha! All in one piece, yes she is! Who's a good TARDIS?"

Prescott brought the hoverlink in for a soft landing. Dr. McCrimmon climbed overboard and dropped the five feet to the earth. He pressed his earpiece and said, "Right, so once I'm inside, you know what to do."

"Aye, sir," Prescott said.

"Keep a weather eye," McCrimmon said. He removed his cap and goggles, tucked them in his pocket, and walked, carefully, deliberately toward the box.

XXX

James McCrimmon paused at the door of the TARDIS. He steadied his breathing and felt, suddenly, very, very small. He raised his hand to knock, but then splayed his palm to place it against the surface, gentle as a caress.

She was cold.

He closed his eyes and leaned against the TARDIS, listening for the hush of her systems, for the hum of her heart. Silence answered.

And then, with a soft click, the door creaked inward.

"Thanks," he whispered. He stepped inside, into darkness, and the door closed behind him.

"What in Gallifrey has he done to you?" he whispered, horrified as he rounded the central console of the TARDIS.

He ran his shaking hands over his face and was standing there on the bridge a la The Scream when a young, scruffy sort of man came up from below with a tea kettle in one hand and a spanner in the other.

"Wha –?" the man said upon seeing James. Then, "How? Who? I thought – Wha–? How'd you get in?"

"You must be Rory Williams," James said, extending his hand. Rory extended the spanner. James shook it.

"H-h-how'd you know my name?"

"I'm clever," James said. "Where is he?"

"He? He who?" Rory said. "Nobody here but good old Rory."

James' mouth quirked in a half-smile. "I'm here to help," he said. "Amy and River popped by this afternoon with a bit of psychic paper."

"Oh! Right," Rory said. He lowered the spanner.

"Now he's got it," James said, tapping Rory on the nose. "He's below, amIright?"

Rory's face crumbled. "It's bad," he said.

"I've seen bad," James said.

"It's worse."

"Show me."

"Who are you?"

"I'm an old friend – Well – I'm a friend – Well – We knew each other."

"You sound like him," Rory said.

"I do? Well, isn't that something. I'll just…" James tipped a salute and slipped past Rory, down the plasteel gangplank (Plasteel? he moaned inwardly. Made his shoes squeak. Honestly, what was wrong with metal?)

He slipped down the hallway, passed the bins, the laundry, the library, which was smaller, and, interestingly, fitted with a pool. He heard Rory gaining on him; His shoes squeaked, too. James vaulted the last handrail and slid around the corner, into the master suite.

And there he was. The Doctor.

"He's sleeping," Rory said over James' shoulder.

"Right. To work then." James took out his sonic screwdriver.

"Hey? Where did you get—?"

"I made it," he answered. He sidled up to the bed and stared down at the new face of the new man. He clicked his tongue. "Still not ginger."

He swept the sonic screwdriver over the Doctor's head, lifted his eyelids. "Green eyes this time. Hm. Normal dilation. Good… Bowtie?" He glanced at Rory, who shrugged. "Hearts, plural. Both pumping away. Taller this time. Bigger hands. Interesting."

James switched off the screwdriver and stepped back, his chin in hand.

"Physically he's fine. Not poisoned. Not electrocuted. Not regenerating. Sartorially challenged, but otherwise…fine. He should be up and about, saving the universe. Wouldn't you say?"

"Well, uh. Yeah. I suppose."

"So why isn't he?"

"I don't know," Rory said.

"It was rhetorical," James said.

"Oh—"

"Right, well, let's ask him," James said. "And Rory—"

"Yeah?"

"Duck." James cranked the screwdriver up to eleven. Rory dropped to his knees and the tea kettle burst like a bomb just as James jabbed the screwdriver down into the middle of the Doctor's forehead.

The Doctor sat up, his eyes wide, and drawing an enormous breath, he said, "and then he said, 'the cosmos is within us.' ... Hello?"

James switched off his screwdriver. The Doctor clapped a hand to his forehead. "Ow."

"Yep," James said.

"He has a – sonic-y – thing," Rory said.

"So he has," the Doctor said. "Because he's me."

"Was," James corrected.

"What?" Rory said.

The Doctor swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "It was a meta-crisis, there were Daleks, my hand in a jar, mix in a little time vortex, add a pinch of Donna Noble – Bam – meta-crisis Doctor." He clasped James' hand in both of his.

"It's McCrimmon now."

"James McCrimmon," the Doctor said, puzzled. Then, "Hang on. We were in Paris."

"That we were," Rory said.

"And now we're not."

"No," James said. "Now you're in Scotland. My Scotland."

"Your Scotland. You can't own Scotland. Wait. Can you?"

"Different universe," James said. "Did you hit your head?"

"No. Did I?" He stood up, arms wide. "Hang on. Different universe! We fell out of the time vortex and wound up here. But how? And more interestingly, why?"

"All of that will have to wait, I'm afraid. A storm's brewing. We need to get indoors."

"We are indoors," Rory pointed out.

"Right you are," James said. "But with the TARDIS offline—"

"—We're completely vulnerable," the Doctor finished.

"It's more than that, I'm afraid," James said. "This planet has atmospheric control, which makes a storm like this impossible."

"Impossible storm can only mean one thing—"

"—Something is coming," James said. "And it's followed you."

At that moment, they felt a shudder rock the TARDIS. Rory held out his hands to steady his balance.

"It's all right," James said. He depressed the comlink on his screwdriver. "Good work, Prescott. Do us a favor, please. Have Gerard get the canister inside, one test will have to do, oh, and Prescott…"

"Aye, sir."

"Tell Rose we're coming in."

"Rose Tyler," the Doctor mused. He raked his hands through his hair. "Rose. Ha! Good old Rose, how is she, it's been… well, it's been forever."

"Yes, it has," James said.

"Oh," the Doctor said. Then, "Oh."

James swallowed hard. "So. Shall we?"

"Um. We crashed in a field," Rory said. "We were miles from anyplace—"

"Ah, but James moved us," the Doctor said. "Dirigible?"

"Hoverlink."

"Splendid!" The Doctor brought his hands together. "After you."

Chapter Text

Yesterday

7179 A.D.

Paris

How long has this storm been coming for me?

In the beginning, he had the look of a man. Over centuries, time twisted him, stooped his back and bent his bones. His hands, which had once been gentle hands full of life and strength, now hooked into claws that grasped at every young and beautiful thing, and devoured them.

And now. Now he has one thing for which he reaches. One glimmering hope in a landscape of dust and decay. One small glint in the whole cosmos. Across galaxies, across millennia, he tracks this last particle, the dimming ember of a lost race. Though time has ruined his body, his mind remains sharp. He has gathered whole systems in his wake, and now they feed him, worship him, give him strength.

Soon now, he will repay them. Soon, he will reap this last seed and spread its power among the stars. For no one creature should have so much, while countless others have so little.

XXX

McCrimmon Estate

Present Day

"James has gone to fetch the others," Rose said. "We'll have some tea and—"

"—Did he build this?" River interrupted, gesturing to the gilded balloon.

"Um." Rose brushed her hair back. "Yeah. It's a hobby of his, he's always making things. If we could just go in—"

"—Who's Tony?" Amy asked.

"He's – My little brother," Rose said. "James adores him. And my baby sister, Tabitha. Tab, for short. Tony'll be eight tomorrow. We have this party..."

"I'm sorry to seem so astonished," River said. "It's just, the Doctor's so…"

"…Slapdash," Amy finished.

"Yes, well. That was when he had to make due with whatever was lying about. Duct tape and chewing gum, that lot," Rose said. "Now he has resources and technology…"

"Hmm," River said.

"The man who brought us here called him The Inventor," Amy said.

"Oh, that..."

"I'm guessing it's more than a hobby," River said.

"Well—" Rose tried again to conduct them back inside. They didn't budge.

"He said you were both more famous than the Queen," Amy said. "What other sorts of things has he invented?"

Rose took in the two women who faced her – the redhead and the blonde. Of course they would be persistent; they were companions of the Doctor. She felt a twist of something like pain or – was it jealousy? – inside her. Ridiculous, when she thought of all she had now compared to when she traveled through space and time with him.

And oh God. He was on his way here. Her husband had gone to fetch him. She wasn't ready. How could anyone be ready for this?

A thought occurred to her then, and she blurted it out before she could stop herself. "The Doctor. H-has he regenerated? Does he—"

"—Still look like your husband?" River guessed.

Rose cleared her throat. "Yeah."

"No. He's changed," River said. "I met him, though, when he still wore this face. He was traveling with Donna then, and he saved my life."

"Well, he does that," Rose said.

"Yes he does," Amy agreed.

They shared a brief laugh, which Rose broke by saying, "Is he all right?"

Amy and River exchanged a worried look.

"We're not sure," Amy said. "One second we're touring the ruins of Sacre Coeur. The next he's flat out unconscious."

"Just like that?" Rose asked.

"Exactly like that," River said.

"We went to Sacre Coeur once, the Doctor and me," Rose recalled. "Not the ruins, but before."

"Yes, he mentioned," River said.

"Did he?" Rose felt herself blushing, and then scrambled to recover. "I'm thinking Alicia's probably got that tea ready, shall we?"

Rose brushed past them and into the hallway, not turning to see if they followed. She had to get a hold of herself. She was behaving like a lovestruck teenager. Which she had been when she met the Doctor, so maybe it would always be like this, but even so, she didn't have to let it show…

The sconces in the hallway flickered, and she froze as a rumble of thunder rolled over the hills and rattled the house.

She turned, her eyes wide, to stare at Amy and River.

"It's just… thunder," Amy said. "Right?"

"No," Rose said. "It's a storm. A storm is coming."

A wave of nausea swelled in her. She swayed slightly, but someone caught her elbow.

"Ma'am?" It was Alicia, who looked just as concerned as Rose did.

"I'm all right," Rose said. She palmed sweat from her forehead. "Just, um…"

"You should take care, ma'am," Alicia scolded. "Can't be running around like this—"

Rose shook her head, cutting her off, but it was too late. Rose could see in River's eyes that she already knew.

"We haven't told anyone," Rose explained, but looked at Alicia and smiled. "Outside from us, I mean. It's just, we held off for so long, then we tried for so long, now it's like we're holding our breath because we don't want anything to go wrong, you know?"

"Yes," Amy said. "Yes, I do."

"How far along?" River asked.

"Three months," Rose said. "Thereabouts."

"And James? Does he know?"

"Oh yes," Rose laughed. "Pleased as punch, he is."

"No more deserving a man, if you ask me," Alicia said. "Now, let's get you to the sitting room, ma'am. Your tea's getting cold."

Another ripple of thunder shook the windowglass, and the first plinking of rainfall rang against the roof tiles.

"It's all right," Amy reassured her. "A little rain can't be too bad?"

"No rain in the schedule today," Alicia said. She put her arm around Rose's shoulder. "Come on now."

"None till Wednesday," Rose confirmed. "We cleared the week for the balloon trials and then for the party."

"You control the weather?" Amy asked. "That's… wow."

A blue light flashed on Alicia's wrist-com. She flicked a switch and a voice came online.

"Miss Alicia Harmon, this is Prescott Lamb bringing in the hoverlink, over."

"You're loud and clear, Mr. Lamb," Alicia said.

"Mr. McCrimmon says please tell Ms. Rose they're coming in."

"Aye, sir," Alicia said. She nodded to Rose and her guests. "I shall pass the message along."

Lightning filled the windows, a quick, staccato pulse. Rose felt her heart skip.

The Oncoming Storm. That was what the Daleks had called the Doctor. And now he was here, in her home.

The thought of it thrilled her, and not all of it was bad.

Chapter Text

Present Day
McCrimmon Estate
6:23 p.m.

James appeared in the hallway, walking briskly toward them, his coattails aflutter, his hair a wreck.

Amy said, "Is everything all right? You found the TARDIS and all aboard were safe?"

"Yes, yes," James said. "I put her down by the hangar. They'll be along in a bit. I broke one of your tea kettles. Sorry. Looked nice. Bezullium?"

River pulled him into an unexpected embrace and whispered, "Congratulations."

A second later he puzzled it out and cried, "Rose!"

"I know, I'm sorry," she said. "They're both wily and clever."

"Of course they are," James said. "But so are you." He looked Rose up and down, saw that Alicia had hold of her shoulder. "You look a bit pale. You all right?"

Lightning rippled overhead, followed by a bellow of thunder.

"James, that storm–"

"–Won't be a problem," he said. "It's a super-stratospheric event caused by a disruption in the suborbital control matrices, namely, the unprecedented arrival of the TARDIS. Think of it as a warning system, something unusual falls from the sky and the resultant change in atmospheric pressure sets off a chain reaction in the form of storm clouds. Rather elegant, I should think, but there's no cause for alarm, I've already sent a message to Professor Taylor at Bellweather for a manual dispersion, which should happen right about... Now."

At that precise moment, sunrays sliced into the courtyard, the winds died out, and the storm clouds evaporated. James looked rather pleased with himself.

"He is good," River said.

Rose took his hand and leaned against him. "He's very good," she agreed. She gazed up at him. Yep. Hiding something. He nodded to her, barely perceptible, and she understood.

Her grip tightened as three figures appeared in the hallway.

"And here they are," Rose said.

"Here they are," James agreed.

"The Doctor looks well as ever," Amy said. "I hate it when he does that."

"Yes, I am fine!" the Doctor called, his voice large in the corridor. He spread his arms wide. "We're fine. All of us…fine, the storm has passed, the TARDIS is safe, and here we are, here we all are, and I'm rambling…"

They formed a circle, Rose and James, Amy, River, and Alicia, across from Rory, Prescott and the Doctor, and a moment of long and awkward silence spun between them.

Finally, Rose broke the moment by saying to the Doctor, "Your trousers are too short."

XXX

They gathered at a highly-polished dining table set with two dozen chairs. Alicia and James brought up the tea, and then Alicia and Prescott returned to their regular duties about the house (which — Rose knew — sometimes included a secret snog every now and again).

"So, you were at Sacre Coeur," James lead in. "That's when the Doctor fainted. Let's start there, shall we?"

"The ruins of Sacre Coeur," Rory said. "Wedding present gone wrong."

The Doctor leaned in. "We were in the ruins of Sacre Coeur. Yesterday. 7179 A.D. And for the record, they are not too short. My legs are longer."

Everyone stared at him, until River picked up the narrative. "We landed as planned, adjacent to the ruins. Nothing out of the ordinary. We piled out and set off exploring."

Amy said, "We were hardly there five minutes with him chattering all the while about meeting Carl Sagan back in 1956–"

"–It was '66–" Rory put in.

"Right, whatever," Amy went on. "Then all of the sudden — whoosh! — flat on his back."

"That's not how it went," River said.

"Fine," Amy said, crossing her arms. "Smack! Flat on his back. He has a very large head."

"No, you're missing the part about you two wandering off," River said.

The Doctor jabbed his finger at them, and then at Rose. "They do that!"

"Where'd they run off to?" James asked.

"We were on our honeymoon," Amy explained.

"We still are," Rory added.

"Fair enough," Amy said. "There we were, great big spooky ruined church, and him yammering on about the cosmos and binary stars. It started raining, so we figured we'd sneak off for a bit of fun."

"And then…" Rory said, trailing off.

"He fainted," River said.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "I didn't… faint."

River laughed. "Didn't you?"

"There is something," he began. His eyes rolled up and seemed to fix on some vague middle distance between the chandeliers and the ceiling. "BAH!"

They all sprung back in surprise, and Amy, who'd been nibbling a biscuit, sent it sailing across the room.

But the Doctor laughed. "Gotcha," he said.

"That's not funny!" Rory snapped. He stalked toward the doors. Then he turned back and jabbed a finger at the Doctor. "You–" He wiped his face with the back of his hand. "It's never funny." And Rory stormed out of the room.

James shook his head. "Blimey, was I–?"

"No," Rose said, heading off the thought. "You weren't."

Amy got to her feet. "Sorry about the–" she said, and hurried after Rory.

The Doctor tilted his head. "That seemed much so funnier up here," he said, pointing at his temple.

Rose rolled her eyes. "Here's what I want to know," she said, leaning in. "Why the ruins? Why not the basilica itself? You always loved the architecture of Sacre Coeur."

"Well I do," the Doctor said.

James nodded, following Rose's line of thought. "So do I," he said. "And if that's so, why would you want to see it destroyed?"

The Doctor scratched his head. "Different perspective?"

James glowered. "Can you remember exactly what was going on when you fainted–"

"–I didn't faint!–"

"–Fine, blacked out, whatever. Do you remember?"

"Something about Carl Sagan," River said, helpfully.

"And the cosmos," the Doctor said, "And then I said to Rory, don't you two get off on your own 'cause I don't plan on babysitting, two things that never mix well are time travel and–"

Suddenly, the Doctor cried out and cringed in a spasm of agony before he fell in a crumpled heap to the floor.

And at the same moment, the same thing happened to James.

Chapter Text

The Missing Memory

2:34 p.m.
McCrimmon Estate
One of the guest suites

James sat up. "That was a bad idea," he said. "Really, really bad. Whatever you were thinking, don't think it again."

And at the same time, the Doctor awoke and said, "–bananas."

"Time travel? And bananas?" River said.

The Doctor tapped his lips. "No," he said. "I meant binary stars."

"Right," Rory said. "Because that makes so much more sense."

"Nevertheless, bananas are always brilliant," the Doctor said. "And so are binary stars…"

"But. What happened?" James asked.

Rose edged onto the bed beside him. "You've been out twenty hours," she said.

"Has it?" James said.

"Longest hours of my life," she said. "You were both still as stones."

James gave himself a once over. "I feel… fine." He flexed his feet, stretched his hands. "Well-rested, clear-headed, handsome, and clever. And you, Doctor?"

"I must say, it's very odd, hearing you call me that, when you were me and I was you, and now you're… you," the Doctor said. He continued to ramble amongst his cadre while James took a moment to gauge his surroundings — one bed, one window, one wife, looking very relieved, one Doctor, stretched out on a sofa, one married couple, and one enigmatic archaeologist. River ruffled the Doctor's hair.

"He's about the same level of not helpful." James said, "What about the–"

"–I went ahead with the plans for the party," Rose said, as if she'd read his thoughts. "I figured–"

"–It's what we'd want," James said. "And if anything bad were to happen–"

"–This would be the safest place for all of us to be," he finished. "Rose, you're brilliant!" He planted a kiss on her forehead.

"Excuse me?" the Doctor asked. "Party?"

"My brother Tony," Rose began.

"He turns eight today," James explained. "We always have this party."

"Do you always finish each other's sentences?" Amy asked.

"Yes, we always did that, such fun," the Doctor said. James tensed, but the Doctor either didn't see or chose to ignore it. "So, we were out twenty hours, both of us, and we woke simultaneously, and it seemed as if no time had passed at all, which means…"

"There's a connection," James said. "A trigger. Something linking us." He sat up. "Wait! Wait! But, no." He fell back then popped up again. "Yes! Something buried in our consciousness–"

"–Before the Meta-crisis," James said.

"So it would affect us both," they said at the same time.

"Weird," Amy said.

"Annoying," Rory agreed.

"It was a memory," the Doctor said. He got up and began to pace. "A memory, hidden, concealed, but why...?"

"I've seen it before," James said. "Not just a memory. A flashback." His brow furrowed.

"That's right. Just like this, remember?" Rose asked. "We were getting ready for bed, and you just…blacked out."

"Three years ago," James said, understanding dawning in his eyes.

The Doctor snapped his fingers and pointed at River. "This timeline is different; it's slightly ahead."

"By about three years," River said. "Which means…"

"It happened at the same time," James and the Doctor said in unison.

"Will you stop doing that?" Rory moaned.

The Doctor ran toward James, jabbing a finger at him. "Tell me, what did you see?"

"Oi, back off," Rose warned.

The Doctor fell back a step.

"No. Rose. It's fine," James said, caressing her arm. "I saw something, just before I lapsed, like a…a place, and a light, a very, very, blue light."

"Right. Great!" the Doctor said. "Where have we been that was blue?"

"Oh," Rose breathed. "Lots of places. Platform One–"

"–Mon Calamari," the Doctor said.

"–The ice moon of Coerhaan," James said.

Rose sighed. "I loved that one."

"Oh, you took her there, too?" Amy chimed in. Rory scowled.

"Arcadia is sometimes very blue," River suggested. "Depending on the season."

"No, I never took Rose there," James said. "That memory was still too… Besides, this was different. This place was very high-tech, and the air was artificial, like a–"

"Like a space station!" Amy said.

"Yes, a space station," the Doctor said. "That narrows it down. We visited a hundred or so space stations. Dozens of those had vivid blue lights. I'll just pare down the list…" He continued to walk the room, enumerating the names of space stations on his fingers.

"There was a door," James muttered. "A number on the door, but it's blurred, like it's censored, who would censor it?"

"James, I remember a place like that," Rose said. "I was there, like you said."

"Then there was the Intergalactic Spacefaring Council," the Doctor was saying. "The ISC, Science Division, Wing 418, Chamber door, but the number is blurred–"

"Now I'll only be a minute," James and the Doctor said, and both winced as if they'd been slapped.

"Then I opened the door and went inside," the Doctor said. "What was on the other side of that door? Let's try it, shall we?"

Both jolted as if struck by lightning.

"Stop it," James bit out.

"It's right there," the Doctor said, his eyes a wild mix of terror and glee. "Right beyond that door."

Another jolt.

The Doctor dropped to the floor and clung to the footboard of the bed. James doubled over, his arms and legs tightening as if an electrical current coursed through him.

"I said STOP it!" James snarled, but the Doctor held on until Amy and Rory and River and Rose were screaming at him to stop. Only then did he relent. He shook his head as if to clear it.

"What is wrong with you?" River growled. The Doctor wiped his mouth and said nothing.

Rose laced her fingers with James'. "What was that? What happened?" she asked.

James took a steadying breath. "We can't access it. It's shielded," he said. "The memory… is shielded. It's like, have you ever played Operation?"

Rory, Amy, and Rose all nodded.

"It's like that," James said. "When he brushes around he edges of the memory, everything's fine. But if he touches it directly— ZAP."

Rose glared at the Doctor, who had the decency to look away.

"Both of us," James said.

"Shielded?" River wondered aloud. "Someone shielded a memory inside your head."

"But who could do that?" Amy asked. "Who'd be able to conceal one of your memories?"

"O-oh, Amy," the Doctor said, grinning. "It's a good question, but it's not the really, really big question. In fact, comparatively, that one's tiny-whiny."

He stared at them, giving them a moment to sort it out. River was the first to understand.

"He did it," River said with a bitter laugh. "The Doctor hid his own memory."

"But," Rory said. "Why?"

"Buzz, buzz," the Doctor yelled. "Rory, you should win a prize. I don't know what the prize will be, but you should win it." The Doctor got to his feet then and turned a slow circle, looking from one face to the next with a gravity only a Time Lord can muster. "What in this whole wide universe could be so dangerous that I would hide it from myself?"

XXX

4:13 p.m.
The Bellweather Institute
London

At first, Professor Malcolm Taylor didn't believe the readings he received from Bellweather Satellite 18. They showed a fluctuation pattern of .856 per cycle, which was a deviation of more than seventy-two percent per rotation.

Unheard of.

He triple-checked the figures. All of them, accurate. He ran a diagnostic of the system. No worries there; even with the unexpected dispersion Dr. McCrimmon had ordered, the network functioned beautifully as ever. Something was out there, and that something was registering an energy signature unlike anything he'd ever seen.

After exhausting his normal battery of tests and tricks — all of which told him nothing about the anomaly detected by Satellite 18 — Malcolm knew he had to get crafty.

If he flipped the readings fed in by the satellite, he could get an inverse and use it to detect what had caused them in the first place. By isolating the variables and eliminating for the dispersion, Malcolm could conceivably pinpoint an exact location.

He rolled up the sleeves of his lab coat, popped in a vidstick of David Bowie, and got to work.

5:16 p.m.

Rose used her domestic skills to trick the Doctor and his companions out of the guest room so that she and James could have a moment alone. Namely, she sent them off to dinner.

"Classic Rose maneuver," James said. "Well-played."

"Thank you," she purred. "Now, Dr. McCrimmon, about that storm..."

"Yes, I lied," he said. "Not so much lied as exaggerated. There was a super-stratospheric disturbance caused by the TARDIS, but the manual dispersion I ordered is temporary. As long as the TARDIS is here, the system will attempt to correct for the disruption," James pursed his lips. "But, it's fine. We'll keep manually overriding until we can see them safely back in their own dimension."

"But it's more than that," Rose said. "I know you, and I know him. Everything that's happened — the TARDIS crashing, you both blacking out, that memory. Something is wrong."

At that moment, a hollow thonk sounded high above on the rooftop, followed by a metallic clang.

James slipped from the bed and placed a finger over his lips. On the bedside table, a Comdex began to flash. He swiped it into his hands and toggled the speaker.

"Tyler Airship, requesting moorage," came the tinselly yet familiar voice over the com.

"Dad!" Rose cried. "It's just Mum and Dad."

"Early as ever," James muttered.

"Don't start," Rose warned.

Then Jackie's voice sounded over the connection: "You better have the kettle on, Rose Tyler McCrimmon, 'cause we've just been four hours with Little Lord Are-We-There-Yet? and Lady He's-Breathing-My-Air!"

"No worries, Mum, I'll ring up Alicia and let her know," Rose said. She clicked off the com. "This could get tricky with the Doctor and his entourage here."

"We always have lots of guests, don't we? Few more won't matter, and we'll pretend everything is peaches and applegrass until we sort out the TARDIS and send them home."

"It's never that easy and you know it," Rose said. "That memory, James. It's like this quicksand trap lying in wait–"

"–An ant lion!–" He seemed gleeful at his clever comparison, but Rose frowned.

"–I don't like it." Her voice quavered. "I hate the thought of something you can't control taking you out like that."

James bowed his head until their foreheads met. "Then we'll get that sorted, too," he said.

Rose rubbed her nose against his. "Promise?"

"Peaches and applegrass," he said.

She smoothed his rumpled hair from his forehead. "You ready for all this?" she asked.

"You know me," he answered. "I love a party."

Chapter Text

7:19 p.m.
The Stone Courtyard

The main ballroom and adjoining courtyard had been besieged by shrieking children, all of them in fancy dress as pirates or princesses or various alien races. The glass doors stood open, and most of the parents gathered in small knots ringing the courtyard. They had all marveled over the launch of James’ clockwork balloon, and now it soared above them, spangling sparks of golden light among the children as they played.

The Doctor ambled among the mingling party guests, his hands laced behind his back. He saw so many familiar faces here, duplicate faces from his own time-stream, alive and well and thriving. No doubt James remembered them and gathered them into the fold.

And where were Rose and Handy James, anyway? the Doctor wondered as he meandered through the crowd. He saw River at the top of the stairs, getting chatted up by a young handsome barrister type. He caught her eye and winked; she glared down at him.

“No you don’t,” he mouthed up at her, then turned to continue his search. No sign of Amy or Rory, he noted, but he couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or bad.

 He caught sight of Jackie and Pete Tyler and was ducking to avoid them when he collided with young man in a smart black leather coat. The Doctor whirled around, apologies at the ready, when he realized he recognized that face as well.

“Jakey boy!” the Doctor cried. “Jake Simmonds! Look at you.”

Jake looked equal parts annoyed and confused. “And who might you be?” he asked.

“It’s me. It’s the Doctor,” he said. He pointed to his chin, and smiling, said, “New face. Eleventh.”

“Go on,” Jake said, but he seemed unconvinced.

“Here, I can prove it,” the Doctor said, pulling out his sonic screwdriver. He thumbed a switch and the end glowed green. “See, it’s me. The Doctor.”

“What was the last thing Mickey said to me at Canary Wharf?” Always the skeptical one, Jake.

“Oh, I know this!” the Doctor said. “He said, ‘I told you he was good!’ And he’s right. I am good.”

“Ah-ha,” Jake cried, clapping him in a brisk hug. “It’s nice to see you, Doctor. What are you doing here?”

The Doctor shrugged. “Party,” he said.

“Fitting! Come here,” he grabbed the Doctor’s arm and hauled him through the ballroom, where he put him before a fine-boned young woman in a sleek gray dress. “This is my wife, Miranda,” Jake said.

“Hello?” she said, seeming confused as the Doctor took her hands in his.

“Married!" the Doctor said, pulling a face. "It’s like some sort of contagion. So you live here, or...”

“No, no,” Jake said. “We live in London, but we get up here as often as we can.”

“Things seem to move slower here in the country,” Miranda explained.

“And here–” Jake said, pointing at two blondes in frills and tiaras. “These are our girls. That’s Magdalena, and this is Addie.”

Addie stretched her arms up to Miranda and proclaimed, “Juice!”

“There’s my cue,” Miranda said, scooping up her daughter. “Nice meeting you, Doctor.”

 As she led the girls away, the Doctor mused, “Jake Simmonds: Married. With daughters.”

“I know it,” Jake agreed. “Me. The freedom fighter.”

“So what is it you do now?” the Doctor asked. He began again to amble, and Jake fell into pace beside him. “Still working for Torchwood?”

“Bygone days,” Jake said. “It’s Ministry of Defence now.”

A charge of squealing children came rushing into the room, pursued by James with a tiny child in a pink fairy gown riding piggyback.

James drew rein to nod at each of them. “Tab,” he said, breathless. “Say hello to Jake and the Doctor.”

“Hello Jake, hello the Doctor,” Tab said primly. “Lovely to meet you. Now after those rapscallions! Hyah!”

James and the girl howled wildly and tromped off after the others.

“Does he always…” the Doctor began.

“Always,” Jake said. “Kids love ’im. And he always tells the best stories.”

“I bet he does,” the Doctor said, “Is he your boss?”

“Technically, Pete Tyler’s our boss, but you could say James works in more of an advisory capacity.” Jake splayed his hands. “The Inventor.”

The Doctor knotted his hands at his chest. “Inventor of what, exactly?” he asked.

Jake said, “Well. Scads of things.”

“Enlighten me.”

“For starters, he solved the Water Crisis.”

“And that was–?”

“After Canary Wharf and the Cybermen, we returned to a planet nearing catastrophe — ice caps melting, the weather’d gone off, and pollution blotted out the sunlight. Our water supplies failed and we counted ourselves goners. But James fixed it.”

“How'd he manage that?” the Doctor asked.

“You’ll have to ask him.”

The Doctor started off in the direction James had gone with the kids, but Jake caught his arm.

“Later,” Jake said. “After the kids’ve had their cake and gone to bed, we all have a bite to eat in the kitchen, just us grown ups. You can ask ’im then.”

“Fair enough,” the Doctor said. “So the Water Crisis, what next?”

“Then we were invaded. The Locastalan–”

“Space insects. Array of antennae all…” the Doctor gestured to his forehead. “Did he invent something then, too?”

“Nah,” Jake said. “Apparently he knew them. Knew their language, their customs. Set up a peace treaty, trade agreements. Rose was key in that deal. She’s an ambassador, did you know?”

“Not surprised,” the Doctor said. He spotted River now hobnobbing with three science-y types. She held his eye for a moment, and he knew what she was up to. Same as him — gathering intelligence. 

“Anyway,” Jake was saying, “We shared our technology; they shared theirs, now we have interplanetary relations with an alien race.”

“Still not inventing, though,” the Doctor said impatiently. “How’d he become The Inventor?”

“A’right. Touchy,” Jake said. “So. He invented the hoverlink. He designed a magna-propulsion train system. Two years ago, we converted to steam-solar fusion–”

“–The whole planet?” the Doctor interrupted.

“Yep. No more fossil fuel dependency,” Jake said. “All him. There were scores of other trifles and trinkets, but he’s most famous for the Bellweather Network. That’s been in place going on five years now. And here we are,” Jake spread his arms wide to encompass the house, the crowd, the clockwork balloon outside. “Britain’s Golden Age.”

“Long may it reign.” Both men turned to see Rose standing on the dais behind them. Jake hugged her, but the Doctor merely stared. It was nice to see her, all poised and prim in her shimmery blue sundress and upswept hair. Made both of his hearts skip.

“You boys catching up?” Rose said.

“Look at this face,” Jake said, pointing. “The Doctor. Can you believe it?”

“Really can’t,” Rose said. “You look so young this time.”

“Is that good or bad?” the Doctor asked.

 “It’s... different,” she said. Her voice was crisp and terse. She was still cross with him about earlier, and somehow that made him feel giddy.

“Good different or bad different?” he asked, arching his brows.

She said, “We’re gathering for cake in the sitting room.” And then she left.

The Doctor grimaced. “Bad different,” he decided.

Jake nodded assent. “Yes, mate,” he said. “I’d have to agree.”

Chapter Text

8:16 p.m.
McCrimmon Estate

They were in a stone alcove. An alcove made of stone. An alcove made of stone that was cold and scratchy against her back. The sound of the crowd singing Happy Birthday rang down the corridor, sounding far from cheerful at a distance, and the night air smelled of mildew and mist, which made Amy feel a nagging need to sneeze. Rory, bless him, continued to nuzzle her neck, but she drew away.

“We are at a child’s birthday party,” she hissed.

“We are on our honeymoon,” Rory reminded her.

She let him trail kisses up her throat, around her jaw, behind her ear. Chills coursed up her arms and down her spine, and that, combined with the cold, was more than she could bear.

Amy placed her hands on his shoulders and gently nudged him back.

“Amy,” he whispered.

“Rory. I can’t. Not here.”

“Okay,” he said. Then, “Why not? The McCrimmon Estate’s the most romantic spot on an itinerary which included a vampire infested Italian city and a bomb-blasted French city.”

“They were space fish, not vampires,” Amy said. “And I thought Sacre Coeur was lovely.”

“It was lovely. Before someone blasted it to cinders,” Rory said.

“C’mon, ya numpty,” she said. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Rory pressed Amy against the wall, stunning a tiny yelp out of her. “It’s right here,” he growled.

She was just winding her leg around Rory’s thigh when the Doctor’s voice cut in from behind them. “You’re at a child’s birthday party,” he said.

Amy snapped upright and shoved Rory aside. “So right you are,” she said. “A ten-year-old. We should be ashamed. I’m ashamed. Aren’t you ashamed?”

Rory groaned.

The Doctor stood across from them with a plate of cake balanced on one palm and a party blower in the other. He leaned against a stone column and stared at them for a long while before he said, “You two are missing all the fun.”

“Tell me about it,” Rory muttered.

“All right, I will,” the Doctor said. “Yesterday, we crash-landed in a parallel universe, one that should have been sealed off long ago, and I know this because I did the sealing myself, yet here we are. Why?”

Amy thought for a moment. “I dunno. River believes the TARDIS might have something to do with it. I mean, you said yourself, the TARDIS is clever. Maybe it has reasons of its own?”

The Doctor blew a loud honk on the party blower. “Yes, yes, stellar, Amelia Pond,” he said. “Bonus round to you, Rory Williams. What’s the reason?”

Rory shrugged. “The memory, I guess.”

“The memory,” the Doctor mused. He lowered his face to the cake and nipped off a chunk. “Dodgy ground, that one,” he said, talking around a mouthful of icing. “Something hidden from myself, by myself, before the Meta-crisis version of myself. But why is it resurfacing now? — think, think, think.” The Doctor tapped the party blower to his forehead in time with the words.

“Maybe it has something to do with James McCrimmon?” Rory guessed.

The Doctor brandished the blower at Rory. “Yes! Maybe we’re not here to find out what’s going on in here–” the Doctor tapped his own forehead “–Maybe we’re here to find out what’s going on, around here. I have an idea, and it involves the two of you.”

Amy brightened. “An assignment? Ooh, edgy.”

“Yay,” Rory said, flatly.

The Doctor looped one arm over each of their shoulders, drawing them out of the alcove. “There’s an after party tonight in the kitchens once the kiddies are all tucked in.” He pulled them along as he explained. “I want you both to go and find out all you can…”


11 p.m.
McCrimmon Estate
The Kitchens

 The McCrimmons’ home had once been an abbey many ages ago, before James and Rose restored it stone by stone. As such, the kitchens retained many of its old-y world-y features — the stone floors, a walk-in fire place, an earthen oven in one corner. In the center of the room sat the original dining table — broad and rough-hewn and beautiful, its wood surface worn smooth by centuries of hands and plates and scrubbing cloths. 

Most of the party guests had gone home, but the rest gathered around the table, their faces lit by candlelight and good strong wine — Pete and Jackie, Jake and Miranda, Mr. Price, Prescott and Alicia, James and Rose, Amy and Rory, and two of the engineers, Brett and Timothy. They had all grabbed whatever they wanted from the refrigerator, so the spread of food included leftover cake, a cheese wheel, clotted cream and scones, boiled eggs, cold salmon steaks, and pickled plums, which James loved and nobody else would touch.

Rory was doing what he was supposed to be doing. He observed, just as the Doctor ordered, but he kept getting distracted by the conversations — the old, familiar scraps of stories retold so often that everyone could supply parts of the narrative. After a while, he began to feel it, even though he didn’t know what it was yet.

It was like an all-body itch, and it worsened with every passing moment. Meanwhile, Amy seemed unaffected. She was busy laughing along with the tales and sipping her wine.

Rose was in the middle of one such story involving cronkburgers from Satellite Five. She was saying, “I know it’s supposed to be the height of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, but all I wanted was a cronkburger.”

“Cronkburger?” Jake snorted with laughter. “What manner of beast is cronk?”

“–Nevermind that,” Jackie said. “How’s it taste?”

“Unbelievable, Mum,” Rose said. “Like, the meat was seared by laser–”

“–Not even meat,” James put in.

“Shut up!” Rose told him.

“No, it’s true,” he said. “It’s a hydrolyzed compound of baltweed and reconstituted Ruj protein.”

“I don’t care, I loved it,” Rose crooned. “Piled high with cheese and avocado. Best burgers in the universe.”

Pete said, “Too bad it’s two hundred thousand years in your future.”

“Cruelty, Dad” Rose cried. “Such cruelty!”

And as everyone around the table was laughing with her, she leaned against her husband and fed him a bite of cake from her plate.

Rory stared, speechless. For a moment, the sound of the laughter faded and he felt the blood pounding in his head. It seemed such a simple, insignificant moment, but there was such tenderness in the way their eyes brightened, just for a moment, a kind of comfort you could overlook if you weren’t watching closely.

But Rory was watching, and it stabbed right into his heart. He thought of his own wedding night, which seemed an age ago, though it had only been five days.

He leaned over to Jake. “How long’ve they been married?”

Jake replied, “Going on nine years now.”

“N-nine?” Rory balked. “Nine years. Really?”

“Imagine the party we’ll have for that tenth,” Jake said, and he returned to the conversation.

Rory would have left the table, except he had work to do. Work for the Doctor.

Then Rory wondered, Why had the Doctor needed them to listen in to conversations about cronkburgers and birthday parties when he’d already known the answers to the questions he’d asked?

Of course. Rory scrubbed his face with his hand. While Amy and I run interference, the Doctor and River are off “investigating.” Just call us Shaggy and Velma.

Rory raised his eyes and found James watching him. He got the peculiar feeling he sometimes felt with the Doctor, like he’d been reading his thoughts. Who knew? Maybe he was? After all, James had once been the Doctor, and while everyone else around the table continued to talk and laugh, James’ attention had decidedly settled on Rory.

Oh God, he did know! Rory was certain. James would ask him about the Doctor, and what could Rory do? Would he lie? Would he feign ignorance? He was certainly good at actual ignorance; feigning it wouldn’t be a stretch.

“…and where is the Doctor anyway?” Jackie said, her voice slicing through the rest of the conversation. “This’ll be the third face of his I’ve had to see, and I wanna see if it’s an improvement–”

“–Thank you, Jackie,” James said.

“Ooh, you’re gorgeous, love,” she said, pinching James’ cheek. “Anyway, Rose says this one’s younger.” Jackie arched her brows.

“And thank you, Jackie,” Pete said.

Rory saw that Amy was about to hand them the excuse they’d rehearsed with the Doctor when Rose said, “I’m sorry, Mum, he can’t make it. He said he had things that needed tending to.”

Rory darted a sharp glance at Amy, who answered with a tiny shrug.

“They’ll be here a few days yet,” James said. “Perhaps we’ll see them all at breakfast. But we’d like to thank Amy and Rory for joining us tonight because we have an announcement.” James raised his glass and tipped it toward them. Everyone else followed suit, which made Rory feel absurdly guilty.

James smiled at Rose and she gave him a playful nudge with her shoulder. “Go on, then.”

“Right,” he said. “So, you all know I’ve been around, well, pff — ages, and in that time I’ve meet so many people and traveled so many places. I’ve witnessed beginnings and endings and in-between-ings; I’ve seen death and loss and chaos and destruction. And love, too. Oh yes, I’ve seen love. It’s an odd bird, love. Difficult to catch, something my kind never quite managed to peg, but you lot — you humans — it’s your nature. Even so, you fight it, so I know this to be true. Love is…elusive. You could search a thousand years–”

“–which you’ve almost done,” Jackie said.

“Thank you, Jackie,” James said. He grew pensive before continuing. “She’s not wrong, though. If you’re lucky in all that time, you find someone. And if you’re very, very lucky, you find someone like Rose. My Rose.”

Rose grazed his cheek with a kiss, and for a moment, James seemed almost sad.

Then he raised his glass again. “This truth Mr. Price knew well, though his Angela is no longer with us. She was a fine human being”

Mr. Price gave a solemn nod. “Hear, here,” he said.

“And Pete knows it, too, I suppose,” said James, grinning, and Jackie chuffed his shoulder. “When you find that person, you hang on. With both hands, you hang on. You begin a life,” he said. “You build a family…”

“Oh my God,” Jackie whispered, covering her mouth with her hands.

“You’re–” Pete began.

“We are,” Rose beamed.

“OH MY GOD!” Jackie shouted, and she yanked James out of his chair for a massive embrace.

The table erupted with cheers and congratulations. Rory turned to see Miranda hugging Amy and Mr. Price hugging Pete, and Alicia and Prescott hugging Timothy and Brett, and in the middle of the great big hugfest of which Rory was not a part, he suddenly found the word to go with what he was feeling.

Homesick. Rory wanted to go home.

~~~

James gathered Rose into his arms and twirled her around, and when he set her steady on her feet, he noticed a blue flashing in the pocket of his coat. He stepped away from the noise of the table and withdrew the sonic screwdriver.

He thumbed the com, and Professor Malcolm Taylor came online in a gush of disjointed syllables.

“Slow down, slow down,” James said. He blocked his other ear with his finger. “Professor Taylor? You there?”

“Sir, I’m en route now via hoverlink, and I know there was a party tonight–”

“–You were invited. We missed you–”

“–Thank you, sir. I missed you as well, sir. But sir,” Professor Taylor’s voice trembled. “I sent coordinates and data ahead. I’ve quadruple checked my findings, sir. I know how you prize thoroughness, and so I have been, sir, so very thorough.”

“Oh, for the love of Gallifrey, Taylor, get on with it.”

“An energy signature,” Taylor said. “A pulsation, growing in intensity and in breadth. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen; I checked.”

“The storm?” James whispered.

Professor Taylor said, “I’m afraid it was just the beginning, sir.”

“Where is it?” James asked. “You said you’re on your way…”

“It’s a bearing due west of your estate. I sent coordinates–”

“How far?” James snapped.

“Sixteen miles, sir,” Professor Taylor said.

James closed his eyes. “I’ll meet you there,” he said, and released the com.

Rose slipped up beside him, pressed her cheek to his shoulder. None of the others seemed to notice anything amiss, but she knew. Something was wrong.

“James?”

He shuddered. But he said, “It’s all right, Rose.”

She turned his shoulders to square with hers. She kept her voice low when she spoke. “No it’s not. Something’s happened.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “Just an — anomaly — probably caused by the storm. It’s nothing.”

“No. James. I can tell when it’s not.” She shook her head. “Don’t go. Let the Doctor go. Let him take care of it. You stay here with me.”

James took her face in his hands. “This is our home,” he said. “Ours.”

“James–”

"I’ll be home soon,” he told her, and he walked out into the night.

Chapter Text

What a piece of work is man.
Hamlet

11:21 p.m.
The McCrimmon Laboratory

The Doctor tested the door handle to find it unlocked. With a dejected sigh, he slipped his sonic screwdriver back into his pocket.

“Odd,” he announced. “Institution-scale laboratory, completely unsecured.”

He opened the double doors onto a darkened corridor lit up with blue secondary lighting.

“Maybe he has nothing to hide,” River commented.

“Please,” he said, stepping into the hallway. “Anyone with a lab this size might as well have Up To Something stitched into his trousers.”

River clicked on her scanner as they skimmed along the hallway. “He has security systems. Intricate ones. All powered down.”

“So he wants us to see,” the Doctor said. He paused at the T-intersection. “Excellent.”

“He knows we’re out here,” River said. She gestured to the left branch; they went on. “Why are we out here, Doctor?”

“I’m not skulking about, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” River said.

 “No. This is more innocent. I’m lurking, but also snooping. I’m snurking.”

 “Yes,” River said. “Again...why?” The corridor broadened and the left wall became a series of dark glass windows, floor to ceiling. 

“A decade they’ve been here,” the Doctor said. “In that time, he’s managed to save the world twice, develop relations with an alien race, establish space trade, free the world from fossil fuel dependency, revolutionize the transportation system, and all the while maintain a healthy marriage and active social life. Not to mention, really great hair.”

River smirked. “You save the universe on a semi-regular basis,” she pointed out.

The Doctor pointed to his face. “Time Lord,” he said.

“He’s half Time Lord,” River said.

“He’s half human,” the Doctor countered.

River scanned the glass as they walked. “Sounds like a dream come true.”

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s a fiction. A façade. A fake. Basically something that begins with F, and I’m going get to the bottom of it.”

“Sweetie, listen to yourself.”

“I have all of time and space at my disposal,” the Doctor said. “He’s one tiny man on one tiny planet…”

River stopped walking. He turned to her, and she began to slowly applaud.

“Are you slow-clapping me?” The Doctor scowled. “Don’t slow-clap me.”

“Well done, Doctor,” she said. “You’re the first man in history to be jealous of yourself.”

He scoffed. “Jealous.”

“He’s got everything you ever wanted —  a family, a home, a well-funded research laboratory.”

The Doctor balked.

“You know you want it.”

He walked over to the glass and lowered his forehead to it. “When I left them there at Dårlig Ulv Stranden, I expected them to live well, to be happy, to be… magnificent.”

“And they are,” River said. “Alive and splendid...”

“I never expected to have to see them,” the Doctor replied. He pressed his palm to the window.

River joined him. The thick glass shone lakewater green in the lab’s half-light. Banks of computers gleamed, nestled with display hubs and equipment ranged around a broad central tower.

“If you really want to know what’s going on in this lab," River said. "Maybe you could ask him. I’m certain he’d go for a guided tour.”

“Oh yes. Bet he’d love that,” the Doctor said. They grinned at each other.

“I was thinking this side trip could be nice for us,” River said. “It’s out of our time-stream. All new. Undiscovered country.”

The Doctor slid her a sidelong glance. “It’s always all new to me.” His fingers flexed. “Do you feel that?”

River shook her head.

“It’s a… a resonating… a vibration. Like an engine,” the Doctor said.

Then River did feel it — a humming in her fingertips. “A ship?” she guessed.

“A powerful ship. Outside,” he said. “Quick.”

~~~

11:44 p.m.
Grounds of the McCrimmon Estate

“Hold your ponies!” Prescott shouted as he rounded the corner and banged into them, just as Dr. McCrimmon said he would. “Here now,” he said while they recovered from their surprise. “What’re you two doing?”

“Lovely night,” the Doctor said. “Lovely stars, lovely lady.” He pulled River into a hasty side-squeeze.

“He said you’d say that,” Prescott said.

“Those words exactly?” the Doctor asked.

“Thereabouts.”

“We heard a noise,” River said. “Was there a ship–?”

“Aye, the hoverlink,” Prescott said. “Dr. McCrimmon just left.”

“Left?” the Doctor said. “Where’d he go?”

“Classified,” Prescott answered.

“You’re the pilot,” River said.

“I’m Head of Security,” Prescott said, irritated.

The Doctor studied him. “You’re a bit young for head of security.”

“I’m older than I look,” Prescott said.

“You look thirteen,” River said.

“I’m thirty-one!” Prescott answered.

“Hmm.” The Doctor brought his face very close to Prescott’s then, and though the young man looked uncomfortable, he didn’t back down.

“Are you arresting us?” River asked.

“N-no,” Prescott assured them. “I’m sealing the perimeter for the night. Dr. McCrimmon wanted to make certain all guests were accounted for.”

“Is that it?”

“No,” Prescott said. “He also said there’s food for you in the kitchens.”

“Generous,” River said.

“Very,” the Doctor agreed.

“Then he said that if you’d like a proper tour of the grounds, he’d be happy to lead one tomorrow after breakfast,” Prescott said.

“Told you,” River said.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Fine, we’ll go in,” he said. “Boy says we go in, we’ll go in.”

“Good,” Prescott said. He watched them safely into the house and then keyed the sequence to lock down the shields for the night. When it was done, Prescott toggled the button on his wrist-com. Dr. McCrimmon answered immediately.

“They’re in, sir,” he said. “All tucked in safe.”

“Good, good. Well done, Mr. Lamb,” Dr. McCrimmon answered. “I’m just arriving at the coordinates Professor Taylor sent. Blimey, he’s right, the energy signature’s gone blippy — all over the spectrum. Tell Rose not to wait up and not to worry. We’ll be in by morning.”

“Aye, sir,” Prescott said.

“Oh, and Lamb,” McCrimmon said.

“Aye, sir?”

“Keep a weather eye.”

~~~

11:54 p.m.
Sixteen miles northwest of the McCrimmon Estate

“Don’t touch it!” James shouted just as Professor Malcolm Taylor was reaching toward the St. Bernard-sized hunk of violet-tinged crystal encrusting the grassy hillside.

Malcolm’s fingers twitched inches from the surface of the crystal. James put his hands on the man’s shoulders and shifted him backward several feet.

“We dunno what it is,” James explained, his tone reverent. “Could be anything. Could be deadly. Very likely is.”

“It’s not from ’round here,” Malcolm concluded. “And look…” he swept his torch beam down the slope toward the sea. The light caught on the faces of the crystal so that the entire hillside glistened like something afire. “They’re everywhere.”

“Ye-es,” James said. “Bled over from the storm.”

Malcolm straightened. “Bled over? From where?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” James said. “We need a sample. But I don’t want you touching it! Don’t risk yourself needlessly; you’re too important.”

“Oh, sir,” Malcolm said. “Thank you, sir. I won’t, sir.”

James was busy pulling on a pair of industrial grade oven mitts when Malcolm knelt next to the nearest outcropping of crystal. He stared at it, his brow wrinkled in consternation, his fingers drumming on his chin.

“Since the anomaly came from a super-stratospheric disturbance, I wonder, might it respond to electricity?” Malcolm asked.

James slipped a small hammer and chisel from his coat pocket and moved in to work on the nearest hunk of crystal. “Dunno,” he said. “Let’s try it once we’re back in the lab. You’ll want to mind those goggles–”

“Right.” Malcolm adjusted them over his eyes.

James set the tip of the chisel to the crystal and felt the vibration rattle through his skeleton, right up into his teeth.

“Strange sensation,” he said through clenched jaws. He knew he should be frightened or at the very least, wary, but a familiar giddiness welled up in him. This was something unique, something undiscovered, maybe even a brand-new consciousness washed up from another universe. He could barely contain his excitement as he raised the hammer to strike.

But when the hammer fell, James felt it like a dagger between his eyes. It flung him backward to the grass, and though he scrambled to remain conscious, he slipped away like a drowning swimmer.

Chapter Text

11:56 p.m.
Main Hall, McCrimmon Estate

“It’ll be all right,” Jackie said as she kissed Rose on the cheek. “You’ll see.”

“I know, Mum,” Rose said. “Just something about the storm, he said. Nothing to worry about.”

Pete hugged his daughter and whispered something into her ear, which caused her to pull him even tighter into the embrace. “Thanks, Dad,” she said.

“Best get some sleep, now,” Pete said. “Speaking from experience, soak it up while you can. Once you’ve got little ones…”

Rose laughed. “I will,” she said. “G’night.”

They headed off, with Jackie leaning heavily on Pete’s arm.

The others had all gone off to bed, and even though Rory seemed eager to leave and even more ill-at-ease now that they were alone, Amy lingered in the hallway with Rose.

“We wanted to say thanks,” Amy said. “For taking us in.”

“Of course,” Rose said. “I mean, where else would you have gone?”

“Even so…” Amy said.

Rose turned to her. “There’s no point in playing about,” she said. “I know why he sent you to dinner. Notice everything, am I right?”

Amy grimaced. “Right.”

“Meanwhile, he’s out on the grounds. Of my house,” Rose said. She brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. “There was a time when he was more… straightforward. What’s happened to him?”

“Well I–” Amy began, but Rory interrupted.

“This is how he’s always been with us,” he said. “Brilliant and infuriating.” Then he saw Amy’s face brighten, and without even looking, Rory knew the Doctor had entered the building.

And up he strode, hands in his pockets, River at his side. “Your rather young pilot fellow shooed us back inside,” he said, by way of explanation.

Rose said, “Prescott’s head of–”

“–Security,” the Doctor finished. “Sorry. He said that, didn’t he?”

“What are you doing?” Rose asked.

“What am I doing?” said the Doctor.

“You’re being rude,” Rose hissed. “And not in your usual disarming-yet-truthful sort of way.”

He bowed his head close to hers, and in a very low, very grave voice, he said, “There’s something in my head, Rose Tyler.”

“Doctor?” she said.

Then he clapped his hands to his eyes, cried out, and collapsed.

“Not again!” River shouted. She dropped down beside him.

“James,” Rose whispered, suddenly frantic. She pulled out her wrist-com and keyed the code for the hoverlink. Only static crackled on the line.

But at that moment, they heard the scream.

~~~

11:56 p.m.
Private Quarters

Prescott Lamb switched off the lights in the main corridor and navigated his way around the stone courtyard by moonlight. Above him, the balloon still hovered, its gold silk glowing from within like a delicate lantern. When the wind blew, its music box chimes sang out several twinkling notes of its calliope song.

Remnants of the party lay strewn across the marble — lilting green and white balloons, drifts of streamers and wrapping paper, and tiny wind-up party favors. After breakfast, they’d all have a go at tidying up. Rose and James would make a game of it with the remaining kids, and it would be almost as fun as the party itself.

For now, Prescott had a separate bit of fun in mind, and that was Alicia Harmon. If things went well, as he hoped they would, she would soon be Alicia Harmon-Lamb.

As he left the main wing of the house, heading now toward the bedrooms, he thought he heard a metallic whirring coming from the opposite end of the hall. Prescott paused and strained his senses for anything unusual. He’d been well-trained at Torchwood to never take anything for granted. Normal people tended to dismiss things their minds couldn’t account for; Prescott knew this often meant the difference between life and death.

The house fell silent. But he could smell something. Something… crisp, sharp, with a chemical bite to it. Like… salt?

For reasons he didn’t fully understand, Prescott was already running when he heard the crash of breaking glass and a scream.

He knew before his mind registered the truth; the scream had come from Alicia’s room. When he burst through the door, he found her at the foot of her bed, her wide eyes staring with terror.

 He caught a glint of silver from the corner of his eye, but he turned in time to see it fading away. 

Unmistakable.

“No,” he whispered, pulling Alicia into his arms. “Not again. Not again.”

He heard the others in the doorway, heard but didn’t heed them. The realization settled on him like the weight of a collapsing star. Thought she was warm in his arms, though her heart beat steady in her breast, Alicia’s eyes were empty.

He felt Rose McCrimmon beside him, felt her hand on his.

“Prescott,” she said. “What was it? What happened?”

He struggled to speak, and when he did, the words came out in a raw croak. “Cyberman,” Prescott told them. “It was a Cyberman. They’ve returned.”

Chapter Text

7:16 a.m.
McCrimmon Estate

“–really inconvenient,” James said. Then, “What!?”

He lay propped in his bed, dressed in his pajamas. Morning light broke through the drawn curtains, and Rose stood beside him.

Annoyed, he said, “How long this time?”

“Seven hours,” she answered.

He sprung from the bed. “Seven hours?” he said. “Seven hours of my life, gone. Twenty yesterday. Seven today.” Pulling on his robe, James rushed from the room and into the hall. Rose jogged to catch him.

“Where are the others?” he snapped.

“In the kitchen. James–”

“–And the Doctor?”

“Out, same as you, but–”

He turned and caught her in his arms. “Twenty-seven hours, Rose. Twenty-seven hours we can’t get back,” he said. “This ends. Now.”

“Love, it’s worse,” she said. Her voice sounded frail. He pulled back to stare into her face.

She looked frayed and tired, like she’d been up all night. Which she had, of course. He was out, which put her in charge, and Rose was never one to back down when she was needed.

He smoothed a hand over her frazzled hair. “Tell me,” he said.

~~~

The end of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver closed with a snap, and he straightened to view its readings. Prescott leaned on Alicia’s bed, his lips pressed to her limp hand. She lay still, but behind her eyelids, her eyes darted back and forth in manic motion.

“What does it say?” Prescott asked.

“It says that she’ll be just fine,” the Doctor answered. He continued to study the screwdriver’s readings, so he didn’t see the desperate need for an explanation on Prescott’s face.

 “I think he means that Alicia’s in a dream-state,” River said. “And that she’ll be able to recover.”

“How?” Prescott asked.

From the doorway, James said, “Me.”

The Doctor glanced up. “That’s my line.”

James came to stand beside him. They stared at one another, neither blinking nor moving.

“How’d you get here before me?” James asked.

“I recover faster.”

“These are my people,” James said.

I’m the Doctor.”

“Gentlemen,” River said, moving between them.

Rose said, “We’re meeting in the kitchen, all of us who stayed–”

“All who stayed?” James asked. “What d’you mean?”

“I sent everyone home. Mum and Miranda and the kids last night. Ellie and Bev this morning,” Rose said.

“The kids are gone?” James frowned. “I didn’t even get to see them this time.”

“And I missed seeing Jackie,” the Doctor said quietly.

“Anyway,” Rose cut in. “Kitchen. Now.”

James turned to Prescott and took his free hand. “We’ll sort this,” he said. “We’ll find a way to save her. I promise.”

~~~

“So what’ve we got?” Amy said. They ranged around the kitchen table with breakfast spread before them, largely untouched. Pete Tyler sat on the stone worktop, swinging his legs with nervous agitation.

“Alicia’s non-responsive,” James told them. “She’s alive, but…”

“She’s dreaming,” the Doctor finished.

“Dreaming?” Rory asked. “About what?”

“We don’t know,” the Doctor said. “Could be happy fluffy bunnies. Could be mass-murdering cybernetic fiends.”

“Sweetie, not helping,” River said.

“The point is…” the Doctor got up and moved around the table. “Whatever it was she saw caused it.”

“Prescott said it was a Cyberman,” Jake reminded them.

“But it couldn’t have been,” Rose said. “When a Cyberman touches a person, it kills them. Every time.”

“It didn’t touch her,” the Doctor said.

“Besides, the system was locked down last night,” James said. “Nothing could get in.”

“And your system’s absolutely foolproof?” the Doctor asked.

James leapt up and gripped the Doctor’s lapels. Everyone stood up, but no one intervened. “This planet is my home,” James shouted. “It’s all I’ve got. Everything I love is here. So yes, I’m serious about its protection. Nothing could’ve gotten in.”

The Doctor flicked a glance at James’ hands, then shrugged him off. He said, “Whatever happened to Alicia, it happened at the precise moment you and I blacked out.”

“What’d you see?” James said. “This time, what’d you see?”

The Doctor swallowed. He said, “I saw Rose.”

“And the Cybermen? The first time we encountered them?” James asked.

The Doctor frowned.

“So–” Amy said. “Alicia saw a memory?”

“A memory,” James said. His eyes widened. “Yes. Oh yes!”

“Oh no,” the Doctor said.

James’ brow furrowed. “Oh no.”

“Oh what?” Rory asked.

“How do you stop a memory?” Pete asked. “If it’s something from your head, from your past, how do you stop it?”

“It’s linked, somehow. It’s all connected,” James said. “The memory in our heads, the one we shielded away, and the storm… that storm carried something through the rift, a kind of crystal. When I touched it — well, I didn’t even touch it, I chiseled off a bit — and I was out.”

“We have to access that memory,” the Doctor said.

“No, but you can’t,” Rose cried. “You see what it does to him when you try.”

 The Doctor said, “If that memory is linked to a storm that can cross through the void into this world, manifesting things from my mind into reality, well, Miss Tyler, you’ve seen what I’ve seen — you all have — you really want that to happen?”

Rose squared her shoulders with the Doctor’s. “It’s Mrs. McCrimmon, and you’re not touching that memory. Not if it hurts him.”

They were silent a moment. Then James said, “We’ll find another way.”

“What other way?” Rory said. “What is there that won’t take you both out?”

“Ah, Rory, the man with the best questions,” the Doctor said. He backed slowly away from Rose to stand beside Pete. “At the time of that memory, I had a companion.”

“Rose–” Jake said.

“That’s right. Everything I saw, she saw.”

“No,” James said.

“No what?” Rory said.

“No, you’re not doing… that,” James said. “It’s out of the question. We’ll have Professor Taylor analyze the crystal sample he brought back from the rift. In the meantime, we’ll get the TARDIS up and running again. I have a power source that might do the trick. See, I’m thinking this storm followed you through the rift, Doctor, and the sooner you lot are out of here, the better it is for my people. For all of us.”

Rose came around the table and took James’ hand. “What is it? What does he want?”

“Rose. Don’t,” James said.

River shook her head. She uttered a disbelieving laugh as she said, “You were with him. He can use your memories to piece together what happened, what led him to shield the memory in the first place.”

“Seeing it through your eyes,” James said quietly.

“And you could find out the memory?” Rose asked. “You can stop it happening — break the link between you?”

“Maybe even figure out the nature of the storm in the process,” the Doctor added.

“James, I can do this,” Rose said.

“He’d go into your mind, into your thoughts,” James said. “He’d see everything.”

“I have nothing to hide,” she said.

 James laughed then, a weak sound. “No, you don’t. Of course not.” He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. He whispered so that only she could hear, “There’s a lot of us in your memories.” 

Rose considered a moment before she answered. Her voice just as hushed, she said, “Maybe he should see some of them. Maybe it’ll help.”

“Help, how?” James asked.

“By seeing us happy, by seeing the difference we’ve made,” she said. “I think I can help him see who he was. Before.”

The muscle in James’ jaw tightened as he thought it over. Then, raising his voice to a normal volume, he said, “You’re right. You are the only one who can do this.”

“It’s settled then,” the Doctor began.

“Not so fast,” James said, turning on him. “You were in the labs last night, you and Professor River Song.”

“Was he now?” Pete said. He and Jake exchanged a look.

“That’s right.” James sniffed. “It’s time for a proper tour, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t argue,” the Doctor replied.

“Good then,” James said. “Now it’s settled.”

Chapter Text

9 a.m.
McCrimmon Labs

James McCrimmon’s science team — four men, two women — crowded around Professor Malcolm Taylor as his readings on the storm crystal poured across the vidscreen. They all chattered excitedly about core temperatures and sonic resonsances and atomic structures, so they didn’t see James and the Doctor slip up behind them to observe.

“Rose said she sent everyone home,” the Doctor whispered.

“She sent party guests home,” James whispered back. “The science staff lives on site.”

“You have a team of scientists?”

“Yeah,” James replied coolly as they stepped into the lab. “Good morning, everyone.”

All seemed surprised, but welcomed James and the Doctor as James made proper introductions.

“This is Mr. Gerard Price, chief engineer,” James said, pointing to the kind-faced, portly gentleman who extended his hand to the Doctor. “You met his wife–”

“Angela Price!” the Doctor cried. “She helped save the world.”

Mr. Price grinned. “Aye, she did. I’m following in her footsteps.”

“Good for you, old chap.” The Doctor clapped him on the shoulder.

“This is Jared Lloyd, biological sciences,” James continued. “Sarah Weaver, design and implementation; Alex Garcia, physicist; Padma Ayra, also physicist; Timothy Phillips, engineer; and Brett Llewellyn, astrophysics, engineering, basically, everything.”

“And Professor Taylor!” the Doctor said, stepping forward to take Malcolm’s hands in his. “You. I’ve met you.”

Malcolm fidgeted from one foot to the other. “Have you?”

“Yes. No. Another time and place, yes,” the Doctor said. “You were a fanboy.”

“A–pardon?” Professor Taylor said. He looked to James, who shrugged.

“No, not you,” the Doctor said. “Different you. Different universe. Long ago.”

Then the Doctor ducked nearer to the vidscreen to look at Professor Taylor’s findings. “What have we here?” he muttered, mostly to himself, but Professor Taylor launched into a jittery explanation.

“N-not much as yet,” he said. “Except, that is to say, we know for certain that the crystal is extraterrestrial. Its atomic structure resembles nothing like we’ve ever encountered. W-we’re setting up a series of tests now to determine its properties. Malleability, heat resistance, conductivity, the like. We should have the results this afternoon.”

“Very good,” James said. “I’m taking the Doctor to the Tower Room. Mind your eyewear if you pop in.”

“Will do, sir,” Malcolm said, bowing. “Doctor. It was a pleasure.”

~~~

Together the Doctor and James returned to the corridor.

The Doctor said, “You have a science team.”

“You have companions,” James countered.

“You have companions and a science team.”

They strode along the curved glass inner wall of the main laboratory. With the morning sunlight lancing down through the outer wall, the Doctor got his first glimpse of the magnitude of the chamber inside.

“Magnificent,” the Doctor said, as James opened the double doors, flooding the corridor with light.

The outer walls were constructed from crystal fretted with brass, each fret fitted with hexagonal conductors of blue and green. A glass cylinder towered in the chamber’s centre, presiding over the rest like a stately castle spire. At the tower’s heart, a louvered series of silver gears pumped and whirled in perfect gleaming rhythm, like the cogs of an elaborate clock. A hexagonal console ringed the tower’s base. On it, the Doctor saw many familiar dials and cranks and levers.

“Hold on now,” said the Doctor, darting around the tower and console, turning on his heels to take in the banks of computers and the blippy readout screens, the busy dials and gauges and pumps. “This is like a…but that’s impossible…”

James tucked his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. A small smile traced his lips.

The Doctor spun a quick circle, his fists clenched at his chest. “You can’t build a TARDIS.”

 James came further into the room, opened a cabinet, and began to unwind a thick length of cable. “Not build, though I could grow one. I have that bit you gave me, that last day in Norway,” he said. “But I’m not building a TARDIS. Same technology, different application.” 

He looped the cable in his arms and hauled it across the lab, where he plugged it into the tower and began a frenetic series of adjustments on the console.

The Doctor glanced up at the logo emblazoned on one of the computer banks: Bellweather Institute. He bent closer to examine the displays, which showed the reports for twenty-two weather satellites, as well as the data collected on worldwide weather patterns.

“So this is Bellweather?” the Doctor asked.

James began twisting a crank and a skylight in the roof irised open right above the central tower. “No, I don’t control Bellweather,” he answered. “This is a redundancy hub, in case any of the other units fail.”

“But you created it,” the Doctor said.

“Yes,” James said, tugging down a lever. “Sort of.”

The Doctor tapped the vidscreen and the image of the earth zoomed out to show the orbital pattern of the Bellweather satellites.

“Hang on,” the Doctor muttered. “That’s the Master’s Archangel Network.”

“It was,” James conceded.

“That design was flawed.”

Was flawed. I fixed it.” James dashed to a bank of computers and plucked two pairs of goggles from the table. “Twenty-two satellites all in geo-stationary orbit around the planet. Far more stable than fifteen. The main components of the Institute are spread throughout the world. Bellweather’s headquartered in London, where Torchwood used to be. Here.” James tossed a pair of goggles to the Doctor.

The Doctor tugged them on without question. “That’s a fitting symmetry.”

“I thought so, yes,” James said, pulling on his goggles as well.

“Did you build all this in nine years?” the Doctor asked.

Well–” James shrugged. He cranked a switch and the lighting flickered. Then the central tower lit up with super-charged particles that fountained up in a cascade of silver sparks. The beam gathered strength as the scent of apples and autumn leaves flooded the chamber. It burst through the skylight and in seconds, the Doctor saw the light curtaining down in a shimmering veil around the house.

The Doctor stared, his mouth agape. James continued his work, adjusting, tweaking, flipping, toggling.

“It’s a temporal shield,” the Doctor marveled.

“It’s isothermic,” James said. “Draws power from the earth, converts it, redistributes it, a perfect binary tripstitch circulation. It extends around the house, the grounds, the orchard, everything. But, if needed, it could draw enough power to shield the entire earth.”

“It’s… brilliant,” the Doctor said.

James came to rest at the Doctor’s side. “I know,” he said.

The Doctor rubbed his chin. “This is precisely why our kind travels so much. Anytime we stay too long in one place, we tend to take over.”

James scratched his ear. “I’m not taking over,” he said. “I’m protecting.”

“Oh, that’s how it always begins. First you solve their problems — world hunger, pollution, war. Next you’re controlling their every move, because they just won’t learn, those silly little humans, no matter how much you teach them, or how many times, they regress to filthy, procreating apes who think of power and money and not much else.”

James studied him, wary. “When did you become so cynical?” he asked.

The Doctor uttered a thin laugh but didn’t answer. After a moment, James returned to the console and powered down the tower. The gears slowed to their normal pulsing rhythm and the susurrus hush of the systems blanketed the room.

James uncoupled the cable and began winding it back into the cabinet.

The Doctor continued to stare at the clockworks in the tower. “Things seem to move slower here in the country,” he said.

James tugged his goggles up on his forehead. “What did you say?”

“Miranda Simmonds said it, at the party. She said, things move slower here,” the Doctor removed his goggles as well. “The temporal shield stops them aging.”

“Side effect,” James said. A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Only affects them when the shield is on.”

“Which is every night,” the Doctor pointed out.

“So they live one day for every two–”

“Does Rose know?”

James swallowed hard. “She’s pregnant.”

“I know,” the Doctor said. “River said three months thereabouts. Or is it six?”

James finished winding the cable into the cabinet. His movements were sharp, tense, impatient. “I was a Time Lord,” he said. “I have a knack for manipulating time.”

 “Oh, but not people,” the Doctor said. “That’s not you.”

“I’m not–”

“Do they know?” the Doctor shouted.

“I can’t lose them,” James snapped. “I can’t lose her, not again.”

James slammed the cabinet and flipped open a series of hinges to disengage it from the computer bank. It rolled out to reveal a wide canister fitted with brass gauges.

“Why are you showing me this?” the Doctor asked.

“This is a substrate conversion generator. With it, I can divert the shield’s power to the TARDIS. It will leave us exposed, but within forty-eight hours, the TARDIS will be fully recharged,” James said. “Then you can leave.”

The Doctor came to stand in front of James, his face mere inches from his own. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“You’re the man who brings the monsters,” James whispered. “I know you well.”

The Doctor flinched. “Two days, then.”

James nodded. “Two days.”

The Doctor turned and strode from the room. James stared after him, dread pooling in his heart as a grumble of thunder echoed against the windowpanes, rattling every delicate gauge and fretwork within.

Chapter Text

10 a.m.
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

“He said that?” Rose asked.

“Procreating apes, yeah,” James said, emphatically. “That and more.”

“You called me a stupid ape once. Remember?” Rose gathered a wisp of streamers from the flagstone floor and stuffed it into the trash bag they carried between them.

James scooped up a gaggle of balloons. “That was different. I was different.”

“Maybe he’s different?” she asked, but she sounded doubtful.

“If he’s that different, we’ve got bigger problems than a few bouts of memory-linked narcolepsy,” James said. “You mentioned earlier he said there was something in his head. What if there really is something in there? Beyond the memory. What if whatever’s shielded in there is hiding something else?”

“And it’s… changing him?” Rose asked.

“Contamination,” James said. He shuddered.

“What will it do to you?” she asked.

James rubbed his neck. “Same, I suppose,” he said. “Not a pleasant thought, but it seems likely. There’s a clear connection.”

A pinch of distress creased Rose’s brow. “Then what do we do? We can’t just… let it.”

“No, we can’t,” he said. “Rose.” He smoothed a hand over her hair. “There’s a trick I’ve learned.”

“But… won’t he know it?” Rose asked.

“No, I learned it here, when I learned how to dream,” he said. “While he’s reading your thoughts, there’s a way for you to enter his. A door, once opened, can be stepped through in either direction.

“So I’d go into his thoughts…”

“It’s dangerous,” he said. He closed his eyes a moment. “Stupendously dangerous. But if anyone can do it, it’s you. You know him. And he trusts you.”

Rose nodded. “I know,” she said. She scraped up another scrap of wrapping paper and tossed it into the bag.

“If he wanted, he could tear through the layers of my mind to get at that memory,” James said. “Shred it like tissue paper.”

Her eyes flashed. “No, but he wouldn’t–”

“–I know,” James said. “But he could. He’s scared and emotional and you know what he’s like when he gets that way.”

Rose considered a moment, then said, “Could you enter my mind instead?”

“Been a long time since I tried something like that. Haven’t done it since the meta-crisis,” James said. “If I got it wrong–”

“You’d be careful,” Rose said. “I’d feel much better if it was you in my brain.”

“Oh, yes, me too, but… we’re also trying to help the Doctor. The best way to do that is…”

They came to the end of the corridor. Outside, a brisk wind was kicking up. Through the window, James could just make out the figures of the Doctor, River, Mr. Price, and Jake. The Doctor gestured wildly, his mad hair whipping about his head, as the others maneuvered the substrate generator through the open doors of the TARDIS.

James drew a deep breath. “Rose, there’s something else I should tell you.” Something in his tone stopped her short, and she drew up to stare into his eyes. “I should’ve told you. Long ago, I–”

 But he was cut off by a guttural rumble of thunder that rattled the house to its foundations.

~~~

Pete Tyler’s long legs carried him across the yard to the hangar, where Prescott Lamb placed the TARDIS the day before. A chill wind marched up the hillside, wimpling the long, pale grasses that grew between the McCrimmon Estate and the sea, and Pete did not like it. Slate-gray haze blurred the horizon to the east, and licks of lightning writhed in the clouds, foretelling the fierceness of the storm.

A storm that was not supposed to happen.

As Pete strode to the hangar, he pressed the com switch on his wristwatch and tuned the open channel for the Tyler airship.

“Jacks,” he said. “You read me?”

A young boy’s voice answered. “Hi, Dad,” Tony said. “Mum’s below with Tab and Addie. Want I should fetch her?”

Even with the ominous storm clouds looming, Pete couldn’t stifle his smile at hearing the maturity in his son’s voice. He was growing up so fast and so well. “Nah, it’s fine. Just wanted to check in with my crew.”

“Clear sailing here, Dad,” Tony said. “I started working on the clockwork that James gave me, but I need help with the internal gears.”

“Sure thing, Tone. Soon as we’re all home,” Pete came to the gate of the hangar grounds. He could see the Doctor and Jake standing outside the TARDIS, deep in conversation. “Hey kiddo, gotta go, but pass a message along to Pilot Morales, all right?”

“Yep, go ahead,” Tony said.

 “Tell Ms. Morales to take you home by the inland route. Stay clear of the coast til you’re well south. All the way to Blackpool, yeah?”

“’kay, Dad.”

“All right, Tiger. See you soon.”

The connection ended. Pete keyed the security code for the gate. “Right,” Pete said. “Now to work.”

~~~

“I still feel like we’re sneaking around,” Rory said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“We’re just having a look,” Amy told him. “Like you said, it’s a beautiful house. Shame not to get a peek.”

Rory followed behind her, wary as a skulking dog, while she weaved from one room to the next with the whimsy of a child.

“Amy,” he said. “Have you noticed — that is, the Doctor — he’s not been–”

“Oh, wow,” he heard her gush. “Rory, come look at this.”

Amy had meandered from the main corridor into a sort of gallery, where, mounted on every wall were dozens of ornately framed digital vidpanels — each the size of a plasma-screen TV — all of them displaying slideshows and vid-clips of James and Rose at various locations around the world.

James and Rose in Paris. James and Rose in India. James and Rose in Taiwan. At Ayer’s Rock. The Grand Canyon. Vancouver. Barcelona. Machu Pichu. Hawaii. Tibet.

“Look!” Amy shouted, pointing. “It’s the–”

“–Moon?” Rory finished. “They’ve been to the moon?”

“This world’s managed space tourism,” Amy said.

“Nice.”

“Way nice.”

They stared up at the photo frames, mesmerized by the endless scroll of memories flowing across the screens. Many of the pictures showed them out of focus or partly out of frame, but in every one of them, Rory saw undeniable happiness.

Amy came to rest in front of one frame with several images of Rose in a bright red sari with bangles of gold at her wrists and in her ears. A tropical beach spilled across the background, sailboats stitching the brilliant blue ocean. James appeared in some of the images — clearly self-portraits taken with the camera held at arm’s length. But the way the sunlight filtered through the lens, turning everything to crisp crimson and gold, it looked to Rory like the picture of peace itself.

“They’re so — eee,” Amy said, giving herself an all-body shake. “I’m going into sugar shock. I mean, really, it’s hard to believe he was ever the Doctor.”

Rory breathed a heavy sigh. “I envy them,” he said.

Amy gaped at him. “Do you?”

“Look at them,” he said. “Married nine years, and they’re still — I dunno — basking.”

Amy sneered, not unkindly. “Sounds like a condition of the skin. Besides, don’t you think it’s a bit much?”

“Do you?”

“Yes,” she said. Rory heard the implied ‘Duh’ in her voice.

“It’s what I want,” he told her.

“This? All moony eyes and feeding each other cake?”

“We did that,” Rory said.

“On our wedding night.”

"That’s my point, Amy. It’s like their wedding night all the time. They’re in love. They’re good at it. I want that for us.”

Amy folded her arms. “I’m not the huggy-wuggy type, Rory. You knew that–”

“–Neither was he,” Rory cut in, gesturing at the vidpanel. “But he changed ’cause of her. Now look at them. It’s like — It’s like he’s finally home.”

“And you want that?”

“You don’t?”

 Amy shook her head. “I want this,” she said, waving a hand between them. “You and me. Time and space. All the excitement, all the running!”

“But we don’t have this,” Rory said. “We barely have anything.” He started to leave but froze as thunder ruptured the sky over the house.

Behind them, a three-toned chime sounded and suddenly the vidpanels filled with torrents of spiky white lettering. In the right-hand corner of the rightmost screen, a burgundy signal light began to pulse.

“Alien,” Amy decided.

“Definitely,” Rory agreed. “Doctor?”

Amy nodded. “Definitely.”

~~~

10:24 a.m.
The TARDIS

“No, not that one — it’s the — be careful, that’s the — no, you’re gonna–!”

The generator slid under the main console with a metallic thunk, and a spray of sparks geysered out of the TARDIS control grid. The Doctor put both hands on his head and spun a brisk circle to find River smirking at him from the other side of the open TARDIS door.

“I told you before: There’s no traction on plasteel,” River said.

“Plasteel is cool,” he said.

River came around the door and straightened his bowtie. “When are you meeting Rose?”

He arched a brow. She arched hers right back. “Soon as the generator’s linked into the TARDIS.” He glanced in at Jake and Mr. Price, who were unwinding unwieldy lengths of cable between them in the manner of Abbott and Costello. “Heavens, it could be days.”

Lightning flashed, followed by an earsplitting crash of thunder. Across the yard, the Doctor saw Pete flinch as a second later a punishing torrent of rain pelted down. He scrambled across the remaining distance, and they all rushed into the TARDIS.

“That storm’s on us with a vengeance,” Pete gasped.

“You may be more right than you think,” the Doctor said under his breath. “But! We’ll get the TARDIS up and running, and then we’ll be up and running, and with any luck, the storm will follow us and Pete’s World will once again be open for regular business.”

“Sooner the better,” Pete said, swabbing rain from face with a handkerchief.

“Right,” the Doctor said. “Understood.”

River detected a note of hurt in the Doctor’s voice, and it surprised her. She saw history between them, more stories the Doctor never spoke of. She squeezed his shoulder and said, “I’ll help these boys out. You go find Rose. Sooner the better, right?”

Thunder rumbled. The Doctor plucked an umbrella from the stand beside the TARDIS door and hefted it to his shoulder. He opened his mouth to say something, but then just stepped out into the rain.

Chapter Text

10:29 a.m.
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

James lowered his hands from Rose's temples and caught his breath. “Remember," he said, "When you’re in his mind, hide in the light.”

Rose opened her eyes and stared up into his. “I am fond of scenic byways,” she told him.

“Always wandering off. Another thing I love about you,” James said. “But don’t go too far, you’ll burn up. Understand?”

Rose nodded. She felt flushed and prickly, like she was catching fever or fighting sick. She chalked it up to nerves and pregnancy and said nothing. Besides, she thought she’d better get used to it. She was about to have a whole mind-based adventure with the Doctor. She could deal with a bit of nausea.

But James noticed. “You don’t have to do this, Rose.”

“No, but I need to,” she said.

He nodded. “Know this, though — if things go wrong–”

“–No, don’t say that–”

“–If they do,” James continued. “You’ll be in the safest place in the universe. With him.”

At that moment, the Doctor burst into the hallway, his soaked hair dripping in his eyes, a right-side-outed umbrella propped on his shoulder.

“There you both are,” he said, palming rain from his face. “That storm’s a big splattery mess in the way of American freeway crashes. Quite a lot of rancor.”

“I’ll order another dispersion,” James said. “Should buy us a few hours. The generator?”

“River and the rest are on that as we speak, and here’s my two–” The Doctor pointed his raggedy umbrella at Amy and Rory, who were running up the corridor toward them.

“What’d you see?” Rose asked.

“The gallery–” Amy said. “Alien scribbles.”

“And a flashing light,” Rory continued. “Burgundy.”

Rose turned to James. “The Locastalan.”

“They intercepted the signal from Bellweather!” he said.

“That means–” Rose’s eyes widened. “They’re on standby. It’s working. My plan’s working!”

“Right you are!” James said. He grabbed her and they twirled. “At last some good news.”

“Wait? Good news?” Rory asked.

Rose blew out a sigh. “There’s a lot to explain,” she said. “I should talk with them, let them know the situation,” she said. A blinding rout of lightning ripped the sky, followed by a wince-inducing thunderclap.

“Tick tock goes the clock,” the Doctor said, his voice level and grave.

“Time Lords don’t run out of time,” Amy said.

“Not all of us are Time Lords,” the Doctor pointed out.

“Here.” Rose unwound the com from her wrist and placed it in Amy’s hands. “Go back to the gallery. Tune in frequency Oh-One-Six and address Commander Pheereneeke.”

“Pheereneeke,” Amy said. “Got it.”

“Good,” Rose said. “When she comes online, tell her you’re a friend to the McCrimmons. Then tell her we’re all right, but to stand ready.”

“Oh, but… she should go on her own,” the Doctor said.

“Of course,” James said.

“Why?” Rory asked.

“The Locastalan are fiercely matriarchal. Not big on menfolk,” Rose explained. She gave Amy an appraising stare before saying, “They’ll like you, I can tell.”

“Great,” Amy said. She gave them two thumbs up and giant faux-chipper smile to hide her anxiety.

Lighting blazed again. This time the lights flickered in time to the thunder. The scent of ozone filled the air, crisp and razor-edged.

“Best get moving,” the Doctor said. Amy gave Rory a hasty peck on the cheek and rushed back to the gallery.

The Doctor turned to Rose. “We need a quiet place, no disruptions, shielded from that racket outside. A cellar, a basement, a Room of Requirement?”

“This way,” James said. He led them east and then south through increasingly dark and close corridors, to the non-restored part of the old manor.

“We’ve got such plans for this part of the house,” Rose explained as they hurried along. “There’s a great ballroom, closed up for a century–”

“–And a grand hall,” James continued. “A place to put things, like a…”

“Museum?” the Doctor finished, a wry smile on his lips.

“A collection,” James corrected. “Here.” They stopped before a plain wooden door so warped in its frame James had to shoulder it open. He flipped the light switch and a rosy luminescence sprinkled down from the vaulted ceiling.

Inside they found a windowless room powdered with dust and laced with cobwebs. The wallpaper had been stripped away, leaving naked plaster on the walls. A great chandelier hulked like a dead spider in one corner beside an upended velvet settee and a shattered piano. Two sprung wingback chairs and a rickety table brooded in the center of the room.

“The music room,” Rose said. She and James shared a whimsical look before the Doctor strode into it and performed a quick sweep with his sonic screwdriver.

“Shielded from outside. Can’t even hear the storm. Cozy-ish.” He flung the screwdriver at Rory, who caught it awkwardly. “Keep it safe. Won’t need it where we’re going.”

“Righty-o,” Rory whispered.

“It won’t be comfortable, I’m afraid. Gets a bit drafty, so…” James took off his coat and slipped it around Rose’s shoulders. “We’ll leave you to it.” He hesitated then, looking from the Doctor to Rose. He pulled Rose into a brisk hug and kissed her forehead. “Good luck.”

Then, hooking an arm around Rory’s shoulder, James led them out and shut the door behind them. Several strides down the hall, he raked his hands through his messy hair.

“That man’s alone with my wife,” he said.

“I know the feeling, mate,” Rory replied.

James eyed him obliquely. “I bet you do.”

They walked a few feet more when James said, “Thing is, I know exactly how he feels about her.”

Rory said, “You trust her.” A statement more than a question.

“Oh yes. Absolutely,” James said. “It’s him I haven’t got a handle on.”

Rory had to grin at the irony. “Yeah,” he said. “I get that, too.”

They came to the end of the hall, and James turned left. “Allons-y, Rory,” he said, a manic light entering his eyes. “We’ve got a storm to catch.”

Chapter Text

10:52 a.m.
The TARDIS

“And that one goes — there,” River said, and Jake, following her orders, plugged in the last coupling from the generator to the TARDIS. It shuddered and spat green sparks, but in seconds, the secondary systems fluttered to life.

“Ha!” River shouted. “She’s integrated it. It’s a match.”

“So the, um — TARDIS, it’ll be fine?” Pete asked.

“Give her a couple days, she’ll be fully restored.” River knelt down beside the generator and checked the gauges. “How’d he know?” she pondered aloud. “How could he have known?”

“He — who?” Jake asked. He and Mr. Price closed the plasteel access panels and stood with Pete and River at the console.

“Your Lord McCrimmon,” River said. “A. K. A. the Doctor’s Meta-Crisis. How did he know he’d one day need a substrate generator to restore the TARDIS?”

Pete was shaking his head.

Mr. Price said, “He’s The Inventor. He makes things. Maybe he designed this, then refitted it to work.”

But River smiled a knowing smile. “No. It’s a perfect fit, as in made for.”

“As in, maybe it’s a just-in-case creation,” Jake said. “Maybe he thought there might be a day when the Doctor would return, and James knew the TARDIS wouldn’t work because it didn’t that time before. Maybe he made the generator as a back-up plan. Something for a rainy day.”

They heard the thunder and wind raging outside. She put her arm around Jake’s shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “Jake-y boy, I think you’re exactly right.”

~~~

10:53 a.m.
The Tunnels

“Professor Taylor, send another dispersion order to Bellweather, please. The shields are offline, so we need to delay that storm as long as possible,” James said into his wrist-com. “We’re on our way up.”

“Yes, sir,” Professor Taylor answered. “Looking forward to it, sir.”

“This way,” James said. He swung around the corner and jogged along the dim corridor.

“It’s a long way to the labs,” Rory observed.

“Best to keep underground, out of the weather,” James said. "Always been a sucker for tunnels, catacombs, secret passages; this place is full of them, all sorts of twists and turns, fantastic, don't you think?"

"Um, sure," Rory said.

They came to a rather questionable looking set of steep wooden stairs that led down into murky darkness. James felt along a random brick in the wall, popped open an access panel, and entered a number string on the keypad. There was a click, a buzz, and then a thin, juddery light leavened the dark. “Careful on the steps,” James said, his voice terse and excited. “And in the tunnel beyond. Slippery.”

They descended into a cramped hallway sparsely lit with fission sconces. It smelled of earth and damp, like a proper medieval castle.

“So, um,” Rory said. His voice echoed eerily back on them. He wiped his palms on his jeans. “Congratulations on the um–”

“Baby?” James said, though he seemed tentative.

“Yeah.”

“Right. Right. You, too.”

“What?”

“I mean, um…” James faltered. “Eventually.” He scratched his temple and changed the subject. “So. Rory Williams. Back in the TARDIS, when we first met, the Doctor called you useless.”

“That he did,” Rory said.

“You said it was harsh. Wasn’t he always?”

“You were the Doctor once. Wouldn’t you know?”

James stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ve seen billions of people, thousands of places, all manner of civilizations — never once have I met someone I’d call useless.”

Rory looked into James’ eyes a long moment before he said, “No. He’s different. He’s been… different, ever since Sacre Coeur. At first I thought it was because of the wedding, because of Amy and me, like maybe he was jealous, but it’s something else. Something deeper.”

James ground his teeth. “But what happened there? What caused the change? No. Best not to go too deep. Trigger another memory and it’ll knock both him and me out while he’s traipsing through Rose’s mind. Bad idea.”

“Right,” Rory agreed.

They resumed their careful navigation of the tunnel. The cobbles beneath their feet felt like cracked and crooked teeth glistening with slime in the half light.

“Are you afraid of what he’ll find?” Rory asked.

“Oh, terrified,” James said. The muscle in his jaw twitched. “Thing is, the Doctor is brilliant and wonderful, fantastic and magnificent, and believe me, I know it, but all that light, all that madness, it brings in the monsters.” James glanced at Rory. “You know all about it. You’re an old soul, aren’t you?”

“How do you–” But he stopped because just then his shoe crunched on something that sounded like glass, and for a moment, he saw a vague outline at the end of the hall — a metal cylinder with a domed carapace.

“No no no no no,” James whispered. “It can’t be.” He directed a beam of light from his wrist-com to the place where Rory’s foot had scuffed and found the wall encrusted with glittering milky crystals. "These crystals should not be here..."

“That was — um,” Rory gripped James’ shoulder. “That is, I think—”

“It was nothing. A dream. A memory. Don’t move.”

“James, that was a Dalek.”

James thumbed the switch on his wrist-com. “Professor Taylor, are you there?”

Static.

“Professor Taylor? Padma? Tim? Can you hear me?”

Silence.

“Rory,” James said.

“Yes?”

“Run!”

Chapter Text

10:58 a.m.
The Vidscreen Gallery
McCrimmon Estate

“Okay,” Amy said as she keyed in the frequency on the wrist-com. “Oh-One-Six.”

She thumbed the send button and stared up at the vidscreen panels on which waves of Locastalan text scrolled. Amy had experienced many things on her travels with the Doctor, but she was never quite prepared when she encountered a new race of creatures.

So when the middle-most panel in the room filled with the pixilated image of a dozen giant furry grasshoppers sporting an impressive array of antennae on their jaguar-like heads, she had to suppress an involuntary gasp.

It wasn’t so much that they were bugs. She’d seen bug races before, and they’d seemed somewhat human in the upright way they went about on hind legs. But the Locastalan perched and hung and draped from various angular surfaces in their communications room. Amy tried to find insignia or size-variation — some clue as to which one was the leader — but they all appeared equal in size and rank.

“H-hello?” Amy said, addressing the screen. “I’m Amelia Pond, erm, Williams…” Then she cursed inwardly, remembering that Rose said they didn’t like the company of men so they would probably disdain the custom of a woman taking a man’s name.

Amy felt a vibrating sensation in the back of her neck and throat. Her ears began to tingle as if something with tiny wings had become lodged in her brain. She clapped her hands over her temples.

“Please!” she shouted over the noise in her head. “I’m a friend of Rose McCrimmon’s. I’m Amy Pond!”

The buzzing redoubled, and this time, she felt a ticklish prickling behind her eyes. On the other screens, the Locastalan text was no longer Locastalan but English, and the repeated message read, “Bellweather online, the sisterhood awaits command, welcome Amelia Pond Ermwilliams…”

The ticklish feeling began again, less prickling this time, and Amy could feel the voice — actually feel it — inside her head. It was hissing susurration, like a breeze in the reeds, and it said, “A translation matrix has come online.”

“The TARDIS!” Amy whispered.

“Telepathic communication unnecessary,” the voice continued. “Switching to vocalization.”

The tickling sensation subsided. One of the Locastalan crawled upside down across the vidscreen. Amy could see her antennae array twinkling and gyrating, and when she spoke, her voice was a high, clear keen, like the notes on a tin whistle.

“You are a friend of the Locastalan,” she said.

“Yes!” Amy said. “I need to speak to Commander Pheereneeke–”

“We know, dear,” the voice sang. “We read that from your thoughts. I am designated Pheereneeke.”

“Oh.” She shook her head. “Oh! Rose said to tell you that we’re all right, but to stand ready.”

“We are ready and await her orders,” Pheereneeke said. “But our sensors indicate that you are not all right. The storm approaches, it seeds destruction in its wake. It rages. The Inventor has delayed it, but the storm grows, and there is a question in the storm.”

“A question? You mean it’s speaking?”

“It dreams,” Pheereneeke chirped. “In its sleep, it wonders, How long has this storm been coming for me?”

A chirruping went up among the Locastalan, like cricket song. Amy felt its vibration like feathers caught in her throat. Their diaphanous wings fluttered and flitted in time to the dance of their antennae. For a moment, Amy was transfixed, but then Pheereneeke’s voice sounded like the ringing of chimes in her ears.

Pheereneeke sang, “The storm comes, Amelia Pond Ermwilliams, but we will keep safe our humankind:

Through stars and dust and solar winds,
we found our hearts were sleeping,
Came we to earth, our suffering’s end
In children’s sweet safekeeping.”

Amy placed a hand on the monitor. “That’s lovely,” she marveled. “Really… beautiful.”

The Locastalan clacked her mandibles in an unmistakable gesture of delight. “Thank you, Amelia Pond Ermwilliams. We like you.”

Amy smiled. “She said you would. Rose did.”

“Sweet Rose,” Pheereneeke said. “We await her signal. Tell her we stand ready to give our blood.”

“Give your blood? Wait!”

But the screens blanked momentarily before they filled again with holiday photos of Rose and James McCrimmon.

Amy saw them smiling out from the pictures, their eyes squinched in the sunlight, the blurred images of hastily taken snapshots marking their time together, here, on this earth, and her stomach rolled.

Rose had said this was her plan. But it didn’t make sense. Was that her plan? Would Rose McCrimmon let the Locastalan shed their blood to save the people on this planet?

And if so, would Amy Pond just stand by and let them?

~~~

11:06 a.m.
The TARDIS

“You hear that?” River asked.

Pete and others glanced around the TARDIS.

“Rain’s stopped,” Jake said.

“The dispersion,” Mr. Price said.

“We should head back to the house,” Pete said. “If I know James, he’s already six steps into a plan for figuring out what’s causing that storm.”

The men were moving down the gangway toward the door. River hovered at the console, troubled by a tiny amber indicator light.

“Right,” Jake said. “I’d like to check on Alicia and Prescott, see if there’s any change.”

“–And I’ll head back to the lab to see if…” Mr. Price was saying as they opened the door.

Or rather, tried to open the door. It opened the space of a few inches and stopped. Pete pulled at the door; it didn’t budge. Then Pete and Jake both gave it a go; nothing.

“You needn’t bother,” River said smoothly. “We’re trapped.”

“That’s impossible. We were in the hangar yard. What’s trapping us?” Jake said. He gave the doors another pull. They scraped back another half inch, revealing a crust of milk-white crystal along the lip of the jamb. Jake knelt, stretching a gloved finger to touch it.

“Wait!” River cried out to stop him, but she was too late. The moment Jake’s hand connected with the crystal a static charge shot out, sending him flying backward. His body struck the generator, convulsed once, and crumpled to the deck.

“No! Jake!” Pete rushed forward and pulled the young man into his arms. Mr. Price and River joined him.

“Look,” River said over Pete’s shoulder. “His eyes.”

“Dreaming, just like Alicia,” Pete said. “But… how?”

River said, “Somehow it’s linked to the storm. When James touched the crystal, it knocked him out and the Doctor as well.”

“But where are we? Did we move? Did the storm move us?” Mr. Price asked.

River double-checked the monitor on the console. “No. We’re exactly where we were.”

Mr. Price went to the doors again.

“Mr. Price,” Pete said, warningly. “Don’t–”

“I just want to see,” he said. He lumbered against the doors.

“Wait! There’s another way.” River said. She twisted a crank and the picture window rippled online.

And then they could only stare transfixed at the desolate scene outside the TARDIS. The storm had leached all color from the sky, leaving a bruised gray wasteland in its stead. The hangar and the yard and the grassy slope beyond bristled with crystals that climbed up the side of the TARDIS, partially encasing her in ice and stone.

“We have to tell James,” Pete said. “We have to tell him to keep that storm at bay at all costs.” He pressed the button on his wrist-com, but the signal was dead.

“Well, boys,” River said. “Looks like we’re on our own.”

“We can’t just sit here and wait two days for the TARDIS to re-charge,” Pete said. “Our families are out there!”

“Oh, we’re not going to,” River told him. She came around the console. “Mr. Price, you have command. Feel free to look around. There’s a pool in the library, and the kitchen’s well-stocked. If you’re gonna be trapped, the TARDIS is the best place in the universe to be.”

“Where’re we going?” Pete asked.

River flashed an enigmatic smile and looped her arm with his. “Spoilers,” she said, and they vanished in a teleportation flash.

Chapter Text

11:11 a.m.
The Music Room
McCrimmon Estate

The Doctor placed his fingertips on Rose’s temple.

“Comfy?”

Agitated. Flustered. Queasy. Yes. Comfy? she thought. Not exactly.

“Sure,” she said.

“Deep breath, now,” the Doctor said. “Close your eyes.”

Rose settled against the stiff ladder-back chair and made an effort to relax. She was aware of the cool pressure of his fingertips on her face and then, after a moment, the sound of his beating hearts.

“And here we are,” he said.

Rose opened her eyes to find them casually strolling hand in hand down a rutted country track. A light breeze teased its way along the path, combing through the hedgerows, and she caught the scent of the sea in the air.

“This is my mind?” she asked.

“It’s a construct,” he told her. “A mental construct, sort of a Memory Lane.”

“You’re joking,” she said.

“No I’m not,” he said, swinging their hands back and forth. “Every thing you’ve ever seen, heard, tasted, or smelled; everything you’ve ever touched or experienced, it gets filed away into your little gray cells, saved there for the rest of your life, and you can access them, provided you follow the right synaptic path. Still, squishy brain matter isn’t so pleasant a place to visit, so you’ve created this.”

“I created it?”

“’Course you did. It’s your filing system.”

“If I created it,” she said. “Why are you still wearing that bowtie?”

“I am still me,” he said. “And bowties are cool.”

Rose clapped him on the shoulder. “Keep tellin’ yourself that, cowboy.”

They climbed a steep green hill, and when they crested it, they saw the McCrimmon manor house sprawled in the valley below, with the buildings and streets of the Powell Estate tucked in around it.

“See?” the Doctor said. “This is your creation, Rose Tyler, a place to house all your treasures.”

Rose beamed at him. “Well come on, then!” She broke away and skipped down the hillside toward the house.

The Doctor merely watched for a moment, wringing his hands as she went, her hair and his coat flying out behind her. Not his coat. James’ coat. Her husband’s coat.

The pain of it struck him like a punch in the gut.

“Complicated?" he said. "No, how could it be complicated?” And he followed her down the hill.

~~~

11:22 a.m.
The Laboratory

James and Rory burst into the lab to find it a chaos of blood-red claxons, blaring alarms, and billowing smoke. Sara, Alex, Padma, Brett, and Timothy all slumped over their monitors.

“No no no no no,” James cried. Straight away, he and Rory examined the bodies.

“They’re unconscious!” Rory shouted.

“They’re dreaming,” James shot back. He ran to an access panel and ripped a fire extinguisher from its mounting.

“I don’t understand,” Rory said. “How can they all be dreaming?”

James didn’t answer. “Professor Taylor?” he called out. He shoved through the interior doors, past a centrifuge, an articulated robotic arm, and the cold storage cupboard. A scrim of smoke lilted in the air, and he could smell… something. He sniffed. Salt. Something chemical-y. A tinge of something tart and acidic.

“Rory, shut off the alarms,” James called over his shoulder.

“How?”

“Use the screwdriver,” James yelled back. “It’s psychic, just point and think. Point and think!”

Along the back wall, a table was set up with a series of burners and test tubes in which viscous fluids of various colors bubbled. Gouts of blue flame shot up from one of them, and the slow curls of greasy smoke filled the back corner of the room.

And there, beneath the counter, lay the hunched shape of Professor Taylor.

James blasted the blaze with the fire extinguisher and slid on his knees beside the professor. At the same time, the alarms abruptly stopped, but the claxons continued to whirl in dizzying red circles around them.

“Don’t move him,” Rory said.

“I have to see if he’s all right,” James bit out.

“Then together, on three,” Rory said. They got on either side of the body and righted the Professor to his back.

A smudge of blood stained the floor where the Professor struck his head.

“I’m so sorry,” James said as he examined the Professor’s scalp. “Same as the others, plus a concussion. He’ll be all right. Well, once we revive him. Well, if we can revive him…”

“That’s a nasty lump,” Rory said.

“It’s minor, see. Just a knock–”

“No, I mean… the stone. Look at it.”

James glanced up at the piece of crystal on the scale and wondered if he’d missed something. “Simple hunk of milky quartz,” James said. “Slightly purple around the vertices, bit like a bruise…”

With a nod, Rory indicated something else over James’ shoulder. “No. That one.”

James leapt to his feet. There, in a bath of what looked like mineral oil, was another chunk of crystal, only it had warped and distended within its graduated cylinder. Fibril feelers twisted along the edge of the container, seeming to reach for them.

“Eeeh,” James sneered.

“What is it?”

“We have to move it. We have to get out of here. Professor Taylor’s tests must have taken out this lot. It’s not safe to keep it here.”

“You can’t touch it,” Rory reminded him.

“No, I can’t,” James said. “Think think think…” James paced the short length of the lab, tapping his forehead in time to the words.

Then he glimpsed the corner of the Professor’s notepad on the table. The topmost page was full of molecular models and equations. He tugged it forward, read over it, then glanced down at the prone body of the Professor. “Oh, Professor Taylor, you are good,” he said with a smile. “You brilliant, brilliant man.”

“What is it?” Rory asked.

“Acetylcholine, amino acids, proteins, enzymes,” James said. His face glowed with understanding, but Rory still couldn’t figure why.

“That’s… in the stone?”

“Quite right.” James rushed to the front of the room and wheeled over the heavy cart containing the robotic arm.

Rory shook his head. “Enzymes? In a stone?”

James snatched a magnifying glass from the table behind them and held it up to Rory’s face. “Look at it, look at the crystal formation of the tendrils. What do you see?”

“It’s like… like it’s reaching for something.”

“That’s because it is,” James exclaimed. “Myelination! The process of synaptic transference in white nerve cells from the amygdala to the frontal cortex.”

“You’re talking… brain stuff,” Rory guessed.

“Brain stuff! Oh, yes! The amygdala develops first, it’s back here, base of the brain stem,” James patted the back of his neck, “Very important, that old animal brain, controls emotional response and memory. Ah, memory! Don’t you see?”

Rory nodded. Then, “No.”

“The amygdala grows, it myelinates, forming synaptic connections over the course of months and years.” James wriggled his fingers over the top of his head. “By linking the animal brain to the frontal cortex, emotional thought becomes rational, and that’s called cognition.”

“That’s thinking,” Rory said. “You’re talking about thinking.”

“It is thinking,” James said. “The storm is a brain. A brainstorm.” He chuckled to himself, waggling his eyebrows at Rory, who answered with a small, long-suffering tilt of his head.

“It’s conscious," James continued. "The crystals are its myelinated synaptic connections. It’s maturing — going from animal brain to rational thought. Basically it’s a teenager striving for adulthood. It has questions. It wants to understand.” James gazed at the stone with new appreciation. “It’s new. A brand new form of consciousness, right here, and it’s… well, it’s beautiful.”

“But James,” Rory said, impatient yet polite. “What does it want?”

“More importantly, how is it linked to the Doctor?” James wondered. “And me,” he added with a shrug.

James powered up the robotic arm and maneuvered it over the graduated cylinder. With a few quick motions, he scooped up the cylinder and moved it onto the cart. “Listen!” he shouted. “The rain’s stopped, which means he ordered the dispersion before he collapsed. Ha!”

“But, where are we going?” Rory shouted.

“Not we,” James said. “Stay with them. Right now they’re in a world of impossible nightmares. They’ll need someone to explain things when they wake.”

Then James was wheeling off, racing through the lab with the cart and the stone and the robotic arm.

Rory yelled, “Doctor!”

James skid to a halt and turned, a mixture of elation and hurt on face.

“S-sorry. James. I meant James,” Rory said. “It’s just. You’re going a bit fast, and it’s so like he does. Sometimes.”

A smile lit up James’ face. “I’d forgotten how much I missed it. That name.”

“Right,” Rory said, with genuine sympathy. “Then where are you going?”

James shrugged. “I have to give it a choice,” he said.

Chapter Text

Within Memories

They strode down the main hall of the house, the Doctor and Rose, past Rose’s most recent memories, all of them in open rooms like stages set up with missing fourth walls.

“Ooh. It’s all very Christmas Carol, seeing it this way,” Rose remarked as they watched the scene in the kitchen from the previous night, with her family and friends gathered around the oak table, laughing and eating and talking.

“Good old Dickens,” the Doctor said. “Never forget that night.”

“Nor I,” Rose said. “One of our first adventures.”

“The Gelth,” the Doctor said.

“And poor Gweneth.”

And suddenly, there they stood on the snowy street in Cardiff, watching the Doctor help an elegantly dressed Rose step from the TARDIS and into the fresh powder of Christmas Eve, 1860.

“Ooh, that’s a bit too far back,” the Doctor singsonged.

“Tricky steering, this thing,” Rose said, pointing to her temple.

“But look at me!” the Doctor exclaimed. “The Ninth! Great shoulders. I do see their point about the ears…”

“Doctor.”

“Right,” he said, bringing his hands together. “So we’ve made it to long-term memory. Now we’ve just got to sort out where we were when I shielded that memory.”

“Okay, lemme try this–” Rose closed her eyes, and when she re-opened them, they were in a snug cobblestone side-street lined with shop windows, each festooned with gold trim and striped awnings. “–Oi, that’s nice!”

“Not quite what we’re looking for…” the Doctor called, still hovering at the tiny street’s entrance.

Rose nipped over to the nearest window to peer inside and her heart skipped. “Oh. It’s our first flat, mine and James’, when we first returned from Norway. Come and look.”

“Better not, I can see fine from here.”

Rose cupped her hands around her eyes to have a clearer peek and made a swoony sound.

“Aw, look at us,” she said. “He needed me so much in those first days. He’d never known hunger, never felt exhaustion, never knew when he needed rest.”

She felt the brush of the Doctor’s jacket at her elbow. “Eesh, tiny flat,” he remarked. “Size of a postage stamp.”

“Yeah, but it was home,” she said. “Our home. Bigger on the inside, James used to say.”

She smiled up at the Doctor; he grinned, seemingly in spite of himself.

They watched as James used a welding torch and assembled bits of what appeared to be their refrigerator to build something on their kitchen table. He talked animatedly to Rose, who sat on the worktop inches from him, swinging her feet in tiny circles.

“Can we listen in?” she asked.

“What would be the point?” he asked, but the volume of the conversation inside the memory seemed to dial up.

“Oop, there we are,” Rose said.

Memory-Rose slid from the counter and gestured to a gallon jug. She said, “You put salt in our water ration?”

“And soap,” James agreed.

“Salt. And soap?”

“I have to test it,” James explained.

“The Water Crisis,” Rose told the Doctor. “James invented a filtering system…”

“…Based on the Atmos design, from the look of it,” the Doctor said. “Clever.”

In the memory, James was pouring soapy salt water from the gallon jug into the machine. It hissed and splurted and steamed and in seconds, produced a sparkling glass of water.

James held it up for her, grinning. “Here ya go,” he said. “Have a taste.”

Instead, Memory-Rose snatched up the front of his rumpled shirt and pulled him into a deep kiss.

“W-what was that for?” James and the Doctor stammered simultaneously.

Memory-Rose gave James a sly smile. She said, “Because we can.”

The confusion in James’ features slowly turned to realization. He set aside the glass of water. “In that case…”

He grabbed her up and returned her kiss, staggering backward into the counter, scattering various utensils and instruments.

While on the other side of the window, the Doctor was backing away, muttering, “Entirely irresponsible behavior, I mean, middle of saving the world is no time to pop out for a snog, not to mention, could’ve burned the whole place down, and oh, you might want to close the blinds or perhaps stab out my eyes–”

Reluctantly, Rose moved away from the window to join him. He turned and stalked up the narrow street, averting his eyes from the other windows he passed.

Rose drew alongside him. “Why are these memories behind shop windows? It’s like some kind of display.”

“These are the ones you hold most dear. They’re — treasured.”

“That is one of my favorites,” she admitted. “That night. Our proper first time–”

“–Moving on!” the Doctor declared. “Places to see, some of them blue.”

Rose took his hand, squeezed it. “One other place first,” she said, hauling him along behind her.

~~~

11:16 a.m.
Bellweather Institute
London

Pete and River flashed into the middle of a nondescript office suite crowded with employees in tailored suits and scientists in crisp lab coats. Their arrival was so abrupt and so unexpected that several dropped cups of coffee and one employee fainted.

One of the junior level execs, a trim, efficient woman called Mina, said, “Mr. Tyler? This is most unexpected.”

“No cause for worry,” he told them, waving. “Popping in for a quick inspection. Just ignore us.” He turned to River. “How did you–?”

“Doctor River Song?” A voice said from behind them.

Pete frowned. He said, “Gareth? You gave her the location of the Institute?”

Gareth, flustered, held up his hands in protest, but River passed Pete a white photo-ID badge. Pete turned it over to reveal Gareth’s name. A magnetic swipe glimmered along its bottom edge.

River said, “I took it at the party. Gareth was… occupied. I used the magnetic swipe to code the coordinates through the navsat computer and into the teleport device.”

“Y-you said you’d call me,” Gareth said.

“Just did,” River said with a wry smile. “Now. Mr. Tyler and I must get to central command. The storm is far more powerful than we bargained for, and I need to find a way to shut it down completely.”

Gareth paled. He looked from Mr. Tyler to River and back again.

“She’s right,” Pete said. “We’re running out of time.”

“Right. Well. Lift’s this way, sir,” Gareth said.

As they followed Gareth out of the cubicles and into a bright hallway, Pete said, “We could have transported back to the house. James might need us, and Rose–”

“–is fine,” River told him. “Safest place in the universe, at the Doctor’s side. James seems able to handle himself. You and I can do better here. You understand the Bellweather matrix?”

“Not the foggiest,” Pete said. “It’s James’ project. I’m the CEO.”

“From what I gathered at the party, you’re the man in charge. You must have access to security protocols.”

“Well, yes,” Pete said.

“Good,” River said. “We’re going to need them.”

Chapter Text

11:43
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

Amy heard thunder, distant and dark, but the rain had stopped. Still, she found herself tiptoeing through the empty, echoing halls of the McCrimmon house.

“Rory,” she whispered as she weaved between rooms that seemed to glow when filled with the light and warmth of people, but were drafty and cold when empty, and she felt tiny and alone.

The weather made things worse. Clouds clotted the sky that shone through the windows, and the rooms, vast as they were, seemed to draw in around her like a damp wool cloak.

Twice she tried the green open-signal button on her wrist-com. Twice, a warbling static answered. She thought she heard voices weaving in and out of the frequency, sounding haunting and unintelligible. At the end of the second attempt, Amy thought she heard the modulated scream of a Dalek crying “Exterminate!”

After that, Amy switched the wrist-com off. She continued calling for Rory. She continued worrying for the Locastalan and their final words. We await her signal, ready to give our blood.

Something had to be wrong. The Doctor would never knowingly allow a race of creatures to sacrifice themselves for another race, and Amy believed that Rose and James would be the same.

But what if they weren’t? Amy thought. What if time in this parallel changed them? What if they were the type to strike any bargain to save the lives of the humans on this planet?

Immersed in these thoughts, Amy rounded the corner and collided headlong with something. The impact knocked them right off their feet, and as Amy scrabbled up, heart churning in her chest, she saw that it was not something.

It was someone.

“Please. Help me. I’m sorry, but we need help.”

Amy gathered her wits while she got hold of her breathing. The man with whom she’d collided sprawled on the stone floor, cradling a blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms.

“You’re Prescott, right?”

“Help me,” he said. “She’s getting worse.”

Prescott rolled the bundle forward in his arms, revealing a portion of the young woman’s face beneath the blanket.

“And Alicia,” Amy said. “Oh, my…”

“She opened her eyes,” Prescott said. His voice cracked. “But they weren’t her eyes. Not anymore.”

“Well, whose were they?”

“Please. I need to find Dr. McCrimmon. He’s the only one who can help.”

~~~

Within Memories

The Doctor and Rose appeared in a busy London street surrounded by the midday press of tourists and shoppers and office-types. The sun hung high and dazzling in a cloudless sky above, and even in their few seconds there, the Doctor felt an uncharacteristic warmth for such a late summer day.

“Have we gone too far again?” the Doctor asked, spinning in a tight circle to take in the area. “Are we back with the Ninth? Is this our first date?”

“No,” Rose said. “Not exactly. Oh, there we are.”

The Doctor saw them duck into a clothing store: the Meta-Crisis in baggy jeans and a frayed T-shirt with Memory-Rose, the determined shopper, leading him along by the wrist. They talked non-stop as the browsed, the Meta-Crisis sipping at an enormous Slushee.

“What is this?” the Doctor asked.

“Five days after returning from Norway,” Rose said. “Come on!”

They shuffled closer to better hear the conversation. After a minute, the Doctor whispered, “This could get confusing. You’re still calling him Doctor.”

“Just listen,” Rose hissed.

Memory-Rose held up a yellow collared shirt. “Here, try this one.”

He bent and kissed her, a small peck on her lips.

She blushed. “Mmm. Your lips are cold.”

“Black currant,” he said, his lips smacking over the words. He tilted the straw toward her. “Want some?”

She took a sip and gave an appreciative moan. “Good, yeah.”

They smiled at each other, a lingering, daffy sort of smile.

“Kissing’s better than I remembered. So are these,” he said, rattling the straw inside its cup.

“This is amazing,” Real-Rose said. “It’s like reliving the whole memory.”

The Doctor groaned. “Must we?”

“Just keep watching,” Rose told him.

Memory-Rose held up a candy red dress shirt. “Oh, this one,” she said.

“Um, no,” Meta-Crisis-Doctor said, mildly appalled.

“What, it’s nice,” she said.

He sneered. She put it back. They moved around the counter.

He said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my suit, I like my suit, all pinstripes and pockets. Why can’t I just wear that?”

“It’s a fine suit, Doctor,” Memory-Rose said. “But you’ve got to have proper clothes now you’ve got a proper job. You can’t just run ’round wearing the same suit everyday, people’ll think you’re eccentric.”

“But I am eccentric,” he said.

“No arguments from me,” she said. “Still, you’ll need stuff to wear about, y’know, picnics and matches and going out. Wearing around stuff.”

He stared at her and a knowing smile crept to his lips.

Memory-Rose gaped. “What?”

“You’re playing dress up.”

“Shut up.”

“You are,” he said. “Life-sized Doctor action figure.”

“Oh, leave it, so what if I am?” she said, nudging him. “Ooh, we’re gonna have to settle on a name as well.”

He started to speak; she cut him off.

“–Not John Smith. It sounds made up.”

“It is made up.”

“It sounds it. Besides, you don’t even look like a John.” She considered a moment. “More like David. Or Michael.”

He scratched his head. “Michael?”

She led him off to the back of the shop where there were tables laden with t-shirts and polo shirts of all different colors.

“Ooh, I like this,” Memory-Doctor said, pulling a t-shirt from the stacks.

“No, but…” Memory-Rose groaned. “It’s got a cartoon character on front.”

“Come on, it’s funny.” He grinned. “Marvin the Martian.”

They dissolved into giggles like a pair of children. “Fine,” she said, snatching it playfully from him. “But we’ve gotta get serious, too. There’s more over there–”

“You know what,” Rose said suddenly. “Let’s skip ahead a bit.”

“What? Now?” the Doctor said. “Five minutes of shirt talk, and now we skip ahead? And Marvin the Martian. Seriously?”

“Let’s just say there’s a scene in a dressing room that’s best kept behind closed doors,” Rose said. “Shall we?”

“Rose, what are you up to?” the Doctor said.

“I’m showing you–”

“This is not why we’re here,” he said, but his eyes grew unfocused. He stared off into some vague middle ground, and she could hear echoing whispers superimposed over the crowd noise of her own memories.

Rose heard the Doctor’s voice echo around them: “Time Lord victorious…” His voice, but biting and bitter, warped and mangled through time and memory. His memory.

She staggered at the sound of it, at the tone of defiance in that voice. She glanced at the Doctor, who still stared at the memory version of Rose and the Meta-Crisis version of himself as they teased and laughed their way through a day’s shopping in London, all those years ago.

He hadn’t heard it. Rose noticed then the heat of her own skin. She was closer, now. She had to be careful. But it was working, just as James said it would. Hiding in light. She could get close to his thoughts without him knowing.

“Here. This way,” she said, looping her arm with his. “Just a bit further.”

~~~

11:56 a.m.
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

Alicia lay in Prescott’s arms, still and quiet as before, but her eyes no longer darted beneath her eyelids. Amy knelt with him, her hand resting on his shoulder to comfort him.

“Where would James be now?” Amy asked.

“In his lab, working out how to stop the storm,” Prescott said.

“Can you carry her that far?” Amy asked.

“I could carry her across the Sahara,” he told her.

“There’s a good man,” Amy said. She got her arms up under his and helped him to his feet.

“It’s this way,” Prescott said. They walked along in the eerie quiet, listening to the wind creak in the eaves, and the distant constant thunder across the heath.

“How well do you know the McCrimmons?” Amy asked.

“Like family,” Prescott said. “I was pilot of the Tyler’s airship before James hired me to help test the designs of the hoverlink.”

“What’s that, exactly? The hoverlink?” she asked.

“It’s brilliant,” Prescott told her, the hint of a smile in his eyes. “It’s cruising class, for one thing, so it’s wicked fast, designed to shuttle passengers or cargo from one airship to another, so that the airship never needs to dock except for refueling, which these days, is every six months. So we have whole families living in airships, going from country to country, never touching the ground.”

“Interesting,” Amy nodded. “And what about him and Rose? What sort of people are they?”

Prescott stared at her. “They’re remarkable, or haven’t you been watching?”

“I have,” Amy said. “It’s just, well, when I spoke with the Locastalan, they said they’d give their blood–”

“–Rose loves the Locastalan," Prescott interrupted. "She kept UNIT from destroying them all those years ago. Here. If you have any doubts about what sort of man he is, look–” He paused at the window to look up at the sky. Amy followed his gaze and saw the shape of the birthday balloon glimmering bright against the cloud-choked sky.

“He spent months on that,” Prescott said. “Drawing up plans, making miniature models, crafting all the clockwork pieces by hand, the intricacy, the elegance, all for a child’s birthday. It’s not something you can really see from here. But… well, it’s bigger on the inside.”

“Hnh,” Amy said. “Figures.”

“And if anyone can help Alicia, it’s him,” Prescott said.

Alicia twitched in her sleep.

“Look at that!” Amy said. “She responded to your voice. That’s gotta be good, right?”

Prescott slid down the wall and bundled Alicia against him. He took her hand in his. “She’s going cold,” he said. “It’s getting worse.”

“Don’t say that,” Amy said. “She can hear you. It’s important to stay positive. Talk to her. Tell her — tell her something good, something that’ll keep her fighting.”

Prescott bent his forehead to her fingertips. “Alicia Harmon,” he whispered. He seemed to struggle a moment before he could speak again. Then he said, “Remember the day we met? The Tylers’ fancy dress party. You made me guess your costume and I said Venus Williams; but you weren’t even in costume, you were the event planner. How you laughed at me, you mad, merciless woman.” He reached up and brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. “I had such plans for us, all mapped out in my head. I even got this.”

He pulled a small hinged box from his pocket. Amy cupped her hands over her mouth.

Prescott took the simple diamond engagement band from the box and slid it onto Alicia’s finger. “I would like very much if we could spend the rest of our lives with you laughing at me.”

Amy saw the tear slide from the corner of Alicia’s eye, and watched in disbelief as it solidified to crystal on her cheek.

“Prescott,” she said, gripping his shoulder.

He looked up in time to see Alicia’s eyes open, and he scrabbled back, slamming into Amy’s legs, almost topping her. Amy helped him to his feet and together they stared in horror at Alicia.

“What’s happening to her?”

“Her eyes,” Amy said, her words barely a breath. “They’ve turned to stone.”

Chapter Text

12 p.m.
Rooftop
McCrimmon Estate

James loaded the crystal sample onto a hover-cart he’d scavenged from the greenhouse. He ripped out the cart’s control panel and hot-bound the hydraulic piston engine of the robotic arm into its circuitry to give it enough power and vertical lift to maneuver himself and the sample onto the roof of the main building.

Though the rain had abated for now, the wind roared up from the loch, carrying with it the first smatterings of snow.

Another issue confronted him as he attempted to scrape his way across the uneven tiles. A thin scrim of ice began form, making the rooftop even more difficult to navigate.

But he managed to make it to the weathervane with minor nicks and bruises, and there he wired in Professor Taylor’s wrist-com, the hover-cart’s circuit board, and copper wiring from the robotic arm. He sidled the cart over to the weathervane and placed the exposed ends of the wires into the cylinder containing the crystal.

“Not bad work without my screwdriver,” he said to himself. “And now…” He pressed the button on the wrist-com, drew a deep breath, and wrapped his hands around the outside of the graduated cylinder.

Pain ripped through him, instantaneous and blinding. Instinct screamed at him to withdraw, but the current that blazed through him tightened his fingers around the glass.

Then he remembered. He didn’t want to let go. He wanted to catch it and hold on.

James opened his mind and let the current flow through him, into his skin and his hair and his eyes and his teeth. His nose filled with a stinging scent of acid and smoke. His tongue burned with the taste of his blood.

He channeled the energy back up into the crystal, and with it he focused one single thought, one question: “What do you want?”

The answer resounded back, full of rage and hate and wanting. “I want what’s mine,” came the screaming reply. “Only what’s mine. All of what’s mine.”

James’ legs buckled. His feet slipped on the roofing tiles. He clambered for purchase and dropped to his knees.

“What is yours? What have you lost?” James shouted back in his mind. “I can help you find it. You don’t have to hurt anyone.”

And the storm… laughed.

Laughed?

James felt his skin crawl. Did he recognize that laughter?

“What do humans know of hurt?” the storm thundered. “Their lives begin and end in pain; all else is futility, no better than the lowly creatures who swing about in trees. Empty, empty lives. Useless, wasted, all of them.”

“No, you’re wrong,” James yelled back. “You’re wrong! I know humans. I know them to be good, all the way to their bones — Good! — All seven billion of them.”

The storm quieted, and then, in a dull, taunting voice, it said, “You don’t really believe that.”

James was pulling away now, unwinding his fingers from the cylinder, and slowly, deliberately severing the mental connection.

“Give me what’s mine!” the storm wailed.

“I don’t know what it is! Tell me!” James cried.

“It was taken while my body burned, though I fought to hold on, all that I am, all that I was, became scattered to atoms and dust. Only now I am victorious, and I will have what is mine–”

With a final agonizing wrench, James tore himself free. He slid several feet down the roof, only to catch himself with a jolt on the eave with his legs dangling over into empty space.

Sleet pelted the roof as he inched back up. His head pounded and his heart skittered about in his chest, but James forced himself to focus. He tugged the wrist-com from the weathervane and keyed in the code. After a moment’s hesitation, he pressed the send button.

From his spot on the roof, James could only hope that it worked. He needed to get down, and fast. He craned his neck to see a crust of storm crystals forming along the gutter. The crystal in the graduated cylinder had quadrupled in size and sprouted dozens of hooked talons that all seemed to be reaching for him.

“Rules out the hover-cart,” he muttered. “I’ll have to jump. Could break my neck. Probably will. Damned way to go after all this time. Cannot change the laws of physics. Although…”

There it was, right over the peak of the ballroom’s roof — the balloon.

James drew upright and made a dash for it, leaping as he reached the lip of the gutter. He fell through the air, the wind screeching around him, but his fingertips snagged the balloon's banner. With a sickening lurch, he pulled the balloon down with him, both collapsing in a tangle in the stone courtyard.

Lightning scorched the stone as he hit the ground. He rolled sideways and scrabbled, dodging bolt after bolt, until he crashed through the doors and curled into a tight ball of pain on the ballroom floor. Behind him, the sleet turned in to a white wall of raging snow.

As he lay there, dazed and aching on the flagstone, he heard her voice. Rose, echoing up to him, soothing and indistinct.

“It’s all right, love,” she told him. “You need to sleep. Everyone needs to rest now and again.”

James curled into the dream of her arms and quietly drifted away.

~~~
12:02 p.m.
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

Even as Amy and Prescott crawled back toward Alicia, they could see her form lose substance and begin to fade away.

“No, Dr. McCrimmon," Prescott said through gritted teeth. "I don’t think so.”

Amy glanced at him and found that he, too, had begun to flatten into an image and disappear. He sat back on his heels and quickly typed in a series of numbers on his wrist-com.

“What’s happening?” Amy shouted.

Prescott crawled forward and reached for Alicia’s vanishing image. “You’ll be safe now,” he told her. “I’ll see you soon. Oh, please let her be safe.”

Then she was gone.

Amy grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around to face her. “I don’t understand. What’s going on? Where did she go?”

“The Locastalan Contingency,” Prescott said. “One of the McCrimmons must have sent the signal.”

At that moment, something crashed with a sickening thud into the courtyard outside. Amy and Prescott spun to see lightning burst brilliant and blue-white through the windows. Through the dazzling light and deafening thunder, they saw James McCrimmon crash through the doors and collapse on the dais before them.

Prescott ran to Dr. McCrimmon’s side and pulled him into his arms. “He’s unconscious,” he told Amy.

“Is he like Alicia? Is he dreaming?”

Prescott peered down into Dr. McCrimmon’s face. Badly bruised, bloody-nosed, but behind his eyelids, his eyes were still. “No, not dreaming. But he used the Contingency, which can only mean…” Tears shone in his eyes. “It’s over. The world is ending.”

Chapter Text

11:56 a.m.
Bellweather Institute
London

“Gareth,” Pete said. “Get back upstairs and issue storm warnings for all of Britain, the North Atlantic, and Western Europe.”

As Gareth left them, River bustled in past the science types and leveled a lacquered nail at the bank of plasma screens showing weather patterns across the globe.

“Is this the satellite feed?” she asked.

“Y-yes,” answered Alton Foxworth, Bellweather Program Director, according to the plaque on his office door. “Mr. Tyler? Who is this woman?”

Ignoring him, River moved in closer while Pete attempted to explain. Another scientist — Ashley Cruz, according to her name tag — pointed at the monitor for Satellite 18, which appeared to be nothing more than a field of static perforated by occasional whips of lightning. “This one’s been giving us trouble. Dr. McCrimmon ordered several dispersions, but it’s not responding. Professor Taylor went last night to investigate. This was his most recent transmission, twenty-seven minutes ago.”

River elbowed in and began to type.

“What are you doing?” Cruz asked, ruffled.

“Zooming out,” River answered. “I need to see the larger picture.”

The satellite feed backed out, revealing more static.

“What’s the altitude of that reading?” Pete asked as he came alongside them.

Cruz took a reading, looked puzzled. “That can’t be right.”

“What is it?” River asked.

“Must be some mistake with the calibration,” Cruz said. She began typing a string of numbers into the data field. “The reading says these storm clouds reach an altitude in excess of twenty-one thousand meters and climbing.”

“Double check the relays,” Foxworth ordered. “Storm clouds can’t reach that altitude. It’s impossible.”

“I’ve checked, Dr. Foxworth,” Cruz said. “The readings are accurate.”

“Keep zooming out,” River told them. “What’s the altitude of the satellite?”

“Thirty-six thousand kilometers,” Cruz said.

“All the way out," River said. "Show the storm from the point of view of the satellite itself."

“I’m doing it,” Cruz told them. With each frame, the picture backed away from the earth, and there it was — the entire enormity and fury of the storm clawing its way through space. It writhed and slithered like a wounded creature thrashing upon the curve of the earth. Lightning tongued and forked from it, feeling forth like tentacles of fire.

“Temperatures are dropping rapidly along the coast, sir,” Cruz said. “The storm’s drawing power from the Gulf Stream. It’s gaining strength. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“My God,” Pete muttered.

“Oh, it’s worse,” River said quietly. “It’s reaching. Look at it.”

“Reaching?” Pete said. “Reaching for what?”

“For the satellite,” River said. “How long will it take to reach thirty-six thousand kilometers?”

“If it continues at its current rate,” Cruz said, tapping in a string of variables. “It’ll reach the satellite in eighty-seven minutes.”

“Can we shut it down?” Pete asked. “Shut down the entire system?”

Foxworth was shaking his head. “This system maintains a very delicate balance. We’d have to cycle down each station individually in order for the climate to stabilize. That would take days, at the very least. An abrupt shutdown of Bellweather protocol would result in global catastrophe.”

“There must be some way,” Pete said. “James designed this system. He wouldn’t build it without some kind of redundancy safeguard, a Plan B, an escape clause, something!”

River looked up at him. “He can’t have predicted every possible outcome, Mr. Tyler. He couldn’t have guessed this would happen. But this storm is linked to the Doctor. He and Rose are working on severing that link. All we must do is buy them time.”

Pete sat heavily in the chair and began to scribble on a pad. “Take Satellites 18 through 22 offline. Here are the security codes,” he said. “I’ll send a transmission to James, let him know what we’re up against; in the meantime, keep ordering the dispersion pattern...”

The com on Pete’s wrist emitted a series of high-pitched bleeps. He sat up sharply and thumbed the switch.

“...May-day, may-day, this is Tyler airship, registry eleven-oh-one-eight-nine, we are down, repeat, we are down...”

Pete leapt to his feet. “Captain Morales, is that you?”

“Yes, sir,” Morales answered. She continued to speak, but her voice sliced in and out of the static.

“Is everyone all right?” Pete shouted. “Jacks and the kids, are they all right?”

“…the storm’s right on us… don’t know… others…send someone…” and the connection went dead.

Pete swung into action. “Cruz, ground all weather traffic,” he ordered. “Foxworth, find me a pilot and a hoverlink. River Song?”

River stood, but as she did, she saw Cruz and Foxworth flicker in her peripheral vision, like they were suddenly holographic images that blipped out with the press of a button on some cosmic remote control. She whirled to face Pete, but he, too, was fading out of existence. “Pete? What’s happening?”

“Stop that storm, River,” he told her. “Whatever it takes.”

Then he vanished completely.

~~~

12:02 p.m.
The Laboratory
McCrimmon Estate

Rory had just settled Professor Taylor’s head on a folded lab coat when the Professor winked out of existence right before his eyes.

He jumped to his feet and scanned the room for something — anything — that could account for the Professor’s disappearance and, finding nothing, felt guilty for having inexplicably lost his patient.

Rory searched the main laboratory where the rest of the science team had been slumped unconscious over their monitors, but they, too, had vanished. Moreover, the screens on their monitors froze mid-blip, as well as all the rest of the equipment — pressure gauges, thermostats. Claxons, too. Ominous red ones, frozen mid-sweep as if someone pressed a large pause button that left him alone and unaffected.

He walked into the corridor. “Hello?” he called. “Hellooo?”

After a few seconds, Rory wiped his palms on his jeans. “Bloody stupid thing to do, call out ‘hello’ in a darkened corridor," he muttered to himself. "What do they do in horror movies, right before the hatchet to the face? Oh right, they shout, ‘hello’. Think, Rory.”

Right, he thought. People from this world had disappeared, leaving him alone. Which probably meant Amy was alone, too. Simple. He had to get to Amy.

Rory found the outer doors to the laboratory. The house was two hundred meters across a snow-choked courtyard. Dangerous storm clouds loomed above, though, dark and purplish and swirling. Logic told him to go back inside, find the entrance to the tunnels, take the safe path.

But the house was right there.

He’d have to leg it.

Rory pushed open the doors and ran full force into bracing cold. Immediately, his lungs seized and he stumbled, scraping his hands and knees on the flagstones. As he scrabbled back up, he felt the hairs on his arms and neck prickle.

A stab of lightning knifed into the earth a meter from his out-flung arm. Stunned, Rory rolled, his ears ringing, his eyes burning and blind. As he wheeled toward the house, half-falling, half-crawling, he felt the same tingling as before and realized. Something up there was watching, and it had very good aim.

Chapter Text

Within Memories

“Again with the shopping?” the Doctor moaned.

They stood outside a news agent’s, where Memory-Rose and the Meta-Crisis were all bundled up with shopping bags.

“It’s the same day,” Rose told him. “Later that afternoon. This is what I was looking for. There…”

Memory-Rose chatted with the Meta-Crisis, pointing up at the sign for a fish and chips place.

“Yeah, yep, just a sec,” the Meta-Crisis said, distractedly. He pulled a newspaper from the agent’s counter and tossed a few coins on the counter.

“There!” Rose said. “See that headline?”

The Doctor leaned in. “Nations in crisis as water quality worsens. President Jones to attend emergency UN Council — Harriet Jones?”

“Three consecutive terms, Doctor,” Rose said. “Just like you said.”

They followed Memory-Rose and the Meta-Crisis Doctor into the chips shop, watched them order, watched them climb into a table by the window, laughing and chattering the whole time.

“Thing is,” Rose said. “I didn’t even remember he bought that paper til just now. It’s like — the memories are re-awakening, but it’s important, don’t you see?”

The Doctor continued to watch them, her memories of them, stealing each other’s chips and teasing one another. “No,” he admitted. “Why’s it so important that I see… this?”

“He’s never stopped being you,” Rose said quietly. “He never stopped trying to save the world, to make it better, to keep its people safe. But he has that little bit of Donna, too, in that he believes, whatever he is, it’s not quite good enough. This is five days after we returned from saving the universe from the Daleks–”

“–The Daleks he destroyed, you mean?”

 “Yes,” Rose narrowed her eyes. “Those Daleks. I thought we were out for a bit of shopping, but there he is, working out how to save the world. I didn't even know it was in danger...”

Rose scrutinized the Doctor’s face. She kept hearing disjointed snatches of his memories — a distant, haunting song; the crack of a gunshot; the scent of snow and fire; a scream. She heard his voice say, “Some new man goes sauntering away, and I’m dead…”

“Something happened, didn’t it?” Rose said. “Your last regeneration, it wasn’t complete. You hung on too long…”

“Enough of that,” the Doctor said, waving dismissively. “What are they saying?”

He pushed around her to get closer to the table, where Memory-Rose and the Meta-Crisis were still discussing names.

“Doesn’t sound like he’s saving the world to me,” the Doctor said.

Rose crowded in beside him. The greasy fishy scent of the chips teased a smile onto her lips. “No, but I love this part,” she said.

 Meta-Crisis Doctor was saying, “Meta-Crisis. Meta-Crisis. M. C. The Doctor M. C. Yo! What up?”

“No, Doctor,” Memory-Rose said, gravely. “No.”

“I could use another one of my aliases,” he suggested.

“Such as?”

“Such as… Snicklefrax.”

“What?”

“No, I’m joking.”

She pelted him with a chip.

“Hey!” He pelted back and she squealed. “Jean Forgeon?”

“No, too French. You don’t even look French.”

“Je pourrais être français,” he said.

“No,” Memory-Rose said, firmly.

“You’re kyboshing all my aliases.”

“They’re bad aliases,” she told him. “You've got thousands of earth names to choose from, and it’s very important to pick the right one because you’re gonna have it the rest of your life.”

He gnawed a chip, considering. “Hmm,” he said. “How about John Bowman?”

“No Johns. Full stop on Johns,” Memory-Rose said. “Too common a name for so uncommon a man.”

Frustrated, he said, “Fine. How ’bout James?”

Memory-Rose gave him an appraising stare. “I see some James in there,” she said. She brushed her fingertips over his brow and his lips. “Here, and here.”

He seemed to hold his breath a moment, relishing her touch, however brief. “All right,” he said. “Meta-Crisis. James Meta-Crisis–”

“–No!–”

“Hang on! Meta. Crisis. M. C. McCrimmon?”

“Like in Scotland,” Memory-Rose said. “When we met Queen Victoria. Doctor James McCrimmon–”

“–And his timorous beastie, Dame Rose of the Powell Estate.”

“Yes! Yes, I love it,” Memory-Rose crowed.

“That settles it,” he said, tossing the chip into its basket. Newly-named, James slipped from the chair and knelt before her. “Now that’s sorted, I can see to this properly.” He pulled a wooden box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a simple platinum band.

Memory-Rose nearly toppled from her chair. “Are you proposing to me?"

"Yeah," he said, grinning. "Appears so."

"Over chips?”

All around them, patrons got up from their seats to gawk at them. Even the two fellows behind the counter craned their necks to have a look.

James McCrimmon spread his arms wide. “Seems fitting, considering.”

“Well go on, then,” Memory-Rose urged him.

“Rose Tyler,” he said, grinning. “Be my wife?”

“Yes, of course!” He caught her as she leapt into his arms and they spun while everyone around them cheered.

~~~

The memory faded like the final scenes of a dream, leaving the Doctor and Rose alone in a shadowy forest that smelled of damp and pine and the promise of snow. The Doctor stretched his long arms and swung them around like a student after a long session in lecture.

“So he proposed, and you were married,” he said.

“Six months, yeah. Would’ve been sooner, but the Locastalan arrived on our wedding day and we had to postpone,” Rose said.

“You gonna show me that, too, the whole Rose and James play-by-play, or can we now get down to our original purpose?” he asked.

“And what is that again, exactly?” Rose asked.

His brow clouded. “You know what it is.”

“I want you to tell me, Doctor,” she said.

“What are you playing at, Rose Tyler? Why are you doing this?”

Rose stepped in close, and though he was taller, she stared straight up into his eyes. “It’s McCrimmon, Doctor,” she told him. “And I want you to see everything you’ve given me. I want you to know all I have to lose, should you be tempted to take it all away.”

“And why would I do that?”

“I know you, Doctor,” she said. “And I know him. Both of you would sacrifice yourself to save the world–”

“–Rose–”

“–I’m asking you to find another way. It’s all I’m asking. The universe can’t lose you, but I can’t lose him–”

She swayed slightly. The Doctor caught her, held her up, looked her over.

“Rose, you’re glowing.”

“It’s the temporal shield, or rather, the lack of it,” she told him. “It was protecting me until James took it offline to power the generator. We knew it was a risk…”

“You know about the temporal shield?” the Doctor said.

“Of course I know,” she said. “I told you, I know him…”

“Wait,” the Doctor said. “You said protecting. Protecting from what?”

“The only way out is through,” Rose said. “Come on.” She took his hand and led him down a trail deeper into the forest.

Chapter Text

12:06 p.m.
Bellweather Institute
London

River Song slammed through the glass doors of the Bellweather Institute and burst into a vacant London street. A chill wind ripped scraps of newspaper and foam cups from the gutters, and the sky above churned with dark clouds.

Halted mid-flight below the clouds hung hundreds of airships and hoverlinks, frozen there like Chinese lanterns hanging pendant in time, while all around her stood the mid-day's traffic of empty hovercars and toppled bikes. A magna-pulse train curved around the second level of the Bellweather building, paused on its tracks and utterly devoid of people.

River stifled the urge to cry out. She unholstered the revolver hidden in her coat and strode forward into the silent street. The smell of ice filled her nose, a clean, crisp scent, and something below that, something secret and deadly. A chemical bite, like formaldehyde.

One thing was certain: Everyone had vanished. She was alone, and terrified.

“Oh, Doctor,” she said, her voice eerie in the empty world. “Whatever it is you’re doing… Please hurry.”

~~~

Within Memories

“You know,” the Doctor said as they minced their way among the roots and limbs of the forest path, “that storm is gaining strength faster than your husband can counter it.”

“How do you know that?” Rose asked. She held out a hand to guide him over a fallen log.

“I can feel it,” he said. He waggled the fingers of his free hand over his head. “In here. Sparks and light. It’s going to use that Bellweather system to spread itself over the whole planet.”

A chill slipped down Rose's spine, but she fought to conceal her concern. “Then we’d better hurry, right?” Rose said. “Sever the link and dispel the storm for good.”

“Then why are we here, in the forest? We’re meant to be some place in space. The shielded memory occurred in a space station, remember?”

“This is a shortcut,” Rose said. “We’re deep in my thoughts, now. All the way back to my childhood. I got lost here, once, on a trip with my Mum and my great aunt Clara. It was a place of nightmares, this forest.”

A feverish prickle swept over her again, but she fought the impulse to press her hand to her face. They were getting closer, that’s all it meant. She tightened James’ coat around her and said an inward prayer for those still in the path of the storm. 

The Doctor drew up short at the border of an open glade, a small nook between the trees where a little light leaked in. At its center sat an elegant clawfoot tub with brass and crystal twists and fixtures.

“There’s a bath in your forest,” he told her.

“I noticed,” Rose said. “Hang on. That’s my bath–”

Two people had appeared in the bath, two quite naked people, engaged in what Rose could only describe as naked activities. Rose gripped the Doctor’s shoulder and spun him around so he couldn’t see them.

After a moment’s stunned silence, she said, “That was me and Mickey.”

The Doctor darted a glance at her. “I noticed.”

“It’s impossible,” she said. “That never happened. Couldn’t have happened. That’s my bath! No, don’t look!”

Heedless of her warning, he turned back, but the bath was empty. “It’s over, see?”

“I don’t understand,” she said, circling the empty tub. “Mickey was my first, well, except for Jay, but he doesn’t count–”

The Doctor grimaced.

“But me and Mickey … It never happened like that. We were strictly indoors, and all he had in his apartment was this en suite shower–”

“–Really not needing the details, thank you,” the Doctor interrupted.

“But this is our bath in our house. Mine and James,” Rose said. “Why would it appear here?”

Understanding dawned in the Doctor’s eyes. “It’s a substitution.”

Rose shook her head. “How do you mean?”

He crouched beside the tub, chin in hand. “Sometimes when there’s damage to the brain–”

“–You saying I’m brain damaged?”

“No talking now, thinking," the Doctor snapped. "It’s a traffic accident. A traffic accident in the brain, and the synaptic pathways re-route around the damaged area, a detour.”

“Oi,” Rose said. “My brain isn’t damaged!”

He lifted his eyes to meet hers. “Oh, but it is,” he explained. “You see, because when things get re-routed, the brain knows something’s missing, so it reconnects to a similar memory, anything it can find — yellow turns to fellow, dressing table becomes dressing gown. A replacement…”

She fell back a step. Another image appeared in the tub, this time a wavering facsimile of her and James with bubbles and champagne flutes, wisps of ragtime music lilting through their laughter.

“That one’s not right, either,” she said, her voice hitching. “This was Bali. Our honeymoon. It’s the right memory in the wrong place.” Tears welled in her eyes. “No, but it can’t be. You’re saying my memories are… like they’ve been changed?”

The Doctor blanched. “Oh, Rose,” he said. “This is far worse than we imagined.”

~~~

12:18 p.m.
Main Hall
McCrimmon Estate

James stirred and groaned and opened his eyes. “Mr. Lamb?” he said. “You’re still here? It didn’t work? Why didn’t it work?”

“Hush now,” Prescott answered. “It did work. I keyed the cancellation code so I could stay behind.”

“But,” James strained to sit up; found he couldn’t. “Why?”

“I think you’re injured, sir. Your nose is bleeding, and your ankle might be broken.”

James groaned again and let his head fall back against… something unexpectedly cushion-y. He peered up into the face of the ginger — Amy — who cradled his head on her knees. “Oh. Hello!” He wiggled his fingers in a wave.

“You’re insane,” she told him.

“Well–”

“You jumped off the roof, nearly got blasted by lightning.” Then she smacked him roughly on the shoulder.

“Oi!”

“And you let an entire alien race sacrifice itself for the sake of humanity,” she shouted.

“Hold on, what?” James said, sitting up despite Prescott’s protestations. “They didn’t sacrifice themselves, whatever gave you that idea?”

Amy’s eyes widened. “Only the fact that they told me so just before they ended their transmission. They said they were ready to give their blood.”

James massaged his jaw and then his temples. “No, no, no,” he said, wearily. “It’s our Plan B. More of a Plan Bee, actually…” He chuckled, but Prescott and Amy merely stared at him. “Oh, fine. Rose always laughed. Anyway, the Locastalan pledged a Blood Oath, bit like Chewbacca for Han–”

“–See, Blood Oath!” Amy shouted.

“No interrupting,” James said. “See, ’cause it’s not exactly like Chewie with Han. The Locastalan evolved this brilliant ability that allows them to resonate a frequency through their antennae. If there’s an emergency, if one colony is in danger or under attack, they resonate this frequency and they’re immediately called home. No matter how far flung they are, no matter how distant, this sonic transmission beams them directly back to their mother’s arms. Lots of arms, too, since they’re great big space bugs. They call it The Blood. Only it’s not blood, since they don’t actually have blood. There’s no direct translation, but for us, the closest word would be relation. Family.”

“So they’re–”

“Bound to us. Planet reaches a critical state of emergency, I send out a beacon, and the Locastalan beam the humans to the Felsius Four, the largest moon of the Locastalan home world. Every last human on the planet. On this planet, to be specific, which is why you lot are still here.” He gestured behind him. Amy followed to the place he indicated and saw Rory hovering in the shadows.

She ran for him, pulling him into a crushing hug. “Oh my God, Rory,” she said. “You’re–”

“Bit singed,” he admitted with a groan. “But I’m fine.”

“Rubber soles,” James said with a wink. “Swear by ’em.”

“So Alicia is safe?” Prescott said.

The muscle in James’ jaw tightened. “She’s out of the storm’s influence, but not out of danger. Unless we stop that storm, everyone who got caught up in it, everyone who’s still dreaming…”

“How do we stop it?” Rory asked. “You went out there to give it a choice. Did it answer?”

“No,” James said. “I’m sorry, no. It’s fueled by anger and loss and pain. So much pain, it wouldn’t listen. And with everyone gone, Bellweather can’t continue the dispersion, which means we’re trapped until Rose and the Doctor can break the link that brought the storm here in the first place…”

“But we’re running out of time,” Rory said. “That storm’s becoming more aggressive.”

Prescott’s eyes filled with tears. “Perhaps if we got closer–”

“–No, Mr. Lamb. It’s too dangerous…”

“What is it? What does he want to do? We can help,” Amy said.

James scrubbed his face with his hands. “Ah, Doctor, we do choose the very best people.” He struggled to his feet, felt the twinge of pain in his ankle — not broken, but sprained and very inconvenient. “Young Mr. Lamb believes that if we get closer to the storm, we might have a better chance of stalling it.”

“I’m the best pilot he’s seen,” Prescott told Amy and Rory. “He told me that eight years ago, when I was the first to test the hoverlink. I know everything she can do, every single maneuver, so I reckon I’m the right man for the job. With me at the controls, I figure it’s far less dangerous than with you on your own. Am I right?”

James smiled, but it winked out like a guttering candle. He swallowed the lump in his throat and said, “Look at this place...” His tattered balloon lay strewn across the courtyard, its gossamer silk rippling in the wind and slowly vanishing beneath the snow. “Just last night it rang with laughter. Now it’s empty. Whole planet, empty. All those brilliant people, ripped from their homes.”

“But they’re safe. You saved them,” Rory said. “And we’re still here.”

“That’s right. You’re here. And Rose, and the Doctor,” James said. “Listen.”

They waited and silence answered.

“I don’t hear anything,” Amy whispered.

“It’s the calm before the storm,” James said. “It’s gaining strength. Oh, Rose…” His voice broke.

“We’ll help them,” Prescott said firmly. “Just tell us what to do.”

“Help them,” James said. His eyes brightened. “Help them, yes! Mr. Lamb, you’re a genius. Professor Taylor sent a dispersion pattern from the lab. We can use that to establish contact, then boost the signal with this.”

Grinning, James held up the sonic screwdriver he’d nicked from Rory’s pocket.

“Hey!” Rory said. “How’d you–?”

James gave an almost boyish grin, arching his brows. “Oh, yes. It just might work. Mr. Lamb, the hoverlink’s in the hangar?”

Prescott’s face lit up. “Aye, sir.”

“Well, then,” James said, flipping the sonic screwdriver and catching it. “Allons-y.”

Chapter Text

Within Memories

“So what do we do now?” Rose asked. She trudged along the muddy tracks of the forest for what seemed like hours, but time, she knew, moved differently in memories.

Nevertheless, she felt like she was burning up. She itched to take off James’ coat, but she dare not, for fear that she might lay it aside and lose it, since it was a tether tying her to the real world.

“Keep going,” the Doctor said. “Find another memory and follow it.”

“What’s the point, if what we’re searching for is gone?”

“We’ll find another starting point and work our way in,” the Doctor said. “The brain is resilient. There’s more than one way to Rome, as the Romans say. You remember Rome, my goddess Fortuna…”

Rose turned on him. “Did you do it?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“You shielded the memory in your head. Fair dues, it’s your brain, but what about me?”

The Doctor curled his hands. “Rose, I don’t remember.”

Rose stalked away. The trees thinned and soon she walked in the weak sunlight of a foggy mid-morning. The grass grew up, thick and blue and fragrant. She came to the end of earth, where the ground fell away in sharp, sheer cliffs that vanished in a white haze of clouds, and beyond in the sky, a six-pronged space station hovered in geostationary orbit. Above it, the nebular dust swirled in spindril arcs of bright green and orange and crimson, and stars peered down through them like dewdrops in a spider’s web.

“Hello,” the Doctor said as he came alongside her. “Here’s something we both remember.”

“The Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade,” Rose said.

“This was after the planet Kroptor,” the Doctor said.

“Right,” Rose said. “The Bitter Pill. The Satan Pit. The most frightened I’d ever been.”

“This was our vacation,” the Doctor said. “Good place. Almost no distractions.”

“Except I don’t remember it. Any of it,” she said. Her brow creased as she struggled to come up with anything resembling memory. She found nothing.

“We did come here, Rose,” the Doctor said.

“I’m looking at it, right, and I remember the sky and the cliffside and the shape of the station.” She tapped her forehead. “But the rest is gone. Doctor, where did it go?”

He uttered a weak laugh. “It’s preposterous,” he told her. “Utterly and absolutely. Why would I remove your memories?”

“Same reason you’d shield your own,” she said. “The only reason you would ever hide from anything. To protect something.”

He was still a long while before he said, “And what am I protecting, Rose?”

They felt the first tremor rock the ground beneath them. It pitched them to their knees, and as Rose scrambled back up, she saw the fissure that split the sky into fractures like shards of splintered mirrorglass. Beyond that, she caught the first glimpse of it, a liquid sphere like a drop of mercury suspended in the sky above them. She could hear his voice again, clearer now; she heard him say, “I got worse. I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own lives. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long…”

The Doctor was still on his knees, gazing up in horror as the sky fragmented around them. Rose clasped her hand around the sonic screwdriver in the pocket of James’ coat and pointed it skyward.

“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I might not have another chance.”

“Rose, no!” he cried.

“I understand it now,” she said. “It’s within us.”

She pressed the switch and in a burst of blue, everything disappeared.

12:32 p.m.
The Hangar
McCrimmon Estate

“So, was it requirement when you bought this place that it came with a network of tunnels, or was it an added perk?” Rory asked as he and Prescott popped the trapdoor that led up into the hangar.

“Bonus feature, completely unexpected,” James admitted. “Well, somewhat expected. Well, suspected, never documented... Served us nicely, haven’t they?”

He climbed past them into the cavernous stone building that housed the hoverlink, a strider cart, and one rather impressive silver dirigible roughly the size of a humpback whale.

Amy gawked at it as she climbed up the stairs and into the hangar, but the vicious pitch of the wind that howled through the ventilation above drew her attention to the window instead.

“Rory,” she shouted. “Come and see!”

They gathered beside her to peer through the icy window at the white obelisk in the courtyard, bristling with crystals.

“It’s the TARDIS,” James marveled.

“No, but–River’s still in there,” Amy said.

“She’ll be fine,” James said, jogging toward the hoverlink. “Safer than we are. Mr. Lamb!”

“Aye, sir.”

The two set about removing the interior paneling of the hoverlink to expose the navsat computer. In seconds, they had refitted Professor Taylor’s wrist-com into the circuitry. James stripped the wires with his teeth and sonicked the connections to boost the signal.

“Last time I used myself as conductor,” James said. “Not my brightest. This time, we’ll use the hoverlink’s navsat system, convert the whole thing into a giant transmitter using the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.”

Rory and Amy huddled together in the shadow the dirigible, far enough from the walls and the screech of the winds.

“I don’t like the look of that storm,” Amy said, brushing chills from her arms. Rory stripped off his coat and settled it around her shoulders, leaving him in shirtsleeves even though she already had a jacket and a scarf.

She crowded nearer and took his hand.

“Numpty,” she said.

The teeniest of smiles quirked one corner of his mouth. “Mrs. Numpty,” he said.

And then the hoverlink’s control panel erupted in a shower of sparks.

“That’s it!” James shouted. “We have the signal. Well done, Mr. Lamb! And now…”

James sent a burst of luminescent green into the navsat monitor. The panel brightened and filled with a pattern of concentric rings. A single pulsation flickered at its center, emitting a steady bleep with every beat.

James perched on the chassis of the hoverlink, admiring his handiwork. “And that’s the dispersion pattern, amplified by two hundred percent. Thank you, Doctor!”

He tossed the sonic screwdriver back to Rory, who caught it clumsily with his free hand.

“But–won’t you need it?” he asked.

“No longer necessary, all sonicked up. Mr. Lamb, we’ll need all-weather gloves and the goggles, love the goggles, fetch those please while I run a systems check.”

Prescott sprang from the cockpit and was galloping toward the supply cabinet when an earth-shattering roar rocked the hangar. The north facing wall shredded inward, slashing them with ice and stone and splintered wood.

The wind screeched into the hangar, ripping it apart and tossing the hoverlink like a tin toy. It shredded the dirigible to tatters in seconds. And in the midst of the gale, a pale light shone, and then a figure, and then a voice.

“Your humans are beyond me for now,” the figure said, in a familiar female voice. “But they aren’t what I was after…”

“Alicia!” Prescott lurched to his knees.

“Prescott, don’t move,” James shouted. “It’s not her–”

The shining figure spread its arms. “No, she is consumed,” it said. “But I see her. In his mind. In his memories. They are linked. Prescott...”

Though the wind whipped and tore at them, James got shakily to his feet and walked toward the apparition that wore Alicia’s face. He had to raise a hand to shield his eyes from the brightness of it. “What are you?” he called. “What do you want?”

“So long ago, it was lost, while I burned–”

“Yeah, yeah, you said all that, but what is it? A home, a soul, a heart, a brain? What?” James said.

Curls of ice feathered across the floor of the hangar, reaching for them like tentacles.

“I want what is mine,” it crackled as it slithered forward.

“Stay back” James ordered to Amy and Rory. “Gather behind me. Lamb, stay as you are.”

“You can’t help them,” the storm growled, a note of pity in its voice. “You cannot save them.”

“Dr. McCrimmon.” It was Prescott. He squared his shoulders against the biting force of the wind. Tears formed and froze on his lashes. But his voice carried, loud and defiant, over the storm. “Alicia, is she gone?”

“I’m here and I’m hungry, Prescott,” the storm sang, its voice a tinselly mimicry of Alicia’s. “Come to me, tenderling, let me enfold you–”

“Prescott, don’t move,” James shouted.

But Prescott was shaking his head. “It’s too late.” Just then, James saw the wisp of the storm crystal twining its way around Prescott's ankle. “Just tell me. Will Alicia survive?”

“No,” James said, the word barely audible. “I’m sorry, but it’s too advanced. It’s consumed her. She’s gone.”

The storm screeched, a horrendous, agonized howl, and the image dissolved in a burst of light that left them all temporarily flashblind.

"Lamb!" James cried as his vision cleared. "Lamb, where are you?"

“Don't worry, Dr. McCrimmon. I knew. Back in the main hall, when I saw her eyes. I knew.” Prescott gave him a weak smile. “You kept me close by, all these years. Head of Security. But I’m a pilot. The level best.”

“Prescott, don’t,” James said. “We’ll find a way–”

“It’s all right,” Prescott said. “It’s an honour, sir. For you and for Rose. For your life together, and your children. My destiny, fulfilled.” He uttered a laugh. “I think he knew. The Doctor. He kept calling me pilot.”

Prescott cringed as the crystal spread with shocking quickness up his calf to twine around his knee. “I know what to do,” he said.

"No, Lamb! Stop–"

With a salute, Prescott leapt into the cockpit of the hoverlink and powered up the engines. The gyroscopic steering re-oriented, and Prescott throttled forward and hurtled in a flash through the shredded hangar wall.

Around them, the storm swelled and raged and screamed. James scrabbled backward, colliding with Amy and Rory, who caught him and fell in a heap against the deflated husk of the dirigible.

“Get higher!” James screamed. The wind tore the words from his mouth, but as the crystals scrawled across the floor toward them, Rory lifted Amy into the skeletal framework of the dirigible. He and James heaved into the wreckage, the ice razoring with crackling ferocity at their heels.

Then a burst of light, distant, cold, bright as a dying star, and the storm… stopped.

12:42

Their skin chafed pink, their breath pluming from their lips, they stared wild-eyed at one another, waiting for another gale to begin.

But the crystals remained as they were — intricate traceries of ice and stone hemming them in.

“What’s happened?” Amy asked.

“It worked, didn’t it?” Rory said. “The dispersion, Prescott did it.”

“Yes, he did,” James said, his voice raw. “Mr. Lamb–”

 A sudden convulsion struck James. He shuddered and slipped, but Rory and Amy caught an arm each to keep him from plummeting to the hangar floor. 

“You all right, mate?” Rory asked.

“It’s Rose.” James drew a ragged breath. “She’s made it to the memory.”

“That’s good, right?” Amy said.

“Or very, very bad,” Rory said.

“Back into the tunnels,” James told them between gasps. “Best to be in the house when the storm returns.”

Chapter Text

Within Memories

The memory unfolded around the Doctor. At first, he stood in the center of a white room, but then the perspective shifted him to a corner as the surroundings materialized. He heard voices, his and hers, ringing down a corridor. A door took shape in the opaque white wall, and then it opened and she came swanning in — Rose Tyler — in blue jeans and a pink coat, blond hair swinging as she skipped by. Then He came in behind her, all business and keys and conversation with the porter.

“Do you still have those little brilliant little biscuits? The ones with the crème inside, oh, what were they called?” The Doctor said — the Tenth. Him.

This was the memory, he realized. Somehow he was reliving the memory, and Rose — where had she gone? Real-time, real-life Rose? She’d disappeared in the flash, leaving him here.

Inside the memory.

“Plinths,” the porter purred. She was a willowy, blue Corbuniun with lithe fingers and protuberant yellow eyes. “Aye, Doctor. Shall we send some up for you?”

“Yes!” The Doctor said. “And some fruit — bananas — do you have bananas? Of course you have bananas, it’s a tropical resort. And, oh, we’ll want to go swimming–”

“Best to wait til star-rise, sir, tomorrow morning,” she answered.

“Will do! Rose! Don’t go out on the veranda yet, I wanna see your face when you see it!”

The porter nodded, giving the memory version of the Doctor a knowing smile before she left.

The Doctor watched the earlier version of himself toss his overcoat onto a chair by the window and cross the room. The suite itself seemed to be carved from smooth white stone that glistened faintly in the recessed lighting of the walls. All of the corners were rounded, all the edges smoothed and graceful, and the Tenth glided through it, the picture of certainty and confidence.

In the center of the room stood an enormous bed layered with gauzy silk coverings; downy-leaves from the forests of Cotter Pauluni, which put them somewhere near–

“The Medusa Cascade!”

The Doctor followed the sound of the voice to where Memory Doctor and Memory Rose stood together on a sweeping marble veranda, staring up at the radiant emerald and gold and sapphire swirls of the nebular formation that sprawled across the sky.

“They’re noctilucent clouds,” the Doctor was explaining to Rose, who gazed up at them with innocent reverence. “They glow with star stuff, the birthplace of baby stars.”

“And that’s what those are — baby stars?” She pointed at the dozens of vibrant blue stars, all varied from pin-pricks of light to the size of her own sun, and scattered across the northeastern sky, and one pair of twinkling binary stars spinning in the web of nebular dust.

“Yep,” the Doctor said. “It’s star-set now, they’re all going to bed, but nighttime here means a spectacular show of whole other kind, over there,” he guided her to the western-facing edge of the veranda and pointed to the horizon.

They peered far, far down at the Laguna Paulini, where along the edge a brilliant red-orange light had begun to awaken and spill from the earth.

“Volcanoes?” Rose guessed.

“A series of them along the outer rim of the caldera. They erupt each night due to the gravitational pull of the thirteenth moon, Tuksheh, right over that horizon,” he said, pointing. “The Pauluni people call it Revido Parvei’ita, the volcanic dawn.”

A light wind teased them with the wild scents of tropical fruits and beach sand. The deep shadow of evening shrouded the lagoon that lay more than a mile below, but the breeze from the crystal beach and the jungle beyond still reached them, even at this distance.

They grew still as they stared out over the muted serenity of the Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade. She leaned against him, her hands at rest beside his on the stone rail of the veranda, and in silence they watched the pale stars slowly setting behind the northeastern wall of the Laguna Paulini.

“We’ll go swimming tomorrow,” the Doctor said.

“Yeah? Down there?” Rose asked. She stretched her torso over the rail to stare down into the lagoon. “Ooh, how deep is it?”

“Well, the whole moon is like a hollow eggshell. The lagoon goes all the way down.”

“So — very deep,” she said. She caught a flicker of silver beneath the surface of the water then, a large sweep of something slicing swiftly through the waves. “Hang on. What was that?”

“Koiwhale,” the Doctor explained. “Indigenous species of sentient fish. Lovely creatures. I’ll introduce you–”

“–You speak fish?”

“I speak everything.”

Her eyes met his, and for a moment, he saw a flash of sadness in them or, was it… was she afraid? Because it wasn’t true. He didn’t speak everything. Only recently he'd failed to translate an ancient tongue, and it had frightened them both.

“Rose,” the Doctor said.

“No. It’s all right,” she said, moving away from him, away from the edge of the balcony. “I know. The Devil lies, it’s what he does. It was trying to scare me, and it worked, but it’s over. Besides we’re safe. We’re here, together.” She drew a quick breath. “Anyway we’re not thinking of that, not here, right? This is for us. So, Fifteenth Broken Moon, does that mean the other fourteen are broken, too, or is it that this is the fifteenth and it just happens to be broken?”

“Ehm…”

“You dunno, do you?” She attempted a smile.

The Doctor watched her, his hands in his pockets, his expression troubled. Rose went on tiptoe and brought her lips to his.

When she stepped back, his eyes remained closed a long while. When he opened them, he said, “What was that for?”

“Because we can,” she answered.

He cupped her face in his hands. “We can’t,” he said, his voice hushed and heavy. But then he kissed her, a long, slow, sweet kiss that left them both dazed. Rose melted against him, and when he pulled away, she had to struggle to catch her breath.

“Your lips are cold,” she said in a ragged whisper.

“Rose–”

“No, don’t. I don’t care,” she said. “I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t care about it. I just–”

And then, before either of them could speak another word, he swept her into his arms and carried her back into their room.

~~~

Sometime in the night, she fell asleep in his arms. He lay still to better feel her weight against him, the tickle of her hair on his neck, the thrum of her heartbeat on his skin. The room’s floor and walls emitted a soft blue glow, painting the contours of her bare skin with its luminescence. He drank it in, every moment, the closeness, the bliss, the quiet.

And in the present day, the present Doctor — the one who refused to watch or even acknowledge what had happened — began to relax and think that he’d been foolish all those years ago when he shielded the memory, this memory, because, really, it was harmless, a minor transgression, a moment in which he let her in, had let them go too far, but it was okay, in the end, really okay, because they lay together in the calm, still silence before star-rise, and everything would be fine–

 –But in the memory, the Tenth Doctor stirred. He sat up carefully and stared down at Rose as she slept. Pale light underscored the shadows beneath his eyes. Something in her had changed. A sound had entered the room, a separate noise from their breathing and their beating hearts, different from the pulse of the machines that kept the station aloft. Something miniscule but enormous, all at the same time. Something imperceptible to anyone at this stage in its development. To anyone, except for the Doctor. 

He slid from the bed and padded to where his coat lay draped across the chair. He slipped the sonic screwdriver from its pocket, dialed in a frequency, and performed a surreptitious scan. He read the result with an impassive face, and then hovered, indecisive, before collecting his clothes and disappearing into the bathroom to dress.

When he returned, Rose was gone from the bed. She’d awakened and now stood on the balcony, clad only in the silken leaves of their bedclothes. Perhaps she thought nothing amiss, but the Doctor knew. In the present and in the memory, he knew. Everything had changed.

She turned to him as he approached. Behind her, the volcanic dawn burst into brilliant light, brushing her skin and hair to an aching radiance.

He stood before her, memorizing every line, every pore, every atom of her being as she was in that moment.

She said, “Remember in Sacre Coeur when we met that astronomer, that Carl Sagan bloke, and he told us about the dust of the stars? He said we’re all made of star stuff, and I thought, Here we go again, another nutter scientist dreaming of time machines… only he wasn’t mad, was he?”

The Doctor said nothing. He took one of her hands in his.

“I know what he meant now. Didn’t understand it before, but I think I do now,” Rose said. “He meant us. The cosmos is within us.”

“Rose, I’m sorry,” he said, and he meant it. More than anything in his life, he meant it. He steepled his fingers on her temple and her jaw. “I am so sorry.”

Chapter Text

1:04 p.m.
The Music Room
McCrimmon Estate

Rose found it difficult to open her eyes. A dusting of ice crystals clung to her lashes, and she blinked furiously to break them apart.

She clutched James' sonic screwdriver with equally frozen fingers. She still pointed it at the Doctor, who still remained rigid in his chair with his hands steepled around her face. Behind his eyelids, his eyes raced back and forth in the recollection of the memory she’d unlocked.

“James,” she whispered. He’d been intentionally vague about what would happen to him when the Doctor relived the memory, but she knew he would likely experience it exactly as the Doctor was right now. Her heart ached for him, and she felt a fleeting moment’s resentment that she was here with the Doctor and not there with him.

Rose bent her arms; his coat crisped around her. Her skin felt tight and prickly, and she gave a cursory thought to frostbite.

She didn’t dare move, though. Not until the Doctor woke. She didn’t know what he saw behind his eyes, only that his face tensed and slackened, and she knew, whatever it was, he was fighting.

“Come on, come on,” she muttered. “Come back to us, Doctor. Come back–”

Suddenly, his eyes snapped open, and she flinched backward.

“Rose–” he croaked.

“I’m here,” she answered.

He stood and backed away. “What did you see?”

“I-I left you at the cliffside, remember?”

He raked his hands through his hair and shook out the frost. He scrubbed frozen tears from his eyes.

“Did you see it?” Rose asked. “Did you see what you shielded?”

He stared at her, blankly. “What?”

“The memory, Doctor. Did you see it?”

He walked partway around the table toward her. “Hang on…” he said. “I was supposed to be gathering information through your memories.”

“And you… did,” Rose said.

“But I relived that memory,” the Doctor said. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Rose held James’ sonic screwdriver balanced across her palm. “Saw a chance and I took it.”

The Doctor laughed. “And what of dear James?”

“His idea,” Rose said.

“Risky.”

“You know him,” Rose said tightly.

“And you know me,” the Doctor said.

“That’s right.”

The Doctor dropped into the chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. His damp hair draped into his eyes.

Rose scraped her chair up beside him. “What was it, Doctor? What happened? What did you see?”

“Nothing,” he said, too quickly. He swung up from his chair and strode for the door.

“Wait, now!” Rose got in front of him, blocking his way. “It wasn’t just nothing. Can’t have been.”

“Of course it wasn’t nothing,” the Doctor snapped. “I’m lying. I often lie, or haven’t you been paying attention?”

Rose looked hurt, despite her best effort to conceal it. She said, “Doctor, something went wrong with your last regeneration. Something… happened. It’s twisting you into someone you’re not. But we can help. We think the key’s in that memory.”

 "We?" The Doctor bent his face to hers so close their noses almost touched. “You know nothing,” he snarled, his tone low and sharp and venomous. “I am what I always have been. I am the Doctor. A Time Lord. The last there will ever be.”

“I heard in your thoughts,” Rose said, keeping an even tone. “You said you didn’t want to go. You held on too long. Why?”

The Doctor swallowed. “Look at you,” he said. “Nary a tear. And you say I’m twisted?” He took her arms in his hands and delicately moved her aside. Stepping past her, he said, “Come along, McCrimmon. We’ve had enough nostalgia for one day.”

1:11 p.m.
Bellweather Institute
London

River entered the last sequence of the Bellweather security protocol Pete had given her into the last satellite feed. One by one, the monitors blipped off, leaving her staring into her reflection on the matte black of an LED screen. Not her best image, she decided. Considering that she’d just caused a catastrophic reversal of the planet’s weather systems, she figured the grim picture was at least fitting.

Almost instantly, River felt the drop in temperature. A fierce, constant wind rocked the building around her, even through steel and concrete, and she wondered, dimly, how old this building was. Would structures built in a world without extreme weather be designed to withstand such terrible storms?

Probably, she decided, since James McCrimmon was the architect in question.

Doctor. Inventor. Architect. She smiled at the thought. My, how you’ve grown since we first met that day in the library.

Another gale shook the building. Sturdy as it might be, she didn’t want to risk being on the fortieth floor of a skyscraper in the event of a tornado, or whatever might be worse... River keyed the return coordinates into her trasmat device and flashed away.

1:12 p.m.
Formal Dining Room
McCrimmon Estate

“He doesn’t look good,” Rory announced. Per James’ command, they’d up-righted the formal dining table to barricade the windows. They’d half-carried, half-dragged him from the hangar while he lapsed in and out of reality, and now they stood over his unconscious body, waiting.

Amy rubbed her hands together. “Gettin’ colder,” she said.

“Come here,” Rory said, putting an arm around her. “Better?”

“Yeh. Much. Teeth’re chattering.” Amy said.

“You know what I want?” Rory asked.

“What?”

“More than anything?”

“What?”

“Promise not to laugh?”

“No.”

“Then. Nevermind,” Rory said.

“Oh, blimey,” James intoned, struggling to sit up. “Amy, Rory wants to go home.”

Amy seemed torn between responding to James’ return to consciousness and the odd expression on Rory’s face.

Rory won. Amy said, “You wanna go home?”

“Yes.”

“More ’an anything?”

He arched his brows.

She said, “Does that mean the honeymoon’s over?”

“Please God yes,” Rory said.

The sound of James pulling himself painfully upright brought them both back to the moment. They crouched beside him, brimming with concern, in which he seemed to bask before exhaustion caught up to him.

“I need to find Rose,” he told them. “If I’m awake, then the Doctor is, too, and if he’s seen what I’ve just seen–”

“–He might not be too pleased,” the Doctor said. He glared at them through a gloom that cut his face into slices of light and shadow. “Amy. Rory. Get your things, we’re leaving.”

“Things? We have no things,” Rory pointed out.

“It’s an expression,” the Doctor said.

“We can’t just leave,” Amy said. “Apart from being frozen solid in storm crystals, the TARDIS is offline, remember?”

“That’s right. Frozen,” Rory said. “And James says the crystals are some kind of synaptic relay from the storm. Myelination, like it’s thinking. Doctor. The storm is thinking.”

 “Yes I know it is,” the Doctor said. He stepped into the room and laced his fingers. “Frozen or not, we can wait out the rest of this nightmare inside the TARDIS. Once she’s powered up, we’ll zip off again, all of time and space, and we’ll never, ever return.”

Amy stepped in front of the Doctor and tried in vain to meet his eyes. But he kept dodging, kept looking over her left shoulder, at James and the barricaded window.

Slowly, she said, “What did you see?”

The Doctor’s expression softened in a barely perceptible way that Amy had witnessed before. There was pain in it, deep and pervasive, the kind of ache that went all the way down to the root of his soul.

In his way, he was begging her to drop it, to let him be. For now.

Then Rose appeared in the shadow behind him. Amy tensed, but Rose skirted the Doctor, heading straight into James’ arms.

“What’s happened to you?” she fussed, brushing a careful hand over the cuts and bruises on his face and jaw. “Are you all right?”

“Oh yeah," James said, dismissive. "’m fine. You?”

Tears welled in her eyes. “Yeah,” she said. She stood and turned back to the Doctor and Amy and Rory. “He has to rest," she whispered. "He does too much and he’ll just keep pushing and pushing until he collapses unless I make him stop, because he doesn’t know… He never knows when to stop. So whatever else happens tonight, he’s out of this. Are we clear?”

“Putting him down for a nap?” the Doctor quipped.

“Doctor!” Amy growled.

“Are we clear?” Rose said again. She glowered at the Doctor who glowered right back.

Rory stepped in. “We’re clear,” he said. “Go on.”

Rose and James made slow progress toward the hallway, talking in soft tones to one another as they went.

The Doctor said, “Come along, Ponds. TARDIS. Sooner, better, blah, blah, blah.”

But Amy sat down in one of the damask chairs, crossed her legs, and folded her arms. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Not until you explain–”

At that moment, River zapped into the room. “Shelter,” she ordered as she dropped to one knee and scanned the room with her transmat device. “Now!”

“Ha-ha, River,” the Doctor said, grinning. “Now what have you done?”

Chapter Text

1:14 p.m.
Formal Dining Room
McCrimmon Estate

Rose and James hadn’t got far when River popped into existence, ordering everyone to take cover.

Rose darted back into the room. “No, it’s all right,” she told them. “We’re sheltered here. No place more protected than this.”

“Except for the TARDIS,” James said. “Though you were in the TARDIS. Why aren’t you in the TARDIS?”

“You don’t understand,” River said. “All of the people… all of London. They’re gone. They’ve vanished.”

“Yeah, the Locastalan,” Amy said, like this was old news. “They blipped everyone right off the planet.”

“Everyone?” River asked.

“Planet earth, population six,” Rory said.

River turned to the Doctor. “Your work?”

He cleared his throat. “Hers.” He nodded to Rose. “Actually.”

River arched her brows. “Well, then. Nicely done,” she said. “But there’s something else, I’m afraid. Before he vanished, your Dad told me to stop that storm. He gave me the security protocols for the satellite grid, so I shut them down.”

James sucked air over bare teeth. “You shut down the Bellweather satellites?”

“Yes,” River said. “All of them.”

“But–you’re talking global atmospheric reversal,” James said. He bordered on hysteria now, his eyes wide, his voice rising. “Storms unlike any we’ve ever seen. Without cycling the grid down, the weather’ll spin out of control. It’ll rip everything apart.”

“The humans are okay, though,” Amy reasoned. “The Locastalan saved them.”

“Yes, but this is the earth. We’ll have frozen wastelands alongside scorching deserts, the seas will boil, the skies will burn, cyclones will raze the cities to dust. They’ll have nothing to come home to.” James said. “It’s their home! Our home.” He raked his hands through his hair. “You — you’ve destroyed our home.”

“Taking the storm with it,” River added, coolly.

“Along with everything else,” James said through clenched teeth. “No. It’s not over. I can stop it. The lab’s a redundancy hub. There’s an override. If we’re quick. Rose–”

She nodded. “The tunnels?” she asked.

He breathed out a sigh. “Looks like.” He glared at the Doctor and River Song. “This isn’t finished,” he told them. “Not yet.”

1:18 p.m.

“How long do we have before the Bellweather system cycles down?” the Doctor asked. He took in the length of the dining room in his long strides. Rory and Amy took up sentry posts, each in the damask chairs positioned on either side of the window. River remained at the arched doorway, her arms crossed, her eyes wary.

“An hour,” River told him. “Less than an hour.”

“Time enough to formulate a plan,” Amy intoned. “And to tell us what happened. James said Rose reached that hidden memory. I’m thinking she wasn’t able to sever the link between you and that storm, or you wouldn’t be so keen about getting all of us out of here. So let’s have it. What did you see?”

The Doctor wrung his hands. He seemed, in Amy’s eyes, to curl in on himself, to wither, a bit like one of those ferns you find in the dark spots of the forest, the ones that turn inward at the slightest touch. She felt a sudden heartsick pang for him, because she knew that feeling: The feeling of having lost something so sweet and so important that you’d rather turn away from everything than look at anything ever again.

“She split the outer skin,” the Doctor said at last. “Foolish, mad girl. All she did was break the connection between me and...” He seemed to struggle to put the words in order. “The other. The Meta-Crisis. James.”

“That wasn’t part of the plan,” Amy said.

“No it wasn’t,” he continued. “She had other plans. She always did. Send her home, she returns. Tell her to stay put, off she goes. Tell her something’s impossible, she’d… make it possible. Every single time. So human, so very… human.”

“You said ‘split the outer skin,’” Rory said. “What does that mean?”

The Doctor flung himself down into the corner of a leather divan and rested his elbows on his knees. “She found the memory, she opened it. Memory piñata.”

“And now you know what was hidden,” River said. She perched on the arm of the divan opposite him.

“Now I know what was hidden,” he said. Again, he curled inward, and for a long moment it seemed he would say nothing else. But then he spoke, and his voice altered, became a quiet, fractured thing. “You see, I let my guard down, just for a moment, a single, tiny moment, I let her in, and lost everything.”

“But it’s good, right?” Rory asked. “She’s helped you, she’s helped James. You can remember what happened now without going all — bluh.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes to meet Rory’s and glared, unamused.

River said, “He doesn’t mean the memory. Do you?”

“No. And yes,” the Doctor said. “Part of the pattern, see? I let her in. Rose. We went to the Medusa Cascade, the Fifteenth Broken Moon. We’d just been through, well–you know what it’s like, traveling with me, we’re always almost fried by Ood or almost lost in an abyss or almost chopped to confetti. But this time, I really thought we’d lost each other. So I took her to the Medusa Cascade and we spent one night there. One night.”

Silence spun out as they considered this. Finally, Amy said, “That’s the memory you hid? Your one night with her?”

And Rory said, “You mean–in all that time you traveled with Rose, the woman you loved, you only once–”

“–Moving on,” the Doctor snapped. “You see, I did more than hide a memory. Much, much more. Much worse. And that’s the action that’s led us here. You see, the storm wants something. It’s searched for it, for, well, ages, and now it’s here. We’ve led a trail of breadcrumbs. We let the monsters in.”

Amy watched him closely. She watched him try to seem calm, but the appearance was wrecked by the way he knotted and unknotted his fingers. She said, “What did you do?”

“I stopped it,” he said. A bitter smile twisted his lips.

“Stopped what?” River said impatiently.

“Tiny cells, dividing. I stopped it, then I took her memory of that night, and then I went to the ISC Sciences Division to perform a delicate and dangerous procedure to hide mine.” The Doctor swallowed. “Then we went about our merry way, until Canary Wharf, until the Daleks parted us–”

“–Stop,” Amy said, getting up from her chair. “Full. Stop. You’re saying… I can’t believe what you’re saying, yet you’re saying it. You say you stopped… but that’s impossible.”

He barked a short laugh.

Amy’s disbelief soured in her expression. “Could you do that?” she asked. “Would you?”

He lifted his eyes to meet hers. “Yes.”

“But it was your child,” Amy said. “Yours and hers. Wouldn’t that make you happy?”

“Oh, delirious,” the Doctor said. “Except for two things. First, humans and Time Lords — completely incompatible. Second, two things that never mix well — time travel and children.” And then he sat up, his eyes wide at the sudden realization. “That’s what I was going to say, at Sacre Coeur, when I was worried about the pair of you.”

“Hang on,” Rory said. “You’re saying Time Lords and humans can’t… mix.”

“No, no, we’re not like lions and tigers,” the Doctor said, as if it should be perfectly obvious. “Time Lords are special. We’re different. We’re made of timey-wimey, spacey-wacey star stuff. A Time Lord child would burn her up.”

“Rose is pregnant now,” River said.

“Yes, she is,” the Doctor said. Again, the bitter smile. “And it’s not his child. It’s mine.”

“Wh—? But — How can you know?” Rory asked. “It could be his. They’ve been here nine years.”

“A long time to go childless, wouldn’t you agree?” the Doctor said. “Something triggered it. All this time, it’s lay dormant, but something must have triggered it, and now she’s six months gone–”

“–She said three months,” Amy said.

“Thereabouts,” River added.

Rory leapt to his feet. “But James–”

“–He knows,” The Doctor laughed. “Does now for certain, but instinctively, subconsciously, he’s known all along. The temporal shield he’s built around this place, it’s protecting her. Or it was, until he diverted its power to restore the TARDIS, and then, hello, storm…”

“Oh, no,” Amy whispered.

“Oh, yes,” the Doctor answered. “You see, Amelia Pond. The storm’s not after me, not like we thought. Not like we all thought. It’s after her.”

“What do we do?” Rory asked. “How do we stop it?”

The Doctor folded his hands together. When he spoke, his words fell careful and measured, each syllable like a stab of ice. “A child like that, imagine it. A hybrid Time Lord and human. Not just any human, mind you, but Rose Tyler, a woman who gazed into the heart of the TARDIS and brought it into herself.” He drew a ragged breath. “Can’t happen. Can’t exist. Should never. How do we stop it, indeed?”

Amy recoiled. “What are you saying?”

“It wants the child,” the Doctor said.

“You can’t just–” Her mind reeled. “You can’t even think. It’s their baby. It’s their everything!”

The Doctor hauled himself from the divan. “A child like that would be brilliant. More than brilliant. It would be magnificent. And terrible. And the storm will win. It wants with such ferocity, such fierce and angry desire, and it will never stop, will never tire, it is relentless–”

“Listen to yourself, please,” River begged.

“They would have to run to protect it!” the Doctor cried. “They’d have to run forever–”

Rory answered, “Then let them!”

“They’re human!” the Doctor thundered, so loud it stunned them all to silence. In the quiet that followed, Amy and Rory and River seemed to comprehend. “Both of them, human,” the Doctor went on. “No magic box, no special tricks, and when they die, they’re dead. What chance do you think they have?”

Amy smoothed tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. “The storm won’t win,” she said. “It can’t. Because you’re here to stop it.”

The Doctor about-faced and strode away.

Rory followed for a few feet, then shouted after him: “I think you’re wrong, Doctor. I don’t think it’s yours, and I think you’re wrong!”

“Doctor,” River called after him. “What will you do?”

But he kept walking down the corridor until the shadows enveloped him.

Chapter Text

1:32 p.m.
The Tunnels
McCrimmon Estate

The moment he closed the trap-hatch above them, James pulled Rose into a hug, crushing her body to his. On the landing of the service tunnel, the fission cells tinked to life, illuminating the stairway and the path below with gelid blue light. He buried his face in her hair, felt his heart drumming against hers.

She rubbed his back and said, “Hey, now. I’ve got you—”

But he broke away just as quickly and, taking her hand, he led her down into the half-light of the tunnel.

They fell into a brisk pace, and after a few silent strides, she said, “So it was bad, yeah?”

“I don’t want to tell you,” James answered.

“It’s fine,” she said. “That’s… fine.” A pause. “Only—”

She caught a glimpse of his expression as they passed beneath a light cell, and the words she intended died on her tongue. Instead, she muttered, “You always tell me.”

“Not always,” he said, his voice almost inaudible.

“Oof, you can’t say something like that and not tell,” Rose said.

“We’re coming to the junction; the lighting won’t be so good,” James told her. “Soon as we get clear of this mess, we’ll finish some of these restoration projects, though I rather fancy all this skulking underground. Old times,” he said, with an attempt of a smile. “But the gallery, for one thing. I’ve this idea for an expansion of the main gardens to include some replicas of the lost works of Lady Trevallion of Kataa Flo Ko—”

Rose let him talk. She'd learned to read him well, all these years together. She knew when he needed to talk to sort out his mind, and so she listened and waited and held his hand while they walked.

The junction loomed up, a smudge of dark at the end of the already bleak corridor.

“Now be careful, Rose,” James told her, his voice dropping to a cautious half-whisper. “Earlier the crystals seeped in, and Rory and I caught a nasty flash of Dalek memory.”

“Yours or his?”

“His, I believe.”

“So they’ve met Daleks, too,” Rose said. She shuddered. “Everything returns. Daleks. Cybermen—”

“—The Doctor.”

“Yes. The Doctor always returns,” she said. Rose passed his sonic screwdriver to him. He took it with a twist of irony on his lips.

They arrived at the end of the service tunnel and stopped within the chilly glow of the fission cells. The rough-hewn catacomb that branched off to the left and right smelled of old earth and long damp.

“While I know neither of us fancy leaving Option A, the somewhat-well-lit service corridor for Option B, the poorly-lit, slightly slippery, terribly dank catacomb that leads to the lab, I think we can both agree it’s preferable to Option C,” James said.

“And what’s that, again?”

He nodded. “Blasted to atoms by massive storms, then frozen to death, and flash-fried by lightning.”

“Hm. Tough choice,” Rose said, clasping his hand once more. “Let’s go with Option B.”

James pried up a faux stone tile in the service corridor, buzzed the switch beneath it, and a scanty flicker of secondary lighting scattered the visible depth of the catacomb.

But as they stepped from the smooth stone to the unfinished cave floor, the hallway pitched like a malfunctioning fair ride, flinging them to opposite sides of the path. Rose shrieked as the ground lurched up before her, but her cries drowned in the crushing groan of rock shearing from rock as a chasm ripped like a gaping wound across the tunnel floor.

1:34 p.m.
Formal Dining Room
McCrimmon Estate

Rory whirled on them. “We’ve got to stop him,” he said.

“Right,” River said. “Absolutely.”

He took a few steps, then paused when he realized the others didn’t intend to follow.

“H-he’s mad,” Rory shouted at them. “You heard him. He wants to – he’s thinking – What’s he thinking?”

Amy said, “He chose to forget. We never considered he might choose to forget.”

“But now he’s remembered,” Rory said. “Now he’s—”

“He’s not,” Amy said. "He wouldn’t hurt a child, Rory. The one thing he’d never do is hurt a child. He can’t even bear to see one cry.”

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Rory said. “He can’t bear to see this child hurt or taken or twisted. I mean, can you imagine?”

"No. He's just hurt and confused, and he'll sort it out. He always does," Amy said.

"What if this time he can't?" Rory said. And then, from the corner of his eye, he caught a shatter of movement, like a ripple in the damask curtains. A tremor shook the floor, followed by a droning buzz, and a rumble, not so distant, as the lights winked off and on.

“Storm’s back already?” Rory said. “River, that’s way less than an hour.”

“Rory,” Amy said, her voice strangled. “Oh God, Rory. Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t even blink.”

He felt needles and pins prickling in his toes and the most desperate urge to close his eyes and shrink into the shadows. He swallowed hard. “What is it?” he whispered.

The humming noise again, accompanied by the dimming of the lights, and this time, they returned at half their brightness. And something shimmered in the periphery, something old, something very, very old and made of stone.

“Amy?” he said, his voice trembling.

“I’m here. We’re here,” she said. Amy and River linked hands and moved carefully toward him. “Can we teleport?”

“The device only carries two,” River said. “Besides, where would we go?”

“But what is it?” Rory said.

“It’ll be all right,” River soothed. “Just… whatever you do, do not close your eyes. Not even for a second."

Amy slipped her hand into his as she and River closed the circle with each of them facing out into the fading light.

A buzzing filled the room. The light spat and hissed like the fuse on a stick of damp dynamite. Then he saw it – an angel, glorious and horrid, its mouth full of thorn-sharp teeth, its arms outstretched and less than two meters away.

1:42 p.m.
The Tunnels

“Rose!”

James saw her across the chasm, a patch of pale color in the darkness. She wasn’t moving. He crawled forward, panic swelling in his heart, and his hands gripped something cold and metallic ringing the rim of the abyss. He got to his feet and called for her again.

Nothing.

He heard the rasp of his breath, but no sounds echoed across the void. A breath of smoke and rust swept up from the darkness, at once dizzying and familiar. Then he glanced down at his foot perched on the metal rim. Even in the dimness, he could see the silver gleam gouged at intervals with jagged black carvings.

“No no no no,” he muttered, the words nearly choking him. “Not here.”

James crouched on the rim and dangled his legs over the side. The same urge plagued him now as it had then, all those years before, the same terrible excitement resonating in the back of his brain. He felt it like a hook in his guts, a deep, twisting fear: Go on, go over, go down.

James closed his eyes. His fingers clutched the lip of the metal rim. He would fall – could feel himself falling, down and forever, into the Pit of Hell.

Chapter Text

Somewhere In Between

Darkness swallowed light, and the Doctor trudged on... Until his footsteps stopped sounding like boots on stone and started sounding like boots on metal.

He raised his head. No longer was he in the marble corridor of the McCrimmon Estate. Instead, he found himself on the bridge of the TARDIS. Not his TARDIS, but the previous, the one destroyed in his last regeneration. The systems reposed in offline status, the lights dimmed to a softly pulsating green.

He went to the console and smoothed his hands over the levers and dials. She was cold, long cold, and empty.

The Doctor spun the NACGS crystal and dropped the handbrake. The TARDIS shuddered, lights fluttering like moth wings beating against the outside of a lamp’s glass, but nothing happened. He flipped a series of switches, plunged levers, pumped a crank, tried again.

Still, nothing.

He knelt on the metal gangway and pried open a panel to peer down into the energy matrix. He could make out the hexagonal grid of the energy matrices, but the nested cells were dull silver. Powerless.

He rested his hands on the console and laughed, darkly. “So this is it, then?” he called into the echoing chamber. “Madman in a blue box, destination nowhere?”

Silence coalesced around him like tendrils of cooling mist. It weighed on him until his knees buckled, and he dropped to the floor. He twisted around to settle his back against the control deck and buried his face in his hands.

And there it was, beside him, within him, his most constant companion: Despair. A thousand years of it, finally catching up.

“No,” he moaned. He struggled back up. He stumbled forward to the door and flung it open, only to reel backward in half-bemused shock, because on the other side was a plain brick wall.

“Of course,” the Doctor said. “Trapped. Trapped. Trapped in the TARDIS, without power. But why?”

He dashed around the console to the monitor screen. It stared back at him, a blank, sightless eye, and in it he caught his reflection. Strong chin, deep-set eyes, hair of an idiot. He laughed at that last bit, a mad-man’s titter.

“This cannot be me,” the Doctor muttered. He licked his lips, and the reflection copied him. He raked his hands through his hair, sweeping it from his forehead. The reflection followed suit. He brought his face close to the screen, so close that a blur of moisture formed beneath his nose. “I wouldn’t do what I am thinking. Not in a million, billion years. Not me.”

His reflection winked.

“No,” the Doctor said, slowly backing away. “No, it can’t be.”

The reflection grinned. It hooked thumbs in suspenders, giving them a plucky snap, which the Doctor felt tingling in his own skin. His hearts quickened with a mixture of excitement and dread.

“All right, so it’s me,” he said. “But why? Why would I wind up here, in the TARDIS, without power, all alone, except for me?” He fell back into the captain’s chair and cupped his chin in his hand. “Except for me?” he pondered aloud. “Oh…” He rolled his eyes to look up at what he imagined to be beyond the ceiling.

“That’s what you’re doing,” he said. “You — the storm — you’re using our thoughts, our fears against us. Well, that’s… it’s genius. And quite effective, I’ll give you that. Cheers to you. But–” He sucked air over his teeth. “There’s one thing you’ve neglected to take into consideration…”

He snatched the mallet from beneath the console. He flashed a wide smile at the monitor screen. “I’m the Doctor,” he said.

He aimed the first blow at the center of the reflection’s forehead, and once he’d demolished the screen completely, he continued around the console, gleefully bashing in cranks and levers and gauges and dials. With every swipe, he sent fragments of glass and bits of gears skittering around him.

“This. Is. Not. Real!” he screamed, punctuating each word with the pounding of the mallet. “You. Are. Not. Real! You’re a fiction. A fake. A fraud. A phony. You are nothing!”

On the last word, the mallet plunged through the control deck and the whole structure fractured apart, tumbling down in a glittering cascade of crystals.

The Doctor stood blinking in the sudden stinging brightness. He let the mallet fall forgotten to the ground as he stared up into the furious beauty of the storm.

Thunderheads swept across the entire northeastern sky, towering to impossible heights above him. In the storm’s wake to the west, where the sun shed weakening rays across the fields, the Doctor saw stars against silken black. Distant stars, from distant worlds beyond the rift the storm had made.

“Look at you,” he whispered, breathless, reverent. “Look at how you’ve grown.”

1:44 p.m.
The Tunnels

A thought rose up, a memory, and James latched onto it like a tether. He hadn’t been lost in the Pit. Something had brought him back.

Not something. Someone.

He had believed in her. That belief sustained him. If he thought about it, which he was really great at doing, his belief in her had carried him through many, many trials before and after the Pit, and if that was so, then it could sustain him here.

James closed his eyes once more and brought Rose into focus — the warmth of her hand in his, the tickle of her hair on his nose as they slept, her off-key singing when she put on her make up in the morning, the coconut scent of her fruity shampoo that drove him mad. And her smile, that radiant, strong, unfettered smile that could win over entire galaxies, and had.

He saw her then in his mind as he had seen her at Laguna Paulini, the volcanic sunrise behind her, haloing her face and setting her skin alight.

“Oooh,” James said, exhaling the breath he’d been holding. “And here’s where it gets tricky.” He tightened his grip on the metal ledge and began, slowly, to talk his way through his thoughts. “Rose,” he said. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but there’s something you need to know. Something I did to you, when I was the Doctor. Something… unfathomable. Unforgivable. I only hope…” He bowed his head. “Anyway, here goes…”

He opened his hands and let the story unfold into the stillness around him.

1:46 p.m.
Formal Dining Room
McCrimmon Estate

“What do they want?” Rory shouted.

“Besides killing us, you mean?” River shouted back.

The lights shuddered, and the Angel advanced, its form strobing nearer with each flash.

“No, it wants something. They always want something, what is it?” Rory said.

“Time,” Amy blurted. “The Doctor said they feed on time. Our time. They zap us away and eat up all the time between now and whenever it is they send us.”

This time the light winked out completely for one dizzying handful of seconds, and when it returned, the Angel’s hand was inches from Amy’s forearm. She screamed and they turned, only to discover another angel in the archway behind them.

“We’re trapped,” River said.

“We could run,” Amy said. “All of us, run–”

“Hallway’s too dark,” River said, evenly. She began to tap on her wrist-com. “We’d never make it.”

“That’s all they do?” Rory asked. Thunder rippled in the air outside. The lights crackled and buzzed. The Angel’s sneer widened.

“It’s enough,” River said. She finished typing and unstrapped her transmat device.

“River? What’re you doing?” Amy said.

“No,” Rory said. “If all they do is displace us in time, then when all this is over…” he pulled the sonic screwdriver from his belt and grinned. “Then you can come and find me!”

He sent a blast from the screwdriver into River’s transmat, then shoved her into Amy. He pressed the send button on the device and delighted in their twin looks of shock as they vanished in a shimmer of blue.

Rory tossed and caught the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, then blew across the top. “Point and think,” he told the Angel. Then everything went black.

2 p.m.
The Tunnels

James sat in silence long after he’d stopped speaking. Then he saw a stir of movement and heard her voice across the deep. “James? Are you still there?”

He uttered a relieved laugh. “I thought–”

“No, I’m all right,” she said. “I’m here now. Where ever here is,” she said.

James got to his feet. He took out his sonic screwdriver and cast a blue glow over the area.

“There you are!” Rose exclaimed. “I can see you. Hello!”

“Hello! Oh, hello, Rose,” he called back. He walked the curved perimeter of the rim. “It’s mad. Mad mad mad. But I’ve been here before. Well–you, too, only not so close. Rose, it’s the Pit.” He knelt and traced a finger along the rough markings. “Real. Real as real. Real as anything. Only, it can’t be.”

“Well, it’s not under our house,” Rose said. “Is it?”

“No, it’s not,” he said. “But at the same time, it is. Oh–” He shot back upright and stared into the bleak black of the cave ceiling. “Oh. You brilliant, brilliant thing. You are good; very, very good.”

“What is it?” Rose said. “What are you on about?”

“The Pit!” James said. “The storm’s using our memories against us. Trying to, at least. It’s not adept at it, but it’s learning — a kid with a nasty bag of tricks. It’s grasping at memories, and right now we’re all scared, and what memories are strongest when we’re scared?”

“Our fears,” Rose said.

“Our fears,” James said, smiling. “Bigger the fear, stronger the memory, and the storm takes hold, powerful enough now to manifest itself right here.”

“But–all the things you’ve seen, everything you’ve been through, this is your strongest fear? The Pit?”

“No,” he said. “Well. Partly. The Pit. The Fall. Temptation. All of it leading to losing you, Rose. Frightened me then; frightens me now.”

“James...”

“How much did you hear? From earlier? How much of it did you…?”

She was silent a long, painful moment. Then she said, “All of it.”

“And do you know — another cheery thought — I’m the man who built the machines now set to destroy the earth? Marvel at that irony.” His voice caught in his throat. “I was afraid,” he said, nodding. “I was afraid to tell you, because I thought — I think — it changes things. Between us. That fear, it’s what brought this place,” he said. “But then I remembered–”

And at that moment, the light went on in his head. “Then I remembered. But that’s it! Don’t you see? After Kroptor, even during everything with the Pit and the Ood, there were good memories, too. Really great ones,” he said, excitedly. “Remember?”

After a moment, Rose answered, “Yes, I remember. I remember hearing your voice over the com. Good ship TARDIS, you said. I was never so happy.”

“And when you walked in those doors,” James said. “Swear you’d have melted marble with that smile.”

Rose said, “If the storm’s using bad memories against us–”

“–Then we can use the good ones against it,” James said.

“You have a plan!” Rose shouted.

“I have a plan,” he shouted back. “Rose. Can you get back to the house?”

“Yes!” He heard the excitement in her voice and it cheered him.

“Good! Get to the vid-gallery. Gather the memory chips, all of them, and meet me back in the tower room. If I’m right, and I usually am, once we’ve gone this place will revert back to being an ordinary old catacomb.”

“What about you?”

“I’ve got to override the Bellweather shutdown,” he said. “That storm’s gonna use the satellite feed to spread itself across the planet. When it does, we’ll be ready because we’re sending it a message it won’t soon forget.”

Chapter Text

Somewhere very dark...

The sonic screwdriver whirred a steady, reassuring green pulse into solid dark. Rory held it at arm’s length like a candle, but even so, he could still only see his outstretched arm, his hand, and about a foot of the air around him.

He hadn’t felt as though he’d moved. He expected he would feel… something. A whoosh, perhaps, followed by wincing brightness. Or vertigo. He had to admit that after all the excitement, anticipation, and cold, hard dread, he felt disappointed that he hadn’t experienced even the slightest hint of dizziness.

A few steps later revealed why as he barked his shin rather painfully on something hard and upholstered. Swearing, he lowered the sonic screwdriver and discovered a chair. To be precise, one of the damask chairs that matched the highly-polished dining table he and Amy and James had used to barricade the windows.

Maybe… he thought. Maybe the Weeping Angels affected everything within a certain radius with their touch? Maybe they zapped him and the chair to a separate and very dark place in time?

Or maybe… they hadn’t affected him at all.

Rory raised his arm high over his head to scatter the pale light as far as he could. There he stood, in the center of the same room — no Angels, no Amy, no River.

For a moment, a coil of fear twisted within him. Had he fouled up the sonicking and sent them and the Angels to the TARDIS?

But no. That didn’t feel right, either. He’d remembered the psychic impulse like a photo-flash in his mind. He pictured Amy and River side-by-side at the TARDIS console, and when they’d disappeared, he felt full certain he’d face the Weeping Angels alone.

Yet they had vanished, too.

Along with every remaining bit of light, it seemed. Rory wondered vaguely about how long the sonic screwdriver would hold out, and did it run on batteries, or power cells, or what? He stared at it until an afterimage of light stained his retinas, and blinking, he lowered it, deciding he’d better find another source of illumination.

As he moved from the barricaded dining room into what he thought was the main hall, he heard a distant scuffling, a hollow thunk, and then the very definite cadence of slowly approaching footsteps.

He released the switch on the screwdriver and let the dark settle around him. He strained for a long while, trying to detect the direction of the footsteps, but with the constant rumble of thunder, he could do nothing but hold his breath and wait.

2:12 p.m.
The Vidscreen Gallery
McCrimmon Estate

Rose dragged a ladder in from the library to the vid-gallery to reach the topmost row of panels. Though the storm grumbled and moaned outside, it was quick work, which made her feel right and useful.

Even as she unclasped each chip and held it tight in her palm, Rose whispered the names of the places recorded in its memory: Bali, Barcelona, Ayer’s Rock, Sacre Coeur, the Moon, San Francisco, Vancouver. Tiny places, compared to things like the Medusa Cascade or Coerhaan or the outer rim of the Andromeda Galaxy, but still… good places, all the same.

After she slipped carefully from the ladder, Rose went back out into the hall, planning to return through the tunnels to meet James in the lab, just as they had discussed.

Only something was wrong — very wrong — at the end of the corridor that led back into the main part of the house.

Namely, the part of the house where the Doctor and his companions had been when she and James left. Now it was dark. Completely, totally dark, as if something had drained all color and light from its existence.

Stranger than that, though, was the way it ended in a very definite line right across the floor, up the walls, even the ceiling, as if the entire hall had been dipped in ink.

Rose stared, transfixed. To herself she said, “Best stick with the plan and get back to the lab. Only…”

Only, Rose wasn’t the stick-to-the-plan type. Not when someone might be in danger. Not when that someone was in her home.

Neither was she a fool, though. Rose returned to the library and rummaged about in the cupboard where she found an emergency torch. Then, though her heart pounded and her skin broke out in chills, Rose stepped from the lighted places and into the unknown dark.

~~~

Then again, Rose thought, once she’d traveled an unknowable distance into the murky black that had been her main hall, maybe she was a fool after all. The torch beam sliced into the dark no more than a few feet ahead and then fell off, as if… well, as if something absorbed it.

And not only was it dark, as if that wasn’t enough, but sounds seemed muffled as well. Her footsteps, which should have rung clear on the flagstones, sounded as though her feet had been wrapped in wool. Even the thunder seemed less thunderous somehow.

Rose considered calling out but decided against it. Classic horror movie mistake, best avoided. Still, she inched along, scarcely lifting her feet, feeling the chill of the air creep into her skin.

Then, all at once, a ghostly image swam up at her, a face bathed in blue light. Rose shrieked and stumbled back, managing with the skin of her nails to hang on to the torch.

The image fell back, too, and when Rose stepped forward again, the beam swept across the space and Rose shuddered with an involuntary laugh. It was her reflection in the mirror.

She tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. Trembling, she said, “Just little old me. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Then she heard, “Hello? Can you hear me?”

Rose spun to shine the light into the shadows behind her. She’d heard it, clear as crystal, but saw nothing.

“Yes. Yes, I can hear you,” she said. “I-it’s Rory, right?”

A stifled sound responded, part-laugh, part-cry, and then, “Yes. It’s me. Where are you?”

Rose took a faltering step in the direction of the sound. “I’m… in the formal dining room, where we saw you last. Where are you?”

He cleared his throat. “I thought… At first I thought the Angels took me. Then I banged my leg on the chair, so I must be here, somewhere, but… it’s so bloody dark.”

“Rory,” Rose said, delicately. “Where are the others?”

“Amy and River. They’re safe,” he said. “I zapped them to the TARDIS. With this.”

She heard the distinctive buzz of the sonic screwdriver. She turned a quick circle on her heel, expecting to see a blink of its telltale green light, but there was nothing. Frustrated, she scrubbed her eyes.

“I can hear you, but I can’t see you,” she shouted. “Can you remember what happened before… what was it you said, the Angels?”

“Weeping Angels, yeah,” Rory said.

Rose’s skin crawled. James had told her about them, how cunning they were, how clever. In all his travels, the Weeping Angels were creatures of which the Doctor had been truly afraid.

“Afraid,” Rose whispered. “What about the Doctor?”

“Eh?”

“What happened to the Doctor?”

“He left. Earlier. Before the Angels.”

“So he’s not on the TARDIS with the others?”

“No. Well. Maybe?” Rory paused. “I dunno.”

“Doesn’t matter. Right now, I need you to tell me what happened when the Angels appeared,” Rose said.

She heard him exhale, a long, tired breath. He was close, so close she could almost feel him, but where was he?

He said, “We were talking about you. With the… baby.”

Rose tensed. She tightened her grip on the torch. She couldn't think about the Doctor and... any of it. Not yet. Not with the storm and James and everyone scattered and scared. Not yet...

Rory's voice cut across her rising panic. “The Doctor had just left,” he continued, “and we were talking about the possibility… anyway, I think he’s wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” Rose said, though she knew full well about what.

“That child is yours and James’. The Doctor’s got it wrong. He thinks it’s his,” Rory said. “He’s gone off to do — something, I don’t know what, but he’s emotional, and when he’s emotional… he makes mistakes.”

Rose and Rory were each still a long moment, each encapsulated in their own separate silences. At last, Rose said, “James told me about it. About the memory. It’s possible the Doctor is right.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Rory cut in.

“I know it doesn’t,” Rose said, losing the fight against her tears. “It hurts, knowing. God, it hurts. Because I didn’t think it possible he could do such a thing. To me. To anyone. I forget, so often, I forget he’s not like us. That he can’t be like us. I think he wants to, and that’s why, when he looks at me and James… How can he not — despise us — just a little bit?”

“But he doesn’t,” Rory said. “He loves you. Both of you. He loves you beyond reason and logic and life. And he’s afraid he’ll lose you. You and James and that baby. He’s going mad to keep it from happening.”

There it was again. Like with James and the Pit. Like Alicia and the Cyberman.

Fear.

Suddenly, Rose had an idea. “Rory. Had you ever encountered the Weeping Angels before?”

“No,” he said.

A dry laugh escaped Rose's chest, and she said, “Well, there goes that idea.”

Then Rory said, “Amy and River did, in the Byzantium. One of them nearly overtook Amy, scared the daylights out of her.”

“Wait." Rose wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand. "You’re saying they’d both met the Angels?”

“Yes,” Rory said. “Nightmares for ages.”

“But you never did.”

“Not until today.”

“And the Angels disappeared the moment Amy and River teleported?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So you weren’t afraid of them," Rose said. "Not like Amy was. She went away, so did the Angels.”

Rose could almost picture Rory scratching his head. “What?”

“It’s the storm,” Rose said. “It’s playing on our fears, makin’ ’em real.”

“Myelination,” Rory said.

“Whatever,” Rose answered. “Thing is, that’s what’s happening now.”

“I was afraid of losing Amy,” Rory said. “When she was safe, the Angels vanished… but then this happened.”

“Rory,” Rose said, a conspiratorial note in her voice. “You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?”

Silence. Then, “No. That’s not it.”

“Then what–?”

“I guess. I’m afraid of disappearing,” Rory said, his voice small and thin. “Of not mattering, of being… forgotten.”

In that moment, she could picture him, standing still and straight as a column near the archway of the dining room, his scruffy hair, his puppy-dog eyes, his long arms tense at his sides.

“Oh, Rory,” Rose said, relieved. “I just can’t see that happening.”

Chapter Text

750 light years away
Felsius Four

Pete Tyler pressed a grimy towel to his forehead and looked out across throngs of loud and confused people making their way into the Hexagonal Hangar 812. A bubble of desperation trickled into his stomach at seeing them — tens of thousands of them, with more pouring in from the over-bright fields outside the complex.

Though the Locastalan had prepared the planet for the possibility of this type of emergency, the seven billion humans on Felsius Four did not have the benefit of such a briefing. The initial screaming and terror had turned, over the course of the last hour, to stunned milling about as families began to seek their loved ones who had also been blipped 750 light years from their home planet.

Over the intercom system, a bland, pre-recorded human female announced, “Hexes 816 through 828 now open to receive visitors. Enjoy a warm meal and Locastalan hospitality. If you or someone you know is injured or in need of medical attention, please seek out one of our well-trained nymph-scouts. They are identified by amber insignia and double neural array.”

The announcement ended with a three-tone chime and began again in French.

“Have you any luck, Petetyler?” warbled Ancoria, one of Locastalan nymph-scouts who had taken up station at the hospital tent inside the hex. She climbed up the outer scaffold of the platform to hang beside him.

Pete adjusted the volume on the earpiece of his neural transmitter before he answered. “None,” he said. “There are just so many…”

Ancoria’s antennae drooped. “We know, consort of Jackietyler. We are trying to accommodate you all as best we can.”

“Oh, now,” Pete said, wringing his towel. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re doing wonderfully, and we’re all grateful. So grateful that you’ve saved us–”

“Rose McCrimmon did likewise for us,” Ancoria interrupted.

“Yes,” Pete said. “Yes, she did.”

“We shall find them, Petetyler. We shall find your queen and your larvae.”

“Hmm, yes,” Pete said, smiling in spite of his exhaustion and despair. “Have you heard anything about the status of the communication equipment?”

“Oh yes. The main hive has established basic communication capabilities with the human commanders of all twelve hundred bases,” Ancoria replied. “The humans are adapting quite well to the new environment.”

“That’s very, very good news,” Pete said. “I mean, we humans all knew that this might one day happen. I don’t think any of us thought it would happen as it did…”

“No, Petetyler. None foresaw this. But we are happy to share our blood with our humans. And we have already sent out mental images of your queen to all scouts–”

“Have you?”

“Oh yes,” Ancoria chirped. “We are even now searching every hospital ward–”

“Mr. Tyler!”

Pete’s head whipped around at the sound of his name. He scanned the crowd and saw someone leaping up and down, frantically waving his arms.

“Mr. Price!” Pete cried. “Ancoria, it’s Mr. Price!”

“You have found your larva?” Ancoria inquired primly.

“No, my friend,” Pete laughed. “Mr. Price is my friend, and he’s alive.”

Ancoria bent her antennae to touch Pete’s forehead. “Go then and be well, Petetyler. We will alert you should we have news.”

Pete slipped down the waxen frame of the scaffold and wove through the crowd that parted for him as best they could. Some of them were too dazed to say anything, while others moaned sullen complaints as he passed. Within half a dozen minutes, he finally stood face to face with Gerard Price. Both men stared at each other a moment before clapping one another in a relieved embrace.

“I was with the Bellweather folks,” Pete said. “They were all uninjured so I left them to find Jacks and the kids. Have you seen them?”

“No, I haven’t,” Gerard said. “I was with Jake, but…” The older man’s face fell.

“What? What’s happened?”

“The storm,” he said. “He touched the crystal and somehow it’s got inside him. I left him with the medics to come and find the Professor or you or James.”

“No, he and Rose stayed behind,” Pete said. “Commander Pheereneeke sent word that they remained on earth.”

“But the storm–”

“–I know,” Pete said. He frowned. “It’s worse. Just before we blipped here, I received a transmission from Captain Morales. The airship went down, and they’re…”

“They could be anywhere. This planet’s massive.”

“And there’s seven billion displaced people roaming about. I’ve only been searching for an hour,” Pete said.

“Place I’ve just come through was full of Americans and Canadians. You think they blipped in by region or was it random?”

“I dunno,” Pete said. “James worked out the logistics, all I did was provide capital.”

A shrill squeal came over Pete’s earpiece. Wincing, he sent the thought relay to open the neural channel. “Have you found them?” Pete said aloud.

“No, Petetyler,” Commander Pheereneeke’s kind and authoritative voice answered. “Something else has happened. Please see your way to Command Node 416.”

She flashed him a mental picture of a sealed elongated hexagon with blue and green signal lights set above the doors. Pete opened his eyes and scanned above the heads of the crowd until at last he saw it, set into the back wall of the main hex, stair-stepped atop several other hexes.

“Yes,” he answered. “Yes, we see it.”

“Good,” Pheereneeke said. “Transmit access code six-one-three upon arrival. We await you.”

Pete dropped the mental connection and turned to Gerard. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said.

“If the look on your face is any indication, then so do I,” Gerard said.

2:08 p.m.
The Laboratory
McCrimmon Estate

James clambered up from the tunnel, into the empty lab corridor, and ran full speed to the tower room. He paused long enough to sweep the sonic screwdriver over the keypad. The moment the door release clicked, he swung inside and slid to a halt.

Freezing! Heavy sheets of ice coated the crystal windowpanes, turning the wan light to a chilly blue luminescence. Breathing plumes of frost, James vaulted the bank of computers and skittered to a stop.

Ignoring the first two screens showing the statuses of the temporal shield, still in a regeneration loop, and the substrate generator, still refueling the TARDIS, he poured all of his tremendous focus into the third: the redundancy hub of the Bellweather Network. With the heel of his hand, he scrubbed away the ice and typed in his security override.

Immediately, the screen spiraled through a series of algorithms showing the status of each satellite in the grid. Eight of them had already cycled offline. As a result, Asia, Australia, and Japan were enduring cataclysmic weather conditions. Nine more had reached fifty percent capacity: Africa, the Middle East, Scandinavia, and half of Europe. The remaining five hovered in standby while the shut down signal connected from the relay matrix. Those, at least, still functioned.

Then he saw a warning beacon flashing in the lower-left corner of the screen. He tapped it and a message scrolled over the calculating algorithms.

James read it twice before reading it aloud. “Proximity warning for Bellweather Satellites 18 through 20? But that’s impossible.”

A pixilated satellite image dissolved into view in place of the message. The image refreshed every few seconds, bringing the picture more and more into focus, until he saw, to his great astonishment, the blurred shape and enormity of the thing clawing through the stratosphere toward the ring of satellites.

“It’s the storm,” he breathed. For a handful of heartbeats, he was too stunned to do anything but admire its strength and tenacity. Then he remembered the rage and chaos he felt when he'd opened his mind to it.

“But… what do you want?” he whispered. And in a flash of dread and intuition, he knew. He knew exactly what it wanted.

“But that means… No.” His heart faltered. His head swam. He pounded the console. “Not that,” he shouted. “Never that!”

James staggered backward as the image of the storm crystallized into focus. Tendrils of ice ripped ever higher, whipping like razor wire toward the satellites. He was mortified, oh yes.

But with the knowledge came a kind of frantic elation, because now, nothing could stop him — not the storm, not the Doctor, not even Rose.

Nothing.

He pulled the keyboard forward, rubbing his hands together to warm them, then began to type in the override protocols to re-instate the satellite grid.

He would stop the storm on his terms, but he wouldn’t let the storm destroy the planet in the process. This was Rose’s world, the world of their child. He wasn’t about to let it go.

2:06 p.m.
The TARDIS

“We have to go back!” Amy cried, wrenching away from River with the transmat device clutched in her hands. She pressed the teleport button. Nothing happened. She tried again, squeezing it furiously. Still, nothing.

River shook her head and closed her hands over the transmat. “That one’s getting as bad as the Doctor,” she said, soothingly.

Tears spilled from Amy’s eyes. “What’d you mean? How can you just stand there? The Angels–” Then her words staggered to a halt.

“Two reasons we can’t go back,” River said. “One…”

“Rory’s already gone,” Amy said.

“And two,” River said. “He fused the teleport coordinates. Clever man you married.”

Furious, Amy sat down hard on the TARDIS floor and folded her arms. “Idiot,” she fumed.

“He has the Doctor’s screwdriver,” River said, rounding the console, clicking levers in her wake. The systems warbled and piped to life around them. “We can get a fix on his location and find him.”

Amy craned her neck to peer at River through the central cylinder. “What’re you doing?”

“Just checking,” River said in her don’t-worry-dear tone. “We still have hours to go before the TARDIS can safely travel.”

“Great, so we’re stuck here.”

“Yes we are.”

“But are we gonna help them?”

River spun a dial and set the NACGS crystal. Eyes a-twinkle, she said, “Yes we are.”

Amy got quickly to her feet. “As I recall,” she said. “Your last idea of helping was less than helpful.”

“This will be different,” River said.

“Different how? We can’t even use the TARDIS.”

“Not safely, no,” River said. “But we can keep an eye on the Doctor.”

River twisted the crank for the picture window and a scene rippled online. Amy took several steps closer to the window, her mouth agape as she stared at the alien landscape beyond.

“Where are we?” Amy gasped.

“We haven’t moved,” River said, scrutinizing the wasted heath. Storm crystals coated the once-green fields, and an immense wall of churning cloud glowered over them. “We’re in the same place. It’s the storm, you see? It’s bleeding through the rift, creating a pocket of in-between. It’s devouring this world, draining it and–” River inhaled sharply and swore under her breath. “There he is,” she bit out.

“Where?”

“There!”

Then it was plain to see him, impossible not to, this tiny stick figure in the center of an amethyst field, his arms outstretched, his head thrown back. Above him, the clouds retracted and contorted, its nimbus crown reforming into something like a massive, monstrous, misshapen head.

Amy reached back to steady herself. “River? What’s he doing?”

“No, Doctor,” River whispered. “You can’t–”

A flash of white brilliance blazed down, and in an instant the screen blinked out.

Chapter Text

2:12 p.m.
The Tunnels

“Look at that!” Rose said, relieved. “Just as James said, the tunnels have reverted to the same dank old catacombs. Nothing to be afraid of. Storm’s gettin’ cleverer, so are we.”

“Should be simple enough,” Rory said. “Playing at fearless.”

“That’s all we’re ever doing. Pretending. Now, come on!” She gripped his hand and ran, pulling him along with her.

After a few strides, he puffed, “You’ve got catacombs. Under your house.”

“I know,” she laughed. “Wicked, innit?”

They jogged the corridor, her torch beam splashing mad spangles across the walls, and after several minutes, they came to a junction Rory recognized.

“We’re close now, aren’t we?” he asked.

“Yep. One straight shot, then up into the labs.”

“So, you and James, you have a plan, yeah?”

She faltered. “Of sorts.”

“See,” he said. “You’re not pretending. Your courage is real. Your grace. Your belief in each other. That’s real.”

They reached the tiled steps that led up into the laboratory and Rose, breathless, took a moment to steady herself.

“That part, yes. That last part is real,” she said. “The rest we make up as we go.” She started up the steps, but Rory caught her arm and pulled her back.

“When did you know?” he asked.

“Wha–?”

“When did you find out you were pregnant?”

She pointed over her shoulder at the door. “Really wanna get into this? Now?”

“Trust me. I’m a nurse. It might be important.” Rory pressed his palm to her forehead. “You’re burning up. Are you all right?”

“I will be, but we have to get to the tower room,” Rose said. Her eyes glittered in the fission cell’s light. “He needs us.”

Rory shook his head. “Right,” he said. He took her hand and they ran up the stairs.

2:12 p.m.
The TARDIS

Amy was shaking her head. “Now what’re you doing?”

River typed in a series of unintelligible commands, and for a long, annoying moment, Amy thought River wouldn’t answer.

Then River replied, offhandedly, “Systems check.”

“Nice try,” Amy said, folding her arms. “I’ve seen the Doctor fly this thing. I know what a systems check looks like. What you’re doing looks like something else.”

“All right,” River said. “I’m calculating.”

“That’s abundantly clear,” Amy retorted.

“Hey–” sounding legitimately hurt.

What are you calculating?” Amy asked.

“All right. The generator’s given us enough power for one trip. If it’s a short one,” River said. She twisted a few dials in quick, precise fashion and checked the readout screen.

Amy eyed her sidewise. “How short?”

“Minutes.” She typed another series of figures.

“And where’re we going that’s just minutes away?”

“We can reach him,” River said. “If I can secure his location, we can reach him.”

Amy was doubtful and looked it. “If he’s in-between… places, worlds, whatever… doesn’t that mean he could be further away than we think?”

River continued to type. “Possibly.”

“You could get the distance wrong,” Amy said.

“Probably,” River agreed.

“Gonna regret asking, since it probably won’t influence your decision in the slightest, but what happens if you get the distance wrong and this thing runs out of power?” Amy said.

River glanced up.

Amy nodded. “That’s what I thought,” she said. “And if I try to stop you?”

A wry smile twitched the corner of River’s lips. “You won’t try to stop me,” she said.

“Oh, you’re good,” Amy said.

The readout screen suddenly bleeped, and River snarled, “Got him.”

Amy sidled up beside her. She sucked air over bare teeth. “Ooh. Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?”

River’s brows arched as she said, “More fun that way.”

“What’re we waiting for?” Amy said. She slammed the handbrake, releasing the TARDIS from its rest.

2:20 p.m.
The Laboratory

Icy silence filled the lab corridor. The blood-red claxons, still frozen mid-sweep, heightened the ominous quiet as Rory and Rose rushed along the hallway.

When they reached the curved outer wall of glass, Rory froze in stunned horror at the sight inside. Rose seemed to not even see it. She ran blindly forward, reached the outer door, and began tugging at it. But it was fused shut. Not fused, Rory realized, frozen.

Because the storm had managed to get inside. Every surface glittered with swirls of snow, even the glass, contorting everything within the room like a warped lens. Despite the ice, the inner workings of the tower’s gleaming clockwork pumped in steady rhythm. The computer screens, each filmed with frost, filled with scrolling messages and calculations. Something was communicating with those machines.

Through the outer windows, the storm’s purplish blackness writhed with lightning and pulsed with dull thunder. The grit of snow scoured against the thick panes like metal teeth across a blackboard.

“James!” Rose screamed, pulling uselessly at the door. They saw no sign of him.

“Are you sure he’s in there?” Rory said.

“I can hear him!” Rose cried, still pulling at the door.

“Here!” Rory pointed the screwdriver and sent a burst of sonic green into the layer of ice jamming the locking mechanism. Seconds ticked by with their breaths puffing out between them, and nothing happened.

“How d’you — Wh-?” Rory cried.

Rose took the sonic, adjusted the settings, and sent another burst into the lock. A moment later, a click, and the door grated open. In that instant, a glacial updraft sucked the air from their lungs.

Just as Rose was stumbling into the room, Rory caught her firmly by the shoulders and pointed up at the circular window that gaped open above the tower. Through it, they saw an impossibly vast distance, for though it was ringed by dense dark clouds, they saw two stars shining stark and bright against the black night sky.

“That's the eye of the storm,” Rory breathed. They gazed up into the roiling wall of clouds, at once mesmerized and terrified. The wind whipped at them, tearing their hair and clothes. Rose tried again to wrest free from Rory’s grip.

“We have to help him,” Rose said.

“I don’t even see–”

“–He’s here," Rose cried. "The other side of the tower.”

Rory glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the other laboratory where Professor Taylor and the science team had been. “Maybe he’s–”

Rose was adamant. “He’s here! I can hear him!”

“I don’t hear anything,” Rory yelled.

“Please,” Rose said. She ripped free and tumbled inside, sliding gracelessly across the icy floor. She caught herself on the console’s edge, the ice instantly burning her palms. But it didn’t stop her. Fighting forward for every step, she felt along the console, and Rory, who could never stand to see someone struggle on their own, stepped into the room to help her.

She rounded the control deck, dragging herself hand over hand, wind howling in her ears, her tears freezing on her cheeks, until she reached the far side of the tower. There, she saw something she couldn’t quite understand. Where she expected to find James, she found instead a wedge of prismatic light extending from the fretted ceiling to the floor, and beyond it, only shadows, some of them moving.

Rose stretched a hand toward it, heard Rory’s shouted warning, but as she touched it, the world ignited in a burst of breath-taking brightness.

Then Rory watched helplessly as Rose disappeared.

Chapter Text

2:22 p.m.
The Tower Room

Rose felt as though she had fallen from a great height, but in the moments afterward, she realized she had only, in fact, taken one step. Disorientation hit her, followed by a dizzy spinning sensation, and when he caught her, it was another handful of heartbeats before she understood that it was him.

Then he was smiling down at her. “Hello,” he said. “Did you miss me?”

She brought her arms around him, buried her face in his chest. Then, “Rory!”

“It’s all right,” James said. “Got him, too.”

Rose craned her neck to see Rory gazing up at the ceiling.

“We’re in stasis,” James explained with a huge grin.

“This is a TARDIS,” Rory said.

“Well–” James said, grimacing. “Sort of. Same technology, different application. It doesn’t travel in time. It manipulates it.”

“So it’s a… Relative Dimension in Time?” Rose asked. She was starting to get her bearings again, starting to have a look around, and what she saw amazed her.

“An RDIT?” James pondered aloud. He massaged his neck. “Doesn’t quite have the ring, does it?”

“But… how?” Rory asked.

“I know this bit,” Rose said. “Nine years back, at Dårlig Ulv Stranden, the Doctor gave James a piece of the TARDIS–”

“A-Grow-Your-Own Gallifreyan Time Machine,” James said, gesturing expansively. “Only I didn’t quite use it as he foresaw. You see, TARDISes take decades to reach maturity. That’s something we don’t have. So I altered the design, created the temporal shield, and here we are.”

“In stasis?” Rose asked.

“Temporarily,” James said. “I’ve diverted power from the house and the surrounding systems, but it won’t hold for long.”

“How long do we need?” Rory asked.

“Long enough to upload the memory chips into the mainframe,” James said. “I’ve rigged the tower as a transmitter. We’ll broadcast signal through the Bellweather satellites, and it should almost definitely work since the storm’s already reaching for the network to broadcast itself over the planet.”

“We’re using the storm’s plans against it,” Rose said, smiling.

“We’re using the storm’s plans against it,” James confirmed. “Rose, did you get them?”

She passed him the pouch rattling with the chips. James began to plug them into a makeshift device that looked as though it might have been scavenged and refitted from the lab.

Rory scrutinized the device and the thick cables connecting it to the clockwork tower. He continued to survey the interior of the RDIT… thing, which looked very much like the inside of a TARDIS, smaller, perhaps, a bit less Willy Wonka, a bit more Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. And though they definitely stood within an enclosed space, Rory got the feeling that he was seeing only part of that space, that the wavering water-like walls that divided the interior of this place from the tower room were temporary boundaries shielding them from the storm.

Rory smiled to himself. “No magic box, eh Doctor?” he muttered.

But then his attention drew back to the cables — heavy, ropy cables leading out of a cabinet beneath the tower and twining around its base, connecting the device to an outlet from which a braid of thicker cables snaked. Those cables branched into the tower, and into a heavy brass toggle switch.

Rory did not like the look of that switch. Didn’t like the sound of it, either, all crackle and buzz. Something about exposed metal and a million megahertz of electrical current…

“And there we are!” James exclaimed. “All our most beloved memories, ready to transmit. The world’s largest electronic greeting card–”

“–Stop!” Rory said. “Wait. Just wait. Last time you used the hoverlink’s system as a transmitter–”

“–Yes, and this time we’re using the tower,” James said.

But Rory was shaking his head. “You are so like him,” he said. “The hoverlink’s system wasn’t enough. But the time before, up on the roof, you said you used yourself as conductor…”

James’ eyes narrowed. “Which I said wasn’t my brightest–”

“–No, it wasn’t. It’s still not,” Rory said, moving a step closer to the toggle switch. James flinched, just slightly, but Rose sensed it.

“What’s he talking about?” she asked.

James lowered his eyes, then brought them to meet hers. “The hoverlink wasn’t enough. Even with Prescott there, all it did was buy us time. It was just a computer, ones and zeros, no actual connection, not enough to stop it. But I can.”

“You mean... you’ll transmit the signal?” she asked

“All our memories, and mine as well, all that hope, all that love, but amplified by the Bellweather system. I can stop it, Rose.”

“No,” Rose said. “You can’t. You’re human, like me. You’ll die.”

Flaring in sudden anger, James pounded the console. “I know that,” he bit out. “But it’s the only way. The storm wants you, Rose. It wants our child. It’s ripped its way through universes to find you and it will never stop. It is rage and envy and loss and it will not rest until it consumes you. But I can stop it.” Tears blazed in his eyes. He gripped her shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. “Rose. I can stop it.”

“There has to be another way,” Rose said.

James pulled her against his body, enveloping her in his arms, breathing in the tropical scent of her hair so incongruous with the wintry night around them.

Rory’s eyes stung as he watched them. He felt helpless and powerless and hated it. “Wait. Please… just wait,” he said.

“For what?” James whispered into Rose’s hair.

Rory grasped at random whirling thoughts in his brain. Wait for the Doctor, he wanted to say, but he’d heard the Doctor earlier. Rory knew where the Doctor weighed in. Wait for morning, then? Wait for the world to end? Something? Anything?

“The baby,” Rory blurted. “When did you know?”

Rose folded deeper into James’ arms, and for a long, tense moment, Rory didn’t think either would answer. He waited, his feet twitching, ready to jump between James and that switch at any second, but Rose’s small voice broke the silence.

“We’d all but given up,” she said.

“Well, after so long,” James cut in. “We figured we couldn’t–”

“–You are half Time Lord,” Rose said, peering up at him.

“And Time Lords and humans aren’t compatible. We’re a different species,” James said.

“But then one morning about five weeks ago, I woke up all ill and queasy,” Rose said. “All day I had this odd feeling, like something was different, like something had changed.”

“So that evening, I ran a scan,” James said. A light came into his eyes at the recollection. “There it was. Tiny, bright blip on the screen — all its fingers and toes and spine.”

“Y-you’ve seen it, then?” Rory said.

“Of course,” James answered. “Sonic device — sonogram. Technology’s nothing new, especially not…” Then the light in his eyes became not the gleam of remembrance but sudden understanding. “Oh. I am thick. I am a great thick-headed thickman from Thickton!” He held Rose at arm’s length and stared at her as if seeing her for the first time in months.

“What?” Rory said.

“Yeah, what he said,” Rose agreed.

“The sonic screwdriver. I used it to perform the scan!” James put his hands on his head. “It’s how the storm found us! It’s not only connected to the memory. It’s connected to the child as well.”

Rose rocked on her heels and caught the console to steady herself. Something didn't make sense, something just on the edge of her understanding. Because she felt sick before the scan, and if the storm and the memory and the child were all connected, then it meant...

Rory inched forward, shifting his weight to position himself between James and the transmitter.

“It changes nothing,” James said to Rory. “I still have to do this.”

“No,” Rory said. “Just throw the switch. Transmit the signal without you bridging the gap.”

“It won’t work,” James snapped. “Don’t you think I’d have tried that? If I thought there was a chance, any chance at all, don’t you think I would have taken it? I’m to blame for this. For all of this. When I was the Doctor, I halted the development of that child within her. I stopped its heart beating, with this–” James pulled his sonic screwdriver from his pocket. “I ripped out her memories. I hid my own. I did this.” He gestured skyward, indicating the storm bearing down upon them.

“But it wasn’t you,” Rose protested.

“Of course it was,” James said, bending his forehead to meet hers. “I am him, and he is me. We were the same man. But you were right, Rose. It doesn’t end here. The cosmos is within us.”

It was a casual gesture — a flick of the sonic screwdriver aimed at the console, something so quick that neither Rory nor Rose saw him do it. The interior lights dimmed, and in that second, that one second, James surged forward, and Rory couldn’t stop him. James gripped the switch in both hands, and slammed it home.

Chapter Text

Within the Storm

“Well, this,” the Doctor said, clasping his hands, “this is… unexpected.” He looked around, and realizing he was alone, turned his eyes to gaze once more on the shattered eggshell dome of the Sacre Coeur basilica.

He cast a quick glance at the ruined hillside and found it much as it had been days ago when they left it — same blasted rows of restaurants and scorched storefronts, same rubble-choked ramparts, same streets clogged with toppled tenements. Heavy clouds gathered, and the air felt delicate, fragile, bruised. Distant thunder moaned like some long dying creature. And looming above him, like a sugar confection left out in the rain, Sacre Coeur lay in crumbled defile across her hilltop.

The Doctor’s hearts sank. “Oh you poor, wretched, beautiful thing,” he said. Slowly, he began to climb up the debris-strewn steps toward the wreckage of the cathedral.

As he crested the hill, he entered what had once been the main plaza, but now the white minarets tumbled in broken heaps across the stone courtyard and balustrade. A man in a dark suit stood in the shadow of the ruin, his hands tucked in his pockets, his thick brown hair ruffling in the wind.

“Oh, him,” the Doctor said to the sky. He strode with the deliberation of a man taking a gallows walk as the first cold spate of rain began to fall.

2:28 p.m.
The Tower Room

The air in the RDIT around them writhed with electric current, accompanied by a sharp, acidic, almost sweet scent that Rory couldn’t quite place, except that it reminded him of burning coolant in a car’s engine.

His nose wrinkled at the thought. Then he opened his eyes. His next thought: Why am I lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling?

A sidewise glance revealed a dazed Rose coming to the same realization. They’d been knocked backward when James threw the switch. It was possible they’d been unconscious, and if so, they were already too late.

“If he thinks that I’m going to stand here and watch, he’s mad!” Rose lunged for James, but Rory caught her.

“Don’t touch him,” he yelled.

Through clenched teeth, James repeated, “Don’t. Touch. Me.”

Rose sagged against Rory. “You can hear us,” she cried.

With great effort, he groaned, “Of course I can hear you.”

The current forced his body into painful rigidity. A corona of energy shimmered around him. He strained to make every movement but managed to turn his head enough to fix his gaze on her.

“Rose–” He seemed to push the word from his throat.

“James, you’ve done enough,” she said.

“Stop it,” he grated out. “When this is done – Your job – Get everyone home – Understand?”

“Yes,” she said. A tear spilled from her eye, and she swiped it away. “’Course I will, yes.”

“He’s here with me,” James said.

“He who? D’you mean the Doctor?” Rory asked.

James gave a tight nod. “He’s here–Rose–” Then his eyes shut and he began to scream.

Within the Storm

The wind kicked up, scattering dust and hateful jags of rain at them. The Doctor came to rest beside James and together they watched as above them, the sky filled with colored flashes of light, like bombs and flares igniting in smoke. The Doctor felt the shock of each concussive blast as it rocked down upon them.

For seconds unmeasured, they stood silent, watching the bombshells burst in the clouds, brilliant crimson and gold and emerald and blue.

“Your work?” the Doctor said at last.

“Yep,” James answered.

“It’s brilliant.”

“I know.”

They glanced at each other.

“So it’s over?” the Doctor asked.

“For me, it is,” James said.

The Doctor’s gaze faltered. He had to swallow before he could speak. “I told Rose I’d stop you. Oh, the ways I’ve failed her.”

“Stop it,” James said. “We’re not here for that.”

“No?” the Doctor said. “Then why are we here? All the places in time and space, why’d we end up here?”

“We’re inside the storm,” James said.

“Yes, and it looks like Sacre Coeur.”

“The ruins of Sacre Coeur,” James corrected. “Why indeed?”

“And another thing,” the Doctor said, striding away from him and into the shadow of the smashed cathedral doors. “Why the weather? Lots of things you could control, lots of variables. What made you settle on Bellweather?”

James joined him and together they crossed into the rubble-choked nave. Upended pews scattered like bones among fractures of stained glass.

James said, “The weather’s so… unpredictable, so unbalanced. We’d have floods in one part of the world, drought in another. Made no sense, when the smallest tweak could set it right.”

Above them, the sky rippled and burned, but the thunder remained a far-off rumbling. The Doctor climbed onto a precipice of rock overlooking a dark gouge in the floor. Fragmented flagstones jutted up from it like disheveled coffins. The Doctor crouched to stare into the empty black pit.

“So you did it,” the Doctor said.

“Yep,” James came around to peer into the hole. “Set up the system to redistribute certain currents while evening out the temperature extremes using a quintessence matri-fold that would protect existing habitats by keeping them all within an optimal range. It was so simple a thing, and it’s saved millions. Possibly billions. That can’t be wrong.”

“No, it isn’t,” the Doctor said. “It’s splendid. Think on all the wrong the Master did in eighteen months. You’ve been here a decade, and look at all the good.”

James uttered a bitter laugh. “It’s empty now,” he said. “Much as I tried, I couldn't stop this storm from coming.”

“You can’t stop it. No one can,” the Doctor said.

Lightning writhed, tearing through the colored clouds with tendril whips.

“Why here?” James asked again. “Why these ruins? What’s so special about this place? You brought Amy and Rory and River to see it. Why?”

“I love it here. It’s where Rose and I met Carl Sagan. We rode the carousel and ate crepes with bananas and Nutella right over there,” the Doctor said, pointing through a gap in the masonry. “And then we were chased all ’round here and up into the dome by a cauchemar, nasty beast, proboscius…” he pantomimed protruding probosci from his chin and sneered. “Then we sent it packing and wound up together in the tower above, looking out over the city, that sprawling, messy, gorgeous city. Paris.”

The Doctor seemed to crumble. Above them, the sky darkened, the colors deepened, the wind turned a touch colder and sharper. “I suppose,” he said. “When something is wrecked beyond recognition, you want to see if anything beautiful remains. You want to know if anything of what it once was has survived.”

“And what has survived?” James asked quietly.

The Doctor turned on him suddenly, gripping the lapels of his jacket. He shouted, “Your world is miniscule. A tiny speck. A cosmic joke. How can you protect something so fragile? How can you possibly keep it safe? And you. You’re nothing. All your inventions, borrowed from better men. Even your name, Jamie McCrimmon…”

James shrugged free of the Doctor. “Don’t. Touch. Me. Something happened in your last regeneration,” James said. “Somehow something got in–”

“–Nothing could get in,” the Doctor bit out. The storm rose up around them with howling winds and swirling sleet. “Do you hear me? Nothing!”

“Of course I can hear you. Why did you hang you on so long? What did you hope to keep by delaying the regeneration?” James was screaming now, his voice torn away by the storm. The Doctor climbed onto the stone plinth, the storm coalescing around his out-flung arms. His eyes glowed with an eerie blue-white radiance, and James suddenly understood.

“Nothing got in,” James said. “Something got out.”

The Doctor grinned.

"And it's still connected," James murmured. "Still following you, all this time, and it wants..."

“You must have heard it,” the Doctor said with a dark laugh. “The sound of its hearts beating. Four tiny pulses. You may be half human, but still you can hear the beating of a Time Lord’s hearts. You must have known I’d come for it someday. I only want what’s mine.”

Then it was James’ turn to smile. “Rose,” he said. “If you can hear me, I know how to stop it. When this is done, your job is to get everyone home. Do you understand?”

James didn’t know how it was possible, but he felt rather than heard her answer. She was crying, though. He felt that, too. Hold on, Rose, he thought. Just a moment longer.

The Doctor’s fiery eyes brightened. “What have you done?”

“He’s here with me,” James said, a mixture of awe and pity in his voice. “He’s here, Rose. The Oncoming Storm.”

Chapter Text

Felsius Four

Pete Tyler visualized the numbers six, one, and three in his mind and sent them through his neural transmitter. The sealed door of the command node opened with an efficient popping sound and slid up, revealing the cavernous hexagonal room within.

Dark except for the green arc-lights the Locastalan used within their hives, the command center buzzed with Locastalan drones that skittered over embedded computer relays. Pete hesitated at the doorway, temporarily overwhelmed by the contrasting darkness and the constant tinny noise of the Locastalan’s communication, which seemed to tickle and scratch on the inside of his skull.

At his side, Gerard Price wore a bewildered smile.

“Look at that. Giant space bugs. And I’d be licked if it doesn’t smell of honey and apples in there,” Mr. Price marveled. “Can you believe it?”

Pete drew a deep breath and nodded. “You’ve never been off planet, have you?”

Mr. Price shook his head. “Not even the moon, sir.”

Pete had been to the moon. He had been to the International Space Station, to Mars, to Felsius Proper, and to Felsius Four when he and Jacks and Rose and James were negotiating terms for the Contingency.

“Jacks had been fairly freaked by all this,” Pete recalled with a smile. “She never cared for space travel. Always worried she’d get vaporized by solar flares or kidnapped by radioactive space apes. Too many late nights watching sci-fi on the telly.”

“We’ll find her, Pete,” Gerard said. “And the kids. And they’ll all be fine. Jake, too.”

“They’re in good… hands? Pincers? Legs? Whatever this lot has, anyway,” Pete said, trying to sound cheerful. “They’ll take good care of everyone. Now let’s see what’s got them so worked up.”

When they stepped inside the command node, two of the Locastalan drones broke off from their posts and met them.

“Petetyler, you will come with us,” they said in unison, and Pete and Gerard fell in behind them.

The drones led them through a maze of computer terminals, some set into walls, some into the floor, some into the ceiling. After navigating through a cloyingly close and unbearably warm labyrinth of Locastalan work stations, the waxen tunnel opened up into a vast room swarming with activity. At its heart pulsed the crystalline structure that appeared to be the central computer.

But that was not what drew Pete’s attention. Across the entire wall to their left, the Locastalan projected the holographic image of the earth, the moon, and a network of twinkling satellites. Only something else had entered the picture: a horrid, bloated, tentacled creature, a leviathan from the depths of time.

Awestruck, Pete muttered, “The storm.”

They watched in stunned silence as it collided with the satellites, shattering them each in succession like a strand of Christmas lights. Then, with terrifying rapidity, the misshapen mouth of the storm engulfed the earth. Soon nothing green or blue could be seen beneath the swirling swathes of leaden cloud. Vivid scarlet lightning throbbed within it, a dull and steady beating.

Then the relay crisped to static and the whole thing started again.

“This is a recording?” Pete shouted. He jumped the rail and ran forward to stand beneath the holograph. “No, we have to stop it! Rose–”

“–We are sorry, Petetyler,” came the trill of hundreds of forlorn Locastalan voices at once. “We could not stop the storm.”

Pete clawed out the neural transmitter and buried it in his palm. He couldn’t bear them singing, not now, not when…

He watched again as the storm consumed the earth. What had gone wrong? He’d given the security protocols to River. She was supposed to take down the Bellweather grid. And the Doctor was down there. The Doctor and James. And Rose...

Pete’s knees threatened to buckle, but he forced himself to stand. He replaced the transmitter. “Look. It’s not over. The three of them together are bound to come up with something. They will find a way, you have to believe it.”

“But Petetyler, we’ve lost the signal. The earth is–”

“–No,” he shouted. “No, they’ll be broadcasting. Another wavelength, another frequency, something. They will find a way. Reconfigure your sensors, do whatever it takes, but find them. Rose and James McCrimmon would not give up, and neither will we. Do you understand?”

A hum of activity, then, “Aye, consort of Jackietyler, we understand.”

The pale horror of the holograph recording cast its light across Pete’s face as it looped again to replay to its gruesome end.

“Neither will we,” he whispered. Pete turned from the display and gripped Gerard’s shoulder. “Come along, Mr. Price,” Pete told him. “There’s work to be done. Let’s go find our family and friends.”

Within Memories

The clouds burst, dashing them with freezing rain. The Doctor seized James, bringing his face close to his own. Blistering waves of energy surged through the Doctor, searing James’ skin, and though he screamed in agony, the Doctor did not relent.

“It’s over,” the Doctor cried. “I’ve won.”

James leveled his eyes with the twin burning suns of the Doctor’s, and with great pain and great effort, he brought his hands to the Doctor’s face. “Let him go,” James whispered.

The Doctor laughed. “So persistent. So predictable. I’ll never let any of it go now. Why should I?”

“This is — This is your — last–”

The Doctor clamped a hand over James’ mouth. “Oh, do us all a favor and SHUT UP.”

He shoved James hard and he stumbled over uneven stones to sprawl in the mud. The Doctor swooped down from the slab and crouched beside him.

“My whole existence I’ve searched for this,” the Doctor hissed. “The one ember that can rekindle life into these brittle bones. You can’t stop me. No one can.”

“I know,” James said. “And I’m so sorry. But you’re wrong. You were never a man, never alive. You are deceived.”

The Doctor’s smile faltered. The rain drenched his hair, plastering it to his grim face.

“Let him go,” James whispered.

He uttered a weak laugh. “Never. He’s mine. It’s all mine.”

“It’s over.”

The Doctor recoiled and hovered over James, who lay in a pitiful heap in the mud and rain. “For you, it is,” he spat.

James closed his eyes and let his head drop back to the ground. “Then do it,” he said. “End it. Swallow us all and leave. Take your prize and run.”

The Doctor howled. He threw his head back and shrieked.

And James saw his moment. He scrabbled to his feet, leaping to the plinth to stand nose to nose with the Doctor. “You can’t, can you? And I know why. Don’t you see?” he said. “Up there, in your clouds. Did you think they were just random flashes of color and light? Do you think I’d come alone?”

“Oh no, not you,” the Doctor snarled. “James McCrimmon. The Inventor. Famouser even than the queen. You’re never alone. You, with your family and your friends and your… castle.” He stumbled backward a step, but James caught him before he could fall.

“That's our memories you're feeling,” James said. “Our memories. Rose and me, together. The light of love and hope against the darkness of loss and pain. That’s all that you’ve had, ’til now. You’ve been a long time on your own, a long time listening to your voice, with no one to guide you. You grew up with no one to stop you, and who could? No one. ’Cause you’re alone in the Universe, the only one of your kind, and I know what that does.”

“Stop it,” the Doctor moaned. “Please. Just stop.”

“He gave us this. The Doctor. And now I’m giving it to you. What does a memory want more than anything?” James asked.

Slowly, the fire faded from the Doctor's eyes. He raised his fist, but when he swung, all the energy trickled from him in that one motion, and he stood, a disheveled young man in a soaking suit, his wild hair hanging like a curtain over his eyes. At the same time, the rain swirled into luminous fog around them, effacing the ruins of Sacre Coeur, and the sky, and the ground beneath their feet.

“Let him go,” James said again.

“He’s all I have,” he whispered. “Where will I go?”

James pushed the hair from the Doctor’s forehead. “Where you belong,” he told him. “Now, close your eyes.”

“Wait,” the Doctor said. “Wait. There’s something…”

“Shhh.”

“It’s a binary star,” the Doctor said. “One eclipses the other. Tell her.”

“I’ll tell her,” James said. He covered the Doctor’s eyes, and in a double heartbeat, he fell unconscious into James’ arms.

Chapter Text

Felsius Four

Anthony Tyler hooked the strap of his short wave CB over his shoulder as he climbed into the scaffolding of what he heard the grownups call Warehouse 314-B. Once he reached the ledge, he swung up over it, and then reached down to help his sister, Tabitha, climb up beside him.

“Now,” he said, arranging himself cross-legged on the sturdy reed-like board of the ledge. “In a moment, we’re going to stand up to have a look out those windows. I don’t want you to be scared, Tab, but you’re gonna be looking out over an alien world.”

Tabitha folded her arms. “I know that, bonehead,” she said. “We’re on Felsius Four. I’ve seen the vid-loops. We all have.”

Tony tried his best to be patient with his sister. He was the man of the family, until they found their Dad, and so he had to remember that she was just a bratty little know-it-all. “Yeah, we saw the vid-loops. In school. It’s real now. Really real.”

They looked out over the crowded warehouse below. They’d seen a lot of things in the last few hours. Because they’d just crashed in the airship on earth, Tony and Tab had seen Captain Morales almost get burned up from the fire in the cockpit. The Captain had managed to get them all out of the airship, though: Mum, Miranda, Tony, and the girls.

And then, once they arrived here in the warehouse, they entered the medtent, where a woman who had gone into labor on earth was just about to be the first human to give birth on another planet.

Below them, the Locastalan nymph-scouts circulated among the humans. With their shoulder-mounted projection screens, they could speak with any person on earth through a system of pictograms and telepathic suggestion. The nymph-scouts brought food and medicine and clothes…

Following Tony’s line of thought, Tabitha asked, “How come some of the humans blipped here without any clothes?”

Tony suppressed a laugh. “Because, half-wit, some of them were taking a bath when we…”

“So they blipped here naked?” Tab hooted. She slapped her hands over her eyes.

Tony’s brows arched. “Wonder how many were reading the morning paper, eh? Eh?”

“That’s disgusting!” Tab smacked her brother’s arm. “You would think of that. Come on. I’m bored. When can we see this alien world?”

It occurred to Tony then that maybe his sister didn’t believe him. Did she think it was a dream? Had she hit her head in the airship crash? Tony wondered if perhaps she thought this was some Locastalan refugee center back on earth.

Or maybe she was just Tabitha: Princess Unimpressed.

“Here, all right,” Tony said. “Take my hand.”

She scowled.

“It’s a narrow ledge,” Tony snapped. “Won’t do for you falling backward. You’d crack your skull and Mum’d be furious at me.”

“Fine.” She slapped her hand in his and together they inched first to their feet and then to their tiptoes. Soon Tony’s face, and Tab’s from her nose up, peered over the lip of the hexagonal window, through the finito-glass, and out into the mist-bright marshland of Felsius Four.

“Woooooow,” Tab muttered. She clung to her brother’s shoulder as she continued to stare at the endless fog-strewn wetland, broken only by deep winding canals that reflected the gold light of two suns hanging high in the sky above them. In that lavender twilight, they could see the pale green crescents of Felsius Two and Three.

“Look, there,” Tony said, pointing to the horizon, where a pink semi-circle loomed like the top of a bald man’s sunburned head. “That’s Felsius Proper: The biggest moon of the planet Locastia. It’s uninhabitable.”

“Because it’s bald,” Tabitha said.

“Of course.”

“Can we see Locastia?”

“Not yet. When the suns go down,” Tony said. “You see those over there?” He pointed to the far right beyond the window to a place barely visible.

“Sort of…”

“Those buildings are the other warehouses. They’re arranged by geographic location, all of them coinciding with places on earth. That way, once we got blipped, we’d all be pretty much close to home as far as the people are concerned,” Tony said. “Family, I mean.”

Tabitha slid back down and sat so that her legs dangled from the ledge. She didn’t say anything, but Tony could tell she was upset by the crinkle in her brow.

Tony joined her. “What’s wrong, Tab? We’re all safe. It’ll take some time to find everyone, but once we do, everything’ll be right as rain, you’ll see–”

“–That’s not Earth out there,” Tab said.

“Well, no, it’s Felsius Four,” Tony said.

“But I miss it. I miss our playroom and our garden and our apple tree. Do they even have apple trees on Felsius Four?”

“Well, I don’t kn–”

“–Course you don’t know,” she snapped. “It’s all space adventure and nifty gadgets with you. I want to go home!”

“Anthony Prentiss Tyler,” a familiar voice called from below, and both children tensed at the tone in it. They tilted their necks to find their mother glaring up at them, her hands on her hips.

“Hi, Mum,” they chirped in unison, but she was having none of it.

“Are you upsetting your sister?” Jackie said.

“No, Mum, I promise,” Tony answered.

“Because she’s been through enough, young man, without you antagonizing her–”

“–But I wasn’t–”

“He was showing me the planet, Mum,” Tabitha said. “You can see the moons from here.”

“Can you now, darling?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tabitha answered. “And you know what else, there aren’t any apple trees here. Probably no bananas, either, and I’ve decided that while this place is all well and good, I’d like to go home now.”

Jackie and her son exchanged a look, then, and Tony’s heart ached a bit in sympathy for his sister. His mother knew what all the adults knew but just weren’t saying. Tony could guess what it was. If they were here on Felsius Four, it meant the earth…

Their earth. And suddenly, Tony wanted to cry.

But he didn’t. He drew a deep breath and unslung the radio strap from his shoulder. He squared it on his knees and began adjusting the settings to dial in their emergency frequency.

“Tone, what’re you up to?” his mother asked.

“Dad and James said we could use this to contact each other. We can use AM frequency one-nine. If they’re within range, we can find them…”

Jackie waved her cell phone. “Son, I’ve already tried but the network’s got no signal.”

Tony dismissed her with a wave of his hand. “That’s ’cause the cell network’s tied to a satellite system that’s seven hundred and fifty light years away.”

“Oh. Well,” Jackie said. She tucked her phone into her pocket and folded her arms.

“No, this,” Tony muttered as he dialed. “This transmits radio waves. If someone’s got a receiver, they’ll pick up the signal and–”

A crackle of static, a whine, and then, “–on emergency signal one-nine in Warehouse three-one-four dash B. Repeat, this is Peter Tyler–”

“Oi!” Tabitha cried. “It’s Daddy!”

“He’s transmitting!” Tony snatched the handset and depressed the speaker button. “We read you! We read you! Dad! It’s us! It’s Mum and Tab and Tony!”

Silence on the other end. Tabitha’s tiny fingers twined around her brother’s wrist as they waited for a response.

“Maybe he’s out of range,” Tony whispered.

Tabitha shushed him. She said, “Try again.”

Tony depressed the button once more, and this time, he forced himself to speak in calm, slow syllables.

“This is Tony Tyler, broadcasting emergency signal one-nine from Warehouse three-one-four dash B,” he said. “Do you read me?”

Static. Then, “Tony? Son. Is that really you?”

“Yes!” The microphone shrilled feedback and they all winced. Tony pressed the button again. “Yes, Dad. It’s us. We’re near a medtent. We’re all right, though, don’t you worry. Where are you?”

Pause. Then, “Outside the command node. Look, son, this place is laid out on a grid, right. You’re at a medtent, can you see its coordinates? There should be a series of numbers…”

“Right!” Jackie said, clapping her hands. “I seen ’em. Like a street address.” She called up the string of numbers and Tony repeated them off to his Dad.

“Great. Got it," Pete answered, the excitement plain in his response. "Now, you lot stay put. We’re on our way.”

2:38 p.m.
The Tower Room

James had stopped screaming. Clamped over the switch, his hands now glowed with white-gold particles of dust. The muscles in his neck stood out like cords, but his jaw clenched tight, shutting off the cascade of agonized sound.

“Right,” Rose stated. “That’s enough.” She lunged forward, not for James, but for the power cord connecting the tower to the transmitter.

“No, don’t!” Rory cried, catching her arms. “That’s not a good idea.”

She struggled against him, and Rory learned what the Doctor and James already knew: Rose was surprisingly strong. Still, he managed to hold onto her.

Frustrated, she struggled against him, shouting, “He said to bring everyone home!”

“He means Earth…” Rory said. “He means… the planet.”

He felt her shoulders tremble. “He means him,” she said. “Bring everyone home. He means him, too.”

“You’ll kill him,” Rory countered. “His mind’s up there, in the storm. Pull that plug and he’s trapped forever.”

Rose let her body go slack as she said, “I know you don’t understand, but I can feel him. And he’s ready. It’s done. It’s over. And if I don’t hurry, his body will burn up and we’ll lose him and you have to believe me, I know what I’m doing.”

James’ body convulsed as the energy particles surged up his arms and into his torso.

“Are you sure?” Rory asked.

“Yes!” Rose gasped. She slipped free from Rory’s grasp and, grabbing the coupling with both hands, she ripped the massive cord from its socket.

The air sizzled around them. James’ body dropped, boneless, and Rose and Rory, each catching a shoulder, eased him to the ground. Tendrils of plasma whipped up through the clockwork tower, building to a deafening charge that flared brightly and burst from the iris window in the roof. And then, like a candle blown by the wind, the tower winked out.

Darkness. The crisp scent of ozone. The three lay in a heap, listening to the delicate chime of the clockwork pieces spinning inside the tower.

After a moment, Rory whispered, “Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything,” Rose answered.

“Exactly. The wind. It’s stopped.”

“No.” Her voice like broken glass. “I don’t hear anything from him.”

“What?” Rory exclaimed. “No! Rose, is he breathing?”

“I don’t–”

Rose didn’t move. She clasped James’ still body to hers, and in the close, dark space between them, Rory could feel her silent shuddering sobs.

“Is he breathing?” Rory shouted. “Rose, is his heart beating?”

“It’s not,” she said, her voice nothing more than a whimper. “His heart’s not beating. James, don’t leave us. Please. You promised.”

“I can help him,” Rory told her. “Slide over. Rose, I can help him.”

Chapter Text

Outside the McCrimmon Estate

The Doctor opened his eyes only to squinch them shut against a painful shining whiteness. He opened his hands to feel something cold and hard against the tips each of his ten fingertips. He moved his head and discovered similar stony protrusions prodding against his scalp.

“Hello?” he murmured as he carefully sat forward. As he scanned the field, he found himself surrounded by acre upon twinkling acre of milk-white crystals.

The Doctor got to his feet then, grinning in spite of himself. Because though the crystalline heath stretched in unbroken whiteness as far as he could see, he stood in the only patch untouched — a perfect Doctor-shaped outline in the grass.

He bent and scooped up a crystal the size of an apricot from the ground. Benign now, the stone felt smooth and vaguely powdery. He brought it to his nose and sniffed.

“Mmm,” he said. “Applegrass. Great memory.” He gave the crystal a squeeze and tucked it into his pocket.

Above him, the storm busily unraveled into strands of luminous mist. As the air cleared, he felt an incredible lightness in his mind and in his hearts. He clasped his hands together and brought them to his lips. The pain he’d felt, the pressure and confusion, all of it seemed to evaporate along with the storm.

But the elation was short-lived. As he stood in the crystalline wake of the storm, deciding which direction he should walk in order to find his way to the McCrimmon Estate, he heard the distinctive flooshy-wooshy sound of the TARDIS materializing.

“Hang on,” he said, turning in the direction of the sound. “You’re not supposed to be–”

Nevertheless, the welcome shape of the crystal-encrusted police box gradually but definitely appeared, and no sooner than it had materialized, both Amy and River tumbled through the doors to draw up short and somewhat confuddled before him.

“–here,” he finished, taking River’s hand in his own. He beamed at her. “Hello. What have you done to my TARDIS?”

Ignoring him, Amy gushed, “Doctor! You’re all right?”

“Yes I am!” he cried. Then, striding past them, he bustled into the TARDIS and immediately set about adjusting dials and switches and levers and cranks. “Never felt better. In fact, I could go as far as to say that rarely have ever felt… so light, so candid, so minty-fresh. It’s as though a weight has been lifted from my mind. And it has, quite literally." He flipped his hair from his forehead. "Figuratively, too. Anyway, I feel as though I could save the world again.” He flicked a gauge with his fingernail. “Nevermind the crystals, side effect, they’ll be gone before we know it…”

“–Doctor–” River said.

“Yes, I know. Must find Rory! Where’s he got off to? Won’t be easy, all of time and space, but he has got a very useful gadget on him, a sonic screwdriver, does he not? Program the TARDIS to lock onto that, and Rory’s got himself a clever little homing device.”

“How did you–?”

“Amy,” the Doctor said, his face aglow with a Cheshire grin. “I’m the Doctor. Come along, Pond. We’ve got juice enough for the hop back to the McCrimmons. We’ll refuel and then it's Destination Mr. Pond.”

“Doctor,” River said, the stern note in her voice finally bringing him to a halt. “What happened?”

“The storm has gone,” he answered.

“That we can see,” Amy pitched in. “What we want is the how.”

His smile returned, fainter, and, if possible, a tiny bit wiser. “Onwards and upwards, shall we?” The Doctor released the handbrake and returned his attention to the monitor.

2:44 p.m.
The Tower Room

Darkness. Darker still, now that the storm had stopped, and it seemed that the particles of illumination lessened with every pulse of the clockwork tower.

Rory pressed his ear to James’ chest.

“Anything?” Rose whispered.

Nothing.

Rory pumped another thirty count to James’ ribcage, breathed another breath, waited. His palms were sweating. His shoulders ached. He felt a crazy itch behind his left ear and could do nothing about it. But he wouldn’t give up.

Thirty more beats. Another breath. Listen for a heartbeat. Repeat process. He’d trained for this. He had life experience with this. He knew sometimes the person came back. And sometimes they didn’t.

But James had to come back.

“Rose, talk to him,” Rory said. “Maybe if he hears you, maybe it’ll help.”

Rose bent her head to brush his cold fingertips to her forehead. “All right,” she said. “I can tell him this. James, I can tell you. You’re not the Doctor.”

Rory glanced at her. “Not sure that will help,” he said.

“No, it will. You’re not the Doctor, but you are mine,” she said. “Maybe for a long time you thought you were second best. Maybe you thought you had to prove yourself because you were living in his shadow, but you’re not. Do you hear me? You’re not. The Cosmos is within us. You and me. It’s our baby, James. Yours and mine. So you have to come back to us..."

She drew a sharp breath and went on in a ragged whisper. "You have to come back to us. We need you.”

She dissolved into tears, and Rory knew they were running out of time. If James didn’t wake soon, he wouldn’t wake at all. He stooped to breathe another breath when he felt the slightest draft brush against his neck.

“There. There!” Rory said. He placed a hand beneath James’ nose and waited. Again, the warmth of a breath.

“Is he–”

“–Breathing! Yes!” Rory continued to feel tiny exhalations against his hand. Still, they waited long, long seconds for James to move or open his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Rose said.

“It’s okay. It’s okay. He’s not conscious, but he’s breathing,” Rory said. “He’s alive.”

Rose warmed James’ fingers between her hands. “Will he be all right?”

Rory knew the kind of trauma James suffered often met with nasty results. What if he had been right about pulling the plug? What if all that had been James was lost up there, in the storm? Rory couldn’t bring himself to lie. He said, “It’s… I don’t know.”

Rose pulled James into her arms and held him against her body. Rory could do nothing but sit by and watch and feel wretched.

Seconds wound down, ticking ever slower, until soon no light remained at all.

2:53 p.m.
The Labs

The TARDIS materialized. The Doctor stepped out into the cool, windless afternoon with River and Amy beside him.

“That’s… odd,” he said, his smile fading from his face.

Amy scanned the still snowy courtyard. “We’re at the McCrimmon Estate, just like you said.”

“But the coordinates,” River said.

“Precisely,” the Doctor said. He left them, striding ahead on his gangly legs, followed by River’s mincing steps.

“Oof,” Amy said. “What about the bloody coordinates?”

They arrived at the front doors of the laboratory and pulled them open. Amy jogged along to catch them as they entered the main corridor.

“You’re being cagey, Doctor. I don’t like it.”

“The coordinates, Amy–”

“–Yes–”

“–The ones he programmed in for Rory,” River said.

“Yes?” Amy said, frustrated now.

“The TARDIS found him,” the Doctor said. They arrived at the tower room and came to an abrupt stop. “He’s here.”

“Here,” Amy said. “You mean… here?”

They stared gape-mouthed at the glistening glaze of ice coating everything within the tower room. Thick sabers of ice dripped like monstrous teeth from the fretted ceiling. Layers of snow banked against the dull-eyed computer screens. At the room’s center, the clockworks within the cylinder softly chimed and radiated and pulsed.

“There’s nothing in there,” River said. “Nothing can be alive in there. It’s frozen solid.”

“Be not deceived,” the Doctor whispered. He shouldered through the door, and slipping around on the icy floor, made his way across to the central console, with Amy and River close behind. “I knew when I first saw this place there was something to it,” the Doctor told them. “Something more. Something… special.” He teetered around the console, gripping the icy edge with both hands, until he made it to the opposite side of the tower.

“And there it is,” he said.

Neither River nor Amy saw anything amiss. More tower, more ice, more shimmery windows thick with frost. They glanced at each other and shrugged.

The Doctor leaned back and whispered, conspiratorial, almost playful, “It’s bigger on the inside.”

Then he stepped forward, just one step, and disappeared.

Chapter Text

Inside the Tower Room

“Ha ha!” The Doctor cried. “Clever, I was right. Bigger on the inside. But, oh — dreadfully dark. Where are the lights? Hello?”

“We’re here, Doctor,” Rory said flatly.

The Doctor moved forward, practically stumbling into the darkened tableau of Rory and Rose with James sprawled between them. Rory raised his head.

“Yes. Here we are,” the Doctor said. “Is he–”

“No,” Rose answered. Her voice fractured. “He’s not dead. He’s sleeping.”

The Doctor crossed to them and knelt at Rory’s side. “I wasn’t going to say dead,” he told them. “Nor is he asleep.”

“Doctor,” Rory said through clenched teeth.

“I said he’s not dead, either,” the Doctor answered, raising his hands.

Now Rose’s head snapped up, and her eyes, sparkling with tears, leveled on his. “You,” she growled. “I asked you to stop him. I asked you to find another way, yet here you stand while he–”

“–No, Rose–”

“–No, you listen, Doctor. We had a life together, James and me, a home, a family, and you turn up and take it all away, and what are we supposed to do without him?”

Amy and River had stepped into the interior, now, and Amy, upon spotting Rory, yelped his name and collapsed into a relieved embrace.

“Is he–?” River asked.

“Again, no,” the Doctor said. “Rose, I’m telling you. He is alive.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “Oh, you should have seen him. He was magnificent. Saved us. Saved the world. That’s very me. And look at this place. This is something. This is extraordinary.”

“He called it an RDIT,” Rory explained.

“Ardit, eh?” the Doctor said. “That would be Relative Dimension in Time. Explains everything.”

“Oh yes?” Amy said. “Care to have us in on the secret?”

The Doctor grinned as if he’d never wanted anything more. “Relative Dimension in Time. Time’s not moving here, he’s stopped it. As long as we’re here, we’re in a fixed point in this world’s chronology. We could stay here forever and time would stay exactly as it is. He told me earlier that this place draws in geothermic energy, that it could draw in enough to shield the whole planet. And that’s what he’s done. Oh, you brilliant man.”

“There’s a problem, though,” Rory said. “Doctor, he wasn’t breathing. Not for a long time. Wouldn’t that mean–?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Rose insisted.

The Doctor shook his head. “You’re not listening,” he said. “This place is suspended in time. He’s not sleeping, nor is he dead. He’s waiting.”

“But…” Rose gazed down at James’ face. The glow of the clockwork softened the angles of cheekbones and nose, making him appear almost serene in his repose. “What are you waiting for?”

“Think of it, Rose,” the Doctor whispered. “What awakens a sleeper in every fairy tale, hmm?”

She let out a trembling laugh, as if she thought he might be having her on. “It can’t be that simple,” she said.

“You love him,” the Doctor said, softly. “Nothing simpler than that. Nothing more beautiful.”

Rose gripped James' shoulders and brought her lips to his. And in seconds, his eyes fluttered open, and he returned the favor.

Then, after a long uncounted moment, she parted from him, and he said, his voice breathless and rough, “What was that for?”

“Oh, because we can,” Rose sobbed, and she kissed him again.

The Doctor moved away to give them space, gathering Amy, Rory, and River along with him.

“A kiss?” Amy whispered, disbelief plain in her voice. “How’d you know that would work?”

“I didn’t.” The Doctor grinned. “Merely hoped.”

“Besides, it worked,” River said. “That’s all that matters. And you. The storm’s gone. Does that mean–?”

The Doctor said, “You want to know why I held on to that face for so long? Why I didn’t want to let go?” He let out a shaking sigh. “It was Rose. The love of my life. The one I let in. When I regenerated, an aspect of that survived — the part that clung to the hidden memory, in here. The part that couldn’t let go of what was lost.” The Doctor tapped his forehead. “It was cast out through the Time Vortex, nearly destroyed the TARDIS in the process, but it survived. Grew into consciousness. Became an autonomous thing, lost across space and time. But what does a memory want more than anything?”

Amy shrugged. “To be… remembered?”

“To matter,” Rory said. “To be cherished and not forgotten.”

"To be not lost," River said, “So the storm was the memory, wanting to be found. Searching all its life...”

"...For me to remember," the Doctor said. "All correct. All brilliant. Gold stars all around.” Then his brow clouded. “Except. Hang on. Stars. Binary stars.”

Rory raised a hand. “I saw them, too. In the eye of the storm, two stars…”

“Binary, binary," The Doctor began to pace. "Ones and zeroes, one plus one, one star orbiting another, one star eclipsing the other, they’re — No. It can’t be. It must be. But, how?

“Well you’re just brimming with the enigmatic tonight,” Amy said, swinging her arms.

The Doctor ran over to where Rose and James huddled together. He dropped to his knees before them.

“There are two of them,” the Doctor said excitedly. “Two stars. The one circling the other. Hiding the other!”

Rose said, “We’ve sort of been through a lot tonight, Doctor.”

“Oh, it’s so bloody dark!” the Doctor cried. “Rory, sonic!”

Rory tossed it. The Doctor caught it and sent a pulse into the console. The clockwork chimed and the particles of light swirling within took on a phosphorescent glow.

“Binary stars,” James said slowly. “The storm said to tell you. Twin stars.”

“Twin?” Rose said. “As in, two? As in…”

“Oh, yes,” James nodded.

Realization filled her eyes, and her expression transformed from bewilderment to understanding. “As in yours,” she said. “And his.”

“The one awoke the other,” the Doctor said. He put his hands to his head and whooped. “Yours and his came first, see, and then his sonic scan awoke… ours.”

“But… humans and Time Lords aren’t compatible,” Rory said in a rush. “You said it would burn her up.”

“Oh, but he’s only half Time Lord, in’t that right?” the Doctor explained. “And Rose, she’s no ordinary human. Took the TARDIS into herself. Made of star stuff, she is, the cosmos within! You mad, brilliant, insane woman!” He planted a loud kiss on her forehead. “Fitting symmetry, wouldn't you agree? And now–” he leapt up and strode over to stand in the center of the Ardit. “Let’s get this beauty back online. We’ve got seven billion people to bring back home. Ready?”

Before anyone could say whether they were or not, the Doctor had plunged levers and thrown switches, sending a cascade of light bouncing through the tower room, and in moments, the barriers dissolved as the RDIT returned them all to the normal time stream of the McCrimmon Estate.

Chapter Text

Five days later...
Thereabouts

“And then wecrashedintotheground!” Tony yelled, smacking his fist into his palm. “And there was fire pouring out from the ceiling vent, and the smoke got thicker and thicker and I could hear Mum and Tab calling for me, but I was with Addie and her leg was trapped and she was all, ‘where’s my mummy?’ and ‘help help help.’ Then in swooped Captain Morales with a fire extinguisher, and she put out the fire with a pfft, pfft, pfffft, and then, weeeeeeooooo, BAM! we all just started to fade. Then, blink, there we were, on Felsius Four, and it was awesome.”

James grinned. “I bet it was. Wish I could’ve seen it.” He tousled the boy’s hair. Taking Tabitha’s hand, the three of them crossed the garden to where the apple tree dangled its branches over the stone wall. The air smelled of rain and green, with a brush of the sea in it, and everything felt fresh and full of possibility. “And what about you, Tab? What’d you think of Felsius Four?”

“It was a'right,” she chirped. “The bug ladies were nice. They gave us fleecy robes and hot chocolate.”

“Did they?” James asked.

“It wasn’t really hot chocolate,” Tony said.

“Was too!” Tab cried.

“Was not, it was honey-foam,” Tony said. “The Locastalan feed it to their babies. I read about it.”

Tabitha stuck out her tongue. Tony rolled his eyes. He gripped the lowest branch of the tree and swung into the foliage with a deftness only small and fearless children can manage.

James knelt with Tab and put his hands on her waist to lift her into the branches, just as he always did, but before he could, she placed her palms against his cheeks and stared into his face.

“What is it, Tab?” he asked.

“Rose says you’re having twins,” she told him. “Is that true?”

“That we are,” James said with a wink. “Confirmed this morning. Binary stars.”

“Are you having a girl?” she asked.

James arched one brow. “We’d like that bit to be a surprise.”

Tabitha glowered.

“Aw, now, I thought you liked surprises,” James said.

She pudged out her bottom lip, and James thought she might actually cry.

“Tab, what is it?”

“If you have a girl, you won’t have any time for me,” she said.

He smiled then, a gentle smile. “No, that will never be true. I’ll always make time for my little Tabby Cat.”

Her frown deepened. “You’ll be my valiant pony, forever and always?”

“To the ends of the universe and back,” he told her.

“And you’ll be my assistant defender when the evil Master Snarkypants comes to take over the earth?” Tabitha asked.

“Every time,” he said.

A lingering crease of doubt rested on her brow, so he went on. “And,” he said, “When she’s old enough, she can be an assistant defender, too.”

Tony called down then, “Oi, Tabs, you coming up or not?”

Tabitha lifted her eyes to find her brother hanging upside down, trying to look blasé, but managing instead to seem a touch nauseated. She shook her head as if to say, ‘he can do nothing without me.’

“If Rose and I have a girl, you’ll have a niece to help you guard the planet. Whaddya say to that?” James asked. “And who knows, maybe we’ll have two girls? Two nieces, eh? A trio of Tylers, defending the earth?”

“Pish,” Tab said. “One’s a boy. I’ve always known that.”

“Have you?” James asked, bewildered.

Tabitha shrugged. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for saving the earth,” she said. “I love my apple trees.” Then she lifted her arms, waiting expectantly for him to lift her into the branches.

Soon as he did, she scrambled into the tree’s embrace, and in moments he heard them laughing as they launched into one of their games of pretend — this time something about a ship lost at sea and a sea-witch and a friendly narwhal named Wilf.

Across the garden, Rose stood at the arbor gate, conversing with the Doctor. Her body weight shifted in the few days, so that she now resembled an inverted question mark. She smiled as she listened to the Doctor talk, and in the late evening amber light of spring, it seemed to James that she was glowing.

Was it any wonder The Doctor had held onto her as long as he did? James thought. And on the tails of that thought, came another: Would it pain the Doctor worse now to go, now that he knew all he was leaving behind?

The answer came immediately. Of course it would pain him. Yet still he would go, because he must. He was the Doctor, and though he saved the world, time and again, he could never stay in one place.

No one knew that better than James.

Before the swell of sadness could overwhelm James, Rose turned, and seeing him beneath the apple tree, she waved and smiled that bright, breath-taking smile, and he took the garden path to meet them.

“James,” the Doctor said, grinning broadly as he shook his hand. “Have a look.”

In the grassy courtyard that spanned between the solarium and the orchard behind the main house, dozens of families and friends ambled among the visiting Locastalan dignitaries. Amy and Rory chatted with Jackie and Pete near the dessert cart. Gareth and Professor Taylor were busy making themselves fools over River. Jake lounged in a wooden lawn chaise with Magda drifting into nap-land on his lap, while Addie and Miranda showed Commander Pheereneeke the garden, pointing out the thistles and foxgloves that bloom in the spring. Two dozen airships, brushed bronze by the evening sun, hovered in the background, tethered to the scaffold of the hangar's rooftop.

“It’s brilliant, innit, this world we saved?” James said.

“Oh yes. Absolutely,” the Doctor said.

Rose slid against James, wrapping an arm around his waist. He kissed the top of her head and breathed in the coconutty scent of her hair. His wife. Still he found it hard to believe, even after all of these years.

“Will you stay?” Rose asked the Doctor. “A few more days?”

The Doctor swallowed hard. “I would,” he said. “If I could, I would stay seventy-eight and three-quarter days, thereabouts. But long as we’re here, the rift remains open, and we all know how badly that can turnout. Speaking of…” He turned sideways as if looking for a place to hide, and finding none, he brought his sheepish smile face to face with Jackie Tyler.

“Oi, all this time, you’ve barely even said hello,” Jackie sang. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been avoiding me.” Then she grabbed his face and kissed him hard on the mouth. He floundered and flailed until Tony and Tabitha’s laughter carried across the field. Jackie pulled sharply away and whirled on James. “You didn’t leave them up that tree on their own?”

“Mum, they’re fine,” Rose groaned. “They’re more agile than a pair of cats–”

But Jackie stalked into the garden, calling Tony and Tab down from their perch, with Rose trailing after her, and the Doctor spluttering and wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve.

“Well, there is that,” James said.

The Doctor cringed. “I thought that would end when she and Pete–”

“–No,” James said, shaking his head. “No.”

“Oh you poor man,” the Doctor said, and both shared a private laugh before James suddenly sobered.

 “Have you been to the Singing Towers yet?” James asked. "With River, I mean. In the Library, she mentioned it's where you took her, before..."

The Doctor scratched his neck. “No," he said. "Though I think it must be soon."

"Right," James said. "So..."

"So much still to look forward to," the Doctor said.

"Onwards and upwards," James said.

"Sometimes looking back..." the Doctor said and his mouth curved into a half-smile.

They stood for a while, watching the crowd milling beneath the heathery twilight.

“And I have this,” the Doctor said, tossing a lump of purplish-white crystal and catching it in his palm. “There’s a lingering psychic energy in those crystals. Someone will have to clear them up, and that’ll be an undertaking, without doubt. But you have a science team and an Ardit and a mind unlike any other, except for, well, me–”

“–Oh you do like to talk,” James said.

“But!” the Doctor interjected, “This one is special. This one’s for Rose. It's the memory. The memory, the one I... we... took. She should have it."

“Right,” James said.

The Doctor placed it gingerly in James’ hands, and then brushed his hair back, trying to seem unbothered. Trying, but failing. Miserably.

Then Amy and Rory turned up, right on cue, and Amy said, “Tell him, Doctor, because he doesn’t believe me.”

“Tell him what?” the Doctor asked.

“That you speak cat,” Rory said. “She says you speak cat. But no one can speak cat; cats are mysterious.”

“I can speak cat,” the Doctor said.

"Lots of people speak to cats," James added.

“No,” Rory laughed. “No no no. What could you possibly say to cats?”

“Lots of things. How’s the weather, where are the best mice, are there any alien races surreptitiously luring unsuspecting humans into a would-be time traveling device?” the Doctor said.

“They’re also quite handy for gossip,” James added.

Rory shook his head. “Smashing.”

“I win! You owe me sixteen trillion dollars and a back rub,” Amy purred. “C’mon, River’s talking to the President!” She hooked her arm in Rory’s and dragged him off.

The Doctor and James watched them as they swanned into the party, effortlessly mingling with the multitude of guests. River joined Rory and Amy, Pete, and Professor Taylor as they listened to President Jones and Commander Pheereneeke retell the story of the Locastalan Invasion.

Beyond them, Mr. Price and Padma huddled together, talking sweetly and quietly beside the flower-decked memorial to Alicia and Prescott. After a moment, James muttered, “Well done, Mr. Price. About time.”

Rose and Jackie came up the garden path, having convinced Tony and Tabitha to come down to earth long enough for cake. The four of them wound up the path, the two children between the two women, all of them holding hands like paper dolls, all of them chattering excitedly about the possibility of fireworks at sunset.

“It’s always like this,” the Doctor said, quiet, reverent. “Always on the outside, always looking in.”

As the little group parted around them, Rose stretched on tiptoe to kiss James on the cheek before continuing into the courtyard.

“Well…” James said.

“Dr. McCrimmon,” the Doctor said, then cleared his throat. “You have a good life here. I’m proud of you.”

James’ face lit up, bright as a shiny spoon. “C’mon,” he said. “Come meet the President. Again.”

And together, they joined the party.

~~~

The morning sun silvered the dew in the fields, and in the distance, the line of crystals sparkled like fairy lights along the horizon. Rose and James said their goodbyes and lingered on the damp lawn, waving as Rory and Amy and River entered the TARDIS. The Doctor placed a hand on the door and turned.

“Goodbye,” he said. “Take care of yourselves. Don’t become an overlord!”

“He won’t!” Rose shouted, laughing. “Now go!”

The Doctor returned the grin. “I’m watching,” he said, playfully, gesturing with two fingers at his eyes and then back at James before disappearing into the TARDIS.

Moments later, as the TARDIS whisked to life, James slipped his hand into Rose’s. His grip tightened as the TARDIS dematerialized and vanished, leaving them with the whisper of the wind in the cliffs and the chatter of distant seabirds.

Rose and James ambled up the path toward the house, swinging their linked hands. James said, “I say we take the hoverlink to Fairbanks, Alaska. Professor Taylor says the aurora borealis are at their peak–”

“–We’ve got tea with the President of Burundi,” she reminded him.

James frowned. “Right. First, tea with the President of Burundi, then borealis in Fairbanks, and maybe we’ll spend a few nights in Vancouver, I love Vancouver, it’s so Canadian, what do you think?”

“Hmm, don’t suppose we could pop by Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco while we’re oot and aboot?” she asked. Together, they pushed open the doors to the tower room and circled the console.

“Ghirardelli Square?” he asked as he slowly twisted a crank on the control panel. “What’s in Ghirardelli Square?”

“Ghirardelli chocolates,” she said. “I’ve got a mad craving.”

“Mad craving times two. Can’t ignore that,” he said.

“It would not be advisable, sir," Rose said, in her very best Queen Victoria tone.

“Then it’s Burundi, Fairbanks, Ghirardelli Square, Vancouver, and…oh..." James puffed out a breath. "Anywhere we like.”

The clockwork in the tower pulsed to life. Shimmering particles of light buzzed and gleamed within the cylinder. The skylight irised open, and James pulled her body close.

“How long are you gonna stay with me?” James asked.

Rose cupped his chin in her hand. “Forever,” she told him.

He beamed back at her. They each placed a hand on the lever and pushed, sending a burst of golden energy through the skylight and into the sky. The shield settled like a gossamer curtain around the grounds of the house.

“Forever,” James said. “I like that sound of that.”