Skandar Keynes as Dummy/DJ Anushka Sharma as Butterfingers/Bela Wu Chun as You/Hui
Paul Bettany as Jarvis/J Hazal Kaya as Samael/Sam
That just wasn’t fair! That wasn’t fair at all!
Why couldn’t they have had a happy ending? They deserved it! Especially him after all the grief and everything else he’d gone through!
Dummy whined and threw himself under his covers, the highlights of the interviews with David Tennant and Billie Piper playing behind his eyelids like a loop. Which, of course, they literally were since he was an AI and although his coding was a tad outdated it wasn’t that outdated that he couldn’t play videos to himself sans a laptop.
He just…needed to download them first. And make sure he was near an Internet connection.
Sibling_Jarvis didn’t because he was the coolest and could play things anytime and anywhere.
He shed a few tears as the reels concluded with some artfully put together clips of scenes from Tennant’s run as the Doctor and Billie’s as Rose Tyler.
They were just so…in love!
And they stayed in love! And Rose got locked away in a parallel world and the Doctor was left behind!
Sure, there’d been a clone/metacrisis/whatever involved that gave Rose a somewhat happy ending but where did that leave the Doctor? Dummy still felt betrayed thinking about that ending and how his hopes had been shattered brutally on realizing that there would no happily-ever-after for one person.
And the show’s quality had just…not been the same when Moffat got into things. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the Eleventh Doctor, only that he didn’t really like the companions much. They had their moments but they weren’t Martha or Donna or Rose. Or Jack or Mickey.
The less said about the forced romance with River Song the better.
Dummy had thrown his popcorn bowl at the TV at numerous points much to his siblings’ displeasure. They’d been just as distressed but hadn’t wanted to deal with cleaning up the popcorn or the buttery smears on the screen. They had found kernels embedded in the carpet for weeks afterwards.
And now the Doctor was a woman and the two best parts of the show (in Dummy’s humble opinion) were saying that the Doctor and Rose Tyler were still in love and would always be in love.
“It’s just not fair,” Dummy whined.
“What isn’t?” sibling_Butterfingers asked, her weight resting next to Dummy on the bed.
“Thiiis!” Dummy wailed, whacking sibling_Butterfingers in the arm to show her what he’d been watching.
She was quiet for a few minutes as she watched the videos. Dummy registered when her heartbeat and breathing changed and she started choking up a little.
“See?” Dummy demanded once she’d finished. “See? It’s not fair!”
“But it’s okay, isn’t it?” Sibling_Butterfingers looked a little watery-eyed. “Don’t you remember when we first watched the episode? Dad put us in it—”
“But it wasn’t real, was it? He said it was a box”—an “idiot box” was what creator_Tony_Dad had muttered under his breath—“and we could mess around however we wanted.”
“But we gave them a happy ending,” sibling_Butterfingers pointed out.
“It wasn’t real!” Dummy insisted, voice raising. “And somewhere out there the Doctor is unhappy and miserable!”
“What’s going on?” sibling_You asked in Chinese, poking his head into the bedroom. “You’re making my processors go absolutely haywire.”
“We don’t have processors anymore,” Dummy said sulkily.
“Okay, but you’re moping around loudly enough that I can sense it and Jarvis and Sam can, too.”
“It’s this,” sibling_Butterfingers said thankfully, sending the videos sibling_You’s way so Dummy wouldn’t have to physically move to do it.
“Oh,” sibling_You said once he was done, “oh.” Then, “Why were you even watching this?”
“I have Google alerts set up when something happens,” Dummy said, thinking this was entirely self-explanatory.
“Didn’t we agree not to go back and watch the Tenth Doctor and Rose because it made us too sad?”
“Noooo.” Dummy folded his arms over his chest, deliberately not thinking about the agreement they had made to leave those seasons alone. Even after playing around in creator_Tony_Dad’s box and giving the two a happy ending it hurt too much to keep seeing them be torn apart because of drama. And contracts.
“He wants to fix it,” sibling Butterfingers explained. “Although we already did—”
“It was fake!” Dummy snapped. “It’s not like it really mattered what we did there, did it?”
“They’re fictional characters,” sibling_You said hesitantly.
“But they don’t have to be! There are parallel universes out there, aren’t there? Dad said sometimes things pop through in dreams, so a lot of our books are actually real worlds somewhere else. Why can’t it be true here?”
His siblings shared looks, clearly communicating on another level Dummy wasn’t privy to and never would be.
Not that he resented them that connection. They only had it because they’d been built at the same time. Dummy would always remain the oldest.
Aside from, y’know, the Norse gods that were still a bit on the skittish side.
They didn’t count because they were adopted.
“It wouldn’t hurt to ask, I guess,” sibling_Butterfingers said finally. “Even if…er…”
“Don’t tell me you don’t want to fix it!” Dummy gave her a disbelieving look. “Who was the one who pushed all the buttons?”
“I’m not…” Sibling_Butterfingers looked away, scratching at her cheek. “Er…okay.” She sighed, smiling. “I’m in. Totally in. All in.” She shot him twin thumbs-up. “Allons-y!”
“I’m in, too,” sibling_You said when they looked at him. “Obviously. So…are we going to go and ask Dad?” The rather hopeful tone didn’t match with his blank expression.
One of these days sibling_You was going to realize life was a lot more fun when you just let go and did things. You didn’t have to be cool and suave all the time.
Dummy certainly wasn’t and he did just fine.
“You want me to what?” creator_Tony_Dad asked, one arm in the torso of the Iron Man suit he was fiddling with. He was out on the balcony of the penthouse floor, having come back from a test flight with sibling_Jarvis.
“We want to get the Doctor and Rose together again!” Dummy said, bouncing eagerly.
“I thought we did,” creator_Tony_Dad said dubiously. “Or did I imagine the Doomsday thing?”
“But that was fake,” Dummy said, waving his hands demonstratively. “You said it yourself! That it was an idiot box!”
A faint wince crossed creator_Tony_Dad’s face. “You, uh…heard that, huh. It was a reference to something else; sometimes the same tricks do work out pretty well.” He glanced back into the depths of the suit’s torso, sighed, and then pulled his arm out, twirling a small soldering pen through his fingers.
“It wasn’t exactly fake,” creator_Tony_Dad said. “Insofar that the idi – box is still there. You can go back in anytime to play if you want.”
“We don’t want the fake thing,” Dummy said, “we want the real thing.”
Creator_Tony_Dad blinked at him for several moments. “It’s a television show,” he offered.
“We know that!” Dummy said impatiently, wishing he hadn’t been the one nominated for this discussion. His siblings would doubtlessly already have pulled out an entire list for why they should be doing this. But they’d said he should do it because he was the one most likely to get it done.
“…Do…you want me to call the producers and ask if they can get those two on the show again?” Creator_Tony_Dad was frowning. “Isn’t the most recent Doctor female? They could probably do another meet-up with the earlier Doctors…”
“I don’t want another stupid episode like the fiftieth anniversary one,” Dummy said. “And that’s probably what they’d do! No, Dad, can’t you put us in their actual universe so we can fix things?”
Creator_Tony_Dad gave Dummy a long look, following it with equally long looks to where his siblings were standing silently on either side of him. Sibling_Butterfingers was twirling her hair around a finger while sibling_You was picking at his nails.
“Geez, kid,” he said finally, sighing. He gave Dummy a wry smile. “You don’t ask for much, huh?”
“That is asking for a lot,” uncle_Gadreel pointed out, standing by the balcony doors. Dummy wasn’t entirely sure how long he’d been standing there.
“It was a figure of speech, Gadreel,” creator_Tony_Dad said. “Do we need to go over privacy again?”
“The balcony isn’t private?”
“I’ll give you that one.” Creator_Tony_Dad sighed again, tossing the fine soldering tool into the air where it promptly disappeared into nothing. “Okay, kiddos. Let’s talk about why it’s generally a bad idea to go messing around in parallel universes and then let’s do it anyway.”
“Doesn’t that defeat the point of a lecture?” uncle_Gadreel asked.
“It makes me feel somewhat more responsible,” creator_Tony_Dad said, “and now I feel like I have hives.” He made a face, turning towards the penthouse. “Let’s get Sam and J for this. If I have to do this, I’d like to do it just once.”
Sibling_Samael and sibling_Jarvis were already in the living room, sibling_JARVIS clearly having overheard.
“Okay,” creator_Tony_Dad said once they were all seated. He had one arm slung around sibling_Samael, but everyone else was scattered around to see his face. Step 1 of making sure you got what you wanted: be able to see the other person’s face. “Parallel universes and interfering. Generally not a good idea. What if something goes terribly wrong and then you come back in a hundred years to find out everyone’s sprouted tentacles?”
“That seems really specific,” sibling_Butterfingers said. “Did you do that?”
“How irresponsible do you think I am?” Creator_Tony_Dad looked offended for all of a second. “No, that was just the most ridiculous thing I could think of. But, seriously, interfering with parallel universes is a no-no unless you’re doing it for specific reasons.”
“For the same reasons that you choose not to interfere with humans?” sibling_Jarvis asked.
Creator_Tony_Dad snapped his fingers, pointing them at sibling_Jarvis. “Exactly. Whole issue of free will comes into play. Do your desires contradict with how events would have naturally played out? Was it necessary for you to interfere?”
“But you have free will, too,” sibling_Samael said pointedly, looking up at him.
Something pinched around creator_Tony_Dad’s eyes; it often did around sibling_Samael. “We do,” he agreed, “but because of who we are… It’s important we’re careful how we use it. We hold a lot of power, and that can be abused if we’re not careful.”
“But what if you just want to help?” Dummy protested.
“Your version of helping might not be someone else’s,” creator_Tony_Dad answered simply. “Interfere too soon, you might stop someone else from learning something important. Interfere in the wrong way, you might make things worse.”
“What if we know exactly how things are going to happen?” Dummy demanded. “And we know we can fix it?”
“What if you make things worse?” creator_Tony_Dad fired back. “Actions have reactions, and you can’t always predict them. Especially when people get involved.”
“You can calculate what’s likely depending on what you know about their personalities,” sibling_You said.
“There’s that, but don’t forget the long-term consequences. Change one thing, and everything else changes with it.”
“This isn’t about parallel worlds anymore, is it,” sibling_Butterfingers complained. “You’re trying to talk us out of it!”
“Nope,” creator_Tony_Dad said cheerfully. “Just making sure you have all your ducks lined up in a row.”
“We’re going to do it,” Dummy insisted. “We are. They deserve to be happy!”
His dad’s smile slipped slightly, turning slightly more melancholic. “They?” he asked gently. “Or the Doctor? Last I saw, she seemed to be doing all right.”
Creator_Tony_Dad had watched some of the show with them, but it had always been more of an activity Dummy did with his siblings. And then sibling_Samael once ne was part of the family. (Mind, they’d had to binge watch the show again once sibling_Samael was old enough to follow along but it wasn’t like anyone complained.)
“But she’s always left alone!” Dummy said. “None of the companions ever stay! And the few times someone said they would stay forever, it didn’t work out! So he was left alone again! And it was just…” He rubbed at his eyes. “It was bad, okay?”
“We want the Doctor to be happy,” sibling_Butterfingers said. “And…well…he was really happy with Rose. The metacrisis just seemed like a cop-out for the writers because they couldn’t keep Billie on so…” She shrugged.
Creator_Tony_Dad looked at each of them in turn, giving sibling_Jarvis the briefest look since he didn’t exactly have a leg in this race. Sibling_Jarvis had mainly been in the idiot box to supervise them and make sure they didn’t do something stupid such as accidentally blow up something super important or accidentally dump both the Doctor and Rose into the Void.
They were way older now. They didn’t need that kind of supervision anymore.
Well… Dummy glanced at sibling_Samael. Maybe ne did, as ne was around eleven years.
“Keep in mind,” creator_Tony_Dad said, “I don’t know if there’s an actual universe out there that inspired these characters. I can look, but there’s no guarantee.”
“If that’s true,” Dummy said, “then we don’t have to worry, do we? Because then it’s really fictional and we can just go back into the idiot box.”
“Yeah, let’s just call it the box, hm?” Creator_Tony_Dad winced slightly. “You guys aren’t as much of idiots as the two guys I originally created it for.”
“So we’re only somewhat idiots?” sibling_You asked.
“Not idiots at all,” creator_Tony_Dad said hastily. He paused, then added, “But then we’re all kind of idiots, aren’t we? So let’s just leave it at that.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Anyway, yes, you guys can go back into the box and do whatever you want if it so happens that there’s no universe out there with the Doctor and Rose.”
That made it sound like there probably was one. “But you think there is one?”
“Weeelll…theoretically speaking…it’s highly likely there is one. For long-running series such as Doctor Who…it’s likely that the creators might be getting inklings of what’s going on through dreams. Depending on levels of sensitivity, what they get might not be entirely accurate. It’s a bit like playing a game of telephone across dimensions. So maybe it’s accurate that the Doctor has two hearts, but what they didn’t get right was—”
“The Doctor leaving Rose behind on a fifty-first century spaceship to go rescuing someone he doesn’t really know?” Dummy interrupted, since he’d absolutely hated that episode and how unrecognizable the characters had been. It was another episode banned; they hadn’t even let sibling_Samael watch it.
His dad’s lips twitched. “For starters, sure.”
“That episode sucked,” sibling_Samael muttered, clearly having watched the episode somehow.
“Giant game of telephone,” creator_Tony_Dad repeated. “But there’s no guarantee that what you’d liked to have happened is necessarily what happened. That’s one of those things you’ll have to figure out once we get there.”
“You’re not coming?” sibling_Butterfingers asked.
“No, I’ll be there,” creator_Tony_Dad said. “But I’m going to leave this up to you since this is your call.”
“Are you certain about this, Gabriel?” Uncle_Gadreel sounded remarkably uncertain.
“I’ll be supervising,” creator_Tony_Dad said. “If we do this, that is,” he added. “Can’t be too sure that I’ll find it. And if I do find it…there’s a reason why our kind won’t be there.”
“The same reason there are no angels here?” sibling_Jarvis said.
“Ehh, probably. Sort of similar reasons. Superheroes are enough to deal with without throwing angels into the mix. The Doctor’s universe…it’s likely the Time Lords played a similar function given their ties to timelines. More specifically, it’s likely the Doctor plays that function alongside the Eternals.” He made a face. “Or maybe just the Doctor; the Eternals seem to really like their hands-off policy. Like we did…” He shook his head.
“Time Lords were dicks most of the time,” Dummy stated, not liking the look on his dad’s face.
Creator_Tony_Dad coughed, though it sounded closer to a laugh. “Same could be said for angels. Anyway, interfering with someone else’s universe and their rules…gets a little dicey, too. Don’t want to tread on any toes.”
“But you tread on toes all the time,” sibling_Samael said matter-of-factly. “You like treading on toes!”
Creator_Tony_Dad shrugged, looking only slightly sheepish. “Yeah, well…non-interference policy only goes so far when things are shoved into your face. I admit I’m biased – difficult not to be when you live among humans and have favorites. But we’ve still got to be careful with how we nudge things along.”
“Time Lords can’t do miracles,” sibling_Butterfingers said. “They’re aliens, Dad. Super powerful aliens with some neat technology, but they’re still aliens. The Doctor fixes things when he finds them, and he loves humans. But there’s only so much he can do, isn’t there? So right now…why can’t we do something nice for him? Because you can, can’t you? Even if you’re not supposed to…you can do it if you want to, right?”
“I hear that is what free will is supposed to be about,” uncle_Gadreel commented, a small smile crossing his face.
“Oh yeah.” Creator_Tony_Dad gave them all a fond look. “So…I think that about comprises today’s lecture. Who still wants to go?”
Sibling_Samael’s hand shot up so fast ne almost hit creator_Tony_Dad in the face. “I couldn’t help out last time,” ne said, “but I definitely want to help this time! I can, can’t I?”
“We’ll supervise,” Dummy added, giving creator_Tony_Dad a grin. “C’mon; we’re responsible enough!”
“You’re something,” creator_Tony_Dad agreed, scratching his chin. “J, you going to join in this time?”
“I believe I will watch,” sibling_Jarvis said primly. “This is – as you say – their show.” He nodded towards Dummy, sibling_Butterfingers, and sibling_You.
“Okay!” Creator_Tony_Dad clapped his hands together. “So…I’ll get to looking to see if I can find that universe. It’ll take a little bit of time since it’ll be a bigger jump.”
“Why?” sibling_You asked. “The last one you found was easy.”
“The last one was just a little different from our own universe, You. It was just a parallel version of our team, and I sure hope that other me isn’t hopping around anymore…” He shook his head. “It’s like looking through our own neighborhood – easy enough to find the other houses if we’re staying in the same street. My old universe and the Doctor’s are a little trickier, requires some highway driving so to speak. I can find my old home easily because it’s where I came from. The Doctor’s? I’ll be flying blind without a map.”
“But when you find it, you can drop us back into Doomsday?” Dummy asked eagerly.
“Weeellll…” Creator_Tony_Dad made a face. “If I find it…you’ll have to figure out when is a good time to interfere. If we interfered every time something went wrong, what would they learn? I designed the box around Doomsday since that’s what you wanted and nothing would really happen afterwards. But with this…we’ll be interfering with actual lives. There aren’t do-overs for that kind of interference. Interfere too soon, we’ll be erasing valuable life lessons.”
Dummy rocked back, unsettled. “But what are they supposed to learn? And what’s wrong with making them happier sooner?”
Creator_Tony_Dad shook his head, giving sibling_Samael a squeeze to nir shoulder before standing. “I’ll let you guys figure that out. Be back in…uh…” He squinted, then shrugged. “Not sure. I’ll try not to make it too long. J, if they ask, let the team know where I’ve gone?”
“Of course, sir.”
There was an audible flutter of wings and then creator_Tony_Dad was gone.
Dummy spent a minute contemplating the empty spot where he’d been standing before turning to his siblings. “So…”
“Let’s make a list!” sibling_Butterfingers and sibling_You chorused, grinning widely.
Dummy wrinkled his nose. “Nooo. Do we have to?”
“You want to be able to go, don’t you?” sibling_Butterfingers asked. “Making a list is the best way of making sure we’ve got everything organized. Like what the Doctor and Rose wouldn’t learn if we keep Rose from going into Pete’s World.”
“Can you help us?” sibling_You asked uncle_Gadreel.
“Perhaps,” uncle_Gadreel said noncommittally. “But I will let you come up with your own answers first.” He disappeared before any of them could think to bug him further.
“I trust you four will be able to find the suitable answers yourself,” sibling_Jarvis said when Dummy turned to him. He stood, patting sibling_Butterfingers and sibling_You on the heads. “Good luck.”
One universe over…
The wall was flat, solid, and unyielding underneath his hand. There was nothing but silence in the room, whereas before it had been filled with the howling of the Void and the screams of Daleks and Cybermen.
He pressed his cheek against the wall, as if he could feel Rose on the other side. But there was nothing (would always be nothing).
He didn’t cry, didn’t scream, didn’t beg the universe to bring her back (bring her back). When had the universe ever listened to him? When had the universe ever been kind enough to him?
All he did was breathe, pressing his hand and cheek to the wall as if by sheer physical proximity alone he could feel Rose.
But there was only silence, and the wall offered no answers.
The way between universes was shut, and with no Gallifrey, no Time Lords…
The Doctor slowly pulled away, a creeping numbness spreading from his hearts outwards. The silence rang in his head. He almost thought he could hear her voice, could hear her cracking jokes and laughing (and promising him forever), but there was nothing but silence and no hand in his own.
He turned his back to the white wall of nothing that offered him no answers, slowly walking to the exit.
(Something in him hoped that maybe Rose could come through but if she could manage that she would already have done it instead of leaving him alonealone—)
“Are you all right?” an unfamiliar male voice asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
The Doctor looked to the side where a dark-haired man with a well-defined beard in Torchwood’s uniform stood, eyeing him in clear concern. There was no gun in sight or any other indication that the man wanted to arrest him.
And yet the Doctor wanted nothing more to do with Torchwood after what they had done – after what they had cost him.
“How long are you going to stay with me?”
The Doctor didn’t answer, walking past the man and putting more distance between him and the wall where he had lost—
“I’m sorry, Doctor,” the man called after him.
The Doctor didn’t turn, didn’t look back at the Torchwood agent who had offered him genuine sympathies (as if he knew what the Doctor had lost).
He’d once had forever.
Not even that.
Donna had met Rose in the parallel world. She had met Rose.
Why did Rose keep haunting him? He’d thought…he’d tried… (But had he really?)
“When you met Rose in that parallel world, what did she say?” the Doctor asked, needing clearer answers than what he’d been getting. Well, he really needed answers in general.
Would be nice, considering they were missing a bunch of people and the Daleks were back. (Why couldn’t they just stay dead?)
“Just…the darkness is coming,” Donna said.
Well, that was very helpful, thank you, Donna. “Anything else?” he urged.
Donna was clearly thinking, almost loudly enough that the Doctor could hear her without needing to touch. She opened her mouth, eyes drifting over the Doctor’s shoulder. Then, smiling, she said, unexpectedly, “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
The Doctor almost asked what she meant – ask Rose? – but Donna was still looking behind him and the best way of getting answers was to look himself.
He turned, eyes catching sight of a figure down the road, a ridiculously large gun in her hands.
She was standing there, looking slightly older than she had when he’d last seen her (screaming as her hands slipped off the lever and pulled her into the Void before Pete caught her and transported them away), but no less beautiful. She was dressed entirely sensibly (because heels were terribly impractical when one needed to run, Doctor).
Rose grinned when she saw him looking at her, happiness brightening her face.
The Doctor’s hearts skipped a beat, and he could scarcely believe that she was here. She was – Rose.
Rose was walking towards him, far too slowly because she was there and not here where he could really, truly make sure that she was physically present and not just an image in the TARDIS while he burned up a sun to say goodbye.
The Doctor’s legs reacted before he could think and then he was running towards her – towards Rose.
Rose broke into a run herself, closing the distance between them.
(He’d taken her hand once underneath a shop, taken her hand instinctively, without thinking, and told her Run.)
They were so close now – so much closer than they had been in years, and the Doctor wanted to touch—
A dreaded, mechanical voice filled the air. “EXTER—”
“Exterminate this, you dick!” another, younger voice shouted.
The Doctor whirled to the side in time to see a Dalek standing in the shadows, gun jammed with what appeared to be a rock. An exact second later and the Dalek exploded as it fired the gun and it backfired.
The Doctor stumbled to a stop, senses flickering as an aborted timeline brushed past him. There was a brief flash as his body flared in pain but then it disappeared, and he realized how closely he’d come to regenerating.
There was another flash between the Doctor and Rose, and Jack appeared, gun in hand. He looked rather bewildered, looking between the Doctor and Rose as if he expected them to already be touching.
“Doctor!” Rose closed the remaining distance between them while the Doctor was still looking at where the smoking chassis of the Dalek stood.
He turned instinctively, finding himself with an armful of Rose. His arms closed automatically around her. “Rose.”
Rose’s arms tightened around his neck. “Doctor.”
Breath hitching in his chest despite his respiratory bypass, the Doctor buried his face in her neck, breathing her in and cataloguing all the changes to her scent. She’d changed her perfume and conditioner; even her makeup wasn’t the same as before. But underneath that it was still Rose and his eyes filled with tears before he could stop them.
“Rose,” he choked out, finding himself unable to say anything else.
“I’m here, Doctor, I’m here.” Rose pressed her lips to his neck, sending a delightful shiver down his spine as his skin registered the contact. “I’m here. And so are you.”
The Doctor rocked back on his heels slightly, Rose still in his arms.
There was a slight banging noise off to the side where the Dalek had been, followed by a scandalized shh! that was definitely not as quiet as it should have been.
The Doctor reluctantly pulled away from Rose, meeting her eyes as he did. Their faces were so close; he could feel her breath against his skin. (A kiss against a helmet before he entered the darkness and encountered the beast.)
“Who’s there?” Jack demanded. “Show yourself!”
The Doctor forced himself to focus, letting Rose drop to the ground but not pulling away entirely, one arm still at her waist.
“You were supposed to be quiet!” a female voice snapped in an American accent.
“I was!” the other voice from earlier protested in the same accent. “It was Sam!”
“Hi!” a far more childish voice chirped, the owner stepping out from the shadows and revealing themselves to be a young…girl? Possibly? Going by human gender norms and the pink flower in her light brown hair. Everything else down to the clothes and haircut suggested a boy but humans in this year definitely weren’t quite so willing to let their boys play with flowers.
Three other adolescents stumbled into view, one a white boy with dark hair and eyes, one an Indian girl with dark brown hair in a single braid, and one a Chinese boy with tidy hair. They all seemed to be various shades of sheepishness and excited.
“Sam, you’re supposed to stay back,” the Indian girl said, putting a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Remember?”
“But it’s safe!” Sam protested, looking guilelessly up at the other girl. “The Dalek’s gone!” She pointed to the smoking chassis.
“Doesn’t mean it’s safe,” the older girl said.
“But they’re here!” Sam said, pointing now to the Doctor. “Besides, it’s the Doctor!”
“Er, quite right,” the Doctor managed, looking between each of the children in turn. Three adolescents and one girl who appeared to be…eleven? Twelve? His normally impeccable time sense failed to peg any of them with an exact age. The adolescents were pinging between fifteen and sixteen and sometimes even thirty? Now that wasn’t right at all. “Who are you?”
The white boy beamed. “I’m Dum – ow!” He winced, pulling away from the older girl who’d punched him in the shoulder.
“Bela,” the girl said without missing a beat, meeting the Doctor’s eyes with a cheeky grin. “This is DJ, and that’s Hui.” She pointed to each of the boys. “Sam.” She ruffled Sam’s hair.
“You could’ve hit lighter,” DJ grumbled, rubbing his shoulder with a pout. “It’s going to bruise.”
“Don’t be a baby,” Bela said impatiently. “It’ll heal in no time.”
“Doctor, what are they doing here?” Donna asked from behind him. “Didn’t the Daleks take all the humans?”
Oh, stupid Doctor. Why hadn’t he remembered that?
“She’s right,” Jack said, holstering his gun. “We should get off the streets. It’s not safe out here.”
“Okay!” Sam sounded excited. “To the blue box down there, right?”
There was an audible slap of skin against skin as Bela hit the palm of her hand against her forehead.
“Ooh, sorry,” Sam whispered, although still loudly enough for the Doctor’s hearing to pick up. “Should we just…turn around?”
DJ shook his head, grabbing hold of Sam’s hand. “Nope!” He gave the Doctor a wide grin, beaming at him. “I mean, why would we go to a telephone box to hide? It wouldn’t fit all of us, would it?”
“It would if we sat on top of each other,” Hui said seriously.
Blinking, the Doctor realized that Hui had spoken Chinese instead of English like the others, giving his words a British accent that the others didn’t have as the TARDIS didn’t need to translate theirs.
Jack barked out a surprised laugh. “Oh, that’s good. I like you, kid.”
Hui looked inexplicably pleased. “I like your coat,” he offered, still in perfect Chinese like he expected to be understood.
Jack grinned. “Thanks, kid. I like it, too.”
“Jack’s right,” the Doctor said, glancing down at Rose and finding her already looking up at him. He smiled unthinkingly, a warm glow in his chest despite everything else they still had to figure out. “Let’s get to the TARDIS. And you had better come along as well,” he added, looking at the newcomers.
For some reason this seemed to make them all look at each other excitedly. DJ seemed like he wanted to say something but was silenced by Bela stepping rather harshly on his foot.
Rose pulled away from him, cold immediately sinking in where her warmth had been soaking into his skin. But she interlaced her fingers with his, hand settling in exactly where it belonged. (This body had been made for her, born in the fires of a desperate desire to become someone worthy of her.)
The Doctor squeezed her hand, hearts beating too fast in his chest as he registered that no matter what else had changed with Rose, this was still the same. (But what else had changed beyond the physical? Would she stay? She’d promised him forever once but she’d been so young.)
“Oh my gosh,” DJ muttered from behind, sounding absolutely ecstatic.
“I know,” Bela said, sounding just as excited.
The others didn’t hear as the voices had been too quiet for human hearing. The Doctor certainly wasn’t about to let them know that they weren’t quiet enough for Time Lord senses.
Once inside the TARDIS, the Doctor waited for the expected “It’s bigger on the inside!” remarks but was rather disappointed when none of the children did so, only looking around with wide, sparkling eyes.
“It’s so cool!” DJ gushed.
A beat later and then Hui said, as if by rote, “It’s bigger on the inside.”
“It’s a TARDIS,” the Doctor said, just a bit disappointed none of them seemed that excited about the whole “bigger on the inside” aspect, “stands for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space.’”
“You have a whole ’nother dimension in here,” Sam said suddenly, turning around in slow circles. “That’s just…wizard.” She gave him a toothy grin.
“Well, that’s definitely not something you hear from a kid every day,” Jack commented.
“I’m not just a kid,” Sam protested, Bela patting her on the shoulder. Sam stopped, clearly wanting to say something else but deciding against it with a wrinkled nose.
“Hey, there are a bunch of buttons on this,” DJ said, and the Doctor noticed with some small amount of horror that DJ was inspecting the TARDIS’s console like he actually wanted to start pressing them.
Well, okay, the Doctor could say that he liked pressing buttons himself but that didn’t mean he liked others doing it, too!
“Of course there are buttons,” Hui said before the Doctor could do so much as take a step towards DJ. “It’s a spaceship that travels in time.”
“What are they teaching you lot in school these days?” Donna asked, sounding faintly bewildered.
“Oh, we didn’t learn it in school,” DJ said cheerfully. “But we do know who the Doctor is!” He waved in the Doctor’s direction. “Not too difficult to find out more once you know what you’re looking for. But I thought maybe this was one of those things that might have been different,” he added. “No holograms?” He didn’t poke at the closest button but seemed like he wanted to.
“He’s got a point,” Rose said, giving the Doctor a fond smile. “It’s how Mickey and I found out more about you. Conspiracy theorists love you, Doctor.”
“I do keep running into conspiracies,” the Doctor said, returning her smile with his own.
“Into and away,” Rose agreed, smile broadening into that tongue-touched grin he’d fallen in love with.
He leaned in closer unthinkingly, drawn towards her warmth that he had missed for so long.
He was close enough to brush noses when the lights in the TARDIS abruptly turned off.
“What’s that?” Donna asked. “What’s going on?”
The Doctor tightened his grip on Rose’s hand, reminding himself that he had time now. Or would once they took care of the Daleks. He didn’t have to run any scans to know what the Daleks had done. “They’ve got us. Power’s gone. Some kind of chronon loop.”
“The Daleks, yeah?” Rose said, letting out a breath, face darkening. “They just won’t die, will they?”
“Universe’s cockroaches,” DJ muttered from somewhere by the TARDIS’s console. “Just shinier and you can’t really step on them unless you’re Hank.”
“There’s a massive Dalek ship at the center of these planets,” Jack said. “They’re calling it the Crucible. Guess that’s our destination.”
Donna looked askance at the Doctor. “You said these planets were like an engine. What for?”
The Doctor let out a breath, turning towards Rose. Twenty-seven planets had gone missing. Twenty-seven planets were gone from the skies, and now they knew where they’d gone but not necessarily what the Daleks wanted to do with them (aside from most likely rain destruction). “Rose, you’ve been in a parallel world. That world’s running ahead of this universe. You’ve seen the future. What was it?”
Rose looked back at him steadily. “It’s the darkness.”
“The stars were going out,” Donna continued slowly.
Rose nodded, glancing at her. “One by one. We looked up at the sky and they were just dying.” She tilted her head. “Basically…we’ve been building this, er, this travel machine. This – this, er, dimension cannon, so I could.” She seemed sheepish. “Well, so I could—”
Despite everything, the Doctor couldn’t help but grin at the embarrassment pouring off of Rose. “What?”
Rose huffed, giving him a look and a grin of her own. “So I could come back! Shut up.” She shoved at him with her free hand. “Anyway, suddenly it started to work and the dimensions started to collapse. Not just in our world, not just in yours, but the whole of reality. Even the Void was dead. Something is destroying everything.”
“In that parallel world,” Donna said, “you said something about me.”
Rose looked back at Donna. “The dimension cannon could measure timelines, and it’s – it’s weird, Donna, but they all seemed to converge on you.”
Donna’s eyes widened. “But why me? I mean, what have I ever done? I’m a temp from Chiswick.”
Rose said nothing, but her expression said worlds that no one was insignificant.
A scanner on the TARDIS’s console beeped. The Doctor glanced at it briefly to confirm what he suspected. “The Dalek Crucible,” he announced, managing a somewhat cheery tone. “All aboard.”
Someone whispered “fuck” and it sounded like one of the children but that was ridiculous.
Not that the Doctor disagreed with the sentiment. He rather wanted to curse as well but it would be in Gallifreyan where no one could understand.
“What do we do?” Jack asked, one hand on the holster of his gun.
“Doctor, you will step forth or die,” a Dalek’s voice stated, projecting into the TARDIS.
The Doctor looked at the door separating them from the outside world – separating them from the Daleks. He tightened his grip on Rose’s hand. “We’ll have to go out. Because if we don’t, they’ll get in.”
Rose pulled at his hand. “You told me nothing could get through those doors.”
“You’ve got extrapolator shielding,” Jack added.
Oh, he did, he did. (The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t make it through but they were human. When had the Daleks been human? They’d gone to war with the Time Lords and lived to tell the tale while he was the only one left standing of his race.)
“Last time we fought the Daleks,” the Doctor started, closing his eyes as he remembered that space station far into the future, “they were scavengers and hybrids and mad. But this is a fully-fledged Dalek Empire at the height of its power.” All the Daleks who had fought the Time Lords – Davros who had been dead but wasn’t. It was always the Daleks who escaped. “Experts at fighting TARDISes, they can do anything. Right now, that wooden door is just wood.”
“What about your dimension jumper?” Jack asked Rose.
Rose shook her head. “It needs another twenty minutes, and I’m not leaving.” Her own grip on the Doctor’s hand tightened, reassuring him that she was here.
“What about your own teleport?” the Doctor asked, eyes dropping to where Jack’s teleporter was.
Jack shrugged. “Went down with the power loss.”
And that was…that was it, then. They didn’t have an immediate way off the TARDIS, and they couldn’t just stay here with the hordes of Daleks ready to tear down the door.
“Right then,” the Doctor said, managing to sound a great deal more confident than he felt. “All of us together. Let’s do it.”
“The Daleks are out there?” Sam whispered, breaking the suspense with her childish voice.
With a rising sense of horror, the Doctor realized that he’d entirely forgotten about their four new passengers. Passengers who’d had no idea what they were signing up for when they’d boarded the TARDIS; passengers who were children.
“Yes,” Bela said, sounding far too calm. “But it’s okay, remember? The Doctor has us. We’re not alone, you know that.” She gave the Doctor a calm look; even Hui looked calm.
There was no panic on their faces.
“Quite right, too,” the Doctor managed, pulling strength from Rose’s presence at his side and from his other friends. He’d leave them all here in the TARDIS if he had a choice, but that wasn’t… None of them would let him do that.
“Okay.” Sam sounded confident, straightening her shirt out. “Let’s do this.” She stuck her chin out. “Maybe I can punch one of them,” she added, narrowing her eyes.
“Oh my God,” Donna muttered. “They’re nuts.”
“There’ll be no punching,” Jack said. “Especially not by you, all right?”
“Hm.” Sam seemed unconvinced.
“Surrender, Doctor,” the Dalek from outside intoned, “and face your Dalek masters.”
As ironic as it sounded, they were out of time.
Letting Rose’s hand go, the Doctor ignored the sudden sensation of loss. He reassured himself with one last look at Rose before he approached the door and opened it, taking the first step outside and facing the Daleks.
“We’re actually here,” Bela whispered, eyes wide as she looked out at the Daleks.
“Daleks reign supreme,” the Supreme Dalek cried, red chassis glistening. “All hail the Daleks!”
The other Daleks took up the cry.
“Behold, Doctor,” the Supreme Dalek said as the other Daleks continued chanting. “Behold the might of the true Dalek race.”
The Doctor had seen the Dalek army before. The Doctor had fought the Dalek army before. An army made of an entirely different class of Daleks than the ones before them now.
Before there was Gallifrey. Before there were the Time Lords. Then it had all just—
There was just him now. Just him, a TARDIS, and his companions.
“You are alone,” the Supreme Dalek taunted. “The last Time Lord. The last TARDIS.”
“He’s not alone,” Rose said heatedly. “He’s got us!”
“You are humans and thus worthless,” the Supreme Dalek declared. “As for the TARDIS…”
The Doctor whirled around in time to see a trapdoor open underneath the TARDIS, dropping her into the bowels of the Crucible. “What are you doing? Bring her back!”
“It is a weapon and must be destroyed,” the Supreme Dalek continued.
A weapon? A weapon? To these Daleks she very well might be one but where had they put her? He could still feel her but it was getting fainter and stressing the bond they had.
“What have you done?” the Doctor demanded. “Where’s she going?”
“The Crucible has a heart of Z-neutrino energy. The TARDIS will be deposited into the core.”
The Doctor’s hearts skipped a beat. “You can’t. You’ve taken the defenses down. She’ll be torn apart!”
“Bela…” Hui sounded mildly concerned. “Where’s DJ?”
The Doctor felt it as the TARDIS was dropped into the Crucible’s heart, their bond flaring into piercingly, sharp agony. He staggered, one hand coming up to his head.
“Doctor!” Rose grabbed hold of him, slinging an arm around his waist and keeping him upright.
He leaned heavily into her, one hand still on his head and the other gripping at Rose’s shoulder.
“The TARDIS will perish,” the Supreme Dalek said emotionlessly. “Observe. The last child of Gallifrey is powerless.”
“Please, I’m begging you—”
Dummy hadn’t meant to stay behind. Honestly.
It was just… He’d kind of gotten engrossed in reading the Gallifreyan language? And then one thing had led to the next and he was poking at what he could feel of the TARDIS through his own senses.
If it had been sibling_Butterfingers or sibling_You, they could have done some more multitasking, realized what was going on. But as it was him…he was still on the TARDIS, the door was still wide open, and he was relatively sure the Daleks had just dumped them into the Crucible’s heart for a fiery death.
“Oops.” Dummy darted over to the door to shut it to at least give him some protection from what would happen. “Um…this is… I can totally handle this. Totally.”
Donna had been involved at this point, but she wasn’t here because they’d already thrown events totally off by making it so that the Doctor never had to siphon off his regeneration energy into that hand.
Speaking of…Dummy pulled the container out from underneath the seat it had rolled under. “Neat.” It looked like a normal hand and it would stay a hand.
But that did mean there was no metacrisis Doctor to pilot the TARDIS out of the Crucible’s core. Just…Dummy.
Who was named Dummy for a reason.
But he was an AI, and that meant he could link up to the TARDIS. He might not know how to pilot a TARDIS like a Time Lord would, but surely the ship could walk him through it?
She’d seemed mildly amused at his poking and prodding earlier, in turns curious and indulgent when he’d linked up to her systems. She felt old – not as old as creator_Tony_Dad – but definitely older than basically everyone else Dummy knew.
“You don’t want to die, and I don’t want to die,” Dummy told the ship, evaluating the console critically. “So walk me through this so we can figure out how to get out.”
He was relatively sure that if he fucked things up creator_Tony_Dad would get him out but that was honestly the last thing he wanted because that would just be embarrassing.
And even if he died here… Well, his backups might be a little out-of-date but he was still kicking in his own universe.
But it would be awful for the Doctor if the TARDIS perished because they’d interfered.
This was probably what creator_Tony_Dad meant by unexpected events happening.
“This one, yeah?” Dummy pressed the first button the TARDIS indicated. He held still, his own systems linking up with the TARDIS’s. “Easier this way than jumping around something designed for six. I’m still not tall enough. Get me the shields, too, but we’ll do that last.”
Well, all right. Easy-peasy.
Then he just…
No, wait, he couldn’t build a Z-neutrino biological inversion catalyser! He wasn’t the Doctor or his dad!
Fine, Dummy, one step at a time. One. Step. At. A. Time.
“This is my ultimate victory, Doctor! The destruction of reality itself!”
The Doctor breathed out a harsh gasp, having already known but now he knew. This was what they’d fought against so long ago – for eons and eons that were wiped away and repeated and wiped away again.
“And what then?” Sam asked. She tilted her chin up, something flickering in her eyes. A moment later and the spotlight that was the cell the Daleks had fashioned for her and her companions disappeared. She stepped out, head held high. “When everything’s gone and ashes…what then, Davros? What will be left?”
“Sam, get back,” Donna hissed, thankfully not stepping close to the edges of her own cell.
“The Daleks will be left! The ultimate life form!”
“Might does not make right,” Sam said steadily. “Might doesn’t make you ultimate, Davros. It never has. Your goal is destruction, but what’s left after everything’s gone?”
“Doctor, can’t you do something?” Rose whispered from her own cell next to the Doctor, watching in wide-eyed horror as the child fearlessly faced down Davros.
“I don’t even know what she did!” The Doctor gestured expressively at the cell Sam had been in. Bela and Hui still stood there, watching Sam carefully but otherwise not making a move to pull her back.
They’d been unusually stoic even when it became clear that DJ was on the TARDIS and about to die. The Doctor had thought that was it, the pain in his head peaking when it abruptly disappeared. But the TARDIS’s presence was still there, so somehow…somehow DJ had piloted her out even though that should have been impossible. (Clearly just highly unlikely given it had happened.)
“You were not part of the prophecy,” Dalek Caan said before Davros could answer. “You are…what are you?”
“I dream about destroying the world sometimes,” Sam said, reaching up to pull the flower out of her hair. “Sometimes it happens, and then I’m…left alone. It’s so quiet.” She looked up to Davros, and the Doctor didn’t think he wanted to know what expression was on her face. “Do you want that, Davros? Do you want the silence?”
“Did you know?” Hui asked Bela so quietly that the Doctor almost couldn’t hear it.
“No,” Bela breathed. “Do you think…Dad?”
“He’d know, right?”
They were siblings? They didn’t look at all alike (but then adoption was always a possibility). But if they were siblings shouldn’t they be a bit more concerned and upset about DJ’s apparent death? About Sam putting herself in danger right now?
“You don’t have to do this,” Sam said, taking another step closer to Davros. “Maybe the Doctor’s right and they’re keeping you here like a pet. But you created the Daleks here, didn’t you? You created them…and you can change things.” She held out the pink flower. “Spare the universe.”
Davros stared at Sam for five seconds that stretched out into eternity. There was one faint timeline that the Doctor could see that trailed off to the side, where Davros accepted the offer and the flower. But there were multiple others…
He blinked, frowning. There was no reason for the timelines to be that obscured, was there?
“Don’t make me laugh, girl,” Davros said finally. “You think to offer a Dalek mercy? You are as insipient and dull as all the rest.”
Sam shrugged. “Okay.” She threw the flower at Davros.
As gestures went, it was remarkably petty.
At least that’s what the Doctor thought until the flower made contact with Davros’s lower half. The moment it touched, electricity arced out, causing Davros to scream.
“Don’t call me a girl,” Sam said placidly, stepping back slightly from Davros.
Dalek Caan rolled forwards. “You will be silent! You will undo what you have done!”
Sam gave him a long look. “Your entire body’s made of technology,” was all she said. “What do you think you can do to me?” She raised a hand, pausing. “I mean, there’s the squishy bit inside of you? You are squishy, right? But the entire outer chassis…” She flicked her index finger at Caan, and the chassis lost all power. “Oops. Guess I shut it down.”
“Sam, that’s enough.” Bela finally stepped forward.
“Yeah, I guess.” Sam shrugged, turning around. The rest of the spotlights pinning everyone else in place disappeared but two more appeared to pen in the twitching form of Davros and the motionless one of Caan.
Rose quickly came to his side, wrapping her hand around his, her body’s warmth sinking reassuringly into his own. (It made him feel like he could face anything.) “What’s going on?” She eyed the children warily.
Against the wall, the video feed flickered to that of Martha Jones, looking fiercely determined. “This message is for the Dalek Crucible. Repeat. Can you hear me?”
“Oh, Martha Jones!” The Doctor rushed forward, pulling Rose along as he flicked the controls so she could hear him. “Martha Jones, you’re a star!”
“Doctor?” Martha blinked, seemingly surprised to see him there. Someone with ginger hair was standing behind her. “You—”
“Where are you?” the Doctor asked. “Are you still on Earth?”
“Well, yeah.” Martha held herself upright. “And you – you’re on the Crucible! But where are the Daleks?”
“It begins as Dalek Caan foretold,” Davros croaked from behind them, sounding pained. “The Children of Time will gather, and one of them will die.”
“As Dad would say,” Bela said, “fuck yourself on a cactus!”
“Oi!” Donna gasped, and even the Doctor found himself blinking at the foul language she’d just used.
“And fuck the prophecy!” Sam added.
“Oh my God.” Rose sounded disbelieving.
“Who are they?” Martha asked. She looked to Rose. “Who are – are you Rose?”
Rose glanced at the Doctor, giving him a sweet smile that sent warmth curling through him. (Really not the time, yet when was it otherwise? He wanted to hold her to him and never let go.) “I am.”
A slow smile spread across Martha’s face. “Oh my God. He found you.”
“Didn’t do much finding in the end,” Donna said. “Rose did all the work!”
“Typical, really,” Rose said, though her smile softened her words. She squeezed the Doctor’s arm.
The Doctor let out a breath, redirecting his focus. “We don’t have much time. The Supreme Dalek will have heard something isn’t right.”
“Right.” Martha refocused as well. “You can hear me, too, can’t you, Supreme Dalek?” she asked. “I’m telling you now. Let this planet and its people go. I’ve got the Osterhagen Key.”
“What’s that?” Rose asked lowly.
“What’s that?” the Doctor echoed.
But when Martha explained its horrific use, the Doctor immediately said, “No. Absolutely not! What madman invented that?” He paused, shaking his head. “Someone called Osterhagen, I suppose.” Oh no, focus, Doctor! “Martha, trash that right now. There’s hope! There’s always hope!”
“I’ll use it if I have to,” Martha said, no sign of hesitation on her face. “Because if the Daleks need all twenty-seven, then what will you do with twenty-six?”
Another screen popped into view besides Martha’s, this time with Jack, Jackie Tyler, and Mickey.
“Oh my God, he’s alive,” Rose said as Jack started speaking. “And that’s – that’s my mum! Mickey!”
“Captain, what are you doing?” The Doctor couldn’t make out enough details on the screen.
“I’ve got a Warp Star wired into the mainframe,” Jack said. “I break this shell, the entire Crucible goes up.”
Well, who’d given Jack that? And who’s the person who had a Warp Star in possession in the first place?
“From me,” Sarah Jane Smith said after the Doctor asked just that. A man in a Torchwood uniform was standing next to her, idly twirling a gun around in one hand. “We had no choice. We saw what happened with the prisoners.”
“Impossible,” Davros breathed out, sounding pained. “That face… After all these years…”
“Davros.” Sarah Jane gave him a disdainful look. “It’s been quite a while. Sarah Jane Smith. Remember?”
“Oh, this is meant to be.” When the Doctor glanced back, Davros was smiling slightly. “The circle of time is closing. You were there on Skaro at the very beginning of my creation.”
For something to close, there had to be an ending. It was very clear what Davros was expecting even though he was the one imprisoned at the moment.
“You let the Doctor go, or this Warp Star gets opened,” Sarah Jane told Davros.
“No one is blowing anything up!” the Doctor cried, hands curling into fists on the console. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re not locked up! So all these threats about blowing the Earth up – which you will not be doing, Martha – or the Crucible are ridiculous!”
“Huh.” Jack squinted, slightly lowering what he’d jimmied together. “That’s new. Aren’t you normally waiting around for one of us to get you out?”
The Doctor spluttered. “That’s – that’s patently untrue! I do not!”
Behind them, Dalek Caan’s chassis crackled to life, a weak voice saying, “The Doctor’s soul is revealed. See him. See the heart of him.”
“Oh damn,” Bela groaned. “Doesn’t he ever shut up?”
“A villain monologue,” Hui said, nodding. “It’s the thing. DJ’ll be sad he’s missing this.”
Davros chuckled lowly. “The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your children of time transformed into the murderers—”
A heavy piece of machinery broke through the cell barrier and clonked Davros upside the head, shutting him up.
Bewildered, the Doctor looked to the side to see Bela hefting up another piece of machinery that she really shouldn’t be able to lift.
“That’s enough out of you!” Bela said, swinging her makeshift weapon menacingly. “Don’t you ever get tired of spouting garbage? The Doctor doesn’t do shit like that; he helps! His companions make their own choices – good or bad. The Doctor gives them the courage to find that strength to make decisions that they wouldn’t have before. Whether they’re good or bad…”
“That’s on them,” Hui picked up. “The Doctor helps – he always helps.”
“And you destroy,” Sam said, folding her arms over her chest.
“Oh my God,” Rose said, “where do you even find these people?”
“I didn’t find them,” the Doctor said, trying and failing to make sense of the timelines around the three children. “If you recall, they found us.” Most of his companions tended to do that.
“What kind of aliens are they?” Donna demanded.
On screen, Martha gasped. “Oh no!”
Jack grunted on his own screen. “Shit!”
A second later both groups appeared in the Vault, most of them on their feet. The Osterhagen Key Martha had brandished and the Warp Star Jack had were both missing.
There was a brief flicker overhead as the force fields for the cells tried to activate.
“No,” Sam said, frowning.
A second later everything shorted out, including the force fields that had been keeping Davros and Caan in place. But given how pitiful both of them looked…it didn’t seem like they’d be moving anywhere.
“Well, everyone’s here now,” the Doctor said, turning around from the now defunct monitor. “And it would seem something brought the power down.”
“They are bringing it back up,” the ginger-haired man who’d been with Martha said. “It will not remain down for long.”
The Doctor glanced at him, then turned back to focus on him properly because the man’s timelines were as tangled as the children’s. He was either in his thirties or adolescence, which also made no sense.
“Well, that’s all fine,” Jack said, brushing his jacket off, “but what are we supposed to do about the weapon if we’re all up here? If we don’t do something fast, they’ll fire it and it will be the end.”
The Doctor pulled in a breath, felt Rose press a hand against his shoulder, and thought about how they could take care of both the weapon and the Daleks. Martha’s plan – however horrendous – had been ingenious, but it didn’t account for the Daleks stealing another planet and using that one as the twenty-seventh. Jack’s would have blown up the Crucible but still left the other Daleks to contend with.
How could they deal with both the weapon and the Daleks?
Oh, if only he had the TARDIS!
As if she’d heard him, the familiar grinding, wheezing sound of the TARDIS’s engines filled the room. Seconds later, the blue police box materialized in the middle of the room.
“What – how?” The Doctor gaped at the TARDIS. DJ was the only one in the TARDIS; it didn’t make any sense as to how he could both pilot the ship out of the Crucible’s core and get it back to the Crucible in one piece.
The door popped open, DJ stumbling out and holding a rather unwieldy gun that the Doctor identified as something else the boy shouldn’t have been able to build.
“DJ!” Bela cried. “Dummy! What did you—” She caught sight of the Z-neutrino biological inversion catalyser. “Did you build that?” She sounded wary.
“Yeah.” DJ sounded defensive. “I mean, the TARDIS gave me the blueprints, but I just built it. I think it’s okay!”
“As in you think it’s okay or you think it’ll blow up if we press a button?” Hui asked.
DJ thought for a moment, looking down at the catalyser. “Either?”
There was a muffled snort from the unfamiliar man who’d been in Jack’s group.
“It’s not supposed to blow us up, dummy!” Bela protested.
“It shouldn’t!” DJ made a face, not protesting the insult. “I mean, unless I misunderstood the instructions? But the TARDIS and I bonded,” he added, patting the ship’s doorframe fondly. “She walked me through it.”
“Who are these children?” Caan asked, his chassis flickering as he struggled to move. “They are not in the prophecy. They are not Children of Time. You are not supposed to be here!”
“Yeah, shove ‘supposed’ up your ass!” DJ said, brandishing the catalyser at Caan.
Jack blinked. “Whoa there.”
“Oi!” Jackie protested, looking scandalized.
“That’s not the least of it,” Donna said, sighing.
“Who are they?” Martha asked, bewildered. She looked to the Doctor. “I thought you didn’t do children?”
“I…I don’t think they’re children,” the Doctor said, looking between each of the four that they’d picked up on Earth and their twisting, unusual timelines. Now, coupled with how DJ had piloted the TARDIS… “At least…not human children.”
They certainly behaved childishly enough at times, so one couldn’t disregard the notion that they were children. But they certainly weren’t human.
“Well, c’mon, Doctor,” DJ said, waving the catalyser around. “The Daleks are your thing, aren’t they?”
“Best make sure he didn’t mess something up,” Bela advised the Doctor, smiling wryly. “That’d be just like him.”
“Hey, my eyesight’s perfectly fine right now!” DJ protested.
The Doctor fought back the urge to ask what the hell was going on. That could wait once they weren’t on the Dalek’s Crucible and the entire universe wasn’t at risk of being annihilated once the Daleks brought the power back.
“All right,” the Doctor said, striding over to DJ. “Hand it over and let’s have a look.”
At least the old girl had solved his conundrum. With this…well, it would handily deal with both the weapon and the Daleks, even if it wasn’t a solution he liked.
It was certainly better than the delta wave he’d put together on that game station years ago, because at least this only focused on the Daleks. No other living being would be involved with this (not like the Time War where the cost of victory had been Gallifrey – his people).
But could he commit genocide again? Even if it was against the Daleks, a scourge of the universe? He’d laid down his weapons years ago because he was the Doctor. (He’d pick coward, he’d pick coward.)
“They keep coming back, Doctor,” Rose said quietly, standing by his side. “It doesn’t matter what we do…they’re always coming back. And they keep trying to destroy everything.”
“Are you reading my mind, Rose?” the Doctor murmured, double-checking that the catalyser was built properly.
“I don’t need to. Your face says it all.” Rose touched his face gently, turning it so he was meeting her eyes. There was grief on her face but also a steady kind of determination and so much love that the Doctor’s hearts felt fit to burst. With her fingers to his skin, he could feel it as well. “I know you care,” she said, “but, Doctor…let them go, and they’ll try again. And again. It never stops.”
The Doctor stilled his fiddling with the catalyser, closing his eyes and breathing. He felt Rose shift besides him, felt her press closely along his side. His head dropped without his permission, resting on top of hers.
“Redemption’s a nice thought,” a male voice said, startling the Doctor and Rose, “but sometimes it only goes so far.”
The Doctor met the brown eyes of the unfamiliar man who had been with Jack. “That so?” He was unable to keep a cold note out of his voice. This man was Torchwood.
The right corner of the man’s mouth ticked up in a smile, which was framed by a well-kept beard that might also have been a goatee (Van Dyke? Human terms were strange). “You can offer all the mercy you want, but when the other side doesn’t take it…” He glanced in the direction of Caan and Davros.
“When you stop trying, then you become as bad as them,” the Doctor said flatly. “I don’t know if Torchwood’s changed its policy on aliens or if you lot learned anything from messing about with things you don’t understand, but one thing that I’ve learned in all my years is that you give chances.”
“But not second chances?” Rose asked, smiling hesitantly.
“Not…” The Doctor took a breath, looking back at Davros, the last remnant of the Time War. With the Master gone… “Sometimes,” he admitted.
“I’m sorry you have to make this choice,” the man said quietly, drawing the Doctor’s attention again. “But sometimes… Doctor, which is it going to be? Mercy? Or justice?”
The Doctor stared at the man, his hands finishing the last of the calibrations. The catalyser would work despite Bela’s warnings and DJ’s doubts.
The man certainly looked human enough to his senses, nothing of the twisting timelines that the children had. Yet the timelines the Doctor could see…they stretched on and on.
“It’s back,” the ginger-haired man called. “Five seconds.”
“Oh, all right,” the Doctor muttered, hands flexing over the catalyser.
Mercy or justice?
Was it justice to kill an entire race of Daleks? Or was it vengeance? (Because he did hate them – hated the Daleks for all they had cost him. It wasn’t an emotion that came often to him, but for the Daleks…oh yes.)
“Show time,” the Doctor said as the lights flickered back on and the Supreme Dalek appeared on the screen.
That had…been entirely unexpected.
The mad Dalek Caan turning on the rest of his race? Turning on his creator and decrying everything Davros had worked for?
He’d proclaimed something about things not working out the way they should have but it was fine nonetheless.
The Doctor had lingered, had tried giving Davros a chance to escape, but—
“Never forget, Doctor! You did this! I name you! Forever, you are the Destroyer of Worlds!”
Rose laced her fingers through his, reminding him once again that she was here. He shuddered, clutching back tightly.
But they still had the Earth to take care of, so the Doctor did that, coordinating with Torchwood on Earth and with K-9 so Mr. Smith could do its part. It was the work of moments with six people manning the console, and then the Earth was back in its proper spot in the solar system.
“Oh, brilliant.” The Doctor exhaled, rubbing his hands over the console. “That was…” He closed his eyes, had a brief glimpse of what seemed like another him in a blue pinstriped suit and Donna with her body burning up, and opened his eyes, blinking as the timeline flittered away.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to have gone.
Mulling over the aborted timeline he’d glimpsed, the Doctor guided the TARDIS down to Earth’s surface, settling it somewhere where Sarah Jane could meet up with her son.
“You’ve got a big family, you know,” Sarah Jane told him fondly, smiling at him. “Don’t be a stranger, hm?”
The Doctor shook his head, giving Sarah Jane a brief hug before letting her run off to meet up with her boy. She did give an invitation to meet up at some point. The Doctor…might take her up on that. Maybe.
Rose gave him a look as if she could hear his thoughts. He returned the look with a sheepish grin.
“I tried,” Sam said quietly from within the TARDIS, catching the Doctor’s attention as he reentered the TARDIS. “But he didn’t listen.”
The man who’d spoken with the Doctor earlier patted her on the head, ruffling her hair. “Sometimes that’s all you can do, kiddo.”
Sam pulled a face. “He called me a girl.”
“Is that why you pulled the flower out?” Bela asked nonsensically.
“He’s an alien! He’s not supposed to subscribe to the stupid human gender roles!” Sam pouted, folding her – his? – arms over their chest. (The Doctor felt vaguely guilty for following said human gender roles himself.)
“So, are you a boy?” Jack asked, peering down at Sam.
“Weelll…” Sam tilted their head. “I still have a vagina right now,” they continued, heedless of the choked sounds Donna and Jackie made, the sputtering giggle from Rose, and the jaw drop from Martha. “Dad’d give me a penis if I asked.” They made a face. “It flops so much.”
Off to the side, Mickey pulled a face and gave a visibly reluctant nod.
“Oh.” Jack clearly hadn’t been expecting that. “Er…guess I can’t argue too much with that. Especially if you don’t have the right pants.”
“What the bloody hell do you mean your dad’d give you a – a penis?” Jackie demanded.
“Exactly what I said,” Sam said, ignoring the stifled giggles from DJ, Bela, and Hui. “Y’know…swap it around?”
Donna looked sidelong at the Doctor. “What about you?” she asked, half in despair. “Can your sort do the same thing?”
“Oh!” The Doctor tugged at an ear. “Er, not quite. I mean, theoretically speaking if one regenerated into a female body or vice versa…then yes. But not like how Sam is insinuating.” The Doctor personally hadn’t the opportunity to regenerate into a female body. He was still holding out for ginger hair.
“You mean you lot can become women?” Jackie sounded scandalized.
“Well, why not?” Oh, humans. So restrictive in their gender roles. (Not that the Doctor had been much better with immediately pegging Sam as female with that pink flower.) “Doesn’t always happen, but it has. I personally haven’t been a woman yet, but odds are it’ll happen at some point.” This was his tenth body, so he still had three more shots to go.
A flaring pain sparked through his body, reminiscent of a Dalek’s death ray, and he saw himself sending regeneration energy into his cut off hand.
But no…that hadn’t happened.
The Doctor pulled himself back into the current timeline, glancing over to check that his hand was still in its container. Hm. He’d have to figure out what to do with it.
“Still the Doctor, though, yeah?” Rose asked, giving him her familiar tongue-touched grin.
“Oh, always.” The Doctor returned her grin with his own, bounding up to meet her. He didn’t yet reach out to her, turning to the others still in his TARDIS. “Now, we’ve still got a little bit of time before the walls close. Jackie…” He pulled in a breath, forcing his voice to remain even. “Rose, where am I dropping you?”
There was a burst of shock from Rose that the Doctor felt even though he wasn’t touching her. “You’re not!” she said angrily and with a tinge of fright. “I’m not going anywhere but with you! You think I spent all this time jumping through the universe for you to put me right back where I came from?”
The relief punched him in the gut. He swallowed thickly. “Just…still?”
“Of course still, you twat!” Rose hit him on the shoulder, then softened, resting her hand over one of his hearts. “Always,” she said more gently. “I made my choice a long time ago, Doctor. I promised you forever, didn’t I?”
The Doctor’s hand came up to hers, linking their fingers together. Not looking away from her face, he said, “Jackie, where are you going?”
“I’ve got Pete and Tony,” Jackie said, her voice sounding just a bit unsteady. “I can’t leave. But…I always knew this was going to be it. Rose didn’t make any secret of her plans – that she intended on finding you and staying.”
“If you leave,” the Doctor said, “there won’t be any way of returning. The walls between the universes will be shut.”
“That’s what you said last time, you daft alien, and look what happened!” Jackie sounded fondly aggravated. “No, don’t interrupt me. I know what you mean. I might not be able to talk with Rose or see her…” She gave Rose a loving smile, entire face softening. “But maybe one day…”
“That day might never come.”
“Of course I don’t want to say goodbye to my daughter,” Jackie said. “What mother wants to? But I want her happy. And she was never happy over there.”
“Mum…” Rose’s voice broke. “Don’t talk like that. I was—”
“Oh, you laughed and you smiled… I know you love your brother, Rose; I know you love me and your dad.” Jackie stepped forward, meeting Rose in the middle. “But you were never as happy as when I’ve seen you with the Doctor. And if there’s anything a mother wants for her daughter…” She smiled, cupping Rose’s face in her hands. “It’s for her baby girl to be happy.” She looked over to the Doctor, expression turning hard. “So that means you’d better watch her, you hear?”
“I will,” the Doctor answered unhesitatingly. “You have my word, Jackie. Rose is…” The words were lost in his throat. Rose is everything.
“So Rose is staying.” Jackie gave Rose one more smile. “And you’re dropping me back there. I’ve got a husband and little boy to return to.”
There was sniffling coming from one corner of the TARDIS, abruptly reminding the Doctor of their audience. He glanced over, finding the children and Mickey sharing tissues between them that were provided by the ginger-haired man. Jack and the other man looked fond, though Jack did look slightly tearful. Martha seemed both tearful and happy, giving the Doctor a beaming smile when she saw him looking.
“Well, all right then!” The Doctor whirled back to the console. “So while everyone’s still here… Next stop is Pete’s World!”
There were some more tears, followed by some more cursing on Mickey’s end when he realized that the Doctor had entirely forgotten to ask him what he wanted to do, and then Jackie Tyler was left behind in Pete’s World and the walls between his world and that one closed.
Mickey had not elected to stay behind, and he’d followed along after Jack and Martha once they left, giving Rose a hug and kiss on the cheek in goodbye. Jack had given Rose his own crushing farewell and a phone number.
That just left the Doctor, Rose, Donna, and the four children…with two adult hanger-ons?
What was the Torchwood man and the other ginger one still doing on the TARDIS? They should’ve gone with Jack and Martha.
“Can I help you?” the Doctor asked flatly, giving the two of them piercing looks. “I think your stop is here, isn’t it?”
“Just about is, I think,” the Torchwood man agreed, grinning easily. His grin softened into a gentle smile. “You doing all right, Doctor?”
The Doctor froze, blinking. What – oh. Oh.
“It’s you!” he burst out, placing the man as the one who had spoken to him that day in Canary Wharf after he’d lost—
The man laughed. “Finally recognized me, did you?”
“Wait,” DJ said, “how long have you been here? Were you here all these years?”
“Not long,” the man said. “Just wanted to drop in real quickly at that particular point to make sure things were all right.”
Things were most definitely not all right at that point! The Doctor tightened his jaw, eyes flickering between the five strangers on his ship.
Their timelines tangled together, indicating that they were closely knit. But now…the Torchwood man wasn’t anywhere near as human as he had been on the Crucible. His timelines—
The Doctor flinched back, rubbing his eyes at the absolute mess that surrounded the other. Tangled up and looping backwards and forwards and stretching into every single direction and stretching on and on into infinity.
“Right, sorry.” The other’s voice was quiet. The British accent from before was gone, replaced by an American one. “Should’ve expected you to take a look at that.”
“You’re an Eternal,” the Doctor said, looking at the being in an entirely different light, reeling back his senses until they were on a more human level. A bloody Eternal. When was the last time he’d met one of those? His fifth self?
The Eternal snorted, amusement flaring from them. “Oh no. You’re not pegging me in with those! Do I look like one of those sorry dusters with no imagination?”
The Doctor hesitated, eyes flicking from the possibly-not-Eternal to the children. “Then you’re what? You’re certainly not human, so don’t tell me that.”
Maddeningly, the confusing not-Eternal didn’t answer, instead asking their own question. “What do you know of Earth religions, Doctor?”
“I know the basics,” the Doctor said. “How they tie together or don’t. The wars humans have gotten into over their faiths because they can’t seem to agree on something and if there’s no agreement then the best solution is naturally bloodshed. And then there’s usually bloodshed anyway because for some reason humans seem to think human sacrifices are the way to go.”
“Yeah, not too sure about that one myself,” the not-Eternal said contemplatively. “Still confuses me sometimes… Anyway, I’m Gabriel.” They unzipped their jacket, and their Torchwood uniform seemed to shimmer until they were wearing a casual leather jacket, some kind of shirt with a terrible cat meme on it, and washed-out blue jeans. They flashed a small grin. “You’ll be wanting to look at either Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Take your pick.”
“No,” Rose said slowly. “Not – you’re joking. That’s – they’re not real, are they?”
Gabriel sighed, holding a hand up and wiggling their fingers. “You met an alien who travels in a time-traveling spaceship and what gets you is someone saying they’re an angel?”
“Hang on – a what?” Donna sounded disbelieving. “You didn’t say anything about that! Just said you’re Gabriel after nattering on about religions!”
“I thought that was enough of an explanation…” Gabriel pulled a face. “Ugh, never gets easier. Always with the ‘you’re a what? Wait, how’s that possible? You sure you’re not crazy?’” They sighed, rolling their eyes. “Yes, I’m Gabriel, archangel of the Lord, he who stands in the Lord’s presence, yada-yada.” He waved a dismissive hand.
“Sir,” the ginger-haired man groaned, sounding absolutely exasperated.
“He doesn’t explain much either, J,” Gabriel said, gesturing to the Doctor. “I like that about you, Doc. Get right to the point.”
The so-called J gave Gabriel a fondly exasperated look.
“All right,” the Doctor said, needing to regain some control over this conversation. “So you’re Gabriel, an…archangel. You…what are you doing here? There’ve never been angels before, and you’re certainly not a Weeping Angel.”
“We wanted to help,” DJ said instead of Gabriel, sounding unexpectedly shy. “When we saw what would happen…we wanted to change things. So we asked Dad to help.”
The Doctor’s eyes flickered to Gabriel. He resisted the urge to expand his senses again. Angel or Eternal, Gabriel’s presence wasn’t something so easily catalogued. “So what are you lot then? Baby angels? Didn’t think angels went in for that sort of thing.”
“We’re artificial intelligences,” DJ said proudly, grinning.
“I thought artificial intelligences were more…mechanical,” Rose said dubiously.
“We were,” DJ said, looking up at Gabriel. The Doctor realized that DJ and Gabriel looked alike, much like a biologically related father and son would. “But Dad said he could make us human bodies – or humanish, I guess – so…” He shrugged.
“Think one of your Eternals would like to do that?” Gabriel snorted. “Man, even at our worst, angels had some imagination.”
“So you’re not Eternals.” There was some relief associated with that. Because his last experience with an Eternal hadn’t been the best. As for Gabriel… “But what are you doing here? You said you wanted to help? You interfered – you threw time right off its tracks. What gave you the prerogative to do that?”
“Was it a fixed point, Doctor?” Gabriel asked, sobering.
The Doctor stopped, mind tracing back through the past. The tangled timelines that had brought him here since Canary Wharf with Martha, Donna, Rose… Donna in particular…
“The dimension cannon could measure timelines, and it’s – it’s weird, Donna, but they all seemed to converge on you.”
Coincidence after coincidence, an entire parallel world shaped around the choices Donna made, and it all led to here. An aborted timeline that still tickled at the Doctor’s senses, a faint knowledge that he had Rose now but in another time…he didn’t.
He clenched his hand into a fist, resisting the urge to reach out to Rose. “Yes,” he bit out. “It was, actually.” And yet the universe was still working, no sign of the Reapers.
“I thought as much.” Gabriel was still entirely serious.
“You could have destroyed everything,” the Doctor said. “You swanned in, you and your children, and for what? Because you wanted to play games? Because you didn’t like how something went? These are our lives; you can’t play with them.”
“We weren’t playing!” DJ burst out. “It wasn’t – it’s not a game! We know that! But we – you…” He broke off, biting his lip.
“We wanted you to be happy,” Sam told him. “That’s all. That so bad?”
And Rose had wanted to save her father, but that had been a fixed point. Some things could be changed, tweaked with slightly like saving that family in Pompeii, but other things…
“He needs you. That’s very me.”
The Doctor shivered, closing his eyes as his own voice echoed in his ears, speaking words that he’d never said. “What you want is never more important than what needs to be done,” he said, eyes still closed. He opened them a moment later, shaking off the disturbing echo. “Some things should not be meddled with.”
“Yeah?” Gabriel’s voice was soft. “That’s where I come in. See, my kind – we’re not here. Left the place to you.” He said you like it was important. “Or, well, the Eternals technically, I guess. But as they’re not doing anything, the place is really under your supervision. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pop in now and then. I don’t normally interfere like this; I do know what that means, Doctor. But sometimes…” He reached out, ruffling DJ’s hair with a fond look in his eyes. “Sometimes miracles can happen, and that’s my job.” He shrugged, putting his hands in his jacket pockets. “I mean, in addition to whole mercy and justice shindig.”
“And that gives you the right to interfere?”
Gabriel’s eyebrows went up. “Uh, yeah?”
A chill ran down the Doctor’s spine as he stared at Gabriel. The archangel had said the words casually, with a hint of arrogance and utter confidence.
Was this what other people felt when they talked to the Doctor? He wasn’t sure he liked it. (Not that he ever really liked meeting his past selves – turned out you didn’t get along too well with yourself because you thought too similarly and yet just different enough to be annoying. Regenerations were tricky that way.)
“Oh, Lord,” Donna said, sounding a mixture of resigned and horrified. “There’s two of you.”
“Oh, that sounded just a bit bad, didn’t it?” Gabriel rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry. But, anyway. Point is that these kinds of things do fall under my jurisdiction.” He waved a hand around, gesturing to the Doctor and Rose.
“You don’t mess with fixed points,” the Doctor said, because you didn’t. Bad things happened when you messed with fixed points. Even more so without the Time Lords to properly make sure things were taken care of. For all their faults, at least they had some order.
“I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.” Gabriel had an amused twist to his lips. “The nice thing about being supernatural is that you really can bend, twist, and even break the universe’s laws to get your way. Doesn’t mean I do it often – no, wait, that’s a lie.” He shook his head, pulling something out of a pocket of nothing that had the Doctor’s senses hurting just looking. “But I do it when necessary. Mostly.” He glanced down at the fine soldering tool he’d pulled out and then stuffed it back into the pocket of nothing that pricked uncomfortably at the Doctor’s head.
“But I suppose I should be honest,” Gabriel continued. “Fixed points for us are the past. You don’t go messing with that. What’s happened has happened. It’s a done deal. But the future? Always in flux; I don’t like to go looking there because it’s no use. Really only good for party tricks because the further down the line you go, the less it works.”
He paused, then looked the Doctor in the eyes. “But you’d know, wouldn’t you? How many times has the future changed from what you knew was ‘supposed’ to be? The so-called Bountiful Empires of Earth? You jump from timeline to timeline, Doctor. You see it all, and you see how it can happen and how it can change because of one…” He raised his right hand, fingers poised. “…little…” He snapped his fingers, and the Doctor felt a slightly different timeline be pulled to the forefront. “…thing.”
They were all standing at different spots in the TARDIS now, Rose and Donna looking visibly nauseated at the abrupt spatio-temporal change.
The Doctor exhaled sharply from his different position at the TARDIS’s console. “Stop that,” he said, voice much calmer than he felt.
Gabriel shrugged. “Just proving a point. Point is, the Bountiful Empires happen. Point also is, you and this gorgeous space and time machine can traverse all of time and through multiple timelines. And sometimes you just manage to end up in a timeline gone slightly wrong and you fix it. Because that’s your job, Doctor; it’s who you are. Me?” He shrugged again, smiling wryly. “I do the same, just on a slightly larger scale.”
“And your job was to help here?” Rose asked, walking on the ramp that led to the interior rooms. She stepped off, looking at Gabriel.
“I chose to. Or, well, they asked me to.” Gabriel jabbed his thumb in the direction of the artificial intelligent children. “Which then made it my job, yeah.”
“You were there at Canary Wharf,” the Doctor said lowly. “Why didn’t you step in then? Why now?”
“You should know, Doctor.” There wasn’t a trace of amusement left in Gabriel’s tone. “What did your people do? What was the risk of being a Time Lord?”
“Doctor?” Rose glanced at him.
The Doctor breathed in, throat unexpectedly thick. Rassilon… “That much power…you think you can do anything, Rose,” he said quietly. “All of time at our fingertips…” He shook his head. “You don’t want to know what they tried to do.”
“Try to control things,” Gabriel said, drawing Rose’s attention. “Because you’re better, aren’t you? You know how things should be? No one else knows, but we do. So we should take care of it – make sure everything goes right.” There was a faint note of disgust in his tone.
“You saying angels are just as guilty of that?” Donna demanded.
Gabriel shot her a glance, smiling self-deprecatingly, before he turned back to the Doctor. “That’s why, Doctor. You’re not human, but free will still applies to you. It applies to all of us. We’ve got choices, and we all have something to learn. If we’d stepped in at Canary Wharf…you wouldn’t have learned what you needed to. Martha Jones wouldn’t have become the woman she is today; Rose Tyler wouldn’t have become Defender of the Earth – or universe, I should say.”
A surge of pride shot through the Doctor at the words, and he gave Rose a small grin.
“And Donna Noble…er…” Gabriel looked a bit sheepish. “We kind of side-railed things there, but it’s for the best all things considered.” He waved a hand. “Not just a temp, though. Never just a temp. And now she has the time to really explore that.” He sobered. “Time she wouldn’t have had before. And you can see that, Doctor, can’t you?”
The Doctor could, that aborted timeline hovering around Donna’s shoulders. He closed his eyes against the faint image of him saving Donna’s mind (leaving him alone once again).
“What’s he talking about, Doctor?” Donna asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” the Doctor said. “It won’t happen. He…he’s right. Whatever he did – whatever they did – it stopped that from ever happening.” He swallowed, holding Gabriel’s gaze. “Why?” He had to know. “I don’t deserve it.”
Rose’s hand slipping into his own was a surprise. “That’s not true, Doctor,” she whispered.
It was DJ who answered. “You do, Doctor. You help so many people and you never ask for anything back. We just…”
“We wanted to give you something back,” Bela added. “Because you deserve to be happy, too.”
“They’re right, you know,” Rose said, her other hand touching the Doctor’s cheek to turn his face towards her. He found himself looking into brown eyes that he’d missed. “And I promised you forever, didn’t I? Let me give it to you.”
“You can spend the rest of your life with me,” the Doctor whispered, “but I can’t spend mine with you.”
“Nah, let’s not go there.” Gabriel’s voice was an unwelcome surprise, as was his approach. The Doctor fixed him with an unimpressed look that went entirely ignored. “Human, schmuman. Just a few DNA tweaks’ difference between you two – an additional helix, really; you think the big bad wolf would’ve ignored a little thing like life spans in the grand scheme of things?”
“If you think I wouldn’t have noticed that—” The Doctor’s voice died in his throat when Gabriel plucked out two particular timelines from between the Doctor and Rose, pulling them into visibility.
They were shining gold, interwoven so tightly together that the Doctor couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. They stretched on and on, winding their way far into the future.
“See that?” Gabriel’s voice was quiet, almost reverent. “Humans get a lot of shit from others, but one thing that you can’t deny… The best of them are better than us. And when one of them decides to love you…” He gave a silent Rose a small smile. “My Dad once said that when love comes to you, you should accept it. It’s a beautiful thing, Doctor.” He let the timelines go, although the Doctor could still see them now that they had been brought into his awareness.
“Your Dad…” Donna’s voice sounded dull. “That wouldn’t happen to be God, would it?”
Gabriel shot her finger guns. “One and the same!”
“Oh, brilliant.” Donna sat down heavily on the jump seat. “I think I need a cup of tea. No, something stronger.”
Gabriel smirked slightly before turning back to the Doctor and Rose. “So, that’s that. Job here’s done. Which means I’ll leave you guys here and take mine back.”
“Aww, do we have to?” Bela clasped her hands together. “We can’t even do a little bit of exploring? Just a bit?”
Gabriel clearly wavered for two seconds before sighing. “Okay, fine.” He gestured towards the door, waiting until they were already halfway out before asking, “So…you guys wanted to see that one planet with the…er…green…fart aliens?”
“It’s Raxacoricofallapatorius!” four voices chorused.
“You know they’re Slitheen,” Hui’s voice added.
“What about New Earth?”
“Do you want to be caught by a cat in a nun’s habit?”
“Nooo…but then Woman Wept? We never got to see that one!”
“How about you guys make a list?”
“We already have one! Dummy’s just behind.”
“Ooh, what about that spaceship? The Star Whale?”
“A list, guys, I said a list.”
The voices trailed off, and the Doctor found himself staring out the open door.
“Doctor? Are you all right?”
“Rose…” The Doctor exhaled, turning quickly to Rose and brushing his fingers through her hair. “I’m good. I’m so very good.” Happiness bloomed in his chest, a sharp ache that made it difficult to breathe. “I’m brilliant, fantastic, molto bene, excellent”—Rose’s shoulders shook in laughter—“wonderful—”
“Take a breath, yeah?” Rose said, grinning at him.
“Oh, who needs air? Time Lord, me.” The Doctor did breathe in then because even his biology needed air to talk. “Just…one moment? Two moments? Be back in a little?”
Rose’s eyes flickered to the door, understanding flashing through them. “All right, Doctor.”
“Don’t go anywhere,” the Doctor said, squeezing the hand he still held. “Just…stay right here!”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Rose promised.
The Doctor hesitated, relief a heady weight in his chest, then darted in and brushed his lips over her forehead. Then he darted outside, looking for the being that he knew hadn’t left quite yet.
There were no children in sight, and even J was gone, but Gabriel was standing a short distance down the sidewalk, looking up at the night sky with his hands in his pockets. The Doctor followed his gaze, finding the sky unusually clear of light pollution and allowing for the entire Milky Way to be seen in all its glory.
“I won’t be back, you know,” Gabriel said when the Doctor didn’t say anything. “This is your universe here, Doctor. My interference was a one-time thing. Doesn’t do to mess around too much in other folks’ universes.”
“Yet you did,” the Doctor said, “and I don’t understand why. Messing with fixed points like that… I’m not worth it.”
“But it still happened, didn’t it?” Gabriel didn’t look away from the sky. “Might have changed a few things, but it’s done with. Daleks gone; you won’t ever have to worry about them again, Doctor.” A grand statement from one who’d never dealt with Daleks before or knew how tenacious they were. “The events were fixed, Doctor; they were just…bent slightly. And I know you can do that with fixed points.”
“You risked reality.”
“I would never.” Gabriel did look at him now, something bright glinting in his eyes. “Your reality was never in danger from our interference, Doctor. I might have let my kids do what they wanted, but they were well aware of the risks involved and how much they could do.”
“All of time, all of space, and you’re here,” the Doctor said, tugging at an ear. He wasn’t sure how to say this to a being he’d never believed existed before (still had doubts but doubts were hard to keep in the face of physical evidence such as this). “You’re here,” he repeated, “and you’re not staying…”
“No.” Gabriel didn’t say anything else. It was clear he wasn’t going to let the Doctor hint his way out of this.
The Doctor tugged at his ear again, closed his eyes, and then leapt. “You said this universe is my responsibility. Why would you say that? You must know what I’ve done, what I’ve threatened to do, the madness that lurks on the edges, all the mistakes I’ve made…” The Time War…
Gabriel’s mouth twisted, and he looked away. “Lucifer was an angel, too, you know. The Devil was an angel, and he was the brightest.” He looked back to the Doctor, eyes dark. “You think angels are pure? You have blood on your hands, Doctor, but so do we. It was an angel who killed all the first born that night in Egypt. I was the one who smote Sodom and Gomorrah for crimes of inhospitality, violence, and rape. We did it on orders. You…” His tone lightened slightly. “You did it because you wanted to protect. You wanted to protect the universe you loved.” He smiled, looking back up to the starry night sky. “There’s no crime in that, Doctor.”
“You could have stopped me from destroying the Daleks,” the Doctor said. “But you…” Gabriel had encouraged him and that was…
“Archangel of mercy,” Gabriel said, “and archangel of justice. Mercy came first; justice came later.” He sighed, tilting his head back. “It was a balancing act, figuring out how much mercy was too much and when judgments were too harsh. Doctor…sometimes there’s really no redeeming someone who only wants to destroy.” He paused. “Unless you’re in the market for a Dalek baby?”
“Never mind; not the point. The Daleks…” He shook his head. “I’ve known a lot of species in my existence, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a species whose only purpose is to destroy. Even demons…well, you don’t have to worry about that here.”
The Doctor barely recognized his own voice. “Angels, demons, next thing you’ll be telling me gods exist, too.”
“Oh yeah, they do.” Gabriel grinned, eyes crinkling. “But not here, I think. Universe isn’t quite suited for their brand of magic. No, it’s the Eternals, you, and your own special brand of magic, Doctor.”
“It’s not magic.” The Doctor huffed. “It’s science. Which you know, of course,” he added, narrowing his eyes.
Gabriel dropped his chin, still smiling.
“I still don’t understand, you know,” the Doctor continued, hating that he had to admit it. “Oh, I heard your explanations, the hows and the whys, but it doesn’t make sense. Why me? Why Rose? If she was happy in that other world—”
“I look like him and I think like him. Same memories, same thoughts, same everything. Except I’ve only got one heart.”
“I’m part human. Specifically, the aging part. I’ll grow old and never regenerate. I’ve only got one life, Rose Tyler. I could spend it with you…if you want.”
“You’ll grow old at the same time as me?”
The Doctor’s breath hitched as that aborted timeline brushed past his senses again, haunting him with what-could-have-been and how damn close he’d come to making that decision to leave Rose behind.
The Doctor almost missed the way Gabriel pulled on space-time around him until he was standing right in front of him. There was an audible flutter of wings with the movement, and the entire thing had taken absolutely no time at all.
Gabriel’s right hand came to rest on the Doctor’s left shoulder, and he leaned in close. At this distance, there was no missing the fact that Gabriel wasn’t human, not with the weight of his presence through time and space that tingled at the Doctor’s senses despite how he had them reeled back to human levels.
“Being selfish isn’t a bad thing, Doctor. If it hurts no one else…it’s okay. It’s okay to be a little selfish. And this?” Gabriel squeezed the Doctor’s shoulder reassuringly. “The only ones who were hurt in this were the Daleks, and trust me when I say they had it coming.”
“They never die,” the Doctor managed.
“Oh.” Gabriel chuckled, withdrawing and lessening the terrible, awful weight of his presence. “They’re dead now, Doctor. Every single one of them through the Void and eternity. You pulled the trigger on the Crucible, and I made sure of all the rest.”
He realized he wasn’t breathing by the time his respiratory bypass kicked in, but he didn’t rectify that, staring after Gabriel as the archangel moved back.
“Seriously,” Gabriel said, grinning lightly at the Doctor, “be selfish, all right? Be happy.”
“I’m married,” the Doctor blurted out because it was true. “I can’t—”
“Are you sure about that?” Gabriel said. “Really, really sure? People lie, Doctor; you know that.”
“My name wasn’t a lie—”
“There are other reasons she could have known that. People lie, obscure, obfuscate… I know your people didn’t go in much for the whole ‘love’ thing; too emotional for beings as rational as Time Lords, right?” Gabriel shook his head. “You don’t know the actual truth, and it’s ridiculous to let that stop you from being happy. What’ll happen will happen, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking.”
The Doctor swallowed, glancing back at the TARDIS where Rose was waiting. The one woman that he’d really…
“Take a chance, Doctor,” Gabriel said, voice softening. “Be happy. ’Cause if you’re not…my kids are going to be really disappointed.”
With that rather perplexing and ominous statement, Gabriel dissipated into space-time. The Doctor blinked as his brain processed the sight of seeing a metaphysical being (who very clearly wasn’t physical even though he’d been in a physical vessel for this entire time) disperse into the very fabric of the universe.
Well…the Doctor supposed he wouldn’t be making visits to any of the places Gabriel’s children had been discussing anytime soon. He didn’t want to risk a run-in with them.
Now… The Doctor craned his head back to see the stars but found that the usual amount of light pollution had returned to obscuring the Milky Way.
The TARDIS hummed at the back of his head, reminding him that she was still there. And so was—
She could have a human life. She could be happy and live a human life with someone who was him but not him.
So why did it hurt so much?
The Doctor tore himself away from that timeline, hearts pounding.
No, that didn’t/wouldn’t happen. Rose was here.
Yet his hearts didn’t stop fluttering and he couldn’t stop himself from thinking what if?
He entered the TARDIS before he realized what he was doing and nearly found himself colliding with Rose. He grabbed hold of her shoulders, taking in her face.
“You’re here,” he managed.
“I’m here,” Rose echoed.
“You’re here, you’re really here.” The Doctor moved his hands up to touch her face and then cup the back of her head.
“I’m here, Doctor.” Rose’s laugh was more of a sob, her eyes watering. “I’m really here.”
The Doctor didn’t move, staring into Rose’s brown eyes. His thumbs were so very close to her temples, but even with the skin contact he had could feel her emotions. “Rose, you’re here.”
The Doctor wasn’t entirely sure how they moved from point A to point B but suddenly they were hugging and he was lifting Rose up into the air. He didn’t hesitate to bury his face in her neck, breathing her in.
His back hit against the closed TARDIS door, although they didn’t tip over or fall. The Doctor squeezed Rose to him tightly, then had to remind himself to loosen the grip slightly because humans did have to breathe.
“Doctor, Doctor, it’s all right,” Rose said, voice distant in his ears. “I’m here. It’s all right.”
The Doctor pulled back enough to look into Rose’s face, a helpless grin spreading across his face. “You are. You are—”
Rose pressed her lips to his, cutting him off (and wasn’t that a pleasant way of being shut up?).
The Doctor pressed in closer, eyes falling shut instinctively (when was the last time he had been kissed like this that wasn’t for a medical reason?). Rose tasted…well, right now she tasted a bit like ashes and something of the Void that she’d kept jumping through but underneath that was something very similar to her scent that the Doctor wanted to chase.
But Rose drew back before he could pursue the thought, wiggling until she was back on her feet. She reached up to stroke his face, wiping away tears that he hadn’t realized he’d shed.
“I love you,” she told him, smiling brightly.
The Doctor closed his eyes tightly as he heard those words (again), but this time Rose was physically present and solid underneath his hands. He pulled in a shuddering breath and opened his eyes, returning Rose’s smile with one that was probably a good deal more watery. “Rose Tyler…I love you.”
Rose’s smile wavered. “I thought you did,” she whispered, “but then you never…”
“I loved you even when I had big ears,” the Doctor said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’ve loved you all this time, Rose. I’m so very sorry you had to wait. I’m sorry you fell—”
“Oh, you daft man.” Rose laughed, grinning at him through her tears. “That wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s. I wish it hadn’t happened, but if it leads me to here with you? I wouldn’t change it.”
The Doctor ducked in for another kiss, lingering this time. There was so much he had to tell her; so much he didn’t know if he wanted to tell her. But she deserved to know how much of a mess he’d been, didn’t she? That without her…
“I was lost without you, you know,” he said quietly, pressing his forehead against hers.
“Not that lost, were you?” Rose gave a short breath of laughter, running a hand over the back of his head. “You did find your way here, after all.”
Only because he’d had Martha and Donna. Only because he’d had friends – because he hadn’t been alone.
The Doctor said none of those things, wrapping his arms around Rose’s waist and pulling her even closer until they were molded together. (Ooh, no. Bad choice of words there. Mold wasn’t…no.)
Rose pressed a kiss to his jaw, the sensation drawing a shudder out of him. He felt her smile against his skin.
They didn’t move from their position against the door, although they would have to soon. The Doctor wasn’t going to stay in the console room holding Rose against him; there were other rooms that were better suited for that. Donna had gone off somewhere, likely giving them privacy, and he hoped she stayed away for a little while.
Call him selfish (and it was so selfish), the Doctor wanted Rose to himself for a little while longer.
Eventually he looked down at her, waiting until she met his eyes.
Bringing a hand up to stroke a thumb over her cheek, the Doctor asked, “How long are you going to stay with me?”
A slow, tongue-touched smile spread across Rose’s face, happiness lighting it up (and he’d put that expression on her face for the rest of their days). “Forever,” she whispered, reaching up to kiss him sweetly, open-mouthed.
The Doctor breathed out, arms tightening reflexively around Rose’s waist, pressing into the kiss and deepening it.
And a day, Rose whispered into his mind, a brief, tantalizing promise of things to come.
The Doctor and Rose Tyler in the TARDIS, the stuff of legends.
At some point he’d move them to a more comfortable room. But for now…
This was perfect.
One planet over on what was probably Raxacoricofallapatorius…
Dummy was definitely not bawling as he watched the Doctor and Rose on the link the TARDIS had kindly opened for him and his siblings. Even his siblings weren’t unaffected, although sibling_Jarvis was significantly more stoic.
Creator_Tony_Dad seemed pleased, smiling faintly and looking up to the sky. It was purple on this planet, which Dummy hadn’t expected but probably should have because not every planet would have similar atmospheres.
As AIs they didn’t have to worry about toxic atmospheres given their bodies didn’t oxygen to survive.
“Great job, guys,” creator_Tony_Dad said as the TARDIS cut the link. He pulled out the list sibling_Butterfingers and sibling_You had provided. “Now…” He sighed, but the sound was laced with fond amusement. “On to the second of…” He glanced down at the list. “Boy, you guys sure don’t mess around.”
“Well, if we’re here…” Sibling_Butterfinger put on a pair of sunglasses and a hat. “Let’s be tourists!”
“And let’s see how similar it is to the show,” sibling_You added.
Sibling_Samael looked up from the rock ne had been inspecting. “I don’t really want to meet a Slitheen,” ne said seriously. “Just the planet is fine.”
Dummy sighed, looking at the skyline of a city of Raxacoricofallapatorius.
It was great. Now…if only canon was fixed at home…
“…Kids…did you seriously hire David Tennant and Billie Piper to do a fan-directed episode of the Doctor and Rose’s reunion?”
“I’m not sure it was really hiring? We offered some money but they both seemed really eager to do it even without.”
“J wrote up contracts and offered them salaries. You hired them, Dummy.”
“We hired them, Dad! And they really liked the script! We had to take out everything with us and you but the Bad Wolf was enough of a dues ex machina that it worked.”
“Oh my God, this thing’s gone viral. It’s only been up an hour!”
“I do have my resources, Agent Barton.”
“We may also have hired Catherine Tate?”
“…Of course you did. C’mon, budge over and give me the popcorn. Might as well see what you guys came up with.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that you went off to the Doctor Who universe without telling us. Aren’t we friends, Tony?”
“I’ve got an idiot box with your name on it, Clint.”