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Beginnings

Chapter Text

Think of beginnings:
amusement parks at dawn,
pianos, bedrooms, gods.

From “Buffaloes” by Tishani Doshi

The Eighth Doctor was alone. He still had his TARDIS, but no one else lived in the vast, old ship anymore.

He had traveled alone before, of course, but this felt different. The Doctor long suspected the Time War had rewritten his past several times. With all of Space and Time an open wound, even he couldn’t detect all the changes, particularly those made to his own timeline. He could depend on remembering some of them, his former companions; others drifted in and out of existence on the tides of the war, leaving him nostalgic for people he only half-remembered. But he was the Doctor and he didn’t give up on anything without a fight, especially his own memories.

“Remember the beginnings,” he muttered to himself, trying to focus his mind. “I love beginnings - everything is so hopeful and new. How did you meet them? How did things start?” He had just begun to picture four of them - the Edwardian Adventuress, the girl from Blackpool, the MedTech, and the graduate student - when the alarms that had been sounding for awhile finally broke his concentration.

“What now?” Standing, he approached the console. “A distress call?” He flipped a few switches. “Let’s hear what they have to say for themselves, shall we Old Girl?”

The message was garbled by static, the Doctor could make out a frightened female voice repeating, “Help me! Please! Can anyone hear me?”

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The Doctor wanted Charley’s first trip to be amazing, so he brought her to the famous Zinreshan Amusement Park. Eight hours later, they were running hand in hand past the Ferris wheel, through the midway, and finally arriving at the Hall of Mirrors.

Charley gasped, catching her breath. “Is it like this everywhere you go?”

“Being chased by monsters? Afraid so.” The Eighth Doctor faced the creatures slithering toward them. “Be ready. We have to time this perfectly. See,” the Doctor pointed at the horizon where the sky was beginning to lighten, “we only have minutes until sunrise.” He took her hand again. “Ready? Now…run!”

They raced inside the Hall of Mirrors. In the darkness, their reflections were little more than fragmented glimpses. Charley’s golden hair, the velvet of the Doctor’s frock coat, the flare gun grasped tightly in his other hand. Of the creatures they saw nothing, but they heard the snap of large jaws filled with rows of sharp teeth getting ever closer.

The Doctor came to an abrupt stop. “We’re here.”

“Is this really a good idea,” Charley asked as he let go of her hand. “We could keep running?”

“No, it’s time.” He pulled her into a tight embrace. “Hide your eyes and trust me.”

The Doctor aimed the flare gun at the mirrored ceiling and fired.

Fragments of glass fell around them, followed by the golden-red glow of the dawn. The creatures howled in pain as the reflected light burned them away to ashes.

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“It’s a bleedin’ piano,” Lucie gestured impatiently, “how can it be following us?”

“No idea.”

“Time Lords called you an expert. If I’d known you were rubbish at answers I’d have asked to be witness-protected by someone else.”

“Chance would be a fine thing,” the Doctor muttered. “It’s clearly the same one. Look, claw marks on the lid and,” he pressed a key, “the middle C sticks.”

“Pianos don’t follow people. They aren’t alive.” Frowning, she stepped back. “Is it some weird alien in disguise?”

He scanned the instrument with his sonic screwdriver. “Just a piano. Come on, let’s try another room.”

In the end they walked through twelve rooms and the piano was in each one. They spotted it sitting placidly on the bottom of the pool, crowded into a corner of the kitchen, and obstructing the view of the tv in the family room.

“That’s it,” Lucie declared as they left the art gallery where the piano was suspended from the ceiling only to find it waiting in the middle of the sun room. “I’ve had it!”

“What are you going to do, yell at it?”

“No clever clogs. What does anyone do with a piano?” Sitting on the stool, Lucie put her hands on the keys and began to play.

The music drifted through the rooms and was picked up the other pianos. Soon they were wrapped in a symphony of sound crescendoing until the space-time bubble trapping them popped like a soap bubble in the air.

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“It’s a shame we couldn’t bury her beside her husband.”

“That timeline has been overwritten.” The Doctor stepped closer to hold the umbrella over himself and Liv. “But Molly’s parents were buried in this cemetery. I think she’d approve.”

It was a short ceremony with only themselves and the priest standing clustered around the fresh grave.

“What now,” Liv asked, hooking the umbrella on the hatstand once they returned to his TARDIS.

“Give me a minute, I need to see to her old bedroom.”

“How?”

“I used to archive the rooms of my former companions, but some…people I cared for deeply convinced me it wasn’t healthy to hoard the past that way. Now I jettison the rooms into the Vortex-”

Liv grabbed his hand, stopping him mid-motion. “Not this time, Doctor.”

Later, in Molly’s bedroom, Liv placed a crucifix into a mostly empty box. “I’m surprised there’s not more here of Molly’s. Wasn’t she with you for awhile?”

“It’s complicated.” The Doctor leaned against the doorframe as if reluctant to enter. “You two probably lived at Baker Street for longer than Molly spent in the TARDIS.”

Liv smiled, remembering. “Like me really. Even with everything we’ve faced - the Daleks, the Master, the Eminence - I’ve slept here one night and seen maybe three rooms.”

The Doctor brightened. “In that case, a tour is in order.” Taking the box from her, he gestured down the corridor. “Welcome to the TARDIS, Liv. I have a feeling you’re going to love the library.”

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“You promised to take me home!”

“And I will-”

A stazer blast struck inches from where they were standing and they both dived for cover. Peeking over the barrier, Bliss could barely make out the wolf’s head symbol on the helmets of the distant soldiers. “Assuming we survive this battle?”

“This?” The Doctor crawled to a nearby computer terminal. “I’ve seen worse than this. I’ve faced Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans…I’ve even faced gods.”

“Gods?”

“Lowercase ‘g’ in this case. Beings so long-lived and of such seemingly infinite power they’re almost gods. Fenric, for example-”

“You beat them?” Bliss had only known the Doctor a little while, but she could spot the beginnings of a long-winded story and wanted to get ahead of it. “Destroyed them?”

The Doctor thought a moment as he rewired the door controls. “Some of them. Most can’t actually be destroyed without also destroying the universe, but they can be imprisoned. I spent much of my previous incarnation in battles of wits against gods and monsters.”

“That’s a shame.” When he looked at her quizzically, Bliss shrugged. “It’s just, with the Time War, seems like we could use some more powerful beings. Maybe they could keep both the Daleks and the Time Lords in check?”

“Or maybe they’d make things even worse?” The door behind them finally opened and he grinned. “Now, back to the bridge to see we can put an end to this.”

They fled, hand in hand, as the battle raged on Starship Aboo-Fenrán.

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“Physician, heal thyself.”

Lifting the goblet, the Eighth Doctor drank the elixir. He felt the change immediately and tried to focus on his goal: a warrior to stop the Time War. But his thoughts drifted back to his friends and companions. Some had spent years with him, others only days, but all were important, all beloved.

The goblet slipped from his fingers and clattered against the cave floor. The glow of regeneration lit up his hands as he stared at them. When the pain hit, it seemed the moments of his life splintered and spun around him like shards of broken glass. One instant he was running with Charley through an empty amusement park, then he was buying ice lollies for she and C’rizz. The glow flickered and now he was listening to Lucie play an infinity of pianos. Then he was waking in a hospital with a hollow feeling in his chest. He saw Molly smile as church bells rang to celebrate the end of the Great War, and saw her die an old woman at the end of another war. He raced down corridors with Tamsin, Liv, Helen, River, and Bliss and, although he couldn’t remember why, at least he remember them again at the end.

The process was over in seconds. Ohila approached cautiously, leaning over the body of the Time Lord. “Is it done?”

The War Doctor stood, his face young and resolute. Taking Cass’s ammunition belt, he fastened it around himself. “No, it’s just beginning.”