A/N - Doctor Who fic that has been running around in my head a bit. Finally decided to write it down. First time in this playground so we will see how it goes.
Disclaimer – Obviously, I own nothing.
The Engineer and the Magician
Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life. – Sophocles
She was walking down the stairs, the quiet buzz that always existed in the database filling her ears. She didn’t usually notice it, white noise that was just an everyday part of her life. But it was different today.
She noticed the change just as she stepped into the foyer and turned towards her living room. She frowned, focusing on it.
Higher pitched. Louder.
She strained to hear the difference, studying it, searching for a pattern. Looking for a tell. There was nothing. Just a constant high pitched, barely noticeable whine.
She listened for another moment more before dismissing it. Perhaps it was just that she was noticing it now. Paying attention to something that she was usually unaware of. That could certainly account for the discomfort in her stomach at the sound. And it was annoying. She sighed, not buying her own argument but continuing towards her living room anyway.
She dropped her journal on the table and made her way over to the fireplace; it needed to be built up, the dying flames casting odd shadows around the dark room. Her fingers closed around the poker, and she dropped it to the floor.
It was cold.
It wasn’t supposed to be cold.
It shouldn’t be anything. Not really. Nothing more than the sensation of holding something. Synapses in the computer mimicking what her brain would have thought, felt. It wasn’t real. It never had been.
It was just there.
She gasped as the flame grew on its own, billowing dangerously against the wire mesh. She took a step back, her calf hitting the coffee table. It wasn’t forceful, barely enough to rattle the tea mug that sat atop on the glass, but a second later the whole thing shattered. She turned, stumbling, trying desperately to avoid the glass with her bare feet, even if it didn’t make a difference. Her brain would still think it was injured. She’d still bleed, even if it would vanish with the next data sweep.
She shook her head, reaching for the light next to the couch. Confusion was always more difficult in the dark. For just a moment the room was alight, and the bulb popped and darkness enveloped her again.
Something else that didn’t happen in the database. Lightbulbs never burned out.
The high pitched noise swarmed into her head again, turning into a thumping pulse. The house around her started to shake, the fire fluctuating in strength. Shadows faded in and out of her line of vision. She made her way towards the window, pushing the curtain aside to look out onto the grassy field that spread out in front of her house. Surely others were experiencing this strangeness. Surely the others were scared.
Her yard wasn’t there, nor were her neighbors, the street, or the buildings. Instead a series of symbols rushed before her eyes, sequencing. Code. It altered into binary code and she gasped, stepping back from the window and heading for the stairs.
The computer must be crashing, the system failing.
They were dying.
The children, the children that weren’t hers – the children that she cared for but didn’t love, the children that didn’t age – were in their room. She wanted to get to them, ensure their safety even though she knew there was nothing she could do.
She was terrified and panicking.
She reached the stairs and the banister fell away in her hands. The high pitched noise screamed around her as her chest seized. She collapsed to her knees, realizing too late that she no longer had knees. She no longer had anything. She was a series of numbers, symbols, same as the rest of it.
She thought of the Doctor. She thought of how sad he’d be to realize his plan had failed. He’d be heartbroken to learn that he hadn’t saved her forever after all. She thought of his face and his stupid bowtie and her world went dark. It was all cold. Her muscles seized and she started to shake.
It was bright, blinding. She closed her eyes.
And cold. So, so cold. Her bones ached, her jaw tightening as her teeth ground together, the sensation aching down her neck.
“Shh,” she heard. The sound of it bounced around her head like a tennis ball, bruising her temples and the base of her skull. There was a touch on her shoulder, fingers like fire. She gasped, air filling her lungs, her chest aching as if it was the first air she’d ever breathed.
In a way it was.
“Shh,” she heard again, calmer this time, less painful. The fingers were still too warm as they grazed up her shoulder and cupped her cheek. “Open your eyes,” she heard from a distance, her mind foggy as she did as commanded. It was fuzzy, a blurry mess of too bright light and a face swimming in her vision. None of the pieces fit into the right places and she closed her eyes again, a wave of nausea sweeping over her.
She snapped her eyes open and doubled over, a bucket appearing in her line of vision just as the dry heaves started. Her stomach convulsed, her body shivering from the cold and the sick. She collapsed to the floor, legs and arms wobbly as she sat on all fours, face buried in the bucket. The smell of bile and the brightness made her stomach churn again and she heaved up nothing, the too warm fingers collecting her hair and holding it away.
The pain was unbearable. She had to be dying.
She managed to mumble the thought, almost collapsing as the quiet voice chuckled.
“Hardly,” it whispered, a girl’s voice, River realized. “Being born is more like it.”
Hot fingers settled on her neck, and trailed down her spine. Skin on skin. River realized she was naked.
“Here,” the voice said, pushing gently on her shoulders. “Sit back.” River did as instructed, settling on her heels, goose bumps breaking out all over her skin. “I have some blankets,” the girl said as soft material covered River’s shoulders. And the girlin front of her helped wrap it around, tucking it in all around herself.
It took a long few seconds, but the pain of the chill faded. She was still cold – desperately cold – but her body had stilled.
A second blanket joined the first, this one giving off a slight buzz as it heated the air around it.
“It’ll be okay,” the voice said, and River tested opening her eyes again. The room was still too bright, but it no longer made her sick. “I know you don’t understand, but it will be okay.”
The voice did belong to a girl; she was older than River thought, but still young. She knelt in front of River, a hand reaching out. The touch was still warm, but no longer burned. A small thumb traced over River’s cheek and it was only then that River realized she was crying.
“I–” River started, her voice cracking, her tongue not really working.
The girl shook her head, the thumb landing on River’s lips to silence her.
“It’s too soon for that,” the quiet voice said. Her blue eyes were piercing as a smile lit up her small face. “We’ve got to get the rest of you working first.”
River didn’t understand and she didn’t like that.
Where was she? Who was she? Who was this?
“Later,” the girl said as if reading River’s mind, her small hand dropping away.
A second later there was another face in front of hers. Male, also young. Another smile, but warmer.
“We’re going to take you to the hospital,” he said. “And we’ll go from there.” He glanced over his shoulder at the young girl who was watching anxiously. “I can’t believe she’s stayed conscious.”
There was another chuckle, and the girl huffed. “She’s never taken the easy route.”
And it was if the realization that she shouldn’t be awake was suddenly permission to not be. She sagged forward, two arms catching her as the darkness took over. Warm hands were on her cheek again, the same small ones. River somehow thought she’d know them forever now.
However long that was, because certainly she was dying. She had to be.
“Keep her flat,” said a voice, the boy she thought.
Then there was a jumble of voices and suddenly she was being carried. The movements soothing and sweet as warmth enveloped her and her body went limp.
The noise penetrated her sleep, her dream. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done either, not really. It felt good.
She opened her eyes, staring at a dimly lit ceiling. It looked familiar, but she didn’t recognize it. She took a deep breath and her lungs ached at the air; it was too cold despite the comfortable temperature in the room. She took another deep breath and it was a bit easier.
“Take it easy,” said a soft voice. River turned her head to see a young man sitting next to her bed. Piercing green eyes – familiar, but she didn’t know why.
“Whe–” she started, air catching in her throat. It ached, and she tried to cough but couldn’t. She felt a swell of panic, she couldn’t breath. She felt her eyes go wide as she stared at the young man sitting next to her. A smile spread across his face and he leaned over, a hand pressing to her chest.
“Take it easy,” he repeated, a swell of warmth spreading through her chest. It wasn’t just his touch, she felt something. A familiar twinge, a series of electric shocks. She tried to turn, tried to see what he was doing but she couldn’t take her eyes off of his. His face was calm, his smile soothing. “You’re fine,” he whispered as she managed to gasp in a breath. It was easy, relaxing. She let her eyes drift closed and the warm hand moved away from her.
“Sleep,” he said. “You need it.”
“Where?” she managed this time, the sounds of the room fading around her.
“Sisters of the Infinite Schism,” he said. It was familiar but she didn’t know why. She tried to remember but couldn’t. It was all dark. It was all lost.
“The Doctor will be here shortly,” the voice said. A clear image walked into her dream and smiled at her.
“She’s struggling,” he said into his mobile device, trying to not draw attention to himself in the small hallway. He slipped through a door, relieved to see it was one of the server rooms. It was cool, and he was able to lean against the door and close his eyes.
This had been harder than he’d anticipated. They’d had to turn the heat up in her room to keep her temperature up. He’d known they were going to have to, he knew the entire process of her recovery, but sitting in that room waiting had been miserable.
“Are they working on her?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I barely made it out, but was sure be seen on the surveillance. She was having trouble breathing.”
“You fixed it,” she snapped. He understood why she was so stressed. He didn’t envy the role she had to play. Sitting in the hot hospital room suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
“Of course,” he said. “He’ll have quite a show. Lots of puzzle pieces.”
“Good,” she said. “I see him. It’s still crowded though,” she sighed. “Everyone should be going onto the balcony soon. Except him, of course.”
“Of course.” They were quiet for a moment. He listened to her building up her nerve, and he was reluctant to get off the line.
“She’s going to be fine,” she said, her voice not as certain as he’d expected.
“She has to be,” he said, knowing that no other scenario made sense.
She sighed again. “They’re passing out the glasses. I should get going.” A pause. “Give her… give her a kiss from me.”
“If she’s still asleep…”
“Of course.” Another sigh. “Okay, see you soon.”
The connection was broken before he could respond.