All recognisable dialog from DotD isn’t mine, though, I didn’t use much this chapter. Still, not mine where I needed to.
This was nearly all originally part of the last chapter but I split it for length. Each time I’ve switched between locations probably could’ve been its own chapter, but honestly? I hate having to come up with so many titles and it’s a long fic as it is. Points for knowing which song this title came from.
I am putting out the call for a beta.
To this point I’ve been going it solo, but I really need someone to help me sort through the myriad of directions which are calling out to me. I have a clear destination, but the roads to get there are forked and pulling me to pieces, and because it’s getting so long, I’m tempted to end it after this adventure is completed and continue the remainder in a sequel story. If you’re willing, I’d love to reciprocate, or do some artwork for you, or both! Please, just shoot me an email or a message.
“Doctor,” Chaudhry called through the swirling portal, “I’m here.”
“Right, good, grand. Can you get them to my TARDIS?”
The Colonel glanced at the two companions, who were looking at her hopefully, and shook her head. “The entirety of the two lower basement levels have been electro-magnetically sealed off, and a containment field has been generated. We’re not taking any risks. The containment field encloses everything subterranean for an entire city block, and every UNIT soldier has orders to terminate anything that tries to come out of it. Your companion ensured we could do our best to contain the excursion, and the public has been evacuated from the Tower and the surrounding area. We were able to tell the press it is a dangerous gas leak, and with it being the fifth, we can’t risk the explosions from the bonfires. I’m very thankful, but it has sealed us inside with it.”
“So, no TARDIS then. Well, option B it is. I need Kate and Osgood the Intern to look through the Archive for a few things for the boys to put together into… a time-travely thingy. I need you to get them to the floor above. I am carving coordinates into a stone to send at least one of them to me.”
“How are we supposed to get a floor up?” Torin cried. “In case you forgot, we’re a little trapped by creatures that want in!”
“I have a side arm and plenty of experimental weapons here, Doctor. I’ll see it done.”
“We’re not trying to kill anyone!” Lios gasped.
“Sometimes it can’t be helped,” she challenged with a stern look. “I have been authorised by the Prime Minister to handle this threat immediately and in whatever capacity necessary to ensure the survival of Earth, Mr Noble-Smith. I trust the Doctor, he needs you, it is therefore my duty to see that no harm comes to you, even if that means alien casualties.”
“She’s right, and I’m telling you now, Emily Chaudhry doesn’t take life unnecessarily. Listen to her, both of you. If she feels you’re in danger, you are. I don’t want either of you hurt, do you understand me?”
Both men held their silence and looked at their feet.
“Oi! Do you understand? How do you expect to help if you get killed? Think about it! And your sister would find me and murder me if I let anything happen to you!”
“Yes, Doctor, we understand,” replied Lios.
“What are we building?” Torin ground out through gritted teeth.
“A space hopper. One of you might go looking with Kate for—”
“Doctor,” Kate piped up from her seat where she was worrying at the useless instruments on the table, “we have in the Archive a gift left to us a year ago by River Song. She never described its exact purpose, but it resembles a thick leather watch and she used it as a travel device whenever she visited.”
“What? When did she— why was she— she could’ve just given it to— never mind! Oh, River you beautiful thing!”
“I assumed the last time she was here that she was leaving it because it was broken.”
“I can sort it, don’t worry,” Torin said holding up his sonic screwdriver. “Where is it?”
“Follow me, Mr Woolfe,” Kate said as she stood and indicated he should follow her. The two disappeared between rows of dusty artefacts.
Another loud bang at the steel vault door made them all jump.
“Right, well, that leaves us and the creatures,” Lios sighed. “We’ll need a plan.”
“And time,” the Colonel nodded. “Have you any weapons experience, young man?”
“No, but I wouldn’t touch one anyway,” he said apologetically. “I’m— I’m sorry. I just…”
“No one is asking you to. Emily can handle anything.”
“Oh, I hope you’re right, Doctor, I really hope you’re right. There’s an awful lot of them and one of me.”
“I have faith in you, and Li? Remember their hearing.”
Lios lit up with a grin and smacked himself on the forehead, suddenly feeling quite a bit more confident.
“I’m going to etch the coordinates into a stone here, all you’ll need to do once the manipulator is functional is input the coordinates. We can all travel back together. Em?”
“Do you think you can go and find whatever supplies you’ll need?”
The Colonel glanced at the blond man and the intern. She wasn’t comfortable leaving him unsupervised. “Osgood, keep an eye on this one,” she said sternly.
“Oi! He’s helpin’ you!” came a younger voice.
“Oh, shut up, you. Colonel, I promise we won’t plot anything untoward in your absence.”
“Very well, Doctor,” she sighed incredulously with a significant look at Osgood, who nodded nervously and puffed on her inhaler. Chaudhry too, quietly disappeared between the large, technology-filled shelves.
“She’s gone,” Lios said softly as soon as Chaudhry had disappeared, holding Osgood’s gaze.
“Good, we need to be able to land the TARDIS directly inside the Archive. Is there a computer terminal nearby? Can you look up what systems they’re using to block my access?”
The two young people continued to stare at each other for a few moments in silence until Osgood gave a small nod, telling him to get on with it.
“Osgood, do you know what it is?”
She shifted in place, looking extremely uncomfortable, and nodded again. “I’m not supposed to, but I’ve heard them talk about it. I’ve helped compile information about the Doctor and his companions down here a few times. It was always exciting… I just…”
“Osgood, I’d never say anything, and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“I know. I just… feel disloyal.”
“If you save eight point three million human lives, will you still feel that way?”
“Blimey, you’re as bad as your brother.”
“Sorry, sorry.” Lios grimaced. “I know. I’m not purposely trying to manipulate you, really. It’s just, it’s true. There’s a time to be loyal to UNIT, and a time to be loyal to your species. I can find it on my own if you really feel strongly. I’ll even put you to sleep if you want.” He touched his temple in demonstration. “But only with your permission. I wouldn’t unless you wanted. I just don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I think Atkins might be cross if you do. Don’t think he’d stay at the door any longer if you did that, and Miss Chaudhry’s looking for guns, isn’t she? Not very safe for you, is it? You’re my first aliens. What kind of liaison will I make if my first aliens get shot on my watch?” She chuckled. “I’ll help. You know I want to help.”
“Osgood, one day you’re gonna save the world all on your own.”
She snorted, but smiled and led him to the centre of the vault before pointing up. A blinking device on the ceiling hummed almost imperceptibly. It was giving off electromagnetic waves, and was undoubtedly the device creating the containment barrier the colonel had mentioned… which was a problem…
Lios trotted back to the time portal and winced at having to deliver the news.
“Yes? Have you done it?”
“Yeah—er—no. We’ve a problem.”
“Oh, what now?”
“Well, you see, the device keeping you out? It’s an Atraxi Field Generator and possibly— probably powering their containment field… If I shut it off, the whole thing goes down. Everywhere. They lose their protection.”
A series of Gallifreyan swearwords was uttered by multiple voices on the other side of the tear.
Lios blushed and fidgeted while Osgood looked impressed by the foreign sounds. She started to ask what had been said, but the young man turned an even darker shade of red, and looked resolutely at his feet, so she stopped herself.
“What are we going to do? Can’t walk in from the street when they’re on a lock down, and a vortex manipulator is never going to carry all of us, even if we amp the hell out of it. What the hell are we going to do?”
Lios looked up at Osgood once more. “I… I really hate to ask you to do this…”
“Don’t think he’s talking to us.”
“We only need it powered down for… Doctor? How long?”
“Maybe five minutes,” came his father’s voice. “Ten tops.”
“So long as you get the landing right.”
“Oi! There’re four of us! We’ll get the landing right!”
“Doctor, you’re not helping,” Lios groaned. “We have to be able to get back in.”
“I know. What do I have to do?”
He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and put it in her hands. “You aim it at the generator, push this little part up to setting 92-b, and hold it for no more than four seconds. Any longer and it’ll short out completely and we have to be able to restart it quickly.”
“That’s pretty simple.”
“Simple, but you have to be exact, Osgood, I can’t stress it enough.”
She nodded solemnly. “How will I know when to do it?”
“That’ll be a bit trickier, we’ll tell you when we’re on the way, but I have no way of knowing what happens when we leave this cell. We’ll just have to make that part up as we go, I think.”
“Right! Brilliant! Winging it?”
“Love winging it.”
“He said he fixed up Chaudhry’s mobile, yeah? Have ‘im nick it an’ leave it with the girl, we’ll call her from the TARDIS.”
“Now that’s not bad! Think you can manage?”
“Y-yes…” Lios hesitated. “I don’t like it, but yes.”
Lios loosed an annoyed sigh and shot an apology to Osgood with his eyes. “Sorry. If we hadn’t taken yours…”
Torin trotted back toward them with Kate close behind. Both had arms laden with various pieces of machinery, and Torin was sporting a sunny grin at the prospect of tinkering with so many foreign objects.
Osgood quickly slipped the sonic device in her lab coat, looking innocent and interested as Torin set his load down on the work table.
“Doctor!” he exclaimed in his glow. “You should see some of the stuff they have just sitting there collecting dust! Blimey, had the Alpha known it was here, you couldn’t have stopped her from coming when we turned Jack down! Of course, more than half of it is complete rubbish – and by rubbish, I mean, they could bin enough to dam the Thames, and they’re totally wasting their time— oh, rude, sorry, but have you seen it?”
Kate groaned and set her armful next to the pile he’d amassed. She had enough to worry about without the Doctor nosing through the Black Archive every chance he got, binning whatever he deemed junk.
“Some, yes. I heard that, Kate, don’t think we won’t be having a chat.”
“Yes, I’m sure we will, Doctor,” she sighed. “Can we focus on this for now?”
“Ye-p. Try and stop me!” Torin agreed cheerfully as he started examining the vortex manipulator which had belonged to the Doctor’s late wife. “This thing is knackered, but not done for.”
“Fine, just see to it. I’m carving coordinates for you now.”
“Where do we look?” asked Lios.
“Dungeon-ish area,” the Doctor told the young man through the swirling mass. “Lower level one, just above the Archive, I should think. A stone in the near the far-left wall in the cell at the end.”
“Doctor, if they’ve eaten and replaced the stone, will it still be there?” came a mousy female voice he’d assumed belonged to Osgood the Intern.
“Well, we didn’t test them on this level, but we’re winging it! We’ll just have to think on our feet if you can’t find it, won’t we?”
“Can’t you just tell them what to put?” she asked.
“Doesn’t work like that. There aren’t words for some of the required coordinates when you want to be this precise, only symbols,” answered Lios, fudging slightly.
The truth was, he could speak the Gallifreyan they needed, but neither of them had mastered it enough to be sure they’d get it right. Giving them something concrete was best. It was the very reason the Doctor hadn’t bothered suggesting they use the manipulator to move to the upper floor. He couldn’t risk them missing by a week or popping into an area where they’d be shot on sight. He mentally applauded Lios for his quick misdirection.
“Oh. That’s sort of weird, isn’t it? Though, I guess it makes sense if you factor in more than three dimensions.”
“That’s time and space!” exclaimed Torin. “Formulas and maths you’ve never dreamed, Osgood! You lot don’t think about things in a way it would make sense, do you?”
They were all silent for a few minutes, three of them pacing like caged animals while the youngest and the golden-haired apparition watched.
“How much longer?” the oldest called when he’d lost patience.
“Oi! Not exactly easy, this, is it? Never done this! Not saying I can’t just, you’re gonna have to wait a bit, alright?”
“Your companion seems to have a streak of cheek, doesn’t he?” snorted Sandshoes.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Don’t they all? Has Emily come back?”
“Yes, Doctor. I’m here and ready.”
“Good. Boys, what about you? Who’s staying?”
“I’m going,” they both chorused.
“No, you’re not! I’m older, you stay!”
“You’re not going without me!”
“What? No! I’m— you—”
“You’re not leaving me!”
“He’s staying,” repeated Torin firmly. “Doctor, tell him.”
“No! Do you think I’m going to actually let you go out there on your own? You’re mad!”
“It’s safer here! And what if they need you, you idiot? What, you’re just going to leave them to their own—”
“We stay together! You are all I have right now! Don’t you get it?”
“Exactly, you plonker! Why do you think—”
“Fingers on lips!” cried the Doctor in pinstripes.
He sighed and scrubbed hand down his face.
“Doctor, we stay together.”
He could tell by the stubborn tone in the younger brother’s voice, which was identical to the tone his mother always used when she was going to defy his wishes, that he wasn’t going to win this argument. “No point in arguing, go together. Just watch each other’s backs. More eyes might be better in any case. Are you ready?”
“Atkins, take this. Whatever happens nothing gets in farther than you, understand?”
They heard a gun cock and the clanking of metal, then a terrible squealing and the sound of sharp instruments against steel. A loud bang thundered as large bodies hurled themselves against the barrier, and the clang of the vault door crashing against the wall.
“Colonel!” the Doctor cried. “What are you waiting for?”
The sharp, sizzling noises of electricity discharging floated out to them along with the thumping of large objects. The sound of metal-meeting-metal followed by a heavy thunk resounded once more. Not even the sound of breathing could be heard for more than thirty seconds after.
“What happened?” he interrogated in desperation. “Are you all alright?”
“Shhh!” came Lios’ voice. “Doctor, we have to stay as silent as possible now.”
“Oh. Yes…. How are we still talking?”
“Dunno it— the portal just sort of… followed us,” Torin murmured.
“Did you kill it?”
They heard a huff, and Emily click her tongue against her cheek. “No,” she whispered harshly. “Just put them out for a while. Now, shhh.”
He fidgeted, the others paced. They all jumped about a foot in the air when a keening wail pierced the air.
Everyone froze in place, not even daring to breathe.
The high-frequency whine moved in closer, as if using sonar to locate its quarry.
The Doctor balled his hands into fists and he wished more than anything he’d just stayed a while longer before recklessly jumping through another bloody time-window and trapping himself where he couldn’t rescue people he cared about. One would think he’d have learned the first time.
The tension was palpable enough to cut with a knife when the shot rang out.
The creature screamed and fell with a muffled thud of furry flesh. They could hear three sets of feet pounding against stone as the trio made their escape.
Feet continued to slap against stone and ragged breaths puffed and panted. They could hear faint scraping of sharp claws drawing ever nearer, and more of the high-pitched chatter, until a hearts-stopping cry filled the air.
He wasn’t sure which brother it came from, but the voice was male and in pain.
“Get it off him!” Lios screamed.
“I’m trying!” Emily cried in return. “My revolver jammed, and I lost the stunner when it hit me the first time!”
“Don’t you have anything else?”
“I can’t get it and hold this from killing him!”
Torin screamed again and they could hear the muffled sounds of flesh impacting flesh in fierce blows.
“Lios! The sonic!”
Emily howled in pain and they could hear the crack of bones, and the slap of flesh against stone.
“I left— I can’t— I can’t! Torin! I can’t—”
The Doctor aimed his screwdriver at the fissure and emitted a sound he hoped would incapacitate the creature.
The effect was immediate. The monster roared, and three sets of feet were running once more, though one sounded as though it had a pronounced limp.
Tiny pings of metal casings hitting stone fell away as Chaudhry righted her service revolver.
Once again, the scrape of claws on stone began to assert itself, drawing ever closer and setting all teeth on edge.
Each of the doctors held their screwdrivers ready on their side. Perhaps the combined frequencies would be more effective.
“Go!” Shouted the Colonel. “I’m bleeding too much! I’m only slowing you! Just go! It isn’t much further! Go! I’ll hold it off!”
“No!” Shouted the brothers as they too stopped.
“Go!” she screamed again. They heard revolver fire fill the air again. “Go!”
“Doctor!” She shouted.
“Do as she says!” he shouted at them. “Emily, don’t you dare give up. You get yourself to the door, do you understand?”
“Yes! Now, go!”
The sound of metal pinged against stone again, and more fire started soon after though it was fading into the distance.
A faint whirring, and a metal door creaking then slamming shut soon followed.
Each man silently mourned his former companion. Emily was a brave woman and a fantastic leader. While some hope remained, and he would always cling to the idea that she might have lived, the realist inside had given her up the moment she stopped moving and started shooting.
Silence reigned. Not even footsteps came through to them, and it started to eat at each of him.
What happened to the two? What were they doing? Had the fissure stopped following? Did it have a limited travel area? Were they injured? Were they captured? What was happening?
“Are you…” the Doctor in leather chanced.
“We’re fine,” came the answering whisper. “We thought… we should… we shouldn’t just—”
“You can’t. You need to keep moving,” their Doctor bit out through clenched jaws. “She will make it if she can, but do not let the chance she’s given you go to waste. Where are you?”
“By the stairs,” Torin choked. “Soldiers inside and by the lifts. Complicates everything without the Colonel…”
“Do your best. Keep to the shadows. You know what to do.”
“Yeah, just… We’re sneaking around in UNIT headquarters with soldiers and mole-men everywhere! And we’re in the creepy dungeon…” the young man grumbled quietly through the breach. “The Alpha always does this bit.”
“Well, she’s unavailable at the moment. Really, you’d think you boys would’ve picked up a thing or two with all the—”
“Doctor! Not the time!” Lios urged.
“Oh, don’t you start with the ordering about! Of all the things to imitate of your sister’s— wait, can you do that silent thing she does with her feet?”
“Doctor! If we can hear you, so can they!”
“Oh, right.” He lowered his volume. “Oi, did I or did I not build each of you a sonic? What’re you faffing about for? Create a diversion!”
“Who are these men again?” the slightly befuddled Doctor in the sand shoes demanded in a huffy hiss. “New companions?”
“Sort of,” he frowned in reply and turned his attention back to the time fissure.
“And you’ve built them a sonic? Why would you do that? Humans with sonic devices. Brilliant, you are. That’s like giving a grenade to a toddler! What happens to my brain? Are you totally and completely touched?”
He gaped like a fish out of water at himself, unable to quite formulate the proper answer.
“Oi! We can hear you, you know! Rude much?” Torin ground out as loud as he dared. “I happen to be very handy with a sonic, thanks. Been using one my whole life! Why, I’ve had the TARDIS practically purring since I was sixty— ouch! Prat! Oh. Sixteen. I meant sixteen. Right. Shutting it.”
All eyes seemed riveted to their successor.
Behind him the Bad Wolf grinned at the youngest of the Doctors. She prowled cat-like around the man the dandy-turned-soldier would eventually become, appraisingly taking in his awkward hand flapping. “Will he say, do you think?” She purred.
He was suddenly very keen on the identities of these men in question himself.
“Sod it, you lot are gonna forget all this anyway. They’re my sons. Sort of. Mostly. Well, yes. Mine. Our sons.”
“Blimey… Li, did you hear—”
“They’ve a sister as well, that is to say, we’ve a daughter too. Three. We’ve three. More. Three more.”
Daft Ears had to sit down.
Sandshoes now took over as the lead gaping fish while he tried to disentangle the jumbled thoughts and words which threatened any moment to become an unstoppable flood.
Yet, the youngest of them was the only one to speak.
“That’s all very nice. Who are they really? Where did you find them?” Could he live with becoming a man so desperate for connection that he started adopting the strays he found? What sort of long-lived species had he stolen them from in order to stave off the inevitable desolation off death? How broken was he exactly? Could it really have gotten worse than it was? Of course, it could. His people were gone in his future, and the enormity of that threatened to overwhelm him as he pondered it.
“You know, ehehe, Dad, you used to be a bit of a git,” Torin snorted. “It’s alright though, doesn’t get too much worse.”
“Shut your gob and give them a minute!”
“And you lot! Keep it down or move away – just be quieter!”
“Why would you bring children into the life we lead?” the youngest man insisted, not troubling to move from his position or check his volume.
“Doesn’t matter.” He put his finger to his lips and widened his eyes at the would-be poet-turned-soldier. “They’re mine. Ours. Are you suggesting I should’ve abandoned them?” he challenged with an almost goading smile.
“Of course not, but have you forgotten Adric?”
The older him turned away in disgust. Had he forgotten Adric? Really? What a thing to say. As if he ever could. As if it didn’t haunt him with the rest of his failings and the rest of the deaths which made him hate himself every moment. As if thinking about Adric didn’t terrify him that he would fail these boys so completely.
The apparition was staring at the oldest Doctor with a curious expression. She’d lost a bit of her predatory mystery and looked just… hungry…
“Their… mother? I have ta know…” his post-war self was hunched over as he spoke with his head in his hands. He couldn’t reconcile the idea of ever loving another, but how could it possibly be her? It couldn’t, she was human and fragile, and the realisation gripped like steel bands around his hearts… Only they were alone with him, and perhaps… No, it just wasn’t possible – unless he’d found a way to get a hold of… he had loom schematics after all… he might’ve modified… He folded his arms and drew his brows together to examine all the possibilities, and asked himself exactly of what he would be capable if Rose Tyler asked.
Sandshoes was still eyeing him suspiciously.
“Oh, shut up, the lot of you— me. I don’t have to justify anything to any of you. You’ll see them soon enough and they’ll get us out of here.”
“Er—right, give us a bit!”
A blaring alarm sounded in the distance and the sound of heavy boots running passed. When it was quiet once again, they heard a door open with a tiny creek before a shout and a scuffle of bodies. The whir of a sonic was quickly followed by sparks and a heavy thud of a body falling.
“Alright?” called Leather after a few moments.
“Yeah, they only left one… he’s in a cupboard, but the rest’ll be back soon and if they find him… we’re almost to the next level… We have to go faster! See if you can access codes to the doors farther down from here. Maybe if they open and close on their own this lot’ll go check it out.”
“Sometimes you’re totally daft, Big Brother—”
“—and sometimes I’m willing to admit we’re related.”
“Brilliant, let’s go!”
They should’ve been discovering the coordinates he’d carved any moment, even if they had raised a few alarms Selene wouldn’t have.
“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” the tenth said with a puff of his cheeks and a sigh. “Now we wait.”
“Perfect,” huffed Leather.
“Better ideas are always welcome,” snarked the eleventh. “Oh, right, I’ve just remembered, we haven’t any, so less with the stating the obvious and more with the shutting up.”
“Really clever, aren’t you?” the Doctor in the striped suit spat.
“You started it!” the Doctor in tweed returned.
“Never mind that,” grumbled Pinstripes, “we still haven’t even given a thought to why we’re all even here! Why are we all together? What’s the point? You! Dandylocks! Ears and Chinny were surprised when they came through, but you, you came looking for us. You knew it was going to happen. Who told you? Who created the fissure?”
“Yeah, you do have a chin.”
“Must you act like children?” the youngest disparaged. “What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown-up? Omega take you all, the way you look at me! What is that? I can only describe it as dread! It’s pitiful.”
“It must be really recent for you,” intoned the tenth as the ninth turned from the man he was in disgust. Dread didn’t half cover what they felt.
Some colour drained from the eighth’s face. “Recent?”
“The Time War. The last day of the Time War. The day you killed them all,” replied the oldest in a detached voice.
“The day we killed them all,” spat the Doctor in leather.
“Same thing,” the oldest breezed, carving the coordinates a little deeper with his sonic.
The war-torn man shook his head and distanced himself further from his future. He was frustrated and confused, and had so many conflicting feelings over this new development, he couldn’t bear to look at himself.
The Bad Wolf still hovered too near, seeming almost to taunt him with the decision for which he knew had no possible right answer. Far from being a comfort or giving him any clear direction, she had simply brought him more reason to deplore the idea of living through the end of the war. How could he become this— this man-child? How could he fall lower than he already had? Did they even care about being the Doctor any longer, or had he permanently given up the name and everything it ever meant? Was there any hope left at all?
The ragged woman looked upon him in his struggle with a hard, expectant expression. He was failing her as well and he knew it. Perhaps she wouldn’t even allow him to make the choice any longer knowing how far his failings reached. Perhaps, she would find him altogether wanting and destroy him along with Gallifrey after all.
“Go on,” she insisted. “Ask them. Ask them what you need to know.”
He turned his haunted blue eyes up to her before steeling his expression and looking down at his hands. “Did you ever count?”
“Count what?” responded the Doctor in tweed when no one else spoke up.
“How many children were on Gallifrey that day.”
He shrugged and kept his eyes strictly on his task. “I have absolutely no idea.”
The youngest raked his hands through his short curls with a slight yank, resisting the urge to start cursing. “How old are you now?”
“I don’t know. I lose track. Twelve hundred and something, I think, unless I’m lying. I’m probably lying, but I can’t remember if I’m lying about my age. That’s how old I am.”
He tore his gaze from his fists and stared with hatred at the floppy-haired fool hell-bent on making him sure he’d rather take his own life than live to become him. “You’re at least four hundred years older than I am now and, in all that time, you never even wondered how many there were? You never once counted?”
Said floppy-haired fool stopped his whirring abruptly and turned to the youngest of his present incarnations with an expression made of stone and disgust. “Tell me,” he hissed, “what would be the point?”
“Two point four seven billion,” came the chorus from his other two selves.
The post-war Doctor’s stormy visage closed in on itself immediately, and he withdrew as far from the others as he could. He was shaking and wasn’t certain he could control himself in the rage he felt.
The next in line was fuming and far from caring whether he controlled his rage or not. “You forgot?” he breathed as he stepped very close into his future self’s space. He was inches from the older man’s face, teeth bared, the Oncoming Storm raging behind brown eyes. “Four hundred years? Is that all it takes? Four hundred years? Two point four seven billion children dead, and you forgot?”
The oldest did not back down. He did not flinch; he did not move, excepting the storm raging behind his own green. “I moved on,” he said flatly.
The younger was taken aback, but did not move out of the aggressive position he had adopted. “Really. You moved on? Where? Where can you possibly be now that you can forget something like that?”
This was too much for the eldest. Flashes assaulted him of the Master, Rassilon, of his mother and brother kneeling with their faces covered in forced penance and shame; Gallifrey in the sky above the Earth, holding a gun on his oldest friend and enemy, screaming at a helpless, good-hearted old man, and then absorbing lethal amounts of radiation. Goodbyes. Lost humans torturing the last Star Whale; Silurians forced to remain in hibernation due to prevailing hate. Cracks. Being shot by a Dalek— again. The Pandorica and the end of everything; playing Schrodinger’s cat while waiting to be remembered into existence. Millions of Cyber Soldiers exploding in space at his hand; the Silence systematically executed by his doing, and bloody Demon’s Run. Being poisoned, and shot at Lake Silencio by a woman his own existence tortured into madness; the woman who loved him enough to risk the universe who he couldn’t love with the same fervour, but married anyway. Planets of insane Daleks turning flesh into soldiers. Weeping Angels and paradoxes. Sending River off to die with a fancy dinner and forced smile. Lost family. Suffering. Suffering everywhere, all the time. Everywhere he looked, always suffering. A planet destroyed by hate because they resembled insects and lived in trash; a tortured TARDIS in the centre of a volcano, and millions of ancient beings dead. Rose Tyler burned away into memories and kept by a broken timeship. His children alone for months with no hope, his daughter sick and in pain from regeneration with no one to help her – alone because he hadn’t gotten it together in time to help. Like she was now. Like Torin and Lios floundering at UNIT, alone and in need. Loneliness everywhere. Everyone was always left alone.
Forget? He should know better. He never forgot a single moment, he only got better at lying about it.
“Spoilers,” he spat and walked away.
Before he could get more than four steps, the younger man grabbed him and shouted, “No! No, no, no, no, no, for once, I would like to know where I’m going!”
He yanked his arm free from the skinny man and got right back up into his face. “No. You really wouldn’t.”
“I don’t know who you’ve become,” cried the eighth, jumping to his feet and pacing while tugging furiously at his hair. “Any of you! I haven’t the faintest! What happened? When did you lose your way?”
“They’re still you,” the apparition said softly. “They’re what you become if you destroy Gallifrey: the man who withdraws from his oath, the man who regrets his oath, and the man who forgets his oath. The moment is coming, Doctor. The Moment is me. You have only to decide. What will you become? What will we all become?”
The youngest let out a cry of frustration and slumped against the wall, head in his hands. “I don’t want this!”
The oldest chuckled and shook his head as he looked at the frustrated version of himself.
“I’m sorry.” Ten’s brow contracted with ill-concealed fury and disgust. “Is something funny? Did I miss a funny thing?”
Eleven raked his fingers through his wayward fringe and continued to survey each of himself with a sneer. “Sorry. It just occurred to me that this is what I’m like when I’m alone. Stop worrying your pretty head over it. The boys will be here soon, and, with any luck, we’ll never have to look at each other again.”
The brothers listened to all the Doctors bicker as they crept along the corridor, ducking into alcoves where they could, and hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be discovered.
“Better ideas are always welcome. Oh, right, I’ve just remembered, we haven’t any, so less with the stating the obvious and more with the shutting up.”
They were both still reeling after losing the Colonel. As much as they didn’t want anyone nuking London, she hadn’t seemed like the type to go off half-cocked. The opposite actually. She seemed incredible. Irreplaceable. And they’d just left her behind. Neither liked himself very much for that.
Even as they forged forward at the Doctor’s insistence, they wanted to run back and charge in, if only to make sure her body didn’t get carted off into some dank hole and forgotten forever.
“Really clever, aren’t you?”
“You started it!”
Silently, they agreed to make the Colonel a priority as soon as they brought the Doctor back. It made each step forward just a little easier to take, even if the creeping terror of human ruthlessness was just as frightening and dangerous as sharp claws and brute strength.
Torin shuddered as he remembered how close he had come to having his skull split in two by massive, dripping incisors. How Chaudhry had kicked it to save him and it had torn open her thigh like a sack of wheat flour. He wished his sister was there.
He felt his brother squeeze his shoulder and he looked over at him.
Me too, Lios said silently.
How’d she ever manage this stuff? Did we really ever let her go it alone?
Li’s face hardened. Never again, he answered mentally with fire in his eyes.
Torin nodded, and steeled his own resolve.
“Must you act like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown-up? Omega take you all, the way you look at me! What is that? I can only describe it as dread! It’s pitiful.”
Never had a stretch of building seemed so long or perilous. Every footstep or imagined sound felt like it spelled disaster. Sometimes it was only angry voices floating through the portal confusing them, and others it was hushed conversation down a bisecting corridor where heavily armed UNIT officers lurked which needed to be passed with extreme caution.
“The Time War. The last day of the Time War. The day you killed them all.”
“The day we killed them all.”
They had fallen back on telepathic communication, but it was like trying to keep an infant asleep in a building with paper-thin walls, and the neighbours having the mother of all domestics.
“You’re at least four hundred years older than I am now and, in all that time, you never even wondered how many there were? You never once counted?”
They had just been about to cross one such area when the Doctor’s voice which had belonged to their father reached a fiery crescendo.
“Four hundred years? Is that all it takes? Four hundred years? Two point four seven billion children dead, and you forgot!”
As though the subject was not enough on its own to make them want the Earth to open up and swallow them whole, the voices in the neighbouring corridor which had been chatting casually, went dead silent, and after only a few moments, they heard the cocking of heavy artillery and approaching feet.
They retreated as quickly and silently as they could to the nearest doorway and used the sonic to break their way in, hastily locking it behind them.
They looked at each other helplessly while the Doctors continued to rage at each other, the conversation going from bad to worse with every word. They both knew they’d never mention it, but couldn’t un-hear the venom they spat. They respected – even revered the man – and this was how he saw himself. They ached for him. They wanted to help. They wanted to change it.
“Really. You moved on? Where? Where can you be now that you can forget something like that?”
“No! No, no, no, no, no, for once, I would like to know where I’m going!”
“No. You really wouldn’t.”
“I don’t know who you’ve become. Any of you! I haven’t the faintest! What happened? When did you lose your way?”
Silently, they joined hands and shared worried looks, brown eyes meeting blue in bewilderment and frustration.
Outside someone jiggled the door handle.
Should we tell them they’re going to get us killed? Torin asked his brother with fear and desperation in his normally jovial eyes.
Lios had no idea. He wasn’t sure they could even get the Doctor’s attention then, and anything they did might give them away. Give them a moment. I think… I think they need to get this out, and we’re stuck until the soldiers go and unless they have a way in…
The handle went silent and the footsteps passed farther down the hall, but neither of them dared venture out yet while the Doctors shouted.
“I don’t want this!”
The fight seemed to have passed after a few moments more and they could hear no more voices outside.
Torin went to unlock the door, but Lios stopped him with a hand over the one which held the tool.
Scan for people out there first.
Can it even do that? It’s a thick stone wall, will bio-signatures register, do you think?
Lios shrugged and furrowed his brows. Can’t hurt to try. If not the stone, then the door?
Torin shook his head. It’s wood.
He tried several times to get a reading, but only came back with composite stone molecular structures. Could mean they were clear; could mean they were out of luck. Either way, it wasn’t worth the risk.
Try the other side where the other corridor was. Lios encouraged. Some had to have stayed behind in it. If you get a reading, then we know.
You know, sometimes I’m willing to admit we’re related too.
Lios smiled in return, but it was strained, still tainted by fear and anxiety.
Torin moved to the adjacent wall and took a reading, but something in a high corner caught his eye.
Faint circular etchings in the stone near the ceiling.
He swatted at his brother’s shoulder and pointed.
They grinned at each other, and Lios gave his brother a boost so he could get a closer look.
“…Stop worrying your pretty head over it. The boys will be here soon, and, with any luck, we’ll never have to look at each other again.”
As if he’d summoned them, a flash of blue spit out the two disoriented men onto the ground.
“Oh, fat lot of good you are in here with us. Couldn’t’ve aimed for outside the cell?” the Doctor chided.
“Oh, sure!” Torin grimaced with his eyes closed and his head on the straw-covered stone. “Lemme just hop back and try again, shall I? Not like cobbled together bloody space-hoppers are that easy to nav—eugh! My head! Yeah, that… that was not pleasant. Reckon I’ll stick with the TARDIS here on, thanks. Ow! Get your foot outta my face! Gerroff! Pra— oh, hello!” He sat up and surveyed the Doctor’s past regenerations. “Blimey, look!”
He kneed his brother in the ribs, who quickly retaliated with a shove and a scowl, then sat up and came face to face with the man who had their father’s appearance to the letter – well, much younger, but still, it was weird. And filled them with incredible longing. They’d been happy to accept that the man they were travelling with was in fact the same man, despite the two hearts and the time travelling spaceship, but seeing his face…
The Time Lord in the brown, pinstriped suit reluctantly tore his warm, brown eyes away and looked at his older self with a tumultuous mixture of terror, greed, confusion, and desperate need. It was easy to doubt the assertion while they were on the other side of the fissure, but seeing them… they were his. “River Song…?” he choked.
The Doctor ran his hand through his fringe and shook his head, then straightened his bow-tie with a nod. He’d worn his favourite blue one with the tiny rosebuds on it.
The motion was not lost on himself, and the younger swallowed the lump which had stubbornly formed in his throat. Like they were magnets and his eyes bits of brown steel, he went back to greedily studying the brothers who were still staring at him with wide-eyed wonder.
Daft Ears, however, had only caught a name which wasn’t the one he’d wanted, and was reacting, well, accordingly.
“So, not only do I turn into a ruddy pretty boy twice, but I stop carin’ about… Figures. You couldn’t even remember the number of children you murdered on Gallifrey, why would you give a toss for… She’s better off without me, an’ I hope whoever this ‘River Song’ person is…” he found he couldn’t even complete the sentence. His hearts felt like they would shatter any moment.
Torin laughed, shocking the hell out of the younger Doctors, and breaking the tension slightly. “Who does that sound like, eh? It’s like putting together a puzzle! Wonder what the Alpha’d do if she saw him like that? Think they’d get on? Think she’d laugh? Probably not, but we would! Oh, this is material for centuries! This— this is like Christmas, honestly! The maddest Christmas ever! All we need’re some crackers and some of Mum’s burnt pudding! Maybe I’m just hungry. Who’d win in a scowling contest, do you think? I’m going to show her this as soon as we find her! I can’t wait to see her face!”
“Oi, you got his ears,” Lios said quietly as he took in the stunned man in the battered leather coat.
Torin’s hands went automatically to his hair and smoothed it down on the sides of his head.
The youngest Doctor was quite as confused as the next two men he’d become. He looked to the golden woman watching the scene so serenely by his side.
She lifted one dark, arched brow and grinned. “Hope exists in your future, Doctor. It’s up to you whether or not you want it. Can you do this and forgive yourself enough to carry on with life, or do you let all of reality fade away? Become only a thought trapped in the amber of a moment? I promise you, neither of these men, nor their sister will ever exist should you decide you can’t. They’re not children of Gallifrey. You won’t be killing them, they’ll simply fade away and never have been at all.”
“And just how, my dear, is that not the same thing?”
“Ah, my Doctor, that’s for you to decide, isn’t it? Can you weigh the fate of three against – how many children did they say again?”
“Who’re you talking to?” Torin asked looking around the room in confusion. “And where do you fit in? I don’t think I know your face.”
“He’s me, Torin. Gone a bit around the bend just now – he keeps talking to someone only he can see, and I don’t remember any of it, so I imagine – never mind, forget it, not important. Anyway, he’s me. Used to have hair like yours when I looked like him. I cut it when I decided to join the war and stop being the Doctor.”
“You stopped being the Doctor?” both the young men asked while Sandshoes and Ears asked, “Torin?”
“Ah, yes,” he ignored the boys and looked at each of himself in turn, “Doctor, Doctor… You—er—Not-the-Doctor-Anymore… These are your sons, Torin and Lios. Torin, Lios, meet me— some of me. Their sister, Selene, is—er… not here. She’s elsewhere doing elsewhere things. We were looking for her. But they’re here, aren’t they? Get your fill and look! You’ll be forgetting them soon enough. You two,” he said more gently as he turned to the two young men whom he was somehow now unabashedly claiming as his own – apparently, he just needed to admit it—er—to himselves, “get on with it. I know you want to.”
They awkwardly took steps toward the man who looked like the father they’d lost.
Glee and hope like nothing they’d ever seen spread across the suited man’s features. It was almost heartsbreaking to see it. He had so little clue that, while each boy knew his face as well as he knew his own, he’d never know theirs in his body.
After a few awkward moments, Torin abandoned his reservation in favour of launching himself at the man with the beloved face. He pulled him into a rough hug before thoroughly feeling the familiar features with his fingers. He was soon joined by Lios in the tactile mapping of the visage both young men had never thought to see again in their many lifetimes.
No one mentioned the wetness upon the three sets of cheeks as they stepped back.
“You look like me,” the Doctor managed through the lump in his throat.
“Yeah, a bit,” Torin gave an uncharacteristically shy smile, rubbing at his leaky eyes with his arm. “Unfortunately, Selene got all Mum’s good looks, didn’t she, Li? All pink and yellow.”
Leather’s head snapped up and his blue eyes blazed.
“Weeeell, at least she did until she regenerated,” he babbled, “now she looks like… a bit like, well, you,” Torin turned and indicated Leather and Ears.
“Wha’?” the post-war Doctor perked up, moving closer quickly to join the group. Pink and yellow could describe anyone, but it was enough to pull him out of his funk.
“But it suits her,” the young man continued thoughtfully. “She’s sort of rough around the edges this go.”
“I’ll try not to take tha’ personal.” He rolled his eyes and gave a little huff.
“That’s mental!” Torin guffawed, absolutely tickled with the discoveries he was making about their shared similarities to their father. He turned excitedly to his brother. “Did you see that?” He turned back with a little twirl to the Doctor. “I can’t get over it! She’s never going to hear the end of this, I’m telling you, had I known this was how today would go, I’d’ve brought a camera. Do that again! Ha!”
Lios elbowed him in the ribs. “Can’t you go two minutes without running your gob?”
“How’d she regenerate? …I have a daughter, an’ she’s regenerated. She can regenerate. I’ve sons an’ a daughter… an’ they can regenerate— she…” His tone had taken on an accusatory note, clearly under the impression he’d grown far too lax with time. “Why did she regenerate? You! Bow-tie an’ Braces! Why’d she regenerate? What were you doin’ while you should’ve been lookin’ after her? How old’re you lot then? Have you done as well?”
“‘Bow-tie and Braces!’ Brilliant! It’s like you’re her, but him!” he guffawed pointing from Ears to Bow-tie. “Madness, I’m telling you! We’re one hundred and twenty-seven—”
“We’re?” asked the Doctor in pinstripes.
“Yeah, we’re triplets, and no we haven’t. Regenerated, I mean, Li and I haven’t, just Selene. It was an accident, really. Or, well, not exactly an accident per se, but it wasn’t planned. Except, why would we plan for her to regenerate? She could’ve stayed blonde, and short, and over-bitey for centuries! It was a good look for her and it didn’t hurt as much when she punched – we wouldn’t have purposely changed her, but like I told you, her face suits her well enough now. See we—”
“Oi!” interrupted the oldest Doctor. “Can we have story time later? We’re locked in the Tower of London in 1562 and the Earth’s still in danger in 2006, in case you missed it!”
“Right!” the boys chorused, abandoning the nostalgic trap they’d fallen into and running over to their current him with all attentiveness to begin planning. As easy as it was to long for days gone by and give in to the yearning to touch memories from childhood, the respect and devotion to the man who wanted to and could feasibly be – and wasn’t the feeling overwhelming and exciting – their dad inspired them to follow his lead without reservation or hesitation. They had the future to save, and they trusted him to do it.
The two younger Doctors trailed in their wake with expressions of longing as the youngest of the incarnations sat and observed alongside the feral-looking blonde woman. Her golden eyes were drinking in the men before them like they belonged to her and only her. In that moment, he knew exactly who the Bad Wolf girl was, even if he didn’t know her name.
“Tell me what to do,” he whispered hoarsely.
“I can’t,” she replied without breaking her hungry gaze. “The decision is yours alone, Doctor – and you are the Doctor, no matter how you think of yourself now or in the future. I can’t and wouldn’t make it for you, even if I wanted to. I can only show you what could be. You must decide which future should never be. You’ll be the one who has to bear the burden for the rest of your lives.”
“If I destroy my home and my people, I get… them… and you.”
She didn’t acknowledge his words, but he knew she’d heard them.
“The price is too steep. How can a man who kills billions ever deserve this? How can I accept this as the right course? How can I let… anyone ever…”?
“You don’t get to choose who loves you, my Doctor, or why they do any more than you can choose whom you will love.”
“What are you, really?”
Her eyes flashed for a moment with brilliant, golden energy. “I told you, just a wolf. A Moment of infinite possibility. I’m here to show you what you want to see, what you need to see.”
“Oh, Bad Wolf girl, I hope you know what you’re doing.”
All heads snapped in his direction.
“What?” demanded Sandshoes. “What was that you just said?”
“Tell them to try the door,” the apparition grinned with a feral, knowing glint in her golden eyes.
“What was that about the Bad Wolf?” Sandshoes insisted while the eldest Doctor and the two young men exchanged cryptic looks.
“Wha’s Bad Wolf? I— I’ve heard tha’ before. It’s followin’ me everywhere I go!” Ears furrowed his brows and searched each of the faces around him.
The older two Doctors looked away uneasily. It would be so very soon that he would understand precisely what they were about, but they remained silent.
“Have you blithering fools even tried the door?” the hardened man in the battered coat asked with an irritatingly aloof look. He ignored that he too had not bothered to check it, though the most likely scenario involved the interface and whatever strange power she possessed.
He stood and strode to the wooden door and pushed.
It swung open easily.
“Well, you obviously don’t get smarter with age, do you?” Torin grinned maniacally and moved to follow the youngest Doctor out of the cell.
“Oi!” chorused the older three.
“Cheek!” cried Sandshoes.
Lios chuckled and patted the Doctor in tweed on the shoulder, before following after Torin.
The younger two locked their eyes on the man they would become, demanding answers without words.
“Don’t, it’s pointless. You’re never going to remember anyway, you’ll just have to suck it and see.” He fiddled with his bow-tie and grinned with child-like glee. “Suck it and see! Love that expression! It sounds very cool! My daughter uses it all the time. Kids and their slang. Crikey, this is going to be odd when I remember it all. Times three no less. Four sets of this! Oh, look, we’re free. Shall we—us—you—er—I?” He walked away quickly left himselves throwing him a pair of scowls worthy of the title Oncoming Storm.
“Brilliant. I turn into a bloody toddler.”
“Better you than me, pretty boy.”
“Better pretty than daft.”
“How long d’you spend in front of the mirror stylin’ your hair then?”
“Didn’t Charles Dickens call you a navvy?”
“Wha’ was so wrong with tha’ jumper?”
“If you two don’t mind!” called the youngest Doctor.