The Doctor could do little more than gape for a few minutes. He was so overcome with the whirlpool of emotion and thought, it was all he could do not to cry out, or jump from his seat and tackle the young man in an embrace which would send them both sprawling on the floor in the dingy little tea shop. The first time he’d felt them, their pain had been so great and the connection had been so brief, the relief – the indescribable need for another presence in his mind finally being fulfilled when he’d believed for so long that he’d never have it again – didn’t factor. Now though…
He stared agape at the miracle before him without breathing, long after his respiratory bypass kicked in.
The girl… well, he couldn’t feel bad for his mistrust, it was well founded. She really could have been – and no one had yet explicitly confirmed she too was—but it didn’t matter. Her dislike of him… could it be because she knew? Did they know? These boys? Did they know they were alone in the universe, and it was all his fault? Was that the reason for their lamentations when he’d first felt them? Would they accept his reasoning when he himself could not? Would they forgi—no. He wouldn’t ask it. He didn’t deserve it even if they would. Would they, at the very least, allow him to help them? Would they… Would they even consent to… travel with him? How did they escape? If they did not escape, how did they avoid the CIA and the mandated return to Gallifrey that not even his beloved Susan had managed to avoid?
Question after question ran amok in his brain, but no sound escaped his lips. He seemed to have lost the ability to speak, and it was the other brother – Torin, yes – who recalled him to his senses.
“Crikey, that’s new!” he chuckled awkwardly. “A speechless Doctor? Well done, Li. You gonna sit there all day then, Doctor? Did he break you? That’d be a laugh, wouldn’t it? The Doctor stuck in a tea shop on Garazone Prime for all of eternity after meeting his three Time Lord ch—chums! Well, could be, maybe, chums that is. Fantastic story for the grandchildren one day! C’mere Johnny and Susie, did I ever tell you about the time I shattered the man who saved the universe loads of times? In a tea shop on a purple planet too! Brilliant!” He smoothed his curls nervously on the sides of his head, and shoved the big brown coat from his shoulders. It puddled around the back of him. The silence stretched for another minute after his little speech, and he began drumming his fingers on the table and wiggling a foot. “Well, you must have something to say! You do care, right? I mean, the Alpha said you’d probably just do a runner, but you haven’t, have you? Well, I mean, if you wanted to just get out of it, you could’ve done, so, yeah. Say something, will you?”
“Shut up, Torin,” Lios muttered and punched his brother’s shoulder.
“Oi!” Torin punched back, harder than he’d gotten, causing Lios to clutch at his shoulder with a grimace. “You don’t boss me! I boss you, remember? I’m older by eleven minutes and seventeen seconds! Respect your elders!”
“Let the man have a moment!” Lios insisted softly through gritted teeth.
“He’s had nine minutes and thirty-one seconds already!” Torin practically squeaked, “It’s driving me mad just sitting here!”
“Go on then and get out of it!” The younger man’s voice had lost its soft quality and he spoke with real command. “Go find the Alpha if you can’t sit quietly, anything to shut that almighty gob!”
“No!” Torin countered with all the petulance of a thwarted toddler. “I want to talk with the Doctor! I shouldn’t be chucked out because she’s stubborn and scared, and I’ll remind you again, I’m older! You go after her, then. I don’t want to be the one she rages at when you’re the prat who caused it. You know she’s going to throw things too! How’s that meant to be fair that I’d have to be target prac— Wait a tick, shut up! He’s coming around now.”
The Doctor looked at them but still had no idea where to begin. Instead, he reached out with his own mind, and greeted them both warmly with a mental nudge.
They both broke into sunny grins and chimed a simultaneous, “Hello.”
“I don’t know where– I– You– I’m not…” The Doctor’s voice sounded strained even to his own ears.
These men were impossible, and he had believed the worst about them not twenty minutes ago. They talked about being born – not loomed – and had said they came from Earth – to whom did they belong? And how? How? Were they… Were they… Susan’s? Hidden away and… no… that couldn’t have been possible. She’d carried the same curse of sterility as all Gallifreyans, and her own children had been loomed, he was sure. And he knew she would’ve said. Even if she’d lost them, she would’ve told him…
Torin grinned maniacally again. “Probably best if we don’t go into it here, yeah? Want to meet our ship?”
“Meet your… Oh. Oh! You have a… Yes!” They had a TT Capsule! Of course, they did. They were utterly impossible, so of course they had an utterly impossible timeship too. “Yes, please.”
They led him to the copse he had, only the night before, searched fruitlessly, and walked right up to a tree with knobbly, lavender bark. Torin inserted a key into a prominent knot.
Chameleon circuit! Not cloaking device! No wonder! It hadn’t been invisible, it had been hiding in plain sight!
He opened the doors with a flourish and bowed to the Doctor. “Won’t you come in, sir? Wonders await!”
“He’s got a TARDIS, idiot,” Lios rolled his eyes. “He’s not going to be impressed.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” the Doctor admonished not unkindly. “I’ve been inside hundreds of Time and Relative Dimension in Space ships, and they are always wondrous and impressive.” He smiled. “And this is one of the only two left in the universe. Of course, I’ll be impressed.”
A pang of fear and dread stabbed at his hearts. What if they really didn’t know about the Time War? What if they were trying to get back to Gallifrey, and he’d just killed their hopes – in addition to the home-world they sought – with a few careless words? No shock registered, however, and they all filed in through the narrow door in the lavender bark.
It wasn’t the most beautiful ship he’d ever seen, not by a long shot. It looked as if it had been thoroughly battered, and it was quite small in comparison to his own, with the console filling much of the space in the room, and one set of stairs leading off to the only adjoining room marked in the circular language of his people as the galley. Grey, organic coral made up nearly everything surrounding them, from the railing and grating, to the buttons on the console, with little in the way of comfortable additions for living. It was dim and altogether cave-like, with the most light coming in the form of a weak, blue-green rotor glow. A small alcove contained a sleeping area sunk into the grated, coral floor, and wires and parts were haphazardly piled everywhere that wasn’t essential for movement.
No, it was not the most beautiful ship he’d ever encountered, but it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Gorgeous! Brilliant! Fantastic and magnificent!
It smelled of time and felt like freedom.
It was a TARDIS!
The brothers were eyeing him – Lios with feigned nonchalance, as though the Doctor’s opinion on the subject were of little import to him, and Torin with unfettered hope and anticipation.
“Well?” the anxious brother breathed with a vulnerable smile.
The Doctor’s face lit up with a megawatt smile, rare in the distinction of its genuine nature. “It’s bigger on the inside.”
The roar of laughter that followed from both lads was music to the old man’s ears.
“Bit quiet, can’t hear or feel her at all, but she’s brilliant! Truly. What type is she?”
“Technically? Type 40 Mark III, but as you know she’s a bit—er—raw, and we’ve had to make improvisational adjustments,” Torin answered.
“Nooo! How did you manage that? Mine was the last Type 40 in— ages and ages ago!”
He raised his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug with a knowing grin. “Time’s weird, innit?”
“I suppose I can’t deny the truth when it’s staring me in the face, can I?”
He grinned and shook his head. “Bit knackered though. She closed all her rooms but these when she crashed – not that she had many, mind you, just two bedrooms, a library, and the galley, but, well, she’s amazing, yeah?”
“Absolutely. Why so small? I mean, I’ve a Type 40, and only five rooms?”
“Well, she’s still a baby! Hasn’t had time to grow as large on the inside.”
“What? Never! How old is she then?” That made about as much sense as naturally born Time Lords on planet Earth. Where the devil had they gotten the coral to grow if she was still this small? And how? And did that mean she was unregistered and, dare he think it, unaltered? As in, unrestricted? No time restraints? Completely barmy.
“One hundred and twenty-nine,” he grinned. “She started growing when we were still cookin’ in Mum. Wouldn’t grow before that, actually, no matter what Dad tried.”
“Yeah, that’s going to take some explaining, I think. None of you is exactly possible, you know. Impossible is apt, actually. In a rather extreme way.”
Both men grinned again, but it was the younger man who spoke this time, “Impossible doesn’t exist in our family.”
“Yeah,” his brother joined with a manic grin and a finger pointed at his brother, “we eat it for elevenses.”
“Breathe it like oxygen.” His brother pointed back.
“Wear it to church on Sundays!”
“And then bin it because it’s rubbish!” they finished together, laughing.
When the Doctor didn’t immediately cotton on, Lios continued, “Grab a bit of floor, Doctor. It’s quite the story and it’ll take a while. Would be easier if we just showed you.” He touched his own temple to explain, and the Doctor was bowled over once again that he was standing in a young TARDIS with two young Time Lords who were filling the void in his mind for the first time in hundreds of years.
As if someone had started to roll the reel on a film, the memories began, but they didn’t belong to the blond man projecting them, no. The memory he was currently speeding through was one of his own – sort of.
And it started on a lonely beach.
He was kissing Rose Tyler with an armful of TARDIS coral, as a Blue Box faded away with a whoosh, which was barely discernible over the crashing waves. His heart – single heart – was thumping double-time in his chest. Oh, blimey, he was kissing Rose, and she was kissing back. She was her – not Bad Wolf, or Cassandra – and he was him, and they were kissing. He’d told her he loved her, and—
Then she was tearing away from him and screaming for the Blue Box to come back, dissolving into tears, and sinking into the sand where she wouldn’t move or speak to anyone for the next five hours and thirty-five minutes.
He scooped her into his arms after, and cradled her to his chest the entire Zeppelin ride back to London.
She wouldn’t look at him, and as soon as they arrived, she bolted from him, and hid in Pete’s town car.
This memory faded into day after day of knocking on Rose Tyler’s bedroom door and sitting on the floor just outside, talking at her with no response. He ached, physically and emotionally. He just wanted Rose back. This was worse than when he’d regenerated. He’d at least been able to win her over with an invasion and a sword fight then. Now all he had were long hours, hopelessness, and Jackie Tyler fussing over him with pitying looks. He told her about himself then. Told her everything. Held nothing back about who he’d been, the things he’d seen and done, the monster he’d eventually become, and his role in the Time War.
It took weeks to get through it all, and she never responded – even though he would start early in the morning and not leave until he could no longer keep his eyes open at night. Servants brought them both trays, but he never saw her face, even once, while he bared his soul to her.
He told her about losing his will to live after the war was over and he’d murdered them all. He told her how he’d gone looking for the worst situations he could get himself into, all in the hopes that he might be killed and never regenerate.
Eventually, he talked about finding himself in a shop basement in London, and a blonde girl who was nearly killed by Autons – until he took her hand and told her to run.
He told her he’d been smitten with her from the first moment their fingers met, and he looked into the tiny, blonde shop-girl’s eyes and saw what a giant she really was inside. He told her he had never before asked anyone to go with him twice. He told her what that little, pink and yellow human meant to him almost immediately. How the girl made him feel like pieces of himself weren’t lost forever, and that he had a purpose, with an actual future to move toward.
He told her about how often he wanted to tell her everything he thought about her. About how often she was the centre of his very considerably numerous thoughts. He told her about every time he almost kissed her. He told her about every time he was on the verge of doing much more than just kissing her.
He told her about the fear he’d had of losing her – his lifeline and reason to keep running – and how that thought shattered and haunted him. How the very same thoughts kept him at the distance he’d placed between them, never able to give substance to… when all he ever wanted was substance. Craved permanence. Surety. Her. Forever, her. Like she promised. Would have given anything to lose himself in her.
He told her about one of the worst days of his lives and standing against a white wall for hours.
He told her about the years he spent floating in the vortex immediately after researching and looking for some way – any way to get to her.
He told her of another worst day of his lives as he watched her sobbing on a cold, lonely beach, unable to reach out and hold her or comfort her while she wept. He told her how every atom of him screamed to rip a hole in reality— do whatever it took to get her back. Instead he failed to tell her how much he loved her. Instead, he simply stood there as the supernova he harnessed burned away, saying the daftest things imaginable and running out of time.
That was when she finally opened the door. She didn’t come out, but the invitation was clear.
This faded into a wedding with the most beautiful bride in any universe, and the luckiest bastard as her bridegroom.
Years of memories of adventures working for Torchwood, and trying, futilely, to get the TARDIS to grow. Years of frustration and despair that they both felt because they were restless, and missed the stars.
Years of staring into the mirror and seeing grey hair and lines forming, while his incredible wife stayed young and impossible. Running tests in the dead of night to try to keep her secret. Nicking a perception filter so that she would appear to look older.
Then an anniversary dinner in the quiet of their back garden and a gift of baby trainers.
A first scan at the doctor’s office where he was informed they would be having six – six! – babies! Running his own scans, hearing the six beating hearts, and knowing he was really having three children.
The fear when Rose didn’t look pregnant after six months, even though she was carrying three babies. The worry he felt constantly. They’d told everyone but her family that she’d lost the babies to hide the alien nature of her predicament. The mad scramble to figure out what to do. Time Lords didn’t exist in this universe, outside of the three in her belly, and he had no TARDIS library to go searching through for historical information. He was as unprepared, and as lost and panicked as she was.
They floundered and fought. It seemed like they’d separate for a while, she even packed her bags a few times, but he couldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t lose her. He needed her and his children so very, very badly, so he fought for her as hard as he fought any war in his life. He fought to keep them together, and he fought to change. It made them stronger in the end.
She started to show after eight months. They played it off like she had just gained a bit of weight.
After twelve, they announced she was pregnant again.
After eighteen months, the whispers began.
After twenty, he started trying to find a ship to take them off-world.
By twenty-two months, they were on the run, her entire family killed in a fire at the Tyler estate, and a global man-hunt was in progress for the two of them. Officially, they were wanted for questioning in the deaths of Rose’s family. The media made them out to be… They weren’t safe anywhere, so they kept moving. Kept running.
After twenty-nine months, Rose was too big and knackered to run, and he had a lead on a ship. At twenty-nine and a half, they had a space craft in desperate need of repair.
At thirty, Rose went into labour.
After three days, twelve hours and fifteen minutes, he had a glorious daughter, who was the very image of her mother, and two perfect sons… and a wife who looked like she’d never let him touch her again. He’d stayed by her side and delivered each child himself in the medical bay on the broken-down starship he had procured.
They ran. He’d gotten the ship in working order before his children were a year old, and they scarpered. Never looked back… almost.
Their days were filled with exploration once again, and he and his wife hadn’t been as happy in years. He had days full of family and adventure, and nights full of Rose. It was sheer bliss. And it was tiring.
He was aging, his body less cooperative, and often protesting the physical requirements of not only raising three Time Tots, but maintaining his own mostly-Gallifreyan system. One heart was not enough. It was enlarging having to do double duty to cope with the requirements of his body. He slept more. He ached more. He secretly started taking non-MAOI heart medications that he devised himself. He wasn’t sure how he would react to anything available to humans in the time period, and he had too much at stake to be poisoned by an aspirin-like additive.
He didn’t tell Rose about any of it – couldn’t yet, but knew it would be inevitable at some point. He didn’t like to admit he was any less than the Doctor she deserved. Didn’t even like admitting it to himself, let alone worrying his family…
The children grew exceptionally slow. He explained to his wife that the time energy in their current universe made it harder for them to develop at a normal growth rate. The same problem they faced with the TARDIS coral – which had started developing sometime after Rose had first established a telepathic connection with the babies in her womb. Ten years passed before his children were no longer tots, but they were brilliant. Completely genius. They slept – when they slept – in the same bed curled around each other, limbs entwined, and would always waken simultaneously. Always inseparable.
His daughter was his pride and joy, all pink and yellow and fiery like her mother, and as adventurous and energetic as her father. Completely fearless. She possessed a brain like a sponge, and a thirst for truth and justice. She reminded him constantly of Susan, and he doted on her. His sons followed her around like ducklings, earning them their nicknames Alpha, Beta, and Omega – like the little pack of feral creatures that they were. She often spoke for all three, when they spoke at all – they preferred telepathic communication, and had to be reminded constantly to not be rude – and they obeyed her directives like gospel. She protected them from everything, real and imagined, and loved them all with a loyalty which was unshakable.
His sons began to look like him and he revelled in their energy and wit. His middle son took most after him as he was in his current body: quirks, charm and gob; all limbs and manic energy, completely knackering his parents daily with his running, and inquisitive nature. More than once he’d driven his mum to distraction by taking apart every appliance they owned to build some idea he’d come up with. She’d shout, and he always tried to be stern, but his son would always catch his eye conspiratorially and he couldn’t help feeling more than a little proud of whatever mischief he’d managed.
His youngest was brilliant, introverted, observant, and utterly sweet and compassionate. He took in stray animals and seemed to tame them with an ease that spoke of his gentle soul, and delighted in the joy of others. He was always able to diffuse the arguments which frequently arose between his brother and sister in a way that they almost never realised he was even doing so. He was less inclined toward mechanics or studies than they, but he understood people instinctively, and solved problems with an ease and wisdom that belied his age. Rose said he took after her as a child and he didn’t doubt it for a second.
The memories of their adventures were tinted with pride and protectiveness. They continued in the Doctor’s mind as he watched the children grow and Rose come into her own power. She had never consciously tried tapping into the Bad Wolf until the kids were seventeen – though they only physically resembled six-year-olds – and a rogue Sontaran ship had been chasing them. Their shields wouldn’t take another direct hit and they had no hope of rescue. She left no trace of the Sontaran ship behind and had cried for days over what she had done – even if it had been the instinct any mother would have. She emerged from the experience determined to gain better control.
And she had. Rose Tyler could do anything, couldn’t she?
After thirty-five years of navigating the universe with his family on their cobbled-together Clomian starship, he was an old man, his kids were physically the age of young teenagers, his wife still young and beautiful and impossible, and he was dying. He’d taught the triplets to the best of his ability without the resources of the Academy, or a properly stocked Gallifreyan library, but he knew he had not done enough for them.
They needed to know their true names. They needed to open the pathways in their brains which would allow them to fully develop their time senses. They needed to look into the Untempered Schism. He’d once sworn he’d never let them, after all, it had driven so many utterly mad, but his daughter nagged at him, insisting they were not so very young, that they could handle it, and how could they ever expect to develop properly as Time Lords if he withheld this one, all-important piece?
So, he had one last trip planned.
He found Gallifrey.
Weeell, the planet that shared all the same physical location and topography as the planet of his birth. No Time Lords had ever walked upon its surface.
Until they landed, that is.
His miraculous wife and daughter supported him and his weary bones as his family, which made up his whole world, trekked through the silver and crimson forests he’d never thought to see again. Tears coursed down his wrinkled face as he stroked the silver leaves of the cadonwood and ulanda trees, steadied himself on the terra firma and felt as the world righted; ceased feeling like a spinning rock, careening toward inevitable nothingness and chaos. This was home. He’d brought his family home.
They found the Untempered Schism exactly where it should have been. It was in the centre of a clearing caught in a perpetual state of flux between birth and death.
His children approached with caution and gazed in, each taking in the unimaginable everything.
Pain shot through his chest and shoulder. He coughed and ignored it.
Golden tendrils of energy emerged from the Schism, like glittering tentacles of time, and surrounded them as they joined hands, his daughter between his sons.
He moved toward them as his shoulder continued to ache, and the energy grew in intensity, swirling and prodding at them, leaving trails on their exposed skin, and seeking entrance. His legs no longer supported him as he tried to reach out to his children – pull them away from the unknown threat – and he fell to his knees clutching his shoulder. He must have got it wrong, so wrong. Miscalculated. This wasn’t meant to happen. He didn’t know what to do or how to make it stop. He had to stop it. He had to make it right, get them out. Had to save them. Had to… Rose caught him in her arms and prevented him from collapsing completely. He moaned helplessly as they were consumed in a blinding light, and his pain became overwhelming, until everything went black.
The vision ended, and the Doctor came back to reality with soaked cheeks, and a heaviness in his hearts.