The Doctor wasn’t accustomed to his past coming back to haunt him – well, not haunt him, that sounded bad – like Dalek-in-a-basement-in-Utah bad, and that certainly wasn’t what he meant, no. Nor was this like facing Sarah Jane years after abandoning her in Aberdeen, or coming face to face again with the Master – or Davros – or hordes of Daleks and Cybermen – or races who had their planets destroyed in the Time War – wait… maybe his past cropped up more often than he thought – never mind, yes, it did do all the time, didn’t it? But, this was an entirely different thing. An uncomfortable, confusing, scary, very emotional in a sort-of-good-but-mostly-heartswrenching-way thing.
This was seeing the consequences of the second hardest decision he’d ever made. These were Rose Tyler’s children… These were… He was leaving it there.
Falling in love had never been on his things-to-absolutely-do list. In truth, he’d fought it and himself every second it was happening. Love was scary. Love was dangerous. It made him and them vulnerable in the insanity that was his existence. Sure, he loved most all his companions – enough that they broke his hearts over and over when they inevitably left him – but he could recall only two instances of being in love; being as the state of love; being consumed by it, overcome by the feeling, and intoxicated by another’s essence. Once, when he was very young, he fell in love with a dear friend. This morphed into so much pain and deadly antagonism over the centuries, he could hardly recall how he had ever come to that place. It was agony to think of this love. Its loss and consequences were an unending trial. Then came… her. Perhaps, it had been the result of needing someone so very badly to forgive and accept him after the war. She had simply been endowed with the very great misfortune of being in the wrong place at the right time. Perhaps, it was more mysterious, more cosmically entangled, and complicated, but he had been hopelessly in love with her just the same.
They’d had children. Plural. She’d given him children. Somehow, in all his fantastical imaginings, children were never included. He supposed it was because he himself could not accomplish it without technological intervention, and his fantasies were too limited to include the meta-crisis capable of anything which he was not. They were the same man, after all. It hardly seemed fair – and this was decidedly not the first time such musings about fairness and the universe struck him – that part of him was afforded the joy, when another could only be destined for loneliness and solitude. Still, his… his bloody hand had managed what he never could.
Rose’s sons. They were Rose’s sons.
This TARDIS was the bit of coral. He was inside the bit of coral he’d left on Dårlig Ulv Stranden. They’d managed to make that happen too. But then, Rose Tyler didn’t let anything as small as improbable odds stop her from anything, did she? It was part of why he had fallen for her so thoroughly to begin with.
Yet, Rose Tyler, amazing Rose Tyler, was not in this TARDIS. Even though he had seen first-hand that she didn’t live a human life, and had become something incredible, she was not there. Blimey, he’d just witnessed at least sixty years of her life.
He’d gotten more answers than he’d bargained for, but a whole new, perhaps larger set of inquiries to be answered as well. And, knowing where to begin was, once again, a very, very hard thing.
He yanked at his fringe and opened his mouth to say something – anything – then closed it, examined his shoes again, and hooked his thumbs through his braces.
Ah, he had it.
“Got any biscuits?” he asked uselessly.
Oh, that was rubbish, and not at all what he’d meant to say. And why couldn’t he look up? His shoes were not as interesting as he was pretending. Certainly, these young men were much more so, but he couldn’t look them in the face. His chin felt like a lead weight.
“Yes, of course. Yeah. Come on, Torin. Let’s give the man some room to breathe.”
“But—ow! Yeah, okay. We’ll do tea too. How do you take it?”
“Milk and two sugars, thanks,” he choked, then swallowed hard as he heard the clink of boot-clad feet climbing the stairs to the galley. The door closed softly behind them and he heaved a sigh of relief.
He just needed a bit to process.
His meta-crisis had fathered three children with Rose Tyler, and they didn’t appear to be very human. He wondered if they’d let him run biological tests in his own TARDIS.
That was good! He could lead with that when they came back. Break the ice with science-y stuff. Loved science-y stuff – bet they did too. His meta-crisis had likely run every test possible, and the boys could almost certainly tell him everything he wanted to know, but it was the doing he wanted – needed. He needed to do something—anything at all. The claustrophobic stillness was driving him mad.
He realised he was still sitting on the floor. That was fine, really. No other place to sit, actually, and, if he got up, he might be tempted to just go back to his own timeship.
Going somewhere other than here felt like a brilliant idea, if he was honest. The grey coral walls seemed as though they were closing in on him. The mystery and excitement had worn away what felt like ages ago. Now, he just felt trapped in a vortex of confusion, jealousy, and bitterness. Overwhelmed. He was overwhelmed. Panicking, even.
What was he supposed to say to them when they inevitably returned? Would they demand their own answers as to why he had left their mother? Would they hate him for it as he so often despised himself? Why did they share those memories if that were the case? What did they want from him? Did they want anything? He had sought them out after all. Perhaps, they wouldn’t want anything, and still less, they wouldn’t want him around at all. That was just as frightening. Maybe it was best he took his leave before the inevitable rejection happened.
Yes, he definitely had the urge to run… but he wasn’t going to.
Probably not… maybe.
No. He wasn’t.
He wasn’t going to run.
That made him feel loads better.
He finally lifted his head and stared at the galley door, a soft smile stealing over his face.
Now he properly thought about it, those boys did look like him, didn’t they? Their sister too, although, she looked very different in the meta-crisis’s memories. He’d need to ask about that.
Torin looked a lot like – well, facially and all – like his last regeneration, with hair like he’d had just before the war, and, in the memories he’d seen, he had ears like the body immediately after. Funny to think the meta-crisis had retained all that genetic information in a way transferable to a child. He would’ve guessed the human genes prevented it. Funny and scary. He’d just left all that, the coral, his TNA, a human altered by copious amounts of time energy, in a place where he assumed he’d never know what happened, though, in fairness, he trusted both Rose and himself above anyone else in any universe. His people would have crucified him for it.
Lios was reminiscent of himself when he had an affinity for wearing celery – only, without the celery, of course. His face and body shape may have been more like he was just before and during the war, but his colouring was well suited for a red-trimmed cricket kit, and his eyes were like his had been when he still sported leather, and Torin’s over-large ears.
Alpha had looked just like Rose Tyler once – only taller, and with less of a point to her chin. Now, she – well, now that he could place what had bothered him about her earlier, she looked like someone amalgamated Rose Tyler and Daft Ears, and she’d gotten his attitude to match. She made loads more sense when he thought of her in this way. Dislike melted away. Almost. Sort of. Not really, but she was broken, and needed fixing. He could understand that, even forgive her chucking stones, and insulting him at every opportunity. It was hereditary. Not that he ever wanted to spend any length of time in the same room as Leather and Ears, but he struggled with his previous incarnations in any form.
He chuckled to himself. When looming children on Gallifrey, parents got to choose the traits that they would share with the offspring to be created before consciousness was inserted. Would he have picked any of what they were? He didn’t know. Seeing the natural way made him think—Oh, Rassilon! These children were the first naturally born in…
Oh, Rose Tyler, you impossible thing. He laughed. Rose Tyler, Defender of Earth, Time Goddess and Saviour of the Time Lord Race. He was filled with good, happy, loving feelings and it had been a long time coming. How did she always do that?
He finally got to his feet and walked over to the time rotor, which was glowing feebly, and lightly rested a hand on it.
He was going to help Rose Tyler’s children – maybe even look after them – whatever it took. He could do that.
Torin’s head poked out the galley door, and he smiled at the Doctor before he made a strangled noise and was pulled back again, door slamming shut, followed by scuffling noises, and the re-emergence of both brothers.
“Better now?” Torin chanced timidly.
The Doctor nodded and met his gaze with solidity.
He was given a manic grin in return. “Well, then!” the young man piped with renewed vigour. “Tea! There you are. We found this tea growing – well the leaves, not the infusion we’re about to drink, that’d be ridiculous to say an herbal infusion into liquid grew on some alien shrub – on a hillside on Epsilon V – of course, when I say Epsilon V, I mean in the parallel universe, so maybe we should call it Epsilon V.2, or is there not an Epsilon V here in Prime? Anyway, the locals claimed a monster was—”
“Oi! No one wants to hear that story!” his brother huffed, turning a brilliant shade of red. It made him look like a lit match in his huge brown coat and pointy blond hair.
“Torin,” the Doctor interposed gently, “I’d love to hear all your stories, eventually, but I do think it’s time we chatted, and you filled me in on the… how… of a few things.”
Both young men looked startled by the revelation that the Doctor planned to be around long enough to hear all their stories, then melted into twin joyous grins.
“Your f-father,” the Doctor proceeded cautiously, “died that day? The last one you showed me.”
The older of the two nodded solemnly. “Yeah, not right then. Mum helped him hold on until we… came back. To say goodbye. She kept him alive until we could. He gave us those memories then. For you. You know, if we ever made it here.”
“He… He wanted you to come here and find me?”
“Weeell,” Torin tugged at an ear and tilted his head in an all too familiar way, “I think he figured you’d find us. He, you know, thought just like you and all, right? And he was right! Look at us all! You’re here. You came looking. And we’re here, drinking tea. Er… Chatting.”
“And how did you manage the crossing without tearing the fabric of reality?”
“Please. We had all the instructions from Dad, and three of us, plus Mum, and a small ship. She’s not a major space-time event yet. All we needed was enough power and a small crack,” he replied with a satisfied smirk. “Waiting for a suitable crack was the largest hurtle, the rest was easy. The Alpha piloted us through while we maintained the integrity of the walls. Mum…” the haughty smile slid off like mud, “Mum provided the power.”
“What happened when you looked into the Untempered Schism? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
They were silent and tense.
Lios spoke first, “Better to wait on that answer until we’re all together again. That okay?”
The Doctor nodded reluctantly. “Where’s your mum?” The question burned.
They didn’t answer immediately.
“Is she dead?” Cold knives pierced his hearts.
“Weeell, no. Not really,” Torin blustered, tugging at the hair near his ears and not meeting the Doctor’s eyes.
Utter relief swept away the cold fear, but the young man’s behaviour was not calming.
“She doesn’t exactly have a body anymore,” he continued nervously, “but Selene thinks she knows how to fix that.”
Once again, Lios interjected. “Better when we’re together, Doctor. You should ask her yourself.”
The Doctor sighed in frustration, but let it go for the time being. “Your sister’s name is Selene then? She called herself ‘Sally Woolfe,’ but I heard you call her Alpha and assumed she was giving me a nom de plume.“
“Weeell, no, and yes.” Torin sipped his tea and relaxed. “Selene’s what Mum and Dad named her – Sally Woolfe is the alias she uses, or Woolfe was what Mum used and we adopted – but, technically, she’s Selene Noble-Smith, and I’m Torin Noble-Smith, and he’s—well, you get it. Names are complicated. The Alpha started as a nickname when we were just sprogs, then that’s what she chose for herself after we looked into the Schism. It’s really her name as much as anything.”
The Doctor shook his head. “Women didn’t do that on Gallifrey, you know. That was something traditionally done only by men. Would have been highly improper and frowned upon, actually. Only renegade women like the Rani took titles, unless they were appointed one, or became a Visionary. Would be like your sister to fly in the face of the customs of her people and go that route. Go on, what did you choose then?”
“We all kept our nicknames, but the Alpha’s the only one who uses it when we’re with family. I’m the Beta.”
“I’m the Omega.”
“I knew another man who called himself the Omega once. I like you far better, though. So, your mum. What happened?”
“She tapped too far into the Bad Wolf to get us across the void, and it burned up her body. Don’t look so horrified! We didn’t know it would happen! Selene… Well, she took Mum into herself when we crashed and then stored her essence in this TARDIS.” He pointed to the weakly glowing rotor. “That’s her you’re seeing. Our mum. She’s what’s keeping this baby alive.”
The Doctor couldn’t help feeling another stab in his hearts, and he reached out and stroked the rotor once more.
“Why come back here??” He couldn’t help the slight note of anger in his voice. “What in any universe was worth losing Rose?”
“Loads of reasons! Mum was never going to stay there because, well, you weren’t there.”
The Doctor couldn’t suppress a sheepish grin.
“Oh, don’t look smug, that’s just what I think, she never said! And, the TARDIS never grew like she should there. Mum was constantly having to feed her from her own essence, and it always took her a while to recover after.”
Torin jumped when the Doctor’s head snapped in his direction with a stormy look.
“Calm down!” he cried defensively. “She said you’d done it before with your own TARDIS when you were in that universe.”
“Yeah, but it was once in an emergency, and it cost me years of my own life! What was she thinking? How stupid—”
“Oi! You don’t get to have a go at my mum for doing what she felt she had to!”
The Doctor saw rage, and defensive loyalty burning in Torin’s eyes and knew he’d gone too far.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I wasn’t having a go, it’s just… upsetting.”
“Go on then.”
“Wasn’t just for the TARDIS. We needed to be here too. Living there made us sick all the time. Not like human-sick, but weak. Never felt as good in my life as I have since we crashed.” He tugged uncomfortably at his locks and back pedalled. “I mean, apart from the stuff with Mum. And Selene… Physically, was what I was trying to say. We’re better. Need less sleep. I think I’ve even gotten a bit taller. I also never understood how time was meant to feel until we came. It’s just right here, you know? Doesn’t ring in my ears or give me headache, and I can almost touch it sometimes.” He hesitated and nervously smoothed his hair over his ears. “Then there’s, er, the reasons we’ll talk about later.”
“Am I right in assuming your sister regenerated after saving Rose?”
They both nodded.
He shook his head and frowned. “She’s been through quite a lot, hasn’t she?”
Lios spoke up in his soft, disarming manner, “You really have no idea, so try to lighten up on her, yeah?”
The Doctor chuckled and ran a hand through his hair, resting it on the back of his neck as he looked at his shoes, “She reminds me of myself at a very dark time in my life. No one likes being confronted with that kind of mirror, Lios, but I promise you that I’ll try harder.”
The young man nodded once, apparently satisfied.
“Speaking of your sister, she’s been gone a long time, hasn’t she?”
Torin smoothed his hair down over his ears again. “Nah. She’s just brooding. She’ll come back when she’s ready and tell us what prats we are, then it’ll all be fine. She just needs a bit to get it out of her system.”
“Can I… would it bother you if I run some tests on you? Some simple scans? I’d love to see your DNA – or is it TNA? How close to pure Time Lord are you?”
“Pretty close, and it’s more like TNA with a time-murmur. That’s what Dad used to say. Like a hearts-murmur, only nothing like a hearts-murmur, forget that. It’s almost a quadruplex polymer, but—er—not. We have a ghost strand that we got from Mum, and it’s not technically attached but floats about in the triple helix – well, you’ll see it eventually.”
“Fantastic!” the Doctor grinned. He swallowed and tried to sound as casual and not at all nervous about the next question. “Want to—er—go with me, maybe? You know, in my TARDIS?”
Two sets of eyes locked on his face as he frowned and shifted from foot to foot.
“I don’t mean you’d have to leave this one or anything, quite the contrary, the invitation is for her as well. In fact, I think the old girl would be thrilled to help her along. She was very excited about you lot, even though I didn’t… Your girl can be parked right inside. They should be compatible, what with the coral coming from mine originally, I’d imagine it would be like returning home for this one. Simple enough. And, of course, I mean your sister too. I know you wouldn’t go anywhere without her. So, maybe… er… well?”
He never did get his answer, however, because right at that moment the Doctor heard an impossible sound – the wheezing of his TARDIS coming from all around.