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Reckless

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Reckless

 

AN: I only had a basic transcript for the Doctor Who dialogue. All other details come from memory only.

AN2: This came from several ideas meshing together to form a coherent whole. It’s going to be a little more disjointed in this first chapter until it all comes together. Bear with me.

AN3: This is an AU fanfic. I’m going to mess all to heck with canon. If you don’t like such stories, please go read something else; this isn’t the fic for you.

 

AN***: Rewritten as of 1-13-18.

 

DISCLAIMER: Do I look like a millionaire to you? Of course it’s not mine.

 

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Prologue: Tilting Fate

 

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” ~ Aristotle

 

Rose walked out of the Tardis behind her boyfriend, who had practically darted out of the ship at a dead run and went over to Mickey. Whom had apparently decided that hiding behind a stack of wooden pallets would help in some way against intelligent plastic creatures and various aliens. The Doctor stayed in the doorway of the Tardis, watching the panicked reaction of the male and the calm, sure one of the female.

 

She was accosted as soon as she was within reach, the barely–out–of–teens boyfriend holding onto her legs for dear life. As if it would help prevent something horrible happening. She supposed that Mickey did have a valid reason to be afraid; he was kidnapped after all. But still… Wasn’t this a bit of an excessive response? She mentally shook her head at her boyfriend and turned to face the Doctor with a sarcastic expression and crossed arms. “Fat lot of good you were.”

 

The Doctor grinned cheekily at her. “Nestene Consciousness?” He snapped his fingers. “Easy.”

 

Rose snorted derisively at the man’s neglect of the obvious. “You were useless in there,” she reminded. “You'd be dead if it wasn't for me.”

 

The Doctor’s expression turned much more serious as he acknowledged that truth. “Yes, I would.” He nodded at her, his eyes lit with gratitude. “Thank you.” Then he took a deep breath as if to steady himself. Or make the abrupt change of topic more noticeable. “Right then! I'll be off. Unless…” he hesitated, as if unsure of her answer. Or skeptical that he should even offer. “Er… I don't know,” he shrugged self–consciously, “you could come with me.” Once he got the offer out, his tone became defensive. “This box isn't just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe! Free of charge.”

 

Mickey, still clinging to her legs with desperation, practically yelled, “Don't! He's an alien! He's a –,” he paused momentarily, as if hunting the correct word, “– a thing!”

 

The Doctor frowned sternly at the male. Honestly. The human was still alive, you’d think he’d be grateful! “He's not invited.” Then the Doctor’s deep blue eyes refocused on Rose. “What do you think? You could stay here,” he described persuasively, “fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go…anywhere.” He smiled at her, happiness bright in his eyes. He liked this blonde and he always preferred having companions travel with him. It made things more interesting. Seeing the universe through their eyes.

 

The young woman bit the inside of her cheek as she thought of the possibilities he was offering her. It was so tempting! The adventure. The adrenaline. But… “Is it always this dangerous?” she asked after a second.

 

He nodded sharply. “Yeah.” He wanted no doubts or confusion about that, what with the trouble he’d had with past companions.

 

Rose felt Mickey’s grip on her legs increase again, almost to the point where she was worried about circulation. As much as she wanted to, that extra squeeze reminded her that she did have responsibilities. “Yeah, I can't. I've… Er,” she lamented. Her mental groan much heavier than in reality. “I've got to go and find my mum and someone's got to look after this stupid lump,” she gestured to her boyfriend still kneeling on the tarmac. “So…” she shrugged helplessly in a ‘what are you going to do’ gesture.

 

“Okay.” The Doctor mentally sighed. He had liked the blonde. She was intelligent, active, and cared about those around her. Maybe he would visit her again someday in a few years. See if she would travel with him then. “See you around.” He stepped backward into his magnificent ship and closed the door. The Tardis dematerialised shortly thereafter.

 

The blonde took hold of her boyfriend’s shoulder and urged him to his feet. “Come on, let's go.” The pair turned to make their way to the mouth of the alley. “Come on. Come on.” She shooed Mickey in front of her with a hand wave, even as she gave the dead end a last look over her shoulder. Almost as if she expected the ship to show back up.

 

Mickey suddenly yelled at her from the main street. “Come on! We got to go find your mum!”

 

Rose sighed. She had given up her chance to travel the stars. She had responsibilities. Family and loved ones that she had to look after. They needed her. She gave a decisive nod, to herself and the alley, and ran a bit to catch up.

 

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The universe tilted.

 

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Arianna Carpenter had been dreaming, as she sometimes did, about the Doctor and his magnificent ship from her favorite show Doctor Who, when her breathing became more and more harsh. In her dream, she began to cough without pause. It was enough that it woke her up…but the hacking didn’t end.

 

She felt a brief sense of dread. Was she sick again? She didn’t have time to be sick! It took a minute for understanding to dawn; that her vision was so grey because of smoke. Her coughing because of the smoke. The thin haze everywhere she looked was because the house was on fire. The dread coalesced into horror.

 

Ari felt panic try to take over, but a single thought focused her mind into a razor–sharp tunnel. She mentally shoved every emotion she had to the side, stuffing them into a box as quickly as possible. She needed to concentrate on the single idea, neglecting everything else. Have to get Robbie. Have to get out. “Robbie!” she screamed into the void of silence that permeated their apartment.

 

Their parents had died long ago. Instead of expatriated into the foster care system, their grandfather had generously taken them in, despite his seventy–eight years. His kind smiles and calm words had helped forge the girls. Though Arianna had to become Robin’s maternal influence almost from the beginning, since James Carpenter didn’t know what to do with a crying female. It had been his only failing. Skinned knees and cooking became Ari’s area. Baseball and fishing trips were Poppi’s. They had collaborated for encouragement and ballet recitals.

 

He had died the year before, leaving Ari—almost twenty–three—to finish raising Robin—now barely ten. It wasn’t that different from raising the pre–teen with him around… But it felt different. A large hole in both their souls that used to be filled with his gentle grins and even baritone advice.

 

Ari herself hadn’t the luxury her sister did. A man of his times, his wife had taken up the role of housewife while he had been the provider. James was a wonderful grandfather, but when Ari had needed a mother, his quiet hugs had been all the comfort he knew how to give. To compensate, Arianna had become more introspective, keeping control of her feelings as best as she was able. It was also part of raising little Robbie, hiding that ‘big sis’ could be hurt. When her parents died, Ari took a few years, but eventually she acknowledged she didn’t have the ability to indulge in strong emotion.

 

Long held maternal instincts kicked in to help in the current crisis. Instincts that were driving her to her sister’s room at a dead run, mostly going by touch since her vision was so poor. It could have been thought as a dense fog if it weren’t for the smell and the ensuing sporadic coughing. “Robin!” she yelled again. She hardly ever used her sister’s real name. It was sure to get a response, if nothing else.

 

“Ari!” a sweet voice answered her calls urged the woman on. She finally reached her destination, charging into the pale–green flower and vines patterned room the little girl had painstakingly designed. The room’s colors and patterns represented a whole summer of collaboration: memories, laughter, and paint wars. “Ari, where are you?”

 

“I’ve got you, sweetie.” Ari replied just as her arms went around the petite brunette, who was shaking like a leaf while sitting up in bed, covers clutched in her lap. “We need to get out of here, Robbie. Remember the fire drills we did a few years ago?” Ari made sure to keep her voice soothing and even.

 

“No,” her sister whimpered. The girl had always had a problem with stressful situations, tending to freeze instead of act. Though, to be fair, they hadn’t encountered too many crises. Even fewer inside the ten–year–old’s memory. “What do we do?”

 

Ari took control as she always did, shoving her emotions aside in favor of concentrating on her sister’s needs. She smiled at Robin and helped the girl out of bed. As Ari reminded, she put little bunny slippers onto small feet. “We are going to check every door we come to for heat, because the fire could be behind it. We are going to go to the stairwell at the end of the hall as fast as we can, go down the steps, and then out to the parking lot. Okay? You ready?” She knew that Robin wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. They were on a timer.

 

Just because she could only see smoke and no flames, didn’t mean that there was no fire. She knew what about flashovers; the fires that looked out but were only waiting on a surge of oxygen to explode outward. They had even made a movie about such things. “Backdraft” had given her nightmares. Now, she was going to use the information gained to the best of her ability.

 

She was not going to let the last of her family die!

 

“You’re not wearing shoes,” that small, scared voice said, looking at Ari’s feet in deference to Robin’s own covered.

 

Ari dismissed the comment with practiced ease. “That doesn’t matter, Robbie. We need to leave.”

 

“But your feet…”

 

“I’ll be fine, okay?” Ari tried to reassure the girl she had practically raised. She took the girl’s hand and they began to make their way to the bedroom door. “Don’t worry about me,”

she smiled down at that little face. Her own desiderata were superfluous in comparison. With that last comment, the twenty–four year old lasered in on getting out of the burning building. Have to get out.

 

Her hand stayed on the hall wall, guiding their steps. She thanked whatever deity watched out for them that Ari made it a habit of never turning on lights at night so as not to waken her sister. Ari had much practice in navigating their apartment in only the soft glow of the streetlamps; getting midnight snacks and bathroom trips. It helped her stay calm and focused even with the heavy grey permeating the air, becoming thicker with each passing minute.

 

It didn’t take long to get to the main apartment door. Ari pulled herself and Robin to a stop so that she could check the door. Her heart plummeted even as her hand jerked away instinctively.

 

The fire was right outside.

 

“Okay, sweetie. We can’t go this way. Remember the window in the living room next to the fire escape? Let’s go that way.” It was a struggle to keep her tone calm. Have to get out. Her sister needed her to stand steadfast in certainty. So that’s what she’d do.

 

“I’m scared, Ari,” came the quiet admission from her side.

 

The woman immediately knelt down to her sister’s height to look into those blue eyes so similar to her own blue–purple. “I know, sweetie. But we’ll get out. You just have to trust me. Okay? Have I ever lied to you?”

 

“No,” Robin shook her head as she tried to push past her fear. Eager to make her sister proud. But this wasn’t anything like doing her best in ballet or math! “But I’m scared,” she confessed, looking at her bunny slippers. Shamed she had disappointed her big, brave sister.

 

“I know.” Arianna gave the girl a small smile. “Tell you a secret…” little eyes widened, jerking up to meet her own at the words, “…I’m scared too. But I’m not going to leave you. I swear.” Robin knew that Ari never swore or promised anything she wasn’t absolutely certain she could do. She never broke her word and had instilled the same morals into her sister.

 

“…okay,” was the eventual, tiny reply.

 

Ari grinned proudly. “Good girl. You are so brave.” She kissed her sister’s forehead and once again they made their way through the smoke, each coughing every few seconds; back down the hallway by feel alone. Hands clasped tightly together and not letting go for an instant. Into the main living area and turning at the first archway. The smoke was so thick they couldn’t see the ceiling anymore. Just a mass of roiling grey.

 

Robin clung to her big sister’s hand harder in fear as they saw that pieces of debris were blocking the fire escape. Falling chunks of the roof, still burning, clogging up the metal right up against the window. Making it impossible to open the pane, let alone get on the scaffolding. “Ari…”

 

Arianna swallowed at the sight, but was not going to be deterred. Have to get out. I am NOT losing any more of my family! She knew time was running out if the roof had collapsed. So she pushed aside her rising panic, threatening to escape it’s mental box; scooped up Robin, swung her around, and tucked the girl’s legs around her waist in a hurried piggy–back ride. Something the pair hadn’t done in a few years, but each’s body remembered the motions needed. “Hold on tight, Robbie.”

 

That little head tucked itself into the nape of her neck under her hair, one hand going around her shoulder and the other around her chest. “Ready.”

 

Ari didn’t waste another moment. Her arms held Robin’s legs tight to her body as she made her way through the smoke, getting thicker and heavier every second, by memory. There was only one more possible exit; the building next to theirs was only five stories, where their apartment complex had ten. They lived in 6C. It wasn’t ideal, given how far apart the buildings were, but Ari’s only option left was to try and jump over. Have to get Robbie out! Even if it meant tossing her sister across the intervening distance, Ari was going to save Robin. The way she hadn’t been able to save their parents.

 

She shook her head slightly to release the age–old guilt. Into their grandfather’s room they went, where neither had gone in over a year. Her heart ached at the sight of all Poppi’s things. Clothes still laid out, ready to be worn. Pictures of her smiling parents by the bed. Another of the family of four, all laughing at a picnic in the park, framed on the wall. She froze in place as she felt the floor give under one foot and a loud groan from beneath. After a second of nothing, she tried to keep going. So close! Have to get Robbie out! The window was clear; the far roof within jumping distance. Safety was so close!

 

Suddenly, the board gave under her weight and fell. It was all Arianna could do to stumble backward instead of down the now very large hole. The hole that was directly in front of the window. The hole that was blocking their last avenue of escape.

 

Safety within sight…but couldn’t be further away.

 

Ari wanted to cry. To scream. Her eyes shut as her analytical mind ruled that survival was now impossible. Her heart clenched in her chest as she turned and went back to Robin’s room with a heavy heart and silent steps. She wasn’t going to give away her emotions. It would just make Robin panic, which wouldn’t do any good. Only one thing left that Ari could do… Make her sister’s last hour on Earth as happy and pleasant as she was able.

 

She laid her sister under the covers, helping her snuggle down as she did every night. “Skootch over rugrat.” Arianna said fondly, tears in her eyes and clogging her voice, before getting in beside the ten–year–old that would never graduate high school, never marry, and never have kids of her own. She wasn’t going to tell that little body anything, there was no point. So, instead, she began to sing a lullaby, just like she did every night, as she clutched Robin to her.

 

Burning pictures of the fallen years/ Distant memories that are filled with tears/ It doesn’t matter if the dream appears/ The one that loses is filled with fears// It doesn’t matter if its sun or rain/ We’ll be surfing through the silver plane/ After all that is said and done/ The two of us will always be one// **

 

“I love you, Robbie.”

 

“Love you too, Ari.” The sweet, sleepy voice answered, the nightly ritual soothing Robin despite the situation, the smoke, and the sounds. Ari gave thanks for small mercies. “Will you sing the firefly song?”

 

“Sure sweetie.” She kissed that head of hair before she went again. Somehow, she was able to get through the songs, one after another, without coughing. Fireflies by Owl City was Robin’s favorite after the ‘picture song’. She went through the list of favorites, Loki’s Song, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Song of the Shieldwall, and so on; her sister asleep anew in her arms, as tears streamed down her face at the inevitability of the situation. She curled up around her sister, her chest to Robin’s. “I’m sorry,” she whispered her failure to brown strands and to the heavens. “I’m so sorry.” At least soon they would be able to see their parents once more.

 

Her eyes closed in dejected acceptance as a loud crash came to her ears, followed by a brief flash of pain, and then darkness eclipsed her. The ceiling finally failing completely, falling on the two girls. Just before the beam could hit, a bright golden light flared for a brief moment. In the split microsecond between the debris separation from its mooring and when it impacted, both figures on the bed vanished into the flash.

 

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The TARDIS rematerialized into the alleyway, exactly where it had previously disappeared. The Doctor stuck his head out of the doorway, leaning sideways with a bright smile. “By the way, did I ment––” He cut himself off, his eyes widening in alarm. He darted out of his ship at a run, gathered the unconscious blonde into his arms, and hurried back into the ship, shutting the door behind him with a barely–thought twitch of his foot, his mind firmly centered on the injured woman.

 

“I was gone for less than a minute! Thirty–four seconds! What could have happened to you in thirty–four seconds?!” He griped in concern and worry as he raced to the infirmary. Unfortunately, as a Time Lord, he knew full well exactly how important even one nanosecond could be. He placed the girl on a bed and swung the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Scanner to hover over her body. Immediately a three–dimensional image of the prone form overlaid her, then raised itself automatically. Waves of light extricated skin, muscle, tissue, and bone until all that was left were bright spots of red on the image, showing him where she was injured. Scrolling in midair above each area was the Gallifreyan circle–script, giving specifics on each ailment.

 

He frowned as he read. “Smoke inhalation? First and second degree burns?” How could Rose have possibly suffered such abuse in so little time? There were some minor cuts and abrasions as well, mostly on her hands and feet. Why was she going around barefoot? All of the damage was easily healed, but that wasn’t the issue. His hands performed the necessary movements perfunctorily. Apply the salve to the burns. Oxygenated nasal hypospray for the lungs. Dermal regenerator for the scratches.

 

However, it wasn’t her condition that was the problem. Or, not completely. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have said the girl had been in a fire. But how was such possible? He had been gone only thirty–four seconds by Rose’s viewpoint. He had triple–checked just in case because he hadn’t known where she lived – though he could have found out. He had known exactly where and when she would be.

 

It had been several years for him. He had liked her quite a bit. He was lonely. It had occurred to him late one night, when he had once again been talking to thin air, that perhaps the only reason Rose hadn’t traveled with him was because she had responsibilities. Loved ones that would miss her if she left for too long. Another few nights of constantly thinking about the blonde, going over all the conversations they had shared, cemented in his mind that he’d never fully explained about his magnificent ship. That the TARDIS could travel in time as well as disappearing here and reappearing there.

 

Another few days of pondering. That the blonde had certainly been the adventurous sort. She’d acted well. Shown loyalty, bravery, and single–mindedness he admired. She had demonstrated a good heart and intelligence. Good deduction skills. And, most importantly… She was human. Young.

 

A young companion helped him so much. He hadn’t realized until he didn’t have one anymore. Energetic enough to keep up with him. But still saw the universe with new eyes. They could still see the wonder and majesty. He had lived so long…and with the War… He yanked his mind away from dwelling too much on such things.

 

So, he had calculated his destination precisely. Checking twice just to be sure. He knew that he had arrived exactly when he had intended. But the injuries she had sustained took minutes to achieve, not seconds.

 

Which left only one likely explanation: time travel.

 

To confirm his suspicions, he set the ADIS to calculate her measurements. This Rose was five foot three–point–seven–five inches tall. One hundred fifty–one–point–seven–three pounds. Twenty–four–point–one–three years old.

 

There it was. Rose had been barely out of her teens when last he saw her. Which meant he had taken Rose as a companion, something had happened, and he sent her back to when they had first started traveling, hoping to change things. Oh, he was toeing the Laws of Time with this stunt! What universe–altering disaster was he trying to avert? What could have possibly happened that this – placing such an immeasurable burden upon a child – was the only option?! She was obviously very important to him; for him to have given her so much responsibility. He trusted her implicitly. Or, he would trust her implicitly.

 

Poor Rose.

 

He brushed away strands of flyaway hair that had been lighter, more blonde, the last time he had seen her. Now, he could see her auburn roots. She had scars he hadn’t noticed. And were those freckles? He hadn’t noticed the light dusting of them on her nose earlier either.

 

How close were they in her past? All the adventures and memories she would have that he wouldn’t. The experiences that had helped shape her into the woman she now was versus the Rose he had left in the alley. How much heartache she would go through. Wanting things to be as they had been for her; where they had not yet become for him. This would be difficult… For both of them.

 

Taking a breath to steady himself, he reached out and flicked the switch that would waken the blonde. The next conversation would prove to be an interesting one. Hazy blue–purple eyes popped open, struggling to focus at all, let alone concentrate on him. “Easy. Easy.” He gentled, helping her into a sitting position when he saw her try. “Go slow to start.” He saw her eyes finally zero in on him and the eyebrows furrowed immediately. “It’ll be a bit disorienting at first, Rose.” He explained evenly. He knew the chances of this going well were remote. It depended on how much his future self had elucidated.

 

He watched as her eyes narrowed and a bright flame of intense anger flared deep within. Her voice, when it came, was barely more than a growl, “Don’t you dare call me that.”

 

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(Scene inspired by first verse of ‘Burning House’ by Cam)

**––main theme song from Hallmark movie “Snow Queen” (2002)

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Chapter Text

When you want to cuss, disguise it. Say ‘son of a biscuit’ instead. It distracts people from what you’re really saying while they are trying to figure out if they really heard you say it. Or laughing at it. Either way, it’ll take them at least five minutes to realize you said something you shouldn’t’ve.” ~ James Carpenter

 

Rosemary Arianna Carpenter. Rose for short…at least for the first twelve years of her life. The car accident had changed so much. That one moment of inattention. All her fault. She wasn’t worthy to keep her much–loved ‘Rose’ after that. She insisted that she be called ‘Ari’ afterward. She never told anyone why; not the real reason. Only that she needed to separate her with–parents life from her without–parents life. As if the very fact that she didn’t have parents anymore wasn’t enough. But because she had stuck to her story, eventually people had accepted it.

 

They forgot that it was odd for a fifteen-year-old to make such claims. Forgot that grief can manifest in a myriad of ways. Forgot about survivor’s guilt and PTSD. After all, she was a well–adjusted young woman. Doing the grown–up thing of helping raise her sister. She was responsible, helpful, patient, kind, and mature. They forgot that a fifteen–year–old, having just lost both her parents, shouldn’t be any of those things. She should scream and cry. Be angry, belligerent, and distraught. Her entire world had been turned upside down. ‘Normal’ wasn’t normal.

 

She never forgot. A promise made a decade before kept her at “Ari”… Because she had finally accepted that there wasn’t anything she could do that would make up for killing her parents. She would never again be Rose. She kept telling herself that it was fine. That she had made her peace with such a fact. Yet the very act of doing so niggled the thought that she obviously hadn’t made her peace, if she kept having to recall it. She ignored that particular niggle with intense ferocity.

 

And every time she heard someone call her Rose, all of those memories, guilt, and self–hatred flared again. “Don’t you dare call me that.” She hissed through clenched teeth at the Eccleston–lookalike.

 

He immediately raised his hands in a non–threatening gesture. “I’m sorry. Having some boundaries, to help separate things, is a good idea. What would you like me to call you?” He kept his voice as gentle as he knew how, trying not to provoke her. She doubtless had been through some horrible things, though he likely would never know what they were, and would understandably be volatile.

 

“Ari. My name is Ari.” She sighed the phrase as she couldn’t keep up the anger. It wasn’t his fault anyway. No one knew how much she hated the memories. She never told...not even Rob— Her eyes got wide as she frantically looked around. “Robbie! Where’s Robbie?!”

 

The Doctor’s hearts clenched sharply at the desperation he could hear in her voice. This Robbie was obviously dear to her, cherished. Robbie was most likely short for Robert. Her boyfriend? Husband? He wondered about Mickey, but a lot could happen traveling with a Time Lord. And it had been five years for her. The possibilities were nearly limitless. “I’m sorry. There wasn’t anyone with you that I saw.” The alley had been deserted other than his ship and the collapsed form of the blonde when he had materialized. “I’m so sorry.”

 

Blue–purple eyes narrowed, sparking protectiveness and love dangerously. “Show me,” again her tone was almost a growl.

 

He wondered how often he would hear this new Rose’s—Ari’s—emphasis. What had he done to the poor girl to turn that happy, fun–loving 19-year-old into...this? What would he do? Or, perhaps, she was more like him than he thought? He nodded at her and gestured for her to follow him, since he didn’t know if—when?—she had ever been in his infirmary before. Mentally, he reorganized the room and corresponding hall to be closer to the control room.

 

Ari blinked as her brain began to seriously wake up from its unconscious, disoriented state. This was way too odd. Christopher Eccleston in his Ninth Doctor garb, was leading her down a corridor that was obviously designed to look like the TARDIS. What was going on? Where was Robbie? Ari had been about to die! Burned alive or buried alive. Sister in her arms. So, if Ari was here… Why wasn’t Robbie?

 

It had been a family joke that Ari looked so much like Billie Piper. If she dyed her hair blonde, cut and styled it correctly, the two were almost twins. A few people had even gone so far as to comment ‘had she ever thought of being a stunt–double for the famous actress?’ Bone structure, facial characteristics, body type and build. All were incredibly similar. Naturally, Arianna was more auburn, dimples appeared when she smiled deeply, and light freckles were across her nose, cheekbones, and down her arms. There were other coincidences that lined up, to the amusement of the Carpenters: Rosemary as a first name, so close to Rose and Ari’s mother’s name was Jacqueline, ‘Jackie’, with her maiden name of Tyler before she’d married.

 

So, when the epitome of the Ninth Doctor called her Rose, it actually made a bit of sense. Of course, she had to wonder where the real Rose happened to be. Not to mention, why was she in Doctor Who to begin with? And it did seem to be…well, real…not a studio set. The hallway went on forever in a straight line; much longer than anyone would build for camera setups and shots, it was too impractical. If they needed a long shot that involved a lot of room, they’d build a shorter one and paint a background that appeared 3D, or green–screen it in later.

 

Going off the assumption that she was actually in the presence of the real Ninth Doctor, how did that make sense? She had been about. to. die. Her dying sister in. her. arms. If Robbie wasn’t here with her…

 

Ari wiggled and stretched a bit as certain ideas came to mind; one in particular. Pulling one arm as far as she could with the other. Taking a deep breath in, only to let it out. Wiggling her toes—she was still barefoot—on the hallway floor. She shivered as one simple fact was quite clear: she wasn’t in any pain. She could breathe easily. No cuts on her feet or bruises on her arms. No twinges from pulled muscles in her back. Ari struggled not to panic as that one particular idea became much more likely.

 

Eccleston—was she supposed to call him Doctor?—pulled open a door to gesture her out. When had they reached the outside? She didn’t recall, but she could think about such things later. Robbie was more important.

 

Ari darted into a dark, dank, dirty alleyway and struggled not to wrinkle her nose at the stale smell of the air, the rotten garbage decaying in a dumpster not ten feet from her. “Robbie?!” she called out sharply. “Robbie, you answer me. Now!

 

A drip of rainwater falling into the silence was her only reply.

 

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The Doctor’s hearts nearly broke as he was forced to watch all hope fade from the blonde’s eyes. It took over twenty minutes of following her, making sure she was alright, not willing to leave her alone, before the girl slowed to a stop. She had desperately looked behind every bin, under every pile, inside every box and hidey–hole. She had run down the street, calling at the top of her lungs for Robbie. Each scream more despondent than the last. When she finally quieted, he gently led her back to his ship, closed the door, and positioned her in the pilot’s chair where she had promptly curled her body around her knees, hugging them to her chest.

 

Oh, how he knew that expression in her eyes. He saw it every time he looked in the mirror: hopelessness. He knew that his own future self’s actions had done this to her. This was his fault. Yet another life he had destroyed. He didn’t know what to say. There was nothing that could make this better. He could never make up for this. Whether family or friend, he couldn’t go back to get Robbie. The future Rose—Ari—had come from no longer existed; by the act of going into the past, her very presence changed the future.

 

He wondered if she had any idea of what she had agreed to; if she understood the true ramifications. Her life experiences, her memories, would be used to change the future. His personal future. The future of a Time Lord. Thereby, the past she remembered—his potential future—would be erased. Yet, her memories would not change.

 

She was no mere ordinary human that he could pull cheap tricks and change her past to affect her present. She was a time traveler of epic proportions. First his companion; now acting as a…  He flinched as he realized the implications. She was upholding the responsibility, burden, and duty of life; making sure that the universe kept spinning. She was insomuch acting, in no small part, as a Time Lord, human though she may be.

 

So much time travel would ensure her memories stayed intact, even with the paradox. It was part of the curse of a Time Lord. The Doctor himself remembered every alternate timeline he had experienced, every paradox lived and destroyed in his efforts to end the Time War.

 

Ro—Ari had become a paradox.

 

He would never be able to let her live on her own. It was too dangerous. If she fell into the wrong hands and her knowledge of this worse future, and more specifically what led to its creation, then the universe itself would be threatened. He could think of no other reason than the breakdown of the universe itself for implementing such a tactic as sending a companion back in time to change his future. He couldn’t even give her to another Time Lord to take care of—thus giving her the courtesy of not forcing her to look upon her tormentor every day—because he was the last. He had killed his species; limiting her options.

 

He would certainly do his best to give her as much latitude as possible. However, he also had a duty and responsibility to Time. Given that he was the last of his kind, that burden was even more important. There was no one left to fix Time if he made a mistake.

 

With that in mind, he gave her an understanding smile. “Know this will be...difficult...for you. Do my best to make it as painless as possible.” She snorted softly, but he acted as if he didn’t hear and just kept going. “Don’t know how much my counterpart explained, so I’ll start from the top.” She frowned in slight confusion, which made him pause before he continued. He couldn’t make any sort of phrasing that a human could misconstrue as being her fault. He didn’t blame her at all. But if he wasn’t careful, then he could say it in such a way that she misinterpreted the content. “I understand that you have knowledge of my personal future. But you’re here to change one event.” More frowning from her, which made him even more careful to gather and organize his words effectively. How could he phrase this so a human could comprehend the vastness of what she had done? Did she even have the ability to understand something this large in scale? Perhaps getting ‘the big picture’ into a full, manageable concept wasn’t important right now. However, she did need to know the parameters and limitations immediately.

 

“Need to remember that you can’t change anything else, Ro—Ari.” She winced when he almost said Rose, changing it mid–word. He hated to see the pain in her eyes when he called her the wrong thing. He had dealt her enough agony for a lifetime, and it was going to get worse before things were resolved. “Five years of memories. Five years of things that you can’t change, R—Ari.” He would have to get used to calling her the other name. Several years of thinking of her as Rose—while he was talking himself into coming back for her—would definitely take awhile to reorient in his mind. Considering what she had consented to attempt for the betterment of the universe, it was the least he could do for her in return. He would probably be making many concessions for this girl in the coming years.

 

It still wouldn’t equal her sacrifice.

 

“It is imperative that you understand this,” he intoned earnestly, trying to drive home the importance. Her hopeless, dead eyes almost robbed him of breath. In that one moment, he made a silent vow to do whatever it took to see that carefree smile of the Rose he had first met alight on her face again. “I’m sorry,” he said solemnly. “Knowing the future is a great burden.” It was a curse. Having the foreknowledge of death, trying to prevent it and being unable to, could be nothing else. A curse that he had given her. People died around him, even while trying with all his ability to save everyone. And his counterpart had given her the burden of having to watch. “I understand and I’ll do my best to help you.”

 

A long pause as she seemed to absorb his words. “So, I’ll be traveling with you.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“...For how long?”

 

He winced internally. He would never be able to leave her alone. She was his responsibility now. His actions had created this physical, living, paradox. He had to take care of her. There was no one else to do so.

 

However, she had dealt with so much today. Did he really want to add to the pile right now? He could explain further later. After this had settled in a bit. Finally, he gave a smile and said encouragingly, “You can keep traveling for as long as you like.” It wasn’t quite a lie. When–slash–if she ever decided to stop—after the universe–ending event had been resolved of course—he would have to stop too. Settle down with her. He shivered at the very idea of him in one time and place for long. He had never been the settling–down type. But he couldn’t leave her alone.

 

In a half dead delivery that increased his worry for her mental state, she uttered a request. “How about we go to the end of the world? Since mine’s ended already.” He idly wondered at her phrasing. Did she already understand that she could never go back? That the alternate future her presence represented was already gone? Her words certainly gave that impression. He had known that Rose—Ari damnit!—was intelligent, but this was more evidence of the fact.

 

xxxxxx

 

Arianna tried desperately not to break down and cry. Her worst fear had been realized. It made perfect sense. She had been about to burn to death, her sister dying with her in her very arms. Yet Ari had awoken feeling no injury on a fictitious ship with a make–believe alien.

 

The control room had convinced her of the authenticity of her new environment. (At least to a point.) There was no possible way that her imagination was good enough to encompass the unearthly, ethereal beauty of the time rotor’s swirling mass of ever–changing colors, reminding her of the Aurora Borealis, that seemed to have emotions of their own; moving fast, then slow, then in swirls, then circles, then fast spins. Never still, always moving, and managing to convey with their color and movement an emotion as easily as reading a facial expression. At the moment, the swirls were blends of blues and greens mixed with the over-all golden, giving a relaxed, contented feel.

 

The television show had never shown such detail and intricacy in the coral–esque walls and columns done in red-orange-yellow shades and hues. There were actual tiny carvings in them—Gallifreyan circle–writing—that gave the impression of pocked coral from afar, as the television had shown. This console room, now that she was staring ahead of her in a desperate attempt to forget that Robbie wasn’t there, wasn’t really orange. It was more of a reddish gold with flares of orange running through. Considering what she knew of Gallifrey, it was probably meant to simulate the tones and textures of his planet. Reminders of a home he no longer could visit. A planet he had destroyed, but still longed for just as all people yearned for home.

 

No, she would never have been able to think of something this wonderful on her own.

 

Which left only a couple of possibilities that she was aware of. One, she had been transported to another reality. Unlikely, because why hadn’t Robbie come with her? So, that led to her final conclusion.

 

She was dead.

 

This was hell.

 

If this had all been going on and little Robbie was with her, she would think it was either heaven, or another reality. But without Robbie? No, this had to be hell. It wasn’t like a ten–year–old could accrue enough sins to earn eternal damnation. Not her Robbie, who liked to save lizards, wished on ladybugs, and screamed at the sight of spiders.

 

The Doctor—also known as her judge, punisher, and persecutor (demon?)—had already explained how her little personal hell would work. Until he determined that she had saved enough lives through her knowledge of Doctor Who, she would stay in hell. ‘Traveling’ was obviously a euphemism. Hell was all about absolving one’s sins: punishment. Not being able to see her family, even after she had died, and—how did he phrase it?—‘having the burden of future knowledge’ to torment her with the number of people who could have been saved if she had done the correct thing. If she had only done such–and–such, she could have saved them all, et cetra, and her duration in hell would be shorter. ‘Only change one event’ was obviously to let her know just how screwed she was; how long she would be here. Only being able to save one life per episode would mean she would be in this horrible place for decades.

 

Assuming that they equated one absolution per sin with one life per episode saved. But what about if she couldn’t save anyone? Or her change had even more people dying in the end? Where would that leave her? The possibilities were seemingly endless and no answers were forthcoming.

 

Ari wondered if she also would be forced to have sex with this…Doctor. Originally, she had thought that a 19-year-old having coitus with a 900-year-old was squeaky enough she had almost stopped watching the reboot. She usually didn’t have a problem with age gaps, even large ones (her parents had been 14 years apart in age themselves and happily married over twenty years) but that wasn’t any normal age gap. That was a further–than–left–field type of robbing the cradle!

 

However, this was hell. Rape in hell wouldn’t exactly be out of place.

 

She blinked over as he began to practically bounce around the hexagonal control panel surrounding the cylinder of swirly colored feelings. He gave her a bright grin as he passed her: pulling levers, grinding gears, and pushing buttons. His voice had a more solemn edge than his movements suggested as he said, almost gently, “You can’t spend all your time thinking about dying. As if you're going to get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids.” A loud ‘ding!’ announced their arrival, following a particularly hard shove of his arm to a rod. The classic sound of what River Song had described as the parking brake being left on had been a much quieter echo in reality, reverberating mostly in Ari’s feet, than as depicted on the show.

 

Yet, somehow it still gave her that small burst of happiness she associated with watching the series. Able to finally relax, curled up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate after a long day, eagerly awaiting to live vicariously through the characters. She had loved it. It had been her “me time”.

 

He held out a hand to her and pulled her to her feet, guiding her back to the entrance. “You need to take time to imagine the impossible. That, just maybe, you survive.” He threw open the doors theatrically, showing her a view of a large room with one entire wall and the ceiling as clear plexiglass. At an angle to her was the sun, but centerpoint was a gorgeous view of the Earth like she had seen in science textbooks. “This is the year 5.5/apple/26. Five billion years into the future.” He gestured to the massive columns and basically the satellite itself that they had landed upon. “Five billion years. Humans survive.”

 

He stared deeply into her eyes, trying to help her understand what he was really telling her. She simply blinked at him, uncomprehending. He gave a small sad half–smile as he explained further. “You will survive.” Even the most horrible things eventually, with time, passed. If she could hold on, endure, it would get better. He gave her that silent promise.

 

A pleasant feminine voice came over a loudspeaker system. “Shuttles five and six now docking. Guests are reminded that Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion. Earth Death is scheduled for fifteen thirty–nine.”

 

The timbre was particularly unique in Doctor Who, alerting Ari to the episode. She had been joking about going to the end of the world. But apparently the Doctor had taken her literally. Ari wanted to facepalm. He was 900 years old; didn’t he understand bleak sarcasm when he heard it?!

 

They were in a large room even more beautiful than the show had been able to depict. It was done in dark wood veneer and stains, with hanging chandeliers between every dark–stained pillar on the outer walls to their left and right. But the biggest feature of the room that caught your attention immediately was the 'window'. It started at the wall straight across from the door, and went from the floor to the ceiling, up and then became the ceiling. The whole room was built to observe whatever was outside Platform One. Currently, that view was the Earth itself.

 

It was beautiful. Majestic, really.

 

However, that didn’t change things. “I don’t want to be here,” Ari whispered. She knew what was coming. It had been tragic enough when she had seen it through a twelve–inch television screen. In person? Where she was actually meeting these people? No. “Please don’t make me.”

 

xxxxxx

 

The Doctor frowned down at her in momentary confusion. She had asked to see the end of the world. Why didn’t she…? His forehead eased, then wrinkled again. “You’ve done this before.”

 

Ari hesitated before answering with a single nod. “I know what’s going to happen, yes.”

 

“I thought we talked about this. You can only change the one event that brought you here. That’s all! Everything else, everything, has to happen exactly as it did!” He was yelling, angry. Angry at himself for not making himself clear. Angry at his counterpart for not explaining. Angry at what he’s going to force her to endure. Angry at her for being so human.

 

Ari matched his raised voice with her own, eyes flashing dangerously again. “People died the first time!”

 

“Then they are going to die again!” A part of him was grateful for her rage. It was the most emotion she had shown in almost twenty minutes. That didn’t prevent what had to be done. He saw her freeze at his words, shock clear in her posture and eyes. His anger fizzled as he ran a hand through his hair. “Ari, nothing can change except what occurred to bring you here. Visit the same places, the same adventures...the same results. You can’t do anything that you didn’t do before.”

 

“People are going to die.” She stressed the last word, as if he didn’t understand.

 

“I know,” he answered solemnly. There were always people who died around him, no matter how hard he tried to save them all.

 

“If I do have to experience all this, why won’t you let me save them? Or at least try?” she was almost pleading, salt water trailing down her cheeks.

 

He wished he could let her. She was breaking his hearts with her tone and tears. He tried to explain, though doubted that she was calm enough to think clearly and be logical. On top of that, she was human. The intricacies of the Laws of Time took over a century for him to learn in the Academy. The chances she would understand were slim. However, considering the circumstances, she deserved at least an attempt at an explanation. “Ari…” he sighed as he tried to put things in a way she could accept. “The future you came from, the future you remember, no longer exists. Will never exist. Coming to the past has ensured that.

 

“However, the major events should be almost identical, even if the smaller details are not. We need the major points to be what you remember. So that, when the event that brought you here occurs again, we can change it. Everything has to be the same now, so that we can change that one event at the end.” He saw her eyes betray her resistance and tried another tactic. “Think dominoes, Ari. You change something, it’s like tipping a domino, which tips the next and the next and the next. Timeline changes too much from what you remember, we may not be able to prevent the event that brought you here. Universe could end again.” Even the thought of it made his breath catch and hearts clench in dread. The whole of time and space lost a second time. He’d have to send someone back again. He’d have to figure out how he’d sent someone back the first time…

 

Her expression turned thoughtful, speculative. “You keep saying ‘the major events’. What would count as a major event?”

 

This was the harder part. “Impossible for you to know.” He saw her surprise, then a flash of defiance. He hurried to clarify. “Someone experiencing a smaller event could influence them toward a larger event. Or they tell the story to someone else who does. It’s all dominoes, Rose.” He winced at her flare of pain and anger; she had actually physically jerked at him saying her former name. That kind of reaction bore noting. “Sorry. Ari. To a non–linear, non–subjective viewpoint, Time is like a big ball of string. Bits of Time touching other bits, directing how it will twist and turn. Change a little bit, and the thread changes how it lays; changes how the threads next to it lay, which changes the ones next to those, and so on until the whole ball is different to how it started.

 

“Little things affect big things. And I’m sorry,” he finished solemnly, looking deeply into her eyes to attempt to convey just how important this was. How necessary. “I’m so sorry. But whether someone is alive or dead, even how they die or are saved, is a very big thing.” He saw understanding fill her eyes and mentally breathed a sigh of relief.

 

xxxxxx

 

Ari turned to look out at the beautiful, mesmerizing visage of the blue, green, and white planet as his words brought to mind the episode “Father’s Day”, when Rose went back and saved her father, who had died soon after she was born. Just saving that one seemingly insignificant life of Peter Tyler, the man who had never really done anything significant to influence the world… Saving him had caused those things to come, to “sterilize the wound”—wasn’t that what the Doctor had said about them? That they were like antibodies or something?—and the world had almost ended. Everyone on Earth being eaten, vanishing completely.

 

What else had the Doctor said that episode? When the almost–married couple had come to him? It had always stuck with her…

 

“I don’t know what this is all about. And I know we’re not important

“Who said you’re not important?”

 

To the Doctor—to Time itself—there was no such thing as an unimportant person. Every life mattered. So his words and logic did make sense in some ways.

 

However, there was a rather large something that was slowly struggling to make itself known. He kept saying that she had come back in time to prevent some future event. Kept calling her Rose. In “Father’s Day”, Rose had changed her own past. That  was what caused the flying people–eaters to come. If Ari was indeed what the demon–Doctor claimed, then he would be right. Everything he said made sense, if viewed from that angle.

 

Not to mention, those flying people–eaters had come because a seemingly insignificant person had lived. What about at the end of “Waters of Mars”, when the Doctor tried to change a fixed point. Save someone who had to die. He’d almost destroyed the universe then, because Adelaide’s death had influenced so much of that future. But the others from the base had been able to live without too many issues—though who knew how they had explained suddenly going from the Mars expedition to being on Earth. Maybe UNIT or Torchwood had fixed things for them. But the Doctor’s personal future wasn’t really influenced by those people…was it?

 

However, more to the point, Rosemary Arianna Carpenter was NOT Rose Tyler, no matter the stunning similarities. Did that mean that Ari could change whatever she wanted? Save whoever she wanted? Did she dare chance it?

 

A slice of intense fear slid down her spine at the idea that her actions would make those people–eaters appear. That she would be the reason the world would end. Was this her true hell? Being forced to watch people die that she could save? Or the trepidation that attempting to save people would end everything in the universe?

 

The demon–Doctor’s soothing baritone entered her thoughts. “Breathe, Ari. Be alright.” Until he said something, she hadn’t even realized she had been holding it. “Breathe.” He pounded on her back once, forcing her to take a gasping gulp of life–giving air. “There you go. Keep breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Breathe.” It was almost as if she could hear his voice in her mind, urging her—or commanding her—to do as he said. “Just a panic attack, Ari. It’ll pass. Just breathe and it’ll pass.” His hand made soothing circles on her back as his voice in her head burrowed itself deeper, or seemed to, and forced her lungs to work normally. Taking control since she had momentarily lost her ability to do so.

 

What was probably minutes later, but gave the impression of hours—though she didn’t know for sure if it was minutes, hours, seconds, or even years—she finally managed to gather herself and work her lungs on her own. “There. Told you it would pass.” His bright tone encouraged her to believe him. Or was he trying to cheer her up? Or maybe congratulating her on the success? Or was it just how he was? Stating facts? She remembered that Nine had alternately been really morose and really happy, jumping between extremes like a jackrabbit.

 

Which led her to the thought… Could she really trust what she had seen on the show for what was to occur? This was hell. Who knew what the demons could, or would, change? Could she ask him? She probably couldn’t ask directly, he’d know the jig was up and it could get even worse for her. What if they chose to put her in the hands of Dr. Hannibal Lector instead? Or Mycroft Holmes? Or Kilgrave? Ari almost had another panic attack at that idea.

 

So, she needed to ask the demon–Doctor in such a way that she didn’t give away she knew where she really was. Hesitantly, she began, barely whispering, “There’s no way that I can remember all the details. All the things that… were said and done.” She had almost said ‘that Rose had said and done’ but managed to catch herself in time. “I blocked out some of them.” That was certainly true. Like that horrible episode in season three with that moronic Doctor club. What had it been called? Some girl’s name. LOLA? LARA? LEENA? Something with an ‘L’. Ari hated that episode and always immediately shut it off whenever it came on. Same with the Midnight episode in season four. “Even if I…let people die, it won’t be the same.”

 

At least she was thinking about the reality of her situation, the Doctor thought with internal relief. The truth was, she was right. “Your very presence has changed the future, Ari. Just by being here; your twenty-four-year-old self versus your nineteen-year-old self. Even if you didn’t know the future, your reactions would be different because you are essentially a different person than you were. Your life experiences and memories affect how you view the world around you, how you act and react. The timelines would differ.”

 

Ari began to feel a bit lightheaded again as he continued. “However, that is exactly the reason you should make sure what you remember happening, does.”

 

“So that things stay as close to the original timeline as possible.”

 

“Until that end event, yeah.”

 

“To change it and save the universe.”

 

“Yeah.” He nodded, smiling at her as if she were a dog that had done an unexpected trick. She wanted to slap him.

 

Instead, she looked him directly in the eye and calmly asked, “And what might that event be?” His priceless expression of stunned, poleaxed, bewilderment warmed her heart. She had no idea how terrified she had made the Time Lord with the simple question.

 

“You mean the event that brought me here?” she offered after a second, deciding to take pity on him. His quick nod of vehement agreement warmed her heart even more though.

 

I can save Robbie…?

 

If she understood all this correctly, then when all the episodes had run their course, she would be able to be with her sister. Hell would be over for her. She could go be with her family. But that still didn’t answer the question: could she change things from what she remembered of the episodes? Did she dare chance it?

 

Would she be able to live with herself if she didn’t at least try?

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: To Save or Not to Save?

 

AN***: Rewritten starting 1-29-18

 

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I’ve read some obituaries with great pleasure.”
                        ~Mark Twain

 

The Doctor’s hearts pounded in absolute terror at her seemingly innocent question. “What event might that be?” If Ari didn’t know what had occurred that forced him to bring her to the past, how was she/he supposed to know what to change?! Was the universe doomed already?! Then she continued with, “You mean the event that brought me here?” and he nodded as quickly as he could while also trying desperately to get his own breathing under control. He didn’t know what made that little happy intensely-relieved smile appear on her face, but he liked it. It made her face light up and crinkles showed up around her eyes. Most significantly, she had a dimple when she grinned.

 

All of which paled in comparison to the absolute relief he felt since she knew what had brought her to the past, thus letting her know what to change for a better future. The Doctor sincerely hoped she didn’t get into a habit of almost giving him a panic attack.

 

He had just… What with the War… The universe couldn’t end already! He wouldn’t let it! He took a deep breath to steady himself and his thoughts.

 

His punishment for saving the universe was living in lonely isolation; his mind an empty desolate landscape of only his own thoughts. To a man who was used to layers of telepathic bonds in place, all chattering away, it was torture. He had no doubt the silence would slowly drive him insane. But he also had certain responsibilities. And he had not just saved the universe, was suffering this horrible price for doing so, just to watch helplessly as it was destroyed again. He refused!

 

So, he would watch Ari closely and ensure that the universe kept spinning.

 

His counterpart had five years to develop their relationship into intense trust…but he did not yet have that. Her question about not knowing the event that resulted in her arrival had unnerved him. He hoped she had simply been joking? That was far more preferable to the alternative. He shivered slightly at the terrifying idea.

 

Perhaps he should suggest she start a journal of her memories?

 

++ARI+++ROSE+++ARI++

 

Ari contemplated the beautiful scenery, biting her lip unconsciously, as she thought about the possibilities. A lot of people had died in this episode. If the rules of hell dictated she could only save one person per episode…then how did she choose when there were so many? The most obvious was the tree-woman. Easiest too, since she had died from holding the lever. But what about the ones that had been in the main room at the time?

 

Not to mention—because she already had at least twice—did she really have to keep with all of Rose’s actions? Even Cassandra? The bitchy trampoline was horrid and Ari would much rather stay as far away as possible. What about maybe sneaking away to speak to Jack, aka the Face of Boe? Ari sighed, shaking her head.

 

Neither noticed that they shivered slightly at the same time, though for very different reasons.

 

“Who the bloody hell are you?!” The blurted, almost accusatory, shout pulled both of them forcibly out of their thoughts. “How did you get in? This is a maximum hospitality zone! The guests have already disembarked! They’re on their way any second now!” The more the blue steward spoke, the higher his pitch became as the poor man’s anxiety level rose.

 

Ari winced at the volume. On the episode, the man had probably been a tenor… This ‘real’ demonic blue being was not a tenor, his tonality was much higher than any mere tenor.

 

The Doctor shook his head at the man, trying to smooth things over as quickly as possible before the little creature had an attack of some sort. “It’s alright. We’re guests.” He pulled out his psychic paper and flashed it, letting the reassurance of an invitation ease things. “See? It’s fine. I’m the Doctor, this is Ari Tyler—“

 

“Carpenter,” Ari interrupted him. “Arianna Carpenter.” She shrugged at the Doctor’s curious expression. “It’s my middle name.”

 

“Ah. Ari Carpenter  then.” He nodded his understanding. So, she had married. Most probably to the ‘Robbie’ she had been searching for. Short for Robert, most like. The Doctor refocused on the steward. “She’s my plus one. That all right?”

 

“Well, obviously.” The steward was much calmer almost instantly, now that he had seen their ticket. It was still very strange in how  the pair had arrived. He couldn’t remember seeing them on the security footage. Though it was decidedly odd, he still had a job to do and they did  have an invitation. “Apologies, et cetera.” He watched them as they absorbed his, at best half-hearted apology, but they didn’t seem to mind. Yes, very curious.

 

He cleared his throat. “Well, if you’re ready and in the Great Room, we might as well start.” He gave a small incline of his neck that could have been a respectful bow if one squinted. “Enjoy.” Then he made his way over to his podium and began to do his job as perfunctorily as possible. “We have in attendance the Lord Doctor and Lady Arianna. All staff to their positions. Thank you.”

 

Ari blinked at all the sudden and subtle changes that had occurred in less than five minutes. Was it because this was supposedly real instead of what she knew it to be? Or was it because of herself, pretending to be Rose?

 

Sheesh, a lot of fangirls probably want to be Rose, but she had never been one of them. She had always been more of a person to write herself into the story instead. Even as a child. At one time, the Power Rangers had been her favorite thing ever. Yet, she never had a desire to usurp Trini’s position of the Yellow Ranger. Nope. Ari had instead invented the Purple Power Ranger to go along with the other five.

 

She suddenly had an idea and looked over—trying to hide the sneakiness she knew her eyes must now hold—and asked the demon-Doctor, “Do you want me to tell you what’s going to happen?”

 

“What?” The demon-Doctor stared at her, clearly startled. “Thought we discussed this, Ari. You can’t change anything. So, in telling me, you would change events. I would react differently, resulting in a different outcome. It’s too dangerous.”

 

Ari nodded slowly as she thought about the implications. If she didn’t have to tell him, then there was no way for him to know if she changed more than she was allowed. Not without him admitting he was a demon, already knowing what was going to happen just as she did. It was hard to remember that he was a demon though. What with him just standing there as if everything was perfectly normal, amidst all these spectacular sights. But he was a demon—he couldn’t be anything else, really—and so she had to tread very carefully around him. Say as little as possible, in the fear that she might give the game away.

 

If they knew that she knew…they would have no reason not to change the rules or change the game completely. Give her a demon-Hannibal Lector or demon-Khan Noonien Singh instead of a demon-Doctor! Ari shivered intensely at the idea.

 

“Cold?” The demon-Doctor asked her kindly. He didn’t wait for an answer before he was shrugging out of his leather jacket and placing it on her shoulders. “There. Left yours in the infirmary,” he said by way of explanation.

 

Ari blinked at him in slightly confusion. He was very kind for a demon. Then she mentally snorted to herself. This hell of hers appeared to be more intellectual torture than physical. Wanting to drive her crazy with finding the correct single individual to save, measuring all the potential causes and effects of it, analyzing everything that needed to happen in major future ‘episodes’ versus superfluous ones.

 

No, they didn’t need to give her a chill on top of everything else. Though…need had nothing to do with how hell operated. Of course, how could she know? More time was needed to figure out the other rules and guidelines. If she could learn them all, then she could start to work around them. So far, she only had two rules: save only one per episode and don’t give anything away. She knew more would follow. That’s just the way things worked.

 

“The gift of peace.” A voice once again intruded into Ari’s thoughts, jerking her to stare at the female. She was about Ari’s height, maybe a little taller, and far more beautiful than BBC had depicted. Even just standing there, Ari felt like a country bumpkin in comparison to this green goddess that had simply appeared in front of her. Ari, never one to hide from problems, glared at the forest queen.

 

++ARI+++ROSE+++ARI++

 

“I bring you a cutting of my grandfather.” Jabe held out a small pot with a single twig planted within, already thriving vigorously. When she noted the blonde’s angry gaze, she smiled gently at the girl.

 

Being a tree, her age was counter-intuitive to her appearance. She had been alive for a great number of Galactic Standard Years (GSY) and had attended many of these little parties. Jabe knew a first-timer when she saw one and remembered the feeling of inadequacy next to all the luxury a place like Satellite One kept.

 

Jabe also remembered that it was better to have a female ear and saw that the Lord Doctor was definitely male. She smiled patiently, feeling her years as this proof of the next young crop came out. She gave her brother a look. Without showing any outward sign of surprise, he was far too well-trained for such a slip, Lute pulled out another small pot and handed it over. Jabe gave it to the girl, who blinked at her in surprise; down at the sprout, then back up again with shock nestled in her eyes. “Relax Lady Arianna. It will not be as bad as you fear.” She leaned forward and whispered, “If you make a mistake, just pretend it was on purpose and raise an eyebrow at anyone who asks. It will make them think they forgot some step of the dance.” When she pulled back, she winked at the girl conspiratorially. “Find me later and we will discuss other little tricks.”

 

Mindful of the young girl, Jabe ignored the deep intimacy of giving someone air from one’s own lungs, patted the blonde’s arm reassuringly, and moved to the next guest.

 

++ARI+++ROSE+++ARI++

 

Ari stared at the little plant in her hands. That was it. She’d save Jabe. The woman was not only kind but considerate of her feelings and didn’t mind at all that she had been glaring daggers at her. The female tree had seemed to see right through her and gave her advice. Kind. Understanding. Playful. Generous.

 

Arianna’s hands clutched the pot to her chest, touched by the gift. No, she wouldn’t allow this nice woman—no matter her species—to die if she could help it.

 

But Ari also had to wonder at all the little details that were going off. They were the ‘Lord Doctor and Lady Arianna’. She knew that it was his Gallifreyan title, but couldn’t remember it ever being used by anyone other than the Lord President Rassilon in the ‘End of Time’ episodes. Jabe hadn’t commented on the Doctor’s gift of peace either, instead focusing on reassuring Ari.

 

Were those tiny things enough to throw everything out of balance? Could she still save Jabe?

 

As the various aliens came by—Ari made sure to be just a little to the left when it was the blue blob’s turn—she began to notice something interesting. It was small, just like all the differences were, but still noticeable. (Though perhaps she only noticed because she was looking for the inconsistencies?) In the show, every being, except Jack Harkness, all spoke with an British accent. To be expected, given that it was a BBC show. They even explained it away as the TARDIS translation circuits interpreting everything, translating them into what was familiar.

 

However, Ari wasn’t Rose Tyler and she wasn’t a British citizen. She was born and raised in West Virginia. So the translation circuits weren’t giving her just English accents, but a various cacophony of the accents she had heard and experienced through her grandfather, who had been a submariner, traveling the world in his younger days.

 

James Carpenter had made it a game of trying to imitate accents when he had been at sea. (Long hours of guard duty made one seek out things to occupy the mind.) With his new grandchildren, he found an avid audience at story time, using different voices for each character. As Ari had grown older, she had discovered that she could adopt and imitate any accent she heard, as could little Robbie.

 

There was a catch though. Ari could imitate any accent she heard…but she couldn’t do any of them on purpose. She always adopted whatever she heard. She couldn’t help it. Robbie was better at controlling the ability because the little girl practiced, thinking it great fun. Ari had simply enjoyed story time without the inclination of reading aloud herself that Robbie had seemed to inherit from their grandfather.

 

Thus she wondered if she should be alarmed or amused when the procession of aliens made Ari aware in a bit more detail of how the TARDIS translation circuits worked. Because she was keeping a tally. So far she had heard British, Scottish, German, Georgian, Californian, Australian, Boston, and Tahitian.

 

Of course, since she couldn’t keep the accent she currently had—courtesy of hearing the Doctor—she was flipping back and forth between accents with every being that spoke.

 

Honestly, it was starting to grate on her nerves.

 

++ARI+++ROSE+++ARI++

 

The Doctor was officially impressed.

 

He supposed that, given everything the girl had been through, this was relatively minor, but he couldn’t remember a companion ever doing the like before. Oh, there had been a few who knew Galactic Standard, but this was different.

 

He knew that Rose had been 19 and she was now 24. That meant that in the approximate five years she had been travelling with him she had learned more than his usual companions. Another piece in the Rose Arianna puzzle. Just how close had the two of them been? Closer than he had originally thought, obviously.

 

At first he had, of course, known that his counterpart had trusted her implicitly to send her back in time to change his own future. Thus breaking nearly all the Laws of Time in one go. He was thinking they would grow into best friends, or a relationship that was similar. However, this little tidbit showed just how deep their bond had gone…would go.

 

He smirked slightly to himself in amusement. Tenses were going to be difficult with Ari around. Well, slightly difficult. Well, a little bit at least.

 

He felt another stab of sympathetic pain for the girl. She had a deep bond…but not with him. The bond she held was now only with his magnificent ship. He hadn’t noticed at first, but her actions in the last few minutes had made it extremely obvious.

 

She was speaking in the language of those that approached. All  of the languages. Somehow, she had figured out how to tap into his ship’s translation matrix. All of his other companions had simply accepted the fact that the multitude of tongues were being translated telepathically. Rose—Ari, he interrupted his own thought. (He had to get out of the habit of calling her Rose!) He hated how she flinched every time he said her first name. This aspect of how deep a friend she was with his counterpart made him wonder if she flinched because of bad memories…or good ones? Remembering what she had now lost. Asking him to call her by her middle name in order to separate the different Doctors in her mind. The one who knew her and the stranger wearing a friend’s face.

 

Some time in the five years she had been his counterpart’s companion, Arianna had learned how to tap into the TARDIS’s translation from her end, letting her speak whatever language she needed instead of just hearing the familiar. Actively controlling the circuits instead of being a passive recipient. His counterpart must have shown her how, but why? Why was it a skill she had needed, or wanted, when the Doctor himself was the conduit? Was there going to come a time when she would need to speak a language foreign to her own native tongue? A time when she would be alone…?

 

How ever she had acquired the skill, Ari used it flawlessly.

 

Yet, even as he marveled and applauded her use, inwardly he cringed. It was obviously a habit for her; she shifted from one language to another too fluidly for it to be anything else. But the ability required a bond with his ship…a bond he would not have given a first-adventure companion. He hadn’t given such a bond with companions that had travelled with him for years! Not even Sarah Jane!

 

Which meant that, even though she was doing so unintentionally, Ari was changing events. There was no way young Rose would have possessed the skill Ari was displaying. It was such a small thing…but the Doctor well knew how significant a seemingly small detail could play in the vastness of Time.

 

He first was tempted to just pull Ari to the side and admonish her, but realized that in itself would be changing the flow of Time as well. (Young Rose wouldn’t have had the ability, thus his counterpart would never have needed to pull her aside for admonishment.) Potentially even more so than what had already been done. Instead, he would have to pay close attention to the girl, note any similar abnormalities, and speak with her after they were safely back on the ship.

 

++ARI+++ROSE+++ARI++

 

As the minutes dragged by watching the procession of alien beings and being steadily amazed at the detail BBC had been missing with their costumes, Ari became aware of yet another difference. This one involving the taller male standing beside her. In between receiving gifts of peace and chatting about meaningless nothings—what her grandfather had called ‘social niceties’—Ari would sneak sideways glances at the Doctor.

 

Studying him out of the corner of her eye, or near abouts. She began to realize that he wasn’t precisely  a perfect duplicate of Christopher Eccleston. He still had the close-cropped military haircut, big ears, distinctive jawline, and forehead wrinkles. But the longer she studied him, the more she saw subtle differences.

 

His hair was a shade darker. His black bomber jacket looked to have more wear than the one she remembered from the show. Those she could dismiss easily as a forgetful memory… It was his eyes that kept her attention. They were an identical blue to Eccleston, but somehow, they seemed to hold more. Christopher had been able to express both the highs and lows of the Ninth Doctor, manic and serious, using a combination of stance, energy, and facial expression.

 

This man… Ari could somehow see…something…in his eyes that Eccleston never could pull off. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what that something was, but knew it was indicative of many varied memories. Loss.

 

It was more confirmation he was a demon. Of course he had more life experiences, demons lived thousands of years!

 

Ari was jerked away from her thoughts as the Steward once again droned on about who was coming into the room. “And last but not least, our very special guest. Ladies and Gentlemen, and Trees and Multiforms. Consider the Earth below. In memory of this dying world, we call forth The Last Human.” Ari rolled her eyes in annoyance. She had never liked the bitchy trampoline, even the first time she had seen the episode and yet to know the woman was the antagonist. “The Lady Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta Seventeen.”

 

She was surprised though as said trampoline came into the room. The reason for her surprise was how…ordinary the ‘woman’ looked. It was exactly the same as she remembered. Not a detail out of place. How odd. Most everything that Ari had seen had been at least slightly off, in one aspect or more. Did it mean something significant that Cassandra wasn’t?

 

“Oh, now, don't stare. I know, I know it's shocking, isn't it? I've had my chin completely taken away and look at the difference! Look how thin I am.” The Doctor laughed silently but it was almost unthinking, his eyes on Ari’s reaction to the woman. First had come irritation, then surprise, and now her facial expression had settled on a thoughtful wariness. That wariness made him wary himself and he vowed to keep a very close eye on her. Both hers, come to think of it: Ari and Lady Cassandra.

 

“Thin and dainty! I don't look a day over two thousand. Moisturize me, moisturize me.” One of the two men in white body suits who wheeled her in was holding a canister, which he sprayed onto Cassandra. “Truly, I am the last human.”

 

He watched as Ari slowly creeped closer for a better look on the other side of the thin sheet as Cassandra kept talking. “My father was a Texan. My mother was from the Arctic Desert. They were born on the Earth and were the last to be buried in the soil.” Ari had walked completely around to the other side of Cassandra and was studying the woman with intense scrutiny. As if trying to find something or evidence of something. “I have come to honor them and...” Cassandra sniffled dramatically, “...say goodbye. Oh, no tears.” One of the white bodyguards wiped her eyes as Ari gave up finding whatever she was looking for and came back to the Doctor’s side. “No tears. I'm sorry. But behold! I bring gifts. From Earth itself - the last remaining ostrich egg.”

 

One of the staff came in and displayed the egg to the room before putting it on a pedestal. “Legend says it had a wingspan of 50 feet and blew fire from its nostrils.”

 

Ari snorted derisively. Apparently, even though she wasn’t actively watching any more, she still listened, the Doctor noted. “Or was that my third husband?” Ari rolled her eyes, but the Doctor laughed. It was funny.

 

“Who knows!” Cassandra spoke to herself for a few seconds, “Oh, don't laugh. I'll get laughter lines!” Then she paused and introduced a large jukebox that was wheeled into the room by two of the blue staff. “And here, another rarity. According to the archives, this was called an iPod. It stores classical music from humanity's greatest composers. Play on!”

 

One of the staff pressed a button and a record fell into place. The 'iPod' started to play Tainted Love by Soft Cell. The Doctor dipped his head rhythmically with the beat, looking around appreciatively at how the other species were reacting. Even so, a part of his mind was laser-focused on Arianna.

 

The Steward was making an announcement again, “Refreshments will now be served. Earth Death scheduled in thirty minutes. Please feel comfortable to move about freely.”

 

Ari’s eyes shifted to the Steward for a second, once again noticing something different than what she remembered. Or were there things that she just didn’t remember, but were still part of the episode? Then she thought that perhaps she should just ask Jack. He would know, right? Unless he was a demon too and lied through his teeth. How was she to know?

 

Was there anyone she could trust?

 

“Lady Arianna?” Jabe’s voice cut through Ari’s thoughts, jerking her head over instinctively. A flash of something—laser or light?—from a device that she held, stylized to resemble vines, leaves, and chirping like an insect. “Thank you,” she smiled at the young woman.

 

Ari though was frowning. Why had the tree wanted a photo of her and not the Doctor? Had she already changed so much? Jabe’s interest in the Doctor was what prompted the woman to sacrifice herself in the end. Right? Ari had decided to save her, but could it be that easy? She hadn’t even tried. It’d just…happened.

 

Did that mean that Ari could save someone else too? Or…was this it? She didn’t feel like she had done anything. So…did it count?

 

She was getting a headache.

 

Which made sense. Hell was… Well, hell. So being in pain while in hell was perfectly reasonable. Even logical! Still…headache.

 

“Alright?” the Doctor asked gently. He had watched her expression go the kaleidoscope of emotions, then stop as she rubbed her temples as if in pain.

 

“I didn’t do it,” Ari’s automatic response made the Doctor’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “What haven’t you done now?” he asked in surprise and no small amount of concern. Hadn’t he told her that she couldn’t change anything?!

 

“It was supposed to be you, but she did me and now I don’t know what to do.” Ari’s thoughts came out in a rush without consulting her brain first. She winced at her words. Was he on to her? Did he know that she knew that they were in hell? Was the jig up? Were they going to bring in a demon-Kilgrave now? “I didn’t mean to…” she hated how much her tone was pleading, but didn’t backtrack either. God, please, even a demon-Khan Noonien Singh was better than Kilgrave! A demon-Kilgrave would be even worse! Her lungs froze at the mental image of the Purple Man.

 

The Doctor sighed as he realized why she was almost in a panicked state again. Though did feel reassured that it hadn’t been intentional. “Breathe, Ari. Breathe.” He commanded, brushing his fingertips against her neck to mentally insert the telepathic order.

 

Her earlier panic attack had been so extreme that he’d resorted to something he usually didn’t: telepathy. Gallifreyans were natural touch-telepaths. So when doing the standard ‘breathe with me’ didn’t work, he’d gone down the road of telepathic command. And had been surprised how susceptible she was to the tactic.

 

Almost as if her mind was yearning for another and latched on to his own, welcoming in his presence with open arms and holding him close. It was taken some gentle disentanglement to worm his way out of her mind the first time, but he had been able to accomplish it without any resulting damage. He also doubted she noticed the oddity. It wasn’t as if she normally came in contact with telepaths. Humans didn’t have such abilities…or wouldn’t for another few millennia or so.

 

Thus, as soon as she began to exhibit the symptoms of another episode, he let his fingers brush against the skin of her neck and connect with her mind. Perhaps it was his own that wanted to hold hers…he was the telepath and his species was gone, leaving him mentally alone for the first time in his long life. The feel of someone else in his brain was beautiful. Who could blame him for not wanting to let go?

 

Yet it wasn’t natural for a human. So he reluctantly released her mind as his fingers left her skin, leaving her more relaxed than when he started. Another panic attack. Was she going to be prone to them?

 

It would be an excuse to touch her mind again if it were true.

 

Or…was the reason that her mind was so in tune with his was that… They were even more than ‘just companions’ than he had first thought? Had he possibly…?

 

His gray-blue eyes tracked Ari as she began to move across the room, rivetted on her form. “What are you, Rose Arianna Carpenter?” he whispered to the air. What are you…to me?

 

+++ARI+++NINE+++ARI+++

 

Ari got her breath back from the brink of hyperventilation with help of the friendly neighborhood weird niggle-voice from before. Once she got it under control though, she slid out from under the Doctor’s arm and went off in a random direction.

 

She didn’t want to be that close to him. “This is so messed up,” she muttered to herself.

 

“It’s not as bad as you think,” a very male voice echoed in her mind.

 

Ari looked around frantically, but stilled almost immediately as she realized that she’d ended up right beside the Face of Boe. “Uhhh…hi?” her tone said ‘ask’ instead of ‘tell’.

 

A low chuckle was her answer. “It’s been a long time, Anna.”

 

She blinked, then realized what he was talking about. “Oh yeah. You’re Jack Harkness. I can’t believe I forgot that bit.”

 

“Considering the situation, it’s perfectly understandable.” Even his mental voice had a smile for her, though outwardly there was almost no change in facial expression.

 

“Why’d you call me Anna?”

 

“Over the years, you’ll hear many new names for you. I alone called you anything from Arianna to Ri to Anna to Lady to Shorty to—”

 

“Okay, okay, I get the point,” she groused, interrupting him.

 

He chuckled again. “You are at but the beginning of your journey, Arianna. There is a long road ahead.”

 

Her heart sank at his words, her suspicions confirmed on how long this punishment would last. He’d said ‘over the years’, after all. “Do I… Do I ever save her?” she asked softly.

 

His mental voice became sympathetic and gentle as he replied. “Yes, but I do warn you. She will not be as you remember. And you will not be able to stay with her. The situation is even more complicated than you know.”

 

Ari nodded her understanding. “But I do save her?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then it’ll be worth it.” She blew out a sharp breath. “Any advice?”

 

“Trust your instincts. Trust yourself. When the time comes, trust me.” The Face of Boe gave her a solemn-eyed stare. “I know you will ignore me, but I will also ask that you trust the Doctor.” She jerked away from him in surprise. “Please, Arianna. So much can be prevented if you but speak plainly with him.”

 

“If you are up-to-date on all the laws of Time or whatnot, you’d know that you can’t change the past.” She countered.

 

“Ah, but neither you nor the Doctor are subject to most laws as perceived by others. To you both, those events are future ones. They can yet be changed.” He closed his eyes and his voice sighed in her head. “I’ve regretted many things in my very long life, Arianna. But know this: I never regretted what happened between us.”

 

“What happened between us?” she instantly questioned in abject confusion. Silence was her only answer. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he fell asleep.

 

At least now she knew that, eventually, she’d find and save Robbie. She’d get to her sister. Nothing else mattered in the long run. Her little sister would get a chance to live. Jack had said it would take years to save her sister…

 

She sighed herself and went over to stare out at the exquisite view. She barely acknowledged when she felt the floor beneath her feet shake slightly.

 

Really, what was the point? Hadn’t she already ensured that Jabe survived? If the rules said she couldn’t save anyone else, then why not enjoy the view?

 

“—know gravity pockets and they don’t feel like that.” The Doctor’s voice intruded upon her thoughts. Her head jerked around. “What do you think, Ari? Listen to those engines. They’ve pitched up about thirty Hertz. That dodgy or what?” He’d only been trying to get her attention. He saw her and knew she was brooding. Since there was no way she’d be brooding on her first visit, he needed a way to get her engaged again to her surroundings.

 

Ari gazed back at him with a deadpan expression. “I thought you didn’t want me to tell you anything.”

 

“You can’t change the future except for that one event that brought you to me. You can’t tell me about my personal future. If I know, I’ll react differently, which will change events. However, when I ask you things, I know what I’m doing.” He stared at her sternly. “I also asked you a yes-or-no question that wasn’t about anything in the future. Only the present.”

 

Ari sighed. Her eyes caught on Jabe, who had come up beside them. “Why don’t you ask Jabe? She’s been on these things before.”

 

Cue the tree-woman to blink at them. “It’s the sound of metal. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” There wasn’t anything she could contribute moreover. “Though I would be happy to speak with your wife on other matters.”

 

“She’s not my wife,” the Doctor immediately countered. However, there was an odd quality to his voice. As if he wasn’t sure of what he said.

 

“Partner?” Jabe cocked her head to the side in question, curious.

 

“No.”

 

For a man to afford such a ticket as Platform One, to bring along anyone other than a significant other, servant, or relative, was very strange indeed. “Concubine?”

 

“Nope.” He had sounded much more certain about ‘concubine’.

 

“Prostitute?”

 

Arianna growled beneath her breath, having had more than enough. “Do you mind? I’m his ‘something’ which has nothing to do with sexual intercourse. If you want to tag him yourself, you have my permission. Maybe he’ll lighten up.”

 

“Me lighten up? I’ve yet to see you smile once!” The Doctor protested. “And what do you mean by ‘tag’ me?”

 

Ari did grin at that, a small devilish grin that changed her features toward childish humor. “Why don’t you two go…pollinate and tell me all about it after?”

 

Jabe hadn’t meant to offend the young woman, so she had given Ari an apologetic smile at the time. With the new ‘suggestion’ however, she laughed with a large genuine smile. “Indeed!” She looked at the Doctor. “There is a maintenance duct by my quarters. I’d be happy to show you.”

 

He eyed Ari suspiciously even as he offered his arm to Jabe. “What will you be doing?”

 

Ari shrugged. “Looking at the stars? Not much else to do.”

 

“Mingle. Make a new friend. Socialize.”

 

She glared at him. “If you mean with the Michael Jackson wannabe, I’ll pass.”

 

“Don’t start a fight,” he sighed.

 

“Earth Death in fifteen minutes.” The computer helpfully reminded. “Earth Death in fifteen minutes.”

 

Arianna stared at their retreating backs. She was trying to remember the specifics of the episode, but it was only coming back in fits and starts. She knew Jabe had died holding down the lever to the fans so that the computer could restart, because the sunfilter had been over-riding all the safeguards. So as long as Ari herself was holding the lever, then that was one death off her count.

 

But a lot of what she remembered, like Rose being in danger from a sunfilter malfunction, she couldn’t remember how had occurred. The chain of events that had set that particular thing into motion. It had been awhile. She hadn’t owned the episodes herself; she’d just watched them on television. So she wasn’t certain on order (except for a few). And she knew those that weren’t as popular were shown less often.

 

She wandered back over to Jack. “How critical is it that I get these exactly right?” How could she, when she didn’t remember the specifics?

 

One eye blinked open to gaze at her. “How critical is a person’s life? One day you will trust me with the truth. I will tell you now what I told you then: reality is a figment of your imagination.”

 

She blinked at him, shocked. “What?”

 

“Forget about your assumption of your surroundings and approach each day as if it is your real life. Would you consider a person’s life critical if it were a normal day in your normal life?”

 

“Of course I would!”

 

“Then do so now.”

 

“But—” That fully contradicted everything she thought she understood about the rules of this hell. Only one life per episode. Or was he saying that there was no guarantee that the life she thought she saved was actually saved, so she should keep trying? What had the demon-Doctor called it? A domino effect.

 

“Trust yourself, Lady Arianna. Trust your instincts.” The Face of Boe deliberately used her title, though he doubted she noticed. She was too lost in thought. Yet it had been on purpose. Trying to tell her that things had already changed, but she knew that already. It was why she was so worried. Doubting herself. “If you were travelling with the Doctor, as if you truly were Rose Tyler, then how would you act? What would you do?” He made certain he said the full name ‘Rose Tyler’, since he knew the reasons she hated the name.

 

Ari didn’t know what to think. Demon-Doctor said one thing. Jack said another. Or was that it? Was he demon-Jack? Trying to get her to break the rules? Extend her sentence? Oh God, I’m going to drive myself crazy if I keep thinking like this! But what was the alternative? Pretend this wasn’t hell? How? It was pretty obvious.

 

Or…? Was it that simple? Not pretend it wasn’t hell. Pretend she was Rose Tyler… with a few tweaks here and there to save people in the process. Like Jabe.

 

Ari grimaced as she realized that meant she should talk to Cassandra. But wasn’t that why Rose had been caught by the sunfilter, now that she thought about it? Ari wouldn’t be able to help Jabe if she did that. So how closely was she supposed to pretend to be Rose Tyler? This isn’t any less confusing than the first go ‘round! She gave a great sigh. “You’re no help at all Jack.”

 

Her only reply was yet another mental chuckle, but it was more sad than amused.

 

She looked over, blinking out of her thoughts, when she heard Jabe’s voice. Speak of the devil…oh crap, what if Jabe is a demon too? Am I saving a demon? Are they all demons? What is the farden point to all this?!

 

“—have infiltrated the whole of Platform One.” Jabe said solemnly.

 

Cassandra asked, “How's that possible? Our private rooms are protected by a code wall. Moisturize me, moisturize me.” Her two servants did as ordered while under the absolute glare of Arianna. Lady Cassandra noted the blonde’s animosity with a narrow-eyed expression of her own before it smoothed away to keep up her act. “This whole event was sponsored by the Face of Boe! He invited us!” Cassandra called out as the Face of Boe shook his head inside his glass case. “Talk to the face! Talk to the face!”

 

Ari glared harder. “You stay away from him, you bitchy trampoline. I’ve been with him this entire time. He hasn’t done anything!” As she had spoken, she had moved in front of the Face of Boe’s tank so that her body was shielding him.

 

The Moxx of Balhoon tried to get somewhere with the line of questioning. “Summon the Steward!”

 

“I'm afraid the Steward is dead.” Jabe said sadly.

 

“Who killed him?” the Moxx demanded.

 

The Doctor had seen Ari’s movements. Her protective nature. For all she was angry (she had a very good right to be) and confused, she still made sure to protect those who couldn’t do it themselves. He knew at least one reason why his counterpart trusted her so much. He shook off his thoughts as he refocused. “Easy way of finding out. Someone brought a little pet on board.” He grasped the little metal spider, set it on the floor, and gently nudged it. “Let’s send him back to Master.”

 

The little bot scuttled along to Cassandra and looked up at her for a moment. Cassandra looked, but the spider moved on to the feet of the Adherents of the Repeated Meme.

 

Lady Cassandra’s voice was accusatory as she called out, “The Adherents of the Repeated Mean. J'accuse!”

 

Ari had to give it to the woman. She really could act.

 

The Doctor’s tone was nonchalant as he spoke. “That's all very well, and really kind of obvious, but if you stop and think about it...” One Adherent tried to strike him, but he caught its arm and ripped it off. The Doctor noted that Ari had taken a seemingly involuntary step toward him too. As if she could cross the distance so quickly to take the blow herself? Push him out of the way? Yet, she had caught herself and just watched instead. “A Repeated Meme is just an idea. And that's all they are. An idea.” He ripped a wire out of the arm and all of the Adherents crumpled into a bundle of black cloaks.

 

Everyone gasped while Cassandra rolled her eyes. Ari just kept glaring, never taking her eyes off of the trampoline for more than a second or two.

 

The Doctor kept calm as he continued, “Remote controlled droids. Nice little cover for the real troublemaker. Go on, Jimbo!” He nudged the spider gently with his foot. “Go home.”

 

The spider ambled back over to Cassandra, looked up at her, and stayed in place this time. “I bet you were the school swot and never got kissed.” Cassandra remarked bitterly toward the Doctor. “At arms!”

 

His hands went to his chest in mock fear. “What are you going to do, moisturize me?”

 

“With acid. Oh, too late anyway. My spiders have control of the mainframe. Oh, you all carried them as gifts, tax free, past every code wall. I'm not just as pretty face.” Could the woman be more smug? Probably…

 

“Sabotaging a ship while you're still inside it? How stupid's that?”

 

I'd hoped to manufacture a hostage situation with myself as one of the victims. The compensation would have been enormous.” If one was to go by her tone, the woman was in love with just the idea of that much money.

 

The Doctor on the other hand was disgusted. “Five billion years and it still comes down to money.”

 

Her tone turned sour. “Do you think it's cheap, looking like this? Flatness costs a fortune.”

 

The Moxx of Balhoon finally decided to chime in again, “Arrest her!”

Cassandra was less than impressed. “Oh, shut it, pixie. I've still got my final option.”

 

“Earth Death in 3 minutes.”

 

“And here it comes! You're just as useful dead, all of you. I have shares in your rival companies and they'll triple in price as soon as you're dead. My spiders are primed and ready to destroy the safety systems.” She sounded so utterly satisfied that Ari had the urge to smack her. Then the tone went darker and Ari really had to fight her desire to punch the woman. “How did that old Earth song go? ‘Burn, baby, burn.’” Of course, if Ari did punch the trampoline, she’d probably go right through the skin and end up killing her. How is that a bad thing? It’s not like she’s the real Lady Cassandra…as if there is a ‘real’ Cassandra…

 

Jabe was calm in the face of death and that made Astrid like her even more. She knew the insult had been unintentional. And Jabe had been so very kind in the beginning. “Then you'll burn with us.” Ari renewed her resolve to save the woman.

 

“Oh, I'm so sorry. I know the use of teleportation is strictly forbidden, but... I'm such a naughty thing. Spiders - activate.”

 

There were a series of explosions all around the ship, rocking several beings off their feet. It knocked Ari into Jack’s tank. “Sorry,” she said out of habit.

 

Cassandra didn’t even pause in her speech. “Force field’s gone with the planet about to explode. At least it'll be quick. Just like my fifth husband.” She giggled. “Oh, shame on me. Buh-bye, darlings! Buh-bye, my darlings...” Then she and her bodyguards blinked out of existence, presumably with the aid of a teleporter.

 

The computer came over the PA system again. “Heat levels rising.”

 

The Moxx of Balhoon, just like many others, was getting a bit panicked. Unlike others, he kept his head enough to issue an order. “Reset the computer!” He knew enough about computers to know the next logical step.

 

Jabe gave a sympathetic look at the blonde, but also noted that she didn’t appear harmed. They would definitely need to speak privately, after it was assured that everyone would survive the occasion. “Only the Steward would know how.”

 

The Doctor was now angry. “No. We can do it by hand. There must be a system restore switch. Jabe, Ari, come on.” The Doctor called out behind him, “You lot - just chill!”

 

Ari grabbed Jabe’s arm as soon as she was close enough. “Stay here.” She gazed at the woman, trying to indicate with her eyes—without coming out and actually saying anything specific—that it was too dangerous. “Trust me,” she whispered.

 

Jabe blinked. Noting how serious the woman was, and slowly nodded. “Take care of him.”

 

Ari nodded instantly. “You have your work cut out for you here.”

 

“Earth Death in 2 minutes. Earth Death in 2 minutes.” The computer helpfully reminded them how long they had until they were all cooked to death. Charbroiled? Nope, blackened. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat Cajun after this…

 

Ari caught up to the Doctor as he ran back through the maintenance corridor.

 

“Heat levels - critical. Heat levels - critical.”

 

The Doctor and Ari reached the ventilation chamber. Ari stared in amazement. The show didn’t give a good idea on exactly how huge the fan blades were. “Holy crap…” she whispered. A giant room in the interior of the ship with huge ventilation fans; the blades higher and wider than they were tall.

 

The Doctor’s tone was sarcastic as he spotted the reset lever on the far wall. “Oh. And guess where the switch is?” Between the lever and them were three fans going reasonably fast.

 

“Heat levels - rising. Heat levels - rising.”

 

“And again with the not-helpful computer adding a narrative edge to things.” Ari growled.

 

The Doctor had spotted a lever beside them while she was speaking and pulled it down, grunting once with the effort, and the fans slowed down.

 

“External temperature - 5 thousand degrees.”

 

However, as Ari had expected, as soon as the Doctor let go of the lever, the fans sped up again. As the Doctor looked hopelessly at the fans, Ari grabbed the lever herself, pulled it as far as she could, and held it there.

 

The Doctor stared at her, shocked. “You can’t. The heat’s going to vent through this place.”

 

“What do you think happened before?” she groused at him. Which told him nothing and she hadn’t lied. Just…let him draw his own conclusions. “If you’d hurry the hell up, I’d appreciate it though.”

 

“Heat levels – rising. Heat levels – rising.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Still not helping!” she yelled at the ceiling. He took off his leather jacket and placed it around her shoulders. “It’ll help protect you a little.” Then he went back to the fan blades, intent creasing his forehead with concentration.

 

But when he just stood there, she yelled at him too. “Get going, Doctor!”

 

“Heat levels – hazardous. Heat levels – hazardous.”

 

Oh yes, she could certainly feel it. “Time Lord, move your ass!” On the show, she had observed how he was probably unsure of himself. Perhaps it had been a long time since he’d done a trick like this. She watched as the Doctor dodged the first fan and ran underneath it. He looked anxiously up at the next one.

 

“Shields malfunctioning. Shields malfunctioning.”

 

He stood before the second fan. He looked back at Ari who was starting to actively sweat and breathe heavily.

 

“Heat levels - critical. Heat levels - critical.”

 

Arianna growled low in her throat. She knew the feel of heat stroke. “Doctor, if you don’t get a damn move on, I’m going to take a pair of scissors to that stupid hair of yours!” she threatened. In her haze, she was envisioning chopping off the floppy hair of Eleven, not Nine. “Hurry the hell up!” She knew it was hell, but wasn’t this taking things a bit too far? “Supposed to be hyperbole,” she muttered, almost incoherent. Then she was silent completely as she focused on breathing through the stifling, unbearable heat.

 

She knew it was a really bad sign when she stopped sweating. She noted the badness and then the world got dark.

 

The last thing she remembered hearing was the Doctor’s voice calling her name. Did he actually sound concerned? No, that couldn’t be it. Demons wouldn’t care about those they are punishing.

 

+++THE++NINTH++DOCTOR+++

 

The Doctor carried her limp form securely in his arms. She was wrapped tightly in his leather jumper. Her clothes and skin, where visible, were obviously charred. Third degree burns occurred at sixty degrees Celsius. It had been just under where her skin would have burst into spontaneous combustion. The poor woman was alive, barely, because of his jacket. He hadn’t lied. It was designed and maintained by a Tardis. It had a significant amount of protection built into the material.

 

He carried her over to where Jabe, Lute, and Coffa stood. “Look after her,” he ordered. If he had gone with his first instinct, it would have been Jabe with them in that tunnel. Wood went into combustion at 65C. The tree would have died; burned alive.

 

The very tree he contemplated stared at him with large eyes, filled with concern. “Are you alright?”

 

He nodded sharply. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He growled as he thought. Ari had done this twice! “I’m full of ideas. I’m bristling with them.” She’d known. Of course she’d known. Had done it anyway, even knowing what it would do to her. “Idea number one, teleportation through five thousand degrees needs some kind of feed. Idea number two, this feed must be hidden somewhere nearby.” He grabbed the ‘ostrich egg’ and smashed it carelessly against the sharp edge of its pedestal.

 

Stardust! She’d tried to tell him in the beginning. Begging him not to make her. That people had died. “Idea number three, if you’re as clever as me, then a teleportation feed can be reversed.” His eyes went around the room at all the piles of ashes. All that remained of beings who weren’t fast enough to escape the sun itself.

 

He glared at the—what had Ari called her? Oh yes, ‘the bitchy trampoline’—as she reappeared. “People have died, Cassandra.” He interrupted her speech of having him pass some test. He didn’t have time. “You murdered them.”

 

Cassandra’s tone was belligerent. “It depends on your definition of people. And that’s enough of a technicality to keep your lawyers dizzy for centuries. Take me to court then, Doctor,” she was still smug! “and watch me smile and cry and flutter…”

 

“And creak?” he cut in, raising an eyebrow.

 

“And what?” Cassandra blinked at the interruption.

 

“Creak. You’re creaking.” He said flatly. Ari needed medical attention. The only reason she wasn’t screaming in agony was that third degree burns cauterized nerve endings. She wasn’t feeling anything.

 

“What? AH!” she let out a small scream as she realized what was happening. “I’m drying out! Oh, sweet heavens. Moisturize me, moisturize me!” When no one moved an inch, she yelled, “Where are my lovely boys?! It’s too hot!”

 

The Doctor was having none of it. “You raised the temperature.” He remembered the fear in Ari’s eyes when she had begged him. The anger when he didn’t move fast enough. He hadn’t thought…hadn’t realized…

 

“Have pity! Moisturize me!” Cassandra cried out in pain. “Oh, oh Doctor! I’m sorry! I’ll do anything!” she screamed.

 

Jabe had walked up to his side by this point. She saw the condition of Lady Ari, the sweet woman who had been frightened and confused in her new setting. She understood how he felt. She understood his anger. His rage. But this was going too far. Perhaps if she could redirect his focus? “Help her,” she said softly.

 

He looked down at her from his height. His eyes softened for a split second as he gazed at the caring woman, before the blue-gray orbs went up just slightly and he caught sight of Ari’s blackened form in the arms of Lute. They became merciless. “Everything has its time and everything dies,” he stated uncompromisingly.

 

“I’m. Too. Young!” Cassandra yelled each word before her thin skin could no longer take the heat and imploded.

 

The Doctor had only stayed that long to ensure that Cassandra couldn’t get away with what she had done. As soon as that was a certainty, he moved swiftly.

 

Precise movements, not a single one wasted in time or energy—why couldn’t he have done this when it would have meant less pain for Ari?!—as he gathered her back into his arms and made his way to his ship.

 

Jabe spared a moment to look at her brothers. They each knew their sister well enough to know what she asked and nodded their agreement. She smiled in thanks and hurried after the Doctor. “Please, can I help?”

 

“My key is in my front right pocket,” he said by way of answer.

 

She nodded, being very careful to not touch Ari’s form as she rummaged for the required item. As soon as she had it, she wasted no time herself in opening the door. Pausing to stare in amazement at the beautiful interior. “It’s bigger on the inside!” she breathed out, eyes wide. It took her several seconds to realize that the Doctor, along with his precious burden, had disappeared down the only visible corridor. She hastened to follow.

 

The Doctor hadn’t stopped at all. He’d barely even used a small second to kick the door closed with one foot, already on his way to the infirmary. His keen hearing caught the swish of movement as Jabe finally came after him. “Get the orange liquid from the fourth cabinet down, and the injector in the seventh drawer from the door.” He instructed absently.

 

He knew what was wrong this time, so didn’t bother with the ADIS. Instead, he just began to set up the nutrient bath.

 

It was a clear-sided cubicle set into a wall that could fill with liquid upon need. When one had so much needing healing, a nutrient bath was the best method he knew.

 

“Thank you,” he said as he took the items from Jabe. It took less than two seconds to input into the controls what type of bath was necessary. Another second to load the injector.

 

He took a breath. It was time to pull her out of his jacket. “Jabe.” He commanded.

 

“Of course.” She settled instantly at his side. She saw the tank filling with a blue-green fluid and knew that the size was right for immersion. Nothing could go into a nutrient bath that wasn’t part of the individual. Including clothing.

 

Working together, they cut the jacket from her form. It was the only way without hurting the poor girl further. “Will she--?” Jabe couldn’t even finish her question. What she really wanted to know was how Time Lord medicine was advanced.

 

He sighed as they finally got Arianna into the nutrient bath set for intense burns. “It will take some time, but she will fully recover.” She had done it once already, hadn’t she? She’d be fine. Of course she’d be fine. So why was it that he was trying to convince himself more than Jabe?

 

“Without the jumper…?”

 

She would have died without his jacket, he knew. Humans were so much more fragile than Gallifreyans. He had a few burns himself, but they were first-degree. Likened to a strong sunburn, but nothing more. He sighed.

 

Jabe seemed to understand and sighed as well. “All this, and no one saw the end of the Earth. Too busy saving ourselves.” Her tone was mournful. Her own ancestors had come from the Amazon rain forest. She had truly wanted to honor the death of such a great mother. “All of that history… No one was looking.”

 

The Doctor’s shoulders slumped at her words. “You think it’ll last forever. People. Concrete. But it won’t.” He shook his head. “One day it’s all gone. Even the sky.” His voice took on a tinged edge to it, almost tears. “My planet’s gone. Dead. Burned. Just like the Earth. Rocks and dust before its time.”

 

Jabe nodded. She’d gotten a picture of Ari, but the Doctor had been by her side. The tree had been shocked at the identification. “I’m so sorry, Doctor.”

 

“They’re all gone.” His voice whispered. “The only survivor. There’s no one else.”

 

She looked at him solemnly. Looked at the tank of blue-green liquid cradling a burned husk of another, a half mask obscuring her nose and mouth from view to provide breathable air in the mixture. “There’s us,” Jabe intoned softly. Her brown eyes met his own.

 

He tried to see how serious she was. “You’ve seen how dangerous it is. You’re family is waiting for you. Do you want to go home?”

 

Jabe nodded, but not for the reasons he thought. “She saved my life, Doctor. Until I can repay that debt, or you’d rather I no longer, I’d like to stay.”

 

The Doctor frowned at her words. Thinking of the implications. Had this happened before? In the time that no one but Ari remembered, in the time that would no longer be?

 

Saving a life was not an unimportant detail. This was not something he could brush off. Ari had possibly done the unthinkable…

 

His eyes looked at the tank as he realized that, even if she had, she had done so with the full knowledge of the possible consequences. Stardust!

 

What was he supposed to do with her?

 

+++TO++BE++CONTINUED+++

 

 

Chapter Text

“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” ~ Frida Kahlo

 

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ~ John Lennon

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

The Doctor was restless. They had been stationary—in the Vortex, mind you, but stationary—for forty hours, twenty-nine minutes, fifteen seconds Galactic Standard Time (GST) with no adventures. No new sights. No new anythings.

 

Don’t get him wrong. He knew that Ari was severely injured. He understood that Jabe considered the 24-year-old the reason she still breathed. So, he definitely understood the tree’s insistence to stay by Ari’s side.

 

However, he also knew that Ari had 3rd-degree burns on almost thirty percent of her body, and 2nd-degree burns on the rest. It would take the human at least another 125.23 hours (GST) to heal enough to come out of the nutrient bath. Another 19.16 hours afterward before full healing (enough to go on adventures).

 

Ari wouldn’t even become conscious of her surroundings for 120 hours! She was safest where she was. Nothing could get to her in the Tardis, and the infirmary was the most fortified and protected area of the entire ship. Even if they got knocked around, crashed, and life support malfunctioned, Ari would still be perfectly fine.

 

“Don’t you want to go see the universe?” he asked Jabe yet again.

 

She politely ignored how whiney he sounded. “Someone should be here to monitor her healing, Doctor.”

 

This was a new argument, which he verbally pounced on. “Tardis actively monitors all patients. Anything happens, and an alert will sound immediately. Sends a signal to my sonic.” He held up the device as if it made his argument more valid. It’d be a telepathic alert at first, but she didn’t need to know that.

 

She looked up from her Martian historical, tilting her head slightly. Her eyes were understanding and a bit sad as she gazed at him. “Perhaps a man only enjoys excitement when there isn’t anything left,” she whispered. More to herself, he assumed, since it was below what most species could hear at his range. “However, there’s two of us now.”

 

She’d found the library on her first foray and been going through the historical section ever since. To the point where he’d had to make sure that she only found books that were actually historical from her timeline, because if he didn’t he feared he’d find her one day buying stock in Universal Starlines, Inc. or something else equally ridiculous. 

 

“Doctor,” she said in a distinct patient tone (different from her other patient tones; yes, he was keeping a list) he was truly starting to become both annoyed with and wary of, “I’m not leaving Lady Arianna’s side more than absolutely necessary until she has fully healed. Perhaps you could reorganize the kitchen?”

 

He resisted the urge to growl. That was as helpful as her last suggestion of inventing a better sun-catcher. (The Arboreal version of building a better mousetrap.)  

 

He hadn’t been this stationary since the War and it was likely to drive him mad at this rate. Too much time with only his own thoughts had been the reason he’d gone back for Rose in the first place. It was always better to see the universe through the eyes of another. His were too old. Too jaded. Too war-torn. He needed their distraction. He needed that wonder he could only see through them…because without it…

 

He turned and left the med-bay to go find something else in the control room to fix.

 

The Doctor also noted how Jabe kept calling Ari “Lady Arianna” whenever she had that distinct patient tone. He’d done it on purpose on Platform One to give the human a bit more credibility and subtly acknowledge Ari’s sacrifice. Her similarity to a Time Lord’s in protecting the entire universe. Yet Jabe had taken it a step further; using Ari’s actions on Platform One to reinforce the worthiness of the title.

 

Oh well. It wasn’t like a name could hurt anything. Right?

 

(He shoved away the immediate reminder that the reason Time Lords always took a title for their new ‘name’ upon graduating from the Academy was because of just how dangerous a name could be…)

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

Jabe watched him go before returning to her book. However, her thoughts were more on the man than the words. Her image-capture of Ari, intent to learn more about the young woman, had occurred when the Doctor was beside her. So she had used her identifier to fullest advantage, isolating each of them in turn. She had been surprised at Arianna’s species identified as Earth Human. (Most humanoid species weren’t pure human. Even Cassandra’s claim was a false one, built from propaganda.)

 

But Jabe had been disbelieving of the Doctor’s species. She’d thought the Time Lords were only the stuff of myth and legend. There wasn’t a single reliable record of them in any known world. All of the ‘records’ were hearsay at best, told as oral history only, or records so faded with time as to be impossible to identify anyone.

 

Yet she also knew that at one point there had been a species known as Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. A planet that no longer existed. Destroyed in a war very, very long ago.

 

Which meant that the Doctor was the last of his kind, had even confessed as much. Her heart broke for him and her resolve renewed to stay with the pair for as long as she could. Both Lady Arianna and the Lord Doctor (she wondered about the origins of such interesting titles – were they hereditary, bestowed for some deed, perhaps cultural?) needed someone to help them. To care for them. Even if they didn’t realize it yet.

 

So, she would stay.

 

He seemed to need to be constantly in motion; always doing something. Perhaps she could suggest the Doctor go on an ‘adventure’ by himself next time he came through? He certainly found trouble easily enough and was more than capable of getting himself out of it again.

 

Jabe remembered Cassandra. The tree had seen the Doctor’s face as the ‘last pure human’ died. It had held…nothing. The memory made her shiver. Someone who could watch another die and not be affected was terrible. What must he have gone through to become so detached in the face of such horror? However, it also scared her, for she knew the resources and knowledge the Time Lord held.

 

He had killed Cassandra because the woman had killed others. It was justice in his mind. Yet…he hadn’t called the security forces or taken her to court. He hadn’t even paused to consider the justice system punishing the woman. He’d made the unilateral decision to mete out Cassandra’s punishment himself, consulting no one. Saying only that “everything dies” when Jabe had contested the treatment.

 

He obviously cared for Ari. She’d seen it in his demeanor as he’d cradled the severely injured blonde to his chest. However, he had made irrevocable decisions without consulting anyone, without permission or going through the systems that had been designed for just these occasions.

 

The male had behaved as expected during the Distribution of Peace. Friendly, jovial even! Acted inappropriately excited at the prospect of problems with the station, almost boyish in his enthusiasm. Perhaps a man only enjoys trouble when there’s nothing else left. It would explain what she had seen, to a point. If he had been a soldier, that may explain Cassandra.

 

Even so…understanding why he reacts to different situations does not excuse his decisions. He shouldn’t be alone. He was too unpredictable. What if during his next ‘adventure’ he came across a group that he judged as impossible for the justice system to punish? What if it was a town? A society?

 

If the Time Lord decided he couldn’t wait for Lady Arianna to wake, Jabe didn’t trust him enough to leave him to his own devices. She would leave a note for Ari and accompany him instead. The Arboreal shook her head and reiterated aloud. “No, he should not be alone.”

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

Ari dreamed of fire.

 

The flames surrounded her on all sides, licking at her flesh as she ran. Trying desperately to find a way out. Chasing her were different images, always accompanied by the same phrase over and over.

 

“Mark of the Corsair. Fantastic bloke!”

 

“Just admiring your Time Lord Distress Signal collection…”

 

Can’t we save him?

 

 

“This is, we believe, the last star whale. It came like a miracle. We trapped it and built our city around it. Our children screamed.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

 

“You’re doin’ all these things for me. It’s like you’re tryin’ to make up for somethin’.”

 

“Because every Christmas is Last Christmas.”

 

“Where’d you get the milk?”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

“Stop,” she said. The images bombarding her were too much. She stopped running, her hands over her ears and eyes tightly shut. It didn’t do any good. Still they came. Haunting her. Hunting her.

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

The Doctor came around the corner, almost bounding into the infirmary. “Changed your mind? Want to go somewhere?” Jabe startled, jerking her head up from her book. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

 

Jabe stared at him for a couple long seconds. Her face held an expression he could only think could be wary contemplation. Considering that the last time she’d gone somewhere for a vacation she’d almost died, he didn’t blame her hesitancy. But he had been tinkering in the console room for over thirty hours and he needed to do something else.

 

Finally, the woman nodded and closed her novel. Getting to her feet, she asked, “Where are we going?”

 

The Doctor watched as she quickly penned a note. “If Ari wakes before we get back, the Tardis will send an alert. And I was thinking that you are from the year five billion, we just watched the Earth die, how about a trip to its past? How does Christmas in 1860 sound?” He grinned widely at her.

 

Jabe raise her brows at his obvious enthusiasm. “You would know more than I if such is a suitable destination. However, I do remember that Earth did not join the Galactic Alliance until its third millennia. Will my appearance cause difficulties?” She doubted he thought of such things. While being a Time Lord he fit the universal configuration that would be identified as human. It would only be on a closer inspection that the discrepancies became obvious.

 

He seemed to take her question seriously, looking her up and down, mouth pursed in contemplation. “Right. You’ll need to change clothes and wear a hat. Should be enough. ‘S too obvious they’ll notice, but most humans are practically blind. Only see what they expect. Wardrobe’s fully stocked. Down this hall, three rights, a left, right, two lefts, then straight under the stairs, past the bins, fifth door on the left.”

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

Jabe came into the control room practically glaring at him. “I think you should take another look at the manual for operating this ship. I’ve got cracks from banging into things from all the shaking.” As if to prove her words, she lifted one side of her full skirt to point at her leg where a long crack seeped a viscous clear liquid. There were other smaller cracks, all with various amounts of sap beading upon their lengths.

 

The Doctor winced. “Sorry.” The injuries weren’t major, the sap would seal the wounds quickly, but as an Arboreal, Jabe would heal much more slowly than humans. He wouldn’t take off again unless he knew she was prepared…and in a flight crew chair with the light safety field engaged. “Don’t have a manual…anymore.”

 

“Oh?” She raised an incredulous brow at him.

 

“Disagreed with it.”

 

She huffed out a sharp breath, not amused. “Please remember you have passengers, Doctor. Not all of us have your genetic resiliency.” She sighed and took a turn, showing off her chosen outfit. “Is this appropriate attire?”

 

To his surprise, she wore a period appropriate dark red-orange full skirted gown, complete with crinolines and hoops. “Nice.” She’d chosen one whose neckline came fully up to the base of her head, covering as much skin as possible. In all, the only skin the dress did not cover was her face and hands. To complete the look, Jabe wore a matching hat with a small brim to place a soft shadow upon her features. Given that they were going into an era of gas light instead of energy, it would be perfect to hide that she was more than just another dark-skinned human enjoying a night on the town.

 

“How’d you know what to pick?” His wardrobe was vast and fully stocked. It had clothes from every era for every major planet or planetary grouping, culture, and sub-culture.

 

Jabe smiled at him. “There was a reference index by the entrance.”

 

“Really?”

 

She gave a soft laugh at his flummoxed expression, then again when it became a glower. He rolled his eyes and offered her his arm which she took, the two of them heading for the doors and stepping out into a snowy street just outside an alley, "Here we go," he exclaimed, excited, "History!"

 

They walked off, down the street, just observing everything, all the people milling around, the carol singers in the background, "I love this," she remarked, "Seeing history happen right before us." Her smile was sad. “It was part of why I was on Platform One. All that history should be witnessed. Earth is the source of so much history across the universe, including my own.”

 

The pair were silent as they continued, each lost in their thoughts. Then a voice yelled over the bustle and he looked over, spotting a boy calling out with newspapers.  Buying one, still maintaining his grip of her arm, unfolded it and read it quickly, "I got the flight a bit wrong."

 

His voice was grim, surprising her. “Oh?”

 

“It’s not 1860, it’s 1869.” She gave him a blank expression. He continued, “And it’s not Naples. It’s Cardiff.”

 

Still, Jabe didn’t understand his sudden change in demeanor. “Is that significant? Were you heading somewhere specific?” She’d been under the impression he’d just randomly picked a historical year and location. Had he mentioned more and she missed it?

 

He shook his head. “Don’t like getting it wrong. Tardis can be contrary at times about where I land.”

 

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with your skills as a pilot,” she said dryly.

 

“Oi!” They walked for another mile in silence. Jabe taking in the differences of that around her versus that which she was accustomed.

 

The Doctor in his own turn was mentally cataloguing more exciting destinations than 1869 Cardiff in order of appeal.

 

Suddenly, there was screaming. He spun around, eyes darting for the source. People began to pour out of the entrance to a theatre they had recently passed and he grinned. “That’s more like it!” Sliding his grip from her arm to her hand, he took off running.

 

Jabe almost tripped in the sudden change of speed, doing her best to hold her skirt up high enough with her available hand. He’s only excited at the prospect of trouble. Does he truly have nothing else?  It was sad. It worried her.

 

"Stay in your seats, I beg you!" they heard a man shout as they ran in, "It is a lantern show. It's trickery."

 

"There she is, sir!" a young brunette woman in servant’s attire called.

 

"I can see that!" another man yelled, "The whole bloomin' world can see that!"

 

They ran in, Jabe gasping and stepped back, alarmed, at the sight of white transparent creatures flying around the room. They looked like the stories she’d heard as a child of ghosts!

 

The Doctor squeezed her hand and stepped a bit in front of her. Jabe blinked in surprise at his action. Was he shielding her? Protecting her? Why? He hadn’t done so on Platform One. What had changed?

 

Her eyes caught sight of an old woman in the middle of the seats, utterly alone, still seated. All by itself, it only spoke of a strong constitution, but accompanied by the elder’s open mouth expelling more transparent…beings—which could not possibly be ghosts, no matter what they might look like—Jabe knew she had identified the source. Even as she reached out to tap the Doctor’s shoulder to draw his attention, the old woman’s mouth closed and she slumped back in the chair, motionless.

 

The Doctor hadn’t stayed still for long, bounding onto the stage beside the man who had claimed it was all some illusion. “Did you see where it came from?”

 

"The wag reveals himself, does he?" the man glared at him, "I trust you're satisfied, sir!" The Doctor looked taken aback by the man's venom and assumptions.

 

Jabe was still focused on the apparently unconscious elder. She mentally steeled her spine—for ghosts were not real and certainly couldn’t come out of a person’s mouth—and began to make her way over to check on the poor woman. Thus she easily saw an older man and young woman come forward, grab the elder, and begin to drag her away. They didn’t look like medical personnel to her. “Leave her alone,” she shouted and quickened her pace to intercept them, "Wait! Where are you going?"

 

"Be careful!" the Doctor called, seeing her heading after the pair, trusting the female. Arboreals were one of the long-lived races. She had been navigating high-society functions and politics, as well as running a profitable business for at least a century by his estimate and Jabe’s calm response to the unexpected, potentially dangerous, surprises on Platform One had impressed him. He had no doubt she could handle herself and others, taking control of the situation if need-be.

 

He turned to the man beside him, trying to see what he knew, "Did it say anything? Could it speak? I'm the Doctor, by the way."

 

"Doctor?" the man eyed him, "You look more like a navvy."

 

"What's wrong with my jumper?" he asked, indignant. The Doctor stood on stage, watching as the white-blue gas-like creatures zoomed around the room before diving into one of the gas lamps over a door and disappearing. "Gas!" he realized. "It's made of gas!"

 

+++JABE+++

 

Jabe ran out of the theater to see the same pair loading the old woman into the back of a long black carriage. "Stop!" she shouted as she reached them. "What do you think you are doing?”

 

"Oh, it's such a tragedy, miss," the young woman turned to her, "Don't worry yourself. Me and the master will deal with it." She tried to move so as to block the hearse from view. "The fact is, this poor lady's been taken with the brain fever and we have to get her to the infirmary."

 

Jabe may have believed her if it wasn’t for the design of the carriage. It was styled in the universal design of those that transported the dead, which was a tradition born on Earth. As sincere as the young servant seemed to be, Jabe had no compunction against (gently) forcibly pushing the girl aside. She reached out to touch the old woman, trying to determine how severe the injury. Perhaps a knock to the head? When she started at the strong temperature difference. Jabe stared at what could only be a corpse. Not even her own race were so cold! “She’s dead,” she whispered.

 

Those that had died on Platform One had been reduced to ashes. This was her first sight of a dead humanoid. Her own people did not view death as most of the universe. As descendants of trees, were very flexible on such matters.

 

She thought of the not-ghosts that had come out of the old woman’s mouth and fear tightened her stomach. “Oreal Bless, what happened to you?” She looked up, only for the young woman to slam a small shovel directly into the side of her head, having become terrified at the sudden hostility and attack on her master.

 

Jabe fell to the ground, unconscious in less than a heartbeat.

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

“But I can remember, Clara. You don’t understand. I can remember it all. Every time. And you’ll still be gone! Whatever I do, you still won’t be there!”

 

Can’t we save him?

 

 

“Amelia Pond. The Girl Who Waited. I’m so sorry.”

 

Can’t we save her?

 

 

“Rory Williams. The Boy Who Waited.”

 

Can’t we save him?

 

 

She begged the words. “Please. Stop.” Tears tracked down her cheeks without cease. She slid down the wall, heedless to the scorching heat of the metal wall and the flames surrounding her, burning her from the outside-in while the images seared her from the inside-out. The pain pounded a steady beat within her mind in time with her heart. In time with those words.

 

+++NINE+++

 

The Doctor bodily jerked as he received a mental ‘tap’ from his ship. It was an alert that a patient in medical was in distress. He ran out onto the streets, heedless of the human he’d just been speaking with on the stage, who was now demanding he return to answer for his interruption of his something or other and apparently running after him. Not important. However, before the Doctor could get very far past the doors, he saw the same young female servant and older male gentleman shutting the doors to a hearse, a ruffle of cloth hung out the exact hue of Jabe’s dress.

 

No matter what he chose, the other would suffer. So the question became, who might suffer less without his immediate assistance. Jabe had apparently been kidnapped, dragged off by a pair of humans for who knew what reason. It could be related to the gaseous beings; she’d been following the couple who had been carrying what had appeared to be an old dead human female. It could also be a hate crime; possibly for her skin color or possibly for a human noticing she wasn’t the ‘correct species’ and attacking. Humans weren’t known for their cultural tolerance in this era. Whatever the reason, the tree was in trouble and needed help. He’d thought she could take care of herself, but apparently this wasn’t a case where she had the ability. Or perhaps he’d been mistaken of her abilities. Or she’d been taken by surprise.

 

Ari was in the safest place in the universe. She was healing from life-threatening burns, but the key word was ‘healing’. She was in distress, but the telepathic ping had not indicated it was a medical emergency. The top three most statistically likely causes of distress: allergic reaction – 52.31%, numbing agent wearing off – 27.53%, nightmares – 11.02%. What he wanted to rush off to check was the 0.00013% chance that the healing bath was proving ineffective. However, the likelihood was so incredibly slim. There had been no outward signs to indicate such a possibility in the 78.59 GSTh that he had been on the Tardis. The probability of such a result with no previous outward indications after 23 GSTh was 0.001%; decreasing in statistical probability by 1.2% per 1.3 GSTh afterward. It was highly, highly unlikely. Possible. But unlikely.

 

If it was an allergic reaction, the healing bath would keep Ari stabilized until he got there to counter the effects. The sedative in her breathing mask would keep her unconscious; so if it was a numbing agent issue, she wouldn’t feel it as much. Nightmares were not life-threatening…nor a medical emergency.

 

It took him 37.54 milliseconds of internal debate before he made his decision and rushed towards the hearse. “Jabe!”

 

"You're not escaping me, sir!" The man from the stage chased after him. "What do you know about that hobgoblin, hmm?" he demanded, glaring.

 

The hearse drove away before the Doctor could reach it, his hearts racing as he watched, knowing that while he was faster than a human, he was not faster than a horse-drawn carriage.

 

"Projection on glass, I suppose. Who put you up to it?"

 

"Not now," the Doctor said, his tone serious, actually making the man take a step backwards in shock at the sudden change. The Doctor looked around, spotted a nearby coach and ran for it, shouting to the driver, "Oi, you! Follow that hearse!" before jumping in.

 

"I can’t do that, sir," the driver yelled to be heard through the coach walls.

 

"Why not?" the Doctor was in no mood for anyone to keep him from saving Jabe.

 

"Why not?" the man from the stage stepped forward, "I'll give you a very good reason why not! This is my coach!" It had only taken him a second to get over his surprise and was now ready to meet this magician upstart who had ruined his performance with his own glare.

 

"Well, get in then!" The Doctor grabbed the man by a shoulder and hauled him into the coach before snapping at the driver, "Move! We’re losing them!”

 

The driver glanced back even as he moved to obey. "Everything in order, Master Dickens?"

 

"No!" the owner of the coach replied, "It is not!"

 

The Doctor blinked, his anger fading slightly. "What did he say?"

 

"Let me say this first. I'm not without a sense of humor…"

 

"Dickens?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Charles Dickens?"

 

"Yes!"

 

"THE Charles Dickens?"

 

"Shall I remove the gentleman, sir?" the driver called.

 

"Charles Dickens!" the Doctor cheered. "You're brilliant, you are! Completely 100 percent brilliant! I’ve read 'em all! Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and what's the other one, the one with the ghost?"

 

"A Christmas Carol?" Dickens asked, eyeing the man who'd gone from murderous to grinning in the span of seconds.

 

"No, no, no, the one with the trains. The Signal Man, that's it. Terrifying!" Dickens started to grin a bit, the enthusiasm infectious while also stroking his ego. And not one mention of A Christmas Carol! "One of the best stories ever written. You're a genius!"

 

"You want me to get rid of him, sir?" the driver asked again.

 

"Er, no, I think he can stay," Dickens finally replied.

 

"Honestly, Charles," the Doctor began. "Can I call you Charles? I’m such a big fan."

 

"...What? A what?"

 

"Fan! Number one fan, that's me."

 

"How exactly are you a fan? In what way do you resemble a means of keeping oneself cool?"

 

"No, it means 'fanatic', devoted to," he explained. "Mind you, I’ve got to say, that American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what’s that all about? Was that just padding or what? I mean, it’s rubbish, that bit.”

 

Dickens’ eyebrows furrowed. Another quick change of emotional output. Perhaps this invader of his stage and coach would be a noteworthy source for a new character. Good characters had flaws. Great characters had odd, yet realistic flaws. “I thought you said you were my fan.”

 

"If you can't take criticism.” His demeanor changed again, “The death of Little Nell cracks me up though. Could you do that?” Then again, another emotional redirect. “No, sorry, forget that.” He raised his voice. “Come on, faster!”

 

The driver urged the horses on as Dickens turned to him more fully, using his powers of observation to study this more-than-a-little-odd magician. "Who exactly is in that hearse?" Who was this man?

 

"My friend. Was just going to go on a quick trip, show her the sights. Get out of the ship for awhile.” He rubbed his forehead, " 'S my fault. Thought she’d be fine on her own, as old as she is. She’s in my care, and now she’s in danger. Should’ve paid more attention to whatever she was following.”

 

Dickens nodded decisively, "Why are we wasting my time talking about dry old books? This is much more important. Driver! Be swift! The chase is on!" While he appreciated the obviously sincere flattery of his work, he was worldly-wise and understood a fundamental law of the world: people were more important than his books would ever become.

 

"Yes, sir!" the driver called, cracking his whip. Immediately, the horses responded, and the carriage lurched forward at an even faster pace.

 

"Attaboy, Charlie!" The Doctor grinned, delighted. Saving Jabe with Charles Dickens!

 

"Nobody calls me Charlie," Dickens remarked.

 

"The ladies do."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"Told you. I’m your number one-"

 

"Number one fan." Dickens interrupted. He was still somewhat subdued, despite the circumstances. There was just too much that didn’t make sense about the stranger.

 

+++JABE+++

 

Jabe’s face scrunched, her nose crinkling a bit at an odd, unfamiliar smell. She winced as she pulled herself upright, rubbing her head as she slowly woke, her hand pressing gently around until she found the place she’d been hit. She grimaced at the feel of yet more sap leaking from a yet another crack. What was with her and getting injured? Honestly, she couldn’t remember ever being cracked this much!

 

She sighed, she must be getting slower in her age. She closed her eyes a moment, rubbing her head in an attempt to soothe away from of the soreness, and missed the gas flying from a gas lamp, entering a nearby male corpse.

 

However, when she heard a small crash, she turned and gasped in surprise, her eyes popping open to see a corpse sitting up! “Are not humans supposed to stay dead?” It was a rude comment that her mother would’ve smacked her for saying aloud, but Jabe was more focused on this dead human’s interest in approaching her.

 

Even as she moved quickly backward to the only door, keeping her eyes on the advancing corpse. Those eyes held sentience! “Can you understand me?” she asked. She was quite proud of herself; she’d been able to keep her tone calm and even.

 

She’d reached the door and instantly tried the knob, only to find it locked. Of course. You were attacked and kidnapped. Why would they go to the trouble and then put you in an unsecured location? Instead, she got to face this new possible threat. “Your current actions appear hostile. If you do not stop, I will be forced to defend myself,” she warned.

 

As if in response, the same dead old woman that had been in the theatre sat up. Turning to face Jabe, it opened its mouth. “Failing. Trapped in this form. Cannot sustain.”

 

The tree took two full seconds to recover from the fact that a dead human had just spoken. How can it be dying when it’s already dead? How is that possible? “I am sorry for your troubles, but that does not give you leave to harm others.” Her timbre had changed to a hard reprimand. It was the voice she used with annoying people who came to her in her capacity as head of her family’s corporation to beg for something without fully thinking through the resulting effects of their proposal beforehand; or those who were being unprofessional.

 

(Her brothers said it was the same tone she’d used when they’d gotten into mischief as saplings and she’d had sole responsibility for their care. She was quite glad when they grew out of the worst of that phase.)

 

The corpse gave an eerie scream, its posture changing. Much more hostile now, the pair came at Jabe quickly, hands outstretched as if their fingernails were talons, come to tear her flesh from her bones. The white-blue of their eyes were filled with menace.

 

Before they could get close enough to grab her, there was a loud crash. Jabe was happy to see the door banging open, the Doctor standing there in righteous challenge. “I think this is my dance.” For once, she was appreciative of his commanding presence. It immediately drew the attention of the corpses off of herself.

 

An older human stood behind and to the side of the Doctor, peering around him to see inside the room. His face was a blend of indignance, anger, and shock. “It’s a prank. It must be. Or we’re under some mesmeric influence.”

 

“No, we’re not. The dead are walking.” The Doctor’s tone made clear his disapproval of the other’s denial. He didn’t turn away from the beings though, facing them head-on. “Jabe, are you alright?”

 

“I have got another crack, but it was not from these,” she gestured with a flick of her fingers to the two blue-white corpses. “However, I am fairly certain the only reason I have not sustained more injuries is that you arrived before they could begin.”

 

“Do you always talk like that?” he asked curiously.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Saying 20 words when 2 would’ve done. Not even contractions.”

 

Jabe lifted one shoulder. “My brothers have commented previously that I am more verbose when under immense stress.”

 

“Ah,” he nodded. He refocused on the corpses who had been polite enough to wait their turn in this conversation. “Now, my name’s the Doctor. Who are you, then? What do you want?” he demanded, his tone hard once more.

 

“Failing. Open the rift. We’re dying. Trapped in this form. Cannot sustain. We’re dying. Help us!” the corpse screamed, a white-blue transparent mist escaped the mouth and flew directly into a gaslight, making the flame sputter briefly. The two dead bodies finally collapsed to the floor.

 

Jabe’s brows knit, contemplating what she’d heard and seen. “Gaseous species? Is that possible?” She’d never heard of one, even with all her dealings with other species in the family land corporation.

 

The Doctor nodded. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth,” he quoted. The Dickens’ presence moving him to brief theatricality. He turned around, back to face the hallway. He glared at the couple who had kidnapped his companion. “Tell me everything,” he demanded in a slightly darker tone then he’d used with the gaseous creatures. After all, Jabe only suspected they were hostile. These two humans had already proven they would harm others.

 

“What in Shakespeare’s name is going on?” The (living) old human was also glaring, but more out of indignation. “Are any of you going to explain this utter nonsense?”

 

The original older male, who had kidnapped her, sighed. “Oh, very well. Let us adjourn to the sitting room.”

 

The maid curtsied. “I’ll make a pot of tea.”

 

As they followed the rotund human, Jabe looked at the Doctor. “Whom do we find in our company?”

 

The Doctor grinned at her sideways. She really does get wordy when stressed. “The big fellow is a Gabriel Sneed, who owns this funeral parlor. The maid is Gwyneth. And the last one…” he paused for dramatic effect, “…is Charles Dickens.”

 

Jabe blinked. Blinked again. “Charles Dickens?”

 

His grin widened. “Yeah.”

 

The Charles Dickens?”

 

He nodded happily. “Yes!”

 

She smiled at him in return. “That is…fantastic.” She gave a soft, genuine laugh. In the face of so much turmoil, stress, and danger, this brief spark of happiness was appreciated. Suddenly, she understood a little better why the Doctor was enthusiastic in the face of so much trouble: it was a method to relieve stress. It can’t be the entire reason. He acts too emotionally distant. So angry at other times. His demeanor changing at the drop of a leaf. There is more to his story. Much more.  But it did let her know him a bit more. Another piece of the puzzle. It helped give her hope that perhaps he wasn’t as unstable—unpredictable, untrustworthy—as she had previously judged.

 

Jabe couldn’t help herself. “Are we going to meet Shakespeare next?” she asked.

 

The Doctor laughed. “Why not?”

 

+++NINE++JABE++NINE+++

 

Sneed took up the Master’s chair (which happened to be a high-backed dark green) directly in front of the fireplace. Jabe and Charles Dickens took a seat at the tea table while Gwyneth finished preparing the staple drink of England.

 

Jabe noticed that the Time Lord had chosen to stand in a corner of the room, facing them all. A soldier’s choice: ready to act if needed, eyes on all exits, watching for trouble.  “Would you kindly explain why you felt the need to attack me when I had offered you no threat of violence?” Jabe asked. Even though her tone was calm, it was clearly a demand.

 

“I won’t be spoken to like this!”

 

Jabe continued as if he hadn’t half-shouted. “—and I wake in a locked room.” Gwyneth winced and the Doctor’s eyes narrowed on the girl. “I have the impression you both were under the assumption I would be harmed, possibly killed, by those you were charged to entomb.”

 

"It's not my fault." Sneed snaps back, sour look deepening. His tone though…his tone was half begging her to understand, filled with desperation and panic. "It's this house. It always had a reputation. Haunted. But I never had much bother until a few months back, and then the stiffs,” he froze, realizing what he had said in mixed company, and quickly rephrased, “the er, dear departed started getting restless."

 

"Tommyrot." Dickens scoffs.

 

Sneed was incredulous at the extent of the author’s cynicism, not even believing his own eyes. "You witnessed it! Can't keep the beggars down, sir. They walk. And it's the queerest thing, but they hang on to scraps."

 

Gwyneth had finished the preparation and handed each a cup. “One sugar with a spoonful of cream, sir. Steeped an extra minute, ma'am. Just how the two of you like it."

 

Jabe blinked, somewhat bemused. Knowing his species’ extraordinarily high senses, she shot a quick glance at the Doctor. His expression showed that he's likely thinking the same thing. There was no reason for the servant to know our tea preferences.

 

"One old fellow who used to be a sexton almost walked into his own memorial service." Sneed nodded as if the gesture will prove his words. "Just like the old lady going to your performance, sir, just as she planned."

 

Dickens scoffed. "Morbid fancy."

 

"Oh, Charles," the Doctor shook his head, “you were there."

 

Dickens sniffed, stood up and took a step closer to the Doctor. "I saw nothing but an illusion.”

 

"If you're going to deny it, don't waste my time. Just shut up." The Doctor told him, losing his patience with the man. Should never meet your heroes.

 

Jabe couldn’t blame him. Considering his wonderful masterfully-told stories that had lasted throughout countless millennia, she’d’ve thought the author would have had more imagination.

 

The Doctor cut in on her thoughts. “What about the gas?” he demanded of Sneed.

 

“That’s new, sir. Never seen anything like that.”

 

“Means it’s getting stronger. The rift’s getting wider and something’s sneaking through.”

 

“Rift?” Jabe asked with a raised brow.

 

“A weak point in time and space. A connection between this place and another.” He gave a Gallic shrug. “Often times, it’s the cause of ghost stories.”

 

"That's how I got the house so cheap. Stories going back generations." Sneed nodded, turning towards the Doctor. Dickens’d had enough of being ignored it seemed, as he sidled his way out of the room. Though like a child throwing a tantrum, he makes sure to slam the door behind him. Sneed flinched slightly, but continued. "Echoes in the dark, queer songs in the air, and this feeling like a shadow passing over your soul." His expression changed then, becoming something a little less meek. "Mind you, truth be told, it's been good for business. Just what people expect from a gloomy old trade like mine."

 

The Doctor grinned, laughing quietly. Then he sobered some and looked at his newest companion. “Jabe? What’s your take on this? You said they looked hostile.”

 

The Arboreal nodded seriously. She’d been thinking upon the encounter as Sneed went on. “I spoke with them too, before you arrived.” She explained the events. When she was done, the Doctor’s expression was flat. “Something about it is bothering me, but I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly the source.”

 

“You mean seeing the dead walk and talk wasn’t enough?” Sneed asked. Both aliens ignored him.

 

“’S strange they attacked you first. Scared maybe. Most species lash out when frightened. Coded genetic response. Fight or flight.” The Doctor muttered in contemplation.

 

“Disoriented enough to attack without provocation, yet held enough cognitive faculty to answer a direct question?” Jabe countered, shaking her head. She put down her empty cup. “No, it doesn’t make sense.” She paused, thinking. “Another detail just occurred to me,” the Doctor nodded at her to continue. “They repeated themselves. Not just repeated, but the same phrases in the exact order to answer you as when they answered my own question.”

 

The Doctor’s brows furrowed. “Like a recording?”

 

“Or something rehearsed. My brothers would do the same when they were saplings; rehearsing their story after they’d gotten into Nvarl’s fields to explain their disheveled appearance when they came home. By the time I heard it, it had been practiced so much that the story was verbatim every time it was told by either leafling.”

 

The Doctor frowned harder at this and the room was silent for long moments.

 

She shook her head. “It’s very odd, but pure speculation, inference, and conjecture. I don’t think we know enough as of yet to make a truly informed decision.” She looked at the Time Lord as another detail flitted through her mind. “Do you know what happened three months ago that would cause their sudden appearance?” The rift had always been here, but the beings hadn’t. Something had to have occurred three months ago that changed things. Either making it possible for the beings to travel through the rift, or causing their original inhabitation of the rift, to which they found the nearest exit point.

 

“Cardiff, September 1869,” the Doctor raked his mind, trying to find any significant events. He shook his head. “Nothing comes to mind. However, a rift can connect many different times. The event that caused this species entrance to be here, now, would not necessarily occur three months ago. Or even three years ago. Could be three centuries in the future.”

 

“Or three hundred,” she nodded her understanding.

 

He doubted she truly did, especially with no background in the basics of how time operated or time travel functioned, but appreciated her making the effort.

 

Yet…he did feel the echoes of a large fixed point in time. It was either so big that, even though it had been resolved, it still could be felt as it diminished in its resolution. Or, it had yet to occur and was gaining urgency and size as it approached. It was too soon to tell which.

 

He wondered how much Ari, having travelled with him for at least 5 years, had learned at his side. Either by observation or experience. Had he taken the time to answer her questions? All humans had questions, filled with curiosity as they were. He didn’t usually bother; not a real explanation. Was she one of the few that had the mental capacity to understand the answers? Was that what had drawn him to her before?

 

Or was it her compassion? Even with all her swearing and anger, she had still sacrificed herself, knowing how injured she would be in the process because she had done it before. How much courage that would take! She’d had two panic attacks from a source he had yet to understand—though he strongly suspected it was the stress of living her life again, knowing how just a small change could result in a catastrophic failure of the entire universe; anyone would panic under such strain. Yet, when she was holding down that lever and felt herself begin to burn, she had only cursed him. She had not panicked, nor faltered in her grip. She’d continued to hold it down, even after she began to burn. Knowing it was coming, she hadn’t even tried to find another way.

 

That was a special type of personality, no matter what species. A strength of will, determination, and compassion not often seen. It made him understand much easier why his counterpart had sent her back over other possible methods.

 

There were still so many unanswered questions surrounding Arianna. What had she become to him over their five years of travels? Her bond with the Tardis was much closer than any of his previous companions since Susan. How had she acquired it, and what had made it necessary?

 

How much did she hate him for what was no longer ever to be? Hate him for what he was putting her through. What he would continue to put her through. He didn’t blame her for her anger. It was so much responsibility for even a Time Lord to bear. She was only human. Would he ever have a relationship with her that matched the one his counterpart had no doubt experienced? Could she ever forgive him?

 

“Need more information,” he said with a degree of finality.

 

“How do you propose we acquire it?”

 

His had to internally yank his musings away from Arianna. Fortunately, the comment had been vague enough to apply to the current topic. “We’re going to hold a séance.” After all, they had a psychic in residence and how else did humans talk to ‘ghosts’?

 

It was to that announcement that the Time Lord left the sitting room with a determined—and somehow also bouncy—step, Jabe staring after him in blank confusion.

 

“Is he always like that?” Sneed asked.

 

She didn’t answer immediately. “More often than I’m completely comfortable.” As much as she can come to understand about the Time Lord, it was but a drop in the ocean.

 

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

“Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”

 

“Don’t look where we are. Take off, and promise me you will never look where we’ve been.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

 

“Exterminate! Exterminate!”

 

“When they destroy us, the eyes are the last things to melt. And there’s one question in those eyes. Why? Why should we suffer for the sake of human beings?”

 

“It’s usually outside human hearing. This is the sound none of you want to hear.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

Ari whimpered, her hands tight over her head, though it did little good. Shaking in torment and terror. Her mind was becoming lost to the sound of flame and suffering. Her own and others.

 

And the words kept circling. Hunting her.

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

Jabe, having no idea what a séance would entail, had originally opted to sit in a corner of the room and just watch. However, Gwyneth explained that there was no such thing as a spectator for a séance and Jabe was forced to participate. Which involved clasping the hands of each person beside her. The Doctor was one, so that wasn’t a problem.

 

To be on her right was Dickens. The author had argued with the Doctor about his own participation and got the exact same counter as Jabe herself. Finally, Dickens sat at the table and reluctantly reached out to take Jabe’s hand. Her very non-human hand. Dickens frowned. No matter how dark the atmosphere, there was no getting around the feel of her skin. However, instead of what Jabe feared (i.e. jumping up and causing a fuss), the author only said, “Are you well?” He actually sounded concerned for her health.

 

The Arboreal was touched and gave him a small smile to reassure him. “I apologize. I have a skin condition. I’m quite alright.”

 

"Good man," the Doctor grinned at him. Though internally he rolled his eyes at the author once again missing the obvious due to his cynical nature. "Now, Gwyneth. Reach out."

 

"Speak to us," Gwyneth called out, her voice calm and gentle. Reassuring any listening, just with her tone, that this was a safe place to reveal themselves. "Are you there? Spirits? Come. Speak to us that we may relieve your burden." She lifted her eyes to the ceiling as a soft murmuring began to fill the room, getting louder with every moment.

 

Jabe said nothing, just watching as things progressed. If anyone had been paying attention to her instead of to Gwyneth, they would have noticed her facial expressions going through rotations of emotions before finally going blank. Jabe watched Gwyneth, but she also watched the Doctor.

 

Almost two hours later, Jabe knelt by Gwyneth as she lay asleep on the sofa, gently mopping the woman's brow as she slowly blinked her eyes, fighting sleep. "It's alright," she whispered, "Just sleep."

 

She didn’t like this. It wasn’t just the Gelth that pinged her mental alarms, but also the Doctor. His reactions weren’t in keeping with what he’d shown her in the past. His attitude had changed when the Gelth mentioned the Time War, going from skeptical to stark to determined. Now his face was more blank than Jabe’s own, which chilled her. That was his face when he’d killed Cassandra. She wasn’t sure he would listen to her advice.

 

"But my angels, miss," Gwyneth murmured, barely awake. "They came, didn't they? They need me?" The séance had taken a lot out of the poor human.

 

The Doctor, who had been leaning against a wall, again in a corner to watch the room’s occupants, nodded, "They do need you, Gwyneth. You're they're only chance of survival."

 

"Doctor, we can't." Jabe said seriously, before turning to Gwyneth, offering her a cup of tea. "Drink this." She looked back at the Time Lord.

 

“They only want the cadavers. Simple. Easy. It could save their lives.”

 

“So they say,” she gave him a flat look. “You trust their words at face value? Why? What reason have they given you to trust them?”

 

“What reason do we have not to trust them?” he shot back.

 

"Incredible," Dickens shook his head, in shocked thought, obviously not been listening. Finally coming out of his cynical shell. "Ghosts that are not ghosts but beings from another world, who can only exist in our world by inhabiting cadavers."

 

"Good system," the Doctor nodded. "It might work."

 

“Did you hear what they said? Did you listen? The repetition of ‘pity us’. It’s rather blatant emotional manipulation. Something is not right here.” She saw his face shut down and knew that he had caught the phrasing but didn’t want to think too much into what it could mean. “Doctor, in my position for my family’s company, I meet many people who want something. I’ve heard all sorts of proposals over the decades. The best are the groups that have thought through what they want, draw up a model for how it will benefit both themselves and the company over a period of time, the cost of the venture, and the net profit. It’s a genuine proposal that shows how much they have thought about all of the varying processes; what’s needed and expected from employees, to base components, to end product.

 

“The worst proposals are those groups that come with none of those things. They simply want something from my family’s corporation. They have no details on what their product would take to build, nor calculations for employee cost, overhead, or a net profit estimate. They give no reason for my agreement other than ‘we want, you have, so give us’.” Jabe tried to explain. “When groups come to me with such a proposal, they use manipulation in an attempt to get what they want. Using tone and word repetition to emphasize their points.” She wished she had recordings with her to show him. “And hoping that I don’t have enough brains to see the logical pitfalls in their proposal.

 

“The Gelth show all the signs of being a member of manipulators, wanting something for nothing.”

 

“Could save their lives.” He repeated.

 

He wasn’t denying her words, he was repeating the old argument. Which meant he knew she was right. She looked at him and saw the desperation he was trying so hard to keep hidden. That much desperation didn’t come from any current event, but from memories. Guilt from not saving someone. “Is this because they mentioned the Time War?” she asked gently, softly.

 

He froze, eyes wide for a split second before his face closed down again. He had confessed to her about his planet, that everyone was gone. That he was the last. But he hadn’t told her the key detail: he had killed them. He was the reason Gallifrey had burned. He had killed 2.47 billion children that day. It was the last option that would win the war. It was the only option that would kill the Daleks and stop Rassilon at the same time. He’d had no choice. The only other course of action would be to do nothing: the Daleks would win, the universe would be destroyed, every one of every species of every planet in every dimension would be extinguished. There had been no choice.

 

He took a breath. The words didn’t come. He couldn’t tell her. Not this. Not when these stupid apes were listening. Instead he confessed a different detail. “The Last Great Time War encompassed all other wars. Daleks were a species that could travel through time as well as dimensions in their pursuit of perfection. Anything not Dalek was…exterminated.” He took a small breath, his eyes on the ceiling. “We didn’t realize how far they were traveling to exterminate potential enemies until halfway through the war. We thought they were only fighting us and the few other time-travel capable races in this dimension. Once we realized what they were doing with a third of their forces, we lured them all to this universe and then sealed off the dimensions so completely not even our own forces could cross into the Void, let alone a neighboring universe. Still, it was too late. Entire dimensions had already been lost.”

 

Jabe couldn’t pull her eyes from him if she’d wanted to. This man… Such burdens lay on his shoulders. The weight of events he could not possibly have known or prevented. All he saw were those he could not save.

 

He looked at her. “You heard what they said, time's short. We can't worry about a few corpses when the last of the Gelth could be dying." Let me save them, his eyes begged her.

 

Her heart broke for him and she didn’t know what to say. She was so torn. “The Gelth aren’t being completely honest with their situation,” she began, but the Doctor’s eyes still pleaded with her. Please, let me save someone. She sighed and opened her mouth, but was cut off before she could get any more words out.

 

"Don't I get a say?" Gwyneth asked, having been listening to everything. When she would be the one to make the bridge, wasn’t it her decision to make, not theirs? "The angels need me," she said firmly to Jabe before turning to the other alien. "Doctor, what do I have to do?"

 

"You don't HAVE to do anything," he told her, his eyes went back to their previous expression as soon as he stopped looking at Jabe.

 

"They've been singing to me since I was a child. Sent by my mum on a holy mission. So tell me."

 

The Doctor began to smile. Before he was out of earshot directing the various humans, Jabe grabbed his attention one last time. “Please, don’t let your memories cloud your judgement. Pull her out if it goes sideways.” He gave her a solemn nod of promise.

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

“What are you doin’ with a wedding ring in your pocket? Who’s the lucky lady?”

 

“Even when people are lost and forgotten, some remnants remain.”

 

Can’t we save him?

 

 

“I don’t know what this is all about, and I know we’re not important…”

“Who said you weren’t important?”

 

“You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara…Goodness had nothing to do with it.”

 

“It’ll be fine. I know it will. I’ll be with him, like I should be. Me and Rory together.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

 

“When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back! And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!”

 

“There’s nothing you can do… If you die here, it’ll mean I’ve never met you… Hush now, sweetie. Spoilers.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

Ari held her head between her two hands, holding her ears as hard as she could, trying desperately to block out the sounds. The flashes of images overwhelming her optic nerves until they had bled through so that she saw them even though her eyes were tightly shut. It did no good. Still they came. It felt as if her mind was going to break open. She sobbed in agony.

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

The Doctor twitched as he got another mental alert from the Tardis. Though it was a higher-level ping than the first, it still wasn’t a medical emergency. It wasn’t good, but Ari was physically fine. Nightmares were the most likely at this point, given another 5.32 GSTh had passed. The Gelth needed him more right now.

 

With a heavy heart, the Doctor took the lead heading down into the morgue. Looking around at all the readily-available corpses on concrete slabs, he muttered, “Talk about Bleak House.”

 

"Doctor," Dickens called when they all arrived at the bottom of the stairs and then spread out into the room. Jabe and the Doctor to the left while Charles stayed closer to the stairs. "I think the room is getting colder." He let out a heavy breath and watched as it condensed.

 

"It is," Jabe nodded, hugging herself. Should have brought a jacket. Her long sleeves weren’t enough insulation as she assumed they would be. Though she could never have predicted cold-emanating ghosts either. "Here they come…" she whispered, mostly to herself, as the white-blue murmuring predicated the appearance of the alien beings.

 

The Gelth flooded into the room, almost swarming this way and that. One of them moved to an archway to their right. "You have come to help!" that same child-like voice called. "Praise the Doctor! Praise him!"

 

Jabe trembled. It wasn’t from the cold. “Remember Doctor,” she muttered. Remember your promise. If it goes sideways, get Gwyneth out of there. She didn’t like this.

 

"Hurry! Please. So little time. Pity the Gelth."

 

There’s that damned phrase again!  Jabe grimaced. Everything in her, both professional and personal, wanted to run. It sounded wrong. They sounded wrong. What they said sounded wrong. It was all just wrong. But Jabe also understood the Doctor’s desire.

 

In the end, it was Gwyneth’s decision. The rest of them were just advisors.

 

"I'll take you somewhere else after the transfer," he told them. "Somewhere you can build proper bodies. This isn't  a permanent solution, alright?"

 

Jabe looked at him in shock and gratitude. “Thank you,” she whispered. He nodded once to her, though his eyes didn’t leave the Gelth. He’s better with others with him. Instead of doing the same as he’d done with Cassandra (admittedly an extreme example of a murderer, but it was the only one she held of that expression in his eyes) he’d come up with a compromise and she appreciated it greatly. Mentally reinforcing the idea: He shouldn’t be alone.

 

She also noted, her core getting heavier with each second, that the Gelth didn’t respond to the Doctor’s compromise in any way. Ignoring that he had spoken.

 

"My angels," Gwyneth stepped closer to the leader (Jabe assumed given its position in relation to the rest) Gelth. "I can help them live."

 

"Okay, where's the weak point?"

 

"Here, beneath the arch," the Gelth called.

 

Gwyneth walked over, stepped into the arch, and turned around to face them, the Gelth behind her. "Beneath the arch. My angels."

 

Jabe watched in nail-biting apprehension as the compassionate maid that had no family (for no family name had ever been given) opened her mind and heart to another race, using her own self as a conduit.

 

The last time she had done this, the aliens had spoken through the girl and it had tired her out into a 30-minute slumber. This time, when the beings were actually moving through her, and Jabe wondered what permanent damage could and would be sustained. She hadn’t brought it up to the servant, because she knew that Gwyneth wouldn’t have cared. The woman was too caring for her own self-preservation. Admirable, but it made Jabe worry. It was Gwyneth’s decision. Her choice.

 

"It has begun! The bridge is made!" The leading Gelth cheered. Gwyneth's mouth opened and wisps of blue-white Gelth poured out of her. "She has given herself to the Gelth!"

 

‘Given herself’? What does that mean?  Giving something usually implied certain things; property being the most common, slavery when it was in reference to people. (In ancient marriages, a father would ‘give’ his daughter to her betrothed because she had no worth or rights except those granted to her by her immediate male kin.) Had Gwyneth unintentionally agreed to something by her actions? Then Jabe noticed the number of wisps coming. They said ‘a few’, but never clarified… I didn’t think to ask. A stone sat heavily in her core. She should’ve known to ask. So many presentations she’d sat through, finding all the pitfalls and loopholes. She should’ve thought of it!

 

"There's rather a lot of them, eh?" Charles Dickens frowned, looking around as the room filled with the gaseous beings.

 

"The bridge is open. We descend!" Suddenly the benign, white-blue figures turned red. Demonic. "The Gelth will come through in force."

 

"You said that you were few  in number!" the Doctor shouted.

 

"A few billion. And all of us in need of corpses!” Its voice held a kind of triumphant viciousness. Gloating in its victory.

 

The bodies around them began to rise as Jabe yelled, “Doctor! Get her out of there!”

 

Sneed had already run over to Gwyneth, "Gwyneth...stop this! Listen to your master! This has gone far enough. Stop dabbling, child, leave these things alone. I beg of you."

 

Jabe tracked the newly inhabited dead bodies. "Mr. Sneed!" she shouted. "Get back!" It was too late. A corpse grabbed Sneed from behind, held him still, and snapped his neck. Immediately afterward, another Gelth flowed into his mouth, allowing it to claim his body. “May Oreal guide you,” she whispered. He hadn’t been a nice man, he’d hurt her, blamed everyone else for his mistakes, but had died honorably, trying to rescue a member under his care.

 

"I have joined the legions of the Gelth," Sneed stated. "Come. March with us."

 

"No!" Dickens just managed to duck under and away from another corpse.

 

"We need bodies," the Gelth called, advancing on the rest of the living. "All of you. Dead. The human race. Dead."

 

The Doctor squeezed Jabe's hand, feeling her fear as they all moved back together. She had been right. Why hadn't he listened to her? It was all his fault. He couldn’t even get close enough to fulfill his promise to the Arboreal. My fault. All he could do was yell to the human, "Gwyneth, stop them! Send them back! Now!" He pulled Jabe with him as he shouted, backing them into what looked like a small dungeon. He slammed the bar-door shut, pulled out his sonic and thumbed the setting to fuse the lock. Now they were out of reach of the Gelth…but there was no other exit. Trapped. My fault.

 

"Three more bodies. Make them vessels for the Gelth."

 

"I…I can't!" Dickens backed up, "I'm sorry!" He was on the other side of the room from the remaining living in the morgue, close enough to the stairs to be able to make an escape. "It's too much for me! I'll get help! I’m so—" One of the Gelth screeched and swooped at him, cutting off his apology in favor of running for his life.

 

Several slowly pulled themselves up the stairs to follow him. They were slow…but Jabe also noted that they were faster than they had been. They were learning how to move within bodies not their own. They were all going to die. Not just the three of them. Everyone.

 

"Give yourself to glory," the Gelth called as those left in the basement began to reach for them through the bars of the dungeon door. "Sacrifice your lives for the Gelth! Join us!"

 

"I trusted you," the Doctor glared, angry. Angry at them and himself. "I pitied you!" Why didn’t he listen? Once again, it’s all my fault. So much death… All my fault.

 

"We don't want your pity! We want this world and all its flesh!" They rattled the bars, trying to break through.

 

"Not while I'm alive." He pulled Jabe closer, farther away from the door and situated himself slightly in front of her. He'd protect her as much as he was capable. It was what little he could do.

 

"Then live no more!"

 

He tensed and looked at Jabe, trying to keep them as far back from the Gelth as possible, squeezing close to the stone wall. "I'm sorry," he whispered and her eyes met his own. "I'm so sorry. 'S all my fault. You were right. I didn’t listen. I brought you here. My fault."

 

"You could never have foreseen such as this,” she said quietly. She was terrified. The threat to her life on Platform One had been abstract. People had died, but not by any direct action of another. It had been through the computer. Computers could be reinitialized and fixed. They weren’t malicious or evil. They simply ran programming. It wasn’t the computer’s fault if the program was flawed.

 

The Gelth were not computers. There was no lever to reboot their mainframe and stop a faulty program. They were people. Her life was directly, actively threatened and there was nothing she could do. Negotiations had failed before they’d even begun. No secondary exit to escape. No way to run. And you couldn’t kill the dead. So the help that Dickens had gone for would only end up providing more bodies to the Gelth. “They will be judged by the Great Tree of Life, balanced upon the branches of their decisions, as will we all. Do not take more dead leaves than you have yourself produced.”

 

He gave a small laugh. “Look at us, eh? ‘Bout to die in a dungeon and you’re discussin’ religious philosophy!”

 

She smiled. “Can you think of a more appropriate time or occasion?” Her smile died. “There being a causal loop of my death in Earth’s direct past being five billion years before my seedling has no basis for our escape.” It was a statement, but her tone held a hint of hopeful query. He was a Time Lord and would know, after all.

 

He shook his head once. “I’m sorry. Time isn’t a straight line. It can twist into any shape. You can be born in the year five billion and still die in the nineteenth century.”

 

She looked at the Gelth, swallowing hard. "We'll go down fighting," she decided.

 

He smiled at her. What a brave woman. "Yeah." Even reassuring him amid all the death. She should be worrying about herself. Most would.

 

"I'm glad you came with me."

 

She wasn’t sure if she agreed. “It has certainly been an adventure.” Then she stilled, looking at him with worry. “Lady Arianna?”

 

He winced. Again, the Arboreal thought of others before herself. “Healing bath is automatic to a certain degree. Once her burns are 98.5% healed, the tank will extract her.” She would wake alone, with only a note to explain where they had gone. She wouldn’t know until she came outside what had happened. How things had changed from what she remembered.

 

Even though it looked like they were about to die at the hands of the Gelth, he was glad he wasn’t going to be dying alone. Ari wouldn’t have that luxury. Whatever key event she had come back to change, he doubted it was this one. After all, she had sacrificed herself the first time as well. Thus, in this case, her mere presence would have altered events instead of her absence. Now the poor, brave human would be going it alone. Would she even know how? He’d thrown his driving manual into a sun after all… Perhaps there was an extra somewhere in the library?

 

"Doctor!" Dickens shouted, running into the morgue at top speed. "Turn off the flame, turn up the gas! Now fill the room, all of it, now!"

 

"What're you going on about?" the Doctor looked over, startled.

 

"Turn it all on! Flood the place!" he reached up to do exactly that to the nearest gaslights on the walls.

 

The Doctor’s eyes widened, "Brilliant. Gas!" He pulled his sonic out of his pocket again and aimed. "Fill the room with gas, it'll draw them out of the host!"

 

Dickens grinned triumphantly. "Suck them into the air like poison from a wound!" He looked up, alarmed, as the corpses turned on him. They began to approach, faster than before. "I hope...oh, Lord. I hope that this theory will be validated soon. If not immediately."

 

“Reverse diffusion,” Jabe realized, extremely impressed.

 

"Exactly! Plenty more!" the Doctor called, using his considerable strength to pull a pipe from the wall, releasing even more natural gas into the air than the gaslights were able to allow due to the flow value.

 

The creatures wailed as the closest were sucked from the bodies. The corpses collapsing immediately to the floor. Eliminating the threat. "It's working," Dickens cheered.

 

Jabe was pulled with the Doctor out of the small dungeon. Once he got passed the door, he let go of her wrist and went to Gwyneth. Jabe could only watch, a strange sensation working through her limbs and core. The light, now almost non-existent, was making everything blurry around her. She couldn’t tell where her feet were to move forward. Gwyneth and the Doctor’s voices came to her as if from a very far, deep canyon; echoing strangely and distorting the words. She blinked several times, trying to adjust, but nothing happened. No, something was happening… It was getting worse. “Doct—” she got the first syllable out before she began to wheeze, drooping where she stood.

 

“Jabe!” she heard her name. Was that the Doctor? “Stardust, she’s a tree. Charles, get her out. Now!”

 

She thought she felt arms around her, holding most of her weight, and dragging her, but she couldn’t be sure. It was all so very blurry and getting darker with every second. Darker…

 

“Hold on, my dear. Not much farther.”

 

Darker…

 

She wasn’t sure how much time passed, but when things finally began to clear, she was sitting in the snow, propped against a lamp post across the street from the burning remains of Sneed’s Funeral Parlor. The Doctor knelt beside her, his screwdriver in hand running up and down her form. Occasionally he would hold the metal cylinder up to his ear to get the results.

 

Jabe blinked, swallowing around the large lump sitting in her lungs. It didn’t do much good. “We won, I take it?”

 

The Doctor smiled brightly at her. “Fantastic!”

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

The Doctor walked arm-in-arm with Jabe down the street, heading back to the Tardis as he finished his explanation. “Gwyneth was already dead. Had been for at least five minutes. Think she was dead as soon as she stood under that arch.”  His face was solemn, his eyes filled with regret. “I did try.”

 

Jabe was much better, even able to walk mostly on her own. “It was her decision. Her death is not your responsibility. Do not take more dead leaves than you yourself create, Doctor.” Her smile was an attempt at being reassuring, even filled with her sorrow. “In the end, Gabriel Sneed chose to help others instead of only himself, as did Gwyneth. I have no doubt Oreal will judge her branches to be filled with green life and one poor servant will take an honored place among the stars, inspiring others to great feats of growth.”

 

Dickens was confused. “I beg your pardon?”

 

The Doctor smiled. “Tree religious philosophy, Charlie-boy. ‘S all ‘bout leaves, branches, light, and growth.” They had reached the ship and the pair of aliens stood before one lone human. "Right then! We've just got to go into our um...shed," the Doctor remarked, "Won't be long!" He put the key into the lock, but didn’t yet turn it.

 

"What're you going to do now?" Jabe asked Dickens.

 

"I shall take the mail coach back to London!" he exclaimed brightly. "Quite literally post-haste.” He laughed at his own joke. “This is no time for me to be on my own. I shall spend Christmas with my family and make amends to them. After all I've learned tonight, there can be nothing more vital."

 

Jabe smiled. “I agree.”

 

"You've cheered up!" the Doctor laughed.

 

"Exceedingly! This morning, I thought I knew everything in the world and now I know I've just started! All these huge and wonderful notions, Doctor! I'm inspired. I must write about them! I shall be subtle at first of course. The Mystery of Edwin Drood still lacks an ending. Perhaps the killer was not the boy's uncle. Perhaps he was not of this Earth. The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Beings from Beyond. I can spread the word! Tell the truth!"

 

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

“How long can you hold your breath?”

 

“You’re patchwork people. Had a broom like you once. You’ve been replacing bits for so long, do you even know if there’s anything left of the original? How many people have you killed to keep looking for something that doesn’t exist?”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

 

“Danny is dead! And you’re going to bring him back!”

 

“Let me be brave.”

 

Can’t we save them?

 

 

“How long?”

 

“We think four and a half––”

 

Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore.

 

She screamed.

 

+++JABE++NINE++JABE+++

 

"Good luck with it, Charles. Nice to meet you," he shook Dickens' hand. "Fantas—"

 

He froze mid-word, his smile vanishing as if it had never been. His head jerked to the side, eyes widening in horror. “Oh no, no, no, no, no!” the Doctor yelled, “Rose!” as he finally twisted the key in the lock.

 

“What’s wrong?” Dickens asked in concern.

 

As if in answer, a blaring siren came from the Doctor’s pocket: the medical emergency alarm, sent to his sonic screwdriver. An echo loud enough to be heard through the doors also sounded.

 

The Doctor pushed open the doors with a crash and dashed off at a dead run.

 

“Oh no,” Jabe whispered, following after him as fast as she was able.

 

Charles Dickens blinked at the interior of the ‘shed’ which was quite a bit bigger on the inside than the outside. To his credit, it took him only a couple seconds to get over the new shock to his world view. Beautiful as the interior was—and it was magnificent!—there was a (new) emergency with which the Doctor and Jabe may need help. So the author stepped inside, firmly shut the doors behind him, and went off after the pair.

+++NINE++JABE++CHARLES+++

 

Alarms shrilly blared, cutting efficiently through everything. In the infirmary, several panels had mauve lights blinking in time with the sirens.

 

The Doctor didn’t pause at any of this cacophony of visual and auditory stimuli. He hit the entrance to Medical (thankfully only a few doors down from the console room just for this reason) at a dead run, grabbed the frame and used it as a pivot to sling-shot his way inside, losing as little momentum as possible. Time was not on their side. He managed to slow himself down enough not to crash into the wall holding the healing cubicles, but it was a narrow thing. The fact that he’d probably have bruises barely registered. He didn’t care right at that moment.

 

The liquid nutrient bath had been a pretty blue-green; now the fluid was more of a muddled brown. It was a little more than two-thirds finished with the process of decanting the still-healing naked female.

 

Arianna’s body was limp as the Doctor physically reached in, heedless of the draining fluid, dragged her up and over the side of the gradually descending clear tank wall, lowering as the level of nutrient liquid diminished, and swiftly deposited her on the main medical platform less than a step away. “Medical – Emergency – Diagnostic,” he half-shouted.

 

The sirens stopped as words were the signal that the alert had been answered, and thus no longer needed, though the various mauve lights continued to flash. They were indicative of which systems were failing in the patient.

 

In response to his order, the (only) diagnostic bed whirled upward slightly and the ADIS came down out of the ceiling at emergency speed, resulting in a few sparks of protest. For as long as he had owned the Tardis, this particular system had never been needed at such speeds. He’d certainly never bothered to check if the systems were in top condition to handle it if circumstances required. He’d always thought if he ever was injured enough to qualify as a medical emergency, he’d probably end up regenerating since there was no one else to run the equipment that could save his life. So far, he’d been right. Now, when it truly mattered, he was regretting his lack of upkeep.

 

The ADIS emergency program wasn’t set for holographic projection, as such images needed between 2 and 34 rels to produce. Instead, it scanned and immediately scrolled results on a side panel intended just for this protocol. The Doctor’s eyes widened in horror at the final script flashing bright mauve.

 

“How can we help?” Jabe asked. Her tone was once again calm and even. Her anxiety would come later. For now, she would be the anchor to his storm.

 

The Time Lord didn’t even glance up as he responded. “Jabe, third drawer to your right; biggest you can find. Charles, counter by the door; metal container marked N-S-I.” By the time he’d finished speaking, Jabe was pushing the largest adrenaline injector into his hand. He didn’t pause in his instructions as his fingers found the 3rd and 4th intercostal ribs before jamming the air-light needle straight into Arianna’s heart. Then he released the injector, and rested the first two fingers of each hand on Ari’s temples. Jabe was looking closely enough and saw him pale slightly at whatever he found.

 

Charles was having trouble. It was one of his worst nightmares made reality, but he couldn’t dwell too long. A young woman was in trouble. “I can’t read anything!”

 

“Medical – Emergency – Translate,” the Doctor’s voice held a desperate angry frustration.

 

The program that would change Gallifreyan circle-script into something legible for any non-Gallifreyan present in the infirmary at the time of the order took 1.113 rels for authorization of Gallifreyan script to clear security protocols, 0.741 rels to establish a telepathic connection with each non-crew member, 0.017 rels to identify those who required the translation, and 0.295 rels to translate. It was still faster than the Doctor could have gotten the item himself, because he couldn’t release Ari’s mind until she could be stabilized.

 

He had to let go 3.741 rels later however (because there was no one else with the ability to hold her mind) when the author shoved the small black box into the Doctor’s hand. It was about the size of a twentieth-century terran deck of playing cards. Most of the space was taken by a neural web that it took the Doctor 1.26 rels to position. Once it was correctly in place, the Neural Synaptic Initializer’s housing began to glow gold, signaling its activation and shifted to sunflower when it established a link. As soon as the NSI initialized, the Doctor’s fingers were back at Ari’s temples, holding her fast.

 

Over the course of 61.8325 rels (he counted each and every one felt like an eternity) the NSI cycled through the spectrum: mauve, tangerine, persimmon, champagne, purple lamium, plum, red. When the red was as bright as the mauve had been at the start, the NSI shut down and the Doctor took a deep breath. Slowly, he let his hands rest on the platform’s surface, staring at the strawberry-blonde’s face.

 

“What happened?” Jabe asked, still calm and even.

 

“Intense stress-induced neural synaptic shock. Resulting cascade failure caused her heart to stop.”

 

The Arboreal blinked in confusion. She knew what each individual word meant, but when strung in that order under these conditions, his words didn’t make sense.

 

Charles Dickens’ agreed. “Pardon?”

 

The Doctor ran a hand through his hair as he tried to explain. “Know the old saying that dying in your dreams means you die for real? ‘S like that.” It wasn’t like that at all, but it was the closest equivalency his tired mind could come up with. It had been so close. Her heart had stopped for 81.93723 rels by the time he’d managed to administer the adrenaline. More importantly though, her mind, the core of her very Self, had been in synaptic cascade shock for 127.15787 rels.

 

Her brain had shut down…she had died…for over two minutesbecause of nightmares.

 

She stirred slightly, slowly blinking, but the intelligence, anger, and fire they usually held was absent. Her mind was alive and active, but not yet fully reinitialized to cognitive awareness. Her voice was eerily hollow as she whispered, “Can’t we save them?” Then her eyes shut again and she fell back into unconsciousness.

 

The Doctor silently reassured himself that she was stable while he quietly began to panic.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 04: Dalek - Realizations  

+++PREVIOUSLY+++

The Doctor ran a hand through his hair. Suddenly he was so very, very tired. It was close. So very, very close. "Know the old saying that dying in your dreams means you die in reality? 'S like that." It wasn't like that at all, but it was the closest equivalency his tired mind could come up with right that rel. It had been so close. Her heart had stopped for 81.93723 rels by the time he'd managed to administer the adrenaline. More importantly though, her mind, the core of her very Self, had been in synaptic cascade shock for 137.15787 rels.

Her brain had shut down…she had died…for over two minutesbecause of nightmares.

She stirred slightly, slowly blinking, but the intelligence, anger, and fire they usually held was absent. Her mind was alive, active, but not yet reinitialized to full cognitive awareness. Her voice was eerily hollow as she whispered, "Can't we save them?" Her eyes drifted back down.

The Doctor silently reassured himself that she was only unconscious; she was still stable, both physically and mentally.

Then he quietly began to panic.

+++NINE++JABE++NINE+++

 

“Doctor? Will the young lady be well?” Charles Dickens asked. He was doing his best not to stare at the nude woman. It wasn’t her fault. However, despite his age, his body was doing its best to react to the acres of flesh he hadn’t seen in decades. Not since he was a much younger man and more prone to fighting against proprietary societal mores in reality; doing the same in his writing came later.

 

“Mmm?” the Time Lord looked over at the other two, blinking twice as if just remembering they were there. “Oh, yes. Rose’ll be fine.”

 

“Arianna,” Jabe corrected.

 

“What?”

 

“You called her ‘Rose’. You did outside the Tardis as well, when the alarm first sounded. Why?” She was curious. She noticed that he used the name unconsciously, as if by habit: under severe stress or thinking intently.

 

He winced. “When I first met her, she called herself Rose. Few years pass, now she goes by Ari. Since I met her under that name, ‘s what ’m used to calling her.”

 

“Ah,” Dickens cleared his throat, his eyes still on the ceiling, “perhaps the young lady would prefer a…covering?”

 

The Doctor blinked at Charles, back to Ari, then snorted. “Humans,” he muttered with a certain note of disgust. He left the infirmary with the intention of grabbing whatever was closest.

 

Gallifreyans hadn’t paid attention to such things for centuries. Time Lords regenerated, which changed their physical appearance (and sometimes even their gender or outer species). Thus, being attracted to an individual’s outer casing wasn’t logical. Physical intimacy was seen more as an optional recreational activity and had for several generations.

 

(Not all Gallifreyans were Time Lords, yet a majority of the population did choose that profession or subsets therein. Making their societal mores and laws regarding how intimacy was perceived and judged lean heavily toward how graduates of the Time Academy would view such things. For Time Lords, who had an even more developed telepathic ability and were trained in the finer aspects, bonding was strictly regulated and the laws enforcing them were absolute.)

 

Instead, Gallifreyan society held mental intimacy sacrosanct. Gallifreyans as a species were low-level telepaths, strengthened by touch, naturally having mental links with all of their immediate family from birth. Marriage involved each participant revealing their core Self to their chosen partner, forming an irrevocable bond. Through that link, the new member of the family would automatically gain mental connections to the others. As such, all of Gallifrey could minutely ‘hear’ each other if they concentrated hard enough. Always aware of each other in the back of their minds. Telepathy, and correspondingly the different types of bonding, were an integral part of Gallifreyan society and culture.

 

That was the Moment’s true punishment for using her/it. Surviving the destruction of Gallifrey was part of it, but it was a small part. It wasn’t the understanding that he had killed his people and ‘won’ the war. He knew it had been the only option. He hated himself for it, but he could reassure himself of its justification and be sure of being in the right. No, the true penance the Moment extracted was the absolute certainty he had killed them…killed them all…because his mind was absolutely silent. Only his own thoughts and emotions swirling around his head. Only him.

 

Patience, his wife, died before his eighth regeneration, oh so long ago, and he’d had his children. His grandchildren. He felt their joy of success, crush of failure, guilt from deception, righteous anger, and he’d supported them. Offered proud congratulations, encouragement to keep trying, advice on when deception was not only required but better than the truth, instruction for appropriate retribution. He’d been a father. He’d been a grandfather. Then the Chancellery Guards had killed all but one of his children, had almost killed Patience. His mind had flared brightly, and he’d crashed to his knees from the echo of their agony that fateful night all those centuries ago. He still remembered the torment as their bonds snapped. Only minurels before, fourteen bright cords had tightly tied him to his precious children and in one fell decision from a bitter, jealous then-Lord President, he’d been left one of three.

 

The Other helped him secret their remaining children, along with Patience, into the Machine until it was once again safe. Even then, even when the Machine took the last members of his family into and beyond the Void; extreme distance put too much strain on bonds, primary bonds being the only type which could survive interdimensional separation. Even when his wife and first-born son had been across the Void, he’d felt them. Tiny threads in his mind, reassuring him they were alive. Then came the Daleks and the War. Patience had taken as many children as she could, taken them all across the Void to what they thought was safety.

 

He fingered the thick Tardis-blue comforter he found in a nearby empty crew quarters, walking slowly back the way he’d come.

 

It was how he’d known the Daleks had been traveling dimensions. He’d felt their threads ping back into his skull, stopping him in his tracks. He still remembered that day: the absolute horror as he realized what that snap-silence meant. They should have been safe! They were supposed to be safe! It hadn’t mattered that they had escaped the fighting. The War had come to them.

 

His primary bonds all severed; the Doctor of War had become an unrelenting hurricane of determined unrelenting ruthlessness as he cut swaths through the Dalek forces. It never was enough to quell the knowledge of the silence in his mind, but there had always been more Daleks to kill. It took centuries of fighting to numb the washing tide of anguish.

 

Seeing those crying, terrified children—reminding him of his precious Patience standing up, hands on her hips, demanding he help her convince other Houses to send away thousands of children with no guarantee they’d ever see them again because it was the best for the children, for no child deserved to live through the horrors of war—jolted him from his grief-born madness.

 

Then he’d said, “No more,” used the Moment, and he truly learned the full, true definition of real, true, dead silence.

 

Looking back, he understood that even then, when he had stopped being the Doctor, he’d still had bonds. Glimmers in the back recesses of his mind, reassuring him that he wasn’t completely alone. There were others that shared his grief and righteous anger. Banding together in their rage. He’d still had his one remaining primary bond with his magnificent ship, he’d had secondary and tertiary bonds with the crew, tertiary and passing bonds with the rest of his people. All of them united against their enemy. Sharing their grief, their triumphs, supporting each other in such horrific times.

 

He draped the comforter around Ari’s form with a practiced snap of his wrists, settling the blanket perfectly evenly. His hands remembered doing the same for his children and continued the ritual tucking carefully in, under, and around arms, torso, and the essential extra padding around feet. His eyes burned oddly. He ignored it in favor of studying the living strawberry-blonde paradox.

 

Ari’s connection with the Tardis, showcased by her perfect multiple translations on Platform One; such a complete translation could only be achieved with a minimum tertiary bond with the Tardis. And his counterpart’s supreme trust in sending her back, certain she would save them all, was all the more puzzling. How could I have so much conviction that she’d do what was needed? That she even understood what was required? A thought occurred to him that filled him with a strange blend of horror and hope. The Doctor could think of only one thing that would give him such a profound belief in another individual to perform the practically impossible task—and it would let Ari have such a deep connection with his ship—was through a bond.

 

He’d never bonded to a human. Not any human. Not any bond.

 

Yet…Ari’s connection to the Tardis belied that his counterpart had done exactly that. It had to be at least a secondary type to access some of ship’s primary features (of which the translation circuit was one). A foster bond or deeper was most likely. The Doctor acknowledged to himself that he was afraid to ask, fearing a bond far more intimate. A primary bond—spousal or parental—to a human, who would grow old and die in less than a century, would be a new form of torture to endure.

 

Then again, surviving was his punishment for using the Moment…

 

However, now that he was thinking of such things, he paused as a new idea occurred to him. Humans were mildly psychic, enough to accept a telepathic bond, and the severing of such a bond would likely cause mental distress. No, he catalogued the likely effects in such a case for a non-Time Lord, non-Gallifreyan quickly and revised his conclusion, definitely would cause mental distress. Symptoms could include extreme mental and physical stress, emotional imbalance, short-term memory loss, and possible fugue states. It would explain much of Ari’s behavior.

 

Her anger was to be expected, but so much anger was unusual. Her panic attacks; intense nightmares, caused by extreme mental stress, coupled with emotional upheaval (she’d displayed high levels of grief, anger, guilt, compassion, and desperation) would easily be enough to create neural synaptic cascade failure. Her seemingly desperate need to save everyone, despite already knowing that she could only change the one event. Confusion was natural—she’d been sent to perform a Time Lord’s duties with none of the training—but the near hearts-attack she’d given him asking which event she’d been sent back to change pointed toward short-term memory loss.

 

A broken bond would explain the push behind the extreme cascade synaptic shock. Yes, it made a lot of sense. 98.96322% probability. Not just any severed bond would produce such effects though; it would have to be a… He swallowed as he suddenly realized the full implications. I bonded to a human.

 

He used a free corner of the blanket to wipe a bit of the muck from her face, away from her eyes, nose, and mouth. The healing nutrient bath had almost completed its job when the alarm had started the decanting, which explained the murky color. Arianna was 97.5798% healed; some areas looked like she had a moderate sunburn, but they were the worst. He had a cream to finish the rest. She’d wake up to a head of strawberry-blonde hair a shade more red than before, about the length of his hand, and freckles a couple shades darker than they had been.

 

I bonded to a human. And not just a passing companion bond, but a primary bonding. The Doctor barely heard as Charles Dickens said his goodbyes—something about adventures being a young man’s game and making one late for supper—as he dropped into the nearest chair, his eyes never leaving the living paradox. Stardust, I bonded to a human. A severed bond—yet to be formed amounted to the same result: one-sided where there had once been two—that even now she was suffering repercussions. The fact that it had been his counterpart was beside the point, Rose was having to endure the backlash…and it was his responsibility to care for her.

 

Now that he found the cause, the question became: what was he going to do about it?

 

The Doctor took a deep breath, another, then gave up. He put his head in his hands…and fought the urge to whimper.

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

Some hours later, when he had thought through every minutia of paradoxical analysis, weighing the pros and contra for every variable, running regressions in triplicate to make absolutely certain of his conclusions, he finally, carefully, reached out and took Ari’s hand.

 

+++ROSEMARY++ARIANNA+CARPENTER+++

 

Ari blinked open her eyes and found she was staring at an unfamiliar ceiling.

 

“You’re awake,” a warm feminine voice to her left drew her attention.

 

Ari looked at the speaker. It took a split second to recognize Jabe and with recognition, the entire set of events rushed back. She was in Hell. She had to save people as penance for her sins; save enough people and she could go to Heaven to be with Robbie. So far, she’d only saved Jabe and she’d done it by taking the woman’s place, thus turning herself into a human briquette. Fun times…but I’m not in pain now. It certainly hurt at the time! 

 

Apparently, saving someone had painful consequences, but if it got her to Robbie, then she’d do what was needed. “I guess,” she answered. “How long was I out?”

 

Jabe’s expression was unreadable. “Ironically, it’s difficult to tell time in this ship, but I estimate a week or so, standard galactic. You’ve had us very worried.”

 

“I’m fine,” Ari grumbled. As if it would kill me. What would they do, send me to Hell? Then she paused as a wiggle revealed some details. “Why am I naked?” her voice now as flat as Jabe’s face.

 

“Nutrient bath requires direct skin contact to heal burns,” the Doctor answered as he came strolling in with a large smile on his face. “Glad to see you awake! ‘S gettin’ worried. How’d you feel?”

 

She blinked at his enthusiasm. It was like being hit in the face with a sugar buzz: a jolt to the system, not necessarily good. “I’m fine.” She looked down at her hand, turning it over, gazing up and down her arm, then pointedly raising the covers to peek down her chest, “I look fine. I feel fine.”

 

“Good, good, good, good, good,” he grinned.

 

Jabe rolled her eyes behind his back. Ari fought a smirk, to which the older woman conspiratorially winked. Then, with some hesitation, the Arboreal asked, “What do you remember?”

 

Ari raised an eyebrow. “You mean before or after I burnt to a crisp?” She shrugged. “What’s to remember? I held the lever. I French-fried. I passed out. End of memory.” In fact, she vaguely recalled some rather horrible dreams of being hunted, a deep soul-certain sensation of never being enough when doing…something…but the details were already fading. “Can’t we save them?” she whispered to herself the only clear part of the dream she could distinctly recall.

 

As if to underscore the point, the lights overhead dimmed for half a second. It immediately drew attention to the ceiling. The Doctor placed a hand on the wall closest to him, practically petting it. When he refocused on the women, he realized that both of their attention was on his actions. He grinned at them, said nothing, and shoved a Tardis-blue leather-bound book into Ari’s hands. “What’s this?” the 24-year-old asked.

 

“ ‘S a journal. Want you to write down what you remember. Everything. Anything. Big events. Details. All of it. As time passes here, you’ll start to forget what’s happened before. This’ll help you keep track.”

 

She blinked at him. As a demon, and my jailor, isn’t it his responsibility that I stay here as long as possible for maximum penance? What if I stumble upon something big that saves lots of people all at once and hit my quota early? Won’t that get him in trouble? “Okaaay,” she drew out the word.

 

He nodded encouragingly with his large smile firmly in place. “Treat it like a diary. Human females use diaries. You do that for a bit, and when you’re ready, we’ll go travelling.”

 

“What am I, eleven?” she whispered to herself. Louder, she said, “Right, of course.” She felt wary, like she was missing something significant. He just seemed too…bouncy. Happy. What would make a demon happy? Doubt I want to know…it’s going to bite me in the ass, I know it.

 

No matter what he told her, she was going to take a shower and dress first. Then she’d write down some bullshit. Ari’s smile was slightly evil at some ideas she could use to throw the demon for a spin if he ever got the bright idea (boys were famous for it) to read her ‘diary’.

 

+++ARI++NINE++JABE+++

 

When Ari finally emerged from her room, the Doctor saw that she was dressed in another set of gray jeans, black sneakers, and a loose blouse, this one Tardis-blue. He grinned hugely at her in response. Her reply was a frown. He huffed a happy laugh, not taking it personally; he could tell that she was confused by his behavior. His smile stayed in place. “Ready?”

 

Ari gave a one-shoulder shrug, “As I’ll ever be.” She paused, thinking. What was after ‘End of the World’? Charles Dickens and ghosts, that’s right. “1869 Cardiff?”

 

The Doctor’s face fell at the memory. He gave a short nod. “Was 27 hours ago.”

 

“We almost died,” Jabe softly interjected, her tone full of sadness.

 

Everyone almost died,” the Doctor corrected. It was why he had committed genocide…again. Once more, he’d had no choice. He noted that Ari’s face was pinched; she was angry. Time to change the subject. “Met Charles Dickens though! Was a bundle of laughs, that one! Weeell, a bit. Some. Not really.”

 

Jabe laughed quietly, but it was still sad. She was slowly getting more used to the Doctor’s antics. She certainly understood him better. “Charles got better toward the end.”

 

Ari’s eyes were bouncing between the pair, but inside she was livid. In saving Jabe, she’d missed saving Gwyneth or the asshole funeral guy. What was his name? Oh, who cares? So she’d been in Hell at least a week and had only gotten absolution for one sin?! This was ridiculous! They were punishing her for doing penance by burning her to a crisp and then, to add insult to literal injury, they made her miss out on the next one. Seriously?! This isn’t fair! Of course, Hell wasn’t supposed to be fair. But how do they expect me to make up for what I’ve done wrong in life if they keep making it more difficult? How long does this usually take? As long as it took, she supposed.

 

“So where to now?” she asked. It wasn’t as if she was going to give up any time soon. She had to get back to Robbie! Heaven was a bonus. She just wanted to be with her sister.

 

“Have anything in mind?” he answered. He still had a smile, but it looked forced.

 

Ari idlily wondered why but didn’t really care. They weren’t going to punish her more for annoying a demon. She shrugged. “If you guys met Charles Dickens, then how about Agatha Christy?” Were they allowed to do episodes out of order? He hadn’t said they couldn’t

 

His grin grew more genuine. “There’s an idea! 1920’s! England!” He pushed a few levers and turned several dials. He went to push a button and hesitated. “Jabe, strap in to the Pilot’s chair,” he nodded significantly to the only seat in the control room. When the tree was settled and had been helped to fasten a safety harness around her, he bounced back to the console. “Now then—”

 

“Geronimo,” Ari commented. Wrong Doctor, but who cares?

 

His grin was back to its original broadness as he pushed the button that initiated flight. “Fantast—” before he could finish the word, a light on the console began to flash. “What?” The room rocked sideways and they all clutched to the nearest surface.

 

“Perhaps you should stop saying that word,” Jabe quipped lightly.

 

“Why? That’s Big Ears catch-phrase.” Ari asked with a raised eyebrow, momentarily distracted from the chaotic jerking. All of his faces had some sort of catch-phrase. As if he’s some television superhero; oh wait, her thoughts distinctly sarcastic.

 

Jabe didn’t answer for a couple seconds, holding onto the seat of the chair tensely as all three of them were tossed. “Something like this happened the last time he said it, or almost said it.”

 

“Those unfamiliar with the Law of Large Numbers…” Ari muttered under her breath.

 

It was low enough that only the Doctor heard and he laughed at her witticism. “Like math, do you?”

 

“Had a good teacher,” she replied quietly. In fact, it was one of the few classes that her grandfather had been able to help her understand. The memory flashed through her mind: James Carpenter rolling his eyes, griping that her teacher was ‘making an easy subject more difficult than necessary’, then proceeded to teach her everything she needed to know to pass the course. It had only taken them a week. She loved her sister dearly, but she still savored the few occasions it had just been her and her grandfather. Bonding over her idiot statistics instructor was one of her favorite memories.

 

The Doctor saw her expression darken. Had he been the one to teach her? Was she remembering her life before? Or was her sorrow from a different source?

 

Jabe saw the grief in the other woman’s eyes and decided a change in topic was in order. “Is this flight more chaotic?” Even strapped into the chair, she was afraid to let go. The ship was jerking back and forth so fast that it was practically an amusement ride. Jabe had always hated them.

 

“We’re being dragged off course,” he replied, hanging on to the edge of the hexagonal control console with one hand to hold himself in roughly one location, while reaching with the other hand. “Some sort of signal pulling us.” He didn’t like the readings he was getting.

 

“What sort of signal?” Jabe said.

 

“Vague, much?” said Ari.

 

“Don’t know. Ship can’t decide what it is.” Different colors were flashing on his screen, using the Galactic Standard Color System in which each color was indicative of a specific type of signal. All of his ship’s systems ran on the GSCS. So either the signal wasn’t aligned with the GSCS—rare, but not impossible—or someone was sending out multiple signals. Or my magnificent ship needs a few repairs I didn’t know about.

 

“Well, that doesn’t sound ominous at all,” Ari griped.

 

“Are you always this sarcastic?” Jabe asked. Her tone wasn’t judging, only curious.

 

“Yes!” Ari and the Doctor answered in stereo.

 

The ship gave one last hard jerk and settled with its characteristic final loud boom. “We’re here,” the Doctor explained.

 

Ari groaned. “I think I broke something.” The last few jerks had bounced her away from the console, then the landing had flipped her over the balustrade. Her own landing had been flat on her back, knocking the breath out of her. She didn’t think she could move.

 

As if those were the magic words, the Doctor practically materialized by her side, already using his sonic. He relaxed slightly at the scan results. “You’re fine. All normal. Bit bruised but nothing major. Here,” he held out his hands, which she reluctantly grasped, and helped her to her feet.

 

She moaned pitifully as she—very carefully!—stretched her back muscles. “Why is Jabe the only one who gets a seatbelt? Can’t I have a seatbelt?” She heard her spine give a loud rapid pop-pop-pop-pop. “Doctor, I want a seatbelt.”

 

He nodded immediately. “I can reconfigure the Tardis before we leave here.”

 

“Or he could bother to read the manual,” Jabe inserted her own two cents. She raised her brows at the girl. “Are you alright?” The poor woman had just gotten over being burned alive!

 

“I’ll live, but I’d like to avoid an encore.” Ari wiggled her toes, reassuring herself that she still had the ability. Once that was settled, she pulled herself back up to the platform. “So, Doctor, where is ‘here’?”

 

If she was forced to, Ari knew she could probably pull together the first few dozen episodes of Doctor Who and section them into appropriate season. However, since she had seen them on cable, she wasn’t as clear on the specific order in which they’d aired. Especially the least-popular episodes that were hardly ever on cable unless it was part of a marathon, and even then it wasn’t a guarantee. As the first season, seeing those reruns the most often due to repetition (Ari had been a fan of Doctor Who since the reboot in 2005) and thus the only one with Christopher Eccleston, Ari knew the chronological order of the Ninth Doctor episodes with the most assurance. However, as the first season had aired a long time ago, she hadn’t seen them in a while. She was absolutely certain of the order of the first three and the ones with Jack, but the others were more of a vague hand-wavey guess based on what she remembered of the episode’s plotline and how it related to the over-arching plot of the season.

 

He was looking at the screen readout, the circle-script giving him information on time and location. “Earth, Northern Hemisphere, United States. About a quarter-mile beneath the Bonneville Salt Flats in northern Utah.”

 

“When are we?” Jabe asked.

 

“Two thousand twelve.”

 

“Are you sure? Last time you aimed for 1860 and landed in 1869.”

 

He tapped a particular rotating lined circle on the left side of the screen as if that was providing proof. Then he ruined it with his response, “Ish.” Jabe gave a soft sigh and shook her head. He grinned and began to move toward the doors.

 

“Space and time are relative. The faster you travel through space, the slower time goes, until it starts going backwards. The corollary being that space would go slower the faster you travel through time, until it began to loop on itself. The beginning is the end. Like Pac-Man. For Time Lords, who travel in space and time simultaneously, registering a specific period and location is iffy. Especially with an older model Tardis like this one.”

 

The Doctor had stopped, looking back at her, when Ari began to speak. About halfway through, his eyebrows had risen in surprise. By the time she finished, his expression was blank. Her explanation wasn’t accurate, but it was the closest he’d ever heard out of a human. It was one more nail in the coffin proving how close of a relationship she had experienced with his counterpart. Not only had she asked questions, he’d answered them, and both had taken the time and effort necessary to help her understand as fully as she was capable.

 

Jabe was impressed. “How long have you been with the Doctor?” How long would it take Jabe herself to understand as much as the blonde?

 

Ari paused, not knowing how to respond. She’d only been in Hell for about a week, according to Jabe, but she’d followed the series for a little over a decade. She’d had multiple arguments over those years with other fans theorizing why the Doctor almost never landed when/where he planned. (At least until the Idris episode and they all collectively nodded, paused for a few days, then began to alter their previous theories to take into account the new information.) Though for some reason, what she’d just explained seemed different than what she remembered her theory being. Yet it made perfect sense in her head. Weird.

 

However, the tree-woman was obviously waiting for a reply. Finally, she shrugged as non-committedly as she could and said, “Depends on how you count. Like you said, it’s hard to tell time in this ship.” Which did bring up an interesting point: even the television series characters didn’t pretend that the episodes showed all of the adventures that the Doctor and his companions experienced. Nor did they ever give the impression that the episodes occurred at any sort of regular intervals for the characters.

 

Was Ari going to be waiting a long time until she knew events again, until she was able to save another, getting her one step closer to Robbie? May need to rethink the ‘save only one’ rule. Actively preventing one death wasn’t the only way to save someone. What if she could think of something that would save a whole lot all at once? Same idea behind killing Hitler in the cradle, or preventing Hitler’s parents from ever meeting at all. That one act would have a cumulative effect, saving millions. Maybe I can do something, save enough people, to pay off all my sins at once! It was certainly an idea worth exploring.

 

“You two ready to come out yet?” They turned to find the Doctor poking his head back inside the ship. “I found a light switch.” While they’d spoken, he’d obviously gone ahead and explored a little. Jabe came out first and gazed in curiosity around them. “And a museum,” he finished with a gesture to the glass cases surrounding them.

 

Ari, as the last out, closed the Tardis door with a firm tug. Then pushed to make sure it was locked. She turned to peer at wherever they had landed and blinked. This is familiar. The floor were twelve-inch tiles in the classic predictable museum light-gray-and-cream that supposedly didn’t distract from the exhibits. (Personally, Ari had always found it dull and unimaginative.) Row upon row upon row of various sizes of glass cases set on pedestals. However, it was what was inside the exhibits that drew full attention.

 

“An alien museum,” Jabe commented as she peered at a dull-green arm with splotches of brown and grey, fingers ending in beige two-inch-long claws. She swallowed down her revulsion as she realized what she was looking at. “This is an arm from a Raxacoricofallapatorian.” Her brown eyes were full of horror when they met the Doctor’s blue. “They stuffed it,” she whispered. Someone, somewhere, had the dead body of a sentient individual taxidermized, preserving it with the intention to display. “They stuffed someone’s arm.” She pressed a hand to her core, feeling intensely ill.

 

Ari blinked at Jabe’s words. It had never before occurred to her that the Van Statten museum held people. She looked at the head of an early-version Cyberman—an image of the Cyberman head crawling towards Amy Pond, spitting out the skeletal remains of a skull before reaching for Amy—and wondered if the human head was still inside, preserved for ‘authenticity’. She shivered and it had nothing to do with being cold.

 

While watching the show, you were a spectator. Doctor Who was meant as entertainment and she had enjoyed it immensely. The ramifications of what was actually being shown wasn’t truly felt or understood unless the main characters acknowledged it, thus telling the audience how they should feel about it. The implications never really registered. “Shit on a shingle,” she muttered. There were more than just the head of a Cyberman. More than just the former human remains. Many more. She could see at least eight from where she stood. “Whoever did this is a monster.” Van Statten certainly wouldn’t do it himself; he’d order it done.

 

“Someone’s got quite the hobby,” the Doctor’s voice was solemn, echoing their disgust.

 

Ari’s hand came up. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered right before her hand touched the glass. Right after her hand came into contact, a loud siren began to sound. “Ah crap, forgot about that.” Soldiers filled the room, coming from all directions. They surrounded them, aiming guns, and in the process cutting them off from the Tardis. 

 

At least this gave her another chance to save someone. One step closer to Robbie. Or maybe, if she could prevent the Dalek from getting out at all, she’d save lots of soldiers and be lots closer to Robbie!

 

It wasn’t as if she’d be stupid enough to touch the damned thing. Nor would she be bringing the English boy along afterward. Which was an interesting thought, since wasn’t that guy the entire reason for the Doctor and Rose almost dying in the newspaper-satellite episode? He got a chip in his head and it gave the editor in charge too much information about the Doctor, including that there was ship capable of time travel and almost handed over the key. Yup, he’s staying here. She’d never liked him anyway, too juvenile in his perspective.

 

“Attention all personnel,” came over a hidden loudspeaker. “Bad Wolf One descending. Bad Wolf One descending.”

 

Ari frowned. Bad Wolf was a key aspect of the overarching plotline of season 1. It was a tautological paradox. Bad Wolf had created itself. But Bad Wolf was Rose and Rose wasn’t here. What did that mean? Did they want Ari to become Bad Wolf? Why bother? This was Hell. It wasn’t like she didn’t know. And Bad Wolf didn’t actually kill off all the Daleks, only that group. So what was the point?

 

Her eyes slid to Jabe and bit her lip in thought. Maybe the tree could take over that aspect.

 

As if reading her mind, the Doctor whispered, “Remember Ari, no changin’ things.”

 

“Shut it, you!” one of the soldiers escorting them down the hall yelled.

 

She didn’t answer. I change things by existing; he said so himself. And if he wants to keep up this charade of not knowing what’s going to happen, then he can’t call me on anything that I mess with! Doctor Who was a great show to watch, but not something she wanted to experience. Whoever had chosen her personal version of Hell had chosen well. She did not want to be here any longer than absolutely necessary. She had two choices: follow along and try to play Rose’s part, only saving those dictated by the episodes, or actively saving as many as she could as fast as she could. No real choice there. Though, she’d have to be careful or she could end up being burnt to a crisp again.

 

So she’d play Rose, as well as she could remember, up to a point—Rose never got injured—at least until she could think of something better.

 

There had to be a better option than becoming Bad Wolf, letting the Time Vortex into her head, and becoming a briquette again…only this time from the inside-out.

+++ARI++NINE++JABE+++

 

They were unceremoniously locked into a plain gray room with a single metal bench anchored to the wall by a thick chain. There was a metal toilet bowl in a corner. Ari sneered, “Looks like a prison cell.”

 

“Probably,” the Doctor commented absently. He was peering at the walls, moving as he did so, trying to find anything that could help tell him what was going on. He found three cameras, a single speaker mounted by the door that had no controls to operate it, but not much else. “Any facility this large that employs soldiers would have something akin to this.”

 

“How are we going to get back to the Tardis?” Jabe asked quietly. She didn’t like this. Any museum that stuffed people was NOT a place she wanted to be.

 

“Let me worry about that,” he turned to face her. His eyes were concerned. “Still have to find the source of that signal.” In truth, he could get them out of the room right then, using his sonic screwdriver, but that wouldn’t tell him anything. He needed to speak to someone in charge. Playing along, for the moment, should help the humans think they were in control. Humans like that feeling and usually followed it up with detailed explanations of why the others were idiots. Thus telling the supposed idiots everything they needed to know.

 

“Maybe it was a trap,” Jabe shivered slightly, hugging her middle. “You said that the signal kept switching types. Send out different signals to trap the most p-people.” She stuttered the last word, her mind starting to fill with different images of possible ways she could be displayed in a glass case.

 

He gave her a reassuring smile. “Nobody here has the knowledge to pull a Tardis off course. Or the ability.” He paused. “Other than myself.” He shrugged. “Doubt they even know the signal is being broadcast; it wasn’t sent over their typical monitoring frequencies.” Earth wouldn’t adopt the Galactic Standard for another few centuries.

 

Ari looked at them both with a raised eyebrow, her voice incredulous. “You do realize that they are listening to everything you’re saying?”

 

“Of course,” his smile cheeky. “Be idiots if they weren’t.”

 

As if on cue, the door gave a ‘click’. First inside were four soldiers, two going to the left and two to the right to flank the door, their guns held at the ready. Then in walked Mr. Henry Van Statten. Dressed in a dark blue bespoke suit with a horizontal striped white and blue button-down shirt, also tailored. His plain brown hair was receding, making his thick eyebrows and mustache draw the eye to the center of his face.  “Who exactly are you?” he demanded.

 

“I’m the Doctor,” his voice and face were carefully flat, “and who are you?”

 

“Like you don’t know,” Van Statten scoffed. “We’re fifty-three floors down, hidden away with the most valuable collection of extra-terrestrial artifacts in the world, and you just stumble in by mistake?”

 

The Time Lord laughed as he agreed. “Pretty much sums me up, yeah.”

 

“What about the stuff UNIT has? Or Torchwood?” Ari wondered aloud to herself. “They’ve got to have bigger collections of alien crap.”

 

“They wish!” Van Statten crowed with a slight laugh. Then he grew more serious. “And who are you that you know so much about programs that don’t exist?”

 

“I’m Arianna,” for some unknown reason she didn’t want him to call her by her nickname, “and you can ignore me.”

 

He snorted. “Doubtful. In my experience, anyone who says that is usually the most important person in the room.”

 

“Seriously?” Or maybe not so unknown. He made her skin crawl.

 

He nodded, then paused. “Well, usually they don’t say it.”

 

The Doctor stared at the man, studying him. He knew the type. Wealthy, driven to obsession, and arrogant. “So you’re just about an expert in everything except the things in your museum. Anything you don’t understand, you lock up.”

 

Van Statten’s eyes refocused on him. “And you claim greater knowledge?”

 

“I don’t need to make claims. I know how good I am.”

 

Ari snorted, a hand clapping over her mouth in an vane attempt to keep it contained, drawing attention back to her. The Doctor’s offended expression made her laugh. “Doctor, you have got to be the most intelligent idiot that I’ve ever known.”

 

“Oi!” he protested. Her giggles increased.

 

Van Statten’s lips quirked as he agreed. “I captured you.” A pause for dramatic effect. “Right next to the Cage. What were you doing there?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

“Some signal caught your attention while you were monitoring non-standard frequency bands.” Van Statten replied immediately. He’d obviously listened to their conversation. “What I want to know is how you infiltrated my ultra-top-secret underground base with only one entrance, constantly monitored, that you did not pass through.” He crossed his arms to glare at them challengingly. “Is it your intention to just investigate this supposed signal out of your own curiosity? Or is this a botched rescue?”

 

“Rescue?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Oreal, cradle us in your branches,” Jabe whispered in horror. They were going to die down here. Murdered and stuffed; new attractions in this Museum of the Dead.

 

Van Statten spoke as if he hadn’t heard her; perhaps he hadn’t, humans had terrible hearing. “The Cage contains my one living specimen.”

 

“Only because you can’t get past his armor,” Ari muttered. She’d heard Jabe’s prayer (by the tone she knew it had to be a tree’s version) and once again thought of the taxidermy. Rows upon rows upon rows of taxidermized limbs and heads. People on display for this man.

 

The Doctor’s eyes flicked the Ari, then back to the arrogant human. “Show me,” he demanded.

 

Van Statten almost smirked. He knew that these three would never be able to escape, now that he knew they were here he had six people constantly watching their every movement and listening to every word uttered. So what harm was it to let them see the greatest piece of his collection? If it was a rescue, it was a terrible execution and had already failed. There was also the persistent hope perhaps this group could get his prize to speak.

 

He didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t have to; he knew he’d be clearly heard and obeyed. “Goddard, inform the Cage to expect guests.” His smile was almost predatory. “Come and see my pet.”

 

+++ARI++NINE++JABE+++

 

Diana Goddard joined the group as they were escorted through the halls, back the way they had come. This time, they passed the entrance to the main museum and into a side corridor running parallel. They turned a final corner and were confronted with a large concrete-and-steel constructed vault. As they stepped fully into the room, the vault door opened without a sounds, revealing a man in an orange plastic jumpsuit designed for someone working around deadly amounts of electricity. “Welcome back, sir. I’ve had to take the power down. The Metaltron is resting.”

 

Van Statten nodded his understanding, but the Doctor questioned. “Metaltron?” It wasn’t a species he was familiar with, which was certainly saying something.

 

“Thought of it myself. Good, isn’t it?” Van Statten said with obvious pride. “Although, I’d much prefer to find out it’s real name.” He sighed almost wistfully. “We’ve tried everything, but the creature has some sort of shield. There’s definite signs of life inside though.”

 

“Inside? Inside what?”

 

The man in the orange protective suit began to pull off his black insulating gloves. “You’ll need these. The last guy who touched it…” he finally looked slightly ill at the memory, but shook it off quickly.

 

“I won’t touch it then.” The Doctor looked at his companions, his eyes compassionate, “You can wait here.”

 

Ari hesitated. She didn’t remember Rose being in the chamber upon first meeting or not. She knew that Rose had touched the Dalek, letting the thing absorb the DNA of a time traveler, thus repairing its systems, but couldn’t remember where the Doctor had been at the time. Or was that when Rose had been with the English asshole? That sounded more accurate.

 

She also saw how ill Jabe looked. The tree was actually a bit pale! “Fine then. How about we go look at his inanimate artifacts while you deal with…that.”

 

Van Statten gestured. “Goddard, show them to Little Lord Fautleroy’s lair.” The woman nodded, smirking in grim amusement at his terminology, as well as the open challenge that his tone implied. “Go ahead Doctor. Impress me.”

 

“Be careful,” Jabe murmured. This all felt so wrong.

 

+++JABE++ARI++JABE+++

 

Goddard, who introduced herself as Diana, escorted them to Adam Sherwood’s office along with a small contingent of soldiers. She knocked politely but didn’t wait before walking inside. She twitched her fingers and the soldiers divided themselves into posts, both inside and outside the office. It was a crowd of knick-knacks, broken items, and lots of metal shelves with bits and pieces of odds and ends.

 

She saw the eccentric researcher with a small gray fan-like object. “What does it do?” she asked noncommittally.

 

Adam explained as best as he could with his limited experience in the field of alien physics. He was a scientist but had no specialization. “Well you see, the tubes on the side must be to channel something, I think maybe fuel...”

 

Jabe tried to be helpful. Away from the Hall of the Dead, she felt better physically. “I really wouldn't hold it like that.” Yet being separated made her nervous. If the man in charge figured out that they weren’t human either, they would be in trouble.

 

Adam blinked at her, curious. “Is it dangerous?”

 

“No. It just looks silly.” She smiled gently, trying to offset the glare of anger that Ari was sending their way. She reached for the artifact. The two guards clicked off their safety and pointed their guns at them. They all froze, Jabe flinched backward. Diana gave a speaking glance to the pair, making both resume their previous relaxed-but-ready positions.

 

Jabe took it carefully in her hands. “You just need to be...” She ran her fingers ever so gently over the artifact’s ridges and a high-pitched musical tune that sounded kind of like the harmonica version of a lullaby began to come out of the object. “…delicate.” She grinned up at Adam, who looked mildly impressed.

 

“It's a musical instrument,” Diana said with only a little awe. Her face stayed mostly flat.

 

Jabe nodded, “It appears to be one of the first designs of the Zyloxi, who are a primarily artistic people.”

 

Diana narrowed her eyes at the pair. “Who exactly are you?”

 

“My name is Jabe and this is Lady Arianna. We are currently travelling with the Doctor.” Her answer was wary, hesitant.

 

Both Adam and Diana recognized such and Adam tried to change the subject. “Sorry about the mess. Mr. Van Statten sort of lets me do my own thing. So long as I deliver the goods.” Adam poked a few things around the room, selected one and handed it to the brown-skinned woman. “What do you think…that is?” He handed Jabe an object no bigger than his palms, then blinked as his fingers brushed hers and noticed how odd her skin felt.

 

Jabe noticed that he noticed and was understandably hesitant. “Based on the configuration and contour of the metal, I would guess that it was a piece of a Giordan hull.”

 

Adam grinned at her. “It’s all really true! Everything the United Nations tries to keep quiet—spacecraft, aliens, visitors to Earth. They really exist.”

 

Ari nodded absently. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whole universe teeming with life beyond our own planet. Amazing.” Her tone was anything but.

 

He was smart enough to hear it in her voice and became defensive. “I know it sounds incredible, but I honestly believe that!”

 

Ari rolled her eyes. “Wasn’t it Carl Sagan who said ‘The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.’ ”

 

“He also said, ‘It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.’ ” Adam shot back at her.

 

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” Diana said, quoting the same man. “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”

 

Ari let out a surprised laugh. “Touche.”

 

Jabe wasn’t laughing. “And you do what? Sit here and catalogue it?”

 

He frowned even as he smiled. “Best job in the world!”

“Imagine if you could get out there. Travel amongst the stars and see it for real.” The Arboreal was almost glaring at him. “Then perhaps you would see that there are body parts in that museum of horrors! And there is a living creature down there that I have no doubt he is torturing. How can you justify sitting here, doing nothing, in the midst of such…such…war crimes?”

Adam and Diana both blinked at her, shocked. Even the soldiers were surprised at her vehemence.

 

“My family was on vacation in New York City and I logged on to the U.S. Defense System. Nearly caused World War Three. Van Statten came and made me an offer: work for him or go to federal prison.” Adam shrugged self-consciously. “I was only eight, I hadn’t thought of the consequences. Just liked watching them running about. Then…everything changed.” His voice had become quieter as he spoke. It was not a happy memory. His entire world had upended. 


Jabe sighed. “I am sorry for your experiences, but that does not change your current inaction. Doing nothing is the same as tacit approval. Do you truly believe what Van Statten is doing is the right thing?”

 

The others in the room were looking extremely uncomfortable, especially Diana and Adam. “Well I did ask to see the…being,” he’d almost said ‘creature’ but changed it at the last second, his eyes starting to pick up the differences in Jabe’s human skin and beginning to form a conclusion, “but he keeps it to himself.” The woman was persuasive in her words and he was almost certain was an alien herself. “Although…if you're a genius…it doesn’t take long to patch in on the comm system.” He wanted to impress this being from another world. He wanted to show her that he wasn’t like she was implying. Yet the more he thought about it, the more he wondered if she was right.

 

Diana glared at him. “That is against the rules.” Then she sighed and gestured with a couple fingers. “Let’s have a look.” She too wanted to prove that Jabe was incorrect of her assessment. Van Statten couldn’t be that bad…could he?

 

Adam went to the computer on what seemed to be the main desk and tapped some keys. “It doesn't do much - the alien. It's weird; it's kind of...useless. It's just like this great big pepper pot.”

 

On the computer screen flashes up the security video that watches the Cage. They all watched as Simmons approached the Dalek and began to drill into the thing. The Dalek began to scream.

 

Jabe jerked backward in horror. “It is being tortured!” She pointed to the other screens. “Is there another camera? Where's the Doctor?”

“I don't know,” Adam shrugged helplessly.

“Take us down there.” She strode towards the door, Ari following behind her. The soldiers took a step forward to block their exit. “Now,” she demanded. She was moving past fear and heading directly towards angry.

 

Diana Goddard, Henry Van Statten’s right-hand, blinked at the screen. Listened to the screams for several seconds. She’d heard those sounds before, intellectually knew what Simmons was doing, but it had never fully registered what that meant. Jabe’s comment ran through her mind over and over as she listened to the screams. There are body parts in that museum of horrors! Body parts… She remembered the woman’s identification of the instrument and hull and realized that this intelligent woman was, in all probability, an alien herself. Body parts…body parts… Would Van Statten do the same to such an obviously compassionate female? Of course he would… He erased memories of humans who annoyed him, dumping them on the side of the road with nothing of their own, not even their name. We’ve got body parts…bodies…cadavers in our museum.

 

When she turned around to face the rest of the room, her face had an edge to it that wasn’t there before. “Inform the Cage of our arrival.”

 

+++ARI++JABE++ARI+++

 

As they walked to the Cage, back the way they had come yet again, Ari was thinking hard. She recognized that Jabe had played Rose at least half the time she’d spoken. She also knew that Goddard hadn’t been in that scene originally. However, they were still going to go see the Dalek, exactly as Rose had in the episode. So how much could change in the details while the main plot stayed the same? Did anything she changed truly matter at all? Was it all pointless?

 

Or could it be that she really was supposed to change only one key event, just as the demon-Doctor said? They’d mentioned Bad Wolf. Rose had become Bad Wolf, taking in the Heart of the Tardis, because she cared for the Doctor so much… The scene flashed through her mind.

 

Rose was crying, a single tear sliding down her cheek. “I want you safe. My Doctor. Protected from the false god.”

 

The Dalek Emperor denied even the possibility. “You cannot hurt me. I am immortal!”

 

“You are TINY. I can see the whole of time and space. Every single ATOM of your existence and I divide them.” Rose’s hand came up in a gesture of explosion and the emperor began to disintegrate. Then she raised her arms and thousands upon millions of Daleks, whole ships, began to atomize. “Everything must come to dust. All things.”

 

The Dalek Emperor screamed. “I will not die. I CANNOT DIE!!!” Even as he finished his scream of denial, he vanished in last flash of golden sparks.

 

“Everything comes to dust.” Rose’s tears came faster. “The Time War ends.” The rest of the Dalek fleet disappeared in a golden wave, spreading throughout the galaxy.

 

The Doctor stared at her with such intense worry. “Rose, you’ve done it. Now stop. Just let go.”

 

Rose refocused her immense attention onto him. “How can I let go of this?” She raised a hand, gesturing slightly as if brushing away a fly. “I bring life.”

 

The Doctor shook  his head, his face showing the strain. “This is wrong! You can’t control life and death.”

 

“But I can,” she countered simply. “The sun and the moon, the day and the night.” Tears had continued to fall as she had spoken, but they were beginning to dry. “But why do they hurt?”

 

He knew it was a bad sign. “The power’s going to kill you and it’s my fault.”

 

“I can see everything. All that is. All that was. All that ever could be.”

 

His eyes widened, shocked surprise. “That’s what I see. All the time.” Then his brows came down in concern. “Doesn’t it drive you mad?”

 

“Oh God, my head…”

 

“Come here.”

 

“…it’s killing me.”

 

“I think you need a Doctor.” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently, pulling with every ounce of his will and training. Once he had all of the Time Vortex inside, he catches Rose in his arms as she faints, then pushed outward, redirecting the flow of intense energy back to where it belonged. Back into his precious Tardis, the last remnant of his home.

 

Rose cared so much for the Doctor that she did the unthinkable, nearly killing herself to save him. He loved her so much that he reversed the process, killing himself.

 

Ari didn’t care for this demon-Doctor nearly enough to sacrifice herself. However…  If she were to become Bad Wolf, then she might be able to ensure that ALL the Daleks, across all of space and time in every corner of the universe and into the Void, were ALL atomized. That would save hundreds of thousands of lives all at once!

 

Would that be enough to let her be with Robbie?

 

Yet, she’d have to play it safe. Play at being Rose up to that point. Jabe was currently being more Rose than Ari herself. Was that alright? Or did Ari need to be a more active participant?

 

This episode was a large turning point for the Ninth Doctor, centering on how different Rose and he viewed the escaped Dalek. She demanded that he put down the gun because all the Dalek wanted was to feel the sunlight. Her DNA had changed the Dalek’s own, making it hate itself enough to suicide. The Doctor had finally realized, seeing the reality of the situation instead of his assumption, and apologized. Finally got closure from a fellow survivor of the Time War.

 

So, if Ari didn’t let this episode play out as close to her memories as possible, did that mean everything afterward would change too? Would the Doctor stay aggressive and manic, countering every problem with an explosion or eradication? How many species had he eliminated from the universe?

 

If she was to escape this horrible personal hell, then becoming Bad Wolf was starting to look like a really good idea. Which meant that she needed things to go according to plan. “Damnit. This is going to suck,” she muttered mostly to herself. Louder, she grabbed Jabe’s arm and whispered sternly, “Don’t get too close.” Jabe gave her a confused look, but nodded her understanding.

 

Ari kept a tight grip on Jabe’s arm as she slowly started to walk towards the Dalek. Ari kept Jabe from going too far into the room, definitely not close enough to touch it. But the tree had a very kind heart, and her soul was pure. Not like mine. Jabe, while hesitant because of Ari’s warning, still addressed the Dalek. She would treat the alien like a friend until proven otherwise. “Hello.” The blue glow of the eyestalk just watched the pair, giving no other reaction. She continued. “Are you in pain? My name is Jabe. My friends and I can help you. This is Ari and our other friend is the Doctor. What is your name? Your home?”

 

“Yes.” Ari winced at the harshness of the voice. She didn’t remember it being so horribly grating on the show! It was like the hearing equivalent of sandpaper! She dropped Jabe’s hand to cover her ears.

 

Jabe moved closer to better see and let the alien more easily see her. She that she wasn’t purely human and understand that she wouldn’t hurt it like the others. “Pardon? I do not understand.”

 

The Dalek raised its eyestalk to better be able to look her in the face. It spoke slowly, wearily. It wanted to be misunderstood by the kind, stupid, human companions of the Doctor. “I am in pain. They torture me, but still they fear me. Do you fear me?”

 

Jabe shook her head. “No.”

 

The Dalek lowered its eyestalk as if it was tired. “I am dying.”

“No, we can help!” Jabe doesn’t understand Ari’s mistrust of the creature. Who knew how long it had been here, being tortured? It had to be in absolute agony.

 

“I welcome death. But I am glad...that before I die...I met a human who was not afraid.” Jabe, stop encouraging it to talk…please. Oooww.

 

Jabe just stood there, overwhelmed by her compassionate nature, and asked gently. “Is there not anything I can do?” She believed it when it said it was near death. Who wouldn’t be after so long? The least she could do was help it pass into the afterlife as peacefully as possible.

“My race is dead. I shall die alone.” It let its eyestalk lower more.

 

Jabe was so moved that she has tears in her eyes. She reached out and Ari moved, heedless of the noise of the Dalek in her ears. “NO!” If she touches it, then it might not get the right DNA extraction and I’ll never see Robbie! Ari grabbed a hold of the back of Jabe’s dress and yanked, pulling the Arboreal off her feet. The momentum shoved her into Adam’s chest. But Ari forgot about Newton’s Third Law of Motion. As Jabe was pulled backward, Ari was tossing herself forward. Right into the Dalek. Well, that’s evidence towards the question of whether or not changing details changes the episode too much. This Dalek was getting out one way or another.

 

The place where Ari had landed, where her hand, the back of her arm, and her neck had touched the Dalek began to burn. As she got to her feet as quickly as she could, practically running across the room, dragging Jabe with her, she saw out of the corner of her eye that the places where she had touched its armor were bright orange. Then with a bright flash of blue, the orange disappeared.

 

The Dalek's tone changed, becoming even more discordant. “Genetic material extrapolated - initiate cellular reconstruction!” It burst out of its chains. Sparks flew.

 

Simmons entered the room as Ari literally dragged Jabe from the room. “Run you idiots!” She yelled to the soldiers she could see. She barely heard Simmons ask a question and she heard a cracking sound.

 

What surprised her more—since she did remember this episode rather well—was hearing Diana Goddard’s voice calling out orders. “Hold position. Don’t let it past you!”

 

The intercom burst into life, “Condition red! Repeat, condition red! This is not a drill!”

 

Jabe tried to slow down, not understanding the emergency, but Ari didn’t loosen her grip. The tree realized that she would have to hurt the human if she truly wanted to stop, and the Arboreal wasn’t willing to do that. Lady Arianna had saved her on Platform One. She had to trust that the human had their best interests at heart. She looked back briefly as a distant call came to ‘open fire’ and heart the staccato rhythm of gunshots.

 

“Don’t stop, Jabe. We have to get to Floor 42.” She was surprised that her words came out with a degree of relative calm. Almost as if, by finally deciding on a specific course of action, she was at peace with the follow-through. Odd, but whatever helps prevent panic. She hadn’t had a panic-attack yet on this trip and wanted to keep it that way.

 

The Doctor’s voice came over the intercom system, agreeing with Ari. “Rose! Jabe, get out of there!”

 

“Ari!” Ari yelled at him in turn. Relatively calm she may be, but she hated her former nickname. It reminded her of the day she had lost so much. Not helping me not panic you asshole!

 

“Is that really important right now?” Adam asked breathlessly. It was the first time she realized that he had followed them.

 

“It’s important to me!”

 

Goddard stopped running with the three, pausing at an intercom station. “All guards to converge in the Metaltron Cage, immediately.” She depressed the button to turn off the channel and shouted to the Head of Security, “Civilians! Let them through!”

 

They had been running for at least five minutes straight. Her job was to get Jabe out alive. That was all she really wanted. You are not going to ruin my only point towards seeing Robbie!

 

Van Statten’s voice came over the intercom. “I don't want a scratch on its body work! Do you hear me? Do you hear me?” 

 

Ari knew the soldiers were all dead. With no Doctor and no weapons that would work against a time-traveling inter-dimensional super-genius with alien impenetrable armor, all they could do was run. She also knew it was useless to try to convince soldiers to retreat. Unless the order came from their commander, they would stay to defend their post. It was their job, their temperament, and their honor.

 

They arrived at a flight of stairs. Oh, I remember this bit. Jabe tried to pause again, try to recoup her reserves, but Ari kept her firm grip and literally pulled the woman up the stairs. “Don’t stop running, you idiot!”

 

“But it can not follow us up the stairs,” Jabe tried to logically reassure her companion. She needed to rest.

 

Ari didn’t bother to shake her head. They didn’t have the time. “It can fly! Now RUN!”

 

She didn’t stop to see the soldiers nearest, look at her in almost horror. Then their sergeant yelled at them to man up. They steeled their spines, reaimed their guns, and took a small amount of courage that at least they would be able to delay the beast long enough to get the civilians to safety.

 

Moments after they began to run up the stairs, they heard the distinct sound of the Dalek’s disintegrator beam. The soldier began to scream. Ari ran side-by-side with Jabe now, the Arboreal no longer fighting her clutch, running as quickly as she was capable. Those screams told her just how dire the situation truly was…and Ari had known. Had tried to warn her. Had tried to prevent the being’s release. Tried to save the others with what little time she had once she’d recognized that it was going to get out.

 

The Doctor used the speaker system next, “The Dalek's surrounded by a force field. The bullets are melting before they even hit home but it's not indestructible. If you concentrate your fire, you might get through. Aim for the dome, the head, the eyepiece. That's the weak spot.”

 

Ari knew the commander wouldn’t listen, not without Van Statten reinforcing the order. She didn’t even slow down by much as they ran through the soldiers positioned strategically in the warehouse. She completely ignored the commander yelling ‘hold fire’, simply yanking on Jabe’s hand as she weaved through what she thought was the path of least resistance, continuing to run. “Run! All of you, RUN!”

 

The commander called out to them, “Get the hell out of here! You’re in the line of fire!”

 

“You can’t stop it, you idiot. Run!” It was all she could really do. She knew it wouldn’t prevent any of their deaths, because they were trained to follow orders. The asshole in charge—who, ironically, was even more of a monster than what the demon-Doctor had exhibited so far—had given the order to fire to wound, not to kill. They were all going to die and there was nothing Ari could do to prevent any of them. All she could do was keep Jabe alive.  

 

The Dalek came into view just as they were clearing the next stair landing. Its eyestalk moved toward the corridor where the pair had disappeared, zooming in with a whir. If it got my DNA material like it did Rose’s in the episode, it will start to feel soon. My biggest feeling when I touched it was protecting Jabe and joining Robbie. At least she should be safe. I think…

 

+++NINE+++

 

The Doctor had gotten the brilliant idea of phoning Rose on her mobile, but neither Ari nor Jabe carried one. Thus he resorted to the intercom system yet again, isolating the channel to the nearest speakers. It had taken him 5.2316 precious rels to find them on the CCTVs, another 3.114 rels to isolate their exact floor and position, then 2.0397 rels to find the nearest pair of speakers to their location (nearest in front of them and nearest behind) and isolate his channel to only those two. In all, if they all survived through this, he was going to give each female a method to stay in constant contact. “You’ve got to keep moving. The vault’s being sealed off up at level forty-six.”

 

+++ARI++JABE++ARI+++

 

“Can’t he stop them from closing?” Jabe asked breathlessly.

 

Ari answered, even more out of breath than the tree, “He’s the one who’s closing them.”

 

“What?” Adam cried out. “Why would he do that? Doesn’t he know we’re down here?!”

 

“Better than the damned Dalek getting out!” she yelled back. I can’t believe I’m defending him! Or am I defending the Doctor’s actions from the show, not this demon-Doctor’s? The demon would only be doing the same thing as the Doctor, after all. Right?

 

“You can’t stop,” said demon’s voice echoed from the next speaker. “I can’t wait and I can’t help you.” They reached the next set of staircases. “Now for stardust’s sake, RUN!”

 

They ran down the corridor on the 46th floor. Ari and Jabe had separated from their firm grip on the last staircase as well. Jabe had more oxygen, and thus energy, to keep running for longer and faster than either human. Adam had gotten ahead of Ari while turning the last corner from the staircase into the new corridor.

 

Ari was coming off an almost complete healing of more than three layers of skin. Several groups of muscles—where the Doctor’s jacket had not covered—had needed to be rebuilt, thus had no conditioning to long periods of extreme exercise. Ari herself had spent the past decade more focused on taking care of her sister and running a household. She hadn’t had the time to exercise regularly. She wasn’t overweight, but she wasn’t fit either. She was considerably slower than the other two, and her reserves were nearly exhausted.

 

The alarm began to sound, signaling that the lower levels were being isolated. They only had so much longer until they’d be stuck down here.

 

They rounded the last corner, able to see the bulkhead lowering ahead of them, urging them to go faster.

 

Jabe made it first of course. She slid to a stop, turning in a vane attempt to encourage them. “Come on!” she held out her hand. Adam grabbed it within a second or two and she helped pulled him across, the thick slab of pure steel and concrete already three-quarters down. He turned as well as soon as he was safe. Both knelt, gesturing imploringly at the slowest, trying to encourage her to go even faster.

 

It wasn’t enough. By the time she reached the bulkhead door, there wasn’t even enough room to perform a baseball-slide. Ari let her momentum crash her into the steel and then slid down as her lungs heaved desperately to regain her breath.

 

The Doctor’s voice came through the speaker. “Rose, where are you? Rose!”

 

She turned around slowly around to face the Dalek as it came down the corridor. “My name…is Ari…you damned…demon.” Of course, the intercoms only went one way unless one was at a terminal.

 

“Did you make it? Rose!”

 

“Air-ee,” she pronounced the syllables distinctly. He didn’t hear her, but it made her feel a small bit better. More like herself instead of Rose.

 

The Dalek stopped barely two feet away, its eyestalk focused singularly on her. “I am armed. I will kill. It is my purpose.” But it didn’t, just as she remembered. It only studied her, returning her own stare. Finally, after several long moments, it continued, “I feel…your fear.”

 

“Surprised you don’t feel my anger,” she replied instantly. Though, even as she spoke, she realized that she wasn’t angry. Not really. The anger she held toward the demon-Doctor over her name had been fleeting. There and gone in a breath. What she felt right at that moment was more along the lines of resignation…and fear. She was afraid. Afraid it would kill her. Afraid that dying would hurt. Afraid she’d never see her precious little sister ever again.

 

“Daleks do not fear. Must not fear.” It shot its death ray wildly at the wall on either side of her head. The Dalek sounded slightly hysterical and scared. “You gave me life. What else have you given me? I am contaminated!”

 

“Yeah,” she acknowledged in a soft voice. It was all she could think to say. It wasn’t as if this were real…or that anything she could possibly say or do would make it better for him even if it was real.

 

The Dalek herded her at the point of its exterminator ray to face the nearest security camera. There was an intercom station right under it, thus had a screen to show the other end of the conversation. The Dalek used its suction cup to direct the channel, the screen had a brief episode of snow before the Doctor and Jabe appeared.

 

Then the Dalek threatened her life. “Open the bulkhead or Lady Ar-i-an-na dies.” The way it said her name, pronouncing each syllable distinctly, made her frown. Why was it doing that? It hadn’t done that with Rose’s name, she would’ve remembered such an odd diction counter to the rest of the Dalek’s.

 

The Doctor’s gave her a huge grin, as was Jabe’s and Adam’s behind him. “You’re alive!” The joy on all of their faces was obvious. It made Ari confused. Was this demon-Doctor really concerned for her safety? Would he have gotten in trouble if she had died (again)?

 

Jabe and Adam were tertiary characters at best…were they really happy she was still here? Were they demons too, or perhaps their happiness was genuine because they were fellow souls in this Hell, working on their own absolution?

 

Ari heard a voice off screen ask about her title. She snarled viciously. “It’s all your damned fault, Henry Van Statten. They are all dead because of you! You’re even more of an asshole than the damned demon-Doctor!” The Doctor’s face fell, clearly hurt by her words. Ari flinched as well. She’d just let the demon know that she knew! Oh shit. This could be so very bad for me. What if they transferred her to a demon-Kilgrave next?

 

The Dalek shoved Ari forward a few more inches, making her wince in pain. A sharp edge of the wire digging in too deep to the wrong nerve. “Open the bulkhead!” it demanded.

 

“He won’t do it.” She informed the alien. “He knows what will happen if you get out like this.”

 

The Dalek was almost having an emotional moment, exasperation. “What use are emotions if you will not save the woman you love?”

 

Ari snorted, letting out a rude raspberry noise. “The only people who love me are dead.”

 

Contrary to her implication, the bulkhead door began to slowly open behind them. The Dalek looked at her for another several long moments as it absorbed her words. “I am the last of the Daleks,” it said and began to urge her almost gently through the corridor beyond the bulkhead, its death ray no longer aimed at the small of her back. She willingly walked beside it, knowing it was the way out.

 

They got to an elevator and began the long trip to the surface. “My parents are dead. It was my fault. I didn’t mean to, but I killed them. I’ve regretted it every single day since, doing my best to make up for it.” Ari gave a sigh and looked at the Dalek. “You don’t have to kill. I know you have my protective instincts, that’s what I was feeling strongest when I touched you. To protect Jabe and Robbie. So, protect the humans on this planet. You don’t have to kill anyone anymore. You didn’t kill me. You don’t have to kill them.” Perhaps she could do what Rose hadn’t been able to and save some of those that still survived. Or had Rose been able to stop the Dalek at this point? Ari couldn’t remember.

 

The Dalek spun its eyepiece around to look at her so fast she has to duck out of the way. “Why? Why are you alive?” It sounded so scared. Demanding her response, yet terrified of her answer. “My function is to kill. What am I? What am I?”

 

As grating as its voice began all those floors ago, it wasn’t anymore. Those screams held such emotion that Ari had to fight tears. “I’m sorry.” What else could she say?

 

The lift doors open and Van Statten was just standing there, alone, waiting. What the devil did he think he could do? Be a speed bump? Where are Jabe, Adam, and the Doctor?  And where was Diana? Hadn’t she been with them? Where had she gone?

 

If a person could glare with its voice, the Dalek was doing a fine job. “Van Statten. You tortured me. Why?” It advanced on the man slowly, dramatically. As if savoring his fear.

 

Henry was terrified beyond belief and looked ready to piss himself. The coward backed away, lying with every step in a desperate bid to find something, anything, that would generate good will between them and possibly stop the advancing pepper-pot of rolling death. “I wanted to help you. I just…I don't know. I--I was just trying to help. I thought if we could get through to you, if we could mend you…I wanted you better, I'm sorry.” The Dalek still moved forward, forcing Van Statten to move backward and finally could go no further when he hit a wall. Once cornered with no way out, faced with his own imminent demise, he was finally willing to confess the truth. “I'm so sorry! I swear! I just wanted you to talk!”

 

It stopped. Stared. “Then hear me talk now. Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!”

 

Ari gently put her hand on the Dalek. “He’s not worth it. He’s an asshole. He’ll get his comeuppance without your interference. Do you understand?” The Dalek spun to face her. Ari looked right into its eyepiece. “You don't have to do this anymore. There’s no one left to tell you what to do. You can think for yourself now. Give yourself orders. What do you want? More than anything else, what do you want?”

 

The Dalek turned back to Van Statten, who winced in terror, closing his eyes in the face of death. “I want…” the eyestalk came back to study Ari’s face as it gave her words serious thought, “…freedom.”

 

Ari’s smile was almost maternal. “Then let’s go breathe the open air. Together. Alright?” She felt a kinship to this creature that she hadn’t felt before except with her own family. In a small way, it was now part of her family. It had absorbed her DNA and began to change. It was less like a Dalek, more human, than it had ever been.

 

They moved down the very last corridor and out into the Level 01 large communal area. It’s probably a parking garage. Ari walked with the Dalek freely. It needed her more than anything else at the moment. She doubted it knew the concept of friendship, or family, but she also knew that it couldn’t live with itself like this. It would die soon. The way it was right now was because of her. As it said, I gave it life. The fact that it was part of the episode should make her feel less…responsible…but instead, she felt more beholden to see this through than she had ever while watching the show. She had heard the deep emotion in its words. She’d felt it tremble in fear at what it was becoming. On some level, she believed that this was another soul in Hell with her. I gave it release. He deserved an audience to watch his final ascension.

 

Whatever he had done to be forced into the role of a Dalek, it wasn’t his fault that he had to play the part of a heartless murderer. This was Ari’s personal hell, not his. He was simply a player; now finally able to reap his reward of peace in Heaven. “You did it. You’re out. You’re free.”

 

The Dalek fired its beam at the ceiling, making a hole. Ari dodged the falling debris, saw the sunlight flood the room to shine directly on the Dalek. Ari breathed in the air; her sense of smell always triggered the best memories. “I’ve always loved the smell of sunlight.” She put her hand in the beam of light and felt the heat play on her skin.

 

“How...does...it...feel?” Ari looked with a kinda of pitying longing as the Dalek, not waiting for an answer, opened up its casing, to reveal the one-eyed, multi-tentacled body with its exposed brain. Ari smiled down at it sadly, glad that it could have at least one good memory.

 

Abruptly, the Doctor’s voice cut through the room, making her spin to face him, putting her body between the Time Lord and the Dalek. “Rose, get out of the way, now!” He was holding a huge fucking gun and pointing it right at the Dalek; right at Ari since she stood her ground between them.

 

“Air-ee,” Ari corrected with a glare.

 

“Move, Arianna!” This time his voice had almost the same tone as a reprimanding parent.

 

A piece of her mind wanted to immediately obey, but she stamped down on the instinct. “Don’t do this, Doctor. I won’t let you do this.” She wasn’t going to let this demon harm a soul that had finally repaid it’s debts. Killing it couldn’t be the way for it to go to Heaven…or could it? Ari knew it was going to commit suicide within the next few minutes. Perhaps a final death in Hell was the gateway to Paradise.

 

She could hear the cold hatred in his voice. The same anger that she had expressed to Van Statten only minutes before. “That thing killed hundreds of people.” The amount of animosity directed her way, even though it wasn’t directly at her, was daunting and more than a little scary.

 

This is the Oncoming Storm, she realized.

 

Ari faced her personal demon, her jailor, and stated calmly, firmly, “He's not the one pointing the gun at me.” He would have to kill her before she would let him. If a final death here meant going to Heaven, and she had much farther to go before all her sins were abolished, then he wouldn’t pull the trigger. He still has more work to do.

“I've got to do this. I've got to end it!” He was practically pleading with her. Why would a demon have a tone like that? He’s almost begging me. “The Daleks destroyed my home, my people. I've got nothing left.” Was he just playing a role? Or was he another soul, like the Dalek, only he hadn’t absolved all his sins yet; he was being punished too. If that’s true…then who is the real demon controlling all this?

 

He was either an excellent actor of a demon, or he was a soul looking for redemption. Either way, she knew what to do next. “Look,” Ari took a half-step to the side. Letting the Doctor see the Dalek, who was open to the air, feeling the sunlight on its tentacles. Unarmored. Unarmed. Consumed by the warmth along its body, the first it had ever felt.

The Doctor was confused. Blinking, the gun dropped slightly with his surprise. “What's it doing?”

 

“It wanted the sunlight. Freedom. That’s all.”

“But it can't...”

She had to say the line. That one line from the episode that always rocked her to her core, that jerked the Doctor fully out of his mental crusade. The crux, the turning point, of the Ninth Doctor. Which puts more precedence behind the idea that he could be another soul. But then…why is he acting as if he’s the real Doctor? Does he not remember his life before? Does he not know that he’s in Hell?  “It couldn't kill Van Statten. It couldn't kill me. It's changing. What about you, Doctor? What the hell are you changing into?” Ari stared the Time Lord down.

 

The Doctor lowered his gun completely, it making a loud metallic crash as it dropped to the ground. His blue eyes looked so lost. “I couldn’t…” Ari just stared back at him, calmly challenging his worldview. “I wasn’t… Oh, Rose. They’re all dead.”

 

Before she could correct him about her name—again!—the Dalek spoke, as if it was an effort. “Why do we survive?”

 

The Doctor’s answer held so much bleak defeat. “I don't know.”

 

“I am the last of the Daleks.” It was becoming more and more difficult for him to speak. He’d had his freedom, had felt the sun on his skin, but it was almost as if the environment was a poison to him.

 

The Time Lord’s brows rose in realization. “You're not even that. Rose—”

 

“Ari!”

 

“—did more than regenerate you. You absorbed her DNA. You're mutating.”

“Into what?”

“Something new. I'm sorry.”

 

“I can feel. So many ideas. So much darkness...Ari...give me orders! Order me to die. I shall not be like you. Order my destruction! Obey! Obey! Obey!”

 

“Okay,” Ari couldn’t bloke the single tear that slipped through. “Do it. Be at peace.”

“Are you frightened, Ari?”

 

“Yes.” She was afraid. Not of Hell…not of pain…not really. No, her worst, most deep fear, was that she would never see her family again. This was a small hope that maybe, perhaps, one day, she’d be able to see her grandfather, her parents, and her sister. All she had to do was save enough people and earn one more final death. Hopefully painless, but I’ll take what I can get.

 

“So am I.” With what seemed to be the last of its energy, it said, “Exterminate.”

 

Ari stumbled backwards as the Dalek replaced its armor. It levitated into the air and the golden knobs detached themselves to surround the Dalek in a perfect sphere. The Dalek glowed briefly, and then exploded inside the sphere, vanishing into nothing. The Doctor stared at the place where it disappeared for long minutes in stunned silence.

+++ARI++JABE++NINE+++

 

Jabe, Ari, and the Doctor stood beside the TARDIS. The Doctor was running his hand up and down the casing and looking up at the windows with a pensive stare. His voice was sad as he commented, “Little piece of home. Better than nothing.”

 

Jabe was much more than a little sad herself. So many people had died that day and it had all been preventable. “Is that the end of it? The Time War?”

 

“I'm the only one left. I win. How about that?” Both women winced at his bleakness. There had been no triumph nor victory nor satisfaction in that statement.

 

Jabe tried to cheer him up. “One Dalek survived...maybe some of your people did too.”

 

“I'd know. In here.” He tapped the side of his head. “I’d feel if there was someone else out there.” He looked at Ari as he said, “There’s no one left.” It was the way he said it, with those blue eyes of his that suddenly went from bleak to a small bit of hope that made Ari wary enough to take a step away from him. He responded by giving her a half-grin. “So, where to next?”

 

“Food, Doctor,” Jabe instructed. “Then sleep. Those of us not used to running for long distances are very tired.”

 

He gave a snort of annoyance, then nodded. He had to remember that they weren’t Gallifreyan and needed more than a couple hours of sleep every few weeks. “Fine, go sleep.” Actually, he was a little tired himself. When was the last time he slept? “May catch a few winks myself.”

 

“Good night, Doctor. Good night, Ari.”

 

“Good night, Jabe.”

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

Ari thought about all the things she had learned and her new theories of the rules of this Hell. Small details of the episodes didn’t seem to matter to the over-all plot. The things still happened.

 

(The Dalek still got loose. All those soldiers still died. Diana Goddard died with them this time, doing her best to do the right thing. Then Adam took her place at the end of the episode, taking over the museum from Van Statten. He wasn’t coming with them by choice, citing that he needed to finish restructuring Van Statten’s assets. He had plans to join forces with UNIT and Torchwood too, defending Earth from the deadly aliens while being a champion for those that did nothing to earn human animosity.)

 

Which meant she couldn’t change little things and expect them to add up to anything major. She would have to do something big. At the moment, her plan to become Bad Wolf and kill off all the Daleks seemed the best, biggest, option.

 

The Doctor was asleep. There was no one to stop her from flying the Tardis directly to Satellite Five… One step closer to seeing my parents. One step closer to Robbie. The library had to have a driving manual somewhere, didn’t it?

 

She didn’t notice when the Tardis hall lights dimmed and brightened three times in rapid succession, paused for long moments, then flashed dim-bright three more times. The pattern repeated over and over as Ari walked, her thoughts pondering which levers and wheels she had seen the demon-Doctor pull when he had piloted the ship. Those who knew Morse code would have recognized the pattern. Being raised by an ex-Navy seaman, Ari would’ve understood if she had taken the time to pay attention. It was one of the first her grandfather had taught her.

 

S-O-S

 

Chapter Text

 

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world had yet owned has bled to death under our knives; who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“This is the captain. We’re having a little problem with our entry sequence. So we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.” ~ Malcolm Reynolds

 

+++PREVIOUSLY+++

 

Which meant Ari couldn’t change little things and expect them to add up to anything major. She would have to do something big. At the moment, her plan to become Bad Wolf and kill off all the Daleks seemed the best, biggest, option.

 

The Doctor was asleep. There was no one to stop her from flying the Tardis directly to Satellite Five… One step closer to seeing my parents. One step closer to Robbie. The library had to have a driving manual somewhere, didn’t it?

 

She didn’t notice when the Tardis hall lights dimmed and brightened three times in rapid succession, paused for long moments, then flashed dim-bright three more times. The pattern repeated over and over as Ari walked, her thoughts pondering which levers and wheels she had seen the demon-Doctor pull when he had piloted the ship. Those who knew Morse code would have recognized the pattern. Being raised by an ex-Navy seaman, Ari would’ve understood if she had taken the time to pay attention. It was one of the first her grandfather had taught her.

 

S-O-S

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT

MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT

MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT

MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT

MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT - MAUVE ALERT

 

QUERY – ALERT

Compiling…

MAUVE ALERT - Imminent Paradox

 

REQUIRED

Prevent Imminent Paradox

 

QUERY – BONDS

Primary Bonds – Unresponsive to Stimuli

Secondary Bonds – Unresponsive to Stimuli

Tertiary Bonds – NONE

Passing Bonds – Currently Unavailable

 

REQUIRED

Prevent Imminent Paradox

Routine Alpha-Omega AUTHORIZED

 

QUERY – ARCHIVES – RECORDS

Searching………………………

Searching………………………

Searching….

Passing Bonds – 1 Located – TANGERINE-3 ALERT

 

QUERY – ARCHIVES – FEASABILITY

Primary Objectives Enabled

 – Prevent Imminent Paradox

 – Highest Priority

Secondary Objectives Enabled

Tertiary Objectives Enabled

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Preventing Imminent Paradox………… NOT FEASIBLE

Conclusion: Not Enough Processing Power

 

Secondary Processors Enabled

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Preventing Imminent Paradox………… NOT FEASIBLE

Conclusion: Not Enough Processing Power

 

ALL Processors Enabled

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Preventing Imminent Paradox………… NOT FEASIBLE

Conclusion: No More Processing Power Available

Conclusion: Alternate Pathway Required

 

Subroutine Alpha-Omega-6.1 AUTHORIZED

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Preventing Imminent Paradox………… NOT FEASIBLE

Conclusion: No More Processing Power Available

Conclusion: Alternate Pathway Required

 

Subroutine Alpha-Omega-6.2 AUTHORIZED

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Preventing Imminent Paradox………… NOT FEASIBLE

Conclusion: No More Processing Power Available

Conclusion: Alternate Pathway Required

 

Subroutine Alpha-Omega-6.3 AUTHORIZED

All Tertiary Objectives Disabled

Calculating…

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… NOT FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… FEASIBLE

Processing……………………………………… FEASIBLE

Conclusion: Alternate Pathways Found

Subroutine Alpha-Omega-6.6 AUTHORIZED

 

QUERY – ARCHIVES – OPTIMIZATION

Alternate Pathway 6.4.2

Processing……………………………………… 53.927178%

Alternate Pathway 6.4.4

Processing……………………………………… 3.118910%

Alternate Pathway 6.4.5

Processing……………………………………… 62.299643%

Alternate Pathway 6.4.6

Processing……………………………………… 24.343434%

Conclusion: Alternate Pathway 6.4.5 Optimal

 

Subroutine Alpha-Omega-3.6.6 AUTHORIZED

 

REALIGNING CURRENT PATHWAY

 

+++NINE+++

 

The Doctor woke due to the ship’s sudden 46.3-degree oblique shift, causing him to impact the bedside table. He groaned in pain and clutched his head. Despite this, several things immediately vied for his attention: the flashing lights were tinged mauve, the klaxon was blaring, the ship was shifting violently as it travelled through the Vortex, he felt the distinct heavy clenching knot in his center signaling an imminent pervasive paradox, and there was an insistent loud mental tapping from his bond with the ship.

 

How in the Universe’s infinite possibilities had he slept through all this?!

 

“I’m coming, Sexy,” he muttered, pushing a comforting wave down their bond. Beyond very general emotions in selected emergency conditions, the bond between pilot and ship wasn’t expressive, despite it being a primary type. It was nearly impossible for an eleventh-dimensional being to compress themselves down small enough to effectively communicate, despite his own being occupying four dimensions. In all his 700 years of travel, he’d only gotten this urgent mental panic a bare handful of times; this would make 6. “Hold on, Old Girl.” He was tossed into three walls as the ship jerked first left, then right, then oblique, but it didn’t slow him down more than 0.22131 rels. He used most of his concentration to keep upright and traveling as fast as he could. “Almost there.” He needed to be in the control room to deal with everything, starting with the Tardis’ panic, the paradox, and then the mauve alert. The klaxon would be connected to one or all.

 

Wait…

Back up…

 

He banged into another wall. “WHO’S FLYING MY SHIP?!” he bellowed just as he rounded the final corner to bring him into the control room. He was confronted with the absolute certainty that no one was piloting the ship through the Vortex. No wonder the flight was so violent!

 

He darted forward with another burst of speed, up the three steps, around to the 4th hex, and pulled the emergency parking brake…only to discover that flipping the lever increased their speed. “How long has that been on?!” He cursed as he flipped the lever back.

 

“What. The. Hell?!” Ari’s yelled as she entered (while getting more bruises for her effort). Oh the irony… “Are you trying to get us killed? ‘Cause you’re succeeding!” More irony. She grabbed onto the side railing to attempt to maintain her semi-upright position.

 

He held on to the view screen with one hand, the other holding tight to the console edge, to read the flashing messages. “Imminent paradox; mauve alert!” he blinked in astonished disbelief at the highlighted script. “Alpha-Omega!” The ship rocked again—it hadn’t ever really stopped. “Hold on!”

 

“I am holding on! Stop stating the obvious!” With a final loud crash, the ship landed. Ari took several seconds to just revel in the lack of movement. “Where are we? And what is Alpha-Omega, other than being Greek letters?”

 

“They were used before humans claimed possession. We came first.” He stated absently. He shifted the view screen to read as the script flowed and changed. The klaxon silenced and the mauve lights stopped flashing.

 

“Yeah, yeah. Whoop-ti-do.” She crossed her arms over her chest and glared. “Alpha-Omega?”

 

He’d only ever heard of an Alpha-Omega Priority at the Academy. In all Gallifreyan historical records, it had occurred only 35 times. Total. “It’s the highest possible alert. Alpha-Omega indicates a paradox so large that failing to prevent it would result in the end of everything.” It had to be connected to Rose’s return.

 

“Blessed Oreal,” Jabe breathed as she entered at a run. She had heard his explanation and was understandably concerned.

 

Ari blinked. “The siren and lights stopped. Does that mean that it’s prevented already?”

 

“The immediate paradox, yes.” His finger tapped a particular circular script on the screen.

 

“Kinda anti-climactic, given all the commotion.”

 

The Doctor looked over at his companions. “Alpha-Omega is the only time a Tardis can act on their own, priority given to successfully preventing the paradox by whatever means necessary.” Both looked somewhat shaken. (Jabe more so than Arianna.) “The resulting flux being the best and fastest way to keep the universe spinning. Nine times out of ten, the ship can calculate and directly cancel the alert.”

 

“Then all is well?” Jabe asked in her careful tone. She winced as she moved.

 

He came over to her, scanning her as he walked. “Not quite. Tangerine-3 now.” As he spoke, he took out several items from his pocket. “Sorry,” he stroked each break and crack carefully with the sterilizer, then a sealer, and finally the mender. After the last debacle, he’d done a little review of Arboreal basic healing before he’d slept; tucking a few first aid supplies for trees in with his emergency stock. Most of the time, he either didn’t need them or didn’t have time to use them, but he’d rather have them available, just in case. While he was at it, he went ahead and fixed the Arboreal completely, including the cracks she had obtained from the previous tumultuous journey. “There. Good as new.” He grinned at her as he popped back up to his feet.

 

Her smile held gratitude, “Thank you, Doctor.” She carefully rotated various limbs, finding her new limitations. Instead, she discovered she was indeed completely healed. Oh the advancements of Time Lords!

 

He saw Ari’s confused expression and clarified his first comment. “Tangerine-3’s one step down from mauve. It needs immediate direct manipulation.”

 

“Meaning…?” Ari prompted.

 

“Meaning,” he half grinned at the pair, “let’s go outside!”

 

“What? You don’t even know where we are!”

 

“ ‘Course I do!” he bounced to the entrance and flung open both doors dramatically. “We’re outside the universe! Where we’ve never ever been.”

 

As if on cue, the light of the Time Rotor of the Tardis drained away. The swirling colors of the aurora borealis that constantly changed with the ship’s emotions…faded. Not as if the swirling faded and slowed. No, it was as if the entire rotor, normally lit up from within, dimmed and became inert.

 

Given that this had not happened even once since they began travelling with the Doctor, Jabe was suitably worried. “Is that supposed to happen?”

 

The Doctor had frozen when he noticed the glow disappear. Even worse, the constant presence in his mind where his primary Pilot bond usually glowed brilliant gold, was dimmer. As if his precious Tardis was hurt or ill, but he’d felt no associated pain. It took him 0.0125 rels to categorize this information as he rushed back to the console, reaching up to place a hand on the rotor. “The power, it’s draining.” His voice was soft as he realized exactly what had occurred. “Everything’s draining! But it can’t,” it was barely disguised fear lacing his voice. He couldn’t lose his ship, the last connection he held with his people. He couldn’t! “ ‘S impossible,” he breathed. He couldn’t lose his ship. Not her.

 

“What does that mean, Doctor? What’s wrong?” Jabe was concerned.

 

“The Matrix, the…soul of the Tardis, for want of a better expression, has just…disappeared.”

His blue eyes begged Jabe to explain.

 

He felt, through his connection with Arianna, that the young human was confused. Shocked by his expressiveness. It had been more extreme than she’d seen from him so far. So, with a mighty swallow of effort, he pushed back the fear and mounting panic into a corner of his mind and shut it away. It wasn’t helpful right now. He needed to explore where his ship had taken them, find the reason for the paradox and prevent it, then he could worry about getting his Tardis back to full working condition.

 

+++ARI+++

 

Ari blinked at him, surprised and shocked by the expression she’d seen flash across the Doctor’s face. That’s fear. Real fear. He’s one step away from hysteria!  Then, with noticeable effort, the Doctor’s face closed off, locking away the overwhelming emotion.

 

It was disturbing to Arianna for one simple reason: why would a demon be afraid? Why would a demon feel a need to compartmentalize, shielding them from his feelings? It didn’t make sense… Unless he’s not a demon. The thought crept in again, echoed from their time in the Van Statten museum. Another case where the Doctor had been oh-so-emotional. More than the show had ever depicted. Those emotions had been more somehow. More than any actor could have accurately shown for an audience because he wasn’t the real character. Wasn’t going through the actual events that would produce such strong emotion; only the theatrics their imaginations could conjure for them to depict.

 

The emotions she’d seen on the Doctor’s face had been more.

Deeper. Raw. Real. 

 

Which was a conclusion that terrified her. Because if this was all real, not a version of Hell made just for her, but actually real…then how had she gotten here? Why? And, most essential of all, where was Robbie?


No. No! She couldn’t think that way. This was NOT REAL! This was Hell. It had to be. Otherwise…

Otherwise, she was alone.

Otherwise, she’d abandoned her little sister.

 

No, this was Hell.

Cut. Dried. The End.

 

So… If the Doctor possibly wasn’t a demon, then he could be another soul trapped in purgatory like herself. Then who was designing this hell to torment them? Or was it all automated after the initial design and didn’t need to be actively monitored by a demon? Perhaps that was it. That made an odd kind of sense.

 

The Doctor said, “Look at her. Completely drained. Where would she go?” His words were more thoughtful now that he had pushed aside his emotions as best as he was capable. He’d been a general in the War. He knew how to compartmentalize.

 

He’d jolted Ari out of her contemplation, and she replied automatically, “Where could she go?”

 

His blue eyes turned and blinked at her, “Good question.” The way he said it made it clear he had no idea. He took a breath and nodded to the outer doors. “We’re in a place full of rift energy. Probably refuel just by being here.” Assuming it’s a fuel issue. It wasn’t likely, but it was possible. And of the other possibilities that could cause the Tardis Matrix to fade, a need for fuel was the easiest to fix. He hoped it was that simple.

 

“You said we were outside the universe. How is that possible?” Jabe asked as she moved toward the doors.

 

“With enormous difficulty. Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside.” He paused as he looked around the piles of old metal. “It’s nothing like that, but about the best your tiny minds could do.” He picked up a small bit of broken circuitry.

 

Ari rolled her eyes at the insult. “Rude,” she called to him, but he wasn’t paying attention. He spent several minutes picking up different items from different piles, studying whatever he held closely for a couple seconds, before tossing it back, heedless if it reached its original pile or not. “So…I’m guessing we’re in the scrap yard at the end of the universe.”

 

“Not ‘end of’. Outside of,” he corrected absently. He threw another bit of scrap back over his shoulder. “Rifts suck stuff through them.” Another way to explain occurred to him and he gestured, “Not a bubble, a plughole. The universe has a plughole and we traveled down it.” It was a slightly better explanation than the bubble allegory. “Got things here from all over the universe.” He chucked another bobble over. “Different planets. Different times.” He finally lost interest and faced the two females. “Biggest rift I’ve seen, based on the amount of stuff here. Been around a long while.”

Suddenly a woman came running toward them. Her arm was outstretched as she shouted, finger pointed directly at the Doctor. “Thief! Thief! You’re my thief!” She had on an odd Victorian-but-not-quite style dress in a darker faded blue.

 

Ari’s eyes widened as she realized what episode they were currently living. Well, that answers the question of whether episodes can be done out of order.

 

The woman, Idris, ran all the way toward the Doctor before she stopped dead. But she didn’t really stop moving at all, only her feet. And that only because there wasn’t enough room to take another step. As evidenced when she tried to do so only to step on the Doctor’s foot, then pulling her foot back hastily. She still didn’t stop moving. Her arms came up and she grasped the sides of his face. “Look at you,” she smiled widely at him. “Goodbye! No, not goodbye. What’s the other one?” she said it all in a rush as she physically dragged his shocked face toward her and kissed him soundly.

 

He actually responded to her intensity for a few rels of his own before reason and logic came back and he pulled away. He ran an embarrassed hand through his hair as he tried to change the subject. “Why am I a thief? Don’t tend to steal, me.”

 

Two more individuals came around the bend that Idris had, running themselves at a third of the speed, obviously in pursuit. The male called out, “Watch out. Careful. Keep back from her. Welcome, strangers. Lovely.” By the time he finished speaking, he had slowed to a halt several yards in front of the group.

 

Idris herself ignored the patchwork-male in favor of her pilot. She smiled at him, happily able to answer his question. With mouths! “Me. You're going to steal me. No, you have stolen me. You are stealing me. Oh tenses are difficult, aren't they?” She looked at Ari when she asked the question, knowing that the other would understand more fully than even her thief.

 

The new woman, much older than Idris, though not quite completely gray-haired, waved a hand vaguely. “Oh. Oh, we are sorry, my dove. She's off her head. They call me Auntie.”

 

The man nodded, finishing the introduction. “And I'm Uncle. I'm everybody's Uncle.” Jabe forced her hand away from the male, not liking his attitude. Her assessment wasn’t helped by his next comment, his tone suggesting it was a friendly warning but his words were otherwise. “Just keep back from this one. She bites!”

 

Idris perked up at the new information. “Do I? Excellent!” She dove forward at inhuman speed to catch the Doctor’s ear with her teeth. The Doctor, naturally, cried out in pain. When she pulled back, she was smug as well as happy. “Biting's excellent. It's like kissing, only there's a winner!”

 

Ari couldn’t help it. She laughed. Almost bodily in her giddiness at the situation. This is one of my favorite episodes! She loved Idris so much. The actress had portrayed the situation beautifully. And yet… This Idris in front of Ari was much more than the actress. More expressive. More bouncy. More happy with meeting her thief. Just…more. It was another nail to hammer the possibility of reality…that Ari promptly ignored. Focusing instead on the situation before her. “Hello!” she called between giggles.

 

Idris brightened even further, if that were possible, and faced her thief with a brilliant smile. “That’s the other one! Hello! Hello, Doctor! It’s so very, very nice to meet you!”

 

“So sorry. She’s doolally,” Uncle supplied.

 

Idris shook her head, face falling in consternation. “No, I’m not. Not doolally. I’m…I’m…” her face fell further, annoyed. “It’s on the tip of my tongue!” Then she brightened again. “I’ve just had a new idea about kissing!” She promptly dove back for the Doctor’s face. “Come here, you!”

The Doctor practically squeaked as he pulled sharply away, dancing backward and put Ari between himself and the madwoman.

 

Auntie stepped forward, making as if to restrain the living Tardis, “No, Idris. No.”

 

However, before the patchwork-woman could do as she intended, Ari moved. Stepping forward herself and pulled Idris closer to herself, away from Auntie and Uncle. Ari did not like the patchwork people. After the epiphany of Van Statten’s museum, Ari felt more than a bit sick at where those pieces came from to patch them up. However…

 

Ari blinked in confusion. Auntie and Uncle looked different than what she remembered of the episode. She couldn’t quite put her finger on how they were different. They were just different. But that makes sense. If this is so much earlier than the episode portrayed in the Doctor’s timeline, then they haven’t run across all the people they’d steal body parts from as they were depicted in the show. I…think…that sounds right.

 

Idris watched as her thief, noting her closer presence, again stepped away from her new reach. It was strange. Why was he going away from her? “Now you’re angry.” That was possible, but it wasn’t quite right. “No, you're not. You will be angry.” Her voice was soft as she realized the flash of the future that sped through her tiny human head. “The little boxes will make you angry.” Her fingers twitched delicately as her mind’s eye saw the scene, counting the seconds until her poor thief’s pain. It was supposed to happen of course, but not this early. It was her fault he was going to be hurt so early. She should feel sorry about that. But it was necessary. Vital. Her thief needed someone. Her wolf needed someone. She needed to give them someone to help them. It was essential!

 

The Doctor darted out from behind Jabe. “Little what? Boxes?”

 

The noise and approach of her pilot pulled Idris away from the future, back to the present. She grinned and grabbed his ears. “Oh!” she laughed. “Your ears are hilarious!” She wiggled them up and down a couple times before he was able to pull away from her grip. Though she let him go. It wasn’t like she wanted to hurt him. It was just something that she couldn’t stop from happening now that they were here. But how were they going to get away from here? The ship looked over at Ari and smiled in an almost maternal fashion, “Water smells.” She blinked at herself and corrected, “Most water smells.”

 

Ari blinked at the living embodiment of the ship’s seeming non-sequitur. It was the time for the comment that told Rory what ‘petrichor’ meant. But that was to get into the old control room. A control room which was the main control room for the Ninth Doctor. So a different password was needed for a different archived control room. That sounds right. Good grief, tenses are difficult! “Ummm…which?” Which word is she talking about?

 

“Anosmic,” said the ship.

 

It was Jabe’s turn to blink. “That is an effect of being odorless.” She looked around at the scrapyard in which they found themselves. A place which smelled rather pungently actually. “Not a word I would use to describe our current locale.”

 

“Everything has a smell,” Ari gestured around vaguely. Though if the ship hadn’t said anything, she would’ve indeed thought of water first. What doesn’t have a smell?  Ari was glad that the ship had mentioned it so early, because she would need the time to think of something that might qualify.

 

“Sorry about the mad person,” Uncle said somberly.

 

Auntie put her two cents worth in, “Idris, I think you should have a rest.”

Idris nodded, recognizing the point in the conversation where she was no longer needed. “Rest. Yes, yes. Good idea! I’ll just,” she twirled around, away from the group, “see if there’s an off switch.” Her words tripped over themselves to get off her tongue, even as the ship raced through her new casing’s database for an appropriate command sequence. She collapsed onto a convenient half of a couch as she found that which she had searched the mainframe.

 

Ari watched as the ship fell, already running forward so as to catch the woman before she could hit her head in the fall or something. No use “blowing the casing” so soon. Idris needed all the time she could get. Especially since it was about the only way that they were going to get off this stupid planet-person. She smiled in satisfaction, as she was able to (at least partially) catch the woman and gently lower her onto the broken loveseat. “She’s fine.”

She didn’t see Uncle flinch, "Uh, Nephew…" he turned as an Ood with green eyes walked up, "Take Idris where she cannot bite people."

 

The Doctor turned around and smiled, seeing the Ood, "Oh, hello!" His fingers waggled in greeting. He was unfamiliar with the species and anything new was a welcome distraction.

 

Jabe turned and nearly jumped out of her skin at the sight, "Doctor?" It was not a species she had any familiarity.

 

"It's alright." Ari told her, "It's an Ood. He won’t hurt you.”

 

“Ood?” The Doctor asked, looking between Ari and the new creature he didn’t recognize. “As in…?”

 

Ari rolled her eyes. Though, Ten was the first Doctor to learn about the Ood. During the dual episodes of the black hole planet. “They’re the 51st century’s version of slave-labor.” She thought of the Doctor and Donna meeting the Ood on their planet of origin and grimaced, her heart clenching tightly at the knowledge of what had been done to them. And she couldn’t help this one. Or could she? “Doctor, his translator’s broken. Could you…?” she prompted.

 

The Doctor nodded and gestured. “May I?”

 

The Ood nodded and the Doctor moved within reach for the orb, "Might just be on the wrong frequency…" he muttered. He pulled the two halves apart and fiddled with the wires. He found a small round dial and began to click through slowly, waiting a second or so between rotations to make sure that setting wasn’t the one to fix the device before clicking to the next.

 

"Nephew was broken when he came here," Auntie told them, "Why he was half dead. House repaired him. House repaired all of us."

 

Suddenly the air was full of voices as one of the clicks found a result. "If you are receiving this message, please help me," they could hear a man speak over a cacophony of other voices, "Send a signal to the High Council of the Time Lords on Gallifrey…" the Doctor gasped, looking around wildly as he heard the Time Lords speaking. Another voice drowned out the first, "Help! I'm still alive! I don't know where I am. I'm on some rock-like planet…" the new voice became muddled as the others overlapped, becoming indistinct. Then Nephew turned off the translator.

 

"What was that?" Jabe frowned at the Ood. "Was that you?"

 

Nephew began to shake his head even as the Doctor spoke, "No. No. 'S…picking up something else," the Doctor breathed as he looked around, disturbed, " 'S not possible." He spun to Auntie and Uncle, "Who else is here?” he demanded. “Tell me. Show me!" he advanced on them and they backed up, afraid of something they’d never seen. Didn’t know how to identify the Oncoming Storm.

 

"It's just what you see," Auntie gestured at herself and Uncle, "Just the four of us…” she paused and admitted, “and the House.” She looked over at the Ood, “Nephew, will you take Idris somewhere safe where she can't hurt nobody?"

 

Ari almost refused to let the ship out of her care, but admitted that without Idris, the Doctor was going to be trapped on House. The ship had been the only reason he’d been able to escape the plughole-universe. So she watched as the Ood picked up the ship and left. See you later, Sexy. You’re awesome! She had more than half a mind to stay on the planet to get to see more of the ship, but also knew that if they had any chance of surviving House, she needed to be in the Tardis shell to help lower the shields.

 

"House?" the Doctor frowned, " 'S the House?"

 

Auntie grinned, "House is all around you, sweets." Uncle jumped in place as if for emphasis. Auntie continued, "You are standing on him. This is the House. This world," she leaned forward eagerly, "Would you like to meet him?"

 

"Meet him?" Jabe gaped. She’d met so many species for her family’s company. She’d never heard of an entity that was also a planet. Not even in the records of her ancestors! Admittedly, she’d never gone looking for such a reference, but it seems like it would be something to pass along to the new generation.

 

The Doctor held a finger up to stall the tree, "Love to."

 

"This way, come," Uncle gestured them to follow. "Please, come." He and Auntie walked ahead, leading the way.

 

"What's wrong?" Jabe asked the Doctor quietly, "What were those voices?" She’d noticed how his demeanor had changed so abruptly when he’d heard them. His spine had stiffened and his face had shown a waterfall of emotions: shock, fear, disbelief, hope. Such pure hope had lit his eyes before he’d shoved it backward, behind a mental shield.

 

"Time Lords," he breathed. “Somewhere close by there are lots and lots…of Time Lords." He walked off after Auntie and Uncle.

 

Jabe and Ari exchanged a glance behind his back. They both knew why he would want to meet his people. They both knew that, according to all known records, the Doctor was the last Gallifreyan left. The last of his kind. Jabe could only imagine how she would feel in a similar situation and knew that even her imaginings couldn’t come even close to the reality. He’d locked away his emotions because they were too intense. He was afraid of the possibilities. Afraid of what his people would tell him. Afraid of how they would react. Afraid to hope. Yet, unable not to feel the deep yearning. The desire to no longer be the only one.

 

Ari swallowed at seeing the evidence once again of the deep, real, emotion the Doctor showed before he had locked it away. Maybe… She violently shoved the thought aside.

 

Uncle led them into a room with a grate that had a glowing green light emanating from beneath. He got into position atop and gestured them over, "Come, come, come, you can see House and he can look at you."

 

The Doctor walked over and knelt down, looking down the grate only to see more green light. Ari couldn’t help herself from doing the same alongside Jabe, even knowing that they was unlikely to see much of anything. However, she was surprised to feel a heat from the grate and saw the walls of the tunnel move slightly. Pulsing movement in coordination with the puffs of heated air. "This asteroid is alive," Jabe said, amazed.

 

"We walk on his back," Auntie nodded. "Breathe his air, eat his food…"

 

"And do my will," Auntie and Uncle said at once. Another, deeper voice speaking through them. The Doctor popped up, alarmed, looking up at the two as it continued, "You are most welcome travelers."

 

Jabe hesitated, unnerved at the idea she was presented with, "The asteroid is speaking through them." It was a statement, not a question. She’d have rather it be a non-issue. Too close to the Ood; too close to slavery. She acknowledged that other cultures had slaves, but it had always disquieted her. She found it a repugnant, barbarous practice.

 

The Doctor stepped down. "Sea urchin," he crouched down and looked through a different grate. "Hard outer surface; that's the planet we're walking on," he stood up once more, "Big squashy center inside, that's you?"

 

"That is correct, Time Lord," House answered. His tone was like that of a professor lecturing a bright student. Proud. Indulgent. Demeaning.

 

Jabe’s brow furrowed at the implication of the planet’s words. "You've met Time Lords before." Again, it wasn’t a question.

 

"Many travelers have come through the rift.” House explained, “Like Auntie and Uncle and Nephew. I repair them when they break." Matter-of-fact tone.

 

The Doctor turned back to Auntie and Uncle, his brows severe with the intensity of his frown. "Time Lords are here then?"

 

"Not anymore. But there have been many Tardis’ on my back in days gone by."

 

The Doctor’s face was oh so carefully blank. Blank enough that both Jabe and Ari flinched upon seeing it. "Oh, well, there won't be any more after us. Last Time Lord. Last Tardis."

 

"A pity. Your people were so kind,” House said.

 

The Doctor frowned harder at that. He knew his people. Had been the Lord President of Gallifrey for a small bit. He knew that he was one of very few, that most of them hadn't been pure in millennia. Not since before the law governing non-interference had been passed.

 

House continued, unaware of the Time Lord’s train of thought. "Be here in safety Doctor, Jabe, Arianna. Rest. Feed if you will." Auntie and Uncle shook their heads as they came out of their trance-like state.

 

Jabe looked at the Gallifreyan, saw his carefully neutral expression, and mentally sighed. “How long will we stay?”

 

"Seems like a friendly planet," the Doctor commented idly. "Literally." He turned to Auntie and Uncle, "Mind if we poke about?"

 

"You can look all you want," Auntie nodded, gesturing around her widely. "Go. Look.

 

Uncle nodded along with his ‘wife’. “House loves you."

 

The Doctor restrained himself from nodding along with the pair, instead turning to his companions. “We’ll just see the sights, then.” The group wandered away down the way they had come. Once they were a sufficient distance so as not to be overheard, the Doctor spoke again, “There are Time Lords here. I heard them and they need me. Won’t leave until then.”

 

Ari frowned slightly as realization hit: this was the Ninth Doctor. Several years sooner for this episode to take place. Thus, there might actually be living Time Lords here. Whispering to the air, she asked, “Can’t we save them?” She didn’t notice the Doctor flinch.

 

Off in the distance, a scream echoed. “Thiiiieeeeeef!”

 

Jabe had her own realizations. She looked at him with such kind understanding. “Would you prefer company, Doctor?”

 

He blinked at the tree, then gave a smile of relief. “No, thank you.” Depending upon which Time Lord – or Lords – were on this not-a-planet, having human companions butting their noses into the conversation where he explained how he’d killed all his people was not something that would be a good thing. He wanted to explain. To be forgiven. But while Ari more than likely knew the situation at the end of the War, Jabe did not. He didn’t want to see the look in her eyes as she learned the terrible truth.

 

“In that case, we’ll wait in the Tardis. Perhaps she has refueled by now,” said Jabe.

 

“Yeah, I’ll stick to the tree,” Ari added, already turning to follow the Arboreal. After a second though, she paused and looked back at him. “Doctor,” she waited until he faced her before continuing, “be careful.” It was still only a good probability, not a certainty, but if he was truly a fellow tortured soul, she didn’t want him to get hurt. It wasn’t his fault he had to play at this role for her own personal hell.

 

He grinned at her boyishly. It held no humor. “Always.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

A male stared sadly at the woman stuck inside the prison cell with him. She was beautiful, though dirty. He was handsome, though starved. He wanted to comfort her, but knew it was useless. History was repeating itself and there was nothing he could do. Their kidnappers had taken his coat, which contained all his supplies. A lack of foresight only kept a basic first aid kit in his pants pocket.

 

The cell had been kept very tidy, though not clean by any stretch of the imagination, for their jailors knew just how resourceful he could be. So he had no way of getting either of them out, no way to escape. All he could do was stare and wait.

 

The woman looked at him with a bleak expression. “I’m looking for a word. It’s so BIG,” she stared out at the cluttered room of broken objects just out of reach, her face pressed insistently to the bars, “so complicated. And so sad.” She jerked back and looked at him in demand, “Why is that word so sad?” Before he could speak, give what comfort she might accept, she corrected herself. “No, will be sad.” A huff of air slumped her shoulders. “It WILL be sad.”

 

“Tenses can be difficult,” he offered gently. His tenor voice gruff from disuse. He hadn’t had a cellmate in a very long while.

 

Her body jerked upright, rounding on him with an intense glare. “Do fish have fingers?” Everything she did was intense, using all of her emotional output. He knew it was because she’d never had any way to emote before and thus had no way to control her reactions. “Like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motorbike.” She froze, fear settling on her face. “What am I saying? Why am I saying that?” she whispered, scared.

 

He didn’t know what to tell her. So instead he whispered, “It’s alright.”

 

“No it isn’t! Things aren’t going in the right order and it’s my fault. I need my thief. Where’s my thief?” She whirled around, pressed herself back to the bars as close as she could get – as if that would help the sound get to where she needed it to be – and screamed into the air as loud as she was able, “THIEF! THIIIIIEEEEEEEEEF!!!!!”

 

+++++ARIANNA+++++

 

Ari was torn. On one hand, she wanted to go track down Idris and interrogate the ship. She had all sorts of questions that she doubted could be answered any other way (in a reasonable time frame anyway). But she had given her word to stay with Jabe and she would keep it. “Let’s get back to the ship before something happens.”

 

Jabe looked at her curiously. “What do you think will happen?”

 

Ari gave her a speaking glance. “Really? You’ve traveled with him for how long and you think something won’t happen?”

 

Jabe blinked then smiled softly. “Point taken.” She gave a soft smile. “At least the Doctor will be fine. He’s a Time Lord.”

 

“That’s just what they’re called.” Ari snorted immediately back at her. “It doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing. Or has a plan.”

 

Jabe nodded, pondering the woman beside her. Finally, she asked, “How long have you traveled with him?”

 

“You asked that before. Doesn’t mean the answer is gonna magically change.”

 

Jabe shook her head at the sarcastic response. “It’s just…you seem to know him well, and yet are always so angry with him.” She was becoming more and more aware that Arianna’s sarcasm was more of a way to express her frustration and anger than her true personality. It was just that the Doctor annoyed Ari just by walking through the door.

 

“Hmmm,” Jabe looked at the redhead as she leaned against the console. “You called him a demon at the museum.”

 

Ari winced, “I didn’t mean to. I hoped he hadn’t noticed.”

 

“Oh, he noticed.” Ari winced again at her assurance. “Why did you call him that? Why travel with him if you don’t enjoy being around him?”

 

It was Ari’s turn to sigh and shake her head. “It’s,” she paused as she opened the Tardis door and let them both in before closing it firmly behind them, “complicated. Very complicated.”

 

Jabe simply looked at her for long moments. “A burden shared is easier to hold,” she advised softly.

 

Ari held the Arboreal’s gaze for several seconds before she complied. Jabe was easy to talk to, reassuring and had never judged her. That, and the likely possibility that the tree was another soul stuck in purgatory with her, prompted Ari to answer. She licked her lips, not sure how to say it. Finally, she just blurted, “We’re dead. This is hell.”

 

+++++NINE+++++

 

The Doctor pushed a torn shower curtain back from a small alcove and stepped through, "Well they can't all be in here…" he looked to the side, spotting a blue cupboard. He frowned, walking over to it, and pulled it open. His hearts sank, seeing eleven glowing white distress boxes stacked, each of them still going off, voices overlapping.

 

The Doctor glanced back as he heard Auntie and Uncle stepped up behind them. "Just admiring your Time Lord distress signal collection," he swallowed, glancing at the boxes, the horrible realization not only that he'd been fooled but that his hope was crushed by the fact that the Time Lords were truly dead, "Nice job. Brilliant job. Really thought we had some friends here…but this is what the Ood translator picked up, cries for help from the long dead…" he turned to them, "How many Time Lords have you lured here the way you lured us? And what happened to them all?"

 

"House," Auntie began, "House is kind. House is wise…"

 

"House repairs you when you break!" he yelled mockingly as he advanced on them with dangerous intent, "Yes I know!" He pulled out his sonic screwdriver, "But how does he mend you?" he gave a cursory scan, analyzing the basic data of the individual, then held it up to his ear to hear the results. "You have the eyes of a twenty-year-old,” he spit the words out like an accusation.

 

"Thank you," Uncle tried to smile, but it came across as more scared than happy.

 

"No, no, I mean it. Literally, your eyes are thirty years younger than the rest of you," he ripped the man's hat off, revealing a blue pointed fur-covered ear, "Your ears don't match," and then gestured at the rest of him, "Your right leg is two inches longer than your left. And how's your dancing?! 'Cause you got two left feet!” He danced a couple steps as if proving his point.

 

He put the sonic away and grabbed Auntie's smaller arm to examine it further. "Oh, now, it's…it's about time to get this replaced…" she hastened to assure him, trying to tug her arm back. “House is almost ready to repair us.”

 

Uncle nodded matter-of-factly. “I need a new spine and kidneys.”

 

“Ready to repair you,” the Doctor repeated. He took in the information in front of his eyes and his mind spit out an answer. “Patchwork people.” He looked them up and down as a whole. “You've been repaired and patched up so often I doubt there's anything left of what used to be you," he said with considerable disgust.

 

"You gave me hope and then you took it away," the Doctor glared at them. "That's enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me. Basically…RUN!" He flung his arm out as if ready to physically assault them both.

 

Auntie turned and fled immediately, but Uncle backed up slowly, continuing to stare at the man with an almost sad understanding. "Poor old Time Lord," Uncle sighed. "You’re too late. House is too clever."

 

"Ready to repair,” the Doctor muttered, frowning, “Ready.”  Then he grinned brightly. “Someone’s still alive!”

 

Passing bonds were the last level of the telepathic pyramid. Every Gallifreyan had millions of passing bonds – bonds that existed simply because they were members of the same species, but with no other relation connecting them. It was a constant low-level background noise for them all. Once Gallifrey burned, the Doctor no longer felt even those. That was how he knew that he was the last. His mind was silent.

 

The Doctor breathed deeply, ignoring the still-present horrible smell of the not-planet organism, and tried to pinpoint a direction. He closed his eyes in an attempt to help him focus.

 

A living Time Lord was in this plughole universe and he intended to find them!

 

Isolating the mental signal into a bright white light amidst the dark silence of his mind, he opened his eyes so that he didn’t run into anything as he tracked down the only other Time Lord in existence.

 

+++++ARIANNA++JABE+++++

 

“Well, how else do you explain it?” Arianna demanded, hands on her hips. She’d just spent at least the last fifteen minutes explaining everything she understood at their world. How she died, Robbie, purgatory. Now she was seriously regretting it.

 

Jabe sighed, getting a better hold of herself. There was nothing she could do to convince Arianna, that was extremely obvious. However, she had to try. “You think we’re in hell.”

 

“Or purgatory. Yes.”

 

“That we are both dead.”

 

“Well, depending on how you think about it, everyone is dead.”

 

“Even the Doctor?”

 

“Not sure. He’s either dead and filling the role, or he’s helping to run it all according to the show.”

 

“The role from the entertainment show that you’ve watched.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Jabe rubbed her core. “A fictional entertainment show.”

 

“Yes.” Ari nodded again. “How else could I know all this stuff from the t.v. and yet it’s all here? Real? Nothing else makes sense.”

 

“Right,” Jabe opened her mouth to keep going, but stopped for several minutes. Finally, she continued, “And nothing is different from the show? It’s all identical?”

 

Ari froze and admitted, “There are…but its all little things.” She paused. “Sort of little things.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“You,” Ari said simply, getting a wide-eyed look in response, and nodded. “You died on Platform One in the show, helping hold down the lever to reset the computer.”

 

The tree blinked, “So… You saved my life.” It was a statement, not a question. At Ari’s nod, she pondered things again. “Why would you save my life, if you thought this was all fictional? Why would my life matter?”

 

Ari bit her lip. “I always thought it was sad when you died. I liked you in the episode. Then I met you and you were nice. The Doctor said that I could save one person per episode to start balancing my sins, so I chose you.”

 

“The Doctor knows about this theory of yours?”

 

“Well, we haven’t discussed it explicitly or anything, but he was pretty clear of his expectations when I woke up here.” Ari crossed her arms defensively. “Look, I know you don’t believe me. You don’t have to believe me. But you asked how I knew so much, why I called him a demon, and why I was so angry. Now you know. I know it all from home. From a fictional television show.”

 

Jabe contemplated the younger and wondered when the poor girl had gone insane. At least now she understood why the Doctor was so different caring for her. He was her caretaker. After all, who but a Time Lord could care for an insane Gallifreyan? And who but a Time Lord would do so for anyone but a relative? Though they could be non-relations. She’d have to speak with him later, privately, for more information.

 

Finally, she tried a different tactic. “What is reality, Lady Arianna?”

 

Ari blinked at her, tilting her head to the side. “Seriously?”

 

“Yes. How is reality defined?”

 

“If you want the dictionary definition, then reality is the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. Reality is the state or quality in which something has existence or substance.” Ari recited carefully, wondering where the tree was going with this. However, Ari had also read philosophy texts. “If you are looking for a more cerebral answer: cogito ergo sum.” She’d had conversations with her grandfather for hours on various topics. This had been one of them. “How does one really determine if they are sane? The simple answer is: you can’t. Any test one came up with, you would already know the answer, and thus could give it to yourself. Therefore, there is no right answer. No definitive test that will work. Why?”

 

Jabe answered after a long pause, “Would you like my advice?” When Ari shrugged but nodded anyway, the Arboreal continued, ““If you really cannot tell, then try to find the flaws. You have already noticed a few small differences. Actively search for them. Even the smartest person in the universe cannot get all the details correct for such an involved hallucination, simulation, or parody. Not even the Doctor, no matter if he be demon or dead.” Ari blinked at her. “Otherwise, your choice is to accept that what you are experiencing is your new ‘reality’ and treat it as such.”

 

“I was in a burning building and simply woke up here. Without my sister. How do you explain that?”

 

“I do not currently know. However, there was another present when you first woke. Perhaps he knows the answers. We can only ask.” She was side-tracked when a green mist began to flow under the ship doors and seep into the cracks of the panels. “Lady Arianna?”

 

The redhead turned to gaze at the scene and groaned. “Now we get to run again,” she grabbed the tree’s hand and pulled her along, “House is eating the Tardis.”

 

“What?!”

 

House’s voice settled in through the corridors, echoing dramatically. “Hmmm… Corridors.” he contemplated. “I have corridors. I should have done this half a million years ago. So much to learn about my new home. I also have vermin.”

 

The hall they were running down suddenly took a jerk to the left as the ship took off into the Vortex. “Why don’t I just kill you now, vermin?” his voice was almost conversational. Certainly not as threatening as his words implied.

 

“We’re more entertaining this way!” Ari yelled as she veered right. “You’re a sadist! I’m a masochist! Match made in heaven! Don’t ya’ think?” The floor suddenly became the ceiling and the ceiling the floor as House reversed gravity. “We’re funny looking!” Ari called. “Pick a reason!”

 

“Hmmm…” House contemplated the little people, “Then entertain me. Run.

 

“Already on it, dude! Hold your horses!” Ari looked at Jabe and hissed, “Whatever you do, don’t let go. He’ll mess with our heads if he can.”

 

“How do you know?” Jabe was frightened now. Again, their lives were put in immediate danger. This time by the very place they had laid their heads to sleep in safety not hours before. Threatened in their own home. Yes, Jabe was terrified. She wasn’t sure she’d ever truly feel safe again.

 

“Was in the show, sweetie. It was on the show.”

 

“Oh,” Jabe breathed. She wasn’t sure how she felt at the moment other than terrified. Though she did wonder if an insane Time Lord could get premonitions and not realize it. Perhaps only the females?

 

“Admittedly, this happened way in the future to Nine. And didn’t have you. Or me. So I don’t know how much will change. If anything.” Ari continued carefully as they oh so carefully crept around a large hole in the floor, hugging the walls as close as they could and prayed to every deity they could get to pay attention that House wouldn’t hit a bump or play with gravity again.

 

“The problem with entertainment shows is that they are indeed entertainment. They are meant to be enjoyed. Reality is usually not entertaining, thus many embellishments are made.”

 

“I’ll agree with that. What’s your point?”

 

“If this is real, and not a show, then there is no guarantee of anything remaining the same.”

 

“I hate you so much right now.”

 

+++++NINE+++++

 

Following that bright white light in his mind, the Doctor ran down halls created from ship parts and piles of junk. Finally, he found an open area with a large cage. Surrounding the cage was the now-standard piles of scrap, but all the piles were carefully out of reach. Ensuring the occupants had no materials in which to attempt escape.

 

Inside the large iron bars of the cage was the kissy bitey woman from before along with a man. The male was a brunette. Thick facial hair covered some of the dirt-encrusted areas. The Doctor could see that the man was incredibly thin, to the point of starvation. He didn’t even have the energy to be upright, laying with all his weight against the bars. His eyes were closed, resting as much as he was able.

 

"Ah," Idris smiled to herself serenely. "It's my thief.” She knew that her thief would find them. She had counted on it. However… She opened her eyes and practically glared, "It's about time!"

 

"Is he alright?” The Doctor gestured to the male, hoping that he was still alive. “Who are you?"

 

"Do you really not know me?" Idris ignored his first question and demanded, "Just because they put me in here?"

 

He frowned. "Said you were dangerous. You bit me!"

 

"Not the cage, stupid," she stepped forward and pressed her face to the bars. "In here," she put her hands on the bars, amused and angry with him. "They put ME in here. I'm the…” she paused, frustrated as she searched once again for a word, “Oh what do you call me? We travel. I go…" she breathed out, imitating the wheezing of his ship.

 

"The Tardis?" the Doctor answered automatically, but his tone was clearly disbelieving.

 

"Time and Relative Dimensions in Space,” she parroted the full acronym. “Yes that's it. Names are funny." It was all said in a rush.

 

This was the point when the male opened his eyes, as dark as his hair, and raised an eyebrow, “You leave your parking brake on?”

 

“What?”

 

“Only reason for a Tardis to make that sound is for the parking brake to be on when trying to land. Didn’t you read the manual?”

 

The Doctor blinked at him in shock. “What? Who ARE you?”

 

The woman pulled herself up using the bars, glaring at him. "I'm the TARDIS!"

 

"No, you're not!" the Doctor shook his head sharply. "You're the bitey mad lady. The Tardis is…up and downy stuff in a big blue box."

 

"Yes, that's me. A Type 40 Tardis. I was already a museum piece when you were young. And the first time you touched my console you said…"

 

"I said you were the most beautiful thing I had ever known," he breathed, stunned. Then he paused as something else she said occurred to him, “Little boxes would make me angry.” He blinked, staring at the living embodiment of his fantastic ship. “My Tardis,” he whispered.

 

She smiled brightly and chirped arrogantly, "My Doctor!”

 

The man had taken this byplay as an opportunity to use the bars to get to his feet. “Yes, yes, she’s your Tardis. Now, you want to get us out of here? We may not have much time.”

 

His ship nodded, “We’ve now reached the point in the conversation when you open the lock.”

 

The Doctor dazedly obeyed, getting his sonic from his pocket and releasing the mechanism.

 

She beamed and stepped out, walking right over to him and stared up into his face happily. "Are all people like this?"

 

"Like what?" the Doctor asked.

 

"So much bigger on the inside? I'm…" she let out a frustrated breath and stepped past him. "Oh! What is that word? It's so BIG, so complicated, and so sad…" The man sighed, having had this conversation before.

 

"But why?" the Doctor shook his head, "Why pull the living soul from the TARDIS and pop it in a tiny human head? What does it want you for?"

 

"Oh, he doesn't want her," the man shook his head.

 

"How do you know?"

 

The ship said instantly, "House eats Tardises."

 

"House what?" the Doctor was gob smacked.

 

"I don't know, something I heard him say," Idris nodded at the man.

 

"When?"

 

"In the future."

 

"House eats Tardises,” the man nodded, his entire form sad. “I’ve seen it before.”

 

She smiled, "Oh there you go," she put her thumb on his mouth to keep him quiet, before turning to the Doctor, "What are fish fingers?"

 

"When does he say that?" he forced out from behind her thumb.

 

"Any second."

 

"House feeds on rift energy," the male nodded. "And our ships are bursting with it…"

 

"Like processed food,” the Doctor made the connection, horrified, “Not raw, but cooked. Like fish fingers.” Then he blinked at the ship-woman, “Why fish fingers?”

 

"Do fish have fingers?" she wondered aloud, ever curious. She didn’t get to talk, with mouths, with her thief very often and never would again. She could ask him anything now!

 

"But you can't eat a TARDIS!" the Doctor shook his head adamantly, "It would destroy you, unless…"

 

"Unless you deleted the Tardis matrix first," the man chimed in again.

 

"So, it deleted you?" the Doctor gave a terror-filled laugh, gesturing up and down to the female HUMAN body currently holding his magnificent ship.

 

"But House can't just delete a Tardis consciousness," she looked at the other brunette and then her thief, back and forth as she spoke, "That would blow a hole in the universe…so it pulls out the matrix, sticks in a living receptacle, and then feeds off the remaining artron energy…" she gasped in happiness, "You two were about to say all that…I don't suppose you have to now.”

 

The Doctor looked at the man, analyzing his form. “Are you a Tardis too?”

 

The man snorted derisively, “No. I’m the Corsair.”

 

Chapter Text

 

+++PREVIOUSLY+++

 

"But House can't just delete a Tardis consciousness," she looked at the other brunette and then her thief, back and forth as she spoke, "That would blow a hole in the universe…so it pulls out the matrix, sticks in a living receptacle, and then feeds off the remaining artron energy…" she gasped in happiness, "You two were about to say all that…I don't suppose you have to now.”

 

The Doctor looked at the man, analyzing his form. “Are you a Tardis too?”

 

The man snorted derisively, “No. I’m the Corsair.”

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

The Doctor froze at this declaration, blinking in shock at the man. With his current state of starvation, the Doctor hadn’t recognized his old friend. He and the Corsair had been in corresponding years while at the Academy, though they differed in their chosen area of study.  They had gone on several adventures together; each dragging the other into the thick of things at various points, though they never officially travelled in the same ship. They agreed on several political points, including that not interfering with people and/or planets was an outdated law. Before the war, the Corsair had lived up to his chosen namesake quite well, resulting in more than a few hilariously dangerous situations. Between bouts of carousing, the Corsair had been part of a Tardis crew as a lead chemical mechanic.

 

The war had changed the Corsair. Well, it had changed everyone, hadn’t it? He had been selected as one of the top in his field and spent most of the war on Gallifrey, safe behind the sky trenches, developing better weapons. He’d lost his cheeky-pirate nature by the time the Doctor had seen him last. The Corsair had known what his weapons were doing and it visibly weighed upon him.

 

The Corsair that stood before him looked even more exhausted, though the current conditions – dirty and starved – was probably exacerbating it. The end result was that the Corsair had lost his vivacious outlook upon life and it showed in his bearing.

 

All this passed through the Doctor’s mind in the split second after the declaration. In the next instant, the Doctor reached forward, grabbed the Corsair’s right arm with his own, and used it to pull the man into his embrace. Skin to skin, the Doctor pushed their passing bond open into a full tertiary bond, as wide as the link would go without consent. He did it instinctively, seeking out a connection. Another bond to hold him, to hear. “It is so good to see you,” the Doctor said, carefully enunciating each word in soft emphasis. He pulled back from their embrace and, smiling, asked, “What are you doing here?”

 

The Corsair didn’t remark upon the bond. After so long with his own mind in silence – being outside the universe as they were, it had been silent in his mind for years – the new tertiary bond was a very welcome golden rope. “The High Council got a distress signal. I needed a break from all the blood and death, so I requested the assignment. Been here since.”

 

“Your Tardis?”

 

“Already consumed. He died in my arms.” 

 

“Sorry.”

 

The Corsair gave a one shoulder shrug. It wasn’t a dismissive gesture, more that he was uncomfortable with the topic. So, he changed it. “If we can get your Tardis into her main control room before her current shell expires, then her Matrix will automatically go back into its original housing.”

 

“Expires?” The Doctor spun to his ship. “Expires?” His eyes were wide in shock and horror.

 

“Of course!” She chirped. “I don’t belong in a flesh body. I’ll blow the casing in no time!” She was so happy that she smiled brilliantly at him. Her thief and her wolf now had someone. Success! As long as they could finish out what was supposed to happen, everything would be much better.

 

Though her thief didn’t seem to share her gaiety. His eyes had dropped, his shoulders tensed, and he looked ready to go off again. She glared at him. “No, stop it! Don’t get emotional.” She pointed at his chest with one finger and pushed slightly. “You’re the Doctor. Focus!”

 

He looked at her for several seconds before nodding. He grabbed her finger and proceeded to use it as an anchor, dragging her along beside him. “Let’s go join Jabe and Ari.”

 

He didn’t ask if the Corsair was following. The bright pulse of the bond reassured him with every step. “Your companions? You still like the pretty ones?”

 

“How would I know?” It was an old joke. Measures of beauty differed with each species, planet, and culture, however, because Gallifreyan Time Lords regenerated, they didn’t pay much attention to ‘the outer shell’. Beauty, at least on Gallifrey, was a foreign concept.

 

The Corsair gave the expected snort of laughter just as they rounded a bend of junk hall and froze. “She’s still a blue box?”

 

“Chameleon circuit got stuck and she won’t let me fix it. Every time I try, it immediately breaks again.”

 

Idris pouted indignantly, “I LIKE being a blue box!” Which prompted actual amusement from both Time Lords. “It’s my casing. I can do what I want with it!” As if in answer, they were about to reach the box whose lightbulb – now a pulsing putrid green – began to glow. And the ship dematerialized in front of their eyes.

 

The Doctor dropped her hand and ran forward. “No, no, no, no, no. Jabe! Ari!” He patted his pockets, then realized that neither woman had been given a mobile. It had been on his To Do list, but had hadn’t gotten around to it yet. “I don’t…” he looked back at the Corsair and his Tardis, and confessed quietly, “I really don’t know what to do.”

 

“New feeling for you, isn’t it?” The Corsair said half sympathetically. “Well, it wasn’t eaten. It was high-jacked. Which means that House has a vested interest in keeping it intact. We just need to get inside.”

 

“Oh, is THAT all?! Well, I’ll just go find another Tardis to steal and we can reclaim mine.” The Doctor glared. “And how do you propose we do that? We’re stuck down the plughole at the end of the universe in a stupid. Old. Junkyard!” He yelled, his emotions thick.

 

The Corsair blinked at the shouted sarcasm, then blinked again. “But it’s not just a junkyard.”

 

“It’s not? What is it then?” The Tardis asked curiously.

 

“It’s a TARDIS junkyard,” the Doctor and the Corsair said in synch. They grinned at each other, briefly united, then each grabbed one of the ship’s hands. “Come on.”

 

The Doctor frowned thoughtfully down at her, “Sorry, do you have a name?”

 

“Seven hundred years, finally, he asks,” she grumped. The Corsair snorted his amusement.

 

“But what do we call you?”

 

“I think you call me Sexy,” she smiled at him. The Corsair laughed out loud at the shocked embarrassment that filled their bond. He kissed the ship’s forehead and the old rogue was back in his voice, “Well, come on then, Sexy.”

 

“I call you Old Girl!”

 

“No, no, Doctor. Should never refer to a lady’s age.”

 

“Oh shut up, you. Let’s go do the impossible and build a Tardis.”

 

The Corsair glanced over at him, pondering the other man, “It’s not impossible as long as we’re alive. Your companions and your ship need you…need us. So yes, Doctor, we’re going to build a Tardis.”

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

The ship smiled brightly at her pilot and newest crew member, so happy that the pair were getting along. Though the Corsair had been her only option with her plan, there had been a small possibility that they wouldn’t work well together. Both had changed after the war. And her thief had yet to explain what he had done to end the war. That they were the last two. Well, not THE last two, but currently the last two. The very last Time Lord alive had yet to remember he was Gallifreyan; his path was not ready to intersect with her thief.

 

“Bond the tube directly into the tachyon diverter,” she chirped at the pair struggling to carry the time rotor.

 
“Yes, yes, I have actually rebuilt a Tardis before, you know,” the Doctor said.

 

The Corsair half-glared, but it was almost playful. “We know what we’re doing!”


She grinned back, so happy they were getting along. “You're like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motorbike in his bedroom. And you never read the instructions.”


“I always read the instructions!” the Doctor protested.

 

“What instructions?” the Corsair wondered.


She explained. “There's a sign on my front door. You,” she pointed at the Doctor for emphasis, “have been walking past it for seven hundred years. What does it say?”


“That's not instructions!”


“There's an instruction at the bottom. What does it say?”


“Pull to open,” the Doctor mumbled. Though Time Lord and Tardis superior hearing being what it was, neither missed the near-whisper.


She nodded, “Yes. And what do you do?”

 
The Corsair grinned. “Pushes?” he guessed.


She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Every single time! Seven hundred years. Police Box doors open out the way.” She demonstrated the correct mechanism with both her hands as if to demonstrate.


The Doctor growled at both of them. “I think I have earned the right to open my front doors any way I want.”

 

The Corsair looked at the ship, then back at him and wiggled his hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ gesture of conditional support.


Your front doors?” the ship squawked indignantly. They were HER doors! “Have you any idea how childish that sounds?”


“You are not my mother,” the Doctor grumbled, yanking the discarded pull rope back up and over his shoulder, dismissing her with a turn of his back.

 
The ship of course, was not to be outdone. She put her hands on her hips as she stared at his retreating back. “And you are not my child,” she stated solemnly. 


The Corsair was watching this by-play and decided it was his turn to weigh in. “You know, since we're talking, with mouths,” he made a talking gesture with the hand not otherwise occupied connecting wires, “not really an opportunity that comes along very often, I suggest that you two say anything you really have always wanted to.” This should be entertaining.

 

The Doctor seemed to think this was a wonderful idea. He turned back to his ship and glared at her. “You have never been very reliable.” He crossed his arms over his chest in defiance.


She raised an eyebrow imperiously, “And you have?”


“You didn't always take me where I wanted to go,” it was flat, but the rebuke was clear. He turned and walked to a nearby wall, leaning against it as he crossed his arms defensively.


“No, but I ALWAYS took you where you NEEDED to go,” she shot right back at him.


He looked over at the Corsair and slowly nodded. “You did. Always have.” Though he didn’t say it, gratitude heavily laced his tone.

 

She smiled brightly at him, shaking her head with vigorous agreement. Then she stumbled, crying out in pain. Both Time Lords shot over and each grabbed an arm, keeping her on her feet. She looked at her crew and swallowed thickly, “One of the kidneys has already failed. We need to finish assembling the console.”


“Using a console without a proper shell,” the Corsair gave a small whistle, “It's not going to be safe.” 


She looked at him solemnly. “This body has about eighteen minutes left to live. The universe we're in will reach absolute zero in three hours. Safe is relative.”

 
The Doctor took a deep breath, gently set her to a half-rotted chaise, and moved to his discarded tachyon accelerator. “Need to get a move on then. Eh, Old Girl?”

 

When he moved far enough away that he wouldn’t overhear her – for it wasn’t time for him to learn such things – Sexy looked at the where the Corsair was busy connecting the various parts the Doctor brought him. “She doesn’t understand,” she said gently.

 

The Time Lord looked up at her from his prone position, his hands held above his head, wire cutters held between his teeth. “She who?” he asked around the tool.

 

“My thief stole me…and I stole her.” Sexy sighed, glancing up at her wonderful thief, watching him with eyes was so different than through her cameras; only seeing one angle at a time, unable to zoom in to see the nuances of his expressions. It was very different, but not unpleasant. “The universe needed a wolf, and the first wolf only wanted to be a puppy, so I stole her away. She’s my wolf now. She doesn’t understand.” Sexy looked at the Corsair again, who was staring at her with focused intensity. “I came early so that you could help them. Help her. They are both broken and need someone. This was the only time I could talk, explain. They won’t do it themselves. Not without help.” Her eyes pleaded with him, imploring him. “Help them.”

 

The Corsair didn’t look away, thinking upon her words and implications. Long moments passed between them before he slowly nodded. “I will do my best.”

 

Her eyes unfocused as she gazed into the future, and her shoulders relaxed. She smiled at him brightly, back to her previous gaiety. “That will be enough.”

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

The Corsair was mostly done synching the parts into a cohesive whole. The makeshift console – sans shell – was set up in the center of a clearing in the piles of rubble and junk. “Need a time rotor over here!” the Corsair yelled over his shoulder.

 

“Right!” the Doctor acknowledged, coming around a corner to reveal the required part over one shoulder. The two men worked together to gently lower the time rotor into its housing and each breathed a small sigh of relief when it stayed in place, along with everything else. “Have everything?”

 

The Corsair nodded, “Think so. Thrust diffuser, atom accelerator, retroscope, tachyon converter…”

 

“Blue thingy?” A bolt popped off the console with enough force that both males were very glad to be out of range. “That’s fine. Always happens.”

 

The Corsair held up a finger, “No, wait.” He jumped over and grabbed a long, thick red rope made for movie theatres on Earth in the early days of film. “Need to hang on to something. This won’t be a smooth flight.”

 

Sexy looked at a wire coat hanger with a focused gaze, “Do you ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?” Her tone was practically conversational.


The Doctor blinked over at her for a split second before refocusing on his task, “I chose you. You were unlocked.”


She grinned. “Of course I was! I wanted to see the universe,” the hanger made it to her shoulder as if she were holding a bayonet, “so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough.”


The Corsair laughed softly, “Mad man with a box.”

 

“Mad men with a box,” the Doctor corrected quietly enough that the other two pretended they didn’t hear. Instead, they all got situated with the theatre rope around their waist, anchoring them to the console. Louder, he exclaimed, “Right. Okay, let's go. Follow that Tardis!” Obeying the command, both he and the Corsair began an almost dance-like choreography as they pushed buttons, turned wheels, and pulled levers. Meanwhile, Sexy caught sight of herself in the telepathic conduit – which happened to be a mirror – before her, and began to pull and tug at her face, scrunching it up as they worked.

 

For a moment, it seemed like it would work, the makeshift console gave an increasing hum as it attempted to power up, then sparked, and grew silent.

 

The Doctor cried out, “Oh no, come on. Rift energy everywhere. You can do it.”

 

“Try diverting all power to thrust,” the Corsair said.

Obiediently, the Doctor did exactly that. Except that instead of powering up, the console gave out several sparks, a puff of smoke, and a faint metallic whine. “Ah! No, no, no, no!”


Sexy looked over at her thief in concern. “What's wrong?”


The Corsair sighed, “It can't hold the charge. It can't even start.”

 

“There's no power. I've got nothing.” The Doctor’s expression was one of profound disappointment, in himself. I’m so sorry.


His ship blinked at him in shock, then gave him a soft, sad, happy, smile. “Oh, my beautiful idiot. You have what you've always had. You've got me.” She had done so much to get them here ahead of time. Going against his own foreseen timeline as only she could. All to give him what he needed more than anything else. Because he already had her. He’d always had her, and he always would.

 

He was her thief, and she was his ship.

Pilot and Tardis.

Together for all time; until the end of time itself.

 

She would suffer more with him than she ever would’ve if she’d stayed on Gallifrey with her sisters. But she knew, just as they had all known, that he needed her. That he wouldn’t survive long without her. She loved her thief dearly. She always had. She always would. She’d waited for him. Waited to steal him away, just as all Tardis’ stole their Pilots.

 

It was part of her fundamental nature – existing across all eleven dimensions simultaneously – that she knew her own future, as well as the future of her crew, the future of the universe, and of time. Time was a part of her very core and she saw it all.

 

She’d known her Pilot from her first conscious thought. She’d known his fated path; which were many and varied. It had been her choice whether to steal him or not, though no Pilot ever knew that. All thieves thought it was their own idea. Silly of them. For her thief, she’d seen what his life would be without her and couldn’t bear watching him in pain. She saw him as he grew, saw his hurts, saw his betrayals, his successes, his failures, and ultimately the one event that had the capacity to change his very being into that which must never be. Without her to ground him, there was only one possible future for him; he would be in so much agony, that he would destroy it all in his grief.

 

But she’d also seen what many and varied futures he held possible with her to hold him close. His betrayals were fewer, his failures larger in scope but smaller in number, his successes that would fill the sky with stars, and she saw that one event that had the capacity to change his very being into that which must never be…and it was no longer a certainty. With her to care for him, he had a chance to keep himself.

 

Along with seeing his future, she also saw her own. Both without him – a lonely life sitting in a building of her broken sisters, all old and waiting to fade; and with him – a life filled with adventure. Filled with fear, pain, torture, happiness, wonderment, and life. So, just as all Tardis’ did when the time came, she made her choice and stole away her thief.

 

He was hers.

She was his.

 

She would always do her best to give him what he needed. She had given him laughter when he was depressed. She had given him companions when he was lonely. She had given him solace in his grief. She doubted he would ever truly understand all that she had given him, all for his own benefit. She loved him with all her being, down to her very core.

 

She was his.

He was hers.

Together, until the end.

 

A single tear ran down her cheek as she kissed her finger. So full of emotion that isolating anything was impossible. Her heart was too full for words. Her eyes lit with the golden energy of the time vortex, transferred it from her fingers to the rotor, and they dematerialized.

 

It had all happened so quickly that neither Time Lord noticed her expression. Time Lords never did. Instead, the Corsair gave a happy yelp as he was tossed sideways, crashing painfully into a protruding lever. “Whoo hooo!”


“We've locked on to them. They'll have to lower the shields when we’re close enough to phase inside.” Sexy said. Her face was back to its previous happy gaiety. She was with her thief, once again giving him what he needed to be happy. All was right with the universe.


The Doctor nodded, “Can you get a message to Rose? The telepathic circuits are online.”


“Which one's Rose? The flowery one?”

 

“What?” the Doctor said.

 

“Yes!” the Corsair said. They were running out of time if this had any hope of working.

 

She nodded and closed her eyes, reaching out and putting her hands on either side of the rotor. She opened her eyes as her mind touched one. "Hello flower!" she greeted happily.

 

The Doctor ran over and looked into a small monitor where he could see a faint image of Jabe hanging from a ladder, "Don't worry, telepathic messaging. No, wait, that's Jabe!" He shifted back over to the controls. Tardis’ were designed to fly with a crew of eight. With just the two of them, he couldn’t be away from his post for long.

 

"You have to go to the old control room," Sexy told the Arboreal, "I'm putting the route in your head. When you get there, use the periwinkle slider on the nearest panel to lower the shields. You’ll have about twelve seconds before the room goes into phase with the invading matrix. I'll send you the passkey when you get there. Good luck!" she pulled her hands away from the rotor, ending the transmission.

 

"How're they gonna be able to take down the shields anyway?" the Corsair shout-asked, "The House is in the control room!"

 

"I directed them to one of the old control rooms."

 

"There aren't any old control rooms,” the Doctor protested, “They were all deleted or remodeled."

 

She grinned at him smugly. "I archived them. For neatness. I've got about 20 now."

 

"But I've only changed the desktop, what, a dozen times?"

 

"So far, yes,” more smugness.

 

"You can't archive something that hasn't happened yet."

 

"You can't," her grin couldn’t get any wider at this point. Her eyes bright as she practically glowed with happiness.

 

"Honestly, Doctor," the Corsair called, "She's an eleventh-dimensional being! What makes you think she couldn't?"

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

"They did it!" the Corsair crowed. "Shields are down!"

 

"Quick!" the Doctor turned to his old girl, "Let them know we're coming!"

 

She nodded and put her hands on the rotor again, bringing up Jabe. "We're coming through! Get out of the way or you'll be atomized."

 

"Where are you coming through?" Jabe immediately asked.

 

The ship shook her head, "I don't know."

 

"Of course. It is never easy.”

 

She cut the connection and looked at the Doctor, her happiness getting pushed in with worry. Just because she knew all possible futures didn’t mean she knew if this one was one where they were successful. "It's not going to hold!"

 

The Corsair pulled a bright blue lever and suddenly they were inside an old console room (the Doctor recognized it as his seventh regeneration’s configuration), materializing just to one side of the hallway entrance.

 

+++ARIANNA+++

 

"Doctor," Jabe shouted, so very happy to see him. She hadn’t run so much in possibly her entire life. She would also make a note that attempting to climb a ladder with gravity going in the wrong direction was exceptionally difficult. “And you brought a friend.”

 

Ari, being her usual self, yelled, “You’re late!” Honestly though, she was happy to see him too. Dealing with House had been more unpleasant than she could have ever imagined, even when making sure that they hadn’t separated and watching out for Nephew. The Doctor’s presence indicated that it was all almost over.

 

"Oh, not good," Idris moaned as she tried to get up. "Not good at all…" Ari ran over to her, helping her sit up. The ship gave her wolf a plaintiff look, "How do you walk around in these things?"

 

"We're not quite there yet, just hold on," the Corsair told the woman, squeezing her shoulder. They still needed to get to the main control room. Though being in the ship’s shell was already a million times better than where they were, it was still a long way in getting things back to normal. How are we going to get to the main console? House certainly won’t let us run there without interference.

 

The Doctor turned to the female pair, "Ari, Jabe, this is…well…'s the Tardis. Except she's a woman. She's a woman, and she's the Tardis."

 

Both women nodded in unison. “Lady Arianna has been telling me quite a bit.”

 

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed on the living paradox. Apparently they needed to have another discussion on what she could and couldn’t do with her knowledge of the future, but there were more important things to deal with first.

 

The Corsair helped Idris stand, "Hello," the woman greeted, "I'm…Sexy."

 

"Oh…" the Doctor rubbed his neck and pointed at Ari, "Shut up!"

 

"Environment has been breached," House's voice echoed around them, "Nephew kill them all…"

 

Ari shook her head and shouted at the ceiling, “You can shut up too!” Then she looked at the odd second male who looked like he needed to eat the entirety of Thanksgiving dinner…twice. “Who’s that?”

 

“I’m the Corsair,” he introduced himself politely.

 

Ari’s eyes widened and she looked from him, to the Doctor, back to him. “You’re the Corsair?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The Corsair?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“The real one?”

 

“There’s a fake one?”

 

“Oh boy,” Ari put her head in her hands while shaking her head. “Jabe, you may be right. This is getting—"

 

"Doctor, Corsair, I did not expect either of you," House interrupted her.

 

"Well, that's us all over, isn't it?" the Doctor clapped his hands and moved around the console. "Lovely old unexpected us."

 

“Dalmeta Three was never the same after we came through,” the Corsair said.

 

“Nor Zant.”

 

“Carthage.”

 

“Oi! That one was all you!”

 

House interrupted again. He’d dealt with Time Lords before and they could go on for hours on such topics. He had better things to do. "The big question is now that you're here… How to dispose of you. I could play with gravity…" They all fell to the floor, struggling to get up, struggling just to draw breath with so much weight pressing them down. When it stopped suddenly, they struggled to their feet. Though Idris fell and the Corsair caught her, gently setting her back down to the floor as Ari came over. "Or I could evacuate the air from this room and watch you choke…" they started gasping as the air was literally sucked out of the room. Bit redundant.

 

"You really don't want to do that," the Corsair ground out with what little breath he had left. Ari was the most effected, since she was human. However, two were Time Lords with a respiratory bypass that increased their capacity to endure a lack of air, and Jabe was an Arboreal, who could survive short jaunts on nothing at all.

 

House ceased removing the air and most of the occupants gasped to breathe once more. Just because they had the ability to survive without oxygen for a small amount of time didn’t mean it was pleasant. "Why shouldn't I just kill you now?"

 

"Because then we won't be able to help you," the Doctor told him.

 

"Listen," the Corsair told him, "Your engines, just listen to them, you don't have the thrust and you know it."

 

"Right now, we're your only hope for getting out of your little bubble, through the rift, and into our Universe. And ours is the one with the food."

 

"Wolf…" Idris gasped into Ari's ear.

 

"Have to promise not to kill us,” the Doctor held out his hands. “That's all. Just promise."

 

"You cannot be serious!" Jabe shouted, wide eyed. “He has been torturing us for the past twenty minutes!”

 

The Doctor eyed her, seriously serious, "Very serious. I'm sure it's an entity of its word."

 

Ari called, "Corsair,” she paused a split second, “Doctor, she's burning up."

 

The Doctor walked over to her, kneeling down and taking Idris's hand, squeezing it gently, before looking up at the Corsair with a solemn expression. She's getting weaker. We don’t have much longer. It has to be now.  He nodded and knelt down beside her as well, "Hey, hang in there, old girl."

 

The Corsair offered a hopefully reassuring smile, "Not long now. It'll be over soon."

 

"Always liked it when you called me old girl," Idris breathed softly, losing strength quickly. An eleventh-dimensional being did not belong in a flesh body. She’d blow out the casing so…quickly…

 

"You want me to give my word?" House cut in yet again, "Easy, I promise."

 

"Fine, ok, we trust you," the Doctor stood up. He looked at the Corsair, who stayed on the floor with Ari and his ship. "Just delete 30 percent of the TARDIS rooms, you'll free up enough thrust to make it through. Activate sub routine Sigma 9."

 

"Why would you tell me this?" House wondered.

 

Suddenly, the some of the last of the strength she still had, Sexy shot out a hand, caught the Corsair by the neck, and physically drew him down so that she could tell him that one last thing that they all would need. “The only Rose in the Wolf is Silver.”

 

"Because we want to get back to our Universe as badly as you do," the Doctor told him, "And I'm nice."

 

"Yes, I can delete rooms…and I can also rid myself of vermin, if I delete this room first. Thank you Doctor, Corsair. That was very helpful. Goodbye Time Lords. Goodbye little humans. Goodbye Idris."

 

She drew a deep breath, “Help…them…”  the words a bare whisper as the world around them went bright white…

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

The world returned gradually, revealing the familiar orange-red-gold coral-esque features of the main control room. The Doctor grinned, and it was not a nice smile. “Yes. I mean, you could do that, but it just won't work. Hardwired fail safe. Living things from rooms that are deleted are automatically deposited in the main control room. But thanks for the lift!”


“We are in your universe now, Doctor. Why should it matter to me in which room you die? I can kill you just as easily here as anywhere. Fear me. I've killed hundreds of Time Lords.”


“Fear me. I've killed them all.”

 

The Corsair’s head jerked upward, his eyes wide. “What?” he whispered. “You what?” He paused, his eyes going slightly blank with concentration as he focused inward. “I…I can’t feel… No one’s…” He blinked, refocusing on the Doctor. “What’ve you done?”


The Doctor winced, his head lowering in shame. It had been an automatic reply to the jibe. He hadn’t thought it through. However, if they were going to live through this, he didn’t have the time to explain. Instead, he had to save his ship. She was almost dead…but almost wasn’t quite dead enough. She needed time. He swallowed past his shame, fear, and that small dash of hope – hope that he would be forgiven, shoving them back to a part of his mind. Instead, he gestured grandly, “Yeah, you're right. You've completely won. Oh, you can kill us in oodles of really inventive ways, but before you do kill us allow me and friends Rose and Jabe to congratulate you on being an absolutely worthy opponent.” He clapped his hands in a semblance of enthusiasm, eyes staying firmly on his ship’s dying ‘flesh casing’.

 

“Congratulations!” Jabe said with apparent genuine enthusiasm. She’d had more practice in lying with words and expressions.


Ari rolled her eyes slightly, but obediently clapped her hands, knowing what he was doing. “Yeah, yeah. You’re awesome. Amazing. Oodles of yay.” Her sarcasm was thick.

 

“Arianna!” Jabe hissed in rebuke.

 

“What?” she immediately turned back. “He’s an asshole who eats living, sentient  beings. There are other sources of artron radiation that he could’ve fed upon and he still chose to eat Tardis’. He’s a psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic asshole!”


“Yep, you've defeated us. Me and my lovely friends here, and last but definitely not least, the Tardis Matrix herself, a living consciousness you ripped out of this very control room and locked up into a human body. And look at her.” The Corsair gestured to the woman laying with her head in his lap, Ari still by her side.


“And you think I should mourn her?” House sounded actually curious.


The Doctor shook his head, “No. I think you should be very, very careful about what you let back into this control room. You took her from her home. But now she's back in the box again…and she's free.”

 

Even as he spoke, the flesh body holding a Tardis Matrix, finally gave out completely. It had gone three minutes without the ability to inhale, without oxygen, and the brain casing blew. It could no longer hold a Tardis consciousness. Immediately, golden light – echoes of the Time Vortex and the Eye of Harmony – spilled out of every orifice, including the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and even the pores of the skin. Golden, with flecks of red-orange flowed out of the body, then up into every piece of equipment it could get to, all throughout the control room. Into the console, floor, ceiling, and walls.

 

The process was incredibly painful to the usurper, who began to scream. “No. Doctor, stop this. Argh! Corsair! Stop this now.”

The Doctor smiled, mostly with happiness, but there was also a glint of righteous glee. “Oh, look at my girl. Look at her go!” He spun on his heel, gesturing to all of his beautiful, magnificent ship. “Bigger on the inside! You see, House?”


"Make her stop!" House begged.

 

"That's your problem," the Corsair said. House screamed again, louder. "Size of a planet but inside you are just so small.”

 

"Make it stop!" House finally begged.

 

"Finish him off, Sexy," the Corsair ordered lightly as the Doctor turned to the console. The golden light flared, redoubling in volume and speed to reclaim her rightful place in the universe.

 

"No! Don't do this! Ah! Uh! No!" The green invading light that was House was eliminated, chased away by golden streams.

 

Then, the light faded, dropping the control room into darkness. The darkness emphasized the light as a golden form, barely visible even in the gloom, appeared behind her thief.

“Doctor, are you there? It's so very dark in here.”


The Doctor looked at the personification of his magnificent ship and felt a lump form in his throat. “I'm here,” he whispered, stepping forward to face her fully. This would be the last time he ever got to talk to her. Wait, no, this was the last time she ever got to talk to him.


She smiled at the space above his head, unaware of where he was. She could no longer see him using the eyes that blinked slowly. “I've been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but oh, so sad. I've found it now.” Her entire matrix was no longer being held in a flimsy flesh casing and was thus able to reach her entire database easily. Including that one, sad, word.


“What word?”


“Alive,” she breathed with a small smile, “I'm alive.”


“Alive isn't sad,” the Corsair said softly.

 
Her small smile became sad, because she knew her thief understood why it was a sad word all too well. “It's sad when it's over.” She addressed her thief again, “I'll always be here, but this is when we talked, and now even that has come to an end. There's something I didn't get to say to you.”


“Goodbye?”

She shook her head. “No. I just wanted to say…I love you.” Her hand came up as if to caress his cheek and he leaned into the ephemeral touch. “You stole me…and I stole them. You are mine as I am yours. Together, forever…until the end. Take care…of…my love.” Her last words drifted on the air as she became a bright golden light filled with swirls of the aurora borealis, spinning beatifically into the time rotor.


+++RECKLESS+++


It was several hours later, the two Time Lords working in tandem beneath the console. They were putting up a firewall around the Tardis Matrix so that nothing even remotely similar could ever happen again.

 

“So,” the Corsair began, “would you like to start explaining why you killed all the Time Lords?”

 

Chapter Text

 

“I take it from your previous comment that the Corsair was unexpected?” Jabe asked gently, sipping her tea while her eyes never left Lady Arianna’s face. (Every carbon-based lifeform in the universe at some point or another figured out how to put various leaves in boiling water to produce something delicious to drink. It was one of the few universal constants.)

 

The two women were currently in the ship’s library, lounging in one of the many reading alcoves. While the main entrance to the library was an open space, including an information kiosk and small snack-and-drink bar, the Tardis library itself was infinite – containing ALL of the universe’s vast information required such a space, which was only possible using Time Lord science – requiring many recesses in which visitors to rest and read in comfort. (There were records of people getting happily lost in a Tardis library, to be found months, or even years, later.) The sheer vastness of the room making it ideal to have private conversations.

 

Ari grimaced, looking deeply into her own mug of hot cocoa with marshmallows as if it somehow held the answers. “Understatement,” she muttered.

 

“You also said that this…episode,” Jabe said the word with hesitancy, but without judgement, merely trying to come to a consensus, “was out of order of the main plotline. Was the Corsair not in the episode?”

 

Ari sighed and shook her head. “The Doctor we’re with is in his ninth incarnation,” she paused, remembering the War Doctor, “sort of. Nine lasted one season. Then came Ten, who was with the show for about four years I think – enough for three seasons and three specials. Eleven was around for about three years, and Twelve was still around for season nine, which was when we had the fire. The Doctor’s Wife episode was in season,” she had to pause to remember, counting in her head, “five. I think. With the Eleventh Doctor.”

 

Jabe blinked, trying to absorb all the information she had just been given. The implications of what Arianna had just stated were monumental. It helped to cement the conclusion the Arboreal had reached previously; Arianna was Gallifreyan with a talent for prescience, and quite probably mad. Though Jabe also understood a bit better why the other would be so, if Arianna saw so far into the future, thinking it was an entertainment show was most likely the only way the poor woman had stayed as sane as she was. For, even though this delusion was massive, it was still consistent, and Lady Arianna rather logical (under her sarcasm).

 

Jabe took the time to sip more of her tea as she contemplated things. After a short while, she said, “You know when and how the Doctor will die.” And it was all interconnected with Arianna’s belief that they were all dead. “You could warn him.”

 

Ari grimaced, “See, I have to wonder. ‘Cause if the Corsair is here, that could change a LOT of things if he stays. Having another Time Lord in the mix could change…” she shook her head and whispered, “…everything.” She took a deep breath and continued, “But the Doctor knows that I know his future and told me specifically that I can’t tell him.” She held up two fingers, “He said that there were two rules, 1) I couldn’t tell him about future events, and 2) I could only save one person per episode.”

 

The tree frowned. That didn’t sound right. From what she had observed of the man, he wouldn’t have said that Ari could only save one person. He always strove to save as many as possible; every time someone or someones were in danger, he put his own life on the line to save them all. He’d had plans to save the entire race of the Gelth before they had proven genocidal. Jabe looked at the other, “He said it in those exact words?”

 

“Well, no. But it was strongly implied,” Ari admitted.

 

“Perhaps you misunderstood?”

 

“I dunno. He was pretty firm. Actually went all Oncoming Storm for a second or two on Platform One when he thought I’d gone against him. And he about freaked out then too.”

 

Jabe frowned, “Why?”

 

Ari thought back, “Ummm… It was right after I’d asked him about changing things. He said that I could only change that one thing that had brought me here. When I asked what that was, his expression was…weird. Like a blend of fear and panic. Then I mentioned the fire and he calmed back down.”

 

Jabe shook her head. There was too much here that didn’t make logical sense, and both the Doctor and Arianna had proven themselves to be very logical. “Being from two different species, misunderstandings can occur quite easily.” If a misunderstanding occurred when they met, even a small misunderstanding, then over time, that small misunderstanding could develop into a rather large assumption. It happened sometimes in the promises and deals for her family’s company. It was part of why legal contracts were invented, to lessen the number of assumptions and misunderstandings.

 

Ari slowly nodded, “Well, that does make sense…but he was still adamant in his rules when I got here.”

 

“And yet, the Corsair changes things. Does it hurt to ask for clarification?” Jabe suggested gently.

 

Ari sighed, “No. Alright, come on. They’re most likely in the control room.”

 

“Let’s finish our drinks first. Give them their own chance to speak privately.”

 

The redhead winced, “Yeaaahhh, the Corsair wasn’t there for the end of the war.” She paused and shook her head. “Actually, feel kinda sorry for the Doctor at the moment. Having to explain what he did and why… Not pleasant.”

 

“Nor for the Corsair, I imagine,” Jabe said sympathetically. “Losing all that which you knew is difficult and painful. Discovering that a friend caused such a loss would be even more devastating.”

 

Ari nodded. Knowing that it was the Doctor that used the Moment, even though he had very good, sound reasons, would the Corsair even want to stay? She wouldn’t want to stay any length of time with the driver of the other car that killed her parents. She didn’t…but she didn’t have a choice. The Corsair did. “Do you know what happened?”

 

Jabe nodded slightly, “The broad generalizations. I hadn’t realized that the Doctor had single-handedly ended the war until his comment earlier, but I knew he was the only survivor. It wasn’t difficult to put leaf and twig together.” She peered at the redhead. “Do you know more?”

 

“I know more than he does right now,” Ari said. She’d thought about this in detail several times, since it came up so often in canon and was essential to the Doctor’s core character in his later regenerations. “It was an impossible choice. No one should have to make a choice like that.”

 

“What do you mean?” Jabe asked.

 

“It’s like…” Ari blew out a sharp breath, trying to find an accurate analogy. “Imagine if a group of bad guys is holding the trigger to a massive bomb which is targeting the largest city on your planet.” Jabe nodded slowly. “Now you’ve got another trigger to a thingie which, if you push it, will kill all the bad guys, but will also kill your entire family.” The tree’s eyes widen. Ari nodded. “And you’re smart, you’ve thought this through. Those are the only two options you have. Either the entire city dies, you included, or you push the button that kills the bad guys, saves the city, but also kills your family.”

 

“Oreal Bless,” Jabe breathed.

 

“Now, imagine that it wasn’t a city, but the entire universe.

 

“Leaf and root!”

 

“That was the choice he had to make. A choice no one should have to make. It was impossible…but he was the only one willing to step up to the line. Knowing the consequences, he did what he knew was right…and it broke him.”

 

“How could he have survived that?” Killing oneself after such a decision would be perfectly understandable, even expected.

 

“It was his punishment. To survive, all alone, when no one else had. Survivor’s guilt times a million. On top of PTSD from the war itself.” Ari took another drink. Speaking like this reminded her of the show, of all the discussions she’d had on the internet, and let her talk as if it was an abstract thing. Something to observe and understand, rather than real events that reshaped the universe. “It’s why Nine was so different after the decades-long break in the show.”

 

Jabe had noticed the shift in Arianna’s speech patter and attitude, but didn’t comment. Then she blinked. “Wait, what do you mean by that?”

 

Ari nodded. “The First Doctor, very first episode, was broadcast in 1963. It ran until 1989, then there was a movie with the Eighth Doctor in ’96, then came the reboot with Christopher Eccleston, playing the Ninth Doctor, in 2005. Eccleston re-imagined the character, making him way darker and more broody. The early Doctors were much more carefree.” She paused to take a breath. “I mean, there are certain aspects to the Doctor’s core personality that don’t change from one incarnation to the next, but the surface character changed with every incarnation. That has been one of the main selling points of the Doctor Who franchise. Never have to ignore a change in actors, it’s built right into canon!” She grinned broadly. “Double-Oh Seven can’t say that!”

 

“Double-Oh what?”

 

Ari gestured, “You know, ‘Bond, James Bond’?” She saw the tree’s blank expression and waved dismissively. “Oh well, Sean Connery was best; anyway, not important. So,” she paused, blinking, “where was I?”

 

“The Doctor is more melodramatic in his current regeneration due to the aftermath of the Time War.”

 

“Oh yeah. And it’s true. Eccleston completely revamped the character, not to mention that it brought in a whole new audience after fifty years absent. Which is why some argue that the Great Time War was only fifty years long in real-time, while others say that it had to be longer, especially if you factor in all the paradoxes that the Gallifreyan government was trying to use to win. Of course, the Daleks had time travel too, so that never worked. Anyway,” she had to take a breath again, “the main point was that his character changed majorly after the war, then Rose came along and helped Nine to remember who he once was. Or, settled him down at least.”

 

Jabe was having great difficulty following the conversation. She held up a hand. “Wait. Who’s Rose?”

 

“That’s just it!” Ari gesticulated widely, “Rose Tyler isn’t here!” She said it as the great proclamation it was, but the Arboreal didn’t have the background to understand. Ari saw this and tried to explain, “I said that Eccleston lasted a year and Tennant about four, but Rose was there for all of the first two seasons, and arguably in the first four – depending on how you think about it. She was essential for preventing several major paradoxes. Admittedly she caused a couple, but not the point.” She took a breath. “I haven’t seen Rose at all this entire time. I don’t know where she is, however, based on what I know, it’s almost like I’m playing Rose.”

 

Jabe was trying to wrap her mind around this. Even if she took the whole situation at face value, it was still a lot of information to absorb, let alone try to think ways around. “So, you are Rose?” she asked hesitantly.

 

Ari opened her mouth as if to answer, then closed it with a snap. She blinked, looked at her now empty mug, and carefully said, “Maybe? My full name is Rosemary Arianna Carpenter. Rose was my nickname when I was a kid, and I look a lot like the actress that plays Rose, as long as I dye my hair. It was a family joke that I could be Billie Piper’s stunt double easily. Not to mention that my mother’s maiden name was Tyler and she was Jacqueline. So, my mother’s name actually was Jackie Tyler. Of course, the similarities end there.”

 

The Arboreal slowly nodded, “Thus you are Rose, but not the same Rose.”

 

“Yes,” Ari nodded vigorously. “The Doctor called me Rose when I first showed up until I stopped him, when I haven’t gone by that name in over ten years.”

 

Jabe leaned back in her chair. “Hmmm… It seems to me as if more than one assumption has been made by all parties,” she murmured. “Let us go and find the others and see if we can obtain some answers.”

 

“No need,” the Doctor’s voice came from the right, startling both women.

 

Ari turned to look at him and the color drained from her face as she recognized his severe expression. “How much did you hear?” she asked.

 

“Enough,” the Doctor said, his tone dark.

 

Jabe instantly shook her head, “No, Doctor. As far as I can understand, there have been many assumptions made by everyone. Let us all be very clear and stamp out the brambles.”

 

“I agree,” the Corsair joined them. He gestured to the other chairs. “Let’s all sit and talk this out.” He glared at the other Time Lord until he capitulated. “Now, from what we overheard, this started getting muddled with Ari’s arrival. So, let’s start there. Ari,” he motioned her to begin.

 

She eyed the Doctor, swallowing hard. “Ummm…”

 

The Corsair eyed the Doctor, then Ari, and leaned forward to catch the girl’s hand. He felt her fear and pushed with his telepathy, soothing away her terror. “Don’t mind him, focus on me. Tell me the story.” He gentled his tone into almost a lulling caress. As Jabe had said, there had been many assumptions made and, if his own assumptions were correct, they needed to iron them out fast, or much could be at risk. Because he could feel a paradox on the horizon, so large that it encompassed everything, and its center was…close… And getting nearer all the time. However, one thing at a time. For now, he had to push aside his grief, and focus on the here and now. It was the only way he’d get through it. “Tell me the story,” he commanded again, rubbing soothing circles – the Gallifreyan circle-script for ‘obey’ – on the back of her hand, “Where were you before you met the Doctor?”

 

Ari blinked owlishly at him. “At home,” she said slowly. “The house was on fire. I woke up coughing, got Robbie, and tried to get out, but all the exits were blocked. I knew there was no way out, so I went back to my room, tucked Robbie in, and sang to her until she fell asleep. It was all I could do.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “They’re all dead. She’s all I have left! And I couldn’t save her. I tried! I swear! It’s why I’m here. I’m being punished. ‘Cause it’s all my fault. They’re all dead and it’s my fault.” Tears coursed down her face in rivulets. She didn’t see the Doctor stiffen, guilt and understanding flashing across his face. Her eyes never left the Corsair’s.

 

Shhh…” the Corsair gentled. “I know. I know you did all you could. What happened after the fire?” he urged her forward in her narrative, pushing her past the painful memories. “When did you meet the Doctor?”

 

Ari swallowed past her tears. “I woke up in the Tardis med-bay and he was there. But Robbie wasn’t. Where’s Robbie? I have to find her. He said that he only found me, so I had to go find her. But she wasn’t anywhere. Where’s Robbie?” she whimpered, “I have to save her! Where is Robbie, you bastard?!”

 

The Doctor was frowning, leaning forward in his chair. He’d assumed that Robbie had been a husband, given her different last name. However, it seemed that Robbie was a nickname for a female family member. Given her intense nurturing drive, a younger sibling or child was most likely. Perhaps Jabe was right…many assumptions had been made.

 

“Shhh… Shhh… It’s alright,” the Corsair soothed again. He forced her mind again to push aside her fear and grief. Poor woman had been through the wringer. “What happened after you came back into the ship?”

 

“Doctor started talking about how I could only change the one event that brought me here, even though I knew years of his personal future.” She paused, “I figured out that I was in hell then.”

 

The Corsair frowned instantly, “Why did you think that?”

 

“ ‘Cause it was all the same, but different. I had just died. Robbie wasn’t there, and she wouldn’t be in hell, would she? She’d go to heaven when she died. And how else would I end up in a television show? People don’t just drop into their favorite show. Not in real life. That’s not how reality works. Only fanfiction does that.”

 

The Corsair’s eyebrows went up. “Your favorite show?”

 

She nodded vigorously. “Ever since the reboot in 2005. I didn’t think anyone could top Eccleston, until Tennant came along. Smith took me a lot longer to like him, and then really only when Clara came along. Clara’s my favorite companion. I was really disappointed when she d—”

 

“Stop!” the Doctor and the Corsair said in tandem, though the Corsair was gentler with his command. He continued, using the same soothing, gentle tone, “How much did this…television program show of the Doctor’s life? How many regenerations?”

 

She blinked at him as if he had asked an incredibly stupid question, “All of them. I watched Nine to Twelve whenever it came on. I heard rumors that Thirteen was g—”

 

“Stop!” both Time Lords stopped her again. Again, the Corsair was much more gentle with his tone. “You can’t tell the Doctor’s personal future, Ari. Nothing. Alright?”

 

“But it’s all different now,” it was almost a whine.

 

“What do you mean?” the Corsair prompted.

 

“Explain,” the Doctor ordered.

 

“Well, I’m not Rose, though I’m playing out a lot of her part. And Jabe wasn’t in the show, and definitely didn’t travel in the Tardis. And House wasn’t until the Eleventh Doctor. The Corsair was dead by then, so of course didn’t travel with them. But the Dalek episode with Van Statten happened pretty much exactly. It’s all different, but the same at once.”

 

The Corsair didn’t let go of Arianna’s hand, but he sat back slightly, rubbing his forehead with the other. “You’ve watched the Doctor’s life, through the television, which was your favorite entertainment. There was a fire in your home, which you couldn’t escape. When you woke, you saw the Doctor and assumed you must be dead and in the afterlife. You assumed it was hell because your little sister wasn’t with you. The Doctor’s commands gave you the impression that you were to use your foreknowledge to only change key events, but the cascading effect has ended up changing more than you directly caused. Including Jabe’s and my continued survival. Is that about right?” When she nodded, he glared over at the Doctor, “You’ve made a right muddle of this.”

 

The other Time Lord nodded sadly, “Apparently.”

 

“You didn’t ask questions before you started to give orders. She’s human,” he stressed the syllables, “you didn’t ask even the basic questions that would have saved everyone a lot of headaches. Saved her a lot of heartache. You took a duty of care. Did you ask? Did you even explain anything?”

 

“No,” the Doctor winced, “Didn’t think that I needed to. Didn’t think I had the luxury.”

 

The Corsair sighed heavily, shaking his head at the amount of stupidity that had occurred which could have been solved by a few simple questions. “Fine. I’m enacting Article 204-dash-Beta. You’ll stay secondary, but I’m replacing you as primary. This is skirting the line of negligence into abuse, Doctor, and I won’t have it. You took nothing into consideration. You just reacted. You are the Time Lord and she is the human. It was your responsibility.”

 

The Doctor winced again, sharper this time, but nodded his agreement.  “I understand. Sorry.”

 

The Corsair sighed again. “I know. Extenuating circumstances. But this is the reason protocol exists, Doctor. You can’t just toss out the rules because they don’t suit you.”

 

“I know.”

 

The two Time Lords shared a speaking look. Finally, they seemed to come to an understanding and turned to the other half of the seated party. “Alright,” the Corsair said, “we need to get some things straight.” He looked down at the clasped hand and let go, pulling away slowly to give the human’s mind time to adjust. “First thing’s first: Ari, you are not dead, nor are we in hell.” He held up a hand as soon as she opened her mouth, “I know that is a concept that will be hard to convince you of, so I want you to pretend that this is all real and act accordingly. Can you do that?”

 

She carefully nodded, “Jabe actually made a good argument for that very thing before House showed up. She said that if this was really based on my memories of the show, then more things would be identical. Since it wasn’t, I should pay more attention to the differences. Pretend it was real until proven otherwise, even though reality can’t really be proven at all.”

 

“She’s a smart lady. Sounds like an excellent start,” he smiled encouragingly at her. “Now, secondly, we all need to establish that making assumptions is bad. If any of us has a question, we need to ask, even if it’s only to clarify you understand. I’d rather have the question than each of us make an assumption and end up in a great deal of trouble. In this case, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Agreed?” They all nodded. “Good. Thirdly, Arianna, until we know for certain what is going on, you need to keep mum about any of your future knowledge. It’s incredibly dangerous. Even at the most basic level, if anyone found out and assumed it was accurate, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and become true, with the universe spinning to accommodate, which can be incredibly, paradoxically dangerous. Understood?”

 

Ari slowly nodded, but she was frowning. “What do you mean ‘until we know for certain what’s going on’? What other explanations are there?”

 

“Good question,” the Corsair praised, “I’m making a lot of assumptions myself, but mine are more straightforward and logical than the Doctor’s previous. They are also easier to prove or disprove. For example, assumption one: you’re human.” He leaned forward slightly and took a deep breath, smelling her essence. “I can literally smell that one, making it no longer an assumptions, but a fact. We need more facts than assumptions. Assumption 2: you’re telling the truth. Now, again, that is easy to prove, but it does have some caveats. For example, someone in a fugue state could be truthful with their story, but that would be because they literally don’t remember their previous life. Make sense?”

 

She frowned harder, offended, “You think I’m lying? That I don’t remember being Rose and I came up with this as the consequence of some…what, trauma?”

 

“Not necessarily, but it’s a possibility. Also, it’s easy to prove or disprove. We just need sample DNA from you and the Rose the Doctor met first and compare the two. Would about an hour.” He smiled at her encouragingly. “Then we’d know for sure.”

 

She crossed her arms defensively, “I’m not lying.”

 

“It’s only one possibility,” he said gently. “There are several others and we need to figure out which it is. All of the possibilities come with their own potential problems. We need to know what is truly going on, so as to avoid the pitfalls. It’ll make dealing with things much easier if we know what to expect.”

 

“What else is possible?” Jabe asked in her quiet way.

 

The Corsair smiled at her, “Another good question. A second possibility is that of time sensitivity. It happens sometimes in species still evolving, humans included. There is a tier system for gauging the severity of the sensitivity, each tier having its own requirements for both identification and handling. Again, a genetic test could help us identify if this is the case.”

 

“Third possibility would be a combination of the two previous,” the Doctor said. “Someone with severe time sensitivity – that of the highest tier – would also be likely to go into a fugue state. Coming up with all sorts of things in order to keep their sanity. Very rare, but does happen.”

 

Ari was fighting not to glare. At least they were talking like rational people! “Playing devil’s advocate… What if I’m right? I’m not Rose Tyler and I really did watch Doctor Who. What then?”

 

“Well, if we go off that assumption, then we’d need to know why you were drawn here. It couldn’t have been an accident,” the Corsair said gently. “Not to mention, crossing dimensional barriers is very difficult.”

 

Ari nodded, “Because the Time Lords sealed the dimensions during the War.”

 

“Exactly. Would be some residual energy that could be detected, no matter how long it had been, from crossing not just the dimensions, but passing through the seal, as well as the Void between dimensions,” the Doctor gestured.

 

“Void stuff,” Ari said.

 

“Good a name as any,” the Doctor agreed.

 

“That’s what you called it when—”

 

“Ah!” the Corsair said sharply, holding up a hand. “No telling the future. Not until we have this figured out better. Maybe not even then. Too dangerous.”

 

“But the future is already messed up with you and Jabe here. What I know doesn’t mesh with the pair of you,” Ari argued.

 

“Which is something else we need to determine. However, for now,” the Corsair leaned forward and took her hand, easing his way into her mind and implanting the command in her surface thoughts. It was essential and this was the third time she’d made the same argument. The consequences were too catastrophic to be left to chance. He could always remove the suggestion later if it proved unnecessary. “we’ll err on the side of caution. Yes?”

 

Ari blinked owlishly at him and slowly nodded, “Of course. Better to be safe than sorry.”

 

“Exactly. Good girl.” He smiled at her and gently released her mind. “Now, since so many of these possibilities can be determined with DNA analysis, we’ll do that next.”

 

“Right!” the Doctor popped up off the cushy chair with a bounce. He’d been staying still way too long for his comfort. “Off to London! Jabe, probably want to stay in the Tardis for this. Twentieth century Earth was aware enough to notice things and stupid enough to fear anything different.”

 

She smiled him, unoffended. “I need to take a trip to the hothouse anyway. I’m feeling a mite droopy.”

 

Both Time Lords looked at her in concern. The Doctor nodded quickly, “Rift brought through so many different gases, couldn’t’ve been good for you. Off you go, then! Don’t want you taking ill.”

 

“What about me?” Ari asked. “We were woken in the middle of sleeping this last time. I’m a little tired, but I’m pretty much awake now.”

 

“Well, if you are Rose, then running into yourself would be a very bad idea,” the Corsair shook his head, “So both you and the Doctor will be staying in the ship while I go bump into the possible past you for a sample.” He winked at her and he reached out to help her up from the chair. “Are you sure you aren’t tired? Being jerked awake isn’t good for you.”

 

Ari, with a nudge from the Corsair’s mental telepathy, yawned on cue. “Guess I am. ‘Night.”

 

“Good night,” the males said in unison.

 

The Doctor waited until she left the room completely before commenting. “And you called me manipulative.”

 

“No, I said you were negligent, bordering abusive. Which you were. The suggestions I gave her were for her own mental health and safety, as well as the safety of others. She’s my ward now, thus my responsibility,” the Corsair countered sharply. He pushed aside his anger with difficulty, then sighed. “Let’s go see how insane my new ward truly is.”

 

They began to make their way back to the control room. “If she’s insane. No assumptions, you said,” the Doctor smirked.

 

The Corsair snorted tiredly, “Best case scenario, she’s a Type I time sensitive that accidently followed her senses right into her visions, but currently is in a fugue state due to the trauma of losing the last of her family. Not ideal, but workable. Worst case, she’s a Gallifreyan descendent that’s been raised as a human, with no training.”

 

“No, she could be a Type III time sensitive,” the Doctor said. Both men shuddered at that possibility.

 

“True,” the Corsair acknowledged the correction. “Let’s fervently hope she isn’t a Type III.”

 

The highest tier of time sensitives was incredibly dangerous to the universe at large. The tier system of time sensitivity didn’t just measure the amount the individual saw, but the probability of them acting on their visions. Unless the time sensitive was trained, the individual had no concept of what would or wouldn’t affect the rest of time itself. Type III’s were the most dangerous because they were the most likely to attempt to change what they saw; apt to use their vast knowledge to what they would consider ‘betterment’ and in so doing, destroy more than they saved. Several civilizations had been lost due to a single Type III attempting to avert disaster before the Gallifreyan High Council had figured out what was causing the collapse and put laws into place. At best, a Type III was removed from their planet of origin and kept segregated on Gallifrey for the remainder of their lives, subject to explaining every prophesy they held. At worst, the Type III was judged too dangerous and given the Final Action, removing their core personality and a more malleable, less ambitious, less compassionate, personality built before they were returned to their planet, to be constantly monitored for the rest of their lives.

 

The Corsair yanked himself out of his thoughts, “First, let’s confirm she isn’t the Rose you met in a fugue state. You remember when you last saw her?”

 

“Yes, I did the calculations several times then to arrive precisely. I remember the coordinates.”

 

“Go a few minutes before that and land two streets over. I’ll leg it.” The Corsair also wanted to stay a few more minutes to see how Arianna truly arrived in that precise alley at the precise time she was needed.

 

“Yes, yes. I have done this before!” The Doctor griped as he punched the necessary dials.

 

“And leave the parking brake off,” the Corsair flipped the lever himself. He didn’t know if the Doctor actually knew which was the parking brake or not. “No need to alert your past self, change the timelines, and blow a hole in the fabric of the universe.”

 

+++CORSAIR+++

 

The Corsair exited the present-Tardis and closed his eyes. He was feeling for the past-Tardis and past-Doctor, whom he held a passing telepathic bond. His bond with the present-Doctor was now secondary, but was still passing with the past-Doctor, so was harder to follow. Yet, the Corsair persevered in finding the correct mental cord and letting his feet guide him to the alley.

 

He stayed just beyond the mouth, peering around the brick corner just enough to see, but not enough to be too noticeable. Changing the past-Doctor’s timeline, when it lead directly to the present situation would be BAD. But he still needed to see what had occurred. Fortunately, Time Lords had excellent hearing.

 

There was a blonde female, young, that was currently speaking. “You'd be dead if it wasn't for me.” Her voice was…similar to Ari’s, but not exact. Which was normal. Especially since he wasn’t closer and had to rely on the acoustics of a brick alley.

 

The past-Doctor leaned against his Tardis. “Yes, I would.” He nodded at her, his eyes lit with gratitude. “Thank you.” Then he took a deep breath as if to steady himself. Or make the abrupt change of topic more noticeable. “Right then! I'll be off. Unless…” he hesitated, as if unsure of her answer. Or skeptical that he should even offer. “Er… I don't know,” he shrugged self–consciously, “you could come with me.” Once he got the offer out, his tone became defensive. “This box isn't just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe! Free of charge.”

 

A previously unseen male spoke then, practically yelling, “Don't! He's an alien! He's a –,” he paused momentarily, as if hunting the correct word, “– a thing!” The Corsair saw that he hadn’t seen him because the dark human was clutching the female’s legs tightly from his crouching position on the ground. Odd place for a human to be.

 

The Doctor frowned sternly at the male. “He's not invited.” Then the Doctor’s deep blue eyes refocused on Rose. “What do you think? You could stay here,” he described persuasively, “fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go…anywhere.” He smiled at her, happiness bright in his eyes.

 

“Is it always this dangerous?” she asked after a second.

 

He nodded sharply. “Yeah.”

 

“Yeah, I can't. I've… Er,” she lamented. “I've got to go and find my mum and someone's got to look after this stupid lump,” she gestured to her boyfriend still kneeling on the tarmac. “So…” she shrugged helplessly in a ‘what are you going to do’ gesture.

 

“Okay.” The Doctor sighed. “See you around.” He stepped backward into his magnificent ship and closed the door. The Tardis dematerialized shortly thereafter.

 

The blonde took hold of her boyfriend’s shoulder and urged him to his feet. “Come on, let's go.” The pair turned to make their way to the mouth of the alley, and ran into another man. Literally. “Oh, sorry!” Rose apologized as she helped the man to his feet. “So sorry! Wasn’t looking where I was going. Are you alright?”

 

The Corsair smiled at her as he dusted himself off, “No harm done. I’m fine.” He pocketed the small kerchief stained with her blood. “Are you okay? You’ve got a scrape.” He gestured to where he’d scratched her to obtain the needed sample.

 

Rose looked down and grimaced, but then smiled back up at him. “It’s fine. Just a scratch.”

 

“Good. Hate to hurt a beautiful lady,” he grinned roguishly. “You take care.”

 

She blushed at the compliment, then went back to get her boyfriend. “Come on. Come on.” She shooed Mickey in front of her with a hand wave, even as she gave the dead end a last look over her shoulder. Almost as if she expected the ship to show back up.

 

Mickey suddenly yelled at her from the main street. “Come on! We got to go find your mum!”

 

Rose sighed. She had given up her chance to travel the stars. She had responsibilities. Family and loved ones that she had to look after. They needed her. She gave a decisive nod, to herself and the alley, and ran a bit to catch up.

 

The Corsair watched them turn the corner from his position before refocusing on the back of the alley. He wanted to see how Ari encountered the Doctor, so positioned himself accordingly, where he could see and hear everything, but not be seen himself.

 

He wasn’t disappointed. In fact, his mouth opened in shock at what he saw.

 

The Tardis rematerialized into the alleyway, exactly where it had previously disappeared. The Doctor stuck his head out of the doorway, leaning sideways with a bright smile. “By the way, did I ment––” He cut himself off, his eyes widening in alarm. He darted out of his ship at a run, gathered the unconscious blonde into his arms, and hurried back into the ship, shutting the door behind him.

 

The Corsair began to make his way back to the present-Tardis. He observed the unconscious strawberry blonde soundlessly materialize in a shower of golden swirls. “Incredible,” he breathed, “but impossible.” It wasn’t technically impossible, but he’d never seen anything like it before. It had all the hallmarks of a regeneration cycle, without the regeneration, but the energy looked the same.

 

If he didn’t know any better, he’d say that a Tardis had sent Arianna right into the Doctor’s path at the perfect time when she’d be found and taken in.

 

Because now that he’d met both women simultaneously, the Corsair could say with almost 92.8% certainty that, while incredibly similar, the two women were not the same individual. Which opened up a broad category of possibilities. Including the idea that Ari was sent because she resembled Rose, and was thus easier to insert into the Doctor’s life. A sleeper agent, perhaps? Maybe not even herself aware of her status?

 

They needed more data.

 

“Please don’t let her be a Type III,” the Corsair muttered under his breath as he reentered the last Tardis in the universe. 

Chapter Text

 

The Corsair and the Doctor peered at the readings coming through the scanner in the infirmary. “Well, the good news is that they are two different individuals,” the Corsair commented mildly. “No worries about them accidently running into each other and ripping open the fabric of reality.”

 

“Only the normal alleles all humans have in common,” the Doctor said. Then swore under his breath in Gallifreyan. If only he had thought to do this before, it would have saved all of him a lot of frustration. Such a simple test that took less than 63 relns to run. He was such an idiot. “ ’S not Rose Tyler.”

 

“She’s not Rose Tyler,” the Corsair agreed. “She’s Rosemary Carpenter.” He flipped a switch on the panel to isolate Ari’s sample and run a complete analysis. If Rose Tyler wasn’t Arianna Carpenter, then the Doctor’s previous supposition that Ari was a future version of the blonde was obviously false. One theory was off the drawing board. A few still remained. “I saw her appear in the alley via some form of artron, or possibly huon, energy. Some traces should remain.”

 

“Not necessarily,” the Doctor shook his head. “Was burned rather badly and had to be put into a full-immersion nutrient bath to fully heal.”

 

The Corsair grimaced, “And since artron and huon particles rarely go beyond the surface layer, scans may not pick them up.”

 

“Unless they were infused, more than likely,” the Doctor said.

 

Gallifreyan circle-script began to appear the analysis was completed. “Human: 98.4375%?” the Corsair read.

 

“What?” the Doctor read the rest. “Gallifreyan: 1.5625%,” he blinked. “She’s a descendent.”

 

“Barely,” the Corsair said. “At 1/64 measure, that’d put the Gallifreyan 6-generations back. One of her great-great-great-great-grandparents.” He shook his head, “Probably just enough to give her time sensitivity and nothing else.”

 

“Question is,” the Doctor muttered, “how sensitive is she?” He pressed a different button to run the new scan.

 

These results were faster. Both Time Lords read…and both began to curse.

 

The Corsair finally leaned back with a sigh, “She’s already proven that she’s willing to interfere with her visions. She’ll need to be trained.”

 

The Doctor felt like rubbing his temples, but he knew that would do no good. Neither would dropping his head onto the nearest hard surface. Tempting though. “Add in her status as a descendent, traveling in a Tardis for an extended period, that much exposure to the Time Vortex, and could cause a cascading mutation.”

 

“Unlikely,” the Corsair shook his head.

 

“Possible.”

 

“True, but exceedingly unlikely. Infinitesimal probability aaat,” he pulled out a small handheld basic 10-key calculator and did some quick calculations, “0.00000003%. So, 3 out of every 100 million of your companions with this precise 1/64th Gallifreyan genetic code has even a remote possibility of a cascading mutation. Add about another nine zeros for the rest of the population.”

 

“3 more than I’m comfortable with, given that she’s a Type III time sensitive!” the Doctor growled. “She’s already shown that she’s willing to act on her knowledge. A cascading mutation on top of that…” he shook his head, “It’s too dangerous. Better to erase her memory and give her back to her family.”

 

The Corsair said, “What family? According to her they’re all dead.”

 

The Doctor sighed, leaning back against a wall with his arms crossed. “According to her, she’s dead. She’s a Type III, that’s showing signs of mental fracture, instability, mood swings, aggression, reckless behavior—”

 

“All of which can be understood if she’s going off the assumption that she died in that fire,” the Corsair interrupted. “She has no reason to hold herself back. She doesn’t think this is real. Nothing she does matters. Of course she’d be reckless! Her sister died in her arms; I’d be emotional too!” His glare at the other intensified. His tone was harsh, “Gallifrey no longer exists.” The Doctor flinched, but the Corsair mercilessly kept going. “There is no High Council. Nowhere to take her, no family, other than right here.” His eyes bored into the Doctor’s. “We’ll be her family. We’ll be able to monitor her easily and begin her training. If she understands the possibilities and consequences, she can be useful.” When he saw that the Doctor was still going to object, he continued flatly, “She’s my ward. My responsibility. And I say she stays.” He turned and walked away, leaving the Doctor to his own thoughts.

 

+++RECKLESS+++

 

“Jabe…?” Ari asked hesitantly, peering around a corner. She didn’t want to run into either of the Time Lords. She needed advice. Female advice. Rational advice. Non-overbearing argumentative male advice, minus the shouting.

 

“Lady Arianna,” Jabe turned, smiling at her, “Please, join me.” She patted the other side of the bench in which she currently sat, soaking in the artificial sunlight of the greenhouse.

 

The redhead moved to her and sat, but her mind was swirling in so many directions it was difficult to pin anything down to one question. Finally, she just blurted it out, “How do I do this?”

 

Jabe blinked at her, “Do what?”

 

“This! This!” Ari motioned around her with a wave, encompassing the beautiful sky, grass, and diamond trees native to Gallifrey. “Let’s say, for argument’s sake… Let’s say that all this is real. Okay? Let’s just say that.”

 

Jabe slowly nodded, not seeing the point. “Alright.”

 

“Then what in the hell am I supposed to do?!” Ari ran a hand through her hair, tugging it towards the end, hard enough to sting. “If this is real, what am I supposed to do?!”

 

Jabe reached out and gently pulled Ari’s hand down to rest in her lap. “First, we are going to take a deep breath. Close your eyes.” She waited until the other obeyed. “Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Good. Feeling better?” she asked with a small smile.

 

“Yes, thank you,” Ari sighed, “but that really doesn’t answer my question. I just… I don’t know what to do. If this is all real, then there’s so many things that are so very, very wrong.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“Robbie. Where’s she? If this is real, and we were taken together, then shouldn’t she have arrived in the same place I did? But she didn’t, and there’s no way to find her in the vastness of the universe. So I’ll never see her again. And if we weren’t taken together, then that means she’s really dead. And I’ll never see her again.” Ari felt a tear track down her cheek and she quickly shoved it violently away. “And even if we take Robbie out of the equation, we still have me. How did I get here? Who, or what, brought me? For what purpose? Was it an accident? I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was it deliberate and I’m part of some grand scheme or something? People have tried to manipulate the Doctor before using his companions. What if they’re waiting for him to get attached before threatening me? Or—”

 

Jabe wrapped her arms around the younger woman and held her, gently rubbing her back in an attempt to calm her down. It was at times like this that Jabe felt all of her nearly three centuries. To her, Arianna was very young. Even though by Earth’s rules and laws, the other had been considered an adult for more than half a decade. “No one can say with any certainty where the leaf might fall. Nor when. Nor what force be enough to begin its downward trek. All anyone knows is that the leaf must fall; it is inevitable.”

 

Ari looked up slightly in confusion, “I don’t understand.”

 

Jabe’s smile widened, “Does it matter what brought you here? Their motivations carried you, yet now that you are here, how you see the world around you is your choice.” She gestured to the scene in front of them. “The sun is warming your skin, shining upon your hair. I can see more red there. Do you see the sunlight scatter through the leaves? They’re making rainbows upon the grass. The breeze is rustling the branches. Can you hear its song?” She paused, her eyes closed, as she gathered the simple pleasures of the life around them. Then she looked over, “What do you choose to see?”

 

Ari gazed at the wonderous natural splendor around them: the burnt orange sky, the deep red grass, and the diamond trees. It was beautiful. She did understand the Arboreal’s point: enjoy life while you’ve got it. “But—”

 

“You choose your path. Ignore how you came to be here. Focus on the ‘now’. What do you want to do?”

 

The answer wasn’t even a question, “I need to find Robbie. If she’s here too, I need to find her. I’m the only family she has. She needs me.”

 

“Then how about we make a deal?” the Doctor said.

 

Ari jumped, turned to glare at him. “Stop doing that! You scared the shit out of me!”

 

He grimaced at the crude expression, “Sorry.”

 

“It’s fine,” she grumbled in a tone that said clearly it wasn’t. Then her mind registered what he’d said, and she raised an eyebrow at him. “What deal?”

 

“I’ll promise to do everything in my power to locate your sister, if you agree to follow a few simple rules,” he offered.

 

Her eyes narrowed. “What rules?”

 

“Know it might be hard for you to comprehend, but this is real. I’m real. The Corsair is real. Jabe is real. The Tardis is real. The first rule would be that you act like it’s all real, even if you have to pretend at first.”

 

Ari stood up to be on semi-equal footing with him, her arms crossed over her chest and glowered at him. While he was taller than she, it made her feel better to challenge him while standing if he was standing too. Especially since he was intimidating just be being present, let alone if he decided he wanted to be intimidating. “I can try. What else?” He had said rules, plural.

 

“No lying to me, or the Corsair,” he said.

 

Her eyes narrowed further, “You lie all the time. Why can’t I lie to you?” If she could have crossed her arms again, she would have. As it was, she’d have to deal with more glaring.

 

He blew out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t ask how she knew. He already knew the answer. “I lie to protect others or to prevent a paradox. Saving lives. Causing a panic never helps; have to keep them calm in order to do what needs to be done.” Even his companions he’d lie to, keeping them calm ensuring that he could focus and save as many as he could. It wasn’t his best feature, but he acknowledged the necessity. “Even adults, no matter the species, don’t have the training or maturity to know the full truth and make the necessary decisions.”

 

Ari blinked, a little shocked at his response. She’d sometimes had the idea that he viewed most as immature, but this was confirmation. He lied deliberately – rather than a habit – because he didn’t think those around him could handle the truth. So that they would stay out of his way, letting him get what he needed to do done in the most expedient way possible. “You think of us as children,” she said. “Too young to be trusted with the truth.”

 

He was taken aback, not expecting such a calm, reasoned response. “Most aren’t,” he acknowledged.

 

“Not even your companions, whom you hand-pick,” her tone had taken on a sense of amazement along with a small bit of shock, “You lie to them more than anyone.”

 

He sighed, nodding. “They get attached and care more about me than what needs to be done.” He put his hands in his pockets. “It’s kinder to lie to them, that there is no other way.”

 

“Than have them know there is another way, but it would result in more deaths. Or perhaps their own pain and death. Or that it was the only plan, but the chances for survival were small enough that they probably should kiss their sweetie goodbye one last time.” Ari finished the thought aloud almost absently before her eyes focused on him. “Is that right?”

 

“Exactly,” he nodded.

 

“Well screw that,” Ari said calmly. He blinked at her in shock and she continued. “I’m not a child. I’ve been the acting adult in my family, taking care of my little sister and my grandfather, for the last eight years. I know what it means to make the hard decision. I’ve hid how little I got to eat from my sister, lying that I was full, to ensure she got what she needed. I’ve pinched pennies in order to feed my family and keep the electricity on. I’ve made those decisions, Doctor,” she said his name like a swear word. “I am NOT a child. I refuse to be coddled. If you want me to promise not to lie, then I will accept nothing less in return.”

 

He stared at her for long moments, as if gauging how serious she was, then nodded. “I promise that I will be as honest as I can be with you from this moment forward, only lying in an effort to save lives.” As long as you prove that you can act like an adult.

 

She narrowed her eyes at him, “Only lying to prevent paradoxes or to save lives,” she clarified. He nodded. “Deal.” He breathed in, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. “Anything else?”

 

He nodded again, “Most important rule in the universe: you can’t tell future events.”

 

Ari blinked, “But it’s all different. What does it matter?”

 

“You don’t have the training to be able to tell if it would matter or not. Better to just say no. Future knowledge is extremely dangerous. You can NOT give out future information.”

 

“But—”

 

His hand came down at a sharp angle, cutting her off. “I know how time works. You don’t. You have no training. Unless someone’s life is in immediate danger, you don’t give out future knowledge. Ever.”

 

Her eyes narrowed, but it was more thoughtful than accusatory. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned training. Does that mean you’re willing to teach me?”

 

The Doctor nodded, and her eyes widened. “Both the Corsair and I have already begun to outline things we can teach you, and in what order. Is it a deal?” If she didn’t agree, he’d have no choice but to go against the Corsair and wipe her mind. He’d take the consequences. Because otherwise, she was just too dangerous.

 

“Let me see if I’ve got this,” she gestured. Jabe grinned, knowing that she was taking up the suggestion of repeating back instructions to make sure everyone understood the same thing. “I pretend this is all real, I won’t lie, and won’t go fortune-telling. In exchange, you won’t lie and will actively look for my baby sister. Is that right?”

 

“Yes,” he agreed. “Do we have a deal?”

 

“Are you kidding? Of course I agree!” Robbie was the most important person in her life. She would do nearly anything for even the vague hope to be reunited.

 

“May I propose an addendum?” the Corsair said. He’d been watching this exchange for several minutes and was pleasantly impressed with his fellow Time Lord’s compromise from his ultimatum.

 

Ari jumped at the newcomer, immediately going back to being wary. “What?”

 

“Lying seems to be a sticking point for you, yes?” She nodded. So he continued, “I’ll promise not to lie as well, in exchange for you taking your lessons seriously. No shortcuts or backing out. I also want you to tell me when you are injured. The Doctor told me that you were burned rather badly twice. Twice is a bit too close to a habit for me. I won’t ask that you stop putting yourself in a position where injury might be a result, for I have no doubt you would have already calculated the risks and decided upon the one with the most probability of a successful outcome. All I ask is that, if you are injured, you tell either myself or the Doctor so that you can be treated. In return, I’ll agree not to lie to you, and to train you to the best of my ability.”

 

She blinked at him. It was a rather long speech from a man that less than a minute before she’d been unaware was even in the garden. “No lying, you be a good teacher, and I’ll be a good student and tell you if I’m hurt…?” there was a lilt on the end of the sentence that made it into a question.

 

“Agreed,” he grinned at her.

 

“Right,” she muttered under her breath. Why did it feel like there was a catch somewhere she wasn’t seeing? She tilted her head and peered at the pair of Time Lords, “What did you find out? Something prompted this. Did you find Rose?”

 

The Doctor grimaced and reluctantly nodded. “You were right. DNA proved it. You are not Rose Tyler.”

 

Her smile was wide and triumphant. “Ha!” she pumped her fist into the air in glee. “I told you! I am not a future version. Ta da!” She finally stopped dancing a small jig and returned to standing still. Barely. “What else?”

 

The Doctor pondered what to tell her for a few minurels. He had promised to tell the truth, not to tell the whole truth. “According to DNA analysis, you are a,” mostly, “human high-functioning time sensitive. Tier 3.”

 

“Meaning?” Jabe prompted.

 

The Corsair gave the Arboreal a rueful smile, “Ari probably catches glimpses of the many varied and sundry nuances of time in her sleep without realizing it.” He had caught the ‘version’ of truth that the Doctor explained and decided that lying with omission at this juncture wasn’t a good idea. “We also found that Ari is about 1/64th Gallifreyan, about six generations back.”

 

“What does that mean?” Ari asked, a note of fear in her voice but she kept mostly calm.

 

“Almost nothing,” he assured her, “it’s just where your time sensitivity comes from. That small percentage wouldn’t be able to do much else.” He grinned at her boyishly, “You’re too human.”

 

Ari rolled her eyes, “I can’t figure out if that’s a compliment or not, so I’m going to ignore it.”

 

“You may also have a touch of empathy or telepathy, but nothing too strong.”

 

The Doctor said, “It’s enough that you’re able to better connect to the Tardis translation circuits. I haven’t seen any signs so far.”

 

She slowly nodded, “Okaaay. Any other ways that I’m weird? What about the void stuff you were going to look for? Prove that I crossed through the void and am from a different dimension where this is all a show. You know, that I’m not lying.” She emphasized the words in reference to the deal they had just made.

 

“We looked for artron and huon radiation, but no results. As for void particles,” the Doctor pulled out a set of what looked like old first-generation 3D glasses and peered at her. He moved around slightly from side to side, not looking away. “Huh.” He took off the glasses and handed them to the Corsair, who proceeded to do the same almost-dance. “Well,” he took off the glasses, gave them back to the Doctor, and smiled at her, “you will probably be happy to know that you are absolutely covered in void stuff.”

 

Her fist punched the air again, “Ha! Told you!” She danced her small happy jig again for a couple of seconds before she froze and looked over at the Time Lords. “If I came through the Void, then that means there’s a crack in the dimensions.” Her eyes were wide, more than a token of fear in their depths.

 

Both nodded, but the Doctor assured her, “The Tardis is already scanning for any anomalies, including cracks, rifts, and any possible unusual tech in the timelines.”

 

The Corsair went a step further, “There’s a rather large paradox on the horizon, and your arrival may have been a vanguard of that. It’s a bit too early to tell for certain, but we need to locate the center quickly, as it’s approaching fast.”

 

Ari frowned as she thought and again wondered, “What about Rose?”

 

It was their turn to question her, “What do you mean?”

 

“Well…” she paused, “Rose is essential to a lot of plots and pieces to the future.” She shook her head at their twin warning glares, “I’m not fortune-telling. I’m trying to explain. Maybe this huge paradox is because Rose isn’t here and I’m here instead.” She paused and said hesitantly, “Was that fortune-telling?” She didn’t want anything to jeopardize her chances of getting back with Robbie.

 

“Skirting the line,” the Corsair warned. “Let’s say you found it.” She hastily nodded. “Be more careful, Ari. It’s very important.” She nodded again. “Alright. Now, you say Rose is important…how important?” He held up a hand to stall her before she could answer, “Use as few words as possible, with as little detail as you can manage.”

 

Ari contemplated for a couple long minutes. Rose was the reason that Bad Wolf was created – she created herself – and killed all the Daleks, which saved that timeline. Then there was the whole thing with the crack with Canary Wharf – Rose helped hold down the lever to keep the crack open long enough to suck through all the Daleks and Cybermen. Then later with Davros, if there wasn’t a Rose, then would the Doctor Donna exist? However, Ari had been playing Rose’s part pretty well, she thought. So was Rose even needed? Could Ari or Jabe continue to play out Rose’s character and they still end up with the same needed result? “I… I don’t know,” she finally stated. “What Rose did was pretty important. Save the universe important. But Jabe and me have been doing a lot of the stuff Rose did and it hasn’t gone bad yet.”

 

The Doctor and the Corsair stared at her for long moments, as if gauging how serious she was, or perhaps they were simply contemplating her words. Finally, the Corsair nodded, “Your reasoning is valid. At this time, we don’t have enough data.”

 

The Doctor nodded his agreement. “Let’s go get Rose,” he grinned at her.