Title: Through a Glass, Sideways
Author: kaffyr :
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: the Eleventh Doctor, River Song, the Twelfth Doctor, Clara Oswald, the TARDIS
Summary: He shouldn't have thought they'd get away with it unscathed. The Doctor learns what happened after his wife short-circuited a fixed point in time whilst in a Manhattan graveyard.
Author's Note: This was written for juliet316 as part of the 2015 fandom_stocking effort, after noticing that she likes both the Eleventh Doctor and River Song. A note: This story follows hard on the heels of my story "Stoney End," which I wrote as a fixit of sorts for "The Angels Take Manhattan." This story will make much more sense if you read that first.
Edited by: My beloved dr_whuh and the delightful a_phoenixdragon
Disclaimer: As always, much as I might wish it were otherwise, all characters are the sole property of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin. I do, however, thank the BBC for letting me play in its sandbox.
**** **** **** *****
There is a theory, the Doctor thought bleakly, beloved of science-fiction writers and other humans disillusioned by their own existing reality. They called it the Everett interpretation if they had a passing acquaintance with quantum physics, or the universal wave-function reality, or relative state formulation. If they didn’t, they called it the many worlds theory, or (grandly) the alternate universe theory. He’d fenced with Hawking about it on more than one occasion. It had even come up during a particularly lovely evening with Martin Gardner.
He sat up in bed, taking care not to awaken River. It wasn’t anything he wanted to talk to her about. She had fallen asleep after they had made long and wonderful love, as relaxed and happy as he had seen her in some time. If he were to be completely honest, he had fallen asleep as happily as she had and as nearly relaxed. Knowing she was with him and that Amy and Rory were as well … he was grateful, and felt not the slightest bit guilty.
Now, however, he was awake.
He resisted the urge to awaken River and resume where they’d left off. Instead, he got out of the bed and recaptured his pants and trousers from the floor. He left the bedroom, closing the door silently and padding, feet bare, down the darkened TARDIS halls to the library.
He found that She’d anticipated him; the fireplace was lit and the table next to the sofa had a rocks glass well filled with American bourbon. He picked it up with both hands and stared into its depths.
Humans didn’t have it quite right of course, as brilliant as Everett and Deutsch were, he thought. The more whimsical ideas — universes splitting from each other at the drop of a hat, or one lift taken instead of the next, or one door shutting on the Underground when another opened — were complete rubbish.
But Time Lords, the great mischief-makers of chance and causality, had always known that universes did come into existence when timelines broke badly enough. Hence, the Doctor thought, all of their fixation on, well, fixation . Fixed points in time, those that were almost fixed, those that were still flexible.
It wasn’t the flexible points in time that Gallifrey had worried about. Nor were those points the points that birthed new universes, as one might logically think if one wasn’t a Time Lord. Every universe had its constantly flickering net of timelines; as sentient creatures within every universe made decisions, timelines would strengthen or die, and one true timeline would ultimately emerge, for good or evil, or whatever those sentient creatures thought of as good or evil.
The Doctor took a very large swallow of the bourbon, and let its fumes fill his head. He drank very, very rarely, and when he did, it was almost always to steady the nerves he worked very hard to hide from those he loved. The fire crackled and She hummed and pulsed around him, waiting until he was ready to reveal why he was so upset.
No, it was the fixed points that the Lords Cardinal and all their chief scientists worried about, precisely because they were the potential creche for new universes. Indeed, Rassilon and Omega and all the legendary monsters of his home world’s history had obsessed about fixed points, repeatedly visiting the concept in the millennia since they’d realized what was risked by changing them. They had written the rules about those points in their own red blood and punished with erasure those who tried to alter fixed points in attempts to create new universes.
Universes birthed by fixed point destruction were verboten , anathema, monstrous things to his people. To him as well, he thought. Or he had thought. He looked from the drink, to the flickering flames, and up to the darkness that hid the library ceiling.
He’d jumped timelines on numerous occasions, far more than his people had approved of, but it generally turned out well. Not for everyone, but for his birth universe. The correct timeline had always prevailed.
Timelines were one thing, universes quite another.
He’d only jumped into parallel universes once or twice. It was never something he planned to do and it was never anything that went very well.
In one, he had watched doppelgangers of people he’d cared for die in volcanic fire; that was bad enough. In another, he’d nearly lost Her, and had given up years of his life to kickstart Her and bring Her home.
That particular universe later took Rose from him, too, something which still occasionally hurt at least one of his hearts.
No, it didn’t take Rose from you, some dry and brutally honest part of him insisted. You left her there because you were too selfish to take emotional chances. That incarnation was always a self-righteous git. Rose is lucky she got the better version and I hope with everything in both my hearts that she is happy with him, and he with her. She really was quite wonderful and I shall always love her. I’m pretty sure River would agree.
With that, his thoughts circled back to River and what his magnificent criminal of a wife had done for them both only a few hours earlier.
Amy and Rory slept happily wrapped around each other somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS. They had no idea what River had done to save them from the Angel, although both of her parents had eyed River speculatively after she had taken off its head in the graveyard. When the Doctor had come inside and embraced them fiercely, they appeared to have taken it as proof that all was well. He and River had wordlessly agreed; they would never tell the younger couple the truth.
Parallel universes, and fixed points in time … he’d initially thought he’d been mistaken about Manhattan being a fixed point. After all, River had moved the goalposts so easily; surely he’d been mistaken, surely Manhattan had only been a potential fixed point.
Of course he’d been wrong and he’d been wrong in a completely unexpected fashion … despite himself, he snorted softly.
He’d fallen asleep, River’s head on his chest, his fingers still threaded through her hair —
— and had awakened elsewhere.
*** *** ***
He’s in the TARDIS still, that’s a certainty. Another certainty; this is not a dream. Time Lords knew all about dreams, the red-headed stepchildren of past and future; it is not what he is experiencing. He is somewhere real — or at least his consciousness is. Reality or not, however, he can’t talk to Her; he can’t feel Her melody in his bones. He isn’t even sure that She knows he’s here, which shocks and unnerves him.
He hears voices down the corridor. Whoever is speaking appears to be in the console room. Very slowly he moves closer.
The console room light is just as dim as he remembers it, but the room itself is clearly not as he left it; bookcases line the walls, for one thing, and there are even more Gallifreyan words and iconography circling slowly above Her moving rotor.
Two people stand at the console, a dark-haired girl with her back to the rotor, elbows on the console board, ankles crossed. She is chatting animatedly with the second person, a wiry man with a thick thatch of iron grey hair and rather remarkable eyebrows. The man stands across from the young woman. He’s dressed like a hobo with a sense of flair. He is completely focused on the woman as she speaks.
“ —was the most fun I’ve had in ages, or since last time,” she tells him.
The Doctor starts as he hears her speak. It’s the voice of Oswin, the girl who died to save Rory, Amy, and him in the Asylum. He knows he is not wrong, and he feels something congeal in the pit of his stomach.
“Fun, yeah, right; fun. We’ve got to work on your idea of fun,” the man grumbles. “If I have to keep pulling you out of harm’s way like that, you can stay in your little classroom and teach your half-grown tykes basic socialization for the rest of your life.”
The woman, Clara, is apparently not intimidated by the rude comment. She walks over to the man, puts her arm through his and laughs in his face. “Doctor, I was the one who got you out of trouble this time. Admit it; I was pretty impressive out there — you loved it.”
“Admitting that to you would be the shortest route to more trouble than this particular Time Lord could handle, thank you very much.”
“Ha! You just admitted it, by not admitting it!”
“It’s a good thing you teach English and not maths. You and logic have only a passing acquaintance.” But this Doctor smiles as he says it, an expression that opens his face, making him unexpectedly attractive.
The man, the Time Lord, has a Scottish burr that reminds him of his seventh incarnation. The arrogance reminds him of his third incarnation. But this face is unknown to him. It’s his future self, he thinks —
— but this is not his universe.
He staggers as he realizes the truth, reaching blindly for the corridor wall to keep from falling to his knees. Everything clicks; his inability to speak to Her, his lack of a time sense, the recognition that he is seeing something that is completely true to its reality, and the bone-deep understanding that this is not his reality.
He starts to shiver uncontrollably. In the alternate universes he has experienced before, Gallifrey and Time Lords have not existed. That has never been a surprise to him, because it follows Gallifreyan theories and teaching on universe creation. Their existence in his home universe is supposedly the signpost for the prime universe. They are not supposed to exist anywhere but there. Far from being yet another expression of Time Lord arrogance, it has been repeatedly proven true.
Until now. Now there are two Doctors, two Gallifreys, in two separate universes; one caused by the deliberate destruction of a fixed point in time by a rogue element. Two rogue elements, he thinks wildly, because he had the chance to reverse River’s action in the moments after she took it. He deliberately let that chance pass by. He and River, they broke the laws of Time together. He fights the urge to laugh, because he is only a hair away from hysteria.
He does not know why he has been sent here, why he has been shown what happened. Who or what chose to open his eyes?
Nor does he know which universe is the prime universe, and which is merely a secondary one. In which do he and his chosen family dwell?
Worse yet, he knows that in the universe where a dark-haired woman travels with a Doctor who is an unexpected future incarnation, Amy and Rory remained forever lost to him and to their child. He brings both hands to his mouth and tells himself that he must not make a sound, no matter how much he wishes to cry out.
He sinks slowly to the corridor floor, unable to do anything more —
*** *** ***
— and he awoke in his own universe, in the bed he shared with River.
The Doctor tossed off the last of the bourbon, but made no other move. He stared into the fire, which continued to burn for him, hour after hour.
“Was it you?” He whispered to Her. “Did you need to tell me?”
She didn’t answer, which told him that She had indeed sent his consciousness past the walls of the world. Little good knowing that, he thought, because She won’t tell me why.
He was exhausted, drained as surely as if he had physically walked to the other universe. He put the empty glass down on the table, and rearranged himself on the sofa. He slept.
When he awoke, he was not alone.
“What’s going on in that head of yours, husband?” Her face was soft and serious. “Tell me.”
He had not intended to say anything, but he was abruptly sure that he could not bear the burden of this knowledge alone. He told her.
He had thought she might actually be shocked into admitting that she should not have done what she did. Perhaps she might argue with him, insisting that he was wrong, he thought; perhaps she might cry or rage.
Instead, she listened carefully, sat silent for sometime, her arm around his shoulder as they shared the sofa. Then she spoke.
“Does it matter? Does it matter to you and me, to Amy or Rory? I don’t care what universe I’m in. I didn’t care back in the graveyard, and I fail to see why you should care now.
“You have us. You should be grateful,” she said, fierce now. “Listen; I am sorry that world’s River, that world’s you, must live with what the Angel did. I am sorrier than you can possibly imagine. It means that that world’s River … failed before she started. Failed by not taking action.
“But that is there, and we are here. Do you love me? Do you love Mum and Dad? Then embrace us and choose to leave that behind. I suppose the TARDIS thought you needed to know. I don’t know the how and why of Her reasoning, but I’ll accept it. That does not mean you need to let that knowledge beat you down.”
She tugged him closer to her, caressed his cheek with one hand, and said, "I will stay here with you as long as you need me to. I’ll share the blame, if blame there is to be. I will tell the TARDIS, and this universe, and the next, and the next, that I don’t regret what I did, and I will tell them to leave you alone. We won this time.”
The Doctor huffed out something that resembled laughter, aware that her words were far more of a balm than he should let them be. “What am I to do with you, wife of mine?”
She kissed him lightly. “You can let me take you back to our bed.”