Authors: wild_sibyl & _thirty2flavors
Genre: AU, drama, angst
Spoilers: Through season 4, particularly Turn Left
Characters/Pairings: Ten2/Rose(/Ten), Donna Noble, Erisa Magambo
Summary: From a dingy hotel in Norway, the Doctor and Rose realise something has gone wrong. A timey-wimey interpretation of Turn Left.
Excerpt: “Specifically,” the Doctor says, his voice low and muted with self-loathing, “you’ve got to ask her to die for me.” He chuckles morbidly and looks at the ceiling. “Even in a universe where she’s never met me I’m ruining her life.”
Author's notes: We say "AU", but it could maybe be canon if you disregard a line or two in JE and squint a little. The title is a line from T S Eliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock", because we're trendy like that, apparently. Much of what you recognize is borrowed from Turn Left, but this is not by any means a simple Turn Left recap. (banner by wild_sibyl)
Previous parts: One, Two
Losing the TARDIS is like losing a limb.
He searches for her in his mind sometimes, reaching for something that isn’t there. It reminds him of the way the universe had seemed too quiet after the Time War, without the constant drone of his people his mind, a sound he’d spent centuries ignoring. With them gone the TARDIS had been his only real form of telepathic companionship, and now that she’s gone there’s only a ringing silence. He finds himself scrambling to remember the intricacies of her comforting song, panicking at the possibility that he might one day forget even that last shred of home.
He stares at the computer screen in front of him, determinedly not looking at the spare dimension jumper laying one table over. There are dozens of reasons he can’t go to Donna’s universe himself. He’s meant to be dead; he can’t exactly show up at UNIT. In that universe he doesn’t even exist. Any number of things could go cataclysmically wrong. Risking the multiverse in exchange for some nostalgia would be selfish and stupid and downright wrong.
Still, Donna and the TARDIS. It’s tempting, if only for the chance to say a proper goodbye.
Of course, he’s never been particularly good at those, either.
With a quiet sigh, the Doctor digs the heels of his hands into his eyes and wills himself to focus. He’s sent Tosh home, insisting rudely that she rest because he doesn’t need the help. Rose is somewhere on the other side of the Void, ensuring the Sontaran takeover is stopped. While he waits, the Doctor struggles to sort out the timelines and fight off the emotional and mental exhaustion that hovers in the periphery of his being.
It’s been a very long day. For the first time he can recall he wants nothing more than to curl up on the nearest surface and sleep; he suspects it must be the work of Donna, or at least his new hybrid physiology. The adrenaline in his system is diluted now, giving purchase to the anxieties he’s been doing his best to ignore.
One heart, one lifetime and one planet to spend it on. He feels strangely claustrophobic at thought, as though Earth is far too small. He misses the TARDIS, resents the quiet in his mind, and the thought of spending the next forty or fifty years in a single linear timeline terrifies him. He doesn’t know how to live in one time and place, with carpets and doors and rooms the same size inside and out. He doesn’t know how to be human.
What scares him most of all is that Rose doesn’t want him.
The rest of it, it would be manageable if not for that. That scares him to the core. What if she never forgives him for trapping her on this planet? What if she never sees him as anything beyond a consolation prize? What if she sees him as nothing more than an obligation and stays with him out of guilt?
What if she never loves him?
Oh, shut it, he can imagine Donna saying. Sitting around mooning over Rose isn’t helping anything. There’ll be plenty of time to do that once you’re done saving the multiverse, so get your skinny arse in gear and get me the hell back to Shan Shen.
With a final pinch of the bridge of his nose, he forces himself to focus. For a quarter of an hour he works with a single-minded concentration, hacking away at the Cannon and its computer to smooth out the timelines to figure out when and where he’ll have to send Rose.
And then he freezes, a sickly cold feeling of dread spreading from his spine out to his limbs. “No,” he says to himself, blankly at first and then more frantic. “No, no, no, no, no, no.” At one hundred words per minute he taps away at the keyboard, determined to find an alternative. “Come on!” Again and again he reworks the machine, determined to rearrange the timelines to reach a more acceptable outcome.
Again and again, he fails. No matter what he does, the timelines end the same way.
Snarling with frustration and anger, the Doctor kicks the base of the Cannon and only manages to hurt his foot. He yelps and leaps backwards, steadying himself against the desk and breathing heavily. He closes his eyes and swallows hard, his right hand gripping the desk so tightly his fingers ache.
Donna Noble would have to die.
Rose arrives back in Torchwood – her Torchwood, not Jack’s – with the crackle of light and electricity she’s finally growing used to.
Visiting Jack did her good, she thinks. She’d slept, for one, had slumped over with exhaustion on Jack’s shoulder and woken to his familiar, indomitable grin. He was a Jack who knew her, and in-between working with his team to build the atmospheric converter, they’d had a chance to talk. She’d stopped herself from saying much of substance – who knew, after all, what the wrong word might do? – but simply joking with Jack had lightened her spirits. He’d put on a warm and cheerful persona despite the way the world had been crumbling around them, and Rose is determined to latch onto that feeling of affection and security rather than dwell on the fact that she’ll never see Jack – any Jack – ever again.
Feeling heartened for the first time in longer than she cares to think about, Rose scans the room for the Doctor, eager to get back to work while still on an emotional high. “Torchwood’s all set to take down the Sontarans, they…” She trails off as she spots him, collapsed in a chair in front of the computer.
He looks terrible. Slumped in his chair, he contemplates the screen with his chin in his hand, totally still. He looks tired in every way possible, and Rose wonders if he’ll need more sleep now, if his part-human body lacks the stamina of a Time Lord. It’s bizarre, seeing a man who looks like the Doctor so drained of the frenetic energy she’s come to associate with suits and trainers. Guiltily, she wonders if he’s looked like that all night and she’s only noticed now.
Her eyes finish their sweep of the room and she shifts uncomfortably when she finds they’re alone. “Where’s Tosh?”
“Sent her home,” he says, finally looking in her direction. “She was tired.” He shrugs. “I don’t need the help.”
Rose snorts despite herself. “Yeah, you always say that.”
The Doctor stays quiet. He lifts his head from his chin and wipes one hand over his eyes, peering forward at the computer screen. Normally, Rose thinks, he’d be wearing the brainy specs. If he still had them.
“Right,” he goes on, and Rose can hear him trying and failing to put some energy in that tone. “You need to talk to Donna again – we can send you in while the Sontarans are attacking; you can make sure she’s safe and work on convincing…” He trails off to yawn, and looks surprised when he does. “…convincing her to help you.”
“Yeah.” She holds back a yawn herself and heads for the door. “You figure that out, I’ll get us some coffee.”
He only makes a faint noise of agreement as she steps into the hall. Rose finds she’s too tired to be angry.
“Thanks.” The Doctor holds her eye for only a moment as she shoves the paper cup into his hands, then he drops his gaze to coffee. He takes an experimental sip and wrinkles his nose. “It’s –“
“Black,” Rose says, nodding. “Yeah. Sorry. I brought…” She trails off, reaching into her pocket and tossing a handful of sugars, creams and milks onto the table. “I wasn’t sure if you still… I thought it’d be better if I let you do it yourself.”
For a second she thinks he looks hurt, but then he flashes her a smile and reaches forward. “Right. Yeah. ‘Course.”
Rose is unfairly relieved when he takes his customary two sugars.
He settles back in his chair, cradling the cup in both hands, and Rose takes a seat on the table, watching him and drinking her coffee. She finds it eerie, how quiet he’s being. The proper Doctor, when he was upset, he babbled and babbled to try and hide it. This Doctor avoids her eyes and sips his coffee in silence, looking for all the world like a schoolboy paired with someone he despises. She bristles at the thought; it isn’t as though any of this was her idea.
Or maybe, whispers a guilty voice inside her, you’ve just broken him down. He’d been babbling in Norway, and most of the evening since – maybe her cool disinterest has worn away at him. Maybe her fortifications were so strong he’d accepted defeat and retreated back, tail between his legs.
Her stomach does a flip that has nothing to do with hunger.
“She’s going to die,” he says suddenly, just as Rose has made up her mind to say something.
It throws her. “What?”
“Donna,” he explains. His coffee cup creaks in protest as he tightens his grip on it. “She’s going to die. She has to die, to fix it, I can’t – I tried – there’s no other way.” The desperation as he says it would unnerve her, if she were listening.
But she’s stuck on the content rather than the delivery, her eyes widening. “What?” She blinks, and her stomach does another somersault. “You mean – when that world is gone—”
“No.” He smiles ruefully and shakes his head, staring again at the coffee in his cup. “Before everything is fixed, Donna, that Donna, she’s going to die.”
A few heavy seconds go by as Rose considers his words. She swallows, her throat suddenly dry. Realisation hits, and she feels cold even under her jacket. “I’ve got to ask her to die for me.”
“Specifically,” the Doctor says, his voice low and muted with self-loathing, “you’ve got to ask her to die for me.” He chuckles morbidly and looks at the ceiling. “Even in a universe where she’s never met me I’m ruining her life.”
“Hey,” she says sharply, and he looks over at her. “Ruining her life?” She lifts her eyebrows. “Did you see her on the TARDIS? She looked pretty ecstatic to me.”
Rather than seeming heartened by her words, he deflates even more. “It’ll kill her.” The look on his face reminds her of the Crucible. “All that knowledge – it’s too much for a human brain. To save her life he’ll wipe her mind of all of it – not just the physics and the timelines but him, me, the TARDIS, travelling, everything.” He lowers his eyes to study his cup. “She’ll forget.”
“But that’s... that’s terrible!” The queasiness in Rose’s stomach lurches again. “She’s gone?”
The Doctor only nods.
The implication hits her. “He’s alone.”
He nods again.
All at once the uneasy feeling in her stomach turns to anger. “And you knew that would happen.” She can picture it perfectly, the two Doctors sitting around and planning it. You take Rose, I’ll wipe Donna’s memories, how does that sound? The thought makes her sick. She wonders if Donna even got a say in it, or if the Doctor had merely and as always made the decision for her.
She opens her mouth to tell him this, to let loose a long-suppressed rant about his tendency to assume he knows best, but something in the hunch of his shoulders makes her hesitate. He looks miserable and exhausted, and she suspects his conscience is doing a better job of berating him than even she could manage. So she shuts her mouth and turns to stare furiously out the doorway, wishing for a better outlet for her anger.
“It’s my fault,” he says after a moment. It’s barely a whisper, but it catches her attention. He looks away from her, stares at the Dimension Cannon with wide, sad eyes. “My creation, my existence, it… doomed her.” She doesn’t know what to say, and the Doctor looks down at the floor.
The admission surprises her, though she’s not sure why. It’s such a Doctor thing, thinking of himself as less important than someone else, a relic of his paradoxical self-love and self-loathing. Same memories, same thoughts, same guilt complex the size of Jupiter.
“That’s so like you,” she says, and she almost smiles from the truth of it even as he turns to stare at her questioningly. “You take the blame but you hardly ever take the credit. You saved her life, Doctor. And if you hadn’t, there’d’ve been no one to stop the Reality Bomb. We needed you.”
His return smile is weak and sad and a touch condescending. “It should’ve been me. If the metacrisis had to fail on one end…” He shrugs and looks back at his coffee. “The universe already has a Doctor.”
She doesn’t let herself think about how that might have simplified things, how maybe then she could have stayed on the TARDIS with the Doctor and Donna. Instead, she wonders. Does he regret his own creation? Does he resent his single heart and the brand new lifestyle it means? Does he resent her, for being part of that?
She tries to imagine what it must be like, being born with the weight of the universe on your shoulders. She wonders if it was easier for him when his people were alive, if they’d shared that burden of knowledge and power between themselves and lessened it that way. She wonders what it must be like to wake up a different species. She wonders what it would be like to learn she’s not the real Rose Tyler, just a very, very good imitation – a less durable version full of hand-me-down memories.
It would be hard, she reckons. Damn near impossible, even if you’re used to being the universe’s pincushion.
Born in battle, the other Doctor had said. Full of blood and anger and revenge. He’s me, when we first met.
He was only half-right, Rose thinks. When they met he’d been angry, yes, but more than that he’d been desperately sad and lonely and crippled with guilt.
You made me better.
She swallows her anger and strengthens her resolve.
“Listen to me, Doctor,” she says, firm enough that he looks up at her. “It’s not your fault. Some people die because of you, yeah, but so many more get to live.”
The Doctor looks at her uncertainly, his mouth opening and closing as he hesitates to say whatever it is he’s biting back – words of gratitude or modesty or disagreement, she’s not sure. Instinctively she reaches forward, her hand coming to rest along his arm. The gesture startles him, and Rose feels a glimmer of guilt. Such a mild show of affection should not surprise him.
“The people I care about always get hurt,” he tells her after a moment, his eyes trained on her hand. “Because of me, because they met me, because of the situations I put them in.”
With the warmest smile she can manage, Rose squeezes his arm. “Occupational hazard of saving the universe. It’s worth it.” He meets her eyes and her expression turns earnest. “The years I spent on the TARDIS were the best of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
The smile he sends her seems resigned. “Yeah.” Then, evidently energised, he leaps to his feet and knocks back his remaining coffee. “Well then, like you said, universes to save!” He tosses the cup into the bin without looking and crosses the room to the Dimension Cannon in a few long strides. “You ready?”
Sliding off the table, Rose nods, feeling dazed. “Yeah…. yeah, sure.”
“Molto bene!” he says, and Rose is sure he’s lying through his teeth.
Donna jumps up from the park bench. She feels nauseous and angry and helpless. “Stop it. I don't know what you're talking about, leave me alone!”
The woman rises, turning to face her, her eyes large and dark, blonde hair whipping around her face in the breeze. She looks much worse than when she last saw her, more careworn somehow, less confident. “Something's coming, Donna. Something worse.”
Frustrated tears well up in Donna’s eye. What does this woman want? Why does she keep searching her out? Donna doesn’t need to know these things, doesn’t want to know them. She has enough to worry about in this bloody apocalyptic mess without thinking about dead men and skies that burst into flame. “The whole world is stinking. How can anything be worse than this?”
The blonde shakes her head, her lower lip trembling just a bit, the only tell to the emotion she must be feeling. “Trust me. We need the Doctor more than ever. I've --” She pauses and places her hand over heart. “I've been pulled across from a different universe, because every single universe is in danger. It's coming, Donna. It's coming from across the stars and nothing can stop it.”
More vague answers and riddles, and Donna wants to scream.“What is?”
The darkness? It sounds like some horrible cartoon villain, or something out of one of those sci-fi novels her Gramps reads. Donna almost laughs until she sees the look in the blonde’s eyes. “Well, what do you keep telling ME for? WHAT am I supposed to do? I'm nothing special. I mean, I'm-- I'm not-- I'm nothing special, I'm a temp. I'm not even that, I'm NOTHING.”
The woman shakes her head, almost as if she’s amused, but her tone is exasperated.
“Donna Noble, you're the most important woman in the whole of creation.”
Donna laughs, a short harsh laugh. “Oh, don't. Just...” She shakes her head, the smile fading from her face, anger and disbelief draining out of her until all there is left to feel is fatigue. “Don't. I'm tired. I'm so... tired.”
She turns to leave, but the woman calls out to her again. “I need you to come with me.”
Donna smirks. “Yeah. Well. Blonde hair might work on the men, but you ain't shifting me, lady.”
“That's more like it.”
“I've got plenty more.”
The blonde shrugs. “I know you'll come with me. Only when you want to.”
“You'll have a long wait, then,” Donna retorts, and starts to walk away.
“Not really,” the woman chirps, “just three weeks. Tell me, does your grandfather still own that telescope?”
Again, Donna turns back, “He never lets go of it.”
“Three weeks time. But you've got to be certain. Because, when you come with me, Donna... sorry... so sorry, but... you're going to die.”
Donna stares at her. Before her eyes, the woman fades away.
Captain Erisa Magambo shifts from one foot to the other. She keeps her hands clasped tightly behind her back. She is nervous, but it won’t do for any of her men to see it. UNIT has lost more than half its forces in the last year and they have been through enough. It is her duty to be unflappable, the perfect soldier, and that is what she intends to do, until the end.
Of course, Magambo thinks, the end could be relatively soon. It seems the whole world, the entire universe, rests on the shoulders of two women -- a young blonde with a secret name and a loudmouthed ginger temp from Chiswick.
“So what do you think of the miss, then?” Donna Noble inclines her head towards the blonde that is currently hunched over one of the computer terminals, nose pressed close to the glowing screen.
Magambo turns and looks at the redhead who is now looking at her expectantly, a cup of steaming coffee in hand.
“She’s my superior officer,” she replies tersely. This is a lie. The blonde isn’t even an official member of UNIT but Magambo has been ordered to do as she says, within limit of course.
“Oi! Don’t give me that rubbish, I’m helping you lot, I want the truth. You have to know something about her.” Donna gestures at the blonde, hot coffee nearly sloshing over the brim of her cup. “She can’t have just suddenly appeared and started telling you lot to build her things.”
Magambo shifts again, uncomfortable with the fact that that is exactly what had happened nearly a year and a half ago. Since then the woman had appeared sporadically, often showing up with hand drawn diagrams of what exactly needed to be built -- layouts of circuit boards, intricate charts of wiring inked in multi-coloured pens, long detailed notes scribbled in the margins.
Donna continues talking, ignoring or oblivious to Magambo’s silence. “It’s mad,” she’s saying, “but she seems familiar somehow, like I know her, almost, or someone like her.” Donna’s eyes are far away, as if she is trying to remember something that she has forgotten, or never really knew. “Do you think she was in love with him?”
Donna rolls her eyes and takes another sip of coffee. “This Doctor, d’you think she was in love with him?”
Magambo purses her lips, a thin line of disapproval folding her forehead. “That is hardly relevant to the mission.”
Donna shrugs, once again looking over her shoulder at the mysterious woman in blue leather. “I reckon she was. You can always tell.” She turns back to Magambo, eyes wide. “It’s wild, all this stuff, isn’t it? Aliens and time travel. My gramps is always going on about spaceships and life on distant planets. ‘Course I never listened, not ‘till all this stuff started happening…” She trails off, then shakes herself. “Still... do you trust her?”
Magambo blinks, surprised. Her eyes flicker to the blonde woman who is still staring at the computer screen and then to the TARDIS and then back to Donna Noble, who is staring at her, eyes narrowed, nostrils slightly flared, as if she is daring the other woman to lie to her.
She should say yes immediately, because that is what a good soldier does, but something about the blonde has always set her on edge. There is a something reckless and a little bit wild about her that Magambo innately disapproves of. And there is the mystery of course, a woman with no name who appears and disappears at will bearing cryptic messages about stars and multi-verses.
But Donna doesn’t need to hear her doubts, certainly doesn’t need to think about why this woman with sad eyes knows how and why all of this was going to happen.
She has seen many things in the past year and a half and as far as she knows the blonde has always told the truth about what must be done to save the universe. She has watched her be charming, cold, jovial, brilliant, and stern in order to get her way. And she has seen the projected timelines, how they arch and bend around the redhead sitting beside her, as if everything about the world is centered on her very existence. She knows and even believes that somehow the fate of the entire planet is tied up in this one seemingly ordinary woman’s life.
But she has also seen the mushroom cloud hovering over London, she has watched America’s dissolution into crisis, and she has seen the entire sky set on fire. She has seen people shot in the street by the soldiers meant to be protecting them and she has watched helplessly as the government set up internment camps for foreigners. And she can’t help but think that the blonde has held back information, not always told them the whole truth or even a small part of it.
Magambo is an excellent soldier; she knows when to tell the truth, when to keep her mouth shut, and when to lie.
“Yes, I trust her.”
“He was a Time Lord,” the blonde woman says, sad and melancholy again, “last of his kind.”
Time Lord, Donna thinks. Sounds pompous and mystical and entirely unlike the sort of person who might befriend a temp from Chiswick. “But if he's so special, what's he doing with me?”
The woman’s stare is sad and unnervingly sincere. “He thought you were brilliant.”
Said like that, it almost sounds true. Donna shakes her head. “Don't be stupid.”
“Well, you are! It just took the Doctor to show you that, simply by being with him.” The woman looks away, looks down at the strange controls of this impossible machine. “He did the same to me. To everyone he touches.”
Time Lords and time travel or not, Donna knows that look, and finally she finds the nerve to ask the question she’s been holding back for some time, now. “Were you and him...?”
The woman looks at her, and Donna desperately hopes for an answer, some sort of confirmation that the mysterious, never-changing blonde with no name is more than merely the bearer of bad news. Instead, the woman stays silent, and her eyes drift from Donna’s face to her shoulder, the woman asks, “Do you want to see it?”
Continue to part 4