Title: The Possibility of Ways
Rating: NC17 (eventually)
Media: Doctor Who (Season 2 AU)
Summary: In an infinite Universe nothing is set and everything is possible, but in choosing an alternate route there are always repercussions.
Spoilers: Doctor Who, New Seasons 1 & 2, Old Season 16
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who, but I wouldn’t mind ten minutes alone in the TARDIS
Archive: At A Teaspoon and an Open Mind. If you want it, check with me first.
Finished: Not by a long shot
Ch. 11 – Third Time’s the Charm?
Rose took a deep breath of the chill morning air and gazed out the door of the TARDIS on an expanse of gray-green moorland. Mist still covered the ground in patches and she could feel the moisture beading on her skin and hair. Being a Londoner, she couldn’t really identify any of the various scents on the air, but the romantic in her imagined there was peat and gorse, heather and broom. Underneath it all she did detect the briny scent of the nearby ocean. She took another deep breath.
After so many missed tries, she was actually rather surprised to be standing in this place – Boscawen Moor, 1978, the Doctor had informed her and Mickey before motioning for them to disembark – but the vista of a southern English landscape complete with a ring of standing stones in the distance left no doubt that this time they’d hit their mark.
Mickey poked her from behind, “Quit blocking the door. Some of us might want to get outside and stretch our legs a bit.”
Rose obligingly moved out of the doorway and up the gentle slope they’d landed on. Mickey emerged to stand beside her, surveying the countryside with a less-than-impressed air. She wanted to feel superior, but as impressive destinations went she had to admit that 1978 Cornwall was even less thrilling than 1869 Cardiff.
They both turned to the Doctor, who had shut the TARDIS door behind him and was looking around with satisfaction, as if bucolic country vistas were his greatest delight. His gaze slid past her with a minute flicker. She sighed in exasperation.
He’d been doing this since they returned to the TARDIS the previous evening after their adventures on the time-portal ship. Once he had taken them back into the Time Vortex, he’d shoo’ed her and Mickey out of the console room, claiming the need to run a complete systems check. She knew he’d already done one just the previous night, but she left willingly because she realized that for him it had been much longer. She rationalized that she could wait until after his reunion with the TARDIS to continue their own reunion. Far be it from her to come between a Time Lord and his sentient, living time machine.
But she’d waited the night and he’d never come to see her. She fell into a fitful doze, waking every five minutes or so in case she had missed his soft knock on her door. He never came. She’d shuffled into the food preparation area the next morning to find the Doctor and Mickey bent over an array of mechanical parts that had once been the self-heating kettle. Their explanation that they’d been trying to figure out why the appliance was making a strange buzzing noise hadn’t mollified her any. The Doctor and Mickey were laughing together. The Doctor and Mickey were bonding.
That was when she realized that he was determined to act as if the kiss had never happened.
Grumbling about not even getting a decent cuppa to make up for her sleepless night, she stomped back to her room to throw on clothes for their third try at Cornwall. As she’d left the food preparation area, the Doctor had the gall to suggest that she make sure to wear sensible shoes for tramping around the moors – as if she hadn’t learned by now that anyone traveling with the Doctor should always wear their best pair of running shoes.
Now he was avoiding her gaze, as she realized he’d been doing all morning. Worse, they hadn’t had a moment alone when she might confront him. Mickey was there and ready when she arrived in the console room. He was coming with them now to get the Key readings, and she was certain that if she ever managed to corner the Doctor for more than a minute, Mickey would show up. He didn’t want her confronting the Doctor any more than the Doctor appeared to want to be confronted. For a moment, in the beauty of the countryside, she had forgotten the frustration of the past evening, but now with the Doctor and Mickey chatting away just a little too cheerily all her irritation returned.
Fuming, she fixed her gaze on the horizon. The sun was just now cresting the stone circle, sending long shadows across the plain. She realized the Doctor was in the middle of an impromptu lecture on the stones, and as much as she wanted to tune him out, she grudgingly realized that sometimes his lectures contained necessary information that could save her life. Crossing her arms, she trudged in his and Mickey’s wake as they made their way across the moor.
“So, this place must be pretty special, yeah?” Rose gestured towards the stone circle in the distance.
“Naw,” the Doctor dismissed her, striking off in another direction away from the stones. “You lot love cromlechs and henges. You’ve been putting them up for ages on every scrap of land you can find. Make ‘em out of anything, too – wood, stone, plaster, foam, cars, beer cans. Saw one out of tofu once. Kinda wobbly, as I recall.”
They had crested a small rise. Below them a rough dirt track meandered across the moor. Rose was somewhat relieved to see it because the sodden ground sucked at her feet and made walking a tiring exercise. Mickey seemed to be panting from trying to keep up as well. The Doctor ignored the track, striking off in a direction parallel to it. Rose glared at him, nebulous uncharitable thoughts flitting through her mind.
Oblivious to Rose’s glare, the Doctor continued to lecture without any shortness of breath, “They were falling into obscurity for a long time. Heck, the locals were tearing down the blue stones at Stonehenge to build sheep enclosures for centuries. But then a chap by the name of John Aubrey just had to go and make a big deal out of ‘em. Didn’t know what they were really used for so he made up a load of bunk about Druids and blood sacrifices. And you lot just gobbled it up. Suddenly every henge and cromlech had a story about young nubile females dancing naked on the Sabbath, or stones getting up to walk about on their own, and before you know it you’ve got tourists and pagans flooding the places, Travellers attacked by police in riot gear, the Welsh building one every year to commemorate their music festivals. Carhenge. Beerhenge. Tofuhenge.”
Mickey laughed a little too heartily, trying to share in the Doctor’s offhand dismissal of the monuments, “Yeah, how stupid is that? Why’d anyone believe in Druids and blood sacrifices and big slabs of stone that swan off whenever they feel like it?”
The Doctor looked non-plussed, then vaguely abashed, “Yes. Well… in this particular case they… they’d be right.”
“Huh?” Mickey looked to Rose, as if to confirm with her that the Doctor was putting him on, but she just smiled wryly and shrugged. She knew the Doctor well enough to realize that he’d die before admitting that Mickey was right on something.
“That circle back there, the Nine Travellers? It picked up a couple of hitchhikers a few thousand years ago. A prisoner being transported to trial and her three cellmates. The cellmates were Ogri, from the Tau Ceti system. They’re silicate sangrivores.” At Rose and Mickey’s blank looks he sighed and rolled his eyes, “rocks that drink blood.”
It was Rose’s turn to look askance, not because she thought the Doctor was having her on, but because she believed him. That didn’t make it sound any less ridiculous. No matter how strange the universe seemed at times, the Doctor could always manage to make it seem a little stranger. Living, blood-drinking, space rocks on the lam in Cornwall. She didn’t know why she was surprised.
“But the Key isn’t with the stones, cause otherwise we wouldn’t be walking away from them, so it must be with the other prisoner – who isn’t a vampire rock, yeah?” Rose asked.
“Vivian Fey,” the Doctor affirmed with a broad smile at her, before recalling that he was trying to avoid her. Watching him fumble with the sonic screwdriver to cover his slip improved her mood immensely, “or Senhora Camara, or the Cailleach, or Cessair of Diplos, or about a dozen other names. She’s been here for thousands of years, taking new identities and living off the blood and superstition of the locals.”
“So, that Aubrey fellow probably did her a favour? Kept the locals from carting off her bully-boys to make their sheep enclosures, yeah? Think he was working for her?”
The Doctor looked stunned, and for the second time that day smiled a real smile directed solely at her, “Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Rose Tyler, I think you might be on to something – modern druidic practice predicated on the presence of aliens at ancient archaeological sites. Erich von Däniken might just pin a medal on you.”
“Yeah, but this Aubrey chap doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on now, so why are we mucking about with talking about him?” Mickey’s surly question burst the bubble that had been forming around Rose and the Doctor. Their enthused grins faltered into self-consciousness. The Doctor resumed walking with Mickey in his wake. Rose followed, shooting a venomous glance at both men’s backs.
“Vivian Fey and Professor Amelia Rumford are letting an old rectory just down this track.” The Doctor was all business again, “The Key is disguised as the Great Seal of Diplos, big, ugly amulet that Fey always wears on a chain ‘round her neck. We’ll get ourselves invited to tea, then you two distract the ladies while I stand near Ms. Fey and take the readings.”
“That’s the stupidest plan I’ve ever heard. You don’t seriously think that’s going to work, do you?” Mickey asked before Rose could voice the same skepticism.
“Oi! You got a better plan, monkey-boy?”
“A real monkey could come up with a better plan.”
“Well, let’s hear it then.”
While the Doctor and Mickey glared at each other, Mickey’s mouth working as he tried to devise some spur-of-the-moment plan that would show up the Doctor, Rose spied a shape approaching along the dirt track.
“Uh…” she began.
“I’m waiting,” the Doctor prodded Mickey, “or is that your plan? Going to gape at her like a fish?”
“Don’t strain yourself.”
“Doctor… Mickey…” Rose said with a bit more urgency.
“Oh, I see,” Mickey’s expression turned mulish, “get a little criticism and suddenly it’s time to make cracks about human intelligence. What are you, twelve?”
“When I was twelve I could already solve differential temporal equations in up to fifteen dimensions, thank you very—”
“Oi!” Rose snapped sharply before they decided to whip out a ruler. Both heads pivoted and she pointedly looked down to the road. A horse-drawn buggy was making its way along the rutted track. It wasn’t as fine as the equipage Queen Victoria had used, and there were no scarlet-jacketed outriders, but Rose had been with the Doctor long enough to suspect that it was the real thing rather than some anachronistic throwback – which meant that they’d missed their mark… again.
The Doctor checked his watch, rattled it, and checked it again. The irritation on his face bled away to resigned humor. Rose grinned slowly, and he quirked a smile in response.
“1874,” he revealed with a shake of his head.
“Well,” Rose offered with equanimity, taking his hand to lead him down towards the buggy so they could interrogate the locals, “at least we haven’t been exiled yet.”
The buggy turned out to be owned by a Colonel William DeVries, a widower with two sons who was surveying the local area for Her Majesty’s Ordnance Survey. He was letting the rectory that had been the Doctor’s original destination. True to form, the Doctor had introduced them as colleagues and within ten minutes they were invited to tea. Within twenty they had discovered that the Colonel had an appointment to meet with a reclusive landowner later that day. Within twenty-one, the Doctor had managed to get himself included in the invitation.
“Mrs. Trefusis is Vivian Fey. This is fantastic! There’s no way she’ll suspect a thing,” he explained to Mickey and Rose when the Colonel left to have the buggy prepared for his departure. Rose was glad to see that Mickey was as irritated at being left behind as she was, “I’ll just toddle over there with the Colonel, pay my respects and get the readings. We’ll be on our way before night falls.”
“And what are we supposed to do?” Rose demanded, glaring around the cottage’s cozy parlour. She could hear one of the boys – the younger one – playing upstairs. It sounded like he was bashing something to bits. She didn’t know where the older one had got to, “Sit around here and babysit?”
“Look this isn’t a lark. This woman is dangerous, and getting those readings….” The Doctor sighed, and a look of real worry crossed his face, “Rose, don’t you see? The fact that keep getting blown off course getting here means the ripples are becoming worse. It’s too important to get this done. And Vivian Fey… or rather, Mrs. Trefusis, well, it’ll be difficult enough for me to get in there. She’s a recluse, in more ways than one.”
Colonel DeVries chose that moment to interrupt, informing the Doctor that he was ready to leave.
“Right. I’ll be back before you know it. Stay out of trouble, and don’t wander off.” There was another moment of awkwardness as the Doctor dithered over whether to hug her goodbye. Eventually he gave her the half-hug that she usually got on first dates when they didn’t go so well. She was working herself into a good head of steam over it when Mickey’s incredulous words let all the air out of her.
“Does he always do that? Just swan off and leave you behind?”
“More and more,” Rose sighed as she watched the Doctor drive away with the Colonel, just like he had on Zanak.
“Well, this is bollocks,” Mickey muttered. Rose was inclined to agree, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. She watched as Mickey, never happy to just sit around on a sofa if there wasn’t a match on, fidgeted for a few moments. She knew him so well that he stood up only a few seconds after she predicted he would, “I’m not going to just sit down here and wait. I’m going to go see if that kid upstairs knows anything fun to do around here.”
“What, like the Victorian equivalent of a Gameboy?” Rose teased in spite of her foul mood.
“Naw, I was thinking more like an iPod. Download all the hot nineteenth-century tunes.”
“Go on with you then.” Rose gave him a light swat, “I’m going take a turn in the garden.”
“Ooh, look who sounds like the lady of the manor.”
“Oh, shut-up,” she grinned. Mickey bowed low before bounding upstairs. Rose’s smile quickly dimmed as she stepped outside. It was mid-morning at this point, and the early chill had been burned off by an unusually warm sun.
The rectory garden wasn’t large. Within ten minutes, Rose had paced its length three times. She settled on a bench next to an old, gnarled yew. It had grown so large that its branches hung over the high garden wall and its roots pushed against the old limestone blocks at the base.
She didn’t know what to do. It was like, ever since the Game Station, she’d been demoted from companion to inconvenient-but-necessary tag-along. He wasn’t being callous about it, exactly, but the Doctor had begun to push her away, to leave her behind. Even when there were flashes of the old camaraderie, like this morning, he shut them down before they could take root.
It was more than just intimacy issues; it had to be. She knew he was more worried about the ripples than he let on. She knew he was afraid of losing her. But she wondered if he realized that he already was, by the simple expedient of him pushing her away.
Lost in thought, her eyes meandered over the twisted trunk of the yew, seeing shapes where there were none. There was a carousel pony in a top hat. Above it was a football-playing Slitheen. If she squinted just right, the huge rough patch just at eye level resolved into the shape of a—
“Rose? You’re her, aren’t you?” said a young voice from above her. With a start, Rose looked up. Balancing among the upper branches of the tree was the Colonel’s older son. She hadn’t even noticed him when she sat down.
“Oh. Hello there.” Rose blinked up, not sure what to say, “You’re Tommy, right?”
“Thomas,” he corrected, swinging down a few branches to get a closer look at her. He was pale and spindly – sickly, the Colonel had informed them – but he seemed perfectly at ease amongst the branches. She suddenly was grateful for the Doctor’s absence. She didn’t think she could stand another derogatory primate reference.
The boy looked more closely at her, then pulled back, nodding, as if he’d confirmed something for himself, “You’re her. I knew it. I knew you’d come someday.”
“What? Her who? What do you mean?” Rose shook her head in confusion, sure she’d missed something. Thomas dangled from the lowest branch and dropped to the ground with a soft thump.
“Her. Rose. The Traveller’s Rose.” He pointed to the rough patch on the yew trunk that she’d been staring at moments before. Sure enough, it did vaguely resemble a rose in full bloom. She couldn’t grasp the significance.
“I… ” she began slowly, “my name is Rose, but—”
“And you travel with him. The Doctor fellow. I didn’t see it at first, cause the Colonel always has doctors out to see me, for my health.” He grimaced, as if it were the greatest of humiliations.
“The Colonel… you mean, your dad?”
The boy’s grimace turned to derision, “S’not my dad. My mum married him after my dad died, and then she died.”
“I’m sorry,” Rose offered awkwardly, “about your mum and dad, I mean.”
Thomas shrugged and sat next to her on the bench, feet swinging. He was still staring at her face with a peculiar intensity. She found it hard to sit still under his scrutiny.
“What did you mean, about me and the Doctor,” she asked, hoping to distract him.
“It’s just like in the journals – my grandfather’s journals. He wrote about a bea—er…” The boy blushed and looked away, “b-blonde girl named Rose, and her companion, the Doctor, and how they looked out for our family and came to help us in times of trouble.”
Thomas brightened and looked back up, all bashfulness forgotten, “Is that why you’re here? To help me? Am I in trouble?” He seemed inordinately enthused by the prospect, as only a ten-year-old boy could be. He didn’t notice Rose’s frown as a knot of dread settled in the pit of her stomach.
“Uh… well, I’m betting if your grandfather’s journals talked about us, then they mentioned how I can’t really say why we’re here, yeah?” Rose extemporized.
The boy nodded, but it didn’t assuage Rose’s fears any. She knew she was treading on dangerously shifty time-paradox ground. She wished the Doctor were here.
“What… what do you know about how we helped your family back then?” she ventured, hoping the answer wouldn’t cause a rift in space and time.
“Oh, same old thing about stupid old Boscombe Hall.” He pulled a face, “My mother’s family has a claim or something, and I’m the last of the line. That’s why the Colonel keeps trying to meet with old lady Trefusis; he’s trying to recover my legacy. As if I care.” He crossed his arms, all petulant indignation, “I suppose that’s why the Doctor went with the Colonel? To help him? But old Trefusis won’t budge any more than that Brazilian lady did back in my grandfather’s day.”
“Brazilian lady?” The knot in her belly was reaching out to take over her whole body.
“Yeah,” Thomas responded, unaware of her distress. “Senhora… Camembert… or something.”
“Camara,” Rose corrected automatically, glad she’d paid attention to the Doctor’s lecture. Her mind was already racing to the ramifications. They’d been here before – in the future. The boy knew who they were; he knew they were coming. And if he knew, then so did their quarry.
But the Doctor didn’t have a clue.
And Vivian Fey was dangerous, he’d said.
“MICKEY!” she yelled, springing from the bench and racing towards the house. Thomas trailed behind her, face alight with the excitement of it all.
“Mickey!” she called up the stairs.
“Oi!” his face popped around the stairwell, “What’re you making a row about?”
“It’s the Doctor. He’s in trouble. He needs our help.” She begged with her eyes for him not to waste time with a fuss. The matter was too urgent for his usual petulant jealousy.
“Right,” he nodded decisively. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to go and save him.” To her surprise, a wide smile split her friend’s face. “Now we’ll see who the tin dog is!”