Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Nerys
Summary: The Doctor investigates one of the most serious time anomalies he's ever encountered, right here on Earth.
Word Count (chapter): 2600
Nerys couldn’t quite convince herself to run towards an obvious trap, and as she walked briskly, the rather ugly flats she’d chosen to finish off her disguise crunching on the path, she wondered if she’d be able to recognise their quarry, given the brief glimpse she’d caught of him. But recognition turned out to be the least of her worries. The young man leant against a tree just off the path, shaded by the canopy overhead. His casual stance broadcast his unconcern at their approach, all except for the expensive camera in his hand, its lens pointed directly at her heart.
“Nerys,” the Doctor warned from a few steps behind her.
“Oh, I see him,” she murmured as she stopped. She had no interest in getting any nearer. The Doctor sidled up next to her and stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets. Nerys noticed that he stepped a bit forward as he prepared to speak, as if to shield her. She was quite content to take any protection he offered.
“Is this your new friend, Doctor?” the man called, his tone conversational. “You certainly don’t waste any time replacing old ones, do you?” He motioned at her with the device. “It’s truly in your best interest to keep her where I can see her,” the man warned.
“Certainly.” The Doctor made a show of stepping to the side, though not far. “Interesting device you’ve got there.” He jerked his chin at the man’s camera. “A bit more than just a camera, isn’t it? I might wonder where you got it.”
“This old thing?” The man held it up and made a show of inspecting the dials and buttons on it, though the target of the lens never wavered. “It is my prized possession.” His accent was slow and formal, at odds with his youthful, modern appearance.
“I’ll say. I haven’t seen one in years.” The Doctor turned to Nerys. “That’s a stochastic chronon manipulator, you see. Powerful bit of technology. Point it at someone and press the button and,” he clicked his fingers, “it changes something somewhere in its target’s timeline, just like that. Bam!” She jumped back as he punched the air. “Chooses something completely at random, could be anything, even something as insignificant as a single word or an offhand motion. But the effect! Could be as small as dropping the toothpaste made you late for work one day or big as crossing the street at a different corner gets you run over and killed.” He paused to let that sink in. ”What’s more, it protects its wielder. Immune to paradox, are you?” he called out, and the man smiled back.
“The Monan Host almost started a war with the Time Lords over that thing,” the Doctor continued. “They admired its precision, its ability to isolate a single quantum of time and manipulate it, and they tried everything they could think of to get one. Destiny’s Scalpel, they called it. Time Lords, though, they were never so imaginative. Officially, it’s the Spear of Rassilon, because Rassilon’s got to take credit for everything - I’m sure that was the second law on the books, after ‘must wear impractical hats’ - but the common name for it was the chaos gun.” He craned his neck to take another look, and Nerys noticed that he used the action to sidle a bit more in front of her as her shield. “I suppose that does a much better job of describing it. It’s a very advanced weapon. Too advanced, really.” His voice turned icy as he peered back at the man. “Comes straight from Gallifrey, so you must, as well.”
The man’s smug demeanour shifted not a whit. The Doctor shook his head. “I couldn’t see it. That thing’s powerful. So powerful, its temporal field masked everything about you. Even now, you look just like anyone else on this planet.” His eyes hardened. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither you, isn’t that right, Doctor?” the man crooned.
“How did you escape the Time War?” the Doctor demanded.
“Asks the man who made sure he was the only one to survive it,” he drawled, disgust simmering in his eyes.
“Who are you?” the Doctor growled, stepping forward with his fists clenched.
The man shook his head, brandishing the camera with his finger firmly on the shutter release. “I wouldn’t if I were you, Doctor. You’ve already lost one companion. I don’t think you want to lose another.”
The Doctor stopped cold, quivering. “Don’t you dare.”
“Doctor!” Nerys squeaked as she grabbed his arm. “He’s not going to… Is he?”
“Not at all, Ms...?” The man tacitly asked her name with a slight nod.
“Nerys,” she replied, her face twisted into a fearful scowl.
“Ms. Nerys,” he repeated. “I shan’t use this on you if the Doctor behaves. You have my word that I have no designs on you, but if he forces me to defend myself, I will.”
“Somehow, I’m not reassured,” she spat back.
“No, he won’t.” The Doctor turned to Nerys and grasped her by the shoulders to calm her. “He’s had plenty of opportunity. You’re safe, as long as we keep this civil.” With a brief warm smile, he nodded at her, then turned back to the man. “This is all about Donna.”
The man feigned innocence. “Oh, is it?”
“What do you want with her?” Nerys could hear in the Doctor’s voice the burning anger kept carefully restrained. “Why are you tampering with her life?”
“Isn’t it fascinating, Doctor?” the man asked, waving airily with his free hand. “Watching your friend’s life unravel before your eyes? First your friendship and her life travelling with you, then her family history is changing, and now it’s melting away. Oh, you didn’t know, did you? This time, all that changed was a simple conversation.” He glanced up at the branch above him as if considering the change carefully. “A little chat in a café six months ago between Donna and her friend - Veena is her name, I believe - which made Egypt so much more interesting of a honeymoon spot than Spain. She changed their travel plans, and then she fell ill on the trip and miscarried her first child.”
Nerys gasped. “Is that what changed, Doctor? Is that what you remember? Donna didn’t lose the baby?”
“No, she didn’t,” he confirmed, though his stormy eyes remained locked on the Time Lord. “In the last timeline, Donna had two children.”
Nerys clapped a hand to her mouth. “Oh my lord!”
Clenching his fists, the Doctor sneered at the man. “Why are you doing this?” he cried.
The man ignored the question. “Maybe the next time I’ll target further back. She won’t marry Sam. Maybe she won’t even meet him. Or perhaps she’ll marry Vince James. Didn’t you know about him?”
“That was forever ago!” Nerys gasped.
“Fifteen years, yes,” he confirmed. “They could have married. Maybe sometime soon, they will have. And then I’ll take that away from her as well. I can go all the way back. One day, Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Noble will have been a childless couple. And I can go further up that line, too. Everything about her is changing, Doctor. Everything you know about her is crumbling away into dust - just like Gallifrey did.”
“Is that what this is about?” the Doctor demanded.
“What is it?” asked Nerys. “What is he talking about?”
“Tell her, Doctor,” the man urged. “Tell her what you’ve done. Or are you afraid she won’t think so highly of you once she knows?”
“Proves how much you know.” Jamming his hands in his pockets, he looked her up and down. “She doesn’t trust me further than she can throw me.”
“I don’t trust either of you,” Nerys snapped.
The Doctor shrugged. “See? So what is this? Some kind of twisted scheme of revenge?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” the man replied, his tone sickly sweet. “It goes much deeper than that.”
“Whatever it is, it stops now.”
The man’s face twisted into a supercilious sneer. “You’ve been away from your own kind too long, Doctor. Perhaps a snarled command and a stern look is enough to cow these primitives, but it won’t work on me. I am your equal, and I am not afraid of you. I will do as I wish. I can peek in on Donna Noble’s life at any moment and transform it into something completely unrecognisable. Then I’ll move on.”
He tapped his lips with a finger. “You’ve had so many companions, Doctor. Which one should I choose next? Lucie Miller? Charlotte Pollard? Oh, I know, how about Ace? Imagine how much havoc I could wreak changing her timeline? The effects would stretch far beyond the paltry adventures she had with you. They may even change the course of the Time War itself. Or I could go further back. Nyssa of Traken. Leela’s behind the time lock, so she’s out. Oh! Think of what would happen if I changed a moment in the life of one Sarah Jane Smith.”
He pushed off the tree and took a menacing step forward. “You see, I’ve done my homework. I’ve hundreds of years of your life to undo, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. All you can do is watch. Though,” and he bowed to Nerys, “I do keep my promises. I shan’t change your life, except as it relates to Ms. Noble’s. Farewell, Doctor. Oh, and don’t bother trying to find me. You’ll be searching all of time and space.”
The man leant back and disappeared into the trunk of the tree.
“What?” Nerys cried, striding forward a step before turning back to the Doctor with a quizzical look.
“Wait for it,” he murmured, nodding back at the spot where the man once stood.
“Wait for what?” she asked as the screech of a time rotor split the air. As her mouth dropped open, the tree faded, pulsing into nothingness, leaving the ground it had been growing from unbroken.
“That was his TARDIS.”
“His TARDIS was a tree?” she squeaked.
“A TARDIS disguises itself to blend in wherever it lands,” he explained. “It can look like anything.”
“Then why’s yours a ratty old shack?”
“Oi!” He glared at her, then spun away into the grass on the side of the path. He kicked at the sod. “We’ve got to focus. We’ve got to figure out where he’ll go next.”
“We can’t,” Nerys countered. “He said he could go anywhere or change anything. He said you won’t be able to find him.”
“Red herring,” he replied. “This is personal. He’s hell bent on hurting me, with Donna as the implement, and he wants to watch. He wants to wait long enough between shifts to give me hope that the previous one was the last, and then change her life again and watch me suffer through each moment of torture. That’s why he mentioned all my old friends, to rile me up, get me after him. Besides, we have to stop him. You heard what he plans to do. He wants to change my entire life by targeting my friends. That’s going to affect far more than just you and Donna, more than just London or Earth. He’s changing the universe one moment at a time.”
Nerys crossed her arms. “And just how do you plan to stop him?”
The Doctor paused, his hand in his hair. He chewed on his tongue as he thought. Nerys glared at him, then sighed. “You’re going to every event in Donna’s life that you can think of, aren’t you? You’re going to chase that man through time and change more and more of this world until it isn’t here at all, aren’t you?”
“I’m trying to stop him from doing that, Nerys,” the Doctor growled. “You know that.”
Striding up to him, she poked him hard enough that he rocked back. “But the final outcome is going to be the same either way, isn’t it? You’re going to wipe me and all of this out of time. You’re going to put it all back the way it was and I’ll be gone.”
“You won’t just stop him and leave it at that,” she yelled, her voice more shrill with each word. “None of this matters to you at all, does it?”
The Doctor’s resolve finally broke and he drew himself up, towering over her. “How am I supposed to make that choice, Nerys?” he thundered, and Nerys sprang back a step in surprise. “Tell me that. How do I choose between the world I knew four hours ago and this one? How do I even choose between all of the different versions of Donna’s life I’ve seen with you? She had a daughter the first time you and I visited her, and then she had a daughter and a son, and now she just has a son. In a tick, she might not even be married anymore. Why don’t you choose? You tell me which one gives Donna and you and everyone else the best life, and when I catch that bloke and get his device, I promise you I’ll do it. I’ll set the timeline you choose.”
Nerys stared at him in horror as his words sank in. She clapped her hands to her mouth and her breath started to stutter.
The Doctor’s eyes hardened. “It isn’t that easy, is it? Could you choose to make Donna miscarry her daughter just because that’s the reality you’re in now? I saw you with Sarah, two shifts ago, and I don’t think Auntie Nerys would make that choice.” Suddenly softening, he stepped forward and laid a hand on her shoulder and continued in the gentlest voice she’d ever heard. “All I know is, the first version, that’s the simplest and the safest. That’s the one where no one’s tampered with anything, where the universe is going along the way it wants, not the way someone’s forcing it to go. I don’t know if it’s going to end well for anyone, but I can’t guarantee that for this timeline or any other, either.”
Nerys stared at him, her fists clenched at the sides of her padded trousers, her cheek twitching. She coughed to clear her throat unnecessarily, possibly to conceal her glistening eyes, then snatched the wig off her head and started to pull the pins from her hair. “Take me home, Doctor,” she growled. “I want to go home.”
“You won’t help me, then.”
“No, I won’t. I absolutely will not.” She shook out her shining blond hair, then stood tall, fixing the Doctor with a proud, angry glare. “I helped you this far and I refuse to be responsible for anything more. But I’ll tell you where to go, and it won’t be where I want to tell you to go.” She sniffed. “Like you said, he’s luring you, so it’s got to be public moments with known dates, so that you know when to go and you can see it happen. No one knows Donna’s life better than me, except Donna herself. I’ll tell you the best candidates.” She swallowed hard, then wriggled her fingers like she was struggling to refrain from decking him. “Then you’ll take me home. I don’t want to know when it happens.”
The Doctor deflated, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “All right. I can’t ask for more, really. Thank you, Nerys. And… I’m sorry.”
Nerys spun on her heel and marched back the way she came, a despondent Time Lord trailing in her wake.