Chapter 1- Fortune's Fool
"Tell your fortune, handsome visitor?"
Her offer was just one of many, calling out in the bustle and chaos in the market of Shan Shen. Every which way one turns, someone is selling something: rich clothes and silk, incense, expensive delicacies imported from off world. The young woman of apparent Asian heritage is no different, just out to make a profit off of unsuspecting tourists. Somehow her voice breaks through the cacophony of the marketplace, there's a certain power in it.
"Not today, thanks," the Doctor answers, amused. Like he needs a scam artist, however clever, to tell him about the future.
"Don't you want to know your future? If you're going to be happy… maybe even find true love?"
That last sentence results in a sharp pang of regret, but with practiced patience he shoves it away. "I'm happy now, thanks very much."
The woman smiles and glances around. "I'm not busy at the moment, and you're pretty. What if I do you for free?"
She isn't going to relent, he can tell, and Donna is probably going to take all day at that stall with the handbags. He gives in. "All right, one quick reading." He wonders what kind of rubbish this one will spout. Excepting those soothsayers back in Pompeii, he's never come across anyone who could accurately predict the future without having been there in person. It will probably be generic, vague predictions that could apply to anyone… still, he's got nothing better to do at the moment.
Inside the tent, they sit, and the fortune teller instructs him to give her his hands, palms up. Typical. She gazes at his palms, acting for all the world like she really can see the mysteries of the future in them, tracing lines with her fingertips.
"You are fascinating… you have one of the longest lifelines I have ever seen. Hhhhmm… I see a woman, with fiery red hair, and a temper to match."
He chuckles. "She does, yeah."
"How did you meet her?" the woman questions.
He leans forward. "Why don't you tell me?"
The look she gives him is condescending. "I see the future. You must tell me about the past. When did your lives cross?"
"Weeell, she sort of appeared on my ship, plucked right from the middle of her wedding… long story, very complicated."
"Ah," she breathes, acting entirely understanding. "But what were you doing, just before that? Right before she 'appeared', as you say?"
"I was… saying goodbye…" The memory is vivid, and painful. A windswept beach, a blond woman with a tearstained face, words he never had the chance to say. All in one amazingly vivid flash, almost like time-travel in itself.
He is jerked back to the present. "Sorry," he gasps, trying to regain composure. How did he lose it so quickly?
"It's the incense," the woman says, waving vaguely. "Just… breathe deep." Something tells him this is the last thing he should be doing. This is more than your average scam artist; something is going on here. But he's got to find out what, so he keeps going with it.
"You said you were saying goodbye. I sense a great deal of loss- you cared for her, yes?"
"Oh yes," he murmurs, wondering why he is telling this stranger about it. But he doesn't want to worry, think, he just wants to remember her: the smell of her shampoo, her smile, that lilting laugh- gone forever.
"How did it happen? How did you lose her, what choices caused her to slip away?"
"I don't know… all sorts of things happened that day, busy life… but there was a moment…"
Again the memory is sharp, and oh so real. He is in the white room, the ghost shift room, and Rose is there. He grins at the sight of her.
"That's more like it, bit of a smile!" she laughs. Happy. Alive. Here. "The old team!"
"Hope and Glory, Mutt and Jeff, Shiver and Shake!" he jokes along with her.
"Which one's Shiver?" she asks, unsure.
"Oh, I'm Shake," he grins. Then…
She's gone, suddenly, and reality collapses back on him with unbearable force. The fortune teller's voice cuts into his thoughts. "You could have gone to one side, or the other. What made you decide?"
"I… I just did…" He can hear something, if he concentrates. Something behind him, and it probably isn't good, but he can't force himself to turn around.
"But when was the moment? When did you choose?"
Back to that room. He's holding the clamps; he's passing one to Rose. They attach the clamps to the walls, on either side. "Press the red button," he instructs her. "When it starts, just hold on tight. It shouldn't be too bad for us, but the Daleks and the Cybermen are steeped in Voidstuff. You ready?"
He isn't, he could never be ready. He can remember only too well what happens next. Her lever slips, she tries to fix it, but she can't quite reach, the pull is too strong and she slips away forever.
"You took the left," croons the fortune teller. "But what if you had taken the right, what if it was your lever that slipped? What then?" How does she know this?
"Let go of my hands," he whispers. He can't do it himself, can't turn around, can't look away. He is powerless, and at the same time power is being given back to him. Power to change the past, and he doesn't know if he fears it or yearns for it.
"What if it changes? What if you took the right… what if you could still take the right?"
"Stop…" But it is a weak plea. He wants this moment to change. He wants it so badly, his hands are shaking but she's clasping them so tightly, she has so much more power than he thought… He can feel something. Something creeping up his spine, but he can't turn around, can't shake it off.
"What… what is that? There's something, something on my back… what are you doing?"
She doesn't answer, just continues speaking in that hypnotic voice. "Make the choice again, Doctor, and take the right."
"I… I'm choosing…"
"Take the right side. Go right, go right!"
It's happening again. All of it.
"Which one's Shiver?" she asks, unsure.
"Oh, I'm Shake," he grins. He passes her the clamp, then keeps going, and presses his against the right side of the room. She moves and attaches hers to the left.
He can almost hear an echo, of a voice, but it's fading fast. "Take the right, and never meet Donna Noble. Take the right… and change the world!"
He shakes it off. "Press the red button," he instructs her. "When it starts, just hold on tight. It shouldn't be too bad for us, but the Daleks and the Cybermen are steeped in Voidstuff. You ready?"
"So are they," Rose points out, nodding towards the Daleks in the window.
"Let's do it!" He cries, and together they push the levers up, until they lock into place, then run and grab on to the clamps. At first everything goes smashingly, particularly for the Daleks and Cybermen, which are careening all over the place before being pulled into the Void. A little too smashingly, actually, he realizes when a stray Dalek smashes into his lever, knocking it out of position.
"Offline," remarks the computer. That's going to be a problem. The pull is weakening, the Daleks stalling; he has to make sure they get pulled in. It's a good thing it happened on my side, he thinks, my legs are longer than Rose's.
Worriedly, she calls out, "Doctor, the lever!"
"Working on it," he responds, stretching out a leg. He hooks his shoe beneath one of the wires attached to the lever, and pulls back. Just a bit more, and the lever is back in position. "Online and locked," reports the computer as he renews his grasp on the clamp.
From then on it's a simple job, just hang on and watch the show. The Daleks and Cybermen are effortlessly disposed of. Soon the breach into the Void collapses in on itself, "Systems Closed," and it's time for another celebratory hug.
And if something feels off, if his sixth-sense is telling him this is not how it should have happened, well, it has to be wrong. It has to.
Because he's the Doctor. In the TARDIS. With Rose Tyler. As it should be.