Author's Notes: Completely unbeta'd because I was so nervous about writing this that I was too scared to ask for one! I hate using the AU excuse for writing whatever the hell I want, but this bunny would not leave me alone. Lynch me as you will.
Lastly, we don't know Rory's last name yet so I've given him one. Credit goes to guvnor at Gallifrey Base for coming up with it in the midst of a joke!
A theory of quantum mechanic states that for every possible outcome of every event, a separate parallel world is formed from the road not taken, resulting in thousands upon thousands of alternate universes. Everything that has conceivably happened in our past - but didn't - has indeed happened somewhere else. The strands of time twist and dance along one another, converging and diverging, spinning into a complex web of might-have-beens. The universe is infinite and mysterious. The possibilities are endless.
In one universe, a man nearing the end of his particular life cycle rages against the dying of the light. It is not his time, he cries, but events have conspired against him. His fight done, he goes out not with a whimper but with a literal bang. The new man that emerges from the ashes finds himself careening through space and time in the flaming wreckage of his ship, eventually crashing headlong into the garden of an eight-year-old girl.
In another universe, the same man determines to hold death at bay for as long as possible. He doesn't want to go. When the end does come, the resulting explosion sends a million pieces of debris raining down like stars over the skies of a small English village. In her backyard, a ten-year-old girl nudges her best friend and murmurs that it is awfully early in the summer for a meteor shower.
And in yet another universe, the man realizes the futility of his wishes and abandons himself to the chaotic processes that erase him from life like the ghost of a memory, leaving an entirely different man in his wake. He crash-lands to Earth not in a quaint little garden, but in the trees outside of town. This time there is no young girl outside to see the passing streak of light and wonder about its origins; she has long since grown up.
In one universe, this new man meets a young girl and promises to come back in a snap, as soon as his ship is repaired. When he returns, he discovers that what was seconds for him was fifteen years for her.
In another universe, he never met her at all.
In the last universe, it seemed unlikely that he would meet her. Yet, for just this once, the twisting of the web of cause and effect ensured that they would.
For the man known as the Doctor, these are the events that transpired to pass in the universe of a road not taken.
It was only ten-thirty on Monday morning, but Amy Pond was already yawning.
This is all Dad's fault, she thought grumpily, tapping her pen on her notebook in an effort to stay awake. If he hadn't been out so late last night and not come home a lousy mess--
She stifled another yawn behind her fist and ducked her head as a stern woman walked by her desk. The English teacher was droning on about something terribly unimportant dealing with late Romantic literature, and she was finding it difficult to concentrate. She pretended to doodle some notes. No matter. One more year and I'm done with this place. One more year and hopefully enough A-levels, and I'm out of Leadworth for good. University, here I come.
The A-levels were the shaky point. Amy had always done well in school, but as the years passed and she grew older, she found herself having to take more and more household responsibilities on her shoulders - and it was starting to affect her marks. Not that her father could possibly be persuaded to care. All he cared about was his next drink and that the bills got paid, no nevermind how.
She sighed as another yawn threatened to escape. She supposed she would never be able to say that her father was well-meaning, especially since her mum had skipped town a few years ago. They'd been okay before then, the three of them, even if they weren't exactly idyllic. She'd never had to doubt that her parents loved her. But then Mum had left them for another man, moved away, and barely kept in contact. Amy would never know if her dad's spiral into alcohol came from the pain of being rejected or from the loss of her mother's perceived good influence.
The sleepiness was making her eyes water; she glanced at the clock on the wall. 10:45. Fifteen minutes until class is over. I'm starving. I wonder what the cafeteria's got today.
"... And since Miss Pond evidently thinks she is smart enough to pass this course on her own wits, perhaps she would like to enlighten the class on the answer?"
Damn! Amy jerked wide eyes up to Mrs. Morgan, the teacher, and felt her face flush scarlet. "Er ..." She fumbled uselessly with her notes, feeling the eyes of everyone in the class on her. There was nothing for it; she was definitely busted. Finally she clenched her fists in her lap and sighed. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Morgan, I didn't hear the question."
"Which was obvious. Miss Pond, I suggest you make an effort to try and come to school better prepared to learn. You'll get nowhere if all you are content to do is sleep in class."
Nodding miserably, Amy slunk low in her seat as the teacher resumed the lecture, unable to shut out the sounds of a snigger or two from her classmates. Mrs. Morgan had a reputation among the students of Leadworth Secondary School for being a regular old hag, but that had been vicious even for her.
Thankfully, the blessed sound of the bell ringing didn't take too long. Amy shoved her things in her bag and was one of the first out of the door. She made a beeline for the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that Rory had beaten her there. She moved quickly through the lunch line and dropped her tray on the table next to him with a sigh. He smiled cheerfully at her in greeting from around a mouthful of chips, but frowned slightly when he saw her face.
"Bad night?" he asked lightly, but she could hear the sympathy in his voice.
She rolled her eyes and picked up her fork, stabbing it into her spaghetti with more force than necessary. "That's not the half of it," she grumbled. "I swear Mrs. Morgan has it out for me. Stupid bat called me out in front of everybody this morning ... kinda wanted to die."
Rory nodded sagely and popped another chip into his mouth. "I wouldn't take it too hard, Amy. Personally I think she has it out for everyone ... here, I snuck you an extra pudding." He reached into his brown lunch sack and pulled out a small plastic cup, passing it over to her.
Amy accepted it gratefully, abandoning her pasta. It was times like these that she was really glad she knew Rory Mulligan. They'd been best friends for as long as she could remember; they had started out as weekend playmates and by the time adolescence had come along they were practically akin to brother and sister, minus the squabbling. They had survived the occasional jeers of "Amy and Rory, sitting in a tree!" as young teenagers, and as sixth-formers everyone just assumed that where you found one, you could usually find the other. Rory's home life was the mirror opposite of her own: parents that were still together, an older sister in her last year at university, and a mother that doted on her children. Most weekends found Amy at the Mulligan household: doing homework, watching telly, learning how to cook. It was Claire Mulligan who had taught Amy how to be a woman; she was like the mother Amy no longer had.
Rory and his family were the much-needed breath of normalcy Amy needed to counterbalance the worries in her own home. Where her father was loud and argumentative, Rory was pleasant and generally agreeable, and almost never angry. Even though he would never be popular and still clung to vestiges of his inner nerd--she liked to tease him about what she called his 'old man shoes' ("What? They're trainers!") and he still brought his mother's home-cooked lunches to school more often than not--she couldn't have asked for a better friend.
"Rory," she said, smiling as the first bit of chocolate hit her tongue, "what would I do without you?"
He snorted softly. "Survive, I suppose." She kicked him underneath the table and he swung away, holding up his hands and grinning. "I'm joking! No, you would be much cooler without me cramping your style. But you would miss the pudding."
Amy grinned back. "Yes, I would miss the pudding."
The rest of lunch was spent discussing weekend plans--the weather forecast did not look promising, so the telly was looking likely--and was what on for the rest of the week. Amy was on the schedule to work a few hours after school at the general store on Thursday, while Rory was taking the day off school to go to London for his cousin's wedding. When the lunch bell rang they gathered their trash and dumped it in the bin, then bade each other farewell as they went their separate ways to class. They would see each other again in their last class of the day, a science elective.
Food and Rory's banter had raised Amy's spirits and she found she didn't have as much trouble staying awake after lunch as she had before. When the last bell of the day rang, she promised herself an early night's rest and coffee instead of tea in the morning. As much as Mrs. Morgan as humiliated her, the woman had a point. She wouldn't ever get out of Leadworth if she didn't pass her exams.
She halfway home walking with Rory when she realized she had forgotten her science notes in the lab. Normally she would have just left them, but she was afraid the janitorial staff would accidentally throw them away. She made an annoyed noise and checked her watch; hopefully the lab wouldn't be locked up yet.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Rory asked, hesitating on the sidewalk. Amy shook her head. "No, you go on--I've got to stop by the square anyway and pick up some tea, we're nearly out," she replied. "I'll catch up with you in the morning."
Rory nodded and set back off down the street. "Good night then, you!" he called out, and disappeared around the corner. Amy waved back, then turned and headed back towards school.
Despite her brisk walk, it still took her nearly ten minutes to reach school again. It looked mostly deserted aside from a few of the younger students still waiting on their parents to pick them up. The outer doors were still unlocked - Amy breathed a sigh of relief - and she slipped inside, boots clicking quietly on the tiled floor as she made her her way down the hall.
Her relief turned to dismay as she neared the door to the lab. It was closed and from what she could tell from the slit window set into it, the overhead lights were out. She cursed under her breath and pressed her forehead to the glass, looking inside. But there - across the room, she could see that the lab closet was open and that light was streaming out from it. "Maybe it's a janitor," she murmured to herself, and tried the door handle. It opened easily. Walking quietly into the dark room, she could hear the sounds of rustling and muttering coming from within the closet. Suddenly she was quite wary - she hoped she had not just stumbled upon a janitor doing something they weren't supposed to be.
Advancing upon the closet, she came around the door and was surprised not to see a janitor, but a fellow student. He had his back to her and was bent over, rummaging through stacks of white plastic boxes on a middle shelf. "What are you doing?" she demanded.
The intruder yelped in surprise and stood up so quickly that he smacked his head on the shelf above him, dislodging a large box and causing it to tip, showering a packaged lab parts down on him. Amy winced and jumped back. Then he spun around to face her, grimacing in surprise and shock. His face practically beamed bruised dignity. "What are you doing?" he cried back.
Amy stared at him. Maybe he wasn't a student - he was young, like her, but looked just old enough to call his student status into question - but sometimes you couldn't tell with people. He was dressed like a student, if a bit strangely: black boots and rolled-up jeans, and a tucked-in button-up shirt. His face was a bit angular but pleasing, and she thought perhaps his floppy brown hair wanted a bit of cutting. He looked harmless, but nevertheless she was instantly on the defensive.
"I am looking for my science notes," she shot back, "not--" She peered closer at the mess he had made. They were freeze-packaged lab specimens. "Not digging around in a closet full of dead fish."
"Oh." He was rubbing the back of his head, looking lamely down at the packaged fish covering his boots. "That's funny, I'm looking for my notes as well."
Amy raised her eyebrows. "In the closet?"
He blinked rapidly at her for a moment before turning back around. "Yes," he said firmly. "In the closet."
Amy frowned in confusion. This guy was definitely weird, and definitely up to no good. She thought fast, trying to determine the best course of action. He had resumed his search of the middle shelf and was ignoring both the fish around his feet and her. She backed towards the double desk where she normally sat, keeping an eye on him and trying to avoid bumping into any chairs. Sure enough, her notes were right where she had left them; after stuffing them into her back, she approached the closet again.
"You know, that closet's normally kept locked," she said casually. "And I know for a fact that the only people who have a key are Mr. Hodges and the head janitor. You're not Mr. Hodges, and I'm pretty sure you're not a janitor." There was a note of warning in her voice.
"Aren't you clever," he murmured dryly, back still turned. Before she had a chance to get insulted he seemed to zero in on something wedged in the back corner of the shelf. "Aha! Found it." He straightened triumphantly and turned back to face her, gripping a small stoppered glass vial full of a clear liquid in his fist. He was grinning widely and his face was transformed for it - his eyes shone with excitement and he radiated excited energy. "Knew it was in there."
She watched while he quickly cleaned the mess he had made. Then, dusting off his jeans, he slipped the vial into his pocket and made to walk out, but stopped when Amy blocked his path with arms crossed. "That's called stealing, you know," she said. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't report you."
"It's not stealing, it's borrowing," he replied, drawing himself up to his full height. "And anyway, I'll be bringing it right back tomorrow. Now if you'll excuse me, I really should be off." He went to step around her but Amy matched him, bringing him up short again. The same happened when he tried the other direction. He sighed impatiently even as his shoulders deflated.
"Oh all right, I'll tell you," he groused. "It's for a project at home. I'm very keen on chemistry you see, and this compound isn't, ah, readily available to the general public. I just need a small amount. And besides, didn't I say I'd bring it straight back?" He smiled winsomely at her. He seemed so earnest and harmless that Amy was tempted to smile back, but she stood her ground. He looked disappointed. "You really aren't going to report me, are you? Don't tell me that in this day and age you've never 'borrowed' anything off the computer to try it first. I assure you, this is practically the same thing."
His argument was working, much to Amy's dislike. He's probably just an uber science dork playing with his uber chemistry set, she reasoned. And besides, if he had figured out how to pick the deadbolt on the closet door, he probably deserved anything he could find in it.
And something about him just begged her to inherently trust him.
"Fine," she relented uneasily, and stepped back. He grinned widely at her and moved towards the classroom door. "But you better bring it back," she added, pointing a finger at him. "If I hear after tomorrow that something's gone missing, I'm telling what I saw."
"You won't have to worry about that." He'd stopped at a cabinet by the door to help himself to a glass beaker, and nodded genially at her. "Have a good evening."
Amy squinted at his back, lips pursed; her mind had just placed him. "Hey, wait a minute," she said. "Aren't you in my English class?"
He paused with his hand on the door handle, head whipping around. The look of incredulity on his face would have been comical had it not looked so out of place on him. "What?"
She ignored this. "You are, you're in my class," she said, walking towards him. "I've seen you. You sit in the back by the window."
Strangely, he seemed to be baffled by this. "I - well yes, I am," he stammered. "How did you notice me?"
Amy rolled her eyes. "The way any regular person does," she said bemusedly. "With my eyes."
He blinked at her in silence again for a minute. "Of course," he said finally. After another pause, he relaxed and smiled. "I'm John Smith."
"Amy," she replied, smiling hesitantly back. "Pond."
"Well, Amy Pond, it's getting late, isn't it? We really should be going." He was suddenly all business again, but much more relaxed. He opened the door and walked out, waiting for her to follow before he shut it behind them. Glancing both ways down the hall, he then turned to the lock and pulled something out of his pocket, too quickly for her to see, and fumbled with the door handle. A click and what she swore was a high-pitched buzzing noise followed before he gave a satisfied grunt and tested the handle. It didn't budge. "All set," he murmured. Then he nodded at her once more. "Good evening, Amy. It was nice to meet you." He started off down the hall in the opposite direction from which she had come.
"Nice to meet you too ... I think ..." Amy called back, watching him go. He threw a wave over one shoulder without looking back, and then he was gone. Amy watched the space where he had been for a moment, letting the whole strange meeting sink in; then she shrugged and walked off towards home.
It was only when her father came home a few hours later demanding a pick-me-up that she remembered that she had completely forgotten to get the tea.