The Time Travelers' Wives
By Laura Schiller
Doctor Who/The Time Traveler's Wife Crossover
Copyright: BBC Productions and Audrey Niffenegger
After a lifelong intimate acquaintance with a time traveler, Clare DeTamble was quite used to unexpected visitors, but the blue box making loud vworp-vworp noises as it materialized in her backyard in the middle of the night was really a bit much. She ran to the window in her bathrobe and slippers, wondering if she should call the police or if they would even believe her; as soon as the doors to the box opened, however, she decided that really wasn't the best idea. There were three people leaving the box: a man in a tweed jacket, suspenders and bow tie, a curly-haired blonde woman in a red evening gown, and a thin man in a too-large brown overcoat who was being supported by the other two. It was a cold night for April, but Clare hardly even noticed as she opened the door and ran outside.
"Henry! Oh, thank God … "
Her husband smiled at her wearily as she threw her arms around him. He had been gone for two days now and she had been seriously afraid, but just to hold him close again made it worth it.
"I take it we've reached the right address after all," said the man in tweed, sounding British and rather embarrassed. "And yes, River, you were right."
"I told you it was the blue button, sweetie," replied River, in the same accent.
"Thank you so much for bringing him home," said Clare, dizzy with a mixture of relief and utter confusion as she looked over their shoulders at the impossible box. "But … how did you … I mean, what is that thing?"
"Just my TARDIS," said Mr. Tweed, with a very casual shrug. "Time machine. Nothing to worry about."
"Looks like I'm not the only time traveler out there," said Henry. "Clare Abshire DeTamble, allow me to introduce my rescuers, River Song and the Doctor. But don't ask him for his real name. It's a secret."
A time machine? Clare, finding herself unequal to process all this at once, did the only reasonable thing she could think of doing?
"W-would you like to come in?" she asked, gesturing nervously to the house. "All of you, I mean. I could make some coffee if you like?"
"We're tea-drinkers, actually," said the Doctor.
"But we would like to stay, thank you very much," added River, taking his arm and leading him along the garden path.
"Are they married?" Clare asked Henry in an undertone as they followed.
"No idea. When I asked them, she just smirked and he changed the subject."
"Interesting." I wonder if their story is anything like ours.
A few hours later, the midnight coffee had turned into a full-on storytelling exchange, mostly between Henry and the Doctor, with River and Clare chiming in with the occasional addition or correction. The Doctor's stories were by far the more fantastic, but Henry did not seem to mind; in fact he looked relieved, for once, not to be the strangest person in the room.
"We had to have two weddings, Clare and I. I had an episode that morning, wound up in my old bedroom in 1976, and my future self ended up taking my place. Thank God nobody got suspicious that the groom's hair was suddenly gray. I guess in Clare's case, it wasn't too surprising."
He laughed as she elbowed him; River and the Doctor rolled their eyes at each other.
"Don't even get me started about weddings," said the Doctor. "They attract disaster like flypaper to flies. I had a friend once whose wedding was crashed by robot Santas and flying Christmas baubles."
"No way!" exclaimed Clare, still laughing.
"Yes way. Ticked off the bride's mother quite a bit. Until I chased them off with the sound system, of course. Oh, but the Ponds' wedding – that was brilliant!"
"That was the one where he parked his TARDIS in the middle of the reception hall and came out wearing a top hat and penguin suit. Just to prove his friend Amy hadn't imagined him."
"You love me in a tuxedo, River, admit it."
"Maybe so, but before I take you to another wedding, I'll have to give you dancing lessons. This man dances like a drunken Pinocchio."
"I hate you." The Doctor pouted.
"No you don't," said River, patting his arm.
"Can you excuse me for a moment? I'll make another pot," said Clare, heading to the kitchen for some peace and quiet. Much as she liked the flamboyant couple, they were rather overwhelming. She put on water to boil and measured out the tea leaves, wondering just how much of those stories was really true. Who were these people? Where and when did they come from? Were they even human?
"Are you all right?" said River, from the doorway.
Clare jumped and turned around.
"I know," the blonde replied kindly. "It's difficult to deal with one time traveler, let alone three."
"Oh yes." River held up the device on her wrist, which Clare had assumed was a digital watch. "Vortex manipulator. Very handy."
"So you can find the Doctor." Clare hadn't meant to sound envious, but the tone of longing in her own voice was painfully clear.
"It's not all as glamorous as he's making it sound." River jerked her frizzy head in the direction of the living room. "It's dangerous out there, Mrs. DeTamble."
"I know, but … "
"Exactly." River perched herself on one of the kitchen barstools. "So you wait, and I leave messages, and we hope like hell they'll come back to us because there's nothing else we can do."
Clare sat down next to her, feeling completely in sympathy with what the older woman was saying.
"Do you ever meet out of order?" she asked wistfully. "I mean … when he knows you, but you don't know him, or vice versa?"
River threw back her head and snorted a short laugh. "Oh, tell me about it! When I first met the Doctor, he knew everything about me – favorite food, secret plans for the future, birthmarks in places it's not polite to mention … these days I'm lucky if he remembers where I live. I need a diary just to keep track of him," digging into her purse and fishing out a battered blue book the same color as their time machine.
"When I met Henry, I was six years old," said Clare, smiling at the memory. "And he gave me a list of all the times he'd visit me so I could be prepared. And then when I saw twenty, I ran into a Henry who'd never seen me before. It was pretty disconcerting."
"What did you do?"
"Asked him out to dinner."
River sighed and leaned her elbows on the counter. "That day hasn't happened to me yet. I only hope I'll be as … poised about it as you are."
"You think I'm poised?" Clare laughed nervously. "Well, thanks … to be honest, I was really nervous. I started babbling about our marriage – he'd told me we were married in the future – and this twenty-eight-year-old stranger Henry looked at me like I was going crazy."
"I know the feeling."
The boiling kettle distracted them both for a moment. Clare stood up to pour it into the pot, anxiously considering how to phrase her next question.
"Dr. Song … "
"Call me River."
"River … are you from the future?"
"Me? Yes. Fifty-first century, actually. But don't ask the Doctor, he'll never admit to his real age."
"Oh … well, in that case … in your time, have they found a cure for chrono-impairment?"
River's big gray eyes softened with pity and regret. "I'm sorry, Clare."
She could not answer for the knot of disappointed tears building in her throat.
"DeTamble Syndrome," River explained. "That's what they call it. Your husband is famous for being the first recorded case. His life and death are the subject of countless scientists, authors and philosophers, so if the Doctor and I did cure him, we'd be changing history. I'm sure you know as well as I do … it can't be done."
"I had to ask." Clare blinked away her tears and picked up the teapot. "Just in case."
River opened her mouth to say something else, but Clare held up her hand in a sharp silencing gesture. "Don't! Don't tell me how he dies. I don't want to hear it."
She turned her back on River, picked up the teapot and headed across the room to rejoin the men. Watching them through the glass-paneled door between the kitchen and the living-room, she paused.
Henry, alive and content, his lean dark face lit up by the golden lamplight. Gesturing and talking to the Doctor a mile a minute, no doubt about genetic splicing or something equally complicated. Still wearing the Doctor's borrowed white shirt with blue stripes, oversized jeans and red sneakers. It was a beautiful sight.
"Just hold on," River said softly, over her shoulder. "Just hold on to every moment you have with him. It's the only thing to do."
"I do," said Clare. "Always have … always will."
"Good." River squeezed Clare shoulder like an older sister, and Clare trned back to smile at her in forgiveness. It's not your fault what you just told me. I know you're sorry.
"But Clare … don't give yourself up to waiting either. Make your art. Live a life of your own."
"Does that mean I'll be famous too?" Clare joked. "In the, what was it, fifty-first century?"
"I studied you in university," River replied, with a perfectly straight face. "Still have the essay I wrote, I think it got an A. Loved those paper birds."
Having been successfully talked from grief into embarrassment, a blushing Clare fled back into the living room.
Henry and Clare stood waving by the kitchen window, his arm around her shoulders, as they watched River and the Doctor disappear into the TARDIS, which proceeded to disappear in its turn – without any noise, since River had insisted on being the pilot.
"That Doctor is probably the most intelligent person I'll ever meet," Henry confided. "And the weirdest. I think I like him."
"Me too. And his wife is amazing."
"You sure she's his wife?"
"If she isn't now, she was once. Or she will be soon. Whatever."
"I trust your intuition." He dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
"It'll be okay."
He didn't have to explain. She knew exactly what he was talking about – the unattainable cure, the fture which could not be changed. Clare turned around to wrap her arms around her husband and bury her face in the shirt which the Doctor had refused to take back.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I love you too."
Just hold on to every moment you have with him. It's the only thing to do.