Chapter 25: "What did you do!?"
"Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality – not as we expect it to be but as it is – is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love." – Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
River opened her eyes and let out a groan when she saw where she was. The white room, with the single table and chair. "No, not back here," she moaned.
"What's wrong with here?" another voice queried. "Alright, maybe it's a little … bright, but it really is very peaceful, something I think we could both do with a little of after the week we've had."
River turned slowly, her eyes widening when she was him. The Doctor, in his tweed jacket and bow tie, with a grin on his familiar face. "How?" she whispered incredulously.
"That's a long story," he replied. "Do you want the short version or the long version?"
"Doctor" she said warningly.
"Right, the short version," he deduced. "Oh, and I'd prefer it if you call me Theta from now on. As of moments ago, the title of the Doctor belongs to someone else."
"Theta?" River rubbed a hand over her brow as if his words were hurting her head. Considering the complete unexpectedness of his presence and the incongruity of their situation, maybe they were.
"A nickname of sorts, a truncation of my full name," he offered with a shrug. "I used to be quite fond of it as a boy and I'm sure I'll get used to it again."
"Fine. Theta," she said with exaggerated patience. " Where are we?"
"Where are we in actuality or just a more general sort of where are we?" he queried, "because they aren't the same thing."
"Both!" she shot back impatiently.
The Doctor – "no, Theta," he reminded himself – bit back a sigh. She was as angry as he'd expected and he could hardly blame her. She was glaring at him, tapping her foot pointedly, clearly not open to being charmed just yet.
"Right, both," he tried for a smile that felt lame even to him. "We are at this point pure consciousness contained within the Third Power - a self-perpetuating energy modulated storage device from a distant future that will never exist; I believe said device is now sitting on a shelf in the TARDIS. As to where here is, wherever we want really, once you're done yelling at me and we decide together what we want it to look like."
"What did you do!?" she shouted, folding her arms over her chest and glaring at him even harder.
"Nothing!" he protested. "Well, I agreed to this of course, but otherwise, none of it was my doing. It was him, the Other, now the Doctor."
"But you regenerated. I saw it happen ... didn't I?"
"I did regenerate, yes, in a manner of speaking, although, now that I come to think of it, not really. No, to be completely accurate, I died and he took my place."
"Who is he? And before you answer, start making sense," River warned. "I have far more experience with this kind of existence and I can make things very hard for you before you catch up."
"Fine," Theta said, pouting just a bit. "He is the Other, the last of the Triumvirate, and you were right. When the weave created me it used his and only his genetic material. It was as we Gallifreyans have always feared – when the Leader, a true Gallifreyan transplanted into the future directly from the Other's own timeline, asked me for the name the Loom bestowed on me, because it was the moment when the cycles turned over, when the renewal energy was at its highest, I had to answer. I mean, I didn't try that hard to resist because I was too busy dying at the time but I don't think I could have. As soon as I said it I found myself within my own mind, talking to the Other. He'd been there all the time, my whole life, and he'd set it all up, the prophesy, the Kelad, you being as you are, and that I would be born to carry on his fight against Rassilon."
"But Rassilon is gone, they all are," River protested.
"True and at the same time, not true, not when you see time as a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey ... stuff," Theta agreed. "Omega was the Other's friend, his best friend. They grew up together and they plotted the fall of Pythia together, but when the time came, when Omega needed him most, the Other wasn't there. He didn't stop Rassilon from betraying Omega and he couldn't forgive himself for that. No amount of time, nothing that happened after they were all gone; the destruction of the planet, the planetary time lock – none of it was going to satisfy him because Rassilon got away with it. No one ever knew his true nature and the Other couldn't let that stand."
"But to manipulate everything in such an elaborate fashion," River pointed out. "I can't believe it."
"Well, it wasn't just to get his revenge," Theta allowed. "Rassilon went forwards and backwards and changed whatever he didn't like. He saw that the Other would reveal him so he took away any chance that anyone could go back to Gallifrey's past by locking out every TARDIS. All the Other had time for was to set up an opposing side, with me as his eventual spear head."
"So, he's going to go back and speak out now?" River asked. "Won't that create paradoxes all over the place?"
"He's already done it," Theta revealed. "That's why the regeneration took so long. The Other wasn't your average ordinary Time Lord, especially not after he threw himself into the Loom. While my regeneration was taking place he was able to use the energy to access the time vortex directly. He'd planned out every little step needed to time strip Rassilon of his powers and his rule over Gallifrey while maintaining everything else, including giving the Kelad what they most wanted and bringing the both of us here. When he was done he was forced to complete the regeneration, taking my place. Really, quite clever and exceedingly devious – he's very, very good."
"You let him replace you and you willingly agreed to this being our life from now on?" River accused, gesturing around them.
"I wondered when you were going to work that out," Theta commented casually. He was sure of what he'd decided – it was the only way and they'd work out how to make the most of it in time. "Yes, I let the Other replace me, and yes I gave my approval for the both of us to continue in this form."
"Even though the Kelad strived for years to undo their own very similar existence?" River continued evenly.
"Yes, even with that," Theta agreed. "You can yell at me, hit me, do whatever you need to but understand this. I won't regret it and I'd do it exactly the same if I could go back and be faced with the same choice."
"But we're stuck here! YOU'RE stuck here!" River did shout then. "I thought I'd made it clear to you how inadequate this way of being is. How could you know that and still do this to me, to us?!"
"I did it for us," Theta said forcefully. "You were the one who said we never caught a break. Well guess what honey? This is our break, and it's the best one we're ever going to get."
"I hate you!" she stormed away, throwing open the door and striding away. A door opened on the opposite wall and River stormed in. Her expression froze when she saw him standing there.
"I have a little mental skill myself," he said almost casually, "and I can't let you manipulate our surroundings so you can avoid me, not until we've got some basic agreements in place and some rules for how this is all going to work." He grimaced with a mock shudder. "I know – rules, and ones I actually intend to keep!"
River folded her arms, content to just glare at him some more.
"You would prefer me to have died?" he asked quietly.
"Right now, very much so, and me along with you," River returned.
He sighed, moving to sit at the table, resting his head in his hands. He could feel her watching him. If he waited long enough she'd notice other things, like the fact that they were sharing a highly advanced piece of technology that was connecting them in ways they'd never been connected before. Thankfully he was able to feel what she so stubbornly refused to let him see. When he'd reminded her that death had been his fate she'd felt a shaft of pain inside – she was using her anger to fuel the unfeeling façade she was presenting. She had yet to work out that there would be no protecting their emotions from each other, not anymore.
"You were that desperate not to let me go?" she finally asked in a calmer voice.
"You're beginning to understand how this is going to work; you already know how desperate," he replied. "Come and sit down," he urged, adding a "please," when she hesitated.
They sat in silence for a time, each lost in their own thoughts.
"We can't undo this?" River asked in a low voice.
"No, that moment is gone and there won't be another one," Theta replied. "Baring the total destruction of the TARDIS we're pretty much impervious to damage. Even then the Third Power might still survive."
"And we can't end it ourselves?"
"Nope – the failsafe is hard wired into the circuits. This is forever sweetie," he smiled, reaching over and lightly covering her hands with his. They both felt the shift of his energy to hers, an altered and heightened but still recognisable extension of the chemistry they'd always shared. "Is it really so bad?" he asked almost timidly. He actually felt nervous, waiting for her reply, aware that this was the most important and possibly the most messed up thing he'd ever done.
"No, I suppose not," River finally allowed. "I just don't think you fully understand all the limitations – you might regret this sooner than you think because it's frustrating being closed off from everything else, not knowing what's going on outside. It was for me and I can only imagine how much worse it will be for someone used to free access to information, past, present and future."
"Ah," he held up a finger, grinning. "You might not think I listen but I do. I registered all your objections, all the issues you had with Charlotte's world, and I discussed them with the Other at great length to ensure they were all dealt with. When I said we're on a shelf in the TARDIS, I should have added that we are in fact connected to some of her systems. We should be able to tap into them, for updates on what's going on out there. We won't be able to interact or influence anything but at least we'll know. As to your other objections, since most of them were around me not visiting you or trying very hard to save you, I hope my presence here cancels them out, especially now that you know how much the Other manipulated some of my actions."
"And the fact that it's not real, that nothing is here?" River asked quietly.
"Our system is far more sophisticated than Charlotte's was," Theta explained. "True, reality has taken on a different concept for us, but what we create will have substance within it and we're not constrained by the contents of a million books. We have the capacity for infinite growth really, and if we set ourselves up for an adventure I can guarantee that the ending won't already be written. Rather it will be as big a mystery as anything we experienced in the past. Any companions we bring to life to accompany us will have independence of action – we won't be controlling them once we set them in motion." He gave her an earnest look. "In time I hope we'll both forget that our reality isn't real in the same way it used to be, and just live together."
"You won't get bored of me?" River looked down at the table, her voice uncertain in a way he wasn't used to.
"River," Theta protested. "Woman, as if I could ever get sick of you! Don't you get it? I did all of this for you. I love you and personally I'm looking forward to spending eternity having adventures with you. I was hoping that you felt the same … counting on it really. If you don't then this was a mistake on the hugest of scales."
"I feel the same," River finally admitted, her lips turning up at the edges finally. It wasn't much but Theta took it as a positive sign that she would forgive him.
"You're willing to try it, to live our lives here as we would have out there?"
"Yes, okay, we'll try," River allowed.
"Excellent," Theta jumped to his feet, grabbing her hands and pulling her up beside him. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her, his exuberance so infectious that she laughed when he couldn't resist spinning her around.
"First up we need to design our accommodations," he said, lowering her back to the floor but keeping his arms locked in place. "All this white is really starting to hurt my eyes."
"No, first we need to fix your appearance," River countered.
"What's wrong with it?" Theta reared back and glanced down at his familiar clothing. "I thought you liked this version of me."
"I do, very much," River agreed, "especially this face," she added, patting his cheek. "But what is that thing you're wearing on your head?" River asked with amusement in her voice.
Putting a hand to his head Theta frowned. His special shadow repelling hat, the one he'd put on back on the Library planet! His day had been even more taxing than he realised if he was wearing a hat and hadn't known it. In fact, he thought he'd taken it off ages ago. "It's my sun hat," he declared. "Like it?"
"It's hideous," River replied.
"I suppose it is," Theta agreed, taking it off and glancing down at it. "I'm surprised you didn't comment immediately, given your prejudice against my hats."
"You weren't wearing it before," River explained. "This is the first I've seen of it."
"I wasn't?" Theta's brow rose. "That's interesting. I wonder why I'm wearing it now?" He chuckled suddenly. "The Other … do you think this was his, admittedly poor, attempt at humour?"
"Perhaps. Either way, it has to go, the outfit too – it's the Doctor's and that isn't you anymore," River declared. "You're Theta and I think he would enjoy a change."
"Well …. It is usual to revamp the image after regeneration," Theta allowed. "What about you then? I think I'd like the opportunity to help pick something out for you as well." River was imaged as she'd been when she'd been extracted from Charlotte's systems – there was nothing wrong with her outfit but getting her to try out various looks would be an interesting and arousing way to pass a few hours.
"Not on your life," she laughed, shaking her head. "You're the creature of habit who always wears the same thing. I'll be quite content with a wardrobe to choose from daily, like a normal person."
"Are you suggesting I'm not normal? Shame on you wife."
River laughed again. Slinging her arm around him she urged him to the door. "Come on," she said. "Time for me to have a little fun."
"This isn't payback is it?" he asked, following her out. A corridor emerged and they walked down it, still talking. The system was so sophisticated it could react and create what they needed seamlessly. They truly wouldn't notice that something not there was suddenly there. "I want to make it up to you River but there are certain things I refuse to wear, like pink, lederhosen, and anything made from Lycra."
"Hush now," River said. "I'm picturing you in hot pink tights."
"Please say you're joking," he pleaded as they entered a large walk in wardrobe full of lots of possible outfits.
"I'm joking," River laughed. "I'm the one that has to look at you my love. Trust me, okay."
"Always," he said immediately.
"And you don't have to make anything up to me," River added, more serious. "I had less than this before and I was alone – now I have you here with me and the freedom to create a new future. Thank you."
She leaned up and kissed him.
"You're welcome," he replied, smiling. Pulling her closer he kissed her again. When he stepped back she was watching him quizzically. "Just checking that everything works as it should," he admitted.
"Oh, it's all working," River all but purred. Giving him one of those looks – the sexy River thinking sexy thoughts variety – she eyed him up and down intently. "But don't let me stop you from experimenting … just to make sure."
Theta flushed – he could actually feel the heat rising over his face. "That's just not right," he muttered, turning away. Pure consciousness and she could still embarrass him! Was there no justice in the world?
River laughed, putting a hand to his back and patting him comfortingly. "You'll be all right," she murmured.
"We both will," he promised, turning back to her and taking both her hands in his, bending to press a kiss to each. They stood, watching each other silently for a few moments before Theta snapped out of it.
Clapping his hands, he turned to the array of clothes before him. "Outfits," he declared. "I wonder if we have anything in denim … I've always wanted a denim jacket. What do you think?"
"We'll see," River replied with a fond smile.
Well, that's the end of the story ... I have same vague thoughts about an epilogue but for now this one is done. Let me know what you thought!