The Storyteller

Parting Words

The meticulous lad even tried to keep the spot where he would die relatively clean. And he was brave. So brave. And so utterly utterly terrified as anyone would be.

Bernárd had stood there by the bulkhead before, imagining how his final moments would play out, and in hindsight it felt like a rehearsal.

The boy broke into laughter as he sank to his knees knowing what would happen next in this divine comedy. He could no longer remember his lines. He could only think of what he would've done, in the year of Neverwas and the time of Neverwhen.

I think he would've tried to make amends and do the right thing. And he was doing it then.

He never once felt at ease in his life: always travelling, always moving and never in the place he ought to be. Trapped between a rock and a hard place. If society had tolerated it he could've stood at his father's side with pride. Of course, then there was the uncertainty.

But in the final moments of his life there was none. He was terrified but something inside him was telling him that this was the place where he had to be. Even if he didn't want to.

It was the second time he'd seen that dawn that day, for both of them. But only one of them would live to see the night.

And the second time around, living through that fateful day, would prove to be much easier than before now that time had been rewritten, but I didn't know how much. The Nemoes had been ripped from the pages of history. Everything was still in flux. The rift in time had closed in every second and yet people remembered. They remembered two very different days. Bernárd would only remember one.

He'd told Jack everything and of course the captain knew what it all had to mean. He knew it more than anyone. The boy and the body and the body and the boy.

Jack zapped him into the past with the last remaining power in his vortex manipulator, taking him to his death. Shot him when he tried to run away. The poor boy didn't stand a chance.

"But he promised..."

Reality started to dawn on him. The word had been carved into his mind as much as it had been carved into the bulkhead. Or at least, as it would be. He hadn't put it there yet.

"You saved me before. In the tunnels," Bernárd told Jack. "You could've just left me there in the first place and none of this would've happened."

"Yeah..." Jack replied, smiling faintly. One day had felt like a hundred years and someday the feeling would be reversed for him.

Jack knew the boy's death would anchor the fledgling fluctuating outcomes to a single fixed point. Everything else would draw around that conclusion. Time would fix itself, with only minor anomalies, and Jack the soldier knew what needed to be done. I ran from the outcome. Jack didn't.

History would forget Bernárd's sacrifice but Jack never would. Nor I.

Some stories need to be told. There's never just collateral damage. There are good people caught in every blast.

A new day dawned on the city of lights. Come nightfall Jack would find us again.

A curtain of falling wet snow had just faded into the dark when the bells of the Notre Dame chimed midnight. The sound of Emmanuel would have any man quiver in his boots.

The TARDIS materialized in a patch of wet grass; one out of four circling a monument at the centre of this Parisian square. The monument was a plaster sculpture of a very confident looking woman standing atop a decorated globe which was in turn carried by a triumphant cart pulled by two magnificent lions guided by two women, a man and two children. Their faces full of hope.

'The Triumph of the Republic' it was called, built to inaugurate the centennial celebrations of the French revolution.

The statues looked out in the distance to the west where the July Column stood at the centre of the Place de la Bastille.

But this was the Place de la Nation (or Place du Trône or Place du Trône-Renversé depending on the time. I bet Neanderthals just called it 'grassy knoll'.) A square of perfect circles within circles in the shade of the trees and at its entrance stood two tall columns surmounted by the statues of kings Philip II and Louis IX.

I wondered whether royal blood had been spilled in this square.

None in the city got any real sleep that night. Carriages were still for not a soul would've dared to go out into the streets afraid of the ghosts and echoes of the past and future. It would take time for the fear of Eiffel's Tower to pass and that superstition to die. There'd be protests, obviously, complaints and lots of bad poetry about the Tower for many years to come but those people would fade away while Eiffel's metal Tower would withstand the tides of time. But still it would be hard to live in its shadow till century's end had passed.

The city was quiet when finally the bells died down. Not even dogs barked, but the chime was still ringing in our ears.

Jack was waiting. He came from out of the rain towards the TARDIS, practically beaming with delight at seeing her again. At seeing me.

Amy rushed through the doors creaking and practically throwing herself on Jack's longcoat. Cold puddles splashed beneath her boot.

"Hey, gorgeous," she said sexy and he smiled. I'd caught her fixing her hair in the reflection of the TARDIS viewscreen turned off at the time. I told her Jack was waiting for her. Run along Pond.

She didn't want me thinking it was a big deal to her. Kept saying she wasn't the marrying type.

"You stole my line," Jack grinned at her and he could barely fight off her kiss. He ripped his lips away from hers. Jack the Ripper.

"Now where were we? You want to continue where we left off?" she asked teasing.

Jack smiled from ear to ear but his infamous charm would lose out to a growing sense of desperation within him. His pulse started to race because the bulb of the TARDIS wouldn't dwindle.

"Maybe later," he said while moving her aside. "Right now I have to see the Doctor."

"No, you can't," Amy told him, splashing back into the time-traveller's path again. "He said he won't talk to you."

"What?"

Like I need defending:

"Don't. He just gets like that. He's had a rough day. Just let him be and he'll be fine in a couple of minutes."

But sadly Jack couldn't stand waiting any longer. Not this close.

"You don't understand. I need to talk to him. Seriously, my life depends on it. I'm sorry. I've just been waiting for this moment a long time."

He knocked on the blue front door and laughed desperately that he had to knock again, knowing it'd just been unlocked mere moments before. I'd locked it.

"Doctor! Oh, no. You're not doing this to me again! Not now!"

He'd endured all day without answers. He had been so angry and so bitter for so long, for decades, but he'd forgotten how much fun it had been running alongside me. Saving the universe took priority.

He wanted answers but what could I tell him? He weren't to know of his future. He's a fixed point in time and space because of his immortality. I couldn't give him any spoilers no matter how hard he begged for it.

"'Aloha'. That's what the Hawaïans say, which is very apt since it means both 'hello' and 'goodbye' at the same time.

"Aloha," the Doctor said as he weakly waved a hand at Denise and she smiled just as faintly. He dropped it, shifting awkwardly beside the nurse sitting on the side of Amy's bed.

"Of course, in France it's 'Au Revoir'. Literally, 'till we see each other again'," the Doctor continued. "which is beautiful in its own way. Lies always are."

His eyelids grew heavier.

"If I ever have last words that's what I'd like them to be," he continued. "Just that. 'Goodbye.'

A very good bye. The best."

Denise started crying.

"I'm sorry..." the Doctor said.

"No, it's not you," she said.

"Is it your sister?" the Doctor asked.

All this time she was helping so many others face the aftermath of their darkest hours that she'd neglected her own. Trying to do the right thing, what her sister would've wanted her to do, had been her way of atoning, she guessed. Now she hated herself for it; this and her unintended hypocrisy. She'd told the Doctor 'someone should remember their faces' and it wasn't a lie, but she couldn't bear to think of the death of her sister.

She could barely raise her voice to tell him. Saying it out loud meant that it had actually happened. With every passing second her sister would merely become a footnote in the story of her life, fading into the background or disappearing into thin air.

Back home there was still a drawing with her name on it hidden in a hatbox under her bed.

She missed her so much. She missed her strength.

"She died. Last week. Typhoid..." Denise mustered. "It wasn't pretty..."

The Doctor pouted. "It never is."

When she started to cry even harder the Doctor panicked. He tried to apologize saying he didn't mean to drag her sister into this but she said she was all right. More lies...

She hadn't even been there when she died. Never caught her last words. Never said goodbye. And now she'll never know.

"It's not your fault," the Doctor said generically.

"I'm not a child!" Denise snapped back, although she wished to be. To return to those simpler days, those happier days together at their grandmother's farm.

"Every story has an ending. A final page. Death gives us size. Gives us meaning..."

He tried to be comforting. He just wasn't very good at it.

"Your sister was your inspiration to you. Of course she would've wanted you to cry. It's a sad death that no-one cries for, or a very pitiful one. Like a good friend of mine once said: 'It's not the years of my life that matter, but the life in my years.' Was she happy? Would she have wanted you to be happy? Then do something about it!

Make her death matter. Make it count. Life is what you make of it!

Life isn't always wonderful. It's complex and layered and big and small and simple all at the same time. One butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo doesn't normally affect anything big. Sometimes things just follow the usual patterns. Those are your Tuesdays and your boring Wednesdays and your Thursdays and Fridays...but ever so often there comes along a Saturday when impossible and amazing things happen...all because a butterfly flapped its wings."

"My sister is a butterfly?"

"Quite possibly..." the Doctor tried to save it but it was beginning to slip through his fingers. "But no. Time is flexible. Time cán be rewritten. In small ways...in BIG ways...The future is yours."

"And what about my sister's future? What about Bernárd's future?"

It was the Doctor's turn to fall silent, if just for a short while.

"Jack..." he started to tell. "pounded the doors of the TARDIS one last time before I stepped outside into the dark."

"Doctor," he said.

"Jack," I replied.

I told Amy to get back in the TARDIS.

"Why?"

"Just get inside. Nikola needs more bandages."

"He's got plenty," Amy replied seeing right through my lie. "What don't you want me to hear? Doctor, what's wrong?"

"He's angry," Jack chuckled. He mocked me so Amy told him off with a slap on his shoulder.

"Be nice," Amy told me.

"No," I said tired. "No, this isn't one of those days."

"No, is this the day you dump me again?" he interjected hurt. "After all I've been through to find you? Why, Doctor?"

And I'm ashamed to say I got mad at him. I projected all my pent up anger at the captain and all the ache I'd suffered that fateful day and it hurt my throat just to say it.

"This isn't about you! Why does always everything have to be about you?"

"How can you be so wrong? Everything I do has been for you!"

I bit my lip in quivering rage.

"Everything?"

"Everything," Jack said. "For two decades. And you give me nothing."

I started to shake. I could barely stand on my own two feet anymore. I could barely see. It started to worry Amy.

"Doctor, are you all right?"

"Captain..." I said. "Why don't you tell Amy what happened to Bernárd? You remember him, don't you?"

The general told me when I was rummaging through his stuff to save Nikola. I think I made a mess of his dataroom but strangely he let me.

"He told me you made him a promise," the general told me. He asked me what to tell Gustave and for a second I considered lying.

"Jack, what's he saying?" Amy asked. She remembered the boy that had stood by Gustave Eiffel's side beyond her cell bars and she remembered the body we found on the Eifffel Tower. Jack remembered him too. They had both died that morning but only one of them woke.

Foreknowledge had changed the details.

That new day two bodies would have been found on the Eiffel Tower and in the bulkhead would be carved a new word. Innocent Bernárd had carved it with his last breaths and scratched it into the metal until his hands started to bleed. In his final moment he decided to take control of the little he had left. The bulkhead rewritten, said:

TORCHWOOD

Jack watched in horror how Amy backed away from him.

"You waited two decades," I said to him. "but you will have to wait far longer because I won't help you."

"I didn't have any other choice! It had to happen!"

"Time had been rewritten! It didn't have to happen!"

"I couldn't save him!"

"You could've tried!"

"Doctor, we both know that if I hadn't done what I did we wouldn't be here having this conversation! And you know that! Time consuming paradoxes like that would've ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. The boy hád to die. So don't blame me. You knew all along this would happen! One kid to save the universe. That's it."

"An innocent dies and that's it?"

"Look, I'm sorry, but there's nothing left to say about it. What's done is done."

"Then it's over. Done. Your words, not mine."

Jack grinned. He couldn't believe it. "If that's the way you really feel about it..."

"I do."

"So it's over..."

His eyes wandered to Amy and she looked away.

"But Doctor...what about me? My condition?"

"I can't fix you, Jack," I said to him. "But you already know that."

"I can't die!"

"The irony isn't lost on me. We'll meet again one day, but not like this."

Maybe one day I'd forgive him. Just not today.

"I'm not your Doctor anymore."

Jack left into the night and at the moment the final chime had struck midnight it was the 7th of May 1889. But the night was young and far from over.

"Where does that leave us?" Jack asked Amy. A question and then a broken smile, but Amy couldn't stand to talk to him any longer. She didn't know what to say or what to feel. Fear or disgust or disappointment; they all disappeared into the void. A silence no conversation could fill.

Jack smiled again because he knew what was about to come to pass. A cruel universe conspired to put a wedge between him and his answers. His cure. Even his happiness.

"I can't believe you did that," Amy said. She couldn't even look him in the eyes.

"It's not who I am. Ask the Doctor. He knows I'm a good man. Tell him to come back for me. Tell him to forgive me."

"Is that all you want?"

"That and maybe your phone number."

"What?" she said. "Are you serious? Are you being serious...right now?"

Jack was lost for words. Amy had taken his breath away. She's as sharp as a knife. She cuts straight to the point. She's far cleverer than anyone thinks, even herself...

"No, Amy, I'm not trying...just please..." Jack tried to piece together. "Listen, I'm sorry. I'll do better. Be better."

"You better be."

His smile vanished as Amy wiped away a tear. She was done.

"I should get back in case the Doctor needs me."

"Should I call you? 1989, huh?" Jack desperately tried one final time but she'd stopped listening.

She slammed the door in his face. It slammed so loud he still heard it 100 years later. He knew he deserved it. He yelled he was sorry but the TARDIS didn't care. He'd been so desperate. So alone.

Releasing the TARDIS handbrake felt like tugging a heartstring. For Amy the deathly silence would become unbearable. She'd stormed out of her conversation with Jack to unleash her wrath upon me.

"Is this what you do?" she said furious. She didn't even know what she was saying anymore. She just had to take it out on someone. "You're a bad influence on people."

"That hurts," I said.

In the orange light she looked even more pristine ginger. Sometimes there's beauty in anger.

"What did he mean when he said you knew all along?"

I pretended to be busy piloting the TARDIS.

"When are you finally going to talk to me? Ever?"

"I can't tell you."

"Can't or won't?"

"Because if I did then you'd hate me."

"I already hate you," she spoke savagely while I tried to keep the peace.

"No, you don't."

She wasn't objective anymore. She wasn't talking sense. Emotions had gotten the best of her and I should know. They'd overtaken me. I changed the subject knowing she'd hate me for it. I'd make it up to her. I'd bring her someplace nice and quiet later. No monsters or shenanigans this time. Just beauty, somewhere out there in the cosmos. A place of calm, because right now this wasn't it.

This conversation had become too serious for my tastes. There was a mood in the TARDIS that just wouldn't disperse. An angerness that clotted the silence as if a big cartoon stormcloud was hovering over our heads. It had to stop, before someone would get hurt.

"Oi, Nikola! Stop fiddling with the TARDIS! Get out of there! Humans! You're like children! I leave you alone for five seconds and you're already dissecting my engine!"

Oh, I loved that about humans.

The Serbian-born American immigrant rose from underneath the TARDIS suspiciously rebuttoning his sleeves. He was still fragile. Ever so often he'd get a shock from the things he came in touch with or actually, quite the reverse, as he shocked everything else. He became afraid of what would happen if he touched things. The very air was charged by his presence.

"I feel very peculiar," he said and I couldn't tell if he was distressed or simply fascinated.

He was still looking rather pale since we'd patched his neutrons and tied his atoms back to this dimension.

"Don't worry," I said. "The effects will fade in time when you've reassimilated with reality."

Amy was still pouting as she'd sat down in one of the leather springy seats by the stairs.

"But right now I'd be more than glad if you would refrain from touching things."

A sharp bolt of lightning then shot from Nikola's hand as it connected to the TARDIS core.

"And don't point at things! As a matter of fact, just put your hands in your pockets for now. That'll do. Trust me."

"With pleasure," Nikola added as he let them slide into his worn black tuxedo pants.

I spinned on the spot peering over everything but I couldn't find him.

"Where's Simon?" I said clasping my hands together with a smile.

"Who?" Nikola said.

I rushed up the staircase after a thought but would emerge out from under the lower doorway after having cut a corner. It's easy when you know how. Breaks the ice at parties.

"What's the point in showing you all of time and space when you're not there to see it?" I nattered.

"I'm not known for my patience," the Doctor told Denise. "However I have been telling this story for over 7 hours now. Or 2 years depending on your point of view."

"He's in the Zero Room!" Amy finally said.

"What's he doing in there?" I yelled back at her from the other side of the control room.

"What'd you think?"

Nemo was in there, recovering. Simon had his eye on him from the start. But before I could even make a step into their direction they had already joined us in the control room.

His voice came from the lower levels.

Simon walked up the stairs into the console room but his eyes were filled with fear. We thought he'd been the one that yelled but then we saw the man behind him pushing a gun into his back. Nemo's mind had finally found solid ground.

Simon talked to him in his absent state of mind, while the former captain muttered like a madman. He thought another man's mutterings would make no difference.

No-one had listened to him all day and he didn't think anyone ever would.

He was wrong.

"Remember me?" Nemo said. He pushed Simon away below and pointed the gun at us. We realized we probably had to put our hands in the air.

Still the prisoner obsessed with escape, he sought out all exits and lost track of the TARDIS inner architecture. MC Escher would've loved it.

"Your ship..." he said. "It's magnificent."

"Thank you," I said proud.

"I'll take it."

"Not really the response I was looking for. I'm not selling."

"I'm not buying," Nemo said.

"You just lost your ship!"

"Because of you!" he rightly pointed out.

"So, what now? You're just going to try again? Start over?"

"Maybe I will."

"Is that what you really want?" I told him. "To just go back to who you were? This isn't your life anymore, Nemo. Everything's changed now. And you can change too. If you want to."

"I don't need to change."

"You don't really believe that," Amy told him. "I was in your mind, remember? I read your thoughts."

"That was a lifetime ago," he grumbled. She managed to distract him briefly, but not long enough for me to reach anything. My hands were still up.

"You told me I would have another life! A better life! So why am I still here?"

"I don't know," I admitted. Amy didn't know why I was looking at her then. She still doesn't.

"But let me find out," I pressed on. "Let me help you. Tell me what you remember. What happened in your other life? What changed?"

"Nothing changed. Nothing ever changes," Nemo said. "My life was changed even before I was born and it still doesn't change who I am. There were thousands of versions of me on that flight deck wrapped in chains. Alone I am no-one."

"That was then. This is now! You can change that! You can change all of it!"

"How, Doctor? What can one man do? I don't even have a name!"

"You are Nemo," I told him. "Remember. You have a new life now. You are-"

That's when the impossible occurrred to me.

"My home is long gone. All I had was my ship and even that you took away from me."

The paradox was still unwinding. Time was still changing. The fluctuations must've hidden him from me. I should've been able to sense it but he was wrapped in layers and layers of temporal anomalies. And his face! Maybe that was yet to happen, yet to change...

I didn't know at the time.

"The universe isn't fair," he said. Again. "Maybe it's not me that should change. It's the universe that should change!"

I just started to realize that I had met him before, a second time, at the heart of a glass dimension...a man without a name. No-one. Nemo. Nameless.

He would peer into the untempered schism and see the shadow. He was a Time Lord and he barely knew it. He was an echo travelling in reverse. Where was the source of the sound? Lost in time?

This was him before he got trapped there somehow. He'd told me I was the one to have imprisoned him there. By accident or intent? I didn't know. That was all yet to come. And Penny...

"I won't be at another man's mercy ever again. No-one should be," he said. "You were right, Doctor. It's what you told me. I can change the future. Change the past. I can strive to be better. I can make the universe better. That is who I am. That is my birthright."

"What?!"

"You were your own undoing and now you'll be the universe's undoing!" I exclaimed. "D'you think that's an improvement?!"

He ignored me.

"Ask yourself this, Doctor," he said to me as he slowly aimed his weapon in between my eyes.

"Would the universe be a better place without you in it?"

And I smiled at death.

"Good question," I said quite confidently, because there was really nothing to fear from an empty gun. I watched him empty his clip hours ago.

Of course in times like those you do wonder whether there's one shot left in the chamber. It only takes one to change your life. One butterfly flapping its wings.

"Arguably, the best question."

"Yes," Amy said and the stormcloud vanished.

Through a veil of fears and tears she stood up and made her stand. She stood up for me. She forgave me. And I didn't cry. I definitely didn't cry.

"Besides," I finally managed to utter. "Your gun clip's empty."

After a momentary stare came a sigh and he relented. Nemo let the gun fall to the floor where it bounced off the glass.

"Goodbye, Doctor," he said and within moments I watched him flip open his time vortex manipulator a second time that day (but not in chronological order) and with a few buttons and a flash he'd disappeared into thin air. He was gone.

But we would meet again.

"Anyone for some ice-cream?" I said, breaking the tension. Amy dodged my smile. More lies.

I dropped Nikola off at his hotel telling him I would gladly meet him again one day (and I would) and I think he took Nemo's gun. Or at least I never found it again...

Some say Nikola Tesla tried to invent a raygun in his lifetime. I say he tried to reverse engineer one. Oh, what a legend.

And Simon...I think he went on to found UNIT...or at least the idea of UNIT. A Unified Intelligence Task Force. He too was a man ahead of his time, for the world wouldn't accept his vision for another three to six decades. A vision of an united Earth banding together against an even bigger threat from outer space. And time.

You can't say fear isn't a good motivator for change.

And as for Amy...

I took her to see the Eiffel Tower's wedding. I thought she might like the change of scenery and besides I'm a sucker for ending stories with a wedding. It was a sunny day in 2007 and it was a great ceremony. I even got a new bow tie just for the occasion.

I think a little bit of Validium survived to merge with the remaining Tower's metal and is finally at peace. I think that's all it wanted in the end. Just a little bit of love.

We gave our best wishes to the newlyweds. An American in love with the Eiffel Tower. Who would've seen that coming?

Amy cheered them on plus even wooing them (imagine the honeymoon), but when the ceremony ended and the noises died down we walked in the Tower's shadow. Just talking. It was the calm I'd promised her.

We were a few years off but already she felt more at ease. More at home. She even made more nasty comments about my bow tie.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she finally asked quietly. A soft wind blew across the vast square.

"I was busy," I said. I don't know what to do with my hands when I'm nervous so I just put them in my pockets.

"You know how it goes. We got separated. Then the Eiffel Tower got stolen. And then you were in an iron mask and pirates were trying to kill us and then a glass castle...It's all a bit of a mess when you think about it."

She laughed. She was better now.

I would've told her there were more fish in the sea despite how corny that may have sounded. I would've told her she still had a future waiting for her somewhere, even though she probably wouldn't believe me.

When she caught me staring I pretended to look over her shoulder.

"Travelling with me," I said to her finally. "Is it worth it?"

I needed to know.

"Of course," she said.

"Worth the risk, I mean."

A faint smile blossomed.

"What have I got to lose?"

Everything. That's what I was afraid of, except I didn't say that part out loud. Instead I smiled and lead her back to the TARDIS.

It was time for some well-earned rest.

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