The Porter and the Doctor’s other self stood facing each other, like two armies aiming and ready to fire.
“You can leave, you know,” said that other Doctor softly. “You’re the Porter. Your story doesn’t have to end like this.”
The Porter smiled.
“Quite right,” he said. “We do get to choose how it ends. That’s what I believe, now. It’s why I’m staying right where I am.”
The Doctor looked at her other self; who hadn’t even registered she was there. There was so much she couldn’t work out about the woman who she had once been. But she could still see that expression in her eyes, the one she’d had so often herself. The moment that hope becomes impossible. Her other self had wanted the Porter to run.
“This isn’t how I imagined it,” said that other Doctor. “So many lifetimes we’ve fought. So many secrets we’ve shared. As friends. Lovers”—
“Wait, what?!” said the Doctor, before she could stop herself. The other Doctor’s eyes widened, noticing her for the first time.
“It’s you!” she said. “Which is to say, it’s me! I didn’t notice me there. I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“Isn’t it funny?” said the Porter. “You wait ages to see a Doctor, then two come along at once. I’d hoped rewriting your body would blast some sense into you. But you’re as ruthless as you ever were.”
He nodded over to the Doctor at the side of the room, who desperately tried to look very fierce and imposing.
“Yes,” said the other Doctor wryly. “I must be a handful. I can see that from how incredibly injured you look.”
“I’ve been using my words,” said the Doctor. “Horrible, violent words.”
The Porter’s voice rang in her head telepathically, desperately. Time Lords could do that, in the direst of emergencies. But it would take energy out of you to do it, energy she wasn’t sure the Porter could afford to spare.
“You won’t fool her like this,” his voice said in her head, with far more fear in it than the voice he spoke out loud. “There’s no way round it. You have to really hurt me.”
“Yes, I’ve been hurting him with my words, alright!” said the Doctor. “And my gun, of course.”
She hit him hard on the head with the back of it.
“Ow!” said the Porter. Maybe she shouldn’t have hit him that hard. She thwacked him more lightly with the base of the weapon again, her other self laughing as she watched.
“When will you learn?” that other self said. That’s not the violent end of a gun!”
“I don’t see you using yours!” said the Doctor.
“Of course not,” replied her other self. “It’s like I said. We use whatever we have to hand. If someone meets a terrible end and I happen to be around? Well. Then that’s just the way things are.”
She looked around the room, which had been ugly before it was ruined. To human eyes it would look utterly unremarkable, but that other Doctor was regarding it with awe.
“And there’s so much to work with here,” she said. “A place as thin as this. With so many deadly timelines seeping through...”
She looked at the Porter and sighed heavily. By her waist, her fingers began to wiggle and click.
“I’m sorry,” she said to the Porter. “You must understand that. The Oath of the Doctor has never been one of malice.”
“No,” said the Porter. “And that has been no comfort to the dead who are left in its wake.”
In the other Doctor’s fingers a tiny point of light was growing, white as could be, nuclear as a bomb. A point in space and time where the Planet Earth was ending. Harnessed, now. And seeping through.
“Use your screwdriver, if you must,” said that Doctor to her aghast future self. “Provide the sound. I’ll take care of the fury.”
“Do it,” said the Porter in her mind. “And you can’t hold back. I’ve trusted you. Now, you must trust me.”
With an expression as enthusiastic as she could manage, the Doctor drew out her screwdriver and winced as its frequency blared, as it flew to a level beyond what she’d even imagined. To a place above sound, above hypersound, into waves that could rip and tear at the atoms themselves—
—and the other Doctor was twiddling her hands as huge blasts of energy came out of nowhere, screaming out of another timeline into theirs. The blasts pulsed with radiation and the sound made them radiate more, cracking apart whatever atoms were still in that fire, making sure they’d do damage that not even a Time Lord could survive.
Although the Porter couldn’t survive this anyway, of course. Streams of fire hotter than the sun, focused directly at the place where his body had been. But as those streams died down again to nothing, the Doctor boggled with astonishment. The Porter still stood before them, his fine, stately clothes unsinged.
“That’s impossible,” the other Doctor said.
“And yet it appears to have happened,” said the Porter. “Take it from the playwrights of this world, Doctor. There are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”—
The other Doctor chuckled, cutting him off.
“Oh, I know my Shakespeare, Porter,” she said. “Don’t think I never walk a world before it dies. It’s right to understand what’s being lost, after all. Its art. Its poetry…”
The nuclear fire the other Doctor had summoned hadn’t damaged the ruined ward around them at all. The floor remained unblackened; the air still wasn’t warm. It really wasn’t warm, in fact, the Doctor noticed. It felt like nuclear winter might have come early over the hospital, forming ice crystals on the edge of the shattered beds. She shivered to herself, hoping it wouldn’t look like she was afraid.
“It’s a Cold War here,” her other self was saying, “but out there is a war that’s colder still. I can feel it in the breeze; can’t you? An ending stranger than one full of radiation.”
The Porter raised an eyebrow.
“A change in the weather isn’t enough to threaten me,” he said, though the Doctor saw that he was shivering too.
“Oh, but this is so much more,” said the other Doctor. “The ice revenge of the Neanderthal Moon, that begs for humanity to join it in extinction. Can’t you feel the chill of it blowing now? Like I said, Porter. I know my poetry…”
Snatches of other Earths were flickering on the walls of the ward. Flaming ruins; frozen and broken cities. The Porter’s face was growing paler. The air around them was getting cold.
“Some say the world will end in fire,” said the other Doctor, conversationally, not like she was quoting a poem. “Some say in ice.”
“From what I’ve tasted of desire?” she asked, wiggling her fingers again. She shrugged, and the Doctor could feel the temperature change as the air ignited around her other self.
“I hold with those who favour fire,” that other self now said. “But if it had to perish twice?”
“Don’t do this,” said the Porter, softly, all his composure gone. He looked truly scared, now. The Doctor hadn’t known that he could.
Her other self’s hands were in the air now, wiggling like they were caught in the wind.
“I THINK I KNOW ENOUGH OF HATE!” she bellowed, icicles forming around her body, cold mist swirling around her as if she was lost in the fog. “TO SAY THAT FOR DESTRUCTION, ICE”—
–the icicles hurtled towards the Porter, and it looked like the other Doctor was doing nothing at all to make them fly–
–“Is also great,” she said softly. “And would suffice.”
Underneath the Porter a huge column of ice erupted, freezing around him before he could respond, trapping his body as it was thrust up into the air. The Doctor winced as one icicle slammed into one of his hearts, then a second smashed into the other. That meant total respiratory failure was imminent. There’d be no regeneration possible after that.
In the gravest of circumstances, one Time Lord could contact the mind of another. But it was exhausting; draining. To do it while you were in danger was foolish, if you didn’t absolutely have to. But that still didn’t mean that the Doctor now had any choice.
“You trusted me, Porter,” she now called out in her mind. “And I never trusted you. So now I want you to see it. The person your killer becomes.”
She opened her mind as much as she could, to show him as much of her lives as she could bear. The Wirrin and the Sklad and the Hoix and the Atraxi; there’d been all sorts of creatures who’d come here; he’d see there’d been so very many. All trying to take down the Earth, as her other self tried to do now. But they’d all found what that other self might find, too. This world was defended by someone. The Porter deserved to know who.
His eyes widened as he took it in.
“I see it now,” he said, hoarsely. “The Doctor wins.”
He looked the Doctor’s other self right in the eyes.
“You win!” he said. “Whatever happens.”
He gasped for breath.
“And there’s nothing that I can do to change it,” he said.
The two Doctors looked up at him, wondering if he might say something more. But the Porter’s eyes were as lost and glazed as ice. He was dead, now. Whatever his story had been.
“If only he’d thought the same five minutes ago,” said the other Doctor softly. “This didn’t work out how I wanted.”
“No,” said the Doctor softly. “I find that things rarely do. They all go mad. Even if you think you know the ending.”
“The world gets away with murder in the middle.”