One of them, the younger boy, discovered a crack in time and space. A split in the skin of his world riding along the edge of a corridor at his school. Of course, he didn't know that's what it was. Only one of them would find out exactly what it was, and that wouldn't be for a very, very long time.
The younger boy's first instinct was to tell his best friend, a boy a few years his senior, what he'd found. The older boy was far more popular and pretty, with shoulder-length blond hair he kept wild and unruly, despite what their teachers told them. The younger boy, dark-haired and far too skinny and short to be considered pretty, always stood a bit in his shadow, but that was all right. Best friends didn't need to worry about things like that. Especially when it came to adventure. And this crack? This crack was adventure.
Of course, the final student, a plucky and pretty girl twice their age, overheard and became interested. She said she overheard, at least, though the younger boy suspected she was spying on them. Something weird going on at the school was always something to be interested in.
"We don't need you here, you know," the older boy told her as he flipped on a torch and led them down the hallway. "Been at this school long enough, I think the two of us can handle it."
"Don't be absurd. The two of you are more likely to do something stupid and get yourselves killed," the girl said, flipping back her long hair.
The younger boy snorted. "She has got a point, you know. Always in trouble, you and me."
"Yeah, yeah, don't go taking her side all the time," the older boy said. "People will think you fancy her."
The girl looked at the younger boy with no small amount of disgust, which was mirrored in the younger boy's face. They were only sort-of friends, the girl tagging on sometimes while the boys caused their own trouble and had adventures. And, really, there was someone else the younger boy fancied who never really seemed to notice.
"Here we go."
But there it was. The crack along the side of the wall. Like a sinister smile, splitting two sections of glass and marble. The older boy, always the more adventurous of the trio, hopped ahead first.
"Careful," the younger boy said, reaching his hand out to stop his friend. "It's a bit weird. I heard voices. And…stuff."
"You always hear voices," the girl snapped, crossing her arms. "And music nobody can hear."
"Shut up," the younger boy said, irritated.
"You should really let me examine your brain some time," the girl offered with false pleasantness that didn't really suit her.
"You two," the older boy said. "Stop it. He's right, this isn't just some crack." He stepped up and placed his ear against the crack. "It sounds like…I don't know. Traffic, I think."
"Traffic?" the girl asked, incredulous. "In the middle of the great hall. You must be mistaken."
"Listen for yourself."
The girl stepped over to the older boy and pressed her ear against the wall. The sounds of roaring traffic came through the glass and wall, though nothing was on the other side of it. A few blasts of a car horn, too. Somewhere on the other side of the crack was a very active city street.
The younger boy stood aside, tapping his thigh with his fingertips nervously. "You see? I told you it was weird. Should we tell Professor---"
"I bet we can open it," the older boy said, suddenly excited.
"Don't be stupid," the girl said.
"Do you think we could?" the younger boy asked. He was much more nervous than the older boy, but he was trying very hard not to show it.
"Yeah, let me see that broom over there, I think it'll about fit on this side."
The younger boy dashed to the thin-handled broom leaning against the wall and handed it over to his friend. The older boy pressed the side against the crack and began to slowly work it in, trying to get a clearer line of sight.
"It's just a crack, what makes you think it's going to widen?" the younger boy asked.
"It's not just a crack, it's a rift. I read about these things, they have them all over the place. Could be a rift in time and space, could be a rift to the shop down the street. You don't know until you open it." The older boy was significantly more well-read in this topic.
"And what if it is a rift in time and space?" the younger boy asked.
The older boy shot him a wide, almost manic grin. "Then we go through it."
"Do you really hate it here that much?" the younger boy asked.
The older boy looked back at him. "D'you really have to ask that?"
No, of course he didn't. The two of them had been friends long enough that the older boy's hatred for this place was almost something they both felt. The older boy had no wealthy family, of course, and his mother had died some years before, leaving him with a bitter father and a family who only sort of wanted him. Escape was the only option.
"That isn't going to work," the girl said, crossing her arms indignantly. "And even if it did, you don't know what's going on here and you're being stupid if you try. You're going to get yourselves killed, or expelled. For the two of you, I’m not sure which is worse---"
The older boy stopped what he was doing and looked over at the girl. "Have I ever told you just how amazingly reassuring and wonderful you are?"
The girl blinked. "No."
"There's a reason for that. Now either help, shut up, or go tell on us, I haven't got time to listen to you."
The girl's mouth dropped in indignation, but she simply silenced. The older boy was far from surprised, she was always the sort who only acted like she wasn't as curious as she was.
The younger boy stepped up behind his friend. "What can I do?"
"Keep an eye on the crack, see if you can see it widening," the older boy grunted.
The younger boy moved next to the girl and stared. The crack didn't move. And again. Still nothing.
"Wait," the girl said, suddenly. "Did you see that?"
"See what?" the younger boy asked.
"I thought---" She shook her head. "No, it must've---"
Without warning, the crack suddenly lit up, bright and vibrant against the dark of the school hallway. The older boy jumped back, beaming at the crack as it opened, revealing a bright city street. Strange, alien, with colors and lights that none of them had ever even dreamed of. The girl and younger boy stood and gaped. Unlike the older boy, they'd never dreamed of this sort of a moment.
The older boy turned to them and grinned. "Let's check it out."
He stepped one foot into the crack, then bent over, placing himself through. On the other side was an alien street, all broken and gravelly, with a strangely colored sky, something completely unlike anything the older boy had ever seen before. He took a few steps further and was nearly hit by what appeared to be a steam-powered motor vehicle.
Tuneless music blared from a gritty screen in a window, and all around him aliens that looked very similar to him walked around, obsessed with their own devices and children and shopping, completely oblivious to the boy standing there, completely oblivious to the giant crack in one of their shop walls.
"This is brilliant," he said, awed.
"No, this is going to get you expelled," the girl said, appearing at his side. "And at this point, that's the last thing you need."
The younger boy stood near them. "We're on an alien planet!" he said. "I can't believe it."
The older boy put his arm around the younger one. "Alien worlds, you and me. Told you we could do it one day."
The younger boy grinned up at his best friend. "Yeah, you did. I never dreamed they would be so---"
A steam powered vehicle drove over a puddle, which promptly spilled up and over the three students. The girl squealed in disgust. The two boys looked down at their trousers, soaked in filthy water.
"Messy," the younger boy finished, crinkling his nose.
"Yeah," the older boy said, "But it's---"
There was a scream, and the trio turned to see one of the larger alien buildings had people dashing out of it. Something up on the upper floors was smoking, and an alarm was blaring loudly. Someone cried out for help.
"I think it's a hospital," the younger boy said. "Look at all the injured people."
"And they need help," the older boy agreed. He dashed for the door, pushing past the people who were running blindly out. After a moment, he realized he was alone. He turned back to his friends.
"Are you coming or staying?" he called.
The younger boy nodded and began to follow. "I'm coming."
The girl snorted. "I’m staying."
The older boy glanced back at her, disappointed but unsurprised. She wasn't like the two friends, she didn't want to live a life outside of the world they were trapped in. She was older, more settled. She was comfortable.
"We need to help." The older boy led the younger towards the doors. He didn't know the mechanism that made them open automatically, but he stepped through and around the people that were dashing out.
Something had grown along the walls of the hospital. The older boy wasn't sure if it was part of the structure, but as one of the nurses screamed, it shot out, wrapping a barbed tentacle around the nurse's neck. The nurse cried out and collapsed, eyes wide and vacant.
"I don't think that belongs here," the older boy said.
"Get that feeling, do you?" the younger boy replied, horrified. "What did it do? Will it do that to us?"
The younger boy dashed to the wall and ripped open a small box, revealing a strange, club-like object with a sharp piece of metal attached to it. It was like nothing either of the boys had seen, but the younger boy held it like a weapon.
"We don't need that," the older boy said.
"You want to have that happen to you?" the younger boy said. "You want to help, we should do something about that thing. Not die walking into this blind. We already walked onto this planet blind."
The younger boy didn't often speak like this to his older friend. There was always an understanding, a quiet acceptance between them. The sudden fierceness was startling. Still, he was right, and the older boy nodded.
"Okay, it looks like whatever that thing is, it starts down the wall, do you see? Go down there with your---whatever that is---and I'll get people out of here," the older boy suggested.
"Do you really think this is a good idea?" the younger boy asked. "We're in an alien building with a great big thing attacking everyone. Splitting up could mean we both get killed!"
"Do you have a better suggestion?" the older boy demanded.
"Yeah, we don't split up!" the younger boy said.
The older boy sighed. "We don't have enough time."
"I don't want to lose you," the younger boy insisted. "You don't even have a weapon."
"I'll figure something out." And with that, he darted down the hallway towards the injured people. The younger boy followed more slowly, hacking at the tentacles with the weapon. The creature fell apart with the blows, and with each cry of pain the monster gave out, the younger boy felt more and more victorious.
The older boy discovered that on each level of this hospital, there were a series of stairways outside of the windows, but not everyone in the hospital knew where they were. He began to direct them, to avoid the monster along the walls. It felt good, it felt like he was doing something, even for these strange aliens who didn't seem to notice he wasn't one of them.
"Help!" a voice called out from down the hallway. "Help! She's still alive!"
There were many corpses littered along the hall, but this one woman sounded so frightened, so lost. The older boy darted down towards her. She was cradling a small child, no more than five or six, with a series of the barbs poking out of her throat.
"Please, can you help her?" the woman said, tears in her eyes. "She's sick, one of those things bit her, she needs help."
The older boy crouched next to her and put his hand on the girl's forehead. It was very hot, but he didn't know if that was because they were different species or because she was ill. Her mother looked terrified.
"Are you the doctor?" she asked, hopeful through her fear. "Please, she needs a doctor, she needs someone."
He wasn't a doctor by any stretch of the imagination. He only barely knew his own species' biology, much less any other in the universe. And he didn't know what was wrong with this girl, only that she was dying because of something that had happened to her. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to help.
But he couldn't tell her that. He couldn't destroy the hope on her face.
"Yeah," he said, giving her a small smile that he hoped was comforting. "Yeah, I'm the Doctor. I can help."
The relief on the woman's face was palatable. She needed a doctor. No, more than a doctor, she needed him, the alien who wanted to help.
"Don't touch the barbs," he instructed.
He tore the bright orange sleeve of his Prydonian robe and reached it over to the girl, gently pulling the poisonous barbs from her red flesh. The task was slow moving, but with each carefully removed barb, the girl seemed to be coming out of it.
"We need to excite the tannin molecules," the boy---the Doctor said to the woman. "We need to reverse the poison. Do you have anything that can do that?"
The woman looked lost. "What?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Something with leaves. Burned or dried---"
"What, like tea?"
Tea? What was tea? This place was so utterly bizarre. "All right, I'll take a look."
The woman leapt up and raced to a nearby room, then came back with a handful of bags of dried leaves. It wasn't exactly what he meant, but it would do. He tore a few open and began applying them with a little of his silver leaf balm to the wounds. They immediately began to clear.
"She'll be all right in a bit," he said, surprised by how certain he was. "Get her home, but don't touch the walls."
The woman reached over and wrapped her arms around him suddenly. The Doctor thought she might be attacking him, but the action seemed more friendly and grateful than anything. He smiled awkwardly and patted her back.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much."
She picked up the little girl in her arms. "Come on, Susan," she murmured, before darting down the hallway. The Doctor looked down at his hands, the hands he just used to save someone. It was brilliant, the most incredible feeling.
The younger boy appeared after a moment, his body covered in green slime, the strange weapon in his hands, and a huge, manic grin on his face.
"I killed it," he said. "Me, all by myself. I took this thing, this axe, they call it. And I killed it. And the drums, they were all quiet, it was---"
But the Doctor didn't hear him, he was staring at his hands.
His smile faded. "Are you listening to me? Theta. Theta Sigma? Can you hear me?"
The Doctor looked back at his friend. "Sorry, Koschei. What was that?"
"Oh, nevermind," Koschei said, tossing the axe aside. "We've got to get out of here. Ushas says the Professors are going to come through that crack, and if they find us, we're done for."
He reached out a blood-covered hand to take his friend's.
The Doctor---no, not really a doctor, just Theta Sigma of Gallifrey---looked around himself, at the destruction and the pain, but all the good that was hidden under it. That woman with her little girl, all the scared aliens that he helped get out. He felt alive, more alive than he'd ever felt.
"What is this planet?" he asked.
"Ushas says they call it Earth," Koschei replied.
He nodded. "I'm going to come back here one day."
One day, when he really was the Doctor.
Muse: The Doctor (Theta Sigma)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 2,850
Prompt: Tell the story behind your name (or nickname)