"This song is ending, but the story never ends…"
He could recognize that compelling voice anywhere; he did not need to glance back at the peaceful street to see that it was the omniscient Ood Sigma. He did not need to look again at the saluting Wilfred, and he did not need to look again at the distant figure in the window behind him, whom, long ago, would be coming into the police box with him. The Doctor did not turn around until he was inside the endless ship, and when he did, it was only to shut the doors. He turned back to go to his wondrous console, but that was when he felt an excruciating jolt in both hearts. He knew it was the 500, 000 rads he'd picked up at the Naismith estate, though it felt like more. He felt the mess The Master had become, he felt the lifetime he had taken from Donna, and he felt Rose in the arms of an imperfect copy. The pain quickly became strong enough to shove him to the floor like an empty sack. He felt Peri's brain in Lord Kiv's body, Adric on the doomed freighter, and finally, Leela and Romana on Gallifrey. Leela and Romana on the enormous sphere of death in the sky mere hours ago. They were the worst of it all; enough to make his eyes start to rain. There was a raindrop for everyone who left, and everyone he lost, and silent except for the eternal groaning of the engine below. There was so much within him; he thought he might die simply from regret. Finally, using the metal railing by the door, he pulled himself up. If anything, he could at least make the TARDIS take off again. One step…Then he stumbled, still gripping the railing with both hands. He was reminded briefly of a similar metal he had once gripped, and another that Rose could not…
"Come on, Doctor!" This voice he did need to look to find its owner.
"Wilfred?" He hurt too much to shout. "Why are you…How are you in here?!"
"Just one last push, Doctor!" The old soldier offered his hand, and The Doctor took it almost automatically. "And then it'll all be over. Then you can start again, just like last time." He continued past Wilfred, and somehow, 500, 000 rads seemed a little lighter.
"And the time before that…" That voice. "And the time before that…" That cocky, American voice. "And the time before that…" The Earth still had over 3100 years to hear that voice for the first time. "You get the point.
"Yeah, I do, Jack." Sarcasm. Even with all he carried with him now, he could still manage sarcasm at the sight of the boyish smirk and the dark trench coat, just waiting for him at the side.
"Just keep going," Captain Jack nodded. "At least you get to 'die.' How do you think I feel?"
"…Fair point…" Even lighter now.
"We owe a lot to you, you know," So many fond memories rode on the back of this voice, coming from the other side. This was the voice that was raised triumphantly when Harold Saxon became nothing more than a bad dream. "I mean, I could've just been any dull, regular, good-enough doctor without you. But then you came along and…Well, the rest is history,"
"History…" He repeated the word in barely a whisper; he had long since forgotten how wonderful it tasted. "And the world owes a lot to you, Dr. Martha Jones." He was responded with a smile, and that was all he needed. That was all he wanted. He went slowly forwards again, even lighter now.
"You always were obnoxiously cheeky, Doctor…" Most of this voice he remembered as talking back against his constant aggravation towards him. "I never thought I'd say this, but can we have a little more of that? Just one more time?"
"Assuming I haven't forgotten, Ricky, then sure." He managed to smile a bit as he passed Mickey's smirking, shaking head.
"See? You just can't pack it in."
"…You're taking good care of her?"
"Of course. Don't you trust us, Doctor?" He smiled at him. Lighter, still.
"We all need someone like you to lighten up the dark, Doctor." He couldn't help it; he smiled wider than the distance he'd travelled in 900 years. He thought he would never hear that voice speak to him again, even before the fear of renewal emerged. He looked to the right side. "Otherwise we all just fade into the shadows…Oh, you remember the shadows, don't you?"
"Of course I do…Oh, you mean someone like you, Donna?"
"Shut up." The rads were barely a heavy backpack.
"Do you remember Metebelis III, Doctor?" No matter what scarf, celery, or bowtie he'd donned over the centuries, he would always feel bliss at the sound of this voice. "How you went back? You said you had to face your fear; that was more important than just going on living. Isn't this the same?"
"…I guess it is…" He couldn't contain himself; he went and hugged his Sarah Jane. "Thank you…My Sarah Jane…"
"Thank you, my Doctor…Our dear Doctor." The tighter they hugged, the less he seemed to be carrying. The Doctor was convinced that Sarah was taking some of it for him. "There's someone here who would quite like to see you…This you, once more." He turned. He was right next to the console now, but that didn't concern him as it would've mere minutes ago. There, waiting for him, like a single rose in the midst of a dark forest…
"Hello, Rose…" For the first time in centuries, he was speechless. All he could do was hug her even tighter than he had Sarah Jane. The rain came again, but there were no clouds.
"He's wonderful," She finally said as they pulled away to see each other. Their hands, though, never parted. "He really is, but you will always, until the end of time, be The Doctor..."
"Your Doctor…Until the end of time,"
"…But until then…" She stepped back, keeping his hand, and held her other out at the brilliant array of buttons and levers that few but him could understand. "We have everything before that." He smiled at her, and a few buttons pressed later, the spectacular, magical groaning returned; the sound of infinity. He gazed up at the brilliant, bright pillar protruding from the console, enticing him with its simple yet captivating vertical movements. "Thank you…" He finally said out loud, one final raindrop escaping. "All of you." He turned around to face his eternally loyal companions.
The TARDIS was empty.
"…Thank you so much…" He was among the stars now, impossible miles away from any of them. With no clue of where to take the police box next, he made the only travel he could think to; walking slowly around the console. As he did, he suddenly noticed his hands, both now free, beginning to glow gold like uncovered riches. This was it; the moment he had feared since he freed Christina, which felt now like an eternity ago. Breathing became suddenly difficult, as his eyes turned humid and his stomach became a black hole. The rainclouds prepared for a storm. Finally, his breath allowed him to release a single, faint statement.
"I don't want to go…"
He admitted it. After all the conversations and tirades in the past few days, he just admitted it to the empty, endless space inside the miniscule blue box. The words replayed again and again in his head, until finally, they changed.
'Go? Go where?' He soon thought. Though all thoughts in his head were in his own voice, this particular one was in the voice of an ancient, grandfatherly gentleman. Very specifically, one that was immediately familiar to him. 'I'm not going anywhere; it's far from being all over.'
'There are corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things…' He now thought in a voice both amusing and strict at once; it made The Doctor think of Charlie Chaplin. 'Things which act against everything I believe in…I must continue fighting them!'
'I must be brave…' He thought to himself in a voice of old elegance. 'I may be frightened, but I must face my fear regardless,'
'It's the end…' He had the deep voice of a madman. 'For now…It's just the beginning of a new chapter…'
'They've all left…' The voice of a kind and cheerful cricketer. 'But they're all happy. They're all safe…'
'And better…' Egotistical but educated. 'Better because of my guidance…Come on, credit must be given where it's due…'
'But there are still worlds out there where the sky is burning, where there's danger, injustice…' Friendly, Scottish, yet somehow sinister. 'I've still much work to do…'
'Then I'll have to change…' Like the first voice, but a younger, more welcoming, like a summer day. 'I might…I will be different…But I'll still be The Doctor until the end of time…'
'I was going to go to so many places…' Cheerful and Northern, but a familiar disguise. 'I might not want to go to them anymore…But the places I did go…I'll always have them, no matter who I become…The Doctor…'
"A new chapter…"He shut his eyes, and the rain stopped as the sun came out. "That's right…'Regardless'…Allons-y…" He didn't realize until now that he thought it would be painful, but it turned out to be the contrary. He felt as if he were drifting to sleep in the warmest bed in the universe. The sleep was brief, though, barely a nap, and then he awoke. His hair felt longer, his face felt smoother, his converse now felt a bit too tight, and the rads seemed to have never been there at all. He thought harder; there was still a pit in his heart where Rose once was, he still felt a bleeding wound of guilt for Donna, and he still found bliss in the groaning engine.
He was supposed to be dead. Every shred of his incarnation was supposed to be buried away and irretrievable, just as he had told Wilfred in the coffee shop. The black hole in his stomach imploded, and became a miniscule ball, which bounced off of the walls of his interior. He finally realized his great misunderstanding; The Doctor never dies. He never has. The ancient, grandfatherly gentleman was always there. He beamed even wider than he did mere moments ago as a man not quite so different; he didn't long to replace put gel in his new hair, he had a sudden craving for pears, and 'allons-y' no longer satisfied his ears and tongue, but it didn't matter. The Doctor would always be in his head, until the end of time. The end of time. He thought about it, and he remembered. 'A new chapter.' Everything before then, she had said. Where to start now?
Suddenly, the TARDIS shook, as if having its own miniature earthquake. He darted quickly for the monitor above the console, and was not surprised to find evidence of damage from a meteorite. Gripping his dear old companion tightly with both hands, he shouted out to his next adventure, more alive than he had felt in ages.