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Author's Note: Written for the Ninth Doctor Ficathon for Helen.
Sin of Omission
by Tara LJC O'Shea
There are things he doesn't tell her, even when she asks.
He doesn't tell her what it was like to wake when there should have been no waking, to find himself alone. Utterly and terrifyingly alone, his memories hazy but sharp enough to remember the sight of the vastness of space churning like the sea of creation, only backwards. Flaming echoes of two enemies that existed now only in memory. The TARDIS had protected him, and he'd cursed her for that, at first. Raged at surviving. Wept at the visions that played across his eyes every time he closed them.
Friends. Enemies. All burned away to ash, and then not even ash and dust. All of them dead by his hand. Not even the same hand—this one with long, slender fingers, roughened with work, callused and familiar for all that they've only been at the end of his wrists for the space of a breath, comparatively.
He doesn't tell her that there were other faces before he wore this face. Other faces that will never be captured by a photographic plate or sketched quickly in charcoal on a sheet of newsprint. That—so far as this universe, this timeline is concerned—there is him and only him for men like Clive to discover as they comb through dusty newspapers and crumbling magazines. Time Lords were by their very nature long-lived, and of his generation, few had been re-made as many times as he had, in so short a season.
Change was supposed to come slow to his people.
Some changes had come too late to be of any good at all.
The Time Lords had stepped down from their pedestals, where they had sat in judgement for millennia, just in time to get their hands dirty at long last. And now he was their last living representative in a universe that had reshaped itself to swallow their echoes whole. They existed only in his memory, and the memories of a precious few races who existed in more than the usual number of dimensions.
When she asks why he doesn't "do domestic" he doesn't tell her how the first co-ordinates he'd set, once he'd recovered enough of his memories, was for Earth, London, 2164 CE.
He doesn't tell her that the Daleks had never invaded. In her timeline's 22nd century, Earth didn't have an official First Contact for another two hundred years. He doesn't tell her the horrors her world was spared by the obliteration of his greatest enemy. He doesn't tell her the little changes lost in the large ones.
He doesn't tell her that a young man who, in a different life, might have become a guerrilla fighter desperate to free his people from tyranny, had instead lived fairly unremarkably. He doesn't tell her that David Campbell had answered the door to a stranger he had never met, politely answering his questions with a faint air of confusion. He doesn't tell her that he'd been asked in by Campbell's wife Sherry, a pretty young blonde woman with a child balanced on her hip, the baby sucking on her fingers and looking up at him with curious blue eyes.
He doesn't tell her that he'd muttered an apology, and fled to the opposite end of the galaxy where he'd begun combing through the future history of the revised timeline, desperate to understand how the wounds in space and time had healed over without a single scar.
Without a single mention of an unearthly dark-haired girl who had once travelled far from home with her grandfather. Whom he had promised to return to, one day.
He'd wandered at first, searching for signs of his previous existence. But if they existed, they existed now only in the memory of a timeline his own actions had obliterated. He had, through a quirk of space/time, sprung from the doors of his TARDIS like Athene from Zeus' forehead, fully formed and extant without the benefit of a past to clutter up the works. Children who now had never been born laughed in his memory. Enemies had been wiped out at the same time as trusted friendships. Dozens, hundreds of lives diverged, friends and enemies dying or living all because they had never met him.
All the good he had done had been simply erased. As had all the harm. A clean slate might have been what he had wished for, once. But not at this cost.
Where Skaro once orbited, a barren rock that has never supported life circles endless around a burned-out star.
Where once his world hid itself away in a pocket of time, there isn't even a ripple or a seam. Nothing to mark its existence—let alone its passing—except echoes.
He doesn't tell her that he's one of those echoes. That he ought not just to have died, but to have been erased along with his people—vanished into the ether. Never born, never truly dying. Just gone, as if he'd never been.
He doesn't tell her how much he'd welcomed the idea.
He doesn't tell her that he'd meant it when he told her to forget him, turned his back on her and walked away never expecting to see her again. Never told her how he'd stood on the street corner outside the restaurant, unable to believe his eyes when there she was again—third time's the charm and there had to be a reason and he ought to have walked away but he couldn't.
He's never told her he'd never intended to come back for her, but he had anyway because for the first time since he'd caught sight of the unfamiliar face in the mirror he'd actually wished for company again. Needed her hand in his so he would feel solid and real and not a grand joke played by an uncaring universe.
He never lets on, when she gasps at frozen waves a thousand feet high that no human being has ever seen, that he's anchoring himself to her sense of wonder to keep from being completely swept away. That beneath his teasing and jibes about how small and provincial humans are, he needs her. He never tells her that he needs her so much more than she needs him, and it frightens him because he's never needed anyone before. Not like this. Never like this.
It's complicated and strange, and he's not used to the idea of relationships that transcend the comfortable friendships he's maintained in the past, with their own distance built-in to protect them as much as to protect him. But the distance between them is rapidly diminishing, and they're closer than he would have thought possible.
She is as alien to him as she often accuses him of being in so many little ways. A human girl with her oh-so-human mother and useless boyfriend and he ought to find her nothing more than charming. Certainly not captivating, or compelling, or any of the silly tiny human words to fit a concept too big for mere language. Words that he never would have imagined applying to a 21st century London shop girl. He's used to consorting with aliens of all shapes and sizes, dispositions and temperaments, but is utterly confounded by a 19 year old earthling with horrible taste in men and questionable taste in clothing.
There is something about the way she blindly trusts him that makes him want to live up to her expectations of him. He's seen things no human can grasp the scope of. Done things no human should have to. When she asks him if he sleeps, he tells her almost never, but he doesn't tell her why. That it's the dreams he fears more than the waking.
He never tells her, even when she asks, because he's afraid she'll let go of his hand and he'll go spinning off into the void.
For all the strangeness, he recognises who she is at her core. He's drawn to her alienness—the sheer delight she takes in things he finds utterly mundane—the same way he's drawn to their similarities. The desire to cross every threshold. The sure knowledge that if something is unknown, that must mean it's terribly exciting and simply begging to be explored.
Nine centuries plus, and nothing ought to surprise him the way her hand on his shoulder and her coquettish smile knocks the breath out of him, with her clumsy and sweet notions of human courtship. A little girl trying a grown-up dress on for size, but all he can see is the fire that burns so bright inside her. Bright enough to banish all his shadows. Warm enough to chase the chill from his bones. And they're closer than they should be, and he doesn't tell her he hates himself for how quickly he takes her hand and sways in time to the music.
She's still a human girl, ignorant of so much, innocent. But she's brave and clever and she wants so much more and he wants to lay the entire universe at her feet just to see her marvel.
And when she asks when he last danced, he keeps his eyes on his feet, and he doesn't tell her.
And he's never lied to her. Never not once.
It's just a sin of omission.