In Between

"Something is coming."

It took all the effort in the world, just to utter that statement. Just to hold on to consciousness for long enough to warn them, warn her. Then the pain came crashing down and it was so hard, all far too hard. He pulled away from the real world and hid curled up at the back of his mind and it still hurt, the pain was still there, sharp and acid. This regeneration was worse than ever before. It must be, surely, because how could he ever have survived this before with his sanity intact?

"I'm not sure whether we did, a few times. I never thought Six really pulled himself together, personally."

The Doctor opened his eyes, and stared at the man he had very recently been. But that… surely that wasn't right?

His previous self rolled his eyes. "Of course it isn't right. Stop looking at me like that; it's not as though I'm actually here. I'm just a memory now. Not as though you're actually here either, as a matter of fact. It's all just a figment of our imagination."

Oh. He tried to think. "Neural defence?"

"Right." His other self paced distractedly through empty nothingness. "Our mind's trying to distract us from the trauma of the regeneration, make sure there's no damage done while our body's still settling itself down." He looked up suddenly. "Is it working?"

He considered. "It's… better. It's still… ahh." He winced and dug non-existent fingernails into non-existent arms. "I.. ah… Still breaks through sometimes. Please keep talking."

"Right." There was a pause, and his other self grimaced. "I'm sorry. Now my mind's gone blank. Don't you hate that?"

The Doctor chewed this over. "I really don't know, to be honest. Haven't really been awake enough to know whether I'm the kind of person who'd find that annoying."

"You'll have plenty of time soon." The earlier Doctor's expression was mixed at that.

"I suppose so." He winced again, and tried to push himself back further into his mind, curl tighter into himself, get away. Then he saw the other Doctor frowning at him and forced himself to relax, just a little. Engage. Listen. Value the distraction. It'll all be over soon. "I hope… I hope Rose will be okay."

"Of course we do." His other self sighed. "I should have talked to her about this sooner. Should have given her more warning."

"We didn't know it would be so soon."

"Didn't know?" His other self shook his head. "No, we're fooling ourselves if we say that." He looked resigned. "We watched for it every day. Every day, wondered when it would touch us next." He stared into the nothingness, eyes empty. "Sometimes she was all that kept me from…"

He didn't finish. Didn't need to.

It was his mind, his thoughts, after all. This was just a distraction.

He swallowed as another wave of pain rolled over him. Lesser this time, more tolerable, still awful. He gritted his teeth, and frustration found voice. "I hate regeneration. It's always…"

"I know." His former self looked sympathetic. "Of course, maybe we're just not very good at it."

"I'm sure most of the others don't--" A stab of a different kind of pain as he corrected himself. "I mean, I'm sure they didn't used to have such a bad time of it."

"But we never regenerated as…" His other self hesitated as he tried to find the word. "…peacefully as the others. At least until…" Again he trailed off, again no words were needed.

There was an awkward silence, until the earlier Doctor coughed. "Well, I just hope you turn out with a better fashion sense than Six, all I can say."

"What do you think I'll be like?"

His predecessor shrugged, stretched, seated himself down in the emptiness. "Haven't a clue. Up to you to find that out."

He considered. "What do you wish I was like?"

A scowl. "What kind of a question is that?"

"I'm curious."

"Don't be ridiculous. You know. Asking's just a way to pick at scabs."

"Maybe I'm the picking at scabs kind?"

The Ninth Doctor's face hardened. "No. No. You want me to say it?" He jumped up, stared at himself in disgust. "Fine! I'll say it! I don't want you to be the 'picking at scabs' kind. I don't want you to spend all your time thinking about what can't be undone. I don't want you to be broken."

"I…"

"You know what I want you to be like?" The former Doctor's expression was like ice. "I want you to be like before."

They stared at each other, current and former, until the Tenth Doctor steadied himself and swallowed. "But that's not going to happen," he said, softly.

"Of course not." The other smiled; a bitter, bitter thing. "We're just picking at scabs."

This time the silence went for longer, stretched out until he barely remembered talking at all. The pain faded though, gradually. And he floated in the nothingness, until…

"I think I'm going soon."

He jumped as his predecessor's voice pierced through the void, and blinked as his senses latched onto something else. "Do you smell tea?"

The other Doctor smiled dryly. "Well of course. Has to be tea, doesn't it?"

He grinned back, slightly relieved that he wasn't going to leave himself angry. That would never do. "So. Goodbye then?"

"I suppose so." The Ninth Doctor pulled himself up, smoothed down his coat, turned…

And hesitated. "Look. I…"

"Yes?"

His other self frowned. "I remember."

"Yes?"

The former Doctor's gaze was steady, and sad. "We were in the Tardis, and she was with us, and she was arguing." The smile was wistful. "Nothing unusual there."

He smiled too.

"Only she was arguing about… She wanted me to go back to her Mum's; Easter or something like that. For dinner. Sit down with a bit of a spread, lots of foil and chocolate. All nice and happy, and I couldn't."

His eyes were pools of darkness. "I told her I wouldn't, but it was a lie. You know it was a lie. I couldn't do it. Couldn't sit down with her, have a bit of fun, forget about the rest of the universe. Talk to her Mum like she was a real person. Answer her questions. Watch Rose talking to other people, being out there, livinglike I'm not the centre of her world, and me acting she's not the centre of mine. Mingling with all the people that I could become friendly with. All the people I could lose and I just couldn't let myself do it. Am I even making sense? I'm not, am I?"

"There's Jack. We're friendly with him."

"Yes, well. Not really a deliberate thing, that. Unexpected, and with not a lot of effort by me. I didn't even have to try. I just…"

The other Doctor paused and he waited.

"I remember thinking, at the time. Deep down inside. I remember thinking, wishing, that I could be the type of person who could go to dinner with her family. The type of person who could -- maybe not forget it all so much as put it aside. Let it lie, just for a night. Have fun; appreciate the little things in life. I remember wishing I could be the type of person she wanted me to be. Even just for a night. I remember thinking that."

The Ninth Doctor sighed and he nodded in understanding.

Then his predecessor turned and walked away, and he watched until the nothingness finally began to weaken into something more, and the other faded into memory.