A/N: I feel I've done enough work to justify another little one-shot.
Disclaimer: The Knights Tempus are mine, whereas Doctor Who sadly isn't. Damn.
Warning: Spoilers for original series, new series and all regenerations. It will make sense!
One Step Behind
Quite odd really, now that he thought about it. The 'outside influences' as his people had once termed all of the wondrous races in the universe.
How a single encounter could change a life.
How a single word could cause a government to fall.
How a single action could irredeemably change the course of history.
His companions had taught him that.
Oh, the Time Lords could rattle on about temporal physics and chaos theory until they were blue in their collective faces, but classrooms and stuffy old buildings were another world and time away from real life, real experiences.
His people were now long dead, but his companions had lived on in a far richer and more meaningful way than any of them could have guessed.
That very first regeneration… so long ago now, the memory seemed foggy; lost in time, as it were.
His first incarnation – the crotchety, grumpy old man with only his naïve, sweet granddaughter as company. He had been so blunt at first with Ian and Barbara, so unwilling to compromise and change, but willing to throw his companions in harm's way just to satisfy his curiosity, particularly during that first terrifying incident on Skaro. But his travels, and the many races he encountered, they had softened his harsh nature, and strengthened his will against the evils of the universe. As he had fallen unconscious, drained of energy by the proximity of Mondas, Ben and Polly had watched over him, tended to him.
His pride had kept him from comforting them.
They did not deserve that.
His first regeneration had passed and he had quite comfortably moved onto his second incarnation – full of mirth and tricks, twinkling blue eyes and a wide grin hiding a mind sharper than folded steel. Victoria, Jamie and Zoë; they were not pests, no! They were as close to family as he would allow, and as such he was far less willing for them to be placed in harm's way. But they were devoted to him, they would go to such lengths to help him; they rebelled in a way against this more brotherly nature. When the Time Lords finally came for him, took his family away and forced him into exile on Earth, he had remembered this.
His seemingly playful nature had made them reckless.
They did not need that.
And so to his third incarnation; more authoritarian, brash, a touch arrogant, but a devoted scientist and, despite all of his attempts to hide it, a loving and beloved uncle of sorts to Liz, Jo, and Sarah Jane, his wonderful girls. It had particularly annoyed the Brigadier as to how he had charmed Liz into his confidence with a simple handshake and a smile. But times on Earth were changing. Old authorities were being challenged; new ways of thinking were emerging. Liz and Jo had left him in order to help change the world. Through the agony of the Great One's poison, he had remembered this.
His authority was part of an old world.
They did not require that.
An eccentric with a penchant for scarves – his fourth and most free-wheeling incarnation. Humans were quite his favourite species then, even if some of them could be…well, imbeciles. His wonder and love of the universe had to be passed on somehow, and Romanadvoratrelundar was the main beneficiary of this knowledge. It was one of the few occasions he had ever permitted himself to love one of his companions beyond the bounds of friendship. Maybe she would have returned his love if he had been braver…but there was no use dwelling on what would now never happen. But that thought had always remained with him, niggling at him as Adric, Tegan and Nyssa entered his life. With the shadows of the Pharos Project looming over his wounded body, this thought came back with overwhelming force.
His reluctance to show love had alienated them.
This was not what they should have had.
The appearance of a young man with a soul as old as time itself – that was his fifth incarnation. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed nobility and easy-going charm; he had been so proud of those traits. But the death of Adric… that had eternally scarred his psyche. He had listened to the girls cry for so many nights after the giant freighter had collided with the prehistoric Earth, and had wept knowing that he could not interfere with time even to end Nyssa and Tegan's tears. He was mortal and fallible, but worst of all; he had shown it too baldly. Adric's death had haunted him as he lay on the floor of the TARDIS next to the recuperating Peri, his fingers blistering from spectrox toxaemia, his mind almost melting from pain and delusion.
His demonstration of fallibility had made them lose faith in him.
This would not do at all.
A personality as bold and as brash as his patchwork coat, that was his overriding memory of his sixth incarnation. Overconfident, blunt, overbearing, but eloquent, sensitive and protective. He would never forgive himself for his abuse of Peri; regeneration sickness or not, he had treated her shamefully. But the true horror had been the revelations of the Valeyard. The incarnation between his twelfth and final lives had shocked him, forced him to re-evaluate himself. The Rani had told him personally that she had not considered this incarnation particularly appealing – when she had attacked the TARDIS, his failing consciousness had latched on to this memory.
His overconfidence had led to his downfall.
This should be rectified immediately.
Time's Champion, living in his Police Box, his days like crazy paving. He had been rather proud of that little speech he had made to Mel. But his seventh incarnation had been driven by a force he recognised and acknowledged. Not just by Fenric and his Wolf which he had retrieved from Iceworld, but the forces of the Dark Time, by the last and most mysterious of the legendary Trinity. He still felt pangs of guilt over his manipulation of Ace, who now roamed the universe with a little help from Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. Because of that, he had died alone and terrified in an Earth hospital, mistaken for a mere human.
His manipulative tendencies had left him alone.
Not all deserved to be used for greater purposes.
An eternal explorer, a romantic and a pacifist. Oddly enough, his eighth incarnation had been something of a perfect gentleman where women were concerned. Grace had called him the right man for her, and much as the temptation had been there for him to explore the possibilities… a human life was not for him. Nor a peaceful life, not after hostilities commenced and the Time War raged throughout the universe. He had been nominated as a commander within the Order of the Knights Tempus, subordinate to the Rani and the President Romana. They both knew he was no warrior, no great military leader. But the trust they had in him… that was enough. Perhaps there was even love for him. But he would never know. As the TARDIS was flung away from the burnt remains of the Time Lord and Dalek fleets, as blood streamed from his head and he finally lost consciousness, his last thought was a mental sob.
All of those whom he had loved had perished because he had not fought enough.
It was time for that problem to be solved.
The soldier without commands, the warrior without a home. Bitter and guilty, covering his battered psyche with historical knowledge and manic curiosity, his ninth incarnation stood as the last protector of the universe, the last champion, the last Time Lord. He would have been content to end his days in loneliness and heartbreak, striving to right the wrongs done during the War had it not been for a brave London shop-girl who had wandered in on one of his missions. Rose had been his saviour, his companion, his friend, his confidante… perhaps more. Her choice in men was… informative, particularly the rogue Time Agent capable of charming any living being in a five mile radius. They had made a trinity of their own; him as the leader and thinker, Jack as the soldier and strategist, and Rose as their heart and support. It had been almost like having a family again.
Until the Daleks reappeared with their weapons and their hate.
Until Jack sacrificed himself to give him more time.
Until Rose became Time's Goddess, nearly dying to save her Doctor.
Until her Doctor had died to save her.
Rose didn't need a warrior.
He would make sure of that.
He wriggles his toes inside his battered Chuck Taylors. Rather comfy, these things. Nice find. He stands outside the TARDIS, amid the ashes of the Sycorax, Rose holding onto his hand, Jackie and Mickey standing peacefully behind them. Her family. Perhaps now they should be his family. Perhaps it is the right time to ask Mickey to join them on their adventures. That sounds good.
Ten incarnations out of thirteen, and it has taken him until now to get it right.
To be what his companions need, what he needs to be.
Thanks to them, he is no longer one step behind.