Author: Gillian Taylor
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Rose, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Summary: Nothing lasts forever.
Spoilers: None, really. Just Ten exists.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. I just like playing with them...a lot.
Archive: Sure, just let me know.
A/N: This is different from my usual fare as a warning, but this bunny bit me and bit me hard. I couldn't not write it, so here it is. Thanks, as always, to my fabulous betas WMR and NNWest.
by Gillian Taylor
Time passes in the space between a heartbeat. Sands fall through an hourglass, the second hand moves, the water droplets fall, the shadow stretches. Time is ephemeral, especially for those who can never regard it as linear. Sideways, backwards, forwards - time is fluid, with its own eddies and currents caused by the passage of those who know it well.
However, even for those who call themselves Lords of Time, nothing lasts forever.
Nothing can, not really. As much as a Time Lord knows life, death, and life, they can never truly capture time. It slips through their fingers as easily as it does those of the linear species stuck in one timeline, one planet, one city, one place.
Nothing lasts forever.
Companions come. Companions go. Companions die.
Nothing lasts forever, except for his memories.
He slipped quietly into the room, leaving Rose behind. She understood, at least, that he needed to be alone. Just for this time, just this once. Alone. Just him...
And Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
He delayed the inevitable as he looked around the bedroom. Pictures of UNIT and of friends and loved ones long since passed watched over his old friend. The dresser and nightstand were covered with some of the medical supplies that had been prolonging his friend's life, but time could only be delayed for so long.
Nothing lasts forever.
When he finally met Alistair's eyes, he realised that the years had been kind to his old friend. Only the wrinkles on his skin and the white of his hair indicated his age. His friend's watery blue eyes still sparked with the same intelligence and wry humour that he had known throughout his lives.
"Doctor," Alistair greeted him, weakly lifting his hand toward him.
He immediately grasped it within his own and settled into the chair next to the bed. "Alistair."
He cursed fate that he continued to look young while his friend looked to be his senior. How many times had Death smiled upon him and turned away? And now Death was smiling upon Alistair. By tomorrow morning, his old friend would be gone.
Time was slipping away and he could do nothing about it. Nothing at all.
Something of his emotions must have been evident on his face as Alistair squeezed his hand with what little strength he could muster. "I'm glad you came, even though I fussed and moaned about wanting to be left to it. Doris would've wanted someone here, I think. Everyone else is dead and gone, except for you and me. Though I won't be around for much longer."
His jaw clenched. The inevitable. Death would always come for those he loved. He was a Time Lord, but time could not be stopped. It could not be twisted or shaped. Some things were impossible to prevent.
He had known that this was coming. From the moment that he had first looked at himself in a mirror, he had known. From the instant he'd got Bambera's call, he had known. The brief glimpse of his present self in his seventh life had told him as much. He was the one who would watch his best friend of nine lives fade away. He was the one who would stand vigil over Lethbridge-Stewart's deathbed and bow his head as Death took him away.
"Of course I came. You need me."
"And the universe needs you," Alistair replied with a faint smile. "Don't look at me like that, Doctor. I know you. Doesn't matter what face you wear, I know you. Seeing a friend die is hard, brings to mind the things that we tend to forget or try to. Did I tell you what Doris said, just before she died? She smiled at me, this brilliant smile, and said 'It's beautiful.' That's what it is, Doctor. Besides, you'll have thousands of yesterdays to see me again. You'll have that possibility. I die once, but you can see me whenever you want."
He shook his head. Once Alistair was gone, that was it. He wouldn't let himself see him again. It would be hard enough to watch him die. Seeing him alive once more afterwards would be too painful. Human beings were so fragile, so finite, so full of life that they danced away their too-brief span on their homeworld in happy ignorance.
Alistair knew what was out there. He knew what had invaded, what might invade, and what could invade. The Brigadier knew because he had shown him that and more. Just as his old friend had shown him what it was like to live again, how to live through the pain of the beginnings of his ninth life.
All things end.
"Not this time, Alistair." His voice dropped to a whisper as he fought his tears. All things end. All things die. Even the Brigadier - who had always been so full of life.
This was Fate. This was Time. Both were cruel mistresses.
"Nothing lasts forever," he said with a soft sigh. He ran his free hand through his hair and attempted a smile for Alistair's benefit.
The Brigadier saw right through him. "That's where you're wrong, Doctor. There is something that lasts forever. Someone. You."
He opened his mouth to protest, but Alistair continued, "You, the Doctor, might be finite. All beings are. Human or alien. But you, the legacy. You, the Doctor: my Doctor, the Earth's Doctor, the universe's Doctor. That endures forever."
He wanted to deny it. Immortality was something that he never desired, never wanted. All that he had wanted was to explore, to see the universe through the eyes of his companions, and to live - unlike the stuffed-shirts of Gallifrey. However, now, he was all that was left. Of Gallifrey. Of his people. Immortal because of the eddies of time. He had seen the beginning and he had seen the end. The universe would see his death, but Alistair was right.
The universe had never known a time without him.
But it would know a time without the Brigadier.
Everything dies. Everything ends.
"Not by choice," he admitted quietly.
"That's what makes the best sort of hero, Doctor. The ones who don't choose to be, but do it anyway. Because someone has to. Because no one else will." Alistair coughed weakly and sighed, his breath a rattle in his chest.
"Oh, Alistair. I'm no hero. You are." Tears burned at the corner of his eyes and he felt one begin a perilous journey down the curve of his cheek.
"I'm just an old soldier," the Brigadier protested.
"You're not 'just' anything. You're my friend."
"Promise me something?" Alistair asked quietly, his eyes sliding shut.
"Don't cry for me, Doctor. Don't mourn. Just carry on. Be yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and doing what's right. And, no matter what, always have somewhere to go, someone to talk to, when you need it. Even heroes fall." The words were hard to hear through the soft wheeze of Alistair's breath.
"Alistair..." he whispered as he felt his friend's grip weaken.
"Even heroes fall." The words were whispered with one last breath. One last time.
Death smiled upon Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and, a moment later, his oldest and dearest friend was gone.
Alistair was gone.
From this point forward, linear time and the universe would know nothing of the Brigadier. From this time forward, everything had changed. Though thousands of yesterdays were available to him, he would never see his old friend alive again.
All things die.
All things end.
And, once again, he was alone.
He had not heard the soft snick of the door catch's release, but Rose's tentative voice reached him in the midst of his grief. "Doctor?"
He could not find the words to speak. All his eloquence, all of his knowledge, all of his experience had been swallowed in an instant. Alistair was gone.
A rustle of cloth heralded her approach and he felt her arms slip around him from behind in a warm embrace. Her touch was a catalyst as he realised that he was not alone. Alistair might be gone, but he had Rose. Right now, right here, he had her.
But for how long?
All things end.
All things die.
Someday, Rose, too, would be gone. But now, right now, Alistair's loss left a gaping wound in its wake. His hero had fallen and he allowed the tears to fall.
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry," Rose murmured to him over and over again. The last time he had cried had been after he had realised what had happened after the haze of regeneration had faded. The last time that he had cried had been in this house when he realised that his people were gone.
Don't cry for me, Doctor.
He wasn't. He was crying for himself. For companions lost, companions gone, and companions dead. For Gallifrey, for his people, for the universe. For Alistair, for Rose, for himself.
All things end.
Except for him.
His tears had been a catharsis. A cleansing. An ending and a beginning. Alistair was gone, yes. But he lived. Rose lived. And, though the universe would never again know the Brigadier, it had known him. Oh, it had.
A hero had fallen, but he still lived. The Brigadier's legacy lived. In him. In Rose. In UNIT. In all of those lives that, through his actions, he had somehow touched.
The funeral was over. The ashes of his old friend were buried next to his two loves: the gardens and Doris. The end was at hand.
His hand held Rose's tightly as they walked toward the TARDIS. For the moment, they were both quiet, both sombre.
A great man was dead and gone, but life moved on. Time would pass, children would grow up, and companions would leave. Some things were inevitable.
He paused for a moment before slipping the key into the lock. His mind tingled with the awareness of another Time Lord, and he turned.
Twelve men, twelve versions of himself, were gathered around the gravesite. Twelve eclectically dressed men, all wearing the same expression of sorrow.
"Doctor? Is that...?" Rose's voice was hushed as she spoke, staring at his ninth self across the garden.
He nodded. "It's me. All of me. The mes that were and the mes that will be. They've come to say goodbye."
"Doctor, when I...if I...will you?"
He looked at her tear-streaked face and smiled. He understood her, though he suspected that she did not understand herself. "Yes."
All things end.
But legacies lived on.