Retracing Steps

He had changed.

Changed his appearance, his perceptions, likes, dislikes, habits, all without warning. He wondered... Would he be able to convince her he still needed the touch of her hand in his, still longed to have her walk by his side, still thought she was beautiful, still called her friend, companion, 'Best', his 'Plus One', still loved her. No, not the same as before. The void that once housed a black hole of guilt overwhelming and threatening to completely destroy him, now held a tiny spark illuminating and driving back the darkness because of her.

Witnessing his regeneration had shaken her belief in him. Amidst so many unanswered questions, confusion, and chaos of emotions storming through her she had asked. "Can you change back?"

Both hearts had simultaneously stopped beating, deep fissures carving through them. He longed to reach out, pull her into a hug, soothe her with comforting words. Instead he stood dumbfounded, mouth opening, uttering silence.

Terror gripped him. She was letting him go. She didn't want him. She wanted his previous self, a memory in the past.

He finally manages a whisper, afraid of her response, knowing he needs the closure. "Do you want me to?"

Time ceases. He knows the feeling of forever in those few anxious moments that span eons. His soul laid bare, he is so fragile.

Not the answer he expected, feared, maybe even dreaded. Two simple words, another question. "Can you?"

No judgment, no finality. Hope, a minuscule glimmer. He wants to shout YES, would willingly concede his remaining regenerations if it meant he could give her what she wants. Oh, how much he still loves her, but could she, would she even, return those feelings. He fervently prays he's not breaking her heart.

"No." He winces as if physically struck registering the disappointment flickering across her face, quickly replaced by mild curiosity and an underlying shadow of understanding and acceptance.

Rose, his Rose. He forces back a sob of relief. She hasn't given up on him.

He had changed, again.

Changed his speech, his personality, and mannerisms, knowingly. Forgotten thoughts buried deep within his subconscious are re-awakened. His appearance remains the same apart from his eyes, brown orbs ablaze with ancient depths of knowledge gazing back at her. The single heart multiplies, he feels again the earth spinning, foresees time flowing in loose threads, choices awaiting to join the weaved pattern of the cosmos.

The emptiness has returned. A dark chasm in his mind echoing whispered ghosts of the past, muted voices he yearns to recollect, faded visions he jealously protects. A lonely god he walks amongst shadows, she offers him a choice. "Could you change back?"

He knows behind a door stands a man whom once loved this woman before him with every fiber of his being, and in the blink of an eye he had been witness to the ordinary life of a human. A wife to stand with him, children to stand beside him, a legacy of generations to stand for him. A life he could never have. "Yes."

He stares at her calmly, anticipating the next question.

Humans, so fragile yet strong, always hopeful, resilient, full of promise and he admires their courage. She takes a step closer, head held high, attempting to quell the tears forming in her eyes. "Will you?" It sounds almost a dare, a challenge.

"No." No hesitation. No second chances. That's the sort of man he is. He closes his eyes briefly, remembers a different set of blue eyes.

"You could come with me." He offers knowing in his hearts she will refuse. She would leave him. She settles for the memory.

Another face to haunt him in his dreams.

He never claimed to be anything other than what he is. He's just 'The Doctor'.