Genre: Angst, pseudoromance, introspection, supernatural, stream-of-consciousness. That last one should probably be first.
Beta: Riona, aka RionaLeonhart, aka my one-stop shop for advice on Britishness. Aside from Wikipedia. Hush.
Continuity: Kinda-sorta 8th and 9th Doctors with a splash of 10th. Note: I've never actually seen anything of 8th, and I'm making up large parts of the Time War. And my bits probably contradict canon, but what'cha gonna do?
Prerequisites: Parting of the Ways, mostly.
Summary: 8th's transition into 9th, and 9th's transition into 10th. Absolution, of sorts.
Disclaimer: I tried to go steal the Doctor Who rights from the BBC, but I couldn't get the TARDIS to work. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of Christopher Eccleson. Doctor may change without notice, cause or explanation. Do not allow children to play unsupervised around Time Vortex. Questions, comments and catastrophes can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!
He pulled Rose in and kissed her, and readied himself to die.
He understood now. More than her resolve, more than her merit, he understood the gift she'd given him. It had always been Rose, he realized, since the beginning--like a star, like a compass point, leading him here. It didn't matter that he was dying. Dying was easy--he'd done it before.
The Time War ends.
And this was the gift: that she'd brought him full circle. The light of the Vortex, the fire of his endgame--yes, it was time to die again, but this was a better death than it had been.
Here, the Gamestation, Floor 500, watching over the Earth (bombed and pocked but it was the Earth, and the Earth tended to survive), he closed his eyes and saved her. This time, there was someone to save.
He closed his eyes and remembered the shockwave coming toward him, and the way he'd stood at the helm of the TARDIS and been so, so ready to die.
He remembered that there had been so much atmosphere bleeding from the ships, so much being torn from Gallifrey, that the fires had kept going against the perfect vacuum of space. He'd been dying even then, hand on the crank that ended the world, broken and bleeding inside and ready to die with the people--his people--he'd condemned.
The heat rose and his senses broke down, everything in him broke down.
Burning. A million Dalek ships and how many Time Lords, all the last of us burning, and the universe is full of children with no fathers and no devils and
Burning, howling out into space and all that history, all those memories, gone in a flash with his TARDIS at the centre and he's clawing up the walls of his mind and what has he done what has he done and
It's not his thought, this next one: Hail the Doctor, the great Exterminator!
Or this one: Sh. It's all right. Bad wolf.
Big bad wolf--that's human, isn't it?--big mother wolf coming and taking him by the scruff to carry him out of the flames and what was he doing as the TARDIS rode the shockwave and the temperature climbed to twice normal, thrice because space was burning, a million ships on fire, and he was inside it and screaming and this, and this, and this was the way he would go and
What am I doing? Almost calm, detached. One last gasp of sanity as he surrendered to the demon he'd created and become. Bad wolf. Mother and destroyer. One breath of cool air in the holocaust, and for half a second things were almost all right.
And then he was in his head with himself, hands on the controls, with "What are you, an idiot? You want to get us killed?" ringing in his ears. Brown hair singeing to black, eyes narrowing, and part of the fires of Gallifrey and the Time War and part of the fire of the Regeneration didn't die out but compressed itself between his lungs, beside his two hearts.
Maybe he had wanted to die.
In any case, he'd regarded himself for a moment. And for a moment there was no distinction, and then there was too much, and he told himself "I'm sorry."
And he told himself "Don't be," and slipped away.
And he'd watched himself go and stood at the TARDIS's helm as she sang her song around him and he'd left the Time War behind--as much as he could ever leave it behind--and soared into space and time.
He'd torn off the Byron suit and taken the first thing to catch his fancy--trousers and a jumper, and a leather coat for no other reason than it seemed to keep a temperature three degrees cooler than ambient and he never wanted to feel hot again. Then he wandered, because where was there to go? He couldn't get his own--his last--voice out of his ears.
What am I doing? --dying, apparently.
Earth, London, early 21st century by their quaint little system, in a council flat, waiting for a coffee, he worked up the urge to look in a mirror for the first time. He stuck his head in quickly--easier to drown if you don't think about doing it--and saw what he'd become.
He looked capable of killing. He didn't look like a man of reason--still felt like one, or wanted to--but he looked like something else now. He used to be able to pass for a doctor of one thing or another on more planets than most species knew existed. Now he'd have his best chance on Sychakic, where the title Doctor went with Butcher and Gaoler and Surgeon and a host of other things. There was something about him. Something canine, lupine almost.
The first thing he thought was Could have been worse.
This was what he needed to be. At the instant of his transformation, this had been the necessity. Someone who could save himself while everything he'd ever known had burned.
Bad luck to get too close to things. He'd walked away from the flat and Rose had followed. She'd saved him. And how many times had she saved him, and how many times had he saved her, and how many times had they failed to save each other?
And how many times was he back on that TARDIS in that same moment, seeing a million ships on fire and feeling himself die?
And Rose saw that now--saw everything--and he'd needed someone to see that for so long. It was all right because she wouldn't remember it. The Vortex would take itself out and she'd be spared the memory. He wouldn't be--he'd carry it forever--but that was all right, too.
I miss him, he told the Vortex as it spooled out of Rose and into his eyes, into his mouth, into every atom of his being.
Maybe he's in a better place, the Vortex said, and didn't mean the afterlife of any of a million religions, and didn't mean a literal place at all. It meant that of all the possible paths of time, of all the causalities, this one wasn't the worst for him. Things got better.
I felt him die, he told the Vortex, and now I'm feeling me die. You think I did all right by him?
He can already feel himself splitting off, the first buds of a new consciousness beside him. The Vortex showed him all the ways things could have gone--his own death and Rose's and his own long life, and he'd be King of Earth or dying in a dungeon and he'd set the TARDIS down and had the life he can't have and he'd wandered through space as the last stars burnt out and the universe became finally, totally, cold.
He carries Rose back inside. She's the Bad Wolf. She creates herself. She'll manage somehow--if she can heart-to-heart with the TARDIS she can do anything. She reached back to touch him at his birth, and she'll be here to witness his death. Her, and him, and him. It's enough. It's all there should be.
You'll do all right by her, won't you? he asks the thing that's coming in to let him go. It's wild and unrestrained, like potential, like all the possibilities of time. He can feel it look at her, and they smile.
I'll take care of her, he says, and the Doctor has a lump in his throat.
Make her happy, he thinks--Rose, the TARDIS, it doesn't matter any more. Not to him. She's everything I have.
And at that, the newcomer hesitates. She shouldn't be, he says.
Ten, he thinks. He's running out of lives. He himself is running out of life, and his next incarnation realizes this. They remember standing here--What am I doing?--and the promises they made. Then, they were implicit--they had to be. There wasn't time.
I'm sorry, he hears, over the blood rushing from his two heartbeats, over the rising fire of remaking himself. You deserved more than this.
Could have been worse, he says back, and means it. Rose is stirring and he's rising on the tide, and soon he'll be swept away. Take care of her, he says, and the tenth one is looking at her and already there's love in his eyes. I didn't do badly, did I?
No, he tells himself, and one or both of them are smiling. Not bad at all.
He's saying his last words and he wants to remember them but they're flippant, they're slipping away. Soon he won't remember because he won't exist.
It doesn't matter. He's bleeding out and the shock is coming, and there are better places waiting.
"Rose," he says, "You were fantastic."
He's watching himself and won't say he's sorry, because what's there to be sorry for? They are far away from Gallifrey, far from the fires and the War, and it wasn't all for nothing. It's all right. I'll take care of things here. I'll take care of her.
It's the best of all times. The best time to be alive.
You can go now, he tells himself. You've done well. I'm so, so lucky.
He's smiling, they're smiling, he's going home. "And so was I," he says.
And now there's fire. Now there's pain. Now nothing.