Author's Note: This story is intended to take place after the events of Series 3 and 'Voyage of the Damned', and contains spoilerish references to several episodes, particularly spoilers for 'Doomsday'. It relies heavily on references to the events in 'Doomsday' and in 'Human Nature' and 'The Family of Blood'.
Additionally, I beg your indulgence—I'm a damp-eared novice in the Doctor Who fandom, and so I've only seen the new series with no access to the older series at all. I've tried to research my references, but there are probably still lots of errors and I really need them pointed out to me, so that I can learn and improve. This is also my first serious attempt to write fanfic in...probably five years, so please be gentle...
"...[When you are nine years old, what you remember seems forever, for you remember everything and everything is important and stands big and full and fills up Time and is so solid that you can walk around and around it like a tree and look at it. You are aware that time passes, that there is a movement in time, but that is not what Time is. Time is not a movement, a flowing, a wind then, but is rather a kind of climate in which things are, and when a thing happens it begins to live and keeps on living and stands solid in Time like the tree that you can walk around. And if there is a movement, the movement is not Time itself, any more than a breeze is climate, and all the breeze does is to shake a little the leaves on the tree which is alive and solid."
-Robert Penn Warren, "Blackberry Winter"
The day grew longer, every year. He could remember, in a hazy, childish way, what time had felt like before he had stood before the Time Vortex and looked into its vast power. There was a dream-like quality to those memories--memories of fidgeting in lessons, trapped indoors while the second sun was rising, chafing against time to be free.
You forgot what it was like, to be so linear. Even his human companions would lose track, their internal clocks shutting down in self defense. Rose had forgotten her own birthday, not realizing it until weeks had gone by, according to the little calender on her cell phone, but he had just taken her back to it.
"You can't ever run out of time, can you?" she'd asked. She'd been staring at him as she said it. No matter how many things she saw, Rose would still stop and stare into his face, her mouth small and serious, staring as if she could look past the bones and flesh and see the Vortex, the eternal rushing turmoil of it under his skin. "There's nothing you don't have time to do, because you can always go back and do it. Dates and stuff—you don't even have to remember them, or watch for them, or wait, or anything—if you want to celebrate your birthday you can just go to it, skip ahead."
"Oh, birthdays got kind of tedious a couple of centuries ago," he'd said, glibly. "My own, I mean, I other people's, other people's birthdays are great, but once you've been around the universe a while you're just hell to shop for." He'd tried the grin—the grin was still his favorite part of this regeneration. It was so damn useful.
She wasn't distracted. She just kept staring at him, until he shifted his feet and his shoulders hunched, slouching, without him even realizing it. "It's...not quite like that," he said finally. "Time travel, I mean, not birthdays. It's...Well, you could celebrate your birthday any old day you wanted, yeah? People might not be keen on giving you presents, but the point would essentially be the same. You'd still be older than you were the day before, you'd still have thousands of cells in your body and thousands more form. But that's not the point, is it? When you're not in the TARDIS, you're on a linear plane—it's like you're on a straight path, and you can only go forward, but the air is foggy and you can't really see the beginning or the end, so you give yourself signposts—markers to make time something you can understand, because you don't feel it. Well, your body feels it, but time isn't something you can see. It isn't like that for me. There isn't any fog, and I can see all of the path at once, and go to any part of the path that I want—almost, anyway. You could say that really I'm always running out of time, because I can't go crossing over myself. That's create a paradox and destroy the universe—and I like the universe. I'm terribly fond of the universe, I'd like the universe to stick around. So once I go down a road, I can never go down it again. Just like you."
"So it's gettin' smaller," she said. "The universe—the whole wibbly whatever—the more you travel around, the smaller it gets for you."
"Well, notreally," he said, rocking back on his heels. "That would be like scooping cups of water out of the ocean and being worried that you'll run out, isn't it? I'll run out of regenerations long before I run out of universe. But the real question," he'd tried the grin again, "the real question is, 'what do you want for your birthday?'." And this time it worked.
The truth was, traveling through time and space, ducking in and out of calenders, didn't mean that you were free of milestones, of anniversaries. There was some things that you could just quite—you could give up celebrating your birthday and most of the universe wouldn't bat an eye—but there are other things you can't ignore. It just meant that you were always aware of them—you could never pretend that they weren't going to happen this time around, because you knew that they always would. Most of the time he could shut them off, the little reminder alarms that were constantly ringing, wall them away and will himself to forget, for a while. And then he would feel them coming. Once a year—a Gallifrey year, which was longer than an Earth year (when you orbit twin suns you keep a respectful distance) he would feel that twinge inside of him, and he would know that he couldn't hold them off anymore.
Of course he still tried, but the TARDIS was always at its most interfering on that day. The last time he'd felt it it'd taken some careful maneuvering to leave Rose with her mum for an afternoon (and of course then he'd miscalculated and come back a week later—sometimes he could still feel the ringing in his ears from the joint dressing down that Rose and Jackie had given him). This time he didn't have anyone to leave behind, which was just as well—the day had gotten longer again.
Of course he went to Canary Wharf first—he went to a day ten years after he'd last been there, ten years after he'd last seen Rose, hoping that there would be no one left in the building who'd recognize him (it was all government offices, of course—the government wasn't going to waste real estate, although the wages were particularly good, to compensate for the chills you could never get rid of). He didn't know, yet, that the young clerk who glanced in the door and then slipped away quietly had been warned, when she starting working on the top floor, that sometimes a strange man would appear. "You know that room that's always empty?" her predecessor had asked. Jenny—the clerk's name was Jenny, and she was only nineteen—had nodded. "Don't bother asking why it's empty, because no one will tell you—secretive wankers, all of them, just keep to yourself and don't bother. But keep a look out because every once in a while a man will show up in there—doesn't do anything except stare at the wall. If you see him, leave him alone. It's orders—something to do with thebattle, see? And he doesn't do anything at all—he just stares at the wall. Got it?" So Jenny had been expecting the strange man, but no one had warned her that he would leave pale peach roses behind, and a handful of grass that smelt like apples. He was there a long time, resting his palm agains the cold white wall, but he couldn't stay—he had a lot to do.
The Capuchin Friars (1787—just a few years before their church would be destroyed, to make way for progress) found a white lily and a strange yellow fruit (a traveled brother finally identified it as a banana) left behind in the crypt over the graves of an 18th century lady (once known as Madame de Pompadour) and her young daughter. No one had seen anyone come or go, and the mystery was a subject of much discussion among the brothers for months afterwards, distracting the entire community until the subject was finally banned. The lily was left in place, until it had withered and dried and one of the brothers pressed it into his prayer book. The banana mysteriously vanished (another great topic of conjecture) and many years later one of the brothers would, on his death bed, bewilder his confessor with the admission that he had, in a moment of weakness, eaten the banana out of curiosity. He died before he could explain the banana's significance, or that he had abstained from the fruit for the rest of his life as penance (and because he had hated it).
In the Old Senate of New New York a monument had been erected to the city's savior, and a pair of wrinkled old eyes stared out of a face of carved marble. A grizzled cat, her fur almost snow white, sat drowsing in an arm chair in a sunny spot nearby. He didn't have the heart to wake her, just to say hello—she seemed old and frail now, but peaceful, as if she'd found something she needed and could finally rest. Instead he stood in front of the carved face for a long time. "Well, old friend," he said softly, "you were right. But now I'm truly alone." Mother Hame stirred in her chair, but he was already gone.
Just outside of the atmosphere of Earth satellites detected a strange dark spot, and then a sudden burst of light, like a shooting star. Astronomers argued about it for years, but it was just the Doctor standing in the door of the TARDISsomewhere high above Buckingham Palace, blowing a kiss into the stardust.
In a hotel lobby in Japan, 2012 (on his way back from a nearby shrine), he paused before a wall of silvered glass, designed to add light to the stark, modern design of the building. The desk clerk, a middle-aged man with immaculate manners named Kumate-san, watched the unusual gaijin stand in front of the mirrors for several minutes, staring intently into the glass—not at it, he would later explain to his wife, he wasn't looking at his reflection at all, he was looking into the mirror itself. Kumate-san found himself staring at the mirror as well, completely blind to the young businessman trying to check in, staring and staring until he saw...something. A flicker of movement. He blinked, and it was gone, and the gaijin was gone as well. The young businessman was very rude, and Kumate-san reported himself to the manager for his neglect.
He had to search before his next visit—clerks all over England turned around suddenly to find him rifling through their files before shutting himself into a broom closet and vanishing. None of them ever spoke of it openly, but somehow the word got out and a few clerks gathered together to form a support group, mostly for the purpose of reminding each other that they were not crazy. He hadn't spoken to any of them—it was a long day, and he was getting tired.
He found her at last, several townships away from the school where they had met. She was in a small churchyard, alone—he supposed her husband must have been buried abroad, but there was no family around her, no new name. Joan Redfern was still the name on the stone. She had never remarried.
The grave was covered with new grass, only a year or two of growth, but the headstone had already settled into the ground at a tilted, drunken angle. He crouched down beside it, running the sonic screwdriver across its base and shifting it with his other hand until it stood straight. She would have liked for things to be neat. He was still sitting in the grass when the vicar finally came out to see if he needed some kind of help.
"No..." he said. "No. I was just...visiting."
"I see." The vicar had a fringe of grey hair and a lined face, but his eyes had a young look to them. He looked down at the headstone. "Are you a relative of the Widow Redfern?" he asked.
The Doctor stood up, shoving his hands into his pockets. "No—no," he said. "I'm not family."
The vicar nodded. "A shame. When she died the church tried to find some relation, but we couldn't locate them—none of her family have visited this town in all the years I've been here. I always felt badly for her, although the whole town turned out for the funeral."
They stood in silence for a while. The faint mist that had been hovering over the crowded cemetery began to thicken into a fine rain.
"Would you come with me into the church for a moment?" the vicar asked, finally. "I've kept some things—personal things, of Widow Redfern's, with the hope of passing them on to her family eventually."
"I'm not—" the Doctor began, but the vicar waved a hand dismissively, shaking his head.
"I know, you're not family, but..." the old man with the young eyes paused, and studied for a moment the young man before him, who had such old eyes. "But something tells me that there is something that I should give you."
The vicar turned towards the church, without looking to see if the stranger followed him. The Doctor held back, lingering over the grave. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I'm so sorry." The rain began to come down in earnest as he turned with hunched shoulders toward the church.
In the TARDIS he moved slowly, putting it off, but eventually he stood in front of the narrow door that hadn't been open since...Since he had said goodbye to Rose. When he had been standing in front of it for thirty minutes the TARDIS had opened it for him—being pushy again. The shelves inside were full of objects, a strange gallimaufry that seemed to go on forever. He walked past long rows of shelves, sternly looking straight ahead, until he came to the end of the room. The shelves were emptier here, although a handful of of things had been carefully placed. There was a letter written in elegant French on one, next to a blouse, carefully folded as if it were something infinitely valuable, even though it was made of cheap nylon. He paused over it for a moment, but jerked away, scanning the shelves. There was a bare space between a singed black bow and a handful of round plastic badges that had lost their backs.
He laid the worn leather journal on the shelf. Its spine was cracked and the edges of the pages were worn to a soft fuzz with handling. He left his hand on its cover for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I'm so sorry."
He turned away, and closed the door behind him. In the hall he ran a hand along the smooth wall—the TARDIS seemed tired. He was too.
The day got longer every year.
The Robert Penn Warren quote didn't inspire this story—I'd already written the first draft when I found it—but it struck me as a particularly appropriate quote for the Doctor.
Episodes referenced, in order of appearance: 'The Sound of Drums' (paragraph 1), 'Doomsday' (paragraph 10), 'The Girl in the Fireplace' (paragraph 11), 'Gridlock' (paragraph 12), 'The Voyage of the Damned' (paragraph 13), 'The Family of Blood' (paragraph 14-end).
My source for the location of Madame de Pompadour's grave comes from www(dot)madamedepompadour(dot)com, a very interesting website that includes a detailed timeline of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson's life. According to this timeline Madame de Pompadour died on April 15 (Easter), 1764, and was buried two days later beside her daughter in the chapel of the Capuchin Friars in Place Vendome. It goes on to state that in 1804 the convent of the Capuchin Friars was destroyed in order to build the 'Rue de la Paix', and that the ashes and bones of Madame de Pompadour were taken to the catacombs and eventually mixed up with thousands of anonymous bones.
I am also working under the assumption that bananas were still largely unknown in France in 1787.