Disclaimer: I own neither the Doctor nor his infinite angst.
Author's Note: Thanks to Intrikate88 for the fantastic beta!
Flash of Red
"One year, I said, right? Hasn't it been a year? Hard to tell now, isn't it, now so much has happened. Earth years, Gallifreyan years, those funny little miniature years the TARDIS invents when she's cross with me – is that what you've done now, love? No, too tired, aren't you. Never mind, I'll put you to rights, don't you worry. Now we've got the shields back up properly, we'll sort you out and you'll be as good as new."
The Doctor almost reaches out to touch one of his ship's walls, but he doesn't have to. He can feel the weary response thrumming from the floor into his bare feet. He smiles, senses her smiling in response, and turns his attention back to the mirror.
His face has changed. Nothing like before, of course, no new ears and new nose and new teeth and hair and chin to get used to. It's subtler than that, and he's not sure he can even pinpoint it. A new seriousness about the eyes, maybe. A tightness around the mouth that wasn't there before. He studies this face, aging in nearly imperceptible increments, almost like a human.
He brushes his hair back to look at his forehead, wondering if it's started wrinkling more than before, and as he looks, there's a little flash of bright red. Just a flash, a splash of primary color in the corner of his eye, nothing he'd even think twice about if he wasn't looking for it.
"Ah," he says. "There you are."
He continues to study himself, because he knows that if his eyes follow the red, it won't stay to be looked at. So he fiddles with his hair, wondering which way it ought to point today, and waits patiently for her to come back.
Another flash, lingering longer this time, like a sunspot.
"As I said," he continues conversationally, "I'm not sure if it's been a year for you or not. Or is it different depending on which mirror I choose? I do wonder. But in this particular mirror, it's almost impossible to be sure, since I have no idea what he did while I was – well, when he had the TARDIS. So if it's been only a few weeks for you, I'm sorry for intruding so soon, and if it's been five hundred years, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.
"Nevertheless, this is really the best I can do.
"I've had a rough year."
He peers at himself, at his own squinting eyes and the dark brows above them, aware all the while of the red balloon that watches him silently from the corner of his vision. Red balloon, pink coat, white face.
"Spent a good part of it sleeping on the floor of a tent, then locked in a cage. For everyone to notice and nobody to see. Well, except him, of course. But isn't that always it? He locks you up, and you're nothing more than a little speck at the corner of everyone's existence, and maybe they notice you're there and maybe they even get spooked and invent games like 'Bloody Mary' to make you more real, don't they. Because all they can see is your little balloon, and maybe it's blood for all they know. But when it all comes down to it, they don't really believe in you, do they. You're just another game they forget about in a little while, and you don't have your very own brilliant Martha Jones walking the earth and changing their minds.
"But look at me, Sister, Daughter. I know you're real. I know that red is just a balloon, that pink is just a coat, and that lovely face you've stolen used to belong to a little girl called Lucy Cartwright. I know you exist."
He speaks the words gently, and waits. Waits and waits. Finally, the colors move, and the girl-shaped thing steps into the mirror. The Doctor's eyes shift, looking at her instead of himself, and she stays. He doesn't smile at her, but he isn't angry either. He just looks at her her, watches the stoic frown on the face that should be a child's but isn't. She's almost as impassive as he is, and that's saying something.
"Can you speak?" says the Doctor. She watches him, unmoving, and he gives a sigh. "No, I don't suppose you can. Nor could I – that is, I could, but if anyone heard me they weren't allowed to... well, anyway."
He looks away, scratches the back of his neck, runs his fingers through the hair there, and looks back at her. She is leering now, a cold expression that looks downright ugly on the dead girl's face. He supposes he deserves that, so he doesn't remark on it.
Instead, he says, "I've killed too, you know. Not like you lot, picking off one life at a time so you can live another few months. No, I killed millions, all at once. That's the way to do it, yeah? Not insignificant little lives that nobody will miss, but entire species! Entire planets! Get it all over with, steal their lives and then live forever! Not that it's the same, mind you, that wasn't cause and effect, that was just... mathematics. Probability. Zero point zero zero zero one percent chance of survival, probably less, and I made it and I'm still not sure how or why.
"Well, the why, that's useless, that's just philosophizing. You survive for some higher purpose, or to relive your own guilt till you die, or maybe you just survive because some idiot thought you ought to live forever, trapped in a cage or a mirror or a whole universe, yelling and screaming and waiting for someone to listen but nobody ever does, because they can't. They just talk at you, throwing their little troubles at you and wanting you to understand and absorb and comfort them. And you do."
He pauses, peering at her. "Well," he amends, "I do, at any rate."
The floor hums warmly beneath his feet, and he wiggles his toes a little, just to tell his ship that he hears her. "It isn't like they don't try," he says. "They ask what's wrong, but what can you say? I killed my whole race and I'm feeling a bit lonely and how about a hug?"
He gives a mirthless little laugh.
"And look at me now. Look at you. I know what I saw you do, I know what you did to survive, I know that you would have killed me if you had the chance. But I don't know the first thing about your planet, your people, your customs... nothing. And you won't tell me, because even if you could, what would you say?"
The leer has faded from the girl's face, and not even a scowl remains. She is blank, watching and waiting and maybe judging and maybe not. He places one hand gently on the glass, and part of him wants her to meet him palm-to-palm, but of course she doesn't. She just stands there, like she always will.
"I know," he says. "I know what it's like to be alone. And if I could undo what I did to you, and let you die a peaceful death, I would. But I can't."
His hand moves away from the glass. Slowly, he reaches up and unfastens the mirror from the wall. The girl's eyes widen, and as he lifts the frame, she flees. He can't even see the red of her balloon anymore.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, and smashes the mirror to the floor.