Disclaimer: Characters contained within do not belong to me.
Author's Notes: I've had this one on LJ for awhile, but just realized that I never posted it on this site. I hope you enjoy it.
We Close Our Eyes
by Kristen Elizabeth
True love doesn't have a happy ending, because true love never ends. Letting go is just one way of saying 'I love you.' – Unknown
"Are you just going to stand there or are you going to come in?"
It was a new, unfamiliar figure that stepped into his bedroom, but there was no mistaking who had come to call. "You heard me coming?"
"Felt it. For days now." The old man in the bed struggled to sit up a bit more against his pillows. "I won't even ask how you did it."
Hands stuffed in the pockets of his long, brown overcoat, a leftover look from his last incarnation, the younger-looking man approached the bed. "Probably best not to. You know the cost of coming here."
"Punched a hole in the universe just to watch yourself die?" The old man wheezed out a laugh, then coughed for several seconds. When he regained his breath, he could only smile. "Rengerated, I see. Finally ginger." He gestured to his guest's hair. "Good for you."
The Doctor studied him for a moment. "How much longer do you have?"
"Who knows? Days? Minutes? Seconds?" With his age-withered hand, the older version of the man he had once been reached up and scratched the back of his head. His hair was still thick, but pure white now. "It's all the same. Time is running out."
"Are you in pain?" the Doctor asked.
"I've been in pain for six years. Ever since…" He closed his eyes, allowing a single tear to slip down his wrinkled cheek. When he opened them again, he saw the new, slightly freckled face staring at him, pale as a ghost. "Yes," he said, answering the unanswered question. "You didn't know?"
The Doctor jumped to his feet and paced to the other end of the bedroom. Propped up with one hand against the bookshelf, it took him a long time to reply. "She was always going to die before us." He looked down at the polished wood floor, swallowing heavily. "How did she…?"
"Peacefully." The old man's smile was faint. "I was holding her when she fell asleep…and she just never woke up."
The Doctor looked up, straight at the framed pictures lining the shelves in front of him. A professional wedding picture of a tall, skinny man in black and beautiful blonde woman in white. A framed snapshot of the same blonde woman standing in profile, displaying a very round belly. A hospital photograph of an hours-old infant with a spiky cap of dark brown hair. A group portrait of the man, the woman, a dark-haired toddler and another infant, this time a girl with wispy blond locks.
"You gave her…everything I never could have." The Doctor turned back around. "And she was happy? Truly happy?"
"Were you truly happy without her?" The old man shrugged his frail shoulders as much as he could. "She learned to be happy. It didn't happen straight away."
"She seemed happy the last time I saw her."
"On the beach?" His sigh rattled in his chest. "That's the difference between you and me. To you, saying the words would have been the end of something. For me, it was just the beginning." The lines on his forehead grew deeper as he frowned. "I had everything of yours except her heart. That I earned on my own. When she loved me, married me, had our babies…it was with me. Not with you."
The Doctor nodded. "As it should have been."
There was a faint knock on the bedroom door before a young man of around sixteen entered carrying a cup of tea. "Grandad? Are you awake? I brought you…" He stopped short at the sight of the stranger in his grandfather's room. "Who are you?"
"Friend of your grandfather's," the Doctor said automatically, holding out his hand to the new arrival who bore more than just a passing resemblance to his old self. "Name's John Smith."
The young man gave him and his outstretched hand a wary look. "That's Grandad's name."
Both the Doctor and the man in the bed answered at the same time. "It's a very common name."
"Pete," the old man addressed his grandson. "Give us a moment, eh?" The boy nodded and made his exit, but not before shooting the Doctor another warning look. Once he was gone, the man sighed. "Forgive him. He's having…the hardest time of all dealing with this. He and his Gran were close. Losing her broke his heart. When I go…" He stopped for a ragged breath. "If you think saying goodbye to companions is hard, try leaving…your own flesh and blood."
"You know I already know what that feels like."
"This feels different. Still…" For a split second, as he relaxed back into his pillow with a small smile, the Doctor could see his old face shining through the wrinkles and liver spots. "I can't mind leaving them too much. Not if it means…"
"You'll see her again," the Doctor finished for him. "And you believe that'll happen?"
"Ah, I think the better question is…how could I not believe it'll happen? After everything I've seen in the past and everything she and I did here…" His eyelids drooped. "There's no reason to think…to think I won't see…" His face twisted up in pain, cutting off his words.
The Doctor squatted down beside the bed and touched the man's weathered cheek, reading the signals from the body that had once been his own. "It's seconds you have, then," he said quietly.
"Yes," the old man agreed. "And not…many of them."
"What does it feel like?"
"Not like this." The Doctor moved his hand down to the old man's chest. His single heartbeat was weak. Fading. Failing. "Can you see her?"
"Yes. She's…" He closed his tired eyes. "She's…exactly the same."
"As the day we first met her?" The Doctor kept his hand where it was as the gentle thumps beneath it slowed down. "Young. Beautiful." He paused. "Brilliant."
"Rose…" the old man breathed his last word.
Before withdrawing his hand, the Doctor leaned down and whispered in the old man's ear. "When you reach her, you know what to tell her."
He left before young Pete could return to find his grandfather's still body.
Back in the TARDIS, River was waiting for him. "If we stay here any longer, we really are going to collapse all reality as we know it," she warned him. She reached for his arm as he walked past her. "Doctor…"
The Doctor let her stop him, but didn't look back at her. "Just…give me a minute. All right?"
She released him. "All right then. Whatever you want." River started to walk away, but then thought better of it and turned back. "I know you loved her. But you lost her a long time ago."
"I didn't lose her." He shrugged out of his coat and draped it over the control console. Plunging both hands into his wavy red locks, he looked up towards the unseen sky. "I let her go."