The Doctor removed his suit jacket and swung it over his shoulder. Doing so made him feel naked. It shouldn't have. He stared up at the time rotor, pulsing and green and familiar. Always familiar, no matter what the control room looked like. That accustomed presence in the back of his mind. Whispering. Singing. Offering comfort that he couldn't quite move himself to accept.
Which was stupid, if you thought about it, since it was the only comfort he had left.
Meandering around the controls, he lifted one hand and gently caressed them. Donna was gone, left behind with her family for her own good. Martha was gone. Oh, she was still hanging about of course, but she was gone in the way that one could only really sense if one existed at the center of a low level telepathic field. Her thoughts and emotions no longer resonated with him or the TARDIS, no longer sang out for something that only he could provide. Jack, well, Jack would always be around. One way or another. But he, too, had other cares, and the Doctor still found any proximity to him slightly disturbing. Sarah Jane. Oh, lovely little Sarah Jane had a son. A son! He couldn't help but smile with pride. He felt like a grandfather again, although nothing could have been farther from the truth.
He leaned over the console, reaching for a knob, but not much paying attention to what he was doing. He'd been at this so long, he didn't really need to put his full attention into the motions. And if he did make some navigational mistake, well, the old girl would take care of him. She always had. And so, he let his mind wander back and forth along the timelines as he worked.
Susan, who traveled with him first, and Ian and Barbara who left together. Peri who stood her ground and Jo who learned to. Adric, who had been so brave. Romana, in all her lovely variations. Nyssa and Tegan and, dear goodness, Leela. Loyal Ace, who thankfully never did manage to get them blown up. Jamie, who never failed to make him laugh. River Song who would know his name, and just how that was to work out he had no idea. Alistair who was always, always there.
Did he make them into weapons? He certainly hoped not, but he had to admit the evidence was compelling. Some he had left behind, before they could get too hard. Some had left of their own accord, afraid of being remade into something like him. Some never got close enough to be in any danger of falling. Some he had sent to die. Davros could accuse him of ruining them. Harriet Jones could claim he chose them well. The fact of the matter was that his choice, his actions, ultimately had nothing to do with it. He only took the best, but only the best ever came along.
He closed his eyes, then, and concentrated on that part of him that sensed something beyond sight, beyond sound; beyond scent or touch or taste. He thought of them all, not their faces or voices, or the ghosts of them still wandering the TARDIS, but as pieces of time and space endlessly circling in an intricate dance with every other fragment of existence. He felt them, their timelines touching his, merging and diverging from it seemingly at random. Some were thicker than others, some longer, some brilliant, some dull; all the many twined strands of his friends lives spun together like a corded rope that was stronger, oh so much stronger, than any individual part. He sensed the strands he had yet to touch, those he might never come in contact with, that hovered moth-like around the brilliant whole. There had been so many. There were so many. There would be so many. And time itself stretched gleaming and golden in every infinite direction; the various strands caught in whirling eddies and unseen currents, like wine corks bobbing directionless in an endless ocean. And how, how was this choice? His or theirs?
Every moment presented a choice. Every choice had a reaction. Every reaction presented yet another choice and on and on ad infinitum. But the choices didn't always result in the most obvious reactions, or the least. And in the end they were all lost. All alone. All stranded on some metaphorical deserted beach without any apparent means of getting home. They clung to one another, wrapped themselves in each others' existence, held on for dear life because there was nothing else solid in this violent, intransient, emotionless void.
Tentatively, he reached out to one strand in particular. One that had been and was and could be. Touched its burning potentiality. Caressed the glowing possibility like a lover.