Title: A Lesson (Not) Learned
Author: Marble Rose
Characters/Pairings: Ten I, Ten II, implied Doctor/Rose
Rating: K, Appropriate for all audiences
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who or any of its characters; no infringement intended.
Summary: Fifty years spent in a one bedroom flat taught me what nine hundred years and all of time and space couldn't. Post JE.
When the Doctor opened the TARDIS doors, he was in the last place he ever expected, the last place he ever wanted to be. He had made sacrifices, great sacrifices, to ensure that he never had to see this place, never had to stand on this ground.
The sun shone brightly overhead; leaves danced merrily in the breeze. A songbird twittered about in a nearby tree. Nothing to signify the bleakness of this place, the bitterness of this moment. Nothing but the tombstone that stood before him.
Defender of the Earth
"I wondered how long it would be before you found yourself here."
The Doctor glanced over to see a man joining him at the grave. He was an old man with more grey hair than brown and deep lines etched into his face, especially around his eyes. Laugh lines, they were called. This was a man who laughed a lot. Used to laugh a lot. Though the face was old and weathered, the Doctor still recognized it as his own.
His other self knelt down slowly, joints creaking from the onset of arthritis, and wiped away the small layer of dirt that had gathered on the stone before placing a single flower at its base. "A rose for a Rose," he said, voice deep and gravelly with age. "Ironic, don't you think? Even with only the one heart, I still managed to outlive her."
Outliving Rose. The fate he most dreaded and feared, the nightmare he could never quite come to terms with. He thought to ask how it happened but then decided he didn't really want to know. Instead, he said what he always did when there was nothing else to say. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not." Softer, almost reverently, he added, "I had her. I had all of her. And she had all of me."
He nodded in understanding without really understanding at all.
The urge to run suddenly gripped him. Turn and run, back into the TARDIS, slam the doors behind him, and get as far away from here as possible. He didn't want this memory. Didn't want his last memory of Rose to be a grey stone marking her plot in the ground. Didn't want to think of her as cold and still in the dirt. Giving her up, leaving her on that beach was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do, but at least then he'd known that she was alive. And happy. Maybe not the happy part, not at first, but it was a distinct possibility. A probability, even. And he'd no longer had to worry about the inevitable end, her human fragility finally stealing her away from him.
No. She could be how he remembered her, would always be how he remembered her. Warm and vibrant and eternally loving him in another world.
"Fifty years," the other him announced. "Fifty years spent in a small London flat taught me what nine hundred years and all of time and space couldn't."
"And what would that be?"
The old man's eyes took on an odd glint. "See for yourself," he dared.
The Doctor narrowed his eyes at the challenge. He took the couple steps needed to breach the distance between them, then lowered himself to his knees, mirroring the other man's position. Raising his hands up, he pressed his fingertips to his duplicate's temples and established the necessary connection.
Memories flooded his mind. A lifetime's worth of memories. A lifetime's worth of Rose. The torrent finally settled on a single image. Rose, silver haired and with her own set of laugh lines, lying in a hospital bed, tubes running out of her, fighting against the pain, struggling to hold on to life. Never gonna leave you, she murmured, over and over again, each time weaker than the last, a soft melody over the harsh staccato of the heart monitor.
Withering. Dying. Grasping his hand till the very end.
"Stop," he sobbed, wrenching away. "No more."
"I watched her die," his other self whispered. "I held her hand and watched the life slowly drain out of her."
The alien Doctor whimpered. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head in denial.
When he opened his eyes again, his other self wore a soft smile. His eyes shone with barely restrained tears, his chin trembled from the effort it took to hold those tears back, yet somehow, he still managed that smile. And in that smile was a secret. "It was worth it."
This grieving widower gazed into him with eyes that were ancient in a way his had never been, and he held that gaze, fixated on it, knew that this moment had the power to alter him, to make him whole, if he could only hold on to it…
He looked away.
The other Doctor sighed. He waited a moment before laboring back to his feet. He dusted off his trousers, gave him one last pitying look, then started walking away.
The Doctor stared down at the ground, somehow shamed by his own shortcoming. Before the other man got too far away, he questioned flatly, "What will you do now?"
His human counterpart glanced back at him over his shoulder. "I'll join her. Eventually."
"And till then?"
"I'll do what Rose would've wanted." The old man raised his face up to the sky, basked in the universe and all its possibilities. He felt the Earth turn. "I'm gonna live."