Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognise; usual drill for this kind of thing
AN: Just my own theory regarding how the Gallifrey we witnessed in "End of Time" fits in with Gallifrey's fate in the Eighth Doctor novels published between 1997 and 2005; reading my previous story "Filling in the Blanks" might help understand what's happening here, but if you haven't read it, a basic summary of the essential events of the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the War will be provided in the next chapter
AN 2: This story starts when the Doctor's working on repairing the Vinvocci ship and has his conversation with Wilf
As he sat on the deck of the Vinvocci ship, working away at the wiring he'd so hastily disabled earlier, the Doctor couldn't help but wish that this job was more difficult; it actually wasn't that hard to put everything back in working order- even if they couldn't turn anything on with the Master down there waiting for them to show themselves-, which left him with little to do but curse his own stupidity.
There were comparatively few occasions where the Doctor genuinely wished he'd arrived somewhere earlier than he had- most of the time when he arrived somewhere at the last minute he'd never have even known there was a problem if he'd arrived on the scene before he had, and would probably have moved on without realising he was needed-, but this was definitely one of them; if he'd just been quicker responding to Ood Sigma's message, maybe he'd have been able to stop the Master's resurrection...
And now, because he'd been so determined to live the last days of his life by attending to what he'd wanted to do, the entire Earth was under the Master's control- there wasn't anyone left but the Master down there right now (Donna didn't count; with the psychic defence he'd left her having been triggered she'd be out for hours, and waking her up would accomplish nothing apart from setting off a potential collapse all over again)-, and here he was, stuck rewiring a Vinvocci ship with no clear plan on what to do next...
"Aye-aye," the voice of Wilfred Mott- the oldest person to ever travel with him for the first time, but as loyal a friend as he could have wanted in this crisis- said, breaking the Doctor's train of thought and prompting him to glance over at the door as Wilf entered the room, hesitancy in his every step. "Got this old tub mended?"
"Just trying to fix the heating," the Doctor replied briefly; until he decided what his next course of action should be, he didn't want to give too much away.
"I've always dreamt of a view like that," Wilf said after a brief grunt as he sat on a slightly raised part of the floor, indicating the window in front of him with a slight smile. "I'm an astronaut!"
His grin broadened slightly as he pointed at the window. "There's dawn over England- look! Brand new day."
He paused for a moment, melancholy taking over his expression as he stared at the sight before him.
"My wife's buried down there," he said simply. "I might never visit her again now."
The Doctor knew all too well how that felt; one of the main reasons he'd constructed a memorial to the Time Lords- as well as his deceased former companions, in those cases when he'd actually witnessed their deaths- on the Eye of Orion was to give himself somewhere to go when he wanted to grieve for their loss...
"D'you think he changed them?" Wilf asked, looking back at the Doctor. "In their graves?"
The Doctor didn't think that would be the case- he doubted that the 'Immortality Gate' could affect deceased tissue-, but there was no way to know for certain.
"I'm sorry," he said simply.
"No, not your fault," Wilf replied, shaking his head a little as he looked reassuring at the Time Lord.
"Isn't it?" the Doctor asked, staring reflectively upwards at the sight of the globe before them.
"Oh, 1948, I was over there," Wilf said, pointing at the window before them in an evident attempt to lighten the mood. "End of the mandate in Palestine. Private Mott; skinny little idiot, I was. Stood on this rooftop in the middle of a skirmish. Like a blizzard, all them bullets in the air; the world gone mad..."
For a moment, the Doctor couldn't help but remember some of his old experiences in war; even the comment about bullets reminded him of that time he'd ended up taking a brief trip back to Leonidas's last stand and seen all those arrows flying across the sky...
"Yeah..." Wilf said, his voice trailing off uncomfortably as he noticed the Doctor's expression. "You don't want to listen to an old man's tales, do you?"
"I'm older than you," the Doctor replied with a nonchalant smile.
"Get away," Wilf said, looking at the Doctor in surprise.
"I'm nine hundred and six," the Doctor said, a slight amusement in his voice at Wilf's stunned reaction.
"What... really, though?" Wilf asked.
The Doctor paused for a moment, briefly contemplating giving his true age for once- allowing Rose to assume that the nine centuries he'd been travelling in the TARDIS was his age was one thing, but he really should have grown past that habit by now; his amnesic exile on Earth during his eighth body might not have been the liveliest period of his life, but it hadn't been that dull, and even his frustrating childhood on Gallifrey had played its part on who he was-, but he shook that thought aside; telling Wilf that he was over thirteen hundred might be a larger span of time than even an open-minded man like Wilf could cope with, particularly when the current crisis had to take precedent over anything.
"Yeah," he said, with a brief nod, leaving it at that.
"Nine hundred years...!" Wilf whispered, clearly still in awe at the time frame. "We must look like insects to you!"
"I think you look like giants," the Doctor replied quietly, his mind flashing back to all those occasions in his lives when he'd witnessed humans prevail over seemingly impossible odds and achieve victories and goals that so many other species had either failed to achieve or only accomplished after a much greater length of time...
"Listen," Wilf said, reaching into the pocket of his coat and pulling out an old-fashioned six-chambered gun, looking uncomfortably at the Time Lord, "I... I want you to have this. I kept it all this time, and I thought..."
"No," the Doctor said, cutting Wilf off mid-sentence as he drew back slightly, shaking his head at his friend.
"No, but..." Wilf continued, fumbling slightly as he looked at the Doctor. "If you take it, you could..."
"No," the Doctor replied simply.
He might have wielded guns before, but that was always as an absolute last resort; he would never take them up while there was still the possibility of finding another way to do things.
As Wilf stared silently at the gun in his hand, a thought occurred to the Doctor.
"You had that gun in the mansion," he said, looking at Wilf with a slight curiosity. "You could have shot the Master there and then."
"Too scared, I s'pose," Wilf replied in a low, embarrassed voice.
The Doctor couldn't help but smile slightly at that; with what the Master had been doing when they'd entered the mansion, nobody could have blamed Wilf for taking action to stop him, and yet Wilf hadn't taken that opportunity.
Fear wasn't the reason for his inaction, the Doctor knew- anyone who'd try and stand up to a Dalek with a paintball gun after the entire Earth had been moved to a different location in space could hardly be afraid at shooting an obvious psychopath such as the Master-; the only thing that could have stopped Wilf was moral reasons...
"I'd be proud," he said, smiling at Wilf.
"Of what?" Wilf asked, looking back at him in confusion.
"If you were my dad," the Doctor replied briefly.
"Now, come, don't start..." Wilf said, as the Doctor smiled reassuring at him, remembering the Master's mocking question about Wilf's connection to him when the two of them were tied up in the Naismith mansion; Wilf might not have Quences's intelligence or life span, but he was definitely a lot more accepting of what others might want to do with their lives than the head of Lungbarrow had ever been.
"But you said..." Wilf said uncertainly, clearly thinking about what he was about to say. "You were told 'he will knock four times' and then you die. Well, that's him, isn't it? The Master? The noise in his head? The Master is gonna kill you."
"Yeah," the Doctor admitted, deciding not to mention that it would make a hat trick for the Master; technically he had never actually killed any of the Doctor's past lives- his death during the Logopolis crisis had been a side-effect of the Master's schemes to control Logopolis's power rather than the main goal, and him getting shot while taking the Master's remains back to Gallifrey had definitely been an accident given that the whole point had been for the Master to take the Doctor's remaining lives for himself-, but that was only by a technicality that it would be too complicated to explain at this point.
"Then kill him first," Wilf said, offering the gun to him.
"And that's how the Master started," the Doctor replied simply.
He wasn't sure what he was specifically referring to, really- the death of Torvic when they were children had served as the catalyst to the Master's brutality in dealing with problems even if it hadn't driven him all the way, but his subsequent willingness to resort to murder during his travels even if his final goal was always to try and do essentially the right thing during the time when he was still known as Koschei had been far from encouraging even before he took control of the Darkheart-, but the point remained the same.
"It's not like I'm an innocent," the Doctor admitted. "I've taken lives."
Despite his own resolve, he couldn't stop himself from tearing up at the thought of what he'd done just before receiving that last message from the Ood; so desperate to find something good that had come from having the Time Lords taken out of the equation- something that he could use to save lives after being forced to sacrifice so many- and it had taken a woman who could have been a good friend sacrificing herself to make him realise that he'd been wrong.
"Then I got worse," he continued. "I got clever; manipulated people into taking their own..."
He wasn't sure at that point if he was talking about his recent mistakes or some of the things he'd done in his seventh incarnation; his eighth body had tried to atone for his past self's 'crimes'- just because it had been the right thing to do didn't make it any easier to remember destroying an entire alternate timeline-, but even if he'd never gone as far as the seventh on a regular basis that incarnation's own actions had forced the Doctors who came after him to always remember what they had done back then...
"Sometimes I think the Time Lord lives too long," he admitted briefly, recalling a fear that had been voiced by more than one companion after learning his true age; just as Wilf had done, they worried about how he perceived them, so young compared to his true age...
It never made a difference to him, of course, but that didn't mean he didn't understand their concerns; he valued them for their ability to cram so many experiences into their short lives when so few of his people had ever really made an effort to do anything significant during their existences when they had thirteen lives to do it in, but that didn't mean that there might not come some day when he might have lived so long in one life that he did feel that way...
"I can't," he said at last, shaking his head as he stared at the gun in Wilf's hand. "I just can't."
"If the Master dies," Wilf asked, looking at him with a certain desperation, almost as though he was trying to deny the Doctor's own denial, "what happens to all the people?"
"I don't know-" the Doctor began (It was the truth; he had theories, but he didn't really know what would happen).
"Doctor," Wilf repeated, his tone insistent, "what happens?"
"The template snaps," the Doctor replied precisely, trying to distance himself from the implications of what he was saying.
No matter how psychotically deranged the Master was- no matter the fact that he was dying already after his improper resurrection, to the point where shooting him might have actually been the kindest thing to do to spare him from what was going to happen to his body-, he wouldn't- he couldn't- go that far when there was any chance an alternative could be found.
If he simply shot his enemy to solve a problem...
He couldn't do that.
He wouldn't be the Doctor if he resorted to those kind of measures if alternatives were available.
Even as Wilf ordered him to take the gun, tearfully begging him not to die at the same time, the Doctor knew that he couldn't do it.
"Never," he said simply, hoping that he could come up with an alternative solution before too much more time had passed; if it came to a choice between his own morality and his friend's emotional health, he wasn't sure which he'd pick...