This story takes place after Vincent and the Doctor, but before The Lodger. No spoilers for the end of the season.
I don't own Doctor Who, but oh, how I wish I did! No copyright infringement intended.
The nights were the worst. He'd never needed much sleep in his previous incarnation, but now, trapped in this oh-so-human body, with just one heart and a fragile, limited lifespan, he ached for it. All the time. If only the nightmares didn't keep him awake...
Rose called to him from the bed, as she usually did, beckoning him away from the open window. "You gonna stand there all night again?" she mumbled, her voice thick with sleep.
He looked up at the stars with an absolutely physical longing, the memories still fresh and painful after years on this planet, on this false Earth that was so similar yet so different to the world he'd come to adore during his long exile from Gallifrey.
"I'll be right there," he said softly, and sighed. Rose. The only thing he still cared about. His love. His lifeline. His consolation prize. Of course, he supposed he was hers as well.
Still, it could have been worse. He gazed at her, the peaceful face he adored already relaxing as she slipped back into sleep. The Doctor, the "proper Doctor," he thought with disgust, had given her a choice. And Rose had chosen him. He tried not to imagine what his life would have been like if she hadn't.
A little smile crept over him as he crawled back under the covers, trailing kisses over her smooth, bare shoulder, his hands exploring her body, holding the curving belly where the first signs of her pregnancy were beginning to show. Then his kisses became desperate, and rough, and for a few precious hours he forgot everything except Rose.
The mornings felt better. He didn't exactly remember falling asleep, but he vaguely recalled seeing the first pink tendrils of dawn as Rose lay against his chest, her blonde hair covering her face. The sound of her morning shower had woken him. He yawned, and stretched, and grinned, then decided to make breakfast.
Amy Pond hauled herself up after the Tardis stopped shaking. The lights flickered and the console flashed ominously.
"No..." the Doctor whispered, before running a hand through his hair, and continuing in a louder tone, tinged with shock and desperation. "No. No. No. No! No, it can't be!"
"So then, no, I take it?" Amy responded with a cheeky grin, holding on tightly to the console as the Doctor buzzed around her.
"No, this isn't right. Why here?" he said, stopping to glare at the pillar at the center of the Tardis. His voice became a low, angry hiss. "Why are you taking me back here?"
The Tardis shook once more, the lights flickered, and sparks arched from the console. They both fell to the floor.
"Where are we, Doctor?"
He stood up, grumbling to himself, and offered Amy a hand. "Nowhere I'd want to go, let me tell you."
"Why do you look so scared?" she said. The look in his eyes, guarded and full of pain and anxiety, was like nothing she'd seen before.
"I'll be honest with you, Pond," he said, holding her shoulders and looking down at her with a strange intensity. "Before I met you, I was somebody else. Another life, another history. A completely different man. And I left a part of myself here."
"What do you mean you were another man?" she asked, but he had already released her and headed to the door.
"Just... Just don't ask too many questions, because you might not like what you find," he said absentmindedly. "I'm not sure I would. Actually, I'm very certain I wouldn't."
Amy followed him outside, hating him just a bit for keeping her in the dark yet again. They'd traveled together for months, almost a year, but she still knew so little about him. As though he wore a façade that he never let slip, hiding the truth from even himself.
The Tardis had landed near a cottage, in the middle of a lonely valley. Quaint, with a lovely garden, and painted a very familiar blue.
The Doctor had already crossed the front yard and was almost at the door before Amy caught up with him.
As he lifted his hand to knock, the front door swung open. The man in the doorway was tall and slim, wearing tight jeans and a burgundy t-shirt over a long-sleeved dark gray shirt. Quite foxy, despite the dark circles under his wide, expressive eyes, and the haunted, slightly desperate look crossing his delicate features.
"Hello, Doctor. I'm the Doctor."
He recognized the Doctor instantly, could sense him moments before he landed, even before he'd heard the familiar sound of the Tardis. A new man, a new wry smile crossing that fresh, young face. But the ancient eyes, the same aged expression, hidden underneath the youthful exterior, that he recognized every time he looked in the mirror. That empty look he'd learned to hate.
"I don't go by that name anymore," he said, tense, practically trembling in anger and guilt and jealousy.
"Oh," the other man said simply, then stood in silence for a few moments. "Well. I'm still the Doctor. And this is Amy Pond."
He said nothing, standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame to keep himself from shaking.
"May we come in?" the Doctor asked, his tone sad and imploring.
"I'd rather you didn't," he growled.
"John? Who is that? I thought I heard..." Rose appeared in the doorway, wearing a fluffy pink robe, her long hair damp and loose.
"Rose Tyler..." the Doctor whispered, with a wistful smile.
"Rose Tyler-Smith, actually, and you..." Rose began to reply, then she gasped and covered her mouth. "No. No, it can't be."
"Yeah, that's exactly what he said," Amy said, stepping between them and offering to shake her hand. "I'm Amy Pond, and I would really love a cup of tea."
Rose took her hand and suddenly grinned, shaking her head. "Of course. Won't you come in?"
John shot her a withering glare, which only made her laugh. "Oh, come on, John. He's not gonna bite."
"Yeah, but I might," John said, in a low, dangerous tone.
Seeing him here, again, after so many years. When he'd worked so hard to try to find some semblance of peace in his life. He knew all too well that death and destruction always followed in the Doctor's wake. And he had so much to lose.
But he stood aside with a sigh as Rose slipped her hand in his, leading him away with a gentle squeeze.
The tension between them as they sat in the living room made Amy squirm in her seat. The Doctor simply stared, with a sad half-smile. The other man, however, practically trembled with repressed emotions. The expressive brown eyes were narrow, his mouth tight as though he could barely contain himself. Amy could hear Rose in the kitchen, filling the kettle.
"So how did I die?" John finally asked.
The Doctor glanced at Amy, who gave him a pointed, questioning glare. Finally, he sighed, and responded. "Wilf."
"What?" John sputtered. "What? What, what do you mean, Wilf? Wilfred Mott? He wouldn't hurt a soul."
The Doctor chuckled. "No. You're right. Even at the end of time. He's a good man. The best. I died saving him."
John grinned, and his entire face lit up. A mega-watt smile of pure joy. Amy pursed her lips. She liked what she saw.
"Oh, but that's brilliant," John said. "I'd been afraid, after everything that happened..."
"It was a bad day. A bad year, after... after everything. And I did some things that went wrong. Too many of them. But, in the end, I saved him, I saved everyone, for the millionth time, and for once I even got to say goodbye."
Still wearing that same radiant smile, he leaned forward, excited. "Everyone?"
The Doctor laughed, leaning forward to place a hand on John's shoulder. "The whole world. The whole universe, actually. The last gasp for Rassilon and the Time War and all of that lot. All at once. Even... Yeah, I think even the Master in the end."
"No..." John hissed, a shadow crossing his face.
"The Master died to save me," the Doctor said, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest. "Maybe. Or maybe he died for his revenge. Or maybe he's not dead at all, stilling fighting it out across space and time against Rassilon and everyone else. I don't know, I was pretty busy that day. But everyone else lived. And I saw them all, one last time. Martha and Mickey, would you believe they got married? Sarah Jane, Donna, and good old Captain Jack, still alive and flirting, heh. Even Rose..."
"How could you have seen me when I've been here the whole time?" Rose asked from the hallway, precariously balancing four steaming mugs.
The Doctor smiled enigmatically, but said nothing.
"But of course, you can see anyone, anytime," John grumbled.
Rose pressed her lips together into a tight smile, then began to hand out mugs of hot tea.
"So how do you two know the Doctor?" Amy asked innocently as she accepted a cup of tea from Rose.
She laughed, but it sounded bitter and long-suffering. "Of course. That would be just like him."
John chuckled as well, leaning back in the couch with a smug grin, crossing his legs and casually resting his arm on Rose's shoulders to pull her close as she sat down beside him. He placed a tender kiss on the top of her head.
Amy shook her head, "Trust me, he never tells me anything. It's absolutely maddening. Not sure why I put up with it."
"Amy," the Doctor shot back. "Amelia. Not now. Remember what I said about asking questions."
"Nope," she said, meeting his eyes with a challenging smirk.
"Oh, I like her," John said as Rose finally led Amy Pond away after an exhaustive retelling of the past few years of their lives. "She's feisty."
"Hey, now, you're a married man," the Doctor chided him gently.
He laughed, genuinely charmed, "Married, not dead."
"I suppose you always were the Casanova, weren't you?"
"In the grand scheme of things, I think I was rather chaste," he said, teasing. "Well, mostly chaste. Comparatively. Well, maybe not compared to myself."
"Oh, you don't know the half of it," the Doctor muttered. "Would you believe I got married afterwards?"
"No!" he said, a wide, surprised grin lighting up his face.
"To Queen Elizabeth!" the Doctor added, and they both broke into laughter.
"Oh, all right, I suppose I am rather a romantic," John said, in a cheeky tone.
"I can think of worse things," the Doctor replied, lowering his gaze.
John shrugged. "I was born loving Rose. Well, he was, I should say. The Tenth. Out of passion and love and sacrifice and all those other silly noble ideals."
"Yes..." the Doctor said softly. "Silly. Still, I think Jack must have rubbed off on us. He always seemed to be having so much more fun. I was always a bit jealous, actually."
"I looked him up, you know," John said with a sad chuckle. "I don't know what I expected. Think maybe I just wanted to connect with someone who could understand. A friend."
The Doctor looked at him and nodded slowly.
John sighed before continuing, "Good old Jack. Funny Jack. Gorgeous Jack, so full of life even death couldn't contain him. But here, he died in World War II, saving London from that plague of empty children. Remember that? Forever searching for their mummy? Turns out Jack would have been a hero all along, even without us. And that got me thinking."
The Doctor said nothing. Their eyes locked. John's mood suddenly turned, mercurial as always.
"It seriously got me thinking, Doctor," he spat, saying the name like a curse. "What is the point of us? Really. Across all of creation, we've acted like a god, a god of time and anarchy. The Time Lord victorious. Everything we've destroyed, everything we've lost, all those schemes and machinations. Manipulating people, even the people we care about most. Tossing every rule aside as though none of them could ever possibly apply to us. But look around you, Doctor. We never existed in this universe. Did you know that? Did you bother to even consider that when you left us stranded here? We never existed, and this universe is running just fine. After all we suffered, the best we could do is make a single planet a little less cruel."
His voice raced ahead, growing loud and manic and full of rage, as a tear trailed unnoticed down his cheek. He stood up, towering over the Doctor. "Was it worth it?"
The Doctor stood to meet him, just inches apart now, his own voice dark and angry as he shouted, poking a finger at John's chest. "Yes. Yes! And if you don't realize that, we're less alike than I thought."
Before he even realized what he was doing, John had punched the Doctor in the face, knocking him to the floor. The moment the Doctor collapsed, John stared at his hands as though they were suddenly alien.
"No..." he whispered, and ran out the door.
"So you used to travel with the Doctor," Amy asked casually as Rose led her outside to the backyard, to stroll along her lovely flower garden.
"Something like that," Rose replied nonchalantly. "But that was a long time ago. I made my choice. Or rather, he made it for me, I suppose. It wouldn't be the first time."
"So, what? He just travels around with a harem?"
Rose laughed and shook her head. "I don't think that's how he'd describe it."
"So. You and the Doctor were..." Amy pouted and raised an eyebrow, feeling just a little jealous as she recalled the time she'd tried to kiss him, the panic on his face as he'd squirmed away. But the look on the Doctor's face when he saw Rose... She'd never seen him look at anyone like that.
Rose smiled sadly, but didn't respond. They both walked in silence for a moment, Rose seemingly lost in memories, frail and pale in her pink robe.
"It's a lovely garden," Amy said, plucking a purple flower and tucking it behind her ear.
"Yeah," Rose said with a sigh. "I've had a lot of free time since we left London."
"Reminds me of Leadworth," Amy muttered to herself before continuing with false cheerfulness. "At least it's quiet."
Rose chuckled, "London was too much for him, I think. He remembered London, his London, so well. But he can't sense the changes in time like he used to, and here, everything's different. Just enough to drive him mad, everyone thinking he's a bloody moron for misremembering and him unable to explain himself."
"Oh, he must have LOVED that," Amy said, laughing.
"Yeah," Rose said, her voice sad once again, her eyes suddenly sparkling. "Then after Torchwood and the 456... Well, you wouldn't know about that, I don't think. But it broke his heart. He was so afraid, like he'd known what had to happen from the very start, but he didn't want to face it. Refused to get involved. Like he was ashamed. So he ran, like he always does. Ran away from London, and Torchwood, and the rest of the world. And so I followed him. Yeah. It's definitely been pretty quiet since then."
Amy had so many questions, but her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of shouting. Rose dashed inside, Amy close behind.
The Doctor was already standing up, rubbing his jaw. "Where is he?" he asked with a groan.
Rose opened the front door and shouted, "Don't you dare!"
The three of them ran outside to see John facing the Tardis, his arm raised, ready to snap his fingers.
He turned his head, just for a moment, and said, "Rose. I'm so sorry."
Then he snapped his fingers and the doors opened. He was inside before the Doctor could reach the Tardis, and within seconds they heard that unique, familiar groan.
"No!" Rose screamed, weeping. "Not again. Don't you dare!"
But the Tardis was already gone.
Amy went to Rose, hugging her. "It's all right. We'll find him."
"But... How could he?" Rose wept, shaking as Amy held her. She stared at the empty spot near the road where the Tardis once stood.
"We'll find him, right, Doctor?" Amy said, casting a warning glare at the Doctor, who seemed lost in thought.
"I don't see how," the Doctor said noncommittally. "He could be anywhere, at anytime. Might not even be in this universe anymore."
"Doctor!" Amy shouted, angry at him for once again turning cold and professorial.
He ignored her, circling the spot where the Tardis had been, staring closely at the ground as he muttered to himself. "But what I don't understand is how. Or why we even came here in the first place, except... No wait, that part I can work out," he said, sniffing the air, then snapping his fingers and pointing at Rose without meeting her glare. "You're pregnant. Of course. That's happened before, but not across the universes like this. Except the walls in the skin of the universe are cracked. Did we just slip through? Slip through a crack? Have you seen any? We've seen lots. Would you know about them? Would Torchwood know? Maybe, but I don't see what they could do about it since I've been trying to figure it out for ages, and I'm rather brilliant, so what chance would they have to—"
"I wish you'd never come here," Rose said to him, her voice suddenly numb. "I thought I hated you after what you did, but I had John, at least. So I could forgive you. And we love each other. Outside of you. Despite you, not because of you. Because he's so much more than you in so many ways. But then, it's always the same with the Doctor, isn't it? Swooping in, brilliant and charming. You never mean to, it's never your fault, but I think the Daleks were right about you. The oncoming storm? The destroyer of worlds? You ruin lives without even trying."
"Rose…" the Doctor said, his voice cracking, near tears, but still refusing to meet her eyes. "I never... How could I have known this would happen? I never meant to come here. I wanted to leave the two of you alone, to go and love and live and explore. But why would he do this? He'd have grown his own Tardis in another couple of decades. Why wouldn't he wait?"
"Would you have waited?" Rose asked, still crying. "When they exiled you here all those years ago?"
"He told you about that, did he?"
"He told me everything you wouldn't," she replied.
He stared up at her. Rose shrugged Amy away and walked up to him, her face wet with tears.
"Oh Rose," the Doctor whispered, reaching out to hug her. "I'm sorry."
And then Amy heard that familiar sound that had haunted her dreams as a child. The sound of the Tardis.
John barely remembered setting the controls. His head was spinning, throbbing with the effort of piloting the Tardis, the connection he always felt to her muted by his own shaky exhaustion. He stumbled through the still unfamiliar console room, nearly tripping on the stairs as he made his way to the door, pushing it open to face bright, unflinching sunlight.
"John!" Rose called, running to catch him as he tumbled out the door.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, holding her tightly.
She pulled back, pushing him away as her initial shock wore off. "Where the bloody hell have you been?"
"Gallifrey," he said softly, leaning against the Tardis.
The Doctor strode up to him, eyes narrowed in anger. "How long?"
"What?" John replied, shaking his head as he tried to get his bearings.
"How long were you gone?" the Doctor asked in a dark, low voice.
He looked up with a wild expression, manic and exhausted, "I don't... I don't know. I honestly don't know."
"John..." Rose ventured, facing him alongside the Doctor. "When was the last time you slept?"
She nodded, and took his hand.
John shook his head, trying very hard to recall how many long he'd spent searching through time. Days? Weeks? A maddening rush of panic and memories that all blurred together. "Well, this morning, I think. Literally, this last morning, when I woke up, and you were in the shower, and I decided to make breakfast so it would be waiting for you when you got out. But I never finished..."
The Doctor stepped right in front of him, their eyes meeting. "Where else did you go? What have you done now?"
He glared back, meeting the intensity of the Doctor's gaze. His voice was tight and angry. "I already told you. I went to Gallifrey. But it's empty. There's nothing there. So I kept going further back, and further back, and further back, searching for a time period I recognized. For intelligent life. For anything. But it's an empty world, here. A dead and barren world where Time Lords never existed. Where we never existed."
The Doctor's expression softened, but John pushed him out of the way and fell into Rose's arms. "I'm so sorry, Rose. I never should have left you. Never. But I just had to know. I had to understand."
"Do you see it now?" the Doctor said quietly. "Can you recognize what we saw when we looked into the Vortex, so long ago? The reason why we ran away? They needed someone to stop them. I think even back then, we knew. It had to be us."
He stood and faced him, struggling to hold himself up, sheer exhaustion wearing down the nervous energy that had been sustaining him from the moment he stepped into the Tardis. "But we ran away. Until there was nowhere left to run."
"Do you still wanna run away?" Rose asked quietly, taking his hand.
John looked at her and smiled, that brilliant, joyous, surprising smile that lit up his entire face. "Not anymore."
"Good," the Doctor said with a grin, clapping his hands together once with a sort of finality. "Good then, that's all settled. Now you, Doctor John Smith, look like you need a long bath and several days sleep. But first, I think I'm going to need my coat back."
He chuckled and popped the collar on the long brown coat, but had begun to sway on his feet. "Oh, you're daft if you think you're getting this coat back. I love this coat. Janis Joplin gave me this coat."
"Actually, if you want to be precise, she gave ME that-"
"Doctor!" Amy called out in a threatening tone.
"Oh, all right," the Doctor said with a sigh. "But there's just one thing I haven't figured out. How could you even use the Tardis here?"
"Time is leaking, streaming through every universe, every parallel," John struggled with his words, shaking his head as though ready to collapse at any moment. "We're running ahead here, so it's worse, so much worse. The time energy-it's everywhere, like this universe has become one giant rift. And when I tried going forward, well... There was nothing. I couldn't get any readings. Soon now, very soon, everything simply... Ends."
The Doctor immediately turned to stare at Amy, shocked and fearful. "What?" she said, looking around as though she half expected some horror to be standing right behind her.
"I'll fix it," the Doctor said, his voice trembling as he pulled both John and Rose into a big hug. "I promise you, both of you. You'll live the life I couldn't, happy and peaceful, with a million babies running around-"
Rose laughed through her tears, pulling away from the Doctor. "I think a million is a bit much."
"All right, maybe a million is too much," he said softly, smiling as he watched John and Rose stand together, leaning against each other. "Either way, I need the two of you happy, because it cost me so much. And then in a couple of decades, your Tardis will be ready, and you can go and explore the universe again, Rose Tyler and her skinny idiot. Maybe even come and visit me! And we'll have tea and jammie dodgers and have a laugh and it'll all turn out all right."
The Doctor was quiet as he entered the Tardis, his jaw clenched tightly. His eyes seemed ancient and full of sorrow.
Amy followed him up the stairs to the console, and put a hand on his shoulder, wanting desperately to hug him but somehow sensing that would only add to his pain. "It's not easy being you, is it?"
He looked up at her, and stroked her face gently, wiping away tears she hadn't noticed before. "I'm so sorry," he said quietly.
He simply stared at her, saying nothing, before turning back to the controls. "Right then. Where to next?"