A/N The idea for this was inspired by the other brilliant stories I've read based on the concept that when the Doctor was regenerating during "The End of Time," his essence was preserved and reborn into TenToo. In my mind, that idea has now become canon.
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who. All rights belong to the BBC.
"Where are you going?" Wilfred asked, a question of concern rather than curiosity. This man, this wonderful Doctor had sacrificed himself – not for the universe, not for the world, but in order to save the life of just one. Even though he still wore the same face, it would not be for much longer. The life the Doctor now knew was drawing to a close. Wilfred's concern over the man in the blue box leaving arose from this one thought: He didn't want the Doctor to die alone.
The Doctor paused for a moment before answering Wilfred's question as images of those most dear to his hearts gently flowed through his thoughts in bitter-sweet succession. He only had a short amount of time left. The irony didn't escape him — a Time Lord running out of time. If these were his final moments, then his desire was for one thing: a chance to see those he so deeply cared about one last time. There was only one answer he could give to summarize the meaning this last trip held for him.
"To get my reward," he answered, then slipped into the TARDIS to begin his final journey.
One by one he made his fleeting farewells, even if those he saw didn't know that's what it was at the time. But they knew. They all knew. He could see it in their eyes, because they had seen it in his. This was the end — at least for his Tenth self. And even if their paths crossed again someday, nothing would ever again be the same.
The Doctor's time was quickly running out, but there was still one last person he wanted, needed to see. The one person his thoughts lingered upon when he spoke of getting his reward.
He had once said that it was her name that kept him fighting, and that was still true even now. He fought through the pain and fought off the regeneration that was hunting him down like wounded prey and would soon claim him because he had to see her just one last time. It was her face he wanted to commit to memory and hold forever in his hearts. He saved this journey for the very end because he wanted Rose to be the last person his eyes would ever see. If he could see her smile just once more, maybe it would ease death's sting.
The icy night air pervaded through to his bones like the cold tendril of death which was slowly wrapping him in its grip as he stood in the shadows watching from a distance. He couldn't chance speaking to her. Just being here like this and crossing timelines was risky. But it was a risk he was willing to take if it meant he could see her one last time.
He watched as Rose came into view, walking along and talking with her mum, coming closer to where he stood. His hearts clenched at the sight of her. The pain of losing Rose had never once left him. It wasn't just the pain of loss, but the pain of regret. He regretted losing her that fateful day at Canary Wharf, regretted running out of time before he could tell her what he had wanted to say for so long, and regretted not having the courage to say it when he was given a second chance.
Even though it had been painful to stand by and watch, he was glad that his duplicate had the courage to say the words to Rose, because she deserved at least that much. He had never stopped thinking about Rose from the moment he turned his back to her on that beach and walked away. He hoped she was having the fantastic life he always wanted for her. He hoped his other self was giving her all the love she so deserved but he himself could never give.
He stood in the darkness continuing to watch her, not wanting to look away for even a moment because these few brief seconds were all he would have. She was passing by now, unaware that he was even there. The pain and finality of watching her go from his life culminated with the pain now coursing through his body, and he could not hold back the sound of agony that rose in his throat and escaped his lips.
His Rose, so in tuned to him even now, instantly picked up on his distress and turned back towards him, her eyes full of concern as she looked at him for the first, last time.
"You alright, mate?"
"Yeah," he managed. What was one more lie? I'm always alright. Does it need saying? It seemed he rarely spoke the truth to her, so he supposed now shouldn't be any different.
"Too much to drink?"
"Something like that."
She paused and gazed intently into his eyes. "Maybe it's time you went home."
He swallowed hard. He wanted nothing more than to go home. But home for him had been left behind standing on a beach in Norway, and he could never go back.
"Yeah," he breathed out in agreement.
"Anyway," she brightened, "happy New Year!"
He managed a smile. How could he not when Rose was smiling back at him. "And you."
She turned to go. He couldn't bear for her to leave, not yet. Desperate for just a few more precious moments with her, he kept her talking by asking the first thing that flew into his head.
"What year is this?" He obviously didn't have to ask. He had set the coordinates for this very date. But his question succeeded in buying him just a little more time with her.
"Blimey, how much have you had?" Even she could see his question didn't really need to be asked.
He shrugged, hoping she would humor him.
"Two thousand and five, January the first," she replied slowly.
"Two thousand and five," he repeated, then decided he could at least tell her the truth about one thing. "Tell you what, I bet you are going to have a really great year."
She grinned widely, and for just this moment everything else was forgotten as he lost himself in her glorious smile.
He smiled genuinely in return. Only Rose could do that for him and bring a smile to his face in the moments of his death. His last smile was reserved only for her.
She continued grinning. "See ya!" she called to him one last time before turning to go.
His smile faded as he watched her disappear from his sight. She would soon see him, but he would never again see her. Pain seized him once again. He could fight this no longer. The time had come.
He gripped the wall for support as he pulled himself out into the empty alley and towards the TARDIS. His agony increased with every step until his legs could no longer support him and he fell beneath the strain. His eyes were bleary and losing focus as he looked towards his ship. He didn't know if he could make it those last few feet. It was then that his gaze fell upon Ood Sigma standing in the distance.
"We will sing for you, Doctor. The universe will sing you to your sleep."
As the haunting melody permeated his soul, he found the strength to pull himself up and complete his journey. Sheer determination drove his every step as he neared the TARDIS and his inevitable end.
"This song is ending, but the story never ends," were the final words he would hear.
He knew the story would not end here, but it was this story he wanted to continue. He could do so much more. Even though he would regenerate, it still felt like dying. Everything he was would soon die. A new man would go sauntering away, but the man he now was would be dead.
Determined to complete his journey, he made his way into the TARDIS. He leaned heavily on the door, then straightened up and tossed his coat over the strut one last time. He raised his hand and gazed at the golden glow now beginning to radiate from it. It was almost time. He closed his fist and approached the console, then set the TARDIS in flight for the final time. He stepped back as the regeneration process began. His hearts were beating rapidly. His physical agony merged with his mental turmoil and he was overcome with the desperation of not wanting this to happen. He did not want this end to come.
"I don't want to go!" he cried out in anguish.
But it was too late. Nothing could be done. He had fought it for as long as possible, but could delay it no longer. His body almost appeared to burst into flames as his life's energy that was his Tenth self poured out of him.
But not simply to vanish like smoke. Unknown to him, something incredible was beginning to happen. The TARDIS was gathering his essence and pulling it into her very heart.
He could feel the sensation of being pulled in two. He wasn't just changing into his Eleventh self, his Tenth self was being pulled away. It was taking all the power the TARDIS had to be able to do this, and it practically destroyed the ship. Flames shot from the console and parts of the coral structure came tumbling down as the TARDIS fought to give her Doctor this one last gift.
The Doctor cried out as the separation of the two intensified and then finally became complete. He was now aware of a new man standing in his place while he observed from above, like an out of body experience. He saw enough to know that this Eleventh Doctor was just fine as the new Time Lord exuberantly took inventory of his newly-formed body, before the Doctor felt himself being pulled into the Vortex and sent back in time.
Suddenly he could hear a chorus of words swirling and echoing around him as he made his fated journey.
"I could do so much more. So much more! But this is what I get. My reward. Well it's not fair!"
"Maybe it's time you went home."
"The story never ends."
He journeyed further back in the Vortex until he reached one year in the past, yet never left the TARDIS. His energy was now released and poured into the hand of destiny. He realized in this moment that this was always meant to be.
The body of his Tenth self once again took shape as he sat up like a shot, the TARDIS now in a similar state of distress as when he left the other just moments before.
He found himself face-to-face with Donna, a look of utter shock and disbelief on her face that matched his own feelings in this extraordinary moment.
"It's you!" she exclaimed in amazement.