Doctor Who: Tangent
And Then There Were Two
By: M. Handy
Pain. A world of it, scorching every nerve back to its elementary fiber.
The Doctor steadied himself against a dirty brick wall, drinking in the frigid air of an infant New Year's Day. Chill though it might be, it failed to cool the pain that staggered him like a burning fire shut up in his very bones. Death awaited, inexorable even to a man who stared that phantom in the eye every day of his life. For The Doctor, death meant change; he could live on at the cost of everything that made him unique. Another man would walk away in a body he doubted he would recognize.
Every cell in his body cried out for that regeneration, but he resisted it with all his might. He had one more face to see before his own changed, and he listened for the steps of a woman he knew would come that way before long.
Footsteps crunched in the snow as she made her way down the empty street. The Doctor retreated a little farther into the shadows lest she see him in her passing. He could hear her ringing tones as she spoke to her mother. They parted, the girl's footsteps continuing in his direction. And then Rose Tyler stepped into view, red cheeked, hugging herself for warmth.
Seeing her hurt him more than the five hundred thousand rads of radiation that was even now killing him. He swallowed hard, watching her pass him by, out of his life as fate decreed it. The Doctor longed to call out to her, to say the words he never got to tell her in the end, but he was a time traveler, and she had not met him yet.
Goodbye Rose Tyler, he thought, over nine hundred years of discipline scarcely enough to keep his countenance in check.
She continued on a few steps, and then the radiation sickness hit him. The Doctor gasped out, clutching the wall to keep him standing. Rose whirled at the sound. She eyed him in concern and alarm, but not fear. Her heart did not know that emotion.
Softening in compassion, Rose did not turn away. "Are you alright, mate?"
"Yeah" he croaked, doing his best to look nonchalant, but struggling to meet her gaze.
Her face bent into a bemused smile, "Too much to drink?"
Oh about... four hundred eighty thousand rads too much, he thought. Instead he said, "Something like that."
"Maybe it's time you went home."
He gave an almost imperceptible nod, the muscles of his jaw clenching, the pupils of his eyes dilating. "Yeah." He vouched safe no other answer. She had no idea how prophetic her words would prove.
Her smile brightened, "Anyway, Happy New Year."
She turned to go. The Doctor knew he should not do it; every sentence he uttered in her presence toyed with the fabric of his time-line, but he needed to prolong this final moment. His burning mind reeled for a word to stay her, finally settling on, "What year is this?" It sounded weird even to him. Now she really would think him intoxicated.
"Two thousand five," she replied, a bit confused, "January first."
The year she met him. He nodded again, smirking despite himself. "I'll tell you what. I bet you're going to have a really great year."
"Yeah?" Rose smiled. He wished he could etch that expression on his retina. Rose half turned before addressing him once more, "See ya!" With that, she turned and ran toward her apartment building, opening the glass door to one of its stairwells. The door closed behind her, and Rose Tyler, his better half, his other self, left the pages of his song, forever.
Rose Tyler ascended the stairs feeling strangely distracted, the man she met on the street weighting heavily on her mind. She almost felt as though she knew him, or should have. At the very least he struck her as a man she would like to know.
An impulse drew her eyes back to him, and she watched through the glass of the enclosed stairwell. The man walked across the snow-covered street stiffly, not at all the weaving gait of a drunkard. It occurred to her now that she had been completely wrong about him; he wasn't cockeyed at all, he was deathly ill, and it amazed her she did not realize it sooner.
A sudden, spasmodic jerk and he collapsed on his face in the snow. Rose's heart slammed against her chest. She saw him writhe in pain as he struggled to stand, but waited for nothing more. Spinning on her heels, Rose sprinted back downstairs with all the speed her frigid legs could muster.
Refusing to die there in the street, The Doctor staggered into the TARDIS, his breath spent, his candle nearly used up. Sighing reluctantly, he pulled off his battered brown coat and tossed it carelessly upon one of the organic-looking pylons that supported the ship's piloting room. Determined, yet resigned, he took one last look at his own right hand and saw it shimmer with amber light. He had only moments left, enough to chart a new destination into ship's navigational controls.
The Doctor reached the central control panel and flipped a few levers. Using the column as crutch, he walked to the next display, to manipulate the proper controls there. That done, he came around again and stood with his back to the door. The thrumming engines of the TARDIS began their power up sequence.
Good old girl. The only one who never left me... not that you haven't tried often enough.
In a few minutes he would walk out that door a new man.
He felt his face go flush. Unbridled fury stormed its way across his senses. On his face, he felt a mask of baffled anxiety, but his last moments granted him one last insight into the depths of he would soon loose. He had fought so hard, lived so hard, and kept fighting to the end, because part of him - the inane illogical part - wanted to believe he could win Rose back if he only kept this face long enough. Now he never would, but what did that matter?
His pulse quickened, and The Doctor took great gulps of air to satisfy his burning lungs. "I don't want to go..."
Then the impossible happened. "Can I get you something, mister. I just... why is this thing so much bigger on the inside?"
The Doctor rounded on the speaker in a panic. "Rose! No!" The dam finally burst; an explosion of unquenchable energy lanced out him in every direction, enveloping the TARDIS' main column, its support struts, cables, conduits and all. Five hundred thousand rads, on top of the normal ferocity of a Time Lord's regeneration, flooded the chamber.
The ships engines strained to cope, losing the battle against forces they were never meant to take. It triggered the TARDIS' de-materialization sequence. The ship was slipping back into the time vortex, completely out of his control. Rose Tyler, did not escape the brunt of regenerative energy. Enveloped in light, borne on the raw tide, she went flying backward out of the TARDIS doors onto the street. As if to fulfill his wish of late, the flight of her passage left a gold-flecked afterimage seared on his vision. For all he knew, he had just killed the woman he... but that was the last thing those eyes ever saw as the deluge of light blotted out everything else.
The ship reeled. Fires raged, delicate electronics sparked as they overloaded and burnt out. Crumbling masonry and ceramic deafened his ears. The Doctor screamed in rage and pain...
...and then a new man stood blinking at the chaos. He looked bewildered at his surroundings, as if seeing them for the first time. Indeed he had, for to this man, everything was new. Even so, The Doctor had never seen his TARDIS in such a state of smash.
Regeneration always left his head a bit fuzzy, so he best start with the basics. "Legs!" he cried, grabbing one on his hands and kissing it. "I still have legs. That's glorious." He patted himself down. "Arms! Fingers..." His eyes lit in childlike fascination as he wiggled them to make sure they were in working order.
"Excuse me, but what just happened?" demanded an all too familiar voice.
That brought him up short. Lids going wide, he found a blonde teenager standing shakily behind him. "What?"
She started to repeat herself but he interrupted, not believing his eyes or ears. "I heard you, but... that's impossible!"
"I would've thought so too but I saw it. Where's that other fellow?" She eyed him suspiciously. "You're wearing his clothes. Why?"
"Umm... yeah. He was me."
"But don't worry." He winked at her. "I'm me too."
"Wha... Who are you?"
"I'm The Doctor. But don't let's get distracted." He eyed her over quickly, his mind racing to piece things together, "I saw you go tumbling out of here, so how did you get back aboard the TARDIS? No time to walk in. Maybe the oxygen shell went elastic when everything overloaded and bounced you back in. For all I know this is just a post-regenerative hallucination. That would be new... possibly."
She interrupted him, "Let's say I believe any of this, which I don't. You... he... knew my name. How do you know me?" She snatched up a bit of jagged metal from the floor, wielding it like a club. "Are you some sort of stalker?"
"Stalker? No," he said emphatically. She was starting to cop that bit of attitude she he remembered so well, and he soaked it in like the bouquet of a fine wine. "I'm a traveler. And right now I can honestly say I know you better than I do myself. But there's something I'm forgetting. Something else. We're... we're..." He began looking around as if he thought the answer might fly by his head at any moment. It in fact did. A fresh explosion rocked the TARDIS, sending a particularly unpleasant jet of sparks full into his face. He pushed himself off the center console where he had stumbled and grabbed both of Rose's shoulder's, grinning as he jumped for joy like a kid in a candy shop. "We're crashing!"
"Crashing?" she repeated, disbelief and panic warring for supremacy on her face.
"Oh, yes, Rose Tyler," he couldn't help but say. "Hold on tight!" He could feel the TARDIS spinning wildly on its axis, rolling end over end to land... the universe knew where. Save for the fact he was a new man and she did not know him, this was just like old times. And when one said that, only one thing remained. Clutching a console, The Doctor threw back his head, joy splashed across his face.
"On y va!"