From the instant he'd stepped out of the glass chamber and found his wounds healed, he knew it had begun. He could have regenerated right there and then if he'd allowed himself to, but he fought it. He had too much to do still.
He wasn't ready to die.
Ah, but why, why was he still alive? So many times he should have died today—The Master should have killed him, or Rassilon, or skydiving from that bloody salvage ship, or the radiation in that chamber.
And yet he was still here. It seemed the Universe must be laughing at him, dangling an end before him just long enough for him to build up the courage to meet it, then cruelly yanking it away. He had almost welcomed the agonies of the radiation chamber—they were preferable to the tortures of sick anticipation.
But now that he could feel the regenerative energy building up in his cells, he fought it. Fate had blessed him, or cursed him, with more time, and he was going to seize it.
And so he said his goodbyes.
He visited all his former companions, one last time. Not for their sake, but for his own—perhaps if he could see how they'd moved on, that they'd truly left him behind, he would finally come to believe that there was nothing left for him. Perhaps then, he'd want to go.
He went to them because he knew it would hurt.
And so, one by one, he said his goodbyes. Until finally there was only one left, the most painful of all, the one he'd saved for last so he could let the despair close over his head like water. So he could let himself drown in it.
Standing in the shadows on a forgotten street corner in London, feeling the radiation gnawing away at him, he waited. She would come this way, and he would see her, one last time. Just see her—speaking to her would be too dangerous, lest she one day remember his face.
But just as she passed, a spasm of pain tore through him, and he doubled over, biting back a cry. But she heard. And his sweet, kind, beloved Rose couldn't ignore a person in distress.
She turned to him, and the expression on her face, the genuine concern for a complete stranger, made him fall in love with her all over again. "You all right, mate?" she asked.
Oh, that voice, that achingly familiar voice. He let the sound of it wash over him, pull him out to sea. Drawing out the conversation as long as he could, he tried to lose himself in the pain of it.
But then she was gone, and he was alone. And it was time.
And still, he wasn't ready.
Even his endurance had its limits, though, and he had long since reached that point. The radiation had been slowly destroying him all this time, and his body was shutting down. He staggered against the wall, staring across the snow-covered square to where the TARDIS waited. His vision blurred, whether from tears or radiation damage he wasn't sure.
He stumbled into the square, reaching the center before he finally succumbed to the pain and collapsed, facedown in the snow. Anybody who looked out their window now was about to get a real light show. He could go no further.
A song echoed faintly through the night.
He looked up to see Ood Sigma watching him.
"We will sing to you, Doctor," Ood Sigma said gently. "The Universe will sing you to your sleep."
As the music grew clearer, he found the strength to struggle to his feet. He forced himself onwards to the TARDIS.
For the last time, he closed the door behind him, leaning against it for a moment. The music didn't fade.
For the last time, he slipped off his long brown coat, draping it as he often had over one of the TARDIS's forked pillars. His right hand began to glow, and his throat constricted in terror—as if he could be any more afraid. The music didn't fade.
For the last time, he took the TARDIS into orbit. He had to lean on the console for support as he moved around it. And still the music didn't fade.
Finally, there was nothing more to do.
It was time.
Wracked with agony, paralyzed by fear, drowning in despair, he still wasn't ready. It wasn't fair…
The last Child of Gallifrey suddenly felt very young indeed. "I don't want to go," he protested, choking back tears. He didn't know to whom he spoke, and perhaps that was the most terrifying of all.
Then the music swelled, and everything exploded.