A/N: So... Here it is. The final, final part. Today I push the "complete" button on the story summary. I would just like to take this final moment to thank you all again SO MUCH, and also to dedicate this epilogue (and this entire story!) to all of you: To you who have stuck with the Doctor until the very end. Thank you SO MUCH for reading and reviewing. It's been truly fantastic to hear from you all. I hope you have enjoyed the ride, as I certainly have. This last chapter is the only part of this story that was NOT written beforehand, and it is very much a response to all of the amazing reviews I have received. There is one part of this chapter in particular that I did NOT think of when I began to write, and you should all thank criminalxxxmindsxxxfreak for it (It's the dialogue-heavy part of this chapter, I think you'll like it). But know that you all have had a true voice in this story - you are what made it come to life, especially for me. Also, personal shout-out to PhoenixWormwood137, who has become a true friend to me through this story and her reviews, and of course to my dear friend Lindelas, without whom NONE of this story would have EVER been written. I thank God for all of you, and hope that I have in some way honored Him in writing and sharing this. It's time for me to shut up now. I's been an honor! THANK YOU SO MUCH!
It was over. It was all over. To the rest of the world it had never even occurred. But it happened. It was real. The Doctor, perhaps better than anyone, knew that. But it was over now. It was past. After all of the pain and suffering and torture – though despair and fear and hell itself – he still could barely believe that it was over.
The Master was gone – dead. He did not like to think about it. Even after everything that the Master had done – to him, to his friends, and to the world, in the end he had still held out some glimmer of deranged hope: A fool's hope, he knew, that the Master himself might still be saved. But it was all over now. The Master had chosen pride and power for the last time. Even after the Doctor honestly forgave him, he still would not accept life over death.
The Doctor's grief, although seemingly beyond comprehension to the others aboard, was respected. No one disturbed his mourning as the airship pilots brought the Valiant down to earth, and he carried the Master's body unimpeded off of the ship.
He had burnt the body; the closest earth equivalent to a Gallifreyan burial. And then he had left it all behind. It was an art he was well versed in, and as such he knew that it did not get any easier time after time. He had left so many behind; so many people, so many memories. And now the Time Lords. Again. He was the last. The only one left. He had to push on. He had to keep living. He tried to share in the joy that the others from the Valiant felt as they, too, realized that the horror had come to an end.
When he came back to look for Martha and Jack he found them still surrounded by the other members of the Valiant crew: The survivors. The only ones that would ever know. They held a special bond now and forever, this miss-matched group of guards and servants, all equal in their captivity and their regret and their new-found relief. He found them all gathered together now in a large room, though he did not know how, all swapping stories and introducing themselves to each other in earnest for the first time after a year of fear and terror and loneliness. There had been debriefings and meetings of all sorts as world governments and Torchwood tried to figure out what had happened – or perhaps not happened at all – aboard the Valiant. Now it was time to go home. But a small celebration was to come first.
As the Doctor opened the door the whole room burst into applause. Leticia Jones was the first to fling her arms about his neck and thank heaven for him; that he was alive and that he had saved them. Martha and Jack soon joined the group embrace, surrounding the Doctor fully in what he had been missing for so long: Love.
As the pure emotion of this reception washed over the Doctor, he found himself smiling for the first time since he could remember. He had just lost the very last remnant of his own kind, but he was reminded again that he still had a family and he still had a home. He was enveloped warmly into the crowd, receiving pats on the back and hands to shake and hugs and cheers all around. He was assured by each of them that they owed him their lives, and that they were astounded by his strength through the most terrible horror that the world had ever faced. But that was not what he cared about: He cared not that they were grateful, but that they were alive. To see each face smile freely; the same faces that he had seen downcast and hopeless for so long, was a blessing in and of itself.
And then he saw a face that he thought never to have seen again, even after erasing the entire year.
"Charlie!" He exclaimed in greeting, truly surprised. Charlie had died at the eye of the storm, so to speak. His death, just like the other events aboard the Valiant, should not have been re-wound, as it were. But here he stood.
"Doctor!" Charlie pushed himself to his feet and at once enveloped the Doctor in a strong embrace.
"Haha! You're alive!" The Doctor laughed as he hugged Charlie back, despite being rather crushed.
"Charles McCrimmon, at your service!" Charlie said proudly with a smile as he released the Doctor.
The Doctor still scratched his head and knotted his brow. "B-But… you died." He tried to inform the man.
"I know. It was sort of… weird. I remember dying, sort of, and then just kinda of… being awake again." He puzzled, but it did not seem to bother him.
"I know how that feels." Captain Jack Harkness came and slapped a hand on Charlie's shoulder with a laugh. He handed Charlie a celebratory bottle of beer and took a swig of his own; it had been far too long.
"Actually, I woke up just outside that blue box." Charlie said as he took a drink. "The Paradox Machine."
"The TARDIS." The Doctor corrected him, glad that she was a Paradox Machine no more. However he now supposed that this was the Paradox Machine's final act: contradicting what seemed to be the rules of its own operation as the horrid system finally crumbled. The machine intended for war had erased it, bringing life; just as the TARDIS always did. He could tell, somehow, that this was different than last time: different than the Bad Wolf. Charlie was whole and fully human, fully brilliantly human. His TARDIS continued to amaze him. The Doctor smiled once more. He could not seem to stop.
"I'm sorry, Charlie. And thank you. You are one of the bravest men I know." The Doctor told him honestly.
"Not compared to you, Doctor." Charlie assured him. "But thank you – thank you for showing me that I can be brave, and allowing me to be. You lead by example, you know. And sacrifice is a lesson you teach well. I'm sorry for that." He said, his accent as thick as ever. "But just like Jack said, Doctor – It was worth it."
The Doctor spent the rest of the evening celebrating life, telling everyone again that it was they, the human race, that had defeated the Master, not him. He told them all the heroic tale of Martha Jones, and smiled to see the Jones family reunited once more. They were more united than they had ever been. And even if most of them had forgotten it, so was the human race. As he watched them the Doctor realized the truth of Charlie's words: It was worth it. After all of the adversity they had faced, maybe it was worth it in the end. He could see it on their faces: The wonder, the joy, the brotherhood. They had come through fire, and they were stronger for it.
The human race: They were, he realized, Valiant. They were stalwart survivors who found and delighted in the real value of the good things in life: Of friendship and freedom and love and beauty; of happy endings and sacrifice and second chances and honor, and above all of faith, hope, and love. They were his family now. They were his reason for living. He had saved them, but now they took their turn in giving the Doctor what he needed most after losing the last of Gallifrey: Faith that he had done what was right, hope for a better tomorrow, and love to sustain him along the way.
Only a handful of people would ever know; only a handful of people would ever thank him, but that was alright. He did not mind. Simply being with them, safe and unharmed, was reward enough. He was their Doctor, and that was all that mattered now.
He went back to the TARDIS and lovingly freed her from the broken remnants of the Paradox Machine that had held her captive. In the next few days the valiant group dwindled as each member found their way home; back to their beloved and bewildered families. Each wept unashamedly in joy to find their families alive, and each promised to forever tell their children and children's children of the real-life heroes they had found: The Doctor and Martha Jones. He thanked them kindly and told them that each of them were just as brave and strong as he, but all the same it gladdened his heart. Finally Jack and Martha were the only ones still with him. And then Jack and Martha had left as well.
It was all over now, Jack had said it: The Year that Never Was. Although he would never forget it, it was time to move on. There had been a time to fight, a time to forgive, and a time to mourn. Now was the time to live.
My next story is a shorter one (four chapters) that I shall, God willing, begin posting next week. It is entitled "Whatever Happens" (NOTE that this is a change from the original title "Nerves"), and is a Doctor/Rose short-episode-like action-y fic! Stay tuned.