He has heard it said that you leave this life in the exact same way you came into it. What does that mean exactly? Naked and screaming? He wasn't naked now, nor was he screaming. Alone perhaps? That fits. The truth, however cold it may sound, is that we spend our entire lives alone, living solitarily behind our eyes. We spend our time trying to reach out from inside and connect with other people, doing things to make them notice, to enchant and delight them. And sometimes to hurt and provoke them, anything to distract ourselves from the truth that waits for us every second of every minute of every day. When they are gone all that remains of those people is the memory of them locked deep within, seldom accessed save the handful of times that everything goes quiet and introspection is the only option left.
This is one of those times.
He is lying on the floor next to the console. The TARDIS is humming to him, singing a lullaby to ease him to sleep. His body is turned into her and his breathing is shallow. He wishes that she had arms to hold him. Funny how our first instincts and our last are the same, the need to be held, soothed by loving arms, pressed up against a chest hearing the rhythm of heartbeats. He feels sorry for wanting more from her than she can provide, because he knows she would, if she only could. She has given him everything, provided the materials for the tapestry of his life, taught him to stitch it, helped him repair it when he made mistakes and broke a thread or pulled one too tightly. Because of her he created so many beautiful things with his life, and now it was ending and she was here, his constant companion. The Doctor without the TARDIS is not the Doctor at all, is the same true for the TARDIS without the Doctor? He wonders what will become of her now that he is leaving her. She hushes him softly.
He turns his thoughts to the other lives that have touched his. So many, countless. Friends and enemies, from fleeting meetings to epic loves, all of them catalogued within, each with their own room, each with their own door. He keeps the enemies' doors shut; that time has passed now. He moves through the long corridors of friends remembering them all. Each one has a cipher to unlock their room; a smile perhaps, or a joke, or a look or disapproval, or a soft carnal touch. He keeps all these fragments there to remember them by. Other memories bloom from them, the person reborn.
There is one room he is avoiding, and of course, by avoiding it all of the routes rearrange themselves leading only there. The one he used to go to first, most often, for one simple reason. Hope. Hope is a bastard.
All of the others came and went, tossed like leaves on the wind, no matter how much he wanted to hold on to them. But at least he could close the door then and carry on. Move forward. This one however always held the kernel of hope. He just didn't know if she was ever done with him. Sometimes he wished he had asked her when the last time he would see her would be. But part of him was afraid she would answer and the hope would be extinguished. Would that have been better?
All of the loves that came afterward, were they tainted by the hope? No, he gave his heart willingly and fully each time, but then, time took them all and closed the door behind them when they were gone. And afterward, every last time, it was her door he would go to, replay each memory, nourish the hope. Even now with the embers of his existence dimming it's there, and he's standing at her door. Even though rationally, he supposes, the last time was his last time. He opens the door anyway, her face, of course, and that look. Intimacy. Each memory unfurls before him, filling the room, filling every room and there is nothing else.
Arms, he needs arms, and she is holding him, was holding him. Soft and steady and stroking his hair. Heartbeats, he thinks and he was lying with his ear to her chest, telling her to 'shhh' as he listened to the rhythm. Both arms and heartbeats together? He searches but already knows it is not there.
Maybe he can imagine it, make a composite? Probably not but he tries all the same. He holds the sound of her hearts in his ear, then arms holding him gently, tightly, stroking his face. It almost feels like a new memory. And then warm tears on his forehead, he hadn't asked for those. "Don't cry River," he pleads to her memory. There is a soft, thick sob. "Hush now," he says and feels her warm lips on his face. The arms are trembling now. Why is he doing this to himself? "Doctor," he hears. Oh…hears. He throws the curtains back and he is leaving but in the distance he can see her haloed in her hair and so, so sad. "I love you," are the last words he hears, hers or his own he doesn't know.
The old girl couldn't have arms to hold him, but she made someone who did, perhaps with this exact moment in mind - his final thought, he made it a good one. And he is in the void.
When we die our bodies return to the elemental dust of the universe where they came from and in turn are transformed into something new or even someone new, and the best we can hope for is that the sum total of our existence balanced on the positive side, or at least neutral. That somewhere, somewhen part of ourselves is living in someone's memory and that they are accessing it. And of course it is, and of course they are.