Between the Worlds [part one]
Scotland Yard looked almost as it always had done, now he came to think about it.
Oh, it might have been painted, re-painted, stripped down to have wires and internet cables threaded through the walls – at which point, he suspected, it would have been painted again – and now there were computers and phones and machines that made buzzing noises whenever anyone went near them as if they were just patiently waiting to make some poor bugger wish they had something suitable to throw at them.
And yet, that was the point. The people were the same: the same curious, impatient, blundering, brilliant humans that populated the numerous offices and shining corridors and dusty old supply cupboards. All dashing about their lives in such a whirling hurry to be about…well? Just what they did every day? Eating chips and beans on toast, in front of the telly with the family. Maybe they'd catch a good film – or even a bad film, though for the life of him he'd never quite been able to puzzle that one out. Why would you sit down to your life, a life with those you love, in a place called home, only to endure an hour and a half of something truly terrible?
But then when he thought about it, it was because they were in a place called home with the people they loved. It became then…something else entirely. Something beautiful. Something incredible. As if inventing the concept of 'boredom' in a universe full of infinite wonders was not enough. It burned, like everything else in their lives, like the birth of a new star, its light rushing out to meet the rest of the universe in a haze of breath-taking fireworks, each the absolution of colour. And he had seen it time and again, oh so many times, and more since deciding to indulge his obsession with that strange little world.
His eyes widened.
"Can I help you, sir?"
He took a long breath through his nose before speaking, letting the rush of cold abrade his lungs as they inflated. The feeling hurt only a little now.
"No, no, I'm fine thanks."
Fine. He was always fine. He'd said as much to Donna once, when all the people from the library had been released from the computer. And it was true. He would always go on, even after the worst things happened. Because he was the Doctor, and that was who he was.
He would go on.
Because what else could he do? He could stop – maybe, possibly – but either way he could not go back. And if he stopped, then what was there then for him but –
He jerked away from where that ended and shivered. One day he would face that which he had run from all his life, but not now – if he did it now it would just seem mundane, and-and…wrong somehow if there was no one there. That moment, standing among the humans, so far from home, simply seemed too…incomplete.
"I thought you were here to help us, Doctor?"
Why couldn't he just let it go? Why did he have to have it playing over and over in the back of his head like a broken record?
"Yes, sorry," he ran a hand through his wilding hair. "Well, think of it as something like this –"
The words tumbled from his tongue in a deluge of noise and confusion, but he felt a dim light of relief as his mind swerved into the vast canyons of his knowledge. As he continued, he felt the pleasure of the solution as it formed – the plan, there was always a plan, always a way out –
"I could save the world, but lose you."
For the span of a human heartbeat, it all seized. An ice age in his brain. There were boilers beneath the surface to keep everything running and he felt himself moving, speaking, shouting; the flare of manic energy and even bursts of euphoria in places where the ice had not quite reached. And yet the cold never passed. Never stopped. No more warmth…
Time passed like the blink of an eye.
And then he was stood in the corridor again.
He gazed listlessly at his shoes as he sat on a crumbling wall, elbows digging into his thighs as he tried to collect whatever sense of self he had left. The question gnawed at his mind's fraying edges; grew sharp and drew itself in a blade to slice into his conscious thoughts.
I'm always fine he thought defiantly.
Then why did he feel so…wrong?
He'd been thinking about it for days now, and it wasn't the dying or even the thought of turning round to face things that felt so fundamentally erroneous. No, no it was something else. It was him. He would always have died alone, he knew that.
It was the being alone now that was so utterly, so bitingly unbearable, so reviling. A sandstorm that kicked up and smashed the inner sides of his skull like the shockwave of a supernova.
"I'm burning up a sun just to say good-bye."
No! He wasn't second guessing that. Couldn't second guess that. She would be happy; she would have a life and grow old with someone she loved and she'd live it with all the glory that seemed to shine out from her. And he'd given her that – the one thing he'd managed to do. He'd given her that gift.
"One adventure I can never have."
He had watched –
Why couldn't I say it?
He had walked away –
That could have been me; could have been us, just three words…
She'd have never stayed if he'd said it, and he would never have been happy without her. He would have been a danger to himself, as he well remembered, and without her –
He could have said them. He would have said them; couldn't she see them burning across his hearts, for a split second on his tongue? For a split second, he was going to tell her…
He lived in that moment. That was one truth of the litany he couldn't run from.
He lived in that moment.
What right had he to think about that?
He was still in London, letting his feet take him where they thought best. He should've learnt never to trust his feet.
You erased the life of your best friend, and you're thinking about that?
He felt vile. Disgusting. His body felt…sharper than usual. Around the edges. And his throat had an acrid feel to it. His vision kept slipping into ultra-violet when he forgot to concentrate on colour. It was distracting for a while, to bathe himself in the way some things seemed to shimmer whilst others faded to black. And then he remembered that he could not turn back to see if the effect occurred around her.
Probably not. Unless she'd spontaneously developed fluorescent pigments in her hair and skin.
They shimmered anyway. How had he managed not to tell her?
Why was he still thinking about it?
The subject was CLOSED. Done. She had someone else, and quite rightly.
He felt ill.
His hearts were being put through a vice. One at a time. A vice with bladed screwdrivers. It took everything he had simply to stay from collapsing to the floor and rocking himself until the pain eased. His fingers clutched at his hair until the pain from both points blended into one.
He was never going to sleep again.
He needed a distraction. Mars perhaps? That was always interesting.
A distraction. Not an opportunity to re-write the rules on how to be a Timelord. What had he been thinking?
He shook a little when he forgot to keep his muscles in check. And they were starting to protest too. They hurt as if he had been running for hours, when in truth he had only taken a stroll. He felt as if stones hung beneath his eyes. Stubble stung his skin where it spread across his neck and face; the vanguard of some alien scrub swamp.
He didn't even notice where his maverick feet were taking him until he was standing at the alley entrance to the Powell Estate. They always took him there.
Never trust your feet.
It was just the same as it ever was: the grey-black of the bitumen – its cold, damp smell after rain – the lurid yellow of graffiti on the wall behind the bins…he couldn't quite see it from where he stood, and found himself not wanting to know. It would have been…too much? Hope? An old message? And thinking of that, he selfishly realised he would rather not know for the minute possibility that it was something else.
Breathing hurt again. He was used to walking away –
– but this time the feeling of his chest being compressed refused to shift. It was as if the air had turned to some sort of heavy acid that clawed and dragged at his insides. Donna would have told him he was being daft, that he needed some fresh air on a new planet, that he–that he…
His head bowed as the newest wave of grief hit him. Now the trembling he couldn't stop; a deep shuddering like the writhing of a great snake. It reared up and enveloped him, claimed him, and he had no choice but to let it since every other part of him was concentrating on keeping the raw, burning emotion from spilling over into the world. For terrible things would happen when it did...
He was the Doctor.
He was always –
"Never argue with the designated driver."
He choked. The skin around his eyes was like gravelled sandpaper as he pressed it down; the last attempt to hold it all in…and he smiled at the same time. At the terrible, obscene joke of it all. At the way he truly deserved all the agony he ever suffered. And, last of all, at the memory of her in all her wonder, all her beauty, all her perfection, all her imperfection…
The three words that he would never say to her playing a broken song…
Something in the region of his left ear (the right one being more than blinded by the storm he heard in it) told him of the fickle hold gravity was having on him. Pain hit his shoulder as it slammed into the wall, but he barely noticed until his head followed with a crack.
It made his brain feel like an ocean.
Apparently this regeneration had decided to be seasick. That was nice to know.
He was lurching forward like an old drunk, barely able to ascend the steps to reach the console. What was wrong with him? His shoulder throbbed unbearably and his eyes were full of burning spikes. And he felt even worse for having emptied the contents of his stomach in a back alley – it was so-so…revolting, sickening, repulsive, unfitting. Him, the last representative of the Lords of Time, retching up in the gutter – it was unbearable.
When he reached the console, it buzzed enough to make him wince.
"What's up with you then?"
Even his voice sounded awful. As if he couldn't get it to work properly. He felt the trickling of warm water down his rough cheeks, the emptiness tangible around him. A hand that could have been his gripped the edge as he leaned forward.
He missed. He slid to the floor and leaned hopelessly against the central column, defeated. The humming of the TARDIS came around him, now gentle, now caressing…
He huddled beneath the lip of the console, a grin splitting his face as he listened to the sound of laughter in another room – the sitting room perhaps. It sounded like Martha and Mickey had hit it off, and Jack was with them.
What in the name of the Ood was he hiding from?
Footsteps. Close by; above. Clattering on the grating, but still oblivious. He felt his smile widen mischievously, something warm and soft beneath the callouses of his right hand as he risked a glance. He was rewarded with the sight of Donna, her hair like the waves of a solar flare, face contorted with concentration as she searched for something. He turned back, caging a laugh.
Why was he hiding? What was she doing on board? Why was everything alright all of a sudden…this is not real! This can't be real! Part of his consciousness was screaming urgently, whilst a much larger part was screaming never to leave, never to break from this deep feeling of…rightness. That was the only word for it. This was right. This was how things should be. He never wanted to go back, not to that misery, not to that loss and sense of wrongness. As if his whole world had been bent out of shape and someone had righted it again, just here, just for a moment.
Why was he hiding?
And then the something-warm-and-soft beneath his right hand shifted just a little, and he looked down. Had she always been there? Her smile was enough: it was like the face of the dawn on the earth, her eyes like the soft wood of a summer rose –
"What?" She whispered, a slight crease forming in her brow as she gazed back. He took an intake of breath, letting his eyes fall across her open shirt and further to where his hand splayed across her bare thigh. She was so warm, so magnificent, beyond anything he had ever let himself imagine –
No! This is not real, not real, could never be real, you selfish, pathetic, primitive –
And all at once everything rushed back, and he was naked before the surge of grief and longing and guilt, endless guilt.
She moved to face him.
"I was…I was trying to…I couldn't…"
Her eyes reflected all the pain, all the anguish, all the longing; he was helpless to the look that liquefied him, caused him to reach for her, though he knew how bitterly futile it was…
A sabre twisted through his hearts. He had had enough.
A.N: My second (or is it the third?) edit of this chapter, and I'm pretty certain I've got everything now. Probably won't stop me mucking about with it, though. I realise I never did acknowledge where I got some of the stuff from, though so here it is:
Inventing 'boredom' is what Death wonders about humans in Terry Pratchett's Discworld (the original quote from Hogfather). I got 'never trust your feet' from Miss Tick (Pratchett again) talking about 'trusting one's elbows' - where I got the idea from, anyway. Same with his ears. The smell of bitumen after rain ISN'T from 'the smell of dust after rain' - it's from personal experience of smelling wet tar and meant to add a dull, damp, depressing and generally nauseous quality to underlie the scene. 'All her perfection, all her imperfection' is from Inception. 'Seasick', I'm proud to say, was all my own! Describing sleep deprivation was, again, from personal experience. The original 'something-(insert)' description I can't for the life of me remember...
Oh - and I've directly referenced Doomsday, The End of the World, Forest of the Dead, Journey's End, The Waters of Mars and World War Three.
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