28. In which we say farewell to some old friends and meet some new ones.
There's a lot of floating. It takes effort to stay still, and since the TARDIS is always moving, it's easier to simply go with the flow.
The Doctor does stay alone for a while, but Alice thought he might. He isn't breaking his promise, she knows. He simply can't bear anyone's company yet. He stays in the TARDIS for several weeks, sitting on their jump seat next to the control panel and staring at the floor. The TARDIS literally has to dump him outside and dematerialize to get him to even interact with the outside world and other people again.
Eventually, though, he goes back to Earth. Alice and the TARDIS agree that they knew he would.
He just needed some time.
The TARDIS, having collaborated with Alice on occasion, finds just the right time for him: she locates the woman he told Alice about once: Donna Noble, the woman who knew him so well after just one meeting. She is exactly what he needs right now, and Alice and the TARDIS do their best to make sure he sees that.
At the end of their encounter, Donna excitedly starts piling suitcases into the Doctor's arms, chatting away happily. She throws a large hatbox on top of the pile, and the Doctor stares at her.
"You've got a…a hatbox."
She turns back to him from the trunk of her car, grinning brilliantly. "Planet of the Hats, I'm ready!"
Alice loves Donna already.
The Doctor is quiet, though, and Alice can feel him thinking of her. His eyes drift upwards to where she's drifting just over Donna's head, and she wonders if he can somehow actually sense her.
"It's a funny old life…In the TARDIS. The last time…" He hesitates, and Alice concentrates harder than she has since she fractured, willing him to change his sentence. He continues talking, but she can sense him turning the conversation towards her.
Don't mention me, don't mention me. If Alice had a voice she'd be chanting right now. Of course, if she had a voice, this whole situation might not be happening. She can feel how strongly the Doctor is thinking of her, and she focuses just a little more. If there's anything that could ruin this situation, it would be Alice.
"With…Martha, like I said, it got complicated. That was my fault. I just want a mate."
"You just want to mate?!"
Alice loves Donna even more.
She has no idea how, but somehow the Doctor knows Alice is there; he can sense her on a couple of different levels. Every now and then, he looks right at her wherever she happens to be drifting at the moment. Every now and then, so softly that even other people in the console room can't hear him, he still says it.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, my Alice."
But Alice isn't. She can keep her promise to him, just as he keeps his promises to her. He never mentions her to Donna, or anyone else for that matter. And she watches over him, and he isn't alone anymore.
And it's not a bad existence. Alice can never again have the life she led with him once upon a time when they danced through the stars together. That life is lost. But she still gets to stay with him, and she doesn't feel like she could truthfully expect any more.
She is there to forgive him his darkest moments, the things that Donna would never have let him get away with. Alice and Donna both warned him he that needed to not be alone, after all, and sometimes the stupid man just won't listen.
But his best friend is gone, his Rose is locked away forever with another man, and everyone has left him again. So who else is left to help him?
Alice is there at the end, when he is finally dying on the TARDIS, alone as he always feared he would be. He's said his fairwells to his companions, taking one last look to make sure they're all safe and settled in their lives.
"I don't want to go."
And Alice knows this is what she's been waiting for, watching him for so long. She can finally help him, show him that in the one most important moment when everyone in the world fears they will be alone, he has someone with him, and he always will.
For the briefest of moments, she slips inside the regenerative energy, melding with its pattern, concentrating harder than on anything else in her existence. In the end, all she can manage is ten small words, and she hopes fervently that it's enough.
I love you. I am here. I am with you.
Then her Doctor is gone, replaced by a stranger who is impressively excited to have the proper amounts of limbs. But he's not really a stranger, after all, is he?
And despite what he says, Alice wouldn't say he's a girl, but that hair really is a bit much, she won't lie.
The TARDIS burns, and the Doctor falls with her.
He meets Amelia Pond, a young girl who by every right should be terrified by this eccentric, manic stranger who eats fish fingers dipped in custard. But she isn't, she's not even frightened, and Alice can see this is going to work out splendidly.
He leaves Amelia for short time that stretches into many years in just a span of moments. Then he comes back, and they save the world together. Not bad for his first day or so on the job.
Then the TARDIS finishes healing, and he steps inside, fully intending to return after just a quick jog to the moon and back. Surely no more than a few minutes or a couple of hours at the most.
Alice has heard that one before. Amelia's got another wait ahead of her, Alice thinks.
He turns to face the new control room, taking everything in as he leans back against the door. He takes a deep breath.
"Look at you, you sexy thing. Look at you!"
He steps inside, shutting the door behind him.
"So this is the new me. And this is the new here and now. And this is the new TARDIS."
Then he looks right at Alice.
"And there you are, like always. Like you promised. You were there, at the end. When…When I needed you."
He contemplates her a moment, and this new face is so strange and so familiar to her all at once. And now that she has no more mental blocks (she's not much more than a thought anyway), she does remember him and all the times he came to see her. For a moment, Alice despairs at the thought of the heartache ahead of him that's so great that he would risk changing his own past just to come see her again. But she's tired now, she's been concentrating for so long. It's really time for a bit of a rest, Alice thinks.
Then he smiles, straightens his bow tie, and leaps over to the controls.
"I'm about to be extremely clever. Ready to look impressed?"
Author's Note: And so it ends. Thanks for sticking around, those of you who hung on til the end. If you could leave one last review, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.