Three Faces, One Man
The first time he sees it, he's all hard lines and rough edges, maniac smiles and a leather jacket and it's completely by accident.
He and Rose had stopped off in London, 2015 about an hour ago so she could get some 'proper grocery shopping' done. After the ice cream incident on Zharrin 8 (well, how was he supposed to know that it was sentient?) she had put her foot down. He hadn't wanted to come, of course, so they'd agreed to meet back at the TARDIS in an hour.
It's a strange feeling, walking around London without her side. Not that the Doctor particularly misses being alone, but it's soothing to sink into the crowd—something he's never been able to do before wrapped up in a twenty-foot scarf or a horrid mismatched coat.
Somehow, he winds up in a cemetery, a pretty, quiet one with fresh flowers on all of the graves. An old woman is walking from grave to grave, watering each and every little flower. Intrigued, the Doctor watches her, marveling for what feels like the thousandth time at the best of the human race.
"You know someone?" she asks, approaching him.
"Just walking through," he replies.
She shoves the watering can into his hands and beckons for him to follow her. Not knowing exactly why, he does.
"My husband died a few years back," she says, nodding approvingly as he sprinkles water over a particularly healthy hydrangea. "I came here every day, and empty graves always make me sad, so I thought, why not?"
She chuckles, rubbing her gnarled fingers together to soothe them.
"I can barely carry the can now."
He nods, not sure how to respond. He'll never face the problem of a body too old to do what he wants.
"This one always makes me sad," she says, stopping in front of a simple white stone with a rose bush growing in front. The old woman's love is evident in the neatly trimmed leaves. "She was nineteen."
The Doctor's throat constricts as he thinks of all the times he's nearly lost Rose when he sees the name etched on the tombstone.
For a a moment all he can hear is the thudding of his hearts and then silence as they both stop. His knees go weak, and it's only an enormous amount of pride that stops him from sinking to his knees.
Rose Marion Tyler
The old woman is still talking, but the Doctor can't hear anything she says, so he drops the watering can and runs, just like always. Time, after all, can be rewritten.
The second time he sees it, he's all grief-tinged hope and wild hair, bright eyes and a pinstriped suit and it's a secret.
He's sent Martha off to pick up some supplies from a hardware store, which she was happy enough to do. It gives him just enough time to stop by without answering any difficult questions.
It's the same as it was last time. The hydrangeas are flourishing. The Doctor sits down in front of the tombstone and remembers. He thinks about anything other than Cybermen and Daleks. He distracts himself with memories of brown eyes, blonde hair with dark roots and a tongue-tipped smile.
"Who is she?"
It's the same old woman, this time sitting in a wheelchair with mud-caked wheels. Despite the chair, her eyes are bright.
"To you. Who is she?'
She gestured at the headstone, fingers nearly curled in on themselves despite painful efforts to straighten them.
"She was my—"
And there he stops, unable to find the proper word. Companion? No, she was more than that, even Daleks could see that. What good are emotions if you will not save the woman you love? Yet he'd never managed three stupid words. Despite his silence, the woman nods.
"Never told her, did you, dear?"
He shakes his head.
"I'm sorry," she says softly, wheeling forward and closing the gap between them.
Arms shaking, she hefts the same battered watering can from her lap and tips it over the rose bush, which is coming along well.
"Let me," he replies, taking it from her.
She allows him to water the rose bush under her watchful gaze. Afterwards, they water the rest in silence.
"I won't be seeing you again," the woman says matter-of-factly once they finish.
"What makes you say that?"
"You're a wanderer, just like my husband," she says, eyes misting over. "He didn't settle down until the day he died."
So he waves goodbye and heads back to the TARDIS, wondering how an ordinary woman could be so wise.
The third time he sees it, he's the same as the second if a little sadder, a little older, eyes a little stormier, but this time he's not alone.
"This is it?" asks Donna, surveying the little graveyard.
She sits down in front of the headstone and stares at the words that don't mean anything to anyone in this universe but him.
He explains, haltingly, what had happened that day. Donna sits by his side and listens, nodding sympathetically but never speaking. He's never had a sister, not even before, but if he did, he'd want her to be like Donna.
Eventually, he drains himself of words and just sits, eyes fixed anywhere other than the white stone. The hydrangeas are dying. It's the longest he's ever heard Donna go without speaking.
"She's happy, though, isn't she?"
He pauses, thinking of all the others that had come before her. Sarah Jane, convinced he'd come back some day, afraid to move on because she wanted to be able to leave at a moment's notice. Martha, pushed to the edge and unable to do anything else but turn her back and walk away. Would she have been happier like either of them?
"Yeah. Yeah, I think…she has her parents, Mickey…yeah."
Donna seems to understand his rambling, but she doesn't comment. They sit there for an about an hour. When he finally stands, his legs are wobbly with disuse, but there is a weight lifted from his chest.
The last time he sees it, he's all childish curiosity and renewed vigor, floppy hair and a red bow tie and he's alone. Amy and Rory are relaxing in the TARDIS after a trying day involving goldfish the size of mammoths and a very angry queen.
The first thing he notes as he sets himself gingerly on the crunchy, brown-tipped grass is that the hydrangeas are dead, even though it's the middle of summer. Even the hearty rose bush is browning.
He won't be coming back, the Doctor knows this. He's accepted that there is a white wall and all of time and space between them. He can only hope that she has done the same.
The white stone brings back memories of a leather jacket discarded over the back of a chair in the wardrobe and a harsh Northern accent that softened on her name. A pinstriped suit and a long overcoat pressed and hung up with care, and a regrown hand always in her own.
But he's the Doctor, and he doesn't dwell on memories. He can't. He lives for the future (or his, at least) so he gets up and walks away.
The last time he sees it, he moves on.
Rose Tyler, scattered across his timeline. Inspired by fifty years of looking back :)