The Doctor stared impassively at the shards of painted ceramic littering the space before him. Scents of honey, and cornflower, and black tea still pleasantly wafted from the remains of the cup now in seven pieces of varying size on the console room floor. He hadn’t been aware he’d been clutching it so tightly, but the stinging of his right hand, and the blood welling in the jagged cuts on his palm clearly stated otherwise. Curious.
The cup itself was not special. A relic from some other life and a forgotten stop at some inane shop on some forgettable world or other, the TARDIS probably had thousands like it tucked away in her memory banks. Nor was the task of making himself another an odious one, but his limbs refused to cooperate, and he did little more than stare at the mess he’d made until the spilt liquid no longer radiated any hint of warmth, and the smell was all but non-existent.
A large shard lay directly before his booted foot, still rimmed in scarlet soaking into the exposed porousness of unglazed edges. Its pink half-moon handle lay beside it, positioned in some mocking approximation of a grin. As though entranced, he slowly lifted his leg, knee creaking slightly as it bent, and brought his full weight to bear on the unsuspecting fragment, crushing it into twenty smaller bits, wishing it would satisfy the rage he’d tried so hard to stuff into an icy box within his breast. It didn’t.
It had been a very, very bad week. Extremely not nice. Horrible even.
The Doctor had been travelling through time and space for over a thousand years, and he had yet to find a time or place where it hadn’t occurred. Just once, just once he would like to find some pocket of the universe where it had always been fully understood to be a terrible thing, somewhere it had never happened. Somewhere, perhaps, he might find even a single system that did not struggle on the path toward the peaceful coexistence of its inhabitants. Somewhere pacifism was never considered weakness, and strength never measured by the might of weapons, nor the will to use them. This week had not been such a time.
Not only had it not been the exception for which he always hoped, but he’d almost been killed in the process of trying so desperately to save the people of Rodan, and nearly had his ship destroyed. So, yes, it was like any other week, he supposed, but he was so tired.
What was the point of it all anymore? He stopped the xenophobes, sure. Some people lived, yes. They would be back at it in another hundred years or two. It was what people did. They made war. Someone won – though, the who was always debatable – gave assurances of a better future, the future never turned out as promised, and the whole process started again.
Half the time, these wars were fixed points. Catalysts for something greater. He couldn’t interfere, and that was… marginally less painful because he knew, in the end, there would be growth. The rest of the time, he just felt sick. Populations of idiots on a hamster wheel of violence.
He was tired.
Rodan was not an especially important world, if you would ask someone who collected the galaxy’s histories. It was not influential or celebrated. It was not the favoured holiday spot of the great and good. It had no monuments, no great landscapes, and little to recommend itself to the galaxy at large. In fact, it was a Junker world. A way station. One didn’t stop there without a reason, or some less than trifling amount of desperation. It smelled like garbage, and this was likely due to the fact that it was, indeed, covered in garbage. The place was almost solely inhabited by brilliant, bipedal insectoids, with a nose for business – among other things. Said noses were shaped like short elephant trunks, and they had smallish buzzing wings like flies, so really, one might say they had a nose for anything. Ample noses on Rodanians, and he assumed they were very useful appendages to have when one’s arms only had jointed segments at the ends, rather than actual hands. Yes, they were like giant money-wise flies with elephant noses – only nothing like that, actually. That was a rubbish description, and he’d never use it again. But he liked them. They were a humble people. They knew where they came from – a world built on a landfill – and they made the best of their situation. It was also one of the best places to find rare parts for his ship. He liked them very much.
The people of Rodan’s nearest neighbour, Ghidra, did not share in his opinion. They were also responsible for Rodan’s evolution into a wasteland, but that hardly mattered to them. They were a prim people, and they detested the slightly sliminess, and business prowess of the Shmalnags on Rodan. Ghidra’s world leaders stirred its people into a frenzy with ideas about an impending migration, and the inflating taxes upon the disposal of their waste.
It all seemed so very childish to the Doctor.
And still, he had only narrowly escaped his death, with no regeneration – he didn’t have one left, now did he, which was rather sobering – as the planet was hit with delta wave after delta wave (a technology that should never have been possible in the where and when he had landed,) destroying most of the once-peaceful disposal planet’s population, and battering the TARDIS in a way she hadn’t suffered since the Time War.
He had managed to find the satellite transmitting the deadly waves, and blow it up before Rodan had completed a full rotation, thus saving about a quarter of its inhabitants, but it had been far too little, far too late.
More than two billion living, breathing, peaceful beings brutally murdered! And for what? Money—bits of worthless shiny metal. Figurative debt. Numbers that only existed in the minds of leaders, and in bank ledgers, and a vile hate of all that was different.
He took very little comfort in toppling the empire responsible. Ghidra would be picking up the pieces of a failed government and social disillusionment for years. The people living there weren’t evil. Just misguided, and frightened. But so many lives had been lost. Wasted. Turned to dust before their time, and he was tired.
He was so very, very tired.
He kicked the pieces of broken teacup, sending the fragments skittering in all directions, hardly caring that anyone who walked through the area would be at serious risk of injury if they were stupid enough to wander through the TARDIS barefooted. The old girl would probably clean it up… sometime… and it wasn’t as though he intended to take on any more companions. The very idea was… too painful.
He had lost the Ponds two months, eight days, sixteen hours, and twenty-three minutes before. It hadn’t gotten easier. He wasn’t sure it would. The older he got; the more he saw – the more he witnessed of the horrors of existence – the surer he became that happiness was only a momentary ripple in an ocean of grief. Wisps of smoke in the vastness of space. Trying to grab it would prove just as futile.
And then, only a week and a half before his disastrous trip to Rodan, came River. She told him she was leading an expedition to The Library. He’d known the day would come, but losing another loved one, and so soon after losing Amy and Rory, was absolutely gutting.
He missed each of the Ponds with every fibre of his being. They had been his salvation after the madness he suffered toward the end of his last life. They tempered the anguish which had come from the loss of his race once again, when Gallifrey had almost breached the Timelock… the loss of all of his friends shortly before, the loss of Ro—… the loss… once again… In them he had gained not only haven and companionship, but he had shared more with Amy than anyone in hundreds of years. Amy allowed him to see himself as the man he wanted to be. Amy saw in him something he was sure he would never recover. Kindness.
He felt steel bands forming around his hearts as he thought of all the ways he had let her down, and she still had loved her Raggedy Man, still cared and noticed when he needed comfort; forgave him for all that which he could never forgive himself. And she was impossibly brilliant.
And she was gone.
She would always choose Rory, of course, and quite right too. He had known she would, and he didn’t grudge either of them the unimaginable, unfailing love they had for each other… of course he understood, he had, after all… well, yes, he understood being irrevocably separated from… well… and the agony that followed – but the loss of impossible, amazing Amelia Pond hurt so, so much like when he had lost Donna…
He couldn’t think about Donna though. Brilliant, fiery Donna… not now with brilliant, fiery Amy so recently… gone…
If she had just come back into the TARDIS… and maybe they could have found a way to bring Rory back – but well, no, probably not. Impossible, or he’d have gone after them straight away.
He had to let them go. All of them. The Girl Who Waited, The Last Centurion, and the woman who loved him enough to destroy the universe to prevent his death. Impossible humans. His family.
He’d lost another family.
Was it so very much to ask for, his little human family?
He knew the answer, of course.
When had he ever been allowed that kind of domesticity? He avoided it like the plague for that very reason. It was always taken from him the moment he dared to believe in its permanence. Even his own granddaughter hadn’t been his to keep forever.
He felt the bands around his hearts tightening as he thought of his beloved Susan…
She had been so very young when they had first absconded together in search of adventure, and a different way of life. She had grown up into a lady of whom he was intensely proud. Courageous, compassionate, adventurous, and genius, it had killed him to push her away.
All birds must fledge… but she had been so important, he nearly always invited the people who reminded him of her in some way aboard the TARDIS.
He thought of each one of his companions, and how he had loved each of them in their own way, and had never been allowed to keep them for long.
Some, he drove away.
Some, he abandoned.
Others… he killed…
No, he was a monster, who eventually annihilated all he held dear. Hadn’t he proven it time and time again?
Look what he had done to the Ponds. Look what he had done to his precious Amelia! She’d never have more children. He knew they’d adopted a son, but what had his mere presence in her life taken from her? She’d never gotten to see her daughter’s first steps, nor taught her to ride a bicycle. He’d been the cause of her pain over and over and she was forever changed as a result.
Oh, bollocks, look what he had done to Rory!
How many times had he been killed, or winked out of existence? Never mind that it didn’t stick, it didn’t excuse it, or make it less traumatic for Rory. How many times had he proven that he was a better and bigger man than the Doctor could ever be? Why hadn’t Rory, the brilliant Roman, punched him in the face every single time he’d landed in their living room? Or taken his family far, far away from the Doctor’s destructive and explosive life?
He too would never be allowed the joys of the fatherhood stolen from him. He would never be able to give his daughter away to a man who had deserved her, never dance with small hands in his and feet atop his own, never soothe her when she needed, and never have another chance.
Neither of them would ever have River’s children to hold. By all rights, they should have been able to sit on their rocking chairs, in Leadworth, with loads of children and grandchildren surrounding them, as they had tea and jammy toast with kippers, or went sea bathing on holiday, or tended their back garden, or whatever it was humans did when they weren’t with a mad old Time Lord who destroyed lives.
And River. Oh, River.
She should have had a real childhood. She…
Well, he was never going to forgive himself that; never begin to atone for what her life had been from the moment she was born on an asteroid, millions of light years from the safety of her parents’ arms.
The worst part – and possibly the only thing that saved him from wanting to die of shame without regenerating – and, oh… wasn’t it just damning all on its own – was that she loved him utterly and completely. It was the only thing which had allowed him the strength to go on with any of it.
He could apologise to her by loving her to the best of his ability, so that she could have the life she deserved, even if she had unimaginable horrors in her past. He knew a thing or two about dodgy pasts, after all. And he did love her, even if it wasn’t exactly the way she loved him, he did. He’d tried to make her adult life fantastic.
Yet, she would be dead by then – or well, technically dead, sort of. Her body did definitely, almost certainly, very much die to save him, even if he had managed to save her consciousness. Still, she had sacrificed herself for him, again, as so many before her had done.
Why? Didn’t they understand that he did that to them? Didn’t they understand that their lives were every bit as important as his own?
Of course not, because he did that to them all as well. He made himself so important to each and every one of them, they would make the ultimate sacrifice without blinking.
Charmed them all into believing he was worth it.
Rule number one.
Oh, bloody hell!
Why was he allowing himself to wallow like this? He’d only spilt his tea after all, he’d been fine—well, coping anyway—not three hours before. This was a ridiculous waste of time and energy.
He heaved a sigh, putting the broken cup and wasted tea in the same shuttered off compartment in his brain as the rest of the last disastrous week, and started down the stairs leading under the console, his footsteps as heavy as his bleeding hearts.
Try as he might to keep his thoughts from the tar pit of darkness always threatening to envelop him, he couldn’t stop the onslaught now it had begun.
When he considered all that he’d lost in his life, he felt utterly suffocated.
He had no home apart from his – admittedly rather brilliant – TARDIS, and everyone he’d ever loved was either dead, or irrevocably lost to him…
Well, sort of… almost… not really since R— She technically was with him, just not with him him – and, oh… if thinking about Her didn’t just exemplify how supremely unfair the universe could be.
She had crossed the void for him. She had defied the impossible on so many occasions for him, and She loved him.
The broken old man who babbled, and evaded, and ran from feelings. She loved him.
And oh, how he loved Her. How he wished – yearned – that She were with him in that very dismal moment, to soothe the ache, like She always had, and quiet his ever-howling demons with Her innocence, Her fire, and unwavering compassion.
The steel bands around his hearts tightened further – so very tightly, in fact, that he was sure they should cease beating altogether with only a small word of encouragement.
Yet, his mind insisted, in direct opposition to his hearts, if he had kept Her as he had so desperately wanted – timelines be damned – he had seen terrible consequences for the universe. He was never going to be able to keep Her without the implosion of existence.
The timelines had to play out.
How was that for divine punishment?
He would have Her, but he would also never have Her.
Of course, it wasn’t going to be fair for either of them – another damning side effect of saving the universe was enduring all her cruel punishments and malicious irony for your efforts, and She saved it more often than most.
She would get to have a life, and some sort of beautifully cobbled-together family (Ro— She was worse than he was when it came to picking up strays) with the man She loved – him for Rassilon’s sake – but be stuck on the slow path, and always long for the stars, while he would always long for Her, but had all of time and space at his fingertips.
He knew, of course, that he’d never love any woman the way he loved Her. After all, She’d taught him how.
“Rose,” he whispered the familiar prayer of Her name into the surrounding emptiness.
He took a moment to ponder whether he – the other he with one heart and (his!) Rose Tyler – had managed to grow the TARDIS properly, and if (just maybe, please,) they weren’t denied the stars after all.
He doubted it. Donna… oh, Donna… hadn’t considered that the universe in which he had left them with that bit of his sentient ship had not been… well, compatible… diesel where it should have been petrol… but not really like that at all, he’d never come up with a less rubbish analogy. Still, it illustrated his point. He had probably sentenced them both to a slow, cheese-and-beans-on-toast life on an Earth with Zeppelins, and no Prime Vortex to grow their TARDIS.
He’d never know.
He heaved another self-loathing sigh, and began examining the masses of tangled wires before him.
He needed to rest for a while to sort himself out, or he’d end up withdrawing from the universe completely.
Maintaining the Always Alright mask was out of the question in his current state. In fact, he had a sneaking suspicion the face which might look back at him in a mirror, was as stormy as it had ever been.
No, “Hello, I’m the Doctor,” and all, “Last of the Time Lords, do as I tell you, you infantile amoeba, or I will end you before you evolve to stand on two legs.”
Wouldn’t be winning any awards for friendliness, to say the least.
He was perfectly intent on wallowing in the vortex while his inner monologue persisted in such anger and self-deprecation, and repairing his only remaining friend, when he felt it.
It began as a tickle in the back of his mind; a feather-light breeze of consciousness that he had not felt since his last encounter with the Master.
It was faint enough that he might have written it off as if it were merely phantom pains in a long-removed limb. After all, it had disappeared as quickly as it had manifested, but shortly after, waves of agony and grief telepathically assaulted him. The lament was so strong, he sank involuntarily to his knees, and clutched at his head as the cacophony of pained thoughts tumbled indistinctly together.
He struggled, and choked back a strangled sob as he tried to erect the mental barriers he’d had no need to maintain for centuries. Having been too long alone, he’d been completely unguarded, which, had the cries he’d felt been an actual assault, would’ve been very, extremely not good. Thankfully, it didn’t appear to be, and as the din faded into a distant pulse at the back of his mind, he could properly think.
The presence wasn’t alien.
Of course, he knew of many other telepathic species littered throughout the galaxies, but only one that felt and resonated the way this did.
This was familiar, and frightening, and exhilarating and—oh! Yes! Please!
Somewhere, some-when, was a Time Lord.
Or Time Lords.
Analysing the presence pointed to the latter.
Probably, well, most likely – yes, he was sure, almost – less than ten Time Lords in total – well, no, they could be Time Ladies, they weren’t necessarily male, and that was wonderful too, yes – less than ten, that’s what it seemed like, but it could be twenty even, who knew, really? Maybe the ones he felt were especially loud, but probably, almost certainly only a handful – but Time Lords!
If hope was a thing with feathers, he was a bird, indeed.
What was happening?
Was it too good to be true?
Was it another trap, as it had been when House had tried to take his TARDIS from him and consume her?
Oh, sod it! He wasn’t alone, not the last, there were other Time Lords!
…Time Lords in incredible distress.
He ran back up the stairs to the console monitor and began furiously trying to pinpoint their location.
He would find them. He had to.
He pleaded silently with the TARDIS to lock onto them quickly, pushing his mop of floppy hair out of his green eyes that burned with the unquenchable fire of hope as he mathematically searched the universe.
If they were in trouble… well, he would find them. He would. He would save them this time.
As suddenly as they had come, those impossible voices, so filled with anguish, they were gone, leaving him alone and bereft once more.
“No!” he screamed and threw the lever for the dematerialisation sequence, forgetting that she desperately needed repairs. “No, no, no, no, no!”
He ran around the console, pushing buttons and throwing levers with reckless abandon.
He ran full circle to the monitor. He hadn’t gotten an exact lock, only that it had come from the Garazone System.
It was at least a start, but there were four inhabited planets and two colonised moons to search.
“Take me to them, Old Girl, please. You always take me where I need to go, please. I need…”
He swallowed hard.
Failure was just not an option.
The TARDIS lurched, and he was flung face-first to the floor. He felt her reassuring nudge in his mind, and a few flashes of scenery, including some street vendors on a planet with a violet sky, piles of mechanical parts, and… puppies? Batty. Sometimes his ship was as mental as he was. He wondered if she was damaged more seriously than he had assumed.
Still, he felt reasonably confident that she would pull this off. She was brilliant, and magnificent, and she would.
He jumped to his feet to resume his mad dance around the console, throwing levers and running back to the monitor every few seconds to check for more concrete evidence.
Feeling slightly panicked, and more than a little frightened, it hit him once again, in an utterly overwhelming moment, that he had felt other Time Lords.
He wasn’t alone.
The trouble would be dealt with, and he wouldn’t be alone anymore.
It didn’t matter, not really. All that mattered was getting there.
Rassilon help the sorry idiot who had them and was inflicting such suffering, they would meet with all the fury of The Oncoming Storm.