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AUTHOR: sensiblecat 

WORDS: 1500 ish

SPOILERS: Up to End of Time Part One

WARNINGS: General.

The Doctor contemplates his next regeneration - or death?

Your death taps you on the shoulder, or takes you by the hand and says, come along o'me, it's time
The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman

He's spent almost a thousand years running from his death, and the closer it comes, the faster he runs; the more he packs into his final, foolish days.

He's still got it - the charm that could captivate a Virgin Queen, or at least get a saucy pensioner to pinch his bottom. Nobody would think to look at him that sometimes he can almost feel the cold breath of Death on the back of his neck, standing behind him and waiting to tap him on the shoulder. But he's worked out over the last few months that one of the worst things about being alone is that, in the silence, he can sense the squelchy little feet of his death plodding, Gollum-like, along behind him. Stopping when he stops, starting when he moves again, pathetic once seen yet terrifying when imagined, and always just out of vision.

On the scratched, greasy surface of the table where he sits, every blemish in the plastic is circled and multiplied by the lights of the Christmas tree in the corner of the cafe. It's Christmas Eve, apparently, and the two of them are the only customers left in here. The bored girl behind the counter is probably counting the minutes until she can throw them out and head off home.

Christmas doesn't exist for him - the man with nowhere to belong. Yet he always seems to end up here, watching a party to which he's never invited.

Almost never. There was one exception recently. He had this friend, this family. All gone.

That had been his first real talk with Donna, he recalls. London had looked washed out from the top of the office block. The TARDIS steamed and cooled in a corner and they'd sat on top of a ventilation shaft to capture the last of the warm air before the central heating inside the building was turned off for the long holiday break. It wasn't the weather to be going around in a flimsy wedding gown. He'd removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders; she'd insulted him and for the first time in months he'd basked in the comfort of a little human contact.

It's the same kind of feeling now, and it'll be just as transient. But, this moment in time, here's old Wilf in his red beanie hat, paratrooper badge pinned on the front as a memory of death once faced in the company of comrades. This is the closest he's likely to get to having a comrade himself, someone to make his looming dread a little smaller. It's a service he's performed thoughtlessly for others, more times than he can count. It matters and if he was the hat-wearing type, he could wear a worse badge than Wilf's, he's thinking.

The Time Lords had one thing in common with old soldiers. Death was the ultimate unmentionable topic, unacknowledged in polite society. Yet, always the rebel, he's just announced, 'I'm going to die soon.'

Even humans don't do that lightly. And it's not as if he even knows Wilf all that well. He knows nobody all that well these days, and that's part of his problem. (The one exception to that, of course, is the Master. He knows him very well indeed, and if he really thinks that the health of the universe is his only motivation for charging around the wastelands of London right now, he's probably telling himself porky pies).

Wilf's laughing it off a bit, pointing out that he'll regenerate, won't he? As he will - probably. So there's really nothing to worry about. He'll be the same man. Same memories, everything. Same body, just a different combination of cells and DNA. He rather likes the combination he's got now, and he doubts he'll come off as well next time around. He likes the face that can persuade ladies (and the occasional gent) to kiss him on remarkably little provocation, the tight buttocks, the big hair. The mole. Oh yes, love the mole!

He wonders if the other him has got a mole. If not, Rose never got to see it and that's a pity. He imagines the two of them in bed together, Rose smiling and running her fingertips over bare, freckled shoulders, circling the mole as its owner rolls over, eyes bright with pleasure, pulling her into a laughing embrace.

Yes, of course there's a mole. He's got everything he's got, except for one heart. "Dont change!" she'd cried, so he hadn't. Carbon copy. What more could anybody want?

It wasn't just a good outcome for Rose - it was better than good. They'd age together and he wouldn't have to watch. He'd never see Rose's death tapping on her shoulder, and it's better that way. Though as he looks into Wilf's wise eyes he wonders if seeing Rose in her eighties would be that bad, after all. Still, nothing to be gained by going there now. He's trying to explain the limitations of regeneration to Wilf without his confident disposal of Rose slipping out of focus, only the thought's got away from him, morphed into sentences about him coming back different, not really him. Rubbish, of course. Because he would be the same. Same memories, everything.

No problemo, then. Death, sorted. Oh, he'd rather not be there when it happens, as Spike Milligan once famously said, but you don't get much choice about that, do you? And even though he overstepped the mark the last time around and Death is likely to have a few issues to discuss when they meet again, when he thinks about the way the Master's managed to steal back from oblivion, time and time again, he's confident that he, too, will manage to wing it when the moment comes. So what's he worried about?

Regenerating on his own? Nah - he's done it before and in much worse circumstances than he can imagine happening this time around. He tries to forget how nice it was to lie recovering in a friendly spare bedroom, touched by Jackie Tyler's list of suggested comforts even as he told her that he wished she'd shut up.

Some time that night, as he'd drifted in and out of consciousness, he'd heard Mickey say, 'You really love him, don't you?' And, even while he felt like shit, there'd been a little rush of pleasure that had almost made him smile and give the game away. It was going to be okay. Even though when he'd first changed, Rose had been terrified. He could see her now, just like it was the day before yesterday, clinging to a coral strut and telling this interloper exactly what she thought of him. She'd seen everything. Daleks. Slitheen...Oh, how proud of her he'd been! How perfect she'd been, knowing enough to be alert to danger but innocent enough to trust in her ability to overcome it. Quite right, too. She could do anything, his Rose.

'Still me,' he'd reassured her, and followed it up with daring deeds and swordplay. But that was then. This time around, it wouldn't matter if she recognised him or not - he'd covered it. No more regeneration trauma for her. Oh, he was good, wasn't he? Never again would Rose have to beg him, 'Don't change!' He could come back as a grumpy old buffer in tweeds and a bow tie, walking with a stoop and a cane, someone she could walk right past in the street and never even recognise. Which would be ideal, of course. If Rose turned up and started recognising him, it would ruin everything.

Making do. Settling for...no, settling down. That was more like it! Human lives. Little houses, Christmas trees in the window, cards on the mantlepiece, mistletoe and wine. Don't knock it. Some people loved that kind of thing.

There's an ache in his ribcage and a lump in his throat now. He's covering his eyes and it's a long time since he felt as gorgeous as he tells himself he feels. A man made new by a human women's love, a man who could take her hand and count the stars, someone she'd want to go anywhere with, a man she'd promised to stay with forever.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. He knows he'll be the same man, in every way that matters, even after he's changed. Same memories, same everything. But still he's sort of crying when he thinks about her walking right past him in the hypothetical street. And suddenly he's seeing an infinite regression of regenerations, each leaving a fainter imprint of the Doctor she loved once, the man she made new, who sits here now, feeling so very, very old.

screncap by unfolded73  - thank you.



Dec. 30th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
He's trying to explain the limitations of regeneration to Wilf without his confident disposal of Rose slipping out of focus

That's quite the mental Freudian slip to have while trying to reassure himself!

But oh, this is beautifully heartbreaking. Especially the last paragraph.