Y'all have seen this fic before. The comments for it sparked a discussion with the wonderful <lj user="eve11" /> that made me realize that the premise of my AU was not entirely clear, and she was kind enough to offer her insight and advice—so with her precious help, I tackled the thing and gave some parts a good rewrite :) I'm quite pleased with the improved version, and I hope that it will make some things clearer. I'm open to any comments/advice/questions/discussion so feel free if you have anything to add :) Thanks for reading!
The light gleams and flickers, an iridescent beam. Under his eyes and hands, everywhere it pulsates—a living thing. His TARDIS, time-soaked and timeless, miraculous.
Like orange heat, the glow kisses the pliers between his tense fingers.
He breathes. He tries, at least; his chest is tight, his ribcage clenched around his hearts. A vicious, destructive urge is tingling through his veins as he squeezes the implement, hard enough to hurt. Wicked, unhinged laughter is echoing in his head, a cynical cackle.
Perhaps this is madness.
It is absurd. It is horrid. It is unescapable. Perhaps this is what it tastes like—steel upon his tongue, acid in his lungs, fire in his gut. Hatred, rising and rushing in a capricious wave, turned inwards.
No… he cannot claim that. He cannot assume the cloak of innocence.
His beautiful machine…
His eyes are dry, stinging. The console is all rippling patterns of light and dark; the beauty of it almost sickens him. His hearts are in his throat and he must discard them and leave them on that floor, he knows—then tear them apart, and run, one last time. His head must be the sole master for this. The head giving commands, and automatic gestures to follow them, falling together one after the next. Only this way can he survive this.
The hovering, surreal feel of the whole situation might be the thing that saves him, in a manner, or sees him through this. Saving is a relative notion after all, when he will not be surviving it for long. There is some comfort in the notion, he finds. A circle—as his death makes the sacrifice necessary, the sacrifice shall make the death welcome.
He does laugh out loud then. The sound echoes, deranged and startling. His shudder is almost convulsive.
He takes the shields down.
Perhaps the TARDIS knows. He trembles as he turns functions off, one by one, leaving only the manual controls. On the screen, he can see his target: a young star, bubbling with furious flares, chaotic, glorious and hungry. He grits his teeth as he steers the machine, positioning it carefully… right over the burning ball.
Vortex manipulator clasped tight around his wrist, he is ready. He grips the edge of the console.
No choice… he has no choice.
If he could close his eyes these days, be it for one minute, if he were not that viscerally afraid—maybe he would see his TARDIS sitting quiet and inconspicuous at the corner of some street, gathering dust. He planned this before; two faces back, he sent his ship away, one cherished human life shielded inside of her. In the face of his doom, he saved the two most precious things he had to hold onto—none of them his to claim. Yet that was counting without Rose's fierce willpower. He can see her in his mind's eye, even now, blazing bright with the ship's ageless energy…
No one is here today to save him, or her. He left the Ponds home, to their life, their world… Amy won't be back for him this time. She came once, as he was trapped in this very room; she popped here with that very same manipulator he now wears with shame, all fierce eyes and flaming hair, grasped him and left. Even then, the TARDIS was a burning sun, and still in the end he saved her… But he won't be there to do that every time. The universe will have to do without him. His fate is set and sealed, unescapable.
His friends are safe, free to build whatever future they might wish. That much he could do for them, at least—that responsibility he will not have to carry any longer, more selfishly. His beautiful humans, together, protected, where they belong. There is no one with him in the console room now, no one to brush the controls or mock his driving… like Amy used to. No one. There never was anyone.
This is a path to be walked alone, quietly. Acceptance. The concept is a new one, tasting of ashes in his mouth.
All that he wishes for—desperately, with all of his mind and hearts—is merely to make things right. Make his loved ones safe. If only he could…
He wants a quiet goodbye to his TARDIS, wants to leave her on the corner of a street, forgotten and safe. He yearns for it, he would dream of it… yet if he surrendered to exhaustion, if he let the darkness take over him, he would not be granted such peaceful delusion. No, he would have truth, a truth twisted enough no lie could scald fiercer, or stab deeper. He would see his options—destruction, or surrender.
They took his ship before. They commanded her and drove her as they wished, they had him trapped and helpless within, deprived of any control—and once he is gone, they can seize her again. The last TARDIS in the universe, and he saw the abominations that could be done from and to her, once stolen from her thief. The knowledge burns in his mind, under his closed lids—the paradox machine, seared into his memory, corrupted and screaming…
The choice lies in his hands. He knows the risk, and knows it is not one he is willing to take. The responsibility is his also, as with the decision comes the consequence, the deed. If he cannot protect his precious TARDIS—
—then he has to end her.
Alone remain the anti-gravs. He hovers, they hover, separated and together. She will fight him on this.
Lightning-fast, he pushes the lever.
The console lurches. Their fall is not a fall as the ship surges to willful life, flips some controls back with a furious wheeze. The pliers gleam murderous with the TARDIS' light when he cuts a cord, then another. The anti-gravs snap back into place. He rams at the command, and madness seizes him for a moment. She won't accept, she won't allow this, so he must forestall her resistance, he must strike and maim—
He flies away from the console, tossed off like a tiny thing, landing hard into one of the staircases. Breathlessness overwhelms him—abandon or destroy, abandon or destroy—and he struggles his way upright, lurches back to the centre. The anti-gravs are ruined, or close enough. It could be a fast repair, seeing how blindly he stabbed, with just a bit of time—time the ship doesn't have. She can't dematerialize, yet can keep some modicum of direction, and reels in her struggle against the star's attraction. He might be crying; he wipes or swipes or claws at his face, pushes towards the console. He strikes again in a blur. New stars seem to burst blearily under his hands; fire runs and roars, a severed cord hangs limply, and wish as he might that he didn't, he knows the weakest points. Sensitive or delicate, rather than weak, gently brushed or long tweaked at; he tears at them. The TARDIS shrieks in betrayal.
There is one shift he fails to clearly perceive, but at some point she falls and falls, the conflagration rages everywhere as it did on some distant day of his rebirth into this body, and he wants to blaze and burn with her, extinguished. But there is one set moment he cannot escape, one appointed time and place and this is not it. Fixed points; he will have to bend and not die screaming in the inferno of his ship. He waits until he knows for sure she cannot escape any longer, wishing desperately that he could not, either. The manipulator at his wrist is ready for that second, preset with heavy hearts. The vortex sucks him in.
Then there is Earth and he falls like a man gutted out. He sees nothing, and he hears nothing and he feels nothing, yet there is fire and flashes like the first taste of true madness; possibilities, reeling, flying, fading. Somewhere and sometime and everywhere throughout every second of their history, his ship is screaming out for him and for something—something never born that tastes like water and tangible warmth and regeneration energy. The severed connection talks through images and symbols in a senseless broken cry, with hidden layers and words within words and words rewritten, never spoken. Reality unfolds, his universe tips, and he catches glimpses of impossibilities, grieving for things that don't exist.
Then the smells and sunlight assault him; he gags and shakes, his entire mind seeming to frantically reach out for something gone. There is a terrifying numbness where a connection used to glow, a gaping wound in his sense of time, a void in eleven dimensions. He sobs and forgets his name and past and sense of self, for all only existed cradled in her; for she saw him born as truly the Doctor, she saw him change, the first time, then time and time again. It is over. He is no Doctor now, but a wretched gasping thing—the Bringer of Darkness, truly, the Executioner.
He curls under the cruelly warm caress of the sun, the distant noise of voices that seem half a universe away, human lives unfolding. A bird chants, and gravel digs into his palms; normality, the cycle of linear time are pushing against his skin, prodding his every sense. He is overwhelmed and hollowed out, scarcely lucid yet too aware. Time drifts around him, spans into possibilities that seem so dim now, so small. Without her he hardly feels, hardly thinks, and his head touches the ground. He finds no will to pick himself up. He might as well die there. He would sooner have burned.
Time passes in quantified fragments like water through his fingers, or not—he cannot even feel a cold and cleansing touch, cannot hold on to anything pure, anything real. Everything is a blur, a buzz in his ears and he would not find the will to reach anyway. A whole universe, off. All of it is lost to him.
The Doctor shudders on the ground. The light on him declines into darkness; sometime soon or far away, stars will twinkle into life. Stars—another love now robbed from him, branded with pain, deservedly.
His hearts throb like a wound, his lungs swell and deflate, and the Doctor shifts. Weary and thoughtless, he drags a limb after the other until he rises from the sidewalk, a tall hunched form. Two hundred years he spent running. No more.
Now, he can scarcely trudge along, rootless. Now he has no escape, no delusions, no precious stolen instants. Nowhere to lure people to. No home, no haven, nowhere to keep him grounded.
But grounded he is, to a future carved in stone. 22 April 2011, 5:02 PM on a quiet, lonesome shore. Final trip. Heʼll give Amy the manipulator back.
Amelia Pond; the thought of facing her, and her glorious Roman husband, is difficult to comprehend at the moment. He knows, however, that he owes it to them. His friends, his companions, are all that's left of the best of him. He will need them in the end, to carry him through this.
Utah. Blue envelopes in his pockets, for his Ponds. One for them and one for Canton and one for—
Him. One last envelope, for him—the younger, fortunate version, unaware of what his future holds.
One plus one plus one make three. One envelope will do, for both Rory and Amy.
He focuses on the idea, finding his mind faltering, oddly disconnected. It is wrong, like an abstract moment that he cannot picture, or only in a blur; but then again, so is everything else and he ought to get used to this, a world seen through mangled perceptions. It won't be long now. One last goodbye; one step after the other, the simple tasks to prepare his death. Minute things to cling to, as though they held his last flicker of sanity.
Then he can stop. Then he can rest.
Then, he shall burn.
When he looks up, the sun is bleeding over the horizon in accusing hues. He winces, and prays for the dark to come soon, the quiet, secretive night. He will end not as a song, but a succession of panting breaths and then silence.
The shadows swallow him, and for a moment, he is no more.