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With Feathers

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Summary: And eventually he holds out his hand and helps her to her newfound feet – his daughter. 2nd in Elevation.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Dr. Who/Torchwood > Buffy-Centered > Theme: Real Family(Moderator)FaithUnbreakableFR1318,39922586,41718 Apr 0918 Apr 09Yes
Disclaimer: I own neither Buffy nor Dr. Who and Torchwood. They belong to their creators and I make no money off this.

A/N: Sequel to Capacity for Wings, which, apparently, was not a catastrophe. Thank you to everyone who reviewed and recced. You blew me away. And while this story is not quite as grand as Capacity, it does offer some closure and I hope you enjoy. If Jack and Rose cooperate, there might be more in the forseeable future.

Unbetaed and if you're one for linear story telling, hold on to you pants.


+

With Feathers

+

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
- Emily Dickinson


+

”Can I open the watch now, Daddy?”

+

He is lonely.

It’s his only excuse, his only defence and reason. He is lonely. So very lonely. His people spite him for being different, for loving the stupid apes from Earth, so small and insignificant. They exiled him, tried to execute him. Hate him. Look down on him.

Romana doesn’t but she’s only one person and she has responsibilities now. Not like him, she isn’t, not made for running for a thousand years.

So he’s lonely.

And being lonely makes people – even those who aren’t stupid apes – do stupid things. It starts with a vague idea, the desire to have someone travel with him like Susan did. Susan, who was no more his granddaughter than any of his other companions ever were. But he was an old man at the time and she a young girl and it worked. Mostly.

She travelled with him, learned from him. He taught her all he knew about time and space and TARDISes and she was the bright eyed and eager pupil. And a wall of defence against the encroaching loneliness.

So, he wants another Susan. A companion that won’t leave him, won’t grow old. Someone who won’t look at him with stars in their eyes, loving him beyond what he can offer.

He wants a child.

So he makes himself one.

+

There is a planet so close to the sun that the dawn of each day is preceded by a firestorm a mile high. It rages across the surface every seven and a half hours and it burns everything in its wake.

He parks the TARDIS on that planet once, after, sits in the console room and waits for the storm to come. It sweeps around and above his beloved ship, singes the not-really-wood on the outside. He watches the fire on the screens, watches the heat and speed, and the unrelenting hunger of it.

He watches it and wonders what it would be like to open the door and step outside.

+

He isn’t entirely sane. Never has been. But now, after the War, after everything that was lost and burnt… he’s a high wire artist without a net and he knows it.

His grin is too wide, his eyes too empty and all that humanity he used to imitate for the sake of his companions seems lost forever. Lost in the fire of a burning world.

+

He gives his DNA and watches the loom working, day and night, for a long time, watches nothing become something, order from chaos.

And eventually he holds out his hand and helps her to her newfound feet – his daughter.

Physically she is fifteen, perhaps sixteen. Her knowledge is far beyond anything humans could ever comprehend. Basic, though, for Time Lords. And emotionally, mentally… she is a new born babe.

He hugs her, whispers words of comfort and love to her. Because that’s what he feels for her. Love. Made from him, for him, she’s as much part of him as his arms or legs and her song in the back of his mind is brighter than any other.

He takes her home.

To the TARDIS.

It’s against the rules. Again. But then, rules are actually more sort of guidelines, right? And they already want him dead, so why not give them another reason?

+

He raises her. He teaches her. He names her and shows her the stars and feeds her and clothes her and hugs her and kisses her forehead. He tells her stories and shares his memories and lets her land the TARDIS.

He loves her.

He lets her in, lifts the wires marking the perimeter of his well guarded hearts just enough for her to slip through when no-one’s looking.

For a year, maybe five, who cares, everything is beautiful. Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Vonnegut. Brilliant man that, if a bit messed in the head. Saw the extraordinary in the ordinary.

So everything is beautiful and nothing hurts and then the War starts.

+

And then.

This is how it starts. With an ‘and then’. Only this is not the beginning. More like… the middle.

There is always an ‘and then’. When you live a thousand years, ‘and then’ is the only constant there is. Time keeps ticking, life keeps moving and nothing ever stops. Besides, he laughs at linear time, points and laughs, much like he does at archaeologists. Funny bunch, those.

In his head timelines dance, forwards and back, left to right and back again and yesterday happens tomorrow happened the day before. Nothing makes sense.

Except ‘and then’.

And then he meets Rose.

She doesn’t look like Buffy – even that horrible nickname has become beautiful in his head, beautiful and bitter – at all. Her hair is the wrong shade of blonde, her eyes are the wrong colour, her mouth too big, her jaw too square. She sounds nothing like Buffy did, doesn’t move with her effortless grace, doesn’t dress like her, doesn’t act like her. She isn’t brilliant like her, doesn’t follow his erratic thought patterns like her, doesn’t understand what he says like her.

Basically, she is as different from his daughter as the sun is from the moon.

But inside, oh, inside. Rose is small and human yes, slow in ways evolution will never quite manage to fix. But how she shines.

Instead of running from his him screaming, as she should, she runs after him. She asks questions. She demands answers. She helps and in the end, she saves his life. Little Rose Tyler shines as bright as any star and his lost daughter, shines with bravery and curiosity, with the will to live and the desire to touch the stars.

For the first time in decades, he wants more than to die. He wants to take Rose Tyler with him. He wants to see wonder in her eyes as he shows her the universe.

And then she says no.

+

The TARDIS sings her lonely song at the back of his mind, flares her lights when his sleep is plagued by nightmares, warms his tea for him when he spends yet another night working on her just so he has something to do.

And in the darkest moments of her night-cycles she whispers in his ear, hold on. He doesn’t know how, or why, or what for, but he holds on.

She cares for him as well as she can and she never, never stops singing, even for just one second. If she did, if the silence from just after the… the end returned, he would go mad instantly.

It’s him and his ship and a tiny scrap of sanity in the entirety of time and space.

Holding on.

+

Alright then.

Alone. He’s been alone for a while. He does just fine on his own. Great, actually. But for some reason, he never used the term ‘alone’ until now. Until she turns him down. She wasn’t even with him but it feels like she left him.

Alone again.

As if he ever had company.

He goes to The Library, spends a few months doing pointless but interesting research into the mating habits of giant ants of Bora Major. He visits Cairo BC, watching pyramids being built. Then he saves a ship full of Sontarans, which is mostly an accident but he can’t very well leave them to die once he’s already mostly saved them. Not liking them is no reason to let them die.

Or so he tells himself. His morals are a bit out of kilter since the Time War, not quite the way they used to be.

After that it’s Shakespeare’s time for bit and then a leisure planet in the Vegas System and Barcelona. He doesn’t stay there long because really, the dogs without noses are only funny the first time and he’s not much one for laughter these days.

And then, remembering how much Buffy loved the dogs, he turns a few knobs, pushes a few levers and, on a whim, lands on the very last place he wants to be.

+

It’s the first planet he ever took her, one of such gentle beauty it can make grown men weep.

It’s a world made of glass. Glass trees, glass flowers, glass ground, glass mountains and glass valleys. Glass. All glass. And it shines and sparkles and blinds you with its brilliance.

The winds sings along the edges of glass leaves, whistling a never ending melody that sounds almost like the songs that used to resound inside his head, so long ago now.

He took her there because he wanted her first sight away from Gallifrey to be one of beauty. Because this is what he wanted to teach her. Beauty. Peace. Gentle things. He never meant for War to come, never meant to rip her wings from her and bind her in a fragile, mortal shell. No, never that.

He parks the TARDIS in the same place as last time and he stands there for a long time, watching a world that hasn’t changed at all since he was here. Unchanging. Forever. Eternal serenity.

And his hand moves, reaches out, blindly searches for another to hold on to and finds nothing. She’s not here. It’s been two thousand years in this planet’s time since she stood there, next to him.

+

It’s not really a second chance, he tells himself as he returns to the exact moment, the exact place where he left Rose Tyler. It’s not. It’s the same instant still.

And he pokes his head out the door and asks, “Did I mention it also travels in time?”

She pecks her idiot boyfriend and comes running, a broad grin on her face. He lets her in, shuts the door behind her.

He’s not alone anymore.

And maybe, he thinks, it’s time for second chances.

+

The War has been raging for centuries across the stars before now, finally, the arrogant and wonderful Time Lords see no other solution than to involve themselves in the lowly act of warfare.

Dozens of civilizations, hundreds of planets have already fallen. Needed to fall, for the mighty Lords of old to get off their butts. Rassilion, he sometimes despises his race.

But there it is already, his race. He’s got to go back. He’s got to fight. Because unlike them, he can’t look away with his fingers in his ears, pretending nothing’s wrong.

Off we go, holiday is over, Daddy is going to war, honey. But first he makes her swear, swear on the loom that wove her and the heart of the TARDIS that is her home, that she will not get involved. She will not be a soldier and she will not fight and she will not follow him to the front lines.

She will not die.

She swears.

He goes.

+

He takes Rose with him and her hair is blonde and her eyes not green but she smiles as widely as his beautiful child used to and so, in a moment of vindictive rage at her, the stupid, little, mortal ape who dares live while so many others don’t, he takes her to the end of the world.

Thirty minutes until the Earth falls into the sun and isn’t that an initiation to time travel. He wants her to be scared. He wants her to run away screaming. He wants her to understand just what it is that she’s standing next to. He is poison and he knows it, has always known it, doesn’t need the faces of those left behind to be reminded of it. But more than any of that, he wants her to look at her planet burning and understand what it means to be the last of your kind.

He wants her to understand and hold his hand and stay.

He has, quite possibly, gone schizophrenic.

Rose cries. And weeps. And grieves.

And stays.

+

For some inane reason, Romana expects him to actually be useful. Him, the runner. The one that looked into the Untempered Schizm and never, ever stopped running.

Sure, he was a child – no fancy looms back then, children actually had to be grown, sort of like weeds, but inside people, quite complicated – and it was scary as hell, but he ran. He still runs.

And she wants to make him a general in a war that he might have helped start, just a bit. He should have blown Skaro up, yes, probably. But he’s not that kind of man. He isn’t.

So he makes war now, hating every second of it but still doing it because someone has to and Romana is changing the system from the inside, but she can’t work miracles and if the universe is supposed to be saved before the end of days, someone will have to get a head start on it. The saving.

His child, his beautiful child who has shortened the wonderful name he gave her to Buffy of all things, stands by his side, learning war from the man who swore to teach her only peace.

Still a toddler in her personal time line, and already he’s failing her.

+

It’s the promise to Jackie Tyler that almost undoes him, sends him running for the hills – without Rose. Keep her safe, the buxom blonde demands. Keep my daughter safe. She’s just a child.

And how, he wants to ask, is he supposed to do that. He killed his own child. He’s not exactly a fit guardian for anyone, much less someone’s child. He considers, for a very clear and sharp moment, leaving Rose behind. Just walking away, here and now. Leaving her to her silly little ape life. Better for all those involved.

But he needs her.

He tells Jackie Tyler that he will always bring her daughter home.

He lies.

Lies, and wishes that there was someone who would lie to him. Someone to tell him his daughter is safe.

But there isn’t and she’s not.

That’s why he lies.

+

He remembers these few years he had with his beloved Buffy better than any of the thousand before or the dozen since. Being a father was a terrifying thing, terrifying and magnificent in a way he never quite understood until it was over.

It wasn’t her DNA, wasn’t that he could raise her, teach her whatever he wanted. It wasn’t the way she looked at him like he could do no wrong – but he did, oh, he did . None of these things really mattered.

What mattered – what made him fall for her so hard and fast and completely – was what he saw when he looked at her. Time, so much time, so many timelines and great things, fantastic adventures. He saw her skipping through the universe, laughing endlessly.

And then he killed her.

+

He starts leaving her behind. Starts sending her to the Academy to learn what he has no time to teach her. She says she likes it, finds it interesting. Learns lots of things.

She never mentions that she is as much of an outcast as he was, because of him. Only she’s off worse because he never really cared, barely scraped through by the skin of his teeth and then simply stole a ship and off he was. No, she’s brilliant, his child, and these idiots, these tight lipped, stiff backed, pathetic, conservative idiots are ruining her genius.

He tries taking her back home with him, taking her across time and space again. But that doesn’t work either and as the fighting gets worse and worse, as the Daleks come closer and closer to Gallifrey and they are losing, he wastes half of his big brain on worry for her.

He’s torn in a way he never was before. He was lonely and he made himself a companion, oh yeah, great idea. The problem is that it worked. He has someone now, to make him less lonely. He just didn’t count on loving her enough to start going a bit mad over it.

+

He takes her to a planet of ice. Waves frozen in mid motion, a hundred meters high. The planet is called Women Wept.

She licks the frozen ocean around them and giggles while he stands to the side and turns the name over and over in his head. Women Wept. Women Wept for a world that was lost in less than a second. So fragile. So mortal. So temporal.

She spreads her arms, spins in wide circles and asks if they have ice skates hidden away somewhere in the TARDIS. He nods, absentmindedly giving her directions to the right storeroom and watching her take off like the exuberant child she is, inside.

Women Wept.

+

Later, much later, he takes Rose there, needing to see the innocent, wide eyed wonder in her.

She laughs and loves the place just like he knew she would and when he tells her what it’s called, she frowns.

“Wha’?” she says, “Like, they wept and then it all froze over, jus’ like tha’?”

He nods, shrugs. It did freeze over just like that and there was probably weeping, but not like she imagines. Oh, he figures there’s some frozen bodies on this planet, whatever lived here frozen in an instant, blood, tears and all.

“Sounds kinda suspect t’me,” she decides with a scrunched up nose and her tongue between her teeth before going back to exploring.

She’s completely missing the point of the whole thing and he lets her, grinning his maniac grin. Some points should be missed, some things misunderstood. Truth tends to hurt people.

Badly.

+

War involving the allegedly most powerful and advanced race in the entire universe looks – from a distance – a lot like a game of tag. Deadly tag, mind you. But tag.

TARDISes and Dalek ships shoot through time and space like Earth bullets, metal and speed. They chase each other across galaxies and when one gets close enough to the other, there’s a brief blast and one ship tumbles out of the skies and into oblivion.

Their technology is matched, the ships mostly fly themselves so talent isn’t needed and once someone has a lock on you, there is really no escape.

So they play the deadliest game of tag the universe has ever seen and nothing really changes. For every Dalek killed, another takes its place and every Time Lord that falls gets back up with a new face and ugly determination.

They blow up planets, systems, worlds, in their pursuits of each other, like rampaging children stepping on ant hills. Only these hills are civilizations, cultures, entire species. And they kill them as collateral damage.

Like this, the Time War will never end and one day, there will be nothing but Dalek and Time Lords. Fighting over a barren, infinite blackness. Lords of all they survey. There won’t be anything left to survey, though.

Buffy stands next to him as they watch the ships take off, Romana on his other side. The three of them watch for what seems forever as TARDISes come and go, a never ending stream of war and death.

Eventually Romana says, “We have to stop this.”

And it’s Buffy, not him, who replies, “I don’t think you can.”

+

Naming is a very special thing for Time Lords. A name is more than a word that is arbitrarily applied to a thing, in this case, a person. Saussure has nothing at all to do with it. If anything, he figures, Gallifreyan names are Onomatopoeia, every single one of them.

So he doesn’t name her right off the loom. He had years to think what to call her but he doesn’t know her and he can’t name her without knowing what she’s like. She could be a loud song, a quiet song, a sweet or a bitter one. She could be like the rest of his people, complacent and arrogant – although he hopes not – or she could be like him, a curious cat with all that implies. She could be fantastic. Or brilliant.

Despite what he keeps saying about the importance of names, this matters. It’s a delicate process, this naming.

In the end she’s a year by the time he names her. Well, an Earth year. Her name has eighty three syllables, is only pronounceable if one has a respiratory bypass and really only sounds good if you’re telepathic. The first syllable i buf and the last la.

In between it means the one who flies above.

“Birdgirl,” she complains, “You named me birdgirl.”

+

The Dalek in 2012 almost does him in. Drives him mad. Over the edge and right into the abyss. Understandable really.

He’s not sane by anyone’s standards. Probably should be locked up and medicated. He’s a soldier with his head gone twisted and he can’t forget all he did. He watched two races burn, willing to pay the price to save the universe from Dalek kind and now, deep underneath a desert, he learns that it was in vain.

He lost his daughter, his people, his home, his sanity, lost it all and every second of every day of every year of the rest of forever he remembers it because once upon a time every single Time Lord was a voice in the song at the back of his mind and then they all stopped.

His head is empty and his hearts are, too.

And then he finds the Dalek and the empty spaces fill with hate.

+

It’s Rose who talks him down in the end. It’s always Rose. Rose, who can teach a Dalek what remorse and grief feel like. The last two of their kinds, him and the Dalek.

Equals.

He wants to scream that they will never, never be equals, but he doesn’t. He knows truth when it spits him in the face, remembers a small body curled into his, sobbing, uncomprehending.

Daleks want to kill every other race in the universe. It’s him who killed his own race. His own flesh and blood.

Oh yes, they are equals.

+

And then Romana calls him to her one night and looks at him with old eyes in a young face and he knows what she will ask of him.

He can do it. He’s outside the system. He’s strong. He knows the cost, knows what will happen. He also knows the alternative. It takes him, the rebel, the outcast, the leper, to save the universe.

Not only from Dalek kind, no, even if that is something even Romana, even he, will never dare speak out loud. He’s saving the universe from the Time Lords, too.

And he nods and she kisses him like she hasn’t in centuries and quietly, in the dead of night, they plan double genocide to save a million worlds.

+

Adam is a mistake. A big mistake. The kind that is glaringly obvious even without the ability to see timelines. But he allows the idiot to come along. Why? For Rose. Of course for Rose. Why else?

Why else does he do anything these days, if not for Rose? It’s not healthy, this co-dependence. So, after Adam, he takes her somewhere pretty. A market that he is sure will remind her of Eastern market places, all colourful people and beautiful goods. He gives her enough money to buy a small space ship and sends her off on her own.

Space, they both need space. He can’t become attached. He knows how it ends. How it always ends. There’s a reason he never went back for Sarah Jane or any of them.

He thought Buffy would be different because she was meant to be forever, too, but look how that turned out. The same way it always does. So letting Rose out on her own is the best idea.

Except that Rose is Rose and thus very jeopardy friendly. That and he sort of forgot that the people on this planet may be beautiful and exotic but they are also stone cold and heartless. So it doesn’t take all that long for her to get into mortal danger and he has to ride to the rescue. Again.

Afterwards he patches her and himself back up in the med bay. Her first, as always, and then he leaves her on her own devices while he knits skin back together, fixes the muscles in his shoulder where he fell and fell hard as they ran.

After that he keeps Rose close, feeling justified and knowing it’s only an excuse to not let her out of sight. It’s pathetic really, how a nine-hundred-plus-year-old needs a teenager to cling to like a life line.

+

He loves Camnixo Seven. It’s uninhabited and that’s always a plus – smaller chances of jeopardy for both him and his companions – and is made up of three thirds forest. Trees, trees, trees as far as they eye can see and when he closes his eyes he can hear them whisper to each other in the slow, ancient, crawling language of the trees. A century for a word, a millennium for a sentence.

Camnixo Seven and its trees make him feel very, very small.

+

It’s not so hard, this living thing. Really.

He just has to keep going, keep moving. That’s the trick. Never stop to let the past catch up with him.

He can run forever.

+

Then comes Jack.

He’s loud and flirty, brash and brave and a bit mad, too. He doesn’t mean to end the world. It’s a mistake. One that he works hard to fix.

And despite his hard tone, the Doctor understands. Understands what it’s like to lose some integral part of you and rage against the loss because it’s all you have left. Jack’s way of getting back at the Time Agency is petty and silly, but it’s all he has.

He lets Jack stay not because Rose wants him to, but because the man rubs him the wrong way sometimes, makes him question himself. He jokes and flirts and argues and he’s a genius with any and all technology.

Another small corner of the space inside of him fills and late at night he breathes a bit easier.

+

Sometimes, when he feels vindictive, he takes a weird sort of satisfaction from knowing that it takes two people to replace even a part of what Buffy meant to him. To fill the empty space she left when she moved out.

Other times, when he feels less like the Oncoming Storm and more like the Doctor, he thinks that the worst part is the glee with which he holds on to the space in his chest, the hollow, the memories. Clings to them because they are all he has.

If he gave up hope, it would probably hurt less.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how.

Hold on.

+

One of the first planets they take Jack to is supposed to be fun. Thirty fifth century, small time planet, very anachronistic. They have a monarchy and all. Sword fighting, too, he tells them as they disembark form the TARDIS.

Only it’s not quite how he remembered it. This really does tend to happen a lot lately. Since… since he last regenerated, actually. He used to think it has to do with the old girl missing Gallifrey as a sort of fixed point in her travels, but now he’s not so sure. She seems to hit the coordinates he gives her just fine when she wants to.

The planet is in a minor upheaval. There’s a revolution going on at the palace, they are told within the first five minutes. The Head of Senate is dead, the Princess disappeared, the Prince devastated, the Kind struggling to try and keep his planet together. It sounds a lot like they might have needed a Doctor a few days ago but now it’s all just aftermath.

The fight is already over – not that there was one – and now this society is just trying to fill the vacuum left behind by the dead leader. At first glance there is no right side and no wrong one, no poor suppressed minority that needs to be saved. Nothing here to do or see, really. But then Jack’s eyes go kind of wide and he mutters, mostly to himself, “That’s not how it happened.”

And the Doctor, time traveller that he is, immediately goes on mauve alert. “Not how what happened?” he demands.

The former con man shakes his head. “Not like that. This is Atron Minor, yeah?”

He nods.

“My people came from here, originally. Couple centuries from now, of course. There’s this story we told when I was a kid. ‘Bout a revolution, a disappearing Princess. A fairy tale, really.”

“And this isn’t how you remember it?” If someone’s messing with the timelines…

“No. Not at all. Just… There was this… traveller, when I was a teenager. Stayed with us for a while. God, I had a crush on her. One night, someone told the story and that’s what she said, ‘That’s not how it happened.’ Like she was actually here, you know? I didn’t believe her. But look at this place. This isn’t exactly fairy tale material, is it?”

So Jack noticed it too. No villains here, no heroes. Just dirty people struggling for a bit of power. That the man grew up with stories told about this place is just coincidence. A quirk of the universe. Nothing more. But now Rose’s interest is peaked and so they stay. To have a look around. That’s all.

She even promises not to get into trouble.

+

Of course as soon as they get close to the palace she manages to pick a fight with one of the few people who seem to be active participants of the revolution and before they know it, she’s dragged away, knife at her throat.

He wants to fling himself at her kidnapper, kill the guy with his bare hands, but Jack holds him back. He almost kills that lad for it. Jack says they need information, need a plan. Need to know what the hell a revolution needs foreign hostages for. Unfortunately, he makes sense.

So they find the opposition and get taken to Prince Ephraim, Heir of the Black Dynasty. He’s a beautiful man with dark hair and startling eyes. Roguishly handsome and aware of it, a bit too brash, too sure of himself. Not cocky like Jack but arrogant.

The look in his eyes is haunted.

He tells them what happened here five nights ago, paints a story that is just true enough to be believed but still smacks of unsaid things. The picture he paints is of a happy couple, about to get married and a greedy old man who wants the Princess for himself. He tries to take her from her beloved and in an effort to protect her love and herself, she kills him. But it costs her own life and she turns into star dust. A ghost. The ghost of a Princess tied to this world by love and grief. It’s a nice story, really. Since then the Senate has been rallying, trying to get the royal family imprisoned for treason while the monarchs tried to do the same thing to the senators. It’s a giant convoluted mess and Rose is only meant to gain publicity. An effort to get off world attention, as if anyone cares about what Atron Minor does and who runs it. It’s small, unimportant and out of the way. The universe, he says, couldn’t care less.

But they have Rose and that means he’ll get involved where he was inclined to stay neutral for once. That was before. Now, there’ll be hell to pay.

+

It’s simple enough to set the trap, really. Talk, negotiate. He stands with the Prince and the aging King and Jack hides in the rafters of the throne room, waiting. Rose is off to one side, held tightly. But there’s no knife in sight and she looks alright. Pissed off, actually.

He talks and talks and talks until the Senate is about ready to tear out its collective hair and then he claps his hands once and Jack comes down like an avenging angel, getting Rose back. After that it’s only a matter of securing the senators.

All’s well that ends well, right? They even get invited to a banquet.

+

He finds Ephraim on one of the balconies, staring into the night sightlessly.

“I scanned for all sorts of energy patterns,” he says conversationally, leaning against the railing next to the Prince. “There are no ghosts on this planet.”

“Oh,” the younger man says, “There is a ghost alright. And she’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.”

He just waits, question clear in his silence. Why?

“I thought that all this,” he waves one arm to encompass his realm of peasant houses and dirt roads, “Was more important than her. I didn’t mean to. But she knew. So she gave me what I wanted most. And now I have an entire world.”

But not her. Not the one he loves. It’s irony and tragedy and oh, so human. Wanting what you don’t need, needing what you don’t want and losing what matters most because you are blind. Yes, the ghost of the nameless Princess of Atron Minor will haunt these halls until Ephraim is no more.

They stand next to each other for a few minutes before Rose calls and the Doctor leaves the other man behind without a farewell.

+

That night, after Rose and Jack have long since gone to bed he is still tinkering in the console room, trying to get the stabilizers to run smoother. He is on his back under the centre console, poking around her insides, when he feels a rush of air, almost as if someone opened the door. Which is impossible because they are inside the Vortex and there is nothing out there that could come in.

He sits up, palms his screwdriver and looks around. She is standing across the room, leaning against a coral strut, looking at him with familiar eyes in a familiar face.

Golden hair and pixie features, his hearts stop and skip, reeling with dizzy hope and disbelief. And then he realizes that he can see through her. She’s transparent.

He stands, shoving his hands into his pockets, waiting.

“Time Lord,” the thing that looks like his daughter but isn’t says.

“What are you?”

She shrugs. “The spray paint on the side of your ship.”

He raises one eyebrow and bites the inside of his cheek to keep from breaking down sobbing. “What do you want?”

“What do you want?” she returns, expression impish and serene. And to his horror, he finds himself about to answer before his jaw clicks shut and he glares, all Oncoming Storm and the rage of a dead race.

After a minute of silence she shrugs and says, “You came close today, Time Lord. So close. But it wasn’t time yet. I like that expression, don’t you? It’s time. It’s most definitely not, I tell you. Time. It means absolutely nothing, if you think about it. For you and me anyway. Now for humans, on the other hand – “

“Tell me what the hell you want or get out.” She looks, oh, Rassilion, she looks exactly like his darling girl before he clipped her wings. Exactly like her. He can barely stand to look at her.

“Rude. Very rude. Runs in the family, I guess. What I wanted to say, Time Lord, is this. Hold on. Just a while longer. Journey’s almost over. Your wonderful ship and I will make sure you get where you need to be. Just hold on.”

She spins on her heel, opens the door and steps into the Time Vortex without hesitation, disappearing as soon as she loses contact with the TARDIS. He stares after her for a long time wondering if he finally cracked, if he’s not sitting in a corner somewhere, ranting and raving and losing himself all over time and space.

+

He halts the TARDIS inside the vortex, wakes her up, kisses her on the forehead, hugs her, holds her close. He listens to her beautiful, beautiful song and commits her scent to memory.

And then he tells her, with all the authority he can muster, what she has to do. The Chameleon Arch. It’s the only way.

She will live. Has to live.

He can blow his own home world sky high, but only if he knows his daughter is safe. He can kill millions, but not her. Never her.

+

She obeys. For once she doesn’t question, doesn’t back talk. She just puts on the contraption and watches him fix the watch in place.

He pulls the lever, flicks the switch, and watches her scream. It’s not like any change he’s ever seen before. The machine doesn’t just change her insides, doesn’t just rewrite her DNA, it changes her. It turns her into the eight-year-old she is, inside.

A child.

She barely reaches his elbow now, looking at him with eyes that are uncomprehending and void of the genius, the spark, he so loves. She’s crying and her clothes hang off her shrunken frame in a parody of who she was.

She’s human.

She’s mortal.

She’s pathetic.

But then, between biting sobs, she cries one word, a single word, that breaks his heart all over again. She calls for him. She remembers him.

It should worry him, probably, certainly, but he can’t spare any energy on worry now. She remembers him. Through the change, through the pain, she remembers him. He gathers her in his arms and holds her until her sobs subside and she hiccups into his shoulder.

Then he hands her the watch and tells her, “Darling, don’t open that watch. Not until I come back for you. Understand?”

She nods. Promises.

And then he hits the big red button and she is sent away, transmatted wherever, whenever. Out of reach forever. He never will come for her and she will never open that watch.

If she has to be the last of her kind, it’s a small mercy to make sure she never knows.

Then he flies the old girl back home, opens her console and looks into her heart. And he becomes what he always feared – a vengeful god. A god that can burn planets and people, can kill millions with a wave of his hand.

And he does.

+

The desert planet is meant to be a present for Jack, who grew up on Boeshane, which is mostly dirt and water. But Jack takes a single look at the landscape and excuses himself, saying he has a book back at the TARDIS that he really wants to finish. Anticipation’s killing him, he says.

Rose on the other hand, flits back into the ship and returns with an umbrella, a bottle of water, and a child’s bucket and shovel.

“Always wanted to build a real sandcastle,” she tells him as she upends the bottle into the sand and sends him for a refill before settling under the umbrella.

He mutters about Time Lords being treated like slaves and obeys, fetching a handful of random junk while he’s at it. For decorating the sandcastle.

+

Gallifrey burns and he burns with her, the outcast child turned executioner of two entire races.

He burns.

And that’s good.

+

He survives.

Somehow, he survives. New body, sure, but he’s still alive. His planet, his people, his enemies. Everything he used to define himself, gone.

The only scrap of home left in the entire universe, the only kindred soul, lost. Because he sent her away. He made her forget.

Last of the Time Lords.

He laughs at the irony until he collapses, shaking and crying, sobbing like she did in his arms, when he made her forget everything she was.

He never liked Gallifrey. Hated the people. Stuffy bastards. But now they’re gone and all the songs at the back of his mind have stopped, leaving only a gaping hollow.

A hollow where Romana once sang, and the Eye of Harmony, and the young ones in their looms, unfettered and unrestrained yet. The TARDISs, all silent. All lost. And the only one who remembers them is the one that always proclaimed to hate them.

+

For the longest time he stumbles across time and space, always looming, dark and forbidding, so no-one will dare ask who he is. Where he came from.

He has no home.

He’s been outcast, exiled, ridiculed. But now, for the first time, he really, literally, has no home. He saves worlds but those he fights with fear him as much as his enemies do.

And why not? Once upon a time he called upon the authority of the Time Lords to play god. Now they are gone and who is to tell him he can’t be god? No higher authority than him. No being more powerful. He’s all there is now, with all the terror that implies. Judge, jury, executioner. He could end worlds on a whim and there is no-one, nothing, that could stop him. Nothing except the bile rising in his throat, the self-loathing and the memory of green eyes that trusted him to do what is best.

So he doesn’t look in the mirror, doesn’t want to look into the eyes of a man that has become death, that has betrayed his own flesh and blood, his people, the eyes of a murderer, doesn’t ever stop to see the consequences of what he does. So let the worlds topple and fall. The only one that ever mattered is already gone.

+

And wherever he goes, whatever he does, he always sees her in the face of every blonde woman, hears her in the laughter of every bright soul. Every stubborn, proud and wonderful person he meets carries a piece of her and every child that crosses his path looks like her. And in his chest something like hope soars, refusing to die, to submit to reality. Refusing to let go. Hold on. He tries but it hurts and there’s barely anything left of him as it is.

And every single time he sees her ghost in someone else he looks away, blanking his face, refusing to grieve for what is lost. It’s his own fault. He sent her away. He crippled her. He clipped her wings and made her human.

Somewhere, somewhen, she has already lived a mortal life and died a single death.

She is already gone. He tells himself to stop being so foolish and at the same time remembers that saying humans have about how parents should never outlive their children. He doesn’t think it says anything about parents killing their own children.

+

In a way – okay, many ways – he still waits for the golden fire that burned up his beloved orange sky to come for him. He waits to die.

But he never does.

Hold on.

+

The market is supposed to be a quick stop over, getting a part for the TARDIS, in and out, less than two hours. And the TARDIS lands them in a market alright, only one two thousand years and several galaxies from the one he was aiming for. But since the old girl has been stubborn recently, he doesn’t even try to get her to fix the coordinates. They’ll just have to make do.

Rose decides to stick with him and Jack wants to set out on his own, jittery after spending the last three days cooped up inside the ship due to some troubles with the stabilizers.

He waves him off with a rare smile at the man’s exuberance and sets off toward a junk shop he knows, not too far away. Rose trails after him, her eye caught by some jewellery sold by a nearby vendor. He slows his steps as she starts bargaining for a necklace, grumbles and growls about stupid apes slowing him down. But he lets her.

Lets her and looks around, hands jammed into his jacket pockets, scanning the faces of the crowd the way he always does. Not for danger, no, but for a glint of gold, a hint of green. It’s as ingrained in him as breathing and blinking.

Nothing. Of course not. Fool, he tells himself and inside his head he sounds bitter and old, angry with himself.

But… a glint of gold on the crown of a head, a wave of it down a slender back, the curve of a cheek half seen through a veil of shadow and hair and his hearts both skip a beat as something frantic climbs up from his chest and settles in his throat.

He feels his breath hitch and it takes all he has to ruthlessly stomp down on it, to kick it back into the recesses of his battered soul where it weeps quietly in the dark.

Then he feels a tug on his arm and realizes that Rose has been talking. He shakes his head briefly, focuses his gaze on her and refuses to let it drift from her sweet face for a single second.

+

He gets the part he wants and Rose gets the necklace she wants and they have a cup of nice hot gusha’lil. Speciality in this system, he tells her. She still almost spits it out after the first taste.

He gives her his best manic grin, asking if there’s something wrong. She glowers and insists of ordering water. He lets her, not telling her that water in this system is green and decidedly disgusting. Hence the gusha’lil.

She takes a sip of the water, actually does spit it out and returns to drinking from the cup he ordered for her, all the while griping about all knowing Time Lords. He lets her, bouncy persona reinstalled so well he might even believe it himself if he couldn’t see out through the cracks.

After a while they finish their drinks and take a stroll through the market before turning back towards home. The TARDIS still needs repairs and Jack probably needs saving, knowing the lad. As if on cue Rose’s mobile beeps. She fishes it out of her pocket and checks the display.

Frowning she says, “Jack wants to meet us one alley over from the TARDIS. Now.”

They don’t quite run but it’s a close thing. Jack is standing awkwardly, holding on to the arm of someone standing behind him and as the Doctor and Rose come to a half he steps to the side and –

+

“Can I open that watch now, Daddy?” she asks and looks at him in wide eyed wonder while he can only stare.

And suddenly he wants to run. The watch is faulty, obviously. Otherwise how would she be here, now, a million years and a thousand worlds from where he left her, how would she recognize him, even know what the watch is. Nevermind that he can hear it. It’s faulty.

But even with the watch she doesn’t understand. Doesn’t realize that his promise was empty.

He never meant to come for her and she doesn’t know.

And if she opens that watch, if she remembers how he lied to her, crippled her, killed everything she was and all her light…

He wants to run.

+

Months later she wanders the TARDIS like she’s never been away but it’s not the same. The faulty watch, so close to being broken, so wrong, has fed her life and information for a hundred years but there are things that are lost, irretrievably lost.

She doesn’t remember her full name. That’s not important because he remembers it for her. But she doesn’t remember it. Doesn’t remember how to land the TARDIS. All the planets they went to when he showed her the universe.

Details. Small things. Unimportant.

But he took them from her. He butchered her mind and her body, left her fragile and mortal, left her to wander alone for a century. He abandoned her. And he can’t fix that. He can never fix that. All the things that are lost…

He broke her.

He can barely stand to look at her.

+

Out of the corner of his eye he can see the other, the transparent one, leaning against the coral strut next to the door, smiling brightly. And under their feet, the TARDIS hums an endless melody.

+

He can barely stand to look at her and she knows. Jack distracts her alright, over his case of puppy love now and head over heels in love with her for real, he keeps her occupied just like Rose does him. They pretend everything’s alright.

But it’s not.

She trusted him, loved him, and he broke her into tiny pieces never to be found again.

She sighs suddenly from across the console room and marches up to him.

“I had a sister,” she says, “When I was human. Mom died and I was all she had. I wanted to protect her, you know? Keep her safe. Watch her grow up, threaten her boyfriends, all that.”

She looks at him with those big eyes that still show no hatred, no anger. Only love. Only forgiveness. He turns his head away and she follows, refusing to let him avoid her gaze.

“Couldn’t though. It was either her or me. One of us had to die and I wouldn’t get to watch her grow up. Gave her the only thing I could. I gave her life and sacrificed myself. Bloody hurt, too. And listen to me, going all British.”

She puts her hands on his face, framing it, holding it gently. She smiles at him. “That’s what you did. You gave me life. And now stop beating yourself up about it.”

+

There is a song at the back of his mind. A single voice where there were once a million but it’s there, a strain of melody that brings tears to his eyes.

He can hear her.

He’s not alone.

Not anymore.

+

“Can I open that watch now, Daddy?”

“Yes.”

+

And then.

+


Now with added coda here.



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The End

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