He places the key — his key — in her palm and closes her fingers around it. Their lips meet, sealing the transfer.
''I know. I know.''
He tastes the salt on her lips. Tastes her tasting it on his own lips.
He wakes up clutching the key. For a fraction of a second he thinks that they must both have survived. He tries to get to his feet, pulling himself up using the TARDIS console. Black spots form in his vision.
She has saved him. Instead of herself.
He thinks he feels her final thoughts in his mind. That even the atoms that are all that is left of her are attempting to comfort him.
He suffers violent shakes. He can't count the number of times he vomits. His body is fighting to rid itself of the radiation damage. And the fight itself just might kill him. He wants it to. But he is too weak to end it.
''I have to do this, Grandfather.''
He smiles, lifts her chin to meet his eyes.
''I'm so proud of you, my dear.'' The gesture and the vernacular doesn't belong to this incarnation, but he means it more than ever.
Suddenly, she is his little Susan again, seeking comfort from him.
He collapses on the floor again and gives in to the darkness. His mind is overwhelmed by dying thoughts and voices. Voices that fade and will eventually leave him with a silence more terrifying than finding yourself without sight or hearing. With your tongue cut out or without a limb.
''I'm sorry it has to end like this.''
''You know, I never liked this side of you.''
''I know you want me to hate you. I don't, but since I doubt we'll ever see each other again, here it is: I hate you.''
He thinks he sees a blink-and-you'll-miss it glimpse of ... some unindentifiable emotion on the Master's face. But probably not.
''I'm sorry I couldn't save you.''
He pretends the Master doesn't mean it.
He sees Susan, when she was just learning to walk, toddling across the Console Room, thankfully unable to reach the buttons.
He feels Romana's soft flesh against his own. Feels her smile in his mind. The constant comfort of her companionship, even when she is not in the same room or even the same galaxy.
He hears the Master's chuckle. In one of those moments where it was almost like old times.
The Daleks also scream. Right now, he feels no hatred, just the torment of their very existence. He feels their relief. Peace at last.
The darkness overtakes him. The TARDIS lulls him into a sleep so deep it is more like vegetative state.
When he wakes, covered in his own bodily fluids, he is burning inside. A boiling inferno that he knows would be worse if the TARDIS had not made him sleep away the worst of it.
He doesn't know how he finds the strength to get on his feet. He pours bucket after bucket of ice water over himself. He dresses himself in loose, thin clothing. No layers. He shaves his head.
It barely soothes him. He is parched, but no amount of water will quench it.
There is something different about the TARDIS's vibrations. It suddenly hits him that he is not the only one who is the last of his kind. The TARDIS can also no longer hear the comforting vibration of her own kind in her mind. It's an elegy.
He cannot cry. The tears have burned from his body.
For what might be a month or even a decade he functions like an automaton or a doppelgänger of himself devoid of anything but the most basic drives of existence. He eats and sleeps just enough to keep himself alive. Sleep, in particular, must be avoided as much as possible. He sleeps wherever he happens to lose consciousness.
The first real emotion he feels again is a desire to visit Earth again. His second home. He visits disasters. Tragedies. The sinking of the Titanic, the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. Auschwitz-Birkenau. He is not entirely sure why. Most of the time, he can do little to help. They're all fixed points. Perhaps because the World ends every day, every second, for all of those who lose a child, a brother, a friend, a lover, their pet, their home, their pride. And while the scope of it is smaller, this is of no comfort for those involved.
He lets the widow of a German U-boat captain cry on his shoulder and pretends it's the other way around.
The silence in his head is still deafening. Their names, his life with them, will be locked in his mind, as though sharing them might dilute their memory.
And yet, they will keep him going. Ever after.
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