He doesn't want to go.
Coward, the Master called him, and maybe it's true, because he's terrified. Imagine him, of all people, frightened of change. But it's different this time. Twelve regenerations to a Time Lord, and the last one may have been non-standard, but it counts, and so does the one he tries to tell himself wasn't really him. He can feel the evidence inside him, irrefutable: some vital part of him busy using itself up.
Twelve regenerations, and he's just shoved the only people capable of giving him more back into their time lock. So this is the last time he'll ever experience this, and he's not going to go gentle. No, this last time, Death is going to have a fight on its hands.
It's easier than it should be, really. Well, not easy. But not impossible. He's died of radiation before, and his body's learned from the experience. Good old over-engineered Time Lord biology. The artron energy remembers, and since he's refusing to let it remake him, it's repairing him instead. It won't last; the damage is far too great. But for now, he can hold it off, can put off that new life that's rushing towards him, the one where he'll know, every moment, that the next time he goes and gets himself killed will be the day he finally finishes what he started at the Fall of Arcadia.
He knows what he wants to do with the time he has left, and he has to do it now, because there's no telling how much time he'll have left, after. And no telling what kind of man he'll become.
So he visits them, one by one: the people he's loved, the people he's failed to do right by. He starts with the newest -- all except the one that he's saving for last -- but there are so many, stretching so far back into his past. He decides to go back to... Well, not the beginning. The beginning is locked away again, forever. But to a beginning, at least.
He draws in a deep, ragged breath, and steps out of the TARDIS and into a garden. It's fresh and green, filled with birdsong and the scent of flowers and herbs. It tickles something in the back of his brain, a memory of having smelled this fragrance before, long ago, with another nose.
It's all incredibly, almost uncannily peaceful. Well, of course it is, that's its whole purpose: a place of rest for the elderly. He didn't belong here before, back when he was only playacting at being old. Now, though... Well.
He walks forward a little among the trees and the shrubs, and looks around him. This may have been a mistake. A silly mistake. She might not even be here. She might be dead. She might be...
She might be standing right there, oblivious of him, smiling down at a clay vase of flowers she is arranging.
The flowers are lovely. She is lovely, although what makes him think that, he really doesn't know. Didn't then, doesn't now. Something about her eyes, maybe. Or the way that she seems to see everything, from a vase of flowers to a Time Lord, the way a hermit once taught him to see a daisy.
He takes a halting half-step forward, not even realizing he's doing it, and she looks up at him. Her eyes widen, flicker up and down across his body. She smiles. "Hello," she says. Her voice is warm, and her greeting has no uncertainty in it. This is not a woman who is afraid of strangers in her garden, only curious.
"Hello, Cameca," he says, and waits for her to ask how he knows her name, with absolutely no idea what his answer will be.
"Did the Doctor send you?" she says instead, sliding the last of her flowers gently into place.
He blinks. Nice to know that things can still surprise him, right up till the end. "How did you know?"
She looks marvelously pleased. "A lucky guess. Your clothes, your appearance... I thought you might be one of his countrymen."
She's quick-witted. He liked that about her, he remembers. He remembers seeing that in her face, somehow, before she ever even spoke to him. He was only just beginning to learn to love humans, then. It had surprised him, how easy it had been to be in the company of this one, how interesting it had been to meet someone possessed of both intelligence and serenity. He'd envied her that, just a little. He envies it more now.
He realizes he's been silent a little too long, and clears his throat. How long has it been for her, he wonders? A few years, if he got the coordinates right, but he's not certain, and he can't tell by her face. There have been so many memories crowding into his mind since then, and humans age so quickly. "He wanted me to tell you that... he's sorry he never came back." He finds himself swallowing hard. Radiation damage in his throat. "He thought about you often. Sometimes he wished..." He doesn't know how to end that sentence and trails off with a vague gesture towards the garden around them.
She nods at this, as if she understands more of what he meant than he does.
"Sit down," she says kindly, motioning him towards a bench. "You look as if you have traveled a great distance. Will you take some refreshment?"
"'Long as it's not cocoa," he says, a feeble attempt at a joke.
"I think I am a little old for you," she replies, her eyes crinkling in amusement. She pours water from a pitcher resting on the low stone wall behind them and hands him the cup.
"You'd be surprised," he says, and drinks. His mouth is parched, and the water is cool and welcome, but when he closes his eyes, he can taste the memory of bitter chocolate.
"You resemble him, I think. Not obviously, but there is something about your eyes. Are you perhaps his son? Or grandson?"
"Something like that," he says. Perhaps it's true, in a way. He's not the man he was.
"And how is he? The Doctor?"
"Not... He's not well, at the moment."
"I am sorry to hear that." She looks genuinely grieved, and that expression sends an unexpected pain through his hearts, one that has nothing to do with radiation.
"He'll be all right."
He's not at all sure, suddenly, why he came here. He can't help Cameca, not the way he helped Martha and Mickey, or Luke, or even Jack. He can't save her civilization, this powerful, callous, doomed race. Or he shouldn't. He's learned that lesson too well recently.
This was, he suddenly remembers, the subject of the first argument he ever had with a human about fixed points in time. A place of many firsts, then.
"He cared for you," he finds himself blurting out. "He was terrible at it, absolutely rubbish, but he did. He even thought, just for a moment, how nice it would have been to stop for a while and rest. To have a... a home, of sorts, with someone he loved, someone with no expectations of him. To have some... some peace."
She reaches out, removes the water cup from his limp grasp, and takes his hand. Her eyes are wise and kindly, her grip strong and warm in his.
"He couldn't, though," he continues. "Never had it in him, not even then. Always running, always on to the next thing, never appreciating anything properly while he had it." He finds there are tears in his eyes, and tries to blink them back. "Listen to me," he says, managing a fragile laugh. "Wibbling on like this to someone who doesn't even know me."
She squeezes his hand. "You love him, clearly," she says. "As do I. You must tell him not to have regrets. I had hopes, it is true, but it became clear to me very soon that he was not the sort of person to be content with a quiet garden and a gentle wife. This is a place or rest for those who have finished with the world. Whatever his age, the Doctor was not yet done with the world."
"No." He wipes tears from his face, and finds himself, strangely, smiling. "No, he wasn't."
"Nor is he yet, I imagine."
"Eventually, we don't have a choice." His smile fades.
"And there is wisdom in accepting that," she says.
"Yes," he says, quietly. He can feel regeneration energy writhing and roiling in his cells.
"Can you stay a little while?" she asks. "I can have food brought to us."
"No." He clasps her hand tighter, just for a moment, and lets it go. "I'd like to. But I can't."
"Well," she says, "perhaps someday you will return."
"Yes," he says. He reaches up and caresses her cheek. Which he's pretty sure in her culture is entirely inappropriate, but she doesn't pull away, only smiles. She feels very alive. Very human.
"Yes," he says again. "One day, I'll come back." He doesn't know if it's true or not. But right now, he can't think of a better place to meet the end, when it comes.
Cameca follows him quietly when he leaves. Something about this stranger has caught at her heart, and she does not wish to lose sight of him sooner than she must.
She is not shocked when she sees him enter the strange blue box and disappear. If one of them can emerge from a sealed tomb, why should the other not vanish in a wooden box? Nor does it surprise her to discover that even those who come from the gods are capable of fear and sadness. Wherever they may come from, they are part of the world, and such things are inevitable in this life. Especially for the young.
She does not, in truth, think she will see either of them again. Her own time in this world is quickly drawing towards its close. But she hopes that both of them will find their own gardens one day, in whatever form that might take. She imagines they will have a great deal of wisdom to share. She imagines they will deserve a little rest.
For her own part, she is content. Except, perhaps, for the small, wistful part of her that wishes they had met when she was younger, and that she were the one vanishing, into the beckoning unknown.
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