"A cosmos without the Doctor scarecely bears thinking about."~The Master, "The Five Doctors"
He was dying.
He'd gone back to the TARDIS for the end, wishing to escape prying eyes, perhaps trying to escape Death herself, in the safest sanctuary he'd ever known. His only home.
But he knew better. He couldn't escape Death. She always found him eventually.
He could hear his latest companion, his newest oldest friend, puttering about the room, unable to sit still. She was trying to be quiet so as not to disturb him, but she didn't know he was wide awake. He lay in the center of the massive bed, the covers weighing down on his thin, weakened frame, breathing as slowly and evenly as possible, but keeping the breaths shallow. He hated to hear himself breathe, hated to hear the weak wheezing, groaning sounds that escaped his nose and mouth.
It was so unfair.
He'd meant to go out on a bang, not slowly, peacefully like this. He'd always thought he'd die once and for all saving somebody else--a companion, a planet, a universe. Inadvertently. Accidentally. Because there was no other choice.
Like all the other times he'd died.
But this final time he was going out like the old man he knew he was. Quietly and without fuss, but still with so much left undone.
He thought of his granddaughter suddenly and hoped she was happy, wherever she was, and knew that he loved her dearly, even if he hadn't told her so in centuries. The thought led him to Ian and Barbara as well, and he remembered them with great fondness and was comforted with the knowledge that they were happy, together, and that he might have had something to do with that.
He remembered Ben Jackson, the ever-practical cockney sailor, and wondered if he'd ever gotten back to the sea. He had a feeling the young chap had. He also had a feeling that Ben had stayed in contact with Polly, and he wondered if the sailor still called her Duchess--and if it still bothered her or not.
The thought of Jamie and Zoe filled him with sadness; he knew they would never remember him, never remember the times they'd shared. Perhaps it was better that way, at least for Jamie, who would have had trouble explaining all that he'd seen and learned since leaving Scotland.
He felt her smooth a cloth over his forehead, his current companion, his newest oldest friend, a cool soothing cloth, and he allowed her a smile, though he never opened his eyes. She laid a gentle hand on his cheek for an instant, her warm skin against his cool, then drew it away, but he felt comforted by the contact.
Just as he felt comforted in the TARDIS, the dear old girl. She hummed quietly around him, at the pitch he found the most soothing, the most comforting. She was easing his pain, his distress, as she had so many times before, even though she was already mourning his passing, psychic tears echoing in his mind. But he knew she knew how much she meant to him. How grateful he was to her, for taking care of him, showing him places and wonders he would never have thought possible if not for her.
They understood each other.
A stray thought of Sarah Jane crossed his mind, and he wondered what she was doing now. Still writing, he supposed, and another slight smile crossed his face. He knew she'd kept in touch with Harry, wondered if she'd seen any of the other fellows--Mike, John, Alistair--lately. Harry Sullivan. Good old gallant Harry. His smile widened.
Ah yes, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Such a varied, interesting life. Amazing, more like. He'd probably seen and done more than any other human being, and yet he had hardly changed from the same old-fashioned English Brigadier he'd been a good deal of his adult life. Colonel. General. Whatever.
He thought he saw Tegan crying for him, tears sparkling in her dark eyes, and he wanted to comfort her. Brave heart, Tegan. I've done as much as I can. No one lives forever, you know that. But I'll live on, as long as people fight the evil that still exists, as long as they care.
Just keep caring.
Ace was raging, raging against the dying of his light, but he wasn't, not anymore. It was all right to die like this. He was comforted.
He remembered the Master, and he told him, You're wrong, old friend. Evil cannot win. I wish you could change, be yourself again. Once...
But the thought eluded him, and he knew he was almost gone. Peace at last? Perhaps it would be like sleeping. Perhaps he would feel nothing, ever again. Would he recognize his last moment? Or would he slip away before he realized?
The idea terrified him and he struggled weakly against the blankets, until his newest oldest friend stood by his side and soothed him, gently pushing him back against the bed and calming him down. Still he didn't open his eyes. He thought he heard her sob, but he wasn't sure. He reached out a hand blindly, and she hesitantly took it. He squeezed her hand, as hard as he could with his failing strength, wanting to reassure her, to comfort her. He hated to see his companions in pain, hated to hurt them. He wanted them to stay hopeful, as he had done throughout his lives.
She squeezed his hand back before gently resting it on the bed again, next to his side. She understood.
He thought of Sara Kingdom, of Adric and Kamelion, of Roz, and again he felt the guilt, the agony, the despair of the loss of their lives. He thought of all the people he'd killed, all that he'd seen die and hadn't been able to save.
He thought of Daleks and Cybermen, the Selachians and Sontarans, mad scientists and evil megalomaniacs. He remembered dungeons and wars, bombs and guns, death and killing.
He thought of Chang Lee and smiled in hope.
He remembered the Eye of Orion, the taste of Earl Grey tea with two sugars, seeing the first performance of Oscar's The Importance of Being Earnest, filling in to play Hamlet when Shakespeare's actor was sick, taking Steven and Dodo to a Beatles concert and not understanding what all the fuss was about. He remembered going to the same Beatles concert again later with Sam and Fitz and that time delighting in the music, the beat and the harmonies, the euphoria and excitement of the audience and the band.
He remembered tossing coins, rebuilding and improving the sonic screwdriver one afternoon when he had nothing else to do, meditating in the Cloister Room to the sound of rushing water, staring up at the Earth's moon on Christmas Eve in the year 1976 when he should have been inside at a UNIT staff party. He remembered actually standing on that same moon, centuries both before and after that year, both subjectively and in real time, and he remembered teaching Leela to read. He remembered staring up at the Great Sphinx, saving endless planets, out-thinking and confusing computers, watching da Vinci paint, discussing Life, the Universe, and Everything with Freud.
Endless hours spent tinkering in the console room, other hours spent haunting the TARDIS library, perusing the shelves and finding with delight a book that was like an old friend and hadn't been read in decades. He remembered Marc blaring Jimi Hendrix or Simon and Garfunkel down the old girl's corridors, he remembered playing chess, and he remembered getting into endless discussions with all his old companions, on a variety and assortment of topics that was truly breathtaking.
All his old friends.
He'd done so much. Helped so many people, changed so many lives. Often he'd just burst in, made a whirlwind of changes, and was gone in a scant few days, if not hours. But he'd never left any place or person untouched. Perhaps he had sometimes left things for the worse, but he had definitely always left something for the better.
He'd never lost his hope.
He knew he hadn't much time left, mere moments at best, and he could actually feel tears in his eyes. Not because he was sad or angry that he was leaving. The tears fell because he knew he'd helped people, because he'd cared for people, and they'd cared for him. The Universe would never be perfect, he knew that, but he'd helped to make it just a little better. He'd tried. He still passionately cared, even now, when he was leaving.
He could definitely hear her crying now, shaky little hiccuping breaths interspersing the sobs. He found her hand near his own on the bed and held it to comfort her, to let her know it was all right. She grabbed it, as if holding onto a lifeline, as if trying to share with him her life force so he wouldn't die.
They both knew better. He was sad to be leaving her, sad to be leaving all of them, and he was sorry that she had to see him go. But he was grateful she was there, so he wouldn't die alone, and he was glad that she cared for him, loved him, enough to cry and stay with him until the end.
It was always hard to say good-bye to his old friends. Even harder now that he was the one leaving.
The Doctor thought of all his old friends, his companions, one last time and died, comforted.
"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make." ~The Beatles, "The End"