Under other circumstances it might have been a perfect day. The air was warm but not humid, the water running over the rocks in the creek made a pleasant sound, and the flowers that grew along the bank released a sweet smell. If it had just been the two of them they might have set out a picnic in the grassy knoll. When the food was gone they would have listened to some jazz and she would have rolled her eyes when he started playing spoons but it would have been purely for show. She quite liked his spoons, but she’d never tell him that.
She wouldn’t be telling him anything, after today.
“You may not believe me, Time Lord, but I do regret this. Unfortunately balance has been lost and must be restored. One of you must die.”
While the other men stood in a wide circle, blocking their escape, the one who handed them a death sentence stood directly in front of them. Close enough that she could lash out at him if the Doctor wasn’t holding so tightly onto her arm.
“There must be some other solution.” The Doctor wasn’t shouting like he often did at their enemies. He wasn’t talking in the even, almost hypnotic way that he used to convince people to see his side of things. He sounded almost as if he was pleading.
“You are a wise man, Doctor. I think you understand that with life there must be death, that birth comes with pain. You understand sacrifice.” Tre’lin, their host-turned-captor, might have sounded regretful but he also sounded determined.
“If sacrifice is what you need why don’t you throw yourself into a volcano, toerag?” Ace growled.
“That would not help my people. I am not the one who brought death into Eden.”
“We were trying to stop the...”
“It is irrelevant. All that matters is that you have brought death here, and only your own death will stop the destruction of this entire planet.”
“I don’t think so.” It hadn’t been easy to get the can of Nitro Nine out of her bag without anyone noticing, but now she held it in the air. If she could just take out a couple of the guards, she and the Professor...
“No, Ace.” A warm hand encircled her wrist and almost before she could blink the explosive was gone from her hand, vanished into the depths of the Doctor’s pocket. “Killing more people will only make this worse.”
“Professor.” She tried to catch his eyes, to see what he was thinking, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze. His attention was focused on Tre’lin.
“Nothing happens to Ace. You must promise me that she will be unharmed, and free to leave this place.”
“I give my word, Doctor.” Tre’lin assented. “Your companion will be safe so long as she remains here and her departure unimpeded. So long as you uphold your end of the bargain, of course.”
“Of course,” the Doctor said politely, as if agreeing to a dinner invitation and not his own death.
“No!” Ace tried to wrench free from the Doctor’s grasp but he held firm.
“You’ll allow me a moment alone with my friend.”
“It is the least I can do.” Tre’lin nodded, moving backwards until he joined the circle of guards.
“We have to get out of here, Professor. We...”
“Oh, Ace.” She could see his eyes clearly now; their unfathomable depth and incredible sadness. She was reminded of Northuberland a lifetime ago, crying in the mud while he tried to convince her that destroying her faith had been the only way to save her life.
“This is the only way?” She needed to know for sure, and in this he wouldn’t lie to her.
“I’m afraid so, Ace.” His hand was on her shoulder, and though there were other people watching the world narrowed to the two of them.
“And there’s nothing we can do to get out of it?”
“Then I guess this is it. We had a good run, didn’t we?”
“The best.” One last touch of his finger to her nose.
“And we did good.” She had asked him that only once, outside a church in London. Time will tell had been his answer then. So much time had passed between then and now.
“We did very good.” He took off his hat, placed it on her head. Passing the torch.
“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.” Her hands curled around the lapels of his jacket and she leaned into him. As kisses went it was a simple one; eyes open, lips pressed together. An uncomplicated end to a relationship that was anything but. Easier than trying to say things that ultimately could never be expressed in words. It ended too soon.
“You’re adventure isn’t over yet, Ace McShane. There are still worlds to see, dictators to overthrow, pies to stick your fingers in. You still have plenty of good to do.” From his pocket he withdrew the can of Nitro Nine he had confiscated earlier and handed it back to her.
“Professor?” She shrugged the rucksack off her shoulder, returned the can inside.
“You have nothing to apologize for.”
“I hope you still feel the same way when you come to.”
With a carefully planned swing she used her bag to hit the Doctor over the head, glad that once was all it took to make him fall to the ground. She wouldn’t have gotten a second chance. Taking off the straw hat she set it neatly on the grass next to him. She resisted the urge to touch him or say anymore good-byes. He might wake up quickly, and she needed the impending events to be fate accompli.
“You’ll make sure he gets to the TARDIS safely,” she commanded Tre’lin when she approached him.
“You are a very brave woman and a loyal friend to do such a thing. If this is what you want...”
“It is.” From the time she was sixteen she had made it her job to watch the Professor’s back. She wasn’t going to stop now.
“Then you have my word of honor, the same is I gave the Doctor. He will be safe in this place, the choice to stay or leave is his own.”
“He’s not going to... when he wakes up tell him...” No, there was nothing this man could say that she hadn’t already said. She just hoped he would forgive her someday.
“Never mind. Let’s get this over with already.” With one last look at the Doctor she followed Tre’lin from the circle and away from the others.
The end was easier than she thought it would be.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.