Parallels

by jedi_penguin [Reviews - 3]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Drama, Het, Hurt/Comfort, Romance

Author's Notes:
Spoilers for 4x13, "Journey's End." Also for "The Girl Who Never Was" and "The Condemned."

The Doctor skulked in the shadows, waiting for his previous self to leave. He fervently hoped he wouldn’t go blind before that happened.

After an eternity of staring at the multi-colored nightmare that he used to be, his previous self finally went off on the errand that he had manufactured for the blowhard. Seizing his opportunity, the Doctor quietly slid up behind his former companion. “Hello, Charley,” he murmured quietly.

Charley let out a loud squeak and spun around. “Oh. I didn’t see you there!” She smiled at him, but a poised wariness belied her apparent friendliness. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”

“You know me, Miss Pollard,” he assured her. “You know me quite well, in fact.”

She stared at him intently before focusing on his eyes. After a long moment, she broke out in a beatific grin and tackled him with a flying hug. “Doctor!” she squeaked. “It’s you! It’s really you! The Cybermen didn’t get you; you did regenerate after all!”

He lifted her up and swung her around while she peppered his face with kisses. The tight knot of grief in his hearts briefly loosened and a soppy smile overtook his face. “Yes, Charley,” he whispered. “It’s me.”

Sooner than he would have liked, he put her back on the ground. Charley kissed him one last time, a chaste but lingering meeting of their lips… and then promptly punched him in the shoulder. “You took your sweet time coming to my rescue, Doctor! Deserted planets are less entertaining than you might think, and your predecessor is no picnic either!”

“Yes, I’m sorry–I’m so sorry--but it’s complicated. I can’t…” The Doctor stuttered to a stop, wondering how he might explain things to her.

He didn’t have to. “You aren’t here to rescue me even now, are you?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’d like to, but I can’t.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You and your Doctor, you two aren’t finished yet and I can’t get in the middle of that.”

“Then, he didn’t regenerate?” She was whispering now, broken words that he could barely hear. “He was just fine after that Cyber attack, and he still didn’t come for me?” She suddenly glared at him, fire blazing in her blue eyes. “You just left me? What, you figured everyone should vacation under a red sky with boiling seas? Or maybe you thought I would enjoy a bit of solitude? How incredibly thoughtful of you!”

“Charley! Charley, Charley, Charley! It wasn’t like that! What I mean is, there were other considerations. I, uh–“ He ran both hands through his hair this time, needing a physical barrier to break her gaze. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you what you want to know. There are things you have to hear from him if I’m to protect the Web of Time.”

“Oh, well, if it’s your precious Web of Time again, then of course you get a free pass!” She snorted, and the Doctor felt his momentary happiness slipping away again. “But why come here in the first place, then? Why risk--” She stared at him shrewdly. “You want something, don’t you? From me.”

He thought about denying it, but decided against the lie. Charley had gotten quite good at reading him even before they went to the Divergent Universe; afterwards, there was nothing he could hide from her. “I want to ask you a question,” he admitted. “I want to know how you felt about something. Something I did. I want– no, I need to know if was a mistake.”

She barked out a humorless laugh. “Oh, well, if that’s all! Of course! Dig through my feelings as much as you like, Doctor. Mi psyche es su psyche, and all that.”

“This was a mistake.”

“Undoubtedly,” Charley agreed. “But as long as you’ve already made it, you might as well make the best of it. What is it you want to know, Doctor?”

The Doctor jammed his hands into his pockets and tried to craft his question as carefully as he could. He bitterly regretted coming here, but, as Charley pointed out, he had already committed to this course of action. “How much do you remember of your time as the Cyber Planner?”

Charley grimaced. “All of it, I think. Not very nice.”

“No… I wouldn’t think so.” He peered at her intently as he finally got to the heart of the matter. “Do you remember what happened to humans who had the Cyber Planner in their heads? Or what I did about that?”

“It was going to melt my brain,” she said dully. “Just like it had done to Byron. I would have been dead within the hour, except you used your fob watch to hypnotize me.”

The Doctor nodded emphatically. “Yes. Exactly. I needed to erase all your memories of me, of our time together. It was the only way to get rid of the neural worm used by the Cyber Planner.”

“That’s right,” Charley said slowly. “Only, it didn’t work. I mean, yes, it did. It got rid of the Cyber rubbish in my head and I didn’t die, but I got to keep my memories, too. Thank goodness for that!”

The Doctor held himself perfectly still, focusing on Charley’s face. “Yes. About that.”

“Hmm?”

“How do you feel about all that?”

Charley laughed. “Are you telling me that you came to see me, risked meeting a former you and damaging the Web of Time, just so you can ask me how I feel about being alive?” She shook her head incredulously and laughed again. “Glad, of course! I’m glad to be alive. Deliriously so. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“No,” he said forcefully. “How did you feel about me erasing your memories, or trying to? How do you feel about it now?”

“Ah.” She suddenly sobered, looking lost and unhappy. “I understand why you did it.”

“But…”

Charley looked at the Doctor sharply. “Why should there be a but? You meant well and it all turned out better than either of us could have hoped. I’m alive and I’m ME; I’d have to be an ungrateful wretch to complain about that!”

“Yes, yes, yes,” the Doctor said impatiently. “But what if I’d been right the first time? What if it had been your memories or your life? Would you have regretted choosing life?”

I didn’t choose life, as I recall. You chose for me.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

Charley began pacing angrily and the Doctor feared that her rage was going to be all the answer she intended to give him. But then she began speaking, to herself or to him he couldn’t tell, and perhaps it didn’t matter. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Doctor. I’m in an unusual situation, you know, so my perspective is probably a bit odd. I should be dead–I should have died years ago, on the R101. As soon as I realized that, I also realized what a gift, what a beautiful, precious, priceless gift, each day of life is. Knowing that, how could I not value my life? I understand just how wonderful it is and I’m grateful, I’m so incredibly grateful to be alive.” She stopped her pacing to look him in the eyes for a moment. He nodded his understanding and she smiled brittly before resuming her pacing. “On the other hand, the very fact that I’ve loved my life so much means that I wouldn’t mind losing it. I have nothing undone, nothing unsaid, and nothing still on my agenda of things to do. No regrets of any kind, or almost none. I do wish I’d said goodbye to my family before I left school, or that C’rizz hadn’t died, but I can’t ever go back and change those things. As for the things I can change, I wouldn’t want to. Not any of them. I’ve encountered terrors and triumphs and tragedies, and I treasure each and every one of them.”

“I see you’ve picked up my alliterative habit,” the Doctor remarked incongruously. “Do watch out for his dress sense, though. It’s less contagious, but far more serious.”

Charley laughed. “Yes, and that’s another thing. I’ve known two of you quite well and have now met a third you. You’ve had a profound effect on me, and I’d hate to lose that. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t met you, and I like who I am.”

“Oh, you were brilliant long before you met me,” the Doctor objected. “An Edwardian Adventuress such as yourself? You didn’t need me. You’re Charlotte Pollard, and you were always going to find wrongs to right and daring deeds to, uh… do.”

“Oh dear, it appears that alliteration is more catching than we thought!”

The Doctor grinned. “Yeah but, the point is this: I didn’t mold you into who you are, this person that you like being. She was already inside you, just waiting to be born.”

Charley narrowed her eyes, perhaps sensing that he was trying to convince himself as much as her. She didn’t challenge him, however, merely observing, “That’s true, but then again, it isn’t. Doctor, I’m so much more than that na├»ve girl you met on the R101. A person is the sum of her experiences–“

“And a Time Lord even more so,” the Doctor murmured quietly.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” the Doctor muttered. “Just thinking of something from long ago. Go on.”

“Maybe you didn’t make me who I am, but the things I’ve experienced since I met you–both good and bad–they have had an effect. If the R101 had reached Karachi safely, I would have had amazing adventures traveling to Singapore, but they would have been different adventures, and they would have created a different Charlotte Pollard.” She huffed in frustration. “I’m not explaining this very well, am I?”

“No, you are,” the Doctor said quietly. “You’re saying that taking your memories from you would have created a different person, thus effectively killing you even while saving your physical form.”

“Sounds a bit melodramatic when you put it like that,” Charley admitted with a grin. “And really, it wouldn’t have been that dire, after all. If you’ll recall, you were going to show me the entire universe a second time. If you’d erased my memories and then dumped me on Earth, left me without the opportunity to grow into the person I eventually became… well, that really would have been awful; but, of course, that was never your intention.”

“No,” the Doctor drawled slowly. “I was never going to do that to you…”

Charley looked at him sharply. “But you did do that to somebody else,” she said flatly. The Doctor said nothing and that was all the answer she needed. “You did! And now you’re double-guessing yourself. That’s what you want from me: forgiveness. Since the person you want forgiveness from doesn’t remember you from Adam, you want me to absolve you in his place. Shouldn’t you be talking to C’rizz then, not me? That was his racket, not mine.”

“That’s not fair,” he snapped angrily. “And beside the point, because I don’t need forgiveness in any case.” He glared down at her. “No matter what you might think, I didn’t have a choice! I really, really, really didn’t. She was going to die! And Donna, she’s brilliant. Really, really brilliant. She has so much to offer the world, so much living to do, and I couldn’t let her sacrifice herself for me.” He muttered darkly under his breath, “There’s been too much of that already.”

“I believe you.” Charley wrapped her arms around him and whispered into his chest. “I do. I believe you. And I’m sure this girl, this Donna… I’m sure she believed you too. Because, Doctor, you’re the Doctor, and we both know that you always try to do your best for the universe and for your friends. I’m certainly proof of that.”

They stood that way for several long seconds, Charley hugging him tightly while the Doctor kept his arms down and his spine rigid, before he broke down and returned the embrace. As he clung to her, he began to forgive himself for what he’d done, finally began to believe all the protestations he’d made to himself from the moment Donna’s brain started to misfire.

Eventually, the Doctor relaxed his grip and kissed Charley on the top of her head. “Thank you,” he breathed into her hair. “Thank you.” He pushed her to arms length and grinned at her. “You, Miss Pollard, are just as impetuous and mercurial as you were at eighteen, but you’re still smashing at knowing just the right thing to say when it really matters.”

She gave him a cheeky grin. “And you still love me for it.”

“Always, Charley,” he said fondly. “Always. Unfortunately, I suspect that I’m coming back soon, so I really need to get going.”

She laughed. “Time Lords are murder on pronouns.”

He shrugged, not bothering to tell her that there had once been a language well suited for that very purpose, a language that now never existed at all. “Still, I’d best go before I get back. You can never have too much of clever ole me… unless you have more than one of me at once.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. His ego might benefit from seeing how much more fit you’re looking these days. This body suits you, you know.” He gave her an exaggerated wink and she laughed again.

Her laughter was interrupted by a booming, unseen voice. “Charlotte! Charlotte Pollard! Oh, where is that girl?”

“Time’s up,” the Doctor said a false brightness. “I’m off.”

“Given his volume, he could be miles away,” Charley pointed out. “C’mon, now. One more hug” She jerked her head in the direction of the recent call. “He’s not much of a hugger and I’ve missed that.”

He smiled and spread out his arms. After she buried her face in his chest, he enfolded her in a tight hug and fiercely kissed the top of her head. Fighting the temptation to stay there, he released her and then began running towards the thicket where he’d hidden his ship. As he ran, he heard his earlier self say, “Now who, exactly, was that?”

“An old friend,” Charley answered wistfully.

“I was rather under the impression that you had no friends or family. At least, that’s what you tell me every time I suggest you might be happier someplace other than the TARDIS!”

He ducked into some bushes, but could still hear Charley’s voice. “Well, I do apologize, but he’s gone now. Cheer up though, Doctor. I’m hoping to see him again, some day.”

“I hope that too, Charley,” the Doctor whispered as he opened the TARDIS door. “I hope so too.”

THE END