They were alone. After a long and tiring day of fighting to save the universe again, both Time Lords finally had time to relax. It still felt odd. There were two of them, two of him. It wasn’t like he hadn’t teamed up with himself to save the universe before. He had to defeat Omega and the Master but back then things were different, the future was somehow brighter and he hadn’t been alone. He had had Gallifrey and the other Time Lords and even Time Ladies around him, so in tune with each other they could sense each other’s feelings telepathically. He had never been alone until the War came and he had to kill them all to save the universe. He had never felt such an aching sense of loneliness in his life. To have those familiar, comforting thoughts of others around him suddenly ripped from his mind. That was when he truly felt alone.
And now it was strange. As the tenth Doctor stood in the console room of an unfamiliar, cold and starkly decorated TARDIS staring at his future self, he could feel the emptiness inside his mind had lifted slightly. It felt unusual sensing another Time Lord, well, not another one. He was him. They were both the same person and yet they were so different.
The TARDIS even felt different. He ran a hand along one of the buttons on the console and silently watched his future self fiddling with various knobs and buttons. This sleeker newer version of the TARDIS looked much more reliable and not as prone to having parts break. He had known the TARDIS almost more closely than he knew himself. Definitely more than he knew himself, for his future self was telepathically blocking his mind and pushing him, stopping him from trying not to let anything he shouldn’t know about the future slip through. The TARDIS, his longest companion, was also distancing herself from him too. He could feel her sending him warm thoughts as though she missed him, but it wasn’t the same. They weren’t that closely bonded. He wasn’t her Doctor just as she wasn’t his TARDIS. There was an eerie sense of detachment. Something felt hollow but he couldn’t quite place it. He took his hand off of the button on the console and stuffed both of them into his pockets. As he continues to stare at his future self he felt the question that had nagged him for so long burning inside him, just waiting to burst out. He desperately had to know. He knew he shouldn’t ask, he knew it was wrong, but he had to. Other times in other lives he knew better than to ask but he couldn’t hold back any longer.
Without realizing it, his feet seemed to move of their own volition closer to his future self, who was still pressing buttons almost like he was trying to ignore him. It was his only chance to ask the question. Now, while they were still alone, while Rose and Clara were off exploring the TARDIS, before the timeline would revert back to normal. He had to do it now.
He moved closer until he was only a few feet away from the concentrating Time Lord. “Doctor,” he began, his voice breaking through the thick silence. “There’s one thing I have to know. Just one question, that’s all I ask…”
There was a pause and his future self quit fiddling with the controls. He still had his back to his past self and stared at the time rotor almost as if he knew the next few words that would be spoken.
“There’s one thing I need to know,” Ten said more firmly. “How does it happen? How do I die? How do I become you?”
The question hung heavily in the air. The only sound in the room was the humming and throbbing of the TARDIS.
All day long he knew it was coming. He knew the question would be asked the moment there was a break; the moment there was time to think. And there it was, hanging over him like a dark cloud, a peel of thunder waiting to rip through the calm. He turned and looked at his past self, so like him and yet so different. They were both different men. Of course he remembered running around the universe in those dirty well-worn converse. He remembered everything, every good day when he saved another planet, another innocent species, to make up for the guilt that still weighed heavily on his hearts.
And he remembered the bad days, days when he had lost everything and everyone he cared about, when death plagued him like a shadow that clung to his back. Ohhh… he remembered it all as if it happened to him yesterday. And yet, he was a different man. He had changed, became hardened by experience, out grown who he was though he wasn’t sure if it was for the best.
Now, under the surface he was a bitter old man, clinging to the present and trying not to think of the past because it hurt too much. There was so much pain and loss that it broke his hearts. There was still a gaping, open wound that would never heal no matter how old he became, no matter how much time had passed.
That’s what he was, the other man with the messy brown hair and pinstriped suit standing before him, asking him an impossible question, putting him in an impossible predicament. But he already knew the answer. “I can’t tell you,” Eleven said softly.
“I have to know, I have to know how come you’re with Clara, why I’m not still with Rose,” Ten insisted, his brown eyes penetrating into the other Time Lord’s gaze.
“You already know. It happens all the time. It happened before and it’ll happen again. Adric, Ace, Sarah Jane, Susan. Jamie, and all the others, they out grow us, they leave, move on, or get left behind. In the end all we have is her,” Eleven said sadly, giving the TARDIS a loving stroke of her console, feeling older and lonelier than ever.
“What about Rose? What about her? You know how I feel about her. You know how far I’d go to save her. I can’t lose her,” Ten said, his voice shaking with conviction and emotion.
Ohh… Rose… It had been far too long since he last saw her, smelled her and felt her touch. His feelings for her hadn’t diminished over the decades and companions since then. They were all important, all special and wonderful and unique and brilliant in so many ways like threads weaving a tapestry. But there was no one else like Rose.
So many times he thought of breaking through to the other universe and seeing her one last time, holding her, feeling her lips on his. She was so precious…. But he knew he couldn’t. As hard as it was, as deeply as he cared for her, he couldn’t risk the universe. He had dreamt of one last kiss, one final moment, for their time together had been so short, so fleeting. And now his Rose came back and she was just as wonderful as ever and he couldn’t have her. Fate had stolen her away from him again.
Seeing her again all these years later was like a double-edged sword of the greatest longing and the greatest pain. Seeing her again and looking at his past self, he never realized how lucky the other Time Lord standing before him was, how much time the two of them had yet together, all the days they had ahead of them.
He wished he could go back and change things but he was forever haunted by echoes of his past. That’s what Rose was and that’s what the other Doctor was right now- an echo, almost no more than a ghost haunting him, reminding him of how much he’d lost and how much his past self had yet to lose.
“I know how you feel about her,” Eleven stressed. “Don’t think I don’t! I may be old but I still remember. I haven’t forgotten, Doctor. I still love her!” He gestured to the other Time Lord, “We still love her.”
Ten swallowed hard, accepting his words. “You’ve moved on,” he said, glancing over at the strange new console.
“From some things, yes, I’ve had to. You know how hard it is, you know how painful it is to move on. Every time I look at Rose I see what I had, what I can’t have, and what she has with you. I envy you, Doctor! And yet… I am not you.”
Ten looked Eleven in the eye. It was a different face and it was still the same. He couldn’t mistake the look of pain and sorrow in the future Doctor’s eyes. He’s felt that same hollow ache in his soul too many times. “Tell me one thing. She’s not- Rose- she’s not-”
“No,” Eleven shook his head. “She’s not dead. She’s safe. She’s alive.”
Ten nodded, breathing a sigh of relief and letting those words sink in. At least that was somewhat reassuring. She was safe. That was all that mattered. As he watched the other Doctor absentmindedly tug at his bowtie, he began to realize just how young he looked. He couldn’t imagine himself, some point in the future wearing a bowtie and suspenders. Somehow it seemed wrong. The mix of clothing and texture was almost something someone younger and inexperienced would throw together. He was happy with his pinstripes and converse.
“You look so young,” Ten remarked.
Eleven smirked slightly. “I am old, an old man now.”
“How-” But the other Time Lord cut him off.
“I’m over a thousand years old.”
“Blimey,” Ten said, running a hand through his hair. “You look good for your age, Doctor.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“So is Clara your next companion? After Rose, I mean? She seems so young.”
“She’s older than Rose was when we first met her. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” Ten grinned. “She changed my life. She made me better.”
“I’ve had several more companions since between Rose and Clara,” Eleven said excitedly, fidgeting with his hands. “Just wait until you meet them! You’ll have so much fun! A brilliant medical student that walks the Earth and becomes one of the best medical doctors UNIT has ever seen. A fiery red-head who is so much more than just a temp, saving the universe, the Doctor-Donna! And, of course, the legs, the nose, and the wife! Oh, Doctor, you’re going to love the wife when she’s not nagging. But she does it so well, thinking she can fly the TARDIS better than me. Really, who needs blue stabilizers anyway?” he scoffed lightly.
Eleven grinned brighter than ever looking at his past self, but the grin quickly faded. Yes, they’d save the universe, fighting Judoon, Sontarans, Vashta Nerada, the Silence and the Weeping Angels, only to lose his companions all over again. Sure, he’d moved on but he never forgot any of them. Each of his companions where always held close to his hearts. Time and time again when he’s lost everything he’d felt so close to giving up, but then he met soufflé girl and fought snowmen and ice warriors and the sense of adventure and excitement that he so loved made him feel so alive again. Maybe he was a greedy and foolish old man for taking them along and putting them in danger, but he couldn’t resist one more trip, one more adventure.
“What happened to them?” Ten asked.
“Too much,” Eleven said painfully, remembering each of his companions’ fates. “So much…” He briefly closed his eyes remembering the look of horror on Donna’s face as he took away her memories to save her life, only to be gutted even worse when, later on, she’d look right through him like he was a stranger, like he wasn’t even there, which was worse than anything.
“I’m so sorry, Doctor,” Ten said sympathetically. “I’m sorry for your loss.” He could tell his future self had suffered through so much hardship.
Eleven opened his eyes and looked at his past self. “No. I’m sorry, for what’s ahead, for what’s yet to come.” Not only did he have the pain of losing his companions but also the only other Time Lord that was left: the Master.
He knew his past self was going to be in for a very rough year, the year that never was. Not only would he be fighting for the Earth, he’d also be fighting himself and his feelings, along with the insane Time Lord. Somehow, even after all this time he still forgave the Master. And in the end, in the Master’s final moments facing Rassilon and the others, he had changed, the Master had changed and he had finally found him only to lose him all over again.
Both of them could hear Rose and Clara talking in the distance as they made their way back to the console room. Eleven couldn’t help but smile when he heard them. “It’s not all bad,” he told his past self. “There will be good days and bad days and you’ll have a lot of fun too.” He turned back to the hallway and saw a flash of blonde hair pass into view before the companions took off for one last peek at another room. “Promise me one thing,” He added, turning back to the other Doctor.
Clara and Rose were laughing now as they finally emerged and made their way back into the room. He had seen and lived through so much in his long life. As old as he was he still had a future ahead of him too. He had learned to cherish the past, just as he cherished the beautiful sound of Rose’s laughter one last time, like wind chimes blowing in a hot summer’s breeze.
“Anything,” Ten said, putting a hand on the other Doctor’s shoulder.
Eleven put a hand on his and leaned in closer, closing his eyes as he savoured the sound of Rose’s laughter, picturing her one last time as perfect as she was. “Tell her how you feel.” He pulled away and quickly glanced at the console, wiping away a tear that fell down his cheek.
“I will,” Ten vowed seriously, watching Rose and Clara as they made their way towards him and the other Time Lord.
Time passes, faces change, but deep inside they were both the same man shaped by their experiences. They both had so much to lose, but also so much to gain and look forward too. The two Doctors gave each other one last look before going over to their companions, eager to enjoy the present moment, for who knew what the future would bring.