The Doctor staggered forward, grabbing at the console with both hands as wisps of yellow energy drifted from his body. For a half a minute, his head hung forward, limp, as the cloud in his mind and the ringing in his ears subsided. His entire body ached, down to his bones, but as soon as he came to terms with it, he realized that the pain was gone. He straightened up, eyes focused on nothing as he tested his balance and control.
"That was easy!"
Sudden dizziness sent him reeling, and he caught himself with a deft stamp of his foot. The feeling passed as quickly as it had started.
"Okay, not so easy. But easier even than the first time."
The console screen caught his eye and he concentrated on it to remember what he had been doing. I had just sent the TARDIS into flight, after… stepping into it from… the museum, where I had been… viewing the painting with… the two young men who were…
"YES! Me! They were me! And Clara! I remember!"
The Doctor capered around the console, whooping and laughing. "He said, we said I wouldn't remember, but I do! The fez, the queen, the Zygons! Yes! The shack, all the TARDISes zooming around, and… and Bad Wolf Girl! Fantastic!"
He twirled to a stop, staring in wonder around the console room. "It's over! The war is over! Time for a change. Sweep away the old and the tired. Time to be the Doctor again."
He felt his head with both hands. "Short hair this time. Shorter than ever. But that means, I'm not one of them. They are both in my future yet. I am me!"
Dashing to the console keyboard, he tapped switches and punched buttons. "A new console room, something to fit me a bit better. And a new sonic." He leaned in to pat the central column. "Do that first. This old one can use a rest. Then…"
Concentrating, he twisted dials to precise settings and pressed a few more buttons, ending by flipping a large toggle. The TARDIS jerked as it adjusted to its new destination. "...We go to Gallifrey, as close as we can get to the time lock. See if we can find a clue about whether it worked and where it's gone."
With a grin set to split his face from ear to ear, he sprinted out the console room door into the corridor, through lefts and rights, up and down stairs and ladders, past thingummies and bric-a-bracs, into the wardrobe room. Here, outfits and odds and ends from seven hundred years of traveling hung from racks and were stuffed in closets, trunks, and crates. Near the door, a lone full-length mirror stood.
"A change. A change," the Doctor murmured. "I'm done with this."
With haste born of sudden disgust, he stripped off his clothing - the heavy brown leather jacket, the soldier's bandolier, the worn red scarf, the waistcoat, the knee-high boots - dumping them in a pile. Standing in just a shirt and trousers, he stared at the pile of discarded clothing, then kicked at it, eyes flashing with anger.
"Glad to be done with you! Done with the war, the fighting, the bloodshed, the death… with what I've done. I am the Doctor!"
Suddenly uncertain, he paused, his eyes casting about the room without seeing any of it. Something was bothering him. What was it?
Shaking off the confusion, he looked around at all the clothes. A smile played in his eyes. "Something to show the real me. But who is that?"
A dark green velvet smoking jacket caught his attention. "An old favorite! The scientist and man of action. That's not me, is it? Not any more. Second part, maybe." His gaze wandered across as much of the room as he could see from this spot. "Got to clean this out sometime. Wouldn't wear most of this, ever. Suppose I should say, 'Never wear it again,' for some of these." He barked a laugh at his own joke.
"Something smart, I think." His gaze alighted on a dark brown pin-stripe suit. "Something like that, maybe."
He took a step towards it, then stopped. It was wrong. That was someone else's. But who? Someone he'd seen very recently. Images swirled in his head - a gowned lady with red hair, a stone dungeon, flying Dalek saucers - but they teased him, like a dream that pokes at your conscious mind hours after you've woken up, that slips through your fingers as you try to grasp at it. He saw the faces of two young men, felt the warmth of their hands on his as they prepared to press the big red button together.
His voice was barely a whisper. The blood drained from his face as he clawed at the fleeing memories in desperation, but he could only hold on to the voice of the Moment, condemning him to live, and the drop of a fez from the time fissure. Everything that happened after he entered the rift was dissolving in his mind. The warmth on his hand turned to ice as the two men faded from his side, and, alone, he pushed the Moment's gleaming red trigger.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
The Doctor found himself sitting in the wardrobe, arms around his knees pulled up to his chest. The sleeves and front of his shirt were wet, and his eyes ached. The clothing of… that other man… was piled beside him.
He sprang to his feet, raging. "Why? Why me? Why did I have to…? Why did it have to be…?" A tiny voice in the back of his mind murmured, "There was no other choice. It had to be done," but he found it easy to ignore. Clothes of all colors flew through the air as he hurled everything he could get his hands on. As he spent his anger, the hurricane of cloth evolved into tearing the articles he had just been wearing into scraps - even the leather - and scattering them around the room. The old sonic screwdriver, with its red light, he winged deep into the room, the metallic clatter as it smashed against a wall satisfying him just a tiny bit. He tore off the shirt and trousers and shredded them as well.
As he panted heavily in the center of the wardrobe, he felt the TARDIS land. He sighed. "I suppose I might as well." Feeling the anger and regret welling up inside him again, he closed his eyes and balled his fists. No. I will not let you win.
He muscled the memories into the far reaches of his mind, locking them away. I will get on with my life. I am calm and in control. Perhaps he sounded convincing to himself.
It then occurred to him that he didn't know where he was. Where was I going now? To look for something?
He glanced around the mess that was now the wardrobe. It wasn't difficult to find what he wanted: a dark mulberry smock, a leather jacket, dark heavy trousers, black boots. Simple, stripped bare. You get what you see. That's me. Who wants "smart?"
The thought gave him pause. Why had he been happy just that short time ago?
As he left the wardrobe, he made sure to avoid viewing himself in the mirror.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Striding into the console room, his first thought was to check the progress of his new sonic screwdriver. As he expected, the device was ready: a grey metal cylinder, black at one end with a blue emitter on the other. It shone brightly when he tested it. He frowned.
Blue. I remember blue. Right? He shook his head and the thought retreated into the mists. He smiled. "Blue! Nice."
He moved around to the console screen. "London. 2005." He knew that wasn't where he had told the TARDIS to go, but…
Ah, well, no matter, I'm here now. Pocketing the screwdriver, he headed out.
The TARDIS was parked against a building across from Henrik's department store. The Doctor stepped out into the midday sun and leaned against the police box, watching the humans going about their business. He told himself over and over again that this was the reason why it had to happen, why he did it.
It wasn't until a good twenty minutes later, when he remembered he wanted to test his new screwdriver, that the Doctor noticed that anything was wrong. He had pulled the tool out of his pocket and pointed it in multiple directions when he saw the anomaly in the readings. He whacked it with the heel of his hand a few times, but nothing changed. It's coming from… the store but… up… There!… The roof?
"Hold on, then," he murmured to himself and ducked into the TARDIS. He emerged a few minutes later, stuffing something into his jacket pocket.
He walked up to the display window, ostensibly window-shopping, though an observant person might have noticed that his gaze was directed at the faces of the shop window dummies, rather than their clothes. He pulled out the sonic screwdriver and scanned one of them.
"What's that?" said a voice next to him.
A young girl was staring at him, her mother deep in conversation with another lady nearby.
The Doctor grinned proudly. "Sonic screwdriver!"
The girl seemed dubious. She glanced at the window glass, then the dummy. "There's no screws."
"It can do all sorts of things." He pointed the screwdriver at the dummy again and pressed the button. The head turned to stare straight at the girl. She squealed and clapped, but when she turned back, the strange man was gone.
With the store open for business, it was easy enough to get inside and hide away until closing time. As soon as it was shut down, the Doctor climbed up to the roof and verified the presence of what he suspected: a relay transmitter designed to control plastic. The Nestene Consciousness must be in London somewhere, controlling Autons - animated plastic beings - through this relay. There must be another, larger transmitter somewhere, since this one was only able to broadcast to a few blocks, but even this small one needed to be destroyed. The Nestene technology was not something he knew well enough to sabotage, so a more extreme method was required. An extreme method he had retrieved from the TARDIS and stored in his pocket. First thing, though, was to make sure the building was empty.
This is what it was all about.
Trying to force the unwanted thoughts back into his subconscious, the Doctor stood motionless on the roof of the store, but he couldn't stop them. From here, he could see across a small portion of the city, the lights of the buildings and the cars and the streetlamps in the night. The murmur of walkers, heading home or going to the pub or seeking some other adventure, drifted up from the darkness below.
Life in the universe - the humans, the Nestene, the countless species, all of it - continued because he destroyed the Daleks and the Time Lords, before they could bring war and devastation to every planet in the universe, before the High Council could enact the Final Sanction and end time itself. I killed them both to save the rest of the universe. Keep telling myself that.
What about all the others, the countless species from the planets and galaxies that were obliterated when the Moment convulsed the time vortex and shattered the universe? The Time Lord could not block their silent scream, tearing through his mind.
I had no choice. It was them, or everyone. Them or the universe. I had to do it, to save the universe.
But he could find no comfort in the thought, no absolution to wipe from his hands the blood of the children of Gallifrey and Skaro and the uncountable others. Gazing over a tiny portion of one human city, the last Time Lord stood in the darkness, alone.
With an enormous effort, he wrenched himself out of the mire of his thoughts. The universe isn't going to stop for me. Best get on. He dashed into the stairwell, leaping three steps at a time and launching himself over handrails, like a man who knows that if he keeps moving, he won't have a chance to look back.
It didn't take long to determine that the vast, open showroom floors were deserted, but the basement was another thing, with its clogged maze of storage rooms. In addition, there were plenty of shop window dummies stored down here, perfect soldiers for the Nestene. As the Doctor searched, he found he was right: in an office marked, "H. P. Wilson, C. E. O." he found the body of a man, bludgeoned to death.
Finished with the basement, he was about to head up to the roof when he heard a frightened female voice behind a closed door trying to sound calm and brave.
"Right, I've got the joke. Whose idea was this? Is it Derek's? Is it? Derek, is this you?"
The Doctor muttered under his breath, "Stupid ape," and sprinted for the door. It was locked. Sonicking it open a crack, he saw, from the back, a blond girl in a pink sweater, backing away from a group of Autons advancing on her. She tripped backwards over a box, then, scrambling up, she turned partially towards him and he saw her face.
The end of the Last Great Time War weighed heavily on his conscience, but just for an instant, he felt surrounded by his friends - no, himself… his selves. The Moment passed and Gallifrey stood. The words "bad wolf" danced through his mind, then vanished like a dragonfly among roses in the breeze.
And then she was just a girl, backed against the wall, surrounded by shop window dummies. The Doctor took her hand and said one word, just one word…