In the fire, he was aware of a feminine presence around him, with soft hair and delicate pale skin, scalding from the heat and smoke. Beyond the door she barred him from, he heard her scream in the tumbling flames and noxious gas, and on instinct he reached out his hand and grabbed for her. The door between them cracked and pried apart, and even if it had not done that, he knew she would not reach for him. She would still refuse his help even in the grueling moments of her last breaths.
Sweltering heat accosted his senses, but he could still sense Cass near him on the breaking ship, and he could hear the stream of her final thoughts: fear and resolve for dying, bitterness at dying at the side of a Time Lord, and slight revulsion in only having a Time Lord be her last resort for a rescue. The Doctor could feel her longing for her family, seeing brief wavelengths of memories hovering in her aura.
He could have saved her, and after all this time resisting a role in this Time War, he came back into the fold only to be spurned, and to die.
Death was immediate, hovering on the outskirts of the frantic TARDIS. He could feel her presence as well, struggling to save him as his fragile body struggled inside the exploding ship. The crash landing of Cass’s spaceship was imminent, and as he reached out for his own ship to save him, the Doctor could feel his old faithful TARDIS retreating from him as he plummeted to the planet’s surface.
He couldn’t blame the old girl for abandoning him, and perhaps even she had her limitations in saving him. The Doctor teetered back in forth with his final thoughts, feeling even that tiny regret in his own selfishness as Cass died elsewhere, burning and screaming. He wondered briefly what could have been, and he rather enjoyed divulging in Cass as a companion if she did not hate him, if his race did not barrel its destructive way through the universe, creating casualty after another in its quest to continue this war with the Daleks, perhaps in some other reality they could have been friends.
He was sure he would die without a chance for regeneration, and even in that he felt comfort. He wouldn’t come back to an ugly war that he couldn’t escape. Even better, innocents like Cass would get what they wanted. A dead Time Lord.
Instead, he began to miss the ones that came before Cass: Grace, Charley, Lucy and Molly. He even delighted in old memories of Bernice, her secret kisses and her soft skin against his lips.
“I would have never,” said a female voice next to him, and he recognized Cass. He opened his eyes, and he was expecting to see fire, and instead, he was sweeping his gaze out into a beach on Earth.
“Never what?” he asked, humoring her.
“Been your companion. I would have never felt anything for you; no affection, no pride, and certainly no happiness.”
“You would have felt something. You do feel something; you hate me,” he said, and he met her eyes. Cass was staring at him, measuring him up as if she expected to see a monster. “So is this that long moment before we die, before we inhale enough smoke to kill us and succomb to the blood that breaks from our wounds? And what place is this?”
“Darlig Ulv-Stranden in Norway. Or as some people call it, Bad Wolf Bay. Bergen is my home, although it looks slightly different here than I remember. Maybe it’s important to you as well?”
The Doctor shook his head. “I don’t know. I mean, yet anyway, but it doesn’t matter if we’re going to die.” He watched her stare out into the ever-moving waves.
“I’m going to die, and your ship waits for you,” she said.
“No. The TARDIS can’t save me,” he said, catching her stare. He furrowed his brow. “It’s undetermined, isn’t it? Someone still wants me to be apart of this damn war? I can’t even die, can I?”
“I can’t tell you that,” Cass said. “Maybe… maybe you aren’t a bad Time Lord, but if I say that, Doctor, am I betraying my life or am I finding some peace in my death?”
“I really wanted to save you, to do right by you that the war hasn’t,” the Doctor said. “But I can’t.”
“I wish I couldn’t hate you, Doctor, but I’m afraid I still do. The Time Lords are too cruel, too powerful. They have destroyed so much,” she said.
Regret and sorrow surged through his blood as he watched her leave him, walking for the welcoming cool waves of the bay. He saw her walk toward the illusory horizon, letting the waves consume as she met her cold and final end in the cleansing waters. He was relieved she’d went this way, knowing she was burning in the fires as the ship crashed into the surface.
The Doctor closed his eyes, wishing for his own final chapter to be just beyond his reach. The energy of his TARDIS hovered on the orbit of his senses, and he knew his body was shutting down, screeching for that regenerative energy to pull him back. But none of that came, and he was resolved to accept that.
Memories flooded like water around his senses, and he imagined himself feeling each one of them against his mind, just like his mother’s kiss when he was a child, or like Grace’s kiss when he remembered who he was -- or Bernice’s when they fell against each other in a tumble of naked limbs and sensual laughter, and that time, he no longer had envied the hearts and desires of the humans he’d protected.
He would be a corpse soon enough, and even he would be no use to The Great Time War.
And the Doctor could find some solace in that.
Feeling a snap in the back of his brain, he took a deep breath. Explosions surged within his body again, making him feel hot with strange, borrowed energy.
His sense of smell jolted him first, and he smelled blood and sulfur on the air.
No, no, no… He resisted, but something brought him back. Something...or someone wasn’t done with him yet, and he groaned with unhappiness as dirt and ashes coated his tongue.
He was alive, somehow, and he knew he didn’t like the explanation he was soon to get. His body ached with soreness, and that’s when he saw her - the woman who undoubtedly had brought him back for some reason, even as he still teetered within the bony grasp of death.
The Doctor knew there would be no peace for him yet, and he certainly wasn’t happy about it.