He doesn’t think about it much. Anymore. Sometimes. It comes and it goes, like so many things. But never … never fully leaves. The knowledge. It never fully goes away.
Death. Regeneration. Remaking. Sometimes he wonders, if a phoenix feels the same, if the phoenix knew or knows what it feels like. A death in fire, every time. A death in pain, every time. Burn away the old life, the old form, put on some newer one.
Except it doesn’t work. Or maybe it does, for the phoenix, but not for him. Death does not burn away the old life. Death does not purify his sins. An unconscionable loss, every time, the loss of who he was, but never the loss of who he is. The base of him, that bloodied thing, the Doctor.
He remembers so many reactions, to those deaths, layered across each other. So many in pain, so many staggering him, twisting him, changing him. He remembers anger. Desperation. Acceptance. Hope. Utter refusal. Desperate longing. Joy. He remembers wanting to change, to fling himself free inside a new face from what had bound him. He remembers hating the thought of it, desperate to hold onto who he was then, desperate not to have to look at himself from a new face, and see the truth of the old one. He remembers. He knows, so long as he lives, so long as there is a thing inside him that endures, he will feel each of them, all of them, again.
Because he remembers. Because he still is. Because, whatever face, whatever form, whatever disguise to pretend the old sins were not his, the new ones not their echoes … He is still the Doctor. He is still the man who stole the TARDIS, still the man who broke the rules, still the man who was imprisoned on Earth, still the man who flung himself free, still the man who tried to murder Davros, who sacrificed himself so that his companion might live, still the man who screamed in fury at his people, still the man who played chess with monsters, still the man who fell to Earth, who fought the Time War, who murdered his own people. Still the man who stood with someone’s hand in his, and felt the universe race beneath him. Still the man who stood in judgement, victorious, arrogant, proud. Still the man who died. Over and over again. Still the man who lived. Over and over again.
A death in fire, yes. A rebirth, yes. A new face, yes.
But never a new soul. And oh, oh, how old his soul is growing. How heavy his soul is weighing. Because it is not rebirth, not really. Nor regeneration, at the base of it. Nothing so clean, so purifying, so redemptive as that.
A changing of the masks, maybe. Or simply a cycle of life and death, endless and unmitigated, the reward and the punishment all at once. Because he deserves no less, because he deserves no more.
Because he is the Doctor. And he will change, and change again, and grow wearied, and old, and burned by this circle of fire, but always, always will he remain that bloodied thing. That oncoming storm. That healer and murderer and friend.
Always, no matter the face, he remains … the Doctor.