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The Last Act of the Time War is...

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The last act of the Time War is love. Not the horror he glimpses that used to be his friend, but the saving of humanity at the cost of his own life. Rose. Out of love, she opened the heart of the TARDIS, and the love of the TARDIS helped her unmake the Daleks from existence. He can't let her suffer for that, so he takes it into himself and does what he should have done right the last time, and he lets it kill him. He hopes it will be for good this time.

But he's always been too stubborn to die. And oh, what a gift it becomes. Killed by love, consumed by it, and then born anew within it. He's giddy with it from the first halting seconds, full of life and a sudden enormous energy. He wants to leap and run and go fast fast faster, take out all the stops, no holding back anymore. The past burned away along with his old body, and every new part of him yearns to embrace this fresh start.

But first he has to lie down for a bit. Tricky thing, regeneration.

No more Daleks. No more exterminations. No more genocide is probably too much to hope for, but his new life reeks with boundless optimism. Humanity! Glorious, wonderful humans. He saved them once before by burning his own planet and people and trees and spires and mountains and red red grass, not winning but at least stopping the deaths of trillions throughout time, stopping the War just as it threatened to devour everything. This time the only death was his, and in exchange for his sacrifice he has this. Hearts full of such joy, eyes that see beauty everywhere, a fighting hand to defend the Earth and Rose, wonderful Rose, who loves him and loves his life and never wants to leave. Stay, stay, stay, he wills, holding her hand, holding her, swinging through time and space like a man gloriously without a mission.

The past doesn't matter. His mistakes don't matter. There is only now, only Rose and the whole wide universe and his wonderful ship and adventures yet to be had. His new face grins, his new blood pulses, his new self sings.

The Queen kicks them out, and even that is fantastic.

Seeing Sarah Jane and K9 again is glorious, even when it makes him a bit sad.

The Krillitaine... not so much. It's like accidentally walking off a cliff, and at the last minute being pulled back. That hearts-stopping moment when he remembers that it's just him, just him, no matter how much he avoids thinking about it. Just him and a satsuma, just him and the Skasis Paradigm, and there is absolutely no one who could ever stop him, if he lets himself fall. His fury with Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, was as much a warning to himself as anything else, but he'd still been too alight with euphoria to look too far into his own darkness.

But unlike Sarah Jane, Rose isn't pulling him back. He's been holding her so close that there's no room for that; if he falls, she falls with him. With a pang of regret, he ends their folie a deux with Mickey's presence, and then the universe kindly cruelly gives him a choice.

It's no choice at all. He crashes through the mirror to a glorious rescue, and readies himself for a somewhat less glorious period away from his ship and his Rose. A few thousand years on the slow path are just what he needs to calm himself down, and it isn't as if he was really needed anywhere anymore. All the major threats are gone, and now it's just tidying up. Everything will be fine without him for a while.

Or he could just go through the fireplace again and have his hearts broken. He could do that.

Rose looks at him differently, after that. He's done too good a job at putting space between them, and now regret takes over from euphoria. He wants that bubble back, the security and unbearable lightness of her adoration of him. But the more he strains for it, the further away she goes. He almost loses her entirely to another universe, and when he doesn't the relief is so strong it hurts.

He can't lose her. He can't. Not when his past is creeping back, not when he glimpses the sheer emptiness out of the corner of his eye. Not when there's a storm coming and it isn't him. He needs her to be the missing part of him, to be his joy and life. So as he'd pushed her away, now he holds her tight

And when she's gone, and his ship is gone, and the sheer emptiness stretches out endlessly beneath his feet, he lets go. Lets himself fall, to whatever end awaits him, because if she is his joy then he doesn't want to go on without her. He is an old man, old and tired beneath his youth, battle-scarred so deep that he's kept in one piece with only the fragile glue of optimism. If all he has is hope then he will follow it to the end.

He falls, and the universe catches him. He runs, and it gives him back his ship, and it gives him back Rose. A miracle as wonderful as his rebirth, and he holds her hand and everything is right again. Everything is fine, will be fine, will always be fantastic, because he isn't ever going to let go.

He should have known better than to believe in forever.

It's as if she takes all the air with her, or it's all been sucked into the Void. He's gone numb, walking over carnage and dead soldiers, death upon death everywhere he looks. And worst of all, oh the unkindest cut, was that they'd come back, the Daleks, out of the Void ship and into his worst nightmare. He'd wanted to give up and just leave. Give up and run and never look back. He'd only entertained the thought until the cavalry arrived, but alone in Yvonne Hartman's office he'd felt nothing but despair.

It was the Daleks who made him lose Rose, the Daleks who almost made him destroy Earth, the Daleks who made him annihilate every trace of his own people. Hate wells within him, hate where there had been love, anger where there had been joy, and he wishes he was back in Van Statten's lair so he could inflict all that pain right back on the last (ha!) Dalek, watch it scream and scream and scream and no one would ever stop him from making it scream, no one would ever stop him, because it's just him. He is the last, the last of the Time Lords, the last of the race that kept order in the universe and harnessed time for them to control and only them, and that's what he is.

And oh, it feels good. Almost as cleansing as the fires of regeneration to say the name aloud, Gallifrey, and see the fear on the Empress' monstrous face, just like the fear on the face of the Sycorax leader. To watch her suffer as she loses her horrible children, and there is no beauty there, nothing for him to marvel at, only cold, ferocious, Time Lord justice. He's become what his people had always wanted him to be, willingly walks off that fearful cliff, and it hurts better than anything he's ever known. He should have said yes to the Krillitaine. Was this what it was like to be a Dalek?

The last thought finally snaps him out of it, along with Donna's insistent shouting. He isn't surprised when she refuses to go with him. But that's good, that's right. He doesn't need anyone, not anymore. He has his ship and himself, and that's all there will ever be. The empty hollowness inside him, where Rose used to be, where Gallifrey once slept, he seals off, and eventually it will atrophy.

He roams aimlessly, keeping to worlds where no life has ever touched, or where death has been complete and final. He goes to places so crowded that social contact is taboo, so no one ever looks him in the eye. He doesn't get involved.

Eventually he misses Earth enough that he goes, and of course immediately gets involved. And immediately meets Martha Jones, who insists, quite rudely, on being exactly the kind of person who he used to love to travel with. It's outrageous, frankly, and he isn't going to take it. So he leaves. And then comes back weeks later, and leaves again without seeing her, and leaves and comes back again without her seeing him, and leaves and comes back but forgets to put on a tie and almost causes a paradox running into the wrong TARDIS in his rush to get away.

It's only after he absolutely quadruple-swears himself to only giving her one trip that he lands far enough out of the way not to run into himselves and goes to get her. He watches her excitement and feels a little spark of gladness. He isn't sure whether to fan it or smother it.

Visiting Shakespeare goes well, but afterwards he has the sneaking suspicion that he's been rude at some point. Yet she seems happy by the end, and he can't quite bring himself to only show her the past and not the future, and only Earth and not another planet.

The next trip... not so fantastic. A slum full of drug dealers, a kidnapping, giant crabs, and then a city full of skeletons and the Face of Boe telling him what could only be a lie. He wants to forget it and move on, but Martha Jones turns her sharp mind against him, and worse she looks at him, and for the first time since the Time War he finds himself actually... talking.

It hurts. Thinking about Gallifrey hurts, and talking about it ought to be ten times worse, a hundred times. He didn't know why it's a relief instead. There's no recrimination in Martha, only sympathy and a calm stillness that draws him in, but he lies to her again, so she doesn't know that it was all his fault. She doesn't know what a monster he is, hasn't seen him glorying in the deaths of the Racnoss as Donna had. If she knew the truth she would leave. She's leaving anyway, isn't she? Because it was just one trip, two trips, and he deserves to be alone and to hurt and to be empty inside. He doesn't want her to make him feel better.

But she doesn't ask to go home, and instead of London he sets the dials for old New York. Just a quick detour, that's all it is, and then he really is going to take her back.

If only he could ever resist a mystery.

Another slum, and a sewer this time, and mysterious green rotting things and scary pig men; he really knows how to show a girl a good time. If he didn't know better, he might think he was bringing her to unpleasant places on purpose, but if it's a subconscious attempt to scare her off it isn't working very well. The more he pulls away, the more she pulls him back, insisting that he open up and let her in. He doesn't want to let anyone in.

At least there's the mysterious green rotting thing. Something about it strikes a chord, but after a thousand years everything strikes chords in his memory. As far as he's concerned it's a new thing, a fresh mystery, no ancient enemies or old friends. Just what he needs. Studying it is almost meditatively relaxing. Whoever had made it was clever, advanced... and is probably causing no end of trouble, of course.

And then the ground falls out from beneath him again. Skaro. Impossible. Even Daleks didn't have the power to resist the pull of the Void.

He goes to find Martha, but he's too late. Too late again, just like New New York. Guilt weighs on him, his fault again that he couldn't just do one simple trip, Shakespeare and back home instead of dragging her along with him. He should go alone, but Tallulah with two Ls and an H just has to follow. Why do people insist on following him? Humans: if they don't run away from the screams for help they run straight into the monsters.

His blood runs cold, and he pulls her out of sight as the Dalek glides past.

They survive, they always survive, while he loses everything. He hates them more than he's ever hated anything, more than he hates himself. Monstrous, loveless abominations, born to destroy and nothing more. Hideous, artificial life in a merciless shell. He pitied one, once, but never again. He wonders if it would be worth the cost to the timestream if he blew up the city and took them with him. The Time War won't be over until the last one of them is dead, and dead is exactly what they'll be if he has anything to say about it.

He has to know what they're up to. The pig men are obviously their creation, and the rotting thing contains their DNA. Making more Daleks, then, and his stomach turns at the thought. Poor destroyed Laszlo tells them more, but it's not until he finds Martha that the truth is revealed. It's not the first time Daleks have used humans as fodder, but this is something new. Daleks that have names making a Dalek that has humanity, or at least some shadow of humanity. He wonders if it will make a difference.

But he's so tired of it all. They'd called Canary Wharf his slaughter, and it was. He kills and they survive, and it's the same thing over and over until it's a ride he just wants to end. He tries to convince Solomon to save his people, to run, but he won't listen. None of them ever listen, and it makes him want to scream. He's seen the Daleks at every stage of their existence, and no one ever listens. If only he'd wiped them out when he'd had the chance. If only he hadn't moralized about what he had the right to do or not do. He should have slaughtered them in their tanks, should have made Skaro burn right then and there, and burned with it. It would have been doing the universe a favour.

They come and they kill. A good man dies, and he can't stand it anymore. Only four Daleks left, and him, and maybe this is the end of the Time War. An end steeped in hate and blood, the way it was always supposed to be. Just the five of them, no more innocent bystanders, no more games. He spreads his arms wide and dares them to kill him. That's what they want, what they've longed for as much as a Dalek longs for anything. The Oncoming Storm, gone at last. Kill me, he screams, just do it!

They don't kill him. He doesn't understand, and his curiosity overcomes his disappointment. There isn't time to tell Martha about the fast return switch, but he can't simply abandon her here, out of her time. He slips her the psychic paper, and whether she chooses to take it as a final gift or a weapon to fight with is up to her. He's already made his decision.

He's furious before he even reaches the laboratory, ready to either provoke them into killing him or finding some way to take them out with him, but within seconds the wind is knocked entirely out of his sails. Human courage, excellent?

The universe is still full of surprises.

His heart breaks for the hundreds of people the Daleks have stolen. It's too late for them. But to his complete amazement, it might not be too late for the Dalek race. He doesn't want to feel hopeful but he can't help it. He finds himself clinging to the possibility that something good can still come from all this horror.

It fails. He's disappointed, but not surprised. He and Laszlo run, but Laszlo is dying. More death, and Martha's there, good girl, she's found the key. If he can just get the dalekanium off, the poor humans down below will never be hybrids or anything else. They're already dead; the only thing he can do is release them.

The wind whips furiously around him, threatening to push him off. It's taking too long. Not enough time, never enough time, it always slips away from him and he's so frustrated he wants to scream. The cold numbs his fingers and the sonic falls, and he has to stop himself from jumping after it. His bare hands aren't enough. He can't do this, can't face this failure and the deaths of every human on Earth that will happen so very soon. The lightning will strike in seconds and there will be nothing he can do but watch or kill, kill and die, and he prays for death to come before more blood stains his hands forever. He reaches for the lightning rod and wonders how much tolerance his body has to electricity and gamma radiation, and a tiny spark of hope forces itself into his thoughts and he wraps himself fully around the pole, shimmies up to take the full force of the strike, and if it doesn't work at least he might not be around to find out.

He screams and screams, and it's not just the sheer pain but every scream he's been holding in since the Time War began. It pours out of him, catharsis even as his consciousness is pummeled into darkness. The last thing he knows is that he is falling, and he wonders if he will only stop at the pavement below.

The universe catches him again, and Martha's smiling at him. For the briefest moment he is glad, until he realizes what he's done, and what he has to face.

He tells them all to run while he beckons to the Daleks, but of course they refuse. He doesn't really expect to make it out of this one alive, but at least he'll go out with style, and take as many of them with him as he can. That tiny spark of hope refuses to go out, even after Dalek Sec is exterminated. He's a part of these new monstrosities as much as his enemies are, and if he's to die then let it be by their hands. He spreads his arms wide and readies himself for oblivion, but it doesn't come, and for once he's glad. They're mine, he thinks, sneering at the Daleks. They're Time Lords, and humans, and Daleks, and none of the above. He's so pleased with himself that for just a moment, he lets himself feel that he's not alone anymore, not entirely.

When the smoke clears, he wants to cry. Not a single survivor, and it's not fair, it's never fair. Even one would have been worth so much to him, but no, instead it's genocide again, again and always, on his heels no matter how far he runs.

He goes to the laboratory, and the last Time Lord stands facing the last Dalek. He supposes that he should make an effort, but he can't bring himself to kill it, and it can't seem to bring itself to kill him. Stalemate. It leaves this time, and shortly he does as well. They'll meet again, one day. The last act of the Time War hasn't be written yet.

It's the aftermath now, and Martha is giving him that look. She wants him to talk again, but he won't this time. It's too raw, too big. Fortunately, he has the perfect out, and he suddenly has little trouble setting the coordinates to her flat, twelve hours after he'd picked her up. No twelve-month screw-ups this time, nothing to cause trouble in her life. He's going to miss her, but it's better this way. He remembers her smile on top of the Empire State Building, and he knows trouble when he sees it.

He needs her to leave before she finds out what he really is. He doesn't want her to realize he's little better than the Daleks, doesn't want her to look at his hands and see the layers of blood on them, the way he sees them. He needs her to leave while she's still smiling and not weeping.

Her sister is involved with a company that will change what it means to be human. Genetic experimentation is fresh on his mind, and just like that he needs to find out what's going on, and everything else is put aside. That's what his life is always like; as long as he keeps moving, he never has to face himself. Maybe it's better to stay busy, to let Martha stay but find distractions for her. He's been distant since she met him, so she has no reason to think he isn't a distant person. All he has to do is preserve the illusion.

He tries not to think that he might have already betrayed himself to her.

Fortunately, their adventure on Earth is full of distractions--mystery, explosions, a great big scary monster and a great big deafening organ. It's adrenaline and running and thinking very fast, and it's a relief. When it's time to leave her, he thinks about how much he enjoyed their evening, and before he can stop himself he's inviting her for another trip like the fool he is.

She kindly cruelly gives him a choice, and it's no choice at all. He can't let her go. It's already too late for that; he's reached the point where if they're going to go they leave him or they're taken from him. It's going to hurt when she leaves, and he's not sure he can survive that. He's not sure he's even surviving now. Maybe all he's doing is breathing and moving and going in circles, biding time before the Time War ends for good. If it can ever end for good.

But in the meantime there's the universe. Martha deserves more than he can give, so he gives her an upgraded phone, because family is terribly, terribly important.

They find trouble almost immediately, which is good for his plan for distractions and bad for their odds of survival. He doesn't care about himself, but he's made a promise to himself not to get her killed, and he puts it to the test right away. Flings himself out an airlock to bring her back to the ship, then promptly gets possessed by a living sun.

Electrocution is nothing compared to this. Regeneration never hurt this much. He doesn't think he'll survive even if he does regenerate. The sun inside him will simply kill him over and over until he's a walking corpse, and then it will use him to kill. Martha frantically tries to save him, to freeze the sun out of him, but the only thing he can think is that he doesn't want his last moment of existence to be her dying by his hand. He'd do anything to avoid that, and flinging himself back out the airlock is very very high on his list, assuming he can manage the job. At the moment he can't do much but scream in agony.

He's already told her about the fast return switch. She can go home. Assuming they don't all plunge into the sun, of course.

There's barely any time left to save the ship when he finally succumbs. His last thought is that at least his corpse won't have enough time to act before it is incinerated. It feels like an act of mercy on his behalf, a small grace before his final fall into the dark.

Oddly enough, death is cool and slippery. Too slippery, sliding away from him no matter how he fights to hold on to it, and he comes back to a boiling brain and a broiling body. His Time Lord body heals fast, and but for his exhaustion there is no outward sign of the damage done. But oh, the damage is done; he's had a taste of peace, and he wants it again.

He gives Martha a key and thanks her for saving him, and she is distracted.

It's not that he has a death wish, exactly. He's simply weary and threadbare and longs to rest. The universe won't let him rest, always pushing him down and pulling him back up again, like a toy, a yo-yo. He starts thinking about options. It's one thing to go down fighting, but suicide is quite another. He couldn't do that, if only because his will to live is too strong. After hundreds of years, the fighting spirit is about the only thing he has left. So that's out.

He could get himself captured, but that wouldn't be fair to Martha, and for all the time he's spent in prison cells he really isn't that fond of them. He couldn't disable his TARDIS any more than he could kill himself. The slow path bores him.

The thought of himself as a yo-yo gives him an idea, and he considers the Chameleon Arch as an option. He considers it very seriously.

Fortunately, the universe brings just the right kind of trouble. Just a bit more pain, and then months of wonderful sleep. Whatever the TARDIS picks for his human self, he's sure Martha will be fine. She's resourceful and intelligent, and she'll keep him from causing trouble until he's himself again.

While he's in the watch, he has a vague sort of consciousness. Mostly he sleeps, and he should do that more often, because it's a lovely thing. His mind is airy, wrapped up in gentle darkness. John Smith is ordinary, so ordinary, it's the perfect disguise. Sometimes he can feel Martha, and he knows everything is fine.

A boy steals him, a low-level telepath, and the Doctor whispers to him. The boy senses the Family have come, and the Doctor tells him to hide, keep him safe. He doesn't have the awareness for more than warnings and subtle direction. The watch is brought to John Smith, and it is opened.

The last two months fill him in a rush as the world slams back, and he staggers from the blow. Fortunately, there's an urgent and immediate distraction, so he leaves the house with its tearful occupant and blows up the Family's ship. That's good, that's better, but it's not enough. Not nearly enough when they woke him early, not nearly enough when he came back to the memory of another heartsbreak and he can feel every emotion that John Smith ever felt and every sweet kiss he gave to Joan, and it's Rose and Reinette all over again because John Smith didn't know to seal off that hollow place inside him and now the Doctor is bleeding inside. Instead of breaking down he shuts off everything good and he hurts them, he gives them what they came for in spades and makes them suffer for every single agonizing eternal second of it, and in his mind the Racnoss scream and Gallifrey burns and he is every inch the fire and ice and rage and the night and the storm and the heart of the sun and it is over.

He still feels John Smith aching for Joan, so he goes to her. She sees right through him and does not want what he is. Like Donna, she is right to be horrified.

Martha is simply glad to see him, and glad to see the back of 1913. She doesn't press him because she's embarrassed at her admission of love, and he's more than happy to use that as an excuse to not talk about any of it ever. It was a mistake to use the Arch, because it left him defenceless. He'd been so busy trying to make it all stop hurting, and now it's worse than before. Every single memory is fresh, only as old as the moment John Smith opened the watch.

He pushes it all down, because it's too much to deal with. He works that much harder at pretending everything is fine. If he pretends hard enough, maybe he'll start to believe it himself.

The Angels send them back to 1969, and oddly enough he gets his slow time vacation after all. This is more like it, he thinks. He has a little room in a little flat, and a nice timey-wimey project to keep him busy. Martha is less than enthused; after two months keeping an eye on John Smith, now she has to keep an eye on him. She signed up for adventure and aliens, not this, but she gets along well enough that he's not worried.

He's distant, even more than usual, he knows that. He needs it, because he's still putting himself back together, and the pieces aren't fitting and he's out of optimism-glue. Shame he can't pick it up at the corner shop, he thinks, being absurd when he really wants to convince his lungs to stop insistently breathing.

Martha must notice something is wrong, because she starts trying to get him to talk again, but he's learned her tricks. He's not having any of it. Maybe he could send out a signal with his sonic screwdriver and the last Dalek could swing by and they could have a proper high noon shootout. Somehow she finds a mental health pamphlet on depression and leaves it on his chair for him. It's full of blatantly dated advice that wouldn't even work with twenty-first century humans, much less the last Time Lord, so he makes a paper airplane out of it and flies it out the window. He does the same with a pile of old notes full of writing no one but him will ever be able to understand again, and it's strangely satisfying.

After that he makes more of an effort to pretend he's fine. He knows he's getting better at it when Martha stops looking quite so worried, so he keeps at it until they get the TARDIS back. Then there are distractions and adventures again, so everything's dandy.

He makes the mistake of refuelling in Cardiff, and everything goes straight to hell.

Jack's hard to look at, even over a viewscreen. He doesn't move. Everyone moves, leaving time trails in their wake, ahead and behind, even when they're dead, but Jack is still in the fourth dimension. A fixed point. The Doctor tries not to look at him, but he doesn't like to be that rude and he has to tell Jack about Rose, and he doesn't have to look at him to hug him. Just for a moment, he starts to feel again, but to his relief there's squabbling and people with scary teeth and lots of running.

He likes Professor Yana. He likes him a lot. Somehow this doesn't bother him. He doesn't need to pull away from the professor the way he does from everyone else. Maybe it's his optimism in the face of the end of the universe, maybe it's his enthusiasm, the Doctor doesn't know. There's just something...

He talks to Jack through the glass. He's spent so long bottling everything up that he keeps talking. Despite the wrongness, despite the fact that he deserves Jack's resentment and worse for abandoning him on the gamestation, he knows that if anyone could understand it would be Jack. Jack has as close a perspective to his own as he's likely to find, and he asks the big question, the question that's plagued him for so long now.

Do you want to die?

When Jack doesn't answer, the Doctor knows that Jack has wanted to die, and maybe still does. He presses, and the answer he gets... it's not enough for himself, but it helps. Jack wants to live because humanity exists to strive for life. The Doctor understands that very well, because without Martha he suspects he wouldn't have made it this far. He's not treated her very well for all that she's done for him, but it's not that he wants to hurt her. He just doesn't have anything inside to give that isn't broken. She wants him, all of him, but he's not a prize worth winning, and it's better that she suffer a little heartache than realize the truth.

She turns his world upside-down, and the Professor is not who he appears to be. Almost instantly the Doctor thinks of what Time Lords could possibly escape the destruction that he unleashed upon them, and it's a very short list. Or it's someone he's never met. He doubts that it's the latter.

He needs to stop the Professor before he opens the watch. He needs to stop him. The TARDIS is in there with him, the door held open by the power cable.

It feels like he's running in slow-motion, and every door takes an eternity to open. He only has a second, half a second, but that's all he needs. Of all the Time Lords in all the universe, of course it's the Master, and it's as if he knew right from the start. He's locked out of his ship as the Master regenerates, and the Doctor aches to be there with him, because he's not the last anymore, not the only one, and if there's someone else...

Everything's changed. Gallifrey burns in his mind, and he begs for forgiveness.

The Master doesn't listen, isn't interested. He has his own plans for the only TARDIS in existence. Does he know that Gallifrey is gone? Surely he can hear the deafening quiet, surely.

It's not until they're both back on Earth that he finds out the truth. The Master's resurrection, the Time War, the deafening quiet have all driven him mad, and it's one more stone of guilt for the Doctor to swallow. There's a moment when he thinks he might be able to get through to him, but all too soon the Master devolves into cruelty. He reaches out again and again, but the Master doesn't care, and the only thing he can do is run and hide.

The Master is broken, and it's his responsibility. There's only one other Time Lord left, only one who escaped his genocide, and no matter how insane he is that means there's hope. Real hope. The emptiness inside him isn't so empty anymore, and like Jack at the end of the universe he finds a reason to live. He will do whatever it takes to reach the Master, to save him.

Martha and Jack don't understand. He doesn't really expect them to. He still cares for them, but suddenly they're just means to an end, and the end is the Master. What the Doctor needs is a way to guarantee a bloodless capture, and once the Master is under his care he will deal with his madness.

He's not terribly surprised when they're caught, and to be honest, he's relieved. He's not happy about the Toclafane and he's really not happy about the tyranny over Earth, but he's already figured out that it's all resolvable with the paradox machine. He forgives the Master for his crimes because they're the Doctor's fault. If he hadn't destroyed the Time Lords and Gallifrey the Master would be the way he was before, an irritating pain in the neck but not insane.

He wants the Master back the way he was. He needs him clear-headed, because that's the only way the Doctor can ever accept his forgiveness. He refuses to think about what would happen if the Master recovered and refused to forgive him, because the Doctor is quite sure it would break him for good.

And funny enough, he gets his vacation in a prison cell after all. It's not nearly as restful as he expected, for he's surprisingly busy with the Archangel network, weaving himself into it and helping Martha and the resistance with information and communication. When he rests from that, his mind is constantly trying to plan for the Master's capture, for how to reach him and how to save him. When he sleeps, he dreams of the moment when he sinks to his knees and weeps and puts his life in the Master's hands and sometimes he is given absolution but most of the time the Master snaps his neck, waits for him to come back and then finds other ways to painfully kill him. Sometimes he dreams of countless watches, all of them broken, and the Time Lords returning from human form to put him on trial. There should be a trial. He's been on trial for genocide before, and they should have judged him guilty because time isn't linear and when he was on trial for genocide he'd already killed every single person in that courtroom. He dreams they give him unlimited regenerations so that every Time Lord can execute him, one after the other, for the rest of time.

The Master asks him about his nightmares, and greedily assumes that they're because the Master has broken his body and slaughtered his favourite species. The Master is too far gone to realize that nothing the Master ever does could be worse than what the Doctor has done. He still thinks it's a game, a race, a competition. It's not.

Finally, the day comes. If the Doctor hadn't been withered almost to the point of non-existence, he would have been unable to keep still from all the restless energy he feels. Today he will stop the Master, today he will undo the destruction of Earth, today he will make everything better and if he does that, if he is good enough, maybe the universe will be kind and the guilt will stop suffocating him.

He isn't good enough.

The Master still thinks it is a game, and he doesn't want to be saved. The Doctor realizes too late that he should have made curing the insanity the first priority, and not the Archangel network. He'd done it wrong, and this time there is no paradox machine to undo his mistake. He begs and sobs and howls and clings to the corpse, and it is one death too many, the straw finally breaking his back. Jack has to physically separate them, because the Doctor won't let go on his own and let them take the body. There is surprisingly little blood. There should have been more.

Martha has her family to take care of, and that is good. That is right. She shouldn't see him like this, not when she thought he was so strong. He lied to her again and again because he liked it, because it meant there was one person in the world who believed in the man he pretended to be.

Jack guides him to one of the bedrooms and makes him lie down. Jack knows he is weak, so weak, only a weak man would abandon his friend just because he defied the laws of time and nature. The Doctor closes in on himself like a watch and everything goes away for a while.

When he comes back, Jack is still there. Jack watches him with eyes almost as old as his own, and suddenly it is as if they are back at the end of the universe, because Jack asks him the question.

Do you want to die?

Please, the Doctor whispers, though it feels so loud in his head. Maybe Jack hates him, maybe Jack knows everything is all his fault, and Jack will punish him for it. He is nothing, the killer of his own kind, a serial genocide, unable to keep anyone he loves safe, unable to love anyone the way they need him to. He was better as a rubbish human who taught young boys to go to war. He could have had grandchildren again.

But Jack just shakes his head, and asks what had happened. Like Martha, he is only sympathy and a calm stillness, and he has no defences left and it undoes him. The words tumble out, the story chaotic and jumbled because that's how his mind is, and just like the end of the universe everything he's bottled up pours itself out. He doesn't need to pretend he's fine, doesn't need to pretend he's strong, because Jack knows a liar when he sees one, and somehow that makes all the difference.

He talks himself hoarse, with Jack barely interrupting with more than a question or two to clarify. He thought he was empty before, but now he realizes he was full, painfully full of guilt and pain and sadness, and now he's empty.

It's easier to breathe.

He's utterly exhausted. He decides sleep would be a good thing, maybe even a healing thing.

Jack stops at the door and turns back. He's not from Gallifrey and he's not a Time Lord but he knows the Doctor pretty well, he says. The Doctor is the kind of man who made him want to be a hero. The Doctor tries to save everyone, and when he can't it hurts. When it hurts, he needs to talk, or there won't be a Doctor anymore.

Jack sits on the edge of the bed and looks him directly in the eye, and he says that he is forgiven. For the Master, for leaving him behind, for destroying his own people to save the universe. Everything. Even the things that he shouldn't need to be forgiven for, because they're not his fault. He. Is. Forgiven. Got that?

The Doctor manages a nod. There's a great big lump in his throat that's keeping him from speaking.

Good, says Jack, with the kind of firm, authoritative nod that brooks exactly no argument, so the Doctor knows he has no choice but to accept it.

He cries silently once Jack has gone. When he wakes he is still alone, and he goes to the bathroom to wash. He looks utterly terrible, but when he looks at his reflection he laughs. He's so startled by it that he laughs again, and again, and he ends up on the floor laughing himself hoarse all over again. When he calms down, he splashes some water on his face. He leans over the sink, water dripping from his nose, and tries to sort himself out.

He's not numb, but he doesn't hurt anymore. Not the way he used to. He feels... almost light, though far from euphoric. There's still a hard stone of guilt in his chest that is Gallifrey and will never go away, but it's bearable. He thinks of the Master, and he feels sorrow and loss and painful sympathy, but he doesn't wish he'd died with him. It's better.

He thinks about Jack, and how Jack has been a better friend to him that he deserves, but that's all right. It's even a little wonderful. He thinks about Martha and how she tried to be there for him, and he's not ready to face her yet but he's going to try. He thinks she'll understand.

He looks up at himself, and sees that he is mourning, has been mourning for years. But beneath that, he sees just a glimpse of the man Jack believes him to be, and that's enough.

He doesn't need a distraction, but he does have a TARDIS to fix.

Whatever happens between him and the last Dalek, he knows that it will be something new. The last act of the Time War will never be over, because time isn't linear, but it's over for him. And he thinks he might just be able to accept that.

 

End.