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Alone With His Ghosts

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“You're always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you.” ~ The Doctor

The whispers in his mind were faint in his first few hundred years stranded. It hurt… the voices. They made his hearts ache, and his stomach twist violently. Escaping the guilt of seeing his homeworld burned did not excuse him from everything else he’d ever done.

“You are forgiven, my love, always and completely forgiven.”

The Doctor shook his head, limping from the wall to find a perfectly good comfy chair. He waved off her words dismissively. “You always say that.”

“I always mean it.”

“River,” he grumbled with a tired sigh. His head was pounding in his skull, and the cold chilled him to the bone. He reached down for the blanket nearby and covered himself properly while the sounds of Gallifrey filled his ears, demanding a reply he could never give. “Why must you be so… human?” She saved his life by giving up hers. If she hadn’t… perhaps she’d be alive now. She gave up every life she might have had… including her last.

She was standing by the wall, with her fingers following the crack to Gallifrey. “Your homeworld calls to you.”

He nodded, forcing himself to look at her, and take in those brilliant, blond curls and her gentle smile. Hell in high heels, perhaps… but she was heaven too. “I wish you could have seen it.”

“Who’s to say I haven’t?”

The Doctor’s eyes widened. He could rarely tell when she was speaking the truth, but somehow he believed. There was a fondness in her eyes when she looked down at that crack to another universe, of memories he’d never shared with her… and perhaps never would. River Song sometimes went on adventures of her own without him, and obviously Gallifrey had been one of them. “Tell me.”

There were a few wrinkles under his eyes. He was getting old. She would have enjoyed watching him grow old. It was a shame they couldn’t have done it together. He would have liked that. River Song took quiet steps to his side, slipping onto his lap with ease. His mind adjusted to ensure his treasured delusion have weight across his thighs. He slipped his arms from the blanket so he could wrap them around his wife. “I saw you… the very first you. I was very young then, and I suppose curiosity got the better of me. It was worth the risk… chancing a few blips in our timeline. You’d been arguing with your brother, still fairly young yourself. You bumped into me and smiled, charming as ever… bless.”

He remembered. “You were there. River, I remember you.” He wasn’t sure what to make of it, at first, but his smile shined happily in the dark. She’d been absolutely beautiful. “I opened my mouth, but you were just so… I couldn’t speak.” He laughed, giggled weakly at the memory. “I wasn’t very smooth back then, you see.”

River laughed with him. “It wouldn’t have mattered, I rushed off rather quickly. I was horrified I’d pushed my luck, and created a horrible paradox!”

“You did look rather flushed.”

“Only for you, sweetie!” He loved it when she called him that.

The Doctor smiled, eyes feeling heavy, though he tried his best to resist. He was growing older. His body needed rest like it never had before. He hadn’t realized they’d closed until another hand touched his face, slimmer, and the weight on his lap was gone. He must have drifted off.

“Amelia Pond,” he whispered fondly.

The young girl grinned wide, leaning over him in the chair. “You look a bit weird.”

“You look a bit Scottish.”

“Are you dying?” Her eyes were sad, but curious, and he wanted so much to gather her up in his arms.

“Aren’t we all?”

“You never answer any of my questions with straight answers!”

A chuckle echoed in the darkness as Rory peered into the glowing crack, similar to the one that had nearly erased him from the universe. “He does if you listen properly. Of course he’s dying.”

Rory… Rory Pond! Rory the Roman! He’d missed that gorgeous face! “Blimey, I even miss that nose,” he muttered.

Rory turned to look at the Doctor, eyes narrowing and exasperated. “Oh very nice!”

In the blink of an eye Amelia’s childish face was gone and replaced with the woman she’d grown into. She let out a quiet laugh, and rolled her eyes. “Oi! You two behave yourselves!”

Rory pushed off from the wall and folded his arms, regarding the Doctor with the eyes of someone who knew a little something about death. “Don’t be afraid, Doctor. It’s not so bad.”

“He can’t die,” Amy insisted. “He’s not done yet.”

“For god’s sake Amelia, you’ve got a timetable for everything,” he grumbled grumpily.

Amy didn’t even hesitate with her reply. “And I always get what I want, raggedy man. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Again the Doctor’s eyes drifted closed, growing heavy in the dark. He’d never felt so lethargic… so worn and weary. “I won’t, Amy… I won’t.”

*~*~*

Maybe if he concentrated hard enough, the ghosts would go away. The Doctor swung his cane back and forth, walking through the deep snow as his enemies fell all around him. Fire burned nearby despite the bitter cold, the children screamed, but he wouldn’t stop fighting.

“This is useless, my love.”

She wasn’t holding her gun. All the times he could use River Song’s cunning, and she hadn’t even brought a gun! “I’ve got all the time in the world!” he shouted over the screams and the fire.

River stood before him with all the patience he remembered, like a guardian angel… without her guns. “We both know how this ends.”

All he could do was shake his head stubbornly. Perhaps she knew, but he certainly didn’t. He hadn’t a clue what the future held in store for him now. There was no plan. There were no clever lies on the tip of his tongue. Gallifrey was waiting. “Spoilers!” he sing-songed, with a humorless laugh.

Her eyes fell to the broken and burned Cybermen and Daleks lying at his feet, fire clearing away what was left behind. “Not this time, Doctor. There are no spoilers left.”

His cane paused mid-swing, and he shifted his weight in the snow. His hands felt like ice. He could barely feel his toes. His hearts were beating roughly against his chest, and he held her gaze with wide eyes. “There is one… I saved it just for you.” He’d never told her, at least, not in so many words. River was still, with such big and sad eyes. “I… I miss you, River Song.”

All she did was nod, a single tear dripped down her lovely cheek. “I know.”

*~*~*

“Amelia! Must you always go chasing after the boys?” he scolded quietly, keeping her from following as the children rushed off for a game of hide and seek.

Amelia’s hands planted on her hip, just as stubborn as her ginger hair promised. “I count as a boy!”

He rolled his eyes in frustration, impatient after almost three hundred years in one place, fighting a battle impossible to win. “They can’t even see you.”

“But I can see them, which means I win!”

“No… no, that’s not how it works,” he replied with an exasperated whine, childish to the very end.

A young boy with Rory’s eyes and that familiar nose gave him a knowing smirk while Amelia stomped off. “Yeah… yeah it is.”

*~*~*

Time to go. His time to say goodbye. He wasn’t alone. He could feel River’s voice in his mind telling him to open his eyes. He always listened. There she was… Amelia Pond. The first face. The girl who’d given him hope, a loving wife, a family, and his best friend. Amy was walking down those steps as if she belonged, welcoming him to oblivion at the very end. “Goodnight Raggedy Man.” Yes, times up… with Amy’s blessing. He could finally let go now. Tick tock… tick tock… the time was now twelve o’clock….

His bowtie fell, forgotten. Good ol’ bowtie… it was cool.

*~*~*

He’d run off again… that mad man! Clara searched through the halls of the Tardis nervously, not quite sure what to make of this new version of the Doctor. He wasn’t the same. Everything changed, and he was still so completely off his rocker! She worried, of course, but he terrified her too. He was frantic and confused. He was wild and unstable. Clara was starting to think her Doctor was lost, after all….

“No, no, no… River! That was Rose’s jacket. You’re just as nosey as Donna! Oh don’t give me that look! I won’t have you giving me a tongue lashing right now! Leave that to Tegan!” she heard him mumbling. Clara’s eyebrows wrinkled. He was talking to himself again. He did that a lot… more than usual. She knew about River… but who were Rose and Donna? Who was Tegan? Other friends or wives? She couldn’t keep track of the Doctor’s exploits.

“There must be a manual here somewhere! Adric used it once to fetch me when I was stranded on Polongus. Ghastly planet! The manual is here… you left it for me.” Clara reached the door where she’d heard his voice, listening through the bulkhead. “My River… amazing as ever! You always know what I need!”

Clara reached for the door panel and activated it, waiting for the door to slide away. Clothes, tools, and trinkets littered the floor and flew in the air. She almost smiled as she watched him, face buried in a large trunk. “Clara will be cross if I can’t protect her! I won’t be losing her this soon. I made you a promise, River… I can’t travel alone. Must not travel alone.”

It hurt just a bit, to hear him still speak her name with such devotion. He could flirt and tease with anyone and anything (her included), but River would always be special to him… his precious wife. “Doctor… I… I wouldn’t leave you now,” she assured him.

His head popped up, suddenly frowning, staring at her puzzled. “You’re the current one! Oh my, you’re real aren’t you! Don’t mind them! They’ll go away eventually! Romana and River… they get rather loud when they bicker!”

Clara swallowed the lump in her throat and took cautious steps towards him. No sudden movements. He was far too unhinged. “No one else is here… just you and me, Doctor.”

Blink and she would have missed it. A flash of clarity in the cloud that was his mind. His smile was watery and broken, but at least it was kind. “They’re always here to me,” he whispered, tapping a finger to his temple. “I remember every last one of them, Clara.”

Her heart sank as she knelt down, dropping a hand to his back as he turned back to the trunk, throwing stuff about. “Especially River,” she whispered.

The Doctor paused, glancing back at her. “Yes well, I’ve been married often enough, but rarely on purpose.”

River Song couldn’t have known just how lucky she’d been….

*~*~*

It was Wednesday. Wednesday was a good day for an adventure. There was always something new to see. Running would surely be involved. He could use a good run. Perhaps there would be danger… and lives needing saving. He may have looked a bit feeble, but he felt full of energy that was just waiting for a proper escapade.

Clara popped through the door like she owned the place. He shouldn’t find that so endearing, but he did. The Doctor leaned against the console of the Tardis, smiling wide. For once the voices were silent… all except for one. As if River Song could ever fade away completely. Just like her mother, she had her own timetable.

“Hello, Doctor!” she greeted happily, throwing arms around him, and he hugged her just as warmly.

“Hello, Clara!”

In the corner of his eye, his late wife was beaming. “Take her to Florana to see the seas of warm milk and sand, sweetie. I bet she’d like that."

“Yes… yes.” He nodded against Clara. “I know the way!” he assured her quietly.

“The way to what?” asked Clara, one eyebrow quirked curiously.

All he could do was chuckle gleefully, eyes wide with excitement. “The way to Florana, of course!”

“Is that where we’re going?”

When he looked back for conformation from River, he saw no one, but his hearts didn’t ache for the loss as they used to. He felt lighter today, with so much that lay before him. There was no need to mourn the dead when they were always traveling with him. Memories never faded… never ended… not for as long as he lived, listened, and saw. He shifted his gaze back to Clara, still waiting for an answer, a cloud of worry in her eyes. “We’re going everywhere, my impossible girl! Everywhere and anywhere! But first… Florana! My departed wife insists!”

The End