Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Eighth Doctor/Romana, sort of.
Date Written: 2007
Summary: The Doctor has said goodbye many, many times, and the message rarely changes, no matter it’s a person or a universe. Time War.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13, genocidal themes.
Notes: This assumes canonicity of the Big Finish audio storylines. Also, it doesn’t quite jive with the ‘fall of Arcadia’ line, unless you take that to be a metaphorical reference rather than a literal one. SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF. Sorry.
There’s a bleeding-red klaxon firing off inside the tiny bunker’s control room, the shriek unintelligible but conjuring the thought of a single, heartbreaking word. Hands dance fluidly over a control panel, detached, as if they aren’t connected to a conscious mind.
Maybe they aren’t, not anymore.
He just strolled into the Council room, all charm and velvet and confidence. Never mind that a session was on, or that the room lapsed into a dead, expectant silence as the first few members caught sight of him and recognition filtered, a whispering and shuddering contagion, from person to person. In all of their plans of defense and offense and gods and monsters, they hadn’t figured him into the equation at all.
It was a War Council; Now there was a new one for Gallifrey, the long table hurriedly cleared, covered in charts and papers and maps of entire systems, timeline diagrams a messy tangle of intersecting lines, scribbled out here, drawn in there, looping around, disappearing into themselves. The Doctor walked up to the table, uncaring of the stares, and stood directly across from Romana. She was at the head of the table, of course. Where else would she be?
One of the younger Councilors – ah, and younger was a relative term of course, but he had all of the brashness and temper you expect in a first-life – stood up, blinking, insensate at this gross breach of protocol. Waved his hand at the Doctor, then out over the table. “Just who do you think you are, interrupting-”
“You’ll find everyone else at this table already knows who our guest is,” Romana said, cutting him off with a raised hand and causing him to sit clumsily back down, chagrined. “You should pay more attention to political gossip; it’s useful on occasion.”
From the Doctor, nothing - just a slight lowering of his gaze to meet Romana’s and hold it. She wasn’t happy to see him. On her face, there, that wasn’t happiness, and neither was it anger. Just familiarity, and resignation – and sadness. Deep sadness.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said, standing up from the table and moving around it to join him, lead him from the room. “I’ll return when we’re finished.”
The hands begin to shake as they move from button to button. Set a timer here, arm a station there. He can’t remember the last time he caught himself shaking like this. Shaking means nerves, nerves mean fear. He doesn’t fear death and he doesn’t fear oblivion, if that’s what it takes. He fears that he’s doing the wrong thing.
The klaxon is still going, but he has long since allowed it to fade into the background. He’ll be done long before the reinforcements can arrive. They breathe like silence, these last few minutes of his life, cloying like syrup in the lungs.
He knows that he’s doing the wrong thing.
But is there any other choice, in the end?
“I can help. You know that I can. Just tell me how.”
Romana looked at him for a long moment, watching him twitch across the room, all nervous energy and restless spirit. Then she dropped her head to the side, breathing out a harsh sigh. “Why does it always have to be you?”
The Doctor pulled up on his heel, turning a scrutinizing gaze on her. The sadness was still there, more obvious now that she had no need to hide it from her Council. A willingness to accept the sadness as the necessity it was, to do something that tore her apart simply because it had to be done. Maybe she had learned something from him, all those years ago.
“Unhappy to see me?” he asked, tentatively, clear in his tone that he knew full well this was not the case. The question went deeper. Explain, it said, tell him what the problem is. Though given the look of those timeline charts, it might have made more sense to ask what the problem wasn’t.
Romana looked back up, and it was almost a smile but it wasn’t. “Normally I’d be very happy to see you, Doctor. You know that.”
“Then why so depressed? Other than,” and he waved his hand around for emphasis, absently carving loops in the air as he strolled through the room. “The whole... ‘entire universe on the brink of destruction’ issue.”
“And that isn’t enough, is it?”
“For you?” He arched an eyebrow, daring her to contradict him. “To dampen your spirit? Not quite, no.”
Romana reached her hands out as he wandered past, took hold of his shoulders, stilling him in place. Had he ever been this antsy, before? Or this earnest? The velvet of his jacket crushed under her grip, so determined was she to hold onto him, to make him hear this. “Add to that the fact that I may soon have to send my oldest friend off to die? Tell me what that should do for my outlook.”
The Doctor took a breath, eyes locked with Romana’s. Completely still, now. A moment passed, and then another.
“Not much good, I’d imagine,” he finally breathed, barely above a whisper.
His TARDIS sits silently off in a corner of the bunker, and while it isn’t something he can pin down to look at her, she’s as heartbroken as a living, slightly sentient ship can be about the way this is all going to end. Resigned in the same way he is, running final checks, one ear on the static bursting from the radio unit on his belt. It’s still forming words, here and there, even this far underground.
When the words stop coming, he’ll know that the others have failed, and the Daleks’ plans set irrevocably in motion. The words will stop because there will be no one left to say them. Perhaps he won’t be here to hear them; he still doesn’t quite understand what is supposed to make him immune to the causal ripple that everyone else will fall to. In a way, he hopes he isn’t. The decision’s that much easier if he isn’t here to make it.
They’ve let him send the ship here on autopilot, ahead of time, as one final indulgence. She is as likely to survive this as he is. She is no escape route.
He just wants her here, at the end. To say goodbye.
“You were meant to be quarantined,” Romana said after a moment, staring off at the wall, her arms crossed.
The Doctor leaned against the desk, then hitched himself up by his hands to sit perched on the edge. “I got better.”
“That was a reference to something or other, I can tell.” Again, almost a smile. Again, not quite.
“You know me too well, Madame President.”
Romana sighed, turning to face him, leaning heavily against the wall in an undignified show of weariness that was unfit for the public eye – anyone’s but his. “It would have been better if you’d stayed... away. It was just a plan, just a theory. There was no way to actually execute it. Until you showed up, of course.”
The Doctor just looked at her, arching his eyebrows. Explain.
Romana crossed to the desk and, after a bare second’s hesitation, pulled herself up to sit beside him on its surface. Looked at both of their shoes hanging there, kicking lightly at the empty space. Allowed herself the luxury of remembering, for once – the alien dirt of one new world after another under her feet, the danger and excitement and the thrill of youth, the wool and the curls.
Time to grow up.
“The plan needs someone slippery enough in time to step into the universe it creates, without causing a paradox.” She reached up, pushed a strand of hair out of her face. “Haven’t you ever wondered why you were the one sent to Skaro to try to prevent all of this in the first place?”
The Doctor eyed her sideways, grinning lightly. “You found out about that, did you?” A breath, held for a moment as the smile fades, then let out harshly. “I did wonder, yes. Later on. Seemed a fine recipe for a paradox itself.”
“It would have been, had it been anyone else. I don’t know why, so don’t ask,” she added preemptively, eying him as the question formed visibly on his face. “It just is. You’re the only one of us that might be able to be and not be at the same time, as far as the timeline’s concerned, and that’s exactly what the plan needs.” She shook her head. “You shouldn’t have come back...”
“Even so...” he trailed off distractedly, narrowing his eyes toward the wall. Disregarding her last comment. “What does a paradox matter to the High Council of Gallifrey? Easy enough to correct.”
“If it comes to this,” and the sadness was back in her eyes now, staring off into some middle distance herself. Remembering. “We won’t be here to correct anything.”
He looked back at her, sharply, brow creased.
“They’re calling it,” she pronounced with what could only be described as a tragic smile, “Plan Thirteen.”
Eventually, the words stop forming, the bank of static unbroken and roiling on in the darkness with all of the poison and sickness of a waking nightmare.
So it begins.
He was meant to be a last resort, down here in the ground, in this makeshift enemy bunker. The only resort left, when all others have failed. Gallifrey’s cyanide capsule - one final attempt at safeguarding the universe, from beyond time’s efficient, brutal grasp. For the more vengefully-minded, it’s one last strike at the oldest enemy, the only one left that matters. He doesn’t know which camp he falls into, not anymore – not now that the voices have stopped, and a single word rings around the empty places in his head.
He goes cold in the pulsing red light, cold and still, no longer shaking. Breathes slowly, savoring it. It’s the moment at which a doomed man fingers the capsule and realizes that, with nothing else left that matters, it won’t be nearly as bitter going down as he’d worried.
“Finally managed to shock you, have I?”
The Doctor blinked, then made a conscious effort to close his mouth. “Shock doesn’t cover it,” he finally managed, manic intensity leaking back into his tone by degrees. “You really mean to-”
Romana nodded a few times, woodenly. “The Daleks have time-travel technology, now, and they’ve found a way through our temporal barriers. They’re going back to try to destroy Gallifrey before life ever evolved on it. Maybe they think it’s only fair – we tried to do the same to them. Maybe they just don’t know enough to realize what a horrid mess they’d be making of the timeline. Probably rip the universe in half, we haven’t even bothered to run the full calculations. ‘Bad’ is good enough.”
“Wouldn’t think that’d be precise enough for the bookkeepers.”
“Even bookkeepers know when to fear the truth.”
“True enough.” The Doctor ran his fingers through his hair, then picked up a random object from the desk, some unrecognizable bit of cripcrap. Fiddled with it, an outlet for his nerves. He was enjoying this conversation less and less as it went on.
“So the practical upshot of it,” he ventured, trying to fill in the gaps, “Is that we have to stop them doing it, even if it means doing it ourselves first, in some clever way that averts a universe-ending paradox. Oh, that’s a lovely choice. Suicide or murder, which way do we go?”
Romana leaned back, arms propped behind her. “It’s not just the timeline. That could repair itself, eventually. But we can’t just... let them have the run of the universe with that technology, Doctor. If we're not going to be here to stop them using it, we can’t let them roll away with it. You know that.”
The Daleks, armed with the power to step into and alter the universe’s past, remake entire worlds in their image, devastate the timeline and run rampant through the annals of history...
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
The room shakes, knocking him out of his calm, debris falling in from the disintegrating ceiling. Unexpected. They must have twigged to what he was doing in here, and finding the doors barricaded, resolved to destroy it and bury him inside before he could finish. He rebalances himself against the console, thin hands gripping at its edges, white-knuckled. His head hurts.
There are equations for these sorts of things. They run in his head, desperately, even as he feels something trace a cool line down the side of his face. Raises a hand to touch at it. It comes away red. He has five and a half minutes until he has to run the linked detonation sequence, the equations provide helpfully, which will cause every Dalek ship in the sky to burn in Gallifrey’s shadow. Maybe six, six minutes-twenty, until the roof and walls cave in around him.
His eyes fall to the pile of equipment next to the console. It’s funny, he didn’t notice it before – there’s a vid-voice transmitter-looking thing in there. He wonders idly if it records, too.
“The technology to get you back there – the transport, the weapons, everything – it’ll all be from worlds that developed it without our influence. The only potential paradox will be you.”
The Doctor nodded absently. “And you really believe that that will just... work out, somehow?”
“I believe,” Romana said, and for the first time he saw more than just sadness in her eyes. She was unspeakably tired. “That if it doesn’t work out, it won’t matter.”
Silence, at first contemplative but growing more uncomfortable by the second. “Fair enough,” the Doctor finally responded in a rush, propelling himself off of the desk and back into motion. “Shouldn’t you be getting back to your Council?”
“It may not come to this,” she offered quietly into the growing space between them, then looked up, meeting his eyes again hesitantly. “There will be others with you. They’ll try to stop the Daleks’ plans by more... conventional means.”
“Guns and bombs, you mean.” Distaste, and chastisement. He’d taught her better than this.
“Better than destroying an entire world. This is wicked business,” She scooted forward off of the desk, and walked forward, catching his sleeve in her hand. “...but we didn’t begin it. They brought it to our table.”
He nodded, pressing thumb and forefinger to his temples. “I know.”
“I don’t want it to end like this. We’ll do what we can to prevent it. I want... heh.” She glanced down at the marble of the floor, self-conscious. “You’ll think me foolish.”
“What?” The Doctor looked up, curiosity piqued.
Romana sighed, then smiled, and this time it truly was a smile, pained and hard-won, but real. “I want a chance to catch up with you. Time to sit and remember. We only ever seem to meet up when disaster is about to strike.”
“It follows me.”
“It does indeed. Doctor...”
He stepped up to her, concern clear on his face, normally jovial eyes burning with the intensity of age and loss. “Yes?” he prompted, the word barely there.
“If Gallifrey is lost, and you somehow survive...” Romana nodded once to herself, then looked up to meet his gaze. “Remember me?”
The Doctor nodded. Smiled. It just barely reached his eyes. “You’re right, I do think you’re foolish.” He reached out with one arm, drew her into a desperate embrace. She was tearing up now, damp against his shoulder, most unbecoming for the President; he was doing no better, voice thick when it came. “Of course I will. My silly Romana.”
The room shakes again, and he knows that his time is evaporating. The part of his mind that is usually busy formulating escape routes, contingencies, ways to squeak out by the skin of his teeth – it’s shutting down, unnecessary. And he can’t take his eyes off of the recorder.
He lets go of the console and stumbles over to it, yanking it from the jumbled pile of equipment with an urgency that he might think was bordering on the insane, if he had the time to consider it. Snaps on the switch; it hums to life. Settles to the floor in front of it.
He has no idea what he’s doing, but it feels right, and what other compass has he ever followed?
The sequence is primed, all he’ll have to do is reach out and press a single button within the next… four minutes-fifty. He has the time for this. He has to find the time, or make it. Time, the one thing he’s always had plenty of, running out on him. He turns on the microphone, the tiny camera. The thing is ancient, spools of tape spinning to life inside, coldly looking on the last few minutes of his existence.
He takes a breath, then looks square into the camera. The eulogy of a species. Who’d have thought it would be him, doing this?
“These are the last words the universe will hear from the planet Gallifrey,” he starts, and it’s a formal thing he’s doing, full of sorrow and respect. “The last it will see of the Timelords. I leave this record so that you will know that we existed, that we were not a fairy story or a myth.” Will they be even that much, in a space-time they never existed in? Will the morphic field of the universe remember them, keep a record of their passing, imprint them onto the subconscious minds and dreams and nightmares of its civilizations? Or will they be truly gone?
The roof shakes again, iron rafters straining under unimaginable assault. The equations stutter and re-evaluate.
“That we were real,” he continues, the walls quivering around him. “What I… oh, blast it, I don’t have time for this. I was… I was going to give this whole speech, you know, say all these glowing things…” A girder twists and strains, and he looks up to the side, out of frame, watching it start to give. And, unbelievably, he smiles, and laughs to himself. “And one thing I’ve always been able to do is talk, but the words aren’t coming. I’m sorry.”
There’s a sharp spang of metal bending and giving, and a rumble of plaster and stone falling in. Dust fills the room, and he knows the camera won’t be able to see through it. But he speaks again, almost to himself, distracted. “It didn’t have to come to this. I’ve always said there was a better way. I guess we just ran out of time to find it. The Timelords, out of time. How’s that for irony? Sorry, bad joke, I know.”
The dust clears slowly, the assault moved to a different section of the roof, one distinctly above his position. The noose starts to close. The capsule isn’t bitter going down, not anymore. That wavering trail of blood finally reaches the corner of his mouth and the tang makes him shudder in the darkness, rush to catch his breath, to finish this.
He reaches forward and wipes the dust from the lens of the camera with his bloodied fingers, staining the view red. He’s broken and bleeding and filthy and he knows it, but he needs to look forever in the eye, when he says this.
“These are the last words of the last son of Gallifrey,” and the words come in a rush of renewed fire, urgent, racing the clock. “If you care at all for the ghosts who went before you, keep growing, and learning, and make this sacrifice worthwhile. Fight the darkness where you find it. Face the shadows that frighten you senseless. Stand up when you need to. And...” And his pale eyes, luminous in the pulsing light and the dust, bore into the camera, leaving no room for regret. “Live beautiful lives. Do the rest for all of us, but do that for me. And do not forget us.”
“I guess this is goodbye,” he said, another day, preparations made - the operation about to launch. “Never really believed in that until now.”
“You never were good at saying it.”
“No? I think I’ve managed alright, for never actually saying the word.”
After a moment, his eyes go dull, lose their intensity - drop to the floor. He switches off the recorder and draws himself back to his feet, shambling to the console. The ceiling above him is starting to vibrate, shake itself apart, and the noise is deafening. He doesn’t hear it. His hands frame the panel.
Twenty seconds, the equations in his head insist, screaming, flailing.
They called it Plan Thirteen. Thirteen to a Timelord is the end of every story, is T-minus Zero, is a word of last chances and last resorts. Romana’s sad eyes, Gallifrey’s dying breath.
He reaches forward, closes his eyes, and presses the button.