We always may be what we might have been." - Adelaide Proctor
He can't save all of them.
As he stands in the darkened home, the sounds of Christmas outside and the quiet slumber of his former companion inside, he's only reminded of that fact. And it is a fact. As real and unchangeable as Jack Harkness. The Doctor can't save all of his companions.
"Jamie never spoke on ya," says the elderly woman introduced to the Doctor and Donna as Jamie's sister. "Oh, he always had fantastic dreams about travelin', but ne'er said nothin' 'bout a Doctor."
"He wouldn't remember me," the Doctor says, quietly.
"It's been a very long time," Donna adds.
"Ya dunnae look old enough for it to have been a long time," says the sister.
Yes, but it has been a long time for Jamie. Now with near white in his hair and a scraggly grey beard, the Scotsman's lifespan is swiftly running out. The Doctor can see the threads of time around Jamie dwindle, the weaves holding him starting to unravel. He's a good man with a good heart, but not a strong one.
The Doctor tries to avoid moments like this. Tries to make sure that his companions are loved and happy, then runs off and imagines them that way. Jamie, until now, was always frozen in mid-charge, the image of youth and recklessness, the way he saw him on the viewscreen in the Time Lords' sentencing office.
But, as fate or time or whatever would have it, he landed himself and Donna in Scotland and announced himself as "Doctor James McCrimmon" (which was quickly becoming his favorite alias) right in the middle of Jamie's village. And his people, for all that they believed Jamie was a strange and somewhat befuddled old man, wouldn't stand for them mocking him as he lay on his deathbed.
Several conversations and a whole lot of convincing later, the Doctor and Donna find themselves in Jamie's home, watching him sleep. There are children's toys littered about the room (Jamie had eighteen grandchildren in the village), along with sharpening instruments for weapons (and was still one of the best knife throwers in Scotland), and carvings (Jamie's hobby of choice when he was too old to fight).
Donna runs her hand over one of the carvings, of a fierce-looking unicorn. Some of the other carvings are of stars and animals, there's even one that looks like it could be the head of a Cyberman.
"What did you mean, he doesn't remember you?" Donna asks once the sister leaves.
The Doctor stuffs his hands in his pockets and turns to look at her. "He doesn't. Complete memory wipe when he was young. Those carvings and his dreams are probably all that's left. All the things we did. All the planets he saved." He smiles a little, nostalgically. "One time, he and I rode in a canoe in order to stop invading Cybermen. Could've only pulled that sort of a stunt off with Jamie."
Donna smiles at the Doctor's memory, but as his words sink in, her eyebrows knit together. "A memory wipe? How did it happen?"
"What, your people? They did that to him?"
"Part of my sentencing," he says. "Jamie and Zoe---my other companion at the time. Memories removed before I was exiled."
Donna steps towards the Doctor. "What, and you just let it happen?" She's upset, the Doctor can tell, so she's turning her distress into anger. Anger is easier to maintain. It's a coping mechanism, he supposes, but he refuses to return the anger.
"Donna, it was that or the Time Lords would've killed him."
"Did he get a choice?"
"He didn't need to know."
"He didn't need to know?" Donna crosses her arms. "You mean you didn't want him to know. He would've rather died than forgot the things you showed him and you know it!"
The Doctor shakes his head. "I couldn't let him die."
"You mean you wouldn't let him die," Donna snaps. "He deserved that choice."
"It wasn't his choice to make!" Right, maybe the Doctor will return a little of the anger.
"It's his memory, it's his choice!"
"He got to live out a full life here, Donna. Big family, friends. If I didn't let them take his memory, he'd have died out in the middle of space, no one knowing where he vanished to."
"And you think that makes it all right? He doesn't even know who he is now! What he did!"
"What he did with me doesn't make him who he is! You don't know him! He's still Jamie!"
"He doesn't even know himself, Doctor. You've always been the Doctor, but you don't know what it's like for us," she says. "The ones who travel with you. What you show us, it changes us. All of us. Like Martha, like Rose. Like me. And if someone takes that away, we're missing something. He's missing part of his heart, Doctor. The part where you were."
The Doctor shakes his head. "He's still Jamie McCrimmon."
Donna huffs and crosses her arms. "I don't think so. I'm still Donna Noble but I'm different because I met you. Before it was all Pringles and pop stars, now I know there's so much more out there! Jamie was the same way! Before you let them butcher him up! Now he's just a Scotsman dying in a bed. Not the same companion that saved worlds. He's going to die either way, Doctor."
The Doctor looks down at him and he worries that Donna's louder-than-a-stage-whisper arguing hasn't woken him up. He's going out now. Slowly, quietly. The opposite of the Jamie the Doctor knew.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends…
Jamie would never want to go out with a whimper. He'd go out swinging, chasing after anything if he thought it might try to cut him down first. Reckless and mad and a perfect foil for him in his second incarnation.
"You have to give them back to him, Doctor. Please."
The Doctor looks over to Donna. She's a bit reckless herself, with the same fierceness and stubbornness of the Scotsman. And she's changed, just like Jamie did. She hasn't slapped him once since they started traveling together again. Her eyes are open and wide, and she doesn't want to miss anything, not ever again. The Doctor can't even imagine what she was like before.
He kneels next to the bed and reaches over to Jamie's temple. It won't be a smooth remembrance; he doesn't have access to all of Jamie's memories. They're destroyed and gone with the Matrix on Gallifrey. But giving him back what he knows, even a little, that should wake up the remainder of the wipe. Bring Jamie back.
The Scotsman's skin feels thick like leather. Even in his age, he's never been weak.
The Doctor closes his eyes and concentrates. It takes some effort to bring those memories back in front of his eyes, but Donna is right. Jamie needs to know. The quiet incarnation sleeping in his mind awakens and the memories of his time with Jamie come flooding back.
Andreguams and air rifles, labyrinths and lasers, running and running and running. It comes back, floods back, and Jamie's eyes blink open. The Doctor's do as well. And, for the first time since he left him on Gallifrey, Jamie recognizes him.
"Doc---" Jamie's voice is small and weak and cracks when he tries to speak.
"Yep. It's me. Been a long time, eh?" He smiles, and Jamie smiles back, all creases and lines around his eyes.
"Too long. See you've got a bonnie lass with you." Jamie grins at Donna. "Prettiest yet, 'cept maybe for Victoria."
"Twice as stubborn," the Doctor says.
"That had better be a compliment, Doctor," Donna says with a little warning tone to her voice that's hardly genuine.
"Best s'long as she's keepin' ya in line," Jamie says.
"She is," the Doctor says.
"I thought I forgot you." Jamie coughs. "I ne'er would, though."
"I know," the Doctor says with a little nod.
The weaves of time are running out. Jamie reaches out, his wizened hand taking the Doctor's young one. He's dying and no knowledge in the world can fix that.
But at least he's dying knowing who he is.
Donna puts her hand on the Doctor's shoulder. Strange, but the weaves of time around her look a little like Jamie's. Maybe it's as she said. In the end, they're all the same. One day, Donna will move on or leave and he'll try to remember her young even as she gets older.
He can't save any of them.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,444
Special thanks to goldented for the beta and for craeg_an_tuire for suggestions in this thread that lead to this story!