Indiana Jones: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
He hears the voice before he sees her. It carries calm and cool against the sharply cold air of the beach. The soft, damp sand sticks to his trainers as he steps towards the shoreline.
The light crests over the waterside, and she's standing barefooted in the icy water, the hem of her long silver dress brushing the icy water's edge. Her dress is dark silver, but seems to twinkle, even in the dull greyness of the morning here, like a Gallifreyan night with a thousand dark stars. Her shoulder-length blonde hair whips about her face with the breeze. She brushes her fingertips along her bare arms and shivers.
"Well, it's cold," she says, her voice irritated. It's a surprisingly reassuring sound, the irritation to her voice. It's something he recognizes.
"It's Norway," he agrees, stepping beside her. The water laps the shore before them and instantly bleeds through the fabric of his shoes. She's right, of course. It is cold.
"The correct term is 'Snore-way', I'm sure," she replies tartly, though she turns to face him, a small, teasing smile on her lips. He is immediately startled by her face. Not by how startling it is---by all accounts she has a pretty but plain face in this form---but by how familiar it is. Moments could've passed since he saw her last, not decades.
Or has it been longer? It's getting harder to tell the older he gets. Sometimes the Time War feels like it was yesterday, and he wakes from his evening traces in a cold, frightened sweat. Other days, it feels like a story he only half-remembered, like the story of the old hermit that lived near his home on Gallifrey. Then again, on other days, it feels like something he made up; a story created for him in a Possibility Generator. It's all so…long ago.
"I like this bay," he says. "Despite the chill, it's actually quite beautiful."
"Oh, it's hardly the beach on Romanov's Island or one of the beach-castles of Cloud City," she replies with a small tut. "Surely, you of all people should know that I'm unlikely to be impressed by a simple beach on Earth."
He sniffs and stuffs his hands in his pockets, shifting from one wet trainer to the other. He looks longingly at the cold dry sand a distance away, but worries that if he turns to walk there, she won't follow.
"You liked Brighton beach."
"Yes, but that was a special occasion."
"For you, perhaps," she says, and he notices she is looking past him, to something over his shoulder. "And I thought Braxatiel was teasing me when he told me you always fancied blondes."
Standing there, over his shoulder, was a very familiar good-bye with himself and a blonde girl with mussed hair and running mascara. It shifts, as is the way with both dreams and this place, to a Time much later where he watched her kiss a man who was him but was not. A man who could say what he couldn't. But that was the way with women he loved. They found someone who could say what he couldn't, who could see them when he couldn't, and who would let them be their own person when he wasn't even aware he hadn't.
"Is it harder," the woman by his side asks, "When we leave rather than you leaving us?"
"Sometimes," he admits. "Hardest when there's no choice for either in the matter."
She nods. "You can't save everyone."
He agrees, quietly. He thinks of another beach, far away and long ago, where the woman in the silver dress wore presidential robes and did not stir as he held her, the boiling waters scalding his newly regenerated skin. But these things have not happened to her yet. The things that were will be and shall never be again.
Funny thing, Time.
"You can reminisce well enough on your own," she says, crossing her arms.
"Don't want to reminisce with me?"
"We might be old beings, but I'm not nearly old enough to start reminiscing on the life I have not lived yet. I'll join you once I reach your age." She sighs a long-suffering sigh. "And after all, I know that's not the only reason you called me here. You're much too clever and far too sneaky to simply want to think about the mistakes you've made in the past."
Her words are harsh, but her tone is not. This is the way she has been as long as he's known her. Knew her. Time, again. Even fouling up his thought processes, clogging him up with all the 'would be's and the 'has been's like overused gunky oil in an engine. He's overused Time, but where he stands on the Timeline now, he can't get anything new. He has to work with the Time he has left.
They are alone on the beach again, the biting wind the only companion to two very old beings in an infinitely older universe.
"Caan told me the Time War was open," he says, staring at the space where the image of himself had been moments earlier. It is, in a way, easier than looking at the woman next to him. "The pathways. All the guards that went up afterwards. I had to see if it was true, and I knew you'd come here if I called to you."
"Caan? Is that a name?" she asks, in a somewhat incredulous tone, completely ignoring the rest of his explanation. Typical her, really. She'd never bother to ask for spoilers to her own future.
"No, it's a state of mind," he snaps back.
"Rather ridiculous state of mind, if you ask me," she says. "The wards the Time Lords put up might be weakened from the Nightmare Child's advance, but it won't stay that way. We'll fix it back up, and then you can just wait until you decide you need someone competent to travel with you and come back to Gallifrey to whisk me off away from my duties…"
She continues to talk, but he's lost in thought. She talks as though she's so confident that the War will turn to Gallifrey's side. She confides in him, later along her Timeline, that she always worried that something might happen, some tide might turn that would destroy everyone. He wonders if she ever considered that tide might be him.
"---though it's fantastic to see that your taste in clothes and hair hasn't improved, nor has your terrible timing. I was in the middle of---"
"Some terribly important duty, I'm sure," he says, rolling his eyes. "Really, now, do we have to go through this?"
She uncrosses and recrosses her arms. "Of course, duties never matter to a renegade such as yourself, do they?"
He turns to her. "You're cold."
She stops, looking somewhat taken aback. "I wasn't aware that was a fact you couldn't handle."
"No," he says. "In this weather." He pulls off his suit jacket and drapes it across her shoulders. He's ridiculously skinny in this incarnation, but she's still slimmer, and it hangs off her shoulders awkwardly. She looks at it somewhat quizzically (she never could understand any show of chivalry he offered her) then pulls it closer. She smiles again, and it's a smile much warmer, much more like the woman he used to know.
She takes a step towards him. "What happened?" she asks. "You've been through some terrible things, but you've never asked me to meet you here, in the Matrix. Not once. Not in all the Times I thought you might. Not even on your thousandth birthday."
He gives her a hurt look. "I'm 905."
She snorts. "And I'm Chancellor Flavia. But I suppose at your age, it's understandable that you've forgotten."
He opens his mouth to retort, but she takes another step forward, and presses her fingertips to his shirt, just above his right heart. Her nails are long and painted the same twinkling color as her dress. He can't think of a Time where she wasn't perfectly coiffed and manicured, even during the Time War. It was always one of her biggest flaws; her vanity. Her long nails would rap against the war tables, or poke out through gloves during formal meetings. He even remembers her playing piano once, in Vienna, her fingers sliding effortlessly over the keys, playing something from a Time no one in Vienna would see, except for them.
"You're older," she says.
She traces one of her fingers against a seam on his shirt front, the nail scraping against the cotton material. It is as if she is studying the shape of his right heart through him, judging the wrinkles and creases in the only part of his body that shows his age. After his initial regeneration, his face has never aged, but his heart continues to whither and harden. He wonders if she can see that and eventually he decides that she can. She's always had the gift of foresight (hindsight, all sorts of sights that he's never managed to acquire).
She looks up at him, puzzled. "Your timeline is different than mine. Much, much different. You don't belong here."
"Well, I did say I breached the Time War," he admits. "It was in my past."
"No, you don't belong here," she says, more firmly. She speaks with the authority of a woman who knows the consequences of his actions. And she does, and she will, and she always has. "This isn't your time."
He looks down to where her fingers touch his chest. He thinks of all the things he wasn't able to say on this beach; all of the things he should've said but never did. The ones he should've chased but never tried. The woman before him is one of those people.
"I had to see you," he says, simply, looking up at her again. "I had to know. Foolish, really."
"You could've asked," she says. "And you can't come here, you can't interfere. No matter what happens, you have to go to the Celestial Intervention Agency, you can't take it upon yourself."
"No, I can't. Not anymore. It's too late, now."
"What did you do?" Her voice is quiet, confused. But that's very her as well, he supposes. Figuring out that if something was this wrong, this truly upsetting and universe-bendingly bad, it had to be his fault.
The Norwegian wind whisks a lock of her hair across her face. He lifts a finger to brush it aside and his hand rests next to her jaw. As with his chivalrous actions, she freezes, unsure how to handle such intimacy. Another blonde woman, this one from a party in France in the 18th century, once told him that everyone must learn how to dance. The woman in the starlight dress has been dancing this dance with him for far too long now. They've never stopped, never considered, never took another step.
"Doctor," she breathes.
"Romana," he replies.
Time Lords do not give in to intimate moments, they do not have the time to waste on romance and love. It is perhaps why, when he leans down to press his mouth to hers, she does not react at first. She doesn't know what to do with something so sudden; a courtship dance of several centuries isn't possibly long enough for her to catch up to.
But the Doctor is only half Time Lord. It's something else he's never told her.
He feels her lips begin to react, to kiss him back. Her slender hand snakes up to his hair and for a moment, it's every kiss he's wished he could've given her. Every moment that he regretted the moment he lost Gallifrey, lost her. But it's only a moment. After all, this isn't a beach where he's known love, only a beach where he's known loss.
The sky crackles with lightning. They break apart, looking up at the reconstructed psychic waves that are threatening to pierce the place he's chosen to meet her. He almost welcomes them, welcomes the harshness of a good, old fashioned Time Lord chastising. It's been too long, really. He's gotten too bold. It might be good for him.
"Go," she says, quickly. "Doctor, please. Go now. You're not allowed in this timeline, you're not even allowed in the Matrix without prior authority. I can hold them off, just go."
He hesitates. If he leaves, he'll never see her again. He knows this. He knows they're repairing the walls surrounding the Time War, and with good reason. But there's so much he needs to---
"Go, Doctor, please!" The thunder grows louder, the dark clouds begin to roll in, blotting out the light from the city and her sparkling dress. The wind whips around them and he turns and runs. Runs away from the water, runs away from Romana, runs.
He chances a look over his shoulder before he pulls himself from the system and pulls himself from this era of his life.
She's gone, vanished into a pool of light and memory.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 2,189
Partner: Romanadvoratrelundar II (canon)