The Doctor tilts his head a bit to the side, "Well, these things happen, don't they, old friend?"
"Yes, but you changed and became younger, I suppose I'm to envy you, now?"
"Oh, really, Chesterman, you envy me? The thought's pretty much a given."
The old man, lying in the hospital bed (he's really not old, he just looks it, he's always been a frustrating young man to the Doctor), cracks a smile. It's been years, no, no, it's been decades since the Doctor has seen him, since the Doctor has even really cared to see him. Frustrating youth, couldn't get him out of his hair fast enough.
"You know, Barbara swore it was you on the news," he said, "That Christmas? She swore it was you with that spaceship."
The Doctor smiles, and nods, slowly. Barbara's been dead since 1997, and Ian's slowly following her. There's no reason to argue dates, especially not at a time like this.
"Yeah, I was right on top of it," the Doctor said, giving his ear a tug as he remembered so far into his own past, "What is it that young woman would've called me? Oh, an 'old rogue', that's right."
"Yes, that sounds like her," Ian nods, and coughs with the effort, "She always had some opinion on something." The Doctor's eyes dart to the O2 status, and it's holding somewhat steady.
"My sister, she said she knew a Doctor. But that was during the Blitz, and he didn't sound anything like you."
"Did she, now?" the Doctor asks, "I was in the Blitz. A couple of times, actually."
"She said you saved her life," Ian lets out a rueful laugh, "I said it couldn't have possibly been you, because you would've made sure she knew how much she owed you for your assistance."
"Oi, now, I do a fair amount of world-saving and people-saving without any gratitude, thank you very much."
"I had joined the army," Ian continues, "She was sent to the country, but she never listened to anybody, silly girl. Ran back to London. Oh, Nancy." Ian lets out a wistful sigh, and closes his eyes, lost in memory.
"Nancy?" the Doctor asks, "Elfish face, dark hair? That Nancy? Your sister?"
"My twin sister," Ian nods, "Nancy Chesterton. Her boy's James Chesterton, he went to school with Susan, didn't she tell you?"
No, she hadn't. But, then again, Susan's been gone since before he met Nancy, but Ian doesn't know that. There's so much that Ian doesn't know, and now, in the stubborn human's last moments, now...isn't the time.
"Well, you know Susan," the Doctor replies, putting on a falsely annoyed face, "Girl wouldn't tell me if her hair was on fire if she thought it would upset me."
"She was like Nancy. Nancy never told us she had a child," Ian says, "But I knew. Not stupid, you know. She was always a bit more grown up than she should be at her age, went off and made a few bad choices. She always hid it, though. Until one day, she comes back, says a man named the Doctor saved her, and that Jamie was hers. You know, I never really put it together until later. You being the Doctor, and her having a savior named the Doctor."
The Doctor nods, "Well, it's always my goal to save a few unfortunate souls every day. Wish I'd known she was your sister, I'd have used her to send Christmas gifts."
"No you wouldn't, you don't like Christmas."
"I've grown to like Christmas!"
"Just like you grew eight inches and dropped fifty years off your appearance?"
"I liked Christmas before!"
Ian laughs, and his heart rate jumps. He seizes, and the Doctor's out of his waiting chair and by his side. Young hand takes old hand, and it seems strange to him, how the roles have reversed. He's the young one supporting the aged, and Ian is the one who can't stand on his own.
It hurts, when things change like this.
"Oh, don't look so distraught, Doctor," Ian says through a cough, "When you arrived, I knew my time was running a bit short. No other reason for you to be here."
The Doctor nods, slowly, and squeezes Ian's hand gently, "No one should die alone, Chesterton."
"You got my name right." Ian's face breaks into a brilliant smile, and despite the age, despite the tubes and wires jutting out of every part of the old man, he looks like he did when he was thirty. The same smile, same laugh. Part of the Doctor wishes he could go back, see him the way he was, watch him hold the boy the Doctor saved, and know that he did something right.
"I always knew your name, my boy," the Doctor says, matter-of-factly, "It's just more fun when you get all annoyed that I've mispronounced it."
Ian nods again, and his eyes flutter. His heart rate is slowing, and he's fading. The Doctor doesn't need a monitor to see it, he can tell. His old friend is trickling away, the age that the Doctor doesn't feel has consumed him.
"I never knew yours, you know," Ian murmurs through cracked lips, "Doctor who?"
The Doctor looks over his shoulder, at the empty chair where the nurse stepped out for coffee, at the shut door. There's no safety in this room, but there's also no time. He leans forward, his lips to Ian's ears. Whispers the name. True, and terrifying, and full of power that the Doctor won't give to others.
He pulls back, and Ian's eyebrows knit in confusion.
"That's it?" There's a decidedly unimpressed tone to his voice.
"All that secrecy?"
Ian nods, "I'll take your secret to my grave, Doctor." The heart monitor slows, and the Doctor knows he isn't lying.
"We made it as fast as we could." The old woman leans on a middle-aged man, and looks up at the nurse. "Ian Chesterton, what room is he in?"
"409," the nurse replies, "He has a visitor right now."
"Well, he's about to have a few more," the old woman snaps, "Come along, Jamie."
"Careful, Mummy, you'll hurt yourself."
"Don't patronize me, Jamie."
They step down the hallway towards the room, where a tall, slim, thirty year old steps out. He shuts the door behind himself, and doesn't say anything, but his eyes are red.
"This is Ian Chesterton's room?" the woman asks.
The man turns, "What? Oh, you must be Nancy." A strangely nostalgic smile slips onto the young man's face, and he extends a hand.
"I'm Dr. Smith, I'm a friend of Ian's. We...taught at the Coal Hill School together."
"The Coal Hill School?" the middle-aged man holding the woman asks, "That was burned down forty years ago."
"I’m older than I look."
Nancy shakes her head, and her long, white braid flips a bit, "That's wonderful, that you know him, Mr. Smith. Can we see him? My brother?"
The man shakes his head, and a sudden, deer-in-headlights look appears on his face, "I-I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Ian's just..."
Nancy pushes past the man, with a youthful strength she hasn't had since the Blitz. The door opens, and Ian's asleep, he looks asleep, like he's dreaming. Nancy makes a choked noise, but she manages not to cry. Not yet, not in front of her son, in front of the hospital staff. She's been too strong all these years to weaken.
And he wasn't alone. Ian wasn't alone, and that was her fear. To have someone she loved die alone and empty.
"Did he say anything Dr. ----" She turns, but the young man is gone. She looks down the hallway, and can swear she hears Doctor come from down the corridors.
But it's probably only an echo.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,314