He doesn't like to think about how it happened.
It simply did. It happened. One day you have both of them, and they laugh and joke and inappropriately flirt and it's all right because they're all right. Then the next…there's an accident. One of them is injured.
Of course, it's not the simple kind of injury that can be fixed. Spinal and nervous system, and it's one of those superdelicate things that can't be touched because no one's studied Time Lord physiology in several centuries. All he knows, when he looks down at his other self, paralyzed in bed, is that it should've been him.
His other self---the one that actually belonged in this universe. Unable to walk or move his back. Oh, he could flex his fingers, wiggle his toes, and move his head and talk, but that was really all. He could either die, or live life like…this.
They still love him, of course. He still grins broadly at them and pretends (at first) like nothing's really changed. They've saved the universe, yeah? Isn't that all that matters? Sometimes, when he sits with his other self in the bedroom, and they chat about life or telly or Bradgelina or whatever he even forgets what has changed. He forgets that if he moves to hug his other self, he can't hug back.
They travel a while. His companions and his other self's don't get along very well, but they can't bear to be separated from their respective Doctor, and only one of them can fly. Only one of them can protect them against dangers and evils. They accept the difficulties, though standing in the same room as Rose and Reinette can be rather suffocating, and the overt tension between Martha and Louis is enough to make even the most raunchy of sailors uncomfortable.
Suzie hasn't changed. The Doctor wonders why he's surprised.
Rose cries a lot, in the privacy of her room. She cleans up her mascara and puts on a bright smile before she goes to see him. The Doctor watches her walk back towards her room and crumple. He wants to comfort her, but has no idea how.
They travel. Replace unavailable memories with new ones, and they tell the stories to the paralyzed Doctor in the bed. It's fun, at first. After a while, he can feel the discomfort of his companions before he even considers allowing himself to feel it. One of them has to stay behind to watch over the paralyzed Doctor. Usually Rose or Reinette offer, but in the end paper-scissors-stone or straws end up deciding who stays.
And it's the adventure that's what's worth the travel, isn't it? The running away. The danger that his other self can't experience anymore.
"It is like a myth we have on Earth," Louis tells him in the console room one night, "A man with himself immobile in a room, unable to free him or give him peace."
While Louis is the first to make the observation, Martha is the first to suggest a solution: A hospice. A planet somewhere where he can be safe and secure. And, of course, not so near them. Not glaringly pitiful and reminding them that it was their love for him that kept him from regenerating.
Rose protests. Louis agrees with Martha. Reinette places her hands on her hips and announces that Rose is right. Martha shouts. Reinette isn't having any of it. Louis gets angry. Rose cries. The Doctor leaves the room and goes to sit with his other self a while. They talk about Scooby-Doo and for a few minutes he forgets that everything has changed.
Louis wins over Reinette, who eventually wins over Rose (to some degree). They find a place on the Eye of Orion. By the time they approach the Doctor, he's already setting coordinates and working out what to say to his other self.
It'll only be a few decades. He won't even notice, time travel and all that. They'll move on, and he can move back on. They'll share stories, they won't forget him. They won't ever, ever forget him.
He's going to hate it, and the Doctor knows this. He knows this because he knows he would hate it. And, for not the first or the last time, he wishes it had happened to him. As he wheels his helpless self towards the nurses, he wishes it had happened to him again. As he hears him screaming in fury for being taken from the TARDIS, he wishes it had happened to him. As he hears the screaming die down as the nurses sedate him, he simply hates himself.
The crew back on the TARDIS are silent as he returns. He hates them, too, for the moment, and he shrugs off Reinette's touch and vanishes into the Zero Room for many, many hours.
Six days later, Rose wants to see him, so they drop by. It's only been a few days for the paralyzed Doctor, and he's still raw and angry, but he listens to their adventures, welcomes their arrival. He has no stories of his own as---he says this with more than a bit of annoyance—he was sedated most of the time they were gone.
They travel more, but visit often. One of the companions always manages to remind the Doctor that they should go. In no small part, he imagines, to the sudden mysterious reappearance of his other self's tea mug in Martha's room, a pair of his shoes in Louis's wardrobe, or his glasses on Reinette's armoire. These things just seem to happen, and the Doctor hasn't the faintest idea why they just don't happen to him.
The visits are always pleasant. Sometimes overly pleasant, with fake big smiles and boring stories told emphatically to make up for their dullness. Sometimes the companions leave the TARDIS, sometimes they don't. He always spends as much time as he can with his other self---his immobile self whom he can't free or give peace.
Martha leaves with Louis on some tropical Utopia, and eventually Rose can't take any more of the pain, and she opts to stay behind with her mother. The times between visits to his other self grow long, but he tries to time them so that no time has passed for his other self. He even manages to nail the day even after Reinette dies, though he can't quite clear up his bloodshot eyes when he tells him.
He keeps getting older. He keeps getting lonelier, while his other self seems to be in a permanent state of suspension in that hospital. When he touches one of Reinette's nightgowns lying on the floor, he envies him.
Months turn into years, though he's sure only a few weeks have passed for his unaging paralyzed self. New companions arrive, and they have fantastic adventures. Two or three, before he tells them about his other self. About his brother---it's always easier to explain him as a brother---who is paralyzed and needs to be visited. They always double-take, and they always give him piteous looks, which he can only imagine his paralyzed self despises.
And the stories. He tells him of every adventure, every person they meet, and his other self drinks it in. Living through him, vicariously experiencing every tropical fruit, every sweet symphony. He watches his other self close his eyes as he talks about the warmth of eighteen tiny suns, and he can swear his other self can feel it. They connect, often, so he can feel the memories, though he imagines nothing is like the real thing.
Time stretches on, but he never forgets. He knows he has a responsibility, a friend out there he never forgets. And if he ever strays too long away, that mug finds itself on the console or the wrong shoes end up under his bed. The TARDIS won't let him forget, either.
It's better that way. He already hates himself, he wouldn't want his other self to start hating him, too.
He keeps getting older. He marries again, eventually. She passes on. He has countless companions, and all of their experiences are shared through words or connections. He wants his other self to enjoy life. He wants to give him what was taken from him.
One day, he arrives and his other self won't let him connect. He stands there, looking down at his paralyzed self, who looked to be an equal mixture of anger and defeat.
He asks to die.
It would be merciful, he says. He says he would do anything, just anything to see the stars, to touch foreign soil, to actually live rather than feeling processed emotions.
He begs. For the first time, the Doctor truly pities him.
"It would be better."
"You're running out of regenerations."
"I don't care."
He knows he's not lying, and he doesn't, truly, feel like it's unreasonable.
His other self thinks it's merciful. Thinks he's putting him out of some horrific misery. He doesn't know what the Doctor went through to keep him alive. The years of reliving old memories, even ones he hated, even ones he wanted to wall up and forget about---just to give his other self a chance at a life.
Maybe it was mercy. For both of them.
He steps to the door and turns the lock.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,587
Based on RP in relativespace