"Oh, everything, I should say. No priorities, irrationalities of emotions, constant need for attention, constant need for validation, incessant curiosity---"
"No, no, that's all right, if you have to list everything it will take far too long. Forget I asked."
The conversation replays itself in his mind over and over, on a loop very like a broken record. It was his fourth incarnation, and her in her second. Odd, she was so very young in comparison to him. But then again, they always are, aren't they?
His fingertips brush across the frame of the picture in his hand. 13th century bronze, finely worked into leaves and roses. Thick wedges of grayish dust have implanted themselves between the creases of the leaves and along the innerworkings of the vines. An hour or two ago, he'd managed to memorize where every speck was on that frame, where every imperfection and dent sat looking at him in all their bronze glory. He'd paid too much for that frame—and it wasn't as nice, upon reflection—as he'd thought it was. But it was a birthday gift for a friend, and Gallifreyan birthdays don't come quite as often as Earth ones.
For a moment he tries to remember what year it would be on that planet, and what age she would be today.
It is the remembering, he figures, that make his eyes slip from the frame and onto the picture. The photograph itself is Gallifreyan material - thin, yet durable; supposedly it could survive any travesties that could possibly overtake a photograph. Naturally, however, it is age that has become its downfall, and the edges are curling up in the frame. A pair of old-looking blue eyes look back at him from her smiling face. A bit like swirling through the vastness of the void, or the ever-present wells of Tainoma—depths that one could easily fall into.
It's just an object.
"What are you doing in there?" the melodic tones of his current companion drift inside, just above the ever-present white noise of the Zero Room. He glances up to see her smiling down at him, bright youthful brown eyes contrasting so harshly with the ones he'd just been looking at.
"Nothing, Rose, nothing," he slips to his feet and gives her a grin-mask that says that everything is all right.
"Who is she?" she asks, pointing down at the frame. She has Romana's curiosity, that thing she so despised in humans but could not control within herself. Perhaps that's why he'd asked Rose to come with him.
Again, he glances at the picture---almost as if forgetting for a moment he'd been holding it. He wants to tell her that it's no one; that she was just this person he used to know...but he can't—the words get trapped in his throat and he stays silent, instead.
"No, no, Doctor, if you're going to ask a question, you should simply come out with it. What do I find about human nature that is so horrific?"
"Puzzling, go for puzzling. I prefer a good puzzle to one of your rants."
"What do I find so puzzling about human nature? Well, nothing, I suppose. They're very simple creatures, simple needs."
It's not a birthday this time, but simple 'spring cleaning' of the overstuffed wardrobe room that makes his memory slide back to her. It's a clip, a Terliptalian Platinum hairclip worked with diamonds. The silvery sides curl into the Seal of Rassilon---interlocking 8's that twist 'round each other into a rather complicated ensemble. Considering the diminutive nature of the hairclip, it is surprising the amount of detail it shows in each seal. She would wear it in her first incarnation, almost in the manner that a princess would adorn a crown. At the time, he remembered thinking it was rather silly, loving so foolish and gaudy an object. And now he wondered why she even owned the damn thing. Five seconds after picking it up he'd pricked his finger on the sharp edges of one of the sparkling stones. Here he's always thought that 'beauty being pain' was simply a saying. This hairclip seems to take it quite literally.
It's just an object.
And yet, he can't seem to put it away.
"Doesn't seem to match your usual outfitting, did it belong to a traveling companion of yours?" his newest companion (though not in the sense that her profession would state!) asks. Waist-length ebony hair piled in precarious curls, she is regal and educated all on her own, and she tilts her head delicately as she looks over his shoulder. Despite her intense youth, Inara's dark eyes are full of age as well, and it astounds him, in that moment, how very like Romana she is.
But a question must be answered, and he scratches his head, "Yes, yes. An old friend of mine. Long time ago." He considers tossing the clip back into the pile of rubbish he was going through, but instead, places it delicately next to the mirror. Promptly, he attempts to convince himself it's so he won't cut his hand again.
"She meant something to you." It's not a question, Inara is not one to make questions about that sort of thing---she simply knows how he operates, she's an expert at how men operate.
Or, from the sore spot in his lower back, perhaps he had simply been sitting there staring at the clip for several hours, immersed completely in memory. She would never tell him if he had been, and she would never press the question regarding the clip's previous owner. Perhaps that is why he asked her to come along with him.
"I wouldn't call them simple, Romana. They have basic needs, all species have basic needs."
"Do you consider your needs basic, Doctor?"
"Some of them, yes. Don't you?"
"No. I'm not like you, I don't like to compare myself to them."
"You don't like to, but you do sometimes, don't you?"
There's no real reason for the memory of her to seep into his brain. It's nowhere near her birthday (he can't even remember what cycle it would be on Gallifrey) and the picture of her has long since been buried in one of the TARDIS's many desk drawers. He toys gently with a lock of his latest companion's light brown hair, feeling the delicate strands slip through his fingers. She uses some sort of oil from her home in Troy, he thinks, which creates absurdly soft strands that would put any woman from any era to shame. He often finds himself playing with it, just touching it as they talked in the console room, or sliding his fingers through it when they're entwined together like this, her head lying asleep on his bare chest. A lock always manages to find its way into his fingers. A bit of a comfort just in touching it.
It's just an object.
He can tell he's getting older, his 'assistants' are getting younger, and he's finally broken down, made this one---a beautiful otherwordly being with a quick wit and a slow smile---into a lover. Besides their wit and smile, her and Romana would have so little in common---not their attitudes, their looks, and not the young woman's place in the Doctor's bed. He never toyed with Romana's hair---he never actually, in his recollection, ever touched Romana's hair, or any other part of her. Their only physical contact came through the occasional time he'd take her hand as they ran from some monster or across some Parisian road.
Romana was never a lover in the strictest of senses.
It's been a long time since he's thought of her, but this time its almost overwhelming, the memories of her inquisitive smile, her laugh...her everything. A Timelady with an arrogant streak, all drenched in that humanity she didn't understand. She was odd, all brash remarks and self-centeredness, but he could remember her rushing in to save him when there was no reason to save him other than that she may have cared. And she did care...perhaps that was why she left him.
It's not as though he could ask her now.
"Mmmm, Doctor, are you all right?" the woman in his arms stirs.
He coos into her hair, "Shhh, Anne, go back to sleep." One hand slides up her bare shoulder and he tries to savor the moment, just relaxing with a woman who loves him. He supposes he should fix that; tell the girl that a Timelord---the killer of his own kind, Oncoming Storm, Bringer of Darkness---was not someone who should be loved. If only she was not so much a comfort.
"I think they use emotion as a way to cover up the fact that they will never reach their potential. Bit like you in that way."
"Honestly, Romana, you sound like my Grandmother."
"Did you even know your Grandmother?"
"Are you trying to wound me? Emotionally bruise my delicate ego?"
"That's a 'no' then?"
"Well, if I did I'm sure she'd sound just like that."
The Parisian skyline draws her memory back to him this time. Sitting atop a rooftop---a favorite location for his newest companion---with the spitting cold biting through his trenchcoat, he looks at the Eiffel Tower and smiles. Tallest structure in France, at the time of its construction in 1889, the tower had replaced the Washington Monument as the tallest structure in the world, a title it retained until 1930, when New York City's Chrysler Building was completed.
It's just an object.
Today it's bitter, but all he can feel is the warmth of summer and a smiling blonde with deep blue eyes grinning at him. She, naturally, knew everything about the Tower long before he'd attempted to show off to her, yet she still listened, grinned when he realized he was saying things she already knew. It's a good moment, a good memory. Happier days. Brighter days full of humor and adventure. No Time War, no Imperiatrix, no weapon to singlehandedly burn her face into his mind the way that all killers remember their victims.
"Stop thinking about her, it is not doing you any good."
There is no wit from this new companion, just irritated, partially-human eyes glaring at him. Apparently he was ruining her moment as well. Not really his fault she can feel his emotions. She is all dark scowls and ego, oddly complimentary to his own ego and enthusiasm for the universe. He's seen her change the way Romana changed. She's saved his life, perhaps because she cares, or perhaps because she feels she has no other choice. She's not Romana, she can't fly the TARDIS when he dies. She has no out, no escape.
And for some reason, that hurts. He doesn't want her to have the option to leave when she wants to, but he would like to know she's saving him because she wants to.
In his mind, Romana is tossing back her dark hair and fixing him with an amused smile. She'd find his worry amusing---hell, she'd find every companion he'd picked up amusing. Poke him in the rib and point out everything about her that he was looking for in them. Ask him what exactly ice cream was supposed to be. Reflect over old memories with a joyful peal, then laugh bitterly because in the end, as always, she had won.
"Stop thinking about her." The voice tossed in his direction is decidedly unamused.
"Sorry, Illyria," he says, "Enjoy your rooftop, I’m going to find an ice cream shop."
He turns to leave, but that same voice stops him, "You do not have a hole to fill in your life," his companion says, "You have a life to live."
"That's all, then? You can't understand why they waste their potential on emotion?"
"No, not really."
"Well, what else puzzles you, then?"
"Why you've always been so interested in human nature at all, Doctor."
He is alone again. In the end they all leave him. He thinks that, by now, he should really be used to it. It should be routine. There's a square rock floating just outside of the constellation of Casteberous, it has the Seal of Rassilon embedded in what remains of a floor. All that is left of a once great and powerful empire.
It's...just an object.
Sometimes he comes here, just stands on the tile, feels the memories wash over him like a raging storm. Water, wind, emotion, debris...all the same, in the end. It calms, he moves on. A hole to fill, a life to live.
There's always that moment, though. That one moment before he pushes open the doors to the TARDIS that he hopes he'll see her. Some other incarnation, or one he's seen a thousand times. Just...there. Waiting for something, or living a life all her own. Just...there. She'd glance over her shoulder and be surprised. He would grin. Something would be fixed.
But the doors always open, the rock is always empty. In the end, he is still alone.
"Human nature has its flaws, but it also has its perks."
"And what are those, exactly?"
"Hope, Romana. There's always hope."
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 2,221