She's been waiting for hours. He knows this. Her legs are probably cramped beyond belief, and he doesn't imagine crouching as she has been is doing good things to her insides, considering the corset.
She's not a woman to wait. He knows this. Even if he'd never met the woman before, he's read history books about her. He knows how stubborn she is. He knows how she made a King wait for her. She ruled a country behind the scenes, eliminated her competition with the precision of a Mambese NanoShooter, and never, ever showed weakness. And waiting is a weakness.
Still, she waits. Her eyes are glazed over, but she's not going to cry. This is never written about in the history books, but he knows her. He knows she doesn't cry. She'll wait for the man she loves, but she won't cry for him.
He wonders if she would wait forever for her love. The thought breaks his hearts. They always promise him forever. He wishes it could be forever.
His wing-tip shoes make a slight clicking noise as he steps into the room. Bowler hat, slicked-back hair and a slim-cut grey suit with a red handkerchief in the pocket. It's all the fashion in the city of Rapture, Atlas says, and the Doctor believes him. If nothing else, it makes the new body look somewhat younger despite the wrinkles and the white streaks to his hair.
He knows she hears him. She looks dazed and tired (she probably is), but he doesn't doubt her senses are sharp. He expects Louis's guards to descend on him at any moment. She doesn't move.
He clears his throat. She doesn't jump, further proof that she knew he was in the room.
"You have regenerated," she says calmly, eyes still on the fireplace. Her voice is uncharacteristically scratchy. He wonders if he misjudged his time and missed the hour he'd planned on (not terribly unlikely, he's never been very good at judging, not in the last 1,700 years). "I saw that ability in your mind. Changing who you are to avoid death."
He nods. It's a slow gesture that he realizes is unnecessary only halfway through it, so he decides to complete it anyway.
"You know who I am, then?" His voice is significantly deeper than the one she remembers, but from what he sees of her back she does not appear startled by that, either.
"You are the Doctor." Her words are firm, and there is a hint that she is attempting to convince herself of them as well. He realizes she does not call him her Angel. No, that was his Tenth incarnation, the one she knew and loved. Strange incarnation, not unlike a rare filet mingon. Lean but with a sizzly and bubbling outside, and a cold, dark center. Over the years the cold and the dark took over, and now the man that looks back at him in the mirror reminds him of the Valeyard in more ways than he'd like to admit.
"You're supposed to come from the fireplace," she says. She is like toffee, he thinks. Strong and unbending but ultimately quite fragile.
He holds out his hand, "Come with me."
"No. No, he is coming." Her hand moves to the small bag she has next to her and her thin fingers wrap around the handle like she's holding onto a life raft. It's her only reason for being here, that bag. He told her to pack it, and if she'd said 'no' and simply stepped through the fireplace she'd be with him.
He has that bag. It sits by the door of the TARDIS, now, near the coat rack. He acquired it the same day he acquired her letter. He remembers his own fingers curling around the handle; he remembers the light weight of it as he picked it up from where she had left it beside the fireplace. He remembers the way it was slightly uneven, clearly thrown together with haste. He remembers the way it leaned a little against the side of the TARDIS wall with the uneven weight and he couldn't bring himself to straighten it. He remembers the number of times over the last 800 years he's stared at it, thinking he really should just open it and find out what she'd planned to take with her. He can't remember what distractions made him choose to do something else, instead.
"He's not coming," he says, quietly. "I'm sorry, Reinette." In another life he would be sorry, so sorry, but this life only has enough time and energy for one apology.
She shakes her head, and the stubbornness he remembers returns. "He has watched over me and kept every promise he has ever made. He said he would return."
"And here I am."
"But you are not here to take me to the star I chose, are you?" She does turn her head, a graceful profile turn so she can just see him out of the corner of her right eye. "He…you told me you'd be 'back in a mo', whatever that might mean." She has more than a subtle note of bitterness to her voice. He wonders why he didn't expect that. She's been sitting for hours waiting for him. He should've come right after the fireplace turned. Had her know right away.
"He doesn't know," he says. "The Doctor. Me. I don't know that I'm not coming back. I tried, Reinette."
She stands now, and her face does not belie the obvious pain the motion must cause her. She steps with a stride, and then stops in front of him.
"Your countenance is not nearly so pleasing anymore," she says, coldly. "Nor is your company. I would have you leave me with my fireplace, for my Angel will come."
"He's not coming," he says again, more firmly. "Stop being so bloody stubborn. You know it. You know I wouldn't be here if he was coming. Stop trying to change the past."
"It is not the past, it has not happened yet!" she returns. "You sound like Rose! Things have not happened yet, Doctor! And for all your time traveling ways, you can not know what will!"
"I've already lived this life, Reinette," he snaps back. "I don't come back. Not in your lifetime. And I am sorry. I couldn't have you wait for me. I didn't want to have you wait for me." His voice changes, now. He's sad again. He finds himself sad quite often, nowadays, something he thinks is part of his coldness. Perhaps he is like salmon roe. Cold and dark and raw.
"It has been so long, and only now you come back?" she takes a breath and her masks are back in place. Unbending. "Why?"
"You know me," he says, "I've never been very good at keeping track of time."
She is away from the fireplace and that's enough. There's so much more emotion now than he wants to think about. He longs for the world of calmness he's been living in, for the retirement from humanity and world-saving. Nearing the end of his current life, he had unfinished business. This was it. He's done, he thinks. He turns sharply away from her.
Her voice is sudden behind him. "Will I die before I see him again?" she asks. Her voice is small, and he is suddenly reminded of the young girl on the bed asking It wants me?
He turns again and lifts a shoulder in a shrug. "I've another regeneration left. My next one might come to see you. I only know he is not coming."
"Will you promise?" she asks.
"I stopped making promises two lives ago."
She nods. It is a small, formal motion. "Then I must hope that your future incarnations will be more as he was."
She knows how to make words cut, and those sting. Perhaps she's more like a jalapeño pepper. Tough and spicy. He tilts his head a bit to the side and studies her. She is as beautiful as he remembered, and he can't fault her for who she is. He loved her for who she is. In many ways, he still loves her. He can't imagine any other reason why he would still be here.
She moves to the bed and sits, her eyes back on the fireplace. The bag sits by it, where he imagines it will not move until he picks it up. He's made her leave it there by his words so he can pick it up in the past. Timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly and all that nonsense. He had such silly ideas in his tenth life.
He turns to leave again, but stops.
He takes a breath. "What star did you choose?"
She turns her head again. There is something there, startled and sad. Realization. He really doesn't know. It shifts back to a mask of calm indifference. That stings as well.
"Verusias Minor." Her voice is clear and confident, her tones a mask as well.
He nods. "The sun to the Silver Devastation. Beautiful." He turns again and heads towards the door, his wing-tips clicking against the floor.
Godspeed my Lonely Angel.
He does something he hasn't done in 500 years. He makes a promise. A promise to return.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,539
Use of Madame de Pompadour with permission of the mun! Thank you, ambitious_woman for the Reinette-voice-beta!