Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dream of a Normal Life

Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: The Tenth Doctor, Joan Redfern (only slightly)
Season 3, oneshot, angst
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the BBC, not to me.

“Could you change back?”

Her face shone with hope, and his hearts ached at her expression. She wanted so little, and yet so much.

“Yes,” he answered.

It was the truth. The chameleon arch in the TARDIS was still functional, and he could transform himself back into John Smith, ordinary human, if he wanted to. And he couldn't deny that part of him did want that normal, unremarkable life.

Through his mind there flashed the images he’d seen when they’d held the fob watch together. Images of them laughing and smiling on their wedding day, the two of them sharing smiles of wonder over a newborn baby. The pair of them walking with their laughing, happy children in the woods.

And in the end, himself dying a quiet, peaceful death, with her holding his hand.

He remembered her quiet words: The Time Lord has such adventures. But he could never have a life like that.

But she’d been wrong.

Once upon a time, he’d had a life like that.

Oh, not the death, of course. But the rest of it. Marriage (though not with rice and a white satin dress and a tuxedo, not exactly) and love. Babies cradled in his arms, and toddlers at his knee, listening open-mouthed as he spun stories of adventure and romance. Walks with his family in silver-leafed forests beneath a fiery orange sky. A woman who’d meant everything to him by his side, children he adored underfoot.

Even when his children were grown, with families of their own, and he’d left Gallifrey in disgrace as a rebel, an exile, he’d found comfort in knowing that his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren remained on his home planet.

But they weren’t there any longer. Gallifrey wasn’t there any longer.

And it was entirely his fault.

The thought of his descendants, now lost to him, made his chest ache. Despite the intervening centuries, he could clearly recall each and every one of his children’s faces. He remembered their names and their eyes and their smiles. He remembered the way their small hands had fit into his, and the wonder in their bright eyes when he’d shown them the stars, and named the constellations visible from Gallifrey. He’d told them the traditional stories about how each constellation had gotten its name, the very same stories his father had told him–

He chopped off the flood of memories, because they hurt too much, and swallowed back the lump in his throat. He’d had children, once upon a time. He’d loved them so very much.

And in the end, he’d destroyed them.

“Will you?” she asked, her eyes alight with hope.

Awash in memories, he discovered he’d lost the thread of the conversation. He focused on the woman in front of him and realized she was asking if he’d turn himself back into John Smith. That ordinary man. The absentminded professor who wouldn’t roam the galaxy in a blue box, who could settle happily in this little English village and share a simple life, and marriage, and children with her.

“No,” he answered without hesitating.

Never again. Never, ever again.

Never again would he have children, only to lose them. Never again would he allow himself to love someone as much as he’d loved his children. Never again would he risk having to destroy anyone who meant so much to him.

It was the reason he'd been so angry with the Family of Blood, because in shelling the village they'd killed children. And the death of children angered and hurt him more than anything.

“I see.” She looked at him with barely disguised scorn. “He was braver then you, in the end. That ordinary man. You chose to change. He chose to die.”

He looked back at her, a young human woman who couldn’t know the difficult choices he’d made over the years, or the terrible things he’d done that had brought him to this point in his life. She couldn’t possibly understand that John Smith had wanted that quiet, happy life only because Smith couldn’t remember the tragedies the Doctor had lived through. Smith couldn’t recall how a similar life had ended. He couldn’t remember destroying all his descendants, all his kin, in order to save the universe.

He couldn’t recall the feel of a small child’s hand in his own, or remember what it felt like to know that child was gone forever.

John Smith hadn’t been brave, not really. He simply hadn’t known what the Doctor knew. And on some level, the Doctor wished he could turn back into that simple, ordinary man, and experience the happy, peaceful life the watch had shown him.

But he knew better. He knew that life wasn’t that simple. He knew that sometimes dying was the easy answer, not the bravest one. And for him, destroying the man he was and becoming John Smith, a man with no painful history resting heavily on his shoulders, would be the easy answer, but not the right one.

In any event, he couldn’t go back to being John Smith, not after everything the watch had shown him. He couldn't lose himself in the embrace of this lovely young human, no matter how much part of him might want to. There could be no more children, not for him. Even as a human, he couldn’t bear to bring a new life into this world, lest he lose another child to the vagaries of the universe. He couldn’t go through that again. He just couldn’t.

Never again. Never, ever again.

He shouldn’t allow himself to dream of that normal life again. Because he’d had it, once upon a time, and it had ended in loss and anguish and a terrible aloneness.

That life was gone, and nothing could ever bring it back, not even wiping his memories and becoming simple, ordinary John Smith.

In fact, he recognised that becoming Smith would be wrong, terribly wrong. By turning himself into a human and living out the life the watch had shown him, he couldn’t replace the children he’d loved, or the happy life that was lost to him now, as if people and lives were interchangeable somehow.

Erasing his own memories wouldn’t change the past. A new life couldn't replace the old. Nor would he want it to.

His Gallifreyan family had been important, so very important, and he was the only person left in the universe who remembered them all. If he became John Smith, he’d lose the memories of his home and his family. If he lived and died as Smith, those memories would be lost forever.

And that would be the greatest tragedy of all.

He realised that he could never let go of his memories voluntarily. They were all he had left of the world and the people and the life he’d loved. Even though the sharp edges of those memories cut into him like so many knives, he couldn't bear to lose them, as he'd lost so many other things.

Being John Smith and falling in love with Joan Redfern had brought his half-buried memories of his younger days to the surface, and forced him to vividly recall things he’d half forgotten. And for that, he thought, he should be grateful. Because some things were just too important, too precious, to allow himself to forget.

No matter how much thoughts of his past made him ache, he couldn’t ever let those memories fade away. He wouldn't let them fade away. Because his family was gone, and he would never see them again.

Never again. Never, ever again.

But at least he could remember them.

Even though he was the Doctor, not John Smith, he knew he would sometimes dream of a normal life.

But when he closed his eyes and dreamed, he promised himself, he wouldn’t dream of some idealised future. He wouldn't dream of another man's life. He wouldn't dream of a world that could be, but of a world that had been.

He’d dream of his children, and the days gone by on Gallifrey.

-The End-

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