When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend. And when I grew up, he came back. He’s called the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He’s got a box called the TARDIS that’s bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him, and we’ve been running ever since.
Song that is perfect for this fic: “Over the Love” by Florence and the Machine. I’M SORRY THAT THIS EVOLVED INTO AN ANGST-FLUFF SICK!FIC BUT I COULDN’T HELP IT.
You could tell that he was struggling.
He began his new life hungry and uncoordinated. He couldn’t find his feet, or food that he liked, and every time you caught his eye, he looked away like he was ashamed. Of what? You couldn’t tell. You hadn’t wanted him to go, of course. Regeneration was always so difficult, though, so for your sake and his, you always hoped that it would be put off a little longer, just a little longer, until it could be put off no more.
This time, he died for Wilf. You would have preferred, of course, that he hadn’t died at all, but if there was ever someone to die for, it was Wilf. You couldn’t help but be proud of the Doctor. He had been brave. Braver than you had been, certainly (but, in your defense, you didn’t have the insurance of another life getting yourself killed, so there was that).
Regeneration sickness wasn’t supposed to last over three days, and that was a dangerous maximum. On the seventh day, the new-new-new-etc Doctor was still retching his food back up and randomly falling over. So, on the seventh day, you dialed a phone number and prayed that the TARDIS was better at directing phone calls through time and space than she was at directing landings.
Your voice didn’t waver.
No, really, it didn’t.
“Sweetheart?” The Tenth Doctor’s voice crackled through the receiver and you covered your hand with your mouth to stop a completely undignified sound from coming out. “What’s the matter? I dropped you off not five minutes ago, why-”
“It’s been awhile, Doctor.” No sense in beating around the bush. (But that is totally, exactly what you were doing, of course.)
There was a static-filled pause, and then an absolutely terrified: “… Oh, no, please don’t tell me I’m late.”
“No.” You swallowed, trying to find something to look at. He couldn’t see you of course, but you still felt like his eyes were on you. “You’ve regenerated.”
“Oh.” No pause this time. Just oh like that was better than him being a few years late. Which it would have been, if it weren’t for the fact that this regeneration might kill him.
“Yeah.” It’s such a nice word. Yeah. Not as solemn as yes or as casual as yep. It’s just an affirmative, not implying anything other than that you’re not tripping over yourself to be respectful. "Um, everything’s mostly alright, I just need to know- I mean- you’ve got regeneration sickness, and it’s been going on for a whole week now and you haven’t been able to keep your food down. I mean, none of it. You just keep gagging it back up but you’re so hungry and tired and I don’t know what to do.“
You weren’t crying. You might have sniffled a little bit, but you didn’t cry.
No, really, you didn’t.
"Are you alright?” the Tenth Doctor said.
“I’m fine.” What’s that you always say, Doctor? I’m always alright? Me too. "I miss you so much.“
"I’m sorry, sweetheart.” And the Doctor’s voice was definitely cracking and that surprised you, really, because Ten didn’t cry. Not like this. This new Doctor had trigger tear-ducts (from what you had seen in the last seven days, that is), but Ten wasn’t a crier. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“It’s okay. You regenerate for a really good reason. I wouldn’t change what you did. What you did was right. I’m proud of you.” It was important. You had to tell him that you were proud of him. He needed to know that. I’m proud of you was almost just as good as I love you, especially to the Doctor. “You’ll be proud of yourself. I just… it’s hard. And I’m afraid. You’re so sick.”
“What?” It immediately made sense to you (oh, milk, yes, of course, why didn’t I realize?) but you had to ask. You were used to asking. It made him feel clever and you wanted this conversation to last as long as you could stretch it out. You wanted to hear him talk. “Milk?”
“Well, I assume you did tea,” the Doctor said in the same tone that he might use to say, Well, I assume that you used conditioner after shampoo and not the other way around.
“Yeah, you’re drinking just fine.” Which was a great relief on your part. The Doctor might starve to death, but he wasn’t going to go down because of dehydration.
“Try milk. It’s liquid, but it’s technically a food. Or smoothies, try that. Milkshakes? It’ll get something into him until you figure out something more solid that he- that I can eat.”
“Okay.” And then, just like that, it was time to hang up and to what he told you to do. But you didn’t want to. There was a chance, of course, that you might see him again. The Doctor tended to run into his past selves. But you might not. You might not ever hear his voice like this again and you knew that he was fine, just regenerated, but how could you let go?
And then, as if he had read your thoughts, the Doctor said, “It’s alright, sweetheart. It’s alright. I’m still here.”
“I know.” Actually, you weren't quite sure, but saying that you knew was the best response you could come up with.
“I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“Oh, now don’t even start that, missy. You know I’ll win.” You heard him take a deep breath, and then say, “Goodbye, sweetheart. I’ll still be there when you hang up.”
The line went dead.
When you found the Eleventh Doctor, he was in the console room, leaning heavily against the console as his whole body shook, trembling. He was still in Ten’s clothes. You had tried to get him out of them and into something more comfortable, but every time you made an attempt, he fussed like a little kid. You were going to have to put your foot down on day seven because he needed a shower and he had been vomiting for a week, dagnabbit, he could not keep those clothes on anymore.
The Doctor looked at you from out of the corner of his eye. “You called him, didn’t you?”
Okay. Could possibly be that this regeneration had some jealousy issues and the green eyes to fit. Or maybe he was just upset about everything. At this stage, you really couldn’t tell.
“You said we should try milk,” you said plainly, not letting the accusation in the Doctor’s tone get to you. You weren’t going to fight with him, not right now. Neither of you were level-headed enough to fight like adults. You would end up fighting like children, and that always stung. Children could be so cruel.
The Doctor turned his head so he could really look at you, and he seemed satisfied with what he saw, because some of the tenseness left his shoulders. “‘K.”
“We’ve got a blender in the kitchen, right?” You already knew that there was a blender in the kitchen. "Maybe I can make you a banana… something. Does that sound good?“
The Doctor nodded hesitantly.
"Are you okay? Do you want to get back in bed?”
“Yes.” That was far less hesitant. He was obviously tired. He hadn’t been sleeping at all, and sleep was the number one most important thing he needed after regeneration. Food was the number two most important thing. He hadn’t gotten either. “Could you..?”
When he trailed off, you immediately perked up. He hadn’t asked for much other than food or really talked much in general (and that sort of terrified you because it might have been because he was sick but it could have be that he had regenerated into a quiet person and you weren’t sure how you would deal with a quiet Doctor). Maybe he had finally figured out what he needed. “What?”
“Hold me.” Bang, heartbroken with two little words. “Please hold me. You haven’t, yet.”
He looked at you and those beautiful new eyes were so glossy with unshed tears that you felt your own eyes sting.
“Oh, Doctor.” You rushed forward to him with open arms and he slumped his whole body against you, burying his face against the crook of your neck. You felt hot, sticky tears being pressed into your skin. The Doctor smelled acrid, a side effect of being sick for days without washing. A shower was definitely in order. "I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was so worried, I just didn’t think.“
"It’s okay, right?” he asked as his hands found fistfuls of your clothing to anchor himself with. “This is okay? You won’t leave.”
“I won’t leave.” That was a promise, of course it was. "I’m right here. Have you seen yourself in the mirror yet?“
“You’re the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a baby animal.”
And then he actually giggled. “Aw.”
He giggled, I tell you.
“Yeah, 'aw’.” And just like that, just like that, things felt right again. Not perfect, but right, like you could see home at the end of the road. "Alright, let’s get you to bed, and I’ll make you a milk-banana-shake-something-or-other.“
It’s called a chameleon circuit. The Tardis is meant to disguise itself wherever it lands, like if this was Ancient Rome, it’d be a statue on a plinth or something. But I landed in the 1960s, it disguised itself as a police box, and the circuit got stuck.
Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s what defines a species. ★t h i n i c e