The Doctor feels the change coming for the first time, and unable to hold it back any longer he submits to the inevitable. Burning heat cascades through his cells, his body tenses and begins to rewrite, and...
...He finds himself blinking in confusion outside of a church and witnessing a woman crying over the form of her husband as he lays dead in the street. There is blood and cracked pottery and someone is holding a distraught, crying baby’s bassinet. He catches the flash of navy blue, a familiar wheezing sound, the sleeve of a leather jacket, and the odd tugging sensation of a broken fixed point in time rewriting itself into the established pattern before the obvious catches his attention.
He should be on the TARDIS. He should be in a new, unfamiliar body. He should be-
A man walks through him as if he isn’t even there and the Doctor shudders out a gasp of shock and terror.
He should be solid.
“I am... dead?” He murmurs softly to himself, shaking at the prospect of an afterlife he’d always scoffed at. But, there was no way this was the Time Lord equivalent of Heaven nor Hell. It wasn’t the Matrix on Gallifrey, either. He wouldn’t become a part of that in such a way until his final death.
No, this looked suspiciously like a street on 1980s Earth and the language of the people surrounding him indicated England. London, if he felt bold enough to further chance a guess.
There’s an odd pulling sensation in what seems his very soul and the Doctor helplessly follows it to the bassinet. Something settles in his chest like an imprintation and he knows he will be unable to ever wander far from the tiny child ever again.
And so he stands there, the aches and pains of life hauntingly absent in such a way that he can’t feel the warmth of the sun on his face or the cool breath of the wind against his skin; there is no thundering four-beat rhythm in his chest, no air in his lungs. He wishes quite suddenly that he could still complain about the soreness of old age. Anything would be better than this.
The Doctor frowns as he stares at the baby girl wailing in her bassinet. He doesn’t know her. But he can still sense timelines, and hers nearly blind him with their potential. With the hard fact that this small, innocent and helpless child will one day touch the entirety of Time. It’s hidden, underneath the surface, but they’re connected on a level that quite frankly baffles him and he gets the impression it’s the only reason he can see what the universe has in store for her.
Someone else walks through him and he shivers. It’s the feeling of ice, trickling down his spine. Ian and Barbara had often used the phrase “someone walked over my grave” to describe it, that feeling. Humans are mostly instinct and their nerve responses sometimes do strange things. But as a Time Lord, he’d never understood what they were talking about.
Not until now. Now, he understands it quite literally in a way that Ian and Barbara never will.
It’s a feeling he hates.
The baby won’t stop crying and it slowly dawns on him that the man in the street is her father. The woman sobbing into his blood-streaked hair has facial resemblance with the child, and-
Hang on. Were they at a wedding? A moderately-pregnant bride in a beautiful dress, a harried groom, a group of well-dressed people...
...Oh, this day just kept getting better and better.
Out of habit he leans down to quieten the child. The moment his fingers touch her a shock travels up his arm and through the entirety of his body. Their minds bond in a disappointingly one-sided connection that leaves her unformed infantile thoughts brushing haphazardly against his own, and he grits his teeth as he kneels to the sidewalk and gasps.
Life. Time. Life.
The sun on his face. The wind against his skin, in his hair, whipping at his clothes. Air in his lungs. A heartbeat.
...A single heartbeat.
“What’s happened to me?” He whispers. It takes a few moments to realize that the child has stopped crying. Contentment washes over his scattered thoughts and he lets out an oxygen-less breath into the air as he forces himself into a standing position and looks down at her. Tears and snot track down her face but her eyes are wide and curious, observing the world around her with nothing more than an interested detachment.
Her eyes are blue, already changing from their newborn coloring to what they will become in later life. If he had to guess he’d put her at around six months, though that may be too young or too old. He isn’t sure what the growth rate of humans is.
He follows them home, because it is the only thing he can think to do in the circumstances. He feels like he’s drowning, and the only thing keeping him from panic is the connection he has with the baby.
Her mother Jackie, now alone; her father Pete, now dead. And Rose.
Rose Marion Tyler.
The Doctor sits beside her crib at night and sings. He’s not sure if she can hear him, but she stays quiet and it allows Jackie to sleep. Her friend Bev comments on Rose’s colic ending overnight, and Jackie reflects that she hasn’t cried since Pete died. Bev speculates that Pete’s spirit is in the flat, watching over them. The Doctor can say quite definitively that he’s the only ghost around, and wouldn’t wish that upon anyone else.
The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t need to eat, sleep, or require warmth, because he isn’t alive. He’s always cold. He misses the contact of other people, the closeness. The contact. Even Gallifrey wasn’t entirely touch-deprived.
But he watches her grow up. She starts to crawl, to walk, to talk. Pretty soon she’s running everywhere without any plans on slowing down and Jackie can’t keep up with her. He runs beside her, worrying and unable to do anything about it, falling apart whenever she falls and scrapes her knee. But she gets back up, laughs, and keeps on running.
The one good thing about being a non-corporeal entity is that he no longer has to stop to rest.
Rose is two and the world is so big, so terrifying. Mickey is supposed to be watching her but he’s barely older than a toddler himself and wants to play with his friends. The Doctor sits on an empty bench - hoping it stays empty and that someone doesn’t sit through him - and watches her climb to the very top of the tallest slide on the Powell Estates’ playground. This in and of itself does not concern him; she’s climbed that high before and landed successfully at the bottom without any issue. Jackie had taught her how to safely use the slide the third time she’d tried to use it without her mother’s consent.
Of course, Jackie isn’t there at the moment and Rose gets it into her head that turning away from the slide to face the steep drop from the ladder and spreading her arms like a bird is a good idea. A good, safe, healthy idea. The Doctor is up on his feet in a matter of seconds, screaming at her to stop, and to his complete and dumbfounded amazement she does.
Rose drops her arms, turning back around to grip the safety bars, and blinks directly at him with the widest most innocently curious marmalade brown eyes he’s ever seen. He gapes at her as she giggles and nods, climbing the rest of the way up the slide and sitting down at the very top. She babbles a few garbled words towards him and then points at the bottom, the stock toddler gesture of “watch what I’m going to do!” and heaves herself down the incline. She comes to a squeaking halt at the bottom, bare flesh against staticky plastic, and grins at him.
He remains, for the rest of the day, entirely at a loss for words. Rose doesn’t notice this. She’s too young to properly understand. She tries to hold his hand as Jackie walks her out of the park and he’s even more startled to realize that her tiny digits don’t pass through his larger fingers. He tries to tighten the grip, seeking the scant warmth that her small, hot body can offer in skin to skin contact, and the extra pressure makes him substanceless. He chokes back a sob and tries again with the utmost caution and featherlight touch.
The grip holds.
She’s three, and Jackie is only all too happy to send her to daycare so that she can pick up extra work. Mickey’s grandmother watches her after she gets back to the Estate, and in the evenings Jackie works on potty training.
It’s a surreal experience for a Time Lord loomed at the age of four to comprehend; a child that needs to be taught basic life functions and mannerisms rather than subconsciously receiving them from a machine. Neither Susan nor her father were born. As with every potential Time Lord on Gallifrey, they had come from the machine. The Looms.
So, to watch Jackie praise her daughter for learning to use a toilet was an... interesting endeavor to say the least. And not one he had been particularly keen to witness in the first place.
She’s talking more and more, chattering to him often about anything that occurs to her. He’s desperate to even be acknowledged and the soft words of a young girl warm him. His own hearts have ceased to beat, but her tiny, wild heart thunders in his chest and he’s slowly beginning to understand that attachment isn’t always a bad thing as his people had taught him.
He just can’t fathom the reason he’s been appointed her guardian angel.
She’s a child of Earth, he a Lord of Time. Her timelines burn so brightly, alluring. He feels like Icarus should he get too close. But right now? Now she’s nothing more than untapped and untested potential, and for whatever reason the universe chose him, to guard her. She’s bristling with energy and reckless as the son of Helios, and he finds that apart from sharing her heartbeat they’re very much kindred spirits. She reminds him so vividly of the boy he had been in his own childhood that, if he had breath, it would have pained him to draw it.
She turns four and, now that potty training has been achieved successfully, she is able to be enrolled in preschool.
If the Doctor thought that daycare was a trying experience, preschool is worse. He’s forced to sit beside his charge and listen to a sweet but trying young woman slowly introduce the concept of the days of the week to her young pupils, to introduce the concept of months and clocks. Time, introduced in all its glorious wonder by the tool used to unimaginatively measure it.
And it’s on the playground of the preschool that he gets the shock of his life. Or, well... death.
...One of them, at least. Because the last piece of the elusive puzzle he’s been so diligently working on finally slots into place with an unexpected arrival and turns everything on its head.