By Martin Falatic
Originally published 2005-03-05 at A Teaspoon and an Open Mind
[Note: This is Doctor Who fan fiction featuring the Eighth Doctor as portrayed by Paul McGann in the novels which followed the TV movie.]
We first met when I was in college, a hallway collision ending in a confusion of paperwork and textbooks. As we untangled our respective belongings, with muttered apologies and sheepish grins, I found myself intrigued by him. It was his eyes at first: within them was an intensity, a dangerous fire that would consume me as surely as I stood there. His casual smiles, the utter perfection of his skin, like porcelain or stone, entranced me. And yet I knew that I was drawn to him not for his beauty but for the raw energy that simmered beneath the surface of his shy exterior. A kind of power, then: not the power of despots, but the power of genius, unbound. Without further introduction a conversation began, spanning philosophy, physics, mathematics and poetry. The first conversation of many, many more.
I remember the first time he sketched for me. We were talking about art, DaVinci in particular (a favorite of his) and suddenly he took pencil to paper and began to draw with amazing speed. The realism was multidimensional, leaping from his pad in shades of charcoal and parchment. Oh, he knew Leonardo well enough, he dead panned… yet his study was truly remarkable! He laughed as he drew, his broad smile breaking my heart, enchanting me and frightening me by equal measures. What had come over me? Before I could say something foolish and impulsive, he turned to his pad and with a flourish tore the page cleanly from the binding. With the finger (was he once a pianist? I still wonder) he transformed it into a dart-like airfoil and sailed it far into the corner of the room… where it seemed to twist in mid-air and returned with a skid to his feet. His face crumpled into a mock frown and I laughed til I thought I’d burst. Not quite a magician, but close, so very close! He just smiled that smile of his and said no, though he knew some of the best.
Another time, when I was ill with whatever flu was making the rounds that year, he tended to me. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and yet I felt like I’d aged years without him. He sat with me, regaling me with stories of ancient lands and absurd futures. He was in many ways an inventor, both of things and of tales, and oh! the stories he could tell! (Or would if he remembered most of them, he’d declaim.) Some were entirely too far-fetched or simply cliched (from Caesar’s battles to planets of fractured reality) but they all had a shade of truth to them. They were in some ways like Aesop’s fables, with allegorical undertones, and yet more than that. He wove humanity into a greater tapestry, one that he would surely have played a far greater part in, were the Universe so.
He was always the traveler… I believe he saw more of this world in his lifetime than 100 men would! He’d always bring back a gift of some sort or another. Sandalwood figures from India, carvings from the Gold Coast, pottery from Mexico. He stood at my side as I married my wife, after one of his many traveling adventures. While my bond to him was deep and true, my love for my wife was unique and for her alone. And yet… and yet… I don’t really know, do I? What might have been…
And it was a year later that I last saw him. My wife was full with child and our lives were soon to be full of splendor at the birth of our daughter. We stood in the park under the Blessing Moon (as we called it then) and he told me one last tale, one so unbelievable and so painful that I was almost angry with him. It was a story of love and loss, of betrayal, of his people and his home, long forgotten. A tale of the Damned, really… a tale of horror and of sorrow and of utter despair. My anger was perhaps at myself, unable to comfort him, torn between my love for my wife and my desire for him. At my heart, for its selfish longing. At my eyes, for their flood of tears. I watched him, his head hung low as he finished his tale to end all tales, struggling to remember every detail of this moment. His coat, his long hair curling in the cool fog, his ancient eyes. And I knew I had to go then, right then, before my resolve broke and I began weeping at his feet. You’d think me a fool, but if you’d seen him right then, you’d know. You’d know.
And so I bade him fare-thee-well. He smiled shyly and said he would return someday, to catch up on old times and share his adventures once more. But I knew he wouldn’t. I had my life to live and he had his, however contrived his tales. There was a darkness in his eyes of late, a haunted look that had replaced the carefree wanderlust I’d grown accustomed to. As he walked away into the night, a part of me longed to go with him. But he had his demons to confront and I knew he had to confront them alone.
Days passed, and my daughter was born, and later a son, and another son too! We were a proud and happy family, but not without pain. The death of my younger son, my wife’s estrangement (though brief)… these put great strains on us but we persevered. We grew old together, she and I. And after years of love and quiet contentedness, my wife passed on. But I never forgot my old friend. And it seems he never forgot me.
I’ve reached old age with aplomb, but my memory has begun to fail me, my eyes have grown weak, and my heart… well, all things fade with time I suppose and the end isn’t far off. And then this morning there was a knock at the door and there he was! My gods, he was a sight to see… the spitting image of his father! He looked older, of course… I last saw his father over 60 years ago. But he was a chip off the old block. So this was his last adventure! Haunted indeed! That beautiful devil!
We talked then, and he seemed happy enough to be patient with this old man and his frailties. He offered a glass of water with what he called a “tincture” swirling in it. I sipped unquestioningly as we talked, and soon found my mind and my eyes clearing somewhat. He told tales even greater than my dear old friend’s… it seems his father found his ancestral home, or should I say the ruins thereof. It wasn’t easy to follow (he seemed in a hurry), but I gather he renovated the old house somehow or another (“restored” it, as he put it). It seemed like something more than that though. Perhaps another allegory for life, eh? Another family trait then: vague as his father!
After what seemed like days, he wished me well and stood to gather his coat. Reaching up from my chair, I grasped his arm. He carefully lifted me and I stood shakily, almost eye-to-eye. Despite his gentle medicine I couldn’t see him very well as we sat speaking, but it sharpened my mind in a way I hadn’t felt in many long years. Up close, though, my vision was sharper as well. As I stood there – his strong, cool hands holding me steady – I suddenly knew this all was impossible, a daydream of a dying man. I’ll never forget what he said then, as if reading my mind: “I’ve missed you, old friend”. He smiled then, that angel’s smile I had last seen so long ago… but we both knew my time was short.
He laid me carefully on the bed, pulling the covers up around me (how chilly it was now, like the fire had gone out in me). He sat beside me, my hand in his, and he told me more tales one last time, and I believed them. I believed them all. And while I knew that he’d do anything to save me if I asked him to, I didn’t really consider it. He held me close as my eyes struggled to focus. His cheek next to mine, I whispered to him, thanking him for being a part of my life, for his tales and the passion he inspired in my soul. His tears wet my face and as my heart began to flutter and fade, I could feel his pulse against my chest, strong and vibrant and so utterly unlike my own. A strange, steady double-beat like the distant thrumming of a freight train on old tracks, fading into the night.