[Note: written in mid-January. Also posted on AO3 at: archiveofourown.org/works/576321
. Formatting's probably awful, but never mind that.]
It’s only after he’s regenerated for the second time that he catches it.
He’s checking out the new coat in a mirror he didn’t remember putting up, and trying to figure out mentally a particularly fiendish computing issue with one of the TARDIS’ more outdated, hopelessly useless system modifications, and making a cup of tea in one of the annexes off the main kitchen. He's just thinking he'd be better off just scrapping the whole section rather than trying to patch it over, and picking his mug up, when one of the subliminal, almost subconscious processes that goes on at the back of his mind goes—
and he drops his tea, a tremor suddenly racing down his arms. It splatters everywhere, the mug turning angles a mere piece of clay should not be capable of, and clattering down behind his feet somewhere, but it doesn’t matter, not really, because he’s quite frankly disgusted with himself. He left Fitz behind [Begged him to leave before it was too late] decades ago, he was safe and sound and had, compared to some of his companions, managed a miracle in surviving [He’d finally had to make him leave, throwing his jacket back, tears streaming down his face], so why had he ended up absorbing his traits into his post-War regenerations?
Contrary to popular belief, most Time Lords, or at least more principled ones less likely to go gallivanting across the universe in a dilapidated, decommissioned Mark 40, had some modicum over which genetic traits were dominant. The Doctor had, however, noticed a tendency to almost absorb particular peculiarities in his companions, or even just people he met. They could manifest during the current regeneration, but he sometimes ended up regenerating and finding his current appearance or personality was suspiciously similar to someone else's. Consequence of being slightly psychic, he'd always supposed, or possibly something to do with his DNA; he wouldn't have put it past Rassilon to encode something in that ensured a Time Lord couldn't regenerate into anything too dissimilar to his surrounding Time Lords, and for his high exposure to foreign elements (and Rassilon suddenly never having existed) causing the whole situation.
His last regeneration had been tall, and made stupid puns, and would have appeared to a human to be in his early forties. How old had Fitz been when he left [Left him in San Francisco with a passport and a visa, no note, no jacket]?
New regeneration: dark hair, skinnier, accent similar enough to how Fitz' had been after nearly a decade of global, temporal and galaxial mixing, trench coat he'd borrowed accidentally-on-purpose from a singer from his time.
He'd always meant to go back and fetch Fitz' trench coat, from wherever he'd left it during his time on earth [A head full of confused phrases and scant memories, waking up to his own wrong heartsbeat and the screech of nightmare metal, an alien surrounded by beings it looked exactly alike to but was indefinably apart from], but well, 8th him, bit forgetful.
His last jacket, the one he'd had only a few days ago, had been Fitz'. He'd forgotten that, deliberately. All the pain of the Time War had been enough to deal with in the abstract, without dragging his friends [or acquaintances or enemies or comrades, a war that debased them all] into it.
He wonders idly for a second if he'll remember Romana or Leela or The Rani or Ace, and shuts that train of thought down as quickly as he can. Fitz, and his jacket, the one he'd left behind. Last him had more or less blanked on whose it was, let his mind slide over the memories, but he'd worn it: when he'd set up the mechanism that would destroy the planet, that would feed the war back into itself in a continuous never ending loop, he'd had that jacket draped around his shoulders, over the tawdry stained velvet. Hours or microspans or some other relative time unit later, he'd come to with it sheltering him from the smoke that had wafted through the TARDIS, from the electrical haze that had swamped the air.
It's good, isn't it, that he's laid most of his demons to rest, because that means he can race down the corridors, through innumerable shortcuts, feeling her reset the layout so he can get there faster, to where he's laid it down, in a pile that also includes a grimy cravat, a bizarre bottle-green amalgam of an overcoat and a military cape, and a rather squashed-looking brown hat, without it being desperate or pitiful or sad. He picks it up, rummaging through the pockets, half-expecting to find cigarette packets and receipts and loose change. Instead, his hand grips on a microprocessor he'd been meaning to see about fitting into a damaged area, so he pulls that out instead and drops it into his new pocket.
He won't hold the jacket up to his face and breathe in, because he's been wearing it for long enough since all remnants of Fitz has long since dissipated, and he doesn't cry, because there are millions dead and millions dying forever and if he didn't/isn't/won't cry for them, he shouldn't cry for one human
[Who had never wanted to die but had been prepared for it, who had stayed with him for as long as he had let him, who had tried to play the whole thing cool even though he was scared out of his wits]—
Rose is there, a few steps away from him, her soft shoes padding on the grating, and he's desperately glad to have someone to talk to.
"Looking for some of your stuff?"
"It's not my jacket." He blurts. He thinks this body might have a tendency towards that. He turns a bit to see her, fingers unconsciously clenching in the material. She catches his eye, and she's smiling a bit, inside, but she says to him, serious as you like, "Well, no, it was the last bloke's, wasn't it?"
"Wasn't his either."
She frowns for half a second, then half smiles again. "So who'd he nick it from?"
He actually flinches, a reaction more visceral than most of the ones he's had upon being confronted with the War, and he can see her getting worried, and he says, "—Fellow before him, with the hair, had to get someone to leave, and—they wanted him to take care of himself, because there was something very dangerous on its way. So. Fitz left his jacket behind."
"Why did he leave?"
There's that anxiety in her eyes that he sees sometimes: that the waltz will end, that she'll be stranded back at the far side of the ballroom forever, before she catches herself and her eyes widen. "Oh—I'm so sorry, the War–"
"It's fine. He'd been traveling with me for a while, anyway. He's alive."
Be blunt about it. Don't betray too much feeling. He's moved on.
"Oh. Yeah, alright." She pauses, looks to the side, fiddles with her hair. "Um, if you don't mind—what was he like?"
He rocks back on his heels, then forward again. Should he tell her?
Someone should know.
"Fitz Kreiner, born 1936,"
She blinks at the date, but doesn't say anything.
"German father, English mother. Left Earth for the first time in 1963. Didn't think much of himself most of the time, so he'd act like he was someone he thought was cooler. Played the guitar. Got mixed up with Faction Paradox—don't ask, I might not be able to tell you— a few times. Couldn't keep a girlfriend. Stayed through my previous self's multiple instances of severe amnesia, an earlier alternate time line which also resulted in the destruction of Gallifrey and the early stages of the Time War. Age unknown due to multiple interfering factors."
She raises her eyebrows; there's been an expression of mild skepticism lingering on her face since about the midway mark, mixed with sympathy and curiosity.
"Is that it? He traveled with you , and that's all he gets? A couple of sentences?"
"Have you ever read the Hitchhiker's Guide? No? Well, doesn't matter. But it's enough for the moment, isn't it? There's more. I'm just not saying yet."
He looks down at the jacket again, and he's seeing it as it was at three different points on the time stream, and it's making him a bit dizzy.
"I should give it back to him."
She smiles again, less nostalgic, more hopeful.
"Well, not today, yeah? I'm off to bed, anyway, it's why I was looking for you. We'll see about the ex-companion grand tour in the morning."
She looks like she wants to hold his hand, but she just nods to herself and leaves instead, her feet moving away as softly as she had approached.
There's still glimmers of the golden light, showing through her, even after the burning power of the vortex had left her. Or maybe she was always like that, and it's easier to see. Or maybe some of the power of the vortex was within every sentient creature, and channeling time's power had brought out the shine in her.
Or maybe he's a sentimental old man who projects his more fanciful notions onto the company he keeps.
He puts the jacket down, and heads off diagonally, then a hard right, then straight ahead. He's got some repairs to do.