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Story: Stars Go Out, Stars Explode, Stars Burn Bright
Author: kaffyr 
Characters:
The Eleventh Doctor, Vincent Van Gogh, Theo Van Gogh
Rated:
PG-13
Edited by:
the spectacularly irreplaceable dr_whuh 
Summary: There are worlds, and endings, all depending on how the story writes itself. Somewhere, there are canvases of stranger stars than ever he saw on earth. As for him? Who knows where he is, poor man.
Author's Notes:
After watching and rewatching the glorious "Vincent and the Doctor," I read more about Van Gogh and his remarkably devoted brother. This is the result. I think only this Doctor could make this decision, if indeed a decision happened. And whether it was, or will be, or never was, the right decision, who am I to say? (This story clings to the frayed hem of historical accuracy, but not much more than that. Some author's notes appear at the end of the story.)
Disclaimer:  
As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin.  I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play (and create the occasional original character) in their sandbox.

*******************************


There are worlds and worlds, endings and endings, depending upon how the story writes itself. Isn't that what we learned?

***********************************

    In the last horrid hours, the man was almost immobile with grief, obviously caught between the desire to flee that room and the fear that he would miss his brother's final moment. Until almost the end, the nurse thought he would ultimately give in to the first impulse.
    She wouldn't blame him, she thought, as she carried out yet another basin of bloody bandages. It stank in the dark bedroom — of morphine and alcohol, and oncoming death. She and Dr. Mazery had looked at each other the previous day and given the slightest of nods; this one was done for. No need to cause him any more agony by trying to dig the bullet out of his chest — just give him enough morphine to ease the pain without tempting God and the law by deliberately easing him into the next world. He'd go on his own.
    She was preparing to make her way down the tiny stairs when she heard a low cry from the bedroom. God in heaven, he was awake again. She stopped to listen, although she didn't expect to understand the Dutch which the two had been murmuring to each other before le pauvre last fell unconscious.
    To her surprise, he was speaking French.
    "I saw impossibilities, Theo, I saw something larger on the inside than the out, I saw—"
    "Hush ... calm yourself ..."
    "No! Listen to me, you must hear this — it was blue like cornflowers on the outside and rosy gold inside, and it took me to the future, showed me my own paintings in Paris, in a place of honor, but how can it have been true, Theo? How? They all laugh at me, you know that, so what lie did the Doctor tell me? What spell did he cast?"
    "Who lied to you, Vincent? Who do you speak of?"
    "The Doctor. The Doctor. And how he must have hated me, to lie in such a fashion ..."
    His voice trailed off into a moist and painful cough. The nurse strained to hear anything else. And finally, she heard it.
    "The sadness, Theo, the sadness will last forever."
    She moved away from the door, ashamed at having listened, and headed downstairs. When next she saw him, it was to clean him for his shroud.

***********************

    The housekeeper's critique was short and to the point.
    "Garbage," she said flatly, throwing it into a closet. "Insanity."
    It was nothing at all like true art. It wasn't beautiful. It didn't show anything understandable. It was a violent and brutal clash of colors, an ugly explosion. And why one would think fire and destruction the stuff of beauty ... no, not art at all.
    But she couldn't stop thinking about it. She would have died rather than admit it to anyone else, but it was always there in her mind's eye. The flames and the debris seemed to erupt out of the painting, like a silent scream. When she first saw it, clutched in his arms, she had actually flinched, as if feeling the heat and the force at the heart of the thing. Now she found herself afflicted with the desire to fetch it from the closet to see if it still affected her that way, or perhaps to see if there was nothing left of the canvas but ash.
    That night there was little more anyone could do. She went to the kitchen to bring up yet another tray of tea for those awaiting the inevitable. As she ascended the stairs with it, she heard the two doctors murmuring with the nurse a few paces down the narrow hall. She also heard her employer trying unsuccessfully to soothe his brother.
    "Calm yourself, you'll do yourself harm if you carry on this way—"
    "I'm dying, Theo, what more could I possibly do to myself? And I, I know — I know — that my dream must have lied—" He broke off, coughing. She was no doctor, but the housekeeper could tell from the bubbling sound that his lips were red with blood.
    After the paroxysm subsided, she expected nothing but silence. She was mistaken.
    "I was wrong, Theo. My painting is wrong. The TARDIS is forever. It will last ...."
    He did not speak again. His brother sobbed and the black-coated doctors sighed in relief; she turned on her heel, tray still in hand, to send her boy for the undertaker.
    The nurse and doctors had been gone from the inn for a week, when a very young man and woman — blond, English, thin-lipped — came to the door shortly before Monsieur Van Gogh was to arrive to retrieve the last of his brother's things. They spoke with the housekeeper and came in without being invited. Presently they departed, taking with them a rolled up canvas. The housekeeper watched their retreating backs from behind a parlour curtain and shivered. She later told M'sieur she had no idea where that particular painting had got to.

************************

    Theo couldn't bear to have anyone else here, not at the end of it all. Surely his brother deserved some final dignity? If he could not, at the last, shake off the demons, then he should, of a certainty, be free of all judgment save that of God.
    "Leave us," he told the others, not taking his eyes from the bed. No more groans now, no more coughing and mercifully no more pleas to "find the box, Theo, please find the box."
    "Monsieur, he must be watched— "
    "No, he must not. You can do nothing more for him." When they hesitated, he snapped "Did I not make myself clear? He has no further need of doctors!" He was rewarded with the sound of a swiftly shut bedroom door, and leaned forward to hold his brother's pale hand.
    "No more doctors, dear one," he whispered. "Never again."
    At first he thought the unearthly howl came from outside the window; so, too, the wind that guttered the lamp and plucked at the bedclothes. But the window faded out and a tall wooden box, blue as cornflowers, faded in. Theo flung himself over the bed.
    "Oh, I wouldn't say never again," the impossible man said. "He needs to see at least one more."
    "Doctor?"
    The patient's eyes opened as he whispered the question; Theo's went, if possible, even wider.
    "Sorry I took so long, Vincent. Meant to come before all this got so ... messy, but I had to have a bit of a debate with myself first. I won, and here I am and let's have a look at that chest wound, shall we, if you wouldn't mind telling your brother that he actually needs to get off your chest, before he kills you himself?"
    He was young, or seemed so until one looked in his eyes, and dressed as badly as any poverty-stricken painter. The odd metal wand he pulled from a jacket pocket glowed like a tiny green lamp and buzzed like a drowsy fly.
    Theo finally found his voice, if not his equanimity. "Are you Death?" Under the circumstances, he thought, it was a reasonable question.
    The man pursed his lips briefly before smiling. "No, I'm the Doctor." He glanced at the bed, his smile broadening. "Vincent knows me. It's all right."
    Vincent nodded, just barely, and the man gestured toward the chair from which Theo had leaped. "You should sit down." Theo did.
    What followed was ... Theo was not sure what it was.
    First the man, the Doctor, briefly wielded his baton above Vincent's chest. Next, he listened to and looked at the thing intently, his expression somber. And finally — "I'm going to ask you not to object, although I'm sure I'd object if a strange man took my dying brother inside a TARDIS, which is what She is, by the way, which is not the point. The point is that I can help him if I take him inside, and by help, I mean I think I can save his life. Can't take you in, not yet, but I'll be back out and bring you in to visit him when he's better. Do I have your solemn promise not to panic or make a fuss? Or call the gendarmes?" — he carefully, lovingly, lifted his patient from the bed and and disappeared with him into the box.
    I am sleeping, Theo decided. I am slumped against the bed, my head next to Vincent's arm, dreaming of the creatures in his dreams. Soon someone will come to wake me, and tell me that my brother is dead.
    He wasn't. He was alive in the depths of the world inside the blue walls; happy, and at peace with himself as he had not been since he was the solemn elder brother that an awestruck toddler had loved so much. In fact, he laughed as the Doctor brought Theo in, and jumped from the bed on which he had been lying, embraced Theo and told him to share his joy: "I think I'm going to see things I've never seen before, and I can't wait!"
    Theo returned the embrace but he was not certain if he was seeing a glimpse of heaven, or being tricked by something far darker.
    "I know what you're thinking," the Doctor said, looking at him over Vincent's shoulder. He was smiling again, but there was something bitter, or sad, at the corners of the smile and Theo felt his heart constrict. "It's not a dream. He's better — or he's getting better, which is a bit of a life long process ... still, I'd say things are looking up. But there is a cost."
    Vincent's arms dropped away, and he turned wordlessly to face his savior.
    "I said I'd had a debate with myself, and that I'd won," the Doctor said, speaking more to the completely mystified Theo than to Vincent. He fished about in his pockets and brought out the wand, passing it from hand to hand as he spoke, like a distracted wizard. "I did it for a friend who I may or may not tell, and I'm glad, or rather glad, that I did, because I'm also doing it for myself. I'm selfish that way. But I did have to make a deal with myself.
    "Timelines, you see, are a lot more flexible than I used to pretend, and a lot less flexible than I used to pretend. I used to pretend both ways, depending on who was telling me what, and who was listening, but a lot of the people who used to listen aren't here anymore, which leaves me with nothing but me, and the truth."
    He turned away from the brothers, almost a pirouette, until he had the little bed between them. "And the truth is that I can twist the lines a bit. I can rescue people, even people that shake the timelines more than most. They're all important; they all shake the timelines a little bit, but Vincent, here ... Vincent shakes them more than many. So if he just got better, well the timeline would vibrate badly enough to break, and that's more than I can allow. He has to stay dead, dead by his own hand, you see, as far as the world is concerned."
    He smiled again, and seemed perhaps a little less bitter, a little hopeful. "Or as far as this world is concerned."
    Then the smile disappeared, as he spoke very quietly to Vincent. "You won't get to see him again. This is your chance to say goodbye."
    "No!"
    Later, Theo would be grateful when he remembered Vincent's anguished cry. He had no immediate chance to consider it, however, because the Doctor danced out from behind the bed, past Vincent and over to him. "I still break the rules," he said, grabbing the back of Theo's neck and bending their heads together conspiratorially so that Vincent couldn't hear. "I can tell you that either way, this is the last time you see him. And I have to ask you this — how do you feel?"
    Of course, he would know, this devilish man, this strange creature, Theo thought, feeling sick to his stomach. Of course. So, no matter what happened ....
    "Go with him, dear one," he managed.
    Vincent came over and looked from one to the other. His eyes filled with tears. "Truly?"
    "Truly."
    "I'll be in the console room," the Doctor said. "You've a little time yet."
   
*******************************

    It faded from sight, and Theo was left alone. He called the others in.
    "He will last forever," was all he would say.
    After one look at his face, the doctors fell silent and fled, their payments in hand. The nurse became pale and gathered her things without asking for payment. The housekeeper looked into the bedroom and made a noise in the back of her throat, before sending for the coffin-maker; no need for the undertaker, obviously. Then she went to mass. She almost went to confession, before she realized that there was nothing she could tell the priest.

*******************************

    There are worlds, and endings, and stories. Somewhere, there are canvases of stranger stars than ever he saw on earth. They line the halls of an impossible place. As for him? Who knows where he is, poor, lucky man.
    The Doctor won't tell.

-30-

* Dr. Mazery was one of the doctors attending Vincent in the two days after he shot himself in the chest.
** Vincent Van Gogh's final words, according to his brother, were "La tristesse durera toujours," or "The sadness will last forever." With a little imagination, and some blithe disregard for actual French grammar (let's be charitable and say I stretched the rules) it was possible to decide that a weary, heartbroken Theo had heard tristesse when Vincent used another word entirely.
*** Theo Van Gogh died in January of 1891, six months after his brother. The cause of death was very probably syphilis, (although heartbreak must have played a part) and there is evidence that both brothers knew of his infection.

Comments

( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
sahiya
Apr. 1st, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
Oh my God, this is tragic and utterly gorgeous at the same time.
kerravonsen
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:49 am (UTC)
You said it better than I did!
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you; I started it thinking it might be a little brighter 'round the edges than it turned out to be, but it feels right to me.
othermewriter
Apr. 1st, 2011 06:20 am (UTC)
Joyful to me to know that he couldn't leave him to die even though he must for histories sake.
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
There is a certain amount of joy to it, isn't there? I'm glad you liked it!
kerravonsen
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:49 am (UTC)
Oh my.
"I had an argument with myself, and I won."
Words fail me. Happy, yet sad.
"Either way, this is the last time you see him."
Stranger stars, indeed.
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that you mention the stranger stars ... right at the point where I wrote that out and mentioned them, I realized that I didn't want to know where Vincent went, or what happened to him thereafter, because I was very afraid that his fate would be even stranger, sadder, or even more frightening, than I'd imagined until that point. It's strange what writing does to one's brain.

I'm glad you liked it, though!
kerravonsen
Apr. 1st, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
Stranger, yes, but I don't think sadder.
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC)
ICON LOVE!

Ahem.

I'm not sure exactly from where my perception of the sadness comes, and it would be wonderful to find out that my instincts were wrong in this case.
kerravonsen
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
ICON LOVE!

I think I was inspired by yours, but found the original LOLcat and reworked the caption so it fit better as an icon.

I'm not sure exactly from where my perception of the sadness comes, and it would be wonderful to find out that my instincts were wrong in this case.

Well, I don't think you're wrong that there will be sadness, because being exiled from one's beloved brother is going to be sad, but I don't think it's going to be sadder, because I'm sure the Doctor would have gotten Vincent treated for his depression, which means he wouldn't have that dragging him down like before.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:58 am (UTC)
All of what you say is correct; I think my fear of sadness is irrational ... but then irrationality is what we're talking about here, I guess.
yamx
Apr. 1st, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous. And brilliant. And... wow.
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
High praise from a writer I admire; thank you!
yamx
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
I think you should post this to the Eleven Fic comm, btw. (http://community.livejournal.com/elevenfic/)
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
Huh - hadn't even thought of that. Thanks for the suggestion!
yamx
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
They're pretty active, but not crazily so, and I found a few nice fics via them. I recommend the comm. :)
(Deleted comment)
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your kind words ... as this story percolated in what I laughingly refer to as my mind, it occurred to me that, if ever there were a situation where Eleven, so much better attuned, apparently, than some of his predecessors to what he can and can't do up and down the time lines, might decide to tweak causality's nose. But I decided that he'd be perfectly aware of the deal he'd have to make.

As for Theo, the more you learn about him, and the way he took care of his older brother, the more you realize that Vincent's story could ultimately never be told without Theo.
(Deleted comment)
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
Even River Song, with her cheekiness and casual references to their relationship, has already died.

You're absolutely right, and the way you put it really hit me.

As for Vincent's fate, the Doctor has taken on a lot of responsibility simply by showing up in that sick room, hasn't he?
azalaisdep
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a gorgeous idea - to take Vincent out among the stars. (I wonder where he ended up?) Ingenious way to rescue him while keeping all the timelines apparently intact...
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
I mentioned to someone else that I became afraid to think of what Vincent's final fate might have been in the final scenario - but perhaps it was a good one!
tempusdominus10
Apr. 1st, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
niceeeeee. What everyone else said.

kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
spaciireth
Apr. 1st, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
This is gorgeous. I think the uncertainty of where he ended up adds to the overall effect.
kaffyr
Apr. 1st, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your words - and your observation; I don't think I could have written the story without that uncertainty.
eve11
Apr. 2nd, 2011 01:45 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness, that last line... so very Eleven. How he is trying to do right as best he can but doesn't realize the heartbreak of the situation either. "You won't get to see him again. This is your chance to say goodbye." Oh, oh Doctor. Walking the fine line between impassive observer and time lord victorious. I love the prose too, how it's always told through the eyes of an outside observer, one way or another. It makes it very mystical and Faustian and mysterious.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
I am pleased that you liked the point of view; I think the best way to make something hit hard is often to tell it in clean, plain affectless language.
canaana
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:36 am (UTC)
Everyone else has told you how wonderful the story is, so let me tell you how wonderful your Eleven-voice is. A couple of people have commented that he's particularly difficult to get right, because he doesn't have the easy turns of phrase that some of the earlier Doctors did. You've got him spot-on here, right down to his particular insane mode of self-contradictory babble.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:50 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I've found him easier to "hear" in my head than I originally thought he might when I first considered writing him. What works, for me, is shutting me eyes and remembering how his voice sounds, Once I hear it in my head, I can get it down on paper. (Can do it fairly well for the Ninth Doctor, too; far less well for the Tenth.)
heintz57
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:39 am (UTC)
This was beautiful and so nicely written I Loved this episode and you just made it so much better
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it!
dameruth
Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
Just got done reccing this on my LJ. Lovely, in a hurt-y-good way.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
Ooo - thanks for the rec! I'm glad you liked this, and got the hurt-y part of it. I finished it up and felt somehow as if I hadn't given anyone a happy ending. Not at all what I expected ....
twitchbell
Apr. 2nd, 2011 08:02 am (UTC)
That was perfectly lovely. Thank you.:)
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading, and I'm happy that you enjoyed it.
ljgeoff
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Great fic; you POVs really makes it. That, and Eleven's voice. Im selfish that way. Yeah. Excellent.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad it works for you!
mack_the_spoon
Apr. 2nd, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
This is lovely. Sweet and sad in a way that honors the episode.
kaffyr
Apr. 2nd, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you my dear; that's high praise, because it's important to me that I treat the episode with respect.
namarie24
Apr. 3rd, 2011 06:00 am (UTC)
This is gorgeous.

I didn't know about Vincent's brother at all - too bad we didn't see him in the episode, but this story certainly portrays him well.
kaffyr
Apr. 3rd, 2011 06:18 am (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I am very pleased to be able to introduce you to Theo!
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )

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