The Doctor stood in the lamplight, outside a pub in vacant London. False snow clung to his hair, and his breath whirled visibly in the cold breeze. Christmas night Hed had to come here, after all hed lost. Had to see what hed done, the 6 billion people hed saved To prove that it was worth it. Even if hed never believe it himself.
6 billion and 3. His subconscious countered. He had to see them and feel them and bathe in their goodness, their magnificence. Had to convince himself to go on, for their sakes. For Martha. For Jack. For Rose. For all the others out here
And for Astrid. For Adric. For all the beautiful people tossed to the wayside- unnamed, unknown, all with their beautiful futures that The Doctor had marred beyond recognition. Those who had been brave and good, those he couldnt save
Whose faces hed see every night, every blink, behind his eyelids.
They all thought the doctor was brave- all those fantastic companions hed loved and lost, they all looked at him with stars in their eyes. The Good Doctor. Out there every day, selflessly, saving the universe. Well that wasnt bravery, and The Doctor knew it, better than most.
It was fear.
The Doctor had always been a coward, even before the Time War. He hadnt lied when hed told Martha and Jack he'd run- he did. Never stopping, never staying, always terrified of becoming too close, of feeling
Hed gotten too close with Rose. Look where it landed him. His eyes watered at that thought, but he squeezed them shut against the cold breeze.
He stared at Jack through the frosted window, laughing with his team, clashing glasses joyfully, exchanging gifts
Even Martha was there. Good ol Martha, of course no alien invasion was going to scare her off. The Doctor almost smiled. But he didnt, because of the fear waiting right behind his eyes- fear of himself, of the warm, bubbling longing in his heart, his mind wandering to how easy it would be, just turn the handle, walk in, surround himself with all that love
Jacks head snapped away from the celebration as if he could hear The Doctors thoughts. And The Doctor ducked out of sight, his back to the cold bricks, ashes, not snow, on the breeze tousling his hair. He hated and loved Jack in that moment, as he had since theyd been reunited. Because he wasnt sickened by Jack, by his eternity, his inerasable existence in the universe. No, it was a far more twisted compulsion that drove his anger toward the man- and that was fear. Jack was a constant. He could give The Doctor what hed never had- someone to go home to. A companion that the ages would not whither and destroy. And quite frankly, that scared the shit out of him. The possibility of someone that close. Someone who wouldnt fade away. Gripping his hands, digging bloody half-moons into his palms, The Doctor prayed for the courage to be a coward.
Jack burst through the door just in time to hear the sirens, the unmistakable sounds of the TARDIS; to see its half-eclipsed form pulsing into nothingness. And he punched the cold brick with anger, wishing, not for the first time, that The Doctor would let him take the fear away.