Set just after the 8th Doctor's regeneration into the 9th Doctor after the Time War.
The Doctor pulled a lever and the TARDIS whirled out of the Vortex. The Doctor didn't care where. Although he knew down to the exact number of seconds how long he had been alone, it seemed an eternity… Ever since he had struggled to consciousness in agonizing pain and found himself impossibly alive. The burning ache told him that every scrap of energy within him had been used for the regeneration. Even he, a Time Lord, didn't know how long he had lain on the cold grating of the battered, dark, and nearly dead TARDIS, lingering between life and death. And when he'd felt the horrible, crushing loneliness – terrifying, all-encompassing, and eternal – the Doctor hadn't even had the ability to cry.
But it had been a while since then. How the Doctor and his TARDIS had somehow survived as the universe burned and time itself bent around them was impossible to determine. Sometimes that was the only thing he could think about. And sometimes it didn't even matter. Because his entire planet was gone, every member of his race had become ash, and he had caused it all. Sometimes he went mad thinking about it, overwhelmed by guilt and rage, smashing things, screaming, flying against the time barrier again and again, trying to make the universe feel his agony.
But the universe remained silent, stoic. It continued as always, life and death intermingling; the Time War and the two races and numerous planets that vanished in the terrible battles fading into legend. And sometimes the Doctor cried, breaking down, and sobbing long after his eyes and throat were red and raw and no more tears came.
Other times the Doctor landed somewhere, anywhere, throwing himself headlong into danger and the pain of others, just to avoid thinking for as long as possible, to not be quite so alone. He saved lives and remembered nothing of it, focused only on moving to forget for an instant the burden he carried, the darkness of his thoughts.
And sometimes he was just numb and cold, worn down and unable to think or feel or care. This was one of those times.
The TARDIS display informed him of his location: Earth, England, London, 1974. The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS slowly, and closed the door behind him. A graveyard, he thought coolly, how appropriate for a killer. He wandered aimlessly down the rows of neat gray tombstones, graced by flowers. The cold truth of death covered in green grass, softened by kind or funny epitaphs. There was no graveyard for the Time Lords.
Up and down the rows he walked, a sort of self-inflicted punishment. Why should a murderer try to avoid death? He took no notice of anyone else walking by. He didn't see that the few others near him had the same sort of pace as he did. Not meandering in boredom, not searching with a goal in mind, but merely walking because there was nothing else to be done. There was no purpose in a graveyard. Had the Doctor noticed, perhaps he would have recognized that he had come to a place where the people he encountered would have listened to him, could have felt a little of his pain. But perhaps not, because that day the Doctor could feel nothing; only the steady pounding of his hearts that refused to cease, and the turning of the earth beneath his feet.
He began reading the epitaphs as he passed, first silently and then aloud. After all, there was no one listening, and the silence had begun to close in on him, reminding him of the guilt that stabbed his heart with every breath he took. "'Here lies Arnold Harris, Loving Husband and Friend,' 'In Loving Memory of Teresa Collins, Who now sings with the angels'… 'Rest In Peace, John Smith 1892-1969'"… The Doctor wondered vaguely where he had been in 1969, then continued on without even a change of expression. Life after life summed up in a few lines on a tombstone that passed quickly between his lips and then were forgotten.
"April Plymouth, 1948-1973, The Good Die Young."
"What does that mean?" a young, sweet voice inquired.
The Doctor looked down and saw a small ginger-haired girl, maybe five or six years old, looking up at him curiously. He didn't even think to wonder where she'd come from or why she was alone in a graveyard. He just began to answer her question.
"It means that good people don't live very long. That they die before they get to be old," the Doctor told her almost harshly.
Unfazed, she gazed up into his deep, ancient, stormy eyes. She tilted her head to one side and asked hesitantly, as if trying to work out something puzzling, "Does that mean…does that mean that you are…are you very, very bad?"
The Doctor's numbness began to fade and crack, and he could feel the white-hot pain descending. "I don't know…" he told her softly; then gruffly as his rage began to rise, to fight his feeling of helplessness, "It depends on who you ask." He turned from her, this tiny girl who had cut to the heart of the darkness in his soul. Two strides carried him away, toward the safety of the only home he had left and the never-ending cycle of his pain. And then he turned back, the battle in his soul exposed in his eyes and in the one word he threw at her before he could stop himself. "Yes."
He waited for her to cry, or run, or do something to show that she had seen the monster that he really was. But the little red-head just stood there among the tombstones, looking at him with those clear eyes. And then she slowly shook her head. "No, I don't think so."
The Doctor stared at her.
She continued, "Because…bad people never think that they're bad. They don't care. And," she took a step closer to him. "You don't look bad, but you are very, very old. But you just look…" she studied him carefully, searching for the right word. "Sad."
He couldn't utter a sound. His every defense and guard had fallen away and he just didn't know what to do.
"So I think that," she wrinkled up her forehead in concentration. "I think that the good don't always die young." She smiled shyly at the Doctor, but then the shadow of a darker thought crossed her face, and the smile faded. "And, my Grandmum just died. She was very good. And she was old." At this the little ginger girl looked around and realized that she had wandered so far from her family at her grandmother's grave, that she couldn't even see them anymore. She was all alone. Grandmum would've been bored too, she thought. She would have come walking with me, and she would have read me all the funny stuff on the tombstones. She bit her lip and blinked back the tears that rose quickly to her eyes.
The Doctor looked down at this small, innocent human, and through the depths and chaos of his own tormented soul, for the first time in his new eternity, he recognized the pain and loneliness of someone else. It was miniscule compared to his own, but that did not make it any less real.
So he asked the girl gently, "Where's your family?"
"I don't know," she said.
"Then let's go find them." And he set off down the row of tombstones, looking back to make sure she had followed. They walked straight down the row, all the way to the edge of the graveyard, and then turned left. The Doctor was certain that if they kept walking, eventually the red-head would see her family. He was quickly proven right, as the six-year-old gave a delighted shout and scampered off to the group of people she had just caught sight of. He turned away, unable to bear the family's joyous reunion, and headed back to the blue box on the other side of the graveyard; to travel once again into a heartbreakingly empty universe. And yet…
She said I wasn't bad. At the very bottom of his torn, frozen, and shattered hearts he felt a tiny spark of gratitude.
That was the beginning of the Doctor's new life. He began to look at people, and actually see them again; to recognize that they lived, and felt pain like he did, but happiness too. And although his own pain never left him, he learned to cope with it; to share it with others and allow them to help him. With all the exciting places he traveled to, and people he met and shared adventures with, the memory of the ginger-haired little girl faded into nothingness in the recesses of his mind.
And of course, Donna Noble was too young to remember the strange, old, sad man in the graveyard for very long.
Please review, it will make me feel better about not doing my homework because I had to write this story down before I forgot it :)