Why did he always do this to himself? He was alone again. Again, again, again. He knew that friends moved on, sometimes died, but always left him. Admittedly, Rose and Donna had hit him hard. His hearts still ached to think about it, but this time, he wasn't going to turn his face away.
He'd had no choice but to leave Rose in the alternate dimension. Someone needed to take care of his alternate self. No. Be honest. His other self would have been fine. He could have taken Rose with him. They could have been together. All her life. Her brilliant, shining, too short, life. He hadn't left Rose behind because his other self needed her. He'd left her, because he couldn't stand the idea of her leaving him, or worse, her staying with him, living, maturing, growing closer and closer. Possibly closer than to anyone he'd ever been with before. There was something about Rose that captured his hearts. He yearned for her. Not in the way she needed. Although that would probably have changed over time. But as a mate, as someone close to his hearts. Not a mate like he'd said to Donna, not just a friend. Something that could have been so much more. And so much more than even Rose understood. As much as she tended to forget it, he wasn't human. His people were old, old individually, and old as a race. Over time they'd become isolated people, not just from the galaxy, but from each other. He knew many of his companions though it was just something about him personally. But it wasn't, not completely. Time Lords lived and worked together as a society, but each alone. Except for those few, miraculous pairings. He'd come close to that once before. And when he'd lost it, lost the reality of it, the potential of it, it had changed his world forever.
He'd left Rose behind, not because he didn't love her enough, but because he loved her too much. If she had stayed with him, he would have changed her, changed the very nature of her. It wasn't just the age difference. He could have extended her life endlessly. There were countless ways, all he would have to do is whip up a batch of Karn Elixir and slip it to her in a jelly baby. She wouldn't notice at first. It was hard for his companions to keep track of time when they travelled with him.
But, could he do that? Should he do that? More importantly, would he do that? The temptation would be strong, too strong he'd admitted to himself. And she wouldn't have even protested. Not at first.
But humans aren't made to live forever. It changed them, and not just like Jack (although he still wasn't sure Jack hadn't been pulling his leg about being the Face of Boe. Their mental voices weren't at all alike.) Living so long, changed the way humans think. He'd met a few immortals in his time, and seen how callous they became. Not all at once, not quickly. But life is hard, and eventually, it made people hard. Humans especially, with their bright-fire, quick-flairing lives. The very fire that attracted him to humans was the reason they weren't suited for immortality. It burned bright, but it wasn't designed to burn for long.
And he couldn't watch her die. His hearts clenched at the idea. He wasn't lying when he told Sarah Jane he couldn't come back. He had intended to. He'd never meant to drop her off forever. He figured he'd fix whatever the problem was on Gallifrey, then nip back and pick her up. But then he'd stopped to think. Sarah wasn't old, she hadn't lost any of her enthusiasm for time travel, and she was as strong and resourceful and courageous as ever. But, if he'd gone back for her he would have been stealing her life. It had been one of the hardest decisions he'd ever made. He'd floated in the vortex, wandering the corridors of the Tardis for days, struggling with himself, with the decision. She was his best friend. One of the greatest friends he'd ever had in his long life. It had torn him to pieces that he'd never see her again. Too many times to count, he'd gone back to the console room and set the coordinates for South Croyden, only to tear himself away and start wandering the corridors again.
In the end, because he did love her, he'd set the coordinates for elsewhere, flipped a coin and flipped a switch and let the universe take him wherever it would. Life would drag him around by the collar the way it always did, he'd get involved and not have to think about going back. Not have the time to think. He'd give her her life. And hope and pray to the gods he didn't even believe in, that it would be a good one.
He'd let Rose go, in order to keep her. She would live out her normal human life, be bright and brilliant. Live, love, grow old, and order people around. He smiled to himself. And he wasn't totally selfless. In a way, he would be able to live that life with her. In dreams, in the synchronicity he shared with his other self. That self, in that other dimension, would grow old, would live life at Rose's pace. Could match her in development, in carving a place in her world. Hopefully he could carve a place in her life. But eventually, his and his alternate's lives would diverge, become more and more a matter of dreams, of what might have been, until, eventually, he knew, they would stop hurting. They would be the lives and dreams of friends close to his heart, but not his own dreams, not his own heart.
And Donna, Donna had been manipulated from the start. Oh, he'd cried. Alone in the Tardis, where no one could hear. "You can't cry," he could almost hear some of his young companions exclaim. "You're too old and wise and knowing."
What did they know? Forced to rape the mind of one of his dearest friends. Forced to take a fiery butterfly and force it back into the form of a crawling worm. To face the very mind of one who trusted him implicitly. Who honored him and valued him and would have stood by him to her dying breath, and rip half her mind away. And watch her knowing you would do it, both hating and loving you at the same moment. Despairing because she knew what would happen, yet forgiving you, because she knew you did it out of love.
Oh yes, Time Lords cried.
So why did he bother with friends at all? They brought only grief. On himself and on themselves. He was dangerous. He altered their lives forever. He was almost an inevitable curse on anyone he let in his life. He was a force for chaos. There was a reason he was called the Oncoming Storm.
It would be best if he stayed to himself, didn't drag innocents into his world. The Time Lords were right. He shouldn't interfere. Oh, he knew he'd never stop sticking his nose into other people's problems. He'd been trying that for centuries, he could no more not help solve a problem than he could keep his opinions to himself. (Strange how it felt harder to keep his opinions to himself, than to find a way to walk through the heart of a sun. Actually, he could think of three ways right now that would shield him enough to... Never mind.) But he could keep himself away from friends. He could not get involved with people. He could just help them, and leave. Hello, goodbye, nice to meet you.
"Sure you can."
It was Sarah's voice he heard, calm and good natured. Sarah, who in so many ways reminded him of the voice of his Tardis. Always steadfast, always there, always the calm voice of reason in a world gone mad. Vulnerable and invincible. That was Sarah. The choicest friend a man ever had. She never demanded anything of him but what was best for him.
"You always act like such a lonely man. But you have one of the biggest families on Earth," her voice chided him.
The Doctor snorted and randomly set some coordinates. In other words, "Stop moping and get on with your life, you great lug!"
The Doctor laughed, a teary, choke filled laugh, but a laugh. Sarah Jane always was wise. Get on with your life.
And what is life without friends? Lonely, true. Safer? Maybe. But what about those possible future friends? Would their lives be better for never knowing him? Would he be honoring Donna and Rose's memory by not making friends? Would Martha and Sarah agree it was a good thing to not take people with him on his adventures? Or would they give him one of those "How can you be so dumb?" looks.
So. To be or not to be? That is the question. He smiled. As Will said:
'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them."
No question really. But to do it with friends, or without? Future friends. People he might put in danger. People who might pull him out of danger. People who would marvel at the wonders he could show them, and struggle under the burdens being friends with him could bring.
"To be, or not to be." To be a friend or not. What would his old friends say?
The Tardis materialized with a more than usually resounding thump. The Doctor picked himself up off the floor, rubbing his hip. His friends would say "Stop being a git!"
He patted his oldest friend on the console for the reminder.
He turned and looked at the door. Such ordinary doors, opening onto a whole new world. A new world full of possibilies, of people, of bright new friends, wonderful adventures, laughter, joy, teasing, and sparing. Of running. And best of all, a hand to hold. He put on his coat slowly. A smile grew on his face, a glowing, beaming, heartfelt smile.
He looked up. "Thanks, old girl."
He ran down the ramp, threw open the doors, and went out.