Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who, I just like to torture the characters.
The Doctor tries having fun on his travels and getting caught up in the chase and the mystery but it doesn't work. He keeps reaching out for Rose's hand; turning to his side to hug her after he saved the day or escaped danger; expecting to see her pad into the galley each morning, messy hair and sleep lines in her face from the pillow; getting a whiff of her scent in the hallway and rushing forward in hopes of seeing her, but she's never there. Every time he closes his eyes he sees her standing in his console room, wind in her hair and tears in her eyes, surrounded by the faded view of a beach, holding her breath as she waits for him to utter those three little words she so deserves to hear. He can't help but imagine disappointment and heartbreak wash over her features as he fades away before the end of that sentence. It's leaving him sleep deprived and he feels as though he's slowly losing his mind.
The need to replace that image with one of her smiling increases over the months and soon he finds himself doing something he knows he shouldn't. Rose and Mickey are walking hand in hand from the cinema and he watches them from across the street. It's her eighteenth birthday and he remembers her telling him how glad she was that Mickey actually chose to come with her over watching a game and how she, for the longest time, didn't understand how sad that was. Her ponytail swings from side to side as she excitedly bounces around her boyfriend, chatting about the film and laughing over quotes. The Idiot is blatantly entranced by her, a goofy and proud grin on his face as he listens. Or, pretends to, anyway.
She's radiant and her smile is enough to make anyone do a double take, yet it doesn't quite have the effect the Doctor hoped it would. He thought this was what he needed to finally get some peace of mind, but it only leaves him feeling bereft. One might think he should be used to loss by now and, in a way, he is. He usually takes his moment, mourning and reflecting before moving on, but it is different with Rose. She became his anchor after he lost everything and now he's aimlessly drifting, hoping that someone would just reel him in, knowing the wound still is too raw for it to be possible. He turns around with a sigh and walks back to his empty existence, leaving young Rose and Mickey to live their linear lives.
The TARDIS greets him with a friendly hum, gently caressing his mind and doing her best to make him feel better. He reaches out for her and thanks her, and then activates the randomiser; he never travels with purpose anymore. The time ship groans and shudders, landing just a few seconds later with very little help from its pilot. Intrigued, he casts a glance at the monitor and sees, to his surprise, that he's in the same spot. He grabs his coat and gets out, strolling around for a bit until he passes a hospital and notices plasma coils. Feeling happy to get a distraction so quickly, he goes back to the TARDIS, grabs his jimjams and then checks himself in for abdominal pains.
During rounds, he meets the young medical student Martha Jones; she's brilliant and brave and normally he would've invited her to travel with him without hesitation, but he's not looking to replace Rose so soon. A one-trip-deal should be enough to thank Martha for her troubles. Unfortunately, she's typically human and confuses this wonderful opportunity to see the universe with a date, forcing him to point out that he, despite looking young and available in his tight suit, isn't asking her out on one.
Her little crush makes him feel doubtful at first, but luckily it doesn't get in the way of her brilliance, warm heart, bravery and resourcefulness. He quickly realises that he quite likes her, but unfortunately her presence does nothing to dull the pain that has been his constant companion for much too long. He keeps pretending that he's all right and it works rather well for awhile, but then he's possessed by a sentient sun intent on using his body to hurt others and everything falls apart. The frightening experience has left him feeling hollow inside and there's only one person who can fill that aching emptiness.
He shouldn't do it, of course, and he shouldn't have done it earlier either, but everything lines up perfectly for him to take a chance. He knows he wants Martha to stay now, so he gives her a key and then drops her off at her flat to pack so he can go back to see Rose. This time she knows this him so, suspecting that his usual get-up would catch her attention, he dons his blue suit and leaves his coat. It's right after Queen Victoria and the werewolf and Rose and her mother went shopping whilst his younger self stayed behind in the TARDIS, so he does his best to blend into the thick crowd of people buzzing around and popping in and out of stores.
His hearts are fiercely pounding in his chest; this is dangerous and inappropriate in so many ways. Coming to his senses, he shakes his head at his foolishness and decides to leave before there's any harm done, but then he hears her laugh and his head automatically turns in her direction. Rose is leaning against her mother, eyes closed and mouth open as she releases one loud guffaw after another, not caring about the annoyed looks others shoppers shoot her. He only allows himself a few of seconds of soaking up her light before he runs off. Although he promises himself that this was the last time, his mind has already mapped out all the occasions when his younger self left her alone for longer than a couple of hours and he knows it's just a question of time before he goes back.
A/N 1: This is unbetad.
A/N 2: I almost scrapped this because I thought it had big problems with pacing and I just felt so insecure about it I became blocked. Three people read the first draft of the first three chapters and helped me with my motivation. So, thanks to roseandherdoctor and nonlinearmusing for telling me to keep trying and a big, big thanks to fadewithfury, who gave me some feedback on what worked and what didn't. Also thanks to kilodalton who listened when I needed to vent and gave me feedback on the first draft of this prologue.