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Better Off a Coward

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Jack held Rose tightly against his chest, staring at the stranger in the Doctor’s place. The new Doctor. That's who he was supposed to be, but that didn't feel right to Jack. He knew the Doctor and the man standing before him was not his Doctor. He knew that Rose would feel the same way.

He watched as the stranger walked towards the TARDIS console, flicking with switches and pressing buttons. “How about Barcelona?” He suggested. “The planet Barcelona. I haven't taken you there before.” He smiled, looking over the screen. “Six PM.” He said, turning a dial. “Tuesday. October. Five thousand six.” He stepped away from the console. “On the way to Barcelona!” He announced, looking back at his companions with a grin. “Now then, what do I look like?” He grinned widely. He held up a hand. “No! No, no no no no no!” He shook his head hurriedly. “Don't tell me.” He looked away. “Two legs, two arms, two hands.” He massaged his wrist. “Slight weakness in the dorsal tubercal.” He reached his hands up to fist in his hair. “Hair!” He exclaimed happily. “I'm not bald!” He played with his hair a bit longer. “Ooh, big hair.” He sounded impressed. His hands continued down his face. “Sideburns!” He said happily. “I've got sideburns!” He hesitated, feeling. “Or really bad skin.”

The stranger took his hands away from his face and looked down at his body. “Bit thinner- that's weird.” He noticed. “Give me time, I'll get used to it.” He paused, realizing something. “I have got a mole.” He announced. “I can feel it.” He moved his shoulders around. “It's between my shoulder blades.” He looked thoughtful. “It's a mole.” He shrugged and stood up straight. “That's alright.” He smiled. “I love the mole.” He faced Rose and Jack again. “Come on, tell me. What do you think?” He grinned. He looked at Jack. “Well, it must be pretty bad if you haven't made a comment yet.” He joked, but he looked nervous.

Jack opened his mouth to make some sort of witty comeback, but nothing came out. His mind was empty. He had nothing to say. Sure, he could recognize that the stranger was certainly quite attractive. He had a very nice face and Jack could tell just by his build that his bum must have been great, but he honestly didn't care about that now. All he cared about was the fact that his Doctor was gone. This stranger wasn't him and could never be him.

“Who are you?” Rose whispered, still pressed against Jack, almost trying to hide behind him. He kept a firm arm around her waist to stabilize her.

“I'm the Doctor!” The stranger said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Jack couldn't imagine what was running through Rose’s head. She hadn't even known that he could do this.

Rose shook her head a tiny bit. “No.” She said quietly, looking the stranger up and down. “Where is he?” She stood up a tiny bit straighter. “Where's the Doctor?” Her voice gained more power. “What have you done to him?”

The stranger looked confused. “You saw me- I changed.” He pointed to where he had been standing when he had erupted into golden light. “Right in front of you.” His voice sounded sad. Jack could imagine why, but he understood being on Rose’s side more.

“I saw him sort of...explode.” Rose said slowly, studying the stranger. “And you replaced him. Like a..a teleport or a transmat or a body swap or something.”

Jack sighed, deciding to step in. “No.” He said gently, keeping his arms wrapped around the blonde. “It was none of those things. That man there, he's,” He hesitated, looking at the stranger. “He has the same memories as the Doctor.” He explained. “He's technically the same- well, he's not the same person, but he's the same being.” He knew that what he was saying made absolutely no sense.

“What?” Rose looked at Jack. “What does that mean? That's not the Doctor. I know the Doctor.” She shook her head. “That's not him.”

“He's not our Doctor.” Jack gripped Rose by the arms and tried to squeeze them reassuringly. “He's the new Doctor. A different person, but the same memories. Time Lords do that so that they don't die.” He cupped Rose’s face so she would look at him instead of freaking out. He tried to ground her in the moment, in this reality. “He's just changed, but it's him, or at least some version of him.”

Rose slowly turned around to look at the stranger, shaking her head. “No.” She insisted, unable to believe it. She must have been in so much shock. “No, it's not. That's not-”

“Rose, it's me.” The stranger slowly walked towards her. “If I wasn't me, how could I remember this?” He looked into her eyes. “The very first word I ever said to you.” Jack stepped back to give them space. He wasn't meant to be a part of this. “Trapped in a cellar, surrounded by shop window dummies.” He looked off. “Oof, such a long time ago.” He looked back at her. “I took your hand.” He slowly took her hand into his own. “I said one word. Just one word. I said “run”.”

Rose looked into the strangers eyes, a sort of fear on her face. “Doctor?” She whispered.

The stranger grinned, looking overjoyed to hear that name from those lips, directed at him. “Hello!”

“Oh my God.” Rose fell back and Jack quickly caught her, pulling her into his arms.

“I know. I know. I've got you.” He said gently, rubbing her back and holding her close.

“And we never stopped, did we?” The stranger had run to the other side of the console, a grin on his face and a skip in his step. Jack honestly found that it felt a bit inappropriate, given that Rose was currently freaking out. “All across the universe! Running, running, running! Remember that time we-”

“Not now.” Jack snapped, a glare in his eyes. He was liking this new stranger less and less by the second. How dare he act like everything was fine when his Rose was on the verge of a mental collapse?

The stranger looked completely taken aback by Jack’s words. “Oh. Okay. Alright, then.” He stared, looking like he was slowly realizing how things were so wrong as he looked at the way Rose stared at him from behind Jack’s strong arms.

Rose stared at the man in front of her. “Can you change back?” She asked quietly.

“Do you want me to?” The stranger asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” The stranger looked heartbroken.

“Can you?”

“No.” The stranger stared at Rose for a moment before looking away. “Do you want to leave?” He sounded almost panicked.

Rose hesitated long enough to make the stranger look resigned. “Do you want us to?”

“No!” The stranger said immediately. “But, you know,” He looked down and back up again. “Your choice. If you want to go back home.” He looked over Rose before returning to the console. “Cancel Barcelona.” He decided. “Change to London, the Powell Estate. Uh, let's say twenty-fourth of December.” He looked at Rose. “Consider it a Christmas present.”

Rose moved out of Jack’s grasp slightly and walked closer to the stranger. She studied him, as if wondering if he was even real. The TARDIS moved and the stranger stepped back from the console. “Thank you.” Jack said before turning to Rose. “You're going home. We can decide what we're going to do once we get there, okay?”

Rose nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.” She looked almost numb, like she still wasn't able to process everything that was happening.

The stranger nodded. “Exactly. It's up to you.” He looked between the two of them before his gaze settled on Rose once again.”Back to your mum. It's all waiting. Fish and chips, sausage and mash, beans on toast- no!” He looked almost frustrated with himself. “Christmas!” He remembered. “Turkey.” His head turned. “Although, having met your mother, nut loaf seems more appropriate.”

Rose smiled the tiniest bit, hiding it into Jack’s chest, almost like she didn't want it to even be happening at all.

“Was that a smile?” The stranger looked absolutely overjoyed.

“No.” Rose said quickly, continuing to hide her face.

“That was a smile.” The stranger said proudly.

“No.”

“You smiled.”

Rose shook her head. Jack had never seen her act this shy before. “No, I didn't.”

The stranger looked defeated. “Come on, all I did was change, I didn't-” He cried out, doubling over and stumbling back. He stood up straight again, a wild look in his eye.

“What?” Rose looked confused.

Jack put an arm in front of her, using his body to shield her. He could feel that something wasn't right. “Stay behind me.” He warned, not willing to allow her to be hurt.

The stranger seized up again. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh? What does that mean, uh-oh?” Jack demanded sharply, not risking anything if it meant Rose was in danger.

The stranger exhaled and golden light poured from his mouth and into the air. Rose stared at it and watched as it drifted up. “What is that?”

The stranger shook his head. “The change is going a bit wrong.” He cried out and doubled over again, sinking further to the floor.

“Wrong?” Jack asked. “What do you mean, wrong? I need answers!”

“Answers? Who has time for answers? I have questions.” The stranger said, looking at a switch on the console. “I wonder what this one does.” He switched it, causing the TARDIS to lurch, everyone flying towards one side.

“What are doing?!” Rose cried out, sounding terrified.

The stranger grinned maniacally. “Putting on a bit of speed!” He flipped a few switches and pressed a few knobs. “That's it!” He sounded like a madman. “You beautiful ship! That a girl, faster!” He looked at Jack and Rose, the glint in his eye maddening. “What do you think, faster?”

“Absolutely not!” Jack tried to tackle him away from the console. He couldn't risk a crash.

“Stop it!” Rose demanded at the same time.

“Come on, don't be so dull!” The stranger protested, trying to avoid Jack's swipes at him. “Have a little bit of fun! We're going to rip through that vortex!”

Jack managed to grab him and push him down. “Oh, my head.” He grimaced before struggling against the American.

Bells started going off and alarms started ringing. Rose looked around frantically. “What's happening?!”

“Crash landing!” The stranger announced gleefully.

“You're going to kill us!” Rose looked around for something she could do.

“You better hold on tight!” The stranger exclaimed, grinning wildly.

Jack ran back to the console, but it was far too late. They were going to crash.