Title: Small Victories
Word Count: 892
Characters/Pairings: Eleventh Doctor + Howie Spragg
Summary: "Can I tell you a secret, Howie?"
Warnings: Spoilers for "The God Complex". Nothing that will ruin the plot of the whole episode if you haven't seen it, but it certainly would help.
Disclaimer: Doctor Who belongs to the BBC and Steven Moffat. I am just playing around.
A/N: Written for the prompt "hero" at parallelearth for "The Myth Makers" challenge.
"Can... can you help m...m-me?"
The Doctor doesn't move right away; doesn't respond. He just sits there, cradling the cup of tea in his hands as Howie addresses him before slowly moving his gaze from the swirling milk in the tea. The young man is playing with the folds of his shirt, tugging and wringing the material in his hand, eyes flitting over the room with the maddening wooden puppets with their gleaming, insane eyes. For inanimate objects, they are truly terrifying. The Doctor's almost glad they've finished their laughing
Almost, but he knows the only reason they've stopped is because there is one less life to fuel their humour.
"How do you mean?" The Doctor asks, taking a sip of his tea and setting it down on the table, turning in his seat on the arm of the chair and folding his hands over his knees.
Howie pushes his glasses up on his face and starts again, speaking slowly, much more slowly than when he had been rambling about (the Doctor inwardly cringes) blogging. "I just... just meant-" he cuts himself off and squeezes his eyes shut. "Never... never mind. It's not important." The Doctor hmms in response, picking his tea back up.
"That was your room, wasn't it? Back there, with the flirtatious women."
The look that passes through Howie's eyes tells the Doctor all he needs to know; it's a familiar expression, a mixture of fear and of a determination to not be afraid. The Doctor's chest feels tight with sympathy.
"They weren't... flirting," Howie tells him.
"Yes, well... maybe not with you." He fishes a stray tea leaf out of his cup, one that must have filtered out of a hole in the bag, and he presses it into his finger, sniffing it cautiously. Froot Loops. Definitively Earth-quality Earl Gray. The Doctor drinks his tea a little more readily. "Can I tell you a secret, Howie?"
"This really is a government conspiracy?" He sounds excited by the prospect, his words flowing more smoothly behind his theories, his body more relaxed and at ease. Of course he'd find comfort and familiarity with cloak-and-dagger plots and schemes.
The Doctor chuckles and flicks the leaf to the floor. "Sorry. I've dealt with government conspiracies before, and trust me-- they are never this intricate and carefully crafted."
"Then..." Howie swallows, his shoulders squaring themselves again, "what is it?"
The Doctor bounces his knee, looking around at the group, human and Tivolite thrust into an unfamiliar and frightening situation, simply trying to make the best of it. Rita's looking over Joe's body again, and the Doctor has to admire her perseverance even when he knows she's aware she won't find anything. Amy's talking to Gibbis, and the Doctor knows that if there were ever anybody in the universe who could ignite bravery in a coward, Amy Pond would be the go-to girl. And Rory, oh Rory, always the steadfast Roman rock, he sees him off keeping a lookout at the door, guarding all of the people from the monster outside.
And then there's Howie, sat there with the madman in the room, the one who everyone looks to for the answers.
"You know, I'm older than I look," the Doctor tells him, offering Howie the cup of tea and shrugging, unbothered, when it's refused. "I've seen a lot in my time. I've seen people. I don't understand them half of the time-- mind you, I don't understand myself half of the time-- but I've seen them." He pauses, for dramatic measure. Humans always do like the dramatic. "Do you know what I've learned?"
"...No." Howie sounds as unsure as he looks, rubbing furiously at the side of his nose. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I- I have no idea. I- I... I mean, you can learn... a lot. From people."
"What I've learned, Howie, is that people constantly defy the odds. I mean, just look at you!" The Doctor throws out his free arm and gestures to him. "You're terrified right now, I can read it in your body language, but you aren't letting it overcome you." The Doctor reaches over and pats the young man's knee genially. "Good old Howie Spragg, holding himself firmly in place with a monster on the loose! I wonder what those girls would have to say if they could see you now."
Howie almost smiles at that. "Well... they probably wouldn't be laughing."
The Doctor leans forwards with a smile, finishing off his tea. "No, they certainly would not. Between you and me, Howie, the people who are seen as heroes are more than typically cowards. The people who are seen as cowards are the actual heroes. Don't let that room shake who you are. Your fears are not the boss of you."
He can see the wheels in Howie's minds turning on his face, and the Doctor's relieved when he finally does smile. "I'll remember that."
"Thatta boy!" He hops up to his feet and pats the top of Howie's head. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to get some fresh tea." He lifts his mug, tips it over. Not even one drop. "All out."
“Can’t have that,” Howie quips, and the Doctor laughs as he spins around and walks off.
“It’s the little things that give us strength!”