Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tenth Doctor, David Tennant
Word Count: 4099
Summary: The first step on a long journey is always the hardest.
Author's Notes: This is a story in AU #2 for The Actor. (You can find all the supplemental stories here.) It is set just after chapter 5 of A Choice of a Lifetime and just before "Full Circle".
As usual, this is highly spoilerific for The Actor and you really should read that and A Choice of a Lifetime first.
This also fills in a spot for my Gen Prompt Bingo card - "Happy Endings". Most of it was written a while back, but the card gave me the idea for the ending, so I'm claiming that it fills the spot. So sue me.
As soon as the he’d pushed the door shut and the latch caught with a metallic click, David sighed and leaned back against it, clutching the stack of study materials to his chest. A hundred and seven minutes! his inner theatrical voice proclaimed. A hundred and seven minutes of noise, of constant, useless babble! Oh, blessed silence!
From the moment he’d entered this TARDIS, its pilot had kept up a constant monologue, and David had been amazed that the Doctor had found opportunities to breathe. After they’d left David’s meagre belongings in his new bedroom, the first order of business had been installing and activating the paradox circuit that was going to make it possible for David to be here for the next couple of years, and the Doctor had explained its purpose, operational theory, and component design in great detail as he worked, not caring that David did not understand a word of it. When he had run out of technobabble to spew in David’s direction, he immediately asked him what he thought he might do with his new life. David had sputtered with incredulity - he’d so far had a whole six hours of existence as a Gallifreyan to inform his decision, and much of it had been spent locked in a prison cell and then later, watching the Doctor argue with his future self - and the Doctor had taken the opportunity to come up with a multitude of possibilities for him, listing advantages and disadvantages of each and dismissing David’s protestations that he didn’t know what any of these career and life paths meant, much less what they entailed or if he’d enjoy them.
As he started to wonder if the Doctor was simply making up words as he went along, the Doctor whisked him away to give him a tour of the TARDIS. David didn’t need such a guided tour, as he’d already lived in the future TARDIS and he knew that the capsule helped her passengers find what they needed, but he’d realised by this time that there was nothing he could do to distract the Doctor from his purpose and he resolved to endure it all without complaint. The tour included the library, where the Doctor had stopped to consider the educational curriculum he was going to establish to train the new Time Lord, and, deciding to start him on the Gallifreyan language and basic science, he selected books for David, all the while explaining why one was unacceptable whilst another was perfect for the job. Under the cover of asking a question, David had been able to get a word in and insisted on retreating to his bedroom with his heavy armload of books, and, claiming exhaustion, had bid the Doctor good night and shut the door in his astonished face.
The claim wasn’t entirely preposterous. The last eight hours had been momentous, starting with a Dalek attack and a life-changing discovery, then imprisonment for hours and a partial transformation into something other, and then the decision of what life he wanted for himself. David was spent: physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Pushing off the door, he crossed over to the small nightstand by the bed and dumped the books and study tablet, caring not at all for the messy pile he left, then paused a moment to take in the room. Different from his room in the future Doctor’s TARDIS, which had been warm and comfortable and packed with shelves of the plays he so loved to perform, this was ascetic, with the bare white walls he’d seen in the companions’ rooms on the original programme he’d loved so much as a boy, a bed and nightstand, a plain chair and a side table, and a door that he expected led to the en suite. It felt tentative, unfinished, as if the TARDIS had had no idea what he might want, and so she had given him only what he needed for his first night. It didn’t matter. David was exhausted and he just didn’t care. There was a bed, and it looked like heaven. Kicking off his shoes and stripping off his jumper and trousers, he tossed the clothes over the back of the chair, then, pulling back the bedcovers, flopped down into it. Mumbling “Lights off,” he shrugged the blanket over himself and snuggled into the pillow as the room darkened.
The silence was not absolute. David could hear the hum of the TARDIS, but that was more like an atmosphere than a sound, and he wondered how he’d never noticed it before, in the many weeks he’d lived in the future TARDIS. It was a warm, comforting presence, not distracting or annoying.
However, there were other sounds and feelings that were. Dum-dum-dum-dum. Dum-dum-dum-dum. Now that sound was getting old fast, thrumming through his chest, and he was about to jump up to search for its source when it dawned on him what it was: he could hear his own hearts. And that wasn’t all: he could see the subtle glow of his eyes on the inside of his eyelids, could smell the differences in the fibres of his pillow and pillowcase, could feel the variation in air temperature as his breath mixed into the gases surrounding him. He could feel his biological processes, churning away inside his body. Behind it all, he sensed time, the multidimensional web of presents and pasts and futures and possibilities always burning in his head. This had all started the moment he’d changed and he had had some time to deal with it whilst locked in the cell on Cherel, but the chaos of the day had overshadowed it, made it easy to ignore. Now, in the dark silence, alone and undistracted, without even as much as the silent companionship of Amy and Rory, he discovered that the tiniest stimulus threatened to overwhelm his senses. An irrational panic seized him and he began to shake, tense and cold.
“Oh god oh god oh god,” he panted, grabbing his head. “How can they handle this all the time? Come on, come on. Concentrate, David. You can stop it!”
He forced himself to think of every technique he’d learnt for attempting to calm himself or for suppressing his own emotions and expressions whilst acting out those of his character. This was the same thing, really: controlling himself with a firm hand and subjugating his fear. He couldn’t stop the additional sensory input, but he could deal with it in a rational manner. I can do this. I know I can do this. Maybe.
Pushing himself up to sit, he clutched his knees to his chest and rocked back and forth, concentrating hard to prevent the maelstrom of sensory impressions from driving him mad. “Lights on,” he begged. “Please, turn the lights on.” As the room grew brighter, he began to relax. Somehow, just having something to look at quieted all the other sensations to a tolerable level. “Okay, okay, okay,” he chanted to himself, taking deep breaths to calm his nerves. He’d had no idea that his own body was so noisy.
“All right,” he murmured as softly as he could, finding comfort in hearing his own voice, quiet but louder than everything else. “How do I get used to this?” The answer was obvious, that all of this sensory input would fade to background noise over time, but he didn’t know how to wait for that to happen. There was no way he could sleep with his own heartbeat - Heartsbeat, he silently corrected himself - thudding away in his breast like a heavy metal song with the bass turned up to eleven.
A soft, gentle knock on the door speared his ears and he sprang to his feet on the bed, cowering against the wall behind him until he realised, a moment later, that it hadn’t been a cannon blast but just a polite request for entry. He mumbled, “Come in,” as he buried his face in his hands.
The door creaked open and his own face appeared, peering in. “Can I help?” the Doctor asked softly.
“Please. Oh, please.” David hopped off the bed and snagged his clothes from the chair. “Though I’d rather not beg standing here in my pants.” Pulling the trousers on, he belted them up and dropped back down on the bed. After donning the jumper, he slumped, his curved, trembling shoulders broadcasting his despair.
“You’ve nothing to be ashamed of.” David knew the Doctor was not referring to his pants. “You’ve gone through a tremendous change. Can’t imagine how hard it is to adjust.”
“I know you’ve imagined at least some,” David sighed. He peered up at the Doctor from under heavy lids. “You were distracting me, weren’t you, with your runaway gob?”
The Doctor nodded. “Knew the moment you had nothing else to think about, it’d hit you. Not just your new senses, but all of it. How different you are. How different your world is.” He leaned back against the door, his hands in his pockets. “I’d hoped if I could hold your attention long enough, you’d adjust naturally. At least a tick.”
David clutched at his head, his fingers tangling in his hair. “There’s so much stimulus just flooding in, senses, awareness, data. I can’t stop it and I can’t ignore it. How do you deal with it all?”
“Well, it’s simply natural for me,” he shrugged. “You’re only noticing it yourself because you have your human life to compare to. Being a Time Lord is not what you’re used to, but it will be, given a little time.”
David’s murmur was almost too low to hear. “I don’t think I am.”
The Doctor dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “Oh, you will. It doesn’t seem like it just now but -”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” interrupted David and the Doctor fell silent. “I don’t think I’m a Time Lord.”
“What? Why not?” The Doctor crossed the room to look his twin over. “You’ve definitely some human traits in you, but you’re mostly Time Lord. In fact, most medical scans would classify you as fully Time Lord. Well,” he drawled, “to be honest, most medical scans wouldn’t know what a Time Lord was. They’d classify you as an unknown species and say you’re definitely not human.”
David tapped the side of his head. “It’s all in here. I mean, I’m still sorting it all out, but I’ve figured out there are multiple threads of thought running all at the same time, alongside the main one, sort of in the background. It’s really how you process all of the information your senses are already gathering, isn’t it?”
The Doctor rubbed his chin as he considered the concept. “I suppose you’re right. Hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“But there’s something else. I don’t know if it’s normal and I don’t know how to describe it.” Pulling his feet up onto the bed, David curled into a ball as he tried to sort through what he was experiencing. “I feel like there’s a voice in my mind, telling me what to do, how to feel, how to react. Maybe… maybe it’s just my emotional response to whatever’s happening, but it feels detached, like it’s not really me but someone completely separate over there, whilst I’m over here.”
Drawing the chair up towards the bed, the Doctor sat down, his elbows on his knees as he leant toward his twin to listen. “That’s not entirely unexpected in a Time Lord. I’ve all my previous selves in my mind with me.”
“But I’ve never regenerated. I don’t have a previous self.” David looked up from staring at his toes and locked eyes with the Doctor. “Except I do. This voice feels like who I was seven hours ago. It feels human.”
The Doctor bit his lip and asked carefully, “And you can tell the difference?”
“Oh yes.” Dropping his chin to his chest, David hid his face with his arms curled over his knees. His voice stuttered as he swallowed a sob. “It’s terrifying. I’m not him anymore. Is he scared? Is he angry at me for stealing his life away and locking him up in here?” He tapped the side of his head with the heel of his hand. “And... and the way he thinks… It’s alien. It’s what I used to think, but now it’s so strange. Or not. I can’t tell. I don’t know what to think anymore.”
“That’s to be expected. You’re Gallifreyan now. Even without a formal education, you simply think differently.” The Doctor’s tone was gently encouraging.
“But that’s not the problem. Not the only problem, I mean.” David took a deep breath and steeled himself to say what he didn’t want to admit to anyone else. “The problem is that there’s another voice in here, and I know what that one is. That’s the Time Lord voice. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe, maybe it’s future me? I mean, if the other is past me? But it’s talking to me, too. It’s telling me what to do, and I’m caught in the middle.” He scrubbed his hands down his face, the fright in his eyes exaggerated by the stretch of his skin. “Have I gone insane? I’ve got two versions of me telling me what to do, and I don’t know which one I am. Or which one I want to be. If I can be either.” Trembling, he wrapped his arms around himself, his fingers clutching at his own arms as if trying to convince himself he was real. “What am I, Doctor?”
Wringing his hands in front of his jaw, the Doctor stared at the former human as he processed what he said. The transformation of an individual from one species to another wasn’t a common occurrence and he’d had few opportunities to observe it up close. This one, however, was doubly unusual in that the transformation had not completed and David was not only dealing with his physical changes but a complex psychological state. The Doctor suspected that on top of all of that, David might have received some amount of his own personality and thoughts, and that could only be complicating matters.
Sighing, the Doctor sat back and crossed his arms. “I’ll be honest with you, David. I don’t know. You’re unique. Never been one like you before, ever. I mean, that’s true for everyone, everyone’s different, but not like this.” He wagged a quick finger at his twin. “But it’s not a bad thing. Think about it. Is it important that you be a Time Lord or a human, one or the other?”
“I don’t know. It’s… I…” David frowned as he considered the question. “It’s never occurred to me before to question what I am. I’ve just never thought that way, you know? Do you ask yourself if you’re Gallifreyan when you wake up in the morning?”
The Doctor grinned at the thought. “No, and neither should you. Your physiology doesn’t define you. You’re part Gallifreyan and part human. You can think like a Time Lord, but you can also think like a human. What that means is that you can choose one or the other, or you can be a bit of both. No one else can do that. I can’t. I don’t understand humans one jot. You know that. But you…” He leant forward, propping his elbows on his knees again. “You get to become exactly who you want to be. It’s just not going to happen right now, and you’ll have to sort through a lot to get there.”
Curling an arm across his chest, David tugged on his ear. “I don’t know if I can.”
Leaning back in his chair, the Doctor smirked at the man’s lack of confidence. “Of course you can. You’re brilliant. Always have been. Even more so now. You’ve just got a lot to deal with right now, more than anyone can handle in an hour or three. You need to give yourself time.”
“Can… can you help me?” David’s question was barely a whisper.
“Of course. Every bit of the way, if you want.”
“Then help me,” he pleaded. “Tell me how to get these voices to shut up.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You shouldn’t. They’re trying to show you the choices you have.” He sat back in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “What kinds of things are those voices advising you on?”
Forcing himself to relax a bit, David settled into a cross-legged posture. “Back on Cherel. How to get the watch back, what we should do to help Minlay, how to negotiate with Orsanal.” Biting his lip, he shook his head. “I argued with Amy about it. I even tried to get her to give up by implying I was you, or at least that I knew better than she did. And all the while, I had no idea. I was lost, and I couldn’t even agree with what I thought two hours earlier.” Slumping back against the wall, he sighed. “What do I do, Doctor?”
Clapping his hands on his knees, the Doctor sat up, setting his jaw. “First thing you do is give over such thoughts. Don’t worry about what happened on Cherel. Everything was sorted and you came out of it alive. More than you expected, wasn’t it?”
“Well, yes. I thought my life was over,” he admitted. “But, but Minlay...”
“Yes. Minlay.” The Doctor leaned forward, elbows on knees again. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but there was nothing to be done. There were laws that Orsanal had to follow, for the welfare of his world. You were right that we can’t force others to change to suit our beliefs.”
David shook his head, his eyes shining with a hint of gold. “But it was my fault. If we hadn’t gone there, she never would have spoken her blasphemy.”
The Doctor thumbed over his shoulder, indicating the time travel capsule around them “Then it’s her fault, not yours,” he stated. “She’s the one who chose to take you to Cherel. But really, David, think about it. Everything you do has consequences, for yourself and those around you. You can’t blame yourself when something goes wrong, any more than you can take credit for when it goes right. You can certainly try to fix things, but learn to let go when you can’t.”
“Like you do so well,” David teased with a sarcastic smirk.
The Doctor grinned. “Never said it was easy.” He scrubbed a hand down his jaw. “I would’ve wanted to help Minlay as well. But you can’t let it hold you back.”
“I’m trying to let go. It’s difficult. I never wanted to make these decisions. I don’t want anyone to die because of me.” He peered up at his twin. “Will it always be this way, Doctor? Must I always hurt someone?”
The Doctor paused before answering, pursing his lips as he considered how to respond to David’s desperate question. “To be truthful, yes. With me, anyway. You know that. You know how it goes for me. I get involved when something’s already going wrong, and many times, to fix it, someone else gets hurt. So very few times when everyone comes out well.”
“Perhaps it’ll hurt less if I expect that in advance.” He looked up at the Doctor, then shook his head ruefully. “That’s silly. No, it won’t, but I will learn to deal with it, in time.”
“Yes, you will. There, then. That’s done.” The Doctor nodded with childish satisfaction, though his dark eyes held David’s gaze and urged him to put it all in the past, waiting until his twin gave a tiny nod and looked away. “The second thing you do is take it one step at a time. Figuring out who you are and what you believe, that’s not necessary now. Give yourself time to get used to your new body and capabilities. What do they call it? Baby steps?”
David’s tongue traced his upper lip as he considered the advice. “Okay. Okay. I can agree with that. But how? How do I learn to deal with all of this?”
“Well,” the Doctor drawled, “the first thing you need is rest, so let’s start with getting you able to ignore your surroundings and fall asleep. You were fine when I was talking, when one sense dominated all the others, so let’s make sure your attention is always occupied.” He waved a hand at the ceiling. “Can you sleep with the lights on?”
David shrugged. “I could before. I can’t say for sure now, but it’s got to be better than seeing the light from my own eyes.”
“Fair enough. Then I suggest that, and music!” he gushed with a big grin. “Some soft music whilst you’re trying to sleep could be just the thing.”
David’s nod was almost manic. “Yes! Music. That’s a fantastic idea. I need music.” He leapt to his feet and spun to survey the room. “Need a stereo or something.”
“The old girl will put one in here for you,” the Doctor assured him as he also got up. “Come on. I’m sure the media library will have anything you want.” Loping over to the door, he held it open for David and followed him as he exited into the corridor.
Padding along on his bare feet, David couldn’t help but notice that he and the Doctor kept perfectly abreast, their natural strides exactly the same length and cadence. It reminded him that he was more than just a twin of the man next to him, that he was essentially a clone, nearly identical physically and who knew how similar mentally. This was something he didn’t want to be. He wanted to draw a firm line in his mind - his personality, his beliefs, his self - between himself and the Doctor, but how can I do that, when I don’t know who I am yet? If I’m to spend years learning from him what it is to be a Time Lord, is it even possible to not become him?
Musing on this, he paid no attention to the path he was travelling with the Doctor until they stepped into the console room. Frowning in confusion, David stopped just past the threshold of the door while the Doctor stepped up to the console and began manipulating the controls.
“We’re to get music from here?” asked David.
“Nah,” replied the Doctor as he typed at the keyboard then threw the large toggle that started the time rotor oscillating. He spun and sat back against the edge of the panel whilst the familiar metallic groaning filled the room. “We’ll get that after. Just a short trip first.”
“To where?” He pointed down at his bare feet. “I’m not exactly dressed to run from Daleks.”
“Back to Cherel,” the Doctor explained. “There’s enough space in Minlay’s cell to land, wouldn't you say? We’ll just drop in and take her on a trip. Perhaps a very long one.” He winked.
The corner of David’s mouth twitched in a hesitant smile. “Is that allowed? We’d be breaking a Law, wouldn’t we, going back and changing her fate?”
“Not one of the Laws of Time, no. There’s no paradox there. Well,” the Doctor drawled, “there’s a paradox here, but we can’t help that.” He stuck his hands in his trouser pockets and shrugged. “We’d be breaking the Time Lord non-interference policy, but you know how I feel about that. And not returning somewhere? That’s really just a personal preference of mine.”
Scratching at his chin, the Doctor eyed David. “D’you think you could convince Orsanal to just announce her execution and turn a blind eye, rather than present it publicly?”
David pretended to give the notion careful consideration. “I’m sure I could. It’s what I do, after all.”
“Brilliant! I’m sure we can find a remote village where she can build herself a life.” Pressing his lips into a thin line, the Doctor shook his head as the time rotor ground to a halt. “You shouldn’t start your new life with this hanging over you. You both deserve so much better.”
David quivered with energy and enthusiasm, his exhaustion forgotten. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Welcome home, David.” Pushing off the console, the Doctor whirled and strode down to the doors, grabbing his duster on the way and shrugging it on. “Come on.” He beckoned his twin with a finger. “Let’s go save a life.”