Oh, and originally this one and the following story were written separately and I had to rewrite the end of this one so that they fit together, so it might be a little rough, because I haven't gone back to proof it. :)
Word count: 7823
The Doctor and David stood on opposite sides of the console, backs to each other, while Amy and Rory watched them both, exchanging uncomfortable glances as the silence wore on. Amy finally elbowed Rory and jerked her head towards the nearest hallway, and together, they crept toward it as quietly as they could. David couldn't help but hear their shuffling footsteps retreating on the glass floor. He turned and reached out a hand to stop them, inhaling to call out, but the words stuck in his throat. Snapping his mouth shut, he watched as they disappeared into the corridor, Rory casting one last glance back at him, his brow creased with concern for his friend.
David sat back against the railing and stared at the TARDIS console, though he saw none of it, blinded by the thoughts that whirled through his head. In the last thirty minutes, his entire world had imploded as he'd discovered that he wasn't real, that he was simply a story that the Doctor had created to teach himself a lesson. No, his rational mind insisted on pointing out, that's not true. The Doctor never meant for this to happen. Sighing inwardly, he admitted to himself that yes, the Doctor had had a different purpose in mind, but he also knew that the effect on himself had been the same no matter what the original reason for using the chameleon arch had been. He was a fiction, a whim of imagination, even though he could feel his heart pounding in his chest and hear his breath rushing in and out of his mouth. A tiny voice deep inside him, straining to be heard, cried out, "I am David! I am real! I am human and I live!" but that voice was drowned by the cacophony of reality. He knew that he only rented the body that he inhabited, and that the terms were very nearly up.
Evidence of that limited contract stood across the console platform from him. With both hands planted on the railing, the man in the tweed jacket leaned heavily against it, his shoulders curved and tired, his head hanging. This man symbolised everything that David was rebelling against - his existence as an elaborate fairy tale, all of his hardships since he'd awoken on the floor of the TARDIS, his impending death - and yet, he neither feared nor hated him, and that surprised him most of all. David had to die so that this man could exist, and yet this man had also created him, given him his existence. And he had to admit that he'd had a good life, full of family and friends, of hard work, accomplishment, and love. David was angry, and he was afraid to die, but he realised that his anger and fear was not directed at the Doctor. He couldn't like the Doctor at this moment, but neither could he hate him.
"I can't," he coughed out. It had only been a few minutes since he'd last spoken, but his throat was dry and his words grated in his throat. He clutched the pocketwatch tight in his hand, his knuckles bony and white. "I can't do it. I want to live. Just a little bit longer."
"I know." The Doctor turned around and leaned back on the railing just like David. The human opened his mouth to retort that of course he knew, because the Doctor had already gone through this all as himself, but he could see in the Doctor's eyes that this was no less painful for him. The Time Lord indeed knew what David was going through, and he hurt for the human as much as he had hurt when he had been the human. David could see the centuries that weighed down his hearts, and he idly wondered if he'd been able to portray that convincingly on the telly. The thought made him snort with amusement, and the Doctor's eyes twinkled in response.
David cocked his head back. "You remember what I'm thinking."
The Doctor hopped up to sit on the railing, his feet dangling. "I remember every moment of this day. It's not something that's easy to forget."
David opened his mouth to reply, then paused in confusion, covering his mouth with his hand. His eyes flicked about the room as he thought, then he laughed. "This has got to be the strangest conversation I've ever had. You already know exactly what I'm going to say, even the things that I'm second-guessing myself on. Why don't I just shut up and you can just tell me what you know I want to know?" He dropped the fob watch into the pocket of his coat.
"You're real, David." The Doctor popped off the railing and leaned over the console toward the actor. "Just because you're the product of the chameleon arch does not make you any less real than anyone else, or your experiences and feelings any less valid. Cogitas ergo es. And you already know that I still hear you, in here" - he tapped his temple with two fingers - "just like I hear John and all of my previous selves."
David shuddered. "That's what scares me the most. The thought of spending eternity as a ghost in your head."
"I can't pretend to know what it's like, so I can’t offer you any comfort there. On the other hand, I've never heard any complaints." He shrugged.
"Well, someday, you'll find out, just like I will."
"No, I won't." Pushing off the console, the Doctor straightened, then spun on his heel to start pacing. "I've no more regenerations left."
David frowned, one eyebrow shooting up. "No, you've one more left. I took your ninth and tenth, you took the eleventh, so there's one more."
The Doctor whirled back toward David, his mouth curving into a sly smile. "You don't know everything about me. Just most things."
He cut him off as he resumed walking. "No. I don't talk about it." His nervous pacing warned David off the topic more than his words did.
"Okay." David wrung his hands. "So. Is it okay that I don't....?" He couldn't voice the action. "Not right now, anyway?"
"It is still your life, David. What you do and when you do it is up to you. You know that."
"Yes." Gazing away from the Doctor, David ran his hand through his hair and tugged an ear.
The Doctor whirled around the console to lean against the railing next to David. "To tell you the truth, and a little bit of the future, this is the best time for me."
His shoulders hunched, he turned to gaze directly into David's eyes. "You're the closest thing to one of my people that I've had for a very long time, and that I'm ever going to have. I'm being utterly selfish here, but... you help me. You really help. Always have." He rocked back and forth as he spoke. "More than just a companion. More than Amy. Ever since we brought you on board, I could sense you, just a little bit, because you're this close." He tapped his temples with two fingers on each hand. "I can almost feel you like I would if you were a Time Lord, and I could even simulate that by opening a telepathic link like you did with Donna and the Ood song. But!" And he held up a hand to stop the protest that David had drawn in his breath to make. "I know you don't want it." He nodded a reassurance. "But I'm not completely alone right now, and I thank you for that."
David gaped at him. The Doctor had opened up to him, something he never did voluntarily, and he knew he should be honoured, but he couldn't stop terror from blinding him. Was he somehow part Time Lord, and not fully human? The thought terrified him. A strong hand gripped his shoulder, and he heard the Doctor's voice as if from far away.
"You're human. And you're still David. You're no different than you ever were. I can feel you, very distantly, because when it comes down to it, we're the same person. But it doesn't change anything. Unless you allow it to. That's your choice." The Doctor stepped back and leaned against the console.
"No." David hung his head, his shoulders curved and tired. "It's not my choice. It's not only my life I'm playing with here." He buried his face in his hands. "Oh god. I'm scared. I'm so scared. I don't want to die. And I'm so confused. I don't know what to think. I don't know who I am anymore, if I'm me or if I'm you. I don't want to be you, not until I have to. But you've got every right to come back right now, take back this body I've stolen. And... and... and... now it's like... now I... I've got responsibility. I've got to keep you alive, because if I die, for real... if I get hit by a bus, you die with me." Jerking up straight as a new realisation hit him, he threw his hands up in frustration. "And who knows what paradoxes that would cause. Tears in reality and all that." He shook his head, trembling. "I can't even move. I'm petrified that everything, literally the whole world, will come crashing down around me."
The Doctor shook his head. "You shouldn't worry about that. It's true that you could do something that didn't happen when I went through this as you, but it's not easy and not likely. You'd have to do something contrary to your own nature."
"And what nature is that? Who am I anymore?"
The Doctor sighed. "Okay. David, this is all I'm going to tell you. It's more than I should and it's not kind. At this point, I did not want to come back. This life was supposed to be yours. You were supposed to have the life that I could never have, and I clung to that idea as long as I could. But, as you already know, you'll never be able to return to that kind of life. With all you know now, life could never be normal for you again. And you know I'm here now. You don't want to die, and I don't want you to die, but you can't live, and you don't live. You have to work out for yourself how you get from now to then."
David shivered despite the fact that the console room was always pleasantly warm.
The Doctor continued. "You've chosen not to open the chameleon arch because you wanted to be yourself for a while longer. So, that's what you should do. Don't worry about me. I've more time than I should to be me, so take the time you want to be you."
Wrapping his arms around himself, David hugged himself, licking his lips. Presently, he shrugged, and catching the Doctor's eye, favored him with a tiny nod.
The only sounds that rang through the kitchen were the clink of spoons against ceramic and the icy slurps of comfort ice cream. Between Amy and Rory, across the table from each other, sat a large tub of vanilla, half-empty. It had been full only fifteen minutes earlier.
Rory dropped his spoon in his bowl with a loud clang and leaned back in his chair, his eyes wandering around the room. He felt so helpless. They had discovered that his good friend was a human form of the Doctor and that he was fated to give up his life so that the Doctor could return. Try as he might, the nurse couldn't imagine what that must feel like, and he'd wanted to be there for his friend, give him the support he knew he needed. But he hadn't seen David in two days now. He had tried to find him, but to no avail: either he'd hidden himself deep in the TARDIS or left it altogether. A hopeless, tense silence had settled between himself and the other two residents of the TARDIS that he could locate, and this had resulted in eating way too much ice cream.
"Just a little more." Amy pulled the tub over to her and scooped out another heap into her bowl, then tucked in.
Rory jumped up from his chair. "I'm going to go look again."
"You won't find him. He doesn't want to be found." She motioned with her spoon at Rory, who had started pacing. "You've spent hours looking for him. Maybe he's asked the TARDIS to hide him from us."
Her boyfriend spun on her. "How could he do that?"
Amy shrugged. "I don't know. I figure, he's the Doctor. Maybe he can talk to her just like he does. He did that thing the Doctor does, stroked the console and cooed at her."
"No. David's not the Doctor. I know he's not." Though he shook his head, he was wringing his hands together with nervous doubt. "I could see it in his eyes when he became the Doctor, and he's nothing like that normally."
Amy hesitated before she replied. "I... I don't know if we can assume that anymore. Everything's changed."
"Yeah. I know." Rory slumped back down into his chair. He eyed the tub of ice cream, then, pulling it to him, scooped a bit more into his bowl. "I really hope he knows that we'll help however we can. Whatever good that'll do."
Amy reached across the table and grasped Rory's hand. "He knows." Rory quirked a cheerless smile at her.
"Ice cream!" David voice rang out, startling the couple as he strode into and across the kitchen with an eager smile on his face. "Just the thing! May I take a wee bit?" He fetched a bowl and spoon from the cupboards.
Taken aback, Amy sputtered, "Er, yes, of course. Have as much as you want." She slid the tub toward him.
He chattered with a cheery grin as he spooned up a big glob of the confection. "I came in for some Jammy Dodgers or Hob Nobs, but this is better. Hits the spot. I don't think the Doctor's picked up more biscuits anyway." He plopped down into a chair and leaned far back, his long, lanky form more or less lying in it. He shoveled a spoonful into his mouth before continuing. "What have you two been up to, past couple of days?"
Amy blinked and shot a bewildered glance at Rory. From the look on his face, he was just as alarmed. "Oh, nothing much. The usual. You?"
"Been a little under the weather, to tell the truth. Not feeling myself." He set the bowl down on his stomach and gestured with the spoon. "Amazing what a good night's sleep can do for you. And a good book. Have you tried out the swimming pool? Not the Olympic one. The Caribbean island resort one." He smiled as he remembered the luxury. "I might spend more time down there later today -"
"Enough." Rory's quiet command stopped David's happy monologue. "What is going on? There is no way you can be this cheery right now."
"I'm perfectly fine, Rory." With a pleasant, relaxed smile, David picked the bowl back up and spooned himself another mouthful.
Rory leaned across the table toward his friend, and Amy could tell that he was masking his apprehension and confusion with anger. "Don't lie to me, David. I saw you. I know what happened. And I know you can't be 'perfectly fine'."
David's easy smile flipped to a serious stare. "I'm an actor. I could hardly be called a proficient practitioner of my craft if I couldn't show you exactly what I want you to see."
Amy put down her spoon. "David. You don't have to do this alone. We're both here for you."
Stuffing another spoonful of ice cream in his mouth, the actor cocked his head at her and swallowed. "You don't even know what 'this' is. There are so many layers... Yes, I do have to do this alone. And soon. I don't really have much time left. But I do plan to enjoy what I can, and I do plan to do that with friends. Like this ice cream." He sat up in his chair and dropped the bowl on the table. "This is delicious. Now. Rory."
The nurse swallowed nervously before responding. "Yes, David?"
The actor seemed not to have noticed his friend's discomfort. "The Doctor's landed us in London. 2016. Would you do me the honour of attending my stag party in a few minutes?"
Rory frowned, shaking his head. "How can you be having a stag party?"
"If you prefer, you could call it my wake instead."
Rory gaped, then wagged a hand at David, nodding. "'Stag party' is fine. I'll be there."
"Lovely. Thank you." He finished off his ice cream and, jumping up, deposited his bowl and spoon in the sink. "I think I'll change. At least get a jacket."
"Okay. I'll meet you in the console room." His friend nodded and strolled out of the kitchen.
Amy puffed out a breath, her eyes wide with alarm. "That was... awkward."
Rory rolled his eyes. "You're telling me. This is not going to go well."
"You have to be there for him."
"Oh, I will." Rory stared off into space as he contemplated the situation. Amy had only ever seen him this upset when he was worried about her.
"Good. I'm not sure he's handling this as well as he thinks he is."
"He's not." Rory stood up and walked away a few paces. "Something is very wrong with him."
"What do you mean? Apart from the whole 'I'm going to die soon' thing." Amy left her seat and came up behind Rory, touching his shoulder. Turning, he caught her gaze with a worried frown.
"His eyes. I could see it in his eyes. It was like he wasn't him anymore. But he wasn't the Doctor, either. I don't know who that really was." He walked away a few paces, then spun back to her, his hands twitching. "He might be lost, or he might be dangerous. I can't tell."
"Be careful, Rory. For both your sakes."
"I will." With a last nervous glance at her, he disappeared into the corridor.
Rory and David stepped out of the police box onto a sidewalk. The actor had indeed thrown a charcoal-gray jacket over his jumper, and stood staring around at the people and buildings, an enchanted expression on his face and his hands in the pockets of his jeans. Rory was more concerned with earning strange looks from passersby, having just stepped out of a narrow booth with another man, but no one even spared them a glance.
The nurse scratched the back of his head. “How do people ever not notice the TARDIS, appearing out of nowhere, and then we just walk out of it?”
“Eh?” David blinked and glanced at first Rory, then the capsule behind him. “Oh, that. Perception filter. Makes you not notice it. You wouldn’t see it either, if you didn’t know it was there.”
Rory nodded. “Okay. I see. Makes sense. I guess.” He took a quick glance up and down the street, then turned to his friend. “So. Stag party. You want to a hit a pub then? It’s a bit early in the day, but I’ll be your wingman. I’ll try, anyway. Never done that sort of thing before.”
“That's what I'm supposed to be doing, isn't it? Getting sloshed and finding a willing body to lose myself in." He shrugged. "That’s never been me. Well, no, that's not quite true. But that's not what I really want. Come on." He turned and strolled up the street, Rory at his side.
"Then what do you want?"
"Besides my life?" Whilst he spoke, David's eyes were roaming everywhere, drinking in the people, the buildings, the trees, everything in view. "What I really want is to go home, to get to say goodbye. But I can't do that, so no use dwelling on it. So, I'm here, as close as I can get to normal people. Maybe I can pretend to be just like everyone else for a few hours."
Rory swallowed at the lump that had formed in his throat. "David..."
"No, I'm not going to make this miserable for both of us. I want to hang out with my friend and talk and see a few sights. I want to smile and laugh and walk in the sun." He glanced up at the typical London fall weather, the haze of thin clouds stretching across the sky, filtering the sunlight. "Well, as much as I can."
The street they walked along was lined with small shops. Ducking into one, David bought Cornish pasties for the two of them and they continued wandering as they ate, the actor making frequent comments about things he noticed. Rory tried to keep up his side of the conversation, but he simply didn't know what to say to his friend. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying observing the human lives that were passing him by, forgetting that he was completely alien to them now, and that unnerved the nurse.
They passed an ice cream shop and David offered to buy a cone for Rory. When his friend declined, he shrugged and walked into it, emerging minutes later with a double-decker chocolate and strawberry. At Rory's amazed frown, David winked, quipping, "It's not my body." They wandered across the street into a wide manicured park, settling on a bench to watch the children on the play structures.
"I'm sorry I'm not good company for you, Rory." When his friend protested, David wiped a smear of melted cream from his lips with the back of his hand and shook his head. "No, really. This has got to be horrible for you, keeping vigil for me like this. I appreciate it. I really do. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here to help me. And I'm sure it looks like I'm in denial. Really, I'm not. I know exactly what I'm doing."
Shaking his head, Rory threw his hands up in frustration. "What are you doing?"
David ate a few more bites of his ice cream before he answered. "I can't really explain. Not so that you could understand."
The nurse squared his shoulders. "Try me."
"You could, if you were David." At that statement, the actor jerked and froze, like he'd been caught stealing. "Whoever you are, you don't know that David knows he can rely on me."
"It's that obvious, is it?"
"I can tell." Rory knew he had to keeping pressing, to get his friend to open up. "I don't know about anyone else. Your eyes. They're not David's. They're not the Doctor's either. I don't know who you are."
"I am David, Rory. Really, I am. I'm just also a bit more, or maybe a bit less." The mound of ice cream gone, he paused to devour the cone, bite by quick bite. Swallowing the last bit, he licked the last traces of flavour from his lips. "It's been weird, these past few weeks. Donna's been all I could think about, but I was ignoring what she'd shown me. As I held her, I could feel the Doctor in my mind. He didn't take over, maybe because I didn't have the watch." He unconsciously patted his trouser pocket. "But he was there for her, and I knew what that meant, but I made myself forget.
"And then when we were in the console room, I felt the watch in my coat pocket, and I couldn't deny it anymore. I knew I was him." He paused, biting his lip. "And I knew I didn't have to give in to him. But I had to. By myself, I could have distracted the Dalek for a while, maybe even enough to give you the time to free the Doctor, but there was nothing I could do to help defeat it. The Doctor, the one inside me, he knew how to do it, but he had to be in control. So I let him. I had to. I couldn't let Amy die just because I didn't want him to take over."
He exhaled a long breath. "You know what happened after that. And he let me go as soon as he was done. That was the thing. I came back and for a moment, my head was full of his thoughts and memories. I could feel him retreating, as fast as he could, because he didn't want me to give up my life.
"That’s all I could think about, these last couple of days. The Doctor in my head." Gazing at nothing, he ran a hand along the curve of his skull. "The feeling of being so much more than just little old insignificant me. I don't think you can even imagine the least of it, Rory! I could be so powerful and important, going out there and doing these incredible, wonderful, brilliant things, but I have to die to do it. But then, just today, I realised that right now, it's not just him or me, yes or no, black or white. He was in my mind with me, when I held Donna, and when he left after the Dalek. I can do that. I can call him up in my mind, and we can both be here. I keep control, but he's here, and we both see out of my eyes."
Rory's jaw dropped, and words eluded him for a moment. "You... you're doing that right now?"
"I've been doing that all day. Seeing the world with Doctor-coloured glasses!" He jumped up from the bench and spun around, flinging his arms wide to encompass the whole world. "It's fascinating. Human senses are nowhere near as sharp as a Time Lord's, so we can't see as well as he normally can, but beyond that, he notices everything." Running a hand through his hair, he scanned around, then pointed. "That tree over there! He sees every leaf, every wrinkle in its bark. Every person that passes by, he sees their every detail, and notes their conversation." Jamming his hands in his pockets, he plopped back on the bench next to Rory. "I can't interpret all that information, and I don't think he can, not with my brain, but he still tries."
"What... what does that even feel like?" Rory shook his head with disbelief.
"Oh, I don't have the words." Searching his mind for a way to convey his thoughts, David wrung his hands in front of his chest. "It's nothing like I've ever experienced before, like anything anyone's experienced before. How do you describe colour to a blind man?"
"But why? Why would you share your mind with him?" Rory grimaced before continuing, reluctant to remind his friend of his destiny. "Aren't you going to be him too soon already?"
David regarded his friend with a tiny, embarrassed smile. "Honestly, it's because I'm scared and selfish. I want to know what it is I'm giving up my life for. I mean, I know that I become the Doctor. I know that better than anyone else. But I wanted to see the man he is, the man I will be.
"And it works both ways, you know. He's seeing the world the way I do. I wanted to give him that. He's always wanted to know what a normal life is like. I'm the only person who can give that to him."
Rory grasped David's shoulder. "Are you sure this is the right thing to do? It doesn't sound healthy, having someone else's mind in yours."
The actor snorted. "I have to admit that my health isn't really my top concern right now." He glanced past his friend. "Oh! There she is!"
Rory followed David's gaze to a family entering the park: a tall black man carrying a boy of about four years on his shoulders and a ginger-haired woman, not yet hampered by her baby bump; the nurse estimated that she was about six months along. It took him a moment to realise where he'd seen her before.
"Is that -?"
"That's Donna," David confirmed. "From about seven years ago. Well, to us time travellers, anyway. We're in Chiswick, where she lives. This is why we're here."
"To see the Doctor's friend."
"Yes. We needed to see that she was safe, that she was happy at least for a while." Donna sat herself on a park bench as her husband let the boy down to play in the grass. "The Doctor never told you what happened to her, did he?"
"No. Amy asked him, but he never said."
"She was caught up in a biological metacrisis."
"A biological metacrisis. It's a... a..." David's fingers wiggled as he sifted through a host of lengthy, inadequate explanations. "Er... Just picture a big explosion of energy. That's good enough to go on with. It gave her part of the Doctor's mind, and that enabled her to save the Doctor and the universe, and defeat the Daleks. Think about that. That woman over there, defeating the Daleks and saving the universe, all by herself." He shook his head in amazement.
“But that Time Lord mind, it was too much for her human brain to handle. It was going to burn her up and kill her, so the Doctor locked it away, made her forget it all. Right now, she’s living with a complete memory loss of years of her life. She doesn’t remember the Doctor or any of the wonderful things she did with him." Bowing his head, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "And that's what I did. I made her remember, and it killed her."
David leaned back on the bench and gazed at the ginger woman. “That’s why we’re here. I know it’s selfish, but we needed to know that she lived a happy life, after he left her with half her memories, and before I killed her.”
“We, meaning you and the Doctor.” Rory nodded slowly.
“Yup-ah.” The actor popped the final consonant of the affirmative.
"You keep saying that, but you're wrong, you know." An edge had crept into Rory's voice.
David frowned, puzzled. "Wrong about what? What do I keep saying?"
"You keep saying you're selfish. You're not being selfish at all." He waved away David's sputtering protest. "You're about to give up your life for someone else, and you're taking the little time you have left to show that someone something he's always wanted to see and check up to make sure a friend is doing well? That's not selfishness, David. Your self-sacrifice is bloody unbelievable."
David turned away. "Stop it, Rory," he choked out.
"No, I won't." The steel in his voice forced his friend to turn back to him. "I can't make what you have to do any easier, and I can't really give you any comfort, but I'm not having you do it thinking you're anything less than you are. You've forgotten, but I was there and I saw you. You gave up your own identity, you let someone push you out of your own mind and body, to save my fiancee. Everyone has their flaws, David, but you have never been selfish. And right now, you should be. You have every right to be thinking only of yourself."
Stunned, David stared at Rory, then gulped. He slumped forward, his elbows on his knees and his head hanging, suddenly exhausted. "I wish I could believe that. Maybe that's what I look like to you. But really, I'm running away, as fast as I can. I'm so scared, Rory. I don't want to die." He lifted his head a tiny bit to gaze at Donna. "But I don't want to live either. I don't want to hurt anyone else. I don't want to kill anyone else. I'm running from both my life and my death, and there's nowhere else to go." Letting his head droop again, his breath caught on a violent sob.
Rory threw an arm over David's shoulders and pulled him into a hug, murmuring, "It's okay, David. It's okay." He wasn't sure what else he could say at all. He patted his friend on the back while the actor, with his head bowed, stared at the ground between his feet, composing himself. After a few deep breaths, David jerked with a snort of laughter.
"What's so funny?"
David sat back straight. "You say I'm not selfish. You're probably just seeing the Doctor in me."
Rory smirked at him. "That's absurd. You've been a good, generous person for as long as I've known you."
"Oh, I don't know how much of me is really the Doctor. I'm just a story he made up, remember? Even more so now. I can’t tell where I end and where he begins anymore." David laughed again, though this time it was entirely mirthless.
"What do you mean?"
"In here." He tapped his temple, and leaned back against the bench, his eyes wandering around the park. "The Doctor. He's strong. Overwhelming sometimes, even though this is my body and mind right now. I... I think I'm losing control of it.”
"What?" Frowning, Rory grasped the man's shoulder.
The actor regarded Rory with a lost little smile. "He's just so strong. He doesn't mean to be, but he's pushing me out of my head." His attention wandered off again.
The nurse grabbed David's head with both hands and forced him to look at him. “Then you have to stop it. You have to lock him away again.”
David shook himself out of Rory's grasp, but at least he seemed more in control. “I can’t do that.”
“Because…" He inhaled deep into his chest. "Because I can’t not have him there anymore. I can’t explain. It’s like, it’s like…" He caught Rory's eye and held it as he talked, gesturing in desperation. "Think about Amy. Think about how you’d feel if she wasn’t there anymore. You love her, and you’re comfortable with her there, and if she were gone, there’d be this empty space in your heart. This is a hundred times worse. I never noticed this before, but we humans, we’re alone in our heads, and we’re used to that. But now, now I’m connected to the Doctor. We’re separate, but together. And I have to have that, because without him, I’m alone and it’s so quiet." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I tried shutting him out, when it got too difficult to concentrate, and the silence in my head was unbearable." He straightened. "Here. Let me show you."
David closed his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he grimaced as he concentrated, then his eyes popped open. The stranger was gone and Rory could see his friend - only his friend - in those eyes, but they were empty and haunted. The actor glanced around in panic, his gaze finally locking onto Rory, who grabbed his hand. "David. David! It's okay. I'm here."
"I can barely hear you, Rory," murmured David in a tiny voice. "It's like you're miles away. Everyone is. It's like I'm trapped in my own head and everything is silent and dark. I understand now, what the Doctor’s going through, what he’s been going through for so long. It's not just the guilt, of ending the Time War the way he did. He’s always been able to hear the other Time Lords, at least feel them in his mind. And now his whole universe is silent. He is so lonely, and not even his closest friend can get anywhere near him."
He began to shiver. "I can't do this. I need him back in my head." This time, his eyes closed for only half a second, and he sighed, his entire body relaxing. "Much better. Damned if I do, damned if I don't."
"Be careful, David. You can't lose control."
David shook his head. "I don't think I can avoid it. That's when I'll die, Rory. I won't be me anymore, long before I open the watch." He thought for a moment, then smiled, his first genuine smile in a while. "But you know what? I'm okay with that. I see where I'm going, and it's my choice. Maybe that's all I really wanted, to be able to choose what happens to me."
David fell silent, watching Donna's son playing with his father as his mother looked on. His eyes sparkled with tears of both joy and misery. "What I wouldn't give to be that man right now. Making her happy. Keeping her safe."
An insight flashed in Rory's mind. "You love her, don't you?"
"In a way, yes." David's face shone with the recollection. "I know her story. I acted opposite the wonderfully talented actress who played her, and we worked very well together. And I feel the Doctor's love for her. The woman I see there is a mixture of a brilliant, beautiful, tragic character who deserved so much more than what she got and a very good friend of mine. It's not fair to her for me to see her like that, but, well, there you are." He licked his lips and sighed. "And I'm going to kill her in seven years' time. I want to give her all the love and happiness I can, because I know I'm just going to take it all away someday."
Rory's eyes narrowed. "I bet you get all the angsty, guilt-ridden hero roles, don't you?"
David threw his head back, laughing. "Yes, I suppose I do. I played the Doctor, and he's number one on that list. And I was about to do Hamlet, before I came here. To be or not to be, you know."
Donna's husband gathered his son in his arms, then moved to help Donna stand. They began walking down the path towards David and Rory, and the two time travellers could hear Donna promising her son a trip to the sweet shop. As they passed, Donna happened to glance in their direction and she stopped. "Shaun, hold on a mo'." With a puzzled frown, she turned to David. "Do I know you?"
Getting to his feet, David smiled and shook his head. "I don't think so."
"No, I've seen you before." She held up both index fingers, shaking them for emphasis. "Wait, wait, I remember. You're John, aren't you? John Smith? You visited my mum a couple of times, a few years ago. My mum's Sylvia Noble."
David shook his head, his lips pressed in a flat line of polite negation. "Nope, sorry. My name's David."
She pursed her lips, forming a tiny "O". "Got a brother, then?"
"I do. Name's Blair."
"Oh.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I swear, you're the spitting image of my mum's friend John."
"Oh, I've got a common face. Everyone says I look like some friend of theirs." He shrugged.
“I guess. Though…” She bit her lip. “Blimey, your eyes. Never seen anything like ‘em. Like they go on forever.”
David's lips curved into a puzzled smile. “Now, that’s a new one. Never heard that before.” With a tender smile, he glanced at Shaun carrying the boy. "You've got a lovely son."
She cocked her head with a proud, loving smile. "Yeah. Isn't he just? Name's Donna, by the way." She waved. "Have a good one."
"Nice to meet you, Donna. All the best."
Sitting back down on the bench, David stared after them as they exited the park and crossed the street. When they disappeared from sight, he shook his head, murmuring under his breath, "I'm sorry." He turned to his friend. "That's really what we came here for. It's given me a wee bit of comfort. All I really want now is just to watch and remember. Last bit of time and all that. I really can't put this off much longer."
Rory nodded. "Anything you want, David. We'll do whatever you want."
"Thank you, Rory."
David settled back against the bench, watching the people and animals and trees and sky with wide eyes full of wonder and awe. Rory sat beside him, pleased that his friend had found some peace. He could tell that David was getting closer and closer to his departure, and he hoped that he'd been able to make his last couple of hours a bit more comfortable. It seemed that the time for talking was over, and he leaned back on the bench, content to keep vigil for his friend.
Minutes stretched into an hour of watching humanity pass by, and in a way, as a stranger to this city, Rory felt detached from the rest of his species, just like he supposed David must feel. People moved around them but didn't interact with them, with no recognition, either of them or by them. He felt like an outsider, and he turned to remark to his friend that he was starting to understand, but what he saw startled him. The joy, the wonder in his eyes that had buoyed David's spirit was gone, replaced by a blank stare. Though his eyes were still wandering, it was obvious he wasn't seeing or recognising anything.
"David?" Rory placed a hand on his shoulder. "David? Are you all right?" When he received no reply, he shook his friend and his head lolled back and forth. "David! Can you hear me? It's me, Rory!" He grasped David's head in both hands and turned it toward him. "David! Come on! Answer me!"
The actor blinked and his eyes locked on Rory's face, going blank once more after a moment. Then they suddenly sharpened and Rory knew he was now staring into the eyes of the Doctor. "He's very lost, Rory. Doesn’t have the strength to find his way back." The metallic screech of the TARDIS tore through the air. "I can't help him. He needs the Doctor." David - the Doctor - leapt up from the bench and he and Rory sprinted toward the police box as its door opened and the Doctor and Amy emerged. The men ushered David inside and Amy shut the door as they sat him down on the floor. His eyes were insensible again.
Rory wrung his hands, unsure of what could be done for his friend. "Doctor, he's gone."
"He's not gone. I know just where he is." The man in the tweed jacket knelt in front of David. "He tried to maintain the two of us, him and me, in his mind, but he can't do that, not forever. But all he really needed was the contact. I can give that to him." He placed his hands on either side of the actor's face. "Humans have a bit of latent psychic ability, and he's got more than most, since he's fashioned off a Time Lord template. All I have to do is turn that on for him." He closed his eyes.
Whilst in reality, it took less than a minute, to Rory it seemed like hours of worried tension. At first, the Doctor was silent, then he began murmuring very softly. "Ah, there you are. Okay, David. Let's close off the Doctor, shall we? Take control, just be yourself. I'll help you. That's it. Concentrate. Close him off. Right." David shuddered, and the glassy sheen in his eyes faded away. "Now it's just you in there. No, it's okay. Reach out. Yes, like that. See? Excellent. Okay. I'm breaking it now. No, no. I’ll still be here. Just wait. You'll be all right." The Doctor opened his eyes and removed his hands from David's face.
The life, the focus returned to David's eyes. He was still staring at nothing, but Rory could see his friend return. His tongue swirled around his slightly-parted lips, as if he were testing his returned consciousness. And then his mouth curved into a slight, wondering smile.
"I can hear you, Doctor. I can hear you!" The tentative smile transformed into exhilaration. "I'm not alone. I'm me, and I'm not alone!" He turned and focused on the time rotor. "And the TARDIS! I can hear you, too! Oo, you sexy thing!" Jumping up, he bounded up the stairs to caper around the console panel, stroking it and tapping controls here and there.
Watching the actor, the Doctor sat back on his heels, the broadest smile Amy had ever seen on his face. "And I can hear you, too, David." With his back straight and strong, it seemed to her that centuries of age and exhaustion had lifted from his eyes, had dropped from his entire body.
David stopped and spun back to face the Doctor. "Thank you for this, for all of this! And..." His face fell. "I'm sorry." His lips pressed into a thin, sorrowful line.
"No, don't apologise. All I wanted was this moment." Elated, the Doctor's face glowed. "This one glorious moment." He jumped up and whirled around the console room.
"Doctor?" asked Amy, watching the Doctor's dance in amazed confusion. "What's happening? What's he apologising for?"
It was Rory who answered her. "They can hear each other, feel each other’s minds. The Doctor’s not alone anymore. But when David goes," he continued, "the Doctor loses his link with him. He'll be alone again."
Amy whirled back and forth between the human and the Time Lord, unable to decide which she worried for more. "You can't do that, David! We don't want you to go..." Her words trailed off, as she knew that there was no argument that could change what had to happen. She gulped, and her voice was tiny when she spoke again. "Can't you stay longer? You can stay as long as you want. The Doctor said so." Rory came up next to her and took her hand in his.
“I can stay, but not too long. I’ve responsibilities. I…” David scrubbed a hand over his jaw. “There’s something I need to do. A night. I think one more night. That’s a good compromise, don’t you think, Doctor?” He glanced at the Time Lord, who nodded slowly.
Rory guessed that there was a silent exchange between the two behind that look. Throwing an arm around Amy and squeezing her, he stepped away and toward his friend. “Can I help?”
“No, Rory. You’ve done so much already. This, I have to do for myself.” He flashed his friend a brilliant smile. “I’ll see you, all of you, tomorrow morning.” Without another word, David spun and trotted out of the TARDIS, taking care to carefully latch the doors behind him.