Word count: 3047
David barely noticed when the Doctor strode into the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, staring at a device that was basically a Time Lord tablet and trying to stretch his mouth to repeat the completely alien sounds that emanated from it. After three hours of study, he’d managed to piece together one sentence in Gallifreyan - a complex construction that amounted to “My name is David” - that the software had graded as a “barely pass”, and he was surprisingly proud of that feat. The pronunciations, cadence, and grammar of the language was like nothing he’d heard before, but he was known for his facile tongue and this was a good challenge to put to it.
The Doctor put the kettle on, pulled down a pair of cups and saucers, and fetched the tea from the cupboard. “How is your first day of study coming on?” Opening another cupboard, he stepped back to survey the selection of biscuits.
“Slow. I can't wrap my mind around this language.” David tapped to replay a phrase and tried to mouth along with it.
“Fair bit more complicated than English, isn't it? But you’ll get it. Shouldn’t take long, maybe a few months. Mostly vocabulary, really. Yes!” David started at the exclamation as the Doctor dropped to his knees. “The digestives! Been wondering where they’d got to.” He began rummaging among the boxes.
“Why start with Gallifreyan, though? The translation circuit should let me read anything I find, shouldn’t it?”
“Should. Oh! Malted milks.” Cradling a small stack of biscuit packages, the Doctor regained his feet. “But I think if you’re going to learn to be a Time Lord, start with the language. You should think in Gallifreyan. The language will help you order your logic. Besides,” he added as he tore open a box, “the old girl is picky about who she translates Gallifreyan for.”
For a moment, David's eyes unfocused in the characteristic manner of a person exploring telepathically. He shook his head. "I don’t think she’ll do it for me. I don’t feel the connection.” With sudden suspicion, he frowned at the Doctor. “You told her not to, didn’t you?"
He flashed a mischievous grin at David. "You need the practice."
David remained unconvinced. "I don't really think I can change what language I think in. Will I actually use it for anything, beyond my studies?"
Turning to check the kettle, the Doctor nodded, then began wandering the room. "Well, doesn't matter much what language you speak in, with the translation circuit, does it? I used to speak in Gallifreyan whenever the circuit was available. Easy for me, and no one noticed. Stopped when there was no one left who knew it. Didn't seem right to keep it up." He tugged at his ear. "Then it was English. Easiest to use the language your friends understand."
"Do you still think in Gallifreyan?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I think in a number of languages, usually all at once. Helps sort things out. The right language in the right situation really can clarify your thoughts."
David's shrug exactly mirrored the Doctor's. "Well, I'm game to learn it, even if I don't think it'll be very useful in the long run. Though I think you’re being too kind with your estimate of a few months.” A little irritated, he tapped his thumb on the table. “I can remember some of the words, but I just don’t see how you put them together correctly.”
“You’re trying to learn like a human. Memorising words, then ‘noun goes here, verb goes here’, that sort of thing.” He tapped his own temple. “Use what you’ve got here. Your mind is much more powerful now, and the language was developed to work with it. Try this. Think of the words you know and what you want to say with them. Picture the concept in your mind, and let the words paint that picture. Repeat the sentence a few times in your mind, letting each cycle refine what came before. Then say what you come up with.”
Eyeing the Doctor with a sceptical frown, David murmured, “Okay…” then closed his eyes. His lips worked through some words silently, then after about fifteen seconds, he slowly spoke a sentence. He opened his eyes and peered at the Doctor with a shy, hopeful smile.
“Brilliant! That was perfect!” The Doctor grinned back, proud of his student’s first attempt.
David shook his head in disbelief. “That was the strangest thing, seeing the words rearrange in my mind. And somehow it all makes sense. How does that even work?”
The Doctor shrugged. “It just does. It’s why Gallifreyan is so different from Old High Gallifreyan. We reworked the language to be more intuitive. I can’t help you with the vocabulary, but the grammar comes naturally.”
Jerking up in his chair, David snapped his fingers. “That’s why the writing is circular, not a linear alphabet like it used to be! The grammar doesn’t end. The sentence loops back on itself. It’s a complete image of a whole idea, with no beginning or end, and you get the entire meaning at one glance.”
“Oh, you couldn’t make this harder if you tried!” He stared down at the tablet and scratched his head. “This would be a nightmare for anyone else to learn.”
Laughing, the Doctor strode back to the counter. “You think that’s difficult? Wait until you get to the grammatical structure for temporal phenomena. Once Rassilon stabilised time travel, he realised that no extant language could handle the communication of chronal relativism with precision, so he created one. Let me tell you, if you want a language to be intuitive, you do not let an engineer invent it.” He began arranging various biscuits on a plate.
“Oh, I’m not going to worry about that. I’m having enough trouble with what I have in front of me.” David ran a hand through his hair. “Like this word here, for ‘you’. Earlier it was pronounced with that almost hard-C sound” - and he demonstrated, slowly and poorly, he suspected - “but in this sentence it has a vocalised ‘th’, like -” Glancing up as he spoke, he broke off when he found the Doctor staring at him in horror, his mouth hanging open and the biscuit in his hand quite forgotten. “What?”
The Doctor sputtered. “What have you done?”
“What? I haven’t done anything!” He glanced at the tablet, then down at his shirt, then behind himself. “What?”
David felt at his cheek even though he was quite aware that he’d removed his sideburns earlier that morning. “Of course. I’ve only had them because I was playing you. I’ve been wanting to shave them for months now.”
“And your hair! It’s… er, well, it’s boring!”
David couldn’t suppress his smirk. “It’s combed. I like my hair stylish, not like I lost a fight with a power outlet.”
Fetching the plate of biscuits from the counter and the milk from the fridge, the Doctor nodded with an air of philosophy as he placed them on the table. “Won't take you long to grow them back. You look good with them. Gives you distinction.”
David wagged a finger at the Doctor. “No. Maybe you like the way you look with them. I prefer them gone. Though,” and he eyed the other man slyly, “I was thinking a bit of stubble would suit me.” He rubbed at his chin. “Just long enough to be soft.”
The Doctor was horrified. “You can’t do that to my face!”
“My face,” David corrected him. “Not yours.”
Indignant, he straightened and crossed his arms. "Have some respect!" The kettle began to whistle.
"I am." David casually leaned back in his chair, with little respect at all. "By not asking you to shave as well. I’m the one who has to look at you, after all. But I know how stubborn you can be about your appearance."
"Hmpf." Dropping tea bags into the two cups, the Doctor poured the steaming water over them and brought them to the table, sliding one toward the other man, who had pulled the tablet toward himself and was chewing on his thumb as he read. He plopped into a chair and, adding milk and sugar, sipped his drink, then selected a biscuit from the plate. "Maybe it would help if we spoke in Gallifreyan. Languages are easier to learn if you actually use them."
"Eh?" Looking up, David spied the tea and smiled. "Oh, thanks!" Dropping the tablet on the table, he busied himself with preparing his tea. "I guess we could, but then we'd be limited to conversations about what's your name and what's my name."
The Doctor laughed. "Short talk, that would be. Maybe in a few days, when you have a few more words under your belt."
"And I've figured some of these consonants out. Okay." He sipped his tea and snagged a biscuit. Taking a bite, he shook it at the Doctor. "You know, yesterday, when we were installing the paradox circuit, you asked me what I thought I might want to do with my life."
"Oh, yes!" His face lit up with boyish enthusiasm and he bounced in his seat. "Anything you want! The universe is yours!"
David shook his head. "Well, I haven't looked too far ahead, but there is something I want to do in the short term."
Somewhat nervous, David cleared his throat. "Bowtie never did close the rift in the wall between this universe and mine, which means we can go back there. If you'd allow me to, I'd like to go back and finish filming my episodes." He hurried on before the Doctor could interrupt. "There are four of them left, so it would take a few months, which I realise is a while, but I really want to finish what I started."
A cloud descended over the Doctor's brow. "A few months is nothing. You're still thinking like a human," he remarked absently, waving a dismissive hand.
"I'll continue my studies at the same time," David offered in support of his case. "Not that I get much leisure with my shooting schedule, but I will." He peered at the man across the table. "You don't want to me to go back, do you?"
"It's not that." He set his jaw. "You'll discover what will happen to me, from your scripts, won't you?"
David nodded slowly. "Yes. There's always an episode which shows how you die and regenerate." Though the Doctor held himself stiff as a plank, David could see his Adam's apple bobbing.
"You know that you can't tell me, and you can't try to change what happens." He leaned across the table and looked David in the eyes. "I'm quite sure that my death is going to be neither quiet nor painless. You can't try to help me. Do you think you can do that? No. Do you know you can do that?"
David matched his serious stare, his eyes sparkling golden. “Yes. I will not tell you anything, and I will not change your future.”
Steepling his hands, the Doctor tapped his lips with his forefingers. “It’s a very human impulse to try to help, to change things that shouldn’t be changed.”
It took all of David’s talent to keep his voice steady and expression neutral. “I’m not human anymore.”
“You’re more human than you think. You always will be partly human.”
“I know. But I know the consequences of such things as well as you do, and I have to learn to reconcile the two voices arguing in my head.” David could feel them now, one longing to return to his old life one last time and the other berating him to abandon such nonsense, insistent that he would not be able to keep from interfering in the Doctor's destiny.
“It’s not going to be easy. You have a lot more power now. And we Time Lords have a tendency to think we know better than everyone else.” The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck, staring up at the ceiling, anywhere other than at David. “The temptation to do things you shouldn’t will be very strong.”
Lowering his gaze, David picked up his cup and stared into his tea. “I’m not going to pretend that I’ll be perfect, but I think I can do this. I want to try.” He played with the ceramic handle. “I want to bring my old life to a proper close. I feel like it was cut off, that I didn’t get to say goodbye. I suppose that’s what death is like for most people, but I have the chance to see my family and friends one more time. I’d like that.” He eyed the Doctor. “And I’d like to finish telling your story. It’s a magnificent tale.”
An eyebrow cocked. "Now, that is not a phrase I've ever heard applied to my life." Musing on it a bit more, he snorted a smile, then his expression quickly turned stormy. "You want to find out why I used the chameleon arch again, don't you?"
David placed the cup back on its saucer. "I'll admit that the thought did cross my mind, but not until well after I considered what going back would mean." He eyed the Doctor, almost as if he were afraid of being hit. "I am curious."
"As you should be. You want to know why you were created." Rubbing the back of his neck, the Doctor settled into a brooding gloom. Somehow, David knew immediately that he wasn't going to continue the conversation, at least for a while, so he picked up the tablet and pretended to study whilst he sifted through his thoughts. The Doctor hadn't approved the idea of allowing David to return to his old life to see it through to some semblance of completion, and that had hurt most of all. When he'd first landed in this universe, he'd been scared, angry, and confused, and longed to return home, but when it became apparent that he couldn't, he had quickly become resigned to the idea that that life had ended. Now that a return was actually within his grasp, it was the only thing he wanted, and to have it withheld was maddening. His nervous energy was starting to make him fidget, and he forced himself to listen to each word the tablet sounded multiple times to try to fix their meanings and pronunciations in his memory.
"You should do it."
The Doctor's voice startled David out his concentration, and he realised it had been quite a long time since his companion had fallen silent. He wasn't sure at all what he was referring to.
"You should finish the filming. It's important to you." As an incredulous smile began to spread across David's face, the Doctor held up a finger. "On one condition. You let me tell you why I used the arch first. I want you to hear it from me. Not a story in a script."
David crossed his arms and plastered his hand over his mouth. "That's not like you at all," he murmured through his fingers. "You don't tell your companions anything you don't have to."
"You're not my companion. You're far more than that, and you deserve to be treated appropriately." He ran a hand through his hair. "I have to remember that. I'm not the best at treating anyone as well as they deserve."
"All right. Whenever you're ready. I'm content to wait."
The Doctor sighed and nodded. "I won't make you wait long. It's something I have to do. Been nearly four decades and I still haven't come to terms with it. But!" He pounded the table with a hand. "You have plans to make! When do you want to arrive? And what am I to do whilst I wait for you?" An excited smile spread across his face. "Oh! A whole new universe to explore! Brilliant!"
David's eyes grew round with apprehension and began to glow golden. "Oh, no, you don't! Don't you dare stir up trouble in my universe!"
The Doctor was genuinely surprised. "Trouble? I'm just going to go around to see the sights. Perfectly simple and safe."
David snorted. "Nothing is ever simple or safe with you. You're a magnet for the complicated and dangerous." He stabbed the table with a finger. "I'm not having you bounce around my universe like that. You can drop me off and come back here."
He shook his head. "Why come back here? A waste of effort and energy. If you prefer, I can stay on Earth, where you can keep an eye on me. Plenty to see there."
"I do not prefer that! That's the worst place for you to be!" David's eyes were now shining brightly.
The Doctor waved at the glow. "You know, you’ve got to learn to control that. So why's that?"
David gaped at him. "Doctor, I'm the lead actor in a very popular programme in Britain and around the world. Millions of people know my face, and they know I don't have a twin brother. You can't be anonymous, especially if you insist on dressing like that."
"I could use a perception filter..."
"I said no!"
The Doctor's shoulders sagged. "So I'm to wait months for you without anything to do?"
"You've got a time machine! Just skip ahead!" David threw up his hands in frustration. "You're yanking my chain, aren't you? You like getting your own way by being whiny and petulant."
"You're going to have to regrow the sideburns before you go back." The Doctor didn't bother to hide the note of triumph in his voice.
David sighed, his eyes darkening back to normal. "Yes. We'll have to wait for that at the very least."
"Good! I knew you'd come around on that. You'll love having them back. You'll see." The Doctor jumped up and cleared the teacups, leaving the plate of biscuits out. Heading for the door, he spun at the last moment. "Come by later, after you've practised more constructions. I have a story to tell you about a colony on a red planet." He saluted David with two fingers and disappeared into the corridor.