Word count: 5137
The offered menu of Joe’s Diner switched to lunch at ten in the morning, though it continued to serve breakfast throughout the day for anyone who wanted it; very few customers ever actually wanted a burger and fries that early. The breakfast crowd was gone and Sarah had cleaned all the booths and tidied the counter, so she wandered to the glass front door to glance up and down the street to look for potential customers. None of the few pedestrians had eyes set on the place, so she returned to the counter. She could hear the tell-tale metal-on-metal scrapes of Ted in the back preparing the hot grills, and she knew that Mandy would be down in the storeroom pulling out the lunch ingredients, taking her time since it was rare that they got a customer before eleven. Sarah danced to the music playing on the tinny speakers as she counted out the cash in the till.
The bell on the door startled her into dropping the wad of bills she was counting into the wrong slots in the drawer, and she cursed under her breath as she pulled them out and started to restack them. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two tall men in the doorway, one of them taking in the decor of the place while the other waved at a young woman dashing down the pavement out of sight. "Y'all take a seat wherever ya want," Sarah called without looking up. "Be with ya in just a minute."
"Thanks!" replied one of them; Sarah didn't know which one, as she had started recounting the stack.
A minute later, Sarah had finished the till and stuffed the bills into the right slots. She smoothed down her waitress dress, patted her slightly-graying hair into place, and grabbed two menus and an order pad and walked up to the customers' table.
Though this was a small town and the diner relied on its regulars, mostly the townspeople and the farmers from the surrounding area, it had its fair share of visitors from the nearby interstate and Sarah had seen all kinds of people wander through. It was one of the perks of the job, actually: meeting people from all walks of life, getting glimpses of their stories, learning about the huge variety in the human race. Yet, these two men stunned her at first glance. A pair of twins, perhaps in their early thirties, they were so alike that she could have sworn there was a mirror at the table. Their clothing and hair were different, but everything else, including their mismatched eyes, crooked noses, and long, lanky forms, were the same. Beyond the physical similarities, though, there was something indefinable between them that was so alike, she felt like she was seeing double. At the same time, their differences were very telling. The one on her left sported long sideburns and short brown hair spiked on the top like those celebrities on TV. He wore a shirt and tie under a form-fitting pinstripe suit that exaggerated his almost impossibly skinny body, and he was staring around the diner with an enchanted expression as if he'd never seen the like, the tip of his tongue tracing his upper lip. She knew immediately that this one liked to be the center of attention. The one on her right was clean-shaven, his hair fashionable but far more sober, with the brown waves swept off his forehead, and wore jeans and a casual jacket over a Spider-Man t-shirt. Obviously the quieter and more introspective of the two, he had been engrossed in his own thoughts, but at her approach, he looked up with an open, friendly smile.
"Thanks for waitin'!" she began her greeting as she placed a menu in front of each man. "Welcome to Joe's! I'm Sarah. Anythin' on the menu's fair game, though some might take a few, 'cause we're cleanin' the grill at the moment. Can I get y'all some drinks?"
The eyes of the twin on the left locked on to her, and he flashed her the brightest grin. A staccato of words burst from his mouth and she caught only a handful of them. She guessed that his accent was some variation on English, but it was nothing she'd ever heard before. "Sorry, hon. What was that?"
Sighing, the man on the right rolled his eyes. "I told you, you need to speak slower. This is America. No one's going to understand either of us." He enunciated his words with exaggerated care, but Sarah still had problems understanding his Scottish brogue. "You can't get a lime and soda." He turned his menu to his brother and pointed at a section. "There's the drinks you can choose."
Not wanting her customers to feel uncomfortable, she waved away his admonishment with a dismissive hand. "Never ya mind, hon. I'll make sure ya both get what ya want."
Glancing briefly at where his brother was pointing, the left twin stared at the drinks section of his own menu in confusion. "What are all these? I mean, I know Coke, but the rest, I can't tell. They're just names." Though he was mostly murmuring to himself, Sarah noticed that he was making the effort to speak slower. His accent was definitely different from his brother's. What puzzled her, though, was how he had managed to get to a diner in the middle of the United States without knowing the difference between Coca-Cola products.
The right twin leaned across the table toward the waitress. "Please get him some tea. That'll be good enough to go on with. And I'll have a Diet Coke. Thank you." His smile was warm and polite.
"Diet Coke?" She laughed. "What fer? Ya both could use some meat on yer bones." She grinned at them and retreated behind the counter.
As she filled a small ceramic teapot with hot water from the coffee machine, she listened to their conversation, which, though they spoke no louder than most people do in a restaurant, rang clearly through the empty diner. As they spoke at their normal speeds, she strained to decipher their accents.
"And what about this, David? What are 'grits'?"
"I don't know." A hint of exasperation suffused his tone. "Really, Doctor, stop asking me. I've only been to Southern California and New York. I don't know as much about this country as you think I do."
"I should try these 'grits'. There's always something new to experience, everywhere you go."
Sarah peered out from behind the coffee machine to study the two men. It struck her as odd that a person would refer to his own brother by a title. Closing his menu and placing it on the table in front of him, David leaned back and frowned at the man across from him as Sarah turned away to finish preparing the tea things and pour a Diet Coke.
"So why are we here?"
"Told you. You've been studying too hard. Need a bit of a break."
"So you brought me here." The last word was colored with disbelief.
"Why not here? You've been all over Britain, what with your filming and all. You should see a bit more of your world."
"This isn't my world."
"'Tis now. You said yourself you've only seen the big cities. Enjoy this glorious country."
David didn't respond as Sarah approached with their drinks on a tray. "Here ya go. A Diet Coke," and she placed the tall glass in front of David, "'n' hot tea." She arranged the teapot, saucer with cup and teabag packet, and creamer in front of the apparent medical man. "So, what can I get ya?"
"I'd like a cheeseburger and fries, please." David's polite style, so different from the hearty, rough-n-tumble ways of the locals, amused her.
"All right," she drawled as she noted it on her pad, then turned to the other man. "'N' you?"
"Ham and eggs." His eyes shone brightly as he added the rest of his order. "And those grits."
She'd never seen anyone so excited about ordering grits before. She penned that in with a flourish, then swept up the two menus. "Comin' right up!" Turning to leave, she changed her mind and spun back to the table. "If y'all don't mind my askin', ya both talk diff'rent. Ya didn't grow up together?"
"Oh, no," replied David. "Not at all."
Sarah shrugged. "Must be different in your country. They don't separate twins here."
"Oh, we're not twins." The man didn't notice the dirty look David shot him as he barrelled on. "Not even remotely the same age. I suppose technically, he's a cl-" He caught David's mortified expression and fumbled to correct himself. "Er, I mean, yes, it's different in Britain. I'm from, er, London, and he was brought up in..." He cast a puzzled glance at his twin. "Where were you brought up?"
David's shoulders slumped in disbelief. "I'm from Paisley. You should know that."
"Honestly, I didn't pay that much attention. Knew it was some town in Scotland." He shrugged.
David turned to the waitress. "Paisley's near Glasgow."
"Ah, got it," she murmured. Something strange was going on between these two and she wasn't sure she wanted to know any more about it. "Well," she continued, turning on her Southern charm, "welcome to America, boys!" She flashed them a friendly smile and returned to the kitchen to turn in their order.
"Early customers, eh?" Ted remarked as he took the order slip from Sarah's hand. Glancing at it, he nodded. "Easy enough."
"Brits. Strange, those two." She began pulling out plates to set them out for the cook.
The grill sizzled as Ted dropped a burger patty on it. "How's that?"
"Did ya see 'em? Twins. One of 'em doesn't know what Dr. Pepper 'n' Sprite are. 'N' he says these things, riles up his brother, 'n' then changes his story."
"Think they're up to somethin'?" he asked over his shoulder as he fetched the ham.
"Nah. Sounds like they're just passin' through. Just a bit weird, is all." Sarah stepped to the service window to peer out. The two men were deep in conversation.
"Well, ya let me know if they cause any trouble. I won't have ‘em harassin' ya." He brandished his spatula with a menacing scowl.
"Don't you worry. Nothin's gonna happen." She slipped out of the kitchen door and busied herself collecting the condiments for the men's meals.
"You're bored, aren't you?" Sarah was unable to identify which man said it and had to rely on the accent; it was definitely Scottish. She popped her head out to see the other one staring up at the ceiling with a guilty look on his face, then returned to her work.
"No, not as such."
"Yes, you are. Come on. Admit it."
"Well, it sort of takes the fun out of things whenever we go anywhere and you refuse to even poke your nose out of the door."
"I have a century of things to learn in, what, a few months? A couple of years at most?"
“Oh, not that much. I’m omitting all the snooty lordy stuff, and there was a lot of that.”
“So, that brings it down to only six decades, then?”
"Jenny finds the time to come out with me."
"Jenny is far advanced, and I've been studying for months longer than she has." There was a note of jealousy in his tone. "She's brilliant. She understands and processes things in an instant."
"Don't know where she picked that up from. Can't be genetic. But have you noticed? It's all science and maths and tactics. Which you're brilliant in, too. Just in comparison, she's better. But you're much better with logic and history and language. And ethics. She's having a hard time with ethics, which comes naturally for you. And I can't say for sure yet, but from all indications, your intuitive grasp of temporal mechanics is stellar. With study, you’d be up there among the best."
There was a pause.
Sarah emerged from behind the counter and stepped up with a handful of bottles. "Here ya are. Just the standards, so if ya want something in particular, just ask. We got some fancy mustard or steak sauce, if ya like." She placed them on the table, then tapped one bottle. "I brought ya some vinegar. That's what y'all like on yer fries, ain't it?"
With an amused smile, David opened his mouth to reply, but just then, the front door burst open and the young woman whom Sarah had seen earlier dashed in. Appearing to be maybe twenty-five years old, her bouncing blond ponytail and shining, excited grin made her seem much younger. She wore a plain gray t-shirt and olive fatigues, and heavy boots. Jostling Sarah as she brushed past, she slid into the booth next to David. "I was right! It was a shop full of guns! Gorgeous antiques of all kinds!"
As Sarah glanced out the window, wondering which shop she was referring to, as the only gun shop in town sold only new pieces, David admonished the girl. "Jenny! Apologize to Sarah. That was rude of you."
"Oh!" The girl turned to the waitress with sincere contrition despite her obvious excited distraction. "I'm sorry, ma'am! I shouldn't have pushed past you like that." Her accent was different from either of the two men's: still British, but far easier for Sarah to understand.
"It's okay, hon. 'Tweren't nothin'." The girl flashed her a bright grin, then turned back to the man across the table.
"Will you come with me to the shop? I'd love to get one!" She leaned across the table in supplication.
The man jerked straight. In a tight voice, he replied, "No. I won't allow a gun in my home." Sensing an imminent argument, Sarah turned to disappear into the woodwork. Experience had taught her long ago when it was wiser to not get involved.
"But they're gorgeous!" She reached over and grabbed the doctor's hand. "Won't you just come and look at them, Dad?"
"'Dad'?" Sarah couldn't stop herself from turning back and exclaiming. She stared at both of them in turn, then laughed, partly at the strangeness of the concept and partly to lighten the atmosphere. "Were ya eight when ya had her?"
"Well, I didn't really 'have her' like you're thinking -" the man begun but the girl piped up.
"And it wasn't all that long ago. Two years maybe, since the progenation machine? For me, anyway."
Neither of them noticed the waitress' confusion, but David rolled his eyes. "Will you two listen to yourselves?" He turned to Sarah. "It's a wee bit complicated, to tell the truth."
"I'll say," she murmured, taking a step back.
He shrugged. "Suffice it to say that 'Dad' is a pretty good approximation of their relationship."
She nodded. "Okay. Well, yer food'll be out in a moment." The words tumbled from her mouth as a matter of rote, as she certainly had no idea how else to respond and they gave her an excuse to retreat behind the counter. Once she got there, she realized she hadn't offered to get the girl anything. Peering out from behind the coffee machine, she saw that David, eyeing his companions narrowly, was clearly concerned about the odd appearance of their behavior, while the other two chatted on, oblivious to anything else.
"Come on, Dad. You'll love them."
"I said no, Jenny, and that's final."
"You can think of them as relics, not as weapons. You like historical mementos. Museum pieces."
Pointedly ignoring her, her father turned to stare out of the window. Jenny whirled to David with puppy-dog eyes. "Can't you convince him, Big Brother? He always listens to you." Sarah frowned. How could one of the twins be "Dad" and the other "Big Brother"?
With a placating smile, David patted Jenny's hand. "I can't. This is not something you're going to be able to change his mind on. He doesn't like guns, and he doesn't want them around you any more than he wants them around himself."
Watching carefully, Sarah saw that Jenny radiated a child-like simplicity, an innocence of thought. Though the waitress didn't agree with the doctor's apparent attitude towards firearms, it was clear why he thought that the girl had a problem with learning ethics. Jenny huffed at David with a petulant bounce. "I don't see why. They're just a tool. Whether they're good or bad depends on who's using them, and I've learned from him. I won't use them. I promise."
David's hand closed over hers. "It's the principle of the thing, Jenny. They're a tool, yes, but their purpose is to kill, and that's something he'll never approve of, ever."
The girl's face screwed into a pout, and she jerked her hand out of his. "Of course you'd take his side. You know he'll do anything you ask, but just because you're him, you'll just agree with whatever he says." As the doctor turned to stare at the girl in dumbfounded astonishment, David leaned toward her and spoke in a gentle voice that was laced with steel.
"I am not the Doctor. Never have been. At best, you can say that he was me, and besides, that ended months ago. And you're certainly wrong that he'll do what I ask. He does what he wants; I've no control. But that doesn't make any difference. Don't you understand what makes him the Doctor? It's not all the vanquishing creatures and the planet-saving and the running. It's that he cares, and that starts with respecting life. All of it. That's why he won't tolerate a gun near him, and why he uses this" - he tapped his temple - "instead of this" - he balled his fist. "And if you want to follow in his footsteps, you've got to understand that and feel the same way, not just in your mind, but in your hearts."
Sarah, the Doctor, and Jenny stared at David, all for different reasons, his quiet words ringing in their ears. The waitress tried to melt into the counter behind her. None of it made sense - not the part about him being him or vice versa, or the thing about creatures and planets, or even the concept that "the Doctor" was the man's name. The thing that disturbed her the most, though, was David's aura of command, palpable and compelling even though his words were barely audible and his attention was on Jenny alone. It terrified her to realize that he had no idea that he possessed this power: to him, he was simply trying to help his niece learn something. Fighting the urge to run and hide, she clutched the counter's edge with white-knuckled fingers for a number of heartbeats, then jumped and whirled in a cat-like crouch at the scrape of ceramic on metal right by her ear.
"Up!" yelled Ted as she spied his face behind the two plates of food in the service window. "You okay, Sarah?"
Her eyes flicked to Ted's eyes, and then to the food, and she straightened and smoothed her dress with nervous hands. "Yeah, fine." She patted her hair and dusted imaginary specks from her arms as she collected herself. "Uh, thanks, Ted. Gotta get these out." Frowning, he eyed her once more, then disappeared back to the grill. She panted heavily, then grabbed the two plates, gathered her courage, and stepped out from the counter.
Whatever had transpired between her customers, it had cleared by the time Sarah reached their table. "Food's up!" she announced in a tolerably cheerful tone, and she placed the ham and eggs in front of the Doctor and the cheeseburger in front of David. The man on the left murmured a breathy, "Brilliant!" and couldn't sample the grits fast enough, grinning happily at the mouthful as Sarah went through her customary "Now, y'all just let me know if ya need anything." She wagged a finger at Jenny. "Can I get ya anythin', hon?"
Jenny shook her head, her ponytail wagging from side to side. "No, thanks, I'm fine. I ate yesterday."
Sarah blinked blankly at her. "Um, all right. Well, ya let me know if ya get hungry." A dull ache began to throb just behind her eyes, and she wandered back behind her now-favorite coffee machine, pinching the bridge of her nose.
While they ate, the men chatted about some science-y thing that David asked the Doctor about, and Jenny began to fidget with boredom, until she finally jumped up out of the booth and declared, "I'm going back to the shop," the words dripping with irritation. She flounced out of the diner. David shot the Doctor a meaningful look.
"What?" The Doctor's lips curved into a perfect, puzzled "O".
David gave the Doctor one more heartbeat to realize the obvious, then thumbed toward the door. "Go with her."
An astonished eyebrow shot up. "What for? I'm not buying her a gun. You know that. Especially after that little speech."
David palmed the table with both hands in exasperation. "You don't have to. Just go with her. Disapprove of it all while you're there, if you want, but just go. She's not after a gun. If she was, she would have asked me to go with her. She just wants some time with you, with Dad, not the Doctor." At the confusion on the Doctor's face, he leaned forward and spoke in a soft tone, almost too low for Sarah to hear him. "I know it's been centuries for you, but you're a father again. Her father. That's as important to her as getting her Time Lord training and learning who she is. More, I'd say. I know you love her. Go and show her that."
The Doctor bit his lip, then smiled, tender appreciation softening his eyes. "I think you're teaching me more than I'm teaching you. I've gotta run." He scooped the last bit of grits into his mouth, then patted the table twice. "Meet you back at the TARDIS." He leapt from the booth and was gone in a blur of blue.
"And I get stuck with the bill." David laughed in soft self-mockery as he continued working on his cheeseburger.
Unsure of what to do, Sarah made herself as invisible as possible behind the coffee machine. The man left in the booth still terrified her, but she somehow knew she shouldn't be afraid of him at all, and her curiosity about them burned in her chest. Taking a deep breath, she straightened and patted her hair into place. Then she strode across the diner and plopped into the booth across from David.
Placing the last bite of his cheeseburger back on the plate, he leaned back and regarded her with a warm, amused smile. "You heard all of that and want to know what's going on, don't you?"
"It don't make no sense, hon, all that stuff y'all were sayin'." She held up a hand to keep him from interrupting her. "Now I know it's none of my business, but y'all've given me a poundin' headache tryin' to figure it all out, 'n' ya scare me to death."
He shook his head sadly. "Yeah, we have that effect sometimes, don't we?" He picked up the last bite of his burger and stuffed it in his mouth. Chewing and swallowing, he nodded. "I can appreciate that, you know. Getting a glimpse of something so strange, so fascinating, and you don't know what it is. It's terrifying." He picked up a fry, more to have something to gesture with than to eat. "It's very complicated, but I'll tell you the simple version. Just... please don't be afraid. We won't hurt you. Not ever."
"Okay." She clasped her hands on the table and waited, trying to mask her apprehension. Sometimes words, just simple words, were the scariest things of all.
He sniffed. "Well, we're aliens. I know you guessed that already."
She smiled in acknowledgement. "Y'all seem like decent folk."
"Yeah. We're really not that different from you. Now, the Doctor, he's a Time Lord. That's what his race is called. He's been around for a very long time, and he travels all over the place, planet to planet, and he does these brilliant things: saving lives, bringing the bad guys to justice, basically being a force for good in the universe. And he really likes humans and Earth. Okay so far?" Sarah nodded.
"Okay, good. Jenny, she’s his daughter, but not with a mum or anything normal like that." He snorted a laugh. "'Normal' really isn't a word that's associated with the Doctor. Anyway, Jenny was created in a machine from a sample of the Doctor's cells, a couple of years ago. She's very young, and they only just got back together a little while ago. They're still figuring each other out."
Sarah smirked. "Anyone can see that, right off."
He laughed. "Oh, you have no idea. It's been maybe eight hundred years since he's been a father, and I don't know if he was ever a good one, or if he even remembers that time. And she..." He bit his lip. "It must be hard for her, being born fully adult but having to learn about the world like a child. She's brilliant, and she thinks she knows everything, so it's hard to disabuse her of her notions."
"Just like any kid." She dismissed the talk of Jenny with a wave of her hand. "But what about you? How do you fit in? Yer his twin, but ya talk about 'em like they're from a TV show, not like people talk about their families. It's like ya don't know 'em at all. 'N' I know ya didn't grow up in Glasgow."
He flashed her a sheepish grin. "Actually, I did. Well, Paisley. But, no, I'm not his twin." He rubbed the back of his neck with a reluctant laugh. "This is going to sound really weird."
"Weirder than growin' your daughter in a machine?"
"Fair do's." He tipped the french fry in a salute. "I’m… Er, I… well, the Doctor, he sort of created me, by accident, kind of like a human clone of him. I did grow up human and I had a real life, but that's all gone now and I've been changed... well, um, mutated? No, more like transformed. Now I'm sort of a Time Lord like him. Well, not really. Something in between, not really either." He shrugged. "I'm just me. I'm here because I'm sort of training with them. That's all, really."
Sarah frowned. "That's all? That don't seem right, not from what I heard."
David's left eyebrow shot up in confusion. "You can't know. I mean, it is a simplified version of the events, but it's about right."
"Not that. 'Bout you just attendin' his school or whatever. That ain't right. Anyone can see how close you 'n' 'im are."
"Oh, no." Waving a hand dismissively, he leaned back and shook his head. "Not at all. I do know him and his history fairly well, but no, we're not close at all. I know he feels a bit of an obligation toward me, because he thinks he can't just abandon someone he's created, who doesn't have a home or a life to go to. He's agreed to train me, but that's all."
Cocking her fists on her hips, she pursed her lips, staring at him directly in the eyes with a skeptical shake of her head. "That ain't it at all. It's easy to see everyone else so clearly 'n' be blind to yer own self, ain't it?" She pointed at him. "You two, y'all don't talk much, I bet. Mostly just the easy stuff. Whatcha gonna have fer breakfast, where y'all gonna go today, what the hell are grits, that kinda thing. 'N' ya think because of that, because he don't talk to ya, he don't see ya as anythin' but an obligation. But that's cause you don't gotta talk. Y'all are connected deeper inside. Yer like two sides of the same coin, with different faces - well, not really, I guess, but different thoughts 'n' opinions 'n' styles, but ya share the same core, the same heart. I think that if y'all ever separate, yer both gonna have a big hole inside, 'n' y'all'll never find anyone else who can quite fill it."
David stared at her, stunned, the fry in his hand forgotten. His eyes softened and began to gleam with a pale golden shimmer, but she couldn't tell if they were happy or sad - maybe a bit of both. He glanced away, then snorted softly. "How can you tell something like that from fifteen minutes' conversation?"
She wagged a finger at him. "I been at this job fer twelve years, boy, 'n' I've seen thousands of people wander through. After a while, ya start noticin' things. The little things that seem like nothin', but tell ya everythin'. I can tell. I know people."
He shook his head. "We aren't people."
"Yeah, ya are. Y'all're weird people, but yer still people."
"Oi! Don't let him hear you say that!" His head rocked back as if his neck was too exhausted to hold it up. "He'll think he fits in just fine and won't listen to me ever again." He gazed down his nose at her. "Thank you, Sarah. I don't know how right you might be, but I needed to hear that. I'm still trying to figure out how I fit into all of this."
She slid out of the booth and gazed down at him. "We all are, David. Oh!" She fumbled in a pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, placing it on the table in front of him. "The check. All yers, I believe."
Rolling his eyes, David slapped a hand to his forehead, then dug in his pocket for his wallet as Sarah cleared the abandoned dishes and ducked back into the kitchen.
"Everythin' okay out there?" Ted popped out from behind the grill, concerned that their customers had created trouble for his friend.
Sarah shook her head, musing on what she'd just seen and heard. "Yeah. 'Sall just fine. Ya know," she murmured as she set the dishes to be cleaned, "it don't matter at all where ya come from or how ya came to be. Everyone's got the same ol' problems, figurin' out who they are, 'n' family, o'course. Those three, they'll work it out, in the end."
Ted nodded. "Course they will. Just's long as they don't bother you none."
She turned to her friend and smiled. "'Sall good, Ted. They're gonna be just fine."