Word count: 4518
Sunday was one of the loneliest days Will had ever spent. His weekend plans, which had involved roaming the city with his friends, were, of course, dashed; even if all of their friendships had remained intact, the city itself was still recovering from the disaster. When the phone lines finally cleared, he contacted his family using the hotel phone, to assure them he was safe and to make sure they were fine, and he was relieved to find that everyone was well. After that, somehow, it didn’t seem right to seek out Ben or Amy for company, so he headed out of the hotel, partly to see if there was anything he could do to help and partly to find an open shop where he could replace his bricked mobile. Cleanup work distracted him from his thoughts and regrets, and when he returned to his room late in the afternoon - without a new phone, as there were few businesses that managed to open that day - he dove into his work to continue his distraction, coding on his laptop late into the night.
By Monday morning, the city was starting to get back into its normal routine. Though slow, traffic had begun to flow, around the workers still clearing the remnants of Saturday’s event. Many businesses were open, though population was rather light, since many people didn’t need to go to their jobs and others chose to stay home. The development studio that Will was working with opened their doors, and though he considered working from his hotel room for the day, he realised that he needed to get out, to pull himself out of the mire of his thoughts. He dragged himself out of his hotel room and tried to buoy his spirits for the walk to the office.
Thus, Will was not prepared to find David lounging on one of the couches in the hotel lobby, just as he had been two days earlier. As soon as Will stepped off the lift, the man jumped up and smiled in greeting, though this time, he waited where he stood for Will to approach him, rather than striding forward to greet him in his usual exuberant manner. Will grinned happily as they grasped hands.
“Will, my friend!”
“It’s good to see you!”
“I thought maybe I’d walk with you to your work.”
“Certainly!” They turned toward the door, and Will’s step had an extra bounce that had been absent for two days. “I’m surprised… I thought you’d have headed back north by now.”
Used to David’s sometimes strange and cryptic responses, Will eyed him with mock suspicion. “Turned back? Changed your mind?”
“No. I drove back home last night when the roads were empty, cleared out the house, and left. Today is two years in the past for me.”
Stunned, Will halted in the middle of the sidewalk, nearly causing a collision with the person behind him. As he gaped at David, the alien stopped and turned to wait for his friend.
“You came back in time to today?”
“Yes.” His answer was reasonable and matter-of-fact, as if travelling in time was a perfectly normal thing.
A slow smile spread across Will's face. "That means you did it. You finished the TARDIS."
David's eyes sparkled. "I did."
"Congratulations, mate!" Stepping over to him, Will clapped him on the shoulder. "And how is she?"
"She's the most beautiful thing in the universe, Will," he breathed, his face radiant. "Lovely, lovely thing, she is. Would you like to see her? She's a few blocks in the other direction."
"I would be honoured." Letting David lead on, he drew up abreast of his friend. "So you actually did leave once you got back home. Where did you go?"
"Into the time vortex."
"Well, yes. And then?"
"Nowhere. We drifted through the vortex whilst I built her and studied."
Will stopped in his tracks again. "You've been alone for the past two years?" At David's nod, he threw his hands up in exasperation. "You know you shouldn't have done that."
Holding his arms wide, David shook his head, disagreeing with Will's admonishment. "I think it's done me far more good than either of us might have suspected. I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever have since I became who I am now. I had no Time Lords to make me feel inadequate, and no humans to mould me into someone I can no longer be. I'm neither trying to recapture my old life nor striving for an ideal that I physically cannot achieve." He circled a finger near his temple. "I still have two voices in my head, but they try to work together now. Or at least, I'm better at forcing them to do so."
Will studied David's impassive face, trying to determine if he was telling the truth and if he was actually happy with his life, but he couldn't tell. Stoic and calm, this David was different from his friend from two days ago. He shrugged. "If it's working for you, mate. I still don't think you should be alone."
"I don't care to be alone anymore. I'm done with that."
Will smiled and clapped his friend on the arm. "Good to hear." The two friends resumed walking. "Do you know if you actually had needed to leave, if Markus actually did report you?"
"Oh yes, he did." David didn't seem bothered by it. "The Doctor was waiting for me when I got home." Surprised, Will glanced at his friend, who nodded. "Apparently, he was at UNIT when Markus went there, and was actually present when the scientific advisor took his report."
"Oh, the irony! If only Markus knew that one of 'those aliens' was right there."
David laughed. "That's exactly what I thought, too. Not just any alien, either, but the one who created me, even. Lucky he was there, though. He deflected quite a bit for me. Turns out whenever major events like this happen, UNIT gets flooded with alien sightings. They wouldn’t have paid Markus a bit of attention if he hadn’t mentioned Time Lords. He didn’t spare a detail about me, told them everything he knew, including where I lived. So, after he left, the Doctor told them that he’d spent a little time on Earth at that house during his last incarnation. The scientific advisor was rather upset that they hadn’t known, but at least they’ve classified me - or him, I suppose - as a surveillance target, rather than a military matter.” He shrugged. “The Doctor came to warn me to get out, so I suppose my instincts were good. You should know that you, Ben, and Amy will be under surveillance for now, but I’ve checked and nothing untoward came of it. They’ll reclassify you in a few months.”
Will clenched his fists. "Markus could use a good pounding."
"Not on account of me. Remember, to me, it's all done and over with. No use dredging up the past like that." He snapped his fingers. "But, I can tell you what all this was about." He gestured at one of the crumpled abandoned cars parked on the street.
"Oh, right!" Will snapped his fingers. "The Doctor took care of it all, didn't he?"
"Yes. Apparently some alien self-proclaimed custodians of the universe decided the human race needed to be stopped before it spread across the stars, so they sent down the cubes to wipe out the population."
Despite knowing better than to doubt that anything could be possible, Will eyed his friend with disbelief. "There's some species out there that just decides, 'Hey, we don't like you, so we'll just wipe you off your planet?'"
David nodded. "Apparently. Though I suppose there are plenty of incidents of humans doing that to each other."
Will scowled before replying. "Yeah, that's fair. So the Doctor drove them off somehow?"
"Didn't need to," David answered, scratching his head. "They sent an automated system to implement the genocide. Once it left, the Doctor managed to reverse the electrical charge to defibrillate the affected people en masse."
"And what's going to stop them from coming back and doing it again?"
David shrugged his ignorance. "I don't know. I suppose we just have to hope that the Doctor will be here the next time. Perhaps the human race will learn not to trust millions of little black cubes appearing out of nowhere in an instant." David quirked a sardonic smile at his friend.
"Not likely." Despite his cynicism, Will puffed out a breath in relief. "Thank him for me when you get the chance. There were a lot of casualties, but if he hadn't been here..."
David wagged a finger at his friend. "Like you told me two years ago, it doesn't help to imagine what might have happened. He was, and that's all that matters."
Will glanced at his friend out of the corner of his eye. "You miss him, don't you, mate?"
David's reply was immediate. "Very much. It hurt so to see him again, but in a good way."
"Well, maybe your paths will cross more, now that you'll be able to travel like he does." He patted his friend on the shoulder.
"Oh, no," David breathed. "That's not my destiny."
"You don't think you'll see him again?"
"No." The man glanced around at the people on the street and at the buildings, anywhere but at his friend. "I mean that I won't be travelling."
"What? Why not?"
This time, David stopped short. He collected himself before replying, taking a breath deep into his chest. He looked Will directly in the eyes as he spoke. "The TARDIS won't hear me. She doesn't accept me." His gaze dropped to the sidewalk, his eyes glistening. "I thought it would happen when she was fully grown and ready to fly, but apparently not."
Will's jaw dropped in horrified amazement. He knew that Time Lords bonded with their TARDISes, and the ship's refusal of one of the last Time Lords in the universe was the harshest of insults. "I'm sorry, mate." His throat closed and he coughed before continuing. "Do you know why?"
David looked up, his demeanour calm and steady. "I do not. Normally, a Time Lord can at least hear a TARDIS, even if he doesn't bond to her. I can't even do that. She's silent to me. I can only assume that I am not pure enough, that my humanity makes me not enough of a Time Lord to deserve her." Will guessed that beneath that unemotional facade, David was keeping a steely grip on his anguish and injured pride.
"But can't you pilot her anyway? You told me before that the bond is not necessary, just preferable."
David jammed his hands in his pockets and spun away a bit, his shoulders hunched. "I could, but that would feel like rape. Forcing her into a marriage she doesn't want, making her take me places when she doesn't want to be with me. I couldn't do that to her."
Will clapped a hand to his mouth, trying to think of anything he could do to help or even just console his friend, but came up empty. "Then what will you do?"
David smiled, his eyes crinkling with tender appreciation. "Don’t worry so for me, Will. I always planned to settle down, you know, spend my life as a temporal engineer. It's fascinating science, and it's what I've wanted to do ever since I started my studies. I just intended to travel a bit before that.” He shrugged. “Once I leave here, I plan to find a planet I can settle on. Humans in this time zone won't tolerate an alien among them, living for a thousand years, but maybe a future colony, one that deals with aliens regularly. Once I find that, then I'll release her. She could choose to return to the vortex, or fly on alone. More likely, she'll find somewhere to slowly die. That's what they normally do when they don't have a partner. Can you imagine that, Will?" His eyes widened in reluctant wonder. "Whatever it is about me that she doesn't like is so objectionable, she prefers to die."
Will shivered at David's conversational tone. "Mate, that's horrible. And yet, you still love her, don't you?"
That thought animated David almost as much as he used to, back before he had left. "Of course I do. She is brilliant! The most beautiful creature to ever inhabit this universe! Oh, wait until you see her, Will! She's just ahead a wee bit more."
David quickened his pace and Will had to break into a trot to keep up as he silently marvelled at his friend's adoration of the time travel capsule that was breaking his hearts. David displayed no animosity toward the TARDIS, but instead deep disappointment in the rejection and in himself and his perceived inadequacy. Will wondered if such a reaction was a Time Lord trait, because if he'd been in his shoes, he knew he couldn't help but be angry at her for this, after nurturing and caring for her for so long.
Another block up, they arrived at a modern building, built of black marble and glass. David led his friend to a column and gestured at it. "I landed her to envelop the column here. Come on."
Will was not quite sure what happened. One moment, he was on the sidewalk next to a massive black stone column, and the next, he was walking into the time machine. The last time he'd been here, the chamber had been white and featureless, strewn with tools, gadgets, materials, and workbenches. This time, though, the mess was gone. The cream walls were honeycombed with large bevelled circles, and ramps led up to the central platform. What seemed before to be a plain white table was now a hexagonal dais, with matte silver panels edged in polished brass and covered with incomprehensible controls and what looked like computer consoles. The central column of clear glass housed several shorter glass tubes, and around its base, a video monitor was mounted, obviously meant to swing in front of the pilot wherever he might be standing around the panel. Three different doorways around the perimeter of the chamber opened into halls which extended further than Will could see.
"She's gorgeous, mate," he breathed as he tried to peer down one of the halls. "How far does this go?"
"Further than I've explored. The interior of a TARDIS is vast. She might still be expanding, too." As he spoke, he began undoing the chain around his neck, to remove his inhibitor pendant. "I hope you don't mind me taking this off. I've become quite used to not having it on. This is the first time I've worn it in a very long time."
Will was still gaping at the TARDIS, and as he walked up to the central console, he waved an absent hand at David. "Not at all. Go right ahead." He reached out a hand to touch the panel, then jerked it back like he'd been stung. "Can I touch?"
He ran his hand along the panel, then over a bank of buttons. Even the material felt unearthly, though he couldn't describe what it was he sensed about it. "Can she feel that?"
"I'm sure she can, in her way."
Will's gaze darted nervously around the chamber. "Can she hear me talking?"
"Yes, of course. She always has." As he spoke, David caressed the levers in front of him. "She's aware of everything that goes on inside her, though she may not understand it. TARDISes are four-dimensional creatures, and they don't truly understand flesh beings like us."
"Ah, I see." Will glanced at David, then up at the column. He had the strangest feeling that the consciousness of the TARDIS was centered there. He cleared his throat. "Hey, TARDIS!" he yelled up at it.
"Will!" David was appalled. "Be respectful."
"Hello? You listening?” he yelled. “What in the bloody hell is wrong with you?"
Alarmed, David scooted around the central panel, holding his hand out to stop his friend. "Will!"
Will hopped away from him and started striding around the console. Continuing to yell at the air, he stared around, not quite sure where to look to make sure he was being heard. "What is wrong with you, rejecting David like this? He's a fantastic bloke. He's strong and he's clever, and devoted. He's everything a mate should be, and he's done everything he can to protect me and everyone around him, without once considering the cost to himself."
"Will. Stop it.” David’s command forced Will’s attention to him, and he staggered back a step, stunned. The man was terrifying when he wanted to be, consciously or not, and Will had never before been on the receiving end of his anger. “She is a TARDIS. She's got her own desires for her pilot. You can't force her to accept me. I don't want a partner who doesn't want me."
Glaring at his friend, Will set his jaw. He collected his courage and spat back, "Bollocks! She's got no reason to reject you."
"She has plenty of reason!” His conviction suddenly breaking, he mumbled, “I'm not a Time Lord, Will. Not a real one, not enough of one. Whatever it is she wants, I'm just not good enough for her, okay?" The admission pained him more than he could endure, and tears began to stream down his cheeks.
Will stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on David’s shoulder. "That's always been your problem, mate: you never think you’re good enough. You're bloody brilliant! Honourable, brave, compassionate, generous, humble... I'm running out of adjectives here!" He spun around yelling up to the ceiling, "You're just being difficult!"
The floor beneath him lurched, sending both men sprawling, and a low rumble suffused the chamber.
David crawled over to the console, clinging to it as he tried to regain his feet against the quaking. Spreading his arms over the hexagonal panel as if he was trying to shield it from his friend, he cried, "Stop it, Will! Leave her alone!" Nestling his face into the controls, he sobbed, broken, against his beloved ship.
Will remained crouching on the floor. "I won't! You deserve so much better than this, David. After all you've done, all your sacrifices, all those punches to your gut when you were giving your all to do what's right, you're just going to quietly accept this and hide yourself in a hole somewhere and waste your thousand years of life?" He called out to the TARDIS again. "Is this how you repay him, after he devoted over four years to nurture and care for you?"
The chamber bucked violently, throwing Will a metre into the air and he landed hard on his back. Flattened against the console, David barely managed to hold on to it.
Ignoring the pain, Will sneered up at the vaulted ceiling above him. "So it's come to this, then? Maybe if you hurt me, I'll shut up? Well, I won't! I know he’s a fine man, Time Lord or human or whatever he is, and you know it, too. Look at him! Really look at him! Ha!" He jabbed a hand up at the time rotor. "He’s spent all this time thinking that he doesn’t deserve you, but I think it’s you who doesn’t deserve him!”
The tremors subsided and silence settled throughout the chamber, broken by David’s ragged gasps. As Will sat up, glancing around in suspicion of the sudden stillness, David wrenched himself from the console and scrubbed at his face, trying to get himself under control.
After a number of seconds of eerily quiet calm, Will shattered the silence with a tentative phrase. “I went too far, didn’t I?” He clutched nervously at the smooth floor, afraid to even move.
“I… I don’t know?” David seemed as petrified as the man on the floor. “If she’s angry, she could do whatever she wanted to us. I don’t know what this- ah!”
Startled by David’s sudden cry, Will jumped to his feet and spun to his friend. The man was frozen, his body taut, his eyes glassy and unfocused. They widened as his stunned expression melted into revelation, then ecstasy. “You… you…” he breathed hoarsely, “you want me! Oh, I hear you, you beauty!” His eyes fluttered shut and he stood motionless, drinking in the connection with his time travel capsule.
Barely daring to believe that the craft had listened to him, Will watched his friend for a bit, then glanced around the chamber, hoping the ship wasn’t too angry with him. As the seconds passed, he began to feel rather uncomfortable witnessing what was obviously a private moment, and he turned away to busy himself with looking at console controls or whatever he could find to do when David spoke.
“He was testing us.”
“Eh?” Will turned back.
David was still enthralled by the psychic connection with the TARDIS, his eyes glowing pale gold as they gazed blankly Will. “Well, mostly testing you. He always intended to have me. He wanted to know what you were worth, how far you were willing to go for me, if you were worthy of my friendship.”
Will couldn't believe it. “He refused you for four years to figure that out about me?”
David didn't seem concerned. “To us, yes. To him, well, he’s a TARDIS. He inhabits time. He always knew of you, long before I did, and four years or two seconds aren’t different for him.”
“Wait." Confused, he pointed at David. "Your spaceship is a bloke?”
That brought David back to the physical world, though his eyes continued to shimmer. “No." He tested the thought for a moment. "He doesn’t have a gender, but that's the pronoun he wants. He's not an 'it'.”
"Oh." Will shrugged. “I always thought you were just using ‘she’ like you call a ship.”
“So did I.” David blinked a few times, then, smiling, strode over and fairly tackled his friend in an ecstatic embrace. “Oh, thank you, thank you! Oh, Will! You are magnificent!”
Biting back an embarrassed grin, Will pounded David on the back. "I didn't do anything, mate. He's always been yours."
"Oh, no. No, no, no." David drew back. "Will, you've always been brilliant, being there for me, keeping me grounded, telling me what I needed to hear. I wouldn't have gotten this far without you. And then this! Fighting for me, for my life, when I had given up." Spinning away, he flung his arms out to encompass the entirety of the time machine. "Look at what you've given me! The universe and the loveliest ship ever to explore it with! I'll witness the most glorious stories firsthand and spread them across all of creation!" Abruptly, his whirl came to a stop and he stared at Will, his eyes wide with sudden doubt. "You'll come, won't you?
Will was puzzled. "Eh? Come where?"
"Come with me." David's voice was quiet but filled with wonder. "Into the past and the future, to planets across this galaxy and all others. Anywhere you want to go, anywhen that sparks your fancy." His countenance shone as he anticipated his friend's acceptance.
Will's surprise caught in his throat and he sputtered and coughed before he could speak. "I... I don't know, mate."
David sobered instantly. His eyes dulled and his arms dropped to his sides. "Ah. I see." His voice was serious and measured, an octave lower than it had been a moment ago. "I ask too much."
"No, that's not what I meant." Will hastened to explain. "I hadn't expected the question, mate. I've never even considered doing such a thing. I always assumed that when your work was done, you'd be gone in an instant."
David’s eyes wandered to the console, and he idly ran his fingers over the controls. "I'd always hoped you would want to come with me."
"It's almost beyond belief, going out into space and seeing the universe. A lad's fantasy. I can't even imagine..." He held his head in both hands. "But I have my real life here. This is not an easy decision."
Continuing to avert his eyes, David shrugged. "I can bring you back to this place, this moment, whenever you decide you've had enough. You can pick up your life where you left it."
"If I survive. It'll be dangerous, right?"
The Time Lord turned back to his friend, catching his eye with cold honesty. "Sometimes. You may never come home. You need to understand that I cannot in good faith guarantee that. But I once promised you that I would protect you as best I can, and that promise still stands."
Staring into David's eyes, Will nodded. He needed to make his decision knowing all of the risks, but when it came down to it, some things were worth the danger. "I'll come with you, mate. I'll gladly stand side-by-side with you and face whatever the universe can throw at us."
David's lips curved into a shy, pleased smile. "Welcome aboard, my friend. Oh!" He spun toward the console and began working, his hands flying over the controls as he circled it. "We'll need to stop by your house. I don't have much in here other than my things, so you'll want to bring some clothes and anything you think you might need."
Will frowned. "How am I supposed to know what I might need?"
David waved a dismissive hand at Will as he continued to work the console. "Oh, just grab some clothes. We'll come back for anything you find you want."
"You don't know what you're doing, do you, mate?" He crossed his arms, trying to mask his incredulity and amusement with a disdainful smirk.
"What?” He stared at Will, hurt at his friend’s lack of confidence in him, though Will suspected that it was a mock injury, expressed by an expert actor. “Of course I do! I've been out there, with the Doctor and Jenny, and as you can see, we survived."
"And what did you bring with you on your travels then?"
"Mostly our wits." David winked.
Grinning mischievously, David threw a lever on the panel in front of him and gazed up at the central glass column with shining eyes. With a grinding noise that reverberated through the chamber, the bundle of clear tubes inside the cylinder began to oscillate up and down. "We're off, Will. One short hop back home, and then we're off to see the universe."
Also captivated by the motion of the time rotor, Will stepped up next to him. "First day of the rest of your life and all that, right, mate?"
"The first page of the next chapter of my story. I'm honoured to have you writing it with me." Throwing an arm around Will's shoulders, David squeezed his friend, then settled back as the TARDIS carried them into the time vortex.