It was almost clichéd, really.
So of course, with everyone's projects still outside, the only thing they really could do was stay inside. Out of the rain, out of the chaos, out of the madness that came with trying to save a broken universe. All they could do was wait. Perhaps out of a need to feel at least somewhat useful, he stood in the kitchen making tea for himself and his alternate self, pouring it into two different colored mugs before wandering into the library and setting them down on the table.
"Reinette told me you liked honey," he said, "a lot of honey."
"Hmm?" his alternate self, sitting at the table with his legs hung over a second chair looked up over his gold wire-rimmed glasses as he approached. He appeared to have found an old, slightly damaged board game and was attempting to find all the pieces in the box. He pulled off the glasses and took the mug. He grumbled a thank you and took a sip. He looked like he might complain, but didn't.
"How do you take yours?" he asked.
"Milk and two sugars," the Doctor replied, taking a seat across from his double, "I tried honey once, bit too sweet for me, tastes good on pancakes, though, and the occasional breakfast cereal."
He glanced over at his other self, watching him grumpily scour the box for missing pieces.
"Is that battleship?" he asked.
The other Doctor nodded then snorted as he found another piece. "I think that's all of them," he said. "Can't believe Sarah Jane has all these games lying around? I'm surprised she didn't have any children." He turned the board to face the Doctor and nodded in affirmation. Clearly this was how the other Doctor intended to spend his time inside.
"You know how to play?"
"Yes," the Doctor replied, secretly trying to remember exactly which game was Battleship again, and what, exactly, the rules were. He knew it involved small pieces shaped like ships, hence the reason he identified the game in the first place, and, after a moment's thought, was fairly certain he knew what to do with said pieces. He took a sip of tea and reached across the table to take a board.
"I'm assuming you can play as well, yes?"
"I'd hardly be setting it up if I didn't," the other Doctor said, sighing loudly. It was as if he were speaking to a very young, very foolish child and not another version of himself. "You set up your board, I call out the spots you might be, and attempt to 'destroy' your ships. I do the same and on your turn you to the same. It's a game of chance and logic."
Despite the irritation, the other Doctor was still asking him to play. Still wanted him to take a moment out of his time for it. It was a step in the right direction, really, that he was willing to be this polite to him. Or at least, polite in the sense that he was willing to share a game.
Even if it was, technically, a war game. Of sorts.
He opened up the board and looked down at the pieces. It was a simple game, really, hide the ships so your opponent can't find them, and then try to guess where the other hid his. It was all strategy, something he was immensely good at when he needed to be. It was all a matter of figuring out exactly what you were up against, and throwing it right back. Simple.
"So," he said, casually, as he hid his first ship, "play many games like this in France?"
"Lots of chess," other Doctor said, hiding his own ships as he spoke. "Reinette was impossibly good at it. A good challenge, something I needed. I also corrected her books a lot. So many errors."
He put the pieces up, trying to imagine how they'd best hide. He wasn't the best at hiding, but he knew a little about strategy. A lot about strategy actually. Learned that long before France.
It was hard to imagine being trapped in one place for so long. The Doctor'd done it, of course, many times before. But to be trapped for so long in linear time, without the TARDIS, left to just play chess and correct books...
It was a moment he was glad his time line had worked out differently.
"Books do tend to have errors," he said, conversationally, "though personally, I tend to just leave them alone. Let people find out for themselves if they're wrong or not. Hands on, bit more fun that way." He grinned, and looked towards his double.
His other self stared at him quizzically, as if trying to figure out why, exactly, he was smiling. He appeared to come to some sort of a conclusion, and he nodded. "Nothing quite so hands-on as pre-revolutionary France, is there? Still, I won't have books in a library where I live calling things like bleeding tools 'revolutionary and inventive medicine'. Very nearly killed Reinette, all that invention." He took another sip of his tea, not bothering to hold back the bitterness to his tone. "Could've strangled Louis when I came back to find an ill woman even iller because he thought he was helping. Barbaric."
"Right," the Doctor said, "Definitely. G-7." He leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of his tea, and hoped the other man had finished setting up his ships.
To be honest, he wasn't entirely sure how to respond to his other self just yet. Something was telling him he wanted to at least be friendly with him, even if the other man would never consider him a friend. It was understandable, really. How could you ever accept a person who looked just like someone you just lost?
And he was so...violent? No, not quite violent, at the moment, just harsh. He was blunt and angry- difficult to talk to. Were these the effects of living the slow path? With the universe outside nearly gone, is that what he was going to end up like? Cold, bitter, and unable to hold it all in?
"Nope," the other Doctor replied. He checked his own line of ships and aimed for a spot on the other end of the grid. "A-2. Did you ever directly deal with his Majesty during your stay in France? Couldn't seem to get rid of him during mine."
The conversation seemed to cheer the grumpy other Doctor up, at least a little bit. Perhaps it was talking to someone when he tended to lock himself away. He was far from cheerful, but he was at least somewhat chatty.
"I saw him a few times," the Doctor replied, "Asked the same sort of questions most people ask, who are you, what are you doing here, what are those strange clockwork men doing in court..."
What does she say?
"He was very...er, royal, I suppose is the right word for him. Very king-of-France-like." He looked firmly down at his board, trying not to dwell on his last encounter with Louis XV. Both of them standing before a wet, rain-covered window, trying desperately to hide their clearly similar feelings. His mask had been suitably stronger than the king's, he remembered, if only because he'd had much longer to perfect it.
"B-8," he said, choosing a random spot on the board. Leave the beginning to chance, then enter with strategy. Appear bumbling, but have a plan. That was the way to do it.
"I take it you didn't get along particularly well with the king of France, then?"
"I think we managed as well as two rivals living in close proximity to each other could," the other Doctor replied. He scowled at the battleship board. Were either of them going to hit something?
The other Doctor scratched the back of his head, tugging some of his long hair from its loose ponytail. "Things improved dramatically a few months after I arrived. She officially left as Louis's official mistress and assisted him in finding other women. He became more like a friend, I suppose. Still, can't stop jealousy once it's started."
"I suppose you can't," the Doctor commented, awkwardly running his fingers through his own short, unmanageable hair. It all sounded a bit like some kind of 18th century French soap opera to him. King Louis and the other Doctor, both chasing after Reinette, the beautiful courtesan.
"Did you ever regret it," he asked the other man, suddenly, "not being able to go back? If you could have, knowing what would happen if you didn't, would you have?"
"A-12," the other Doctor sighed. "What sort of a question is that? They tell me I'm the morbid one, but listen to you!"
After a moment, he relented.
"I don't know. I would never have left her to die, though I imagine there's a universe where we--I--we never tried to leap through the mirror and she was killed. I..." He took a breath, considering his words very carefully. "I don't want what happened to Rose to have happened. Or Mickey, for that matter. And Reinette and I were happy. You know, as happy as you can be trapped in one time on one planet."
"Right," he said, quietly, simply. "Miss, by the way."
It was odd. He'd lived the slow path before, just for a bit. A few years trapped on Earth against his will, and it had nearly driven him mad. This man, despite his not particuarly pleasant behavior, seemed to have come out of it just fine. Well, fine-ish. He'd lived through it, he'd adapted, and he'd been happy. He'd found contentment on the slow path, not entirely, but enough to keep himself sane.
It was something he didn't think he could ever do.
"There was a moment," the Doctor said, "where I thought I might have liked to live the slow path. I was sure I was trapped, at that point, Reinette hadn't shown me the fireplace, and I though...well, maybe I could do it."
He sighed, "Deep down, of course, I knew I couldn't. Reinette showed me the fireplace and I ran off as fast as I could. C-7."
"She showed it to me, too," the other Doctor agreed, "But the wires were far too damaged, couldn't recreate a connection. Tried a dozen times. More than that. Eventually...I had to accept it. And miss."
He eyed the board on his side, frustrated that he'd not yet hit one of his opponent's targets. "D-5." He took another sip of tea. "Really, though. Would've been wonderful to have the chance to show her 'round the universe properly. And I imagine Rose would've liked her. Rose, the way she was before. Me and Mickey on board, it was getting a bit too blokey."
"It would have been brilliant," the Doctor said, looking down at his board. How could neither of them have gotten a hit yet? He shrugged it off, "A-5" and took another sip of his tea.
"I'd planned to," he said, "I had so many places I was going to take her, so many things to show her. I told her, just before I went to check on Rose, through the fireplace, to pack a bag and pick a star. Then I ran off. Opened the TARDIS doors for Mickey and Rose, said hello for a bit, then ran back through the fireplace. Only I'd forgotten there was a delay. By the time I did get there she was..." he trailed off.
"She never did get to see those stars."
The Doctor looked over his teacup. Another miss? Merde.
"Well, I managed to take Reinette to a few places before the TARDISes---TARDII...whatever they are stopped working. Took her to Beteria 4, and the Library of the Universe. Wonderful places, had a lot of fun. Well, some fun. Some heart-wrenching incidents, but that's something I've found a bit normal with Reinette and I."
He twisted his wedding band with his thumb. "Miss. F-3. Where did Mickey end up running off to, then? In your universe."
Yet more misses. This was starting to get odd.
"We landed on a parallel world," the Doctor said, frantically trying to find someplace on the board neither of them had tried already, "it was being taken over by Cybermen. He met his own alternate self, and watched him die. When the TARDIS finally recovered from the trip, he opted to stay there instead of coming back with us."
"E-4," he said, taking yet another sip of his tea, "We did see him again, of course. One more time. At Canary Warf. Works for a parallel Torchwood now, I think. Defending the Earth and all that." He paused, "Did you ever figure out what happened to your Mickey?"
"Miss. Joined Torchwood with Rose," the other Doctor said. "Ended up shacking up with some bloke named Jake. Never heard of him, myself. Rose found the situation amusing. Course she'd had a little too much to drink by that point in our conversation, so everything was amusing."
He set his jaw and shook his head. "She changed. A lot. Suppose it fit me better, considering who I became. A-1, let's see if I can't try to hit you the linear way."
"You can't," he said, "Miss. B-2."
Everybody changed. If it was one thing the Doctor'd learned from meeting so many people over the course of his life, it was that no one ever remained the same. Mickey was a perfect example, going from idiot to hero in a little less than two years. Rose had changed since the day he first met her, and was probably continuing to change without him. It was inevitable.
But at the moment, it was not what he was concerned with. It was one thing to hear about Mickey and Rose's changing lives and behaviors, it was another to hear about the man in front of him.
"Who did you become?" he asked, "How does Rose being drunk somehow fit you better?"
"She was harder, colder," the other Doctor replied, shaking his head to the B-2. "Stupider in many ways. Though I could never approve of the drinking. Hadn't been the same since she lost her husband I imagine. Would've liked to have met the bloke. She knew Reinette. I think they managed to get along. I've never been very good at telling."
He looked up. "Already did A-2. So…A-3."
"She had a husband?" the Doctor asked, then looked down at his board. A-3, nothing. "Miss."
"I have no idea what happened to Rose in my universe, or, I suppose, in her universe. I saw her once after she was pulled to the other side, through an image projected from the TARDIS. She seemed basically the same."
He'd often wondered what had happened to her, what she'd done after her image had faded. He didn't, exactly, want to dwell on it, as in his experience dwelling on things never seemed to do much good. But with Rose...it wasn't exactly dwelling, as much as missing.
Which appeared to be the theme of this game. "C-1."
"Miss." This was starting to get irritating. "Yes, some bloke named Jamie, worked for Torchwood. He died after a few years, she spent a long time alone. I suppose I was more fortunate. I always had Reinette."
The other Doctor sighed. He was glad for that, even as the woman frustrated him.
"I met a Rose once, said she was from a different universe. Don't know if she was yours or not. Idiotic girl. Do you fancy idiotic girls?" Perhaps the irritation with the game was getting to him.
"I...er, no, I tend not to," the Doctor said, quickly. It was a bit hard to imagine an idiotic version of Rose. No matter how many versions there were of different people, no matter how they each differed from the other, it was hard to imagine Rose being idiotic or stupid. She was still Rose, no matter what universe she'd come from, how different could she possibly be?
He looked over at his other self, fiddling with his long hair as he glared, frustrated at his board. She could be very different, he decided.
It had all gone a bit reversed, in the other man's world. The Doctor had found someone to share his life with, while Rose had ended up alone.
"You were lucky you had Reinette," he said, "That's true."
"Yes, despite how frustrating she can be," the other Doctor replied. "You know I bought that woman a car and she's never driven it? Not once! Had a bad incident involving some police and now she tells me I have to make a friend before she'll learn how."
He snorted grumpily. "As if I don't have friends! I have friends. A-4."
"Cars do pollute the environment, technically," the Doctor said, "not driving might be a good idea on her part. Miss."
"And you have friends," he continued, taking another sip of his tea, "of course you have friends. You've got Reinette, obviously, and Rose, though she's not here, is she? And there...well, there's...er..."
He couldn't say it, not yet. They were acquaintances, two people forced to interact under dire circumstances. They hadn't known each particularly long, nowhere near long enough to even consider the possibility that they might, actually, perhaps, get along.
"I'm sure you've got friends," he said, finally, "D-5."
"Ted," the other Doctor added. "Tall skinny bloke, a bit overobsessed with goats. Bought me and Reinette a llama for our wedding." After a beat he added. "No, I don't really understand it either. But it made Reinette happy." With that, he chuckled a little.
"She named it Guinevere. Since I had Arthur, the horse, back in France. There's another friend, Arthur. Must make a list to show her." He eyed his double over his glasses, as if he sort-of wanted to add him, but didn't say anything.
"Miss. You know, though, everyone here who's met you seems to adore you. What do you have, Grezackian pheromones or something?"
"Not that I was aware of," the Doctor replied, a bit surprised by the remark. Who would adore him? Him, the one who made Sarah cry every time he saw her, created an awkward situations with two different people at once, who could barely speak to his own granddaughter without looking like a fool, and who couldn't get over seeing Reinette alive.
Even his other self had called him morbid. He hardly seemed the type you'd want to have a conversation with, to be honest. It was probably one of the many, many reasons he was traveling alone.
"That's...er, good to know, I suppose," he said, finally. He wasn't entirely sure what else to say. He couldn't quite see why anyone would be particularly enamored by him. He held doubts, more than he could count.
And yet, there was no way he was going to say them out loud.
"B-1." The other Doctor grinned a little, apparently pleased with his other self's discomfort. After a moment, he tugged on his ear and dropped the subject. "Have you run into the Master yet? Apparently he got himself made to Prime Minister or some such nonsense."
Not his favorite subject, and the way his jaw tightened probably showed that. Though, if you couldn't talk to yourself about your greatest enemy, who could you talk to?
"And his wife. Love the wife. She spent a few weeks on board my TARDIS, I loved her that much."
The Doctor looked down, eyes firmly on the board, "I've run into the Master," he said, "and his wife. In fact, last time I saw them, she shot him. And he wouldn't regenerate."
His gaze remained on the board in front of him. He'd spent a somewhat ridiculous amount of time trying to forget that particular moment, trying to distance himself from it. He'd forced it to the back of his mind, and was in no particular hurry to bring it back.
"Miss," he said, "A-4."
The other Doctor looked up at his counterpart quizzically, clearly unable to understand why the Master's death made him distant. The other Doctor had learned to hate the Master. Truly, truly hate him.
"That's odd, the last time I saw Lucy we were treating her for a gunshot. Always so much with guns in our lives, hmm?" He took another sip of tea. "Miss."
"Far too many guns," the Doctor agreed, taking a sip of his own tea, "no matter how many times you tell them to stop, they keep using them, keep on killing."
He sighed, and looked down at his board. This was moving past ridiculous and beginning to reach impossible. "Have you noticed neither of have gotten a single hit yet?" he asked.
"Yes, I think you're cheating." The other Doctor said, pointedly, perhaps a little irritably. "A-6. Guns could be useful if they were used right. Always promised myself I'd never handle them, but, well...I got a little carried away once, fighting for a greater good. Ended up hurting someone. Learned my lesson, sealed up the arsenal in the TARDIS. No real reason to open it up since."
He paused, considering his counterpart. "Reinette has a gun. I gave it to her a year ago. As far as I know she's only used it once, when she shot Lucy."
The Doctor looked up, not caring about the board.
"Reinette shot Lucy?" He asked, "Reinette shot Lucy, with a gun you gave her, after you'd already got 'carried away' and hurt someone?"
As difficult as it had been for him to respond to his other self, it had just gotten harder.
"Tell me this was before you got 'carried away'. Tell me Reinette shot Lucy before you hurt someone, and you 'learned your lesson' because if it wasn't, what lesson would have you have learned?"
He leaned back in his chair, looking down again, towards the board. Now, now he could call his other self violent.
"And I did not cheat," he said, firmly, "How would I be cheating at this? Miss, B-1"
"Is that indignation on your face? Are you being self-righteous? I thought only our ninth self could be quite like that," the other Doctor shook his head and snorted.
All the same, he felt the need to defend himself. "I gave her the gun to defend herself against whatever had taken over the Earth at that time. And I hurt someone---Reinette in fact---trying to stop the Master. I shot her. That's when I got rid of my weapons."
He turned back to the board, focusing on it. "Reinette shot Lucy when she was saving me from the Master when I got this---" he smacked his cane against the side of his leg, "---because I was too much of a coward to kill him back when I had a gun to his head. And miss. B-2."
"I'll grant you," the Doctor said, "getting rid of your weapons was good, being too much of a coward to kill him...well, I'd pick coward any day, that was good. But tell me one thing..."
He looked up from his board, and looked up at the other man.
"Tell me this, if it had been anyone but Reinette, anyone in the world that you shot, would you still have gotten rid of your weapons? Would you still feel guilty if the person you hurt wasn't someone you loved?"
He looked down, "Miss. D-5."
The other Doctor recoiled from the question almost as if he'd been slapped.
"How can you ask that? Do you think that I'm that cold, that I can't feel?" He slammed his palms against the table. "I had the chance to shoot the Master and I didn't. And for that? I was locked up in a box for over a month. I should hate myself for not shooting him."
The fact that he said 'should' implied that he didn't.
He scowled again and stared at the board. "Miss. F-2."
"I've had a lot of chances to kill the Master over the years," the Doctor replied, trying to be calm, "and he had me trapped in a tent, fed from a dog dish, and aged till I was too weak to stand up. Locked me in a birdcage as well, and that was for an entire year."
He sighed, and looked back down at his board. "In the end, it was own wife that finally killed him. The one who'd stayed by him despite everything. There's an irony there, somewhere."
"Miss," he added, "C-7"
"And that makes you better than me, does it? Because you had it longer and have no scars to show for it? Well, I'm sorry, Self. I'm so sorry, but I can't forgive him after what happened. I'm not that sort of a man."
The other Doctor leaned back and stared at the board. His shots were all around his own pieces but none seemed to hit his other self's. This game was ridiculous. This was ridiculous.
"We're not very alike after all, I think."
"No," the Doctor agreed firmly, "We're not."
They shared the same face, the same over-all likeness, and the same occasional memories. Past that, their similarities ended. They were two people, two conflicting personalities, trapped inside on a rainy day, forced to play a game neither of them seemed to be able to win at.
That was all.
He looked down at his board. Nearly every empty space was taken by something, a miss or a ship, nothing he guessed when his turn came. Reluctantly, he looked up at his other self.
"Did you guess, yet?"
The other Doctor glared back at him. "Have you even got ships on the board? Turn it round, let me see."
Grudgingly, the Doctor turned his board around. "There," he said, "I've got ships. In every place but the places you hit. No tricks. How about you?"
The other Doctor stared at the Doctor's board for a long moment, eventually raising his hand up to scratch one of his long sideburns. After another moment, he let out a bark of a laugh.
He turned his own board around, every piece missed by one of the Doctor's guesses, each ship in the identical place.
The rain outside beat down. Both noisy and bracing; cold and indifferent.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten) (AU)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 4,447
Written With The Amazing: clever_wanderer