"Neither are you."
"Oi, I could be one day, spaceman."
"Don't call me that. That's disturbing when it isn't coming out of Donna's mouth."
"I don't want to."
"Can't have you go anywhere until I have a look at you. Have a seat."
"What are you going to do?"
The Doctor nods to the chair in the infirmary (sickbay!) and shrugs off his brown coat. The trip between universes is going rather smoothly, but seeing as they have a few more minutes before they get there, he wants to make sure this man with his face is going to be all right when he leaves him.
When he leaves him with Rose.
The other man tosses off his blue jacket and hops about restlessly in the chair. He looks younger than the Doctor, strangely enough. It's the way he hops about, the way his eyes look clearer, like Donna's. He looks human. The Doctor wears his suit shirt like it's a uniform; the other man wears his red t-shirt like he's comfortable in it.
The Doctor rolls up his sleeves and cleans his hands in the sink. There's dirt underneath his fingernails. Rubble from the destroyed ships. Another end to the Time War. Another end that he ran away from.
He grabs a towel off the side table and dries his hands, then picks up an old blood pressure monitor. He can't remember why he bought it originally (it was 1956, though, and the saleswoman turned out to be a rabid Wildebeati), but he knows how to use it.
"Still can't believe I bought that," the other man says. "Probably to fill up space. Only barely remember how to use it. Do you even remember what human blood pressure is supposed to be? I know I don't. Isn't there a book or something---"
"Give me your arm."
"---in one of those cabinets with a list? Might want to check it. I always remember having high blood pressure, though. Do you remember that? Can't imagine why I did, must be the high stress life. Are you really going to leave me? I can't live a slow life, I don't know how! Do you think---"
"Right, now let me see your wrist." He puts the stethoscope against the other man's pulse and listens to the single heartbeat.
"---I mean, maybe it could work out? Two of us on one ship? We're likely to go bonkers. End up fighting over Rose, I imagine. Well, I mean, can't be that bad, right? You know what I think---"
The Doctor has long since stopped caring what the other man thought. All he can think is how slow one heartbeat sounds. Bump. Ba bump. Bump. Ba bump. One heartbeat, one life. He's got all of the Doctor's memories, he thinks like he does, but he's not quite. He's not a child of Gallifrey, he's a…well, he's a mistake. Rather like Jack but with better hair.
He turns the other man's right arm over and looks down at the pale skin. Pale with little freckles peppering from the wristbone up to the bend in the elbow. They're paler freckles than the ones on the Doctor, who's stood in suns the other man will never stand in. But it's not what the other man has on his arm, it's what he doesn't.
"I noticed it, too." The other man says.
The Doctor turns his right arm over. His tattoo. His brand. A snake-like dragon coiling itself upwards, mouth open, very like a question mark. There's a bend in the neck of the snake, and the Gallifreyan word for "criminal" is tattooed in tiny letters. The paint never needs touching up and unlike an Earth tattoo it will never fade, no matter how often he regenerates or cuts off his own hand. It was given to him in his third incarnation. The mark of an exile of Gallifrey.
"Funny," the other man says, flexing his fingers and looking at his arm. "The things you get used to. Don't even notice til they're not there."
"Yeah," the Doctor says. He takes a step away from the other man. The other man who is everything he is but isn't. Another of the many subtle differences he wonders if Rose will notice.
He can't see how. He's always dressed in long coats and ruffled shirts, his arms covered. He can't think of a time he showed skin beyond his wristbone, it just isn't something he wants to think about. And his companions might ask about it. Liz did, and the resulting conversation was embarrassing. No, not just embarrassing. Humiliating.
And he didn't want to suffer that conversation. Not again. Not ever again.
Oh, the Doctor. The great and brilliant Doctor. President elect of the high council of Time Lords with a Paradoxical Criminal Dragon hiding under his shirtsleeves. He wonders if any of them remembered they had him branded. He wondered if they would've removed it if they did.
"It's really true," the other man says. "I'm not really the Doctor, then? You're Him, I'm just---"
"Stop it." The Doctor shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
"Maybe not to you." The other man stands and picks up his suit jacket, pointedly draping it over his right arm. "So, Doctor? Am I cleared to go?"
The Doctor nods, slowly. "Yep. Perfect health."
"Brilliant." The other man looks over his shoulder, then turns and leaves. Back to the console room. Rose is waiting for him---or maybe she's waiting for the Doctor, it's very obvious now that the two are not the same.
One of them has two hearts, dirt under his nails, dark freckles, and an old brand that never went away. The other is new.
The Doctor envies him. He can remember Gallifrey, but doesn't have the mark to remember that he never truly belonged there.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 987