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Author's Note: Written for Remix Redux IV, based on "Dare", by queennell. Thanks to nos and Lara for betaing at the very last minute. Originally posted 26 March 2006.
Truth (The Fire Alarm Remix)
by Tara LJC O'Shea
They'd never played the game properly, with her asking and him answering, or vice-versus. But sometimes it seemed as if that's all they did, day in and day out.
It wasn't "dare you to pull the fire alarm" because it was too beautiful to stay inside while the sun was shining, and get suspended for three days when they are ratted out by Nancy Delaney, who was out having a quick fag in the stairwell and had it in for Shareen ever since they were 12.
Or "dare you to go tell the bass player you fancy him" and end up with a stoner who left her in a dodgy bedsit in Peckham with an £800 overdraft and the clothes on her back, when he took off for Amsterdam with a groupie whose real name was Bernadette but insisted everyone call her "Noosh".
It was "dare you to leave your home and your family and everything you've ever known for danger, and excitement and almost certain peril and eventual messy death."
Dare you to go off with an alien you've only just met, and leave Mickey in the street, gawping and confused. Dare you to go off and leave your mum for a whole year, letting her think you were dead or worse.
Dare you to live your life, instead looking at the faces of the other bored commuters on the bus each morning, wondering if this was all there was: eat, sleep, watch telly.
Dare you to stop thinking about what's safe and what's easy and what's possible.
Dare you to live, even if it means dying.
She would have to prise the truth out of him bit by bit.
Half the time, he would just look through her if she asked a question he didn't care to answer. It would make her feel awkward and uncomfortable, and after a while, she would just learn not to ask those sorts of questions. Just wait, patiently, until he'd let titbits drop now and then. About his home, about his family, about him.
But he had a way of going cold and distant when she asked for more than just his hand in hers. He'd answer any question she could think to ask him—so long as it was never about those subjects he'd cordoned off, and she only discovered the limits and boundaries by stumbling into them blindly.
Truth was off-limits. Not all truth—but certain kinds of it, and she understood. But didn't stop her from wanting to know.
He loved to show her new worlds, challenge her to see things in way she never had before. Teach her by example, rather than lecturing her. Even when they argued, at least they argued because he cared so passionately. When they rowed, she felt as if it was because he thought maybe she was clever enough to argue with. Even if she never changed his mind, at least he listened to her. Her mum could dismiss her dreams as her putting on airs. Jimmy Stone could treat her like dirt except when he was horny or hungry and needed either a shag or someone to heat up last night's take-away curry. Mickey could just assume everything was going to stay the way it was not because that was the best it could get, but just because it was comfortable and familiar. And she'd always just accepted it and buried her hurt and anger deep inside where she could eventually pretend she didn't care anymore.
But at least the Doctor treated her like an equal. Which was why it stung, when she asked for the truth and he just shut down and walked away. Not because he was angry with her. But because all the love of life that infected him in every other moment would just drain away at the first sign of certain questions.
What was your world like?
Were all your people like you, wanderers and thieves and conjurers and anarchists?
Did you have a family?
Did you leave them because you had to, or because you wanted to?
She learned not to ask, because she hated to see his light dim. But that didn't make the questions go away. She just buried them deeper, and waited for them to fade away.
She'd never realised how different they were. She knew he was an alien. He'd told her, and she believed him. No human man could do the things she'd seen him do. But that didn't change the fact that she never really seemed prepared for how alien he really was.
She'd never noticed until he'd held her close once, when they'd danced.
They'd gone to a colony in the 31st century, just on the other side of the Arm, which Jack had sworn had the best vegetarian moussaka and live music in the quadrant (and that era of history) and he'd then promptly disappeared with two members of the waitstaff.
He'd been right about the music, however, and the evening had ended with Rose dragging the Doctor out onto the dance floor. She'd laughed at the face he'd pulled at the energetic 31st century rock music that to her sounded less like music and more like a car stereo randomly switching channels over a relentless and pounding synthetic beat.
She'd seen Jack over the Doctor's shoulder, chatting animatedly with the drummer on stage and he had winked when he caught her eye. The Doctor raised a brow when he caught sight of her blush at one of Jack's less subtle hand gestures, and pointedly turned her so that the former conman turned adventurer was hidden from her line of sight.
Then abruptly the music had changed to something slower, and suddenly the Doctor had flashed her a grin as he'd swept her up and twirled her across the floor. There had been no fancy footwork. No showing off. At first he'd stared down at his feet, but once he'd seemed convinced that he wasn't going to trip over them, or land heavily on hers, he'd relaxed and they'd just danced. One song had melded into another and the couples had thinned out to the point where only a handful remained.
She'd rested her head on his shoulder just enjoying the music and the company when she lifted her head again, puzzled.
"Your heart sounds funny."
"Which one?" he asked, and she had pulled back.
"Which one what?"
He spun her out, and then pulled her back, closer than before.
"What do you mean which heart?" she asked, waiting for the signal that this was a question he might not answer. But he only smiled down at her fondly, his feet finding the rhythm again.
"Well, there's the right one and the left one."
"You've got two hearts?"
She'd frowned. "How come I didn't know that?"
"You never asked."
"What's that like, then?"
"That's a funny thing to ask."
"You know what I mean."
"Well, how'd you feel if I asked you, 'so what's it like, only having the one heart, then?' You've always had it—you don't know any different."
"Yeah, but two hearts. That's just so..."
"C'mere," she said, and pressed her cheek to the soft wool of his jumper. She could feel his laugh like a rumble beneath her cheek, and she slapped his arm so he'd stay still long enough for her to feel his twin heartbeat. Long enough for her to realise suddenly that she was half wrapped around him on the dance floor. People were staring. She could feel their eyes.
She had blushed, but she didn't care. She was fascinated. The double-thrum of his heartbeat was hypnotic, and she closed her eyes. "But you look just like—"
"Yeah. But I'm not."
"I knew that. I just—it's easy to forgot, you know? Cos you're not blue, or have tentacles. You don't have tentacles, do you? Just forget I asked. What I mean is, it's just so weird."
"Not bad, just different."
"Different the way you're always different. Different you."
"You don't know the half of it," he'd said with a laugh and she'd never understood what was so funny.
She'd dared him.
Held out her hand, lead him in the steps, laughed when he twirled her across the floor. Give him a mountain to scale, a lock to shatter, a door to open instead of close, and he was a marvel.
But he had a way of going cold and distant when she asked for more than just his hand in hers. He'd answer any question she could think up to ask him—so long as it was never about those subjects he'd cordoned off, and she only discovered the limits and boundaries by stumbling into them blindly.
She'd asked him once, before Jack had joined them, before the disaster that had been Adam, why her. They'd just stopped off at a corner shop in Kent in 1991 to pick up milk for tea and a box of HobNobs, the TARDIS sitting parked on a street corner just as if it had always been there.
"Why you what?" he'd asked as he fished through his pocket for the key.
"Why did you ask me to come with you?"
"Because you pulled the fire alarm."
She'd thought back to that day, the last normal day she'd had. The last day she'd woke up believing aliens were something you only saw on the Sci Fi Channel as you flipped channels on the telly, and the world had seemed normal.
"How do you mean?"
"In that restaurant, right after I pulled Rickey—"
"Mickey," she corrected rolling her eyes. But he'd just continued on, oblivious.
"—right after I pulled the plastic Rickey's head off. You could have stood there, typical human, frozen by fear or uncertainty or what have you. But you didn't. You saw there was danger—maybe not to just you and me. But all those people who'd just blundered into a situation they had no control over. And you thought 'How can I get these people out of here?' And you acted."
"And I pulled the fire alarm."
"Yes. And the rest, as they say is history."
And they'd gone back inside, and life—as it was—had gone on.
She hadn't expected to find him in the wardrobe room when she went there to put away his leather jacket. It had survived the Christmas tree attack mostly intact, and she'd emptied the pockets and found only a crumpled valet ticket from Platform One, spare battery pack for the sonic screwdriver, and what she suspected was sand from a beach in Australia, 200,000 BCE.
He had been poking around amongst the clothes thrown haphazardly across an overstuffed armchair, laying out five nearly identical neckties on the arm of the chair. The long coat that wasn't leather was draped across the back of the chair, the dark blue lining seeming almost purple in the TARDIS lights.
She'd hung the jacket on a wire hanger, between a fancy dress costume and a long blue tulle skirt, and reached out to finger a length of plaid wool hanging just above her head.
"What's this?" she'd asked, tugging it down and letting the folds drape around her.
"What's it look like?"
"Um... a blanket?"
He'd taken it from her, pulling it out to its full length. "It's a great kilt."
She giggled. "Have you ever worn this?"
"Why wouldn't I?" He'd acted all affronted, but his dark eyes were laughing. "I have fantastic knees! Well, some of me have had. Some of me you probably wouldn't want to see my knees. But I can tell you, without reservation, that these knees—perfection."
"That's not what I asked. Have you?"
"Worn this kilt? No. This actually belonged to a friend. From a very long time ago."
"What happened to him?" she'd asked, chewing on a piece of hair that kept falling into her eyes.
"He went home. Actually, he went to the battle of Culloden. I assume he went home, after. I hope so."
"Don't you know?"
"We didn't exactly part company voluntarily," was all he would say.
He'd folded the wool back up and set it reverently on a shelf that held an assortment of straw hats. He'd turned to look at her, expectant, and she'd swallowed beneath the frankness of his gaze.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Always. Although I have to tell you, if it's about that one time with the Dauphine of Praxis VII and the toboggan, I'm afraid I'm sworn to secrecy and wouldn't reveal the truth even under threat of torture or depravation of jam sandwiches."
"You eat jam sandwiches?"
"Well, no. But if I did, and threatening to take them away actually meant something to me personally, I still wouldn't tell you."
"No. I probably would tell you. Do you want to know?"
"Actually, I wanted to ask you about something else."
"Are you sure? It's quite a story. A ripping yarn, full of action, adventure, a shocking twist, and live ferrets."
"What is it with you and ferrets?"
"Is that what you wanted to ask me?"
"No. No it's not—Doctor, what happened on Satellite 5?"
It's not the question she wants to ask, but she couldn't push that one past her lips. She got her answer in the way his eyes slide away from her. He reached past her, into the open wardrobe door and began fiddling with the ripped jacket sleeve.
"That's a funny thing to be asking now." He closed the wardrobe door, checking his reflection in the glass that backed it.
"How do you mean?"
"Only that it's been—how long has it been?"
"I'm not sure. I lose track, with you. Sometimes it feels like we've been doing this forever, and sometimes it feels like... Like we don't have enough time. Like, I know we didn't know Jack long, but why did we leave him?"
"You know Jack. He loves to be in the thick of things. And he's a clever boy. He'll be fine."
"But we left him. And I don't even remember why."
"I'm just saying, I know you probably had your reasons. But does that mean you'll leave me behind someday?"
"Why do you ask that?"
She looked around, wondering how many of the clothes hanging in the wardrobe had been left behind by people just like her, who had been caught up in the life she wouldn't trade, not for anything. People she had never met, and probably never would. People who were bound to her by him, like some secret club open only to a select few. It made her feel important in a way she knew was a little bit petty, but she couldn't help cherish.
"You're always telling me that I'm not the first person you've sort of done this to—I mean, asked to come with you in this box of yours. Have adventures. Make a difference. You've travelled with a lot of people, yeah? But they're gone. They're all gone and it's just us. And I don't know where they went, or why."
"What if I told you some of them died?"
"I'd believe you."
"What if I told you I did leave some of them behind?"
"I'd want to know why. Maybe if they deserved it."
"Some of them."
"What did Jack do?" The words slipped out before she could stop them, and he had looked at her with such kindness that for a second, she regretted asking.
"Jack did everything exactly right. I didn't leave him behind because he did anything wrong. It was just... It was just time for us to go."
"Because of what happened."
"But what did happen?"
He's changed, but not changed so much that he can't still look right through her when it's a question he doesn't want to answer. A truth he doesn't want to share.
"Doctor, why can't I remember?"
"I couldn't tell you. But I'll tell you this—someday, you will. I promise."
"Are you still afraid I'll leave you behind?"
She had shrugged, as if it's no big deal, and waited for him to assure it would never happen. And when he doesn't, she had buried the hurt deep, so she'll forget it eventually.
Dare you to tell him it doesn't matter what he looks like, whether his eyes are blue or brown. That he's the Doctor and that's all that matters, and it matters even more since he sent you away and you've come back. That you'll never let him go, not while you're alive.
Dare you to hold him just a little closer when you're dancing.
Dare you to live.
They're running from certain death, and she's grinning, and he's laughing. And when he brushes his thumb across the inside of her wrist lightly as he takes her hand, and she blinks at the contact even though he's done it a thousand times before.
Someday, she'll dare.