Notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! This is another "early days" fic, written for redkilt. Many thanks to bellagia8 for plot help!
The Doctor had been scared at the prospect of regenerating—incredibly scared. He had seen how badly Koschei's post-regeneration trauma had been, back on Gallifrey. The first fifteen hours were always the worst—he knew that. But first regenerations were often the most complicated; Koschei had been out of it for days, and the Doctor remembered all too well how he and Ushas had to help Koschei come to grips with his new form.
The Doctor had no one, other than Ben and Polly. How could they possibly help him come to grips with something that they couldn't even possibly understand?
His last conscious thought as the transformation began was a wish that Susan could have been here. Not that he had wanted her to see him regenerate, of course, but he desperately wanted someone present who would understand.
He awakened to turmoil. Completely disoriented, it was a struggle to focus on anything. And even as he managed to pull his mind together, he found, to his dismay, that his new body was considerably more difficult to control.
He couldn't deny that it hurt to see Ben and Polly too startled to aid him when he fell flat on the floor after his first attempt at using his new legs. He couldn't blame them, of course; they were only human.
And then there was the burning question—what had he turned into? Personalities changed just as drastically as appearance after regeneration. …What was he now? What was that stranger in the mirror really like?
There wasn't even time for him to try to find himself; the whole mess with the Daleks shoved everything else to the wayside. One thing that the Doctor was aware of, however, was how long Ben had taken to accept that he was still the Doctor. Polly had been quicker to accept it, even if she didn't understand.
Once the matter was over, and they had returned to the TARDIS, the Doctor attempted to try return to his initial quest—find out who he had become.
"Well!" he exclaimed, clapping a hand on each of their shoulders. "That was an interesting diversion, wasn't it?"
Ben and Polly both gave him an awkward look, and the Doctor quickly released them. Of course; to them, he was still a stranger (how could he not be, when he was now a stranger to himself?). Such familiarity was, no doubt, unnerving. Besides, the Doctor had noticed even in his first form that they tended to prefer to cling to each other.
Once again, he found himself unable to blame them for their uneasiness. Just because they had accepted him in his new form didn't mean that he could expect things to continue without change. So, he good-naturedly shooed them off to their rooms and retreated to his study. He sat on the hearth-rug in front of a roaring fire, shutting his eyes as the fire began to regulate the temperature of his new body. Yes, the new body was working fine; a run-in with Daleks, was, apparently, the thing a Gallifreyan needed to stabilize quickly.
But something was missing; something was incomplete in the Doctor's new mind. Oh, yes, part of it was the same mind; but part of it had changed. And there was a gaping hole in it.
Inwardly, he winced as he recalled how Ben and Polly had been uneasy around him only moments ago. And he had to scoff at himself; how had he—a Time Lord of Gallifrey—become so dependent on human acceptance when his first self had dismissed them as foolish primitives? Was that was this new form was like? Clingy—and towards humans, no less? This behavior—this clingy-ness… this was far more typical of primates. Was this the price of surrounding himself with them? Had he been… humanized?
"What am I…?" he whispered, opening his eyes and staring at the flames.
The crackling fire provided warmth, but no answers.
The Doctor was still unsure of who he was that fateful day he stepped onto Culloden Moor—and somehow reentered the TARDIS at the end of the adventure with yet another human on board. The little piper they had found had intrigued him, he had to admit; he saw something of himself in that young man—a man on the run, fleeing from the home he knew. It had been Polly who invited the piper aboard, however, and the Doctor assumed that the young man would be spending his time forging relationships with her and Ben.
The Doctor decided to leave the humans to their own devices; he was still too busy trying to find his new identity—and find what it was his new identity was missing. This often included long walks throughout the TARDIS at night, when he knew the humans would be asleep.
It was, therefore, a surprise when, on one of his nightly wanderings, he spotted the piper wandering through the corridors, as well. The Doctor rolled his eyes; the piper had gotten lost on his very first night aboard the TARDIS. No doubt, it had happened again.
The piper gave a start, whirling around to face him.
"Are you lost again?" the Doctor asked. "I did warn you not to wander off—especially this far into the TARDIS! You could get lost in here, and we wouldn't know about it for weeks!"
Jamie silently held up a long thread of yarn that was trailing along the floor.
"I found this," he said, quietly. "Used it to make a trail."
"Aye—in a basket in a room with a great big fireplace," Jamie said. "There were all sorts of different colored yarn… Were they important?"
"No—just some failed attempts at knitting," the Doctor sighed. "Still, that was clever of you to figure a way to keep yourself from getting lost. But shouldn't you be asleep? I'm no expert, but I am pretty sure that your species requires seven to eight hours of sleep."
"I'm nae tired," he said, looking around. "And exploring all of this seems much more interesting."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow; Jamie's refusal to meet his gaze suggested that the Scot wasn't being truthful.
"It may be interesting," the Doctor said, deciding not to discuss it. "But you should be asleep. Off you go, then."
He gently shooed him off towards the direction of his room and then turned to observe the general area, trying to see exactly what the Scot had been searching for.
In the end, he couldn't find it; it seemed that Jamie truly had been wandering aimlessly. And this realization caused the Doctor to sigh; he, too, was still wandering aimlessly, desperately seeking an identity.
…Could it be that the piper was searching for something, as well? In the end, the Doctor supposed, it was probably just his young mind trying to comprehend the TARDIS and the ability to travel through time and space.
With another sigh, the Doctor retreated to his study to stare at the fire and contemplate.
The Doctor, despite his concerns with his own self-identity, had not lost his powers of observation. As the days went on and they visited new places, he couldn't help but notice the dark circles under the piper's eyes—a sign of sleep deprivation in humans, he had heard. His initial concerns that Jamie was still wandering about in the TARDIS at night were dismissed after some further observations; it seemed that the piper was simply not sleeping.
The Doctor hadn't intended to find out why; he had just assumed it to be some aspect of human behavior that he just didn't understand. Nevertheless, he received his answer one night when, after he, Jamie, Ben, and Polly had been cut off from the TARDIS due to an unexpected rock slide on a mountain path they had been traversing on an alien planet; the team had been forced to set up camp for the night. Polly had retreated into a small shack on the slope for the night, and the others attempted to make themselves comfortable outside of it.
Ben quickly found the rocky ground unmanageable; announcing that he was going to try to look for an alternate path around the rock slide that would hopefully take them back to the TARDIS, he headed off.
The Doctor, of course, didn't need sleep, but did recline against a boulder, deciding to look after things here, in case Jamie or Polly needed anything. He quickly took note that Jamie was actively resisting sleep, much to the Doctor's puzzlement. Was he merely trying to stay awake to lend his services, as well?
Alas for Jamie, his days of going without sleep caught up with him; despite his best efforts, the cool, mountain air eventually caused him to nod off—right on the rocky ground. The Doctor once again proceeded to get lost in his own thoughts. That only lasted for a while; the Doctor was quickly pulled from his thoughts as he heard the sounds of a panicked creature.
He glanced around for a moment before his gaze fell upon Jamie; the piper's body was tense, and he was mumbling in his sleep—names, oaths, and battle cries.
"Jamie…?" the Doctor asked, cautiously approaching him. "Jamie, I do believe you're dreaming! It's quite alright; this isn't real!"
He almost placed a hand on Jamie's shoulder, but then paused, recalling how awkward the moment had been when he had tried to do so with Ben and Polly. He withdrew his hand, attempting to speak to the piper again.
"Jamie," he said, kindly. "Are you dreaming about the battle? …That's why you haven't been sleeping, isn't it…?" He exhaled in sudden realization. "Still very much a child of war. I think I understand now."
He was still debating on what to do; he could hardly leave him to deal with those nightmares, and yet… had he the right to do anything at all?
Gently, he attempted to awaken the piper by shaking his shoulder before retreating. But as he withdrew his hand again, Jamie suddenly grasped his arm, tightly.
The Doctor stared, blankly, not sure how to respond to this. He had heard of this before—the apparent necessity for primates to have some form of physical contact in times of distress. Was that what Jamie needed right now?
The Doctor placed his free hand on the piper's shoulder now and kept it there.
The Scot now calmed down at last, much to the Gallifreyan's surprise. Why should his voice—the voice of someone Jamie had only met a few days ago—provide him with such comfort?
"Doctor?" Ben called; he was just out of sight.
"Over here, Ben!" he called back.
At last, the piper stirred as the Doctor raised his voice. It took him a moment to realize where he was and what had happened, upon which he released the Doctor's arm almost immediately.
"I think I've found a way back to the TARDIS!" the sailor called.
"Think?" the Doctor asked, trying not to look at Jamie, who was now turning away from him as he gathered his things.
"Yeah; there seems to be some sort of tunnel or cave that cuts through the mountain—it should lead us back to the other side, where the TARDIS is."
"Well, I don't know if it works," Ben said. "I didn't want to risk going in there alone. We're not even on the Earth anymore; could be some bloomin' dragon in there, for all we know…"
"Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there?" the Doctor asked, a rather forced smile on his face.
"You alright, Doctor?"
"Oh, just fine, just fine!" he said. "Now, then; we had best wait for Polly to wake up—"
"No need," she said, exiting the little shack with a scowl on her face. "It's far too impossible to get any sleep in there; I'd rather take my chances trying to make it back to the TARDIS if it means being able to sleep in a proper bed at the end of it."
"Well, if you're certain…" the Doctor said. He hesitated before turning to Jamie. "And how about you?"
Jamie merely nodded, quiet and not meeting his gaze as they followed Ben to the tunnel he had found. The Doctor stepped inside first to make sure that the coast was clear, as well as to momentarily drop his forced smile. He couldn't blame Jamie for pulling away from him, either; the Doctor had intruded on a personal moment, even if he had only wanted to help him. And yet… it had been the Doctor's voice that had finally calmed the piper. …Or, perhaps, he just hadn't been aware of who was speaking to him.
The Doctor sighed and put on a smile again as he stepped outside.
"All clear," he announced. "Not a dragon in sight!"
It was a dark, but thankfully uneventful, foray through the cave. As Ben had predicted, the cave's exit led them to the TARDIS. Polly let out a sigh of relief to see the blue box again, and disappeared into her room the moment the doors were open, not stopping to hear Ben brag about how he had been the one to risk life and limb to find the cave in the first place; Ben instead started bragging to Jamie, who stood and nodded along to be polite.
The Doctor slipped away, back to his study—back in front of the fire. The cave had been rather cold, and the Doctor knew that his metabolism had slowed since traversing it. The warm fire was quickly remedying that, however.
Though his eyes were closed, the Doctor was aware of the sudden presence of another person in the room. Expecting it to be Ben, he turned… and was surprised to see Jamie standing just inside the doorway of the study. The Scot was avoiding his gaze again as he saw the Doctor look at him, and he didn't say anything.
"Good evening, Jamie."
The Scot mumbled something unintelligible in reply.
"Come over here, Jamie," the Doctor instructed, at last. "It's most complicating, trying to hold a conversation with someone on the other side of the room. And, at the present, I really cannot move from the fire until I've got my temperature up."
Jamie slowly dragged his feet as he walked towards him.
"Jamie, you… You don't have to be afraid of me," the Doctor said. "I mean you no harm."
But Jamie stared at the Doctor in surprise.
"I'm nae afraid of ye," he said, plainly. "Why would ye think I am?"
"Well, I know it must be difficult for you to trust a man from another world. Why, I certainly had a lot of misconceptions about humans when I first arrived on the Earth."
"Well, Polly said that she trusts ye, e'en though ye're from another world," Jamie stated. "And ye saved my life at Culloden. That's enough for me."
"But I don't understand…" the Doctor said. "Why did you… That is to say… When I woke you…"
"That's what I wanted to talk to ye aboot," Jamie said, his face falling.
"I just wanted to apologize."
The Doctor stared at him in surprise, not having expected that at all.
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow you…"
"I'm sorry for disturbing ye, and for grabbing yer arm. I di'n know what I was doing; I… I felt like… I was back at Culloden. It seemed so real…"
"Oh, Jamie, no… Don't apologize for that!" the Doctor said, relieved that Jamie hadn't been upset by what he had done. "Sit down here; I think a conversation is in order."
Jamie sat down next to him on the hearth-rug.
"I know you've seen a lot of terrible things," the Doctor said, kindly. "In fact, I should have suspected that you were having nightmares when I realized that you weren't sleeping. Why didn't you tell me, Jamie?"
"I di'n want ye to bother aboot some trifle…"
"This is no trifle!" the Doctor insisted. "And it is nothing to be ashamed about—that's the other reason why you didn't tell me, isn't it? And also why you let go of my arm?"
Jamie looked into the Doctor's eyes, seeing the genuine concern in them.
"I'm nae a bairn," Jamie said. "I should be able to handle nightmares!"
"Is it that? Or is it that you think Ben and Polly would tease you?"
"They already tease me aboot nae knowing things like the camera or the musical black saucers!"
"The what? Oh, you mean the records."
"Aye, that. See? I don' e'en know what they're called!"
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, they don't know about CDs and MP3s yet," the Doctor said. "The future would baffle them as much as it does you. But this is something completely different; I know Ben and Polly well enough to say that they wouldn't tease you for something like this."
"Even so… Is there something ye can give me?" Jamie asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Do ye have some sort of potion or elixir or something that'll keep me from having those nightmares?"
The Doctor gave him a wan smile.
"I think you're under the mistaken impression that I am a sorcerer," he said. "I'm an alien. But while I probably could manipulate your subconscious so that you wouldn't have those dreams, it's not something I enjoy doing."
"Please!" Jamie exclaimed, now seizing the Doctor by the shoulders. "If ye can do anything that could make them stop, please do it!"
The pleading tone of the Scot's voice was enough to make the Doctor consider it; he placed his hands on the sides of Jamie's head, but exhaled, shaking his head.
"No… No, Jamie, no…"
"Please…" the piper begged again.
"To do that to you would mean that I would have to probe into your mind and change things," the Doctor said. "And that could change you—your personality, your memories… Do you really want that?"
Jamie opened his mouth, as though to say yes, but didn't say anything.
"I thought not," the Doctor said. He now placed his hands on Jamie's shoulders; this time, the piper didn't pull away or even let go. If anything, Jamie's grip on the Doctor's shoulders tightened.
"What is it that you see, Jamie?" the Doctor asked, gently.
"My father… My brothers… All the friends I e'er knew… Gone. They're all gone. I can see them—being taken away. My eldest brother… He got away and joined the McLarens and me. He told me what happened to them—saw it with his own eyes. He ran away with us. But then they got him, too—just before we met ye, actually. And then Alexander… And e'erytime I close my eyes… I lose them again."
The Doctor was, for once, at a loss for words as he looked back into Jamie's eyes.
"I am truly sorry, Jamie," he said, at last.
"It's nae just the nightmares," the piper said. "I'm worried about losing e'eryone else."
"Well, Kirsty and her father are perfectly safe, away from any danger," the Doctor reminded him.
"I di'n mean them."
The Doctor's eyes widened, realizing the implications of what Jamie was trying to say.
"Oh…" he said, looking back at the Scot. "Oh, I see…."
"How long until I lose ye three, too…?" Jamie asked, quietly.
The Doctor's grip on his shoulders tightened.
"You needn't worry about me, Jamie," he assured him. "I've got a few tricks to make sure I'll be alright. …It's how I ended up like this, actually…" He sighed, glancing at his reflection in the small mirror above the fireplace.
"Aye—ye mean changing from that old man in Ben's picture that he said was ye?"
"Has Ben been teasing you about that again?"
"No; I was just wondering how a man could change like that. And… are ye going to change again?"
"Oh, I hope not!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I'm still trying to find out who I am now!"
"Ye don' know?"
"Well… It's no small thing, to completely change. The memories are the only thing that stays; everything else is brand-new."
He removed a hand from Jamie's shoulder and held it out in front of him to take a look at it, as though he could read something in his palm.
"It looks just like mine," Jamie said.
"Yer hand. It looks just like a human hand."
"Yes, you see, the humanoid appearance—despite the name—isn't exclusive to humans. If I may say so, my people had it first; we're a highly advanced species—far more advanced than even the most intelligent humans!"
"Then why do ye bother traveling with us if ye're so much more advanced than us?"
The Doctor looked to Jamie in surprise, not entirely sure of the answer to his question. It hadn't been too long ago, after all, that he hadn't wanted anything to do with humans at all.
"Are ye all alone?" Jamie asked now, as though struck by an idea—no doubt inspired by his own situation. "Is that why ye travel with us?"
"You're not a last resort to keep me from loneliness, if that's what you're asking!" the Doctor said. "I mean… Well, I don't have anyone other than you three at the moment, but I'm quite capable of looking after myself."
"…So ye just want someone that ye can look after instead? Or just someone to talk to?"
"Perhaps. And if that's the case, then you're doing a very good job of talking—I can assure you of that!"
Jamie finally smiled for the first time that day. The Doctor grinned back and drew the Scot into a hug, which he returned.
It wasn't going to be easy, but Jamie would be able to move on from the horrors he had seen. And the Doctor would most certainly help him, for now he knew exactly what he was—a helper for those who needed him.
And that agonizing sensation of something missing had, at last, vanished.