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Shapes of Our Own Choosing

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This is what he knows:

One moment he was stepping out of his TARDIS to the sight of Bill collapsed on the floor – a group of Monks looming over her ominously – and the next moment there was a sharp pinch on the back of his neck and everything went dark.

--

He comes to in a white room. There’s a dull throbbing in the back of his neck, accompanied by an acute headache which doesn’t seem likely to let up any time soon. His mind feels sluggish and heavy, as if weighed down by some unknown force. When he tries to raise himself into a sitting position he finds his arms are the same. Giving up on that for the moment, he tips his head to the side and looks slowly around the room. Everything is white: the floor, the ceiling, the walls and even what little furniture he can see, which is nothing more than a desk and chair in the middle of the room, plus whatever he’s currently lying on. There are two doors, one on the wall opposite him and another on the wall adjacent to that. In the upper corner between them both is what looks like a security camera. It’s pointed directly at him.

What is this place? How did he get here?

His memories feel jumbled up and difficult to grasp, but he nevertheless tries to focus on what he knows. He knows there’s a race of aliens who call themselves the Monks and have threatened to take over the Earth. He knows Bill may have given them the chance to do so in order to get his sight back. He knows that he blacked out to the shuddering sensation of history shifting around him.

He can’t sense that now, he realises with a distant sort of shock. In fact, he can’t sense anything. The ever-present crackle of time along his fingertips is missing, as is the distinctive tang of it on the tip of his tongue. That familiar, steadying hum is gone, replaced by an endless sort of static that chills him to his very bones. A timelord feels the ebb and flow of time deep within the core of their being, knows its rhythms instinctively, but right now he can’t feel it at all.

It’s no wonder his brain feels so sluggish and uncooperative considering he’s missing half of his senses.

He isn’t sure how long he lies there, quietly panicking and trying to convince himself that he isn’t, but eventually a door opens and a figure steps through. It’s a Monk, he realises slowly, though it looks distinctly different to the ones he’s previously encountered. It’s dressed in the same extravagant robes but its skin is somewhat fleshier and less rotten-looking, with actual eyes rather than empty sockets, although they’re sunken so far into the creature’s face that they appear unnatural. When it speaks, its voice almost sounds human.

“You are awake at last, Prisoner.”

“Where am I?” he asks, the words thick and clumsy on his tongue. The idea of remaining flat on his back while talking to the Monk makes him uneasy, but when he tries to push himself up again he finds his arms still won’t work. “Where’s Bill?”

“She is safe, like the rest of her species. We are keeping this planet safe.”

With effort, he raises a sardonic eyebrow. “Oh? Is that what you’re doing?”

The Monk tilts its head in an eerie motion. “You mock our purpose, yet you forget that you have already failed these people.”

“Have I really?”

“Yes. You claim to be a protector of this world and yet it has still fallen under our thrall. Your promises to this species are worth nothing. You are worth nothing.”

He doesn’t let himself react to that – the mistakes he made can be atoned for by saving his friends, and getting rid of these Monks.

“Perhaps. Perhaps I could’ve done more to stop you before it came to this. But guess what?” He forces his mouth into a smirk, summoning up his usual bravado from somewhere. “You’re making a mistake if you think I’m going to give up now. I’m the Doctor. I’m what stands between you and them. Whatever it is you’ve done to these people, I’m going to save them. And when I’ve done that I’m going to–”

He cuts himself off with a sharp gasp as the Monk slaps him hard across the face. His neck swings to the side with the force of the blow and he lies there, blinking in shock as the Monk leans in close, its rancid breath beating harshly against his cheek. “We know who you are, Prisoner. We ran the simulations and we know what actions you might take. They will not be permitted.”

It backs away slowly, keeping its gaze fixed on him as it moves towards the door. “You failed to protect these humans from their own folly. They seek our protection now.”

The door opens and the Monk gestures three humans inside. Two of them have guns strapped to their hips, the other is holding a syringe. All three of them advance towards him.

“What are you doing?” he bites out, ignoring his stinging cheek and fighting to try and push himself up on his elbows again.

“We are keeping you safe. Just as we will keep all those on this planet safe,” says the Monk from its position by the door. The humans have reached him now. He tries desperately to struggle as they flip him on to his front and hold him down, but his limbs feel like they’re made of lead. There’s a pinch at the back of his neck again, which he registers now as the prick of a syringe.

“You will rest,” says the Monk, as the pressure on his arms and legs relents. When he tries to reply the words simply get stuck on his tongue, and so he lies there and says nothing. The quiet thud of the closing door is the last thing he hears for a long time.

--

By the time the Monk returns there’s a sort of pleasant hazy sensation making its way through him. He’s lying in the same position as they left him; vaguely, he recalls trying to roll over at some point but he can’t really remember why it had seemed so important.

“Sit up, Prisoner.”

He frowns a little, wondering exactly how he’s supposed to do that. It doesn’t matter in the end – the Monk simply pulls him back by the collar of his shirt and he has no choice but to brace his shaking arms beneath him. To his relief, they manage to hold him up and slowly he’s able to manoeuvre himself into a sitting position. Once he’s settled, he notices with faint surprise that the Monk is holding a bowl and spoon. The bowl seems to contain some sort of broth.

“You will eat,” it says, low and commanding.

It’s probably a good idea; he doesn’t know how often they’re likely to feed him, after all, so he may as well take it when it’s offered. He nods and the bowl is set down roughly in his lap. His fingers reach towards the spoon but making them cooperate is tricky – it takes three attempts before he can hold it steady in his hand without spilling anything. Eventually he manages to raise the spoon to his lips and tip the broth into his mouth, swallowing it down with a little effort. One spoonful at a time he steadily works his way through the sparse meal, and all the while the Monk watches him in silence.

“You eat slowly,” it says when he’s about halfway done, and he looks up. It’s difficult to interpret the precise expression on the creature’s face, but he thinks it might be staring at him in disgust. He tries to ignore the prickle of unease that elicits, shrugging instead and continuing with his meal. The Monk watches him as he does.

He wishes it wouldn’t.

When he’s finished eating the Monk takes the bowl from him and points at one of the doors, the one that has yet to open. “There is a bathroom through that door. I shall unlock it soon. You will have thirty minutes to wash and relieve yourself.”

He nods as the Monk glides out, and tries to shake the feeling that he’s done something wrong.

--

The bathroom unlocks just like the Monk said it would, and he pushes himself towards it on unsteady legs. It’s cramped once he gets in there but there’s a handrail to help him stand, at least. Taking his clothes off is a struggle when his arms still don’t work properly and he nearly stops altogether when he notices the camera in the corner, watching his every move. In the end his desire to be clean wins out over privacy and he gets on with things as quickly as he can, just managing to finish within the allotted thirty minutes.

As he makes his way back to the main room to get dressed, the Monk emerges through the other door carrying some sort of grey overall and a dark jumper.

“You will wear these,” it says.

He looks between them and his usual outfit, currently bundled in his arms. He should probably do as the Monk says – his own clothes are quite dirty, given that he’s been wearing them for days. It’s just that… Well, he really likes his coat. And that jumper he’s being offered looks like it might itch.

“Why?” he asks. The Monk stares at him in silence and he shifts uncomfortably, keenly aware of his own nakedness.

“You will wear them. Dress yourself or we will do it for you.”

He frowns, but his reluctance feels sort of distant and hard to hold on to, and he finds himself reaching for the proffered clothes, dropping his own on the white panelled floor as he does so. The Monk stays as he dresses, watching unblinkingly as he awkwardly steps into the overalls and hitches them up around his body. The material is rough and unfamiliar against his skin, and he fidgets instinctively at the feeling of being enclosed inside it. His new jumper is no better, prickly against his neck and arms.

“Good,” says the Monk. The word seems to evoke a sort of odd tingling sensation in his chest, and he looks up. “You look fit to be one of our subjects. You look just the same as any other human.”

“I’m not a human, I’m a Timelord,” he says distractedly, wriggling his arms a little and hoping it might encourage the overall and jumper to lie slightly differently on him.

The Monk sneers. “You are no Timelord. You are nothing.”

He swallows, searching his mind for something witty and sarcastic to say in return, but it’s difficult when he all he can feel is harsh, unforgiving fabric pressing against him. Everything’s all wrong; he can’t focus properly, can’t remember what he wanted to say to the Monk in the first place, can’t think of much beyond the coarseness of his overall and the way his jumper scratches incessantly at his skin.

“You seem tired, Prisoner,” states the Monk states, cutting through his distress. “You must sleep.”

Sleep is for tortoises, says a far-off voice in the back of his head. It’s hard to put that thought into words, though, when his mind still feels groggy. He probably is tired, given how he’s struggling to think for himself.

(If he’s honest there’s something welcoming about the idea of not having to.)

He nods and lies down on the mattress.

--

He wakes with a jolt. There’s a sharp pressure on his back and his face is pressed roughly against the mattress, arms and legs pinned down by a firm grasp. He flails and kicks desperately but it isn’t enough to shake off his captors, and he cries out when he feels a sharp pinch at the back of his neck. The restraining hold on his limbs lets up shortly after that, but he can’t help feeling panicky and shaken. Gasping for breath, he gracelessly manages to lever himself onto his back.

There’s a Monk standing over him. It’s the same Monk from yesterday, he realises, eyeing it uneasily as he tries to calm the frantic beating of his hearts. The Monk does nothing – just stands and watches as he attempts to compose himself.

“What are you doing to me?” he eventually croaks out. His voice sounds hoarse and frightened, even to his own ears.

“We are keeping you safe. We are keeping this planet safe.”

It’s lying. Of course it’s lying – this isn’t what safe feels like. And yet there’s a small part of him – a disquietingly tranquil part, a part which seems to spreading and expanding at an alarming rate – which wonders if there might be any truth in it.

“Why?” he asks, forcing himself to think about what he knows instead. There’s a race of aliens who call themselves the Monks and have threatened to take over the Earth. “What do you gain by conquering these people?”

“We do not conquer; we protect. We do this for their benefit rather than our own.”

He frowns up at the creature in confusion. Does it really believe that? Can that really be true?

“You doubt our intent,” the Monk continues, tone shifted into something that sounds much like disdain. “Remember, Prisoner, that we came to your aid. You lied to your friend, and she begged us to save you from your own idiocy.”

“I never asked for any of that.”

“No. And yet it is your doing nonetheless.”

The Monk sweeps out, and he gazes up uncertainly at the ceiling. He can’t be held accountable for other people’s decisions.

Can he?

--

At some point later the Monk returns with another bowl of food.

“You eat slowly,” it says again, when he’s about halfway through the meal. “Does your human friend not get sick of waiting for you to finish?”

He has no idea, really. He wonders if that’s why Bill sometimes refuses to make chips for him. “Where is she?”

“She is safe.”

The Monk is lying, says that far-off voice. He decides to trust it.

“Really,” he mutters sarcastically.

Without warning the Monk reaches out and upturns his bowl.

“That was your fault,” it says chastisingly, as he blinks down in shock at the mess pooling on his legs. “If you had not doubted my word your food would not be spilt, and your clothes would not be wet.”

It leaves and he sits there squirming awkwardly at the sensation of hot liquid seeping through his already uncomfortable clothing. Today the bathroom door does not unlock, and his clothes are still wet when the Monk returns to bid him sleep.

--

He wakes on his front again, with his limbs held securely and that nauseating pinch in the back of his neck. The Monk is present as always, leaning close to him this time in a way that makes him want to recoil. It lies a skeletal hand gently against his neck and he’s reminded miserably of the long months after his last regeneration, when touching anyone felt like it might burn a hole in his skin.

“Remember this, Prisoner,” it says, and he hates the way its breath curls along his ear. “You brought this about. You lied to your friends and broke your promises to these people. They are under our jurisdiction now and that is your doing. Your presence in this facility is your own doing.”

It pulls back abruptly, expressionless face staring down at him as he struggles to breath easily again. His neck burns and his clothes itch and for the first time in a long time he doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin.

“Tell me who you are,” the Monk demands.

“The Doctor,” he gasps out, even if he’s not sure he really feels like the Doctor right at this moment.

It leans forward suddenly so it’s directly in his face once more, and he flinches back into the mattress. “That is wrong. You are nothing.”

--

The minutes tick by slowly, and it’s impossible for him to keep track of any of them as his mind slips back into that numbing state of peaceful acceptance. He spends long hours thinking about what the Monk said to him, about what might have happened if he’d never lied at all, about how things could have been different. He thinks about Bill too, and everything she sacrificed so that he might live. Most of all, he wonders if she’s safe.

The Monk returns later with a bowl and spoon, watching in disgust while he slowly sips at the broth.

He starts eating a little faster before it has the chance to pass comment.

--

“Do you not think, Prisoner, that none of this would have come to pass if you’d simply been a better teacher?” says the Monk, the next morning. “Your friend valued your life above the entirety of her own species. If you had been wiser in your teaching she would not have developed such a flawed and sentimental morality, and this planet would still be free.”

There’s truth in that, of course. Bill made the wrong decision before; he would never have asked her to sacrifice the Earth’s freedom for his own life – he isn’t worth that.

The Monk tilts its head in that eerie, serpentine way it has. “Are you so arrogant that you would value your own life above billions of theirs?”

Never.

And yet that’s exactly what he seems to have taught Bill.

“Your selfishness led to the downfall of this planet,” the Monk continues, when he remains silent. “You promised to keep these humans safe but in the end your promises meant nothing. We are their new protectors. You are nothing.”

“Hmm,” he mumbles quietly, staring up at the ceiling.

--

The days go by in a haze of missing time. His waking hours are routine: an injection to rouse him from sleep, food at some point later and a shower shortly after that – unless he’s done something wrong – and last of all more sleep. The Monk is always there, every time the door opens, to remind him of his failures and of the promises he couldn’t keep. It asks him why he couldn’t stop the Monks from conquering the Earth, why he didn’t try harder. It asks if he isn’t good enough.

He wonders that himself, in the countless hours he spends alone, lying listlessly on his mattress. There are so many things he could have done differently, so many ways he could have stopped the Monks from taking over. He could have simply left Bill at home for a start, or taught her a different kind of morality, like the Monk keeps telling him. Or if he’d just been a little quicker in the lab, if he’d thought to send Bill a photo of the combination lock rather than freezing up in fear. Or if he’d never lied in the first place, if he’d simply admitted he was blind he could probably have avoided the whole situation.

Whatever has happened to the human race – and he still doesn’t know what that is – it could have been prevented. If he’d just been faster or cleverer or more honest he could have prevented it.

Which means that this is all his fault.

--

It’s difficult to run away from guilt when you’ve got nowhere to run.

--

“Tell me who you are,” the Monk demands, while he hurriedly eats his broth.

He pauses, swallowing quickly so his mouth won’t be full when he speaks. “I’m the Doctor.”

“That is wrong,” says the Monk, staring at him with that all-too-familiar distaste. “You are nothing.”

He waits for that far-off voice in the back of his head to cry out indignantly, like it always does. By the time the Monk leaves he’s still waiting for it.

--

“–you betrayed your friend, didn’t you? You lied to her. Where do you think she is now? Do you imagine she suffers? If she does it is your fault, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he whispers, thinking morosely about what might have become of Bill’s life.

“If you had been a better teacher it would not have come to this. You could have taught her to make a different decision, couldn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“But you failed her instead. Just as you failed all the people of this planet. Just as you failed–”

--

“Tell me who you are.”

He tries to keep his breathing steady and even as the hands hold him down and the needle punctures his neck. “I’m… I’m the Doctor.”

“Wrong. You are nothing.”

--

They stop feeding him.

He thinks he probably deserves it.

--

“Tell me who you are.”

He stares fixedly at the ceiling and says nothing.

--

He’s been crying a lot. He isn’t entirely sure how long it’s been since he started. He isn’t sure how long he’s been lying here on his mattress, either.

He isn’t sure of much these days. Just his own inescapable guilt.

--

“Is there something wrong, Prisoner?”

“Me,” he gasps. “I did everything wrong. I failed.”

A rotting, emaciated hand brushes lightly through his hair. He flinches away from it. There’s a momentary pause, and then the hand slaps him harshly across the face. “Yes, you did.”

He cries and shakes and wishes he could be better.

--

In the midst of his tears some kind, benevolent being brings him a glass of water. He drinks from it greedily and afterwards he weeps in gratitude.

--

“Is there something wrong, Prisoner?”

“I failed,” he chokes out. He barely has enough energy left to form the words.

“You did,” that familiar voice confirms. A hand strokes lightly through his hair and he manages to repress his instinctive desire to shy away from it. “But we can help you put things right.”

He looks up, hope racing through him. “Can you?”

“Yes. But you must trust in our wisdom. We bring order and stability and truth, and these things will help you protect this planet. We will help you protect this planet. That is what you want, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Please, that’s what I want.”

“Do you trust us?”

“Yes.” And he does. He really, truly does.

“Good.” The hand strokes gently through his hair again. “Tell me who you are.”

He swallows, searching for the right answer. “I am nothing.”

--

This is what he knows:

The Monks will keep him safe.