Disclaimer: Russel T Davies is the real creative talent (or maybe Paul Cornell) and the BBC owns it all. I'm just playing around.
Spoilers: Human Nature, the episode of the series, not the novel.
Credit: Lots of thanks to my beta Dune.
Feedback: Yes, please. Especially if you see room for improvement.
No Trace of Existence
Jack watched the teacher making his way to the school's main entrance from across the school grounds. Afternoon classes would be starting soon. That would give him a chance, hopefully, to search this man's rooms.
This Master John Smith didn't look like the Doctor Jack knew. Then again, neither had Doctor Jamie McCrimmon in the descriptions of the events at the basis of Torchwood's foundation. From the rest of those events, not to mention the description of the good Doctor's companion and her mode of dress, however, that pretty much had to have been the Doctor and Rose. So it seemed the legends about the Time Lords being able to change their appearance were true. This was possibly further corroborated by more mentions of the Doctor (with a myriad of descriptions and assistants) in other time periods. Helping Torchwood set up their archive had done more than prove his 'loyalty' to them; it had also given him the chance to discreetly vet those records for information of the kind that had brought him to this school.
The teacher in question had been hired a little under a month ago, after seemingly having materialized from out of nowhere. The paperwork was all there, but the person, who bore a striking resemblance to the Doctor Queen Victoria had declared an enemy of the state, had never appeared until now.
Jack had taken the liberty of investigating before Torchwood itself got suspicious (oh, the wonders of misfiling. Why hadn't he known about them earlier?). So far, the resemblance was the only thing indicating that anything might be amiss. John Smith looked and acted entirely human.
Of course, that was also all it might be, an act. Short of John Smith whipping out a sonic screwdriver or Jack stumbling across the TARDIS, the only way to be sure was to run a medical scan. But for that Jack would have to get close. The scanner in his wrist com had suffered badly when other components in it had burned out completely, and he did not yet have the materials to repair it. Until he did, the range on his medical scanner was limited to a few meters.
Getting that close necessitated close contact, and reasonably prolonged at that, which Jack hoped to avoid until he was sure. So he hoped there might be other clues lying around (hell, maybe even that TARDIS hidden in a closet, why not?).
The students had all entered the school now. Classes would have started. Jack made his way across the grounds and to the wing of the building that held the master's studies and bedrooms. Once there, it was simply a case of finding the door that read 'John Smith'. Of course it was locked, but Jack had had plenty of time to brush up on his lockpicking skills.
The study looked normal, with the bric-a-brac a person could accumulate in a lifetime, especially someone with the broad range of interests that might be required of a teacher. The books in the bookcase covered just as wide a range of subjects, but at first glance at least, none of them seemed out of the ordinary.
Jack turned his attention to the desk. The papers on it were the necessary paperwork of a teacher. One drawer held only blank paper, another a wide variety of writing materials. But with the third drawer, he struck – well, something, at least .
That drawer held a notebook, a diary of some kind. It was still largely empty, but the first few dozen pages filled with notes and drawings, scribbled any which way across the paper. Jack flicked through the pages, catching crudely drawn sketches of what seemed to be the TARDIS interior and more accurate renderings of a Dalek, some other aliens and…
Jack paused to study the almost full-page portrait of himself in happier days. The notes around the drawing were disjointed, confused ( Past-future? Future-past? Dead, but alive? 1941 isn't the past, is it?) and his name was missing. Turning the page, however, he found a fairly accurate description of his own background. One he wasn't aware of ever disclosing to the Doctor.
"What are you doing in my office, may I ask?"
Jack had become so engrossed in deciphering the handwriting that the voice took him entirely by surprise. He turned around to see John Smith standing in the doorway, dressed in his teaching robes and holding a reed cane as if it were a rapier. "One word from me and the porters will come running, I assure you," he said.
"Doctor?" Jack asked.
This diary would definitely indicate at least some knowledge. But Smith's reaction gave nothing away. His eyes just travelled down to the book in Jack's hands, and his facial expression became, if anything, even more disapproving. "You have no right to be reading that!"
Jack interrupted in the instant Smith was taking a breath to summon the porters. "I'm sorry, Mr. Smith." He shut the book, keeping a firm grip on the pages with his portrait and description. "Professor Dalton told me you would be a man to talk to." Professor Dalton was one of the lecturers at the university Smith had supposedly studied at. Jack fumbled with the book, hoping that the rustle of the paper and his clothes would hide the sound of the pages tearing out. "The door was open and you weren't here, so I started looking around."
A little more fumbling with the book for cover, and the two pages were folded up inside his sleeve. Jack held up the book , then put it on the desk and made his way towards Smith. "And then I found this and got engrossed. I'm sorry."
Smith had lowered his cane, but the frown had not yet left his face. "And why would Professor Dalton send someone my way, especially an American? Who are you, anyway?"
Jack had now got close enough to grasp the man's hand. He smiled. "My mistake. The name's Harkness, pleased to meet you." Smith almost recoiled from Jack's grasp, but then diffidently accepted the handshake. Jack launched into his cover story, prepared just in case. "I'm tracing my ancestry, you might say. It seems my great-grandfather fought in the Napoleonic Wars. I contacted Prof. Dalton to see if he might have some more information, and he pointed me to you as a scholar on military history."
"I see." This seemed to mollify Smith just a little. He wasn't quite done protesting yet, though. "You might have written first. I would have known to expect you."
"That's me, always impatient. I was in the area so I thought I'd risk it."
"Hmm. This is most unusual, Mr. Harkness." Smith was now studying him closely and curiously. "By all accounts, I should still call for the porters and have you evicted , possibly arrested for trespassing." Then his expression softened further. "However, I can't help wondering: have we met before?"
Jack felt a surge of hope, but still this was weird. If Smith was the Doctor, then surely there had to be more recognition there than just a vague sense of familiarity. And if he wasn't, then where had the notebook and even that little bit of recognition come from? He decided to play it safe. "I don't think so, sir. Not in this lifetime, at least."
"Please don't tell me you believe in that reincarnation nonsense, Mr. Harkness," Smith said disapprovingly.
Well, that hint had missed. "Of course not. I'm being facetious."
Smith sighed. "Oh, very well." He started to divest himself of his teaching regalia. "Your grandfather, in what regiment did he serve? If he was American I suppose it was the 60th American Rifles?"
"Great-grandfather," Jack corrected him. Smith now had removed his robes and was on his way to his bookcase. "And I believe so, yes."
That started a hunt through both Smith's bookcases and the school's library. During this hunt, Jack turned the conversation to any and all other matters, all in an attempt to draw out the Doctor. It certainly helped to draw out Smith, who became more amiable as the afternoon progressed, but there were no further signs of the Doctor anywhere.
And when his medical scanner indicated that it had gathered enough information, it indicated that this Mr. John Smith was, completely and entirely, human. So where had the diary come from?
Smith slammed the book he'd been reading from shut with a gratified sigh. "I believe that is all we can infer with the resources at my disposal here." He handed over the sheet with the afternoon's notes with a flourish. Jack noted the handwriting was identical to that in the diary. "I must say it has been quite enjoyable, despite the poor start." He was interrupted by the striking of a clock. "Oh dear, is that the time? Mr. Harkness, may I invite you for some tea? We can perhaps discuss this a little further."
Jack accepted graciously and soon the tea was brought in by a young black woman who greeted Jack's presence in the room with barely concealed curiosity. Jack smiled at her, but caught a glimpse of disapproval from Smith and restrained himself. It wasn't good custom in these times to be friendly with the help, and Jack didn't want to fall out of this man's good graces right now. He might get a chance later.
He brought the conversation back to the diary. Smith greeted his intimations with dismissal. "Nothing but fiction, I tell you. Some strange fancy that has taken root in my head. I write it down to get rid of it."
"Some people might find it worth reading."
Smith waved his comments away. "I sincerely doubt it. All these strange worlds and unreal futures, and it doesn't even have the scientific underpinnings Verne could at least boast of. These would be nothing but ghost stories." For a few seconds, Smith's eyes seemed to focus on an unseen horizon, further away than anything in his line of sight. Then he collected himself again and shook his head. "No, this can stay where it is, locked away."
Jack was in a dilemma. His visit here, so far, had been completely innocent, and Smith, while he had a lot of knowledge where the Doctor was concerned, didn't seem to realize the reality of that knowledge. Nor was he the Doctor. There was no way the Doctor could appear this human to his scanner. But the very fact of his visit here, if it was discovered, could bring John Smith under closer surveillance, and the book would fall into the hands of Torchwood. But he couldn't steal it. That would not only be cruel but futile. There would be nothing to stop Smith from starting another one.
He could, however, cover up as many of his tracks as possible, painful as that might be. This schoolteacher was easy on the eyes, and a good conversationalist. There might even be more glimpses of this mysterious knowledge of the Doctor Smith seemed to have that might come out if Jack stuck around. But to keep both of them safe, it would be better if Smith remembered nothing of Jack's visit at all. He had the pages from Smith's diary that described him directly, for further perusal, but also if he erased his traces here, it would hopefully not occur to the man to rewrite them. He might just think he had torn those pages out for some other reason. And that would keep Jack's real backstory out of the hands of Torchwood for that much longer.
So yes, it would have to happen.
Jack offered to pour another cup of tea for the both of them, and Smith accepted. While he was pouring, Jack slipped two tablets of retcon from his personal stash (hard to replenish in this day and age, but not impossible with some knowledge of organic chemistry and plant biology) into Smith's cup and then watched him drink it, all the while making small talk about his presumed ancestor.
Not too long after, Smith surreptitiously stretched himself and tried to hide a yawn. "Do excuse me," he apologized, "I believe our quest this afternoon was a little more exhausting than I first thought."
"Not at all. I'm sorry to have kept you this long." Jack got up. "I'll see myself to the door, if you don't mind."
"No, no, that's impossible. Let me guide you at least as far as the door." Smith levered himself out of his comfortable chair onto his slightly unsteady feet, then followed Jack to the doorway of his study. There he shook hands with Jack a final time. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Harkness."
"The feeling's mutual, Mr. Smith." Jack turned away from the door as John Smith started to close it, yawning once again. He was probably half asleep already.
Just before the door shut completely, Smith said something, in a voice that didn't sound like his at all, that made Jack suddenly doubt his entire course of action.
"I'm so sorry, Jack."
What had he done?