John Smith had had the most extraordinary day.
The niggling feeling at the back of his mind, like some trivial thing that he had forgotten but was trying so hard to remember, had vanished presently; his students, aside from the little one, Latimer, had shown remarkable courage during arms practice; and, most exciting of all, he was going to escort the lovely Joan Redfern to the country dance that evening! He also noted that Martha had been particularly upset today as well - he had even resolved to ask her why. She was, after all, his maid, and a loyal companion for many years. He'd be remiss as a human being if he didn't inquire after her well being occasionally.
(Later, when he had dismissed his maid for speaking out of turn, he felt a sudden surge of a soul-shattering regret. He couldn't understand why, however, and stifled it quickly so as not to distress the Matron.)
Neither of them were particularly skilled dancers, but he couldn't recall a time that he had been happier than when he had been doing an awkward foxtrot with Joan Redfern at the local country dance.
And then everything had gone completely, horribly wrong.
This - this Family, or whatever they were, had murdered people right in front of him. They obviously had no qualms about doing it again, either. They were monsters. But John Smith felt like the biggest monster of them all. He had given guns to young boys and had prompted them to fire. He was teaching chlidren to kill. He felt sick to his stomach. And then Martha had gone off spouting something about the Doctor - the Doctor from his dreams - and as much as he wanted to ignore her... something within him stirred as Latimer passed him the watch. Something within him... woke up, for lack of a better word. It was small, and very soft, but very persistent - a voice in the back of his mind, murmuring words in an alien language that, somehow, he understood.
"What are you going to do?" Joan Redfern, beautiful, wonderful, magnificent Joan Redfern, looked at him, her actions and voice prompting him to open the watch, but her eyes beseeching him not to do so. John Smith simply didn't know what he was going to do. He was human, dammit, he knew he was! He wouldn't have any of this "two-hearted alien" nonsense, none of it! He was human, not a whimsical, careless god who refused to think about the consequences of his actions, and who apparently couldn't even consider the idea of falling in love! I'm human, he insisted to the watch, I'm human.
The watch insisted back. Time Lord, it whispered, and against his will, he thought of long robes and a domed, glass city against an orange sky. His home. Gallifrey. Not in Ireland, then, he supposed. The images were coming faster, now. He could see more: a blue box and a room bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, wheeling galaxies and a band of stars reaching across the night sky, and a face, small and elfin, with black hair. Susan, the watch supplied in his mind. Your granddaughter. Arkytior. (Rose, he recalled, High Gallifreyan word for Rose.)
(Rose. The girl from his notebook smiled at him, tongue between her teeth.)
He gasped as if in pain and wrenched his thoughts away from a shining image almost too bright to see, even with his mind's eye. He saw a young girl with the whole of time burning her up behind her eyes, and two words written across the universe: Bad Wolf. Joan started and took his hand, as if that would stave off whatever horrors she imagined were plaguing her love. Reality suddenly snapped back around him. John Smith shuddered. Something was aching in his chest. Simply holding the watch was already beginning his transformation; he could feel his thought processes change, ever so slightly. He knew that, for him, a normal human life, the one that he had just envisioned not moments ago, was now impossible.
John Smith had never been adventurous as a child. If his memory served him right (only, he wasn't very sure it did, anymore) he had been the type of boy to stay indoors with a thick tome while other boys his age ran around outside getting fantastically dirty. This caution carried over into his adolescent and adult years, where he stuck to a safe, conservative, predictable path that was sure to guarantee him success. And sure, sometimes John Smith wondered where he might be had he played with his peers in the dirt, but he never agonized over the what-could-have-beens in his life. Even when he had met Joan, and felt all those silly, giddy flips of his stomach, he hadn't wanted to show her the world, or dazzle her with exotic trinkets. He only wanted to stay with her, to settle down in a place he had known all his life, raise a family, be a good, sturdy, loving husband, never straying from her or from their home.
The watch had other ideas. Even now he felt the call to adventure, the pull to jump up and run as far and fast as could, to find new places and explore them to their fullest extent. (A voice - his own? - from his memory saying "It's that feeling you get… that mad little voice saying, 'go on, go on, go over, go on…'") And that scared him, more than a little bit, because if that was the Doctor speaking, if that was how he lived his life, if you could call it that, then the question wasn't "to where is he running," rather "from what is he running?" The Doctor was running away from something, be it death or loneliness or his past; John Smith didn't know, and he didn't need to know; the fact that he was running was enough to convince him. John Smith did not want to be this man. All he wanted was to stay put and love Joan, he didn't want to run away.
But he had to. Whether or not he wanted to; the watch had a hold on him now.
"I don't want to go," he informed the watch, staring holes at it as if that would make the thrice-damned thing break into a million pieces. The watch was unresponsive. Joan's hand tightened on his arm; she already knew what his decision would be, despite every inch of her hoping otherwise.
"I know you don't." He turned to her, and looked her in the eyes. If he was going to die, he wanted her to make sure that she knew.
"Joan Redfern…" He couldn't say it. How could he? She was the love of his life, the one he would do anything within his power to make happy, and he was just leaving her, waltzing straight out of her life without a care. Just three words, and he couldn't say them. John Smith rather thought he didn't deserve to say them. (He managed a "Rose Tyler - " before the beach faded away in front of him, leaving him alone with his ship.) He knew he'd never be able to say those words. He stared at her, imprinting every last feature into his memory, from her hair to the memory of her first husband to the feel of her lips. The Doctor would remember her all too well.
("Tell her… tell her - oh, she knows." And he fell into the darkness.)
John Smith took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and opened the watch.
The Doctor looked just like John Smith. Obviously, John Smith thought, it would have been rather silly if he didn't. But he didn't look exactly like John Smith. The build was the same, yes, and the coloring, sure, and perhaps his hair did flop about like that in the morning, but there was something fundamentally different between him and the alien - the construction of his face, or the way he held himself, perhaps. The Doctor held out his hand.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
John Smith looked the Doctor square into his ancient, cold, alien eyes, his gaze never faltering. "I know you are. Doesn't mean that you wouldn't do it again, though, does it?"
The Doctor tried to grin, but it came out more as a grimace. "You know me."
No, John Smith thought, I really don't.
He took the proffered hand, and saw gold. Thousands of images and feelings, entirely familiar but still totally alien to John Smith, swam over and around him, swallowing him up and completely robbing him of any control. Already he could feel himself breaking apart and being put back together in another image. At the very least, he thought, it doesn't hurt. The light caressed his hands and neck, running fingers through his hair and pouring time into his eyes.
Oh, John Smith thought, just before he lost all sense of self. His granddaughter, and that girl in my journal. They have the same name.
The Doctor's presence engulfed John Smith's, and the schoolteacher was no more.
It hurt. Oh it hurt so much. Having his biology completely rewritten twice in as many months? Ouch. He could feel every nerve stretching and reaching out, aching to feel the swirl of temporal energy that they had been deprived of these past two and a half months. His right heart restarted itself and pumped wildly, not intent on settling down anytime soon, and his bones cracked and refit themselves into their proper positions. Despite all looks to the contrary, Gallifreyan bone structure was actually quite different to humans. For instance, Gallifreyans were much more flexible. Owowowow.
The Doctor attempted to open his eyes, only to be stopped by his spine snapping back into place. He inhaled sharply. "Ack-aahhh! Oh, Rassilon…" He managed to get them all the way open this time, catching all the little details that he couldn't before with those human eyes: he could see the grain of the wood of the ceiling, and where there was too much pressure, or not enough. That ceiling doesn't look so good. Without any sort of repair, factoring in wood decay and termite damage and the weight of precipitation, that ceiling is going to cave in, oh, fourteen years? Hmm. Ceiling. I am looking at the ceiling. I'm not craning my neck, so I must be… oh, I'm lying on the floor! Why am I doing that? The Doctor launched his torso upright, startling the person hovering at his side.
(He could feel her fear and her broken heart at the loss of the schoolteacher. That was one emotional bruise he would have to ignore for the present time.)
He picked himself up off the floor, subtly changing his footing every few moments to compensate for the rotation of the planet below him. Rassilon, but humans were blind! How did they go about being so, so fantastic in their silent, unfeeling worlds? Another reason he loved them so much. "Martha?" he called.
There was a pause, then the door opened quietly, slowly. Nervously, Martha, steadfast, brave, brilliant Martha, poked her head through the doorway, chewing her lip, eyeing the Doctor up and down, trying to discern if he was the man or the alien... she took a steadying breath and a leap of faith: "Doctor?"
"The one and only," he declared, arms spread as if he were making a somber, fateful statement, but grinning as cheekily as only the Doctor could. Martha let out a shout of joy before running up to embrace him, nearly barreling him over. Her happiness flooded into his psychic senses, as well as her underlying panic, and he returned the hold just as enthusiastically. He could feel her heart beating double-time against his, and his ear was rather uncomfortably bent by her cheek, but he didn't mind. Oh, he missed this, the hugging, the physical closeness of another living being, offering and receiving comfort, (two people holding each other up in a world trying to tear them down). The 1910s were so repressed.
"Oh, Doctor," she sighed into his neck, "I thought I'd lost you!"
"Who, me? Nah. Never." I wish I could say the same for you. Because one day, she would leave him, and rightfully so, this was no life for a human, this was barely a life for him as it was, and the emotional heartbreak from this little venture alone could prove to be too much for her to process, but he smelled her relief (and just the slightest bit of shame) under the mustiness of the early twentieth century, and behind her, watching fearfully was -
"Timothy Latimer!" He darted over to the boy (and really, he was just a boy, but the Doctor could see that far too soon he would have drag a classmate that hated him and the future of the entire world behind him with only the hope that somehow, somehow, he would make it out of this hell with his soul still intact) and took up his hand, shaking it energetically, "I can't thank you enough for holding onto me - the watch all this time. Really, can't thank you enough, you were brilliant and - ooh." He pulled back suddenly, a frown overtaking his features. "I'm sorry for what I let them do to you when I was human. I am so, so sorry." John Smith (he would have to find a new undercover name, this one hurt too much now) may have been at ease with contemporary disciplinary actions, but the Doctor was most certainly not!
Timothy - Tim? Tim was a great name, Tim-Tim-Timmy - stared at him, slightly shaken by the abrupt mood change, but full of awe. "It was n-nothing, sir." He had only known the Doctor as a persuasive voice inside of a watch; in the flesh, he was so larger-than-life.
"Now," he quickly interjected before Tim's awe for the man could take root and turn into something much more horrifying (respect that he didn't deserve, not by a long shot). He stuffed his hands into his pockets, panicking slightly when he felt the bottom lining before belatedly realizing that these weren't his normal trousers, and were completely normal-sized on the inside. He patted his jacket instead. "Glasses, glasses, glasses..." He turned to her, "Martha do you where-" and she was already holding them out for him, her smile threatening to tear her face in two. He grinned back at her, snatching them up and slipping them into his breast pocket. "Right then! I'm off to meet the Family!" He threw her a wink and a tongue click before dashing out the door.
"Wait, Doctor!" Martha scrambled after him with Tim hot on her heels, leaving Joan Redfern standing in the empty house all alone, "What are you going to do?" What aren't I going to do? he thought to himself bitterly. If the stories were to be believed (and they were), he was the Oncoming Storm, Ka Faraq Gatri, and there was no mercy left in his hearts (none for his enemies and especially none for him, who committed the worst crime of all by giving a kind, sad woman new hope and then ripping it away, leaving nothing but despair in its wake).
"I'm going to give them what they want!" He ran faster than any human for the Family's ship - which was almost pathetically easy to find, really, with senses like his - his brain already sending out chemicals to his bloodstream so as to hide his scent. The Family were monsters, and so would be punished accordingly.
But as the Doctor ran away from the memory of the life he could never have, he knew he was the biggest monster of them all.