A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! Quotes taken from "Human Nature."
In both polls (the one here & the one on my livejournal) people seem to be most interested in "Hello Stranger," so here it is! Once "A Beautiful Disaster" is finished I will be updating this story on Wednesdays, but I finished the first chapter and thought that since you are all so awesome, you totally deserve two updates in one day. Enjoy!
Chapter One: Meet John Smith
"Quick, into the TARDIS!" He had to run; he had to leave. They were coming and he'd done far too much damage already. If they caught him he'd have to kill them and he'd killed enough to last him all of his remaining regenerations, not that there were many left. He seemed to be running through them rather fast. It was the meddling, Romana would say. Of course, she had no room to talk, as she regenerated for purely cosmetic reasons that first time, but then consistency is the defense of small minds, and let no one ever say that Time Lords had small minds. They were small minded, yes, but it was a metaphor, after all, and there! He was through the doors and so were his companions, he hoped. He wanted to look, knew that he should check them over but he couldn't spare the time. A Time Lord who ran out of time, how pathetic was that? Almost as pathetic as a Time Lord who ran away. Coward, him, but that wasn't a new revelation.
"Did they see you?" he barked as he took them into the Vortex. "Martha! Donna! Answer me! Did they see you?"
"No!" Donna snapped. "I was too busy running to look back!"
There was only silence from his other companion. "Martha! Did they see you?"
"N-no." She sounded far from certain and he shot her a blistering glare. "No, they didn't. You said not to look back, and I didn't."
The TARDIS's ever-present hum shifted, letting him know that they were in fact in the Vortex and following a course that he left up to her, save that he chose their planet to be Earth. His ship was marvelous and she would see that they arrived in a favorable time and locale. "There's no way around it," he murmured as he gripped the console, his knuckles white from the strain. "I'll have to hide."
"What?" Donna objected. "What are you talking about, Spaceman?"
"Doctor?" Martha's voice was much softer and filled with concern—for him. She was so devoted, was Martha, even though he'd been adamant that he didn't do that, not with companions, and generally not at all. It was such a human thing to do—to love the unlovable, but then her care wasn't exactly love, not a love of equals. She loved him because he was brilliant and showed her the universe. It was wrong to play on those feelings, but he needed to. He didn't want anyone else to die for him, and if he remained as he was there would be casualties.
"Do you trust me?" he asked them, deadly serious.
"Yes," Martha replied without hesitation.
"Yes," Donna echoed, although her voice carried a hint of apprehension.
"Good." He pulled a silver fob-watch out of a compartment on the TARDIS console. "Because I'm putting my life in your hands." He held the watch out for them to see. "This watch is me."
It was at that moment in the dream that the screech of his alarm clock pulled him back into the waking world. There was a momentary feeling of intense disorientation—the world was spinning beneath him and his hearts thudded painfully out of sync—and then he took a breath and the feeling vanished. He was John Smith; he possessed a Doctorate in both British history and British literature, and only one heart. It was always two in his dreams but he wasn't sure why. Was it symbolic, perhaps?
No matter. They were fantasies and nothing more, perhaps brought on by his fondness for jam before he turned in for the night. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and pulled back the curtains. Bright light flooded the room immediately. One whole wall of his room was taken up by a giant floor-to-ceiling window. Actually, two sides of the house were glass. An eccentric millionaire built the strange structure years ago. After he passed away his family started renting the house out to visiting professors. It was relatively close to the University, at least, close according to the standards of the Midwestern United States, but it was far enough away so that he could see the stars at night.
Natives of the town of Middleridge called it the Castle. John was from Europe, where, as Eddie Izzard said 'the history is from,' and so he had seen real castles. The house was impressive, but not that impressive. He had the feeling that he used to live somewhere fantastic, almost magical, a place with byzantine corridors and rooms that were functional works of art. They were vague memories, leftover from his childhood. He couldn't remember much, just his father (Sydney) and his mother (Verity) and a feeling of home that seemed to elude him no matter where he traveled.
A loud knock on the door pulled him out of his reverie. "Oi! Spaceman! Hurry up! Don't want to be late for your first day of class!"
"Coming Donna!" he called.
"Honestly," his assistant muttered from the other side of the door. "It's like I'm your mum and not your secretary!" She waited until she could hear him moving around the room, and then joined Martha at the table. The young black woman was reading a newspaper and drinking a cup of strong coffee. She smiled at her friend.
"Good morning. How's himself?"
Donna put the kettle on and popped a bagel into the toaster. "He's up, at least. It's just so—weird seeing him sleep. He never sleeps! He's always dragging me out of bed after a few hours." She sighed and slid into the chair next to Martha. "Honestly, he's rubbish as a human."
"Only a few more months," Martha said sympathetically. "Once the semester's over he can change back and we'll be traveling through time and space again."
The kettle whistled and Donna stood to get it. "Can't come soon enough," she murmured. Fear curled hard and cold in her stomach. She'd been traveling with the Doctor for almost two years and in all of that time she'd never seen him shy away from a fight. Oh, he tried his hardest to abstain from violence, but he never hid, never ran away. He was confident to the extreme, bordering on arrogant—except that he wasn't anymore. No, he'd crammed everything that made him a Time Lord into something that looked like a watch and in his place was a human named John Smith who looked like the man she trusted with her life, the man she loved like a (very annoying and slightly thick) brother.
After a cup of tea and toast (with jam of course) John and Donna were on their way to Middleridge proper and Blackhawk University. Martha apparently didn't start classes until the next day, but she ate breakfast with them and waved them off. She was a quiet, serious girl and John found that he enjoyed her company, although they lacked the same easy camaraderie he shared with Donna, but that, he supposed, came from a history of working together. Donna had been his secretary for the past two years and she did an admirable job. Not everyone was cut-out for his line of work. He traveled almost constantly and often to dangerous locations in pursuit of documents relevant to his research. On top of that he could be incredibly rude sometimes, and he was brilliant and a little distant and not the easiest person to work with. Objectively he and Donna, who was pushy and loud and never backed down, should have been at each other's throats, but they got along surprisingly well. There was a maternal streak just below the ginger woman's brash exterior and she seemed to believe that he needed her attention.
As they drew closer to the University his mind raced. He hadn't worked with students in ages! It was exciting, but so much different from his usual research. Dealing with government workers who were ordered to be as unhelpful as possible in order to obstruct (without appearing to obstruct) his research? Easy. Dealing with three classes of thirty eighteen to twenty-three year olds? Now that was difficult. He left Donna at his office. As his personal assistant she would organize his appointments and assist with the articles he was writing (usually her assistance included typing up his notes, which was good, because she was one of the few people he'd met who could accurately read his scrawl).
The morning passed in a blur of syllabi and faces, some more eager than others. He was standing just outside his office, contemplating the possibilities of lunch, when a familiar voice caught his attention.
"John, how are you settling in?" It was Dr. Connor Griffin, the assistant chair of the department and the man who had offered him the position of visiting professor.
He offered the man a smile. "Fine, fine thank you."
"I was just on my way to lunch," Connor continued. "Care to join me? I know the perfect place. There's a little diner not too far from here. It's more of a local hang-out, though, so you shouldn't run into too many of your students."
"That sounds brilliant," John replied gratefully. "Lead on!"
The persistent buzzing of her alarm pulled her from the rather pleasant dream she had been having. She slapped the snooze button and rolled on to her back, staring at the ceiling although she couldn't see it in the pre-dawn darkness. For a moment she thought she was back in bed, in her Mum's flat on the Powell estate, and then reality hit her like a bucket of cold water. She hadn't been back to London in almost a year. She'd been in her current flat, a tiny studio, for a little more than a month. She was working her way across the United States, but her money had run out and she was tied down until she could make enough to fund her next move.
Rose Tyler rolled out of bed and reluctantly began to get dressed for the day. Some things never changed. She was a world traveler now—she'd been all over Europe, spent a little less than a year catching trains and busses and occasionally walking through Spain and France and Germany and the Netherlands and Greece and Italy and more. She'd been to Ireland and Scotland and even Wales, but she needed more. So she hopped on a plane and made her first cross-Atlantic flight.
Briefly her thoughts turned to a man who had held out to her all of the universe on a silver platter—an offer she'd refused. If she could turn back time she would take that chance in a heartbeat. As it was, she was still traveling. She'd tried to go back to her life of work and telly and Mickey, but after two weeks she'd stopped pretending. Her and Mickey had something once. They'd been nice, but comfortable. She didn't want comfortable. She wanted someone who could feel the turn of the Earth, who made her every nerve tingle to the tips of her fingers, who made her feel alive.
When she was nineteen years old, Rose Tyler met an alien. He called himself the Doctor, just the Doctor. He waltzed in and saved her life and then she turned right back around and saved his. He was prickly and stubborn and entirely too confident in his own abilities. He asked her to come with him, to see the universe, to be something more than Rose Tyler, shop girl.
When she was nineteen years old, she made the worst choice of her life. She said no. That was part of the reason she traveled. It was a big universe, but she still hoped that if she looked hard enough, if she visited one more place, that he would be there, leaning up against his police-box that was actually a space ship. Maybe, if she asked nicely and gave him that smile, the one with the tongue, maybe he would let her come with him.
Forget me, Rose Tyler he'd said. Like that was ever going to happen. In fact, she was pretty sure that telling her to forget him only served to cement his memory further. And the way he'd acted when she said no—he'd looked at her, all expectations and eager enthusiasm, and then it had just died. He looked like someone kicked his puppy or ripped up his favorite book right in front of him.
So she didn't have a space ship that was blue and bigger on the inside, nor did she have its alien pilot. She had her memories and an urgent need to see what was on the other side of the next hill, and that could be enough. It would have to be enough.
The restaurant that Connor led John to was tucked away in an unobtrusive corner of a strip mall. It was a few streets back from the University campus and surrounded by older residences. "It's been here for years," the other man explained. "Even before Evelyn, my wife, and I moved here." He held the door for John to enter first. It was a diner in every sense of the word. John blinked. It looked like he'd been transported back to the nineteen-fifties, and for some reason that seemed to be a distinct possibility, until he noticed that everyone was wearing modern clothes. He frowned. Of course he couldn't be in the fifties. There was no such thing as time travel, not outside of science fiction novels and movies.
Connor directed him to a table against the wall. "I'm here almost every day during the week," he said with a grin. "I've got my own table and everything." They chatted for a few minutes, and then the sharp 'click' of heels on the tile floor signaled the approach of their server.
"G'morning professor," a woman said. "Brought a friend today?"
It was the accent that made him turn, he thought. He hadn't expected to hear the familiar flat London drawl outside of his own house. Their waitress was blonde, artificial—he noted the darker roots that were just beginning to show. She had dark brown eyes, a wide, generous mouth, and a strong jaw. He hadn't thought that it was possible for anyone to look good in an apron, but she was doing an admirable job. She smiled at his companion, who nodded at her.
"Hello Rose. I'd like you to meet Dr. John Smith. He's a visiting professor."
The girl turned her beaming smile on him. "Nice ta meet you professor."
"Doctor," he corrected automatically.
She cocked her head, puzzled. "What?"
"Just Doctor, please," he replied with a smile to soften the correction. "It's nice to meet you, Rose, and to hear a familiar voice. I haven't been back to London in a very long time."
Rose nodded. "Me neither. Mum's always after me to come home an visit, but plane tickets are expensive, and besides—" A mischievous twinkle surfaced in her soft eyes. "I haven't made it to California yet."
"Rose is working her way across the country," Connor informed him. "What am I supposed to do when you're gone?" he asked the girl. "No one else knows what I like."
She rolled her eyes. "Jenny does, professor. Now, what can I get you Doctor Smith?"
Lunch with Connor was pleasant, especially when Rose stopped by their table. She and Connor bantered back and forth and John thought that he would be welcome to join in, but he was content to watch them. She was young, twenty-three at the oldest, and she was far away from her home. She was brave, obviously. He didn't think that many young women would cross an ocean, and then later a country, alone. She was friendly and cheerful, but something about her seemed—sad. She smiled at everyone and kept up a stream of playful teasing with people he assumed to be regulars, but there were glimpses of something stirring beneath her chipper façade. In unguarded moments her eyes seemed to fix on a point only she could see, something far away and the smile drained from her face like milk from a glass. She looked vulnerable, longing and slightly discouraged, but then someone would say her name and the mask was back up. He wondered what would make a pretty young woman so sad.
She knew it was impossible, that she'd never seen Dr. John Smith before in her life. She would like to think that if she had, she would remember. So it was impossible, and yet there was somethinga bout him that seemed familiar. Something about his carriage, or the way he insisted on being called 'Doctor,' and just Doctor, made her pause. But he couldn't be that Doctor. That Doctor, the Doctor, was older, and had blue eyes and big ears, not big hair (and it was some really great hair, she had to admit) and brown eyes. And he was from the North! Of course, she didn't know what planet, but still, he looked and sounded nothing like the man who was having lunch with Professor Griffin. It was the accent, she decided as she pushed through the double doors to the kitchen. It was the shock of hearing a familiar tone and inflection so far away from her mum and Mickey. And she had been thinking about them more frequently. Doubts were beginning to set in. She'd been traveling for two years and she hadn't found him yet. She'd gone wherever there was trouble but he was nowhere.
Maybe that was it, she thought bitterly. Maybe she'd missed her chance. She sighed, and took a moment to compose herself before she went back out into the diner. She had a job to do, and when she had enough money saved up she could be on her way again. It was a bittersweet feeling, the knowledge that she would be leaving as soon as she could. Sweet, because the open road was calling to her. She hadn't known, before she met the Doctor, that wanderlust could get into the blood. She hadn't known that anyone could need to be moving. Most of her life seemed to be standing still, but not anymore. It was a compulsion, an attempt to recapture the electricity that his presence and their actions had sent crackling over her skin. But she had friends here, in this little town. Professor Griffin and Jenny would be sad when she left, but they understood. She had to keep moving. If she stopped then she would have to face the fact that she had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she let it slip through her fingers.