John thought he could be forgiven the embarrassing sound of strangled surprise that escaped him before he turned it into an awkward cough.
The Time Lord's eyes flashed briefly in amusement, as he laid a surreptitious finger to his lips for an instant. "Yes, yes, you've done your duty, Myles; now go annoy someone else for a bit, there's a good chap," he said breezily, turning back to his microscope. "I am certain that Dr. Watson and I are capable of having an unchaperoned conversation about rooming arrangements."
The young intern was unoffended, and after bobbing his head briefly with a hopeful grin to John, ambled back through the double doors.
Scarcely had they shut behind him when John more collapsed than sat into the nearest chair.
The alien swivelled away from the microscope, lips quirked in a smug grin. "Admit it, you are utterly taken aback, John," he declared with an air of complete self-satisfaction.
"I am!" He shook his head, still barely able to believe his eyes. "I assumed you had said good riddance and were halfway across the cosmos by now - it's been three months!"
His companion looked at first sad, then a bit mortified, and squirmed slightly in his chair. "Yes, well...about that. Erm. You see, time travel is not precisely an exact science. I have been..." he looked briefly to the side, and then continued hurriedly, "...a bit off in landing, before. This is actually the closest I've been in a while to my intent. Also I had no idea when precisely you'd landed, you know. It is harder than it looks to track down one small human across all of space and time."
"You'll hear no complaints from me, Doctor," John commented wryly, ignoring the 'small' descriptor. "I have yet to acclimate myself to a world without Starbucks and launderettes. It is...utterly fantastic to see you!"
The Time Lord grinned at him.
"And what on earth have you done with your hair?" was John's next question, as he shook his head incredulously.
"Fashions of the time, I'm afraid," was the doleful reply, as the alien ran a hand over the heavily-slicked down mop, and then tugged helplessly at his necktie - cravat, John mentally corrected his vocabulary. "It is quite ghastly, isn't it?"
"A bit, yeah." John smiled. "I am glad to see you, you know."
"Yes, well." His companion cleared his throat nervously. "You may not be so pleased, when you learn all the facts, John."
"You had best get in the habit of calling me by my alias for the duration of our time here," the Time Lord advised. "I have no medical qualifications and that will be quite apparent to anyone who overhears your giving me such a title. I have no desire to attract undue attention."
"Yet you named yourself Sherlock?" John commented dryly, eyebrow raised.
"It's a long story, all right?" the Time Lord ran a hand through his hair again and then stood, buttoning up his coat as he did so. "And there are far more important things we have to discuss, John. Come along, we have an appointment in Central London."
John obediently trotted after his long-legged companion, his limp all but disappearing in the wake of this shocking new development. "Can't you just explain whatever it is on our way home?" he asked.
"That depends on what you call home, John," the alien said seriously, as they walked down the street to a more frequented thoroughfare. "And that is why I said you may not be so pleased to see me. Call us a cab, there's a good fellow?"
John blinked at the non sequitur, shrugged, and whistled shrilly. A horse-drawn two-seater trotted up to them a moment later, and they clambered aboard with what John hoped was minimal awkwardness.
"Baker Street," The Doctor called upward, and with a sickening lurch they began to move through what looked to be absolutely non-systematic London traffic.
"Baker Street, John. I have...good news and bad news." The Time Lord's lips pursed in rueful aversion. "Which would you prefer to hear first?"
"The good news," John replied instantly, because after all how bad could the bad news be, if he'd been found by the only man who knew where he'd been sent?
"The good news is that I was able to locate you with a minimum of fuss. I was rather lucky to be able to pinpoint you in a city this size, but arranging a meeting took a bit more finesse and some assistance from our overeager young friend."
"About that - how were you able to locate me?" John asked, interested.
The Doctor waved a hand dismissively. "Simple enough, once I'd pinpointed your basic time period; you are one of three people in this era in London who show traces of Vortex energy. Quite faint in your case, as your time in the TARDIS was never while she was in flight through the Vortex, but enough to be traceable with the proper dimensional scan and a bit of experimenting."
"Yes, right, well we don't all speak Star Trek, so what does that mean, exactly?"
"You have glowy stuff on you that makes my sonic screwdriver go beeeep," the Time Lord said dryly.
John laughed, genuinely, for the first time in many days. "All right, so the good news is that you found me and landed in the right time period...what's the bad news?"
The Doctor fidgeted, tugged at his cravat again. "Um," he said intelligently. "Well...the bad news is that...we can't leave."
John stared at him for several seconds, assuming he'd heard incorrectly, but the alien appeared genuinely regretful. Finally he exploded in a flurry of words fueled by sudden despairing fright, "You have a time-travelling spaceship - what do you mean, you can't get me home?"
"John, I told you that you might not be happy after I -"
"Explain," he demanded through clenched teeth, blood pounding in his ears.
"One reason, is that there are things that even I cannot do to disrupt the balance of time, John," the alien snapped sharply. "According to all records, you disappear without a trace on the night of October 12, 2011 - there is no confirmation of you ever showing back up in your proper time period. I cannot change history, John. You have, for all intents and purposes, already died by the time October 13 in your year 2011 comes around. The people you knew have not even been born yet, and will not be for another hundred years or so. I. Cannot. Change. That."
John paled, letting that sink in for a moment. "Why can't you just...alter it a bit?" he asked quietly. "History, I mean. It's not as if I'm some world leader who is going to shake the earth's political foundation if I disrupt a tiny detail in the Grand Scheme of Earth's history...why can't I just return and live in my proper time period?"
The Time Lord sighed, and looked down at his folded hands for a moment. Finally he looked up, meeting John's questioning eyes with regret, combined with a flinty determination that told the physician further pleas would be useless. "For one thing, because you would create a paradox that could in theory rip a hole in the fabric of time; messing with history is always a dangerous business. For another, Mycroft Holmes will not rest if you return, John. Not only will he either destroy you or both of us - but in addition, your return would change the course of history regarding the involvement of an alien race on your planet and the open acknowledgement of said alien race. But primarily," he continued seriously, "Because, John Watson, you are destined for something else, something in this time period. I cannot tell you more than that, because even I don't have room in my brain-attic for every single detail of every person's life and timeline."
"So you are going to leave me here," John said flatly, hoping his desperation and slight hurt didn't show in his voice.
"Ah...not precisely. I did say that was only one of two reasons why you can't go back," the alien hedged uneasily.
"And the other?"
"I might have had...some slight technical difficulties upon landing," the words tumbled out in an awkward rush, "which would make future flights through the Vortex a bit...dodgy, to try safely."
John blinked, a grin quirking at his lips despite the situation. "You broke down."
"A bit, yes."
"Your amazing, time-traveling ship broke down, in Earth's Victorian age."
"I believe I just said that," his companion growled, arms folding defensively across his chest.
"Wait, how are you going to fix her if we're stranded before the Age of Technology?" John asked, suddenly realising those implications. "We've barely cleared the Industrial Revolution!"
"I highly doubt I will be able to fix her." Something on the floor of the dingy cab seemed to be taking up the Time Lord's complete attention, and John cautiously moved a bit closer. "Certainly it would not be for some years, as I have no idea the substitutions for technology which I could build from this era's materials...besides, the old girl's a bit ill-tempered in her old age anyway...rather like me, actually..."
"Doctor," John said quietly, because something was not quite ringing true about the alien's story, "...how, exactly, did that powerful ship break down to the point that it stranded you here? Surely you have safeguards against such a thing, and you were only travelling through time, not space...it could not have been that difficult of a trip, unless there is something you are not telling me."
The Time Lord's head shot up in surprise. "Why would you think that?" he asked, attempting innocence and failing most miserably.
John rolled his eyes. "Tell me what happened, Doctor," he requested. "It looks like neither of us will be going somewhere any time soon."
The story unfolded slowly as they drove through a smog-filled London, the Doctor reluctantly giving out details as John asked pertinent questions.
"It's a bit hard to explain, Time," said the former, frowning. "Rather like a bit of string, is what I usually tell people - not a straight line at all. It can twist and turn and double back on itself, and wind itself around certain people or places..."
"And it can knot itself up sometimes?" John asked suddenly, a mental light bulb flashing.
The alien looked impressed. "Just so," he agreed, smiling. "And what happens to the tensile strength of a string when you knot it, just there before the knot?"
"That becomes the weakest point of the string," John supplied.
"Precisely. When Time becomes knotted up...well. Let us suppose my timeline is one such piece of string. One which is tangled up so badly by this point - I am centuries old, John, remember - that even I have a hard time making sense of it. But this particular time period, John; I have been here so many, many times that this era is fairly kinked and knotted up with my own timeline."
"So...trying to fly the TARDIS into the Victorian age...is like trying to force a piece of string through an already-tied knot?" John asked slowly.
"That's just about the precise problem, John. Well done." The Time Lord looked quite pleased at his comprehension. "It is nearly impossible to fly into such a knotted mess, as it goes against all safety protocols installed in the TARDIS, not to mention it is horrendously difficult to pinpoint a landing in such conditions. I had not anticipated just how difficult it would be, either for the TARDIS or for precision in locating the year I was aiming for..." His voice trailed off into an awkward silence, and John's blood suddenly ran cold.
"How accurate was your landing?" John asked quietly. "Just how long have you been stranded in this time period, Doctor?"
The Time Lord glanced away, out at the throng of humanity which pressed about them and their vehicle.
"Two years," was the quiet answer, and John stared at the man, aghast.
"There was nothing to be done; it was as close as I could manage in those conditions - and I could not know when exactly you were going to arrive, John; I had hoped to land before you rather than after." The alien shrugged easily. "My early arrival enabled me to establish a relationship with the primary brain-behind-the-current-British-government, barter for my sanctuary in return for a few favours to be called in when needed, and with the man's help set up an alternate identity which would stand under severe scrutiny."
John shook his head, horrified at this new knowledge. "If it was that high of a risk - why on earth did you come back for me in the first place?" he exclaimed. "Surely you knew the chances when you embarked?"
"Oh, I did," the alien agreed cheerfully. "In fact, I was set on spending a bit of time in the Carina Nebula, watching baby stars being born - gorgeous sight, that - but the TARDIS, she would have none of it. The old girl can be quite adamant if she decides to be, you know." The Time Lord scratched his head sheepishly. "In fact...you could possibly say that she...kidnapped me."
John's lips twitched.
"It is not in the least bit funny!"
"Not at all," John managed, masking a half-hysterical giggle as a cough. Not that much of an act, as he had noticed the last few days had caused him to develop an almost constant urge to clear his scratchy throat due to the soot and grime in the air.
The Doctor sighed, stretching his long legs out before him. "She was rather old, anyway," he murmured with an audible tinge of regret. "So many centuries under her belt, the poor girl. It's no wonder she called it quits after that rough of a landing."
"She's not -"
"Oh, no, still quite alive," the alien hastened to reassure him. "Just a bit crotchety. And in no mood to go anywhere for quite a while, yet. And that's assuming I can fix her someday. No, for all intents and purposes, John - I am as much an exiled prisoner here as you are. I have no doubt," he added darkly, "that your precious Mycroft Holmes planned this quite carefully, as the most difficult time period in Earth's history for me to attempt to locate you."
John took all this in and sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the scenery change before them and trying to digest the information. Then he remembered Stanley's introductions in Bart's, and turned again to his companion.
"What, Sherlock Holmes?"
"Yes - how on earth did that come about?"
"Well, it is simple enough. History and nomenclature have a dreadful habit of repeating themselves, John, and you might be shocked to learn that this time period also has a mastermind behind the government - by the same name as your nemesis in your own time period. No doubt the political bent is passed on through generations, though the ruthlessness of yours is not as pronounced in this time period's Mycroft Holmes. However, it was necessary to find a contact in the government so as to fly under the radar of an up-and-coming and far too eager Torchwood. Her Majesty Queen Victoria is not, shall we say, one of my biggest fans - and it was necessary to find a contact I can, if not trust, at least bargain safely with."
"So you found this time period's Mycroft Holmes and, what, agreed to do some espionage if required, in exchange for a new identity and sanctuary from...time-travelling bounty hunters or something?"
The Time Lord's eyes gleamed with amusement. "Already writing it up in your head, are you?"
John blushed. "I was only asking," he muttered in some embarrassment.
"And in essence you are correct. As to the name, it was merely the most simple solution. Mr. Holmes had a younger brother who died shortly after birth; it was no great feat to alter the records and emerge into society as a slightly eccentric younger sibling of an innocuous and totally unknown political genius. It is my rotten luck that the unfortunate young man had such a deplorable given name."
"Poor you," John agreed companionably, trying not to snigger. "Surely you have had aliases in the past, though? I cannot see you living for any length of time in a society simply being called 'The Doctor.'"
"I have rarely been forced to adopt humanity as a disguise, and on the occasions I did so I always took the name John Smith," the Time Lord returned unhappily.
John snorted, grinning. "Highly imaginative."
"And I couldn't very well have two Johns in the same household, communication with others would be unnecessarily complicated," he continued, shaking his head vehemently. "Most distracting. No, John, unfortunate as my unusual nom de guerre is, it unfortunately is what I have gone by for two years now and I am growing accustomed to it."
"Half a moment, what do you mean, the same household?" John asked warily.
The Time Lord gifted him with a skeptical look. "Are you so set on remaining in a squalid charity mission for the remainder of your time here? Surely, no matter how distasteful my alien-ness is to you, you would prefer a decent bed and regular meals to the alternative?"
"You're... really offering me lodgings; that wasn't just a ploy to get Myles to re-introduce us?"
The Doctor - Sherlock Holmes, John hastily corrected himself in his mind - nodded, somewhat nervously. "I have a two-bedroomed flat in Central London, an ideal situation really. Board, utilities, and laundry included in the rent, which is paid for by my governmental 'brother.' The landlady does not particularly care for my eccentricities, but she is a fabulous cook and housekeeper, if a bit too motherly for my tastes. You will like her, John. And the TARDIS is safely stowed in the lumber room above the second-floor bedroom; far too many stairs for the dear lady to navigate, and completely safe place to keep a multi-dimensional ship. She is a bit lonely, I gather, but safe enough."
John slumped back in the cab's seat as the vehicle swayed and rattled alarmingly through the traffic, his mind whirling at the rapidity in his change of fortune. "I...am having a bit of trouble processing it all," he murmured.
Sherlock Holmes nodded sagely. "I can imagine it is a bit too much for your funny little human brain. But you will adjust, John; you are not an idiot, I would never be able to tolerate your presence if you were. At least not in comparison to anyone but myself, which is rather unfair, given your unfortunate specist disadvantage."
An eyebrow inched toward John's prematurely greying hair. "Two years in the politest society in history, and you still haven't broken the habit of backhanded complimenting," he observed without rancor.
"Nope," the Time Lord chirped happily, looking altogether too pleased with himself.
John brought a hand up to his face, pinched the bridge of his nose briefly, and then sat back in the seat with a sigh. "I really can't believe you've been stuck here for two years, just because you came back for me," he commented quietly, glancing sideways.
He received an eloquent shrug and a graceful wave of hand, a fastidious gesture that began cementing the new persona before him in his mind. The Time Lord looked the part of a fussy, well-to-do Victorian gentleman, and had John not known better he would never have suspected otherwise. "It could not be helped, Doctor. And while it would certainly not be my life of choice, it could certainly be worse. This is an exciting period in which to live, John - so much history is being made, will be made, in the next thirty years or so."
"And then comes the first world war, and the Spanish 'flu," John muttered with understandable lack of enthusiasm. "Not to mention the rampant tuberculosis and God knows what else lurking in this horridly backward medical era..."
"Oh, I expect that long before you die of premature old age we shall have found a way to repair the TARDIS," the Time Lord replied cheerfully.
"And if we do not?" John asked pointedly.
"Well, then, Doctor Watson." Sherlock Holmes leaned toward him, eyes twinkling under the brim of his glossy hat. "Let us make ourselves unforgettable while we're here, shall we?"
(or is it?)
Thank you for taking this wild ride with me, dear reader, and I hope you enjoyed. I do have a whole set of head-canon for this universe that just didn't fit into the (epic) timeline here, and so I may revisit this if there's any future interest. Until then, thank you again for reading, and please remember to leave my artist a comment as well, if you can!