Disclaimer: I have never owned a television show in my life.
Ships: John/Joan (mentions of Nine, Martha, Rose and Jack, but oddly, not Ten)
Summary: John Smith is only human. And a watch is just a watch. [Family of Blood, AU]
Author’s note: First Who fic. Newbie to this fandom. Am mildly to moderately terrified. Many thanks to thenewradical for getting me hooked on Who and then betaing. She's been, you know, Fantastic. And also thanks to smtfhw for pointing out some errors.
There is a watch.
It doesn’t look like much, but then again the important things rarely do. It’s just an ordinary watch etched lightly with an intricate design that’s half hidden by the grime. It is a watch owned by a man called John Smith; schoolmaster, amateur novelist, ex-Time Lord. He’s had it for as long as he can recall (which ranges anywhere from two months to thirty-three years depending on who you ask), but to his knowledge, it’s never worked.
To be fair, he’s never actually opened the thing. He’ll glance at it every so often, fumble past it on his way to find his journal of impossible things, but there’s nothing remarkable about the old thing.
A watch is just a watch.
John Smith has these dreams; wild vivid things about monsters and aliens and travel through time and space. In these dreams, he’s called the Doctor. He has a magic blue box, an ever changing face and an endless array of companions. He wakes up grasping at the threads of the dreams, but they slip away, back to the depths of his mind. He grasps for his pen and scrawls it all down, every thought, every word, every image until he wonders if he’s supremely imaginative or just insane.
When he’s done, the book goes back on his dresser and his hand brushes the cold metal of the watch. He picks it up, looks, drops it.
His servant girl, Martha, is standing in the doorframe staring at him.
He tells her off for failing to knock.
She looks at him in betrayal. She does that almost every time he gets stern with her.
Damned if he knows what it means.
John Smith is completely human. He’s got a job, a life, a lady he’s falling head over heels for. But there are strange things going on around this school. Two and a half months of quiet and then two weeks of wild rooms, people with changing speech patterns, changing personalities… He catches one student sniffing another and he has to wonder what it means.
He dreams of the Doctor again, clutching the watch in his hand “Take this watch because my life depends on it. This watch, Martha, this watch is me.”
In two weeks four of the villagers die and six more disappear without a trace. Martha’s one of the ones who go missing. It hurts more than he would have expected. She was just a servant, but he always had the creeping notion that she was hiding something, lurking just out of his reach. Despite everything, he misses her.
Rumours swirl. Wild stories, all of them. People who claim to have seen space ships falling from the sky, beings from other worlds and flashes of light that disintegrate anything they touch. He is worried about the mental state of the students, but it passes in a few weeks. Now he is more worried about his own mental health.
He dreams of the Doctor and Martha and explosions and monsters and when he wakes up, he has to bite back a scream.
At Joan’s encouragement he starts picking through his journal cobbling together all the best bits he has into something coherent. He gets an offer for publication the day after he asks Joan to marry him.
He writes about a mysterious rogue called Captain Jack, time traveller from the 42nd century who gets caught up in a colossal time war. In the first scene he saves a girl called Rose even though she by all rights should have died. Rather than risk causing a paradox, Jack takes her with him. Before long they get caught up in something bigger than themselves. He rounds out the characters. Takes miniscule details from his journal and gives them a life of their own. Jack flirts with everything, human, alien, it doesn’t matter. Rose is excitable, bubbly and endlessly fascinated. Through everything, they’re happy.
There is no mention of a magic blue box, no mention of the Doctor, and Rose doesn’t ever walk away.
Joan, reading over his shoulder, wants to know why.
John tells her it’s better with two.
When the reviews come back, he is alternately hailed as a genius and a mad man. Somehow he finds it rather fitting.
They get married on a Sunday morning in June, a beautiful ceremony and John is as happy as he can remember. Joan is radiant, he can’t stop smiling. In five years their little family has expanded by two. There are two little boys constantly under foot. If it weren’t for the Great War passing though the village, John would have thought life was perfect.
Fourteen of his students fight in the war. After the Somme, only six come back alive.
The more he writes, the less he dreams. And despite the excitement of the Doctor’s world, John Smith is all too happy to let him fade. He starts on a sequel to his first novel and writes himself straight into a corner. No matter what he does, he can’t fix the ending. Jack’s stranded on a planet facing down a million by himself, while poor Rose is stuck back in her own century, safe but miserable.
He writes the ending dozens of times, but no matter what he does, he can’t make it sound right. He can’t let the enemy win, but even Captain Jack can’t defeat those sorts of odds and if he decided to run, he wouldn’t be Jack.
Joan reads his attempts over his shoulder, offers gentle encouragement, even points out three or four endings that aren’t bad at all. John is never satisfied. Nothing he does makes it sound right.
He has these moments sometimes, little things that make him feel like the Doctor. He snatches a little girl before she steps into traffic, coaxes a friend out of a house where lightning strikes only hours later, throws a cricket ball to saves a baby from a falling piano (that one he’ll always remember. Who pulls a piano up by a rope?). He has flashes of brilliance that Joan jokes just can’t be human.
He takes to carrying the old watch around in his pocket. Something about it makes him feel safe.
He survives a war, a depression. They move back to London looking for work and when the Nazis smash through France, he’s terrified. His older son is off to enlist and he spends his day down in the pub with his notebook, sketching his way through a new idea. Joan’s back home fretting about the boys and the war.
When the song ends a man steps on the stage before anyone else can move. “Excuse me, excuse me.” John glances up from his notes. The man is in his thirties with short cropped hair, a creased forehead, piercing blue eyes and rather large ears. “Could I have everybody’s attention? Just for a mo. I’ll be very quick. Uh, hello. It might seem like a stupid question but has anything fallen from the sky recently?”
There’s a long, awkward pause where John fights the overwhelming feeling that he’s been here before. The room breaks into laughter, but the man looks genuinely bewildered. “Sorry, have I said something funny? It’s just, there’s this thing that I need to find. Would have fallen from the sky a couple of days ago. Would have landed quite near here. With a very loud…”
The sirens start. The low whine that’s all too familiar. On stage, the man’s face cloud as if realization has only just come to him. “…bang,” the man finishes.
It shouldn’t have taken that long for someone to remember the war. It was an integral part of life that couldn’t possibly be forgotten. The other patrons are clearing the room, but John stands to approach the man.
“What’s you name?” he asks. There’s an odd familiarity to the stranger with the big ears and leather jacket like he’s seen him before, like he knows him.
The man gives John a sharp glare. “Depends on who’s asking.”
John holds his gaze. “John Smith.”
He flashes a large, cheery grin. “I’m the Doctor.”
Something in John’s blood goes cold. “Doctor Who?”
“Like I’ve never heard that one before.”
“Right,” John stammers. “Just the Doctor.” Unconsciously, his fingers fly to his pockets and he fumbles with the old watch.
“What have you got there?” the Doctor says, a note of suspicion creeping into his voice.
“Just a watch,” says John, handing it over.
The Doctor turns it over in his hands, once, twice. “And you’re called John Smith?”
The Doctor’s face clouds. “Fantastic.”
“Nothing, just…” The Doctor hands the watch back. “You take care of that. Got a companion to find, me. Always seems to wander off.”
“Rose?” John blurts without thinking.
The Doctor blinks. "Yeah, she's called Rose."
He finds a sketch of this Doctor in his journal, big nose, bigger ears and a cheeky grin. It’s a picture he drew years ago along with sketches of children in gas masks. He sinks down against his bed. Outside the air raid sirens howl.
“Fantastic,” John says.
The word doesn’t fit the teeth.
When Joan falls asleep, John sits at the edge of his bed, fingering the old watch.
He grasps the watch’s clasp, hands shaking for some reason he can’t fathom. Something washes over him (low-level telepathic fields, we're born with them, just an extra synaptic engram causing…) and the watch is suddenly warm to the touch. His curiosity is burning. He’s had this thing damn near thirty years and he’s never touched it like this, never really taken the time to really look, never listened.
It feels like there’s an entire person hidden in this watch, sleeping, waiting. Of course, that’s preposterous. John Smith knows fantasy from reality but he can’t help but feel that the dreams could end with just this one minute action.
The Doctor’s just a legend.
A watch is just a watch.
And John Smith is only human