Fandom: Doctor Who
Spoilers: Kinda for The Chase, obliquely for Doomsday.
Rating: PG-13 for some embarrassing conversations (poor John)
Summary: Inspired by a line in biichan’s marvellous fic Together, On This Same Earth,
. Referring to a gathering including Barbara, Ian and their son: “We've all traveled with the Doctor,” Martha explained. “Every one of us here. Well, except for Johnny. Probably.”
No probably about it, Martha. Enjoy!
Edit: This fic would not be as good as it is without my wonderful beta, eponymous_rose, who I should be flogged for forgetting to acknowledge. Go read all her stories too!
The stories were lovely, full of mystery and danger, joy and sorrow intermingled. His mother’s soft voice would weave tales of the Crusades and Sir Ian of Jaffa; his father would tell of Yataxa the goddess with pride in his face. Daleks and Voord and Zarbi lived alongside Kublai Khan and Robespierre and Nero, heroes and villains and those in between, glorious things his parents had seen and done.
John Chesterton did not believe a word of it.
Oh, of course he had as a child, wide-eyed and incredulous. When his parents had somehow produced a Doctor who corroborated their story, his belief turned absolute and unshakeable; at least until he had realized that the hyperactive man in the pin-striped suit had likely just been a distant relative willing to play along.
Gillian believed it, he thought. But his sister had got all the dreamy, imaginative genes. John had his mother’s sometimes ruthless practicality and his father’s stone-headed stubbornness, but nothing of the idealism he heard in their stories.
Bit strange that Gillian with all her dreams had gone into computer programming, and he, so down-to-earth, became a brilliant rock star. Only went to show.
It did seem a bit odd that his parents kept up the story. They would tease each other about conquests made in the past or future, or reassure each other that no silly human could present half the danger of the Daleks. But John was a sensible young man, and he saw the world as it was. Such a thing as the Doctor or a police box bigger on the inside could not exist. He believed it as surely as he believed in gravity.
It made actually finding the damned box that much more terrifying.
He had been walking home from the studio. It was a lovely day, and he lived in a neighborhood where just about no one listened to his music. Bannerman Road was populated mostly by the very old, and new families who didn’t want that sort of trash around their children.
John smiled at the thought. They were doing him a favor, really, letting him live somewhere free of screaming fans. Somehow nobody had connected “John Chesterton” with “Johnny Chess” yet. Thank God. Hopefully they never would.
He watched the houses idly as he strolled past. Number 11, the Joneses, always away; number 12, a couple unnervingly like his parents and their three small children; number 13, an extremely pretty woman who was, alas, too old for him. He’d been really lucky to get a house in this neighborhood, as his sister informed him constantly, and luckier still to afford a house at twenty-one. Honestly, it was an excellent investment, and he could quite happily live in this neighborhood for the rest—
An odd humming noise filled his head, and he stopped, frowning. What was that?
The humming wasn’t unpleasant, precisely; it thrummed in his skull like a note on a guitar held impossibly long. A muted major chord, he thought, with some odd minor harmonies threading through it, sweet and soft and alien. He would have found it unsettling if it wasn’t somehow familiar.
Experimentally, John took a step backward, and felt more than heard the humming decrease a little. A step forward, and it strengthened, warm in his mind. Uncertain, he went towards it, one slow step at a time, listening hard to the humming as it grew stronger and stronger.
He wasn’t hearing it. He knew
that, just as he knew the song, knew he had heard it humming in his dreams and drifting moments. The song was in his mind, drawing him closer and closer to… something…
He figured out what that something was when he walked smack into the side of a blue police box.
John indulged himself in a few words that would make his mother stare and his father smother a laugh, then rubbed his forehead and blinked at the box. It looked perfectly innocent sitting there, a relic of the time before personal radios. A rather ridiculous keepsake, he thought, and glanced over at the nearby house, number 14.
But number fourteen was empty, he remembered. And a blue police box…
“If you are bigger on the inside,” he told the box, “I am going to scream.” He pushed the door open.
He did not scream, but only because the humming suddenly filled his mind, infused every corner and cupboard with a strange excitement and a sense of welcome he’d only felt visiting his parents. Welcome back,
the song said to him. Welcome back.
John Chesterton stepped into the TARDIS, into the song, and felt his entire world turn upside down with a lurch.
The song wove around him, irresistible and endless, a sort of maternal, alien embrace of sound... he couldn’t describe it. He knew he could never play it, or even come close; this was what all sounds aspired to be, this song. Unmistakable welcome in the melody, a thin overlay of sorrow and forgiveness, and a whole complex underpinning of messages never meant for him, layers and layers of meaning he would never understand…
“Here, who are you?”
John snapped out of the song and staggered, blinking rapidly while he tried to regain his balance. “Uh,” he said, and grabbed on to a support strut. It felt strange under his hands; he focused with an effort, and decided that it felt like coral, or bark. Distinctly organic, not at all metallic.
“Who are you?” the other man repeated, irritation and a hint of worry in his voice. “Where did you come from? How did you get into my TARDIS?”
“TARDIS?” John asked, dazed, and managed to reorient himself. The song was still there, backgrounding every thought and movement, but he could pay attention to the real world now. TARDIS… yes, his parents had said… he looked forward, past the oddly familiar skinny man in the blue suit, and up, and up.
“It really is bigger on the inside!” he exclaimed, before he could stop himself.
The skinny man rolled his eyes. “Glad you decided to join the conversation. Now that we’re past the preliminaries, who are you and how did you get in here?”
“John,” he said, and then, feeling as if something else was called for, added, “John Chesterton. I don’t know, I just opened the door.”
“You just opened the door,” the skinny man said, and sighed. “Of course. It’s never simple. Wait, Chesterton? As in Ian Chesterton?”
“My father.” John ran a hand along the support strut, carefully. This was nothing like in the stories. But…well, you could redecorate a house; who was to say you couldn’t redecorate a police box?
“Ah!” The skinny man abruptly became gleeful to an alarming degree. “How wonderful! Your mum’s Barbara, of course. I should drop by and see them one of these days. How’ve they been?”
Oh. So that was where he’d seen the man before. “But you have seen them,” John said, absently, more interested in examining the curving bowl of the ceiling and the curiously growing look of the whole thing. “In 1969. I remember you—you specifically, I mean, not just the Doctor.”
The Doctor squinted at him. “Do you? I don’t. Guess that means I haven’t done it yet. What year is it?”
“1986,” John answered, staring up at the central column.
“And you’re, what, twenty? Twenty-one? They didn’t waste any time, I’ll say that for sure.”
John blinked, and looked at him. “I’m sorry?”
“Your parents,” the Doctor said, and grinned. “They ended up getting back in 1965. Must’ve got you started right off. Doesn’t explain the TARDIS, though, or why she’d let you in…”
The vague queasiness John always felt whenever he thought about his parents and sex in the same general vicinity vanished as he realized something. “Er, Doctor?”
“I mean, she doesn’t take to people that strongly, usually,” the Doctor rattled on, checking switches and scanners on the console. “The only one I can remember is Susan, really, and Romana a little. Well, and Sarah Jane, old girl always did like Sarah Jane, even hid her from me when she snuck in. But you…”
John said, learning as his parents had that one occasionally needed to interrupt the Doctor if one was to get a word in edgewise. “When in 1965 did they get back?”
The Doctor looked up at him, blinked for a moment, then shrugged. “Didn’t they tell you? I haven’t the foggiest. June sometime, I think, it looked like summer. Why?”
“Because,” and the queasiness was back, stronger, “I was born in December that year.”
“That year?” The Doctor crawled under the console and began producing beeping sounds.
There was a banging sound, and then a spill of liquid language that John could not understand but that nevertheless sounded like swearing. The Doctor reappeared, rubbing his head, and said, “1965? You were born in 1965?”
John nodded, feeling ill. “December 13th.”
The Doctor stared at him for a moment, lips moving, then cackled. “Rassilion’s shorts. I’d no idea Ian had it in him. Barbara, I could see now, but Ian
…well, hardly matters. So you were conceived here.”
“Can we not talk about that please?” John asked, plaintively.
The Doctor ignored him. “I suppose that’s why Ian was fussy those last couple of months. Can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it at the time. All that month in Rome and half the time Vicki and I were off exploring… oh, that certainly explains more than it doesn’t. Including why the TARDIS likes you.”
John, who was trying very very hard not to think about having been conceived, only nodded.
“I’m glad they went home when they did. Things could’ve been a bit awkward, I think,” the Doctor continued, oblivious. “Well, let’s see, that makes you the youngest person ever to travel on the TARDIS. Congratulations.” He patted the column. “Makes you hers, too.”
Something of that penetrated, and John blinked. “Sorry? Makes me hers?”
“You were conceived here,” the Doctor explained, with an air of exaggerated patience. “That makes you attuned to her in a way not many people are. She’s mine, and we’ve had a thousand years together, so I’m far closer to her than you’ll ever be, of course.”
“Of course,” John echoed. Something else his parents had said; keep him pacified at all costs.
“But she’ll talk to you, a little,” the Doctor continued, thoughtfully. “Because she likes you. I wonder if that’s not why she landed here for repairs.”
John shrugged, uncomfortably. “I haven’t the foggiest. Does this mean you’re going to kidnap me?”
“What?” The Doctor looked visibly distressed. “Oh, don’t be silly, I don’t do that anymore.”
John crossed his arms. “I’ve heard stories.”
“I’ll have you know that the only people I ever kidnapped were your parents and they had it coming, barging into my TARDIS like that.” The Doctor hesitated, then added, “But you could come with me if you like.”
The TARDIS column flickered, and the Doctor grinned a manic grin that did not
make John want to accompany him anywhere. “I’m on my own at the moment.” The smile dipped briefly. “Had a friend with me, but she… well. That’s in your future, no point worrying. Point is, I’m all alone, pea in a pocket watch, and I wouldn’t mind having someone along. TARDIS likes you, that’s all well and good. I think we’d get along marvellously. And you wouldn’t even have to explain to your family, they’ve been through it all before. You’re experienced, you are. I could use one I didn’t have to explain anything to.”
John thought about it for a moment. People made of smoke and cities made of song… he had no idea why he thought that. There were Daleks out there too, and Voord, and Zarbi, and the entirely human horrors he’d feared more than the aliens, as a child. He had a job here, a family, fame, fortune, everything a man could want.
“No,” he said, slowly. “Thank you for the offer, but… but no, I don’t think so. I’ve got a life here.”
The Doctor nodded, and John thought that he wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised. “Fair enough. Well, I’ve no doubt I’ll see you again, John, in 1969 if nothing else. If you ever change your mind, tell me.”
That sounded like a dismissal, and John said so.
“What? Oh, no, it’s just that I’m a bit busy. You can stay if you like, I just can’t talk to you.” The Doctor tossed this over his shoulder as he crawled under the console again and vanished beneath the decking.
“I shouldn’t like to bother you,” John said, looking up at the central column again. “It’s just that I’d like to listen to the song for a while.”
“The song?” The Doctor’s head popped up above the decking, and he frowned. “The TARDIS’s song? You can hear it?”
“That’s how it talks, isn’t it?”
The Doctor sighed and rolled his eyes again. “She.
That’s how she
talks. And no, it isn’t. We’re not living in a musical or anything.”
John shrugged. “I’m a musician. Maybe that’s why.”
“Maybe.” The Doctor sounded a bit doubtful, but then John supposed that he would doubt any conclusion that wasn’t originally his. “Oh well. Look, you’re sure you don’t want to come with me? One quick trip? I’ll take you there and straight back.”
“That is not
the story I heard.”
“That was a thousand years ago! Or near enough.” The Doctor tried to look offended, but it came off more as ruefully amused. “I’m much better at driving now, I promise. I’ll introduce you to the Beatles! Paul’s quite nice.”
“Um, no thank you,” John repeated, as politely as he could. “I really think Mum might skin me. And I do have a job.”
“Barbara would,” the Doctor muttered, then, cheerfully, “All right then. I’ve got repairs to finish. You’re welcome to stay and listen to the TARDIS if you’d like, and I promise I’ll chase you off before I go. Er. Politely?”
John laughed. “You don’t have to be polite. I can guarantee that whatever you say, my sister has said worse.”
“Oh, a sister, eh? Someday when I have more time you’ll have to sit down and tell me all about your family, how Ian and Barbara been doing and all.” The Doctor paused. “Or I could just visit, I suppose. It’ll have to wait. Sit there, it’s out of my way.” And he vanished beneath the decking again.
The song came quickly and easily to the front of his mind, and the more he listened, the more certain he was that it was how the TARDIS spoke. It was just too centred, too complex to be anything else.
It seemed at times during that long afternoon and evening that the song had turned away from him, that he was listening in on someone else’s recording session, or a phone conversation half overheard. The TARDIS was speaking to the Doctor, he assumed, because every so often he would come slightly out of the trance and hear the Doctor muttering beneath the decking.
Later, when the Doctor had pushed him out and shoved off, when he’d readjusted to reality and the silence in a head empty of that wonderful song, it reminded him of his parents. Balanced partnership, a dance so well-rehearsed that no one ever took a wrong step anymore, and an undeniable love and trust so thick you could feel it when you walked in, so strong there was no need for jealousy anymore. It was nice to see someone else who’d got it right.
The first thing he did when he got home was to call his parents. “I believe you now. I’m sorry.”
But after that (his mother had laughed so hard his father had taken the phone out of her hand and demanded to know what John had done), after he dealt with an irate ex-girlfriend’s messages, after he’d figured out what to do for dinner when he had nothing in the kitchen, after he’d leapt a few more of the hurdles of everyday life, he took out his guitar, and he tried to replicate the song.
He couldn’t, and he’d known he couldn’t, so he wasn’t terribly disappointed. But he did come out with something pretty close, something warm and welcoming, alien and aloof, a song that spoke of stars and moons and distant planets, and wrapped them around with love and trust and a comforting hand in yours.
Maybe someday he’d take the Doctor up on that offer, but he’d rather wait, see if he found the person he knew he was waiting for.
What good were wonders if you didn’t have someone to see them with?