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Twice

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“Hey, come here and look at this, Rose. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

The Doctor waited to hear footsteps, an interested noise maybe, anything, but there was nothing. He started to panic, momentarily, wondering what had happened to her because Rose, don’t wander off

And then he remembered. She was gone.

And he was alone.

The Doctor took a moment to completely regret everything that had ever lead them both to Canary Wharf.

The shiny little doo-dad on the floor pulsed lights at him, as if in sympathy. Four tiny little flashes, bright enough to temporarily illuminate the abandoned hallway. The Doctor squinted at it, and it pulsed again, much too cheerily.

He picked it up gingerly from the floor, noticing the warmth emitted from it. It fit nicely in his hand, maybe as big as a fist-sized rock, and silvery all over. The Doctor would have thought that the silver-ish coating would reflect light, not produce it, but lo and behold, there it was, glowing in his hand.

“What are you?” He asked. The thing chittered and vibrated slightly, and for the lives of him the Doctor couldn’t recall ever seeing anything like it before.

It definitely didn’t belong in this time period.

Neither did the Doctor, obviously, but he was investigating something.

Not entirely intentionally, of course. But the TARDIS had gone and decided for him that enough was enough, and ceased tolerating his not-moping. She took them to the nearest interesting event and booted him out her doors and into 1954, New York, New York.

Five deaths. That was what had caught the Doctor’s interest in the first place, five people dead and not a one of them had any cause of death.

It was as if they had been going about their normal, daily business, one second perfectly healthy, the next a stone-cold corpse on the ground. And it wasn’t like they’d dropped dead of heart attacks, either. No, they were just dead, as if they’d been Avada-Kedavra’d.

The fact that wizards like that were technically impossible notwithstanding.

The Doctor could almost hear Rose’s voice, asking about what would possibly be able to do something like that, and the Doctor would answer, “Well, technically nothing, which is the odd bit. Technologies like this simply hadn’t been invented. But maybe if—” and Rose would look at him fondly as he rambled and dammit he missed her.

The Doctor started walking towards the end of the hall, and was about to pocket the thing for future reference, when he noticed a slight buzzing.

He stopped, and the buzzing did too. He took two more steps, and it temporarily resumed.

He looked curiously at the shiny thing in his hand, and shook it, gently. There was no noise coming from inside, nothing rattling about inside, nothing moving.

He took another step forwards and it buzzed again.

Cautiously, the Doctor took his sonic screwdriver out, and scanned the shiny little thing.

The result was a garbled string of nonsense.

He sighed, more disappointed than frustrated, and pocketed the screwdriver, hesitating a moment before putting the shiny thing away as well.

He exited the hall and went down the flight of stairs to the lobby of an upscale hotel, where the receptionist smiled and greeted him brightly.

“Hello, dear!” She said. “Were you able to find the problem?” She asked, because he’d come there under guise of investigating a gas leak.

When he told her that he had, and that he’d fixed it, the receptionist (whose name tag identified her as Gia) gave him a huge grin, and it lit up her whole face. “Oh, that’s a relief. My boss would have been terribly upset if we had to shut down. He’s been worried about our profits lately, can’t imagine why.”

“Neither can I.” The Doctor agreed, and he really couldn’t. The entire place was decorated lavishly, maybe overly so, and the Doctor personally thought maybe they could stand to lose a few couches.

It made it maybe, just a very tiny little bit, hard to maneuver.

But somehow, there were still tons of people coming in and going out, and even if the hotel suddenly lost all business, it would probably be able to hold its own for a long time after.

But that was beside the point. He nodded at Gia, and went through the spinny doors.

There had been nothing for him to find at the hotel. Somehow, of the people who had died so far, (Jeremy Brown, Anna Lyndonn, Sarah Jacobson, Frank Abernathy, and Glenda Mahoney) all had been in the same area, within a fifteen mile radius with the hotel at dead center.

So of course that had been the first place he had decided to check out.

There was nothing there, nothing to be found or placed under suspicion at this perfectly conspicuous hotel. The Doctor had no real direction, no idea where to head next. He hadn’t planned for there to be nothing, having pinned all his hopes on that one place.

He had no idea what to do now, and was getting increasingly frustrated every time the little shiny thing made its presence known.

His pocket lit up in a brief, but bright, glow. He could feel the shiny thing buzzing away in his pocket, but he ignored it.

When the bright sunlight of 1950s America hit his face, he squinted, but took a deep breath of the fresh air. In a couple of decades, the entire place would be trashed up and polluted, but for now, it was frankly quite beautiful.

He started walking down the street, casually watching the people that rushed by him in their hurries to get to work or home or restaurants, or wherever they were headed at such a fast pace. Children were forced to run with their short legs to keep up with their parents, and for a moment, it seemed the entire world was rushing by on fast-forward.

But no, there was one person sitting on a bench, another taking a leisurely walk, an adorable little girl with her hair up in pigtails tossing breadcrumbs at nearby birds.

He smiled at them all, and tried his very hardest not to imagine Rose was there with him. That would only make it worse, and instead he thought of Donna, who at this point hadn’t even been born yet.

Donna Noble, who missed her own wedding and got kidnapped by aliens in her wedding dress. Donna Noble, who had offered him to stay for dinner.

But no, he couldn’t. He really couldn’t.

He turned left onto another street, and felt the buzzing of the thing quiet down exponentially.

He glanced at his pocket, and stopped walking for a moment.

It was as if the whole world froze with him just then, the very air around him holding its breath for something to happen.

He glanced around, trying to figure out what the world was waiting for. It seemed like he was teetering on the edge of a huge moment, and one choice or another could send him spinning precariously down a one-way tunnel, with no hopes of ever going back.

Well. That made it seem rather intense, didn’t it.

The Doctor shook his head slowly, and turned around, glancing behind him at the way he’d come from.

Then he looked forwards.

The world was still waiting.

The Doctor barely allowed himself to think, just stared blankly for a moment, before spinning around. He kept walking forwards, kept going the way he’d been headed originally, not turning back or allowing anything to change his mind. He was set.

Then the world stopped hesitating, and it breathed out in relief. A great rush of motion began, and all of a sudden all the people around the Doctor were in the hurry they had been in before, and the girl stopped feeding the birds and ran to catch up with her family, and the man got up off the bench and ran to catch a cab, and the one taking a leisurely walk ended her break and resumed her jogging workout.

And time was flying, speeding by, rushing once more.

The fifties.

The Doctor looked at all the people around him. They were just so…human, the ancestors of the First Great Human Empire, the one that would start spanning across the stars.

But these people, they didn’t know about any of that. They weren’t bothered by the bloody history of the future, they just wanted to live out their lives together and have more kids.

Humans were the same, a lot of the time. Except every now and again there were the truly special ones.

Rose Tyler.

The Doctor didn’t let himself dwell on that, though, picking up his feet and moving faster, having made a decision and heading back to the TARDIS.

He wanted to properly examine the shiny little buzzing thing and what it was actually up to because right now it was making a racket in his pocket, buzzing and putting on a lightshow that shone through the seams and just generally creating all kinds of disturbances. He got more than a few weird looks, he was sure of it, but he just ignored them and hurried on his way, now a part of the crowd that was rushing and running and speeding everywhere.

He wasn’t far, a few blocks away at the most.

But something was agitating the shiny thing and the Doctor really didn’t want to find out that the something was actually something incredibly hostile and ready to eat everyone in sight.

So he was running now, flying down the sidewalk and racing to the TARDIS  and ignoring everything around him, really, because he didn’t want to think and be reminded of Rose, and he was just going so, so fast—

And then he was stopped, quite forcibly, as he collided into something.

Something which turned out to be one of the people on the street, but he was dressed interestingly, just slightly out of sync with the time period and maybe he was going somewhere special? He had a bow tie and a tweed jacket and floppy brown hair and just looked sort of…bizzare.

The Doctor stood up and pulled the man to his feet, saying “Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”

But as he looked into the man’s eyes he seemed to be…laughing? That was definitely strange.

“No big deal.” The man said, smiling earnestly. “That happens to me a lot, believe it or not.” His face darkened temporarily, like he was reliving a particularly bad memory. The Doctor knew how he felt.

The shiny thing let out a particularly loud series of beeps and shone brightly out of his pocket, before falling silent.

The man’s eyes fell to his pocket, and almost before the Doctor knew what was going on, the other man had reached into his pocket and pulled it out, like he had no concept of personal space.

“Ooh, shiny thing, isn’t this?” He said, looking it over.

“What are you doing?” The Doctor asked, more confused than angry, because he was pretty sure that Americans in the 1950s didn’t behave like that. He was even more sure that they sounded American, as opposed to British, which was the accent that the man held. Maybe he was a traveler. That would explain the not-quite-American thing he had going on.

“Isn’t it obvious?” The other man asked. “I’m examining this strange thing which you just happened to have in your pocket.”

“No, I mean,” the Doctor tried to explain himself. “Why are you examining it? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, that?” The other man asked. “I’m investigating the five deaths.”

He hesitated a moment, then, “I’m John Smith, by the way.”

Chapter Text

The Doctor thought it was funny that he’d managed to run into a John Smith.  It wasn’t impossible, not even remotely, considering he had all of time and space at his fingertips, but seeing someone else with the alias he always used just seemed somehow…ironic.

He couldn’t tell exactly why, though.

He reached for the shiny thing, fully intending to put it away and probably not think about it for a fortnight, but just as his fingers brushed it, John Smith twirled away in an odd combination of grace and gracelessness, and kept prodding it.

It looked like he was itching to take something out of his pocket, but he kept shooting looks at the Doctor and resisting. Maybe he was a smoker?

Although, it wasn’t really a cultural taboo at that point to smoke, people really only turned against it in the late twenty-third century.

“Can I have the...thing back, please?” the Doctor still didn’t know what to call it.

John Smith handed it back, pouting slightly and wasn’t that an odd look. “So you don’t know what it is, either? You looked like you might.”

“I’m sorry, why are you investigating this case, again?”

John Smith fiddled with his hands for a moment. “I had nothing else to be doing.”

The Doctor sensed that while that wasn’t quite a lie, it wasn’t the whole truth.  “So what, you just skip your whole work-scheme, and just do whatever catches your eye?”

John Smith nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, that’s actually an apt description.”

The Doctor almost smiled. “Well, then, John Smith, what have you got so far?”

“The way the people died, it was unnatural.” John Smith said, eyes wide. “Not a mark on them. Like something straight out of a story.”

The Doctor thought it was funny, that John Smith wouldn’t know he was right on the money, that in about twenty-three years, a story just like that would be printed.

“Okay, and is that all?” The Doctor asked.

“Oh! No, I forgot I had something!” John Smith said, smacking himself of the forehead. He reached into his pockets, and pulled out a doll and bits of string, and a newspaper marked with April 20th, the day’s date. It was funny, because the doll looked exactly like him, but had been clearly made by a child. The Doctor wondered if John Smith had children, but then the doll and string were stuffed back into his pockets and the Doctor had something else to look at.

With the other hand, John Smith presented the Doctor with something. It wasn’t anything like the shiny thing, but yet somehow just as unidentifiable.

But, at the very least, the Doctor could tell just by looking at it that it was wrong, and something was definitely going on here.

“I found this in that tall building down the street.” John Smith pointed to the aforementioned building.

It was tall, and dirty, and made of brick, maybe ten stories high. The windows were all shuttered, and despite seeing it in broad daylight, three blocks away, it still gave off an ominous feeling.

“What were you doing in there?” The Doctor asked.

“Investigating.” John Smith answered, impervious.

But the Doctor saw the way John Smith’s eyes drifted to the apartment building next to it, and it wasn’t confusion in his eyes. It was longing, and loss.

He didn’t say anything about it.

“Alright, well, that’s a first step.” The Doctor said. “I think I’ll take a look in there, then.”

He started walking at a brisk pace, yet was not at all surprised when John Smith caught up to him and kept up with him easily.

“Do you mind if I tag along? I hate not knowing the ending to things.” John Smith said. The Doctor thought that the last statement was maybe a little bit weird, given the context, but he didn’t argue.

“Okay.”

The three blocks went by pretty quickly, and the Doctor didn’t know if it was the distance or John Smith’s company. He was chattering inanely about basically everything that he passed, pointing stuff out or just watching it as they passed by. The Doctor was listening to him with only half an ear, but the endless stream of basically nothing was still rather obviously a coping method.

The Doctor wondered what he had lost, but decided it was better not to pry.

“You know, I was looking at that door earlier. It’s very strange, isn’t it, a very strange door. I wonder what it’s doing here. If time travel was possible, I’d almost say that it’s from the future. It looks futuristic. Though, I’d have expected more chrome. The future should be more chrome-y.”

The door John Smith had been talking about caught his attention. It was indeed futuristic looking, with circuit-like patterns carved into the wood, and exceedingly intricate glasswork.

The Doctor took a closer look at the window in the door, which in itself was odd for a nonresidential building in the middle of New York City. But the designs in it… it was as if frost had materialized in the air and solidified. It was impressive, and impossible.

The Doctor knocked on it, and there was a slight ringing noise.

John Smith reached for the doorknob. “It’s unlocked.” He pushed open the door and walked in without hesitation, the Doctor following him.

They were in a decrepit lobby that must have once been gloriously beautiful, though. There were carpets decorated with vines, and gold tassels hanging off of almost everything. There were lamps

But there was a layer of dust covering it all, as well as a set of footprints in the dust that, now that the Doctor was looking at it, must have come from John Smith. Could only have been John Smith. They meandered around the whole lobby, before exiting through a door that the Doctor only saw for following them.

“Those are mine.” John Smith said, pointing at the footprints. “And that’s the staircase.”

The Doctor followed them for a bit, before turning to John Smith. “What were you looking for?” He asked.

“I don’t know.” John Smith said, picking up an ashtray and examining it…was he sniffing it? He sneezed from the dust. “But I found the thing on the third floor, if that helps.”

The Doctor looked at the circles formed by the footprints. “To the third floor it is, then!”

John Smith put down the ashtray and looked at the Doctor. For a long moment, the Doctor was worried John Smith would argue, but instead he just cracked a grin. “Geronimo.”

Without another word, he turned and raced up the stairs. The Doctor watched as he went. Something must have put pep in his step, because he was positively running up the stairs, racing up to the third floor.

The Doctor began running after, not even knowing why.

John Smith was waiting for him at the top, leaning against the banister and staring down and equally impressive, dusty hallway.

“What I don’t understand,” John Smith began. “Is how nobody’s bought out this building, or torn it down, or at least maintained it. Instead, it’s just…here.”

“Perception filter.” The Doctor said. “It blocks most people from noticing it. I didn’t see it myself until you pointed it out. How did you find it?”

John Smith’s face darkened, and he frowned. “It was an accident.”

The Doctor thought about the apartments next door. “Huh.”

John Smith looked away, and then stood up, off the banister. “Well, come on, then. I’ll show you where I found it.” He set off down the hallway, and now it was the Doctor who was trying to keep up.

As they went, the Doctor noted that they must have been in a hotel of some sort. Each of the rooms were numbered, with a few of the numbers hanging askew or fallen off completely.

One door was left hanging ajar, and this was the one John Smith went into.

The Doctor followed him cautiously, taking in his surroundings.

They were in a large suite, a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The room itself was rather nice, but something about it was bothering the Doctor. He couldn’t put his finger on it, though, not yet. He toured the room, examining the coffee table and other various bits of furniture.

Nothing about it was wrong.

All of a sudden, there was a scuffling noise. “John?” The Doctor called.

There was a thump and an “ouch,” as well as the creaking of doors that reminded the Doctor of his TARDIS, and then John Smith came out of an adjoining room, which must have been the bathroom. “I left something behind.”  He said, waving a pencil around.

He sat down in one of the chairs, and it was then that the Doctor noticed the blaring disparity. The one big problem , the thing that bothered him most about the room.

It was clean.

There was not a speck of dust anywhere, everything was well maintained.

Had John Smith been staying here? If so, then for how long? The rest of the place was abandoned.

Immediately, suspicions formed about John Smith and what he might be up to.

“Did you do this?” The Doctor gestured at the room around him.

John Smith shook his head. “No.” he began picking at a loose thread on his sleeve. “Do you know how this could have happened? If nobody could get in.”

The Doctor looked around, and took out his screwdriver. He began scanning the general area.

“What is that?” John Smith asked, pointing to the screwdriver.

“A very sophisticated piece of technology. It’s, uh…something the government’s been working on.”

John Smith snorted. “Yeah, right. The government only just decided on the case of Brown vs. Board of Education. I doubt it would be able to get itself together enough to make something as soniccy as that.”

“Sorry, did you just say sonic?” the Doctor asked. There was no way John Smith would be able to know what that was.

John Smith looked embarrassed. “Yeah…’Cause it buzzes, see?”

“Right.” The Doctor nodded. “Wait…what did you say? About Brown vs. Board of Education?”

“Oh.” John Smith nodded. “They only just decided the outcome.”’

“In favor of…?” The Doctor questioned, not fully satisfied.

“Well, not the Board.” John Smith said. “The people. The people’s schools are desegregated.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” The Doctor began pacing. He quickly began running some numbers in his head. “But here’s the thing. I don’t like that you’re right. I really really don’t like that you’re right.”

John Smith first looked surprised, then offended. He opened his mouth to argue, but the Doctor cut him off.

“And would you like to know why I don’t like that you’re right?” The Doctor asked, spinning to face John Smith.

John Smith didn’t say anything, just nodded.

Because it hasn’t happened yet.” The Doctor said, with shut teeth. “That ruling’s not going to happen for another twenty-seven days. Nobody could possibly know the outcome, not yet. There’s no way. So who are you? Exactly?”

John Smith looked at him. “I’m…sorry.” He hung his head. “I’m just a normal person, swear!”

The Doctor scanned him quickly.

Human. One heart.

“Well then, John Smith, how do you know the result of a ruling that won’t happen for twenty-seven days? How could you find this building, this room, when nobody else can?”

John Smith stood up, and call it petty, but the Doctor was secretly smug to be just the slightest bit taller than him.

“I don’t know.” He said. “I’ve been trying for a very long time to see my friends again, even though I shouldn’t, but somehow I’ve ended up here.”

The Doctor sighed. “Well, then. John Smith, I’m keeping an eye on you.”

“By all means.” But John Smith had sat down again, and now he was staring out the window, watching the building next door.

The Doctor stole a quick glance out the window, and tried to see what John Smith was looking at.

Across the street, directly at eye-level and perfectly opposite them, was a window into the apartment complex. The Doctor could see a lovely couple in there, maybe middle-aged, who were chatting with a friend.

The Doctor didn’t say anything, just kept scanning the room. However, just as he was about to scan the adjoining room, John Smith leapt out of his seat.

“Wait.” He said.

The Doctor looked at him curiously. “What?” He asked.

He could nearly see the gears in John Smith’s head turning as he said, “I think I heard something out in the hall.”