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the people you meet (the things are also people)

Chapter Text

i. hello my name is

 

The shop was busy, crowded with blue bodies, fluttering wings, and the occasional tentacle. It was an odd place to find some of the best tea in the galaxy for sale, but sentient life-forms like what they like, hue and appendages notwithstanding, and Rose Tyler had recovered from her initial surprise fairly quickly and got busy with her own shopping.

The only other human in the shop was having a much more difficult time. His friend - who was, frightening thought, the only source of security and constancy in this human's life (and who by inductive reasoning it can be concluded must be an alien, thanks to the words 'only other' in the previous sentence; however, no conclusions can be drawn about this alien's appearance just yet) - this friend had buggered off, and while the human currently in question could understand every spoken word in the room thanks to a fish in his ear, he couldn't make heads nor tails of the signs on the shelves or the labels on the packages.

He was, in a word, vexed.

"Hello," he called up to the creature stocking a shelf four feet over his head. "Hello, can you help me, please? Only there don't seem to be any ladders, and I haven't wings, or tentacle extensions, and, come to that, no bloody idea where the tea is."

The employee fluttered down. It was wearing something like a boiler suit, with a badge pinned to its chest that probably proclaimed its willingness and dedication to providing quality consumable products at reasonable prices, but just served to make this human more disturbed, since he couldn't read it.

"Third aisle, fifth shelf, enjoy the slaking of your thirst and have a nice day!"

"Thanks," he said, and struck out purposefully across the shop.

There was no tea on the third aisle, fifth shelf. In fact, there was no anything at all, unless of course it was invisible. The human felt a bit proud of himself for thinking of this possibility - there was a time, he knew, when it never would have crossed his mind - and he waved his hands about in the emptiness of the shelf.

"Blast," he said, and, feeling this wasn't quite strong enough, added, "and botheration."

He headed toward the front counter. Maybe they had some in the back. It was just too much to think that he'd got this close to tea, real, precious tea, only to find it out of stock.

Turning away from the till was a man in a black leather jacket, a clear bag in his arms; when he got closer, our human could see that the bag was filled to the brim with little boxes. Little boxes that looked suspiciously like the sort of boxes tea might come in.

"I say," he directed at the alien behind the counter, "there didn't seem to be any tea on the shelf. That man didn't just buy it all, did he? Is there more in your storeroom?"

The creature regretted that it could not help him, and tried to interest him in the shop's selection of coffees.

"No, sir would not be interested, and frankly sir doesn't care what mountain your beans are grown on the leeward slopes of, or how carefully they are harvested! Now, listen. How could you let that man buy every last box of tea? It's not fair to the other customers! Some of whom haven't had tea since their planet was destroyed!"

The response the human received threatened to lead to nasty consequences of the brain aneurysm variety. "Unlimited credit?!" he shouted, turning an interesting (and more aesthetically pleasing, to the mind of the employee behind the counter) shade of purple. "How - I mean -"

Giving up, he set off for the door at a run. It wasn't a very dignified run, and it didn't even cover a lot of ground, because about three seconds later he collided with a girl on her way to the till. "Oh, hell," he said, watching the tea escape out the door in the arms of the man in the black jacket. He retrieved his manners. "I'm sorry, you're not hurt, are you?"

"No, I'm fine," she said, with a nice, wide smile. "Didn't even drop my basket."

"Good," he said, "now if you'll excuse me, I must dash, I can't let that man get away!"

He dashed.

"That man? Hang on, are you after the Doctor?"

He stumbled to a halt. "I don't know," he said, turning to the girl, who had caught him up already. "Does the Doctor dress like an aging rock star and have trouble remembering he's not the most important person in the universe?"

She grinned. "Yes and yes." And this would be a fitting time to note that the male human was dressed in pyjamas and a dressing-gown; the girl's eyes flitted over him worriedly. "Are you in some kind of trouble? Is that why you need the Doctor?"

A great deal of feeling went into the next five words. "He's got all the tea."

"Oh, I see." The girl covered her mouth with her hand, clearly unable to speak, which was interpreted as a demonstration of her own shock and horror at the situation. Which is the sort of thing that has led to male humans being short-listed for the title of Most Unintuitive Beings In All Time And Space.

Feeling that a few niceties had been skimped on (and that, since the tea-scoundrel was probably some distance away by this point, it would be best to observe as many as possible with this girl who seemed to know him), the human stuck out his hand. "Arthur Dent. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Rose Tyler," she said, shaking it, "back at ya. Listen, I'll be meeting up with the Doctor in a bit, come along if you like. Just let me pay for this -" She hefted her basket.

"Thank you, Miss Tyler -"

"Rose."

"- Rose, I would like that very much. Do you think it likely he and I might come to some sort of agreement?"

"Don't know," she said, heading for the till. "Sort of interested to see how it goes, myself."

"I can pay," Arthur said, patting his pocket.

"Yeah, he's not really one for money."

Arthur frowned. Right. Unlimited credit. "Then. . . now, wait. Why did he leave you to buy this stuff on your own, if you're together?" Really, he thought, this Doctor's rudeness knew no bounds. Unlimited credit, and this young girl had to pay for her own few groceries?

"I sent him on ahead. Had a few things to pick up, personal, you know," Arthur blushed, suddenly looking everywhere but at the counter and the small tube-like items the clerk was ringing up, "and he goes on about species enough as it bloody is, I just wasn't in the mood for another round."

"Ah," Arthur said, weakly, "right. Of course."

A few moments later, the shop was free of humans, Arthur and Rose being outside in the sunshine.

*

Down the road was another shop, one specialising in spaceship parts and miscellaneous tech, all used (Why Buy New When Our Parts Are Already Broken In?) and all discounted. It was just the sort of place that could be guaranteed to draw in the Doctor and Arthur's friend like tiny bits of iron to an immensely large magnet.

The Doctor was rifling through a bin filled with tools (Your Choice, Just Three Altairian Dollars!), a man on a mission. He thought he'd glimpsed a master drone clamp underneath all the space junk in the bin, and he could do with another one of those. . . .

(Later on, after the explosion threw him backwards, knocked over the entire row of bins and mixed all their contents together, the Doctor would feel quite certain that it hadn't been a master drone clamp at all, but some sort of hair-styling aid.)

Three bins down, Arthur's friend was oohing over a Sub-Etha hyper-signal-enhancer in really top condition - and priced for only twelve Altairian dollars! It was the sort of deal the phrase 'too good to be true' was invented for, because it was. So Arthur's friend, having kept his scepticism decently healthy over the years through regular exercise, pulled his Sens-O-Matic from his leather satchel and plugged the enhancer into it. Just to see.

And what he saw was mostly blinding light, as the blast sent him careening down the aisle. When he landed, it was a very solid, very uncomfortable sort of landing, but that wasn't what caused him to lose consciousness.

*

Arthur and Rose felt the pavement tremble under their feet and heard a very loud boom. "The Doctor!" Rose said, and then she was running towards the sound, Arthur struggling to keep up and having panicky thoughts about charred and blackened tea-leaves.

*

It has been said that in moments of great stress (and sudden explosions in your immediate vicinity count as great stress, no matter how many you've been involved with in your day), every life form gives out a subliminal signal communicating exactly how far that being is from the place of his birth.

When a birth-world has burned into nothingness, and there is some debate over whether thanks to the nature of its destruction it can be said to have ever actually existed within Time at all, well, what you've got there is a mighty strong signal.

And when both the beings involved in receiving and transmitting such a signal are to some degree or another telepathic, you begin to see why phrases like 'blow your mind' were invented.

Arthur and Rose arrived in the shop to find the shopkeeper waving two tentacles and yelling about compensation, one corner of the shop looking like a bomb had gone off (which it effectively had), the Doctor propping up a figure on the floor, and Arthur's friend playing the role of the figure on the floor.

"Bloody hell!" Arthur said. Not eloquent, but heartfelt. "Ford, man, are you all right?"

Ford Prefect (for Arthur's friend had chosen to call himself after an automobile fifteen or so relative years ago, and it had stuck), blinked back into awareness, one hand scrabbling in his bag. "I'm fine," he said, pulling out a towel and dragging it across his face. He sat all the way up and twisted round to stare at the Doctor. "But you," Ford said.

And Rose was at the Doctor's side in a instant, crouching, one hand on his shoulder and the other on his knee; and vague thoughts that Arthur hadn't even realised had been stirring suddenly stopped, lay down, and died.

"What about him?" Rose demanded. Her eyes searched the Doctor up and down. "Are you all right? What did you do?"

"Oh, I like that," the Doctor said, springing to his feet and pulling Rose up with him. "Has to be something I did. Can't have been that one's fault."

"Was it?"

"Yes!" The Doctor turned and pointed at the shopkeeper. "So you can stop waving those at me, there's a nice fellow, and Rose, if you're done, we can go back to the TARDIS."

The next three minutes went something like this:

Rose said, "Actually -"

Ford said, to the alien approaching him, "Now, I hate to have to point this out, but it was your merchandise that caused -"

The shopkeeper shot out a tentacle, wrapped it around Ford's waist, and dragged him across the shop, holding him pointedly face-to-face with a sign;

Ford, being rather more skilled at languages than Arthur, had no trouble reading it aloud, and therefore everyone learned that The Management Is Never Responsible For Anything, Anything At All;

The Doctor unearthed his shopping bag from a pile of debris, said, "Come on, Rose," and headed out the door;

Arthur let out a mighty sigh of relief as the bag emerged intact;

Rose said to Arthur, "Blue box, down the street, can't miss it," and followed the Doctor out;

Ford passed out again, or pretended to, going limp in the shopowner's tentacle-grip;

Arthur indignantly demanded Ford's release, and when his friend hit the ground with a thump and a tentacle was menacingly extended in his own direction, sighed another sort of sigh, and set to doing what space travel seemed to be mostly about - clearing up other people's messes.

Fairly busy, then, as minutes go.

 

ii. getting to know you

 

When the knock came, Rose said, "Company!" and flung open the door.

"Company?" The Doctor was on the floor, untangling a mass of wires. "Who - these two, Rose? Really?" He dropped the wires and joined Rose, who was ushering their guests into the TARDIS. "Not exactly up to your usual standard, are they?"

Rose huffed a bit, because she knew she was being called shallow. Arthur would have huffed, because he would have correctly suspected a slight, but he was far too fixated on the dear familiar shape of this blue box to do much of anything. His brain hadn't even made room for the whole 'inside is bigger than the outside' business. And Ford, who might not have been bothered about huffing anyway, didn't huff because he was too busy staring round and trying not to dribble.

"This is Arthur Dent," Rose said. "Arthur Dent, and -" she looked to Arthur for help in identifying his companion. She didn't get any.

"You're English," Arthur said.

"Yep," Rose said cheerfully. "You too, then? I wondered, but," she shot the Doctor a look, "I've learned you can't tell by accent. Or what caffeinated beverages someone's addicted to."

Arthur nodded, because of course he knew that about accents as well. It had caused him some confusion at first - for a while he'd been convinced that space was full of people from the Home Counties - but now he understood it as a side-effect of having things translated directly into your brain.

"And human?" he clarified.

"Well, yeah," Rose said.

Arthur felt the urge to do something that he couldn't recall having felt the urge to do before: throw his arms around a complete stranger.

It probably goes without saying that he got past it.

In the meantime, Ford re-discovered speech. "Is this ship what I think it is?" he breathed.

"That depends," the Doctor said, crossing his arms and taking a step forward. "What do you think it is?"

Rose suspected that Arthur's chances of getting so much as a tea-leaf out of the Doctor depended on his friend's answer to that question. If he didn't think it was a TARDIS, he'd better think it was some other kind of ship that the Doctor would consider bloody amazing.

"A TARDIS," Ford said, in a voice of awe.

"Yep!" The Doctor beamed. "Want to look round the controls?"

Ford nodded enthusiastically.

Rose glanced around. The Doctor was in full show-off mode, and therefore, pretty much at his happiest. Arthur's friend looked like he might just pass out again from over-excitement. And Arthur - well, he was smiling, and even though she hadn't known him long Rose had got the impression he didn't do a whole hell of a lot of that.

And who had brought all these happy people together? Her, that's who.

Rose Tyler beamed a bit herself.

*

The aliens were talking applied temporal mechanics. Ford was trying to be entirely cool about things, but quite frankly, he was failing. He was inside a TARDIS. He was inside a TARDIS. It was, for purposes of analogy, like an automobile enthusiast getting a poke under the bonnet of a Model T after they'd all supposedly been destroyed in some sort of mysterious yet conclusively and irreversibly final event.

Nobody did time travel like the Time Lords, nobody. They didn't just move through it, they owned it - these people looked at stars and said, oh how nice, let's just go collapse one of those and harness it up, shall we?

At least, they had done. When they'd existed. If they'd existed. And, all right, up until about ten minutes ago, Ford would have dismissed the Time Lord tale as pure 'once upon a time' nonsense - but what he was seeing inside this ship matched every story he'd ever heard about a TARDIS. And you didn't make your way in this galaxy by ignoring what was right in front of your face. Not if you wanted to keep your nose.

The Doctor walked around the center console, pointing things out. "Fluid links. . ."

"Right, fluid links," Ford said, as if he'd seen it all a thousand times before.

"Gravity beam controls. . ."

"Gravity beam, yeah."

"Antiflux delimiters. . ."

"Antiflux limit-"

"Delimiters."

"Right, yeah, antiflux delimiters."

So this Doctor, then, was either one of the luckiest froods to ever stumble across an abandoned spaceship. . . or he was an actual living, breathing, non-extinct Time Lord.

And after what it had been through in that shop, Ford's head was willing to bet on the latter. Easy.

*

The humans were talking Earth. Arthur, about the West Country; about little villages and rolling fields and that noise cows make when you're trying to sleep. Rose, about south London; about getting up, taking the bus to work, and taking it home again; about telly, going to bed, getting up and going to work again.

Arthur had hated city life, but listening to Rose, it didn't sound half bad.

He was trying very hard not to ask the Big Questions: Where had Rose been when the Vogons blasted their planet apart? How had she got away? Had this Doctor shoved her into his bizarrely large police box in the nick of time? It would be the height of bad manners to bring up what had to have been the most distressing day in this girl's life. Or to suddenly spring it on her if by some chance she didn't already know.

So Arthur was trying his best to keep planetary destruction off the conversational table. He was also, whether he realised it or not, doing a fair amount of sighing and looking desperately nostalgic - at the moment, he was doing both whilst speaking of the smell a hot summer day brought through the windows of a house that stood beside a cow pasture.

"You really miss Earth, don't you?" Rose asked.

Arthur drew himself up a bit. "Yes, well. You know. Home, and all that."

Rose reached in her pocket and pulled out her phone. "Want to ring someone?"

He stared. "How?"

She shrugged. "The Doctor. Go on, anyone, anywhere, any time."

"What, in the past?"

Rose smiled, encouraging a slow child. "Yeah."

"You mean, before. . ." She nodded, and Arthur absolutely couldn't believe it. He could phone up his mother, his sister? Hear their voices again? Arthur started to reach for her tiny little phone, then pulled his hand back. No. There was no point. It wouldn't change anything.

Unless. . . he was beginning to have an idea. It was the sort of idea that seemed perfectly possible in a universe where nuclear missiles turned into whales and bowls of petunias. "Rose," he said, "you know how things on Earth. . . end, don't you?"

"Yeah," she said, "I saw it, once."

Arthur pressed on. "Have you ever thought about phoning up anyone to try and stop it? Tell them that the Vogons are coming?"

Rose went very still. "The Vogons?"

"Yes. They were the aliens in those yellow ships."

"Oh right," Rose said. "Erm. What year was it, again?"

"1978."

"Of course, 1978, yeah." Rose slipped the phone back into her pocket. "Oh look," she said, pointing at a distraction which couldn't have been timed any better, "column's moving. That means we're taking off." She grinned. "And you're coming with us."

*

Will Ford remain united with his cool, or will he dribble? Will Rose and the Doctor do something about this destruction-of-the-Earth business? And, last but very much not least, will Arthur Dent have a cup of tea? These and other queries may or may not be answered, but you won't know unless you come back for part two.