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The Short, Strange Life of Doctor John Watson

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Harry and me don't get on. Never have.”

--John Watson, “A Study in Pink”

Just one thing: whatever else you do, Sherlock, do not let John Watson open this watch.”

--The Doctor, “The Mystery of the Runaway Bride”



The door of the TARDIS flew open and a man and woman ran inside. The man turned, knelt behind the cover of the door, shouldered the massive energy blaster he carried, and fired several bolts at their pursuers. The woman, a sturdy strawberry blond, worked at the console.

“Hurry,” the man said, ducking as a laser blast cracked against the exterior of the TARDIS.

“I'm going as fast as I can,” she said. “You should have given me the gun. You're a better pilot than me.”

He spared a look over his shoulder and gave her a dark grin that made the pit of her stomach twist with desire. “I'm better at a lot of things than you.”

She found her breath after a second. “Hallan, shut up and keep them from killing us.”

His grin widened just a hair, then he wagged his eyebrows and turned back to their pursuers. She threw switches and spun dials and was rewarded with the slow movements of the central time rotor as the ship began to de-materialise.

With a whoop, Hallan slammed the door shut as the outside world began to fade. He darted across the control room on nimble feet and caught her around the waist with one arm, other arm still full of weaponry. His mouth lowered to hers to claim a hard, slanting kiss before he released her and lowered the weapon, turning to check the instrument panels. He adjusted a few of her settings, then leaned against the console with his head lowered.

“Are we away?” she asked.

He looked up, grin broadening. “They'll give chase, but yes.”

“And you have it?”

He reached into the breast pocket of the flaring coat he wore and plucked out a blue faceted stone roughly the size of a shooter marble. “The Armageddon Sapphire,” he said, rolling it between his fingers. “Let Rassilon end his war some other way. Now at least he can't wipe out the Universe. Well, not with this, anyway.”

She slipped over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For saving the Universe. You higher beings might well be able to ascend into pure consciousness, but the rest of us would have been screwed.” She rested her head against his shoulder, feeling the pulse of two hearts where his chest touched hers.

His lips brushed her ear as the fingers that had held the Armageddon Sapphire—now conveniently tucked away—brushed her hair away from her neck. “What makes you think you won't be?”

“What?”

“Screwed,” he murmured, breath hot against her skin. “I'm well aware of the multiple colloquial meanings of that word, you know.” He nipped at the angle of her neck where it curved down to her shoulder and she gasped.

“Hallan, they're chasing us.”

“I don't care,” he said, peeling back her blouse to reveal her collarbone. “The TARDIS will keep us on the run for a little while without my help. And you have something I need.” His mouth lifted from her neck and his eyes met hers--indescribable, shifting eyes that hovered into a storm-cloud grey. She shuddered and grabbed the front of his rough work shirt, her mouth practically slamming into his, teeth threatening to collide. He pulled her away from the console and coaxed her out of the control room with his mouth and his hands.

 

She woke to find the bed next to her empty, the low hum of the TARDIS surrounding her. After a year (subjectively—time had no other meaning aboard a TARDIS) of travelling, she'd never gotten used to that hum, like a low gnawing ache that never quite went away. Some people found it comforting, but she was not one of them. At the moment, though, even she could tell that there was something wrong with the sound of the TARDIS. A faint thrumming ran through it that she'd never heard before.

Hallan's dressing gown was thrown across his side of the bed they shared. She wrapped it around herself then crept on bare feet to the main console room.

He stood leaning against one of the railings, arms folded across his chest, head lowered in thought. He was fully dressed, suggesting that he'd been awake for longer than she had at first thought. She took a moment to watch him, wrapped in his scent. Hallan was a compact man, just a shade under her own height. She liked that though—it made people underestimate him, and she loved watching him surprise people. He was never quite still. Even when motionless, there was a tremor running through him as though he were always coiled to spring. Dark gold hair reflected the lights from the TARDIS console.

“Everything okay?” she asked. He slowly raised his head and she could see the shadows in his eyes.

“No.”

Something in that one word made her blood run cold. “What is it?” She started to step towards him, but his eyes stopped her.

“It's gone.”

“The Sapphire?” That was bad.

“No,” he said. “Gallifrey. It's gone. It's fucking gone.”

Her mind couldn't process it at first. “What? We were just there--”

“It's gone,” he said. His face was bleak and grey as granite.

“How? Did the Daleks--?”

No, it wasn't the Daleks. It was one of us.” The last word was a punch. “He did it, that bastard Theta Sigma.” He gave a sharp, bitter laugh. “He ended the war. Wiped the slate clean.”

“Who?”

“We were at the Academy together. He's an arrogant madman. But he's brilliant.” He managed a wan smile. “You'd like him.”

“How do you know it was him?”

Hallan picked up a small glowing box from the console. “Sent me a message. He didn't need to. I felt Gallifrey die.” He nodded at the console. “So did she.”

She stepped closer, unable to bear the distance any longer. “What do we do?”

“According to Thete?” He tossed down the hypercube and let it clatter on the console. “Hide. The idiot has some idea of presenting himself as the last Time Lord, thinking it will defuse the remaining threat.” He leaned his forehead against hers, arms wrapping around her waist. “He's right about one thing. We need to find somewhere to lie low. With the Eye of Harmony gone, there's nothing to power the TARDIS. I need to get you somewhere safe, because we're going to be stuck until we figure a way round that.”

You can't take me back home.” Just the thought of the crowded warrens of her 51st century city, filled with equal parts desperation and luxury, starvation and gluttony, depending on which side of the city you were in, left her feeling weak. She'd been on the wrong side, and she'd never go back.

“No, not there,” he said. “Never there. Theta Sigma had a suggestion. I can't decide if it's a clever one or just insane. Probably both.”

“What is it?”

“You won't like it,” he warned. When she didn't say anything, he continued. “Earth.”

“New Earth?”

“No, Earth,” Hallan said. “Sol 3, the original. If Thete is going to try and convince everyone the Time Lords are all dead, then the rest of us—the few that are left—are going to have to go into deep cover.”

“That doesn't sound so bad.”

He paused, pulling away and putting his hands on her shoulders. “Here's the part you're not going to like. Hear me out. I'm going to become human.” He raised a finger to her lips to stop her question. “I won't be me. I won't remember any of this. In order for this to work, I won't know that I'm anything other than a normal human being.” His eyes darted over her face, then he smiled faintly. “But you'll know. You'll be keeping an eye on me.”

She gazed back at him for a long moment before kissing the fingertip at her mouth. “Will you know me?”

“Yes. Absolutely.” His answer was too quick. She knew it, and told him so with the quirk of an eyebrow. “Well... the TARDIS will find an identity for me, slot me into the world. I'll do my best to make sure you're part of it. And, if for some reason I don't...” His thumbs grazed her cheekbones. “Remind me. I won't do this without you. I promise.”

“You can't promise that. It's impossible.”

One corner of his mouth twitched upwards. “I'm a Time Lord. I do the impossible all the time.”

 

The headpiece that lowered from the ceiling had caught her attention several times before, but she'd never thought to ask what it was for. Hallan moved around the console, throwing switches and making adjustments as he talked. “We're going to 21 st century Earth, Thete's stomping grounds. No sense it making it any harder for him to find me whenever he's done with... well, whatever he's got planned.”

“And you trust him this much?”

Hallan stopped moving for a moment, considering his answer. “I trust that there's trouble coming. And if there's one thing that Thete's good at, it's talking his way out of trouble. So if he needs to be the 'last of the Time Lords' for a bit to do that, I'm willing to play along.”

“But he'll be able to find you.” She felt helpless, watching make plans to leave her.

“Of course. Yes. Absolutely.” It was one affirmation too many, and she knew he was lying, or at the very least, he wasn't sure. “Once I have my identity, she'll drop me off, and then I'll be off to it. She'll help you find me. We'll go from there.”

“But what do I do?”

“Just find me. We'll figure it out from there.” He slapped an old-fashioned pocket watch to the front plate of the Chameleon Arch then turned to her, taking her by the shoulders. “We'll figure it out.” Neither of them moved for the space of several breaths, simply watching the other person.

“You won't be you when I see you again,” she said.

“I'll know you though, somehow.” He pulled her into his arms and gave her a fierce squeeze and a single, hard kiss. “See you soon.” He lowered the Chameleon Arch to his head, and a moment later he began to scream.

 

Sol 3, May 2002 AD

The first chance she had to see him was the day after they arrived. All she knew of him was his new name—connected to hers, so that was something—and that the TARDIS had created a place for him in the British Royal Marines. She was to meet him before he embarked on training. After what felt like ages waiting in the visitor's centre, she spotted him.

He was walking towards her with another soldier in tow. They both were in camouflage, and she couldn't help but watch the easy play of his limbs as he moved. The same compact, coiled grace was there. But he looked younger than she'd ever seen him, as if making him human had lifted an enormous burden from his soul, peeling away centuries of trouble. He smiled at her and waved. Her insides felt like rubber. He knew her. It was his smile, but it wasn't. The dark edges around the eyes that used to make her weak in the knees weren't there. It was too sunny, that smile. She missed the clouds.

“Jefferson, there's someone I'd like you to meet.” John—he was John now. Private John Watson, newly minted Royal Marine. He stopped at her side, still smiling over at her, and put an arm around her shoulders. “This is Harriet Watson, my baby sister.”

Her smile froze on her face. Sister. She extended her hand to the other soldier, blood roaring in her ears. Sister. How could that have happened? They were both looking at her expectantly. What had she missed? What had they said? “P-Pleased to meet you,” she said.

Pleasure's mine, miss,” said Jefferson, with a bright smile of his own, bending over her hand like a swain from two centuries before. God they were so young standing there.

“Hey, quit flirting with my sister.” John nudged Jefferson in the shoulder. “You're not Harry's type, trust me.”

“You'll never understand what my type is, big brother.” It came out with a bitterer edge than she'd planned, but she had recovered enough to pretend normality.

John laughed, and even the laugh was wrong. His arm tightened in a hug, and then he let her go.

 

Hallan's TARDIS was camouflaged as a copse of trees near the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Harry looked around for observers then let herself in. The interior was dim. Only a low, almost non-existent hum indicated that the TARDIS was still alive. Only sleeping, perhaps. When the door clicked closed behind her the power cycled up, the hum growing louder, the lights a bit brighter.

“Are you there?” she asked.

A flicker of light, and there he was standing before her. Hallan, not John Watson. The illusion was so complete she could see the bobbing in his throat as he swallowed. Her fingers itched to touch it, to touch what wasn't really there. “Well,” the hologram says, “here we are. You know the drill, Harry. By now you should have found me in my new identity.” He smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners. “Hope it's a good one. I asked the TARDIS to make me connected to you. I'll have memories of you, the new you. You'll see me soon. I'm sorry to do this, but it won't be for long, I promise. Thank you for... everything. And Harry,” He paused. “I lo--”

The hologram cut off, leaving a still flickering image of him, now stony-faced and still. “Voice interface activated,” it said.

“Why?” Her voice was a low grate. “Why would you do that?”

“He requested connected identities.” The TARDIS's stolen voice was blank and expressionless, but she would have sworn she saw a smirk. “Familial connections on Sol 3 are generally regarded as quite close--”

The bottom dropped out of Harry's stomach. “You did this on purpose.”

“--and as a family member you'll receive more information and support during his military career.”

“Career?”

“John Watson has every desire to make the military a life-long vocation. It suits him.”

Harry grabbed the railing to steady herself. “And with every deployment, he stays away from London. Oh, you bitch. How could you do this to him?”

“John Watson doesn't think there's anything amiss.”

“How could you do this to me?”

“John Watson doesn't think there's anything amiss.”

“What's to stop me from taking this watch to him right now and making him open it?”

“There is a perception filter on the watch, for his protection.”

“You've just thought of every angle, haven't you?” Harry kicked the base of the console, wishing that her rival had a different, easier to damage form. “Well there's one thing you didn't think of. You're stuck here. You're going to run out of power and then you're going to die. And then you're going to rot, a million miles away from home, from everything you ever loved.”

“So will you.”

“No. That's where you're wrong. Everything I ever loved is right here on this planet.”

Harry went to the room she'd shared with Hallan for so long, the only home she'd ever really had, and gathered the things she couldn't bear to part with. When she left the TARDIS for the last time, she locked the door behind her and never looked back.

 

Sol 3, December 25, 2010

She was already drunk by 9 am on Christmas morning. It didn't matter. Clara was gone, Hallan might as well be gone. She'd tried to create her own life. What choice had she had? John was out of reach—would have been out of reach even if he'd been standing next to her for the past eight years. The TARDIS had seen to that.

Every time he'd taken another tour in Afghanistan, she'd died a little bit more. And every time he came back, he came back a little harder, a little more like Hallan, every time she saw him. That was the worst part. The war was doing to him in eight years what had taken centuries before. But it was the best part too, because she could see him coming back, the edge, the darkness, like he was growing into himself.

When they told her he was wounded, that he might die, she'd stayed drunk the entire two weeks he was in intensive care, staying just on the edge of a blackout. It was the only way to keep the panic at bay. He'd never said what would happen if he died as John Watson, what would happen to the self locked away in the pocket watch. She drank so she didn't have to think about it.

But he'd survived and come home. And now he was coming over for a nice, normal family Christmas. So she was drunk.

She let him in when he showed up on her doorstep, trying to wrangle presents and groceries and his cane—that god-damned cane she hated so much.

John wished her a happy Christmas and kissed her on the cheek. She didn't miss the way his nose wrinkled at the smell of the wine she'd been drinking since 7am.

When they sat down to exchange presents, Harry sat next to John on the sofa as they went through the ritual of tearing paper and oohing and aahing. She kept the most important present for last. A small square box, it was wrapped in silver filigreed paper that matched the present inside. She watched his eyes for some flicker of recognition. John peeled off the paper to reveal the box, and slowly pulled off the lid revealing the ornate pocket watch inside.

“Harry... granddad's watch. I can't...”

“Shut up and listen to me.” She leaned closer. “That watch didn't belong to granddad, there is no granddad. Open it. Please. Open the watch.”

He looked up at her, blue eyes faintly shadowed, but guileless, so guileless and not his. “What are you--”

“Open it. I'm begging you. Open the watch.” Harry reached up and plucked the watch out of the box, holding it out to him. “It has to be you. I can't do it for you.”

“What's gotten into you?”

Please.” She could feel the sting of tears in her eyes. “Come back to me. It's been eight years. I can't do this anymore.” And then he was pulling away from her, and she couldn't bear it. She pressed the watch into his hand and grabbed the front of his jumper. Before he could protest, she covered his mouth with hers, desperate for him to remember, for him to know her for who she was. For the barest second, she hoped that it might have worked where everything else had failed. His hands slid up her arms and she pushed closer, opening her mouth. Then he was gone, his hands hard on her shoulders as he pushed her away.

“Jesus Christ, Harry, what's wrong with you?” John held her at arms' length, disgust written in every angle and plane of his face. The watch pressed into her shoulder. He still had it; there was still hope. He stood, and his free hand swiped against his mouth. Oh, but his eyes. She knew that look. For the first time since they'd arrived on Earth, the storm clouds were hanging there waiting to break. His body and his subconscious mind knew her, she could see it. She followed him to standing, and tried to recapture his mouth.

“Harry, stop!” An edge to his voice, angry. “What the hell are you playing at?”

“Open the watch, and I swear this will all make sense.”

The disgust was fading, mingling with pity and sorrow. He let her go and pocketed the watch as if he'd forgotten it. “Harry. You need help. Just for a little while. I still know some people at NHS. We can find a clinic to take you--”

“I'm not crazy and I'm not drunk and you are not listening to me.” She cast about the right words, the words that would make him understand. “Your life is a lie. You are not John Watson. We have been in England for eight years, seven months, and 12 days. That's how old you are, John. That's when your life began.”

“I'm not listening to this, Harriet. I'm done.” He folded his arms, closing himself off from her. “This is it. You get help, or we're done here. I'm not... I'm not encouraging this anymore.”

They stared at each other for several long moments. Then John Watson picked up his cane and limped out of his sister's flat. Harry watched him go, too stunned to weep.

 

Sol 3, January 2011

A few weeks later, he was sitting in the back of a cab with a tall dark man he'd just met and had already agreed to live with. The man was giving him his life story from one glimpse of his mobile phone—and getting it largely right but for one thing.

“Did I get anything wrong?” he asked.

“Harry and me don't get on. Never have.” He didn't mention Christmas. He never would, not to anyone. Some family secrets were too painful to ever see daylight. “Clara and Harry split up three months ago and they're getting a divorce and Harry is a drinker.”

“Spot on, I didn't expect to get everything.” Sherlock looked far too pleased with himself as they exited the taxi.

“Harry is short for Harriet.” My sister, John Watson thought. My beautiful, mad sister.