“Well, you haven't changed a bit, have you?”
The Doctor freezes, one foot out of the TARDIS, Courtney hovering impatiently behind him.
“Who is it?” she hisses. “What’s wrong?” She sticks her head out the door. “Oh, hi sir!”
“Hello, Courtney,” says Ian.
“I’d suggest you run back to your parents, they're looking for you,” says Barbara.
Courtney shrugs agreeably and races off, waving as she goes. “Bye, weirdo caretaker spaceman.”
“Bye,” the Doctor says faintly.
“Are you really so surprised?” Barbara asks. “Did you think you could just waltz in and out of our school with one of our teachers and we wouldn't know?”
“He hasn’t changed much, has he?” Ian says to her, and she shakes her head.
“Not one bit. Right down to stealing our pupils, apparently.”
“Oh, that’s hardly the word I would use,” the Doctor says, starting to smile. He steps forward, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Young Disruptive Influence there was really quite insistent.”
“Ah, I suppose that’s all right then,” says Ian.
Barbara tilts her head and considers the Doctor for a moment. “It really is you, isn't it? After all this time. With a different face but the same person.”
The Doctor finds it almost too much to look at them. There they are, Ian and Barbara, the very first of all of them. They barely look a day older to him, not that he’s very good with that these days. So very much has happened since he last saw them – hardly a blink in Earth’s history but millennia for him.
“I hardly know what to say,” he admits. “Hello. It’s very good to see you.”
“Hello, Doctor,” says Ian.
“I don't suppose it’s worth us asking where you've been,” says Barbara with a smile.
The Doctor shakes his head. “Everywhere. And then some. So you're still here? At the school?”
“We left for a while,” says Ian. “We moved to Cambridge and taught there, but there’s something about this place, you know. Coal Hill just pulled us back in.”
“I see. And you two --?” the Doctor gestures between them.
“Yes, we two,” Barbara says, reaching out for Ian’s hand.
“Good, yes. That’s very good.” The Doctor hesitates, glancing back at the open TARDIS door. “You know, these days I really am a lot better at that whole precision landing business. You'd be back in five minutes, if you wanted. Really, it would be my honour.”
“I was afraid you'd ask that,” says Barbara. “I'm sorry, Doctor, but I can’t.”
“Nor can I,” Ian agrees regretfully.
“Of course,” the Doctor says, turning away. “Forget I said it, it’s no matter.”
Barbara steps forward and lays a hand on his arm. He turns back, and the look of her face overwhelms him. “Not because we don't want to,” she says. “Believe me, we do.”
“But I rather think that if we stepped into that wonderful blue box again, we might not ever want to come back,” says Ian.
“Ah, well then. Can't have that.” The Doctor smiles. “This planet couldn't possibly spare you.”
“Will you stay?” Barbara asks. “Just for a little bit. Just for tea.”
The Doctor had barely noticed his hand was lingering on the door handle. He lets it drop. “I suppose I could manage that.”
“Miss! Mr Chesterton wants to see you in the head’s office.”
Clara stops dead. “He does? Mr Chesterton, Head of Governors Mr Chesterton, wants to see me?”
Courtney eyes her. “Yeah, that’s what I just said.”
“Right. Well, thank you very much, Courtney, off you go.”
Clara watches as Courtney runs off, no doubt continuing to despair at the foibles of her elders. She swallows, sudden cold dread pooling in her stomach.
“I’m getting fired,” she murmurs, turning and heading in the direction of the head’s office. “That’s it, I blew it. Oh my god. Wait, no! They can't, there’s no way, I’ve had no complaints on my performance.”
She speeds up, and by the time she’s reached the other end of the school she’s worked herself up into an indignant heat. She makes herself stop at the door and takes a deep breath. “Play it cool, Oswald. Play it cool,” she tells herself, and knocks.
A woman’s voice rings out. “Come in!”
That was unexpected. Unsure, Clara pushes the door open.
Mr Chesterton is sitting behind the desk, and his wife sits next to him. Barbara Chesterton has been a fixture of the school for some years in her own right, and Clara relaxes slightly, figuring that her chances of getting fired are beginning to decrease. She still has no idea what’s happening.
“Hello! Pleasure to see you both. What can I do for you?”
“Have a seat, Miss Oswald, please,” Mr Chesterton says.
“Oh, Clara’s fine ,” Clara says, smoothing her skirt and sitting down.
“Only if you'll do the same,” he grins. “This is more of a social call anyway.”
“Oh?” Clara asks. She’s not sure she can manage to call Mr Chesterton ‘Ian’ any time soon, but she supposes she’ll have to try.
“You see, we've just been talking to the new caretaker.”
“Oh god,” Clara says, covering her face. “Whatever he said, or did, I'm so sorry.”
Barbara laughs. “Not to worry, no one could hold you responsible for that man’s actions. The Doctor is a force of nature and utterly a law unto himself.”
Clara drops her hands and stares. “I'm sorry, come again?”
They both smile at her knowingly. “You are not the first teacher of this school to travel in the TARDIS, you know.”
“What? The two of you?” Clara laughs suddenly, completely delighted. “But how? When? Which face did he have then?” She catches herself. “I'm sorry, that’s a lot of questions.”
“Not to worry,” Mr Chesterton – Ian – says. “We'll be very happy to answer all of them.”
“And there’s not just us, either,” Barbara adds. “There’s a whole network of us all around the world, ordinary people – and some not so ordinary – who’ve travelled with the Doctor at some point or another.”
Ian grins. “Although I can't condone your extra-curricular activities in an official capacity, may I just say that I'm thrilled that the Doctor has returned to Coal Hill School.”
Clara beams, and listens in amazement as they start to tell her a story of a schoolgirl and a junkyard and a strange old man who called himself the Doctor. Apparently, some things never change.