[Doctor Who] Runaway Colleague
Wednesday 22nd August 2018
Summary: Coming home offered Barbara Wright the chance to make a settled, secure life for herself. But there was a complication – in the shape of her ex-colleague Ian Chesterton.
It would have been easy for Barbara to seduce Ian. But not so simple to explain the secret she was keeping hidden. If Ian learned the truth, would he be so keen to reclaim his runaway colleague?
AU where only Barbara followed Susan to Totter's Lane.
London, September 1965 - Monday morning
Barbara took a deep breath before walking into the staff room. Starting at a new school was always nerve-racking. Would the teachers be friendly? Would the students be well-behaved? Would the teachers be possessive over mugs when it came to making the tea?
Her previous first day at school had been at Coal Hill and that had turned out all right. Until the day she'd followed Susan home and then it had taken a turn for the interesting. Which she didn't regret, not one bit. What made her nervous now was being expected to teach again, having not done any for the past two years. And the bus had been late, so she wasn't as early as she'd hoped to be.
She took in the busy staff room, where a few teachers reclined on a set of mis-matched easy chairs, mugs on the small, low table between them. From the snippets of conversation she could pick up, they were discussing their summer holidays. Four men sat around a table by the windows, playing cards. The largest cluster of people were at the back, where there was a small kitchen area. She couldn't see it, but the smell of tea reached her, even from the other side of the room.
A stab of nostalgia, and something else, made her wish Ian was there. A mug of tea would help, she thought and she turned to hang her coat on one of the pegs by the door.
"Barbara, it's good to see you."
Sheila, Barbara's head of department, had entered while Barbara was gathering her thoughts. It was someone she recognised at last, and Barbara smiled at the friendly face.
Sheila took her round the room, introducing her to the other teachers, all of whose names Barbara immediately forgot. However, she stopped listening when the throng at the back thinned and there, turning away from the kettle, a mug in his hand, was Ian.
She'd often thought about looking him up when she returned home, but she'd been afraid it would be too painful, seeing the old Ian again. Besides, what could she tell him about why she'd vanished two years ago? She'd spoken to him about Susan and he'd cautioned her against doing anything hasty. She'd ignored him, followed Susan home anyway and discovered Ian had been right to be cautious. But she wasn't going to give him the opportunity to say 'I told you so'. Even if he believed the truth, which was doubtful, given what the Ian of 1963 had been like, before all this happened.
Their eyes met and Barbara was held in place. His jaw dropped, but his expression was pained. Unable to bear it, she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again he was gone, talking to someone else on the other side of the room.
"Barbara?" Sheila sounded worried. "Are you all right?"
Barbara nodded, not sure what she wanted to say about Ian yet "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention." She forced a smile, making it appear like it was nothing, even though seeing Ian - especially here - was everything. "It's a lot to take in."
"I should have waited until you'd at least had a cup of tea." Looking apologetic, Sheila led her over to the kitchen area and poured them each a cup.
Ian stayed out of the way and Barbara stuck with Sheila, trying not to let herself get too distracted before the school day had even started.
London, September 1965 - Monday afternoon
If asked, Barbara would have denied avoiding Ian at lunch. She would have claimed she was too busy getting to know the other teachers in her department. Which happened to mean not sitting anyway near Ian and making sure not to catch his eye.
It didn't make much difference, because he came to her classroom at the end of the day, when she was poring over her notes, trying to learn the names from her classes. For a moment his presence comforted her - at Coal Hill they'd often visited each other at the end of the day. However, he usually strode into her classroom confidently. Today he stayed by the door and didn't meet her eyes.
"I didn't know what happened to you." He shook his head. "I kept thinking, if only I'd offered you a lift."
"Oh, Ian." Barbara placed her pen beside her notes and came around her desk to face him. "I'm sorry." She hated that he'd worried like that, but it wasn't as if she could have done anything about it. Truth be told, there had often too much going on to think about home very often.
"Where were you?" His tone was accusatory.
She folded her arms, but reminded herself not to get too defensive. After all, she'd been asked that question a lot recently. However, she wasn't going to give Ian the official line, she owed him more than that. "I can't tell you."
He sighed, looking defeated. "Right then."
"I do want to." She stepped a little closer to him. "But I can't." Ian believed in science and the science of the 1960s said that time travel was impossible. Space travel was also impossible, unless you included the men who were working towards it and that was only to the moon. She owed him the truth, but she couldn't give it to him.
His face set, he turned and left, leaving the door open.
She had half a mind to call after him and tell him everything. But she couldn't. She only hoped he didn't hate her for it.
London, September 1965 - Friday
Barbara had found her first week somewhat trying. The pupils hadn't been ready to come back to school after the summer holidays and it took a lot of effort to convince them to settle down and work. It didn't help that Barbara's mind hadn't always been on them because she kept seeing Ian around the school. When he saw her he'd frown and turn away.
All she wanted was to go back to the way they were, which was impossible. He wanted her to tell him something about where she'd been. Which she couldn't. But she also couldn't bear this silence from him, so at the end of the week she headed to his classroom, determined to have it out with him.
She hadn't been down to the science rooms much and she looked into a few rooms before she found his lab. Inside was like going back in time. The room was laid out differently, but the same periodic table was on the wall and she recognised his handwriting on the blackboard.
He was on his own, thankfully. When she entered he froze, holding a tray of beakers. His expression was one she'd seen before, although it was usually when being confronted by the headteacher on a mission.
Determined not to let that stop her, she gave him a small smile. It broke the spell enough for him to turn away and take his beakers over to the sink. It seemed that he was still being stubborn about speaking to her.
She sighed and perched on a nearby stool. Maybe coming in here was a mistake, but she wasn't going to leave until this was resolved one way or another. He should know by now that she didn't give in easily.
It seemed that he did, because although he didn't turn round, he did say, "You know Susan disappeared at the same time as you did." Anyone else might think his tone was conversational, but she knew better. She knew he was implying she knew something about it. Which she did, although he couldn't know that.
"Yes." She frowned and stared at the bench. It had a dark stain in the middle of it, presumably where one of the pupils had dropped something.
He sighed. "And I suppose you can't tell me anything about it."
"I'm sorry." She lay her hands on the bench, one on top of the other.
When she heard the beakers clink, she raised her head to see he'd left them by the sink and was now leaning against it, facing her. His upset expression didn't make her feel any better.
She swallowed. "I wish I could. Really I do." If she wasn't careful about what she said she might change history. A prospect which scared her more. So, it was better to say nothing.
"Don't you trust me?" He sounded hurt at the idea she didn't. Which was a ridiculous idea to her.
"With my life," she replied easily. She stood, so she wasn't looking up at him. "And I know that you wouldn't tell anyone else if you knew the truth." Not least because she couldn't imagine anyone else believing him."
He came over, finally, and stopped beside her, albeit a little further away than she was used to. "Then what is it?"
Without thinking she reached out a hand, but brought it back before she touched him. Given his reactions to her this week, she wondered if her disappearance had made him realise that he felt more then friendship for her. But with this secret between them, it felt like the best she could hope for was colleagues. Which wasn't nearly as much as she wanted from him at all. When she closed her eyes she could remember the press of his lips against hers.
"You'll understand one day." It sounded like a weak excuse, even to her.
He shook his head, his lips pressed together. "I don't know what to make of you any more."
"I'm still the same person." Except that wasn't true. Everything she'd been through with the Doctor and Susan and Vicki had changed her. How could it not?
Ian could see it too, judging from his sceptical expression. "The past two years have changed both of us."
He was right. She'd been acutely aware of his presence this week and with him refusing to speak to her, she'd been able to study him. She'd found he wasn't the same easy-going man that she'd come to rely on. But he was still Ian. He wasn't that different, deep down. "Not so much we can't be friends, though." They couldn't carry on as they were when they were sharing a school. She couldn't leave one week in - it had been hard enough getting this job.
He closed his eyes for a moment. "I missed you," he said softly. It was the closest he'd ever come to voicing his feelings.
She understood, given how much she'd missed him when she'd returned to London a month ago. This time when she reached out a hand, she placed it on his arm. "Then let's stop avoiding each other." There was a pleading note in her voice that she hadn't meant to let out.
He nodded, and smiled properly at last. She squeezed his arm. It wasn't everything she wanted, but it was a start.
London, October 1965
It was the Friday before half term and most of the teachers had gone to the local pub after school. Much as Barbara had missed teaching she was still grateful for the break. As well as an opportunity to socialise with her colleagues outside of school.
Many of the teachers only stayed for one drink, but Barbara had nowhere else to be, so she hung around for longer. As did Ian. They ended up on their own at a table in the corner as the pub filled up with the crowd from the office over the road.
"Why did you leave Coal Hill?" she eventually asked. He'd seemed so settled there that she hadn't imagined him ever leaving. She'd been curious about it since the beginning of term but it had ended up being easier not to talk about that period of their lives. Now that they weren't going to see each other for a week, she thought it was worth the risk.
"I felt like a change." He shrugged. "And Peter was never going to leave, but I could be head of department here."
Despite his promotion she still felt a little guilty. But she knew better than to bring that up. It always lead to silences and she much preferred a good conversation. "I always knew you'd be a good head of department."
He smiled and placed his empty glass back on the table. "Well, I ought to get home. Shouldn't drink too much on an empty stomach."
"Good idea." She covered her sigh by finishing her drink. She'd hoped that away from school they'd be able to talk more, but there was always an elephant in the room. She was tempted to ask him to dinner, but was afraid that he'd decline.
Ian still held her coat for her, as she slipped her arms into it. He held the door for her too. She smiled her thanks and took a couple of steps away from the pub, still trying to pluck up her courage. After a deep breath she turned to find he was still beside the door, gazing up at the sky.
The earlier cloud had gone, although the light pollution meant not many stars were visible. Her breath misted in the cold night air as she peered upwards, searching for the constellations she knew.
"Do you think there are other planets up there, orbiting any of these stars?" Ian mused.
She didn't think he'd meant it as a question for her to answer, but she answered anyway. "There are," she said confidently.
He glanced over at her, surprised. "I was sure you were going to tell me I read too much science fiction."
"You do." She smiled and he returned it.
It was such a familiar feeling that she slipped her hand into his before she'd realised what she'd done. Since he didn't pull away, neither did she. "That's Sirius." She pointed up at the bright star in what would be the dog's collar if it had a visible head. "And some of Canis Major."
He nodded. "We'd need to go to the country to see the constellations properly."
Or the past, where they didn't have street lights. A place that was impossible to reach, as far as this Ian knew.
He sighed and she thought his attention was on the stars until he spoke. "When you weren't in school I got Susan's address and went to Totter's Lane."
She kept her eyes on the sky, not wanting to give herself away. Although she shouldn't be surprised that he'd gone, not when she'd told him that was where she was heading.
"All I found was a junk yard. Not somewhere she could live. Or anything that would tell me where you went."
He dropped her hand and she shoved her hands into his pockets, her right bereft of the warmth of his left.
"You didn't see a police box there, did you?" she asked haltingly and finally faced him.
His eyes met hers as he chuckled. "A police box in a junk yard?"
That was what she'd thought at the time. Before she knew it wasn't a police box. "You have to go back," she said urgently, as she realised what had happened. And needed to happen again.
He frowned. "Why?"
Good question. The answer was harder. She'd stepped inside the Ship, the Doctor had closed the doors and when he opened them again they hadn't moved at all. Which had seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, when the internal dimensions had been enough to wonder at. Ian had been in the junk yard, marvelling at the TARDIS, and at first she thought he'd decided to investigate Susan after all. Then she'd found they'd travelled forward in time.
If he didn't go back there he would be safe here. Half a term had been enough to resume something of their friendship. All they needed was time and eventually he'd fall in love with her, the same way she had while they'd been travelling together. Or so she hoped.
There was an irony in contemplating changing history now, given that she'd spent weeks avoiding the truth to avoid that fate. However, it was a terrible idea. If Ian hadn't been there, who would had made fire in the Cave of Skulls, saved her from Tlotxl or ridden to the rescue during the Crusades? Maybe they'd have all been fine, but it was hard to be sure.
"Barbara?" he asked, worried at her silence.
She made her decision. "It's important." She turned to face him properly, her tone serious. "You have to go back there."
He turned to her, studying her for a moment before he said, "All right. Now?"
She opened her mouth except she didn't know the answer. She didn't know how far forward they'd travelled. Ian had appeared to be much the same age he was now, but she had to narrow it down more than that. She couldn't send him there every evening - and that assumed they hadn't landed in the middle of the night. "Let me think."
He raised his eyebrows, which she ignored. Perhaps, if history couldn't be changed, and this was part of her history, if not his, whatever date she gave him would be the correct one. But which one to choose? Tonight? Or perhaps the anniversary of the day she'd left? Yes, that felt more auspicious. "November. Two years exactly after I left."
"And I'll see a police box there?" He still didn't sound convinced and she couldn't blame him. She hadn't intended to test his trust in her, but she desperately hoped he would pass.
"Yes." She sounded more confident than she felt. "And you'll find out what happened to me. And Susan."
He brightened up at that prospect. "All right then. I'll go in a month."
London, November 1965
"Tonight's the night." Ian was cheery as he glanced round at her, then returned to collecting up his marking.
She could have told him not to bother with it, but she'd gone two months without telling him the truth. She could hold her tongue for a little while longer. "Yes." Her smile was brief. She longed to say goodbye properly, but then he'd know something was up. Perhaps, in his worry, he wouldn't go. And that would be a worse disaster.
"Well, good luck." She headed to the door. She wanted to hug him tight and keep him here. The best way to prevent herself from doing that was to walk away.
He smiled. "We'll talk about it tomorrow."
He could be right, she told herself, as she headed out of the school. The Doctor might get him home the day he left. But she couldn't count on it. She'd had two months with him that she hadn't expected to get, but he wasn't the Ian she wanted to spend them with.
There was one thing she had to do, to make sure she came home. That it meant being able to see Ian for a little while longer was a bonus.
The junk yard was further away than Coal Hill School had been, so she'd had to get a bus. She hoped that by leaving before Ian she would still get there in time. His car wasn't there when she arrived, so she hid in the shadows. It was only a ten minute wait until his car pulled up, but it was enough to wish she'd worn more layers. However, bringing extra jumpers into school today would have aroused his suspicions and she wouldn't have been able to answer those questions either.
He sat in the car for a moment and when he did get out he looked all around. She turned away, in case he saw her face. When she judged it was safe she found he was pushing open the gate of number 76.
"Hello?" he called out. "Is anyone there?"
There hadn't been, but someone was arriving now. The flashing light and familiar sound of the TARDIS landing drew her closer, so she could peer around the corner and see it for herself. Ian was too distracted to consider what might be behind him.
"A police box that appears out of nowhere," he mused.
The doors opened and light spilled out. "Let me go!" Barbara heard herself say. When her past self appeared in the doorway, she was on her own. Her eyes widened as she spotted Ian.
"Barbara." He came forward to meet her, blocking her view of her other self. Although it also conveniently prevented anyone inside the TARDIS from seeing their unknown eavesdropper. "The police box--."
"Is bigger on the inside."
"Appeared out of nowhere," he continued over her. "Bigger on the inside?" He sounded disbelieving.
She remembered his inability to understand it and thus believe in it, even when he saw it for himself. Everything had been different back then.
Ian craned his neck to see over Barbara's shoulder and she moved aside. "Susan?" Still with the disbelieving tone.
"Dear, dear," she heard the Doctor say. "We've only moved in time, not in space." He obviously hadn't seen Ian yet, but he soon would.
Barbara stepped back, in case any of them glanced her way. She didn't want them to see another version of her. With the greater distance the voices became muffled, but she remembered what they'd said. The Doctor had protested at another intrusion; Ian had questioned Susan being there and relied on Barbara to explain it all. Which she hadn't been able to.
When the doors shut, it cut their voices off altogether. The light had stopped flashing when she slumped against the fence. Now she had to - again - make peace with the prospect of never seeing Ian again.
Assisium, AD 64
After everything they'd been through it was nice to have some peace and quiet. To relax, explore the Roman civilisation while they were in it, and get to know Vicki. Although the actual peace and quiet was less so at the moment. Vicki had managed to convince the Doctor to play a game with her and was currently complaining he was cheating.
Ian was trying to help without taking sides, but it sounded like he was only making things worse. Before any of them appealed to Barbara for her opinion, she headed out into the courtyard. Outside, their voices were less clear and easier to ignore. She leaned against the wall of the villa and peered up at the stars. They twinkled above her, like a glittery blanket.
She hadn't spent much time stargazing before. There was too much light in London to have done it there. And she hadn't been as interested until she visited other planets. Before meeting the Doctor she hadn't known there were other planets, outside of the nine in the solar system.
She heard footsteps from behind her and didn't have to turn to know Ian had also sought refuge outside.
"I am certain he cheats," he said, sounding frustrated, "but I've never caught him at it."
She turned from the sky to smile at him. "I can't imagine he'll admit it to Vicki either."
"No." He sighed. "One of them will have to give in sooner or later."
"Let's hope it's sooner."
"Oh, you're impossible!" they heard Vicki say. Barbara put a hand to her mouth to hide her smile and turned her gaze back to the sky.
Ian followed it. "So many stars," he said, wonderingly. "I don't think I've been somewhere this dark since the war."
Barbara didn't point out that they had been to places this dark, but they'd been too busy running for their lives, with no time to admire the night sky. Or not on Earth at all. "I wonder how many we've visited?"
"Barbara," he admonished and she glanced over at him, surprised. "We've been to other planets, that may have been orbiting stars visible at this time of year, but not to the stars themselves."
She rolled her eyes. "It was a figure of speech. You can't stop being a science teacher, can you?"
He smiled and shrugged. "How about I teach you some more constellations?"
"I'm afraid don't know any." She was a little embarrassed to admit it. Perhaps Ian thought everyone knew some.
He frowned. "But... wait, no. That's in your future. My past."
She bit her lip. She hated there were things he couldn't talk about that hadn't happened yet for her. She sometimes wished he could at least tell her when he was from, but understood why he didn't. It was a comfort, knowing she would make it home one day, although at the moment she was enjoying travelling with the Doctor, Ian and now Vicki.
Ian was shifting his feet and focussing on them, rather than her or the sky. She slipped her hand into his. "Why don't you teach me some now?"
Although he hesitated, a squeeze of his hand convinced him and he pointed upwards. "Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, in the constellation of Canis Major." He stepped closer and traced the shape. "It's a dog with a triangular head. Sirius is on its collar."
"I see it!" she said, after leaning her head closer to Ian's, so she could see where he was looking.
He smiled fondly at her, and went on to point out other constellations, the Doctor and Vicki forgotten.
Mechanus, time unknown
Once the Doctor had demonstrated how to work the Dalek time machine's controls, he and Vicki said goodbye. Barbara was sad to be leaving them. They'd become friends and it was unlikely she'd ever see them again, given the Doctor's inability to steer.
Ian lingered and she was glad. Leaving him was the hardest of all. Especially when it had seemed as if he had been as excited about going home as she was, until he changed his mind.
"You can still come with me." Barbara reached out to take his hands. She'd already tried to convince him once she'd had the idea of using the Dalek time machine to get home. He'd already explained why he couldn't, but she had to give It another try.
He took a step closer. "I can't." He closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head. "I've already seen your future, remember. I know you return home alone."
It should make using this less concerning, knowing that the Doctor's fifty-fifty chance was pessimistic. But the prospect of going home on her own wasn't as appealing. She could stay, but if Ian was determined not to leave when she did, then all she'd be doing was putting off leaving him until later. She understood not changing the past, even when it was her future, but it didn't make it any easier to bear.
"What if you never find another way to get home? What if something happens to you?" Her voice cracked and she swallowed. "I might never see you again." They'd started off as friends, on this journey, but what she felt now was more than that.
"You will see me again." He squeezed her hands. "I'll find a way."
He sounded confident and she knew if there was anyone who could do it it was Ian. She also knew he was trying to make her feel better and she could see the pain in their parting in his eyes. Her eyes filled with tears, despite trying not to think the worst. "I know." There was so much she wanted to say, but couldn't through the lump in her throat.
Ian didn't use words; he kissed her. His lips were gentle on hers at first, until she kissed him back and tugged on his hands to bring him closer. She didn't want it to end, not only because it kept him here with her.
When he stepped away, she kept her eyes closed, wanting to live in the kiss a little while longer. Ian let go of her hands and by the time she opened her eyes he was walking away and she had to go on alone.
The day after she watched Ian step into the TARDIS, Barbara felt guilty. Everyone at school knew they were friends and thought they might know where he was. Technically she didn't know where he was. Or when he was. But she did know he hadn't just disappeared.
It gave her some idea of the hue and cry there had been after she and Susan had vanished two years ago. Barbara was glad she hadn't met any of Ian's other friends or his family, so she didn't have to lie to them too.
Eventually things settled down and school went back to normal. Albeit with someone else as head of science and a different teacher in Ian's lab. By then Barbara felt that every day was so mundane. That was why she'd wanted to come home, but she hadn't thought it would all drag so much.
She missed Ian terribly and at first she'd held her breath, thinking he'd be around every corner. She'd had a postcard from him, soon after Christmas, to say he couldn't stay because they were being chased by Daleks. So nothing much had changed after her departure, which would have been more comforting if their lives hadn't involved so much danger.
It was just like Ian not to want to leave in the middle of things. And it forced her to consider that it could be years before she saw Ian again. Who knew when the TARDIS would next land in the 1960s and they wouldn't be in the middle of things. Always assuming he came back at all.
Maybe one day she'd have to give up waiting, like all of her colleagues had, but how long should she hold out for? Was it too much of a risk to ever change schools and face the possibility of him not being able to find her?
In the end it was less than a year before she had to make that decision.
It began as just another ordinary day, like all of the months of ordinary days before it. But on this day, as she left school, there was Ian at the gate. She forgot how many pupils were around her, also heading for home, and ran into Ian's waiting arms. She hugged him tight, not wanting to let him go again.
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you the truth," she said into his neck. She didn't have to explain - she knew now that he'd understand why.
"I'm sorry I had to leave you," he said into her hair.
She smiled wistfully. She'd understood then, as she did now, but it hadn't made it any easier. She relaxed her hold on him, half-afraid if she let him go he'd be gone again, but wanting to see how he was. He didn't appear much different from when she'd last seen him, so it probably hadn't been long for him either. However, there were circles under his eyes and was a weight on his shoulders, from the way he was slumped. She worried about what he'd gone through after she left.
But it was a question for another day. For now she put a hand to his cheek, reassuring herself he was alive and home with her.
He smiled and straightened a little. "I'm never leaving you again."
She kissed him, ignoring the wolf whistles from the teenagers around them.
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