Ms Smith by lurking_latinist
"Name?" says the security guard on the door.
She's so close. The Doctor can already hear the babble of voices and clink of glasses indoors, where experts and investors rub shoulders as they prepare to celebrate the launch of a revolutionary new technology. One that shouldn't exist in this time and place, Earth 2009, and it's her job to find out how it got here.
She's prepared this time—she really has. She even asked Yaz to pick out clothes for her, something dressy that would really blend in. She hasn't often worn skirts since she was a young man, when she left Gallifrey and its decorum behind, and the swish of the hem at her ankles is sending her back to—of all things—that ill-fated Presidential resignation day when she'd stolen her own Chapter robes. Another failure. She squelches the memory with a grimace. She studied the announced guest list and worked out whom she needed to talk to first. She made sure Yaz was equally well-prepared, as she went off to conduct the stranded alien who'd tipped them off to a place of safety. They'd thought of everything!
Except, as apparently always, a name.
Names are complicated. No two cultures mean quite the same thing by them, and the Doctor's long since given up having any more than a sketchy knowledge of what exactly that is. Let's see: twenty-first-century—England, she's pretty sure—okay, this is easy. This she knows. Just give a common name and then it'll be easy to bluff her way in.
"Smith," she says confidently.
The guard frowns at her clipboard. "First name?" she asks.
Right. The disadvantage of giving a common name, she reminds herself, and then stops herself a hair's breadth from answering "John." The whole point of that alias has always been to blend in—never mind that she'd got a little bit attached to it—and these humans won't expect that name to go with this face and body. Arbitrary, but there you are. Bill told her once that she liked having a name that read as masculine because it disrupted people's expectations, which normally the Doctor is all in favor of, but at this particular exact moment she really, for once, wants to be exactly what people expect.
She's thinking fast, even for her—which is fast—but the guard is nevertheless starting to look at her like don't you know your own name? And it's certainly not the time to tell her that really, really, in so many ways, she doesn't. She racks her brains. What are women called? There's Yaz, of course, but Yaz is the only Yaz—Yasmin she knows and she wants a common name. Yaz's name is a special name. The guard is looking at her and there's pressure and she feels like she's sitting an exam—she's always been rubbish at exams—it feels like every name she's ever heard is buzzing in her head but she can't grab hold of a single one. Something's on the tip of her brain—
"Sarah," she hears herself answering, before she even realizes she's picked one.
The guard's face is clearing—oh, good, it's only been a second—as she runs a finger down her clipboard. "Here you are," she says. "Why didn't you say you had a press pass?"
...So apparently she guessed a real attendee's name. Well, that's what you hope for, picking a common one. Appreciating the lucky break, she thanks the guard and heads into the event.
The Doctor is juggling her first glass of champagne, her second plate of little things on sticks, and her third scientist—well, not literally juggling, that'd be silly—although she's probably still got the knack—anyway, she's talking to her third scientist when she overhears something in the nature of a kerfuffle. A fuss. A dispute, even. Someone who thinks she ought to be inside is being kept outside, the Doctor notes with a touch of fellow-feeling, then it occurs to her that this could very well have something to do with what she's here to investigate. She keeps nodding sympathetically at the scientist's story about funding woes, but she focuses her attention on eavesdropping. The voices are distorted by the intervening wall, but she thinks she can make out what they're saying. There's a woman insisting on being let in.
"Sorry, love," the guard says, "nice try, but I've already ticked that name off. And don't try to tell me you're the same person and you're coming back."
"Check again," the woman urges. "I've got to be on there. I've got a press pass and everything," she says in the tone of one waving a document about.
"We have a Sarah Smith, but she's already signed in." The guard is firm.
"It might say Sarah Jane," says the woman, just as the Doctor succeeds in placing her voice.
Sarah Jane, is the main thought in the Doctor's mind as she hurriedly makes her excuses to the surprised scientist and rushes to the door. My Sarah.
She pops up behind the guard, greets Sarah casually as "Lavinia," and starts in on what she hopes is a reasonable-sounding explanation: she and Sarah Jane are here together, she's her plus-one, they're from the same organization, they were meant to arrive together, that's why only one of them is on the list, that's why "Lavinia" had been giving "her" name—she knows she's contradicting herself but she makes up for it by talking very fast and, she realizes afterwards with some embarrassment, by channelling some of the more imperious Time Lords she's known. The guard seems more frustrated than suspicious, and, convinced by the press pass, she puts a second check next to the single entry on her list of attendees.
Once they're inside, Sarah, who's been beautifully playing up to her role, drops the act and instead looks at the Doctor, confused and indignant. "Not to be ungrateful," she says, "but what was that, and how on earth does my aunt come into it?" She removes her arm from the Doctor's grasp.
"It's me," says the Doctor, beaming.
"Have we met?" asks Sarah. "I'm sorry if I've forgotten your face, but..."
"No, it's me," says the Doctor, unhelpfully. She pulls Sarah a little ways into an empty corridor. "It's the Doctor."
Sarah's very quiet for a moment. "Doctor," she says, and the Doctor's not sure if it's a statement or a question until Sarah's arms are around her. "Here you are again," she says, tears and laughter in her voice.
"I'm sorry I stole your identity," says the Doctor. "I couldn't think of any other names."
"You know, that would be awfully touching if it hadn't been so inconvenient," Sarah says into the Doctor's shoulder. It takes her a moment to work out what feels odd about the embrace—she's much closer to her friend's height now. With her in flats and Sarah in heels, they're almost the same height.
Then Sarah breaks away, holding her at arm's length to inspect her—her new face, the Doctor guesses. It's not really feeling new these days, but it's new to Sarah.
"I didn't know you could do that," says Sarah.
"Do what? Oh, the—" she waves her hand, indicating hair, face, body. "The woman thing? Yeah. I was kind of in a rut, but well, here I am!"
It's not an explanation and they both know it. But Sarah Jane doesn't need explanation and justification. She just takes the Doctor's arm again and says, "It's good to see you."
"It's good to see you too," says the Doctor. She knows her friend's recently met up with one of her earlier selves, and she tries not to show how long it's been from her point of view. She has a personal rule not to double back on people's timelines, at least not if she can help it. It's a form of respect, a refusal to trivialize their lives into mere distractions for her. But she's not going to turn away this serendipitous reunion. After all, she hadn't gone looking for her.
The Doctor suspects Sarah can read a touch of sorrow in her face—a hint at how much she's missed seeing her. But she doesn't say anything—doesn't even show anything, apart from a hand tightening on the Doctor's arm—and the Doctor knows her friend knows much better than to ask about her own future.
"So what brings you here? What deadly danger is it this time?" Sarah asks, gesturing in the direction of the reception.
"Not sure yet," admits the Doctor. "Hoping to find out."
"Listen," says Sarah, "I didn't know there was anything alien—I'm genuinely here as a science journalist—but interviews with the staff were very odd. Let me give you the run-down...."
At last, and for once in her life, the Doctor feels genuinely prepared for this adventure.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story archived at http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=64334