|Doctor Who is owned by the BBC. This is amateur fiction for entertainment purposes only, and I make no money from this story.|
A Place Called Home
She'd like to ask the Doctor that, if he were around. Are we actually that brilliant, that you have to keep following us around through time and space, landing your little blue box on our planet, here and then, there and now? Really?
So that, even when you're hiding, when you're on the run, deep undercover, you choose to do it here, where we are. You choose to hide right down deep inside us.
After all, Martha reasons, you don't have to be a human just to stop being a Time Lord, do you? You could choose to be one of those cat people. Or an intelligent tree. Or, you know, an octopus or something. She imagines telling the Doctor this, and she can almost see him standing in front of her with his hands shoved in his pockets. He'd be making a face, staring into the middle distance and protesting the essentially random nature of chameleon arches. Not my fault, guv. I just go where I'm sent. Yeah, right.
She scrapes at the leaf-mould under her feet with the heels of her boots, jabbing them into the rich English soil. The boots leave marks when she moves away. 1913 should be all dried up now, dead and buried, over and done with. And yet here she is, leaving marks on the ground. Dead and gone crows flap homewards as the evening light fades, and she thinks, for no particular reason, of her mother, and her mother's mother's mother.
In the cool light of day, she trusts in the Doctor, and in herself too. Martha Jones: cheerful, capable, taking it all in her stride. Just what she's always done. It's only later, lying in the dark under her scratchy blanket, that the fear creeps up on her: What if? What if she gets stuck here, somehow? She sees herself withering, drying up, turning crispy round the edges, or softening like old paper.
She writes notes in her head: Time travel -- side effects may include the following: dry skin, occasional pains in the neck, excessive biting of the tongue. You may develop stupid attachments to aliens who then go and deliberately induce temporary amnesia in themselves and leave you on your own in an weird version of England where you can't go into the post office without everyone staring at you like you've got two heads.
Yeah, so who's the alien now? Eh, Mr Smith? 'Cos I'm thinking it ain't you.
She smiles faintly into the darkness. Across the room, she hears Jenny turn over and begin snoring gently. Martha touches her hands to her face. They smell strongly of carbolic soap.
She finds herself singing a lot. Singing away the days of 1913, one by one. In morning chapel, all things are bright and beautiful, and the Lord God made them all. Martha catches Jenny's eye and pulls faces at her, trying get her to laugh. In front of them stretch the boys, row upon row of them. Their collars are starched, their hair neatly parted and gleaming. Autumn sunlight filters in through stained glass, making patterns on the stone floor and on the teachers' faces. Hymn books held aloft, they sing lustily to the glory of God, standing guard over their pupils. It's kind of like being back at school herself, in Assembly, only no one's getting their mobile phones confiscated.
She sees Matron frowning in their direction, so she hides her smile behind her hymn book. Its pages are dry and thin, thin as tissue paper, thin as skin. It all feels as real as real as can be.
In the long, deserted corridors, when the boys and the masters are all shut away with their Latin and their Algebra and there's no one around to hear them, she makes Jenny sing along with her. They do all sorts -- Jenny teaches her one about a soldier who tricks this girl into buying him all sorts of stuff, until right at the end of the song, she finds out that he's already married.
"Well, that wasn't very clever of her, was it?" says Martha. And Jenny agrees that she probably wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Then Martha sings The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round for Jenny, who pronounces it 'right silly'. Never easily discouraged, Martha puts on a performance of Girls Just Want to Have Fun which may even top the one she did at the karaoke on her friend Anouska's hen night. Jenny laughs and shakes her head and calls her a caution. She's all right, is Jenny. Down to earth, and good in a crisis. Good, for instance, when you're not feeling quite real yourself. You'd be hard pushed to find someone realer than Jenny.
But Martha's not sure she likes the way their laughter echoes around the caverns of polished wood and old stone. There's something spooky about it. She thinks she hears a footfall somewhere, and puts a finger to her lips. But nothing happens and nobody comes.
"Maybe it were a ghost," says Jenny.
Maybe. Or maybe Martha's the ghost. A sort of weird, backwards ghost.
When they sing again, it's in cautious, giggling whispers, hunched over the brushes and the bucket of scummy water. They sing about dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Dem dry bones gonna walk around, they sing. I hear the word of the Lord.
Martha dreams she's in her mother's back garden, scorched brown by the hot London summer. Lying on her back on the dry, dead lawn with her sister, watching Leo drowning ants with the garden hose. They sing the songs they learned at school. The toe-bone's connected to the... foot bone. The foot bone's connected to the... ankle bone. I hear the word of the Lord.
She dreams the journeys of songs, how they travel in time. Across wide fields and vast oceans, into school classrooms and back gardens and all the way to here and now, to this strangely living 1913, seeping into the cracks in the walls and scrubbed into the floor with elbow grease. Sing while you work, Martha Jones. A bit of hard work never did anyone any harm.
On her afternoon off she slips quietly away and lets herself into the TARDIS, so she can sort her hair out and sing in the shower. She sings about how the distal phalanges are connected to the middle phalanges, and the middle phalanges are connected to the proximal phalanges. She is cheerful, capable Martha Jones, who's very nearly a doctor, and who takes everything in her stride. She can name all the bones of the body, and connect them up, and make them live. Dem bones are gonna walk around, oh yes they bloody well are. You'll see.
Because this is just what she does, Martha Jones. There was never any question that she would be who she is. That she would work hard and pass all her exams and become a doctor, and be sensible and strong and clever and good. Never any question at all, not for anyone else. Nobody else lies awake at night, suddenly terrified that Martha Jones won't be good enough, after all. Not even her, most of the time.
"I only take the best, you know," the Doctor said to her once. It sounded like a motto, like something he'd said before.
"Is that right?"
She grinned and looked away, suddenly embarrassed. When she looked back, he was still smiling at her, his eyes open wide. Very often, she feels that there is some sort of private joke going on, and sometimes she thinks she's in on it, and sometimes she doesn't.
She yawns over her teacup now, back at the school, and half of her is hot from being sat next to the fire, and the other half of her is still cold. And Cook has made a seedcake, and Jenny is saying something slightly rude about Mr Phillips, and Martha wakes up, suddenly, because it's all too real. The warmth, the cold, the texture of her skirt. The people here are real people, with real blood in their veins and real flesh and bone under their skin. How is this not her real life?
She's become unsure, now, what that even means. Is it the hospital, and exams, and folders full of paper, and her little flat, and her phone going every five minutes? Is that what counts as her real life, or is it the Doctor and all that comes with him: charging around in time and space, getting caught up in other people's worlds and wars. Is it placing her hand against the inside wall of the TARDIS and wondering at the warmth of it, the strange, humming life of the machine? It worries her how easily she can slip from one reality to the next.
Oh, the Doctor. Thinking about him hurts, just a little bit, and she excuses herself from the table. She's tired, she says, and she certainly ought to be. In the little attic room, she sits on her bed with her boots still on, her knees drawn up under her chin. She thinks about that watch, and it gnaws and nags at her like something she's forgotten to do, like an exam question she hasn't revised for. She wishes she could have kept it with her, she'd have looked after it properly. She's good at looking after things. But housemaids, she supposes, do not have silver pocket watches. Why couldn't it have been a -- a handkerchief or something? If she'd thought before, she could have mentioned it, maybe. Asked the Doctor.
Her head is full of questions. Always has been. There are so many things she needs to know. She remembers following her poor mum round the house as a child: When were biscuits invented? How many miles is it to the moon? Why do cats have fur and we don't? How much would it cost to buy an island? Why do leaves fall off trees? What's spit for?
Only, now she's got no one to ask. John Smith... bless him, but he's about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Frankly, she'd be dubious about giving him a gerbil to look after for the summer, let alone the essence of the last of the Time Lords. What if he drops it somewhere, loses it, decides he doesn't like it and throws it away? God, what if... She groans out loud in frustration and thumps her heels on the bed. Nineteen bloody thirteen.
Right at the beginning (or at least when the Doctor stopped pretending to take her on one-off joyrides), she decided to think of this as her year out. Most of her friends had done it after A Levels. Invested in lots of rucksacks and cheap beach-wear. Swanned around Thailand or New Zealand, picking fruit and getting drunk, slumming it in a series of hostels. They all came back with a collection of email addresses and photos of themselves with their arms round people called Matt and Jamie and Tris. She'd never considered it, really. She had way too much to do. There was the whole doctor thing. It wouldn't have been practical.
Mind you, she didn't think at the time that a year out would involve quite so much scrubbing, so much dusting and polishing and being looked down on from a great height by 17-year-old boys. But that's all part of it, isn't it? You never know what you're going to get, not with the Doctor. And he'll be back to himself again soon, and then they'll be off in the TARDIS and... who knows what's round the corner? Could be anything. Just the thought gives her butterflies. Really, it beats backpacking.
Of course, it can't last. There's no point even thinking about that. Nothing lasts forever, does it? And you can't really rely on people. See, that's another thing about Martha Jones -- she's basically a realist.
1913. She could always just wait it out, these few months. But you can't wait, can you? You can't wait to live. Why have a year out, when you can have a year in, deep down in the heart of everything? This is her life, as much as the TARDIS is her life, as much as the hospital is, and her ridiculous family, and meeting her friends down the pub, and going on day-trips to the future, and thinking 'we're all going to die', and doing the laundry and everything.
No, Martha thinks. She should drink it in, all of it, the good bits and bad bits alike, so she doesn't forget. Everything is now, and everything is real. The smell of her good wool coat. The white mist that lies low over the fields in the mornings. Jenny's laugh. How it feels to wash your face out of a jug and a bowl, instead of turning on a tap, and how it feels to have people stare at you, really stare, and not even bother trying to hide it. She stands up straight, and smiles at them, and she is totally and utterly, one hundred percent herself, is Martha Jones.
She feels her bones sliding under her skin as she moves, and she names them in her head. She connects up all the different parts of herself, and it feels good and strong, like scaffolding to hold her up.
"The metatarsal bone is connected to the medial cunieform bone, you know," she tells Jenny as they walk back together from the village, and Jenny rolls her eyes and pokes her gently in the shoulder with her umbrella.
"Listen to you! Where d'you get all that from?"
Martha laughs and skips ahead of her in the lane. "I hear the word of the Lord!" she sings, theatrically, her arms spread wide. The rain has stopped, and the weak November sun is pushing its way through the clouds. The raindrops sparkle on all the hedgerows, and she feels a sudden urge to run, as fast and as far as she can. Instead, she turns back to Jenny and takes her arm.
"Come on!" she says. "It's turning out nice again."