The Doctor isn't sleeping.
In her room, safe from time and space, Martha picks a post-it note off her mirror, holds it up to the light, and worries. The drawing, done in sketchy red biro, is technically accurate, and she takes a moment to appreciate the careful tracing of each crack and gash, but the fractal details render in her head all at once: the shape of a shattered bone jutting through skin.
She drops it into the sink and watches the ink blur into the water, and sighs.
The next one is on the corridor wall, and it's a full page in hard pencil, pressed hard until the paper has worn thin, and it's the morning after a war. The sun peeps over a blurred horizon, a ground soaked with dark graphite, and the bodies aren't all human, but Martha's brain has been trained the right way: she knows how a living body is supposed to be, how it functions and how it fights, how it simply, cleanly, lives, even when it never appeared in any of her textbooks. She understands limbs at strange angles, low hanging smoke, and shadowed with care and precision, closed eyes.
She pulls it down and lets it drop to the floor, but thinks better of it. Picking it up, she puts it in her pocket, and moves on.
On the console, in broad, dark graphic strokes, impression rather than image, a sun is going nova. It's growing, flaring, tides of rising dark held back only by the edges of the paper. Martha picks it up and inspects it more carefully, noting the tiny breaks in each line, tiny diagnostic signs of where a hand shook. And that's it again, of course, that's what she knows; her training is all about deviations from the baseline, bloodwork and bones traced through skin, through the contrasts of sickness and health, all to tell her what she knows and from it, what she doesn't know. And here, out in the silent millennia, a ship resting from space and time, she doesn't have labs and textbooks, but she has the instinct and the baseline, the sense that something is very, very wrong.
So she takes two determined strides, follows the breadcrumbs of paper and graphite, and goes to find the Doctor.
She asks him a question.
John Smith is dreaming again. He wakes up for only brief moments through the night, but it is these that seem for him the windows into timelessness – the seconds marked only by stillness, the quiet room in England beneath the slow-revolving winter stars – before the fall, back into the dream, the frenetic activity in shades of green, in amber, which themselves fade into the comfortable and the familiar, the blue-and-white daylight and the start of a school day.
He writes it all down before breakfast, scribbles, crosses out in just the haphazard way for which he scolds the boys, and closes the journal as the bells begin to ring.
This morning, he is teaching the youngest boys the first rudiments of their Latin grammar, and the rhythm of first conjugations rattles through his head like music, a song sung so many times that they linger in his head without conscious effort.
"I like this bit," he tells Nurse Redfern, clambering up the stairs with a pile of sheets. "They don't know it yet, but this is where it begins – a lifetime with Suetonius and Catullus, Pliny and Seneca. The glorious wisdom of ages theirs for the taking, and they begin this very morning."
She laughs. "Perhaps you'll have trouble convincing them to see it that way."
"Perhaps." He smiles, and holds up a hand. "Hark at that!"
She pauses by the landing banister and smiles again, more at him, he thinks randomly, than at what he says. Below them, the boys are singing, rounded choristers' voices rising up into the morning air. He knows from experience how the old building amplifies the sound, the stillness of the air carrying it across the countryside as distant strains of music falling from the sky. As they listen, the descant rises further, the youth of the singers evident in the purity of the pitch, and he knows as he listens that it's taking something of him with it, a lonely human soul high up into the clouds.
The music fades out, into the chatter and rushing footsteps as the boys file out, and it's a school day again. They stand together, watching the frantic activity below. One of the older boys calls for a fag, and Smith leans over the banister and snaps his fingers; it's time for lessons, and not, for once, for boot-polishing. But for the moment, they still have their quiet, above the tumult.
"I always think," he says slowly, "that there is something unearthly about human voices joined together like that. The great vox humana, literally speaking, of course. Till we have built Jerusalem, and the music won't let us rest until we have."
She laughs, gently. "You're late for your boys, Mr. Smith."
"What? Oh, yes, of course, I am." He starts down the stairs and something about the speed of the movement reminds him, however briefly, of the dream, but he forgets, stops, darts back. Impulsively, he kisses her, shifts his book under his arm and moves swiftly down the stairs as she proceeds decorously above. The classroom is dusty and dry like old scrolls, but the words drop from his lips with new, luscious understanding, amo, amas, amat, and this is the start of something new.
This is one of the few rooms in the TARDIS with a real exterior window. Martha's head for spatial mathematics has never been good, and the Doctor's bent for explanation never particularly good either, but she can see the shape of the police box in the square of light cast on the opposite wall. It's dim, as always. The stars, even taken all together as the united glow of a galaxy, are small candles, and they barely illuminate the Doctor's head, picking out only the glints in his hair, a sunset halo done in silver rather than gold. The electric lamp by his right hand casts a narrow beam on paper and pencils, strewn on the desk and on the floor, and no reflections reach his eyes. There is a long moment of silence.
"Leader of the British Labour Party from 1992 to 1994."
"What?" Martha snaps to attention at the sudden sound of his voice, weary but determinedly flippant.
The Doctor inclines his head to look at her. "You asked," he says tiredly, "who is John Smith. And I, naturally, presumed you were referring to real people who have borne that name, of whom the one mentioned is perhaps the most notable."
"You know that's not what I meant," she says, but perhaps the weariness is contagious; the silence stretches out, again, as she sits down next to him. The picture on the desk is half-finished; she recognises the shape of the landscape, a pencilled horizon, but the narrower scope is beyond her, still too like the white of the page.
"Can you tell what it is yet?" he says, faintly mocking, and she sighs.
"You're good," she says, because this, unlike so many things lately, is true. "You're really very good."
He smiles, faintly. "Thank you."
"But," she continues, in the same tone, "you're crazy."
He smiles again. "Thank you."
"It wasn't a compliment, Doctor." She's not sure what to do with him; she's never been sure. She reaches out and takes his hand, thinking about humanity and what makes it, if it's weakness or there's more to being human than the Doctor will admit. "When did you last sleep?"
"I'm not like you." He looks up at her, partly hidden by the dimness in the room. "I don't need to sleep my life away. A third of your life, asleep? How pitifully, typically human."
She frowns. "I did three years pre-clinical and two on the wards," she says slowly, "and on a good day I can even tie my own shoelaces. It would be against my Hippocratic Oath to knock you on the head, but I haven't taken it yet."
He laughs, and there's something real in it, something that isn't too warm, too bright, like his body and his eyes; something less brittle than before. "What do you want me to do?" he asks, and he's as close as he gets to gentle.
"You could tell me about these." She pulls out the pictures and unfolds them carefully, removing the creases. The Doctor's hands are stark white as he takes them from her, and for an instant she sees him clutching a pencil like a lifeline, drawing, not by touch, not by sight, but by future memory so an image forms as if it were there in the page all the time, waiting for him to erase the white. She wonders, vaguely, if she's taken his gift, become more than human so his memories are slipping and blurring into her own. "Why, why are you doing this?"
He shrugs. "Insomnia."
She smiles to herself, wryly, remembering him as he was, human and with the strength of a human, and now the Doctor, strong in all the wrong ways. She knows when he's lying, and knows she loves him too much to say.
John Smith has gone back to a place he's never been.
In the dream, he's standing so far above a world that he can see the curve of its surface, the patterns of its coastlines, the drifting wakes of its oceans. He's seen illustrations of the Earth as it must look from space, a glorious flattened sphere, carrying the human race through a galaxy of wonders, and this is what it must look like, with its serenity, its distant, holy beauty. It makes him smile, but there's a curious dissonance in the thought; if he had a mirror, he knows he would see that the smile doesn't reach his eyes, and that makes no sense.
The change comes without warning, and at first it's only a feeling, a bone-deep intuition that something in the universe is shifting, that great forces are coming together and then suddenly, devastatingly apart, and he doesn't hear anything except the steady beat of waves many thousands of miles below. And that, too, doesn't make sense; he knows this isn't right, that he shouldn't be able to know the shape of the land, know when each wave breaks on the rocks beyond the empty gulf of space.
The waters are rising, he realises; there's a silence coming. Inside his head he can feel himself as a part of something greater, a node on a network that is built on tradition and history, worn and old, but spun with shining threads and with love. It comes apart with one jerk, unravels and reels into and out of time, disperses into loose strands, into nothing. It hurts, and he's never felt anything like it. Dazedly, he wonders if this is what being born feels like, being wrapped and ripped from organic safety and thrust out into the cold. Distantly, he hears voices, and they all cry blame.
The breaks in the lines of the world are building, cracks snaking across the fabric of reality, and they spread through the land below, through the ocean – water can't crack, he thinks, a world can't break – and through into his head, and the voices rise, become a synchronous symphony of cries and fear, clear knowledge of the coming destruction; and then death upon death so the chorus fades like a canon, and the last voice makes a last choice, to lie on a fading shore, and listen to the waves take the last life away.
The realisation goes with it, and he doesn't understand, doesn't remember what he's done, and why he's done it won't fit the shape of his head, and in the darkness, all is quiet upon the face of the void. Just the clarity of a final soprano, carrying upwards into the universe, becoming nothing, and nothingness inside.
He wakes up all at once, eyes snapping open to the moonlit room, strange slivers of moonlight cutting sharp patterns across the pages on his desk, across the polished surface of the floor. It's cold against his bare feet as he walks quickly, swiftly to the window, arms wrapped around himself to keep in heat, keep in the last warmth of a human body in a world smashed into inanimate dust.
It's only there, by the drawn curtains, that the real world comes back, and he listens to his own breathing, slowing down against the low background of voices. The first of the servants are stirring in the freezing winter dawn, making small human noises that carry though the stones. He's calm, he decides; a glance at the clock on the table tells him he can go back to sleep for an hour before there's any pressing need to be up. More Latin, this morning – more of Pliny the Elder dying on the Campania shore.
But it takes him time to move from the window, away from the silver-black vista of the countryside by night, the moon sinking to the horizon in its familiar course of everyday beauty. Above him the stars shine on, in the same patterns he knew as a child, making the slow night whirl around the North Star as they have done every night he's ever known.
It's so quiet, and he still can't move. He sits on the windowsill, with pencil and paper, and sketches the world as he knows it, the stars, the shadows of trees beyond the glass, the glimmers of the rising sun, and lets the morning fill the silence.
"You know what?" Martha says, suddenly. "If you want to be like that, be like that. I don't fall for it with my family, my patients, and I'm not falling for it with you. If you want to talk, talk. If you don't, you can bloody well keep yourself company." She pauses, balancing on the balls of her feet. "And keep out of my room!"
"Martha," he says softly, but she doesn't answer, and his eyes drop to the page. He's always ended up with women like her, in the end; the ones who come, startled, into his world of cold, galactic wonders, and find in him the blood and dirt, the earthy life they spring from, cast him as a wanderer but find the last of the homeland in him.
He's found it himself, recently. When he looks up, her heels have tapped their way to the door but she's still there, staring down at him with the intensity of a whole soul. "Doctor," she says. "Are you going to tell me why you're doing this?"
He shakes his head, because he can't tell her.
With each stroke of the pencil, the Doctor gives shape to the intangible, creates out of clay like some latter-day god. His memories are his own, now, but no one else's – a head full of dazed dreams to plaster on paper as the record of things that never happened, that never will, but given reality all the same, given a form to touch and smudge with shaking fingers, and that's something for now. The Time Lords are too much to carry in one mind, ruling, transcending and at last, disappearing from history, and he needs the grain and weight of paper, the reassurance, the thing.
With each stroke of the pencil, the Doctor wants the same thing for himself: to exist apart from the weight and breadth of that history, to be part of not millennia but days and nights and hours. To be loved, to be used and adored and abused so his skin bears the marks of possession, body held and consecrated within the lines of time. To be made real, and he's remembering, in a human's dreams, how to put perspective's shadow beneath a line.
If he asked her, Martha would know about the psychology of self-destruction. It's an old thing, a very human trope made less so by their science, their careful objectivity, and she loves him enough to know there's something rotten here, an old wrong in his acts of creation. But she loves him as he loves fire and flame and the heart of darkness, as you would love the beauty in destruction; not as Joan did, as a man who was clumsy and affectionate, arrogant and idealistic, who loved and could love, not forever, but for a long time.
And to take her with him is one thing, but to let him take her, inside body and mind, a creature of the dark, is another. So he lets her go, leave him in this room illuminated by the past, the stars thousands of light years distant so if the universe went dark right now he'd never know, and with each flick of the pencil, he becomes a part of the shadows between the lines, disappears between them unknown, unread.
"Fine. Be like that."
He jerks forwards, startled. "I'm sorry."
But when she reaches the door, she's smiling, almost, and he remembers a side effect of a short human lifespan – the way they quickly, easily, forgive. "You know where I am, if you need me."
She leaves him, and he remembers, inconsequently, a world in the Western Spiral Arm with hot, wet summers and the dim, blood-red sunsets where the people would dance; he remembers humid cities and livid light, he remembers seeing Gallifrey's sky reflected in alien eyes, the same shade of burnt orange but parsecs distant and light years into another life.
"Yes," the Doctor says aloud. "Yes, I do."
Once she's gone, he reaches for a new sheet of paper, and a new pencil.
In the end, this is how it happens. John Smith sits down in a corner of an English farmhouse, hands and face covered in scratches, blood, saltwater, and he looks at a tiny, unremarkable fob watch, and he doesn't look at his lover.
When he opens it he hears water. Just the roar of the ocean in a shell, from holidays in childhood, mussel shells from Whitby and conches from the lake shores at Windermere, brought up into the high country by the forces of ancient seas. It makes him smile a little, but he was there, too, when the first sediments were laid; he was there with the coming of the water, with the rise of life on the plains. Nottingham is a northern town, with greenery coming up between the slates, and brick and cave hiding-places where the children play, and there are fish in the River Trent. He remembers it, because he was old then; he was old before the house he was born in, before the town, before humanity, before their world coalesced out of the galactic fires; before the beginning and after the end, and he grew up in a quiet county town, and read Greats at Oxford, and he remembers.
And he remembers the end of the world, and he remembers catechism and Orpheus, and he remembers dying, over and over and over again, in fire and poison and fear and blood, and Gallifrey becomes rocks and dust in his ears, behind his eyes, and the world around shifts into neat, navy-blue monochrome, planet Earth at night. It is after all, his very most favourite planet.
Joan is still watching him: she's looking at him with fear, vivid, starkly apparent to all his senses, with compassion, tempered by the branches beyond the glass, their shifting shadows softly cast across her face, and with love. He knows it, but he can't remember why it matters.
"Doctor," Martha says, a word dropped into the silence like an anchor for the nameless, and you don't name a thing if it's never to be spoken of again.
The Doctor looks up. The end of the world has already happened, and he smiles at them both before he heads out into the dark.
"You know," the Doctor says suddenly, "drawing doesn't come naturally to Time Lords."
"That's it?" Martha demands. "That's all you've got to tell me?"
He nods, and she represses the urge to shake him. She's back here in the dark, because she's always been terrible at storming out. She got to her room, took another look at the explosion of colour stuck to the bathroom mirror, bizarre still life of jagged lines and ballpoint bloodstains, and changed her mind. It's not him, of course. She knows it isn't the Doctor who makes this so different and difficult, but she, herself; she whose life and vocation are, in the end, all about not letting people go crazy in the dark.
Or at least, if they must – not alone.
Now, she's curled up on a chair, watching his pencil flick slowly, stroke by stroke, across a grainy white page. His fingertips, she notices, are stained silver-black by the graphite, and she wonders why her attention lingers on the detail.
"It's a talent like any other, like it is with you." The Doctor pauses, leans back in his chair. His eyes are wide, bright and still. "Some humans can draw and some can't."
"I can't," Martha says, smiling slightly; he's talking, and she'll take anything over silence. "But I'm great at anatomically correct stick figures."
He smiles back, warily, and picks up the pencil. "It's the same. Some Time Lords can draw, some can't. I can."
Martha frowns. "Is this just you telling me how fab you are, or..."
The smile fades, and his eyes have fallen into shadow, but Martha is noticing the way the starlight, soft white and arctic, picks out the glints in the Doctor's hair, the hard pencil shine on the page. He holds up both hands. "No, I was just..."
A pause, and he goes back to the drawing. There's a rubber sitting on the table edge, and he reaches for it, removes a line, draws it back in. Something eases in Martha's head with it, and it's making a mistake, she decides, making a mistake with blunt pencil and smudged fingers, that grounds him in time, a person and not a god.
"I was just saying," he says again. "Just saying. Well. Never mind that, now."
She understands, she thinks, a little. "You were once a person, weren't you," she says, and it isn't a question. "You weren't always the last of the Time Lords. Once you were just – a person."
"Never just anything." There's a twist of good humour in that comment, and Martha grins. "I wasn't ever just anything."
"And then," – she's thinking on her feet, out loud, because it's her job – "you were that again, and you didn't have to save the whole world, you could just – save a bit of it at a time. And he was you and you were him, and now you're not. But I know you – you like Shakespeare and Janis Joplin, you don't like cucumber, you get twitchy when you haven't had enough sleep, you're still a person."
He doesn't say anything, but there's still a feeling of ease in the room, a collective releasing of breath.
"I'm Martha Jones," she says clearly. "I'm a human being. I'm a medic, I grew up in London. I like vanilla ice cream and I can't draw. Your turn."
He smiles at her. "I grew up in a lot of places. I don't like ice cream unless it has bananas in it. I can draw. I'm not John Smith, he's in me, but he was somebody else. Somebody who didn't like Janis Joplin. I'm a Time Lord, and this" – he rotates the drawing – "is for you."
She sees herself beyond a pane of glass, the distance curiously embedded into the paper, perspective in pencil and careful, careful strokes. His eyes are in the reflection, dark and bare. "You can draw from life," she says, unnecessarily, but she means it; he can draw from within the timeline, without the inevitable death of all things; he can draw a simple image, two people safe in their own space, the universe in its course around them.
"Yes, I can," he says, and reaches for a new sheet of paper.
"So," she says softly, "where did you learn to draw, then?"
This child, the last scion of the Prydonian Chapter, has, as yet, no name: only his heritage, his nobility in his bones, and the seed of a new timeline, nascent and wonderful, waiting in his heart. He has Gallifrey, resplendent beneath the dawn sky, dust-scattered blue at the zenith and burnt orange at the rise of the suns, rolling fields of flowers rising into mountains, sunlight-striped and endless beyond the dome. He has soft curls and a soft-lead pencil and the soft, verdant grass beneath his feet.
Settled in the warmth, he begins to draw. His pencil scratches at first, then becomes smooth, sketching detail in broad strokes, curves like the flightpaths of the birds, cut paper shapes beyond the glass.
Many hours later, he wakes up in the cold. The warmth of the day is gone, and so is the ground; his hands reach out, grasp thin air, and the pencil drops silently into the dark.
"You ran away," says a voice near his head, with quiet, exasperated affection.
The child nods, aware of being carried through still air. He can feel the start of something, a twisted coil in a timeline, reaching for it in the place before sleep, letting it slip away. "I drew the birds."
Laughter, through shades of sleep and the rustle of paper. "You gave them beautiful wings, but no feet. They'll never land."
"They'll never need to."
He's falling asleep, but he's learning to see, the world and the universe falling before him like a spangled carpet rolling out, with stars to chase every second of the way, and he's learning to listen, to the wind and the water and the birds in the morning, to the voices of his people and their stars. In the dark, he feels their whispers, soft, comforting, the rustle of pages after dark, and sleeps.
There is no night out here, and no sunrise, but there is time, and Martha is familiar with the signs of nervous exhaustion, the curious phenomenon she was always unwilling to class as a disease when the doctors suffered from it too. She remembers trudging down the wards, tired in body but also in mind, tired of the injuries and illness, tired of being scared of the dark, and of the hurt. With time, it all comes crashing down, dropped pencil and dropped threads of the universe just the last things at the end of the fall.
But they're safe here. She's safe in her chair and he's safely slumped over the desk, and when he wakes up, they can go and save the world.
In the meantime she'll perhaps make some tea, and draw stick figures to amuse herself, and watch the stars and the Doctor, still, grounded in time, and asleep.