Title: Real 1/1
"What's all this then?" John asked.
"Your first end of term here," said Joan, entering his study with Martha behind her. "That is, hopefully only your first."
"A cake!" said John, as Joan put the cake on his desk. "Why, I had no idea you were so domestic, Joan."
"Now you know I've been married before," Joan chided him. "Martha, would you serve please?"
"Yes, Matron," said Martha. "Let me get plates, and so forth."
"What are you working on?" Joan asked, moving to his side of the desk as he circled around to where she'd set the cake.
"My dream journal again," said John. "Things seem to be coming to an impossible climax. Oh, and I was in it last night."
Joan sat in John's chair where the journal was opened to the latest page. "I thought you were the Doctor."
"No, I was in it as me," John explained. He moved back to the side of the chair and pointed to a helmet-like drawing amidst today's writings. "I put this on as the Doctor, and the next thing I knew I was me."
"Well," said Joan, "either that's the most imaginative bit of all, or your dreams have just run out the end of your imagination."
"Here we are, sir, ma'am." Martha came in with plates, forks, napkins and a knife. "Shall I serve?"
"Thank you, Martha."
Martha began slicing the cake as Joan continued, "Why would the Doctor want to change into you? What does he have that you want?"
"He's lonely," said John, taking Joan's hand, "and I'm not."
"Martha," Joan interrupted, "you've brought three sets of dishes, not two."
"Yes, Matron," said Martha. She placed a plate of cake in front of Joan, then started slicing another.
"Martha, you're welcome, but you ought've asked first," said John.
"I was just thinking," said Martha, "how much I like the universe the Doctor comes from. Where people of intelligence and morality don't judge the worth of another person by the length of her tentacles, or the number of her eyes ... or the color of her skin." Having served John and cut a third piece of cake, she picked up the third plate, bowed, and left the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Tell me that's the last time she'll do anything like that!" Joan demanded.
"Of course it must be," said John, but he was confused. "And she must realize. She must know something. I wonder what? Hm. Anyway," he said, pulling himself back to a less unpleasant subject, "you know the Doctor was on the run from this Family of Blood lot. Maybe he wanted to disguise himself."
"John ..." Joan was looking again at the drawing of the helmet. "This piece of it ... it looks like your watch."
"What?" said John, pulling his watch out of his waistcoat pocket.
"Not that one. The one on your mantle."
"What watch on the mantle?"
"You say that every time the subject comes up." Joan had learned to dread the subject, but she wouldn't avoid it. "You don't remember it, then you say it's an heirloom, you change the subject, and the next time you don't remember it again. Martha noticed it was missing when Latimer 'borrowed' it before you noticed."
"Latimer stole my watch?"
"It was the cause for his dismissal! You remember how happy that made him."
"Of course I remember that."
"Go look. It's on the mantle."
"Go look. Now."
John stared at her, but she met his eyes and wouldn't back down. Finally he went to the mantle. "I don't see ... Oh, this old thing!" He picked up the watch Joan had been speaking of. "Heirloom, yes, that's all it is," he said. He waved it in the air as he spoke, then turned back to the mantle. "Been in the family forever." As he turned back to the mantle, Joan saw that he idly flipped the watch open. Joan had never seen him look inside before, though the face of the watch was drawn in the journal. This time he did.
There was a glow from the watchface, an orange glow. With John's back to her, Joan saw its nimbus around his head and shoulders. Joan stood slowly from the desk chair, her heart racing in fear, fear that of what the watch was doing to him. Not, she suddenly realized, because she didn't know what the watch was doing to him - but because she was afraid she did know.
The glow faded. John didn't move for a moment. But before Joan had steeled herself to move to him, he turned around. The expression on his face was different. The look in his eyes was different. His stance was different.
His soul, Joan knew, was different.
"John ...?" she asked.
"I'm the Doctor," he said.
"The Doctor," Joan repeated. She sank back into the chair.
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor. He had her pinned with the most penetrating gaze she'd ever seen from anyone. Perhaps it was because he saw how stunned she was that he spoke on, leaving her time to pull herself together. "It's all real, you see. The story in the Journal of Impossible Things. All terribly possible. The time travel. The man who changes his faces. That's me. The horrible monsters from the stars. The loyal companion. You really must forgive Martha, you know. She's from a hundred years in the future, and when she goes home she'll be taking her exams to become a doctor. You're a product of your time, but you're not half intelligent - I'm sure you'll work out the ramifications of that, when you have a chance.
"The terrible Family of Blood, they're real too. They'll all be dead now, like mayflies - that's why the watch was set to return my mind to me at this time. That's why John Smith -" Now he was looking anywhere in the room but at her. "- was set to look at the watchface today. -"
"Was this real?" Joan interrupted him. Now he looked back, with a bit of approval in his expression. She hadn't been expected to recover so quickly.
"John Smith was a lie," he said, "but what he felt was real. What you and John Smith felt for each other was the realest thing in the universe. Never doubt that. The dance in the village, the walks in the forest of an evening, the anniversary cake - the universe turns on this thing. The one thing that I can never have."
"I've had my chance," said the Doctor. "Besides -" He nodded to the journal. "- You know. Planet gone. People gone."
"You could," Joan insisted, rising. "You could bring him back."
The Doctor's gaze turned inward a moment, regarding an idea that hadn't occurred to him. But only for an instant. Then, all of a sudden, his eyes closed off entirely, nothing at all visible behind cold walls. "No," he said. "John Smith isn't real.
"And I don't deserve it." Abruptly he turned and left the room.
Joan turned to the desk. She picked up the journal and held it to her. Then she heard someone at the door. Martha was there, in an absurdly brightly-colored short jacket and trousers of faded blue. She held Joan's coat, and her own.
"I'm sorry," Martha said. "He left me instructions, for while he didn't know himself. What to do if the Family showed up, what to do if John Smith became badly sick or injured ... But he never considered, what to do if John Smith fell in love."
"He wouldn't," said Joan. "He thinks he doesn't deserve it. At the moment I'm not inclined to argue."
After a pregnant silence Martha offered, "I could walk you back to your rooms, if you like."
"No thank you." Keeping the journal, Joan went to Martha for her coat. "A doctor, are you?"
"Almost," said Martha, with a touch of reflexive defiance.
"And I just a nurse," Joan tried to laugh as Martha helped her coat on. "What you must think of me."
"Now, there's no such thing as 'just a nurse'," Martha objected. "You've worked as a nurse in hospitals, yeah? There's a job I don't know if I could do."
Joan chuckled, and shook her head. "You've spent the last three months scrubbing floors." She had her coat on now, and she and Martha stood facing each other. "Thank you."
"Take it easy on yourself for awhile," Martha said. "You've had your world turned upside down. I've been there."
But Joan had seen Martha's eyes - relief that the Doctor was back, and more than relief. "I think you're still there."
When Martha realized what Joan meant, she ducked. Then she looked up again. "I was never your rival you know. I love the Doctor, not John Smith."
Joan smiled sadly. "You deserve better."
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