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go on, within the black night of the age

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January, 2009.

 

 

Martha lets out a harsh breath. Stops outside the door, straightens her pencil skirt. Smooths down her blouse.

'Come in.'

She plasters a smile onto her face, which feels hard and stiff until she remembers that she's faced things this man couldn't even imagine, and she feels the corners of her lips tug playfully. She opens the door, hand steady.

'Martha, take a seat,' says the Dean, gesturing across from his desk.

Martha does, keeping her lips pulled into that well-worn smile.

He peers at her, laying his hands on the desk. 'How are things?'

'Better,' says Martha, without hesitation, 'I'm ready to head back to study.'

'I understand you and your family…have, ah, had a very difficult time,' he says gravely, pouring false empathy into each word. 'In light of your prior academic achievements, however, and the praise you've received from your volunteer work over the break, the Faculty would be prepared to offer you another semester's deferral.'

Martha shakes her head adamantly. 'No, sir, I want to be back on wards.'

The Dean sighs again, looking at her directly. 'Are you sure? A hundred percent sure? Awful business, the assassination. And your family, caught up in all that?'

Face carefully schooled into a pleasant, professional mask, Martha nods. 'It was. But I'm ready to finish my degree.'

'Right, well, there are some practicalities,' begins the Dean, pulling out some carbon-copy forms. 'You'd be in the mid-year intake, you'll need to pass some clinical knowledge and skills tests before we clear you…I'd also like you to meet with the academic progress committee, as well as the student wellbeing counsellor.' He pulls out another letter. 'I have here the assessment from your psychologist, dated December 13th…'

 

*

 

It feels odd. The skirt, the baby-blue silk top, the stockings and heels.

Thick textbooks in her bag - Martha knows by rights, she ought to have earned her qualifications on the field. Instead it's more tutorials and lectures, surgeons asking impossibly specific questions, students bragging about the murmur on Mrs Coldwell in Room 3, attend the grand rounds - but only eat the pastries if invited by senior staff.

It's alright. It's only six months. And then fifth year exams, which she's been studying for in her time off, anyway.

'Martha?' comes a voice, drifting up through her room.

Martha shoves her wallet, phone into her bag, darting into the hallway. 'Mum? What is it?' She can't help rush, heels thundering to the living room.

Francine is there - okay, lucid, breathing normal. Just in her chair, idly staring at the morning news. Martha hasn't seen her do anything else in months. 'You'd better be careful. Don't go off with anyone, don't pry into anyone's business. And make sure you walk Tish in!'

Martha's learnt a lot of patience. 'Yeah, Mum, course I will. You need anything? Want me to drop in at lunch?'

'I'm fine,' scowls Francine, 'Just don't do anything silly.'

Martha grabs her keys from the bench. 'I won't. I'll call you later, yeah?'

'Your Dad's coming round at three to take me shopping. And be careful,' Francine mutters once more, flicking at the TV remote.

'Love you,' Martha says, darting back to give her a quick kiss. Francine softens, her breath coming out in a tight exhale. 'Love you too,' she says.

 

*

 

'Was it fifty-three or sixty-three, Tish?' Martha asks, head turned the other direction - she's trying to pull into the right lane.

'Um,' says Tish, re-opening a crumpled letter, 'It's sixty-three, yeah, supposed to be just past the WHSmith. On the right.'

Martha squints out the window. 'Oh, yeah, sorry. Just passed it, hold on.'

She swings the car around in a quick U-turn, crossing another lane to pull up to the kerb. The building is imposing, all granite and glass, people milling about. Martha winks at Tish. 'You'll be great. Don't worry, these UNIT guys will take good care of you - and they know everything, so just shout.'

Tish stares at her feet. 'I know.' She doesn't move.

The silence stretches impossibly, and finally Martha shifts the car into park and stops the engine. Eight forty-five — she's going to be late for the handover.

Martha puts an arm around her sister. 'You okay?'

'Yeah, yeah, I'm just,' Tish nods, but her eyes are filling. 'What if someone…even just little things, they don't even mean it, but what if I freak out?'

'We get through it just like always,' Martha says, voice calm and gentle. 'Take out your action plan, follow the instructions. Call me. I can always pop out if you need. Let your supervisor know when you're ready, they're here for you, just like I am. They know how much you've done for everyone.'

At this, Tish bursts into tears, crumpling the job letter in her hands. 'I helped him, Martha! You have no idea, you were down there, you don't know what I did…'

Martha pulls her into her arms. She lets Tish cry. 'It's okay, sweetheart.'

Tish is bawling, grabbing Martha's suit jacket, mascara bleeding onto her blouse. 'They d-died, they…' she sobs, 'so many people, and I didn't…I just did…'

'It's okay,' Martha says again, rubbing circles against her back.

'What he said,' Tish blurts out, biting her lip. She clamps down on it furiously, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes, pushing Martha's arms away.

No matter how many times she says it, she doesn't mean it any less. 'I'm sorry, Tish.'

'Me too,' Tish says, the tears slowing almost as quickly as they started. They've left her face red, her nose running. 'I'm going to go.'

'Tish, you don't have to,' Martha says, 'There's time. Wanna just sit?'

Tish shakes her head, opening her door. 'I need to do this. Bye, Martha.'

 

*

 

'Late, Martha!' yells the consultant on-call, 'I'm only letting it slide because it's your first day, hurry up!'

Martha calls out a 'Sorry!' and shoves her bag in a locker, digging around for her steth, looping it around her neck. ID card - check, pager - check—

Her hand goes to her neck, and she panics, because it's gone, until she realises she gave her key back long ago.

No perception filter. It's not a camp, not a factory. Just a hospital.

She rushes into a room, ducking under a privacy screen to where a group of fellow classmates - she squints at them, they'd been the year below her, hadn't they - crowd around a bed.

'Ah, Martha Jones,' says the registrar, 'I'm Dr. Matthews, from orthopaedics. We've got Mrs. Elaine Johnson, sixty-six years old, hurt herself gardening.'

'Right,' says Martha, taking a glance at the woman - breathing normal, a bit pale and sweaty, no cyanosis. 'Sorry I'm late.'

Matthews folds up her sheet, exposing a nasty-looking laceration to the anterior thigh. Martha can see it goes down to the muscle, and yes, her leg is turned at an awkward angle. 'Want to tell Miss Jones what happened?'

The lady opens her mouth, speaking as if she can't feel any pain. 'Well, it was quite a nice day, and I thought I might head out into the garden. You know, do some weeding, re-plant the herbs…'

'Tell Miss Jones how you hurt yourself,' Matthews insists, moving to her feet, checking her posterior tibial pulse.

'Oh, well, I was carrying some big pots,' Mrs Johnson says, lifting a cannulated hand to demonstrate, 'You know, heavy terracotta ones. And I started to feel a bit dizzy, thought I'd better put it down - next thing I know, I'm on the ground bleeding, awful, just awful. You're a nice young lady, I won't give you the gory details.' She gestures at her leg.

Martha takes a deep, steadying breath.

'What are your immediate concerns?' asks Matthews, 'Go through each system.'

'Er,' Martha says, 'Cardiovascular, I'm worried about her fluid status, a little worried about what caused her to collapse…her breathing looks good, her heart rate is,' Martha's eyes flick up to the monitor, 'Fine, little bit high. Don't know how much blood she's lost.'

'Keep going,' says Matthews.

'Musculoskeletal, doesn't look like any major vessels have been hit,' Martha stammers, the words coming out a little too fast to be completely calm, 'Looks like a dislocation as well, she won't be able to walk, I'll see if we can arrange some sort of transport - best put a tourniquet on in case it bleeds, we should probably try conserve our fluid bags, unless she…unless…'

They're staring at her.

'Sorry,' Martha says, a practiced awkward smile, 'Don't know what I was talking about, bit nervous…uh, right. Sorry. Looks like a dislocation, we should do some imaging before we think about sewing it up.'

Matthews cocks an eyebrow at her. 'Perfectly alright, though obviously, we're not in a war zone. Now. What's the most likely cause of her collapse?'

Martha feels her phone buzz in her pocket. 'I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, I have to take this—'

She runs out of the room.

 

*

 

'Thanks, Colonel,' Martha sighs, slumped against one of the corridors. 'I really appreciate it, she'll be okay. Just give her something to drink and some time. Yeah, it means a lot to us. Keep me updated.'

She slides the phone shut, fighting back tears. Dials her mum.

'Yes? Yes, what is it?'

'Mum, it's me,' says Martha, steadying her breaths. 'How are you doing?'

'Fine.'

'Tish is doing great today,' Martha tries, 'The UNIT people are doing a good job looking after her.'

'Don't speak on the phone like that! You know very well what sort of trouble you might get her into!'

'Mum,' Martha pleads, 'Mum, it's okay, you don't have to…'

'Just do as I say, for once, would you?'

'Okay. Has Dad come for the shopping?'

'I'll tell you when you get home. Bye, Martha.'

 

*

 

Martha leaves the hospital at lunch break. She sits in the middle of the square, staring up at the sky.

She feels utterly vulnerable. She clutches at her neck out of habit, reads the emergency codes on her lanyard for the five hundredth time.

She opens her phone, and hovers over the Doctor's number.

The cursor stays on the entry for the rest of her break.

 

March, 2009.

 

 

Fifty-three percent. Fifty-three.

She's never had a mark so low in her entire life. Not even when she showed up half-hungover to her first-year midsems.

'You should be very pleased with yourself,' says her tutor, a gen med registrar. 'I know it's your first term back.'

'Yeah,' says Martha, and then, like a broken record, she clutches her buzzing phone. 'Sorry, I've got to take this.'

 

*

 

'Martha!'

'Mum?' Martha calls over her shoulder, holding her finger on the textbook index. 'You okay?'

'Martha!'

Martha throws her pen down to mark her place, and darts into the living room.

The TV is on - the news stories have all but died down, now, but there's never any guarantee.

'The royal enquiry into the election of former Prime Minister Saxon continues into its eighth month, and as the House of Commons looks to an election, high-ranking officials are asking for greater transparency in the investigation…'


They've got a great little graphic. Him and his wife, a US flag, a polling booth. Still that same smile - it makes Martha a little sick. She crouches in front of her mum, blocking the view. 'It's okay, mum. C'mon. Let's just make some tea.'

'An enquiry,' she spits, covering up the shake in her hands and voice with anger. 'As if they'd care, as if they'd ever even want to know…'

'I know, mum,' Martha says. 'It's shit.' Because what else is there to say? 'But we have to keep going, or he wins.'

Francine grabs the arm of her chair, turning away. 'I don't know how many times I've tried to talk to them, the…the Commission, the idiots at UNIT! There are people who survived, who remember, who worked for him. They're out there, Martha, war criminals, in Westminster!'

'UNIT only has as much say as Britain will let them,' Martha says, 'I met a lot of people that year, working for him. They weren't there by choice.'

'They're still in our government,' Francine snaps, 'Worse than Nazis. How are any of us supposed to be safe? And then he just swans off, leaving us to clean up his mess…'

'That's not true,' says Martha, but her heart's not in it. 'He has his reasons, he can't…can't go around, dragging people to the Hague.'

'Really?' Francine jumps up, suddenly, heading for the kitchen. 'Just drags you around, then? I was there that whole year, you know. Didn't see any tears shed over you.'

'Mum,' Martha bellows. With no response, she thunders back to her room - turns out she hasn't learnt enough patience. But if she's throwing knives, the worst of it is over, and Martha doesn't trust herself not to throw any back.

 

*

 

'Hi,' Martha says, covering the mouthpiece. Even from the other end of the house, the sobbing is loud enough to carry. 'Can you put me through to the gen med registrar? Yeah, Steven Richter.'

She taps her foot, waiting for the call to connect.

'Oh, hi, it's Martha. Yeah, that's right,' she says, smiling broadly as if it'll carry by force alone. 'I won't be able to make it in today. Yep, I know, case presentation - can I reschedule it for next week?'

She bites her lip. 'Right. Are you sure? I mean, I've spoken with the Dean…Right. Okay. I'll bring you the paperwork next Monday. Thanks, Dr. Richter. Appreciate it. Okay, bye.'

Martha closes her phone, and sighs. A stack of journal articles sits on her desk, highlighted and annotated. She puts down her bag, and returns to her mum's room.

Francine is curled on a chair, crying, her eyes far away. Martha takes the comforter off the bed and lays it over her shoulders, pulling up a footstool to sit next to her. 'S'okay, Mum. I'm here.'

Her lip trembles, and she pulls the covers tight around her. 'I’m sorry. '

Martha takes her hand, gently stroking it. 'Nah, you've got nothing to be sorry about. You're the one who's feeling unwell.'

She panics, briefly, but Martha watches her as she breathes through the anxiety, grips her chair, feels the fabric. Grounds herself in reality. 'What about you?' she chokes out, unable to meet Martha's eyes. She doesn't withdraw her hand.

Martha shakes her head. 'Everything's okay. Just breathe, nice and slow. Yeah.'

 

*

 

'Two lattes, one cap, a skinny mocha, and a soy cap,' Martha reels off, 'Oh, and one of those lattes, can you add an extra shot with two sugars?'

The cashier scribbles it down. 'A skinny cap…?'

'Skinny mocha, soy cap - oh, yeah, and the other cappuccino with full cream,' Martha adds, squinting at the order. 'Yeah, that's right.'

'Sixteen eighty,' nods the cashier, holding out their hand. Martha deposits the correct change, scrounged together in more silver coins than notes by her peers.

She waits, checking the time, but she has ten minutes. The coffees don't take long - she balances them on one hand, checking her phone with the other. All's well.

The smell drifts through the wards, half-delicious and half-nauseating. Martha rushes, she doesn't need to, but being early makes a good impression. Of course, when she gets into the meeting room, most of her tutorial group are already there.

'Okay,' Martha says, 'This one's the soy milk…and this one's got the extra sugar.'

Only one of them says thanks, but that's normal. 'Hey, I didn't see you at presentations last week,' says Jane, a student a couple years younger than her. Maybe three, depending on how old Martha's supposed to be now. 'You okay?'

'Oh, I'm fine,' Martha says, grinning. 'Just some drama at home, the usual.'

Jane narrows her eyes, leaning in. 'I heard…um, I heard that your family was part of all that Saxon business last year.'

'Yeah,' Martha says, clenching her hand under the table. 'Wasn't so great.'

'What happened?' Jane asks, voice hushed. 'Were the aliens real? Was it some sort of MI6 thing?'

'Uh, not exactly,' Martha says, wishing the Earth would swallow her whole. 'I don't really know.'

'Oh my God, you're the girl who was on the news, aren't you! You were wanted, it was some…' Jane snaps her fingers, 'Some kind of political scandal thing, wasn't it?'

'I don't really want to talk about it,' Martha says, thinking that whether she was interned in the work camps, or running from the Decimation, Jane would never have survived. She shouldn't be alive.

'Oh,' Jane says, a quick gasp. 'Sorry. I don't mean to pry. Anyway, are you okay?'

 

 

April, 2009.

 

 

 

'Martha, please take a seat,' the Dean greets her, pulling up one of the chairs permanently opposite his desk.

'Hi,' Martha says, placing her hands in her lap. 'So, what did you want to talk to me about?'

He stares across at her, that unnerving, false stare. Martha can't stand it, can't stand people who fake concern. 'How are you?'

'I'm really good,' Martha says brightly. 'What's up?'

'And your family…?' he continues, ignoring her.

Martha grits her teeth. 'They're doing well, yeah. Tish is working for the UN, now.'

'I'm very pleased to hear that,' he smiles. 'I've asked you in today because I just wanted to discuss your studies with you. You've stopped meeting with the academic progress committee, is that correct?'

'Yeah,' Martha says, 'I only went a couple of times.'

'Right. Haven't been using the counsellor?' he prods.

Martha crosses her legs, opening her mouth, then thinking better of herself. 'I'm not really sure they'd be much help to me.'

The Dean sighs deeply, swinging around his computer screen. 'Your attendance has dropped significantly. I'm not sure if we can pass you, based on that, but your marks are also borderline at this point.'

A sick feeling seeps into Martha's stomach. 'I know, yeah, it's just a bit tricky to juggle things. I'm trying my best, and I'm confident about the exams.'

'I think it might not be wise to sit your final exam this year,' the Dean says gently. 'I'd rather you took some more time off and came back with a fresh mind than do poorly.'

Martha's eyebrows shoot up into her head. 'I'm not going to fail! I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, and getting assignments in by the due date, or…or presentations, at some specific date you only warn me about a few days in advance, what do you expect! I do the work. Have you spoken to Colonel Mace?'

'Look - I don't know, precisely, what your circumstances are,' the Dean snaps, his veneer falling away. 'But you don't get special treatment, no matter how many friends in high places you have. Show up to your classes. Hand things in on time. Unless you perform satisfactorily this rotation, I can't let you sit for your finals.'

 

*

 

'Martha?'

Despite herself, Martha grins broadly into her phone. 'Oh my God, is that really you?'

'What, don't I sound handsome enough?'

'I've missed you so much,' Martha chides, 'Seriously, how are you?'

'Oh, same old, same old. Rift's been busy lately, but the team are doing great. Really, you should meet them.'

'I'd love to,' Martha says, 'Maybe in the holidays.'

'Can't convince you to come down? Just a day trip? It's Wales, not China.'

Martha snorts. 'I think I know, Jack. Even with a car, it's bloody far, and the Faculty's on my ass anyway.'

'Want me to have a word with them?'

'Nah. I just have to get through this year, and then I'm qualified, and it's all done,' Martha sighs, a mantra she's repeated more than once.

'You're almost there, Martha. Bet he'd be so proud of you!'

'Yeah. Maybe, but it's not like he's coming to my graduation, is he?'

'Well, I'll come. I'll strip and run across the stage, if it makes you feel better.'

Martha laughs; the first good laugh she's had in too long. 'Anyway, so shall I see you in the summer? You could show me how the place runs.'

Jack's voice hesitates. 'Well…actually, I kind of need your help.'

'What?' says Martha, 'Now?'

'Some really odd deaths. My medic, Owen, he's stumped - well, he has an idea, but…either way, I thought you could take a look.'

And it's tempting. It's so tempting, to quit, to run off with Torchwood - good pay, people who understand who she is, who she doesn't have to constantly prove herself to, who assume she's a hero instead of a dropout—

Martha remembers when just her name was enough to get her through any door, into any home, with a reverence she felt she'd never earn.

— 'I can't, Jack. I really can't afford more time off. Is it an emergency?'

'Don't worry, I'll let you know if it's gonna end up as one. Everything's okay. You do what you have to do, Martha Jones. There's always a home for you at Torchwood if you change your mind.'

 

*

 

Eight-thirty - not that late, but Martha's exhausted. To be fair, she's been up since four. The days are getting longer, but the sun has set, and between the pleasantly balmy night and the glare of lights through her windshield, she wants to sleep.

Two chapters of Harrison's, before her renal tute tomorrow. Then sleep.

She pulls the car up outside UNIT's office, leaving her hazard lights on. Quickly checking her phone, Martha steps out into the night, fighting a yawn.

'Martha Jones,' she tells the secretary, 'I'm here to pick up my sister? Letitia?'

'Oh,' he says, 'You're up on level four. Just take the first set of lifts, the others don't stop till level sixteen.'

Martha does as she's told, her hands growing clammy, whether from nervousness or exhaustion, she doesn't know anymore. A security guard greets her at her floor. 'Miss Jones?'

'Yup,' Martha says, 'Is Tish okay?'

'Colonel Mace wants to speak with you, first,' he says, gesturing to an office.

She walks in, finding both the Colonel and her sister, face red and swollen with tears. 'Oh my God,' Martha says, 'What happened?'

Colonel Mace pulls up a chair. 'I'm so sorry, Martha, but we've had to let Tish go.'

'What do you mean, let her go?' she growls, shrugging her bag onto the floor. 'Go where?'

'We can't keep her on here,' he says, 'It might be better if we speak in private.'

'Whatever you say to me, you can say to her as well,' Martha insists.

'Please,' mumbles Tish, 'I just want to go home, Martha.'

Martha crosses her arms. 'Why are you firing her?'

'There was an incident with a member of our staff,' the Colonel begins, clearing his throat. 'You don't have to worry.'

'What incident?’ Her voice comes out a little harsher than she intends. She's tired and they promised, they gave her their word they'd take care of her.

'Martha, please,' Tish says, her voice so soft, she barely hears it.

'It’s unlikely he'll press any charges, but we do have to make some kind of gesture. I’m sure you understand, under the circumstances.'

Martha's jaw drops. 'Charges? No, I really don't understand.'

Tish cries into her hands. 'Please, can we just go home?'

The Colonel bites his lip. 'I'll call you tomorrow, Martha. Let me see what we can do.'

 

*

 

They sit in the car, parked at the back of a large Tesco's. The lot is almost empty, the car off, and Tish is laying sprawled across the front seats with her head in Martha's lap.

'Nobody blames you, Tish,' Martha murmurs, running her hand through Tish's hair.

Tish curls up, burying her face in Martha's legs. Her voice comes out muffled. 'Thought he wanted it. Thought'd like me then.'

Martha sighs. 'Course they liked you.'

'Kept screwing up,' Tish whimpers.

'Sssh. Do you wanna go home?'

Tish shakes her head, violently. 'Can't do it. What'm I s'posed to tell mum?'

'She won't mind,' Martha says. 'She loves you, you know. She just…it's easier for her to be angry.'

'Yeah,' Tish says, glumly. 'I want to die.'

Martha suddenly feels wide awake. 'What did you say?'

'Want to die,' she repeats.

'C'mon, Tish, you don't mean that,' Martha says. Carefully. 'Why do you want something like that?'

Tish curls up tighter, her legs half-way across the centre console. ''Cause I'm as bad as him, now.'

Martha wants to shake her, slap her until she sees sense, but instead she hugs her fiercely. 'No. You're not. You made a mistake, you were just doing what you thought you had to. Doing what you had to, to survive, Tish.'

Crying, again, Tish sobs, 'He said no, he was saying it, and it was like I couldn't…I just went…'

'Blank?' suggests Martha.

'Automatic,' Tish nods.

'Me too,' sighs Martha. 'But that does not make you the same.'

Tish cries, quietly and hopelessly, for a while.

 

'Will it always be like this?'

'Sorry?' Martha says, jolting up, not even realising she'd been dozing.

Tish sits up, rubbing her cheek where Martha's belt had creased it. Makeup is smeared across her face. 'Will it always be like this?'

Martha gently prods her shoulder. 'Nah. After all, Mum still hasn't met Dad's new new girlfriend.'

Tish laughs, then hiccups, then laughs again. 'Can't believe that, you know.'

With a cheeky smile, Martha switches the ignition on. 'Yeah, you know what, I still think you dreamed up all those stories about them making up…'

 

 

July, 2009.

 

 

 

Martha's head is aching, her wrist cramping and fingers shaking. She's left more questions blank than she's answered - five minutes, not enough time, just find some easy marks.

She flicks through her exam paper, scribbling a dot point where she can, tallying up the marks she knows she's scored. It isn't enough. Her heart pounds, and fifty…fifty two…damn it, she's lost her count, damn it!

The announcement comes far too quickly, and Martha lays her pen down. Done. She's finally done.

She doesn't feel done.

 

*

 

Sixty-four. Her final mark - not great, not terrible, but worse than she was ever supposed to achieve. Before she'd met the Doctor, she would be ashamed.

Martha still finds it in herself to be proud.

She just hopes the foundation programme will give her an offer.

 

 

 

August, 2009.

 

Her matches have come out. Tish, Francine, Clive, and Leo crowd around her, the webpage loading. They're clapping her on the back, excited, but Martha's stomach is sinking.

She already knows before she loads the page she hasn't got in. It still hurts, reading the words.

Unfortunately, many fully eligible graduates have been unable to receive a place for 2010, due to the programme being heavily oversubscribed…

'It's okay, Martha,' Tish says, 'Screw that.'

Martha takes a breath, and lets it out, slowly.

This decision is made based on the overall ranking achieved by pooling scores for the Educational Performance Measure, comprising academic performance and other educational achievements, and the results of the Situational Judgement Test…

'Do you really want to go back to another dumb hospital anyway?'

Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for the 2011 intake, as well as further study at their chosen educational institution, which will be considered as a portion of academic progress in future applications…

No. She really doesn't. She's walked the Earth, she's lived in safehouses and concentration camps, saved people across nations from disease and injury, let so many more die. (Because they were old, because there wasn't enough to go around, because she didn't have the skill, because they'd only be killed later.)

But she can't face the hospital. Can't cope with bureaucracy and bed shortages, and self-important surgeons who actually care about whether they're Mister or Doctor….

'Let's celebrate,' Martha says, a little smile playing about her lips.

 

 

September, 2009. 

 

 

Her mum makes it out for her graduation. Surrounded by family, she takes the trip to the hall like a champ, and if she struggles in the hall packed full of people, she doesn't show it. Jack is, as promised, also here.

Martha spends an age in her robes, clutching her mortarboard, sitting with a couple of nice students who'd been supportive of her. They chat excitedly about their placements - which hospital, who they're with, what specialty they want to train in. It doesn't get to her - she won't let it.

She takes her turn on the stage, dressed in a stunning ballgown she'd gifted herself shortly after finishing exams, and smiles benevolently at the Dean as she crosses the floor. She takes her degree, and damn it, she is proud, she doesn't care about honours or placements, she's done it.

 

*

 

'Colonel Mace!' Martha exclaims, picking up the phone. 'I'm doing great, yeah. Yep, Tish as well, and how's…oh, I'm so glad to hear that.'

He says something, and Martha has to mentally pause and rewind the conversation. 'Wait, sorry?'

She's heard it right.

'You…really?'

Martha feels a surge of joy bubbling up, forcing its way out of her in a laugh, in tears springing to her eyes, 'Yes! Yes, of course I'll take it, bloody hell! Training with UNIT? That's, yeah, that's perfect!'

The conversation keeps going - but Martha is on autopilot, dancing around her room, grinning so wildly her cheeks might fall off. She can't wait, can't wait to tell Mum, the family, her friends…

'I really, really can't thank you enough,' Martha says, finally, teary-eyed. 'This means everything to me.'

Colonel Mace pauses, as if he's about to think better of speaking. But she can almost hear the smirk in his voice. 'You came with an impeccable recommendation. He says congratulations, by the way.'

It's bittersweet. But the pain only lasts a moment.