She could see the fire before she could feel it. A red line across the black horizon, but it was coming from the east instead of the west, and she was pretty sure it was evening here. She was also pretty sure she was in the western hemisphere on the North American continent, but she hadn’t yet come in contact with anybody since her last jump, so she didn’t know for sure.
So she kept walking.
Walking toward the fire because either it meant life or it meant total destruction, and either way she needed to know. The red line became more than a line, and the heat and smoke began to whip toward her, pushed by the breeze. All she could smell was fire; it had been burning for a long time.
It was a city. A town, at least, and what couldn’t burn had been decimated. Martha stood on the outskirts for a long time, as close as she could get in the heat haze, and watched.
Some part of her itched to run away, keep moving, reminded her that this did not help her mission. The rest of her–she’d been walking nearly a year, and the world needed a witness. So Martha kept watching.
“Whoever you are,” she said eventually without looking around, without looking away from the fire, “you’d better come out. I’m not going to hurt you. I might be able to help you; I’m a doctor.”
“Not yet you’re not,” the other woman said. She’d been following Martha for a while, and now she seemed to melt out of the night, standing next to Martha. No wonder Martha hadn’t been able to see her before, either–she wore black jeans, black leather jacket, black Doc Martens, black gloves. Her hair was scraped back into a severe ponytail. In the light from the fire, Martha could see lines around her eyes and mouth. “You haven’t finished your course, let alone taken your exams.”
Martha shrugged. She looked again at the destroyed town. “Any survivors?”
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the woman shake her head.
“Where are we?”
“Ohio,” the other woman said. “On the Indiana border, near Richmond.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Same thing as you,” the woman said. “Trying to save lives.”
Martha finally turned to fully face her. “What’s your name?”
“Dorothy,” she said, studying Martha. “And you’re the famous Martha Jones, friend of the Doctor.”
“You’ve heard my story?”
Dorothy nodded. “I’ve heard of it,” she said. And then she leant forward and said in Martha’s ear, “And I know the Doctor.”
Martha jerked back. “You as well?” she asked in disbelief. “He bloody gets around, doesn’t he?”
Dorothy grinned, slung an arm around Martha’s shoulders, and turned them both away from the fire. “Geezer as old as him, what d’you expect?”
They walked until the fire was once again a thin red line on the horizon, and then they made camp. They were in farmland, or what had once been farmland; the fields were muddy and barren and most of the farmhouses abandoned or destroyed. She and Dorothy holed up in one of the abandoned houses, trying not to look too closely at the photographs and knickknacks, signs of a life no longer lived.
Dorothy shared her food, Martha her medical kit. The older woman had various scrapes and scratches, one particularly nasty, deep wound infected on her left forearm. Martha cleaned the wound, gave her some pills (supplies getting low), and began bandaging it.
Dorothy watched her work, and they sat together in silence on the rug next to the sofa, by mutual consent avoiding actually using the furniture. Under the leather jacket, the woman wore an old white t-shirt, the slogan so faded it was no longer readable. Martha found the ponytail a little disconcerting, but she didn’t mention it.
“How did you get here?” Martha asked. “Or were you already in the States when this happened?”
Dorothy shook her head. “I’ve got my own transportation. I’m not even supposed to be in this time period–”
Martha jerked up to frown at that. “You wha? You’ve got a time machine as well, have you?” She pulled away, releasing the gauze she was wrapping around Dorothy’s arm. “The Doctor said he was the only Time Lord. He said he and the Master were the only Time–”
Dorothy laid a hand over Martha’s arm. “They are,” she said. “Me, I’m just a poxy human like you. I’ve been around the block a few times, that’s all.”
Martha closed her eyes and sagged back against the foot of the sofa. She and Dorothy sat in silence for a minute or three, and then Dorothy rustled and slid her arm up and around Martha’s shoulders.
Martha thought about shying away, but Dorothy’s arm was warm and fit over her shoulders like a favorite coat she’d finally had to throw out last year when one of the sleeves ripped from wrist to elbow. Dorothy’s arm was warm, and Martha had been traveling alone among wary strangers for a long time.
“I–shit,” she said, squeezing her eyes tighter shut. “Sorry. I’ve been moving for a long time. I’m just tired.”
“We all are,” Dorothy said. Her voice was quiet, firm, and utterly matter-of-fact. “It’s been a long year.”
Martha opened her mouth to laugh, sobbed instead, and covered her mouth with her hand. “Shit,” she hissed behind her hand, and Dorothy laughed and kissed the side of her temple.
“Finish bandaging my arm,” she told Martha, pulling her hand away from her mouth, and Martha opened her eyes to look at the older woman, “and then we’ll get some sleep. I’m knackered.”
“Where’s your transport?” Martha asked later.
Martha had a blanket in her backpack; Dorothy, traveling with a much larger duffel slung over her shoulders, had brought both a sleeping bag and a couple extra blankets. She’d insisted on pooling their resources together on the master bedroom floor, the only room with enough space for them to lie down together without shoving furniture around. They laid next to each other in a pile of blankets, on top of the unzipped sleeping bag; the sun was coming up outside, but they’d closed the curtains.
“Nearby,” Dorothy said, lying on her back, limbs straight and orderly and contained. Martha copied her position out of an exhaustion so complete that she didn’t feel capable thinking for herself. “I tracked your signal.”
“Why did I park nearby, or why did I track your signal?”
“Why are you here?”
“Same thing as you,” Dorothy said. “Trying to save a few more lives. Trying to save the planet.”
“Have you done it before? Saved the planet?”
“I’ve saved loads of planets,” Dorothy said, looking up at the ceiling. “Usually with the Doctor’s help. But not always.”
“Did it always take this long?”
Dorothy laughed again and flipped onto her side, propping her head up with an elbow. “Nah,” she said. “A month, tops. At our best, we could do it in one night.” She studied Martha’s face. “You’re doing brilliantly, for a newbie,” she said consideringly.
Martha snorted. “Every day brings us closer,” she said, staring up at the ceiling. “Destruction or salvation.” She blinked. “I can’t let myself think about it, mostly.”
“You shouldn’t,” Dorothy told her practically. “Finish the mission; worry about it afterward.”
“When are you supposed to be?”
Martha turned her head a little, so she could look up at Dorothy. “You said you’re not supposed to be in this time period. When are you from?”
“From?” Dorothy considered. “Lately, eighteenth-century France. But I get around a lot. I spent a lot of time in the twenty-fifth century fighting Daleks.”
Martha closed her eyes. “It’s everywhere, isn’t it?” she whispered. “Bits of the Doctor, scattered everywhere and everywhen.”
“The Doctor is the universe,” Dorothy said. “Or at least a tiny fragment of it. We all are, haven’t you figured that out yet?” She leant forward, looking Martha in the eye. “Everything connects, Martha Jones.”
Martha sat up on her elbows and kissed Dorothy.
Dorothy’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment, and then she opened them again, smiling. She brushed a hand along the side of Martha’s face and pressed down to kiss Martha back. “I wondered when you’d finally get around to doing that,” she said.
“Do you know the Doctor’s name?”
Later, much later; they were still lying in the pile of blankets, curled together. The house was cold, the heat not working, but they were warm in their makeshift bed.
Dorothy shook her head. “I’m not sure he remembers it,” she admitted. She was trailing a finger absently up and down Martha’s upper arm. Martha lay half on top of her, hair tickling against Dorothy’s cheek. “I think he might have outgrown it.”
“Can you outgrow a name?”
“I grew into mine,” Dorothy smiled. “I used to go by Ace.”
“The Doctor’s never mentioned you,” Martha hesitated. She slid backwards, skin against skin, so she could prop herself up on a hand and look at Dorothy properly. “How many more of us are there?”
Dorothy shrugged, frowning down at her toes. “Dozens. Hundreds,” she suggested. “Told you; he’s an old geezer, and he’s been doing this a long time.” She looked up at Martha, laid a hand against Martha’s cheek. “He doesn’t forget any of us. He just lets us sleep in his mind.”
“Do you love him?”
Dorothy smiled and pressed a finger against the tip of Martha’s nose. “Who doesn’t?”
Martha smiled back and dropped down to kiss her.
They walked that night, and in the middle of it they came to Dorothy’s transportation. “A bike,” Martha said, looking it over as best she could in the dark. “You travel through time on a bike.” She looked up at Dorothy again. “How safe is that again?”
“About as safe as traveling through time in the TARDIS,” Dorothy rolled her eyes, swinging one leg over the seat. She settled herself down and then looked again at Martha. “Do you want me to come with you for a bit longer?”
“No,” Martha said firmly. “I want you to go to the other side of this continent and meet me halfway. I’ve still got a lot of ground to cover and I could use all the help I can get.”
Dorothy nodded, almost invisible in the dark. “I’ll see you in Kansas,” she grinned.
Martha huffed. “Shut it,” she glared, and then gave way, stepping up to the bike to hug Dorothy fiercely.
“Stay safe,” she whispered before letting the older woman go. Dorothy caught her before she could move back again and kissed her.
“You too,” she said when she broke it off and Martha stepped back. “Be careful of the Master as well; he’s a right prick.”
“D’you know everybody?” Martha said.
“Everybody who’s anybody,” Dorothy grinned. “Say hello to Captain Jack for me, yeah?”
She gunned her engine with that and pulled away, and for the first time in almost a year, Martha Jones laughed.