Ginger and Free
The Doctor's companion did just that, executing a belly-flop onto the grating that nearly parted the faithful companion's body from the companion's faithful nipples.
"Eunnggghh," he moaned. This companion was a good moaner, especially in states of fever and delirium. He had those a lot.
The Doctor came crashing in after, slamming the doors and grappling his companion upright by the shoulders.
"Did they see you?"
"I wasn't exactly looking."
"But did they see you?"
"If I say no, will you stop shouting in italics?"
"It's important! Now, did they see your face?"
"Oh, yes, I'm sure they did; after all, there was only a solid wall between us."
The Doctor launched himself at the console. "Off we go."
An alarm sounded from somewhere within the hideous controls the Doctor had insisted upon remodeling. The Doctor seized the view screen with a dramatic, high-energy growl. "They're following us."
"So? We can park in the Vortex and play chess for three months."
The Doctor careened around the console, every terse movement and clenched tooth speaking urgency and promo pictures directly to the camera. "They've got a Time Agent's vortex manipulator. They can follow us wherever we go."
"Unless we just don't go anywhere."
The Doctor's eyes went wide as he combed a hand through his spiky hair. Again. "…Right across the universe. They're never going to stop."
"Unless we just wait for them to die."
"That's the spirit," said the companion encouragingly.
"I'll have to do it," said the Doctor. He let go of his hair and swung to face his friend. "You trust me, don't you?"
"Is this a question of ethics, or pragmatism?"
"Because it all depends on you."
"I like it better when it all depends on someone else."
For answer, the Doctor dove beneath the console and came up with a bit of dull metal. "Take this watch, because my life depends on it.
"This watch, Turlough, this watch is–"
* * *
When Turlough had first met him, the Doctor had been young. Boyish. Blond. Slender. Flummoxed, and forgiving, and sweet, yet with that subtle edge that whispered of a lurking capacity for sarcasm and a willingness to mete out absolute moral judgment if pushed far enough. Needless to say, with his aesthetic preferences warped by too many years watching classmates pick their noses over their breakfast and latent Oedipal guilt, Turlough had liked him. A lot.
But when had liking, then lust, then even love, turned to devotion? To genuine commitment? Turlough wasn't exactly decisive by nature. Probably it had been the moment when he'd realized he had no options, then. The choice had pretty much been between the Doctor and Tegan, and even for someone who liked to keep his options open for as long as possible, it hadn't been difficult to decide. On the one hand, Turlough had been fond of Tegan, though he'd never known why, but on the other, the Doctor had never beaten him with a high-heeled shoe. Well, just the once. More to the point, Tegan had up and ditched them.
So, he'd never left. Regenerations had come and gone, but Turlough had never left the Doctor's side. Why would he? Who would ever want to leave someone as wonderful as the Doctor, especially when the alternative was going back to Trion to pick up after a kid brother who thought he was a god?
"Why would I leave?" said Turlough through his teeth, as he manhandled an insensate Doctor into the clothes the TARDIS had indicated were required. "Why would I ever want to leave someone as wonderful as the Doctor?"
The Doctor snored prettily in his dickey collar.
A short time later, Turlough was schlepping a conscious but not quite aware version of the Doctor down an idyllic, wooded path, tending to all the fiddly details the episode hadn't got round to. In the interest of getting it right, he paused halfway up a hill to study a printout from the TARDIS computer.
YEAR = 1913
PLANET = EARTH
DOCTOR = JOHN SMITH
YOU = BUTLER
WATCH = SOMETHING IT WOULD BE NICE NOT TO LOSE
Turlough turned the watch over in his palm, contemplating its arcane geometries, and then stuck it in his pocket in a fit of logic.
"You may look skinny," he said to John Smith as he continued tugging him up the hill, "but if I'm going to be your valet, I am putting you on a diet. Models five and eight had an infinitely better ratio of mass to good looks. Kept those around for a good while…"
John Smith, like so many, had descended into a stupor upon the discovery of his humanity. He smiled beatifically at anything shiny.
"Don't worry, Doctor–well, Mr. Smith, now, I suppose. I won't let you down. I know I… well, I know I've had to prove myself to you. I've had to prove myself to me; I know better than anybody that I'm a coward. But lately, losing you… that's what I'm most afraid of. I'll take care of you. I promise."
Turlough crested the hill, took in what was at the bottom, and stopped.
It was a school.
A boys' school.
A boys' public school.
Turlough turned to the Doctor. "You wanker."
* * *
Journal of Very Possible Things
Week one: Blacking boots.
Week two: Blacking more boots.
Week three: Enduring superciliously sniggering sophomoric students.
Week four: Blacking boots. Oh, and hand-washing the Doctor's human-stained underpants every morning. And brushing the Doctor's robes. The Doctor's voluminous, floor-length academic robes. Also, watching the school matron narrowly indeed.
Week five: Taking anonymous control of school gambling books.
Week six: Getting caught by headmaster taking vastly extended meal breaks.
Day two of week six: Successfully finding a way for a scullery maid to take the fall.
Week seven: Swindling the students.
* * *
The first time Turlough caught John Smith snogging Matron Redfern, he gritted his teeth. The second time, he took a brisk walk. The third time, he chucked his dusting rag in the corner and headed for the TARDIS and the guidance the Doctor's pre-transformation recording promised. Halfway there, he veered off course and made for the pub.
Turlough was cycling along an idyllic path when a portal opened in a blaze of color not seen on earth since the 1980s. A voice boomed from the sky. "Vislor Turlough, it has been too long. Or, as I imagine your present employer would say: How are you keeping, dear chap?"
"Black Guardian," Turlough spat. "What are you doing here?"
"I have a deal for you."
"I don't make deals any more."
"Except for with Baines and Hutchinson over the results of the Trinity crew."
"That's different. They're defenseless schoolchildren."
The Black Guardian sneered from beneath lowering brows. "I wonder if you would be so principled, if you knew the terms of the exchange."
"Well, a simple cost-benefit analysis couldn't… No! I'm not interested in your blasted deal!"
The Guardian smiled sinisterly, which is pretty much the only way someone wearing a plus-sized pimp coat and a dead bird on his head can smile. "I offer escape from this miserable planet."
"For the Doctor as well as for me?"
"In a sense. The fare is you bashing his brains out with a rock."
"No," said Turlough flatly. "I won't do it. I wouldn't do it last time, when I barely knew the man. Do you seriously think that I would now, when I've travelled with him for more years than I can even count? When we've been lovers for decades? When I put up with his Sixth persona for a full month before strategically hanging back in a crisis?"
"As you wish. But permit me to leave you a means by which you may contact me, in case you should… reconsider."
The Guardian gestured. An object appeared from the heart of his multicolored dimensional portal, outlined in an eerie glow, almost like that of a prop lowered by wires in front of a green screen.
"One tin can with a bit of string?" said Turlough. "Last time I got a crystal."
"Blame Alan Greenspan. If–when–you think better of your decision, you'll know what to do."
And he was gone. Turlough was left alone turning the tin can over and over in his hands, thinking of the Doctor.
Morosely, he shoved it in his pocket and peddled off. "You had to go all pastoral and domestic," he told the air, "and you did it in your best body yet."
* * *
Week eight: Scullery maid dismissed due to fallout from week six. Replacement staff not immediately available.
Scullery maid's floor-scrubbing duties reassigned to Turlough.
* * *
Turlough snapped his book shut and hid it behind his back as the door cracked open.
One of the students he hadn't swindled yet looked nervously in–Latimer? Latimer. That was it. "Mr. Smith?" he called quietly.
"He isn't in," said Turlough. "What do you want, ki–Master Latimer?"
Latimer took Turlough's demand as an invitation, ghosting into the room in the unsettling way the kid had and looking about. "Mr. Smith asked me to come round. He said he had a book for me."
"As you can see," said Turlough, spreading his spare arm wide, "there are plenty of books."
"It was a history of the battles of Nelson. He said if I came round before tea he would give it to me–"
Now the kid was craning his neck for a look at what Turlough was hiding behind his back. Latimer had an aggravating tendency to make extremely accurate guesses about things that were none of his business, and Turlough didn't really care for the searching look he was getting right now. For a moment he wondered if he had forgotten to take the tin can out of his pocket, and then right after that he wondered if Latimer might be slightly psychic, and then right after that he swore silently.
Latimer's look was definitely fishy now. Yes, definitely. Totally. He was certain of it. "May I just wait for him here, then?"
"Oh, if you insist." Turlough knew that Smith would be expecting Matron in his study as soon as tea was over and wouldn't welcome finding any of his students there, but he saw no reason to say so. Suddenly, he leant in. "I'd take care around him, if I were you," he confided, voice low. "In fact, I'd take care around him if I were anybody in a school uniform. Trust me. I've found things in his wardobe."
Turlough smiled, whisked the book from behind his back, and deposited Casualties and Catastrophe: Infantry in the Great War in Latimer's hands. "Read up. Do enjoy."
He exited and headed for the kitchen. By his estimate, he was late for doling out tea things to the teaching staff. Perhaps if he were lucky he'd run into the cook and get sacked.
He ran into the scullery maid he'd got sacked, instead.
"Jenny!" Turlough swallowed, backing along the wall. "So good to see you here. Did they let you back, then? I'm so glad. I pleaded with Cook and the headmaster to let you back. I–"
Jenny cocked her head at an angle that was either very disturbing or very campy and took a deliberate step towards Turlough. And then another.
"You're looking well. Did I mention I'm glad to see you? Good of them to call you back, never should have sacked you in the first place. It's always the best of us who get it first, isn't it? Take you, for example. You're the kindest maid around. You've always been particularly kind to me, by the way, and not everyone's so considerate, what with me being ginger."
Jenny, her eyes glittering and fixed upon Turlough, stopped a hand's breadth away, paused, and sniffed loudly.
Turlough thought she had a lot of nerve, considering. His was the sort of confusion the Doctor could have avoided with a good, straightforward briefing instead of a recorded list of arcana hidden 2.3 miles down an idyllic path from the center of the action.
"Jenny? Are you all right?"
"Oh, yes. Quite."
"Good, good. That's a relief. I would hate to think of you physically weakened in any way."
"They didn't give me my job back."
"…Oh? That's monstrous! I notice you're still following me. I'll tell you what, perhaps I could have a word with the headmaster; you could have my job! Mr. Smith and I will be leaving in just a matter of weeks, so–"
"Are you leaving? Why? When? To go where?"
"Somewhere where I'm the only one in a school uniform, if there's any justice in the world."
"But where? Tell me."
"Tell me. Tell me. TELL ME NOW."
The light bulb finally, finally went on for Turlough, sparking fierce debate among the viewing audience as to whether this was the companion's fault or the Doctor's.
"All right," said Turlough. "Let me just go fetch our dayplanner and check."
Jenny blinked. "What? Just like that?"
"I have my principles," said Turlough, "and one of my principles is flexibility. Sit tight."
Turlough, who actually understood how sneaking worked, which was why he was probably the only mortal companion who could have survived a ridiculously long stay with the Doctor in the first place, did not break into a run five steps away from Jenny with his back wide open to her. He simply walked. Another of his principles had always been "path of least resistance."
"Ditch her," Turlough advised John Smith minutes later, as he interrupted his passionate embrace with Joan Redfern. "I need you to look into a watch for me."
The matron reddened. "Turlough, this really is too much–" Smith began.
"Yes, of course it is! Now look into the watch, won't you?"
"Absolutely not! I will not do anything so outré as to look at a watch with an insane servant!"
"You don't understand!" In frustration, Turlough pulled the fob watch from his pocket. "Jenny's an alien, she's found us out, she wants to kill you, and I cost her her job, so we haven't got much time! You need to become the Doctor again! You need to open the watch!"
John Smith's expression cleared.
"I think I understand," he stage-whispered to the matron. "Cognitive differences."
With great earnestness and slow enunciation, Smith held his journal before Turlough and said, "This, Turlough, is what we call a story."
"Pardon?" he asked finally.
"Well…" Smith shrugged. "You gingers. It's not the same for you."
Turlough considered hitting him, but not very seriously. Physical confrontation wasn't so much his thing.
Instead, after a moment, he smiled and offered his hand. "Do you know what, Mr. Smith? You're right. I had best not meddle in what's none of my affair."
John Smith took his hand in a firm, forthright, everyman sort of clasp. "No harm done. Overwork, no doubt," he said warmly.
"Oh, no doubt at all."
"Well, you'd best get some rest, then. I tell you what, take the rest of the night off. If the headmaster stops you, just tell him I said you were to have this evening to yourself. Go in to the village and have a warm drink with the lads, perhaps."
"Thank you," said Turlough. "I think I will."
He met Latimer barely twenty paces down the hall, still looking traumatized. Turlough dipped into his pocket and tossed the kid the antique watch.
"Here," he said, "have a present. Show that to Jenny; she'll really enjoy it."
* * *
In his servant's garret, Turlough thought of the Doctor. Turlough thought of the Doctor's mind, and the Doctor's eyes, and the Doctor's laugh. He thought of all the places he had been with him, and how all of it had been as a free man, an equal citizen of the universe–a feeling Turlough had never known before meeting the Doctor. He thought of the adventures they'd shared, and the meals, and the lovemaking. He thought of how much he'd learned, and how much yet the TARDIS had to teach him. He thought of all the times he'd thought he wasn't strong enough–the times when even he had thought he would turn out a traitor, but the Doctor had believed in him, because the Doctor knew better.
Turlough pulled out the tin can.
"Was there any particular rock you had in mind?" he asked.
* * *
Martha switched off the viewscreen of the Etch-a-Sketch-shaped History Manipulation Machine that the Master had given her because he loved her very much and wanted to give her everything. Naturally. Unlike the Doctor, he knew how to treat a companion: simplify her life by taking her family off her hands.
Martha cackled, as she often did when jealously sabotaging previous companions whom the Doctor had loved better. "Now, that's more like it! Let someone else scrub the damned parquetry in 1913. Let somebody else deal with John and Joan and all the rest of it. Glad to have dodged that bullet."
"Told you there were advantages to universal dominion."
"Say," said Martha suddenly, "won't this cause a terrible paradox? Even more terrible than the one you've intentionally engineered, I mean?"
"Never mind," said the Master, snuggling with her, magisterially. "Love conquers all, including common sense."
* * *
"Tell that to John Smith," said Turlough, watching from the Black Guardian's Universe Portal.
And they all lived uncharacteristically ever after.