Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: John Smith, Martha Jones, Joan Redfern
Word Count: 3125
Summary: Sometimes, even a Doctor needs a doctor.
Martha was not surprised that her knock on the door received no answer. Steadying the tray she carried, the maid pushed her way into the schoolteacher’s study despite not receiving permission to enter, a slight frown creasing her brow as she was greeted by warm, humid, stuffy air.
"Mr. Smith?" she called softly. "Mr. Smith? I've brought your dinner, sir." There was no answer, again, as expected. She proceeded into the darkened office and set the tray on the teacher's desk before she allowed herself to look at him lying in the bed.
Wrapped in the bedclothes, only his head was visible, his brown hair a spiky mess. At the moment, he was sleeping peacefully, his pallid face still, which was a relief; more often than not, he twitched and moaned in response to the dreams induced by the fever. She was loathe to wake him when he was getting the sleep he needed, but he also needed to eat, and she couldn't spend too much time with him, not at this time, as her duties demanded that she be downstairs, serving the schoolboys' evening meal.
Kneeling by the bed, she stroked his hair and called again. "Mr. Smith? Mr. Smith? It's time to get up for a little bit, sir." He shuddered at her touch, and his dull, bloodshot eyes fluttered open. Gazing past her, he moaned low in his throat then convulsed with a spate of congested, wet coughing. The maid grabbed the nearby glass of water and waited for his spasms to subside. Presently, he recovered and, taking the glass from her, drank the liquid down, wincing at the pain from swallowing.
"I've brought your dinner, sir," she murmured with a tenderness she hoped would comfort him a little, as she took the glass from him. "Soup and a bit of bread, sir, and tea. You need your fluids." Idly wondering if "fluids" was an appropriate word for a common maid to use, she rose and stepped to the window. "We should get some fresh air in here, too, sir." Pulling the curtains aside, she flipped the latch and pushed the window ajar, delighting in the cool October breeze. It wouldn't do to let in too much cold, but the room's stale air needed refreshing.
His eyes barely open, Mr. Smith looked over at the tray on the desk, then fell back on the bed and rasped, “Not hungry.”
Hands on her hips, the maid turned toward the poor man. “You have to eat, sir. Get your strength back.”
She could barely hear him mumble, “Go ‘way, Martha.”
“No, I won’t.” She knew he was too sick to notice she wasn’t addressing him as “sir,” so she dropped the honorific. Dragging the small table near the bed, she picked up the tray and set it there, then coaxed him to sit up. “Come on. I’ll help you.” When he groaned and tried to roll over away from her, she urged him again and propped him into a sitting position with pillows. She then sat on the bed next to him to help him eat.
As she spooned soup for him, she studied him carefully, noting that he looked pretty much as bad as he had the day before. His eyes were dull and sunken, he was wheezing, and his mouth hung slack as he could not breathe through his nose. Each swallow was an ordeal, as his burning throat made him fight to get every morsel down. He was already a thin man, but it seemed to Martha that he looked almost skeletal, indicating that he had lost a bit of weight over the last couple of days. When he raised a hand to ask her to hold the food for a little while so he could let the pain in his throat subside, she took the opportunity to feel his neck. He was burning up, but his heartbeat was strong. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. She didn’t have a watch to time it exactly, but based on her experience, his heart rate was normal, at least for a human.
“Just a bit more, then the bread. Come on.” Mr. Smith grunted an agreement, and she fed him the last few spoonfuls of the soup. “How was that?” she asked, as she handed him one of the pieces of toast.
“Can’t taste a thing,” he groaned, and bit into the bread. “Oh, I ache...”
“Let’s see what we can do about that.” She put the second piece of toast into his hand, then, standing up, put the tray back on the desk and fetched the box of medicines that Matron Redfern had left for him. “Here’s some aspirin.” Uncapping the bottle, she poured out two tablets and set them on the table. “And some codeine for your cough. Castoreum? What's that?” She glanced at the label. “For pain and fever. Here’s phenacetin. For pain and fever, too, but that one I know is dangerous in the long term. Well, aspirin’s also for pain and fever, so we’ll stick with that.”
Mr. Smith lifted a heavy arm to point at a tin. “That.”
Martha picked it up and read the label. She sputtered and nearly dropped it. “Cocaine lozenges? No. No way.”
“My throat,” he whined and tried to grab the tin from her.
“You’ll just have to soldier through. No coke for you.” She pocketed the tin. “What other horrible things do we have here?” She started selecting bottles to read the labels, but Mr. Smith moaned again, and with an apologetic “Oh!” she put the box away and brought him a glass of water. “Here you go.” After he swallowed the aspirin with great difficulty, she fed him a spoonful of the codeine. She then placed his glass with the other dinner things and began to tuck him back in. “Okay. Let’s lie back down, and I’ll take your things down so you can get a bit more sleep.”
“No. Don't go,” he pleaded. He reached up, placing an exhausted hand on hers.
With a tender smile, she stroked his shoulder. "It's dinner downstairs. I’ve got to go. I'll come back directly after, I promise."
For the first time all day, his eyes cleared and he stared at her like a lost child. “Please stay,” he wheezed. Then the pain and fever clouded him again, and he choked and coughed.
Martha wrung her hands and glanced at the door. She was expected to be down in the dining hall at this very moment. This normally wasn't a problem, as Mr. Smith dined with the students when he was healthy and she therefore didn't have a conflict between working for the school and serving him. If she didn't show up, the evening meal would be shorthanded and the cook and the butler, and probably Headmaster Rocastle himself, would have her hide. But... she looked again at Mr. Smith, who had leaned back on the pillows again, his breath whistling in his throat, and she made up her mind. The reason I'm here at all is to care for him, and that's what I'm going to do. This will probably earn me a beating. She suppressed a sigh.
"Of course I'll stay. Just a moment." Bringing over a small basin and a towel, she sat on the bed and wet the cloth, then wiped Mr. Smith's brow, cheeks, and neck. "Doesn't that feel good? We'll bring your temperature down a bit."
"Mm-hmm." The corners of his mouth twitched a tiny smile for just a moment.
Martha continued to swab his face with the wet towel. As he lay there, he moaned and thrashed his head every half-minute or so. After a while, his breath evened out and she was convinced he was asleep, but as she debated sneaking out, he twitched. His eyes snapped open, but he didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular. "Wh- where is she?"
Martha frowned. "Where's who?"
"I must find her. She's not gone off again, has she?" His eyes cast about the room, but saw nothing.
Martha bit her lip. Is he looking for Rose? Who else could "she" be? She placed a hand on his arm to try to get his attention. "Who are you looking for?"
Mr. Smith's eyes fixed on her face, but he wasn't seeing her. "Ah, Nyssa. You must know where Tegan's gone, yes?"
The maid drew back. She recognised the names from one of his dreams that he had told her about, dreams of the Doctor. It confirmed his delirium. She offered him an answer. "No, Doctor, I don't."
"Oh. That's very odd, if she didn’t tell you. I can't imagine she's left the..." His voice trailed off and his eyes closed again. She pulled the blankets up to cover him better and tucked them in. In a moment, though, he twisted and jerked, then stared at Martha again.
“Oh, my word! I’ve made your face up wrong again, haven’t I? I was rushed. I...”
Startled and a little insulted, Martha drew back as his words trailed into incoherence. She soaked the towel in the water and, squeezing it out, laid it on his forehead. Then, she dipped her hands in the water and held them against his neck. Glancing over at the bottle of aspirin, she murmured, "Come on, work! I hope these medicines are dosed correctly. Urgh! What, another thirty years or so until paracetamol?"
Mr. Smith continued to mumble and squirm, talking to people who weren’t there. Martha recognised a few of the names and places he mentioned, but for the most part, what he said made little sense. She noticed subtle changes of wording and attitude, as well as some jarring shifts in accent, jumping between a formal accent, his normal (or previously normal, anyway) clipped London voice, a jaunty Lancashire accent, and a Scottish burr with heavily-rolled Rs. Though the fever worried her, she couldn't help but be fascinated. She knew that he dreamed that he was different men called the Doctor, but she also knew that, just like he was actually the Doctor, these men were also real. How can he dream about being them so vividly that he talks in their accents? She mopped at his brow again, then jerked straight, frowning in confusion. Why do all these Time Lords from all the way across the galaxy have various British accents? Wait. He told me that he was the last Time Lord. None of this makes any sense.
She tended him until he finally settled into a relatively calm sleep. Resolving to return after the evening meal to work on breaking his fever, she refreshed the towel once more, then rose from the bed, moving slowly so as not to disturb him. Shutting the window, she fetched the dinner tray and crept out.
As Martha reached the landing with Mr. Smith’s breakfast, she spotted weak sunlight streaming into the dark hallway from the door to his study, which stood slightly ajar. Balancing the tray in one hand, she knocked, then pushed the door open with her shoulder as a female voice called, “Come in!” When she entered the study proper, she curtseyed to Mr. Smith, who was sitting propped up in his bed, and Matron Redfern, the school nurse, standing near him.
“Good morning, sir, ma’am. I’ve brought your breakfast, Mr. Smith. Are you feeling better?”
The teacher groaned in response. “I feel horrible. It’s so hot in here. Can you open the window?”
Martha deposited the tray on the table near him and trotted over to the window to open it, while the matron leaned over and folded his blankets down off his chest. “You just had me close the window. You said it was too cold.”
“But now it’s too hot.” He eyed the tray, placed just out of his reach.
“Here. Let me get that for you.” The matron picked up the tray and, sitting on his bed, set it in her lap. Mr. Smith selected a piece of toast and bit into it. After chewing a bit, he swallowed, grimacing.
“Oh, that burns!” he exclaimed before dissolving into a fit of coughing.
“Chew it well and it’ll go down softer,” the matron suggested, holding another piece of toast ready for him. “There’s a bit of cold chicken here, if that sounds better to you.”
“Yes, please.” As Mr. Smith ate his breakfast with Matron Redfern’s help, Martha cleaned up the study, removing rubbish and putting away the books the teacher had tried to read when he wasn’t able to sleep. It wasn't long before he'd cleaned off the tray and he sat back, sipping his tea. The matron smiled, as if he had accomplished a great feat.
"There now, Mr. Smith. I am sure you feel much better for that."
The teacher stretched his shoulders and rubbed his arms. "Everything aches," he sputtered, his voice catching in his throat, causing him to cough again.
"Let's see what we have for you." The nurse rose an, stepping to the desk, searched through the medicine box. She selected three bottles, then began sorting through the rest, looking for something. "Hm. I can't seem to find... But, we'll have you sorted right away." She returned to the bed and placed the bottles on the small table. "Do you have enough tea to drink this down? Good." She poured out a couple of tablets from a bottle and handed them to him.
"Aspirin for the aches, and for your fever." She nodded as he gulped them down. "You've been coughing a bit, so this is laudanum -"
"Laudanum?" Martha spun around, her jaw dropped in horror. "No way!" she cried, then grimaced as she realised she’d uttered her anachronism far out of turn. "Ma’am, Mr. Smith doesn't need such extreme measures," she continued in a respectful tone.
"Extreme?" Matron Redfern, taken aback, stared at the bottle in her hand. "This is a common treatment for cough."
"It's dangerous, ma'am." From the matron's glare, the maid could tell that she'd have to explain herself. "That stuff makes people different. They have to have it, and they just waste away. It's bad and I won't let him have it, ma'am."
“It’s not your place to make such decisions, girl. This is one of the best remedies for cough, and -” The nurse held up a finger to forestall the complaint as Martha drew in her breath to protest again. “And I am giving him one dose. Just one.” She stared at Martha until the maid nodded her acknowledgement. “Mr. Smith will get his relief, and you will have your peace of mind.”
“Thank you, Matron.”
As Martha watched and wrung her hands, the nurse administered the medicine, mixed in honey, to Mr. Smith, who choked down the bitter mixture and complained loudly. "Shush, you," she chided. "It's all for your own good. And this," she said as she picked up the last bottle, "will strengthen your heart."
"There's nothing wrong with his heart!" Martha blurted before she could stop herself.
"What?" Matron Redfern rose to her feet to tower over the small maid. "Are you questioning my expertise? Again?"
Martha's first impulse was to cower like the timid, ignorant servant she was pretending to be, but a glance at Mr. Smith strengthened her resolve. "No, ma'am, I am not. But his heart's strong. You're going to give him the digitalis, aren't you, ma'am? He doesn't need it and it won't help."
The matron gaped at her. "What would you know about medicine? Of course it will help. Mr. Smith is very ill and strengthening his heart will help him recover."
"He's only got the flu, ma'am. He'll recover on his own." The maid refrained from mentioning that it was his immune system that would heal him, not his heart; that concept was far behind her station. "And besides, he's already recovering. His fever broke last night, and look at him, ma’am: talking and complaining, playing on your sympathies like a little boy." Behind the nurse, Mr. Smith blanched and lowered his eyes in embarrassment. "When he was truly ill, he wouldn’t eat and could barely speak a word. He'll be up and about later today, ma'am, just you watch."
Matron Redfern drew herself up. "I am this school’s nurse. I have the education and experience to determine how ill he is and -"
"No." Mr. Smith's raspy negative drew the attention of both women. "Martha is right. I've been making myself out to be more ill than I really am." A spasm of coughing prevented him from continuing for a bit. "I mean, I am still sick, but not that badly, and I'm getting better. Matron Redfern, I thank you for your ministrations, but Martha has been caring for me for years, keeping me healthy and nursing me when I needed it. I trust her judgment."
The matron looked back and forth between the teacher and the maid, then sighed. "There's nothing much I can do if you are going to refuse to take the medicines I prescribe. But yes, I can see that you're recuperating." Her eyes raked over Martha. "I will advise against using any folk remedies until you've consulted with me, however."
"Yes, ma'am." Martha curtsied. "I'll be sure to ask first before I do anything else."
Leaving the aspirin bottle behind, the nurse gathered up the other medicines and placed them in the medicine box. "You won't be needing these. Though, where did those cocaine lozenges get to? They are a welcome relief for sore throat. I’ll bring some up when I find them." As the matron picked up the box, Martha stifled a devious smile. "Please bring down those bottles when you're done with them. Good day, Mr. Smith." The matron turned and strode out of the study.
"I'm sorry to put you on the spot like that, sir," Martha began. "I just -"
"Never you mind, Martha. I can tell when something is important to you. You've never been one to back down from a fight." Mr. Smith smiled at his maid, with amusement dancing in his eyes. "I appreciate that you're fighting for me, even against the Matron."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, if I’m going to be accused of behaving a little boy, I had better act the part." He began to whine in a nasal voice. "I want more tea, and bring me the books on Cromwell from that bookshelf behind you." Burying his face in his sleeve, he choked out some exaggerated coughs. "My body aches oh so very much and I can barely move."
Biting back a grin, the maid snapped, "Yes, sir!" and trotted to the bookshelf to fetch the tomes.