Hey, kids. Did ya miss me?

I am really, really sorry about how long everything has taken me. Human Nature has been difficult but is very much in progress with absolute intent of continuation. If you want to keep an eye on how things are progressing, do check my profile, where I am leaving notes regarding chapter status. You are all lovely patient people and I hope you will forgive my absence.

This chapter is immediately post Made of Steel. Contains angst, fluff, Princess Bride references, exposition, grocery store shenanigans, allusions to an adventure I haven't written yet. May contain trace amounts of canon: the visit to the Eye of Orion was from the myspace blog that the BBC created for Martha during the run of S3. It is no longer online, but a very lovely person recorded it on dreamwidth.

Martha Jones' diary: Entry #8 excerpt

The Doctor jettisoned the remaining cybermen into the Corasayr neutron star. We watched on the scanner as they burnt to nothing, and he said he had something else to show us. He brought us to a place called the Eye of Orion; he said it was once like a holiday resort, but now is a shrine to the Time War. It was beautiful, calm and still and alien, all ruins and grass and mist - and so quiet. There was a stone placed in the middle of a meadow, a war memorial. I asked him why there weren't any names on it and he said it was because too many people had died. And the three of us sat there on the top of a little hill, huddled under a blanket, drinking tea from an old thermos, and the Doctor told us about the Time War.

It reminded me of when I was a kid and Granddad told me about what he did during World War Two. It was this huge, incomprehensible historical thing that we learnt about at school but for him, for the people who were there, it was their life. Death and loss, sacrifices and hard decisions ... The Doctor had that look on his face, like he did after the Daleks – lost and sad and empty. He talked about the fall of Arcadia, the friends he'd lost, the worlds that collapsed, the civilizations that died and were forgotten.

And then he got to the Cult of Skaro and their void ship, and suddenly went off on a tangent about him and Rose meeting Queen Victoria. Only Ianto's face had this lightbulb going off - it took me a bit longer to realize that he was talking about the founding of Torchwood. And the Doctor described the parallel timeline where the cybermen came from, which was actually really fascinating to think about - Hugh Everett just punched the air and all that. But to think that the cybermen were people like us... and not just the cybermen. Because the people of Torchwood tried to capture the Doctor and were responsible for the Battle, but they were people too – Ianto, his fiancé, his friends and colleagues… Addy.

Neither Ianto nor I knew about what happened to my cousin Addy, much less the Doctor's role in her death. It took him a while to actually get the words out, and... well. I wanted the truth, and I got it. I won't pretend I'm not really upset, but I won't hold it against him. I can't, really, not after Manhattan, not when I'd had to do the exact same thing. To be honest, I'd rather know, and not have to speculate. Working in a hospital, I've seen the kind of things that can happen to people, and I can speculate a lot. And to think that Addy was part of a super-secret alien conspiracy, one of the people who had a hand in the ghost shifts all along... I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about that.

And then there's the boys, with Rose and Lisa. Whenever the Doctor mentioned Rose, it just seemed like she was a good friend who'd gone her separate ways. And it bothered me, the way he'd talk about her like I wasn't measuring up. I almost wish he'd said something before now, although I guess that is a really hard thing to bring up. I knew he missed her, I didn't know he loved her. Ianto thinks the Doctor loved her, anyway, and with what he's had to go through with Lisa, he probably would know, wouldn't he? ? It's just hard to get anything out of him that's not deflection and pretense - the Doctor, I mean, although Ianto's not much better. It's like Shakespeare said about them; Ianto goes all quiet and tries not to be noticed, and the Doctor throws out a grin and a cheeky remark to keep you from looking too close. And I don't think that's a good thing. You can't just slap a bandage on a gaping wound and go your merry way, you've got to clean it and stitch it up and check it every so often to make sure it doesn't get infected.

We were all in a bit of a state afterwards, and just sat there quietly and held hands until the moon set. And it was beautiful, and sad, and peaceful. And then Ianto said 'I'm starved' right at the same moment that my stomach rumbled, and it broke the moment so I started giggling. I couldn't help it, and the Doctor said 'you mock my pain!' in this really snooty voice and Ianto, who was trying keep himself in check, absolutely lost it. They started bickering in what sounded like movie quotes, and the Doctor ended up shoving him off the hill and rolling down after - and it was strange to realize that their circumstances might have very nearly made them enemies.

4:47 p.m. Apr. 02, 2008

"D'you mind if I ask..." Martha hesitated as the Doctor shrugged on his coat, "was your Rose the same Rose who went missing for a year? I saw stuff on the news, about two years back, was that her?"

The Doctor cringed. "Yeah... not my finest moment."

"How'd that happen? You've got a time machine."

"It was supposed to be twelve hours," he said sheepishly. "Same as you, trip to the future, trip to the past, back to check in... only the TARDIS got it wrong, and we were twelve months late. Her Mum slapped me."

"Definitely a pattern there, getting on the wrong foot of famous queens and your friends' mothers," Ianto remarked, following them through the TARDIS doors out to the grocery store carpark.

The Doctor cringed, and Martha gracefully switched topic. "Actually, there was another thing I was wondering about - a couple of times you've mentioned running into someone who knows who you are that you haven't met before, like Queen Elizabeth, and I don't think I quite understand how that works."

The Doctor spun around and pointed his index fingers at Ianto. "There you are! Told you there's a quiz! You're going to explain back-to-front meetings to Martha."

"Fine. Go fetch us a trolley, then." The Doctor scampered off. "It's much the same concept as when we first met you," Ianto began. "Usually, when you meet someone for the first time, you're both strangers, yes?"

"Yep," Martha said patiently.

"But time travel means that it happens out of order. Let's say the first time you meet someone, he's 40 years old. But he's a time traveller. So he leaves, and you go on with your life, and when you're older, you meet him a second time. But he's 25 years old. You remember who he is because you first met him when he was 40. But he hasn't grown up to be that person. He's 25 and has never met you before. This also means that when he is 40, he will remember having met you for the first time when he was 25."

Martha began to nod slowly. The Doctor rattled up next to them, coat flaring as he coasted on the shopping trolley's momentum.

"Consider Queen Elizabeth; she lives on normal time, and had occasion to cross paths with the Doctor. She continued on living her life until she saw him in the Globe Theatre and recognized him. But he hasn't crossed her path the first time she met him, because that's still in his future. Now, Chancellor Street. You saw us briefly, and continued on until you came to meet us at Royal Hope, at which point, we first met you. But we didn't know who you were, or why you recognized us, because we hadn't done it yet. Later, we took the TARDIS back and crossed your path at Chancellor Street, because you told us that was where you saw us. Our future became our present, and we effectively came full circle."

"I think I get it," Martha said, almost surprised. "It's... it sounds completely mad at first, but basically you're saying it's just dropping into someone's life, only not necessarily in the same order that they're living it?"

"Excellent," Ianto declared. "Though, it also happens when both parties can time travel, as with my first experience of this kind. The man we met knew who the Doctor and I were, but he was also a ruthless, manipulative space pirate and a rotten liar to boot, so I had no idea what was going on. The Doctor had to demonstrate the concept with wires."

"What happens if you don't meet him again, though? What if something stops it? How would you remember that he remembered meeting you if he doesn't meet you?"

"Excellent question." Ianto hesitated. "Doctor?"

"Well, meeting someone back to front is similar to a causality loop. It's what you lot might call a predestination paradox: it requires two or more events that occur out of order relative to each other. When you know you're one of those events, you do your best to complete your end of the loop. Without one event - if we don't meet that someone again in our future - the loop is broken. Now it's unstable. Now it gets nasty. Best case scenario? Your memory changes to reflect the fact the the person from your future is not from your future, doesn't remember you, and is no different from any stranger that you might meet. Hopefully, events turn out with the same result as they might have if he did know you. Or, if the ripples are not in your favour, you end up with two sets of memories of the same event: one where he remembers you, one where he doesn't. Worst case scenario, you run the risk of -" The automatic doors of the grocery store rolled open, and the Doctor's face lit up. "OOH! Bananas!"

"Of course, bananas are far more interesting."

4:55 pm...

The Doctor lobbed a bag of crisps into the basket of the trolley. He grinned sheepishly and scuffed the soles of his trainers on the tile floor when Ianto folded his arms and gave him a withering look.

"So, exactly how many attractive young female companions have travelled with you that the British Army just assumes you have one in tow?"

The Doctor squirmed and made a face. "Well, they're usually young, yes, got to keep up somehow. Attractive... maybe? I mean, that's a very subjective category, especially with you humans, it's like the moment you make your minds up the definition changes and you wonder what you were thinking -"

Ianto cleared his throat.

"I suppose there haven't been as many blokes," the Doctor admitted. "And I don't actually know why, I don't think I've ever really thought about it. Mind you, have I told you about Frobisher? He sort of... decided to become a penguin." Ianto smiled indulgently as the Doctor rambled on about Whifferdills and mono-morphia, and let the subject drop.

5:09 pm...

"Wheeeeeeee!" The shopping trolley whizzed down the aisle and smacked into a storage case, and the Doctor stumbled off the back, giggling dizzily. Ianto clapped a hand to his face and sighed as several onlookers muttered to themselves and a store employee began to head in their direction.

"Right, that's it. Doctor, go to aisle seven and get a box of pasta." Ianto laid a hand on the trolley. "This stays with me now."

"Spoilsport," the Doctor pouted and slouched away as the staff member, a good-humored looking man in his thirties, drew level.

Ianto faced him with a pained expression. "Sorry about that, can't take him anywhere."

"We see an awful lot of that kind of behavior," the man admitted, "but usually the culprits are a mite shorter than 'im."

"He's a scientific consultant for a military intelligence base," Ianto supplied smoothly. "His sense of humor is... unappreciated there."

"Gets it in where he can, then?"

"Yes, and we're still working on the nuances of 'time and a place.' I'll see what I can do to get him to tone it down a bit."

"Alright, mate, good luck with that, and try not to let that happen again."


Aisle seven was mercifully devoid of people, save for the Doctor, who was merrily singing, " - would walk five hun-dred miles, and I would walk five hun-dred more, just to be the man who walked a thou-sand miles to -" the Doctor broke off as Ianto came into view. "Ianto, can you believe this?! 18 different kinds of pasta! I don't know how you humans come up with all these, but it's brilliant! I mean, you've got your fettucines and your macaronis, and then you've got bowties and seashells, and these twisty ones! Cellentani, celllllllentaaaaani, actually, I think there's a planet in the Barilla system called Cellentani, you're staring at me. Can we get cellentani?"

Ianto's impassive expression cracked and he started chuckling despite himself. "Go on, then, you can get the cellentani."

The Doctor blinked in surprise. "Okay. Great. Brilliant." Ianto smiled and began to trundle the cart down the aisle. "Can I push the trolley?"


5:44 pm...

"I think that's everything." Ianto deposited a jug of milk and a tub of yoghurt into the shopping trolley. Martha looked up from bagging a bunch of string beans that earned themselves a baleful glance from Ianto.

"No, it's not. What've you done with the carrots?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"The ones I put in the cart," Martha said, unamused. "The ones that mysteriously disappeared, at which point I had to go and find another bunch, which have likewise since mysteriously disappeared. And why are there six boxes of pasta?"

"Martha. What do you think happened to the carrots?"

She fixed him with a look. "Mister I-won't-eat-my-vegetables? Mister I'm-secretly-a-ninja-who-steals-phones-out-of-peop le's-pockets?"

"Just because I don't like vegetables doesn't mean I'd deprive anyone else of theirs," Ianto said primly. "Besides, I find carrots tolerable, while the Doctor loathes them and is hardly above such behavior."

"Fair enough. Pasta?"

"We're lucky he didn't go for one of all 18 varieties. Where is he, anyway?"

"Thought he was with you."

Ianto winced. "Right." He set his hands on his hips, staring across the produce section. "Not getting more bananas, then. There goes that plan."

"Ten quid he's investigating an alien presence in the loading dock?"

"Right. Five if he's juggling eggs, and five if someone's chatting him up, and we'll... just split the cost of whatever damage if he's destroyed something."

Martha laughed. "And on that note, we'd better get a move on. Divide and conquer?"

"You take even aisles, I'll take odds, and we run if something goes boom."

"Sounds like a plan," Martha said ruefully, and their purposeful and slightly harried expressions caused a woman in a gaudy pink jumper to stop them.

"If your little one's wandered off, check aisle twelve. There's a lovely man there telling fairy tales to a bunch of kids." They thanked her quickly and headed off, passing another aisle before it twigged.

Ianto halted. "Do we look like we're old enough to be parents?"

Martha thought about it, and shrugged. "I s'pose an hour ago, I'd have said 'not a chance,'" she said honestly. "But you look a fair bit older when you're wearing suits, and you kind of wear a 'parent face' whenever the Doctor's bugging you, and do you hear giggling?"

They rounded a corner to find the Doctor sitting cross-legged on the tile floor. He was surrounded by a gaggle of small children, holding a mock puppet show with stirring spoons and plastic bottles of juice. "The Man in Black took the two goblets of wine and set them behind him where Vizzini couldn't see. After a few moments, he returned them to the stone picnic table - " the Doctor rearranged two of the bottles, "- and set one in front of him and one in front of Vizzini. "Alright," he said. "Where is the poison? The Battle of Wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and we find out who is right... and who is dead."

One or two parents stood adjacent, watching bemusedly. Ianto cleared his throat softly to get the Doctor's attention. Martha turned, half-expecting a stern look and a five-minute warning, but instead he simply crouched down and said quietly, "Martha and I are going to go check-out, come find us when you finish the story." The Doctor beamed.

5:50 pm...

"That was fast," Ianto said mildly when he found them in the checkout aisle.

"Yeahh... James and Marty had to go, and Sarah only had five minutes, so I skipped out on the Fire Swamp and the Prince's entourage and just had them sail away on the Revenge. Here, I've got this." He handed off the psychic paper to the girl at the cash register with a charming smile. "Oh, one last thing!" He handed her a bar of dark chocolate to scan in. As soon as it was paid for, he skipped up to Ianto and tucked it into the inner pocket of his suit jacket, patting the lapel. "You should keep one of these around... just in case."

The checkout girl emitted a tiny squeak and quickly ducked her head. Ianto's eyebrows furrowed, suspicious at the universe at large as he picked up a couple of grocery bags and began to move on.

"Tetchy," the Doctor muttered affectionately, following with a flourish and a wink at the girl.

Martha smiled fondly and grabbed the last two bags, catching her eye. "Aren't they just?"

They returned to the TARDIS to find the scanner blipping insistently. Ianto disappeared with the groceries in the hopes of getting them into the stasis capsule in the kitchen before the Doctor inevitably called for them.

"Martha?! Ianto! We've got trouble!"

6:38 pm...

" - really didn't think there was a need. Two is one strange old man and an office in Glasgow. Three's in Cardiff, a team of half a dozen, if that. Yvonne detested them. Too busy protecting people - or sleeping with each other, if rumor holds - to help her build a new British Empire. India was closed in the 1920s, Australia cut ties years ago, Belfast had a mishap with radioactive otters, and Four disappeared, if it existed at all in the first place." The Doctor looked bemused, but mollified. Squished between the door, Martha and a recurve bow, Ianto grimaced. "Call it a day, you said, we'll go home and watch Princess Bride, you said," he sighed, tugging at the open collar of his dark blue dress shirt. "And now they have our ties. I liked that tie. What's our game plan? Do we have a game plan?"

"We will. Once we find the Dethaki nest. And the Wrarth stronghold."

The cab halted, letting them pile unceremoniously out onto the street.

"So we don't have a game plan." Martha hoisted the quiver of arrows over her shoulder as the Doctor peered up the way they came.

"That craggy looking fellow said to follow the -"

"There!" Martha tugged on the Doctor's coat and pointed in the other direction. "Old Post Office!"

"Antique Bookshop," Ianto said brightly, eyebrows shooting up as a young woman with golden brown hair and long blue top burst through the door of the store in question calling, "Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!"

"Hello!" the Doctor said brightly. "Sorry, bit of a rush, there's a sort of... thing happening, fairly important we... stop it."

"My God, it's you, it really is you. Oh, you don't remember me, do you?"

Martha hurried back a few paces. "Doctor, we haven't got time for this, migration's started."

The Doctor waffled. "Look, sorry, I've got a bit of a complex life. Things don't always happen to me in order. Gets confusing, especially at weddings." Hands on hips, Ianto cleared his throat, dubious expression conveying, 'is this really the time?' The Doctor ignored him. "I'm rubbish at weddings, especially my own."

Curiously, her face cleared. "Oh, my God, of course! You're a time traveller, it hasn't happened to you yet, none of it, it's still in your future!"

Ianto winced. "I'm afraid this happens far too often. I am sorry we don't recognize you, but evidently you understand why."

"Boys! We've really got to go - twenty minutes to red hatching!" Martha called.

Ianto nodded, thumped the Doctor on the arm and pulled the recurve bow over his head. "Oi, hold on, you know how to use that thing?" the Doctor said skeptically.

"Nope. Better catch up with us before I have to." Ianto slung it over his shoulders. "What hasn't happened? Are you allowed to tell us?"

"I think... oh, for God's sake, it was me all along, you got it all from me in the first place, right now!" she said, having apparently reached an epiphany.

"Right." Ianto pointed a stern finger at the Doctor. "If you're not with us in five minutes..."

"Got it, go."

Ianto spared the woman an apologetic smile before hurrying away, and she turned back to the Doctor. "Okay, listen," she said firmly. "One day, you're going to get stuck in 1969." She held out a clear purple folder. "Make sure you've got this with you. You're going to need it."

"Brilliant, thank you. 1969, is it? Not bad, I suppose. Abbey Road, Monty Python, man on the moon -" he glanced distractedly down the street. "Sorry, he's right, I've really got to dash, things happening. Well, four things. Well... four things... and a lizard."

"Okay! No worries, on you go." She smiled with dimples and understanding as he trotted off. "See you around, some day!"

He turned on his heel with a swish. "What was your name?"

"Sally Sparrow."

"Good to meet you, Sally Sparrow," he said fervently, watching with bemusement as a scruffy young man ambled up with a jug of milk, stopped dead and stared.

Sally took his hand. "Goodbye, Doctor."

Notes: Hugh Everett was the physicist who first proposed the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics, which in a nutshell involves varying outcomes to a situation to split off into different universes, thus allowing for infinite parallel universes.

Frobisher is not John Frobisher of Children of Earth, but a shape-shifter who travelled with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in comics and audio episodes.

That bar of chocolate is there for a reason.

Dethaki are avian-humanoid mercenaries. Wrarth are arthropodic space police.