Hello, friends! I think this is going to be a two- or three-part story, that departs a little from my norm. For starters, it involves the Twelfth Doctor and a thirtysomething Martha Jones!
But, I don't want you to be fooled! no matter how science-fiction-y, and Twelfth Doctor-y it seems at first, it's really just a Ten/Martha ship fic. That's kinda how I roll. :-)
But in the meantime, there's some fun interplay between slightly mismatched Doctor and Companion, which is always interesting, no?
My goal was for there to be meaningful, frank discussion between the Twelfth Doctor and Martha, but no flirtation, and no particular desire for one another, at this point in their lives. I don't want the Doctor to seem too vain or adolescent here... though we all have our flaws...
That Saturday during Earth's mid-summer of 2017 was not the first time the Doctor had been involved in a crashed bus full of humans… on a planet that was not Earth. They'd been fairly lucky back then, on San Helios, that the bus's metal framing had protected them all from burning up when they'd gone through the portal.
But, today was the first time he'd been involved in a crashed bus full of humans, on a planet that was not Earth… when there were injuries. Myriad injuries, as a matter of fact.
He'd been in Berlin, investigating several bus disappearances, and had basically set up the TARDIS at a stake-out point on a non-descript bridge over the river Spree. It was a spot where, in the past month, three buses had gone over, into the drink, and then when emergency crews had arrived, no part of the vehicle, nor its passengers, was anywhere to be found. In the river, nor anywhere else.
He watched on his monitor for a few days, and set an alarm to notify him if a bus approached. And so, he was standing at the console, watching in real-time, eating Chinese food, when a bus had, for no apparent reason, careened into the mid-motorway partition. This caused the bus to flip over inexplicably (for the velocity with which it was moving, the Doctor felt that the flips were entirely uncalled-for), and then fall over the bridge into the Spree.
He cursed, and put his Chinese food down on the counter opposite. He did not wait for emergency crews to arrive and confirm that no bus was in the river below the bridge. He simply set the TARDIS' controls to follow it.
"Here goes nothing," he said.
With that, the TARDIS rose above the river, and then crashed into it, in the middle of the swirling wake, where the bus had disappeared.
But the TARDIS just splashed into the river. A cursory glance around with the vessel's instruments told him that the bus was nowhere, however.
"Where are you, eh?" he asked.
He had been sure that he'd find himself and the TARDIS falling through a portal or a breach or a rift of some sort…
He set the TARDIS back down in a semi-remote spot near the river bank. Now that people were gathering on the bridge, to gawk at the accident, he didn't want to draw attention to himself or his blue box. He re-watched the footage he'd managed to capture of the crash…
"Ahhh! Ah-ha," he growled, with vindication. "It's the partition!"
He slowed it down to one-quarter speed, and watched the incident a third time. One of the concrete barriers between two lanes of traffic on the bridge gave way in a manner that looked decidedly unnatural. He recognised it as a fairly sophisticated propulsion device, originating, most definitely, in a different part of the universe.
Though, the Doctor reasoned, from the evidence, that the device didn't just propel. It also likely attracted the bus to it somehow, causing the bus to run into it, which triggered both the opening of the portal, as well as the propulsion effect. Like flicking a piece of rubbish off the table and into a bin.
He waited for the police to come and clear the bridge of spectators, in anticipation of emergency crews.
Once the way was open, he scared the living daylights out of the coppers, by swooping the TARDIS down and bashing it into the partition. When he did that, the partition did exactly what it was supposed to do: flicked him into the river, and through some kind of gateway…
The TARDIS' instruments notified him that they were, in fact, now in a different galaxy altogether.
"Circulina," he whispered to no-one in particular. "Oh, this is going to be bad."
This planet, he knew, was filled with carnivorous, intelligent, ruthless beasts who likely had set up the trap in Berlin on the motorway somehow to attract buses, flip them into the river and through a wormhole of some sort. This would be seen as a method of hunting and/or trapping, and humans would be seen as a culinary delicacy.
He stepped out of the TARDIS into a heavily greened-in area, a forest of sorts, and found the bus he'd seen in Berlin, badly bashed-in, and filled with screaming, terrified people. Around them, there were three other wrecked buses, though they were empty, and there were no signs of humans in them. He shivered to think of what had probably happened to them, and ploughed forward, onto the bus. His intention was to get everyone into the TARDIS, and out of there.
But chaos won out. The panic inside the vehicle was out of control.
The first thing he saw, when he ducked through the dilapidated doorway was a bus driver, bleeding profusely from the head, lying, blocking the doorway. He checked the man's pulse, and discovered that he was alive, but just barely.
To his left, there was a woman, also bleeding about the head, but she was conscious, upright, and crying. A child with an arm broken so badly, she seemed to have two elbows. She was screaming in pain, and her father, sitting next to her was unconscious, and bleeding as well. Two others were trapped in the back, underneath a piece of metal that had bent inwards upon impact at some point… he couldn't tell if they were dead or alive.
The Doctor quickly ascertained that there were thirteen people on this bus, and he only saw two up, moving about, coherent enough to help. One was a man, about thirty years old, seeming only to have a cut on his arm. The other was a woman, about fifty, who seemed rattled, but miraculously uninjured.
He ploughed down the aisle, and approached them, addressed them both. "Is either one of you a medic? Please tell me one of you is a medic!"
"No," the man answered, totally panicked. "I'm an accountant! I have no idea what to do! What do I do?"
"I work in data analysis," the woman said with fear, but more calm. Then she pointed to someone half-pinned under a row of seats. "That man over there, the one with the purple tie, he's a doctor, but he's in no shape to do anything helpful."
The Doctor approached the man with the purple tie. "Hey, mate, are you conscious?"
"Yeah," the man groaned. "Pretty sure my leg is broken."
"Okay," the Doctor said. "Don't move."
He moved back down the aisle toward the door.
"Wait! Who are you?" the uninjured man called out.
"I'm the Doctor!"
"You're a doctor? Well… don't leave us! Where are you going? Please don't go!"
"I'll be back! I can't do this alone… I'm going to get help!"
Ordinarily, these days, when he needed backup, Clara Oswald was his go-to gal. She didn't want to "travel" with him just now, as she was so involved in her career and her new relationship, but when he needed her, she was usually there. Often with her P.E. teacher boyfriend in-tow.
But in this situation, what the hell could a plucky English teacher do? Or a plucky P.E. teacher?
"No, no, not Clara," the Doctor muttered to himself, running through the TARDIS' door.
One of the great things about being him, he realised, was that picking up companions and loyal friends along the way afforded him a great abundance of different sorts of people to choose from, in a crisis. Many of them were lost to him forever, for whatever reason…
But the one person he needed now, was not lost.
He hoped to God that her last-known phone number was still relevant. In the early twenty-first century, didn't people try to retain the same mobile number for as long as possible? The phone would change – iPhone 5, 6, 7, 89, 272… but the number was usually reliable. Hopefully.
He used the console's phone to ring her.
"Doctor," she said cautiously as she answered, having likely recognised the TARDIS' identification signature on her display.
"Hello, Martha Jones," he said. "Been quite a while since I've heard your voice. Quite a while, indeed."
There was a pause. "I'm sorry, who's this?"
His stomach turned. Oh, that's right.
"Martha, it's me."
"It's you?" she asked.
"It's the Doctor."
"Yes. I swear, it's me."
"Oh. Wow," she breathed. "You've… changed, then."
"Well, I guess the day had to come…"
"Martha, I don't have time to talk about this at the moment. I really, truly, seriously need your help."
"Er… yeah, of course. What's going on?"
"Tell me where you are, I'm coming to get you right now. Prepare a full medical kit."
"Yes, for humans. Thirteen of them. A bus crash. A bad one."
"Ouch, okay. Why not call emergency services?"
"The bus fell through a portal. It's on the planet Circulina."
"Oh, of course it is. I guess you're still the Doctor."
"Indeed I am."
"Right, then. Your… transport. It's still the same, yeah?" she asked, with a gulp.
"Yes. You'll hear it in less than two minutes."
Martha gave her location nervously to the Doctor, and then cut off the call.
Dr. Martha Jones pulled a bulky satchel from a cabinet and heaved it up onto her examination table. It was an old-fashioned medical bag, packed for emergencies, but the instruments inside were not old-fashioned. They were basically untouched, and still sealed in their sterile plastic bags. She shed her white coat and hung it on the hook beside the door. She picked up the satchel, and headed down the hall. She let herself into her closest colleague's examination room, and extracted another medical bag from a cabinet.
The Doctor (if that was, indeed, who had called) had said that there were about fifteen people injured, and she reckoned they might need more than just these two kits, but… this was all she could carry. She wondered why the Doctor himself did not have provisions.
She took the two bags and headed down the hall to the waiting area at the front of the empty clinic, to wait for her "ride." But for a few moments, she just stood there, inside the door with the two satchels, thinking.
The stranger's voice that had come through the phone had shocked her more than she had let on (she hoped, anyway), and now that she was about to see him in a stranger's body, she couldn't help but re-hash her history with him.
When they'd met, ten years ago, she'd been only twenty-three years old. She was wise, in her way, at that time, but in other ways, she was a complete idiot. Especially when it came down to love.
She'd spent a year, travelling with him, helplessly, hopelessly, in it up to her neck.
It had been unavoidable, she thought, given her state of mind at the time, and circumstances. He had been wickedly handsome, quirky, unfathomably intelligent, athletic, funny… a man of action, a man of the universe. That combination of traits (and some esoteric qualities that she could never quite pin down) had made her positively weak in the knees, for a solid year. At twenty-three, still girlishly idealistic, hormonal and untested in the matters of heartbreak, of course she wanted him. Of course it was an all-consuming, with-every-fibre-of-her-being kind of love, the kind that hurt, and left its mark on her.
In the years since, she'd come to wonder lots of things, including, what if it was merely an experiment to him? Had he somehow chosen that body, that face, that personality, as a way of studying human fervour? It was not out of the realm of possibility…
But mostly, she wondered, how could a man as old as he, as experienced as he, as world-weary as he, not see the longing in her ridiculously young eyes, at every turn?
The answer, of course, was… he couldn't. He couldn't not see it. Because, though it had seemed for a long while that he had no clue what she was feeling, it became clear, after a time, that he had a clue, just no interest. Then, she'd been forced to save the world and gain some goddamn perspective, and only after that, could she walk away from him.
Seeing him again, following those events… it had stung. She'd been briefly engaged to Tom Milligan (what a farce that had been), and worked with UNIT, and had run with the Doctor a couple of times during that period. But even then, it had hurt a bit. She was no longer quite so infatuated, but the pang of what once had been, it was sharp and bitter, if only for a few minutes, before the adrenaline kicked in, and they began chasing down Daleks and Sontarans.
The last time she'd seen him was about eight years ago, six weeks or so after she'd married Mickey, and the Doctor had said nothing. He had dispatched with a single Sontaran who, presumably, would have taken her and Mickey unawares. But then, he seemed to simply stare at them for a long while, before walking away without a word. The encounter had been awkward, not just because Mickey knew very well her history with the Doctor (and she knew his), but because it had felt wrapped up in destiny somehow. For months after that, she was preoccupied with it – the look on his face that day, how he'd known to come save them, why he'd just walked away. She wondered if he had been trying to communicate something to them, and if they should have pursued it further.
And after that, until today, her life had been devoid of Time Lords (except when he intervened on a global level, and she knew it was him… who else could have scared off the Atraxi?), TARDISes and most types of otherworldly drama.
It was probably only about thirty seconds later when she heard the groan of the TARDIS, and saw it, materialising across the small patch of grass in front of the clinic. Her heartbeat sped up. She assured herelf that in a few minutes, she'd be knee-deep in a crisis. There were people in trouble, and she had a job to do. She would have no time to dwell on the past, and that was a relief.
She pushed through the glass door, knowing it would lock behind her, and waited, holding her breath, for someone to emerge.
The man who stepped through the door was tall, as she remembered him, thin, as she remembered him… but that's where it ended. His hair was curly and completely grey, his face now much more worn and creased, befitting a man of some age. He no longer wore anything resembling the well-tailored pin-striped suit, to which he'd become so attached, back when she'd known him… today, he wore a black blazer, with a black hoodie underneath, and some sort of printed tee-shirt. On his feet, there were no whimsical trainers, but rather, a pair of quite serious, scuffed Doc Martens.
"Wow," she said, with a sad smile. "You are… so different."
He smiled kindly. "You look the same."
She scoffed. "Ten years older."
"No," he insisted, lightly. "You look the same. Still achingly beautiful."
She smiled more widely, now in disbelief. "Are you really… you? You're really the Doctor?"
He gestured to the TARDIS. "Who else would live in this thing?"
"Wow," she repeated. "Sorry, just…"
"That's all right. Want to know something that will mess with your head even more?"
She laughed. "Of course! Why wouldn't I?"
"Since you last saw me, I've changed twice."
"Yeah… there was… a bow-tie."
"For a time. It was an affectation. Anyway… we shouldn't dawdle. Even with a time machine, we're wasting precious minutes here," he said. He gestured through the door of the Police Box. "Let's go."
"Let's go?" she asked, stepping through the door. "Back in the day, you'd have said, allons-y."
"That was a catch-phrase," he told her, shutting the door. "I'm now totally against catch-phrases. Especially French ones."
"Grumpy now, too," she commented, as he took her bags from her and set them to the side.
"Thank you," he said. "Most people just think I'm Scottish."
With that, he secured the door, and walked down the ramp, past her, toward the console. Only then did she properly look around.
"Holy…" she breathed, her mouth open.
"What? You knew it was bigger on the inside."
"Yeah, but… erm, can TARDISes regenerate too?"
"Yes," he said. "Sorry, I should've warned you. The whole interior has had a… makeover. Twice."
"It's funny, her interior changes, but her exterior stays the same. Me, I'm the opposite," he chuckled.
"Funny," she said, absently, walking toward the console, and exploring with her eyes the familiar, yet completely foreign, TARDIS console room.
"Okay, let's just… go," he said, sensing immense discomfort, on her part.
He threw the vessel into gear, and it jostled them. She found that the movement of the TARDIS felt familiar, and she was still conditioned, after all these years, to grab on, when she felt that tug and heard that sound.
She took the opportunity to study the man at the controls, and look him over. He had completely changed since she'd travelled with him. Or rather, the superficial aspects of the Doctor had… his look, and his home décor. She reckoned he probably lived the same, mad old life. She found it interesting that the superficial aspects of her had changed little, while the inner-workings had done an about-face.
She hoped they'd have a chance to catch up later. There was so much she wanted to know.
But before she could fathom what she might say to him when given a proper chance, the TARDIS stopped, and the Doctor ran for the door. He opened it, and as before, gestured for her to walk through it.
She both chuckled, and cried a little, inwardly, at the way he ran. Her Doctor used to do everything at a full sprint. This Doctor had a funny little waddle that passed for a jog, she supposed…
"We've landed two minutes after I left. Fabulous. We've still got a shot at helping these people, and getting them back to where they belong, before they get eaten," he said.
"Eaten?" she asked, stepping into the forest on Circulina, hearing screams coming from a nearby bus. With that word, and those sounds, she was suddenly immersed in the crisis along with the Doctor, and no longer thinking of the man in pin-stripes.
"Yes, eaten," he said, leaning back into the TARDIS, grabbing the two medical satchels she'd brought. He handed her one. "Thanks for bringing these. Saves me some time, trying to find mine. Haven't needed it since… well, since this most recent change. I currently have no idea where the TARDIS' infirmary is."
She might have laughed at this, had a switch not been flipped inside of her, throwing her doctorly instincts into hard focus, making everything else less important for the moment.
The two of them boarded the bus, recruited the two relatively uninjured passengers as makeshift medics, and set to work prioritizing the injuries. Martha began with the little girl with the broken arm. The Doctor began with the dying driver.
The man in the purple tie turned out to be fairly useful, once Martha had got some pain medication pumped into him, as he was then able to help with the categorising, and instructing, from where he sat.
In the end, the two men who had been crushed by a metal panel in the back of the bus, they were hopeless. They had probably died upon impact. But everyone else was at least temporarily stable, before any carnivorous beasts could find them in the forest.
But when they began to hear giant footsteps, the Doctor and Martha rallied them all, and they had to work together to get everyone into the TARDIS, and out of there.
And, as often happens when the Doctor is involved, people were unable to explain exactly what happened or who had saved them… but they were fine, and able to carry on from there, whatever that may mean. He delivered them all to a hospital back in Berlin, then called Kate Lethbridge-Stewart to do damage-control with the hospital's administration.
And, four hours after he had picked up Martha Jones in front of her clinic, the Doctor landed the TARDIS in the same spot, with thanks to his erstwhile, very clever, companion. The two of them silently reloaded the medical bags, and prepared to say goodbye, once more.
He stepped out of the TARDIS with her, carrying both satchels.
"Are you sure you don't want me to take you to your actual home?" he asked her. "It's Saturday. You've put in a good day's work."
She said, "No, it's fine. I have to return the instruments to the clinic, and sterilise them. Plus, my car is here."
He smiled softly and nodded. "Okay." Then he looked up at the small, clean white building, her place of work, and commented, "This is very nice."
"Are you running the place?"
"Yes, it's my practise," she said. "I have associates."
He smiled big, this time, and told her, "Congratulations."
But then, the sign affixed to a brick post on the patch of green, caught his eye. Francine Jones Memorial Oncology Clinic.
His face fell, and he gestured toward the sign. "I'm sorry."
She smiled sadly. "Thanks. It's all right."
"Five years ago," she said. "Lung cancer. I had to give up chasing aliens so I could be with her. Opened this place with some of what she left me when she passed."
"Well, that's something, at least. How's your dad?"
"Remarried. Living in Florida, as of six months ago."
"Good, good. Tish? Leo?"
"Both married with kids."
He frowned. "You?"
"Want to come inside for a few minutes? Have a lousy cup of break-room tea?"
"How could I resist that?" he said, with a chuckle. "I'll help you sterilise and repack the kits."
She unlocked the door, and the Doctor hauled the satchels inside, and she instructed him straight down the hall, second-to-last door on the left. She turned on a few lights, and then joined him in the tiny room that housed a washing machine and dryer, a utility sink, a small cabinet, and an Autoclave machine, for sterilising medical instruments.
From the cabinet, Martha extracted a plastic tub, and an alcohol-based solution. She diluted the solution with water, then asked the Doctor if he wanted to scrub, then soak the instruments, or make tea.
He chose to scrub.
"Least I can do, for all your help today," he said.
He shrugged off his blazer, pushed up the sleeves of his hoodie, and set himself to work.
He found her, ten minutes later, in the break room. She was waiting with tea already steeping in novelty mugs, and a plate of a few different types of biscuits.
"How long do you like to soak them before putting them in the Autoclave?" he asked, entering, transferring his blazer to the back of a folding chair.
"Usually just fifteen minutes, but given what they've been through today, let's do a half-hour or so," she said. "How do you take your tea, these days?"
"Strong, black," he answered, sitting down at the table where she had laid out the refreshments.
"Okay. Me, I'm still white, with no sugar," she said, extracting a small carton of milk from a miniature refrigerator, and bringing it to the table. "Feel free to have one of these incredibly appetising, stale, broken Jammy Dodgers. I excavated them from that cabinet, there, just for you."
He smiled. "There was a time when I would have been all too happy to partake, in any sort of Jammy Dodger," he told her. "As it is, I'll just stick with tea, thanks."
She nodded, and picked up a lemon biscuit from the plate, just as stale as anything else there. She bit into it, realising she hadn't eaten yet today.
"So I've brought you up to speed," she said.
"You have?" he asked, with a bitter look on his face, after burning his mouth on the tea.
"Now, how about you? What have you been up to?"
"That's quite the loaded question, Dr. Jones."
"Well, for starters, how long has it been?"
"I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe eight hundred years."
"Whoa," she said, exhaling hard, leaning back in her chair. "That's… mental."
"Some of it has been, yeah."
"I mean, it's almost so long a time, as to be meaningless for someone like me. And, weren't you, like, nine-hundred-and-four, or something like that, the last time I saw you? Now you're almost twice that old?"
"I spent a lot of time in a town called Christmas. A lot of time," he told her.
"So, seriously, tell me stuff. What led to you regeneration, twice since I last saw you?"
"Well, a day or two before the last time I saw you, when I stopped that Sontaran from killing you and Mickey…"
"And then cryptically walked away without a word?"
"Yeah, just before that, I'd been doused with a ridiculous amount of radiation," he said. "I could say it was the Master, but it wasn't. Speaking of whom… you should see her now."
"The Master. Anyway, it was not the Roentgen kind of radiation, but the kind that can actually hurt me. Kill me. When you saw me, I was slowly dying, and I knew it. I was saying goodbye."
She nodded. She had suspected that the event was fateful, in some way.
"And I regenerated just a few hours later, and then crash-landed in 1996. I met a seven-year-old girl named Amelia, and… well, because I was sometimes a bit rubbish at aiming the TARDIS, especially when she'd been damaged, I ran afoul of an older version of Amelia, who was quite cross with me for abandoning the younger version. Eventually, she got over it, and she and her fiancé-slash-husband travelled with me for a time. Of course, that was after she tried shagging me, but that's neither here nor there."
Martha laughed. "So, you regenerated into yet another infernally magnetic character, eh?" Then she winked at him whimsically, and it made him a bit uncomfortable, but he couldn't put his finger on why.
"Well… sort of," he said, shifting in his chair, a bit. He took a long sip of his tea to cover his discomfort. "I thought so at the time. But not like when you knew me."
"I see," she said, sipping her tea, with something of a knowing smile.
"Amelia – Amy – and Rory were with me for a long time. A really long time. A couple hundred years."
"How is that possible? Were they human?"
"Yes, but, they wanted to have a normal life, so… I took them home, and picked them up whenever I needed them, and we'd have adventures. Sort of like I did with you, today. From their side of things, it was about ten years, but on my end… well."
"What happened to them?"
He stared into his mug, with a very forlorn smile. "They crossed the path of a Weeping Angel."
"Oh my God."
"It trapped them in a time and place where I could not reach them. So, just like that, they were literally, poof, gone. In a flash of heartbreak."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Doctor."
It still felt weird calling this man Doctor.
"So, I thought I'd brood a bit more after that… got so bloody sick of losing people. I was still sort of grinding on Donna, and you, and Rose..." He sighed heavily. "Eventually, though, I met Clara Oswald. She was with me off and on for a while, and then, one day… it's a long story, but, ugh… another bloody brink-of-war. And another me, having to stop it. But to do that, I couldn't mov. I had to stay put, in order to keep the warring factions at a stand-off, as opposed to allowing them to come to blows and destroy half of the known universe. So, I stayed in that one place for something like six centuries."
"In that same body?"
"Yep. The bow-tie body. Just sitting there, living with people, growing old, holding the war at-bay. Eventually, I just sort of got old and died. Well, there's more to it than that, but that brings us to today," he said. He gestured to his face, and said, "Here I am."
He penetrated her dark eyes with his blue ones. "She's still in my life, but after I changed, she changed too."
"When I was bow-tie man, she fancied me…" he stopped, and sighed.
Martha smiled. "Poor thing."
"And now, not so much."
"It's hard for us, Doctor. When you change, it's…"
"Not that I'm brooding over it now," he corrected, interrupting her. "Not that I'd even… even if I… I'm actually a married man now, so..."
"What?" she asked, with a big smile.
"Long story," he said with a wave of his hand. "Actually, that story is so long, I don't even know all of it. Anyway, I see Clara quite often these days, but…"
"She doesn't want to live the life, twenty-four-seven anymore?"
"Well, I guess… maybe that's the way it goes."
He paused for a noticeable interval, then asked, "Does it?"
She was not used to these particular eyes, and this particular voice, but she was not blind to the scowl, nor the tone. The formidable brow was furrowed at her, and his voice had gone to a whisper.
"I'm afraid so," she said. "Humans… you can say we're superficial if you want, but we do get attached to the way things look, especially people."
"Especially when someone is youthful and handsome and charismatic," he growled. "Easy to get attached, then." He sat back with his arms crossed, and dug holes into her with his eyes.
She responded in kind. "What? What's that look all about?" she asked.
"That's an excellent question, isn't it?" he asked. "What's this look all about?"
She squinted at him, trying to suss out whatever it was that had set him suddenly in this darker direction. She no longer was attuned to his moods, no longer felt whatever he felt…
"Sorry, Doctor, you're going to have to give me more to go on."
He spoke just above a whisper, and almost as quickly as he used to, back when she knew him well. "You're all too quick to make jokes about how infernally magnetic I once was. So quick to smirk about Clara, and how her feelings changed."
"Well, yeah… sorry. Didn't mean to offend you." Suddenly, for the first time today, she properly felt as though she were talking to a stranger.
"When I told you I'd got married, your initial reaction, right out of the gate, was to laugh, smile, and express a charming, childlike disbelief."
"And that's… bad?"
"In the old days, you'd never have made light of any of that. There would have been a gravitas. A wistfulness," he growled, breaking eye-contact.
"Yeah, well, that was the old days," she shrugged. Then, "Hold on. Are you actually offended because… were you really expecting me to still be doe-eyed over you, ten years later?"
He didn't say anything, he just sighed, and made the silence in the room even heavier.
"Oh, come on, Doctor," she whined. "Ten years! That might not mean much to you, but… well, for me, it's the difference between twenty-three, and thirty-three. That's huge, in and of itself! It's the difference between being a nomad, and settling down. In that time, let's see… I've been engaged twice, married once, divorced once, had two miscarriages, two careers, lived in four countries, watched my mother waste away from cancer, buried three out of four grandparents, plus a niece. Are we seriously going to even try and compare me with a starry-eyed medical student behind a pub in 2007?"
This deluge of information took him by surprise. Martha had, indeed, grown up, for better or for worse. Sometimes he failed to think of his friends as having eventful lives without him; their lives were wonderful and worth living, of course, but to hear Martha Jones speak of all the loss she had suffered, all of the pulse-pounding, hair-ripping adventures she'd lived right here on Earth, just in a decade… well, he was thrown onto his back foot with these revelations.
"I'm… I'm sorry," he said. "I just…"
"I know," she sighed. "You're used to having one kind of relationship with me. Even for you, it might be hard to accept that the nature of relationships is… to change."
He smiled sheepishly into his lap for a few seconds, rather chuckling. After a long moment, he said, softly, "Look at me, sniping at you because you seemed to have a difficult time dealing with the changes to my outside. And I can't accept the changes you've made on the inside. Some genius I am, eh?"
"It's nothing to do with genius," she said. "It's to do with expectation."
He conceded this, and held her eye, nodding in agreement.
She continued. "Ironically, I think we'd each like to have frozen the other in time."
He continued nodding. "They say that olfactory perception is the most visceral of the sensory input functions, in the human animal. I've never believed that."
"Me neither. It's visual perception, surely. The outside appearance of something is what tackles the senses first, in most cases," she said, matter-of-factly, sipping her tea. "Remember when we first met?"
She said this with a playful air, and duplicated the smile she'd flashed at him on that day in the hospital. In her mind, just for a few seconds, she allowed herself to relive the few moments in which the mischievously fetching "John Smith," in the hospital bed, had returned the flirtation. She'd felt a spark at first sight of him…
"I do, indeed," he said. "I remember feeling rather swayed by exterior appearances myself."
For a long while, they were silent. Martha thought she might be able to guess at what could be bothering the Doctor just now.
There was all this talk about changes to his outsides, and changes to her insides. He had mentioned the fact that his friend Clara doesn't fancy him, now he's regenerated, and he had done so very pointedly. This meeting must have been as impactful upon him, as on her. She considered the shock she'd received upon hearing a strange voice over the phone, and seeing an unfamiliar man emerge from the TARDIS, and reckoned that the Doctor must have been experiencing something similar, with her change in demeanour.
She had been used to a youthful Doctor in a pinstriped suit, with a flirty, cheeky personality. He had been used to a fledgling physician who hung on his every word, and looked at him as though he'd invented the cosmos.
Both had been, perhaps, hoping for a walk down memory lane, if nothing else…
Neither of them got what they bargained for.
"Listen, Doctor," she said. "I'm going to go out on a limb here, and just… say what I'm thinking, okay? Are you ready to hear it?"
"What could I say? No?"
"Okay, here goes," she said, in preparation. She took a deep breath, and addressed the Doctor seriously. "I was, for a time, just… desperately in love with you. This isn't a huge surprise to you."
"And I would be quite an extravagant liar if I said that that state of affairs was totally intellectual, and had nothing to do with the way you looked at the time."
"I was in love, but also…" she smiled with bashful embarrassment. "…in lust. You were, as they say, sex on legs as far as I was concerned. And that bit of torture began for me, oh, perhaps ten seconds after we met."
She continued. "But you're not a vain man – even then, you never were…"
"Really? Don't think so, eh? 'Cause I could tell you things."
"Okay, at least not as a rule," she conceded. "And you're not childish, nor short-sighted, nor selfish. So, I think it might give you some peace to hear from me that of course it was not all about the way you looked. It wasn't only about the eyebrow, and the hair, and the tight suit and the sideburns, and the fact that you were a bloody powder-keg of energy all the time. It was also about the ridiculously intelligent and deceptively sensitive man, at your core."
"Yeah. And, do you know what I'm going to say now?"
"That that's the part that hasn't changed?" he asked, with an indulgent smile.
"Exactly. So maybe I'm out-of-line in assuming that what's been bugging you today is that you wonder if I only fancied your looks, and that's why I'm not all twitterpated now. Correct me, if I'm attributing juvenile qualities to your oh-so-lofty psyche."
The hint of whimsical sarcasm in her voice made him chuckle.
"But just in case I'm right," she said. "I want you to know this: yes, my feelings for you back then had a bit to do with the very-easy-on-the-eyes exterior. Attraction almost always is a lot to do with looks. But the fact that I'm not in love with you now, that has nothing to do with the way you look today."
"It does help to hear you say that. My ego gets the best of me sometimes." He stared into his cup for another long moment, then asked, "So, what does it have to do with? Is it really just time having passed? Your life's difficulties having given you perspective?"
"Well, yes. I think so."
"I mean, I'm asking because, honestly, Martha, all relationship angst aside, I'm curious about your life. Concerned, I mean."
"There's no need to be concerned," she said. "I'm fine. I've been through a lot, but nothing I couldn't handle. Nothing, frankly, terribly abnormal."
"Okay. What is it that's not abnormal, then?"
"Mickey and I moved to New York for a bit, to try and do more with freelance alien-tracking, which went really well, but then, my mother got sick, and we had to come back home. We decided to settle down and try to have a baby before she passed... that didn't work out. Twice, did it not work out."
"I'm so sorry, Martha."
"Thanks, but it could have been worse. I lost them both in the first trimester, fortunately, so it didn't have a huge impact upon our material lives – in fact, no-one outside the family even knew about it – but the losses were still fairly palpable to us. Again, expectation. Hopes were thwarted, a life we'd imagined seemed unattainable…
"Then, when mum died, the whole mess put such a strain on our relationship, Mickey and I might as well have been living on different planets. And eventually…" then she clicked her fingers to indicate that the marriage had dissolved. "After all that loss, I freaked, and went and hid out in Germany for about six months, away from everyone I knew, and did some consulting with UNIT over the phone. Then they offered me a job in Dublin, so I took it. But ultimately, it felt hollow to do that sort of work without… well, without you, and without Mickey. It was five months into that when I got the call that my sister's seven-year-old daughter had had a seizure at school, and died that night."
"God. That's horrible," the Doctor whispered, wiping his forehead and face with one hand. "I mean… that's properly horrible. Trust me, I know from horrible."
She nodded. "I guess that's what I meant when I said it could have been worse, because, for my sister, it really, really was."
There was a long, reverent silence, and then Martha spoke again.
"During that time with you, and that time when I was walking across the planet ducking the Master, I felt I'd learned to listen to messages from the universe," she said. "And when my niece was taken, I reckoned I'd been ignoring what the universe had to say for too long."
"It was telling you to go back to being a doctor."
"Yes," she told him. "So, I opened this place about two-and-a-half years ago. And, for the first time in a long while, I don't feel restless."
"Good for you," he said. "I'm sorry if I… jostled you. Today, I mean."
"You didn't jostle me. I mean, okay, just getting a call from you jostles me a little bit, but… so would getting a call from anyone I hadn't seen in this long, and had once been in love with. But, well, overall… no, I don't feel jostled."
"Good," he said. "I mean, I was probably going to call you to help with the bus accident one way or the other, but… I didn't have to bring up the other stuff. The angsty teenaged crap."
She smiled softly. "So, why did you?"
"I don't know… I guess I was hoping for some closure."
"Closure?" she asked.
He stood up, and paced the room slowly, once. Then he took a spot, leaning against the wall by the door, crossing his arms over his chest.
In this position, he contemplated a little longer, and Martha just gave him space to think.
"Martha, I saw an opportunity today," he said.
"As I said, for closure," he said. "Once I knew I'd be seeing you, I thought I'd be able to tell you some things…"
"Yeah?" she urged, after he didn't say anything for a while.
"I don't want to dredge up a bunch of unwanted feeling, because clearly, our lives have changed. I thought it would be easier to broach the subject with you, frankly, but once I realised how much you'd changed, I realised how much harder it was going to be."
"Once you realised that I'm not still swooning over you, you mean?"
"Yeah," he whispered.
"Just tell me."
He looked at her indulgently. "You mean, you can't guess?"
"I'm not going to guess, Doctor," she insisted.
He sighed. "All right. All that time we were together... some of that time, you thought I didn't know how you felt. Some of that time, you knew that I knew. But all of that time, you thought I didn't care… or at least, didn't care to do anything about it."
Carefully, measuredly, he continued. "I think you should know that I did care to do something about it. I did have feelings for you, or whatever you call it. What I did not have was the wherewithal to allow myself to fall in love. I did not have – or, at least, I thought I did not have – the right to insinuate myself into your life in that particular way. I fancied you rather fiercely, in fact, but I was still licking wounds from before, and trying not to overburden you, or myself, with the baggage of my past."
"Oh, Doctor," she sighed.
The silence in the room was oppressive, except for his penetrating voice.
"I absolutely adored travelling with you. You were beautiful. Brilliant. Passionate. Amazing. And all that stuff you said about me… I felt the same way, just, in a much less demonstrable way. In a much less-unfettered, and innocent, way. I did want you, and want to be with you," he said. Then his voice went up in volume, just enough to let her know that the following was really the point of all of this. "And, Martha, I always reckoned that someday I would. I would be ready to take that step, to welcome you into my life, and be free to give you my hearts. I just needed… well, time and space. Time to get used to the idea, to fight back the fear, to decide it was worth the risk. And I was getting there, slowly but surely – the stint in 1969 was a great help to that end."
"Oh, erm, 1969 was hell for me, just FYI," she told him.
"But then, the thing with the Master started happening, and you were gone for a year, and when you came back…"
"I was different."
"You'd found your footing, found your self. You'd got tired of waiting. You'd seen the shortness and fragility of life and seen that you didn't bloody need me in it, complicating things, and making you miserable. That was, I think, the beginning of a metamorphosis."
"I think so too," she confirmed.
"When I saw you again, when you called me to deal with the Sontarans, I thought I'd tell you then, but…"
"The first thing I did was flash an engagement ring at you."
"Kind of killed the mood."
"Yes. And I reckoned then that I should probably just start letting go."
They both fell silent for a long, heavy, few moments. The silence, if possible, grew even deeper, and each of them wondered if the other could hear their heartbeat. The Doctor wondered, in the tar-like pause, whether he'd gone too far, told her too much, and made things worse.
But Martha's brain was going in a somewhat different direction.
"Doctor, were you hoping to… I dunno… recapture something today?" she asked, hesitantly. "I mean, I recognise that it's been eight hundred years…"
"No," he said to her, confidently. "I was not hoping to recapture."
"Okay. I'm pleased to hear that."
"I swear to you, it really was about closure. Just to tell you that thing I'd been wanting to tell you, the elephant in the room ever since the day we met… it's finally been addressed. And in spite of this difficult discussion, it's a load off my mind."
"I can see that. Thanks for your honesty, Doctor."
He moved forward and reprised his seat at the table across from her. "You'd walked away from me, and then I'd walked away from you, leaving you to feel that you hardly mattered to me. I couldn't let that stand, no matter how much time had passed, in both our lives."
She smiled easily, and said, "Clean slate."
"Yeah," he whispered with a warm, but slightly sad, smile.
"So, tell me about your wife," she said, standing up, to heat more water.
After a somewhat melancholy goodbye, the Doctor dematerialised away from Martha's clinic, and meandered aimlessly in space for a bit. He had come very close to asking her to travel with him again… but he knew he'd be turned down, and he didn't want to put either of them in that position.
But he'd wanted to, because he had almost forgotten how much he liked her. All of their old feelings aside, she was funny and smart and kind; basically just a joy to be around. Sometimes her presence in his life, even in his own brain, got overshadowed by the drama of Rose, who came first, and his long, long relationship with The Ponds and a town called Christmas, in the years following. Martha had been a short, but extremely impactful, blip.
She needn't have been a blip, though. Shouldn't have been, in fact.
Damn it, at age nine-hundred, shouldn't he have been old enough to know back then that he didn't have all the time in the world? Why the hell would he take on a first-mate that he fancied, and then put her on the back-burner while he took his sweet time, working out his own personal daemons? Yeah, sure, I've got one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen on board with me, and she might be the cleverest human being I've yet met. But you know, I've got infinity to decide to bloody say something to her about what's on my mind, and in my hearts… no problemmo. Oh, hello, Professor Yana. Gee, that's a nice fob-watch you've got there…
And so, today, he brooded. He did not brood over the fact that Martha Jones wasn't in his life anymore… wasn't his companion or partner or girlfriend or whatever. He was beyond that. He brooded over lost opportunities and wasted potential. He brooded over the scars he had left upon himself, and especially upon her, because he'd been too preoccupied, selfish and afraid to tell her how he felt. He brooded over the evolving he could have done with her, fully aware at his side. He brooded over all that they could have taught each other, if only he'd given them a chance, given them more time and a chance for a deeper connection.
But the part that grated on him the most, was the lack of closure. Today, yes, they had achieved a measure of finality. However, as a time traveller, and as a man who had changed his face twelve times, he was wont to think of different "versions" of people, almost as different people. Martha Jones in her mid-twenties, in his mind, was a separate entity from Martha Jones in her mid-thirties. Time does this to people; it changes them irrevocably, gives them a different look, outlook, energy and skill-set… including coping skills. And so, though thirtysomething Martha Jones now knew how he'd felt all those years ago, twentysomething Martha Jones never would. She would always feel just a bit inadequate, and wonder within herself why she could never catch his eye or convince him to risk more than just his life with her. There was so much happiness that had gone untapped, and so much uncertainty that had taken its place… the thought of that was almost unbearable to him.
Unbearable, so as to be sleep-depriving. He spent forty-eight straight hours in the console room, arranging, and re-arranging his library, ostensibly trying to get his resources in order. But the real reason was the preoccupation that it afforded.
Because, just beneath the surface of all these thoughts was something semi-dangerous. He didn't want to go there, because time and space would frown upon it…
But seeing Martha again had, of course, forced him to recall his younger self. And he was reminded of a day, of a mindset, right at the end, two regenerations ago, when he believed himself to be the last Time Lord in existence (save for the Master, who was certifiable). He had flagrantly broken the laws of time and space as he knew them, and attempted to save the occupants of the Bowie Station on Mars from a fixed, predestined, necessary explosion. He had reasoned that the Time Lords governed time and space, and since he was it, it was his right alone to make the decisions. Who cared about fixed points, paradoxes, the universe having its will? He was the Doctor, damn it, and he was going to win!
Of course, in the end, that particular victory had been quite small…
However, what was consequential here was the rule-breaking, the decision that the old, stodgy Time Lords (who were nowhere to be found at the moment) were either wrong or irrelevant, and all those stupid rules he usually followed were just a precaution anyhow.
Reminiscing with Martha, about the man in pin-stripes, had put him in a rebellious mood.
Though, he reckoned, he could probably give himself, and Martha, quite a bit of peace without doing anything too on-the-outside… certainly it would be nothing like the Bowie Station. There were small rules about fixing things by using time-travel, and big rules, concerning crossing one's own timeline and manipulating the vortex for one's own personal, selfish gain. Today he would, really, only break a small one.
He went round the library balcony, and pulled a few sheets of writing paper from the desk drawer, as well as a pen. As he held the two implements in his hands, he smiled to himself.
He and Martha had talked a lot today about change: appearances, personalities, insides versus outsides. The Doctor underwent almost a total metamorphosis of all superficial qualities every few hundred years (less, if he was careless). And yet, his handwriting always stayed the same.
It was handwriting that any version of Martha would recognise.
He reminded himself that his main goal was simple closure, the gift of peace-of-mind to twentysomething Martha and to himself, and not, after all, the fulfillment of lost potential. That would be just a bit on the selfish side, and might mess with too much of what had happened since then, with River, the Ponds, and Clara. Not to mention, he had to honour the part of himself that, at the time, had been going through some very raw, very real, grief over his previous companion.
And so, he would have to find the optimum moment to give Martha the most reassurance, while causing the fewest ripples.
Whew! So, what're you thinking? Please make my day, and leave a review!