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Feedback: I'd appreciate it, believe me

AN: The last chapter; hope everyone likes it.

Broken Faith

As she hurried over to join the Doctor at the door, Martha couldn't believe the sight that met her eyes; out in front of them, in what looked like a massive hotel dining-hall, stood around two dozen people of varying ages and appearance, all of them staring at the TARDIS with broad smiles on their faces-

Martha froze.

She knew some of the people before her… there was Professor Chesteron- albeit looking a bit healthier than he had when she'd seen him in Russia- casually chatting with Mrs Jackson in the corner, the Kreniers laughing about something with Anji near a table…

"Welcome to the Companions' Christmas Celebration for 2008!" Ace said, walking up to sling her arms casually around the Doctor and Martha's shoulders, grinning broadly at the Time Lord and the medical student before she returned their attention to the group before them, her subsequent words confirming Martha's assessment of the situation. "Thought that you could use a cheerier celebration to make up for the crap one you must have had on the Valiant; dropped in on everyone still around at this time who's travelled with you- hacked into UNIT databases with the Brig's help and took it from there; it's not like you had an address book I could nick, after all-, told 'em what I was up to, and brought them to this hotel dining area Alistair managed to book for the occasion; I was thinking that you and I could just take them all back to this morning when we go so that they can be with their other families as well-"

Ace was cut off mid-sentence as the Doctor suddenly turned and wrapped his arms around her, pulling back to look at the younger woman with a broad smile and the faint trace of tears in his eyes.

"Thank you," he said warmly as he looked at the young woman standing before him, the faint trace of tears in his eyes balanced out by the broad smile on his face. "I… words can't begin to…"

"So don't," Ace said, smirking at the Time Lord as she indicated the crowd before her with a casually teasing smile that reminded Martha of the old days when she'd prepared a surprise of some sort for her parents before everything went wrong in their relationship with each other. "Go on; they're waiting for you."

Pausing for a moment to take a deep breath- even for a Time Lord, the prospect of a reunion on this scale was somewhat intimidating-, the Doctor stepped out into the room before him, his gaze flickering over all the familiar faces gathered before him- Tegan sitting in a chair with a casual smile at the newly-arrived TARDIS, Mel and Sarah sharing some of what looked like Mel's carrot juice, Jo and Peri chatting about something- before it finally settled on a man he'd last seen falling to the ground after being shot through the heart, smiling warmly at him.

"Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart…" he said, walking over to his old UNIT commander with a broad grin as he held out one hand. "Brilliant to see you again!"

"Same to you, Doctor," the Brigadier replied, warmly shaking the Time Lord's hand before he glanced behind him to smile at the figure just behind him (The Doctor vaguely noticed that Ace had gone off to talk with Sarah and Mel about something). "Ah… Miss Martha Jones, correct?"

"Uh… yeah, that's me," Martha replied, stepping forward slightly to shake the older man's offered hand. "You're… the Brigadier, right? I heard… well, a few people told me about you…"

"During your trip around Earth to undo the Master's reign, correct?" the Brigadier asked, smiling warmly at the young woman before him in the same manner that the Doctor had always seen his old friend use in their post-UNIT interaction when his former commanding officer met his latest companions, demonstrating a warm compassion and appreciation for their willingness to become involved in the life of his oldest friend. "Yes, Miss McShane filled me on what you've been up to lately, Miss Jones… although, of course, another old friend of mine was able to give me more… specific details."

The Doctor didn't even need to ask who the 'other old friend' was; a brief glance to the side revealed the presence of Mike Yates, the haunted look that the Doctor had seen in his eyes only a couple of days ago now lessened after the months that had elapsed between then and now for the former captain, smiling slightly at his two old colleagues…

"D… Doctor?" an uncertain voice said from off to the side, as though he wasn't certain somebody wasn't playing a joke on him.

Turning to look at the speaker, the Doctor's eyes widened even as his face split into a broad smile.

"Ian!" he said, smiling broadly at his first human companion, enthusiastically hugging the old man who'd once taught his granddaughter science in the sixties before he could stop himself, subsequently pulling back to continue to grin at his old friend. "Look at you; forty-five years on and you haven't changed a bit!"

"Bit stiffer round the edges, I think, Doctor…" Ian replied, flexing his shoulders slightly as though working off some stiffness even as he smiled at his old friend. "You know, even after Miss McShane told me about this 'regeneration' thing you do, I don't think I really believed it until I saw you step out of that old police box with that same old gleam in your eyes; did you ever get around to fixing that… chameleon circuit, I think you called it?"

"Oh, thought about it once or twice, but decided that I was better off with it like this; even when I actually did fix it, it still wouldn't blend in," the Doctor said by way of explanation, shrugging slightly as he glanced back at the TARDIS. "Besides, this shape's really more practical than most alternatives; I mean, how are you meant to find the door to an organ?"

"Same old Doctor…" another voice said, prompting the Doctor to glance around to look at an old woman, maybe a few years younger than Ian, smiling slightly at him. "So long since I last saw you, and you're still making jokes…"

"Polly!" the Doctor said, grinning again as he hugged her before he stepped back, looking between the two before him as something occurred to him, a suddenly uncomfortable expression on his face as he looked between his two old friends. "I… look, sorry I didn't mention this earlier, but I… well, I heard about Barbara and Ben, and… well, it's not that I didn't want to go, but…"

"We understand," Polly said, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder as she smiled reassuringly at him. "When you can go around through time so much… it's hard to really say goodbye to someone like that, isn't it?"

"It's like you said to me when I left, isn't it?" another voice said, prompting the Doctor to turn around to stare at a young blonde-haired woman dressed in a smart trouser suit as she smiled at him. "When you're a time-traveller, technically everyone's dead and alive at the same time-"

"SAM?" the Doctor said, his grin practically splitting his face as he looked at his eighth self's first companion- even if he'd left her at that Greenpeace rally and forgotten about her while travelling with Charley and Lucie, he'd always kept her in mind; he'd just been a bit uncomfortable with having someone so young along until he himself felt more stable-, only for the smile to fade slightly in confusion. "But… hold on, I saw your grave…"

"Oh, Fitz and I cleared that up when he ran into me after he left you; we've never actually been certain what that was about, but our best guess is that it was that Marnal prat trying to make a point by claiming I was dead," Sam said dismissively, before she smiled at him. "Still… look at you, eh?"

"Forget about me; look at you!" the Doctor said, smiling back at Sam. "From drugged-up freak-outs in your parents' attic to speech-making political activist; you're really making some interesting ripples out there, you know?"

"What can I say?" Sam replied, shrugging briefly at him. "I had a vision of James Stewart that inspired me to do what I could."

"Just what I like to do, really," the Doctor said, before he snapped his fingers and turned back to Martha, who was looking between the other three in a slightly bemused manner. "Oh, sorry; Martha, this is-"

"Professor Ian Chesterton and Mrs Polly Jackson; I… met them," Martha said, walking forward to shake hands with the two former companions in question, a slightly uncertain expression on her face as she looked at two people she'd technically never met. "I know that sounds-"

"Oh, no worries, Miss McShane over there filled us in on the essential details of what you've been doing," Polly said, indicating where Ace was currently chatting with the Brigadier. "Congratulations are in order, really; I don't think I could have done that…"

"Oh, don't underestimate yourself, Polly Jackson; you were the one who managed to come up with that stuff that destroyed the Cybermen's respiratory systems, remember?" the Doctor said, giving Polly a reassuring brief hug before he stepped back. "Anyway, enough about life back then; Martha, this is Samantha Jones, the one you apparently didn't meet…"

Looking back on that night, the Doctor always remembered some parts more keenly than others depending on the circumstances; in his more melancholy moods, he mourned his inability to really do anything to help Tegan cope with her tumour, or regretted the losses of those who could have been here with their fellows- aside from Barbara and Ben, Liz Shaw and Harry Sullivan's absences were also keenly felt by those who'd known them; he just wished that Dodo had spent more time with Polly for her absence to mean more than it did-, but then, in his more upbeat moments, he reflected on Sarah's tales of her new life with her son Luke- she'd left him at home because she didn't feel right dragging her son into something like this, particularly when she was still trying to adapt to the idea of herself as a mother in the first place-, Peri's stories of her travels across America and Europe, Anji's life with Chloe- she'd been particularly shocked to learn that he really was the Doctor she'd known-, Jo's progress since the last time he'd seen her- after Matthew had moved on to university she'd managed to get herself settled more comfortably-, Benton's return to UNIT after the second-hand-car sales proved not to be enough to maintain his interest…

But, no matter what mood he was in when he looked back on that night's dinner, the Doctor could honestly say that he'd never had a better Christmas- even when counting those few years he'd spent raising Miranda in the eighties during his amnesic exile two bodies ago- than the one he'd had that night. He might not always drop in on old friends as regularly as he'd like- after seeing what had happened to Tegan in particular, he supposed a part of him was always afraid of how they'd have turned out, and seeing Sam's grave and Marnal's later accusations (Even if he'd begun to suspect that Marnal had been lying after he regained his memories) hadn't helped matters-, but it was moments like this that helped him remember why he invited people to come with him…

He gave them the chance to become better than they had been before, and it was always a pleasure to see his faith in their ability to go beyond their original boundaries rewarded with success like this.

Oh, he wasn't denying that some of them- Jo and Tegan sprang to mind- might have had some more trouble coping with life away from him than he might have hoped, but they nevertheless always managed to thrive with what he'd taught them and what they'd experienced in their time with him; he gave them a chance, and they invariably confirmed that he was right to give them that chance.

Finally, after a multitude of conversations and introductions- apologising to Mel for a second time was slightly surreal even if Ace had already laid the groundwork for his apology when she'd picked Mel up, while Peri and Jo had bonded surprisingly well over some of their past 'near-liaisons' they'd had in their travels-, the Doctor found himself standing at the top of the dinner table that had been established in the hall, looking slightly nervously around the room at the old companions gathered before him.

"Uh… hi," he said at last, smiling around at the vast miniature army of familiar faces, some more worn by the passage of time than others but all still the people he'd shared so much with in his past lives, as they looked at him curiously (Even Tegan was looking at him with renewed intensity behind her gaze; the tumour still wasn't fatal but it did make concentration slightly difficult). "Firstly, I know I don't do this sort of thing often- even the most egocentric mes tended not to go in for public speaking unless they had to-, but in a situation like this, I think that… well, I'd regret not doing this."

"Secondly," he continued, his stance becoming more resolute as he studied his old friends, "for those of you who travelled with my other incarnations, I can only wish that I could be here for you now with the faces that you remember me wearing when we parted ways; I will always care for all of you, no matter what I look like or act like, but with some…"

He paused for a moment, his gaze flicking briefly to Victoria and Jo in particular before he continued. "Well, I understand that you… preferred the me you knew to the one that's here now."

For a moment there was silence, the companions looking at this new version of their 'driver', 'leader' and friend for a moment, until Peri broke the silence.

"Whoever you are physically…" she said, smiling slightly at the young man in the brown suit, "you're always the Doctor where it counts; I think I learned the… direct way that a few personal problems don't stop you being who you are."

The Doctor could only smile gratefully at his old companion for that comment; after the way his sixth incarnation had treated her shortly after his regeneration, he'd sometimes worried a bit about their relationship, even if things between her and that body had drastically improved after such adventures as that mess with Iam and the Rani.

"Thank you, Per," he said, nodding at the American woman with a small smile before he returned his attention to the group before him. "I've always prided myself that I only take the best to travel with me- and don't discount yourselves from that if you just happened to wander into the ship or something like that; if I hadn't wanted you there getting rid of you wouldn't have been that difficult-, and you've always proven yourselves to be worth that faith, both when you were with me and after you left; looking at you all, standing here before me…"

The Doctor paused for a moment- he had to blink a tear out of the corner of his eye- before he continued, a warm smile on his face as he stared at the people around him.

"It's… 'brilliant' doesn't even begin to describe it," he said at last, his voice momentarily choked with emotion. "To know that you… all of you… wanted to come here… so many brilliant people, from so many walks of life… all coming together just to see me…"

He smiled at them all. "Well… 'thank you' seems inadequate for everything you did for me- back then and now, I should clarify-, but…"

"I think we can all safely say that it's us who should be thanking you, Doctor," the Brigadier said, standing up to raise a glass to the Time Lord. "A toast, to the man who taught us that the universe can be so much bigger, and stranger, and… better… than we could have ever imagined."

"And to the man who always did what he could to save us… while making sure that he also saved us," Mike Yates added, raising his own glass in acknowledgement of the Brigadier's toast. "For showing us that, just because it's harder than the easy way, we should never stop trying to do things the right way."

Smiling over at Mike, the Doctor could only give the UNIT captain a brief smile as thanks for what he'd just said, grateful that Mike had understood his actions in the last confrontation with the Master.

Not shooting the Master might not have been the easiest thing for Mike to do after what the other Time Lord had made him do, but it was the right thing to do.

The Doctor was well aware that the universe wasn't the perfect place it could be, but, as he'd told Sabbath two lifetimes ago, that only gave him more incentive to see things the way he saw them; the way the universe was simply wasn't acceptable, and that made it all the more important for him to be who he was and try and act the way he acted.

He might have failed to save the Master at the last, but he had to try; if he didn't even give his old friend a chance to better himself, how was he any different from the man who had once been his closest friend?

"And lastly…" the Doctor said, glancing upwards to smile at something above his head before he looked down at Martha, his mind already made up on his next course of action as well as being grateful to have moved on to a more 'relaxed' topic. "Miss Jones, are you aware that we're currently under the mistletoe?"

"Wha-?" Martha said, glancing up only to see that the Doctor was right; dangling directly above their heads was a small branch of mistletoe, hanging from what seemed to be a small hook in the middle of the ceiling…

And, now that Martha was looking at it, she realised that it was the only example of the plant in question in the entire room…

"Oh my God…" she said, looking over at where Ace sat on the Doctor's opposite side, smiling slightly at the two of them; it might have been a bit of a leap of logic, but given that Ace was the person who'd organised this whole thing it wasn't as big a stretch as it might have been. "You… you planned this…?"

"Trust me, when the Doctor tells you he loves someone, you know he's got to be serious about it; all he really needs is the right… incentive… to show it to a larger group," Ace said in a low voice, smiling slightly at Martha before she indicated the Time Lord standing between them, staring hopefully at her as they spoke. "So… are you going to do it?"

For a moment, as Martha looked out at the group before them, she almost couldn't believe this; here she was, in a room full of the Doctor's oldest friends- God, Professor Chesterton had known him when he was still in the body he'd been born in and was travelling with his granddaughter-, all of whom had experienced at one thing with the Doctor that none of their fellows would have encountered…

And he wanted to kiss her

That was what she almost couldn't believe, really; after everything she'd heard in her travels around the world- even if nobody she'd met remembered telling her the stories in question-, after all the times the Doctor's old companions had told her that he'd never expressed any interest in anyone as anything more than a friend…

He was going to kiss her- her- in front of the people who were literally the closest thing to a family he'd ever had in his life.

If Martha had still needed proof of the Doctor's feelings, she was fairly certain she'd just received it; with the Time Lords gone, this was probably the closest she'd ever come to meeting her in-laws, and the Doctor wanted to make sure everyone knew how he felt

As she stood up in her chair and turned to face the Doctor, their arms almost automatically wrapping around each other as their mouths met, Martha barely even registered the applause that suddenly came from all around them as the Doctor's tongue explored her mouth as enthusiastically as the Doctor himself explored everywhere the TARDIS took them.

Life with this man wasn't going to be easy- Martha wouldn't kid herself by thinking otherwise; even without the issues involved in regular travel in the TARDIS, the fact that the Doctor wasn't even her species wasn't something that could be overlooked-, but she already knew that it was going to be the most incredible experience of her life…

AN 2: For clarification purposes, Samantha Jones travelled with the Eighth Doctor in the BBC novels shortly after his regeneration- it's speculated that the Big Finish audios took place between her joining him in "The Eight Doctors" and the subsequent novel "Vampire Science", as she mentions a trip she took to a Greenpeace rally at the beginning of the second book where the Doctor apparently left her for an hour and came back for her after three years had passed for him-, apparently going on to become a political activist after his departure; her existence was partly caused by a temporal paradox designed to create a 'perfect' companion for the Doctor, but he went back to visit her before she travelled with him disguised in a James Stewart mask while she was high to encourage her to go beyond her original limitations. The TARDIS apparently landed at her grave in "The Gallifrey Chronicles", stating that she died in 2002, but given that the Doctor was subsequently captured by Marnal- a Time Lord seeking to pass judgement on the Doctor for the destruction of Gallifrey-, coupled with the fact that the middle name on the grave was wrong, it suggests that Marnal faked the grave to serve as a lure and to try and make a point to the Doctor about the 'negative consequences' of his interference

AN 3: Well, that's the story completed; hope everyone enjoyed it (Sequels are in the planning stages, but I can't guarantee when I'll get around to writing them; I've got a few things I want to finish up before I return to this series)