Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who. Really.
Author's Note: The best stories spring from the question, "What if…?" This story began with just the vaguest thought: What if Martha had never made it back onto the Valiant?
She still could have been successful in her mission, the Doctor still could have defeated the Master, everything would have been the same—except Martha Jones would have been on the surface of Earth when the paradox was reversed, and so would have remembered none of what happened.
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Chapter One: She Never Returned
She never returned.
On that awful, dark day when the Master had taken control, when everything had gone wrong…
He had sent her away, with only whispered words to serve as a guide in a suddenly unrecognizable world.
And she had never returned.
During the torturous year that followed, he heard only rumors, snippets of conversations about the world's last hope.
Most of it came from the Master, who delighted in hurting him, in mocking him.
"Martha Jones! Really, Doctor. If she's anything like the rest of her family, your standards certainly have fallen. And how pitiful the masses are, making up their little stories." The Master glanced over at the Doctor. "Still, we wouldn't want things to go too far. And that's why I've prepared a wonderful demonstration, just for you."
The Doctor remained silent.
"I hear that one Martha Jones is in Japan, of all places. I wonder what she could be doing there." He looked expectantly at the Doctor and then continued on. "Still, I would hate for her to think I've forgotten her."
The Doctor's insides twisted. He stared blankly ahead, hating the danger he had sent Martha into, and torn by the longing that had drawn him here, and kept him here.
The Master paused for a moment. Appearing to find the Doctor's response unsatisfactory, he turned and stabbed at a control in front of him. "My children!" he said, with his eyes locked on the Doctor. "Japan is yours."
And the Doctor could only watch as the Toclafane, the metal spheres that had already wrought so much destruction and devastation on the planet below, went to Japan. And destroyed it all.
He had thought losing everything after the Time War had been as bad as it would ever get. But this…this was almost worse. To be given hope again after all this time; hope that he was Not Alone, that there was another to share the burden of existence.
To care for someone so fiercely, so deeply—and then to be spit in the face at every opportunity. I just need you to listen. It was an almost physical pain, but it went so much deeper.
At first he thought that if he tried long enough and worked hard enough, he could make the Master understand. He could make him listen. His mind screamed, We're the last ones, the only ones left.
His aching need for reconciliation was gradually being overwhelmed by a growing fear that the Master was held by a bond stronger than kinship alone could ever sever.
He refused to give up. Refused to sacrifice this last reminder of—
And so the Doctor waited and endured. He had long ago stopped worrying about what would happen to him. His world had collapsed into two people. He spent his days with the Master, and his nights… he thought about Martha Jones.
Even after Japan the rumors continued.
On one rare occasion Martha's mother was able to talk to him alone. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough. They say she made it out alive.
Sometimes, when the Master wasn't around, he would overhear the guards talking.
She crossed the Atlantic.
She's been spotted in America.
It was almost a year after the End of the World when he first heard the words that kindled both startling hope and lingering uneasiness into his hearts.
Martha Jones…has returned to London.
And the Master knew.
"My people. Salutations on this, the eve of war." The Master spread his arms outward, embracing his audience. An almost paternal look crossed his face. "I know there's all sorts of whispers down there. Stories of a child, walking the Earth, giving you hope.But I ask you…how much hope has this man got?"
The Master walked over to the Doctor, his expression mocking, taunting. "Say hello, Gandalf."
The Doctor sat there. Sat there and took it and waited to see what the Master would do.
The Master continued his blithe speech. "Except he's not that old but he's an alien with a much greater lifespan than you stunted, little apes. What if it showed? What if I suspend your capacity to regenerate? All 900 years of your life, Doctor. What if we could see them?"
The Doctor knew what was coming, knew well before the words were spoken, before he was hit with the unimaginable pain of his body's cells growing hundreds of years older in a matter of seconds. And then everything was dark and strange, but he still heard the Master's final words.
"Received and understood, Miss Jones?"
The Doctor had no doubt the message had been received. What she would do now…he didn't know. After 900 years, trusting had become a little harder with each failure, each loss.
But he trusted Martha Jones. And so he waited in his cage and counted each hour.
She never returned.