Disclaimer: I don't own the characters you recognise; usual drill
Feedback: Feel free
As Martha Jones stood in front of the mirror, taking one last check-over of her hair and make-up in preparation for the ceremony, she couldn't help but feel more than slightly ambivalent about the current situation.
She knew that the wedding would take place in less than an hour, and she already knew that most of the guests were here- some of her old friends from her student days, assorted UNIT colleagues, her family-, but there was still a few people she hadn't heard from.
The Torchwood staff were one thing, of course- with them being responsible for the Rift it was only natural they might have trouble guaranteeing 'time off'-, but she would have thought that he could have made the effort…
"Looking as fantastic as ever, Doctor Jones, huh?" a familiar voice suddenly said from behind her.
"Jack!" Martha said, turning to smile at her friend and fellow former companion, already crossing three people off her 'list'; if Jack was here, it could be a fair bet that Gwen and Ianto were as well. "You made it!"
"Well, we've got the Hub programmed to alert us the second anything… odd… happens back at the office, so we figured we could spare a few hours for this," Jack replied, shrugging nonchalantly as he smiled at her, before his expression became more solemn. "Have you seen… him?"
"Never even called back," Martha replied, shaking her head with a casual nonchalance that felt forced even to her; she just prayed that it wasn't as obvious to her old friend. "I left a few messages letting him know the date, but he hasn't even texted a response."
"Really?" Jack said, looking uncertainly at her for a moment before he shrugged. "Well, you know the Doctor; for all we know he could have just dropped in on us already as far as he's concerned."
"Maybe…" Martha admitted, nodding slightly, unable to stop the slight twinge on her face at the thought that the Doctor had decided not to come.
What was it with that man these days? Everything had been fine between them since the Sontaran incident- the Doctor still came to her now and again to talk about Donna and Jenny when he could; he'd told her more than once that he'd wished she could have spent more time with the daughter he'd only had for such a brief time-, but ever since his last visit, when she'd mentioned that her wedding was coming up and asked the Doctor to come, he'd just clammed up, claimed that he had something vital to do somewhere else, headed back to the TARDIS, and left.
Every attempt Martha had made to try and get through to him since then had been met with nothing but her old answerphone- even after that incident with the wormhole and that bus she'd heard about the Doctor had left before she could get there-, leaving her with no real idea whether the Doctor was genuinely busy somewhere and hadn't heard the phone or simply decided not to answer it…
Shaking that thought off, Martha smiled once more at Jack in thanks and turned her attention back to the mirror, trying not to feel too hurt about the fact that, once again, the Doctor had something else to do that was more important than her.
He had a whole universe to travel and explore that would always matter more to him than the feelings of someone who'd just been a replacement for who he really wanted to be there…
She was over him, and that was that.
Maybe if she told herself that enough times, she'd finally believe it…
An hour later, the Doctor still conspicuous by his absence and the rest of the guests becoming impatient, Martha knew that she couldn't hold off on the ceremony any more. Taking one last check-over of her dress- a long white one with off-the-shoulder sleeves and a long veil-, Martha stepped out of her dressing room to join her father, the two subsequently walking down the aisle past all the assorted guests.
Martha even noticed the Torchwood Three- as she'd come to think of them following the 'death' (If it could be considered that in Owen's case seeing as he was already dead) of Owen and Tosh- sitting near the middle of the church- Gwen's husband had been busy with work-, but the continued absence of the man who'd so changed her
For a moment, as she stood in front of Tom, Martha once again briefly found herself thinking of another man, with thicker brown hair and more clean-shaven, but shook that thought off, momentarily disgusted with herself at her own weakness.
She was doing the right thing- the healthy thing- and had moved on; getting lost in the past- even if a part of herself would always love the last of the Time Lords- would only cause her more pain.
Even if a part of her would always… care for… the Doctor, he didn't see her that way; she'd had to get out of the TARDIS before it became impossible to do so or she embarrassed herself in such a manner as to ruin whatever friendships she and the Doctor might have been able to retain.
"Dearly beloved-" the priest began, only to be suddenly cut off by the wheezing, groaning sound that Martha had first heard in a dark alleyway opposite a pub so many long years ago.
"Oh no…" she muttered, turning to look incredulously at the aisle in the middle of the church, where the familiar form of a police box was already fading into view. "He didn't…"
As soon as the police box solidified in the middle of the aisle, Martha was already standing in front of it, hands on her hips as she glared at the door before her.
"Doctor," she said, her voice a low growl as she stared at the TARDIS, ignoring the confused stares from those guests who didn't know what the box meant to her, "if this is your idea of getting to the wedding on time, you've definitely got another thing coming! You don't even bother to call, you show up right in the middle of it…"
Her voice trailed off as she realised that she'd been standing outside the door after the ship had fully materialised for the better part of a minute, and nobody had come out yet.
Martha knew from experience that the TARDIS wouldn't materialise until the Doctor ordered it to- even if he sometimes got the coordinates wrong the ship had always stayed in the Time Vortex until the Doctor had wanted it to return to the 'main' universe-, which meant that the Doctor was in the control room…
So what was taking him so long to come out?
Martha didn't even stop to think about this might look; reaching up to her neck, she pulled out her old TARDIS key where it still hung on its string- she'd been wearing it to cover her 'something old'; given that it was the key to the ship of a nine hundred year old Time Lord it seemed like the oldest thing she could own-, inserted it in the lock, and walked straight into the TARDIS.
The sight that met her was something she'd never expected to see; not only was the console room dark, illuminated only by the emergency lighting and the faintest glow from the console, but the Doctor was lying on the floor, apparently having fallen to the ground just after he finished setting the coordinates, his suit and coat badly burned and his face red and blistered as though something had exploded near his face.
"Oh my God…" Martha whispered in shock, all thought of anger at the Doctor forgotten; his condition didn't look too serious, but she had a strong suspicion that he wouldn't have come here looking like this if it was something he could handle himself.
Even as she hurried over to examine him, she barely registered the sound of the door opening behind her, checking the Doctor's heartbeats- the right one seemed to be a bit faster than was usual for some reason- before she glanced up in time to see Jack, Gwen and Ianto standing over her, Ianto locking the door and Gwen staring around herself in more-than-slight surprise while Jack hurried up to the TARDIS console, quickly flicking a few switches and setting the Time Rotor in motion.
"What-?" Martha began, glaring at Jack before the man raised a hand to stop her.
"We're not going anywhere; I just remembered something the Doctor did once when I first knew him and put the TARDIS in temporal orbit," he explained, evidently guessing her immediate concern was going anywhere with the Doctor in this state.
"Temporal what?" Gwen asked, looking in confusion at Jack.
"Basically, the TARDIS is currently going back in time at the same rate that time's going forward around it; as far as anyone out there's concerned, we could be in here for months and leave here a minute after entering it," Jack explained, shrugging slightly as he looked at Martha. "I figured it was the best way to avoid having to give too many awkward answers to anybody here who doesn't know about the Doctor; we can maybe say he's an amateur illusionist who was trying something new as a wedding present…"
Jack's voice trailed off as his gaze followed Martha's down to the Doctor's still body, his subsequent discomfort saying all that Martha needed to know; if they didn't work out what had happened to the Doctor, there was a possibility they'd never be able to provide a cover story for his presence.
"OK," Martha said, automatically taking control of the situation- she just wished that she wasn't wearing her wedding dress for this; it didn't exactly give the most effective impression-, "Ianto, Gwen, help me get the Doctor to the TARDIS medical bay- just take him through that door and the TARDIS should direct you the rest of way-; Jack, check the databanks and see if you can find anything about where the Doctor was before he came here-"
"Particularly anything about what might be causing his current problem; gotcha," Jack said, nodding as he walked over to stand by the TARDIS console even as Gwen and Ianto moved to pick up the Doctor. "I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
A few minutes later, as the Doctor lay on a bed in the TARDIS medical bay, Martha could only stare in frustration at the readings on the scanner before her; the Doctor had given her a few lessons in working the medical equipment in the ship when they had a few long trips in the TARDIS, but she still had a bit of trouble understanding much beyond the basics.
"Anything?" Gwen asked, looking uncertainly at Martha.
"Well, according to this, physically the Doctor's fine," Martha said, grateful that the scanners operated with 'Time Lord' as their default setting; at least it saved her having to worry about how to calibrate the system. "He's a bit tired, and the burns are an issue, but it's nothing serious; the only real problem seems to be that his brain activity's a bit lower than normal, and that's probably because of whatever's happening to him…"
"Which ties in with what I just found in the databanks," Jack said as he walked into the medical bay, his tone grim as he looked over at Martha. "The TARDIS's last destination was the Kaluran Collective during the Psycho-Wars."
"The what wars?" Gwen asked, looking at Jack in confusion.
"The war between the Kaluran Collective- a seriously totalitarian regime in around the thirty-third century; covered a sizeable chunk of this galaxy- and any telepathic-based species in their territory; they had a dangerous prejudice against psychics after this group called the Brotherhood nearly took over Earth's Empire near the end of the thirtieth century," Jack explained, looking at the Doctor with a solemn gaze that Martha didn't like the look of. "The Doctor apparently managed to help trigger the revolt that toppled the Collective… but just before he departed he was attacked by a member of the Higher Collective, who managed to hit him with a viral bomb that infected him with the psyche-worm virus."
"I'm guessing that's not a good thing?" Ianto asked.
"You got it," Jack said, looking over at Martha as though wanting to ensure she understood what he was about to tell her. "The virus was developed for specific use against telepaths; having infiltrated the Doctor's mind through his telepathic receptors, it's currently draining and absorbing his neural energy to sustain itself, moving from one part of his brain to another until there's nothing left for it to absorb. By the time it's done…"
He took a deep breath, clearly shaken at the thought of what he was about to say, before he finished his original sentence. "The Doctor will be completely brain-dead."
Martha almost couldn't picture it.
It just seemed to be a total contradiction; the Doctor, brain-dead? The man that had come up with so many inspirational plans and brilliant comments, who had touched so many lives and witnessed so many wonders across all of time and space, reduced to a simple lump of flesh that required artificial means simply to breathe…
He couldn't end like that!
"No…" she said, looking up at Jack in protest; she might not like the idea of the alternative- she'd only skimmed over the details about regeneration available in UNIT files; it had always seemed like something she'd prefer to ask the Doctor about herself rather than learn about from second-hand information-, but if it meant the Doctor lived she'd try anything. "He'll pull through; all he has to do is that… regeneration thing and it'll… it'll erase the virus from his system-"
"Based on what I've read about this thing- and about regeneration-, that won't help," Jack said, shaking his head. "The virus has already spread too deeply into his mind; if the Doctor regenerated, the resulting release of neural energy in his brain as his mind rebuilt itself would just allow the virus to finish the job by making it easier for it to access the rest of his mind at an accelerated rate. Even if the Doctor survived long enough to regenerate all the way, his next incarnation would be virtually brain-dead- if it wasn't actually brain-dead- as a result of the neural tissue devoured by the virus, and the damage done would make it impossible to try and use the TARDIS to restore his memories because there'd be nothing left to restore them to."
He paused, clearly unable to believe what he was about to say, before he looked back at Martha. "It might take him hours or minutes- even with how quickly this virus apparently spreads it could be a day at most when you take the complexity of his brain into account-, but the Doctor is going to die."