“It’s funny how beautiful people look when they’re walking out the door” — Mandy Slade, “Velvet Goldmine”
The Doctor could barely stop his limbs from trembling. He had almost died on the Sontaran ship, almost sacrificed his life for billions. While he knew he was making the right choice, a choice he shouldn’t ultimately regret, now that it had passed and things were calming down, the emotional ramifications of his choice were starting to hit him full force.
He had almost lost everything he held dear all over again in a moment’s blind valor — his beautiful Martha Jones, who never would have known how much she meant to him, how much she had done for him, and his amazing Donna Noble, who was such a strong and determined hero with such a soft heart beneath it all.
He’d almost lost them both, finally succumbing to death after a rich millennium of life, but they had saved him and, more than just about anything, he’d wanted to save them in return.
He could almost still feel both the warmth on his blazer sleeve from where Martha had held him and the soothing sting on his other arm where Donna had hit him when he’d surprisingly returned via the teleport due to Luke Rattigan’s own sacrifice. He rubbed his hands over his arms, hugging his chest a bit. He tried to let his trembling be soothed by the tactile memory of his two dear companions, musing about how their touches had said so much about their individual relationships with him — one tempestuous yet compassionate and the other warm but reticent. They were almost like two pieces of his own puzzle, parts of his own personality manifest in the external world.
A wave of sadness swept through him then, for he knew he was about to lose one of those sacred pieces of himself again. Martha, who had so triumphantly walked out the door of his ship months and months before, was now about to walk away again.
Donna and Martha were sitting in the ATMOS factory canteen, having some tea and chatting to help settle their nerves a bit, when the Doctor walked over to join them. He was uncharacteristically quiet -- his thoughts miles away -- as he pulled up a chair and sat down.
He lightly caressed the round table with his fingertips, looking down more at the expanse of IKEA-styled plastic than at the two women before him as they continued their conversation, feeling the remnants of stickiness from absent spilt drinks or food against his flesh. His skin kept getting slightly caught as he tried to push past the tackiness, push his fingers to find something more smooth, and for a moment his hearts clenched as it seemed to reflect his life in a way — trying to push through the tough situations to something easier, smoother, less emotionally resonant, but always getting stuck despite himself.
“I need to go home,” Donna said, breaking his reverie by lightly placing a hand on his arm, the same arm she’d hit earlier. He must have looked surprised or even a bit frightened, because she then quickly covered his hand with hers on the table, “I mean, just to see Mum and Gramps, just for the night is all.”
He looked at her, then over at Martha, and then back again. “Okay,” he replied quietly, his voice breaking slightly.
He could feel the sadness creeping up on him again, knowing the inevitable goodbye with Martha was looming in his wake, stalking him.
“I offered to take her home. I need to change clothes anyway,” Martha added, gesturing at her attire of the Doctor’s coat and white medical gown, “and she doesn’t live too far from me. You are certainly welcome to come along. In fact,” Martha reached across to place her hand over his other hand on the table, mirroring Donna, “I would like that very much.”
The Doctor’s hearts began to race and he almost felt as if he was going to burst with happiness at the simple, small gesture. A smile broke across his features, his eyes lighting up for the first time in hours, “Yes, I would like that too.”
Martha led them over to one of the UNIT jeeps on loan to her. She looked helplessly down at her bare feet, as if in all the flurry of activity she had just noticed she had no shoes. Donna seemed to sense her worry about attempting to drive barefoot, though. “Let me drive, love. I’ll pick you up some shoes to borrow once we get to my place.”
Martha smiled back at her, “Thanks, Donna, really.”
The three of them piled into the jeep, with Martha in the middle, and made the short drive to Chiswick, hardly any of them speaking. Once they arrived, Donna ran inside her house, but returned quickly holding a pair of clogs for Martha.
“They’re probably a bit big, but they should do you for now,” she said with a smile as Martha took the proffered shoes.
“Ah, you do actually have a pair of shoes you didn’t pack then, eh?” the Doctor joked with a wink at Martha, nudging Donna with a shoulder as they stood outside the jeep. “I thought you’d packed up everything you owned.”
“Shut it, you cheeky boy,” Donna said, countering her playfully harsh tone with a smile, and then turned and walked back to her door. “See you tomorrow morning then?” she called out to them as she waved and opened the front door.
“Wouldn’t miss it!” the Doctor called back, slipping back into the jeep to rejoin Martha who was now at the wheel.
“Ready?” Martha asked, pushing the keys into the ignition.
The Doctor leaned his head back against the seat, smiling widely at her, his eyes glistening. “Always,” he whispered.
Martha parked the jeep in front of her place, a semi-detached brick house not far from the flat she’d previously lived in before it was blown up by the Master. This must be her new home with the elusive Dr. Tom Milligan, the Doctor thought to himself ruefully.
“Here we are,” Martha announced, slipping out of the jeep.
The Doctor exited the jeep as well, catching up with her as she made her way to the door. A few neighbors passing by gave them odd looks. “They’re probably wondering about the strange bloke I’m with and my lovely clothes,” Martha said with a mirthless laugh as she pushed the key into the lock.
“What a scandal we will cause!” the Doctor said with glee, edged with a slight bit of sarcasm, as he danced a bit in place with his hands in his pockets.
Martha opened the door, inviting him inside, and then shut it behind them. “The sad thing is,” she said, slipping off his coat and handing it to him, “it might actually turn into a neighborhood scandal for real. Nothing very exciting happens in these parts, I’m afraid, but then I like it that way. Leave work at work and all that.”
“Lucky that the world just survived a bout with poisonous gas and alien invasion to distract them then,” the Doctor said with a big smile, turning to his side to hang the coat up on a coat rack he found there.
“Yeah, lucky,” Martha said thoughtfully, her eyes glazing over a bit and her expression distant before snapping back to the moment. “Follow me, then,” she said, her tone suddenly more professional and serious, as she led them further into the house, “Feel free to sit on the couch and make yourself at home, I’ll only be a moment.”
The Doctor watched as Martha made her way down the hallway and into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. He then turned to look around at the place. It was less colorful than her flat had been, he noticed, with more muted tones on the walls and to the furniture. It seemed comfortable though, even though it honestly also seemed barely lived in.
He wondered how much time Martha even spent here, knowing she was the type who could get caught up with work and that she most likely worked herself into exhaustion, leaving her to come home and go straight to bed. Everything looked too clean, too impersonal, and he hoped that it was an absence of her usual presence there that caused it, and not that she had become too impersonal herself.
He walked over to the mantle over the fireplace and looked at the pictures she had there. There were several pictures of her family, both recent looking ones and a few of Leo and Tish when they were children (he tried not to think too hard of the many horrific months on the Valiant as he looked into their eyes in the photos). There was a picture of Jack and a small group of smiling people that he thought was probably his team at Torchwood. And finally there were several pictures of her and a gentleman with dark hair, smiling and cuddling with her. These were probably pictures of her and Tom from what he could tell. The Doctor felt his hearts clench a bit as his fingertips traced over those photographs, inserting himself in Tom’s place for a moment in his mind, before turning away from them with unshed tears in his eyes.
You lost your chance with her, ran her off. Can you blame her for finding someone else? he chided himself sarcastically as he made his way across the room to distract himself by looking at a small set of shelves holding random objects.
“Ah, the wall of memories,” Martha said from behind him.
The Doctor turned around to see her, now wearing a pair of jeans and multi-colored baby-doll vest top. His breath hitched for a moment, for in her casual attire she reminded him so much of the Martha he’d traveled with, and no longer so much the professional doctor she was with UNIT.
And she looked positively stunning.
“Wall of memories?” he sputtered out, trying to not stare at her.
She moved to stand beside him. “Souvenirs from when I walked the Earth. I couldn’t keep much as I had to travel light, but I kept some things. This is a letter I received from a young girl in Germany, she thought I was an angel,” Martha said with a sad smile, reaching over to stroke a letter in a frame on the shelf, “and this is a flute a young boy in Africa made for me to ‘take music on my journey’,” she pointed at a small wooden flute. “This is a seashell from the beach where I first met Tom, a different Tom in some ways, but my Tom nonetheless…” she trailed off, her voice breaking a bit with emotion.
The Doctor wrapped his arm around her shoulder, squeezing her against his side. “Does he know? The truth, I mean?” he asked quietly.
“I’ve tried to tell him. I’ve tried to tell him a few times, but it just never works out. Maybe it’s better that he just doesn’t really know,” she replied, tears evident in her voice, “Someone has to remember though, that is why I have this.” Martha gestured at the shelf.
The Doctor pulled her into his arms, caressing her hair as she began to sob against his chest. After a few moments of simply standing there, holding her, he said, “You don’t have to remember, you know, you can move on. You take too much on yourself, Martha. You need to care for yourself too. Reliving this over and over…it can’t be healthy.”
Martha pushed hard against his chest, stepping back a few paces, anger suddenly evident in her eyes. “What do you know about such things? It’s not like you ever cared,” she spat, pointing an accusatory finger at him.
The Doctor steadied himself. He had feared that the things that had so far gone unspoken between them — the proverbial elephant in the room — would eventually come out, especially now that the Sontaran crisis had been averted, so now he braced himself for their impact.
“I cared, Martha. I still care,” he said quietly, trying his best to not pull her into his arms again, trying to fight the urge to soothe her.
“You get to run away from it all, though. Run away in your little blue box and forget all the damage that you leave behind,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself, her anger starting to change to sadness.
“Yes, maybe that is why I am always running, but I still always remember. Trust me, Martha, I never ever forget. That year haunts me too, watching the Earth burn just like my own planet did, knowing that you were down there and I wasn’t sure if you were alive or if you were dead, feeling so completely helpless and not being able to do anything while so many people died and…and those terrible things that happened on the Valiant,” he replied, stopping for a moment to catch his breath as his own tears began to fall, “Yes, I’ve done so much damage and even though I reset everything on Earth, there have been so many times that I wish…I could just reset things with you as well.”
“Oh, no, no, you are not going to charm me, mister. Don’t make this about us,” Martha said, backing up further until she hit the wall behind her.
“But it is about us,” the Doctor replied gently, reaching toward her, but flinching when she pushed herself tighter against the wall in response. “This,” he continued, moving his hand between them as if to indicate their conversation, “is about us.”
Martha slid down the wall to the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest. She was quiet for a few moments and the Doctor considered speaking to break the silence, but instead he just stood and watched her. “I didn’t mean to get upset,” she said, her voice suddenly so small that it surprised him, “It’s been a hard day and…I guess this all triggered some feelings I’d had pent up. I am sorry.”
The Doctor sank to the floor himself, but still kept his distance, sitting cross-legged on the floor before her. “Don’t be sorry. I ruined half your life, I’m the one who should be sorry.” He laughed mirthlessly and wiped the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his blazer.
“Ruined half my life?” Martha asked, her brow furrowed as she regarded him. “Things have been bad, I have seen lots of terrible things, Doctor, but I have also seen amazing things and I feel like I’m such a better person for what I went through. You didn’t ruin my life, you saved it, and you showed me how to live. Do you know that I don’t even own a car these days? It’s not that I can’t afford one, but I have found that I like getting caught up in the little details. I like to walk around or take the bus, I like to stop and smell the roses, talk to neighbors I generally would’ve never talked to, joke around with the grocer down the street, flirt with the mailman…My eyes are open to everything around me. You showed me that beauty and it’s even more important to me since I saw it burned and taken away, it makes it that much brighter now that it has returned.”
“But you walked away from me, from my life, don’t you still want to see the universe? There’s beauty there as well. Stopping and smelling the roses? I can show you thousands of roses and other flowers all over time and space to enjoy. Talking to neighbors? How about aliens with thousands with different perspectives? Flirting with the mailman? I am sure I can find someone for that as well and if not, well…there is always me,” the Doctor said, his tone desperate though he tried to hide it in humor with a weak smile.
Martha sighed, frowning a bit as she looked at him. “My life is here now, Doctor. Remember?” she said, holding up her hand to indicate her engagement ring.
“Does he love you?”
“Yes, of course he does,” Martha replied, twisting the ring on her finger.
“And is he good to you?”
“He is. He might not completely understand me, but he tries.”
“I understand you.” The Doctor looked down, playing with a shoelace on his trainers.
Martha shook her head in the negative. “I already have a doctor in my life.”
“He’s in Africa,” he said evenly, still just looking down at his shoe.
“And you travel through time and space. At least he’s on the same planet as I am.”
“I can be around,” he replied, emotion choking him a bit, “if you need me to be.”
“Where is all this coming from?” Martha suddenly asked.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Martha kicked his shoe. “Look at me,” she demanded, continuing once he looked at her again, “Where is all this coming from? Months ago you barely acknowledged my existence and now…I don’t know…you are acting strangely.”
“I’ve always acknowledged your existence!” he countered, his tone somewhat petulant.
“Right, of course you did. Never looking at me twice and all that, how could I forget?” she replied, matching his tone with her own sarcasm.
The Doctor wanted to tell her how he’d always seen her; he’d even shown it that very day when he’d noticed the differences between her and the clone. She couldn’t have known that though as she was still unconscious when he had finally let on about his observations. He wanted to tell her, but panic was rising within him. His feelings for her were overwhelming him and his guilt for mistreating her was burning him from the inside out.
“It wasn’t like that Martha, really. Things were just complicated. I was…in a bad place.”
It wasn’t what he wanted to say, but it was all he could manage.
“So, what is all this then?”
“Why did you invite me here?” the Doctor asked, evading her question.
“So, you are not going to answer me, then?”
“Why did you invite me here?” he repeated, more insistent this time.
“Oh, so we are going to play the Avoid-Talking-to-Martha-Properly game again. This should be fun,” she groaned, rolling her eyes.
“Why did you invite me here, Martha?” he said again, pushing his chin out in defiance like an obstinate child.
Martha simply glared back at the Doctor, the two of them so stubborn that neither seemed to want to end their apparent stalemate. Minutes felt like hours, the gulf between them seeming to widen with each second that passed until the Doctor finally broke their uneasy silence.
“I love you.”
The Doctor’s confession had been quiet, simple, and hesitant. He watched for Martha’s reaction, feeling more vulnerable than he had in a long time.
“Excuse me?” Martha asked, looking positively shocked at his words.
“I love you,” he said again, this time more firmly, “You asked me what all this was about, so there you have it.”
“I…still don’t…understand,” Martha stammered, still looking at him with shock and confusion.
The Doctor shifted forward to his knees and crawled toward Martha, closing the space between them. He sat directly in front of her, resting his hands on her knees, still the one major obstacle between them as they stayed pulled into her chest.
“I love you,” he repeated, looking her deep in the eye and smiling a bit to himself, as the words were getting easier to say. He was also starting to feel a sense of relief rush through him, a catharsis for finally speaking the truth of his feelings. “I just wanted you to know that, just so there is no confusion about where you stand with me.”
“Don’t you think…that it is a bit late for that?” Martha replied, biting her lip to fight the tears that were beginning to fall again.
“I am a Lord of Time, Martha, nothing is ever too late for me,” he replied with a smug smile and a bit of mock-arrogance.
He knew that his statement wasn’t the truth — that there were many, many things that he was in fact too late to fix or do — but he certainly couldn’t resist saying things with a flourish from time to time, especially when he was feeling nervous and diffident.
“So, you think that you can just waltz back into my life and have me fall in love with you all over again?”
“You were in love with me?” he asked, his tone surprisingly innocent.
“Yes, I was, you idiot. Of course, I was,” Martha replied, glaring at him again.
“I knew you fancied me, but I never knew you were…” the Doctor trailed off and swallowed hard before resuming with a heavy sigh, “I really messed up then, didn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Martha replied, though a smile was beginning to twitch at her lips.
“I’m not so bad at waltzing, you know? I can be quite a good dancer, really.”
Martha shook her head at her, finally breaking into a laugh. “You are mad.”
“As a hatter,” the Doctor smiled brightly, flicking his eyebrows up at her.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked, reaching up to cover his hands with her own.
The Doctor’s breath hitched a bit with the contact, but he still retained his smile. “Kissing is good. Don’t people usually kiss in these moments? I know they do on television and film, at least. I never know what people do otherwise. Perhaps boxing? Maybe we could box?” the Doctor paused, looking down at his arm that was still sore from where Donna had hit him earlier, “On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t box…”
“We could hop. I like to hop. Hippity-hop, hop, hop, hop,” he said, gleefully, swaying his head back and forth, bouncing a bit up and down on his knees.
The smile fell from the Doctor’s lips and he wrapped his fingers around Martha’s hands to hold them. “I’m sorry,” he replied quietly.
Martha leaned forward, pressing her lips against the Doctor’s. He gasped in surprise, but then returned the kiss.
“You kissed me,” he said quietly, wonderment evident in his tone.
“Yes, I did,” Martha replied, her face pulled back, but still mere inches from his.
He swallowed. “I don’t want to be the responsible one — in fact I hate being the responsible one, it takes all the fun out of everything, but I have to ask, what about -- ?”
“Tom?” she replied, finishing his query.
The mere mention of his name cut him more than he cared to let on, but he knew that she loved him and, as much as it pained him, he didn’t want to get in the way of her happiness. “Yes,” he breathed out, his lungs seeming to have trouble even pushing the word to the surface.
Martha reached up and stroked the side of the Doctor’s face briefly before returning it to hold his hand again. “I wasn’t going to say because, well, it wasn’t relevant, but Tom and I,” Martha stopped, a blush crossing her features, “are in a non-monogamous relationship.”
The Doctor blinked at her, surprised by her words. “Non-monogamous?” he stammered.
“Yes, we are polyamorous. It was an arrangement we made, shortly before he left for Africa and I worked with Torchwood.”
“You worked with Torchwood?” he asked, and then his brain made the connections, “Wait, wait, wait, did you sleep with Jack?”
“You make it sound so decadent,” Martha replied, with a tease, “We are lovers, yes. He has his life and I have mine, but we see each other when we can.”
“What does that mean…for us?” the Doctor asked, brightening with the possibility of something happening between the two of them.
Martha sighed looking down at his hands holding hers and then back up at him. “It means…you can stay the night here with me, if you wish. I will be yours for tonight, but come tomorrow, I will stay here and you will go on ahead with Donna.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“I hope so,” Martha replied, squeezing his hands, “Just because I am not traveling with you, doesn’t mean we have to be strangers, yeah?”
“So, am I or am I not waltzing back into your life and making you fall in love with me again?” he asked with a sad smile.
Martha smiled back at him and then leaned in for another kiss. This time after pressing her lips to his, she moved her kisses across his cheek toward his ear. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” she whispered against the shell of his ear, “I never fell out of love with you.”
The Doctor jumped up excitedly, pulling Martha to her feet and surprising her into a yelp. He then wrapped an arm around her, pulling her other arm up in the air next to them and started to waltz around the room. “Oh, Martha Jones, you amaze me more and more every day,” he exclaimed.
“What are you doing?” Martha asked with a laugh, trying to keep up with his moves.
“Why we are waltzing, of course!”
The next morning the Doctor woke up with Martha lying on his chest, still asleep. The two of them were nude and he noticed that his skin felt warm from the rays of sunlight through the window beside the bed. He reached up to lightly stroke Martha’s hair, letting the memories of the evening wash over him like the light in the room.
They had made love for hours, slowly acquainting one another with each other’s bodies, fulfilling desires that had long gone unspoken between them. Part of him didn’t want to wake her up, part of him wanted the moment to just continue on and on, to hold her in his arms for an eternity, but he knew that he was going to have to leave soon. Donna would be expecting him to be back in the TARDIS in a few hours for their departure and Martha would be expecting him to leave as well.
He looked down at Martha, looked at the way her eyelashes lay against her cheeks and the serene smile on her face as she slept. They say that people always look the most beautiful when they are saying goodbye and the Doctor conceded that she couldn’t have looked more beautiful than she did right there in his arms that morning.
He lay there for the longest time, memorizing every detail of the feeling of Martha draped across his body and the way she looked (like a goddess) and smelled (like almonds and sandalwood and just ‘Martha’, her own naturally intoxicating scent). It was truly a moment of bliss for him and he found himself wanting to keep all the little nuances in his head for the times when he was feeling alone or simply when he was away from her.
Eventually, she woke up and her sleepy eyes blinked up at him and her lazy smile made his hearts race. “Good morning,” she whispered, wiping the sleep from eyes.
“Good morning,” he replied, stroking her hair again.
“Is it time for you to go?”
“Almost, I have a little bit of time left,” he replied quietly, trying to keep the rush of sadness over her leaving at bay.
The two of them lay in each other arms for just a little longer without speaking before getting up for a shower. The Doctor did his best to resist delaying his morning even more with seducing Martha while they showered together, and instead just let himself enjoy watching the exquisiteness of her body before him as the water cascaded around them, only reaching out to lightly caress her lovingly here and there.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” he asked, kissing her shoulder from behind as they dried themselves off after the shower.
“I am needed here,” she replied simply.
“I need you too, you know,” the Doctor added quietly, his vulnerability laid bare for her again.
Martha turned to face him. “You know my answer. I stay here and you go on with Donna,” she said firmly. “I have a life here now, Doctor. Let me have that, please.”
He smiled sadly down at her. “Okay,” he replied with quiet resignation, much like he did when she left him the first time months ago.
Martha started to turn to walk to the door, but the Doctor put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. “Come and see the TARDIS, at least.”
She raised her eyebrow at him. “Doctor, I said I am not traveling with you.”
“No, no, of course, I know that. It’s just,” the Doctor paused, shuffling a foot on the floor, “she misses you. Just think of it as a goodbye to her as well, yeah?”
Martha smiled at him. “I miss her as well,” she said, reaching down to take his hand, “I’ll come.” The Doctor smiled brightly at her in response. “Just to visit the TARDIS, just to see you off,” she clarified.
“Great!” the Doctor exclaimed, swinging their hands back and forth excitedly, “she will be so pleased to see you!”
Martha and the Doctor got dressed and drove back to the ATMOS factory where the TARDIS was still parked. The Doctor found himself somewhat giddy when he let her in through the TARDIS doors and she smiled and looked around.
Martha then practically ran up the ramp to the console, caressing the central column and knobs and switches with affection and delight. The TARDIS hummed at her arrival. The Doctor wasn’t sure if Martha could sense her approval, but smiled when he heard Martha whisper, “I missed you, too.”
The Doctor simply watched Martha, smiling at her as he closed the door behind him. She was standing at the console, wearing jeans, a red shirt, and a fitted grey jacket. Despite her casual clothes, there was something so grown-up, so confident about her. She had changed so much from the girl he’d met on the Moon almost two years before. Some of the changes were good and some were bad, but ultimately she had come through a better person and he couldn’t help beaming with pride as he watched her majestically standing before the TARDIS controls, looking as if she owned the place.
The Doctor walked up the ramp to join her, tossing his coat over a coral branch on the way, and planted a kiss on the top of her head as he stepped beside her. He watched as she smiled and caressed his ship and he wondered if maybe she was trying to remember the details of things just as he was earlier.
Then the TARDIS doors opened and Donna arrived, wiping away tears.
“How were they?” Martha asked her, always the caretaker.
The Doctor looked down at Martha and then back at Donna. He knew that despite his sadness, despite the inevitable separation between he and Martha, things were going to be all right after all.