Two months in close quarters. Wake up in the morning, trip over the Doctor’s latest unknowable gizmo, put the kettle on the hotplate. He’s got coffee cake and bananas. “Bananas are good. Lots of potassium. Why are you laughing?”
“You at the mirror. Inhuman, alien, unknowable, and you still have to shave.”
“Hey, I’m not done yet.”
“Move your big feet! There’s only one mirror, I need to check my hair for work.”
“Your hair’s fine, it always looks fine, it’s like a smooth... pad of beaver pelt.”
“...Thanks. I think.”
“You missed a spot.”
“Your fingers are cold.”
“Well, I can’t afford the heat.”
“You should have said. I’d have made a chemical heater. I’ll have it by the time you get back.”
The worst thing about it was that it had come so soon after 1913. The Doctor was still grieving the loss of Nurse Redford, the death of John Smith, and the horror of what he had needed to do — to assuage his own rage — to the Family of Blood. Martha was still recovering, herself. 1913 was not a congenial place for a woman of color, and John Smith had not been at all helpful. Those three months had been a test of endurance and patience.
And now they were stuck again.
1969 was better than 1913, but not by much. They’d been hungry, homeless, and Martha at least had been frightened until she managed to find a job under the table and rent a one-room flat with a tiny sink and a shared bathroom in a flop-house — but at least the door locked.
She was called racial epithets, and the landlord had to be bribed to allow what he thought of as a mixed-race couple in the place. But they were here, they weren’t starving, and she had a bed at night.
The Doctor, unfortunately, did not sleep. He kept making timey-wimey devices out of 1969 junk, and muttering about timelines and causality and carefully plotting every step of the several actions they had to take to get Sally Sparrow to safely send the Tardis back to get them. The room was an indescribable chaos of tools and machinery and mad bits of trash that Martha could barely walk through.
While Martha Jones was spat on and insulted and on her feet all day.
It was inevitable that she would break.
“Did you take my toothbrush?”
“Then what’s that in the butter dish.”
“A butter knife?”
“Thanks a lot!”
“Brush anyway. Your teeth will be nice and shiny, beautifully oiled up.”
“You realize what you’re suggesting, don’t you?”
She’d brought home the groceries, and Doctor had complained. That was what started it — he wanted something she hadn’t gotten. It didn’t really matter. They’d been arguing all the time, anyway. She’d accused him of lazing about all day, and he accused her of trying to sabotage Sally Sparrow’s carefully plotted timeline. She’d said something about how he didn’t care about getting them unstuck, how much she hated it here, and all he wanted was the Tardis back. He’d said of course he wanted the Tardis back — and Rose wouldn’t have minded getting stuck.
That last had been only a mutter, but she’d heard it. “What was that?” she asked.
“Nothing,” the Doctor grumbled.
“No, what was that? Rose? Rose, the great and powerful, the bestest ever human in history? Well, why don’t you just travel with her, then? Oh, right, you can’t.” She’d said it to hurt him, and she saw that it had worked. She almost regretted it, but she was burning with anger. “Well,” she said into the utter silence which followed her assault. “You get me back to my own time, and you won’t have to travel with me, either.”
She turned away.
“What was that?” the Doctor asked, in almost the same tone she’d used a minute before.
“You heard me,” Martha said. “I’m sick of this. I’m sick of you, I’m sick of always being second best. It’s enough to make me hate myself, and I’m better than that. I’m stuck with you for now, but as soon as we can leave, I’m done. Take me home, like you always kept saying you would, and then leave me alone. I don’t want this anymore.”
The Doctor stood still for a long moment. Then he blinked, breathing hard. “Fine,” he said diffidently. “Fine, I understand. Here I thought I was offering you the chance of a lifetime, but hey, you don’t want it.” He took the flat key from the shelf and left the room.
Martha waited until his footsteps faded away, and then crumpled into tears. She fought the urge to chase after him like a kicked puppy, begging him to forgive her. She was tired and sore and hurt from a long day of being a lone black woman in a shop in 1969, and she was done.
She slipped into the cheap, mismatched pajamas she’d purchased from a second hand stall, and crumpled into the single bed. There she gave herself over to well-earned tears.
She sobbed quietly, until she heard the door open. She stilled her sobs, hoping he’d think she was asleep. But softly — painfully — he lifted the covers and insinuated himself alongside her.
It was a shock, and she didn’t move.
Her back was to him, and he slid his arm over her shoulders, holding her across her chest, pressing her to him. His other arm slid under her pillow and curled, until his fingers were lightly touching her hair. “I’m sorry, Martha Jones,” he whispered softly. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“What’s for lunch?”
“I bought it. It’s in the sack.”
“Well, cook yourself then, this is all I could afford.”
“You didn’t cook this, you picked it up out of some dustbin.”
“It’s from that little stall on the corner.”
“I’ll just eat this.”
“That’s the soap.”
“Now what do we wash our hands with?”
“The lunch bag?”
Her sobs broke again, and he just held her. For something so intimate, it was a surprisingly asexual embrace. She couldn’t see his face. He couldn’t see hers.
“You know, don’t you,” she whispered after a while. The Doctor’s fingers lightly caressed her hair, over and over.
“How you feel,” he murmured into her ear. “I’m not blind, Martha.”
“Could have fooled me.”
He breathed a single chuckle. “Would you have rathered I hadn’t pretended you were hiding it?” he asked. “Wasn’t it better that way?”
“I don’t know. It hurt. It still hurts.”
“It’ll always hurt. But it’s easier.”
“For you or for me?”
“For me. Also for you.”
Martha considered that. “It’s totally stupid anyway,” Martha said. “You’ll never feel the same way.”
“No,” he said evenly, but he didn’t make any move to let her go. “I’ll never feel for you the way a human man would. I’m not human.”
“You were,” she said quietly. “And you still didn’t.”
There was a long silence, and the Doctor’s gentle fingers froze on her hair. “Martha. That wasn’t me.”
“It sure looked like you.”
“I’ve looked like a lot of people,” he said. “John Smith was a fiction, a story I told myself.”
“He was an ass,” Martha muttered.
The Doctor laughed outright. “Of course he was. He was lonely and frightened and only a single sheet of paper compared to a library.”
“He wanted to stay,” Martha whispered.
The Doctor hesitated. “It’s a lot easier to be a single sheet of paper.”
“Do you regret it?”
“I regret creating him in the first place,” the Doctor said. “I regret what happened. What I did Joan Redford.”
Martha burned against the next words, but they had to come out. “He was not kind to me.”
The Doctor sighed. “I know that. I am so sorry, Martha. But it was inevitable. I knew I might want to abandon you — I warned you not to let me.”
“What do you mean, you knew? How could you know?”
“Because I care about you,” the Doctor said. “Me. Everything that was me was suppressed, severed. Everything that you mean to me... that had to go away. It left more of a void than I had expected. I guess he went looking for someone to fill it.” He paused. “Destroying more lives along the way.”
“That’s why you fell for Nurse Redford?”
“He was aching for someone. Who else was available for him to fall for?” he asked. “In a boy’s school. One of the boys, one of the teachers, or her. But it couldn’t have been you.” He shook his head. “I should have warned you. But I didn’t think he’d fall at all. That wasn’t in the fiction I created. I am so, so sorry. You... you have put up with more from me than anyone I’ve ever traveled with, without a single complaint until now. I haven’t been kind to you either.”
“At least you respect me.”
“Of course I do. You’re a remarkable human being.”
“But I’m not Rose.”
It was dart, and she knew it stung. It hurt her to say it as much as it did him to hear it.
“No,” he said. “You’re not.”
“I haven’t even touched you yet!”
“What do you mean, it hurts? Do Time Lords have nerve endings in their hair?”
“You’re rather gullible, aren’t you.”
“Do you want me to cut your hair, or not?”
“In the Tardis I had a machine that fixed it.”
“Well, here you just got me.”
“What we have is nothing like what I had with Rose,” the Doctor continued.
“I know,” Martha said.
“You’re more clever than Rose,” he said. “And more generous. And more kind.”
“Are you saying this just to hurt me?”
“No. It’s all true.”
“Look, I know you want her back,” Martha said. “I know you look at me every day and wish that I was her. I know she was more beautiful and better and really understood you, and—”
“She never understood me at all,” the Doctor said evenly. “I never gave her the chance.”
“She wasn’t like you. She never asked.”
“What do you mean?”
“She never asked. We never talked, like this, she didn’t ask about Gallifrey, or care who I really was. You wouldn’t even get back into the Tardis unless I opened up for you, and somehow I can. For you. I don’t know how you do it — maybe because you don’t accept the veil. I can tell you just about anything. You know more about me than anyone alive in the universe. For Rose it was all about her, where she was going to go next, what I could do for her, how I cared about her.” He paused. “I was sick to the teeth of Rose,” he said, shocking Martha utterly.
Her eyes opened wide. She almost turned to look at him, but he was so warm against her, and his hand kept caressing her hair, and she didn’t quite dare to end it. He let a long, long moment pass before what he said next. “At first, she was what I needed. She was selfish and solipsistic, everything was only ever about her. She was my cheerleader, my companion, my conscience. She made me human in a way I’d never felt before. She diminished me through her own narrow view, and it felt so good to just be the hero she could see. She couldn’t hold pain or hatred or loss. Not on my scale. She couldn’t even comprehend it, so it didn’t exist for her. She was so like a child. Grasping, needy, never understanding anything. But it was wearing on me. I wanted her gone. And when the opportunity arose, I took it. I sent her away, closed a universe behind her, and breathed a sigh of pure relief.”
He shook his head. “And then she showed up again. She popped back into my life thirty seconds later, locked the door behind her, and said she was never going to leave me. And something clicked. No one else could have seen it. No one in the universe could ever have seen what I saw in that moment, as the timelines and the variables snapped. Her timeline had been severed by hoping universes, and she came back, and I saw her — her whole life. All the variables were gone, and her life hovered around her like a halo, because she had just given it to me. All of it. Her parents and her friends and her life on Earth were gone, and she was going to die with me. Yes, we were doing something dangerous, but I’m always doing something dangerous — she had given me something else. Her death. She would die as my companion, and never be anything else — not a mother, not a friend to anyone, but she would be mine. Only and ever mine. She would probably die young. And we both knew it. She had given me that life.
“In that moment, she wasn’t selfish at all. There was nothing of herself but me. And I wanted it. I wanted her life, her death, the invariable certainty that her timeline now was. I had never wanted anything so badly. Once, she had swallowed the heart of the Tardis, and the center of that was inside her — the bad wolf. It had swallowed the little girl whole, and her death belonged to me. It almost came right then. She let go, and she did nearly die. That would have been sad, but she still would have been mine. But her father popped back, took her to that other universe, those other timelines which no longer existed here, and sealed the door behind her. Ten minutes before, that had been all I wanted. To never hear her voice again. But once she was gone — once her death was taken from me... I wanted her back. Desperately.”
He sighed into Martha’s shoulder and squeezed her lightly. “I still want her back,” he said. “I can’t help that. It’s selfish of me. I know how I feel about her, and it wasn’t what she wanted, either. But I want her back.” His last words he breathed against her neck. “As much as I want you.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Just another jag-off at the shop. Sit down!”
“You can’t just go erasing the language centers of everyone who calls me a bad name.”
“You are protected.”
“Yeah, well, the last one’s still trying to order newspapers with a sparrow’s chirp. Do you have any idea how hard that is to interpret?”
“Okay. Next time, I’ll use dog.”
Martha couldn’t stop herself from scoffing, incredulous. “You don’t need to lie to me to make me feel better,” she said.
The Doctor shifted then, turning her slightly and staring into her eyes. “Hear this now,” he said urgently. “Hear this and believe it, because I’m never going to say it again. Martha Jones. Oh, I want you. I kissed you on the moon because I wanted you. I tracked you down and ambushed you because I wanted you. I seduced you into the Tardis because I wanted you. I went to bed with you in Elizabethan England because I wanted you — and I don’t need to sleep much. And I kept threatening to send you home, over and over and over again, because I wanted you. And I knew what it would do to both of us, and in the end I didn’t care. I want you. And I’m sorry, I know, it’s tearing you apart, and it’s tearing me apart, and it’s complicated and it’s sordid and I hate it, and I don’t care, because I want you.” Martha was shaking now, her mind aching as if he was chiseling his words into her cranium. Maybe he was.
“And I compare you to Rose,” he said, “every single day, because I want you, and I want her, and wanting her, still stupidly wanting her when I have you is madness. I can’t stop it — I don’t control that. It was a timeline that was mine and was stolen from me, and as long as I have this face I will always want it back. Like you’d always want your hand or your foot if it was taken from you. This body, this face, looks like it looks because she wanted it that way, and it is bound to her. But Martha Jones. I want you. What is inside me, my soul, me. From the first time I set eyes on you, until the end ... I want you.”
He stared at her for a few more seconds, his eyes as deep as the universe. She could not have looked away if her life depended on it. His words, the truth of his words, snaked their way into her mind, and stayed there. Indelible. In years to come she could close her eyes and remember the entire speech, word for word. Recall the smell of the old flat, the Doctor’s alien scent, the feel of his breath on her face. His eyes. His eyes from that moment burned in her dreams. Finally he broke the gaze, and Martha gasped. She hadn’t breathed from the moment he had told her to hear him. She wasn’t sure if she would have even been capable of it. He had spellbound her.
The miasma of a moment far too serious hung awkwardly between them for a moment. Then suddenly he grinned, the familiar manic diffidence flipping easily back over his face. “Don’t ever tell anyone I said that,” he said, embarrassed, and shifted back onto the bed.
“My feet hurt.”
“Give ‘em here. That feel better?”
“Since when do you give foot massages?”
“Since your feet hurt.”
Martha was still shaking from his revelation. She slid over and let her head lay backwards on his shoulder. The hand that had been caressing her hair slid up over her arm, and his thumb traced back and forth, back and forth. “I want you, too,” she said quietly.
“I know,” he said. “In a way so very human. So human I already know that one day you’re going to walk away from me. Every timeline says it, one way or another. But please don’t go yet, Martha. I need you.” He lowered his mouth to her hair and nuzzled against her, almost a kiss. “I know you don’t need me,” he whispered into her hair. “You’re so strong and clever, you don’t need anyone to make you whole. But I need you.”
Martha let out a breath, half a laugh, half a sob, very, very quiet. “How could you... ever... need anyone? Time Lord.”
“Last of the Time Lords,” he added.
“John Smith asked me what I do for you,” Martha asked. “I couldn’t quite answer. Because I still don’t know. You don’t need me.”
He squeezed her gently. “I do,” he said. “You have no idea how much I do. You do everything for me. You’re my universe. I can’t see it without someone to show it to.”
“And I’m just someone,” she whispered, hurt.
“You are Martha Jones,” he said. “The one and only Martha Jones, out of a vast and empty universe, a single star, a diamond I saw, and left, and longed for, and fought against, and finally succumbed to. Do you know how few people I ever come back for?” His voice sank to a whisper. “I sought you out. I knew it was going to ruin us both, but I did it anyway. Because you are Martha Jones.”
“And if I told you I loved you...” she whispered, not a question.
“Like John Smith could love?” he said. “To marry, and bear children, and live, and grow old. Do you really want that of me? The single page out of the library?” He shook his head. “That’s a human life. A human body. I have neither. As beautiful and remarkable as you are, there are things I can never give you.”
“Are you trying to tell me we’re not sexually compatible?”
“Not easily,” the Doctor said. “And not any time soon.”
“Did you see my tie?”
“Yeah, I hung it up with your suit coat.”
“I was using that to hold the neutrino coupler together!”
“Well, how was I supposed to know. If you leave your clothes all over. Speaking of which...”
“They’re getting a little ripe. You need something else to wear.”
“All right, I’ll find a new suit.”
“With what money? I’m barely making rent as it is.”
“I’ll busk on street corners. I have the entire first half of Henry V part 1 memorized.”
“You’re just as likely to earn a black eye! Look, I’ll get you a t-shirt, and sweat pants, and you can wash that thing.”
“I don’t wear t-shirts.”
“Well, what are you going to do, go naked while your clothes dry?”
“Well. Far be it for me to stop you.”
“What’s that look?”
“Can I watch?”
“You’re so human.”
“And you are such an alien!”
“You don’t want to go there, Martha. This is hard enough as it is.”
“Species differentiation,” she said quietly. “I am studying to be a doctor, I did wonder.” She sighed. “I suppose that explains all the mixed signals I keep getting. So. It’s never going to get easier.”
“And you knew it wouldn’t.”
“And you did it anyway? Knowing it would hurt?”
“Yes. I wanted you.” He almost chuckled again. “It wasn’t a passing whim.”
“No,” he said. “It was lasting whim.” He paused. “But I understand if you can’t take any more. The Tardis will come back eventually. Do you still want me to take you home?”
Martha thought about this. “Not any time soon.”
“Thank you,” the Doctor whispered. He pressed his face to her hair with a heartfelt sigh. “Thank you so much.”
“I thought you were working.”
“You’re going to bed. I’ve been keeping you up.”
“So? You need to make your machines, I know that.”
“Last night was the first night you’ve slept soundly since we got here. From now on, when you sleep, I sleep.”
“Fine then. From now on, when you sleep, I pretend to sleep.”
“This is the only bed.”
“I know that.”
“ At least until the Tardis gets back.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because you’re Martha Jones. Do I need any other reason?”