One day, Donna runs into a woman on the streets of London.
Quite literally, in fact, a shoulder-on-shoulder collision that results in Donna's morning coffee being spilled all over the pavement. Donna hates going without her morning coffee (even though her mum insists that it's bad for her and that she should be drinking tea instead). "Oi!" Donna says. "Watch where you're going!"
"Sorry," the woman says. "I'm really, really sorry." She's young and pretty, her dark hair pulled up into a severe bun that's clearly trying to convey 'professional', and Donna feels as though she should resent her but doesn't. The woman also seems genuinely apologetic, which is more than Donna can say about most of the people she's run into over the years.
"All right, then," Donna says, about to gather herself and get on her way. She is late, after all.
The woman keeps looking at her strangely, though. "What are you doing in London? Are you visiting your family?" she asks, a bright smile on her face.
Donna rolls her eyes and sticks out a hand. Some people have no manners. "Donna Noble," she says. "If you're going to be asking me rude questions, we might as well introduce ourselves first."
The woman's expression changes, something that looks like surprise. Must not be used to people actually standing up to her like this. She shakes Donna's hand. "Martha Jones. I'm sorry, that was rude of me, wasn't it? How about I buy you another cup of coffee, yeah? Replace the one I spilled."
Donna has never been one to turn down the generosity of complete strangers, so she says yes. Maybe she can get a muffin out of this, too.
The thing is, Donna hasn't quite felt right for a while, like something in her life is just out of phase with the rest of the universe. She occasionally feels like she's forgotten to turn off the telly or like she's left her keys in her bedroom or like she needs to run an errand but she can't remember what it is.
The are times when she opens her mouth to speak, the words just on the tip of her tongue, but she has no idea what she wants to say.
Coffee's better than Donna expected. Martha takes her to a coffee shop that's not Starbucks and even buys her two muffins when she asks.
The sofas are soft and comfortable, and the mood lighting isn't trying too hard, and when they do end up talking about Donna's new job (temping at yet another soulless corporate headquarters) and her family (her mother, strangely nicer now, and her grandfather, who still always looks up at the stars), it's not that awkward at all. Martha talks about her own family (a mother, a father, a sister, and a brother) and not her job (highly classified or some rubbish).
She looks prettier the more Donna looks at her, big dark eyes and smooth dark skin, and there's something strangely comfortable and familiar about her that Donna likes, that puts butterflies in her stomach.
"Well, Donna," Martha says as she's about to leave, sliding her bag onto her shoulder and cleaning up their nest of cups and crumbs and napkins, "I hope you have a nice life."
There's a spark of something in Donna that tells her not to just let Martha walk away. She's important, somehow. "What about dinner?" Donna says, feeling suddenly, strangely desperate. "We could have dinner."
Martha smiles, surprised. "Yeah," she says. "I'd like that."
Before dinner, Donna digs through her closet, looking for her blue shirt, the one that's soft and pretty and secretly good luck. When she finds it, there's a large hole in the right sleeve, the edges crusted with what might be old blood, and she has no idea how it got there.
Dinner is at a nice place, not anywhere too posh. Donna's never dated another woman before, and she's not entirely sure she's doing it right. She's not entirely sure that Martha even knows it's a date.
She frets about it for about three seconds before asking Martha straight out. "You are aware that this is a date, right? I don't want you to get the wrong idea."
Martha laughs, not unkindly. "Yes, I am," she says.
"Good," Donna says, pleased.
Their conversation somehow devolves into a conversation about previous dating disasters, and they spend most of the dinner trying not to laugh so hard everyone else in the restaurant stares at them.
"--and then he yelled, 'I'm a doctor, not a marine biologist!'" Martha says, almost crying into her water glass.
Donna calms herself just long enough to say, "This once time, my boyfriend and I went to the movies, The Blair Witch Project if you can believe that, and he kept screeching out loud, right there, in the movie theater. He wouldn't let go of my arm. Afterwards, he tried to pass it off as if I was the one who was scared."
"Did you break up with him after that?" Martha asks, getting her breathing under control.
"Of course I did!" Donna says and doesn't mention that it actually happened two weeks later when he called her a 'stupid cow'. No need to ruin a perfectly good story.
They collapse into another peal of laughter.
At the end of the night, Martha drives her home, and they have a brief moment of hesitation outside Donna's door before Donna grabs her and pulls her into a kiss that's awkward, clumsy, and sweet.
Martha's glowing, almost, in the streetlights, a faint blush spread across her cheeks. It makes Donna feel bold and reckless. "You better call me," she says.
Martha grins, a sharpness in her eyes that Donna feels as though she's seen before. "Of course I will," she says.
Martha does call, which is a bit of a surprise, because most of the men Donna'd had first dates with never seemed to call. ("They just can't handle a real woman, is all," Tracey used to say and still does.) Martha apparently can, and they schedule another date for Tuesday night.
Donna's driving this time, picking Martha up at her flat. When she gets there, Martha's on the phone, and it might be some top secret world-saving something-or-other, but it's still pretty annoying.
"I don't know what happened, Jack," Martha's saying, her expression drawn tight. "I'm guessing that he was the one who did it, in the end, because he needed to; I can't see it happening any other way."
"Oi! Is an alien invasion getting in the way of our dinner plans?" Donna asks, because she's always hated being ignored, especially when she's about to go on a date.
"I'll talk to you later," Martha says into her phone. When she looks up at Donna, she's smiling. "Not at all," she says to Donna, a bit of laughter in her voice. "The aliens can wait."
After dinner, Martha kisses her, this one slow and thorough, so gentle it sends tingles down her neck, and Donna's not thinking of her job or her mother or anything other than this moment, right here, right now.
Martha doesn't stay the night, though.
That night, Donna dreams of a planet covered in snow and of a song, beautiful and unearthly, that travels through the stars and into the farthest reaches of space.
When Martha does stay the night, Donna's nervous, because all this is new to her, the lesbianism that is, but Martha apparently had a girlfriend in Uni and knows all about this sort of thing.
"It's not that different," Martha says, sliding Donna's shirt over her head, a wicked gleam in her eye. "You'll see."
And then Martha shows her.
Donna doesn't dream that night.
After her time at the soulless corporation runs out, she gets a long-term job as a secretary at a hospital and spends a lot of time complaining about the organization or lack thereof to Martha, who just grins and laughs.
That makes Donna feel a bit put out, that Martha's laughing, that Martha's laughing at her. "Oi! I've seen enough filing systems to know when one's rubbish," she says.
Martha looks up from her computer (messy medical jargon all over her screen), and her eyes are serious. "I believe you," Martha says. "You are that good, Donna, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise."
The expression on Martha's face is one Donna's never seen before, fierce and stubborn, and her words hit in a way that Gramps' gentle encouragements never did. "I am good, aren't I?" she asks, loudly, trying to believe those words the way Martha does.
Martha wraps an arm around her shoulder, hugging Donna tight, and says, "Yes. Yes, you are."
One night, Donna stares up at the blank, white expanse of Martha's ceiling, her head resting on Martha's shoulder. "Most people get over their sexual identity crises when they're in their twenties. I'm behind on mine." Donna's mother liked to point out how little she'd done with her life, though she's stopped doing that in favor giving Donna of baleful looks that only serve to remind Donna of the nagging.
Martha laughs. Donna can feel the vibrations of it underneath her head. "Hey, I'm still only twenty-five."
"Robbing the cradle, that's what I'm doing." Donna runs a hand over the smooth, dark skin of Martha's stomach, up to her firm, round breasts, taking a moment to absently brush a nipple. Martha's beautiful all over, every inch of her.
Martha punches her shoulder lightly. "I'm not that young."
"Oh yes you are," Donna says, and she can't help but feel a little jealous of Martha, because she's twenty-five, and she's a doctor, and she works for some governmental organization that calls her out in the middle of the night to save the world from terrorists, while Donna's barely stopped being a temp. But she could be more, she thinks, a new gut feeling that feels old for some reason, a certainty welling up from somewhere deep inside her. She could become anything she wanted.
Donna can't remember much of her wedding, just that it ended in pain and misery and her entire extended family refusing to speak of it ever again. She has this urge to never think about it, if possible, so she doesn't.
Donna gets a promotion after breaking her back organizing the hospital's records into something that makes reasonable sense.
"That's brilliant!" Martha says, when Donna phones her up.
Donna feels a warm flush, proud in a way that's strange and familiar all at once. "About time they noticed. I thought maybe they'd give it to Karen, but she's always been a bit useless, or Ian, no one knows what the hell he does, but I'm the one who got it. They gave it to me!"
"We should go out tonight, to celebrate," Martha says, and Donna says alright, yeah, sure. She can't get rid of the smile on her face.
At the pub, Martha buys the drinks and holds Donna's hand, their fingers twined together, and Donna doesn't want to let go.
"We'll just have to keep looking," Martha says into the phone. "I can't not."
Donna tiptoes down the hallway, toward the kitchen, past the guest room that doubles for Martha's office. She just wants a drink of water. She's not trying to listen in on Martha's phone conversations, though they're usually impossible to understand anyway, mostly in some sort of code so the civilian won't know want the hell is going on. Donna always bristles a little at that.
Donna can tell when Martha's talking to her parents, though, because conversations with parents are always the same. Yes, I am eating my vegetables. No, I am not walking home by myself in the middle of the night through the most dangerous part of the city. Yes, my significant other is doing well. Martha's parents seem to nag less than Donna's, but the things they say are always the same.
Sometimes, Martha even talks to someone named Jack, who Donna might have been jealous and worried about, but even with the soft look Martha gets when talking to him, Donna's pretty sure they generally only talk business.
"I would have wanted to remember," Martha says, as Donna sneaks past the doorway. "Even the bad parts. I would have wanted to remember it all."
When Donna finally tells her mother about Martha, she's about to move into Martha's flat, and her mother goes a bit pale and her mouth drops, but all she says is, "Do you love her?"
Donna doesn't quite quite have an answer to that. Martha's important -- she knows that -- but everything else is unclear.
"I could," Donna says, thinking about the way Martha touches her, gentle, reverent, like she's important, too.
One day, she answers Martha's phone while Martha's in the shower. "Hello?" she says.
The man in the other end sounds anxious. "Martha, Martha, are you there? I need to speak to you."
"Sorry, Martha can't answer the phone right now. This is Donna."
"But-- Donna? You're --" He sounds like he's heard about her before.
Donna rolls her eyes. "The new girlfriend, yeah. Are you one of Martha's ex-boyfriends? Because if you are, you can shove off. She's switched sides now."
"But I'm not--" His protestations sound a bit weak.
Donna doesn't let him continue. "Are you the one who scarpered off to Africa or the one who broke up with her on Valentine's Day? I can never remember which one is which. Tom, is it?"
"But that's not--"
"I'm hanging up now. Bye!"
It's a strange conversation, one that feels familiar and unfamiliar all at once, but Donna forgets it as soon as Martha steps out of the shower and kisses her. It slips out of her mind like it was never even there.
For a while, things are good. Martha's flat is closer to the hospital, which means Donna can sleep in later, and Donna appreciates not having to see her mother every day, day in, day out. She prefers waking up to Martha in the mornings.
That doesn't mean things are perfect. Martha's messy, in a way that's more haphazard than lazy, and it drives Donna barmy, having to pick up after her until they have a row and things sort themselves out. Donna realizes too late that she doesn't share Martha's taste in music. They argue over whose turn it is to clean the bathroom.
But those are small things. Donna's life, which has felt off-balance since her almost-wedding, feels like it's righting itself again. She might not be Martha, twenty-five and brilliant and destined for amazing things, but her future is still bright, still undimmed.
She meets Jack for the first time when he shows up on Martha's doorstep. He's smiling when Donna answers the door, charming and handsome, and almost certainly flirting with her as he introduces himself.
"Jack Harkness, ma'am. It is my sincerest honor to meet you," he says, leaning down to kiss the back of her hand. His accent's American, and there's something faintly old-fashioned about him, even though he can't be more than a few years older than her.
Donna arches an eyebrow. "I bet you say that to all the girls."
"I do, but I always, always mean it." He's still smiling, and yes, he's good, that one. Donna might have said yes in a different time, a different place. But not here, not now.
Martha, hearing their voices, steps up to the doorway and says, "Keep it in your pants, Jack. That's my girlfriend you're hitting on." She smacks him lightly on the arm.
His face turns more serious. "We've found something," he says.
Martha says, "I'll get my coat."
Donna says, "What the hell is going on here?" At first, Donna didn't mind the way that Martha would disappear at a moment's notice, because she liked Martha, liked her enough that things like that didn't matter as much, but she hates feeling left out, hates how little she knows of this side of Martha.
Martha's looks at her, and her eyes are sad and a bit desperate. "I'm sorry, but I really can't tell you. You have to understand. Please, Donna."
There are problems with having someone who's important to you, important enough that you'll do things for them, just because they ask, just because they look up at you with pleading eyes. Donna's learning more of these every day.
She sits outside with her grandfather while Martha's in California or Tokyo or Helsinki or somewhere else that Martha can't tell her about, because as much as she hates to admit it, she's sort of lonely.
"Do you ever get tired of looking?" Donna asks, staring up at the sky and rubbing her hands together. "Do you ever get tired of never seeing anything?"
Gramps smiles, his expression wistful. "I've gotten used to it," he says. "And just look at that, all those stars out there, all that sky. It's beautiful."
Donna tries to see with Gramps' eyes, tries to feel his awe and wonder, but she can't quite. They're all so distant and remote and so very far away. She'll never be able to touch them.
"How's work?" Gramps asks, changing the subject.
Donna brings her tea to her lips and stares down into her cup. "It's fine; it's work. You know how it is." Work's been good, actually. Her boss has been consistently impressed with her continued efforts to fix the filing system, and she feels like she's actually settled down, like she's finally grown up. "Martha's been away," she says.
"How is Martha these days?" Gramps asks. It's an offhand question; he's bent over the telescope, not looking at her.
"Martha's fine, too," Donna says, taking another sip, looking away, because as far as she knows, it's true.
Donna's happy, because she knows Martha cares about her, because Martha's probably the best relationship she's ever had, but Donna could be happier, and it's impossible to keep that from stinging.
"That's it," Donna says, the next time Martha refuses to tell her why she has to leave in the middle of night. "I'm tired of this. I'm tired of you never telling me anything. I'm tired of you treating me like a child, like I won't understand. I'm not an idiot. Stop treating me like one."
The flash of hurt on Martha's face is almost enough to make Donna regret saying anything, but she stands her ground. It's been building up to this for a while. They love each other, but there are so many empty spaces between them that it's just not enough. "You have to believe me when I say there are things I simply can't tell you," Martha says. She grabs Donna's hand and squeezes it.
"Bull. Shit," Donna says, pulling her hand away and folding her arms across her chest. "You could tell me everything if you wanted to. You just don't want to."
Martha bites her lip when she's nervous, when she's keeping things from Donna, and she's doing it right now. "All right," she says. "Tomorrow morning. I'll tell you everything tomorrow morning. I promise."
Donna says, "Fine."
"Thank you." Martha kisses her quickly on the cheek before disappearing out the front door. Donna has trouble falling asleep after she leaves.
When she wakes up, Martha's not next to her, though her half of the bed is still warm. Donna can hear the shuffle of feet in the kitchen down the hallway, the muffled sound of lowered voices. She wraps a bathrobe around herself and steps out. Her chest feels tight, almost like she can't breathe, but she does, in-out, in-out, until the feeling subsides.
Martha's not alone at the kitchen table; Jack's sitting at her side and pouring her a cup of tea from the faded porcelain pot that apparently belonged to Martha's grandmother.
"Good morning," Martha says, handing Donna an empty mug, one emblazoned with the H.C. Clements logo on one side. Their apartment is like that, a mish-mash of their collected belongings.
Donna takes the cup and sits across from Martha at the table. "So are you going to tell me everything or what?" She's never been fond of beating around the bush, and if Martha has something to tell her, she needs to just spit it out.
Martha and Jack share a quick look. Donna hates them a bit for knowing each other well enough to do that.
"What do you remember about that time the planets appeared in the sky?" Martha asks, finally. She looks Donna in the eye.
Donna frowns. "It's rubbish, that's what I think. Everyone going on and on about aliens and the Earth moving."
"It was real, Donna," Jack says, his smile wry and sad. "And you helped save all of creation."
It's not what Donna expected him to say at all. The aliens, that she was willing to accept, possibly, but this is so much bigger, so much more insane. "What?"
"You don't remember it, but you did," Martha says, her voice quiet. "He took your memories to save your life."
A shiver runs up Donna spine, like someone's just walked over her grave. "Who?"
"The Doctor," Martha says.
"Which doctor?" Donna asks, a strange desperation creeping up inside of her. It's too much. All of this, it's too much. "Why did he take my memories? And what the hell do you two have to do with it?"
"That day on the street, that wasn't the first time I met you," Martha says. "We've met before then, but you don't remember."
Donna remembers the way Martha talked to her that day, the way she asked about Donna's family like it was normal, like they were friends. Her stomach turns. "What the hell is going on here?"
Jack's expression is hard to read -- Donna doesn't know him well enough -- but he seems tired, somehow. He says, "When you defeated the Daleks, you became part Time Lord. We think that's why he took your memories -- your body couldn't handle it. Over the past few months we've been looking for something that would be able to alter your mind physically, so that it can withstand the strain."
"And did you? Find it, I mean." Donna wraps her arms around herself. Even though this is her warmest bathrobe, she still feels cold.
"Yes," Martha says, pulling a small metal disk out of her pocket. It's something out of Star Trek, smooth, twisted metal that doesn't look like any machine that Donna's ever seen before in her life.
"It's already been configured," Jack says. "All you have to do is press it against your temple, and it will do the rest."
Donna takes the device from Martha and turns it over in her hands. "What will I be if I do this?" she asks. "I won't be me anymore, will I? Is that it? Are you trying to erase me? Replace me with someone else? Whoever it was that saved the world?" Donna doesn't know what to believe anymore. Donna doesn't know who she is. The other Donna, the one Martha wants to bring back, she would know. She'd be brilliant and capable and everything this Donna is not.
Martha's expression is so sad, Donna has trouble looking at her. She says, "Donna, it was you. You're the one who did it."
Donna stares at the disc, caught between opposing urges. She wants to know, needs to know, but she's also terrified of what she'll learn, terrified of what will change. "What were we before? Were we together?" Donna asks.
Martha smiles, but the sadness in her eyes is still there. "No, we weren't. We didn't have the time. But that doesn't mean I love you any less now." The utter sincerity in Martha's voice is humbling, and when she reaches over and grabs one of Donna's free hands, Donna lets her.
They sit there like that for a moment, the silence stretching between them, and Donna makes up her mind.
"Just press it against my temple, yeah?" she asks, and Martha nods.
Donna's hands are trembling. She presses the device against her temple, the metal cool against her skin.
She closes her eyes.
And she remembers.