Martha wakes at the slightest sound ever since the Toclafane killed Sally in her sleep, drawn to the pulse emitted by a salvaged homing beacon she was carrying in her knapsack. It had been in Martha's knapsack at first, but it was heavy and Sally had taken it over Martha's protests---belt up, love, she'd said, you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders, least I can do is lug around a few stone of alien tech...
No no no, not tonight, Martha thinks, every muscle in her body screaming in protest. It's been weeks since she had more than an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep. But her eyes have already sprung open and her hand closed automatically around the tazer she keeps beneath her bedroll.
It might be anything---one of the laborers returned late from the camps, a kid dropping an armload of pilfered firewood in the hall outside his front door. She'd stopped the night in this building on purpose because it's filled with families keeping their heads down. No one who lives here is connected to the resistance. She could cry with frustration, if her heart weren't beating so loud in her ears.
Get it over with, she tells herself. It takes an act of will to rise to her haunches and roll up her sleep sack. She knows she might be wasting precious seconds she'll need to make her escape, but it's winter in northern Germany, and she's already stripped her pack down to bare essentials. She stuffs her bedding into her bag and straightens, moving silently to the door.
If it's Toclafane, you just keep still and let the perception filter do its job. Martha's hand tightens on the tazer. If they're human soldiers, you walk straight past them. Don't look up, don't run, don't say anything.
Martha breathes in and out. She thinks of her mother and father, Tish and Leo, Jack and Sally. She thinks of the Doctor. Then she opens the door.
"Hello," says the man standing on the other side. "I'm looking for Martha Jones."
They stand looking at each other for a second---Martha frozen, the man smiling---there's something in that quick, bright smile that reminds her---
Martha's hand lashes out, seizing the man by the collar of his rumpled black frock coat. "Good gracious," he exclaims, as she yanks him over the threshold and pins him to the wall, pressing the tazer to his throat. She hooks her ankle around the edge of the door and kicks it shut before she speaks.
"Who sent you?" she says, in a hard voice she barely recognizes.
"No one," says the man, and though his eyes are wide there's no fear in them.
"Do you work for the Master?"
"Certainly not," he says, in a voice of injured dignity. A good sign, but no guarantee of anything. Martha releases him and takes a step back, keeping the tazer raised.
The man adjusts his coat with a fussy, practiced gesture. He looks supremely undisturbed, as though he is used to being shoved around and questioned by nervous people carrying heavy weaponry. Strange, that---everything else in his appearance says "retired professor" or perhaps "mad scientist."
"What do you want with Martha Jones?" she says. Sally would be proud how she's learned to ask that question with a straight face.
"Well," says the man, "I want to speak with her. I might be able to help her. If she'll let me."
"You've got information?"
"Plenty of that," he says. "For all the good it's done me." She might be imagining the faint bitterness in his voice. "But I think I have something you'd be even more interested in."
"Such as?" says Martha, not missing that he says 'you'. Thinks he's got her figured out, this one, but she's been at war for too long to be caught so easily.
The man replies by patting his pockets, searching for something. Martha keeps the tazer level, as a warning. He ignores her, and after a moment produces a small tin from inside his jacket, where a moment before there had been no lump.
"I thought you might appreciate a cup of tea," he says, presenting the tin with a flourish. "I imagine you've found them hard to come by lately. Oh!" A bit more rummaging, and he pulls a flat box from another pocket too small to conceal it. "And biscuits!"
Martha blinks at him, knowing that only shock is keeping her from tearing the food right out of his hands. She can't remember when she had her last proper meal, but it was long before she last slept and that was weeks ago---and as to tea---
"Where did you get those?" she demands, a little breathless. "Who are you?" The fear comes rushing back then, because no one but the Master's favorite informers have access to luxuries these days, and here she's let him in, let him guess who she is---she'll have to kill him, all this time and she's never killed anyone---maybe she can knock him out and tie him up, he's bigger than she is but he's not young---
"Oh," he says, thrusting the packages into his pockets again. "Didn't I say? How silly of me."
He reaches out and plucks the tazer from her hands, so quickly she hardly sees him move until her hands are empty. She catches her breath, but he doesn't turn it on her; instead, he tosses it to one side, where it lands on the knapsack by the door.
"Very pleased to meet you, Miss Jones," he says, catching her hands between his own and giving them a firm squeeze. "I'm the Doctor."
Martha takes a step back, but he doesn't release her. Her mouth falls open---she doesn't seem to be able to breathe---
He smiles, and it's a quiet, sad sort of smile, not a grin at all. "Yes, it's me," he says. "You poor dear. I didn't mean to frighten you. I just wanted to say..."
"What?" Martha breathes the word like a sigh, or a sob.
"That I'm so very sorry," says the Doctor, and then the room is spinning around Martha's head and she feels the back of her legs hitting the seat of a rickety wooden chair that she doesn't remember being there a moment ago.
The Doctor seems to realize his pronouncement has come as the psychic equivalent of a smack across the face with a wet fish. He keeps up a muttered monologue of self-recrimination as he starts the kettle for tea, pausing every so often to tuck the blanket in a little tighter around her shoulders.
Gradually, the odor of cooking food penetrates the haze in Martha's head. There's definitely more than just tea happening over there on his end of the little room. Martha blinks, and then blinks again, sure she is imagining it, but no---the Doctor (which is ridiculous, it can't be the Doctor, when did the Doctor bring her blankets and tea and fuss over her like her mother, and besides, if he had regenerated and escaped everyone would have heard---) is setting the table, and there's soup and a rack of toast, dishes of butter and jam, the biscuits, a thick wedge of cheese, and---are those eggs?
"Yes, indeed," says the Doctor, and Martha realizes she'd said that last part aloud. "I didn't know what you'd like, so I nipped out to a market---a proper market, spring of 1900, so the eggs will taste like proper eggs, none of that nasty fishmeal-fed stuff---the cheese too, a good crumbly cheddar, not that rubbery mass-produced nonsense. Well, come, eat up, you look as though you could do with a good meal. Several, in fact."
Martha wants to obey him more than she can remember wanting anything else in her whole life, but there's a voice in her head that she's learned not to ignore, and it's telling her something is wrong, that this is too easy, this is never how it goes with the Doctor---
"You regenerated," she says.
"And not a day too soon," he says. "Had a nice long run in that body, but, between you and me, I think I was getting a bit crotchety towards the end."
At Martha's look, the Doctor lifts his chin. "Of course," he says. "I'm sorry, it must be very confusing for you. I should explain. You see, you and I have never actually met before."
"What---oh." Of course. The Doctor's a time-traveler, isn't he? He probably runs into himself all the time. Martha resists the urge to laugh. "You're a younger---I mean, an earlier version of my Doctor, is that it?"
"You needn't look so skeptical," he says, arching an eyebrow. "Conventional signs of aging mean very little to Time Lords. We assume and discard our wrinkles like children playing at fancy dress. Though we are only children once, thank goodness---bit awkward, having a five hundred year old brain in a body four feet high, wouldn't you say?"
And that, that is definitely wrong---the Doctor never talks like that, never speaks of the Time Lords so casually or refers to them collectively. At least not in the present tense. Except---if this Doctor is younger than hers---
She realizes suddenly that she has no idea how long his people have been dead. No idea how it happened, no idea about anything that matters. All that talking---he never shuts up, her Doctor, so why doesn't he ever say anything important?
Just thinking about it makes Martha feel quite like screaming.
The scent of the chicken broth in the soup distracts her from her mounting sense of rage and frustration, however. The prospect of so much food so near to hand makes it hard to concentrate on anything else, but Martha steels herself.
"I don't understand," she says. "How can you be here? If you're an earlier version of my Doctor— and you're here now—then how did you not know better than to trap the Master on Earth? You would have known what he'd do, you wouldn't---oh, God---" Martha feels a little faint; she tells herself that it's from hunger. "You wouldn't, would you?" she whispers. "Do it anyway?"
"Now, that's enough of that," says the Doctor, sounding stern, sounding like her mother again. "Come and eat. We can talk afterward."
He takes her hand and pulls her up from the chair, then repositions the chair in front of the shaky little table, which is piled high with food. There's no resistance left in Martha at this point. She lets him seat her again, and then she falls on the meal with a singlemindedness that leaves no room for chitchat. The Doctor stands to one side, holding a teacup, sipping from it occasionally. There isn't anywhere for him to sit except for the floor, but he doesn't seem to mind being on his feet. Then again, he probably isn't as tired as Martha.
When at last she's pushed her plate away, feeling as though she's just acquired enough calories to see her through another year of world-travel, the Doctor refills her teacup and perches himself on the windowsill across from her. He is silent for a moment, and Martha takes the opportunity to study him, to see if there is anything recognizably the Doctor about him.
He looks to be Stoker's age, at least, and his hair is dark, badly cut, which seems to be a theme in the Doctor's life. No sideburns, no glasses, and so far no manic outbursts. He seems rather grave at the moment, but there's a sparkle deep in his eyes that makes her throat feel suddenly tight.
The least familiar thing about him, she realizes, is not his weathered face, not his bow tie or his Three Stooges haircut---it is, instead, the way he's looking at her as though she's the most important thing in the room. Granted, she's the only other person in the room, but that wouldn't stop the Doctor she knows from making her feel second best---no doubt he'd have buried himself in a detailed examination of the wainscoting by now. Anything to avoid making eye contact, or answering hard questions, or saying anything that actually means something---
Martha realizes that her eyes are burning, and that there is a suspicious wetness against the skin of her face. She blinks and looks away.
"I don't like to think what I've done," says the Doctor suddenly, "to make you believe I might be capable of deliberately allowing this to happen to your planet."
"I didn't really think---" Martha starts to say, but the lie sticks in her throat.
The Doctor sets his teacup on the edge of the table before him and presses the palms of his hands against the window ledge.
"This regeneration of mine," he says, "the one that you know---I've never let myself ask too many questions about it. Or the one before, for that matter. Something slightly dodgy about them. Bit reckless. There is, in my aged self, a tickling and a study of vainglory. I do hope," he adds, offhandedly, "that I'm not getting senile. Always a bad show, when that happens to Time Lords."
"This happen a lot?" Martha can't help asking. "You meeting your future selves? And past selves too, I suppose."
"Oh, we've all met each other at least once," the Doctor nods. "Unavoidable, considering the life I lead. And really quite unforgivably sloppy of me, I'm all the time having to remember to forget things."
"Like this?" Martha says. "You'll make yourself forget this? Only I don't see how anyone could forget something like this, it's—God, do you know what he's done, what the Master's done to the TARDIS? I should think you'd remember that, even if you forgot about—about everything else—"
Martha falls silent, not wanting to speak around the lump in her throat, not wanting to take the bitterness out on the Doctor, this sweet, attentive Doctor, who can't be blamed for what he hasn't done yet. She blinks, to clear her vision, and looks hard at the man across the room from her. Something in the way he is gazing patiently back at her makes her feel as though she is just now seeing him clearly for the first time.
He doesn't know yet, she realizes. About Gallifrey, and the Time Lords dying, or any of the other things her Doctor hides behind his eyes. That's why he's so different now. Terrible things are going to happen to him, between today and when she meets him for the first time. He's going to change because of them, change much more than just his body. He's going to suffer and die, God knows how many times, lose friends, all of his family, everything---
But it hasn't happened to him yet. The Doctor watching her now with warm grey eyes is---still brilliant, yes, she recognizes the knowing slant in his smile---and still a bit mad, obviously, just not in that desperate, half put-on way where he thinks if he makes enough noise he will stop anyone saying anything he doesn't want to hear. Martha tries to imagine how much suffering it will take to turn this Doctor into her Doctor. She wants to warn him—tell him what she knows, little as it is, because he's the Doctor, he can fill in the blanks, change his history---
But she can't, and she knows it. One apocalyptic paradox is quite enough for the universe in any given moment. She's sure the Doctor would agree, if he could do so without tearing a hole in the fabric of reality.
"All creatures," says the Doctor after a long moment, "are the sum of their memories. A Time Lord more than most." He frowns thoughtfully; his gaze drifts into the uninhabited corners of the room. "And the thing is, Martha—I never really forget anything."
Martha nods. Not because she understands, but because she is exhausted, and between the number of hours she has been on her feet in the last week and all the glorious food she is busy digesting, she is skirting the edge of unconsciousness where she sits.
"I'm sure that I'm here for a reason," the Doctor continues, muttering. "The TARDIS wouldn't risk pulling me into a paradox as colossal as this one if it weren't somehow vitally important."
"Very true," says Martha around a yawn.
His head snaps back around, and he blinks widely at her, like a very concerned owl. And there it is again, that look in his eyes, as though he is really seeing her, knowing her—after living a year under the perception filter, and six months with a myopic alien before that, the attention would be enough to make her blush. If she weren't too busy yawning again.
"I think," says the Doctor, "that you should get some sleep."
"That was always the plan," says Martha, "only I had to get up and make sure you weren't one of the Toclafane coming to—"
Martha shuts her eyes, but it doesn't block out the sounds in her head: Sally screaming, the knives whirring---
She feels a strong hand closing on her shoulder, and she opens her eyes again. The Doctor is standing very close to her, and suddenly Martha feels warmer than she has since the summer.
"I know a place you can rest," says the Doctor. "Let me take you there."
Martha nods. The Doctor clears away the remnants of her meal, then hoists her knapsack onto his back, and leads her on.
Walking into this Doctor's TARDIS is like visiting home in a dream. Everything around her is at once familiar and oddly distorted, gleaming white surfaces where she is accustomed to shadows and organic materials.
"You redecorate," she tells him, pacing a slow circle around the console. "By my time, at least."
"Really?" says the Doctor, sounding bemused. "What does your TARDIS look like?"
Martha laughs. "My TARDIS. Well, sort of...like a forest inside a room underneath a lake. Graceful wooden arches, like bare tree branches, and soft, glowing green light."
"You don't say." The Doctor tilts his head. "That sounds rather lovely."
"God, did I—should I have told you that?" says Martha. "Did I just make that happen, by telling you? If I said, 'oh, sorry, I made that up, it's really like an Art Deco explosion with lots of chrome and abstract architecture,' would it all change? Would I remember the wooden TARDIS?"
Martha's not sure she's making any sense—she is very tired, and the nature of causality is a very big sort of concept to wrap one's head around even when not giddy with exhaustion—but the Doctor just smiles.
"I see why I like you so much," says the Doctor. "You've a very agile brain."
Martha snorts, a very un-ladylike noise. She only wishes her mother were there to glare disapprovingly. "Honestly, I think you like me more than...you ever will."
The Doctor folds his arms across his chest and leans against the console. "We're all the same person, you know," he says mildly.
"You don't feel like the same person," she says bluntly. "This you—you're so kind, and good, and easy to talk to..." Martha rubs a hand across her eyes. "You know you've given me a mission."
"I had pieced that together," says the Doctor.
"I don't know how it's ever going to work," she says, not lowering her hand. "I'm almost out of time, and I'm sure I haven't done enough. He sent me all around the world—and people keep dying—I just don't know anymore—"
"Oh, Martha," says the Doctor, only he's not speaking from the other side of the room anymore. He's standing close beside her, and Martha is leaning into him before she realizes what she is doing.
He doesn't feel anything like her Doctor. He is solid and compact and very strong. He doesn't lift her up off her feet—he just lets her rest against him, and there's no tension in his body, nothing to make her feel as though he is counting the seconds until he can let her go without hurting her feelings.
Martha is sniffling a little when she straightens up again, but her eyes are mostly dry. The same cannot be said for the shoulder of the Doctor's coat.
"Let's find you somewhere you can sleep for a few hours," says the Doctor. "Do you have a room of your own in your TARDIS?"
Not only does Martha have her own room in her Doctor's TARDIS, she seems to have a room in this Doctor's TARDIS as well. They discover it halfway down the first corridor they try. It looks just like it did the last time she saw it, only with rather less dirty underwear on the floor.
"That's my girl," says the Doctor, sounding delighted. He pats the lintel of the doorway. "The TARDIS knows you," he says to Martha. "She must like you very much."
"It's mutual," says Martha, stumbling over to the bed. She pulls the covers back and climbs inside, and is half asleep before she can pull the covers back over her again.
The Doctor does it for her. His hand brushing her shoulder is the last thing she's aware of before she drifts off altogether.
Martha has had nightmares of Sally being murdered in her sleep every night since it happened. Not this night, though. If she dreams at all, she doesn't remember it.
For one dizzy instant upon waking, though, she believes that all of the last year was a dream—thinks she'll walk out into the console room and find her Doctor there, all spiky hair and spectacles, waiting for her with a quip about how much of their lives humans waste in sleeping.
Then she hears a knock at the door, and it swings open, and the other Doctor is standing there with a steaming mug in his hands, and she remembers.
"Good morning!" he says. "I let you sleep your fill. You've been out for almost twenty-four hours. You must have been badly tired."
"Twenty four hours?" Martha cries, panicked. Oh God, she's missed the meeting with her guide, they'll think she's dead, it'll take months to organize passage into England again---
"Do calm down," the Doctor says, pressing the mug into her hands. "We're in a time machine, in case you haven't noticed."
"Oh," says Martha, flushing. "Right. Sorry."
"I know you'll be wanting to get back straight away," he says. "Don't want to lose your momentum. I took the liberty of putting some supplies in your bag—food and water, that sort of thing."
Martha takes a sip of her tea. It's sweet and spicy and milky, not like anything her Doctor ever drank. She lets it scour the residue of sleep from the inside of her mouth, and reflects silently that it is very tactful of the Doctor not to come out and say what they both know—that if she stays here much longer, she might never work up the nerve to leave again.
She could be happy, traveling with this Doctor, she thinks. Happier than she ever was with the other. He likes her, she can tell. More to the point, he's not afraid of liking her. She can see it in the way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles at her. He loves easily. She wonders when, exactly, that had changed for him.
"Thank you," she says, getting to her feet, and the Doctor rises with her. She sets her mug down on the bedside table. "For looking after me. For everything."
"Martha Jones," says the Doctor, reaching out for her hand. He squeezes it hard. "You're going to save the world."
"Do my best," says Martha with a brightness she almost feels, and finds that, for once, she doesn't have to stand on tiptoe to kiss the Doctor's cheek.
He walks her to the door of the TARDIS, handing her knapsack to her as she steps over the threshold into the dark street. It looks to be no more than three hours after he first found her in the tenement building—not even midnight yet. Martha shivers and zips her jacket up just underneath her chin. She doesn't look over her shoulder to see if the Doctor is watching her go, but she rather thinks he is. He strikes her as that sort of person.
She starts for the border immediately. She only stops once along the way, just before first light, just for a breather. Hard to believe she could already be hungry again, after the meal she had last night, but that was human biology for you—and anyway, she's curious what the Doctor has packed for her. Any man who carries toothbrushes and tea tins in his pockets has to have some experience of shoring himself up against a rainy day, right?
Tucked neatly into the top of the pack is a loaf of fresh bread that feels as though it had been warm from the baker's oven less than an hour ago. There's also cheese, beautifully aged and wrapped in oilcloth, and half a dozen apples and oranges.
Martha smiles, and takes an orange from the pack. Underneath it, she sees a thick square of white folded notepaper that she knows she didn't put there.
The handwriting is somehow wild and elegant at the same time, and though she's never seen it before she knows immediately whose it is.
My dear Martha, it says.
Whilst you were sleeping, I found myself puzzling over our conversations, and I have hit upon an answer that will, I believe, satisfy our conundrum.
You see, I meant what I said before: however much I try, I can never truly forget anything, least of all something on the scale of the Earth perishing in a temporal paradox almost a million years before its time. Which leads me to believe that if I, in my dotage, have made no move to prevent it, it can only mean that I do not remember it—and if I cannot remember it, that must mean it never happened.
Take heart, Martha Jones. I believe you are very near to your victory.
All my love, the Doctor
Martha reads the letter once, then twice, then again before she feels she can dare to trust what she thinks it means. Then she holds it hard against her chest and laughs, until the tears come.
When she gets to her feet, she turns again to the border, and the rising dawn.