A shared past, as always, was what brought the Doctor's companions together.
It started with a compliment on a gold bracelet snaking round the wrist of a customer at the stationery store. "Oh, this old thing," said the bracelet's owner, a brunette dressed too fashionably for "housewife" and too conservatively for "aging model," so Martha settled on "schoolteacher" as the most likely option. "I got it in Rome a few years ago. It was a gift from the emp–" The woman paused, swallowed a word. "It was a gift."
"Yes," echoed her husband, older, equally warm-voiced, a cardigan layered below a grey tweed jacket, and a whiff of formaldehyde on his fingers. Science teacher, possibly; perhaps the couple had even met at the same school. "I bought that for you, remember? At that jewelry shop near the Colosseum?"
"Of course, Ian." The woman smiled faintly, the edges of her eyes crinkling. "How could I forget? In any case," she said, tapping Martha's arm, "it's very kind of you to notice."
"I only noticed because the style is so unique – from around 50 AD, yeah? I saw – I mean, I've seen others like them, but it's been a little while," Martha said. No need for this woman to know that Claudius turned out not to look a thing like Sir Derek Jacobi, or that Martha owned a similar bracelet herself, albeit one trapped forty years in the future.
The woman raised an eyebrow. "As a matter of fact, it is. A replica of that period's design. How do you know so much about antique jewelry?"
"I'm a bit of a history buff, I suppose," Martha replied.
"Are you, now?" said Ian. "Barbara, I think we've made a new friend."
Martha didn't usually handle deliveries, but any excuse to see this couple and satisfy her suspicions was a good one. The Chestertons, or so the delivery slip said, had a sunny, first-floor flat done up in shades of mustard and turquoise, and hallways lined with bookshelves of science fiction and history, including an entire shelf about the French Revolution. Facing a neat fireplace with a mantel full of photos of the couple posing in front of Nelson's Column and oddly, what looked like a scrapyard, there was a well-worn sofa and a couple of armchairs; the centre of the home, where Ian and Barbara must spend all their time curled up together reading.
"Two reams of onionskin, typewriter ribbons, and correction fluid," Martha said, handing several wrapped parcels off to Ian. "That's a lot of correspondence."
"Oh, we're working on a book," said Ian. "A fictional travelogue of sorts. Science fiction, you know, people and time machines and whoosh! Off into the future."
"And the past," Barbara added.
"Time machines," said Martha. "How interesting."
"We thought you might want to hear more," Ian said. "Won't you come in? Barbara, would you put the kettle on?"
"You don't need to do that. I should probably get home."
"There's always time for a cup of tea," said Barbara. "Now, have a seat. I have a feeling we've a lot of things to discuss."
Martha was only a few sips into her tea when Ian asked her, "So, how do you know the Doctor?"
"Ian!" Barbara cried. "I thought we agreed to be subtle!"
"What's the point, Barbara? Look at her. She recognised the bracelet, you said you hadn't seen any shoes like hers since the 21st century, she was obviously trying not to let on that she knew what I was up to with the manuscript ..."
Barbara sighed. "I suppose if you're here, Martha, you're stranded, aren't you? He's gone off and left you."
"I cannot believe I'm having this conversation." Martha settled the teacup on her lap, where it rattled in her hands. "I have no idea what you two are on about, but you're barking."
"We're not," Barbara said, "and you know we're not. You're just not willing to admit it for some reason."
"A police box. An ordinary blue police box," Ian said. "When was the last time you walked by one of those without stopping, Martha, just for a moment? Hoping that maybe you could hear it hum? Or that it'd feel warm under your fingertips even on a snowy day? It was a good year for me and Barbara before we looked at one and just saw a box, nothing more. But you're not there yet, are you, Martha?"
Martha swirled her teacup, watched the liquid spiral in a tiny whirlpool. "The TARDIS isn't here," she said. "We're trying to get her back, me and the Doctor. Well, he's working on getting her back; I'm just paying for our flat and keeping his sorry skinny arse in tea and sandwiches. Pardon me."
"Ha!" cried Ian. "I knew it. How is the old bugger these days? Irascible as ever?"
"He's not happy we're stuck here, that's for sure. But how do you know him?"
"Martha, my dear," Barbara said, a hand on Martha's knee, "we're going to need a lot more tea for that story."
There was another kettle of tea, and later, a roast chicken and potatoes, a bottle and a half of inexpensive French Chablis, and a long tale of kidnapping, adventure, and an inexorable drift from friendship to love. Ian and Barbara weren't the only ones with the latter story, although Martha's version was less inexorable than instantaneous, and far more frustrating.
But still later, Barbara again placed her hand on Martha's knee, and this time she slowly slid it high inside Martha's thigh. Another inexorable drift, and a welcome one.
"I learned this in the pleasure palace on Marinus," Barbara said, her fingers curling inside Martha while her tongue circled one of Martha's nipples; sweet, fluttering licks like sparks on her skin.
Martha groaned, stretched, legs taut. Her body buzzed, vibrating with anticipation. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ian kneeling beside her, naked, stroking himself.
"Come over here, Ian," Martha said. His lips and tongue were as soft as Barbara's. Martha's hand reached down to cover Ian's, moving in time with him, her thumb sliding along the shaft to feel it harden beneath them both.
Barbara's fingers, so steady inside Martha; the heel of her palm pressing rhythmically against Martha's clit; Martha, trying to keep pace with Ian while her body spiralled away from her. Her hand faltered as Barbara's mouth sealed over her breast.
"Relax, Martha," said Ian. "Just relax."
Martha nodded and dropped her hand, and suddenly felt swift fingers where Barbara's palm had been. The barely stifled whimper in her throat became a sharp cry. Vibrations through every part of her now; a velvet fuzziness in her head and between her legs. Martha exhaled, slow and satisfied, as Barbara removed her fingers and gave her a lingering kiss.
"It's nice to see that trick still works," Barbara said. "I don't get to practise it as often as I'd like."
"You can practise on me as long as I'm here," Martha replied. "But now …" She drew Barbara's head down for another kiss, traced her inner thigh with her fingertips, smiled as Barbara sighed into her mouth. How had that motion gone again? Two fingers inside, a zigzag wriggle down, a strong upward stroke.
"Almost," Barbara gasped. "A bit harder … faster …"
Practice made perfect, of course. And there was plenty of time to achieve perfection.
Afterwards, they lay in an untidy knot on the bed, legs and arms tangled round each other, unwilling to let go yet.
"I should have called the Doctor hours ago to let him know I'd be late," Martha said, but Barbara's breast was warm and comfortable, and her heart thumped softly in Martha's ear, and Martha curled into her a little more tightly.
"Oh, he'll be all right," Barbara said. "He always is. He's probably busy working on that detector of his anyway. I'll bet he hasn't even noticed you're gone."
"You're probably right. In fact, you have no idea how probably right you are."
"If you're worried, go ahead and ring him," Ian said. "I can always drive you home if you like." A hand glided along Martha's curves, came to rest at the swell of her hips. "Or you could just tell him you're held up at work. Inventory, let's say. You'll be back in the morning."
Barbara tilted her head to face her husband. "Ian Chesterton, you old liar."
"Come on, Barbara, after all the times he lied to us? All the times he's probably lied to Martha?"
"Like I said." Martha sighed. "You have no idea."
"I didn't say we shouldn't do it," said Barbara, and Martha felt another hand lock with Ian's at her hips. "Besides, what he doesn't know won't hurt him."
"He is definitely not going to know about this," Martha said. "But I will. I'm not going to forget a single minute."
She raised her head, leaned over to touch her lips to Ian's, then Barbara's. And the only thing she forgot was her phone call to the Doctor.