Title: Fading Stars
Characters/Pairings: 10.5/alt!Martha, alt!Owen, Jackie
Word Count: 2628
Genre: Fluff with a teeny side of angst
Spoilers: 'Journey's End' [S4]
Summary: John [10.5] and Martha celebrate their first Valentine's Day together.
All your Doctor Who are belong to us
Sadly, I own nothing related to Doctor Who. I am just playing around in their sandbox for a bit of fun.
Author Notes: Embarrassingly late entry for the Valentine's Day ficathon for dreambythefire
[for the prompt: '(Alt)Martha/Handy: Their first Valentine's Day (up to you which version of Martha this is.'] The story is set in the same universe as my fics 'Ardor in Binary' and 'Extasis', but you needn't have read those fics to enjoy this one [just note that alt!Martha and 10.5 – as John Smith – are in a somewhat new, established romantic relationship in this 'verse]. Thanks to persiflage_1
[as well a several of my flist] for help in making presentable for the masses. Feedback is happy-making, so please leave a word or two if so inclined [even if I am a bit slack in responding, your comments always make my day]. Concrit [and any beta-ish comments] welcomed.====
Even with several calendars at his disposal and multiple watches on his person (Martha thinks it's because he's a "geek" – she doesn't yet know his relationship with time), it takes an opportune stroll past the café and a sidelong glance at an advert on the window there for John Smith to see that Valentine's Day is just three days away.
Having forgotten about the holiday entirely, but now stopping to count the months he's been with Martha, counting the days (always counting time, he is, counting, counting, counting), and knowing what sort of expectations she may have for their own personal celebration of such a day as a couple, his heart seizes in panic and the wind is harshly pushed from his lungs.
(The incessant counting stops for a fleeting moment, like time just hanging in the balance, stopped and cupped and curved in the palm of his hand, just like the old days, those old days lost, and then it's time to breathe again.)
He remembers how much he – as Donna – used to love the holiday himself, especially those sweet times when Lee gave him a lone rose their first year, and then two the next, and three the next, and so on for each year after when they were together. He simply couldn't wait for when they'd reach a dozen – he couldn't wait to brag to his friends about the wonderful husband he had and the wonderful years they'd had together.
It was a simple thing, really -- a simple thing that never came to pass.
For a moment he thinks of buying Martha a rose as well, trying to relive such pleasure in a way, hoping she'd enjoy it as much as Donna did, but in the end she holds back, knowing how the painful thorn of memories would probably outweigh the happiness and surely prick him too deeply.+ + +
"What do you
do for someone on Valentine's Day, Owen?" John asks, trying not to descend into dread, as he stands helplessly in their living room.
"You don't have that planned already?" he replies with a smirk, peering over his magazine at him. Owen must sense his worry, though, because he laughs and immediately playfully adds, now looking up into the space between them, "What am I saying? We’re talking of a bloke who's lucky enough to successfully plan basic things like breakfast."
"You're not helping," John counters with a sigh, flopping down bonelessly onto the couch next to him.
John lets himself sink down into the cushions and briefly fantasizes about it swallowing him whole so that he could hide away from it all. That's what the chairs on Rorrax-20 do (or was it Rylax-12? Oh, his memory was fading more and more these days), letting you hide for days if you like.
Of course, it also makes him think of the plastic chair UNIT confiscated after dealing with the Master and the Autons years ago on Earth. The Doctor had heard tales of how it mysteriously killed a UNIT soldier dead by asphyxiation before they'd even got it to the UNIT Black Archive, no doubt from some remaining Nestene sentience lingering inside it somehow –
He sat up straight at the thought, despite himself.
"It's all right. Doubt Martha's the type of bird to want you to go all out anyway. Just do something small, meaningful. She'll appreciate that. Girls usually do."
"And if she doesn't?"
"We've got a fridge full of lager for you to drink and drown your sorrows in?"
"Thanks," John replies flatly, pulling a pillow across his chest. Maybe that plastic chair taking my life would be good right now?
"No problem. Just no sick on the carpet, yeah?"+ + +
"John! So lovely to hear from you!" Jackie exclaims on the phone.
"Tony's getting so big and chats all the time now. He even asks after you some days. Pete's rarely home, of course, always at the office these days, it seems. Busy man. And Rose, well, she's just away as usual. In South Africa right now, from what I understand. Torchwood assignment that's hush-hush. You know how it is."
"Yeah," he replies quietly, trying to ignore the vague sting he feels when thinking of losing Rose again. He idly wonders if he'll ever truly get completely over things with her.
"So, I'm thinking you didn't just call to check up on us, though, did you?"
"Ah Jackie, you make it sound as if I don't care."
"Oh, I know you care, you plum. But that's it, I know
you. Come out with it then, what's troubling you?"
"Not sure if I should say, really."
"John – " Jackie's tone is demanding, but maternal and nurturing, much like the tone that she'd use those many times when he always talked to her, confided in her, amidst his desperation when things were falling apart with Rose. He could never lie to her then and he certainly couldn't now --
You met someone, then?"
"You could say that."
"Is she…or he
nice? I mean, if they aren't, I'll – "
No, she's very nice. It's all a bit complicated, but she's nice, yes."
"Well…do you remember, on the Dalek Crucible, there was this girl called Martha who'd traveled with the Doctor?"
"Yeah…oh, John, you haven't."
"It's not like that. I mean, she's not the same person, not really. And things are lovely, really lovely. I'm so happy, Jackie."
"John, I'm just worried for you."
"But, it couldn't have been much different with Pete, right?"
"Yes, but people here, they may seem the same, love, but they aren't. Just remember that. I mean, I love Pete more than just about anyone in the world, but he's still a different man than the Pete that died. All I'm saying is don't go trying to fill in the holes within yourself with these people. They may do some real good and be amazing otherwise, but they won't quite fit, you know?"
"I know, I know," he replies with a heavy sigh. "Really, though, it may have started out like that, trying to fill in holes as you say, but honestly, that stopped once I met her. Really."
"Well, does she know? About you, the Doctor, your past, I mean?"
"No. Not yet. I just…I don't know how
, Jackie – " he replies, barely able to contain the small whimper in his tone as his tears well up. He inwardly curses his sensitivity on the subject.
"Hush, sweetheart, it's all right. One thing at a time. You'll get there. Besides, you called about Valentine's Day, not all the alien rubbish, yeah? So, any plans?"
"No, and I honestly don't have any idea what to do. That's why I called. You're one of the only people I can actually talk to."
"Well, I think you should just give her something of yourself, something that means a lot to you. That's all anyone wants."
"Something of myself…but what?"
"Oh, I can't tell you that, I'm afraid."
John groans in exasperation, his stomach roiling with nerves.
"But John, I can
tell you one thing."
"She's a lucky girl to have you."+ + +
On Valentine's Day, he sneaks into her room in the afternoon, her house key (just recently gifted to him) pressed hard into his palm, marking him with grooves and edges and hopes and dreams, and for a moment he wonders about the other Martha and if she still has the Doctor's key, if she still cherishes it, and if it has marked her just the same.
He then balances precariously on a chair, up on his toes, teetering this way and that, tongue pushed out the corner of his mouth in concentration, as he sticks stars to her ceiling. The stars are just simple, plastic things that glow in the dark, purchased just the day before from a small toyshop down the road (he did like a little shop). He'd been so happy to find them, honestly, his heart racing as he first held the package, and it was then he realized couldn't resist putting them up for her as a surprise gift.
Now, as he organizes them into various favourite constellations and swirling galaxies onto the grey chipping paint of her ceiling (his breath catching a bit as he lays out the constellation Kasterborous in far corner – not to be forgotten, not ever), he begins to feel pangs of sadness that, while trapped in this body, trapped in this universe, he'll never be able to show his Martha those stars for real.
He lets himself cry, but only quietly. No one can hear you in space.+ + +
"I've a surprise for you," he tells Martha excitedly, bouncing on his toes from foot to foot, in the corridor just outside her flat that evening.
"I'm usually not one for surprises, but with your face beaming like that, I might just have to make an exception," she replies with a laugh, turning the key to let them inside.
The living room is dimly lit, the only light emanating from the flickering candles on the dining table that he'd lit just before going meet her at the hospital. The table is set with empty plates, awaiting the Italian takeaway he has stowed in the refrigerator for their supper later (he didn't want to burden her trust too much
yet by attempting to cook for her, naturally), and, sat just in the middle, is a small replica of on old blue police box.
(The latter had taken hours to find, of course, as the real thing was as much a remnant of the past in this universe as it is in the other, but once the idea had stuck in his head, he felt he needed to find one.)
"Oh, what's all this?" Martha exclaims excitedly, putting down her bag and making her way over to the dining table.
"I wanted to do something for you, for us."
"I didn't expect anything – " she says, trailing off, running her fingers along the tablecloth. She stops to pick up the police box, barely bigger than her hand, and slowly reads the text on it, "Police public call box."
She cocks her head to the side, her brow furrowed, and then turns back toward him as he approaches her. "What's this?" she asks and, he can't help the grinding knot in his stomach that burns, that lingering hope that she might have somehow
recognized it now dashed back down into his fantasies, lost forever –
"A box of dreams," he whispers, trying his best to stay composed as he reaches up to cup her hand around the blue box.
"Dreams?" she coos, her eyes alight. "Yours or mine?"
"Everyone's, I suppose." He softly caresses her fingers. "But tonight, it's ours. Tonight it will take us to the stars."
"The stars?" she asks with a smile.
"Yes. Think of it as a spaceship we can get inside and travel anywhere – any time
– in the universe."
She looks down at it. "I don't know. It's a bit small. It might be a bit…intimate."
He smiles sadly at her words, echoing his (or His
) past, and then reaches down for her other hand to lead her toward her bedroom. "Close your eyes," he whispers, blowing out the candles.+ + +
Martha giggles as he regales her with story after story of planet after planet, universe after universe. In those moments, it doesn't matter too much to him that she thinks it's all in his imagination, that it is just fictional stories from his own head (she insists he write a book and he briefly even considers it). He just finds that he's content to be lying side by side with her, clutching the blue box to his chest, as they gaze up at the plastic stars lighting her ceiling.
He thinks he'll tell her the whole truth someday, about the reality of his stories and who he really is, but tonight he thinks he just wants to hide in his fantasy and run from the reality just a bit longer –
He's always been good at running -- perhaps, too good, honestly.
Soon they make love under the stars in her room, the faint green glow tinting their skin, and the blue box now discarded on her bedside locker. He continues to whisper stories of the universe in her ear as he moves above her, within her, and she simply laughs again and again, so very joyous and so alive, yet probably thinking him quaint and even eccentric (doesn't she always?).
It stings a little, if he's honest, but not enough to matter, not enough to outweigh the pleasure of simply being with her.
They fall back onto the bed in exhaustion when they're done, side-by-side again as they struggle to catch their breath. Martha soon curls up to him, her head on his chest where the box lay earlier, perhaps replacing its vacancy there, in a tiny way.
He looks up at the fading stars, fading like his memories of the real ones they represent, and, as his heart races beneath her, and his lungs still long for settled breath, he muses that even after the months he's known her, he still doesn't have the nerve to tell her how she always makes him feel as if he is spinning through space.
Of course, that's the least of his secrets, he thinks with a frown.
Despite himself, the truth of it all – Donna, the Doctor, the other Martha, the other universe – suddenly passes up from his heart to his throat, but it is trapped there, soundless. He feels immediately panicked and vulnerable, powerless against it, but chooses to use all his will to silently blow it out with his breath, letting it get lost in the tangle of air around them.
He reaches over to pick up the blue box again and looks at it for a long moment. He imagines dropping it to the floor, wondering if it might break into pieces or stay intact, mirthlessly smirking to himself at how that seems to represent his own life in so many ways. He starts to regret even bringing the blasted blue box here, into this sanctuary with Martha, bringing up the past he's been trying so hard to hide, to deny.
Yes, even though he wants to one day share everything with Martha, he knows, in these such moments, he's not ready yet (and honestly contemplates if he'll ever be).
He takes in deep breath, still trying to calm his racing heart. There's a part of him – an angry, petulant part – that still wants to just throw the box to floor, to try to break it, to get rid of it, but as Martha tightens her hold on him, sighing softly in her sleep, his emotions begin to soften.
Somehow strengthened by Martha's proximity, he begins to let that potent hold of his past sink back, lets it begin to retract slowly into the shadows like the stars above them. He knows he can't fight against those demons forever – no one could, really – but for tonight, he knows, in some small way, he's won.
Quietly he sets the box on the bedside locker again and, with a renewed sense of hope, he holds Martha to him more tightly and lets sleep take him. In dreams that night, he holds her hand as they walk through a marketplace, there just in London, in the present day no less, and while it may not be amongst the shining, swirling stars of other galaxies or with alien grass beneath their feet, for that moment, he feels at peace with it all.