Valentine's Day, This Year

by koshiroryuu [Reviews - 31]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Character Study, Introspection, Standalone

Author's Notes:
For Valentine's fic, this is singularly lacking in cheerful.

Martha Jones is one of the very few people who remembers the first time this year happened, the first time the world had a Valentine's Day this year.

She remembers Valentine's Day specifically, because she spent Valentine's Day in Japan. It was the last day she ever set foot there, the last day it ever existed.

Sometimes, when she hears people talking about Japan, when she sees it on a map, reads about it in the papers, she's still not quite convinced it's really actually there. She suspects it's some kind of trick they're all playing on her, to make her think it's there now when it's not, and everyone's just saying it's there to make her feel better when really Japan is still gone. Or still burning.

She has a desperate urge to just get on an airplane and go, just to see, to feel the ground and smell the air, except she knows that it's not logical, but she's afraid that it just won't be there when she gets there. What if she gets there and it's gone? What if she gets there and it's still burning?

She tells herself she's being ridiculous, but she never gets on an airplane. She never goes.

Martha Jones is one of the very few people who remembers the first time Valentine's Day this year happened, and she's the only one who remembers it from below, who felt the ground and smelled the air. She's the only one who knows. She met people and touched people and talked to people, and sometimes, at night, she lies awake and racks her brain to remember anything about them that she can, anything at all, that isn't one big blur. But she talked to so many people that year, she saw so many faces, and it all just ran together after a while, and so that whole day was mostly a rush, nothing different, with nothing to tell her that all of those faces would need remembering someday, nothing unusual to make her stop and actually look.

It's taken Martha a long time to stop hating herself for being the only one who saw their faces and not being able to remember what they looked like. Sometimes she isn't quite so sure that she's actually stopped.

The only ones who stand out in her memories are two girls, two teenage schoolgirls, unkempt and underfed, who were the only reason that Martha even knew it was Valentine's Day that day last year, the first time Valentine's Day this year happened. She'd found it hard to keep track of the date sometimes, back then. She still does sometimes now.

But they'd known, two schoolgirls, she hadn't thought to ask their names and it still haunts her, every day. She always asks people's names now, always tries very hard to put a name to a face and remember them both very clearly. They'd somehow known the exact date, and Martha had talked with them about chocolates and boys and schoolgirl crushes, and had promised them that someday, somehow, they'd get to see Valentine's Day again. Martha had promised.

And then they'd died.

They'd told her about traditions, how girls in Japan give chocolates to boys they like on Valentine's Day, to boys in their family or boys they admire or boys they want to thank, to people they love. They'd looked at her shyly, and one of them had said that if she had any chocolate, she'd give it to Martha, and it didn't even matter if Martha was a girl. Just to say thank you.

Sometimes she can still hear them screaming.

Martha remembers two schoolgirls whose names she never knew, and she remembers Japan, and she remembers Valentine's Day last year, except it wasn't, it was the first time that this year happened so it was this year, it wasn't last year, and she's the only one who remembers. She's the only one who knows. So when it happens again, Valentine's Day this year, she's ready. Martha prepares in advance and gets everything ready, and she takes a deep breath, and Martha bakes cakes.

Homemade chocolate was best, they had told her, to show how much you care, when you want to show that it's from the heart. She thinks of people she loves and people she wants to thank, people who were dead almost a year ago and don't even remember that they died. She thinks of faces she doesn't know and names she never asked and airplane tickets she can't quite buy, and she can't explain, but she needs to mark this day somehow, to help herself remember that she remembers it. She needs to keep it close, or maybe to let it go, she's not quite sure, but she just can't sit there and do nothing.

It's a memorial of sorts, except that all those people who died are all alive now, they can touch the ground and smell the air, they have chocolate, so maybe it should be a celebration, she thinks, of all their lives, of all the lives that were saved. Because Japan's there now, and she can just get on an airplane and go.

If it's still there when she gets there. She tries not to think about that so much.

Martha thinks she should celebrate, but she remembers fire and death and she can still hear them screaming, and after Valentine's Day this year last time, it seems wrong to celebrate Valentine's Day this year this time, so she bakes cakes. She thinks of two girls and bakes cakes, chocolate cakes, for five boys. She likes to think that they would've liked it that way, maybe. That they might like it now, if they're there.

She starts the night before, and once she starts it's like she can't stop, and she'd thought that maybe all the activity would help her turn off her brain and stop thinking, just think about cakes, but as she mixes and pours and bakes and decorates, it's like it's all on automatic, and her mind keeps wandering. She's stopped walking, but she hasn't quite been able to get her mind to stop walking, she can't make it stop no matter how hard she tries. And she tries very hard.

She thinks of her parents, and how they hold hands now. She thinks of Leo, who still knows how to smile. She thinks of Tish, who used to love Valentine's Day, used to live for it, but can't even stand to see the cards at the shops anymore. Just the sight of them makes her nauseous, makes her burst into tears.

Martha thinks of Tom, and how he died and didn't die and isn't the same since he died. He's a different man in this life.

She thinks of all the people she loves, all the people she's met, all the people she admires. She thinks of people she wants to thank. She thinks of two nameless schoolgirls in Japan and tells herself they're still alive, that somewhere in the world they're out there giving chocolates to boys, right now, in a Japan that's still there and not burning. She thinks of all these things, and she bakes and bakes and bakes.

The first cake goes to Tom, and it's a simple thing, nothing too decorative. It suits him well, she thinks. Martha visits him at work first thing in the morning, when she knows he won't be there, and leaves it on his desk with a note. An apology. She has to be away for the day, she says, business again, and it's close enough. It's not like she can tell him the real reason, after all. She hopes he'll understand, and she knows that he'll say he understands, but she knows that he won't. Not really. He wasn't there, he can't remember. He's a different man in this life.

She catches her dad off-guard, she hadn't expected him to be home and he hadn't expected her to visit, but he's happy to see her. He even manages a smile. It's not the same smile he had before, because he's not quite the same man, either, but it's his smile, and she loves him, and they're both glad that he's alive. That everyone's alive.

"What's this for?" he asks, and his cake is low-fat with sugar substitutes, because the year that wasn't wasn't good for his health, and he isn't getting any younger.

Martha shrugs.

"Just happy you're here," she says, and she can tell that he knows what she means. There's just so much they don't know how to say.

He holds her close, hugs her tight, doesn't seem to want to let go. He does that a lot now. He's around so much more than he ever was before, and Martha's grateful. As grateful as she can be, anyway.

"I'm so proud of you, sweetheart," he whispers, and kisses her on the forehead, cries into her hair. They stay like that for a long time, and Martha tries not to think about anything, tries not to hear people screaming. It's very hard, but she tries.

Leo's cake is bigger than the others, so he can share it with his family, and it's covered in chocolate buttercream, lots of icing, just how Leo's always liked it. He's always loved chocolate cake, it's his favorite.

Shonara isn't home, just Leo with the baby, and Martha watches Keisha rub buttercream into her hair and giggle and play and grin her brilliant baby grin. Martha laughs until she cries, and then she just cries.

"You know you can talk to me, right?" Leo asks, hugging her tightly as she's leaving, a note of desperation in his voice. He's always hated feeling left out. "You know I'll always listen, right? You can tell me anything."

It's always been true, all their lives, but it isn't anymore. Every day, she's so glad that Leo doesn't have to remember, but every day she feels a little twist of guilt in her chest, way down deep, because she wishes, just a little, that he did. She hates that there's this wall between them now.

"And come round more often," he says. "We hardly ever see you anymore."

She doesn't know how to tell him how much it hurts to see him happy. She sees Leo smiling, and all she can remember is last year, which was this year, the first time that this year happened, all too vivid in her head. She hugs him and smiles and says she'll do her best.

Sometimes she can still hear schoolgirls screaming, but he's forgotten that he ever heard the sound of them at all. It's not his fault. She knows it's for the best.

Jack's cake is shaped like a naked man, and when he sees it, he laughs so hard he nearly falls off his chair. She thinks it's a little much, but Jack's always a little much, and they can both use a good laugh, anyway. He insists that Martha have a slice, and they argue over who gets the important bits and end up throwing them at each other. Martha gets through the whole food fight without remembering anything, and she thinks it might be a new personal best for length of time.

"You didn't have to do this, you know," he says finally, trying to pick bits of chocolate cake out of her hair. "We should be thanking you, not the other way around. You don't have to do this."

"Yeah, I know," she says, but she did have to do this. She does. She really does.

The last cake, sprinkled liberally with little edible silver balls, sits in her kitchen for three days until it mysteriously disappears one night while she's at work. She hadn't really expected him to stay, anyway.

Martha Jones is one of the very few people who remembers the first time this year happened, and it hurts like hell, every day, but she's not the one who thinks it's her own fault. She's not the one who blames herself. The Doctor doesn't talk about it, won't ever talk about it, and that's how she knows how much it must hurt him, too. He smiles and distracts and laughs and never says a word. He'll never ever say a word, not about this, not to her.

Exactly one month after Valentine's Day, though, she comes home to find her flat festooned with dozens of white roses, a huge white stuffed bear on her sofa, boxes of white chocolates at every turn with labels in a half dozen languages, several boxes of white chocolate almond Pocky, and a book on the customs and traditions of Japan lying open on her table to the page on White Day, bookmarked with a tiny scrap of pretty pink paper stamped with glittery hearts. And under that lies what looks like the largest envelope she has ever seen, possibly handmade, which she opens to find the largest card she's ever seen, definitely handmade. She can only laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

The front of the card is decorated with what looks like children's drawings, all in crayon, all in different hands, with hearts and flowers and smiling stick figures, shining happy suns, and Martha notices quite suddenly that all the lettering is in Japanese, big and bold and a little shaky, unpracticed. There's a tiny blue police call box to one side, a rainbow drawn behind it, and the smudgy little chocolate fingerprints of various children all around.

Inside, there are no pictures, only words, signatures, dozens of them, hundreds of them, and she can just picture the Doctor getting random strangers to sign his absurdly large homemade greeting card. Most of the signatures are in kanji, some in kana, some are even in English, and a lot of the words aren't quite right in the ones that she can read, but most are close enough. The majority seem to be just names. One says 'Happi Birthdei!' and Martha thinks that one's her favorite.

But in the middle, biggest of all, in the only handwriting she recognizes, are just four simple words. "Thank you, Martha Jones." And she doesn't know how he did it, but paperclipped to one corner is a picture of two very familiar-looking schoolgirls, healthy and laughing, flashing victory signs at the camera, and it's timestamped Valentine's Day, this year. From the second time the world had a Valentine's Day this year.

Martha puts it in a frame and hangs it on her wall, and every time she looks at it, she smiles.